The Animas River Stakeholders Group, et. al., offer $45,000 prize in search for solutions to pollution

April 24, 2014
Bonita Mine acid mine drainage

Bonita Mine acid mine drainage

From The Durango Herald (Chase Olivarius-Mcallister):

Last week, the regular meeting of the Animas River Stakeholders Group took on the feeling of a jolly, if intellectually fraught, Nobel Prize committee debate.

Scientists, government employees and mining officials huddled around a long table in the cold basement of the Miners Union Hospital grading innovative, sometimes preposterous proposals for addressing metal removal from mine drainage.

The ideas came from InnoCentive, a Boston firm that has hundreds of thousands of individual problem-solvers eager to take on challenges in chemistry, food production, business, engineering, information technology and the life sciences.

As part of the competition, the stakeholders described the environmental calamity in the Upper Animas Basin and offered $45,000 to the top problem-solver. (They raised the prize money from 12 organizations, including the International Network for Acid Prevention, Freeport-McMorRan Copper and Gold, Sunnyside Gold Corp., National Mining Corp., Goldcorp, New Mexico Coal and Trout Unlimited.)

As water quality in the Animas River has deteriorated over the last seven years, there has been insufficient money to build and operate a limestone water-treatment plant, which would cost $12 million to $17 million to build and $1 million to operate annually. Stakeholders are hoping that one brilliant solution could at least bring down the sticker price of river cleanup. (In the absence of an answer, the town is re-evaluating whether it should seek Superfund status.)

InnoCentive’s problem-solvers submitted online more than 50 proposals, with some more far-fetched than others, involving everything from absorption through plants, salting out metals, magnets, artificial river settling, cement, yeast, eggshell lime, plasma, brown coal, algae and Voraxial filtration…

As the stakeholders moved through the ideas, poring over a spreadsheet that had different stakeholders’ assessments of the schemes, expert opinion diverged many times.

While Kirsten Brown of the Colorado Division of Mining and Safety and Steve Fearn, mining specialist and co-coordinator of the stakeholders’ group, liked one proposal that involved removing heavy metals with magnets, Peter Butler thought “scaling and clogging would be an issue.”

Butler, co-coordinator of the stakeholders’ group, was more supportive of another proposal, artificial river settling, writing, “Could be an effective alternative to settling ponds. Separates metals somewhat.”[...]

They hope to choose the winner by May. When the winning idea might be implemented is unknown.

Confluence of Cement Creek and the Animas River via the USGS

Confluence of Cement Creek and the Animas River via the USGS

Meanwhile there was a meeting Wednesday in Silverton to discuss potential Superfund designation to bring in federal dough and expertise. Here’s a prequel from Chase Olivarius-Mcallister writing for The Durango Herald. Here’s an excerpt:

For years, the Environmental Protection Agency has tried to designate parts of Silverton a Superfund site. Yet for years, many locals have considered the word “Superfund” dirtier than Cement Creek…

A series of abandoned mines in the Upper Animas Basin has been spewing toxic metals into the local water system for more than 20 years. Scientists say it’s the largest untreated mine drainage in the state, and problematic concentrations of zinc, copper, cadmium, iron, lead, manganese and aluminum are choking off the Upper Animas River’s ecosystem.

La Plata County Commissioner Gwen Lachelt said Silverton’s environmental calamity is “huge, affecting so many jurisdictions and communities. But it has felt like we were sort of at a stalemate.”

Lachelt said San Juan County commissioners now are leading the issue, not ignoring it.

“The La Plata County commissioners stand by the San Juan County commissioners in seeking out all of this information and seeking a rapid solution to this long-lingering problem,” she said. “I don’t think there’s one single reason it’s taken so long, and we’re certainly not there yet. But I think we’re seeing a lot of folks come together and realize we really don’t want to lose any more species of fish. We can’t afford to, and we have to act.”

‘Objections worn thin’

Since last summer, political pressure to find a solution in Silverton has escalated.

Rob Robinson, who used to represent the Bureau of Land Management within the Animas River Stakeholders Group, sent a letter and petition with 15 signatures in December to the EPA and the Colorado Department of Health and Environment urging a Superfund listing in Silverton. Robinson said for years he had kept faith that the Animas River Stakeholders Group’s collaborative process would work.

“I was a member of (the stakeholders) for many years and believed strongly in what they were doing: community-based, watershed-based cleanup. I guess it’s not gone so well,” he said. “In fact, it’s really disastrous when you compare the situation with what’s happened at other Superfund sites.”

Steve Gunderson, director of Colorado’s Water Quality Control Division, said he was “appalled” by what he saw when he toured the Red and Bonita Mine in 2012.

“This site, even though it’s complicated and remote, is in an incredibly beautiful part of the state. It may take a Superfund designation to bring the resources to bear,” he said.

But Gunderson said he doubts the EPA will “move forward with a Superfund designation unless there’s support with the local government because Superfund can be fairly controversial, and the first reaction is often angst about what the economic ramifications might be.”

Many Silverton residents interviewed by The Durango Herald last summer feared a Superfund designation would stymie tourism and soil the prospect of mining’s return.

“Superfund isn’t the answer,” said Steve Fearn, a co-coordinator of the Animas River Stakeholders Group and a town resident. “I want to see Silverton become a successful, vibrant community again. Right now, it isn’t, and mining is the one thing we have.”

But Robinson said such objections had worn thin.

“God, they’re the same positions they took 25 years ago! I think ‘Gee-whiz, it’s like a broken record, going on and on,’” Robinson said. “People like Steve Fearn argue a Superfund site will discourage mining investment. But the pollution is discouraging people from mining.

“What Steve Fearn says is immaterial. What’s important is that the Clean Water Act promises to clean up the nation’s water, making it all swimmable, fishable. That’s the goal, and the people administering … Superfund aren’t doing their job,” he said. “That’s the problem.”[...]

In the absence of a Superfund designation, for years, the stakeholders group has tried to work collaboratively with the EPA and Sunnyside Gold Corp. to improve water quality in the Animas River.

However, water quality recently has gotten much worse in the river.

Between 2005 and 2010, three out of four of the fish species that lived in the Upper Animas beneath Silverton died. According to studies by the U.S. Geological Survey, the volume of insects and the number of bug species have plummeted. And since 2006, USGS scientists have found that the water flowing under Bakers Bridge – then downstream, into Durango – carries concentrations of zinc that are toxic to animal life.

The technology to clean the dirty water exists: a limestone water treatment plant. But the stakeholders group has no money to pay for it, and the EPA estimates it would cost between $12 million and $17 million to build and $1 million a year to run – in perpetuity.

Sunnyside Gold Corp., the last mining company to operate in Silverton, denies all liability for cleaning up the worsened metal pollution. It has offered $6.5 million in return for being released from all liability. Kinross Gold Corp., an international mining conglomerate, bought Sunnyside in 2003. The company generated nearly $1 billion in revenue in 2013, according to its fourth-quarter report…

On Monday, within hours of commissioners announcing that most of their Wednesday meeting would be dedicated to discussing Superfund with the EPA, Larry Perino, Sunnyside’s representative in the stakeholders group, sent co-coordinators Fearn, Bill Simon and Peter Butler a letter proposing the company’s “game plan” for cleaning up the Animas River.

The plan centers on all parties continuing to work through the stakeholders group, bulkheading the Red and Bonita Mine and using the money Sunnyside already has promised – with compound interest. The plan does not include pursuing Superfund listing…

More Animas River watershed coverage here and here.


Arkansas River Basin Water Forum: “What happens when you overdevelop?” — Jim Pokrandt #COWaterPlan

April 24, 2014
Arkansas River Basin -- Graphic via the Colorado Geological Survey

Arkansas River Basin — Graphic via the Colorado Geological Survey

Chris Woodka was front and center at the Arkansas Basin Water Forum. Below are 3 articles recapping the first day of the event.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A team of paragliders won’t cut it out of a glacier with a chainsaw. A ski patrol can’t bring it down from the top of a snowy mountain. Deep-sea divers won’t blow up an iceberg to get at it. In other words, no Silver Bullet for the state water plan. But it will provide options, said James Eklund, executive director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

“If you want to do planning, you have to do it before the crisis hits,” Eklund told the Arkansas River Basin Water Forum at Otero Junior College on Wednesday. “We’re not going to luck into what we want for our kids. We have to be intentional.”

The state water plan occupied all of the attention at the first day of the forum, along with the Arkansas Basin Roundtable’s basin implementation plan. The forum continues today with the focus on preserving irrigation for farms. The basin plan will be part of a draft state water plan that will be submitted to the governor in December.

“I can’t tell you what will be in the plan,” Eklund said. “It has to come from the grassroots up.”

The basin roundtables, the Interbasin Compact Committee and the CWCB have been talking about the core issues of a water plan — alternatives to ag dry-up, urban conservation, new supply, storage and environmental needs — for 10 years. New meetings are pushing to include more people in the statewide conversation, with about a dozen more planned in the next three months.

Eklund stressed the need to preserve watershed health to prepare for drought, floods and fires that have plagued the state for the past two years. While there will be measurable outcomes, the state water plan likely will not contain blanket solutions for filling the needs of cities on the Front Range as more people move into the state, he added.

“There may be tough decisions in the future,” Eklund said, speaking about some climate models that show reduced snowpack in coming years. “If climate change occurs, at that point dramatic steps will be taken. We have to be comfortable as a state.”

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The Arkansas River basin is no stranger to the troubles of overdevelopment of water resources. But its neighbors also have complaints as they develop their part of the state water plan. Experts from four other basins shared some of those Wednesday at the Arkansas River Basin Water Forum at Otero Junior College.

September’s record floods were a mixed blessing for the South Platte basin, said Sean Cronin, executive director of the St. Vrain and Left Hand Water Conservancy District.

“While some reservoirs filled, it wiped out the infrastructure to deliver water to ditches,” Cronin said.

The Rio Grande basin has been in drought since 2002, and will provide little help in meeting the state’s water gap because it’s struggling to fill its own needs, said Mike Gibson, general manager of the San Luis Valley Water Conservancy District.

“We’re an ag-based economy, and we have a gap already,” Gibson said.

He jokingly suggested moving Interstate 70 — the dividing line for the state’s wet and dry weather — 300 miles south to solve state water problems.

The Gunnison River basin is softening its hard line against taking water out of its basin, but would demand tough conservation measures and no Colorado River Compact complications before agreeing to any further diversions out of the basin, said John McClow, attorney for the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District. It’s still not a popular idea.

“We’re an untapped basin and intend to keep it that way,” McClow said. “And, we’re paranoid.”

Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer's office

Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer’s office

The Colorado River basin is also resistant to more transmountain diversions, said Jim Pokrandt, an education and communication specialist for the Colorado River District. The Front Range already takes 450,000-600,000 acre-feet from the Colorado River each year, so there is no excess water. Pokrandt applauded cooperative agreements with the Denver Water Board and proposals by the Northern Water Conservancy District as examples of moving ahead collaboratively. The Colorado River basin is cautious because of the types of problems the Arkansas River and Republican River basins already have faced.

“What happens when you overdevelop?” Pokrandt asked. “The Colorado River Basin Roundtable does not want that kind of future.”

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

An aquatic biologist who worked to establish a high-quality fishery on the Upper Arkansas River was honored Wednesday. Greg Policky, who works for Colorado Parks and Wildlife, received the Bob Appel Friend of the Arkansas River award at the 20th Arkansas River Basin Water Forum. The award is named for the late Bob Appel, who was a farmer and conservationist who helped found the forum 20 years ago. Policky has been the state’s primary biologist for the Upper Arkansas River for more than 20 years and has worked to improved the brown trout fishery.

“His attention to detail and collection of objective fishery data has provided numerous benefits to the river’s fishery,” said Jean Van Pelt, in introducing him at the forum.

In addition to programs and studies, his ability to provide public education about fisheries was cited.

“His goal is to increase the public understanding of aquatic ecology and fishery management,” she said. “He has actively targeted angling organizations and land resource agencies, but he finds his most rewarding beneficiaries in school-age children.”

Policky was humble in accepting the award, thanking members of the Arkansas River basin forum for working together on the voluntary flow program, which modulates reservoir releases for the benefit of fish.

Past winners of the Appel award are Mike Conlin, Denzel Goodwin, Paul Flack, Reed Dils, Carl Genova, Allen Ringle, Bud O’Hara, Alan Hamel and Steve Witte.

More Forum coverage from Bette McFarren writing for the La Junta Tribune-Democrat:

The 20th Arkansas River Basin Water Forum “Planning and Planting for the Future” got under way on Tuesday evening at Otero Junior College. Welcoming the group was La Junta Utility Board Chairman Lorenz Sutherland.

The first session was “Landscaping for Drought Tour of Otero Junior College Campus,” an informative session on selecting drought tolerant plants, xeriscape principles and growing drought tolerant trees, conducted by Genia Short of Otero Junior College, Liz Catt of Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, and Shelly Simmons of the Colorado State Forest Service. The group urged use of drip irrigation and showed the simple and inexpensive tubing needed to accomplish the job. Also stressed were weed barrier material which is water permeable, gravel for mulch and edging to keep out encroaching grass. Also, look at your neighbors’ yards for good drought-tolerant plants. Anything with a bulb or tuber, such as irises and tulips, are drought-tolerant. Also, the old-fashioned bushes like spirea and rose of Sharon are good. Many other design suggestions and tree selection pointers made the session extremely worthwhile.

In the next session, Kevin Rein of the State Engineer’s Office explained the complications of the Colorado water rights system. It sounds simple, first in, first rights, but industrial, agricultural and municipal needs have complicated matters. Many states, in fact more than half of the United States, depend on water originating in Colorado, known as the Headwater State. “It falls as snow on our mountains,” said Rein, “melts, and runs off out of state. We try to catch a little of it as it goes by.”

La Junta’s Director of Water and Wastewater Joe Kelley led off the session on the Arkansas Valley Conduit, supported by Erin Mink, of Senator Mark Udall’s office. She recalled 20 years ago when she was warned about our drinking water while she was working at Bent’s Old Fort. Also making comments about the conduit were Doris Morgan of Congressman Cory Gardner’s office and Brian McCain, of Congressman Scott Tipton’s office. They emphasized that all of Colorado’s congressional representatives are supporting the Arkansas Valley Conduit.

On Wednesday morning, the really big crowd arrived, filling the adjacent parking lots around the Otero Junior College Student Center. Host Chairman Lorenz Sutherland, Otero County Commissioner Keith Goodwin, and La Junta City Manager Rick Klein welcomed the group. The local color guard presented the colors. The keynote speaker was James Eklund, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, who spoke on “Colorado’s Water Plan.”

More Arkansas River Basin coverage here.


Jamestown recovery from #COflood

April 22, 2014

From the Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

Mayor Tara Schoedinger says 80 percent of the [Jamestown’s] 300 residents remain displaced. They’ve rented houses in Boulder, Longmont, or elsewhere. This winter, Schoedinger feared few would return if water service and roads were not restored by August.

Now, it looks like they will. Bids will soon go out for design and construction of restored infrastructure of water treatment, mains and service lines. If all goes as planned, construction will begin in late May or early June. Completion is expected by August.

For repairs above ground, the town’s insurance will pay for replacements. But for the more costly below-ground work, the Federal Emergency Management Agency will pay 75 percent of costs and the state of Colorado 22.5 percent.

That leaves the town paying just 2.5 percent. This is expected to cost just under $2 million.

In an interview at the Boulder County Courthouse, where the town board has met since last September, Schoedinger recently explained that temporary roads associated with the water works will be completed by early August, with one significant bridge repair likely to be done by November.

As before, sewage treatment is handled through individual septic tanks, and $50,000 has been donated to that cause.

Roots of the settlement are traced to 1863, when evidence of gold nearby drew prospectors. It’s the most northerly extent of the belt of gold and other precious metals that sweeps across Colorado to the Durango area. The gold never amounted to that much, but the town stayed.

This isn’t the first challenge. Schoedinger describes floods in the late 1800s, then again in 1913 and 1969—and with at least comparable ferocity to that which occurred in September.

