Aspinall Unit operations update

January 23, 2015

From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

Releases from Crystal Dam will be decreased from 1100 cfs to 800 cfs on the morning of Monday, January 26th. This release decrease is in response to the declining runoff forecast for Blue Mesa Reservoir. The current forecast for April-July unregulated inflow to Blue Mesa Reservoir is 660,000 acre-feet which is 98% of average.

Flows in the lower Gunnison River are currently above the baseflow target of 1050 cfs. River flows are expected to stay above the baseflow target for the foreseeable future.

Pursuant to the Aspinall Unit Operations Record of Decision (ROD), the baseflow target in the lower Gunnison River, as measured at the Whitewater gage, is 1050 cfs for January through March.

Currently, diversions into the Gunnison Tunnel are zero and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon are around 1150 cfs. After this release change Gunnison Tunnel diversions will still be zero and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon should be around 850 cfs. Current flow information is obtained from provisional data that may undergo revision subsequent to review.

More Aspinall Unit coverage here.

Fountain Creek: “When they talk [Colorado Springs] to us about stormwater, all we get is fuzzy math” — Jay Winner

January 22, 2015

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Colorado Springs is trying to talk its way out of its stormwater commitment, and the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District is losing its patience.

“You can talk the talk, but you’ve got to walk the walk. That’s not what I’m hearing,” Jay Winner, Lower Ark manager, told his board Wednesday. “When they talk to us about stormwater, all we get is fuzzy math.”

The board will consider whether to proceed with the federal lawsuit next month.

Winner is frustrated because his discussions with Colorado Springs Utilities have been similar to 2005 and 2007, when he was assured by Utilities the city would live up to its commitments to control drainage into Fountain Creek caused by increased runoff from development. When enumerating stormwater projects, Colorado Springs points to street projects that Winner said have nothing to do with controlling the flow into Fountain Creek.

In November, the Lower Ark board voted to prepare a lawsuit under the federal Clean Water Act over violations of its stormwater permit. Since then, the district has hired a firm to sample water quality and has been moving toward a lawsuit.

“Everybody seems to say the right things,” Winner said. “But I keep getting told, ‘Nothing happens until we get a new mayor.’’’ In November, Colorado Springs Councilman Merv Bennett asked the Lower Ark to have patience just days after voters in El Paso County rejected a drainage authority that would have raised nearly $40 million annually to improve Fountain Creek stormwater issues.

Colorado Springs council has made no overtures since then to address Lower Ark’s concerns.

“I’m not hopeful we’ll get anywhere,” Winner said.

Colorado Springs had a stormwater utility in place in 2009, when Pueblo County commissioners approved a 1041 permit for the Southern Delivery System.

The Lower Ark district lobbied Colorado Springs City Council in 2005 for creation of a stormwater utility, specifically to address past stormwater issues on Fountain Creek.

Colorado Springs has a backlog of about $535 million in stormwater projects, according to its most recent accounting.

More Lower Arkansas Water Conservancy District coverage here.

Water strategies on the Conejos — the Valley Courier #COWaterPlan

January 5, 2015
Conejos River

Conejos River

From the Valley Courier (Nathan Coombs):

The Conejos River is the largest tributary to the Rio Grande River in Colorado. The Conejos and its tributaries Los Pinos and Rio San Antonio irrigate about 100,000 acres in the south end of the San Luis Valley and pay a significant portion of the Rio Grande Compact. With some of the oldest water rights in the state and basin, this water has been subject to many changed uses and modifications over time.

In 1928-38 when the Rio Grande Compact commission studied the flows of the rivers in order to calculate a compact arrangement with New Mexico, Texas, and Mexico, the system was already completely appropriated. The only method of irrigation at the time was flooding. Whether for the meadow, the vegetables or the grain and alfalfa fields, flooding was the only method used, or even contemplated.

With the unique physical properties of the Conejos basin, the flooding of fields filled the shallow aquifer with both run off and percolation. This building of the aquifer built a large amount of sub surface water that benefitted irrigators down gradient from where the earlier irrigation water was applied. These subsequent irrigators were able to apply less water to their crops, and gained the benefit of their crop’s roots being in contact with the ground water longer.

