Pueblo Board of Water Works board OKs $35.79M budget

Pueblo photo via Sangres.com
Pueblo photo via Sangres.com

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Replenishing the water development fund, beginning work to convert Bessemer Ditch shares and continuing to swap out old meters for automated equipment are major projects envisioned by the Pueblo Board of Water Works in its 2015 budget.

The board Tuesday approved a $35.79 million budget that will mean a 3.25 percent increase for Pueblo Water customers. The increase also will be applied to all multiyear water leases.

No one protested the hike at a public hearing Tuesday.

The rate hike is an average $1.16 increase in the monthly billing for residential customers with a 1-inch meter.

“When looking at the Front Range cities’ average monthly bills, the board has the lowest cost of water for major water utilities,” said Executive Director Terry Book.

Contributions to the water development fund are expected to top $1 million this year, with some of the revenue from the $5.5 million Xcel Comanche plant lease providing the money.

The fund is used for onetime projects such as the acquisition of water rights and large infrastructure projects. Contributions had been on hold since the 2009 purchase of Bessemer Ditch shares and revenues used to service debt.

Engineering and legal work on the Bessemer Ditch shares should begin with the anticipated filing of a change case in water court next year. The shares, which are being leased back to farmers, must be converted before the water can be used for municipal purposes.

The water rights were purchased partly as a defensive measure to prevent El Paso County communities from obtaining them. The water may not be needed until future growth occurs and the purchase agreements provided a 20-year leaseback option.

Pueblo Water has replaced about 80 percent of its water meters with automated equipment. It will replace about 4,000 more for about $1 million next year.

More Pueblo Board of Water Works coverage here.

The NIDIS November 2014 newsletter “Dry Times” is hot off the presses

Cover of November 2014 Dry Times from NIDIS
Cover of November 2014 Dry Times from NIDIS

Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:

If you’re the boss, how much water would you give to the farms that grow your food? To the lakes and streams where the fish and animals live? To the power plants that make the electricity that runs your television?

And what happens if the next year, you only have half as much water to hand out?

Some Boulder, Colorado, kids answered these questions through a water budgeting game meteorologist Lisa Darby developed in collaboration with the National Drought Mitigation Center (NDMC) in Lincoln, Nebraska. The kids were part of an August day camp program at a local non-profit, the Safehouse Progressive Alliance for Nonviolence.

The game covered where our water comes from, how it’s used, and what might happen if a drought occurs. (Guess what uses the second biggest proportion of household water in Denver? Toilets!)

Highlight video of Come Hell or High Water the 2014 @SCWConference with @COWatershed

Colorado Springs voters might decide stormwater funding — The Colorado Springs Gazette

Channel erosion Colorado Springs July 2012 via The Pueblo Chieftain
Channel erosion Colorado Springs July 2012 via The Pueblo Chieftain

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Monica Mendoza):

Colorado Springs Chief of Staff Steve Cox presented a capital improvement and stormwater funding plan to the City Council on Monday that he’s hoping will go to voters in April.

He’s asking that the City Council put a question on the ballot seeking voter approval to issue $160 million in sales and use tax revenue bonds to pay for street improvement, parks, public safety and stormwater projects. The plan would not increase taxes or fees, he said. Instead, the bonds would be paid back from the city’s general fund.

“This bonding proposal will allow the city to accelerate spending on key capital improvement projects,” Cox said.

The plan would allow the city to spend $15 million a year to improve streets, $8 million a year on flood control projects, $4 million a year on public safety equipment and structures and $2 million a year on parks. The projects would be completed in five years and paid for over the next 20 years, city officials said.

Cox said it is a way to address the city’s highest priority needs.

“It’s not meant to solve the problem,” he said to the City Council. “But it is meant to make headway.”

The council will decide in December whether to put the question on the April ballot.

The council had endorsed a regional stormwater funding plan that went to voters Nov. 4 and would have created a partnership with El Paso County, Manitou Springs, Green Mountain Falls and Fountain to plan and fund flood control projects. It would have assessed a fee on every property owner in those four communities and most of El Paso County. Voters turned down the plan.

Cox said this bonding plan would provide $145 million and pay for about 70 capital improvement projects that have been on the high-priority list, including bridge rehabilitation on Fillmore over Monument Creek, citywide tree trimming, emergency generators, and improvement on the Fountain Creek channel.

“The executive branch sees this as an intermediate, half-decade action plan to get us moving on high-priority, backlogged CIP (capital improvement projects) in all four function areas,” Cox said.

