Glenwood Springs paddling toward whitewater parks, but rapids ahead

Looking up the Colorado River from the mouth of the Roaring Fork River. One of three proposed whitewater parks would be built in the river just upstream of the pedestrian bridge.
Looking up the Colorado River from the mouth of the Roaring Fork River. One of three proposed whitewater parks would be built in the river just upstream of the pedestrian bridge.

By Brent Gardner-Smith, Aspen Journalism

GLENWOOD SPRINGS — In its effort to secure water rights for three proposed whitewater parks on the Colorado River, the city of Glenwood Springs has reached formal or conceptual agreements with a list of opposing parties in the water court case, including Denver Water, but it’s still facing opposition from Aurora and Colorado Springs.

“We have a number of parties that have already settled,” said Mark Hamilton, an attorney with Holland and Hart representing Glenwood. “And while there are still some significant question marks, we think the process so far has been productive and continues to be productive.”

Since December 2013, the city has been seeking a recreational in-channel diversion (RICD) water right tied to three whitewater parks on the popular Grizzly-to-Two Rivers section of the Colorado River, at No Name, Horseshoe Bend and the upper end of Two Rivers Park.

The two wave-forming structures in each of the three whitewater parks would operate under a common water right that could call for 1,250 cubic feet per second of water from April 1 to Sept. 30, 2,500 cfs of water for up to 41 days between April 30 and July 23, and 4,000 cfs on five consecutive days sometime between June 30 and July 6.

The 1,250 cfs level is the same as the senior water right tied to the Shoshone hydropower plant, which is upstream from the three proposed whitewater parks. Glenwood officials have previously said, however, that 2,500 cfs is a better level for boating and floating than 1,250 cfs, and the city wants the flows of 4,000 cfs for five days around the Fourth of July to hold expert whitewater competitions.

But Aurora and Colorado Springs, both as individual cities, and together as the Homestake Partners, have told the water court that Glenwood is seeking more water than it needs.

“Glenwood has ignored the law limiting a RICD to the minimum flow necessary for a reasonable recreation experience, and instead has reverse-engineered its proposed RICD to tie up half the flow of the mainstem of the Colorado River,” the Front Range cities said in a June 2015 statement filed with the court.

And the cities, which own conditional water rights upstream of Glenwood, said that the city’s proposed water right “would dramatically and adversely affect the future of water use in the Colorado River drainage, if not the entire state.”

Hamilton has met twice this year with representatives of Aurora and Colorado Springs, most recently on April 22 in Denver, to see if a deal can be worked out on how much water is appropriate.

“We’re talking,” said Joe Stibrich, the water resources policy manager at Aurora Water. “But, we’ll see where it goes.”

“There are ongoing negotiations and discussions that seem to be productive at this time,” said Kevin Lusk, principal engineer at Colorado Springs Utilities. “Whether or not we can reach agreement, of course, is really up to how those discussions go.”

A status conference with the water court referee is set for June 23. The referee could then decide to send the application up to James Boyd, the judge who hears Division 5 water court cases in Glenwood Springs, or the parties in the case could ask for more time to keep talking before heading to trial.

“We are actively communicating with Colorado Springs and Aurora concerning the possible development of additional call reduction provisions in order to protect future yield to their systems,” Hamilton said. “And we remain hopeful that a stipulated decree may be able to be entered after completion of these ongoing negotiations.”

Glenwood has recently worked out a “call reduction provision” with Denver Water.

“There has been a lot of progress on our end with the RICD discussions,” said Travis Thompson, a senior media coordinator at Denver Water. “In fact, in the collaborative spirit of the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement (CRCA), Denver Water has agreed to allow Glenwood Springs to exceed 1,250 cfs under certain conditions.”

In the CRCA, signed in 2013, Denver Water agreed not to oppose a future recreational water right application if it did not seek flows greater than 1,250 cfs. But given that Glenwood is also seeking 46 days at 2,500 cfs and five days at 4,000 cfs, above the relatively consistent flow of 1,250 cfs, Denver did file a statement of opposition in this case.

Glenwood and Denver have now agreed that Glenwood would reduce its call for the whitewater parks to 1,250 cfs if continuing to call at a higher rate, such as 2,500 cfs, would limit a potential future water project that is described in the CRCA as providing 20,000 acre-feet to the East Slope.

Staff at Denver Water approved such an agreement with Glenwood on March 9, according to Thompson, and Hamilton said a copy would soon be filed with the court.

A map filed by the city of Glenwood Springs showing the locations of three proposed whitewater parks. The city is seeking non-consumptive recreational in-channel diversion (RICD) rights tied to six rock structures built in the river, two in each of the three parks.
A map filed by the city of Glenwood Springs showing the locations of three proposed whitewater parks. The city is seeking non-consumptive recreational in-channel diversion (RICD) rights tied to six rock structures built in the river, two in each of the three parks.

Other opposers

Glenwood enjoys the support of three “opposers” in the case: American Whitewater, Western Resource Advocates and Grand County, as the entities have filed statements “of opposition in support,” which is an option in Colorado’s water courts.

And Glenwood has now filed formal agreements in water court that it has reached with five other true opposers with a range of issues: Glenwood Springs Hot Springs & Lodge Pool, Inc., BLM, Grand Valley Water Users Association, Orchard Mesa Irrigation District, and Ute Water Conservancy District.

The Glenwood Hot Springs Lodge & Pool is concerned about the project disrupting the deep Leadville limestone aquifer that provides its hot water.

But they’ve reached an agreement with the city that allows them to review construction plans for the wave structures at the Two Rivers Park location and requires the city to monitor the resulting wave structures for five years to watch for scouring of the riverbed, among other provisions.

And an agreement between Glenwood and the BLM was filed with the court in June 2015. It says that if the city needs to cross BLM property to create a whitewater park in Horseshoe Bend then the city will go through the required federal land use process.

The city has also signed a memorandum of understanding with CDOT that moves issues coming from the use of land at the No Name rest area on I-70 out of water court and into a future potential land-use application.

“One of the conditions is that the city will have to work with CDOT as they move forward with building the whitewater park, as the (No Name) location falls in CDOT right-of-way,” said Tracy Trulove, a communications manager for CDOT. The agreement has yet to be filed with the court.

A graphic presented to the Glenwood Springs city council in December showing the size and timing of the city's water right application on the Colorado River. The large dark blue block at the bottom represents a seasonal base line flow of 1,250 cfs. The smaller block on top represents 46 days at 2,500, the narrow dark blue spike is 5 days at 4,000 cfs.
A graphic presented to the Glenwood Springs city council in December showing the size and timing of the city's water right application on the Colorado River. The large dark blue block at the bottom represents a seasonal base line flow of 1,250 cfs. The smaller block on top represents 41 days at 2,500, the narrow dark blue spike is 5 days at 4,000 cfs.

District support

The city is also close to finalizing agreements with the Colorado River District, the town of Gypsum, and the West Divide Water Conservancy District, according to Hamilton.

Peter Fleming, general counsel for the Colorado River District, which represents 15 West Slope counties, said staff at the district is now comfortable with proposed settlement language in the Glenwood case.

And he said once the district’s initial goals in a RICD case are met, the district often stays in the case on the side of the applicants “in order to support the right of its constituents to use water for recreational purposes that will support and/or enhance the local economy.”

“We anticipate that such participation may be necessary in the Glenwood Springs RICD case,” Fleming said.

At the end of the list of opposers is the Colorado Water Conservation Board, a state agency whose board of directors in June 2015 recommended against the proposed RICD after concluding it would “impair Colorado’s ability to fully develop its compact entitlements” and would not promote “the maximum beneficial use of water” in the state.

“While we stand by our initial decision on this RICD, we’re encouraged that the applicants are actively seeking resolution with stakeholders and hope they will resolve the issues we raised,” James Eklund, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, said this week.

Eklund said the CWCB staff will likely reconsider Glenwood’s proposal after it has reached agreements with other opposing parties in the case, and if staff is satisfied, bring the proposed decree back to the board.

“Water for recreation in Glenwood Springs and around Colorado is essential and we want to make sure all RICDs strike the right legal, design, and safety balance,” Eklund said.

Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism and the Aspen Daily News are collaborating on coverage of water and rivers in Colorado. The Daily News published this story on Saturday, April 30, 2016.

Arkansas River Basin Water Forum recap: “There is no such thing as an average year” — Nolan Doesken

Upper Colorado River Basin May 2015 precipitation as a percent of normal
Upper Colorado River Basin May 2015 precipitation as a percent of normal

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Many of those who attended the Arkansas River Basin Water Forum showed up wearing short sleeves and enjoyed rafting or fishing adventures on the first day of the event.

Thursday, it was spitting snow.

Nothing better could illustrate the “trend” of climate in Southern Colorado.

State Climatologist Nolan Doesken illustrated this by flashing up a series of graphs that showed historical temperatures, precipitation and snowpack moving up and down seemingly at random. One graph showing multiple years with brightly colored lines looked more like an Op Art poster from the 1960s than weather data.

“It could be a hot summer. Rain? Who knows?” Doesken shrugged. “When in doubt, put out your rain gauge. There is no such thing as an average year.”

Still, scientists and engineers are determined to put numbers to this chaotic system.

Doesken described last year’s Miracle May, which boosted water supply, but got hoots from some water managers because of the flooding problems it caused. On a graph, it produced a fat bulge seldom equaled in many parts of the state.

And the effects of that month of moisture are still felt one year later.

Garrett Marcus, engineer for the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, outlined the current reservoir storage for the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project.

Release of water stored in Lake Pueblo this year seemed likely because of high storage levels coupled with a revision of capacity because of sedimentation. But cooperative efforts in March, coupled with a lack of precipitation, allowed levels to reach the mark deemed necessary for flood control by mid-April.

New snow now is improving the outlook for water supply.

“The last couple storms gave us the jump we needed,” Marcus said.

Bill Tyner, assistant division engineer for the state Division of Water Resources, talked about storage. The basin has 118 reservoirs, which can store up to 1.7 million acre-feet of decreed water rights.

The five largest reservoirs (John Martin, Pueblo, Twin Lakes, Turquoise and Nee Noshe) could hold 1 million acre-feet. Of those, John Martin and Nee Noshe are typically largely empty, but fuller than usual because of the 2015 rains.

The others are small, and in some cases restricted.

“To maintain the storage we think we have, we’ll have to spend a lot of money,” Tyner said.

Tammy Ivanenko, of the U.S. Geological Survey, outlined water use in Colorado and the Arkansas River basin based on the agency’s five-year reports from 1985-2015.

Surprisingly, state municipal water use has plateaued during that time, despite a growth in population to 5 million people from 3.5 million in 1985.

She speculated that conservation efforts, including water smart appliances, have caused the decreasing per capita use.

In the Arkansas River basin, about 68 percent of the water is used for irrigation, an amount lower than is often cited. Power generation uses about 15 percent; public supply, 8 percent; and industrial, 5 percent, according to the USGS data.

Arkansas River: Voluntary flow program renewed — The Pueblo Chieftain

Caddis fly hatch photo via
Caddis fly hatch photo via

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Flows on the Upper Arkansas River support the most rafted river in the country and gold medal fisheries on a 102-mile reach.

A large part of that is the voluntary flow management agreement that has been in place for 25 years among Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District and other water users.

The Southeastern district board unanimously renewed the agreement [April 21].

“Some of us have concentrated on the rafting, but there’s an awful lot of fishing going on,” said Jim Broderick, executive director.

The agreement maintains flows at Wellsville, just outside Salida, at 700 cubic feet per second from July 1 to Aug. 15 to support rafting. That’s achieved by timing the release of up to 10,000 acre-feet of Fryingpan- Arkansas water from Turquoise and Twin Lakes in Lake County.

“What a backyard we have here!” said Bob Hamel, an outfitter representing the Arkansas River Outfitters Association. “July is our busiest month, so the help you can give us is much appreciated.”

The program also helps fish by stabilizing flows during late summer, winter and spring.

For instance, during the caddis fly hatch which began this week, the flows on the Arkansas River are kept lower than they might naturally be, and even though it might be advantageous to move water in April.

“It’s an amazing balance. All these things are benefiting from the way you’ve been operating,” Hamel said.

Browns Canyon via
Browns Canyon via

EPA Bonita Peak Mining District superfund team lays out 2016 work plan

From The Durango Herald (Jessica Pace):

Environmental Protection Agency officials say by next month they intend to provide La Plata and San Juan counties a list of tasks it expects to complete in 2016 at the proposed Bonita Peak Mining District Superfund site.

“Next month, we could provide a more comprehensive briefing on 2016 activities, where we will collect data and figure out what questions that data will answer,” Superfund project manager Rebecca Thomas said in a brief meeting with Durango city councilors and La Plata County commissioners Thursday afternoon.

The rest of the year includes plans for a hydrology study to evaluate risks to human health and water quality as well as an evaluation of historic and cultural resources in the area.

Thomas said the sampling will answer the question of which mining sites, if any, can be quickly remedied and removed from the National Priorities List, such as those contributing to Mineral Creek, which is less complex than the areas surrounding the Upper Animas River and Cement Creek.

Thursday’s meeting was largely a repeat of information from the EPA, though local officials had questions and comments about the process.

“There are a lot of people in Durango concerned it could happen again,” City Councilor Sweetie Marbury said, referring to the EPA-triggered Gold King Mine spill on Aug. 5 that ejected 3 million gallons of metal-laden water into regional watersheds.

“How will you identify the risk areas to prevent another spill happening?”

Thomas said one of the leading priorities for the Superfund team will be to examine draining adits to assess their structural stability.

Thomas said the EPA is deciding whether to expand the Gold King Mine treatment facility to treat other nearby drainage sources.

The Bonita Peak Mining District near Silverton contains 48 mine-related sites and was recommended for placement on the Federal Register for Superfund designation on April 7. The EPA now seeks comments from the public, which can be submitted online at the EPA Superfund Program Bonita Peak Mining District page.

The Superfund managerial team will return for updates the week of May 23.

Meanwhile, Animas River pollution has many sources. Here’s a report from Jonathan Romeo writing for The Durango Herald

With much of the recent focus on the Cement Creek drainage, the major sources for metal loading into the reaches of the Upper Animas River remain a bit of a mystery for researchers.

Yet Sunnyside Gold Corp.’s four massive tailings ponds along the Upper Animas River – about a mile northeast of Silverton, above the confluence with Cement Creek – have long been under suspicion.

“From Arrastra Gulch down to Silverton, there is a substantial amount of metal loading, and it’s not clear where that is coming from,” said Peter Butler, a coordinator with the Animas River Stakeholder’s Group. “The sources are not as identifiable as Cement Creek.”

From the late 19th century to the early 20th century, miners routinely dumped any by-product from metal extraction directly into rivers or lakes throughout the highly productive Silverton caldera.

In the 1930s, Sunnyside began hauling ore from Gladstone through Silverton and up what is now County Road 2 to the Mayflower Mill for processing. Only 5 percent of the ore contained precious metals.

The leftover 95 percent of waste rock, which usually contained heavy metals that included cadmium, copper and lead, was dumped beside the mill until 1992. The four piles now stretch about a mile and a half.

Sunnyside over the years has conducted numerous projects to reduce the leeching of metals into the Upper Animas, including covering the piles with clay to reduce the entry of water and digging diversions to prevent groundwater from seeping into the ponds.

Still, high concentrations of metals continue to load, according to data collected by the stakeholder’s group. Butler said in March and April, more concentrations of metals can enter the river along that stretch than all the loading that discharges from Cement Creek, considered the worst polluter in the mining district.

