Fountain Creek: New board to get its feet wet overseeing gravel pit operation

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From the Colorado Springs Gazette (Pam Zubeck):

Lafarge West, Inc., wants to dig a gravel pit between Fountain Creek and Interstate 25 south of Pikes Peak International Raceway, and it needs the new board’s approval to do it. The project, which would bring dust, noise and nearly 800 trucks a day, could become a lightning rod that will test the new nine-member Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District board. Board chairman, El Paso County Commissioner Dennis Hisey, said the board will apply tough standards to protect the creek from the mining operation. “We’ll have certain assurances that things are going to be done right,” he said.

But Ferris Frost is skeptical a gravel pit could ever be compatible with the creek. A rancher whose family donated a 915-acre conservation easement opposite the gravel pit site, Frost is concerned about sediment washing downstream, damage from flooding to wetlands and riparian areas, noise, dust and traffic. “We don’t consider it possible,” said Frost, who worked on the vision task force. “I should hope the district wouldn’t allow it. It’s so counter to what the watershed is about.”[…]

Lafarge wants to build an asphalt and concrete plant and a gravel extraction operation on 514 acres next to the creek. The plant would run for 12 hours a day, seven days a week for 15 years, depending on demand, according to Lafarge’s proposal. The company plans interchange improvements and a new road east of I-25 to handle the estimated 780 truck going to and from the site. Lafarge’s proposal gives detailed prescription for reclaiming the land, including replacement of topsoil, seeding and mowing. Lafarge, which has 20 to 30 mining operations in Colorado, has a good track record, said Lafarge spokesman Sean Frisch. “We do a complete job until the reclamation as required is finished,” he said.

The district board has the final say on approving mining within the 100-year floodplain, although the part of the proposed gravel pit outside the floodplain would also have to be approved by the county commissioners. A hearing on the Lafarge proposal will be held at the next district board meeting at 10 a.m. May 29 at Fountain City Hall.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here and here.

Southern Delivery System: Build in Pueblo County or Fremont County?

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Colorado Springs Utilities has managed to get two permits for their proposed Southern Delivery System, one from Pueblo County, their preferred alternative and one from Fremont County, the backup in case the preferred alternative was denied or too expensive. Pueblo County tacked on $125 million in costs to the project through the county so now CSU is in the process of analyzing their options over which route to use. Here’s a report from Chris Woodka writing for the Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

“Right now, we’re beginning the business analysis that will give us the costs and information we need for timing of the project,” said Bruce McCormick, chief of water services…

But with an additional $125 million tacked on to the conditions, a slowdown in growth in the Colorado Springs service area and commitments whose costs have not been fully examined, there are tough decisions ahead, McCormick said…

The Fremont County route would be more expensive to build and operate, but comes with fewer strings attached up front. If Fremont County is chosen, the pipeline would still serve Colorado Springs, Security and Fountain, but Pueblo West would be left with a more expensive option, a river intake below Pueblo Dam, to obtain its future water. The Pueblo flow management program also is jeopardized if SDS goes through Fremont County. Colorado Springs is committed to maintaining flows and curtailing exchanges only if a Pueblo Dam option is chosen. Even so, a lawsuit by Pueblo West against Pueblo County has cast a new shadow over the flow program, although the partners in the 2004 agreement that created the program remain committed.

Beyond the two choices, there are other issues Colorado Springs must consider, McCormick said. “There are tremendous variables to consider in financing markets and rates, limits on permits, value engineering and other opportunities,” McCormick said. To date, Colorado Springs has invested more than $80 million in SDS, and it still has work to do before a shovel of dirt can be turned.

In the immediate future, perhaps during the two months when a route will be chosen, Colorado Springs will begin seeking permits in El Paso County for the project. El Paso County does not have 1041 regulations like Pueblo County, but the issues are equally complex. A treatment plant and two reservoirs will be built in El Paso County in addition to the bulk of the length of the pipeline – about 30 miles in addition to the roughly 20 miles in either Pueblo or Fremont counties. “We plan to initiate the El Paso County process in the next few weeks,” McCormick said.

In the meantime, Colorado Springs Utilities is still working on crucial permits with the Army Corps of Engineers and the Division of Wildlife.

Finally, contract negotiations with the Bureau of Reclamation won’t begin until a route is chosen. Contracts are needed for each of the partners to store water in Lake Pueblo, to build and use a new pipeline connection at the north outlet and to exchange water between the new pipeline and the existing Fountain Valley Conduit.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here and here.

Too many Colorado water projects?

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Does Colorado have too many water projects in the works? Is there enough water left in the rivers to satisfy requirements? Will agriculture survive municipal growth? These are among the questions that some are asking. While water development is largely a bottom-up process — someone files for a decree on a stream and gets a priority or a group buys water from a willing seller — there is little top-down coordination of the cumulative effects of the separate projects. In every sense the race goes to the swiftest and the groups with the deepest pockets. Here’s a report from Mark Jaffe writing for the Denver Post. From the article:

…from Fort Collins to Colorado Springs, the projects are moving forward, powered, attorneys and water managers say, by Colorado water law’s first-come-first-served principle. “In water law, it is still the Wild West,” said Sarah Klahn, a water attorney and University of Denver law professor. “You can be a dreamer, and if you make it come true, it’s yours.”

