Colorado Water Trust: Heavy lifting is complete at the CCC Ditch Project Site

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Here’s the announcement from the Colorado Water Trust:

From inception to coalition building to planning to fundraising to materials harvest to construction, this project has been over ten years in the making. This project could not have occurred without the cooperation, patience, and stick-to-it-iveness of myriad stakeholders.

FlyWater, inc., our contractor for the project, worked in the San Miguel River through the month of October to recreate and reconnect the river bed. The last piece of heavy equipment rolled out of the river last week as the major construction phase came to a close. The San Miguel River now runs over the CCC diversion dam and down through the constructed “modified Newbury riffle,” re-wetting approximately 1500 feet of riverbed.

The stretch of river below the CCC diversion dam has been dry during periods of low river flow—when river flows were at or below 150 cfs—for the forty years since the CCC diversion dam was built. In mid- and late-summer, for example, the entire flow of the river would be diverted by the CCC diversion dam through the CCC Ditch. River water in excess of the decreed water rights would be returned to the riverbed 1500 feet downstream of the ditch headgate. This arrangement de-watered only 1500 feet of riverbed, but it completely severed the river ecosystem, preventing fish passage through that dry stretch. Now, fish populations are expected to thrive in their restored riparian ecosystem.

And best of all, this physical solution not only benefits the riparian ecosystem, fish populations, and recreationists, but it also does so without compromising a single drop of water that has historically been delivered to water users under the CCC Ditch. As this project comes to a close and the stakeholders celebrate their shared successes, we are delighted by the fact that everyone, fish included, can win when smart water projects are brought to fruition.

Check out pictures from CWT’s October 21st site visit.

More coverage from the Norwood Post (Ellen Metrick):

The stretch of river below the CCC diversion dam has been dry during periods of low river flow — when river flows were at or below 150 cubic feet per second (cfs) — for the 40 years since the CCC diversion dam was built. In mid- and late-summer, the entire flow of the river has been diverted by the diversion dam through the CCC Ditch.

Any water diverted that exceeded the decreed water rights would be returned to the riverbed 1500 feet downstream of the ditch headgate, an arrangement which completely severed the river ecosystem, preventing water and fish passage in that 1500 feet of river.

FlyWater, inc. — the contractor for the project — worked in the San Miguel River through the month of October to re-create and reconnect the river bed. The last piece of heavy equipment rolled out of the river last week as the major construction phase came to a close.

More San Miguel watershed coverage here and here.

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

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Here’s the link to the presentations from the Colorado Climate Center. Click on the thumbnail graphic to the right for the precipitation summary.

Most of the storage for the Animas-La Plata Project was built to satisfy Native American water rights claims

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From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

The project reflects a quiet but substantial shift of control over a crucial resource as the federal government tries to turn a new page with tribes. Six recent water settlements have forced the government to commit $2.04 billion for dam, pipeline and reservoir projects — giving sovereign tribes from Montana to New Mexico control over 1.5 million acre-feet of new water each year. Tribes have used lawsuits and hard bargaining to assert water rights. Now, with many Western rivers already over-subscribed, tribes are in a position to play a greater role in development…

Since 1908, the U.S. Supreme Court has held that tribes relocated to reservations in the 19th century are entitled to enough water to live on those lands. Only 29 of the nation’s 565 tribes have had claims settled. Future settlements could exhaust much of the remaining unallocated water. “The reality of water in most rivers in America, including the Colorado and Rio Grande, which are so important to Colorado, is that there’s not enough water to do everything that people want to do. We’re not going to create any more water supply,” said Salazar, a lawyer whose prior work as a U.S. Senator, state attorney general and natural resources director drew him into the issue. “Until (tribal claims for water) get quantified, there’s no certainty” for how much water will be available, Salazar said…

The total population of the Southern Ute and Ute Mountain Ute tribes is less than 6,000. They’re now in a position to pursue economic development, including extraction of gas, and sell water to others around Colorado. “Yes, we’re in the driver’s seat,” said Pearl Casias, chairwoman of the Southern Ute Tribe, which has about 1,481 members. There are 4,500 Ute Mountain Utes. Together, the tribes own about 70 percent of the water in Nighthorse reservoir…

Over the past three years, federal negotiating teams led by Bureau of Reclamation commissioner Mike Connor settled six claims. The most recent Aamodt settlement, for about $176 million, involves four pueblos in the Pojoaque River basin of New Mexico — providing about 8,500 acre-feet of water. A separate $88 million settlement with the Taos Pueblo is meant to deliver 2,000 acre-feet a year. Earlier this year, federal negotiators settled for $460 million with the Crow in Montana, a deal obligating the government to supply 500,000 acre-feet of water. A 2009 settlement for $1 billion with the Navajo obligates the government to provide 606,000 acre-feet…

This winter, Colorado officials and residents of Durango are expected to work at lining up shares of the water. The reservoir holds enough to sustain hundreds of thousands of people — far more than the current population of the area, Durango resident and businessman Kent Ford pointed out. “I’m all for the tribes getting their water rights,” Ford said. But building such a big reservoir for the purposes of a legal settlement may not make sense in the long run, he said. Mountain water might better have been left flowing in rivers to ensure healthy riparian ecosystems, he said. “We may come to look at this as another example of our society gone awry.”

More Animas-La Plata Project coverage here and here.

Colorado Geological Survey: Studies shed new light on Denver Basin groundwater

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Here’s the release from the Colorado Geological Survey (Vince Matthews):

The Colorado Geological Survey has released three significant new reports on ground water in the Denver Basin. The reports, representing more than a decade of research, provide the most detailed information yet on the varied distribution of groundwater in the Denver Basin and show the most productive aquifers are concentrated near the mountain front and diminish to the east.

