S.B. 09-141, Fountain Creek Watershed

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Governor Ritter signed S.B. 09-141 last week. The legislation creates the Fountain Creek Flood Control and Greenway District. Here’s a report from Charles Ashby writing for the Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

The measure, backed by Democratic and Republican lawmakers on both sides of the Pueblo-El Paso county line, allows officials in the two counties and area municipalities to create a new Fountain Creek Watershed, Flood Control and Greenway District.

It was the product of years of negotiations – and infighting – between officials on both sides of the line.

“We all know how contentious water fights can be, and there have been some legendary fights in different parts of the state not the least of which have involved Pueblo and Colorado Springs,” Ritter said during a bill-signing ceremony for SB141. “That’s why this bill is so important to Colorado’s water future. This represents an incredible collaborative accomplishment between two counties over an extremely contentious issue.” Though local elected officials in the two counties were primarily responsible for working out the details, Sen. Abel Tapia, D-Pueblo, and Reps. Sal Pace, D-Pueblo, and Marsha Looper, R-Calhan, carried it through the Legislature. Tapia said the measure will likely become a model for other intergovernmental agreements on dealing with water issues…

The 60-page measure would establish a nine-member board that would oversee the flood plain from Fountain to Pueblo. Under it, four district boundaries would be created with varying degrees of authority. While the full boundary of the district would include all of Pueblo and El Paso counties, any fees imposed by it would apply only to a smaller area encompassing the watershed. The panel also would have some land-use authority, but only on a small tract right along the river. Under the bill, the district would have the ability to impose fees, and place before voters in both counties a new tax to help pay for improvements. It is, however, limited to asking voters for no more than 5 mills, which could raise about $30 million a year. The district also is to get about $50 million from a Southern Delivery System mitigation fund, which is to be used to get a matching federal grant that could bring in another $150 million.

From the Pueblo Chieftain:

Applicants are being sought for the joint Pueblo city-county appointment to the Fountain Creek Watershed Governing Board, which will become the Fountain Creek Flood Control and Greenway District when a new state law takes effect in July…Terms can be 2, 3 or 4 years on the nine-member board. The district will have primary land-use authority in the flood plain of Fountain Creek and will have input on land-use decisions and policy throughout the watershed. Applications are available at the Pueblo County clerk’s office or online at the county Web site. They should be completed and returned no later than 4:30 p.m. May 15.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here and here.

San Luis Valley scores some stimulus dough

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From the Pueblo Chieftain (Matt Hildner):

The stimulus package will bring $20.2 million in agency spending to Colorado, although Mike Blakeman, a spokesman for the agency in the San Luis Valley, said specific spending totals for local projects would not be available until early next week…

The valley would also see habitat restoration projects for riparian areas along the Rio Grande and wetland restoration at San Luis Lakes. The Zapata Falls recreation area, just south of the Great Sand Dunes National Park, would get money for campground construction. Other spending on the Department of Interior’s lands in the San Luis Valley include $2.6 million at Great Sand Dunes National Park and $1.95 million at three national wildlife refuges.

Bessemer Ditch: Bylaws changes

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Here’s a look at one Bessemer Ditch shareholder’s view on the proposed bylaw changes coming up for a vote soon along with the Pueblo Board of Water Works plans to buy shares, from Chris Woodka writing for the Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

Mike Bartolo is proposing a different path that would keep water rights in the hands of irrigators while guaranteeing Pueblo the ability to use some of the water when it was needed. His idea – which he admits is sketchy – is for the Pueblo Board of Works to buy the development rights shares in the Bessemer Ditch rather than purchasing shares outright. That would ensure that the water would stay in the ditch, while a portion of it would be available to Pueblo as it is needed. “The city would have to dish out less, maybe about $4,000-$5,000 an acre, rather than $10,000 to purchase rights,” Bartolo said. “The grower would retain the rights and the city could lease up to 30 percent when they need it.”[…]

Bartolo is also aware of Pueblo’s track record on past sales of the Booth-Orchard and Twin Lakes that left behind wastelands in Pueblo and Crowley counties and doesn’t trust the Pueblo water board’s promises that the same thing wouldn’t happen on the Bessemer Ditch. “I think the Board of Water Works has failed miserably to understand that they are not buying a chunk of a ditch, but are destroying the autonomy of it,” Bartolo said. “They are destroying the value of the Bessemer Ditch.”[…]

