Upper Colorado Endangered Fish Recovery Program: Water providers are close to the 10825 solution

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It looks like the four endangered fish species that are the focus of the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program are going to be doing backflips soon in celebration of an imminent agreement to make sure that flows in the Colorado River through Grand Junction are adequate — the so-called 10825 solution. Here’s a report from Tonya Bina writing for the Sky-Hi Daily News:

As part of the federally initated Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program, East and West Slope diverters committed to supplying 10,825 acre-feet of water in late summer. Responsibility for that amount of water is evenly split between West and East slope water providers. As a temporary solution, Denver Water has been releasing flows from Williams Fork Reservoir to comply, and The Colorado River Water Conservation District has been releasing from Wolford Mountain Reservoir for the West Slope’s share. But with a Dec 20, 2009, deadline looming to come up with a permanent 10,825 acre-feet solution, a coalition formed in 2007 to analyze how the water should be supplied annually. Out of those negotiations, a “preferred” solution has emerged, one concerning the release of about half the water from Granby Reservoir, and the other half from Ruedi Reservoir near Basalt. The plan also includes using excess storage capacity in the Green Mountain Reservoir.

A formal summary of this alternative released in January declares it the only solution on which water users reached a consensus, saying the alternative “will provide the most benefit to headwater streams in the Colorado River Basin, particularly in Grand County, while simultaneously meeting 10825 water obligations.” Grand County Manager Lurline Underbrink Curran, who originally championed this idea, finds this “kitchen-sink proposal” a positive one, and credits the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District for pursuing it. “The stretch from Windy Gap down to the confluence of the Blue River is always a huge issue for us at that time of year,” she said. “It’s when the flows are lowest and the irrigators have a hard time getting their water. So this will lift up their water and it will make the flow of the river higher at one of the more critical times for stream flows in the county.”

An added benefit, recognized by stakeholders, is the proposed solution uses facilities already in place. In theory, Northern, which owns the greatest percentage of Redtop Valley Ditch (located from Grand Lake to near Granby) shares, has agreed with irrigators to forward 2,700 acre-feet of Ditch water, affecting the Northern-owned and leased Miller-Hereford Ranch. Meanwhile, owners of the C Lazy U Ranch have offered to supply the remainder of the acre-feet. Denver Water and other East Slope water users would compensate Northern and partnering irrigators for the released recovery water. “By us being able to challenge the group to look at something different,” Underbrink Curran said, “and by them seriously taking on that challenge, it will help us to a huge degree at a time of year when we have no way to help ourselves.”

Poncha Springs: Stimulus dough and the wastewater tussle with Salida

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From The Mountain Mail: “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 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.”

S.B. 09-141, Fountain Creek Watershed

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S.B. 09-141 which would authorize the Fountain Creek Watershed, Flood Control and Greenway District is awaiting Governor Ritter’s signature. Here’s a report from Chris Woodka writing for the Pueblo Chieftain:

The new district — officially named the Fountain Creek Watershed, Flood Control and Greenway District — has numerous boundaries with varying authorities. Its overall purpose is to address flooding, drainage, water quality and erosion problems within the creek’s basin.

Initially, El Paso County officials complained that the district included too much of northern county and not enough of Pueblo County. Pueblo County officials, meanwhile, argued that was because most of the creek valley is up north, and most flood or drainage problems naturally begin there. That’s why the 60-page measure includes four different boundaries, each with limited authority…

The last major battle over the measure came in how to define its boundaries. The full boundaries of the district include all of El Paso and Pueblo counties, but a fee and taxing area includes an area smaller than that, but larger than the actual Fountain Creek drainage. The last, and smallest boundary is the flood plain area, a narrow strip that extends from the south end of the city of Fountain to Pueblo’s northern edge. Only there would the district have powers over land-use issues. While the district will have the ability to address wastewater issues, the bill makes it clear that it would be unable to regulate that activity because the state already does that. The House had placed language in the bill to prevent it from addressing wastewater, but it was later taken out. “The amendments in the House were problematic, but they were stripped out, so basically it was the same version that came out of the Senate,” Tapia said. “I talked to the principal players, and they were very happy with how the bill came out. We have a document that we can be pleased that Pueblo is going to be taken care of, and Colorado Springs can buy into.”[…]

The bill also limits to 5 mills how much the district may ask voters to approve to pay for improvements. That amount would raise only about $30 million a year. The district, however, hopes to see more money come to it from a $50 million Southern Delivery System mitigation fund, which it would use to receive a $150 million matching federal grant. That’s where U.S. Rep. John Salazar, D-Colo., is expected to come in.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here and here.

President Obama signs public lands bill which includes Arkansas Valley Conduit authorization

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Here’s an update on authorizing legislation for the Arkansas Valley Conduit, from Chris Woodka writing for the Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

At a White House ceremony, Obama signed the bill, which has attracted national attention because it incorporates 170 separate bills and creates 2 million acres of wilderness designation on federal lands. Obama called the new law among the most important in decades “to protect, preserve and pass down our nation’s most treasured landscapes to future generations.” The bill represents one of the largest expansions of wilderness protection in a quarter-century by giving the government’s highest level of protection on land in California, Colorado, Idaho, Michigan, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Virginia and West Virginia…

Wilderness areas at Rocky Mountain National Park and Dominguez Canyon near Grand Junction are set up and wildlife areas in the San Luis Valley are further protected under the omnibus bill. The bill also includes funds for rehabilitation of irrigation canals in Montezuma County. For Southeastern Colorado, however, the $300 million conduit would be the lasting legacy of the legislation. The conduit was a part of 1962 Fryingpan-Arkansas Project, but never was built because the communities of the Lower Arkansas Valley could not shoulder the entire cost. About 50,000 people live in the area to be served by the conduit, but many are on low or fixed incomes. The new legislation provides for a 65 percent federal cost share and a plan to repay the entire cost of the project using revenues from Bureau of Reclamation excess-capacity contracts.

