Pipeline from Bailey to Conifer and back?

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From the Fairplay Flume (Mike Potter): “The proposed water pipeline between Bailey and Conifer could be delayed as additional permits might take longer than expected to obtain. John McMichael, the managing partner for Conifer Water LLC, the company that is planning the pipeline, said he would have to get approval from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and obtain a 1041 water permit from Park County before work would begin…

“McMichael said Conifer Water has had conversations with Park County Development Services Coordinator Tom Eisenman, and it will be submitting the paperwork for the 1041 application soon. An application also must be submitted to the Army Corps of Engineers about the water diversion, but McMichael said it wouldn’t be submitted until the design of the project is completed…

“He expressed confidence that approval from the Corps of Engineers wouldn’t take long once the application is submitted, but he said it could take some time for the Park County 1041 permit to be approved. Eisenman called the project “very ambitious” and said the length of time it would take to go through the 1041 water permit process would depend on the content of the application McMichael submits.”

Hayden chasing stimulus dough for new water tower

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From the Steamboat Pilot & Today (Blythe Terrell): “Hayden’s engineering contractors whipped up a water tank proposal in the nick of time, finishing the preliminary plan Thursday and sending it off to state officials Friday. The town has until Monday to try to snag stimulus money for the project. Civil Design Consultants pushed the proposal through at the town’s request. The cutoff is the first in a series of almost monthly deadlines, Town Manager Russ Martin said.”

Lake Nighthorse: Animas-La Plata Water Conservancy District steps up with offer to manage recreation

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From the Durango Herald (Dale Rodebaugh): “There was more than met the ear to recent statements by Bruce Whitehead, executive director of the Animas-La Plata Water Conservancy District, that his agency stands ready to help provide recreation at Lake Nighthorse. The subliminal message became loud and clear Thursday when district board members voted to tackle the job themselves. They are acting because Colorado State Parks, the logical manager of recreation, said last summer – and reiterated recently – that it has no money for such an undertaking at a cost estimated at $20 million to $25 million. Many issues remain to be resolved, board members said Thursday, but five volunteered to be an exploratory subcommittee.”

More Coyote Gulch coverage here and here.

Colorado’s water infrastructure needs

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Here’s a look at Colorado’s crumbling water supply infrastructure from David Olinger writing for the Denver Post. From the article:

Year by year, the price to fix Colorado’s drinking-water infrastructure keeps climbing. Pending requests for state help to improve water systems have ballooned from $800 million to $1.3 billion since 2005. Forty-eight of these projects, totaling $143 million, would treat water supplies posing acute or chronic health hazards. Louise Malouff’s 6-year-old son was among the children treated in emergency rooms after a pollutant — salmonella bacteria — invaded Alamosa’s water supply…

Some infrastructure money in the $787 billion federal economic-stimulus bill is coming to aid troubled Colorado water systems, but it’s not nearly enough to assure safe drinking water statewide. Colorado expects $32 million in stimulus money to help finance drinking-water projects, about 2.5 percent of the total sought by hundreds of cities, towns and districts. “The amount of money available pales in comparison to the need,” said Steve Gunderson, the state’s water- quality director…

This crisis is largely invisible. People typically notice infrastructure systems only if they fail. “It’s out of sight, out of mind,” said Tom Curtis, deputy executive director of the American Water Works Association. “You turn on the tap, and water comes out. You flush, and it goes away.”[…]

In the past two years, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment has dealt with 120 “acute” drinking-water incidents that posed potential public health risks — up from 68 during the previous two years. Last year there were 62 state orders to boil tap water or drink bottled water. Nearly half were caused by broken water mains or other maintenance issues. Two water districts were ordered to boil water four times in one year, and the town of Rye has been told to boil its drinking water since May. The health department says the growing number of acute incidents may reflect better reporting from local water systems, not a growing health risk. But it acknowledges that its current staff is insufficient to keep up with the combined effects of aging infrastructure, stricter federal rules and population growth. “Currently, there is a backlog of about 120 community public-water systems with unresolved violations, and resources have allowed only one such system to be referred for enforcement,” the Water Quality Control Division recently reported to the state legislature. “This type of performance will not be accepted under the new rules.”