Council member Jan Martin called the plan a temporary fix. The backlog of flood control projects has been estimated at $700 million.

“What is the longer-term solution?” she asked Cox.

Cox said the long-term plan is still to be developed. The city has identified a backlog of capital improvement projects that total $1.3 billion.

“The longer solution is obviously going to involve property tax increases or sales tax increases,” he said.

Council member Merv Bennett called the plan a step in the right direction. Bennett was on the hot seat this month when he faced the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District board members, who accused the city of Colorado Springs of violating the Clean Water Act because of its lack of permanent stormwater and flood control programs. The board sent Colorado Springs a letter Nov. 19 of its intent to sue over the matter.

“I appreciate you putting these issues together,” Bennett told Cox. “But I hope everyone doesn’t believe this solves the problem.”

Cox would not comment on the potential lawsuit, but he said the city has been working on flood control issues beyond spending. It recently updated its drainage criteria manual, which has stricter, rules for developers issues that affect water quality and water flow.

In 1999, Colorado Springs voters approved the Springs Community Improvements Program, which was the sale of $88 million in municipal bonds to pay for 29 capital improvement projects. The projects were completed in 2004 and the debt, paid for from the general fund of about $7.9 million a year, is scheduled to be paid off in 2016.

“With the SCIP bonds retiring in 2015 and 2016, the cash flow currently dedicated to those bond payments can be re-purposed to the proposed bond payments,” a handout from Cox to the City Council said. Under the proposal, the city would spend $11 million a year out of the general fund to pay back the bonds – about $3 million more than the current bond payments.

Council member Don Knight said it’s a finance plan that raises concerns.

“This year’s (2015) budget includes $1.5 million from reserve to balance the budget,” he said. “Now this is another $3 million liability on us. We are increasing the debt payment by $3 million instead of staying at $7.9 million.”

The city would take the $3 million from its Capital Improvement Project fund, said Kara Skinner, the city’s CFO. “That would still leave $8.1 million in the general fund CIP budget for other pay-as-you-go CIP projects and emergency projects,” she said.

More Fountain Creek coverage here.

The November 2014 Uncompahgre Watershed Partnership newsletter is hot off the presses

Uncompahgre River watershed
Uncompahgre River watershed

Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:

UWP completes first mine remediation project at Michael Breen Mine

The unpredictable early fall weather made UWP’s first mine remediation project at the high elevation Michael Breen Mine on Engineer Pass road very uncertain. But, we crossed our fingers for a glorious fall and forged ahead. First, Jack Pftersh of Alpine Archaelogical Consultants, LLC in Montrose completed site recordation and assessment of a historic ore load-out structure, just as the first snow blanketed the high country at the end of September. An expedited review of his report by the State Historical Preservation Office (SHPO) gave us the green light to proceed with stabilization of the load-out. Meanwhile, Jeff Litteral of Colorado’s Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety (DRMS) finalized agreements and plans to construct a diversion ditch for a draining adit, install a culvert and stabilize the structure. The remediation work began in early October. The weather turned warm and dry and all major tasks were completed by Halloween.

More Uncompahgre River watershed coverage here.

That half-decade leading up to a successful wilderness bill was American democracy at possibly its sausage-making best — George Sibley

Trappers Lake
Trappers Lake

From the Summit Daily News (George Sibley):

Westerners celebrated two birthdays worth noting toward the end of summer, but most paid attention to only one, the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act. The other was the 50th anniversary of the start of construction of the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project in Colorado, which eventually moved a lot of water from the Colorado River Basin to the Arkansas River Basin.

I mention them together because it fits my sense of irony. The Fry-Ark Project, a heavy-duty tampering with natural hydrology in Colorado’s wild headwaters, was about as antithetical to the spirit of the Wilderness Act as one could imagine. Yet had the U.S. Congress not passed the 1962 act creating the project, a Wilderness Act would almost certainly not have been passed as early as 1964. And the West Slope headwaters of the Colorado River tributaries might not have today’s black-and-white division: official designated wildernesses cheek-and-jowl with the intrusive water-collection systems designed for East Slope cities.

I mention this to counter the triumphalist history we heard this summer about what a slam-dunk the “wilderness revolution” was 50 years ago, somehow expressing the will of the vast majority of the people as it gained nearly unanimous votes in Congress, et cetera. That’s is true enough on the surface, but it sweeps under the rug the half-decade of contentious horse trading that went on inside Congress, and between Congress and the executive departments, as the nation began to negotiate a transition from an “Old West” of aggressive public-land resource development, to an urbanized and industrialized “New West” that would preserve for posterity and recreation the remaining public areas still “untrammeled” by human development and use.

