Lower Ark and Reclamation reach settlement over Aurora long-term contract

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The Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District and the Bureau of Reclamation have reached a settlement over the long-term “if and when” contract awarded to Aurora for storage in Lake Pueblo. Here’s a report from Chris Woodka writing for the Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

The Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District board of directors, which filed the lawsuit against the Bureau of Reclamation and its Aurora contract, approved the settlement on a 7-0 vote. Aurora’s City Council was expected to approve the deal later in the day.

Under the settlement, the Lower Ark agreed to “park” its federal lawsuit for up to two years to allow Congress time to pass legislation authorizing both the Aurora water contract and an Arkansas Valley Conduit funding mechanism, Lower Ark attorney Peter Nichols said. If the legislation passes, Aurora agrees to then pay $2 million over several years toward additional Lower Ark projects such as Super Ditch and Fountain Creek upgrades, cooperate in Arkansas River basin water quality studies and support regional planning efforts.

Elsewhere, the agreement restricts Aurora from obtaining new water rights in the valley as long as the Super Ditch is viable and no new pipelines out of the valley are constructed – a move that goes a step beyond a 2003 agreement in which Aurora pledges not to buy additional water rights for 40 years. The Lower Ark for its part agreed not to contest Aurora’s ongoing lease agreements with the High Line Canal and the Pueblo Board of Water Works, in exchange for Aurora’s pledge of cooperation with the Super Ditch. The Lower Ark also would settle several state water court cases in which the agency is an objector, Nichols said.

The Lower Ark also can choose to participate in future Aurora storage projects like Box Creek in Lake County, as well as gain space not being used by Aurora in Lake Henry and Lake Meredith in Crowley County. That storage could benefit Super Ditch, a corporation formed to market farm water that keeps water rights in the hands of irrigators…

The Lower Ark’s lawsuit was filed in 2007 after the Bureau of Reclamation awarded a 40-year contract to Aurora to store water in Lake Pueblo and make a paper trade of water it owns to move the water to Twin Lakes. Aurora takes water from the Arkansas Valley through the Otero Pumping Station at Twin Lakes and moves it into its system at Spinney Lake through the Homestake Pipeline. The suit remains active on two points: the legality of the contract under both the 1962 Fryingpan-Arkansas Project Act and the 1958 Water Supply Act.

The suit was joined by Aurora on Reclamation’s side and on the other side by the Arkansas Valley Native, made up of Pueblo Chieftain Publisher Bob Rawlings, former lawmaker Bob Shoemaker of Canon City, former Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District President Wally Stealey and Wiley banker Fred Esgar. Arkansas Valley Native was not a party to the agreement approved Wednesday, has not seen any details and is reviewing its role in the case, a group spokesman said.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here.

Lower South Platte Water Symposium recap

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Here’s a recap of the recent Lower South Platte Water Symposium, from Judy Debus writing for the Sterling Journal Advocate. From the article:

What is happening to the water supply in northeastern Colorado now and what can be expected in the future was the topic of the day for the Lower South Platte Water Symposium at Northeastern Junior College. Attending were farmers, ranchers, government representatives, conservation groups, legislators and others concerned with what is going to happen to the Colorado water supply.

Presentations by Jim Hall, division engineer of the State Engineer’s Office; Jerry Kinny of the Platte River Recovery Implementation Program; Greg Kernohan of Ducks Unlimited; Peter Walker of the Colorado Division of Wildlife; Nolan Doesken and Neil Hansen of Colorado State University; Rod Kuharich and Jim Yahn, members of the Colorado Water Roundtables; and Eric Hecox of the Colorado Water Conservation Board offered the attendees an overview what is happening and what can be expected in the future…

Hall addressed the increased municipal demand because of growth, regardless of the economy, that is going to put pressure on the water system. If projects aren’t approved like the Northern project or the Windy Gap project and other projects that are proposed, the water will have to come from somewhere. “That water is going to come from somewhere and it will probably come from agriculture” he said. As far as future administration of water, Hall spoke of the continuing drop in irrigated acres in the state. In 1976, there were approximately one million irrigated acres as opposed to 838,000 acres in 2005. In 1956, there were no sprinklers; in 1976, 15 percent of the land was sprinkler irrigated; and in 2005, 40 percent was sprinkler irrigated. Cities are also lining gravel pits to store more water, mainly for reusable water that has historically gone into the river so in the future there will be less flow in the river due to that.

