Republican River Basin: 2015 operations plan okayed, compliance pipeline will be online again

South Fork of the Republican River
South Fork of the Republican River

From The Yuma Pioneer (Tony Rayl):

Kansas has reached agreements with Colorado and Nebraska to allow for 100-percent credit for augmentation efforts to bring the latter two into compliance with the Republican River Compact.

The three states met as the Republican River Compact Administration in Denver on October 22, when the agreements were signed.

The agreement between Colorado and Kansas ensures that Colorado can operate its compact compliance pipeline again in 2015, and receive 100-percent credit for the water pumped into the North Fork of the Republican River near the Colorado-Nebraska border in extreme eastern Yuma County. The pipeline is operated by the Republican River Water Conservation District, and is being paid for by assessment fees on all groundwater users in Colorado’s Republican River Basin, with irrigation farmers carrying the bulk of the cost.

“The Republican River Water Conservation District appreciates the efforts of State Engineer Dick Wolfe and his staff in reaching this agreement with Kansas and Nebraska,” RRWCD General Manager Deb Daniel said. “We encourage the states to continue negotiations and permanently grant us 100 percent credit for the water delivered by the pipeline so that Colorado will continue to comply with the compact.”

The agreement signed last month is another one-year resolution, mirroring the one Colorado and Kansas are operating under this year. Colorado delivered 4,000 acre-feet to the North Fork from January to March 2014, and will finish delivering the water necessary to be in compliance for 2014, beginning Monday, November 10, and finishing by December 31.

Daniel said the plan is to pump an additional 2,500 to 3,000 acre-feet, although final calculations have not been compiled yet.

“We will deliver most of the water in November and early December,” Daniel said, “and slow the pipeline down as we get near the end of the year so that we only deliver as much water as is necessary to be in compliance with the pipeline.”

Under the next one-year agreement, Colorado will continue operating the pipeline in the first months of 2015, delivering 4,000 acre-feet by March 31 to begin meeting compliance for next year.

Calculations will be made throughout the growing season, and Colorado will deliver in November and December whatever amount is necessary to be in compliance for 2015.

Colorado has agreed to pump a minimum of 4,000 acre-feet each year to help alleviate some of the concerns Kansas has voiced during prolonged negotiations over the augmentation plan’s permanent approval.

The approximately 7,000 acre-feet to be pumped by the end of 2014 is just a little more than half of the approximately 13,000 acre-feet allowed, based on the historical consumptive use of the wells in operation. (Daniel said there are seven more wells that will be connected to the pipeline in the future, when it becomes necessary to deliver more water. The annual maximum capacity at that time will increase to 25,000 acre-feet, though the state still will deliver only what is necessary to meet compliance, besides the annual minimum 4,000 acre-feet.)

By comparison, Nebraska has pumped 63,500 acre-feet of water from two augmentation projects. Nebraska’s engineers have calculated the state needed somewhere around 40,000 acre feet this year to stay in compliance. It pumped more than needed because the projects at first were not receiving 100-percent credit. In fact, Nebraska would have received credit for only 37,000 acre-feet if the agreement had not been reached with Kansas.

More Republican River Basin coverage here.

Rejection of stormwater plan could mean lawsuit for Colorado Springs — Colorado Springs Gazette

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Monica Mendoza):

A failed stormwater proposal could trigger legal action from Pueblo County and is expected to become a campaign issue in the race for Colorado Springs mayor. Voters rejected a proposal Tuesday to create a regional stormwater authority that would have collected annual fees from property owners to pay for flood control projects in Colorado Springs, Manitou Springs, Green Mountain Falls, Fountain and parts of El Paso County.

Now, the lack of a stormwater funding program has one Pueblo County commissioner wondering how promised flood control projects that affect his county will be paid for.

“It’s not an option not to address flooding and stormwater issues,” said Pueblo County Commissioner Sal Pace, who was re-elected to a four-year term Tuesday. “Colorado Springs owes us legally. I expect Colorado Springs to find the money somewhere else.”

Voters rejected a proposal that would have generated about $40 million a year for 20 years to pay for 114 flood control projects. Proponents ran a $200,000 campaign with billboard, television and radio advertisements. But it wasn’t enough to sway opponents, who said the proposal lacked a guarantee that the new money, collected in fees, would be in addition to what each city and the county already spend on stormwater projects, a provision called “maintenance of effort.”

“You give government more money to solve the problem and they spend the money on something else and the problem gets worse,” said Steve Durham, who runs the group Citizens for Cost Effective Government, which spent about $25,000 on radio advertisements opposing the measure. “There is a lack of confidence created by city of Colorado Springs when they ceased their maintenance of effort.”

Pace said by his estimation controlling the water flow in Fountain Creek was part of the deal Colorado Springs Utilities agreed to in 2009 when Pueblo signed off on permits needed for a projected $1 billion Southern Delivery System project to bring Arkansas River water stored in Pueblo Reservoir to Colorado Springs.

When the permits for SDS were inked, Colorado Springs had a stormwater fee in place and a list of projects designed to head off floodwaters going south, Pace said. But the fee ended in 2011 and left Pueblo officials wondering if the promised flood control projects would be built. He had hoped voters would approve the regional stormwater fee proposal.

