Pagosa Springs: Tab for new treatment plant $1 million over expectations

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From the Pagosa Sun (Jim McQuiggin):

Unfortunately, for the town and sanitation district customers, bids for the construction of the wastewater treatment plant came in higher than expected. “At least a million dollars over what we’d hoped,” said Pagosa Springs Town Manager David Mitchem. After raising customer rates almost 67 percent last year (from $22.50 to $37.50 a month) in order to fund the new plant, the town of Pagosa Springs finds itself in the unfortunate position of needing fewer effluents and more affluence. Indeed, unwilling to further boost rates — perhaps due to the prospect of a citizenry strapped for cash but loaded with tar and feathers — the town is scrambling to find outside sources to help offset the unexpected expense of the project.

“There’s some different funding options out there,” said sanitation department supervisor Phil Starks. “If we get loans, we’d have to raise our rates, again, which the mayor is dead-set against. So we’re really looking at grant options.” In fact, the initial rate hike was a condition for accepting a $1.5 million loan from the Colorado Water Resources and Power Development Authority (CWRPDA), taken out to pay for construction of the plant. In order to secure the loan, the sanitation district agreed to substantial customer rate increases as set forth by the CWRPDA. Additionally, the CWRPDA mandated an increase in tap fees, from $3,750 per Equivalent Residential Tap (ERT) to $4,400 per ERT — an increase of 17.3 percent.

Colorado State University-Pueblo: Annual Children’s Water Festival

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Here’s a recap of the recent festival from Chris Woodka writing for the Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

A flood toppled several buildings into a stream Thursday. A screaming mob was sprayed down and scattered by a firehose. Pollution was destroying aquatic life at a dizzying rate. Was it just another day along Fountain Creek? No, it was the annual Children’s Water Festival at Colorado State University-Pueblo, a whole day of learning disguised as fun for about 1,800 fourth-graders throughout Pueblo County.

Crowley County sues Ordway over sale of Twin Lakes water

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From the Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The county says Ordway is bound by a 1980 agreement to provide water to a county water system that provides a wholesale raw water supply to several districts in the county that serve more than 5,000 people, including two prisons. “For nearly three decades, the county water system has supplied an abundant, safe and affordable water supply for the residents of Crowley and Ordway and the rural customers of the 96 Pipeline Co. and Crowley County Water Association,” Commissioner Matt Heimerich said at a news conference last month. “The cement that has held this system together has been the 1980 water system.” The county filed the lawsuit on behalf of the other partners in the lawsuit following a letter from Ordway Mayor Randal Haynes on March 30 that indicated Ordway wants to pursue long-term leases with some of its water and apply for Fryingpan-Arkansas water on its own, rather than jointly with the other partners, as outlined in the 1980 agreement…

Heimerich countered that Ordway’s interests are intertwined with the county’s, and in fact the county system is the only way it’s Fry-Ark water can be delivered. The 1980 agreement is a legal, binding contract hammered out between communities at a time when most of the county’s agricultural water was being sold off to Pueblo, Colorado Springs, Aurora and Pueblo West. What’s left has to provide for the people who remain in the county, he said. “The county wants to make sure the system can produce water,” Heimerich said.

Aurora long-term storage contract with Reclamation

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From the Pueblo Chieftain (Robert Boczkiewicz):

Arkansas Valley landowners who oppose a plan for exporting water from the valley contend a key claim in a lawsuit opposing the plan will remain regardless of a judge’s pending decision. The landowners group, Arkansas Valley Native LLC, makes that contention in a new filing in U.S. District Court…

As part of the agreement [Between Reclamation and the Lower Arkansas Water Conservancy District], the Lower Arkansas district asked Brimmer to allow it to drop from the lawsuit its claim that the contract violates the 1958 law…

The landowners group’s new filing tells the judge that regardless of whether he allows the district to drop the claim, the same claim will remain in the landowners’ part of the lawsuit. They joined the lawsuit on the same side as the district, but the two plaintiffs now have opposing positions as the result of the district and Aurora agreeing to settle the city’s part of the lawsuit…

