RANCHING AND CONSERVATION GO HAND IN HAND
The Carpenter Ranch, located near Steamboat Springs, is a great site for a pilot project. The ranch is owned by the Conservancy but leased to a rancher who grows hay and raises cattle. The four fields participating in the pilot, totaling 197 acres, were irrigated for only the first half of the irrigation season last summer.
Geoff Blakeslee, the Yampa River project director, says that the Conservancy has a long history of combining ranching and conservation and finding creative solutions. “This pilot is an exploratory project to understand the impacts of temporary fallowing on the ranch, the Yampa River and the overall Colorado River system,” he says. “There’s a lot of common interest to find solutions that work for our communities, farms and rivers.”
“Colorado’s Front Range receives about 50% of its water from the Colorado River,” adds Taylor Hawes, the Conservancy’s Colorado River program director. “If a crisis does hit—an even more severe or prolonged drought—the information from projects like this one can be used to design a fair way of sharing the water. It benefits all of us to figure out an equitable path forward.”
Although the short-term consequence of reducing irrigation may be a smaller hay yield and fewer cattle on the Carpenter Ranch this fall, finding ways to share water will ultimately help all who depend on the Colorado River for survival.
A Colorado Springs delegation, headed by Mayor John Suthers, took a trip to Pueblo Monday, and stormwater was the topic of discussion with both Pueblo County commissioners and city councilors.
Commissioners talked with the Springs leaders at length about a new inter-governmental agreement that will make sure stormwater management is a priority for years to come. They are working quickly to finalize the details before turning on the Southern Delivery System…
So Colorado Springs and Pueblo County are talking it out. On Monday, Suthers showed off all his city’s progress towards stormwater management since he was elected last year, with a new $19 million a year mitigation plan. He says unlike broken promises in the past, an additional inter-governmental agreement will ensure those measures continue beyond his tenure, with assurances to spend more than $200 million on stormwater in the first decade.
Suthers says, “Rather than having the voters say, ‘no we don’t want to pay this,’ we will be contractually, and by court order, obligated to have a sustainable, appropriately funded stormwater system.”
Pueblo County commissioners still want more input in which stormwater mitigation projects come first, namely the ones that directly impact their constituents, but the governments say they are working together better now than ever before. “Hopefully reasonable people can find reasonable solutions without having to go to court,” says McFadyen, “and likely that will be an inter-governmental agreement with enforceability clauses that both parties can agree on.”
“These are tough problems,” admits Suthers, “but they need to be resolved and I think both sides definitely want to resolve them.”
The Colorado Springs group also presented to Pueblo city councilors Monday evening, talking specifically about Fountain Creek and the funds they have given to help dredge the sediment built up over the past year.
From the Colorado Springs Independent (Pam Zebeck):
Mayor John Suthers got an earful from Pueblo County commissioners Monday after laying out the city’s plan to deal with its stormwater problem.
The city is in a tiz, because Pueblo County now has leverage to force the city of Colorado Springs to make good on past promises to control storm runoff, which empties into Fountain Creek and brings sediment rushing down to Pueblo. The creek, overwhelmed by flood waters, already has claimed hundreds of acres of farmland.
Now, as Colorado Springs gets ready to activate the Southern Delivery System pipeline from Pueblo Reservoir, it must meet requirements of a construction permit, commonly called a 1041 permit, granted by Pueblo County in 2009.
On top of that, the city is facing a federal consent degree or court order to comply with federal Clean Water Act requirements for its stormwater system due to years of noncompliance.
“We’re going to solve this problem and not kick the can down the road,” Suthers told commissioners Monday afternoon at a meeting in Pueblo. “A federal consent decree or judgment cannot be ignored, and neither can an IGA [intergovernmental agreement] with Pueblo.”
Pueblo County Commissioner Terry Hart noted the Springs has “breached” promises to deal with stormwater in the past, most notably by doing away with the Stormwater Enterprise in late 2009. Suthers noted that came after a ballot measure was approved by voters, which essentially required the city deep-six the enterprise. He said the city’s new scheme, to carve out $16 million a year from the general fund with another $3 million a year contributed by Colorado Springs Utilities for 10 years, doesn’t rely on voter approval.
But Hart wants the IGA to extend well beyond 10 years. In fact, he proposed the IGA last for the life of the SDS project, which could be 30 to 40 years.