On Tuesday, Silverton native Larry Perino, a spokesman for Sunnyside, revealed the results of sampling conducted last year during high-flow and low-flow points to the stakeholder’s group.

Water samples taken within the tailings pond showed levels of cadmium, copper and six other metals that exceeded Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment standards. Within the Animas River along that stretch, cadmium and copper were the only metals in excess.

However, the results leave many gaps for researchers characterizing the watershed. Testing occurred only a few days in May and September, and neglected the historically high period of metal concentrations that occur in March and April.

When questioned, Perino doubted the veracity of the historical data and cited the company’s tight time frame for testing. He later added those months would have been difficult to take samples given the inclement weather.

“I think it’s impossible (to draw conclusions) unless you’re out there weekly,” said Perino, adding the company has no further plans to test this summer.

Regardless, the next steps for remediating the tailings ponds are unknown. The site, owned mostly by Sunnyside, a subsidiary of mining conglomerate Kinross, is included on the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed Superfund listing, raising uncertainty over jurisdiction and responsibility. Sunnyside, one of the region’s largest and longest running mining operations, could be targeted as a potentially responsible party, despite years of undergoing voluntary cleanup projects aimed at being cleared of further liability.

“Right now, there are no formal agreements between EPA and Sunnyside,” said Rebecca Thomas, the EPA’s manager for the Superfund site. “So if they chose to collect data, that’s certainly their prerogative. We’ve had a cooperative relationship historically, and I think that will stay.”

Doug Jamison with the state health department said it’s too early to draw conclusions on just how much Sunnyside’s tailings contribute to the overall metal loading in the Animas watershed.

“I think there’s a lot of evaluation that needs to be done,” he said. “On the other side of the valley, there are also some potential sources.”

Indeed, of the 48 mine-related waste sites included in the Superfund listing, nearly 30 are along the stretches of the Upper Animas.

Perino said testing was done at Howardsville, above the tailings, to compare how water quality changed during its flow downstream, but he did not have that information available.

In the coming summer months, the tailings – designated a National Historic Landmark in 2000 – will be the subject of further scrutiny.

“In general, I think people were hoping (Tuesday) for a more definitive answer,” Butler said. “But I think what we learned is that it’s a difficult thing to figure out.”

NISP proponents plan to release 14,000 acre-feet per year from Glade through Fort Collins

Map of the Northern Integrated Supply Project via Northern Water
Map of the Northern Integrated Supply Project via Northern Water

From The Fort Collins Coloradan (Kevin Duggan):

Proponents of building Glade Reservoir as part of a massive water storage project have devised a different way of moving its water to thirsty Northern Colorado communities while putting more water into the Poudre River through Fort Collins.

The proposal from Northern Water and participants in the long-sought Northern Integrated Supply Project calls for releasing about 14,000 acre feet of water each year from Glade Reservoir into the Poudre and running it through Fort Collins.

The goal would be to put more water in the river to benefit its ecosystem and aquatic life, said Brian Werner, Northern Water spokesperson. It would ensure minimum flows of 18 to 25 cubic feet per second, or cfs, in the river throughout the year.

The proposed change is in response to comments received from the public and local entities, including the city of Fort Collins, about a supplemental draft Environmental Impact Statement, or EIS, for the project being reviewed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

“A lot of what we’ve heard was about having a healthier river,” Werner said. “This benefits the river.”

The move would do away with “dry up” spots on the river downstream from where irrigation companies divert water. Passage structures would be built near the diversions to allow fish to move up and down the river.

Water would still be taken from the Poudre River during times of peak flow and stored in Glade Reservoir, which would be built north of Ted’s Place at the intersection of Colorado Highway 14 and U.S. Highway 287. But the proposed release plan would address concerns about maintaining flows in the river, especially during dry years.

There is no “magic number” for flows that translates to a healthy river, said Jerry Gibbens, water resources engineer with Northern Water, but what’s proposed would be an improvement over current conditions.

“Eliminating these dry-up points and having a minimum flow above 20 cfs would have tremendous benefits to the aquatic habitat, and that’s really what we were going after,” Gibbens said.

NISP would yield 40,000 acre feet of water a year to participants. An acre-foot is about 326,000 gallons, enough to meet the water needs of three to four urban households for a year.

Northern Water announced the new conveyance plan during its annual water users meeting April 13. Conversations with local entities about the proposal have begun, Werner said.

Fort Collins officials are aware of the proposal but have not had time to evaluate it, said John Stokes, director of Natural Areas for the city.

Among the city’s concerns about the draft EIS was projected reduced flows on the river and the impact to aquatic life. Water temperature variations in the river was another issue.

The environmental group Save the Poudre, which has been fighting NISP for years, plans to carefully scrutinize Northern Water’s proposal before stating an opinion, director Gary Wockner said.

Adjusting plans for NISP is part of the EIS review process, Werner said. The Army Corps of Engineers, which has permitting authority over the project, is expected to release the final document for NISP in 2017. The EIS process has been delayed numerous times over the years.

Ken Kehmeier, a senior aquatic biologist with the Colorado Department of Parks and Wildlife, said the proposed operational change would improve conditions for aquatic life along the Poudre through Fort Collins.

“This is just one step, but it’s a big step,” he said.

More needs to be done to address conditions downstream, Kehmeier said, where water quality is a major issue.

Under the plan, water released from Glade would be diverted from the river near Mulberry Street to a pipeline that would connect with another pipeline from the reservoir carrying water to NISP participants.

The refined conveyance method is expected to add $30 million to $40 million to the price of NISP, Werner said.

But the 15 communities and water districts participating in, and paying for, the project told Northern Water to “go for it if it gets us closer to the finish line,” Werner said.

Find more information at Northern Water’s website, and the Army Corps of Engineers’ project page.


Webinar — Managing #Drought: Learning from Australia — Alliance for Water Efficiency

Click graphic to go to the Alliance for Water Efficiency website to download the report (Scroll down to the bottom).
Click graphic to go to the Alliance for Water Efficiency website to download the report (Scroll down to the bottom).

From the Alliance for Water Efficiency:

AWE President and CEO Mary Ann Dickinson, Dr. Stuart White, Director of the Institute for Sustainable Futures, and Heather Cooley, Water Program Director of the Pacific Institute will present on their recent report, “Managing Drought: Learning from Australia.” The report provides an overview of the key initiatives implemented by Australia’s four largest cities during an extended period of extreme drought, and outlines how those measures could help California through its current water crisis. On top of successes in urban water efficiency, other key findings in the report include:

  • Broad community involvement across sectors – households, business, industry and government – fosters a sense of fairness and collaboration in saving water.
  • Clear, credible communication about the drought situation and response is needed to maximize public participation and support.
  • Innovative water-pricing mechanisms, not employed during Australia’s millennium drought, could be used to incentivize water savings in California.
  • Click here to download the full report.

    Day/Date: Monday, May 2, 2016
    Start Time: 11 a.m. PDT | 12 p.m. MDT | 1 p.m. CDT | 2 p.m. EDT
    Duration: 1 hour
    Presenters: Mary Ann Dickinson, President and CEO, Alliance for Water Efficiency; Dr. Stuart White, Director, the Institute for Sustainable Futures; Heather Cooley, Water Program Director, Pacific Institute.

    Cost: Free.

    Click here to register.

    FEMA open house draws large crowd in Buena Vista — The Chaffee County Times

    From The Chaffee County Times (Mason Miller):

    Representatives from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Colorado Water Conservation Board, Chaffee County and the town of Buena Vista were in attendance April 27 for an open house meeting and presentation on the recently completed preliminary Flood Insurance Study and its accompanying Draft Flood Insurance Rate Maps.

    The maps includes base flood information and areas subject to significant flood hazards along Cottonwood Creek within Chaffee County and the town of Buena Vista.

    Before the presentation, representatives from FEMA and CWCB met with residents to go over impacts the FIRM and FIS will have on property owners.

    During the presentation, Thuy Patton with CWCB said the map updates had been ongoing for 7 years and said the primary focus of the updates was to digitize the maps and provide information on flood risks.

    She said the map updates were currently in the post-preliminary processing phase and said the town and county’s 90-day appeal period had begun March 10, noting it would be around another year before the FIRM and FIS became effective, following a 6-month compliance period after the 90-day appeal window. Town administrator Brandy Reitter said the compliance period was required for the Buena Vista board of trustees to pass and adopt an ordinance approving the FIRM.

    During the appeal period, Patton said residents will need scientific evidence proving FEMA’s original flood hazard determinations were technically or scientifically incorrect.

    “With our new studies and hydrology, we’ve been able to put that on a map so you can know what the (flood) risks are,” Patton said about the map updates and said the FIRM and FIS allows for current and future residents to assess flood risks on their property.

    During the question and answer portion of the meeting, residents expressed frustration over the amount of time left in the 90-day appeal period and the fact that town and county administration were not more proactive in informing residents sooner about the potential impacts the studies will have on their properties.

    “Our 90 days is halfway over and we’re just getting good information,” one resident said.

    While there were several questions submitted throughout the meeting, organizers did not ask residents to state their name or write their name on question cards, so question askers remained anonymous.

    “This is probably a lesson for us,” Diana Herrera with FEMA said. “We need to look at the timing of our community meetings and (consider) moving those up.”

    While going over information on flood insurance rates through the National Flood Insurance Program residents asked why property owners in the high risk flood areas would be paying the same rates as residents in places like New Orleans and Houston, some of which are below sea level. Herrera said it was a national rate and said the potential for flooding was the same.

    “This area is nothing like Houston, yet we’ll be paying the same rate?” one resident asked, noting places like Houston and New Orleans flood more frequently and more significantly than Buena Vista. Herrera said depending on the FIS and FIRM, residents may pay the same rates as those areas.

    In regards to if residents would be able to rebuild or build on a floodway or floodplain, Jamie Prochno with CWCB said residents would be able to rebuild on the same footprint as the previous structure if flooding was to happen, but said if residents want to expand or build within a floodplain or floodway, they would need to work with local government to obtain a permit.

    “There’s nothing that says you can’t build in a floodplain. However, you have to get a permit from your local government, meet all those standards, meet any local standards that could be higher than our state standards,” Prochno said. “Generally in a floodplain that’s going to be much simpler because you just have to build your structure high enough … if it’s in a floodway, it’s a little more difficult because that’s a hazardous area, you have to show that there’s no rise to the base flood elevation. Keep in mind, these aren’t just lines on a map, that water has to go somewhere.”

    Doering said in March that according to the maps, there are 276 residents inside of Buena Vista town limits affected by the floodways or floodplains. He said the majority of those residents are on the east side of the railroad, along Cottonwood Creek.

    Buena Vista
    Buena Vista

    History in the Making: SDS Starts Water Delivery [April 28]

    Here’s the release from Colorado Springs Utilities:

    One of the largest water infrastructure projects completed in the U.S. this century started delivering water today to homes and businesses in Colorado Springs, Colo. The commencement of the Southern Delivery System (SDS) culminates decades of planning and nearly six years of construction.

    See video.

    “The Southern Delivery System is a critical water project that will enable the continued quality of life southern Coloradans enjoy. The water provided through SDS means future economic growth for our community,” said Jerry Forte, Chief Executive Officer of Colorado Springs Utilities.

    Not only does SDS meet the immediate and future water needs of Colorado Springs and its project partners Fountain, Security and Pueblo West through 2040, it also increases system reliability should other parts of the water system need maintenance or repairs. The project will also help provide drought protection, a significant benefit in the arid west.

    Construction started in 2010 and concluded in 2016. Originally forecast to cost just under $1 billion, SDS is started on time and more than $160 million under budget costing $825 million.

    “On time and under budget are words rarely used to describe large infrastructure projects,” said John Fredell, SDS Program Director. “We adopted a philosophy that ‘these are ratepayer dollars’ and managed the project with exceptional rigor. It was the responsible approach to spending hundreds of millions of dollars of public money.”

    Components of SDS
    SDS is a regional project that includes 50 miles of pipeline, three raw water pump stations, a water treatment plant (pictured above), and a finished water pump station. It will be capable, in its first phase, of delivering 50 million gallons of water per day and serving residents and businesses through 2040.

    Key permits and approvals for SDS required $50 million in mitigation payments to the Fountain Creek Watershed District, funding for sediment control, habitat improvements and other environmental mitigation measures. Additionally, Colorado Springs and Pueblo County, just this week, both approved an intergovernmental agreement requiring Colorado Springs to invest $460 million over 20 years to improve the management of stormwater that makes its way into Fountain Creek.

    Early on in the project, SDS program leaders agreed to spend at least 30 percent of construction dollars on local contractors. More than $585 million, or about 70 percent of the SDS budget, went to Colorado businesses.

    “SDS is one of the most important projects many of us will ever work on,” said Forte. “This is a legacy project – one that benefits so many people today, tomorrow and for generations to come. This is an amazing day for our organization and for southern Colorado.”

    The new north outlet works at Pueblo Dam -- Photo/MWH Global
    The new north outlet works at Pueblo Dam — Photo/MWH Global

    From the Associated Press via The Aurora Sentinel:

    Water has begun flowing into Colorado Springs through a new 50-mile pipeline from the Arkansas River.

    The city says the $825 million Southern Delivery System started operating Thursday.

    The system is designed to handle growth in the state’s second-largest city until 2040 and provide a backup for its current aging system.

    Pueblo West, Fountain and Security also get water from the pipeline.

    The project includes modifications to Pueblo Dam on the Arkansas River, three pumping stations and a treatment plant.

    Separately, Colorado Springs had to commit $460 million to reduce sediment in Fountain Creek. The sediment harms downstream communities in Pueblo County, and the county threatened to revoke a required permit for the pipeline if the issue wasn’t addressed.

    Arkansas River Basin Water Forum recap

    Arkansas River Basin via The Encyclopedia of Earth
    Arkansas River Basin via The Encyclopedia of Earth

    Pressures on Colorado’s water supply are leading to innovative approaches that reduce the risk to cities, farms and the environment, and good examples can be found in the Arkansas River basin.

    The Arkansas River basin has felt the pinch from growth along the Front Range for decades, and like a sponge being squeezed, new ideas are emerging.

    There’s no better illustration than the way Pueblo Water is approaching its newest purchase on the Bessemer Ditch. In the past, the Board of Water Works practiced buy-and-dry, where water-rich farms were dried up permanently to supply the city, said Alan Ward, water resources manager. The attitude has changed.

    “Pueblo Water would like to see agriculture continue,” Ward told the Arkansas River Basin Water Forum this week. “It’s an important part of our heritage.”

    The water board bought about 28 percent of the shares on Bessemer Ditch from 2009-11, and agreed to allow irrigation to continue for at least 20 years under all of its contracts.

    The purchase and lease-back method is not new. Other cities, and Pueblo itself, have used it before. The farmers get large upfront payments, which in the short-term increase local economic benefits. But eventually, past sales of water have led to dry-ups.

    Pueblo Water now is looking at ways to ensure water would still be available to irrigate the farms on the Bessemer Ditch, with the city using the water when it’s needed.

    “Pueblo Water wants to add a municipal use to the agricultural use,” Ward said of the current court process, which will take years to complete. “But we want to move it back and forth and continue leases to farmers.”

    The same dynamics are at work with the Arkansas Valley Super Ditch, but the difference is that farmers would keep control.

    “This project is trying to incorporate a number of existing components, so we can have a viable lease-fallowing program,” said Leah Martinsson, an attorney for the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District and Super Ditch.