All three publications document in different ways that the strata from which many of the people living along the southern Front Range obtain their groundwater, are highly variable. Together, they present a science-based perspective of the complex geometry of the freshwater-bearing strata which resulted from a dynamic geologic history. This new perspective shows a non-uniform distribution of strata with favorable aquifer characteristics across the basin. Because of the way the strata formed, the thickest and most productive sandstones concentrate near the mountain front and diminish to the east.

The reports will help regulators, modelers, consultants, policymakers, and planners better understand the variability of water productivity in the Denver Basin, a major source of water supply for populous regions south of Denver. One of the publications is the result of a collaborative effort with the Denver Museum of Nature & Science (DMNS).

The first report; Geology of Upper Cretaceous, Paleocene and Eocene Strata in the Southwestern Denver Basin, Colorado; is a compilation of more than 1000 square miles of surface mapping of the aquifers where they are exposed along the mountain front. The mapping was originally carried out at a scale of 1:24,000 and is compiled into a 1:50,000 map consisting of two plates. This compilation also presents a simplified naming classification for the geologic strata of the Denver Basin.

The second report; Bedrock Geology, Structure, and Isopach [thickness] Maps of the Upper Cretaceous to Paleogene Strata between Greeley and Colorado Springs, Colorado; takes what was learned by mapping at the surface and extends it into the subsurface using data from nearly 3,000 wells. This report was a collaborative effort with DMNS, whose personnel also spent more than a decade independently working on the strata in the Denver Basin. The report contains seven maps that illustrate the thickness, depth, and distribution of the various freshwater-bearing strata in the Denver Basin. It also contains a depth map to the Niobrara formation, and a thickness map of the Pierre shale that separates the Niobrara from the freshwater aquifers. An additional three maps of ancient landscapes illustrate why the sandstone aquifers are concentrated near the mountain front. Included with this report is an illustrative poster that explains the various environments within which the strata were deposited. The poster is also sold separately.

The third publication; Cross Sections of the Freshwater Bearing Strata of the Denver Basin between Greeley and Colorado Springs, Colorado; contains four north-south, and eleven east-west, detailed cross-sections of the strata in the Denver Basin. These cross- sections integrate surface geologic mapping with subsurface well data to graphically illustrate variability in the types of strata across the entire basin. This report is oriented toward the professional community, rather than the general public.

All three publications come in hard copy and include DVDs with detailed PDFs of the plates and GIS shapefiles containing metadata. The publications can be ordered from the Colorado Geological Survey at 303-866-2611 or in the online bookstore at http://geosurveystore.state.co.us/.

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

A new study by the Colorado Geological Survey and U.S. Geological Survey shows the Denver aquifers are thinner and less tributary than previously thought. At the same time, energy exploration is skyrocketing in the Niobrara formation, which runs through the geologic heart of Colorado. The fastest-growing areas of the state are located over the Denver Basin aquifers and their water supplies tap into what was thought to be a vast supply that would last 100 years into the future.

“This study is alarming because what we believed about aquifers for the last 20, 30, 40 years has been shattered,” state Rep. Marsha Looper, R-Calhan, told the Arkansas Basin Roundtable Wednesday. “The study of the geology showed the reservoirs are not as thick and deep as we thought.”[…]

Looper plans to introduce legislation to study how much water is available in the Denver Basin aquifers, rather than relying on past estimates that now may be inaccurate. “I want to take the Colorado Geological Survey study a step further and study how much water there actually is in the Denver Basin,” Looper said. “I plan to introduce a bill, but I want to work with the roundtable to take a bottoms-up approach to the issue.”

More coverage from Bob Berwyn writing for the Summit County Citizens Voice. From the article:

The reports compile more than a decade of research and provide the most detailed information to-date on the the distribution of groundwater, representing crucial information for water managers and land-use planners in the semi-arid region. Together, they present a science-based perspective of the complex geometry of the freshwater-bearing strata which resulted from a dynamic geologic history.

This new perspective shows a non-uniform distribution of strata with favorable aquifer characteristics across the basin. Because of the way the strata formed, the thickest and most productive sandstones concentrate near the mountain front and diminish to the east.

The reports will help regulators, modelers, consultants, policymakers, and planners better understand the variability of water productivity in the Denver Basin, a major source of water supply for populous regions south of Denver. One of the publications is the result of a collaborative effort with the Denver Museum of Nature & Science.

More Denver Basin Aquifer System coverage here and here.

The Arkansas Basin Roundtable is leading the charge to ‘value’ agricultural water

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

“We’re trying to establish a baseline value for the use of ag water,” said Reeves Brown, a Beulah rancher and member of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District board. “We need to find public support for the value of water.” Brown chairs a roundtable committee that is seeking to build statewide support for securing future water supplies for agriculture.

James Pritchett, an economics professor at Colorado State University-Fort Collins, outlined several approaches a proposed study of the agricultural value of water could take. Several CSU studies already have looked at similar questions. A committee will refine its course of action and present it to the full roundtable in January. A survey of more than 6,250 households in 17 western states showed the public has an aversion to drying up farms to provide more water for cities, and that city dwellers are even willing to pay more to find other ways to water their lawns. Buying farm water placed dead last in short- and long-term solutions to urban water gaps in the survey. In the short term, water restrictions were preferred. In the long term, respondents picked reservoirs, reuse, conservation, growth limits and even pipelines as better solutions than drying up agriculture.

More IBCC — basin roundtables coverage here.