#Colorado Springs helps districts with water contamination — KOAA.com

From KOAA.com (Jessi Mitchell):

The water districts are all connected through the Fountain Valley Authority and the Southern Delivery System project, which just went online last week. Right now, the SDS is coming in handy for Fountain, Security and Widefield.

Colorado Springs ratepayers turned Thursday’s public meeting about updates to the long-term Integrated Water Resource Plan into a Q&A session, asking what happens when neighboring districts are impacted by fracking, drought and contamination. Springs Utilities revealed to News 5 that the company is already helping in the efforts to deliver clean water to the three impacted communities after learning they had man-made compounds above the EPA’s new advisory level in their groundwater. “Right now, Springs Utilities staff is working with the staff of those entities to determine how they can use their allocations through the Fountain Valley Authority and SDS to augment their groundwater sources,” says CSU water resources manager Brett Gracely.

Colorado Springs shares the Widefield aquifer where the PFCs were found, but it has not used any water from it since the early 2000s. Now the other, smaller districts are scrambling to find other options. Springs citizens agree they should be good neighbors, but are still concerned about their own water. Ratepayer Dennis Moore says, “We’ve got to do something to help them, but how do we help them within our own resources without depleting our resources? It’s going to be interesting, so they’ve got to find a manageable way to do that.”

Instead of using its planned share of Pueblo Reservoir water through SDS and the FVA pipelines, Colorado Springs is letting the others siphon off a greater allotment, using other already established sources to provide water to its customers. Gracely says, “Because it’s a joint public health concern, it’s not well-defined, so we’ll do what we can in terms of in-kind services and our existing collaborations.”

As Colorado Springs continues to explore new options for retaining and delivering water for future generations, citizens agree that it is better to have extra as an insurance plan, since you never know when you will need it. “I remember back when, when people were fighting SDS and everything,” says Moore, “and now I’m beginning to see it’s a very good reason to have it.”

Widefield aquifer via the Colorado Water Institute.
Widefield aquifer via the Colorado Water Institute.

“The history of #Colorado Springs is a history of bold and ambitious water projects” — Mayor John Suthers

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Usually a water treatment plant just sits off to the side of a city, pumping along with little notice unless something goes wrong.

But more than 300 people gathered Friday at the Edward W. Bailey treatment plant on Colorado Springs’ east side to dedicate the Southern Delivery System.

A choir belted out “God Bless America” with its inspiration, Pikes Peak, as a backdrop. People who had worked on the project over its more than 20-year history reconnected. At the end, there was a grand toast with — what else? — a jigger of water from keepsake mini-jugs.

“The history of Colorado Springs is a history of bold and ambitious water projects,” Mayor John Suthers told the crowd. “Without those bold and ambitious water projects, Colorado Springs would be a city of only 20,000 or 30,000.”

Instead it has grown to 450,000, and with SDS makes it possible for the city to get bigger.

That made most of the people at the ceremony happy. Suthers and others praised the regional benefits of SDS, urging cooperation in areas such as economic development and transportation.

“Water has been our community’s greatest challenge and its greatest resource,” said Jerry Forte, CEO of Colorado Springs Utilities. “Nothing happens without water.”

Forte detailed the history of the $825 million water pipeline from Pueblo Dam to Colorado Springs, explaining that planning dates back to 1996, when the idea crystallized in the Colorado Springs Water Plan. It was one of four alternatives in the document, but the only one that made it to the finish line.

It was a tortured run, however, filled with disputes in Lake, Chaffee, Fremont, Pueblo and Crowley counties. Forte nodded at the entanglements only briefly.

“There were lots of opportunity to build character and relationships,” he deadpanned as the crowd started chuckling.

Instead, he concentrated on the accomplishments that led to SDS, recognizing former officials such as Lionel Rivera, who was mayor of Colorado Springs when a deal was made in 2004 on Arkansas River flows through Pueblo. Seated next to Rivera was Randy Thurston, who pushed his fellow members on Pueblo City Council to approve the agreement. He enumerated the benefits of SDS to Colorado Springs’ partners Fountain, Security and Pueblo West.

Forte also lamented that SDS required 470 permits, which was a good set-up line for Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., who joked: “How many of you thought SDS stood for Still Doing Studies.”

On a serious note, Gardner praised the collaboration it took to build SDS, saying more projects like it are needed, citing their importance in Colorado’s Water Plan.

“If we do not invest in water projects, Colorado will see a shortfall of 500,000 acre-feet per year,” Gardner said. “That’s five times the supply of Colorado Springs.”

While the event maintained a festive spirit, some from Pueblo County who attended were more low-key in their assessment of SDS.

“Technologically, it’s an amazing accomplishment,” said Bill Alt, whose property on Fountain Creek is being destroyed because of increased flows from the north. “I’m not sure all the cooperation they were talking about is there. I’d have to say the stormwater agreement probably benefit everyone.”

