Colorado-Big Thompson Project update: West slope operations meeting April 13

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From email from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

Just a quick reminder that we and Northern Water will be hosting a West Slope C-BT operations meeting tomorrow night, April 13, at the Granby Library starting at 6 p.m. A flyer for the meeting is attached. We want to provide folks a heads up on what we are anticipating we will see through Shadow Mountain, Granby and Willow Creek reservoirs this run-off season.

More Colorado-Big Thompson coverage here.

Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill superfund site update: Trichloroethene is spreading in the groundwater around the site

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From KRDO.com (Joe Dominguez):

It was reportedly found in tests taken at the Shadow Hills Golf Course late last year but just reported to Colorado’s Department of Public Health and Environment. Cotter had been negotiating for the past few years with state health department officials on how to deal with contaminated ground water. That contamination was uranium found decades earlier. Some residents believe it’s time for someone else to take over…

“I think it’s going to take the federal government because it’s such a big mess,” said [Ethan McClaugherty]…

The main argument between the state and Cotter leaders that has slowed down the plan is how to deal with cleaning up contamination. Cotter wants to use a slower less expensive method while RAP leaders suggest cycling that contaminated water through pumps and machines and putting it back into the ground. This new development could delay those negotiations again. Cotter will now have to do more tests on ground water to determine how widespread the TCE problem is and where it is originating from. No timetable has been set for how long Cotter has to get those answers for the state.

More Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill superfund site coverage here.

Lake Mead news: Reclamation set to release 11.56 million acre-feet from Lake Powell

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From the Las Vegas Review-Journal (Henry Brean):

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation has announced plans to release extra water from Lake Powell between now and September under federal guidelines that direct the “equalization” of the nation’s two largest man-made reservoirs. Lake Powell is required to send a minimum of 8.23 million acre-feet of water downstream to Mead each year. On Friday, bureau officials set this year’s release at 11.56 million acre-feet, more than enough to stave off an unprecedented shortage declaration that would require Nevada and Arizona to cut their river use.

Pat Mulroy, general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority, said it’s nice to have some good news for a change. “I’m delighted, absolutely delighted. We’re not going to lose any ground this year,” she said…

The extra 3.3 million acre-feet Lake Mead soon will receive is roughly 14 times the amount of Colorado River water used valleywide [Las Vegas and environs] last year.

Colorado Division of Wildlife: Commissioners begin water plan reviews

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Here’s the release from the Colorado Division of Wildlife (Theo Stein):

The Colorado Wildlife Commission Thursday received Fish and Wildlife Mitigation Plans from Denver Water and the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District that describe the water providers’ proposals for addressing expected impacts from two transmountain diversion projects that would provide more reliable water supplies to the Front Range.

The meeting was held at the Fairfield Center in Meeker.

Under state statute, the Commission now has 60 days to evaluate the proposed mitigation and provide a recommendation to the Colorado Water Conservation Board. The Commission is expected to render its decision at the June Wildlife Commission meeting in Grand Junction.

Wildlife Commission Chairman Tim Glenn said that during the May meeting in Salida, the Commission would offer the public an extended opportunity to comment and provide input on the two mitigation plans as well as two voluntary enhancement plans also being submitted by the water providers. Commissioners have held numerous public and stakeholder meetings on the issue since October.

“We’ve said all along we’re going to take the time to do this right,” said Glenn, who added that he was grateful that Denver and Northern had already incorporated public input from the February release of pre-draft mitigation proposals into the plans presented last week. “And we’re going to allocate plenty of time in Salida to make sure everyone gets heard.”

The mitigation and enhancement plans, as well as other information regarding the projects, are posted on the Moffat and Windy Gap Mitigations Projects page on the DOW web site.

Denver Water’s Moffat Collection System Project is designed to provide 18,000 acre-feet per year of new water supply to firm up the yield from Denver’s existing water rights on the West Slope, primarily by enlarging Gross Reservoir near Boulder and diverting additional water from the Fraser and Williams Fork rivers.

This project’s likely impacts include reduced stream flows and increased temperatures in the Williams Fork, Fraser and Upper Colorado River systems. The lower flows may increase sedimentation in the affected reaches of these rivers and reduce their ability to support aquatic insects and fish life. The lower flows may also reduce the ability of the river channel maintain hydrologic function over the long term.

On the East Slope, the additional diversions would send more water through the Moffat Tunnel, down South Boulder Creek and into an enlarged Gross Reservoir. The project would create a larger reservoir for recreation, but longer periods of high flows in South Boulder Creek above Gross Reservoir would reduce its ability to support trout and other aquatic wildlife.

