Funding problems for Fountain Creek flood control project

The Fountain Creek Watershed is located along the central front range of Colorado. It is a 927-square mile watershed that drains south into the Arkansas River at Pueblo. The watershed is bordered by the Palmer Divide to the north, Pikes Peak to the west, and a minor divide 20 miles east of Colorado Springs. Map via the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District.
The Fountain Creek Watershed is located along the central front range of Colorado. It is a 927-square mile watershed that drains south into the Arkansas River at Pueblo. The watershed is bordered by the Palmer Divide to the north, Pikes Peak to the west, and a minor divide 20 miles east of Colorado Springs. Map via the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District.

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Matt Steiner):

DOLA had awarded the county $945,000 in Community Development Block Grant money in late 2015 for a much-needed project along Fountain Creek near U.S. Highway 85/87 south of Colorado Springs, but in June, the county got some bad news:

The award would be much smaller than expected.

Federal guidelines cap at $250,000 the money that can be given out for projects that involve the Army Corps of Engineers – which is administering the work near 85/87 and Maxwell Street.

The project, necessary after torrential floods badly damaged the banks of the creek in September 2013, would shore up a 1,000-foot section of the creek, keep the highway safe and prevent eroded river banks from approaching a mobile home park during the next large flood event.

“Now we have a fear of losing this project,” Brian Olson of the county’s budget division said Friday. “If we don’t have the funding on this, they’ll take that money and use it somewhere else.”

The total cost of the work is estimated at more than $2.5 million, according to a May 2015 project overview. The Army Corps of Engineers will pick up three quarters of that tab, and the rest was expected to come from the money awarded to El Paso County, but the cap leaves the county short.

“We’re still trying to figure how we can fill that gap,” county Commissioner Sallie Clark said.

Olson said the project is doing feasibility analysis, a study that will cost the county $180,000. If the Army decides the project isn’t worth the cost, no grant money will be available at all, Olson said. The actual cost the county must pay will be determined after the feasibility study is complete.

While the county still has at least two months before the feasibility study is complete and the Army Corps’ determination on the value of the project is made, the county has shown urgency about finding alternate sources of money. They hope to receive some assistance in solving that problem.

“The state has got a lot on their plate,” Olson said. “They made an error on this. I’m hoping they’ll help us get through this thing.”

#ColoradoRiver: Aspinall Unit operations update #COriver — 1,000 cfs in Black Canyon

Sunrise Black Canyon via Bob Berwyn
Sunrise Black Canyon via Bob Berwyn

From email from Reclamation (Eric Knight):

Releases from Crystal Dam will be decreased from 2000 cfs to 1800 cfs on Wednesday, August 10th. July inflows to Blue Mesa Reservoir ended up being less than predicted and August inflow forecasts are also declining. The April-July runoff volume finished the season at 89% of average. The current content of Blue Mesa Reservoir is 757,000 acre-feet which is 91% full.

Flows in the lower Gunnison River are currently above the baseflow target of 1050 cfs. Flows are expected to remain 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 August through December.

Currently, diversions into the Gunnison Tunnel are around 1000 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon are around 1000 cfs. After this release change Gunnison Tunnel diversions will still be at 1000 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon should be around 800 cfs. Current flow information is obtained from provisional data that may undergo revision subsequent to review.

Basalt: Reclamation to Host Public Meeting for Ruedi Operations

Sunrise at Ruedi Reservoir October 20, 2015. Photo via USBR.
Sunrise at Ruedi Reservoir October 20, 2015. Photo via USBR.

From email from Reclamation (Peter Soeth):

The Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled the annual public meeting for Ruedi Reservoir Water Operations.

August 11: Basalt Town Hall, 101 Midland Avenue, Basalt, Colo., 7 to 8:30 p.m.

The meeting will provide an overview of Ruedi Reservoir’s 2016 projected operations for late summer and early fall, which are key tourist seasons in Basalt. The meeting will include a public question and answer session.

For more information, please contact Tim Miller, Hydrologist, Eastern Colorado Area Office, by phone or e-mail: (970) 962-4394, or tmiller@usbr.gov.

Denver Water CEO calls for more flexibility in water management — Aspen Journalism

The dam that forms Gross Reservoir, located in the mountains west of Boulder. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism
The dam that forms Gross Reservoir, located in the mountains west of Boulder. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

From Aspen Journalism (Allen Best):

Jim Lochhead, the CEO and manager of Denver Water, said Tuesday that building new dams in the Colorado River basin is not at the top of his to-do list. Nor, for that matter, is drying up farms to provide water for Colorado’s growing cities.

But he says Colorado still needs to have hard conversations about how to flexibly manage its water. In particular, he wants farmers to be able to share water with Denver and other cities without worrying that they may lose their water rights.