Ron Falco, Colorado’s drinking-water program manager, said most of those inspection-based violations — inadequate maintenance or incorrect water sampling, for example — are not directly health-related. But new U.S. Environmental Protection Agency rules will require stricter state oversight, and there is a risk the agency “would find we’re not doing an adequate job” of protecting water supplies, he said. Overall, 97 percent of Colorado residents drink water that meets all health standards, Falco said. That’s well above the EPA target of 90 percent and above the national average. But that still meant 156,498 people in Colorado drank from water supplies with “health-based violations” in fiscal 2008, according to EPA data. And because those problems were concentrated in 100 small systems, almost one-eighth of Colorado’s community water supplies violated health standards last year…

Colorado let developers create their own quasi-governmental water and sewer districts, then turn the infrastructure over to homeowners after projects are completed. Many of these districts are now reaching the half-century mark with original pipes…

The Teller district has joined the growing list of small water providers pleading for state help with infrastructure repairs. In most years, the health department has had little or no grant money for drinking-water projects. Those who wanted help applied for loans. This year will be a little different. Thanks to the economic-stimulus package, the department expects an extra $32 million — and to use half of that to forgive principal on loans to needy applicants. That falls far short of the nearly $1.3 billion in pending drinking-water projects statewide, plus another $456 million in new projects from cities seeking a piece of the federal infrastructure pie. It won’t even come close to covering the state’s highest-priority projects for public health…

A hundred miles north of Teller County, in a district just west of Brighton in Adams County, Hi Land Acres homeowners were told to boil their drinking water four times last year…

In Rye, a small town in the foothills southwest of Pueblo, boil-water orders have been distributed every two weeks since last spring. The issue: filtration. Rye had installed new filters to meet drinking-water regulations, but they clogged during spring runoff, costing the tiny town hundreds of dollars to replace them daily. Citing the cost, the Rye council decided in May to stop filtering the water. The state promptly ordered Rye to boil water before drinking it. “You should try running a restaurant where you can’t use the water coming out of the sinks,” said Cat Irvine, who served breakfast and lunch at the Rye Rendezvous. “I jury-rig a way to run my espresso machine. I can’t wash or rinse any of my vegetables” in the sink. She closed the restaurant last month…

In Hot Sulphur Springs, a town west of Rocky Mountain National Park, spring runoff last year turned the drinking water cloudy, violating turbidity standards. Turbidity, a general measure of particles in the water, is regulated like a pollutant because past disease outbreaks in drinking water have often been associated with high turbidity levels. The town ended up boiling its water for months. Lauralee Kourse, a water and sewer district operator called to help Hot Sulphur Springs, found a water system that had not been properly maintained for a long time. Incorrectly applied chemicals had eaten into the concrete of a drinking-water well. The town had some wooden water mains, and its galvanized iron pipes were so corroded that half the water produced was leaking out. The water smelled and looked dirty, and it was accumulating dirt between the treatment plant and the faucets…

Pipeline from the Mississippi River to eastern Colorado?

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Here’s a look at hay farmer Gary Hausler’s idea to build a pumpback pipeline from the Mississippi River to Colorado’s eastern plains, from Joe Hanel writing for the Durango Herald. From the article:

The Gunnison rancher wants to build an 18-foot-wide water pipeline from the Mississippi River to a hill south of Denver and bring in enough water for millions more people. But it’s no joke. Some state lawmakers are intrigued by the idea. “Why go to the Mississippi? Because that’s where the water is,” Hausler told the Legislature’s agriculture committees Wednesday. Hausler has a lot of water in mind – 1 million acre-feet a year, about twice the annual flow of the Dolores River at the Utah border. He has been working on his plan for eight years, but in the last six months or so, people have started listening…

“When I started out, people laughed in my face a lot. That doesn’t happen near as much now,” Hausler said. No one was laughing Wednesday morning when Hausler made his pitch to legislators.

“I think we have to look at everything at this point,” said Rep. Kathleen Curry, D-Gunnison. As chairwoman of the House Agriculture Committee, Curry is one of the most influential lawmakers when it comes to water. Her Senate counterpart, Hesperus Democrat Jim Isgar, also thinks Hausler is on to something. “I actually started raising this a few years ago myself when we were talking about pump-backs from the Western Slope,” Isgar said. Physically, it would be easier to pump Mississippi water west across the gently sloping plains than east from Western Slope water through the Rocky Mountains, Isgar said. “I really think it’s something worth looking at,” Isgar said.

