South Platte River Basin: Chatfield Reservoir Reallocation Project comment period now open


Here’s the release from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers:

The Corps of Engineers, Omaha District (Corps) is pleased to announce the release of the Draft Chatfield Reservoir Storage Reallocation Feasibility Report /Environmental Impact Statement (FR/EIS) on June 8, 2012.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers proposes to reallocate 20,600 acre-feet of storage from the exclusive flood control pool to the conservation pool at Chatfield Reservoir. Chatfield Reservoir is well placed to help meet this objective for the following reasons: the reservoir provides a relatively immediate opportunity to increase water supply storage without the development of significant amounts of new infrastructure; it lies directly on the South Platte River (efficient capture of runoff); and it provides an opportunity to gain additional use of an existing federal resource.

The FR/EIS has been prepared by the Corps under the authority of Section 808 of the Water Resources Development act of 1986, in sponsorship with the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB). The study provides a comprehensive evaluation and comparison of water supply alternatives and their associated impacts and benefits. Based on the analysis presented in the FR/EIS, the Corps recommends reallocating 20,600 acre-feet of storage from the exclusive flood control pool to the conservation pool at Chatfield Reservoir for purposes of M&I water supply. Implementation of the tentatively recommended plan would reallocate storage from the flood control pool to the conservation pool, effectively raising the top of the conservation pool by 12 feet. This reallocation of storage would help meet part of the growing demand for water in the Denver Metro by using existing federal infrastructure, and lessen the dependence on non-tributary ground water.

The tentatively recommended plan meets all federal National Economic Development goals by providing average year yield of 8,539 acre-feet at less cost than other alternatives for water supply. The plan also balances environmental and recreational needs by requiring mitigation to offset impacts to terrestrial based effects (wetland and riparian habitats, including Preble’s jumping mouse critical habitat), and modification of recreational facilities affected by increasing the top of the conservation pool. The reallocation of flood storage to water supply storage would primarily result in greater and more frequent reservoir pool fluctuations at Chatfield Reservoir, but the impact on downstream flood frequency is negligible.

The FR/EIS is available online at

From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

A massive draft environmental impact statement sets out the engineers’ proposals for mitigating impact and opens a public comment period…

The proposed mitigation is designed to compensate for the loss of a cottonwood-studded shoreline and stretches of free-flowing river within Chatfield State Park. Other work would offset lost habitat for the Preble’s meadow jumping mouse, a federally-protected endangered species, and replace park facilities, including a boating marina. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers project would flood about 587 acres of 5,400-acre Chatfield State Park, with water levels rising by up to 12 feet. More than 1.6 million people visit the park each year, spending about $9.5 million.

Metro Denver communities dependent on water from underground aquifers and agricultural producers favor the re-allocation of the reservoir storage – a way to meet growing demands for water while using existing federal infrastructure. Gov. John Hickenlooper and state water-supply planners have supported this $100 million Chatfield Reservoir Reallocation Project. Some conservationists are also supportive because it may be less harmful than other possible water supply projects…

The federal engineers’ tentatively recommended plan would provide an average annual yield of 8,539 acre-feet of water at less cost than other alternatives for water supply.

More Chatfield Reservoir coverage here and here.

LaSalle: Farmers and their supporters rally to pressure Governor Hickenlooper to allow pumping


From the Longmont Times-Call (John Fryar):

A coalition of more than 100 Weld County farmers and agribusiness people — along with several Weld County commissioners and some of the area’s state lawmakers — met for a Wednesday morning rally at Glen Fritzler’s LaSalle-area farm at 20861 County Road to make their case for an emergency drought disaster declaration from the governor, who wasn’t present. Hickenlooper could issue an executive order to allow them to pump water to their fields from underground supplies, those farmers argued, for up to 30 days, with the possibility of renewing that permission by issuing subsequent orders for additional 30-day pumping permission periods, if they continue to be needed. The farmers, along with Weld County officials and members of the area’s legislative delegation, said they expect to present Hickenlooper and his staff with their plea for a disaster-emergency executive order during a more formal meeting in Denver, possibly as early as next week…

In many past drought years since the 1930s, farmers in the South Platte basin, all the from Weld County to the Sterling and Julesberg area, were able to tap into the underground water aquifer to supplement inadequate surface stream flows.