To mitigate likely impacts from the project on the Fraser River and upper Williams Fork River, Denver is proposing to fund a Colorado River cutthroat restoration project and other aquatic habitat restoration work. On the Colorado River, Denver would install two real-time temperature monitoring gages and agree to release water in August if high temperatures threatened fish.

East of the Divide, Denver would rebuild the Gross Reservoir Dam larger than necessary to allow Boulder and Lafayette to store water to maintain stream flows during winter months, create new wetlands to replace wetlands inundated by the larger reservoir and monitor stream channel stability to identify impacts from higher flows.

Northern’s Windy Gap Firming Project is designed to provide 30,000 acre-feet per year of new water supply to firm up the yield from its existing water rights in the Upper Colorado River by diverting additional water to the proposed new Chimney Hollow Reservoir west of Longmont.

West of the Divide, impacts could include a decrease of water level in Lake Granby, a reduction in trout habitat in the Colorado River due to lower stream flows and increases in water temperature. There would also likely be a reduction in river flows preferred by rafters and kayakers, with a potential impact on anglers who fish from personal floatation equipment. Fisheries east of the Continental Divide would benefit from potential development of a new flat-water fishery in the proposed Chimney Hollow Reservoir, though some wetlands and big game habitat would be flooded by the new reservoir.

To mitigate impacts from the project on the Upper Colorado River system, Northern is proposing to manage their pumping to maintain water levels in Lake Granby and look for ways to improve flushing flows and provide cooler summer water temperatures in the Upper Colorado River below Windy Gap Reservoir. Northern would contribute to water quality projects to reduce nutrient loading in Shadow Mountain, Lake Granby and Grand Lake. East of the Divide, Northern is proposing to replace lost wetlands and improve enhance wildlife habitat near the new Chimney Hollow Reservoir.

Under state statute, the Commission’s authority is limited to a review of plans to mitigate impacts from proposed projects. Restoring the river to a past condition is beyond the scope of the project approval process and Wildlife Commission authority. However, Denver and Northern are voluntarily proposing steps to address impacts of existing water development projects to fish and wildlife resources on both sides of the Continental Divide by enhancing current conditions.

The enhancement plans would support the Upper Colorado River Habitat Project, a collaborative plan that is designed to restore a more functional channel system and improve habitat for trout and other important aquatic species between Windy Gap Reservoir and the Kemp-Breeze State Wildlife Area.

With the plans submitted, the Division has 10 days to perform a completeness review of the proposals. When the Wildlife Commission submits its recommendation to the Colorado Water Conservation Board, the CWCB will then have 60 days to affirm the Commission’s recommendation as the official state position or modify the recommendation. If the CWCB makes revisions, the Governor will have 60 days to affirm or further modify the recommendation, which then becomes the official state position with regard to mitigation. The final state position is then transmitted to the appropriate federal permitting agencies.

Also during Thursday’s morning session, the Commission received a presentation on draft regulations to amend the existing prohibition on dogs at Lon Hagler and Lone Tree Reservoir State Wildlife Areas near Loveland.

Under the proposed change, dogs must be on a leash less than six feet long, unless they are on a boat. In addition, dogs would be prohibited from portions of both properties during certain times of the year except as an aid to hunting. The current dog ban would be maintained around the Lon Hagler annex pond and adjacent land to protect wildlife habitat. The Commission is scheduled to consider final approval of the change at the May meeting in Salida.

The Commission also heard a presentation on a mule deer research proposal for Middle Park that will help Division biologists better manage deer herds across the state. The proposed study is designed to measure natural buck survival under different harvest structures. During the study, buck hunting pressure would be maintained at current levels throughout the Middle Park data analysis unit for three years. During the following four years, harvest rates on half of the unit would be increased while harvest rates would be decreased on the remaining half of the unit. Natural buck survival would be measured on each half of the unit when hunting season is closed.

The results will help biologists understand the impact hunting pressure has on the survival of mule deer bucks and their subsequent availability for harvest, and improve the Division’s ability to inform sportsmen of tradeoffs between managing for big bucks and hunter opportunity.

The Wildlife Commission meets monthly and travels to communities around the state to facilitate public participation in its processes. During the rest of 2011, the Commission is scheduled to meet in Salida in May, Grand Junction in June and in locations to be determined from July through December.