Hausler’s pipeline would provide enough water for 1 million to 2 million households if it were used exclusively by cities. 30-year projectHis numbers are staggering: a 1,200-mile-long system with a 7,000-foot vertical lift; numerous reservoirs and canals; an 18-foot-diameter pipeline; and the equivalent of three new power plants to run the pumps. Hausler thinks it would take 30 years to permit and build, and he admits it wouldn’t do anything to solve short-term water troubles. He envisions a Central Plains Compact among Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska and Missouri to set the legal framework for the project.

Water law works differently on the Mississippi, Hausler said Wednesday. It’s based not on Colorado’s prior appropriation system, but on the Law of Riparian Rights. Basically, he said, anyone is allowed to take water out of the Mississippi as long as people downstream can’t prove injury.

Hausler’s idea is hardly new. He got the idea, he said, from Exxon engineers in the 1980s, who proposed diverting the Missouri River to Western Colorado for oil-shale production. Hausler doesn’t envision using his pipeline for oil shale, he said. However, the Department of Energy’s 2004 Oil Shale Development Roadmap discusses the possible need to import water to Western Colorado to run a future shale industry. Despite the massive engineering required, Hausler thinks the project could be built with no federal funding because urban water customers would pick up the bill, he said. He predicted a cost of $22,500 per acre-foot.

That’s in line with the cost of new water-storage projects on the Front Range today, said Chips Berry, head of the Denver Water Department. But Berry hasn’t seen a formal analysis of Hausler’s idea, so he’s not sure if the $22,500 cost takes into account everything involved. In particular, water treatment costs would be high because there’s a significant difference between Colorado’s high-altitude, snow-fed rivers and the Mississippi meandering through fertilizer-laden farm country.

Nevada eyes Mississippi, tooBerry has heard similar ideas before, including from Pat Mulroy, head of the Southern Nevada Water Authority.

He respects Mulroy as one of the nation’s best minds on water. While she’s never made a formal proposal, she has, at times, approached Berry and said:”Have I got a deal for you. I’m going to bring you all the Mississippi River water you need, and you’re going to give me your Colorado River water,” Berry said. “The answer is, ‘The hell I am.'”

More Coyote Gulch coverage here and here.

Alamosa: Aftermath of 2008 salmonella outbreak

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Here’s a look at Alamosa’s March 2008 salmonella outbreak and its aftermath from David Olinger writing for the Denver Post. From the article:

• Health investigators discovered an in-ground storage tank was cracked at the corners and had a hole in its side — potential entry points for a strain of salmonella bacteria found in animal feces. A state inspection of Alamosa’s water system months before the outbreak failed to include a detailed look at this tank. As a result, its interior had not been physically inspected in 11 years.

• The state canceled a 34-year-old exemption that allowed Alamosa to pump untreated drinking water through a delivery system almost a century old. It also ordered the city to improve inspections of its water system.

• Alamosa opened a treatment plant designed to remove traces of arsenic detected in its water for 13 years. The new plant also disinfects water. Had it been completed months earlier, the city could have avoided the salmonella epidemic.

A year later, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment has not pinpointed where salmonella bacteria invaded the water supply of a city of 9,000 people. But crumbling infrastructure is a prime suspect.

After tests detected coliform bacteria in Alamosa’s cracked storage tank, the city disconnected it from its drinking-water supply. A 75-year-old water tower was missing bolts and needed repairs on a roof stained by bird droppings.

The city had 50 miles of underground pipes, and “a lot of pipes were World War I vintage. They’re old. They’re very old,” said Steve Gunderson, the health department’s water- quality director. “That’s the problem with our nation’s infrastructure.”

The Post article includes a link to a photo gallery for the story.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here.

Taming the Land

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Here’s the third part of Chris Woodka’s series “Taming the Land” detailing the history of water in the Arkansas Valley running in the Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

Here’s a look at how some key ditches in the valley started and developed:

Fort Lyon Canal: The first headgate was built in the 1860s north of La Junta and served a small ditch with various owners through the 1870s. In the early 1880s, the Arkansas River Land, Town and Canal Co. was formed to expand the ditch. During the next 20 years, a series of promoters came and went creating stormy relations with those who farmed along the canal. Farmers on the ditch finally won a Colorado Supreme Court case in 1903 that gave them control of the ditch as a mutual stock company. The ditch irrigates 94,000 acres under 113 miles and includes two reservoirs.

