Utah Dine Bikeyah, in collaboration with the five Tribes of the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition, is honored to learn that earlier today President Barack Obama designated Bears Ears National Monument—the first National Monument to celebrate Native American living cultural traditions.
UDB received word today that President Obama has exercised his Congressionally delegated authority under the Antiquities Act to permanently protect 1.35 million acres of the Bears Ears proposal in southeastern Utah. We welcome this proclamation.
President Obama’s action comes in response to the historic request of Native American people, led by the five Tribes of the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition: Hopi Tribe, Navajo Nation, Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, Pueblo of Zuni, and the Ute Tribe of the Uinta Ouray Reservation. Thirty regional Tribes passed formal resolutions of support for Bears Ears National Monument, as did the National Congress of American Indians, representing more then 300 Tribes across the United States. In addition, more than 225,000 individuals wrote letters and signed petitions calling on President Obama to heed the call of sovereign tribal nations and designate America’s most significant unprotected cultural landscape as a National Monument.
Today’s victory marks the first time in history that Native American Tribes have called for and succeeded in protecting their sacred ancestral homelands through National Monument designation by a President of the United States of America. In this way, Bears Ears National Monument represents the first truly Native American National Monument in U.S. history.
Bears Ears National Monument is the result of years of grassroots community organizing by local Native American people and government-to-government leadership by sovereign tribal nations. Tribes have united in the effort to protect the 100,000+ archaeological and cultural sites within the Bears Ears region from rampant looting, grave-robbing and vandalism, while preventing further extractive development on lands that we rely on to this day for physical and spiritual sustenance. Monument designation ensures that future generations of all people will be able to return to Bears Ears for healing, renewal, prayer, and to visit the resting places of our ancestors, whose spirits are still very much alive in this landscape.
This designation is both durable and defensible, as it reflects the will of a majority of Utahns as well as the wish of peoples who have lived here since time immemorial. UDB and our allies applaud this action by President Obama, and we thank the Administration and agencies for collaborating with our sovereign tribal nations and listening to the voices of Native American people. We look forward to helping craft a land management plan for the first National Monument to be collaboratively managed by Tribes.
Our thanks go out to the tens of thousands of supporters who continue to stand with Bears Ears and what it means to all U.S. citizens. We thank President Obama for this courageous and historic act. And we give thanks to the Creator for this place of healing, which is now protected for current and future generations, forever.
Willie Grayeyes – UDB Board Chairman
“I am deeply delighted that the Bears Ears National Monument is now one of the nation’s greatest treasures for all people and future generations to enjoy. I would also like to express my appreciation to President Obama for hearing our voice and listening to the grassroots people, the unity of tribal governments, and all other supporters who stood by us on this powerful path to healing.”
Peterson Zah – Former Navajo Nation President
“On behalf of the Navajo Nation, we extend our deepest appreciation to President Obama and his administration for making the Bears Ears National Monument a reality. The President’s designation is a testament to the will of sovereign Indian nations, as well as the hard work of our people on the ground who worked tirelessly years ago leading up today. It was their vision, determination, and purpose rooted in our traditional ways that contributed greatly to today’s shared accomplishment. This is a dynamic National Monument ready for greatness. We have much to look forward to.”
Jonah Yellowman – UDB Board Member & spiritual advisor, Navajo medicine man
“Thank you great Creator. Thank you to all the supporters and for all the prayers that have been sent. Thank you everyone that stood by us for the land that we love.
This is history-making. The plants and the animals, all beings celebrate the protection of Bears Ears National Monument. Our ancestors are looking down upon us, grateful. It’s so important that we stay with our stories, our practices, and our ceremonial ways of being. We will continue the practices and teach our little ones. They will learn this land, our prayers, and our songs. There is hope out ahead for the younger generations.
Thank you, President Obama, for listening to our prayers and protecting our Bears Ears.”
Regina Lopez-Whiteskunk – Ute Mountain Ute tribal member & former tribal Councilwoman, former Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition Co-Chair
“We all share gratitude for the courage of President Obama embracing this moment to change history rather than than repeat history. We want to continue to see healing through better relationships and clear communication, with tribal entities recognized as sovereign voices. All of us, Native and non-Native, want to be solemn participants at the table as we strive for solutions. We have spoken about protecting what this place was to our ancestors, and we will continue to share that in preparation for the next seven generations.
Here’s a guest opinion from Tom Kenworthy writing in The High Country News. Here’s an excerpt:
At a state Capitol rally led by Republican Gov. Gary Herbert and Republican Sen. Mike Lee a few days before Christmas, a chorus of wailing warned against a “midnight monument” and executive overreach. Their criticism was to be expected, and now that the president has acted, what will likely follow is a serious assault on our public lands and the Antiquities Act itself, which authorizes presidents to protect federal lands as national monuments.
The Utah anti-monument crowd had continually mischaracterized the process that led to Obama’s decision, failing to acknowledge the broad public support the monument proposal enjoyed. The campaign for the Bears Ears designation was initiated and carried across the finish line by a coalition of Southwestern Native American tribes.
The tribes’ ancestral ties to the region, and their sorrow over the repeated desecration of its archaeology and sacred sites, give them unquestioned legitimacy and moral authority. The monument drive encompassed a long and open public dialogue that revealed a broad consensus that the lands in question needed conserving. The president’s signature came only after federal legislation failed to accomplish that conservation objective.
But no matter how a consensus grew supporting a monument designation, many Utah politicians argued that the president’s action to protect 1.35 million acres as a monument was an abuse of executive power. They also called it a land grab that trampled on the rights of San Juan County locals to use those federal lands — which belong to all Americans — however they saw fit.
That song has been sung in Utah for generations, even as big swaths of federal land — originally protected as monuments — evolved into national parks that have become cash cows in the state’s thriving recreation economy.
The same politicians who fulminate about the “mother of all land grabs,” go on national park tours to celebrate the more than $1 billion that Utah’s five national parks hoover into the economy each year. And they make sure the parks are celebrated on license plates, in tourist-wooing television ads, and a campaign trumpeting the “Mighty 5” national parks — Arches, Canyonlands, Zion, Capitol Reef and Bryce Canyon.
Somehow, these critics never get around to mentioning that four of those five parks started life as national monuments, created by “abusive” presidential authority.
Now that conservative Republicans — many of them hostile to protected public lands — have a hammerlock on Washington as powerful as the one they’ve long had on Utah’s capital, that song has a new verse. And it promises a concerted attack on the bedrock American ideal that federal lands should be managed in the public interest.
House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rep. Rob Bishop, whose campaign account is regularly blessed by the fossil fuel, mining and timber industries, has been warbling that tune in the ears of President-elect Donald Trump and his transition team. Bishop says he wants not only to neuter the Antiquities Act but also to undo existing national monuments, including Grand Staircase-Escalante. He would like to hand over these public lands to the states and private developers.
Bishop had a chance to broker a sensible truce in Utah’s long wilderness wars. More than three years ago, he kicked off what at first appeared to be serious talks with county governments, conservation groups and other stakeholders. But his long-awaited Public Lands Initiative turned out to be little more than a despoilers’ bill of rights that caved in to the demands of county commissioners. In Utah, these are likely to be the same folks whose idea of stewardship is bulldozing illegal roads across public lands. The bill went nowhere in the waning days of the last Congress.
Two members of Colorado’s congressional delegation are pressing the Environmental Protection agency to fully reimburse state, local and tribal agencies for the cost of responding to a toxic mine waste spill triggered by the EPA.
Sen. Cory Gardner and Rep. Scott Tipton said Monday a law passed this month removed some of the obstacles the EPA cited in turning down $20.4 million in requests.
The EPA says it paid $4.5 million in claims but rejected the others, in some cases because the costs came after a cutoff date set by the agency. The EPA said it was following federal law.
An EPA-led crew inadvertently triggered the spill at the Gold King Mine in southwestern Colorado while doing preliminary cleanup work in August 2015.
Rivers in Colorado, New Mexico and Utah were polluted.
Nearly one-third of Colorado has seen drought conditions lifted over the past week.
Most of western Colorado has moved back into normal conditions as several storms brought heavy snow to the area recently. The northern mountains remain abnormally dry, however the snow water equivalent (SWE), as compared to the median for past years, is above 100 percent for the area. SWE is likely to vary substantially over the coming months.
For central and eastern Colorado, there was little change. Western Huerfano showed the most improvement, as moderate drought receded to abnormally dry conditions.
Conditions in southeast Colorado were otherwise unchanged, with the eastern half of Kiowa County and extreme southeast Baca County remaining in severe drought. The remainder of Kiowa County, along with all of Cheyenne, Otero, Crowley, and Pueblo Counties, and portions of Las Animas, Bent, Prowers, and Baca Counties were in moderate drought. The remainder of Baca, Prowers, Bent and Las Animas Counties are considered abnormally dry.
The SWE for the Arkansas drainage covering much of the southeast portion of the state currently stands at 98 percent of the median for this time of year. The statewide snow water equivalent stands at 106 percent as of December 21.
Water managers on both sides of the border say the accord [Minute 32x] will be crucial in spelling out how the U.S. and Mexico would take cuts when a shortage is declared on the river, a lifeline for some 40 million people in both countries.
The draft also contains provisions for continuing the restoration of wetlands in the Colorado River delta and extending agricultural water conservation programs in the Mexicali Valley, as well as allowing Mexico to continue storing water in Lake Mead.
The proposed agreement, known as a “minute,” is an extension of the 1944 U.S.-Mexico water treaty on the Colorado River that allots Mexico 1.5 million acre-feet annually — enough for up to 3 million households. The agreement would succeed an existing bilateral agreement, Minute 319, that is set to expire at the end of 2017.
“We’re trying to build on the trust that we had in Minute 319,” said Edward Drusina, who as head of the U.S. International Boundary and Water Commission (IBWC) is the chief U.S. negotiator. The proposed minute “is good for the United States and good for Mexico, and we will do what we can to move it forward,” Drusina said in remarks delivered in Las Vegas this month at a conference organized by the Colorado River Water Users Assn.
Because many of the key players at the federal level are expected to leave office in January, there is rising uncertainty over how much support for such an agreement can be expected under future Trump appointees. Beyond that, some are fearful that the collaboration between the United States and Mexico on the issue could be tainted by the politically heated rhetoric that the new administration has brought to other bilateral issues with Mexico such as trade and immigration.
“This great example of binational cooperation should not be derailed by unrelated political issues,” said Anne Castle, a former assistant secretary in the U.S. Department of the Interior and now a senior scholar at the Getches-Wilkinson Center for Natural Resources, Energy and the Environment at the University of Colorado.
“The collaboration between the U.S. and Mexico on binational management of this river that we share is extraordinary, and that is something to be celebrated and continued and supported,” Castle said.
Members of Trump’s transition team did not respond to requests for comment.
While a shortage has never been declared on the river, water managers say this could happen as early as 2018 if the levels in Lake Mead continue to drop. Earlier this year, the reservoir fell to its lowest level since the construction of the Hoover Dam in the 1930s.
“These are two countries that badly need each other at a time of water shortage on the Colorado,” said Stephen Mumme, a political science professor at Colorado State University and an expert on water and environmental issues on the U.S.-Mexico border. With treaty rights to its water, “Mexico has a pretty good hand to play, but it wants to cooperate with the United States, and it needs the storage upstream,” Mumme said.
The talks between the United States and Mexico, which have been taking place since 2015, are being led by the IBWC and its Mexican counterpart, Comision Internacional de Limites y Aguas. “The minute will have the same basic sections as Minute 319 but will be updated appropriately,” said Sally Spener, foreign affairs officer for the IBWC.
Signed in 2012 in Coronado, Minute 319 involved unprecedented binational cooperation on the Colorado River and for the first time in the treaty’s history recognition of the environment as a water user.
Its provisions included a “pulse flow” of a large volume of Colorado River water during an eight-week period in 2014 delivered to wetlands in Mexico that have been getting little water due to diversion upstream for urban and agricultural users.
Another component of Minute 319 involved a collaboration among three U.S. water agencies — the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, the Central Arizona Project and the Southern Nevada Water Authority — and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to pay $18 million for water conservation projects in Mexico.
In exchange, they were to receive 124,000 acre-feet of Mexican water being stored at Lake Mead.
“The value of working with Mexico is key,” said Bill Hasencamp, Colorado River Resources manager for the Metropolitan Water District. “If we’re not done by January, that doesn’t mean we still don’t have an agreement with Mexico. We want to make sure it’s done right rather than done fast.”
Approving the agreement before the end of January “is going to be a challenge, because we’re running up against the clock,” said Tina Shields, water department manager of the Imperial Irrigation District. “Obviously people are moving very quickly now.”
The Lower Colorado Basin states of California, Arizona and Nevada are working on their own drought contingency plan which must be approved before the water scarcity provisions in the binational agreement can be made effective.
The states’ agreement would parallel the binational water scarcity provision with Mexico under the new accord, so that if the lower basin states take cuts under their contingency plan, so would Mexico, said Tanya Trujillo, who is representing California in the bilateral talks.
Trujillo, executive director of the Colorado River Board of California, was doubtful that the provisions would be worked out.
Editor’s note: The following is the fourth and final part in a series exploring the city of Aspen’s historic intent in filing for and maintaining conditional water rights for storage reservoirs on Castle and Maroon creeks.
ASPEN – The city of Aspen has said for decades that legislation approving the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project gives a certain status to the potential Castle Creek and Maroon Creek reservoirs.
However, it’s hard to discern just what that status is, and federal and regional water officials are dismissive of the city’s claims.
Built in the 1960s and early 1970s, the Fry-Ark Project is one of the larger transmountain diversion systems in Colorado. It diverts water from the headwaters of the Roaring Fork River, including Hunter, Midway, and No Name creeks, along with large amounts of water from the many tributaries in the headwaters of the Fryingpan River.
In all, the project includes 16 diversion structures that direct an average of 57,000 acre-feet of water a year to the Boustead Tunnel, which runs under the Continental Divide. The gathered water then flows to Turquoise Reservoir near Leadville and into the Arkansas River basin, serving both Front Range cities and agriculture on the eastern plains.
A key component of the Fry-Ark Project is Ruedi Reservoir above Basalt, which was built in the early 1960s as “compensatory storage” for Western Slope water users. Water collected in Ruedi does not flow to the East Slope.
Plans to divert water from the Fryingpan River date back to the 1930s, but the Fry-Ark Project as largely configured today was the result of intensive planning efforts and discussions that took place throughout the 1950s and early 1960s.
Aspenites in the 1950s were well aware of the looming Fry-Ark Project, especially as the Twin Lakes-Independence Pass project, built in the 1930s, was already diverting large amounts of water off the top of the Roaring Fork River.
For example, in the 1954 Winterskol parade, local musician, letter-to-the-editor writer and junkyard operator Freddie Fisher created a witty float about the looming “rape of the Roaring Fork” that featured himself sitting in a bathtub-boat on skis while pondering the question, “Who pulled the plug?”
In the legislation
As the city is often quick to point out, the federal Fry-Ark legislation does in fact state that a feasibility report on a reservoir on a “tributary of the Roaring Fork River” should be prepared by the Department of the Interior; and if such a reservoir made economic sense, then the feasibility report should be submitted to Congress for review.
“The secretary [of Interior] shall investigate and prepare a report on the feasibility of a replacement reservoir at or near the Ashcroft site on Castle Creek, a tributary of the Roaring Fork River above its confluence with the Fryingpan River with a capacity of approximately 5,000 acre-feet,” the authorizing legislation states, “but construction thereof shall not be commenced unless said report, which shall be submitted to the president and the Congress, demonstrates the feasibility of said reservoir and is approved by Congress.”
The city maintains that the language, “at or near the Ashcroft site on Castle Creek,” still pertains to the potential Castle Creek Reservoir two miles below Ashcroft.
The operating principles for the Fry-Ark Project, which were hashed out by both entities on both sides of the Continental Divide, also address Ashcroft Reservoir.
“The Ruedi Reservoir shall be constructed and maintained on the Fryingpan River above the town of Basalt with an active capacity of not less than 100,00 acre-feet,” the principles state. “In addition thereto and in order to offset adverse streamflow conditions on the Roaring Fork River above the town of Aspen which might occur as a result of the project enlargement of the Twin Lakes Reservoir, the Ashcroft Reservoir on Castle Creek, or some reservoir in lieu thereof, shall be constructed on the Roaring Fork drainage above Aspen to a capacity of approximately 5,000 acre-feet: Providing, however, That the Ashcroft Reservoir shall be constructed only if the Secretary of the Interior after appropriate study shall determine that its benefits exceed the costs … ”
It also further defines Ashcroft Reservoir by stating that “‘Ashcroft Reservoir’ means not only the reservoir contemplated for construction on Castle Creek, a tributary of the Roaring Fork River, but also, unless the context requires otherwise, any other reservoir that may be constructed in the Roaring Fork Basin above the town of Aspen in lieu of that reservoir.”
To better understand the city’s claim, it’s instructive to view the potential Castle Creek Reservoir as “son-of” Ashcroft Reservoir, which in turn is “son-of” Aspen Reservoir.
For much of the long planning stage of the Fry-Ark Project, it included an “Aspen Reservoir,” which would have stored 28,000 acre-feet of water behind a tall dam at the bottom of the North Star-Stillwater section of the Roaring Fork River, just east of Aspen.
However, opposition to the Aspen Reservoir, primarily from James H. Smith Jr., owner of the North Star Ranch in Aspen, eventually caused Ruedi Reservoir above Basalt to be built instead of Aspen Reservoir.
One of the reasons Aspen Reservoir was attractive to water planners at the time was that it could be used to fill in low flows in the Roaring Fork River below the Salvation Ditch, a large irrigation ditch that diverts water at Stillwater Drive, near the entrance to Mountain Valley.
