Join the Colorado Foundation for Water Education for a one-day tour of the Roaring Fork Watershed that will showcase exemplary collaborative water management projects. Gain an understanding of how multiple public and private entities are working together on water quality, water quantity, and riparian habitat improvement projects. The itinerary will showcase collaborative stream management plans and water management projects with municipalities, landowners, state and federal agencies, recreationists, watershed groups, and the local community. Tour attendees will get an in-depth look at how water managers and leaders are putting the Roaring Fork Watershed Plan into action.
By Brent Gardner-Smith, Aspen Journalism
BASALT – Flows in the lower Fryingpan River below Ruedi Reservoir were increased on Friday afternoon to about 300 cubic feet per second, much to the dismay of professional and private anglers who prefer a flow of no more than 250 cfs.
“We get cancellations at 250 and up,” said Warwick Mowbray, owner of Frying Pan Anglers in Basalt, during a meeting Thursday night in Basalt’s town hall on flows in the Fryingpan. “People say ‘We can’t wade.’”
Releases from Ruedi were increased Friday in order to send more water to the “15-mile reach” of the Colorado River between Palisade and Grand Junction for the benefit of endangered fish species struggling to survive in the river below several big irrigation diversions.
But the water released from Ruedi and sent down the Fryingpan, Roaring Fork and Colorado rivers to the 15-mile reach at the direction of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service erodes the quality of the trout-fishing experience on the lower Fryingpan, according to Will Sands, manager of Taylor Creek Fly Shops in Basalt and Aspen.
“Over 250 cfs changes the dynamic of the environment of the river for hatches and the abilities of the visiting angler,” Sands said. “It hits 300 and we start getting cancellations.”
Rick Lofaro, director of the Roaring Fork Conservancy, seconded the concerns of the professional anglers.
“When you have additional water coming down, it challenges wading and changes the character of the river,” he said, likening higher flows in the Fryingpan to paying for a backcountry powder tour only to find no fresh snow. “I think there is a big difference between 250 and 300 from an accessibility and wade-ability level.”
The conservancy commissioned a study in 2014 that showed fly-fishing contributes $3.8 million to Basalt’s economy.
Thursday’s meeting in Basalt was called by officials from the Bureau of Reclamation and the Fish and Wildlife Service, and about a dozen citizens showed up to discuss likely releases from Ruedi for the balance of the summer.
Tim Miller, a hydrologist with the Bureau of Reclamation who manages Ruedi Reservoir, said releases below the reservoir would likely be around 300 cfs into September, but could be as high as 350 cfs if there is a call for more water from irrigators in the Grand Junction area.
Since July 18, flows in the lower Fryingpan have been running steadily at around 245 cfs, a sweet spot for anglers.
Jana Mohrman, a hydrologist with the Fish and Wildlife Service, manages a pool of water in Ruedi that can be released to keep enough water in the 15-mile reach.
She works toward meeting seasonal flow levels — now 1,240 cfs — in the Colorado River near Palisade by directing “fish water” to that point on the river from a variety of upstream reservoirs, including Ruedi, Wolford and Green Mountain.
This week, flows in the Colorado River near Palisade had dropped to the point where several fish passages designed to allow native endangered fish to swim upstream toward Rifle were not functioning due to low water levels.
“I’m using Ruedi to get my fish passages open,” Mohrman said.
As such, she directed the Bureau of Reclamation to release another 50 cfs from Ruedi starting Friday. That was on top of the 140 cfs of “fish water” that was already being released, which was in addition to about 110 cfs of routine releases from the reservoir.
Mohrman’s pool of “fish water” in Ruedi equals about 15,000 acre-feet of water. But she can also use, for the second year in a row, about 9,000 acre-feet of water owned by the Ute Water Conservancy District in Grand Junction and leased to the Colorado Water Conservation Board for use in the fish-recovery program.
On Wednesday, during a weekly conference call of regional reservoir managers and irrigators, Mohrman was pressured by irrigators in the Grand Valley to release more water from Ruedi along with water they were releasing for the fish from Green Mountain Reservoir, which serves as a back-up supply water for the Grand Valley.
Last year, 24,412 acre-feet of water was released from Ruedi to the benefit of the fish recovery program and a similar amount is likely to be released this year. In all, Ruedi can store 102,373 acre-feet of water.
Of that, about 41,000 acre-feet is owned by various entities, and can also be released upon demand in a dry year. Should that occur, flows in the Fryingpan could rise still higher, and not just because of the fish-recovery program.
“These demands on the reservoir are only going to grow,” said Miller of the Bureau of Reclamation. “This isn’t going away.”
