Lower Ark requests 2 year stay in lawsuit with Reclamation over Aurora long-term contract

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Here’s an update on the lawsuit filed by the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District over Reclamation’s long-term storage contract with Aurora, from Chris Woodka writing for the Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

The Lower Ark district, Aurora and Reclamation Wednesday jointly asked federal Judge Philip A. Brimmer for a two-year stay in Lower Ark’s lawsuit against the Bureau of Reclamation over contracts to Aurora. The stay is part of a March 18 agreement between the Lower Ark and Aurora which could settle the case if federal law is changed to allow Aurora to use the Fry-Ark Project to move water out of the valley.

Arkansas Valley Native, a group of four water rights owners, opposes the delay. Members of the group are Pueblo Chieftain Publisher Bob Rawlings, former state lawmaker Bob Shoemaker of Canon City, former Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District President Wally Stealey and Wiley banker Frederick Esgar. They entered the case on the Lower Ark’s side, claiming that Fryingpan-Arkansas Project water cannot be used to move water out of the valley under the federal contract.

he Lower Ark-Aurora agreement includes a provision to try to change federal law to allow Aurora, and Aurora only, to move water out of the basin using Fry-Ark facilities. That would remove the central point of the lawsuit. Aurora has used annual excess-capacity contracts since 1986 to move water out of the valley through Lake Pueblo, Turquoise Lake and Twin Lakes, all Fry-Ark reservoirs. The Southeastern district questioned the contracts in 1986 and again in 2003, when it reached its own agreement to allow Aurora to use the Fry-Ark Project. The 2003 agreement binds the district to seek federal legislation to legalize Aurora’s contracts, which it tried to do in now-stalled Preferred Storage Options Plan legislation. The Southeastern board Thursday learned negotiations on the Aurora legislation will begin again in the near future among nine parties who broke off talks when the lawsuit was filed in late 2007. The Pueblo City Council Monday voted to affirm its support of the Aurora legislation.

Reclamation’s position in the 1986 and 2003 disputes over the contract was that it already has the authority to lease excess-capacity storage to Aurora and other users outside the Southeastern district’s boundaries. The district includes parts of nine counties, but not all of the area in the Arkansas Valley.

Aurora, Southeastern and Lower Ark representatives lobbied members of Congress recently on the proposed legislation. Rep. John Salazar, D-Colorado, said he opposes the legislation suggested in the Lower Ark-Aurora agreement. Sens. Mark Udall and Michael Bennet, both Democrats, say they are open to discussion, but want to protect the Arkansas Valley’s interests. In 2007, Reclamation issued a 40-year contract to Aurora for both storage and exchange at Lake Pueblo. Aurora has an account for 10,000 acre-feet and its water would be the first to spill if project water used the entire capacity. Part of PSOP would study enlarging Lake Pueblo, which now can store 257,000 acre-feet of water, while reserving space for flood protection.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here and here.

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