Opposition likely to Aspen’s conditional water rights on upper Maroon and Castle creeks

A view of the Maroon Bells from just below the confluence of East Maroon and West Maroon creeks, where the City of Aspen has told the state of Colorado it intends - at some point - to build a 155-foot-tall dam. The resulting reservoir would back up 4,567 acre-feet of water and cover 80 acres of USFS land, including a portion of the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness
A view of the Maroon Bells from just below the confluence of East Maroon and West Maroon creeks, where the city of Aspen has told the state of Colorado it intends – at some point – to build a 155-foot-tall dam. The resulting reservoir would back up 4,567 acre-feet of water and cover 80 acres of USFS land, including a portion of the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness.

ASPEN – After holding both private and public meetings last week about its conditional water rights for dams and reservoirs on upper Maroon and Castle creeks, the city of Aspen is likely facing opposition in water court if it files a request to extend the water rights for another six years.

“If their diligence filing is consistent with the current project configuration, I do think we will file a statement of opposition,” said Matt Rice, Colorado basin director for American Rivers, a national river conservation organization.

The city has until the end of October to file a due diligence report in Division 5 water court in Glenwood Springs. Such filings are required every six years.

In its September 2009 diligence filing, which was approved in 2010, the city told the water court “it has steadily applied efforts to complete” the dams and reservoirs “in a reasonably expedient and efficient manner.” The city first filed for the conditional water right in 1965 and the conditional rights were formally decreed in 1971.

The view, with a zoom lens, of the Bells from the meadow that would be flooded by a Maroon Creek Reservoir. The meadow is known as the Stein Meadow and the wedding meadow.
The view, with a zoom lens, of the Bells from the meadow that would be flooded by a Maroon Creek Reservoir. The meadow is known as the Stein Meadow and the wedding meadow.

Routine filing?

At a public meeting Thursday a consultant working for the city, Larissa Reed of Common Ground Environmental Consulting LLC, told the gathering of about 35 people that the city’s pending due diligence filing was “routine.”

“City council is not proposing to build water storage reservoirs at this time,” Reed said. “What they are doing is thinking about the conditional water storage rights and whether or not they should be filed for again in October for another six years.“

A work session with city council on the question is to be held in September or October.

Reed then explained some aspects of conditional water rights, including the “can and will” test for proposed water supply projects.

“The phrase ‘can and will’ suggests, in the law, that you have to be making progress towards developing this water supply in order to re-up every six years in your diligence filing,” Reed said. “The idea is that applicants have to show that they are making progress on those water rights, that they’re not just sitting on them doing nothing.”

A view looking down the Castle Creek valley at one of the many wetlands that would be covered by the potential Castle Creek Reservoir. The city of Aspen has told the state it intends to build - at some point - a 170-foot-tall dam that would stretch about 1,000 feet across the Castle Creek valley and back up 9,062 acre-feet of water, inundating 112 acres of public and private land.
A view looking down the Castle Creek valley at one of the many wetlands that would be covered by the potential Castle Creek Reservoir. The city of Aspen has told the state it intends to build – at some point – a 170-foot-tall dam that would stretch about 1,000 feet across the Castle Creek valley and back up 9,062 acre-feet of water, inundating 112 acres of public and private land.

Can and will?

Since 1965, the city has consistently told the state it intends – at some point – to build a 155-foot-tall dam at the confluence of East and West Maroon creeks that would store 4,567 acre-feet of water behind it and build a 170-foot-tall dam on Castle Creek that would back-up 9,062 acre-feet of water.

The city has not undertaken feasibility or cost studies of the dams and reservoirs since filing for the water rights, although the Bureau of Reclamation did conduct limited test drilling on the Castle Creek dam site in 1970.

Nor has the city determined how much water storage it actually might need in the future, or what other storage locations might be feasible, according to David Hornbacher, the city’s director of utilities and environmental initiatives.

Castle Creek, not far below Ashcroft. This section of river would be covered by a potential Castle Creek Reservoir.
Castle Creek, not far below Ashcroft. This section of water would be covered by a potential Castle Creek Reservoir.

