CMU: Upper #ColoradoRiver basin water forum, November 5-6


More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.

13th Annual DARCA Convention February 13, 2015

From email from DARCA:

DARCA is coming together for the 13th Annual DARCA Convention. The event will take place in Grand Junction, Colorado at the Two Rivers Convention Center. The pre-convention workshop is scheduled for February 11th, 2015, with the topic of technology and ditch companies. The convention will be on February 12th & 13th, with the theme of Colorado’s Water Plan and Irrigated Agriculture. For more information and to register, visit or call (970) 412-1960.

CWC: We’re partnering with the Colorado Foundation for Water Education to bring you three webinars on Transbasin diversions

Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer's office
Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer’s office

Gov. Hickenlooper releases year-in-review and outlook report of flood recovery efforts

Plume of subtropical moisture streaming into Colorado September 2013 via Weather5280
Plume of subtropical moisture streaming into Colorado September 2013 via Weather5280

Here’s the release from Governor Hickenlooper’s office:

Governor John Hickenlooper and the Colorado Recovery Office today released an annual report that provides an overview of the recovery efforts of the September 2013 floods, looks at lessons learned and an outlook to ongoing and continuing recovery efforts.

“With the release of this report, we take a short pause in the recovery efforts to review a year of both tragedy and inspiration,” said Hickenlooper. “We committed to build back better, stronger and more resilient and while we’ve made tremendous progress, there continues to be communities in need. We remain a strong partner in those efforts and will continue to move with the same urgency as we did in the immediate aftermath.”

The historic flooding – the single most devastating natural disaster in the state’s 138-year history – took 10 lives, forced more than 18,000 people from their homes, destroyed critical roads and bridges and wreaked an estimated $3 billion in damages. In rapid response, the Colorado Recovery Office was created and the governor called upon more than 20 state agencies to immediately begin work on plans to assess damage and recovery efforts.

One year later, this report captures the recovery plans for the state, including how state and federal agencies, non-profits, the private sector and citizens collaborated to secure $1.6 billion in resources and continue to work with communities most in need to distribute funds.

The report highlights the accomplishments resulting from these collaborations and the heroic, day-to-day work of Coloradans united in their efforts, demonstrating their resiliency and working toward recovery, including:

  • Opened all state highways by December, 2013, and utilized an innovative approach in designing, engineering and reconstructing highways and restoring streams that makes Colorado highways and stream corridors more resilient to future disasters.
  • Created an online resource at to provide up-to-date information to local communities and the public at large, as well as a forum to request support from the state. To date the website has been visited more than 60,000 times;
  • Partnered with the agriculture industry to ensure more than 88 percent of damaged diversions and ditches were operational before growing season.
  • Finally, the report lays out the framework for how the Colorado’s long-term recovery support for local communities will continue in the weeks, months and years ahead to help them rebuild better, stronger and more resilient.

  • Develop more affordable housing, incorporating technology, energy efficiency and other sustainable building practices.
  • Synchronizing the rebuilding of transportation infrastructure and stream restoration activities to protect roadways from future damages while preserving natural stream function, and enhancing wildlife habitat.
  • Supporting business recovery with access to capital and promoting economic diversification in impacted communities.
  • Facilitating local multi-objective planning efforts that chart a clear course for recovery and long-term resiliency while leveraging federal, state and non-governmental resources to implement those plans.
  • The full report is available online at

    At head gate atop pass, Western Slope, Front Range interests meet — The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

    A water-measuring flume on a ditch sitting exactly astride this pass outside Leadville might be as good a place as any to bring Western and Eastern Slope interests together to talk about water.

    Those interests met in the middle here last week, at this point where the Ewing Ditch crosses the Continental Divide, on a transbasin diversion tour presented by the Colorado Foundation for Water Education. It was a chance to consider the past of water development in Colorado while also pondering its future. And where better to look back at the history of transbasin diversions than at Ewing Ditch, the oldest diversion of Western Slope water to the Eastern Slope?

    This straightforward, unassuming dirt conduit seemingly defies gravity, diverting water from Eagle River tributary Piney Gulch just a short walk from Tennessee Pass, and just high enough up the gulch that the water can follow a contoured course crossing basins and head into the Arkansas River Valley.

    “It’s simple, but I love simplicity. It fits my mind,” Alan Ward, water resources manager with the Pueblo Board of Water Works, joked about the ditch, which the utility bought in 1955.

    Buried in snow

    It was built in 1880 and also is called the Ewing Placer Ditch, which Ward believes suggests early use of the water in mining.

