#ColoradoRiver: Colorado Water Conservation Board to Release Ruedi Reservoir Water for Endangered Fish — CWCB


Here’s the release from the Colorado Department of Natural Resources (Linda Bassi/Ted Kowalski):

The Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) today [September 2] initiated the release of water from Ruedi Reservoir for the month of September for the benefit of the Colorado River endangered fish.

On August 31, the CWCB entered into a lease agreement with the Ute Water Conservancy District (UWCD) for water stored in Ruedi Reservoir, located on the Fryingpan River near Basalt, to supplement flows for existing instream flow water rights on the Colorado River. The CWCB approved entering into the Water Lease Agreement with the UWCD during a regular CWCB Board meeting in May 2015. This agreement allows the CWCB to lease between 6,000 acre-feet and 12,000 acre-feet of water from Ruedi Reservoir for instream flow use on the 15-Mile Reach of the Colorado River, located near Palisade, Colorado. No releases will result in overall flows from Ruedi exceeding 300 cfs.

The so-called 15-Mile Reach provides critical spawning habitat for the following endangered fish: Colorado pikeminnow, razorback sucker, humpback chub, and bonytail. It was determined that the water would be best utilized to preserve the natural environment at rates up to and exceeding the current instream flow rights to meet U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) flow targets for the four endangered fish species in the reach. “These types of ‘win-win’ agreements are needed to assure that Colorado can beneficially use water within Colorado and help recover endangered fish that use the Colorado River for habitat,” said James Eklund, the Director of the CWCB.

The UWCD was established in 1965 for the purpose of supplying domestic water service to the rural areas of the Grand Valley, encompassing roughly 260 square miles and servicing over 80,000 people. The UWCD originally entered into a Repayment Contract with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation in September 2013, through which it purchased 12,000 acre-feet of water annually from Ruedi Reservoir. By entering into this lease, the CWCB has access to this water on a short-term basis for the benefit of four endangered fish species. Water released from Ruedi Reservoir under this lease will also be available for non-consumptive power generation immediately above the reach, providing additional late summer benefits to the local area.

“This is the first time that the Species Conservation Trust Fund has been used to purchase stored water to supplement flows to critical habitat for endangered fish. We are excited that we have been able to use this particular funding source and our instream flow program for this purpose,” said Linda Bassi, Chief of the Stream and Lake Protection Section of the CWCB. Currently, the CWCB holds two instream flow water rights on the reach. Jana Mohrman, Hydrologist for the USFWS for the Upper Colorado River Recovery Program, added that “it’s outstanding to see the initiative and cooperation on behalf of the endangered fish by Ute Water and CWCB.”

“Colorado has always been on the leading edge of balancing the development of water resources with recovery of endangered species, and this lease is another example of how Colorado has been able to creatively balance those competing interests,” said Ted Kowalski, Chief of the Interstate, Federal & Water Information Section,

The CWCB has already coordinated with a variety of stakeholders within the affected reaches to implement the releases of this water from Ruedi Reservoir. This coordination will continue throughout the month of September.

Pitkin County ponies up $35,000 to help the Colorado Water Trust

Map of the Roaring Fork River watershed via the Roaring Fork Conservancy
Map of the Roaring Fork River watershed via the Roaring Fork Conservancy

From the Aspen Daily News (Collin Szewczyk):

A three-pronged approach to restore local water flows got a shot in the arm on Tuesday when Pitkin County supported a $35,000 Healthy Rivers and Streams grant to help a Front Range nonprofit’s plan to keep more water in the Roaring Fork River.

The project looks to provide a pathway for water right holders to leave more of their allocation in the Roaring Fork without being penalized, and assess availability of other water sources to combine the total for maximum benefit for the river.

The Denver-based Colorado Water Trust is spearheading the project, which aims to extend a non-diversion agreement for the city-owned Wheeler Ditch; look into the utilization of up to 3,000 acre-feet of water that would otherwise be diverted through the Independence Pass Transmountain Diversion System to bolster flows near Aspen; and study ways to use more water in Grizzly Reservoir to benefit the Roaring Fork.

