San Miguel River: The CWCB approved an instream flow right last week

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Here’s the release from Western Resource Advocates:

The San Miguel River has been victim to the effects of human development and water diversions to the point where the river’s health is a concern. But last week, with the help of expert testimony provided by WRA, the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) approved a significant instream flow water right for the San Miguel. This right would keep enough water in a stretch of the river to prevent the decline of fish and plant species and protect the river from future diversions.

Beginning high in the alpine environment of San Juan Mountains above Telluride, and ending in the desert at its confluence with the Dolores River, the San Miguel River is still largely free-flowing. It is also extremely important to the rural and resort economies of the communities through which it flows.

The river supports healthy populations of three fish species whose numbers are decreasing elsewhere in the basin: the roundtail chub, flannelmouth sucker and bluehead sucker. The river is also important for several globally imperiled plant species.

WRA’s testimony was key to supporting and shoring-up a CWCB staff recommendation which was strongly contested by several opposing parties. The CWCB’s approval is a tremendous victory, though the instream flow water right must be approved by a water court prior to being implemented. This win builds on WRA’s tradition of securing healthy water flows for the West’s most special waterways.

WRA also represented The Wilderness Society, and received assistance from the Sheep Mountain Alliance and noted fish biologist John Woodling in making its case before the Board. Congratulations to WRA’s water team, especially Rob Harris and Laura Belanger.

Centennial: Good planning has the city ready to meet short-term supply needs

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From the Highlands Ranch Herald (Chris Michlewicz):

Whether it was securing an agreement with the city of Englewood in 1980 to store 4,000 acre-feet of water in McLellan Reservoir or the recent discovery of a mutual benefit in loaning out some underused infrastructure to Castle Pines, the Centennial Water and Sanitation District has gradually tightened its grasp on what will only become a hotter commodity as the years pass…

Years of planning and a decision to shift from its reliance on groundwater from the Denver Basin, Denver-Arapahoe and Laramie-Fox Hills aquifers have put Centennial Water on a track that is much different than other providers in the region. But because the district is not openly touting its fortunate position, it is sometimes lumped in with other districts. Incorrect information and rumors have given some customers a wrong impression. Hendrick says it drives him nuts to hear that some believe Highlands Ranch is entirely on groundwater. “Nothing could be further from the truth,” said Sherry Eppers, community relations manager for the district.

Between McLellan and the South Platte Reservoir, there is 10,000 acre-feet of raw water storage capacity exclusively for Highlands Ranch users. Centennial Water also helped build a 400-acre-foot reservoir in Park County that has been in operation for two years. Surface water rights for Plum Creek came with the initial purchase of the ranch in 1979, but leaders have been actively seeking and developing other sources for several years…

Centennial Water continues to become involved in new endeavors, including the reallocation project that could nearly double the capacity at Chatfield Reservoir within a few years.
The district, which is part of the South Metro Water Supply Authority, is also a potential participant in the WISE program, which if approved will funnel 100,000 acre-feet of reclaimed water from Denver and Aurora to the south metro suburbs over a 10-year period…

Centennial Water wants to continue reducing its groundwater use; it takes 10 percent of the groundwater it’s entitled to, and has used only surface water over the last four years because of wetter seasons. It has even replenished some of the water it has removed from the aquifers over the years. “We’ve recharged 14,000 acre-feet over the last 20 years,” Hendrick said. “That has reduced the drain on the aquifers.”

More South Platte River basin coverage here.

The El Paso County Commissioners public work session about regulations is trying to find the sweet spot for county rules

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The sweet spot is somewhere between not regulating anything above what the state of Colorado does and enough regulation to protect local interests. Here’s a report from Debbie Kelley writing for The Colorado Springs Gazette. From the article:

“We can’t make somebody drill and we can’t keep them from drilling. I’m not wanting to run them through the wringer, but I think our regulations need to reflect the realities of the law and focus on the areas where the state is not regulating,” Commissioner Dennis Hisey said at Thursday’s work session.

