The Chatfield Reallocation Project presents their ‘Fish, Wildlife and Recreation Mitigation Plan’ to CPW

Proposed reallocation pool -- Graphic/USACE
Proposed reallocation pool — Graphic/USACE

From The Denver Post (Scott Willoughby):

Philosophically, the proposed water storage expansion of Chatfield Reservoir makes some sense. In reality, it makes some headaches.

Participants of the Chatfield Reservoir Reallocation Project took their turn before the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission in Lamar on Friday, formally presenting the “Fish, Wildlife and Recreation Mitigation Plan” essential for approval of the proposal to double the water storage in the south Denver reservoir. The presentation started the 60-day review clock for commission approval required by state statute and offered a closer look at the likely impacts to one of Colorado’s most popular state parks.

“No water project is without environmental impacts and the statute doesn’t require that the impacts be eliminated, it requires that we mitigate them,” said Mike King, executive director of Colorado’s Department of Natural Resources. “(The participants and stakeholders) are to be commended for being creative in getting us to this point. I’m hopeful that we can get this across the finish line in the next couple of months.”

The hurdles to be overcome at Chatfield range far beyond the environmental, however. The 1,423-acre reservoir and surrounding topography serve as a cornerstone of the state park system, annually attracting more than 1.5 million visitors and generating some $2.2 million in revenue. Impacts to the park during and after inundation of 587 additional acres are expected to be significant.

Wide fluctuations in water levels are anticipated as additional municipal and agricultural water storage join the reservoir’s current primary uses of flood control and recreation. An additional 12 vertical feet of potential water fluctuations is likely to have considerable impact on park operations and will require the relocation of multiple facilities when the reservoir fills to its new level.

The law does not require that a mitigation plan for recreation impacts be approved by the commission, however project participants have proposed plans to alleviate unavoidable impacts to recreation facilities and amenities.

“Areas that were recognized as being potentially impacted included the park, fish and wildlife, recreation and financial,” said Randy Knutson, board member of the Central Colorado Water Conservancy District. “Mitigation plans for all these impacts either have been developed or are in the development phases.”

“We feel that we’ve gone above and beyond the state law requirement,” added Randy Ray, water resources manager for the Centennial Water & Sanitation District. “This plan addresses all the concerns.”

While the 11 project participants have pledged up to $116 million to finance the potential impacts identified in studies by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Colorado Parks and Wildlife, concerns remain. Foremost among them is the reservoir’s dramatically fluctuating water level.

Under the state park’s current operating agreement with Denver Water, Chatfield typically fluctuates no more than five feet between Memorial Day and Labor Day, offering recreational users reliable water levels for boating, fishing and other summer activities. The “Fish, Wildlife and Recreation Mitigation Plan” notes that the new “fluctuation zone” could be up to 21 feet, citing a comparison study of six other Front Range reservoirs showing that impacts (mud, weeds, mosquitoes, etc.) would be negligible.

Project participants insist that the reallocation proposal will have a positive impact on the South Platte River downstream from Chatfield, including an improved fishery as water is conveyed to downstream users from mid to late summer and through fall and winter. The “new reservoir” effect of added nutrients also has potential to improve fishing within Chatfield in the short term, although fluctuating water levels have been associated with elevated mercury levels in walleye at other reservoirs.

Reallocation participants have agreed to maintain water levels in the reservoir during critical walleye and smallmouth bass spawn periods. They also announced a new plan to preserve a gravel pond popular among recreational users that was initially subject to inundation.

“It’s an ongoing process. I feel better about some of the changes that they’ve made but we’ve got 60 days still to work through some of the details,” said Ken Kehmeier, a CPW aquatic biologist working on the project. “Bottom line is that it won’t be the Chatfield that everybody knows right now.”

More Chatfield Reservoir coverage here and here.

