Reclamation will be hosting the January Aspinall Operations Meeting on Thursday, January 21, 2010 at the Holiday Inn Express, 1391 Townsend, Montrose, Colorado. The meeting will start at 1:00 p.m. We will be discussing recent operations, maintenance activities, and even though it’s early in the snowfall season, possible spring and summer operations. Dan Kowalski, Colorado Division of Wildlife, will be presenting the results of the 2009 Gunnison Gorge trout inventory. Other topics related to Gunnison Basin water issues may be discussed as appropriate. Reclamation welcomes input and public comment regarding Aspinall Unit Operations, so we’d love to hear from you.
From email from the Colorado Water Conservation Board (Ben Wade):
The next meeting of the Water Availability Task Force (WATF) is scheduled for Friday, January 22, 2010 from 9:30a-12p at the Colorado Division of Wildlife Headquarters, 6060 Broadway, Denver, CO, in the Bighorn Room. A meeting agenda will be sent shortly and will also be posted on the CWCB website.
The Sterling office of the Colorado Division of Water Resources hosted farmers, ditch riders and other guests at an open house and lunch last week. Also attending from the state office were Dick Wolfe, state engineer; Jim Hall, division engineer; Scott Cuthbertson, assistant state engineer; Kevin Rein, assistant state engineer; Jeff Deatherage and Sara Reinsel. This is the third year the office has hosted the event, according to Brent Schantz, District 1 and 64 water commissioner. The area represented stretches from the Wyoming border to Elbert County and Kersey to Julesburg, he said.
Taking a look at sites near Telluride, the snowpack is a little off average. At Red Mountain Pass, the base is about 84 percent of the average. At Lizard Head Pass, the snow is at 90 percent. And at Lone Cone, the gauge reads 87.4 percent. At the Telluride Ski Resort, all lifts are open but 13 (Race Hill), and of the 112 inches of snow that have fallen this season, the base has accumulated to about 36 inches, according to the resort’s Web site. While that certainly does not keep pace with the epic snows of two seasons ago at this time, it’s not off par for where the mountain historically is this time of year.
The debate over whether there’s actually a “right to float” in Colorado played out locally before. In a high-profile case a few years ago, an outfitter who had historically boated the Lake Fork of the Gunnison River was sued for civil trespass, for floating through private land. The company, Cannibal Outdoors, ultimately went out of business amidst the litigation.
The case was settled out of court, so the matter never became part of case law. The question of whether landowners have grounds for such civil suits has lingered in the minds of proponents of the state’s $142 million river running industry ever since. It’s widely recognized that current law protects boaters from a criminal charge if they don’t touch bottom while floating through private property. Likewise, it’s long been held that property owners of parcels through which rivers and streams flow own the underlying stream bed. “Both sides definitely have enough information to create their own philosophies about what these laws say,” said Bob Hamel, chairman of the Colorado River Outfitters Association and owner of Arkansas River Tours in Cotopaxi.
Local water attorney John Hill represented the landowners in the case on the Lake Fork, and has staunchly argued that there is no right to float in Colorado. He believes that landowners have the legal right to control access to waterways because they own the underlying streambed.
“We don’t think that’s the way it is or should be,” countered Hamel. “We’re trying to protect an industry. We’re being pushed.”
