Water Information Program: Women and Water

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From the Water Information Program: “The March 2009 WIP newsletter is now available. This is our first issue to focus on ‘Women and Water.’ We hope you enjoy and please provide us with your comments.”

Nestlé Water Chaffee County Project: Lowdown on 10 year lease with Aurora

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The Salida Citizen (Lee Hart) has the lowdown on Nestlé’s lease for Twin Lakes water from Aurora for augmentation. From the article:

Minutes from the council hearing show interest in the deal as a way to keep water rates low to Aurora citizens outweighed concerns that the price was too low, or sent the wrong message about Aurora’s water resource availability to third parties, or that in so doing, Aurora would become part of the controversy between Nestle and Chaffee County citizens opposed to the project. Aurora Water Director Mark Pifner noted there was little public input during the negotiations with Nestle.

Here’s a look at Chaffee County’s fact finding around the economic impacts and site restoration from Lee Hart writing for the Salida Citizen. Read the whole thing, there is a lot of details. Here’s an excerpt:

Denver-based Coley-Forrest Inc. has been hired at an estimated cost of $4,500 to $8,000 to further study the economic impacts of the Nestle project within Chaffee County. Hydrologic Systems Analysis LLC of Golden has been charged with a closer examination of the interaction of groundwater and the aquifer on wetlands as a result of Nestle pumping hundreds of gallons per day from springs in Nathrop for transport to Denver where it will be bottled and distributed under Nestle’s Arrowhead brand. That report is expected to cost no more than $8,000. Nestle is required to reimburse the county for all the expenses, including consultants, necessary to process its applications.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here and here.

Flaming Gorge pipeline: Who are the customers?

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Aaron Million has lined up many potential customers for the water he hopes to move via the Flaming Gorge Pipeline (Regional Water Supply Project). Skeptics feel that the Corps of Engineers is putting the cart before the horse and that the project is “speculative” which of course is not allowed under Colorado water law. Here’s a report from Ben Neary writing for the Associated Press via Forbes. From the article:

Critics say it’s impossible to evaluate the project without knowing who the end users are. And if Million has reached any firm deals to supply water, he’s not saying…

Million says the pipeline could carry up to 250,000 acre feet of water a year. That’s more than Denver Water supplies annually to the metro Denver area…

“We’ve spent the last three years with one of the best water teams in the U.S. looking for snake bites, or fatal flaws, and we have found none,” Million said, emphasizing he’s not interested in building any project that’s not environmentally sound. Rena Brand, project manager for the Corps of Engineers in Littleton, Colo., said Million’s application for a permit to draw water triggered her agency’s decision to proceed with the detailed environmental study. She said the Corps has retained a consultant to do the work and that Million will cover the cost. Brand said the study could take up to five years. She said it will evolve to include issues such as how delivering the water to particular areas might affect them. “The Corps is not making any preliminary decisions about this project,” Brand said. Brand said it’s unusual for a private party to undertake such a large water project. Her agency used to do such projects itself in years past, but “not so much anymore,” she said.

Million doesn’t propose to pay for the water he plans to move. Rather, he’s relying on Colorado’s rights to the water under the Colorado River compacts – agreements among western states that spell out how to manage the river and its tributaries, including the Green River. Colorado law generally allows anyone to take unappropriated water and put it to use in the state. The river compacts, meanwhile, allow water to be diverted in one state and used in another. Alexandra L. Davis, assistant director for water at the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, said that all water in the state belongs to the state. She said people can get a vested right to the water as long as they continue to put it to use. “It would be Mr. Million’s water right that he would then sell the use of that to other end users,” Davis said…

Environmentalists say they see problems with such a massive trans-basin water diversion. They say piping water across the Continental Divide threatens to harm fish and riparian species in the Colorado River system…

Some in Colorado bristle, too, at the prospect of seeing a private entity control such a huge volume of water. Frank Jaeger, district manager with the Parker Water and Sanitation District, said his district, which serves about 45,000 people, was unable to get Million to spell out clearly what his water prices and terms of delivery would be. Jaeger said his district is meeting with entities in Colorado and Wyoming trying to start a similar, competing project. “What we’re looking at is a project of what actual cost of development and delivery (would be), no profit involved,” Jaeger said of the prospect of getting government entities to build a pipeline. “A public project of that magnitude is a much better way of going about it.” Jaeger questioned how the Corps of Engineers can prepare a meaningful environmental impact statement evaluating Million’s project without knowing where the water would go. “I’m very fixated on the issue of speculation,” Jaeger said. “With no end users and no description of how the water will be used, I’ve got a problem with the Corps even dealing with that. Why the hell they’re doing an EIS is even beyond me.”

Million said his company has a “protectable interest” in the pipeline idea, meaning that no one else has a right to build one.He declined to say whether his company, Million Conservation Resource Group, has reached any deals to supply water.