The funding will go toward coordinating the project; the completion of a feasibility analyses; forecasting instream flow needs for the upcoming irrigation season; performing outreach; and monitoring and reporting of streamflow and project benefits, according to a supplemental budget request from Lisa MacDonald, of the Pitkin County Attorneys Office.

Amy Beatie, executive director of the Colorado Water Trust (CWT), said this is a “real opportunity” to put water back in the Roaring Fork River, especially in the stretch between the Salvation Ditch and Castle Creek…

Wheeler Ditch non-diversion agreement

Aspen City Council partnered with the Colorado Water Trust in 2013 on a one-year Wheeler Ditch non-diversion agreement to improve streamflow conditions on a section of river that flows through the city. This area stretches from the ditch, which is located near the eastern edge of town, down to the Rio Grande Park, the CWT grant application noted. The agreement was also renewed in 2014.

When the water level in the river fell below 32 cubic feet per second (CFS), the city reduced the Wheeler Ditch diversions to keep water in the river, leading to an increase of about 2 to 3 CFS from mid-July through the end of the irrigation season.

Under the new proposal, this Wheeler agreement would be extended for 10 years, but only five of those years are covered under SB-19.

The water trust’s hope is that once others with water rights see the success of non-diversion agreements, they too will allow more water to remain in the Roaring Fork without penalty.

Beatie added that the city of Aspen has given the CWT a “resounding thumbs-up” in its efforts.

“[The non-diversion agreement] is an informal agreement where a water user decides not to use its water right for its decreed purposes,” she explained. “But can instead leave it in the river. There’s no transfer obligations, it’s a very simple and private process and it’s a private contract between the trust and the city to experiment with leaving water in this section of river.”

More water from Grizzly Reservoir

Beatie said a right to 800 acre-feet of water in Grizzly Reservoir was acquired in a settlement by the Colorado River Water Conservation District in an application for a junior right enlargement.

John Currier, chief engineer with the Colorado River Water Conservation District, explained that out of the first 2,400 acre-feet that’s diverted in any given year under the junior water right, 800 goes to the river district.

“Through agreements with the city and county, that water is to be used in various ways, primarily for instream flow purposes,” he said.

Currier added that the real task of the overall project is figuring out how to marry the three sources and maximize the benefit.

“This was water that the river district secured,” Beatie noted. “It’s 800 acre-feet, about 750 of which can be used by a combination of the river district and Aspen for environmental purposes.”

Beatie said the river district is allowing CWT to analyze how the water can best be used and “sow this supply together with the Wheeler Ditch project.”

The CWT then intends to investigate how to best utilize the Grizzly water to enhance Roaring Fork streamflows, especially in years in which the Wheeler Ditch isn’t being diverted.

According to the CWT grant application, the first 40-acre feet of Grizzly Reservoir water would “be held in a mitigation account for subsequent release to enhance flows in the Roaring Fork during the late irrigation season.”

“The remaining water is to be stored either in Grizzly Reservoir in a Colorado River Water Conservation District account (up to 200 acre-feet) or held in [Twin Lakes Reservoir] storage,” the application continued.

Commissioner Steve Child asked if Grizzly Reservoir could be enlarged to provide more water on the West Slope.

Currier said that while nothing is in the works yet, the idea has “been on the radar screen.”

Water from the ‘Exchange’

In the third part of proposal, known as the “exchange,” the CWT will also investigate, in partnership with the water district, how to restore flows via the Independence Pass Transmountain Diversion System.

This could provide up to 3,000 acre feet of water “in exchange for equivalent bypasses from the headwaters of the Roaring Fork River,” the CWT grant application noted.

But Beatie said that while this arrangement has been implemented, it’s never been formally approved.

