More funding for the Arkansas Valley Conduit has started flowing from the federal government.
An additional $2 million in discretionary funds will be shifted to this year’s conduit budget by the Bureau of Reclamation. Another $3 million is included in President Barack Obama’s 2017 budget, Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., announced today.
Bennet worked with local officials, Reclamation and the administration to increase funding. The conduit already received $500,000 this year.
“We’ve been pushing the Administration and Congress to live up to the commitment it made more than five decades ago to communities in southeast Colorado,” Bennet said. “This funding will help move this project forward, and we will continue to fight to keep these additional resources in next year’s budget to ensure Coloradans in these communities finally have a reliable source of clean drinking water.”
Bennet will work with congressional leaders and the appropriations committee to try to ensure the money remains in the budget. Congressional gridlock in the past few years has kept funding at minimal levels.
“This was truly a bipartisan effort,” said Bill Long, president of the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, the local agency guiding the effort to build the conduit. “It’s certainly better to have $2.5 million than to work with than $500,000.”
The money will go toward engineering, legal work and land acquisition over the next three to five years that will allow construction of the pipeline to begin.
The goal is to raise about $5 million annually during that period. The Southeastern district is working with Reclamation to attempt to apply other revenues from the Fryingpan-Arkansas to move conduit work forward.
Once construction begins, it will take larger amounts of money to build the conduit, which is potentially a $400 million project. The conduit will bring clean drinking water to 50,000 people in 40 water districts from St. Charles Mesa to Lamar.
The plan is to filter the water at Pueblo Water’s treatment plant, then move the water to other systems via the conduit. Most of those systems rely on wells and are struggling to meet water quality standards.
An environmental assessment and other documentation on Lake Nighthorse may soon be available for public review and comment, bringing residents a step closer to recreational use, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation officials say.
Kathleen Ozga, resource division manager for the Bureau of Reclamation Western Colorado Area Office, said the comment period will last 30 days. The agency will then continue massaging the environmental assessment with a tentative completion date in late April.
“We’re reviewing the documents internally and hoping by the end of the month, a draft of the EA will be available,” Ozga said. “Once that’s done, there would be construction at the entrance area, signage, an overflow parking lot and possibly improvements to the access road. Ideally, we’re looking at (opening recreation) sometime in 2017.”
Lake Nighthorse was filled with 1,500 surface acres in June 2011 with the purpose of providing water for local tribes and water districts. But fishing, boating, swimming and other recreational uses have been prohibited, to the public’s dismay, as stakeholders weigh the impacts of such uses and figure out which entity – which could be the city of Durango – should be charged with managing recreation.
Most concerns from the Southern Ute and Ute Mountain Ute tribes, which have a significant claim to water rights at the lake, are connected with the impact to cultural resources and water quality. Proposed compromises entail limiting lake access to day-use only and prohibiting camping.
The February 1st forecast for the April – July unregulated inflow volume to Blue Mesa Reservoir is 640,000 acre-feet. This is 95% of the 30 year average. Snowpack in the Upper Gunnison Basin is currently 110% of average. Blue Mesa Reservoir current content is 582,000 acre-feet which is 70% of full. Current elevation is 7490.1 ft. Maximum content at Blue Mesa Reservoir is 829,500 acre-feet at an elevation of 7519.4 ft.
Black Canyon Water Right
The peak flow and shoulder flow components of the Black Canyon Water Right will be determined by the May 1 forecast of the April – July unregulated inflow volume to Blue Mesa Reservoir. If the May 1 forecast is equal to the current forecast of 640,000 acre-feet of runoff volume, the peak flow target will be equal to 5,102 cfs for a duration of 24 hours. The shoulder flow target will be 515 cfs, for the period between May 1 and July 25. The point of measurement of flows to satisfy the Black Canyon Water Right is the Gunnison River below Gunnison Tunnel streamgage at the upstream boundary of Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park.