The state’s courts, however, found that that longstanding practice violated Colorado water law, because the farmers hadn’t been augmenting the well water with supplies they’d bought or leased from other sources, in order to ensure that the area’s rivers and streams were getting the equivalent of groundwater believed to be seeping naturally into those surface waterways. Local water users questioned the science behind that water-law decision, but the courts ordered that hundreds of wells be shut down completely and that pumping be curtailed from hundreds more.

On Wednesday, Fritzler was one of several people who questioned the rationale behind that 6-year-old court order. “Our wells have been curtailed for six years now,” he said, but even without the pumping, “the river has never run so low.”

More coverage from Lance Hernandez writing for From the article:

“If we don’t get rain in 10 days, irrigated agriculture in this area will be over for the year,” said longtime farmer Gene Kammerzell. “Farmers will then have to decide which crops to sacrifice.”[…]

Weld County commissioners said they hope it doesn’t come to that. The commissioners plan to meet Monday to formally declare a drought disaster. “We’re going to pass an emergency declaration and send it on to the governor,” said commission Chairman Sean Conway. “We’ll ask him to declare one too.”

“We’ll also ask him to convene the drought task force,” said Commissioner Barbara Kirkmeyer…

Jim Yahn, who manages both North Sterling and Prewitt Reservoirs in Logan County, told 7NEWS that pumping ground water effects return flows. “When you pump, there’s an effect,” Yahn said. “It may not be today. It may not be tomorrow, but there will be an effect.”[…]

The governor’s water policy advisor, John Stulp, said the threshold for a disaster declaration is typically a 30 percent (crop) loss in a designated area. He said it doesn’t appear that there’s been that big of a crop loss yet.

The farmers said they want the governor to take action before they suffer that loss. “We want to close the barn doors before the horses get out,” Conway said.

More South Platte River basin coverage here and here.

Pueblo County leaders are beating the drum for Colorado Springs to re-establish a stormwater enterprise


From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

While the storm [Wednesday], centered over Colorado Springs for three hours, did little to impact Pueblo County, it caused internal problems. At a news conference Thursday, [Colorado Springs] Mayor Steve Bach said $7 million in city funds would be transferred to stormwater needs. About 40 people had to be rescued. Some comments from frustrated citizens on the Internet early Thursday, chided the City Council for dropping the stormwater enterprise in 2009…

“There has to be a steady stream of revenue,” said [Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District], who worked to convince Colorado Springs to adopt the stormwater enterprise in 2005. “I don’t see how $7 million does anything to address the $500 million in capital needs that have been identified.”[…]

State Rep. Sal Pace, DPueblo, agreed, saying the enterprise was providing $12 million-$15 million a year before the City Council eliminated it. Pace is drafting a letter to Colorado Springs demanding action on the stormwater question…

Pace said Colorado Springs voters are seeing the problems that resulted from the 2009 passage of Issue 300, which was interpreted by City Council as a mandate to repeal what tax-crusader Doug Bruce called a “rain tax.”[…]

County Commissioner Jeff Chostner, who chairs the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District board, said Colorado Springs has to address its stormwater problems immediately.

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

A rainstorm parked itself over [Colorado Springs] for about three hours Wednesday, dropping up to 4 inches of rain. Areas to the north and south of the city received less rain, anywhere from 0.5-2 inches. About 40 people and one dog had to be rescued from high water that collected in Colorado Springs, according to news reports. Mayor Steve Bach called it a “100-year flood,” but it wasn’t even close. It was about a 10-year event on Fountain Creek at Security, and the threat diminished as water traveled downstream, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

While Pueblo braced for possible flooding, the effects were fairly minor by the time the water traveled 40 miles down the Fountain Creek channel. “It did not take away the hot tub that the flood last September deposited in my pasture, so I am very disappointed,” quipped Bill Alt, whose home is on Fountain Creek just north of Pueblo. “On the upside, it irrigated the pasture, which was good since we’ve had no moisture this year.”