They own water rights, not part of the Fry-Ark Project, in the valley. Those landowners allege in their part of the lawsuit they and the public will be injured if the judge does not nullify the contract. The group wants the judge to hold in abeyance the Lower Arkansas district’s request to drop the issue of the 1958 law “until and unless” Brimmer grants a pending request to put the case on hold for two years. The district, Aurora and Reclamation, as part of the settlement agreement, jointly made the recent request to put the case on hold while the district and Aurora try to get Congress to change the law. The Arkansas Valley Native group opposes delaying court action. “This case needs resolution,” the group told the judge. “The court should deny the stay and resolve whether the contract violates the Fry-Ark Act and/or the Water Supply Act of 1958.”

More Coyote Gulch coverage here and here.

Woodland Park: Supply treatment

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Here’s a background piece about Larry Watters the chief water operator for the City of Woodland Park, from Kate Kettler writing for the Pikes Peak Courier Gold Rush.

Watering restrictions

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Cherokee Metropolitan District is already under a water restriction that allows homeowners to water their lawn only on assigned days for two days per week…

Near Colorado Springs, Donala Water and Sanitation District, near the Air Force Academy, has scheduled water restrictions beginning May 25th until September 7th. NEWSCHANNEL 13 has also learned that the Triview Metropolitan District also will impose water restrictions beginning May 15th until September 30th.

Salida: Sewer rates to rise

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From The Mountain Mail:

The $39 quarterly charge will increase $2 per month to $45; the base fee for water use will increase from 85 cents to $1 per 1,000 gallons used. Additional living units will pay about 75 percent of the normal residential rate, or about $33.75 per quarter, up from the current $10 charge. Commercial and industrial customers will pay more, based upon the size of their water service line. Sewer only customers will pay more too based upon their residency. By approving the ordinance Tuesday, council members set in motion an annual 5 percent increase.

Uncompahgre Water Users: Workshops on water quality

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From the Telluride Watch:

The Uncompahgre Watershed Partnership is hosting the second of a series of six workshops on water quality in the Uncompahgre River by examining the impact of urban pollution in the watershed. “Land Uses in the Watershed: Urban Development” is scheduled for Thursday, May 14, 5:45-8:15 p.m., at DMEA in Montrose. According to Sarah Sauter, workshop organizer from the Uncompahgre Watershed Partnership, the session will give participants a look at the impacts of urban growth on the Uncompahgre River and the steps local governments are taking to alleviate water quality impairments. The agenda includes a presentation by Cynthia Peterson, of AWARE Colorado, on innovative stormwater management techniques, and a panel discussion with representatives from local governments…

or more information about the “Land Uses in the Watershed: Urban Development” Forum, contact Sarah Sauter at or 303/408-1312.

Benefits of beavers

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From the Telluride Watch:

Those beautiful sub-alpine ponds and meadows enjoyed on hikes and drives are likely to be the result of the tireless work of generations upon generations of beaver, second only to humans in their ability to alter the landscape. As we come to appreciate the contribution that beaver have made to the health and beauty of our world, we are learning to work with them to improve our watersheds and preserve biodiversity.

An enthusiastic advocate for this species and its benefits, Sherri Tippie, will be the featured speaker at the next Living With Wildlife presentation sponsored by the San Juan Corridors Coalition, Thursday, May 14, 7 p.m., at the Ridgway Community Center.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here.

Nestlé Waters Chaffee County Project: More county commissioner’s hearings

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Here’s a recap of this week’s meeting of the Chaffee County Board of Commissioners regarding Nestlé Waters North America’s Chaffee County Project, from Joe Stone writing for The Mountain Mail):

The fifth marathon hearing regarding permit requests from Nestlé Waters recessed at 11 p.m. Tuesday with participants setting 1 p.m. May 21 for continuation in a location to be determined…

After future hearings are officially closed, commissioners will have 60 days to reach a decision regarding issuance of the Nestlé permits…

