‘Sterling Ranch appears to be a water-conservation model that will be emulated in the future’ — Highlands Ranch Herald


The Highlands Ranch Herald comes down on the side of Douglas County’s approval of the Sterling Ranch Project. Here’s an excerpt from their editorial:

District Court Judge Paul King ruled that commissioners had erred in allowing Sterling Ranch to prove water availability at each phase of construction, rather than for the entirety of the project. King’s ruling was a response to a lawsuit against the board of commissioners filed by the Chatfield Community Association. The ruling, which the county says it will appeal, is rooted in a 2008 state law. It is easy to find out what HB 08-1141 says. It is much more difficult to discern what it means. And we find that to be a problem. Some interpret the law to mean developers must show adequate water through build-out. To others, the legislation gives local governments discretion to do what Douglas County did in allowing Sterling Ranch to show proof of water a phase at a time.

State Rep. Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch, opposed the measure. He says as written, it is open to “multiple reasonable interpretations” and that it is a hindrance to responsible development.

If the law is to be strictly interpreted to mean all of a development’s water must be secured from the outset, it creates a daunting climate for Colorado developers…

Developers who have the foresight to incorporate land and water conservation into their plan should be rewarded, not punished. Sterling Ranch appears to be a water-conservation model that will be emulated in the future, and it provides water taps to established neighboring developments whose wells are running dry.

It would be ironic and a shame to allow a cloudy water law to hinder this project with a bright future.

More Sterling Ranch coverage here.

Weekly Climate, Water and Drought Assessment of the Upper Colorado River Basin #CODrought #CORiver


Click here for the summaries from the Colorado Climate Center. Click on the thumbnail graphic for the precipitation summary.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here.

Colorado Water 2012: A look at the basins of Southwestern Colorado


Here’s the latest installment of the Valley Courier’s Colorado Water 2012 series, written by Bruce Whitehead. Here’s an excerpt:

Southwestern Colorado’s rivers are unique in that many of the rivers and tributaries flow from north to south and are administered as independent river systems.

This is due to the fact that many, such as the Navajo, Blanco, Piedra, Pine, Florida, Animas, La Plata, and Mancos Rivers, are tributary to the San Juan River in New Mexico or just upstream of the state line. The Dolores River flows from north to south, but makes a “U-turn” near Cortez and heads back to the northwest and joins the Colorado River in Utah. The San Miguel River originates just above Telluride, and flows to the west where it joins the Dolores River just above the Colorado-Utah state line.

The southwest basin has many areas that are under strict water rights administration on a regular basis, but there is still water available for appropriation and development pursuant to Colorado’s Constitution and the Colorado River Compact. The region is also known for its beautiful scenery and recreation opportunities, which is the basis for the establishment of the Weminuche Wilderness area as well as nearly 150 reaches of streams with in-stream flow water rights. Over 50 natural lake levels are also protected by the state’s In-Stream Flow and Natural Lake Level Program.

Water leaders have been active for many years in the basin and recognized early on that in order to meet agricultural and municipal demands storage would need to be developed. The Southwestern Water Conservation District was formed in 1941, and has been responsible for the planning, development, and water rights acquisition for many of the federal projects in the region. Reservoirs such as McPhee (Dolores Project), Jackson Gulch (Mancos Project), Ridges Basin a.k.a Lake Nighthorse (Animas-La Plata Project), Lemon (Florida Project), and Vallecito (Pine River Project) provide for a supplemental supply of irrigation and municipal water in all but the driest of years. The delivery of these supplemental supplies assists with keeping flows in many critical reaches of river that historically had little or no flow late in the season due to limited supplies and water rights administration.

Southwest Colorado is also home to two Sovereign Nations and Indian Reservations that were established by treaty in 1868. Under federal law the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe and Southern Ute Indian Tribe were entitled to federal reserved water rights, which had the potential to create conflicts with Colorado water law and non-Indian water users in the basin. After nearly a decade of negotiations, a consent decree was entered with the water court that settled the tribal claims. The Tribal Settlement included some early dates of appropriation for the tribes, and a water supply from some of the federal storage projects including the Dolores, Animas-La Plata, Florida, and Pine River Projects. This landmark settlement is evidence that both tribal and non-Indian interests can be provided for with water storage and cooperative water management.

