Kansas’ invisible water crisis — The Wichita Eagle

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From The Wichita Eagle (Lindsay Wise):

…But irrigation soon could end on [Brant] Peterson’s southwest Kansas farm. The wells under his land in Stanton County are fast running dry as farmers and ranchers across the Great Plains pump the Ogallala faster than it can be replenished naturally.

Three of his wells are already dry.

Within five years, Peterson estimates, he likely won’t be able to irrigate at all.

Wet and dry: A country divided

While the east half of the country generally receives at least 25 inches of rain a year, much of the west is dryer.

This means much of our country’s corn and hogs are farmed west of the 100th meridian. Meanwhile, in the Great Plains, milo, or grain sorghum, has become a popular crop due to its reduced need for water, and cattle farming has long been popular out west…

Western Kansas’ only significant water source is the Ogallala…

The vast freshwater reservoir beneath the prairie formed 5 million to 10 million years ago as streams draining from the Rocky Mountains deposited water in the clay, sand and gravel beneath the Great Plains.

The water lay there undisturbed for epochs until enterprising homesteaders who settled the West discovered the liquid bonanza that would make their arid land bloom.

Now, in a geological blink of an eye, the Ogallala, which made the Great Plains the nation’s breadbasket, is in peril…

The disappearing water supply poses a twofold danger. It could end a way of life in a region where the land and its bounty have been purchased by the toil and sweat of generations of farmers.

It also threatens a harvest worth $21 billion a year to Kansas alone and portends a fast-approaching, and largely unstoppable, water crisis across the parched American West.

With water levels already too low to pump in some places, western Kansas farmers have been forced to acknowledge that the end is near. That harsh reality is testing the patience and imagination of those who rely on the land for their livelihoods.

As they look for survival, farmers are using cutting-edge technologies to make the most efficient use of the water they have left. They’re contemplating something almost unimaginable just a generation ago: voluntary pacts with their neighbors to reduce irrigation.

And many are investing their long-term hopes in an astronomically expensive water transportation project that isn’t likely ever to be built.

The Arkansas River, which once flowed out of Colorado into western Kansas, is nothing but a dry ditch now, its riverbed reduced to a rugged obstacle course for all-terrain vehicles.

And average rainfall here is just 14 to 16 inches a year, nowhere near enough to replace the water that farmers draw from the Ogallala.

Kansas enjoyed a rainier-than-normal spring this year, easing several years of drought conditions throughout the state. But the relief is temporary.

The storms that soaked the state in recent months won’t alter the Ogallala’s fate, experts say…

Once emptied, it would take 6,000 years to refill the Ogallala naturally…

The Ogallala Aquifer supplies water for 20 percent of the corn, wheat, sorghum and cattle produced in the U.S.

It sprawls 174,000 square miles across eight states, from South Dakota to Texas, and can hold more than enough water to fill Lake Huron and part of Lake Ontario.

But for every square mile of aquifer, there’s a well. About 170,000 of them. Ninety percent of the water pumped out is used to irrigate crops…

Over the years, there have been multiple attempts to address the rapid decline of the aquifer. Water rights holders in much of western Kansas had to install flow meters in all their wells starting in the mid-1990s. Soon all wells in Kansas will have to be metered. And the state government has stopped issuing new permits to pump water from the Ogallala in areas of western Kansas where water levels have dropped the most.

Now, Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback has pledged to make water policy a central pillar of his administration. The final draft of his 50-year “water vision” for the state, released in January, outlines an incentive and education-based approach focused on encouraging voluntary, coordinated conservation efforts by the farmers who have the most to lose by the aquifer’s decline.

So far, however, farmers have agreed to limit water use in just part of two northwestern counties. A group of farmers in Sheridan and Thomas counties established a Local Enhanced Management Area, or LEMA, in 2012 to cut water use by 20 percent over five years.

It seems to be working: In the first year, participants in the LEMA used about 2.5 inches less water for irrigation than their neighbors and produced just two bushels less per acre, on average.

A proposal to create another LEMA in west-central Kansas was voted down last year by water rights holders.

“The problem is everybody wants to be democratic, and you have people for and you have some people against,” said Bill Golden, an agricultural economist at Kansas State.

