League of Women Voters of Larimer County comments on the @USACEOmaha #NISP SDEIS

From the League of Women Voters of Larimer County (Sarah Pitts) via the Fort Collins Coloradoan:

As part of its long history of studying and participating in public discussion on water and other environmental issues, the League of Women Voters of Larimer County delivered comments to the Army Corps of Engineers on the second draft environmental impact statement (SDEIS) for the proposed NISP/Glade Reservoir project. The league recommended the Corps defer issuing a permit for the project until the Corps corrects data inadequacies and omissions, addresses compatibility with the draft state water plan, and better defines and quantifies short- and long-term costs related to environmental impacts.

Inadequate data cited by the league include:

•Population growth projections are overstated because they fail to use the reliable and objective data provided by the Colorado State Demography Office.

•Per capita water consumption projections are overstated because they fail to factor in already implemented conservation measures (e.g., Fort Collins reduced per capita consumption from 188 gallons/day in 2003 to 140 now) as well as new and developing conservation initiatives.

•Water supply projections underestimate the potential for acquiring water from annexed farm land, from alternative agricultural transfers, and from growing supplies of reuse water.

•The SDEIS omits essential water quality and temperature models.

The SDEIS fails to analyze the project’s compatibility with the draft Colorado state water plan. It is also at odds with the South Platte River Basin Implementation Plan statement that the costs of building and maintaining reservoirs are questionable: “The basin, in a typical year, has little unappropriated water available for new uses. Unappropriated flows . . . come in sporadic, high peaks during wetter years, making the economics of building a reservoir to capture these supplies questionable because of the large carryover storage requirements.”

Unsubstantiated assumptions about long-term, as well as short term environmental impacts, call into question the SDEIS’s already insufficient disclosure as to the allocation, sources of funding and impact of costs to build and mitigate the effects of the NISP project.

Copies of the league’s full comment letter to the Army Corps of Engineers is available at http://www.lwv-larimercounty.org.

Sarah Pitts is spokeswoman with the League of Women Voters of Larimer County.

Colorado Springs: Mayor Suthers’ budget calls out stormwater needs

Channel erosion Colorado Springs July 2012 via The Pueblo Chieftain
Channel erosion Colorado Springs July 2012 via The Pueblo Chieftain

From KKTV.com (Alyssa Chin):

Mayor Suthers released his proposed 2016 budget Monday. The big focus will be on storm water. A problem that’s plagued Colorado Springs for years.

“Several years ago, we had a storm water enterprise,” Suthers said. “With the demise of that, defunding of the storm water enterprise, for the most part we’ve been spending minimal amounts [of money] over the last several years in terms of storm water.”

The city is setting aside $16 million, with an additional $3 million from Springs Utilities for a total of $19 million.

That plan had some tax payers wondering why isn’t that money going toward the roads.

“There were times I felt like I was going to get pulled over for swerving so much even though it was just because of the pot holes,” Mackenzie Tennison said.

The mayor said through all their surveys, roads were the top priority for voters so he expects them to pass the proposed tax increase of 0.62 percent in November. That will give the city the money it needs to fix our roads.

“I don’t agree with, you know, us getting taxed more,” Leafner Tan said. “I’m pretty sure there’s enough money there, and I’m pretty sure there’s also money going somewhere we don’t need to spend money on.”

“You cannot do storm water and roads,” Suthers said. “Storm water is within reach because it’s a relatively less amount of money.”

Suthers added, that unlike previous years, he’s been working with city council on this budget and that nothing about it should surprise them.

There will be a meeting at City Hall on October 20 from 5-7:30 p.m.

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Billie Stanton Anleu):

The $268.1 million general fund budget is up $9.4 million, or 3.6 percent, but Suthers said that when adjusted for inflation, the city today spends $86 a year less on each resident than it did in 2000…

Suthers’ priority remains the city’s infamously atrocious roads, most of which need overlays or complete reconstruction. But the mayor is banking on passage of a Nov. 3 ballot issue to provide $50 million a year for five years through a 0.62 percent sales tax increase.

The other overriding need is stormwater projects to ameliorate Fountain Creek flooding effects on downstream Pueblo. Past city stormwater funds have been eliminated, and a federal lawsuit has been threatened by the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District.