Dan Turley, a homeowner in the Fryingpan River Valley and an avid angler, asked Mohrman if the endangered fish program was a higher priority than the recreational economy of Basalt.
“This is not a trivial inconvenience,” Turley said of flows in the Fryingpan going up to 300 cfs. “It makes the river not viable to fish for a great majority of people.”
And Turley said it’s not just about Basalt’s economy.
“A lot of people from Aspen come down here and fish,” he said. “They are staying at The Little Nell. This is a big deal.”
“It’s always been considered,” Mohrman said, referring to the local fly-fishing economy and a targeted flow of 250 cfs in the Fryingpan. “And we have always said we would try to maintain 250. But we also have to recover these fish, and we’ve built all these structures to try and get them up to Rifle to get back into their natural habitat. And that is a higher priority than the 250 target.”
The goal of what’s called the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Program is to maintain populations of four species of large fish native to the Colorado River, the Colorado pikeminnow, razorback sucker, bonytail, and humpback chub.
If the program fails to maintain viable populations of native fish, diverters in the Colorado River basin could be faced with extensive environmental reviews of their diversion’s effects on the endangered fish — something regional water managers want to avoid.
As long as the fish populations are stable or growing, the recovery program provides blanket environmental protection. Trouble is, Mohrman said the fish are not doing all that great as they are being preyed upon by non-native fish in addition to struggling with low river levels.
Rachel Richards, a Pitkin County commissioner who has focused during her tenure on water issues, attended Thursday’s night meeting.
She raised the idea of a pipeline or flume that would allow water to be released from Ruedi without flowing down the river itself.
“We’ve always talked a little bit about should there be a separate flume or waterway for the Ruedi releases so they are not destroying the Fryingpan,” Richards said.
She also said that Pitkin County and Basalt had voiced concerns in the past about releasing “fish water” from Ruedi and making Basalt a “sacrificial lamb for water needs elsewhere in the state.”
At the conclusion of Thursday’s meeting, Mohrman said she would work with irrigators and reservoir managers to see if more water can’t be released from reservoirs other than Ruedi.
“I’ll try and cut it back as the Green Mountain Reservoir ups its releases and our fish passages stay open,” she said. “I understand your very serious concerns.”
Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism, the Aspen Daily News, and Coyote Gulch are collaborating on coverage of rivers and water.The Daily News published this story on Saturday, August 13, 2016.
ASPEN – After holding both private and public meetings last week about its conditional water rights for dams and reservoirs on upper Maroon and Castle creeks, the city of Aspen is likely facing opposition in water court if it files a request to extend the water rights for another six years.
“If their diligence filing is consistent with the current project configuration, I do think we will file a statement of opposition,” said Matt Rice, Colorado basin director for American Rivers, a national river conservation organization.
The city has until the end of October to file a due diligence report in Division 5 water court in Glenwood Springs. Such filings are required every six years.
In its September 2009 diligence filing, which was approved in 2010, the city told the water court “it has steadily applied efforts to complete” the dams and reservoirs “in a reasonably expedient and efficient manner.” The city first filed for the conditional water right in 1965 and the conditional rights were formally decreed in 1971.
At a public meeting Thursday a consultant working for the city, Larissa Reed of Common Ground Environmental Consulting LLC, told the gathering of about 35 people that the city’s pending due diligence filing was “routine.”
“City council is not proposing to build water storage reservoirs at this time,” Reed said. “What they are doing is thinking about the conditional water storage rights and whether or not they should be filed for again in October for another six years.“
A work session with city council on the question is to be held in September or October.
Reed then explained some aspects of conditional water rights, including the “can and will” test for proposed water supply projects.
“The phrase ‘can and will’ suggests, in the law, that you have to be making progress towards developing this water supply in order to re-up every six years in your diligence filing,” Reed said. “The idea is that applicants have to show that they are making progress on those water rights, that they’re not just sitting on them doing nothing.”
Can and will?
Since 1965, the city has consistently told the state it intends – at some point – to build a 155-foot-tall dam at the confluence of East and West Maroon creeks that would store 4,567 acre-feet of water behind it and build a 170-foot-tall dam on Castle Creek that would back-up 9,062 acre-feet of water.
The city has not undertaken feasibility or cost studies of the dams and reservoirs since filing for the water rights, although the Bureau of Reclamation did conduct limited test drilling on the Castle Creek dam site in 1970.
Nor has the city determined how much water storage it actually might need in the future, or what other storage locations might be feasible, according to David Hornbacher, the city’s director of utilities and environmental initiatives.
On Wednesday, the city held a private stakeholders meeting about the conditional water rights with representatives from American Rivers, Wilderness Workshop, Roaring Fork Conservancy, Aspen Center for Environmental Studies, the Colorado River District, U.S. Forest Service, and Colorado Parks and Wildlife.
