Southern Delivery System: The Pueblo County commissioners take first step to evaluate Colorado Springs’ 1041 permit compliance

March 31, 2015
Fountain Creek Watershed

Fountain Creek Watershed

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Jeff Tucker):

The Pueblo Board of County Commissioners got a first look at a resolution that will allow the board to retain legal counsel along with engineering consultants and other staff to evaluate whether Colorado Springs’ lack of any consistent stormwater funding is a deal-breaker for the Southern Delivery System.

The board took no official action on the measure, instead instructing attorneys Gary Raso and Ray Petros to fine-tune the resolution before it comes back for a vote.

The crux of the issue is the failure of a ballot measure in Colorado Springs in November that would have created a dedicated funding source for stormwater improvements in Colorado Springs that could mitigate the impact of runoff into the Fountain Creek.

The work that would be cleared by the resolution will allow staff to examine what’s been done so far and what still needs to be done for Colorado Springs to comply with the stormwater requirement in the SDS 1041 permit.

“We need to develop a factual basis for any action we take,” said Raso. “It would be the first time that Pueblo County would have an independently established set of facts about the stormwater flowing through the Fountain Creek.”

Petros told commissioners Monday that Colorado Springs has provided staff a summary of its stormwater expenditures.

Colorado Springs has indicated that it has budgeted $17 million this year for more improvements, but Petros said there’s yet to be any indication what those improvements are or if they’re among the 239 projects worth more than $534 million identified in 2013.

Commissioner Sal Pace said he wants a clear picture on what projects Colorado Springs has planned that directly mitigate impacts on the Fountain Creek and which ones are aimed at fixing the challenge of runoff from the various burn scars in the area.

It’s possible that building flood control projects for the burn scar will have an impact on the flooding in Fountain Creek. But Commission Chairwoman Liane “Buffie” McFadyen wondered whether the impacts of the Waldo Canyon Fire are accounted for under the current agreements over the SDS, since those were signed before the first spark of the catastrophic fire ever landed.

McFadyen also worried that the work set forth in the resolution may be at odds with the needs of the county’s own constituents in Pueblo West. The metro district ties into SDS.

“I don’t want to see Pueblo West used in a way that could be interpreted as gamesmanship in all of this,” she said.

Commissioner Terry Hart noted that the $50 million being paid to the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District likely won’t be enough to pay for the mitigation projects in Pueblo County and asked Petros and Raso to include a specific date in the resolution as to when the information will be ready.

Petros suggested the end of June, to give the newly elected mayor and City Council time to get sworn in after April 7 elections and for next month’s lawsuit over compensation by Colorado Springs to Walker Ranches to run its course.

However, Hart said he’d like to see it sooner.

“I didn’t create this problem,” he said. “What created this problem was the failure of the question in November.”

More stormwater coverage here.


Southern Delivery System: “It’s a wonderful, wonderful day to celebrate” — John Fredell

March 19, 2015

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Jakob Rodgers):

The last 50-foot pipe of the 50-mile-long Southern Delivery System arrived at a construction site Wednesday, marking a key milestone for the project as it nears completion next year both on time and under budget.

“We put to rest a lot of doubters that we’d get this done,” said Lionel Rivera, Colorado Springs’ former mayor, who helped approve the project.

With Kool & The Gang’s “Celebration” playing in the background, a truck hauled the massive blue pipe to a site just south of Pikes Peak International Raceway. Crews will place it underground in the coming weeks, completing a system spanning from Pueblo Reservoir to a new water treatment facility in Colorado Springs, which is under construction.

More than 7,000 of the steel, 66-inch-diameter pipes were installed since in 2010. That included a mile-long stretch bored 85 feet below Interstate 25 – a tunnel that was $10 million cheaper than creating a surface trench, according to Colorado Springs Utilities.

Current and former elected officials from across southern Colorado, along with several contractors who have worked on the project, were among scores of people on hand to watch the pipe being delivered. Many signed their names on it.