Consultants for Nestlé and Chaffee County attended the meeting and addressed eight areas of concern regarding the special land use and 1041 permit applications: economic impacts, groundwater impacts, water rights, wetland impacts, traffic concerns, air quality impacts, visual impacts and planning document consistencies. Analysis provided Tuesday by THK Associates of Aurora clarified economic impacts of the project, indicating several benefits to the county, including $2.3 million in total wages for project labor and $4.8 million for materials. The only items contracted outside the county would be specialized work, such as directional drilling to route a pipeline under the Arkansas River. It would add $2.4 million in assessed property value, generating more than $18,000 in property taxes for 2010 and more than $500,000 during the next 30 years. THK analysis projected annual tax payments of more than $8,000 for Chaffee County Fire Protection District, $5,000 for Northern Chaffee County Library District, $2,500 for Salida Hospital District and about $1,000 for Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District. In addition to a $500,000 community endowment, Nestlé committed to an annual giving program and reimbursement of extraordinary county expenditures not covered by tax payments.

Representing Nestlé, Steve Sims, former senior water counsel for the Colorado Attorney General’s Office, clarified questions associated with Nestlé’ proposed lease of Aurora water for augmentation. Sims stressed the Aurora water would come from the Colorado River Basin and would be augmented upstream from the Nestlé project site. A plan proposed by Salida and Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District would have relied upon augmenting water downstream from the site, creating in-stream flow issues and other concerns. Sims reported, “Aurora’s water portfolio includes 52,000 acre-feet and will increase to 100,000 acre-feet in 2010 when their Prairie Waters project comes online.” Given the small percentage of Aurora water leased by Nestlé, Sims said drought-year worries are unfounded and emphasized the plan would be strictly controlled by Colorado Water Court. Sims noted Chaffee County agricultural rights are senior to the Aurora rights and could not be affected by the augmentation plan.

Martina Wilkinson explained the Nestlé traffic study in detail indicating uphill truck traffic isn’t associated with wrecks between Johnson Village and Trout Creek Pass summit. In fact, she said, wildlife and excessive downhill speed create most crashes in the corridor.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here and here.

Invasive mussels: Lake Pueblo report

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From the Colorado Springs Gazette:

Officials at Lake Pueblo State Park, a popular destination for Colorado Springs boat owners, say inspections for zebra mussels have found three boats carrying the invasive creatures during the past month…

One of the boats flagged at Lake Pueblo, a cabin cruiser that had been on the Mississippi River for two years, had more than 100 mussels attached to its bottom, officials said. All three boats were decontaminated and allowed to enter the lake. Inspections turned up zebra mussels on two boats at the reservoir last year, said Colorado State Parks spokeswoman Deb Frazier.

More coverage from the Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The three boats were each decontaminated, using water heated to about 140 degrees, and dried out thoroughly prior to entering the lake. Lake Pueblo has a permanent decontamination station. Inspectors said one of the boats had over 100 adult mussels attached to the bottom. The vessel, from Missouri, was a cabin cruiser and had been on the Mississippi River for two years. Another boat, a houseboat from New York, had two dead mussels on the lower surface. The third was from Lake Pleasant in Arizona. Samples of the mussels from each of the three boats have been sent for testing to determine whether they are zebra or quagga mussels.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here and here.

Interior Partners in Conservation Awards

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From the Boulder Daily Camera:

A Boulder conservationist received a Partners in Conservation Award from the U.S. Department of the Interior on Tuesday for helping develop guidelines to deal with Colorado River water shortage.

Michael Cohen, a senior research associate at the Pacific Institute’s Boulder office, helped the Bureau of Reclamation craft rules to deal with potential water disputes. Several other conservation organizations — including the Defenders of Wildlife, the Environmental Defense Fund, the National Wildlife Federation, the Sonoran Institute and the Sierra Club — helped the bureau develop “Conservation Before Shortage.”

From email from the Colorado Water Conservation Board (Ted Kowalski):

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar today recognized the Colorado Water Conservation Board for the state’s efforts in helping to develop a strategy for dealing with long-term drought in the Colorado River Basin.

