Major changes taking place in the weather pattern over Colorado. Big snows returning to the high country. Winter Storm Warning now in effect for the San Juan Mountains…including Wolf Creek and Cumbres Passes from 5AM Saturday to 5AM Sunday. Good snows returning to the rest of the Continental Divide as well. Winter Weather Advisories possible for these areas soon. Scattered snows eastern mountain ranges. Another major storm likely to impact the San Juans and the rest of mountains from Sunday night through Monday night…with snow and wind possibly spreading to the plains Tuesday afternoon and evening. Accumulations don’t look great for the plains at this time but continuing to monitor for possible storm track changes. Please stay informed of the weather over the next several days. Hazardous conditions are expected. Please visit weather.gov/pub for more information.
From the Colorado Springs Independent (Pam Zubeck):
Here’s an update on SDS’s progress in 2012:
Nearly 30 miles of pipeline installed to date — more than half the total pipeline for Phase 1;
Nearly all pipeline installed in Pueblo County — with only approximately 0.3 miles remaining;
Completion and successful testing of the new Pueblo Dam connection; • Began construction of the first phase of power supply infrastructure for the future Bradley Pump Station in El Paso County;
Achieved significant milestone of 500,000 hours worked with no “lost-time” safety incidents;
Completed 100 percent design on the water treatment plant and worked closely with contractor to competitively bid construction work packages to achieve best possible price;
Advanced design on the raw water pump stations to 90 percent and restructured procurement approach to maximize competition for construction and deliver best value;
Acquired all the land needed for construction in Pueblo County with transactions finalized on more than 204 parcels of the nearly 300 total required project-wide;
Negotiated cooperative agreement with Mountain View Electric Association allowing Colorado Springs Utilities to provide power service to the Williams Creek Pump Station at lower rates and retaining full long-term operational and financial control of this critical asset; and
Hosted multiple, regional business outreach events to encourage local contractor participation — to date, a total of nearly 170 Colorado businesses have performed work on SDS.
Staff continues to execute a rigorous program management plan to drive for efficiencies and reduce costs in the planning and implementation of the project. The project is currently forecasting completion about $68 million below budget. Greater certainty about the final project cost will be achieved with the execution of construction contracts for the water treatment plant and raw water pump stations, anticipated by early 2013.
More Southern Delivery System coverage here and here.
The Steamboat Springs City Council on Tuesday night endorsed the creation of a new citizen-heavy task force that soon will help to decide how the city should execute and pay for costly upgrades to its stormwater infrastructure. The council also got a better idea of how costly the upgrades will be and when they will be needed.
Recognizing it never has had a comprehensive plan to improve and maintain the bridges, culverts and dams that make up its stormwater system, the city last year tapped Short Elliott Hendrickson — a firm of engineers, architects, planners and scientists — to perform the $180,000 study of the infrastructure.
Council members heard the preliminary findings of that report Tuesday night.
Public Works Director Chuck Anderson cautioned there still are some unknowns, including the extent of any new federal mandates for municipalities like Steamboat to improve stormwater systems to accommodate growing populations…
He said the task force will take five months to become experts on the plan and return to council with a recommended course of action.
The city also will host an open house Feb. 7 to explain the plan to the public.
The master plan from Short Elliott Hendrickson estimates that to upgrade, repair and improve the city’s stormwater infrastructure will cost $20 million to $33 million. Short Elliott Hendrickson engineer Steve Gardner told the council his firm’s study estimated that the immediate maintenance to the stormwater infrastructure will cost Steamboat $250,000 to $1 million…
Hinsvark has said the city lacks a dedicated source of revenue to pay for the projects, and it may need to consider proposing a fee or a new tax on property owners to help with funding. A fee system is used commonly in many municipalities along the Front Range…
In addition to city staff, Anderson is proposing that community members serve on the task force that will be charged with identifying a funding mechanism. He is recommending the group include a lawyer; a representative from the development, engineering and construction communities; an at-large resident; a home or business owner impacted by flooding; and a flood insurance provider, among other members.
“We’re going to see more water restrictions … I think folks will try to step up to the plate to try and keep streams as healthy as possible,” said Colorado Water Trust special projects manager Scott Hummer after attending the state’s water availability task force meeting in Denver.
