A look at the San Luis People’s Ditch

San Luis People’s Ditch March 17, 2018. Photo credit: Greg Hobbs

From The Pueblo Chieftain:

Originally a long, shallow, earthwork excavation, this “acequia” or gravity-fed irrigation channel was hand-dug by San Luis’ first settlers to channel water for crops and livestock from the Culebra River and its tributaries. Extending 4 miles west from La Vega, the town’s communal grazing land, it is the oldest continuously used, community irrigation ditch in Colorado.

According to a plaque at the now-concrete-lined “acequia madre” portion of the channel on the south side of town, the People’s Ditch was granted the first adjudicated water rights in what is now Colorado. Referred to as “court decree priority No. 1” and dating from April 10, 1852, these rights were conveyed just 370 days after San Luis was established — and 24 years before Colorado became a state.

Today, the ditch serves some 16 “parciantes” or affiliated water-users, and irrigates more than 2,000 acres of hay and other crops. It also stands as a legacy to its builders, among them Dario Gallegos, a founder of San Luis who opened the town’s first store in 1857.

More Rio Grande Basin coverage here.

Summit County State of the River meeting May 12

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From the Summit Daily News:

The Colorado River District and the Blue River Watershed Group will hold the annual Summit County State of the River public meeting at 6:30 p.m. May 12, at the Summit County Community and Senior Center, next to the Summit County Commons, just south of Frisco. This free public event will provide information on how this season’s snowpack will influence stream flows and reservoir operations this year. Event organizers will also give updates on critical negotiations among water users of the Blue and Colorado rivers. For information, call (970) 945-8522, ext. 236.

More Blue River watershed coverage here.

Upper Blue Sanitation District board election update

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From the Summit Daily News (Robert Allen):

Locals will vote in four special-district elections regarding fire and sewer services across the county Tuesday. While these are ordinarily low-key campaigns, the Upper Blue Sanitation District race has raised a few eyebrows.

More wastewater coverage here.

S. 1264: Pine River Indian Irrigation Project Act of 2009

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From The Durango Herald (Dale Rodebaugh):

“Water users have gone far too long without water to sustain their crops,” Udall said at the committee meeting Thursday, at which time he introduced Southern Ute Indian Tribe Chairman Matthew Box. “Individuals who depend on the project have forgone the opportunity to bring idle lands back into production and continue to be good stewards of the land.” Box described to committee members the tribe’s need for irrigation water. He said the tribe would be willing to contribute to the cost of repairs. Udall and fellow Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet introduced Senate Bill S-1264 on June 15, 2009, to rescue the irrigation project from years of neglect and deterioration. S-1264 would allocate $4 million to determine the system’s deficiencies and $10 million annually for six years to fix problems.

The Pine River Indian Irrigation Project, which dates to the late 19th century, distributes 124,000 acre-feet of Pine River water via 175 miles of canals and ditches to 12,000 acres, including 10,000 acres of tribal land, in southern La Plata County.

More San Juan Basin coverage here.

Energy policy — oil and gas: Oxy USA agrees to fines of nearly $650,000 for spring contamination

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From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

If approved, the $390,000 fine would be among the largest, if not the largest, ever imposed by the commission…

Regulators say in investigative documents that Oxy operated pits without necessary permits in both incidents. In the Cascade Canyon case, leaks occurred in an unlined pit. Had Oxy sought a permit, the state would have required it to line the pit because of the potential for groundwater impacts in the area, regulators say. Tests of one spring in that case reportedly found levels of benzene, a carcinogen, that were 300 times above groundwater standards. The spring’s levels of toluene were 15 times above standards in place at the time, and the state since has made its toluene standards stricter. The contamination also affected up to a half-mile of a tributary to Cascade Canyon…

Under the settlement agreement, Oxy admits no liability and denies there was significant environmental impact. Regulators scaled back their proposed fine amounts 22 percent because of Oxy’s cooperation in the investigation and work in reducing the levels of contamination. Oxy has spent $2.4 million to date on remediation efforts. It spent another $8 million to better protect ground and surface water in the area of the violations by reducing its number of pits and using more storage tanks.

“When we have an incident, we conduct a thorough investigation to determine the cause or causes,” Oxy spokesman Eric Moses said. “At that point we take appropriate measures to prevent similar incidents from occurring in the future.” The company regrets that the incidents occurred, he said, adding, “Oxy … is committed to safeguarding the environment and protecting the safety and health of our employees and neighboring communities.” Moses said Oxy responded in a timely manner to the incidents, and neither one affected drinking water or fish and other wildlife.