“The state engineer cannot administer an agreement, they need to administer a water right,” she said. “There may be more steps that need to be undertaken, both to secure this water right as instream flow, and then to have it protected.”

Wide support for effort

The Pitkin County commissioners supported the HRS grant allocation for the project, and praised the city’s involvement.

“From the bottom of my heart I want to applaud the city for taking the lead on this during the drought and continuing and following through,” said Commissioner Rachel Richards. “It’s just been fabulous.”

Dave Nixa, vice chair of the Healthy Rivers and Streams Board, said data from this project could provide a huge opportunity to increase local flows, calling it the most comprehensive grant request that HRS has ever received.

“We’re talking about, could some of those places be Snowmass Creek and the Crystal [River]?” he said. “Where we could use the value of this as a catalyst to encourage others to participate.”

April Long, stormwater manager for the city, said Aspen is looking at creating a river management plan for the Roaring Fork, calling it a top priority.

“It’s something that we’ll be working with the county very closely on, and all the other stakeholders in the suburb section of the watershed in the next two years to develop an operational river management plan for how we can maintain flows in drought years,” she said.

The CWT had already attained a matching grant from the Colorado Water Conservation Board, and the total budget for the project is approximately $70,000, according to a letter from Beatie to the HRS board.

“The idea behind this application is that it’s a really good start,” Beatie said, “Our experience is that one step forward into solving flow shortages is often the catalyst to bring more energy and enthusiasm and other water rights and water users into the program.”

Roaring Fork Conservancy District Independence Pass diversion system tour recap

Independence Pass Diversion
Independence Pass Diversion

From The Aspen Daily News (Collin Szewczyk):

The Independence Pass transmountain diversion system shut down for more than a month this year around the June peak runoff due to ample water supplies in the Arkansas River basin, only the fourth such time this has happened for these reasons since the 1930s.

Seeing rivers in this more-natural state has reinvigorated local interest in the health of the Roaring Fork watershed and how it is managed.

Recently, a group of more than two dozen interested locals and tourists met up at the Lost Man trailhead parking lot near Independence Pass to learn more about how water is diverted east from the watershed. The sold-out event was hosted by the Basalt-based Roaring Fork Conservancy, and was led by both its employees and those of the Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co., which manages water flows through the transmountain diversion system…

Medved noted that there are 24 major diversion tunnels in Colorado, and two of the five largest are in the Roaring Fork watershed.

The fifth largest is the 3.85-mile-long Twin Lakes tunnel, which diverts water from the headwaters of the Roaring Fork River to the Arkansas River basin. It is a bit over nine feet wide and boring began in November of 1933, with the workers “holing out” in February 1935.

The Boustead Tunnel is the third-largest diversion tunnel and is located on the headwaters of the Fryingpan River. It stretches 5.5 miles, and empties into Turquoise Reservoir near Leadville.

Scott Campbell, general manager of the nonprofit Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co., which is privately owned and based out of Ordway, has worked with water for about 40 years and explained that the Twin Lakes diversion was originally a supplemental water right in the 1930s. He added that when water from the Arkansas River was coming up short on the eastern side of the Continental Divide, Twin Lakes Reservoir water would help to fill the gap.

Each year, the transmountain diversion system collects water from the Roaring Fork River, as well as the Lost Man, Lincoln, Brooklyn, Tabor, New York and Grizzly creeks, and moves it through the Twin Lakes Tunnel into the Arkansas basin. From there much of it aids agricultural pursuits near Pueblo and Crowley counties…

The Twin Lakes Reservoir is owned and operated by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, but the Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co. retains ownership of 54,452 acre-feet of space within to store water…

More storage on East Slope needed

When asked why Eastern Slope reservoirs aren’t being expanded to store more water, Campbell replied, “That’s a very good question.”

Alan Ward, water resources administrator for the Pueblo Board of Water Works, explained that many of the reservoirs on the Front Range are under federal purview, and changes would require an act of Congress.

