Colorado Water Congress 2016 Annual Convention – January 27 to 29

From email from the Colorado Water Congress:

Join over 500 of your colleagues from across the state during the Colorado Water Congress 2016 Annual Convention, January 27 to 29, at the Hyatt Regency Denver Tech Center.

The convention format will be similar to last year’s including the all-day Wednesday workshops, the Wednesday evening POND reception, and the Thursday and Friday general sessions. Thursday, immediately following the CWC & CSU evening reception, we are happy to announce that once again CSU will host their 2016 Water Tables event dinner with keynote speaker, Anne Castle. The dinner theme is “The Historic One Hundred” and features hosted tables for an evening of conversation on specified topics…Friday, don’t miss the annual Aspinall Award Luncheon and the announcement of the 2016 Wayne N. Aspinall Award winner!

Early Registration is now open. Register before December 31, 2015 to receive $40 off the Annual Convention price (does not apply to the Wednesday workshops) register HERE

David Robbins and  J.C. Ulrich (Greg Hobbs) at the 2013 Colorado Water Congress Annual Convention
David Robbins and J.C. Ulrich (Greg Hobbs) at the 2013 Colorado Water Congress Annual Convention

Reclamation Releases the Final Environmental Assessment for Developing Hydropower at Drop 5 of the South Canal

South Canal hydroelectric site -- via The Watch
South Canal hydroelectric site — via The Watch

Here’s the release from the US Bureau of Reclamation (Justyn Liff/Jennifer Ward):

Reclamation announced today that it has released a draft environmental assessment for a hydropower project at Drop 5 of the South Canal, part of the Uncompahgre Project in Montrose, Colorado.

The project, proposed by the Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Association, will be located approximately four miles downstream from the Drop 4 hydropower project on the South Canal. A Lease of Power Privilege will authorize the use of federal facilities and Uncompahgre Project water to construct, operate and maintain a 2.4 megawatt hydropower facility and associated interconnect power lines.

The hydropower plant will operate on irrigation water conveyed in the South Canal and no new diversions will occur as a result of the hydropower project. Construction activities and operation of the hydropower plant will not affect the delivery of irrigation water.

The draft environmental assessment is available and can be received by contacting Jennifer Ward by phone at 970-248-0651 or email

Reclamation will consider all comments received prior to preparing a final environmental assessment. Comments can be submitted by email to or to: Ed Warner, Area Manager, Bureau of Reclamation, 445 West Gunnison Ave, Suite 221, Grand Junction, CO 81501. Comments are due by Monday, September 14, 2015.

Latest ‘The Fountain Creek Chronicle’ newsletter is hot off the presses

Fountain Creek
Fountain Creek

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

Second Annual Event A Huge Success

The numbers are in, and they are impressive.

1,550 citizens in 6 communities removed almost 9.5 tons of litter and debris from the Fountain Creek Watershed during Creek Week 2015 (September 26-October 4th).

This year’s event drew more than twice the participants and collected over 2 tons more than last year’s inaugural cleanup, thanks to new Steering Committee members, generous sponsors and hard working volunteers of all ages.

New this year was a fundraiser at Fieldhouse Brewing Company – they created a special “Creek Week IPA”, a promotion for volunteers at Navajo Hogan, insulated water bottles as prizes, heavy duty gloves and trash grabbers for volunteers to keep, a commercial and newspaper ads.

The goals of Creek Week are about fostering stewardship, raising awareness of our waterways, and making the area cleaner and safer for all to enjoy. Comments from participants about their experiences were very favorable – most indicated that they would like to see more cleanups throughout the year, that they were more aware of their impacts on our water, and that they would get involved again in the future.

The Steering Committee looks forward to continued growth and expansion of Creek Week in the coming years including increased participation, development of watershed education materials and resources for teachers, coupon books for volunteers, and in-water teams…

Click here for full Report.

#AnimasRiver: Navajo farmers seek new water source for irrigation — Farmington Daily Times

The Animas flows orange through Durango on Aug. 7, 2015, two days after the Gold King Mine spill. (Photo by Esmé Cadiente |

From the Farmington Daily Times (Steve Garrison):

The Navajo Nation Department of Agriculture on Monday released a preliminary survey of damages from the Aug. 5 Gold King Mine spill.

