Evergreen Metro District offers help with water rights issue at Buchanan Ponds — the Canyon Courier

March 5, 2015
Buchanan Pond, Evergreen via EvergreenBound.com

Buchanan Pond, Evergreen via EvergreenBound.com

From the Canyon Courier (Sandy Barnes):

The Evergreen Metropolitan District is offering the use of its senior water rights to guarantee a supply of water for two ponds at Buchanan Park.

Since discovering that the Evergreen Park and Recreation District has no identifiable water rights for the ponds next to Buchanan Rec Center, Ellen O’Connor, EPRD executive director, has been working with state water board officials and the EMD to resolve the issue. One possibility is using EMD water in the ponds rather than attempting to acquire water rights, O’Connor said at the Feb. 24 EPRD board meeting.

Because the park district has no clear water rights for the ponds, someone else could grab them, EPRD board member Peg Linn pointed out.

A worst-case scenario is that the ponds could be drained and dry, said EPRD board member John Ellis.

Before EMD water can be brought to the ponds, the Evergreen metro and park districts need form a partnership and reach an agreement. An engineering assessment and legal work also needs to be done at an estimated cost of $35,000 — an amount the EMD is asking the park district to pay.

“EPRD will be responsible for the costs associated with the proposal research,” said Dave Lighthart, EMD general manager.

During discussion of the issue at the Feb. 25 meeting of the EMD board of directors, member Mark Davidson advised caution while proceeding with the plan.

“We can’t get our water rights harmed,” said Davidson.

“We’re going to need to a lot more information to make our decision,” said EMD board member Scott Smith.

Both Davidson and others at the EMD meeting said the cost of using EMD water would be far less for the park district than going to water court and trying to gain water rights.

“In the final analysis, the plan that we proposed is the most sustainable,” said attorney Paul Cockrel, who represents the EMD.

“There’s a way to make this work,” said Ellis, who serves on the board of both the Evergreen metro and park districts. “This process would be less expensive than acquiring water rights.”

Ellis suggested that Lighthart make a presentation at the next EPRD board meeting on the plan to assist the park district. He and Linn are on a subcommittee of the EPRD board that has been examining the water rights issue in recent months.

A related issue is that the EPRD owns the dams at Buchanan Ponds and is responsible for maintaining them, said O’Connor.

A recent state inspection of the dams revealed the need for some repairs, she said. O’Connor expressed her appreciation to the EMD, which she said assisted the park district with a camera inspection to ensure that the dams had no major repair issues.

“The big concern was with the locks and pipes, and those are fine,” said Peter Lindquist, president of the EPRD board.

The EPRD also needs to provide the state with an emergency evacuation plan in event of the dam breaking, O’Connor added.

Troublesome water source

The source of water for Buchanan Ponds is Troublesome Creek, a tributary of Bear Creek that flows under the Highway 74 overpass near the property in Bergen Park. When the EPRD bought the property for Buchanan Park in 1994, it did not appear that water rights were attached to the ponds.

David Nettles, an engineer with division 1 of the Colorado Division of Water Resources, said he doesn’t see any water rights to the ponds, which formerly were part of the Village at Soda Creek development. In the early 1980s applications were filed by Gayno Inc. and George Alan Holley to acquire water rights for the planned project. Those rights were tied to an original decree dating from 1884 for the Lewis and Strouse Ditch.

It’s possible the rights were subsequently abandoned because of a failure on the part of the previous owners to file a required diligence report with the state, Nettles said.

The developers of the Village at Soda Creek were seeking a conditional water right for their project in the 1980s. According to state law, when a project is completed, the property owner must go to water court and file for an absolute right.

Every six years, the owner of a conditional water right also is required to file an application for a finding of reasonable diligence in the water court of the division in which the right exists. The owner of the conditional right has to prove that he has been pursuing completion of the project related to the water use for which he applied.

More South Platte River Basin coverage here.


United Water and Sanitation and CSU team up to test subsurface irrigation efficiency and crop yield

March 4, 2015
SIEP Project location map via United Water and Sanitation

SIEP Project location map via United Water and Sanitation

SIEP Project design via United Water and Sanitation

SIEP Project design via United Water and Sanitation

Bob Lembke thinks that irrigation technology developed in Israel to grow crops in the Negev Desert should have application here in the US and particularly in the South Platte Basin. To that end United Water and Sanitation has dedicated 165 acres of their 70 Ranch property for a 30-40 year pilot project with Colorado State University researchers. Their plan is to test cropping patterns, deficit irrigation, and other variables to assesss the potential for subsurface irrigation as an alternative to “Buy and Dry” in the basin.

