Reclamation Releases the Final Environmental Assessment for Two Salinity Control Projects

Uncompahgre River Valley looking south
Uncompahgre River Valley looking south

Here’s the release from the US Bureau of Reclamation (Terry Stroh/Justyn Hock):

Reclamation announced today that it has released a final environmental assessment and Finding of No Significant Impact for two proposed salinity control projects. The documents assessed and addressed the potential effects of the Bostwick Park Water Conservancy District’s Siphon Lateral Salinity Control Project in Montrose County, Colorado and the Forked Tongue/Holman Ditch Company’s Salinity Control Project located in Delta County, Colorado.

The Bostwick Park Project will pipe 1.76 miles of existing earthen ditch and will result in an annual reduction of 413 tons of salt contributions to the Colorado River. The Forked Tongue/Holman Ditch Project will pipe 1.89 miles of existing earthen ditch and will result in an annual reduction of 412 tons of salt contributions to the Colorado River. The purpose of both projects is to improve the efficiency of water delivery to canal users and reduce salinity loading in the Colorado River Basin.

Colorado Water Congress: Join us Nov. 19 for a day of fact-filled workshops

Weekly Climate, Water and #Drought Assessment of the Upper #ColoradoRiver Basin

Upper Colorado River Basin month to date precipitation thru October 12, 2014
Upper Colorado River Basin month to date precipitation thru October 12, 2014

Click here to read the current assessment. Click here to go to the NIDIS website hosted by the Colorado Climate Center.

New York Times: The main driver of water waste and over consumption? Price often set below cost.

Comment period for Waters of the US Rulemaking was extended until Nov. 14

More Environmental Protection Agency coverage here.

“Right now the firm yield of Windy Gap is zero” — Brian Werner #ColoradoRiver

Site of proposed Chimney Hollow Reservoir -- Windy Gap Firming Project via the Longmont Times-Call
Site of proposed Chimney Hollow Reservoir — Windy Gap Firming Project via the Longmont Times-Call

From the Sky-Hi Daily News (Hank Shell):

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District and the Northern Water Municipal Subdistrict have negotiated a contract that would allow the subdistrict to use excess capacity in the Colorado-Big Thompson Project for the Windy Gap Project and future Windy Gap Firming Project, according to a press release. A 30-day public comment period on the contract opened Oct. 8 and will close Nov. 7…

Currently, Windy Gap water rights are in priority during wet years, though paradoxically the C-BT project is often too full to hold excess water. Because the Windy Gap Project has a junior water right, it is often not able to divert water during dry years, when there is available capacity in the C-BT project.

“Right now the firm yield of Windy Gap is zero because there are some years where they can’t get any water out of the project,” said Brian Werner with Northern Water.

The Windy Gap Firming Project proposes construction of Chimney Hollow Reservoir near Carter Lake Reservoir in Larimer County. The added storage capacity would “firm up,” or reinforce the Windy Gap water right during dry years. The contract is needed to use federal infrastructure to firm up the Windy Gap water right.

“This project will make more efficient use of existing water rights,” said Mike Ryan with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, in a prepared statement. “When completed, Windy Gap Firming would provide water storage for 13 municipal providers.”

The Windy Gap project is allowed to divert a maximum of 90,000 acre feet in a single year, and its 10-year running average cannot exceed 65,000 acre feet per year.

The cost for using the excess capacity will be $34 per acre-foot, said Tyler Johnson with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

Initial estimates for the Windy Gap Firming Project put the cost at $270 million.

Also up for comment is Senate Document 80, which contains guidelines for project facilities and auxiliary features, and Section 14 Determination Memos, which authorize the Secretary of the Interior to enter into contracts for the exchange or replacement of water, water rights, or electrical energy for the adjustment of water rights.

Wringing juice from irrigation canals — Mountain Town News

South Canal hydroelectric site
South Canal hydroelectric site

From the Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

In 1909, President William Howard Taft arrived in Montrose on a train to dedicate one of the federal government’s first reclamation projects. With aid of federal funds, a 5.8-mile tunnel was bored from the Black Canyon of the Gunnison River to divert water onto the fertile fields of the Uncompahgre Valley.

Even when the portly president (he weighed 340 pounds and once overflowed a bathtub), there was talk in Montrose about harnessing the power of fast-moving water to produce electricity. Emerging from the Bureau of Reclamation’s tunnel from April through October, the time of irrigation, the water churns with great power as it tumbles toward the 80,000 acres of irrigation around the towns of Montrose and Delta.

At long last, electrical production began last year. The first small hydroelectric plant began generation in June 2013 and the second two months later. Both were developed by Delta-Montrose Electrical Association. Together, the two units can produce 7.5 megawatts of electricity.

Two more are now being built, both by a private company called Shavano Falls Hydro. They are expected to be completed in spring of 2015 and produce a maximum 7.6 megawatts.

The four units altogether will produce 15.1 megawatts.