More Colorado Water 2012 coverage here.

Environment Colorado: ‘The Costs of Fracking The Price Tag of Dirty Drilling’s Environmental Damage’


You can download a copy of the report here. Here’s the executive summary:

Over the past decade, the oil and gas industry has fused two technologies—hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling—to unlock new supplies of fossil fuels in underground rock formations across the United States. “Fracking” has spread rapidly, leaving a trail of contaminated water, polluted air, and marred landscapes in its wake. In fact, a growing body of data indicates that fracking is an environmental and public health disaster in the making.

However, the true toll of fracking does not end there. Fracking’s negative impacts on our environment and health come with heavy “dollars and cents” costs as well. In this report, we document those costs—rang- ing from cleaning up contaminated water to repairing ruined roads and beyond. Many of these costs are likely to be borne by the public, rather than the oil and gas industry. As with the damage done by previous extractive booms, the public may experience these costs for decades to come.

The case against fracking is compelling based on its damage to the environment and our health alone. To the extent that fracking does take place, the least the public can expect is for the oil and gas industry to be held accountable for the damage it causes. Such accountability must include up-front financial assurances sufficient to ensure that the harms caused by fracking are fully redressed.

Fracking damages the environment, threatens public health, and affects communities in ways that can impose a multitude of costs:

– Drinking water contamination – Fracking brings with it the potential for spills, blowouts and well failures that contaminate groundwater supplies.

– Health problems – Toxic substances in fracking fluid and wastewater—as well as air pollution from trucks, equipment and the wells themselves—have been linked to a variety of negative health effects.

– Natural resources impacts – Fracking converts rural and natural areas into industrial zones, replacing forest and farm land with well pads, roads, pipelines and other infrastructure, and damaging precious natural resources.

– Impacts on public infrastructure and services – Fracking strains infrastructure and public services and imposes cleanup costs that can fall on taxpayers.

– Broader economic impacts – Fracking can undercut the long-term economic prospects of areas where it takes place. A 2008 study found that Western counties that have relied on fossil fuel extraction are doing worse economically compared with peer communities and are less well-prepared for growth in the future.

The environmental, health and community impacts of fracking are severe and unacceptable. Yet the dirty drilling practice continues at thousands of sites across the nation. This report recommends that wherever fracking does occur, local, state and federal governments should at least comprehensively restrict and regulate fracking to reduce its environmental, health and community impacts as much as possible. They should also ensure up-front financial accountability by requiring oil and gas companies to post dramatically higher bonds that reflect the true costs of fracking.

More oil and gas coverage here and here.

WaterSMART Water and Energy Efficiency Grant Funding Available for Projects That Conserve Water or Address Water Sustainability


Here’s the release from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (Peter Soeth):

The Bureau of Reclamation is seeking proposals for its WaterSMART Water and Energy Efficiency Grant funding opportunity. Projects that are eligible must conserve water or result in other improvements that address water supply sustainability in the West.

The funding opportunity announcement is available at http://www.grants.gov using funding opportunity number R13SF80003.

Applications may be submitted to one of two funding groups:

– Funding Group I: Up to $300,000 will be available for smaller projects that may take up to two years to complete. It is expected that a majority of awards will be made in this funding group.

– Funding Group II: Up to $1,500,000 will be available for larger, phased projects that will take up to three years to complete. Applicants may not request more than $750,000 in federal funds within a given year to complete each phase. This will provide an opportunity for larger, multiple-year projects to receive some funding in the first year without having to compete for funding in the second and third years. The second and third year of funding is dependent upon future appropriations.

