Water in the West and California’s drought: Why Colorado Springs should care — Colorado Springs Utilities

April 8, 2015

Colorado Springs circa 1910 via GhostDepot.com

Colorado Springs circa 1910 via GhostDepot.com


From Re:Sources Blog (Patrice):

Living in the West offers many advantages. Wide open spaces, majestic mountains and amazing recreational opportunities, to name a few. Still, there are challenges and water is certainly one them.

If you’ve seen the recent news, extreme drought is taking its toll in California. In light of this, we caught up with our own water planners – Abby Ortega and Leon Basdekas – to learn if what’s taking place with our neighbors could affect our community and why we need to stay involved in what’s happening around the region.

Some of our customers many ask, could what’s taking place in California happen in Colorado?

Extreme drought can happen anywhere, and we are certainly not immune. We continuously monitor our water supply situation and maintain a storage reserve in our reservoirs to meet customer demand for at least one year.

Why should we take an interest in or follow what’s happening with drought in the West?

In Colorado Springs and across the Front Range, we are heavily reliant on the Colorado River for our water supply. The Colorado River starts in Colorado, but we only keep a portion of the flow for use in the state per the Colorado River Compact. The Colorado River also serves Arizona, Utah, Nevada, Wyoming, New Mexico and California (see below for a breakdown). There is also an obligation to Mexico. When any of the states or Mexico are in an extreme drought, their reliance on the Colorado River water may increase, possibly resulting in ripple effects that could negatively impact us. At any given time, the Colorado River supplies about 70 percent of our community’s water. Drought can also affect the levels in Lake Powell and Lake Mead, which part of the western United States relies on for power production.

Will Colorado Springs experience any impact from the situation in California?

The California drought will not have direct impacts to our community’s water supply yet. We are working closely with the Upper Basin States to create a proactive contingency plan in the event that storage levels in Lake Mead and Lake Powell drop to critical levels.

What is Colorado Springs Utilities doing to help protect our community from this type of situation?

Maintaining a dependable water supply for Colorado Springs residents and businesses is one of our community’s greatest challenges. Continuous long-term water planning is the reason we have a reliable water system today that supports our economy and quality of life. For us, planning is part of our daily responsibilities and includes factors such as water sources, demand, water rights, infrastructure, storage and much more. In addition, we are currently updating our Integrated Water Resource Plan, which provides the roadmap for sustainably addressing water supply and demand issues, while reflecting our community values.

What can customers do to help?

The intelligent use of water will always be a priority for our community, which has done a great job of adapting to our semi-arid climate. Our customers continue to find ways to use water wisely and we can help. A good place to start is our website, which has free xeriscape class schedules, efficiency ideas, DIY videos, and more. Folks should also join in the conversations we’re having through the Integrated Water Resource Plan process. There are opportunities for input, whether online or at upcoming meetings.

More Colorado Springs Utilities coverage here.


Colorado Water: Potential new transmountain diversion gets a boost at statewide summit — The Aspen Times

March 22, 2015
Seven-point draft conceptual agreement framework for negotiations on a future transmountain diversion screen shot December 18, 2014 via Aspen Journalism

Seven-point draft conceptual agreement framework for negotiations on a future transmountain diversion screen shot December 18, 2014 via Aspen Journalism

[ed. I’m reposting this with the link and story from the Aspen Journalism site. Brent has included a bunch of audio from the recent Basin Roundtable Summit.]

From Aspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith):

The prospects for a potential new transmountain water diversion that would bring more water to Colorado’s growing cities on the Front Range appeared to brighten recently during a meeting of about 300 Colorado water leaders.

At the meeting, held in Westminster on March 12, members of the state’s nine river basin roundtables responded in near unanimity to a straw poll regarding a “draft conceptual framework” that outlines how to keep discussing, and planning for, a new transmountain diversion, or TMD.

Today in Colorado, between 450,000 and 600,000 acre-feet of water is diverted under the Continental Divide from the west to the east slope. To put that in context, Ruedi Reservoir holds about 100,000 acre-feet of water and the total annual flow of the Roaring Fork River is about 900,000 acre-feet of water.

All but five of the approximately 300 people gathered in a Westin hotel ballroom gave a thumb’s up to a list of statements regarding ways to look at a potential new TMD.