Project participants hope to grow more with less and also help drought harden operations that have been water short traditionally.

According to Skip Dinges from HMD Consulting subsurface irrigation has many benefits:

  • Better control of water resources and fertilizers.
  • Subsurface irrigation reduces groundwater infiltration and therefore pollution of the environment from herbicides and fertilizers.
  • Subsurface irrigation is 25% to 30% more efficient than center pivots and up to 60% more efficient than flood irrigation.
  • The dry farming surface reduces weeds that require herbicide application for control.
  • Subsurface irrigation reduces fungus and pests on plant surfaces by not having to wet the plants during irrigation.
  • Dr. Ramchand Oad is the CSU researcher helping with the project. He emphasizes that subsurface irrigation lessens evaporation as compared with surface irrigation. He also mentioned that farmers should be able to bring more acreage into production with their available water.

    Efficiency if is a double-edged sword however. South Platte irrigators divert far more water each season that is available from natural streamflow and transbasin diversions. The reason that they can do that is the return flows from flood irrigation.

    More South Platte River Basin coverage here.

    Subsurface irrigation via NETAFIM

    Subsurface irrigation via NETAFIM


    A showdown over how transmountain diversions are calculated is brewing in the Colorado Supreme Court — Chris Woodka

    March 3, 2015

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    A showdown over how transmountain diversions are calculated is brewing in the Colorado Supreme Court.

    At issue is last year’s ruling on a change of use case filed by Aurora in water court in Pueblo.

    Division 2 Water Judge Larry C. Schwartz ruled that Aurora is entitled to export an average of 2,416 acre-feet (787 million gallons) annually, even though Aurora waited more than 20 years to change the use of the water from agriculture to municipal.

    Aurora shares Busk-Ivanhoe with the Pueblo Board of Water Works on the system that formerly was operated by the High Line Canal. It brings water into Busk Creek above Turquoise Lake from Ivanhoe Lake through the Carleton Tunnel, which once was a train passage and later an automobile route across the Continental Divide.

    Pueblo Water has a 1993 decree changing its water rights from its 1971 purchase of its half of Busk-Ivanhoe. Aurora purchased the other half from High Line shareholders beginning in 1986, but did not file for a change of use until 2009.

    Western Slope groups and the state Division of Water Resources are arguing that Aurora’s claim to water should be reduced by 27 percent because the city misused the water after purchasing its share of the Busk-Ivanhoe system.

    They claim that Schwartz should have counted the 22-year period as zeros when calculating the historic use of water from the Busk-Ivanhoe system. Schwartz determined that the years where the water was used improperly should not count in the calculation, but said the amount of Aurora’s diversion should be recalculated separately from the amount awarded to Pueblo in 1993.

    Aurora’s share is slightly less than Pueblo Water’s (2,634 acre-feet average annually) as a result.

    Supporting Schwartz’s decision are the state’s largest municipal water providers, including Denver Water, Colorado Springs, Pueblo Water, Northern Water and the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, all of which bring water across the Continental Divide.

    They argue that water courts serve to prevent injury to other water users, not penalize inappropriate historic uses.

    “It’s not very likely to have a direct impact on any of our existing rights,” said Alan Ward, Pueblo Water’s resource manager. “We appreciate the court did not see a need to be punitive. That could be an issue with other water rights in the future.”

    The Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District also supports Schwartz’s position because of its own pending change case on the Larkspur Ditch, which it purchased from the Catlin Canal and uses to bring water over from the Gunnison River basin.

    Schwartz ruled in favor of Aurora in the case (09CW142) in May, and it was appealed by multiple Western Slope groups in October. Reply briefs in the case are due March 21, after which the court could hear oral arguments.

    More water law coverage here


    Estes Park to consider water rate study and system’s capital needs — Estes Park News

    March 3, 2015
    Estes Park

    Estes Park

    From the Town of Estes Park via the The Estes Park News:

    To ensure continued high-quality utility services and plan for future upgrades through capital improvement projects, the Town of Estes Park periodically reviews the cost of providing services as well as projected revenue – the rates paid by customers. The Town’s public water utility is a cost-based entity that relies solely on user fees to operate. Costs and revenues must be balanced in order to maintain operations and keep utilities in line with ever-increasing federal standards. The Town’s Water Division is capable of serving Estes Park on the busiest day of summer. Yet like water utilities across the U.S., it is facing rising operational costs, aging infrastructure and increasingly stringent regulatory requirements.

