Southwestern Water Conservation District: Fred Kroeger retiring after 55 years on board

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From the Durango Herald (Garrett Andrews): “Kroeger, a third-generation Durangoan, is preparing to step down from the board of the Southwestern Water Conservation District after 55 years, 33 of which he served as board president. Friends and colleagues described a man driven to protect agricultural interests in the area and oblivious to party identifications…

“As an attorney in the Colorado Office of the Attorney General in the 1970s, Colorado Supreme Court Justice Greg Hobbs remembers Kroeger regularly traveling to Denver for short meetings. Later, as counsel for the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, Hobbs said he was inspired by the efforts of his southern Colorado counterparts. ‘What more can I say; he’s one of the great figures in Colorado water history,’ said Hobbs.”

Alamosa: Increase in sewer fees on tap

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From the Valley Courier (Ruth Heide): “The fee increase will occur over the next three years beginning this year with the flat rate for residential users going from $3.50 to $5 a month and the cost per 1,000 gallons of water going from $1 to $1.50. In 2010 the flat rate will increase by 25 cents more per month and the cost per 1,000 gallons will increase by 50 cents per month. In 2011 the flat rate will increase another nickel per month and the cost per 1,000 gallons will increase by another 50 cents per month, to $2.50. For an average household the rate will increase a little more than $5 a month this year, another $4 or so per month the next year and another $4 per month the third year, 2011.”

Southeastern Colorado Conservancy District board gains two new members

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From the Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka): “Three members of the Southeastern Colorado Conservancy District board were reappointed and two new members named Thursday. Pueblo District Court Judge Dennis Maes announced the appointments. Terms are for four years. The new members are Gary Bostrom, general manager for planning, engineering and resources for Colorado Springs Utilities and David Simpson, general manager of the St. Charles Mesa Water District…Reappointed were Reed Dils, Chaffee County; Carl McClure, Crowley County; and Howard ‘Bub’ Miller, Otero County.”

Arkansas River Basin Water Forum: Bob Appel Friend of the Arkansas River Award

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From the Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka): “Carl Genova, 77, who was a board member of the Bessemer Ditch for 38 years and the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District for 20 years, was given the Bob Appel Friend of the Arkansas Award at the forum. The award is named for longtime Southeast Colorado Resource Conservation and Development District coordinator Bob Appel, who was instrumental in organizing the forum from its inception 15 years ago until his death in 2003. It’s given in recognition of those who have worked to improve the Arkansas River…

“Genova was tricked into attending the April 1 meeting in a plot hatched by several Bessemer Ditch board members and Dan Henrichs, a former superintendent of the ditch. Henrichs persuaded Genova to attend the meeting, saying there was an Arkansas Valley Ditch Association problem that required Genova’s experience and expertise to solve. Henrichs even presented some documents to Genova and told him other AVDA members would be on hand after lunch to discuss them. Genova served on the AVDA from 1970-90. “There’s not a person in the Arkansas Valley who knows the river better than Carl,” said Joe Pisciotta, a Bessemer board member after Genova received the award. ‘A successful farmer for more than 50 years, he learned quickly the value of protecting water rights in the valley and seeing that all water users get a fair shake,’ said Phil Reynolds, Southeastern projects manager, in presenting the award to Genova…

“‘Thank you all. I’m overwhelmed by all of this,’ Genova said. ‘I have served on a number of organizations and it’s always been an honor and a privilege.’ Genova always was appointed by Gov. Roy Romer to the Arkansas Valley Compact Administration from 1993-97; president of the Pueblo County Farm Bureau, 1969-70; a member of the Colorado Cattle Feeders Association; and a member of Colorado Water Congress. He and his wife, Ruth, have three children and numerous grandchildren.

“Genova was also recognized by the forum for his work on the winter water program, which allows farmers to store water in winter months for use during planting or harvest season, when irrigation flows can be scarce. When he retired from the Southeastern board last year, he said winter water was his most significant accomplishment. ‘The best thing we did was the winter water program,’ Genova said. ‘The district was able to get all those people together.'”

