Northern to hold storage briefing

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From the Northern Colorado Business Report: ” The Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District will discuss the status of current water supplies in Northern Colorado and why additional infrastructure is needed at a presentation at The Ranch on March 19.

“Brian Werner, water district spokesman, will talk about two projects now on the drawing board — the Northern Integrated Supply Project and the Windy Gap Firming Project — during a presentation called ‘Water Storage for the Future’ to be held from 7:30 to 9 a.m. at the Budweiser Events Center.

“Walk-in registration for the event costs $15 for district members and $25 for nonmembers. For more information, call Stephanie Clouatre at 303-388-2422.”

SB09-216, Increase Cash Funds Div Water Resources

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From the Durango Herald (Joe Hanel): “The Legislature’s budget committee wanted to increase well fees to $665 starting March 1, a dramatic and sudden jump from the current $100. Senate Bill 216 was the last and most controversial part of the budget-balancing package for the 2008-09 year. Rural lawmakers forced the bill to be sent to the House Agriculture Committee, which voted 9-4 against the fees Tuesday. Instead, the bill now takes about $530,000 out of the Governor’s Energy Office to make up this year’s deficit in the State Engineer’s Office, which administers water rights…

“The fight is far from over. The full House and full Senate have to approve the Agriculture Committee’s action on SB 216, and even then, the bill doesn’t provide enough money to hire more water commissioners who will be needed this spring, said State Engineer Dick Wolfe. And Wolfe’s office is $2.5 million short for the next budget year, which starts July 1. Curry’s Agriculture Committee will continue to work on providing funds for the State Engineer’s Office budget today.

“The Colorado Water Congress supported a smaller fee increase, and several representatives said Tuesday that water fees will have to increase in the future to keep the State Engineer’s Office properly funded.”

More Coyote Gulch coverage here.

Salida and Poncha Springs working on solution to wastewater treatment conflict

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From The Mountain Mail (Christopher Kolomitz): “Salida City Council members Tuesday night approved having city employees negotiate with Poncha Springs officials for the next 30 days regarding how the compromise would be worked out. The town of Poncha Springs has applied for $1.4 million [from the federal stimulus bill] ranked by federal officials as a level two priority. Town officials approached Salida personnel Monday about a possible compromise. Salida and the town have been locked in a long-standing dispute regarding treatment of sewage from Poncha Springs at the Salida Waste Water Plant and associated charges. Officials from Salida filed a lawsuit five weeks ago in district court seeking to void a 2005 agreement and recover about $100,000 in back charges owed by Poncha Springs. By working toward a compromise to use the stimulus money, legal action would be suspended.”

Hillrose: New water system virtually complete

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From the Fort Morgan Times (Dan Barker): “The town of Hillrose is down to the last small details of its long-running water project. A USDA engineer did a walk-through on the project — which put new water mains throughout the town and new lines to each home to carry Morgan County Quality Water District water — and a final meeting is scheduled with USDA officials Friday for the final check, Hillrose Town Council members heard Monday night, said Town Clerk Lynn Golemboski. There are little things like parts of sidewalks that need to be finished and a few homes which need some plumbing disconnected, but the project is essentially complete, she said.”

HB09-1174, Pre-1974 Depletions and SB09-147, Water Supply Plans Pre-2003 Depletions

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Here’s an update on the problems caused due to the shutdown of irrigation wells in the South Platte River basin that occurred in 2007, from Jessica Fender writing for the Denver Post. From the article:

House Bill 1174, now awaiting the governor’s signature, forgives the water debt that well users had incurred before 1974. It’s a small fraction of what some owe.

A farther-reaching bill would allow farmers to lease new sources of hard-to-find water every year as part of their permanent plans to repay water debts. It expands the pool of sellers to include users on a broader swath — like anywhere on the South Platte River Basin, for example — instead of limiting such transactions to smaller conservation districts. Senate Bill 147 [Water Supply Plans Pre-2003 Depletions] (pdf) would also expedite the approval process so that farmers can pump more water when they need it, said bill sponsor Rep. Kevin Priola, R-Henderson. “It will allow them to feed their families and pay their mortgages. Those are things they’re having a hard time doing now,” Priola said. “We need to keep local farmers around.” The bipartisan bill, co-sponsored by Brighton Democrat Mary Hodge in the Senate, has been approved by the upper chamber and passed a House committee last week. There is no registered opposition to the legislation. It would expire in 2018.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here and here.

Energy policy — oil shale: Effects of development on water supplies

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Western Resource Advocates released a new report today that does the science, law and economics around oil shale development. Here’s the release from WRA:

Western Resource Advocates (WRA) released its report, “Water on the Rocks: Oil Shale Water Rights in Colorado,” that quantifies the water rights that oil companies have established in western Colorado. The report sheds light on the large volume of water already in the hands of oil shale development interests and warns of the problems that commercial oil shale extraction could cause for Colorado communities, farmers, ranchers, and western rivers.