Facilitated sessions

On Wednesday, the city held a private stakeholders meeting about the conditional water rights with representatives from American Rivers, Wilderness Workshop, Roaring Fork Conservancy, Aspen Center for Environmental Studies, the Colorado River District, U.S. Forest Service, and Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

The formats of both the private stakeholders meeting and Thursday’s public meetings were the same, with remarks from the consultant and Hornbacher, limited time for questions, and then facilitated small-group discussions focused on questions crafted by the city.

“I’m hopeful that they will take this public input and present it to the council in an unbiased and accurate fashion,” said Rice of American Rivers, who attended Wednesday’s stakeholder meeting, “but if the city moves forward with due diligence for a reservoir on Maroon Creek and a reservoir on Castle Creek, we intend to stand up for those rivers and those wild places and oppose.”

When asked if American Rivers was prepared to take its opposition to a level of active litigation in water court, which typically comes after a lengthy period of time when parties are asked by the court to work out their differences in private meetings, Rice said he hoped it wouldn’t go that far.

“I would hope that it would give the city an opportunity to investigate real alternatives to this project to meet their future water supply needs,” he said of discussions during the initial phase of the process. “One thing that a statement of opposition in a diligence filing does is that inspires those discussions at a quicker pace than would happen otherwise.”

American Rivers filed a statement of opposition in response to a diligence filing in 2011 from the Colorado River Water Conservation District and the West Divide Water Conservancy District for conditional water rights for two large dams on the Crystal River.

The River District and the West Divide District agreed to abandon those water rights in 2013.

Pitkin County also filed a statement of opposition against the Crystal River conditional water rights and took an active role in the proceedings.

After Thursday’s public meeting on the rights on Maroon and Castle creeks, Laura Makar, an assistant county attorney for Pitkin County, said the county had not yet decided if it would oppose a diligence filing by the city.

“We don’t have a position at this point in time,” Makar said. “The diligence filing is not due until October. Any statement of opposition would not be due until December. We’re in August right now, so I anticipate we’ll have a position at some point.”

In a small bit of irony, there is a two-foot-tall beaver dam just below the location where Aspen has told the state it intends to build a 155-foot-tall dam - some day.
In a small bit of irony, there is a 2-foot-tall beaver dam just below the location where Aspen has told the state it intends to build a 155-foot-tall dam – someday.

Dueling statements

Pitkin County Commissioner Rachel Richards, a former mayor of Aspen, attended Thursday’s meeting. She said during the small-group discussions that she thought it was “premature” for the city to abandon its conditional rights for the dams and reservoirs.

Will Roush, a conservation advocate for Wilderness Workshop, attended both the private stakeholders meeting and the public meeting.

When asked Friday if Wilderness Workshop intended to oppose the diligence filing, Roush said, “We’ll make that decision once they decide whether or not to file a diligence filing,” but also said his organization wants Aspen to abandon the water rights.

Paul Noto, a water attorney at Patrick, Miller, Noto who fought the city’s proposed hydropower plant on lower Castle Creek on behalf of a group of local clients, was asked if he expected someone to file a statement of opposition if the city filed.

“It’s not a question of someone, it is a question of how many,” Noto said. “There is going to be a lot of opposition to this project. The reason is Aspenites, and others, hold Castle and Maroon creek valleys near and dear to their hearts and I think a lot of people passionately believe, rightly so, that there shouldn’t be dams in those valleys.”

Rob Harris, the senior staff attorney at Western Resource Advocates of Boulder, also was at Thursday’s meeting. Afterward, he was critical of the city’s dueling messages about its intentions for the dams and reservoirs.

“The city can’t and shouldn’t say different things to the public that it says to the water court,” Harris said. “The city shouldn’t come in here, to this public meeting, and say, ‘We don’t really have any plans to build these dams’ and then go into the water court and say, ‘We can and will build these reservoirs.’ Those are two different, inconsistent, statements.”

He also challenged the way the city made it sound that climate change made the dams necessary.

Ashley Perl, the director of the city’s Canary Initiative, had presented climate projections at the meeting that showed less water would likely be in Aspen-area rivers in a hotter future. She said that Aspen doesn’t have any water storage facilities, which made it vulnerable, and that the community needed to have a conversation about storage.

But Harris said, “It is important to note that nothing we saw tonight connected any of those water availability scenarios under those climate models to actual water needs that the city of Aspen has. There was nothing presented tonight that showed that in any of those scenarios that Aspen would in fact be short of water.”

