Ute Water hopes to lease 12,000 acre-feet of water stored in Ruedi for endangered fish

Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program
Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

Aspen and Pitkin County officials are raising questions about plans to send more water from Ruedi Reservoir down the Colorado River to benefit endangered fish.

The water is owned by the Ute Water Conservancy District, which purchased 12,000 acre feet of Ruedi water in 2012, in anticipation of growth and as a backstop for its more than 80,000 customers and others in the Grand Valley should Grand Mesa supplies dry up in a drought year.

With no need for Ruedi water this year, Ute approached the Colorado Water Conservation Board about leasing the water to benefit four endangered species of fish in the Colorado — a project that the state agency is considering.

“This is Ute trying to do something for the environment,” Ute General Manager Larry Clever said on Friday.

Aspen and Pitkin County officials, however, have questions about the deal and have asked the conservation board to explain it in a meeting Tuesday in Carbondale.

Aspen and Pitkin county officials want to know more about how the lease would affect the level of the reservoir, electricity generation for Aspen, and the Fryingpan River angling industry below Ruedi Dam, among other concerns.

Ute paid $15.5 million for the unclaimed water in Ruedi and, Clever said, can call it down the river anytime it wishes.

“We knew there would be outrage at the Aspen Yacht Club” when Ute told the water conservation board that water for the fish might be available if needed, Clever said.

“You know why they’re against it,” Clever said. “If I pull water out (of Ruedi), the Aspen Yacht Club wouldn’t be able to float so well.”

There’s more to it than that, said Mark Fuller, director of the Ruedi Water and Power Authority.

“We’ve worked for years with the Bureau of Reclamation and Fish and Wildlife Service to handle releases in a way that is compatible with the recreational use on the river, and that’s worked out fairly well under normal circumstances,” Fuller said.

“Depending how these supplemental releases get managed, that could all go out the window.”

The Ruedi Water and Power Authority supplies electricity generated at Ruedi Dam to Aspen and other communities. Fluctuating levels in the Fryingpan River also could make it impossible for flycasters to wade into the Gold Medal waters, officials noted.

Releasing Ute’s water from Ruedi would have another benefit, Clever said.

“My goal was to put the water in Lake Powell,” which some fear could drop so low as to hinder electricity generation at Glen Canyon Dam.

That could require the Bureau of Reclamation to take action to lower Upper Colorado River reservoirs to maintain the dam’s generating capacity.

“If I can put water in Powell, the whole upper basin is in better shape,” Clever said.

Generating capacity at Ruedi also weighs on his mind, Fuller said. “We would like to be able to work in a proactive and synergistic relationship on how to make different pots of water work together so the Fryingpan doesn’t just become a flume,” Pitkin County Commissioner Rachel Richards said.

The water conservation board remains interested in reaching a deal with Ute.

“We applaud Ute Water’s willingness to work with us on an approach benefiting a recovery program that helps water users throughout the Colorado River Basin,” CWCB Director James Eklund said in an email. “We’re all connected throughout Colorado by our most precious natural resource as demonstrated by this important recovery program.”

More endangered/threatened species coverage here.

Snowpack/runoff news: The melt-out continues in the Arkansas Basin

From Steamboat Today (Tom Ross):

The month of March was particularly concerning to the hydrologists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric’s Administration’s Colorado River Basin Forecast Center in Salt Lake City, Utah.

“On March 2, we were very optimistic a storm would come through, but it just didn’t pan out,” Paul Miller, a senior hydrologist with the Forecast Center, said during an April 7 webinar attended remotely by more than 30 interested people from across the Colorado Basin. “March was very, very dry except for portions of the eastern Green (River Basin) and the tip of the Colorado headwaters. Especially in the Great Basin, you can see that Utah is well below average.”

But the story of this year’s water supply in the Intermountain West really lies in the uncommonly mild March temperatures that have caused what snowpack there is to melt at a time when snowpack should have been growing, Miller said.

