Salida: Water rate increases coming?

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From the City of Salida:

A draft water rate study recently completed by the city’s engineering firm Schmueser Gordon Meyer (SGM) is now available for review on the city’s website. The study indicates rates are well below the required level to pay for the cost of the plant and water system. Alternatives for increasing rates will be considered by the council at the regular meetings scheduled on March 1 and March 15. Public comment may be considered at both meetings; however, the official public hearing will be held as part of the March 15 meeting.

For well over a year now, city staff and elected officials have discussed the need to increase water rates to keep up with costs. The fund is not breaking even and reserves are depleted.

Water service is provided to residents and property owners in Salida through an enterprise fund. This accounting structure is used for business-type activities. Water operations are not operated as a governmental fund supported by tax dollars. Revenue generated from the business activity (providing water) needs to be sufficient to pay for that activity.

The City has followed a revenue model whereby quarterly fees paid for operations and routine maintenance or upgrades. Development fees paid for capital improvements and debt service on those improvements. In recent years, revenue has not kept pace with the capital needs and debt service requirements. The City made substantial investments in capital infrastructure including the high zone water tank, new transmission lines, upgrades to the treatment plant, purchase and installation of radio-read meters and acquisition of water rights. Strong development activity in the mid 2000’s paid for a substantial portion of the capital improvements; however, it was not sufficient to fully pay for all such improvements. In addition, aging facilities are continuing to require upgrades and maintenance to extend their service period. Development has now slowed substantially and is not sufficient to pay existing debt service or cover capital requirements. In 2010, we used up capital reserves and obtained a commitment for additional debt to pay for capital improvements of the galleries water tank. Future capital requirements need to be paid by fees for water service.

Last year the city contacted its engineering firm, Schmueser Gordon Meyer (SGM), about completing an assessment of future capital needs and a rate study. The capital improvement plan is still being finalized and will be incorporated into the final draft of the rate study.

The city plans to raise rates to generate sufficient revenue to pay for current operating expenditures, debt service and capital requirements. Future development fees will be used to begin rebuilding reserves. The goal is to operate the water system efficiently and design a rate structure whereby users of the water system share in its costs of operations in a fair and equitable manner. No one welcomes rate increases, but the city needs to cover costs.

More Arkansas River basin coverage here.

Southern Delivery System update

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Here’s an in-depth look at the problems Colorado Springs Utilities faces in acquiring easements for the pipeline, from Pam Zubeck writing for the Colorado Springs Independent. From the article:

So far, Utilities has secured 126 signed agreements of the 170 needed in Pueblo County. That leaves 44, including 13 in Pueblo West, which covers nearly 50 square miles and is home to roughly 32,000 people. While 120 property owners in Pueblo West signed on the dotted line without raising a stink, Maxwell and 11 others refused — and face condemnation of their land after a stalemate in negotiations triggered Colorado Springs City Council last week to authorize court action. This isn’t the first time Springs Utilities has gone to court over SDS. Previous legal bills tally $2.7 million of the $115.5 million spent on SDS as of Dec. 31. Those costs include a dispute over Pueblo County’s ability to impose construction guidelines on the project. (Pueblo County won.)

Now Utilities will pay more legal bills for eminent domain — the public taking of private property for a public purpose, for fair compensation — though officials say they’d rather not. “Our intent is to try to find common ground without going to court,” says SDS planning and permitting manager Keith Riley…

If and when Utilities drives the line through Pueblo County, the job is only half-done. The city needs 130 parcels in El Paso County but so far has acquired only 43.

Meanwhile CSU has appointed Gary Bostrom to lead the utilities water sector. Here’s a report from the Colorado Springs Independent. From the article:

Gary Bostrom, general manager for Colorado Springs Utilities’ planning, engineering and resource management in water services, will take over as top water officer, vacated by the promotion last fall of Bruce McCormick to chief energy officer. Bostrom has spent his entire career at Springs Utilities and now takes over a water system that includes 25 reservoirs, more than 1,700 miles of distribution pipe, seven water treatment plants and a transmountain raw water system. He also oversees the city’s wastewater treatment and collection system. A Springs native, Bostrom received a 15 percent pay bump, to $224,390 a year, to assume his new role.

More Southern Delivery System coverage here and here.

Snowpack/runoff news

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From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Bobby Magill):

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s drought monitor shows moderate drought conditions persisting through-out eastern Colorado. That’s not the story for the mountains, however.

The mountains around Cameron Pass are seeing snowfall well above average. The water content of the snowpack at Cameron Pass was 141 percent of average at the end of February, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s monthly Poudre River Basin snow survey. On Feb. 28, Cameron Pass at 10,285 feet had 88 inches of snow on the ground with a water content of 30.3 inches — 9 inches greater than in 2010. The snowpack at Big South at 8,600 feet along the Poudre River was 236 percent of average as of Monday with 28 inches on the ground and a water content of 6.6 inches — about 4 inches greater than at the same time last year.