The formats of both the private stakeholders meeting and Thursday’s public meetings were the same, with remarks from the consultant and Hornbacher, limited time for questions, and then facilitated small-group discussions focused on questions crafted by the city.
“I’m hopeful that they will take this public input and present it to the council in an unbiased and accurate fashion,” said Rice of American Rivers, who attended Wednesday’s stakeholder meeting, “but if the city moves forward with due diligence for a reservoir on Maroon Creek and a reservoir on Castle Creek, we intend to stand up for those rivers and those wild places and oppose.”
When asked if American Rivers was prepared to take its opposition to a level of active litigation in water court, which typically comes after a lengthy period of time when parties are asked by the court to work out their differences in private meetings, Rice said he hoped it wouldn’t go that far.
“I would hope that it would give the city an opportunity to investigate real alternatives to this project to meet their future water supply needs,” he said of discussions during the initial phase of the process. “One thing that a statement of opposition in a diligence filing does is that inspires those discussions at a quicker pace than would happen otherwise.”
American Rivers filed a statement of opposition in response to a diligence filing in 2011 from the Colorado River Water Conservation District and the West Divide Water Conservancy District for conditional water rights for two large dams on the Crystal River.
The River District and the West Divide District agreed to abandon those water rights in 2013.
Pitkin County also filed a statement of opposition against the Crystal River conditional water rights and took an active role in the proceedings.
After Thursday’s public meeting on the rights on Maroon and Castle creeks, Laura Makar, an assistant county attorney for Pitkin County, said the county had not yet decided if it would oppose a diligence filing by the city.
“We don’t have a position at this point in time,” Makar said. “The diligence filing is not due until October. Any statement of opposition would not be due until December. We’re in August right now, so I anticipate we’ll have a position at some point.”
Pitkin County Commissioner Rachel Richards, a former mayor of Aspen, attended Thursday’s meeting. She said during the small-group discussions that she thought it was “premature” for the city to abandon its conditional rights for the dams and reservoirs.
Will Roush, a conservation advocate for Wilderness Workshop, attended both the private stakeholders meeting and the public meeting.
When asked Friday if Wilderness Workshop intended to oppose the diligence filing, Roush said, “We’ll make that decision once they decide whether or not to file a diligence filing,” but also said his organization wants Aspen to abandon the water rights.
Paul Noto, a water attorney at Patrick, Miller, Noto who fought the city’s proposed hydropower plant on lower Castle Creek on behalf of a group of local clients, was asked if he expected someone to file a statement of opposition if the city filed.
“It’s not a question of someone, it is a question of how many,” Noto said. “There is going to be a lot of opposition to this project. The reason is Aspenites, and others, hold Castle and Maroon creek valleys near and dear to their hearts and I think a lot of people passionately believe, rightly so, that there shouldn’t be dams in those valleys.”
Rob Harris, the senior staff attorney at Western Resource Advocates of Boulder, also was at Thursday’s meeting. Afterward, he was critical of the city’s dueling messages about its intentions for the dams and reservoirs.
“The city can’t and shouldn’t say different things to the public that it says to the water court,” Harris said. “The city shouldn’t come in here, to this public meeting, and say, ‘We don’t really have any plans to build these dams’ and then go into the water court and say, ‘We can and will build these reservoirs.’ Those are two different, inconsistent, statements.”
He also challenged the way the city made it sound that climate change made the dams necessary.
Ashley Perl, the director of the city’s Canary Initiative, had presented climate projections at the meeting that showed less water would likely be in Aspen-area rivers in a hotter future. She said that Aspen doesn’t have any water storage facilities, which made it vulnerable, and that the community needed to have a conversation about storage.
But Harris said, “It is important to note that nothing we saw tonight connected any of those water availability scenarios under those climate models to actual water needs that the city of Aspen has. There was nothing presented tonight that showed that in any of those scenarios that Aspen would in fact be short of water.”
Harris added, “If the city does identify a water need, they have lots of other alternatives” than the dams and reservoirs.
The city has set up an email address for citizens to send comments and questions about the conditional water rights, at firstname.lastname@example.org, until Aug. 19.
Regional reservoirs and dams, ranked by normal storage capacity
During a public meeting on Aug. 4, 2016, the city of Aspen presented a graphic comparing the surface area of various regional reservoirs with the surface area of the proposed Castle and Maroon creek reservoirs.
We’ve expanded the list, added more criteria, ranked it by storage capacity, and used data from the Colorado Dept. of Dam Safety, including their term of “normal storage” for the storage capacity amount.
