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.

The Arkansas Basin Roundtable and the Arkansas River Forum pony up $50,000 for water education

Arkansas River Basin via The Encyclopedia of Earth
Arkansas River Basin via The Encyclopedia of Earth

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Each month, a roomful of water wonks has convened monthly to iron out the Arkansas Valley’s water issues for the past decade.

Soon, if a state grant is approved, more people may be able to join in the fun.

The Arkansas River Basin Water Forum and the Arkansas Basin Roundtable want to spend $50,000 annually for a three-year program to increase public awareness.

Specifically, the grant would fund a water video specific to the Arkansas Valley, increase the number of water festivals, public library activities and host community meetings to explain water policies. In addition, it would be used to hire a part-time coordinator for the events.

“You can hit a broader audience than any one organization can do,” said Julia Gallucci, water educator for Colorado Springs Utilities. She spoke at Wednesday’s roundtable meeting.

The roundtable moved the grant request to the Colorado Water Conservation Board, which will consider funding it. The program would require about $72,000 in matching funds and $24,000 in in-kind services from area water groups as well.

It builds on existing activities. The water forum has been held each year for more than 20 years. The Pueblo Children’s Water Festival at Colorado State University-Pueblo in May began as a water education tool for fourth-graders 18 years ago. Ironically, rain canceled the event this year. Several valley water groups have had other water education efforts over the years.

The idea is to create toolkits for minifestivals and add large water festivals in Salida and Colorado Springs

Now, with the state water plan and the accompanying basin implementation plan nearing completion, the roundtable wants more chances for water education.

Don’t worry. It’ll be fun.


The Arkansas Basin Roundtable Wednesday elected officers for the coming year.

Sandy White, a water attorney now with the Huerfano Conservancy District, will be the chairman.

Terry Book, executive director of Pueblo Water, and SeEtta Moss, of the Arkansas Valley Audubon Society, are vice chairs. Jay Winner, of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District, and Jeris Danielson, of the Purgatory Water Conservancy District, are representatives to the Interbasin Compact Committee.

Terry Scanga, of the Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District, is secretary-recorder.

Alan Hamel is a member of the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

Jim Broderick, executive director of the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, is past-president and IBCC alternate.

Arkansas River winter storage program update: “We can’t predict where the water will be stored” — Phil Reynolds

Pueblo Dam
Pueblo Dam

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Conditions are right for a big year of winter water storage, but the problem may be where to put it all.

“We can’t predict where the water will be stored,” Phil Reynolds of the Colorado Division of Water Resources told the annual meeting of the winter water storage group.

The group is made up of the large canals east of Pueblo. After Pueblo Dam was completed in 1975, irrigators were able to curtail flows during the winter months and use the water later in the season. Under a court decree, water is stored from Nov. 15-March 15 under the program administered by the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District.

Last year, more than 128,000 acre-feet (41.7 billion gallons) of water was stored in Lake Pueblo, John Martin Reservoir or oŸ-channel reservoirs operated by some of the ditch companies. That’s more than the five-year average and close to the 20-year average.

The problem this year is that record rains in May and early June filled up most reservoirs.

While some of the water was used during the relatively dry months at the end of summer, reservoirs in the Lower Arkansas Valley are well above normal.

Winter conditions could be wet because of a strong El Nino condition. In similar years, that has meant a heavy spring runoff, said Terry Dawson of the Bureau of Reclamation.

Lake Pueblo is already at 138 percent of capacity — a capacity that recently was deemed smaller because of sedimentation in the reservoir.

“We are afraid at this point we may be in danger of spilling,” Dawson said.

But it won’t be the farmers’ water that spills. There are still 22,723 acre-feet of this year’s winter water that will be released next spring, and an estimated 50,000 acre-feet of new water that could come into Lake Pueblo this winter.

Before that could spill, however, water stored in temporary accounts or under long-term municipal contracts would be released.

Anticipating that, Aurora, whose water would spill first, already is making plans to drain its account through leases to Colorado Parks and Wildlife, which will use the water in the Great Plains Reservoirs that are part of the Amity Canal system.