The department estimated farmers from the Shiprock and Tsé Daa K’aan chapters will suffer a total of $569,700 in damages over the next five years as a result of the spill, which released millions of gallons of toxic wastewater into the Animas and San Juan rivers. Shiprock and Tsé Daa K’aan ranchers are expected to lose $103,200 during that same period, according to data released by the department.

Charmaine Hosteen, an extension agent with the agriculture department, said the estimates are based on visits by department staff to farms in the two chapters. She said, however, the data is incomplete and has not yet been finalized.

Only 48 of 132 farms from the Tsé Daa K’aan Chapter were surveyed by employees, according to the data. In the Shiprock Chapter, 91 of 426 farms were surveyed for damages.

Hosteen said damages have not yet been assessed for the Upper Fruitland, Nenahnezad and San Juan chapters. She said a new survey will be conducted, but a date has not yet been set.

The data was presented Monday in a public meeting hosted at the Shiprock Chapter House by tribal officials from the Navajo Nation Department of Justice, Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Agriculture…

Shiprock Chapter House Farm Board representative Joe Ben Jr. said tribal officials should cede control of the irrigation head gate near the Tsé Daa K’aan Chapter House to local farmers. The head gate controls San Juan River waterflow into an irrigation canal that services farmers and ranchers throughout the region.

Ben said local farmers could act quicker than Navajo Nation officials to close the head gate in case of an emergency.

San Juan River Farm Board President Gilbert Harrison Sr. said tribal officials should consider diverting water from Navajo Dam that is intended for Navajo Agricultural Products Industry into the irrigation canal near Tsé Daa K’aan Chapter House.

Harrison said a pipeline from Navajo Dam supplies NAPI with water to irrigate 100,000 acres of land, but the tribal enterprise currently only irrigates approximately 70,000 acres of land.

Harrison said the Navajo Nation should conduct a feasibility study to determine whether that unused water could be diverted into the irrigation canal, reducing local farmers’ reliance on the San Juan River…

Donald Benn, acting executive director of the tribal EPA, said the agency was already performing water and soil testing before the Aug. 5 spill and plans to continue monitoring conditions for at least a year.

But he said his agency was not responsible for releasing the results.

“Our job as the water quality program for the Navajo Nation is to provide recommendations for the Navajo Nation president,” he said. “That is our job. What they do with the data is a different level of decision-making.”

Larimer Co. struggles with one-size-fits-all floodway rules — Fort Collins Coloradan

Cache la Poudre River
Cache la Poudre River

From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Nick Coltrain):

The Larimer County Commission on Monday put the brakes on floodway regulations that focused on a Laporte neighborhood but that would have been felt county-wide.

The Laporte neighborhood, known as Cottonwillow, led a push to reform floodway regulations after residents learned stringent re-build rules cut resale values of their home to a quarter of their value, if they were able to secure an offer at all. Several of those residents lined the public seating at a non-voting work session for the county commissioners Monday.

“I want to make sure we know what we’re getting into here,” Commissioner Tom Donnelly said, regarding the regulations, which would have impacted canyon communities and county riverbank residents. “That we’re not pushing the balloon in here to see it bulge out over there.”

Donnelly was the only commissioner physically present. Commissioner Steve Johnson was attending another meeting on child welfare and Commissioner Lew Gaiter was called into the meeting.

The commission amended the county land use code earlier this year to allow property owners in floodways — areas where floods are expected to be most severe — to rebuild in cases where their buildings are substantially damaged by non-flood activities. But two of the three members balked at further action that would essentially create different tiers and regulations of floodway.

A proposal to classify floodways based on severity of anticipated flooding, one that took into account depth and flow speeds, would remove up to 93 percent of properties in a Laporte neighborhood that bumps against the Poudre River.

Colorado Water Trust eNews November 11, 2015

Alamosa River
Alamosa River

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

Absolute Alamosa

On November 5th, the Division 3 water court issued final decrees to permanently bolster streamflows in the Alamosa River. These official decisions by the water court are the final steps in a multi-year approval process spearheaded by Alamosa RIVERKEEPER®, and the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) to improve water quality and the ecological functionality of the Alamosa River. The absolute decree means that up to 2.5 cubic feet per second (cfs) of water from the Gabino Gallegos Ditch and up to 0.5 cfs in the Valdez ditch can be used to bolster streamflows in a 16-mile stretch of the Alamosa River. These instream flows are the FIRST on the Alamosa River to be enrolled in the CWCB’s Instream Flow Program and protected for this use.

