Grand Valley Drainage District gets a day in court, argues against fee injunction

Bicycling the Colorado National Monument, Grand Valley in the distance via Colorado.com
Bicycling the Colorado National Monument, Grand Valley in the distance via Colorado.com

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

Mesa County, the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce and several companies will suffer no irreparable harm if a judge allows a stormwater fee to go forward, the Grand Valley Drainage District said.

If anything, the district said in court papers, it’s more likely that district residents will suffer if the fee is unnecessarily delayed.

If the district’s $3 per month stormwater charge is a valid fee, “It is not equitable to enjoin a public improvement project needed to control flooding,” the district said in its response to the plaintiffs’ request for a preliminary injunction halting the district from collecting the fee.

The district sent out bills to about 40,000 property owners this spring. The bills were due on Tuesday.

Mesa County, the chamber and several companies within the district have challenged the fee, contending that it is actually a tax that was levied unconstitutionally because it was never submitted to district residents for a vote.

The district also contends that the stormwater charge is a fee under 1983 legislation that allowed it to assess service fees for stormwater control.

The 1983 legislation also recognizes that the district can levy its own property tax.

District officials have said that the mill levy it receives is sufficient to manage irrigation runoff and seep, but that it needs additional funding to deal with stormwater.

The district plans to collect abut $2.5 million this year for improvements to facilities such as the Buthorn Drain, which directs water away from businesses and residents along much of 12th Street north of North Avenue and south of the Grand Valley Canal.

The Colorado Supreme Court already has ruled twice that charges for the maintenance, improvement and replacement of storm-drainage facilities are service fees, the district noted in its papers.

The county and other plaintiffs have challenged the fee, saying that stormwater is better handled by a valleywide drainage authority. The drainage district covers about 90 square miles while the 521 Drainage Authority encompasses about 900 square miles.

The district says in its filing that there is no need for a hearing on the preliminary injunction.

Steep sewer rate hikes clear hurdle at #Denver council but still face questions — The Denver Post

From The Denver Post (Jon Murray):

Double-digit increases in Denver’s storm drainage and sewer fees moved a step closer to reality after the proposal on Tuesday cleared its first vote 9-3 before the full Denver City Council.

But the measure, which would hike the storm drainage and sewer fees over five years, still faces pointed questions from council members before a final vote June 13. The council also has set an hour-long public hearing that night that is sure to draw pointed comments from critics who question the city’s approach, the largest project that would benefit from the fees and its link to the state’s Interstate 70 project through northeast Denver.

Under the proposal, the annual combined bills for an average single-family home would increase by $116 by 2020 to pay in part for six-year project plans and some operating costs. Storm drainage rates would increase 66 percent, while sanitary sewer rates would go up 24 percent. Otherwise, both are pegged to inflation.

“Don’t get me wrong. I’m 100 percent for a $383 million investment into our stormwater enterprise fund and our infrastructure,” Councilman Rafael Espinoza said, given the city’s extensive drainage needs.

But as he worked his way down a list of questions he still had for officials from Denver Public Works and the Urban Drainage and Flood Control District, Espinoza was among council members who focused on whether the controversial Platte to Park Hill project should take up the lion’s share.

Of the total storm drainage projects, $206 million raised through borrowing would go toward that project in northeast Denver, supplementing other sources to cover estimates that range between $267 million and $298 million.

The project, which drew the ire of attendees who wore signs on their shirts saying “NO To Storm Water Fee Increases,” is aimed at improving drainage in basins that lack natural waterways. But opponents have focused on the lack of benefit for some areas while the greatest protection would be closer to I-70, which the Colorado Department of Transportation plans to lower below grade in coming years.

Last year, the city and CDOT struck a cost-sharing agreement that includes state money for the city’s drainage projects, which would supplement the new I-70 drainage system.

Some council members said the connection troubled them. But Robin Kniech portrayed it as the city smartly responding to CDOT’s inevitable request for a contribution to the I-70 project by offering to undertake a needed project that would benefit neighborhoods as well as the highway.