Jane Rhodes, who also owns land on Fountain Creek, said there are still challenges ahead in dealing with Fountain Creek flooding.

“The first of the $50 million payments will come, and one of those projects is on my land,” Rhodes said. “I’m glad SDS is done so the projects can get started.”

From 9News.com (Maya Rodriquez):

Fifty million gallons: it’s the amount of water that will be flowing through a new water system every day.

It’s called the Southern Delivery System, or SDS. It is the largest water system built in the western U.S. so far in the 21st century.

The planning for it began 20 years ago. After nearly a billion dollars and more than 470 permits later, it’s now a reality in Colorado Springs.

“In the whole western United States, water is probably the most precious commodity that we have and all of us need to do what we can to steward water,” Colorado Springs Utilities CEO Jerry Forte said.

That is where the system comes in – it is designed to treat water efficiently, as more and more people move to southern Colorado.

“This is all the piping that goes put to the finished water tank to be delivered to the customer,” said Operations Superintendent Chad Sell. “One of the most state of the art facilities in Colorado.”

The system serves more than a half million people in Colorado Springs, parts of Pueblo and the communities of Fountain and Security. Within 50 years, though, 900,000 people are expected to get their water from SDS.

“I think the long-term vision that put this in place means we’re good for the next 50 years,” said Colorado Springs Utilities Board Chair Andy Pico. “We have water. Water in the West is critical.”

Even as they celebrate the opening of the SDS as it stands now, they’re already planning for a second phase that will eventually expand it to handle more water for more people.

Colorado Springs officials say the SDS project did not receive any state or federal dollars. The 830-million dollar project, which also came in more than $100 million under budget, is being funded through bonds and will be paid for by its water customers of today and the next 30 years.

From KRDO.com (Angelica Lombardi):

After more than 20 years of planning and construction, Colorado Springs Utilities dedicated the historic Southern Delivery System water project at the Edward W. Bailey water treatment plant Friday morning.

On April 28, history flowed out of this historic Southern Delivery System for the first time.

It took decades of planning and six years of construction and Friday morning the hard work was recognized.

“I’ve been involved in this project for 14-plus years. To see it complete with excellence and all the people who contributed. I was overwhelmed,” said Jerry Forte, CEO of Colorado Springs Utilities…

“It’s amazing for Colorado Springs and our partners. It means water for the future. We call Southern Delivery ‘water for generations’ and what that means is our children and grandchildren will be able to have water in Colorado Springs for 50, 60-plus years from now,” said Forte.

The water is pumped out of the Pueblo Reservoir and makes its way through 50 miles of pipeline going through three pump stations and ending at Colorado Springs…

It took more than 470 permits to finalize the project.

SDS Facts

  • The Water Treatment Plant has approximately 200 miles of electrical wires and cables, enough to stretch from the Water Treatment Plant site nearly to the International Space Station or the Pueblo Reservoir four times.
  • The Water Treatment Plant used enough rebar to fill 54, 50-foot rail cars or a train half-a-mile
  • If the concrete masonry blocks used in construction of the Water Treatment Plant were stacked, they would be four-and-a-half times taller than Pikes Peak.
  • The raw water tank at the Water Treatment Plant has a capacity of 10 million gallons, enough to fill 200,000 bathtubs.
  • 5,401 truckloads of pipe to SDS projects
  • Net tons of steel used for pipe furnished was 37,810.
  • From the Colorado Springs Independent (Pam Zubeck):

    Some 400 to 500 people gathered at the Edward W. Bailey Water Treatment Plant, 977 N. Marksheffel Road, Friday morning to dedicate the Southern Delivery System pipeline project.

    The project, 20 years in the making,d represents the service, safety, commitment and excellence brought to bear by hundreds, even thousands, of people, said Colorado Springs Utilities CEO Jerry Forte.

    He noted that the project adds another noteworthy item to Colorado Springs’ water history, which began in the late 1800s when city founder Gen. William Jackson Palmer built the El Paso County Canal from Fountain Creek on what is now 33rd Street, Forte said.

    SDS, he noted, will provide water for generations to come.

    SDS first appeared in the city’s water master plan in 1996 and was geared to supply water to the 20,000-acre Banning Lewis Ranch, which had been annexed into the city in 1988. Only a fraction of that property is built out, but SDS now is viewed as a crucial component of the city’s existing system to ensure redundancy. Most of the city’s water comes from transmountain systems built in the 1950s and 1980s. SDS brings water from Pueblo Reservoir.

    Although Rep. Doug Lamborn heralded the project for not requiring federal money, the Pueblo Dam and reservoir project was part of the Frying Pan-Arkansas project built in the 1960s and 1970s by the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation, along with a special district that collected property tax money in the region. SDS, obviously, wouldn’t have been possible without that reservoir on the Arkansas River.