Meanwhile, here’s an update on tamarisk removal in the Arkansas Basin from Chris Woodka writing for the Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

[Rick] Enstrom has removed 160 acres of tamarisk along 2.25 miles of river bottom in the last five years, with the help of the Natural Resources Conservation Service. In the last two years, he’s released 13 batches of beetles on his property. The beetles are the only natural limit on the spread of tamarisk, also called salt cedar, in climates like Southern Colorado’s. In fact, they have been so successful in central Asia that in some areas, it is hard to find tamarisk, which is still prized as an ornamental, Enstrom said…

The Arkansas River basin has about 67,000 acres infested with tamarisk, or 69 percent of the state’s total, said Jean Van Pelt, conservation programs coordinator with the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District. It’s estimated that those trees annually suck up 76,600 acre-feet of water – 25 billion gallons – more than native vegetation. The trees grow in upland areas, as well as in the flood plain of rivers and streams. As areas now infested fill in, the water loss could grow to 198,000 acre-feet – 64.5 billion gallons – per year. To eradicate tamarisk would cost $70 million. “We have a choice,” Van Pelt said. “We can take action and do something, or most likely it’s going to get worse.” Van Pelt has led efforts in recent years to organize groups fighting tamarisk up and down the Arkansas River, which culminated in the Arkansas River Watershed Invasive Plant Plan, a strategic plan that links efforts in the valley. A Web site providing information about tamarisk, maps, research, area control programs, education and events concerning tamarisk was established as part of the task force’s work. In addition, the task force was able to define goals for the valley and put it in a better position to receive state or federal grants aimed at tamarisk control, Van Pelt said.

The strategy is to control the sources of tamarisk in the upper basin, above Lake Pueblo, while dealing with the areas of heavy infestation in the lower basin that already pose flooding and fire dangers. This year, a demonstration project on Four Mile Creek in Fremont County will attempt to eradicate tamarisk on an entire tributary. Meanwhile, there are projects on Fountain Creek, North La Junta, Las Animas, the Purgatoire River and in Prowers County, Van Pelt said.

The state is providing $4 million over four years, and federal demonstration projects are being sought as well.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here and here.

Prowers County: Conservation easement valuation still hot topic

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Local residents crowded a recent meeting of the Prowers County Commissioners where conservation easements were being discussed. Here’s a report from Aaron Burnett writing for the Lamar Ledger. From the article:

[Roxy Huber, executive director of the Colorado Department of Revenue], who was accompanied by Commissioner of Agriculture John Stulp was on hand to address issues surrounding conservation easements. Easements across the state have come under scrutiny in recent years as tax values assigned to many easements have been called into question by the Internal Revenue Service and the state’s department of revenue…

There are several types of easements including ones that restrict gravel or other mineral mining as well as easements that restrict construction or development on property. The current audits being performed on existing easements call into question the amount of tax credit that should be awarded for each individual easement. As the audit process has progressed, some appraisals have been deemed fraudulent even though they were performed by state licensed appraisers. Locally, some land owners have been dealing with easements under audit for close to five years. Some landowners have been told by tax officials that their easements have no value.

“Part of the reason we’re here today is rumor control,” said Commissioner Gene Millbrand about the meeting. He noted that several county landowners have been affected by the issue and have raised concerns to all three members of the board…

Huber told the commissioners that even though there appears to be a disproportionate number of easements in the area being examined, the state is more interested in broad trends than individual regions. “We’re not targeting any particular part of the state. We are targeting systems of corruption,” Huber said. “We understand people feel like they’ve been defrauded,” Huber said. She added that actions of several appraisers have been called into question, but that ultimately the responsibility for an easement’s accuracy in its valuation falls to the individual landowner who places the easement. “While they’re licensed through the state, we can’t stop them from doing shenanigans,” Huber said concerning the auditors whose work has been called into question…

Huber said the state is attempting to resolve issues surrounding easements, but until recently hadn’t all the necessary tools at its disposal. She added that with the passage in 2008 of House Bill 1353 the department of revenue was finally able to discuss easement issues with other state agencies, a practice which has allowed the department of revenue to draw on the expertise of other state departments for such things as valuation of property. Huber noted that prior to the bill’s passage, her department was not able to discuss the easement issue with individuals not directly employed by the department.

Huber said the best option for landowners to take if they have received notification from the state concerning an audit of their easement is to file an objection within the alloted time period. She said this is an important step because it ensures due process for the landowner concerning any issues in question.

The revenue department head said the common timeline for easement reviews begins at the federal level, then is reviewed at the state level following the completion of the federal audit. She added that the state is currently suspending any audits that are currently under federal review pending that outcome. “If you’ve protested, you’re just sitting in the queue,” Huber said.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here.