“We have been chronically underfunding this infrastructure,” she said. Jolon Clark, also speaking in favor, noted that the fees proposal doesn’t specify any projects, and those planned by Public Works — including the bonds for the Platte to Park Hill project — will need future approval.

Joining them in voting yes were Kendra Black, Albus Brooks, Stacie Gilmore, Chris Herndon, Mary Beth Susman, Debbie Ortega and Wayne New — the final two characterizing their votes as tentative until after the public hearing. Espinoza, Kevin Flynn and Paul Kashmann voted no, and Paul Lopez was absent.

Storm drain and open channel improvements between the East Rail Line (38th & Blake Station) and the South Platte River (Globeville Landing Outfall), Stormwater detention/conveyance between the East Rail Line (38th & Blake Station) and Colorado Blvd, (Montclair Basin) Stormwater detention/ conveyance immediately east of Colorado Blvd. (Park Hill Basin).
Storm drain and open channel improvements between the East Rail Line (38th & Blake Station) and the South Platte River (Globeville Landing Outfall), Stormwater detention/conveyance between the East Rail Line (38th & Blake Station) and Colorado Blvd, (Montclair Basin)
Stormwater detention/ conveyance immediately east of Colorado Blvd. (Park Hill Basin).

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

Upper Colorado River Basin month to date precipitation through May 29, 2016 via the Colorado Climate Center.
Upper Colorado River Basin month to date precipitation through May 29, 2016 via the Colorado Climate Center.

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

#Snowpack news: May 31 Basin High/Low graphs

Click on a thumbnail graphic to view a gallery of snowpack data from the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

And here’s the Westwide SNOTEL map for June 1, 2016 via the NRCS.

Westwide SNOTEL map June 1, 2016 via the NRCS.
Westwide SNOTEL map June 1, 2016 via the NRCS.

Denver Water’s June 2016 “Waternews” is hot off the presses

Water infrastructure as sidewalk art
Water infrastructure as sidewalk art

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

Search for ‘hot spots’ reveals new approach to repairs

Even if there isn’t a major disruption when a water pipe breaks under the road, there will likely be hassles when it’s time to fix it.

Knowing emergency repairs can be a headache — especially when they happen in front of your home — Denver Water is always looking for ways to improve the repair process.

As part of Denver Water’s program to track and examine infrastructure conditions and needs, we recently analyzed about 630 breaks in our service area since 2013. Using locations, type of pipes, installation years and other data, we pinpointed “hot spots” with at-risk water mains.

These spots include neighborhoods on the west end of Centennial that have experienced 18 breaks in two years, over a 12-mile span. That’s more than three times the number of breaks as the rest of our service area. So we seized this opportunity to devise a new scheme. Instead of only upgrading pieces of “bad” pipe speckled throughout the water distribution system, the pipe replacement team can concentrate efforts on one area.

This spring crews began taking the new approach, which will replace about 60,000 feet of pipe throughout the targeted 12-mile zone east of South Broadway along Arapahoe Road over the next two years.

Knowing the work is cumbersome for the short term, crews are coordinating their efforts and communicating with residents before the disruptions occur.

The reward? Denver Water anticipates this new strategy will allow us to concentrate our resources on larger areas, which should reduce the odds of a main break in a community where we just worked.

Governor, Aurora Mayor seek public input on future of heavily used High Line Canal, path

Photo via Greag Hobbs March 29, 2015.
Photo via Greag Hobbs March 29, 2015.

From TheDenverChannel.com (Lance Hernandez):

The 66-mile long High Line Canal was originally built in the 1880s for irrigation purposes. It was initially 71 miles long.

Denver Water, which owns the canal, serves 30 customers. Fairmont Cemetery is the one farthest down the line.

While the canal may not carry as much water these days, the adjoining tree-lined path is often packed with people riding bikes, jogging or walking in the shade.

The High Line Canal Conservancy, a nonprofit whose mission is to protect, preserve and enhance the legacy canal, estimates that a half million people use the canal’s path system for recreational purposes every year…

But there are questions about how much longer the shade trees, many of them Cottonwoods, might last.

