Upper Ark District board meeting recap: All district reservoirs are full, except DeWeese (89%) — Jord Gertson #COdrought

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From The Mountain Mail (Joe Stone):

Recent weather patterns in the Upper Arkansas River Valley precipitated discussion of snowpack and water supplies during the Thursday meeting of the Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District. District hydrologist Jord Gertson reported that all district reservoirs are full, except for DeWeese Reservoir in Custer County, which is at 89 percent of capacity.

Gertson presented Natural Resources Conservation Service data compiled May 1 that show Upper Arkansas River Basin snowpack at 93 percent of average and 287 percent of 2012 snowpack levels. Gertson said Snowpack Telemetry sites at Fremont Pass and Brumley show the snow water equivalent at 101 percent and 109 percent of median, respectively. The Fremont Pass SNOTEL site also reports precipitation at 106 percent of average for the current water year, which began Oct. 1. Gertson also showed snowpack charts indicating measurements at upper basin SNOTEL sites are “way better than last year,” including sites at Porphyry Creek, Independence Pass and St. Elmo.

District directors also reported good news about the Frying Pan-Arkansas Project, which is expected to import 47,000 acre-feet of water from the Western Slope this year, compared to 14,000 acre-feet in 2012. Diversions of Fry-Ark Project water into the Arkansas Basin average approximately 52,000 acre-feet of water per year. In 2011, the project imported 98,000 acre-feet of Western Slope water, the second highest amount in the project’s 50-year history of operations.

In other business, directors heard a legislative report from consultant Ken Baker. Baker’s report mainly focused on House Bill 1130, which, he said, targets Arkansas Basin water and is expected to be signed by the governor.

Baker said HB 1130 would create a “selective application” of a 130-year-old Colorado water law. The bill would create the potential for 30 years of interruptible-supply agreements that are currently limited to a maximum of 10 years. The state engineer would have authority to approve these agreements, changing the use of the water and bypassing Water Court proceedings that are currently required to change the use of a water right. Baker said the bill mainly benefits Aurora, allowing the city to take Arkansas Basin water without having to pursue a change-of-use case in Water Court.

To gain the votes needed to pass the bill, Baker said a special exclusion was added that exempts Western Slope water.

In other business, Upper Ark directors:

  • Approved a modification to a Nestlé Waters North America augmentation agreement for 200 acre-feet of Fry-Ark Project water per year for 35 years.
  • Agreed to stipulate out of Poncha Springs case 09CW138, subject to favorable review of the stipulations by district engineer Ivan Walter.
  • Approved an agreement with law firm Wilderson, Lock and Hill to provide legal counsel for a flat fee of $2,000 per month.
  • Received an update on an integrated water agreement with Buena Vista.
  • Approved a cooperative water agreement with Colorado Parks and Wildlife.
  • Learned that the gate wheel at O’Haver Lake has been replaced after the old one was damaged by a vehicle.
  • Received an update on the Trout Creek Ditch exchange case, 08CW106, which is scheduled to go to trial June 11 if the Department of Corrections, division engineer and Colorado Water Conservation Board do not agree to proposed stipulations.
  • From The Mountain Mail (Joe Stone):

    Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District directors heard a report about the potential for underground water storage in Chaffee County during their Thursday meeting. Tammy Ivahnenko and Ken Watts with the U.S. Geological Survey said areas identified for further study include aquifers near Salida, Nathrop, Johnson Village, Buena Vista and north of Buena Vista.

    Watts said the locations were identified based on slope (less than 3 percent), soil texture at a depth of 5 feet (loam, sandy loam or gravel preferred) and surface geology (alluvial or gravel deposits).

    Another important factor, Watts said, is the “stream-accretion response time factor,” which provides an indication of how long water will stay in an aquifer before draining into a stream.

    Ivahnenko described “water budgets” she developed for Cottonwood, Chalk and Browns creeks and the South Arkansas River.
    The water budgets include irrigated acres, consumptive use by crops and amount of water diverted for irrigation, and help determine how much water may be available for storage at a given time.

    Watts said he conducted “slug tests” at 29 wells to determine hydraulic properties in the aquifers, including conductivity and permeability. He also reported on findings from Colorado State University monitoring wells. Hourly readings from the monitoring wells documented seasonal changes in water level and temperature, showing seasonal changes in groundwater levels and surface-water infiltration.

    Some wells showed significant influence from surface irrigation while others indicated a more stable, natural water level.
    Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District officials are developing plans to increase water storage capacity in the Upper Arkansas River basin. An important component of those plans is underground storage in alluvial aquifers, which would eliminate evaporative water losses and provide augmentation water through natural recharge to surface waters.

    Conservancy district officials said they will rely on USGS findings to help determine possible locations for underground water storage projects.

    More Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District coverage here.

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