Castle Pines North council moves to dissolve the Castle Pines Metropolitan District

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From the Douglas County News Press:

City Council voted to proceed with the dissolution at its Jan. 26 meeting. “We expect to achieve increased efficiency and savings for Castle Pines North taxpayers,” said City Manager Alan Lanning. This combination of district operations will put services such as water and parks and open space under city government’s control.

More infrastructure coverage here.

Privatization: Water quality problems

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From the Circle of Blue Waternews (Steve Kellman):

What convinces a city to consider giving up control of its water in the first place? Some officials believe the private sector can do a better job maintaining and upgrading a leaky and inefficient water system. Others see an opportunity to leverage a successful water system and its guaranteed cash flow from its customers — city residents — to win a large up-front payment from a private firm. That money can then be used to plug budget shortfalls in other departments. Experts who have watched failed experiments in the privatization of municipal water systems say both beliefs are wrong.

John Keesecker, a senior organizer for the non-profit consumer organization Food & Water Watch, works with community groups across the United States to prevent the privatization of public water resources. “Our number one concern with systems that are privatized is that service goes down and there’s poor water quality,” Keesecker said. “There’s also less accountability and transparency, because at the end of the day these companies are beholden to shareholders and their concern is primarily with making a return and not with providing a good service.”

“When it’s publicly managed, council members or aldermen can be voted out if it’s not being managed well but that’s not the case when it’s been privatized. Voting them out won’t necessarily change the way the water system operates.”

More infrastructure coverage here.

HB 10-1159 dies on the state house floor

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From The Greeley Tribune:

Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, right, said had the bill passed, it would have hurt farmers along the South Platte River. The bill, introduced by Rep. Sal Pace, D-Pueblo, was defeated by a 40-21 vote. “If this bill passes you just as well paint a big red target on the back of farmers in eastern Colorado,” Sonnenberg argued during the debate last Friday. “Anytime you add more hurdles when trying to move Colorado’s water, you make it more difficult and cities will take the path of least resistance to obtain their needs. That path is ag water,” Sonnenberg said in a press release.

More 2010 Colorado legislation coverage here.

Energy policy — geothermal: Chaffee County update

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From The Denver Post (Mark Jaffe):

The Bureau of Land Management last month postponed the geothermal-lease sale scheduled for Thursday of 800 acres in Chaffee County to do further environmental reviews. It was the third time the bureau has postponed the sale. “They keep changing the rules,” said James Jones, the oil-and-gas landman who nominated the parcel for lease sale.

The outpouring of opposition — more than 240 protest letters and a five-hour meeting with 170 area residents — prompted the delay, said Lynn Rust, the bureau’s state deputy director for lands, energy and minerals. “Mr. Jones has expressed his concerns,” said Rust. “We just feel we have to go in and deal with public concerns.”

Jones said he nominated the area in the Chalk Creek Valley based on Colorado Geological Survey data. “It is the hottest and most active site in the state,” said Jones, who switched to developing geothermal resources when the oil-and- gas industry declined. Many issues opponents are raising cannot be addressed until after a lease is issued and there is a proposed project, said Jones, adding: “I will not be the man to ruin the Chalk Creek Valley.”[…]

The November sale was postponed, [Fred Henderson, head of locally based Mount Princeton Geothermal LLC] said, because the bureau and the state had not worked out an agreement on regulating geothermal wells — which fall under Colorado water law. The bureau and the state Department of Natural Resources are still negotiating that water agreement. “This has become a quagmire,” said Syd Schieren, who lives in the valley and operates a commercial geothermal greenhouse and hot-springs vacation cabins. The reason, Schieren said, is the bureau’s failure to do proper public outreach and adequately assess the site — which encompasses steep cliffs and a flood plain. “They really didn’t do an on-site analysis,” Schieren said. “They tried to go too fast.”

More geothermal coverage here and here.