The combination of the Salvation Ditch, the Independence Pass diversions from the 1930s, and the coming Fry-Ark diversions meant the Fork through Aspen would be often dropped to exceedingly low levels, which is often the case today. And so it was felt that a compensatory reservoir east of Aspen, above the Salvation Ditch, would help keep more water, and fish, in the river.
But opposition by Smith, who was well connected in Washington, D.C., having served as assistant secretary of the Navy for aviation, helped kill the idea of Aspen Reservoir.
In the wake of the decision to abandon Aspen Reservoir, local, state, and federal water officials agreed to include a mention of another potential reservoir, Ashcroft Reservoir, or an alternate nearby reservoir, in the authorizing legislation for the Fry-Ark Project, as something of a consolation prize for Aspen.
Ashcroft Reservoir was once envisioned to be formed by a 140-foot-tall dam near the Elk Mountain Lodge property that would back up 9,056.7 acre-feet of water behind it.
The water right tied to Ashcroft Reservoir was eventually cancelled for lack of adequate due diligence in the 1970s, but today the city of Aspen still considers Castle Creek Reservoir, which is designed to hold 9,062 acre feet, to be the legitimate offspring, at least in the context of the Fry-Ark Project, of Ashcroft Reservoir.
But officials at the Bureau of Reclamation, the Colorado River Water Conservation District, and the Southeastern Water Conservancy District all say that the language in the Fry-Ark approvals has no direct bearing today on either of the two potential reservoirs that Aspen says it still intends to build someday when necessary.
An ‘unmet obligation’
Officials at the city of Aspen, speaking on background, have characterized the tie to Fry-Ark Project as an “unmet obligation” to the city. The obligation, as the city sees it, is to at least prepare a feasibility study of a reservoir on a tributary of the Roaring Fork River.
That “obligation” has been referenced a number of different ways over the years by the city, including most recently on Oct. 10, 2016, when Aspen City Council unanimously approved a resolution declaring their intent to file a diligence application this year for the conditional water rights it holds tied to potential reservoirs on Castle and Maroon creeks.
“Whereas, when these water rights were appropriated, this reservoir storage was an important component of Aspen’s long term water supply plan, particularly since the Fryingpan-Arkansas project was proceeding without the originally planned compensatory storage reservoir on the upper Roaring Fork River,” the council’s 2016 resolution stated.
The city filed two diligence applications on Oct. 31, one for Castle Creek Reservoir and one for Maroon Creek Reservoir. As of Wednesday afternoon, three environmental groups and three private landowners had filed statements of opposition in the cases, and Pitkin County, the U.S. Forest Service, and Trout Unlimited are expected to file statements by the end of the week.
American Rivers, Wilderness Workshop, and Western Resource Advocates have filed statements in both cases. In the Maroon Creek case, Roaring Fork Land and Cattle Co., which is controlled by billionaires Tom and Margot Pritzker, filed a statement. And in the Castle Creek case, Double R Creek Ltd and Asp Properties LLC filed statements. Double R Creek is controlled by Robert Y.C. Ho of Hong Kong and Asp Properties is controlled by Charles Somers, the CEO of SBM, a building services company located in McClellan, Calif.
Here’s how the city described the Fry-Ark relationship to the Division 5 Water Court in 2010, during the most recent diligence review of the water rights for the potential Castle Creek and Maroon Creek reservoirs:
“The Frying Pan-Arkansas Project, authorized by legislation dated August 16, 1962, authorized construction, operation and maintenance of a replacement reservoir on Castle Creek to furnish water required for protection of western Colorado water users,” states a proposed decree from the city’s water attorneys. “This reservoir was contemplated to have a capacity of 5,000 acre-feet, but this reservoir was never built.”
But not everyone agrees that the Fry-Ark legislation “authorized construction, operation and maintenance” of a reservoir on Castle Creek.
The city in 2010 also told the state there was a direct link between the Fry-Ark Project and its potential Castle Creek and Maroon Creek reservoirs.
“In 1965, taking precautions to ensure that its water rights were protected in the event the Frying Pan-Arkansas Project reservoir was in fact never built on Castle Creek, the city of Aspen filed applications seeking its own conditional water rights for storage on Castle Creek and Maroon Creek, i.e., the Castle Creek Reservoir and Maroon Creek Reservoir water rights for which diligence is sought herein,” the city’s 2010 diligence filing stated.
And in a 1990 water management plan, the city stated that “the authorizing act and operating principles of the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project require the Bureau of Reclamation to prepare a feasibility study on a reservoir of up to 5,000 acre feet, in order to offset adverse streamflow conditions in the Roaring Fork River above Aspen.”
But while a feasibility study may be called for in the Fry-Ark legislation, it is difficult to find anyone outside of the city of Aspen who thinks the call is still relevant.
Sterling Rech, a public affairs manager with the Bureau of Reclamation, recently said, in response to questions about the city’s claim, that the Fry-Ark legislation “requested an investigation but explicitly did not authorize Ashcroft Reservoir unless the report demonstrated feasibility and subsequently, Congress approved it. There is no record of that approval in Reclamation law.”
Rech was asked to double-check with senior Reclamation officials on the point, and after doing so, stood by his statement that the Fry-Ark Project “did not authorize” a reservoir in the Castle Creek valley.
Given that officials at Reclamation would be the ones within the Interior Department to prepare a feasibility study on Castle Creek Reservoir, this would seem to be relevant to the city’s position.
Jim Pokrandt, director of community affairs for the Colorado River District, said the mention of the Ashcroft Reservoir in the Fry-Ark legislation, or a nearby reservoir in lieu of it, “is ancient history versus current events.”
The River District played a key role in developing the operating principles that still guide the Fry-Ark Project. And it’s the entity that originally filed for the conditional water rights on Ashcroft Reservoir in 1959.
“Being mentioned and studied in the context of the Fry-Ark does not bestow anything special at this point in time,” Pokrandt said of the city’s claim.
Chris Woodka, the issues manager for the Southeastern Water Conservancy District, had a similar take. Southeastern was created explicitly to manage the water diverted by the Fry-Ark Project and was instrumental in shaping its authorizing documents.
But Woodka also dismissed any link between the potential Castle Creek Reservoir and the Fry-Ark Project.
“It really doesn’t have a direct connection anymore to the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project,” Woodka said.
However, city officials still beg to differ.
Feds still obligated?
Officials at the city say, on background, that it is clear that a reservoir on a tributary of the Roaring Fork — somewhere above Aspen — was included in the Fry-Ark authorizing legislation, and it was done so by none other than legendary West Slope Congressman Wayne Aspinall, who served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1949-1973.
And the city says that the obligation still remains for the Department of the Interior to conduct a feasibility study on such a reservoir.
City officials also point to a 2007 letter in regard to potential federal approval of new reservoirs in the Arkansas River basin to hold water diverted from the Fry-Ark project.
In that letter, the city and Pitkin County told the federal government that if it was going to study new reservoirs on the East Slope, it should also study reservoirs on the Western Slope, and by implication, the Ashcroft Reservoir or its successor, Castle Creek Reservoir.
“It is important that the Western Slope’s present and future water supply and storage requirements (for both consumptive and non-consumptive uses) be placed on a par with those of the Eastern Slope and included in all discussions on H.R. 1833,” the city and Pitkin County wrote in a letter to Congressman John Salazar in 2007 regarding pending legislation for the PSOP project, or Preferred Storage Options Plan. “Any feasibility study resulting from H.R. 1833 must address Western Colorado’s present and future regional water needs, not just investigate ways to mitigate impacts from an increase in trans-mountain diversions.”
According to city officials, the city felt it had leverage to ask for such a study because of the language regarding Ashcroft Reservoir in the Fry-Ark legislation. And that a study of Western Slope storage would have had to look at reservoirs such as Castle Creek Reservoir.
Be that as it may, the city’s claim of a lingering obligation in the Fry-Ark project is still out there, but with no clear resolution of how much standing it gives, or might someday give, the Castle and Maroon creek reservoirs.
One reason it is uncertain is that the city has never directly asked the Department of the Interior to produce a feasibility study on the Ashcroft Reservoir, or a successor, based on the obligation claimed by the city in the Fry-Ark legislation.
As such, the “unmet obligation,” if it exists, is still outstanding. And city officials say they’ll see what value it has at some point in the future.
Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism, the Aspen Daily News, and Coyote Gulch are collaborating on the coverage of water and rivers. The Daily News published this story on Thursday, Dec. 29, 2016.
Editor’s note: The following is the third part in a series exploring the city of Aspen’s historic intent in filing for and maintaining conditional water rights for storage reservoirs on Castle and Maroon creeks.
ASPEN – The city of Aspen has never conducted and then made public a detailed and comprehensive feasibility study of either the potential Maroon Creek Reservoir or the Castle Creek Reservoir.
But in 1971, the Bureau of Reclamation drilled three out of five planned test holes at the Castle Creek dam site, two miles below Ashcroft. What they found in the first few test borings — 142 feet of loose rock and sand — prompted officials at Reclamation to abandon the last two planned bores.
The findings caused the federal agency to write a letter to Aspen’s city manager, telling him that to keep drilling would not be a “wise investment.”
The 1971 drill tests by Reclamation appear to be the high-water mark of investigation into the physical feasibility of either reservoir.
The city filed maps with the state in December 1965 for the two potential reservoirs, but it did very little work on the projects between 1965 and 1970, disregarding suggestions from its consulting engineer, Dale Rea, to conduct feasibility studies on the reservoirs.
But on May 11, 1970, according to city council minutes, the members of the council met with the head of the Colorado River Water Conservation District to discuss the Castle Creek Reservoir.
The minutes note that Rollie Fischer, the “secretary engineer” of the River District, was in Aspen “to discuss with council their cooperation on the reservoir for Castle Creek or the Ashcroft area.”
“Mr. Fischer gave the background and responsibilities of the Water Conservation District and discussed those items that the city and board co-operate on, i.e., proposed dam on Castle Creek,” the Aspen City Council minutes state. “The status of which the Bureau of Reclamation is presently doing preliminary studies as [to] the proposed location of the dam.”
It’s not yet clear just how serious officials at the Colorado River District and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation were about constructing the Castle Creek Reservoir in cooperation with the city of Aspen, but in the fall of 1970, the Bureau decided to drill some test bores into the ground that would serve as the foundation of the proposed dam. Fischer went up to take a look at the work on Oct. 5, 1970.
“The Bureau of Reclamation has been taking cores at Aspen’s proposed Castle Creek Reservoir site,” Fischer wrote in a quarterly report to the River District Board on Oct. 10. “I visited the site of the coring work with a Bureau of Reclamation geologist. The first cores indicate that valley alluvium is approximately 142 feet deep and the dam site is in a fault zone.”
Word of Reclamation’s findings apparently soon reached Aspen officials.
“Aspen’s proposed dam”
On Oct. 28, 1970, Rea sent a letter to J.W. Robins, a project manager at Reclamation’s office in Grand Junction.
“On several occasions I have had discussions with Mr. Leon A. Wurl, city manager, Aspen, Colorado, concerning any progress you have made with respect to Aspen’s proposed dam on Castle Creek,” Rea wrote to Robins. “We understand you did test drill our proposed dam site but have no further information. If you have made any progress at all in this matter, I would appreciate hearing from you, along with a copy to Mr. Wurl.”
On Nov 4, Rea heard back.
“This letter is in response to your inquiry of Oct. 28, 1970, regarding the status of our work at the Castle Creek dam site,” Robins wrote. “The dam axis we are considering is located about 1,400 feet upstream from the one originally contemplated. The purpose of this change is to place the dam embankment so as to reduce seepage loss through the alluvial fan on the right embankment.
“Our drill crew is presently working on a program of five test holes; to date two holes have been completed. The first hole was located adjacent to the creek channel and found 142 feet of pervious sand and gravel over bedrock of aplite, an igneous intrusive rock. The second hole was drilled on the alluvial fan on the east side of the creek and found 115 feet of overburden over aplite.
“Work is now beginning on a test hole on the right (east) abutment. Other items of work which we have completed at the site include plane table surveys of topography of the damsite and the digging of five test pits to explore for earth materials for dam embankment.
“The rather deep deposit of pervious sand and gravel at this site will present a special design problem to minimize seepage loss,” Robins wrote. “If we can provide further information, please let us know.”
The November 1970 letter was cc’d to Wurl at the city of Aspen.
The “rather deep deposits of pervious sand and gravel” at the Castle Creek dam site were, at a minimum, going to make the Castle Creek Reservoir more expensive.
The following spring, on May 8, 1971, Wurl wrote a letter to Rea.
“It was suggested by the Bureau of Reclamation that perhaps we obtain a cost estimate from a private concern to determine the estimated amount of seepage that would be lost in the bottom of the dam,” Wurl wrote.
A deeper report
And on May 11, 1971 Wurl got a more formal report from Robins at Reclamation about the agency’s drill tests. The report was copied to Fischer at the River District, and it referenced a recent meeting where Wurl had asked Reclamation officials about the Castle Creek drilling tests.
“As explained at this meeting the Bureau drilled three deep holes at the Castle Creek site during the fall and early winter of last year,” Robins wrote.
“The first hole was located adjacent to the present channel of Castle Creek to determine the depth to bedrock and the character of the overburden. The hole found 142 feet of pervious sand and gravel over bedrock. The bedrock was also quite broken and believed to represent a possibly dangerous fault zone.
“The second hole was drilled on the alluvial fan near the base of the right abutment and found 125 feet of sand, gravel, and cobbles over bedrock,” Robins wrote. “Percolations tests showed this material to be unacceptably pervious.
“Although the exact quantity of water that would be lost through this material if a dam were to be constructed at this site without a cutoff trench would be impossible to estimate without detailed tests, the results of the percolation tests we performed indicate the seepage losses would be excessive to acceptable standards for Reclamation design as the resulting piping may dangerously weaken the foundation of the dam.”
This could not have been good news for Aspen city officials, especially the part about how “the seepage losses would be excessive to acceptable standards for Reclamation.”
“The third hole was located at about dam crest elevation on the right abutment,” Robins continued in his letter to the city. “Igneous rock was found but the rock was badly broken to a depth of 142 feet where drilling was stopped. Percolation tests in this hole also showed the rock to be very pervious and an expensive grouting program would be necessary to properly seal this foundation material.
“The fourth hole, planned on the left abutment, was not drilled because of the unsatisfactory geological conditions encountered at the other three holes.
“The results of this drilling indicate that an excessive amount of seepage loss could be expected through the sand and gravel in the canyon bottom unless a cutoff trench or some type of special treatment was performed. The great depth (as much as 142 feet) and the distance of about 900 feet across the bottom area would make such treatment unjustifiably expensive.
“Because of the poor conditions found at the three exploratory holes drilled by the Bureau, we do not believe this additional work would be a wise investment for the district or the city of Aspen,” Robins concluded.
In 1971, Reclamation was still in the business of funding and building large reservoirs in Colorado, but Robins had just dismissed the idea of building one on the city’s proposed site on Castle Creek.
In 2012, Aspen Journalism posed a number of questions in writing to city officials about the two reservoirs, including one about the Bureau’s 1971 report.
“Any construction at these sites would require extensive permitting as well as consideration of environmental values and community priorities at the time,” city officials replied at the time. “Construction is very expensive. The Castle Creek site, in particular, will likely require costly mitigation of soil conditions, such as grouting and lining.”
But it’s not clear how expensive such a “grouting and lining” effort would be.
In its Oct. 31 application for finding of reasonable diligence in Division 5 Water Court, the city made a reference to the “significant cost of permitting, design and construction” for the reservoirs, but it has yet to make public a detailed and updated estimate of those costs.
When asked recently if it had produced a recent estimate, David Hornbacher, the city’s director of utilities and environmental initiatives, said the city had “nothing to share at this time.”
A public record search has not provided any evidence of Aspen’s response to the Bureau’s advice that additional work on the Castle Creek dam site would be an unwise investment.
Rights decreed, despite drill tests
But on Nov. 5, 1971, the slowly turning wheels of justice produced an official water court decree for Aspen’s conditional water rights for both reservoirs. The decree came as part of Civil Action W-5884 and gave Maroon Creek Reservoir a priority number of 806 and Castle Creek Reservoir a priority number of 805.
The priority numbers represent the water right’s place in the state’s prior appropriation system, which is predicated on the idea of “first in time, first in right.”
The 1971 date marks the adjudication for the conditional water rights, while the appropriation date, when the “first step” was taken on the water rights, is July 19, 1965, the date on which the Aspen City Council gave direction to Rea to survey the dams and prepare maps to file with the state.
In April 1971, city officials were apparently still discussing the Castle Creek Reservoir with officials at the Bureau of Reclamation and the Colorado River District.
Wurl sent a letter to Rea on April 15, 1971, inviting him to a meeting in Aspen.
“On April 27 at 11:00 there will be a meeting here with the Bureau of Reclamation and the Colorado River Conservation District people relating to the proposed dam site on Castle Creek,” Wurl wrote. “I thought perhaps you would like to attend this meeting.”
About a year later, on May 31, 1972, the city filed its first finding for reasonable diligence with the water court to extend the conditional water rights for the two reservoirs.
The diligence report was prepared by the law firm of Delaney and Balcomb in Glenwood Springs, a leading local water law firm.
In its effort to convince the court it was making progress on building the two dams, the city said it conducted “Geologic core drilling on Castle Creek dam site in November of 1970.”
It did not, however, tell the court of the results of that core drilling, which the city had learned about a year-and-half earlier, November 1970.
Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism, the Aspen Daily News, and Coyote Gulch are collaborating on the coverage of rivers and water. The Daily News published a version of this story on Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2016. This version includes the correct year – 1971 – of a letter referenced in the last section.
Click here to go to the US Drought Monitor website. Here’s an excerpt:
Numerous storms brought changeable weather to many parts of the country, including significant precipitation in parts of the West, Northeast, and mid-South. Late in the drought-monitoring period, a particularly powerful winter storm produced heavy precipitation from California into the Southwest—and later resulted in a holiday blizzard across the north-central U.S. Meanwhile, the interior Southeast continued to experience varying degrees of drought relief, although streaks of significant rain notably bypassed core drought areas in northern and central Alabama and northern Georgia. In addition, Florida’s peninsula received little rain, exacerbating the effects of short-term dryness…
Mild weather returned in the wake of the mid-December Arctic outbreak. A few showers across the central and southern Plains were insufficient to prevent further deterioration in the drought depiction—especially across central and eastern Oklahoma and neighboring areas. In addition, dryness (D0) expanded into much of eastern Kansas, where negligible precipitation has fallen in the last 2 months. From November 1 – December 27, precipitation in Wichita, Kansas, totaled just 0.92 inch (37% of normal).
Farther north, a major winter storm struck the northern Plains on December 25-26. Blizzard conditions engulfed the Dakotas and environs, disrupting holiday travel. From a drought perspective, however, the storm brought highly beneficial moisture to lingering areas of dryness (D0) and moderate to severe drought (D1 and D2) across the northern Plains, resulting in some improvements in the drought depiction…
A pair of storms delivered widespread precipitation (rain and snow) to much of the western U.S., starting around December 22. Some of the most impressive precipitation fell across southern California and the Desert Southwest, where recent improvements have to be viewed through the lens of a multi-year drought that features lingering low reservoir levels; tree mortality; groundwater shortages; and other long-term indicators. Nearly all of the remaining Western drought areas carry the “L” designation, indicative of long-term impacts.
Despite heavy autumn and/or early-winter precipitation nearly region-wide, this season’s accumulated snowpack remains below average in many California and Southwestern basins, owing to several “warm” storms that have produced more rain than snow. For example, California’s Department of Water Resources noted that the average water content of the Sierra Nevada snowpack stood at 6 inches, about 70% of the late-December average but less than one-quarter of the typical April 1 seasonal peak. Still, Western precipitation has been heavy enough in nearly all areas to warrant some improvement in recent weeks, and further improvement could be dictated if strong storms continue to occur and if USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service issues an optimistic Western water-supply outlook in early January…
On December 29-30, a significant snow storm will unfold across the Northeast, with wind and snow extending southward through the Appalachians. The heaviest snow should fall in the Adirondacks and much of New England. Late in the week, heavy rain can be expected in parts of the Southeast, with freezing rain possible in the Mid-Atlantic States. Five-day precipitation totals could reach 1 to 3 inches or more in New England and parts of the Southeast. Meanwhile, disorganized Western storminess could result in local totals in excess of an inch, especially in the Pacific Northwest. Generally dry weather will prevail during the next 5 days across the northern and central Plains and the western Corn Belt.
The NWS 6- to 10-day outlook for January 3 – 7, 2017, calls for the likelihood of above-normal temperatures across the Alaskan mainland and along the Atlantic Seaboard, while colder-than-normal conditions can be expected across the remainder of the country. Meanwhile, odds will be tilted toward wetter-than-normal weather across most of the U.S., but below-normal precipitation should occur in much of Texas, northern California, and the Northwest.
Here’s a guest opinion (Eric Kuhn, Jim Light, Rick Lofaro, Louis Meyer) running in the Glenwood Springs Post-Independent:
In the Roaring Fork Valley, water is everyone’s business. Winter and summer, it fuels our economy and our fun.
The Roaring Fork, Crystal and Fryingpan rivers feed the Colorado River. Today, the Colorado River system supplies drinking water, irrigation, snowmaking, recreation and economic activity to 38 million Americans. It irrigates 4 million acres of rich farm and ranchlands and provides power to seven states. These rivers are everyone’s business.
And that system is in trouble. For 16 years, the Colorado River basin has seen dramatic drought. That, and overallocation of the river’s water, means that, since 2003, the demand for Colorado River water has consistently exceeded available supply. The few exceptional years, such as 2011, have saved the system – so far. Storage in lakes Powell and Mead has dropped to levels that threaten hydroelectric-power production and dramatic cuts in water deliveries to Arizona and Nevada by the end of 2017.
Simply put, if water in the West were a small business, we would be heading for bankruptcy.
And, yes, these challenges impact life here in the valley. Interstate agreements dictate Colorado can keep only a third of the water originating in our headwaters. Additionally, water rights owned by Denver Water and other Front Range water providers allow 30 diversions to send water from the Roaring Fork and other rivers through the Continental Divide to satisfy the Front Range thirst. Fill a glass of water in Denver and roughly half of the water started as snow on the Western Slope. In Colorado Springs it’s closer to 80 percent.
Our water future is challenged, a challenge we must address as a community, as a state and with our downstream neighbors. We must be water smart, and we have to do more with less.
That means being at the table where water decisions are being made. We need a Roaring Fork voice – and business is key to our voice. Why? Because when business talks, politicians and policymakers listen. Our Colorado River system supports a $26 billion recreation economy, with $3.8 million in local revenues from fishing on the Fryingpan alone. Elected officials and water managers from Aspen to Aurora to Anaheim need to know that.
That is why we sponsored the Business of Water summit here in the Roaring Fork Valley, gathering more than 50 business, nonprofit and community leaders to advance engagement on sustainable water practices and policies, and healthy rivers. We believe any plan to get the Colorado River out of the red must rely first on conservation, efficiencies and the full participation of the business community.
These facts are not lost on Gov. John Hickenlooper and the Colorado Water Conservation Board, who crafted our first state water plan highlighting the community and economic importance of our rivers and the need to invest in them. The Colorado Water Plan outlines projected shortfalls in water supply in the state by 2050 and how to address them, including a conservation goal of saving 130 billion gallons of water a year from municipal and industrial efficiencies (the equivalent of just 1 percent per year).
We can do this. Alpine Bank, with 36 West Slope locations, cut water use by 18 percent, while saving money. Denver Water customers use the same amount of water today as they did in 1973.
Finally, implementation of the Water Plan and safeguarding our water future will require money. Current state funding for critical water and stream restoration programs is limited by declining severance tax revenues. New funding mechanisms must be found.
Our Business of Water summit was the first step, and we will keep going — working with chambers of commerce and business leaders to host sessions on water education and engagement, linking businesses to share water-saving innovations and technologies, educating those who travel here on what a precious resource water is in the West.
If you own or operate a business and would like join us, please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Eric Kuhn is general manager of the Colorado River District; Jim Light is chairman of Chaffin Light Management; Rick Lofaro is executive director of the Roaring Fork Conservancy; and Louis Meyer is co-founder of SGM.
A student sets his bridge before increased loads of weight are applied to measure the bridge’s efficiency number. Photo credit Reclamation.
Students test their bridges with the help of volunteers Photo credit Reclamation.
Bridges are tested by applying increased weight loads to determine which bridge has the highest efficiency. Photo credit Reclamation.
Here’s the release from Reclamation (Emily Quinn):
The 50th Annual Colorado High School Bridge Building Contest will take place in the Bureau of Reclamation’s Technical Services Center laboratory facilities in Denver, Colorado on February 18, 2017. Winners from this event will have a chance to compete in the National Bridge Building Competition.
High school students from across Colorado will be putting their physics and engineering skills to the test to try and construct the most efficient bridge. Students can participate individually, or on teams that consist of their classmates. The winners will receive cool prizes like scholarships, treasury bonds, and technology gadgets.
The event is co-sponsored by Reclamation, Professional Engineers of Colorado and the American Council of Engineering Companies of Colorado. Reclamation’s Technical Service Center’s Concrete, Geotechnical and Structural lab will host this event for Reclamation. Students and teachers alike find value in this event, because it provides practical reinforcement of physics and engineering principles and allows the participants an opportunity to meet career engineers. Participants also get to tour Reclamation’s laboratory facilities.
The winners who move on to compete in the National Bridge Building Competition may also have the chance to participate in the International Bridge Building Competition. To participate in this event students must construct model bridges using the specifications provided by the National Society of Professional Engineers. Students can either bring their bridges to the lab in person, or they can mail them.
Each bridge will be tested at the event by applying increasing weight loads until the bridge breaks. The winning bridge will have the highest efficiency number (the maximum weight the bridge is able to hold, divided by the bridge’s weight). In the past, bridges have held up to 20,000 times their weight, and up to 2,500 pounds!
In the 2 years since a change of in-stream flow (ISF) policies threatened the viability of O’Haver Lake, discussions between officials with the Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District and the Colorado Water Conservation Board have failed to yield a long-term solution.
At the recent Upper Ark board meeting, attorney Kendall Burgemeister said he has been “trying to work with the CWCB on the Grays Creek-O’Haver ISF issue” and expressed frustration with the lack of progress.
The conservancy district stores water in O’Haver Lake by diverting that water from nearby Grays Creek. Diverting water requires an exchange – a release of water from another source in exchange for diverting water from the creek.
By law, the CWCB holds all ISF water rights in Colorado, and as previously reported in The Mountain Mail (Dec. 16, 2014; Feb. 19, 2015), the agency began placing calls on its ISF rights a little more than 2 years ago.
The CWCB’s ISF right for Grays Creek is 4 cubic feet per second, but Upper Ark staff have documented average flows of 1.5-1.9 cfs. Given the disparity, the CWCB’s ISF call on Grays Creek prevents the Upper Ark district from exchanging water upstream to O’Haver Lake.
Terry Scanga, general manager of the Upper Ark district, previously said the old policy allowed exchanges as long as there were no calling water rights between O’Haver Lake and the point of release for the exchange water.
Since this practice did not injure any water rights, Scanga said he believes the old policy was correct, based on Colorado Revised Statute 37-92-102 (3), which established ISFs as a beneficial use of water in 1973.
The statute states that any ISF appropriation is subordinate to pre-existing “uses or exchanges of water … whether or not previously confirmed by court order or decree.”
Since O’Haver Lake has been used to store water since 1949, Scanga said, the CWCB’s ISF water right, established in 1977, should be subordinate to the conservancy district’s ability to exchange water into the lake.
But at the December board meeting, Burgemeister reported that CWCB staff have so far failed to formally acknowledge the pre-existing use of O’Haver for storing irrigation water due to a lack of data.
During discussion of Burgemeister’s report, Ben Lara, recreation program manager with the U.S. Forest Service Salida Ranger District, commented that the environmental impact statement currently being drafted will “spell out the effects of draining the reservoir,” which is on USFS land.
He also indicated that feedback for the environmental impact statement from Colorado Parks and Wildlife officials acknowledges the importance of the O’Haver Lake fishery.
Greg Policky, Colorado Parks and Wildlife aquatic biologist, did not attend the meeting but later confirmed the importance of the O’Haver fishery, stating, “We feel a cooperative agreement can be reached that reasonably protects the natural environment of Grays Creek while maintaining the recreational fishery in O’Haver Lake.”
Policky’s statement echoed Scanga’s recommendation that the Upper Ark board call for a meeting of all relevant agencies – CWCB, CPW, USFS and Upper Ark district – to attempt to negotiate a long-term agreement acceptable to all parties.
Board members approved Scanga’s recommendation but acknowledged that the district could be compelled to drain the reservoir if the situation is not resolved.
The unique trail is one of a few projects planned at the mouth of Clear Creek Canyon
Jefferson County Open Space will be hosting a community meeting in January looking at a handful of projects planned for the mouth of Clear Creek Canyon.
Among them are development of the Welch Ditch Trail, a unique project reviving a trail atop an irrigation ditch first built in the 1870s to divert water from Clear Creek to around 4,000 acres of farmland in Jefferson County.
In a presentation created for the meeting, Jefferson County Open Space calls it “one of the most remarkable engineering achievements in Jefferson County.” The Golden Historic Preservation Board listed it as one of the most endangered sites in the area in 2003 and 2006.
Parts of the ditch are wooden flumes handbuilt in the 1930s and are elevated above the creek, particularly where it begins near Tunnel One in Clear Creek Canyon, offering a unique overhead view, said Nancy York, a planning supervisor for Jefferson County Open Space.
“It is an absolutely magical experience,” York said.
The ditch, in Jeffco Open Space’s Clear Creek Canyon Park, used to be open to hikers but much of it was closed in 2013 due to hazardous conditions.
York said it is an exciting project for its history — Open Space hopes to work with local historians to install educational signs along the way — but it is also an opportunity for a hiker-only trail alongside the Peaks to Plains Trail being built through the canyon.
York said Open Space is exploring the possibility of a suspension bridge connecting the ditch to the Peaks to Plains trail via a suspension bridge near the popular Twilight Zone and canal Zone climbing areas.
The community meeting, scheduled for 6-8 p.m. Jan. 18 at the Golden Community Center, 1470 10th St., Golden, will also provide updates on the ongoing work on the Peaks to Plains Trail, which received grants from Great Outdoors Colorado and the Colorado Department of Transportation, according to a Jeffco Open Space release.
For the first time ever, the Water Quality Control Commission (WQCC) came to Gunnison on Monday, November 14 and was greeted by substantial local turnout.
A local group led by the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District (UGRWCD) is working to address stream temperature standards—a conversation that began statewide in 2007, and locally in 2016. The comments submitted to the WQCC unanimously requested more time to compile data to determine whether standards should be revised.
The WQCC may hear proposals that address unresolved temperature issues at the June rulemaking, such as shoulder seasons (the transition from summer and winter) or elevation transitions, which other parties in the state feel is precedent-setting.
“Temperature is wildly difficult to regulate because as you can imagine it changes every day, by the hour, day and night, by the season, with groundwater inputs, water diversions, and dischargers—it’s infinitely complicated,” said Ashley Bembenek, technical specialist for the UGRWCD and the Northwest Council of Governments.
“Temperature standards are an attempt to maintain healthy stream systems as we deal with the ongoing effects of climate change– warming temperatures and decreasing streamflows,” said UGRWCD’s general manager Frank Kugel.
Temperature can have far-reaching implications. “Stream temperatures can impact the growth rate of fish and can change their geographic distribution. If it gets to an extreme, it can cause fish kills. At the same time, we are not just concerned about fisheries. Temperature can affect the dissolution of toxins and can impact certain metals,” said the High Country Conservation Advocates’ (HCCA) water director Julie Nania.
The Gunnison Basin has existing temperature standards, as temperature is part of the Clean Water Act, but stakeholders are looking to revise the statewide standards to better meet local conditions.
The UGRWCD’s local partners include the town of Crested Butte, Gunnison County, HCCA, the city of Gunnison, Mt. Crested Butte Water and Sanitation District, Trout Unlimited, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the National Park Service, and the Coal Creek Watershed Coalition.
Together, these organizations comprise the Upper Gunnison Water Quality Monitoring Committee. The committee is working to assure that local interests are represented as temperature standards are revised in the Upper Gunnison River Basin. Their primary objective is to use local temperature data to revise standards, if needed, to assure that aquatic life is protected, while balancing the needs and concerns of municipal dischargers.
“[The committee] jointly submit[s] this request that the Regulation 35 Hearing, in June 2017, focus solely on site-specific standards or temporary modifications for temperature. Simply put, the broad issue of revisions to surface water temperature standards in the Upper Gunnison Basin is not ripe for resolution so we respectfully request that the broader discussion be postponed to a later date… Our request for additional time, until the next triennial review in 2022, will enable us to develop meaningful recommendations based on relevant local data,” the committee’s comment letter read.
The UGRWCD has committed to providing funding for the data collection. “We are the coordinating agency for a planning-grant request [needs assessment phase] we have submitted to the Colorado Water Conservation Board; this and other aspects of stream health needs are part of that grant request. The UGRWCD has also committed $150,000 toward the watershed planning process for 2017 as the required match for that request, but we will invest that money in the planning process, whether the grant comes through or not,” said UGRWCD board member George Sibley.
Stream health is a significant part of the watershed needs assessments and planning process that is the UGRWCD’s current major focus. Temperature data collection will be addressed as part of a larger effort looking at a range of consumptive and non-consumptive use needs. The UGRWCD is working closely in the needs assessment phase with irrigators and local municipalities, as well as HCCA’s Julie Nania, Trout Unlimited’s Jesse Kruthaupt, the Lake Fork Conservancy’s Camille Richard and the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory. The UGRWCD is the coordinating entity for the planning effort, but they hold the expertise, Sibley explained.
In the meantime, the committee partners will work together to collect supplemental data and create local recommendations for site-specific standards.
Triennial rulemaking hearing
The Gunnison meetings signify the start of the rulemaking process, and a large component of the process is determining how the Clean Water Act should be implemented in the region, said Nania.
Formal decisions about the standards will be made at a rulemaking hearing in June 2017. Prior to that an “issues formulation hearing” will be held in order for stakeholders to voice their concerns; for the Water Quality Control Commission to identify issues that are ripe for decisions; and to direct staff at the Water Quality Control Division on work priorities related to the upcoming rulemaking hearing.
The issues formulation hearing is the second step in a three-step process for triennial review of water quality classifications and standards in Colorado.
The first step is an issues scoping hearing, which provides an opportunity for early identification of potential issues that may need to be addressed in the next major rulemaking hearing.
The third step is the rulemaking hearing, where any revisions to the water quality classifications and standards are formally adopted.