    She explained that state laws over the past 15 years have not been used much, because the traditional market forces that drive agricultural sellers and municipal buyers are easier for both sides. Some require storage, while others lead to long-term changes in water court that could reduce the amount of water under a water right.

    But that’s changing.

    In 2013, House Bill 1248 created a new process on a trial basis that would allow water to be leased from farms to cities (or other farms) under an administrative process. The water rights themselves would not change, as required under other laws, and farms would not be dried up.

    Water could only be leased for three years in 10 for the same parcel of farmland, or only 30 percent of a farmer’s ground could be included in any given year, assuring availability of water throughout the 10-year period of the pilot program.

    The new law was first used last year when six farms on the Catlin Canal were enrolled in a lease agreement with Fountain, Security and Fowler.

    “It’s voluntary, but all of the farmers wanted to participate again,” Martinsson said. “They said they wished they’d included more land.”

    The forum also looked at the possibility that less water would be available for imports from the Colorado River basin in the future. Under the 1922 Colorado River Compact, there is not enough water in average annual flows to meet all of the appropriations, said Aaron Derwingson of the Nature Conservancy.

    Some initial programs, funded by cities outside the basin that export water, are looking at ways to keep more water in the basin, reducing the risk that supplies would be curtailed, he said.
    Meanwhile, the Colorado Water Trust is working to preserve in-stream flows by brokering deals between high-country irrigators and the Colorado Water Conservation Board, said Amy Beatie, executive director.

    Gary Barber, project coordinator for the Arkansas Basin Roundtable, said all of the ideas tie into the Colorado Water Plan and the Statewide Water Supply Initiative, which both work to balance all of the state’s water needs.

    “The idea is to have a cycle where we’re getting projects completed as we’re planning,” Barber said.

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

    Vail’s Gore Creek looks pristine, but bug counters tell a different story — The Mountain Town News

    Gore Creek is healthy as it emerges from the Eagles Nest Wilderness Area, but has problems soon after, via The Mountain Town News. All photos by Jack Affleck.
    Gore Creek is healthy as it emerges from the Eagles Nest Wilderness Area, but has problems soon after, via The Mountain Town News. All photos by Jack Affleck.

    From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

    Gore Creek originates in splishes and splashes among tussocks of grass in the eponymously named range of 13,000-foot peaks in north-central Colorado. There, the water is as pure as the driven snow. Emerging from the Eagles Nest Wilderness Area, the creek passes a national forest campground, located along Interstate 70. Still, everything remains good, as attested by a profusion of bugs. Bugs provide food for fish, and what is a healthy stream, creek or river without fish?

    Downstream as Gore Creek flows through Vail for 10 miles, it has a more checkered life. As the creek flows through lawns and parks and under city streets, the bug counts decline, not uniformly, but enough so that the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment in late 2011 put Gore Creek on a state list of impaired waters. It’s still supporting fish. Four miles of Gore Creek remain classified by the state as a gold medal trout fishery. But it’s not what it could be.

    Gore Creek is not alone among waterways in mountain valleys that look pristine—but aren’t. Also listed on the impaired lists are segments of creeks and rivers at Breckenridge, Silverthorne, Aspen, Winter Park, and Telluride Colorado has 65 stream segments with impaired aquatic life because of high water temperatures, mining-related impacts or, as in the case of Vail and other mountain towns, the impacts of urbanization.

    It’s a story of a thousand minor, seemingly innocuous cuts:

    • Lawns grown to the creek edge, kept in mint weed-free condition by the application of herbicides and pesticides.
    • Twin frontage roads and a four-lane interstate highway, altogether eight lanes of pavement in a narrow mountain valley, along with paved areas for bus stops, traffic roundabouts, and all the other impervious surfaces of a transportation system that, together, provide an expedited pathway for pollutants to the creek.
    • An ill-advised community stormwater system.
    • Even the most minor of infractions, the slop from solvents used to clean windows that can, from blocks away, eventually get into the creek.

    But this is also a story about a community decision to confront the problem sooner, not later. The town council in March approved the first $2 million of what could ultimately be $9 million in actions to address urban stormwater runoff. Vail is an affluent resort community, yes, but also one that says that having a creek that doesn’t measure up, no matter how good it still looks, just is not OK.

    This nexus between land use and water quality is something that state water officials see as an emerging area of understanding.

    “It’s just so important to have that local dialogue about land use and water,” says Tammy Allen, restoration and protection utility manager with the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission.

    The creek long ago was put into a channel to accommodate the golf course, highways and roads. Photo Jack Affleck via The Mountain Town News.
    The creek long ago was put into a channel to accommodate the golf course, highways and roads. Photo Jack Affleck via The Mountain Town News.

    The Gore Creek Action Plan identifies 27 immediate actions to be taken from a total of 217. Some actions have already begun. In cooperation with the Colorado Department of Transportation, plans are being readied to address the mass of impervious surfaces at the East Vail interchange. The town also plans to modify its snow dump, ironically created 20-plus years ago to avoid putting contaminants from plowed roads directly into the creek. For some reason, it’s not working as well as intended.

    Then there are the manicured buffers along the creek, both along the parks and golf course. Can they be restored to more closely resemble what existed before in the riparian zones? On a cost-sharing basis, can those riparian areas of private property owners also be restored?

    Education is a big part of the project. The town budget includes funding for a full-time employee during the next two years. The employee will be assigned to work with the community, advising residents how to adopt what are considered best-practices to avoid pollution of Gore Creek.

    Yet other actions being launched are more tentative. What grounds does the town have for limiting how far property owners can mow the grass to water’s edge? What authority does the town government have to limit pesticide use on lawns and gardens?

    A more familiar story of water pollution once existed in the nearby Eagle River, to which Gore Creek becomes tributary at Dowd Junction. Extensive mining had occurred between the towns of Minturn and Red Cliff beginning in the late 1870s. Extraction of zinc, lead, gold, and other minerals at the Eagle Mine continued until the late 1970s, but with a lingering legacy familiar to nearly all places of hard-rock mining: the orange water that results from contact with fractured sulphur-based rock faces. At one point, the Eagle River ran so orange that water drawn from the creek to make snow at Beaver Creek, located several miles downstream, had an orange hue.

    Streets and other artificial impervious areas result in rapid runoff of pollutants into the creek. Photo via The Mountain Town News and Jack Affleck.
    Streets and other artificial impervious areas result in rapid runoff of pollutants into the creek. Photo via The Mountain Town News and Jack Affleck.

    The story of the Eagle River had turned around by the mid-1990s, thanks to the deep pockets of Viacom, the corporation that had swallowed the mining company – and took on its obligations— and the stick of the federal Superfund law. The Eagle River had fish again at Minturn. But just as they proclaimed success immediately below the abandoned mine, state wildlife biologists announced they had detected another problem. Shocking fish on the Eagle River at Edwards, about 10 miles downstream from both Vail and Minturn, they found disturbing evidence of declining sculpin and other fish. The problem, they said, was probably the result of urbanization in what had become known as the Vail Valley.

    In Vail, both the Forest Service and the Town of Vail had conducted periodic sampling of insects in Gore Creek. There was an awareness of a problem. Then sampling of bugs along the creek was stepped up in 2008 as the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District prepared for new state regulations governing nutrients from wastewater treatment plants. The district maintains a plant in Vail, just below Lionshead.

    Bracketing samples were taken up and down the creek: above and below the treatment plant, for example, and above and below the commercial area. This took time, but it also provided a clearer definition of problem areas. It also yielded a surprise: the area downstream from the treatment plan actually showed elevated counts of insect populations. Sewage effluent wasn’t the problem.

    “What immediately struck us was that the creek was probably going to get listed as impaired, and it had nothing to do with the point source, the treatment plan,” says Linn Brooks, general manager of Eagle River Water and Sanitation District. Reduced bug counts were being found upstream, “and so they must have to do with urbanization of the town. We didn’t know exactly what it was when we started, but we knew it wasn’t the wastewater treatment plant.”

    Riparian areas were crowded or completely eliminated as the town was developed. In this, Vail is hardly alone. Photo by Jack Affleck via The Mountain Town News.
    Riparian areas were crowded or completely eliminated as the town was developed. In this, Vail is hardly alone. Photo by Jack Affleck via The Mountain Town News.

    Driving all this was the Clean Water Act. Adopted by Congress in 1972 in response to outrages, such as the burning of the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland, the federal law was used to address the worst problems of point-source pollution. Examples include untreated sewage and pollutants released from factories into rivers and creeks. Administered by the Environmental Protection Agency, in the case of Colorado through the state government, the law has also been used to address the more prickly problems of urban and agriculture pollution.

    In the late 1990s, the EPA began implementing the law and refining the implementation.

    “Colorado mountain streams are generally in good shape,” says Karl Hermann, senior water quality analyst for the EPA Region 8 in Denver. “It’s typically mining impacts that cause water quality problems. But you do have this other situation of stormwater runoff that causes water quality problems. There’s a strong correlation with water quality problems and development, and typically stormwater is the cause of that.”

    But confusing in Vail, and some other locations, was the lack of a clear trigger to explain problems. “If you just measured metals in Gore Creek, you would never suspect something is going on,” says Hermann.

    One metric of stream health in Colorado’s high country is the state’s wildlife department’s specified listing for gold medal trout streams. Colorado has 322 miles, give or take. Included are the last four miles of Gore Creek, below the wastewater plant and before the creek flows into the Eagle.

    The state in March added a 24-mile segment of the Colorado River while delisting a 19-mile stretch of the Blue River, from the northern edge of Silverthorne to Green Mountain Reservoir. The river segment has not met the criteria of gold medal water for production of trout for some time. Jon Ewert, an aquatic biologist with Colorado Parks and Wildlife, pointed to the cumulative effects of unnatural stream flows, sparse aquatic invertebrate populations, low nutrient content, and degraded habitat.

    Vail’s listing on the state’s 303-D list of impaired waters provoked community meetings. Dozens were eventually held. Key stakeholders—the town, the river district, the Forest Service, Vail Resorts, and C-DOT, among others—were engaged early on. Many were looking for a single cause, a smoking gun, that could be addressed. Some suggested the pine beetle epidemic was the problem. Others pointed the finger at I-70 and the use of mag chloride on roads.

    “Everybody was hoping that we would have a silver bullet, just one, two or three things, that we could get done by 2013. But early on, it became apparent that this was death by a thousand cuts,” says Diane Johnson, communications officer for Eagle River Water and Sanitation District.

    This revegetation project uses log cribbing to hold the bank of Gore Creek in place while the plants get established. The logs will slowly decay. Photo credit Jack Affleck via The Mountain Town News.
    This revegetation project uses log cribbing to hold the bank of Gore Creek in place while the plants get established. The logs will slowly decay. Photo credit Jack Affleck via The Mountain Town News.

    Vail’s problem can be seen as flip sides of the same equation. Pollutants have been created in the long, narrow valley that end up in the creek. It’s no one thing. That’s partly why the town’s action plan calls for just $2 million in spending at the outset, to give time to figure out what makes a difference.

    In addition to the pollutants that end up in the creek, it’s also the pathways to the creek. Large impervious areas provide easy pathways for pollutants to go to the creek. But the creek itself has been extensively modified, mostly brazenly where it was channelized during the construction of I-70, now sandwiched by a frontage road and a golf course.

    In many places in Vail, the creek’s messy riparian areas have been sheared, manicured lawns installed right to the water’s edge. This might have an aesthetic appeal, but those native riparian areas served a function.

    Brooks, of Eagle River Water, calls the riparian area the creek’s immune system. Without that riparian area to filter and treat the water, pollutants directly enter the creek and impair the waters. This was part of the simplified message that she said had to be taken to the public.

    Vail’s story, says Brooks, is not unlike stories occurring all over the country, including other resort areas of Colorado. They differ in some particulars. Aspen, for examples, doesn’t have an interstate highway paralleling it, nor does Telluride. They do, however, have urban impacts, too.

    Where Vail stands out, she believes, is that the town was quick to react. “The political will was already there, and the science was already there.”

    As this is fundamentally a land use issue, the onus is on Vail, the municipality, as it owns 40 percent of the streambanks. But a majority is in private ownership.

    There was some pushback in Vail. Some thought C-DOT should have accepted greater responsibility. And at le ast one homeowner along Gore Creek protested that “bugs and beavers don’t pay taxes.” But that was not the dominant mood. There was, says Kristen Bertuglia, the town sustainability director, much less controversy than when Vail banned throw-away plastic grocery bags or mandated curbside recycling. Instead, the dominant response was “This is our creek; this is our home.”

    As for the measures in the action plan, they’re not particularly novel. For the most part, says Bertuglia, they were picked out from the EPA’s watershed manual.

    In the case of Vail, a community process was absolutely crucial, and it will be in other places, too, she says. “We don’t have a smoking gun, and they won’t either.”

    That’s another way of saying that with urban runoff pollution, there’s no one guilty party, but everyone is part of the problem —and everyone has to be part of the solution. That’s a long, involved conversation to have.

    Please support Allen’s journalism by subsribing to The Mountain Town News.

    #Drought news: No change in depiction for #Colorado

    Click here to visit the US Drought Monitor website. Here’s an excerpt:


    A large upper-level ridge of high pressure spanned the Lower 48 States (CONUS) this USDM week, bringing warmer-than-normal temperatures to most of the CONUS. But Pacific low pressure systems undercut the ridge, dumping rain and snow over many areas. This USDM week (April 19-25) ended up with above-normal precipitation across parts of the west coast, intermountain basin, and northern Rockies; much of the Plains; and parts of the coastal Carolinas. The week was drier than normal across parts of the Pacific Northwest and central Plains, and much of the Southwest, Midwest, and eastern U.S. east of the Mississippi River. Heavy precipitation in the Plains soaked into parched ground, with U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) reports of topsoil moisture improving 20 to 40 percent over the last two weeks from Texas to Montana. But continued dry weather in the east further dried soils, resulting in 20 to 40 percent increases in topsoil rated short or very short of moisture from South Carolina to Vermont. Consequently, drought and abnormal dryness contracted across parts of the Plains but expanded in the East. As this USDM week ended Tuesday morning, additional storm systems were poised to move across the CONUS…

    The Plains and Mississippi Valley

    Heavy precipitation fell on parts of the Plains and upper Mississippi Valley, bringing additional relief to areas where dryness and drought quickly developed over the past several weeks. Over four inches of precipitation was recorded at stations along the Iowa-Nebraska state line, with 2-4 inch reports common in the drought and abnormally dry areas of southeast Nebraska and northeast Kansas. Two or more inches fell over the D0-D1 areas of the Dakotas and Minnesota. The heaviest rains in Texas fell outside the drought and abnormally dry areas, although 1-3 inches was reported at stations in and near the Panhandle drought and abnormally dry areas. D0 was trimmed in Nebraska and D0-D1 were pulled back in Kansas. In the Dakotas and Minnesota, D1 was eliminated and D0 reduced. Parts of south central Minnesota had been drying out over the last several weeks, but 1-3 inches of precipitation this week prevented any expansion of D0 there. D0-D2 were cut back in the Texas panhandle and D0 trimmed in the Trans Pecos region. In the Texas panhandle, Lake Meredith has recovered to levels not seen in the last ten years, although the level is still below those last seen in the 1990s. Continued dry weather from Arkansas to Illinois resulted in expansion of D0 in Missouri and western Illinois. D1 was added in southwest Missouri where 67% of the topsoil moisture and 58% of the subsoil moisture was short or very short, according to April 25 USDA reports…

    The Rockies and Intermountain West

    Parts of the Great Basin to central Rockies received 1-3 inches of precipitation, with amounts locally over 3 inches in Nevada and adjoining Idaho. Smaller amounts fell to the north, with no precipitation reported across much of the Southwest. D0 was pulled back in parts of Montana and Wyoming, and D2 in south central Montana was deleted. D0 expanded in central Montana and across southeastern Utah where precipitation was below normal this week and deficits have intensified over the last 30-120 days…

    The Far West

    Coastal Washington and Oregon received 1-3 inches of precipitation this week, but these areas were outside the drought and abnormally dry region. Precipitation amounts were much lighter east of the Cascades, generally less than half an inch. In northern California, 1-3 inches of precipitation fell along the northern Sierra, which translates to well above normal, but normals are lower this time of year and the amounts are small compared to the multi-year deficits, so no change was made to the depiction in California and Nevada…

    Looking Ahead

    In the two days since the issuance of the April 26 USDM, additional heavy rain has fallen across the drought and abnormally dry areas of the central Plains, and precipitation of varying amounts has occurred over the drought and abnormally dry areas of other parts of the CONUS. During April 28-May 2, a large upper-level weather system and associated frontal systems are forecast to bring moderate precipitation totals of 0.5 to 2.0 inches, with locally higher amounts, to parts of the intermountain basin to central and northern Rockies, much of the Great Plains to Mississippi and Ohio Valleys, and the mid-Atlantic to Southeast. Less than half an inch is predicted for the Far West, southern portions of the Southwest, northern Great Lakes, New England, and central to southern Florida. The upper-level low is expected to keep temperatures below average for much of the country, with above-normal temperatures limited to the Far West and Southeast to southern Plains.