    City Council President Merv Bennett demonstrated the span of time needed to plan and build SDS by noting 11 Councils have played key roles in the project. He recognized El Paso County Commissioner Sallie Clark, a former Council member, who he said laid the groundwork for relationships with Pueblo officials; former Mayor Lionel Rivera, who oversaw the project as both mayor and a Council member; Randy Thurston, former Pueblo City Council member; former Vice Mayor Larry Small, who now runs the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District, which grew from SDS negotiations; and Margaret Radford, former Council member who now works for an SDS contractor, MWH Global.

    CSU Chair Andy Pico boasted that the project was originally envisioned to cause water rates to increase by 121 percent, but it has required increases to rates of only 52 percent. The $825 million project came in $160 million under budget.

    Mayor John Suthers also spoke. His role might have been one of the most pivotal, because he sorted out a mess created by his predecessor, Steve Bach, in terms of the city’s stormwater situation, which had become a nearly insurmountable barrier to the project.

    First, Suthers had to deal with federal and state clean-water regulators who have accused the city of failing to comply with the Clean Water Act for years before Suthers took office in June 2015. Those negotiations are ongoing. Second, Suthers had to find a quick solution to stormwater improvements to satisfy Pueblo County commissioners, who threatened to reopen the city’s SDS construction permit. (Bach opposed a ballot measure in 2014 that would have funded stormwater work.)

    Suthers finessed a deal in which the city agreed to spend $460 million in the next 20 years to upgrade and maintain the city’s drainage facilities. Pueblo officials accepted the deal, clearing the way for water to begin flowing through the SDS pipeline in late April, as scheduled. (Bach was invited to, but did not attend, Friday’s SDS dedication.)

    Suthers said the city would have remained a tourist town of 20,000 but for its water resources. “Our future is bright, and we are poised for continued success,” he said.

    In a surprise development, U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., showed up and lauded the city for the project. “It can’t be said enough how important water infrastructure is to the state of Colorado,” he said. “It’s our past. It’s our present, and it’s our future. It’s my hope this [project] can be replicated throughout Colorado, because water will continue to drive our success.”

    Others who spoke included CSU’s Chief Water Officer Dan Higgins, and the project director since 2007, attorney John Fredell, who became the face of SDS in the past decade through contracting, negotiations with neighbors, legal wrangling and interviews with the media. About 470 permits were required for the project.

    As Forte said, “We never would have reached this point today without one person,” that being Fredell.

    When Fredell stepped to the dais, he received a standing ovation from a crowd that included elected officials, contractors, project partners, officials from surrounding towns and Pueblo, Utilities employees and citizens.

    Fredell, in turn, thanked Forte for his “trust and vision and leading every step of the way.”

    After the speeches, the crowd was invited to open gift boxes at each chair which contained a commemorative coin and a little glass of SDS water, used to toast the project.

    All that was left at the end of 75 minutes of speeches was to have a sip of SDS water. Photo via the Colorado Springs Independent.
    All that was left at the end of 75 minutes of speeches was to have a sip of SDS water. Photo via the Colorado Springs Independent.

    To take a trip back in time through the Coyote Gulch history of the Southern Delivery Click here and click here.

    Twin Lakes Tunnel closes, the Grottos erupts in whitewater

    The Roaring Fork River bounding down the Grottos on Thursday, June 16, 2016, after the Twin Lakes Tunnel was closed.
    The Roaring Fork River bounding down the Grottos on Thursday, June 16, 2016, after the Twin Lakes Tunnel was closed.

    By Brent Gardner-Smith, Aspen Journalism

    ASPEN – For the second time in two years the native flows to the upper Roaring Fork River have been restored as the Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co. has had to curtail its diversions and close the Twin Lakes Tunnel, which since June 6 had been moving 600-plus cubic feet per second of water under the Continental Divide.

    After the tunnel was closed Thursday afternoon and the upper Roaring Fork River had regained the natural flow of its two biggest tributaries – Lost Man and Lincoln creeks – the river bounded down the slick granite in the Grottos area and erupted in a frenzy of churning whitewater.

    The Grottos on June 13, and on June 16

    The Roaring Fork River, Grottos, on Monday morning, June 13, 2016.
    The Roaring Fork River, at the top of the Grottos section, on Monday morning, June 13, 2016, with the Twin Lakes Tunnel diverting over 600 cfs.
    Roaring Fork RIver, Grottos, at about 6 p.m. on Thursday, June 16, 2016, at the upper indicator rock.
    The Roaring Fork River, at the top of the Grottos section, at about 6 p.m. on Thursday, June 16, 2016, after the Twin Lakes Tunnel had closed.

    Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co. began diverting the headwaters of the Roaring Fork in earnest this year in late May. It ramped up diversions through the Twin Lakes Tunnel to above 600 cfs on June 6 and kept them in the 610 cfs to 620 cfs range until Tuesday, June 14, when the diversions in the tunnel were reduced by about half.

    By Wednesday, flows in the tunnel were around 250 cfs and were turned down to a trickle of 4 cfs by Thursday afternoon.

    Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co. first reduced the flow of water to the tunnel on Tuesday by letting the natural flow of Lost Man Creek run into the Roaring Fork River again, instead of diverting it to the entrance to the Twin Lakes Tunnel, which begins at Grizzly Reservoir.

    The flows of Lost Man Creek added about 250 cfs into the main stem of the upper Fork as it ran past Lost Man campground.

    Flows in the main stem of the Roaring Fork River on Tuesday, June 14, 2016 below the diversion dam on the upper Roaring Fork. The flows, shown heading toward Aspen, include about 250 cfs from  Lost Man Creek and  the portion of the main stem of the Fork that was previously being diverted.
    Flows in the main stem of the Roaring Fork River on Tuesday, June 14, 2016, below the diversion dam on the upper Roaring Fork. The flows, shown heading toward Aspen, include about 250 cfs from Lost Man Creek and the portion of the main stem of the Fork that was previously being diverted.

    Then on Thursday afternoon, Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co. took the next step and closed the tunnel. That sent another 200 cfs or so down lower Lincoln Creek, which runs into the Fork just above the Grottos.

    Just after 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, Lincoln Creek quickly went from a clear and docile stream that could be easily walked across to a turbid river flowing strong enough to lift a man off his feet.

    Lincoln Creek, before and after

    Lincoln Creek, before the Twin Lakes Tunnel was closed on June 16, 2016.
    Lincoln Creek, at about 5 p.m. on Thursday, June 16, 2016, before the freshly turned out water from Lincoln, New York, Brooklyn, and Tabor creeks came rushing downstream instead of being diverted through the Twin Lakes Tunnel.
    Lincoln Creek, after 5: 30 p.m. on Thursday, June 16, 2016, after the Twin Lakes Tunnel was closed. A surge of turbid pushy water came down Lincoln Creek and reached the Fork about 5:30 p.m. on June 16.
    Lincoln Creek, around 5: 30 p.m. on Thursday, June 16, 2016, after the Twin Lakes Tunnel was closed. Minutes earlier the stream could be easily walked across, but the increased flow above was enough to lift a man off his feet while crossing.

    The 4-mile long Twin Lakes Tunnel is now expected to remain closed for two to three weeks and the recent hot weather may keep the water rising in the Fork as the last of the high elevation snowpack comes off.

    Rising Stillwater

    On Friday, a cold and swiftly moving Roaring Fork had risen above its banks in portions of the North Star Nature Preserve, flooding some areas but not to the extent of the high water in June 2015.

    Last year on June 18 the Fork reached a peak flow of 1,680 cfs, as recorded by the gauge “Roaring Fork River Near Aspen, CO,” located at Stillwater Drive just east of Aspen proper.

    Yesterday at 4:30 p.m., as the tunnel was closed, the Fork at Stillwater was flowing at 597 cfs.

    But by midnight, with the strong flow from Lincoln Creek added, the Fork had climbed to 817 cfs.

    It then hit a high of 927 cfs at 7:45 a.m. on Friday morning, before falling back to 857 cfs by 2:30 p.m. Friday.

    The riverside cabin in the Stillwater section of the Roaring Fork did not appear to be flooded on Friday, June 17, 2016, but the river was lapping the edge of the porch. One year earlier the river had made itself at home and put about a foot of water in the cabin.
    The riverside cabin in the Stillwater section of the Roaring Fork did not appear to be flooded on Friday, June 17, 2016, but the river was lapping the edge of the porch. One year earlier the river had made itself at home and put about a foot of water in the cabin.

    By midday Friday, the swelling river was licking the porch of a small cabin on the banks of the Fork in the Stillwater section, but unlike last year, it had not yet flooded the inside of the cabin and a nearby art studio.

    The river, however, had risen high enough to flood portions of the North Star Nature Preserve and other land along the river. So far, the high water had not produced flooding in scale with the dramatic size of last year’s “Lake North Star.”

    Water in the Stillwater section of the Roaring Fork River swelled over the river's banks on Friday after the Twin Lakes Tunnel was closed for two-to-three weeks on Thursday. The river hit 927 cfs early Friday morning. Last year on June 18 it hit 1,680 cfs.
    Water in the Stillwater section of the Roaring Fork River swelled over the river’s banks on Friday after the Twin Lakes Tunnel was closed for two to three weeks on Thursday. The river hit 927 cfs early Friday morning. Last year on June 18 it hit 1,680 cfs.