The WQCC is the rulemaking body for the state of Colorado as it pertains to water quality. Commission members are appointed by the governor and serve for a term of three years. The Water Quality Control Division is staff to the WQCC and will develop a targeted list by January of site-specific temperature standards. The sites must have sufficient historical data, and the division must engage with local stakeholders. The process to revise temperature standards will continue with the rulemaking hearing on June 12, 2017 in Durango.
After a dry autumn, snowfall is rebounding to normal levels at Western ski areas and in the mountains that feed the vital Colorado River.
Snow totals were encouraging across most of the region Wednesday, especially in Oregon, eastern Nevada and Utah, where it stood as high as 176 percent of average.
“I don’t want to wave ‘mission accomplished’ banners here, but it looks pretty good,” said Klaus Wolter, a climate scientist with the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences in Boulder, Colorado. “Certainly the near term looks good.”
A warm, dry fall forced some Western ski areas to delay opening and prompted the cancellation of some men’s World Cup ski races at the Beaver Creek resort in Colorado.
It also caused some worries about how much snowmelt would be available next spring for the Colorado River, which supplies water to about 40 million people and 6,300 square miles of farmland in seven states.
But a series of heavy snowstorms since late November improved snow conditions dramatically across the West. Beaver Creek has now recorded a total of more than 8 feet of snowfall for the season, said Rachel Woods, a spokeswoman for Vail Resorts, which owns Beaver Creek and 11 other resorts in seven states and Australia.
Beaver Creek reported a snow depth of 33 inches Wednesday. Snow compacts under the weight of skiers and other factors, so the cumulative snow total is almost always higher than the depth at any given time…
Snow depth remained below average in isolated areas, including the Sierra Nevada range in drought-stricken California and some southern New Mexico mountains.
But above-average snow has fallen across the region known as the Upper Colorado River Basin, which produces about 90 percent of the water in the Colorado River. The Upper Basin covers a large swath of Colorado, Utah and Wyoming and smaller sections of Arizona and New Mexico.
As of last week, the last time statistics were compiled, the snowpack was 119 percent of normal in the Upper Basin, said Marlon Duke, a spokesman for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which manages multiple reservoirs on the river.
“I would expect that number would be a little higher right now because we got hammered Friday, Saturday and Sunday with a whole lot of snow,” he said.
With their normally deep winter snows, the Colorado mountains are the heart of the Upper Basin. Colorado’s snowpack ranged from 105 to 125 percent of normal Wednesday.
Colorado’s snowpack is off to a good start, with the state recording snowpack at 115 percent above median and the Arkansas River Basin at 113 percent.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service released its snowpack report Wednesday, and every river basin in Colorado is above 100 percent of its median.
“At the upper end of the valley, around Twin Lakes, we are doing really well,” said Terry Scanga, general manager of the Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District. “The Western Slope is also doing well. There is good moisture in this snow, which is always good at this time of the year.”
When asked about the outlook for the rest of the season, Scanga said it was “still too early to tell.”
“Normally when you have snowpack like this early, it portends very well,” he said. “A good base now helps later in the year.”
Scanga said Custer County isn’t doing as well as counties along the Arkansas, but it tends to get its water later in the year.
“Last year was a good year,” he said. “When we get good snow like this early, and it’s gold, that helps pack down and gives us a good solid base for when we get most of our moisture in March.”
Click on a thumbnail below to view a gallery of snowpack data from the NRCS.
Statewide SNOTEL basin-filled map December 28, 2016 via the NRCS.
Arkansas River Basin High/Low graph December 27, 2016 via the NRCS.
Upper Colorado River Basin High/Low graph December 27, 2016 via the NRCS.
Gunnison River Basin High/Low graph December 27, 2016 via the NRCS.
Laramie and North Platte Basin High/Low graph December 27, 2016 via the NRCS.
Upper Rio Grande River Basin High/Low graph December 27, 2016 via the NRCS.
San Miguel, Dolores, Animas, and San Juan Basin High/Low graph December 27, 2016 via the NRCS.
South Platte River Basin High/Low graph December 27, 2016 via the NRCS.
Yampa and White Basin High/Low graph December 27, 2016 via the NRCS.
FromThe Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):
“Big river issues” are likely to dominate Colorado’s water discussions in the coming years, said a Grand Junction water lawyer who is leaving his full-time practice.
“We need to be paying attention to the whole river and making sure the whole river operates properly,” said Mark Hermundstad of Williams Turner & Holmes P.C., who is retiring from the firm at the end of the year. As of Jan. 1, he will work part-time as in-house general counsel for the Ute Water Conservancy District.
Hermundstad is a veteran of battles representing Western Slope water interests with Front Range entities angling to divert more water to the east.
Those issues are far from resolved and remain important, Hermundstad said.
The overarching issue, however, is now that of maintaining the river so that Colorado and the upper Colorado River basin states meet their obligations under the 1922 compact that governs the river, as well as make certain that Lake Powell has enough water to allow for power generation, which provides needed electricity and funding for various projects.
After 16 years of drought, “Things are getting really critical,” as Lake Powell has fallen to 50 percent of capacity and Lake Mead downstream has slipped to 37 percent of full, Hermundstad said.
“It’s going to take multiple years of significant snowfall to make a difference” in the levels of those reservoirs, Hermundstad said…
What is known as “demand management,” or managing the river upstream for less consumptive use, is becoming the key approach to meeting those demands, he said.
The Colorado water plan, the first version of which was unveiled in 2015, marks a recent step in greater cooperation in Colorado on water issues, though it’s far from a cure-all, Hermundstad said.
The plan doesn’t have the force of law, though, so whether it will work “remains to be seen,” Hermundstad said.
Divisions within Colorado have improved over recent years with the development of the cooperative agreement with Denver Water on management of the river, as well as the resolution of the Orchard Mesa check case.
One part of the Orchard Mesa check case set up a weekly conference call among all the major water players, including those on the Eastern Slope, “which has worked really well over the years,” Hermundstad said. “We’re able to talk to each other and stave off problems rather than go to litigation.”
Here’s the release from the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District (Chris Woodka):
The Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District has signed an Excess Capacity Master Storage Contract with the Bureau of Reclamation, culminating an effort that began in 1998.
“This is a great opportunity for the communities of the Arkansas Valley, which allows us to assist and provide them with a more secure water supply for the future,” said Bill Long, president of the Southeastern District board. “It’s been a very long process, much longer than we anticipated, but well worth it.”
The master contract allows participants to store water in Pueblo Reservoir when space is available. Pueblo Reservoir was built by Reclamation to store Fryingpan-Arkansas Project water and for flood control. But it rarely fills with Project water. Excess capacity contracts allow water from other sources, including Fry-Ark return flows, to be stored in Pueblo Reservoir.
The initial contract will allow 6,525 acre-feet of water to be stored in 2017, which will become the minimum number for future years. The contract allows storage of up to 29,938 acre-feet annually for the next 40 years.
For 2017, 16 communities signed subcontracts with the Southeastern District to participate in the master contract. Another 21 communities plan to join once the Arkansas Valley Conduit is built, and do not have an immediate need to join the contract.
Participants in 2017 include: Canon City, Florence, Fountain, La Junta, Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District, Olney Springs, Rocky Ford, Penrose, Poncha Springs, Pueblo West, St. Charles Mesa Water District, Salida, Security, Stratmoor Hills, Upper Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District, Widefield.
“It’s a big step for the District,” said Jim Broderick, executive director of the Southeastern District. “The ability to use excess-capacity storage on a long-term basis has been a goal of the District for almost 20 years. This will add certainty to the process.”
Reclamation first issued excess capacity contracts in 1986. Last year, more than 29 excess-capacity contracts were issued more than 60,000 feet – one quarter of the available space in Pueblo Reservoir. For many years, Pueblo Water, Colorado Springs Utilities and Aurora Water were the major entities that used the contracts on an annual basis.
Pueblo became the first community to get a long-term contract in 2000. Aurora first used its long-term contract in 2008. In 2011, Colorado Springs, Fountain, Security and Pueblo West obtained a long-term contract as part of Southern Delivery System.
The next step for the Southeastern District is the Arkansas Valley Conduit. Reclamation anticipates completing the feasibility study later this year, which will allow construction to begin.
“The master contract is absolutely essential to the conduit,” Long said. “It will give us long-term reliability for a clean water supply.”
Here’s a guest column from American Rivers and Trout Unlimited about filing for objector status in the Aspen Maroon Creek and Castle Creek dam diligence case, via The Glenwood Springs Post Independent:
American Rivers and Trout Unlimited have joined the chorus of opposition against the city’s application to extend its conditional water rights to build dams on Castle and Maroon creeks.
The two lobbyist organizations announced Wednesday they entered a statement of opposition in Colorado Water Court, where the city made its filing Oct. 31.
The city secured its conditional water rights to build reservoirs on Maroon and Castle creeks in 1965. It is required to renew those rights every six years.
Castle and Maroon creeks supply Aspen’s drinking water. The city has maintained it must preserve the rights to build the dams in order to be prepared for population growth and climate-induced droughts depleting the water supply. The City Council approved the extension application Oct. 5. The proposed dams would be 150 feet tall on Maroon Creek and 175 feet tall on Castle Creek.
The statement from American Rivers and Trout Unlimited emphasized that the conditional water rights the city wants to renew hinge on damming the two streams.
“Conditional is the crucial word here,” the statement said. “According to the Colorado Standards for Due Diligence and Colorado Water Law, the City of Aspen can only possess these rights on the condition they develop the dams. That is what the water right was granted for in 1965. If the city does not renew these rights they simply vanish. No one else can claim these water rights.”
Filing an opposition allows American Rivers and Trout Unlimited to participate in water court proceedings regarding the city’s application. Pitkin County and Carbondale-based conservation group Wilderness Workshop also have filed statements of opposition, which are due no later than Saturday.
“We hope that Aspen will take this opportunity to work with stakeholders on better solutions for its water future,” said Dave Nickum, the executive director of Colorado Trout Unlimited, in a statement. “Building dams on free-flowing streams in one of Colorado’s most iconic wilderness areas is the last approach we should be taking to meet water needs in the 21st century. It is time to look forward toward new strategies, instead of relying on flawed ideas from the past.”
Matt Rice, director of the Colorado River Basin Program for American Rivers, said: “Aspen does not need these dams for municipal water supply, climate resiliency or for stream protection — now or at any time in the foreseeable future. Why not come up with a solution that does not involve dams? If the city were to determine sometime in the future that new storage is needed, reservoirs that flood wilderness on Castle and Maroon creeks would be the last place in the valley they would consider. We believe the best time to get bad projects off the books is as early as possible and this diligence filing is that opportunity for the city to do so.”
The city has countered that it is simply preserving its rights in the event of a worst-case scenario that severely impacts Aspen’s water supply.
“The science confirms that Aspen’s climate is already changing and will continue to do so,” Ashley Perl, the city’s climate-action manager, said in a city-issued statement released Dec. 20 in advance of the county commissioners’ decision to file opposition. “Aspen now sees 23 days less of winter than in the years before 1980. This trend is projected to continue and Aspen’s current water storage — our snowpack — will diminish.”
Here’s the 10 most important climate stories of 2016 fromClimate Central (Brian Kahn). Click through for all the links. Here’s an excerpt:
This year is likely to remembered as a turning point for climate change. It’s the year the impacts of rising carbon pollution became impossible to ignore. The world is overheating and vast swaths of the planet have suffered the consequences. At the same time, it’s also a year where world leaders crafted and agreed on a number of plans to try to turn the tide of carbon pollution and move toward a clean energy future. It’s clear 2016 was a year where planetary peril and human hope stood out in stark contrast. Here are the 10 most important climate milestones of the year.
10. The world struck an airline carbon pollution deal
The friendly skies got slightly friendlier. Air travel counts for about 7 percent of carbon emissions globally. That number will need to come down in the coming decades, and the International Civil Aviation Organization, the world’s governing body for airlines, put a plan in place to start that transition. The plan, which was signed off on by 191 countries, is focused on letting airlines buy credits that will help fund renewable energy projects to offset airplane emissions. It isn’t a perfect solution since it doesn’t directly reduce carbon pollution from air travel, but it’s a first step for an industry that will have to find novel, carbon-free ways to produce the fuel needed to fly you home for Christmas vacation.
9. An extremely potent greenhouse gas is also on its way out
Hydrofluorocarbons are the chemicals in your air conditioner that help keep you cool in the summer (and the food in your refrigerator cool year round). Ironically, they’re also a greenhouse gas that’s thousands of times more potent than carbon dioxide when it comes to trapping heat in the atmosphere. Reducing them is critical to keep the planet from heating up much more and in October, international negotiators struck a deal to do phase them out. Countries still have to ratify the agreement — and it could face a major roadblock in the U.S. Senate — in order for it to take effect, but if approved, it will provide strong targets and a timetable to find replacement chemicals to keep you cool in a warming world.
8. July was the hottest month ever recorded. Then August tied it
The Arctic had a crazy heat wave this winter, but the planet as a whole really roasted through July and August. The summer is usually the warmest time of the year by dint of the fact that there’s more land in the northern hemisphere. But this summer was something else. July was the hottest month ever recorded, and it was followed by an August — usually a bit cooler than July — that was just as scorching. Those epically hot months helped set this year up for record heat (but more on that in a bit).
7. Arctic sea ice got weird. Really weird
The Arctic was probably the weirdest place on the planet this year. It had a record-low peak for sea ice in the winter and dwindled to its second-lowest extent on record. The Northwest Passage also opened in August, allowing a luxury cruise ship to pass through. Those milestones themselves are a disconcerting harbinger of a warming world, but November brought an even more bizarre event. Normally it’s a time when night blankets the region and temperatures generally plummet to allow the rapid growth of ice. But a veritable heat wave ratcheted temperatures 27°F above normal, hitting pause on ice growth and even causing ice loss for a few days. December has seen a similar warm spell that scientists have found would be virtually impossible if it wasn’t for climate change. The Arctic is the most rapidly warming region on the planet and 2016 served as a reminder that the region is being dramatically reshaped by that warming.
6. Divestment and clean energy investments each hit a record
Climate change is a huge, pressing economic issue as countries will have to rejigger their economies to run on renewables and not fossil fuels. Investors are attacking that switch at both ends, and 2016 stands out for the record pace at which they’re doing it. On the fossil fuel side, investors representing $5.2 trillion in assets have agreed to divest from fossil fuels. That includes massive financial firms, pension funds, cities and regional governments, and a host of wealthy individuals. Not bad for a movement that only got its start in 2011. On the flip side, a report showed that investors poured $288 billion into new renewable projects in 2015, also a record. That’s helping install 500,000 solar panels a day around the world and ensuring that 70 percent of all money invested into energy generation is going to renewables.
5. The Great Barrier Reef was decimated by warm waters
Coral has had a rough go of it around the world for the past three years. El Niño coupled with climate change has caused a massive coral bleaching event around the globe. Nowhere have the impacts been more stark than the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. Up to 93 percent of the reef was rocked by coral bleaching as record-warm waters essentially boiled coral to death. A third of the reef — including some of the most protected areas — are now dead. Researchers found that climate change made the record heat up to 175 times more likely, offering a glimpse into the dystopian future reefs face. A 1.5°C rise in the global average temperature would essentially mean game over for corals around the world.
4. The world breached the 1.5°C climate threshold
So about 1.5°C. It’s a threshold that’s crucial for low-lying island states to continue their existence (to say nothing of Miami or other coastal cities). Passing it would mean essentially issuing a death sentence for these places, corals and Arctic sea ice and other places around the world. The globe got its first glimpse of 1.5°C in February and March this year. Climate change, riding on the back of a super El Niño, helped crank the global average temperature to 1.63°C above normal in February and 1.54°C above normal in March compared to pre-industrial times. While the abnormal heat has since subsided a bit, it’s likely that 1.5°C will be breached again and again in the coming years and could become normal by 2025-30.
3. Carbon dioxide hit 400 ppm. Permanently
Scientists measure carbon dioxide in parts per million and in 2016, and it hit a not-so-nice round number at the Earth’s marquee carbon observatory: 400 ppm. Despite the seasonal ebb and flow, there wasn’t a single week where carbon dioxide levels dipped below 400 ppm. It’s the first time on record that’s happened. Because carbon pollution continues to rise, the world isn’t going to see carbon dioxide dip below 400 ppm again in our lifetimes (and likely a lot longer than that). Carbon dioxide also breached the 400 ppm threshold in Antarctica, the first time that’s happened in human history (and likely a lot longer). And in a report that was published this year, the World Meteorological Organization revealed that carbon dioxide passed the 400 ppm milestone globally in 2015. So yeah, 400 ppm was kind of a thing this year.
2. The Paris Agreement got real
The world got together to deliver the Paris Agreement in 2015, but the rubber really hit the road in 2016. Nearly 120 countries have ratified the agreement, putting it into force on Nov. 4. That includes big carbon pollution emitters like China, the U.S. and the European Union, and tiny ones like Mongolia, the Cook Islands and Sierra Leone. While there’s concern that President-elect Trump could pull the U.S. out of the agreement, signatories have stressed that they’ll go forward to meet their pledges regardless. With the rubber on the road, the next step is to get the wheels spinning.
1. It was the hottest year on record. Again
In case it wasn’t clear, the clearest sign of climate change is heat. And this year had lots of it. Hot Arctic, hot summer, hot water, and so it’s only fitting that the biggest climate milestone of the year (in a year that itself is a milestone) is record heat. Of course, that was the biggest story in 2014. And 2015 for that matter. This year marks the third year in a row of record-setting heat, an unprecedented run. It’s a reminder that we’ve entered a new era, where our actions have changed the world we call home. We also have the ability to decide what comes next.
As 2017 begins, Colorado Springs Utilities will kick off the first of three major water main replacement and rehabilitation projects to improve service to its customers…
All work is weather-dependent. Businesses in construction zones will remain open as crews complete improvements, but area drivers should expect delays and take other routes if possible, Utilities officials advised.
