County wins money for reservoir study — Montrose Daily Press

From the Montrose Daily Press (Katharhynn Heidelberg):

Montrose County on Thursday nabbed a significant award from the Colorado Water Conservation Board, which unanimously approved a combined total of $300,000.

The money from the state’s Water Supply Reserve Account will be used to help fund a feasibility study of up to four possible reservoir sites on the West End. The county will spend $966,000 on the study, which was included in its annual budget.

The conservation board, as part of its Montrose meeting, awarded approval of the funds on the condition that some of the money be spent to assess the effect each proposed site will have on recreational uses, especially rafting, on the San Miguel River.

The county is glad to comply with the condition, and would have noted that on its application had the form allowed for it, Marc Catlin, Montrose County’s water rights manager, told the board.

“If there’s going to be a future on the West End, those people are going to need water,” Catlin said.

The county needs to determine where and how reservoirs would be built to impound the water it secured under a 2012 water rights decree.

“It’s the result of two and a half years of hard work and paying attention to detail, wanting to do the right thing,” Montrose County Commissioner Ron Henderson said later on Thursday.

“It’s finally starting to pay off. It’s just a really nice thing for the West End of Montrose County, actually, the whole county, but most especially the West End.”

Montrose County in a controversial move previously filed for water rights on a 17.4 stretch of the San Miguel. Under settlements reached, the county agreed to a volumetric use limitation of 3,200 acre-feet. An acre-foot is roughly the amount of water it would take to cover a football field at a depth of 1 foot.

Conditions of the water right decree include a means of capturing and impounding the water. The county, which is considering four possible sites for a reservoir, needs to know the best place to site it and therefore applied for funding to offset feasibility study costs.

It sought $50,000 from the Southwest Water Board and $250,000 from statewide accounts, both to be approved by the conservation board.

April Montgomery, a conservation board member representing the San Juan and San Miguel basins, on Thursday commended the county and Catlin for having been proactive.

“I think it’s setting an example,” she said, referring to the county’s feasibility study. The county showed forethought in looking at multiple uses, Montgomery said.

Fellow member Patricia Wells, representing the City and County of Denver, called Montrose County’s approach commendable.

“It’s simply a very good approach,” she said.

“Storage is part of the answer for the future,” Catlin later told the Daily Press. “The state’s moving toward multiple use. I think this is the first project that is investigating multi-use at the feasibility stage.

“It’s a good thing for the community.”

Ouray County also won funding, $50,000, from the board. The money will help fund the upper Uncompahgre Basin water supply protection and enhancement project.

A call on water in 2012 served as a wakeup call, Ouray County Attorney Marti Whitmore told the board. That dry year brought to the forefront the need to plan for accommodating needs, while also sustaining agriculture and tourism, industries that are part of Ouray County’s economic backbone, she indicated.

Whitmore said she anticipates that Ouray’s study will show a need for additional water storage.

The board awarded 15 Water Supply Reserve Account grants Thursday.

“We passed all the grant applications. There was about $5.5 million, total, in grant applications we approved,” said James Eklund, Colorado Water Conservation Board director.

Telluride: Workers installing pipe around Blue Lake

Bridal Veil Falls
Bridal Veil Falls

From The Watch (Stephen Elliott):

For years, Idarado, which owns much of the land and water rights in the upper basins around Blue Lake, and the town of Telluride have argued — occasionally in a courtroom — over water. Now, the two entities are working together to achieve the mutual benefit the pipeline project will bring.

“This project is necessary because it’s a historic pipeline that existed many, many years ago, installed by miners. Since it’s very old, and it’s in very extreme conditions in terms of climate and geology, it has sprung a lot of leaks,” Telluride Environmental and Engineering Division Manager Karen Guglielmone said. “Over the last several years, we’ve been in a bit of a drought and [the amount of water stored in Blue Lake] has dropped by many feet. It has become quite obvious that additional water from the next drainage is important to maintaining that water storage.”[…]

The new pipeline connects Lewis Lake and Blue Lake. Lewis Lake is at a slightly higher elevation than Blue Lake, which means gravity can facilitate the transfer of water from the higher lake to the lower. The water then is transported to the Bridal Veil Falls power station and eventually to the Pandora water treatment plant.

The vast majority of the new pipe, made of high-density polypropylene, is being installed on the flatter stretches between the two lakes by EarthTech West out of Norwood. The work to install the flatter, simpler sections of pipe has been moving relatively quickly in comparison to the highly technical — and laborious — work required in order to install the 160-foot section of pipe on the cliff.

That’s the job of Access in Motion, the rope access experts, a company based in Telluride and led by owner/contractor Juju Jullien. The crew, a half-dozen (depending on the day) expert welders and machine specialists used to dangling off the sides of cliffs and buildings, work six, 10-hour days while living at the camp, with two days off in between.