Harris added, “If the city does identify a water need, they have lots of other alternatives” than the dams and reservoirs.

The city has set up an email address for citizens to send comments and questions about the conditional water rights, at waterrights@cityofaspen.com, until Aug. 19.

One of the many wetlands in the area that would be covered by a Castle Creek Reservoir.
One of the many wetlands in the area that would be covered by a Castle Creek Reservoir.

Regional reservoirs and dams, ranked by normal storage capacity

During a public meeting on Aug. 4, 2016, the city of Aspen presented a graphic comparing the surface area of various regional reservoirs with the surface area of the proposed Castle and Maroon creek reservoirs.

We’ve expanded the list, added more criteria, ranked it by storage capacity, and used data from the Colorado Dept. of Dam Safety, including their term of “normal storage” for the storage capacity amount.

For Castle and Maroon, which the city labeled in their presentation as “proposed,” we’ve simply used “storage capacity.”

AF means “acre feet.” There are 325,851 gallons of water in an acre-foot.

Ruedi Reservoir
Normal storage: 102,369 AF
Dam height: 291 feet
Dam length: 1,060 feet
Surface area: 998 acres

Homestake Reservoir
Normal storage: 42,900 AF
Dam height: 231 feet
Dam length: 1,996 feet
Surface area: 333 acres

Paonia Reservoir
Normal storage: 20,950 AF
Dam height: 199 feet
Dam length: 770 feet
Surface area: 334 acres

Rifle Gap Reservoir
Normal storage: 13,602 AF
Dam height: 124 feet
Dam length: 1,450 feet
Surface area: 359 acres

Proposed Castle Creek Reservoir
Storage capacity: 9,062 AF
Dam height: 170 feet
Dam length: Approx. 1,000 feet
Surface area: 112 acres

Proposed Maroon Creek Reservoir
Storage capacity: 4,567 AF
Dam height: 155 feet
Dam length: Approx. 1,500 feet
Surface area: 80 acres

Spring Park Reservoir
Normal storage: 1,732 AF
Dam height: 20 feet
Dam length: 1,645 feet
Surface area: 258 acres

Wildcat Reservoir
Normal storage: 1,100 AF
Dam height: 75 feet
Dam length: 1,100 feet
Surface area: 50 acres

Ivanhoe Reservoir
Normal storage: 752 AF
Dam height: 16 feet
Dam length: 270 feet
Surface area: 82 acres

Grizzly Reservoir
Normal storage: 590 AF
Dam height: 56 feet
Dam length: 792 feet
Surface area: 44 acres

Dinkle Lake
Normal storage: 460 AF
Dam height: 40 feet
Dam length: 580 feet
Surface area: 20 acres

Ziegler Reservoir
Normal storage: 248 AF
Dam height: 28 feet
Dam length: 500 feet
Surface area: 16 acres

Chapman Reservoir
Normal storage: 100 acre feet
Dam height: 37 feet
Dam length: 160 feet
Surface area: 10 acres

Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism, the Aspen Daily News, and Coyote Gulch are collaborating on coverage of rivers and water. The Daily News published this story on Monday, August 8, 2016.

The latest briefing from Western Water Assessment is hot off the presses

Upper Colorado River Basin July 2016 precipitation as a percent of normal via the Colorado Climate Center.
Upper Colorado River Basin July 2016 precipitation as a percent of normal via the Colorado Climate Center.

From the Western Water Assessment:

A highlights-only Monthly “Micro-Briefing” was posted today on the Intermountain West Climate Dashboard. These highlights, also provided below, cover July’s precipitation and temperatures, drought conditions, April-July Lake Powell inflows, and ENSO outlook.