The improvement projects could result in water service outages. Affected customers will be informed 48 hours in advance, according to Utilities officials.
FromThe Colorado Springs Independent (J. Arian Stanley):
Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) has allotted $250,000 worth of grants from Colorado Lottery money to our area. The money will go to projects that are near and dear to many locals. Here’s a quick outline of their impact (for more, read the press release posted below):
• A planning consultant will be hired to work out environmental and trail alignment obstacles for the gap in the long-planned Ring the Peak trail, which is planned to go around Pikes Peak. The plan should be finished at the end of 2017.
• The last known habitat of the greenback cutthroat trout, the Bear Creek watershed, will see habitat restoration. Grant money will “help the county conduct a full stream survey, producing a detailed implementation plan to remove sediment and optimize the river conditions for the trout, helping ensure its long-term survival.”
• Trail work and forest restoration in Pineries Open Space and Black Forest Regional Park will be completed, improving recreational opportunities, drainage issues, and wildlife habitat.
• Crews will work to create a “fire break” along the Intemann Trail, which runs along the outer edge of Manitou Springs.
President Barack Obama on Tuesday designated the bulk of U.S.-owned waters in the Arctic Ocean and certain areas in the Atlantic Ocean as indefinitely off limits to future oil and gas leasing.
The White House announced the actions in conjunction with the government of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, which also placed a moratorium on new oil and gas leasing in its Arctic waters, subject to periodic review.
“Today, President Obama and Prime Minister Trudeau are proud to launch actions ensuring a strong, sustainable and viable Arctic economy and ecosystem, with low-impact shipping, science based management of marine resources, and free from the future risks of offshore oil and gas activity,” the statement read.
The move helps put some finishing touches on Obama’s environmental legacy while also testing president-elect Donald Trump’s promise to unleash the nation’s untapped energy reserves.
Obama is making use of an arcane provision in a 1953 law to ban offshore leases in the waters permanently. The statute says that “the president of the United States may, from time to time, withdraw from disposition any of the unleased lands of the outer Continental Shelf.”
Environmental groups hope the ban, despite relying on executive powers, will be difficult for future presidents to reverse. The White House said it’s confident the president’s directive will withstand legal challenge and said the language of the statute provides no authority for subsequent presidents to “unwithdraw” waters from future lease sales.
The Atlantic waters placed off limits to new oil and gas leasing, which hold the volume equivalent of 31 Grand Canyons, stretches off the coast of New England south to Virginia.
The administration cited environmental concerns to justify the moratorium. The president also issued a statement noting the minimal level of fuel production occurring in the Arctic. Obama said just 0.1 per cent of offshore crude production came from the Arctic in 2015, and at current oil prices, significant production would not occur in future decades.
“That’s why looking forward, we must continue to focus on economic empowerment for Arctic communities beyond this one sector,” Obama said…
In issuing a permanent ban, Obama appears to be trying to tie the hands of his successor. Trump has vowed a domestic energy revolution and is filling his cabinet with nominees deeply opposed to Obama’s environmental and climate change actions.
Environmental groups were calling for a permanent ban even before the presidential election, but Trump’s victory has provided greater urgency for them and for businesses that rely on tourism and fishing. Trump has said he intends to use all available fuel reserves for energy self-sufficiency — and that it’s time to open up offshore drilling.
“This decision will help protect existing lucrative coastal tourism and fishing businesses from offshore drilling, which promises smaller, short-lived returns and threatens coastal livelihoods,” said Jacqueline Savitz, a senior vice-president at the advocacy group, Oceana.
Editor’s note: The following is the second part in a series exploring the city of Aspen’s historic intent in filing for and maintaining conditional water rights for storage reservoirs on Castle and Maroon creeks. The series, which began Monday, continues tomorrow.
ASPEN – In December 1965, an engineer working for the city of Aspen filed maps of two dams and reservoirs with the state engineer’s office, indicating the city intended to build a 170-foot-tall dam on upper Castle Creek and a 155-foot-tall dam on upper Maroon Creek.
And by June 16, 1966, Aspen’s claim for storage was formalized in a proposed water-rights decree labeled as Civil Action 5884, which indicates the city of Aspen was serious about building both reservoirs.
Under the heading of “Maroon Creek Reservoir,” for example, the court document says, “The claimant of said reservoir is the city of Aspen.”
“The purposes for which the water stored in said reservoir will be used are industrial, irrigation, domestic, municipal and other beneficial uses, both consumptive and non-consumptive,” the decree application states. “The capacity of said reservoir is 4,567 acre-feet.”
“The appropriation date hereby awarded said structure is the 19th day of July 1965,” the court document continues.
That’s the date on which Aspen City Council directed its consulting engineer, Darrell “Dale” Rea, to prepare maps of both reservoirs.
The court document closes by noting that the conditional water right was “granted on condition that the dam and other structures necessary to store water in said reservoir shall be completed and that the water stored in said reservoir shall be applied to beneficial use with due diligence and within a reasonable length of time.”
In other words, Aspen could have its conditional rights to store water, as long as the city actually built the dams at the center of their claim “within a reasonable length of time.”
That was half a century ago.
On to water court
After the city filed to have its water rights approved, a hearing in water court was held on Nov. 29, 1966, so a water court judge could make a decision about the city’s proposed rights. Rea, the city’s consulting engineer who originally surveyed the Castle Creek and Maroon Creek reservoirs, testified.
An attorney representing Aspen, Janet Gaylord, walked Rea through a series of questions meant to inform the court of Aspen’s intent to store water from the creeks.
Rea said in court that he started working for Aspen as a consulting engineer in July 1956, when the city was trying to acquire and develop a municipal water system.
“At that time we made a feasibility report for the development of surface rights for the city … which included proposed rights on Hunter Creek, Castle Creek and Maroon Creek,” Rea said. “We made the estimated cost for construction of a filter plant and diversion structure necessary to deliver and bring this water to the city of Aspen.”
One key component of the city’s new water system was to rebuild a diversion dam on lower Castle Creek, not far below Midnight Mine Road, and another was to install a 30-inch pipe that could bring 25 cubic feet per second (cfs) of water from the diversion dam to a new water-treatment plant on a knoll above Aspen Valley Hospital between Castle and Maroon creeks.
Water for Aspen
Rea said during these projects he also looked into the supply of, and projected demand for, water in Aspen.
“Our studies of projection show that Castle Creek and Maroon Creek had low flows in the summer that would not be sufficient to sustain the city more than a few years,” Rea testified. “This meant that they would have to store water in either or both of these creeks.”
And so Rea had surveyed two dams that were to sit astride upper Castle and Maroon creeks. Stored water was then to be released to run several miles down the streams to the city’s diversion dams, which would direct the water into pipelines to the city’s water-treatment plant.
Rea identified for the court the November 1964 water plan he prepared for the city, which included charts of flow levels on the creeks, as recorded by the state engineer from 1913 to 1917.
Based on those four years of records, Rea projected that low flows in some dry years could drop to 24 cfs in Castle Creek and 16 cfs in Maroon Creek.
He said such low flows “would not yield enough water unless storage supplemented the flow in the dry years,” and that “these flows would not suffice the city at the presently projected growth for more than, I think, five years.”
“Somewhere between ’70 and ’75,” Rea said, “the city would need supplemental flows either from Maroon Creek, which it is not now presently using, or the construction of storage on Castle Creek.”
Then, reviewing his “proposed steps of development,” Rea said that within “the next five or 10 years” Aspen would need to build a reservoir on Castle Creek and later a reservoir on Maroon Creek.
He added, “That will take care of the city of Aspen for the foreseeable future.”
Locals and visitors
Gaylord, the attorney for the city, asked Rea about his population projections.
Rea said his estimates took into account “transit population,” referring to the growing number of visitors coming to Aspen in both winter and summer, as well as “permanent residents.”
He estimated that the combination of visitors and locals equaled 7,000 people in 1965, and the combination would rise to 30,000 people in 1990.
“We have found that it is necessary for Aspen to have storage on these streams in order to meet this population,” he told the court.
In his 1964 plan, Rea at one point had estimated that as many as 66,000 people might someday live in the greater Aspen area, but in his court testimony, he spoke of a more modest population estimate.
Rea’s estimate of a population of 30,000 people was fairly accurate, although time would prove that Aspen’s municipal water system would be able to serve 30,000 people without having to build a reservoir.
By 2008, for example, Aspen’s year-round resident population was about 6,400. And data from the Aspen Consolidated Sanitation District showed that another 8,000 people or so were also in town each day, bringing the town’s average daily population to about 15,000.
But peak days such as the Fourth of July and Christmas could attract about 30,000 people to Aspen.
“In 2007, the average daily flow of sewage to the treatment plant, which is next to the river below the Aspen Business Center, was about 1.5 million gallons, which means there were an average of 14,362 people in town each day,” the Aspen Daily News reported in 2008. “The plant can handle 3 million gallons a day, which is enough capacity for about 31,000 people.”
Timing and feasibility
During his 1966 appearance in water court, the judge asked Rea when the city proposed to complete the two dams for which it held water rights.
“Well, they have three alternatives,” Rea replied of the city. “I would say between ’70 and ’75 one of these will need to be constructed in order to [supplement] the direct flow.”
He also said that while the city might build both dams at once, “from the actual demand they would build this one first and the other one later.”
“It is proposed that they drill the two reservoir sites for the geological surveys, and depending upon that result they will select either the Maroon Creek Reservoir or Castle Creek Reservoir, and it will be constructed and there is no time schedule for the second reservoir,” Rea said, speaking in November 1966. “I would assume that all of these facilities would be needed within the next 35 years.”
On May 5, 1967, Rea sent a letter to Leon Wurl, Aspen’s city manager, proposing to conduct a feasibility study for the two reservoirs.
“We would recommend the preparation of an interim report during the 1967-68 winter season,” Rea said. “The purpose of this report would be to form the basis of a continuance with the district court on the reservoir and pipeline decrees.”
The reference to “the basis of a continuance” is to the expected diligence review that would be required for the proposed reservoirs.
“A final report could be performed only after geological studies and field surveys have been completed along with investigations for financing the project,” Rea wrote. “Geological studies could start in 1968 or 1969. The engineering cost of such a report should await discussions with the council on the actual scope of such a report.
“The interim report would set forth problems that would have to be evaluated before construction could start on the dams,” Rea also wrote.
He provided an outline of information that today still seems relevant. And much of the information he proposed the city investigate has apparently never been done. Or if it has, the city has yet to make it public following a request under the Colorado Open Records Act.
Rea’s outline included investigating and compiling information about water rights, hydrologic data, and geologic data.
It also included producing surveys, maps and “data” on the proposed dams, including “choice of materials for constructing dam” and “final location of dam.”
The city was slow to respond to Rea’s suggestion of an investigation into the dams, so Rea sent a follow-up letter.
In the Jan. 12, 1968, missive to Aspen’s Wurl, Rea presented costs for “engineering, aerial [photography] and geological in the eight items of our letter and outline of May 5, 1967.
“The report as presented should firm up the location, capacity and cost of the two reservoirs,” Rea said. “It will also show how much water is needed, where it will be used, and the cost of treating and transmitting the water to the areas of use. Methods of financing the total construction costs will be also presented.”
In November 1968, Rea checked one of the items off his list for additional study when he submitted a preliminary report to the city on “stream gauging, hydrology and water supply.”
“The purpose of this preliminary report is to collect data that will supplement the water filings made with the state engineer in December 1965 for reservoirs on Castle and Maroon creeks,” he wrote. “This report is limited to stream gauging, hydrology and water supply because they offer a good beginning that is highly desirable and lays the foundation for collection of further needed data in order to adequately design the two dams.”
On March 3, 1969, Rea wrote yet another proposal letter to the city, which included a detailed budget for an investigation into the reservoirs.
“We would recommend the entire preliminary report be started in 1969 and completed in 1969 or 1970,” Rea wrote.
Under the heading “Final Report – Phase II” he wrote, “This final report may be completed on both dams at the same time or at separate times. There will be some savings in field investigations if the two dams are investigated at the same time.”
He went on to write that for “the purpose of a capital improvement program, we would recommend that $22,500 be set up for 1971 and $22,500 in 1972 to cover pre-design information on the two dams. This can always be deferred if financially necessary, provided the attorney feels that the criteria of ‘due diligence’ has been met.”
As 1969 drew to a close, it appears the city had yet to act on Rea’s suggestion to conduct a detailed feasibility study of the dams. But while the city was apparently sitting on its hands, the Bureau of Reclamation conducted its own investigation, which did not bode well for the Castle Creek dam site.
Next in our series: The Bureau of Reclamation finds serious flaws at the Castle Creek Reservoir site.
Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism, the Aspen Daily News, and Coyote Gulch are collaborating on the coverage of rivers and water. The Daily News published this story on Tuesday, Dec. 27, 2016.
The fronts deposited enough snow in the mountains to put the state above average for the year in terms of moisture content in the snowpack, noted Chris Woodka of the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District.
“It’s also good for ski areas, which got off to a late start,” Woodka added.
The snowpack seems to be evenly distributed across the state, which is good news for Southern Colorado and the Rio Grande basin — which last year experienced drier conditions than the rest of the state.
After the holiday storms, the Arkansas basin’s moisture content stands at 113 percent above normal, with the Rio Grand basin at 111 percent above normal.
While it is too early in the year to talk about the snowpack in terms of water supply, Woodka called the recent developments “a good sign, because the water year, which began Oct. 1, started out very dry.
“We are now above average in every basin in the state.”
The Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District keeps a particularly watchful eye on the Upper Colorado and Arkansas River basins in order to gauge how much water the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project will yield.
“But we wait until March or April before we get too excited about the numbers,” Woodka said.
The severity of the recent dry spell is illustrated in the winter water program, administered by the Southeastern District for future agricultural use.
“During the first month, Nov. 15 to Dec. 15, of this year, we stored 24,640 acre-feet — which is half of last year’s total by this time and only 60 percent of the 20-year average,” Woodka said.
In its Dec. 22 assessment, the U.S. Drought Monitor listed most of the state in beginning stages of drought. That, however, is likely to change this week with the additional snow pack in the mountains — certainly welcome news.
On Dec. 15, Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye spoke before the 2016 Colorado River Water Users conference session, Tracking the Waters: Reclamation and the Ten Tribes Partnership Tribal Water Study.
Begaye said the tribal water study will aid the Navajo nation in establishing a foundation to assess our use of the Colorado River water for future Navajo Nation water projects.
“In the future, the fight for water will be intense,” he said. “The Navajo Nation will aggressively fight to protect our land, water and its people. Securing water rights and water development projects are priorities of the Navajo Nation.”
The Tribal Water Study will be used to assess system impacts resulting from development of tribal water and help identify tribal water development challenges and opportunities. The study began in January 2014 and was conducted jointly by the Bureau of Reclamation and the Ten Tribes Partnership.
The session provided participants a foundation of the Ten Tribes Partnership, collaborative efforts to include the member tribes in future basin water studies and the publishing date of the study.
The Navajo Nation, which is entirely located in the upper and lower portion of the Colorado River Basin, appropriated more than $250 million over the next five years toward water infrastructure development for water projects.
“The Office of the President and Vice-President has created a qualified team to work alongside the Navajo Nation Council to ensure our water rights are protected for future generations,” Begaye said.
Representatives from the Navajo Nation and the Bureau of Reclamation also had a meeting to discuss the Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project, the Southwest Navajo Rural Water Project, the Western Navajo Water Supply Project and Bureau of Reclamation programs updates.
“Creating and completing critical infrastructure water projects is essential, not only to provide our people with water, but to improving economic development and for job creation for the Nation,” Begaye said.
The Colorado River Basin Tribes Partnership, also known as the Ten Tribes Partnership, is an organization formed in 1992 by 10 federally recognized tribes with reserved water rights in the Colorado River Basin. The member tribes are: Ute Indian Tribe, Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, Southern Ute Indian Tribe, Jicarilla Apache Nation, Navajo Nation, Chemehuevi Indian Tribe, Colorado River Indian Tribes, Fort Mojave Indian Tribe, Quechan Indian Tribe and Cocopah Indian Tribe
Here’s the release about the water study from Reclamation:
U.S. Department of the Interior Assistant Secretary for Water and Science Anne Castle announced today a collaborative agreement for the Bureau of Reclamation to work with the Colorado River Basin Tribes Partnership (Ten Tribes Partnership) in a tribally-focused effort to address projected water supply and demand imbalances in the Colorado River Basin.
This effort, implementing commitments identified in the Colorado River Basin Water Supply and Demand Study published last December, will focus specifically on issues facing the tribal communities in the basin and their water resources.
“The Colorado River is the essential foundation for the physical, economic and cultural sustenance of the tribes in the Ten Tribes Partnership, and it is critical that we work together to address existing and future threats to the adequacy of supplies and the River itself,” said Castle. “A hallmark of success and progress on difficult Colorado River issues has been collaborative efforts among various parties with vested interests in the River, and the agreement announced today is an excellent example.”
“The Colorado River Basin Tribes Partnership is an important stakeholder in water use for multiple purposes including irrigation, recreation, wildlife and habitat restoration, municipal, industrial, mining, power generation, as well as cultural and religious activities,” said T. Darryl Vigil, chairman of the Ten Tribes Partnership.
Castle announced the agreement today at a joint event with key representatives of the Ten Tribes Partnership in Albuquerque. Reclamation and the Ten Tribes Partnership will collaborate on the study on the role of tribal water rights that is expected to be completed by December 2015. Castle says Interior and the Partnership will allocate financial resources and technical expertise for the effort – including today’s commitment by Reclamation to provide $100,000 to jump start the study effort. Reclamation Commissioner Michael L. Connor says ensuring meaningful tribal participation with financial assistance from the agency’s Basin Study Program will only help to improve the effort.
