Pitkin County hammers out makeup of ‘Healthy Rivers’ board

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The Pitkin County commissioners have decided on the makeup of the board that will implement the goals for the county’s new “Healthy Rivers” fund, established in the November election, according to a report from John Colson writing for the Aspen Times. From the article:

It is to be a seven-member, appointed board. Five of those appointed must live in Pitkin County while the other two must be from within the Roaring Fork River watershed. The members will serve four-year terms that will be staggered to begin with so that the entire board does not change over at one time, and the in-country members will be appointed to represent each of the five commissioner districts, if possible…

The board, at this point in its formation, is to meet once a month to start with, and is to make recommendations to the commissioners on how to spend roughly $1 million in annual revenues from a 1 cent sales tax approved by Pitkin County voters in November 2008. According to the wording of the ballot question, the county is to spend the money on maintaining and improving water quality and quantity within the Roaring Fork River watershed; to buy, modify, lease or otherwise manage water rights; work to assure minimum stream flows in local waterways; and other actions…

County Manager Hilary Fletcher directed the triad of staffers who will work with the new board — planning director Cindy Houben, Open Space and Trails director Dale Will and Ely — to come up with a preliminary training budget for the board members, to help them get up to speed on the complicated water laws governing Colorado and the Colorado River Basin.

Colorado Springs recruiting new member for Stormwater Advisory Committee

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From the Colorado Springs Gazette: “Colorado Springs officials are looking for a citizen to sit on the Stormwater Advisory Committee, a group that oversees the Stormwater Enterprise. The applicant should be someone who represents a public institution, school, military base or government entity that owns property within the city limits.

The committee advises the City Council about the Stormwater Enterprise fees and programs. The enterprise imposes fees on property owners and uses the money to repair and upgrade the city’s system for handling rain water that doesn’t absorb into the ground.

Applicants should send letters of interest and resumes before March 13 to mdevine@springsgov.com or mail to City Council, Attention Marti Devine Sletta, P.O. Box 1575, Colorado Springs, 80901. Applicants can also fill out an application online at http://www.springsgov.com; click on the ‘City Council & City Management’ link, and then the ‘City Boards and Commissions’ link. For questions, call 385-5453.”

Dry Gulch Reservoir update

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Here’s an update on the Pagosa Water and Sanitation District’s proposed Dry Gulch Reservoir, from Chuck McGuire writing for the Pagosa Sun. From the article:

New numbers are in, the reservoir is shrinking and a related, controversial fee will likely decrease. Nevertheless, revised cost estimates of the entire Dry Gulch project have risen dramatically. A crowd gathered at the Vista Clubhouse Monday evening, as engineering, financial and legal consultants joined two local water districts in presenting an updated public overview of area growth projections, water demand and storage needs. The two-hour program centered on the proposed Dry Gulch Reservoir, to be located two miles northeast of Pagosa Springs…

The latest estimate considers a smaller reservoir, of just 19,000 acre feet — plus all related infrastructure — as well as a new treatment plant and transmission pipelines that will provide potable water service to meet increased demand resulting from growth. Though the comparison is hardly apples to apples, the fully-developed cost through the life of the project now appears to be $356.5 million, or more than double the previous estimate. However, the cost of the raw water component and related infrastructure alone — as was estimated before — would now run $216.5 million, or $66.5 million more than originally thought. The difference is largely attributable to a vastly more detailed analysis and calculations in 2008 dollars. Of course, the price of the treatment plant and transmission pipelines must also be included in plan projections, and is now estimated at $140 million…

A few years ago, the districts and community taxpayers decided new growth should pay for additional raw water storage and all related infrastructure. Therefore, PAWSD created a Water Resource Fee (WRF) component as part of its Capital Investment Fee (CIF), to help offset the cost of Dry Gulch. The CIF, meanwhile, generates revenue to pay for added treatment and delivery of water to new users throughout the PAWSD district. Both fees are assessed against new development. The amount of money each fee will generate through the life of the Dry Gulch project depends on the actual rate of growth the community sees. But at Monday’s presentation, PAWSD staff and consultants predicted the increase in Equivalent Units (EUs) — a widely accepted measure of water demand — would average 3.9 percent through the year 2055. If so, a WRF of $5,617 per EU, at 36,413 new EUs, would bring in nearly $205 million, while a CIF of $3,579 for the same number of EUs would draw more than $130 million. The total, then, would cover all but approximately $21 million of the entire project.

Here are Part One and Part Three (I couldn’t find a link for Part Two) of Bill Hudson’s series PAWSD Conjures $357 Million Project in Dry Gulch running in the Pagosa Daily Post.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here and here.

Taylor Park Dam hydroelectric retrofit

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Here’s an update on the proposal to retrofit the Taylor Dam with hydroelectric generation facilities, from Evan Dawson writing for the Crested Butte News. From the article:

Last fall the Colorado Water Resources and Power Development Authority announced they would offer $15,000 in matching grants for entities willing to study potential small-scale hydropower projects across the state.

Hearing this, the UGRWCD invited several members of a hydropower-engineering firm from the Front Range out for a tour of the Gunnison Valley to see if the local waterways had any potential. The engineers from TCB Aecomm said the Taylor Park Dam could be easily outfitted with a hydroelectric generator capable of generating one megawatt of electricity. With a little more work, the engineers estimated, the dam could generate even more electricity, but how much more was hard to say without further study.

Following [a recent] tour, the UGRWCD met with representatives from GCEA and the Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Association (which holds rights to the water in Taylor Park Reservoir) and the three entities agreed to become partners in a hydropower feasibility study of the dam and split the necessary matching grant funds, which totaled $15,000. The Water Resources and Power Development Authority ended up approving 11 grant requests across the state, including the UGRWCD’s. The district will be sending out a request for proposals soon to engineering firms interested in completing the feasibility study, which should commence sometime this spring. “We’re going to make it an open process by sending out an RFP. We hope to have a contractor selected by the end of March,” Kugel says.

If a hydropower project is determined to be feasible, the UGRWCD will step back and GCEA will oversee the construction, generation and sale of power from Taylor Dam. “Our main goal was to have a hand in the feasibility study,” Kugel says. A lease for power production would also need to be obtained from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which owns the dam itself. Kugel says the Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Association would be the most logical entity to apply for that lease. “With this feasibility study we’ll really be able to quantify the value [of a hydropower project] and hopefully move ahead,” Wells says…

Taylor Park Reservoir sits about nine miles northeast of Almont, at the end of a winding narrow canyon that is well known for its incredible fishing.
The reservoir is held back by a 200-foot-high earthen dam that stretches more than 600 feet across the narrowest section of Taylor Canyon before it opens up into the high plains of Union Park.
Two giant pipes, or penstocks, carry water from the bottom of Taylor Reservoir to a gatehouse on the other side of the dam. The penstocks lie in a tunnel carved through solid rock on the north side of the canyon…

Beyond the gatehouse, the two penstocks stretch more than 200 feet down a narrow tunnel. One of the penstocks is slightly larger than the other, and is the primary target for installing a hydroelectric generator…

Taking up most of the space in this room were a pair of large hydraulic pistons that control the intake gates. Most of the work to install a hydropower turbine would take place back in the tunnel.
There, workers would have to remove a section of the larger penstock and install a turbine. The penstock was divided into eight-foot sections that were held together by no fewer than 25 large bolts. Since the penstocks themselves are four feet in diameter, and the tunnel they are situated in is a little more than 10 feet in diameter, there would be very little room for error…

From the turbine’s installation point, electric cable would be wired to a transformer that sits just outside the gatehouse. Wells says there is an electric line in place between the transformer and the main line on County Road 742. Wells says the existing line has a carrying capacity of one and a half to two megawatts. “There would be some fairly sophisticated metering that would go on. That transformer would more than likely be the point, but it is an old service point. We might want to upgrade that line out to the road. It’s a new chunk of line going forward after that. We want to plug into the most reliable source,” Wells says. Kugel says the power that could potentially be generated by the dam could satisfy all the homes between Almont and Tincup.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here.

Eagle makes summer watering rules mandatory

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From the Vail Daily: “In a unanimous vote, the Eagle Town Board changed its long-term voluntary summer yard watering schedule from a voluntary program to a mandatory one. There were two primary reasons for the change — to ensure adequate stream flow in Brush Creek and to address capacity issues at the town’s water treatment plant. The normal watering restrictions in the new town ordinance are identical to the existing town program. The schedule calls for house addresses that end in an even number to water on even-numbered days and house addresses that end in an odd number to water on odd-numbered days. Lawn watering is prohibited between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. daily…

“In addition to the regular rules, the new water ordinance includes provisions for drought. A Stage II restriction will come into play on years when the snowpack is determined to be less than 80 percent of normal on April 1. At this point there will be restriction for spas, swimming pools and washing vehicles. During an extremely dry year such as 2002 or 1977, a Stage III restriction will be enacted that will cut back lawn watering to a maximum of two days per week.”

Republican River Basin: New metering rules now in effect

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From The Yuma Pioneer: “It is a new world for owners of high-capacity wells in the Colorado Republican River Basin. Measurement Rules from the Colorado Division of Water Resources went into effect January 1. The first big deadline is Sunday, March 1, when all high-capacity wells within the basin, which includes all of Yuma County, must be equipped with some kind of method measuring the amount of water used by the well. Well owners are either equipping their wells with a totalizing flow meter, or with an alternate method of measurement (such as the power conversion coefficient) that is granted a variance. The only other alternative is to have wells declared inactive. All irrigated farmers, basically, have to have a measurement device with their wells. Wells that are permitted for small-capacity type uses (50 gallons per minute or less, domestic-type uses, livestock uses) are exempt…

“State Engineer Dick Wolfe said last summer that the Measurement Rules were necessary to help the state get a handle on the total amount of ground water being diverted, to help the state comply with the Republican River Compact. There has been talk the Measurement Rules are the first step toward the state limiting appropriations. Keeler acknowledged that other parties have held meetings regarding conservation and extending the life of the Ogallala Aquifer. However, ‘the Division of Water Resources has not taken a stance on limiting the amount of water, beyond the limit imposed one each well by its final permit.'”

More Coyote Gulch coverage here.

HB09-1233: Recognize Acequias

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Representative Edward Vigil. Vigil, a Democrat from Costilla County, has introduced HB09-1233, Concerning the Recognition of Acequias, and, in Connection Therewith, Authorizing Acequia Ditch Corporations (pdf), according to a report from Larry Winget writing for the Valley Courier. From the article:

The bill would allow an existing water conservancy district to convert to an acequias conservancy district, an acequia water conservancy district, or a subdistrict. Under 09-1233, such a district would: Hold elections pursuant to a one landowner-one vote system; Require owners of land irrigated by an acequia within the district to contribute labor to the maintenance and repair of the district’s acequias or pay an assessment in lieu of labor; Hold a right of first refusal regarding the sale, lease, or exchange of any surface water right that has historically been used by the acequias to irrigate long-lot land within the district.