This method of irrigation also provided another benefit. The irrigation water diverted from the Conejos and filling the unconfined aquifer, caused return flows which also paid a large percentage of the Conejos’ portion of the compact. Irrigators used the water and paid compact with a large portion of this same water through return flows.

Over time, farm land was leveled, irrigation moved from flooding to sprinklers, and weather patterns trended towards drier winters diminishing sufficient supplies. As the efficiency of water application methods continued to improve, return flows decreased, so more water had to be left in the river channel to pay the compact. With this necessity of leaving pristine water in the channel, it became increasingly difficult for water users to depend on enough water for the entire season. Compounding this issue were years of significantly less than average snowfall. More adapting and changing were necessary.

In 1969 the Rio Grande Compact was being administered more strictly. This change in water management brought about the need for accurate accounting and measurement of the waters within the river. Water users were now experiencing curtailments to diversions in order to meet the compact. This curtailment meant that some water users were experiencing less water than historically available. Issues arose around how to make sure that those curtailed were in fact impacted to the least degree possible. This required a lot of time and effort from the DWR’s river commissioners. Also In 1991, The Conejos Water Conservancy District bought exclusive rights to the Operations and Maintenance to Platoro Reservoir. This change brought an opportunity to district water users to utilize the reservoir to store and re-release their water later in the growing season. With the opportunity to use reservoir water to offset some of the compact administra- tion issues, this development also brought the challenge of tracking this retimed water throughout the system.

In order to be proactive and solution minded, water users on the Conejos developed a strategy by first recognizing the issues they faced. First off, there was not an efficient way of tracking the different types of water in the river. It was very difficult to accurately and efficiently know where the different types of water were at all times, much less separate out the native from the reservoir from the Compact head gate by head gate. Secondly there were large inefficiencies with the infrastructure used for getting the water out of the river in priority, and allowing optimal use of both native and the reservoir water to diminish reliance on ground water. Finally, there needed to be a way to mitigate the effects of inaccurate forecasting of snowpack and insufficient stream flows . Water users felt that addressing these issues would help individual water users make better informed decisions on their farm’s water budget for a given year.


In 2012 to overcome some of the first of these challenges, 72 river diversions were fitted with a nearly live ability to “see” what was being diverted. Stilling wells were constructed and fitted with measurement and recording devices that transmitted wirelessly through an entirely new telemetry network that was built to transmit this information. The data is recorded, collected, and stored off site and available to administrators and water users through a secure password. This system also allowed the DWR river commissioners to be very specific with the use of their time and miles for regulating the diversions . With the new system, administrators are now able to make sure that the correct water amounts are being either diverted or passed through to the compact or other water users in priority.


The second proposal was to work in conjunction to the gauging/measurement of the diversions. Four of the largest water diversions on the Conejos System were automated. This effort regulates the water to the correct amount for each of these head gates. The automation was able to ensure that these diversions were able to both receive their correct amount of water and not “absorb” the diurnal effect of the river. By correcting the flows at these largest diversions water that should go down river to either another priority or the compact was available. The automation also saved countless hours of regulating and re-adjusting these head gates throughout the day. Because of the tremendous positive impacts of automation, the district is currently automating three more structures along the Conejos with plans for more being drawn up at this time.


Finally , to help mitigate the “Mother Nature” component , the district is looking at bettering the methodology of both measurements and forecasting for the basin. Currently, the DWR uses reports from NRCS that are based on snotel sites, manual snow course measurements, and the NRCS’ own forecasting to predict total stream flows for both the Rio Grande and the Conejos. The input data are the foundation of the NRCS’ predictions. The problems however are that the number of measured sites is insufficient , their coverage is not complete, and in the case of the Conejos basin, they only represent about 35 percent of the watershed. With both winter inaccessibility to many areas for manual snow surveys, and USFS wilderness restrictions , a large portion of sub drainages simply are not measured.

With a partnership with CWCB, (Colorado Water Conservation Board) NCAR (National Center for Atmospheric Research) NOAA, (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) NWS, (National Weather Service) and NSSL, (National Severe Storms Laboratory) the district has installed six additional “snotel lite” stations, flow gauges on tributary streams, and one radar truck!