“I am pleased that we have been able to build upon our work with the Ten Tribes Partnership to ensure tribal issues continue to be addressed in Colorado River Basin Study activities,” Connor said. “Reclamation’s commitment to meet the nation’s obligations to Indian Country continues to be strong and unwavering.”
The 2012 Colorado River Basin Water Supply and Demand Study, the most comprehensive study of future supplies and demands on the Colorado River ever developed, was produced collaboratively with a wide array of stakeholders including the Ten Tribes Partnership. The study’s findings projected significant shortfalls between expected water supplies and demands in the Colorado River Basin in coming decades. The study is widely acknowledged as a call to action for all who rely on the Colorado River. Building upon recent successful efforts to improve water management in the Basin, recent efforts have focused on enhancing the resiliency and sustainability of the Basin’s limited resources.
The Colorado River Basin Tribes Partnership began in 1992 and is made up of ten tribes: the Chemehuevi Indian Tribe, Cocopah Indian Community, Colorado River Indian Tribes, Fort Mojave Indian Tribe, Jicarilla Apache Nation, Navajo Nation, Quechan Indian Tribe, Southern Ute Indian Tribe, Ute Mountain Ute Indian Tribe and Ute Tribe of the Uintah and Ouray Reservation. For more information on the Partnership visit: http://www.crwua.org/colorado-river/ten-tribes.
The 2017 budget, as proposed by the finance department, is $31.06 million, a 2.5 percent decrease from last year’s budget, and a roughly 6 percent increase from the revised 2016 budget. That includes the general fund, enterprise funds and intergovernmental funds.
According to city manager Shane Hale, the 2017 budget includes funds that are being carried over from 2016 projects the city didn’t finish by year’s end. The new fiscal year begins Jan. 1.
The approved budget did not include new taxes or tax raises, and the city’s mill levy stayed at 1.21 mills per $1,000 of assessed value property…
The biggest fee increase came from the public works department, which proposed to increase water rates in 2017 by 15 percent. The base rate for a residential ¾-inch water meter will be bumped from $17.20 to $19.80 per month, and tap fees will go up from $4,190 to $4,819 for ¾-inch water taps. Johnson said the increase will help his department pay for several projects in 2017, including repairs on a major water line that pumps in water from outside the town.
“It’s an investment for our customers in their own infrastructure,” Johnson said…
Water: About $3.48 million has been budgeted for 2017, up from $3.28 million, an increase of 6.2 percent.
FromThe Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dave Buchanan):
Lake Powell, which helps moderate water levels in Lake Mead, acts as a “savings account” for the states in the Upper Basin of the Colorado River.
In the years when the Upper Basin can’t meet its water-sharing obligations as required in the 1922 Colorado River Compact, water is released from the Lake Powell “account” for Lower Basin use.
But what happens when that Lake Powell account is over-drawn?
One is the potential impacts of a declining Lake Powell is the potential impact on power generation.
If Lake Powell drops below 3,490 feet above sea level (on Oct. 28 the level was 3,611 feet or 58 percent full), there no longer is enough water in the reservoir to push through the eight giant turbines.
This potential shortage of power in the western grid would have to be covered by changes in power generation at Blue Mesa, Flaming Gorge and Navajo dams.
“The likely first trigger we run into, the first cataclysm, is Lake Powell reaching a level where” power is not being produced, said Chris Treece of the Colorado River District. “That has impacts to all the power customers and not getting that revenue from the power impacts us in Colorado and in Grand Junction in particular.”
According to the Bureau of Reclamation, Lake Powell each year averages $150 million in power revenue and makes enough electricity to power more than 320,000 homes. The federal endangered fish recovery program is funded by power revenues, as is the salinity control program in the Paradox Valley and the adaptive management program for the Grand Canyon.
According to the Department of the Interior, the Grand Canyon plan provides even monthly volume releases and allows experimental releases to restore sand features and key fish and wildlife habitat, increase beaches and enhance wilderness values along the Colorado River.
Plus, low levels mean not enough push to get the water through the tubes and into the lower river.
“And if we are not sending water through the turbines, just the bypass tubes, we are on a mathematical certainty that we will not be able to provide 8.23 (million acre feet) over the long haul, and won’t have enough pressure and size to push that quantity of water through the dam,” Treece said.
During her presentation earlier this month, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell said there is a “50/50 chance” the upper basin will see water shortage.
“Ten years ago most people were dismissing any chance of the Upper Basin having a water shortage or being out of compliance with the compact obligations,” Treece said. “Now, it’s pretty much widely accepted that it’s a probability greater than zero. And that’s a real significant change in the dialogue.”
Editor’s note: The following is the first part in a series exploring the city of Aspen’s historic intent in filing for and maintaining conditional water rights for storage reservoirs on Castle and Maroon creeks.
ASPEN – Thursday will mark the date 51 years ago when two maps were filed with the state of Colorado by the city of Aspen, signaling the city’s intent to someday build two large dams and reservoirs on upper Maroon and Castle creeks.
It was on Dec. 29, 1965, that the maps pinpointing the location of the two potential dams, their height, and the size of the resulting reservoirs were filed with the state water engineer’s office. Aspen’s mayor at the time, Harald Pabst, signed both maps.
One map, in its notes section, described a 155-foot-tall dam within view of the Maroon Bells that would create a reservoir holding 4,567 acre-feet of water. The other map described a 170-foot-tall dam two miles below Ashcroft that would hold 9,062 acre-feet.
On Oct. 31 of this year, the city filed applications with the state to extend the conditional water rights for the two potential dams and reservoirs for another six years.
It was the ninth time the city has filed for diligence on the reservoirs since 1972. This was the first time the reservoirs were separated out into two applications, one for Maroon Creek Reservoir and one for Castle Creek Reservoir.
Pitkin County, American Rivers, and the U.S. Forest Service have all stated publicly they intend to file statements of opposition in the cases, which are being processed in Division 5 water court in Glenwood Springs, before the Dec. 31 deadline. Wilderness Workshop, Western Resource Advocates, and a property owner on whose land the Castle Creek dam would be built filed statements of opposition last week.
During deliberations this fall by Aspen City Council about the conditional water rights tied to the two dams, it sometimes sounded as if the current council members viewed the old water rights as orphans once left on the doorstep of city hall by distant strangers.
“As far as where the 150-foot-dam picture comes from, was that us, or someone else?” said Aspen City Councilman Adam Frisch during a Sept. 20 work session on the water rights. “All I know is 150 feet keeps on getting talked about in print from some very smart and well-meaning organizations, so I’m assuming it came from somewhere.”
David Hornbacher, the city’s director of utilities and environmental initiatives, confirmed for Frisch that the heights of the two dams — 155 feet tall at Maroon Creek Reservoir and 170 feet tall at Castle Creek Reservoir — came from the two maps signed by Aspen’s mayor in 1965 and filed with the Colorado state engineer’s office by the city’s consulting engineer.
“In 1965, maps were prepared,” Hornbacher said. “And those maps showed physically where these conditional water rights would be. It would show the depth. Based on the depth, what the volume of water is. So the height is directly off of that information that was filed back in 1965.”
And the rights have been nurtured ever since, although with a parenting philosophy that could be described as “benign neglect.” The city has never done a feasibility study for either dam and reservoir project. And yet, it has consistently told the state it intends to build both dams when needed.
Now at 51 years of age, it’s still not clear if the water rights will ever mature to fruition. But the city announced on Halloween it is still willing to care for them. And in so doing, the city once again told the state the dams are vital components of its integrated water system and that it will build the dams if it needs to, especially in light of climate change.
The date of Dec. 29, 1965, is relevant because that’s the day the city filed official maps with the state engineer’s office in Glenwood Springs for the dams on Castle and Maroon creeks. The maps are clear and compelling, and include both the mayor of Aspen’s signature and that of Dale Rea, the city’s consulting engineer.
While the maps were filed in December 1965, the water right itself carries an earlier appropriation date of July 19, 1965. That’s the day on which the Aspen City Council confirmed staff’s initiative to have Rea locate the two dam sites and prepare maps to file with the state. That direction from the council is viewed as the first step taken under Colorado water law to create the water rights for the two dams.
John Kerrigan was the city manager, or administrator, in 1965 and he obtained the council’s consent for Rea to proceed, according to minutes from a regular city council meeting held on July 19.
Under a heading in the minutes of “Reservoir,” there is only a cryptic, and singular, note on the water storage projects. It says “Mr. Kerrigan said Dale Rea is preparing land filings on the reservoir.”
A district court judge would eventually make the rights official on Nov. 5, 1971, giving the conditional water rights their adjudication date. The process to adjudicate water rights often took years because the water court slowly reviewed large bundles of applications.
The Castle Creek Reservor, decreed in Civil Action 5884, was given Structure No. 589 and Priority No. 805. The Maroon Creek Reservoir, also decreed in CA 5884, was given Structure No. 590 and Priority No. 806.
Civil Action 5884 is a 242-page decree that earmarked priority numbers for a long list of other potential local reservoirs, including Ashcroft Reservoir, Pabst Reservoir, Snowmass Reservoir, and the Paepcke Forebay Reservoir on the main stem of the Roaring Fork River.
The rights to the Castle and Maroon reservoirs are the only significant conditional storage water rights decreed in CA 5884, in what could be considered “the class of 1971,” that are still being maintained today.
Rea, the consulting engineer for the city of Aspen, was from Littleton and he had spent 12 years with U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, mostly in Denver, before going out on his own to design and develop water systems for a number of growing Colorado cities.
In 1956 he was contacted by the city, which had just purchased a large portfolio of senior water rights on Castle and Maroon creeks from the Holy Cross Electric Association.
The rights were originally used to produce hydropower in the 1890s, with the water diverted from the two creeks and sent down wooden flumes to a knob of land on the hillside between the two creeks.
The 1956 water plan
By the mid-1950s, the city was also in the process of acquiring the assets of the Aspen Water Co., a private water company that had been struggling for years to provide the citizens of Aspen with a reliably clean supply of water.
Rea submitted a water plan on Aug. 17, 1956, that was designed to provide for the city’s water needs from 1957 to 1977.
“The report included requirements, supply, treatment, distribution, operation, maintenance, finance and revenue of a complete system,” the Aspen Times reported about Rea’s 1956 water plan. “It incorporates an estimated 1,700 to 3,500 permanent residents with provisions for transient populations of 5,000.”
Rea recommended that the city build a new water system using its senior water rights on Castle and Maroon creeks.
Rea’s 1956 report made no mention, though, of dams being necessary on either upper Castle and Maroon creeks, even up to 1977, to supply the city with adequate water.
Instead, Rea said there was “sufficient water” available from Castle Creek “without storage.”
“The city’s best water right is out of Castle Creek with priority No. 136a in the water district for 60 cubic feet per second (for) irrigation and domestic supply,” Rea wrote. “Therefore the city would have no problem on Castle Creek with respect to water rights or adequately [sic] of supply, as low flow records on Castle Creek indicate that the supply is more than double the future requirements of the city.”
Under the heading of “surface supply,” Rea declared, “Surface water supply in Aspen should be no problem, as Pitkin County probably has a greater run-off per acre than any county in Colorado.”
And under the heading of “reliability,” he noted that “in some communities severe drought conditions and underground pumping of individual development will gradually diminish the surface flow to a point where it is dangerous for a city to rely strictly on surface water flow. Fortunately this is not the case in Aspen, as the large drainage basin of each of the streams under study are sufficient to yield a continuous flow at all times.”
Urgent water need
On March 5, 1959, Rea attended a special joint meeting of the Aspen City Council and the city’s new “utility advisory board,” which was to oversee the city’s new water and electric utility departments.
According to the Aspen Times the main agenda item was “how to get a safe water system in the quickest possible time in the most efficient way.”
Rea, the Times wrote, “told the assembled officials that the only logical source of water at the present time was Castle Creek. This is the only source on which the city owns adequate water rights.
“Following Rea’s report and a general discussion it was decided to take his recommendations drawing up the plans necessary to develop a state-approved system using Castle Creek as a source of water,” the Times reported.
Today, Castle Creek remains the city’s primary source of water.
On Oct. 12, 1959, Rea attended another meeting in Aspen, as city officials were wavering on their earlier decision to build their new system based on a supply of water from Castle Creek, and instead were thinking of using water from Hunter Creek.
“At Monday’s meeting, and at several previous meetings, engineer Dale Rea informed officials that additional water rights would be needed before Hunter Creek could be considered,” the Times reported. “The city already owns more than enough rights on Castle Creek to enable it to use that stream as the primary source for its system.”
The city owned, and still does own, two large water rights on Castle Creek, one dating from 1885 for 60 cfs and an 1889 right to 100 cfs. And it owns a right from 1892 for 65 cfs from Maroon Creek. On Colorado’s Western Slope, these are large, and senior, water rights and make the city the dominant rights holder on the creeks, and especially so on Castle Creek.
The water council
In 1963 Harald Pabst ran for mayor of Aspen on top of a “clean sweep” ticket, and Aspen’s water rights and water delivery system was a campaign issue.
Pabst was the grandson of the founder of Pabst Brewery. He came to the Aspen area in the 1950s and bought a large swath of ranch land in the lower Snowmass and Capitol Creek valleys.
According to the Times, Pabst was “well known to Aspenites for his duties as administrative vice president of the Aspen Institute and director of the Aspen Skiing Corp.,” which was then a public company.
Each of the council candidates in 1963 laid out their campaign platforms in a front-page feature in the Times in October, and each of them addressed water.
In his candidate statement, Pabst said, “although the subject of Aspen’s water supply has probably received more attention than any other problem, there is still much dissatisfaction and uncertainty expressed by Aspenites.
“We feel that a thorough, factual re-evaluation of the water problem should be made, based on an inventory and analysis (volume, purity, etc.) of existing adjudicated water rights and related existing structures, cost of required improvements and new facilities, as well as operating costs.”
The balance of the 1963 “clean sweep” ticket in Aspen included Werner Kuster, the owner of the Red Onion bar and restaurant, Dr. Robert Barnard, who would go on to serve as Aspen mayor, Bill McEachern, and Dave Stapleton.
Risk of losing rights
Robert “Bugsy” Barnard, in his statement printed in the Times, said it was “difficult to understand how a city such as Aspen can be surrounded by four rivers and still be plagued with an insufficient water supply that requires rationing during the summer months and is frequently found to be contaminated by disease-producing micro-organisms. And all this in the face of extremely high water costs to the consumer.
“A further difficulty in the water situation lies in the fact that by ceasing to use any of the city’s surface water rights in the Roaring Fork River, Castle Creek or Maroon Creek, Aspen faces the serious risk of losing these water rights through non-use,” Barnard wrote, citing a concern that still exists in City Hall today.
The clean-sweep ticket did just that on Nov. 5, 1963, when 411 votes were cast, a record turnout for Aspen at the time. And so a new Aspen City Council was soon seated, and it had water on its agenda.
Updated water plan
In March 1964 the water-focused city council directed Rea “to investigate and draw up plans and specifications for a long range water plan,” according to the Times, and the next month Rea signed a new contract with the city to develop the plan.
In December 1964, nearly six years after his first water plan for the city, Rea submitted a “water supply and development feasibility study,” and this time he declared that water storage would be necessary to meet future needs.
“The ultimate density of the entire Aspen valley from the lower end of the airport to the originally proposed Aspen Dam on the Roaring Fork is 65,980 people,” Rea wrote. “The water use for this population is estimated at 28 million gallons per day; to supply this water it will be necessary to construct dams on both Castle Creek and Maroon Creek and possibly Hunter Creek.”
Today, the peak-population day of about 35,000 people in the city’s water service area typically comes on July 4, and the city’s water treatment plant has a current capacity of 20 million gallons per day.
“It is estimated that this population could be reached in about 40 to 50 years which is not too long to plan a water system,” Rea added. “At that time, the total estimated flows of Castle Creek and Maroon Creek will be needed to supply Aspen’s need of about 28 million gallons per day.”
Rea then recommended to the council “that dam and reservoir sites be selected on Castle Creek and Maroon Creek and filings for their use be made with the state engineer.”
“In order to expand the supply in these two creeks, large storage reservoirs can be constructed, one on each creek,” Rea also wrote.
These are apparently the first calls in a city plan for reservoirs on Castle and Maroon Creek, and they appear to be based on an overly large population forecast.
Even Rea acknowledged in his 1964 report that his population projection was “on the optimistic side and ‘good times’ will have to remain if the projection is to be realized.”
Rea also wrote that one of the purposes of the report was to “project the growth of the community to require the full development of the city’s water rights.”
And he recommended, “any surplus water rights from the proposed development of these sites be sold to prospective downstream users,” suggesting there would, in fact, be “surplus water” from the reservoirs.
Rae’s 1964 report, and its recommendations to build reservoirs, resonated with the city council led by Mayor Pabst.
Rea would later testify that his report to the council “resulted in the making of claims of the city to the state engineer for reservoirs … to supply the city of Aspen in the foreseeable future.”
Council takes the plunge
On July 22, 1965, Rea sent a letter to city administrator Kerrigan laying out a scope of work to begin investigating aspects of Aspen’s long-range water supply system, including the two reservoirs.
The letter laid out plans for locating a “large storage reservoir” on both Castle and Maroon creeks.
“Field work for preliminary filing could be done before snow falls if authorized at once,” Rea wrote, and noted, “This project has been discussed with the state engineer and it meets with his approval.”
And Rea wrote two of the more intriguing sentences in the available historical record about the value of filing for the storage rights.