The Water Trust has served the Alamosa RIVERKEEPER® project as technical consultants on water rights and instream flow information since 2008. We owe thanks for this successful water court application and complete project to a partnership between CWCB, Alamosa RIVERKEEPER®, and Terrace Irrigation Company, who owns the reservoir where the water is stored for release after the irrigation season, if needed.

How Water Is Reshaping the West — Hillary Rosner

Here’s a report from Hillary Rosner writing for Nova Next. Click through and read the whole thing. Here’s an excerpt:

“Be careful of rattlesnakes,” Brian Werner says as we walk near what will, a few years out, become the south end of Chimney Hollow Reservoir. I try to imagine what will happen to the snakes—and the bears and birds and burrowing animals—when these 1,600 acres become a lakebed. I’d been conducting an animated interview with Werner for more than an hour as we toured the region’s waterworks–reservoirs, pipelines, diversion ditches, pumps—but now, standing here, I’m speechless. Perhaps sensing my mood, Werner tries to be upbeat. He gestures to the west, where, as part of the reservoir land-acquisition deal, another 1,800 acres will be permanently protected. But it’s hard to stand beneath those ponderosas and not feel a kind of heartbreak.

Werner works for Northern Water, a public utility that delivers water to parts of eight northeastern Colorado counties and about 880,000 people. In conjunction with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, Northern Water administers the Colorado-Big Thompson Project, a sprawling collection of reservoirs and pipes built to send Colorado River water from the western part of the state across the Rockies (through a tunnel beneath Rocky Mountain National Park) the more populous—and growing—northeastern towns. Werner’s job title is public information officer, but after 34 years with the utility, he’s also its de facto historian, with an insider’s deep knowledge of the entire state’s water past and present, including the intricacies of water rights. (Western water law is an unfathomably complex beast predicated on a first-come-first-served system, which is why newer cities, late to the game, are struggling for rights to water that often flows right past them.)

Up and down Colorado’s Front Range—the string of cities perched along the Rocky Mountains’ eastern flanks—it’s a boom time. Fort Collins, the northernmost city, has doubled its population since the 1980s, with no sign of stopping. Farther to the east, in former rural communities like Frederick, Dacono, and Evans, pavement is spreading like weeds, subdivisions are sprouting in place of corn. The reservoir soon to drown the spectacular landscape under my feet that afternoon would deliver water to these bustling communities.

Nearby, another proposed reservoir would submerge a highway to store water from the Poudre River, which flows through downtown Fort Collins; this project will serve those same growing towns. “Some people think if we don’t build those projects, people just won’t come,” Werner says. “I wish that were the case. But it’s not gonna happen. People are going to keep moving here, because it’s a great place to live.”

Across much of the West, the story is similar. As cities and states grapple with urban growth alongside the impacts of global warming—crippling drought, a shifted timeline of snowmelt and stream flows, uncertainty about future water supplies—nothing is off the table when it comes to securing access to water. These days, the stories that make national news are more likely to be about old dams coming down than about new ones rising. That’s partly because dams coming down are still a rarity. But across the West, the local news is far more likely to be about smaller dams going up. The era of water mega-projects may be behind us, but engineers are still transforming landscapes to deliver water—an increasingly elusive and valuable commodity…

“The Reclamation era”—roughly the 1930s to the 1970s—“was big monster projects, massive dams that totally reshaped the watershed, rivers, and ecology,” says Reagan Waskom, director of the Colorado Water Institute at Colorado State University in Fort Collins. Today’s projects, Waskom says, are a series of “expansions and enlargements,” smaller-scale efforts meant to complement or shore up existing systems…

A subsidiary of Northern Water, called the Municipal Subdistrict, runs the Windy Gap project, which was built in the early 1980s to provide water for Boulder, Fort Collins, and four other Front Range cities. The system pulls water from the Colorado River and stores it in the Windy Gap reservoir on the west side of the Rockies then delivers it to Lake Granby, where it is pumped through the Big Thompson system to the eastern side. But in wet years, Lake Granby, the main reservoir for that Big Thompson system, is already full—leaving no room to store the Windy Gap water. That means in dry years, when the customers really need it, the water isn’t there.

Chimney Hollow is the solution, a way to stabilize the Windy Gap water supply. Water managers call it “firming.” Imagine that you are technically entitled to ten units of water out of a reservoir that stores 100 units. But in a dry year, the reservoir might only contain 30 units, and there are other customers besides you. In such a system, you couldn’t really depend on the reservoir for your water. That worst-case scenario is what water people call “firm yield.”