Rocky Ford Ditch: Started in 1874 by men ranching in the area, and lengthened gradually. It once irrigated 10,000 acres under 20 miles of ditch near Rocky Ford. Sales in the early 1980s and late 1990s have left nearly all of the shares in the hands of Aurora.

Bessemer Ditch: The Big Ditch in South Pueblo was completed in 1874, and the Central Colorado Improvement Co. had plans to irrigate 20,000 acres of the Nolan Land Grant. The Bessemer Irrigating Ditch Co. was not incorporated until 1888, however. The canal was on Colorado Coal & Iron Co. land until 1893, when the company went into receivership and sold the ditch and water rights. The ditch diverted water from the Arkansas River above Pueblo, and now diverts directly from Pueblo Dam. It has water rights dating to 1861, and irrigates 20,000 acres under 43 miles of ditch.

Catlin Canal: Begun in 1884 by men living in the area. The ditch was expanded over time to irrigate 18,000 acres under 40 miles of ditch from Manzanola to Rocky Ford.

Oxford Farmers Ditch: The Enterprise Ditch was dug in 1867, with a diversion two miles west of Nepesta in Pueblo County. The ditch was expanded when the Oxford Ditch took over in 1887. It irrigates up to 6,000 acres, mostly in the Fowler area.

Colorado Canal: Originally called the Bob Creek Canal, T.C. Henry’s original plan for the canal in the late 1880s was a ditch all the way from Boone to Kansas, which combined with other ditches in the area would irrigate 1 million acres. The investors envisioned water stored in Lake Henry and Lake Meredith would be sold to farmers. Work started on the ditch in 1889. The company expanded Twin Lakes in Lake County in the early 1900s and built a transmountain tunnel in the 1930s. The 50-mile canal once irrigated up to 56,000 acres. Today, Colorado Springs and Aurora control most of the ditch shares. The Twin Lakes shares now are primarily in the hands of Colorado Springs, the Pueblo Board of Water Works, Pueblo West and Aurora.

High Line Canal: Built by the Rocky Ford Canal, Reservoir, Land and Trust Co. after articles of incorporation were signed in 1889, the company later bought water rights dating back to 1861. It irrigates 24,000 acres under 72 miles of ditch. In recent years, it leased water to Aurora and Colorado Springs to revive municipal water supplies depleted by drought.

Holbrook Canal: Col. H.R. Holbrook brought a colony of farmers to the valley in 1889, settling on on land that was part of a failed 1860s Indian agriculture experiment. The canal diverts to the north side of the Arkansas River east of Manzanola, irrigating up to 20,000 acres under 15 miles of ditch. Two reservoirs were built along the route.

Otero Canal: The canal was started south of the Arkansas River near Fowler in 1890, another promotion by T.C. Henry. The plan was to irrigate nearly 20,000 acres under a 70-mile ditch. Eventually, the ditch extended 90 miles, but because of junior water rights, it irrigated fewer than 10,000 acres. The company in the early 1900s obtained storage rights at Clear Creek Reservoir, in northern Chaffee County, but sold them along with the reservoir to the Pueblo Board of Water Works in 1954.

Amity Canal: In the late 1890s, the Santa Fe Railroad and Salvation Army brought in colonists, many of whom had been in the United States for only a few weeks and had little money. It operated under various names, and shares were oversold during its colorful history. The system includes five large reservoirs, which are in Kiowa County and fed by the Fort Lyon Canal. The canal irrigated nearly 38,000 acres under 80 miles of ditch running the length of Prowers County. Recently, almost half of the canal’s shares were sold to Tri-State Generation & Transmission Association, which plans to build a power plant near Holly.

Some farmers were very successful in the valley in the early years. Here’s a report from Chris Woodka writing for the Pueblo Chieftain.