Projects submitted for funding should seek to conserve and use water more efficiently, increase the use of renewable energy and improve energy efficiency, protect endangered and threatened species, facilitate water markets or carry out other activities to address climate-related impacts on water or prevent any water-related crisis or conflict.

This funding opportunity is also available for water management improvements that complement other ongoing efforts to address water supply sustainability. Through the WaterSMART Basin Study Program, for example, Reclamation is working with State and local partners, as well as other stakeholders, to comprehensively evaluate the ability to meet future water demands within a river basin. Partners who have completed a basin study may apply for cost-shared funding to implement adaptation strategies that meet the eligibility and other requirements of this funding opportunity.

In addition, funding is available for water delivery system improvements that will enable farmers to make additional on-farm improvements in the future, including improvements that may be eligible for Natural Resources Conservation Service funding.

Entities that are eligible for funding include states, Indian tribes, irrigation districts, water districts or other organizations with water or power delivery authority in the 17 western states, American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands and the Virgin Islands.

Reclamation awarded $11 million to 32 projects in 2012. These projects expect to save more than 58,000 acre-feet of water annually, which is enough water for more than 227,000 people. Combined with the non-federal cost-share, the projects selected will complete $32.4 million in improvements.

The WaterSMART Program focuses on improving water conservation and sustainability and helping water resource managers make sound decisions about water use. It identifies strategies to ensure that this and future generations will have sufficient supplies of clean water for drinking, economic activities, recreation and ecosystem health. The program also identifies adaptive measures to address climate change and its impact on future water demands. Through WaterSMART and other conservation programs funded over the last three years, more than 580,000 acre-feet of water per year is estimated to have been saved.

Proposals must be submitted as indicated on http://www.grants.gov by Jan. 17, 2013, 4 p.m. MST. It is anticipated that awards will be made this spring.

To learn more about WaterSMART, please visit www.usbr.gov/WaterSMART.

More conservation coverage here.

‘The court had made it absolutely clear our main priority was to replace depletions, keep the river whole’ — Steve Vandiver


Here’s a recap of day one of the water court trial over the implementation plan for groundwater sub-district #1 down in the San Luis Valley, from Ruth Heide writing for the Valley Courier. Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:

The plan spells out how the sub-district would replace injurious depletions from well users to surface water rights this year, the first full year of operation for the sub-district, which covers about 3,000 wells in portions of Alamosa, Rio Grande and Saguache Counties.

Two of three anticipated witnesses took the stand on Monday: Steve Vandiver, general manager for the sub-district’s sponsoring district, the Rio Grande Water Conservation District (RGWCD); and Allen Davey, district engineer for the water district. Expected to testify today is State Engineer Dick Wolfe who approved the sub-district’s annual operating plan for 2012…

Tim Buchanan, attorney for San Antonio, Los Pinos and Conejos River Acequia Preservation Association and Save Our Senior Water Rights, LLC, objectors to the sub-district plan, explained that since this was the first year for the operating plan he and other attorneys representing senior water users initially brought up every possible issue they thought might need to be addressed because they were concerned about being foreclosed from addressing them in the future if they did not.

He added the counsel for objectors and supporters have come to an agreement on general stipulations regarding most of those issues, but two remained as the subject of the abbreviated trial before Judge Swift this week:

1) Whether the sub-district’s amended plan approved by the water court in 2010 authorized the inclusion of augmentation plan wells.

Buchanan argued, “The annual plan must comply with the terms of the amended plan. The inclusion of the augmented wells in the amended plan is not an issue within the amended plan. The amended plan does not address that.”

2) Whether Closed Basin Project water is a logical source of supply to replace depletions caused by wells in the sub-district.

Closed Basin Project water was used this year to replace sub-district depletions. Buchanan said since the series of wells that comprise the project supplies were appropriated in 1963, they are extremely junior water rights to his clients’ senior water rights and were not an appropriate source of water to replace depletions…

Vandiver reminded the court of the sub-district’s goal to replace injurious depletions from the wells in the sub-district to surface senior water rights and stabilize the Valley’s aquifers. He outlined the sub-district’s historical timelines from the trial court’s decree in 2010 to the Supreme Court’s affirmation of the lower court in December 2011; the court order to begin assessing fees of irrigators in the sub-district; the acquisition of water supplies to cover depletions; and the development of first the sub-district plan and more recently the annual operating plan or ARP. When asked from whom he acquired replacement water, Vandiver replied “anybody who would listen to me.”