Gov. Freudenthal, meanwhile, said he’s not enthusiastic about the pipeline project. “I’m not a big fan of it, in part because I’ve never been a big fan of trans-basin diversions,” Freudenthal said. “However, they properly filed with the state engineer,” Freudenthal said. “Their argument obviously is that this is Colorado’s water. The compact appears to allow for this, so I guess I’d have to say that at this stage I’ve been skeptically watching it unfold.”

More Coyote Gulch coverage here and here.

Mike Connor: Reclamation Commissioner

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Here’s a release about new Reclamation Commissioner Mike Connor from Allgov.com (Noel Brinkerhoff):

Heading up the federal government’s key agency for managing water resources is Michael L. Connor, a lawyer who has spent most of his career in Washington, DC, quietly working for the Senate and the Department of the Interior during the Clinton administration.

A native of New Mexico, Connor, 45, attended Las Cruces Public Schools and graduated from Las Cruces High School. He received a Bachelor of Science in chemical engineering from New Mexico State University and his JD from the University of Colorado’s School of Law. He was admitted to the bars of Colorado and New Mexico.

Connor worked for General Electric before joining the Interior Department through its Solicitor’s Honors Program in 1993. After working in the Interior Solicitor’s Office in Washington, DC, and Albuquerque, NM, Connor served as a deputy director within the Interior Department. Beginning in 1998, he served as deputy director and then director of the Indian Water Rights Office, representing the Secretary of the Interior in negotiations with Indian tribes, state representatives, and private water users to secure water rights settlements consistent with the federal trust responsibility to tribes.

In May 2001, he joined the staff of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee as legal counsel, directing the committee’s water and power subcommittee, managing legislation for both the Bureau of Reclamation and the US Geological Survey, developing water resources legislation and handling Native American issues.

Southern Delivery System: Pueblo West should not be able opt out of Pueblo flow program

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Pueblo County is standing firm on requiring Pueblo West to participate in the Pueblo flow program if the city joins the proposed Southern Delivery System, according to a report from Chris Woodka writing for the Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

The county and Pueblo West have been at odds over the flow program since March. Pueblo West wants to connect to the pipeline. One of the conditions Pueblo County is insisting on requires all SDS participants to participate in the Pueblo flow program. It was set up in 2004 intergovernmental agreements signed by Pueblo, the Pueblo Board of Water Works, Colorado Springs, Aurora, Fountain and the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District. Colorado Springs City Council is expected to vote today on the conditions, which have the full support of other partners. Colorado Springs and Fountain already participate in the flow program. Security and Pueblo West, as SDS partners, would have to sign on as well if SDS comes through Pueblo County.

There would be little impact on Security, but Pueblo West operates on exchange on Wild Horse Dry Creek, which enters the Arkansas River in the reach controlled by the Pueblo flow management program. The flow program requires participants to stop water exchanges during certain flow conditions. That has led to a difference in interpretation. Pueblo West argues that it could jeopardize all of its potential exchanges, which could amount to the loss of more than 3,000 acre-feet per year.

That’s unrealistic, [Ray Petros, who has counseled the county on the land-use regulations used to grant permits for SDS] said. The actual number is probably only a few hundred acre-feet in a worst-case scenario, Petros said. “They are grossly exaggerating the potential loss,” Petros said.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here and here.

Tax credit for conservation?

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From the Denver Business Journal: “Coffman’s Water Accountability Tax Efficiency Reinvestment (WATER) Act would mimic the Energy Star program under which the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency already offers tax credits for the purchase of energy-efficient appliances. The measure was introduced on April 2, and Coffman — R-Aurora — discussed it in more detail at a Denver news conference Monday. The WATER Act would reward products that already have received a “WaterSense” label from the EPA. The federal agency awards the label for products generally more than 20 percent more efficient than the market average. The measure, House Resolution 1908, would provide participants with a 30 percent tax credit, with a $1,500 cap. The EPA estimates a family of four could save 17,000 gallons of water per year by installing WaterSense faucets and toilets, Coffman noted.”

Update: More coverage from the Denver Post (John Ingold):

Coffman said he hopes the proposed credit, which was formally introduced earlier this month and has bipartisan support in Congress, will spur a greater culture of conservation in Colorado. He noted the state faces an estimated 630,000-acre-foot water-supply shortfall by 2030…

Dubbed the Water Accountability Tax Efficiency Reinvestment Act, the measure would provide a tax credit equal to 30 percent of the cost of each purchased item bearing the Environmental Protection Agency’s WaterSense label. WaterSense products, including toilets, faucets and sprinkler systems, are at least 20 percent more efficient than average ones. The credit amount would be capped at $1,500 per year. The credit would function almost identically to an existing tax credit for purchases of electricity-saving Energy Star-rated products…

A phalanx of local elected officials from the fast-growing suburbs south of Denver stood behind Coffman at the Monday news conference where he announced the legislation. County commissioners from both Arapahoe and Douglas counties said they support the measure.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here and here.