Nestlé Waters Chaffee County Project: Chaffee County Planning Commission review meeting April 14th

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From The Mountain Mail (Paul Goetz): “Working strictly as a referral agency, Chaffee County planning commissioners will meet at 3 p.m. April 14 to develop possible comment or referrals to county commissioners regarding the Nestlé Waters 1041 permit. Planners agreed to continue the process Tuesday night during their regular meeting. Planner Fred Rasmussen recused himself from that portion of the meeting. Bruce Lauerman, Nestlé western division natural resources manager, said Nestlé supports the decision. ‘We recognize the process should proceed in a fashion that allows proper time to review and analyze,’ Lauerman said.”

Meanwhile, Chaffee Citizens for Sustainability are requesting information from the county commissioners, according to a report from Kathy Davis writing for The Chaffee County Times. From the article:

The goal of the CCFS meeting March 30 was to collect information on feelings of people in Buena Vista and then to get the BOCC to postpone decisions on the Nestlé applications for 60 days in order collect more information and to digest it all, said CCFS member Carlo Boyd. According to the meeting notice distributed by CCFS, the Nestlé permit application is to harvest spring water from Chaffee County for bottling in Denver.

About 35 people attended the meeting at the community center. They wanted more information about:

• impacts of the Nestlé truck traffic on Trout Creek Pass;

• impacts on water and the aquifer;

• making sure “all the bases are covered for water and traffic” (in BOCC approvals);

• Nestlé being a “good neighbor” and Nestlé’s history with other communities across the country in terms of how Nestlé treats the communities;

• impacts on bio-region “all the way to the Gulf of Mexico;”

• impacts on neighboring wells;

• impacts on water needed for agriculture;

• impacts on tourism and the possibility that tourists who encounter “unbearable” traffic on Trout Creek Pass won’t come to the county; and

• re-measurements of the amount of the spring water available during a dry year rather than a wet year.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here and here.

Evergreen chasing stimulus dough

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From the Canyon Courier (Vicky Gits): “The Evergreen Metro District stands to gain a possible bonus from the federal government’s economic stimulus program. The Colorado Water Resources and Power Development Authority has notified the district that it qualifies for a possible zero percent interest rate on $2 million the district is borrowing to build a new roof on the water treatment plant in Evergreen…

“The project is competing with dozens of other project for $40 million in state money, so it is not a done deal. But officials are hopeful because work on the roof is ready to go forward. A zero-percent loan translates into savings of $40,000 a year, Gerry Schulte, executive director of the metro district, told a meeting of the district board on March 25. The federal stimulus package includes federal tax cuts, expansion of unemployment benefits, and domestic spending in education, health care and infrastructure, including the energy sector. The district may also qualify for a 50 percent reduction in the capital expense, or a grant of $1 million, to pay for the roof, which is 35 years old and deemed to be structurally unsound. The money comes from a total of $51.2 billion in federal money designated for investing in infrastructure, including $6 billion for wastewater and drinking-water infrastructure. The district began construction in March on installing a replacement tank in the Yellow Zone Tank and Pump Station off Evergreen Parkway south of the Evergreen North shopping center. The underground tank project is expected to cost $2.5 million and improve the delivery process.”

Snowpack news

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From the Loveland Reporter Herald: “The amount of water in snow that supplies the Big Thompson River — and the city of Loveland — is below average at three of four measurement sites. Measurements taken Monday, after a recent snowstorm, recorded the snow water equivalent as: 105 percent of average at Bear Lake; 97 percent of average at Willow Park; 79 percent at Hidden Valley; 45 percent at Deer Ridge.”

From the Sky-Hi Daily News:

…snowpack in the high-elevation mountains above Middle Park now ranges from 88 to 127 percent of the 30-year average, down sharply since March 1…

“This resumes the pattern of weak spring snows observed during 2005 to 2007, despite the fact that March is historically the snowiest month,” said Mark “Doctor” Volt, District Conservationist. “The April 1 readings are the most critical for predicting runoff and summer water supplies, as most of our high country snowpack peaks during April.” The highest local readings are in the Blue River sub-basin (average 115 percent), and the lowest readings are in the northern drainages…

Snow density is averaging 31 percent, which means that for a foot of snow there are 3.8 inches of water.