More oil and gas coverage here and here.

Energy policy — hydroelectric: Taylor Park Dam retrofit update

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From The Crested Butte News (Mike Horn):

…the Taylor Dam is once again being looked at as a source of power. This time around, the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District (UGRWCD), Gunnison County Electric Association (GCEA), and the Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Association are collectively examining the dam’s power potential. A recent “flyover” feasibility study on the project yielded some positive results…

Frank Kugel is general manager for the UGRWCD. “From its inception Taylor Park Dam has always been envisioned to produce power,” said Kugel. “Our district is very supportive of the concept of constructing a hydropower installation at Taylor Park Dam. We feel that it could provide a source of green power while utilizing the water resources in our basin.” Getting power from the dam to Highway 135 using the existing single-phase cable was deemed economically unfeasible in the past. But according to Kugel, “With today’s interest in green energy and the funding assistance that is available, we felt it was worth a fresh look at generating hydropower.”

Mike Wells, Chief Executive Officer for the GCEA, described the first study as a “20,000-foot flyover on the project.” Half the $30,000 study was paid for with a grant, and the other three entities split the remainder. “It did come back feasible, but what it does is take us to the next level where we get into it more in depth,” Wells said. “The next step is a higher reconnaissance feasibility study, more of the design phase, to see what it would look like and how it would work.” Wells said that next phase would assess operational needs and concerns, and possibly take a look at the regulatory agencies that would be required for permitting. “There would be other players such as the Bureau of Recreation since it’s their dam,” added Wells. “There would have to be an agreement about liabilities, who owns the structure, what sort of lease agreement, compensation and ownership, but these kind of details weren’t looked at during this first step.”

The next level study would cost in the range of $90,000 to $120,000, according to Kugel. “We are currently in the process of seeking sources for that money and we will decide whether to move forward in the next couple months based on [the availability of] those funding sources.” As far as the price of the project itself is concerned, there is a wide gap between the two main options. Wells said, “An initial estimate—just rough numbers—it’s a $14 million project if we make it into three-phase, or $6.5 million if we size it for the single-phase line. Either would provide a rate of return if we are using average water conditions. If you have a wet year or average year it makes the project feasible. In dry years it’s a losing proposition.”[…]

The proposed hydropower generation would not damage fisheries or river hydrology either, according to Wells. “Since that water is so critical to farming operations and fishing, there would be no changes in the river flow. We would not want to mess with any change in streamflows. Our other partners would be very resistant with changing that, it’s just not practical. The stream releases would be as regularly scheduled.

More hydroelectric coverage here and here.

Snowpack news: Gunnison Basin runoff forecast to be below average

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From The Crested Butte News (Mike Horn):

…according to UGRWCD general manager Frank Kugel, when we are “slightly below normal on snowpack we often end up significantly below on runoff.” Why that happens is largely unknown, as it’s not a linear relationship between the two, though Kugel said soil moisture plays a role. In line with that precipitation-runoff equation, Kugel’s report stated the unregulated inflow into Blue Mesa Reservoir was 82 percent of average for March and the projected April-through-July info is only 74 percent. That despite precipitation levels being 94 percent of normal. “Dust and high temperatures brought the snowpack down in a hurry,” said Kugel…

“The latest projections are that we won’t fill Taylor Reservoir and Blue Mesa,” Kugel concluded. For Taylor, Kugel projected that the maximum content will be 96,080 acre-feet or 90 percent of capacity, and the inflow forecast is 75 percent of normal. The same projections for Blue Mesa were unavailable at press time…

According to Kugel’s report, Blue Mesa and Taylor Park Reservoirs are currently at 69 percent and 62 percent of capacity, respectively (compared to 65 percent and 60 percent last month).
For comparison, storage levels in two other prominent western reservoirs, Lake Powell and Lake Mead, dropped over the past month. They are currently at 56 percent and 44 percent of capacity, respectively.

HB 10-1197 (Reduce Conservation Easement Cap Amount): Governor Ritter inks the deal

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From The Durango Herald (Joe Hanel):

Gov. Bill Ritter on Thursday signed House Bill 1197, which sets a statewide limit of $26 million on conservation easement tax credits. The Department of Revenue estimates the bill will save $37 million in the popular tax credit program.

More HB 10-1197 coverage here. More 2010 Colorado legislation coverage here. More conservation easement coverage here and here.

Vega Reservoir open for boating

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From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel:

With ice finally gone from Vega Reservoir, the popular camping and fishing destination 12 miles east of Collbran opens the boating season Saturday.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here.