March 12, 2015

More endangered/threatened species coverage here.


Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District 2015 budget update

November 30, 2014
Pueblo dam releases

Pueblo dam releases

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District board is expected to approve a $17.9 million budget at its next meeting, 11 a.m. Dec. 4.

The district last week reviewed the details of the budget and hosted a public hearing. No member of the public attended.

A mill levy of 0.94 mills is planned, the same as 2014. One mill is an assessment of $1 for every $1,000 of assessed valuation. The district covers parts of nine counties, including Chaffee, Fremont, Pueblo, El Paso, Crowley, Otero, Bent, Prowers and Kiowa.

The district also makes money through sales of water and grants.

More than $12 million will go toward repayment of the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project, including the Fountain Valley Conduit. The conduit serves El Paso County communities that pay a dedicated mill levy on top of the district mill levy.

The district will spend $2.34 million for its own operating expenses, and $3.5 million on enterprise, or business, activity.

Included in the enterprise fund are the Arkansas Valley Conduit, and an ongoing project to develop hydroelectric power at Pueblo Dam.

More Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District coverage here.


Western Slope appeals ruling
 on water usage — Grand Junction Daily Sentinel

November 17, 2014

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

Aurora should be penalized for storing and using West Slope water without having the appropriate water rights, several West Slope water agencies contend in a case before the Colorado Supreme Court.

The West Slope agencies, including the Grand Valley Water Users’ Association, Orchard Mesa Irrigation District and Ute Water Conservancy District, appealed a ruling in which a Pueblo water court upheld the transmountain diversion of 2,416 acre feet of water from the headwaters of the Fryingpan River to Aurora via an irrigation diversion.

The Western Slope agencies don’t object to the diversion per se, but contend that Aurora should not benefit from using what was billed as irrigation water by using the water for municipal purposes.

The distinction is important because water that diverted across the Continental Divide is considered to be a 100-percent consumptive use. That’s because there is no return flow back to the West Slope.

Aurora sought a change of use for the water in 2009, but had been diverting it since 1987. The irrigation decree also didn’t allow storage of the water.

West Slope agencies said Aurora’s years of municipal use that were inconsistent with the irrigation decree should be included as zeroes in the calculation of the average historical consumptive use. That would reduce the amount of water that Aurora could divert through the Busk-Ivanhoe system, which has a 1928 water right for irrigation in the lower Arkansas River valley.

The Grand Valley water agencies are appealing the ruling from the water court in Pueblo that upheld Aurora’s storage of the water in East Slope reservoirs, and others, including the Colorado River Water Conservation District, also are asking the Supreme Court to reconsider the way the court calculated the amount of water that could be diverted for Aurora’s municipal use.

“We are not opposing the change, just the calculation,” river district spokesman Chris Treese said. “We feel that if the court ignores this sort of negligence of the change-of-use laws, that it would encourage similar extra-legal uses of water whether it involves transmountain water or in-basin uses.”

A hearing has yet to be scheduled in the case.

More water law coverage here.


Pitkin County: The Colorado River District, et. al., to appeal recent water court decree for Busk-Ivanhoe Ditch

November 14, 2014

From The Aspen Times (Brent Gardner-Smith):

Pitkin County, the Colorado River District and the Grand Valley Water Users Association have each filed an appeal with the Colorado Supreme Court over a recent Water Court decree setting the size of a diversion from the headwaters of the Fryingpan River. The decree gives Busk-Ivanhoe Inc., an entity owned by the city of Aurora, the right to divert an average of 2,416 acre-feet of water a year from four high-mountain creeks for use within Aurora’s water-service area east of Denver.

But the appellants want the high court to review how Water Court Judge Larry C. Schwartz calculated the historical use of the 1928 water right and then used the answer to define the size and scope of Aurora’s new right. At issue is whether the period from 1987 to 2009, when Aurora was admittedly using water from the Busk-Ivanhoe system for municipal purposes without a decree to do so, should be included in a representative study period of use.

The original 1928 decree for the Busk-Ivanhoe water right only allowed the water to be used for irrigation in the lower Arkansas River Valley.