The “Water on the Rocks” report calls on leaders to carefully consider the full impacts of commercial oil shale development before making decisions. Hundreds of oil shale water rights, totaling almost 2 million acre-feet of stored water and over 11,000cfs of diversions, pepper Colorado’s western river basins and pose challenges to Colorado and other downstream states if these rights are put into use.

“Large scale commercial oil shale development would harm both West Slope and Front Range communities,” said Karin P. Sheldon, WRA’s executive director, “A shift of water to oil shale will dramatically change the landscape in the areas developed. It could mean an end to agriculture and to the historic economic base of these rural communities.”

“Water on the Rocks” is the first report to thoroughly catalogue how much of Colorado’s water is already in the possession of the oil shale industry. The report:

Identifies all major water rights energy companies have targeted for oil shale development in Colorado.

Projects likely water requirements associated with oil shale development based on anticipated technologies.

Analyzes the legal and hydrological issues affecting development of Colorado’s water allocation under the 1922 Colorado River Compact and 1948 Upper Basin Compact.

Explains how the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program affects and limits additional uses of water on the Colorado River.

“Water on the Rocks” reaches the following conclusions:

Commercial oil shale development would transform western Colorado. Oil shale development would transfer water presently used for agriculture to oil shale production. Agricultural lands would be dried-up and thousands of acres would be transformed into industrial landscapes.

Oil shale development in western Colorado would affect Colorado’s Front Range communities. Front Range water providers and the Colorado River Water Conservation District agree that oil shale development may challenge existing water projects and compromise development of future supplies.

Oil shale will accelerate climate change, further stressing water availability.
Huge quantities of greenhouse gas emissions caused by oil shale extraction would pose a serious threat to the climate of an already dry region.

Total water demands must be clearly understood before committing to commercial oil shale development. Estimates point out that it will require 1 to 4 barrels of water to produce one barrel of oil from shale.

The sources and quantity of the energy required to extract oil shale must be identified before development is pursued. Initial estimates indicate that it will require 10 new power plants and 5 new coal mines to produce one million barrels of shale oil per day.

“Despite a significant investment, industry remains years away from establishing the economic viability, technical efficiency, and environmental performance of the technologies,” said David Abelson, Western Resource Advocates oil shale policy advisor. “It is vital that policy makers understand the water, economic, and environmental impacts before committing to a commercial development program.”

To read the report and view maps of where these water rights are located, click on

More coverage from the Denver Business Journal:

The report — “Water on the Rocks: Oil Shale Water Rights in Colorado” — was issued Wednesday. It says the rights to nearly 2 million acre-feet of stored water in Colorado, plus the right to divert more water from the state’s western rivers, is already owned by oil companies. The report said if those rights are put to use, shifting water from agriculture and other uses to oil shale development, the affects would reach from local communities to Denver and other Front Range cities.

More coverage from the Denver Post (Mark Jaffe):

Oil companies have amassed nearly 7.5 million acre-feet of water rights for oil-shale development — enough water for double the population of Colorado, according to a study by Western Resource Advocates. “Oil companies have cornered the market” in western Colorado,” said Karin Sheldon, executive director of the nonprofit, environmental group. All those “paper” water rights will not be used, but it is difficult to know which ones will be tapped, Sheldon said. The oil-company water rights — some dating to the 1890s — are senior to those of Front Range water utilities and the Vail and Aspen ski resorts.

Projects for both Denver Water and the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District could be affected, the study says.

ExxonMobil and Shell Exploration & Production — two of the large holders of water rights — both said that estimates of water or oil shale should be lower than current projections and that they will work with other water users.

More coverage from (Idaho Falls): “Tracy Boyd of Shell Exploration & Production questions the group’s projections. He says the group assumes production will be at levels the industry doesn’t expect until much later.”

More Coyote Gulch coverage here, here and here.

Colorado Springs: Watering restrictions not likely this summer

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From the Colorado Springs Gazette (R. Scott Rappold): “Since snowpack and water storage are in good shape, Colorado Springs Utilities officials don’t anticipate mandatory water restrictions this summer. Water supply engineer Kevin Lusk told the Colorado Springs Utilities Board on Wednesday that reservoir storage is at 78 percent, well above the average for mid-March. Snowpack is at 102 percent of average in the Arkansas River basin, which supplies Utilities, down from 119 percent of average late last month. The one dry spot is Pikes Peak, source of about 20 percent of Colorado Springs’ water. Lusk said the north slope of the peak has received half the normal snow. Despite that, Pikes Peak reservoirs are 72 percent full, because Utilities moves water there from elsewhere in the water system.”

