Precedent-Setting Decision Made by Colorado Water Conservation Board; First-of-Its-Kind Relationship Built Between Board and Pitkin County for Local Streamflows

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From The Aspen Times (Janet Urquhart):

The nine voting members of the Colorado Water Conservation Board approved a trust agreement with the county Monday in Denver after a four-and-a-half-hour hearing. “Everybody had smiles on their faces — except the opponents,” said John Ely, county attorney, in a telephone interview at the close of the proceedings. The CWCB staff, Pitkin County and representatives of Trout Unlimited and the Colorado Water Trust spoke in favor of the trust arrangement, as did the city of Aspen’s water counsel, Ely said.

Opponents included the Basalt Water Conservancy District, Starwood Metropolitan District, Willow-Herrick Ditch Co. and the Roaring Fork Land and Cattle Co., he said. All of the opponents expressed concern that the county’s plan to devote some of its water rights to in-stream flows in the Roaring Fork River would impact their own water transactions. The Basalt Water Conservancy District, for example, essentially capitalizes on lower flows on the Roaring Fork by selling water to users upstream of the Fryingpan River’s confluence with the Roaring Fork, according to Ely. The users take water from the upper Roaring Fork; it is replaced by water the district owns in Ruedi Reservoir, which is released into the Fryingpan and flows into the Roaring Fork at Basalt.

The trust agreement approved Monday will allow the county to donate 4.2 cubic feet per second of water rights it holds on Maroon Creek to the CWCB, the only the only entity in the state that may hold in-stream flow rights to protect the natural environment. Other water rights can be added to the trust agreement — the allocations must also be approved by the state water court — or withdrawn over time. Or, the trust can be revoked in its entirety. The county doesn’t lose its water rights, it simply donates them to boost river flows for whatever period of time it wants to, Ely said. “We’re not giving it away,” he said. “We still own it.”

More coverage from the Aspen Daily News (Brent Gardner-Smith). From the article:

“It is in the best interest of the state as a whole if the CWCB acquires the water right,” Susan Schneider, an assistant attorney general in the state’s Natural Resources and Environment department told the CWCB board Monday.

After a five-hour hearing, the board approved the proposal unanimously…

The ditch water comes out of Maroon Creek, which flows into the Roaring Fork River just to the west of the Aspen Meadows resort property. To put the 4.3 cfs of water into context, there was 114 cfs of water in the Roaring Fork River below Maroon Creek on Monday. It was the first such trust entered into by the CWCB since the passage last year of Colorado House Bill 1280, which strengthened the ability of the CWCB to protect water rights it is holding for minimum stream flow purposes. The bill was sponsored by state Sen. Gail Schwartz of Snowmass Village.

“This is a precedent setting transaction,” said Amy Beatie, executive director of the Colorado Water Trust. “The trust agreement provides a model for all other water users in the state that have water rights that are not currently being used, such as municipalities that have developed water supplies beyond their immediate needs.”[…]

The trust also includes a provision for the county to transfer another 34 different water rights, equal to about 20 cfs, that it owns into the trust arrangement with the CWCB. The county could also add water rights to the trust that it acquires through its Healthy Rivers and Streams fund…

The Stapleton Brothers Ditch water right owned by the county pre-dates the 1922 Colorado River water compact, which means that states downstream of Colorado, including Arizona, California and Nevada, could not demand that Colorado send the 4.3 cfs of water to them in a drought situation.

More coverage from The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka). From the article:

The water rights are owned by Pitkin County and were acquired partly for conservation purposes. However, under Colorado water law, only the CWCB can own an in-stream flow right. Traditionally, senior water rights not put to use would become part of the stream flow and available to junior appropriators. Under the 2008 law, the state may buy or lease those senior rights purely for conservation purposes. In January, Pitkin County asked the CWCB to approve the donation of rights through a revocable trust, the first test of 2008’s HB1280. The flow of 19 cubic feet per second comes on Maroon Creek through the Stapleton Ditch, which once served Aspen’s Airport. It is the first of 34 potential water rights in Pitkin County that eventually could be donated.

More HB 08-1280 coverage here.