Snake River: Some heavy metals in stream naturally occuring

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Here’s an analysis of a study released today for the Snake River watershed, from Bob Berwyn writing for the Summit Daily News. From the article:

A significant part of the heavy metal contamination in the Snake comes from natural sources, said Jim Shaw, a local engineer who recently completed a watershed plan for the river. After walking along nearly every mile of every stream in the basin, Shaw said he found natural springs, “where man has never tread,” with high levels of zinc and acid-tinged water…

Zinc is poisonous to trout at concentrations that aren’t harmful to humans. Several recent experiments showed that zinc levels in the Snake River near Keystone are high enough to kill trout in just a few days. Farther downstream, the metals are more diluted, with some trout surviving a short distance upstream of Dillon Reservoir. “There’s a reason it was mined,” Shaw said, referring to the high level of naturally occurring minerals in the rock. “It’ll never be a fishery,” he said of the Snake River. Even cleaning up every single source of mine-related pollution wouldn’t be enough to reach existing water quality standards, he said.

The abandoned Pennsylvania Mine has been the key focus for various parties working on a cleanup plan. But Shaw’s plan goes beyond the Pennsylvania Mine, identifying numerous additional sources of metals in many of the river’s smaller tributaries. The watershed plan, to be unveiled Thursday at a Blue River Watershed Group forum in Frisco, prioritizes cleanup sites.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here.

Morgan County Quality Water District source water protection plan

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From the Fort Morgan Times: “Because area residents, farming operations and entire subdivisions rely on the Morgan County Quality Water District for their primary source of water, a team of stakeholders met for the first time Tuesday to assemble a source water protection plan for the district.”


“It’s critical that we maintain the kind of water supply and the quality that we currently have,” said MCQWD General Manager Mark Kokes. Spearheading the planning project is Colleen Williams of the Colorado Rural Water Association, who completed the process for the city of Brush just three months ago. Williams works to create source water protection plans in three communities each year, she said.”[…]

The district currently serves customers from three aquifers, Kokes said. The district is also taking delivery of Colorado-Big Thompson water through its San Arroyo Project, he said, and it plans to participate in the Northern Integrated Supply Project. The source water plan will help the district protect all sources of water, Williams said, including any ground water, aquifers, watersheds and well heads…

The first step to preserving source water is to form a planning team, Williams said, which was accomplished at the first meeting. The team included area residents and representatives from local businesses, agencies, government departments and other interested entities.

The second step is to determine a source water protection area, Williams said. The state has completed an assessment of the area, she said, but this was likely formed using outdated or incorrect data.

For step three, Williams said, the team should take an inventory of potential contamination sources of water. Contamination may come from landfills, storage tanks, gas stations, septic tanks or spills of oil, chemicals or biodiesel, she said.

The fourth step is to develop a management plan, Williams said. The plan will outline regulatory or non-regulatory approaches to meet short-term and long-term goals, she said.

For the fifth step, she said, the team should plan for emergencies. This contingency plan should establish a chain of command and identify any alternative water supplies, she said.

The sixth and final step requires the formation of a steering committee, which will commit to implementing the source water protection plan. The final plan will not simply be handed to the water district, she said, but will be carried out by a team of stakeholders.