It isn’t easy to convince individuals to put their profits at risk to preserve a common resource, especially when some farmers have more water left than others, Golden said.

“But I think that we will probably see more LEMAs in the coming years,” he said. “That is the most acceptable answer. I mean, we’re going to run out of water. Nobody’s talking about saving the aquifer and not using the water. The question is, can we extend the life of the aquifer and make it a soft landing?”

For now, that leaves individual farmers making their own decisions about how best to manage water on their land.

Ten miles east of Peterson’s farm, in Grant County, Kan., Clay Scott parked his Dodge pickup on a country road and reached for his iPad.

A few hundred feet away, a solar panel planted in a field of wheat powered a probe that measures soil moisture at different depths.

Right now the probe told Scott’s iPad that he could hold off on watering the field. His sprinklers lay idle.

“People think that we waste our water out here,” Scott said, “and we just kind of grin because we work so hard to use that water.”

In addition to the soil moisture probes linked to his iPad, Scott consults satellites and radar data to track every shift in the weather and drop of rain that falls in his fields so he can minimize irrigation. He uses low-till techniques to preserve the soil and experiments with genetically engineered drought-resistant corn. He installed more efficient nozzles on his center-pivot sprinklers.

And he’s trying out a new device called a “dragon line,” which drags perforated hoses behind a center pivot to deposit water directly on the ground, reducing pooling and evaporation.

Scott’s version of high-tech farming would be unrecognizable to his great-grandfather, who homesteaded in nearby Stanton County around the turn of the century.

Still, despite all his efforts, Scott knows there will come a day – sooner rather than later if nothing is done – when irrigation is no longer viable in this part of Kansas.

The effects of the depleted aquifer already can be felt on Scott’s farm, where he’s had to reduce irrigation by 25 percent.

Some of his two dozen wells are pumping just 150 gallons per minute now, down from thousands of gallons per minute when they were first drilled. And as the water table drops, the energy costs of pumping from deeper underground have become higher than the cash rents Scott pays on the fields he leases.

“We’ve gone through periods where we re-drilled and tapped all but the very lowest water,” Scott said. “There are places we don’t pump the wells anymore.”

As an elected board member for the local Groundwater Management District, Scott hopes that he’ll be able to shape conservation policies that will enable his children to continue farming after him. He sees the situation in California, where the state has forced farmers to cut water use, as a cautionary tale. If farmers in Kansas don’t find ways to conserve enough water on their own, the state could enforce water rationing.

“I’ve got three boys, and a couple of them have already talked very seriously about coming back to the farm, and I’d like them to have the opportunity and ability that I’ve had to grow crops and livestock, even in a drought,” he said.

Kansas Aqueduct route via Circle of Blue
Kansas Aqueduct route via Circle of Blue

Scott’s long-term hopes rest in the construction of an $18 billion aqueduct that would import high flows off the Missouri River to water crops grown in western Kansas.

As conceived by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the concrete ditch would stretch 360 miles from east to west across Kansas with 16 lift stations and massive reservoirs on either end. The proposal was met with opposition – and not a little ridicule – by the legislature in Topeka, as state lawmakers struggled to close a $400 million budget hole.

“We’re not working on it at this point,” Earl Lewis, assistant director of the Kansas Water Office, said in an interview.

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon dismissed the aqueduct as a “harebrained” scheme that would divert river water needed for barge traffic and municipal use.

But in western Kansas, it doesn’t seem like such a crazy idea.

“When they’re flooding in the Missouri River and cities are sandbagging, it sure seems to us like we have an answer to their problems,” Scott said. “Nobody wants to build a house and see it flooded; nobody wants to plant a field and watch it wither.”

Fervent support for the project speaks to the urgency felt by Scott, Peterson and other farmers and ranchers whose livelihoods and communities depend on irrigation. They’re hoping to convince the federal government to kick in funds for the aqueduct. And they’re looking into the possibility of building it through a public-private partnership, like a toll road. Farming cooperatives in California and Colorado have expressed interest in the project, they say, and want to explore extending it farther west.

A federal engineering bailout for western Kansas isn’t very likely, however.

Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts, the Republican chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, said in an interview that such a costly project would be a nonstarter under Congress’ current budget caps.

“In all honestly, it’s a front-burner issue for folks in southwest Kansas, but to build that kind of aqueduct would be billions of dollars, and I just don’t think that’s feasible at this point,” Roberts said.

Barring the construction of an aqueduct, rural communities that depend on the Ogallala face a bleak future.

The state would have to cut its irrigated acres in half today to get anywhere close to sustainability, said Golden, the agricultural economist from Kansas State.

But it isn’t as simple as turning off the sprinklers.

“People survived out here on dryland farming. I can do it,” Peterson said, using the term “dryland” to refer to growing crops without irrigation. “Here’s the cost: My community is going to wither away.”

An irrigated field in southwest Kansas produces more than eight times more corn per acre on average than a field that isn’t irrigated, according to the Kansas Department of Agriculture. Land values would drop. The loss of equity and tax base would mean fewer farmers and bigger farms, consolidated school districts, and impoverished towns with declining populations.

Like any economy dependent on mining a finite resource, this one is headed for a bust, and the farmers know it.

“We can’t wait another 30 years to get our policy right,” Scott said. “The drought in California is showing what living in denial can do.”

From Science Daily:

Keith Gido, professor in the Division of Biology; Josh Perkin, 2012 Kansas State University doctoral graduate; and several co-authors have published “Fragmentation and dewatering transform Great Plains stream fish communities” in the journal Ecological Monographs.

The article documents a reduction in water flow in Great Plains streams and rivers because of drought, damming and groundwater withdrawals. This is causing a decrease in aquatic diversity in Kansas from stream fragmentation — or stretches of disconnected streams.

“Fish are an indication of the health of the environment,” Gido said. “A while back there was a sewage leak in the Arkansas River and it was the dead fish that helped identify the problem. Children play and swim in that water, so it’s important that we have a good understanding of water quality.”

Several species of fish — including the peppered chub and the plains minnow — were found to be severely declining in the Great Plains during the ecologists’ field research, which compared historic records to 110 sampling sites in Kansas between 2011-2013. Both fish species swim downstream during droughts and return during normal water flow, but the construction of dams, or stream fragmentation, prevents fish from returning upstream.

“The Great Plains region is a harsh environment and drought has always been a problem. Historically, fish were able to recover from drought by moving,” Gido said. “They could swim downstream and when the drought was over, they could swim back. Now, there are dams on the rivers and the fish are not able to recover.”

Streams in the Great Plains region have more than 19,000 human-made barriers. Gido estimates that on average, stretches of streams in the Great Plains are about six miles long. In surveying Kansas’ streams and rivers, the researchers discovered numerous small dams that do not allow enough habitat for the fish to complete their reproductive cycles. Moreover, the fish are unable to migrate in search of suitable habitat.

“Groundwater extraction exasperates the drought, and the damming of the rivers inhibits the fish from being able to recover from those conditions,” Gido said. “This is unfortunate, but there are some things we can do to help.”

Gido suggested a renewed focus to conserve water, reduce dams and make fish passageways like the one on the Arkansas River under Lincoln Street in Wichita. During the planning for the reconstruction of the Lincoln Street Bridge and the dam over the river, the city worked with wildlife agencies to build a passage that would allow fish as well as canoes and kayaks to navigate through the structure.

Similar structures could be constructed on the Kansas River to help fish migrate.

“The plains minnow is still found in the Missouri River and could recolonize the Kansas River — where they used to be the most abundance species — if there was a fish passage through some of the dams.”

More Ogallala aquifer coverage here.

“The Western Slope in Colorado has no more water to give” –WestSlopeWater.com #COWaterPlan #ColoradoRiver #COriver

Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer's office
Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer’s office

From The Aspen Daily News (Collin Szewczyk):

That theme of cooperation, including striking a balance between consumption and conservation, quickly rose to the surface Friday, as members of the whitewater, conservation and political communities met at Colorado Mountain College in Glenwood Springs to discuss the future of state water policy.

“To the best of our ability, we don’t want it to be West Slope against East Slope, “ said Heather Lewin, watershed action director for the Roaring Fork Conservancy. “We want to be working together to understand where water comes from, and how to use it most efficiently … so that we can do the best we can for the people who live here and for the environment.”