Southern Delivery System: Critics say Pueblo County permit conditions don’t do enough to protect the county

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Not everyone is happy with the conditions attached to the approval of permits for Colorado Springs’ proposed Southern Delivery System, according to a report from Chris Woodka writing for the Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

Critics of Pueblo County’s proposed conditions for the Southern Delivery System say they don’t go far enough to protect the county from future ill effects of the $1.1 billion pipeline project…

District Attorney Bill Thiebaut wanted to add eight conditions to the list, primarily aimed at protecting Fountain Creek. Thiebaut filed a federal lawsuit against Colorado Springs in 2005 after repeated sewer line breaks and spills into the Fountain. While his suit was thrown out, a federal judge is still deliberating a parallel suit filed by the Sierra Club. “As district attorney, it is my duty to protect the health and safety of the citizens of Pueblo County and to ensure that laws are being enforced,” Thiebaut said in written testimony to commissioners. Thiebaut said commissioners should require Colorado Springs to build ponds and reservoirs along Fountain Creek; prove the effectiveness of stream crossings of sewer lines against stormwater; prove its sewage treatment plants, collection system and lift stations can handle the additional flows of SDS; provide information about its sewage system to Pueblo; and fully comply with future conditions and rules…

“The terms and conditions do not provide any assurance that sewage collection system stream crossings in the city of Colorado Springs are capable of accommodating the additional stream flows contemplated by SDS,” Thiebaut said. In addition to the $50 million for improvements and $75 million for upgrades to sewers, the county conditions include an adaptive management plan on Fountain Creek, as well as some other specific improvements, such as dredging at Clear Springs Ranch and in the Pueblo levee system as needed. Thiebaut said that isn’t enough. “The terms and conditions do not assure that additional sewage volume into CSU’s sewage collection system will not cause swage pipe failure or overflow from the antiquated vitrified clay sewage pipe which comprises approximately 80 percent of the Colorado Springs sewage collection system,” Thiebaut said…

At Wednesday’s hearing, the Rocky Mountain Environmental Labor Coalition also asked for eight additional restrictions on Colorado Springs if it builds a pipeline through Pueblo County. The coalition’s first choice would be to deny the permit, but the conditions would be needed for approval, said attorney Joe Santarella. The coalition presented an even longer list at a hearing in December. “Most of these conditions have not been adopted in the mitigation plan, but are needed to protect the welfare and environment of Pueblo County and its residents,” Santarella told commissioners. Conditions included restriction of the amount of water pumped through the pipeline to current needs of applicants; creating a trust fund for compensating property owners in the Fountain Creek watershed; removing vegetation at reservoir sites to prevent mercury contamination of Fountain Creek; implementation of conservation ordinances; land use requirements to minimize runoff; use of conservation techniques during construction; use of renewable energy and recycling wastes during construction; and establishing a trust fund to compensate for nuisances during construction. “Most importantly, the commissioners must limit the amount of water diverted from the Arkansas River basin by the SDS pipeline through clear and enforceable regulations,” Santarella said.

Neal Hall, business manager for the Colorado Building Trades and Construction Council, said there should be requirements to assure that contractors on SDS paid a liveable wage to workers. C. Jacob Hobson, president of the Pueblo County Farm Bureau, said the loss of farmland and impact on downstream water users are not addressed in the conditions.

FEMA to modernize Pueblo flood plain maps

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From the Pueblo Chieftain (Jeff Tucker): “The Federal Emergency Management Agency is working to modernize the flood plain maps for the city of Pueblo, and the city’s levees probably will need to be certified during the process. Dawn Gladwell, mapping project manager for FEMA’s Region 8, said the agency is nearing the end of a process of converting paper flood maps to digital content…

“Gladwell said the agency is in the process of collecting data about the flood maps, checking new development and its effects on runoff and looking over other topographic issues. She said the three levee systems the agency is interested in are those along the Arkansas River and Fountain and Wild Horse Dry creeks. Gladwell said the city may hire an engineer or the Army Corps of Engineers to study the levees at any time in the process, but she couldn’t provide an estimate on the costs. Going without a certification could be costly for property owners throughout the Downtown and East Side neighborhoods. ‘Without a certification, that would technically mean the levee cannot hold the water it was designed for,’ Gladwell said. ‘I don’t know the extent or how it would change the map.'”