“We have consensus on all of these points, but not necessarily that they’re fully encompassing,” said Jacob Bornstein, a program manager at the Colorado Water Conservation Board who has been helping to develop the draft conceptual framework and who lead the straw poll exercise.

The 7 points

Often referred to as “the seven points,” the conceptual framework has been the subject of much discussion over the past six months among members of the nine basin roundtables, who came together on March 18 for a “statewide basin roundtable summit.”

“As you’ve heard from every corner of the state, everyone has at least begun to consider the usefulness of this conceptual framework,” said John McClow, a CWCB board member who also sits on the Gunnison River basin roundtable. “I think we’ve heard from all of them that it might need some definition, it might need some refinement, but that it will provide us with a framework that we can utilize to evaluate a future TMD.”

However, roundtables on the West Slope, especially the Gunnison, Yampa-White and Colorado river basin roundtables, are still voicing concerns and questions about the conceptual framework and the harm a new TMD might cause.

Despite the concerns from the West Slope, James Eklund, the director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB), the state’s water-planning agency, opened the roundtable summit on a bullish note.

“Whether you call them the draft conceptual framework, or the seven points of consensus, or the conceptual agreement, or the guidance on interbasin negotiations, or my personal favorite, the seven points of light, the work of our leaders in this room and on the Interbasin Compact Committee demonstrates the new paradigm in East-West discussions,” Eklund said.

The CWCB’s 27-member Interbasin Compact Committee includes representatives from each of the roundtables, as well as members appointed by the governor and legislative representatives.

The group unanimously endorsed the conceptual “seven points” last July.

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The enviromental perspectives

Melinda Kassen, an attorney who specializes in environmental issues, has served as a governor-appointed environmental representative on the IBCC since 2005.

“So, I think I was asked to come up here to justify my having raised my thumb on this, when we did this last summer,” Kassen said as she addressed the crowd in Westminster.

Kassen said she could support the framework because of its seventh point, which states, “Environmental resiliency and recreational needs must be addressed both before and conjunctively with a new TMD.”

“The reason that this point is so important is the way it’s written,” said Kassen, noting the point about the environment was last on the list, but not least.

“It doesn’t say we will address environmental and recreational needs in the context of some big new transmountain diversion,” Kassens said. “It doesn’t say we’ll do mitigation and that’s how we’ll deal with the environment. What it says is, we will make our environment resilient now. We will protect our recreation economy now. And then, if at some point in the future if there’s another big project, we will also do mitigation for that project.”

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The Front Range perspective

Jim Lochhead, the CEO and General Manager of Denver Water, also spoke at the roundtable summit.

“In terms of a future transmountain diversion, that is an option that needs to be preserved for the future, if we need to do it,” Lochhead said. “But what this conceptual framework does is articulate some principles that we can agree to, that allows us to move forward when and if that time comes.”

Lochhead also stressed the importance of entities on the West Slope and Front Range working now on the things it can agree on, instead of just listing long-standing disagreements.

“Let’s be more efficient,” Lochhead said. “Let’s work on re-use (of water). Let’s work on capturing and using local water supplies as efficiently as we possibly can throughout the entire state, across all sectors, before we begin talking about big infrastructure projects that, hopefully, we either don’t need or we need at a much smaller and refined scale in the future. But when and if we do need those, they will be developed in partnership across the entire state.”

He also stressed that the seven points need to be viewed as a whole package.

“There’re not in any kind of order,” Lochhead said. “They are not even individual pieces, they are a package. They need to be viewed as a whole, because they are a part of a whole. And they are part of a commonality, I think, that we agreed on, and that we should agree on, in terms of where we’re going as a state.”

diversiondamupperroaringforkriveraspenjournalism

The view from the roundtables

After Kassen and Lochhead spoke, the CWCB’s Bornstein took the room through the straw poll, where members could vote thumbs up, down or sideways.

As he went through a reversed, and re-worded list of the seven points (see below), there was not one “thumbs down.”

Then Bornstein put up a slide referring to all of the seven points, or statements, which read: “These previous statements encompass the major issues a conceptual framework on a new TMD should address, although more detail may be needed.”

“We’ve got … five people in the room, out of about 300, that think these are not the major issues,” Bornstein said.

After that, a panel of representatives from four roundtables shared the current view of their respective roundtables about the seven points.

Joe Frank, the general manager of the Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District, is serving as the new chair of the South Platte River basin roundtable.

