Grizzly Reservoir update

Grizzly Reservoir via Aspen Journalism
Grizzly Reservoir via Aspen Journalism

From The Aspen Daily News (Chad Abraham):

The effort to repair the gate at Grizzly Reservoir that forced the lake to be drained, sending water laden with heavy metals into the Roaring Fork River in August, began Friday.

And there are now protocols in place so officials, residents and river users are not caught off guard, as they were when the river turned from its usual gin-clear shade to an ugly yellowish-brown on Aug. 11, if future reservoir work is expected to impact the Roaring Fork.

There could again be some discoloration in the Fork and Lincoln Creek from silt stirred up during the “dewatering” of the work site, according to a Roaring Fork Conservancy press release. The dewatering must occur so the gate can be fixed.

But crews with the Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co., the owner and operator of the Independence Pass Transmountain Diversion System that has purview over Grizzly Reservoir, have set up a silt fence and straw bales and wattles (a formation involving stakes interlaced with slender tree branches) to trap sediment.

Grizzly Reservoir had to be drained because the nonfunctioning gate could have led to a much more serious incident in which the dam failed, said Scott Campbell, the reservoir company’s general manager, shortly after the drainage.

Tests of water and soil samples showed there were levels of iron and aluminum that exceeded state standards for aquatic life. But officials do not believe the material from the 19th-century Ruby Mine will have a long-term impact on the Roaring Fork ecosystem.

Still, the fact that the drainage and discoloration happened so soon after the Animas River pollution disaster alarmed many people, and Campbell has acknowledged that notification about the reservoir work should have been better.

More coverage from The Aspen Times (Jason Auslander):

Those who criticized Grizzly Reservoir officials for draining the lake in August and sending polluted water down the Roaring Fork River for days take note: You’ve been heard.

“I get it,” said Scott Campbell, general manager of the Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co. “And I’m sorry I didn’t make those calls” in August warning downvalley communities of the impending drainage.

Now, as repair work is slated to begin on a broken reservoir gate — the reason for the drainage in the first place — officials from Twin Lakes and from downvalley governments and other organizations have established protocols designed to prevent similar surprises in the future.

The new protocols were laid out in a meeting Tuesday at Grizzly Reservoir. They call for government officials in Aspen and Pitkin County as well as those with the Roaring Fork Conservancy to be notified if any changes occur in the operation of Grizzly Reservoir that might affect the Roaring Fork Valley, said April Long, stormwater manager for the city of Aspen.

“They were apologetic and wanted to take the proper steps to make sure it doesn’t happen again,” Long said.

Long said she’s satisfied that the new protocols will prevent another surprise discharge from occurring.

More coverage from Jason Auslander writing for The Aspen Times:

Grizzly Reservoir is a “toxic waste pond,” and if it is ever drained again, people and governments downstream need to know in advance.

That was the word Thursday from Healthy Rivers and Streams Board Chairman Andre Wille, though his fellow board members seemed to agree with the sentiment.

“This is the single biggest water-quality disaster we’ve ever seen in the Roaring Fork River,” Wille said during the board’s meeting Thursday evening. “I just don’t think it was thought through.”

Officials with the Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co., which runs Grizzly Reservoir, decided to drain the lake around Aug. 8 in order to fix an outlet gate that was jammed by a tree, according to a report that analyzed water samples taken from the discharge.

‘Recharge Ponds’ Show How Water Needs Of Animals And Ag Can Align — KUNC

Recharge pond
Recharge pond

From KUNC (Shelly Schlender):

Colorado’s South Platte River basin is a powerhouse for crops and cattle. Massive reservoirs quench the region’s thirst, with farm fields generally first in line. Wildlife? It’s often last.

A small win-win though is giving waterfowl a little more room at the watering hole. It’s a program that creates warm winter ponds for migrating ducks — then gives the water back, in time for summer crops…

Dabbling ducks need shallow water. In a nearby hayfield you’ll find some mud flats, each about the size of a city dweller’s yard and only two feet deep. Yahn calls them “recharge” ponds, but they could also be described as mud holes, or maybe soggy hollows.

“Recharge pond,” though, is their official name, and they don’t just happen; they’re intentionally made from natural depressions that previously did not hold much water…

To transform these features into recharge ponds, farmers must first earn a water right through Colorado water court. Then, documenting every drop, farmers pump water into their recharge ponds starting around November, when groundwater is plentiful. They keep refilling them until March, as water constantly seeps out of them. The water then percolates through the soil, slowly heading back to “recharge” the South Platte River.

“The goal,” says Yahn, “is to have it during those critical times – July, August, and September. That’s really where there’s a demand for water above what the supply is.”