He said he was able to acquire transmountain water and negotiated one-year agreements from private individuals and entities, with future plans for permanent sources. He said this year he needed to obtain water that was readily available in a short time to meet the sub-district water replacement requirements. “The court had made it absolutely clear our main priority was to replace depletions, keep the river whole … eliminate injuries to senior water rights,” Vandiver said…

Vandiver also testified about the Closed Basin Project, a federal water salvage project operated by the RGWCD and Bureau of Reclamation. The project includes 170 shallow wells designed to capture water that would otherwise be lost through evaporation. Vandiver testified that the project was constructed to help Colorado meet its Rio Grande Compact obligations to downstream states, mitigate impacts of the project on wetlands, repay Colorado’s indebtedness and sell water to entities in the Valley if there was water available. The project is expected to deliver 11,500 acre feet of water this year. The sub-district is using 2,500 acre feet as a replacement water source this year.

More San Luis Valley groundwater coverage here and here.

CMU weekly seminar recap: ‘We’re going to be stressing major reservoirs’ — Eric Kuhn #CORiver


From the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

The unfounded optimism that underlaid the structure of the 1922 Colorado River Compact might soon take a toll on Colorado and the other sparely populated mountain states that send water south and west to more arid, and more populous states downstream, said the general manager of the Colorado River Water Conservation District.

The upper basin states of Colorado, Utah and Wyoming are obligated under the 1922 agreement governing the management of the river to deliver 75 million acres feet of water at Lee’s Ferry in Arizona every 10 years, or 7.5 million acre feet every year, on a rolling average. There is a distinction and it could be significant because of the lower basin states of Arizona, California and Nevada, Eric Kuhn said Monday at the Colorado Mesa University “Natural Resources of the West: Water and Drought” weekly seminar.

The upper-basin states are at most risk because their uses of water would have to be curtailed to meet requirements of downstream states, Kuhn said. In the future, “We’re going to be stressing major reservoirs” as they are emptied to meet downstream needs, he said.

Worse, the compact makes no provision for a simple lack of water, Kuhn said, leaving the upper basin on the hook to deliver, no matter whether there was enough runoff to meet the requirement. That’s because the framers of the original compact based the allocation of water on what had been a high-flow series of years, Kuhn said. That led to the optimistic plan to reconsider the compact in 1962, when the states would better know how to divide up the surplus water they anticipated would be better understood over the next four decades. That meeting never took place as it slowly became clear that the Colorado River historically carried less, not more, water than had been assumed.

A study by the U.S. Bureau Of Reclamation to be released next month will make it clear that even under the 20th century understanding of hydrology, “The demands on the Colorado River exceed its supplies,” Kuhn said. The fact that the lower-basin states are using less water and upper-basin states using more will have political implications, he said.

In the meantime, however, changing climate, receding waters in the Colorado and other changes could lead officials to re-evaluate some assumptions about the way the river should be managed, Kuhn said, noting that a 1944 agreement on the river introduced the phrase “extraordinary drought” without defining it. It might be that such a circumstance is more dire than even today’s conditions, Kuhn suggested. “If the future is going down (as in the level of the river) then is that a new drought?” he asked, “Or is that a new normal?”

More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.

Fountain Creek: ‘Clearly, our work is not done’ — Helen Migchelbrink (Colorado Springs Public Works)


From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Last summer’s Waldo Canyon Fire may rearrange funding priorities for stormwater containment in El Paso County, but downstream interests still are pushing Colorado Springs to honor its past commitments. A stormwater task force formed in August is trying to sort out funding resources and needs throughout the Fountain Creek watershed by January, in an effort to begin addressing massive needs that total more than $500 million.