Aspinall Unit Operations ROD
Pursuant to the Aspinall Unit Operations Record of Decision (ROD), the peak flow and duration flow targets in the lower Gunnison River, as measured at the Whitewater gage, will be determined by the forecast of the April – July unregulated inflow volume to Blue Mesa Reservoir and the hydrologic year type. At the time of the spring operation, if the forecast is equal to the current forecast of 640,000 acre-feet of runoff volume, the hydrologic year type will be set as Average Dry. Under an Average Dry year the peak flow target will be 8,070 cfs and the duration target at this flow will be 10 days.
Projected Spring Operations
During spring operations, releases from the Aspinall Unit will be made in an attempt to match the peak flow of the North Fork of the Gunnison River to maximize the potential of meeting the desired peak at the Whitewater gage, while simultaneously meeting the Black Canyon Water Right peak flow amount. The magnitude of release necessary to meet the desired peak at the Whitewater gage will be dependent on the flow contribution from the North Fork of the Gunnison River and other tributaries downstream from the Aspinall Unit. Current projections for spring peak operations show that flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon could be in the 5,000 to 5,500 cfs range for 10 days in order to achieve the desired peak flow and duration at Whitewater. If actual flows on the North Fork of the Gunnison River are less than currently projected, flows through the Black Canyon could be even higher. With this runoff forecast and corresponding downstream targets, Blue Mesa Reservoir is currently projected to fill to an elevation of around 7517.5 feet with an approximate peak content of 812,000 acre-feet.
A vestige of 139-year-old water law pushes ranchers to use as much water as they possibly can, even during a drought. “Use it or lose it” clauses, as they are known, are common in state laws throughout the Colorado River basin and give the farmers, ranchers and governments holding water rights a powerful incentive to use more water than they need. Under the provisions of these measures, people who use less water than they are legally entitled to risk seeing their allotment slashed.
There are few starker examples of how man’s missteps and policies are contributing to the water shortage currently afflicting the western United States. In a series of reports, ProPublica is examining how decisions on water management and growth have exacerbated more than a decade of drought, bringing the West to the point of crisis. The Colorado River is the most important source of water for nearly 40 million people across California, Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, Wyoming, Utah and Colorado, and supports some 15 percent of the nation’s food crops.
But the river is in trouble, and water laws are one significant cause. Legal water rights and state allocations have been issued for more water than the river, in an average year, can provide. Meanwhile its annual flow has been steadily decreasing as the climate changes and drought grips the region. And so, for more than a decade, states and the federal government have tried to wring more supply out of the Colorado and spread it further, in part by persuading the farmers and ranchers who use the vast majority of the river’s water and have the largest water rights to conserve it.
But in many ways it’s the vast body of often-antiquated law governing western water rights, officials acknowledge, that actively undermines conservation, making waste — or at least heavy use — entirely rational.
“Water is money,” said Eugene Backhaus, a state resource conservationist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, which works to help ranchers use water more efficiently. “The way the current water law structure is, if they don’t use it for the assigned use, they could lose the water right.”
“The whole system is designed towards preserving the status quo,” said Jim Lochhead, the chief executive of the urban utility Denver Water, who formerly represented Colorado on interstate water negotiations. The most pragmatic approach, he thinks, is to build off existing water law while reforming its worst parts. But in a perfect world, he said, “I would abolish Colorado water rights law and start all over again with a clean slate.”
None of the antiquated parts of what across the entire basin is referred to loosely as “water law” play as much a role in stressing the water system — or seem as fixable — as the one known as “use it or lose it.”
Originally devised in part to keep speculators from hoarding water to build wealth and power, the intent of “use it” laws was to make sure the people who held rights to water exercised them. They could keep those rights indefinitely, passing them on through generations or selling them…at great profit, as long as they constantly put the water to what most Western water laws refer to as “beneficial use.”
Denver and other eastern Colorado cities already take 154 billion gallons of water across the Continental Divide from western Colorado each year. Schemes to build more tunnels to divert more water from rural western areas like Gunnison are a constant concern. And last July the utilities and groups that represent the lower river states’ biggest urban areas — including Las Vegas, Denver and Los Angeles — proposed a pilot program to find additional water supplies in the agriculturally rich parts of Colorado, in part by paying people like Trampe to fallow fields, be more water-efficient or perhaps lease or sell their water rights.