“It’s great – we’ve been at this a long time,” said John Fredell, the Southern Delivery System’s program director. “It’s a wonderful, wonderful day to celebrate.”

Three pump stations and the treatment facility are expected to be completed this year, with the system up and running for customers in Colorado Springs by the first quarter of 2016, Fredell said.

The project is on track to cost $841 million, below Colorado Springs City Council’s approved budget of $880 million in 2009, which did not account for inflation or rising material costs. The council also serves as Utilities’ board. Those savings rise to about $150 million when factoring in the cost of inflation and increases in material costs, said Fredell, who credited design changes to the pipeline and water treatment facility for much of the savings.

From the Denver Business Journal (Cathy Proctor):

One of the biggest water projects in the western U.S. will hit a major milestone this month, when the last piece of 50 miles of pipe is laid for the Southern Delivery System, the $841 million project to bring new water supplies to Colorado Springs and nearby communities.

The project includes 50 miles of pipeline, three pump stations and a water treatment plant. It will deliver water from the Pueblo Reservoir to Colorado Springs, Fountain, Security and Pueblo West.

More than 7,000 sections of blue-colored, welded, steel pipe 50 feet long and most of it 66 inches in diameter were installed on the project during the last 3 1/2 years of construction.

The project spent $204 million on pipe and installation, according to the Colorado Springs Utilities.

“The pipe is the main artery for this water project and we are extremely pleased with how the pipeline construction went,” said John Fredell, the program director for the Southern Delivery System project.

The project is in the final year of construction and Fredell said the costs are expected to be nearly $150 million under the original budget…

Northwest Pipe (Nasdaq: NWPX), based in Vancouver, Washington, manufactured the SDS pipe at its Denver plant.

Three contractors installed the pipe, Garney Construction, headquartered in Kansas City with an office in Littleton; ASI/HCP Contractors of Pueblo West; and the heavy civil division of Layne, a construction firm based in The Woodlands, Texas, which has four offices in Colorado.

Construction is continuing on other elements of the Southern Delivery System project, including a $125-million water treatment plant and pump station that will have the capacity to treat and pump 50 million gallons of water per day. Three pump stations will help move water uphill, about 1,500 feet in elevation, from the Pueblo Reservoir, also are under construction.

Construction on the remaining portions of the project are expected to be finished by the end of 2015.

From KRDO (Rana Novini):

Community leaders gathered Wednesday to celebrate the completion of pipeline construction for the Southern Delivery System (SDS). The project consists of more than 7,000 50-foot sections of steel pipe that have been installed over the last three and a half years. The pipe will transport water stored in the Pueblo Reservoir north to Pueblo West, Fountain, Security and Colorado Springs.

“It’s taken many years and it’s taken many city councils and it’s taken many leaders and many workers to accomplish this,” said Colorado Springs City Councilman Merv Bennett. “Our friends to the south, the Lord gave them the Arkansas River as their delivery system. To the north, Denver has the South Platte River as their delivery system. We have Fountain Creek and we ran out of that water in 1912.”

Proponents of the SDS argue the pipeline will ensure Colorado Springs and surrounding areas can continue to grow, especially toward eastern El Paso County. The region will have to worry less about drought and watering restrictions.

“Water is important. It’s the lifeline of a community,” said Lionel Rivera, former mayor of Colorado Springs. “It’s the way you grow and I think we’ve ensured the water supply for at least the next 50 years.”

Rivera was mayor from 2003 until 2011 and helped get the project rolling. He said Tuesday that it was one of the most rewarding things he did as mayor.

“It’s very exciting, a little bit emotional to see that pipe,” Rivera said. “It just made me think of all the stuff we had to go through to get this approved. We were told back when we started it that it couldn’t get done from a political standpoint, but we proved the doubters wrong.”

The project has had opponents over the years, many from Pueblo who are concerned over stormwater issues.

Though pipeline construction is complete, workers still need to build water treatment plants and pump stations. The first drop of water is expected to be delivered in spring 2016.

