SB09-141: Fountain Creek Watershed District

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SB09-141 cleared the House Agriculture, Livestock and Natural Resources Committee this week, according to a report from Charles Ashby writing for the Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

House members from Pueblo and El Paso counties applauded Wednesday’s vote by the Agriculture, Livestock and Natural Resources Committee in support of the flood- and water-quality district. “We have all sorts of issues that have needed to be addressed over the many years but, because it was difficult to get many of the stakeholders on the same page, we were not able to address those issues,” said Rep. Marsha Looper, R-Calhan, who’s carrying the bill in the House with Rep. Sal Pace, D-Pueblo. “But Representative Pace and I, along with the elected officials (from both counties), can say those days are behind us,” she added. “Those communities, El Paso County and Pueblo County, have joined together in this extremely important piece of legislation to move those counties forward.” The 60-page measure, which Sen. Abel Tapia, D-Pueblo, ushered through the Senate last month, would establish a nine-member board that would oversee the flood plain from Fountain to Pueblo.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here, here and here.

Ridgeway hoping to tap stimulus dough for new replacement waterline

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From the Telluride Watch: “Ridgway’s Public Works Director/Engineer Joanne Fagan will have an engineering report on the town’s waterline replacement project soon so it may be considered for federal stimulus money, she told the Ridgway Town Council at its March 11 meeting. ‘We think the waterline replacement project may qualify for stimulus money,’ she said. ‘I am hoping to have an engineering report ready by next week.’ Fagan said the report needs to be in Denver by March 23 and that construction for the upgrade will need to begin by Sept. 30 in order to receive the funding. It is unclear how much federal stimulus money the town could get for the waterline upgrade. But at some point, the town’s lateral waterlines must be replaced. There is also need for a new pressure zone pump on the west side of town. Fagain said the Vista Terrace water tank is in need of improvements, as well, but she said that project would be put on hold until money is secured for the waterline improvements. Last November it was reported that the scope of the water distribution system improvements could come at a cost of approximately $750,000.”

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

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From the Aurora Sentinel (Adam Goldstein): “The Aurora City Council approved a settlement in litigation relating to its use of excess water capacity in a project in the Arkansas River Basin during a special meeting held Wednesday, March 18. The litigation related to a 40-year contract between the city and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, an agreement that saw Aurora end its use of year-to-year contracts with the Bureau for use of extra capacity in the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project in the Arkansas River Basin for storing excess water. The Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District, along with local landowners, filed suit in federal district court, claiming that the Bureau did not have the authority to negotiate the 40-year agreement and citing potential negative impacts to the local economy. Council unanimously approved a settlement on Wednesday that confirmed the Bureau’s right to negotiate with an outside entity, following a similar ruling by the Bureau earlier in the day.”

More Coyote Gulch coverage here.

2009 Drought: Northeast Colorado farmers already running sprinklers

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From the Fort Morgan Times (Jesse Chaney): “As area onion farmers prepared for one of the driest planting seasons seen in years, irrigation sprinklers were running throughout Morgan County even before the first seed went into the ground. ‘We’ve had to run the sprinklers before we could even plant,’ said Larry Jensen of Jensen Farms Inc. ‘There’s good moisture down underneath, but on top with all this wind, it’s dried the top moisture out pretty bad.’ The ground required moisture because planting equipment does not work properly in powdery topsoil, Jensen said. ‘The planter units slip in the dirt, and then you don’t get a good population,’ he said.”

Pagosa Springs: Town’s whitewater park reconfiguration complete

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Pagosa Springs “Davey Wave” whitewater feature is gone and work is complete in the town’s whitewater park. Here’s a report from Bill Hudson writing for the Pagosa Daily Post. From the article:

I happened to run into Town of Pagosa Springs Parks Director Jim Miller at the overlook parking lot Wednesday morning, and we paused for a moment to lean on the log rail fence and admire the Town’s new white water wave feature, bubbling and tumbling in front of the Bob Hand Visitors Center. The new rock-and-cement structure looked very reminiscent of the now departed “Davey Wave” — except it had its “dropped” low area on its eastern side, instead of on the western side as with the Davey Wave. The visual similarity no doubt had something to do with the fact that both white water structures — the old Davey Wave and this new, as-yet-unnamed feature, were designed by Boulder engineer Gary Lacy, of Recreational Engineering and Planning (REP). But I had a sense that the new feature was slightly less “artificial” looking — perhaps as a result of using more rock and less concrete…

Perhaps the new feature’s superior appearance also had something to do with the amount of time spent planning for it. The Davey Wave, built back in March 2005, had been installed under Lacy’s direction almost before the ink was dry on REP’s contract with then Town manager Mark Garcia — and before the project had even obtained the proper government permits. This new feature, meanwhile, was the result of four years of haggling and negotiations with the federal Army Corps of Engineers and the state Division of Wildlife.