Only record-breaking late winter and spring snowfall could bring the snowpack close to average, weather experts said. Some towns could enact water restrictions before the spring irrigation season even begins, with only a 10 percent chance that the Colorado River Basin snowpack — the key to transmountain diversions — will rebound to average runoff.
Some automated SNOTEL sites around the state are at all-time record low levels. While the mountains should be gaining snow at the average rate of an inch per day right now, the SNOTEL data shows that the snowpack has dipped a bit just in the past few weeks, after an unusually dry January. With cold temperatures in the valleys, most streams are flowing barely above historic minimums.
Hummer said it’s very rare to see drought conditions in the high country in January, and a red flag fire warning from the National Weather Service this week illustrated conditions. Forecasters said three small fires burned Jan.23 in the foothills west of Golden and Boulder.
Fire warnings in January were extremely rare 30 years ago, but have become more common in the last decade, according to Boulder-based National Weather Service forecaster Mike Baker. January precipitation has only been about 30 percent of normal in the state.
Baker said conditions are similar to the late winter of 2002 when an early snowpack meltdown and quick warmup set the stage for the massive Hayman Fire. The big-picture climate picture is also similar, with the echoes of cool La Niña still pushing the jet stream north of the area.
Baker said the outlook for the next few months isn’t completely clear, with some signs that the subtropical jet stream could come to life in the spring, fueling storms especially in the southern and eastern part of the state.
There’s also some hope for the short term, with at least a chance of snow the next seven to 10 days, but beyond that, dry conditions could return, said NOAA research meteorologist Klaus Wolter, explaining how a combination of cooler waters in the North Pacific and warmer-than-average Atlantic Ocean conditions favor dry conditions in Colorado.
More state discussions are needed on how to develop Colorado’s share of Colorado River water, a task force that met for more than a year on the Flaming Gorge water project reported Wednesday. The task force did not recommend either building or denying the Flaming Gorge pipeline idea, and wasn’t expected to. Instead, it worked to create a framework that would bring competing interests to the table to evaluate any project proposing development of a new supply from the Colorado River. Its conclusions will be submitted to the Colorado Water Conservation Board, which funded the task force. “I guess neutral is a big win for us,” said Aaron Million, who was one of two sponsors of a Flaming Gorge pipeline who met with the task force last year.
More engineering work is being completed so that the Flaming Gorge project can be resubmitted to a federal agency for environmental evaluation. Million said it would be submitted to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which rejected an application last year, saying more information was needed. If FERC does not accept the new proposal, either the Army Corps of Engineers or Bureau of Land Management would be approached.
The task force recommended the CWCB and Interbasin Compact Committee, an umbrella organization that represents the interests of basin roundtables and the state, develop a way to evaluate if a project meets certain criteria. The top priorities are developing Colorado’s share of the water under the 1922 Colorado River Compact and protecting the state from a call on the river that could diminish Colorado’s water supply.
The group recommended forming a committee that would continue to discuss issues relating to water and is asking the CWCB for up to $100,000 for phase 2 of the study. The first phase was funded at $72,000 in September 2011, over the objections of environmental groups who tried to kill any consideration of a Flaming Gorge plan.
More coverage from the Associated Press via the Laramie Boomerang. Here’s an excerpt:
In a report to be presented to the Colorado Water Conservation Board, the Basin Roundtable Exploration Committee said questions that should be addressed include not only financing and how Colorado can maximize its entitlements to Colorado River water without overdeveloping the river, but also alternatives to new water supply projects.
The committee said state leaders and each of the basin roundtables in Colorado should participate in the conversation, which it called a “key threshold step” needed to move beyond the status quo in developing significant new water supply solutions. The roundtables represent each major river basin in the state, plus the Denver area.
The report, released Wednesday, described an urgent need for action, citing the gap between the demand for water on the populated Front Range and the supply.
“The municipal gap on the Front Range is immediate, the dry-up of agriculture is real and certain, and the environmental and economic concerns are serious and numerous,” the report said.
The report also listed several characteristics of “good” water supply projects. For instance, they should have funding and minimize the need for new infrastructure, and they shouldn’t reduce supplies to existing water users, the report said.
