Rocky Mountain National Park: Lily Lake Dam in need of repairs


Here’s the release from Rocky Mountain National Park (Kyle Patterson):

The Lily Lake Dam, located in Rocky Mountain National Park, has been rated a high-hazard dam by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. Failure of the dam is not imminent, and park staff are evaluating long term solutions; considering two options to reduce the risk, either repairing or removing the dam. Until a long term solution is implemented, the dam will be regularly inspected and monitored, and a pump has been purchased to lower the lake level in the event of a significant weather event.

The Lily Lake Dam is situated at the headwaters of Fish Creek, which flows into Lake Estes in Estes Park. Fish Creek is about 5 miles in length and the elevation difference between Lily Lake and Lake Estes is about 1,500 feet. If the dam were to fail, the ensuing floodwaters could result in the loss of life and property along Fish Creek. Repairs are needed to the dam to reduce the hazard, or the dam could be removed and the area restored to natural conditions.

Lily Lake, located along Highway 7, has become a popular recreational area in Rocky Mountain National Park. The lake sits in a beautiful mountain setting, surrounded by an accessible trail. The lake is a popular fishing spot and is stocked with greenback cutthroat trout, a federally listed threatened species.

Park staff are seeking the public’s input on two long term alternatives. Both repairing and removing the dam would involve several steps. The estimated cost of repairing the dam is approximately $1.4 million, with additional annual costs to maintain and monitor the dam. The estimated cost of removing the dam would be approximately $150,000. If the dam is removed, the resulting lake would be about 14 acres in surface area and would contain about 39 acre feet of water. If the dam remains in place, the lake would be about 17 acres in surface area and contain about 75 acre feet of water.

To learn more about Lily Lake, the dam and possible consequences for both actions, please go to:

If you have Internet access, the preferred method for submitting comments is to use the National Park Service Planning, Environment and Public Comment (PEPC) website:

From this site, select the Lily Lake Dam Project. Your comments can be submitted online.

You can also submit your comments in the following ways:

By email:e-mail us

By Mail: Superintendent, Rocky Mountain National Park, Estes Park, Colorado 80517

By Fax: (970) 586 -1397

By Express Delivery: Superintendent, Rocky Mountain National Park, 1000 Highway 36, Estes Park, Colorado 80517

Hand Delivery: Rocky Mountain National Park Headquarters, 1000 Highway 36, Estes Park, Colorado or to Kawuneeche Visitor Center, Rocky Mountain National Park, 16018 Highway 34, Grand Lake, Colorado

Some possible questions to consider when conveying your comments:

1. Which alternative do you favor? Repair the dam or remove it?

2. Why did you choose the alternative that you favor?

3. What are the reasons why you did not choose the other alternative?

4. Do you have any concerns about the alternative you favor?

5. Have we overlooked something important that we should be aware of?

6. Are there any other ideas or observations you would like to share about this project?

If you do not have internet access and would like a copy of the detailed information that is posted on the park’s website, please call the park’s Information Office at (970) 586-1206. Please note that comments should be received in writing by close of business on February 29, 2012.

More coverage from the Associated Press via The Denver Post. From the article:

Park engineers say failure of the dam is not imminent, but a long-term solution is needed. Options include repairing or removing the dam. In the meantime, the dam will be regularly inspected. The dam is located at the headwaters of Fish Creek, which flows into Lake Estes in Estes Park.

More infrastructure coverage here.

David Neslin is leaving the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission for private practice


Here’s the release from the Colorado Department of Natural Resources (David Neslin/Todd Hartman):

David Neslin will be resigning from his post as Director of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission to return to the practice of law effective in February. Neslin was appointed director of the COGCC in November of 2007.

Under Neslin’s tenure, the COGCC comprehensively updated the state’s oil and gas regulations to strengthen environmental protections during a significant increase in energy development. Neslin also oversaw changes within the agency that resulted in more efficient permit reviews and other process improvements assisting industry and the public.

Neslin worked closely with environmental groups and industry to develop the country’s strongest chemical disclosure law for hydraulic fracturing and he continues to work productively with several local governments on regulatory issues as the potential for energy development grows along the Front Range. Neslin frequently speaks before the public on oil and gas issues, and has testified on regulatory issues before Congress.