    Several upcoming public meetings will include water rate discussions. Visit http://www.estes.org/boardsandmeetings for dates and complete meeting details:

    • March 10: Town Board study session to review rate study results and options

    • March 24: Town Board meeting review draft rate plan

    • April 28 (tentative): Final public hearing and potential adoption of new rates

    The last time a water rate study was conducted, the Town opted to keep rates lower than recommended by the study in order to assist residents and businesses through the national economic downturn. Therefore, the Town has not completed a large capital project since replacing 600 feet of water main under Virginia Avenue in 2012. Funding capital infrastructure projects requires multiple years of savings, and postponement means they will cost more in the future. The following water system improvements are needed:

    1. Establishment of secondary water sources for the Town’s two water treatment plants to ensure water treatment plants are not shut down due to problems with source water.

    2. The Town’s system has grown and inherited older, private water distribution systems such as the one serving Carriage Hills. In 2014, the water crew repaired 27 leaks throughout the system, most caused by older pipes resting on shifting granite in acidic soil. Approximately 50 miles of the Town’s pipes need to be replaced to meet today’s standards. This costs $500,000 to $1 million per mile depending on blasting, excavation and road replacement costs.

    3. The Federal Safe Drinking Water Act, Clean Water Act, and Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment regulations have a direct influence on the operations and maintenance of distribution system and treatment facilities. For example, to meet the Surface Water Treatment Rules the Town uses enhanced treatment methods, which increase operating costs. Past rate increases funded the $8.25 million upgrade at Marys Lake Water Treatment Facility for membrane filtration in order to prepare for more stringent standards in the future.

    For more information on the water rate study, please contact the Utilities Department at 970-577-3587.

    More Big Thompson watershed coverage here.


    The Colorado River District, et. al. appeal May 2014 Aurora Busk-Ivanhoe diversion water court decision

    March 2, 2015

    From Aspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith) via the Glenwood Springs Post Independent:

    A water court case in Pueblo over the size of water rights from the upper Fryingpan River delivered through the Busk-Ivanhoe tunnel to the East Slope has now blossomed into a Colorado Supreme Court case full of powerful interests opposing each other across the Continental Divide.

    A bevy of West Slope entities, including Pitkin, Eagle and Grand counties, the Colorado River District and the Grand Valley Water Users, Association are arguing against a May 2014 water court decision that gave Aurora the right to use 2,416 acre-feet of water from the Fryingpan for municipal purposes in Aurora instead of for irrigation purposes in the Arkansas River valley.

    The new decree gives Aurora the right to divert up to 144,960 acre-feet of water over a 60-year period.

    The other West Slope entities in the case are the Orchard Mesa Irrigation District, the Ute Water Conservancy District and the Basalt Water Conservancy District.

    On other side, a list of the most powerful water entities on the East Slope have filed legal briefs supporting Aurora’s positions, including Denver Water, Colorado Springs, the Pueblo Board of Water Works, the Northern Water Conservancy District and the Southeastern Water Conservancy District.

    Pitkin County is specifically arguing that the water court judge should have counted Aurora’s 22 years of undecreed use of the water for municipal purposes — between 1987 and 2009 — when determining the historic lawful use of the water right, and thus, the size of the right’s “transferable yield” from irrigation to municipal use.

    Instead, the judge set 1928 to 1986 as the representative sampling of years and excluded the 22 years of Aurora’s admittedly undecreed use.

    Expert testimony in the case indicated that if Aurora’s years of undecreed, or “zero,” use were averaged in, the size of the transferable water right would be reduced by 27 percent — which is what Pitkin County believes should happen.

    “When water rights have been used unlawfully for more than a quarter of their period of record, a pattern of use derived solely from the other three-quarters of the period of record will not most accurately represent the historical use of the rights at issue,” attorneys for Pitkin County told the Supreme Court.

    The Colorado state water engineer and division engineers in water divisions 1, 2 and 5 are also arguing alongside Pitkin County that the judge should have included the 22 years of “zero” use in a representative sampling of years.