Energy policy — oil and gas: Production effects on groundwater

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From KDVR-TV via the Associated Press: ” A woman said she lives in constant fear and is terrified her home could blow up because of natural gas that has managed to seep into her water supply. Amee Ellsworth can turn on a faucet in her kitchen or bathroom, flick a lighter and watch flames shoot up from the sink. And Ellsworth said she’s afraid she or her neighbors are at imminent risk of an explosion. Dave Neslin from the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission said the gas is likely coming from a leaking well, but there are eight wells located within a half-mile of Ellsworth’s home. The wells are owned by two different energy companies.”

Update: More coverage from the Greeley Tribune including a link to Fox 31 video:

[Amee] Ellsworth and [Renee] McClure’s water wells tap into an aquifer that probably provides water for as many as a hundred homes, Ellsworth said. Ellsworth worries that natural gas will build up in her home and explode after a spark, she said. She showers in the dark to avoid switching on the light and inadvertently cause a spark. Dark showers are not the only negative effect. The contaminated water makes Ellsworth’s home nearly impossible to sell. Her homeowner’s insurance will likely be canceled, she said…

The state’s Oil and Gas Conservation Commission is continuing its investigation. It is also working with the two companies responsible for natural gas wells in the area, Noble Energy and Anadarko. Spokespeople from Noble Energy and Anadarko declined to answer questions about the incident but said they were concerned for the families’ health and working to solve the problem. Today, Ellsworth will meet with representatives from both gas companies, according to Neslin. Ellsworth said Anadarko has made no contact with her. Noble Energy has offered to install a water treatment unit at Ellsworth’s home, she said. Ellsworth, however, worries that a water treatment unit is not a long-term answer. After consulting Boulder GNC Water Well, Ellsworth worries that the natural gas will continue to vent from the ground and accumulate in her home.

Energy policy — oil shale: Development impacts on water supplies

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Here’s a look at Western Resource Advocate’s report “Water on the Rocks: Oil Shale Water Rights in Colorado” released yesterday, from the Daily Sentinel:

A commercial oil-shale industry in western Colorado has the potential to be the biggest water guzzler this region has ever seen, sucking up much of the water now flowing to agriculture and possibly impacting water availability for cities and towns in Colorado. Understanding that there are numerous uncertainties regarding how much water oil companies may actually use in oil-shale development, Western Resource Advocates in Boulder looked at the water issue from a different angle: How much water have they applied for legally? The numbers are eye-catching, to say the least. Six oil companies already have filed for water rights on the Colorado and White rivers totaling more than 7.2 million acre feet. That’s the entire annual allocation for the four states in the Upper Colorado River Basin, including Colorado. Those filings don’t mean the entire Upper Colorado Basin would be dried up to serve oil shale. Many of the filings are for conditional rights that might only be available in years with heavy spring runoff. Others might never be used, as oil companies develop technologies that require less water…

As Chris Treese of the Glenwood Springs-based Colorado River Water Conservation District put it, “Any large transfer of water to oil shale would shift the West Slope landscape from an agricultural landscape to an industrial one.”

More coverage from Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

Karin P. Sheldon, the group’s executive director, said energy companies essentially have cornered the market on Western Slope water rights. Exercising these rights for large-scale commercial oil shale development would jeopardize many agricultural uses involving junior water rights and water now leased from energy companies, and harm the ability of Western Slope and Front Range communities to meet future water needs, the group said. It found that ExxonMobil owns the most rights, with 49 conditional claims and ownership in 48 irrigation ditches. Shell holds 31 conditional rights, has ownership in five irrigation ditches and is in the process of securing rights on the Yampa River. Several other companies have water rights holdings. Among them, Chevron has 28 conditional rights and ownership in 24 irrigation ditches, and its Unocal subsidiary possesses absolute rights to another 48 wells and springs and owns 13 ditches…

The report says a Bureau of Land Management analysis of water needs associated with commercial oil shale development on public land is deficient. BLM spokesman David Boyd said the agency acknowledged last year that more study on impacts will be needed once the technology for developing oil shale is known. That study would occur before any commercial leasing takes place, he said. Boyd said that acknowledgment was made in its programmatic environmental impact statement on oil shale development. Shell is researching oil shale development technology in Rio Blanco County. Shell spokesman Tracy Boyd said he hadn’t looked at the new report in detail, but that the report bases water use estimates on another study that makes an unrealistic assumption of an industry producing 1.5 million barrels of oil per day from shale by 2036. It also overstates associated water use, he said.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here and here.