In Colorado, only the northwestern river basins are above average. The highest snowpack, relative to normal, is in the Little Snake sub-basin of the Yampa River, and the Blue River and Roaring Fork sub-basins of the Colorado River. Reported readings for the major river basins in Colorado are as follows: The upper Colorado River Basin averages 108 percent; Gunnison River Basin, 92 percent; South Platte River Basin, 89 percent; Yampa River Basin, 104 percent; White River Basin, 101 percent; Arkansas River Basin, 96 percent; Upper Rio Grande Basin, 92 percent; San Miguel, Dolores, Animas, and San Juan River Basins 88 percent; and the Laramie and North Platte River Basins, 96 percent of average for this time of year.

From Fort Collins Now:

The water content of the snowpack on top of Cameron Pass, for example, was 29.4 inches, or 108 percent of the 30-year average for that site. There was an average of 83 inches of snow atop Cameron Pass. At one other site in the Poudre Canyon, Joe Wright Reservoir, which is just east of Cameron Pass off of Colo. 14, the water content is 112 percent of average.

From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent:

Statewide snowpack was down to 96 percent of average as of April 1, according to an (NRCS) report. It’s the first statewide reading to be below average this season. On Jan. 1, statewide snowpack was 120 percent of average.

One exception to the trend is the Upper Colorado River Basin. It’s snowpack was 109 percent of a 29-year average Friday morning. The Roaring Fork River Basin had more snow at 118 percent of average. A monitoring site on Independence Pass had 119 percent of its average snowpack…

This year’s below average statewide snowpack on April 1 adds to a series of drier than average years. Below average statewide snowpack readings have been measured that day in 10 of the last 12 years in Colorado, the NRCS report says. “In addition, the April first snowpack reading is the most critical for the state’s water managers. With snowpack totals nearing their seasonal maximum accumulations on this date, these readings are the best indication of what the state can expect for most of its yearly runoff and water supplies,” the report says. However, Western Slope areas served by the Colorado River will probably have plenty of water this year. The basin’s water supply forecasts for April through July are mostly average or slightly above average, Gillespie said.

From the Denver Post (Michael Booth):

Snowpack in the state’s major river basins was at 120 percent of the historical average on Jan. 1. But that key number dropped to 96 percent of the average recorded in past years on April 1, said Mike Gillespie of the federal Natural Resources Conservation Service in Lakewood…

The South Platte River basin, where Denver draws a good portion of its water, was at 86 percent of normal snowpack on Wednesday. Only the Colorado and Yampa/White systems in northwest Colorado stayed above average. Denver Water officials aren’t pessimistic about the upcoming watering season, saying their reservoirs are in good shape and the river-basin snowpack is enough to keep lakes high. The department draws another major portion of its water from the Colorado River system. “We’re optimistic about the water-supply situation, but we’re monitoring it closely,” said Denver Water spokeswoman Stacy Chesney. “The recent moisture we’ve had has been very helpful. Systemwide, we’re at 97 percent of normal snowpack.”

Energy policy — oil and gas: New Colorado rules start kicking in

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From the Associated Press (Judith Kohler) via the Aspen Times: “The rules kicked in on private land Wednesday. The roughly 100 new and revised oil and gas rules carry out laws requiring regulators to give more weight to the environment, public health and safety, and wildlife when they approve oil and gas development. Changes include new standards for oil and gas waste pits, protection of drinking water supplies and more input from landowners and state health and wildlife experts. Still unresolved is a handful of issues that task forces are expected to tackle soon. They include how far drilling rigs must be from occupied buildings, buffers around waterways, reclamation of well sites, guidelines for minimizing impacts on wildlife and coordinating with counties that have their own rules. The state and U.S. Bureau of Land Management will also address enforcement of the state regulations on federal land. They’re expected to update a long-standing agreement on oil and gas development. Regulators will rewrite one of the new rules to eliminate state wildlife and health agencies’ ability to appeal drilling permits. The industry protested the provision, noting that the agencies’ directors sit on the commission that would decide the appeals.”