“The cities continue to grow and grow and grow … and they expect me — or us as an industry — to give up water,” Trampe said. “Why should I suffer for their sprawl?”
“Do we want to fix it in a way that sends more water to Arizona?” asked [John McClow], the water attorney. “We’re still parochial about that. If we save some water, I think we want to use it ourselves.”
The city of Fort Collins is preparing to pay $6.3 million to repair a water pipeline more than 60 miles from city limits.
This would be on top of about $2 million already directed toward dealing with a section of Michigan Ditch that was taken out by a slow-moving landslide south of Cameron Pass.
That’s a lot of money. But given the value and importance of the city’s water supply system, the expenditure is necessary and well-spent, city officials say.
Michigan Ditch moves water from the upper Michigan River basin high in the mountains to the Poudre River basin and city-owned Joe Wright Reservoir.
Portions of the 6-mile-long ditch are open, but a stretch of the ditch carries water through a 54-inch iron pipeline. A 2015 landslide separated the pipeline at its joints, filling it with mud and taking the ditch out of commission.
The city plans to bore an 800-foot tunnel through bedrock behind the slide to protect the pipeline from further disruption. Construction is expected to begin in spring with the goal of having the pipeline ready to carry water in time for the 2017 spring runoff…
the city needs to get the pipeline fixed in order to meet long-term obligations under the terms of a water-use agreement involving Fort Collins, Platte River Power Authority and the Water Supply and Storage Co.
Water from Joe Wright Reservoir and nearby Chambers Lake also must be released to meet terms of an agreement between Fort Collins and Greeley to support aquatic life in the Poudre River, according to city documents.
From the Colorado Springs Independent (Pam Zebeck):
It won’t be long before the new Edward W. Bailey Water Treatment cranks up to filter water coming from Pueblo Reservoir through the Southern Delivery System pipeline…
…a few weeks ago, we got the royal tour of the water treatment facility on Marksheffel Road from two operators — Chad Sell and Jay Hardison — who are as excited as little kids who just got new bicycles for Christmas. They’re happy because a redesign of the project placed most treatment processes under one roof, making it not only more efficient but much more convenient to be monitored by Colorado Springs Utilities staff.
SDS project manager John Fredell explains how Utilities got a good deal from bidders: “What we said is, ‘We want to see your value engineering ideas right up front.’ One said, ‘We can shrink this way down, put it all under the same roof and still deliver the same quantity and same quality of water, and we can do this with four miles less piping.’ Four miles!”
There’s nothing extraordinary really about the Bailey treatment plant, named for a former long-time Utilities water division employee. The plant uses a traditional processes of flocculation, sedimentation and ozone to filter water and deal with any taste and odor problems.
But there are certain design features that take the operators into account. For one thing, the plant can be controlled off-site by an operator using a mobile device. Also, access to the pipes below the various stages of treatment are readily accessible for maintenance and repairs. And, the plant will require only six employees on duty at any given time. It has a 10-million-gallon holding tank.
The plant is built so that it can be easily expanded from 50 million gallons a day to 100 million gallons, Hardison notes. “Here’s a pad for a future generator,” he says. “We can add another generator and go to 100, like for our great grandkids.”
While the whole system could become operational within just a few months, for now, operators are running it through the rinse cycle to be sure all is in working order. “So we’re currently testing all the processes out,” Hardison says. “We’re stopping and starting the plant, trying to get it fine-tuned. Plants run really well when they’re run all the time, continuously. If you stop and start, they’re not very good. We’re almost to the point where we will run it continuously.”
He adds that one thing operators will learn during the testing is the “bookends of the low end and high end” of what the plant is capable of.
A Colorado Springs delegation, headed by Mayor John Suthers, took a trip to Pueblo Monday, and stormwater was the topic of discussion with both Pueblo County commissioners and city councilors.
Commissioners talked with the Springs leaders at length about a new inter-governmental agreement that will make sure stormwater management is a priority for years to come. They are working quickly to finalize the details before turning on the Southern Delivery System…
So Colorado Springs and Pueblo County are talking it out. On Monday, Suthers showed off all his city’s progress towards stormwater management since he was elected last year, with a new $19 million a year mitigation plan. He says unlike broken promises in the past, an additional inter-governmental agreement will ensure those measures continue beyond his tenure, with assurances to spend more than $200 million on stormwater in the first decade.