Reynolds identified more than 100,000 acrefeet of practical storage space that could be used downstream of Lake Pueblo. There are also 140,000 acre-feet available in the Great Plains Reservoirs.

However, winter water must be distributed equally to canal companies, and John Martin or the large reservoirs operated by Amity and the Fort Lyon Canal cannot be used by everyone.

The space in Lake Pueblo will get even tighter during the winter water program because Reclamation plans to run some water from Turquoise and Twin Lakes into the reservoir to make room for next year’s Fryingpan-Arkansas imports.

“We’ll need to know where and how much you plan to store, so we know what’s stored in Lake Pueblo and what can be moved,” said Jim Broderick, Southeastern executive director.

Straight line diagram of the Lower Arkansas Valley ditches via Headwaters Magazine, Colorado Foundation for Water Education
Straight line diagram of the Lower Arkansas Valley ditches via Headwaters Magazine, Colorado Foundation for Water Education

Southeastern Water board meeting recap: Lake Pueblo sedimentation discussed

Pueblo dam releases
Pueblo dam releases

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Lake Pueblo is slowly filling with sediment that has reduced its capacity to hold water by about 7 percent over the last 40 years.

The equivalent of 19 feet of dirt over a football field, or 19 acre-feet, is coating various parts of the bottom of the reservoir, a natural consequence for any lake fed by streams and rivers.

The capacity for conservation storage — accounts that can be emptied and refilled — is down to 245,800 acre-feet.

The Bureau of Reclamation made the determination to apply the new limits at the beginning of the water year on Oct. 1 based on data collected in 2012, said Roy Vaughan, manager of the Fryingpan- Arkansas Project. It’s the first detailed look at sedimentation since 1994, when Reclamation found deposits were less than expected because the Arkansas River maintained its current at the bottom of the lake.

At Thursday’s meeting of the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District board, the impact on future storage was discussed.

“We’re looking at water for the next generation,” said Jim Broderick, executive director of the Southeastern district. “We’ve been in a wetter period for the last couple of years, and reservoir levels have been near the top.”

About 25,000 acre-feet — nearly the amount Pueblo Water pumps in a year — could spill next spring if weather conditions are normal through the winter months and water is used in the same fashion as in the past. Lake Pueblo water levels still are about 138 percent of average, even though some water has been released over the past three months.

“What are the solutions?” Broderick asked Vaughan.

“Enlargement or dredging,” Vaughan replied quickly. “It’s been a 7 percent reduction over (40) years. That’s not to say something could be put in place. But what are the costs and who’s willing to pay?”

A third option would be to time storage and releases among users of the dam.

Two of the options, enlargement and re-operations, were considered in the district’s Preferred Storage Options Plan, largely abandoned when it stalemated after a decade of contention among Arkansas Valley water users.

Re-operations have largely been addressed by long-term federal contracts that overlay the basic protocol for Pueblo Dam’s operation.

Physical enlargement of the dam likely would mean reopening negotiations.

Dredging has its own issue. For one thing, the sediment is broadly spread over the floor of the lake, and is not lying in a big chunk that could be scooped out. According to the Reclamation report, it’s not settling in the area immediately above the lowest outlet on the dam.

Dredging might also worsen water quality, adding costs for treatment.
There are other economic considerations.

“The Fry-Ark water will stay in place because it’s cheap,” Broderick said. “But can you get your water out if you bring it in from transmountain sources? How much is the water worth? If we lose storage, how do we replace that?”

Board member Vera Ortegon said water users have managed water in the past so it does not spill. Water does not actually shlosh out of the dam, but is released to keep levels low enough to contain potential floods from upstream.

“We have not spilled much, have we?” Ortegon asked.

“No,” Vaughan said. “But we use additional storage in wet years, and then it’s pulled down in a dry cycle. You have to figure out what to do in wet years, so enlargement still comes into play.”

