Estes Park: Grand Ditch Restoration Project public meeting recap

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From the Loveland Reporter-Herald (Jackie Hutchins):

Rocky Mountain National Park officials outlined Thursday night plans they’re considering to repair damage caused when the Grand Ditch, on the park’s northwest side, overtopped its bank on May 30, 2003…

They want to restore stream and groundwater processes, native plant communities, the stability of the hillside below the breach site, wilderness character, wildlife habitat and water quality in the affected area and downstream. Options being considered include allowing natural passive restoration to take place in some spots where appropriate, stabilizing steep, unstable slopes with an engineered solution, removing deposited sediment or redistributing it through the area, removing downed timber or using it in the restoration process, grading and recontouring areas to restore appropriate water flows, and actively restoring native plants where appropriate using locally gathered plants.

Crews might have to use motorized equipment such as chain saws, heavy-lift helicopters and earth-moving equipment — equipment not typically used in a wilderness area. “It is one of the most wild areas of the park,” Grand Ditch Breach Restoration coordinator Paul McLaughlin said. Though it’s not the most popular part of the park for visitors, lynx have been tracked there, and wolverines use the area.

Public comment to solicit ideas for the restoration is being taken through June 16. “Later this fall, we’ll be coming back to you with our alternatives,” McLaughlin said. A draft environmental statement should be released in fall 2011, with the final environmental impact statement done by summer 2012.

More Grand Ditch coverage here and here.

American Rivers: Upper Colorado is sixth most endangered river in U.S.

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From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Bobby Magill):

American Rivers’ threatened river report mentioned Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District’s Windy Gap Firming Project as one of the Colorado River’s biggest threats. The project would divert more water from the river to be pumped to a new reservoir near Carter Lake in southern Larimer County to provide a reliable water supply for growing Northern Colorado communities. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is expected to issue an environmental impact report on the project soon, with a final decision expected by the end of the year.

The report also says another proposed diversion project, the Moffat Collection System Project, will also harm the river.

[Ken Neubecker of Colorado Trout Unlimited] said he’s concerned water diversions from the Colorado River will harm the river’s natural hydrograph, preventing the river’s spring high flow from occurring. “If you don’t have that high flow in the spring, you can’t wash the sediments out, mobilize the bottom of the (river) bed,” something that’s critical for fish and other wildlife in the river, he said.

But Brian Werner, spokesman for Northern Water, said the district is working out a plan to provide enough water in the river for the fish at critical times during each season and ensuring the water temperature is right for the fish to thrive. He said the district has been successfully negotiating with Trout Unlimited and Grand County to ensure their concerns are heard. “We’d like to work it out so the operations (of the diversion projects) are flexible enough so the river doesn’t suffer any more harm,” and Front Range communities can get the water they need, too, Neubecker said.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here.

Republican River Basin: Latest round of arbitration over Colorado’s proposed compliance pipeline ends with mixed bag of winners and losers

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From The Yuma Pioneer (Tony Rayl):

Among [arbitrator Martha Pagel’s] findings was one in regards to Colorado’s motion to have Kansas’ issue pertaining to overuse of the South Fork of the Republican River be dismissed. Pagel denied the motion, keeping the South Fork issue in the arbitration. Kansas has not requested arbitration on the issue, but it is one of the reason’s the state is withholding its approval for the pipeline. Kansas asserts putting water in the North Fork does not make up for the shortage on the South Fork. Pagel ruled that, whether hypothetical or real, “the question of whether overuse in one sub-basin may be addressed by replacing flow in another sub-basin is relevant to a factual determination of what the CCP (Compact Compliance Pipeline) includes.

Colorado did have another motion granted. It is in regards requesting that portions of a statement made by Kansas Chief Engineer David Barfield regarding the pipeline issue be stricken. Colorado argued that Barfield was making future interpretations of the requirements. Pagel noted that the testimony would not make or break the case. However, she ruled that a plain reading of the statement “reveals a conclusion of law regarding the interpretation, of certain sections in the final stipulation settlement. Therefore, she ruled to strike the statement.

Included with the pipeline in the arbitration is a question on crediting brought forth by Nebraska. Kansas filed a motion to entirely strike the issue from the arbitration hearing, but Pagel ruled against the motion. Nebraska is trying to get determined that if a state pays monetary damages for being out of compliance, what year or years in the five-year rolling average would get credited to zero.

And, of course, Kansas had filed a motion that the whole compact compliance pipeline issues should be dismissed in its entirety. Pagel denied the motion. Kansas had argued that the U.S. Supreme Court lacks the jurisdiction to approve the pipeline plan, nor does an arbitractor, because the Republican River Compact Administration (RRCA) did not grant approval. The state argued that since the RRCA declined to approve the plan, as expressly stated in the final settlement as necessary, then it cannot move on to the arbitrator or the Supreme Court. Extensively quoting case law, particularly Texas v. New Mexico, Pagel ruled the issue can move forward. She suggested that, if the states do not want the final settlement to be so broadly construed, they might want to consider modifying the final settlement to narrow the scope of issues subject to arbitration…

The actual arbitration trial is set for July 12-14 in Kansas City, Kansas.