Suthers says, “Rather than having the voters say, ‘no we don’t want to pay this,’ we will be contractually, and by court order, obligated to have a sustainable, appropriately funded stormwater system.”
Pueblo County commissioners still want more input in which stormwater mitigation projects come first, namely the ones that directly impact their constituents, but the governments say they are working together better now than ever before. “Hopefully reasonable people can find reasonable solutions without having to go to court,” says McFadyen, “and likely that will be an inter-governmental agreement with enforceability clauses that both parties can agree on.”
“These are tough problems,” admits Suthers, “but they need to be resolved and I think both sides definitely want to resolve them.”
The Colorado Springs group also presented to Pueblo city councilors Monday evening, talking specifically about Fountain Creek and the funds they have given to help dredge the sediment built up over the past year.
From the Colorado Springs Independent (Pam Zebeck):
Mayor John Suthers got an earful from Pueblo County commissioners Monday after laying out the city’s plan to deal with its stormwater problem.
The city is in a tiz, because Pueblo County now has leverage to force the city of Colorado Springs to make good on past promises to control storm runoff, which empties into Fountain Creek and brings sediment rushing down to Pueblo. The creek, overwhelmed by flood waters, already has claimed hundreds of acres of farmland.
Now, as Colorado Springs gets ready to activate the Southern Delivery System pipeline from Pueblo Reservoir, it must meet requirements of a construction permit, commonly called a 1041 permit, granted by Pueblo County in 2009.
On top of that, the city is facing a federal consent degree or court order to comply with federal Clean Water Act requirements for its stormwater system due to years of noncompliance.
“We’re going to solve this problem and not kick the can down the road,” Suthers told commissioners Monday afternoon at a meeting in Pueblo. “A federal consent decree or judgment cannot be ignored, and neither can an IGA [intergovernmental agreement] with Pueblo.”
Pueblo County Commissioner Terry Hart noted the Springs has “breached” promises to deal with stormwater in the past, most notably by doing away with the Stormwater Enterprise in late 2009. Suthers noted that came after a ballot measure was approved by voters, which essentially required the city deep-six the enterprise. He said the city’s new scheme, to carve out $16 million a year from the general fund with another $3 million a year contributed by Colorado Springs Utilities for 10 years, doesn’t rely on voter approval.
But Hart wants the IGA to extend well beyond 10 years. In fact, he proposed the IGA last for the life of the SDS project, which could be 30 to 40 years.
He also asked if Colorado Springs was willing to suspend activation of the SDS pipeline until the IGA is worked out. Not likely, Suthers said, due to warranties on the components of SDS.
Hart also suggested the city pump more money into Fountain Creek restoration beyond $50 million agreed to as part of the 1041 permit.
Suthers said he’s “nervous” committing the city “into perpetuity” but said an IGA could be hammered out that allowed for additional terms beyond 10 years if certain triggers are met.
Pueblo County Commissioner Sal Pace asked if Colorado Springs could commit a substantially greater amount per year than the $19 million now identified under the IGA, to which Suthers said the amount could go up to $25 million per year based on inflation. But he noted that huge increases, such as up to $50 million a year, aren’t likely.
On one thing everyone seemed to agree: The solution doesn’t lie in another court battle. Hart noted Colorado Springs could outspend Pueblo in court, and Suthers later told media that a lawsuit isn’t the answer. That said, Hart said he wants an “enforcement mechanism,” should Colorado Springs yet again fail to meet its promises, such as the authority of Pueblo to stop flows through SDS for noncompliance. That idea seemed to be a non-starter, although Suthers was willing to discuss another demand by Hart — to allow Pueblo County officials to participate in negotiations with the Environmental Protection Agency and the Justice Department regarding its noncompliance with stormwater discharges.
Suthers said he hopes to iron out an IGA within the next 30 days.
Pueblo County commissioners were gracious but appeared unappeased Monday by Colorado Springs leaders’ promises to resolve stormwater issues that have hit downstream communities hard.