The complete agenda for the April Wildlife Commission workshop, as well as a discussion of proposed regulation changes for Lon Hagler and Lone Tree state wildlife areas, can be found on the Wildlife Commission web page at: http://wildlife.state.co.us/WildlifeCommission/Archives/2011/April72011.htm.

More information on Denver Water’s Moffat Collection System proposal and Northern’s Windy Gap Firming Project may be found here: http://wildlife.state.co.us/LandWater/Water/MoffatWindyGapMitigationProjects/.

The Colorado Wildlife Commission is an 11-member board appointed by the governor. The Wildlife Commission sets Division of Wildlife regulations and policies for hunting, fishing, watchable wildlife, nongame, threatened and endangered species. The Commission also oversees Division of Wildlife land purchases and property regulations.

More Moffat Collection System Project coverage here and here. More Windy Gap coverage here and here.

Rio Grande River basin: San Luis Valley’s first groundwater management sub-district update — accounting growing pains

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From the Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

In its annual meeting this month, the sub-district board of managers struggled with some of those kinks, most of them surrounding water accounting issues. Although the sub-district itself has been approved, its plan of management is currently under appeal at the Colorado Supreme Court level. Because of the court appeal, fees collected for the sub-district for the first time this year must essentially be held in escrow. If/once they are freed up, funds can be used for such purposes as sub-district staff and water acquisition…

In addition, several potential water sellers have already approached the district and sub-district to sell replacement water, which the sub-district cannot buy until its funds are cleared, assuming the state court appeal goes in the sub-district’s favor. One of the main purposes for the sub-district, which lies in the Valley’s closed basin area, is to replenish well-pumping depletions to surface rights. Vandiver said a number of people have offered replacement water, including the San Luis Valley Conservancy District and a local real estate company with a ranch for sale on La Jara Creek. The ranch comes with senior water rights. Jim McCullough, who attended the sub-district board’s April 5 meeting, also offered for consideration shares he owns on the Excelsior Ditch. He said he would like to find a way to use that water to replace the depletions he owes within the sub-district. Vandiver said he had fielded several inquiries from people who wanted to use surface water that is not part of the sub-district as augmentation water…

Recharge credits are another area where the sub-district board is fine tuning the details. Board and audience members questioned how recharge would be credited to farmers who had recharge reservoirs, flood irrigated or in other means replaced water to the aquifer. For example, Monte Vista area farmer Dick McNitt said he felt like he was being penalized for his conservation efforts through reservoirs on his property. The board and audience also talked about reconsidering how surface water credits are calculated, and Sub-district Board Chairman Lynn McCullough appointed a committee to review that portion of the plan and develop recommendations. The committee includes board members and some of the audience members who requested to be a part of the discussion…

One issue that was easy to resolve during the board’s annual meeting was the election of officers. The board unanimously voted to keep the same slate of officers, with Lynn McCullough as chairman.

More San Luis Valley groundwater coverage here and here.

Southern Delivery System update: Comments on the contracts to use Fryingpan-Arkansas project facilities close April 25

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The contracts will allow Colorado Springs, Fountain, Security and Pueblo West to store water in Lake Pueblo, connect a pipeline to Pueblo Dam and change the operation of the Fountain Valley Conduit. Colorado Springs also will have the ability to move water upstream through a paper trade.

“We have not received any comments on the draft contracts,” said Kara Lamb, spokeswoman for the Bureau of Reclamation. Deadline for comments is April 25.

Colorado Springs Utilities expects to begin construction of the SDS project in Pueblo County beginning next month. While SDS was raised as a campaign issue in Colorado Springs elections, all seven council candidates elected last week, as well as the two other members, are supporters of SDS…

Construction on the North Outlet Works, a new connection to the dam, will begin in May. The lead contractor is ASI Constructors of Pueblo West. Construction on pipelines through Pueblo West and through Walker Ranches in northern Pueblo County is scheduled to begin in late summer. Some construction has begun in El Paso County, and fabrication of parts for the dam connection is nearly complete…

As part of SDS, however, each community will store water in excess-capacity accounts in Lake Pueblo beginning this year. Lake Pueblo was built as part of the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project, authorized by Congress in 1962. Nonproject water can be stored in most years. Excess capacity space in Lake Pueblo will be allocated at $36 per acre-foot with an increase of 1.79 percent annually over the 40-year life of the contract with the four communities. For the first seven years of storage, the bills will be reduced by a total of $6 million in recognition of oversizing the initial quarter-mile of pipeline from Pueblo Dam to the Juniper Pump Station. Once that section of pipeline is completed, it will be deeded to Reclamation. Consequently, payments through 2017 will total about $760,000. Payments from the four communities will total more than $1.25 million in 2018, and will increase each year by terms of the contract and as more water is stored.