The new measurement sites are placed on boundaries with the USFS wilderness areas and will ground truth what the radar truck is seeing . Since the radar has the ability to scan across both the wilderness and inaccessible areas of the basin, the concept is that water users will be able to refine the data used to predict actual snow levels down to the sub basin level.

The flow gauges on the tributaries will allow water administrators to calibrate how much of the system’s water is generated on the respective tributary’s sub basin. Then for an example; if a tributary is significantly higher or lower than the forecast pre supposed, immediate corrections to the compact curtailment can be made. This action will help refine the calculations necessary to administer the compact on a daily basis. This timely correction to compact administration will allow Valley water users to more fully use Colorado’s share of the water.

The Conejos Water Conservancy District does not have all the answers, and may not even yet have the right questions. The district does however, have a desire to place as many pieces in the water puzzle as it can.

Nathan Coombs is the director of the Conejos Water Conservancy District in Manassa.

More Conejos River coverage here and here.

NISP: Northern Water officials looking to 2019 to turn dirt for Glade Reservoir

December 30, 2014
Aerial view of the roposed Glade Reservoir site -- photo via Northern Water

Aerial view of the roposed Glade Reservoir site — photo via Northern Water

From the Loveland Reporter-Herald (Pamela Johnson):

When the Northern Integrated Supply Project was first proposed, Northern Water hoped to have Glade Reservoir complete and filled by 2013.

Now as the permitting process has stretched over a decade, the earliest date that construction could begin is 2019, with water flowing in by 2021.

“In this process, we learned a long time ago that there is no set date of when it’s going to be done,” said Brian Werner, spokesman for Northern Water, which is spearheading the project on behalf of four water districts and 11 cities and towns…

Despite delays, Northern Water is convinced that NISP and its two reservoirs, Glade and Galeton, will be built and are the answer to a growing population’s needs by storing water from the Poudre and South Platte rivers.

“Those 15 participants, their resolve is even stronger than ever,” said Werner. “The more time that goes by, the more important it is to have that water supply.”

However, an environmental group that opposes the project is just as convinced that construction will never begin and that participants are beginning to look to alternative options…

The Northern Integrated Supply Project is intended to provide additional water to the 15 Front Range providers by pulling excess water from the Poudre and South Platte rivers during plentiful years to fill two new reservoirs.

The water from the Poudre would be stored in a 5-mile-long reservoir northwest of Fort Collins. Glade Reservoir, which would be slightly larger in capacity than Horsetooth Reservoir, would hold 170,000 acre-feet of water and require relocation of seven miles of U.S. 287.

The second reservoir, Galeton, would hold 40,000 acre-feet northeast of Greeley and would be filled from the South Platte River downstream from Greeley. This water would be delivered to two irrigation companies in exchange for their Poudre River water.

Save the Poudre and other groups that oppose NISP say that science shows this project would drain the river to a mere trickle through Fort Collins, impacting habitat, wildlife, fishing, tubing, kayaking and trails that span the river corridor…

Northern Water says say this scenario will never happen. With required minimum flows in the river, Werner has said the water would be pulled only in years when there is excess.

And as soon as a supplemental environmental impact statement is released, Northern Water will begin working with Colorado Parks and Wildlife to mitigate any habitat or wildlife concerns, Werner said.

“Once the supplemental is out, we will start moving on some of these areas that have been stuck in molasses,” Werner said.

What is the process?

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineer is the lead federal agency on the permitting process for the proposed water project.

The first step of creating an environmental impact statement began more than a decade ago — in August 2004.

Four years later, the first draft EIS was opened to public comment. During that time, supporters and opponents rallied at several public hearings and community events.

The federal agency then announced in 2009 that a supplemental draft EIS was necessary to include additional studies.

The supplemental report was anticipated to be released this year but instead was pushed back to sometime in 2015. If that does indeed happen, a final decision could come in 2016. If it’s approved, design would take place in 2017-2018, then construction in 2019…

How much does it cost?

As the project timeline has stretched out over the years, the cost too has stretched.

Northern Water and the participating water providers are paying for the studies and costs associated with permitting. So far they have spent about $14 million just for permitting, and Werner estimates that each additional year adds $1 million to $1.5 million to the tally.