He also asked if Colorado Springs was willing to suspend activation of the SDS pipeline until the IGA is worked out. Not likely, Suthers said, due to warranties on the components of SDS.
Hart also suggested the city pump more money into Fountain Creek restoration beyond $50 million agreed to as part of the 1041 permit.
Suthers said he’s “nervous” committing the city “into perpetuity” but said an IGA could be hammered out that allowed for additional terms beyond 10 years if certain triggers are met.
Pueblo County Commissioner Sal Pace asked if Colorado Springs could commit a substantially greater amount per year than the $19 million now identified under the IGA, to which Suthers said the amount could go up to $25 million per year based on inflation. But he noted that huge increases, such as up to $50 million a year, aren’t likely.
On one thing everyone seemed to agree: The solution doesn’t lie in another court battle. Hart noted Colorado Springs could outspend Pueblo in court, and Suthers later told media that a lawsuit isn’t the answer. That said, Hart said he wants an “enforcement mechanism,” should Colorado Springs yet again fail to meet its promises, such as the authority of Pueblo to stop flows through SDS for noncompliance. That idea seemed to be a non-starter, although Suthers was willing to discuss another demand by Hart — to allow Pueblo County officials to participate in negotiations with the Environmental Protection Agency and the Justice Department regarding its noncompliance with stormwater discharges.
Suthers said he hopes to iron out an IGA within the next 30 days.
Pueblo County commissioners were gracious but appeared unappeased Monday by Colorado Springs leaders’ promises to resolve stormwater issues that have hit downstream communities hard.
And the Pueblo City Council, in a symbolic gesture, unanimously passed a resolution Monday night to support county efforts to hold Colorado Springs accountable for stormwater problems along Fountain Creek and recommend a 10-year plan in exchange for allowing Colorado Springs Utilities to keep its 1041 permit and commence with the Southern Delivery System…
Work on the first priority project, a detention pond on Sand Creek, starts next week. Colorado Springs has hired Richard Mulledy, a professional engineer who previously worked for the City of Pueblo and most recently has been deputy director of water resources for Matrix Design Group in Colorado Springs, as Stormwater Division manager. He starts work Feb. 22.
While Colorado Springs leaders outlined a long list of measures being undertaken to address the stormwater issue, officials with Colorado Springs Utilities and the city remained baffled by the intertwining of what they see as two separate measures.
Utilities has met every condition of its 1041 project, said SDS Director John Fredell. On April 27, the project is to start pumping 5 million gallons of Arkansas River water a day initially from Pueblo Reservoir to Pueblo West, Colorado Springs, Security and Fountain.
Colorado Springs, meanwhile, is negotiating with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which accused the city in October of neglecting stormwater needs for years. A two-day EPA inspection turned up deteriorating infrastructure, inadequate inspections and excessive sedimentation, among other problems.
At stake is the city’s own water permit.
The effort to hold Utilities’ 1041 permit ransom because of municipal stormwater failures by Colorado Springs is mixing apples and oranges, Suthers and Fredell noted. But Pueblo city and county leaders see the permit for the $825 million SDS as the best bargaining chip to get what they want.
When Suthers assured Pueblo city leaders that more than $250 million worth of stormwater work would be done in 10 years, newly elected Pueblo City Councilwoman Lori Winner cited a CH2M Hill engineering study from 2013 saying the stormwater needs amounted to more than $500 million.
“It’s really a wish list,” Suthers said. “The voters are not going to give me $50 million a year. I don’t want to make any agreement contingent on whether (local anti-tax activist) Doug Bruce likes it or not.”
Because Colorado Springs voters repeatedly voted down stormwater measures in recent years, as Bruce exhorted them to oppose the “rain tax” in 2014, Suthers and the council decided to pay for that need directly from the city budget. The fire and police departments were squeezed and raises frozen in the 2016 budget to find the money.
“I’ll never come up with $500 million,” Suthers said in a rare show of exasperation. “There’s just no way in hell.”
The Pueblo commissioners repeatedly intoned the need for solid enforcement measures in any intergovernmental agreement.
“We as a community have heard a lot of promises from your community for a very long time,” Commissioner Terry A. Hart said. ” . Whatever we do going forward, we can’t base it on mere promises.”
The only “silver lining” in the city’s problems with the EPA is that any resulting federal decree will serve as a mandate, ensuring that the pact with Pueblo County is enforced, Suthers said.