Bartolo is not opposing the right of anyone along the Bessemer Ditch to sell, and said he understands the reasons some of his friends and neighbors want to sell at this time. He believes more time investigating the potential impacts of the sale and the alternatives is needed, however. The Bessemer Ditch has been a target for urban water sales since the 1980s, when other ditches in the valley sold. Because there is not one large block of shares immediately available, as there were on the Rocky Ford Ditch and Colorado Canal, no sales ever materialized. The current sale was born from a failed effort in 2007-08 that happened in a very public way. The second time around, the water board lined up sellers through a broker at a higher price that lured more takers. While some shareholders met in the 1980s to prevent sales at that time, there has been little public discussion in the past 20 years about whether water rights should be sold or what other options are available.

Bartolo recently joined Super Ditch – a land fallowing, water management program – in an effort to share in the research into the value of ditch rights by the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District. He doesn’t know if the idea of selling water while while keeping the water rights through long-term lease contracts is practical, but said the idea needs to be investigated. Bartolo’s own idea is taken from practices used in some conservation easements, where the future development rights are purchased to maintain a property’s character. The price is the difference between the current worth and the value of developing the property – in this case, water rights. “It preserves the rights of guys who have worked hard and want to cash in their chips,” Bartolo said. While he’s pitched the idea to shareholders through a handout at this year’s annual meeting, to the Lower Ark board, to The Pueblo Chieftain editorial board and at an informal meeting with some members of the water board, Bartolo has found few takers so far…

The water board’s proposal amounts to a “pig in a dress,” that would buy and dry farmland, Bartolo said. “They would lease it back for 20 years, but that’s pathetic,” he said. “When it comes time, the water board will make a business decision with the goal of providing cheap water for Pueblo. The water they are leasing to Aurora could generate five to six times the revenue in agriculture. They haven’t been a good partner to the valley.” Not all of the consequences of what could happen to the Bessemer Ditch’s water rights have been explained, Bartolo added.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here and here.

Animas River restoration

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From the Durango Herald (Dale Stode):

The west-side riverbank will get a full-scale makeover – a retro renovation – between Ninth Street and the Highway 160 bridge. The river and west-bank renovation project was announced recently when Durango received an $86,000 grant from the Colorado Division of Wildlife for bank stabilization and habitat improvement on that stretch of the Animas River. The DOW grant was one of the final pieces of a 3½-year jigsaw puzzle, put together through the nonprofit efforts of Trout Unlimited and the Animas Riverkeepers…

With Trout Unlimited looking for a hands-on project, and Animas Riverkeepers similarly seeking an immediate project, the two joined forces for downtown Durango’s river redevelopment effort. The groups raised $7,500 for a consultant’s study and the generation of architectural and engineering plans for the Animas River project. The study and the engineering plans became the foundation of the city’s backing and an eventual grant application with the Colorado Division of Wildlife’s Fishing is Fun program…

The recently authorized mitigation project will address two primary situations, Churchwell said. First, the unregulated foot traffic in the area will be managed. Big boulders and rocks will be placed along the riverbank. Trees and shrubs will be planted. All of the dead trees and vegetation will come out, he said. Stairways down the bank to the stream side will direct foot travel…

Secondly, he said, there will be in-stream work that will help move the primary flow of water to the middle of the river. “That will create much better trout habitat,” he said of the installation of the “J hooks” (rock berms) in the river. “And we’re keeping the boaters in mind with this,” he said, adding that the in-river work will be boater friendly for kayaks, canoes, rafts, etc…

More Coyote Gulch coverage here.

South Platte River: EPA orders two companies to clean up damage to river

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A sand and gravel operation and concrete company have received an order from the Environmental Protection Agency to clean up and repair the riparian environment along a stretch of the South Platte River after they performed some un-permitted work to expand their operations. Here’s a report from the Fort Morgan Times. From the article:

Builder’s Aggregate and JJ Concrete must remove all material placed in the riverbed and wetlands and restore affected areas to pre-impact conditions and grade. Materials the company dredged from the river and stockpiled within the channel of the South Platte must be removed within 21 days, in advance of spring runoff. Prior to beginning the remainder of the work, the companies must submit a plan detailing how removal and restoration will be accomplished, the EPA said.