He said the members of the South Platte roundtable had previously voted unanimously to support the “seven points.”

And on March 10, the South Platte roundtable also agreed to include a “straw man” TMD in the its basin implementation plan, so that a theoretical new TMD – such as a pipeline to move water to the Front Range from Flaming Gorge Reservoir – could be freshly analyzed in the context of the seven points.

“The framework is in a good spot, but moving forward past that we need to get a straw man and discuss these difficult topics,” Frank said.

The South Platte roundtable is also strongly in favor of building new water reservoirs in the state and it wants storage discussed in the forthcoming final Colorado Water Plan, which is open for public comment until May 1.

“We just believe that storage needs to be front and center when we start to talk about Colorado’s water,” Frank said. “We’ve heard it a lot that conservation needs to be the beginning of the conversation, we also believe that storage needs to be in the beginning of that conversation.”

The Arkansas roundtable’s view

James Broderick, the executive director of the Southeastern Water Conservancy District, sits on the Arkansas River basin roundtable.

He said the Arkansas roundtable also believes new storage should be an integral part of the state’s water planning efforts, and that the Arkansas roundtable supports the seven points as written.

“From an Arkansas perspective, we’re not sure what all the controversy was about,” Broderick said.

eastendindependecpasstunnelroarinforkaspenjournalism

The west slope’s view

The views presented at the statewide summit by two West Slope roundtables were quite different, however.

“We think the framework has questions that need to be answered before there can be something called an agreement, particularly about any transmountain diversions moving forward,” said Jon Hill, a Rio Blanco County commissioner who sits on the Yampa-White basin roundtable.

Hill said it was important to the Yampa-White river basins that an understanding be reached that sets aside some level of future water development in the region, which remains largely undeveloped.

“As long as we can work it in that we have some increment of future use, that is going to be reserved, or however you want to call it, then we can start getting along on this and that,” Hill said.

Michelle Pierce, the chair of the Gunnison River basin roundtable, said that while she feels the seven points represent a breakthrough of sorts, they shouldn’t be included in the state’s forthcoming water plan.

“I was at that meeting where these seven points were brought up and developed, and I did think it was a huge breakthrough in this process,” Pierce said. “It’s taken, up to that point, nine years to even talk about transmountain diversion. So I thought that was huge.”

However, Pierce went on to say, “the Gunnison basin doesn’t believe that the conceptual framework is ready for inclusion in the state plan. If it is determined that it will be included in the state plan, we would like to see a big disclaimer with that, something that would say, or highlight the fact that it is still under discussion, it still needs refinement, and that there is no real agreement statewide as to what those terms mean.”

westslopewaterroaringforkflowingontheeastslope

A Colorado River basin view

A representative from the Colorado River basin roundtable was not included on the same panel at the March 12 summit with the representatives from the Gunnison, Yampa-White, Arkansas and South Platte roundtables, but the Colorado roundtable is on the record as opposing the inclusion of the seven points in the water plan.

On March 5, at a public meeting of the Roaring Fork Watershed Collaborative, Louis Meyer, a veteran Colorado roundtable member and a principal engineer with SGM, an engineering firm in Glenwood Springs, strongly criticized the seven points.

“I think that these were written on behalf of the Front Range, not the West Slope,” Meyer said. “I think if the West Slope’s four basin roundtables wrote them, they would be very, very different.

“There is no extra water in the state of Colorado,” Meyer said. “What we’re talking about is a reallocation of the water we already have. So, what is this re-allocation going to be? It is going to be a reallocation of water from agriculture and healthy rivers to rooftops and nonnative turf grass on the Front Range. I believe that the result will be flat rivers, the loss of agriculture, and escalating water costs.”

west2eastslopediversionaspenjournalismroaringfork

“The 7”

Here are the seven points as presented by the CWCB’s Jacob Bornstein during a straw poll at the statewide roundtable summit.

Bornstein said this list, which differs in order and in the wording from the official version of “the seven points,” also listed below, was “a bit of a deconstructed look at the conceptual framework.”

“Because I’ve been going to every roundtable, almost, and helping to explain this, I’ve sort of learned how to not have the eyes cross when you are talking about some of these concepts,” Bornstein said, noting he now simply calls them “The 7.”

1. We need to address environmental resiliency and recreational needs, including the recovery of imperiled species, with or without a new transmountain diversion (TMD).