Delta-Montrose will sell the power to co-op members, while Shavano will sell the power to Municipal Energy Agency of Nebraska. Among others, MEAN sells energy to the municipalities of Delta and Aspen.

Jim Heneghan, renewable electricity engineer for Delta-Montrose, says the return on investment is 11 years. However, a better way of calculating the investment may be that it produces electricity for 3 cents per kilowatt hour more cheaply than the power delivered by wholesale supplier Tri-State Generation and Transmission.

Both these figures are without a rate increase in the wholesale price. Coal-fired electricity has been rising rapidly in cost, however. The water will be essentially free and the turbines should last at least 50 years before they need to be retooled.

More hydroelectric/hydropower coverage here.

Republican River Basin: “You want more than damages” — Antonin Scalia

Republican River Basin by District
Republican River Basin by District

From Omaha World-Herald (Joseph Morton):

The court heard oral arguments Tuesday in the latest twist of the 1943 Republican River Compact signed by Kansas, Nebraska and Colorado. The case pits Nebraska against Kansas — not only over the amount of money Nebraska owes, but also to set the ground rules for what are sure to be future battles over the use of a critical but stressed resource.

Justices had sharp questions for both sides. They expressed skepticism about Kansas’ claim for higher damages as well as Nebraska’s desire to rewrite the formula used to calculate water usage.

As is typical in such interstate disputes, a special master earlier had reviewed the case for the court. He found that Nebraska owes $5.5 million — $3.7 million in basic damages with an additional $1.8 million attributed to the gains made by Nebraska farmers as a result of the violations. Nebraska is challenging the extra $1.8 million penalty.

Kansas Solicitor General Stephen McAllister, however, urged the justices to go significantly higher in penalizing Nebraska, contending that Nebraska’s actual gains were much larger than $3.7 million, or even $5.5 million. If Nebraska winds up with more in benefits than it is penalized for the excess water, he said, it will have no incentive to work hard at compliance in a future drought.
Justice Antonin Scalia focused on the extra penalty that Kansas is seeking.

“You want more than damages,” Scalia told McAllister. “You want to say, ‘I not only want to receive what it cost me, what your violation cost me, but I want in addition to receive any benefits that you got from the violation.’ … That’s not a normal contract remedy.”

Justice Samuel Alito pointed out that Nebraska’s violations of the compact had been ruled unintentional. But McAllister said Nebraska knew it was exposing Kansas to risk and described it as “more than negligent” on Nebraska’s part.

“These were massive violations on Nebraska’s part, knowing they were in trouble and just really not taking any kind of adequate steps,” McAllister said.

Nebraska Chief Deputy Attorney General David Cookson defended Nebraska’s efforts to stay in compliance
with the compact and to mitigate the situation once the problems were revealed. Still, he faced questions from Justices Elena Kagan and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, both of whom cited the special master’s findings that while Nebraska’s violations were not an intentional breach, the state should have seen what was coming.

“The special master also said essentially … that you were a conscious wrongdoer, that you failed to act, refused to act in the face of a known risk,” Kagan said to Cookson. She said the special master found that “unless there was some very lucky fortuitous thing that happened, the quite foreseeable effect of your actions was going to be that Kansas didn’t have enough water.”

Cookson said Nebraska does not agree with the findings about what Nebraska should have known or the idea that it took no action.

“Nebraska seized control of its consumptive use in 2002 while it was still negotiating the compact, and through 2006 reduced its pumping (by 35 percent),” Cookson said. “At the same time, however, Nebraska could not reasonably foresee that its allocations were going to fall even below the historical low period of record in this basin, which was the Dust Bowl.”

Nebraska also has asked the court to go along with the special master’s finding that the formula for calculating water usage should be reworked because it is unfair. Chief Justice John Roberts expressed skepticism about taking such a step, however.

“The idea of a special master or this court changing the nature of that agreement is a pretty radical one,” Roberts said.

The court is expected to rule before the end of the year.

After the arguments, Cookson told The World-Herald that it’s impossible to gather from the court’s questions which way the justices are leaning. They often play devil’s advocate and push harder on the side they ultimately agree with in order to sharpen the arguments in their favor.

“The court was very engaged,” Cookson said. “They asked questions that pushed the boundaries of both sides’ arguments.”

More Republican River Basin coverage here.

Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co, Aspen and the #ColoradoRiver District reach deal

From the Aspen Daily News (Brent Gardner-Smith):

The city of Aspen and Front Range water interests have reached a compromise 20 years in the making that allows more water to be sent east when the spring runoff is plentiful, in exchange for bolstering flows when the Roaring Fork River is running low in the fall. The deal is between the Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co., which operates transbasin diversion tunnels underneath Independence Pass, and the city of Aspen and the Colorado River District, which works to protect water rights on the Western Slope.