    “This court should remand the case with instructions to determine the average annual historical use between 1928 and 2009, including zeros for years when Aurora diverted water through the Ivanhoe Tunnel solely for undecreed uses,” attorneys for the state and division engineers wrote.

    The various East Slope entities are arguing in the case that the judge did the right thing by not counting Aurora’s 22 years of undecreed municipal use.

    “The water court’s quantification of the Busk-Ivanhoe rights followed all of the rules for a change case — it was based on a representative period of lawful decreed use, it was not based upon undecreed use, and it employed several other factors endorsed by this court to determine a representative period,” Aurora’s attorney’s wrote. “The water court correctly determined it need not go any further, rejecting the appellants’ novel legal theory and finding it unnecessary to prevent injury.”

    UNDECREED STORAGE

    Meanwhile, other West Slope entities, including the River District and Eagle County, are arguing that Judge Larry C. Schwartz erred in his opinion regarding the right to store water on the East Slope without a specific decree to do so.

    “The water court misinterpreted the law and erroneously looked beyond the record in the original adjudication to conclude that no storage decree was necessary and then included water stored and water traded to others within the amount of the changed right,” attorneys for the West Slope entities wrote.

    But the East Slope entities support the judge’s conclusion regarding storage.

    “The water court correctly interpreted prior case law and ruled East Slope storage was within the ‘wide latitude’ accorded importers of transmountain water provided such storage did not result in an expansion of the Busk-Ivanhoe water rights,” attorneys for Aurora wrote.

    Attorneys for Denver Water also told the court that “it does not matter whether a decree specifically identifies storage in the basin of use of the imported foreign water” because “once imported, the foreign water can be stored wherever.”

    Built between the early 1920s and 1936, the Busk-Ivanhoe water system now diverts about 5,000 acre-feet of water a year from Ivanhoe, Pan, Lyle and Hidden Lake creeks, all tributaries of the upper Fryingpan River.

    The system gathers water from the high country creeks and stores it briefly in Ivanhoe Reservoir, which sits at 10,900 feet. It then sends the water through a 1.3 mile-long tunnel under the Continental Divide to Busk Creek and on into Turquoise Reservoir near Leadville.

    From there, the water can either end up in the lower Arkansas River basin, or via pumps, end up in the South Platte River basin, where Aurora is located, just east of Denver.

    The Pueblo Board of Water Works owns half of the Busk-Ivanhoe water rights, which have a primary 1928 decree date. In 1990, Pueblo received a decree to use its half of the water for municipal purposes, and that decision is not at issue in this case.

    Aurora bought 95 percent of its half of the Busk-Ivanhoe water rights in 1986, and by 2001 had purchased 100 percent of the right, paying at least $11.25 million, according to testimony in the case.

    INTO WATER COURT

    Aurora came in from the cold in 2009 and applied in water court to change its half of the Busk-Ivanhoe water to municipal uses.

    And it also applied for specific water storage rights, including in a new reservoir to be built on the flanks of Mount Elbert called Box Creek Reservoir.

    After a five-day trial in Div. 2 Water Court in Pueblo in July 2013, which resulted in 1,075 pages of transcripts and 6,286 pages of exhibits, Schwartz ruled in May 2014 in Aurora’s favor.

    West Slope entities filed appeals in October with the Colorado Supreme Court, which directly hears appeals from the state’s water courts.

    Opening briefs in the case were filed by West Slope entities in December, and a round of “answer briefs” and “friend of the court” briefs were filed last week by various entities.

    The West Slope entities now have until March 21 to file reply briefs in the case.

    Once the case is set, oral arguments will be heard before the Supreme Court justices in Denver.

    Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism is covering rivers and water in collaboration with The Aspen Times and the Glenwood Springs Post Independent. More at http://www.aspenjournalism.org.


    NWS Boulder: Check out Denver’s Climate Summary for February 2015

    March 1, 2015


    The latest Greeley Water newsletter is hot off the presses

    February 27, 2015

    Looking for more inspiration? After taking a drive down West Colfax Avenue, check out the xeriscape demonstration gardens at Kendrick Lake in Lakewood.
    Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:

    Xeriscape Made Easy

    Garden In A Box offers a simple approach to learn about and plant a water-wise garden. Gardens will go on sale March 1. Be the first to know about the 2015 garden choices by signing up on the pre-sale list.


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