Pueblo West official tells Pueblo County to renegotiate the SDS 1041 permit

Pueblo West
Pueblo West

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A Pueblo West Metropolitan District board member wants Pueblo County commissioners to renegotiate the 1041 agreement for the Southern Delivery System.

“There are numerous, fatal flaws in the present 1041 agreement; too many to mention,” Pueblo West board member Mark Carmel told the Pueblo Board of Water Works this week. “I respectfully suggest that the 1041 permit must be renegotiated to create a true agreement.”

It’s a significant development because Pueblo West is a partner in the SDS water pipeline project, and has already benefited from an emergency use of SDS last summer.

The metro board took a position on Jan. 12 that its water should not be held hostage during the current SDS discussions, but Carmel made it clear that he was speaking as an individual at Tuesday’s water board meeting. The metro board will meet with Colorado Springs Utilities at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday to address Carmel’s concerns.

Both the water board and Pueblo City Council are pondering resolutions requiring more action on stormwater in relation to SDS. Pueblo County commissioners are in the process of determining 1041 compliance on stormwater and other issues in the permit.

The Lower Arkansas Water Conservancy District has requested action by the Bureau of Reclamation under the federal SDS contract and by the Pueblo County commissioners under the 1041 permit to delay SDS until a stable source of stormwater funding is found.

Carmel, a former Pueblo County engineer, said he has seen firsthand the damage Fountain Creek causes in Pueblo. He wants to make sure Colorado Springs has adequate stormwater control measures in place.

“As Colorado Springs’ partner in the SDS project, I believe perhaps Pueblo West bears the most local responsibility to ensure SDS is implemented in such a way that the city of Pueblo does not get wiped out by floodwaters, in our name, if we stand by and do nothing,” Carmel said.

He said politicians’ current assurance of $19 million in annual funding for stormwater improvements in Colorado Springs is not adequate because future councils could easily reverse the action.

“A 10-year intergovernmental agreement is not worth the paper it is written on under the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, because it may be canceled at any budget cycle,” he said.

Carmel said the 1041 agreement should be renegotiated to avoid future misunderstandings.

“Now is the time to ask Colorado Springs to cooperatively renegotiate the terms of the SDS 1041 permit to ensure that it is a win-win deal for both communities,” Carmel said. “Any deal that fails to prevent flooding in Pueblo — through a permanent funding mechanism that cannot change with each election — is not a win for Pueblo.”

#ColoradoRiver: The latest newsletter from the Water Information Program is hot off the presses

CLick here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:

Connor: Find a Fix or We Will

At the 70th Annual Conference of the Colorado River Water Users Association (CRWUA), Deputy Interior Secretary Michael Connor implied that if the lower basin states of Arizona, California, and Nevada can’t find a fix for their Colorado River’s problems, the interior secretary will find it for them. In an Arizona Daily Star article, Connor referenced the need to prevent Lake Mead from falling to dangerously low levels. Should this be the case there would be huge cutbacks in water deliveries to the agricultural sector, cities, and Indian tribes.

According to the Star, the lake has dropped more than 120 feet since 2000. It’s expected to close 2015 at 1,082 feet elevation. The first shortage in the river would be declared at 1,075 feet and Connor indicated that the risk is now up to 30 percent that Lake Mead will drop to potentially dangerous levels in five years. The article also indicated that by next year’s CRWUA conference, Connor hopes the states will have reached agreement and that Interior Secretary Jewell will come to celebrate, either that or contingency plans will need to be implemented.

The Colorado River Basin is divided into upper and lower portions. It provides water to the Colorado River, a water source that serves 40 million people over seven states in the southwestern United States. Colorado River Commission of Nevada
The Colorado River Basin is divided into upper and lower portions. It provides water to the Colorado River, a water source that serves 40 million people over seven states in the southwestern United States. Colorado River Commission of Nevada

Pueblo Dam hydroelectric project DEIS is on the street

Pueblo dam releases
Pueblo dam releases

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A draft environmental assessment statement has been completed for a proposed 7-megawatt hydroelectric plant at Pueblo Dam.

The Bureau of Reclamation is accepting comments until Jan. 30 on the project.

The project is a joint eort of the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, Colorado Springs Utilities and the Pueblo Board of Water Works.

Two generators designed to operate at both high and low flows would be constructed on the North Outlet Works, which was built as part of the Southern Delivery System. A separate connection for hydropower was included in the design.

Electrical generation would not consume any water, operating on flows that already are released from the dam.

The Western Area Power Administration would have first opportunity to purchase power, which would be available to Black Hills Energy or Utilities if WAPA declines.

However, the power lines would be connected to the Black Hills substation that provides electricity to the Juniper Pump Station that provides power for SDS to pump water to Pueblo West and El Paso County.

The assessment notes there would be potential temporary impacts on air quality, water quality and wildlife (including some fish die-o) during construction.