A farmer who legally captures winter water through a recharge pond has essentially retimed it, making it possible to add that same amount to summer crops.

As a side effect, during the winter, ducks benefit.

During winter on Colorado’s northeastern plains, ducks can bob up and down in the recharge ponds because the pumped up groundwater is so warm that it doesn’t freeze.

“Most people … are very used to seeing that duck butt sticking straight up in the air with the bill kind of grazing off the bottom of the pond,” says Denver nature lover Kent Haybourne. “So you really want this water to be at a depth where the duck can tip its head under water and eat.”

Heybourne, a doctor, is so impressed by recharge ponds, he’s contributed land and money for creating them. He donates his water credits to nearby farmers, who use them for summer crops. Assisting him financially and with legal and engineering expertise is Ducks Unlimited, one of the nation’s oldest and largest conservation groups.

“We did about $20 million worth of those grants. And there was probably about 26 different landowners and about 40,000 acres conserved,” says Greg Kernohan, who leads the Ducks Unlimited recharge pond efforts. “It’s been a pretty incredible impact over a 10-year period.”

Kernohan teams up with hunting groups, farmers, and even businesses that provide matching grants, to help offset their corporate water use. Companies helping range from carmakers and software giants, to brewers.

As for the ponds, Kent Heybourne says that visiting one during the winter is kind of a miracle.

“You go out there when it’s 10 or 15 degrees below zero . . . and there’s this beautiful open water with steam rising off of it, and of course, you know, that’s fabulous habitat for the ducks.”

Nature lovers like Kernohan and Heyborne hope the success of recharge ponds will inspire more Coloradans to find win-win ways to share water with wildlife.

CWCB board meeting recap: Horse Creek flume gets state funding

Fort Lyon Canal
Fort Lyon Canal

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The Fort Lyon Canal Co. will rebuild its aging Horse Creek Flume this winter in a $2.2 million project designed to save both cropland and wildlife habitat.

The Colorado Water Conservation Board approved a $1.69 million loan and $500,000 grant at its meeting in Montrose this week. The grant was from the Water Supply Reserve Account endorsed by the Arkansas Basin Roundtable.

The 400-foot long, 10foot diameter steel pipe flume crosses Horse Creek about 8 miles west of Las Animas and was originally designed to carry 1,800 cubic feet per second when it was built in 1938. The flume has been repaired many times, but is at the end of its useful life. Its loss would affect farm revenues of $50 million and 14,000 acres of wildlife habitat.

Work on the project is scheduled to begin in November and be completed by March.

The CWCB also approved several other loans and grants that affect the Arkansas River basin:

A $533,000 project will replace the Evans Bypass Flume, a 450-foot long, 6-by-5foot structure with an underground pipeline at Evans Reservoir near Leadville. The Parkville Water District got a $180,000 loan and $300,000 grant from CWCB.

Lamar Water received a $100,000 loan and $161,000 grant toward a $400,000 project to repurpose two wells to provide non-potable water to irrigate public parks and fields. The wells previously were part of the city’s drinking water system until 2012, when they were taken out of service over water quality issues.

The Box Springs Canal and Reservoir Co., near Ordway, received a $200,000 grant toward a $300,000 project to replace several traditional wells with horizontal wells to restore production under water rights already claimed.

The Huerfano County Water Conservancy District won approval for a $220,000 grant toward a $250,000 project to assess the viability of storage in about 70 small dams in the Cucharas River basin.

The CWCB approved a $98,000 grant for the Arkansas Basin Roundtable to hire a coordinator to put the basin implementation plan into action. The plan identifies 300 projects — many of which meet multiple needs — that have been identified in the past 10 years.

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

The Pueblo Board of Water Works is looking at options to enlarge Clear Creek Reservoir

Clear Creek Reservoir
Clear Creek Reservoir

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

One of the most popular sayings surrounding the upcoming state water plan has been “one size does not fit all.”

Pueblo Water is taking that to heart in its own planning for the future of Clear Creek Reservoir, located in northern Chaffee County.

“Clear Creek is an important part of our future,” said Alan Ward, water resources manager for Pueblo Water. “We’re looking to see if there’s a sweet spot so we can look at enlargement that is most costeffective.”

The Pueblo Board of Water Works Tuesday approved a $97,600 contract with GEI Consultants to look at various sizes for enlargement of the reservoir.

The reservoir now holds 11,500 acre-feet (3.7 billion gallons). GEI did a study in 2001 on what it would cost to enlarge the reservoir to 30,000 acre-feet.

But those numbers are out of date by now, and there may be some intermediate sizes that are less costly and more practical.