Members of the environmental group Conservation Colorado hosted the confab, which was set to coincide with Colorado River Day. The discussion largely revolved around local water issues and the recent release of the draft Colorado Water Plan. As water levels dwindle throughout the West, Colorado is formulating its first state water plan…

A benefit of the state effort is that many interest groups have gotten together to discuss the issue, creating new partnerships that before may never have been possible, said Kristin Green, Front Range field manager for Conservation Colorado.

“I think it’s important to recognize the diversity of holders we do have in this state, particularly in this area, that feel very direct effects from how we are managing our rivers,” she said. “Now more than ever we need to make sure all those different voices are being heard.”

More than 24,000 comments have been made concerning the draft water plan, and the public comment period doesn’t end until Sept. 17, Green said.

She noted that the second draft of the water plan begins to delve into potential solutions, and suggests a conservation goal of saving 400,000 acre feet by 2050. It’s the start of establishing the criteria officials may want to discuss, she said.

“There definitely was more meat on the bones,” Green said of the second draft…

Roaring Fork watershed increases 
quality of the Colorado

Lewin said that while the Roaring Fork River may be a small component of the overall Colorado River Basin, it still contributes around 1 million acre feet of water to the larger river each year.

She said the quality and quantity of that water can be very significant farther downstream in both an ecological sense and for its value to industries, municipalities and agriculture. But diversions strain that resource.

“Having high-quality water in the Roaring Fork makes a big difference of the water quality overall in the Colorado,” Lewin said.

She added that the river’s gold medal fishing designation is a huge economic boost to the valley. That lofty standard is met when there are at least 60 pounds of trout per acre of water, including at least 12 fish that are 14 inches or longer.

“That’s a lot of fat fish,” Lewin said. “But [keeping] those fish growing fat, healthy and swimming doesn’t happen in a vacuum.”

These conditions occur when a river or stream consists of clean water, and is home to an abundant insect population and a healthy riparian area. Lewin said surrounding riparian areas provide shade to cool river temperatures; food for aquatic creatures; erosion control; and help to filter pollutants.

“As you increase development, and as we diminish stream flows, riparian vegetation becomes one of the first things to really suffer,” she said. “So it’s hard to regenerate cottonwoods without overbanking flows. Cottonwoods are a key part to that riparian vegetation piece.”

Lewin said the recent wet spring led to the term “miracle May,” a month with a huge amount of precipitation that helped make up for a dry and warm winter. The heavy flows also helped to clear out sediment that built up in areas of the Roaring Fork.

“One of the biggest transmountain diversions out of the basin, the Independence Pass Tunnel, was shut down for nearly two months,” she said (that was because the East Slope had ample water supplies). “It just started operations about a week ago or so. By closing down that tunnel we were able to really see the full effects of the spring flushing flow and the benefits to the river.”

Lewin added that old oxbows in the North Star Nature Preserve east of Aspen were again filled with water this spring, putting the wetland area in a more natural state.

The Roaring Fork Conservancy has also engaged residents in the Crystal River Valley to work on addressing low stream flows. That effort has focused on looking at best practices to manage diversions and return flows, and studying the area’s physical features.

“We’re trying to see if we can use all of those pieces together in cooperation with the people who live on and around the river, and use that water to do the best we can for the Crystal,” Lewin said.

Dean Moffatt, a local architect, inquired about efforts to bestow the federal “Wild and Scenic” designation and its protections on the Crystal River.

“As an organization, we’re certainly supportive of the process,” Lewin replied. “We think that it’s really important and has the potential to be really beneficial.”[…]

‘No more water to give’

Aron Diaz, a Silt town trustee, said there’s a lot of interest among local leaders in the Colorado Water Plan.

“We’re really in a unique position and have the opportunity to craft Colorado’s water policy at the larger state level,” he said. “But we need to keep in mind how that affects the Western Slope.”

Diaz said the biggest point of concern is that Front Range basins are still adding placeholders, indicating that they may need more West Slope water to meet demands.