Southern Delivery System: Pueblo Board of Water Works approves agreements

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The Pueblo Board of Water Works has approved two agreements related to Colorado Springs’ proposed Southern Delivery System. Here’s a report from Chris Woodka writing for the Pueblo Chieftain:

The remaining local action on SDS will come if Pueblo County commissioners approve conditions. The commissioners will host a public hearing tonight at 6 p.m. at the Pueblo County Courthouse and review conditions proposed by county staff. The conditions are posted on the county’s Web site.

The Colorado Springs City Council still must approve both the water board agreements and county conditions before SDS would begin. The $1.1 billion project would also need other permits and final approval and contracts from the Bureau of Reclamation before work could begin. The water board agreements would guarantee flows through Pueblo and allow the water board to participate in the proposed North Outlet Works, which Colorado Springs proposes to build at the north outlet, also called the river outlet, on Pueblo Dam…

Each agreement takes the form of a memorandum of understanding, which is a contract that implies those who sign it will take a particular action. The Arkansas River low flow program would establish a pool of water in Lake Pueblo jointly maintained by Colorado Springs and Pueblo. Each would contribute, when the supply is available, 1,500 acre-feet of water that could be released when flows in the Arkansas River drop below 50 cubic feet per second. The agreement would go beyond the current Pueblo flow program, set up in 2004, which curtails exchanges when flows drop below 100 cfs, but not require additional water in the river. Aurora, Fountain and the Southeastern District also participate in that program. Commissioners would require Security and Pueblo West to sign on to the program, along with any future SDS users. Water that is either released or voluntarily not exchanged under either program could be recaptured in the recovery of yield program under the existing and new agreements…

The second SDS agreement approved Tuesday addresses the Pueblo water board’s concerns about the Joint Use Manifold, which is the primary water delivery system for the city. Colorado Springs, in its 2008 proposal for SDS, indicated it wanted initially to use excess capacity in the outlet south of the Arkansas River for its water supply, even though the city paid Pueblo $3 million in 2000 to enlarge its line from the outlet works to accommodate its use by tapping into the line east of the Pueblo Dam. Pueblo, Pueblo West and the Fountain Valley Authority currently use the south outlet. In the future, Pueblo and the Arkansas Valley Conduit would get more capacity. Late last year, however, Colorado Springs said it would prefer to build the North Outlet Works, a new outlet that would supply up to 96 million gallons per day for Colorado Springs, Security, Fountain and Pueblo West. The outlet would also continue to supply water to the river and could be adapted to provide hydroelectric power in the future, according to engineers who worked on the concept. The outlet was tested last week to prove its capacity of about 1,100 cfs. A full run under SDS would use about 147 cfs of that capacity. The new agreement requests engineering cost estimates for Pueblo to gain 20 million-40 million gallons per day capacity from the North Outlet Works.

Pueblo pumps an average of about 25 million gallons per day, with peak days of about 60 million gallons per day. In recent years, since the 2002 drought, pumpage has been declining because customers have adjusted their outdoor watering habits. The water board wants the redundancy in case the Joint Use Manifold is inoperable because of invasive mussels, repairs or other unforeseen events.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here, here and here.

Bessemer Ditch update

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Here’s an update on the Pueblo Board of Water Works efforts to buy shares of the Bessemer Ditch, from Chris Woodka writing form the Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

The board voted unanimously to enter an intergovernmental agreement with the St. Charles Mesa Water District that would commit both to voting for changes in bylaws and articles of incorporation in order to allow the water board to use shares outside the ditch boundaries. The water board will seek bylaw changes at a meeting of shareholders at 6 p.m. April 20 at the Pueblo Convention Center. Some shareholders are actively opposing the changes which have been suggested. In approving the IGA, the water board pledged to keep the water coming to those who want to stay in farming…

The St. Charles district owns nearly 2,000 shares of the 20,000 shares on Bessemer Ditch. The Pueblo water board is attempting to buy at least 5,000 shares, but has a plan to purchase up to 7,000 under the current offer. The agreement is written so that the water board’s obligations would be decreased if it were successful in purchasing fewer shares. The St. Charles district serves homes on the mesa east of Pueblo, and has been acquiring shares for many years. It has not actively purchased shares in recent years, but requires that shares of water be put into its portfolio when farm ground is converted into subdivisions. The St. Charles board approved the IGA on Feb. 26, and would receive protection for its wells, guarantees of improvements on the Bessemer Ditch and protection of flows at its intake on the Arkansas River under the agreement.

More Coyote Gulch coverage j