“They’re all over 100 years old,” said Dave Lorenz, a Conservancy board member.

Lorenz told Denver7 that there is an issue with water.

He said Denver Water routinely sent water downstream as far as the Rocky Mountain Arsenal until a few years ago.

Now water shipments are more infrequent…

He said once the trees die out, they would have to be replaced and added that young trees need frequent watering.

Lorenz said a Conservancy study group is looking at options.

“We’re working with Urban Drainage and Flood Control to see if some rain run-off could be channeled into the canal,” he said. “I’m a little concerned about that, because how many storms do we have in Colorado where we have sufficient run-off that goes in the canal?”

Lorenz said his second concern is that “Under Colorado law, the water has to be released in 72 hours.”

Lorenz said if the canal ends up dry, then they discuss whether to use the canal as a walking path, while leaving the trail for bikes.

“There may be other options,” he said.

High Line Canal

The entire 71-mile-long trail spans several jurisdictions.

Lorenz told Denver7 that he’d like to see it brought under one jurisdiction for maintenance purposes.

Some sections of the trail are paved with concrete, some with asphalt, and others, like the 19 miles in the South Suburban Recreational District, are just hard-packed gravel.

Many bike riders like it that way.

“You don’t have the high-speed road bikes,” on the gravel sections, which have to be shared with pedestrians, people walking dogs or pushing strollers,” Escalante said.

“Most of the people I’ve spoken with want it to remain gravel,” Lorenz said.

Soulsby told Denver7 she’d like to see some improvements at some busy intersections.

“It would be nice if they had more underpasses or overpasses,” she said, “so you could kind of keep going instead of getting stuck in traffic.”

She mentioned the East Yale Avenue/South Holly Street intersection which is choked with constant traffic.

Lorenz said the work group is studying several intersections and looking for possible fixes.

To learn more about the Conservancy and the upcoming planning initiative, click on this link: http://highlinecanal.org/

2016 #coleg: Residential rain barrels could capture 1,200 gallons a year — 9News

Governor Hickenlooper signed a rain barrel at the HB16-1005 bill signing ceremony. Photo via @jessica_goad and Twitter.
Governor Hickenlooper signed a rain barrel at the HB16-1005 bill signing ceremony. Photo via @jessica_goad and Twitter.
From 9News.com (Ryan Haarer):

Starting August 10, if rain falls on your roof, you can keep it. Each household can keep two rain barrels for a total of 110 gallons of water. A study at Colorado State University estimates that could add up to 1,200 gallons a year.

“At first I get worried about hail that would kill my vegetables, but then I am excited about the rain!” said Jessica Goad with Conservation Colorado…

Jessica works for Conservation Colorado which pushed hard to get this legislation passed. It failed last year because of concerns over how such a law would affect Colorado’s complicated water laws.

“The use of residential rain barrels had no impact on users downstream,” she says.

That’s according to a study by Colorado State University. The 1,200 gallons of water you could be capturing a year will not impact other areas. And the law requires further monitoring to ensure rain barrels never have an impact on other water users.

#Runoff news: Rafting outfitters are hopeful for a good whitewater season

Clear Creek watershed map via the Clear Creek Watershed Foundation
Clear Creek watershed map via the Clear Creek Watershed Foundation

From CBS Denver:

Colorado rafting companies excited about the summer season and they’re hoping for big crowds.

Nearly 100,000 people rafted just a stretch Clear Creek last year, but there are some safety precautions rafters need to take before they think about heading out.

“We expect to have a great year this year,” Clear Creek Rafting Company Manager Dale Drake told CBS4’s Matt Kroschel.

Dozens of commercial companies raft the waters in Clear Creek, and many more tackle other sections across Colorado.

#ColoradoRiver: Film — “I am red” “Yo Soy Rojo El Rio Colorado” — America Rivers #COriver

The Colorado River is a lifeline in the desert, its water sustaining tens of millions of people in seven states, as well as endangered fish and wildlife. However, demand on the river’s water now exceeds its supply, leaving the river so over-tapped that it no longer flows to the sea. (Video by Pete McBride. Flights by Lighthawk, Ecoflight.)