From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

Construction crews are poised to lay the final pipeline link for Colorado’s biggest water project in decades — an $841 million uphill diversion from the Arkansas River to enable population growth in Colorado Springs and other semi-arid Front Range cities.

Eleven 2,000-plus horsepower pumps driven by coal-fired power plants will propel the water from a reservoir near Pueblo through a 50-mile pipeline with an elevation gain of 1,500 feet.

This is the first phase, moving up to 50 million gallons a day, for a Southern Delivery System that utility officials estimated will eventually cost $1.5 billion.

“It means we will have greater water security,” Colorado Springs utilities spokeswoman Janet Rummel said. “Businesses need water. Our communities need water to survive. It means we can continue to serve our population as it grows.”

Water challenges loom across Colorado, with state officials projecting a 163 billion-gallon shortfall. A few years ago, drought forced Colorado Springs to stop watering municipal parkways and gardens.

The diverted water can be used only within the Arkansas River Basin, officials said, ruling out sales to south Denver suburbs. And the river water, after treatment, must be returned to downstream farmers.

Colorado Springs residents have been paying for the project through water bills, which increased by 52 percent over four years. Utility officials spent $475 million from bonds.

The water will flow by next March, officials said. At full buildout, the system will store water in two new reservoirs east of Colorado Springs.

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

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

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The Southern Delivery System pipeline’s completion was marked by a contingent of El Paso County officials and a smattering of Pueblo County folks as well.

For John Bowen, president of ASI Constructors of Pueblo West, the SDS project has meant bread on the table as well as water in the pipes.

“It’s generated $50 million in contract values for our company,” Bowen said during a ceremony to mark completion of the SDS pipeline from Pueblo Dam to Colorado Springs. “We were able to grow as a business during a time when a lot of contractors were laying people off.”

ASI was the primary contractor for the connection at Pueblo Dam, as well as 12 miles of the 50-mile SDS pipeline route, and relied on 70 local businesses for support services. The SDS project generated $800,000 in wages for ASI workers.

More Southern Delivery System coverage here and here.


2015 Colorado legislation: HB15-1167 (South Platte River Mainstem Storage Study)

February 17, 2015
South Platte River Basin via Wikipedia

South Platte River Basin via Wikipedia

HB15-1167 is up for hearing tomorrow in the House Agriculture, Livestock, & Natural Resources committee. The bill is the brainchild of J. Paul Brown representing District 59 down in southwestern Colorado. It would direct the CWCB to study the feasibility of new mainstem storage on the South Platte River downstream from Greeley. It also directs the CWCB to utilize existing studies of the possibility of pumping water from the Missouri River Basin back to Colorado. I suppose he’s talking about the USACE’s alternative to Aaron Million’s pipeline from the Green River or the Kansas Aqueduct project.

The bill calls out the Narrows Dam Project (650,000 AF) that was authorized by the US Congress but never built for a number of reasons, most of which would be faced by any new mainstem project.

Senator Sonnenberg shows up as the Senate sponsor.

Here’s what Representative Brown had to say on the subject in the Pagosa Daily Post:

My time in the legislature is challenging and exciting. I am working hard on my bills as well as keeping up on my committee bills and the bills that come to the floor. I actually have a little advantage over other legislators in that my apartment is half a block from the Capitol, so all of my time, when I am not sleeping, showering, or attending receptions, is spent reading and preparing for action on bills.

My number one issue is water storage and primarily storage in the South Platte drainage in Colorado. Why on the South Platte? Because that is the one drainage on the eastern side of Colorado that regularly has water that leaves the state that can legally be stored and used in Colorado. When I was in the legislature in 2011 and 2012 I started paying attention to the water in the South Platte Basin that was leaving the state. There were two years in particular where over 1,000,000 acre feet per year were wasted, another where 600,000 acre feet left the state, and even today there is excess water running out of the state that could be used to augment other water needs in Colorado. If we could store that water, it would help to satisfy the demand on the Front Range and relieve the need to send water from the Western Slope to the more populated Eastern side of the Continental Divide.

