Drought news: The Colorado Department of Agriculture is hosting a drought workshop on Monday in Pueblo

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From The Pueblo Chieftain:

The Colorado Department of Agriculture is slated to hold a drought response and recovery workshop on Monday at the Colorado State Fairgrounds in the 4-H Building from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Officials from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Department of Commerce, Small Business Administration and the Federal Emergency Management Agency will be among the federal agencies participating in the workshop. U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet said he encourages Colorado farmers and ranchers to attend the workshop.

“Colorado farmers and ranchers are working hard to recover from this summer’s drought, which had devastating consequences for livestock and crop production,” Bennet said. “This workshop will help producers learn about the different types of assistance available to them. The effects of the drought are widespread, and we need to make every effort to ensure a full recovery for Colorado farmers and ranchers.”

The Southwest Metropolitan Water and Sanitation District is facing a investment revenue shortfall

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From YourHub via The Denver Post (Karen Groves):

After recently completing a 50-year financial plan, the district board is considering options on how to address the expected loss of roughly $1 million per year in operating costs, plus $12 million in capital costs over the next 10 years. That reduces the $35.5 million the district has in reserves to $15 million at the end of a 10-year period.

Scott Morse, assistant manager of Platte Canyon Water and Sanitation District, said Southwest eliminated property tax revenue in 1996 and has relied heavily on interest income generated on the reserve balance. “Southwest is relying on interest revenue on its reserves, but since interest rates have dropped to historic lows they are receiving very little revenue,” Morse said.

According to the district, expenses for rehabilitation and replacement of existing water and sewer infrastructure will be “inordinately high over the next 10 years. Anticipated costs are at $11,800,000.” Morse said while there is a little revenue coming in to offset operating costs, he added, “Our operating costs are $1.5 million, but we’re only receiving revenue off interest of about $500,000.”

Morse said the Southwest District will approach citizens next year on what strategies might work to increase the district’s revenues. “Imposing a surcharge is not something the district will jump into, and a mill levy would have to be voted upon. We can see what happens to the economy,” he said.

More infrastructure coverage here.

Colorado Springs to pony up $15.5 for infrastructure protection and stormwater projects in 2013

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

While Colorado Springs continues to meet with El Paso County and other communities on stormwater solutions, some of the money in its general fund and utilities budgets will be going to meet stormwater needs.

The city budget includes $2.5 million for critical stormwater projects, basically maintaining drainage systems to meet permit requirements.

Meanwhile, Colorado Springs Utilities has included $13 million in its budget to protect infrastructure from flooding.

However, until the stormwater task force completes its assessment, it’s unknown how much of the funding could be applied toward the $500 million backlog in stormwater projects. “It is our understanding that the primary purpose of most of the projects that make up the city’s backlog is to improve local drainage conditions and repair and improve local infrastructure, for example, bridges, streets and culverts,” said Janet Rummel, spokeswoman for Utilities.

About $6 million of the money for stormwater projects in Utilities’ budget would go toward protecting infrastructure from runoff from the Waldo Canyon Fire burn area. Another $2.4 million would go toward realignment of Fountain Creek near Pikes Peak International Raceway, a condition of the Pueblo County SDS permit. Utilities would spend $2.7 million to fortify lines within waterways.

“Utilities does not have direct oversight for stormwater management in Colorado Springs,” Rummel said. “However, we have a history of investing in improvements along area waterways, while partnering with the city, when there is a nexus to protecting utilities infrastructure.” Mayor Steve Bach, who has proposed that Utilities could find $15 million for stormwater in its $1 billion budget. Utilities, which is governed by City Council, maintains that its services are limited to water, wastewater, gas and electric, but not stormwater.

More Colorado Springs Utilities coverage here.

South Platte Basin Roundtable meeting recap: South Platte groundwater study underway

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From The Greeley Tribune (Eric Brown):

The South Platte Roundtable — made up of water officials and experts in the region — meets quarterly to discuss what’s needed to avoid future water shortages, but John Stencel with the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union proposed Tuesday to meet at least every other month, beginning with its next meeting in January…

As was discussed on multiple occasions at the meeting, without new supply projects, municipalities and industries will continue buying up irrigated agriculture water as a way of meeting their growing water needs. Because new water supply projects are multi-year or even multi-decade endeavors, members said there needs to be more push to get them completed. Evans said the group will continue discussing its focus for 2013 at its next meeting on Jan. 8…

Reagan Waskom, director of the Colorado Water Institute, provided an update regarding the ongoing South Platte Basin groundwater study, which began in August. The study Waskom is heading, which will examine the relationships between groundwater and surface flows in the basin, was approved this summer when Gov. John Hickenlooper signed House Bill 1278 into law. Rep. Randy Fischer, D-Fort Collins, and Sen. Scott Renfroe, R-Eaton, sponsored the measure in an effort to better understand the cause of the high groundwater levels in the LaSalle and Gilcrest areas and other regions in the basin. The overflowing aquifers have flooded basements and fields in recent years, causing damage to homes and in lost agriculture production. Many local farmers believe the high groundwater levels are a result of wells being shut down or curtailed in 2006, when the state determined the pumping of those wells was depleting flows in the basin’s rivers.