Jamestown was probably drenched worse than any other town in the four days of storms that dropped up to 18 inches in some locations. The flooding waters destroyed 20 percent of the houses and 50 percent of roads, plus the water treatment plant and the fire station. A mudslide also killed Schoedinger’s next-door neighbor, Joey Howlett, who was regarded as the town’s patriarch.


Durango’s new whitewater park opened Friday for the season

April 20, 2014
Design for the whitewater park at Smelter Rapids via the City of Durango

Design for the whitewater park at Smelter Rapids via the City of Durango

From The Durango Herald:

Boaters and kayakers take their first runs through Durango’s new Whitewater Park on Friday. The $1 million project created a number of in-river features next to Santa Rita Park. The contractor is continuing to do work along the shoreline, which is not accessible adjacent to the wastewater-treatment plant.

More Animas River watershed coverage here.


“…the waterways of Grand County have become the poster child for aquatic death by a thousand cuts” — Allen Best #ColoradoRiver

April 20, 2014
Denver Water's collection system via the USACE EIS

Denver Water’s collection system via the USACE EIS

Another independent journalist covering water issues is Allen Best purveyor of The Mountain Town News. Here’s an analysis of the recent agreement between Denver Water, Trout Unlimited, and Grand County for operating the Colorado River Cooperative agreement. Here’s an excerpt:

Located at the headwaters of the Colorado River, the waterways of Grand County have become the poster child for aquatic death by a thousand cuts…

Called the Mitigation and Enhancement Coordination Plan, the agreement between Denver Water, Grand County, and Trout Unlimited proposes to govern Denver’s incremental diversions through the Continental Divide known as the Moffat firming project. However, according to the architects of the deal, it should also serve as a model in the ongoing dialogue as Colorado’s growing metropolitan areas look to squeeze out the final drops of the state’s entitlements to the Colorado River, as defined by the Colorado River compact of 1922 and other compacts.

“It is a demonstration of a new way of doing business that should be a model as Colorado talks about meeting its water gaps (between demands and supplies),” says Jim Lochhead, chief executive of Denver Water.

“Instead of platitudes or politics or parochialism, you need to do it by sitting down and working together and dealing with the issues,” he adds…

There are skeptics, unable to explain this strange alchemy in which a river can in any way benefit from having less water, as the agreement insists can be the case.

Among those withholding enthusiasm is Matt Rice, the Colorado coordinator for American Rivers. He points out that the agreement covers just 4 of the 32 creeks and streams trapped by Denver Water in the Fraser Valley and the adjoining Williams Fork. Too, like too many other similar programs, the data collection begins after permits are awarded, not before, which he thinks is backward.

In short, while Denver is careful to talk about “enhancements,” he thinks it falls short of addressing full, cumulative impacts.

Cumulative impacts are likely to be a focal point of federal permitting. While the Environmental Protection Agency is likely to have a voice, the vital 404 permit must come from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The parties to the new agreement have asked that their agreement be incorporated into the permit…

A far greater financial cost to Denver specified by the agreement is the agency’s commitment to forfeit up to 2,500 acre-feet annually of the city’s added 18,700 acre-foot take.

Based on the firm yield of the water and Denver’s rate for outside-city raw water to customers, this commitment is valued at $55 million.

Denver will make this water available for release into the creeks and rivers, to keep water temperatures colder and hence more hospitable to insects and fish. The water can also be used for flushing, to mimic what happens naturally during spring runoff, scouring river bottoms, to clear out the silt that clogs the spaces between rocks where mayflies and other insects live – and upon which fish feed…

A final environmental impact statement from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is expected in late April. The federal agency can also impose conditions of its own making. They would be included in a record-of-decision, which is expected to be issued in late 2015.

A permit from the Colorado Department of Health and Environment is also needed. Boulder County insists it also has say-so over enlargement of Gross Reservoir, an assertion contested by Denver Water.

In addition, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission must award a permit for revised hydroelectric generation at Gross.

At earliest, expansion of Gross could start in 2018 and be ready to capture spring runoff in 2022…

The agreement represents a new wave of thinking about impacts of water diversions. The older way of thinking was demonstrated in the Colorado Big-Thompson project. Financed by the federal government, it gave the Western Slope a one-time package, Green Mountain Reservoir, between Kremmling and Silverthorne, to serve Western Slope needs, particularly the farmers near Grand Junction who need water for late-summer fruits and produce. The agreement did not cover a more recent problem seemingly caused by the diversion, algae that obscure the clarity of Grand Lake.

The most recent of of the new agreements since the 1990s provides more living, breathing elasticity. The foundation for the new agreement was announced in 2011 but not finalized until recently. Called the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement, it sharply restricts Denver’s ability to develop new water sources on the Western Slope and also calls for Denver to provide both water and money to address problems in the Vail, Breckenridge and Winter Park areas.

Then, in 2012, came agreements addressing the ambitions by five cities along the northern Front Range to increase the take of spring flows at Windy Gap, similar to what Denver wants to do at the Moffat Tunnel.

The Windy Gap settlement introduced adaptive management, an idea gaining favor in management of rivers of the West for several decades. The essential idea of Learning by Doing, the program embraced for both Windy Gap and the Moffat projects, is that it’s impossible to know exactly what to do in advance…

“In the past, you’d build a project, do the required mitigation and move on. That’s no longer the case. Denver Water is committed to a new way of doing business – one that approaches water management in a way that is collaborative and as beneficial to West Slope interests as possible. The partnership we’ve created through Learning by Doing is permanent. Our commitment is t o work with Grand County, Trout Unlimited and all the partners in Learning by Doing in an ongoing manner permanently into the future.”

More Denver Water coverage here.


Southern Delivery System: Colorado Springs Utilities has spent $26.6 M on land-related expenses

April 19, 2014
Southern Delivery System route map -- Graphic / Reclamation

Southern Delivery System route map — Graphic / Reclamation

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Colorado Springs has spent $26.6 million to acquire land for its $984 million Southern Delivery System. Most of the money was spent in El Paso County, although properties in Pueblo West and on Walker Ranches were purchased either permanently or for temporary easements.

Pipeline easements totaled $961,681 for 388 acres in Pueblo County, compared with $2.5 million for 486 acres in El Paso County.

Another $1 million was paid to buy homes in Pueblo West.

The big money was paid for other features of the project in El Paso County, a total of about $22 million.

“It would be misleading to simply do the math on the values above and conclude that more was paid for land in El Paso County than Pueblo County,” said Janet Rummel, spokesman for Colorado Springs Utilities, in an e-mail responding to a request from The Pueblo Chieftain.

Permanent easement prices ranged from 50-90 percent of fee value, while temporary easements are valued at 10 percent per year, varying from one to four years.

“The fee value of land depends primarily on location, but also is subject to size, shape, development entitlement and improvements, if any,” Rummel explained.

“Within the raw water pipeline alignments for SDS, fee values for easements and facilities ranged from $1,389 per acre to almost $20,000 per acre,” Rummel said. “Pueblo West properties were generally valued in the range between $10,900 to $13,000 per acre.”

At the high end of that scale were 6 homes on about 10 acres in Pueblo West purchased for $1.044 million.

But even below that scale were 103 acres, two-thirds in permanent easements, on Walker Ranches, which could be purchased for $82,900, or about $804 per acre. Utilities also paid Walker $600,000 to relocate cattle during construction, as required by Pueblo County’s 1041 permit.

Gary Walker will contest the amount of the easement payment in court this November, one of four cases still in dispute.

Walker also has raised complaints, most recently during a county public hearing, about erosion along the pipeline route. The bulk of the money, however, has gone for the treatment plant, pump station and reservoir sites in El Paso County.

Utilities paid $259,519 for 43 acres for the Bradley Pump Station; $2.4 million for 124 acres at the treatment plant and $19.3 million for a future reservoir site on Upper Williams Creek.

At the reservoir site, T-Cross Ranches, owned by the Norris family, received $9,500 per acre for 791 acres ($7.5 million), while the state land board received $10,500 per acre for 1,128 acres ($11.8 million).

SDS is a pipeline project that will deliver up to 96 million gallons of water daily from Lake Pueblo to Colorado Springs, Fountain, Security and Pueblo West.

The figures do not include money Utilities paid to purchase homes in Jimmy Camp Creek at a reservoir site that later was abandoned.


The Lower Ark, Otero County, et.al., start the process to create a rural water authority for the county

April 17, 2014
Arkansas River Basin -- Graphic via the Colorado Geological Survey

Arkansas River Basin — Graphic via the Colorado Geological Survey

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The groundwork for a rural water authority in Otero County was put in place Wednesday. The Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District agreed to partner with Otero County commissioners to sign on three water providers to participate in the authority. The authority will give the water providers, which are small private companies, the ability to apply for government grants in order to bring their water systems into compliance with public health standards. It also will allow them to share operating expenses, deal with issues relating to the upcoming Arkansas Valley Conduit and to speak with one voice. Eventually, it could allow participants to hire staff members to deal with water issues.

“We have a lot of issues with compliance, because 14 out of 28 private water providers in the valley are out of compliance,” said Bill Hancock, conservation manager for the Lower Ark district.

Right now, only three of the districts have signed on, the Fayette, Vroman and Valley districts, all in Otero County. Combined, they serve fewer than 500 people. Other water companies are expected to sign on as the authority develops.

“We have the ability to expand in Otero County, as well as other counties in the valley. This is a good place to start,” said Otero County Commissioner Keith Goodwin.

One of the first projects of the authority will be to apply for a state loan to fund adding membrane filters to the systems, Hancock said. The filters are made by Innovative Water Technologies, a Rocky Ford company.

Otero County commissioners voted Monday to approve the authority, but appointed no board members. The Lower Ark appointed Wayne Snider and Jolean Rose, both of Fowler, to the authority.

“We’re at the point now where we have the vehicle, but we still need to add the engine, steering and wheels,” Snider said.

The Lower Ark board praised the agreement.

“Anyone who has been involved with rural water knows how important this is,” said Lynden Gill, chairman of the board.

“Not only is compliance important, but some of these systems are 40-50 years old and this provides a way to maintain them.”

More Arkansas River Basin coverage here.


Fryingpan-Arkansas Project update #ColoradoRiver

April 16, 2014
Fryingpan-Arkansas Project via the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District

Fryingpan-Arkansas Project via the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District

From email from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

We are getting ready to start importing water from the West Slope collection of the Fryingpan-Arkansas system to the East Slope. As long as minimum flows at both the Thomasville and Hunter Creek gages are met, we can begin diversions of additional water through the Boustead Tunnel.

Here are the minimum flows for the Fryingpan River at Thomasville:

Date Min Flow, (cfs)
Oct. 1 – Mar. 31 30
Apr. 1 – Apr. 30 100
May 1 – May 31 150
Jun. 1 – Jun. 30 200
Jul. 1 – Jul. 31 100
Aug. 1 – Aug 31 75
Sep 1 – Sep 30 65

Additionally, at Twin Lakes dam, we are curtailing releases to Lake Creek and the Arkansas River today and tomorrow. Today, we scaled back to about 100 cfs. Tomorrow, we will continue scaling back to 0 cfs while a regular review of the dam is conducted. Once the review is complete, we will bring releases back up.

More Fryingpan-Arkansas Project coverage here.


The Town of Breckenridge to host public forums about new water treatment plant, April 26 and 28 #ColoradoRiver

April 16, 2014
Breckenridge circa 1913 via Breckenridge Resort

Breckenridge circa 1913 via Breckenridge Resort

From the Summit Daily News (Alli Langley):

Breckenridge could start construction on a new water plant along the Blue River in as soon as three years. But first, the town wants your input.

The public is invited to attend four forums to learn about the construction of the town’s second water plant and give comments. The forums will be April 23 and 28, at 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. both days, at the Breckenridge Police Station.

“This is the master plan for the next 25 to 30 years,” said town manager Tim Gagen.

At the forums, town officials will explain the projected cost of the plant and upgrades to the water system.

The first phase of the project includes building the plant, pumps and plumbing to get the water integrated with the current system, he said, which should cost about $25 million to $30 million dollars. The plant itself should cost about $10 million, which Gagen called reasonable. The expensive part, he said, will be pumping water a couple miles into town, against gravity.

Phase two includes extending lines into areas outside the town limits not currently serviced, which Gagen said could cost more than $40 million but would only be built if and when people want that service.

Customers living outside the town limits use private wells that have a high likelihood of failure and need equipment replacements after 15 or 20 years. And before this project, he said, if those people wanted water service, the town had to annex their land.

People in those areas have called about extending service to their neighborhoods, Gagen said, not to feed their homes, but to feed water hydrants on the street. That would help with wildfire protection and lower their insurance rates.

“They would have to pay for it,” he said about the phase two extensions. “It wouldn’t be built by the current customers.”

Gagen said he expects questions at the forums about the plant’s locations and the impact on the Blue River.

As far as where the new plant will go, officials know the water will be drawn from the river just north of Swan Mountain Road.

The town hasn’t decided yet on the plant’s exact location, but it will be north of town for several reasons.

Putting it north of town, closer to Dillon Reservoir, means the plant would leave water in the Breckenridge part of the Blue River in town, which he said is better for the health of the river and doesn’t counteract the restoration work done there in the last few decades.

A site north of town also is better for water rights issues, as the Upper Blue Sanitation District has some rights in town.

And the water quantity and quality is better closer to the lake, Gagen said, with lower concentrations of heavy metals leftover from mining.

Gagen said the town looked at putting the plant closer to the original one, south of town, but that wouldn’t solve the problem of insecurity in the system in case of mechanical failure.

Unlike the water systems in Silverthorne and Dillon, which are interconnected in case one of the towns has an emergency, “We’re a standalone system,” Gagen said. “We don’t have a backup.”

“And” he added, “our biggest fear quite honestly is fire.”

Erosion from fire affects the cost to treat water. A second plant would give the utility time for repairs and cleanup.

So although the whole project will cost more because of the location farther north, he said, the town will “trade additional costs for other positives we think will be beneficial to the community in the long-run.”

The Water System Study

A task force established in 2011 to consider issues surrounding the town’s water system found that the supply to the existing Gary Roberts Water Treatment Plant would be very low in an extreme drought, leading to shortages. And though the town has made improvements in water conservation and management efficiency, the current water plant (which was constructed beginning in 1972) is nearing 80 percent capacity.

A study of the town’s water system by Sarah C. Clark, an engineer in Denver, was completed and presented to the town council in January.

The study strongly recommends the construction of a three-MGD (million gallons per day) plant to meet future population demands and provide more service to the homes and lots near the existing water system’s boundaries.

In the event of a wildfire or another environmental disaster or a mechanical malfunction of the current plant, a second water plant would provide a critical back-up system.

The study also noted that the current Breckenridge system supplies high-quality drinking water at a low cost to customers compared to other Colorado communities. The new plant will require increases in the user fees which will be shared by current and future customers.

Besides increasing water rates and fees, Gagen said the town is looking at a list of potential revenue streams, including about $8 million the utility has saved for improvements, grants and funding from partners like the county.

Debt will be the most important element of the financing, he said, helping to spread the cost over about 30 years “so no one generation of people is suffering the cost of paying for the whole thing.”

For now, the town is in the process of gathering public input and meeting with Summit County government and Upper Blue Sanitation District officials.

Then the town will start modifying water rates to fit the new plant, and after three or four years of the design and approval process, it will start construction.

The study is available online at http://www.townofbreckenridge.com, and the town council urges the public to review it before the public forums.

More infrastructure coverage here.


Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District board meeting recap

April 14, 2014
Graphic via the Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District

Graphic via the Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District

From The Mountain Mail (Joe Stone):

Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District directors agreed to continue pursuing the district’s proposed Multi-use Project during the monthly board meeting Thursday in Salida. Director Greg Felt, Salida, provided an overview of the project, which has remained largely dormant for the past 2 years, and noted the widespread appeal of the project among diverse state agencies, local government entities and the conservation and recreation communities.

Benefits of the project would include:

• Preservation of agricultural irrigation.
• Two water storage reservoirs.
• Alluvial aquifer water storage.
• Conservation easements.
• Wildlife corridor protections.
• Protections for deer and elk populations.
• Drought water supply.
• New public access to the Arkansas River.
• New boating access to the river.
• Hydroelectric electricity generation.