The biggest factor is land acquisition. U.S. Forest Service and some private land lies behind the reservoir and would be inundated as reservoir levels rise. If the storage were increased to less than 30,000 acrefeet, not as much land would be needed, Ward explained.

While the dam is not unsafe, Pueblo Water is studying seepage issues and the effectiveness of corrective measures that have been performed. The risk assessment by Black & Veatch will be complete in October.

The study also will look at improving the outlet works in order to maintain large releases when necessary.

Pueblo Water purchased Clear Creek Reservoir and Ewing Ditch from the Otero Canal Co. in 1954, and uses it to store primarily transmountain water by exchange. There is an in-basin water storage right that occasionally comes into priority during wet conditions, such as this spring.

Tuesday, September 22: Waters of the United States Workshop — Colorado Water Congress

If you’re tired of hearing, “They are trying to regulate every puddle,” from the usual suspects and would like an in-depth look and thoughtful analysis for the issues around the EPA’s new Waters of the US rule click here and register for the Colorado Water Congress’ workshop tomorrow.


#COleg Interim Water Resources Committee meeting recap: Storage needs cited #COWaterPlan

South Platte River Basin via Wikipedia
South Platte River Basin via Wikipedia

Here’s a report from Marianne Goodland writing for The Colorado Statesman. Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:

It’s [The need for more storage] a message the interim Water Resources Review Committee heard and acknowledged during the hearings, held Monday in Greeley and Tuesday in Aurora.

Representatives of the Denver South Platte River area basin roundtables hammered on that desire, as did members of the public who spoke to the committee.

The hearings solicited public input on the statewide water plan, now in its second draft. A final version is expected to be delivered to Gov. John Hickenlooper by Dec. 10…

Much of the water shortage anticipated in the next three decades is likely to occur in the South Platte region, said Joe Frank, chair of the South Platte roundtable. He told the committee his roundtable needs a better understanding of those numbers and how much of the 400,000 acre-feet applies to the gap.

Most of the South Platte gap will come from municipal and industrial needs, Frank said, and there’s also a gap for the agricultural sector, which dominates the eastern part of the state. Frank wound up on the hot seat with several West Slope lawmakers when he said his roundtable wants to preserve its “rights” to Colorado River water. It’s a sore subject for West Slope residents who fear the East Slope will seek more water from the Colorado River, which advocates claim is already over-appropriated. In response to several questions from state Sen. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango and state Rep. Don Coram, R-Montrose, Frank said he didn’t believe taking more Colorado River water would dry up West Slope agriculture, and that he didn’t anticipate this would have to happen “tomorrow.”

But storage is the major need for the South Platte and Denver Metro area, Frank told the committee. The basin already has a 300,000 acre-foot shortage for agriculture, reflected by wells that have been shut down all over the area. Without new storage, half the farmland that relies on irrigation could dry up. More than half of the identified projects in the South Platte/Denver basin plan are for storage, he noted.

Coram also pointed out that 1 million acre-feet went out of state this spring to Nebraska, an amount that exceeded the legal contracts between Colorado and Nebraska. Everyone wants to keep that water, Frank replied, but they have no way to store it.

Storage needs to become a much higher priority in the statewide plan, said state Rep. J. Paul Brown, R-Ignacio, who isn’t on the committee but attended many of the hearings.

But storage has always been a controversial topic in Colorado. Several storage projects have been killed because of opposition from environmental groups, including the Two Forks Dam, proposed in the late 1980s for the South Platte near Deckers. Environmental groups also are fighting a storage project on the Cache La Poudre River near Fort Collins — the Northern Integrated Supply Project, or NISP — which would put two reservoirs on the river.

“We need to get past the controversy,” Frank said.

#NISP: “In a sense, water becomes a proxy war for growth management” — Reagan Waskom

From BizWest (Dallas Heltzell):

Even so, “it’s absurd to think the supply of water is going to keep people from wanting to be here,” [Landon Hoover] said. “Oh, sure, at some point, if the traffic is so bad, people wouldn’t want to live here anymore — or if the cost of living gets so expensive. But both of those have to get so extremely bad before it would inhibit growth.

“Just making water too expensive? That’s not a strategy for dealing with growth. People still want to live in Boulder even though housing costs are through the roof.”

Northern Water spokesman Brian Werner said developers are “going to find the water. It’s doubled in price but still cheap. People will still want to live in Northern Colorado. It’s the economic driver of willing buyer, willing seller.”[…]

“Seven of the 10 fastest-growing cities in Colorado are in Northern’s boundaries,” [Brian Werner] said. “We can’t ignore it.”[…]

The cities of Fort Collins and Greeley and the Environmental Protection Agency have issued reports critical of the Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement issued by the Corps in June, citing incomplete or even flawed data on issues including water quality and temperature. Moreover, Greeley officials have said reduced flows in the Poudre would force that city to spend more on water treatment.