“We believe these filings will greatly enhance your water rights,” Rea told Aspen’s Kerrigan. “Further, in the case of Castle Creek, the need may not be too far in the future.”
The city council of 1965 would affirmatively vote on their intent to file for water rights on the dam sites at a council meeting on Aug. 2, 1965.
On Sept. 1 Rea began working in the field to survey the locations for the two reservoirs. And it appears from the historic public record that it was Rea, and Rea alone, who determined where the two potential dams should be built and how big they should be.
On Dec. 6, with Rea’s work in the field complete, the city council was informed that the required maps for the upcoming water rights filing would be signed by Mayor Pabst.
The minutes of the meeting state: “Filings on Maroon and Castle Creek: Mr. Kerrigan referred to filings on Maroon and Castle Creek – maps to be signed by mayor and city clerk and sent to Dale Rea to be filed with state engineer.”
And sometime before Dec. 29, when the maps for the two reservoirs were were duly filed with the state engineer’s office, both Rea and Mayor Pabst signed the maps.
The 1965 map for the Maroon Creek Reservoir shows a dam across Maroon Creek, just below the confluence of East and West Maroon creeks. The note on the map says the height of the planned dam is 155 feet, the resulting reservoir’s capacity is 4,567 acre feet and the estimated cost of the project was $770,000.
The map for the Castle Creek Reservoir shows a dam across Castle Creek, between Fall and Sandy creeks. The notes on the map say the height of the dam is 170 feet, the capacity 9,062 acre-feet and the cost is $790,000.
Dam the Fork?
Before Aspen filed for the maps describing the scope and scale of the dams and reservoirs on Castle and Maroon, it also investigated the idea of building a large dam across the main stem of the Roaring Fork River.
In March 1963, the city council directed staff to continue investigating the feasibility of building a dam on the main stem of the Roaring Fork River, at a deep and narrow part of the river between the airport and Shale Bluffs. The location, notably, was below the confluences of both Castle and Maroon creeks.
The council discussion was labeled in the minutes from March 18, 1963, as “feasibility – water rights use.”
“Discussed – water rights – and council directed that the city administrator continue the investigation of the feasibility of using the water rights owned by the city of Aspen from Hunter Creek, Maroon Creek, Castle Creek, the Roaring Fork River and other tributary sources, at a point on the Roaring Fork River … ,” the minutes state.
And in September 1963, the council took another step toward a potential dam on the Roaring Fork.
The minutes of a regular council meeting, under the heading, “Water – utilization program,” state, “[City] Attorney Stewart and council discussed plans for definite utilization of water and water rights. Point of diversion this side of Shale Bluffs. Dam for power, irrigation, flood control and recreation. A feasibility report is to be considered this fall, and the engineer should establish 2 to 3 damsites, and prepare plans.”
The council then voted unanimously on a motion to “conduct investigation to determine the places of potential damsites on the mainstem of the Roaring Fork River below Aspen” and to file a map and claim statement with the state engineer.
Three years later, in April 1966, the Colorado River District, not the city of Aspen, filed a map with the state that included a 150-foot-tall dam across the Fork.
The potential dam was now part of the Snowmass Project, and the resulting reservoir, which could hold 4,760 acre-feet of water, was called the Paepcke Forebay.
A pipeline, called the Gerbaz Conduit, was to run from the Paepcke Forebay to Watson Divide and Snowmass Creek. Water was to then to be sent down the creek and collected again in the Pabst Reservoir, which was to hold 73,645 acre-feet of water behind a 290-foot dam on lower Snowmass Creek. By comparison, Ruedi Reservoir holds about 102,000 acre-feet of water.
Water from the Pabst Reservoir was then to run down the last part of the creek to a hydropower plant at the confluence with the Roaring Fork, in what is now Old Snowmass.
The conditional water rights for the Snowmass Project would go on to be cancelled by a water court judge for lack of diligence in 1979, mainly because the Paepcke Forebay on the Roaring Fork would have flooded the site of the wastewater treatment plant operated by the Aspen Consolidated Sanitation District, and the project stalled.
So as it turned out, the city of Aspen’s efforts to build a dam across the main stem of the Roaring Fork would not result in concrete ever being poured. And perhaps the councils of the early 1960s sensed such a plan might never come to fruition.
Next up in the series: The city of Aspen defends the conditional water rights in court as its consulting engineer calls for more study of the dams and reservoirs.
Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism, the Aspen Daily News, and Coyote Gulch are collaborating on coverage of rivers and water. The Daily News published this story on Monday, Dec. 26, 2016.
Fall 2016 was a great lesson in patience for snow lovers across Colorado.
For weeks it seemed like the snow would never fly as unseasonably warm and dry weather gripped the region. Adding to the somber mood was the forecast for a La Niña winter, which is a weather pattern that can sometimes steer the main storm track away.
But as soon as the calendar flipped to December the weather pattern changed and nature’s snow machine came to life…
[Statewide snowpack] rose to over 6 inches in just three weeks. Every major river basin went from well below average to well above.
Colorado has roughly four months left in the snow accumulation season with March and April being very important as spring storm systems cross the Central Rockies.
Lake Mead’s water levels this year fell to a near all-time low in the midst of a 16-year drought throughout the Southwestern U.S., prompting discussion at a national conference last week.
The Colorado River Water Users Association met [December 14-16, 2017] in Las Vegas for an annual conference, where guests — including Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey and Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper — discussed the need for conservation efforts and governance of the Colorado River’s water supply. Ducey and Hickenlooper hosted a question-and-answer session with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce last Monday, in which both agreed that water is an issue that “transcends partisan politics.”
According to the Arizona Department of Water Resources, Arizona and California are negotiating the terms of a contingency plan to protect Lake Mead, a final agreement is still pending.
“This plan is a way to delay and maybe thwart shortage declarations with the most important aspect of California agreeing to take shortages after Lake Mead reaches particular elevations,” said Lake Havasu City’s Water Resources Coordinator Doyle Wilson. “Since the plan has not yet been approved by all parties, details are uncertain.”
Havasu receives an allocation of about 28,000 acre-feet of water per year from the Colorado River. Havasu uses about half that amount. If a water shortage were declared, the city would be required to use 20 percent less than its currently-allocated amount. According to Lake Havasu City officials, the city would be in no immediate danger in the event of a shortage. Havasu’s pending effluent water project is will provide reused water to city parks, further progressing the city’s conservation efforts.
“A combination of projects and programs have helped to educate the community on conserving water and have resulted in real water use efficiency at both the personal and citywide levels,” Wilson said. Havasu residents have used low water-use faucet and shower heads, geyser stop devices for irrigation systems, and have received rebates for water conservation.
“Over the years, the combined activities, along with the acknowledgment that the winter water averaging strategy for setting monthly sewer rates has lowered the city’s overall water consumption,” Wilson said.
In Havasu, total water consumption has more than halved in the past thirty years. In 1985, water consumption peaked at more than 450 gallons daily per capita. As of 2015, Havasu’s total water consumption was recorded at about 175 gallons per capita, daily, and trending even lower. Residential water consumption in Havasu was recorded at about 130 gallons per capita, daily.
Conservation efforts continue statewide, according to Arizona Department of Water Resources spokeswoman Michelle Moreno.
“As a state, we’re more efficient in water conservation,” Moreno said. “We use less than we did in the 1950s, despite a 600-percent population increase, in part because of our conservation efforts.”
Arizona regulates water use on an industrial level, maintaining mandatory conservation while allowing providers to educate customers in conservation efforts. Some water providers offer rebates to customers for efforts to conserve water at home.
The Central Arizona Project is continuing to lead conservation programs to prevent a shortage in 2018, according to the Department of Water Resources, but the risks of another shortage are expected to increase from 2019-21.
Stakeholders in the Lower-Basin Colorado River expected this year’s conference to focus on agreements associated with the Drought Contingency Plan, which would revise water conservation efforts and restrictions in the event of a water shortage. Stakeholders also expected announcements involving an agreement on water rights and restrictions between the U.S. and Mexico. No such announcements came, which could hold consequences for Lake Havasu City, as well as the American Southwest.
The situation in Lake Mead is only projected to become worse, according to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. Lake Mead’s surface now rests at about 1,077 feet above sea level, and Bureau of Reclamation officials say there is a 54 percent chance that the lake will fall below 1,075 feet in 2017.
Lake Mead’s water levels are measured every August, and the results of that month’s measurement will determine if cuts will need to be made, according to the Arizona Department of Water Resources. If Mead’s water level falls below 1,075 feet above sea level in August 2017, Arizona water providers will be forced to reduce their water usage by 192,000 acre-feet until August 2018, according to new proposed guidelines. Nevada would similarly have to reduce water usage by 8,000 acre-feet per year, while California would not be required to make reductions at all.
Arizona, California and Nevada each have an interest in maintaining Lake Mead’s water levels. Mead represents one of the two largest reservoirs in the Colorado River system, and directly affects the supply of river water to all three states. Federal agencies measure Lake Mead’s water levels to determine whether a shortage should be declared on the Colorado River. If such a shortage were declared, California would be asked to make significant cuts to its water usage.
Arizona, California and Nevada are negotiating the terms for their proposed “Lower Colorado River Basin Drought Contingency Plan,” which would revise 2007 water restriction guidelines among the three states. According to the 2007 guidelines, Arizona would make the bulk of reductions in the event of a shortage, despite consuming less than either of its neighboring states. California, however, would never face water restrictions, no matter how low the water levels become at Lake Mead.
The Colorado River provides water to 13 percent of America’s population. More than 40 million people rely on the river, but water shortages have exposed a need for changes in water use and policy. According to this month’s Arizona Department of Water Resources Drought Index, Southwestern Arizona continues to undergo severe drought conditions and the Havasu region is beginning to experience an “abnormally dry” season.
As negotiations continue between Arizona, Nevada and California, the Department of Water Resources says the next steps for its “Lower Colorado River Basin Drought Contingency Plan” discussions will include continuing to assess potential impacts on the southwest.
FromAspen Public Radio (Elizabeth Stewart-Severy):
The deadline to file a formal objection is the end of the month, and Matt Rice, the Colorado River basin director for American Rivers, thinks the public needs to better understand what these conditional rights actually mean.
“Conditional water rights can only be used for one thing, one thing alone right now, and that is to fill a 170-foot dam on Castle Creek and a 155-foot dam on Maroon Creek,” Rice said.
He said conditional rights do not protect the creeks from another entity filing for claims on that water, and such claims from government officials are misleading.
“Those water rights … can not be swept up by some other entity,” Rice said. “At one point there were hundreds of conditional water rights throughout the state and many have been abandoned in recent years by entities like the Colorado River District and Denver Water with absolutely no consequences.”
This is the first time that the city will face opposition as it files to keep the conditional water rights, which the municipal government has owned since 1971.
FromThe Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Katie Langford):
Even before he designed lightweight, biodegradable water pouches, local inventor and entrepreneur Tim Huff had his eyes on a much bigger project.
As the founder of Palisade-based company Colorado Clear, Huff has always dreamed of a way to provide clean water in large quantities to those who need it the most, whether they’re people living in an impoverished country or a disaster-stricken community.
“The logistics of shipping water is horrible,” Huff said. “Water weighs an exorbitant amount.”
It takes semitrailer after semitrailer to bring enough clean water to communities in need, and the waste that’s left behind stays in landfills for hundreds of years.
And even with a water filtration plant built in a community, people might not have sterile containers to haul and store the water safely.
What people really need, Huff said, is an all-in-one water purification and bottling system — a system that will purify water on site, then put it into sterile containers that won’t overwhelm landfills. The system needs components that are small enough to be hauled in a standard pickup or airplane, yet hefty enough to purify and bottle thousands of bottles of water in a day.
Huff didn’t see anything like that on the market, so he created it.
Huff and the Colorado Clear team finished their first model in November and have since received calls from across the country and the world. From Flint, Michigan, to Ghana, governments and organizations are asking for one of Huff’s systems.
Some can pay for it out of pocket, but many others can’t.
People desperately need clean water, Huff said, and he’s looking for public and private investors to bring it to them.
“We want to get the word out to the right people in government or the (non-governmental organizations) who are willing to back this and get this technology out to the people,” Huff said. “It’s something that the world needs.”
It’s also something Mesa County needs, because Huff said he is committed to manufacturing his product in the Grand Valley.
The first mobile purification and bottling system was almost entirely sourced from nine local companies.
“Our goal is to have a global solution for this problem but at the same time put our community back to work with something that is a year-round need, globally,” he said.
While he’s happy that his biodegradable water “amphoras” will mean less trash in the world, Huff said he’s more focused on the people who die every day because they don’t have access to clean water.
“It’s more important to us, getting safe water to people,” Huff said. “I think that’s a bigger issue.”
More than 70 percent of Latino voters are deeply concerned about the environment and how it affects their families. That’s according to a new Latino Decisions poll, which found over 90 percent of Latino Coloradans want the President-elect and new Congress to fight climate change.
Dominick Moreno, incoming Colorado Senator for Adams County, said he isn’t surprised by the poll results.
“The Latino community, I think, in Colorado really cares about the environment, cares about climate change and doing something about that, and is generally, I think, more environmentally sensitive to these issues,” he said.
He added that the survey confirms Latinos are an increasingly important voting bloc and are willing to take their convictions into the voting booth. In Colorado, 96 percent of Latinos surveyed said they support candidates who work to protect public health by limiting air pollution.
Nationally, Latino Republicans were less enthusiastic than Democrats about the need for action on climate change, but more than 60 percent agreed it’s an important issue. Over 90 percent want more clean-energy development.
Senior analyst of Latino Decisions, Edward Vargas, said these voters care about the environment because Latino communities are disproportionately affected.
“We tend to reside and live near environmental dump sites, factories; Latinos are also more likely to be working in the fields,” he explained. “So, I think this is just a reflection of where we live and where we work is impacted by the environment.”
Moreno said he’s confident the Latino community will keep a watchful eye on the Trump administration and Congress in case they try to reverse progress on climate change or let energy producers off the hook.
“You’re going to see them really, I think, rise up and say that we’re not going to accept the status quo, that we’re not going to accept halting the work that we’ve already done to make sure that, no matter where you live, that you have access to clean air and clean water, and outdoor recreation,” Moreno added.
State and local water officials will host an informational meeting and discussion forum for water users and others interested in the water supply of the South Fork Republican River. The meeting will take place at 1:00 p.m. CST on Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2017, at the Cheyenne County 4-H building at the fairgrounds on N. College Street, St. Francis.
The Kansas Department of Agriculture and the Kansas Water Office will share information about the resolutions reached between Kansas, Colorado and Nebraska this year. Stakeholders are encouraged to attend and provide input to state water officials charged with administering the Republican River Compact. The Vision for the Future of Water Supply in Kansas includes a focus to represent Kansas in interstate water issues in order to best serve Kansas and its citizens.
“We want to hear from water users in the area as we continue to represent their needs in these interstate issues,” said Secretary of Agriculture Jackie McClaskey. “This long-term agreement reached by the three states will provide flexibility and greater certainty to all water users in this region.”
Meanwhile, there is a meeting about the South Fork of the Republican River on January 4, 2017 in Saint Francis:
A meeting and discussion about the South Fork of the Republican River will begin at 1 p.m. Jan. 4 at the Cheyenne County 4-H Building in St. Francis.
Kansas Department of Agriculture and Kansas Water Office officials will share information on resolutions reached between Kansas, Colorado and Nebraska.
The Colorado agreement provides a path aimed at improving streamflow in the South Fork of the Republican, which flows through Cheyenne County in northwest Kansas. Included is a Colorado commitment to retire 25,000 more groundwater-irrigated acres to improve flows into Kansas, according to the Kansas Agriculture Department’s website.
The Nebraska agreement is billed to provide Kansas water users “much more certainty that there will be a viable irrigation supply during dry periods,” by delivering and storing “Compliance Water” to Harlan County Reservoir in southern Nebraska for Kansas irrigation use, the website reads.
Continued operations of the temporary water treatment plant north of Silverton received near unanimous support during a 30-day public comment period.
From Nov. 14 to Dec. 14, the Environmental Protection Agency accepted public comments on whether to continue operations at the plant that handles acidic discharges from the Gold King Mine.
The EPA previously announced it preferred that option while it continues to evaluate long-term options for the recently declared Bonita Peak Mining District Superfund site, which would address issues at 48 mining-related sites around Silverton.
The public comment period was part of a formal process to move the plant from “emergency removal action” funding to a “non-time critical removal action” funding, which is part of the Superfund process.
The agency received 12 submissions, mostly from government entities affected by the Aug. 5, 2015, Gold King Mine blowout, with only one resident weighing in.
The government entities in favor of continued operations included the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment; the Colorado Attorney General’s Office; La Plata County; San Juan County; the town of Silverton; the Utah Department of Environmental Quality, and Congressman Scott Tipton.
Trout Unlimited, an environmental group, and Duranglers Flies and Supplies also voiced support for keeping the plant running.
While all the above-mentioned entities voiced support for continued operations, some suggested the EPA start treating discharges from adjacent mines, namely the Red & Bonita and Mogul mines, as well as the American Tunnel.
Others wrote that the EPA should secure a place to store the lime-heavy metal sludge byproduct of the treatment plant before committing to continued operation. The EPA has said it is searching for a long-term dump site…
A representative from Silverton Mountain Ski Area, which is about a mile and a half downstream from the water treatment plant, raised concerns about the treatment plant’s impact on ski operations.
The ski mountain’s chief operating officer, Tim Petrick, asked the EPA to consider installing better equipment for improved communications in the remote area, as well as perform dust suppression on County Road 110.