“Leading this agency through a time of dynamic change in energy development in Colorado has been a challenging, exciting and rewarding experience,” Neslin said. “I look forward to continuing the work of building collaborative, productive solutions to energy and natural resources issues in a new forum.”

“David’s many talents have been a great asset for our state,” said Gov. John Hickenlooper. “He earnestly, ably and consistently brought varied interests together to do what’s best for the environment, for business and for Colorado. We thank him for his service and wish him luck in his new job.”

“David Neslin presided over a transformative change in oil and gas regulation in Colorado,” said Department of Natural Resources executive director Mike King. “He has left the state in a strong position to address the industry’s increasing investment in Colorado, while ensuring that those operators working here are held to the highest standards for protection of the public and our environment.

“He deftly managed the COGCC through the most challenging period in agency history, and conducted his work with grace, poise and the highest order of professionalism.” King added. “We will miss him, and extend our gratitude for his public service.”

Neslin will be joining the Denver law firm of Davis Graham & Stubbs with a focus on public lands and energy on March 1. Prior to joining Colorado state government in 2007, Neslin was a partner in the Denver law office of Arnold & Porter, where he also focused on lands and natural resource matters.

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

Neslin on March 1 will join Davis Graham & Stubbs LLP in Denver, where he will deal with oil and gas and public lands matters.

Neslin became the state commission’s acting director in 2007, and was named director in 2009. He oversaw the controversial 2008 overhaul of the state’s oil and gas rules, aimed at better balancing development with protection of the environment and public health. Critics blamed those rules for a subsequent decline in drilling in the state, but Neslin cited falling natural gas prices and noted that Colorado remained among the most active states for oil and gas development in the Rocky Mountain region.

In December, he helped negotiate a compromise rule requiring public disclosure of the contents of hydraulic fracturing fluids, while providing for trade secret protections. It’s considered the most far-reaching fracturing disclosure requirement of any state.

More coverage from Cathy Proctor writing for the Denver Business Journal. From the article:

Shortly after Neslin was appointed acting director of COGCC in November 2007, he oversaw the massive, acrimonious rewrite of Colorado’s oil and gas regulations, which dictate industry operations in the state. The new rules were implemented in April 2009, when Neslin was appointed permanent director of COGCC.

During his tenure, Colorado’s oil and gas industry shrank as wholesale natural gas prices dropped. But Neslin also saw the industry grow again, as a new oil discovery in northern Weld County has evolved into Colorado’s fledgling Niobrara oil field, which some oil and ggas companies say could produce more than 1 billion barrels of oil.

More oil and gas coverage here and here.

Colorado Water 2012: Prior appropriation doctrine primer


Here’s the fifth article in their Water 2012 series from the Valley Courier:

By The staff of the Colorado Division of Water Resources, Division 3 Office:

For more than 130 years, Colorado has used a system of water allocation known as the Prior Appropriation Doctrine. Under this doctrine, the first appropriator of water has a senior right to the water available and that right must be satisfied before any subsequent rights junior to that right can receive water. Simply put, the Prior Appropriation Doctrine is “First in Time, First in Right.”

The doctrine evolved from practices used to settle disputes in the mining industry. The gold rush to Colorado in the late 1850’s brought experienced miners who allocated water based upon the same theory as land ownership, the first to occupy the land staked their “claim” to it and those following had no right to it. This system was eventually applied to water ownership disputes.

The San Luis Valley has the honor of being home to the oldest ditch in Colorado, the San Luis Peoples Ditch, which draws water from Culebra Creek. Use of this ditch was initiated in 1852 and diversion of water from other area streams soon followed. Appropriations were made from the San Antonio and Conejos Rivers in 1855. In 1860, the Fred Etter Ditch diverted water from Ute Creek for use at the local U.S. Army fort, in what later became Fort Garland. Diversions for irrigation use from the Rio Grande and Saguache Creek both began in 1866. Most other creeks in the San Luis Valley saw diversions for irrigation before Colorado became a state in 1876.