Pitkin County Attorney John Ely said if the 22 years of undecreed use at issue is factored in, Aurora’s new right might be half the size of the one approved by the judge.

The state engineer and three division engineers, who enforce water-right decrees, also have appealed the judge’s decision.

“The engineers believe that ‘undecreed’ use is equivalent to no decreed use, and that a calculation of average annual historical use must include the 22-year period during which there was no decreed use,” the appeal from the state engineer states.

But the judge sees it differently.

“In the circumstances of this case, including the years after 1986 in the study period but attributing zero diversions to all such years is not necessary to protect junior water rights from injury,” Schwartz wrote.

Aurora, which began buying Busk-Ivanhoe irrigation water in 1987, filed documents with the Water Court in 2009 to change the use of its water from irrigation to municipal uses.

In July 2013, a five-day trial was held in Pueblo. Schwartz issued a substantial ruling on May 27. On Aug. 15, he issued a decree defining the water right.

In early October, the four appeals were filed with the Supreme Court, which directly hears appeals from Water Court. Opening legal briefs are expected by mid-February.

High-mountain water

Busk-Ivanhoe Inc. owns half of the roughly 5,000 acre-feet diverted by the Busk-Ivanhoe system each year. The other half is owned by the Pueblo Board of Water Works and is not at issue in the case.

Busk-Ivanhoe has the right to divert 100 cubic feet per second of water from Hidden Lake Creek, 50 cfs from both Pan Creek and Lyle creeks and 35 cfs from Ivanhoe Creek. A 21-foot-tall dam on Ivanhoe Creek forms Ivanhoe Reservoir, and a 30-inch pipe carries water for 1.3 miles under the Continental Divide near Hagerman Pass. Water exits the pipe, runs down Busk Creek to Turquoise and Twin Lakes reservoirs and then is moved to Aurora.

The new decree would allow Aurora to divert as much as 144,960 acre-feet of water over a 60-year period, at an annual average of 2,416 acre-feet.

Joining the Colorado River District in its appeal is the Basalt Water Conservancy District and Eagle County, and joining the Grand Valley Water Users Association is the Orchard Mesa Irrigation District and the Ute Water Conservancy District.

Those entities also question the judge’s decisions regarding the storage of Busk-Ivanhoe water on the Front Range, which has been done for decades without a decreed right.

Schwartz said even though the original decree was silent on the subject of storage, it was always the “intent” of the water developer to store the water on the Front Range.

He also found that storing the Busk-Ivanhoe water without a decreed right after it had been moved under the Continental Divide “did not cause an injurious expansion or alteration of stream conditions” in the Colorado River Basin.

The appellants disagree.

“We feel the Water Court’s rulings were erroneous and would set a dangerous precedent of holding transmountain diverted water rights to different requirements as in-basin rights when it comes to decree and decree-change calculations,” said Eagle County Attorney Bryan Treu. “There should not be separate rules for transmountain diversions.”

Greg Baker, manager of public relations for Aurora Water, said Aurora officials couldn’t discuss the litigation.

Aspen Journalism is an independent, nonprofit news organization collaborating with The Aspen Times on coverage of rivers and water. More at http://www.aspenjournalism.org.

More water law coverage here.


Pueblo County green lights hydroelectric project at Pueblo Dam

November 13, 2014
The new north outlet works at Pueblo Dam -- Photo/MWH Global

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

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A project to add hydropower to the north outlet at Pueblo Dam has gotten an initial OK from Pueblo County. The county planning department recommended a finding of no significant impact for the project under its 1041 permit process. The FONSI is issued if a project is not expected to have significant social, economic or environmental impact to the county.

Pueblo County commissioners heard the report Monday.

The permit is named for the 1974 HB1041 that allows cities and counties to regulate projects with statewide impact.

The Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, Colorado Springs Utilities and Pueblo Board of Water Works are partners in the project.

The hydropower plant would generate 7 megawatts of electric power and cost about $20 million. A loan will be sought in 2015 through the Colorado Water Conservation Board to finance the project.

In September, the Southeastern board heard an update on the project, and learned it would be at least 2018 before power is produced.

The outlet was modified during construction of the hook-up for the Southern Delivery System, the $841 million pipeline being built by Colorado Springs.

