Vail Valley scores an additional 500 acre-feet of water from Aurora for water-short years

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From the Vail Daily:

“The old east-west model is obsolete. The new model is joint action,” said Aurora Mayor Ed Tauer. “The valley wins, Aurora wins. It’s how Colorado should work in the future.” Two prior agreements with Aurora and Colorado Springs, in 1998 and 2004, gave Eagle County water users the right to 1,000 acre-feet of water from Homestake Reservoir. Homestake Reservoir is jointly owned by the cities of Aurora and Colorado Springs and is a component of a transmountain diversion project that takes water from the Eagle River basin to Colorado’s eastern slope…

The west slope parties consist of the four original owners of Eagle Park Reservoir — Vail Associates, the Eagle River Water & Sanitation District, the Upper Eagle Regional Water Authority and the Colorado River Water Conservation District, together with Eagle County.

More Eagle River watershed coverage here and here.

South Platte Basin Roundtable progress report

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From email from the Interbasin Compact Committee:

This is the link to the presentation that was given at the South Platte Roundtable on December 17, 2009.

South Platte Roundtable Progress Update (pdf)

More IBCC — basin roundtable coverage here.

Arkansas River: Contractor turning dirt (well streambed) for Cañon City whitewater park

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Tracy Harmon):

Local boaters teamed up in 2007 with the Canon City Chamber of Commerce to start the process of fundraising for the Whitewater Kayak & Recreation Park, dubbed by backers as “WKRP-Canon City.” As a huge excavator drove into the river Monday to start moving material, the ground breaking was a dream come true for organizers which included boaters, recreation, chamber and city leaders. “Work should be done by the end of March,” said Will Colon, chamber board member and WKRP-Canon City organizer. “We can have kayak competitions. People can come here to learn to kayak. Or you can come here just to eat lunch and watch the boats in a beautiful park-like setting.”[…]

The project will be located in the section of the Arkansas River that runs along Centennial Park and Depot Park between a historic pedestrian bridge and the new pedestrian bridge that is part of the Arkansas Riverwalk trail.

Residents will see the huge excavator on tank-like tracks working in the river to move the rock. The excavator was thoroughly cleaned for two days before it started work in the river. It uses environmentally friendly hydraulic fluid in the event of a leak. Currently, the water running by the park is flat and the banks are steep, so the banks will need to be reinforced and stabilized to allow gentle sloping river access. Wading pools will be added for water access for everyone — even children who want to cool off in the summer without fear of deep, swift water. Ramps plus play holes will be added for boaters such as kayakers, canoeists and rafters. The water park will be an ideal place for kayakers to learn the sport and boost their confidence by getting a feel for the water, officials say.

More whitewater coverage here and here.

HB 10-1188

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From the Aspen Daily News (Andrew Travers):

“Most of us are not currently threatened by this,” [Bob Harris — founder of Blazing Adventures] said. “But we could see conflicts maybe coming down the road. We know that if we don’t support those guys now, then it could be us one day.”[…]

[Colorado River Outfitters Association (CROA)] campaign for the so-called “River Outfitters Viability Act” pits Colorado’s homegrown river rats against well heeled developers from elsewhere: “The ability to provide commercial river running is under serious threat because out-of-state landowners using their wealth want to prohibit licensed outfitters from providing trips on historically rafted rivers,” their campaign fact sheet states.

Gunnison-based water attorney John Hill scoffed at CROA’s emphasis on out-of-state landowners. “What does it matter if they’re from out of state or not? They still have the same constitutional rights,” Hill said Monday, arguing that the proposed act represents a violation of the Fifth Amendment, which protects private landowners from having their property taken for public use.

Hill further argues that the right to navigate across rivers running through private property — commonly called the “right to float” — is a fallacy. He cites a 31-year-old criminal case decided by the Colorado Supreme Court in which a man was convicted of trespassing for tubing through private land on the Colorado River. The highest court in the state ruled “the public has no right to the use of waters overlying private lands for recreational purposes without the consent of the owner.” “There isn’t any right to float in Colorado,” Hill said. “That’s folklore.”

More 2010 Colorado legislation coverage here.