For the past many years I have been learning all I can about water, water law, water compacts with other states, and everything else related to water that I could possibly learn. I started at a young age when my parents were paid to measure the water at the Colorado/New Mexico state line on the La Plata River South of Hesperus, Colorado. On most early mornings before I caught the bus for school I would measure the amount of water in the river. That information was then relayed to the water authorities in both states where ditches were closed or opened depending on their priority. I have monitored Governor Hickenlooper‚s „water plan‰ and have attended as many Water Roundtable meetings as I could possibly make. I have attended the Colorado Water Congress meetings amongst the most knowledgeable water lawyers and providers in Colorado.

I still have much to learn.

Everywhere I go I have asked folks about storage on the South Platte. The more I have learned, the more it became evident that all of the information needed to make good decisions on where and how to store water was scattered in many different places. I decided that it was necessary to pull all of that information together and that the easiest way to do so is to run a bill. That bill is HB15- 1167. It will be heard in the House Agriculture, Livestock, and Natural Resources Committee upon adjournment on the 18th of February.

More 2015 Colorado legislation coverage here.


Southern Delivery System update: Damages awarded to rancher vacated by Colorado Supreme Court

February 12, 2015
Southern Delivery System route map -- Graphic / Reclamation

Southern Delivery System route map — Graphic / Reclamation

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The Colorado Supreme Court vacated a Pueblo District Court order that would have required Colorado Springs to pay Pueblo County rancher Gary Walker more than $500,000 in costs in a legal dispute over Southern Delivery System.

The order, issued last week, throws out former District Judge Victor Reyes’ Dec. 4 decision to award Walker Ranches $387,000 plus 8 percent annual interest since 2011 for costs leading up to a trial that has been postponed several times. That amounted to about $509,000.

Reyes retired at the end of last year.

Reyes issued a supplemental order that the payment was binding because of Colorado Springs’ 1041 land-use agreement with Pueblo County that prevents “undue financial burdens” for Pueblo County residents affected by SDS.

The state Supreme Court directed Pueblo District Court to determine costs after a trial to determine the value of the easement for SDS across Walker Ranches. The trial is scheduled to begin in April.

Colorado Springs had argued legal costs should not be negotiated until after the trial concluded, while Walker’s lawyers said costs were incurred even as Colorado Springs sought delays for trial.

Walker has not made a request for payment under the 1041 agreement from Pueblo County commissioners, and the county is not a party to the dispute over payment, said Ray Petros, special counsel for Pueblo County.

Walker and Colorado Springs are miles apart on the value of the SDS pipeline easement. Colorado Springs contends it is worth $100,000, while Walker’s attorneys filed documents indicating damage to the ranches as a whole from the pipeline is $25 million.


Is An Aqueduct A Practical Answer To Western Kansas’ Water Crisis? — Heartland Health Monitor

January 5, 2015

From KCUR.org (Bryan Thompson):

Western Kansas is heavily dependent on the Ogallala Aquifer. But since 1950, that ancient supply of underground water has been rapidly depleted by irrigation. That irrigation produces corn, which is fed to livestock to support the beef and, more recently, dairy industries, which are the foundation of the western Kansas economy. But water levels have dropped so low in parts of more than 30 counties that irrigation pumps can no longer be used there. That’s why rivers in western Kansas are little more than dry stream beds.

Mark Rude is tracking the depletion of the aquifer for a groundwater management district in the heart of the affected area.

“We’re only 9 percent sustainable with that 2 million acre-feet that we use in southwest Kansas,” Rude says. “And 9 percent sustainable is a very formidable number, because you can’t conserve your way out of that.”

In other words, 91 percent of the water currently being pumped would have to be shut off just to keep the aquifer from declining any more. But if the water doesn’t come from the aquifer, where could it come from? The 2011 flooding on the Missouri River gave Rude and others an idea about how to answer that question. While devastating to those along the river, the flood looked like an opportunity.

“Folks who realize the deep value of water in western Kansas looked at that and go, ‘Wow, if we only had a couple days of that flow we could fill the aquifer, and we’d all be happy,’” Rude says.

