Runoff News: Colorado-Big Thompson, Aspinall Unit update

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From email from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

This week, due to cooler temperatures, melting snow down the Big Thompson River into Lake Estes dropped off considerably. While Lake Estes is filled primarily by C-BT water coming from the west slope and delivered through the Estes Power Plant, we have been moving that water on down through the project and into Horsetooth Reservoir. When the natural inflow from Big Thompson dropped off, that dropped the water level of Lake Estes down a full foot to around 7470–about five feet below full. We anticipate that over the weekend, we will be able to store a little more behind Olympus Dam and raise the water level of Lake Estes back up that foot to around 7471 or maybe even 7472.

Downstream of Lake Estes, the Big Thompson River through the canyon has been fluctuating, reflecting the inflows we have been seeing from the upper Big Thompson River to the reservoir. We have been passing matching inflows through Olympus Dam on down through the canyon. The changing temperatures play the largest role: when it is warmer, more snow melts during the day, causing flows in the Big Thompson to rise at night. We adjust the gate at Olympus Dam to reflect those flows and pass them on down to the canyon. But, when it cools off, the inverse happens, less snow melts, and flows in the river drop off. That is why the Big Thompson below Olympus Dam started at around 175 on Monday, bumped up to near 300 cfs on Tuesday, dropped to just under 200 cfs on Wednesday, and is now flowing around 125 cfs. Depending on what the weather does, we will adjust the release from Olympus Dam at night to match the snowmelt coming down the river.

“Down canal” from Lake Estes is Pinewood Reservoir. Pinewood stores water above Flatiron Power Plant before we drop the water down the penstocks to generate hydro-electric power at the plant. We have been doing some upgrades at Flatiron for several months–and that will continue through the summer. Because of that, we are generating with one unit instead of two. This means, we cannot run as much water through the plant. So, we are not filling Pinewood as full as it typically has been this time of year in other years. As a result, Pinewood has been holding a fairly steady water elevation of around 6567 most of the spring. On Wednesday, the change in inflow at Lake Estes also effected Pinewood and the water elevation dropped three feet to about 6564–about 16 feet down from full. As we move through the weekend, the elevation at Pinewood will climb back a little bit, but we do not anticipate it getting much higher than 6570–ten feet down from full.

Carter Lake has remained steady at an elevation of 5753–about six feet down from full. Once warmer weather hits, we anticipate water users will begin to pull their water from Carter Lake. But, the rain has staved that off a bit. We anticipate Carter will maintain this water elevation through the weekend.

Similarly, Horsetooth Reservoir has been holding at a steady elevation of about 5416, almost 5417. Like Carter, we have not seen much water go out of Horsetooth, yet, for water users. Again, the rain is probably holding that off. We have been bringing only a little water into Horsetooth Reservoir over the past week because water users downstream on the Big Thompson River are taking some of their C-BT water. If that demand drops off and the cool weather continues, Horsetooth will rise slightly. Otherwise, it is likely to maintain the same water elevation through the weekend, as well.

From email from Reclamation (Dan Crabtree):

Blue Mesa Reservoir has been increasing in elevation at a rate of about 1 ft per day and the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center tells us the April – July inflow volume is likely to increase to over 700,000 ac-ft. To accommodate this change in inflow, releases from the Aspinall Unit will increase by 200 cfs on May 29th. Following this change, flows in the Black Canyon and Gunnison Gorge will be about 2,100 cfs.

Greeley: Water supply meets standards

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From The Tribune:

The 2008 Consumer Confidence Report for the Greeley water department released on Wednesday revealed no violations of state or federal water quality standards. The department has never violated standards described in the report, although the department has erred in administering a small number of tests in past years. The failed tests were not a cause for concern, the report said.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here.

CWCB: Instream flow water rights

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Here’s a recap of this week’s meeting of the Colorado Water Conservation Board Stream and Lake Section this week in Montrose, from Mallory George writing for the Montrose Daily Press. From the article:

“We are here to balance human needs with some reasonable preservation of the natural environment,” said Jeff Baessler, the deputy section chief at CWCB. He cited the Tragedy of the Commons, in which everyone has free use of resources and eventually exhaust those resources because of lack of regulation, as the need for water appropriations…

After groups such as the Bureau of Land Management, a homeowners association and the U.S. Forest Service recommended 54 streams and rivers to be protected this year, the CWCB began conducting tests to ensure that a natural environment exists, which is typically, but not always, marked by fishery. Baessler said the CWCB also makes sure that the natural environment in question will be preserved by the water available for appropriation. Not all of the water in streams is recommended to be a part of the instream flow program, just enough to preserve the environment. The water is then unavailable for consumptive use. The final statutory requirement the board must meet before finalizing an appropriation is to ensure that the new appropriation will not conflict with an existing water right.