“Clearly, our work is not done,” said Helen Migchelbrink, Colorado Springs director of public works. “Next year, we have $28 million worth of work to do. We’re going to be looking at more creative solutions.” The Waldo Canyon Fire, which burned more than 18,000 acres, has increased potential flood severity on both the Upper Fountain and Monument Creek.

That’s a good start, said Pueblo County Commissioner Jeff Chostner, who attended the task force meeting to make sure that past commitments by Colorado Springs are not simply shifted into the stormwater category. He also urged the task force to coordinate its efforts with the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District. “How does this fit in with the Pueblo County 1041 permit for Southern Delivery System?” he asked at the meeting.

Gary Bostrom, chief of water services for Colorado Springs Utilities, assured Chostner the $75 million for sewer line fortification and $50 million for flood control on Fountain Creek remain separate commitments.

Colorado Springs on Friday released a broad outline of $27.7 million in projects next year that involve stormwater control or planning. That follows the task force’s line of reasoning in getting all El Paso County communities to identify resources.

The group also is looking back, trying to determine what the nowdefunct stormwater enterprise accomplished — watershed planning, project priorities and maintenance activities — when it was funded from 2007­09.

More coverage from Amy Gillentine writing for the Colorado Springs Business Journal. Here’s an excerpt:

The money ($27.7 million) will be spent on:

– $ 2 million in capital projects funding, including the Mirage channel near Rampart High School and Cottonwood creek grade-control structures between Academy and Union.

– $2.09 million transferred from the now-defunct Springs Ranch General Improvement District. The money will be used for two detention ponds north of Woodmen Road.

– $3 millionfrom a pre-disaster mitigation grant for the Greencrest Channel. The project will stabilize the channel in order to allow the Austin Bluffs project to move forward. Widening Austin Bluffs west of Academy will be paid for through money from the Pikes Peak Regional Transportation Authority.

– $3 million pre-disaster mitigation grant for Cottonwood Creek at Vincent Drive. The project will stabilize the creek, protecting the Vincent Drive bridge upgrade.

– $509,500 for street division operations and maintenance.

– $980,000 for salaries and benefits for the public works and city engineer’s stormwater staff.

– $592,315 for public works and city engineering stormwater operations, including expenses.

In addition, the city will use money from grants related to the Waldo Canyon fire to mitigate stormwater issues in the burned area:

– $461,547 National Resources Conservation Service – Emergency Watershed Protection Program grant for Navigators.

– $75,000 National Resources Conservation Service – Emergency Watershed Protection Program grant for Flying W Ranch.

– $30,000 2012 fire relief fund grant for debris racks south Douglas Creek.

– $25,000 2012 fire relief fund grant for the spillway at Autism Pond.

– $24,795 Colorado Post – Wildfire Flooding Early Warning Grant (Camp Creek).

Colorado Springs Utilities (CSU) proposed 2013 budget items related to Stormwater Management:

– $6.2 million for storm runoff mitigation for fire impacts.

– $2.7 million to protect utilities infrastructure.

– $1.5 million for proactive watershed management.

Update: From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Last summer’s Waldo Canyon Fire has pulled in resources for dealing with stormwater in Colorado Springs, but more needs to be done for impacts of development on Fountain Creek, an area water leader said Thursday.

“Colorado Springs is about to learn what sediment is, but those of us downstream have been dealing with it for 100 years,” said Jay Winner, manager of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District. “We will do everything we can to help with the impacts of the Waldo Canyon Fire, but Colorado Springs has to live up to its commitments on Fountain Creek.”

Lower Ark and Colorado Springs officials plan to meet next week to talk about resolving differences between the two entities dating to 2005. Both have been in contact with the Bureau of Reclamation regarding the Lower Ark’s request in August to reopen an environmental impact statement on the Southern Delivery System. The original EIS, as well as Pueblo County’s 1041 permit for SDS, included.

More stormwater coverage here and here.