John Salazar: I’m not sure I’m happy about this stuff

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Part of the settlement announced last week by the Lower Arkansas Valley Conservancy District and Reclamation hinges on authorizing legislation that would allow Aurora to use Fryingpan-Arkansas facilities to move water out of basin. The Lower Ark and Reclamation should have talked to Colorado’s congressional delegation before they struck the deal. Congressman John Salazar is opposed to Aurora moving the water out of basin. Here’s a report from Chris Woodka writing for the Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

At least one lawmaker was caught off-guard by the proposal, and raised doubts about whether he could support such legislation in any form. “It upsets me and maybe gives me just cause to not support any legislation,” U.S. Rep. John Salazar, D-Colo., said Friday. Other lawmakers in the area’s congressional delegation have not yet weighed in on the deal.

Salazar acknowledged that he had not seen the agreement, but he made it clear that Aurora has little say in whether the Arkansas Valley Conduit, a $300 million water supply pipeline for the lower valley, is approved in Congress. Support for the conduit is one piece of the new agreement, but Salazar said it appears the conduit is being “held hostage” by the two groups.

Legislation which should move to the house floor next week has been suggested by the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District and would use excess-capacity revenues – including Aurora’s lease, but with many more leases within the Arkansas Valley – to repay construction costs of the conduit. Salazar said if legislation is introduced, it should be written so that Aurora is not able to take any more water from the valley. “If we continue bleeding the Arkansas basin, it will just be Pueblo and Colorado Springs left,” Salazar said. While the agreement would provide opportunity for the Super Ditch, a corporation formed by farmers with the help of the Lower Ark district to lease water, Salazar said he is concerned about the impact of taking more water out of the river and what that will do to local economies. “I still have concerns with the Super Ditch concept,” Salazar said. “I’m not sure I’m happy about this stuff.”

More coverage from the Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The authorization, which would be only for Aurora and no other out-of-basin water user, has not been introduced in Congress, but Lower Ark and Aurora officials plan to talk to members of Congress about it later this month. The authorization would remove the two key elements of a 2007 federal lawsuit filed against Reclamation by the Lower Ark district that challenges Aurora’s ability to use the Fry-Ark Project because it was not authorized in either the 1962 Fryingpan-Arkansas Act or the 1958 Water Supply Act. “We have not been asked to, and I’m not sure we’d be willing to support that agreement,” Salazar said Thursday. “We were caught off-guard that it was even in the works.”

The agreement is the culmination of four years of on-again, off-again negotiations related to the Preferred Storage Options Plan between Aurora and the Lower Ark that Salazar and his brother, former U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar, helped launch in 2005. Lower Ark attorney Peter Nichols explained Wednesday that talks had broken several times over the four-year period, most recently last June. Talks restarted in January, leading to the agreement approved this week. Any new legislation should not be used to give Aurora more water and the conditions in the agreement unnecessarily link the Arkansas Valley Conduit’s future to Aurora’s ability to move water. “I believe at the very least, there would not be a single drop of more water going to Aurora through this proposed legislation,” Salazar said. “I have serious concerns that there are no conditions in this agreement to stop any more water from leaving the Arkansas Valley.”

Salazar said the Arkansas Valley Conduit would continue to move through Congress as part of the Public Lands Bill that won Senate approval for the second time Thursday. The bill will go back to the House, where it failed for lack of a two-thirds vote last week, and will only need a simple majority to pass…

The Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, sponsors of the Fry-Ark project, the conduit and PSOP, was supportive of the Aurora-Lower Ark agreement during a brief presentation Thursday, and some expressed hope that PSOP might be resurrected as a result. Aurora could pay more than $50 million over 40 years under excess-capacity contracts with the Bureau of Reclamation signed in 2007. The conduit legislation proposes using those revenues, along with other excess-capacity contracts, to repay construction costs of the conduit and other underfunded parts of the Fry-Ark project. District officials have said Aurora’s participation is helpful, but not necessary to make the plan work. The agreement between Aurora and the Lower Ark would put the federal lawsuit on hold for up to two years until legislation could be adopted, at which time, the Lower Ark would move to dismiss the case with prejudice, Nichols said. That means the Lower Ark could not file another lawsuit over the contract.