If the issue isn’t addressed, it also could threaten the 1041 permit Colorado Springs Utilities got for its $829 million Southern Delivery System, soon to pump water from Pueblo Reservoir to Colorado Springs, Pueblo West, Fountain and Security.

So Suthers is squeezing $16 million out of the budget, which would be augmented by $3 million from Utilities, for stormwater projects…

In order to make ends meet, staffing requests, raises and capital projects were left unfunded, Suthers said.

Click here to read the Mayor’s news release and letter to City Council — via Pam Zubeck and the Colorado Springs Independent.

“We kind of just grew and grew together to realize we are neighbors” — Ralph Curtis

San Luis Valley Groundwater
San Luis Valley Groundwater

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Matt Hildner):

When State Engineer Dick Wolfe turned in a set of proposed groundwater rules and regulations to the division water court on Sept. 23, he channeled Yogi Berra.
“When you come to the fork in the road, take it,” he said, quoting the Hall of Fame Yankees catcher who passed away the day before.

But for nearly four decades, the San Luis Valley’s water users avoided any path that involved giving the state engineer the authority to shut down or limit pumping by the valley’s roughly 4,500 irrigation wells.

Two aquifers supply the water for those wells and help farmers irrigate valley staples such as potatoes, barley and alfalfa.

The shallower of the two, the unconfined aquifer, is fed by streams, seepage from irrigation canals and return flows from fields, and some upward leakage from a deeper aquifer.

The deeper aquifer, known as the confined aquifer, is fed by streams at the rim of the valley and is under artesian pressure.

Both aquifers are hydrologically connected to the valley’s surface streams to varying degrees, a fact that underlies complaints from surface-water users that their rights are injured by groundwater pumping.

Wolfe’s predecessor had proposed rules in 1975 only to see them shelved as the valley’s water users looked for another way to mitigate the impacts of well pumping on surfacewater users. And while this version still will have to gain approval from water court, enough had changed in the intervening decades to prompt a second stab at rules and regulations.

To begin, the federal Closed Basin Project, which pumps groundwater from the eastern edge of the valley for delivery to the Rio Grande, has been ineffective.

The valley’s water user groups signed an agreement in 1985 that divvied up how the project’s water would apply toward Colorado’s obligations to the Rio Grande Compact.

The move was regarded as an olive branch to surface-water users on the Conejos and Rio Grande rivers, since they alone carried the burden of complying with compact obligations.

Without the policing powers rules could give the state engineer, groundwater users faced no such burden.

The pact, commonly known as the 60-40 Agreement, also included a provision that kept valley surface-water users from going to court to shut down groundwater wells.

But since 2000, the amount of water produced by the project has never exceeded 20,000 acre-feet — far below envisioned amounts of up to 100,000 acre-feet when it was authorized by Congress in 1972.

Another change since the last rule proposals involved a pair of unsuccessful efforts in the 1990s to ship large amounts of the valley’s groundwater to the Front Range.

The proposals from American Water Development and later the Stockmen’s Water Company put all of the valley’s water users in the same boat, said Ralph Curtis, who managed the Rio Grande Water Conservation District for 25 years.

“We kind of just grew and grew together to realize we are neighbors,” he said.

Moreover, less was known in the 1970s about the two major groundwater bodies that sit beneath the valley floor. When the 1975 rules were proposed, a monitoring network that could measure levels in the unconfined aquifer in the north-central part of the valley still was a year away.

Exactly how much was pumped from the aquifers was not known either until 2006 when the engineer’s office implemented well-metering requirements.

Mac McFadden, who was the division engineer for the valley in 1975, and Steve Vandiver, who later would serve 24 years in the same post, both pointed to the development of the state’s groundwater computer model as an important advancement.

While that model could be a point of contention in court hearings for the current version of rules, it provides the basis for estimating how much instream losses are caused from well pumping Lastly, both Curtis and Vandiver point to the drought that began in 2002 as a pivotal point in the valley’s water politics and one that would pave the way to a new version of state rules.

“The drought of 2002 just tipped over the bucket of worms,” Vandiver said. “It was obvious then what the impacts of wells were on the (Rio Grande) — river just went away.”

The lowest flows ever recorded on the Conejos and the Rio Grande rivers where they enter the valley floor came in 2002.