Fountain Creek: Environmental groups, Pueblo County Commissioner Jeff Chostner and Pueblo Councilor Larry Atencio pushing for stricter state standards

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The [Colorado Water Quality Control Commission] voted to keep Fountain Creek impaired for selenium from Colorado 47 to its confluence with the Arkansas River and added a seasonal impairment, from May to October, for E. coli. The portion of Fountain Creek from the Monument Creek confluence to Colorado 47 was deemed impaired year-round for E. coli, but received no designation for selenium. “There just wasn’t enough data in order to list selenium on the upper reach,” said John Klomp, a member of the commission from Pueblo.

The decision represents a partial victory for environmental groups that argued for impairment of both reaches for E. coli and selenium, based on data that show Fountain Creek is nearing annual limits. After meetings with various parties, the Colorado Water Quality Control Division revised its initial recommendations to make the standards tougher for E. coli north of Pueblo and to retain selenium as a listed contaminant. “We heard a lot of testimony at the hearing and I feel comfortable with the decision we made,” Klomp said. “In particular, I’m glad we decided to continue listing E. coli annually with the problems we’ve seen downstream in Pueblo.”[…]

Colorado Springs Utilities supported the initial recommendations of Colorado Water Quality Control Division staff to list E. coli as a seasonal impairment for just six months and to not list selenium on both stretches. E. coli is an indicator of the presence of bacteria in the water, and some studies have shown the major causes may be from nonpoint sources other than sewer plants. For instance, a study by the U.S. Geological Survey completed on Upper Fountain Creek (above the Monument Creek confluence) concluded pigeons in Manitou Springs were the most probable source of bacteria in the way. Source studies have not been completed on the reaches of Fountain Creek affected by Monday’s decision, however. Data compiled by the state and other agencies show the levels of E. coli are highest in warmer months when there is more water in the creek. Selenium is an element essential to life but toxic in high concentrations. Studies show it probably loads as water passes over Pierre shale formations that are found throughout the Pueblo area.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The Colorado Water Quality Control Commission on Monday heard arguments about a state proposal to list Fountain Creek from its confluence with Monument Creek to the Arkansas River as only seasonally impaired for E. coli and not impaired for selenium.

The Rocky Mountain Environmental Labor Coalition, Sierra Club and Pueblo District Attorney Bill Thiebaut are challenging the proposal, saying the creek should be listed as impaired for E. coli, an indicator of potentially harmful bacteria, and selenium, a necessary element for living things that is harmful or deadly in elevated concentrations. Their arguments center on the potential for future limits on wastewater discharges to increase. Atencio and Chostner, both members of the newly formed Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District board, point to plans that would increase future recreational use of Fountain Creek in Pueblo and urged the Water Quality Commission to adopt the stricter standards.

The city is working with Colorado Springs and the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District to develop a park at the confluence of Fountain Creek and the Arkansas River. They said this will lead to year-round use, not just the May-October recreation season Colorado Springs attorney Richard Griffith argued for in a Jan. 27 statement. “Contrary to the statements made by Colorado Springs Utilities . . . we envision that, in the near future, Confluence Park will support recreational activities such as kayaking and canoeing, fishing, wading or just leisurely enjoy(ing) a walk by the creek,” Chostner and Atencio wrote in a joint letter last week to the commission. They also alluded to two recent decisions that “call into question El Paso County’s commitment to water quality on Fountain Creek” — the demise of Colorado Springs stormwater enterprise and the decision by El Paso County commissioners to allow a gravel pit opposed by the Fountain Creek district. “Water quality standards cannot be relaxed,” Chostner and Atencio told the water quality board. “Your action is vital in improving water quality in Fountain Creek, given the recent indifference shown by upstream users.”