“As it turns out, we’ve been trying to do that for almost 15 years,” he said. “It’s not easy to get Congress all together and actually passing legislation that would allow us to study the enlargement of that.”

Ward added that while some potential reservoir sites may be good from an engineering point of view, they don’t always make sense environmentally.

“It’s just a challenge to be able to find a spot that you can get permitted, that you can afford to build on, and that you can get permission to build on, if it requires an act of Congress,” he said. “But something I think is very much in the forefront of the minds of water planners on the East Slope, is where and how can we build more storage to be able to better manage the limited supply [of water] we have.”

Into the Styx

Following a bumpy Jeep ride up Lincoln Creek, care of Blazing Adventures, to see the opposite end of the tunnel through Green Mountain, Campbell concluded the tour by leading people on a subterranean descent into the Twin Lakes Tunnel.

The concrete “road” dropped down quickly into the darkness, and constant seepage water dripped from above, creating the feeling of being caught in an underground monsoon.

Campbell noted that the site’s caretakers, Kim and Glenn Schryver, use the underground route in the winter to reach the outside world while Independence Pass is buried under the snowpack.

He explained that the workers boring the tunnel converged on each other from either side and averaged just under 50 feet in progress a day. When they met up, the holes were six inches apart, Campbell said, adding that the route was determined with a line of mirrors shot over Independence Mountain.

Aspen Times Weekly: Could a mine-waste spill happen here?

Smuggler Mine back in the day via GregRulon.com
Smuggler Mine back in the day via GregRulon.com

From The Aspen Times Weekly (Scott Condon):

Pitkin County has between 600 and 800 mine features, including multiple adits into the same mine, according to an estimate by the Colorado state government. And as Cooper’s experience shows, there are Aspen mines that are filled with water — but just because there’s water, that doesn’t mean it’s contaminated water.

Still, that hefty inventory of adits and shafts makes it reasonable to wonder if something similar to the discharge of 3 million gallons of toxic water from the Gold King Mine near Silverton into the Animas River earlier this month could happen in Aspen (see story, page 33).

State and federal officials as well as miners with street credibility will never say never, but a similar disaster in Pitkin County is unlikely, in large part because of geology, they agreed.

Aspen Mountain’s mines tended to be internally drained to the water table, so “there is generally no significant surface drainage discharges associated with the underground workings,” said Bruce Stover, an official with the Colorado Inactive Mine Reclamation Program. That means there is a “very limited possibility” of underground impoundments of water being formed, he said.

Mines in the San Juan Mountains and other parts of the state have water above the surface. Toxic water was intentionally captured inside the Gold King Mine. It breached when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency undertook a reclamation effort.

Aspen miners tended to encounter water below the level of the water table and Roaring Fork River, said Jay Parker, a partner in the Compromise Mine on Aspen Mountain and a miner and tour guide at the Smuggler Mine.

The water emerging from Aspen’s mines hasn’t been found to be acidic or laced with heavy metals in any testing to date. In one of Aspen’s few hard-rock mine reclamation projects, water in Castle Creek tested similarly above and below where the Hope Mine discharged, according to Forest Service records.

Parker said water draining from the Compromise Mine on Smuggler Mountain feeds ponds where fish thrive and ducks gather.

Local Mine reclamation aimed at safety

Many of Pitkin County’s mines have collapsed, either naturally or by public agencies for safety reasons.

“Our records show we have safeguarded approximately 90 hazardous, non-coal openings in Pitkin County, many of them on Aspen Mountain,” said Stover. Numerous closures have also been completed on coalmines in the Coal Basin and Thompson Creek areas.

The Forest Service typically performs safety closures on three or four mines per year, according to Greg Rosenmerkel, engineering, minerals and fleet staff officer on the White River National Forest. “There are hundreds of mines across the forest.”

The focus of both the Forest Service and the Inactive Mine Reclamation Program is to prevent people from entering an unsafe situation. Old mining timbers have often rotted, making interior travel perilous. Air deep underground can be toxic without proper ventilation.