Section 37-2-107 defines an acequia as a community irrigation ditch with several features. One: an acequia must have originated in Spanish Law and Land Grants prior to Colorado’s Statehood. Two: It has historically treated water as a community resource and has therefore attempted to allocate water based upon equity in addition to priority. Three: It relies essentially on gravity-fed surface water diversions. Four: It supplies irrigation water to long lots that are perpendicular to the stream or ditch to maximize the number of landowners who have access to water. Five: It has historically been organized pursuant to a one landowner-one vote system. Six: An acequia has historically relied on labor supplies by the owners of irrigated land within the acequias community.

The House bill concerns acequia conservancy and acequias water conservancy districts to be formed which are located “wholly in one or more of the Counties of Costilla, Conejos, Huerfano and Las Animas.” In the reasoning placed into the bill for its adoption, Vigil mentions that the Town of San Luis is recognized as the oldest town in Colorado. He states that citizens of San Luis brought the acequia system of community irrigation with them from colonial Mexico and that the San Luis People’s Ditch is the oldest water right in Colorado. It carries a priority date of April 10, 1852, in the amount of 21 cubic feet per second from the Culebra Creek, in Costilla County. In the bill, it is written that Colorado’s Territorial session laws from 1868, 1872, and 1874 recognized the validity of acequias within the Counties of Costilla, Conejos, Huerfano, and Las Animas. The bill states, “Upon adoption of Colorado’s Constitution, the prior appropriation system became the law governing water allocation; and The prior appropriation system is, in fundamental ways, inconsistent with the community-based principles upon which the acequias were founded.”

Snowpack news

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From the Rocky Mountain News (Bill Scanlon): “It’s been a dry 2009 in metro Denver so far. Through Thursday, Denver International Airport has recorded just 0.17 inches of precipitation, National Weather Service meteorologist Frank Benton said…Snowfall is well below average for the season, as well. Since September, there has been just 16.9 inches. Typically, about 40 inches of snow falls between September and the end of February.”

Alamosa scores $500,000 for water system rehab from federal omnibus bill

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From The Valley Courier (Ruth Heide): “San Luis Valley-bred U.S. Representative John Salazar on Wednesday announced $500,000 in federal funding for Alamosa’s municipal water system rehabilitation…

“Salazar explained that the $500,000 in the omnibus bill for Alamosa is a direct grant, with no match required, that will rehabilitate Alamosa’s municipal water system including replacement of old cast iron water lines that date to the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. The funding comes at a time when Alamosa has experienced problems with discoloration in its water system partially due to some of those old pipes. ‘This funding will help protect the drinking water quality for Alamosa residents and will reduce the burden of construction and maintenance costs for taxpayers,’ said Congressman Salazar. ‘We must continue to invest in an infrastructure that will safeguard our water quality for future generations.'”

New irrigation consumptive rules for the Arkansas Valley?

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Here’s an update on the proposed new irrigation rules for the Arkansas Valley, from Chris Woodka writing for the Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

A special panel put together by State Engineer Dick Wolfe met Tuesday in Pueblo to review the latest draft of the rules, which incorporated some of [Kansas’] recommended changes, but took others off the table. “We’ll take these back to Kansas, and then meet with the committee again in April before bringing the rules to court in May,” Wolfe said. “I want the in-state users to have the last say.” Kansas attorney John Draper sent a letter to the state last week asking for about 10 changes in the rules. Some were simple matters of wording, while others attempted to get at more substantive changes. All are important to Colorado, because the main purpose of the new rules is to head off any objections from Kansas under the Arkansas River Compact about reduced return flows because of efficiency improvements.

The major concession Colorado will make is including technical information about the Irrigation System Analysis Model which the state is developing to measure how improvements affect return flows. The model could, in theory, change over time as new data develops. It would also be secondary to specific engineering reports on any irrigation system and allow flexibility in how the state engineer could apply it, committee members agreed.

Colorado will identify the rules as specific to compact compliance, not include gated pipe as an improvement because of enforcement difficulties, apply the rules only to post-1999 improvements, maintain historic compact limits on potential damage to Kansas and keep language about nonconsumptive use in the rules, McDonald said. Colorado will modify the rules regarding designated basins, conditions in the Purgatoire Conservancy District, a more structured approach to variances that makes it clear the rules apply and addition of Kansas to the notification list when irrigation changes are made…

More Coyote Gulch coverage here.

Pueblo County Health Department septic inspections fees to rise

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From the Pueblo Chieftain (John Norton): “Any septic system repairs that require a health department inspection will cost an additional $23 starting next week, according to the associate director of the Pueblo City-County Health Department Environmental Health Division. The local agency charges $40 for inspections of repairs but Ken Williams told the Board of Health Wednesday that the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment wants a $23 state fee collected, too. Since the new fee went into effect last summer, Williams said it was only collected on new systems, which also carry a $325 local inspection fee. The $23 goes to pay for a staff position at the state level so that local health departments can get help reviewing installations and engineering plans.”

SB09-141: Fountain Creek Watershed District

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Here’s an update on SB09-141, the bill that will set up the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District, from Chris Woodka writing for the Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

There could be a handful of minor changes in the bill (SB141), which was discussed Friday at a meeting of the interim board that is extending the work of the Fountain Creek Vision Task Force until the district is created. Although several members were absent, so no action could be taken, the consensus was to make changes that cleared up concerns about the new district…

The interim committee is made up representatives from El Paso and Pueblo counties, which approved an intergovernmental agreement in December. Since then, cities in El Paso County and the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District also have signed the agreement. Pueblo City Council could agree to sign the IGA on Monday. Sewer districts in El Paso County on Friday asked the interim committee to urge lawmakers to spell out the role of regulators in the new legislation…

“I think it’s important to know that the Colorado Water Quality Commission is the final authority in the state on water quality,” said attorney Tad Foster, who represents the Tri-Lake, Upper Monument, Security and Fountain sewer districts. Wastewater plants already are highly regulated, and must meet stringent water quality standards. The new Fountain Creek district should not be in a position to regulate those discharges, Foster said. Foster wanted specific language in the bill that the district would have no authority over municipal sewer plants. The committee agreed…

Attorneys for both counties agreed the changes were appropriate, and recommended another change that would give the new district limited power to act as well as advocate on Fountain Creek issues. The bill would set up a nine-member board that would have jurisdictional authority in the flood plain of Fountain Creek from Fountain to Pueblo. It would also make input on land-use decisions throughout the 930-mile watershed. It would be able to assess taxes in El Paso and Pueblo counties only with voter approval, but could impose service charges or fees.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here and here.

New pipeline from Bailey to Conifer and back

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It looks like Conifer Water LLC’s pipeline is going to get built, according to a report from Mike Potter writing for the Fairplay Flume. From the article:

A $24 million water pipeline project between downtown Bailey and Conifer may be close to becoming a reality. John McMichael, the managing partner for Conifer Water LLC, the company that is planning to build the pipeline, said he looked at the water situation along the U.S. 285 corridor and concluded that demand would soon outgrow the supply of water, and something had to be done. “I thought this is a pipeline situation,” said McMichael, who was one of the founders of Colorado Natural Gas in 1996 but no longer works for the company. McMichael presented his pipeline plans at the Feb. 18 Conifer Area Council town meeting…

The pipeline, consisting of two pipes, would carry about 2.9 cubic feet of water per second out of the North Fork of the South Platte River in Bailey up to Conifer for consumption through one pipe. The water would then be treated and returned to Bailey through another pipe, where it would go back into the river…

McMichael has been working on the project for more than three years, he said, and the project is close to the construction phase. “It’s almost funded,” he said. “[And] all but one or two permits are in place.” McMichael said that when Jefferson County and the state of Colorado set their well policies in the 1950s, it was estimated that between 4,000 and 6,000 wells would be drilled by the year 2000 in unincorporated Jefferson County. “By the year 2000, they actually had 28,000 wells drilled,” he said. “I was given a number the other day that now that we’re in 2009, we’re up to 35,000 in unincorporated Jefferson County.” Paul Gisiano, director of program development with Conifer Water, said a solution that would eliminate the dependency on groundwater was needed. That is where water from the Platte River comes in…

Gisiano said the water in the North Fork of the South Platte River will have no problem meeting the demand of Conifer, especially considering that it will be replaced. He said the 2.9 cubic feet of water per second taken from the river is a small fraction of the total amount of water flowing down the river, and everything taken will be replaced about 100 yards farther down the river…

McMichael called the project a “simple loop,” and said that it would operate on a pretty basic principal: replace what is used. Conifer Water would lay two strings of pipe in the ground following Colorado Natural Gas pipelines between Bailey and Conifer. As the pipeline approached Bailey, it would make use of Colorado Department of Transportation-owned land. McMichael said contracts are already agreed upon in principle with all of the parties involved…

One string of pipes will carry potable, or drinkable, water toward Conifer, while the other string will bring effluent water back, and then it would be returned back into the river, leading to no net decrease in water flow down river. McMichael said effluent water is cleaned wastewater that can be returned to the river…

The pipeline is set to serve only districts that have wastewater treatment facilities, he said. Those districts would treat the water themselves before sending it back to Bailey. In the future, when raw wastewater would be transported through the pipe, it would need to be cleaned at the Bailey treatment plant before being returned to the river. The Bailey Water and Sanitation District would get new wastewater treatment and water facilities built, funded by Conifer Water, McMichael said. Both plants would cost around $3 million each and take between three and six months to build, he said. The water treatment facility would belong to the Bailey Water and Sanitation District, but Conifer Water LLC would be its biggest customer.

In exchange for use of the plants, McMichael said, Conifer Water would pay a large tap fee to draw the water. Conifer Water would pay for its use of the Bailey facilities through service fees charged to its customers. He said the new water treatment plant would ensure that there would be no increase in fees for Bailey residents in the water district…

Not all districts are buying into the water pipeline, though. Rick Angelica, president of the Will-O-Wisp Metropolitan District, said the pipeline has been an interesting idea, but the proposed price is too high for his subdivision to pay. Will-O-Wisp gets its water from wells and has its own water treatment facility and it plans to use water from Elk Creek for the Tanglewood development near Pine Junction. Angelica said that the cost of getting water from the pipeline would be five to 10 times more expensive than using the district’s water rights…

In addition, the pipeline water might be a good alternative for subdivisions with water that must undergo expensive treatment. Kings Valley-based Mountain Water and Sanitation District has water that contains high amounts of radioactive material, which is expensive to withdraw, according to Gisiano. Marilyn Saltzman, secretary for the district’s board of directors, said the board is exploring the possibility of getting water from the pipeline, but it hasn’t committed to anything yet. She confirmed that there are problems with high levels of radioactive material in the district’s well water that need to be addressed, and water from another source is a possible solution…

McMichael said the money to pay for the pipeline is coming from two private investors and from bonds. He declined to specify what percentage of the costs would be paid by each. He plans to use industrial revenue bonds, which are not guaranteed by the state but are state-sponsored. There is the option for Conifer Water to reorganize into a special district, which would allow it to qualify for tax-exempt bonds, he said. Reorganizing would push the start date of the project back, he said, but even after the project is complete, Conifer Water would still be able to reorganize into a special district. McMichael said he wasn’t sure what would be required for the water pipeline to turn a profit, because it would be based on the interest rate on the bonds. “We want to be competitive,” he said, “but at the same time, water is an expensive commodity in Colorado.” McMichael thinks that the water would be sold through the company for around $4 per 1,000 gallons…

McMichael estimated that it would take three months to lay the pipe between Conifer and Bailey. The pipeline would extend from the Bailey water treatment facilities on County Road 68 at the bottom of Crow Hill to the Conifer Market Place shopping center that houses Staples on the southwest side of Conifer.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here.

