Twin Lakes finishes dam repairs, draws opposition in water court — Aspen Journalism

A recent photo of the water behind the Lincoln Gulch Diversion Dam on Lincoln Creek that forms Grizzly Reservoir. Repairs to the outlet gate were completed on Oct. 6 without having to drain the standing water at the bottom of the reservoir.
A recent photo of the water behind the Lincoln Gulch Diversion Dam on Lincoln Creek that forms Grizzly Reservoir. Repairs to the outlet gate were completed on Oct. 6 without having to drain the standing water at the bottom of the reservoir.

From Aspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith):

Nine weeks after the Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co. drained Grizzly Reservoir in early August due to the failure of an outlet gate in the dam across Lincoln Creek, repairs have been made and reservoir operations are returning to normal.

But the usually obscure company is now also facing questions in state water court about its diversions through its larger system, which moves about 40,600 acre-feet of water a year from the headwaters of the Roaring Fork River east to Aurora, Colorado Springs, Pueblo and Pueblo West.

On Tuesday, a new seal was installed on the bottom of the dam’s outlet gate, according to Scott Campell, general manager of the Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co.

The installation of the relatively simple rubber seal was done underwater by crews standing in knee-deep water, reaching down to tighten the bolts on new steel straps holding the seal in place.

By working this way, they didn’t have to release the remaining dirty water at the bottom of the reservoir, as was done Aug. 10, when 10 to 20 acre-feet of muddy, yellowish water was released from the bottom of the reservoir and sent down Lincoln Creek and the Roaring Fork River.

After the release of water in August, the flow in the Roaring Fork near Aspen jumped up from fewer than 70 cubic feet per second to more than 160 cfs in a few hours and alarmed residents notified local public officials about the color of their local river.

Subsequent testing Aug. 13 by Lotic Hydrological for the city of Aspen found “elevated levels of several dissolved metals including aluminum, copper, iron, manganese and zinc” in Lincoln Creek and the Roaring Fork River because sediment in the bottom of Grizzly Reservoir includes material washed down from the historic Ruby Mining District and the naturally acidic upper Lincoln Creek Valley, according to a report provided by the city of Aspen.

The levels of aluminum and iron exceeded state standards, but no fish kills were reported. The city is awaiting results of recent testing for insect health on the river, according to April Long, Aspen’s stormwater manager.

With the repairs in place, water is now backing up again behind the dam on Lincoln Creek, and the reservoir, which normally holds 570 acre-feet of water, is expected to contain 300 acre-feet by Oct. 20, Campbell said.

The small reservoir primarily acts as a forebay to Tunnel No. 1, which allows for as much as 625 cfs to be moved from Grizzly Reservoir under the Continental Divide and into to the south fork of Lake Creek and down to Twin Lakes Reservoir.

Tunnel No. 1 and Grizzly Reservoir are the central components of the larger Independence Pass Transmountain Diversion System, which is owned by the Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co. and diverts water from the Roaring Fork River and Lincoln, Grizzly, New York, Brooklyn, Tabor and Lost Man creeks through a series of dams, ditches and tunnels.

The water rights for the Independence Pass system have a priority date of 1930 and a court-issued decree from 1936. The water originally was diverted to grow crops in the lower Arkansas River Valley, but cities gradually bought the rights to the water.

On May 29, Twin Lakes filed an application in Division 5 Water Court in Glenwood Springs to make 21.33 cfs of its conditional water rights, as specified in its 1936 decree, “absolute.”

It offered evidence to the court that it has now physically diverted an additional 21.33 cfs of water through the Lost Man Canal, which today can carry as many as 272.33 cfs of water from Lost Man Creek to Grizzly Reservoir.

On Sept. 30, Pitkin County, the city of Aspen, the Stillwater Ranch Open Space Association, and Anthony and Terri Caine of Aspen each filed so-called statements of opposition in the case.

The Stillwater Ranch subdivision is on the Roaring Fork River east of Aspen, and the Caines own a home on Wildwood Drive west of Independence Pass.

Craig Corona, a water attorney in Aspen representing Stillwater Ranch and the Caines, said the application from Twin Lakes raises questions “as to Twin Lakes’ accounting of its diversions and administration by the state.”

Corona specifically points to a 1976 decree, which includes limits and conditions on Twin Lakes’ right to divert water.

“Twin Lakes must show that they diverted water in accordance with their water court decrees, including the restrictions the court included in the 1976 decree from Case W-1901 regarding storage in Twin Lakes Reservoir and the amount of water available to the Colorado Canal,” Corona said.

The decree, for example, states that if there is enough water in the Arkansas River to provide a certain amount of water to the Colorado Canal, then Twin Lakes does not have the right to divert water for that purpose.

Laura Makar, an assistant Pitkin County attorney specializing in water cases, said the county filed its statement of opposition to ensure that Twin Lakes was held to “strict proof” regarding its historical diversions.