It also provides the primary flow to the Arkansas River and can be modified in the future to cross-connect with the south outlet, which serves Pueblo, Pueblo West, the Fountain Valley Conduit and the future Arkansas Valley Conduit.

The project partners are negotiating about who would purchase power generated at the dam.

More Southern Delivery System coverage here.


Lower Fryingpan River “relatively healthy” — Roaring Fork Conservancy

October 16, 2014

Didymosphenia

Didymosphenia


From The Aspen Times (Scott Condon):

The lower Fryingpan River ecosystem is relatively healthy even though an algae with the notorious nickname “rock snot” has taken hold, according to preliminary results of a study commissioned by the Roaring Fork Conservancy.

Muck from the stream bottom was scooped up from three sites last fall to get a count of macroinvertebrates — bugs that can’t leave the river. An analysis over the winter showed the numbers were in line with results from a similar study in 2003, according to Heather Tattersall Lewin, watershed action director for the nonprofit organization.

“That was good for us to see,” she told the Basalt Town Council on Tuesday night in a briefing about the preliminary results. Macroinvertebrates provide food for the fish in the river.

Populations of the American dipper bird, an important indicator species for river health, were also promising, according to Tattersall Lewin. A consultant found 28 mating pairs and observed that 23 of them were successful in producing young.

Constant monitoring of water temperatures since October 2013 also didn’t produce any red flags…

The Roaring Fork Conservancy’s study didn’t produce all good news. Rock snot, formally known as Didymosphenia geminate and often called Didymo, appears here to stay.

The conservancy hired students from Colorado Mountain College in Leadville to monitor the river periodically for rock snot. They searched for the specific algae in the spring and after peak runoff at 20 sites. They found the coverage was in fewer places after runoff and that it wasn’t as dense in places where it was still found, Tattersall Lewin said.

The CMC students will search for the algae again this weekend to see if it surged back after the lower flows of summer.

Tattersall Lewin said rock snot isn’t your typical, slippery algae. It grows in clumps in a consistency she compared to coarse toilet paper. It appears to collect more easily on the flat, angular rocks of the Fryingpan than the rounded cobble of the Roaring Fork River, she said.

The effects of rock snot on the ecosystem aren’t certain. International studies show Didymo is proliferating even in the healthiest streams, according to Tattersall Lewin. Studies are examining whether the growth is related to climate change.

Rick Lofaro, the conservancy’s executive director, said two management policies by the reclamation bureau, which controls water flows from the dam, appear capable of reducing rock snot. First, maintaining a higher minimum flow during winters and dry times could avoid the buildup. Second, high, sustained water releases during spring runoff would help flush the river and benefit it in numerous ways. The rock snot would disintegrate.

More Fryingpan River watershed coverage here.


Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co, Aspen and the #ColoradoRiver District reach deal

October 15, 2014

From the Aspen Daily News (Brent Gardner-Smith):

The city of Aspen and Front Range water interests have reached a compromise 20 years in the making that allows more water to be sent east when the spring runoff is plentiful, in exchange for bolstering flows when the Roaring Fork River is running low in the fall. The deal is between the Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co., which operates transbasin diversion tunnels underneath Independence Pass, and the city of Aspen and the Colorado River District, which works to protect water rights on the Western Slope.

The deal, which has its roots in a 1994 water court application from Twin Lakes that sought to increase diversions during the runoff in high-snowpack years. It will leave 40 acre-feet of water in Grizzly Reservoir when Twin Lakes exercises its rights under the 1994 proposal. That water will be stored in the 500-acre-foot reservoir and released into the Roaring Fork for about three weeks in late summer, when seasonal flows are at their lowest. The water must be called for and released in the same year it was stored.

Grizzly Reservoir, located about 8 miles up Lincoln Creek Road near the Continental Divide, is a component of the transbasin-diversion system. A tunnel underneath the reservoir channels water underneath the mountain to the south fork of Lake Creek in the Arkansas River basin, on the other side of the pass.

Additionally, under the deal, the River District will have the right to store 200 acre-feet of water in Grizzly Reservoir and can call for up to 150 acre feet of that water in a year. Importantly, that 200 acre-feet can be stored long-term in the reservoir until it is called for by the River District, which manages water rights across the Western Slope.