Greeley pipeline: Protection of historic railroad grade impacting plans

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Here’s an update on Greeley’s plans to build a new supply pipeline along the route of the historic Greeley, Salt Lake and Pacific Railroad line, from Cherry Sokoloski writing for the North Forty News. From the article:

As it stands now, Greeley plans to build the pipeline along the route of the old Greeley, Salt Lake and Pacific Railroad line, a move that would likely destroy the historic resource. Some of the original tracks remain on the corridor, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Mary Humstone of LaPorte, a historic preservationist and University of Wyoming professor, applied to have the railroad line designated as “most endangered.” The corridor was one of four places chosen for the 2009 list from 39 nominated sites. “I’m thrilled to get the designation,” said Humstone. “It shows that this is not just of concern to a small group of people in LaPorte and Bellvue. It broadens our case. This statewide organization is saying it’s really important to save these kinds of resources.” Humstone also noted that about 2,000 people, including county commissioners and state legislators, signed a petition urging Greeley to relocate the pipeline. “We’re going to keep pushing them to look at other routes,” Humstone said. The historic railroad line crosses property owned by her and her husband as well as other LaPorte residents.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here.

Oak Creek town board approves grant applications for DOLA dough

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From the Steamboat Pilot & Today: “After consulting with a re gional representative from the Colorado Department of Local Affairs on Thursday night, the Oak Creek Town Board opted to proceed with filing grant applications to fund a water meter study for the town and make needed repairs to Oak Creek’s water storage tank.

“After receiving advice from Greg Winkler, DOLA’s regional field manager for the north-central mountains, the town will seek an energy and mineral impact grant for a water meter feasibility study and a Community Development Block Grant for the water tank repairs.”

Moffat County: Duffy irrigation tunnel

Yampa/White/Green/North Platte river basins via the Colorado Geological Survey

Here’s a look at irrigation history up in the Yampa Valley from Shannan Koucherik writing for the Craig Daily Press. From the article:

In the early 1900s, Duffy realized that the production on some of his land was limited due to lack of water. He studied the Bear (Yampa) River and the surrounding hills and devised an ambitious plan to bring water closer to those acres that showed promise.

The Dec. 22, 1904, edition of the Routt County Courier reported the initial plans that Duffy had developed with the help of an engineer. “A plan has been under consideration … to irrigate a large portion of the Bear Valley above Juniper Mountain comprised of the Hodges, K Diamond, Duffy and Murray ranches. … The plans are to tunnel through a spur of the mountain in the large bend of the river just above the ranches. The tunnel will be a little over 2,000 ft. long and will raise the water about 18 ft. above the river at the place where the tunnel emerges from the mountain.”

The work had to be done mostly in the winter with men and horses hauling out the rock and dirt that was blasted from the heart of the mountain. It took six years of hard work and considerable expense to finish the tunnel, which originally was lined with cedar posts.

The project wasn’t without its problems. The engineer made a miscalculation when figuring the digging route — done from both ends and designed to meet perfectly in the middle – and the end of the tunnel that was supposed to be the lower, ended up two feet higher than the input end. Some adjusting and extra digging solved the problem.

Click through and read the whole article.

Upper Yampa River Water Conservancy District keeping an eye on Shell’s application

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The Upper Yampa River Water Conservancy District filed a statement in opposition to Shell’s water court application for a diversion on the Yampa River, according to a report from Melinda Dudley writing for the Steamboat Pilot & Today. From the article:

The Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District filed a statement of opposition on Friday to Shell Frontier Oil and Gas’ Dec. 30 request for substantial water rights on the Yampa River. “We’re in it to look after the constituency and our district,” Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District General Manager Kevin McBride said. “It doesn’t do the Upper Yampa any good to be taking water out.” The water district is joined in its opposition by the South Routt towns of Oak Creek and Yampa. Although upstream of Shell’s proposed diversion in Moffat County, town officials worry that the company’s request could affect future water rights and development across Northwest Colorado.

The term “opposition” can be a bit misleading, McBride said. “Filing an opposition could mean anything from an entity having a real opposition to simply wanting to be notified of the proceedings,” McBride said. “If you want to be notified of the proceedings, you have to oppose.” Town officials in Yampa and Oak Creek, both of which piggybacked on the Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District’s opposition, have made it clear that their opposition is more than just a way to stay informed…

Shell’s filing would allocate the Yampa River “basically to 100 percent,” affecting future water rights, Oak Creek Trustee Josh Voorhis said Thursday, when the Oak Creek Town Board agreed to join the Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District’s pending opposition. The deadline for oppositions on the matter is today…

[Shell’s proposed reservoir] would be built off the main stem of the Yampa in the Cedar Springs Draw in Moffat County. The proposed reservoir’s potential 45,000 acre-foot size compares to the 33,275 acre-feet in Stagecoach Reservoir and 25,450 acre-feet in the newly expanded Elkhead Reservoir between Hayden and Craig.

Meanwhile the Moffat County Commission approved participation in a groundwater study proposed by the Colorado Water Conservation Board, according to a report from the Craig Daily Press. From the article:

[Moffat County Commission]: Approved, 3-0, signing a grant contract with the Colorado Water Conservation Board to hire Colorado Geological Survey to investigate local groundwater and aquifer conditions before widespread coal-bed methane development occurs locally.

California: Governor Schwarzenegger declares drought emergency

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California water supplies are in a world of hurt after another winter of low precipitation including a low snowpack. Yesterday Governor Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency, according to a report from the Palm Springs Desert Sun. From the article:

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency Friday after three years of below-average rain and snowfall in California, a step that urges urban water agencies to reduce water use by 20 percent. Mandatory conservation is an option if that and other measures are insufficient. “This is a crisis, just as severe as an earthquake or raging wildfire, and we must treat it with the same urgency by upgrading California’s water infrastructure to ensure a clean and reliable water supply for our growing state,” he said in a statement…

In signing the emergency proclamation, Schwarzenegger said California faces its third year of drought and must prepare for more. The drought has forced farmers to fallow their fields, put thousands of agricultural workers out of work and prompted conservation measures in cities throughout the state. “This drought is having a devastating impact on our people, our communities, our economy and our environment, making today’s action absolutely necessary,” the governor said in his statement.

Meanwhile back upstream in Colorado the eastern plains continue to be abnormally dry with the extreme southeast corner of the state in stage 1 drought. The Yampa and White River basins are also abnormally dry, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

Windsor: Rate increase

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From the Windsor Beacon (Ashley Keesis-Wood): “The Windsor Water and Sewer advisory board is recommending to the Windsor Town Board that the current water rate be raised by 15 cents per month…The increase amounts to about $1.80 a year, and by raising the rate incrementally, [Windsor Mayor Pro-Tem Richard Drake] said the water and sewer board is trying to avoid hitting customers with a large increase. The board will take up the issue during Monday night’s work session.”

Snowpack news

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From the Loveland Reporter-Herald: “Moisture levels in the mountains west of Loveland have declined slightly in the past month, according to readings from the Natural Resources Conservation Service. Readings on Thursday showed only the two highest observation posts in the Big Thompson basin were above seasonal averages for water content. Williow Park, at 10,700 feet, and Bear Lake, at 9,500 feet, were at 102 percent and 110 percent of the 30-year average, respectively. Two other locations, Hidden Valley and Deer Ridge, were at 77 percent and 82 percent of the 30-year average.”

From the Colorado Springs Gazette:

Snowpack in the Arkansas River Basin is 119 percent of the average for this time of year, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service. In the upper Colorado River Basin, it’s 118 percent.

But at a snow-monitoring station at Glen Cove on Pikes Peak, the snow measured just 0.7 inches Thursday. The peak’s north slope has received about half the normal snowfall, and this week’s warm temperatures melted much of the meager 2.8-inch snow depth measured over the weekend. Wednesday’s average of 51 degrees in Colorado Springs was 18 degrees above normal. “This is kind of the second year in a row where we’ve had poor runoff and poor snowpack on Pikes Peak proper, so the water on Pikes Peak isn’t looking as good,” said Kevin Lusk, water supply engineer for Colorado Springs Utilities. Utilities gets an average of 18,410 acre-feet, about 20 percent of its water, from 10 Pikes Peak reservoirs…

According to Lusk, snowpack in the mountains around Twin Lakes in Lake County is 128 percent of normal. The Blue River system, near Hoosier Pass, is at 100 percent. The Homestake system, in the mountains of southwest Eagle County, is at 130 percent…

Despite the dry winter, the Pikes Peak reservoirs are above average, at 71 percent capacity, compared to a late-February average of 65 percent, which Lusk attributed to the heavy snow elsewhere that allows Utilities to move around water. Utilities’ total water storage is 78 percent of capacity. Lusk said the average for late February is 62 percent. The warm dry weather has made for an early fire season on the plains.

According to the National Weather Service, just 11.8 inches of snow have fallen at the Colorado Springs Airport this season, less than half the normal 26.7 inches for this time of year. A red flag fire warning was in effect Thursday for much of southern Colorado, and fire danger was listed as “high” to “very high” in the eastern half of the state.

Southern Delivery System: Springs City Council will decide route

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If Pueblo County ultimately approves a permit for the Southern Delivery System through the county it will be up to the Colorado Springs City Council to decide which route to take for the pipeline, according to a report from Chris Woodka writing for the Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

Fremont County moved ahead in the process this week when commissioners approved a special use permit. During the meeting Tuesday morning, Pueblo County staff made the call to delay a public hearing three more weeks to give themselves more time to work out details for a 1041 permit.