That half-decade leading up to a successful wilderness bill was American democracy at possibly its sausage-making best. It was Congress and executive leaders doing what Congress and executive leaders today seem to have forgotten how to do: After all the bloviating and harrumphing and bullying, they sat down to arm-wrestle their way to compromises that were acceptable enough to all parties. The full story of that process in the early 1960s is too large and complex to relate here; but at the end of it the Old West got more water projects, and the New West got a Wilderness Act.

By the time all that negotiating was completed, the wilderness bill that passed was no longer really “revolutionary”; it was a reasonable evolution of existing public-land law. A new public-land designation was created, but the Old West extractive industries (on which the New West was built) were given 25 years to explore for developable resources in proposed wilderness areas, historic grazing rights were grandfathered in, and the president had executive authority to permit water projects in wilderness areas.

The hardcore wilderness advocates screamed that these compromises would kill the wilderness ideal, but this is hard to substantiate today. That quarter-century of development is long finished, and more than a hundred million acres of the nation’s land are now under wilderness protection. Of course, that’s not enough for some and too much for others. New wilderness will probably be added incrementally, but only if Congress relearns the lost art of working through conflicts to acceptable compromises.

I find that, 50 years later, my own ambivalence about the Wilderness Act is unchanged. On the one hand, I favor almost anything that makes us slow down and think about our presence on our public lands. But I remain bothered by the “First World” piety that infused the wilderness movement from the start — saving what’s left of Nature from ourselves (and everyone else). How is it not a class movement, by and for the beneficiaries of the richest, most resource-intensive “lifestyles” ever?

$25 million in improvements in store for the #SouthPlatte River through Denver

From Confluence Denver:

On the South Platte River in Denver, numerous projects known collectively as River Vision are underway, aiming to improve both recreation and ecology. While the river remains a work in progress, it’s unrecognizable compared to the mess it was 50 years ago.

Once again, the South Platte River is entering a new era.

With $24.5 million worth of improvement projects underway in Denver, the once-forgotten waterway is blazing a trail for urban river restoration. The South Platte also represents one of the biggest economic opportunities for the city, according to Mayor Michael Hancock, with the riverfront poised for a boom on both the north and south sides of town.

More South Platte River Basin coverage here.

Dredging planned for Evergreen Lake in the spring

Evergreen Colorado Flooding September 2013 via Business Insider
Evergreen Colorado Flooding September 2013 via Business Insider

From the Canyon Courier (Beth Potter):

Officials are planning to dredge Evergreen Lake in the spring to clean out sediment brought in by the September 2013 flooding.

The “stealth” dredging project will be done with a pontoon boat to minimize the impacts on lake users, said Dave Lighthart, general manager of the Evergreen Metropolitan District.

Sediment material will be pumped from the boat through a pipe to a “de-watering” operation that will separate the water from the sediment. The water will be treated before being put back into the lake, Lighthart said.

“We’re trying to be as unobtrusive possible,” Lighthart said. “The lake is pretty visible and used for recreation, so we don’t have that ability to isolate and drain it.”

The project is expected to take a little longer and cost a little more than it would otherwise, because of its unobtrusive nature, Lighthart said. But the lake also serves as Evergreen’s raw drinking water source, which means the water can’t be pumped out, he said.

Some $880,000 in Federal Emergency Management Agency funds and state funds will pay for the project. An estimated 12,000 cubic yards of sediment were deposited in the lake during the 2013 flooding, Lighthart said.

The sediment will help with cleanup of the EDS Waste Solutions Inc. site on Highway 73. The 549-acre site is owned by the city and county of Denver, which plans to get the land back to its natural park-like state over a two-year period, said Bob Finch, natural resources director at Denver Mountain Parks, a division of the Denver Parks and Recreation Department.

“(This) helps them, and it certainly helps us,” Lighthart said of the plan to take the sediment to the landfill site.

Dredging work is expected to start in late March or early April after ice has melted off the lake, Lighthart said. It’s expected to take place near the south side of the “islands,” he said, where a survey showed most of the sediment was deposited during the flooding. Government funds must be spent by June 2016, he said.

More Bear Creek watershed coverage here.