    Turn Tunnel Off

    The Twin Lakes Tunnel is the key component of the Independence Pass Transmountain Diversion System, which was constructed in the 1930s and is owned and operated by Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co.

    Notably, the company does not own and operate Twin Lakes Reservoir, as it sold the reservoir on the east side of Independence Pass to the Bureau of Reclamation and the reservoir is now managed as part of the Fry-Ark project.

    The Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co., did, however, retain the right to store 54,452 acre-feet in Twin Lakes Reservoir, which can hold a total of 147,500 acre-feet, or about a third again more than Ruedi Reservoir.

    But under its water rights, after Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co. reaches its storage allotment in Twin Lakes Reservoir as it did this week, it has to stop diverting if the Colorado Canal can still divert 756 cfs directly from the lower Arkansas River.

    It’s rare that two of the constraints in the water rights held by Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co. overlap and it has to stop diverting West Slope water, but it happened last year and again this year.

    And both times were a reflection of the high levels of water in the lower Arkansas River basin.

    If flows in the lower Arkansas drop, then the Colorado Canal will likely be called out by a senior diverter and Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co. can again divert water from the headwaters of the upper Roaring Fork and send it directly to the canal.

    The Colorado Canal is near Ordway, CO, where Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co. is based. Most of the shares in the company are owned by Front Range cities, which receive the majority of the water normally diverted from the upper Roaring Fork.

    Tunnel Diversion Graphics

    A graph showing the stair-step reduction in diversions through the Twin Lakes Tunnel between Tuesday, June 14 and Thursday, June 16, 2016.
    A graph showing the stair-step reduction in diversions through the Twin Lakes Tunnel between Tuesday, June 14, and Thursday, June 16, 2016.
    A graph showing the rate of diversions through the Twin Lakes Tunnel since early May. It shows the steady diversions above 600 cfs between June 6 and June 14, 2016.
    A graph showing the rate of diversions through the Twin Lakes Tunnel since early May. It shows the steady diversions above 600 cfs between June 6 and June 14, 2016.

    Grottos, Broad View

    Roaring Fork River, Grottos, on Monday morning June 13, 2016, with diversions into the Twin Lakes Tunnel at over 600 cfs. While impressive at this level, the whitewater frenzy that resulted after the tunnels were closed was far more intense.
    Roaring Fork River, Grottos, on Monday morning June 13, 2016, looking downstream, with diversions into the Twin Lakes Tunnel at over 600 cfs. While impressive at this level, the whitewater frenzy that resulted after the tunnels were closed was far more intense.
    Roaring Fork River, Grottos, at 5 p.m. Thursday, June 16, 2016, before flows from Lincoln Creek came into the Fork.
    Roaring Fork River, Grottos, at 5 p.m. Thursday, June 16, 2016, looking upstream, before flows from Lincoln Creek came into the Fork.
    The Fork, in frenzy, through the Grottos, on 6.16.16.
    The Fork, in frenzy, through the Grottos on June 16, 2016.

    Grottos, Middle Indicator Rock

    Roaring Fork River, Grottos, at about 10 a.m. on Monday, June 13, 2016.
    Roaring Fork River, Grottos, at about 10 a.m. on Monday, June 13, 2016. A view of the middle indicator rock.
    Roaring Fork River, Grottos, at about 5 p.m. on Thursday, June 16, 2016, before the flow of Lincoln Creek was added to the Fork.
    Roaring Fork River, Grottos, at about 5 p.m. on Thursday, June 16, 2016, before the flow of Lincoln Creek was added to the Fork. View of the middle indicator rock.
    The Roaring Fork River, through the Grottos, late on Thursday, June 16, 2016, after the Twin Lakes Tunnel had been closed.
    The Roaring Fork River, through the Grottos, late on Thursday, June 16, 2016, after the Twin Lakes Tunnel had been closed. A view of the middle indicator rock.

    Grottos, Lower Indicator Rock

    Roaring Fork River, Grottos, on Monday morning June 13, 2016, before flows from either Lost Man Creek or Lincoln Creek were added to Fork and the Twin Lakes Tunnel was diverting about 600 cfs.
    Roaring Fork River, Grottos, on Monday morning June 13, 2016, before flows from either Lost Man Creek or Lincoln Creek were added to the Roaring Fork and the Twin Lakes Tunnel was diverting about 600 cfs. Lower indicator rock.
    Roaring Fork River, Grottos, at 5 p.m. on Thursday, June 16, 2016, before flows from Lincoln Creek were added to the Fork.
    Roaring Fork River, Grottos, at 5 p.m. on Thursday, June 16, 2016, before flows from Lincoln Creek were added to the Fork. Lower indicator rock.
    Roaring Fork River, Grottos, about 6 p.m. on Thursday, June 16, 2016, after flow from Lincoln Creek was added to the Fork.
    Roaring Fork River, Grottos, about 6 p.m. on Thursday, June 16, 2016, after flow from Lincoln Creek was added to the Roaring Fork. Lower indicator rock.