Colorado Springs still views the Pueblo Dam route as most favorable, but has developed the Fremont County option as its fallback plan. The hearing is now scheduled to resume at 6 p.m. March 18 at the Pueblo County Courthouse. “We’re real pleased with the outcome in Fremont County, and the conditions seem reasonable,” said John Fredell, SDS project director. “We are making progress in Pueblo County, but there are still a lot of things we need to work out. In the end, it will come down to a business decision by our board (the Colorado Springs City Council).” Chief among those are the conditions on Fountain Creek, which would be affected under either plan by increased daily flows of treated wastewater into the creek and runoff from the new development that would be served by SDS in Colorado Springs, Security and Fountain. “On the Pueblo County side, everything centers around the conditions on Fountain Creek,” Fredell said. Fountain Creek impacts are addressed in the environmental impact statement by the Bureau of Reclamation, which looked at the recently formed stormwater enterprise as the primary vehicle for dealing with flows…

Pueblo County staff wants even tighter assurances that if more problems pop up on Fountain Creek, they will be addressed by Colorado Springs and its SDS partners. “We’ve had some meetings and discussed some possible language,” Fredell said…

Other than the Fountain Creek issue, which Fredell is optimistic would be addressed with either route, Colorado Springs has taken pains to offer the same sorts of things to both counties, Fredell said. Issues like revegetation, noise control, dust control, roads and easements are treated the same in both counties, with some of the same conditions Pueblo staff wants already included as commitments referenced in Fremont County’s permit.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here and here.

It’s goodbye to the Rocky Mountain News after 150 years

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I linked to the Rocky Mountain News hundreds of times over the years from Coyote Gulch. I was pulling for their online operation. It was easy to see that news reading was moving online. Daily readership of print has been declining for years.

I grew up in Denver and the Rocky Mountain News was the family paper since I can remember. I still subscribe. Through tomorrow.

When I was a kid I didn’t know any Rocky delivery people but I hung out with a bunch of the North Denver kids that delivered the Denver Post in the afternoon. The public school kids mixing it up with the Catholic kids after school. I remember that they were all pretty tough when conflict arose. The guy that ran the Post shed didn’t take a flack either.

If you get a chance give Jerd Smith a job. She’s a great writer and can report on complex issues including water in Colorado.

Links to the Rocky Mountain News over the years here, here and here.

I’m bummed so I’m taking the night off.

CDPHE: Rifle Gap Reservoir, Elkhead Reservoir, Juniata Reservoir, Catamount Lake and Lake Granby added to mercury tainted waters list

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From the Denver Post (Mark Jaffe): “The health advisories — for fish including trout, northern pike and large- and small-mouth bass — cover Rifle Gap Reservoir, Elkhead Reservoir, Juniata Reservoir, Catamount Lake and Lake Granby. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment issued the advisories Wednesday…

“Routine sampling found that at least one fish species sampled at each site met or exceeded 0.5 parts per million of “action level” set by the state health department. Because mercury collects in body tissue, bigger fish are likely to contain more of the toxic material. The advisory generally warns pregnant women and children 6 and younger not to eat larger fish or have more than one serving a month. The main source of the mercury is coal-burning power plants, the state said, and a program is underway to reduce emissions by 90 percent by 2018.”

More coverage from the Craig Daily Press (Tom Ross):

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and the Colorado Division of Wildlife issued a joint news release Wednesday, alerting the public that tissue samples taken from fish in the reservoir revealed at least one largemouth bass and one smallmouth bass containing mercury levels of more than 0.5 parts per million. “Eating fish that exceed this level may cause health problems, especially for the unborn fetus and small children,” the agencies cautioned in a written release. The release explained mercury can harm developing nervous systems in fetuses and young children…

The Department of Health is advising pregnant women, nursing women and women who plan on being pregnant against eating any largemouth bass greater than 15 inches in length or smallmouth bass of any size. The advisory is extended to children 6 years or younger. In addition, the general population is cautioned not to eat more than one meal of bass from Elkhead per month. A meal is considered 8 ounces of fish for an adult and 4 ounces for a child. Less strict cautions also have been issued against northern pike and black crappie caught from Elkhead…

Airborne inorganic mercury can come from a variety of sources and typically finds its way into water bodies via precipitation. The Department of Health’s Air Pollution Control Division is in the midst of a statewide effort to reduce mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants. Gunderson said the presence of elevated levels of mercury in fish is not a sign that the water in the lake they swim in is unsafe for human consumption. He added that inorganic mercury in the water column does not accumulate in humans.

Southern Delivery System: Pueblo County wants more study, Fremont County sets conditions

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From the Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka): “negotiations on unresolved issues continue. County staff requested moving a meeting scheduled for tonight to 6 p.m. March 18 at the Pueblo County Courthouse in order to give county staff more time to work on requirements under the county’s 1041 land-use rules. ‘Honestly, we’re still trying to work out mitigation and conditions that the commissioners will accept,’ said Kim Headley, county planning director. ‘Hopefully we can get something finalized in the next three weeks that protects the county, as we should.’ Commissioners intend to meet briefly tonight to continue a public hearing that began in December.”

Meanwhile, here’s an update on Fremont County’s permit for SDS and the conditions they’ll be enforcing against Colorado Springs Utilities is the project is built through the county, from Chris Woodka writing for the Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

Fremont County attached about 40 conditions and a dozen contingencies to the permit, along with the understanding that Colorado Springs will report back often. The first update will come in two weeks, with another scheduled in three months. Those checkpoints will keep the project moving forward even as Pueblo County continues to attempt to resolve differences over levels at Lake Pueblo, flows on the Arkansas River and improvements on Fountain Creek that are intertwined with SDS. Colorado Springs considers Fremont County a fallback option if its desired route through Pueblo County can’t be negotiated. “The applicant is applying in two counties, and Pueblo is treating it in a different way,” Fremont County Commission Chairman Mike Stiehl said at Tuesday’s meeting. “The Bureau of Reclamation has set conditions that we assume they will be enforcing.” That was part of Pueblo County’s decision to postpone a meeting scheduled Wednesday to March 18.

Pueblo County has not been able to move quickly, in part, because the final conditions Reclamation intends to enforce have not been released, Planning Director Kim Headley said. The record of decision, a document that would be the basis of contract negotiations between Colorado Springs and its SDS partners, has not been finalized more than two months after the environmental impact statement for the project was completed in December.

Fremont County commissioners, who signed an agreement last year to expedite the SDS permit, have chosen to let Reclamation work at its own pace on its own issues. Similarly, issues about water flow are for the most part the primary responsibility of the State Division of Water Resources to administer, not the county. Agreements with other federal, state and local agencies are necessary, but the commissioners do not have the sort of regulations that Pueblo has to make additional requirements in those areas. “Our job has been to identify our own concerns and those expressed at the public hearing,” Stiehl said. That does not mean other concerns will be ignored, however. Stiehl and Norden both took great pains to point out that Fremont County’s blessing hinges on Colorado Springs obtaining the approval it needs from other agencies, a theme that is repeated throughout the conditions and contingency document…

Basically, the approval in Fremont County covers the footprint of the project itself, a 100-foot-wide, 17-mile-long path that includes three pump stations. The 66-inch diameter pipeline would bring up to 78 million gallons of water a day from a river intake near Florence to the El Paso County line through Fremont County. From there, it would go to a reservoir and treatment plant to be added to other sources of water to serve Colorado Springs, Fountain and Security…

In Fremont County, talks have just begun among Colorado Springs, Penrose and the Beaver Park Irrigation Co. to determine if the two Fremont County groups can afford to hook into the pipeline. Things are happening later in Fremont County because up until 2007, the Fremont County route was seen as an unrealistic option. During meetings in late 2005, Reclamation was careful to point out that the route was rejected as too costly, but included solely to satisfy the court of public opinion. Water court filings by Colorado Springs, Fountain and Security in late 2006 made it clear that interest was renewed in a Fremont County route, a forgotten piece that showed up on early maps of the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project as the route for the Fountain Valley Conduit. The Fountain Valley line eventually was built from Pueblo Dam…

Some of the deadlines for Colorado Springs under the conditions improved Tuesday by Fremont County included:

– Notification within 20 days of every other SDS permit as they are issued.

– Two weeks progress report on negotiations with Penrose and Beaver Park.

– Three-month deadline to reach a deal with Penrose and Beaver Park.

– Work on the project cannot stop for any six-month period.

– One year to obtain easements or parcels needed for the pipeline, provide final engineering reports and install a river gauge below the Eastern Fremont County Sanitation District. Also included in that time-frame are written agreements from the Colorado Department of Transportation regarding easements on Colorado 115, Florence on development of an Arkansas River Park, Penrose, Beaver Park and the Natural Resources Conservation Service regarding flood protection structures for Penrose.

More coverage from Debbie Bell writing for the Cañon City Daily Record:

Almost 50 conditions and contingencies surround the Southern Delivery System permit approved Tuesday by the Fremont County Commissioners. Colorado Springs Utilities, the lead partner in the project, expressed its acceptance of the conditions. “They appear to be consistent with the conditions we reviewed before,” said SDS Project Manager John Fredell. “They appear reasonable to us.”

Among the conditions CSU must meet are:

— Limit construction hours to Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. The county may grant exceptions when warranted.

— Install fire protection and cooperate with requirements of the Florence Fire Protection District.

— Post bonds for reclamation.

— Commit in writing to its proposed improvements of Florence River Park.

— Forward Payment in Lieu of Taxes to Fremont County annually equal to any reduction in private property taxes.

— Use Fremont County contractors, businesses, workers, materials and supplies to the extent feasible.

In addition to the conditions surrounding the operation of the facility once built, CSU has 12 months to meet certain conditions, including:

— Obtain all rights for property use and easements.

— Negotiate in good faith with Penrose Water District and Beaver Park Water to form partnerships.

— Obtain proof from Colorado Department of Transportation the project will not impede future widening of Colo. 115.

— Install a USGS-compatible river monitoring gauge immediately below the Arkansas River intake to monitor water flow.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here and here.

Snowpack news

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La Niña has settled in. Here’s a report from The Mountain Mail (Paul Goetz). From the article:

Defined as cooler than normal ocean surface temperature in the central and eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean, La Niña impacts weather globally. Locally, La Niña began in late December, but it is too early to know how strong the event will be or how long it will last, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration forecasters said. For the next few months, La Niña is expected to cause milder and drier than average weather in southeastern and southwestern states. “This La Niña is trending warmer temperature and dryer weather for the Eastern Slope of the Continental Divide,” Joe Ceru, Pueblo forecast center meteorologist, said…

A normal to low water season is good for the rafting business too, Bob Hamel, owner of Arkansas River Tours in Cotopaxi said. “Normal water is better than big water. We won’t have the scare factor,” Hamel said. “We have a good snowpack up high and reservoirs are up. We’re at 100 percent of average where we need to be.”

Interior pulls Bush eleventh hour oil shale leases

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Reuters: “A Bush administration plan for demonstration oil shale leases will be scrapped because the proposal is flawed and royalties to the government are too low, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said on Wednesday. ‘If oil shale technology proves to be viable on a commercial scale, taxpayers should get a fair rate of return from their resource,’ he told reporters on a teleconference.”