On the Windy Gap system, the firm yield is currently zero. “In the dry years, there’s no water available,” explains Werner, “and in the wet years, there’s nowhere to put it. You can’t rely on a project with zero firm yield.” Chimney Hollow, the utility contends, will give customers—the city of Erie, say— guaranteed annual delivery of their legally allotted water.

“Even with climate change, we know that there will be high flow years,” Waskom says. “When those come along, you’ve either got a place to store that water or you don’t.”[…]

There’s also the issue of whether there will continue to be enough water in the rivers to make these efforts worthwhile. “Whether you have a big reservoir or just a straw where you’re sucking water out of the river and sending it somewhere else, the question is, will the water be there?” says Jeff Lukas, a researcher with the Western Water Assessment, a think tank based at the University of Colorado. “Just because you’ve done the modeling and your scheme would’ve worked under the hydrology of last 50 years doesn’t mean it’ll work in the next 50 years.”[…]

The new world is nothing if not complex. It’s a world of tradeoffs, a world without easy answers. Still, standing on the hillside at Chimney Hollow, I’m sure of one thing: I wish there was some way to spare this spectacular place.

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

Upper Colorado River Basin month to date precipitation through November 8, 2015
Upper Colorado River Basin month to date precipitation through November 8, 2015

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

Pueblo Board of Water Works 2016 budget

Pueblo photo via
Pueblo photo via

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Pueblo Water will hold the line on its water rate increase while stepping up big capital projects next year by transferring funds from its reserves.

“We’re in a good position,” Seth Clayton, director of administrative services, told the Pueblo Board of Water Works at its work session Tuesday. “Affordability is the most important thing.”

The water board is looking at a 3 percent rate increase when it gives final approval to the 2016 budget at its monthly meeting next week. The budget hearing will be at 2 p.m. Tuesday, 319 W. Fourth St.

The budget totals $38.7 million, and includes shifting $4.6 million from reserves. The move won’t hurt the long-term fiscal health of Pueblo Water, Clayton explained.

Superfund site tour for SW Colorado officials starts today

From Colorado Public Radio (Grace Hood):

The small 600-person town of Silverton is doing some soul-searching after an EPA-triggered spill of 3 million gallons of orange wastewater last summer.

The question is how to limit hundreds of other abandoned mines from negatively impacting rivers and streams in southwestern Colorado.

Proposed Good Samaritan legislation has been floated as one possible solution, although some mines in the area are seen as too complex to be addressed by this fix.

Outside the area, the answer might seem simpler: pursue a National Priorities Listing under the Environmental Protection Agency’s Superfund site program.

San Juan County Commissioner Ernie Kuhlman says that the county is going to become “more knowledgeable about Superfund.” Local leaders are planning on a fact-finding mission Nov. 9-13 to visit other towns like Leadville and Idaho Springs that have handled clean-ups through a National Priorities Listing.

But there’s a history with this issue in Silverton.

In 2012, the EPA dropped a listing bid lacking support from town and county leaders, reported the Silverton Standard…

…Mark Esper, editor and publisher of the Silverton Standard, wrote an editorial after the spill to encourage town leaders to pursue a Superfund priority listing. He says the town already has a stigma after 3 million gallons of orange wastewater from the Gold King Mine polluted the Animas River.

“We have to address the problem. By looking like we’re dragging our feet–that’s the real bad publicity that we’re getting right now,” he said. “I think we have to face the reality that this has affected everyone from here to Lake Powell,” said Esper.

Town leaders like San Juan County Commissioner Ernie Kuhlman do say there has been a shift in mindset.

Walk around town and the conversations about Superfund status are wide-ranging and opinions are strong. Some are sharply in favor the idea. Others are dismissive of the plan. A small minority believe that the EPA intentionally caused the Gold King Mine spill.

DeAnne Gallegos with Silverton’s Chamber of Commerce said since the spill, trust of the EPA is low.

“Trust is a key word. But trust is not purchased, nor guaranteed, it is earned,” she said.

To that end, Silverton and San Juan County leaders will continue to discuss the issue with EPA officials. The agency recently responded to a detailed list of 16 questions about the Superfund listing process and its impact.

From the Associated Press (Dan Elliott) via The Pueblo Chieftain:

With inactive mines bleeding millions of gallons of acidic wastewater into Southwestern Colorado rivers every year, officials are touring Superfund sites around the state this week to see if the federal cleanup program is the best way to heal the damage.