Hydrologists are currently conducting water availability tests, while other Stream and Lake Protection staff members are meeting with local governments and communities to address concerns. In January, the Stream and Lake Protection Section will present recommendations to the CWCB, which will then declare intent for the appropriations. Baessler discussed the Division 4 recommendations, which include those in Montrose, Gunnison, Hinsdale and Delta counties. Big Dominguez Creek, Little Dominguez Creek, an increase to the Blue Creek instream flow, South Willow Creek, Alpine Creek, Spring Creek, two sections of Cebolla Creek, Red Canyon Creek, the San Miguel River, three segments of Tabeguache Creek, North Fork Tabeguache Creek, two sections of Cochetopa Creek and East Beaver Creek were recommended to the department. The San Miguel River section — from Calamity Draw to the Dolores River — which holds several sensitive species of fish, prompted confusion when it was initially recommended in February 2008 because people were concerned there would not be enough water available for consumption…

In the Uravan area, many of the water rights belong to Umetco Minerals Co., which operates a uranium mill. The company is in the process of remediating and closing down its operations and is estimated to finish by the end of this year. In anticipation of that, and for the CWCB to receive those water rights, a study was conducted by the Stream and Lake Section, the Southwester Water Conservation District and Harris Water Engineering, Inc., that resulted in several recommendations for the area. “We tried to create a package of the best water rights for local entities and the state as well,” said Dan Merriman of Harris Water Engineering. The study recommended that two Tabeguache wells and a Uravan well be given to Montrose for its use. Three other wells and the San Miguel Power Company Canal water rights would be abandoned; that is, they would be relinquished to the stream, but not be protected instream flows. Johnson Ditch water rights would shift to local government entities such as Nucla, Naturita and Montrose Country to meet existing and future needs, Merriman said. Until Umetco is out of the area, however, these recommendations cannot be carried out.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here and here.

Invasive mussels: Inspections required at Rifle Gap and Harvey Gap state parks

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From The Citizen Telegram:

Starting June 1, all trailered watercraft must be inspected for aquatic nuisance species (ANS), including zebra and quagga mussels, prior to launch at Rifle Gap and Harvey Gap State Parks…

“Boats may be inspected at Rifle Gap from 7 a.m. until 9 p.m., seven days per week,” said Aaron Fero, park manager for Rifle Gap and Harvey Gap State Parks. “Inspection hours at Harvey Gap will be limited to Saturdays and Sundays from 7 a.m. until 5 p.m.” In August, the inspection hours at both parks will decrease. However, inspections will still be available seven days per week. Visitors wishing to launch boats when the park inspection stations are closed will be required to have proof of a pre-inspection.

More coverage from the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel:

Visitors launching boats prior to or after inspection hours will be required to have proof of a pre-inspection. The pre-inspection sticker will be available on days prior to boating and will be valid for one entry only. Parks rangers will be monitoring craft entering and leaving the reservoirs.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here.

Brush: Stormwater fees go up

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From The Fort Morgan Times:

An increase in storm water fees for residents of Brush was approved during Tuesday night’s meeting of the Brush City Council. The measure raises rates by three cents, from 10 to 13 cents a month per lineal foot of frontage on any property that has a curb and gutter installed. Corner lots will be charged only for the length of frontage from which the property takes its address. The increase goes into effect July 1, and is intended to offset costs the city will incur for the Downtown/Clayton Street storm water project. Studies done in 2005 led Brush to develop a storm water master plan that addressed five areas of hazardous flooding in the city. One of those, the Williams Street Loop area, has already been resolved. Though the three-cent increase is not the final solution in obtaining funds to fix all four remaining areas, the city council decided during a previous meeting that a six-cent increase so abruptly was not in the city’s best interest, and the small increase over time was preferred.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here.

Glenwood Canyon: Whitewater Standup Paddling Championships May 30-31

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Here’s a preview of the event, from Jeff Caspersen writing for the Glenwood Springs Post Independent. From the article:

[Charlie MacArthur], who owns and operates Aspen Kayak Academy, and his longtime friend, and fellow whitewater fiend, Paul Tefft, are bringing the Whitewater Stand Up Paddling Championships to the Colorado River this weekend. The event is the first of its kind, as far as MacArthur and Tefft know, and the pair hope it lends competitive legitimacy to a sport that’s still very much in its infancy.