2. If a new TMD were to be built, the proponent should involve non-consumptive, environmental and recreational partners upfront, so that the project is designed with environmental and recreational needs in mind, incorporates benefits, and mitigates impacts.”

3. Colorado should continue its commitment to improve municipal conservation and allowable reuse, statewide, with or without a new TMD.

4. If a new TMD were to be built, West Slope needs should be accommodated as part of a package of projects and processes that benefit both East and West slopes.

5. Colorado should develop a collaborative program aimed at preventing a (Colorado River basin) compact curtailment issue from occurring, while protecting existing users from involuntary curtailment (e.g., eminent domain or strict administration).

6. The collaborative program (in point 5) should be voluntary, such as a water bank and other demand management programs, and aimed at protecting current Colorado River water users, and some increment of additional use yet to be defined, but NOT uses associated with a new TMD.

7. If a new TMD were to be built, it would not guarantee delivery of a certain amount of water annually, but instead operate as part of a flexible optimized system, diverting only when water is available, based on triggers Colorado establishes in advance, and relying on East Slope sources of water when not diverting.

At the end of the meeting, Bornstein put up one more statement, which read: “If the feedback from today is incorporated into the conceptual framework, then it is headed in the right direction.”

“No thumbs down,” Bornstein said after surveying the room. “So wonderful, thank you.”

west2eastslopediversionroarinforkaspenjournalism

The “original” 7 points

Here are the seven points as originally endorsed upon by the IBCC last year:

1. The East Slope is not looking for firm yield from a new TMD project and would accept hydrologic risk for that project.

2. A new TMD project would be used conjunctively with East Slope interruptible supply agreements, Denver Basin Aquifer resources, carry-over storage, terminal storage, drought restriction savings, and other non-West Slope water sources.

3. In order to manage when a new TMD will be able to divert, triggers are needed.

4. An insurance policy that protects against involuntary curtailment is needed for existing uses and some reasonable increment of future development in the Colorado River system, but it will not cover a new TMD.

5. Future West Slope needs should be accommodated as part of a new TMD project.

6. Colorado will continue its commitment to improve conservation and reuse.

7. Environmental resiliency and recreational needs must be addressed both before and conjunctively with a new TMD.

Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism, The Aspen Times and the Glenwood Springs Post Independent are collaborating on coverage of water and rivers. The Times published this story on Saturday, March 28, 2015.


Southern Delivery System: “It’s a wonderful, wonderful day to celebrate” — John Fredell

March 19, 2015

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Jakob Rodgers):

The last 50-foot pipe of the 50-mile-long Southern Delivery System arrived at a construction site Wednesday, marking a key milestone for the project as it nears completion next year both on time and under budget.

“We put to rest a lot of doubters that we’d get this done,” said Lionel Rivera, Colorado Springs’ former mayor, who helped approve the project.

With Kool & The Gang’s “Celebration” playing in the background, a truck hauled the massive blue pipe to a site just south of Pikes Peak International Raceway. Crews will place it underground in the coming weeks, completing a system spanning from Pueblo Reservoir to a new water treatment facility in Colorado Springs, which is under construction.

More than 7,000 of the steel, 66-inch-diameter pipes were installed since in 2010. That included a mile-long stretch bored 85 feet below Interstate 25 – a tunnel that was $10 million cheaper than creating a surface trench, according to Colorado Springs Utilities.

Current and former elected officials from across southern Colorado, along with several contractors who have worked on the project, were among scores of people on hand to watch the pipe being delivered. Many signed their names on it.

“It’s great – we’ve been at this a long time,” said John Fredell, the Southern Delivery System’s program director. “It’s a wonderful, wonderful day to celebrate.”

Three pump stations and the treatment facility are expected to be completed this year, with the system up and running for customers in Colorado Springs by the first quarter of 2016, Fredell said.

The project is on track to cost $841 million, below Colorado Springs City Council’s approved budget of $880 million in 2009, which did not account for inflation or rising material costs. The council also serves as Utilities’ board. Those savings rise to about $150 million when factoring in the cost of inflation and increases in material costs, said Fredell, who credited design changes to the pipeline and water treatment facility for much of the savings.

From the Denver Business Journal (Cathy Proctor):

One of the biggest water projects in the western U.S. will hit a major milestone this month, when the last piece of 50 miles of pipe is laid for the Southern Delivery System, the $841 million project to bring new water supplies to Colorado Springs and nearby communities.