New Metro Wastewater Reclamation District treatment plant near Brighton will help fuel development

Metro Wastewater District Northern Plant construction November 2013 via the Denver Business Journal
Metro Wastewater Reclamation District Northern Plant construction November 2013 via the Denver Business Journal

From the Denver Business Journal (Cathy Proctor):

What do wastewater treatment and economic development have in common? You can’t have growth without the capacity to treat the wastewater that comes with it, according to the Metro Wastewater Reclamation District, which treats and cleans what 1.7 million people in the Denver area flush down the drain every day.

And it’s the continuing growth of the metro area — particularly north of Denver in Adams County, Thornton and Brighton — that the district had in mind when it launched a $415 million project to build a new wastewater treatment plant and a seven-mile pipeline to funnel waste to the plant, says Barbara Biggs, the district’s governmental affairs officer.

The project has been in the works for years. Biggs attended her first meeting on it in 1999. The plant, located at U.S. 85 and 168th Avenue north of Brighton, broke ground in January. It’s about 25 percent complete, and is expected to be finished in 2016. It will serve about 300,000 people in parts of Aurora, Thornton, Brighton, and Denver and Commerce City…

When the switch is flipped, the plant will be able to handle up to 24 million gallons of waste per day — enough to handle population growth in its serve area through 2055, said Biggs, who’s been working on the project since 1999. The plant, located on a 90-acre site, is designed to be expanded as needed up to 60 million gallons per day. That’s big enough to handle the needs of 750,000 people, [John Kuosman] said…

The plant is designed to meet new state regulations that require the district to remove phosphorus and nitrogen from the wastewater, in addition to other requirements, before it’s sent into the South Platte River, Biggs said. Removing those two elements from the wastewater stream will reduce algae growth in the river — improving the water quality for fish in the river, people who use it for recreation and also making it easier to treat to drinking water standards, she said.

More wastewater coverage here and here.

The 51st State Initiative: Weld County rural-urban divide issue overblown?

51st State Initiative Map via The Burlington Record
51st State Initiative Map via The Burlington Record

From The Greeley Tribune (Analisa Romano):

If Greeley residents had not voted in last week’s election, the 51st state initiative still would have been shot down by Weld County voters, according to a breakdown of ballots provided by the Weld County Clerk and Recorder’s Office. Without Greeley voters included, 52 percent of Weld County voters would have chosen not to move forward with seceding from the state of Colorado, versus 48 percent who voted for the measure.

The final count on the 51st state question was 56 percent of Weld County voters against secession, compared to 44 percent in support. In Greeley, voters strongly rejected the measure 67 percent to 33 percent.

Some say the disparity between the way Greeley and the rest of the county voted points to a difference in values. Weld County commissioners last week said they feel the rural-urban divide also exists within the county. Others say the fact that Greeley voters rejected the 51st state by a wider margin has nothing to do with a disconnect. They point to the fact that the rest of Weld County also voted against the measure as reason to argue the rural-urban divide issue is overblown. Critics say Weld County commissioners may have a disconnect with the rest of their electorate.

None of Weld County’s five commissioners responded to repeated requests from The Tribune seeking comment regarding how the county voted on the 51st state initiative. But commissioners said after Election Day that they put the question to a vote specifically to see what their electorate thought of secession.

Commissioners said they would honor the vote of the people and would not move forward with seceding from the state, but they vowed to continue to fight for rural interests at the state level. They said the vote was still a success in the sense that a message was sent to state legislators and the governor that a substantial portion of people in rural Colorado feel they have lost their voices.

“I think we have to be careful in saying that because they rejected the vote, there isn’t a problem,” Weld County Commissioner Sean Conway said last week.

Commissioners also sent a letter to Gov. John Hickenlooper’s office saying they would like to find a time for him to meet with Ault, Fort Lupton, Tri-Town and Evans residents before the 2014 legislative session.

“We received the Weld County commissioners’ letter and are reviewing the governor’s upcoming schedule to find more opportunities for the governor to visit Weld and other rural counties,” said Eric Brown, spokesman for the governor’s office, in a statement.

He said Hickenlooper was in Weld County on Sept. 16, 22, and 23 and on Oct. 23, and has made an effort to visit with all Coloradans.

Greeley Mayor Tom Norton, who has served as a state lawmaker, said he doubts the state Legislature is any more divided today than it was when he was a representative.