Felt pointed out that these benefits align almost perfectly with Colorado water management objectives as identified by the Statewide Water Supply Initiative, or SWSI (swahzee), 2010 report.

Major components of the project would include Chaffee County’s most senior water right, the Trout Creek Ditch; the Helena Ditch; Moltz Reservoir; a proposed gravel pit reservoir; and 6,000-12,000 acre-feet of proposed aquifer storage.

Felt said significant challenges facing the project include financing and working with five different property owners.

District Manager Terry Scanga said he sent a proposal to the Colorado Water Conservation Board concerning the project and the potential for financing through the CWCB and said he would follow up to get a meeting set.

District Engineer Ivan Walter said, “The project is there” from an engineering standpoint and in terms of SWSI objectives. “It would be a missed opportunity if the Upper Ark (district) didn’t do it.”

Director Jeff Ollinger, Buena Vista, has a background in finance and suggested using the CWCB finance application to prepare for the CWCB meeting. He also noted the potential for the district to leverage other assets as collateral to obtain sufficient financing for the project.

Ollinger also stressed the need to accurately assess the risks associated with the project, citing the potential for wildfire in the Trout Creek drainage and the potential for a hazardous material spill along U.S. 24/285 between Johnson Village and Trout Creek Pass.
Either of these events could significantly affect water quality and, therefore, the ability of the Multi-use Project to generate revenue to make loan payments.

Prior to the regular board meeting, directors met as the Enterprise Committee. Agenda items for the committee meeting included a financial report, an augmentation report, a reservoir and water storage report, and a precipitation and streamflow report.

In other business, Upper Ark directors:

Learned that Upper Colorado Basin snowpack conditions are similar to those in 2011 when the Frying Pan-Arkansas Project delivered 98,900 acre-feet of water to the Arkansas River and that the district has requested 1,000 acre-feet of project water for 2014.

Heard a legislative report from consultant Ken Baker, who said the Flex Water Market bill had been changed to prevent leased water from being diverted outside the basin of historic use for the water right in question.

Voted to drop Water Court case 95CW234, involving district efforts to extend augmentation services into the Texas Creek drainage.

Heard a presentation by U.S. Geological Survey Southwest Colorado Office Chief David Mau about the detrimental effects of wildfire runoff on water quality and how to mitigate those effects.

Learned the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District approved a stipulation in Water Court case 04CW95 and signed a storage agreement with the Upper Ark district.
Were reminded that four directors’ seats are up for reappointment, and candidates have until May 1 to submit an application.

Learned district staff members are developing a memorandum of understanding with the town of Buena Vista for the Cottonwood Creek Integrated Management Plan.

Agreed to have legal counsel draft comments regarding the U.S. Environmental Protection

Agency’s proposed rules pertaining to water resources.

More Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District coverage here.


Pure Cycle Corporation Announces Second Fiscal Quarter 2014 Financial Results

April 14, 2014

waterfromtap

Here’s the release from Pure Cycle Water:

Pure Cycle Corporation (NASDAQ Capital Market: PCYO) today reported financial results for the six months ended February 28, 2014. Basic and diluted loss per share decreased 38% from a loss of $.08 per share in last year to $.05 per share this year.

“During the second quarter we continued to see our business grow and develop driving long- term shareholder value” commented Mark Harding, President of Pure Cycle Corporation. “We are very excited to have record water sales and deliveries and are continuing to add value to our Company through monetizing our valuable water assets.”[...]

Revenues increased approximately 51% during the our six months ended February 28, 2014 compared to our six months ended February 28, 2013 primarily as a result of increased water sales used for fracking.

More infrastructure coverage here.


Highline Lake dredging complete #ColoradoRiver

April 14, 2014

highlinelake

From Dredging Today:

The dredging operation removed years of silt buildup that will significantly enhance water recreation at the popular park, located northwest of Fruita.

“We thank the public for their patience while the work has been going on,” said Park Manager Alan Martinez. “The project was successful and we invite everyone to come out and enjoy one of the best boating opportunities in the Grand Valley.”

The East boat ramp had been closed for over three years due to a deep buildup of silt. The dredging restored a deep channel out to the lake from the East Bay making it accessible to boaters.

The West boat ramp remains open as well.

In addition, the work uncovered the dam outlet structure allowing divers to perform safety inspections and testing.
Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) and Colorado Lottery provided $1,070,000 for the project; however, the project’s total costs to date are $870,000.

More infrastructure coverage here.


SB14-103 contains “soft enforcement” provisions

April 13, 2014

Low flow toilet cutout via The Ultimate Handyman

Low flow toilet cutout via The Ultimate Handyman


From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Nick Coltrain):

Colorado will set higher efficiency standards for its plumbing fixtures starting in September 2016 — though the stricter standards might be a case of policy catching up with practice…

Senate Bill 14-103, sponsored in the House by Fort Collins Democrat Rep. Randy Fischer, prohibits the sale of plumbing fixtures that don’t meet federal WaterSense standards. WaterSense certification means the plumbing fixture uses at least 20 percent less water without sacrificing performance compared to standard models. For toilets, that means using 1.28 gallons of water or less per flush, as opposed to the federally mandated maximum of 1.6 gallons per flush.

The bill passed this month unanimously in the Senate and 35-28 in the House. Eric Brown, a spokesman for Gov. John Hickenlooper, said Wednesday that the policy team is reviewing the bill and talking with legislators.

Some communities, such as Thornton, have already put these standards into effect, Fischer said. He called the bill an attempt to “speed up the transition” to fixtures that are more efficient.

“There is a certain amount of penetration in the market already from these fixtures,” he said…

Fischer said the bill contains only “soft enforcement.” By March 2017, manufacturers must submit to the state the percentage of WaterSense-certified products sold to retailers. Retailers have no requirement and can sell non-WaterSense fixtures after the deadlines.

The requirements should help address the Colorado Water Conservation Board’s predictions of water supplies running short by 500,000 acre-feet of water per year in 2050 if habits don’t change. That would leave urban water users drinking up what would otherwise go to crops, Fischer said. The bill will help mitigate that without requiring a change of habits, he said…

Fort Collins rebate program

The city of Fort Collins offers rebates on water bills if you replace inefficient toilets and showerheads with models that are WaterSense-certified or those that perform better.

• $75 for a MaP-certified toilet (uses 1.06 gallons per flush or less)

• $50 for a WaterSense-certified toilet (1.28 gallons or less)*

• $10 for the purchase of WaterSense-certified showerhead

• The city estimates 4.7 million gallons of water a year will be saved with 2012’s rebated toilets alone.

• Information: http://noconow.co/waterrebates.

* May be discontinued with new law’s higher water efficiency standards.

More 2014 Colorado legislation coverage here.


Big Thompson River Restoration Coalition host first of a hoped-for series of master planning meetings #COflood

April 13, 2014
Flood damage Big Thompson Canyon September 2013 -- photo via Northern Water

Flood damage Big Thompson Canyon September 2013 — photo via Northern Water

From the Loveland Reporter-Herald (Jessica Maher):

Leaning over a map of the post-flood Big Thompson River in the Loveland High School cafeteria on Saturday, John Giordanengo asked Glen Haven residents to point to their properties.

Then the million-dollar question: How do you think the river should be restored?

The first of what’s expected to be a series of master planning meetings hosted by the Big Thompson River Restoration Coalition focused on gathering input to that very question, as well as explaining the numerous factors that are involved in its answer.

The coalition, chaired by Giordanengo, has grown to include hundreds of stakeholders, nonprofit groups, local businesses and government entities, representatives of which were available Saturday to meet one on one with property owners.

“As we’re turning gears toward long-term recovery, us being able to coordinate on meaningful restoration will impact the river for years to come, including where you live,” Giordanengo told meeting attendees.

In an hour-long presentation, about 70 people were introduced to the early stages of a master plan for the entire river corridor, which is being developed by Fort Collins-based Ayres Associates.

It started with an analysis of the kind of damage that occurred during September’s historic flood, including bank erosion, channel shifting, flanking of bridges, loss of hillsides and massive sediment deposition.

“Our master plan effort will be largely focused on looking at these different types of damage and do what we can to mitigate and reduce the risk of those types of damage,” said John Hunt with Ayres Associates.

More Big Thompson River Watershed coverage here.


“…nobody is digging a new tunnel tomorrow” — Jim Pokrandt #ColoradoRiver #COWaterPlan

April 13, 2014
Colorado River Basin including out of basin demands -- Graphic/USBR

Colorado River Basin including out of basin demands — Graphic/USBR

From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (John Stroud):

…it’s important to note that “nobody is digging a new tunnel tomorrow,” and organizations like the Glenwood Springs-based River District are active at the table in working to protect Western Colorado interests in the face of growing Front Range water needs, [Jim Pokrandt] said.

“There are a lot of top-10 lists when it comes to rivers and water conservation,” Pokrandt said in reaction to the listing last Wednesday by the nonprofit conservation group American Rivers. “It’s a good way to generate publicity for these various causes.”

American Rivers calls on Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper to prevent new water diversions and instead prioritize protection of Western Slope rivers and water conservation measures in the Colorado Water Plan, which remains in discussions through a roundtable process that involves stakeholders from across the state.

Already, about 450,000 to 600,000 acre-feet of water per year is diverted from the Colorado basin to the Front Range, Pokrandt noted.

The prospect of more diversions “is definitely being advocated in some quarters from those who say a new project is not a question of if, but when and how soon,” he said.

“We’re saying that’s a big ‘if,’ because there are a lot of big issues around that.”

Pokrandt said any new trans-mountain diversions are “questionable, if it’s even possible.” That’s primarily because of the Colorado River Compact with down-river states that guarantees their share of river water.

“It’s important that we don’t overdevelop the river, and any more transmountain diversions should be the last option out of the box [for Front Range needs],” said. “First and foremost, it behooves all of Colorado to be more efficient in our water use.”[...]

Pokrandt notes that many municipalities across the state, not just the Front Range, are scrambling to find water to take care of projected population growth. That means more water demand on both sides of the Continental Divide.

“But there’s a big question about how much water is really left to develop,” he said. “There’s also an economic benefit to leaving water in the river without developing it, so there’s that issue as well.”[...]

Another Colorado river on the American Rivers endangered list this year is the White River, which was No. 7 due to the threat of oil and gas development and the risk to fish and wildlife habitat, clean water and recreation opportunities.

The White River flows from the northern reaches of the Flat Tops through Rio Blanco County and into the Green River in northeastern Utah.

“Major decisions this year will determine whether we can safeguard the White River’s unique wild values for future generations,” said Matt Rice of American Rivers in their Wednesday news release.

From the Vail Daily (Melanie Wong):

The conservation group American Rivers releases the annual list, and rivers that are threatened include sections of the Colorado that run through Eagle County, including headwater rivers, which include the Eagle River.

According to the group, the river is threatened as many Front Range cities look for future water sources to meet growing municipal and industrial needs. Some of those communities are eyeing various parts of the Colorado for diversion.

Advocates hope the list garners some national awareness and spurs lawmakers to prevent new water diversions and prioritize river protection and water conservation measures in the state water plan.

“The America’s Most Endangered Rivers report is a call to action to save rivers that are at a critical tipping point,” said Ken Neubecker, of American Rivers. “We cannot afford more outdated, expensive and harmful water development schemes that drain and divert rivers and streams across the Upper Colorado Basin. If we want these rivers to continue to support fish, wildlife, agriculture and a multi-billion dollar tourism industry, we must ensure the rivers have enough water.”[...]

For decades, Front Range growth has been fed by Western Slope rivers. Around a half million acres of water is already being diverted east from the Upper Colorado and growing cities need more. The problem with diversions, said Neubecker, is that the water leaves the Western Slope forever, citing a proposed project to tap into Summit County’s Blue Mountain Reservoir and divert water from the Blue River.

“Grand and Summit counties are justifiably worried about a Green Mountain pumpback, and so should Eagle County, because that project isn’t possible without a Wolcott reservoir,” he said. “With water diverted to the Front Range, we never see it again. It has serious impacts on us as far as drought and growth. It’s a finite resource.”

Historically, there have been agreements that have benefited both the Western and Eastern slopes, and river advocates said they want to see more such projects. The Colorado Cooperative Agreement, announced in 2011, involved the cooperation of many Eagle County entities. The Eagle River Memorandum of Understanding, signed in 1998, was also a major victory for mountain communities, significantly capping the amount of water that could be taken at the Homestake Reservoir and keeping some water in Eagle County.

Another settlement with Denver Water in 2007 was a big win for the local water community, said Diane Johnson, of Eagle River Water and Sanitation. “Denver Water gave up a huge amount of water rights, pretty much everything leading into Gore Creek, and as for a Wolcott Reservoir, it could only be developed with local entities in control,” she said. “Things are done more collaboratively now. It’s not the 1960s and ’70s anymore, where the Front Range developed the rivers without thought of how it affected local communities.”[...]

A new Colorado State University report commissioned by the Eagle River Watershed Council studied the state of the Eagle River.

“It’s clearly showing that the biggest threat to this portion of the Upper Colorado is reduced flows. It’s impacting wildlife for sure, most notably the fish,” said the council’s executive director Holly Loff.

With less water, the average river temperature is rising, and many cold-water fish have either been pushed out or killed as a result. Less water also means less riparian (riverside) habitat, an ecosystem that supports 250 species of animals. Of course, less water also affects river recreation and means there’s less water to drink.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here.


Lake County: Water rates up starting with April invoice

April 12, 2014
Leadville

Leadville

From the Leadville Herald-Democrat (Marcia Martinek):

Parkville Water District customers were notified in their most-recent bills that water rates are increasing in April. The base rate will be $36 for 4,000 gallons, and then users who exceed that amount will be charged an additional amount per thousand gallons ranging from $4.50 up to $5.75. Previously customers were charged $33 for the first 3,000 gallons and then $4.60 for each additional 1,000 gallons. Greg Teter, Parkville general manager, said that the new rate structure is more in line with the way other water districts charge.

“We structured this (the rate structure) with bits and pieces from around the state,” Teter said. The rates that Parkville charges are “middle of the road” when compared with other rates throughout the state, he added.

The rate increase is necessary to keep up with expenses, he said. The district would like to put away something in a capital-reserve fund, but it’s hard to project what the expenses will be each year.

Parkville is looking at $500,000 in capital expenses this year as it deals with 130-year-old water lines and 120-year-old dams, Teter said.

The new rate structure was approved at the Dec. 13 meeting of the Parkville Board of Directors.

The notice that was included in recent water bills said that a similar rate structure for commercial service is also taking effect this month, and a table with the commercial rates is available at the business office, 2015 Poplar St., or at http://parkvillewater.org.

More infrastructure coverage here.


The funding request for Mountain Home Reservoir sails through the Rio Grande Basin Roundtable

April 12, 2014
Mountain Home Reservoir via The Applegate Group

Mountain Home Reservoir via The Applegate Group

From the Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

Money still following the water in the Rio Grande Basin.

With funds to spare, the Rio Grande Roundtable on Tuesday unanimously approved a $25,000 allocation from the local basin account for a feasibility study to determine the best way to improve the efficiency of Mountain Home Reservoir both for the benefit of Trinchera Irrigation Company irrigators and those who enjoy recreational activities at the reservoir.

Currently the local water supply reserve account totals more than $107,000, and another disbursal of $120,000 to the basin is expected soon, Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) staffer Craig Godbout told the roundtable members during their April 8 meeting. CWCB administers the funds approved by the legislature from a portion of severance tax proceeds for water projects throughout the state’s river basins including the Rio Grande. A portion of the money is allocated to each river basin to be apportioned by each roundtable group whose members locally include representatives of various water groups and interests throughout the San Luis Valley.

Another portion of the money is set aside for statewide disbursement through the CWCB board. That board also has to approve the local projects, many of which seek funding from both the local and statewide accounts. The Trinchera Irrigation Company’s request for $25,000, however, was solely from the local basin account.

Godbout explained that the total of the most recent request of $25,000 added to requests last month for basin funds of $44,500 equaled $69,500, which the current balance of $107,000 can accommodate .