Rude looked into that idea, and rediscovered the 1982 study proposing a system to capture excess water from the Missouri River and store it in a huge, new lake near White Cloud in the northeastern corner of the state. It would then be pumped uphill through an aqueduct to western Kansas. There it would be stored in another new lake — by far the largest in the state — for distribution.

The cost was estimated at $1,000 per acre-foot of water delivered. With that price tag, the concept was dead on arrival. But recently, the Kansas Water Office told the committee charged with updating the old study that the cost is now closer to $500 per acre-foot. The savings are due to lower interest rates. Cost is a concern for committee member Judy Wegener-Stevens, but it’s not the only reason she’s opposed to the project.

“I don’t feel an aqueduct should be built,” Wegener-Stevens says. “I feel that people in western Kansas have been pumping water unconditionally, without any rules, for 40 years, and they have not used their resource very well.”

Wegener-Stevens, who lives in White Cloud, said the nearby Iowa Tribe of Kansas and Nebraska would fight a proposed aqueduct. They have rights to water in the Missouri River and are working to quantify those rights. There might also be objections from other states, even though the idea is to take only “excess” water. Throw in anticipated battles over property rights and environmental concerns, and some committee members say the aqueduct still doesn’t appear realistic.

But committee member Clay Scott isn’t willing to give up on the idea. Three generations of his family raise cattle and grow irrigated corn and wheat near Ulysses, in southwest Kansas. Scott points to an Arizona aqueduct called the Central Arizona Project as proof that a Kansas aqueduct is feasible. He says a reliable source of water is vital to the future of his family’s farm.

“I’ve got three boys that are looking to maybe come back to the farm, but, you know, it takes a lot of acres in western Kansas to support a family — especially coming through these last three years of drought,” Scott says. “It’s a challenge to tell your boys that there’s an opportunity. There’s a future for you here.”

Scott and other members of the advisory committee say the first priority should be some sort of compact with other states and Indian tribes to secure rights to Missouri River water. Then they can worry about all the other obstacles to the project. Earl Lewis, the assistant director of the Kansas Water Office, agrees with that approach.

“Moving forward and investing considerable time and funds into pursuing a project that doesn’t have the legal security of a water right or some kind of compact doesn’t make a lot of sense,” Lewis says.

Even if the Missouri River doesn’t pan out as a water source, Lewis says there may be other options. State law could be changed to make it easier to transfer surplus water to western Kansas from other parts of the state. And Kansas may be able to get some financial help from Colorado, in exchange for providing water to ease shortages on the Front Range. But it will be up to others to explore those options and others. The advisory committee’s charge was solely to update the aqueduct study and make recommendations. Those recommendations are due by the end of January.

More Ogallala Aquifer coverage here.


Southern Delivery System: 1 mile bore under I-25, Fountain Creek, and the railroad should be completed 1st quarter

December 28, 2014
Southern Delivery System route map -- Graphic / Reclamation

Southern Delivery System route map — Graphic / Reclamation

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Monica Mendoza):

A giant teeth-gnashing machine is boring its way 85 feet under Interstate 25, two sets of railroad tracks and Fountain Creek. The machine is cutting a 1-mile long tunnel about 20 miles south of downtown Colorado Springs for a section of a massive pipeline project that will carry millions of gallons of water from the Pueblo Reservoir to Colorado Springs. It is the most complicated and dangerous part of the 50-mile stretch of the Southern Delivery System project, said Brian Whitehead, Colorado Springs Utilities project manager. If all goes as planned the tunnel should be completed in the first quarter of 2015.

“This is the last section of the pipe to be constructed and the most complex part,” Whitehead said. “There are risks – it’s not something anyone can do.”

Construction on the biggest Utilities project in its history began in 2010. The Southern Delivery System project was envisioned as the way for the city to handle future growth, said Jay Hardison, Colorado Springs Utilities water treatment plant project manager. It took years to plan and receive the proper permits from federal, state and county officials. The plan also was reviewed and approved by the Federal Aviation Administration because the new water treatment plant and holding tank off Colorado 94 are in the flight line near Colorado Springs Airport.