“We’re pretty tapped out for the amount of water that we have available to us,” he said. “Both with our obligations to stakeholders along the Colorado and those environmental, recreational, agricultural, industrial, municipal needs … as well as our downstream obligations with the compact, we’re really at the limit.”

There’s a need to set “achievable, but very aggressive conservation goals” to assure every avenue is studied before looking at new diversions, Diaz said. He urged the public to visit westslopewater.com to sign a petition that will be delivered to Gov. Hickenlooper and Colorado Water Conservation Board director James Eklund. It requests that no new diversions of water be made to the Front Range…

“The Western Slope in Colorado has no more water to give. We, the undersigned western Colorado residents, strongly urge you to oppose any new trans-mountain diversion that will take more water from the Western Slope of Colorado, as you develop Colorado’s Water Plan,” the petition states. “We cannot solve our state’s future water needs by simply sending more water east.”

The Pueblo County Commissioners hire Wright Water Engineering to review SDS 1041 permit compliance

Southern Delivery System route map -- Graphic / Reclamation
Southern Delivery System route map — Graphic / Reclamation

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Jeff Tucker):

If rushing water had to threaten a county road, the timing couldn’t have been better for the Pueblo Board of County Commissioners.

The commissioners on Wednesday unanimously approved a contract with Wright Water Engineering to the accompaniment of text messages from the public works department informing them that the surging Fountain Creek was threatening a portion of Overton Road.

The $115,000 contract will allow the county to tap into Wright Water’s expertise as it continues to evaluate whether Colorado Springs has complied with provisions of the permit regarding stormwater control that allowed Colorado Springs to build the Southern Delivery System water pipeline from the Pueblo Dam to Springs.

County Land Use Attorney Gary Raso said that in his conversations with the engineers at Wright, they were very familiar with the Fountain Creek and its issues in the past.

The Fountain serves as the primary drainage for Colorado Springs, along with other communities including Fountain, Monument, Security and Widefield.

“Pueblo County is incurring significant costs due to the failures of the north,” said Commissioner Terry Hart.

But the study focuses on Colorado Springs, particularly whether the city’s lack of any sustainable funding for stormwater improvement projects that would mitigate the impacts to Fountain Creek is a violation of the agreement.

The county is waiting until August to decide whether to issue a showcause hearing to Colorado Springs on whether to revoke or make significant changes to the agreement.

Again, the commissioners discussed the impact of the various burn scars in the area, including the Waldo Canyon burn scar.

But Commissioner Sal Pace noted that the Springs had eliminated its stormwater enterprise long before the Waldo Canyon Fire devastated the community.

“I think talking about the burn scar is a distraction,” Pace said. “These problems existed before the Waldo Canyon Fire. It implies that this is a new problem because of an act of God, when it was an act of man.”

Commission Chairwoman Liane “Buffie” McFadyen noted that the burn scar brings the overall lack of stormwater infrastructure into greater focus.

“This particular set of storms, combined with the burn scar, combined with the lack of infrastructure, will give Wright engineering a worst-case scenario,” she said.

More Southern Delivery System coverage here and here.

Mountain Town News: Water, water, water on the brains everywhere — Allen Best

May 1, 2015 Colorado streamflow forecast map via the NRCS
May 1, 2015 Colorado streamflow forecast map via the NRCS

From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best) via the Summit Daily News:

In Colorado, snowpack this winter was about average in the Blue River Basin, which is where Breckenridge, Keystone, and several other ski areas are located. “Everybody has Blue River envy,” said Eric Kuhn, general manager of the Colorado River Water Conservation District, at a recent meeting covered by the Summit Daily News.

Blue River’s snowpack will soon fill Dillon Reservoir, one of the main reservoirs for metropolitan Denver. However, endangered fish in the Colorado River downstream near the Utah border won’t fare so well, because of less snowpack in the other tributary basins. Peak flows must be at least 12,900 cubic feet per second; they’re expected to peak at 9,600 cfs.

Taking a broader view, Kuhn sees this time in the 21st century as one of transition. “After 100 years of develop more, develop more, develop more, we’re going to have to cut back our uses.”

Kuhn pointed to the declining water levels in both Lake Powell and Lake Mead, the two giant “buckets” on the Colorado River. “Bad things happen when Lake Mead and Lake Powell get drained,” he said, a distinct possibility in the next few years, particularly at Lake Mead.

