From The Durango Herald (Ann Butler):
Standing on his deep roots in La Plata County, former state Sen. Jim Isgar may have made his largest mark on the state’s agricultural community. Two months shy of his 65th birthday, he died in Denver on Friday after a 4½-year battle against a rare form of leukemia.
Isgar had a long background in water before he was appointed to the Senate in 2001 to finish the term of former Sen. Jim Dyer, who resigned to take a position with the Colorado Public Utilities Commission. As a farmer and rancher in the Breen area, Isgar served on numerous water boards, including the La Plata and Animas-La Plata conservancy districts, the HH Ditch Co., including 25 years as president, and the Southwestern Water Conservation District.
Isgar would subsequently be re-elected twice to the Senate, chairing the Senate Agricultural Committee, before President Obama appointed him director of Rural Development for Colorado under the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 2009.
“Jim was a true Coloradan and a strong supporter of agriculture and water issues in the state,” said Bruce Whitehead, executive director of the Southwestern Water Conservation District. “Sen. Isgar was well-known for his influence over state water law and policy, and many bills had to be ‘Isgarized’ prior to passing out of his committee.”
Ann Brown, Isgar’s former campaign manager, still has a box marked Isgar campaigns in her garage.
“Jim fought in the state Legislature for the common-sense use of available water,” she said. “Not only was Jim a champion for water use, he was a champion for education. He lobbied hard for Fort Lewis College.”
From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Billie Stanton Anleu):
Mayor John Suthers is discouraged, frustrated and more than a tad disgruntled by Pueblo County’s failure to accept Colorado Springs’ offers of hundreds of millions of dollars for stormwater projects.
Friday, the county was to receive an offer to beat all previous propositions, one that also trumps the $15 million to $16 million annual expenditures under the city’s Stormwater Enterprise, a tax-funded program that ran from 2005 to 2009.
The new proposal calls for $445 million to be spent over the next 20 years through an enforceable intergovernmental agreement that carries $1 million penalties if the promised amounts aren’t spent.
In the first five years, at least $100 million would be spent, followed by $110 million over the next five years, $115 million over the ensuing five years and $120 million over what could be the final five years.
Why “could be”? Because if 73 targeted projects aren’t done by then, $24 million would continue to be spent each year until those fixes are finished.
The county’s consulting Wright Water Engineers and the city’s consulting MWH Global engineers mutually chose those projects to benefit Pueblo and Colorado Springs.
Since he took office in June, Suthers has stressed the importance of meeting the city’s obligation to Pueblo, vowing to spend $19 million a year, including $3 million from Colorado Springs Utilities, to improve conditions along Fountain Creek and its tributaries.
The mayor, City Council and Utilities have upped the ante considerably, though, since Pueblo County threatened to withhold the 1041 permit that would allow Utilities to launch the Southern Delivery System, or SDS, on April 27…
Pueblo County isn’t the sole source of consternation, however. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found during an August inspection that Colorado Springs falls short on water quality and stormwater infrastructure. The EPA warned the city and the U.S. Department of Justice that it might sue to restrict the city’s MS4 water permit.
City officials have been busy since, hiring engineer Richard Mulledy to head a reorganized Stormwater Division, scurrying to clean weed-crowded culverts, scattered riprap in channels and sediment-laden pipelines.
Mulledy, who previously worked for Pueblo, is optimistic about Colorado Springs’ new program.
“The improvement plan is very good – detailed, actionable, realistic,” he said Thursday. “The city has incredibly talented, motivated professionals. That, with the plan, I think we have a great opportunity.”
But the challenges are immense, Mulledy acknowledged.
“Fountain Creek is one of the most unstable, flashy creeks in all the nation. It’s a unique animal.”
Flows can vary from a base flow of 120 cubic feet per second to 20,000 cubic feet per second during a 25-year event, swelling the creek to 100 feet wide and 10 feet deep, he said.
“On top of that, the material along that creek is an alluvial field; it’s a sand. So it’s kind of the perfect storm.”
Pueblo knows that all too well. Colorado Springs’ growth has resulted in more impermeable pavement. But with the Waldo Canyon fire in 2012 denuding mountainsides, sediment in Fountain Creek increased at least 278-fold, pushing water levels far higher, Wright Water Engineers found in a 2015 study.
Plenty of federal and state grants helped Colorado Springs address that damage, and now the city is embarking on 73 projects designed to control flooding, reduce sedimentation and improve water quality.
Three-step process a beginning
First comes a $3 million detention pond along Sand Creek – “named appropriately,” Mulledy notes – to stop the sediment flow before it hits Fountain Creek.
Next is $2 million in Federal Emergency Management Agency projects from the presidential disaster declaration after the 2013 flooding, work that will rehabilitate wash-out areas, remedy sediment transport issues and improve water quality.