SDS cost, water rates

– Project cost: $841 million.

– Utilities customers’ water rate increased by 12 percent in 2011 and 2012 to cover cost of project.

– Utilities customers’ water rate increase by 10 percent in 2013 and 2014.

Southern delivery system timeline

2009: Final approvals and permits secured.

2010: Construction started.

2011: Construction began at Pueblo Dam and on the raw water pipeline.

2012: Pueblo Dam connection complete.

2014: Raw water pipeline construction complete.

2015: Raw water pump stations expected to be complete.

2016: Water treatment plant and finished water pump stations expected to be completed and SDS delivers water to Colorado Springs, Fountain, Security and Pueblo West.

2020-2025: Phase 2 could begin to expand capacity at the water treatment plant

Source: http://www.sdswater.org

More coverage from Monica Mendoza writing for The Colorado Springs Gazette:

At the start of the economic recession in 2008-09 work slowed at the Northwest Pipe company, which manufactures pipe in Denver. Then in 2010, the contracts for the massive $841 million Southern Delivery System project started dropping, said John Moore, Northwest Pipe operations manager. Colorado Springs Utilities was building a 50-mile pipeline from Pueblo Reservoir to Colorado Springs.

“When it dropped, we went from hanging on, hibernation mode, to Pueblo and production,” Moore said. “At the apex, we had 235 people employed working two shifts. For us it meant business was up.”

Utilities has hired 380 businesses in Colorado to plan and build the pipeline and water treatment plant, spending an estimated $489 million on contracts in the state. Of that, Northwest Pipe won $110 million in work.

The company made four to five pipes a day. In all it manufactured 7,000 pieces of pipe for the project. Beyond the direct contracts, there was a ripple effect, Moore said.

“Anytime you have a project this size, you are coordinating with suppliers and trucking companies,” Moore said. For example, during peak production, as many as 25 trucks a day left Northwest Pipe’s manufacturing facility. “We used local suppliers – the truck company was local.”

“The other thing that might be missed in the number is that most of the people who work on these crews putting the pipe in, there is a lot of inspection required, people making sure they are doing things right,” Moore said. “We have reps coming in, there is a huge travel industry associated with this project in rental cars, hotels and air travel.”

There is about one mile of pipeline left to complete in the project. Then Northwest Pipe will be done and moving on to water projects in Texas and other states, Moore said. The company has nine manufacturing plants across the country.

“Across the country, water infrastructure is getting old – water pipes are getting old,” Moore said.

More Southern Delivery System coverage here and here.


Water Lines: Colorado Water Plan delivered, key dilemmas remain — Hannah Holm

December 27, 2014

From the Grand Junction Free Press (Hannah Holm):

Colorado lurched one more step towards resolving how to satisfy growing demands for water with stable-to-diminishing supplies when Governor Hickenlooper received the first complete draft of a statewide water plan on Dec. 10.

In compiling the plan, the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) provided the latest information on current and projected water supplies and defined some “no regrets” actions that would help no matter what the future holds. These include achieving at least low-to-medium levels of conservation, completing already planned projects, implementing water re-use projects, and preserving the option of taking more water out of the Colorado River and its tributaries to meet both West and East Slope needs.

The CWCB stopped short of endorsing (or vetoing) any particular projects to meet future needs or taking a hard stand on the role conservation and land-use restrictions should play in meeting future needs. The draft plan maps the landscape, but doesn’t define the route.

The identification of specific projects was left to roundtables of water providers and stakeholders in each of the state’s major river basins. As anticipated, those basin plans conflict on the issue of whether East Slope basins can continue to rely on additional West Slope water to meet their growing needs. Approximately 500,000 acre-feet per year already flows east across the Continental Divide through ditches and tunnels that siphon off a majority of the natural flows from many headwaters streams. One acre-foot can meet the needs of two to three households for a year under current usage rates.