“You have to drive for almost an hour, and the road is very dangerous. Driving it after 10 hours of work on a daily basis is not something you want everyone to do, so the camp made sense,” Jullien said. “You can have the best technicians, but they also have to be mountain people, and people that can get along. Six 10-hour days at that altitude with heavy equipment… it’s fun and we love it, but it’s not a job that you start by running, because that job will outrun you.”

That sentiment, combined with the highly technical work involved with securing the steel pipe to the cliff, means it’s hard for Jullien to estimate when they might be done, though a natural deadline would be the first snowfall, which is fast approaching at 12,000 feet. Guglielmone said initial estimates were that the project would take between six and 10 weeks and would be completed by mid-September. Jullien’s team was not able to visit the site for the first time until July 13 due to late spring snow and rain.

To secure the pipe to the cliff, Jullien’s team will drill nine one-inch stainless rods 15 inches into the rock, seal them and then weld them to the pipe. Each anchor will be stress-tested at 8,000 pounds for five minutes before the pipe can be secured.

“It’s all custom work, hard to predict, and all on ropes,” Jullien said. “Each support for the pipe, they’re all different because the rock is not a concrete wall. You cannot have one design that you multiply. It’s a slow process.”

More important than the speed necessary to install the pipe before the winter snows arrive is safety, Jullien said.

“There’s a notion of distance and isolation up here,” he said. “A little accident up here is serious. If you’re in town, you’re next to the medical center. That’s easy.”

“As far as natural hazards like lightning, rain, snow, and cold [go], even the sun is a hazard at 12,000 feet,” Jullien continued.

To manage safety concerns at the site, the Access in Motion and EarthTech West teams have a joint safety meeting each morning. Additionally, Jullien said, his team’s experience working in the oil and gas industry, where safety regulations are incredibly thorough, means they are taking even more safety precautions than prescribed by their own industry regulations.

“It’s a very industrial approach to safety,” Jullien said.

“You can’t have any failure. That’s what we’ve learned on the big fields.”

Because the project is mostly on Idarado’s land and is overseen by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, San Miguel County has limited oversight of the project. But, the county gave Idarado development permits and county staff visited the site.

“In general the county supports clean energy, and we think the hydroelectric plant does that,” county planning director Mike Rozycki said. “We look at it as an essential regional facility.”
At the site, reminders of the miners who once inhabited the basin below Blue Lake remain, in the form of dilapidated wooden structures and rusted pipes half-buried in the ground. Those miners are ever-present in the minds of those who now inhabit the flat, grassy campsite.

“We’re surrounded by historical flumes, and when we have to work around them and are not allowed to move them, we respect that because we understand how long they took to build,” Jullien said. “I love to see those old pieces of steel.”

Guglielmone has a more practical respect for the memory of the miners. She said that the fact that they built the pipe in the first place is reason enough to reconstruct it.

“Think about the miners living in those kinds of conditions. Would they really have built it if they didn’t believe that water was necessary in Blue Lake?” she asked. “They weren’t frivolous. They didn’t build infrastructure unless they felt strongly that they needed it.”

Colorado Supreme Court upholds San Miguel River instream flows — Telluride Daily Planet

From the Telluride Daily Planet (Mary Slosson):

The CWCB initially decided in 2011 to protect a 17-mile stretch of the San Miguel River stretching from Calamity Draw down to the confluence with the Dolores River in order to prevent water levels from dropping too low for three fish species — the flannelmouth sucker, bluehead sucker and the roundtail chub — to survive and thrive.

All three are classified by the U.S. Forest Service Rocky Mountain Division as sensitive species, with human water diversion listed as the main reason for their precarious situation.

“Fundamentally what this case is about is that environmental water rights are going to be treated just the same as other water rights,” said Rob Harris, a staff attorney for conservation group Western Resource Advocates, which filed a supporting brief in the case.

“It’s a model for the West to follow on how to provide that local voice while also creating concrete, substantive protections that keep water in rivers for generations to come,” Harris continued…

Officials at the Bureau of Land Management and the Colorado Department of Wildlife requested the instream flow protections in 2008. A district water board upheld the 2011 CWCB vote and that was that, until the Farmers Water Development Company objected. The group said that the CWCB’s actions were quasi-judicial in practice and in violation of the Constitution.

The Colorado Supreme Court disagreed and, in a decision authored by Justice Allison H. Eid, upheld the water board decision by affirming that the CWCB was acting in a quasi-legislative capacity granted it by the state legislature.

“We’re very, very pleased with the ruling,” said Linda Bassi, the chief of the CWCB Stream and Lake Protection Section. “It was an important decision for our agency.”