Another enforceable provision would be to designate Utilities, as a long-time city enterprise, to meet the financial requirements through its annual “excess revenue” returns to the city if Colorado Springs failed to meet its stormwater obligation.
Hart questioned whether a fifth branch of Utilities couldn’t be created to handle stormwater. But that would require a change in the City Charter, approval by Colorado Springs voters, who have opposed all recent stormwater measures, and other complex machinations involving ratepayers who don’t live in the city, said Andres Pico, chairman of the Utilities board.
Commissioner Sal Pace questioned whether the SDS couldn’t be turned off if sufficient stormwater work isn’t done, or whether the project could be delayed while a new agreement is drafted.
Neither idea is feasible, however. The SDS is a sprawling system with water treatment plants, pumping stations and precise chemical requirements that cannot be stopped once it gets started. And the notion of delaying it would cause Utilities to lose time on its warranties, some on millions of dollars worth of work and equipment, Suthers said.
Asked what would happen after a 10-year agreement, the mayor said language could be added to renegotiate the pact every 10 years, with a clause for inflationary increases.
“We’re going to continue our negotiations with the county and everybody else involved and try to resolve this issue,” Suthers said Monday evening.
As for the commissioners’ questions earlier in the day, he said, “I thought they brought up good points that can be the basis for more negotiations.”
Instead of denying or ignoring the problem, [San Luis Valley] farmers are facing the fact that agriculture has outgrown its water supply. They admit they must live within new limits, or perish. Determined to avoid state intervention, they’ve created an innovative irrigation market, charging themselves to pump and using that money to pay others to fallow their land. Thousands of acres have come out of production, and their sights are set on fallowing tens of thousands more.
Brian Brownell is among those cutting back. When I visited last September, the valley’s potato harvest was in full swing, and dust clouds over fields where farmers were exhuming spuds were visible from miles away. Dust also levitated above a field on Brownell’s farm, but nothing was being harvested. Instead, the Sudan grass he’d planted was being hacked to pieces and tilled into the soil. He’d received $96,000 for putting 480 of his 1,680 acres into this “green manure” instead of a more water-hungry and profitable commercial crop.
“Everybody’s pumping too much water,” he said. His gray sideburns bristled on tanned skin, and his lips curved down in thought. “People have to start to buy in to the community thing, instead of ‘me,’ ‘my farm,’ ‘my deal.’ ”
This time, farmers are scrambling to save local agricultural not from outsiders who covet their water, but from themselves.
“It’s only going to work,” said Brownell, “if everybody does something to save the water.”
The San Luis Valley’s 8,000 square miles are flat as plywood, hemmed in by the San Juan Mountains to the west, and to the east by the Sangre de Cristos, a dramatic wall of serrated peaks edged by sand dunes that seem plucked from a North African desert. The valley’s 46,000 residents live in scattered small towns, beneath lonely willows and cottonwoods, and around highway outposts where a few stores merit a mark on a map. It’s a tough place to live, and attracts some unconventional folks: The valley is home to hot springs (and a communal kitchen) frequented by nudists, an alligator farm, a community of 1,500 with 23 spiritual centers, and a UFO watchtower unimpaired by light pollution, where camping costs $10 a night.
But mostly, there are farms — big ones. The center-pivot sprinklers here are among the most tightly packed in the world, and their hulking aluminum spines give the valley floor the illusion of topography. The annual harvest — largely potato, barley and alfalfa — is worth some $300 million, and without it, a number of the towns probably wouldn’t exist. There are no mines, no ski resorts, no gas wells. Alamosa, the biggest town at 8,937 residents, boasts a small college and a hospital. Almost everything else — the fertilizer and tractor dealers, the Safeway, the county governments and K-12 schools — is supported primarily by money from the fields.
At a more basic level, everything runs on irrigation water. From the 1850s, when Hispanic settlers dug the first ditches, until the 1950s, most of that water was diverted from the Rio Grande and its tributaries and flooded onto fields. Then, drought and technological innovation spurred a well-drilling boom. Groundwater nursed crops through dry years and the late season, when rivers shrank. Soon, center-pivot sprinklers were hooked up to wells, watering crops evenly and efficiently all season long, and many farmers started irrigating exclusively with wells, using river water merely to recharge the aquifer. Marginal land became profitable, crop yields — and water consumption — grew, and large-scale commercial agriculture came into its own.