Unlike the Trinchera request, the grant requests from March sought funding from both the local and statewide water reserve accounts, Godbout said. Those March requests are currently on hold until the CWCB receives its next allocation of severance tax proceeds, he added, because the total requests from the statewide account last month exceeded the amount the statewide account contained.

Funding requests for projects from around the state, including $830,500 in requests from the Valley, totaled more than $1.7 million, and the statewide account only had about $980,000 in it at the time, Godbout explained.

“We delayed all the statewide requests until May,” he said.

By that time the CWCB expects to receive an additional $1.9 million in its statewide account, which will more than cover the current requests for funding. The additional funding was supposed to come in on April 1 but has not yet been received.

Godbout anticipated approval for the pending project requests during the May 21-22 meeting of the CWCB board in Pueblo.

Trinchera Irrigation Company Superintendent Wayne Schwab presented the request on Tuesday to the roundtable group to fund a feasibility study on Mountain Home Reservoir improvements. He had presented an overview of the project to the roundtable during its March meeting.

The irrigation company encompasses 47 shareholders irrigating about 12,000 acres in the northern part of Costilla County. Trinchera Irrigation Company manages both Mountain Home Reservoir, with a decreed capacity of about 18,000 acre feet, and Smith Reservoir, decreed for about 2,000 acre feet, Schwab explained.

The project for which the irrigation company was seeking funding was improvement to Mountain Home, which not only provides irrigation water but water for wildlife and recreation such as fishing and boating. Schwab said Mountain Home Reservoir is a popular fishing spot even in wintertime when anglers go ice fishing.

Mountain Home Reservoir was built in 1908, and only one of the three canal gates is operational right now, Schwab said. The state engineer would like to see all three operational, he added.

Schwab said he believed the two gates not currently being used probably would open, but he was nervous they might not close. One of the current problems at the reservoir is gate leakage down the canal to Smith Reservoir, if it makes it that far, Schwab added. He estimated more than 1,000 acre-foot loss annually that is going into the ground or being evaporated.

The feasibility study, for which roundtable funds were requested and approved , would determine the best way to improve dam safety, improve water storage , reduce storage loss and protect and improve water availability for wildlife and recreational purposes.

The study would involve an underwater inspection of the outlet works, cost analyses of alternatives and recommendations .

Schwab said although no funding match was required, the Trinchera Irrigation Company with assistance from Colorado Parks & Wildlife and Trout Unlimited were kicking in $12,650, with more than $10,000 alone from CPW in technical assistance . Rio Grande Roundtable Chairman Mike Gibson reminded the group one of the goals of the roundtable was to support the reservoirs, and this project ties in with that goal. The roundtable has also previously assisted other reservoir projects for the Santa Maria, Continental , Rio Grande, Platoro and Sanchez Reservoirs.

More IBCC — basin roundtables coverage here.


Aspinall Unit operations update

April 11, 2014

aspinallunitdescription

From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

The Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Association (UVWUA) will be diverting an additional 100 cfs through the Gunnison Tunnel Monday morning, April 14th. At the same time, releases from Crystal Dam will also be increased by 100 cfs, from 850 cfs to 950 cfs. After this change, the total flow through the Gunnison Tunnel should be about 500 cfs, which should leave about 450 to 500 cfs in the Gunnison River downstream of the tunnel.

More Aspinall Unit coverage here.


Northern Water board sets C-BT quota to 60% #ColoradoRiver

April 11, 2014
Lake Granby spill June 2011 via USBR

Lake Granby spill June 2011 via USBR

From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Ryan Maye Handy):

Northern Water, which manages water stored throughout a massive system of linked reservoirs in Northern Colorado, set its annual water quota at 60 percent, despite customer requests to receive 70 percent of their full potential water allotment.

Since 1957, Northern Water has issued the water quotas, which dictate the amount of water from the Colorado-Big Thompson and Windy Gap projects that will flow to cities, industrial complexes and farmers in Northern Colorado. The city of Fort Collins typically gets half of its water from the Colorado-Big Thompson Project, and has been particularly dependent on the system after High Park Fire debris polluted the Poudre River.

Fort Collins was among customers who lobbied Northern Water for a 70 percent quota on Wednesday, during a stakeholders meeting held to discuss this year’s quota. Despite those requests, Water Resources Manager Andy Pineda recommended that Northern Water’s board opt for a 60 percent quota.

A few factors went into Pineda’s recommendation, including Colorado’s above-average snowpack, high reservoir levels, and the general absence of drought in Northern Colorado. Spring runoff this year is expected to release an extra 100,000 acre feet of water down area streams and rivers, which should limit the region’s need for supplemental water from the Colorado-Big Thompson.

Pineda’s opinion was not shared by all. A few farmers asked the board for a 70-100 percent quota to help them plan for the growing season. Fort Collins wanted 70 percent to help offset troubles with Poudre River water quality. There is also a chance that Lake Granby reservoir will spill over this June, and a few stakeholders were concerned that water would be wasted with a reduced quota.

More Colorado-Big Thompson Project coverage here.


Transmountain diversions: “I think the Twin Lakes company needs to be more open-minded” — Jay Winner #COWaterPlan

April 11, 2014
Twin Lakes collection system

Twin Lakes collection system

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Twin Lakes Reservoir & Canal Co. took umbrage at the way working drafts of an upcoming state water plan viewed its future. A report prepared by the Interbasin Compact Committee uses an example of a way to create new supply, suggesting that Twin Lakes could cut back its diversions from the other side of the Continental Divide in drought years to aid the Western Slope. Trouble is, Twin Lakes has no plans to do that, said Kevin Lusk, who is president of the Twins Lakes company as a representative of Colorado Springs Utilities, the majority shareholder in Twin Lakes.

“In our discussions, we’re trying to keep what we’ve got, and we have no intentions of increasing the use,” Lusk told the Arkansas Basin Roundtable Wednesday.

Lusk asked for a retraction of the statement by the Arkansas Basin Roundtable and from the basin roundtable chairs. The document was discussed in a March 17 conference call among roundtable chairs and alluded to in an Aspen Daily News story. Several roundtable members questioned how the statement landed in the document, since it was not discussed at a meeting.

“It was cited as an example in the process as we move forward,” said Betty Konarski, chairwoman of the roundtable.

Lusk said the distribution of the information is detrimental to Twin Lakes. While there have been past discussions along the same lines, the company has never committed to changing its operations to accommodate the Western Slope.

“Twin Lakes is not considering a reduction of diversions. We haven’t agreed to do it or not to do it,” added Alan Ward, water resources manager for the Pueblo Board of Water Works, the second largest Twin Lakes shareholder. “We wouldn’t have a reason to give any of it up unless there was some benefit to us. It’s gravity-flow and inexpensive water for us.”

But a minority Twin Lakes shareholder, the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District, said the company should be more open to actions that could have a statewide benefit. comments,” said Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Ark district. “I think the Twin Lakes company needs to be more open-minded. It’s looking at what’s good for Colorado Springs Utilities, not the whole state.”

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


Aspinall Unit update: The Uncompahgre Water Users are calling for water #ColoradoRiver

April 8, 2014
Gunnison Tunnel via the National Park Service

Gunnison Tunnel via the National Park Service

From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

The Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Association (UVWUA) will be diverting an additional 100 cfs through the Gunnison Tunnel tomorrow morning Tuesday, April 8th. At the same time, releases from Crystal Dam will also be increased by 100 cfs, from 750 cfs to 850 cfs. After this change, the total flow through the Gunnison Tunnel should be about 400 cfs, which should leave about 450 to 500 cfs in the Gunnison River downstream of the tunnel.


Rifle: Design changes help cut construction estimates for new water treatment plant

April 7, 2014

riflegap
From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Mike McKibbin):

The cost of Rifle’s new water treatment plant has been cut by $3 million, after some recent design changes. The city expects to put the project — funded by a $25 million loan — out to bid in early April and award a contract in June…

The new plant will be located on city property along U.S. Highway 6. Work is expected to last up to two years…

In a follow up interview on [March 21], Miller explained that the cost savings come in part from changing the design from concrete-lined sludge drying beds and gravity thickeners to clay-lined drying beds. That will save $2 million, he noted.

“Clay is cheaper than concrete and we can have city crews do that work instead of the contractor,” Miller said.

More than $1 million will be saved by renegotiating a contract with General Electric to defer a second stage membrane filtering system, he added…

More Rifle coverage here.


Ditch companies are running out of time for repairs, the runoff is coming #COflood

April 6, 2014
St. Vrain River floodplain November 2013 via the Longmont Times-Call

St. Vrain River floodplain November 2013 via the Longmont Times-Call

From the Longmont Times-Call (Tony Kindelspire):

Left Hand Creek has been diverted from its main channel by a temporary earthen dam with two 48-inch pipes running through the middle of it. That’s so the workmen can rebuild the diversion dam and headgate that last September’s flood obliterated.

“We have like 13 spots that we’re working on, various levels of destruction, with this being the worst. This is the Allen’s Lake diversion,” said Plummer, vice president of maintenance and operations for the Left Hand Ditch Co. “Most everything was just buried in debris. … The Allen’s Lake diversion was just rolled up into a ball of concrete and steel.”[...]

Ditch companies control the water rights to irrigation ditches and are charged with maintaining them. The Left Hand Ditch Co. is typical of most such entities: it’s privately held and owned by shareholders — in the case of Left Hand, 460 shareholders. Sixteen percent of its shares are owned by the Left Hand Water District and goes toward drinking water, and the rest goes to agriculture.

Ditches operate using diversion dams and headgates. The dams slow the water and back it up so it can then flow through the headgate, which is opened to let water through.

In the Allen’s Lake diversion both the dam and headgate were wiped out, and in the narrow riverbed of Left Hand Canyon, the only way to replace them is to divert the river, build half the structure, then move the river again and build the other half.

“We’ll get that (side) done and then we’ll move the river back over,” Plummer said as he watched the construction crew pour concrete. “What we’re doing is racing, we’re racing the run-off.”[...]

Sean Cronin, executive director of the St. Vrain & Left Hand Water Conservancy District, attended an emergency meeting of the Highland Ditch Co. in the days following the flood.

“Not repairing this is not an option,” Cronin recalls hearing the shareholders — many of whom are farmers — saying in the meeting. “This is how we make our living.”

Cronin said there are 94 ditches and reservoirs within the St. Vrain & Left Hand district, and of those 43 suffered some amount of damage, totaling about $18 million. Some, such as the Highland, were completely destroyed.

September’s flood all but wiped out the Highland’s diversion dam and headgate, which were built in 1870. What little remained after the water subsided was not repairable.

The Highland Ditch, the biggest in the St. Vrain basin, goes all the way to Milliken, primarily serving ag land but also providing some of the city of Longmont’s drinking water.

The diversion dam and headgate were rebuilt at a cost of $750,000, according to Wade Gonzales, superintendent of the Highland Ditch Co…

The “Big Three” headgates, as far as Longmont is concerned — the Highland, the Oligarchy and the Rough & Ready/Palmerton — were all destroyed by the flood, according to Kevin Boden, environmental project specialist with the city of Longmont’s Public Works and Natural Resources Department.

The Oligarchy, it should be noted, actually held up during the initial flood but then finally gave way the following Sunday during heavy rains.

All three either have been or will be repaired by May 1, Boden said…

[Dave Nettles] said that although the Poudre, Big Thompson and Boulder Creek watersheds all sustained some damage, none of them reached the “catastrophic” levels seen in the St. Vrain and Little Thompson watersheds.

More infrastructure coverage here.


Flood control solutions for Fountain Creek are far from settled

April 6, 2014
Fountain Creek Watershed

Fountain Creek Watershed

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The type of storm that would creating the worst flooding on Fountain Creek and the Arkansas River east of Pueblo might just seem like another rainy day for much of the region. But the lessons of floods in 1965 and last September’s close call for Pueblo show that Fountain Creek can froth up in a hurry when rains hit El Paso County to the north. Putting a small dam here and there would not be the most effective way to stop the water.

A recent U.S. Geological Survey study of dams on Fountain Creek shows that an 85-foot tall dam north of Pueblo would be the single-most effective way to mellow out flood waters and trap sediment. The drawbacks of the dam are that highways, railroad crossings and utilities might have to be relocated. There would also be the chore of removing sediment after large storms.

Smaller detention ponds, with dams no higher than 10 feet, are touted by many as a better alternative. But as Colorado Springs and Pueblo already are discovering, smaller ponds also require high maintenance. Similar dams failed to hold stormwater in the South Platte during last September’s record rains. And the cost of flooding to utilities and roads was a major side effect of the 1965 flood.

A different study of flooding was done by the USGS in 1974, nine years after the disastrous 1965 flood. Unlike the current study, it largely eluded the spotlight and has not been widely cited during the 40 years since it was written. It looked at floods in the Arkansas River basin in three states, Colorado, Kansas and New Mexico and assessed the causes, effects and damage caused by heavy rains from June 13-20, 1965. The study chronicled $60 million of damage overall, with $40 million in Colorado. In today’s dollars, that would be about $300 million. Of that, 55 percent of the damage was to agriculture; 20 percent to roads and utilities; and 25 percent to cities and businesses, with about 85 percent of that amount in Pueblo.

The study also looked at peak flows within the basin during the 1965 flood and compared them to other major floods, particularly the 1921 flood on the Arkansas River. The flows were considerably less in 1965 than in 1921, mainly because storms were centered over tributaries that fed into the Arkansas River below Pueblo, rather than in the watershed upstream from Pueblo.

The study found a huge benefit to Lamar from John Martin Reservoir, which cut two-thirds of the peak flows raging from upstream. The Lamar area did not escape the wrath of the storm, however, because of large storm cells centered above Two Buttes and Holly. The Arkansas River stayed swollen for days after the rains.

The heaviest rainfall in the 1965 storm came from Colorado Springs and the Holly-Two Buttes area, where 12-18 inches fell over a four-day period. Pueblo saw only a couple of inches during that time. The ground already was saturated from rains the previous two months throughout the region. Flows on Fountain Creek reached 47,000 cubic feet per second at their peak, while neighboring Chico Creek hit 52,000 cfs.

The 2014 study by the USGS modeled a 100-year storm that would send about 37,000 cfs from Colorado Springs to Pueblo and then looked at hypothetical dams along the way.

“A dam at any location could be modeled,” said David Mau, head of the Pueblo USGS office.

The intensity of that storm would not be as great as the 1965 flood. In addition, Colorado Springs today has five times as many people and many more square miles of parking lots, roof tops and streets that shed water quickly and would make flooding that much worse for Pueblo.

Levees were built on Fountain Creek to protect Pueblo, but sediment has reduced their effectiveness. Some structures meant to protect Pueblo were damaged by the relatively small flow last September.

The attention in Colorado Springs is focused on the accelerated runoff from the Waldo Canyon and Black Forest fires. Structures are being built. Town meetings are preparing neighborhoods for flooding. A vote to create a regional stormwater fee is heading for the ballot in November.

Colorado Springs also made a commitment to Pueblo County in its permit process that new development from the Southern Delivery System won’t worsen the condition of Fountain Creek.

While the rains may hit Colorado Springs first and make flooding more intense because of the fires, the 1974 USGS study shows the bigger wallop would come to Pueblo and the Lower Arkansas Valley.

More Fountain Creek watershed coverage here.


Water summit drew large crowd — Fort Morgan Times

April 5, 2014

Map of the South Platte River alluvial aquifer subregions -- Colorado Water Conservation Board via the Colorado Water Institute

Map of the South Platte River alluvial aquifer subregions — Colorado Water Conservation Board via the Colorado Water Institute


From The Fort Morgan Times (Jenni Grubbs):

The large crowd at Progressive 15′s Water Summit had their fill of water-related information March 28 at the Country Steak-Out in Fort Morgan, but it seemed they were still thirsty for more, asking nearly every speaker lots of questions and seeking more resources.

The speakers addressed a number of different topics, including: potential and currently pending legislation and ballot issues that could affect water law, and weather forecasts and the plan the state is forming for dealing with water for the future.