By the beginning of the 1890’s, many stream systems were over appropriated. Ditch companies were actively constructing reservoirs to store winter and spring runoff. In addition, new sources of water were being pursued, which included transmountain diversions and ground water. Changes of water rights, exchanges, transfer of water rights and “loan statutes” were issues that had to be addressed by the Office of the State Engineer by the turn of the century.

Some areas of the state have rivers, creeks, and aquifers where new appropriations can still be made. However, the surface and groundwater sources in the San Luis Valley have already been allocated to existing water rights and Compact requirements. Appropriations from the aquifers of the San Luis Valley for new high capacity (>50 gpm) wells were discontinued in the 1970’s and early 1980’s.

Colorado holds the unique distinction of being the first state to provide for the distribution of water by public officials. In 1879, the legislature created a part of the present administrative system. It provided for the division of the state into ten water districts, nine of these in the South Platte valley and one in the Arkansas drainage.

In 1881, the Colorado legislature established the Office of the State Irrigation Engineer, referred to today as the State Engineer’s Office, also known as the Colorado Division of Water Resources. The agency’s primary responsibility is the administration of the Prior Appropriation Doctrine by maintaining a list of water rights on each stream in order of priority. The priority of each water right was determined by the district courts based upon the date the structure for the water right was constructed and the water placed to beneficial use.

In 1887, the state created a Superintendent of Irrigation, who is known today as the Division Engineer, to supervise water commissioners within each division. The seven water divisions are geographically located to encompass the major river drainages in the state: the South Platte, the Arkansas, the Rio Grande, the Gunnison, the Colorado, the North Platte/Yampa, and the San Juan/Dolores.

The San Luis Valley is within Water Division 3 which covers approximately 8,000 square miles. The Water Division 3 office is located in Alamosa, with satellite offices in Saguache, Monte Vista, and Antonito. Approximately 600,000 acres of irrigated land are located in Water Division 3.

The Rio Grande is the principal river in the division; and the Conejos River is its largest tributary. The headwaters of the Rio Grande are on the Continental Divide west of Creede and the river runs generally eastward to Alamosa where it turns south, eventually crossing the state line into New Mexico. The equitable apportionment of water in the Rio Grande and its tributaries between the states of Colorado, New Mexico, and Texas is the purpose of an interstate Compact, ratified by Congress in 1939. The Rio Grande Compact will be detailed in a future article.

More Colorado Water 2012 coverage here.

Snowpack news: San Miguel/Dolores/San Juan basin are at approximately 73% of average


From the Loveland Reporter-Herald (Pamela Dickman):

So far this year, water managers do not like what they see — less snow and less water in that snow. Colorado is sitting at 72 percent of its 30-year average, while the Colorado River Basin on the Western Slope is at 71 percent of average and the South Platte Basin, which includes the Big Thompson River, is 78 percent of average. The numbers have drawn a comparison to the 2002 drought.

The data are similar, but each year is different, and a possible storm expected to deliver several inches of snow in Estes Park and Loveland and maybe even more in the national park later today could be just what the water doctors ordered. “It’s a potential game-changer,” said [Dana Strongin, spokeswoman for Northern Water]. “But we can’t rely on that. We are really far behind this year.”[…]

With equipment that has been fine tuned but is essentially the same since it was invented in the 1930s, [Todd Boldt and John Fusaro] make sure to get a clean sample of snow in a hollow aluminum pole in set locations. The numbers on the pole — and from a manual scale — seem like another language to the untrained eye or ear, but with those figures and a few punches of the calculator, Fusaro and Boldt are able to know how much water is in an inch of snow. On Monday, they found an average snow depth of 18 inches with 80 percent snow water equivalent compared to last year and 125 percent compared to the 30 year average at Deer Ridge (9,000 feet). Although there was 22 inches of snow at Hidden Valley (9,480 feet), the water equivalent was 74 percent compared to last year and 91 percent of average. Numbers were much lower at the automated sites in the national park — 71 percent of average at Willow Park (10,700 feet) and 86 percent at Bear Lake (9,500 feet)…

“The importance of this information is not only for farmers and agriculture, but for cities and electrical generation on hydroelectric plants,” said Boldt. “Everyone’s interested in snowpack information.”