Twin Lakes, Lake Pueblo, Green Mountain, Ruedi and Colorado-Big Thompson update

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From email from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

[Ruedi] Now that spring has arrived, we are getting ready for spring run-off in the Fryingpan River Basin. We are looking at a slightly above average snow pack this year. As a result, beginning [April 10], we will start moving some water out of Ruedi Reservoir to make room for melting snow. At 6:00 p.m. this evening, we will increase our releases from Ruedi Reservoir to the Fryingpan River by 40 cfs. Rocky Fork Creek is currently running at about 5 cfs. Our release, plus the Rocky Fork, will put about 153 cfs total in the ‘Pan.

[Green Mountain] Just a quick head’s up about spring and Green Mountain Reservoir. As most of you have probably already noticed, we are only at an elevation of 7894 in the reservoir [April 10]. We are also releasing about 100 cfs from Green Mountain to the Lower Blue. We are anticipating run-off and getting ready for the on-coming season.

[Twin Lakes/Lake Pueblo] Today [April 10], we are releasing about 27 cfs from Twin Lakes Reservoir to Lake Creek (which flows into the Arkansas). The Wellsville gage on the Arkansas River is showing 273 cfs. We have 380 cfs flowing into Pueblo Reservoir. And the reservoir is currently sitting at an elevation of 4879.

[Colorado-Big Thompson] Today [April 10] on the C-BT, we are releasing about 63 cfs from Olympus Dam in Estes Park to the Big Thompson River. Pinewood Reservoir is looking pretty full at an elevation of 6575. And, we are still pumping to Carter Lake. Carter is also getting close to full with an elevation of 5753.

There is some regular maintenance work being conducted on the portion of the Charles Hansen Feeder Canal which runs water to Horsetooth. For this reason, water into Horsetooth has dropped off over the past couple of weeks. It has been sitting fairly consistently at an elevation of 5404–about ten feet below our average spring high of 5414. Once the work on the canal is complete, we will stop pumping to Carter and begin running water to Horsetooth, again.

If you’ve been following the snowpack information, you no doubt will have heard by now that Colorado is just slightly below average in most of its river basins. The South Platte basin is one that is sitting just below average. It has been somewhat dry this winter on Colorado’s eastern plains. The spring snow storms helped a little, but that early heat wave we had in March did melt some of the snowpack away.

Energy policy — hydroelectric: Aspen’s new Castle Creek plant

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Here’s a letter to the editor — running in the Aspen Times — written by Phil Overeynder, Utilities and Environmental Initiatives Director, City of Aspen, explaining the benefits of the new hydroelectric plant approved in 2007 by Aspen voters, along with the City’s committment to instream flow in Castle Creek:

In the near future we plan to provide additional information about this important and environmentally responsible project. What Aspenites gained in approving this project on the 2007 ballot is the annual production of 5.5 million kilowatt-hours of environmentally responsible electricity. That power production will prevent more than 5,000 tons of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere every year. This represents more than 25 percent of the remaining carbon emissions resulting from power generation for Aspen’s electric utility.

The production of clean, renewable energy at the Castle Creek Hydroelectric Project will depend on the use of water drawn from Castle Creek. There is simply no way around this basic fact. However, the city is doing its best to limit the impact on Castle Creek. The only change the hydroelectric project will make in the city’s water use regime is that a portion of the water diverted by the city will return to the creek at a point approximately three-fourths of a mile downstream of the present point of return, which is below Thomas Reservoir. The new point of return will be at the Castle Creek Bridge.

From the beginning of the Castle Creek Hydroelectric Project, the city of Aspen has been aware of the critical importance of maintaining a viable, healthy stream in Castle Creek. The Colorado Water Conservation Board’s (CWCB) decreed instream flow right for Castle Creek is 12 cubic feet per second (cfs), and is decreed for the purpose of protecting the natural environment.

This is a fairly junior water right. To help assure that Castle Creek actually receives this instream flow, which applies to all of Castle Creek, the city has already voluntarily committed to operate its own, more senior, water rights in a way that will support the 12 cfs instream flow. The city currently honors this commitment, and the proposed Castle Creek Hydroelectric Project will not alter this commitment. This means it is possible that, under certain conditions, the flow in Castle Creek upstream of the hydroplant will be 12 cfs. Historical low stream flow conditions in Castle Creek (generally reaching the lowest values in late winter) have averaged in the range of 20 cfs. When the hydroplant is operating in times of low flow in Castle Creek, flows in the reach of the creek between the hydroplant intake and the plant may be reduced to 12 cfs instead (the value established by the CWCB as necessary to protect the natural environment).