And a Castle Rock-based company called Jalema Technologies Ltd. that deals with mine wastewater treatment said the EPA could cut costs of operations “if a more studied plant design was implemented at the site.” The company then argued it had the technology to “produce higher quality discharge water for a cost similar to that shown for” the temporary plant, and offered its services.
One resident voiced support for the continuance of the plant, though the name was redacted.
Rebecca Thomas, EPA’s project manager for the Superfund site, said the agency will consider the comments and then make a decision through an “action memo.”
She expected the final decision to be issued in January.
This year, actual work will begin to repair habitat along and inside several stretches of the Big Thompson River through a grassroots group, The Big Thompson Watershed Coalition, that formed after the 2013 flood.
“2017 is going to be a big year for projects happening on the ground,” said Shayna Jones, watershed coordinator with the coalition. “We’re talking millions of dollars in river restoration.”
A couple of projects through the coalition have already begun, but several others are going to kick off in 2017. Early in the year, the coalition will put out bids for a contractor to work on a stretch about a mile long from Jasper Lake through Narrows Park, which is in the lower section of the canyon.
Estimated to cost $900,000, the project will include stabilizing sections of the banks, planting vegetation and creating what are called flood plain benches to allow the water space to spread out in the event of a future flood, explained Jones and Tracy Wendt, assistant watershed coordinator.
The work also includes improving fish habitat in several ways, such as building pools within the river and planting vegetation in strategic places to provide shade and cover.
“There will be habitat improvements for all different life stages of trout,” Wendt said. “It’s all the phases of their life to help them.”
Because of the fish habitat component, the coalition, in partnership with Rocky Mountain Flycasters, recently received a $4,500 grant from the Trout and Salmon Foundation. And the Flycasters, a local chapter of Trout Unlimited, also contributed $2,000 to the project.
The bulk of the funding, about $500,000, will come from the Natural Resources Conservation Service with the rest of the money from the Colorado Water Conservation Board, Jones explained.
This piece of the river winds through both private and public properties and ends just before the Narrows near the Colorado Cherry Company.
Other projects also are planned further west along the river with more money coming from the NRCS and the Colorado Water Conservation Board. The exact amounts of money and grants are still being finalized, though Jones did confirm the total work would be in the millions.
Other projects to rehabilitate the river and river corridor are occurring simultaneously including one that will begin in 2017 as a partnership with the coalition and Sylvan Dale Guest Ranch.
Work began in October and will continue this spring on West Creek, and other improvements began two weeks ago on Fox Creek. Both, located along the North Fork near Glen Haven, are being built in partnership with Larimer County, NRCS and the Colorado Water Conservation Board.
Also, Larimer County, private property owners, Colorado Parks and Wildlife and Colorado Department of Transportation officials are working on separate stretches of the river, with everyone working together for overall river benefit.
“We’re making sure our projects are complementing each other to make for an overall healthy watershed,” Jones said.
She expects the work to continue over the next three years as the Colorado Department of Transportation completes the permanent repairs of U.S. 34, which also include massive river restoration work.
Here’s an opinion piece from John Fleck that is running in the Sacramento Bee:
Once dreamed of as a Riviera, the Salton Sea has become a decaying, smelly mess largely written off by the state of California. But in the West’s deeply interconnected water system, a decision to accept the Salton Sea’s decline risks not only the resilience of California’s water supplies, but those of 36 million residents of the United States and Mexico.
Seven U.S. states, the U.S. government and the Republic of Mexico are at the brink of a historic deal to reduce use of water from the overtapped Colorado River system. But without California’s willingness to step up and deal with the problems of the Salton Sea, this vital deal could collapse.
Speaking Dec. 15 at the annual meeting of the Colorado River Water Users Association, Imperial Irrigation District general manager Kevin Kelley warned that without a firm commitment by the state of California to deal with the problems of the Salton Sea, Imperial will be unwilling to sign on to the critical agreement.
The problem is simple. As Imperial farmers conserve water – which they likely must if we are to balance the Colorado River Basin’s overdrawn water accounts – agricultural runoff to the Salton Sea is reduced. Evaporation from the desert sun shrinks the sea, exposing dry lakeshore and toxic dust. “For us,” Kelley said, “it’s an existential threat.”
We have been here before. In 2003, under an agreement among regional water agencies and the state, Imperial agreed to reduce its water use, knowing full well that without action in response, the Salton Sea would shrink. In return, the state gave what appeared to be a commitment to pursue an engineering fix of some sort to deal with the sea.
Imperial’s farmers have kept up their end of the deal, reducing their water use by 22 percent. But the state’s Salton Sea commitment has languished, and the citizens of Imperial rightly feel betrayed.
With another deal nearing completion to make crucial further Colorado River water use cutbacks, Kelley has drawn a line in the sand. Without a good-faith commitment from the state to keep its 2003 promise, Imperial will not sign the new agreement. Without Imperial – the largest water user on the Colorado River – there likely can be no deal.
The new agreement is in California’s best interests. California, Arizona and Nevada would agree to significant new cuts to protect Lake Mead, the reservoir that serves as the three states’ Colorado River savings account. Without it, a few years of deep drought could push Mead to dangerously low levels, putting water supplies to Southern California at risk. With the State Water Project linking Southern California to the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, the risks could ripple north through California’s entire water supply system.
Water managers in the rest of the Colorado River Basin – Utah, Wyoming, Colorado and my own state of New Mexico – are watching nervously. We worry that shortfalls in Lake Mead could lead like tipping dominoes to water problems throughout the West as we try to share this interconnected, shrinking resource.
California needs to keep its commitment to the Salton Sea.
ASPEN – The owner of a $12 million property in the Castle Creek valley where the city of Aspen says it intends to build a 170-foot-tall dam filed a statement of opposition in water court Tuesday in response to the city’s effort to maintain its conditional water rights for the Castle Creek Reservoir project.
The property owner since 2008 is Double R Creek Ltd., an entity controlled by Robert Y. C. Ho, a member of a prominent Hong Kong family, which paid $6.6 million for the land. Ho is chairman of the Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation.
About half of the dam would sit on a parcel of private land owned by Double R Creek, according to information on a map filed by the city with the state in 1965 and signed by Aspen’s mayor at the time, Harald Pabst.
The water rights for both the Castle and Maroon reservoirs were adjudicated in 1971. As such they are considered junior water rights in Colorado.
The dam, as depicted by the city’s map would be approximately 1,220 feet wide, from side to side, or almost a quarter-mile wide across the valley.
The statement of opposition filed on behalf of Double R Creek, Ltd., by veteran local water attorney Kevin Patrick, was brief. But it did say, “opposer owns property, vested water rights and decreed conditional water rights which may be injured if the court approves the application as filed.”
(In 2012, Aspen Journalism contracted with the Pitkin County GIS department to make an updated map of the dam and reservoir location, based on the 1965 map, and with property parcels added. In 2016, Wilderness Workshop created illustrative maps, also based on the city’s 1965 map.)
Environmental groups file
Wilderness Workshop of Carbondale and Western Resource Advocates of Boulder also filed statements of opposition in the city’s Castle Creek Reservoir case, which is being reviewed in Division 5 Water Court in Glenwood Springs. The organizations also each filed statements in the twin cases concerning water rights for Maroon Creek Reservoir.
Staff attorneys at Western Resource Advocates prepared the statements of opposition for both Wilderness Workshop and for Western Resource Advocates, and both statements in both cases were nearly identical.
The city of Aspen “must satisfy its burden of demonstrating a ‘substantial probability’ that it ‘can and will put the conditionally appropriated water to beneficial use within a reasonable period of time,’” the statements all say.
(Please see Wilderness Workshop statements on Castle and Maroon, and Western Resource Advocates statements on Castle and Maroon.)
Navratilova lot split
The other half of the potential Castle Creek dam would be located on property owned by ASP Properties, LLC, a California LLC. The county assessor values the property as being worth $10.4 million. ASP has not filed a statement of opposition in either case.
Both properties under the city’s Castle Creek dam site bear the legal description of “Navratilova lot split,” and the property owned by ASP Properties, across Castle Creek Road from the Double R Creek property, was the site of the former home of tennis champion Martina Navratilova.
The Castle Creek dam, as envisioned by the city, would sit astride not just the main stem of Castle Creek, but across the bottom of the Castle Creek valley. The dam site is two miles downstream of the Ashcroft historic town site and just upstream of the Mount Hayden trailhead.
The reservoir behind the dam would contain 9,062 acre-feet of water, or about a tenth as much as Ruedi Reservoir.
In addition to flooding private property, a small portion of the pool would inundate portions of public property owned by the U.S. Forest Service within the boundary of the Snowmass-Maroon Bells Wilderness.
Since 2010 the city has signed agreements with two other private property owners whose lands would be flooded by the Castle Creek Reservoir. The city agreed not to flood portions of land owned by Simon Pinniger and by Mark and Karen Hedstrom, on the upstream edge of the potential reservoir.
“It is expected that this commitment by Aspen will result in a reduction in the volume and surface area of the Castle Creek Reservoir, and Aspen has contracted for a preliminary investigation of the anticipated revised size and volume of the Castle Creek Reservoir,” the city’s due diligence application from Oct. 31 states.
The city also told the state in its application that both the Maroon and Castle Creek reservoirs are considered “part of Aspen’s integrated water supply system” and are “part of Aspen’s long-range plan to maintain a reliable water supply to meet current and future demand.”
The city has never completed a feasibility study of either reservoir, but argues that “when an integrated system is composed of several features, as is the case here, work on one feature of the system is considered in finding that reasonable diligence has been shown in the development of water rights for all features of the entire system.”
Also expected to file statements of opposition in the two cases are Pitkin County, U.S. Forest Service, American Rivers and several other parties. The deadline to do so is Dec. 31.
Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism and the Aspen Daily News are collaborating on coverage of rivers and water. The Daily News published this story on Friday, Dec. 23, 2016.
Here’s the release from the Eagle Valley Water and Sanitation District:
Water Authority brings new water storage tank online.
Representatives of the Upper Eagle Regional Water Authority, town of Avon, and Mountain Star Association gathered Dec. 8 to mark the completion of a new water storage tank that serves the Mountain Star community.
The Water Authority put the 270,000-gallon tank into service Nov. 15, after it was completed on time and under budget during a six-month construction window.
Envisioned in 1993 – when Avon originally approved the subdivision – the tank is one of five that along with five booster pump stations comprises the potable water supply system that had to be built to deliver water from the valley floor to the high alpine development north of Avon.
The 1993 subdivision approval anticipated this tank being built at a future date when suitable U.S. Forest Service land could be obtained. The then-existing Avon Metro District agreed that it would collect tap fees from homes that were built and served by a somewhat-temporary water supply system until this storage tank could be constructed.
The Water Authority acquired the necessary Forest Service property in May 2013 as part of the complex, multi-year Eagle Valley Land Exchange agreement. With the site acquisition costs and ongoing pump station improvements, the Authority has recently spent about $2.2 million on the Mountain Star system.
Mountain Star, Avon, and Authority representatives worked together for several years to agree on funding and construction of the final storage tank, which resulted in an Implementation Agreement. The project cost estimate of $1.85 million was more than the amount of tap fees collected by Avon since 1993, so Mountain Star homeowners agreed to fund the remaining cost. The Authority committed $135,000 to upgrade to a longer-lasting, less maintenance-dependent tank. The Agreement also included a guaranteed maximum price contract and a provision that Mountain Star homeowners would receive any cost savings.
The Water Authority used an integrated project delivery method for the tank and the actual cost is projected to be $1.55 million, a savings of about $300,000. The Authority will refund this savings to Mountain Star after final accounting of the actual project costs.
At 9,380 feet, the new tank serves higher-elevation residences and benefits public safety via enhanced fire protection. While the tank provides additional water storage, the parties are committed to efficient water use with many homeowners participating in the Authority’s water demand management pilot study to establish new irrigation practices that benefit landscapes while decreasing overall water use.
Contact: Linn Brooks, General Manager: 970-476-7480
A long-awaited ruling issued Monday by the Colorado Supreme Court sends Aurora back to court to discern exactly how much water the municipality can divert from the headwaters of the Fryingpan River through the Busk-Ivanhoe Tunnel under Hagerman Pass.
And the ruling clarifies that transmountain water rights under the Continental Divide in Colorado do not automatically come with a right to store water in a reservoir, anymore than other water rights do.
Aurora had argued there had always been an implied right in its decree to store water from the Fryingpan headwaters in Turquoise Reservoir. But the court didn’t agree.
“The supreme court concludes that the right to store water in the basin of import prior to use is not an automatic incident of transmountain water rights, but rather, must be reflected, or at least implied, in the decree,” the court’s majority opinion stated. “In this case, the decree is silent with respect to storage of the water on the eastern slope prior to use for supplemental irrigation and, on the facts of this case, the record does not support the water court’s finding of an implied right in the decree for such storage. To the extent that unlawful storage of the water on the eastern slope expanded the decreed rights, such amounts cannot be included in the quantification of those rights.”
The Colorado River District, which represents 15 Western Slope counties, said Tuesday in a statement it is “very pleased with the supreme court’s well-reasoned opinion in which it reversed the Division 2 water court. In particular, we are pleased with the court’s recognition that transmountain water rights are subject to the same legal principles as all other water rights in the state.”
As might be expected, Aurora officials were less pleased.
“The city is disappointed with [Monday’s] supreme court opinion reversing the trial court’s earlier decision,” said an Aurora representative in a statement. “The city regrets the departure from what it believed to be settled law regarding use of transbasin waters.
“Additionally, it appears due consideration was not given to aspects of the trial court’s determinations regarding the state of the law when the water rights were originally requested,” the statement said. “Aurora is currently evaluating its possible next steps.”
One possible next step is for Aurora to file a petition within 14 days for the supreme court to rehear the case.
If Aurora does not petition for a rehearing, the case will be sent back to water court in Pueblo for a recalculation of how much water Aurora is allowed to divert via the Busk-Ivanhoe Tunnel for municipal purposes, instead of for irrigation purposes.
The supreme court said the new calculation should include the 22 years from 1987 to 2009 when Aurora used the water for municipal purposes without a decreed right to do so.
And by factoring in those 22 years of “zero use,” the new calculation is expected to lower the amount of water the Front Range city can divert from the Fryingpan in the future.
Another aspect of the ruling could also reduce the size of Aurora’s water right, as the court found that much of the water diverted through the Busk-Ivanhoe Tunnel since 1928 had been stored without a decreed right to do so.
“Because undecreed storage of a direct flow water right may amount to an expansion of that right, any expansion of the Busk-Ivanhoe water rights resulting from the unlawful storage of those rights on the eastern slope cannot be included in an historic consumptive use analysis,” the ruling stated.
The court also suggested that harm may have been caused to junior water rights owners on the Western Slope by undecreed diversion and storage of the Busk-Ivanhoe water.
“Storage of a decreed direct flow right can potentially expand that right by permitting the diversion of available water not immediately needed for beneficial use — water that would otherwise be left in the stream for junior water users,” the ruling said. “This impact on junior users does not cease to exist just because the water is diverted for export to another basin. Junior users in the basin of export have a right to divert and use water not lawfully diverted in the first place under a senior water right, regardless of whether that water is diverted for transmountain use.”
Worth the fight
Pitkin County has been opposing Aurora in the case since 2009 and has now spent $353,000 in the process.
“It was worth it,” said John Ely, Pitkin County attorney. “It was important for Pitkin County to assert that transmountain diverters are subject to the same legal consideration as any other water diverter or water user, because Pitkin County hosts two of the larger water diversions in the state.”
In addition to the relatively small level of diversions through the Busk-Ivanhoe Tunnel by Aurora and Pueblo, significant amounts of water are diverted off the top of the Fryingpan and Roaring Fork rivers to the Front Range as part of the larger Fry-Ark and Twin Lakes projects.
Aurora still has a valid water right from 1928 to divert 2,416 acre-feet of water through the tunnel for irrigation uses in the Arkansas River basin.
But officials now want to use the same water for municipal purposes in Aurora, which is in the South Platte River basin.
And when the growing Front Range city came into the court in 2009 seeking a change to its water right, it admitted it was already using the Fryingpan water for municipal purposes without a decreed right to do so, and had been doing so since 1987.
However, Aurora told the court that that fact should not count against it in its change case. It also said it shouldn’t matter to the Western Slope how it used its water once it was sent under the Continental Divide, including if the water was stored in an East Slope reservoir or not.
A judge in Division 2 water court in Pueblo agreed with Aurora and ruled in its favor in August 2014. That decision was appealed by a list of Western Slope interests directly to the supreme court, which issued its opinion on Dec. 6, 2016.
Both the broad ruling, that storage is not an inherent right for transmountain diversions, and the narrow ruling, that Aurora needs to recalculate its historic consumptive use, were welcome news for Western Slope water interests.
“The reason our clients stayed involved is [that] from the get-go, Aurora was asserting some untenable legal positions that seemed to rely in large part on the concept that, ‘Well, we’re a transmountain diverter, so we look at things differently,’” said Kirsten Kurath, an attorney in Grand Junction.
She represented the Grand Valley Water Users Association, the Orchard Mesa Irrigation District, and the Ute Water Conservancy Districts in the case.
The other Western Slope parties in the supreme court case were Eagle and Grand counties and the Basalt Water Conservancy District.
The Colorado state engineer, and engineers in Divisions 1 and 5, were also in the case, and had sided with the arguments made by the Western Slope.
On the Front Range side of the arguments were Aurora, Colorado Springs, Denver Water, Pueblo Board of Water Works, Greeley, Northern Water, Southeastern Water Conservancy District, Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co., Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District, Busk-Ivanhoe Inc., Cache La Poudre Water Users Association, and the city of Northglenn.