Then comes a $250,000 King Street detention pond off Fountain Creek, a retrofit to ensure full detention and address channel-forming flows.
“Instead of having just a flood-control facility, it manages that flow to more closely mimic natural discharge,” Mulledy explained. “And that’s a great thing, because what transports the most sediment is the everyday flow.
“Of course, sediment is the issue, because that’s what affects their levee levels” in Pueblo.
That’s only the start of the $445 million worth of work Colorado Springs promises to provide over the next two decades.
“Man, we put everything on the table,” Suthers said Thursday. “To the extent they’ve long cited that we did away with the Stormwater Enterprise, and we’ve offered far more than that. We’ve made offers to help with sediment issues and to push forward to fund the Fountain Creek (Watershed, Flood Control and Greenway) District.”
Colorado Springs Utilities is to pay that district $10 million a year for five years to perform more flood-control measures starting in December. But the district could get its first $10 million earlier if the SDS gets to start delivering water April 27.
“The other thing we’ve done, we’ve offered that any provisions in the EPA agreement to benefit them would also be put in the IGA,” Suthers said.
“We still don’t have an agreement despite the fact that we’ve stepped up,” the mayor said. “I’m very frustrated that we’re still so far apart. If we go to court, we’re going to say we’re in for far greater amounts. Litigation would simply not be a constructive way to resolve this.”
Pueblo County commissioners are set to meet at 9 a.m. Monday and Wednesday in the Pueblo County Courthouse, 215 W. 10th St.
From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Selina Heintz):
After nearly three years in development and 30,000 public comments, Gov. John Hickenlooper in November announced the first-ever Colorado state water plan. The plan prioritizes conservation measures by setting impressive statewide water conservation targets for cities and industry, and proposes annual funding for healthy rivers, creating ongoing unprecedented financial support for river assessments and restoration.
As the plan was being developed, the Routt County Conservation District decided to talk with farmers and ranchers on the West Slope about what water means to their families and communities. With an aim to increase awareness for people during the Colorado water planning process, the interviews were made into videos that vividly tell the stories of several agricultural families whose livelihoods depend directly on the availability of clean water to grow crops and feed livestock. Our hope was to educate Coloradans and provide real context about agricultural water use.
While talking to farmers and ranchers, we heard the same messages over and over.
For example, all are proud to be part of Colorado’s agricultural community, and proud that agriculture is integral to our entire state and a big piece of Colorado economy, history and heritage. And in that heritage and heartbeat, water is everything. Without water, a Colorado way of life is lost.
The biggest cautionary message from Western Slope farmers and ranchers: taking water from the West Slope could devastate the region’s farms and ranches and, as a result, the entire state economy. This would not be a viable answer to the state’s water challenges.
The reality is that Colorado’s population is increasing and as drought conditions mean less water, there is a looming shortage that must be addressed with smarter solutions to ensure a sustainable future for Colorado. Whether for domestic or agricultural purposes, we can all use water better. A recent poll found that most of us are willing to reduce our use and find other ways to protect our water supply.
Farmers and ranchers have already made some changes to help conserve water through methods like grazing plans and storage, where many farming and ranching families are ensuring that existing water is maximized and can be re-used downstream.
Education also becomes pivotal in the conservation process to help urban residents understand the multiple uses of water in the state. When someone turns the faucet on, it helps to know that their water came through a tunnel from a source on the other side of the mountains. That knowledge promotes awareness of our connectedness and sharing.
Should we forget that, we risk hitting a “tipping point” where we take so much water from agricultural use that we impact the economy of the entire state. We must implement conservation measures and use water wisely first. Drying up valleys is not what works best for the state as a whole. Once that’s done there is no going back to what makes our state beautiful.
While the new plan is far from perfection, we see some value for West Slope agriculture.
The plan includes a goal that would help shift from the so-called buy-and-dry of agricultural water rights toward greater efficiency and flexible ways to share water with cities and streams. And the plan, while not categorically ruling out transmountain water diversions, makes it much less likely that we will experience new, costly and controversial large trans-mountain diversions, which would harm rivers and diminish the water supply for farms and ranches.
In the coming months and years, the Colorado Water Plan will require that people from all corners of the state work together. We each have a role to play to meet challenging water demands and the demands of our entire economy. If we work together, and with the conservation goals and smart thinking included in the Colorado Water Plan, we should able to meet our water needs and keep our farms and ranches a key part of the Colorado landscape and economy.
Selina Heintz joined the Routt County Conservation District as a supervisor in 2014 and currently serves as treasurer. She is a fourth-generation rancher in northwest Colorado and has a bachelor’s degree in animal science from Kansas State University.