Southern Delivery System: Pueblo County lays out conditions for permit approval

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Pueblo County laid out their requirements for Colorado Springs’ proposed Southern Delivery System yesterday, according to a report from Debbie Bell writing for the Cañon City Daily Record. From the article:

A lengthy list of terms and conditions — some quite costly — received a stamp of approval Wednesday evening from the Pueblo County Commissioners. Even though the preferred route of the Colorado Springs Utilities project is from Pueblo Reservoir north, the decision-making work now begins in earnest. “The heavy lifting really begins now, in terms of our management and our council making a good business decision,” SDS Project Manager John Fredell said this morning. Fredell said the Colorado Springs City Council, which also sits as the board of directors of CSU, will make the final determination after it receives a recommendation from utilities management…

Pueblo slapped on conditions, including a $50 million investment in Fountain Creek over the next five years and another $75 million in sanitary sewer system upgrades…

Fredell said the determination will not be made on final costs alone. Colorado Springs also must consider the project’s time frame and anticipated demand for water. If Colorado Springs Council accepts the conditions from Pueblo County, SDS workers will prepare comparisons for the two alternatives [ed. Fremont County has approved the project route through the county] to present to utilities management and council. “They’ll make a business decision at that point in terms of which alternative they want to pursue,” Fredell said. “That could take two to three months.” Fredell expects a final decision by summer.

More coverage from the Colorado Springs Gazette:

The conditions are meant to mitigate the environmental impacts of taking more water from Pueblo Reservoir and sending more treated effluent down Fountain Creek. Utilities has agreed to pay $50 million for improvements to the creek and $75 million to upgrades its wastewater or water reuse systems. While dozens of permits are required, approval from Pueblo County is the most significant hurdle. At one point in the long history of the pipeline, which would bring 78 million gallons a day to Colorado Springs, opposition in Pueblo seemed so great, Utilities sought approval from Fremont County for a backup plan.

Wednesday night, Colorado Springs officials embraced each other and their Pueblo County counterparts. “(I am) just ecstatic, like everything I’ve done in the last 8 years was worth it,” said Colorado Springs councilwoman Margaret Radford, who leaves office next month after working for years to get the pipeline approved…

The money must be used for erosion, sedimentation, flood control and water quality projects on Fountain Creek. Other Colorado Springs officials heralded the finalizing of conditions as a new direction in relations between Colorado Springs and Pueblo, which have long been divided over water issues, including water quality and flooding on Fountain Creek below Colorado Springs…

[Mayor Lionel Rivera] said the city will hold a public hearing in Colorado Springs to let residents comment on the conditions. No date has been set. Pueblo commissioners set April 2 as a date for a final decision on a 1041 land-use permit, though Rivera doubts a hearing and council vote can take place by then.

While Pueblo County officials allowed Utilities’ attorney to make minor semantic changes to the conditions Wednesday, Commissioner Jeff Chostner said the tenets of the conditions are not negotiable. “This is an unalterable document that you take to your city council,” Chostner said…

To see a complete list of the county’s SDS conditions, visit www.co.pueblo.co.us.