The South Platte Roundtable is serving as an advisory group for Waskom and his research team during the study. Waskom told members he’s in favor of opening up dialogue as much as possible to make sure they’re looking at all needed data, and exploring all avenues of collecting information. As Waskom explained, he’s so far coming across “a lot of data gaps” as he collects information.

More IBCC — basin roundtables coverage here.

Windsor: The town board approves a third water rate tier

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From the Windsor Beacon (Ashley Keesis-Wood):

The town’s current water system for single-system residential users features a base fee of $14.81 a month, with a $3.30 charge per 1,000 gallons a month until the users reach the first-tier threshold of 15,700 gallons a month. The second tier’s charge is $4.93 a month per 1,000 gallons. The new tier rate structure would increase the first-tier usage, raising it to 16,000 gallons a month before the second tier would begin. The new tier, at 2011 prices, would begin at 22,501 gallons a month at a cost of $7.35 per 1,000 gallons. The new rate will go into effect Jan. 15…

When developers build homes, they are required to pledge a certain amount of water from the Colorado Big Thompson, or CBT, project to account for the households’ use of water. The highest tier, the 22,501 gallons, equates to full usage of the allotted CBT water for each household. “This will still promote and encourage conservation,” said Mayor John Vazquez.

More infrastructure coverage here.

Rafting season numbers down due to drought and wildfires

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From the Grand Junction Free Press (Caitlin Row):

Outfitters said the statewide drought, below-average snowpack levels and Colorado’s many fires all attributed to a depressed rafting season in 2012. “We definitely saw an impact in numbers of people who came to play with us this year,” owner/operator of Grand Junction-based Adventure Bound River Expeditions Tom Kleinschnitz said…

Having a drought year, compounded by an impactful Colorado fire season, packed a “1-2 punch,” Kleinschnitz said, also noting that fires can be more harmful than drought to business regionally. It can be difficult for someone in Virginia, for example, to understand where Front Range fires are in relation to a Colorado rafting trip on the West Slope if they’re unfamiliar with the state, he explained.

Gateway Canyons Adventure Center also saw a deep dip in rafting trips on the Dolores River this summer. Adventure Center guide Nick Kroger said the outfitter normally hosts upwards of 30-40 trips a season, but this year it only hosted two commercial trips. “The season lasted a couple days this year for the Dolores River,” Kroger said. “Typically, the season lasts from mid-April into July if we’re lucky.”

More whitewater coverage here.

Upper Ark diverters question state administration by water commissioners

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There are a lot of moving parts along our over allocated rivers, especially during drought. Here’s a report from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

“It’s like a threedimensional Chinese checkers board that spins on an axis, and the marbles keep changing colors and sometimes disappear. And then you have to make your play under a stopwatch,” Water Division 2 Engineer Steve Witte told the Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District Thursday. Witte was invited to the meeting to address the concerns of Upper Arkansas ditch users that their senior water rights are being curtailed for more junior calls downstream. The district also is concerned that the river is being managed in a way that would allow Colorado Springs or Aurora to exchange out of priority at the expense of upstream ditches. Witte said that’s not the case.

“We have been splitting calls more frequently than in the past because we’re trying to do a better job,” Witte said.

The river call is set each morning by the water commissioner in La Junta, Lonnie Spady, based on conditions. Most of the large canals in the Arkansas River basin are clustered in Pueblo-Otero counties. However, conditions along the river can change quickly if isolated thunderstorms hit a particular drainage.

In a normal year, that doesn’t matter as much, but the effects show up more profoundly in a drought, particularly in the Upper Arkansas, where there are fewer water rights that predate the most significant water rights in the Lower Arkansas Valley, Witte said.

This year, the call most often has been split between two or three reaches of the river in order to reflect varying conditions, Witte said.

The superintendents of four large canal companies in the Lower Arkansas River basin showed up and supported Spady’s decisions in this difficult year.

“This is the worst year we’ve ever had,” said Manny Torrez, superintendent of the Fort Lyon Canal.

“We’ve been out of water for the last 90-110 days.”

Fort Lyon saw some water a few weeks ago after a localized thunderstorm in the Rocky Ford area, an example of the type of situation creating a split call.

More Arkansas River Basin coverage here and here.