State lawmakers empowered the CWCB in 1973 to use instream flow water rights to protect the environment of streams, rivers and lakes in order to assist imperiled fish and other species and to protect nearby vegetation.

“It’s a big deal for us because the court affirmed that the process my board uses is correct,” Bassi added. “It strengthens our whole program.”

The Colorado high court’s ruling is particularly important for the board in 2015, as several of its proposed instream flow protections have already been challenged. One of the sections in question is along the Dolores River in Montrose and Mesa Counties.

More San Miguel River watershed coverage here.

San Miguel
 water rights 
are upheld
 — The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

A Colorado Supreme Court ruling this week that upheld an instream flow water right in the San Miguel River in Montrose County also is being praised as an important one for the state’s instream flow program as a whole.

The court Monday ruled in favor of the Colorado Water Conservation Board in connection with its process for pursuing the water right for a 17-mile reach of the river. The board sought the right at the urging of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and what is now Colorado Parks and Wildlife to preserve habitat for three sensitive fish species — the flannelmouth sucker, bluehead sucker and roundtail chub — and for “globally imperiled riparian communities.” A water court approved an instream flow protection of up to 325 cubic feet per second.

The Farmers Water Development Company had argued to the Supreme Court that the 
CWCB’s action was quasi-judicial, and as a result its notice and comment period failed to follow procedural due process. The high court found instead that the instream flow process is a quasi-legislative one that “concerns the rights of the people of Colorado, with a prospective policy focus on protecting the environment.”

The court’s opinion, written by Justice Allison H. Eid, said the legislature vested the CWCB with the exclusive authority to appropriate instream flows on behalf of state residents, and such an action is a policy determination within the agency’s discretion. The opinion also pointed out that the agency doesn’t decree instream flow rights, but decides whether to seek such a right from water court.

The Western Resource Advocates conservation group, which was a party to the case, called the ruling a landmark decision that will have a bearing on other instream flow applications by the CWCB.

“This is more than just a technicality. It’s about the very nature and strength of the instream flow program,” said WRA staff attorney Rob Harris.

CWCB director James Eklund said the decision affirms the agency’s instream flow program process. Had the court determined that the process is quasi-judicial, the agency would have to follow rigidly spelled-out proceedings involving legal pleadings and procedures, rather than its current system involving a hearing process involving a board, he said.

“Our board gets to ask the kind of questions they want to ask. There’s not as much in the way of getting them to the meat of the issue,” Eklund said. A quasi-judicial process would be more difficult for the agency to follow, he said.

Christopher Cummins, the attorney representing Farmers Water Development Co., could not be reached for comment.

Eklund said the ruling is important because the instream flow program “is the most robust tool that we have as a state to protect streamflows for the environment.”

“It does double duty for us,” he said, because it also protects flows at the state or local level, as opposed to the federal government doing so through Wild and Scenic River designations.

Western Resource Advocates said that, if not for instream flow protections, the fish to be protected in the San Miguel River might require protection under the Endangered Species Act.

Instream flow rights are nonconsumptive, aimed at maintaining minimum flows between points on a stream, or certain levels in natural lakes. According to the 
CWCB, since 1973 it has appropriated instream rights on more than 1,500 stream segments covering more than 8,500 miles of stream, and 477 lakes.

Eklund said the court ruling provides certainty to everyone involved in the instream flow rights process, including opponents to proposals. “You want to know the rules of the game when you get into it and this opinion helps provide some clarity on that,” he said.

Harris said the ruling will have some bearing on some big fights coming up this year on instream flow proposals, including one that ExxonMobil is challenging involving Yellow Creek in Rio Blanco County.

He noted that when it comes to allocation of water, instream flow rights are junior to rights already in existence before they were decreed. But he said some entities are seeking “carve-outs” that would give priority over instream rights to other water uses that haven’t even been come up with yet, and he objects to making instream rights second-class rights.

“Water rights for instream flows, they deserve a seat at the table like any other water right,” he said.

More water law coverage here.

Colorado Supreme Court ruling bolsters stream protection

Originally posted on Summit County Citizens Voice:

The San Miguel River near its headwaters in Telluride, Colorado. @bberwyn photo. The San Miguel River near its headwaters in Telluride, Colorado. @bberwyn photo.

Challenge to instream flow rejected by state’s top judges

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — The Colorado Supreme Court this week rejected a legal challenge to a state program designed to protect rivers and streams.

The ruling makes it clear that the Colorado Water Conservation Board’s instream flow program furthers state policy of preserving the natural environment for the people of Colorado.