For decades, the Colorado Division of Water Resources, also called the State Engineer’s Office, granted well permits as generously as dentists dispense toothbrushes, ignoring basic hydrology. The water in the ground and the rivers was connected, and voracious well-pumping could lower streamflows — a serious problem, since the river water was already claimed. Following the logic of prior appropriation — the Westwide system that gives priority to those with the oldest water rights — wells that were connected to streams should only pump after older river irrigators are sated. But the opposite happened. In the late ’60s, the state clamped down on river irrigators to comply with the Rio Grande Compact, which requires Colorado to leave water in the river for Texas and New Mexico. Well owners, meanwhile, pumped happily away.
In 1975, the State Engineer tried to phase out a slew of wells, but a court encouraged a softer approach. Wells were drilled in the valley’s “closed basin,” where streams don’t drain to the Rio Grande. They sipped gingerly from a high water table, “salvaging” what would otherwise evaporate and piping it to the river. The Closed Basin Project seemed like a win-win: Wells kept pumping, river irrigators got water, and regulators backed off. It produced less water than expected, but the ’80s and ’90s were so wet that few people cared. Mother Nature bought rounds for everyone.
Colorado Springs Utilities claims that violations of federal stormwater standards are not related to permits for the Southern Delivery System being contested by the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District.
“Documents for the (Bureau of Reclamation’s) Record of Decision refer to the stormwater enterprise numerous times, so to me there’s a tie,” Lower Ark General Manager Jay Winner told the board Wednesday.
The Lower Ark board agreed, and fired off two letters to regulatory agencies requesting to delay SDS until stormwater issues are solved. They ask for protection for Pueblo and other downstream communities from Fountain Creek flows that have been increased by decades of growth in Colorado Springs.
The first — brought to the board by Winner and Pueblo County board members Melissa Esquibel and Anthony Nunez — asks Reclamation to review its contract for SDS and suspend it until Colorado Springs proves it has a stormwater control plan in place.
The second letter — drafted by attorney Peter Nichols at Winner’s request — is to Pueblo County commissioners and cites provisions in the Record of Decision and Pueblo County’s 1041 permit for SDS that require Colorado Springs to meet all federal, state and local permits, regulations and laws. John Fredell, the director of the SDS project, tried to make the case Tuesday to the Pueblo Board of Water Works that the enforcement action by the Environmental Protection Agency against Colorado Springs has nothing to do with SDS.
That viewpoint was echoed Wednesday by Mark Pifher, a Colorado Springs consultant, at the same time as he enumerated renewed efforts by Colorado Springs to beef up stormwater control.
Pifher touted that new leadership in Colorado Springs is committed to correcting the errors that led up to the EPA action.
Winner wasn’t buying it.
“We listened to ‘there is a real commitment’ in 2005, when (water chief) Gary Bostrom, (council members) Lionel Rivera, Larry Small and Richard Skorman came here and told us the same thing,” Winner said. “We tried to get an IGA so there would be an enforceable document.”
Winner said the commitment appears to come and go depending on who is elected, and doubted whether the current plan to fix stormwater control would stay in place after the next cycle.
Nichols questioned whether the $19 million Colorado Springs has committed to stormwater control would come close to the $600 million in needs identified by one study.
Pifher tried to deflect that by saying many of the projects identified fall into the category of a “wish list,” while the action plan now under consideration addresses the most critical projects.
“We’re skeptical,” Nichols said.
Both letters tie the current EPA enforcement action to the Record of Decision and 1041 permit, saying the violation of the federal stormwater permit alone should trigger denial of use of SDS by Colorado Springs.
Winner added that there is no acknowledgement by Colorado Springs that flooding on Fountain Creek is a result of unchecked growth upstream.
Colorado Springs city and Utilities officials on Tuesday fended off another in a rash of recent challenges to the massive Southern Delivery System water project, scheduled to start operating April 27.
The Pueblo Board of Water Works agreed to table for one month a resolution supporting Pueblo County efforts to require guaranteed stormwater funding if the SDS is to keep its hard-won 1041 permit.
Pueblo County issued that permit only after Colorado Springs Utilities spent years negotiating and crafting complex agreements with county, local, state and multiple federal agencies.
It’s the key to the $829 million SDS, one of the biggest modern-day water projects in the West, geared to deliver up to 50 million gallons of water a day to Pueblo West, Colorado Springs, Fountain and Security.