    The odds favor above-normal precipitation across the Southwest, Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic coasts, and most of Alaska during May 3-7, 2016. There are enhanced chances for subnormal precipitation across the Pacific Northwest to western Great Lakes, much of the CONUS from the Rockies to Appalachians, and extreme northwest Alaska. Enhanced chances for colder-than-normal conditions exist for the southern Plains to New England, while warmer-than-normal weather is favored across the West to northern Plains, Alaska, and southern Florida.

    SDS: “It has been a lot to get this Pueblo County agreement out of the way and taken care of successfully” — John Fredell

    Southern Delivery System construction celebration August 19, 2011 via The Pueblo Chieftain
    Southern Delivery System construction celebration August 19, 2011 via The Pueblo Chieftain

    From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Billie Stanton Anleu):

    The $825 million Southern Delivery System’s treatment plant was ready to serve drinking water Wednesday, as a project 20 years in the making finally made its debut.

    The distribution system will be turned on Thursday to deliver water to Colorado Springs, Security and Fountain, and water will begin reaching those customers Friday. The SDS already supplies water to Pueblo West, which needed early assistance after a major water pipe in its system broke.

    “Things are going great, just like we’ve always planned,” SDS Project Manager John Fredell said Wednesday. “We’ve worked on a lot of these issues a long time to get ready.”

    The project hit a snag last year when Pueblo County, which had issued the essential SDS 1041 permit, began seriously pressuring Colorado Springs leaders.

    The county insisted on more city stormwater projects to protect downstream residents from excessive flows, sediment buildup and water quality degradation in Fountain Creek.

    The City Council signed an intergovernmental agreement April 20. It promises, among other things, to spend $460 million on 71 mutually beneficial stormwater projects over the next 20 years, with Colorado Springs Utilities guaranteeing any funds the city can’t provide.

    Pueblo County commissioners approved that pact Monday, enabling SDS to kick off its operations on Wednesday, the target date set years ago.

    “It has been a lot to get this Pueblo County agreement out of the way and taken care of successfully,” Fredell acknowledged. “But I really did not fear that it wasn’t going to happen. It was just a matter of timing.”

    Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers has spent much of his first year in office negotiating with Pueblo County and with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on the city’s long-time stormwater program deficiencies.

    Dan Higgins, chief water services officer for Utilities, called it “a great day.”

    “I look back at all the things we’ve seen our team experience,” Higgins said. “We’ve been through so much together. It’s just a fantastic experience for everybody that’s been involved.”

    As usual, Fredell credits his project team for a job well done.

    “I’m telling you, without all these great people putting out every ounce of energy they have, we couldn’t have done it,” Fredell said. “And to me that’s just so cool, to bring all these people together and they’re all pulling in the same direction.

    “To me, that’s the coolest thing. I feel like the whole team, we have stronger friendships now than when we started. How many teams can say that? To me, that’s absolutely incredible.”

    The project team determined in July 2009 that the SDS would start operating in April 2016.

    “I’ll feel better Friday,” admitted Kim Mutchler, who has worked on SDS for Utilities’ government and corporate affairs team. “There’s a lot going on between now and then.

    “I’m happy for these guys who have been on this project for so long. It’s just exciting to see (Utilities) board members and previous council members. We had a couple out there yesterday seeing (the plant) for the first time. It’s nice to see them excited.”

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    The need for Colorado Springs to control stormwater on Fountain Creek was always tied to the Southern Delivery System, and the new agreement with Pueblo County is designed to cement the relationship.

    During the permitting process for SDS, stormwater control was mentioned in both the Bureau of Reclamation environmental impact statement and Pueblo County’s 1041 permit.

    Ever since Colorado Springs City Council abolished its stormwater enterprise in 2009, the city engaged in political gymnastics to assure Pueblo County it was doing enough.

    Monday’s completion of an intergovernmental agreement should represent an end to political bickering over stormwater, because it spells out very clearly what has to be done over the next 20 years.

    Commissioners were quick to point out Monday that the items contained in the agreement are not the only things Colorado Springs must do in relation to SDS under the 1041 permit. But they have to do these things:

    Fund stormwater control with at least $460 million over the next 20 years.

    The funding will go toward 71 projects on a set schedule that can be adjusted only if both parties agree.

    The amount of funding steps up from at least $20 million per year in the first five years to at least $26 million per year in the last five.

    While the money can be matched with other funds, Colorado Springs must come up with the minimum amount, but the sources are not specified. Annual reports are required.

    Colorado Springs also is required to resolve any conflicts with the IGA that might result from action by the Department of Justice, EPA and Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment over the city’s failure to meet the terms of its municipal stormwater permit from 2013-15.

    A provision of the IGA requires Colorado Springs to notify Pueblo County of any variance to its drainage criteria manual. The failure to apply the document to new development was among deficiencies identified by the EPA in its audit of Colorado Springs’ stormwater permit.

    Regional cooperation on Fountain Creek.

    The IGA triggers the first two payments of $10 million each that were negotiated under the 1041 permit. Five annual payments of $10 million are required. The money must be used for a dam, detention ponds or other flood control structures that protect Pueblo from flows on Fountain Creek that have increased because of growth in Colorado Springs and El Paso County.

    The first payment is actually $9,578,817, because of credits for payments already made and an “index” fee, which amounts to interest payments. It will come within 30 days.

    The second $10 million payment will be made Jan. 15.

    The payments go to the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District, which was created by the state Legislature to improve Fountain Creek.

    Formed in 2009, the district grew out of discussions between the two counties. Pueblo County Commissioner Sal Pace sponsored the legislation when he served as a state representative.

    The IGA also provides $125,000 to the district, which will be used in part to help fund a state study of a dam or detention ponds on Fountain Creek. The money is in addition to the $50 million required under the 1041 permit. The Fountain Creek board will determine exactly how the money is spent.

    Both Pueblo County and Colorado Springs agree to work with other governments to find a permanent source of funding for the Fountain Creek district.

    Colorado Springs also will pay $3 million over three years to the city of Pueblo for repairs to levees, dredging and removal of debris or vegetation in Fountain Creek.

    Pueblo is required to match the money, but can use about $1.8 million that Pueblo County is still holding from $2.2 million Colorado Springs was made to pay for dredging in Pueblo. Some of the money was spent on demonstration projects.

    The agreement also specifies that any disputes will be handled in the same way as disagreements in the 1041 permit. If not successful, legal action over the IGA would be handled in Pueblo District Court.

    2016 #coleg: Gov. Hickenlooper signs Colorado Water Rights Protection Act

    Gov. John Hickenlooper signs House Bill 16-1109 on April 21, 2016, with state Senators Kerry Donovan and Jerry Sonnenberg, state Reps. Diane Mitsch Bush, Jon Becker, and KC Becker; and Kristin Moseley, Theresa Conley, and legislative aides.
    Gov. John Hickenlooper signs House Bill 16-1109 on April 21, 2016, with state Senators Kerry Donovan and Jerry Sonnenberg, state Reps. Diane Mitsch Bush, Jon Becker, and KC Becker; and Kristin Moseley, Theresa Conley, and legislative aides.

    From email from the Eagle River Water & Sanitation District (Diane Johnson):

    Gov. John Hickenlooper on Thursday (4/21) signed into law House Bill 16-1109, the Colorado Water Rights Protection Act. Both the Colorado House and Senate had unanimously passed the bill, which protects state issued water rights on federal lands.

    HB-1109 confirms U.S. Supreme Court, Colorado Supreme Court and federal statutory precedent, which provides that water rights in Colorado are adjudicated and administered according to Colorado laws, not pursuant to administrative policies of the U.S. Forest Service or Bureau of Land Management. When it comes to securing water, the federal government must defer to Colorado water law and water courts. The Act also prevents state enforcement and administration of restrictions placed by the Forest Service and BLM on the use and alienability of private water rights, and provides tools for water right holders to fight these agencies in court if necessary.

    The impetus for the legislation dates to 2012, when the Forest Service demanded that ski areas, in exchange for renewing their leases on public land, turn over their private state issued water rights to the federal government. The ski areas sued and the Forest Service lost on procedural grounds. The Court ordered the Forest Service to go back to the drawing board, and while improvements have been made in the context of ski area policy, the Forest Service has subsequently issued other policy directives that raise additional concerns for private water right holders throughout Colorado.

    Accordingly, a diverse group of stakeholders, including municipalities, water providers, and agricultural, recreational, and environmental interests, worked together on language in the bill that protects state water rights and prevents environmental streamflow impacts. Legislative support was similarly diverse as state Reps. KC Becker, D-Boulder, and Jon Becker, R-Fort Morgan, and state Senators Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, and Kerry Donovan, D-Vail, sponsored the bill, with co-sponsors such as Rep. Diane Mitsch Bush, who represents Eagle and Routt counties.

    The issue has been particularly concerning for western slope entities given the extensive federal lands in the area. About 80 percent of lands in Eagle and Summit counties are federally owned. Eagle River Water and Sanitation District and Upper Eagle Regional Water Authority provide water service in eastern Eagle County and by necessity, have water infrastructure on federal lands. Rick Sackbauer, Eagle River Water and Sanitation District board chair, called HB16-1109 “a great victory for water right holders in the Eagle River valley and throughout Colorado” and said, “the legislation serves as a strong message to the Forest Service and BLM that Colorado water rights are governed by Colorado law.”

    George Gregory, Upper Eagle Regional Water Authority board chair, noted, “The Authority and other water providers have made enormous financial investments in water rights and water infrastructure in reliance on state laws. Recent actions by the USFS and BLM discourage such investment, create uncertainty in Colorado’s water rights system, and represent an effort by these agencies to benefit from the hard work of private parties without providing compensation. Passage of the Act ensures that such investments are protected for our customers, who ultimately fund public water service and infrastructure.”

    For more information, go to, link to a fact sheet, or contact general manager Linn Brooks at 970-476-7480.

    #AnimasRiver: “All in all, we are farmers, and farmers must farm” — Duane “Chili” Yazzie

    The orange plume flows through the Animas across the Colorado/New Mexico state line the afternoon of Aug. 7, 2015. (Photo by Melissa May, San Juan Soil and Conservation District)
    The orange plume flows through the Animas across the Colorado/New Mexico state line the afternoon of Aug. 7, 2015. (Photo by Melissa May, San Juan Soil and Conservation District)

    From The Farmington Daily Times (Noel Lyn Smith):

    This month, personnel from the Navajo Nation Irrigation Office in Shiprock have been clearing debris and completing maintenance on the system of canals that serves farms in chapters along the San Juan River. They are preparing the canals to receive water after they were closed last year in response to the Gold King Mine spill. That incident released more than 3 million gallons of contaminated mine waste into the Animas and San Juan rivers last August, and tribal officials issued water-use restrictions for the river water.

    Gadii’ahi is served by the Cudei canal, which receives river water through a pipeline or siphon that runs under the river from the Hogback canal.

    The Hogback canal delivers river water to the Shiprock and Tsé Daa K’aan chapters. Together, the system runs 30 miles from the Hogback diversion to the Gadii’ahi-Tokoi Chapter. A separate system — the Fruitland Irrigation canal — serves the Nenahnezad, San Juan and Upper Fruitland chapters.

    During the weeks that followed the mine spill, chapters determined whether to resume irrigating with river water or keep the canals closed.

    Shiprock Irrigation Supervisor Marlin Saggboy said the Fruitland canal started operating in early April.

    Meanwhile, chapter members served by the Hogback and Cudei canals decided to reopen the system after listening to results on April 15 from water and soil testing conducted by the Navajo Nation Environmental Protection Agency and New Mexico State University in addition to a joint study by the University of Arizona and Northern Arizona University.

    Saggboy said the Irrigation Office understands there were several concerns expressed by residents, but hearing the results, including a recommendation by the Navajo Nation EPA to reopen the canals, eased those worries.

    Farmers are not obligated to use river water, he said, adding that individuals can close their irrigation head gates.

    Saggboy said crews will be flushing the A and B canals in the Tsé Daa K’aan Chapter today as part of the efforts to have that system fully operational by next week.

    After the tribe eased water-use restrictions last year, the Shiprock and Tsé Daa K’aan chapters continued to oppose reopening the Hogback Irrigation canal due to concerns about the amount of heavy metals released during the mine spill into the river.

    The Gadii’ahi-Tokoi Chapter approved resuming irrigation activities, and the tribe’s Department of Water Resources installed pipelines and pumps to deliver river water to fields.

    Gilbert Harrison is the farm board member for the Gadii’ahi-Tokoi Chapter and president of the San Juan River Farm Board. He said the farmers were satisfied with the information they received April 15 about the testing completed on the soil and river water.

    “We look forward to it and (are) glad the water is back on,” Harrison said about the canal openings.

    The Shiprock and Tsé Daa K’aan chapters approved separate resolutions this month to open the Hogback canal.

    Shiprock voted 46-14 in favor of the measure with 10 abstentions on April 17, and the Tsé Daa K’aan Chapter voted 17-4 in favor of it with nine abstentions on April 18, according to a press release from the Shiprock Chapter.

    Shiprock Chapter President Duane “Chili” Yazzie said in the press release the decision was “anticlimactic,” and concerns remain, but chapter members “made efforts to reassure” themselves.

    “All in all, we are farmers, and farmers must farm, so the people have spoken,” Yazzie said.

    Jean Jones, the farm board member for the Tsé Daa K’aan Chapter, said chapter members voted on the matter after hearing testing results, which indicated the water is safe to use for agricultural purposes.

    “I guess it’s good,” Jones said adding a number of farmers are glad the Hogback canal is operating.

    #ColoradoRiver: Whither Lake Powell’s power pool? #COriver

    Glen Canyon Dam releases. Photo via Twitter and Reclamation
    Glen Canyon Dam releases. Photo via Twitter and Reclamation

    From Lake Powell Life (Mike Reilley):

    In Glenwood Springs, Colorado the Colorado River District is spending more than fifty thousand dollars on a study about Lake Powell water levels.