Colorado Springs also answered charges by the environmental groups, in a motion last week from Kenneth Burgess, deputy city attorney for Utilities. Burgess took issue with the environmental groups’ interpretation of how discharge permits would be applied, saying the issue has been subject to differing federal court opinions, which have not been resolved by the U.S. Supreme Court. Courts reached vastly different opinions on how total maximum daily limits, or TMDLs, are applied in cases from Arizona, Arkansas and Minnesota. In some cases, courts ruled pollution, as measured by TMDLs, could be offset by reductions of nonpoint sources, while others prohibit adding more of a pollutant to an impaired stream. Burgess said the issues would apply statewide if the Water Quality Control Commission chose to act on it, and others have not been given adequate notice. “These issues are not within the scope of this proceeding, and in addition were raised too late in this proceeding and should be stricken,” Burgess said…

Colorado Springs Utilities also took issue with published statements by local Sierra Club Chairman Ross Vincent last week saying the change in seasonal levels for standards would allow for elevated discharges in winter months once the Southern Delivery System is built. Colorado Springs and other sewer plants on Fountain Creek would still be limited to TMDLs, under the Clean Water Act, said Keith Riley, SDS planning manager.

More Fountain Creek coverage here and here.

Snowpack news: Gunnison Basin at 93%

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From the Montrose Daily Press (Katharhynn Heidelberg):

The Montrose area is sitting at around 80 percent of normal snowpack, as storm after storm gave us a miss this winter, instead socking it to locations to the south. Information from the National Weather Service’s Colorado River Basin Forecast Center shows that, because of “below average seasonal precipitation,” the April through July streamflow volume forecasts are also below average for the Lower Gunnison Basin. “We’re not as dry as we could be. We’re not as wet as we want to be,” said Marc Catlin, manager for the Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Association. “There is enough snow (in the basin) to raise a crop, but it’s really the type of spring season and the snowmelt. If nature will help us, it could be pretty much a normal year.”[…]

The district manages Ridgway Reservoir. Berry said that 80 percent of normal snowpack for the reservoir gives it around 80,000 acre feet of water. “We only have about 15,000 acre feet to fill the reservoir. If it quit snowing today, we could be down significantly by the first of May, when the real demand starts for irrigators out there.” he said. “But, I’m confident we can fill the reservoir, given an 80-percent snowpack.”

A warm spring (particularly warm nighttime temperatures), wind, and dust can quickly reduce even a large snowpack. So far this winter, it’s been quite cold in the area, and those temperatures “froze the snow down tight,” Catlin said.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Loretta Sword):

“It’s not sloppy wet, but there’s a fair amount of moisture to go with this one,” said meteorologist Randy Gray of Pueblo’s National Weather Service office, adding that scant accumulations contained about three times the average measurable precipitation as most snowfalls this time of year. In the Rocky Mountain region, Gray said, it typically takes 20-30 inches of snowfall to produce an inch of water, but the storm that settled in Sunday and hung around through most of Monday produced a snow-to-water ratio of 10 to 1. “Sometimes, depending on other conditions and the time of year, even if it’s cold, the moisture has a way of coming out of the snow before it can pile up,” Gray said. “That’s what happened with this one.” Although it wasn’t a huge storm, it likely brought enough moisture to meet or top the average for all of February, which is 3.6 inches of snow containing 0.26 inches of water…

The Monarch Pass area was hit the hardest with snowfall overnight Sunday where Maysville residents reported 5 inches of new snow…

Up to 8 inches of snow fell in the foothills along the east side of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.

Update: From The Denver Post (Yesnia Robles):

The snowstorm that started over the weekend brought about 4 inches of snow to the metro area but less than half an inch of moisture. National Weather Service meteorologist Robert Koopmeiners said moisture in the snow is determined by temperature. When the air mass is cold, he said, the snow doesn’t hold as much moisture…

Mike Gillespie, snow-survey supervisor with the NRCS, said playing catch-up [on the Colorado snowpack] will likely require more than 30 inches of snow each month for the next 2 1/2 months.