Transmountain water: “I think it’s really in the crosshairs” — Chris Treece #COWaterPlan #ColoradoRiver

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

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

Colorado’s first stab at a statewide water plan makes no direct call for a new transmountain diversion of West Slope water to the Front Range. That doesn’t mean West Slope water is off the table, though, said observers and a member of the Colorado Water Conservation Board. Far from it.

“I think it’s really in the crosshairs,” said Chris Treese, spokesman for the Colorado River Water Conservancy District, “where it has always been.”

To be certain, said Russ George, a former Western Slope legislator and current member of the water conservation board, the desires of Front Range developers remain undiminished. The board’s draft plan, which was approved last week in Berthoud, “will sharpen the debate that’s always lurking in the back room,” George said.

George proposed nearly a decade ago that water managers in each of the state’s river basins gather information about their water uses, supplies and other data. The process resulted in the “roundtable” process that is to yield a water plan a year from now.

That’s when Gov. John Hickenlooper is expected to complete the plan.

Don’t expect the final product to look much different than the draft submitted by the water conservation board to the governor, George said.

“We are the governor’s arm” on the issue, George said.

What Colorado has long needed is a framework of information about how much water the state has, where and how it’s put to use, and what, if any, is left over.

The water plan is “a very sensible intellectual effort to do that,” George said, adding that it has been an open process. “The general public has been a player and that has not always been the case.”

It also gives the Western Slope an equal voice in water discussions, “which is all we ever needed, or wanted,” George said.

Demand for more water on the east side of the state isn’t going to go away. The ability to build transmountain diversions should be protected, Denver Water said in its comments on the state plan.

“We owe it to future generations to leave options open to determine the best way to utilize the state’s water resources,” the purveyor of water to 1.3 million people said.

A more realistic assessment of the amount of water that runs down the Colorado is in order, though, said Max Schmidt, general manager of the Orchard Mesa Irrigation District.

“They (Front Range officials) say there’s a lot more water in the river than there is. It runs right outside my office and I’ve walked across it two times in my brief four years here.”

The reason the river runs dry? Transmountain diversions, Schmidt said.

Whether the water plan — which the authors say will always be a work in progress — will help resolve differences is also less than clear, Schmidt said.

It took a decade for the West Slope and Denver Water to reach the comprehensive agreement on managing the Colorado River and the statewide plan is all the more ambitious, Schmidt said.

“I’m watching it very closely,” Schmidt said. “Sooner or later it’s going to blow up.”

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.

Taking the deal: Energy firm trades leases for certainty on Roan Plateau — The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel #ColoradoRiver

Drilling sites in a valley on the Roan Plateau via The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel
Drilling sites in a valley on the Roan Plateau via The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

A landmark deal canceling federal oil and gas leases on the Roan Plateau leaves Bill Barrett Corp. with just a sliver of its former holdings there, but it has high hopes about the prospects for the 4,650 acres it still controls. Nearly 500 wells could be drilled on that acreage, said Duane Zavadil, a senior vice president for the company.

In a lawsuit settlement announced last week, the company agreed to give up 17 of 19 leases it owned on the top of the plateau west of Rifle and be reimbursed about $47.6 million by the Bureau of Land Management. The canceled leases cover about 36,000 acres.

But Bill Barrett Corp. considers the leases it retained to have the highest prospects of the 19, given that they are immediately bordered on the south and west by acreage where companies have drilled producing wells, and where access roads, pipelines and other infrastructure already are in place.

The settlement resolves a lawsuit brought by conservation groups, and is one of the biggest lease buybacks ever for the BLM, and the biggest ever for the agency in Colorado.

“We were trading off acres and reserves for trying to drive a degree of regulatory and litigation certainty,” Zavadil said.

The settlement itself was no windfall for the company, he notes. Barrett bought the 19 leases for $60 million in 2009 from Vantage Energy, which had acquired them at the BLM’s Roan Plateau lease sale a year earlier for $57.6 million. But Vantage retained a 10 percent interest in them.

The $47.6 million the BLM is reimbursing for 17 of the leases covers what Vantage paid for them at the lease sale, and about $53,500 in total annual rental payments made on the canceled leases. Zavadil said Vantage will share in the reimbursement Barrett receives. In a news release Monday, Barrett said it will end up with $42.3 million in the settlement.

Under the deal, there’s no reimbursement for other costs such as legal fees related to the lawsuit and having money tied up for years in leases in legal limbo. But Zavadil said the reimbursed amount “is really all that could be accomplished” because there’s no federal mechanism for reimbursing for such additional expenditures in such cases.