    The study is aimed at determining how likely it is that the water level on the lake will drop to such a low that the hydroelectric works at Glen Canyon Dam would be effected. In addition, those conducting the study need to know how such a drop in the level would subsequently affect entities below the dam, including Lake Mead.

    Reports indicate that the Lake Powell level must stay above 3525-feet. Currently it stands at 3291-feet. At the beginning of the new century the water level was 94 percent full. Today it’s at less than 50 percent.

    Downstream, if things do not improve there will be more significant water cuts for Arizona and Nevada unless the rains come and the drought ends. Water officials from those two states and California have been meeting regularly to discuss the situation.

    There’s a report that indicates that if things don’t improve on Lake Mead, the federal government, specifically the Department of the Interior, would begin overseeing the distribution of water. Lake Mead’s levels need to stay above1025-feet in order to avoid more problems and having the Interior department step-in. It’s currently at 1136-feet.

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

    Upper Colorado River Basin month to date precipitation  through April 24, 2016
    Upper Colorado River Basin month to date precipitation through April 24, 2016

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

    Southern Delivery System to be turned on today after decades — The Pueblo Chieftain

    Southern Delivery System map via Colorado Springs Utilities
    Southern Delivery System map via Colorado Springs Utilities

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    Colorado Springs Utilities plans to begin using the Southern Delivery System today, more than seven years after getting the green light from Pueblo County and the Bureau of Reclamation to build it. “We plan on 5 million gallons a day initially, but we may go less. It depends on how we use it,” said John Fredell, SDS project director. “On Thursday, the water we pump will be turned into our system.”

    SDS will be able to operate after an agreement was reached on Fountain Creek stormwater control on issues not explicitly covered in Pueblo County’s 1041 permit. The new agreement contains funding benchmarks that were not originally in place.

    Over the next 40 years, the amount of water pumped through SDS could increase to as much as 75 million gallons a day. Another 18 million gallons a day could be pumped to Pueblo West, which through a special agreement already is using SDS for its water supply.

    The treatment plant as built can treat up to 50 million gallons per day, but eventually could be expanded to treat up to 100 million gallons per day.

    As part of SDS, the city of Fountain can receive more of its water through the Fountain Valley Conduit, a line built from Pueblo Dam in the early 1980s as part of the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project.

    The other partner in SDS is Security Water and Sanitation, which serves an unincorporated area south of Colorado Springs and has an immediate need for a new water source because of well contamination.

    Construction on the $825 million project began in 2011, one year after the Bureau of Reclamation approved the final contract for the use of Lake Pueblo as part of the project. In 2009, Reclamation issued a record of decision that allowed the project to be built.

    Also in 2009, Pueblo County commissioners approved a land-use permit under the 1974 HB1041, which lets cities or counties regulate projects that cross their boundaries.

    SDS includes a new connection built at Pueblo Dam, three pump stations, a water treatment plant and a treated water pump station. The North Outlet Works, Juniper Pump Station just northeast of Pueblo Dam and about 17 miles of buried 66inch diameter pipeline are the features of SDS in Pueblo County.

    The project grew out of water resources plans that began in the late 1980s, when Colorado Springs purchased controlling interest in the Colorado Canal system in Crowley County.

    In order to use the water, as well as provide redundancy for its other sources of water, Colorado Springs developed a Water Resource Plan in 1996. That plan identified other alternatives to bring water to Colorado Springs, including a route from a new reservoir at Buena Vista, a Fremont County pipeline and a line from Crowley County.

    By the early 2000s, the Buena Vista reservoir was eliminated by environmental protests, and Utilities ruled out Crowley County because of the expense of overcoming water quality issues. By 2008, Fremont County and Pueblo Dam were being seriously considered.

    The Pueblo Dam option was chosen in Reclamation’s record of decision as the route.

    In the second phase of SDS, which is anticipated to begin between 2020-25, two reservoirs would be built on Williams Creek east of Fountain. The upper reservoir would be terminal storage for the pipeline from Pueblo Dam, while the lower one would regulate return flows from Colorado Springs’ wastewater treatment plant into Fountain Creek.

    SDS is designed to serve a population of 900,000, about twice the current number living in Colorado Springs.

    The 1996 water resources plan came at a time when Colorado Springs’ population had increased from 70,000 in 1960 to 330,000 in 1996. Utilities already is working on a 50-year plan to meet its future water resource needs.

    More Coyote Gulch Southern Delivery System coverage here and here.

    States consider more cuts on #ColoradoRiver to prop up Lake Mead — Las Vegas Review-Journal #COriver

    Lake Mead behind Hoover Dam December 2015 via Greg Hobbs.
    Lake Mead behind Hoover Dam December 2015 via Greg Hobbs.

    From the Las Vegas Review-Journal (@RefriedBrean):

    Top water officials in Nevada, Arizona and California have negotiated a deal to cut their use of the Colorado River and slow the decline of Lake Mead, but the landmark agreement is far from finished.

    Negotiators from Arizona and California are now shopping the plan to various water users and policymakers in their states, where the proposed cuts are likely to be painful and in some cases unprecedented.

    Arizona would shoulder most of the reductions, but the tentative deal marks the first time California has agreed to share the pain — if the drought worsens.

    “That’s certainly a huge step forward. We see that as a landmark outcome,” said Tom Buschatzke, director of Arizona’s Department of Water Resources.

    California is not now required to take any cuts to its 4.4 million acre-foot river allocation, which is the largest among the seven states that share the Colorado.

    The voluntary cuts being discussed are designed to prop up Lake Mead and stave off deeper, mandatory forced cuts for Arizona and Nevada if the lake sinks below levels outlined in a 2007 agreement.

    “It’s a risk assessment,” Southern Nevada Water Authority chief John Entsminger said of the plan and the talks leading to it.

    Buschatzke called the effort a “proactive, planned response” to what’s happening on the river before it becomes a crisis…

    Nevada’s share of the proposed cuts is comparatively small, but so is the state’s annual river allocation of 300,000 acre-feet, Entsminger said.

    Nevada would leave 8,000 acre-feet of water in Lake Mead each year under the first round of voluntary cuts, while Arizona would lose 192,000 of its 2.8 million acre-foot allocation. One acre-foot of water is enough to supply two average Las Vegas Valley homes for just over a year.

    The annual reductions would increase to 10,000 acre-feet for Nevada and 240,000 acre-feet for Arizona should the surface of Lake Mead drop another 32 feet from current level, to 1,045 feet above sea level.

    Elevation 1,045 is also where California would see voluntary cuts, which start at 200,000 acre-feet a year and increase by 50,000 with every additional 5-foot drop in Lake Mead.

    The voluntary cuts being discussed for Nevada and Arizona come on top of the escalating series of mandatory shortages the two states will have to absorb as the lake drops below elevations 1,075, 1,050 and 1,025.

    Entsminger said the most Nevada stands to lose in a given year is 30,000 acre-feet in voluntary and mandatory cuts. Thanks largely to the success of local conservation efforts, the state currently has a surplus of about 80,000 acre-feet available annually to absorb the cuts.

    “We think at all reservoir elevations there’s not a volume that we can’t handle,” he said.

    Buschatzke said Arizona officials are in the early stages of selling the plan to water users. The deal also requires the blessing of the Arizona Legislature, something that’s unlikely to happen until next year.

    California officials face a similar uphill battle as they lobby in the Golden State, Buschatzke said…

    On Tuesday, Nevada Sens. Harry Reid and Dean Heller won Senate approval for an amendment that would add $50 million to a program that pays cities, farms, factories and power plants for efficiency improvements aimed at keeping more water in the river.

    The Colorado River System Conservation Program was launched in 2014 with $11 million in seed money from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the water authority and the largest municipal water suppliers in Arizona, California and Colorado.

    Reid in a telephone call Tuesday said the pilot program has “done well” so far, but the river needs all the help it can get.

    “My dad used to swim across the Colorado River,” the Searchlight native said. “The Colorado River is a tiny little river to do all that it’s counted on to do.”

    2015 #coleg: HB16-1337 (Appellate Process For Decisions About Groundwater) killed in Senate Judiciary Comm.

    Crop circles -- irrigated agriculture
    Crop circles — irrigated agriculture

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Charles Ashby):

    A bill to prevent new evidence from being presented in groundwater rights appeals got caught in a legislative maelstrom Tuesday from which it can’t return.

    After more than two hours of public testimony, most of which was in favor of the idea, the measure at first failed to get a motion to be referred out of the Senate Judiciary Committee, leaving it in a kind of legislative limbo for a while.

    Later, however, the panel returned and killed HB1337 long after its sponsor, Sen. Ray Scott, R-Grand Junction, had left.

    During that time, Scott had started to investigate ways to get the support he needed to revive the bill in hopes of persuading the chairwoman of the committee, Sen. Ellen Roberts, to have an actual vote on it.

    Problem was, though, that Durango Republican was one of a majority of senators on the five-member committee who opposed the bill, which the committee ultimately killed on a unanimous vote.

    Scott wasn’t happy at the outcome because he believed he had the votes to get the measure out of committee even though it was opposed by Senate President Bill Cadman, R-Colorado Springs, who took nearly three weeks to assign it to a committee.

    “Sad to see such disingenuous activities by senators,” the Grand Junction Republican said. “Didn’t even have the courage to kill the bill in front of farmers and ranchers who are left holding the empty water bucket.”

    The measure was designed to align the Colorado Groundwater Commission with other state panels when it comes to adjudicating certain issues, in this case, groundwater rights. Unlike decisions made by that commission, appeals in all other state panels — much like lower courts in general — bar the introduction of new evidence on appeal.

    Scott said that practice has allowed well-funded water rights sellers to try a case twice, something small farmers and ranchers told the committee they can’t afford to do.

    The bill also pitted two well-heeled investors against each other: former GOP Gov. Bill Owens and billionaire businessman Phil Anschutz. Owens, who opposed the bill, is executive director of a land and water development and asset management company; Anschutz, who supported the bill, has numerous farming interests, many of which rely on groundwater supplies…

    On Tuesday, the Senate gave final approval to SB97 to bar the Legislature from using severance tax revenues for anything other then their intended purpose.

    Those taxes, paid by mineral extraction companies, go to fund the Colorado Department of Natural Resources and in grant and direct disbursements to local communities, to offset the impact of such industries as mining and oil and gas development.

    From The Denver Post (Joey Bunch):

    A legislative battle over ground-water disputes that divided top Republicans washed out in committee Tuesday afternoon.

    House Bill 1337 would have made it harder for municipalities, developers or others to win court cases for permits to pump water that might otherwise be used agriculture didn’t get a motion for a vote after hours of testimony from farmers and water districts.

    The bill would keep those who would dispute decisions from the state Ground Water Commission from introducing new evidence in the appeal process. Their competitors said it would allow them to out-spend farmers, ranchers and rural water districts to overpower them in court.

    “The size of a checkbook should not determine how water is managed,” Marc Arnusch, a Weld County farmer and member of the Lost Creek Ground Water Management District told the Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday.

    Committee chairwoman Ellen Roberts, a Republican from Durango who is a lawyer, said that instead of the routine 2 out of 100 state Ground Water Commission cases a year that are appealed to district court, many more would have to pay for studies and legal expertise up front to hedge against the potential of an appeal later.

    “I don’t see how this would reduce costs for everybody,” she said. “It would drive them up.”

    The bill was sponsored by Sen. Ray Scott, a Republican from Grand Junction who is considering a run for governor in 2018.

    Scott and House sponsor Don Coram have been at odds over the bill with Republican Senate President Bill Cadman and the last Republican governor, Bill Owens, who personally urged Republican lawmakers to kill the bill.

    Owens works for an investment group that deals in water.

    The legislation sailed through the Democrat-led House, passing 60-5 on April 1. It was not assigned to a Senate committee until three weeks later.

    “It’s been a wild ride to get to this hearing,” Scott said.

    The bill’s supporters fear municipalities getting well permits to pump year-round instead of seasonally, as agriculture does.

    “No one wants to see more ‘buy and dry’ of ag water,” Colorado Farm Bureau president Don Shawcroft said. “This legislation is necessary to level the playing field on applications to change water rights in designated basins. What’s happened is that if the application is appealed to the district court, the applicant is using legal maneuvering to bring new information that was not presented to the Ground Water Commission.”

    From The Durango Herald (Peter Marcus):

    A measure that aimed to level the playing field for farmers and ranchers appealing groundwater rights rulings drowned in the Legislature on Tuesday.

    The legislation would have prohibited entering new evidence on appeal after a state commission makes a decision on groundwater disputes…

    The bill had powerful opposition from former Gov. Bill Owens, a Republican, and Senate President Bill Cadman, R-Colorado Springs.

    “Big boy politics at its worst,” lamented Rep. Don Coram, R-Montrose, who co-sponsored the bill in the House, where it passed 60-5, with the support of Rep. J. Paul Brown, R-Ignacio.

    The 12-member Colorado Ground Water Commission issues decisions on disputes. Appeals, however, are handled by water court judges in district courts across the state.

    State law allows for new evidence to be entered upon appeal when the issue hits water court, though such appeals are rare.

    At that time, larger water interests – often those that try to transfer water from agricultural to municipal use – rely on water engineers and other experts to stack evidence in the case, say proponents of the bill.

    Smaller farmers and ranchers – who are fighting for their water rights – are forced to invest in attorneys to combat the insertion of new evidence. Costs can become unbearable.

    “It finally puts a stop to the games being played by those looking to take advantage of our designated basin system,” Marc Arnusch, a member of the Ground Water Commission, said of the legislation.

    “A case must be heard again completely from the beginning, which causes a great deal of time and money.”

    Coram assumed the measure would be a simple fix to an obvious problem. But that was before it became embroiled in politics.

    Since leaving office in 2007, Owens has worked on water and land resource issues, including proposing water sales to municipalities. Coram gave Owens and Cadman “100 percent credit” for the bill’s troubled path in the Senate.

    “I’ve worked on things in this building that’s taken me two, three years to get through. I’ll be back,” Coram said.

    Critics of the bill – including Sen. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango – say the measure would erode an unbiased appeals process before a judge. They point out that most of the commission members are political appointments by the governor, unlike a court.

    “It’s a stacked commission,” Roberts said.

    “When you go to court, there is an independent judge … there are procedural differences.”

    #AnimasRiver: “…shift here from skepticism toward energetic stewardship” — The Denver Post #GoldKingMine

    Confluence of Cement Creek and the Animas River from the Coyote Gulch archives (11/21/2010)
    Confluence of Cement Creek and the Animas River from the Coyote Gulch archives (11/21/2010)

    From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

    Animas River headwaters contamination exceeds state standards for cadmium, copper, lead and other toxic acid metals draining from inactive mines, officials from the Environmental Protection Agency and Sunnyside Gold Corp. revealed Tuesday.

    Until now, federal pronouncements after the EPA-triggered Aug. 5 Gold King blowout touted a return to pre-disaster conditions along the river.

    But the move toward an ambitious Superfund cleanup of 48 mine sites in southwestern Colorado has catalyzed cooperation and a far more aggressive, comprehensive and precise approach toward acid mine drainage.

    At Tuesday’s Animas River Stakeholders Group forum, locals along with EPA and Sunnyside officials all said they now find those “pre-spill conditions” intolerable. Fish haven’t been able to reproduce in the Animas for a decade, even 50 miles to the south through Durango.

    Beyond the Gold King and other Cement Creek mines, “there are elevated levels (of heavy metals) in all three drainages” flowing into the Animas, said Rebecca Thomas, the EPA’s project manager. “It is a much broader look now.”


