The May 2016 E-Waternews is hot off the presses from Northern Water

Map from Northern Water via the Fort Collins Coloradan.
Map from Northern Water via the Fort Collins Coloradan.

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

State endorses the Windy Gap Firming Project
During Northern Water’s April 13 Spring Water Users meeting, Mr. John Stulp, Governor Hickenlooper’s water policy advisor, read a letter from the governor endorsing the Windy Gap Firming Project.

The governor said, “Northern Water and its many project partners have worked diligently, transparently and exhaustively in a collorabitve public process that could stand as a model for a project of this nature.” Hickenlooper continued, “This is precisely the kind of cooperative effort envisioned for a project to earn a state endorsement in Colorado’s Water Plan.”

The state’s endorsement followed the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s March 25 issuance of a 401 water quality certification for the WGFP. Project Manager Jeff Drager said, “This is the next to last step in getting the project permitted. The final step is the federal 404 wetlands permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which we believe will be forthcoming in the next few months.”

This is the State of Colorado’s first endorsement of a water storage project.

Weld County considers new rules regulating water pipelines — The Greeley Tribune

Weld County courthouse via Wikipedia
Weld County courthouse via Wikipedia

From The Greeley Tribune (Catharine Sweeney):

The new water line regulations would require mostly anyone trying to move water through or out of Weld County to go through the use by special review — or USR — process.

This process gives the county commissioners and surrounding residents a say in the development. The commissioners can give conditional permission — forcing the builder to alter their plans. Usually, officials require more landscaping or other mitigation. The USR process also requires two public hearings — one in front of the planning commission and one in front of the county commissioners. Here, residents get three minutes each to air their grievances.

Because Weld doesn’t require a USR permit now, no one gets to weigh in on the projects. Residents, and perhaps even county officials, can get left in the dark.

“We just need to stay up to speed with the things coming in,” County Commissioner Mike Freeman said. “It comes back to protecting our surface owners.”

It will be the first discussion of at least three before the board can pass the rules. Officials can update or change the rules at any point before they’re passed.

Under the current proposed regulations, some organizations would be exempt from the permitting process.

Only companies or agencies building pipelines 16 inches or thicker will have to apply, said Weld County Attorney Bruce Barker.

“The intent is primarily to deal with the aspects of placing and siting a big water pipeline,” he said.

Weld agencies — such as cities and water districts — get some slack as long as the water is staying in the county.

The rules are gentler now than they were in the early stages, Barker said. County officials had stakeholder meetings with those agencies, and representatives let them know that although Colorado water regulations seem like they can handle a one-size-fits-all approach, they can’t.

“Major concerns in places like the Arkansas Valley don’t really apply here,” Barker said.

There aren’t the same level of power struggles over the water, so commissioners are pumping the breaks on the harsh language against moving water out of the county.

Before, the language had Greeley water officials worried.

“We’re always concerned with things that could affect us,” said Greeley Water and Sewer Director Burt Knight. “We’ve got a connection into Windsor, and Windsor extends outside of Weld County.”

They also have pipelines into other counties in case of natural disasters. The infrastructure is already in place so one can back the other up if water supplies get damaged.

“We’re OK with where they’re heading,” Knight said. “They were receptive to some of our comments.”

Indeed they were.

“There are some municipalities in Weld that get big water pipelines into the county,” Barker said. “Those are exempted.”

Greeley is exempt, but other towns trying to use Greeley’s water aren’t.

The city of Thornton started buying farms in the Eaton and Ault areas decades ago.

“Their goal was and still is to go ahead and dry those properties up,” Barker said.

It’s called buy and dry. Organizations buy farmland with water rights, go to water court and get the use changed. Then they use it for something else — such as municipal water.

Thornton’s water would come out of Weld and get pumped south to the city.

They’re gearing up to apply for the USR later this year, Barker said.

Oil and gas pipelines will see similar regulations, Barker said. But because county officials are already working on USR requirements for that industry, pipeline rules will get wrapped up in those laws.