At issue is in the case is an instream flow right in the wild and remote San Miguel River, flowing out of the high San Juans near Telluride to its confluence with the Dolores River in Montrose County. The San Miguel is one of the last relatively free-flowing rivers in Colorado. As such, water experts say it still has some water that could be developed in the future. The instream flow right will help ensure that…

View original 778 more words

Landmark Legal Decision Protects Rivers and Instream Flows — Western Resource Advocates

From Western Resource Advocates (Rob Harris/Joan Clayburgh):

Today the Colorado Supreme Court rendered a landmark decision upholding the “instream” water right for the breathtaking San Miguel River.

The court deemed that a senior water rights holder, Farmers Water Development Company, is unaffected by the State of Colorado’s instream water rights on the San Miguel river and affirms that state water rights are a legitimate and essential tool to protect Colorado’s fish and wildlife.

“We’re ecstatic that the Colorado Supreme Court upheld permanent protection for this scenic river in Colorado’s Red Rock Canyon country,” said Rob Harris, Staff Attorney at Western Resource Advocates (WRA) and WRA’s lead defender before the Supreme Court. “Healthy rivers are important for wildlife and recreation. This case will long be remembered for preserving healthy rivers throughout Colorado as a legacy for future generations. Fishermen, boaters, and wildlife need these sorts of instream water right protections secure water for their needs.”

In 2013, the Water Court in Montrose ruled in favor of the Colorado Water Conservation Board’s application for “instream flow” protection that permanently safeguards water flowing in the San Miguel River for fish. This will also benefit recreational users. The San Miguel River is one of the last relatively free-flowing rivers in Colorado. The Water Court approved an instream flow protection of up to 325 cubic feet per second, enough to support the vulnerable native fish in the San Miguel.

Farmers Water Development Company challenged this decision, claiming their water right would be negatively impacted, which today the Supreme Court found to be incorrect.

“We are proud of the part we’ve played legally defending this instream flow water right,” said Rob Harris. “We believe this ruling not only protects the distinctive San Miguel, but ensures we have a vital tool to leave a legacy of healthy rivers throughout Colorado. We thank the Colorado Water Conservation Board, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the Bureau of Land Management and our tireless partners in the conservation community who helped make today’s victory possible.”

The San Miguel River is unique, rising in the San Juan Mountains southeast of Telluride and flowing through San Miguel and Norwood canyons, then past Placerville and Nucla – joining the Dolores River in Montrose County. This river is renowned for exciting whitewater boating and tremendous trout fishing.

This visually stunning river flows through Colorado’s red sandstone canyon country and is also home to three native fish that are struggling to survive.

Without dedicated instream flows in the San Miguel and elsewhere, these fish could require protective action under the federal Endangered Species Act. Colorado’s Instream Flow Program allows for a fair, collaborative process where local stakeholders have a voice in protecting Colorado’s rivers and streams, and the San Miguel water rights reflect that approach.

Instream water rights help keep water in a river or lake. The rights dedicate minimum water flows between specific points to preserve or improve the natural environment. These can be used to protect fisheries, waterfowl, frogs/salamanders, unique geologic or hydrologic features and habitat for threatened or endangered fish. The rights can be monitored and enforced, thereby insuring long-term protections.

The legal challenge by Farmers Water Development Company would have threatened the continued vitality of Colorado’s Instream Flow Program, and today’s decision allows all current and future in- stream flow protection efforts to continue.

More San Miguel watershed coverage here and here.

San Miguel River: Restoration project will reverse channelization

Photo via
Photo via

From The Telluride Daily Planet:

One of the biggest human impacts on the Valley Floor was the channelization of the once-meandering San Miguel River approximately 125 years ago, pushing the waterway into an unnatural straight line on the western edge of the valley. That crime against nature could be reversed in a $1.6 million plan presented to Telluride Town Council on Tuesday.

The ambitious engineering project would focus on a section of the river from the sewer lagoons near Entrada to Boomerang Road, restoring the flow to the historic route of the river — a pathway that can be seen in old photographs and is hinted at in the current topography of the 570-acre green space.

“What we’re doing in this situation is we’re actually moving the flow path of the San Miguel River,” said Dave Blauch, a senior ecologist for Ecological Resource Consultants, Inc., a group that is assisting in the river restoration project. “The concept has been to pull it out on the Valley Floor to function more naturally.”

Blauch told council members of the many environmental benefits that the project would create: the restoration of approximately 5,000 linear feet of aquatic and riparian habitat, the elimination of a highly unnatural water channel, the restoration of natural flood cycles and the improvement of the natural habitat.

The new — but really quite old — river channel would be cut with excavation equipment and the project would be a disruptive sight to see on the protected land while underway.

Hilary Cooper, a member of the committee focused on the river restoration project, told council members that the benefits of the project would far outweigh one season of construction disruption.

More San Miguel River watershed coverage here.