South Platte River: Funding wetland restoration to improve duck habitat and restore population

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From the Bismarck Tribune (Bruce Finley):

“We’d like to get it back to what it was,” said Greg Kernohan, manager of the projects for Ducks Unlimited, a national hunting and conservation group. Otherwise, he said, “we’ll lose our wildlife heritage.”

The loss of duck habitat in the South Platte River basin, at least partly the result of man-made alteration of the river to make it flow like a channel, is likely a major reason for a decline in duck populations by as much as 50 percent in some parts of eastern Colorado.

The newly created duck habitat is designed to mimic natural conditions. Colorado has gained 16,000 acres of reworked wetlands at about 100 areas along the South Platte, with plans for another 11,000 acres by 2014, funded in part by $1.5 million from the Colorado Water Conservation Board. Hundreds of duck hunters also held banquets and auctions statewide and ponied up $150,000 for the effort.

Water is pumped and piped from the South Platte to ponds carved out of adjacent prairie. This water then is routed through sloughs and filtered back into the river’s main stem. Diversion of water into wetlands is done during low-demand periods and builds water credits for participating landowners, giving some the ability to draw water for farming…

The longterm future for waterfowl looks bleak, said Dave Sharp, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist. “Our needs for water are only going to grow,” Sharp said. Dams and diversions for cities and farming “take away those natural pulses, like in the spring. The flooding that used to occur no longer occurs.” Woody vegetation is taking over sand bars essential for ducks. Colorado Division of Wildlife tables show duck populations across the central flyway parts of Colorado decreasing from an average of 104,207 between 2003 and 2008 to 85,695 last year. But in northeastern Colorado, where the South Platte meanders about 300 miles to Nebraska, a duck population that decreased to 36,689 from a 2003-08 average of 79,114 now may be swinging back up. State wildlife officials counted 129,447 ducks in January, according to Jim Gammonley, avian research leader for the Colorado Division of Wildlife. Duck numbers fluctuate widely year to year, depending largely on climate conditions here and elsewhere, Gammonley said. Overall, “the hydrology and habitat conditions associated with the South Platte River have changed dramatically and negatively — from a duck’s perspective,” he said. “There’s likely less waste corn and other grains left in agricultural fields, and corn is being picked later every year, so there may be less food available to attract and hold wintering mallards.”

More restoration coverage here and here.

Southern Delivery System: Cost update

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From the Colorado Springs Independent (Pam Zubeck):

At the contractor meeting, Utilities CEO Jerry Forte and Colorado Springs Mayor Lionel Rivera call SDS’ pipeline, pump stations and water treatment plant a shot in the arm for the local economy, one that will grease the way for growth. “There is no question this is the most important project in the region,” Rivera says. He and Utilities officials dangle $550 million in construction projects in front of the hungry contractors. They note that during the six-year construction period, up to 700 workers (at peak employment in 2014) will share in a $160 million payroll.

What they don’t say is how much it will cost all of us. Estimates for Phase 1, which includes construction of the pipeline, pump stations, dam hookup and a water treatment plant, have changed through the years due to inflation and growing construction costs, Utilities officials explain. The estimate has gone from $490 million in 2002 to $631 million in 2007 to $880 million in 2009. After the city’s partners — Fountain, Security and Pueblo West — pay their shares, Utilities’ cost now will be $838 million. But wait. Inflation will add another $140 million during the construction period, according to Utilities, as estimated using the Construction Cost Index, an industry standard for project pricing. And then there’s borrowing costs spanning 40 years of $1.33 billion, for a grand total of $2.3 billion.

And that doesn’t include Phase 2, which would expand the treatment plant and pumping capability and build two reservoirs. Those components are now termed “not essential” — however, $22 million to buy land for the reservoirs is included in Phase 1, so the reservoirs apparently are essential. In fact, Phase 2 gives the project its biggest selling point: redundancy.

In a 2008 permit application submitted to Pueblo County, Utilities wrote, “The SDS project will allow the Applicant [Utilities] to develop water storage, delivery, and treatment capacity to provide critical system redundancy.” But Phase 1 includes no water storage facility. Phase 2, to be built from 2020 to 2025 at the earliest, would range from $387 million to $744 million, not including financing costs. “It’s so far out in the future, you’re fooling yourself if you say you have a grasp on it,” Utilities chief water services officer Bruce McCormick says. He notes too many unknowns — reservoir size, dam type, treatment regulations — preclude a more exact estimate. And with a slow economy, Phase 2 could move “way, way out” into the future.

Councilor Tom Gallagher says ratepayers haven’t seen the half of it, because considerable costs, starting with power, aren’t included in the SDS estimates. “I’m not opposed to bringing the water to this community,” he says. “It just needs to be done in a way we can afford. … We are following the defense contractor model, which produces $2,000 hammers, $10,000 toilet seats and $18,000 coffee pots.”

More Southern Delivery System coverage here and here.