Colorado-Big Thompson Project update

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From email from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

It has been a busy summer on the Colorado-Big Thompson Project. We have had a couple projects over the past two months that influenced the flow of project water.

In mid-to-late summer, we began our third operational experiment as part of the Three Lakes Water Clarity program we have been working on collaboratively with our project partners on the West Slope Collection System. This reduced the amount of water coming across the Divide to approximately 250 cfs. At the same time, the August heat arrived and some demands came up along the Big Thompson River. As a result, water levels at Lake Estes trended down from an average daily water elevation of 7473 to 7471–two to four feet below completely full.

At Carter Lake, we began running Unit #3, our reversible unit normally used to pump water up to Carter Lake, to generate hydro-electric power and deliver water back down to the Big Thompson River. Consequently, after staying fairly full all summer, the water level at Carter Lake declined quickly over the course of August from approximately 5751 (eight feet below full) to about 5727, a fairly typical elevation for this time of year.

Pinewood Reservoir also saw a water level decrease in August, dropping quickly at the beginning of the month from 6579 (one foot below full) to about 6569. Today, Pinewood is back up to an elevation of 6572.

In more typical years, Carter would still see the elevation decline, but over the course of the summer months. Pinewood would fluctuate more on a daily basis.

Only Horsetooth has maintained a slow draw over the course of the summer. We are still above an elevation of 5400 going into Labor Day weekend.

The water clarity experiment ends the day after Labor Day. We will begin increasing flows through the Adams Tunnel that same day and anticipate we will be running a full project by the next weekend. We do not anticipate turning the pump up to Carter Lake back on for some time.

Residents around and visitors to Pinewood Reservoir will start seeing some construction traffic up to Pinewood Reservoir and on up towards the Pole Hill Power Plant following the holiday weekend. I will have more information on that project also after Labor Day.

More Colorado-Big Thompson project coverage here.

Colorado River: Tagging endangered fish for data collection

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From (Aaron Luna):

[Bob Burdick with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service] says the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has been tagging endangered fish for the last couple decades. The agency uses small microchips similar to those put in household pets. “Stock fish all receive these PIT tags and any of the wild fish we catch in the wild also receive a PIT tag,” says Burdick. Now, with a new monitoring system at the Price–Stubbs Diversion Dam, biologists can tell if an endangered fish is traveling up or down stream through the ladder. “Just since we’ve put the antenna in, we’ve had two pike minnows move up here that’s more information than we’ve gotten in the last two years,” say Project Leader Michelle Shaughnessy.

The system was installed Aug. 12, runs on solar power and sends data back to officials via telephone every time a tagged fish swims through. The next closest monitoring device is upstream and requires trackers to take fish out of the water by hand. Shaughnessy says populations of native fish give a good indication of where the balance sits between human and wildlife use of the river. “The fish are sort of a test. Do we have an ecosystem that is healthy? And the fish are telling us we really don’t,” he says…

The tracking system costs around $120,000 and will be used indefinitely.

More endangered species coverage here.

Denver: Major U.S. water suppliers huddle in Denver to talk climate change strategy

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From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

Gathering in Denver this week for a brainstorming session, the representatives of about 25 major public utilities conveyed concerns about observed changes increasingly affecting their operations: earlier snowmelt from mountains, increased rain instead of snow, rising sea levels, flooding that leads to overflowing sewers, and drought…

Denver Water board members next month are expected to consider possible rate hikes. “Certainly, everything we do plays into the rates,” spokeswoman Stacy Chesney said. “I would certainly expect rates to go up as we move forward.”

Las Vegas-area water authorities are spending $800 million to construct a deeper water intake vent in Lake Mead because reduced Colorado River flows have lowered water levels to within 30 feet of a crucial existing valve. If the lake drops another 30 feet, 40 percent of supplies would be lost, said Richard Holmes, deputy general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority.

Nutrient growth in warming reservoir waters also is hurting water quality and raising health concerns, Holmes said. Climate-change models project river flows will decrease between 5 percent and 20 percent by 2040. Las Vegas, San Diego and Mexican authorities are looking into a major desalination project, he said, in an effort to prevent shortages…

“It doesn’t matter what causes climate change. What matters is the effects related to ensuring safe drinking water supplies,” said Robert Renner, director of the Denver-based Water Research Foundation, which arranged and ran this national forum. “The fact is: This is happening right now. We have to adapt. Water utilities have got to be able to guarantee to their customers that they will deliver a safe supply of water.”[…]

Federal regulators from the Environmental Protection Agency confided uncertainty about how to “hold utilities’ feet to the fire” in meeting water- quality standards as they adapt to climate change impacts.

White House representative Katharine Jacobs, leader of the national climate assessment program, noted that utilities face uncertainty about how to adapt at the same time they face pressure to replace aging water supply infrastructure.

More climate change coverage here and here.

2010 Colorado elections: If they pass, how will Proposition 101 and Amendments 60 and 61 affect state and local government?

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From the Aspen Daily News (Brent Gardner-Smith):

…if all three measures are approved, Pitkin County Finance Director John Redmond estimates the county could ultimately lose almost $14 million in revenue, with the county’s open space program taking an $11 million hit and the county’s general operating fund losing about $2.2 million a year. “It is roughly a 10 percent hit to the budget,” Redmond said.