After Progressive 15 Chairman Barry Gore explained the nonprofit group’s mission as an advocacy agency for its members, Joe Frank from the Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District spoke about the history of public trust doctrine and how it could affect Colorado if adopted here…

After a break for lunch, the crowd heard from National Weather Service Senior Hydrologist Treste Huse about weather and flood forecasts for Colorado.

She said that while Morgan County received 300 percent of normal precipitation in 2013, “it’s drying up this year.”

Northeast Colorado could see higher risks of flooding this spring and summer due to higher water tables, reservoirs already at capacity and the melting of a high snow pack. Landslides also could be possible with that flooding.

Huse also said that it was possible that 2014 would have El Nino weather patterns in Colorado, which could lead to wetter than average conditions in the south and far east parts of the state.

Later, former Colorado Agriculture Commissioner John Stulp, who now is an advisor in Gov. John Hickenlooper’s Water Office, spoke about the Colorado Water Plan.

He said that while drought was growing in southeast Colorado, most of the state was not in a drought.

Yet, he recognized that flooding could become an issue again.

“We’re hopeful that the snowpack comes down in an orderly manner,” he said.

More South Platte River Basin coverage here.


Water Hazards: From Risk to Recovery — AWRA Colorado Section Annual Symposium (May 2)

April 5, 2014
September 2013 flooding

September 2013 flooding

Click here to go to the symposium page for the pitch and to register.

Managing water resources in Colorado requires managing risk. This year’s symposium will feature discussions on the various types of risks to our water resources, with special consideration given to the impacts and implications of the September 2013 floods.

We are pleased to have an outstanding and diverse group of speakers, including our Keynote Speaker, James Eklund who will discuss the relationship between the State Water Plan and managing risk. Presenters in our morning session will help us better understand the types of risks to water resources. The afternoon break-out sessions will feature experts from a variety of disciplines who will discuss the on-the-ground impacts of the September 2013 floods. The day will conclude with insights from Jamestown Mayor Tara Schoedinger and CSU Sociology Professor Stephanie Malin, who will help us understand how risk impacts our communities.

To raise money for the Scholarship Fund, we are holding our fourth annual silent auction at the symposium.


Republican River Water Conservation District quarterly board meeting, April 10 #COWaterPlan

April 3, 2014
Republican River Basin

Republican River Basin

From the Yuma Pioneer (Tony Rayl):

It is time for the Republican River Water Conservation District Board of Directors to hold its regular quarterly meeting in Yuma. It will be held at Quintech on Thursday, April 10, beginning at 10 a.m. Public comment is scheduled for 1 p.m.

The board will receive a report from Assistant Attorney General Scott Steinbrecher on the negotiations with Kansas regarding compliance with the Republican River Compact, the Bonny Reservoir accounting issue, and the compact compliance pipeline. There also could be other matters addressed by Steinbrecher.

The pipeline has been put to use this past winter as Kansas agreed to a one-year test run in 2014. Tracy Travis, the pipeline manager, will provide a report on the pipeline.

Conservation has been a focus, particularly with a symposium sponsored by the RRWCD and local businesses held last month highlighting the need to conserve the Ogallala Aquifer, the region’s source of water. The board will discuss conservation survey results during the April 10 meeting.

Also on the agenda, HDR Engineering will give a report regarding the Colorado Water Plan. There also will be a presentation on the Great Divide.

The board will consider purchasing agency bonds, and receive reports on various recent meetings and programs.

Quintech is located at 529 N. Albany St. in Yuma. For further information, or having any questions, please call RRWCD General Manager Deb Daniel at 970-332-3552, or email her at deb.daniel@rrwcd.net. The RRWCD website is http://www.republicanriver.com.


Colorado Springs: 100+ attend Camp Creek flood meeting #COflood

April 3, 2014
Camp Creek channel via City of Colorado Springs

Camp Creek channel via City of Colorado Springs

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Matt Steiner):

A crowd of more than 100 people echoed a mantra in unison that multiple Colorado Springs officials stressed at a flood preparedness meeting on Tuesday night.

“Up, not out,” the said loudly after being prompted by police Lt. Dave Edmondson…

City officials, including Emergency Manager Brett Waters and others talked about the 2013 floods that struck the city and El Paso County in July, August and September. Waters said his colleagues and the residents need to “take flood risk very seriously,” noting that flash floods coming out of the Waldo Canyon Fire burn scar are going to be an issue “for at least the next 10 years.”

Tim Mitros, the city’s development review and stormwater manager, showed slide after slide of the dangers that lie in the Camp Creek drainage in the hills to the west of Colorado Springs. The pictures illustrated barren, burnout out slopes that have already, and could, send tons of dirt rocks and other debris into the channel along Garden of the Gods Park. and into the Pleasant Valley neighborhood.

“We’ve got to keep the sediment up in the burn area,” Mitros said.

Mitros said city crews will begin building a large sediment detention pond on the east end of Garden of the Gods Park in the next month. At that time, workers will also begin doing repairs to the channel in the middle of 31st Street near Pleasant Valley. They will be adding a “protective layer of concrete” to badly damaged parts of the creek between West Fontanero Street and Echo Lane.

The work is the beginning stages of a $37 million project to rebuild the channel from Garden of the Gods Park to Colorado Avenue, Mitros said. The city already allotted $8.8 million to do work in Camp and Douglas creeks. MIiros said the final designs for the entire project will be unveiled at another Camp Creek watershed public meeting from 5 to 7:30 p.m. April 29 at Coronado High School.

National Weather Service meteorologist Jennifer Stark also talked about the dangers of debris in the Camp Creek and Douglas Creek areas. She said storms in September that ravaged the Front Range from El Paso County north to the Wyoming border left tons and tons of debris sitting just above the city.

“The next big rain event could bring that stuff down,” she said.

More Fountain Creek watershed coverage here.


Colorado Springs: The Waldo Canyon Fire restoration will cost $ millions and take at least 10 years

April 3, 2014
Waldo Canyon Fire burn scar

Waldo Canyon Fire burn scar

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The images of a glowing sky that filled the air with choking smoke won’t soon fade, but the damage to forested hillsides charred by the Waldo Canyon Fire in 2012 will be more troublesome for years. Colorado Springs had a taste of things to come during last September’s torrential rains, but it will take millions of dollars and at least a decade to recover the damaged landscape.

“We built basins to collect sediment over a 10-year period, but they filled up during the flooding last September,” said Tim Mitros, Colorado Springs stormwater manager, during a media tour of projects Wednesday.

So now the city is building a series of ponds that will trap floodwater, along with making other drainage improvements on North Douglas Creek, South Douglas Creek, Queens Canyon, Cheyenne Creek and Camp Creek on the west side of Colorado Springs. Altogether the projects will cost $8.8 million in additional stormwater funding from federal, state and city sources.

The catch basins worked, but filled too quickly, Mitros explained during a tour of one on North Douglas Creek on the Flying W Ranch. The idea behind them was to allow new vegetation to sprout as they filled, but the storms left a bed of gravel that would just sheet off water in the next storm.

Jason Moore, director of land management for the Flying W, explained how downed trees are criss-crossed along the creek bed to slow down minor flows.

“They’re in a W shape, so we call them Flying W’s,” Moore joked.

The ponds are being constructed with the cooperation of landowners, but must be cleaned by city crews after each storm dumps its load of sediment. Mitros said the city is fortunate because it is working with only two large landowners, the Navigators and Flying W, and both have been cooperative.

“Without the ponds, the sediment will continue to fill the concrete channel below and put them in danger of being overtopped,” Mitros said.

That will continue to be a big job. Colorado Springs still is hauling 6,000 cubic yards of sediment — 600 truckloads — that washed into Garden of the Gods Park after last summer’s storms. There would be some benefit to Pueblo, because anything done high up in the watershed helps to slow down the water reaching Fountain Creek, Mitros said. Primarily, however, the projects are being undertaken to protect the homes and businesses in the Mountain Shadows neighborhood that was decimated when the Waldo Canyon Fire burned 347 homes. Those homes are being rebuilt, but now face a different threat. They lie below valleys that are normally dry, but which become running rivers when it rains. Because the fire burned off much of the vegetation, any flood becomes about 10 times as powerful, said Leon Kot, restoration coordinator for the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Besides the new threat of runoff, Colorado Springs also is dealing with miles of concrete storm ditches, some more than 50 years old, that have fallen into disrepair. About 1,000 feet of 8-foot diameter pipeline buried near Eighth Street and Cheyenne Boulevard was overwhelmed by the September flooding and is being replaced in a $750,000 project.

More Fountain Creek watershed coverage here.


Colorado Springs Utilities has acquired most of the land access needed for the Southern Delivery System

April 2, 2014
Southern Delivery System route map -- Graphic/Reclamation

Southern Delivery System route map — Graphic/Reclamation

From the Colorado Springs Independent (Pam Zubeck):

Outside of a handful of parcels tied up in eminent-domain court actions, the city has amassed the vast majority of land needed to complete the 66-inch-diameter line across Pueblo and El Paso counties. And as for those in court, Utilities has been granted possession; at issue is determination of their value.

Which leaves only one other property acquisition needed for the pipeline itself, and a couple dozen others for related projects. Overall, the land-acquisition project is on schedule, if significantly over budget.

“We are pleased to be nearly complete with acquiring the land needed for SDS,” says Utilities project manager John Fredell in a statement. “We have worked hard to be fair with property owners and appreciate their cooperation to advance this critical project for our community and partners.”[...]

The city’s initial foray into acquiring property for the project, in 2003 and 2004, caused an uproar, and a tightening of city real estate acquisition procedures. Utilities, in some cases without Utilities Board approval, had made offers for homes near Jimmy Camp Creek, northeast of the city, for up to three times the homes’ assessed values, plus six-figure moving costs — in one case, $340,000. The city paid $6.1 million for 14 properties and then allowed the former owners to rent for $300 a month indefinitely.

Within a few years, the city abandoned the Jimmy Camp area as a reservoir site due to archaeological values and other factors, and instead chose Upper Williams Creek near Bradley Road.

In 2009 and 2010, Utilities tangled with Pueblo West residents and left some hard feelings in its wake. The buried pipeline, which traverses the back portions of residential lots, can’t be built upon, which residents say renders their yards unusable.

Resident Dwain Maxwell, who’s forced Utilities into condemnation court, says he was paid $1,850 for land his appraisal said was worth $16,500. Meanwhile, he estimates Utilities has spent four times that amount on attorneys. “I feel like they’ve not been honest with us,” he says today.

Gary Walker of Pueblo County is also still in condemnation court with the city, and declined to be interviewed for this story. But he notes in an email that he’s been recognized repeatedly for his stewardship of the land at his ranch, and was the first to sign up for the reintroduction of the black-footed ferret under federal rules. “How do you put a price on the destruction of something so important as our environment?” he asks.

In 2012, Utilities went up against the Norris ranching family for a chunk of land for Upper Williams Creek Reservoir. After the Norrises moved to create their own reservoir, a deal was reached in which the city paid the family $7.5 million for 791 acres.

But the biggest single acquisition was land next to the Norris property owned by the State Land Board. The city paid more than $11.8 million for 1,128 acres, the highest per-acre price paid for pipeline property…

Utilities needs to acquire about 15 additional properties for the reservoir site, but the reservoir won’t be built until SDS’ second phase, from 2020 to 2025, as demand requires. The city also needs 11 more properties for a section of pipe for treated water, Rummel says.

So far, the city has spent $34.6 million on land for SDS. That’s about 38 percent more than the $25 million estimate in 2009 for 274 parcels in Phase 1 and reservoir land. If costs for surveys, appraisals, real estate fees and closings are added, the cost is $45 million, or 22 percent more than the 2009 “all-in” estimate of $37 million.

Water rates, meantime, haven’t increased as much as earlier predicted. Ratepayers saw 12 percent hikes in 2011 and 2012, and 10 percent increases in 2013 and 2014. A 5 percent hike is expected in 2015. Previously, 12 percent annual jumps were forecast from 2011 through 2017.

More Southern Delivery System coverage here and here.


‘We have to have detention ponds there, so it doesn’t wash out what we are doing in Pueblo’ — Eva Montoya

April 1, 2014

Photo via The Pueblo Chieftain

Photo via The Pueblo Chieftain


From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Three contracts totaling more than $600,000 were approved Friday by the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District board. The contracts are funded by state grants. They include two contracts for $502,000 for the Upper Fountain Creek and Cheyenne Creek restoration master plan, and another for $107,000 for the Frost Ranch restoration project. The three projects are among five projects the district is directly coordinating throughout the watershed. They also include a flood detention demonstration pond in Pueblo, located behind the North Side Walmart, and a project on Monument Creek.

In addition, the district has cooperated in obtaining other grants for communities along Fountain Creek.

Those efforts include a sediment collector in the city of Pueblo, which is being evaluated by the city, and a Great Outdoors Colorado grant that included funds for a wheel park, expanded park and beach area on the East Side just south of Eighth Street.

During discussion of flood control alternatives on Fountain Creek, Pueblo Councilwoman Eva Montoya said projects to the north are needed to control Pueblo flows.

“We have to have detention ponds there, so it doesn’t wash out what we are doing in Pueblo,” she said.

More Fountain Creek coverage here and here.


Gov. Hickenlooper powwows with the Club 20 Board #COWaterPlan

March 30, 2014
Governor Hickenlooper, John Salazar and John Stulp at the 2012 Drought Conference

Governor Hickenlooper, John Salazar and John Stulp at the 2012 Drought Conference

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

When Gov. John Hickenlooper sat down Friday for lunch with the board of directors of Club 20, the West Slope promotional organization, the pitcher at his table was emblazoned with a handwritten label: “Western Slope Water.”

“I drink that stuff every day,” Hickenlooper told his lunch companions. He later urged Club 20 members and others to participate in the development of a statewide water plan, whatever their doubts or reservations about the process.

The label was placed there by Harry Peroulis, a Club 20 member with ties to Mesa and Moffat counties, who said he was making sure the governor remembered where most of the state’s water originates.

Colorado needs to keep more of its water, Hickenlooper told the organization, which weighs in regularly on water-related matters.

One possible way to do that might be to raise the dams by 8 to 10 feet, increasing the amount of water that could be stored behind them.

It would make more sense to expand an existing project rather than pursue a new one, Hickenlooper said later.

The idea isn’t a part of the statewide water plan and he’s not throwing his support behind it, but, “intuitively, it makes sense,” Hickenlooper said afterward. He said he’d communicate it to statewide water planners.

Hickenlooper broached his suggestion in response to a call by Ray Beck of Craig that the state devote more energy to increasing storage than to encouraging conservation, but it fit within the governor’s thought process that a statewide plan could benefit from broad participation.

The “primary role” of the plan is to keep as much of the state’s water as possible, he said.

Naysayers who doubt the process of drafting such a plan are much like those who told him he couldn’t build a brewery and restaurant in Denver, “And now there are 240 federally licensed breweries” in the state.

Water managers and others involved in water management need to look at issues from different perspectives, he said.

“There are almost always options that you don’t know about,” Hickenlooper said.

The statewide water plan, which Hickenlooper kicked off last year, is to be complete in 2015.

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


Northern Water books $40.3 million in revenue in 2013

March 29, 2014
Map of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project via Northern Water

Map of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project via Northern Water

From the Northern Colorado Business Report (Steve Lynn):

Revenue increased about $10.5 million for the year ended Sept. 30 primarily because Berthoud-based Northern Water received nearly $9 million from Front Range water entities, including Denver Water, Aurora Water and the Pueblo Board of Water works, for water releases from Granby Reservoir.

Northern Water provides water to portions of eight Colorado counties with a population of 860,000 people and serves more than 640,000 acres of irrigated farm and ranch land.

Last year, Northern Water completed several contracts and agreements related to the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program. The goal of the program is to recover four unique fish species listed as endangered under the Federal Endangered Species Act.

Because they divert water from the Colorado River, Northern Water and other water users have made a permanent commitment to release 10,825 acre-feet of water annually. Northern Water releases more than 5,400 acre feet from the Granby Reservoir to support the project. An acre foot equals 326,000 gallons and is enough to serve 2.5 households annually.