More from the Chieftain:

Lake Pueblo

  • Lake Pueblo began storing water in January 1974 and released water the next year.
  • Its total crest is almost 2 miles long, with 23 concrete buttresses in the center of the earthen dam.
  • Its original capacity to store 265,000 acrefeet for conservation use has been reduced to 245,800 acrefeet
  • The 550foot spillway at an elevation of 4,898 feet is designed to carry 191,500 cubic feet per second when the reservoir is at maximum elevation, 4,919 feet. That has never happened.
  • There are five outlets on the dam, all with multilevel intakes: Bessemer Ditch (393 cfs), the north outlet works (1120 cfs), the spillway outlets (8,190 cfs), the fish hatchery (30 cfs) and the south outlet works (345 cfs). To reduce flooding downstream, releases to the river are usually kept below 6,000 cfs.
  • Flows below the dam are timed to match water coming into the reservoir, except when water is being released from accounts or stored by exchange or in the winter water program.
  • Sedimentation could be accelerated if erosion increases on tributaries above Lake Pueblo, including runoff from areas damaged by large wildfires (such as the Royal Gorge Fire in 2013) or prolonged rain (such as road washouts in Fremont County earlier this year).
  • Fountain Creek: Kansas is keeping a watchful eye on potential dams

    Fountain Creek photo via the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District
    Fountain Creek photo via the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    Kansas has concerns that the effects of a large dam on Fountain Creek are not adequately modeled in a study of flood control and water rights that is nearing completion.

    But comments from Kevin Salter of the Kansas Division of Water Resources indicate the modeling done by the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District is “reasonable” when it comes to side-detention ponds.

    Kansas is an important player because its 1985 federal lawsuit over the Arkansas River Compact raised storage issues along with wells. The Supreme Court ruled in Colorado’s favor on the storage questions, but new dams would be untested waters.

    “The methodology in this draft report appears reasonable to protect water rights below the confluence of Fountain Creek and the Arkansas River for the scenario involving side-detention facilities,” Salter said.

    “As for the scenario to construct a multipurpose reservoir on Fountain Creek; Kansas is concerned.”

    In an email to a committee looking at engineer Duane Helton’s draft report, Salter said more study is needed to look at the full impact of a 52,700 acre-foot reservoir that would include a 25,700 acre-foot pool for recreation and water supply and 27,000 acre-feet for temporary flood storage.

    “Should the actual implementation of detained flood flows on Fountain Creek impact compact conservation storage Kansas would fully expect that those flows be restored,” Salter said.

    Larry Small, executive director of the Fountain Creek district, said a more complete evaluation would be made of water rights if a large reservoir is pursued.

    “The district will complete a full evaluation of alternatives and a feasibility study of the preferred alternative in the future before any decision is made on flood control facilities, to include multipurpose facilities,” Small said in an email reply.

    Helton’s study shows there would be little impacts on water rights if flood control structures allowed a flow of 10,000 cubic feet per second to flow through Pueblo during large floods. Water would be released as quickly as possible following the peak flow.

    The study discounted extremely high flows, such as the 1999 or 1965 floods, saying there would be little damage to water rights because the high volume would fill John Martin Reservoir, creating a free river.

    Division Engineer Steve Witte said Kansas concerns must be treated carefully, so a new round of litigation isn’t triggered.

    Witte would like the 2015 flooding to be studied. Flows on Fountain Creek exceeded the 10,000 cfs mark on three occasions during six weeks of elevated flows. John Martin Reservoir did not fill, so it would be an ideal opportunity to explore how flood storage could be administered, he said.

    “I think we need to be careful in any scenario to make sure there isn’t some material depletion,” Witte said.

    After the 1999 flood, when Kansas and Colorado were in litigation over the Arkansas River Compact, Kansas raised questions about how such large flows should be divided. Those issues have not been resolved, Witte said.

    Another downstream party, Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association which owns half of the Amity Canal in Prowers County, said more study is needed to determine the damage if water is detained at lower flows and how water would be allocated after a flood.

    The committee looking at the report, which includes some downstream farmers, Kansas, Colorado Springs Utilities, Tri-State and others, will meet again at 10 a.m. Oct. 14 at the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District offices.