Seven-point draft conceptual agreement framework for negotiations on a future transmountain diversion screen shot December 18, 2014 via Aspen Journalism

Seven-point draft conceptual agreement framework for negotiations on a future transmountain diversion screen shot December 18, 2014 via Aspen Journalism

While the draft plan doesn’t say “yes” or “no” to additional transmountain diversions, it does incorporate a seven-point “draft conceptual agreement” on how to negotiate on future transmountain diversions. The draft discussion framework (there’s been a lot of push back on calling it an agreement) contains several new features in the many-decades-long debate between East and West Slope actors over transmountain diversions. It states that the East Slope is not looking for stable water deliveries each year from any such project, recognizing that it may only be able to divert in wet years and would have to use transmountain water in conjunction with non-West Slope sources, such as the Denver Basin aquifer and temporary transfers from agriculture.

The draft framework also notes the need for an “insurance policy” to protect against Colorado water users getting cut off in the event that we fail to let enough water flow beyond the state line to meet downstream obligations. Colorado and the other Upper Colorado River Basin states have never failed to meet their obligation to downstream states under the 1922 Colorado River Compact, but the margin by which we’ve exceeded it keeps diminishing. Additional use in Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and New Mexico, plus continued drought, could push us over that threshold.

While the draft framework is a tiny part of the draft Colorado Water Plan, it’s likely to be at the center of debate between water leaders from each of the state’s major river basins as the draft Colorado Water Plan becomes “final” over the coming year. In a meeting Dec. 18, members of the four West Slope basin roundtables met in Grand Junction to work towards a common negotiating position in those discussions.

The four roundtables share extreme skepticism about the wisdom of any transmountain diversion, no matter the caveats; they also share a concern that any “insurance policy” to protect existing uses from curtailment under the 1922 Colorado River Compact would ultimately result in water being transferred out of West Slope agriculture, even if the transfer is voluntary and lower-impact than the wholesale “buying and drying” of agricultural water rights that has already devastated some East Slope farming communities.

Where the West Slope roundtables begin to diverge is over how additional Colorado River Basin development on the West Slope figures into the picture. Given that any new uses raise the risk of failing to meet downstream obligations, should new West Slope water projects be looked on any more favorably than new projects to send water across the Continental Divide? Where is the right line in the trade-off between protecting existing Colorado River water users and making the fullest use possible of the resource? And what place should “nonconsumptive” uses of water for the health of the environment and recreation play into these decisions?

This already complicated dilemma is made more complicated by the fact that the Yampa and White river basins have fewer dams and diversions on their streams than the other West Slope river basins, and therefore have a greater interest in new projects to provide greater security for existing users, as well potentially irrigate even more land and/or meet the needs of increasing energy development. Is the Yampa Basin bearing an unfair share of the burden of meeting downstream obligations, or would it be even more unfair for existing users in other basins to have to cut back in order to subsidize Yampa Basin growth?

In the quest to find common ground on this issue, participants in the Dec. 18 meeting called for better hydrologic data in order to better understand how much additional risk is created by different levels of additional use.

I don’t know if that’s possible, given the current state of scientific understanding of our region’s climate and hydrology, particularly when it comes to forecasting. What may bear fruit is the search for the right “triggers,” in terms of reservoir and/or streamflow levels, to indicate when more development, on either side of the Continental Divide, can proceed without posing unacceptable risks to the whole system. Don’t expect this dilemma to be resolved any time soon, no matter what deadlines exist on paper.

This is part of a series of articles coordinated by the Water Center at Colorado Mesa University in cooperation with the Colorado and Gunnison Basin Roundtables to raise awareness about water needs, uses and policies in our region. To learn more about the basin roundtables and statewide water planning, and to let the roundtables know what you think, go to http://www.coloradomesa.edu/WaterCenter. You can also find the Water Center on Facebook at http://Facebook.com/WaterCenter.CMU or Twitter at http://Twitter.com/WaterCenterCMU.

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


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