But Utilities’ massive project and its 1041 permit are not to be confused with the city of Colorado Springs’ beleaguered MS4 permit, SDS Director John Fredell told the Water Works board.
The city’s MS4, or Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System permit, is vulnerable since longtime neglect of critical stormwater controls led the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to cite the city in October with multiple violations.
For years, Colorado Springs hasn’t properly enforced drainage regulations, conducted adequate inspections, required developers to provide enough infrastructure or maintained and operated its own stormwater controls adequately, EPA inspections in August concluded. [ed. emphasis mine]
Now city officials are negotiating with the EPA and the Department of Justice to maintain the MS4 permit. They don’t deny the EPA’s claims. Indeed, they had discussed the problems and started scrambling for solutions shortly after John Suthers was sworn in as mayor last June, months before the EPA inspections.
But downstream Pueblo County has been a prime victim of Colorado Springs’ failure to control stormwater surging through Fountain Creek and its tributaries. And the county holds the 1041 permit, which some believe could be used as leverage.
As Colorado Springs development has sprawled farther, more sponge-like land has morphed into impermeable pavement, leaving stormwater roiling across the terrain.
Sediment in Fountain Creek has increased at least 278-fold since the Waldo Canyon fire in 2012, pushing water levels far higher, reported Wright Water Engineers Inc. of Denver, contracted by the county. [ed. emphasis mine]
Sediment grew from 90 to 25,075 tons per year while water yields increased from 2,500 to 4,822 acre-feet, the engineers found. [ed. emphasis mine]
City and Utilities officials have been meeting with those engineers and their own consulting engineering firm, MWH Global, to prioritize projects.
They’ve developed a list of 73, including 58 projects recommended by Wright Water, said city Public Works Director Travis Easton. Work on the first of those commences next week, with detention ponds to be developed along flood-prone Sand Creek near the Colorado Springs Airport.
But skepticism lingers in Pueblo County, despite that effort plus creation of a new Stormwater Division, more than doubling the number of city inspectors and enforcement staff and the vow to dedicate $19 million a year to stormwater solutions.
They’ve heard promises before, Water Works board members noted Tuesday. They want a guaranteed, ironclad source of funding to stanch the stormwater that inundates their communities. And they want it yesterday.
“History’s important,” said Dr. Thomas V. Autobee, a Water Works board member.
Jay Winner, executive director of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District, had threatened in August to file a federal lawsuit against Colorado Springs for violations of the Clean Water Act.
Tuesday, Winner reminded the water board of how the then-Colorado Springs City Council eradicated its stormwater enterprise fund in 2009 – soon after the 1041 permit was issued – “the definition of hoodwink.”
Voters had just passed Issue 300, requiring payments to city-owned enterprises to be phased out. The subsequent council vote still rankles downstream Fountain Creek denizens.
Still, that fund never provided more than $15.8 million, Fredell noted. By contrast, the city and Utilities now are determined to spend more than $19 million a year on stormwater for at least 10 years.
They’re working on an intergovernmental agreement that would provide the guarantees Pueblo County seeks.
“Enforceablity is always an issue,” Mark Pifher, SDS permitting and compliance manager, told the Water Works board. “But we’re in discussion with the EPA and Department of Justice. The handwriting is on the wall. There will be either a consent decree or a federal order, and nothing is more enforceable.”
“If we can work this draft into something sustainable,” Autobee said, “that’s what I’d like to see.”
Board Chairman Nicholas Gradisar said he’s encouraged by the city and Utilities’ concerted efforts and swift action. “What I’m not encouraged by is the inability to come to agreement with Pueblo County.”
Gradisar said the funding must be guaranteed in perpetuity, not only 10 years, with an enforcement mechanism that doesn’t require a federal lawsuit.
Suthers, City Council President Merv Bennett and Utilities officials will meet with the Pueblo County Board of Commissioners at 1:30 p.m. Monday to continue discussions on the fate of the 1041 permit.
That meeting is in commission chambers at the old downtown Pueblo County Courthouse, 215 W. 10th St.
That night, the Pueblo City Council is to decide on a resolution similar to that tabled by the Water Works Board. It would support the county’s efforts to obtain sustained stormwater funding from Colorado Springs.
The council meets at 7 p.m. Monday at City Hall, 1 City Hall Place, in Council Chambers on the third floor.