More coverage from the Salt Lake Tribune (Patty Henetz):

Making good on a promise he made a week before President Barack Obama took office, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar on Wednesday tossed out a Bush administration move to speed oil-shale development on public land in Utah and Colorado. During a teleconference, Salazar called the Bush rule one of many flawed last-minute policies “that don’t pass the smell test.” Earlier this month, the new Interior boss shelved leases for oil and gas drilling near national parks in Utah. Wednesday’s announcement means any additional research-and-development leases the U.S. Bureau of Management may have offered after mid-January won’t go forward. Under the Bush regulation, the leases would have allowed substantially more acreage and set royalties at 5 percent, a figure Salazar said would sell taxpayers short.

More coverage from the Deseret News (Amy Joi O’Donoghue):

Yet another blow was delivered to Utah’s oil industry Wednesday by U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar with his announcement that he is cancelling a second round of offering oil shale research and development leases on federal land in Utah, Wyoming and Colorado…

The decision marks the second time Salazar has reversed a decision of the previous administration involving Utah’s public lands. Earlier, he rescinded bids made on 77 parcels of Bureau of Land Management land for potential oil and gas development offered at a December auction in Salt Lake City. He characterized the offering of the bids in much the same way, saying the Bush administration rushed headlong into the process in the waning days of the administration without proper review. Some of the parcels, he said, were located in close proximity to many Utah landmarks, including Canyonlands and Arches national parks…

Steve Bloch, attorney with the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, lauded Salazar’s decision. “What he is proposing makes a lot of sense, and that is not to rush ahead pell-mell and offer large swaths of land until companies can affirmatively demonstrate that shale development is economically feasible and can be done in an environmentally sound and sustainable manner.”

More Coyote Gulch coverage here and here.

Southern Delivery System: Colorado Springs Utilities snags a permit from Fremont County commissioners

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From KOAA.com (David Ortiviz): ”
the Fremont County route is the utility’s alternate choice. Colorado Springs Utilities says it would cost up to $100 million less to build the pipeline from the Pueblo reservoir. ‘We think there’s some real benefits from coming out of the reservoir, but again we plan, if we can’t work out permit conditions that work for Colorado Springs we’re going to build a project in Fremont County off the river,’ said John Fredell, project manager for the Southern Delivery System.”

More Coyote Gulch coverage here and here.

Moffat County signs on with CWCB to study effects of coalbed methane extraction on groundwater

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From the Craig Daily Press (Collin Smith): “County officials are aware of issues surrounding coal-bed methane extraction in the San Juan, Raton and Piceance basins. The development has been linked to drying up water wells and streams in other places across Colorado and the Rocky Mountain west, and local officials want to be proactive before potential problems arise. With that in mind, the Moffat County Commission unanimously approved signing a grant contract with the Colorado Water Conservation Board to survey local groundwater and aquifer conditions before widespread coal-bed methane development occurs locally.”

More Coyote Gulch coverage here.

Basalt town council favors new kayak park

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From the Aspen Daily News (Brent Gardner-Smith): “The Basalt Town Council likes the idea of two kayak play waves in the Roaring Fork River and several overhanging decks on a steep section of riverbank alongside upper Two Rivers Road.

“The features in the river and the cantilevered decks above the river would be built across from the entrance to the Elk Run neighborhood and just downstream of Fisherman’s Park, where today there is a small parking lot and bathrooms.

“Six of the seven Basalt council members agreed the kayak park was a good idea after hearing it would help protect water rights, stabilize the riverbank, attract kayakers, create a riverside park and slow down traffic near local schools and neighborhoods.”

More Coyote Gulch coverage here and here.

Hot Sulphur Springs: New ordinance seeks to protect the Colorado River upstream from the town’s water intake

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From the Sky-Hi Daily News (Tonya Bina): “A law adopted to protect Hot Sulphur Springs’ water supplies sent resident Yvonne Knox to Town Hall to point out its unforeseen consequences…

“‘We never heard about it until we got a copy of it after it was passed,’ she said. ‘It’s hypocritical — you turned around and did exactly what you accused someone else of doing.’

“Admitting that the law was a ‘knee-jerk” reaction to Grand County’s proposal to locate a trash transfer station just outside town, Hot Sulphur Mayor Hershal Deputy said the town board’s primary intent was to protect the Colorado River upstream from the town’s water intake.”

Southern Delivery System: Colorado Springs Utilities snags a permit from Fremont County commissioners

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The Fremont County commissioners approved Colorado Springs Utilities’ permit application for the Southern Delivery System through the county today, according to a report from Debbie Bell writing for the Cañon City Daily Record. From the article:

The permit will allow CSU to build a water intake and pump station north of the Arkansas River near Colo. 115, two additional pump stations, 17 miles of 66-inch diameter pipeline and an electric substation and transmission facilities to transport up to 78 million gallons of water a day to Colorado Springs. CSU and its partners, Security and Fountain, already own the water rights and are seeking a long-term method of transportation.

More coverage from the Colorado Springs Gazette (R. Scott Rappold):

Colorado Springs Utilities received approval from Fremont County commissioners Tuesday to build a water pipeline from the Arkansas River, the backup plan for the Southern Delivery System. Commissioners voted 3-0 to approve a special review use permit.

While Utilities officials still hope to build a pipeline from Pueblo Reservoir, they were thrilled to finally receive a county approval after more than a decade of planning on the controversial project. “It just makes sure this is the viable alternative we’ve always said it was,” said Utilities’ project manager John Fredell.

The approval was timely. Utilities officials are seeking a permit from Pueblo County, and were supposed to have been in Pueblo tonight for the fifth part of a hearing to find out what conditions that county will attach to approval for a pipeline from Pueblo Reservoir. But Pueblo County on Tuesday postponed it to March 18, the second time it had been pushed back, to give its staff more time to review the project.

Update: Here’s a report from Chris Woodka writing for the Pueblo Chieftain:

The approval came with lots of strings attached, as well as some unfinished, frantic bargaining with local water users. The Fremont County route, ranked as a backup plan to SDS through Pueblo County both by Colorado Springs Utilities and the Bureau of Reclamation, would cross 17 miles of mostly uninhabited land on its way to serve Colorado Springs, Security and Fountain water needs…

Fremont County commissioners struggled during a 2-hour meeting Tuesday to develop conditions that would cover unknown conditions centered on the Penrose area. Finally, they gave approval. “It still comes with the expectation that Colorado Springs will negotiate in good faith,” Commissioner Ed Norden said.

The Beaver Park Irrigation Co. and Penrose Water both would like to connect to the pipeline if it is built in Fremont County, but don’t know if they can afford to become partners or how the timing of SDS would affect other water projects already in the works.

The Natural Resources Conservancy Agency has a plan to build flood control detention ponds in Penrose, and is concerned about whether some of the same rights of way needed for the proposed pipeline would interfere.

Florence has been assured that its Arkansas River park would be better protected from floods, and its council supports SDS, but there’s nothing in writing. Colorado Springs has only just begun discussions with the major shareholders on the Lester & Attebery ditch, whose headgate it proposes to rebuild for its river intake.

Beaver Park and Penrose asked for more time to see if deals could be worked out. “One of our major concerns is the environmental impact statement,” said Lissa Pinello, president of the Penrose District. “Without a good estimate, we don’t know if the cost would be too high for us.”[…]

The dilemma for Penrose is that it already is making plans for a $9.7 million project to develop a delivery system for water rights it purchased in the western end of the county. There is an opportunity to save more than $2 million by joining SDS, but state loans and grants already are in place for the existing project. Colorado Springs would bend its own rules and allow Penrose to share rights of way for pipelines if it could not afford SDS, Fredell added. Beaver Park finds itself in similar straits. “There is an awful lot of financial burden that we cannot afford,” said Beaver Park Superintendent Tom Sanders. “We would like to be able to afford getting into this.” Norden, in particular, pushed Beaver Park and Penrose officials on determining what sort of requirement the commissioners could put into the lengthy list of conditions…

In the end, it was Colorado Springs that suggested a plan to resolve the conflict. Fredell laid out a 90-day timetable for negotiations with the two districts, promising to provide more complete cost figures. Colorado Springs also headed off the issue of flood control detention ponds by offering to provide fill for the project from the hole it would be digging for the pipeline. Fredell also assured commissioners that Colorado Springs will reach a written agreement for the park at Florence and has been talking to the Grisenti family on the Lester & Attebery Ditch.

Commission Chairman Mike Stiehl voiced a concern about maintaining both existing flow requirements and potentially more restrictive requirements in the future to maintain water quality for the Eastern Fremont County Sanitation District. Those rights are attached to court decrees, said Colorado Springs Utilities water rights specialist Keith Riley. Earlier in the meeting, the commissioners indicated their concerns would be limited to the portions of the project they permit, leaving water rights and environmental compliance issues to the agencies that are charged to enforce them.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here and here.

Southern Delivery System: Pueblo and Fremont counties continue hearings

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From the Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka): “Deliberations in two counties over a pipeline that primarily would serve a third continue this week.”

[More…]

Fremont County commissioners are scheduled to meet at 9:30 a.m. today at the Fremont County Courthouse on the Southern Delivery System to consider a proposal by El Paso County communities Colorado Springs, Security and Fountain to build a pipeline through 17 miles of the Fremont County north of Florence. The route is Plan B for Colorado Springs, which actually wants to start the pipeline at the Pueblo Dam.

Pueblo County commissioners have scheduled a hearing for 6 p.m. Wednesday at the Pueblo County Courthouse to review a staff proposal for conditions on the $1.1 billion pipeline, which would pass through seven miles of Pueblo West and seven miles of Walker Ranches.

Pueblo West would tap into the pipeline if it comes from Pueblo Dam. Neither commission board plans to accept public comment as part of the hearings this week, but the public would have an opportunity to comment on the Pueblo County plan, once it is finalized. Fremont County closed comments at the Feb. 10 hearing and are required by their own regulations to make a decision within 45 days, Chairman Mike Stiehl said. The Bureau of Reclamation still has not issued a record of decision that would allow contract negotiations to begin.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here and here.

La Niña settles in for the spring

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Colorado’s snowpack is largely due to early winter snows and the outlook for the rest of the spring is warm and dry, according to a report from Karen Crummy writing for the Denver Post. From the article:

The National Weather Service has just issued its three-month forecast for Colorado: warmer and drier conditions than normal over most of the state. And don’t let those snowcapped mountains and reports of above-normal snowpack fool you. Since December, the amount of snow in the mountains has been minimal, and the snowpack is declining.