Once a final decision is issued, and if that decision allows the project, construction is estimated at $500 million. That, too, could change depending on the final design, the year it is built and the economy.

“We’re at the mercy of the process and the federal government on this one,” said Werner. “It’s been an interesting ride.”

More Northern Integrated Supply Project coverage here and here.

“There are a lot of good tools out there that could create informal and formal benefits” — Amy Beatie

December 26, 2014

Screen shot from Peter McBride's video arguing that the Crystal River should be left as is

Screen shot from Peter McBride’s video arguing that the Crystal River should be left as is

From Aspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith) via The Aspen Times:

The Pitkin County Healthy Rivers and Streams Board unanimously agreed Thursday to approve a $45,000 grant to help the East Mesa Water Co. repair an irrigation ditch on the Crystal River as long as the ditch company agrees to talk with the county about ways to leave more water in the river.

The grant comes with the condition “that the shareholders of the East Mesa Ditch agree to engage with the river board and consider working with Pitkin County on matters of irrigation efficiency and measures to protect instream flows and the free-flowing nature of the Crystal River.”

The condition was left broad, as there are no routine ways in Colorado to improve an irrigation system and then leave any saved water in a river despite the fact that 86 percent of the water diverted from Colorado’s rivers is for agriculture.

On Friday, Dennis Davidson, a consultant helping East Mesa secure funding for the ditch-repair project, said the 12 shareholders in the ditch company would likely accept the county’s condition.

“I don’t see why they wouldn’t,” said Davidson, who had not conferred with the shareholders yet. “There is no reason for them not to talk with them.”

After presenting to the river board Nov. 20, Marty Nieslanik, president of East Mesa Water Co., said, “I think all of us we want to see the river healthy, too. I mean, it’s not like we’re trying to hog all the water; it just takes water to do what we do.

“We need the water to maintain our lifestyle, but if there is any way that we can make that water more efficient, then maybe there is some way that we can leave some of it the river.”

The East Mesa Ditch repair project includes shoring up a collapsing tunnel and installing 1,200 feet of new pipe. The project is still being engineered, and the projected cost is now $700,000.

East Mesa has raised $410,000 for the project from state and federal sources so far. That does not include the river board’s $45,000 grant, which still must be approved by the Pitkin County commissioners, who are set to review it Jan. 6.

The repairs to the ditch are not expected to result in more water for the river, but other improvements, such as piping or lining more sections, installing high-tech control gates and using sprinklers in fields, could likely save water.

The 8.5-mile-long ditch irrigates 740 acres of land southeast of Carbondale. Of the 740 acres, 180 acres are under a conservation easement either through Pitkin County Open Space and Trails or the Aspen Valley Land Trust.

East Mesa is the second-largest diversion on the Crystal River, which in summer can run well under the environmental minimum set by the state of 100 cubic feet per second.

The ditch has two water rights that allow it divert as much as 42 cfs of water. One right is from 1904 and is for 32 cfs. The second is from 1952 and is for 10 cfs.

Pitkin County’s river board, created in 2008, is funded with a 0.1 percent sales tax, which is expected to generate $850,000 in 2015. The board has budgeted $150,000 for grants next year.

The board is charged with “improving water quality and quantity” in the Roaring Fork River watershed and “working to secure, create and augment minimum stream flows” in conjunction with nonprofits and government agencies. The board also can improve and construct “capital facilities.”

While the vote to award East Mesa the grant was unanimous, some board members questioned whether fixing an irrigation ditch was consistent with the board’s mission.

“Our job isn’t supporting ag and open space,” said Andre Wille, the chairman of the board. “Agriculture and healthy rivers are two different things.”

But board member Bill Jochems supported the grant, saying it could increase support among irrigators for federal protection of the upper Crystal River.

And board member Dave Nixa suggested that East Mesa talk to the nonprofit Colorado Water Trust, which works with water-rights owners to find ways to leave water in rivers.

“There are a lot of good tools out there that could create informal and formal benefits,” said Amy Beatie, the executive director of the water trust, who was pleased Friday with the river board’s decision.

Rick Lofaro, the executive director of the Roaring Fork Conservancy, is working with irrigators in the Crystal River Valley as part of developing a management plan for the river.