Avon: Waterwise Wednesday

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From the Vail Daily: “The number of brown trout in the Eagle River in Avon has dropped since 2005 and the health of a once badly polluted stretch near Minturn in Colorado’s Vail Valley is again in question. “The Eagle River may be a reflection of the national economy, a time for troubled waters,” said Dr. John Woodling, who has spent many years studying the river. Woodling will talk about the changes to the river at the next Waterwise Wednesday session at 5 p.m., Wednesday at the Avon library.”

Nestlé Waters Chaffee County project: County commissioners wading through 1041 application process

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The Chaffee County Commissioners have postponed deliberations on Nestlé Waters North America’s plans to move water out of the Arkansas River Basin to a bottling plant in Denver until April 21st to make sure that they have enough time to review all public comments and submitted site plans and other material. Organized opposition to the project — while coming in a bit late in the process — is growing by leaps and bounds. Here’s a report from Jennifer Denevan writing for The Mountain Mail:

Additional information for the 1041 application deals with site plans for Bighorn and Ruby Mountain springs, the Colorado Division of Wildlife plan, weed management and more. It was requested for use by planning commission members, but will also be distributed to commissioners, county staff members and county consultants for review. It’s unclear when county planners will meet regarding the 1041 application, but their next regular meeting is March 31 and they may set a date then. County commissioners will reopen the continued public hearing at 1 p.m. April 21 in the Buena Vista American Legion Hall for more public comment and possibly a decision regarding the permit applications. Commissioners extended hearings because they have massive amounts of information – including public comments – to sift through.

About 30 speakers, mostly in opposition, addressed commissioners Wednesday night. Comments against approval included lack of economic development for the county, potential environmental harm, traffic issues and the Nestlé company history with similar projects in other states. Several residents said they believe Nestlé will benefit from the project more than Chaffee County.

More coverage of Wednesday’s meeting from Jennifer Denevan writing for The Mountain Mail:

After hearing from about 30 residents during a 3½ hour public hearing Wednesday night, Chaffee County Commissioners unanimously approved continuing the event to 1 p.m. April 21 for additional comments. Commissioners said they would try to hold the hearing in Buena Vista to allow easier access by residents there if a large enough venue can be found. Several comments Wednesday indicated need for a hearing in the northern end of the county. Continuing the hearing, commissioners said, would allow time to get necessary information from Nestlé and understand information offered so far. It also allows time for county personnel and planning and zoning members to review information and comment…

Several comments were offered supporting the Nestlé application. Reasons ranged from educational opportunities for students to Nestlé giving a good report and fulfilling application requirements. Frank McMurry of Nathrop said although he typically resists change in the county, as do many residents, the project – done correctly – may be an open invitation to others which could attract more industry.

Opposing comments focused on negative environmental impact from the project, negative publicity regarding similar Nestlé projects in other locations and potential safety hazards on U.S. 285 caused by increased truck traffic and inclement weather. Other opposition focused on conflicting information between studies completed by Nestlé and reports from county consultants regarding environmental impact.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here and here.

Energy policy — oil and gas: Production effects on groundwater

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Here’s an update on the homeowner near Fort Lupton whose well water is contaminated with natural gas, from Jordan Steffen writing for the Greeley Tribune. From the article:

Amee Ellsworth met with representatives from Noble Energy and Anadarko. The two companies own the eight natural gas wells near Ellsworth’s home; one well may be contaminating Ellsworth’s water supply with flammable gas. Representatives met with Ellsworth and her husband at their home, and collaborated to provide them with safe living conditions. Ellsworth said she was glad to see the two companies working together to create solutions for her home. She worries, however, that their proposals do not offer answers for both sides of the problem. “Overall the problem is we want safe and clean water. They’ve addressed the clean part, but not the safe” part, Ellsworth said. She said that a treatment unit will provide clean drinking water, but she still worries about the buildup of the dangerous gas.

John Christiansen, a representative for Anadarko, said the two companies are working together to find a way to help Ellsworth. The exact cause of the contamination has not been determined, Christiansen said. Anadarko is responsible for three of the eight wells that may be responsible for the leak. Christiansen said the wells were tested in October 2008, and no malfunction was found. Testing will continue and rigs to monitor the wells will be put in place next week, he said. Nobel Energy representative Stephen Flaherty said that Noble is working hard with Anadarko to make sure the family is safe. Noble also will place monitoring rigs on their wells, he said. Both companies will continue to look for long-term solutions, Flaherty said.