Update: From the Cortez Journal (Kimberly Benedict):

Snowfall began Sunday morning, tapering off midmorning. The area saw precipitation begin again in earnest late Sunday afternoon, continuing into the evening. Monday morning found Cortez and the surrounding area under a blanket of heavy, wet snow. “Out of this storm we got 8.1 inches of snow,” said local weather observer Jim Andrus…

Southwest Colorado has seen a number of storm systems move through the area this winter, all of which have produced measurable amounts of snow. “Our total snowfall for this winter is now 46.9 inches – almost four feet,” Andrus said. “We’ve had 63 days in a row of measurable snowfall on the ground. That is the longest stretch I’ve ever been able to report. From Dec. 8 through (Monday) morning.”[…]

“Our precipitation total for February is really impressive,” Andrus said. “We have .98 inches (of precipitation), and normal for the entire month is .95 (inches). So, we are 103 percent of normal for February already after only the first week of the month. “Total precipitation for the year has been 2.76 inches; normal through the end of February is 1.96 inches so that is already 141 percent of normal. It has been a really wet winter.”

HB 10-1188 — Clarify River Outfitter Navigation Right passes out of committee

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From the Associated Press (Steven K. Paulson) via The Denver Post:

At a rally at the state Capitol, Duke Bradford, owner of Arkansas Valley Adventures, said his company guides about 23,000 tourists a year down five Colorado rivers. He is worried that a threat by Lewis Shaw II, president of Jackson-Shaw developers of Dallas, to file a civil suit would shut down a $142 million industry. Bradford said Colorado law reserves the use of Colorado rivers for the people, not for landowners. The state attorney general has ruled commercial rafters cannot be prosecuted for trespassing, but that didn’t settle the civil dispute. “He says we’re compromising his property rights. He’s coming to Colorado from another state and disputing our historical use of the river, threatening to shut us down,” Bradford said…

The bill would give commercial rafters the right to navigate rivers in Colorado and limited rights to use the river banks to avoid obstacles. The House Judiciary Committee approved it on a 7-3 vote after seven hours of testimony Monday and sent it to the full House for debate…

Rep. Kathleen Curry, an unaffiliated lawmaker from Gunnison, said North Dakota and Colorado are the only two states west of the Mississippi River that don’t have strict protection for commercial rafters. She said Utah clarified its rules four years ago, making it clear rafters have access. Curry acknowledged that rafters can interfere with fishermen and she said both sides need to respect each other’s rights. She said this issue has rippled throughout the West for decades, but states and the federal government have learned how to deal with it. “I’d say rafting and fishing can coexist. That’s been out there for years, even though they might not be the best of friends,” she said.

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

The six Democrats sitting on the judiciary committee last night voted for the bill, while three of the four Republicans voted against the bill. The committee members heard testimony for over five hours Monday night from advocates for private property rights, including complex examinations of ancient English law and what constitutes a “navigable” river.

And they heard from commercial rafting outfitters who said their livelihoods would be threatened without their right to float being clearly defined as it is in most other Western states, including Wyoming and Utah. Others testified that the bill did not go far enough because it did not give private boaters the same clear rights it was attempting to give to commercial outfitters.

For more than 30 years, both private and commercial rafters kayakers have generally understood that Colorado law gives boaters the right to float down any river or stream past private property as long as they don’t get out and touch the river bank…

But a bevy of experts testified that giving commercial rafters specific rights relating to private lands would constitute a taking that would require “just compensation.” “The right to exclude others is one of the most important sticks in the bundle that we know of as property rights,” said John Hill, an attorney with Bratton and Hill who represents Lewis Shaw and the Jackson-Shaw/Taylor River Ranch, LLC. “This bill is a taking of the right to exclude others.” Other groups that testified against the bill included the Colorado Cattleman’s Association, Club 20, and the Colorado Water Congress.

Update: More coverage from The Durango Herald (Joe Hanel). From the article:

Right now, Colorado law allows people to pass through private property on a river as long as they don’t touch the bottom or the banks. “Anybody who boats in this state knows that you can’t boat anywhere without touching something,” said the sponsor of HB 1188, Rep. Kathleen Curry, I-Gunnison.