  • July was another hotter-than-normal and drier-than-normal month for the region, though not quite as hot or dry as June. Most the region saw less than 70% of normal precipitation, while several areas had much-above-normal precipitation. Northern Utah and southern Wyoming were the driest parts of the region.
  • Drought conditions have expanded in Wyoming and Utah, with abnormally dry (D0) or worse conditions now covering more than 55% of both states. The 2-week and 4-week EDDI maps indicate that during July, the atmosphere was unusually thirsty over most of Wyoming and nearly all of Utah, pointing to the potential for more further drought onset and intensification.
  • Observed inflows to Lake Powell for April through July ended up at about 6630 KAF (93% of average and 102% of median), the third year in a row with inflows of 90-100% of average, following the the extreme drought years of 2012 and 2013.
  • According to ENSO model forecasts , a transition from the current ENSO-neutral to La Niña conditions during the coming fall and winter is still favored, but the likelihood has slipped since last month, to about 60%.
  • View the Intermountain West Climate Dashboard on the Western Water Assessment website.

    #ColoradoRiver: Aspinall Unit operations update #COriver — 1,000 cfs in Black Canyon

    Sunrise Black Canyon via Bob Berwyn
    Sunrise Black Canyon via Bob Berwyn

    From email from Reclamation (Eric Knight):

    Releases from Crystal Dam will be decreased from 2000 cfs to 1800 cfs on Wednesday, August 10th. July inflows to Blue Mesa Reservoir ended up being less than predicted and August inflow forecasts are also declining. The April-July runoff volume finished the season at 89% of average. The current content of Blue Mesa Reservoir is 757,000 acre-feet which is 91% full.

    Flows in the lower Gunnison River are currently above the baseflow target of 1050 cfs. Flows are expected to remain above the baseflow target for the foreseeable future.

    Pursuant to the Aspinall Unit Operations Record of Decision (ROD), the baseflow target in the lower Gunnison River, as measured at the Whitewater gage, is 1050 cfs for August through December.

    Currently, diversions into the Gunnison Tunnel are around 1000 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon are around 1000 cfs. After this release change Gunnison Tunnel diversions will still be at 1000 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon should be around 800 cfs. Current flow information is obtained from provisional data that may undergo revision subsequent to review.

    ERWC: The latest “The Current” newsletter is hot off the presses

    Macro Invertebrates via Little Pend Oreille Wildlife Refuge Water Quality Research
    Macro Invertebrates via Little Pend Oreille Wildlife Refuge Water Quality Research

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

    We had a wonderful time with Beaver Creek Summer Day Camp, bug sampling on Gore Creek and learning about different types of macroinvertebrates. Stoneflies and mayflies galore! Looking for a fun, engaging, and educational way to get kids on the river during the summer? Email schoder@erwc.org for inquiries!

    NOAA: July warmer than average, year to date 3rd warmest for Lower 48

    Here’s the release from NOAA:

    July’s reputation for sizzle didn’t disappoint, bringing record warm temperatures to Florida and New Mexico and much above-average temperatures across the South, the East Coast and Alaska.

    The average July temperature for the contiguous U.S. was 75.3 degrees F, making it the 14th warmest July on record, according to scientists from NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information. July precipitation averaged 2.87 inches (0.40 inch above average).

    From January through July, the average temperature for the Lower 48 states ranked as the third warmest on record at 54.3 degrees F, 3.0 degrees above average. Thirty-eight states were much warmer than average.


    Other notable climate events for July included:

  • Alaska: Alaska had its 4th warmest July and set a new record for the warmest year to date, with an average statewide temperature of 33.9 degrees F, 8.1 degrees above average.
  • New Mexico: New Mexico set a new heat record with an average temperature of 76.8 degrees F, 4.1 degrees above average. This also tied July 2003 as the warmest month of any month on record.
  • Florida: Florida was record warm for the month, reaching an average temperature of 84.0 degree F, 3.0 degrees above average. This was the second warmest month of any month on record.
  • Kentucky: Parts of western Kentucky received record rainfall totaling more than 16 inches and causing widespread flooding.
  • Hawaii: On July 24, Tropical Storm Darby made landfall on Hawaii’s Big Island with sustained winds of 40 mph and heavy rains in excess of 10 inches.
  • U.S. drought: By month’s end, 21.1 percent of the contiguous U.S. was in drought, up about 4.9 percent since end of June.
  • More: Find NOAA’s reports and download images by visiting the NCEI website.