Hill, whose firm is currently representing the landowner on the Taylor River who is attempting to bar access by commercial outfitters, said that Curry’s bill is unconstitutional. Allowing commercial boaters to portage, he argued, is a “taking” with no prospect for just compensation. “This is a physical invasion taking,” he explained. “It’s authorizing people to go on private property.”[…]
Jackson Shaw, a Texas-based real estate development company, purchased what has historically been called the Wapiti Ranch, six miles up the Taylor Canyon from Almont, for $20.5 million in late summer 2007. The approximately 2,000-acre hay meadow down-river of Harmel’s Resort is now the site of a subdivision development called Wilder on the Taylor. Company CEO Lewis Shaw II is a part-time resident of the nearby Crystal Creek community along the Taylor River. Historically, Scenic River Tours and Three Rivers Outfitting have guided float trips through the section of river that flows through the new development, without cause for alarm from the previous owner. That’s changed since Jackson Shaw became the new owners. Lewis Shaw has informed the two local outfitters that they won’t be allowed to continue floating the section of river that flows through the development, threatening legal action if they don’t abide. Wilder on the Taylor is what Hill’s partner and longtime local water attorney Dick Bratton called a “recreational fishing subdivision.” Jackson Shaw has conducted improvements on the property, and in the river, to improve the fishing, he said. Similarly, the Cannibal case was over the same competing interests. The landowners maintained a fishing lease on the section of water in question, with which they believed the frequent commercial raft trips interfered. “If this guy had owned this river in his family for the last hundred years I would feel somewhat differently,” Mark Schumacher, owner of Three Rivers, said of Lewis Shaw. “But he bought the property to make it a fishing (subdivision) and he knew that people floated through it. We just don’t want anything taken away that we’ve been doing for 20 years.”[…]
Curry plans to introduce the bill — which, she said, she agreed to carry for the two local outfitters — in coming weeks. She expects a constitutional challenge of the bill, should it be written into law, but views it as necessary for protecting commercial rafting in Colorado. Bratton, on the other hand, calls the proposal a “special interest” bill, because it would only protect two companies on a two-mile stretch of one river…
“In Colorado, it’s almost impossible to float a river without touching something,” said Curry. “The statute does not realistically address normal boating conditions in this state.”
More coverage from the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Bobby Magill):
Though the controversies sparking the bill originate along the Taylor River in Gunnison County, the bill could impact all commercially navigable rivers statewide, including the Poudre. “The need is, somebody who owns property could stop you from floating,” said one of the bill’s chief proponents, David Costlow of Rocky Mountain Adventures in Fort Collins. “There are a number of businesses that could be shut down.”
The bill, the River Rafting Jobs Protection Act, would allow commercial river outfitters to float on waterways that have historically been used for float trips. The bill would prevent the outfitters from being liable for criminal or civil trespass as long as they access the waterway via a public right of way.
Rafters would also be given the right to make “incidental” contact with the riverbank or the riverbed and a similar right to portaging, all of which today may lead to a trespassing charge. “The gist of the bill is that they cannot block the river and cannot deny the right of commercial outfitters to pass through,” Curry said Monday.
From the Highlands Ranch Herald (Chris Michlewicz):
Paul Grundemann was the first employee to be hired by Centennial Water, and was instrumental in the development and delivery of water and wastewater services for Highlands Ranch. For 26 years, he served as the director of operations for the burgeoning district and dedicated his entire career to the water industry. “Paul led a number of innovative projects throughout the development of the Highlands Ranch community,” said Centennial Water & Sanitation District General Manager John Hendrick. Grundemann used pioneering approaches to serve water and wastewater customers and even implemented the use of aquifer storage and recovery, which has been a successful water storage strategy for Centennial Water for many years. He also was involved with the Pankake Ranch project, an efficient permanent site for the disposal of wastewater solids…
Grundemann, who served as a leader on a number of statewide commissions, councils and committees, developed the application of GIS for water and wastewater infrastructure, and managed a sophisticated energy conservation program that significantly reduced energy consumption from the water and wastewater plants in Highlands Ranch. He also oversaw the design and construction of several in-house projects that protected water quality and saved Centennial Water hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Shareholders for the San Luis Peoples Ditch unveiled their plans to reduce flooding and secured $40,000 from the Rio Grande Basin Roundtable Tuesday. The ditch, which, with an 1852 water right, is the oldest in the state, has been overwhelmed with floodwaters in recent years because of faulty infrastructure that keeps it from shedding the excess flows. “This is becoming a bigger and bigger problem to us,” said Conrad Trujillo, the ditch company’s president. The 7-mile long ditch diverts water from Culebra Creek southeast of San Luis and waters 2,100 acres stretching west of town. There are 23 shareholders in the company. When functioning properly, the ditch’s crossover structure and headgates on the southern edge of town can divert the excess flows into the Rito Seco stream bed and on to the Culebra. But that was not the case as recently as last summer when a cloud burst sent water from the Rito Seco into the ditch at a rate of 100 cubic feet per second…
Craig Cotton, the division water engineer, said he would support the revamping of the Peoples Ditch because the ditch is also taking on water from the Rito Seco, which needs to go back into the Culebra to fill downstream water rights. The project would replace a headgate and culvert that could send floodwaters back down the Rito Seco. In addition to the $40,000 from the roundtable, the Costilla Conservancy District has pledged $20,000. “We’re just asking to do a state-of-the-art job so that this doesn’t have to be done for another 100 years,” Cortez said. “We’re reaching out for resources wherever we can to get the job done right.” Down the road, the ditch company also hopes to pipe roughly 1,600 feet of the ditch through a section that now includes a crumbling, cement-lined ditch that loses up to 30 percent of its capacity. The crumbling ditch has forced shareholders to divert the water into lateral ditches that have more trouble carrying the water to the right places. The last phase of the ditch’s overhaul would include a new diversion structure at the Culebra.