The potential harm to local governments and special districts can be put into two categories. The first category is a direct revenue cut. For example, Proposition 101 cuts vehicle registration fees, which many local governments have come to rely on in their budgets.

The second category is a change in the law that could have potential negative implications for a local government. For example, Amendment 60 requires that property tax questions be voted on only in November, which some officials think will crowd the ballot and make it likely that voters will say “no” to all tax measures each November.

The direct revenue cuts under Proposition 101 are perhaps the easiest to plug into a spreadsheet, as the measure would lower vehicle registration fees and taxes on telecommunications services to local governments over the next four years. It would also lower the state income tax rate over the next 10 years. If Proposition 101 is approved, the city of Aspen could lose $866,000 in revenue next year and $1.1 million in four years, according to city finance director Don Taylor. Today the city uses the tax money for general operations and to fund parks, housing, day care and transportation. Pitkin County’s Redmond estimates the county would lose $1.8 million next year from its general fund budget as a result of Proposition 101. The Aspen School District estimates it would lose $900,000 by the fourth year of the reductions, according to Kate Fuentes, the district’s finance director. Town of Snowmass Village Finance Director Marianne Rakowski estimates the town would lose $266,000 from its general fund budget the first year under Prop 101 and $383,000 the fourth year…

the Aspen School District doesn’t see anything fair about Amendment 60. The measure requires school districts to cut their property tax rates in half by 2020, except for those taxes tied directly to debt payments. Fuentes estimates Amendment 60 would reduce the district’s tax revenues by more than $8.8 million in 10 years…

Amendment 60 also could strip revenue directly out of some other entities’ budgets, as it eliminates prior approvals from voters to “de-Bruce” certain tax streams from the restrictions of the Taxpayers Bill of Rights, a constitutional provision authored by Douglas Bruce of Colorado Springs. If passed, Amendment 60 would require that the county’s open space tax, for example, no longer be exempt from TABOR. This would mean $11 million that voters approved for the purchase of open space wouldn’t be available.

Amendment 60 also would require governments to pay taxes on their assets for the first time. This provision has left most government officials inserting question marks in spreadsheets about potential costs. “What is the golf course worth?” asks Aspen’s Taylor about the city’s municipal course. “You can’t do anything with it, other than run it as a golf course, and as a money-making proposition it is not very valuable.” On the other hand, Taylor said the city’s water treatment plant is quite valuable.

Amendment 61, for example, requires voter approval (in November) of any borrowing by a local governmental entity, such as when the hospital district enters into a lease to obtain an expensive piece of medical equipment. “That’s pretty imposing,” said Aspen Valley Hospital CEO David Ressler, who noted that it often makes financial sense for the hospital district to lease medical equipment rather than buy it outright. “It limits our options.” Ressler is also concerned about the provision in Amendment 61 that would not allow entities to issue new debt for more than 10 years, instead of the more normal 20-year term. “That has the effect of doubling your debt service,” Ressler said. “You pay less interest in the long run, but it costs twice as much money in the short run.”

More coverage from the Cortez Journal (Hope Nealson):

Proposition 101 would lower the state income tax rate, first to 4.5 percent and then to 3.5 percent, and lower taxes for vehicle uses. Amendment 60 is aimed at helping to reduce property taxes. Amendment 61 would limit the ability for local governments and state government to borrow. Public enterprises and authorities, such as the Montezuma County Housing Authority, water districts, colleges and universities also would be required to pay taxes on the property they own under Amendment 60. For example, the Colorado Division of Wildlife is an enterprise that owns thousands of acres spanning many counties, so the division of wildlife would be required to pay property taxes in every county in which it owns land…

Amendment 60 also focuses on school districts, requiring them to cut their property tax rates in half by 2020. The state is required to replace the revenue lost by school districts. That’s a tricky endeavor because the passage of Proposition 101 would reduce state income by 25 percent over time.

Proposition 101 proposes reducing state and local government budgets by more than $2 billion from lost state income tax revenue, according to Looking Forward, a collaboration between the Colorado Fiscal Policy Institute, the Colorado Children’s Campaign and the Bell Policy Center to educate Coloradans about state fiscal policy. More than 40 percent of income tax revenue goes to kindergarten through 12th-grade funding, Looking Forward reported…

Proposition 101 would reduce vehicle ownership taxes over a four-year period to $2 for a new vehicle and $1 for a used vehicle. The proposition also would cut telecommunication and income taxes. With vehicle license and registration fees dropping to their 1919 level of $10 through Proposition 101, Schuenemeyer estimated the reductions in vehicle ownership taxes alone would cut funding for local school districts from $1.6 million in 2009 to $19,148…

Amendment 61 calls for prohibiting borrowing by state or local government and requires voter approval for future loans, limiting the form, term, and amount of total borrowing by each local governmental entity and directing all current borrowing to be paid. “This means governmental entities in the state – counties, cities, towns, school districts, fire districts, water districts, etc. – are prohibited from borrowing any amount of money without voter approval and elections can only be held in November,” Schuenemeyer said. Colorado would not be able to issue bonds or borrow in any other way, including lease purchases, for any reason, even in emergencies. And bonds can be issued for only 10 years, he added.

More 2010 Colorado elections coverage here.