More Southern Delivery System coverage here and here.

Western Governors’ Water Policy Arm to Consider Water Sharing Recommendations This Week in Santa Fe

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Here’s the release from Colorado State University (Emily Wilmsen):

The Western States Water Council – the water policy arm of the 18 Western Governors – this week will consider recommendations from diverse Western water leaders representing agricultural, environmental, and urban interests.

The report – “Agricultural/Urban/Environmental Water Sharing: Innovative Strategies for the Colorado River Basin and the West” – is the result of convening representatives from The Nature Conservancy, Family Farm Alliance, Western Urban Water Coalition and two dozen others who set aside long-held positions and built new alliances for creative water sharing strategies for mutual benefit. The full report is available at http://www.cwi.colostate.edu/watersharing.

Colorado State University’s Colorado Water Institute facilitated the meetings and produced the report as a response to a 2008 challenge by the Western governors: “States, working with interested stakeholders, should identify innovative ways to allow water transfers from agricultural to urban uses while avoiding or mitigating damages to agricultural economies and environmental values.” The project was funded by the Walton Family Foundation.

Some strategies detailed in the report include:

• Farmers and cities in Arizona trading use of surface water and groundwater to the advantage of both;

• Ranchers in Oregon paid by environmentalists to forego a third cutting of hay to leave water in the stream for late summer fish flows;

• A ditch company in New Mexico willing to sell shares of water to New Mexico Audubon for bird habitat on the same terms offered to a new farmer to grow cantaloupe;

• A California flood control and water supply project creatively managed to meet multiple goals of restoring groundwater, maintaining instream flows for wild salmon and steelhead, and providing water for cities and farms;

• Seven ditch companies cooperating in Colorado in a “Super Ditch” scheme to pool part of their water through rotational fallowing, for lease to cities, while maintaining agricultural ownership of the water rights.

“While these strategies sound like good common sense, they all face sizable obstacles,” said Reagan Waskom, director of the Colorado Water Institute. “If we want to share water for the benefit of all, we need a lot more flexibility, all members of the group agreed.”

The group’s recommendations to the Western Governors were developed to provide that flexibility, Waskom said.

Highlights of the recommendations:

• Design robust processes that give environmental, urban and environmental stakeholders opportunities to plan together early on, instead of one-sided “decide, announce, defend” processes that frequently result in opposition and polarization.

• Foster a flexible, watershed based approach that can lead to cross-jurisdictional sharing of infrastructure, cooperatively timed water deliveries, and strategies to facilitate real-time, on-the-ground, state-of-the-art water management for optimal benefit of cities, farms, and the environment.

• Break down legal, institutional, and other obstacles to water-sharing strategies by developing criteria and thresholds that protect agriculture, the environment and any third parties to water sharing transactions. And experiment with creative approaches such as “water resource sharing zones” that could be set up for trading of water, financial resources, and even locally grown food while encouraging interaction between agricultural, environmental, and urban neighbors.

• Expedite the permitting process when programs or projects have broad support of agricultural, urban, and environmental sectors.

• A governor-championed federal/state pilot review process should be established where a state liaison and a federal designate are appointed to co-facilitate concurrent agency review and permitting without repetitive, costly information exchanges. Permitting is important to protect environmental, economic, and social values, the group agreed, but cumbersome permitting processes often lasting years need an overhaul.

In coming months, group members will meet with environmental, agricultural, and urban groups throughout the Colorado River Basin and the West to encourage further dialogue.

More coverage from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

Included in the report are the Arkansas Valley Super Ditch and guidelines for water transfers developed by the Arkansas Basin Roundtable, as well as a description of $3 million in state projects looking at how water resources can be shared. Colorado State University’s Colorado Water Institute developed the report, along with The Nature Conservancy, Family Farm Alliance, Western Urban Water Coalition and about two dozen others who participated in brainstorming sessions to find ways to share water in order to satisfy agricultural, environmental and urban interests. It grew out of a 2008 challenge by governors to identify innovative water transfers, and was funded by the Walton Family Foundation. The report looked at water-sharing programs in California, Arizona, Oregon, Wyoming and New Mexico as well as Colorado. Everything from water banks to lease programs like Super Ditch were considered.

Recommendations included basinwide planning and development of projects, breaking down barriers to water transfers and finding creative, flexible approaches that are acceptable to urban, rural and environmental concerns.