For Castle and Maroon, which the city labeled in their presentation as “proposed,” we’ve simply used “storage capacity.”
AF means “acre feet.” There are 325,851 gallons of water in an acre-foot.
Normal storage: 102,369 AF
Dam height: 291 feet
Dam length: 1,060 feet
Surface area: 998 acres
Normal storage: 42,900 AF
Dam height: 231 feet
Dam length: 1,996 feet
Surface area: 333 acres
Normal storage: 20,950 AF
Dam height: 199 feet
Dam length: 770 feet
Surface area: 334 acres
Rifle Gap Reservoir
Normal storage: 13,602 AF
Dam height: 124 feet
Dam length: 1,450 feet
Surface area: 359 acres
Proposed Castle Creek Reservoir
Storage capacity: 9,062 AF
Dam height: 170 feet
Dam length: Approx. 1,000 feet
Surface area: 112 acres
Proposed Maroon Creek Reservoir
Storage capacity: 4,567 AF
Dam height: 155 feet
Dam length: Approx. 1,500 feet
Surface area: 80 acres
Spring Park Reservoir
Normal storage: 1,732 AF
Dam height: 20 feet
Dam length: 1,645 feet
Surface area: 258 acres
Normal storage: 1,100 AF
Dam height: 75 feet
Dam length: 1,100 feet
Surface area: 50 acres
Normal storage: 752 AF
Dam height: 16 feet
Dam length: 270 feet
Surface area: 82 acres
Normal storage: 590 AF
Dam height: 56 feet
Dam length: 792 feet
Surface area: 44 acres
Normal storage: 460 AF
Dam height: 40 feet
Dam length: 580 feet
Surface area: 20 acres
Normal storage: 248 AF
Dam height: 28 feet
Dam length: 500 feet
Surface area: 16 acres
Normal storage: 100 acre feet
Dam height: 37 feet
Dam length: 160 feet
Surface area: 10 acres
Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism, the Aspen Daily News, and Coyote Gulch are collaborating on coverage of rivers and water. The Daily News published this story on Monday, August 8, 2016.
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 email@example.com.
From the City of Aspen via The Aspen Daily News:
The city of Aspen is hosting a public open house on the municipality’s conditional water rights on Castle and Maroon creeks on Thursday from 5 to 6:30 p.m. in the Pitkin County library community meeting room.
City representatives will provide background information and host a dialogue with the public with the goal of asking for input and ideas.
Since 1965, the city has maintained conditional water rights for a reservoir on Castle and on Maroon creeks to plan for the community’s future water needs, a press release says. To keep these rights, Aspen must submit a diligence filing this October.
Aspen Journalism reported in June that, if built as currently described by the city’s plans, which were first presented to a water court judge in 1965, the Maroon Creek reservoir would store 4,567 acre-feet of water behind a 155-foot-tall dam just below the confluence of East Maroon and West Maroon creeks.
But the release issued Monday by the city says the diligence filing is a routine one that occurs every six years.
And it is not a proposal to actually build the reservoir, the city says.
“A conditional water right is a place holder in Colorado’s priority system for water rights,” the release says.
From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Matt Steiner):
More than 1,200 people endured 90-degree temperatures Saturday in eastern Colorado Springs to learn more about Colorado Springs Utilities’ new Southern Delivery System.
During the SDS Waterfest at the Edward W. Bailey Water Treatment Plant on Marksheffel Road, kids and adults interacted with community volunteers at hands-on educational booths. And most of those on hand were treated to a guided tour of the state-of-the art facility…
David Schara, 42, said he is a Colorado Springs native and has watched as CSU and city officials spent more than 20 years planning the Southern Delivery System which began piping water north out of Pueblo Reservoir in late April.
“It’s much needed,” David Schara said. “As the city grows, they had to do something.”
David Schara said he and others have been skeptical over the years since CSU introduced the SDS in the Colorado Springs Water Plan of 1996. According to Schara, the biggest concern was about the capacity of Pueblo Reservoir, which he said has been “pretty low at times.”
The Southern Delivery System cost $825 million. Forte said that presently the SDS takes care of about 5 percent of the Colorado Springs Utilities customers and produces about 5 million gallons of water each day.
During Saturday’s event, CSU handed out free water bottles and had refill stations throughout the event where visitors could rehydrate with water from the Pueblo Reservoir. The hands-on exhibits allowed kids to make snow, touch a cloud, shoot water from a fire hose, and learn more about how CSU uses water supplied by the SDS…
Forte said the Waterfest was designed to thank customers “for their patience” over the last couple of decades while the SDS became reality.
“Our citizen-owners have come out to see what we’ve been talking about for the last 20 years,” Forte said. “It’s just a fun day.”
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.