Snowpack/La Niña news

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From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dave Buchanan):

According the [NRCS report], the area around Steamboat has received 178 percent of its 30-year average snowfall to this date. The area around Keystone, Arapahoe Basin and Loveland ski area is 157 percent of average while the snowpack around Copper Mountain and Breckenridge is 139 percent of average. The Aspen area is 123 percent of average while Crested Butte registers at 127 percent of average, Vail at 119 percent and Powderhorn at 103 percent…The area around Purgatory near Durango is at 100 percent of average, Telluride is at 98 percent and Wolf Creek, which usually boasts one of the state’s deepest snowpacks, registers 84 percent.

More coverage from The Crested Butte News (Mike Horn):

As for the outlook in Colorado, Joel Gratz, founder of, said to expect a solid winter. “La Niña means good, good things for Colorado. From about Crested Butte and north, this season’s snowfall should total 100 percent to 125 percent of average. “For Colorado and the United States in general, La Niña favors areas that are farther north. I would expect Steamboat to do very well this year, as well as states north of Colorado.” In the central mountains, we’re right on the edge—and hopefully inside of the storm track. So far, so good. Early-season storms, according to Gratz, “are 100 percent typical. It’s actually uncanny how these individual early-season storms epitomize the average La Niña pattern. Most La Niña-type storms will provide good snow to the central and northern Colorado Mountains, with slightly lower amounts for the San Juans. “The [Elk Mountains] should do well and are a part of my ‘100 to 125 percent’ of average snowfall zone on the season. During the last La Niña winter [2007-2008], Irwin recorded over 1,000 inches of snow. Heck yeah!”

Energy policy — geothermal: Pagosa Springs geothermal infrastructure update

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From the Pagosa Sun (Jim McQuiggin):

Last month, Pagosa Springs Geothermal Supervisor Phil Starks presented a report to council stating that the potential for systemic failure is especially apparent in the town’s geothermal heating system, which experienced a cascade of failures during the past year. Initial repairs to the system earlier this summer were immediately followed by failures downline (concentrated along the Lewis Street corridor), most likely the result of differential pressure created when the initial repairs were done. Reporting the work completed over the summer, Starks added that the failures were symptomatic of a system that had exceeded its lifespan and would see increased failures in the near future.

When SUN staff, during a later phone interview, asked Starks if those failures were systemic, Starks replied, “Yeah, essentially.” According to Starks, “It’s the whole system in general because of the nature of the geothermal water, the age and type of piping used, plus the heat of the water. We are fatiguing the system due to the depressurizing and repressurizing that takes place every year.” Currently, the town carries most of its water for geothermal heating through asbestos cement (AC) piping, which under normal circumstances has a lifespan of anywhere between 50 and 70 years. While the AC piping in Pagosa Springs has been in the ground for over 30 years, “The way we use our system is causing the breakdowns,” said Starks. Starks said that breaks occur in the system, “Normally when we repressurize — about one a year,” but added that, with the stress on the aging system, he anticipates that number to increase, similar to what happened this past summer…

Although the Obama administration has allocated hundreds of billions of dollars for infrastructure projects since early 2009 — with allocations especially designated for renewable energy — the town has been slow to pursue those funds. Despite an additional $50 billion being released by the administration this past summer, with those funds tied directly to infrastructure (with priority given to renewable energy projects), the town has just recently investigated availability of infrastructure stimulus money for its geothermal system (Starks and the town, after several fits and starts, have pursued federal funds for construction of its wastewater treatment plant). While Starks said that a grant application was being written by Mary Tighe (the Pagosa Springs Community Development Corporation’s newly-hired community grant writer), he could not say what kind of priority was being given to the grant application or when it would be submitted.

More geothermal coverage here and here.

Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District’s water resource fee dominates board meeting

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From the Pagosa Sun (Randi Pierce):

The board invited PAWSD attorney Evan Ela, of Collins, Cockrel & Cole (Denver), to the meeting to discuss the legality of the district’s WRF since its legality has been questioned by directors Roy Vega and Allan Bunch, as well as a number of the Water Supply Community Work Group. The WRF is an assessment levied on all new construction to help pay for future water development made necessary by growth. The fee is not currently being assessed due to a moratorium in place that will expire Feb. 1, giving the board time to look into the matter.