Salazar awarded Colorado, along with the six other Colorado Basin states and other partners in the talks, with a “Partners in Conservation Award” for finalizing an agreement known as the Colorado River Interim Guidelines for Lower Basin Shortages and Coordinated Operations for Lakes Powell and Mead.

The Colorado River provides water for 30 million people in seven states and two countries. It is often called the most regulated and litigated river in the United States.

The guidelines were developed during a period of severe drought, declining reservoir levels and continued growth in demand for water. The agreement, also known as the Interim Guidelines, has been hailed as the most significant change in river management since the Colorado River Compact was signed in 1922.

“We all recognize the benefits of collaboration over litigation,” said Jennifer Gimbel, Director of the CWCB. “But saying it is one thing and doing it is another – especially when it comes to water. We’re pleased that the entire Colorado River basin has begun to focus their attention on river augmentation and increased water efficiency.”

Randy Seaholm, Chief of the Water Supply Protection Section, accepted the award on behalf of the Ritter administration at a ceremony in Washington D.C.

The Department of the Interior’s Cooperative Conservation Award program recognizes conservation achievements resulting from the cooperation and participation of individual landowners, citizen groups, private sector, nongovernmental organizations, and federal, state, local, and/or tribal governments.

These Guidelines, and the associated Record of Decision (“ROD”), represent the culmination of talks between the seven basin states and the Interior Department on how to manage the lower Colorado River during times of shortage, and how to coordinate the operations between the two largest reservoirs on the Colorado River. The agreement will be in effect until 2026.

“This award demonstrates the benefits of cooperation between the seven basin states, our federal partners, and other interested parties,” Seaholm said. “I am pleased that Secretary Salazar recognizes how important these Guidelines are, and I hope that we are able to continue to work together as we implement these Guidelines, and as we pursue other mutually beneficial projects.”

More Coyote Gulch coverage here.

Colorado Wyoming Coalition: Frank Jaeger pitches alternative Flaming Gorge Pipeline in Green River

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The coalition of Colorado and Wyoming water providers hoping to build an alternative to the Million Conservation Resources Group pipeline from Flaming Gorge recently sent Parker Water and Sanitation’s Frank Jaeger up to Wyoming to pitch their ideas to the Green River Advisory Group. Here’s a report from Jack H. Smith writing for the Green River Star. From the article:

At the conclusion of the Green River Basin Advisory meeting Thursday, Frank Jaeger of the Parker, Colo., Water and Sewer District approached both members of the group and general public, with preliminary discussion about a water diversion project. “We are trying to open a door to say we want to talk to you,” Jaeger said. “We want to hear your concerns.” Jaeger said he has looked at Million’s proposal and could not believe or understand what he had proposed.

While Jaeger did say he wanted to open the door to discuss the issue with local residents, he was emphatic that he is “not looking at taking Wyoming’s water.” Instead, he is trying to get Colorado’s allotted water from the Colorado River Compact. He added unlike the Million project, this is being proposed by public entities.

Sweetwater County Commissioner Paula Wonnacott attended the meeting, and discussed the issue at the commission’s meeting Tuesday. Wonnacott said these people came after Aaron Million to make them look “like the good guys.” She said the county has more to worry about than Million, with the consortium of groups from Colorado and counties in eastern Wyoming. “This fight is only beginning and it’s going to be a long fight,” Wonnacott said…

A workshop has been scheduled for county and municipal water users next Tuesday at 6 p.m. The meeting will take place at the Green River City Council chambers. “It’s important for all the water users in the area to come to this workshop,” Wonnacott said. “There are lots of people out there who want our water.”

Million’s pipeline plans have garnered attention from across the pond. Here’s an article from Charles Laurence writing for the The First Post. From the article:

Aaron Million is planning to pipe billions of gallons of river water from wild Wyoming to the suburban sprawl of Colorado, which makes him the man firing the first shot in the water wars expected from global climate change. He does not see it that way. Million believes that he is an environmentalist with a vision for quenching the thirst of the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains, where developers have covered thousands of acres of dry plains from Denver to Colorado Springs with houses, shopping malls and mega-churches. He thinks that he can do this without damage to the Green River basin in the mountains of Wyoming, a state defined as mostly desert.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here and here.