The driving factor in our weather is La Niña, said Ed O’Lenic, chief of the operations branch of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center in Washington, D.C. The water in the Pacific Ocean is colder than average, and that affects the pattern of the jet stream, he explained…

January tied as the 10th driest on record in Denver, with only 4.9 inches of snow, the city said; an all-time record high temperature for the date was set Jan. 21 with 71 degrees…

Nolan Doesken, climatologist for the state of Colorado, said the eastern part of Colorado has been dealing with dry conditions for a decade, with 2002 the worst. He said the drought came creeping back in earnest in early 2008 and that by the end of July, most of eastern Colorado was in the depths of drought. “We flirt with drought (every year), and even an average year is barely enough to do what we are trying to do in terms of agricultural activities in the semi-arid high plains,” he said.

Fort Collins conservation plan

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From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Kevin Duggan): “Plans to ramp up water conservation efforts in Fort Collins include a couple of tried-and-true methods – education and financial incentives. Putting those plans to work would likely mean higher rates for water customers even as average per capita demand for water decreases, officials say. Using less water has broad impacts, including prolonging the longevity of facilities that deliver water, said Patty Bigner, spokeswoman for Fort Collins Utilities.”

[More…]

The City Council today is scheduled to review a proposed water conservation plan aimed at reducing the average daily use of water by about 10 percent…

The proposed plan includes offering rebates to homeowners for installing high-efficiency toilets and updating irrigation-system technology. It also calls for more public education, such as clinics on xeriscaping. Commercial and institutional customers also would be offered incentives for installing water-efficient appliances as well as toilets and urinals. Restaurants might be offered new spray
valves that reduce the amount of water used during rinsing of dishes before they go into a washing machine from three to 10 gallons per minute to 1.6 gallons per minute…

Current water conservation programs cost about $244,500 a year. If the conservation plan is adopted and its recommendations make it through the city’s budget process, that cost could jump to $885,625 by 2012. The increased funding is likely to come through higher rates, said Dennis Bode, water resources manager for the utilities department. How rates would change depends on several factors, he said. Water consumption has dropped since the drought year of 2002 in part because of tiered water rates, which charge incrementally more for greater use, and public awareness of the importance of conservation, Bode said.

Kayak park for Basalt?

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Recreational In Channel Diversions are one way to help keep water in streams. The increased flows also mitigate against storage projects upstream from the RICD due to the need to deliver water at the point of the RICD instead of storing it. Steamboat Springs’ RICD has been cited as having this effect.

Here’s a report on efforts by Pitkin County to back a new kayak park in Basalt from Brent Gardner-Smith writing for the Aspen Daily News. From the article:

Ely has been developing the Basalt kayak park idea for months and says so far he has received positive feedback from “individuals in the kayak and rafting communities, fishermen, representatives of CDOT, officials from the town of Basalt, and members of the consulting firm that worked on the Basalt River Master Plan.” “Although the idea of a river park began as a vehicle for enhancing and improving the environmental condition of this particular reach of the Roaring Fork, it became readily apparent that such a recreational resource would be highly prized, widely accepted and utilized by a great number of kayakers and rafters in the mid-valley area,” Ely wrote in a memo to Town Council…

“The concept of a river park or kayak course began as a vehicle with which to enhance stream flows on this reach of the Roaring Fork River, to enhance the natural riparian habitat that could develop in this area and to stimulate active recreation and use of real property already owned by Pitkin County in this area,” Ely wrote. Pitkin County paid for a preliminary feasibility study by The McLaughlin Group, which found that flows in that stretch of the Fork were generally high enough to create play waves for kayaks, but that they would be much smaller than the monster kayak wave recently built in the Colorado River in West Glenwood Springs…

With funding from Pitkin County Open Space and Trails, Ely has also hired Jason Carey of River Restoration — who created the Glenwood wave — to do a preliminary conceptual design for the Basalt whitewater park. Carey’s design includes a sidewalk and parallel parking spaces between Two Rivers Road and the river, as well as accessible multi-level overlooks and stairs leading down to the river. In the river channel itself there would be two “whitewater structures” and two groupings of “habitat boulders” at either end of the whitewater park.

Eric Kuhn: I’ve always been concerned that our reliable water supply is a lot less than what we’ve been suggesting

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Here’s a look at Eric Kuhn, the Colorado River District and the future of the Colorado River, from Matt Jenkins writing for the High Country News. From the article:

Kuhn has lately become obsessed with one of the bigger riddles hanging over Colorado’s future, and his quest for answers has challenged some of the fundamental tenets of the state’s water orthodoxy.

“I’ve always been concerned that our reliable water supply is a lot less than what we’ve been suggesting,” he says. “I think there’s a lot less available than we thought there was.”

More than 3 million people in Colorado — roughly two-thirds of the state’s population — rely on water from the Colorado River. The river sustains alfalfa, apples and pears, Olathe sweet corn, and ski and ranch towns across the Western Slope. Yet its water may be even more important to the

Front Range — Denver and its cluster of urban and suburban satellites that lie hard against the eastern foothills of the Rockies.

More than a dozen tunnels channel water underneath the Continental Divide to roughly 2.5 million people on the Front Range. Moreover, the state is expected to grow by 2.9 million people over the next 25 years, and the Colorado River has long been seen as the only real source of water for the future.

So it’s not surprising that water managers have, for years, privately asked: How much more of the Colorado River can the state use?

More Coyote Gulch coverage here, here and here (Shameless plug).

Colorado cities looking for sustainable supplies

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Here’s an update on Colorado cities’ quest for sustainable water supplies, from Chris Woodka writing for the Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

While Colorado cities have always grown over nearby ditches as they expanded, they also have looked far and wide for new water sources. Puebloans can observe this in their own backyard as the Pueblo Board of Water Works pursues a quest to buy shares in the Bessemer Ditch. The move is being financed in part by the sale of a faraway mountain ditch purchased in an earlier time as a hedge against water shortage…

In Northern Colorado, the state’s most productive agricultural land has been caught in the cross-hairs of growth, Sean Cronin, water resources manager for Greeley, told the Ditch and Reservoir Co. alliance last week at its annual meeting at the Pueblo Convention Center. “Buy-and-dry is ultimately going to happen, but leases buy us time,” Cronin told the irrigators…

In 2003, Greeley embarked on a water acquisition plan that included buying more shares in nearby ditches, as it had in the early 1990s as a response to raids on ditches by Thornton, Cronin said. The city was successful in obtaining some shares – fewer than it wanted at a higher price. From knocking on the doors of farmers, it also learned two things: Not every farmer wants to sell water, even at more than twice the going rate for ag water. Other cities are knocking on the same doors…

Thornton already had bought shares in area ditches, so Greeley set out to buy shares in the Greeley Loveland Irrigation Co. These would be added to a water system that already included high mountain reservoirs, transmountain water from the Colorado-Big Thompson Project, direct flow rights, 100-year-old conservation plans and shares in local ditches. “It turns out Thornton wasn’t interested in buying the ditch, but we protected the land, and we protected the water,” Cronin said. Greeley paid twice the price for ag shares, spending about $12 million, and increased ownership on the ditch by 30 percent. Greeley now owns about half of the ditch. Since Greeley did not need the water right away, the shares were offered for guaranteed lease back to farmers for 15 years. “Every one of them took it,” Cronin said. Farmers were also given the opportunity to change their minds and buy back the shares. Only one irrigator took that offer, Cronin said. Now, three years after the lease-back option expired, farmers are still able to lease water year-by-year. Most of the money from the leases was plowed back into the local farm economy. People stayed, continued farming and even made improvements to the land. “The sales provided seed money for development,” Cronin said. “In the economic cycle, the money came back to the local economy and the Northern Colorado economy.” Although Greeley didn’t plan it, most of the purchases happened to be at the end of the ditch, so the sales didn’t have a great effect on the operation of the ditch…

In the new round of sales enacted in 2003 – at a time when Greeley was among the fastest-growing urban areas in the nation – the city set out to buy shares in several area ditches. The offer was to be $6,000 per acre-foot, about twice the going rate for ag water. No one was interested in selling at that price. “We had a successful model to replicate,” Cronin said. But things had changed. Using a series of overlay maps in his presentation, Cronin explained how the water available to Greeley had diminished by sales to other Northern Colorado communities, acreage that had become part of conservation reserves or water that could not be easily moved into the city’s water system. “There was not that much to go around,” Cronin said. “What would have sold for $6,000 an acre-foot was being sold for $50,000.” Still, Greeley was able to buy some water for about $7,000 per acre-foot. Like the earlier purchase, it is being leased back. The lease-back period is important because it gives farmers time to ponder their future and the city time to chart its course.

Meanwhile, here’s an update on the Lower Arkansas Valley Super Ditch Company and its efforts to keep water in the valley and on crops, from Chris Woodka writing for the Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

A board member and the attorney for the Arkansas Valley Super Ditch shared their insights last week at the annual meeting of the Ditch and Reservoir Company Alliance, held at the Pueblo Convention Center. Although more than 80 percent of the water in the Arkansas Valley still goes to fields rather than toilets and showers, about 70,000 acres of farm ground has been dried up by water sales in the last 30 years. Another 70,000 acres could be dried up in the next 25 years if business as usual continues…

…shareholders from six of the large canals below Pueblo signed on last year to incorporate the Super Ditch. The ditch has not yet signed a contract to provide water to anyone, but has talked with several potential customers. It faces legal questions, technical obstacles and potential political friction. But a framework has been built by irrigators with a common purpose: getting a fair price for water. “The cities are going to need more and more water. You know they are going to come,” said Mauch, who was president of the Fort Lyon Canal when speculators bought 20,000 acres of farms several years ago. “How are you going to keep farmers in the area? If you take the irrigating water out of Lamar, you take the people out of Lamar.”

The Super Ditch concept is to pool the multitude of water rights of farmers on different ditch systems, allow those who choose to participate to dry up some of their ground on a temporary basis and lease that water to cities, the state or others with a need…

Leases, as opposed to sales, would keep the water in the Arkansas Valley long-term. Several members of the ditch alliance questioned what would would happen to the water at the end of a long-term lease after the cities had come to depend on the supply. “At the end of the lease, you still own the water rights,” Super Ditch attorney Peter Nichols explained. “You don’t have to re-lease it. At the end of the time period, the water goes back to the land.” Nichols said cities do have the power to try to condemn water rights if they choose, but the only case on record, an attempt by Thornton, failed and was politically messy.

Mauch said the Super Ditch gave him a new “crop.” “I’m not looking to sell,” said Mauch, who became interested in finding an alternative use for water after the High Plains buy on the Fort Lyon. “I may not even decide to lease. But leasing is a crop. If you could sell water every year, why would you sell the water right?”[…]

The Super Ditch also has to work with ditch company boards to approve transfers. So far, only two ditches in the valley, the Fort Lyon and the High Line Canal, allow water to be used outside ditch boundaries. The High Line is the only ditch company that actually has completed a lease to cities, with its 2004-05 contract with Aurora and Colorado Springs. At least half of the shareholders on the seven ditches studied by the Lower Ark – Bessemer, Fort Lyon, High Line, Oxford, Otero, Holbrook and Catlin – are interested in becoming a part of Super Ditch, according to a survey late last year, Nichols said. While no one on the Bessemer Ditch signed on when the Super Ditch incorporated last year, Mauch said some shareholders have contacted him during the Board of Water Works current attempt to buy shares on the Bessemer…

More Coyote Gulch coverage here.