With roots dating back to the early days of Polynesia, stand-up paddling, or SUP, is well rooted in coastal communities. It’s basically surfing, with boards longer and wider than your traditional surfboard, and with the aid of a long, single-bladed paddle. While much of the sport’s history has played out on the flat water, SUP is catching on with inlanders in the Roaring Fork Valley, who are taking to this new way of tackling the rushing rapids of local rivers.

Republican River Water Conservation District Board of Directors approve purchase and sale of groundwater rights for compliance pipeline

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Here’s a release from the RRWCD via The Yuma Pioneer:

On Monday, May 18, the Republican River Water Conservation District Board of Directors voted to authorize closing on the $49.1 million purchase and sale of the groundwater rights for the Republican River Compact Compliance Pipeline.

The decision came even though the Republican River Compact Administration has not yet approved the augmentation plan and accounting procedures for the pipeline project.

After questioning Deputy State Engineer Mike Sullivan at length and taking comments from the public, the RRWCD Board of Directors voted to authorize the closing because of concern that the $60 million loan funds from the Colorado Water Conservation Board may not be available in the future due to the state’s current budget situation.

The board recognized that Colorado is exceeding its statewide Compact allocations and that the pipeline project is needed to avoid an action by Nebraska or Kansas for an injunction against Colorado to halt well pumping in the district until Colorado is in compliance with its compact allocations.

The RRWCD Board also recognized that Kansas believes that Colorado is impairing Kansas’ ability to use its South Fork sub-basin allocation within the South Fork sub-basin. The RRWCD Board has requested assurances from the State of Colorado that if the board goes forward with the pipeline project, Colorado will drain Bonny Reservoir or take other actions equivalent to draining Bonny Reservoir if Kansas is correct regarding its interpretation of the Final Settlement Stipulation between the states.

Although the State of Colorado has not provided the assurances sought by the board, the board concluded that the only feasible way to comply with Kansas’ view of the sub-basin non-impairment requirement in the South Fork sub-basin is to drain Bonny Reservoir.

The State of Colorado is continuing negotiations with Nebraska and Kansas in an effort to get the Republican River Compact Administration’s approval of the augmentation plan and accounting procedures for the pipeline project. If the negotiations are not successful, the State of Colorado will pursue the dispute resolution process established in the Final Settlement Stipulation, which includes non-binding arbitration of disputes.

For more information, contact Stan Murphy at the RRWCD office, 410 Main Street, Ste 8, in Wray, call 332-3552, or email

More Coyote Gulch coverage here and here.

Southern Delivery System: Conservation groups ask for Corps of Engineers for extension for comment period

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The Rocky Mountain Environmental Labor Coalition has asked the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to extend the deadline for public comment on Colorado Springs’ application for a permit for the Southern Delivery System. The Corps is preparing an environmental review of the $1.1 billion pipeline project that would build a 53-mile pipeline, two new reservoirs and a treatment plant to provide water for Colorado Springs, Security, Fountain and Pueblo West…

The initial time period for comments ends Thursday, just 21 days after the application was announced on May 13. The coalition is asking for a 60-day period ending July 13, said Joe Santarella, the group’s lawyer…

The coalition offered frequent criticism of SDS during Reclamation’s hearings on its EIS, particularly on the potential of the new reservoirs in the project to concentrate levels of mercury on tributaries of Fountain Creek.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here and here.

Pueblo Board of Water Works okays sale of Columbine Ditch

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The sale for $30.48 million would transfer ownership of the ditch 13 miles north of Leadville to Ginn Development for use in its Battle Mountain development near Minturn. The sale won’t be complete for more than two months, however, since Aurora has the opportunity to match terms of the contract within the next 60 days under a 1997 agreement with the Pueblo water board. “We haven’t seen the contract, so I don’t know what we’ll do,” said Mark Pifher, director of Aurora water.

There are still conditions that must be met, including the approval of the Pueblo City Council of the sale of a water right. The water board must also complete its contracts to buy 5,000 shares of the Bessemer Irrigating Ditch Co., or about one-quarter of the ditch that flows from Pueblo Dam through Pueblo and irrigates farms on the St. Charles Mesa. The Columbine contract also provides for continued, limited use of the Columbine Ditch during drought years during the next 25 years. The water board would be able to use up to 250 acre-feet in two of every 10 years. The ditch would otherwise yield 1,300 acre-feet per year. The Bessemer shares could yield as much as 7,500 acre-feet per year.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here and here.