More coverage from the Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

It won’t be a straight-up decision for Colorado Springs, since council will need to review both the Pueblo County and Fremont County options for its proposed $1.1 billion pipeline project. “It is partly a business decision and a political decision,” Rivera said, saying the relative costs of coming through either county must be weighed. “Business is a huge factor, but you’ve got to remember it’s a 40-year project. We have to do what’s best for the community.”[…]

The conditions set up new water quality monitoring sites on Fountain Creek, controlling storm water, dredging the creek to preserve the effectiveness of Pueblo levees and places some restrictions on how new water or new users could be added to the pipeline. The conditions include $6 million for repairing roads, $2,000 per acre for revegetation and construction procedures like dust control or road closures…

The strongest objection to approving SDS at the hearing was voiced by Joe Santarella of the Rocky Mountain Environmental Labor Coalition. He recommended denial or at least adding eight more stringent conditions to limit depletion of the Arkansas River through the pipeline. “Water is too precious of a resource and valuable of a commodity and the impacts on Pueblo County and its residents are far too pervasive and significant to allow CSU to sell the excess water as a water broker to the highest bidders throughout El Paso and Teller counties,” Santarella said. He also said Colorado Springs is “trying to play you with an empty hand” by holding out Fremont County as a realistic option.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here, here, here and here.

Snowpack news

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Colorado’s statewide snowpack dipped to 99% of average this week. Here’s a report from Bob Berwyn writing for the Summit Daily News. From the article:

“It’s not encouraging. It’s definitely been a warm and dry month,” said Mike Gillespie, snow survey supervisor for the federal Natural Resources Soil Conservation Service. “There are definitely some increasing concerns on the Eastern Plains about drought-like conditions and emerging drought issues in some parts of the state,” Gillespie said. And things don’t appear to be getting better anytime soon. “The long-term forecast doesn’t bode well for accumulating more snowpack or maintaining what we have,” said local water commissioner Scott Hummer. Wednesday’s high temperature in Dillon was a relatively warm 49 degrees, and Hummer said those conditions are causing the snow to simply evaporate, rather than melting and running off into local streams. The 90-day outlook is for above-normal temperatures and below-normal precipitation, he added…

Snowpack in the Colorado River Basin is the highest in the state, at 105 percent of average. But in other parts of the state, levels have dropped to 20 percent below average…

Of special concern is the South Platte Basin, at 86 percent of normal as of March 19. Denver Water relies on the South Platte as one of its key supply sources…

But statewide reservoir levels remain in good shape, with plenty of storage, even under a dry scenario. With average precipitation through the spring, the water level in Dillon Reservoir is slowly dropping. On March 19, Denver water dropped the outflow to the Blue River to 50 cubic feet per second. At the same time, the water agency is taking 72 cfs through the Roberts Tunnel. Inflow to the reservoir is about 90 cfs.

From the Fort Collins Coloradoan: “Fort Collins has gotten little more than a half-inch of moisture this year, less than 40 percent what it typically has by now.”

Pipeline from the Mississippi river to eastern Colorado?

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The Denver Post (John Ingold) caught up with hay farmer Gary Hausler to talk over the practicality of building a pipeline from the Kentucky side of the Mississippi River to Colorado, with stops in all the states in between. I like this idea since it’s doesn’t require moving out of basin water. I don’t like the idea because of the costs and energy requirements. Could some of the water be use to recharge the Ogallala aquifer? Still it’s interesting. From the article:

His plan: Build a two-story-tall, 1,200-mile-long pipeline from the Mississippi River to Colorado’s Front Range to slake the state’s thirst…

“It’s completely different than anyone’s ever talked about before,” Hausler, a rancher and former mining engineer from Gunnison, said. “It’s traditional in Colorado when you need water on the eastern slope, you go to the Western Slope.” Hausler is pushing this pipeline idea on his own, traveling to water roundtables, river districts and other members of the state’s water establishment to make presentations on his idea. He gave a presentation to a state legislative committee and to staffers at Denver Water on Wednesday.

Lawmakers were, uh, intrigued. “I appreciate your thinking outside the box,” said Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling. “I don’t know if we can get it done, but if I can help . . .” Hausler said that’s the way a lot of responses have gone lately as more people seem open to new ideas when confronting the coming water shortfall.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here.