“On behalf of the beneficiaries of the conduit, we’re happy that it was signed so quickly,” said Bill Long, president of the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District and a resident of Las Animas, one of the 42 communities that could be served by the conduit. “Hopefully the rest of the project will move as fast.” Long, who also is a Bent County commissioner, has worked on the Southeastern committee trying to secure funding for the conduit for nearly a decade. He thinks the political climate to obtain funding is good since the federal government is looking for shovel-ready infrastructure projects as part of the economic stimulus plan. “This is a good infrastructure project, one that’s been well vetted,” Long said. “We are ready to start the next phase.”

Here’s a summary of the public lands bill proposals for Colorado, from the Associated Press via the Denver Post:

• Rocky Mountain National Park: Designates nearly 250,000 acres of the park as wilderness but allows the National Park Service to battle a bark beetle infestation and fight fires.

• Dominguez-Escalante National Conservation Area: Designates approximately 210,000 acres of federal land on the Uncompahgre Plateau as a conservation area, including 65,000 as a wilderness area.

• Arkansas Valley Conduit: Obligates the federal government to pay 65 percent of the cost of building the 130-mile water-delivery system from Pueblo Dam to communities throughout the Arkansas River Valley.

• Jackson Gulch: Authorizes $8.25 million to rehabilitate the Jackson Gulch irrigation canal, which delivers water from Jackson Gulch Dam to residents, farms and businesses in Montezuma County.

• Baca Wildlife Refuge: Amends the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve Act to establish the purpose of the nearby Baca National Wildlife Refuge as “to restore, enhance, and maintain wetland, upland, riparian and other habitats for native wildlife, plant, and fish species in the San Luis Valley.” The law establishing the park lacked a statement of purpose for the refuge.

• Sangre de Cristo National Heritage Area: Designates a heritage area in Conejos, Costilla and Alamosa counties in the San Luis Valley. Authorizes up to $10 million in matching funds to protect historic, cultural, natural and recreational resources.

• Colorado Northern Front Range Study: Directs the U.S. Forest Service to study ownership patterns in the lands in the Front Range mountain backdrop, identify areas that may be at risk of development and recommend ways to protect them.

More coverage from Fort Collins Now:

“Folks in communities around this park know they don’t have to choose between economic and environmental concerns; the tourism that drives their local economy depends on good stewardship of their local environment,” Obama said. “Year after year, these communities have worked together with members of Congress in an attempt to ensure that Rocky Mountain National Park will forever remain as breathtaking as it is today. And that is what this bill does from coast to coast.”[…]

Water projects had been a concern for the bill’s detractors, who feared the wilderness designation would impact water infrastructure that predates Rocky, especially the Grand Ditch, which helps irrigate thousands of acres of farmland in Weld County. Larimer County Commissioner Steve Johnson said he supported the measure after hearing from water groups that it wouldn’t harm existing water infrastructure in the park. “Rocky Mountain National Park is the No. 1 environmental gem in our state, in my opinion,” he said. “Preserving that for future generations, I think, is a very, very wise investment.”[…]

Obama quoted Theodore Roosevelt, whom he called “our greatest conservationist president”: “I recognize the right and duty of this generation to develop and use the natural resources of our land; but I do not recognize the right to waste them, or to rob, by wasteful use, the generations that come after us.”

“This legislation guarantees that we will not take our forests, rivers, oceans, national parks, monuments, and wilderness areas for granted; but, rather, we will set them aside and guard their sanctity for everyone to share,” Obama said. “That’s something all Americans can support.”

Update: From the Fort Collins Coloradoan:

The law designates as wilderness about 250,000 acres of the park’s backcountry — 95 percent of the park. It also adjusts the boundaries of the Indian Peaks Wilderness by adding 1,000 acres from the adjacent Arapaho National Recreation Area. The park has been managed as wilderness, even though it lacked the formal designation. The designation won’t affect developed facilities inside the park, including roads and structures used to bring water from the Western Slope to the Front Range. Past efforts to get wilderness designation for the park were hung up by liability issues surrounding the Grand Ditch, which is owned and operated by the Fort Collins-based Water Storage and Supply Co. The designation won’t hamper the park’s efforts in firefighting or fighting the mountain pine beetle. It also won’t block maintenance on 350 miles of trails in the park’s backcountry.

Southern Delivery System: Colorado Springs public hearing April 9th

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From the Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka): “Council has set the hearing for 7 p.m. April 9 at Colorado Springs City Hall, 107 N. Nevada. Council intends to vote on the permit at its April 14 meeting. Pueblo County approved the conditions for the permit, which is issued under 1974’s HB1041 that allows cities and counties to regulate projects of statewide scope, following a March 18 public hearing…Written comments will be accepted at the Colorado Springs City Clerk’s office until 5 p.m. April 9.”