    The latest #CWCB Confluence newsletter is hot off the presses

    Pueblo dam releases
    Pueblo dam releases

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

    What you missed at the CWCB July Board meeting in Steamboat Springs…

  • Our newest Board member, Jim Yahn, was sworn in to represent the South Platte River Basin. Jim is the manager of the North Sterling and Prewitt Reservoirs where he oversees the diversion and distribution of water to over 350 farmers.
  • Carlee Brown attended her first Board meeting as the new Section Chief for the Interstate, Federal, and Water Information Section. Previously, Carlee was the Policy Advisor for water at the Western Governors’ Association (WGA), where she led WGA’s bipartisan efforts on drought, the Clean Water Act, water data, and groundwater.
  • The implementation of Colorado’s Water Plan is in full swing. Some highlights:

  • Distributed over $5M in WSRF funds from statewide and basin accounts since the beginning of November 2015. This $5m has been successfully leveraged against over $25M in matching contributions.
  • CWCB staff are working with other stakeholders to provide water loss trainings statewide over the next few years. These trainings will update water managers on proper water loss reporting and accounting.
  • A LEAN event was held between the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Colorado Department of Natural Resources (DNR), the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB), and local regulators, such as the Northwest Council of Governments (NWCOG) to improve the efficiency of the permitting process. Water providers and environmental groups were also involved. Stakeholders are creating a Permitting Handbook.
  • The CWCB Board and staff have developed a creative funding plan for up to five years, in its conception phase, that proposes:

  • $50 million one-time investment in a repayment guarantee fund
  • $10 million annually to the WSRF
  • $5 million annually to the Watershed Restoration Program
  • $10 million annually to non-reimbursable programs
  • The Non Native Fish Subcommittee is working to reduce non native fish populations through education, outreach, and harvest incentives. In the Ridgway Reservoir, the Smallmouth Bass adult population has been reduced by 36 percent.
  • Instream flow water rights have been decreed on Alkali Creek, Armstrong Creek, Brush Creek, East Douglas Creek, Schaefer Creek, Terror Creek, and Timber Springs Gulch, totaling 22 miles in length.
  • The Board approved a loan to the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District for the Pueblo Dam Hydroelectric Project. This is the first phase of the Arkansas Valley Conduit project, which was a part of the original Fryingpan-Arkansas project signed by President Kennedy in 1962. The Board also approved a loan to the North Poudre Irrigation Company for rehabilitation of the Livermore Irrigation Tunnel. This project will help to ensure continued deliveries to more than 36 square miles of irrigated acreage.
  • The Board approved seven WSRF grants at this meeting, totaling $270,572.
  • Longmont councillors weighing cash v. debt for Windy Gap participation

    Map from Northern Water via the Fort Collins Coloradan.
    Map from Northern Water via the Fort Collins Coloradan.

    From the Longmont Times-Call (Karen Antonacci):

    The Longmont City Council on Tuesday will make several high-level decisions on how to finance the Windy Gap Firming Project.

    In March, the council opted for the costlier 10,000 acre-foot level of the $387.36 million project, which would bring the pricetag for Longmont up to about $47 million. In April, the council directed they would prefer to pay with cash rather than debt for the $47 million, which would save money in the long-term but mean steep rate hikes in the short-term.

    Now, staff has come back with a third option — a mix of cash and debt financing.

    The council has already approved and codified raises to rates of 9 percent in both 2017 and 2018. If the council chose to finance the complete $47 million through rate increases, rates would need to rise 21 percent in 2017 and 22 percent in 2018, staff wrote to council in a memo.

    But, raising rates is a little unpredictable for staff, because people might use less water in order to save money. While that helps with the city’s water conservation goals, it could make financing a huge project like Windy Gap tough.

    “What we do know is that if we have a rate increase, it dampens consumption because people do react to an increased cost. What we’ve seen over time is that initial reaction tends to go away over time,” said Dale Rademacher, general manager of Longmont public resources and natural works…

    By contrast, if Longmont chose to finance the $47 million project with $16.7 million in bonds, rates would not increase beyond the planned 9 percent in 2017 and then by 14 percent in 2018 and another 14 percent in 2019. The downside to debt is that it costs more in the long-term.

    At a projected 4.25 percent interest rate, bonding out $16.7 million would cost the city $55.75 million over 20 years.

    In the middle, staff has proposed bonding out only $6 million of the cost and financing the rest through rate increases.

    This option would mean rate increases of 17 percent each in 2017 and 2018, between the two extremes of 21 percent with all cash and 9 percent with the higher debt option.