“It would be a large one-time capital expenditure — we can only estimate tens of millions, plus additional ongoing maintenance and operations costs,” said Eric Reckentine, Greeley’s deputy director of water resources. “If you’re reducing flows in the river, you’re decreasing water quality. Less water in the river, but the same sediment load. Sediment and nutrient load increases, which decreases water quality.”

For Northern Water officials, however, the litany of complaints are just part of the process that will shape the Corps’ final environmental impact statement, expected by early next year.

“It’s always been our understanding that the Corps basically planned the process in this way — data from Phase 1 to be used in Phase 2,” Wilkinson said. “It will be developed and analyzed prior to the FEIS.”[…]

“We’re going to talk to Fort Collins and say, ‘Let us understand your concerns.’” — [Eric Wilkinson]

“There appears to be a difference in analysis between Corps consultants and Fort Collins’ and Greeley’s consultants,” Wilkinson said, “but obviously, that’s what the public comment period is for. There’s going to be a technical analysis. That’s part of the NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act of 1970) process — to sift through those facts.”[…]

When Waskom talks to water-utility managers, he said, “they tell me they have buyers coming to them on a regular basis, willing to sell water.”[…]

“The NISP project is to divert water from the Poudre into Glade. Some of that is our water,” he said. “So in order to make that up to us, they’ll have to draw water out of the South Platte into Galeton. In order to make the exchange, we still need to irrigate. There has to be ag use here.”[…]

Waskom outlined some possible alternatives to buy-and-dry, including “forbearance” agreements and fallowing arrangements.

“A farmer agrees not to plant a crop, and the water they’d use to irrigate they’d transfer to another use on a short-term basis,” he said. “Water law allows that to happen three years out of 10. It’s a business deal. The farmer plays golf and gets a check from the city. The limitation is that a farmer can’t walk away from his markets and labor and expect they’ll be there next year.

“My institute has been very involved in doing research around those agreements,” Waskom said. “We believe there is potential there. That said, municipal water managers want to own their portfolios. They would rather lease to ag than have ag lease to them.

“Our current water court structure makes it difficult and expensive. Is it a pathway for the future? Yeah. Does it abrogate the need for Glade now? Probably not.”

The reason, Waskom said, is drought.

“Water resource managers are always planning for drought,” he said. “Drought is what keeps them awake at night. It looks like we’re building more than what we need, but there will be drought in the future. We just don’t know when.

“The one thing the climatologists tell me they’re pretty certain about — temperature increases. We have frequent drought anyway on the Front Range, but hotter droughts are always more serious than cooler droughts. With the wildfires in 2012, cities had their water resources compromised.

“We don’t know what precipitation is going to do, but climatological records already show increasing temperatures in Colorado. That’s a trend we’re going to stay on, and that concerns water managers.”

Explaining climate change can get political, Waskom said. “We’ve been talking to extension agents, and there’s lots of resistance based on values.[…]

Another idea the institute is studying is underground water storage.

“In this area, we get three feet of evaporation off the top per year” from an impoundment such as Horsetooth or Carter Lake southwest of Loveland, Waskom said. “Storing water underground in aquifers tends to be nonevaporative. It is feasible, but there’s scientific debate about it, and policy limitations too. Could underground storage decrease the need for NISP? There’s scientific debate about that. Because of the unknowns in the science and the energy costs of recovering that water, though, it wasn’t deemed a viable alternative to Glade Reservoir. Could it be in the future? I think so.”[…]

“I doubt most developers know enough about NISP to judge whether the tactical implementation of it is good or bad,” [Landon Hoover] said. “But developers see that there needs to be a solution for water storage in Northern Colorado if people want affordable housing, places where teachers, firefighters, middle-income families can live, $300,000, $400,000 houses.

“There’s really a limited supply of water, and we’re nearing the end of that supply. Unless demand shuts off, there’s no relief for prices. The issue isn’t whether we have enough water rights, the issue is we don’t have enough storage. By having storage, it will at least temper water prices. I don’t know if it’ll ever drastically lower them.”

The bottom line, Waskom said, is that “we’re going to need reservoirs, infrastructure, conservation, underground storage, ag deals, all of the above, to keep Colorado’s economy strong and vibrant into the future.”

Map of the Northern Integrated Supply Project via Northern Water
Map of the Northern Integrated Supply Project via Northern Water