Republican River Basin: Nebraska and Kansas reject Colorado’s proposed compliance pipeline

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Nebraska and Kansas didn’t go for the idea of a pipeline dumping water at the Nebraska border as being the same as an equal amount of water in the river. Here’s a report from Tony Rayl writing for the Yuma Pioneer via the Holyoke Enterprise. From the article:

Kansas and Nebraska formally rejected Colorado’s plans for a compact compliance pipeline, Tuesday morning, but it appears there is hope the states are getting closer to resolving their various issues. That is due to the fact that, instead of Colorado immediately calling for arbitration after Tuesday’s vote, State Engineer Dick Wolfe called for a continuation of the special meeting to a yet-determined date in two to three weeks. Kansas and Nebraska each agreed to the continuation. Tuesday’s telephone gathering was an official meeting of the Republican River Compact Administration (RRCA). Wolfe is Colorado’s commissioner on the RRCA. His counterparts in Kansas and Nebraska, David Barfield and Brian Dunningan, respectively, are the other commissioners…

In the end, it came down to the three state engineers. Dunningan of Nebraska said the state supports Colorado’s efforts to receive approval. However, Nebraska still has issues with protecting the surface water users along the Haigler Canal, and limiting the volume of water delivered by the pipeline as Nebraska then is responsible for sending on the water to Kansas, and there will be evaporation in the process. Barfield recognized Colorado’s “significant” efforts to get into compliance. However, significant concerns remain for Kansas, particularly in regards to sub-basin compliance along the South Fork of the Republican River. “For this reason, Kansas will be voting ‘No’,” Barfield said. He added, though, that Kansas believes the states can continue to find a resolution for the pipeline plan…

Wolfe said Colorado recognizes there are issues still not resolved, but Colorado was ready to entertain a motion to approve the pipeline. Barfield approved the motion, then he and Dunningan voted against, while Wolfe voted in favor. Wolfe then requested the meeting be continued for two to three weeks, with the states continuing negotiations in the interim. Kansas and Nebraska agreed to the continuation. The specific date will be announced at a later date, after the parties involved can coordinate when all three will be available.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here and here.

Centennial: Water conservation plan gets CWCB approval in February

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“It’s really important to monitor and evaluate what’s working and effective at saving water,” said Jon Klassen, water conservation coordinator for Centennial Water, which serves the residents of Highlands Ranch.

The plan outlines a process for monitoring the success of current and and future water-saving measures, he said. Starting in December 2007 through February 2008, the conservation plan was available for public review and input. In April 2008, the plan was first submitted to the Colorado Water Conservation Board for approval. The CWCB did not approve the plan and suggested modifications. The plan was re-submitted and approved in February. A bill passed in 2004 requires that water providers submit new or revised water conservation plans to the state of Colorado. Providers must have an approved plan on file before receiving loans from the CWCB or the Colorado Water Resources and Power Development Authority.

To read Centennial Water’s plan, go to and click on Water and Sanitation.

Gore Creek: Restoration project wins award

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From the Vail Daily:

A Colorado Department of Transportation project that cleaned sediment and sand from the Black Gore Creek area on the west side of Vail Pass along I-70 in Vail, Colorado has received three recent honors.

The 2009 CDOT Environmental Process Award was received Feb. 24 in Denver. The next accolade, presented in Avon on March 20, was the Max Rollefson Award of Merit from the Colorado-Wyoming Chapter of the American Fisheries Society.

The third award, also presented in Avon on March 20, included a water fountain and a plaque of appreciation from the Black Gore Creek Steering Committee, comprised of local governmental representatives, nonprofit organizations, and regulatory agencies such as the U.S. Forest Service and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

The project, conducted in the fall of 2008 in cooperation with the U.S. Forest Service, cleaned out and reconstructed the “catchment basin” originally constructed in the 1970s when I-70 was built over Vail Pass. The reconstruction improved the condition of the “Basin of Last Resort,” as the catchment basin is known. About 2,400 truckloads of sediment were removed from the area. Project staff began noting fish in the water soon after flows were restored.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here.

