Arkansas Basin Roundtable approves grant application for Fountain Creek flood control alternatives

Fountain Creek erosion via The Pueblo Chieftain
Fountain Creek erosion via The Pueblo Chieftain

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Flood control alternatives for Fountain Creek would be studied under a grant approved this week by the Arkansas Basin Roundtable.

“It will look at storage alternatives and determine a preferred alternative for future needs,” said Larry Small, executive director of the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District.

The district is seeking $93,000 in Water Supply Reserve Account grants through the Colorado Water Conservation Board. The board will vote on the application in September. The district will add $40,000 in local funds to the study.

The U.S. Geological Survey completed a study in December 2013 of 13 alternatives that would reduce the impact of a major flood on Pueblo, determining either a dam or series of detention ponds along Fountain Creek between Pueblo and Colorado Springs would be the best solution.

Last year, it completed a study that showed agricultural water rights downstream could be met through augmentation. Fountain Creek is the only drainage in the state not covered by a 72-hour store-andrelease law (SB212) passed last year by the state Legislature, Small explained.

Small assured some roundtable members that the protection of ag water rights would remain prominent, saying farmers have been invited to participate in past studies.

“We would keep the dialog open through the entire flood control study,” Small said.

Among the factors to be considered are the cost of projects and their ability to contain floods of four different magnitudes: 10-, 50-, 100- and 500-year floods.

The study also will evaluate where flood control structures should be located, what sort of property would need to be acquired and which permits are needed. It would evaluate the costs and benefits as well.
There would also be the opportunity to see if other storage needs, as identified in Colorado’s Water Plan and the basin implementation plan, could be filled. Those include municipal, agricultural and wildlife habitat purposes.

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

Upper Colorado River Basin month to date precipitation through July 17, 2016.
Upper Colorado River Basin month to date precipitation through July 17, 2016.

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

SECWCD seeks $17.4 million for Pueblo Dam hydroelectric project

Hydroelectric Dam
Hydroelectric Dam

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A hydropower project at Pueblo Dam has been given a green light by the Bureau of Reclamation and is in line for a $17.4 million state loan.

A finding of no significant impact was issued last week for the project being spearheaded by the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District. Other partners in the project are Pueblo Water and Colorado Springs Utilities.

The Southeastern district will seek a $17.4 million loan for the project from the Colorado Water Conservation Board today. The loan would be for 30 years at 2 percent interest.

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

A 7 megawatt hydropower facility is anticipated at the north outlet works, which was constructed by Utilities as part of the Southern Delivery System.

“A hydropower plant and associated facilities will be constructed at the base of Pueblo Dam, utilize the dam’s north outlet works and immediately return flows to the Arkansas River downstream of the dam,” said Signe Snortland, area manager of Reclamation’s Eastern Colorado Area Office.

The next step will be negotiation of a lease of power privilege contract.

About 1.4 miles of new power and fiber optic lines also will be constructed to connect the hydropower plant to Black Hills Energy’s substation at Lake Pueblo.

Construction is expected to begin later this year, with the first power generation to begin in 2018.

Mesa County District Court Judge David Bottger denies injunction, stormwater fee collection to continue

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):

A second round of invoices will go out in early August from the Grand Valley Drainage District to residents and businesses that have yet to pay their bills for the handling of stormwater — a charge that got a boost Tuesday from a court ruling.

Mesa County District Court Judge David Bottger rejected a request by Mesa County and the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce for a preliminary injunction that would have halted the district from collecting the charge, which for most residents is $36 a year.

“Collection of the fee will allow (the drainage district) to better fulfill its statutory obligations to the businesses and residences it serves in the Grand Valley,” Bottger wrote in a 14-page opinion in a case in which the question of whether the charge is a tax or fee is central. “Thus, an injunction will more likely disserve than serve the public interest. For the same reasons, the equities weigh in favor of denying the injunction.”

The drainage district board had approved printing and mailing bills to delinquent property owners earlier Tuesday morning, said district General Manager Tim Ryan.

The district has an obligation to those who already have paid the fee to collect from those who haven’t, Ryan said.

The need for the projects that the district is planning hasn’t lessened either, Ryan said.