    As transbasin diversions go, it’s a minuscule one, delivering up to 18.5 cubic feet per second, or an average of about 1,000 acre-feet in a year. It diverts about five square miles of melt-off from snowpack that can leave the ditch buried beneath 10 to 20 feet of snow in the winter. David Curtis is in charge of clearing that snow and maintaining and operating the ditch during the seven months out of each year that he works out of Leadville as a ditch rider for the utility.

    The utility says Ewing Ditch is about three-quarters of a mile long.

    “I think it’s a little longer,” Curtis said, adding that at least it seems that way when he and others are busy clearing spring snow.

    A chartered bus delivered more than two dozen tour participants to view the ditch, including Boulder County resident Joe Stepanek. He found last week’s two-day tour to be highly informative. He’s interested in Colorado’s history of water development, and is retired from a U.S. Agency for International Development career that had him traveling abroad.

    “I come back and join this water tour and learn a lot about Colorado,” he said.

    Sonja Reiser, an engineer with CH2M HILL in Denver, likewise was finding the tour to be eye-opening.

    “I’m learning so much about how complicated Colorado water law is,” she said as the tour bus moved on from this tiny diversion point to the outlet of the five-mile-long Homestake Tunnel, which goes under the Continental Divide from Homestake Reservoir in Eagle County and is capable of delivering a much more massive 800 cubic feet per second to help meet municipal needs in Colorado Springs and Aurora.

    Before getting to those cities, that water also is put to use at another tour stop, the Mount Elbert Power Plant just above Twin Lakes. There, the water goes through hydropower turbines that can be reversed to pull water back up from the lakes to a reservoir above the plant, helping ensure the water is available to create on-demand power to meet grid shortages at times when renewable energy from wind and solar sources wane.

    While traveling to the tunnel, the busload heard Pitkin County Attorney John Ely discuss legal means that county has to at least weigh in on transbasin diversion proposals, even if it can’t outright stop them.

    He then opined that Pitkin County has more in common with some Front Range counties than it does with some counties on the Western Slope.

    “I think that at the end of the day everybody appreciates that we’re in this together,” he said.

    More water

    Such thinking is helping drive an ongoing effort to develop a state water plan in Colorado. Ely said the priority is always going to be providing water for human consumption, but beyond that, decisions must be made about how to distribute it among competing uses such as agriculture, watering lawns, generating hydropower and maintaining streamflows.

    “The only way you can get at that is to invite the public to participate,” he said.

    Since 1880, many others have followed the lead taken with the Ewing Ditch and diverted Western Slope water for use on the populous Front Range. As a result, a big challenge facing the state water planning process is reconciling the Front Range’s desire to be able to access yet more of that water with the feeling of many on the Western Slope that they’ve given up enough of it. Although tours like last week’s can’t be expected to lead to breakthroughs on such difficult issues, they at least help to put faces behind the entities involved.

    “We’re not three-headed monsters on the Eastern Slope,” Kevin Lusk, who works with Colorado Springs Utilities, said during a windy lunch break alongside Turquoise Lake, which stores water delivered by the Homestake Tunnel.

    Front Range lawns

    Fielding questions from a few Western Slope residents as they ate, Lusk and some other Front Range utility officials found themselves defending the amount of water conservation they’ve already undertaken, and questioning the Western Slope frustration about water being used to keep Front Range lawns green. Brett Gracely, also with Colorado Springs Utilities, said that watering accounts for just 3 percent of state water use.

    “I don’t get it — why do people hate grass?” Lusk wondered.

    But as Lusk later described Colorado Springs’ efforts to better shore up its diversion infrastructure to reduce leakage far up the Roaring Fork Valley in Pitkin County, it engendered a frustrated sigh from Lisa Tasker, a member of Pitkin County’s Healthy River Board. She has hiked around that infrastructure, and what has leaked from it has helped vegetation in the same pristine mountain basins from where that water originates, rather than irrigating Front Range lawns.

    Still, Tasker bit her lip during Lusk’s presentation. She was on the tour to look and listen, and said earlier it was a chance to see diversion infrastructure firsthand and hear not just the perspectives but the passions of people from the Front Range.

    “I’m strictly in learning mode,” she said.

    Chris Treese, external affairs manager of the Colorado River Water Conservation District, based in Glenwood Springs, sits on the board of the Colorado Foundation for Water Education, which uses tours and other means to provide unbiased information on water resources and issues. Treese, who also was a presenter during last week’s tour, said he believes such events help foster dialogue about water in the state and get new voices involved in the state’s water future.