Snowpack (runoff) news

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From the Telluride Daily Planet (Reilly Capps):

The government’s National Resources Conservation Service put out the winter wrap up Tuesday. Mike Gillespie is the snow survey supervisor for the NRCS. “Statewide, it was a fairly good year, allowing us to at least reach an average snowpack by mid-April, when it really counts,” said Gillespie. That means, above all, that farmers should have no problems irrigating their fields this summer. More than 90 percent of the state’s water is used for agriculture…

After a snowy December that skiers loved and snowplow drivers loathed, the southwestern part of the state, including the San Juan, Animas, Dolores and San Miguel river basins, had four consecutive below-average snow months, Gillespie said. Big storms hit as the Telluride ski area closed, and the snowpack nudged up to 93 percent of average in early April. But it couldn’t quite get to average…

The snowpack [in the San Juans) had since fallen to 58 percent of average yesterday.

From the Boulder Daily Camera:

The South Platte River Basin, which covers Boulder County and surrounding areas, was the only major basin still reporting 100 percent of average on May 1. That could also mean big runs in local waters such as Boulder Creek, Clear Creek and the St. Vrain River.

From the Durango Herald:

As of Friday, the Animas, San Juan, Dolores and San Miguel river basins recorded only 60 percent of their average 30-year snowpack…

The other seven major river basins recorded from 79 to 101 percent of their average snow accumulation. “Snowpack accumulations reached their maximum seasonal totals during April and exceeded the average seasonal maximum in all of the state’s major river basins with the exception of one,” the release said. As a result of wet storms, the peak snowpack statewide, reached April 19, was 109 percent of average, the NRCS release said.

Reservoirs in Southwest Colorado held 110 percent of average storage Friday, the agency release said. Only two river basins, the Gunnison and the Yampa/ White, recorded higher reservoir storage averages, 130 and 111 percent, respectively.

Gunnison River: New flow regime in Black Canyon takes effect

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Last year irrigators, conservationists, bureaucrats, sportsmen and others reached a landmark agreement on flows in the Gunnison River through Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. Here’s a release from Colorado Trout Unlimited and Western Resource Advocates about the program’s first year:

May 7, 2009

Drew Peternell, Trout Unlimited, (303) 440-2917, x. 102
Bart Miller, Western Resource Advocates, (303) 444-1188, x. 219

In Black Canyon, a New Era of Water Management Begins

The rebirth of a Colorado river begins this month, as water officials start to put the landmark 2008 Black Canyon of the Gunnison settlement into effect.

On May 7, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) operators made the first release in a new flow regime that is expected to help restore the Gunnison River canyon ecosystem and return it to a more natural state.

“After years of hard work by Trout Unlimited and other conservation groups, this is the payoff,” said Drew Peternell, director of Trout Unlimited’s Colorado Water Project. “With these renewed flows, the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon will experience a rebirth, and its priceless natural resources will be safeguarded for generations to come.”

After 30 years of uncertainty and nearly a decade of contentious legal wrangling, a Colorado court earlier this year approved a final settlement that set up enhanced flows to protect the natural resources of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, including its world-famous trout fishery.

Under the Bush administration, the National Park Service had attempted to abandon some of its water right in the Park. But a team of conservation groups, including Trout Unlimited and Western Resource Advocates, challenged the decision in federal court and won—and the historic 2006 ruling for the first time established the U.S. government’s responsibility to maintain the park’s water right and natural resources.

Two years later, the state water court approved an historic settlement that guarantees the river a year-round minimal base flow of 300 cubic feet per second and higher annual peak flows and shoulder flows, the size of which would be tied to natural water availability each spring. These variable flows will help restore the balance of the river’s habitat and ecosystem.

This spring, the settlement will be implemented for the first time. In the coming week, water releases from the Aspinall Unit will increase each day until reaching a peak flow of about 6,000 cfs in the Black Canyon on May 13, after which the releases will begin to drop until leveling off at approximately 1,900 cfs in the Black Canyon and Gunnison Gorge on May 21, according to BOR officials.