Southern Delivery System: Pueblo West seeks exemption from Pueblo flow program

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Pueblo West was hoping to get an exemption from the Pueblo flow program (which they declined to participate in earlier in the program’s history) in conjunction with Colorado Springs’ proposed Southern Delivery System. An exemption is not in the cards according to a report from Chris Woodka writing for the Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

On the one hand, [Pueblo West] the community of about 30,000 would bear the brunt of visible impacts from the pipeline through Pueblo County, with disruption of roads, property and schedules looming during the construction phase. The benefit is that Pueblo West would save millions of dollars in meeting its future needs by hooking into the proposed pipeline as it leaves Pueblo Dam. By hooking into the SDS pipeline to deliver up to 18 million gallons per day, it will pay $1 million, compared with up to $8 million if it built its own river intake below Pueblo Dam. So, officials reasoned, it ought to be easy to catch a break on a provision of terms and conditions that requires participants to abide by the rules of the Pueblo flow program, which limits exchanges during certain times in order to meet minimum flow targets for the Arkansas River to meet the needs of fish and kayakers. Not so, Pueblo West learned this week. Pueblo County commissioners were unwilling to budge on a request to exempt Pueblo West from the flow program at a hearing Wednesday…

Two of the partners, Colorado Springs and Fountain, are already signed on with the flow program, and it won’t have any significant impact on the remaining partner, Security. There is no sympathy among the group toward the pleadings made by Pueblo West at the hearing. “We can’t be sponsors of an exception to a program we are complying with,” said Colorado Springs attorney David Robbins. “We are under an obligation to comply with the flow program.”

Pueblo West declined to participate in the flow maintenance program set up under a six-party intergovernmental agreement that includes Pueblo, the Pueblo Board of Water Works, Colorado Springs, Fountain, the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District and Aurora, Robbins said. On the other hand, Pueblo West signed an agreement to support all permit activities, under the lead of Colorado Springs, under a 2007 IGA. The 1041 land-use application to Pueblo County is one of those permits. And, as approved by commissioners, it says Pueblo West must commit to the flow program.

“We were never part of the flow management program because it was generally accepted that we never had an effect on the river,” said Steve Harrison, Pueblo West Metro District utilities director. Harrison, supported by attorneys for the metro district, told the commissioners that Lake Pueblo is the terminal storage for Pueblo West’s water supply. The water comes mainly from Twin Lakes, so it was never part of the flow to the Arkansas River. Twin Lakes brings water into the Arkansas River basin from the Colorado River basin. Pueblo West releases water down Wild Horse Dry Creek, which enters the Arkansas River about 5 miles east of the Pueblo Dam. Pueblo West can exchange those flows, which are reusable under state water law, by storing water out of priority in its Lake Pueblo account.

The members of the flow management program say that while Pueblo West is entitled to reuse its transmountain flows, it needs native water to complete the exchange. “We disagree that the exchange doesn’t deplete the river,” said Alan Ward, water resources administrator for the Pueblo Board of Water Works. “The flow management partners all lose water.”

As of last year, the partners in the program let about 30,000 acre-feet of water — a little more than a year’s supply for Pueblo’s potable water system — flow downriver, either through curtailing exchanges or releasing water for special events at Pueblo Whitewater Park. Through a recovery of yield program, about 71 percent has been recovered. The water is captured at Holbrook Reservoir, under a contract, and used for later exchanges. If Pueblo West were participating in the program now, it would lose only about 92 acre-feet per year, Ward estimated, based on information provided by Pueblo West.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here and here.

Snowpack news

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From the Aspen Times: “Overall, the snowpack for the Roaring Fork River basin is 12 percent above average, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service, an agency in the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Data collected at seven locations in the Roaring Fork River basin showed on Friday that the snowpack was 21 percent above average at Schofield Pass in the Crystal Valley drainage. The snowpack east of Aspen near Grizzly Reservoir was 15 percent above average, the NRCS reported. The average amount water equivalent held in the snowpack at that site is 15.2 inches on the first day of spring. It was 17.5 inches this year. The snowpack is holding up better in the Crystal Valley than the Fryingpan Valley, according to the conservation service’s measurements. Along with the Schofield site, the snowpack is 14 percent above average at North Lost Trail near Marble and 3 percent above average at McClure Pass. In the Fryingpan Valley, the snowpack is 2 percent above average at the Ivanhoe site and right at average for March 20 at the Kiln site. The snowpack is 9 percent above average at the Nast site…

“The Gunnison River basin’s snowpack is 98 percent of average; the Dolores/San Miguel is 95 percent of average; the San Juan basin is at 96 percent; and the Animas is at 90 percent, according to the conservation service.”

From the Denver Post: “For the meteorological record, March and April usually deliver Denver’s heaviest, wettest snows. But the National Weather Service points to La Niña, the Pacific Ocean weather phenomenon, for keeping the snow at bay this year. Since July, Denver’s snowfall is just 14 percent of the 61.7 inches normally recorded in the July 1-June 30 monitoring period. March 2 saw a record high temperature of 74 in Denver, breaking a 1901 mark.”