    EPA officials this week are holding forums in tribal communities, Durango and Silverton to discuss their Superfund process, which usually drags out for more than a decade. An official listing of the Animas area as a National Priority List disaster, a step toward funding for cleanup, isn’t expected until fall.

    The shift here from skepticism toward energetic stewardship is reflected in more community groups demanding, and in some cases conducting, increased testing of river water and sediment to monitor contamination.

    The Mountain Studies Institute, a Durango-based research group, did an investigation of aquatic insects that live in sediment on river banks and found that copper levels increased between 2014 and 2015.

    Sunnyside Gold Corp. manager Larry Perino presented data from tests of mining wastewater launched last fall on the day of the Gold King disaster. Contractors sampled on Sunnyside properties a couple of miles east of Silverton — a different drainage from Cement Creek — where mining waste tailings sit along the main stem of the upper Animas.

    Those tailings as water rushes over them apparently are leaking the cadmium, copper and six other metals at levels exceeding Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment standards. The cadmium and copper had dissolved into Animas headwaters.

    Sunnyside shared the data at Tuesday’s meeting in Silverton.

    Dan Wall of the EPA then presented federal data showing lead contamination of soils along Cement Creek and in water near the tailings heaps containing elevated cadmium, zinc, manganese and copper.

    EPA crews have done tests around Animas basin for decades and increasingly are trying to pinpoint mine site sources of contamination.

    “We have to do more high-resolution work before we start talking smoking guns,” Wall told the locals at the forum.

    A broadening cooperation is happening despite EPA efforts to target Sunnyside, owned by the global mining giant Kinross, as a responsible party obligated to pay a share of Superfund cleanup costs.

    “Just because you are a potentially responsible party doesn’t mean it has to be adversarial,” Perino said.

    Conservation groups such as Trout Unlimited have raised concerns about possible re-churn of heavy metals from the 3 million-gallon Gold King deluge as snow melts, increasing runoff into the upper Animas. But biologists also point to benefits of dilution to reduce concentrations of dissolved heavy metals.

    Colorado Parks and Wildlife aquatic biologist Jim White confirmed that, since the shutoff of a water treatment plant on Cement Creek in 2005 when Sunnyside’s American Tunnel was plugged, fish populations deteriorated along a 30-mile stretch of the Animas south of Silverton.

    There are few rainbow and brown trout today, and brook trout decreased by 80 percent after 2004, White said.

    “It is not healthy. Things have gotten worse in the Animas River since 2004 or 2005,” he said. “We’ve seen this consistent dropoff — the primary thing is the dissolved metals” including zinc, cadmium and aluminum.

    Even 50 miles south in Durango, the fish put into the river in stocking programs have not been able to reproduce, he said.

    “We’re just not seeing young fish surviving, in Durango as well,” White said.

    Other forces, such as sediment from urban development and fertilizer runoff, also play a role downriver in addition to acid metals drainage from inactive mines.

    Hundreds of inactive mines continue to drain more than 1,000 gallons a minute of toxic acid heavy metals into Animas headwaters. It is one of the West’s worst concentrations of toxic mines.

    For at least a decade before the Gold King disaster, the mine drainage reaching Animas canyon waters along a 30-mile stretch south of Silverton “had a hideous impact,” Trout Unlimited chapter president Buck Skillen said.

    “We’ve lost almost all of the trout and a number of bugs,” Skillen said. “We’ve had the equivalent of the Gold King spill every four to seven days over the last 10 years. But the water didn’t turn orange. So it wasn’t on everyone’s radar.”

    AWRA #Colorado Section Annual Symposium recap @AWRACO

    Map of the United States showing routes of principal explorers, from 1501 to 1844. [Click to enlarge]
    Map of the United States showing routes of principal explorers, from 1501 to 1844. [Click to enlarge]
    What a successful event Friday. Katie Melander and her colleagues managed to engage speakers that covered a wide range of topics, educated, and entertained.

    One of the highlights was Greg Hobbs’ journey through the history of Colorado Water Law. His presentation included maps from the first surveys and expeditions to the West, along with the additions to the inventory of federal lands through purchase and war.

    Confederate Texas’ forces and their intent to capture Colorado’s gold fields led to Colorado’s borders surrounding the headwaters, he told the attendees during his lunch hour keynote. The lines around the gold fields coincided with the headwaters of the Colorado, Platte, Arkansas, and Rio Grande.

    US Westward expansion and the acquisition of federal land, via
    US Westward expansion and the acquisition of federal land, via

    I always enjoy the presentations by the AWRA Colorado Section scholarship recipients.

    Adrianne Kroepsch’s talk, “Oil & gas Development in the South Platte River Basin: An Evolving Energy-Water Nexus,” highlighted the different ways that information sources “frame” the discussion. For example, while industry and the Colorado Division of Water Resources emphasize the small amount of water consumed by Oil and Gas exploration and production, environmentalists point out that the water is lost forever to the water cycle.

    Cynthia Kanno’s presentation, “Quantifying the Impacts of Spills At Unconventional Oil and Gas Production Sites on Groundwater Quality,” explained her approach, using a groundwater model, to determine what types of spills could be expected to reach groundwater. This could possibly inform the first responders and industry about the type and level of responses.

    By attending the Symposium you can help support the AWRA Colorado Section scholarship effort.

    Nolan Doesken -- Colorado Water Foundation for Water Education President's Award Presentation 2011
    Nolan Doesken — Colorado Water Foundation for Water Education President’s Award Presentation 2011

    The information firehose didn’t stop with Hobbs’ luncheon presentation. Colorado State Climatologist, Nolan Doesken’s presentation, “Stepping Through Time: Colorado’s Climate, Water Resources, and Technology,” demanded your attention. Nolan went through some Colorado climate history, the origins of his position, and the data collection systems used over time. He also issued several predictions for Colorado climate: Summers will continue to be warmer than winters; Precipitation in Colorado will still vary greatly from place to place with changing seasons; We will still get some precipitation as snow; There will be future drought; and, “I guarantee that whatever comes next will be interesting.”

    Doesken also made a pitch for the very successful citizen science effort CoCoRAHS.

    Esther Vincent (Northern Water) talked about the loss of clarity in Grand Lake since the completion of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project. In sum, the shallowness of Shadow Mountain Reservoir encourages weeds, sediment mobilizaiton, and algae growth which is then transported to Grand Lake in order to send transmountain water through the Adams Tunnel to the Front Range. She and the Clarity Working Group were recently successful in getting a sliding-scale clarity standard from the State of Colorado.

    Other presentations included: Aurora and Colorado Springs’ planning and adaptive strategy facing climate change and increasing population; A method that utilizes GIS to integrate aerial photography and SNOTEL data for improved estimates of snowpack; How conservation is included in the Colorado Water Plan; The Arkansas Basin Roundtable Watershed Health Toolkit and it’s genesis (Need determined during the West Fork Fire); An introduction to the One World One Water Center at Metropolitan State University in Denver (My alma mater!); and, finally, a panel discussion, “Changes in Water Administration — A Conversation with the Boots that Run the Water,” with DWR water commissioners and the lead from the Division 1 accounting group.

    All of my notes (Tweets) from the event can be accessed here. If you don’t have a Twitter account you can still view them. Enter into your browser or click on the link above, click on the Live button at the top of the page, scroll down to the bottom and read backward since Tweets are in reverse chronological order.

    I also want to plug the venue, the Mount Vernon Country Club. Near and dear to Coyote Gulch, fast Wi-Fi and a great luncheon buffet.


    2016 #coleg: HB16-1276 (Conduct Emergency Responses At Legacy Mining Sites) passes State Senate, next stop Gov. Hickenlooper

    Colorado abandoned mines
    Colorado abandoned mines

    From the Associated Press via The Colorado Springs Gazette:

    Colorado’s Department of Natural Resources will soon be able to respond to emergency situations at more of the state’s abandoned mines.

    The Senate approved a bill Monday that allows the department to tackle situations threatening public safety or the environment at nearly any mine site.

    DNR’s Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety had been limited to sites under its direct authority.

    The House previously passed the bill, which now goes to the governor’s desk.

    The bill was inspired by August’s Gold King Mine spill above Silverton. That spill sent millions of gallons of toxic wastewater into the Animas River.

    While DNR’s emergency response budget is $100,000 this fiscal year, backers say it’s a start. The governor can make more funding available for large-scale emergencies.

    “…we’re all tied to the #ColoradoRiver” — John Stulp

    Hayfield message to President Obama 2011 via Protect the Flows
    Hayfield message to President Obama 2011 via Protect the Flows

    From Steamboat Today (Tom Ross):

    Would you be willing to pay an extra penny or two on every beverage container you purchase for the next 30 years or so, if it could assure Colorado will meet its future water needs?

    John Stulp, Gov. John Hickenlooper’s special advisor on water policy and director of the state’s Interbasin Compact Committee, put that question to an audience of more than 50 people in Steamboat Springs on Monday, and he was surprised at how many hands shot up.

    Now that Colorado has its new statewide water plan in place, Stulp said it’s time to begin thinking about where the state will get the billions of dollars needed to close the water supply gap the state faces to support another estimated 5 million residents.

    “The governor believes every conversation about water should start with conservation,” Stulp said. “I’ve always said, ‘You can have as much fun as you can afford.’ The state’s role might be something to the tune of $3 billion,” suggesting the residents of the state need to plan to raise about $100 million annually.

    And that’s a lot of beverage containers…

    Stulp, who comes from a cattle ranching/wheat growing background in southeastern Colorado, thinks our futures are bound together by the urgent need for more water supply.

    “I say it pulls us and ties us together,” he said, “and we’re all tied to the Colorado River, because if anything happens there, it happens to all of us.”

    Denver Water, which supplies water to 25 percent of the taps in the state, is doing more than many might realize, Stulp pointed out. The biggest water provider in Colorado is serving many thousands more users than it did 30 years ago but is using the same amount of water, thanks to conservation measures including the re-use of water.

    After all, Denver Waster’s customers want to enjoy the rivers of the Western Slope, too, Stulp said.

    There has been a paradigm shift in the way the Front Range looks at water, Stulp continued. Former Department of Natural Resources Chief Mike King, who is the new director of future water supply for Denver Water, grew up on the Western Slope in Montrose and understands the water outlook from this side of the Continental Divide.

    But the agency also knows if the lower basin states ever made a call on the Colorado, demanding their share of water, it would hurt the Front Range more than the Western Slope, Stulp said. In part, because every acre-foot of water that wasn’t diverted to the eastern side would be felt doubly, because the water is used more than once.

    Asked by Routt County Commissioner Doug Monger, who also serves on the Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District board of directors, if Gov. Hickenlooper is putting pressure on governors in the lower basin states such as California, Arizona and Nevada to use their water more wisely, Stulp replied, “Yes.” But he quickly added that diplomacy in the form of the relationships Colorado Water Conservation Board Director James Eklund has built with his counterparts is essential to Colorado’s relations with other Western states.

    Marsha Daughenbaugh, executive director of the Community Agriculture Alliance, asked Stulp for his reaction to the fact that 40 percent of food produced in the U.S., much of it with the help of irrigation, is wasted.

    “It goes to show you how cheap food is in this country and how cheap water is,” he concluded.

    #ColoradoRiver: The latest Hutchins Center E-Newsletter is hot off the presses #COriver

    April 24-Month Study Date: April 14, 2016 via USBR
    April 24-Month Study Date: April 14, 2016 via USBR

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

    The Bureau of Reclamation’s April 14 forecast of April – July unregulated inflow into Lake Powell is 5.3 million acre-feet, or 74% of average. Forecasted inflow to Blue Mesa Reservoir over the same period is 515,000 acre-feet, or 76% of the 30-year average. Details on inflows and operations of these reservoirs and others in the Colorado River Storage Project can be found here.

    Pueblo County OKs stormwater deal with Colorado Springs — The Pueblo Chieftain

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Anthony A. Mestas):

    It was called a historic day for Pueblo County and Colorado Springs.

    Pueblo County commissioners approved an agreement over the Southern Delivery System with its Front Range neighbors to the north during a meeting at the courthouse.

    The agreement is a clarification of the rules and responsibilities with regards of one of the issues with a 1041 permit dealing with the SDS project, mainly how to control stormwater, flooding and sediment transports along Fountain Creek.

    “We think it is historic,” Commissioner Terry Hart said. “This has been a growing process. It’s been a learning process as the growth of Colorado Springs has impacted more and more our downstream community.”

    In the agreement, Colorado Springs would pay more than $605 million to cover environmental damage for SDS should the intergovernmental agreement with Pueblo County be approved.

    The proposed deal includes a guarantee to spend at least $460 million over the next 20 years to repair and build storm water structures in Colorado Springs in a way that benefits downstream communities, particularly the city of Pueblo.

    Colorado Springs approved the agreement last week.

    “We are thrilled that we reached this point,” Hart said.

    “A lot of folks see this as an ending to a process and it’s just the opposite. It’s just the beginning. It’s a more cooperative approach between the two communities.”

    Cartoon via The Pueblo Chieftain
    Cartoon via The Pueblo Chieftain

    MCWC: Glenwood Springs Wastewater Treatment Plant Tour, April 27 #ColoradoRiver #COriver

    From email from the Middle Colorado Watershed Council:

    Have you ever wondered what happens to the dirty water from your shower, laundry and toilet after it goes down the drain? What about the runoff from lawns and gardens, and rainwater and car washing?

    The Middle Colorado Watershed Council invites you to join us and the Roaring Fork Conservancy for a tour of Glenwood Springs’ wastewater treatment plant. Trent Mahaffey from the City of Glenwood Springs will give us an in-depth look at the process of treating wastewater and allow its safe return to our rivers and streams.

    Treatment processes at the facility include extended aeration with aerobic digesters and oxidation ponds, with odor control provided by air ionization and circulation. Before all effluent is returned to the environment it is even disinfected though an ultraviolet process. Come join us for a free tour of this state of the art facility.

    Location: Glenwood Springs Wastewater Treatment Plant, West Glenwood Springs. Find a map to the facility here.
    Date: April 27, 2016
    Time: 4:00pm-5:30pm
    Cost: free
    Registration Deadline: Registration is required by clicking here. The tour will be limited to 15 participants. For additional information, contact Dan at 970-389-8234.

    This workshop is hosted by the City of Glenwood Springs in partnership with the Roaring Fork Conservancy and the Middle Colorado Watershed Council.

    Glenwood Springs via Wikipedia
    Glenwood Springs via Wikipedia

    #Snowpack news: #Colorado basins are melting out some

    Westwide SNOTEL map April 25, 2016 via the NRCS.
    Westwide SNOTEL map April 25, 2016 via the NRCS.


    Mark Pifher and Dallas May join the Southeastern #Colorado Water board of directors

    Fryingpan-Arkansas Project via the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District
    Fryingpan-Arkansas Project via the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    Two new board members from opposite ends of the water spectrum joined the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District Thursday.

    Dallas May, 58, a farmer and rancher from the Lamar area, and Mark Pifher, 65, a former director of Aurora water, were appointed to the board by 10th Judicial District Chief Judge Deborah Eyler and sworn in Thursday.

    Eyler consults with district judges from the areas where appointments are made, because the Southeastern district covers a nine-county area. Terms are for four years.

    May is a fourth-generation farmer who owns water shares on the Fort Lyon Canal, Amity Canal, Lower Arkansas Water Management Association and other ditches in the area. He replaces Leonard Pruett, who served one term on the board.

    “I’ve been passive and always thought someone else would make the decision,” May said. “But given some of the controversial issues going on, I decided it was time to get involved.”