Long-term eects would be less noticeable and not significant, because the flows into the Arkansas River, state fish hatchery, South Outlet Works or the SDS pipeline are not altered, according to the document.

The draft environmental assessment statement may be found at http://usbr.gov/gp/nepa/sopa.

Comments should be addressed to TStroh@usbr.gov.

For copies or more information, call Terence Stroh, 970-962-4369.

“We’re going to do everything we can to protect the ag economy in Bent County” — Bill Long

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Water once destined to be exported to feed growth on the Front Range could fuel economic growth in the Lower Arkansas Valley, but Bent County officials are wary of unforeseen consequences.

“Where is the water going to move to?” asked Bent County Commissioner Lynden Gill after Monday’s presentation by Arkansas River Farms at the Fort Lyon Canal’s annual meeting. “Are they going to double up water on sprinklers near Las Animas or move it somewhere else? I had assumed the water would be staying in Bent County.”

Arkansas River Farms outlined its plans to dry up 6,700 acres on the Fort Lyon while improving another 5,700 acres with surface-fed sprinklers, rather than flood irrigation. The company owns 18,400 shares of Fort Lyon water, about one-fifth of the total.

The water was purchased by High Plains A& M 15 years ago with grand plans to market it statewide. Those were shot down, first in water court and then by the state Supreme Court.

C&A Companies, one of the Arkansas River Farms partners also unveiled its plan to pipe Lamar Canal water to the Front Range in 2011.

But now, the plan is to use the water to open up new farming opportunities in Bent and Prowers counties, said Karl Nyquist, one of the principals in C&A.

“We could be the biggest job creators in this area,” Nyquist said at Monday’s Fort Lyon meeting.
And what about those pipeline plans?

“You haven’t heard me talk about it lately, have you?” Nyquist answered, adding the company will be more open as plans progress.

Bill Grasmick, the largest farmer on the Lamar Canal and a board member of the Lower Arkansas Water Management Association, said wells that have not been used in several years would be operated thanks to the water taken off the Fort Lyon.

They have talked to Bent and Prowers counties about building dairies, feed lots or vegetable farms that would provide an additional boost to the local agricultural economy. But the plans are not specific.

The water from the Fort Lyon would be used in LAWMA well-augmentation plans, which are not limited to historic boundaries for use. “About 22 percent of our local economy comes from agriculture, so any reduction will have a negative impact,” said Bill Long, another Bent County commissioner.

But looking at map of Arkansas River Farms plans, most of the improved farms are located near Las Animas, while dry-ups largely are further east, where farmers are just as likely to trade in Lamar as Las Animas, he said.

“Ultimately, there’s a chance it could be very beneficial,” Long said.

Of more concern to Long is the upcoming water court change case. That would quantify the consumptive use of the Fort Lyon shares and open them up for other uses.

“That’s one step closer to getting it in a pipeline,” said Long, who is president of the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, which took the lead role in the legal battle to stop High Plains.

There are too many unanswered questions to pass judgment, Gill said. Tuesday, the commissioners met with conservancy districts that want to supervise revegetation. And the Fort Lyon shareholders have set aside Jan. 28-29 to question the company about its impacts on the canal itself. Primary concerns so far are the revegetation question and the proposal to leave some water behind to cover losses on shared laterals.

Gill, who is also chairman of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District, is alarmed that dry-up could begin next year under a substitute water supply plan concurrent to a water court filing.

Long pointed out that in previous cases where revegetation was insufficient and caused problems later with weeds and blowing dust. If the Fort Lyon water is used outside Bent County, 1041 regulations also could be applied, Long said.

“We’re going to do everything we can to protect the ag economy in Bent County, and make sure if anything is done, it is beneficial to the county,” Long said.

Straight line diagram of the Lower Arkansas Valley ditches via Headwaters
Straight line diagram of the Lower Arkansas Valley ditches via Headwaters

Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District board approves 2016 budget

Fryingpan-Arkansas Project via the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District
Fryingpan-Arkansas Project via the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A $22.5 million budget was reviewed Thursday by the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District board.

The board will meet at 11 a.m. Dec. 3 to give final approval to the budget.

Most of the budget, about $12.3 million, goes toward repaying the federal government for construction of the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project. Of that, $5.3 million repays the Fountain Valley Conduit through an assessment only on the portion of the district in El Paso County, according to a presentation by Leann Noga, finance coordinator.

Districtwide, a 0.9 mill levy will collect about $7 million to repay the Fry-Ark debt. The rate will not change.

A total operating budget of $4 million is projected, funded by a 0.035 mill levy, specific ownership tax, enterprise contract revenues and grants.

The district’s primary projects in the coming year will be continued work on the Arkansas Valley Conduit, negotiating a federal contract for an excess capacity master contract to store water in Lake Pueblo and adding hydropower to the North Outlet Works at Pueblo Dam.