Curry’s bill draws on the right of navigation in English common law, a body of law that lawyers imported to America during colonial times…

On the Animas River – one of the state’s four busiest for rafting – property owners usually don’t try to get in the way of rafting, said Bob Hamel, chairman of the Colorado River Outfitters Association. But outfitters on the less-traveled San Juan and Piedra rivers potentially could have trouble, Hamel said…

Opponents argued that the bill would take away their property rights. “It’s a piece of legislation that strikes at the very core of property ownership,” said Terry Fankhauser of the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association.

The bill would add rights only for licensed commercial outfitters. It says nothing about private boaters, tubers and kayakers. They still could be found guilty of trespassing even if the bill passes. The bill also applies only to stretches of river that commercial outfitters have used in the last two years.

More coverage from the Summit Daily News (Julie Sutor):

About two dozen Colorado rafters, many from Summit County, grabbed their boats, paddles and PFD’s Monday morning and gathered in the State Capitol in support of the measure, House Bill 1188. “We’ve already lost one river in Gunnison County,” said Mark Schumacher, owner of Three Rivers Outfitting. “We don’t want to lose another.”[…]

“I realized we had a statewide problem,” bill co-sponsor, state Rep. Kathleen Curry of Gunnison said Monday morning in front of the crowd of rafters. “We do need to tackle this issue in this building.” The bill is co-sponsored by state Rep. Christine Scanlan, who represents Summit County.

More 2010 Colorado legislation coverage here.

Energy policy — hydroelectric: Basalt may build micro-hydroelectric plant

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From The Aspen Times (Scott Condon) via the Vail Daily:

The town is studying the construction of a micro-hydro plant that would supply enough power to offset use of 30 average homes, according to Town Manager Bill Kane. The micro-hydro project could pro vide up to 40 kilowatts, he said. The town this spring will apply for a $350,000 grant from the state of Colorado, which has focused on clean energy proj ects under Gov. Bill Ritter’s leadership the past three years. The town might pursue the project even if it doesn’t receive state funds, Kane said. The town has a dedicat ed water fund that it would tap for the proj ect, so it wouldn’t require a new tax. Final design and cost estimates aren’t available yet. The concept would be to use the pipelines that deliver water from Lucksinger Springs, and possibly Basalt Springs, both of which are on Basalt Moun tain, downhill to the town’s water filtration plant. A hydroelectric turbine and genera tor, possibly two, would be added to the delivery lines, according to a prospectus. The power produced from the systems would be connected to the Holy Cross Energy grid.

More hydroelectric coverage here and here.

Aspinall Operations update

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From email from Reclamation (Dan Crabtree):

is a summary of our January 21, 2010 meeting to coordinate Reclamation’s operation of the Aspinall Unit. The meeting was held in Montrose. Handouts and presentations from the meeting can be found at . As an update, the February 1 Blue Mesa Reservoir April through July inflow forecast is 600,000 ac-ft. The resultant 24 hour Black Canyon peak called for in the Federal Reserved Water Right is 4,492 cfs. At this time, it is Reclamation’s intent to operate the Unit to allow the water right to continue to be met. Highlights of the meeting include:

– January 1 forecast for 2010 spring runoff into Blue Mesa is around 80 percent of average. History has shown that the forecast can change significantly between January and the end of the runoff season because January is still early in the snow accumulation period. Currently El Nino conditions are present in the Eastern Pacific Ocean. El Nino years have resulted in drier winter hydrology followed by wetter than average spring conditions in years past.
– Based on the January 1 forecast, summer flows downstream from the Gunnison Tunnel should be between 600 cfs and 1000 cfs. A determination of the magnitude of the spring peak for the Black Canyon water right will be made on May 1. Blue Mesa is anticipated to fill this year.
– The Colorado Division of Wildlife made a presentation on the Gunnison River trout fishery and the relation of fish populations and river flows (link to presentation will be available on the operations summary website

If you have any suggestions on improving the operation meetings or summaries, please let us know. The next operation meeting will be on Thursday, April 22, 2010 in Grand Junction at the Western Colorado Area Office. If you have any questions, please call me at 970 248-0652.

More Aspinall Unit coverage here.