    Lincoln Creek, log indicator

    Lincoln Creek, just above its confluence with the Roaring Fork River, minutes before a surge of about 350s cfs came down Lincoln Creek and reached this location,.  Taken about 5:20 p.m. on Thursday, June 16, 2016.
    Lincoln Creek, just above its confluence with the Roaring Fork River, minutes before a surge of about 350 cfs came down Lincoln Creek and reached this location. Photo taken about 5:20 p.m. on Thursday, June 16, 2016.
    Lincoln Creek, just above the confluence with the Roaring Fork, minutes after a surge of 350 cfs swept through the location after being turned out when the Twin Lakes Tunnel was closed. Shortly after 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, June 16, 2016.
    Lincoln Creek, just above the confluence with the Roaring Fork, minutes after a surge of 350 cfs swept through the location after being turned out when the Twin Lakes Tunnel was closed. Shortly after 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, June 16, 2016.

    After dam release, river runs through the Lower Dolores — The Durango Herald

    Dolores River Canyon near Paradox from the Coyote Gulch archives.
    Dolores River Canyon near Paradox from the Coyote Gulch archives.

    From The Durango Herald (Jonathan Romeo):

    Overgrown banks, loads of sediment in the waterway and a depleted fishery cast a pale backdrop to an otherwise awe-inspiring float down the lower Dolores River, known for its deep canyons, lush ponderosa forests and seemingly endless succession of whitewater.

    “And all of that is just a reflection of the channel starting to reflect the current hydrology,” said Colorado Parks and Wildlife aquatic biologist Jim White. “It has changed.”

    […]

    Today, water out of McPhee Reservoir, considered the most expensive allotments in the Southwest, mainly supplies farms growing alfalfa, one of the most water-intensive crops used to feed cattle.

    The divisive interests between farmers and recreationists have caused a debate over water rights to rage on for almost four decades.

    A different riverSince the dam operates on a “fill, then spill” policy, enough water to float the lower Dolores River is only released when the dam is at capacity, and there’s no other place to store inflows.

    That hadn’t happened since 2011 – until this year, when two small releases allowed boaters as well as wildlife officials to get an inside peek at what’s been happening to the long-neglected stretch of river.

    And it didn’t look good.

    The wildlife division’s White said a survey of the 19-mile stretch from Bradfield Bridge to the Dove Creek Pump Station found only 150 brown trout, a non-native species, and came up nearly empty-handed on native species.

    “The loss of consistent spring flow to maintain habitat, coupled with altered base flow regimes, just all adds up to where we’re seeing reduced numbers of native species,” White said. “But what struck me, just the abundance of fish in general, native and non-native, is low through that part of the canyon.”

    Another discernable transformation noted by many boaters was the unbridled vegetation that has started to bottleneck the river’s original channel. It was one of the most striking changes Sam Carter, board president of the Dolores River Boating Advocates, noticed on his trip this year.

    “The overgrowth was intense, and dangerous,” Carter said. “There were two places that made it dangerous to move in a rapid.”

    Carter said for the most part, this year’s release was a success: The large turnout of Dolores River aficionados worked together at boat launches, the weather made for hot days and warm nights, and the past year’s lack of access to the river left campgrounds, and the canyon in general, as wild as ever.

    Yet a larger issues looms.

    “This one spill is not the answer,” Carter said. “There has to be a change in the paradigm how that water is used. The river is getting killed. It’s a slow process, but it is happening.”

    Is change possible?Mike Preston, general manager of the Dolores River Water Conservancy District, said at this point, it is “highly, highly unlikely” that any changes would occur to the management plan for the Dolores River.

    Preston, a boater himself who took a trip on the Dolores River this year, said many farmers in the area made large investments setting farms up based on the water allocations.

    “One boating day at 1,000 cubic feet per second is enough water to irrigate 1,000 acres for a full season,” he said. “And the farmers are paying us to maintain the facilities. And they also make payments to the federal government.”

    Indeed, John Porter, a farmer turned Dolores Water Conservancy District manager who retired in 2002, said he’s clear in his bias for use of the river.

    “There’s another side of it,” Porter said. “Do you just quit farming in this area and leave the water in the river? Until McPhee, it was dry river in the summertime because all the water was diverted. This project at least keeps it as a full-time river.”

    Though the Dolores flowed anywhere from 800 to 1,500 cfs during the release, river levels throughout the year remain chronically low. In 2013, for instance, the river was at a trickle at just 13 cfs. The boating advocate’s president Carter said that doesn’t exactly constitute a healthy, flourishing river.

    Carter said the group is “very actively” working on ways to secure annual releases out of McPhee for the benefit of recreationists and the environment.

    “It’s not going to happen overnight, but we’re definitely working on it,” Carter said.