Yo Soy Rojo El Rio Colorado | Pete McBrideYO SOY ROJO EL RIO COLORADO

Congregations from Denver to Los Angeles are screening a Spanish-language version of the award-winning film, “I Am Red” as part of their discussions about protecting God’s creation, the importance of the Colorado River and its tributaries, and the need for conservation.

West Salt Creek landslide update: Residents warned to be prepared to move quickly out of path

West Salt Creek landslide May 2014 via The Denver Post
West Salt Creek landslide May 2014 via The Denver Post

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

Residents below the West Salt Creek landslide remained on notice Tuesday that they might have to flee on short notice should more water burst from the pond high above on Grand Mesa.

Mesa County officials on Tuesday said they were concerned that a significant amount of snowfall remains to melt and flow into the drainage, known as the “sag pond.”

The banks holding the pond left by the 2-year-old landslide ruptured last week, sending some 120 acre-feet of water rushing down the landslide, scouring Salt Creek Road as it gouged out a deep gorge through the 3-mile length of the slide.

The flood burst as the level of water in the pond topped the 20-foot level and officials said Tuesday the pond depth was at 15 feet and appearing to stabilize.

No movement of the slide mass, however, was detected.

“Right now the landslide is doing what we want and expect it to do,” the Sheriff’s Office said. “However, if Mother Nature decides to move more land down the landslide, we want residents to be ready to evacuate.”

The rush of water last week spilled onto two natural gas well pads, one of which already was shut down. The second, which was farther from the slide, was closed immediately following the slide, officials said.

Laramie Energy, which owns the wells, is prepared for the possibility that the pond might breach, said David Ludlam, executive director of the West Slope Colorado Oil and Gas Association.

Laramie contained some rust and scale inhibitor that spilled from a drum and none of the liquid left the site, Ludlam said.

State regulators were notified and no pipelines were affected.

In #Colorado, Farmers and Cities Battle Over Water Rights — NPR

Flood irrigation -- photo via the CSU Water Center
Flood irrigation — photo via the CSU Water Center

From NPR (Liz Baker):

The City of Thornton is one of many growing suburbs of Denver, Colo. On a day without much traffic, it’s only a 20-minute commute into the state capitol, and its new homes with big yards make it an attractive bedroom community. Nearly 130,000 people live there, and the population is expected to keep booming.

All that big growth comes with a big need for water. In the 1980s, Thornton placed its hopes in the Two Forks Dam project, which would have provided the city with enough water well into the future. But when that project started to seem uncertain, Thornton started looking for another source.

“We essentially embarked on a plan to purchase a large quantity of water rights associated with irrigated agriculture in Larimer and Weld Counties,” Water Resources Manager for the City of Thornton, Emily Hunt says…

That town’s mayor, Butch White, says the town was outraged when they found out that Thornton, an urban city, was behind the purchases. Some of that anger was because of property taxes — since Thornton is a municipality, it is exempt from paying taxes on all that land surrounding the community — taxes that used to support the local school and fire districts.

There was also a deeper reason for Ault’s hard feelings: According to Colorado water law, once a water right is converted from agricultural to municipal use, that land is permanently dried out. Irrigation, and therefore agriculture, can never return to that property. And agriculture had supported the town of Ault for a century.

This process called “Buy and Dry” is the result of the West’s Gold-Rush era water laws that follow a simple rule: first in right, first in use. That means people with longer links to a property, for example, a farmer whose family has been on a piece of land since pioneer days gets water priority over someone who hasn’t been there as long…

Thornton got approval [ed. a water court decree] to divert its water shares from Ault, but that came with a lot of stipulations which make the conversion a slow process. And for its part, Thornton believes it has done a fair job of managing the situation. It pays Ault a voluntary payment in lieu of property taxes, and plants native grasses on the dried up farms…

Eventually, Thornton will build a pipeline to divert water from Ault to their city 60 miles away.