More coverage from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain:
The Pueblo Board of Water Works decided to wait a month before dipping its toes into the fray between Colorado Springs and Pueblo County over the Southern Delivery System.
The board tabled a resolution demanding a permanent funding mechanism for stormwater control on Fountain Creek in connection with Pueblo County’s 1041 permit with SDS, after testimony muddied the waters.
After SDS Project Director John Fredell tried to convince the water board that the two issues are not related, Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District cried foul.
“When you talk about stormwater, it’s not about the law or politics,” Winner said, turning to Colorado Springs ocials and inviting them to look at the damage along Fountain Creek in Pueblo. “The people are the ones getting injured. You need to do something about stormwater. You people are causing the issue.”
Winner said the Lower Ark district has tried for more than a decade to get Colorado Springs to agree to permanent funding.
Colorado Springs City Council President Merv Bennett, under questioning by water board President Nick Gradisar, admitted that Colorado Springs has not been in compliance with its stormwater permit. He, along with Colorado Springs Councilman Andy Pico and Public Works Director Travis Easton, explained in detail how the city would spend $19 million annually to address stormwater control.
About $12 million would go toward capital costs and $7 million to maintenance.
“It’s not only for downstream users, but for the benefit of Colorado Springs,” Bennett said. “We’re not waiting.
We’re moving forward.”
Colorado Springs is trying to negotiate a 10-year agreement with Pueblo County to ensure the funds stay in place.
Part of the water board’s resolution was to support Pueblo County in the bargaining.
Gradisar questioned whether that would go far to cover $500 million in identified stormwater projects, and blamed politics for the failure of past efforts to fund flood control.
“Left to its own devices, Colorado Springs Utilities would have taken care of these problems,” Gradisar said.
“But your voters . . . they probably wouldn’t have passed SDS.”
Water board member Tom Autobee brought up the issue of the $50 million Colorado Springs Utilities promised to pay to the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District when SDS goes on line.
Fredell explained that the SDS pipeline, pumps and treatment plant still are in testing, so Utilities does not believe the payment is due until 2017 under the 1041 agreement. Fountain Creek district Executive Director Larry Small, a former Colorado Springs councilman, said it should have been paid last week.
Fredell argued that stormwater control is not a condition of the 1041 permit, since the permit deals with new growth related to SDS.
Since SDS is not serving customers, it does not apply, he said.
“But the damage is being caused now, what happens with SDS,” Gradisar replied?
That drew a reaction from Pueblo West Metropolitan District board member Mark Carmel, who questioned whether SDS was just a speculative venture for Colorado Springs. He called for reopening the entire 1041 permit to incorporate new concerns.
Water board member Mike Cafasso said the draft resolution presented at Tuesday’s meeting could be improved and moved to table it. Other board members agreed to take it up again at the board’s February meeting.
FromAspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith) via The Aspen Times:
The city of Aspen is seeking consultants to help it prepare a river management plan for the upper Roaring Fork River, which has been plagued in drought years by low flows as it winds through central Aspen.
“The city of Aspen plans to study the upper Roaring Fork River, from its headwaters to a point just below the confluence with Maroon Creek,” the city’s request for proposals, or RFP, says.
April Long, the city’s stormwater manager, said the development of a river management plan was one of the Aspen city council’s top ten goals in 2015. Long said she expects regional engineering firms specializing in water to put together teams of consultants and submit proposals to the city, which are due by Jan. 15.
“Since 2008, the city has focused on improving the quality of water discharged through its outfalls. The city now feels it is important to focus its attention on one of the other probable causes for impairment – inadequate flows during periods of drought,” the RFP says.
The city’s RFP also says it expects proposed consulting teams “to include members with experience and expertise in water resources engineering, river science, hydrology, water quality, stream geomorphology, Colorado water rights and water law, and group facilitation.”
Long said the city’s river management plan will be similar to the ‘”stream management plans” that are called for in the recently released Colorado Water Plan, and that ongoing work being done by the Colorado Water Trust for Pitkin County on ways to add more water to the river will be looked at when formulating the city’s river plan.
“Our ultimate goal for the project is to develop a plan that outlines operational, management, and physical options that improve the health of the river while respecting each stakeholder’s rights and interests,” the city’s RFP says.
The Roaring Fork River flows into the city’s boundaries at Stillwater Drive east of downtown Aspen.