Colorado’s river basin roundtables agreed to form the committee after entrepreneur Aaron Million announced a $3 billion pipeline proposal to carry Flaming Gorge Reservoir water to Colorado, and a separate coalition of water providers said it was exploring its own plan. The committee didn’t set out to endorse any proposal but wanted to answer questions about cost, feasibility, water rights and legalities, along with the environmental, socioeconomics, agricultural and recreational impacts of any Flaming Gorge project, among other issues.
Million has yet to gain permits for his project. He said Thursday his team is doing more engineering work after the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission last year dismissed his permit application over a lack of specifics.
More coverage from the Wyoming Business Journal (MJ Clark):
The committee is aware of protests by environmentalists and issues raised by their own constituency.
“Rather than focusing on a Flaming Gorge project, the committee is exploring what the attributes would be of any successful new transmountain diversion,” the group wrote. “And foremost to that discussion is dealing with the uncertainties of water availability under the Colorado River Compact.”
Noting that the staff could not reach an agreement of whether or not to endorse the project, the group concluded that, “At this point, we don’t see the benefit of having the Flaming Gorge Committee continue … unless the board directs otherwise, this will be the direction staff takes.”
Here’s a report from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain:
A company that already has purchased farms on two Pueblo County ditches and two reservoirs in Huerfano County is buying a reservoir site east of Pueblo. Two Rivers Water Co. is buying a farm and reservoir site on the Excelsior Ditch owned by John Sliman of Southwest Farms. The site is one of two Sliman identified as a potential reservoir location in a plan he released in 2009. It would be gravity-fed by Excelsior Ditch.
John McKowen, Two Rivers CEO, said a 10,000 acre-foot reservoir at the site near 39th Lane and U.S. 50 would be operated in conjunction with other water users. His primary reason would be to increase the water supply for his farming ventures on the Bessemer and HuerfanoCucharas ditches. “It’s part of our service plan, that includes rotational fallowing,” McKowen said.
In September, McKowen outlined his plans to acquire 30,000 acres of farm ground, and fallow up to 5,000 acres to make water available for leasing. Late last year, Two Rivers also issued a news release indicating newly appointed directors in the Sunset Metropolitan District in El Paso County were supportive of rotational fallowing. Thursday, McKowen confirmed Two Rivers is interested in purchasing land under the Sunset district, which provides water and sewer services east of Colorado Springs. Two Rivers also has signed a memorandum of understanding with Monument to help with water supply.
McKowen said no pipelines are planned from Pueblo to El Paso County, however. “No, it would go the other way,” McKowen said. “No pipelines are planned except to move water to our own property in support of agriculture.”
McKowen and Sliman would not discuss the purchase price of the property until the sale is final.
Here’s a recap of the company’s activity from The Pueblo Chieftain:
TWO RIVERS VENTURES
Since 2009, Two Rivers Water Co. has purchased farms and reservoirs while making other deals in the Arkansas River basin.
Huerfano-Cucharas Irrigation Co. — In late 2009, John McKowen began purchasing farms on the 40,000 acres served by the ditch south of the Bessemer Ditch in Pueblo County. Eventually, he bought nearly all of the ditch, which also owns Cucharas Dam and Reservoir.
Cucharas Dam — In 2010, a $27 million rehabilitation plan was released for the Cucharas Dam in Huerfano County, under restrictions for leaking since 1987. Two Rivers received a $10 million loan from the Colorado Water Conservation Board.
Orlando Reservoir — In February 2011, Two Rivers purchased Orlando Reservoir and associated farm ground in Huerfano County for $3.1 million. It received a CWCB loan for $1.8 million to rehabilitate that dam.
Water Board lease — Two Rivers signed a fiveyear contract in September 2011 to lease 500 acre-feet of water from the Pueblo Board of Water Works for about $100,000 annually.
Dionisio farms — In April 2012, Two Rivers purchased Dionisio Produce & Farms LLC, including 150 shares of the Bessemer Ditch, and later announced Russ Dionisio would head farming operations, which caused Gary Barber to resign as president of the company.
Monument agreement — A memorandum of understanding to study “viable renewable water supply” strategies was signed in September 2012 by Two Rivers and the town of Monument in El Paso County. McKowen insisted that no Arkansas River water would be transferred north.