Another 600 acre-feet will be provided to the River District for seasonal storage in Twin Lakes Reservoir, also on the east side of Independence Pass. The district will then trade and exchange that water with various entities, which could lead to more water staying on the Western Slope that would otherwise be diverted through other transbasin tunnels.

Twin Lakes diverts an average of 46,000 acre-feet a year from the headwaters of the Roaring Fork and sends it to Colorado Springs and other Front Range cities. The city of Colorado Springs owns 55 percent of the shares in the Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co., entities in Pueblo own 23 percent, entities in Pueblo West own 12 percent, and Aurora owns 5 percent.

Aspen and the River District intend to cooperatively use the stored water in Grizzly Reservoir to boost late-summer flows in the Roaring Fork as it winds through Aspen proper.

Water already flowing
The stretch of the Roaring Fork River below the Salvation Ditch on Stillwater Drive typically runs below environmentally sound flows each year for about eight weeks, according to city officials. And given that this spring saw a high run-off, the three parties to the agreement managed some water this year as if the deal was already signed.

“At the close of the current water year (which ended the last day of September), Twin Lakes started making releases of some of the water stored for the River District, followed by release of the 40 acre-feet, as directed by Aspen and the River District,” Phil Overeynder, a special projects engineer for the city, wrote in an Oct. 3 memo to city council. “These releases had the effect of increasing flows in the Roaring Fork through the Aspen reach by approximately 20 percent and will last for approximately a three-week period at the end of the lowest flow conditions of the year.”

Overeynder added that “both Aspen and the River District believe that this agreement, while not perfect, is of real and meaningful benefit to the Roaring Fork.”

Aspen City Council approved the agreement on its consent calendar during a regular council meeting on Monday. The agreement is on the River District’s Tuesday meeting agenda, and Twin Lakes approved it last month.

The deal still needs to be accepted by Pitkin County and the Salvation Ditch Co. in order to satisfy all of the details of the water court’s 2001 approval of the 1994 water rights application.

Junior and senior rights
In addition to its junior 1994 water right, Twin Lakes also holds a senior 1936 water right that allows it to divert up to 68,000 acre-feet in a single year and up to 570,000 acre-feet in a 10-year period.

Originally, the water diverted by Twin Lakes was used to grow sugar beets to make sugar, but it is now primarily used to meet the needs of people living on the Front Range.

The 1936 water right still has some lingering restrictions in high-water years, according to Kevin Lusk, an engineer with Colorado Springs Utilities who serves as the president of the board of the private Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co. Under its 1936 right, when there is plenty of water in the Arkansas River and the Twin Lakes Reservoir is full, Twin Lakes is not allowed to divert water, even though it is physically there to divert, Lusk explained. So in 1994 it filed in water court for a new water right without the same restrictions so it could divert more water to the east. It was dubbed the “Twin Junior,” water right.

The city of Aspen and the River District objected in court to the “Twin Junior” and the agreement approved Monday is a long-delayed outcome of the case.

Aspen claimed that if Twin Lakes diverted more water in big-water years, the Roaring Fork wouldn’t enjoy the benefits of the high water, including flooding the Stillwater section and replenishing groundwater supplies. That process, the city argued, helps the river in dry times.

“We don’t necessarily agree with the theory behind it,” Lusk said of the city’s claim, but added that Twin Lakes agreed to the deal as part of settlement negotiations.

And since 2014 turned out to be a high-water year, Twin Lakes exercised its right to divert water under its 1994 Twin Junior right, and worked cooperatively with Aspen and the River District to release 40-acre feet of “mitigation water” as described in the pending deal.

The new agreement between the city, Twin Lakes and the River District is in addition to another working arrangement between Twin Lakes and Aspen related to the Fryingpan-Arkansas diversion project, which diverts water from the headwaters of the Fryingpan River.

That agreement provides 3,000 acre-feet of water each year to be released by Twin Lakes into the main stem of the Roaring Fork beneath a dam near Lost Man Campground, normally at a rate of 3 to 4 cubic feet per second.

More Twin Lakes coverage here.


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