From the Summit County Citizens Voice (Bob Berwyn):

Noting that a relatively large snowpack above Green Mountain Reservoir should lead to above-average runoff, the Bureau of Reclamation has started drawing down Green Mountain Reservoir a little more quickly than planned to make room for that runoff. At the same time, Denver Water has upped releases from Dillon Reservoir heading down the Blue into Green Mountain Reservoir. With the Roberts Tunnel shut down for maintenance until April, the annual spring balancing act between capturing as much runoff as possible and preventing flooding could be even more delicate than usual. That means flows below Green Mountain Reservoir will be ramping up starting March 3, from 200 cubic feet per second to about 275 cfs by March 5. The flows will remain at that level until further notice, according to the Bureau of Reclamation.

From The Durango Herald (Dale Rodebaugh):

This week, the winter season water content of the snow at the Echo Basin ridge was 103 percent of average. Year-to-date water content was 108 percent of average…

In the entire San Juan Basin, the snow-water equivalent Tuesday was 18.1 inches, which is about average for the date during the last five years…

The water content of the snow in the San Juan, Animas and Dolores basins was 99 percent of average Feb. 17, the same as it was exactly a year ago, Rege Leach, the Colorado Division of Water Resources engineer in Durango, said last week.

From Windsor Now! (Bill Jackson):

At one location on the snow survey site at the 10,285-foot summit of Cameron Pass, [John] Fusaro and [Todd] Boldt measured more than 120 inches of snow. They found 104 inches at another, and the site averaged a snow depth of 88 inches. “It’s been a long time since we’ve seen snow like that up there this time of the year,” Fusaro said. On Cameron, he and Boldt had to put on five sections of tubing — 150 inches — to measure the snow depth, which is practically unheard of in February…

In addition to the snow being deep — it averaged from a high of 88 inches at Cameron to a low of 28 inches at Big South at 8,600 feet elevation — the snow had good density, meaning it holds a lot of water. At Cameron, Fusaro said, it had a density of 35 percent. At Chamber’s Lake, it was 27 percent. In addition, the ground under the soil ranged from damp to wet, “which means not only is there water in the snow, there’s water in the soil,” Fusaro said.

NIDIS Weekly Climate, Water and Drought Assessment Summary of the Upper Colorado River Basin

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Here are the notes for this week from the Colorado Climate Center.

Colorado Commissioner of Agriculture John Salazar talks ag and the economy

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Matt Hildner):

Salazar said he was not against the curtailing of wells as long as it followed the best available science and replaced depletions to surface water. While wells would not be subject to curtailment inside the subdistricts, should they go forward, there will be a reduction to the valley’s 622,000 irrigated acres, which ranks second among the state’s river basins behind the South Platte. After the 40,000 acres proposed for retirement by Subdistrict No. 1, the amount of acreage facing retirement won’t become clear until the other subdistricts come up with their management plans. But last year’s update of the Statewide Water Supply Initiative estimated that an additional 40,000 acres could be retired in the valley by 2050.

The changes could take place at a time when agricultural markets are poised to boom. Salazar noted that wheat growers are contracting for over $7 per bushel, while cattle prices could be up $2 in the coming year. Those circumstances could make agriculture the state’s top economic driver, but Salazar worries the state won’t realize what it has. “I always worry about agriculture in this state,” he said. “We need to continue the ability to produce food in this state.”

As for how the changes to the valley’s water policies will affect Salazar’s ranching and farming operations, the commissioner, like the rest of the valley’s water users, is waiting to see what the computer modeling says. Once he has that information he’ll see if joining a subdistrict in the Conejos River Basin is the right move.

More Rio Grande River basin coverage here.

Arkansas Basin Roundtable outreach session recap

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

About 25 people attended the third outreach meeting of the Arkansas Basin Roundtable. Many were associated with the roundtable, but the crowd also included county commissioners and ditch company officials. “By 2015, we can no longer feed the world, and by 2020, it’s in real bad shape. All you can talk about is moving the water,” said Ray Smith, a Fowler-area farmer who is also the president of the Oxford Canal.

He was reacting to presentations by Gary Barber, roundtable chairman, Todd Doherty of the Colorado Water Conservation Board and others regarding the mission of the roundtables and IBCC to find state water solutions. The groups have been meeting for five years, primarily to address the CWCB’s Statewide Water Supply Initiative. That report shows urban areas running low on water when the state’s population doubles in 2050, Doherty said…

[Gary Barber, roundtable chairman] gave the example of legislation proposed two years ago that would have put the burden of determining future water supply on county commissioners. In El Paso County, groundwater users are required to show a 300-year supply, leading to larger lots and more per-capita water use in rural areas, Barber pointed out. “We need a conversation,” he maintained. “It’s not as simple as it seems.”

More IBCC — basin roundtable coverage here.