A look back at the drought of 1976-1977 from The Aspen Times

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Click through and read the whole article, there is a lot of good detail there. Here’s the report from Scott Condon writing for The Aspen Times. Here’s an excerpt:

An article in the Thanksgiving Day edition of the Times in 1976 provided a bleak forecast for the start of the season. The Aspen Skiing Corp. would lose $400,000 in gross revenues if it could not open Aspen Mountain, Buttermilk, Snowmass and Breckenridge — which it owned back then — over Thanksgiving weekend, an article said.

The Ski Corp., as today’s Aspen Skiing Co. was known back then, had only missed a Thanksgiving Day opening on “six or seven” years since it started operating on Jan. 1, 1946. Company President D.R.C. Brown was philosophical about conditions.

“It won’t be the first, and it won’t be the last,” he said of the prospect of not firing up the chairlifts for Thanksgiving. There was only a 10-inch base at the top of Aspen Mountain, and snowmaking didn’t exist to any degree.

San Luis Valley: First groundwater sub-district grappling with replacing surface water depletions this spring

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From the Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

The board of managers for Special Improvement District No. 1 of the Rio Grande Water Conservation District (RGWCD) held a special meeting on Monday to wade through some of the complicated issues facing the sub-district as it navigates the waters ahead. The Valley’s first sub-district affects 175,000 irrigated acres and 500 or more individual property owners in Alamosa, Rio Grande and Saguache Counties north of the Rio Grande. Its goals include replacing injurious depletions from well pumping to surface water users, restoring the Valley’s aquifer levels and ensuring compliance with the Rio Grande Compact. By court order, the sub-district must begin replacing depletions to surface water rights this spring…

Water district attorney David Robbins said the judge required any wells not originally in the sub-district to go to the peer review committee to make sure any depletions they were causing would be accounted for in the groundwater model and replaced by the sub-district…

The board on Monday decided to extend to February 15 the deadline for applications from those wishing to enter fallowing contracts with the sub-district this year. The initial deadline was January 31. The board said by extending the deadline into February they could give farmers one last push during the potato grain conference in early February.

In addition, the board is still working out rules that will govern fallowing contracts and plans to review a draft of those rules on Monday morning, Jan. 30, at 8:30 a.m. in the Bureau of Reclamation office just east of Alamosa. The sub-district board will meet again at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 8.

More Rio Grande River basin coverage here.

Snowpack news: Statewide snowpack — 66% of average, the South Platte Basin — 75%

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Click on the thumbnail graphic to the right for the current snowpack map. There is a Water Availability Task Force meeting today so there should be some good stuff to report from there later on.

Water 2012: The Valley Courier is running a primer on prior appropriation

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From the Valley Courier (Judy Lopez):

Colorado administers water under the Prior Appropriation Doctrine. This means that those who put the water to beneficial use first are entitled to get their water first during times of shortage.

The Colorado Constitution declared that all water in every stream belonged to the people of the state and was subject to appropriation. In 1879, Colorado established the Water Commissioner to distribute water rights in priority based upon the principle of “First in Time… First in Right”.

Sooo… “Priority of right to water by priority of appropriation is older than the state constitution itself, and has existed from the date of the earliest appropriations of water within the boundaries of Colorado,” (Farmers Highline Canal& Reservoir Co) which was established way back on April 10, 1852, with the San Luis Peoples Ditch.

What this means in water lingo is that those with earlier decreed rights “prior” have senior rights and can divert their water before later decreed rights. It is a matter of timing, at least as far as acquiring the right goes.

The second part of the “appropriation” system requires the agency (private person or business) put the water to beneficial use according to the procedures of the law. This requires the appropriator to have a plan to divert, store, capture, control or posses the water in order to put it to beneficial use.

What is beneficial use? This is a moving target and can depend on the economy, the community, and the values and ethics of the users. There are, however, recognized beneficial uses: augmentation, CWCB in-stream flows, commercial, domestic, dust suppression, evaporation from a gravel pit, fire protection, fish and wildlife, flood control, industrial, irrigation, mined land reclamation, municipal, nature centers, power generation, water and gas production, recreation reservoirs and in-stream flows, release of storage for boating and fishing, snowmaking and stock watering.

More Colorado Water 2012 coverage here.

The Pueblo Board of Water Works hopes to finalize policy for large water users at their February meeting

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The revised policy would charge large water users $16,200 per acre-foot for water use above 520 acre-feet annually either for potable or raw water. The charge up to the first 520 acre-feet is $1,233 per acre-foot. The difference in the rates reflects the cost of acquiring and developing new water determined in a study that was done about five years ago. The previous rate was based on a study from the 1980s, said Terry Book, deputy executive director. The new policy would also give the water board the opportunity to waive part of the fees, based on the economic benefits such as jobs that new customers would bring to the community. The water board now routinely approves a moratorium on fees for new industries, and board members had concerns about whether there would be flexibility in applying the new rates…

While the Pueblo water board has acquired additional water through the purchase of Bessemer Ditch shares, those are set aside for long-range growth. A new, extreme demand could require additional purchases of water rights either by the new customer or the water board…

The city of Pueblo, Evraz Pueblo and the Colorado Mental Health Institute at Pueblo are the largest users on the city water system.

Here’s a look at Black Hills Energy’s water use from Christopher Burke writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

When water is removed from a natural stream system, such as the Arkansas River, it is either returned to that source in the same quantity in which it was removed, or it is not. The former is known as non-consumptive use and typically includes things such as hydroelectric power production and cooling water for steam power plants. Our W.N. Clark Plant and Pueblo 5 and 6 plants are of this type and use river water only for once-through cooling before returning the same water back to the Arkansas River. The latter is known as consumptive use and includes water that has been evaporated such that it is not available for immediate reuse. The new Pueblo Generation Facilities operate this way and will consume, on average, a total of 400 gallons per minute, according to 2012 estimates. Additionally, these facilities minimize any potential burden they might otherwise place on the municipal water treatment system through the use of zero-discharge technologies, which process all wastewater on site without discharging it back to the municipal sewage system for reprocessing…

As a matter of contingency, Black Hills Energy has alternative access to a contracted water supply. If water were to become scarce due to drought, we have the capability, both operationally and technologically, to use air-cooling technology originally pioneered by Black Hills Energy’s sister company, Black Hills Power, in Gillette, Wyo. Such technology reduces or eliminates the need for large-volume cooling water in exchange for slightly diminished plant efficiency performance. The new location of the Pueblo Generation Facilities, away from the Arkansas River Basin and flood plain, also mitigates any potential risks to our operations in the event of flooding

Finally, the board finished 2011 in a strong financial position. Here’s a report from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. Here’s an excerpt:

The Pueblo Board of Water Works finished 2011 with $1.39 million more in revenues than were projected in the budget…

Most of the increase in revenue, more than $1 million, came because of increased sales to water customers trying to keep lawns green through a hot, dry summer. Consumption totalled 8.8 billion gallons in 2011, about 7 percent above the five-year average. Customers paid $21.6 million for the water, about 69 percent of total revenues of $31.2 million…

Sales of water on the spot market also exceeded expectations, generating $1.6 million, more than twice the amount projected. The water board also made $144,000 more on miscellaneous revenues, primarily the sale of scrap.

More Pueblo Board of Water Works coverage here.