The one-time compensation paid to Northern Water for the project came this year, according to the annual report. Northern Water’s expenses for the project came in previous years, said John Budde, financial services department manager for Northern Water…

Northern Water ended 2013 with $241.6 million in assets compared with. $231.4 million in assets in 2012. The organization also had $26.5 million in liabilities last year compared with $29 million in liabilities the prior year.

The organization had expenses of $29.2 million in 2013, down from $31.2 million in 2012.

More Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District coverage here.


The Fountain Creek District is studying the potential effects of flood control dams

March 29, 2014
Fountain Creek swollen by stormwater via The Pueblo Chieftain

Fountain Creek swollen by stormwater via The Pueblo Chieftain

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A district formed to fix Fountain Creek wants to begin looking more closely at the feasibility of flood control alternatives meant to protect Pueblo.

“This is a good start to beginning to understand the volume of water and the impact of dams, but we need to do an analysis to figure out cost options,” Pueblo County Commissioner Terry Hart said.

Hart is the county’s representative on the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District, which met Friday to receive the final report on a Fountain Creek dam study.

A computer simulation by the U.S. Geological Survey looked at 13 scenarios by centering a 100-year storm over Colorado Springs and measuring the impact on reducing flood waters in Pueblo by constructing dams at various points in the watershed.

“It did not look at property and water rights issues,” said David Mau, head of the Pueblo USGS office.

The most promising alternatives, in terms of protecting Pueblo, were to build a series of small dams south of Colorado Springs, or one large dam near Pinon, just north of Pueblo.

Hart asked Mau whether it would be possible to model a larger off-channel diversion near the Pueblo County line.

“You could look at that using the model,” Mau confirmed.

Mau said the alternatives presented in the study were those suggested by the district’s technical committee, and do not represent the only choices. The study focused on small dams because dams under 10 feet face less regulatory issues. An 85-foot-high dam 10 miles north of the confluence with the Arkansas River was modeled, but would not be the only alternative for a large dam, he said.

Dams in other areas of the watershed might have more localized benefits, Mau added.

“What’s important is the volume of water and where it is stored,” he said.

The district will not have any money to begin construction until Colorado Springs pays the remainder of the $50 million it agreed to provide the district under its 1041 agreement with Pueblo County.

It would need about $60,000 in grants to drill down to cost estimates on two or three of the alternatives, said Larry Small, executive director. A feasibility study would look at land acquisition, permits, construction issues and how long it would take, Small said.

“We need to get going as quickly as we can,” said Richard Skorman, a board member from Colorado Springs.

More Fountain Creek coverage here and here.


Arkansas Valley Conduit backers hope to make deal for excess capacity in the Pueblo Dam south outlet works soon

March 27, 2014
Pueblo Dam

Pueblo Dam

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A plan is hatching to get pipe in the ground ahead of schedule for the Arkansas Valley Conduit. It would reduce the initial costs of the project and allow some negotiations to proceed even with a reduced amount of federal funding, said Jim Broderick, executive director of the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, project sponsor.

“We were under the impression that all the money had to be in place up front before negotiations began, but the Bureau of Reclamation decided that’s not the case,” Broderick said. “If those negotiations are successful, we’ve got pipe in the ground and the conduit can begin to move ahead.”

That means Reclamation will be able to begin negotiations with the Pueblo Board of Water Works and Colorado Springs Utilities for use of the joint use pipeline that leads from the south outlet of Pueblo Dam to the Whitlock Treatment Plant.

The Pueblo water board owns the pipeline and the treatment plant. Colorado Springs Utilities paid the water board $3.5 million to upsize the pipeline by one foot in diameter, planning to use it for the Southern Delivery System. Since that time, SDS has taken a different route to move water from Lake Pueblo through the north outlet on the dam, and would not need the additional capacity.

The pipeline from the south outlet has a total capacity of 248 million gallons per day. Of that, 40 mgd is reserved to serve Comanche power plant and 140 mgd to serve Pueblo.

By paying to upsize the pipeline, Colorado Springs reserved 68 mgd, but the conduit would only require 14 mgd, said Terry Book, executive director of the Pueblo water board.

Reclamation also must negotiate with the Pueblo water board for locating a treatment plant at Whitlock to filter water used in the Arkansas Valley Conduit. By moving those discussions ahead, the federal cost will be reduced from $12 million to about $3 million in the coming year, but more funds would be required to begin actual design work, Broderick said.

Meanwhile, Colorado lawmakers continue to fight for more federal funding.

During a U.S. House committee hearing this week, Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Colo., told Reclamation officials the conduit is a high priority.

“The members of the Colorado delegation are committed to the Arkansas Valley Conduit. Reclamation knows that this project offers an effective regional answer to meeting federally mandated Safe Drinking Act standards,” said Tipton.

More Arkansas Valley Conduit coverage here and here.


Recently executed agreement designed to increase river health in the Upper #ColoradoRiver and Fraser River

March 26, 2014
Ike enjoying the Fraser River back in the day

Ike enjoying the Fraser River back in the day

From the Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

Grand County is that part of the snow-rich Western Slope most proximate to the farms and cities of the Front Range. It juts like a thumb eastward, the most easterly point of the Pacific drainage in North America.

As such, it became a target, early and often, of transmountain diversions. The first major diversion across the Continental Divide was completed in 1890 and the last, located at Windy Gap, where the Fraser River flows into the Colorado, in 1985. Several others, more audacious in scale, came between.

Taken together, these great engineering achievements annually draw 60 percent or more of the native flows of this headwater region eastward, over and through the Continental Divide. The water delivered to cities between Denver and Fort Collins have made them among the most vibrant in the country, and the water that flows to farms as far east as Julesberg, hundreds of miles away, among the nation’s most productive.

But this achievement has had a hidden cost that became more apparent in recent years. Combined with the frequent drought since 2000, the depletions have left the Colorado River shallow and warm as it flows through Middle Park. It is, according to environmental advocates, a river on the edge of ecological collapse, unable to support sculpin, trout, and other fish…

Now come new efforts, the most recent announced earlier this month, to bring the Colorado River and its tributaries back from this brink.

Called the Mitigation and Enhancement Coordination Plan, the agreement between Denver Water, Grand County, and Trout Unlimited proposes to govern Denver’s incremental diversions through the Continental Divide known as the Moffat firming project. However, according to the architects of the deal, it should also serve as a model in the ongoing dialogue as Colorado’s growing metropolitan areas look to squeeze out the final drops of the state’s entitlements to the Colorado River, as defined by the Colorado River compact of 1922 and other compacts.

“It is a demonstration of a new way of doing business that should be a model as Colorado talks about meeting its water gaps (between demands and supplies),” says Jim Lochhead, chief executive of Denver Water…

David Taussig, a native of Grand County and now the county’s water attorney, working from the 16th Street firm of White & Jankowski in downtown Denver, also sees the agreement as a model. “Nobody knows what (the agreements) will look like, but there are ways to develop things that benefit the Western Slope,” he says.

There are skeptics, unable to explain this strange alchemy in which a river can in any way benefit from having less water, as the agreement insists can be the case.

Among those withholding enthusiasm is Matt Rice, the Colorado coordinator for American Rivers. He points out that the agreement covers just 4 of the 32 creeks and streams trapped by Denver Water in the Fraser Valley and the adjoining Williams Fork. Too, like too many other similar programs, the data collection begins after permits are awarded, not before, which he thinks is backward.

In short, while Denver is careful to talk about “enhancements,” he thinks it falls short of addressing full, cumulative impacts.

Cumulative impacts are likely to be a focal point of federal permitting. While the Environmental Protection Agency is likely to have a voice, the vital 404 permit must come from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The parties to the new agreement have asked that their agreement be incorporated into the permit…

Under terms of this agreement, however, Denver Water is required to spend $10 million in direct costs in Grand County.

A major concern on the Fraser River is higher temperatures caused by more shallow flows, harmful or even deadly to fish. The money would go to such things as temperature-monitoring stations, to track how warm the Fraser is getting in summer months.

In places, creeks and the Fraser River will be rechanneled. A river with 75 percent of its flows diminished over a year’s cycle has less need for width. Instead, it needs a narrower course, to allow more depth and hence the colder water needed for aquatic life. Such work was already started several years ago on a segment near the Safeway store in Fraser.

A far greater financial cost to Denver specified by the agreement is the agency’s commitment to forfeit up to 2,500 acre-feet annually of the city’s added 18,700 acre-foot take…

A final environmental impact statement from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is expected in late April. The federal agency can also impose conditions of its own making. They would be included in a record-of-decision, which is expected to be issued in late 2015.

A permit from the Colorado Department of Health and Environment is also needed. Boulder County insists it also has say-so over enlargement of Gross Reservoir, an assertion contested by Denver Water.

In addition, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission must award a permit for revised hydroelectric generation at Gross.

At earliest, expansion of Gross could start in 2018 and be ready to capture spring runoff in 2022…

Mely Whiting, an attorney for Trout Unlimited, says the new deal builds on both the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement and the Windy Gap settlements. They mesh together and, downstream from Windy Gap, should have great benefit.

The weakness is that in the Fraser Valley, there is little existing baseline data. “We don’t have a very good grasp on either what we have lost or what we may lose in the future,” she says. “We know there have been declines, but don’t have nearly as much information (as below Windy Gap). So the effort will be to develop a strong baseline and get a strong understanding of what is going on up there.”

At the end of the day it is a compromise, and Whiting admits that not all environmentalists are thrilled.

“On my side of the equation, when I talk to people in the conservation community, some people want language that nails Denver to the ground, so that they have no wiggle room. They want things very predictable,” she says.

“This Learning by Doing agreement is not extremely predictable,” she added. “We have some basic parameters. There are three ways we are going to measure, to monitor to make sure the values of the streams aren’t going down.”

More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.


The Shoshone hydroelectric plant and its 1,250 cfs, 1902 water right is not for sale according to Xcel #ColoradoRiver

March 26, 2014
Shoshone Falls hydroelectric generation station via USGenWeb

Shoshone Falls hydroelectric generation station via USGenWeb

From the Aspen Daily News (Brent Gardner-Smith):

“Shoshone is not for sale,” Eggleston told the Colorado River Basin Roundtable, which met Monday in Glenwood Springs, nine miles downstream from the Shoshone plant. “Don’t plan to sell it. Nothing in the future about selling it.”

That may be good news to those on the West Slope who fear a Front Range utility will buy the plant, shut it down, and extinguish the plant’s senior water rights — resulting in less water in the lower Colorado River.

But it also means the plant’s fate is left in the portfolio of Xcel Energy, a regional utility based in Minneapolis that operates 25 other hydro plants, serves 3.4 million electricity customers in eight states, and sees $10.1 billion a year in revenue.

Eggleston’s comments to the members of the Colorado roundtable were in response to an article in The Daily Sentinel of Grand Junction on March 17 about the prospect of the plant being bought by West Slope interests.

The Sentinel story quoted Louis Meyer of SGM Engineering, a consultant developing the Colorado roundtable’s “basin implement plan,” that buying the plant would be “one of the seminal things going forward in our plan.”

The article included several references to the plant not being for sale, and stated there was “no indication for now that the Shoshone Generation Station is even for sale.”

But an Xcel spokesman quoted in the story, Mark Stutz, said he couldn’t comment on whether the plant was for sale, or not.

That left the prospect lingering.

And Eggleston told the roundtable meeting he wanted to clarify any “mis-information.”

“Again, Xcel is not interested in selling,” Eggleston said. “They would not consider any first-right-of-refusals, or anything else that’s not within the interests of Xcel at this time.”

Eggleston said the article in the Sentinel caught the attention of Ben Fowke, the company’s chairman, president and CEO.

“It would be a good idea to do that every two or three years so that the executive management is reminded how important Shoshone is, and that Xcel Energy is making a commitment to everybody on the Western Slope to protect those water rights and operate that plant,” Eggleston said.

The real value of the Shoshone plant to the West Slope is its senior water rights from 1902, which keep up to 1,250 cubic feet per second of water flowing down the Colorado River.

“The whole reason the West Slope, lead by the River District, would be interested in gaining the plant is because we want that water right held intact,” said Jim Pokrandt, a communications and education specialist with the Colorado River District…

Denver Water has long chafed at the restrictions imposed by Shoshone’s water rights, but Travis Thompson, media coordinator for the utility, said via email that “Denver Water has not made an offer to purchase the Shoshone plant over the last few decades, and there are no standing offers.”

Denver Water also drove the framing and adoption of the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement (CRCA), signed in 2012 by a list of regional entities.

“Under the CRCA, if Xcel decides to sell the Shoshone assets, they agree to do so in an open bidding arrangement,” Thompson, said.

He added that if the West Slope wanted to buy the plant, Denver Water also agreed it would support the idea and “assist the West Slope in acquiring Shoshone assets.”

But fear of Front Range water interests is still discernable in the Colorado River basin.

On Monday, Chuck Ogilby, a member of the Colorado roundtable, read a passage from the group’s vision statement: “The Shoshone call shall be preserved and protected for the benefit of the West Slope. This is non-negotiable.”

More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.


EPA: Addressing Crucial Water Issues in Our Communities — Nancy Stoner

March 24, 2014

waterdrop
From the Environmental Protection Agency (Nancy Stoner):

This year, we here at EPA celebrate the 20th anniversary of President Clinton signing Executive Order 12898, which directed federal agencies to address environmental disparities in minority and low-income communities. We’ve certainly accomplished a lot since the order was signed, but sadly, too many people still breathe dirty air, live near toxic waste dumps, or lack reliable access to clean water. But we continue to make progress in all of those areas, and here in EPA’s Office of Water, I’m proud of how we’re helping communities across America—both rural and urban—address their most crucial water issues.

Last fall, I was in Laredo, Texas and visited a community near the U.S.-Mexico border called the colonias, which until recently did not have regular access to clean water. Thanks to funding from EPA’s U.S.-Mexico Border Infrastructure Program, 3,700 people in the colonias now have access to a modern sewer system. We also have a program that provides funding for the planning, design and construction of wastewater infrastructure for American Indian and Alaskan Native communities. Providing access to clean water to people who have never had it before is one of the most important things we have the power and resources to do.

In 2012, I traveled to Baltimore to help announce funding from EPA’s Urban Waters program that’s being use to educate residents in the Patapsco watershed about the benefits of water conservation and give people the know-how to reduce water usage at home. Urban waterways can provide myriad economic, environmental and community benefits, and EPA is helping dozens of communities across the country reconnect with these important, valuable resources.

Our drinking water program is also providing substantial funding to help improve small drinking water systems across the country, which comprise more than 94% of the nation’s public drinking water systems. Small systems, those that serve fewer than 3,500 people, face unique financial and operational challenges in providing drinking water that meets federal standards. Last year, we provided close to $13 million to help train staff at small systems and give them tools to enhance system their operations and management practices.

This year, I’m proud to celebrate 20 years of EPA’s work to make a visible difference in communities across the country. We’ve made so much progress over the last two decades, and I know we’ll make even more over the next 20 years.

More Environmental Protection Agency coverage here.


HB14-1030 passes third reading in Senate, March 19, on to Gov. Hickenlooper #COleg

March 24, 2014

microhydroelectricplant

From HydroWorld.com (Michael Harris):

The legislation — officially HB14-1030 — streamlines state environmental review for small hydroelectric projects without weakening or changing any underlying state environmental requirements, according to the Colorado Small Hydro Association (COSHA).

Instead, the bill directs the Colorado Energy Office to facilitate project review by state agencies in a timely manner commensurate with federal agency timelines, making it possible for an applicant to simultaneously clear both federal and state reviews as quickly as 60 days for “non-controversial” projects.

The bill also streamlines the electrical inspection process by citing National Electrical Code (NEC) standards that electricians should be guided by when installing small hydro. According to COSHA, electrical inspectors will now determine if a project meets NEC standards for safety, quality and code compliance.

HB14-1030 mirrors legislation passed at the federal level in August 2013, which included the Hydropower Regulatory Efficiency Act and the Bureau of Reclamation Small Conduit Hydropower Development and Rural Jobs Act.