“It’s almost an attractive nuisance,” Rosenmerkel said of the old mines.

A recent closure was completed earlier this summer at three mines in the high ground beyond Crystal. The typical closure costs $200,000, though no two projects are the same, he said.

Both the Forest Service and Inactive Mine Reclamation Program are focused on finding mines that pose a physical hazard, such as ones located in a ski area or adjacent to a popular hiking trail, and safe-guarding them.

No toxic water impounded

If Forest Service or Bureau of Land Management officials suspect environmental issues, the state Water Quality Control Division is mobilized to test for acidity or metals. If a problem is found, the Inactive Mine Reclamation Program figures out how to solve the problem. If an environmental problem is suspected with a mine on private lands, the Forest Service might be involved if it affects public lands, Rosenmerkel said.

The Hope Mine in Castle Creek Valley warranted remediation while the Ruby Mine in Lincoln Creek Valley has raised concerns but hasn’t been found in need of monitoring (see related stories), according to officials.

Rosenmerkel said there is no situation in the Aspen-Ranger District where water as toxic as that in the Gold King Mine is being impounded.

The Roaring Fork Conservancy, a Basalt-based nonprofit focused on water quality and quantity issues in the valley, doesn’t specifically test to see how water coming from mines affects rivers and streams in the basin.

“Outside of Ruby, I don’t know if we have a big enough problem or big enough source,” said Rick Lofaro, the conservancy’s executive director.

Fountain Creek: “The annual maintenance of the levee [in Pueblo] has been neglected” — Ken Wright

Fountain Creek
Fountain Creek

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

It’s like adding insult to injury.

As if flooding on Fountain Creek weren’t bad enough, mountains of sand are stacking up north of Pueblo waiting to descend on the channel through the city.

Dealing with it will take cooperation from the north and decades to correct.

“It’s like a big anaconda eating an animal and moving it down,” said Ian Paton, part of the Wright Engineering team hired by Pueblo County commissioners to analyze the problem. Commissioners heard a status report on what will be an ongoing study on Friday.

The problem may be bigger than previously thought, Paton explained.

The net gain of sediment in Fountain Creek works out to about 370,000 tons a year between Fountain and Pueblo, causing the river to shift its flow in the channel as the increasing amount of material obstructs its path. It keeps piling up year after year as it eats away 20-foot cliffs.

And, it has become worse since 1980, when Colorado Springs started booming in population and major infusions of water from outside sources — Homestake, Blue River and the Fountain Valley Conduit — began putting more water into Fountain Creek.

Southern Delivery System, a 66-inch diameter pipeline from Pueblo Dam to Colorado Springs, could increase Fountain Creek flows 60-100 percent, while depleting the Arkansas River through Pueblo. Water quality will become an increasing concern as more sediment is churned up.

“Population is the driving factor,” said Andrew Earles, Wright’s top water resources engineer. “To have growth, you need water, and since the 1970s, you’ve been putting more and more water into Fountain Creek.”

Additional water has allowed more growth, and increased base flow threefold.

But the growth also has increased impervious surfaces — roofs, parking lots and streets — by 10 percent of the total watershed area upstream of Security, and caused base flows, high flows (the kind seen this spring) and big floods to become more intense at all times.

The Waldo Canyon and Black Forest fires of 2012 and 2013 have caused storms to generate up to 100 times the damage that would have occurred prior to Colorado Springs’ growth surge, Earles explained.

“We can’t turn back the clock. We can’t put it back to the way it was in the 1950s and ’60s,” Earles said. “We can put it in better shape for the future.”

A big part of that will be developing ways to deal with increased flows into Fountain Creek at the source.

That would include detention of floods, bank stabilization and control of tributaries in ways that reduce damage on the main stream.