More coverage from the Pueblo Chieftain (Peter Roper):

The $300 million pipeline project [Arkansas Valley Conduit] that Colorado lawmakers have been prodding through Congress is just one item in a lengthy public lands bill that the Senate approved on a 77-20 vote Thursday. It was the second time since January that the Senate approved the legislation, but the public lands package was rejected in the House just a week ago. That’s not expected to happen a second time. Hoping for fast action, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., had brought the bill to a vote on “special consideration” – a procedure that requires a two-thirds majority – and House Republicans, plus some Democrats, stopped the bill by keeping the final tally two votes short of two-thirds. Pelosi has said she will bring the measure back for another vote soon and a simple majority will be all that’s needed. It passing is very likely given the Democratic majority in the House.

More coverage from the Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Last week’s potential settlement of a federal lawsuit about using a project intended to provide more water to the Arkansas River basin to move water from the basin stirs long-standing issues with yet another agreement…

In late 2004, and often since then, the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District ook a hard line opposing the authority of the Bureau of Reclamation to allow Aurora to use the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project to move water out of the valley…

In 2007, after Reclamation approved a 40-year deal for Aurora to store and move water upstream, the Lower Ark dug its heels in and filed a federal lawsuit against Reclamation. The suit was joined by Aurora and Arkansas Valley Native, a group of four influential men who own water rights and also opposed the contract. It was the most rigorous challenge to the deals with Aurora since 1986, when Reclamation began leasing excess-capacity space in Lake Pueblo to the city of 300,000 east of Denver…

With the federal court challenge, however, it became evident there was never clear authority for Aurora’s involvement in the Fry-Ark Project. While Reclamation claimed the authority has always been implicit in federal statutes, the Lower Ark challenged the leases under specific legislation by Congress in 1958 and 1962. The [Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District] was never comfortable with Aurora’s participation in the Fry-Ark Project – which dates back to the beginnings of the Homestake Project in the 1950s – and sought to incorporate formal authority as part of its suggested Preferred Storage Options Plan legislation, which continually failed in Congress.

However, Aurora is able, under the agreement, to buy new water rights in the valley if a new pipeline that would take water out of the valley is built. The Southern Delivery System, still in the permit process, is not counted as a new pipeline under the agreement. The agreement reads: “Should additional delivery systems, which are neither promoted, financed nor used by Aurora, become operational that allow for the delivery of additional agricultural water rights from the mainstem of the Arkansas River for use in other locations, the parties recognize that the competition for agricultural water rights will increase significantly and that it is in the best interests of the owners of such rights to maximize the market for such water.”[…]

While the Lower Ark has spent much of the last five years fighting Aurora, Lower Ark officials believe they may have enlisted an ally in keeping other water interests outside the valley at bay. “We continuously worry about Aurora, but what about Denver and the South Metro District?” asked Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Ark district. “This agreement with Aurora will help keep other pipelines out of the basin.” Provisions requiring Aurora’s support for studies of past water transfers, water quality in the Arkansas River basin and regional water management are also important to preserving water for the basin, Winner said. Aurora’s support on the conduit legislation is needed to assure the project will continue to move smoothly through Congress and into reality, he added…

Beyond the old fight with Aurora, there are numerous opportunities for partnerships built into the agreement. Besides the water leasing and studies, there are provisions that allow the Lower Ark, primarily on behalf of the Super Ditch, to gain storage space in existing reservoirs like Lake Henry and Lake Meredith in Crowley County, and in future projects like Box Creek Reservoir in Lake County. Aurora will also share the expertise it has gained in its farming programs under the Rocky Ford Ditch – where it worked with farmers to study drip irrigation and alternative cropping – with the rest of the valley. Aurora also committed to working with Crowley County on revegetation. The city revegetated lands under its court decree for shares of the Colorado Canal it purchased in the 1980s. However, over time and especially following the 2002 drought, weeds overcame the dried-up farmland, creating conditions for a tragic brush fire last year. While the negotiations for the current deal occurred out of the public eye – they’ve been going on with staff and lawyers since January, but were not discussed in an open meeting until last week – it’s no secret that Aurora and the Lower Ark have had on-again, off-again talks since 2005…

“We are confident that our agreement with Aurora Water mitigates our concerns and we are pleased to have their financial and technical support for future projects that benefit the Lower Arkansas Valley,” said Pete Moore of Crowley County, who was elected chairman of the Lower Ark board in January.

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