“I don’t think it means anything,” Norton said of the 51st state vote. “It just means that people don’t want it.”

Jeffrey Hare, a founder of the 51st state initiative and its spokesman, said he feels there is a disconnect between Greeley and the rest of the county.

“I would say that it is a little unfortunate that the city of Greeley has forgotten its agricultural roots,” Hare said.

He said he feels the fact 43 percent of Weld voters supported the initiative makes it a “resounding success.” Secession is still a new idea to many people, he said, but 43 percent is a strong plurality on which to build for a renewed secession effort in 2014.

Hare said the five counties that did vote for the initiative — Kit Carson, Washington, Phillips, Yuma and Cheyenne counties — will meet Monday to discuss their next steps in the movement.

While it was possible to track how the city of Greeley voted versus the rest of the county, other communities were not as easily identified. Ballots were not separated by precinct, but by blocks for different districts that held an election this year, said Rudy Santos, elections manager for the Weld County Clerk and Recorder’s Office.

Hare’s suggestion that Greeley has lost touch with its agricultural roots was refuted by local officials.

Sarah MacQuiddy, president of the Greeley Chamber of Commerce, said the city is anchored on the east and west by symbols of Weld County’s agricultural prosperity, with a JBS USA office to the west and Leprino Foods to the east.

“I still believe people in Greeley very much so understand our agrarian roots and appreciate the fact that we are an agricultural county, and appreciate that economic impact,” MacQuiddy said.

Steve Mazurana, professor emeritus of political science at the University of Northern Colorado who opposed the 51st state initiative, said he sees the differences between Greeley and rural areas of the county as a simple disparity in needs and behaviors. But he said that doesn’t stretch into a difference in ideas and values. For example, Greeley and Windsor residents probably lock the doors to their homes during the day. But that doesn’t necessarily point to a difference in values compared to rural areas, where the practice may be to leave them unlocked. That’s a difference in how residents are dealing with their surroundings, which is a fact of life in any state or county, he said. Mazurana said he feels there are just as many rural residents who are unwilling to accept incoming urban ideas and values as there are urban dwellers who rural residents say are attacking their way of life.

Critics say commissioners are elected by all who live in Weld, including municipalities, and a dedication to only rural needs is a disconnect between commissioners and their electorate.

But most of Weld County commissioners’ control is over unincorporated parts of the county, meaning they are rightly more sensitive to the needs of rural areas, Mazurana said.

More 51st State Initiative coverage here.

Colorado Water Plan: ‘I recommend that all Coloradans engage in this important effort’ — Gail Schwartz

Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013
Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013

Here’s a guest column about the Colorado Water Plan, written by State Senator Gail Schwartz that is running in the Aspen Daily News:

On May 14, Governor Hickenlooper signed an executive order directing the development of the first long-term State Water Plan by and for Coloradans. The “gap” between our water supply and demand is of critical concern today and in the future. This planning process will be the foundation of a larger discussion about water needs and allocation. I recommend that all Coloradans engage in this important effort.

The state water plan will pave the way for water decisions that responsibly and predictably address future challenges. The Governor’s executive order detailed that the plan must promote a productive economy that supports vibrant and sustainable cities, viable and productive agriculture, and a robust skiing, recreation and tourism industry. It must also incorporate efficient and effective water infrastructure planning while promoting smart land use and strong environmental protections that include healthy watersheds, rivers and streams, and wildlife.

The Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) has been tasked with creating the Colorado Water Plan. The board must submit a draft of the plan to the Governor’s office by Dec. 10, 2014, and a final plan by Dec. 10, 2015. The CWCB will incorporate the state’s Interbasin Compact Committee (IBCC) and nine basin round tables’ recommendations to address regional long-term water needs.

As chair of the Interim Water Resources Review Committee (WRRC), I will help ensure that the diverse voices of Colorado’s water community are heard during the development of this plan. The 10-member WRRC is comprised of legislators representing districts in each of the state’s major river basins. The committee has a full agenda as we are charged to review water issues and propose legislation. The WRRC will also remain actively engaged with the CWCB in development of the State Water Plan.