Pace said he will consult the county’s attorney and look into legal action to ensure the agreements in the permits are followed.

“If Pueblo County believes that Colorado Springs has not lived up to its end of the bargain on the permit, we can take action to revoke the permit,” Pace said. [ed. emphasis mine]

Utilities officials said they are living up to the negotiated terms with Pueblo. They say the stormwater proposal that voters rejected this week was aimed at the backlog of flood control projects while the negotiated permits with Pueblo address future growth in the city.

City Councilman Merv Bennett, who chairs the Utilities Board, said Utilities has committed to spending $131 million to mitigate flooding and make improvements along Fountain Creek.

“We will continue to work closely with Pueblo County commissioners,” Bennett said. “I will call the commissioners and hear their concerns so we can work to address those.”

However, Bennett, who will be up for re-election in April in an at-large City Council seat, said he was disappointed the stormwater fee proposal failed. He hopes stormwater will be a 2015 campaign issue.

“It’s such a critical issue for our city and for our neighbors,” he said.

It may be too soon to start proposing alternative solutions, said Attorney General John Suthers, who announced in September that he intends to run for mayor of Colorado Springs.

“I think we have to be totally open-minded,” he said. “We need to come back. This has to be dealt with but we need to go back through the process of consensus building.”

Mayor Steve Bach issued a proclamation before the election detailing his opposition to the stormwater ballot proposal. Among his concerns were the number of Colorado Springs representatives on the stormwater authority board; whether Colorado Springs would get to spend the money its residents contributed; and whether the authority could make changes to projects and spending without public input. Bach did not return a phone call Wednesday seeking comment.

Suthers agreed that stormwater will become an election issue and expects it to be discussed.

He believes the stormwater proposal was rejected because there was “a failure of collaborative leadership.”

“You had a group of incredibly hard-working citizens that went to work on this for two years, and they had a lot of public hearings and they fashioned a proposal that took into account what they heard,” he said. “Then along comes the mayor, who had every opportunity to participate in this process, and he did not participate in a meaningful fashion.”

Suthers declined to comment on how the lack of a stormwater program affects Pueblo and the permits related to the SDS project.

“This might involve potential litigation that Colorado Springs might be involved in,” he said.

El Paso County Commissioner Amy Lathen, who was on the stormwater task force that brought the issue to the ballot, said the group will talk with voters about what they did not like in the proposal.

“Forty-six percent of the voters believed in our plan,” she said. “That’s a great place to start.”

Lathen was the first to announce her intention to run for Colorado Springs mayor, and said she expects stormwater to be a campaign issue.

“Now, we go back to the drawing board and figure out what is going to be successful,” she said.

“This is too important to let go.”

More stormwater coverage here.

Northern Water fall meeting recap: Water, water everywhere, Granby spill in 2015? #ColoradoRiver

Colorado-Big Thompson Project Map via Northern Water
Colorado-Big Thompson Project Map via Northern Water

From The Greeley Tribune (Kayla Young):

The message about northern Colorado’s water resources was decidedly positive Wednesday at Northern Water’s annual year-in-review meeting at the Hilton in Fort Collins. Wet weather from spring and summer continued momentum started by 2013’s floods and replenished reservoirs to some of their highest levels on record, the conservancy district reported.

“We are in one of the best positions we’ve been in a long time,” said Andy Pineda, water resources department manager for Northern Water.

The Colorado-Big Thompson project has the highest storage levels on record, said Brian Werner, Northern Water’s communications director.

As of Nov. 1, Granby, Carter and Horsetooth reservoirs held over 700,000 acre feet. At the same time in 2012, a notable drought year for Colorado, the same three reservoirs hovered around half of current levels.

“We’ve known for quite a while that this is one of the best water years we’ve ever had. Anytime you’re at those kinds of numbers, you’re feeling pretty good about next year,” Werner said.

Pineda said storage levels began to climb with Colorado’s massive floods in 2013. Since then, snowpack has remained high and rainfall has stayed consistent.

“Because the year was so good and the rivers produced well, there was less pressure on our water in storage. So, we have the ability to carry that over to the future. We start off the year without having to worry about filling those reservoirs,” Pineda said.

“Even if it is dry, it’s going to have to be one of those extraordinary dry years, which I don’t see right now, in order for us to not get through that year. From what we’ve got in the system right now, we have a comfortable two-year supply.”

Division 1 engineer Dave Nettles explained that water abundance has also relieved pressure on the South Platte.

“We are under a free river in basically the whole basin right now. If you want water in the South Platte Basin right now, you can take it. We have plenty of water,” he said, in sharp contrast to the messaging in 2012.

Lower pressure on the river should provide farmers the opportunity to ease off of groundwater resources.

“Generally wells and pumps are supplemental. With abundant surface supplies, there is probably going to be less reliance on that. It will also give those farmers using those wells the opportunity to do some recharge,” Pineda said.

Going into winter, Pineda forecast some El Niño weather that could bring more moisture to Colorado and possibly to drought-stricken California.

More Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District coverage here.