“The goodwill and the momentum this could create could really be precedent-setting,” Lofaro told the river board Thursday.

Aspen Journalism and The Aspen Times are collaborating on coverage of rivers and water. More at

Meanwhile, he East Mesa Water Company is asking Pitkin County’s Healthy Rivers and Streams Board for dough to pipe the ditch, according to this article from Brent Gardner-Smith writing for Aspen Journalism:

The East Mesa Water Company is asking Pitkin County’s Healthy Rivers and Streams Board for a $45,000 grant to help cover the $550,000 cost of installing 1,450 feet of new pipe in the 8.5-mile-long East Mesa Ditch.

The irrigation ditch can divert up to 42 cubic feet per second of water out of the Crystal River 9 miles above Carbondale, but it typically diverts about 32 cfs.

The proposed East Mesa Ditch project entails installing 48-inch plastic pipe on a failing section of the irrigation ditch that includes an 80-year-old, 650-foot-long tunnel and a hillside that often sheds rock and mud down toward the ditch.

The work will keep the ditch functioning but won’t result in more water being left in the Crystal River, which is a goal of the county river board.

“As a board, with our mission, we’d like to keep as much water in the river as we can,” Andre Wille, the chair of the county river board, said Nov. 20 during the review of the East Mesa application. “If we can improve the efficiency of that ditch, and leave the rest in the river, that would be in our interest.”

Dennis Davidson, a consultant for East Mesa Water Co. with more than 40 years experience at the Natural Resource Conservation Service, said there would be “minimal” water added to the river from the repair project, as it only included adding 1,450 feet of pipe to a 8.5-mile-long ditch.

But, he noted, if the ditch were fully piped, which he said would cost $20 million, there would be water savings.

“If we lined the East Mesa Ditch from beginning to end, we would probably get by diverting 50 percent of the water that we divert,” Davidson told the river board.

The ditch “loses as much as 35 percent of the water in the ditch due to seepage through the course and rocky soil,” according to a feasibility study from East Mesa submitted to the Colorado Water Conservation Board in a funding application.

The East Mesa Ditch typically runs the first two weeks of May until about mid-October. It sends water to 740 acres of land between 1 and 5 miles south of Carbondale, most if it with big views of Mount Sopris and some of it protected with conservation easements.

The water is used for cattle ranching, and growing nursery trees, forage crops and hay.

On paper, the East Mesa Ditch is the second biggest diversion on the lower Crystal.

The largest diversion on the river is the Sweet Jessup Canal, which can divert 75 cfs. It is located about a mile-and-a-half upstream from the East Mesa diversion structure.

When the Sweet Jessup, the East Mesa and the Lowline Ditch, which is just downstream of East Mesa, are all diverting, water levels in the Crystal River often drop well below the environmental minimum of 100 cfs set by the state.

According to a study done by consultant Seth Mason in 2012, the river below the diversions dropped to 4 cfs Sept. 4 and to 1 cfs Sept. 22, 2012.

“Near complete dewatering of the stream channel was observed through much of September at Thomas Road and near the Garfield/Pitkin County line,” Mason, with Lotic Hydrological, LLC, said in his 2012 report.

Need to divert all the water?

The East Mesa Ditch has a senior water right for 32 cfs that dates back to 1894 and a second water right for 10 cfs from 1942.

Davidson told the river board that in his experience in the Roaring Fork River Valley, 20 cfs is usually enough to irrigate 800 acres of land.

As the East Mesa Ditch typically diverts 32 cfs to irrigate 740 acres, does that mean there is as much as 12 cfs of water that could potentially be left in the river and still allow for adequate irrigation?

No, according to Marty Nieslanik, president of the East Mesa Water Co.

He said the full 32 cfs of water needs to be diverted today to act as “push water” to convey water to the end of the long irrigation ditch.

“We figure we lose two feet of water from our head gate to the last person who takes it out,” Nieslanik said.

He also said that some of the diverted water also returns to the river.

“After it dumps out at our ranch, it comes down the draw and drops in right below the fish hatchery,” Nieslanik said. “So that’s why you see the big difference as you drive down the Crystal, it’s almost dry and then all of a sudden there is a lot of water there.”

Nieslanik told the river board that the company was “trying to make our water go further.”