A recent public opinion survey on water issues in Colorado indicated that only 30 percent of Coloradans believe the state has enough water to meet its current needs. Furthermore, nearly 70 percent of Coloradans indicated they believe there is insufficient supply for the next 40 years. Colorado’s perennial drought has diminished our reservoir levels, which not only impacts our state, but has immense implications for neighboring states. In fact, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation may constrain water releases for the first time in modern history from Lake Powell to the minimum required by the 1922 Colorado River Compact for the next two years unless precipitation significantly increases in the Colorado River Basin.

As charged, the water plan has a broad scope and will inevitably need to address difficult and contentious issues. I believe that we should first focus on conservation and efficiency both at the municipal/industrial level and in agriculture. Water conservation is an area with broad consensus. A recent public opinion study of Coloradans identified conservation as the most important water related issue. Other studies have strikingly demonstrated that 80 percent of Coloradans favored conservation over new construction projects. In 2013 I sponsored SB13-19, which gives landowners a new tool to conserve water without injuring their water rights. New conservation and efficiency tools are needed in the State Water Plan as they stress wise use of our precious water resource.

Conservation may be just one piece of this larger puzzle, and I want to hear what pieces are important to you. The dialogue around the state water plan is a critical discourse to ensure the protection of Western Slope water, reduce the “buy and dry” cycle on our agricultural lands and demand responsible urban and industrial use. In order to make your voice heard, contact me at gail.schwartz.senate@gmail.com, your regional round table, and IBCC members to help identify water issues and solutions that you feel are critical to this process. Thank you for caring about Colorado’s future.

To follow WRRC interim meetings, find materials, and read potential state water legislation as it becomes available please go to http://www.colorado.gov/lcs/WRRC.

For more information about the State Water Plan, the CWCB, your regional round table, and the IBCC, please go to http://cwcb.state.co.us/water-management/CO-Water-Plan/Pages/main.aspx.

Follow the Colorado Water Plan on Twitter at @COWaterPlan and Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Colorado-Water-Plan/546079485458568.

From The Goat (Sarah Jane Keller):

Last week, while speaking at lunch during the Upper Colorado Basin Water Conference in Grand Junction, the director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board could have put his audience to sleep in their cannoli. He was talking about the narcolepsy-inducing topic of water planning, after all. Instead, James Eklund captured the room’s attention by quoting “the great water philosopher, Mike Tyson” who said, “Everyone has a plan until they’ve been punched in the face.” And there’s no doubt that Colorado’s been punched in the face.

Those blows have come from the combination of a 14-year drought, population growth, wild fires and floods. Now the state is figuring out how it will “pick itself off the canvas,” as Eklund described it, and move forward. But Colorado is one of the few Western states without a water plan.

In Colorado’s case, Eklund said, there are already enough glossy reports that sit on shelves. The state wants a document that analyzes the state’s water challenges and leads to meaningful action. So Colorado’s been working on one since this past summer, based on input from grassroots water planning groups called basin roundtables, which have been meeting for the last eight years. The first draft is due to Gov. Hickenlooper in December. Hopefully, having a road map will help soften the blows of further hydrologic bludgeoning…

One solution to stave off buy-and-dry would be creating a marketing system to let farmers lease water to cities in select years, or for a series of years, instead of permanently selling water rights. Leasing already happens on a small scale, but the state has been providing grants so water districts or nonprofits can work out the legal, technical and financial hurdles to large-scale leasing.

For example, in the Arkansas Basin, land of famous Rocky Ford cantaloupes, irrigators have formed the Super Ditch Company. It’s an amalgamation of regional ditch companies that will bargain for irrigators who want to lease part of their water to cities like Denver and Pueblo. There’s now legislation in the works to make the pilot project permanent. (For more on buy-and-dry and the Arkansas Basin check out this 2012 HCN feature from Matt Jenkins).