Speaking at the annual Western Water Symposium at Colorado State University, Lochhead credited the 2015 Colorado Water Plan as being a useful “compendium of the issues” but said it highlighted relatively easy solutions without fully addressing the harder challenges.

“I don’t think the solution is $20 billion of new water projects for Colorado, but that’s an easy thing to go look for,” said Lochhead, head of the state’s largest water utility that supplies 1.4 million people, and stores nearly 40 percent of its water in Summit County’s Dillon Reservoir.

A coordinated plan is needed, Lochhead said.

“We’re not there yet with the state water plan to develop any kind of coordinated principle vision for the future, much less how to get there,” he said.

Lochhead, who took the helm of Denver Water in 2010, described Colorado’s historical approach to water as a zero-sum game where there had to be a winner and a loser.

That zero-sum game lost its moorings in the second half of 20th century as a result of new federal and state laws, court decisions and political fights, Lochhead said.

He said that two decades have brought more collaboration between diverse interests, including those on both sides of the Continental Divide, and it is reflected in such projects as Wolford Mountain Reservoir near Kremmling.

Both Denver Water and the Colorado River Water Conservation District have an interest in Wolford Reservoir, with Denver Water on track to soon own 40 percent of the water in the reservoir. The water has many benefits, among them providing late-summer water to meet needs of four endangered fish species in the Colorado River near Grand Junction.

Another collaborative effort has been launched in the Winter Park area. There, Denver plans to increase diversions from the Fraser and Williams Fork rivers, but is doing so with the blessing of local authorities, thanks to a collaborative “learning by doing” effort in Grand County that seeks to reduce streamflow impacts from both new and existing diversions.

But Lochhead believes Colorado must still dramatically change its water allocation methods as it faces population growth. Demographers project that Colorado’s 5.4 million population will double within a few decades. If we seek to provide the water for the additional residents the way we provided for the first 5 million, he said, “we won’t like the outcome very well.”

Gore Canyon rafting via Blogspot.com
Gore Canyon rafting via Blogspot.com

The river itself

A second challenge is the Colorado River itself, the fountain that supplies at least part of the water for 40 million people, from corn farms in northeastern Colorado to San Diego. And despite some good snow years, the two big reservoirs on the lower Colorado River, Lake Powell and Lake Mead, are both low enough to keep a ballroom full of water experts up at night.

It could get worse. And, according to projections of climate models, it likely will.

Laurna Kaatz, an in-house climate expert at Denver Water, recently told the Metro basin roundtable it’s still not clear if it will be hotter and drier, or hotter and wetter in Colorado in the future, but there is little doubt it will be hotter.

More major dams on the Colorado River are not the solution, Lochhead said. Evaporative losses would result in more loss than gain, he said, although he did allow for the possibility of relatively small dams.

Denver Water is, however, studying the potential for putting water into aquifers beneath the city, creating underground storage — storage that could, in theory, hold water from the Western Slope.

And Denver Water is looking to store up to an additional 15,000 acre-feet of Western Slope water in an expanded Gross Reservoir, southwest of Boulder. The $360 million project seeks to raise the elevation of the dam by 131 feet, which would increase the capacity of the reservoir by 77,000 acre-feet, bringing it up to 119,000 acre-feet.

Flexibility needed

Lochhead said that Colorado needs more flexible water management options that allow for greater sharing of the resource.

About 85 percent of water in Colorado is used by agriculture and ranchers and farmers tend to have the oldest and most senior water rights.

Water rights are private, said Lochhead, “but you can’t really do anything with that property right except what you are currently doing with it unless you go to water court. And by going to water court you put that entire water right at risk.”

In Colorado’s water courts, objections to changes in uses of water rights are often filed. The process can be lengthy and expensive for those seeking to make changes.

“You need a safe process where you don’t have to put your water right at risk, and you understand that you don’t have to spend years negotiating,” he said.

And Lochhead thinks Colorado also needs another conversation about conservation, where the emphasis is not about sacrifice but about innovation.

Denver Water intends to demonstrate what is possible as it redevelops its 35-acre headquarters campus along Interstate 25 near downtown Denver. There, planners think they can reduce demand for potable water by more than 50 percent.

In water reuse, said Lochhead, Colorado is “way behind the curve” as compared to some world cities, including Amsterdam and Sydney.

Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism and the Aspen Daily News are collaborating on the coverage of water and rivers. The Daily News published this story on Friday, July 29, 2016.

The latest “Water Matters” newsletter is hot off the presses from the #Colorado Water Trust

On July 7th, we closed our headgate that takes water from the Little Cimarron for irrigation. The water in the above photo will now bypass our headgate and return to the river. Photo via the Colorado Water Trust.
On July 7th, we closed our headgate that takes water from the Little Cimarron for irrigation. The water in the above photo will now bypass our headgate and return to the river. Photo via the Colorado Water Trust.

Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:

The Little Cimarron and McKinley Ditch

Exciting news from the Gunnison Basin this month! A few weeks ago, the Water Trust implemented a unique project aimed at exploring the effectiveness of water conservation tools and voluntary measures to protect Colorado River Compact entitlements.

You may recall that in 2014, the Colorado Water Trust purchased a portion (5.8 cfs) of the McKinley Ditch to restore late summer flows to the Little Cimarron, while keeping agricultural land in production. Earlier this year, the Water Trust received approval from the Upper Colorado River Commission for a Pilot Program project for our water.

Under the project, McKinley Ditch water was used to irrigate approximately 195 acres of pasture grass from April through July 6th. We’re pleased to report that the pilot project was implemented as planned, and on July 7th, we ceased irrigation for the rest of the season. Water is now being returned to the river for the remainder of the irrigation season.

Water conserved by this pilot project will help improve habitat conditions, and ultimately will benefit both the Little Cimarron and Colorado Rivers. We are excited to be a part of this Pilot Program and are hopeful the study results will lead to a more secure future for Colorado’s rivers.

#Colorado Springs: “Sustainable stormwater funding and management is not optional” — John Suthers

coloradospringsstormwaterimplementationplan072016cover

Click here to read the plan.

Here’s the release from the City of Colorado Springs:

The City of Colorado Springs today released the draft Stormwater Program Improvement Plan designed to dramatically improve the city’s infrastructure and meet federal requirements.

City Public Works Director Travis Easton provided this statement.

“Today the City of Colorado Springs has released a draft Stormwater Improvement Plan. This is significant for our stormwater program, our citizens, and our City. The draft Stormwater Program Improvement Plan reflects strong leadership by the Mayor and City Council. We began this effort last fall and we reached a preliminary draft in January. Today’s release includes updates through July 2016.

“The City’s Public Works Department would appreciate the public’s comments and suggestions for improvement of the plan over the next 60 days. We will take public input into account and release the Plan in final form shortly thereafter.

“Thank you in advance for helping to shape this plan, and being a part of the process.”

Individuals wishing to provide feedback on the plan can contact Richard Mulledy, the City’s Stormwater Division Manager at stormwater@springsgov.com or by mail to: Richard Mulledy, Stormwater Division Manager, City of Colorado Springs, 30 S. Nevada Avenue, Suite 401, Colorado Springs, CO 80901.

The City of Colorado Springs and Colorado Springs Utilities have committed to investing a total of $460 million over 20 years, beginning this year. The commitments essentially replace the city Stormwater Enterprise that was defunded in 2009.

“Fixing the stormwater issues that we inherited stemming from the dissolution of the stormwater enterprise has been a top priority for me and the City Council,” said Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers. “Sustainable stormwater funding and management is not optional – it is something that we must do to protect our waterways, serve our downstream neighbors, and meet the legal requirements of a federal permit.”

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Colorado Springs this week released its draft stormwater plan, which was spurred earlier this year by negotiations with Pueblo County commissioners over permits for the Southern Delivery System.

The 305-page implementation plan mirrors the terms of an intergovernmental agreement, outlining at least $460 million in expenditures over the next 20 years and restructuring the city’s stormwater department. It was released Wednesday on the city’s website (http://coloradosprings.gov).

It’s important to Pueblo because work within Colorado Springs is expected to reduce damage along Fountain Creek.
Work already has started on some of the projects that are expected to benefit Pueblo County as well as Colorado Springs. A total of 61 of the 71 critical projects have downstream benefits to Pueblo and other communities, in a March assessment that included input from Wright Water Engineers, which has been hired by Pueblo County as consultant for Fountain Creek issues.

That list can change, depending on annual reviews of which work is needed, according to the IGA.

The plan also attempts to satisfy state and federal assessments that the existing stormwater services failed to meet minimum conditions of the city’s stormwater permits. An Environmental Protection Agency audit last year found Colorado Springs had made no progress on improving stormwater control in more than two years.

This year, Colorado Springs formed a new stormwater division and plans on doubling the size of its stormwater staff.

The plan includes a funding commitment of $20 million annually by the city and $3 million per year by Colorado Springs Utilities to upgrade creek crossings of utility lines.

The plan acknowledges that Colorado Springs significantly cut staff and failed to maintain adequate staffing levels after City Council eliminated the city’s stormwater enterprise in 2009. Pueblo County suffered significant damage, including the washout of part of Overton Road and excess debris in the Fountain Creek channel through Pueblo, during prolonged flows last May.