And the Pueblo City Council, in a symbolic gesture, unanimously passed a resolution Monday night to support county efforts to hold Colorado Springs accountable for stormwater problems along Fountain Creek and recommend a 10-year plan in exchange for allowing Colorado Springs Utilities to keep its 1041 permit and commence with the Southern Delivery System…
Work on the first priority project, a detention pond on Sand Creek, starts next week. Colorado Springs has hired Richard Mulledy, a professional engineer who previously worked for the City of Pueblo and most recently has been deputy director of water resources for Matrix Design Group in Colorado Springs, as Stormwater Division manager. He starts work Feb. 22.
While Colorado Springs leaders outlined a long list of measures being undertaken to address the stormwater issue, officials with Colorado Springs Utilities and the city remained baffled by the intertwining of what they see as two separate measures.
Utilities has met every condition of its 1041 project, said SDS Director John Fredell. On April 27, the project is to start pumping 5 million gallons of Arkansas River water a day initially from Pueblo Reservoir to Pueblo West, Colorado Springs, Security and Fountain.
Colorado Springs, meanwhile, is negotiating with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which accused the city in October of neglecting stormwater needs for years. A two-day EPA inspection turned up deteriorating infrastructure, inadequate inspections and excessive sedimentation, among other problems.
At stake is the city’s own water permit.
The effort to hold Utilities’ 1041 permit ransom because of municipal stormwater failures by Colorado Springs is mixing apples and oranges, Suthers and Fredell noted. But Pueblo city and county leaders see the permit for the $825 million SDS as the best bargaining chip to get what they want.
When Suthers assured Pueblo city leaders that more than $250 million worth of stormwater work would be done in 10 years, newly elected Pueblo City Councilwoman Lori Winner cited a CH2M Hill engineering study from 2013 saying the stormwater needs amounted to more than $500 million.
“It’s really a wish list,” Suthers said. “The voters are not going to give me $50 million a year. I don’t want to make any agreement contingent on whether (local anti-tax activist) Doug Bruce likes it or not.”
Because Colorado Springs voters repeatedly voted down stormwater measures in recent years, as Bruce exhorted them to oppose the “rain tax” in 2014, Suthers and the council decided to pay for that need directly from the city budget. The fire and police departments were squeezed and raises frozen in the 2016 budget to find the money.
“I’ll never come up with $500 million,” Suthers said in a rare show of exasperation. “There’s just no way in hell.”
The Pueblo commissioners repeatedly intoned the need for solid enforcement measures in any intergovernmental agreement.
“We as a community have heard a lot of promises from your community for a very long time,” Commissioner Terry A. Hart said. ” . Whatever we do going forward, we can’t base it on mere promises.”
The only “silver lining” in the city’s problems with the EPA is that any resulting federal decree will serve as a mandate, ensuring that the pact with Pueblo County is enforced, Suthers said.
Another enforceable provision would be to designate Utilities, as a long-time city enterprise, to meet the financial requirements through its annual “excess revenue” returns to the city if Colorado Springs failed to meet its stormwater obligation.
Hart questioned whether a fifth branch of Utilities couldn’t be created to handle stormwater. But that would require a change in the City Charter, approval by Colorado Springs voters, who have opposed all recent stormwater measures, and other complex machinations involving ratepayers who don’t live in the city, said Andres Pico, chairman of the Utilities board.
Commissioner Sal Pace questioned whether the SDS couldn’t be turned off if sufficient stormwater work isn’t done, or whether the project could be delayed while a new agreement is drafted.
Neither idea is feasible, however. The SDS is a sprawling system with water treatment plants, pumping stations and precise chemical requirements that cannot be stopped once it gets started. And the notion of delaying it would cause Utilities to lose time on its warranties, some on millions of dollars worth of work and equipment, Suthers said.
Asked what would happen after a 10-year agreement, the mayor said language could be added to renegotiate the pact every 10 years, with a clause for inflationary increases.
“We’re going to continue our negotiations with the county and everybody else involved and try to resolve this issue,” Suthers said Monday evening.
As for the commissioners’ questions earlier in the day, he said, “I thought they brought up good points that can be the basis for more negotiations.”