    May said he is most concerned with protecting the water rights of those who choose to continue farming.

    “My concern is that irrigation water does not depart the valley and leave it a wasteland,” May said.
    He also would like to see the completion of the Arkansas Valley Conduit, the top priority project of the Southeastern district.

    “It’s ironic and absurd that Rocky Mountain snowmelt flows past us and we have to buy bottled water,” May said, regarding the need for the conduit. “It’s absurd that people try to buy it and pipe it into another water basin.”

    Pifher, 65, of Colorado Springs, replaces Harold Miskel on the board.

    Miskel, a retired Colorado Springs Utilities executive, had served since 2002.

    Pifher four years ago left Aurora water to work on the Southern Delivery System for Colorado Springs Utilities, retiring last year. He continues as a consultant on SDS and water quality issues. He is the former executive director of the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission.

    His expertise on state water issues and additional time on his hands since his retirement led him to apply.

    “I hope to continue the work already started by the district on the Arkansas Valley Conduit, the use of water resources and the opportunities for storage,” Pifher said. “I will give a municipal point of view to the board.”

    Reappointed to the board were: Gibson Hazard of Colorado Springs, who has been on the board for 28 years; Kevin Karney, an Otero County rancher and commissioner, now in his eighth year; and Vera Ortegon of Pueblo, a former City Council and water board member, who has been on the board for 12 years.

    Officers were elected as well. Bill Long of Las Animas is president; Gary Bostrom, Colorado Springs, vice president; Ortegon, secretary; and Ann Nichols, Manitou Springs, treasurer.

    Fall River Hydroplant And Upper Fish Hatchery Reaches Stabilization Project — Estes Park News

    From the Town of Estes Park (Tina Kurtz) via The Estes Park News:

    The Town is currently working with Otak and Flywater on a streambank stabilization and channel restoration project on Fall River from the Rocky Mountain National Park boundary to approximately 550 feet downstream of the western Fish Hatchery Road Bridge.

    The September 2013 flood caused significant erosion of the streambanks and channel scour in this reach, which resulted in the loss of aquatic habitat and posed safety concerns for visitors to the Town’s historic Hydroplant museum. In addition, the mobilized sediment during the flood event and subsequent runoff events resulted in significant deposition downstream.

    The project is being conducted in two phases. Phase I, which was completed on March 1, 2016, consists of streambank stabilization, channel restoration and aquatic habitat improvement for the reach between the RMNP boundary and the pedestrian bridge at the Hydroplant. Phase II will occur during the summer of 2016 and will continue the Phase I work downstream of the pedestrian bridge to the downstream project boundary and include revegetation of the entire project reach.

    Phase I of the project was funded through a Community Block Development Grant – Disaster Recovery Round 1 Infrastructure grant administered by the Colorado Office of Emergency Management through the Colorado Department of Local Affairs. Phase II is anticipated to be funded through Senate Bill 14-179 funds administered by the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

    If you would like more information on this project, please contact Tina Kurtz, Town of Estes Park Environmental Planner at or 970-577-3732.

    Proposal creates ‘monumental’ friction — the Valley Courier

    Rio Grande del Norte National Monument via the Bureau of Land Management
    Rio Grande del Norte National Monument via the Bureau of Land Management

    From the Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

    Proponents of an expanded national monument met with water leaders and some resistance on Tuesday in Alamosa.

    Rio Grande Water Conservation District (RGWCD) Board Member Dwight Martin , who lives in the southern part of the San Luis Valley where the proposed expansion would occur, was clear in his opposition to expanding the existing Rio Grande del Norte National Monument northward from New Mexico into the San Luis Valley.

    “I am adamantly opposed to this monument designation ,” Martin said. “We really don’t need this monument in Conejos County. I really don’t see what it serves.”

    He added that the Conejos County commissioners are also opposed to the monument expansion. Martin said about 90 percent of Conejos County residents at a meeting he attended on the monument were opposed to the expansion, and he questioned why the expansion was needed.

    Anna Vargas, project coordinator for Conejos Clean Water, the organization promoting the monument expansion, responded that the meeting Martin attended was a meeting hosted by opponents .

    “There has been interest in supporting the national monument, and there has been opposition that has been raised,” Vargas said. “We have tried to address all the concerns.”

    Vargas told water board members on Tuesday that Conejos Clean Water had accepted language recommended by the water district to safeguard water rights within the monument, if it is expanded into the Valley. The language also recognizes the existing Rio Grande Natural Area, which lies in the proposed monument expansion.

    “We are not trying to trump any of the work that’s been done on the natural area,” Vargas said.

    Vargas recently completed the intensive water leadership course sponsored by several water groups including the Rio Grande Water Conservation District. She said the course gave her a better understanding of water issues and rights, such as the Rio Grande Compact. She said she had not viewed the monument expansion as affecting water rights but as more of a land protection issue . She said she now understood the potential problem implied water rights could generate.

    “We don’t want national monument designation to have any implied water rights,” she said. The goal of the monument expansion, she said, is to preserve the land for traditional uses.

    The Rio Grande del Norte National Monument, encompassing 242,500 acres, was designated by presidential proclamation in 2013. The expansion proposal would bring the monument north of the New Mexico state line into the southern part of the Valley and would encompass about 64,000 additional acres of Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land, Vargas explained.

    She said the goal would be to preserve traditional uses such as piñon and wood gathering, hunting, fishing and other recreational uses. The monument would also prevent the land from being sold or leased for mining extraction. The turquoise mine would be “grandfathered in,” she said.

    Vargas said proponents of the monument expansion want to be proactive in protecting the land from oil and gas activity.

    “To us, that is a threat,” she said.

    In 2007 that threat was real, she said, with four oil/gas sales involving 14,500 acres in the San Luis Hills and Flat Tops. The reason drilling did not occur, she added, was “basically because of a loophole” created because private landholders had not been notified of the sales.

    “What we don’t want is a repeat of that,” she said. There might not be a loophole to prevent it in the future, she added.

    Martin said, “This is really about oil and gas and not about protecting the land. All the monument will do is make it more restrictive for landowners.”

    Vargas said that is why Conejos Clean Water is trying to get more community input and address these issues. She said there are rumors that the group is trying to prevent such uses as cattle grazing, but that is not the case. Such traditional uses are what the monument would protect, she said.

    The land would continue to be BLM property, public lands, she said.

    “We want it to stay publicly accessible.”

    “Thank you for recognizing the concerns the district expressed,” RGWCD Attorney David Robbins told Vargas.

    The district also sent a letter to the Department of the Interior and Colorado’s congressional delegation expressing the district’s concerns about the monument expansion without terms and conditions that would ensure water resources and the Rio Grande Natural Area are not adversely affected. The Rio Grande Natural Area, created through a federal, state and local partnership, integrates the management of federal and private properties along the Rio Grande between Alamosa and the state line to protect the riparian corridor for several purposes including Rio Grande Compact deliveries.

    The district’s letter to congressmen regarding the monument expansion stated: “Every federal withdrawal or designation carries with it an implication that sufficient water will be made available to support the purposes of the designation unless specifically disavowed. The flows of the Rio Grande and the Conejos rivers in this area of the San Luis Valley are intimately tied to the economic and social health of the entire region, and reflect 150 years of water use practices that support the entirety of the San Luis Valley’s population as well as a water management structure designated to allow Colorado to freely utilize its share of the Rio Grande and its tributaries pursuant to the Rio Grande Compact. Any new federal land use designation that could impact or interfere with the water use practices in the San Luis Valley or Colorado’s ability to utilize the water resources to which it is entitled must be strenuously resisted by our elected federal representatives , as well as all of our state officials . This matter is of enormous importance.”

    Representatives of the district also personally met with congressmen and Deputy Secretary of the Interior Mike Connor.

    The district presented language protecting the Rio Grande Natural Area that it requested be included in the monument designation, were that to occur, and Conejos Clean Water has agreed to that language.

    Robbins said the Valley’s congressmen and Department of Interior also assured the district they would not move forward with a monument expansion unless the district’s concerns were properly addressed.

    2016 #coleg Sen. Sonnenberg hopes to set limits on state agency fines

    Colorado Capitol building
    Colorado Capitol building

    Here’s an in depth look at proposed legislation from Jerry Sonnenberg that would set limits for fines levied by state agencies, from Marianne Goodland writing for The Fort Morgan Times. Here’s an excerpt:

    State agencies shouldn’t have free rein to charge exorbitant fines, especially to small communities that may not be able to pay them. That’s according to Jerry Sonnenberg, a state senator from Sterling whose district includes Morgan County, anyway.

    He’s the state Senate sponsor of a proposal that would limit the ability of a state agency to fine people for violating state law or agency rules, particularly when an agency hasn’t notified an alleged violator in writing or given at least 20 business days to fix the problem.

    Sonnenberg, a fan of reducing bureaucracy wherever possible, is pushing a bill to address situations like the kind faced by the city of Burlington, which was last year slapped with a nearly six-figure fine for violating the state’s clear water regulations.

    According to a news release from the state Department of Public Health and Environment, which regulates water quality, the city was cited for violating 2,109 drinking water regulations in 2014, and it’s the second time the Burlington has been cited for violations related to nitrate levels in public drinking water.

    Nitrates come from fertilizer, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Once ingested, they convert to nitrite, which can have serious health consequences for infants, young children and pregnant or nursing mothers.

    Burlington’s nitrate levels in its drinking water have been higher than the state standard since 2009. Once regulators discovered that violation in 2014, the Department of Public Health and Environment required the city to notify residents that the nitrate levels exceed the standard for safe drinking water. According to the department, the city reported its drinking water had exceeded safe levels only once, in 2010, and never notified the public of the problem.

    In November, according to the Burlington Record, the city completed negotiations with the department on the fine, which was reduced to $150,000, along with an agreement to implement a project to reduce nitrate levels back to safe standards.

    Sonnenberg’s plan to rectify all this — and to make sure other municipalities, individuals and businesses in Colorado don’t end up in the same situation — comes with a three-tiered structure for fines. Cities, counties or other governments, for instance, would have to pay 5 percent of its tax revenue from the most recent fiscal year. Businesses could be hit for as high as 10 percent of their operating revenue for the past fiscal year. Individuals would have to pony up to 10 percent of their taxable income based on the most recent state income tax return.

    This proposed legislation at the Statehouse doesn’t apply to criminal violations.

    One of the biggest problems for the plan, though, is its cost. A fiscal review produced by nonpartisan economists at the state Capitol estimate it will cost the state about $40 million per year because of lost revenue. The bill also carries a $1 million price tag for implementation. That cost, which would impact the 2016-17 budget that just passed the statehouse, will make it a tough sell in the Democratically controlled House.

    The bill drew heated discussion in the state Senate Wednesday between the Republican Sonnenberg and Democratic Sen. Andy Kerr of Lakewood.

    The plan “quits having us balance the budget on the backs of people, by using a hammer to levy fines against citizens and businesses,” Sonnenberg told the Senate. “If there’s a problem on water or air quality, or filing of paperwork, let’s figure out how to fix it rather than allowing government to be heavy-handed.”

    He cited Burlington as an example, noting how the city faced a nearly $1 million fine but has only a budget of $3 million. But he didn’t mention that the city had negotiated the fine down to $150,000, a point Kerr raised during the debate.

    Kerr said the bill would put the 2016-17 state budget out of whack by $41 million.

    “That’s a heavy hammer on the citizens of Colorado,” Kerr said, adding that the only place to cover that hit to the state budget is to increase the K-12 shortfall by $41 million. “That’s balancing the budget on the backs of our students.”

    #Snowpack is melting fast, despite April storms — The High Country News #runoff

    Westwide SNOTEL map April 23, 2016 via the NRCS.
    Westwide SNOTEL map April 23, 2016 via the NRCS.

    From The High Country News (Paige Blankenbuehler):

    Throughout late March and into April, much of the West experienced unseasonably warm days. Then, in late April, temperatures plummeted in Southwest Colorado’s San Juan Mountains and more than 2 feet of wet, heavy spring snow fell. Suddenly, ski boots were out again and for a day or two, it felt like winter was back.

    But those storms have only helped a small fraction of the West, with much of the moisture buoying snowpack levels along the Eastern Rockies in Colorado and Wyoming. Meanwhile, the rest of the region is on the opposite trajectory, losing snowpack at record-breaking rates.

    At the beginning of April, snowpack levels across the region were “near normal,” says Cara McCarthy, deputy director for the National Water and Climate Center in Portland, under the Natural Resource Conservation Service. The season was off to a slow start with sporadic storms in October through December, but January winter precipitation increased levels across all states, according to NRCS SNOTEL sites, which measure snow depth at thousands of stations nationwide. For months, most of the region hung on to above-normal snowpack measurements.

    But in just the few short weeks since, that snow is melting faster than climate hydrologists have seen in nearly four decades, bringing the snowpack far below normal in most states in the West…

    Temperature has been a major factor in the accelerated melting, although minimal snowfall has also played a role. According to the NRCS and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, much of the Pacific Northwest, California, Idaho and Montana have experienced abnormally high temperatures between the beginning throughout April — in some places departing from historical averages by as much as 10 degrees Fahrenheit. Colorado and parts of New Mexico and Arizona have been more or less normal.

    The quickly diminishing snowpack, which acts as a natural water-storage system for Western cities that depend on winter snow for water, portends a more variable future at the whims of a changing climate, says Noah Diffenbaugh, associate professor at Stanford and a research at the Woods Institute for the Environment.

    “We find that as warming continues, there’s a robust response of the climate in the West toward more rain and less snow,” Diffenbaugh says…

    Water infrastructure has been built around the assumption that a reasonable quantity of water will remain as snow at higher elevations until the temperature warms. As warming occurs earlier in the season and snowpack diminishes faster, it runs into reservoirs prematurely and resource managers may need to release water to make space available to prevent floods…

    From a water management perspective, the snowpack readings so far this year are troubling, but they may start to feel normal in coming decades. According to the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change, the climate is on track to warm 4 degrees Celsius by the end of the century. If that happens, what we consider “extreme” now — rapid, early spring snowpack melt — “will happen more like 40 to 80 percent of the time,” Diffenbaugh says.

    From (Matt Renoux):

    By early May, Denver Water will start sending water out of the Dillon Reservoir to make room for the spring runoff. The Lower Blue River will go from 100 cubic feet per second potentially up to 1,800 CFS at a time when other rivers and steams will also start flowing much faster as well.

    #Colorado Springs, three other cities one vote away from [improved] water-supply security — The Colorado Springs Gazette

    Here’s an in depth look at the new Southern Delivery System which is about to go online from Billie Stanton Anleu writing in The Colorado Springs Gazette. Click through and read the whole article and to check out the photos. Here’s an excerpt:

    The launch of the long-awaited SDS hinges on a vote by Pueblo County commissioners Monday to approve a stormwater deal with Colorado Springs, thus freeing the SDS 1041 permit the commissioners granted in 2009.

    The start of the SDS will culminate 20 years of planning, years of quarreling between Pueblo County and Colorado Springs, and six years of building 53 miles of huge pipelines, three pump stations and a 100-acre water treatment plant.

    The $825 million project will pump 5 million gallons of water a day – and up to 50 million when needed – to Colorado Springs, Pueblo West, Fountain and Security.

    The project was a figment in 1996, when the Colorado Springs City Council approved a Water Resource Plan to explore how best to sate the thirst of a rapidly growing population.

    In July 2009, the council approved the SDS as the best of seven alternatives – just as the recession struck. So the project was used as “our own stimulus,” says SDS Program Director John Fredell.