The project includes 50 miles of pipeline, three pump stations and a water treatment plant. It will deliver water from the Pueblo Reservoir to Colorado Springs, Fountain, Security and Pueblo West.

More than 7,000 sections of blue-colored, welded, steel pipe 50 feet long and most of it 66 inches in diameter were installed on the project during the last 3 1/2 years of construction.

The project spent $204 million on pipe and installation, according to the Colorado Springs Utilities.

“The pipe is the main artery for this water project and we are extremely pleased with how the pipeline construction went,” said John Fredell, the program director for the Southern Delivery System project.

The project is in the final year of construction and Fredell said the costs are expected to be nearly $150 million under the original budget…

Northwest Pipe (Nasdaq: NWPX), based in Vancouver, Washington, manufactured the SDS pipe at its Denver plant.

Three contractors installed the pipe, Garney Construction, headquartered in Kansas City with an office in Littleton; ASI/HCP Contractors of Pueblo West; and the heavy civil division of Layne, a construction firm based in The Woodlands, Texas, which has four offices in Colorado.

Construction is continuing on other elements of the Southern Delivery System project, including a $125-million water treatment plant and pump station that will have the capacity to treat and pump 50 million gallons of water per day. Three pump stations will help move water uphill, about 1,500 feet in elevation, from the Pueblo Reservoir, also are under construction.

Construction on the remaining portions of the project are expected to be finished by the end of 2015.

From KRDO (Rana Novini):

Community leaders gathered Wednesday to celebrate the completion of pipeline construction for the Southern Delivery System (SDS). The project consists of more than 7,000 50-foot sections of steel pipe that have been installed over the last three and a half years. The pipe will transport water stored in the Pueblo Reservoir north to Pueblo West, Fountain, Security and Colorado Springs.

“It’s taken many years and it’s taken many city councils and it’s taken many leaders and many workers to accomplish this,” said Colorado Springs City Councilman Merv Bennett. “Our friends to the south, the Lord gave them the Arkansas River as their delivery system. To the north, Denver has the South Platte River as their delivery system. We have Fountain Creek and we ran out of that water in 1912.”

Proponents of the SDS argue the pipeline will ensure Colorado Springs and surrounding areas can continue to grow, especially toward eastern El Paso County. The region will have to worry less about drought and watering restrictions.

“Water is important. It’s the lifeline of a community,” said Lionel Rivera, former mayor of Colorado Springs. “It’s the way you grow and I think we’ve ensured the water supply for at least the next 50 years.”

Rivera was mayor from 2003 until 2011 and helped get the project rolling. He said Tuesday that it was one of the most rewarding things he did as mayor.

“It’s very exciting, a little bit emotional to see that pipe,” Rivera said. “It just made me think of all the stuff we had to go through to get this approved. We were told back when we started it that it couldn’t get done from a political standpoint, but we proved the doubters wrong.”

The project has had opponents over the years, many from Pueblo who are concerned over stormwater issues.

Though pipeline construction is complete, workers still need to build water treatment plants and pump stations. The first drop of water is expected to be delivered in spring 2016.

From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

Construction crews are poised to lay the final pipeline link for Colorado’s biggest water project in decades — an $841 million uphill diversion from the Arkansas River to enable population growth in Colorado Springs and other semi-arid Front Range cities.

Eleven 2,000-plus horsepower pumps driven by coal-fired power plants will propel the water from a reservoir near Pueblo through a 50-mile pipeline with an elevation gain of 1,500 feet.

This is the first phase, moving up to 50 million gallons a day, for a Southern Delivery System that utility officials estimated will eventually cost $1.5 billion.

“It means we will have greater water security,” Colorado Springs utilities spokeswoman Janet Rummel said. “Businesses need water. Our communities need water to survive. It means we can continue to serve our population as it grows.”

Water challenges loom across Colorado, with state officials projecting a 163 billion-gallon shortfall. A few years ago, drought forced Colorado Springs to stop watering municipal parkways and gardens.

The diverted water can be used only within the Arkansas River Basin, officials said, ruling out sales to south Denver suburbs. And the river water, after treatment, must be returned to downstream farmers.

Colorado Springs residents have been paying for the project through water bills, which increased by 52 percent over four years. Utility officials spent $475 million from bonds.

The water will flow by next March, officials said. At full buildout, the system will store water in two new reservoirs east of Colorado Springs.