“If we can get that whole mesa irrigated with 25 feet of water, we may let six or eight of water go by to help the river maintain its levels,” he said.

“It would be good to understand the benefits,” river board member Lisa Tasker told Nieslanik about the project. “We are very interested in the natural hydrograph and trying to mimic that as best as possible.

“Speaking for myself, I would love to leave a little bit of water coming down the river to help the river out, if we could somehow make that happen,” Neislanik said after the meeting. “We need the water to maintain our lifestyle, but if there is any way that we can make that water more efficient, then maybe there is some way that we can leave some of it the river.”

Money for water

The East Mesa Water Company is on track to raise $410,000 toward its ditch-repair project, whether or not the county’s Healthy Rivers and Streams Board agrees to a grant.

The company will receive a $300,000 grant from the federal Natural Resource Conservation Service when the work is complete.

It has secured a $60,000 grant from the Colorado River Basin Roundtable and a $25,000 grant from the Colorado River District. And it has requested a $25,000 grant from the Colorado Soil Conservation Board.

The company also has obtained a $375,000 loan from the Colorado Water Conservation Board, which is to serve as a bridge loan until the project is complete and grant funds come in, Davidson said.

There are 12 shareholders in the East Mesa Water Co., and 1,003 shares have been issued to them, based on the size of their land holdings. Owners are assessed an annual fee of $15 a share, which brings in $15,000 a year. The company has no debt.

“The East Mesa Water Co. operates on assessments of the water users,” according to the feasibility study given to the Colorado Water Conservation Board. “For many years, the ditch company has kept the assessments as low as possible as many of the users are just getting by.”

The largest shareholders in the company include Paul Nieslanik, who owns 200 shares, John Nieslanik, who owns 185 shares, Tom Bailey, whose Iron Rose Ranch owns 185 shares and Richard McIntrye, who owns 168 shares.

Marty Nieslanik told the county the hay grown with water from the East Mesa ditch was worth about $500,000 a year under a calculation of four tons of hay per acre, on 740 acres, at $170 per ton.

At the end of Nieslanik’s presentation, the members of the Healthy Rivers and Stream Board agreed to meet in December to continue to review East Mesa’s application.

The Healthy Rivers and Streams Board will next consider the East Mesa application Thursday at 4 p.m. in Pitkin County’s Plaza 1 meeting room.

Aspen Journalism and The Aspen Times are collaborating on coverage of rivers and water. More at

More Crystal River coverage here.

Rejection of stormwater plan could mean lawsuit for Colorado Springs — Colorado Springs Gazette

November 7, 2014

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Monica Mendoza):

A failed stormwater proposal could trigger legal action from Pueblo County and is expected to become a campaign issue in the race for Colorado Springs mayor. Voters rejected a proposal Tuesday to create a regional stormwater authority that would have collected annual fees from property owners to pay for flood control projects in Colorado Springs, Manitou Springs, Green Mountain Falls, Fountain and parts of El Paso County.

Now, the lack of a stormwater funding program has one Pueblo County commissioner wondering how promised flood control projects that affect his county will be paid for.

“It’s not an option not to address flooding and stormwater issues,” said Pueblo County Commissioner Sal Pace, who was re-elected to a four-year term Tuesday. “Colorado Springs owes us legally. I expect Colorado Springs to find the money somewhere else.”

Voters rejected a proposal that would have generated about $40 million a year for 20 years to pay for 114 flood control projects. Proponents ran a $200,000 campaign with billboard, television and radio advertisements. But it wasn’t enough to sway opponents, who said the proposal lacked a guarantee that the new money, collected in fees, would be in addition to what each city and the county already spend on stormwater projects, a provision called “maintenance of effort.”

“You give government more money to solve the problem and they spend the money on something else and the problem gets worse,” said Steve Durham, who runs the group Citizens for Cost Effective Government, which spent about $25,000 on radio advertisements opposing the measure. “There is a lack of confidence created by city of Colorado Springs when they ceased their maintenance of effort.”

Pace said by his estimation controlling the water flow in Fountain Creek was part of the deal Colorado Springs Utilities agreed to in 2009 when Pueblo signed off on permits needed for a projected $1 billion Southern Delivery System project to bring Arkansas River water stored in Pueblo Reservoir to Colorado Springs.