    Workshops in Pueblo, El Paso and Fremont counties showed contractors how to work with Colorado Springs Utilities.

    The only Colorado company that could build the huge pipes, of 66- and 90-inch diameter, competed against out-of-state bidders but got more than $100 million in business with the SDS.

    And that firm wasn’t alone. A contract goal said 30 percent of business should go to Colorado firms. Contractors who failed to meet that threshold were penalized. And the goal was exceeded, Fredell said.

    More than 430 Colorado companies have worked on the SDS. Of the $711 million spent through December, $585 million worth of work has stayed in Colorado – about $287 million in El Paso County, $75 million in Pueblo County and $222 million elsewhere in the state.

    Meanwhile, what Fredell calls the toughest part of the whole project ensued.

    His team spent five years creating a 3,000-page Environmental Impact Statement and obtaining the 1041 permit from Pueblo County. It also had to get about 350 other permits, 200 of them major. Even the Federal Aviation Administration had to OK the plan, as the water treatment plant off of Colorado 94 is in the Colorado Springs Airport flight line.

    When construction commenced in 2010, the first challenge was connecting to the Pueblo Dam.

    Water flowing from the dam’s North Outlet Works into the Arkansas River was rechanneled so the square outlet channel could get a round pipe fitting to connect to the liner pipe through the dam to the river outlet, said Dan Higgins, chief water services officer for Utilities.

    A 0.3-mile pipe segment also was installed from the valve house to the Juniper Pump Station, to link Pueblo West to the SDS and carry water for the other users. Juniper is the first of three pump stations needed to move the water 53 miles uphill. El Paso County became home to the Williams Creek and Bradley pump stations.

    The water is being moved through massive pipes buried 85 feet beneath Interstate 25, Fountain Creek and two sets of railroad tracks. One mile of that stretch is a tunnel about 20 miles south of downtown Colorado Springs.

    The destination? The Edward W. Bailey Water Treatment Plant, named for “one of the real geniuses of the 1996 water master plan,” said City Council President Merv Bennett.

    That 100-acre plant can purify 50 million gallons of water a day, which then goes through a pump station for treated water and more pipelines to reach customers.

    The Bailey plant’s developed area could contain 77 football fields, said Kim Mutchler, of Utilities government and corporate affairs.

    Utilities water customers are paying for this project. But they’re paying a lot less than projected, as cost-cutting measures shaved the project’s predicted $985 million price tag.

    In 2009, Utilities predicted seven consecutive years of 12 percent water rate increases, followed by two years of 4 percent hikes. Instead, rates rose 12 percent in 2011 and 2012 and 10 percent in 2013 and 2014.

    The project is needed for many reasons, community leaders agree.

    Because Colorado’s second-biggest city isn’t near a major river, it has relied on water brought over the Continental Divide. But those pipelines are nearly 50 years old.

    With another 350,000 residents expected to move to El Paso County over the next 30 years – while industry and businesses need water, too – the Southern Delivery System is seen as a move to secure the city’s future.

    If water demand increases, SDS will add two reservoirs, increase the raw water delivery capacity, and expand the water treatment plant and pump stations to deliver more than 100 million gallons a day – double the maximum available starting Wednesday.

    Southern Delivery System map via Colorado Springs Utilities
    Southern Delivery System map via Colorado Springs Utilities

    Pueblo County’s stormwater control agreement with Colorado Springs fine-tuned — The Pueblo Chieftain

    Last section of pipe for Southern Delivery System photo via The Colorado Springs Gazette
    Last section of pipe for Southern Delivery System photo via The Colorado Springs Gazette

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    The final agreement between Pueblo County and Colorado Springs on Fountain Creek is fine-tuned to reflect some of the concerns expressed earlier this week in public hearings.

    “After we got feedback, there were a few minor adjustments,” Pueblo County Commissioner Terry Hart told the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District Friday. “In general, citizens have liked the agreement. It gives both communities the chance to work together. The second thing we heard was: ‘Let’s work together and start doing projects.’ ”

    Pueblo County commissioners are scheduled to vote on the agreement Monday, capping a year of negotiations with Colorado Springs over the issue of stormwater control and the 1041 permit for the Southern Delivery System pipeline to deliver water from Lake Pueblo to Springs.

    Colorado Springs City Council approved the deal on Wednesday, with the promise to spend at least $460 million on stormwater control in the city over the next 20 years.

    The agreement also triggers the $50 million in payments over the next five years for the Fountain Creek district, provides $125,000 in funds for the district’s general fund this year and adds $3 million for dredging and debris removal in Pueblo over the next three years.

    “We have two projects underway right now,” Colorado Springs Councilman Andy Pico told the Fountain Creek board.

    The agreement now recognizes that Colorado Springs’ obligations on Fountain Creek will continue for the lifetime of the project. Hart explained that the agreement now under consideration simply defines specific actions that will occur in the next 20 years. The 1041 agreement includes stormwater language that will continue to apply.

    Two other tweaks in the language clarified that the $20 million provided to the Fountain Creek district by Jan. 15 would be used to fund dams on Fountain Creek and that vegetation as well as sediment could be removed from Fountain Creek.

    The district board also learned that an additional $10 million in federal funds over the next five years could be available, although the grant from the Natural Resources Conservation Service is only in the exploratory stages.

    It also pondered ways to permanently fund the district — a new commitment shared by Pueblo County and Colorado Springs in the proposed agreement. The members generally agreed a straight pro rata method based on population would be the fairest way. A formal vote could come in May.

    Until the district decides to use its statutory power for a mill levy, it will rely on voluntary contributions from member governments, which include Pueblo and El Paso counties, Pueblo, Colorado Springs, Fountain and other incorporated cities in El Paso County.

    #Colorado: State encourages drinking water transparency — Fort Collins Coloradoan

    Roman lead pipe -- Photo via the Science Museum
    Roman lead pipe — Photo via the Science Museum

    From the Fort Collins Coloradan (Jacy Marmaduke):

    State officials are encouraging Colorado drinking water systems to share information about lead pipes with the public in response to an Environmental Protection Agency directive.

    The EPA in February sent letters to state governors, tribal leaders and environmental and public health commissioners urging them to keep the public better informed of the locations of lead service lines, among other things.

    Lead pipes and soldering are frequent causes of lead contamination in drinking water.

    In March, the Coloradoan found that Larimer County leads the state in the number of sites with drinking water test results that met or exceeded the regulatory standard for lead between 2012 and 2015. Four sites clustered near Estes Park met or exceeded the lead standard during that period.

    The EPA letter, released after a national uproar about high levels of lead in Flint, Michigan’s drinking water, asked states to work with public water systems, with a priority on larger systems, to post either on the state website or the water system’s website a materials inventory including the locations of lead service lines.

    In response, Dr. Larry Wolk, executive director and chief medical officer of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, wrote to the EPA in April that the state will begin encouraging water systems to share that information with the public.

    CDPHE has started emailing water systems about the subjects broached in the EPA letter and will include an article about lead in its quarterly newsletter in May, department spokesman Mark Salley said. Additional articles are likely, and the department is planning to hold outreach meetings around the state this year to discuss lead, Salley said.

    Happy(?) #EarthDay 2016 #ClimateChange


    Click here to go to to learn about opportunities and celebrations.

    Map: Land and ocean temperature departure from average for March 2016. (NOAA NCEI)
    Map: Land and ocean temperature departure from average for March 2016.

    Southeastern #Colorado Water board meeting recap

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    Full reservoirs in the Arkansas River basin point to the need for even more storage when dry years return, the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District learned Thursday.

    “I don’t think people realize how close we were to spilling water this year,” said Jim Broderick, executive director. “This is the reason you need more storage. People think of storage only during drought and when it’s flooding. We need to get past that and look at additional storage to capture more water.”

    The storage situation may not be entirely settled, because heavy rain in May could mean some water safely stored may be released.

    “Unless we have another Miracle May, we’ll be all right,” said Phil Reynolds, of the Colorado Division of Water Resources.

    To get to “all right,” however, water users have cooperatively released water from Lake Pueblo to meet flood control requirements.

    Capacity in Lake Pueblo was decreased by 11,000 acre-feet, to a total of 245,000 acre-feet, this year because of sedimentation. Space for 93,000 acre-feet is reserved for flood control after April 15. That was complicated this year because of high residual storage from 2015.

    Aurora, whose water would be first to spill, leased its stored water to farmers last year. The Pueblo Board of Water Works used early leases to move some of its water out of storage, but still has higher than usual levels in reserve.

    The Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District moved about 1,500 acre-feet into the permanent pool at John Martin. Colorado Parks and Wildlife moved 5,000 acre-feet of water it leased into Trinidad Reservoir.

    But the valley may be running out of places to store water.

    “Moving forward in how we move and manage water, storage is a key component,” said Alan Hamel, who was president of the Southeastern district board when the Preferred Storage Option Plan was developed and now represents the basin on the Colorado Water Conservation Board. “This basin needs water storage in the upper basin, more in Pueblo and below Pueblo.”

    PSOP, which developed in the late 1990s, was abandoned by the district after multiparty negotiations broke down in 2007, but certain elements moved ahead. One of those was how excess capacity in Lake Pueblo could be better used.

    Right now, there are about 27,000 acre-feet of water in the so-called if-and-when accounts that might be vulnerable to spills. Another 57,000 acre-feet of winter water likely would not spill this year, unless more water than expected is collected through the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project.

    About 65,000 acrefeet of Fry-Ark water is expected to be brought into Turquoise Lake through the Boustead Tunnel, if conditions remain average, said Roy Vaughan, manager of the project for the Bureau of Reclamation.

    “But that’s a moving target,” Vaughan said.

    "Miracle May" -- Upper Colorado River Basin May 2015 precipitation as a percent of normal
    “Miracle May” — Upper Colorado River Basin May 2015 precipitation as a percent of normal

    Vandiver ends water district service — The Valley Courier

    Steve Vandiver enjoys a river float.
    Steve Vandiver enjoys a river float.

    From the Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

    Steve Vandiver’s final meeting as Rio Grande Water Conservation District (RGWCD) general manager on Tuesday was peppered with emotion as attendees wished Vandiver well in retirement and expressed their gratitude for his decade of service at the helm.

    “What a pleasure it’s been to work with Steve Vandiver as the district manager,” said long-time RGWCD Attorney David Robbins. “He’s been a true leader.”

    He added, “He’s advanced the interests of everyone in the Valley significantly.”

    Robbins said the new building the district recently completed is a testament to Vandiver’s ability to see the future clearly and move forward . The April 19th meeting was the district board’s first opportunity to meet in the new facility, which was ironically Vandiver’s last meeting as general manager.

    Cleave Simpson is the new general manager, and he thanked Vandiver for his guidance during the transition process.

    “Thank you for your leadership ,” Simpson told Vandiver. “You set the bar pretty high.”

    RGWCD Program Manager Bob Phillips added, “A large part of the success of Subdistrict 1 is on account of Steve Vandiver.” He said he appreciated working with Vandiver, adding “you are a wonderful asset for this community .”

    RGWCD Board President Greg Higel told Vandiver, “Thank you for everything you have done. It’s been a pleasure.”

    Vandiver is only the third manager since the district was formed in 1967, following Franklin Eddy and Ralph Curtis. Simpson will be the fourth in that nearly 50-year history.

    Vandiver acknowledged the staff members who have worked with him and proven their dedication to the district and its mission for the Valley.

    “I have been privileged to work with the highest quality staff,” he said, adding that he knew he was leaving the district in capable hands. He also acknowledged Robbins’ law firm and Davis Engineering for their “incredible help to me and the district.”

    He thanked Ralph Curtis for leaving the district in such excellent fiscal shape that it was able to build the new structure it is in now, and he thanked his predecessor at the Division of Water Resources, Mac McFadden for his service and his friendship.

    Vandiver said it had been a privilege to serve as the general manager for this board. He previously served as the long-time division engineer for the Colorado Division of Water Resources and moved almost immediately to his new position at the RGWCD.

    Vandiver said since its formation in 1967, the water district has taken on projects that no other entity in the Valley could have accomplished alone, from the Closed Basin Project to the Rio Grande Natural Area and the fight against AWDI.

    “It’s been a progressive, thoughtful board from 1967 to now,” he said. “It’s been an amazing group of individuals .”

    He commended the district and its board for bringing so many diverse groups together.

    “I think that’s probably one of the most important things this group does is provide a forum for a lot of people to come together and work together for the betterment of this Valley,” Vandiver said.

    He said there have been a handful of people who have thrown rocks, and he was not sure why, but so much more can be accomplished when people work together to address problems.

    Vandiver acknowledged the dedication of the late Ray Wright and Doug Shriver “who didn’t sit around and wait to see where the chips were going to fall; they got up and they did something for the betterment of the Valley.”

    Attendees making reports to the water district board on Tuesday thanked Vandiver for his service and commitment to the water community.

    “It’s been a tremendous pleasure working with you,” said Allen Davey, engineer for the district.

    Travis Smith, who has served on state water boards with Vandiver, said he has worked with Vandiver since 1978 and shared many great memories with him, like the spilling of Elephant Butte Reservoir in 1985.

    “Steve, thank you for your friendship.”

    He added, “Steve has served the Valley and the state of Colorado at a high level.”

    CWCB: April 2016 #Drought Update

    Colorado Drought Monitor April 19, 2016.
    Colorado Drought Monitor April 19, 2016.

    Here’s the release from the Colorado Water Conservation Board (Ben Wade):

    Recent precipitation delivered 103 percent of average April precipitation to-date, helping to boost overall snowpack and alleviate drought conditions across parts of Colorado. Regions of the central mountains and Front Range saw as much as 3 inches of precipitation, Monte Vista received a quarter of their average annual precipitation in just one storm. With short and long term forecasts favoring continued precipitation, and good reservoir storage, water providers have no immediate concerns. Agricultural producers are also in good shape with many looking to increase production this season to compensate for low commodity prices.

  • Statewide water year to-date precipitation as reported from NRCS is at 98% of average, with the southern portion of the state experiencing drier conditions than the northern half.
  • Despite recent precipitation, much of the state has seen above normal temperatures in March and April. Forecasts indicate that warmer temperatures are likely to continue into the spring.
  • Statewide NRCS SNOTEL water year-to-date precipitation is 98 percent of normal. The Upper Rio Grande has the lowest year-to-date precipitation at 87 percent of average, while the South Platte has the highest at 112 percent of average.
  • Reservoir storage statewide remains above normal at 111 percent. The Arkansas and Yampa/White basins have the highest storage levels in the state at 120 percent of average; the Upper Rio Grande has the lowest storage levels at 94 percent, just slightly below normal.
  • The Surface Water Supply Index (SWSI) as of April 1st is near or above average across the majority of the state. At this time of year the index reflects reservoir storage and streamflow forecasts. The lower Arkansas has seen large increases in storage over the last year and has some of the highest SWSI values in the state.
  • Streamflow forecasts are slightly below normal across many regions of the state with most forecasts ranging between 70-89 percent of average. The North Platte has the highest forecast in the state at 111 percent of average while the Purgatoire has the lower at just 69 percent of average.
  • The long term experimental forecast favors above average probability of precipitation through spring, with eastern Colorado favored more than the rest of the state. The strong El Nino event is likely to dissipate over the coming months but it is unclear if persistent La Nina conditions will develop. La Nina events tend to result in drier conditions across Colorado, but more so during later years of long-lived events.
  • The Pacific Decadal Oscillation tied its record high in March after more than two years above normal, which would tend to inhibit the development of a strong La Nina event or lessen its impacts.
  • Click here to read my Tweets from the meeting on Monday.