“This involves transbasin diversions, and the county always wants to know what is going on if there is water leaving the basin,” Makar said. “We want to make sure all diversions have been in accordance with all prior relevant decrees.”

The resulting water court process could shed more light on the operations of the Independence Pass system and could do so just as a new level of communications has been established between Twin Lakes and various officials.

A map of the Independence Pass Transmountain Diversion System, as submitted to Div. 5 Water Court by Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co.
A map of the Independence Pass Transmountain Diversion System, as submitted to Div. 5 Water Court by Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co.

Rush of water

In early August, when Scott Campbell realized that Twin Lakes had lost the ability to store water in Grizzly Reservoir behind a damaged and leaking outlet gate, he made the rare call to drain the reservoir.

But in his rush to prevent a catastrophic release of water, he had failed to inform local and state officials of the pending release of muddy water from the bottom of the reservoir on Aug. 10, an oversight he has since acknowledged and regrets.

Over the past two months, Campbell has been working to repair both the seal on the outlet gate in the dam and his relationships with various officials.

In a sign of progress on both fronts, Campbell sent out a notice Friday that the repairs were complete and that by Tuesday, the reservoir would begin releasing about 1 cfs of water and do so through a sediment-trapping system below the reservoir.

Through a prearranged notification system, Campbell sent his update on Friday to the Pitkin County dispatch center, which in turn sent it out to various officials.

“We’re doing things that we’ve never even contemplated before,” Campbell said Friday, referring to the sending of updates to various officials. “But we’ve learned from this. We’ve made changes. And our intent is to operate as a good neighbor.”

When asked about the water court case, Campbell referred questions to Kevin Lusk, president of the Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co.

A sediment filtering system has been set up below the outflow gate on the dam at Grizzly Reservoir. The silt fencing and straw bales has been an effective way to trap sediment coming out of the reservoir, according to Scott Campbell, the general manager of Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co.
A sediment filtering system has been set up below the outflow gate on the dam at Grizzly Reservoir. The silt fencing and straw bales has been an effective way to trap sediment coming out of the reservoir, according to Scott Campbell, the general manager of Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co.

A modest proposal

Lusk is also a principal senior engineer with Colorado Springs Utilities, which owns 55 percent of the shares in Twin Lakes.

The Pueblo Board of Water Works owns 23 percent of the shares in Twin Lakes, while the Pueblo West Metro District owns 12 percent and the city of Aurora owns 5 percent.

Lusk characterized the water court application from Twin Lakes as modest.

“Our case itself is one to just make a little bit more of a certain portion of the system absolute,” Lusk said. “It does not change the amount of water that we can bring to the East Slope in any way.”

Lusk also said the city of Aspen’s opposition to its application was routine.

“This is what we in the business typically call a smiley-faced objection, Lusk said. “It really is just a way to be more involved in the court case.”

He also said that Phil Overeynder, a senior utilities engineer for the city of Aspen, had called him in advance about the city’s filing of a statement of opposition.

“Phil assured me this is not an indication of any change in our cooperative relationship,” Lusk said.

The city is working with Twin Lakes on the management of other water rights that may allow more water to remain in the Roaring Fork River for environmental reasons, city officials have said recently.

But it remains to be seen how hard Pitkin County and the parties represented by Corona, the Aspen water attorney, will push on the issue of whether Twin Lakes has strictly adhered to the requirements of the 1976 decree.

Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism is collaborating with The Aspen Times and the Glenwood Springs Post Independent on coverage of rivers and water. The Times published this story on Sunday, Oct. 11, 2015 and the Post Independent published it on Monday, Oct 12, 2015.

DARCA alternative ag transfer workshops December 2 & 9

From email from the Ditch and Reservoir Company Association (John McKenzie):

DARCA will be holding two Alternative Transfer Methods workshops this year. The first workshop will take place on December 2, Wednesday, at Northern Water in Berthoud. A week later, the second meeting will be carried out on December 9, Wednesday, at Pueblo Community College. Both events are free, and run from 7:30 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. Lunch will be provided.

The workshops will address how Colorado’s valuable irrigated agricultural lands can be protected for future generations by the adoption of alternatives to permanent agricultural dry-up. These alternatives, known as Alternative Transfer Methods (ATMs), are important voluntary tools that can provide water to a growing population in the state while still being beneficial to farmers, ranchers, and ditch and reservoir companies.

A wide variety of speakers have been invited to not only inform, but to solicit input from the agricultural and water communities. James Eklund, Director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB), and John Stulp, Special Policy Advisor for Water, from Governor Hickenlooper’s office will point out the importance of these tools in the context of Colorado’s Water Plan. Practitioners and experts in the field of ATMs will present on: the fundamentals, case studies, economic and valuation aspects, and legal, technical, financial, and other impediments of adoption. DARCA will detail its role in promoting ATMs for Colorado’s ditch and reservoir companies.