Funding for the Arkansas Valley Conduit makes it out of US Senate

Arkansas Valley Conduit Comanche North route via Reclamation
Arkansas Valley Conduit Comanche North route via Reclamation

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A bill that includes $3 million for the Arkansas Valley Conduit passed the U.S. Senate today on a 90-8 vote, with both Colorado senators working to include funding for the conduit.

The Energy and Water Development Appropriations bill (HR2028) has passed the House and now will go to President Barack Obama to sign into law.

The $3 million for the conduit will continue work on planning and land acquisition for the conduit, which will provide clean drinking water from Pueblo Dam along a 120-mile route to Lamar and Eads. A total of 40 communities serving 50,000 people will benefit.

“Some of the pieces have finally started falling into place,” said Bill Long, president of the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, the sponsor of the conduit.

Long will travel to Washington, D.C., next week to testify on behalf of legislation (S2616) that would allow the district to use miscellaneous revenues from the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project to repay nonfederal loans. The legislation is key to making the cost of the conduit, which could be as high as $400 million, affordable to Arkansas Valley communities, he said.

The $3 million was included in the administration’s budget, and Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., said he fought to keep it in the bill.

“The Arkansas Valley Conduit is a critical project to deliver clean drinking water to dozens of communities in Southeast Colorado,” Bennet said. “The president’s budget included this crucial funding, and we fought to ensure it was included as the bill moved through the Senate.”

The conduit is part of the original Fryingpan- Arkansas Project, but was not built because of the expense. Now, the communities in the Lower Arkansas Valley are seeking its construction because of the escalated cost of other methods of treating water in order to reach state and federal water quality standards.

“The federal government made a commitment more than five decades ago, and this funding ensures Congress is doing its part to fulfill that promise,” Bennet said. “We will continue to pursue any avenue necessary to ensure this project is completed as promised.”

Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., applauded the vote because it assisted the conduit, as well as the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden.

“I’m proud to have secured the funding for two important provisions in this appropriations package that directly affect Colorado,” Gardner said. “The Arkansas Valley Conduit project will result in cleaner, safer water in Southeast Colorado, and this important funding was approved to assist in the cost of construction.”

Bennet and Gardner are co-sponsors of S2606, the bill Long is scheduled to testify about next week.

CMC Edwards: May 16 State of the River Public Meeting

Eagle River
Eagle River

From the Eagle River Water & Sanitation District (Click through for the agenda):

Eagle River Water & Sanitation District, in partnership with the Colorado River District and the Eagle River Watershed Council, is hosting the Eagle River Valley State of the River community meeting, Monday, May 16, at Colorado Mountain College in Edwards.

All members of the public are invited to hear about issues that affect Gore Creek, the Eagle River, the Colorado River, Western Colorado’s changing climate, local water supply, and streamflow and runoff projections. A reception with food and soft drinks will be held at 5:15 p.m., with presentations scheduled to begin at 6 p.m.

For more information, contact Diane Johnson, Communications and Public Affairs Manager, at 970-477-5457.

Video: State of the River | May 4, 2016 | Silverthorne Pavilion

Aspinall Unit operations update: Black Canyon peak flow target 5,000+ cfs over 10 days

Sunrise Black Canyon via Bob Berwyn
Sunrise Black Canyon via Bob Berwyn

From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

The May 1st forecast for the April – July unregulated inflow volume to Blue Mesa Reservoir is 525,000 acre-feet. This is 78% of the 30 year average. Based on the May 1st forecast, the Black Canyon Water Right and Aspinall Unit ROD peak flow targets are listed below:

Black Canyon Water Right

The peak flow target will be equal to 3,349 cfs for a duration of 24 hours.

The shoulder flow target will be 300 cfs, for the period between May 1 and July 25.

Aspinall Unit Operations ROD

The year type is currently classified as Average Dry

The peak flow target will be 8,070 cfs and the duration target at this flow will be 10 days.

Pursuant to the Aspinall Unit Operations ROD, 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 latest forecast for flows on the North Fork of the Gunnison River shows a peak of around 2,000 cfs occurring this weekend. This peak is followed by a couple days of lower flows and then higher flows are expected to return by the next weekend. If the forecast for flows on the North Fork of the Gunnison River continues to show a rise, the start of the ramp up towards the peak release may begin next week.