Even in the recent past, Eklund said, there’s been resistance to state water planning because of fear that it will impinge on private property rights, or overthrow the legal doctrine that guarantees water to senior rights holders. But those days of foot-dragging may be coming to an end, and the state’s water managers have recognized that water management needs to change to address new climate norms. “I’m here to tell you why I think the landscape has shifted,” Eklund said, “and why (with) the variable hydrology these days coupled with the scarcity of the resource…we can no longer have enough water for every need, and we’ve got to start looking at what we’re going to do with these new pressures.”

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.

The Rio Grande Basin roundtable ponies up $100,000 for Acequia del Cerro piping project

Acequia del Cerro, San Luis
Acequia del Cerro, San Luis

From the Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

Water leaders on Tuesday unanimously approved $100,000 for an acequia rehabilitation project near San Luis.

Rio Grande Interbasin Roundtable Chairman Mike Gibson explained that Acequia del Cerro’s application originally included a $400,000 request for funding administered statewide through the Colorado Water Conservation Board. Each river basin receives an allotment to distribute, as well, and that is where the $100,000 will come from. Gibson said the criteria for the state-administered funds have changed so this project no longer fit the criteria. Statewide funds can only be distributed to projects with statewide benefit now, he explained.

The local water leaders comprising the roundtable board have discretion over how they spend money allocated from the state to the basin account, however, so the group voted to provide $100,000 locally for the acequia project.

Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is funding the $400,000 shortfall the state declined to provide for the project, Gibson explained. This will be funded through the NRCS’ Targeted Conservation Funds. NRCS is also providing $200,000 for the acequia project through EQUIP (Environmental Quality Incentives Program) funding.

Consultant Diana Cortez described the acequia project to the roundtable on Tuesday. Acequia del Cerro is a 10-mile long system constructed in 1880, she explained. It is comprised of two systems, the north and south channels serving 82 water users and irrigating 1,880 acres of hay, grass, row crops and vegetable gardens between ¦ See ACEQUIA pg 3 Chama and La Vega Commons in San Luis. Acequia del Cerro consists of about five miles of earthen ditch and five miles of concrete ditch. It is the longest and most complex irrigation system in southern Costilla County.

The part of the project for which El Cerro Ditch Company requested funding is located at the bottom part of the system and will replace 1,900 linear feet of concrete starting about 20 feet from the main head gate. Cortez said the $100,000 funding from the roundtable is a portion of the entire project, which is divided into phases. This funding will be used in Phase I, which is $138,510 including the roundtable grant, $33,000 of the funding from NRCS and the remainder from in-kind and cash matches. The entire project will exceed $1 million and will encompass 15,000 linear feet of pipeline to rehabilitate the northern ditch “to assure proper water control, eliminate water loss and provide irrigation water to all landowners,” as stated in the funding application.

“Costilla County is experiencing drought and in many cases, significant crop loss due to insufficient water from the Culebra Watershed. In addition to the drought, the landowners along the Acequia del Cerro are operating with a malfunctioning irrigation water system. With the implementation of this rehabilitation project, the Acequia del Cerro landowners will have a fully functioning irrigation system that will greatly reduce high sediment loads, promote cost effectiveness by minimizing maintenance , and provide increased operational flexibility. With the installation of the HPDE pipeline, the landowners will experience high flow capacity, elimination of bank erosion and sediment loading in the irrigation water and optimizing existing and future water supply needs for all landowners on the Culebra watershed.”

Cortez explained to the roundtable that the old concrete ditch in use now will continue to exist, and the new project will be constructed alongside it. The new ditch will include a pipeline. Cortez said irrigators will still be able to use the old ditch while the new one is constructed so irrigation will not be disrupted during construction, which is projected to begin next spring.

She added that once the new project is complete, the old ditch would be maintained to catch sediment and rock that comes down off the hill.