The settlement “is equitable, it’s fair, it sort of is what it is,” said Zavadil, who said Bill Barrett Corp. never asked for more or less than that amount and no other amount ever was contemplated in settlement discussions.

As for settling in general, BBC knew that might be a necessity when it bought the leases due to the lawsuit that conservationists filed even before the 2008 lease sale occurred. But Zavadil said while Vantage already had been in settlement talks that potentially involved giving up some leases, Barrett initially had hoped to hold on to all of the leases and instead reach an agreement with conservation groups on measures to mitigate the impacts of developing them.

“We clearly erred in that assessment,” he said.

In 2010, Barrett showed its willingness to compromise in drilling projects on federal lands when it struck a deal with environmentalists to downsize its development plan for the West Tavaputs Plateau outside Price, Utah, to address concerns such as protection of lands with wilderness characteristics.

But the company couldn’t get buy-in from conservation groups on developing all its Roan Plateau leases. And in 2012, a federal judge found fault with the BLM’s management plan that led to those and other leases being offered. Barrett appealed and the BLM reopened its Roan Plateau planning process.

It was during court-mandated mediation following Barrett’s appeal that the concept of giving up leases began to solidify.

One thing that helped facilitate a settlement was the fact that the lease areas Barrett most wanted to keep and the areas that conservationists most wanted to protect generally didn’t overlap. The remaining Barrett lease areas don’t have habitat for endangered plants or for the native Colorado River cutthroat trout, and are largely landlocked by private property and not easily accessible to the public, which minimizes their recreational value, Zavadil said.

BBC also has agreed to limit its drilling to seven well pads on the two leases combined.

Zavadil said Barrett worried that had it not settled, a whole new round of litigation would have followed the BLM’s revised Roan Plateau plan.

“What we were trying to avoid was more delay in having capital tied up without any real hope of sort of resolving the litigation,” he said.

Instead, the BLM will consider the settlement agreement as one of its alternatives in its new planning process, which it hopes to finish within two years. Groups involved in the suit waive the right to further challenge the BLM’s decision if it selects the settlement alternative.

Zavadil said Bill Barrett Corp. is happy with the settlement and believes it’s “as good an outcome as one could hope for.”

Michael Freeman, an attorney for the group Earthjustice who represented conservation groups in the lawsuit, said while both sides litigated the case pretty hard up through the district court decision, afterward they realized a win-win situation was possible.

“To Barrett’s credit they were willing to work really hard to get it done and make it happen,” Freeman said.

Zavadil said Barrett will look at natural gas prices once the BLM completes its revised Roan plan to see if it makes sense to develop the acreage then. Gas prices began declining in 2008, even before Barrett’s Roan purchase, but prices have remained depressed ever since due in large part to a boom in domestic production from shale formations. And drilling on the plateau top will cost more than operations closer to the Colorado River valley floor, where access is easier and wells don’t have to be drilled as deeply to reach gas-bearing formations.

Zavadil noted that gas price isn’t the only determinant, pointing out that WPX Energy has been drilling on highlands locations.

“But we have a lot of assets that have a higher rate of return at this point of time” than the Roan leases, he said.

Barrett has shifted its focus in recent years from gas to oil production, which as a result has meant a shift in its attention from western Colorado’s gas-based Piceance Basin holdings to assets in northeastern Colorado and in northeastern Utah’s Uinta Basin. In September it announced the sale of its other Piceance Basin natural gas holdings, which included some 950 wells south of Silt. It also has sold other gas assets including its West Tavaputs acreage in Utah.

Zavadil said he can’t speak to whether Barrett’s Roan acreage might be put up for sale, any more than whether anything else the company owns is for sale.

“At any moment in time, it’s all for sale, and none of it’s for sale,” and it all depends on whether someone comes to BBC offering the right price on any of its assets, Zavadil said.

But he said it’s safe to say Barrett will pursue the regulatory authorizations to drill on its Roan leases.

He said it’s also important to understand that the company didn’t pursue the settlement and reimbursement for the 17 leases because of low gas prices. If not for the legal and regulatory risks that were involved, he said, Barrett “would still absolutely own every acre” it had acquired on the Roan Plateau.


From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

In what is being hailed as a model for how to deal with oil and gas development on other special landscapes, 17 leases are being canceled on top of the Roan Plateau under a deal intended to let drilling go forward on other leases on and below the plateau rim. Seventeen of 19 oil and gas leases owned by Bill Barrett Corp. on the plateau top are being canceled, and the company will be reimbursed about $47.6 million for the costs of acquiring and making annual rental payments on the canceled leases under a lawsuit settlement announced Friday.