West Divide Creek: Garfield County is asking the Colorado Oil and Gas Commission to step up enforcement

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From the Glenwood Springs Post Indpendent (John Colson):

In 2004, chemicals began bubbling to the surface of the creek in a display of contamination generally attributed to nearby gas drilling activities, and which ultimately led to a moratorium on gas drilling in the area. The moratorium was canceled after approximately a year, however, after industry and state officials concluded that the seep had been “mitigated” by the application of additional cement to the bore drilled for the gas well. In 2008, however, [West Divide Creek basin resident Lisa Bracken] reported that the creek had begun showing signs of contamination again, and the county hired geologist Geoffrey Thyne to investigate her claims. Thyne’s findings indicated that there are signs that the re-cementing of the well bore reduced the release of gases into the surrounding ground water. But, he wrote, “It has not fully corrected the problem, and natural gas along with other harmful constituents continue to leak into the aquifer of West Divide Creek.”

The COGCC, at a hearing in Garfield County last July, promised to have the EnCana gas company, which was drilling near the Bracken property in 2004, work with Bracken to fix the problem. Bracken said that cooperation was supposed to include “thorough water monitoring” of the area near her home and the creek. But Bracken told the commissioners on Monday that EnCana had come out to inspect the scene once and that she has had “very little correspondence” with the company since.

More oil and gas coverage here and here.

Alamosa: Report on 2008 salmonella outbreak blames aging infrastructure, inspection regime

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The Colorado Department of Health and Environment is starting to require more chlorine dosing for water systems in the state. Here’s a report from David Olinger writing for The Denver Post. From the article:

Colorado has revoked waivers from as many as 72 public drinking-water systems and is now requiring chlorine treatment of most public supplies as part of the response to a salmonella-poisoning epidemic that ravaged Alamosa last year. A Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment report released Wednesday confirmed earlier suspicions that a decrepit infrastructure allowed deadly bacteria from animals to invade Alamosa’s 320,000-gallon Weber Reservoir. Still, the report said, had the city used chlorine to disinfect its water supply, the bacteria might not have grown. That finding has now prompted the state to redouble its efforts to require chlorine treatment in most places where the public shares a water supply…

When asked what could have prevented the epidemic, state drinking-water program manager Ron Falco, the report’s co-author, answered, “Chlorination.” Alamosa had been exempted since 1974 from a state requirement to treat drinking water with chlorine, which kills salmonella bacteria. The state report concludes that salmonella bacteria from animal feces probably got into Alamosa’s drinking-water supply early in March 2008 and infected the entire city water system during the next week…

The Alamosa report cited “a perfect storm of multiple defects” in the city water system at the time of the outbreak: the chlorination waiver, poor maintenance, incorrect bacteria testing and inadequate supervision by a chronically short-staffed state drinking-water program. After the enclosed, ground-level reservoir was drained during the epidemic, the crew entering it found holes “through which daylight could be seen” and waded through layers of sediment estimated at 12 to 18 inches deep in places. It had not been drained and cleaned in 24 years.

Inspectors also found:

• There were 145 gallons of sediment and missing bolts in a city water tower of unknown age, possibly built in the 1930s. The bolt holes could have exposed the tower’s water to bird feces.

• Two mortuaries and a meat-packing and restaurant property posed an “extreme hazard” that water from their buildings could back into the public supply.

• Alamosa’s tests for coliform bacteria in its water had not complied with federal requirements for diverse sampling in the distribution system…

In Alamosa, the underground water pumped into its reservoir was warm — 75 degrees or more, a welcome environment for bacteria. Its warmth also attracted wildlife, birds and small mammals to the top of the fenced reservoir in winter. A tiny bit of salmonella-infected feces invading its holes or cracks “most likely” caused a massive disease outbreak, the report concluded. “Millions, or even billions, of germs can be released in the feces of an infected human or animal,” the report said, and a child can be infected by as few as 10 to 100 salmonella organisms.

Some towns that lost their chlorination waivers after Alamosa’s outbreak are complying with state orders reluctantly. “We had quite the round with them over that,” said Mark Brown, city superintendent in Holyoke. “We know we have good-quality water. We run our system correctly.”

More Alamosa coverage here and here.

Aspinall Unit update

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From email from Reclamation (Dan Crabtree):

Flows in the Black Canyon and Gunnison Gorge have stabilized at 500 cfs and will remain there until about the first week of December when releases will increase to around 900 – 1000 cfs for higher power demands and to achieve the December 31 Blue Mesa elevation target.

More Aspinall Unit coverage here.