“Last summer federal permitting requirements for small hydro were streamlined thanks to Colorado legislators in Congress,” said COSHA President Kurt Johnson. “Now thanks to leadership from Colorado legislators in Denver, similar streamlining legislation has been approved in Colorado. Congratulations and thanks to the sponsors of HB14-1030 for their leadership on this reform legislation which will serve as a model for other states nationwide.”

HB14-1030 came out of an October meeting of Colorado’s Water Resources Review Committee hearing led by Sen. Gail Schwartz…

“It has been a pleasure working with the Colorado Small Hydro Association on this legislation for rural Colorado,” Schwartz said. “HB14-1030 cuts red tape for small hydro development, helping to accelerate development of new small hydro installations and job creation.

“It’s a great example of Colorado common sense.”

More 2014 Colorado legislation here.


Flows in the Arkansas River above Lake Pueblo = 270 cfs, Reclamation realeasing water from Turquoise and Twin Lakes #ColoradoRiver

March 23, 2014
Pueblo dam spilling

Pueblo dam spilling

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Flows in the Arkansas River below Pueblo Dam increased slightly with the end of winter water storage this week, but not significantly. The reason is that water continues to be released for the Pueblo flow management program and much of the winter water was stored in downstream reservoirs, including on the Colorado Canal, the Fort Lyon and in John Martin Reservoir.

“The movement of the agricultural water is a side benefit to the Arkansas River flows through Pueblo,” said Steve Witte, Water Division 2 engineer.

Winter water stored about 101,000 acrefeet this year, but only about 27,000 acre-feet were stored in Lake Pueblo. An acre-foot is 325,851 gallons.

Flows in the Arkansas River at Avondale were about 320 cubic feet per second this week, about the same as during the two weeks preceding the end of the winter water program. One cubic foot of water is about the same volume as a basketball.

Meanwhile, flows above Lake Pueblo in the Arkansas River have increased in recent weeks because the Bureau of Reclamation is making room in Turquoise and Twin Lakes for Fryingpan-Arkansas Project water. The March 1 forecast predicts about 73,000 acre-feet will be moved across the Continental Divide this year. But that can increase or decrease, depending on snowpack, said Roy Vaughan, Fry-Ark manager for the Bureau of Reclamation.

Repairs have been completed on the Mt. Elbert hydropower plant, allowing for full operation of Fry-Ark systems.

Releases from the upper reservoirs are adding about 270 cfs to the Arkansas River above Pueblo, which is running at twice the rate it was three weeks ago.

John Martin Reservoir back in the day nearly full

John Martin Reservoir back in the day nearly full

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Flows into John Martin Reservoir have not been reduced by the winter water storage program on the Arkansas River, according to an analysis by the Colorado Division of Water Resources. The issue is of concern because of questions raised by Kansas during court cases against Colorado over the Arkansas River Compact. John Martin Reservoir, completed in 1948, regulates flows between the two states under the compact.

“We’ve never showed them evidence that they’ll buy into about the winter water program, but we keep trying,” division engineer Steve Witte told the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District board Thursday.

The winter water storage program allows irrigation flows to be stored from Nov. 15 to March 15, and ended last week. This year, about 101,000 acre-feet were stored at various locations and will be divided among ditch companies east of Pueblo.

The analysis looked at diversions by ditches in Colorado from 1950-1975 and from 1976-2013. Winter water began as a voluntary program in 1976 and was later formalized in a water court decree.

“There hasn’t been any significant change as a result of winter water,” Witte said.

Diversions above John Martin totaled 72 percent to 77 percent in the 1950-1975 period, and were about 75 percent in the 1976-2013 period. Past analysis of the water levels in John Martin showed little difference in pre-winter water and post-winter water years. But those types of studies don’t explain changes because of operational changes or drought. The new study also looked at potential differences in wet, dry and average years, but found none, Witte said.

More Arkansas River Basin coverage here.


Most Weld County water suppliers are ready to divert having repaired the damage from the September #COflood

March 22, 2014

New Saint Vrain River channel after the September 2013 floods -- photo via the Longmont Times-Call

New Saint Vrain River channel after the September 2013 floods — photo via the Longmont Times-Call


From The Greeley Tribune (Eric Brown):

The predictions made in recent months by water providers are holding true. Many are at different stages of recovery, but most ag water providers across northeast Colorado believe they’ll have needed irrigation-system repairs done in time for the rapidly approaching growing season, and be able to deliver water to farmers. However, some are still up against the clock, with work left to be done — particularly in Boulder County and in far west Weld County.

Following September’s historic flood, a number of representatives from irrigation ditches, reservoir companies and other water providers were reporting damage along their systems — ditches, dykes, gravel pits, canals, head gates and other diversion structures that needed repairs, or even to be rebuilt. Many of the large water providers near Greeley and Sterling and the surrounding areas, though, said around Jan. 1 that they were progressing well with their repairs. And many reported this past week they’re now done.

That’s good news for those massive ag-producing regions (Weld, Morgan and Logan counties, all of which experienced flood damage, represent three of the four largest ag-producing counties in the state).

Randy Ray, executive director for the Central Colorado Water Conservancy District in Greeley that saw $1.8 million in damage from the flood, and Brian Werner, spokesman for the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District that oversees the largest water-supply project in the region (the Colorado-Big Thompson Project), each said this past week that their systems are ready to go. As did Jim Yahn, manager of the North Sterling Irrigation District, among many others.

Much of the repair work still taking place is along the St. Vrain River in Boulder County and in far west Weld County.

Sean Cronin — executive director of the St. Vrain and Left Hand Water Conservancy District in Longmont — explained that water providers farther upstream had more time to take precautionary measures before the floodwaters arrived, helping minimize some of the damage to their systems. He added that the floodwaters had more room to spread out once they made it to the plains, meaning they weren’t carrying the same intense pressure as they did in his neck of the woods, where the velocity wiped out much more infrastructure.

The St. Vrain and Left Hand Water Conservancy District encompasses about 80,000 acres. Cronin — who also serves as chairman for the South Platte Roundtable, a group of water experts from the region who meet throughout the year to address the region’s water issues — said the district endured about $20 million in damages. The district includes 94 irrigation ditches, 43 of which sustained damage. Of those 43 ditches that were damaged, Cronin explained this week:

» Four ditches are repaired.

» One is under construction and was projected to be repaired by March 1.

» 19 are under construction and are projected to be repaired by April 1.

» Five under construction and projected to be repaired by May 1.

» Three are under construction, though the projected completion dates were yet to be determined.

» 11 are not yet under construction.

Of the 11 not yet under construction:

» Three cited lack funding for the work needed.

» Three were still in discussions on designs.

» Two were waiting for repairs of another ditch to be done first.

» One was waiting for a FEMA project worksheet.

» One was listed as “not a priority.”

» One was still finding a contractor.

Cronin stressed that the Highland Ditch Company — which supplies about 40,000 acres, and is by far the biggest ditch in the St. Vrain and Left Hand Water Conservancy District — is ready to go for the growing season. The other 93 ditches are much smaller, supplying much fewer farm acres.

“There’s definitely a success story there,” Cronin said. “In the couple weeks after the flood, I wouldn’t have ever thought we’d be in as good of shape as we’re in now.”

Cronin said there will still be challenges for some farmers, certainly those where repairs are still taking place, or haven’t even started. Even for ditch repairs still in the works, those water providers might miss the peak of spring runoff, and could take in less water as a result.

“It’s shaping up to be a good water year, so hopefully those who aren’t done (with repairs) in the near future will still have water coming into their systems later in the year,” he said.

One of the major concerns initially was that the river changed locations in some spots, moving away from diversion structures. All sides have agreed to put the river back in its previous locations to help water providers, Cronin said, and those efforts are coming along well, although there’s still uncertainty regarding how the river will respond in those areas.

And even where work is nearing completion or is complete, there’s some uncertainty regarding payments of the repairs, and how much money they’ll see in reimbursements from FEMA, and how much might be coming out of shareholders’ pockets.

Cronin said one ditch in the St. Vrain and Left Hand Water Conservancy District has already increased its fees from $5 per water share to $200 per water share to pay for repairs, waiting to see how much FEMA kicks in.

“There’s still a lot we don’t know, and a lot that still needs to play out,” Cronin said. “But overall, I think we’re very happy to be in the position we’re in, compared to how things looked a few months ago.”


‘The BLM plays in the same sandbox as every other’ [water rights owner] — Paul Tigan #COWaterPlan

March 22, 2014
Blanca Wetlands via the National Park Service

Blanca Wetlands via the National Park Service

From the Valley Courier (Paul Tigan):

This is the sixth article in the series from the Rio Grande Basin Roundtable, regarding the implementation of the Basin Water Plan. ing of the Bureau of Land Management, or BLM, what comes to mind? Is it livestock ranching? Oil and gas development ? Maybe it’s rock climbing at Penitente Canyon , or watching wildlife and birds at Blanca Wetlands. Perhaps it’s a trip to BLM lands every fall to sight in your rifle in the hopes of dropping a trophy bull on the opening morning of the first elk season.

“The mission of the BLM is to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of the public lands for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations”. This mission is remarkably complex. As the San Luis Valley Field Office Manager likes to say “it’s not rocket science it’s more complicated.”

It requires the BLM to not only balance “multiple uses” in the present day, but also consider how the American people may need those resources far into an unknown future.

Here in the San Luis Valley, the BLM manages just over 500,000 acres of land according to this mission. Dozens of livestock ranching operations depend on the health of the BLM land; so too dozens of threatened, endangered, and special status wildlife and plant species. Some public lands have been set aside to be studied for future preservation, such as the San Luis Hills, while others have been designated for development as solar energy sites to serve future energy needs for the nation. And many uses share the same acre of public land like the new gravity-assisted mountain bike trail at Zapata Falls, but keep an eye out for the cattle on the same trail. And wear a helmet!

But like every other person or entity that manages land in the San Luis Valley, there is one resource in short supply for the BLM water. It may surprise some to learn that the BLM (and every other federal land management agency) is required by federal law to adhere to the state-managed water appropriation systems. When it comes to water management, the BLM plays in the same sandbox as every other farmer, rancher, city, and conservation district.

Many people might think of the BLM’s water needs as “non-consumptive ,” that is, resources need water but don’t “use” it the way a farm might use it. For some areas, this is true. People who enjoy float-boating on the Rio Grande depend on water to get from Las Sauces to the Lobatos Bridge, or further south into the Rio Grande Gorge. Similarly, aquatic species, such as trout, depend on certain water conditions at particular times of the year to breed and sustain their populations. People who enjoy fishing depend on the water as well. But the San Luis Valley Field Office also uses water, within the appropriation system, to support a diverse array of habitats and uses. The BLM holds dozens of water rights across the SLV for the benefit of livestock grazing operations. These rights generally stem from natural springs and utilize small infrastructure systems to make them useful. Perhaps more dramatically, the BLM also irrigates thousands of acres of land for the benefit of many plant and wildlife species. That management not only sustains those critical species habitats, but also leads to incredible recreation opportunities , such as wildlife viewing and waterfowl hunting.

It would be difficult to overstate the importance of the Blanca Wetlands, a habitat restoration effort that began in the 1960s and continues to this day. The BLM uses more than 40 wells and some water from the Closed Basin Project to wet and dry about 2000 acres of historic and restored wetland playa habitat. These acres support 13 threatened, endangered, and sensitive species and over 160 species of birds. The wetlands are also an important calving and fawning area for big game species. Blanca Wetlands maintains Colorado’s largest population of western snowy plover and supports a number of waterbird species of regional, national, and even hemispheric importance.

But the Blanca Wetlands isn’t just for the birds. One of the great joys of the BLM staff is watching the public engage these incredible resources just 20 minutes from Alamosa. Whether it is a kindergartener walking out into a playa barefoot to catch a fairy shrimp in a bucket, or a high school student receiving national recognition for her research, a living laboratory like the Blanca Wetlands connects people to the natural world in ways that no iPad app can.

But like every water user who pumps groundwater to stay in business, the BLM faces an uncertain future with augmentation requirements from the State of Colorado. The BLM is not currently a party to any of the subdistricts but has worked with the state to define its augmentation responsibilities for groundwater pumping and will meet those responsibilities. These habitats are too important to dry up. They serve not only the diversity and health of the public lands, but also the American people.

As the Rio Grande Basin goes through an era of unprecedented change, the BLM is committed to partnering with other water managers to ensure the Rio Grande Basin of the future enjoys the same broad array of natural resources that contribute to quality of life and a strong and diverse economy. The habitats and resources we manage will be as important 100 years from now as they are today, and water will continue to be the defining feature of these resources.

The BLM is and active partner in the Rio Grande Basin Water Plan, to become a part of the stakeholder process get involved in one of three ways: 1) attend the Rio Grande Basin Roundtable monthly meetings (held the second Tuesday of each month at the San Luis Valley Water Conservancy District office at 623 Fourth Street in Alamosa) or; 2) send comments directly to http://www.riograndewaterplan. com and; 3) attend any one of the BIP subcommittee meetings that can be found on the BIP website. The lead consultant and local liaison from DiNatale Water Consultants is Tom Spezze. Tom can be contacted at tom@ dinatalewater.com. To be considered, submit input to the Basin Roundtable by March 31.

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


Alamosa: Water infrastructure funding is in short supply

March 22, 2014
The water treatment process

The water treatment process

From the Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

Treating Alamosa’s water is becoming more expensive. With more rigid arsenic standards coming into play several years ago, the City of Alamosa was forced to build a water treatment plant. Recently, Alamosa Public Works Director Don Koskelin said arsenic standards might tighten up again, which could force the city to revamp its treatment system, resulting in an expensive adjustment.

This week Koskelin informed the Alamosa city council of another more immediate problem with the city’s water treatment plant, and the council authorized funding for a pilot treatment system. Koskelin said for six years the membranes that filter out the arsenic in the municipal drinking water supply provided excellent performance. Then all of a sudden in the last year the city started having problems with the membranes. The manufacturer recommended a more stringent cleaning schedule, which meant using more chemicals, which in turn meant more expense. Koskelin said the cost increase for the chemicals alone is nearly $290,000 a year.

Another option would be to replace the membranes, but that would cost threequarters of a million dollars or so. Koskelin said the life of the membrane system was supposed to be 15 years but it has only lasted about six years.

Another solution, which hopefully will be less expensive , will involve lowering the pH of the water, which should improve the filtering process and arsenic removal.

Koskelin recommended that the city enter into a pilot project to test this theory for three months with Clearlogx. He said the city has a threemonth permit from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to test this system. If it works, the city could buy the system and 90 percent of the money the city paid during the three-month trial would count towards the purchase price. The total purchase price of the system is $175,000. The city will be leasing it for $4,500 a month.

“We need to do something,” Koskelin told the council.

He estimated the pay off on this system would be about two years, and the life of the system should be about 15 years.

Addressing the water treatment situation will result in a budget adjustment, Koskelin added, primarily from enterprise fund surpluses. Koskelin said this solution might also help the city meet stricter arsenic standards when/if they come down in the future.

“If it doesn’t drop lower than 2 parts per billion we should be able to meet those new standards,” he said. The current standard is 10 parts per billion, set by the Environmental Protection Agency. The Colorado Department of Health and Public Environment is considering a stricter standard, which Koskelin estimated at an earlier council meeting would likely not take effect for a couple of years, if the state moves forward with it.

More infrastructure coverage here.


Arkansas Valley Conduit: Seeking adequate appropriations from the feds

March 21, 2014
Arkansas Valley Conduit Comanche North route via Reclamation

Arkansas Valley Conduit Comanche North route via Reclamation

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Sponsors are working to increase funding for the Arkansas Valley Conduit in next year’s federal budget. The conduit recently received the green light to proceed from the Bureau of Reclamation, which released a record of decision on Feb. 27 for it, a master storage contract and an interconnect on Pueblo Dam. But the approval did not translate into funding when President Barack Obama released his budget one week later and included only $500,000 for the conduit.

“We were disappointed in the dollars,” said Jim Broderick, executive director of the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, sponsor of all three projects. He spoke at Thursday’s monthly board meeting.