County and chamber officials said they were disappointed, but not deterred.

No one disputes that the Grand Valley needs to deal with stormwater, said Mesa County Commissioner Scott McInnis.

“We’ve taken that (the charge) was ill-timed and that the governance has to change,” McInnis said.

There has been some improvement on the district with a contested seat having been decided by an election earlier this spring and greater interest in discussing issues around the valley, McInnis said.

There have been “more positive conversations” recently with the drainage district, McInnis said.

The chamber is “fully committed to moving forward,” said Diane Schwenke, president and CEO. “We still fully believe it is a tax and not a fee.”

The charge, meanwhile, is “unfair and we firmly believe it definitely hurts the business community,” Schwenke said.

Bottger found that the county and chamber failed to demonstrate a reasonable probability of success with their contention that the charge was a tax. [ed. emphasis mine]

He pointed to two Colorado Supreme Court cases that stood for the proposition that a charge for storm-drainage services “is in the nature of a fee.”

Bottger’s rejection of the preliminary injunction is a setback for the county and chamber, but doesn’t decide the actual case.

That job will fall to another judge after Bottger’s Aug. 11 retirement.

The drainage district is hoping to collect $2.77 million this year for projects within its 90-square-mile area, which includes the most densely populated areas north of the Colorado River.

It has already collected $1.2 million.

The district is charging the $3-a-month stormwater fee to most residences and for each 2,500 square feet of impervious surfaces to businesses and other property owners.

Lake Pueblo: Reclamation sets comment deadline on excess capacity water storage contract

Pueblo Dam
Pueblo Dam

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Negotiations are continuing with participants in a master contract for the excess capacity storage of water in Fryingpan-Arkansas Project facilities, primarily Lake Pueblo.

The Bureau of Reclamation released a public notice in The Pueblo Chieftain on Saturday seeking comments on its draft master contract with the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District.

The deadline for comments to the Eastern Colorado Area Office in Loveland is Sept. 15.

The contract was negotiated in January, but did not include storage amounts. The district is in the process of meeting with each of the participants on the details of subcontracts, which will be submitted to Reclamation in order to finalize the contract, said Jim Broderick, executive director of the district.

“We’ll be meeting with all the participants in August,” Broderick said.

In the environmental impact statement for the master contract, there were 37 participants seeking nearly 30,000 acre-feet (9.7 million gallons) annually.

More than half of those were participants in the Arkansas Valley Conduit, but others included several communities in the Upper Arkansas Valley, Pueblo West and El Paso County communities.

Proposed bill would block expansion of Rio Grande del Norte National Monument — The Pueblo Chieftain

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 Pueblo Chieftain (Matt Hildner):

A $32 billion appropriations bill passed by the U.S. House of Representatives Thursday aims to block the expansion of a national monument into Conejos County.

The funding measure for the Department of Interior and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency includes a provision that would bar the use of any funds for a monument created by President Obama under the Antiquities Act.

Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Colo., voted in favor of the bill, which would block monument funding in five other Colorado counties and 41 counties in seven other states.

The Colorado counties are Chaffee, Dolores, Moffat, Montezuma, and Park…

Organizations Conejos Clean Water, based in Antonito, and the Conservation Lands Foundation of Durango have spent the last year trying to drum up support for the expansion of New Mexico’s Rio Grande del Norte National Monument onto 64,000 acres in Conejos County.

But their efforts have been met with opposition by ranchers in the county who fear a designation would hinder grazing on the targeted area, which is managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

Conejos Clean Water has argued that a potential designation would protect grazing, in addition to barring the area from oil and natural gas development.

The Antonito-based group joined 100 other groups earlier this month in urging the House to eliminate the monument provision, arguing that monument designations have been an economic boon to nearby communities.

“We do not support any bill that jeopardizes the ability to permanently protect our public lands,” Anna Lee Vargas, an outreach coordinator for Conejos Clean Water, said in an email.

The White House intends to veto the bill should it make it through the Senate for a host of reasons, including the monument provision. [ed. emphasis mine]

The administration’s formal statement said the measure would debilitate a program that’s successfully been used to protect the nation’s cultural and natural heritage.