Here’s the release from the EPA:

EPA orders Builder’s Aggregate and JJ Concrete to restore South Platte River near Fort Morgan

Release date: 04/30/2009

Contact Information: Diane Sipe, 303-312-6391; Richard Mylott 303-312-6654

(Denver, Colo. – April 30, 2009) The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has issued a compliance order to Builder’s Aggregate and JJ Concrete for violations of the Clean Water Act in Fort Morgan, Colo. The companies allegedly violated the Act by placing material into the South Platte River and its adjacent wetlands without a permit.

“These unauthorized actions damaged the ability of the South Platte River and its adjacent wetlands to provide habitat for birds and animals and to reduce the force of flood waters,” said Diane Sipe, Director of EPA Region 8’s Water Enforcement Program. “EPA is ordering Builder’s Aggregate and JJ Concrete to promptly restore the damage to the river and its wetlands. We will continue to pursue actions against those who violate federal laws that protect Colorado’s waters.”

The alleged violations occurred in the spring of 2008 when the companies leveled approximately two acres of wetlands adjacent to the South Platte River to expand the area for their sand, gravel and concrete operations. The companies also stockpiled material in the channel of the river and placed rip rap along the river’s banks.

EPA’s order requires measures to correct the environmental damage resulting from the unauthorized activities. Builder’s Aggregate and JJ Concrete must remove all material placed in the riverbed and wetlands and restore affected areas to pre-impact conditions and grade. Materials the company dredged from the river and stockpiled within the channel of the South Platte must be removed within 21 days, in advance of spring runoff. Prior to beginning the remainder of the work, the companies must submit a plan detailing how removal and restoration will be accomplished.

The South Platte River and wetlands disturbed by the violations provide numerous functions and values, including wildlife habitat for birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians; water quality enhancement; flood attenuation; and aesthetics.

Permits are required before performing work that results in the disturbance or placement of material into rivers, lakes, streams and wetlands. These alleged violations could have been avoided had Builders Aggregate and JJ Concrete applied for and obtained a permit from the Army Corps of Engineers before working in the South Platte River and its wetlands. Any person planning to do such work should contact the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Denver Regulatory Office at 9307 South Wadsworth Ave., Littleton, CO, 80128-6901 or telephone 303-979-4120.

For more information on the Clean Water Act, visit EPA’s compliance web page: http://www.epa.gov/compliance/civil/cwa/index.html

For more information about the importance of wetlands in flood control and habitat conservation, visit:
http://www.usace.army.mil/, http://www.epa.gov/owow/wetlands/

Nestlé Chaffee County Project: Opposition update

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Here’s an update on the opposition to Nestlé Waters North America’s Chaffee County Project, from R. Scott Rappold writing for the Colorado Springs Gazette. From the article

Tempers have flared and barbs have been traded at three marathon public hearings as county officials wrestle over whether to issue a land-use permit to Nestle Waters North America. The company owns the land and water rights near Nathrop and says it is investing $15 million in its effort to withdraw 65 million gallons a year. It has an agreement with Aurora for that city to release 200 acre-feet a year from an upper reservoir to compensate for the water Nestle would remove from the Arkansas basin.

At the heart of the debate is whether a community benefits when a company takes water from its springs to sell on grocery store shelves. Some communities have fought such efforts – with mixed results – and the conflict in Salida could presage fights elsewhere in Colorado. Nestle has plans to tap springs in three or four more locations in the state. “I think they could buy and dry our valley,” said Vicki Klein, a board member of Chaffee Citizens for Sustainability, a group formed to fight the project. “Two hundred acre-feet might not be a huge amount initially, but where they can go from there is frightening…

Nestle says it will draw 10 percent of the springs’ flow, and the impact to the Arkansas River “will not be measurable, even in low-flow conditions.” The company touts the benefits to the county: temporary construction jobs for the pipeline and related facilities; increased tax revenue for the county; removal of a dilapidated trout hatchery along the Arkansas; and preservation of the area as open space…

At a hearing Wednesday, Terry Scanga, manager of the Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District, said it could be “very injurious” to the Arkansas basin. Aurora doesn’t take all the water it owns from the mountains, and in a drought that city could draw more to make up for what it releases for Nestle, he said. “I think it’s kind of ironic that an out-of-basin entity would be leasing water to another entity who will be taking it out of the basin,” Scanga said…