Other parts of the Pueblo County IGA expedited funding for flood control studies and projects by the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District, as well as providing an additional $3 million for dredging in Pueblo.

#ColoradoRiver: “..in the Colorado Constitution, the Continental Divide doesn’t exist” — Jim Pokrandt

Denver Water's collection system via the USACE EIS
Denver Water’s collection system via the USACE EIS

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

A proposal to divert Colorado River water to Denver recently has won the endorsement of Gov. John Hickenlooper and the approval of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

But Denver Water’s Gross Reservoir expansion project may be just as notable for its general lack of opposition west of the Continental Divide. That’s thanks to a wide-ranging agreement, effective in 2013, in which Denver Water obtained concessions including a promise that numerous Western Slope parties to the agreement wouldn’t oppose the expansion project. In return, Denver Water made a number of commitments to the Western Slope.

Now Western Slope interests are working on a similar agreement with Northern Water and others on what’s called the Windy Gap Firming Project, which would store Colorado River water in a proposed Boulder County reservoir.

These approaches represent a far cry from how the Western Slope used to respond to transmountain diversion proposals.

“This is the new paradigm. It’s not the old school. In the old school it was like … we’ll see you in court,” said Jim Pokrandt of the Colorado River District, a party to the 2013 Denver Water deal.

For Denver Water, what’s called the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement provided greater certainty for its customers through means such as resolving longtime disputes regarding West Slope water. For the Western Slope, the deal meant dozens of obligations by Denver Water, such as millions of dollars in monetary payments to various entities, protections of Colorado River flows and water quality, a commitment to further water conservation and reuse efforts by Denver Water customers, and a provision aimed at helping assure maintenance of historic flows in the Colorado River even when the Shoshone Power Plant in Glenwood Canyon is not operating. That hydroelectric plant has a senior right helping control flows in the river.

Another key point in that deal is a promise that Denver Water and its customers won’t try to further develop Colorado River water without agreement from the river district and affected counties.

The cooperative agreement has 18 signatories but more than 40 partners, primarily West Slope governments, water conservation and irrigation districts, and utilities. Among them are the Ute Water Conservancy District and multiple irrigation districts in Mesa County.

Pokrandt said the 2013 deal is a win-win for both sides of the Continental Divide.

“That said, yes, more water would be moving east” if the Gross Reservoir project proceeds, he said.

The project, also sometimes called the Moffat Collection System Project, would nearly triple the capacity of the Boulder County reservoir. Denver Water is targeting water in the Fraser River, a tributary of the Colorado.

“Right now there are some periods of time when Gross Reservoir is full at its current size and their water rights are in priority but they can’t take any more water,” Pokrandt said.

The project has an estimated cost of $380 million, and Denver Water hopes to obtain the remaining major permits by the end of next year. CDPHE in June certified that the project complied with state water quality standards, and Hickenlooper endorsed it last week.

“The state’s responsibility is to ensure we do the right thing for Colorado’s future, and this project is vital infrastructure for our economy and the environment,” Hickenlooper said in a news release. “The partnerships and collaboration between Denver Water, the West Slope and conservation organizations associated with this project are just what the Colorado Water Plan is all about.”

That recently adopted plan in some respects took its lead from the Denver Water/Western Slope deal in seeking to address the state’s future water needs in a cooperative rather than confrontational manner statewide.

Pokrandt conceded that not everyone loves the Gross Reservoir proposal…

Trout Unlimited takes a more positive view of the Gross Reservoir project, pointing to its inclusion of a “Learning by Doing” program requiring monitoring of the health of the Fraser River and adjusting operations as needed. The Gross Reservoir proposal envisions drawing water from the Western Slope in wetter years and seasons, but providing the Colorado River watershed with extra water during low flow periods and investing in restoration projects.

“Moreover, Denver Water has entered into partnerships on the Front Range to ensure that the project alleviates chronic low-flow problems in South Boulder Creek. Both sides of the Divide benefit,” David Nickum, executive director of Colorado Trout Unlimited, said in a news release…

Denver Water Chief Executive Officer Jim Lochhead said in a news release, “The Denver metropolitan area is tied to the economic and environmental health of the rest of the state, and Denver Water is committed to undertake this project in a way that enhances Colorado’s values.”

Pokrandt said Western Slope water interests face the reality that under the state Constitution the right to appropriate water shall not be denied if the water can be put to beneficial use and a party can obtain the necessary financing and permitting.

“There’s not a legal stance to say no, so that’s why the river district was even formed in 1937, was to negotiate these things, because no is not an answer in the legal arena because of the Colorado Constitution,” he said.

When it comes to water rights, Pokrandt said, “in the Colorado Constitution, the Continental Divide doesn’t exist.”