The new north outlet works at Pueblo Dam -- Photo/MWH Global

The new north outlet works at Pueblo Dam — Photo/MWH Global

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The Southern Delivery System pipeline’s completion was marked by a contingent of El Paso County officials and a smattering of Pueblo County folks as well.

For John Bowen, president of ASI Constructors of Pueblo West, the SDS project has meant bread on the table as well as water in the pipes.

“It’s generated $50 million in contract values for our company,” Bowen said during a ceremony to mark completion of the SDS pipeline from Pueblo Dam to Colorado Springs. “We were able to grow as a business during a time when a lot of contractors were laying people off.”

ASI was the primary contractor for the connection at Pueblo Dam, as well as 12 miles of the 50-mile SDS pipeline route, and relied on 70 local businesses for support services. The SDS project generated $800,000 in wages for ASI workers.

More Southern Delivery System coverage here and here.


US Senators Bennet and Gardner, along with US Representative Tipton pen letter requesting the opening of Lake Nighthorse

March 18, 2015
Lake Nighthorse via The Durango Herald

Lake Nighthorse via The Durango Herald

From The Durango Herald (Michael Cipriano):

U.S. Sens. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., and Cory Gardner, R-Colo., and Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez, penned a letter to Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Estevan López requesting open access to the Lake Nighthorse Reservoir at the earliest possible date.

The La Plata County reservoir was completed in 2011, but a recreation plan has not yet been agreed on, and the area has remained closed to the public.

Lake Nighthorse is currently being managed by a coalition of partners that helped build the original reservoir.

The Animas La Plata Water Conservancy District commissioned a report that found recreation at Lake Nighthorse could stimulate upwards of $12 million in annual economic benefits for La Plata County.

“Given this momentum, we encourage the Bureau to expedite and prioritize its environmental analysis of the proposal, which would clear the way to open the lake to public access,” the letter reads.”

The letter also says that as of March 6, all members and partners of the Animas-La Plata Project’s Operation, Maintenance and Replacement Association have endorsed the assessment of a draft recreational plan for the lake.

Several other entities have also expressed support for recreation at the reservoir, including the Southern Ute Tribe, the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, the Colorado Water Resources and Power Development Authority, and the city of Durango.

“Given this impressive show of support throughout the region, we urge the Bureau to redouble their efforts to analyze and adopt an agreeable plan that will open Lake Nighthorse to recreational access as soon as possible,” the letter reads. “We look forward to your response including a timeline for next steps and to the resolution of this issue.”

Durango Mayor Sweetie Marbury said she is looking forward to the city’s residents being able to enjoy the area for swimming, fishing boating and other recreational uses.

“I am pleased to see that all the partners are now on board to initiate a process that we hope will open Lake Nighthorse as soon as possible,” Marbury said. “I appreciate our congressional delegation showing leadership on behalf of Southwest Colorado to support our efforts to open Lake Nighthorse to the public.”

More Animas-La Plata project coverage here and here.


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


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.


Pueblo Reservoir winter operations update

February 23, 2015
Pueblo dam releases

Pueblo dam releases

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Water users are playing the annual guessing game of how much water will be in Lake Pueblo when it comes time to ensure enough space is left for flood protection.

While there could be a slight chance for a spill, the Bureau of Reclamation is working with other water interests to reduce the odds.

“The long-term forecast for this spring is for cooler temps and increased precipitation,” said Roy Vaughan, Reclamation’s local manager for the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project.

Right now the reservoir holds about 247,000 acre-feet, and at the current pace of filling would be at 267,000 acre-feet by April 15 — about 10,000 acre-feet above the limit for flood control.

Of the total, nearly 49,000 acre-feet is in “if-and-when,” or excess capacity, accounts subject to spill if there is too much water in Lake Pueblo. Fry-Ark Project water would be the last to spill.

However, the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District is again seeking a waiver to hold a little more water until May 1, the deadline for releasing about 14,500 acre-feet of holdover water.

At the same time, flows below Pueblo Dam are increasing to balance the winter water program, Division Engineer Steve Witte said.

“That’s not good news for the work that’s going on along the levee,” Witte said.

Some winter water also is stored in John Martin Reservoir, which is very low, or in reservoirs owned by ditch companies. Winter water storage ends March 15 and is running close to the 20-year average for the first time in years.


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