“We feel it’s a valuable project,” Cortez told the roundtable members. In the ditch company’s application , the value of this project was described: “The sustainability of the Rio Culebra Agricultural Co-op and local farming methods that include heirloom seed products and organic grass and hay for cattle feed, may serve as a model for other parts of the state where irrigation water is either insufficient due to the drought conditions or to low efficiency of water use. With the rehabilitation of the Acequia del Cerro, which will provide a managed distribution, timed controlled and monitored water and irrigation system, the landowners feel that crop production will increase even in years of drought. The area associated with the project will essentially remain as it is now, providing wildlife habitat and a scenic landscape for visitors to this historic area of Colorado that demonstrates how the early Hispanic settlers of the area farmed and irrigated their lands.”

More IBCC — basin roundtables coverage here.

Longmont: St. Vrain Greenway restoration 2 – 3 years out

St. Vrain Greenway Trail washout September2013 via Longmont Times-Call
St. Vrain Greenway Trail washout September2013 via Longmont Times-Call

From the Longmont Times-Call (Scott Rochat):

It could take two years before the Greenway can once again be traveled from end to end, according to Kim Shugar, the city’s natural resources manager. And it’ll likely take another year on top of that before it looks like it once did, with its landscaping once again in place.

“It took 20 years to build,” Shugar said. “Even though the river destroyed it in a couple of hours, we are going to get it back open as soon as possible.”

Parts of it won’t have to wait that long; the first re-opened stretches are expected to be done by mid-January. But a lot depends on how much has to be done. The city’s plans show three phases of work:

Phase 1: Repair the trail, areas where the concrete needs to be fixed, but the underlying base is in decent shape. This is the “low-hanging fruit” that has the mid-January date.

Phase 2: Rebuild the trail. These are the harder parts, where the base itself was destroyed in the flood. That work will be bid in December and may be done by March or April.

Phase 3: Redesign the trail. These are the places where the river cut a completely new course, so that either the river or the trail must be moved. This is where the two-year timeframe comes into play, and even that’s a guess, since it depends on what the Army Corps of Engineers decides.

“Until we get direction from the Army Corps of Engineers, we can’t begin design,” Shugar said…

Those wanting to stay posted can check an interactive map on the city’s website, ci.longmont.co.us. A link can be found after clicking on the link for flood information. The map includes “thumbtacks” that can be clicked to show a photo of the area, its current condition and the work that needs to be done.

H.R. 3189: ‘…it was only a matter of time until they went after ranchers’ — Colorado Farm Bureau (NSAA vs. USFS)

Sheep herders on the Uncompahgre Plateau
Sheep Herders on the Uncompahgre Plateau

From the Northern Colorado Business Report (Steve Lynn):

The Colorado Farm Bureau said a U.S. Forest Service decision to no longer pursue forcing ski areas to surrender their water rights to renew their operating permits bodes well for farmers.

The Forest Service’s decision represents a “huge win” for private property owners, including farmers with grazing permits, the Farm Bureau said in a statement.

“We were concerned that if the Forest Service could demand this from ski areas, it was only a matter of time until they went after ranchers who also use Forest Service lands to do the same to renew their grazing permits,” Farm Bureau President Don Shawcroft, said in a statement.

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

A measure that would bar federal agencies from demanding state water rights in exchange for permits to use federal lands will get a vote in the U.S. House. The House Resources Committee on Thursday passed H.R. 3189, the Water Rights Protection Act by U.S. Reps. Scott Tipton, a Republican, and Jared Polis, a Democrat.

The U.S. Forest Service said this week that it would not require ski areas to surrender water rights in exchange for permits to operate on forest lands. The imposition of that requirement prompted the legislation, but Tipton said legislation is needed.

“Water users need certainty that all federal land management agencies, not just the Forest Service, are prohibited from future attempts to take privately held water rights,” Tipton said in a statement.

The National Ski Areas Association said the measure is necessary to give stability to its members.

“The policy change announced by the agency is the fourth change in Forest Service water policy for ski areas in 10 years,” the association said.

“These changes are disruptive, create uncertainty and adversely impact our operations, planning and future growth.”

Only federal legislation can provide long-term protection against the taking of water rights by the federal government, the association said.

A floor vote has not been scheduled.

A companion measure sponsored by Sen. John Barasso, R-Wyo., has been introduced in the Senate.

More water law coverage here. More NSAA vs. USFS coverage here.