It was many newcomers – retirees and others – who want to see the mountain splendor preserved, versus old-timers who say the county needs economic development…

Some of its legal difficulties with host communities, usually small, rural towns, include: a four-year legal battle with Fryeburg, Maine, to build a pumping station; a lawsuit by citizens in McCloud, Calif., who oppose a plan by the company to tap springs and build a bottling plant; and a public outcry in Enumclaw, Wash, about proposed wells and a bottling plant that led Nestle to abandon the plan…

Nestle’s Lauerman said the opposition “has very little to do with the specifics of the project itself, the viability of the project…It’s more people with a distrust for corporations, people who are anti-growth no matter what the project is. It’s people who have a philosophical bent against bottled water,” he said.

Jeanine Zeman, spokeswoman for the opposition group, admits she doesn’t like bottled water. She also believes Nestle has a poor record of working with communities where it sinks wells. With the arguments impassioned on both sides, county commissioners are in no rush to make a decision. The hearing resumes Tuesday.

More coverage from Joe Stone writing for The Mountain Mail:

The public hearing conducted by Chaffee County commissioners will continue at 1 p.m. Tuesday in the Salida Steam Plant Theater regarding two separate permit applications by Nestlé Waters. County consultants and staff members will discuss the extent to which new information from Nestlé satisfies 1041 permit application criteria. Commissioners will continue to hear public comments, but only regarding new information and unresolved 1041 permit requirements. Written comments must be received by noon Monday for consideration at the meeting Tuesday, county officials said…

The 1041 permit process requires county commissioners to approve or deny the permit by May 15 unless the applicant requests an extension, Don Reimer, county development director said…

Lauerman’s points included:

• Nestlé modified the project to address local concerns.

• Shallow nature of the wells will eliminate possibility of over-pumping the aquifer.

• The 50,000-acre aquifer recharge area indicates a sustainable source for water harvest.

• Nestlé’s annual 200-acre-foot extraction represents 2 percent of annual aquifer recharge and 1.5 percent of water available in the aquifer.

• In addition to a $500,000 local trust fund, Nestlé would provide educational opportunities and annual contributions of $25,000 to $30,000 to local organizations and events.

• Nestlé has invested more than $2 million in the project and would be investing $15 million in Chaffee County. The investment will take years to recoup at the 6-7 percent company operating profit.

• The project would provide protection for the environment that other types of development cannot offer.

• By collecting water in Chaffee County and bottling it in Denver, the company would reduce trucking by 5 million miles a year.

• A 72-hour pumping test in January revealed no effects to the water table beyond 200 yards.

• Colorado Department of Transportation found no significant traffic concerns when issuing an access permit on U.S. 24/285 at Johnson Village.

• Colorado Division of Wildlife found no significant adverse impacts.

• Colorado Trout Unlimited expressed no concerns.

Here are some comments offered up by John Emerick, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus of the Colorado School of Mines, Division of Environmental Science and Engineering at Wednesday’s public meeting, from the Salida Citizen.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here and here.

Runoff news

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Here’s an update on runoff conditions in the Eagle River valley from the Vail Daily (Chris Outcalt):

Runoff of the winter snowpack has already started and will continue through May. Water levels in the area usually peak around the end of May or beginning of June, and most kayakers are probably eagerly awaiting the runoff, said Sean Glackin, owner of Alpine Quest Sports in Edwards…

People are already paddling spots of the Eagle River by Dowd Junction and taking advantage of the whitewater park in Avon, Glackin said. Some beginners are putting in at spots around State Bridge, he said…

Vail Mountain had more than 400 inches of snow this season and snowpack levels in the valley are about average, said Mark Gillespie, snow supervisor for the Natural Resource Conservation Service.

More coveage from the Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Above Lake Pueblo, the Arkansas River has remained near normal levels, even though some of the snowpack already is melting. Below the dam, the river has increased to late spring conditions already as downstream canals are emptying winter water and Fryingpan-Arkansas Project accounts, said Steve Witte, Water Division 2 engineer.