“In a nutshell, I think this is a really positive resolution,” Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said in an interview with The Daily Sentinel.

The Bureau of Land Management also has agreed to pay $400,000 to settle all claims to attorney fees, expenses and costs by the conservation groups that brought the lawsuit. Those are among the terms of a deal to resolve a lawsuit challenging the BLM’s management plan leading to the leasing of some 55,000 acres on and around the Roan Plateau west of Rifle in 2008.

The deal doesn’t guarantee that the acreage where the leases were canceled will be off-limits to leasing. Rather, the BLM has agreed to consider the settlement agreement as one alternative in an ongoing supplemental environmental impact statement re-evaluating its prior Roan Plateau plan because of a 2012 court ruling in the lawsuit.

If the BLM chooses to again lease the 17 canceled parcels, the conservation groups could sue again or otherwise challenge the decision.

Garfield County Commissioner Tom Jankovsky said he “would be amazed” if the BLM didn’t select the settlement agreement as its final management alternative.

Said Michael Freeman, an Earthjustice attorney who has been litigating the Roan Plateau case for conservation groups, “What this deal does is to create a path forward to give the Roan the kind of protection it deserves. There’s more work to be done to implement the settlement.”

Legally, the BLM can’t commit to a course of action until it finishes its new planning process, Freeman said. But he also is confident that the settlement alternative will be selected.

“What we’ve agreed to in the settlement provides kind of a consensus proposal for how to manage the Roan. We think it’s a really good balance between protecting the habitat, the lands of the Roan, but also allowing responsible drilling to happen in appropriate places,” he said.

The settlement agreement calls for the lands where the leases were canceled to be closed for leasing for the life of the revised management plan, Freeman said.

If the BLM selects the settlement agreement as its alternative, the conservation groups involved in the suit also “additionally agree to engage as broad a spectrum of the environmental and conservation community as possible” and encourage them not to pursue an administrative or legal challenge to it, the agreement says.

Leases issued in 2008 on the Roan but not canceled could begin seeing development once the BLM’s planning process is complete, something the agency has agreed to try to accomplish within two years.

“For the first time in decades western Colorado’s natural gas companies are very close to securing responsible drilling on and around the Roan Plateau. This compromise will provide decades of jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars for local communities,” said David Ludlam, executive director of the West Slope Colorado Oil and Gas Association.

Jewell, Gov. John Hickenlooper and other officials announced the settlement in Denver Friday.

Hickenlooper said in a release, “We are thrilled to see resolution for this decade-long controversy over one of Colorado’s most special places. This settlement will protect the valuable fish and wildlife resources atop the Roan Plateau, while clearing the way for orderly development to take place elsewhere in the planning area.”

The Roan Plateau rises from the Colorado River Valley to some 9,000 feet in elevation and is noted for its biodiversity. It provides important habitat to deer and elk, is home to rare plants and provides important habitat for native Colorado River cutthroat trout, which now occupy less than a 10th of its historic range. The settlement cancels all the leases in the Trapper and Northwater Creek watersheds, which conservationists say hold the best cutthroat trout habitat on the Roan.

Bill Barrett Corp. once had projected drilling more than 3,000 wells on its Roan leases.

“This settlement helps us achieve the goal of preserving important natural areas like the Roan Plateau in Colorado while oil and gas development continues in Colorado and across the West,” said Pete Maysmith, executive director of Conservation Colorado.

The settlement contains restrictions on how Bill Barrett Corp. can develop its two remaining Roan Plateau leases, including limiting it to seven well pad locations altogether on the leases.

Twelve other Roan Plateau leases issued under the 2008 lease sale would remain in place under the settlement agreement. Those are owned by WPX Energy, Oxy USA and Ursa Resources. But the agreement requires that before drilling on those leases, the companies submit proposed master development plans, and include within them conditions to minimize impacts on wildlife and other resources, identified through consultation with the BLM and Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

Jewell said that while she doesn’t like lawsuits, this suit identified opportunities for the BLM to do a better job on the Roan Plateau plan. She said she appreciates the plaintiffs raising concerns and others recognizing those concerns and coming to the table to settle, and said the settlement is “a model for collaboration” on public land management.

The Interior Department is looking elsewhere “at what are the areas too special to develop,” and trying to steer drilling to areas of high development potential and less conflict, so there’s more certainty for industry, she said.