What about building a pipeline to the Mississippi River or some other water-rich location? “To expect that we can export our problems to somebody else, I just don’t see that somebody else will willingly accept them,” he said.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here.

Pueblo County considering show cause 1041 hearing for Southern Delivery System

Southern Delivery System route map -- Graphic / Reclamation
Southern Delivery System route map — Graphic / Reclamation

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Pueblo County is a step closer to calling for a hearing to decide whether to repeal or significantly alter the provisions of a 1041 permit allowing the Southern Delivery System to be built through the county.

On Monday, commissioners gave direction to staff to release a report to Colorado Springs detailing the progress of an investigation into whether that city’s lack of any specific funding for storm water permits constitutes a violation of the permit.

According to the report, staff’s recommendation is that, so far, the investigation shows there’s enough evidence to go forward with a show cause hearing on the 1041 document. But staff also asked for permission to hold off on issuing such an order until the first of August.

Waiting two months would give staff time to continue working with Colorado Springs, hire Denver-based Wright Water Engineering as a storm water consultant and give the new mayor and city council in Colorado Springs time to assess the issues for themselves.

“I am confident that there is some probability of success in coming up with some solutions to bring to the board, either as revised conditions or new amendments to the agreement,” said Ray Petros, water counsel to Pueblo County.

Petros said that it’s been six years since there was any dedicated funding in place for Colorado Springs’ storm water improvements and in that time, the number of infrastructure improvements that could help mitigate flows and improve water quality in the Fountain Creek have backlogged to the point that nearly $534 million worth of projects are awaiting completion.

Staff has been investigating the issue since April. Petros said it has been difficult to ascertain what high-priority projects have been completed or what kind of money has actually been spent on projects that would be beneficial to Pueblo County.

At the core of the investigation is the Springs’ decision to disband its storm water enterprise in 2009, along with the failure at the polls in 2014 of a measure to establish a new enterprise.

“Our issue has been from Day 1 that the 1041 permit requires some kind of dedicated funding,” said Commissioner Terry Hart. “No pun intended, but it’s been six years of water under the bridge and we’re painfully aware of that.”

Petros quoted a few passages within the 1041 permit that mentioned the funding source specifically, including the environmental impact statements attached to the permit.

The original staff report noted that the delay also gave Colorado Springs Utilities time to respond to information requests, but Hart said he felt Pueblo should set the timeline on that response.

Public Works Director Alf Randall said that the information requested by staff wasn’t complicated but understood if Colorado Springs staffers preferred to wait until the new mayor and council were sworn in.

Randall also said it would be good to have the information once Wright Water’s contract with Pueblo was finalized.

“I don’t understand what would be highly complex about providing staff a list of projects in 2015,” Randall said.

He said he thought it could be done by June 1.

The commissioners then directed that the June 1 deadline be included in the memo to Colorado Springs.

There are likely more investigations to follow. Commissioner Sal Pace asked staff to consider land purchases, reclamaneighbors. tion issues and potential impacts to Pueblo West homeowners in the investigation.

But the investigation came from a resolution focusing specifically on storm water issues.

All three commissioners said they would like to see future investigations into those other issues.

The commissioners also noted that the past week’s rainfall was a reminder of the urgency for the improvements, as runoff from Colorado Springs churned mud and debris in Fountain Creek and eroded property along Overton Road.

“We have a job to advocate for our constituents and I think the representatives from Colorado Springs, whether they like the process or not, would agree there’s been an impact to the community,” said Commission Chairwoman Liane “Buffie” McFadyen.

More Southern Delivery System coverage here and here.

Southern Delivery System: Jury awards rancher $4.6M — The Pueblo Chieftain

Southern Delivery System route map -- Graphic / Reclamation
Southern Delivery System route map — Graphic / Reclamation

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A Pueblo jury late Thursday awarded rancher Gary Walker a $4.6 million judgment against Colorado Springs Utilities for the Southern Delivery System pipeline crossing Walker Ranches in Northern Pueblo County.