The stretch of the river between there and the confluence with Castle Creek has been known to drop below 32 cubic feet per second, which the Colorado Water Conservation Board considers the minimum amount of water necessary to protect the river’s environment “to a reasonable degree.”
“In the early 2000s several studies investigated the health of the Roaring Fork River and reported a severely degraded or impaired stretch of river within the city,” the RFP says. “The instream flow determined for this stretch in the 1970s is 32 cubic feet per second. During the droughts of 2002 and 2012, the river in this stretch dropped to only 5 cfs – only 15 percent of the instream flow.”
One big factor in the amount of water in the Roaring Fork River through Aspen is the Salvation Ditch, an irrigation ditch that diverts water from the river at Stillwater Drive.
The ditch has a senior 1902 water right that allows up to 58 cfs of water to be diverted and sent across lower Red Mountain to Woody Creek.
During the drought of 2012 there were days when there was more water flowing down the Salvation Ditch than was flowing down the Roaring Fork as it winds through town.
For example, according to a study done by S.K. Mason Environmental LLC, on July 27, 2012 there was 17.4 cfs flowing in the Salvation Ditch and 7.6 cfs of water flowing down the Fork below the ditch.
However, Tom Moore, the president of the Salvation Ditch Company, said the shareholders who own land along the ditch company also need the water in dry years, they have made significant investments in the water system, and they are concerned about weakening their water right by not diverting the water.
He also pointed out that the Salvation Ditch water right is senior to the 1930s era water rights held by the Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co., which diverts water under Independence Pass. As such, the Salvation Ditch plays a role in keeping water in the Roaring Fork River, he said.
The city’s Long said talking with the Salvation Ditch Co. will be an important part of the river management plan, which is why the city is seeking proposals that include consultants with an expertise in working with various stakeholders.
The city’s RFP says “we hope that by determining valuable attributes of the river, we can work together as a community to lessen impairment and improve water quality, river health, ecological health, recreational opportunities, and riparian habitat in ways that closer meet the community’s goals.”
Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism is covering rivers and water in collaboration with the Glenwood Springs Post Independent and The Aspen Times. More at http://www.aspenjournalism.org.
Not many cities can claim their infrastructure was of leading concern from the beginning, but Colorado Springs is one of them. Concrete evidence was left in a time capsule by one of the city’s founding engineers, Edwin W. Sawyer, via documents dated in 1901 which state, “It seems to me that nothing except the lack of water can stop the growth of a city so desirable for residence as this…Our people are becoming aroused to the need of securing at once all the available reservoir sites and water rights…”
Continuing in the same water-conscious spirit as those earlier citizens, three different mayors and at least eight previous city councils have been involved and invested in the planning of the Southern Delivery System, American Infrastructure magazine’s Water Project of the Year.
Awarded for its forward-thinking and comprehensive approach to water management, the regional project will be built in phases through 2040 based on customer demands, and will bring water from Pueblo Reservoir to Colorado Springs and partner communities, Fountain, Security, and Pueblo West.
The project is more than a simple fix for major pipelines that are now over 50-years-old and nearing capacity; Jerry Forte, the current CEO of Colorado Springs Utilities, hopes that this project “will serve as an engine, driving more efficiency, effectiveness, and reliability in our system.”
Phase I, which is now under construction, will transport water from Pueblo Reservoir through approximately 50 miles of underground pipeline, and is on schedule for April 2016. The project is estimated to cost $841 million at completion (thus far, under budget by $156 million)…
The four-part Water Resource Plan, of which the SDS is the major component, includes conservation, non-potable water development, existing system improvements, and major water delivery systems (the SDS itself). After the 2002 drought heightened public awareness of water scarcity, Colorado Springs has been able to make improvements to increase the efficiency of the existing water system before constructing SDS. Today, their per capita residential water use is among the lowest in the region. Colorado Springs also has the second-largest nonpotable water system in the state and has expanded their use of non-potable water in recent years.
Like any other project, this process hasn’t gone without headaches. However, clearing some of these hurdles was no easy feat, including dozens of permits and an Environmental Impact Statement that took almost six years to complete. In order to mitigate concerns that the proposed SDS would cause damage to Fountain Creek and surrounding wetland areas, a significant portion of the $1.4 billion overall cost of the project is a $75 million in wastewater system improvements to help prevent wastewater spills into Fountain Creek, a $50 million payment to the newly formed Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District; additional payments will be allocated towards various mitigation and flow maintenance programs on Fountain Creek in the future.