    But for now, as the Dolores River slowly returns to its dispossessed flows, boaters look with a mixture of frustration and optimism toward next year.

    “It was very much a bigger adventure than I think most people anticipated,” said Josh Munson, a board member of the Dolores River Boating Advocates. “Many longtime boaters noted the same things. It was faster, more wild. But the lack of water is really changing the characteristic of the river itself.

    “When there isn’t a recreational release, it really isn’t much of a river.”

    Dolores River watershed
    Dolores River watershed

    Lost Man Creek finds its way back to Roaring Fork River

    Flows in the main stem of the Roaring Fork River on Tuesday, June 14, 2016 below the diversion dam on the upper Roaring Fork. The flows shown heading toward Aspen, about 250 cfs, include  flow from  Lost Man Creek and  the main stem of the Fork.
    Flows in the main stem of the Roaring Fork River on Tuesday, June 14, 2016 below the diversion dam on the upper Roaring Fork. The flows shown heading toward Aspen, about 250 cfs, include flow from Lost Man Creek and the main stem of the Fork.

    by Brent Gardner-Smith, Aspen Journalism

    ASPEN – On Tuesday, June 14 the Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co. turned out the flow of Lost Man Creek into the main stem of the Roaring Fork River, instead of sending it under the Continental Divide to Twin Lakes Reservoir.

    Lost Man Creek is a major tributary of the upper Roaring Fork River and nearly its entire flow is typically diverted through the Twin Lakes Tunnel.

    The creek flows out of sweeping high country valley and runs into Lost Man Reservoir. It’s then diverted into a canal and dumps into the main stem of the Roaring Fork River behind a dam.

    That dam doesn’t form a reservoir, but instead diverts water from both Lost Man Creek and the Fork into a tunnel under Green Mountain and then, after another stretch of canal, into Grizzly Reservoir.

    Once water from Lost Man Creek and the main stem of the Roaring Fork reaches Grizzly Reservoir it joins water from Lincoln, New York, Brooklyn and Tabor creeks and normally flows into the Twin Lakes Tunnel. The water in the tunnel daylights into Lake Creek and flows down to Twin Lakes Reservoir in Twin Lakes, Colorado.

    From Twin Lakes Reservoir, all of the water collected and diverted by what’s officially known as the Independence Pass Transmountain Diversion System is sent to Aurora, Colorado Springs, Pueblo West, Pueblo and fields in the lower Arkansas River basin.

    But due to constraints in its water rights, Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co. is being forced to curtail its diversions from the Indy Pass system, which means in all, 600 cfs of native flows will be turned out Wednesday and will flow either into the main stem of the Fork or upper Lincoln Creek, which flows into the Fork just above the Grottos.

    On Tuesday, just flows from Lost Man Creek and the Fork were turned out from the diversion system, adding about 250 cfs to the Fork as it flowed past Lost Man Campground.

    On Wednesday, the flows from the Lincoln Creek side of the system will be added to the released native flow of water heading downstream toward Aspen.

    The Twin Lakes Tunnel, which has been diverting over 600 cfs since June 6, is set to be closed at noon Wednesday, according to Kevin Lusk, the president of the board of Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co. and a senior engineer with Colorado Springs Utilities, which owns 55 percent of the water diverted from the upper Fork.

    The Twin Lakes Tunnel is expected to be closed for two to three week and the return of native flows to the Fork – for the second year in a row – may flood the North Star Nature Preserve and create what some locals called “Lake North Star.”

    Last year, when the Twin Lakes Tunnel closed, the Fork peaked at the “Roaring Fork Near Aspen” gauge at 1,680s cfs on June 18.

    Tuesday evening, flows in the Fork at “Roaring Fork Near Aspen” gauge, at Stillwater Drive, were at 640 cfs, up from 400 cfs before the flow of Lost Man Creek was returned to the Fork.

    With the addition of Wednesday of about 350 cfs coming down Lincoln Creek, the flows at Stillwater Dr. could reach the 1,000 cfs range. The Fork, at its confluence with the Colorado River in Glenwood Springs, was flowing at 4,150 cfs on Tuesday night.

    Hot and sunny weather expected over the next week in the Aspen area will also likely drive up the flow in the river.