    “If it’s going to be a state water plan, it can’t just be water buffaloes’ state water plan,” Treese said, referring to the more traditional participants in water issues on both sides of the divide.

    “It’s good for us to get outside of our box and look at the bigger picture,” said tour participant Joe Burtard, who works in external affairs for the Ute Water Conservancy District utility in Mesa County. “… It’s good for us to be exposed to the Front Range and Eastern Slope perspectives as well.”

    More Colorado Foundation for Water Education coverage here.

    “It seems to me the best policy is to put the water to beneficial use” — Jerry Sonnenberg


    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    El Paso County communities tried last week to convince the state’s interim water resources review committee that water rights they purchase are “eroded” when growth fails to materialize as soon as expected. Lawmakers listened, but took no action.

    Lawyers for Fountain and the Pikes Peak Regional Water Authority told the committee last week that agricultural rights they purchased are diminished if the water is not immediately used when growth does not materialize.

    They proposed two changes in the law:

  • A measure which would remove the need for a water right that has been changed to be taken to water court again for actions such as a new point of diversion.

    “Any change will shrink a senior water right, not ratchet them up,” said Denver water lawyer Rick Fendel, representing the Pikes Peak group. “We’re looking for ways to get us through the gauntlet of water court.”

  • A proposal to quantify changes on a ditch equally so the most recent changes aren’t penalized by generous assumptions in the past.

    “The last guy on the ditch suffers because the historic consumptive use is all used up by the guys who came before you,” said Denver water attorney Cynthia Covell, representing Fountain.

  • Cities that buy farm water and don’t immediately use it are subject to a reduction of use, but not the loss of the water right, Deputy State Engineer Kevin Rein explained.

    Cities often obtain conditional water rights that allow them to grow into their supplies, but in recent years courts have put limits on how far into the future they can plan.

    The legislators were not receptive to change the laws solely to accommodate cities.

    “It seems to me the best policy is to put the water to beneficial use,” said state Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, adding that cities should not “mismanage” their supplies.

    Covell said Fountain’s growth is largely determined by the pace of expansion at Fort Carson, something the city cannot control. “You don’t want to have to get the supply after the future arrives,” Covell said. “This would bring certainty based on the water rights’ decreed purpose.”

    More water law coverage here.

    Aspen aims for all hydro and wind by 2023 — The Aspen Times

    Ridgway Reservoir during winter
    Ridgway Reservoir during winter

    From The Aspen Times (Karl Herchenroeder):

    Aspen officials hope to supply municipal operations entirely with hydroelectric and wind energy by 2023, projections from the city’s renewable energy manager show.

    But the success of that lofty projection — along with the city’s 100 percent renewable-energy goal in 2015 — will be based largely on current negotiations with its energy provider, Municipal Energy Agency of Nebraska.

    Doubling the hydro supply at Ridgway Reservoir and phasing out landfill-gas purchases are two things Municipal Energy Agency of Nebraska will have to approve for Aspen to meet 2023 projections, but Aspen’s Renewable Energy Manager Will Dolan is confident he can reach agreement on both.

    “I think there’s a way to do it,” Dolan said Monday. “I think they’ve voiced an interest in additional Ridgway energy, and they’ve also voiced a willingness to taper off the landfill-gas energy if we needed to.”[…]

    Dolan said the city will look to phase out landfill gas in 2023, when Aspen has the option to double its output at Ridgway, boosting supply from 9,800 megawatt hours to about 19,000 megawatt hours. As negotiations proceed, Dolan said it will be key to find some flexibility.

    “We don’t want to hem any future councils in,” he said. “As highly desirable resources like Ridgway become available, we want to be able to take advantage of those.”[…]

    According to Dolan, Aspen’s energy portfolio is currently made up of 49 percent hydro, 28 percent wind, 20 percent coal/gas and 2 percent nuclear. Dolan’s 2015 projections show 47 percent hydro, 41 percent wind, 11 percent coal/gas and 1 percent nuclear. The 8,500 megawatt hours of coal/gas would be offset in 2015 by the purchase of about 9,300 megawatt hours of landfill gas in the Midwest.

    City projections for 2023 show 58 percent hydro and 42 percent wind.

    Dolan said that if the Aspen City Council elects to revisit the controversial Castle Creek Energy Center, the city could explore the possibility of tapering back its wind supply. To date, the city has invested about $7 million in the estimated $10.5 million project, which was halted in 2012 when 51 percent of Aspen voters shot it down during an advisory election.

    More hydroelectric/hydropower coverage here.