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The Water Values podcast: Prior Appropriation and How It Shaped the West with Hon. Gregory Hobbs, Jr. (Ret.)

Click here to listen to the podcast. Here’s an excerpt from the Water Values website:

Recently retired from the Colorado Supreme Court, Justice Greg Hobbs joins The Water Values Podcast to share his knowledge of western water law, specifically the doctrine of prior appropriation and its impact on how the West developed. Justice Hobbs uses his deep and broad knowledge of water law to explain how the doctrine of prior appropriation developed, stretching his explanation of water in the West all the way back to the reservoirs the inhabitants of Mesa Verde used and up through the Spanish and Mexican influences in the West. He provides an eye-opening analysis of water law and contrasts differing versions of prior appropriation (Colorado with California; court adjudicated rights versus administratively granted rights). Finally, Justice Hobbs discusses his involvement with the Colorado Foundation for Water Education and its many programs.

San Luis People's Ditch via The Pueblo Chieftain
San Luis People’s Ditch via The Pueblo Chieftain

Fountain Creek: Kansas is keeping a watchful eye on potential dams

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

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#ColoradoRiver: Grand County rancher uses 2013 law to leave water in Willow Creek without penalty — Hannah Holm #COriver

From the Grand Junction Free Press (Hannah Holm):

A Grand County rancher has become the first person in Colorado to use a 2013 state law to intentionally leave water in a stream without fear of diminishing his water right. Working with the Colorado Water Trust , Witt Caruthers developed a plan to curtail diversions from Willow Creek when its flows drop to critical levels.

The additional flows will benefit half a mile of Willow Creek and then four and a half miles of the upper Colorado River before encountering the next downstream diversion, where another water user could potentially take the water. This stretch of the Colorado River has been heavily impacted for decades by upstream diversions across the Continental Divide to Front Range cities and farms.

The 2013 law, Senate Bill 13-019, allows some Western Slope water right holders to reduce their water use in up to five out of any consecutive ten years without having the use reductions count against them in water court calculations of “historic consumptive use.” This reduces the “use it or lose it” disincentive for conservation in Colorado water law.

The law applies only to water users in Colorado Division of Water Resources Divisions 4 (Gunnison River Basin), 5 (Colorado River Basin) and 6 (Yampa, White and North Platte River Basins). In order to qualify for the law’s protections, the water use reductions must be the result of enrolling land in a federal land conservation program or participating in an officially-sanctioned water conservation or banking program.

Jim Pokrandt of the Colorado River District, which approved Caruthers’s conservation program, told the Sky Hi Daily News that “we’re glad to be in the vanguard and helping the agricultural community protect their water rights when they want to lend the water rights to environmental purposes.” The same article quotes Caruthers as saying that he and his partners sought to “one, preserve our water rights but also to contribute to the overall maintenance of the ecosystem there by leaving water in the stream when it wasn’t needed.”

The Colorado Water Trust has also pioneered the use of other voluntary and market-based tools for landowners to share water with streams without diminishing their water rights. These include a 2003 law that created a streamlined process for water users to make short-term leases of water to the state for environmental purposes. The Trust first used this tool in 2012 by brokering a deal to support flows in the Yampa River. It has since been used in several other places.

Support and funding for such innovative water conservation efforts is rising as Colorado and the other states and cities that share the Colorado River are seeking ways to prop up water levels in Lakes Powell and Mead in the face of long-term drought.

This is part of a series of articles coordinated by the Water Center at Colorado Mesa University in cooperation with the Colorado and Gunnison Basin Roundtables to raise awareness about water needs, uses and policies in our region. To learn more, go to You can also find the Water Center on Facebook at or on Twitter at

Willow Creek via the USGS
Willow Creek via the USGS

#ColoradoRiver: Middle #Colorado Watershed Council Shoshone Power Plant Tour October 26 #COriver

From email from the Middle Colorado Watershed Council:

Come join the Middle Colorado Watershed Council for a tour of the Shoshone Hydroelectric Power Plant east of Glenwood Springs. The Plant plays a pivotal role in western water not because of the power it generates, but because it holds the one of the oldest, largest water rights on the river. The senior right to 1,250 CFS means that water must flow down the Colorado, and it’s a non-consumptive use, so that water is flowing right back into the river for later use. We will learn about the Plant’s legacy over the past century, and what the water right means to us on the Western Slope. Registration is only open through October 12, and all participants must submit a facility waiver form at registration.

Location: Shoshone Power Station, Glenwood Canyon, CO
Date: October 26, 2015
Registration Deadline: October 12, 5:00pm
Time: 9:00am – 12:00pm
Cost: Free
Registration: Online through Eventbrite
Contact: For more information, contact Dan at

Click here to register.

Link to waiver form.