San Luis Valley: Groundwater sub-district #1 rules undergoing revision

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Here’s an update on the revision of the proposed rules for groundwater sub-district #1, from Ruth Heide writing for the Valley Courier. From the article:

The board of managers met on Tuesday to review some of the changes to its plan as directed by District/Water Judge O. John Kuenhold in his February decision to send the plan back to the board for revision.

The group also heard a presentation from Dr. Willem Schreüder who helped design and perfect the Rio Grande Decision Support System groundwater model that will assist the sub-district in determining how much water it must conserve and replace. Schreüder discussed data included in the model and described some of the ways the sub-district could use the model. “In the end what we have to do in the model is balance the budget,” he said…

In addition to Schreüder’s presentation during its Tuesday meeting the sub-district board received an offer from objectors’ legal counsel to help the board develop a plan that would be more acceptable to the objectors. Attorney Tim Buchanan, representing a group of senior water rights, told the sub-district board he and his clients were willing to work with the board to address the issues the judge raised in his direction to the sub-district to modify its plan. Buchanan said his clients were particularly willing to work with the sub-district board to develop methodology that would protect senior water rights. The sub-district board and legal counsel thanked Buchanan for his willingness to work with them and encouraged other objectors to do the same.

Kuenhold has scheduled another status conference for April 27 and a trial for August 3.

During the sub-district board’s meeting on Tuesday attorney Ingrid Barrier, who has been working closely with this sub-district board to develop its plan of management, reviewed some of the “red line” changes and additions she has made to the plan to comply with the judge’s February ruling. In fact, she said she incorporated some of the judge’s language into the plan itself. For example, the judge stated that if the sub-district plan conflicted with state rules/regulations, the state’s rules superseded the sub-district plan. The judge also emphasized in his February ruling that protection of senior water rights must be paramount, and Barrier included the judge’s language emphasizing that point. Another phrase lifted from the judge’s ruling, Barrier explained, was that if the plan did not replace injurious depletions, it failed…

Engineer Allen Davey also reviewed some of the details of the plan with the board of managers on Tuesday. He specifically reviewed the method for calculating surface water credits for those well owners who might also own shares on a ditch or canal for example. Many factors are weighed into the equation but ultimately if the surface credit does not entirely make up for the well usage, the property owner has to pay…

[David Robbins, attorney for the sub-district’s sponsoring district the Rio Grande Water Conservation District] said he did not expect every issue to be resolved short of the August 3 trial. He said he knew of at least one issue that the judge would have to decide, namely how far back the sub-district must go in replacing injurious depletions to senior surface water users. Robbins said he saw about three options: 1) all depletions from all wells have to be put into the model and calculated through 2009, and all of those depletions must be replaced; 2) injurious depletions must be calculated and replaced from this time forward because well users have been pumping their wells legally, were never told they had to shut off their water and were abiding by the “60/40” agreement in which groundwater depletions were supposed to be covered by the Closed Basin Project; or 3) take depletions back to 1988 because the years of 1985-1987 were so wet “there was no place for depletions to reside in the Valley aquifers.”

Buchanan told the board that while the argument had been made that the district should not have to replace all the depletions, “those depletions are significant and those depletions go on a long time … Our concern is that all of the depletions are replaced.” He added that instead of trying to find ways of getting out of replacing the depletions, the sub-district should be finding ways to replace those depletions and protect senior water rights as required by the statutes. “What we are interested in doing is finding methods and procedures to ensure that those depletions are replaced so that senior water rights are not shorted,” Buchanan said, “and senior water rights do not bear all the brunt of the [Rio Grande] Compact compliance. That’s really the driving concern that we have.”

More Coyote Gulch coverage here and here.

20 Grand Junction area stream sections under consideration for Wild and Scenic designation

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From the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb): “A report the BLM announced Tuesday said a 19-mile stretch of the Colorado River in McInnis Canyons National Conservation Area west of Grand Junction is eligible for the designation, as is a 7.3-mile portion in De Beque Canyon and a 1.3-mile portion downstream of the Grand Valley Diversion Dam. Some other segments identified as candidates for designation are parts of the Gunnison River upstream and downstream of Whitewater, portions of the Dolores and Little Dolores rivers, more than 16 miles of Big Dominguez Creek, and 15 miles of Little Dominguez Creek…

“The BLM’s new eligibility report, available at, looked at 117 river and stream segments. It is the first step in an evaluation being conducted by the agency’s Grand Junction Field Office, which oversees 1.2 million acres…

“Other eligible stretches are found on North Fork Mesa and Blue creeks in the Dolores River watershed; Roan and Carr creeks outside De Beque; Rough Canyon Creek south of Grand Junction; and East Creek, West Creek, Ute Creek and the North Fork of West Creek in Unaweep Canyon.”