Steve Gibson named to lead the Colorado Water Congress during 2012


From the Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

[Gibson] said he plans to continue his predecessor’s goal of inviting young professionals and those who have not yet been a part of the congress to join the broad and diverse water group…

“One of my goals this year is to continue that effort and try to bring it down especially to smaller rural communities,” Gibson said on Tuesday. “We need to bring young people in, on the local level, because that institutional knowledge is going to go away.”

Gibson also wants to increase membership in the Colorado Water Congress. “I am a firm believer in the benefits that the congress brings to the broader water community in Colorado,” he said.

He described the Colorado Water Congress as a quasi trade organization but added it is more than that because it includes professionals in the water community such as attorneys, consultants, engineers and representatives of water conservancies, conservation districts, ditch companies, irrigation companies and mining companies…

Before going to work for the conservancy district Gibson directed the local Nature Conservancy after moving to the San Luis Valley in 1999. His earlier career had been in the mining industry in the western part of the U.S. Originally from England and a graduate of the University of London, Gibson came to the U.S. for graduate school and remained. Although water was never on his radar screen back then, it has become a prominent part of his life now. “I have been learning about water and still know very little when you look at the big scheme of things.”

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

Gibson has represented the Rio Grande basin in the Colorado Water Congress for years, and says the group and the conservancy district strive for common goals. He is also a member of the Rio Grande Basin Roundtable, which has worked to iron out differences in local water issues…

Gibson came to the San Luis Valley in 1999 with the Nature Conservancy, joining the conservancy district in 2002. Prior to that, he worked for 30 years in the mining industry in Northwestern Colorado. A native of England, he was educated at the Royal School of Mines in London.

Also at the 54th annual CWC convention, the San Luis Valley Irrigation District, Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, Parker Water and Sanitation, Northern Water, Colorado River Conservation District and the Colorado Water Conservation Board were honored as water organizations of the year.

Southern Colorado Water Forum recap: Steve Vandiver — ‘We’ve issued too many well permits, and now we’re trying to unscramble the egg’


From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

“We’ve issued too many well permits, and now we’re trying to unscramble the egg,” Steve Vandiver, manager of the Rio Grande Conservation District, told the Southern Colorado Water Forum Tuesday. More than 6,000 high-volume irrigation wells have been drilled in the Rio Grande basin in the rich farmlands around Alamosa, Center and Monte Vista over the past 50 years. “These wells have had an impact that was not recognized by anyone when they were drilled,” Vandiver said.

Part of the problem is that one-third of the water in the San Luis Valley has to be sent to New Mexico, in an arid region that gets only about 7 inches of precipitation annually. Since the 1940s, wells have improved and expanded agriculture in the Rio Grande basin.

The greater harm is to senior surface irrigation rights, which date back to the 1850s in the Rio Grande basin. The valley is economically dependent on agriculture, and the farmers themselves have taken up a solution which they hope to implement before the state imposes rules, Vandiver said. “Six subdistricts are being created as a market-driven approach,” Vandiver said.

More San Luis Valley groundwater coverage here and here.

Chief District Judge Dennis Maes receives a lifetime achievement award from the Colorado Hispanic Bar Association


From The Pueblo Chieftain (Jeff Tucker):

Chief District Judge Dennis Maes was honored last week by the Colorado Hispanic Bar Association with a lifetime achievement award…

“Through- out his career, Judge Maes has served the Latino community,” the release said. “Even as a young teacher, Judge Maes was teaching in a predominantly Latino community in Southern Colorado. He later served this same community through his work with Pueblo Legal Services and as a public defender.”

Action 22 Summit recap: Governor Hickenlooper, ‘[agriculture] — It’s part of the muscle of the state’


Here’s a report from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

The governor told Action 22 that less-populated parts of the state have worked their way into his heart and are always on his mind, even when he is half a world away…

The governor spotlighted Southern Colorado’s agricultural heritage and economy as a bright spot, even during the sluggish global financial situation of the past few years. “It’s part of the muscle of the state,” he said, stressing the importance of a long-term plan to meet the state’s water needs if it is to provide what urban hubs require and keep agriculture viable. “I think we’re within a few years — three, four, five years — of having a plan that will define a water future for 50 years,” Hickenlooper said.