    Lost Man Creek, on June 14, 2016, flowing out of the high country near Independence Pass in the upper Roaring Fork River basin. Just below this point the creek reaches Lost Man Reservoir.
    Lost Man Creek, on June 14, 2016, flowing out of the high country near Independence Pass in the upper Roaring Fork River basin. Just below this point the creek reaches Lost Man Reservoir.
    Looking upstream from the dam across Lost Man Creek that forms Lost Man Reservoir, on Tuesday, June 14, 2016.
    Looking upstream from the dam across Lost Man Creek that forms Lost Man Reservoir, on Tuesday, June 14, 2016.
    The canal that moves water from Lost Man Reservoir, under SH 82, and into the main stem of the Roaring Fork River, just above a river-wide diversion dam across the Fork.
    The canal that moves water from Lost Man Reservoir, under SH 82, and into the main stem of the Roaring Fork River, just above a river-wide diversion dam across the Fork.
    A view from the dam across the main stem of the Roaring Fork River - just above Lost Man Campground - and the entrance to the tunnel under Green Mountain. That tunnel normally leads the water to Grizzly Reservoir and to the Twin Lakes Tunnel.
    A view from the dam across the main stem of the Roaring Fork River - just above Lost Man Campground - and the entrance to the tunnel under Green Mountain. That tunnel normally leads the water to Grizzly Reservoir and to the Twin Lakes Tunnel.
    Flows in the main stem of the Roaring Fork River on Tuesday, June 14, 2016 below the diversion dam on the upper Roaring Fork. The flows, shown heading toward Aspen, include about 250 cfs from  Lost Man Creek and  the portion of the main stem of the Fork that was previously being diverted.
    Flows in the main stem of the Roaring Fork River on Tuesday, June 14, 2016 below the diversion dam on the upper Roaring Fork. The flows, shown heading toward Aspen, include about 250 cfs from Lost Man Creek and the portion of the main stem of the Fork that was previously being diverted.
    The flows in the half-mile-long section of Lost Man Creek between Lost Man Reservoir and the Roaring Fork River. The tail end of Lost Man Creek has been reduced to a trickle for decades. Above Lost Man Reservoir, the creek is too deep to wade across safely. Below the reservoir, it's easy to step over.
    The flows in the half-mile-long section of Lost Man Creek between Lost Man Reservoir and the Roaring Fork River. The tail end of Lost Man Creek has been reduced to a trickle for decades. Above Lost Man Reservoir, the creek is too deep to wade across safely. Below the reservoir, it's easy to step over.

    #Runoff news: Bureau of Reclamation increases water releases at Lake Estes — Loveland Reporter-Herald

    Olympus Dam photo via the US Bureau of Reclamation.
    Olympus Dam photo via the US Bureau of Reclamation.

    From the US Bureau of Reclamation (Peter Soeth) via the Loveland Reporter-Herald:

    With the warmer weather and more snow melting, runoff is increasing, according to the Bureau of Reclamation.

    In a press release Sunday, a Reclamation spokesman said the agency planned to increase releases from Olympus Dam in Estes Park on Sunday from 125 cubic feet per second to 175 cfs.

    “Please be safe around the river,” spokesman Peter Soeth said.

    The dam at Lake Estes is part of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project.

    For updates on water releases from the dam, visit http://www.facebook.com/LakeEstesandOlyDam.

    In #Colorado, Farmers and Cities Battle Over Water Rights — NPR

    Flood irrigation -- photo via the CSU Water Center
    Flood irrigation — photo via the CSU Water Center

    From NPR (Liz Baker):

    The City of Thornton is one of many growing suburbs of Denver, Colo. On a day without much traffic, it’s only a 20-minute commute into the state capitol, and its new homes with big yards make it an attractive bedroom community. Nearly 130,000 people live there, and the population is expected to keep booming.

    All that big growth comes with a big need for water. In the 1980s, Thornton placed its hopes in the Two Forks Dam project, which would have provided the city with enough water well into the future. But when that project started to seem uncertain, Thornton started looking for another source.

    “We essentially embarked on a plan to purchase a large quantity of water rights associated with irrigated agriculture in Larimer and Weld Counties,” Water Resources Manager for the City of Thornton, Emily Hunt says…

    That town’s mayor, Butch White, says the town was outraged when they found out that Thornton, an urban city, was behind the purchases. Some of that anger was because of property taxes — since Thornton is a municipality, it is exempt from paying taxes on all that land surrounding the community — taxes that used to support the local school and fire districts.

    There was also a deeper reason for Ault’s hard feelings: According to Colorado water law, once a water right is converted from agricultural to municipal use, that land is permanently dried out. Irrigation, and therefore agriculture, can never return to that property. And agriculture had supported the town of Ault for a century.

    This process called “Buy and Dry” is the result of the West’s Gold-Rush era water laws that follow a simple rule: first in right, first in use. That means people with longer links to a property, for example, a farmer whose family has been on a piece of land since pioneer days gets water priority over someone who hasn’t been there as long…

    Thornton got approval [ed. a water court decree] to divert its water shares from Ault, but that came with a lot of stipulations which make the conversion a slow process. And for its part, Thornton believes it has done a fair job of managing the situation. It pays Ault a voluntary payment in lieu of property taxes, and plants native grasses on the dried up farms…

    Eventually, Thornton will build a pipeline to divert water from Ault to their city 60 miles away.