“Winter water or carry-over winter water is going to the Catlin, Oxford, High Line and Holbrook ditches,” Witte said. “They might have wanted to wait, but they’re in a use it or lose it situation.” Under court decreed rules, the ditches had until midnight Thursday to empty carry-over accounts, which temporarily swelled the Arkansas River to about 1,400 cubic feet per second at Avondale for several days this week, well above the median average of 881 cfs for this time of year. Meanwhile, the Bessemer Ditch was releasing water it had stored in Fry-Ark accounts, according to the daily report by the Division of Water Resources. Farmers need the water – Southeastern Colorado is still in a mild drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor – but ran more than they might have to empty accounts. Some April showers alleviated the drought’s impact to some extent, and precipitation is close to average levels…

Lake Pueblo levels have been dropping in recent weeks as the flows out exceed the natural inflow. The Bureau of Reclamation, which operates the Fry-Ark Project, stopped running additional water above Pueblo last month because there is now adequate space in Turquoise and Twin Lakes for the water expected to be brought over from the Western Slope. Reclamation will revise its forecast of imports in the near future, and is expecting more than the average of 52,000 acre-feet, but less than the 77,500 acre-feet expected in April, said Roy Vaughan, Fry-Ark Project manager. “We’ve lost some of the snowpack since the April forecast,” Vaughan said.

Statewide, the snowpack was at 94 percent of average Thursday, largely because of dry conditions in the Southwest region and Gunnison River basin. The Upper Colorado, South Platte and Arkansas River basins are all slightly above average.

Corps of Engineers looking to spend $5 million on tamarisk removal along the Colorado River

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The Tamarisk Coalition is in the process of determining how best to utilize $5 million grant proposed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for tamarisk eradication along 56 miles of the Colorado River between Palisade and the Utah border. Here’s a report from the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Le Roy Standish):

In order to get the grant, the Tamarisk Coalition is asking its partners in the Grand Valley for $10,000 to study how best to eradicate the nonnative species and determine how much each member of the coalition should spend on the program. In addition the coalition needs to appoint a lead agency — such as Mesa County, Grand Junction, a new nonprofit or an existing nonprofit such as the Mesa Land Trust — to coordinate efforts…

To assess the options, the Tamarisk Coalition is asking for money from each of its partners: $4,000 apiece from Mesa County and Grand Junction; $800 from Palisade; and $400 each from Fruita and Clifton Water. The possibility of a $5 million grant from the Corps is good news for the coalition, but it comes with financial concerns. The big catch in the Corps’ Aquatic Ecosystem Restoration grant is that whatever entity becomes the lead agency will be responsible for keeping land cleared of tamarisk forever. “In order to meet the terms of the grant, you can’t let (tamarisk) come back,” said Tom Fisher, Mesa County’s director of regional services. That would require an unknown commitment of resources on top of the initial $10,000 in seed money. The money would pay for a study to compare alternatives and costs of the program.

“What takes effort is to establish what the proposed long-term budgets would be or the physical requirements would be for each of the entities,” Carlson said. “Until that is all laid out, it is difficult for anybody to say this is what we are getting involved in.”

More Coyote Gulch coverage here and here.

DOLA doles out $47 million

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From the Associated Press via the Aspen Daily News:

The Department of Local Affairs awarded the money Friday for 47 projects from 55 applications seeking nearly $49 million. The grants will allow communities to leverage more than $195 million in public-private and local matching funds, which will finance $218.5 million in construction work…

Garfield County projects include the sheriff annex expansion ($600,000), the county human services annex construction ($600,000), Donegan Road expansion in Glenwood Springs ($500,000) and the Rifle water treatment plant design ($600,000).

More coverage from the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

Projects in Mesa County received a total of $3.6 million, more than any other county. Coming in second was La Plata County, with nearly $3 million in grants. The state said the 47 projects will be funded by more than $195 million in public-private and local matching funds, resulting in a combined $218.5 million boost in construction activity. Projects that meet basic infrastructure needs received highest priority, while emphasis also was placed on those with renewable-energy or energy-conservation components…

Rifle Mayor Keith Lambert voiced a similar sentiment. “We’re happy for anything we receive in this area because our needs are so great,” he said. The city expects its new water plant will cost between $30 million and $40 million to build…

Rangely got $495,000 for water and wastewater infrastructure improvements and $100,000 for street and drainage upgrades.

More Coyote Gulch coveage here.