“Our temperatures have been record-breaking, the warmest on record in Utah and Salt Lake City,” he said. “The whole region has been well, well, well above average the entire winter season. Because of the early melt, we’re seeing high (streamflow) values well before runoff season. It’s just indicative of snow melting too early.”[…]

In Steamboat Springs, 13 miles and 3,500 feet in elevation from one of the most productive snowpack sites along the Continental Divide, there were 18 days in March when afternoon temperatures exceeded 50 degrees and nine of those were warmer than 60 degrees. Thanks to the wet summer of 2014, reservoirs here are sure to fill, but river flows will be below average.

The Salt Lake Tribune reported April 7 that the snowpack in the majority of the Utah’s watersheds was under 50 percent, and farmers were confronted with decisions about whether to plant water intensive grain, or switch to crops that need less water. That same week, the Arizona Daily Sun in Flagstaff published a story about a new subdivision where shallow wells had been tapped out, and residents were removing grass lawns in favor of artificial lawns.

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Ryan Maye Handy):

…in southern Colorado, the weekend storm was not enough to counteract snowmelt that has already begun in the Arkansas River Basin, where the snowpack is well below normal and water managers face constant drought.

“It (the Arkansas Basin) picked up about 2 feet of snow from this event on average,” said Kathleen Torgerson, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Pueblo. “So it was a good amount of precipitation. It just didn’t surpass the melting that occurred before that.”

The wintry weather may stall the arrival of a true spring, but the moisture is welcome in Colorado, where most river basins are facing below normal snowpack levels. While the mountains along the northern Front Range saw the most snow, south-central Colorado and the Western Slope continue to lose ground in the battle for snowpack as the spring runoff season overtakes the snow season.

By April, most of Colorado’s basin have passed their peak snowfall periods, and snow has begun to melt, according to an April drought update from the Colorado Water Conservation Board. The South Platte River Basin, which encompasses most of the Colorado’s northern Front Range, benefited the most from the storm – as of Sunday, snow measurements put the basin at 95 percent of normal, up from 87 in early April. But the Arkansas River Basin, home to Colorado Springs and the southeastern Front Range, went down from 80 percent of normal in early April to 77 percent as of Sunday. The Western Slope basins saw the steepest decline, dropping from more than 50 percent to numbers in the 30s.

GarCo urges West Slope water summit — Glenwood Springs Post Independent #COWaterPlan

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

From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (John Stroud):

Garfield County proposes to host a summit among Western Slope water interests in an effort to present a “united voice” on the prospect of new transmountain diversions, and how that would be stated in the forthcoming Colorado Water Plan.

County Commission Chairman John Martin suggested the summit during a presentation Tuesday by Louis Meyer, author of the draft Colorado River Basin Implementation Plan that emerged from a series of basin roundtable meetings last year and has been presented as part of the larger statewide plan.

Seven-point draft conceptual agreement framework for negotiations on a future transmountain diversion screen shot December 18, 2014 via Aspen Journalism
Seven-point draft conceptual agreement framework for negotiations on a future transmountain diversion screen shot December 18, 2014 via Aspen Journalism

Meyer said the seven-point conceptual framework put forward by the state’s Interbasin Compact Committee (IBCC) for inclusion in the water plan has taken the focus away from the work done by the nine basin roundtables.

He expressed grave concerns that the proposed framework for negotiating future projects to divert more water from the West Slope basins, primarily the Colorado, to the Front Range, is even ready for inclusion in the plan.

The proposed framework “lacks specificity, and is very ambiguous,” Meyer said. “And I don’t think the public has been adequately engaged in drafting these seven points.”

It was an opinion shared around the room for the most part Tuesday, during a county commissioners work session that was attended by numerous ranchers and those with recreational and conservation interests who have been part of the roundtable process.

“It’s time to get everyone together and put all of this on the table … and present a united voice from the Western Slope to the draft” water plan, Martin said, offering for Garfield County to host a summit meeting sometime in the coming weeks.