Gary Barber: Aurora is the brother-in-law you wish your sister had never married

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Here’s a recap of this week’s town hall meeting with U.S. Representatives John Salazar and Ed Perlmutter in Rocky Ford, from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

“Listening to everything that’s been said . . . Aurora is the brother-in-law you wish your sister had never married,” said Gary Barber of the Pikes Peak Regional Water Authority. “But he does the dishes at Thanksgiving, so you learn to live with him.” Barber was speaking to Reps. John Salazar and Ed Perlmutter, both Colorado Democrats, at a town hall meeting on the possibility of changing federal legislation to allow Aurora to use the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project to move water out of the Arkansas Valley…

The meeting brought out arguments on both sides centering on the basic question of whether Aurora is needed in the Arkansas Valley to make big projects like the Arkansas Valley Conduit and Super Ditch work. Some contended that Aurora has been a valuable partner, while others objected to removal of water from a high desert valley…

“I was not part of the negotiations, but we’ve been asked to move legislation,” Salazar said. “It’s no secret; I’ve always been a strong opponent of moving any water out of a basin.”[…]

[Pete Moore, chairman of the Lower Ark board] argued that the only way farmers in the valley will realize the full value of their water rights is to bring in outside money by leasing to Aurora. [Bob Rawlings, publisher of The Pueblo Chieftain], both as a party in the lawsuit and through newspaper editorials, has opposed using the Fry-Ark Project to move water to Aurora. Rawlings also argued with Moore over the nature of so-called leases because they are actually sales of water.

Another Lower Ark board member, Pueblo County Commissioner Anthony Nunez, also supported allowing Aurora into the Super Ditch. “If we do not support the idea of the Super Ditch, the farmers will have no choice but to sell to the highest bidder,” Nunez said…

[Gary Barber of the Pikes Peak Regional Water Authority], however, noted El Paso County communities that are in the Arkansas River basin would also like to lease water and signed a memorandum of understanding with the Lower Ark district nearly three years ago agreeing to lease from the Super Ditch. In fact, analysis by the district during formation of the Super Ditch showed El Paso County users were willing to pay a higher price for temporary sales of water, or leases, from the Super Ditch…

Rocky Ford Mayor Matt Holder said his family’s sale of water rights on the Rocky Ford Ditch to Aurora provided the money to save a lumber and supply company that was in danger of closing. Brian Burney said the $1.5 million Aurora paid to help Rocky Ford schools offset ill effects of the sales has been invaluable. High Line Canal Superintendent Dan Henrichs said at least 13 irrigators would have lost their farms were it not for a 2004-05 lease of water from the canal by Colorado Springs and Aurora…

Aurora Mayor Ed Tauer said the agreement would prevent Aurora from acquiring water rights beyond the 37 years left on a previous agreement with other water users. He characterized Aurora’s ability to participate in valley activities like water storage contracts and Super Ditch is a “way forward,” while continued court cases will produce winners and losers. “Let’s go down a different path and see how we can do things together,” Tauer said…

“I do not like to see water separated from the land,” said Betsy Brown, a Beulah rancher. “I would like to see future growth on the Front Range thwarted by not moving water from this basin.”

More coverage from The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The Arkansas Valley Conduit will be built with or without Aurora, U.S. Rep. John Salazar said Thursday. The Colorado 3rd District Democrat said his position on the House Appropriations Committee puts him in good position to shepherd funding for the conduit through Congress. Along with Rep. Betsy Markey, D-Colo., Salazar is backing a $9 million appropriation for the 2010 fiscal year to advance work on the conduit. “That will begin the work that needs to be done,” Salazar said. “These communities after 40 years will finally get built. It’s my No. 1 priority.”[…]

Bill Long, president of the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, said the city of Aurora’s ability to obtain long-term leases for water storage and exchange at Lake Pueblo will help greatly in meeting the local cost of the conduit, which is 35 percent under legislation signed into law by President Barack Obama. That amounts to $105 million under current estimates, or $212 million when interest is applied over 50 years. Aurora’s contracts over that period would contribute $75 million toward that cost and other costs of the Fry-Ark Project…

Without the conduit, communities are facing higher costs to treat salinity, radium and uranium that are commonly found in the valley’s wells. May Valley, for instance, serves 500 people and would have to pay $26 million for upgrades suggested by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment in a recent study, Long said. The conduit is the most affordable option for the 42 valley water systems that could benefit, even though its expense is a burden to low-income communities.

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