Freeman said the settlement is an example of how the BLM “can strike a balance that protects the really important areas of public lands that shouldn’t be drilled,” while identifying places where drilling is appropriate.

The federal government shares about half of its oil and gas lease revenue with the state of Colorado, which will be responsible for reimbursing its portion of the revenue Bill Barrett Corp. will be receiving under the deal. That will occur by the federal government withholding future royalty distributions to the state, BLM spokesman David Boyd said.

Hickenlooper is pushing legislation to ensure refunding the canceled leases has no financial impacts on local governments, with which the state shares federal lease revenues.

The state and local governments expect federal mineral lease revenue associated with developing the remaining Roan Plateau leases will more than offset the costs of canceling the 17 leases.

Scot Woodall, chief executive officer of Bill Barrett Corp., said on the company’s website that he appreciated the community and elected-official support for the settlement.

“It was critical to us that Garfield and Mesa counties, who host our business, support the agreement. To that end, the county commissioners, in particular Garfield Commissioner Tom Jankovsky, worked tirelessly along with State Representative Bob Rankin, a member of the Joint Budget Committee of the General Assembly, to ensure that local communities would not suffer an economic loss as a consequence of settlement.”

Rankin is a Republican from Carbondale.

In an interview, Duane Zavadil, a senior vice president for the company, said the work of Hickenlooper, U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez, and U.S. Sens. Mark Udall and Michael Bennet, D-Colo., in encouraging Jewell to approve the deal was crucial.

He also credited the BLM and Interior Department for being willing “to get creative … to cause this settlement to happen as well.”

The plateau-top leases initially were acquired by Vantage Energy for $57.6 million. In 2009, Bill Barrett Corp. obtained a 90 percent interest in those lease under a $60 million deal.

# # #

Timeline of the Roan Plateau events

1997— Congress passes Transfer Act shifting authority over the Roan Plateau acreage at issue from the Energy Department to the Department of Interior and Bureau of Land Management.
2000-08 — BLM works on resource management plan for Roan, receiving more than 75,000 public comments on draft plan. Most favor strong protections and oppose drilling on public lands on top.
July 2008 — Conservation groups sue, challenging BLM management plan paving way for oil and gas lease sale on Roan Plateau.
August 2008 — Lease sale covering about 55,000 acres nets $114 million, which for the Bureau of Land Management at that time was the largest ever in total dollars in the continental United States.
June 2012 — U.S. District Court Judge Marcia Krieger rules that the BLM failed to adequately consider keeping drilling off the plateau top by requiring use of directional drilling from surrounding lands, and failed to sufficiently consider air quality issues.
August 2012: Bill Barrett Corp., owner of the leases on the plateau top, appeals the ruling. Conservation groups cross-appeal.
January 2013: The BLM announces it will conduct supplemental planning process to address issues raised by court.
Early 2013: Parties in litigation enter mandated mediation with an appeals court representative.
Nov. 21, 2014: Settlement of suit announced; 17 leases will be canceled.

Sources: Daily Sentinel archives, plaintiffs in lawsuit

The plaintiffs

Following are the conservation groups that legally challenged the Bureau of Land Management’s plan leading to leasing of some 55,000 acres for oil and gas development on the Roan Plateau:

Colorado Mountain Club
Conservation Colorado
Colorado Trout Unlimited
National Wildlife Federation
Natural Resources Defense Council
Rock the Earth
Rocky Mountain Wild
Sierra Club
The Wilderness Society
Wilderness Workshop

More oil and gas coverage here.

Sewage lagoons to be upgraded below ski resort — The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel

Wastewater Treatment Process
Wastewater Treatment Process

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

Work to upgrade two sewage treatment lagoons below Powderhorn Mountain Resort could begin soon with state officials monitoring the process closely. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment issued a notice of violation in September to Grand Mesa Metropolitan District No. 2 for concentrations of ammonia in the lagoons that exceeded the limits of the permit for the facility. There are no allegations that the district released polluted water into a nearby stream.

“We did receive the notice and we knew it was coming,” said Larry Beckner, attorney for the district.

The metro district began working about four months ago with Westwater Engineers in Grand Junction to upgrade the lagoons to meet current standards, Beckner said. The 1968 sewage-treatment system was to have been replaced by a new system to accommodate expected growth. That growth, however, hasn’t taken place. The treatment system, meanwhile, was to have been upgraded to meet standards that took effect in July 2010. The permit was administratively continued in 2012, Beckner said.