The conduit has $3.1 million in funding this year, which includes $2.1 million that was not spent in past years. To keep it on pace for construction sometime in the next decade would require at least $7 million to $10 million, Broderick said. Last year Reclamation internally shifted $44 million for projects, but it’s too soon to tell how much could be available this year.

“There is a lot of activity, particularly because of the drought in California,” Broderick said. “We have to keep the pressure on.”

To do that, officials will again travel to Washington, D.C., to lobby Department of Interior and Bureau of Reclamation officials as well as Congress. Last week, Colorado Sens. Mark Udall and Michael Bennet, both Democrats, and Reps. Scott Tipton and Cory Gardner, Republicans, called for more funding to support the conduit.

“We have to realize this is the president’s budget. Congress sees it a different way,” said lobbyist Ray Kogovsek, a former congressman. “I would say we can certainly get more than $500,000.”

More Arkansas Valley Conduit coverage here.


Southern Delivery System on track to be online in 2016

March 20, 2014
The new north outlet works at Pueblo Dam -- Photo/MWH Global

The new north outlet works at Pueblo Dam — Photo/MWH Global

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

he Southern Delivery System is on course to begin operating in 2016.

“It will be complete for testing purposes in 2015,” SDS Permit Manager Mark Pifher told the Lower Arkansas Conservancy District in an impromptu update Wednesday.

SDS is a 50-mile pipeline from Pueblo Dam to Colorado Springs. When completed, it will serve Colorado Springs, Fountain, Security and Pueblo West. Nearly all of the pipeline is in the ground, and construction has begun at three pumping stations, including one near Pueblo Dam, Pifher said. While all parts of SDS will be complete by next year, the system will require months of testing before it is put into use.

“When it’s finished, the water won’t be delivered,” Pifher said. “It won’t be pushing water to customers until 2016.”

The Lower Ark district has been in negotiations for years with Colorado Springs on the impacts of SDS, particularly increased flows on Fountain Creek. Pifher updated the Lower Ark board on the progress of stormwater meetings in Colorado Springs.

A committee of El Paso County citizens is working toward putting a stormwater enterprise proposal on the November ballot. Fees would be about the same as under the former enterprise, which Colorado Springs City Council abolished in 2009, Pifher said.

The Lower Ark board also got a review of the U.S. Geological Survey of dams on Fountain Creek from USGS Pueblo office chief David Mau. Noting the study was funded by Colorado Springs (under its 1041 agreement with Pueblo County), Pifher said an alternative for 10 side detention ponds south of Fountain held the most promise for reducing flood impacts on Pueblo. Pifher also downplayed the immediate impacts of SDS on Fountain Creek.

“When we turn it on, it will carry 5 million-10 million gallons per day,” Pifher said.

Over 50 years, that will increase flows up to 96 million gallons per day.

“It will take some time to grow into demand on that system,” Pifher said.

More Southern Delivery System coverage here and here.


Buena Vista: Colorado Parks and Wildlife grant serves redesign of Silver Bullet Rapid

March 19, 2014
Silver Bullet Rapid via the Chaffee County Times

Silver Bullet Rapid via the Chaffee County Times

From The Mountain Mail (Kim Marquis):

If a redesign of the Silver Bullet rapid on the Arkansas River near Buena Vista works as planned, both boaters and fishermen could benefit. The rapid, known as the Dam, Boat Chute and Silver Bullet in boating circles, had previously been a Class IV rapid at certain water levels, which prevented some boaters and kayakers from making the run. The rapid is south of town and due east of the Buena Vista Correctional Center.

Wilderness Aware owner Joe Greiner, a longtime commercial rafting outfitter, called the former rapid “spicy” for its steep drop and consistent waves downstream. The rapid caused some private boaters to skip the section, starting trips at Greiner’s river put-in at his property in Johnson Village, instead of using the Buena Vista River Park in town.

The redesign completed in February changes the rapid into three smaller drops instead of one, possibly reducing its rating to Class II or Class III, Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area Park Manager Rob White said.

AHRA managed the $400,000 project, which was paid for by a grant from the Colorado Water Conservation Board and contributions from Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District, the Arkansas River Outfitters Association and individual river outfitters.

The new design adds a drop both upstream and downstream of the original rapid, making the overall experience more gradual, White said. Construction included a fish ladder built into the smaller drops so that trout can conceivably travel upstream to spawn. The former 8-foot drop was likely too high for fish to navigate, creating a barrier to their movement upstream.
The rapid is located within a 102-mile stretch that was designated Gold Medal trout waters by Colorado Parks and Wildlife in January.

The Silver Bullet is a 1970s-era dam built to divert water for agriculture. A boat chute allowing rafters passage was changed several times, and a portage added on the right side of the river to enhance the experience. The new project could help more boaters stay on the water, rather than choosing the portage.

While the level of technical difficulty for boaters might drop due to the changes, the nature of the rest of the run from Buena Vista south to Johnson Village will remain the same. The section includes Beaver Falls, which grows to a Class III rapid at certain water levels, as well as significant drops created by the town’s river play park.

“It’ll still be too scary for rank amateurs,” Greiner said of the river section. “There will be a certain segment choosing it that was not able to do the boat chute in the past, but that’s not going to be a large number of people.”

River runners doing an afternoon run typically choose Fisherman’s Bridge or Ruby Mountain, both near Nathrop, to end their trips. Commercial trips and private boaters on an all-day excursion get off the river past Browns Canyon.

Outfitters have traditionally run the section including the Silver Bullet, so Greiner said he did not anticipate changes in commercial use because of the redesigned rapid.

The project included broader changes at the dam, also called the Helena diversion structure. Work that began in November included a replacement of the ditch’s concrete head gate, a larger concrete canal and a new bypass gate.

Both White and Greiner cautioned boaters that the Silver Bullet’s new rating will be unknown until higher flows can be observed on the river this spring and summer…

River Ratings

These ratings are published by Colorado River Outfitters Association, in accordance with the International Scale of River Difficulty.

Class I: Fast-moving water with riffles and small waves. Few obstructions, all obvious and easily missed with little training. Risk to swimmers is slight.

Class II: Straightforward rapids with wide, clear channels that are evident without scouting. Occasional maneuvering may be required, but rocks and medium-sized waves are easily missed by trained paddlers.

Class III: Rapids with moderate, irregular waves that may be difficult to avoid. Complex maneuvers in fast current and good boat control in tight passages or around ledges are often required; large waves or strainers may be present but are easily avoided. Strong eddies and powerful current effects can be found, particularly on large-volume rivers. Scouting is advisable for inexperienced parties.

Class IV: Intense, powerful but predictable rapids requiring precise boat handling in turbulent water. Depending on the character of the river, it may feature large, unavoidable waves and holes or constricted passages demanding fast maneuvers under pressure. A fast, reliable eddy turn may be needed to initiate maneuvers, scout rapids or rest. Rapids may require “must” moves above dangerous hazards. Scouting may be necessary the first time down.

Class V: Extremely long, obstructed or very violent rapids that expose a paddler to added risk. Drops may contain large, unavoidable waves and holes or steep, congested chutes with complex, demanding routes. Rapids may continue for long distances between pools, demanding a high level of fitness. What eddies exist may be small, turbulent or difficult to reach. At the high end of the scale, several of these factors may be combined. Scouting is recommended but may be difficult.

Class VI: These runs have almost never been attempted and often exemplify the extremes of difficulty, unpredictability and danger. The consequences of errors are very severe and rescue may be impossible. For teams of experts only.

More whitewater coverage here.


Dams move water in time

March 18, 2014

Trinchera Irrigation Company is looking to rehab the dam at Mountain Home Reservoir

March 18, 2014
Mountain Home Reservoir via The Applegate Group

Mountain Home Reservoir via The Applegate Group

From the Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

A project currently proposed by the Trinchera Irrigation Company would improve Mountain Home Reservoir for all those who enjoy it for recreation and depend on it for irrigation.

Constructed in 1908, the dam at Mountain Home in Costilla County is showing its age, according to Trinchera Ditch Superintendent Wayne Schwab who presented a preliminary request for $25,000 from the Rio Grande Roundtable local funding source to perform a feasibility study regarding dam improvements . The irrigation company and Colorado Parks & Wildlife are providing $12,000 in matching funds as well, Schwab said.

He explained that Mountain Home is a popular fishing and wildlife area, so Parks & Wildlife is interested in improving the reservoir. The 47 shareholders in the Trinchera Irrigation Company are also invested in improving the reservoir, which serves as the main water source for the Trinchera Creek drainage. Smith Reservoir is another water source, primarily for folks below the Trinchera drainage, Schwab explained to the Roundtable this week.

“Along with supplying irrigation water, the Smith and Mountain Home are State Wildlife Areas, and Mountain Home is a popular fishing area,” Schwab said.

There are three gates at the Mountain Home dam, but only one is currently in use, Schwab explained, with the other two not used for decades. The irrigation company’s hope is to put at least one of the other gates back into service. Schwab said the state engineer is strongly recommending the other two gates become operational again, and the irrigation company would like to contract a feasibility study to see how best to do that and improve the reservoir’s efficiency. If the dam was operating more efficiently, water storage levels could be maintained both for irrigators and for Parks & Wildlife to maintain a strong conservation pool for fishing.

Schwab said the feasibility study will involve underwater inspections of conduits, valves and valve gates. The engineer performing the study will then provide a few alternatives for improving the dam, which will help establish reliable reservoir elevation levels and water storage.

With a stronger conservation pool, Parks & Wildlife can keep fish in the reservoir . Schwab said Parks & Wildlife is looking at ways to improve the area around the reservoir and increase recreational benefits in Costilla County, which has very little public land compared to other counties in the San Luis Valley. Only 2 percent of the county is public land, he said, and the county is one of the poorest counties in the state, so anything that can help generate tourism and revenue would be helpful.

In addition to Parks & Wildlife, Trout Unlimited is involved in this project, Schwab said, and is interested in ways to improve fishing at the reservoir.

Schwab said the groups involved would like to see the project begun next summer . The Roundtable will likely vote on the funding request during its April meeting.

More Upper Rio Grande River Basin coverage here.


Cache la Poudre River: Time-lapse footage of the removal of the Josh Ames Diversion Dam

March 17, 2014


‘Our water right requires us to replace the water in the Box Elder. That’s what they (Select Energy) should do’ — Mark Harding

March 16, 2014
Map of the South Platte River alluvial aquifer subregions -- Colorado Water Conservation Board via the Colorado Water Institute

Map of the South Platte River alluvial aquifer subregions — Colorado Water Conservation Board via the Colorado Water Institute

From The Denver Post (Mark Jaffe):

The meandering Box Elder Creek has become a battlefield as farmers and ranchers are facing off against a plan to drill wells along its banks to provide water for fracking and other oil-field operations. While the creeks wends its way north from Elbert County to the South Platte River in Weld County — Arapahoe County is ground zero for the fight.

Boxelder Properties LLC is proposing sinking four wells to draw 500-acre feet of water annually for the fracking and other oil-drilling operations. That is enough water to supply 200 average Denver homes for a year.

Ranchers and farmers along the Box Elder say the plan will dry out wells and pools used by cattle, as well as kill vegetation along the creek’s banks east of Aurora.

“These boys from Texas think they can just ride in. Well, the people on Box Elder are going to meet ‘em at the hill,” said Jerry Francis, who grazes about 30 head of cattle on the creek.

The dispute underscores the problem of trying to balance oil and gas development in Colorado with other economic activities.

“We want oil and gas development, but we have to do it so we don’t jeopardize our agricultural community,” Arapahoe County Commissioner Rod Bockenfeld said.

The county commissioners have sent a letter opposing the project to the Colorado Division of Water Resources, which must decide on the proposal.

The proposal has become so controversial that Houston-based Conoco-Phillips, the main company drilling in the area, announced that it wouldn’t use water from the wells. Houston-based Select Energy Services, the Conoco contractor that initiated the plan, has also abandoned the idea, according to company spokeswoman Brooke Jones.

Still, the permit application to drill the wells is pending with the water division, also called the Office of the State Engineer.

“The project isn’t dependent on Conoco; there are other oil service companies,” said Walraven Ketellapper, head of Boulder-based Stillwater Resources and Investment.

Stillwater, a water broker and agent, is handling the permit for Boxelder Creek Properties.

The state engineer has received 16 letters — from farmers, public officials, water districts — objecting to the plan and raising concerns about its impact on water supplies.

“We are going to do the engineering analysis, the groundwater modeling to show the wells can withdraw water without adverse impacts,” Ketellapper said. “That is our burden of proof.”

Just 15 miles east of Denver, suburban sprawl gives way to silos, barns and broad fields seemingly running all the way to the snow-capped Rockies. It is through this landscape that Box Elder Creek snakes its way to the South Platte River, 2 feet deep in some places, sometimes as wide as 12 feet, while in other spots it is just a dry, sandy bottom most of the year.

“We are a dry county,” said Bockenfeld, the Arapahoe County commissioner. “Many farms dry farm; there just isn’t a lot of water.”

Only in the early spring with the first snowmelt does the creek run full, but all year long a subterranean stream feeds ponds and pools, residents say.

“This pool is here all summer long,” Francis said as he stood in a field next to the creek. “The water and this buffalo grass gets cattle fat as a fritter.”

A retired John Deere worker who raises cattle to keep busy, the 67-year-old Francis said what he is most concerned about is the future.

“They take away the water, what’s left for my kids and grandkids?” he said.

A neighboring farmer, Bill Coyle, 60, has more immediate concerns. Coyle estimates he spent about $300,000 in an eight-year battle with the state engineer to get a water right for four irrigation wells on his 1,000-acre farm. Standing at one of his center-pivot wells, Coyle can see the spot where one of the proposed wells would be. It is beyond the state-required 600-foot setback — but still within sight.

The application for the four water wells says that they are drawing water from the creek and won’t impact local wells. Coyle doesn’t believe it.

“They are proposing pumping at 1,000 gallons a minute,” Coyle said. “My well is 42 feet deep. It will have an impact on the well, and it will be immediate.”

The decision to issue a temporary permit to drill and pump the four wells to produce 500-acre feet a year or 163 million gallons rests with the state engineer. The award of a long-term water right would be determined in Colorado Water Court — a process that can take as much as five years. The process is governed by Colorado water law — a byzantine set of rules organizing the right to draw water based on a priority system.

The key to being allowed to pump the water is a so-called augmentation plan to replace it so that the older or “senior” water rights are not impaired. This is an expensive process.

Select Energy offered four landowners — none of them local residents — $10,000 to drill a water well on their land and 1 cent for every barrel of water — about 42 gallons — pumped, according to one of the contracts.

They also purchased shares in the Weldon Valley Ditch to replace the pumped water. The application estimates that 10.4 shares — worth about $950,000 — would be needed to replace the 500 acre-feet drawn from the water wells.

Water, however, is vital to the oil and gas industry, with demand growing 35 percent to 18,700 acre-feet from 2010 to 2015, according to state estimates. The water, mixed with sand and chemicals, is pumped into wells under pressure to “hydrofracture” or frack shale rock and release oil and gas. About 4 million gallons is pumped into a single horizontal well.

“Water has always responded to the market in Colorado,” said Ken Carlson, director of the Center for Energy and Water Sustainability at Colorado State University. “First it was urban areas buying the water rights of farms. Now it is oil and gas.”

Select Energy is now getting its water from Denver-based Pure Cycle Corp., which has deep wells on the former Lowry Bombing and Gunnery Range, in Arapahoe County. Pure Cycle is opposing the plan because it also has a water right on the Box Elder that would be hurt, said Mark Harding, Pure Cycle’s president. The problem is that the plan calls for pumping along the Box Elder but returning the water about 50 miles to the north near Wiggins.

“Our water right requires us to replace the water in the Box Elder. That’s what they should do,” Harding said.

The state engineer will rule in the next few months on the temporary permit, which could enable pumping this year and last for as long as five years.

“This application is unusual in that the Box Elder isn’t a continuously flowing stream where the groundwater is continuously replenished,” Deputy State Engineer Kevin Rein said.

“We take the concerns seriously, and we’ve asked the applicant to respond to them,” Rein said. “We’ll have to see what they say.”

More oil and gas coverage here and here.


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