    Rademacher said council could choose to bond out $6 million of the cost without a vote of the public…

    Council on Tuesday needs to decide which financing option they want, and by extension, how much rates should raise in 2017.

    Rademacher said all the rate raises are projected to happen by January 1, 2017 and if a major bonding issue needed to go to the ballot, staff are projecting to put it in front of voters in November, 2017.

    Council could also decide to wait on the financing decision and get more public feedback on the issue. While there were questions related to Windy Gap on the regular Longmont resident survey, staff decided to remove those questions and ask council about a more specific survey.

    National Research Center submitted a bid in order to survey Longmont residents about whether they would prefer to pay cash or debt for Windy Gap. To do an online-only survey would cost $3,440. To mail out a survey to randomly selected households would cost between $5,130 and $11,850 depending if NRC targeted 800, 1,500 or 3,000 households.

    #ColoradoRiver: Lake Mead still shrinking, but lower consumption offers glimmer of hope — Las Vegas Review-Journal


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

    The reservoir that supplies 90 percent of the Las Vegas Valley’s drinking water bottomed out at 1,071.61 feet above sea level on July 1, its lowest level since May 1937, when the lake was filling for the first time behind a newly completed Hoover Dam.

    Though the surface of the lake has ticked back up by about 2 feet since then, it remains 5 feet lower than it was at this time last year and 43 feet lower than it was in early August 2012.

    But the news isn’t all bad.

    The amount of water being drawn from the Colorado River for use in Nevada, Arizona and California is on track to hit its lowest level in more than 20 years, a sign that conservation efforts and temporary cuts by river users are having an effect, at least on the demand side of the ledger…

    If the current federal projection holds, the three lower basin states will combine this year to consume less than 7 million acre-feet of Colorado River water for the first time since 1992…

    That’s a “symbolically important milestone,” said author and long-time environmental journalist John Fleck, because the region’s population has grown by roughly 7 million people since the last time consumption was this low…

    Even with reduced consumption, there will still be more water taken out of the river this year than there is flowing into it.

    As a result, the record low set on July 1 is unlikely to stand for long. Federal forecasters expect Lake Mead to start 2017 about 6 feet higher than it is now, then dip downward again into record territory in April, before bottoming out next June or July at about 1,063 feet above sea level…

    Though Lake Mead’s decline is expected to continue for the next two years at least, forecasters say the reservoir is likely to contain just enough water on Jan. 1, 2017, and Jan. 1, 2018, to avoid a first-ever federal shortage declaration that would trigger mandatory water reductions for Nevada and Arizona…

    Mack said the voluntary cuts and conservation gains made already by cities, farms and water agencies in Nevada, Arizona and California are at least partially responsible for keeping Lake Mead just out of shortage territory. And more cooperative cuts are coming.

    By the end of the year, officials in Nevada, Arizona and California hope to finalize a landmark deal outlining a series of voluntary water reductions designed to prop up Lake Mead and stave off deeper, mandatory cuts for Arizona and Nevada.

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

    As it stands now, California is not required to take any cuts to its 4.4 million acre-foot share of the Colorado, which is the largest annual allotment among the seven states that share the river.

    Rafting Gore Canyon — The Sky-Hi Daily News

    Colorado River in Gore Canyon
    Colorado River in Gore Canyon

    From the Sky-Hi Daily News (Travis Poulin):

    If you’ve never rafted Gore Canyon it’s unlike any other river trip in Colorado. Gore is no float trip and should be run by experienced boaters if you are not going through a guide service. This adrenaline packed stretch of whitewater offers continuous class IV and V rapids. There are many outstanding guide services offered to run Gore Canyon, and it is well worth the money. The raft outfitters that run Gore use their top guides who know the canyon well and have the most experience on the water.

    Gore is not for the faint of heart. It is recommended that anyone rafting this stretch be in good physical condition. Many companies that run Gore commercially have requirements that participants must meet in order to take the trip. As a guideline for fitness, it is recommended that you are able to run a mile and able to swim ten laps, as many companies suggest. You will most likely be required to swim a class III rapid that is encountered before entering into the IV’s and V’s. You will also have to practice pulling yourself back into the raft if you happen to find yourself on the “swim team,” and participate in a raft flip-drill so you will know what to do if the raft turns over, which is a strong possibility on a Gore trip.