PAWSD initiated the fee in 2005, as district engineers insisted new water storage would soon be necessary. At the time, a panel of community volunteers decided that new growth should pay its own way, thus resulting in the WRF and other “impact” fees imposed by other local districts, the town and Archuleta County. Before implementing the WRF, PAWSD looked into how similar communities funded future water development, as attorneys from Collins, Cockrel & Cole analyzed legal options. Near the end of 2005, the district board approved the fee…

At Tuesday’s meeting, Ela reiterated the stance that the fee is “fully legal” under Title 32, explaining to the board how each Titles 29, 30, 31 and 32 relate to various governmental and quasi-governmental entities. Ela explained that Title 29, which discusses impact fees, is “entirely directed” towards governments with land regulatory powers and that it is “no accident” such fees were under Title 29. Ela continued that statutes have to be read precisely, also citing multiple court cases in which water districts were allowed to impose “rationally related” development fees for growth to pay its own way. Ela added his belief that courts give latitude on the fees to be rationally related at the time the service is needed…

Two hours of discussion later and with no real headway seemingly made in terms of a consensus between the board members over the legality of the WRF, future discussions concerning both the presence of the fee and the possibility of WRF rebates will have to take place before the Feb. 1 moratorium expires.

More Pagosa Springs coverage here and here.

Spinney Mountain Reservoir closes for season

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From the Fairplay Flume (Marcey Hodshire):

Spinney Mountain State Park on County Road 59 near Hartsel is closed until next spring, according to a press release by Colorado State Parks…”Colorado State Parks and the City of Aurora, which uses the water stored in the reservoir, close the park each fall when ice covers the reservoir,” said Park Manager Kevin Tobey in the press release.

More South Platte River basin coverage here and here.

Eagle River watershed: Water settlement secures water rights on the upper Eagle River

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From the Vail Daily (Sarah Mausolf):

Developers filed for water rights for the project with the Colorado water court in 2005, [Dave Kleinkopf, a principal for developer Crave Real Estate] said. Several parties that use water on the upper Eagle River, including the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District, filed as objectors to the case. Until recently, it had been unclear whether the various interest groups would reach an agreement over the water rights or the case would go to trial in water court. A trial could have put the water rights for the project in jeopardy and would have cost developers a significant amount of money, Kleinkopf said.

Water for the future Battle Mountain project will come from a proposed 1, 210 acre-foot reservoir at Bolts Lake, south of Minturn…

Water rights for the project came through a settlement signed by the town of Minturn, Battle Mountain, Eagle River Water and Sanitation District, Upper Eagle Regional Water Authority, Vail Associates, Inc. and Eagle Park Reservoir Company, along with the Arrowhead, Beaver Creek, Berry Creek, Eagle-Vail, Edwards, Holland Creek, and Red Sky Ranch metropolitan districts. The settlement pertains to four cases filed with the water court between 2005 and 2007…

The agreement also granted Minturn water rights for future growth in town, independent from the Battle Mountain project. The water district will give Minturn access to as much as 50 acre-feet of the district’s storage water in either Eagle Park Reservoir or Homestake Reservoir, which are upstream of Minturn.

More Eagle River watershed coverage here and here.

Middle Colorado Partnership to hold ‘Water Law in the West’ seminar December 3

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From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Clark Anderson):

The Middle Colorado River Watershed Partnership (Partnership) will host a seminar on “Water Law in the West” on Friday, Dec. 3, at 8:30 a.m., at the Garfield County Re-2 School District administration building, 839 Railroad Ave. in Rifle. The seminar, part of a series being hosted by the Partnership, features Aaron Clay, a water attorney from Delta, with over 30 years of experience practicing water law in Colorado, including 26 years as a Referee with the Colorado Water Court. The seminar will provide an introduction to the legal and policy underpinnings of water use and management in Colorado and in the arid West, including fundamentals about water rights and how water supplies are appropriated and administered, all in nontechnical terms.

More Colorado River basin coverage here.