When the permits for SDS were inked, Colorado Springs had a stormwater fee in place and a list of projects designed to head off floodwaters going south, Pace said. But the fee ended in 2011 and left Pueblo officials wondering if the promised flood control projects would be built. He had hoped voters would approve the regional stormwater fee proposal.

Pace said he will consult the county’s attorney and look into legal action to ensure the agreements in the permits are followed.

“If Pueblo County believes that Colorado Springs has not lived up to its end of the bargain on the permit, we can take action to revoke the permit,” Pace said. [ed. emphasis mine]

Utilities officials said they are living up to the negotiated terms with Pueblo. They say the stormwater proposal that voters rejected this week was aimed at the backlog of flood control projects while the negotiated permits with Pueblo address future growth in the city.

City Councilman Merv Bennett, who chairs the Utilities Board, said Utilities has committed to spending $131 million to mitigate flooding and make improvements along Fountain Creek.

“We will continue to work closely with Pueblo County commissioners,” Bennett said. “I will call the commissioners and hear their concerns so we can work to address those.”

However, Bennett, who will be up for re-election in April in an at-large City Council seat, said he was disappointed the stormwater fee proposal failed. He hopes stormwater will be a 2015 campaign issue.

“It’s such a critical issue for our city and for our neighbors,” he said.

It may be too soon to start proposing alternative solutions, said Attorney General John Suthers, who announced in September that he intends to run for mayor of Colorado Springs.

“I think we have to be totally open-minded,” he said. “We need to come back. This has to be dealt with but we need to go back through the process of consensus building.”

Mayor Steve Bach issued a proclamation before the election detailing his opposition to the stormwater ballot proposal. Among his concerns were the number of Colorado Springs representatives on the stormwater authority board; whether Colorado Springs would get to spend the money its residents contributed; and whether the authority could make changes to projects and spending without public input. Bach did not return a phone call Wednesday seeking comment.

Suthers agreed that stormwater will become an election issue and expects it to be discussed.

He believes the stormwater proposal was rejected because there was “a failure of collaborative leadership.”

“You had a group of incredibly hard-working citizens that went to work on this for two years, and they had a lot of public hearings and they fashioned a proposal that took into account what they heard,” he said. “Then along comes the mayor, who had every opportunity to participate in this process, and he did not participate in a meaningful fashion.”

Suthers declined to comment on how the lack of a stormwater program affects Pueblo and the permits related to the SDS project.

“This might involve potential litigation that Colorado Springs might be involved in,” he said.

El Paso County Commissioner Amy Lathen, who was on the stormwater task force that brought the issue to the ballot, said the group will talk with voters about what they did not like in the proposal.

“Forty-six percent of the voters believed in our plan,” she said. “That’s a great place to start.”

Lathen was the first to announce her intention to run for Colorado Springs mayor, and said she expects stormwater to be a campaign issue.

“Now, we go back to the drawing board and figure out what is going to be successful,” she said.

“This is too important to let go.”

More stormwater coverage here.

Water rules: Be prepared or stop pumping — the Valley Courier #RioGrande

November 3, 2014

From the Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

It’s not a broken record; the needle’s just stuck. Sounding like a broken record, for several years the Colorado Division of Water Resources has warned well users that rules would be coming soon. Several years’ worth of advisory committee meetings and groundwater model runs later, it appears the well regulations are finally close to completion.

“We anticipate one more advisory committee meeting ,” Division of Water Resources Division Engineer for Division 3 Craig Cotten told attendees of the Rio Grande Water Conservation District meeting on Tuesday.

“We are fairly close on the rules, just some last minute tweaks.”

He said the peer review team working on the groundwater model that is providing crucial data for the regulations will be meeting again on Friday in Denver. He said he hoped everyone would come to a consensus on the model and go forward.

“We are fairly close to having that model done,” Cotten said.

Once groundwater rules are in place, well users will have to either be covered by a sub-district of the Rio Grande Water Conservation District or their own augmentation plan, which must be approved by the water court. Well users’ other option would be to shut down.