The concentration of projects worries federal officials who are left to sort out the multiple impacts. “It is the combined projects’ effect on water quality that concerns us,” said Larry Svoboda, environmental assessment director in the Environmental Protection Agency’s Denver office…

Among the plans moving forward are:

• Projects by the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District and the cities of Fort Collins and Greeley on the same reach of the Cache La Poudre River.

Denver Water and Northern Colorado Water both are developing projects on the Colorado River and tributaries in Grand County.

Aurora Water and East Cherry Creek Valley Water and [Sanitation] District both have projects with 30-mile- long water pipelines running to the Brighton area. In some cases the lines are just a few hundred yards apart…

And even with all these projects, by 2030 the region may be short by 29 billion gallons, according to state projections. In this atmosphere everyone is guarding their own interests, said Dave Little, Denver Water’s planning director. “Everyone can agree on the need, but as soon as you try to identify a project, the parochial interests kick in,” Little said.

Still, as opportunities for water projects dwindle and costs rise, communities are cooperating more, said Eric Wilkinson, Northern Colorado Water’s general manager. For example, Denver Water, Aurora Water and South Metro Water Supply Authority are exploring the possibility of a joint project, said South Metro executive director Rod Kuharich.

Rights and projects are decided on a case-by-case basis in the state water courts and seniority rules. Unlike some other states, in Colorado the legislature and the administrative agencies have no role. It is all settled in water court, Klahn said.

“We don’t have a water plan; prior appropriation is our plan and it’s every man for himself,” said Melissa Kassen, a director of Trout Unlimited’s Western Water project.

Since 2005, through the Intrabasin Compact Committee and nine basin roundtables, the state has tried to do more water planning and forge voluntary agreements. “It is an experiment,” said Harris Sherman, director of the state Department of Natural Resources…

Critics argue that this is still a piecemeal approach as the federal agencies do not set priorities on projects or assess overall water needs. “As we get closer to appropriating the water that’s left in Colorado, we really ought to be able to set priorities,” Trout Unlimited’s Kassen said.

Until there is change, prior appropriation rules. “The state has been reluctant to support one project over another,” said the Department of Natural Resources’ Sherman. “As we enter water scarcity, that may change.”

More Coyote Gulch coverage here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here.

Flaming Gorge Pipeline: Wyoming opposition growing and getting organized

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Wyoming residents are organizing to oppose Aaron Million’s Regional Water Supply Project calling it the “Wyoming water grab.” Here’s a report from Joan Barron writing for the Casper Star Tribune. Of course Million Conservation Resources Group and the lesser known project the Colorado-Wyoming Coalition intend to move water that Colorado is entitled to under the Colorado River Compact using a clause in the Upper Colorado River Basin Compact that allows one state to move their water through another state. However — as Eric Kuhn (Colorado River District) keeps pointing out — the water may not be there to develop. If Colorado develops all of the water left in the Green River before Wyoming the Cowboy State may never get their water. That’s part of the motivation for another reservoir to store Wyoming’s share. From the article:

Wyoming people are paying plenty of attention to reports of the latest Wyoming water grab…

Southwest Wyoming residents emphatically oppose the project as evidenced by their testimony at a public meeting sponsored by the U.S. Corps of Engineers in Green River more than a week ago. Dan Budd, a Big Piney rancher, member of the Wyoming Water Development Commission and a former legislator, attended that hearing. Never shy about expressing his opinion, Budd said it was the worst conducted public meeting he ever sat through and he has sat through plenty. “They didn’t have speaker systems, they didn’t recognize the people trying to participate and they cut the meeting an hour short,” Budd said last week.

For some time Budd has pushed for construction of another reservoir on the Green River to impound Wyoming’s share of unallocated water under the 1922 Colorado River Compact. The amount of the unused Green River water is 300,000 to 400,000 acre feet…

During a meeting of the commission last year, Budd made a motion for the state to file for a permit for a reservoir site at Warren Bridge on the Green River. The filing would give the state a priority date. He said his motion failed by one vote. He said opponents said the state could never get a permit for the reservoir…

That is what happened with the Big Sandstone Reservoir. The Corps of Engineers refused to permit the reservoir because the state could not identify a need and purpose for all the water that would be stored. The reservoir was too big. It was ultimately shrunk and built as the Little Sandstone, or High Savory Reservoir, in the Little Snake River Valley. Budd contends the state should be able to define a use for the Green River water given a decade of drought and healthy population growth in Rock Springs. Moreover, he said, a group of Colorado government entities, headquartered in Evergreen, also is working on a plan to grab Wyoming water. Members of this group already have talked to the state engineer about filing for a permit for a dam, Budd added. With a two-pronged threat, Budd wants protection for Wyoming’s water…

Given that the Corps of Engineers study on the trans-basin diversion Front Range project could take years, the state has time to try to ward off the water grab. “We’re working hard to be sure they don’t,” Purcell said.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here and here.