The hydropower project is a joint venture with Colorado Springs Utilities and Pueblo Water and is expected to total $5.2 million, but the cost is reflected in the Southeastern district budget since it is the lead agency.

Snowpack news: Good start to the water year

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Although it’s way too early to make a prediction, the water year so far is shaping up better than last year.

“We’re in much better shape than we were at this time last year,” Alan Ward, water resources manager for Pueblo Water, said Tuesday.

All the indicators are good — maybe too good if there is such a thing when it comes to water supply.

Snowpack, boosted again by a storm this week, is above average in both the Arkansas and Colorado river basins.

Pueblo is storing nearly 50,000 acre-feet of water (16.3 billion gallons) in four reservoirs (Lake Pueblo, Clear Creek, Turquoise and Twin Lakes).

“We have more than we’d like at Twin Lakes, but we’re waiting to see how likely a spill (at Lake Pueblo next spring) will be before we move it down,” Ward said.

Lake Pueblo began storing winter water Sunday and is likely to reach capacity in April, when water above a certain level has to be evacuated to make room for flood control.

That depends, however, on whether conditions stay wet over the next few months. The National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center shows it is likely that conditions will be wetter than average through next May.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Lake Pueblo is likely to fill to the brim and some water stored there released to make room for flooding next spring.

The prognosis came Thursday at the meeting of the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District.

“The bad news is the (Army) Corps (of Engineers) will not provide deviation this year,” said Jim Broderick, executive director of the Southeastern district. “The good news is they would be glad to take an informal look at our requests.”

The Corps has granted a deviation from a regimen that requires a certain level in Lake Pueblo by April 15, allowing water to remain in the reservoir until May 1, when flows increase and calls for water typically increase.

By that time, the reservoir is usually swollen from winter water storage and more water from upstream reservoirs that has been moved by the Bureau of Reclamation or other users.

Going into the winter, Lake Pueblo is at 138 percent of average, storing about 185,000 acre-feet of water. If average amounts of water are moved in over the winter, almost 20,000 acre-feet of water stored in Lake Pueblo by then could “spill,” or be released early.

One of the ideas Broderick mentioned was to use a sliding pool, based on the likelihood of flooding, that would allow for additional storage later in the season.

Opening the concept up formally could have the drawback of the need for an environmental impact statement that potentially could result in an even more restrictive storage regime.

This year resulted in nearly record flows on the Arkansas River, said Bill Banks, new chief of the U.S. Geological Survey in Pueblo. Nearly 1 million acre-feet of water flowed past the gauge at Avondale this year, which is at the top of the range over the past 40 years and nearly twice the typical year.

The Corps has granted deviation in storage criteria in recent years, partly for repairs and construction on the Arkansas River levee. That would not be needed this year.

Last spring’s high flows resulted in filling some of the flood-control capacity in Lake Pueblo.

Tamarisks: They’re back . . . they never left — The Pueblo Chieftain

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Just because there hasn’t been as much talk about tamarisk lately doesn’t mean the invasion is over. Now, talk has begun again, but the message has changed.

Eradication is out; control is in.

While tamarisks, or saltcedars, are watergulpers, a fully grown tree uses only about 20 gallons a day, not 200 gallons as mistakenly was often reported in the past.

And trees should be taken out for a reason, and with a plan, not just because they are bad invaders.

Those messages have been conveyed twice in the last week by the Tamarisk Coalition to area conservancy districts. Based in Grand Junction, the group incorporated in 2002. The group works with other organizations to improve habitat, not just wipe out saltcedars.

“In a nutshell, what we do is help people restore rivers. We’re focused on that,” Stacy Beaugh, executive director of the Tamarisk Coalition, told the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District board last week. “You can’t just cut them down and walk away.”

She assured the Southeastern board, which took the lead in earlier tamarisk removal programs for the Arkansas Valley, that Southeastern Colorado remains a high priority.

A few days later, the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District heard from Rusty Lloyd, program director with the Tamarisk Coalition.

Lloyd explained that the group no longer is concerned with completely removing the trees, many of which were purposely planted for erosion control. But it supports efforts to remove pockets of the plant where possible and natural controls such as beetles to knock back the numbers.

“The beetle can weaken the plants, and some plants don’t come back,” Lloyd said. “It seems to be doing its job, but it’s sporadic.”

Lloyd said there are water quantity and quality benefits from removing tamarisk, but the purpose for any program should look at other issues such as improving wildlife habitat. A plan should be in place to replace tamarisk with more beneficial species.

“There are lots of invasive species we are concerned with,” Lloyd said. “We don’t blindly advocate people tearing out plants. You need to have a purpose.”
Past efforts to remove tamarisks have not always worked and sometimes cleared the way for other invasive species to take hold.

“We learn as much from our failures as we do from our successes,” Lloyd said.