More coverage from Daniel Chaćon writing for The Colorado Springs Gazette. From the article:

Pueblo County is threatening to suspend a permit for the Southern Delivery System water pipeline unless Colorado Springs spends more money on stormwater improvements next year. A condition of the so-called 1041 permit requires Colorado Springs to have an adequate stormwater management plan, Pueblo County Attorney Dan Kogovsek said Thursday…

Pueblo County is “very concerned” that Colorado Springs’ capital improvements to prevent stormwater damage have fallen by the wayside since the demise of the Stormwater Enterprise more than two years ago, Kogovsek said. When the enterprise was in operation, the city was spending about $13.3 million annually on maintenance, capital improvement projects and required permits. This year, the city budgeted $3.3 million for maintenance and permits but nothing for capital improvements. Kogovsek said the county will keep a close eye on the city’s 2013 budget to see how much Colorado Springs plans to spend on stormwater…

Mayor Steve Bach, who marked his first year in office Thursday, has sounded the alarm about the city’s stormwater needs. As part of his funding solution, he wants the City Council to direct Utilities to come up with $12 million to $15 million from its existing budget and rate base. “Why should Colorado Springs Utilities be involved in this? In my view, because Utilities will be bringing Southern Delivery System water here from down at the Pueblo Dam and the Arkansas River,” Bach said during a news conference Thursday in the wake of Wednesday’s storm. “Utilities will thereby be, frankly, exacerbating our stormwater challenges because after that water is used locally — whether it’s domestic consumption or irrigation or other purposes – it will be returned. It’s called return flow and that water will be additive to Fountain Creek flow going back down south. At least that’s a pragmatic reason that I see that Utilities should partner with us,” he said.

From the Colorado Springs Utilities twitter feed (@CSUtilities) yesterday:

Unmanaged storm flows outside of Colorado Springs city limits can jeopardize investments made within the city.


We believe stormwater flows must be managed regionally, to fully protect our community’s investments.

More Fountain Creek coverage here and here.

Drought/snowpack/runoff news: ‘Early snowmelt leads to early runoff timing’ — Mage Skordahl (NRCS)


Direct irrigators are likely caught in a double whammy for the summer. The runoff came off early before they needed the water, and the calls on the streams will likely be very senior for the summer, leaving many short when it’s time to finish off the their crops. Click on the thumbnail graphic for the table that accompanied the release. Here’s the June news release from the Natural Resources Conservation Service (Mage Skordahl):

Weather patterns that began in March and April continued throughout the month of May; warm temperatures and below average precipitation persisted at SNOTEL sites across the state during the month. Phyllis Ann Philipps, State Conservationist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) stated, “Recent data confirms that the statewide snowpack reached maximum accumulation on March 7, 35 days ahead of the average peak date and that it has disappeared approximately a month early as well.” The June 1 snowpack report shows that the statewide percentage was just 2 percent of average with many basins reporting no measurable snow.

The latest data from SNOTEL sites in Colorado reveal that the snowpack across the state is almost completely melted out. As of June 6 the Gunnison, Colorado, Arkansas, Upper Rio Grande, and combined San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan river basins were all reporting no snow. The only SNOTEL site in the state with noteworthy snow remaining is the TOWER site in the Yampa river basin which is reporting 2.8 inches of SWE at just 7 percent of average. “The mountains just did not receive the spring storms needed to boost this season’s snowpack. Our SNOTEL sites recorded below average precipitation in March, April and May throughout the state “, said Philipps.

The timing of snowmelt runoff in most basins in Colorado has been about a month earlier than normal this year and streamflow volumes are forecast to be their lowest since 2002. For the remainder of the forecast season (June – July) it is expected that on average streams across the state will flow at around 30 percent of average. In some basins, such as the Yampa and White rivers, June to July forecasts are much lower with current forecasts ranging from 9 to 22 percent of average.

The best news for water availability in Colorado this spring and summer is within the statistics for reservoir storage. As of June 1, storage statewide had decreased from last month but was near average at 98 percent of average and 61 percent of capacity. The storage volumes in all the major basins remain above or near average except for in the Arkansas and Upper Rio Grande river basins where storage has dropped to 78 and 57 percent of average respectively. This stored water should provide some reprieve from potential shortages this summer statewide but water users in all basins and especially in the Arkansas and Upper Rio Grande should be prepared for late season shortages.