The deal, which has its roots in a 1994 water court application from Twin Lakes that sought to increase diversions during the runoff in high-snowpack years. It will leave 40 acre-feet of water in Grizzly Reservoir when Twin Lakes exercises its rights under the 1994 proposal. That water will be stored in the 500-acre-foot reservoir and released into the Roaring Fork for about three weeks in late summer, when seasonal flows are at their lowest. The water must be called for and released in the same year it was stored.

Grizzly Reservoir, located about 8 miles up Lincoln Creek Road near the Continental Divide, is a component of the transbasin-diversion system. A tunnel underneath the reservoir channels water underneath the mountain to the south fork of Lake Creek in the Arkansas River basin, on the other side of the pass.

Additionally, under the deal, the River District will have the right to store 200 acre-feet of water in Grizzly Reservoir and can call for up to 150 acre feet of that water in a year. Importantly, that 200 acre-feet can be stored long-term in the reservoir until it is called for by the River District, which manages water rights across the Western Slope.

Another 600 acre-feet will be provided to the River District for seasonal storage in Twin Lakes Reservoir, also on the east side of Independence Pass. The district will then trade and exchange that water with various entities, which could lead to more water staying on the Western Slope that would otherwise be diverted through other transbasin tunnels.

Twin Lakes diverts an average of 46,000 acre-feet a year from the headwaters of the Roaring Fork and sends it to Colorado Springs and other Front Range cities. The city of Colorado Springs owns 55 percent of the shares in the Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co., entities in Pueblo own 23 percent, entities in Pueblo West own 12 percent, and Aurora owns 5 percent.

Aspen and the River District intend to cooperatively use the stored water in Grizzly Reservoir to boost late-summer flows in the Roaring Fork as it winds through Aspen proper.

Water already flowing
The stretch of the Roaring Fork River below the Salvation Ditch on Stillwater Drive typically runs below environmentally sound flows each year for about eight weeks, according to city officials. And given that this spring saw a high run-off, the three parties to the agreement managed some water this year as if the deal was already signed.

“At the close of the current water year (which ended the last day of September), Twin Lakes started making releases of some of the water stored for the River District, followed by release of the 40 acre-feet, as directed by Aspen and the River District,” Phil Overeynder, a special projects engineer for the city, wrote in an Oct. 3 memo to city council. “These releases had the effect of increasing flows in the Roaring Fork through the Aspen reach by approximately 20 percent and will last for approximately a three-week period at the end of the lowest flow conditions of the year.”

Overeynder added that “both Aspen and the River District believe that this agreement, while not perfect, is of real and meaningful benefit to the Roaring Fork.”

Aspen City Council approved the agreement on its consent calendar during a regular council meeting on Monday. The agreement is on the River District’s Tuesday meeting agenda, and Twin Lakes approved it last month.

The deal still needs to be accepted by Pitkin County and the Salvation Ditch Co. in order to satisfy all of the details of the water court’s 2001 approval of the 1994 water rights application.

Junior and senior rights
In addition to its junior 1994 water right, Twin Lakes also holds a senior 1936 water right that allows it to divert up to 68,000 acre-feet in a single year and up to 570,000 acre-feet in a 10-year period.

Originally, the water diverted by Twin Lakes was used to grow sugar beets to make sugar, but it is now primarily used to meet the needs of people living on the Front Range.

The 1936 water right still has some lingering restrictions in high-water years, according to Kevin Lusk, an engineer with Colorado Springs Utilities who serves as the president of the board of the private Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co. Under its 1936 right, when there is plenty of water in the Arkansas River and the Twin Lakes Reservoir is full, Twin Lakes is not allowed to divert water, even though it is physically there to divert, Lusk explained. So in 1994 it filed in water court for a new water right without the same restrictions so it could divert more water to the east. It was dubbed the “Twin Junior,” water right.

The city of Aspen and the River District objected in court to the “Twin Junior” and the agreement approved Monday is a long-delayed outcome of the case.

Aspen claimed that if Twin Lakes diverted more water in big-water years, the Roaring Fork wouldn’t enjoy the benefits of the high water, including flooding the Stillwater section and replenishing groundwater supplies. That process, the city argued, helps the river in dry times.

“We don’t necessarily agree with the theory behind it,” Lusk said of the city’s claim, but added that Twin Lakes agreed to the deal as part of settlement negotiations.

And since 2014 turned out to be a high-water year, Twin Lakes exercised its right to divert water under its 1994 Twin Junior right, and worked cooperatively with Aspen and the River District to release 40-acre feet of “mitigation water” as described in the pending deal.

The new agreement between the city, Twin Lakes and the River District is in addition to another working arrangement between Twin Lakes and Aspen related to the Fryingpan-Arkansas diversion project, which diverts water from the headwaters of the Fryingpan River.

That agreement provides 3,000 acre-feet of water each year to be released by Twin Lakes into the main stem of the Roaring Fork beneath a dam near Lost Man Campground, normally at a rate of 3 to 4 cubic feet per second.

More Twin Lakes coverage here.