Wild and scenic designation for Colorado River and Deep Creek?

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Here’s an update on efforts to manage stretches of the Colorado River and Deep Creek as Wild and Scenic without seeking the formal designation and all the red tape that would entail, from David Frey writing for the Aspen Daily News. From the article:

A diverse group, which includes Front Range municipalities that want water for their taps and environmental and recreation groups that want it for fish and kayaking, has been working together to try to hammer out their own agreement that could protect the Colorado River without a federal designation. “There are times when I think we’re making progress. There are times when everyone wants to throw up their hands,” said Steve Smith, of The Wilderness Society, who represents a coalition of environmental organizations on the working group. “I don’t know if we can pull this off or not.”[…]

Like wilderness areas, wild and scenic rivers can be recommended by land agencies, but they must be dedicated by Congress to protect key waterways. The designation comes with land protections alongside the river in addition to protecting the flow. While Colorado has lots of wilderness areas, though, it has only one wild and scenic river, the Cache la Poudre, which runs through Fort Collins. Both Deep Creek and the Colorado River come with controversies, but the working group, which met Friday in Summit County, is focusing on the Colorado. It carries age-old rights by farmers and municipalities that tap into the waters. Among those most concerned is the Glenwood-based Colorado Water River Conservation District, which convened the group. “We feel that a locally run river is better than a federally run stretch of river,” said Mike Eytel, water resource specialist for the district…

Eytel said the district is mostly concerned about a federal water right that could stand in the way of water diversions and other projects along the Western Slope. Other water users, including Denver Water, the Northern Colorado Water Conservation District, Colorado Springs and Aurora, also have concerns. Joining them at the table are groups like Trout Unlimited, American Whitewater and commercial rafters who want to keep water in the river…

In a two-step process, these rivers have been found to be eligible for the designation, but the agencies are in the midst of determining if they’re “suitable.” A draft suitability determination by a contractor working on the project was due out this week, but is being kept under wraps until the BLM releases an overall draft land-use plan revision this fall…

The Colorado river district has some concerns about Deep Creek’s designation. It has conditional water rights on the creek, Eytel said. But most of its concerns revolve around the Colorado, including what it might mean for future hydroelectric projects and the river district’s Wolford Mountain Reservoir in Grand County. Unlike Deep Creek, the Colorado is well on the beaten track. Interstate 70 curves above it. Kayakers, rafters and anglers play in it. Farmers, ranchers and municipalities take water from it…

Smith said The Wilderness Society would like to see protections in place for Glenwood Canyon, but it hasn’t taken a position on wild and scenic designation yet, and in the meantime, it’s giving the working group a chance to find a consensus that could bring together a variety of interests. “You know you’ll have fewer fights in the future if what is chosen has strong buy-in,” he said. The group plans to present its findings to the BLM and Forest Service as an alternative to federal designation. “We just think the Colorado River within Colorado should be managed by Colorado folks, not federally controlled,” Eytel said.

EPA: CO2 danger to the public

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This is a big deal. The EPA is going to regulate CO2. Here’s a report from Ian Talley writing for the Wall Street Journal:

“EPA’s going to look at Mass. Vs. EPA and will make an endangerment finding,” [Carol Browner, Obama’s special adviser on climate change and energy] told Dow Jones Newswires in an interview. The Supreme Court ordered the EPA in the case to determine if carbon dioxide endangered public health or welfare. “The next step is a notice of proposed rulemaking,” for new regulations on CO2 emissions, Ms. Browner said one the sidelines of the National Governors Association meeting, one of her first public appearances since inauguration. Ms. Browner declined to say exactly when the EPA would issue the finding or rulemaking, but EPA chief Lisa Jackson has indicated it could be on April 2, the anniversary of Mass Vs. EPA.

Officially recognizing that carbon dioxide is a danger to the public sets would trigger regulation of the greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired power plants, refineries, chemical plants, cement firms, vehicles and any other emitting sectors across the economy.

Industry fears it could shut down the economy, not only preventing plants to operate and a drastic retooling of the energy sector but also pushing costs up uncompetitively, while environmentalists say that Administration action is required by law and to pressure lawmakers to act.

Lake Pueblo storage report

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Here’s a look at winter operations and Lake Pueblo, from Chris Woodka writing for the Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

Lake Pueblo should fill up again this spring, but with a dwindling snowpack, there is not as much concern of spilling water as last year at this time…

[Roy] Vaughan projects Lake Pueblo could be at capacity by the end of March, as Reclamation moves water from Turquoise and Twin lakes to make room for imported water this year…

Early forecasts show there could be as much as 79,000 acre-feet of water moved through the Boustead Tunnel from the Fryingpan River collection system on the West Slope into Turquoise Lake. The projections could change, however, if snowpack slows. If it holds up, it would be the second-largest Fry-Ark run in a decade. Last year, nearly 90,000 acre-feet were imported, although early projections predicted 100,000. Reclamation will not make a call on water availability until at least May 1. As of the end of last week, Colorado snowpack was 112 percent of average, and about 120 percent in the Roaring Fork basin. The Arkansas River basin snowpack was reported at 118 percent by the Natural Resources Conservation Service. The snowpack levels have increased only slightly since mid-January and are moving closer to average. Lake Pueblo was 89 percent full at 228,000 acre-feet, but more water will be coming in at a steady rate. Reclamation already has moved 18,000 acre-feet of project water into Lake Pueblo, and anticipates bringing down another 25,000 acre-feet by April…

There are 17,000 acre-feet of carryover water from last year, and more than 38,000 acre-feet of water stored since Nov. 15. Another 10,000 acre-feet of winter water will be stored by March 15, when the program ends. There are more than 44,000 acre-feet of water stored in excess-capacity accounts, which could spill if the reservoir fills. Releases of carryover winter water by April 1, however, should create enough space in Lake Pueblo to accommodate the projected additions.

The U.S. Geological Survey report indicates Arkansas River and Fountain Creek stream flows are normal for this time of year. Levels at Wellsville, on the Arkansas River near Salida, were 400-500 cubic feet per second last week, 100 cfs Arkansas River through Pueblo and 300 cfs Avondale. Flows on Fountain Creek were about 100 cfs.

Pitkin County: Advisory board for ‘Healthy Rivers Fund’ on tap?

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From the Aspen Daily News (Brent Gardner-Smith): “Three senior Pitkin County staff members are recommending that county commissioners use the bylaws of the county’s Open Space and Trails Board as a model to create a new advisory board for the Healthy Rivers and Stream Fund. County voters in November passed a 0.1 percent sales tax that is expected to generate $1 million a year for the fund. The county commissioners are now supposed to make decisions — with the advice of a citizen’s board — about how to spend the money.”

More coverage from the Aspen Times (John Colson):

Pitkin County officials disagreed recently on exactly how to handle the county’s new Healthy Rivers and Streams Fund, created by voters last November. They could not agree, in fact, on how many members should be appointed to an advisory board in charge of the fund, or whether those members should all be Pitkin County residents or from nearby communities and counties, as well.

But the Board of County Commissioners did agree with Commissioner Rachel Richards, who wants to get that board appointed and working on its task as soon as possible. The advisory board’s job is to make recommendations to commissioners on how to spend roughly $1 million in annual revenues from a 1 cent sales tax approved by Pitkin County voters in November 2008. The ballot language also authorized the county to borrow up to $12 million against the sales tax revenues, if needed. According to the wording of the ballot question, the board is to spend the money on maintaining and improving water quality and quantity within the Roaring Fork River watershed; to buy, modify, lease or otherwise manage water rights; work to assure minimum streamflows in local waterways; and other actions.

Cindy Houben, the county’s senior long-range planner, along with County Attorney John Ely and Open Space and Trails Director Dale Will, volunteered on Tuesday to provide staff support to the fund and to the advisory board, once it is formed. “We felt like it was pretty important not to spend money on staff this year,” said Houben at Tuesday’s work session with the commissioners, a reference to the ongoing economic recession that has cut into government revenues at all levels. It also was mentioned that county staffers felt they could have the advisory board filled and at work by June…

“I do feel there is a sense of urgency,” Richards said, explaining that a drought could hit the county next summer or the summer after, and the county would be helpless to keep water in rivers as things now stand. Plus, she said, the advisory board members would need time to “get up to speed” in such arcane policy areas as water law, the Colorado River Compact, and other water-related issues, which would involve travel to training seminars, conferences and the like…

But talk of waiting three years before putting the fund to work is not acceptable, she said, pointing out, “We asked for this fund for a reason.” She said there are numerous water-related issues coming to a head around the state that the advisory board should be involved in, and the sooner it is up and running, the better prepared it will be.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here.

Snowpack news

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From the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel: “The Upper Colorado River Basin, which includes Grand Mesa, was at 117 percent of its historic average, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service Snotel report for Wednesday. The Gunnison River Basin was at 111 percent of average, while the Yampa and White River basins were at 113 percent. Rivers in the southwestern part of the state were collectively at 115 percent of average. The South Platte River Basin, which had been slightly below its historic average earlier, was at 101 percent of average.”

Energy policy — Oil shale: Moffat County files objection to Shell application on Yampa River

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The Moffat County Commissioners — while not against Shell building a reservoir for oil shale production — have filed an objection in water court as a hedge to be kept in the loop on the filing, according to a report from Colin Smith writing for the Craig Daily Press. From the article:

The three commissioners voted unanimously at their Tuesday meeting to file a statement of opposition with the Steamboat Springs water court regarding the energy company’s December 2008 water filing. Commissioners and other county officials said multiple times that the county’s action does not mean it is opposed to Shell’s request. “The fact is, we don’t have a position at this point,” said Jeff Comstock, Moffat County Natural Resources Department director. Filing a statement of opposition is the only way for the county or anyone else to be involved with the water court’s process, he said…

Moffat County has several vested interests in whether Shell’s water is approved, Comstock said. The county has existing water rights on the Yampa River and should be involved when a large request is considered by the court. Not only that, Comstock said, Shell’s existing proposal would “inundate” a county road and make it unusable. Perhaps biggest of all, though, Shell could affect an existing arrangement between the county, local residents and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, he added. Under terms of a 2004 agreement, Fish and Wildlife will allow another 54,000 acre-feet of water development on the Yampa River before it requires new users pay for ways to protect four species of endangered fish. If Shell’s water right falls under the agreement, officials worry it could take everything left in the river for development…

Dan Birch, Colorado River District deputy general manager, said his agency’s concerns would be “greatly eased” if Shell voluntarily decided its request would not fall under the existing endangered fish agreement. In that event, Shell would have arrange its own agreement with Fish and Wildlife to preserve the four species. “If suddenly Shell is covered under (the current agreement), their water right filing would essentially use up all the remaining development in the river,” Birch said. “That’s just an enormous issue for any water user, including the power plants, the mines, the (Colorado) River District, Moffat County and any other water users in the basin.”