But it will take months of additional public hearings, staff presentations and meetings with state officials before commissioners establish rules for natural resource exploration and extraction in the county.

Commissioners and some county staff will tour a working rig on Oct. 3; commissioners haven’t decided where yet. And at least two more work sessions will be held; the next is Sept. 29, following the board’s regular meeting at 27 E. Vermijo Ave.

That session will continue what county staff presented Thursday: an exhaustive analysis of 29 potential areas of regulation and how other Colorado cities and counties are addressing them…

Hisey said he doesn’t advocate “maximum extent” in every regulation, “but if the state’s not regulating to the best interests of our local interests and comfort level, we need to.” Commission chairwoman Amy Lathen said her priorities are to protect water supplies and quality and charge operators for road impacts.

More oil and gas coverage here and here.

Aurora water comes out on top (again) in a regional taste test this week at annual conference of the Rocky Mountain Section of the American Water Works Association

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From The Denver Post:

It was the second time in three years Aurora Water has come away with the top spot. “We employ state-of-the-art treatment technology and have a staff dedicated to providing some of the highest quality water around,” Mark Pifher, director of Aurora Water, said in a statement. “It’s a testament to the hard work of our employees when our water comes out on top in a comparative taste-test.”

More water treatment coverage here and here.

Colorado State University to Help Aurora Water, Schools with Free Rain Gauges in Training Program that Makes Science Fun

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

Colorado State University climatologists, working in tandem with Aurora Water, will offer a free training session on monitoring precipitation to benefit Aurora schools on Wednesday, Sept. 28.

The training session, which is open to the public, will be 6:30-7:30 p.m. in the Community Room at the Aurora Central Library, 14949 E. Alameda Ave., Aurora. Reservations are recommended by calling Noah Newman at (970) 491-8545.

The training program is sponsored by the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network, or CoCoRaHS, which is a volunteer program now boasting 15,000 volunteers across the country. Colorado State University State Climatologist Nolan Doesken created the program in 1997 to help scientists obtain more localized rain measurements after a devastating flood hit Fort Collins.

Aurora Water has sponsored seven rain gauges for local schools. Additional fundraising efforts have been ongoing, and teachers from other area schools who pre-register and attend this training session are eligible for a free rain gauge for their school.

Participants will learn how the National Weather Service measures precipitation and why it is important for weather and climate scientists across the country. Volunteers will learn to contribute their own precipitation data that will benefit local communities and scientists.

White River Forest project is indentifying fens in the forest with an eye towards preservation of the resource

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From The Aspen Times (Heather McGregor):

Most grasses, shrubs and trees on Earth are rooted in soil that dries out enough between storms to allow oxygen to reach their roots. Fen species must be able to live rooted in a saturated, chilled, low-nutrient tangle of roots and slowly decaying plant material. Fens tend to occur in basins, around open water ponds, or on gentle slopes with blocked drainage. And fens form very, very slowly. A fen in the Rockies will accumulate peat at the rate of 3.5 to 18 inches per 1,000 years, [Forest botanist John Proctor] said. “Because the accumulation of peat in fens is so slow, these ecosystems are essentially irreplaceable,” he said. “Fens are relics from the glacial past. Many are more than 6,000 years old.”[…]

Fens filter and hold clean water, serving as high country reservoirs that help keep streams flowing past the runoff season. They also store high levels of carbon, helping to offset climate change. Fens also contain a climatological record of pollen, plant and insect species that can give scientists a view into the past, much like glacial ice cores…

Now that possible fens have been located in more than 5,500 sites across the 2.3-million-acre national forest, Proctor has started what will be a long process of ground-truth field surveys. Not all these areas will turn out to actually be fens. Some will be more ordinary wetlands, open ponds or meadows. Proctor worked this summer with two Forest Service technicians and a biologist with Colorado State University’s Colorado Natural Heritage Program to visit 25 possible fens. The team focused on sites that are outside wilderness areas and close to roads in the forest. This subset of possible fens would be at the highest risk for damage from development, visitation or motorized use. The ground-truth work continues this fall with biology students from the Colorado Mountain College Leadville campus. All but one of the summer’s 25 sites turned out to be high quality fens. “We’re on the right track,” Proctor said. “The only place it didn’t play out was on Middle Thompson.”[…]