More Republican River Basin coverage here and here.

Arkansas Basin Roundtable public outreach meeting recap

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The meeting, attended by about 50 people, was the first of three planned this year to share roundtable accomplishments and concerns with the community. Others will be in Salida and La Junta. “We’re not sure what is going to happen, but it’s not going to be like it was,” [Gary Barber, chairman of the roundtable] said.

The roundtable’s essential purpose is to apply the prior appropriation doctrine to a changing set of circumstances that incorporates new needs, such as recreation and the environment, with traditional water uses, such as municipal and agriculture, he explained. Barber used the analogy of a house with one bathroom to illustrate how prior appropriation has changed. It works well if only a couple of people live in the house. When 20 people move in, life gets more complicated. “It’s at the point where we have to do something about it,” Barber said.

Roundtables were created in each of the state’s eight river basins, along with the Denver metro area, in 2005 after top-down approaches were rejected by the state’s voters. Referendum A, which proposed $2 billion for unspecified water projects, was defeated by voters in every county in the state in 2003. Progress has been slow because members were asked to organize themselves. In addition, the ideas from the roundtables have been directed largely at problems within the basins. “We began to hear each others’ stories,” Barber said…

Barber said it is important to develop solutions that are sustainable over time, rather than easy fixes. One model for success during the first five years of the roundtables has been the Fountain Creek Vision Task Force, and that collaborative approach is being applied to other issues, such as the current effort to study whether a task force should look at the Flaming Gorge project to bring water from Wyoming into Colorado’s Front Range, Barber said.

There have been many tangible successes. The roundtable also has been successful in bringing in $4 million for 21 projects — including three pending projects — and another $1 million in emergency funding for the zebra mussel threat in 2008. The group also has completed studies for consumptive needs such as cities, farms and industry, and nonconsumptive needs such as recreation and the environment.

Pat Wells, a Colorado Springs Utilities water resources engineer, worked with Roundtable members to develop the nonconsumptive needs study, which looked at the recreation and environmental values of every watershed in the Arkansas River basin. “From the start, we saw that nonconsumptive needs were important,” Wells said. “There is a lot of interplay between water supply and recreation needs. We really think this contributes to future water supply planning.”

Mike Applegate is a water consultant who developed the consumptive needs report. The 2008 study found that new projects will be needed to supply up to 32,000 acre-feet — possibly enough for more than 100,000 homes — to meet the basin’s needs in the next 40 years. However, the needs continue beyond that into the future as growth occurs, Applegate said. Most of the need, 22,600 acre-feet, is in El Paso County, and some of the needs are shifting. But every amount counts…

New projects could include the Super Ditch water leasing program and building more storage, he added. “Storage has a bad name, but now people are talking about it. To meet the future needs of our state, we need more buckets,” Applegate said. “The problem is here today. We need to do something about it now.”

More IBCC — basin roundtables coverage here.

Lower Arkansas Valley: Conflict flowing from use of irrigation return flows below John Martin Reservoir

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The senior water rights on the Arkansas River in the area date back to the 1880s, with some as far back as the 1870s. The return flows, or seep rights, from major ditches like the Amity Canal were claimed as irrigation rights in the early part of the 20th century. The older the right, the higher the priority. The problem, according to [Water Division 2 Engineer Steve Witte], is that by intercepting the return flows on tributaries to the Arkansas River, downstream water rights could be affected. It could also lead to further disputes with Kansas over the Arkansas River Compact. “All we’re trying to do is improve the administration on the tributaries,” Witte said.

Last year, irrigators who use the seep rights were contacted by the state Division of Water Resources and told their junior water rights had not been regulated, but were going to be in the future. There were two meetings, and Witte made it clear what was needed: measuring devices on tributaries, control devices for diversions and diversion points that matched the legal descriptions of where those points should be. “We are assessing who is in compliance and who is not,” Witte said. “We told all of them we intend to enforce the priority system.”

Late last year, the state issued 28 orders to bring irrigators into compliance, and some court complaints have been filed on those who have not taken any steps toward corrective action. “Some have large amounts of water,” Witte said.

[Dwain Eaton, a Lamar veterinarian who has junior water rights] Eaton is riled by the orders, and says it will cost $5,000-$10,000 per diversion to install the required measuring devices. The orders have the potential to dry up thousands of acres of farm ground, he said. “I feel these rules concerning the measuring devices were made for the ditches and were never intended to be required on individual seep rights,” Eaton wrote in a letter to state legislators, Agriculture Commissioner John Stulp and Gov. Bill Ritter. “It would be hard to put out this unnecessary expense when we can see no value in it, except to satisfy the powers that be. These decisions are being made with very poor economic foresight.” Over the past 40 years, there have been few complaints from senior water rights holders, Eaton said. “I think the reason for the senior ditch not making a request is the amount of water that would be made available would be so small by the time that it made the river that no farmer would even know it was there,” Eaton said. Simply removing the water creates more problems. “There have been no plans made to revegetate these farms after the water has been taken from them, leaving a catastrophic environmental issue — soil erosion,” Eaton said.

More Arkansas Basin coverage here.