Subsequent sub-districts after the first one are going with an opt-in policy where only those who are interested in being included in the subdistrict are part of it. RGWCD staff stressed on Tuesday, however, that well owners opting out of any of the subdistricts would either have to come up with their own augmentation plan to comply with the new groundwater rules or quit pumping.

“If you want to continue to use water from your well you need to be thinking about how you are going to participate in a sub-district or create an augmentation plan,” said RGWCD Program Manager Cleave Simpson. “It’s that simple.”

RGWCD Attorney David Robbins added, “If you don’t do a sub-district or augmentation plan, Craig’s guys will come out and red tag the well. They have done it in the Arkansas Valley ” People have choices to make.”

Cotten said, “One thing’s very important for people to realize these rules aren’t going to be only for irrigation wells. It will be for large capacity wells and even some small subdivision wells in South Fork ” commercial wells ” municipal wells. It’s not just irrigation wells.”

He said his office is trying to get that word out to folks and has held a meeting in South Fork already to alert folks to the pending well rules and how they would affect them.

RGWCD staff has also been meeting with water users around the Rio Grande Basin (San Luis Valley) regarding their options in light of imminent groundwater rules. They are trying to work with municipalities and agencies not otherwise qualifying for sub-district inclusion so they can contract with subdistricts to comply with the new rules requiring replacement of injurious depletions to surface water rights. The water district’s first sub-district is already in operation, and four or five others are in the works. Subdistrict #1 is replacing 1,784 acre feet to remedy its injurious depletions this year, with 61 percent of that through forbearance agreements with ditches and canals, RGWCD Program Manager Rob Phillips told the water district board on Tuesday. He said a larger percentage of the sub-district’s replacement water would come through forbearance agreements in the future.

RGWCD General Manager Steve Vandiver said forbearance agreements have worked well, especially since there is “not enough water in the right places at the right time to offset depletions.”

He said the sub-district has forbearance agreements with six of the major ditches this year.

Phillips said the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) was successful this year with 3,400 acres in CREP 1,800 acres in temporary fallowing contracts and 1,600 in permanent retirement.

Simpson updated the group on the status and size of future sub-districts . The first sub-district encompasses more than 3,000 wells involving more than 300 well owners. A legal challenge to the sub-district’s 2012 annual replacement plan is still pending with the Colorado Supreme Court, which heard arguments on September 30 and could announce a decision sometime between the end of next month and the first of the year, according to Robbins.

Statistics on the other proposed sub-districts include:

• #2, Rio Grande alluvium; unconfined aquifer; encompassing about 300 wells, half of which are active and are owned by about 60 individual well owners, with 10 non-irrigation wells in that area including Colorado State Veterans Center, City of Monte Vista, City of Del Norte and school districts; ready for the petition drive; unlike the first sub-district will go with an opt-in approach where only those wanting to be in the subdistrict will be in it; meeting next week will kick off the petition drive; hope to have petitions collected by January 31; next meeting of the work group is 3 p.m. on Oct. 30 in the basement of the Methodist Church in Monte Vista

• #3, Conejos response area; confined aquifer; about 200 wells, 117 of which are active; 50-55 well owners ; private wells including towns of Manassa, Sanford and La Jara; biggest delay is clarity on sustainability; work session set next week to finalize conceptual plan of water management

• #4, Alamosa/La Jara response area; confined aquifer wells; 600 wells with 300-400 of them active owned by about 200 individual well owners; more than 40 nonirrigation wells such as the City of Alamosa and wells owned by U.S. Fish and Wildlife and Colorado Parks & Wildlife; conceptual plan essentially completed; community meeting Thursday, Oct. 23, in Carson Auditorium at 6 p.m.

• #5, Saguache Creek; RGWCD stopped working with this group due to lack of progress but on Tuesday resumed district support after seeing renewed interest in moving forward; working on developing conceptual plan; meeting at 7 p.m. Nov. 6 at the Saguache County Road & Bridge building

• #6 San Luis Creek; 157 wells, about half active; about 35 individual well owners ; next meeting at 6:30 p.m. on Nov. 5 in Moffat

Robbins said there is also a way legally to form a subdistrict of well owners within Costilla County but there has not been much interest from Costilla County well owners to do that at this point.

More San Luis Valley groundwater coverage here.


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