A 3-million-gallon spill from the Gold King Mine on Aug. 5 intensified a years-long debate over how best to clean up that mine and hundreds like it in the San Juan Mountains north of Silverton.

An Environmental Protection Agency crew inadvertently triggered the spill, unleashing water tainted with heavy metals into Colorado, New Mexico and Utah rivers. The Southern Ute Reservation and the Navajo Nation were also affected.

The three-day tour of Superfund sites is set to start today and includes mining-related cleanup projects in Creede, Leadville, Minturn and Idaho Springs. Officials from Silverton and surrounding San Juan County are participating, along with others from adjacent La Plata County and the Southern Utes. State and EPA officials will also go along.

Officials will see cleanup projects firsthand and talk to residents about the impact that Superfund had on their communities.

The EPA says it first considered a Superfund designation for the mines north of Silverton in the 1990s but twice backed off because local cleanup efforts were underway and residents had concerns about EPA involvement.

Many residents say they want the mines to be cleaned up but need more answers before agreeing to a Superfund project, including how soon money would be available.

“It needs to be started right away,” Silverton Town Administrator Bill Gardner said.

Residents worry that a Superfund listing would lower property values, make banks reluctant to lend and send an influx of workers into tiny Silverton, which already has trouble housing workers for its all-important tourism business.

But after the Gold King spill, fewer people are worried that a Superfund listing will hurt tourism, said Mark Esper, editor of the Silverton Standard newspaper.

“It made a lot of news, and finally we’re getting something done,” he said.

The EPA has said it won’t proceed with a Superfund designation without support from Gov. John Hickenlooper. The governor says he won’t press such a cleanup unless area residents and officials want it.

State officials have been talking with residents about the implications of a Superfund listing. Hickenlooper said he takes all the concerns seriously and state officials should address each one.

He was noncommittal on whether Superfund is the best approach but said it has worked well elsewhere in Colorado. Others see few alternatives.

From The Durango Herald (Jonathan Romero):

Officials from La Plata County, the San Juan Basin Health Department, San Juan County, Silverton, Southern Ute Indian Tribe, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and the Environmental Protection Agency will begin their outing Wednesday at the Nelson Tunnel Superfund site in Creede.

From there, the group will visit the California Gulch Superfund site in Leadville and the Eagle Mine site in Gilman-Minturn on Thursday, and end its tour Friday, visiting the Clear Creek-Central City Superfund site in Idaho Springs.

“We’ve heard conceptually how it works. Now, lets see how it works on the ground,” said La Plata County Manager Joe Kerby.

All along the way, local officials will be able to meet with leaders in respective towns to discuss their area’s experience with the EPA’s hazardous cleanup designation and how it’s affected their towns.

#coleg: Logan County to act as fiscal agent for HB15-1178 grants — Sterling Journal Advocate

From the Sterling Journal-Advocate (Callie Jones):

During the work session, the commissioners voted 2-0 for Logan County to be the fiscal agent to handle dewatering grant funds from the Colorado Water Conservation Board to the recipients, which include Country Club Hills and Pawnee Ridge subdivisions. Rocky Samber recused himself from the vote, as he lives in the Pawnee Ridge subdivision.

The state approved a grant program providing financial aid for emergency dewatering when House Bill 15-1778 was signed into law by the governor on June 5. The bill authorizes the CWCB, in collaboration with the State Engineer, to administer a grant program for emergency dewatering of areas in and around Gilcrest and Sterling. The grants are intended for areas that, through the application and review process, the CWCB and the State Engineer determine are experiencing damaging high groundwater levels in recent years.

A group from Country Club Hills approached the commissioners at their work session last week, to request that the county act as financial agent for the grant. Commissioner Gene Meisner was not at the meeting; the other commissioners told the group they would talk with him and get back to them with their decision.

“I don’t think it would be that much work on the finance department,” Donaldson said Tuesday.

Samber agreed, noting the groups representing the subdivisions will do the writing and the paperwork.

They asked Meisner if he had any questions after reading the narrative he was given; he did not. With the grant application do next week, they decided to take action on the request during their work session.

Map of the South Platte River alluvial aquifer subregions -- Colorado Water Conservation Board via the Colorado Water Institute
Map of the South Platte River alluvial aquifer subregions — Colorado Water Conservation Board via the Colorado Water Institute