Arkansas Valley Conduit: Closer to turning dirt

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Communities hoping to build the Arkansas Valley Conduit project is closer to turning dirt with President Obama signing the authorizing legislation last week. Here’s a report from Chris Woodka writing for the Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

Sponsors hope that contracts will be in place within five years to build the $300 million conduit from Pueblo Dam to Lamar…

…water quality issues made the conduit more attractive. Las Animas and La Junta added reverse osmosis systems to deal with hard water. The drought of 2002 emphasized the weaknesses of existing water systems. This year, communities learned it could cost millions of dollars to deal with radionuclides in their well systems. “Based on what these communities have been told by the Colorado Department of Health, we’re certainly trying to get this started within the next four to five years,” said Bill Long, president of the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District. The tone of meetings since 2002 has changed from a lot of “what if?” to a big dose of “how?”[…]

The funding solution wasn’t found until recently, when Southeastern Executive Director Jim Broderick proposed using revenues from excess-capacity contracts in the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project to repay the costs of the project over time. This week, President Barack Obama signed the public lands bill that included approval of the Arkansas Valley Conduit, with a 65 percent federal share and the Southeastern plan to use project revenues for repayment. Over the next two years, the district will be looking at the route of the pipeline and determining rights of way. The pipeline will begin at the South Outlet Works at Pueblo Dam, also called the Joint Use Manifold, where Pueblo, Pueblo West and the Fountain Valley Conduit all connect now…

The district will be spending $600,000 obtained from an Environmental Protection Agency grant last year, matched by a like amount from project sponsors, to pay for the studies, Long said. “At the same time, we have to begin working on a memorandum of understanding with the participants to pay for the project,” Long said. “We have to get the repayment costs closer, so everyone will have an idea of what their costs will be.”

The conduit has always been a one for all and all for one approach. It would be sized to the projected needs of the communities along the way, which have varying estimates of what percentage of their water would come through the pipeline. There are estimates now about how much water would be needed in the pipeline, but determining that engineering question most closely will lead to what size the pipes should be. There would be spurs along the line, as well. After the route is identified, an environment impact statement would be likely. Southern Delivery System and Aurora’s exchange contract took 4 to 5 years to complete, but Long is hoping the information gleaned from those reports could cut down the time. Southeastern is looking for up to $10 million in stimulus funds to begin some of the environmental and engineering studies that will be needed. “We’re cautiously optimistic that ours will happen more quickly,” Long said.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here and here.

Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District keeping an eye on DNR’s plans for basin water

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In a letter last year to Reclamation Harris Sherman wrote, “Colorado intends that this water [the state is negotiating for 200,000 acre feet of water from the Aspinall unit] would be released downstream, but must ensure the water is used to benefit the entire state of Colorado, thus the details of the use would be determined during negotiations between the state and the (Bureau of Reclamation), with meaningful input from all water user stakeholders.” It seems that there are skeptics regarding the opportunity for “meaningful input” up in the Gunnison Basin. Here’s a report from Evan Dawson writing for the Crested Butte News:

While the Bureau of Reclamation waits for comments on its recently released plan of operations for the Aspinall water storage unit, which includes Blue Mesa Reservoir, the state of Colorado is looking to enter negotiations with the Bureau for a large quantity of the reservoir’s water. Although the potential contract between the state and the federal government has been on the table since last fall, local water officials remain concerned because the idea has not yet been discussed with stakeholders in the Upper Gunnison Basin…

Part of the local concern is that taking that much water out of Blue Mesa could leave little left over for recreation, since the state is asking for nearly a quarter of the reservoir’s total water storage capacity…

Part of the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District’s frustration is the DNR has been meeting with various groups across the state, such as the Colorado Water Congress and Club 20, but the state has yet to discuss the matter before the local water board. During the UGRWCD meeting on March 23, board member Steve Glazer recapped a Colorado Water Conservation Board meeting he attended on Tuesday, March 17 in Longmont that included a late addition to the agenda, titled “Blue Mesa Water Issues.” Glazer says at the meeting DNR water director Alex Davis announced she had been visiting with various organizations across Colorado and discussing the 200,000-acre-foot proposal. “She indicated the bureau has acknowledged receipt of the request but has taken no action,” Glazer said. “I indicated we had many questions and an awful lot of expertise in the basin and that it would be useful if they started discussions with us,” Glazer said. Board member Ralph Grover suggested writing a letter to Davis and Sherman asking them to meet with the UGRWCD.

UGRWCD manager Frank Kugel said Davis has been trying to meet with the board and was planning on coming to their May meeting.