Governor Ritter opposes tax amnesty for those that implemented conservation easements with inflated appraisals

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From the Associated Press (Steven K. Paulson) via The Aspen Times:

Ritter’s chief counsel, Trey Rogers, said the disputed credits total $100 million — money the state needs with a $1.5 billion budget deficit. Instead, the administration wants to settle each case individually…

State tax credits under the program jumped from $2.3 million in 2001 to $98 million in 2008, fueled in part by a change in 2003 that allowed the credits to be transferred and sold. A report last year by legislative analysts put total credits from 2000 to 2007 at $274 million. The Colorado Department of Revenue has notified 295 landowners and easement credit buyers that their credits were being disallowed because the easements were overvalued by state-licensed appraisers. It ordered them to pay the credits along with penalties and interest. The Internal Revenue Service reported last year that it had audited people, including buyers of easements, who claimed credits to which they weren’t entitled.

Rep. Wes McKinley, D-Walsh, said he plans to introduce a bill to grant amnesty for landowners with disputed credits, which he estimates at $300 million, including penalties and interest. “The state made a deal. It was a bad deal, but we need to honor the deals that we make,” McKinley said…

Nearly 300 landowners who face state action say they based their credit claims on land appraisals by unscrupulous brokers who offered to develop the land, in violation of state law. Landowners who sell credits to investors are stuck with indemnity clauses that require landowners to cover any losses — including demands for back taxes…

The state contends landowners should have known their property values — which the credits are based on — were inflated. John Swartout, executive director of the Colorado Coalition of Land Trusts, says he understands the naivete of some landowners. “They were used to farm subsidy programs that sometimes are too good to be true,” Swartout said…

Conservation groups say the dispute could provide ammunition to kill the program. Ritter wants to cut $13 million from the $52 million program over the first half of this year, and another $13 million for the fiscal year that begins in July. “It’s an incredibly effective tool to preserve Colorado’s ranch lands from unnecessary development,” said Pete Maysmith, executive director of Colorado Conservation Voters, a nonprofit advocacy group.

More conservation easement coverage here and here.

Proposed new wilderness additions butting up against transmountain diversion projects

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The board of the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District is watching the proposed wilderness additions closely. Access to current facilities is their worry. Here’s a report from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

“It’s not easy to get equipment for repairs into the mountain areas right now, even without a wilderness area,” Bob Hamilton, engineering supervisor, told the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District board Thursday.

The Hidden Gems Wilderness Campaign is endorsed by more than 40 Western Slope environmental or recreational groups. It seeks to create new wilderness with 14 new areas and 26 areas adjacent to current recreation areas in the White River and Gunnison National Forests and adjacent Bureau of Land Management lands. The wilderness areas are in Pitkin, Eagle, Gunnison and Summit counties. If maps by the campaign were adopted, three of the areas adjacent to The Hunter-Fryingpan and Holy Cross wilderness areas could restrict repairs to the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project collection system, Hamilton said. “It interferes with existing or deferred parts of the north side collection system,” Hamilton said. “It’s a threat” Creating the wilderness areas could also hinder collection efforts for other importers of water like Colorado Springs, Aurora and Pueblo Board of Water Works, including the Busk-Ivanhoe system.

In a wilderness area, activities like mining or constructing roads are curtailed. The language of the federal Wilderness Act also forbids “establishing or maintaining water facilities.” When legislation created the Hunter-Fryingpan Wilderness Area east of Aspen in 1978, corridors along streams were carved out for maintenance of the Fry-Ark Project. In the Hidden Gems proposal, the Wildcat Mountain area would be added to that wilderness area and would have to include the same provisions to be acceptable to the Southeastern district. The Mormon Lake and Woods Creek areas would be added to Holy Cross, which does not have the same sort of carve-outs however, attorney Steve Leonhardt told the Southeastern board.

Here’s an update on Hidden Gems from John Gardner writing for the Glenwood Springs Post Independent. From the article:

[Steve Smith, regional director for the Wilderness Society] says that since they first revised the proposal two years ago, the four organizations including the Wilderness Society, The Colorado Mountain Club, the Colorado Environmental Coalition and Wilderness Workshop have sought input from as many people and user groups knowledgeable about the lands in the proposal, for further refinement. Smith says that opponents are against wilderness areas in general, and that some are unwilling to compromise. “Not only are we not excluding the motorized folks, we have invited them to participate,” Smith said. “We also are not saying that we are going to toss you off the land. We simply want to know the areas they use, so that we can make adjustments.”

More Fryingpan-Arkansas coverage here and here.