Walker contends the amount is far short of what the pipeline has cost him. During the trial, he contended that the conditions of the SDS easement have jeopardized a $25 million conservation easement he was negotiating with the Nature Conservation for $1,680 an acre on 15,000 acres.

Walker said the conditions of the utility easement through his property allow for access that negates the value of the conservation easement, and that soils from offsite that were used as fill are contaminated with seeds from invasive species. Rain storms already have caused erosion on the pipeline scar and the damage could be greater in the future.

He also said he is fearful that Colorado Springs will take action against him if normal ranch activities interfere with the SDS permanent easement that is 100 feet wide across 5.5 miles of Walker Ranches.

The jury awarded Walker $4.665 million in damages in addition to the $82,900 actual value of the easement. The actual value was part of Judge Jill Mattoon’s instructions to the jury.

“We stung Colorado Springs, but it will do little to protect the next little guy or rare environmental landscape that gets in their way,” Walker said in a written statement provided to The Pueblo Chieftain. “My attorneys were amazed at CSU’s response against one rancher. It was like using a tank to kill a fly.”

The rancher charged that Colorado Springs drove up litigation costs intentionally. In December, Walker won a Pueblo District Court decision on costs of about $500,000 to that point, but the state Supreme Court pushed the decision back until the trial concluded. In that case, Walker said Colorado Springs had needlessly delayed trial.

“Colorado Springs punished us a great deal both financially and emotionally but I am glad we did it and I would do it again even though we lost a lot more than we gained,” Walker said. “Our financial loss is minor when compared to the loss of another open space and protected wildlife habitat area.”

Walker plans to raise the issue of how he was treated by Colorado Springs to Pueblo County commissioners, who issued a 1041 permit for SDS in 2009.

“My hope is that Pueblo County stands their ground and protects everyone by holding the city of Colorado Springs and their utility company to the terms of the 1041 contract they signed in 2009,” Walker said.

Walker also indicated that he is nervous about whether he will actually be able to collect the $4.6 million, since he expects Colorado Springs to appeal.

Colorado Springs has not indicated if it will ap- peal the judgment.

“We are disappointed in the outcome and will be exploring our options to protect the interests of those residents who are helping to fund the SDS project and will be impacted by this outcome,” said Janet Rummel, SDS spokeswoman for Colorado Springs Utilities. “We do not believe the result was supported by the evidence presented.”

She contended that Colorado Springs has worked to address Walker’s concerns and to offer fair compensation for the easements, along with paying $720,000 to relocate cattle during construction.

“We will continue to work with Mr. Walker and all easement holders on the SDS alignment to complete successful restoration and revegetation, as well as to responsibly maintain the condition of our easements,” Rummel said.

More Southern Delivery System coverage here.

Southern Delivery System: Closing arguments expected to conclude today in Walker Ranch lawsuit

Southern Delivery System route map -- Graphic / Reclamation
Southern Delivery System route map — Graphic / Reclamation

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Closing arguments are expected to wrap up sometime today in a jury trial to determine the value of the Southern Delivery System easement across Walker Ranches in Pueblo County.

Expert witnesses for Colorado Springs testified Tuesday, the seventh day of the trial.

Attorneys for both sides indicated the testimony would wrap up soon and they were preparing to present closing arguments today. After that, the jury will begin its deliberations.

Court records indicate Gary Walker was offered $100,000 for easements on a 150-foot wide strip 5.5 miles long through Walker Ranches in northern Pueblo County. Colorado Springs, which is building SDS, also paid Walker $720,000 to relocate cattle during three years of construction.

Construction on SDS began in 2011, and includes 50 miles of underground pipeline 66 inches in diameter in Pueblo and El Paso counties. The final phase of construction in Pueblo County is the Juniper Pump Station being built near Pueblo Dam.

Walker claims the choice of pipeline route has contributed to erosion and diminished the value of his land. His court records claim SDS has caused $25 million worth of impact on his ranches, which total 65,000 acres. He’s also claiming damages under Pueblo County’s 1041 permit for SDS, which protects landowners from out-of-pocket expenses and requires Colorado Springs to use eminent domain only as a last resort.

District Judge Jill Mattoon is presiding over the trial.

More Southern Delivery System coverage here.