And much of those meager flows were lost to aquifers that were being drawn on heavily by irrigators that had no surface supplies.

The division engineer’s annual report for that year estimated stream losses on the Rio Grande were as high as 40 percent at times, while on the Conejos they peaked as high as 60 percent.

“That provided the impetus for the surface-water users to say we’ve had enough,” Vandiver said.

Vandiver credited Manassa rancher Kelly Sowards and other surface-water users for creating the subsequent push to regulate wells.

Two years later, state lawmakers would pass a bill that created the framework for the current version of the rules and groundwater management subdistricts.

The first such subdistrict, which buys water to return to the Rio Grande and also pays ditch companies for losses caused by pumping, went into operation four years ago in the north-central part of the valley.

Fountain Creek: Kansas is keeping a watchful eye on potential dams

Fountain Creek photo via the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District
Fountain Creek photo via the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Kansas has concerns that the effects of a large dam on Fountain Creek are not adequately modeled in a study of flood control and water rights that is nearing completion.

But comments from Kevin Salter of the Kansas Division of Water Resources indicate the modeling done by the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District is “reasonable” when it comes to side-detention ponds.

Kansas is an important player because its 1985 federal lawsuit over the Arkansas River Compact raised storage issues along with wells. The Supreme Court ruled in Colorado’s favor on the storage questions, but new dams would be untested waters.

“The methodology in this draft report appears reasonable to protect water rights below the confluence of Fountain Creek and the Arkansas River for the scenario involving side-detention facilities,” Salter said.

“As for the scenario to construct a multipurpose reservoir on Fountain Creek; Kansas is concerned.”

In an email to a committee looking at engineer Duane Helton’s draft report, Salter said more study is needed to look at the full impact of a 52,700 acre-foot reservoir that would include a 25,700 acre-foot pool for recreation and water supply and 27,000 acre-feet for temporary flood storage.

“Should the actual implementation of detained flood flows on Fountain Creek impact compact conservation storage Kansas would fully expect that those flows be restored,” Salter said.

Larry Small, executive director of the Fountain Creek district, said a more complete evaluation would be made of water rights if a large reservoir is pursued.

“The district will complete a full evaluation of alternatives and a feasibility study of the preferred alternative in the future before any decision is made on flood control facilities, to include multipurpose facilities,” Small said in an email reply.

Helton’s study shows there would be little impacts on water rights if flood control structures allowed a flow of 10,000 cubic feet per second to flow through Pueblo during large floods. Water would be released as quickly as possible following the peak flow.

The study discounted extremely high flows, such as the 1999 or 1965 floods, saying there would be little damage to water rights because the high volume would fill John Martin Reservoir, creating a free river.

Division Engineer Steve Witte said Kansas concerns must be treated carefully, so a new round of litigation isn’t triggered.

Witte would like the 2015 flooding to be studied. Flows on Fountain Creek exceeded the 10,000 cfs mark on three occasions during six weeks of elevated flows. John Martin Reservoir did not fill, so it would be an ideal opportunity to explore how flood storage could be administered, he said.

“I think we need to be careful in any scenario to make sure there isn’t some material depletion,” Witte said.

After the 1999 flood, when Kansas and Colorado were in litigation over the Arkansas River Compact, Kansas raised questions about how such large flows should be divided. Those issues have not been resolved, Witte said.

Another downstream party, Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association which owns half of the Amity Canal in Prowers County, said more study is needed to determine the damage if water is detained at lower flows and how water would be allocated after a flood.

The committee looking at the report, which includes some downstream farmers, Kansas, Colorado Springs Utilities, Tri-State and others, will meet again at 10 a.m. Oct. 14 at the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District offices.

Grizzly Reservoir update

Grizzly Reservoir via Aspen Journalism
Grizzly Reservoir via Aspen Journalism

From The Aspen Daily News (Chad Abraham):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More coverage from The Aspen Times (Jason Auslander):

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

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

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

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

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

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

More coverage from Jason Auslander writing for The Aspen Times:

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

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

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

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

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

Recharge pond
Recharge pond

From KUNC (Shelly Schlender):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CWCB board meeting recap: Horse Creek flume gets state funding

Fort Lyon Canal
Fort Lyon Canal

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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