Wright Engineers evaluated Colorado Springs and El Paso County estimates of 454 flood control projects that could cost $723 million to complete for their benefit to Pueblo County. About two-fifths of the projects totaling $537 million would reduce destruction to Pueblo.

Colorado Springs officials are proposing $19 million annually to bring stormwater control back to the level it was before its City Council abolished the stormwater enterprise in 2009.

“So far we agree with their list,” said engineer Wayne Lorenz.

Lorenz said a dam between Fountain and Pueblo is “worthy of consideration,” but cautioned that such a oneshot solution could fail.

“A dam is more of a treatment for a symptom rather than a cause,” Lorenz said. “We can’t put all our eggs in one basket with a dam because it might not happen.”

Commissioners are also concerned that projects be maintained.

In Pueblo, the Fountain Creek levees are in need of repair in order to provide the same protection they were designed to give 25 years ago.

“The levee is badly silted and vegetated, and it would take $2 (million)-$ 5 million to bring it back to standards,” said Ken Wright, head of the engineering firm.

“The annual maintenance of the levee has been neglected.”

The fear is new projects on Fountain Creek could sink in the same boat.

“We need to make sure we’re not just building projects, but have the money to maintain them,” said Pueblo County Commissioner Terry Hart.

Reclamation to Host Public Meeting for Ruedi Operations #ColoradoRiver #COriver

Ruedi Dam and Reservoir
Ruedi Dam and Reservoir

Here’s the release from the US Bureau of Reclamation (Patience Hurley):

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

August 12: Basalt Town Hall, 101 Midland Avenue, Basalt, Colo., 7 to 8:30 p.m.

The meeting will provide an overview of Ruedi Reservoir’s 2015 spring run-off and deliver projected operations for late summer and early fall, which are key tourist seasons in Basalt. The meeting will include a public question and answer session.

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

Aurora: “We have more water in our system than we’ve ever had since we’ve been recording” — Joe Stibrich


From The Aurora Sentinel (Rachel Sapin):

“We have more water in our system than we’ve ever had since we’ve been recording,” Aurora Water Resources Management Advisor Joe Stibrich told congressional aides, city council members, city staff and Aurora residents on a tour of the city’s vast water distribution system last week. “We hit 99 percent of our storage capacity about a week ago.”

In total, Aurora Water has more than 156,000 acre-feet of water storage, which could supply the city with years of emergency supply in case of a drought.

The city gets water from three river basins. Half of the city’s water comes from the South Platte River Basin, a quarter comes from the snow melt flows from Colorado River Basin, and a quarter from the Arkansas River Basin.

But Aurora was not always a municipal water powerhouse.

In 2003, Aurora’s water supply level was at 26 percent capacity, the lowest in the city’s history. The idea for the at-the-time innovative Prairie Waters Project came about in the wake of that severe drought.

The $653-million Prairie Waters Project increased Aurora’s water supply by 20 percent when it was completed, and today provides the city with an additional 3.3 billion gallons of water per year.

The entire system pumps water from wells near Brighton, where it’s then piped into a man-made basin and filtered through sand and gravel. From there, the water is then piped 34 miles through three pumping stations to the Binney Water Purification Facility near Aurora Reservoir, where it’s softened and exposed to high-intensity ultraviolet light. The water is then filtered through coal to remove remaining impurities.

“It’s the crown jewel of our system,” said Stibrich during the tour. “Prairie Waters almost creates a fourth basin for us.”

But even before Prairie Waters, the first “crown jewel” project that allowed Aurora to grow and become the state’s third-largest city, was the one that allowed Aurora to cut most of its water ties with Denver.

Throughout the 1900s and into the 1960s, Aurora relied on the Denver Water Board for its supply. But the partnership between the neighboring cities grew contentious when, in the 1950s, Denver Water imposed lawn watering restrictions on a booming metropolitan area. Part of those restrictions included a “blue line” that prevented some Aurora suburbs from getting permits for new tap water fees.