Among other benefits, the higher flows will help flush out sediment deposits that have caused whirling disease and other problems for trout, clear out encroaching vegetation and woody debris, and help maintain the river channel.

“2009 is an important milestone,” said Bart Miller, attorney for Western Resource Advocates. “It marks the year when flows in the Gunnison strike a new balance. The new flow regime shows what dedicated stakeholders can do when they put their heads together—meet important ecological needs as well many other water uses in the basin.”

In coming months, TU and other groups will monitor the new flow regime for compliance with the settlement. And they will watch closely as a renowned Colorado river gets a new lease on life.

The conservation groups involved in the effort were Trout Unlimited, Western Resource Advocates, Environmental Defense Fund, High Country Citizens’ Alliance, National Parks Conservation Association, The Wilderness Society, Western Colorado Congress, and Western Slope Environmental Resource Council. In addition to in-house attorneys at Trout Unlimited and Western Resource Advocates, the law firm of Hogan and Hartson provided pro bono legal service to the conservation team.

More coverage from the Denver Post (Mark Jaffe):

Releases will increase over the next few days until the Gunnison River in the canyon rises to six times its current flow — aiming to simulate natural spring runoff and help restore the park’s river ecosystem…

The state was wary of the park getting a federal water right because virtually all water rights in Colorado are granted by the state, Peternell said. Hydropower and agriculture interests both looked to guard their use of Gunnison River water, and there was resistance to sending so much water down the river rather than storing it, Peternell said. An agreement balancing all the interests was finally struck Jan. 31, 2008, and filed as a decree in Colorado water court.

On Thursday, the first water from that accord flowed out of the Aspinall Unit. “We are ramping up gradually, in part for safety reasons. We want to give people in the canyon ample time to get out before the high water,” said Dan Crabtree, the bureau’s water-resources group chief. The river’s level at the park’s entrance is projected to rise from 3.5 feet to 8.5 feet. Since the unit — a series of three dams and reservoirs — was begun in 1963, average peak flows through the Black Canyon have dropped to roughly 1,700 cubic feet per second from more than 4,500 cfs, according to an Aspinall environmental assessment. Before 1937, the average peak flow was more than 6,000 cfs. By next Thursday, with additional releases from Crystal Reservoir, the flow will rise for 24 hours to nearly 6,000 cfs from 1,000 cfs.

More from email from Reclamation (Dan Crabtree):

Reclamation has developed an operation plan for the upcoming weeks which will allow the Black Canyon Water Right to be met and satisfy other project purposes as well. The May 1st forecast for the April through July runoff into Blue Mesa Reservoir is 690,000 ac-ft. Consequently, the Black Canyon Water Right calls for a 24 hr peak flow of almost 6,000 cfs (5,864 cfs according to the decree). Next week, side-inflows into Crystal Reservoir are expected to maintain a level at which releases from Morrow Point by-passes can be minimized and Morrow Point Spillways will not be required to meet the 6,000 cfs peak. By-pass releases from Morrow Point Reservoir will be adjusted as necessary so that, when combined with side-inflows, the water right will be satisfied. The Gunnison Tunnel is expected to divert approximately 900 cfs during this period. The Colorado Basin River Forecast Center tells us there is a 50% chance the North Fork of the Gunnison will also peak next week so we will be monitoring high water conditions below its confluence with the Gunnison.

Beginning Thursday, May 7th, releases from Crystal Reservoir will increase each day until reaching approximately 6,900 cfs (6,000 cfs in the Black Canyon) by the evening of Wednesday May 13th. Releases will begin to ramp down starting the morning of Friday, May 15th and will level off at 2,800 cfs (1,900 cfs in the Black Canyon and Gunnison Gorge) on the afternoon of Thursday, May 21st. As always, this operation may be modified at any time in response to current or future hydrologic conditions, and safety or mechanical issues.

Click here to get to the meeting minutes from the April Aspinall Unit operations meeting.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here and here.