Hillrose water project virtually finished

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From the Fort Morgan Times (Dan Barker): “The long-running Hillrose water project is virtually finished. Every home now has a line running from the water main to deliver the precious fluid from the Morgan County Quality Water District, said Hillrose Town Clerk Lynn Golemboski. The town also did a startup test on the pump station and water tank last week and it ran smoothly, Golemboski said. The only thing left to do is have a couple of inspections by the USDA to have final sign-off, and the first of those is scheduled for next week, she said.”

Hearing dates set for Nestle Waters permits

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From The Mountain Mail (Paul Goetz): “Hearing dates for the Nestle Waters 1041 and special land use applications were re-set by Chaffee County Commissioners during their meeting Tuesday…Hearing with the planning commission was set for March 3, a site visit will be March 4 and county commissioners will host a hearing March 18. All meetings will be at 1 p.m. Meetings on March 3 and March 18 will be at the Steam Plant. The March 4 meeting will be at the site near Ruby Mountain.”

More Coyote Gulch coverage here.

California Gulch progress report

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Here’s an update on the California Gulch Superfund site, from Ann E. Wibbenmeyer writing for the Leadville Herald. From the article:

For most of the residential area of Leadville, which is operable unit 9, an amendment to the trust agreement between Lake County, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the mining company ASARCO is almost complete. The amendment was supposed to happen as soon as the remediation for that operable unit was considered complete, which happened a couple of years ago. This was complicated by the ASARCO bankruptcy that happened at the same time. The amendment would bring the Lake County Community Health Program, or Kids First into its second phase. Lake County would be in charge of the second phase. A new work plan is also in draft form for the second phase of the program. The program tested residential soils and remediated yards as needed. The new program would rely more heavily on education and only test and remediate yards if there is an indication of a problem. The last issue to be resolved for the new work plan is alerting new residents to the community of the possibility of contamination, a concern brought up by Sonya Pennock with the EPA. She was supposed to propose language to be discussed the next Wednesday morning. Otherwise, the final draft is ready to be released for public comment…

Also being brought before a public hearing are institutional controls for two other operable units in the Superfund site. These are OU3 and OU8, which were chosen first, because they are developable areas near the Arkansas River along U.S. 24. These are going before the county planning and zoning commission on Feb. 23. If there is a recommendation for approval, then these ICs could be in place by the next county commissioner meeting. Three months after getting the ICs in place, the two operable units could be deleted from Superfund site status.

The group decided to tackle operable units four and seven next.

The only exception to the progress being made on this site is OU6, which is the area that the EPA wants to reopen the record of decision to find a new remedy.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here.

Lower Ark board meeting

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Here’s a recap of this week’s meeting of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District, from Lola Shrimplin writing for the La Junta Tribune-Democrat. From the article:

A lawsuit against the bureau of reclamation by the board was discussed.
The Pueblo Chieftain had proposed pairing with the board and splitting the costs, but the board decided the proposal, while appreciated, wasn’t feasible. “Unless we’re in absolute lockstep with the Chieftain, it’s a bad idea,” Chairman Pete Moore said. The possibility of a conflict was discussed, and Attorney Peter Nichols was asked if the idea proposed by the Chieftain was a good one…

Update: The lawsuit mentioned in the article is probably the one brought by Arkansas Native, LLC against Reclamation. Chieftain owner Bob Rawlings is one of the principles in Arkansas Native.

The District is purchasing the Larkspur Ditch, Winner informed the board.
The purchase will begin this year, with half being purchased this year, and half in 2010.
A letter has been sent to shareholders discussing the purchase, with the District wishing to purchase at least two thirds majority in the ditch…

An attendee of the meeting from the State of Kansas drew attention from the audience and the board. Kevin Salter, with the State of Kansas, was in attendance and Don McBee, Fort Lyon farmer, gave an update on consumptive use rules. Eight ponds have been studied, McBee said. Dale Mauch, Fort Lyon farmer, suggested flow meters for ponds, stating that flow meters were already on the pivot irrigation systems. If flow meters were to be put on ponds, the loss could be measured, he said, showing that the farmers weren’t using more water than they were permitted. “Maybe we jumped the gun,” he said. Winner told Mauch to look to his left, where Salter was sitting, then told Mauch that Salter was from Kansas. “You’re from Kansas?” Mauch said, then started laughing and reached out to shake Salter’s hand.

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More coverage from Chris Woodka writing for the Pueblo Chieftain:

The Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District wants to buy most or all of the Larkspur Ditch from the Catlin Canal Co. The board voted Wednesday to make $500,000 available this year for purchases of shares in the ditch and plans on allocating another $500,000 next year to complete the purchase. The vote was 4-0, with directors Melissa Esquibel, Pete Moore, Anthony Nunez and Lynden Gill voting in favor. Director Wayne Whittaker, secretary of the Catlin Canal, did not vote. Directors Leroy Mauch and John Singletary were absent. The Lower Ark board sent a letter to Catlin shareholders in December to determine if there was widespread interest in selling shares in the ditch for about $70 per share. Payments must go to shareholders, since the Larkspur is held as a mutual ditch company…

The ditch diverted an average of 160 acre-feet of water from the Gunnison River basin to the Arkansas River basin from 1980-2007. Catlin purchased the ditch in 1943 for $12,500 as part of a package deal for shares in the Mount Pisgah Reservoir in Teller County, according to a written history by the late Frank Milenski. The Lower Ark signed an agreement with Catlin in 2004 to lease the water from the ditch for $5,000 per year for 10 years, with an option to buy. The Lower Ark has made improvements on the ditch, and uses the water to provide leases for users in the Arkansas Valley. The board’s goal is to obtain at least half of the shares of the ditch, and about 70 percent of shareholders indicated a willingness to sell, Whittaker said.

Southeastern looking to lease excess capacity in Lake Pueblo

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Here’s a recap of this week’s meeting of the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District’s board, from Chris Woodka writing for the Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

Built as part of the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project, Lake Pueblo is rarely full, and the excess capacity is leased by the Bureau of Reclamation for storage of non-project water. While Reclamation has leased space in the reservoir since 1986, interest has skyrocketed since the drought of 2002. The Pueblo Board of Water Works obtained a 25-year lease for excess-capacity storage in 2000 and Aurora negotiated a 40-year lease in 2007. Colorado Springs and its partners in the Southern Delivery System are seeking a 40-year storage contract as well. The Southeastern district included a master lease for excess capacity storage in its Preferred Storage Options Plan, which also envisioned enlargement of Lake Pueblo and Turquoise Lake.

While the enlargement plan has stalled, the district now wants to move ahead with the master lease, said Harold Miskel, who chairs the PSOP committee. “There are changes in the amount of water requested and new entities,” Miskel told the Southeastern board this week. “There are a lot of questions in front of the committee.” Executive Director Jim Broderick reminded the board that it decided last year to split off the excess-capacity question from PSOP after talks about enlargement broke down in 2007. There has to be some more study before the district decides how to move ahead with its master contract, since other projects like SDS and the Arkansas Valley Conduit also are moving, Broderick said…

Currently, excess-capacity contracts are negotiated year-by-year. Last year, contracts totalled 55,475 acre-feet, or about one-fifth of the available space in Lake Pueblo. That’s about three times the average from 1996-2002. A 2006 report by Reclamation found no significant environmental impact for storage of up to 80,000 acre-feet of non-project water over a five-year period…

In other business, the Southeastern board voted to use up to 1,900 acre-feet of water it has stored to cover sales of return flows of project agricultural water. The backlog of flows results from water that farmers did not use last year. Under district rules, 80 percent of the water must be used in the year it is purchased from the district. The remainder may be held until the following spring. Because the water is imported from the Fryingpan River in the Colorado River Basin, the return flows can be sold to other users.

A look at Colorado water history

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Here’s a historical look at the development of Colorado water law, from Chris Woodka writing for the Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

Colorado water law was forged in the furnace of the Civil War, and had less to do with the discovery of minerals in the mountains than to support the farmers who were feeding the miners.

“The mineral wealth brought people to Colorado,” said Colorado Supreme Court Justice Greg Hobbs, recounting the gold rush of 1859 on Friday at the annual meeting of the Ditch and Reservoir Company Alliance at the Pueblo Convention Center. “The persons who remained were the farmers who dug the ditches to feed the miners. The cities grew out from the ditches.”

Hobbs, who has been a justice since 1996, writes most of the water case opinions for the court and was an accomplished water and natural resources lawyer before joining the bench. The justice wove a colorful tale of the culture of the nation in 1861, when Colorado water law had its genesis – 15 years ahead of statehood.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here, here and here.

Mussel inspections expanding

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Officials are expanding the invasive mussel inspection program at Carter and Horsetooth reservoirs, according to a report by Pamela Dickman writing for the Loveland Reporter Herald. From the article:

The mussels, which attach themselves to boats, have not been found in lakes in Larimer County — and water and recreation officials want to keep it that way. So, trained inspectors will examine every boat before it is allowed to launch on Carter Lake or Horsetooth Reservoir, starting April 1, following new state regulations approved Friday. Although state regulations require inspection of boats that have been on infected lakes or any lake in another state, Larimer County will go one step further and inspect all boats entering Carter and Boyd lakes and Horsetooth Reservoir…

“Due to the constraints of checking boats, we will implement launching hours for the first time in the history of these reservoirs,” [Dan Rieves, manager of the Larimer County Department of Natural Resources Blue Mountain District] said. Boats will be able to enter the water from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., and they can stay on the water beyond 10 p.m.

Similar inspections started in August at Boyd Lake State Park and will continue this summer. Inspectors at Boyd Lake examined 4,012 boats last season, becoming suspicious of only three; lab tests on those later came back negative…

All four of the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District’s Colorado-Big Thompson Project reservoirs on the West Slope — Lake Granby, Grand Lake, Shadow Mountain Reservoir and Willow Creek Reservoir — have tested positive for velligers (baby mussels), but mature mussels have not been spotted there…

The regulations also outline the process of inspecting boats and cleaning contaminated vessels — the rules that inspectors in Larimer County will follow. Rieves plans to hire 17 boat inspectors for Horsetooth and Carter as soon as he receives $380,000 from the state. “A complication is the governor freezing money,” said Rieves. “That money has to thaw out before we get it.”

More Coyote Gulch coverage here.