More coverage from the Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):
In a rare split decision of the diverse water group on Tuesday, the roundtable board voted to spend $50,000 out of its local basin account for further river restoration efforts on the Rio Grande. The vote was not unanimous, with Cindy Medina voting against the funding. Medina said although this project was worthwhile, the roundtable had already provided funding for it in the past and she believed with the financial resources dwindling the group should consider spending its remaining funds on projects that have not yet received any money from the group…
At the beginning of Tuesday’s water meeting, the Rio Grande Roundtable had about $202,000 in its local basin account. At the end of the day, the group had $87,000 left in the basin account. On Tuesday the group voted to provide $40,000 to the San Luis Peoples Ditch for an upgrade and rehabilitation project near San Luis, $25,000 to assist Judy Lopez’s educational efforts and $50,000 to continue Rio Grande stabilization…
Projects receiving basin support on Tuesday (still to go to the state for final approval) were:
>[?• San Luis Peoples Ditch. The roundtable approved $40,000 out of basin funds for Phase I of this project that will reconstruct the main headgate for the ditch, as it has deteriorated over time, and rebuild banks that have eroded. “We are jeopardizing a couple of houses that are right next to it where the bank has washed out,” explained Ditch President Conrad Trujillo. He said San Luis experienced a flash flood last year that caused problems for area residents. Colorado Division of Water Resources Division III Division Engineer Craig Cotten said in addition to flooding problems, the ditch has contributed to water right issues.
• Education. The roundtable approved $25,000 over two years to assist Judy Lopez’s educational work. Lopez, a former classroom teacher, has served as a conservation education specialist for five years. Her work is varied and includes educational activities with K-12 students, teacher workshops, conservation curriculum activities, project learning oversight, water festival management, Beaver Creek junior conservation camp coordination, land owner workshops and representation at conferences and community events.
• Rio Grande stabilization. The roundtable approved $50,000 from basin account funds for continued river restoration/stabilization efforts. The group is also requesting $98,0000 from the state funds but that money may not be available. The $148,000 total project is Phase 4 of riparian stabilization to include such tasks as stream bank and stream channel modification and sediment reduction.
The Joint Budget Committee has asked Jennifer Gimbel, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, to assess the impact of transferring $106.5 million from water project funds to the state general fund, said Reed Dils, the basin’s representative on the CWCB. Gimbel is scheduled to speak to the JBC today. The move would come on top of a $107 million transfer last year from the CWCB’s construction funds. That would leave only about $70,000 in the funds. “The combination of taking over $213 million could reduce the value of the funds by $287 million over the next 20 years,” Gimbel said in written comments shared with the roundtable by Dils. The construction fund and perpetual base account of the mineral severance trust fund are used to fund water projects of all sizes in Colorado through low-interest loans.
The $300 million Arkansas Valley Conduit, which is in line for a federal allocation of $5 million, received CWCB approval for a $60 million loan from the CWCB. At the same time, there are $105 million worth of projects under $10 million each lined up in the next decade, Gimbel said. “These projects allow water users to put their rights to the maximum beneficial use and increase their economic viability,” Gimbel said. “On the larger scale, the state will not be able to meet its water needs in the near future without water projects moving forward.” Smaller communities, in particular, are hard-pressed to fund those projects and have relied on state funds…
There have been no formal suggestions to use the water funds to balance the state budget, and the CWCB might have a better idea of legislative intent by its meeting later this month, Dils said. “It’s unknown what will happen,” Dils said. “Last year was rough, and if you don’t already know it, the next year looks like it will be worse.”
Roundtable members agreed with Dils that lawmakers need to fully understand the impact of raiding the water funds. “The giant majority of legislators don’t understand water,” said Bud Elliott, mayor of Leadville. “What the letter doesn’t say is that water is more valuable than money when it comes to our future.”