On Independence Pass, the Warren Lakes area will be the site of an effort this fall to restore fens that were badly damaged in the 1930s by peat mining. The work will attempt to stop up the channels cut in the peat so the fen can fill up with water again. The hope is that once the fen is fully saturated, the peat will begin to gradually fill back in…

The overall goal for surveying and repair projects is to protect and preserve the forest’s fens as reservoirs of clean water and rare plants, and as a glimpse into the glacial past.

More restoration coverage here.

Energy policy — oil and gas: The Sierra Club presents ‘What the frack?’ in Fort Collins on Saturday

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From The Greeley Tribune:

The Sierra Club will present “What the Frack?,” a program about hydraulic fracturing used in the oil and gas industry, from 7-9 p.m. Saturday in Fort Collins.

The event will be at the Fort Collins Brewery, 1020 E. Lincoln Ave. The program will address how hydraulic fracturing, known as “fracking,” affects Larimer and Weld counties. The method of resource extraction uses high-pressure water and chemicals to release oil and gas from shale deposits deep underground.

The free event will include free beer and food. The guest speaker will be Wes Wilson, an official retired from the Environmental Protection Agency. Wilson is featured in the documentary, “Gasland,” which explores the subject of fracking.

More oil and gas coverage here.

‘Future Horizons for Irrigated Agriculture’ tour recap: Greeley and other Weld County Communities are gearing up for population growth

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Here’s an in-depth look at efforts by northern Colorado cities to water the expected growth in population from The Greeley Tribune. Click through and read the whole article and check out the photo gallery. Here’s an excerpt:

Water storage for the future is viewed as so vital to the northern Front Range that the 15 participating municipalities and water districts of the Northern Integrated Supply Project, or NISP, have spent about $10 million during the past seven years just to plan and analyze the endeavor. But there is no guarantee that NISP — a project that includes the construction of two new reservoirs in northern Colorado — will ever take shape. The federal government continues to analyze the Environmental Impact Statement…

Jon Monson, director of the city of Greeley’s Water and Sewer Department, said the city’s current supply will meet the needs of the community for only 25 more years, maybe less. In preparation, Greeley officials want to expand the Milton Seaman Reservoir, one of six high-mountain reservoirs from which the city draws its water. The reservoir holds about 5,000 acre-feet of water, and the proposed project calls for it to be expanded more than 10-fold to 53,000 acre-feet. The expansion would allow Greeley to pull 7,800 acre-feet of water off the reservoir annually, up from the 750 acre-feet it can pull now. Greeley uses about 45,000 acre-feet of water per year; demand is expected to grow to about 65,000 acre-feet by 2050. After initiating efforts in 2004, the draft Environmental Impact Statement for the project is expected by 2013, and a final EIS is expected by 2015. Afterward, construction would take two years and filling the reservoir could take another five to 10 years…

Another water storage effort is The Windy Gap Firming Project. The 25-year-old Windy Gap Project near Granby diverts water from the Colorado River to the Front Range via the Colorado-Big Thompson Project on a space-available basis. According to Monson, during wet years when water is available for Windy Gap diversions, Lake Granby is often full with little or no space for the water. During dry years, the water right can be too junior to come into priority, so no water is available to pump. Greeley is allotted 4,400 acre-feet of water annually from the Windy Gap Project, but that supply hasn’t always been available. The Windy Gap Firming Project was proposed to ensure reliable future deliveries. Nine other municipalities, including Evans, participates in the project, along with the Central Weld County Water District and two other districts. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation is expected to publish the final Environmental Impact Statement for the Windy Gap Firming Project in November.

More Colorado Foundation for Water Education coverage here.