It is expected that the ramp up to the peak release will take 8 days. The current projection for spring peak operations shows flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon 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 7499.0 feet with an approximate peak content of 654,000 acre-feet.

Forum explores new potential use of Dolores River — The Cortez Journal

From The Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga):

A documentary screening about the Dolores River was followed by a lively forum about the issue of low flows below McPhee Dam.

“River of Sorrows” was commissioned by the Dolores River Boating Advocates to highlight the plight of the Lower Dolores River.

The new film, which is for sale on the DRBA website for $10, had several showings April 30 at the Sunflower Theatre.

A panel answered questions from a moderator and from the audience. The panel included Josh Munson of the DRBA; Mike Preston, general manager of the Dolores Water Conservancy District; Eric White of the Ute Mountain Farm and Ranch; Mike Japhet, a retired aquatic biologist with the Colorado Parks and Wildlife; and Amber Clark, of the Dolores River Dialogue.

What are the major challenges facing the Dolores River and what are the solutions for addressing those challenges?

Munson said the challenge is for people to see there are beneficial uses to Dolores River water other than just farming, such as for fishery health and boating. Changing the water rights system to allow individuals to sell or lease their water allocation so it stays in the river is one solution.

“Other uses helps to diversify the economy,” he said.

Preston said a major challenge is managing the reservoir in drought conditions. He said the goal is maximizing efficiencies in order to improve carryover in the reservoir year to year.

“High storage lifts all boats, including for recreation,” he said.

White said the film missed the compromises the Ute Mountain Ute tribe has made regarding water rights.

“Our allocation has dropped,” he said. “The tribe has fought for our water rights for a long time.”

Japhet said low flows below the dam are threatening three native fish: the flannelhead sucker, bluehead sucker, and roundtail chub.

“They have been declining precipitously,” he said.

Japhet called for more flexibility in how water reserved for fish and wildlife is managed out of McPhee. For example, 850 acre-feet diverted to the Simon Draw wetlands could be used to augment low flows on the Lower Dolores to help fish.

Clark said the big picture solution need to be collaborative and local, “or somebody from outside will find a solution for us.”

The group revealed the difficulty in finding a compromise that improves the downstream fishery and recreation boating but does not threaten the local agricultural economy.

“Use if or lose it water doctrine is a waste of water resources for farmers and conservationists,” Munson said. “The system does not allow for an individual to lease their water” for instream purposes.

Preston pointed out that in the last eight years, there has been four years where there was a release from the dam. The last one was in 2011, and this year a spill is uncertain.

“We are four for four. When we have excess water we release for boating and the fishery,” he said.
Japhet said the “elephant in the room” is if one of the three native fish species is petitioned for listing on the endangered species list.

“It would cause the U.S. Fish and Wildlife to take a very close look at what is going on with the water and fish resource,” he said. “The best solution is to be proactive and work something out locally to avoid a federal mandate telling us what to do.”

An audience member asked if the river itself has a right to water. Preston said the state instream flow program designates minimum flows for the river, including a 900 cfs below the confluence with the San Miguel. Below the dam the instream flow designation is 78 cfs.

“The river has a right to water, the fact that it was once wild should stay in people’s minds,” Munson replied. “The place itself has a beneficial use for fish, birds, otters. It’s recreation provides a way to make a living.”

Betty Ann Kohlner expressed concerns about McPhee water being used for hydraulic fracturing used for drilling natural gas.

Preston said about 4,000 acre-feet is available in McPhee for municipal and industrial purposes, including for fracking. But, he said, There has been limited use of the water for that purpose.

“If you can lease water to frack, why can’t water be leased for recreation and fish needs downstream from willing owners?” responded one man. “There is a contradiction in how we apply our understanding of how we should use water.”

Don Schwindt, of the DWCD board, pointed out that the Dolores River is part of the Colorado River compact that divides the state’s river water with several downstream states.

“Two thirds of the state’s water is required to leave by compact, and as it leaves it is available in the streams,” he said. “That two-thirds is more dominate than agricultural use.”

Dolores River watershed
Dolores River watershed