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

April 22, 2015
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.


Ute Water hopes to lease 12,000 acre-feet of water stored in Ruedi for endangered fish

April 20, 2015
Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program

Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

Aspen and Pitkin County officials are raising questions about plans to send more water from Ruedi Reservoir down the Colorado River to benefit endangered fish.

The water is owned by the Ute Water Conservancy District, which purchased 12,000 acre feet of Ruedi water in 2012, in anticipation of growth and as a backstop for its more than 80,000 customers and others in the Grand Valley should Grand Mesa supplies dry up in a drought year.

With no need for Ruedi water this year, Ute approached the Colorado Water Conservation Board about leasing the water to benefit four endangered species of fish in the Colorado — a project that the state agency is considering.

“This is Ute trying to do something for the environment,” Ute General Manager Larry Clever said on Friday.

Aspen and Pitkin County officials, however, have questions about the deal and have asked the conservation board to explain it in a meeting Tuesday in Carbondale.

Aspen and Pitkin county officials want to know more about how the lease would affect the level of the reservoir, electricity generation for Aspen, and the Fryingpan River angling industry below Ruedi Dam, among other concerns.

Ute paid $15.5 million for the unclaimed water in Ruedi and, Clever said, can call it down the river anytime it wishes.

“We knew there would be outrage at the Aspen Yacht Club” when Ute told the water conservation board that water for the fish might be available if needed, Clever said.

“You know why they’re against it,” Clever said. “If I pull water out (of Ruedi), the Aspen Yacht Club wouldn’t be able to float so well.”

There’s more to it than that, said Mark Fuller, director of the Ruedi Water and Power Authority.

“We’ve worked for years with the Bureau of Reclamation and Fish and Wildlife Service to handle releases in a way that is compatible with the recreational use on the river, and that’s worked out fairly well under normal circumstances,” Fuller said.

“Depending how these supplemental releases get managed, that could all go out the window.”

The Ruedi Water and Power Authority supplies electricity generated at Ruedi Dam to Aspen and other communities. Fluctuating levels in the Fryingpan River also could make it impossible for flycasters to wade into the Gold Medal waters, officials noted.

Releasing Ute’s water from Ruedi would have another benefit, Clever said.

“My goal was to put the water in Lake Powell,” which some fear could drop so low as to hinder electricity generation at Glen Canyon Dam.

That could require the Bureau of Reclamation to take action to lower Upper Colorado River reservoirs to maintain the dam’s generating capacity.

“If I can put water in Powell, the whole upper basin is in better shape,” Clever said.

Generating capacity at Ruedi also weighs on his mind, Fuller said. “We would like to be able to work in a proactive and synergistic relationship on how to make different pots of water work together so the Fryingpan doesn’t just become a flume,” Pitkin County Commissioner Rachel Richards said.

The water conservation board remains interested in reaching a deal with Ute.

“We applaud Ute Water’s willingness to work with us on an approach benefiting a recovery program that helps water users throughout the Colorado River Basin,” CWCB Director James Eklund said in an email. “We’re all connected throughout Colorado by our most precious natural resource as demonstrated by this important recovery program.”

More endangered/threatened species coverage here.


Water in the West and California’s drought: Why Colorado Springs should care — Colorado Springs Utilities

April 8, 2015

Colorado Springs circa 1910 via GhostDepot.com

Colorado Springs circa 1910 via GhostDepot.com


From Re:Sources Blog (Patrice):

Living in the West offers many advantages. Wide open spaces, majestic mountains and amazing recreational opportunities, to name a few. Still, there are challenges and water is certainly one them.

If you’ve seen the recent news, extreme drought is taking its toll in California. In light of this, we caught up with our own water planners – Abby Ortega and Leon Basdekas – to learn if what’s taking place with our neighbors could affect our community and why we need to stay involved in what’s happening around the region.

Some of our customers many ask, could what’s taking place in California happen in Colorado?

Extreme drought can happen anywhere, and we are certainly not immune. We continuously monitor our water supply situation and maintain a storage reserve in our reservoirs to meet customer demand for at least one year.

Why should we take an interest in or follow what’s happening with drought in the West?

In Colorado Springs and across the Front Range, we are heavily reliant on the Colorado River for our water supply. The Colorado River starts in Colorado, but we only keep a portion of the flow for use in the state per the Colorado River Compact. The Colorado River also serves Arizona, Utah, Nevada, Wyoming, New Mexico and California (see below for a breakdown). There is also an obligation to Mexico. When any of the states or Mexico are in an extreme drought, their reliance on the Colorado River water may increase, possibly resulting in ripple effects that could negatively impact us. At any given time, the Colorado River supplies about 70 percent of our community’s water. Drought can also affect the levels in Lake Powell and Lake Mead, which part of the western United States relies on for power production.

Will Colorado Springs experience any impact from the situation in California?

The California drought will not have direct impacts to our community’s water supply yet. We are working closely with the Upper Basin States to create a proactive contingency plan in the event that storage levels in Lake Mead and Lake Powell drop to critical levels.

What is Colorado Springs Utilities doing to help protect our community from this type of situation?

Maintaining a dependable water supply for Colorado Springs residents and businesses is one of our community’s greatest challenges. Continuous long-term water planning is the reason we have a reliable water system today that supports our economy and quality of life. For us, planning is part of our daily responsibilities and includes factors such as water sources, demand, water rights, infrastructure, storage and much more. In addition, we are currently updating our Integrated Water Resource Plan, which provides the roadmap for sustainably addressing water supply and demand issues, while reflecting our community values.

What can customers do to help?

The intelligent use of water will always be a priority for our community, which has done a great job of adapting to our semi-arid climate. Our customers continue to find ways to use water wisely and we can help. A good place to start is our website, which has free xeriscape class schedules, efficiency ideas, DIY videos, and more. Folks should also join in the conversations we’re having through the Integrated Water Resource Plan process. There are opportunities for input, whether online or at upcoming meetings.

More Colorado Springs Utilities coverage here.


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.


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