The current permit for the water-treatment system included a compliance schedule to meet ammonia concentration limits, said Megan Trubhee, spokeswoman for the Department of Public Health and Environment’s Water Quality Control Division.

“The metro district failed to complete those upgrades,” she said.

The district is completing an evaluation of the facility, Trubhee said.

Metropolitan districts are established under state statutes to finance community planning and infrastructure projects, including initial construction of streets and some utilities.

Treated water from the lagoons is discharged into nearby Big Beaver Creek, which runs through pasture and farmland below, Beckner said.

There has been no discussion about whether the health department would levy a fine in the case, Beckner said.

The health department’s primary focus is to work with ​the district to ensure that compliance with the discharge ​permit ​requirements ​and Colorado’s Water Quality Control Act​ is achieved in a timely manner​ and no evaluation of potential penalties had yet been made, Trubhee said.

Violations of the Water Quality Control Act can result in fines of up to $10,000 per day.

More wastewater coverage here.

The Water Values podcast: This Thanksgiving week listen to @CTWater CEO Eric Thornburg discuss his @waterforpeople trip to Rwanda

The Lower Ark District is scoring Colorado Canal shares to keep the water in the Arkansas Valley

Straight line diagram of the Lower Arkansas Valley ditches via Headwaters
Straight line diagram of the Lower Arkansas Valley ditches via Headwaters

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District is purchasing Colorado Canal water rights from the Ordway Feedyard.

“We’re purchasing the shares within the next 30 days to make sure the water stays in the Arkansas Valley,” said Jay Winner, Lower Ark general manager. “It’s about a $4 million package.”

The Colorado Canal once irrigated 50,000 acres in Crowley County, but has largely fallen into the hands of Colorado Springs and Aurora through purchases made in the 1980s.

Earlier, in the 1970s, canal shareholders began selling off shares of Twin Lakes to Colorado Springs and Pueblo. Later Aurora and Pueblo West also bought big blocks of Twin Lakes shares.

The Lower Ark purchase from Ordway Feedyard includes 276 shares paired with Lake Henry storage, and 282 shares paired with Lake Meredith storage.

The feedlot has other sources of water to meet its own needs, most significantly a 15-year lease signed in 2012 with the Pueblo Board of Water Works to supply 700 acre-feet of augmentation water annually for a pipeline completed last year.

In another matter, the Lower Ark board last week accepted two conservation easements on the High Line Canal for Jason and Jennifer Stites. The easements are for a total of 224 acres with 18 shares of High Line water, for a cost of about $360,000. The easements were split for estate planning purposes, according to Lower Ark Conservation Manager Bill Hancock.

More Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District coverage here.

Fountain Creek: Mayor Bach outlines new proposal, no new taxes, no new fees, not enough dough

Flooding in Colorado Springs June 6, 2012
Flooding in Colorado Springs June 6, 2012

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Colorado Springs Mayor Steve Bach Monday presented his proposal to City Council to address the backlog of high-priority, unfunded capital improvement projects including stormwater control.

Voters in El Paso County turned down a regional drainage district fee that would have raised $37 million annually to address a $700 million backlog in projects.

The issue of stormwater control on Fountain Creek has become central to a pending lawsuit by the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District in federal court over Colorado Springs’ violations of the Clean Water Act.

Pueblo County commissioners are looking into whether Colorado Springs is in violation of its 1041 permit for the Southern Delivery System.

Bach wants to place a proposal on the April municipal ballot that would extend tax revenue bonds funded by sales and use taxes over the next five years. Voters would be asked to approve up to $160 million in Sales and Use Tax Revenue bonds to succeed the maturing Springs Community Improvement Program bonds. Bond proceeds will provide funding of $145 million to complete more than 70 capital improvement projects, which includes $75 million in neighborhood streets, $40 million for stormwater, $20 million for public safety and $10 million in parks. The balance of the proceeds would provide for the required bond reserve fund and the costs of issuance, according to a press release from Bach.

“This is a holistic approach to address all capital improvement needs in our community without raising taxes or imposing a new fee,” Bach said. “Specific projects are planned in each of the five years based on professional staff recommendations as well as input by the community and City Council.”

The $40 million over five years would address only about one-fourth of the $162 million in high-priority stormwater projects identified in a Colorado Springs study earlier this year. The city’s total backlog is $534 million.

At $8 million per year, the amount dedicated to stormwater would be just half of the estimated $17 million generated by a stormwater enterprise fee abolished by City Council in 2009.

More stormwater coverage here.