More Coyote Gulch coverage here.

Southern Delivery System: Pueblo West trying to avoid committing water to Pueblo flow management program

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From the Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka): “‘We have high hopes that the county will come to their senses,’ said Steve Harrison, utilities director for the Pueblo West Metro District. ‘We don’t want to slow down SDS, and we understand their concerns. But if we can’t do exchanges, we can’t use all of our water.'”


Without the ability to exchange, Pueblo West eventually could lose up to 3,200 acre-feet of water, about one-third of the community’s water supply, Harrison said. Others dispute the number. Pueblo, Colorado Springs and Aurora, the largest participants in the program, were able to recover 71 percent of curtailed or foregone exchanges, according to Alan Ward, water resources administrator for the Pueblo Board of Water Works. Ward estimated only about 92 acre-feet would be lost.

An exchange is a diversion out of priority while an equivalent amount of water is released downstream. Pueblo West last year exchanged 776 acre-feet against its flows in Wild Horse Dry Creek, Harrison said. If the district used all of its exchange capacity, it could eventually exchange 1,500 acre-feet through this method.

Pueblo West relies heavily on transmountain water that can be reused to extinction, but loses about two-thirds of the flows before the water reaches the Arkansas River. The district eventually could operate a pump-back exchange that would increase the yield of its current rights. The district could exchange against return flows from each successive use of water. Pueblo, Colorado Springs and Aurora all have higher priorities for physical exchanges at Pueblo Dam, so there’s no guarantee Pueblo West could make its exchanges down the line, Harrison said. “Up until March 5, we understood we would not be part of the flow program,” Harrison said…

“We have a disagreement with the county and Colorado Springs and nothing is resolved yet,” Harrison said. “We want to solve it without embarrassing the county or losing water.”

More Coyote Gulch coverage here and here.

Pueblo: Levee system and new FEMA floodplain map

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Here’s the lowdown on planning for upgrades and certification of the levee system in Pueblo, from Chris Woodka writing for the Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, FEMA began a nationwide effort to reassess the effectiveness of levees. In Pueblo, levees were built on the Arkansas River and Wild Horse Dry Creek in 1926, while the Fountain Creek levees were built in the 1980s. While the Fountain Creek levees might be more susceptible to actual flooding, it has been more difficult to certify the Arkansas River system because it is more than 80 years old and much of the original engineering data is missing.

There’s also a communication problem. “Our big concern is that they are so determined to meet their deadline rather than be accurate,” said Gus Sandstrom, president of the Pueblo Conservancy District that owns and manages the Arkansas River levees. “Three months ago, we were told there would be only one national standard.” Sandstrom explained that the district has tried, with little success, to convince FEMA that the standards for levees on Western rivers that are prone to flash flooding should be different from those for levees in hurricane zones. In addition, the district and FEMA disagree on the potential high-water mark and effectiveness of some of the levees…

The problems on Fountain Creek have been addressed in an Army Corps of Engineers study completed last year, which found that levees are not sufficient to contain the freeboard – basically, waves above the high-water mark – in a 100-year flood. A combination of capping an existing levee, removal of obstructive vegetation, proposed dredging and stabilization projects are being used to address the problem.

The Arkansas River is largely protected by Pueblo Dam, which holds back flood water and has operating criteria that call for shutting down release gates if flows on the river reach a certain point – 6,000 cubic feet per second or greater at Avondale. The levees along the river that have become a canvas for local artists are designed to contain far greater floods of up to 120,000 cfs. FEMA’s position is that the dam might not be closed in time during 100-year floods. “They use a very conservative approach,” [Dennis Maroney, Pueblo stormwater director] said.

The concern for the city, at least in terms of what shows up on future FEMA maps, is the earthen levee on Wild Horse Dry Creek north of 11th Street, Maroney said. The levee is badly eroded, yet well above the base elevation of the creek. However, if it is not certified, FEMA’s maps would omit it. In addition, FEMA wants guarantees that culverts on the 18th Street bridge will be maintained, and its maps do not include railroad beds that channel water as physical structures.

The result of all those factors could be that the historic flood plain that includes much of Downtown Pueblo could be listed as unprotected by levees. That could mean that Downtown property owners could be required to obtain flood insurance, but it would not mean an end to future development or the city’s ability to finance projects, city attorneys said. City ordinances were rewritten in 2005 to restrict development in flood plains and areas of special flood hazard, said Tom Florczak, assistant city attorney. The city allows development that does not restrict flows or encroach on floodways and that is constructed so that buildings would not suffer flood damage, Florczak said.