In 1958, Aurora partnered with Colorado Springs to construct the Homestake Project, located in southern Eagle County in the Colorado River basin. The project was designed to use water rights purchased on the Western Slope that could supply the two cities.

For nearly a decade after the project was conceived, it was mired in legal battles with Denver and Western Slope entities. The first phase of the dam wasn’t even completed until 1967. In the 1980s, Aurora and Colorado Springs unsuccessfully attempted to expand the water collection system within the Holy Cross Wilderness area as part of a phase two plan.

The issue to this day is divisive, said Diane Johnson, a spokeswoman with the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District during the city’s tour of the reservoir.

“For people to think we might be having some other dam up here and impacting their access to wilderness is an emotional issue,” she said.

It was a memorandum of understanding created in 1998 between Eagle County and the two Front Range cities that identifies 30,000 acre-feet of water in the Eagle River basin to be divided into thirds between the three entities that helped alleviate tensions and put the project back on track.

Today Homestake Reservoir provides Aurora with 25 percent of its water, and Aurora Water officials are looking at various ways to expand their storage to satisfy the Eagle River MOU.

One idea is a small reservoir in the Homestake Valley near the Blodgett Campground. Aurora Water officials said the issue with that plan is having to relocate the winding Homestake Road to a portion of the Holy Cross wilderness to accommodate it. Another alternative, which Aurora Water officials said they prefer, is to create a holding facility called a forebay, in the same valley, along Whitney Creek, that would hold water pumped back from a former World War II military site known as Camp Hale. From the holding facility, water could be further pumped up the valley to Homestake Reservoir.

Aurora Water officials are still working through the various politics of the alternatives, and repeatedly emphasized during the tour that there is no “silver bullet’ when it comes to water storage.

From Homestake, water travels east through the Continental Divide and tunnel where it’s sent to Turquoise Lake, then to Twin Lakes Reservoir near Leadville.

Aurora only owns the rights to a limited amount of storage in Twin Lakes, and that water has to be continuously lifted 750 feet via the Otero Pump Station to enter a 66-inch pipeline that leads to the Front Range.

The Otero Pump station — located on the Arkansas River about eight miles northwest of Buena Vista — is another impressive facet of Aurora’s vast water system, and the last stop on Aurora’s water journey before it is delivered to the Spinney Mountain Reservoir in South Park. With the ability to pump 118 million gallons per day, Otero provides half of Aurora’s and 70 percent of Colorado Springs’ drinking water, delivered from both the Colorado and Arkansas basins to the South Platte River Basin.

Tom Vidmar, who has served as the caretaker at Homestake for nearly 30 years and lives right next to the pump station, said the biggest issue facing Aurora’s water system is storage.

“We actually spilled water out of Homestake this year and didn’t collect (the) full amount we were eligible to take, simply because the reservoirs are at capacity,” Vidmar said during a tour of the massive pump facility. He said the electricity costs alone for Aurora to pump the water add up to around $450,000 a month.

A project Aurora Water officials hope to see come to fruition in 15 years is turning land the city purchased at Box Creek north of Twin Lakes in Lake County into additional storage space so water can be pumped more efficiently through Otero.

“Box Creek is an important project. It gives us more breathing room,” said Rich Vidmar, who is Tom Vidmar’s son and an engineer with Aurora Water, during the tour. “As we look at storage and where to develop storage, right now we’re looking at spots where we have chokepoints in our system where we’re not able to operate perfectly to get as much water as possible.”

Just as the state anticipates that its population of 5 million will double by 2050, so does Aurora — and storage will be key to providing water for a city that could potentially grow to more than 600,000 residents in the coming decades.

But the mountains aren’t the only place where Aurora hopes to expand its reservoirs. The city also is looking to expand Aurora Reservoir even further east.

At a July study session, Aurora Water Officials described a feasibility study being conducted to determine just how much water Aurora could store at a future reservoir, which would sit on the former Lowry Bombing and Gunnery Range.

More Aurora coverage here.