“It’s important that we all work together and to have some unified agreement, so that the governor will take heed,” Martin said…

Meyer said there are problems with each of the seven points in the IBCC proposal, namely that it assumes the Colorado River Basin has more water to give for the purpose of accommodating growth in the Front Range metro areas.

“In my travels, there is not any more water to develop in the Colorado Basin,” Meyer said, noting that existing diversions already result in low river flow issues and shortages for agriculture water users on the Western Slope.

The proposed use of “triggers” in wetter years to determine when water can be diverted, as well as measures to protect agriculture, the environment and recreation interests “sound good on paper,” Meyer said. But those points still need a lot of work, he said.

Some of those who attended the Tuesday meeting said the continued effort to keep new water diversions among the possibilities seems to throw out one of the key elements of the water plan, conservation.

“This whole thing grew out of our need to plan for the future,” said Barb Andre of Basalt.

“But I have a question about the word ‘need,’ and I don’t think we’re looking at the differences between wants and needs as much as we could,” she said. “It begins to look like the word ‘need’ is being misused here.”

Dave Merritt, who sits as Garfield County’s representative on the Colorado River Water Conservation District board, said the framework being proposed is just a concept that can still be negotiated.

He warned against making strong statements about whether the Front Range areas, and the state as a whole, should be allowed to grow or not by limiting water usage…

County Commissioner Mike Samson said the Front Range already gets enough West Slope water and needs to find other sources for its future water needs.

“I’ll reiterate what I’ve said before, we not only have no more water to give, they’ve taken too much already from the Western Slope and downstream states,” Samson said, also referring to it as a “needs versus wants” issue.

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.

La Junta sewer rates to increase January 1, 2016

sewerusa

From the La Junta Tribune-Democrat (Candi Hill):

The La Junta Utilities Board approved a resolution Tuesday that sets new sewer rates for La Junta customers. The rates go into effect Jan. 1, 2016.

The per-month rates are as follows:

Residential Rates — $42.37

Residential West Side Rates (all residential units used as commercial rentals) – $64
Commercial/Municipal/Industrial/Large Customer Rates (all non-residential customers) – $59.21 … unless adjusted. For current commercial users, the adjusted charge shall be computed using the 12-month average water consumption from January through December of the prior year. Commercial accounts will be adjusted annually. A new commercial or industrial account shall be charged a sewer rate of $120 until the annual rate can be established using three months’ usage.

The commercial, municipal, industrial and large customer sewer rate is calculated as follows – Over 7,000 gallons: $3.50/1,000 gallons

Commercial West Side Rates – $89

The commercial West Side Sewer rate is calculated as follows – Over 7,000 gallons: $5.20/1,000 gallons
The minimum rate regardless of water use of residential, multi-dwelling, mobile home and commercial units will be $42.37 per month beginning Jan. 1, 2016.

The rate increase ties in with the city’s process of obtaining a loan to improve the city’s wastewater facilities. City Attorney Phil Malouff said the people who are going to purchase the bonds for the up to $14.2 million loan want to know there’s a minimum amount of revenue coming in from customers. These rates will establish that minimum amount of cash flow. The city has an obligation under the loan agreement and the bond, according to a resolution authorizing City Council to approve the loan, to constitute a revenue obligation of the city payable solely from the pledged property of the wastewater enterprise fund and will not create a debt or indebtedness of the city.

More infrastructure coverage here.

Arkansas River Basin water forum Wednesday

Arkansas River Basin -- Graphic via the Colorado Geological Survey
Arkansas River Basin — Graphic via the Colorado Geological Survey

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The Arkansas River Basin water forum will be held this week in the Fortino Ballroom of the student center at Pueblo Community College.

The conference opens at 8 a.m. Wednesday, with keynote speaker James Eklund, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board. At 11:15 a.m., the Bob Appel Friend of the Arkansas Award will be presented.

A tour of Pueblo Dam is scheduled from 3-6 p.m.

Thursday’s discussions will focus on Fountain Creek, headwaters and climate issues.