    Depending on water levels, Gore usually runs from mid August through the beginning of September which makes it perfect for those who were not able to raft mid summer. It is not recommended that Gore Canyon be your first ever rafting experience, because of the intensity of the stretch. If you have been rafting before and are comfortable paddling through class III-V then Gore is probably the best trip Colorado has to offer.

    The Colorado River drops about 120 feet a mile through Gore Canyon and it is a very remote area. The isolation of the area must be taken into consideration, especially if you are running it privately, as recues and road access may be difficult to attain.

    As of Thursday, August 4 the Colorado River was running at 1000 cubic feet per second (cfs), according to the USGS website. 1000 cfs is a great level for Gore. To check river flows throughout the state visit http://waterdata.usgs.gov/co/nwis/rt.

    #AnimasRiver: The Navajo Nation will receive about $445,000 for field evaluations, water quality sampling, laboratory work and personnel costs

    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 (Joshua Kellogg):

    The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced on Friday it is awarding about $1.2 million in reimbursements to tribal and government agencies in the Four Regions region, including the Navajo Nation, for costs associated with the response to the Gold King Mine spill.

    The announcement issued by the EPA came on the one-year anniversary of EPA crews accidentally triggering the release of about 880,000 pounds of heavy metals into a tributary of the Animas River near Silverton, Colo., while cleaning up abandoned mining sites.

    According to the press release, the Navajo Nation will receive about $445,000 in reimbursements for costs associated with the response to the spill, including field evaluations, water quality sampling, laboratory work and personnel costs. The tribe previously was awarded about $158,000 by the EPA.

    About $710,000 will be distributed to state, tribal and local governments in Colorado and Utah, according to an EPA press release.

    The state of New Mexico was not included in the latest round of funding under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, also known as Superfund. New Mexico was previously awarded about $1.1 million in a previous round of funding, according to the EPA’s website…

    Some of the response costs included about $130,000 to support the Navajo Nation Emergency Operations Center, about $72,000 to monitor drinking water and haul water, and about $71,000 to support visits by the Navajo Department of Agriculture to investigate possible needs for water and feed for farmers.

    According to its press release, the EPA has dedicated more than $29 million to respond to the incident with the majority of the funds dedicated to stabilizing the mine and reducing the acid mine drainage at the Gold King Mine site.

    #COWaterPlan: Conservation easements are being used to protect water

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

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    Conservation easements have figured prominently in the Arkansas River Basin as a way to offer landowners incentives to retain water rights rather than selling them off the land.

    They also underpin Colorado’s Water Plan, mainly through statements in several of the basin implementation plans which fed into the final product.

    Conservation, as a term in the water plan, is often described as reducing water demand, either for urban or agricultural use, in order to protect stream flows.

    But the continued use of water on farms is an important element of the water plan in maintaining the environmental and recreational landscape that makes the state so attractive. Preserving agricultural water requires incentives to prevent it from being sold for uses that, on the surface, appear more lucrative. That’s how conservation easements fit in.

    The Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District, formed in 2002 to protect water in the Arkansas River basin, considers conservation easements one of its most valuable tools in preventing water from permanently leaving the land.

    But it’s taken a while for groups that promote conservation easements to come to the roundtables.

    The Pueblo Chieftain asked Ben Lenth, executive director of the San Isabel Land Trust, and Matt Heimerich, conservation director for the Palmer Land Trust’s Lower Arkansas Valley programs, to reflect on how their organizations will connect with Colorado’s Water Plan.

    How do we fill the gap in the Arkansas River Basin within the Colorado Water Plan and Basin Implementation Plan?


    1. Financially incentivize temporary and intermittent water sharing and leasing agreements for landowners with water rights.
    2. Incentivize efficiency improvements for irrigation without penalizing the water rights holder.
    3. Prioritize water projects that have multiuse functions to benefit as many water users as possible.
    4. Continue to incentivize and/or regulate water conservation measures by municipalities and industry.

    It is important to consider that the Colorado Water Plan recognizes the importance of balancing the water needs of municipalities, agricultural and non-consumptive uses, such as recreation, and watershed health.

    As a regional organization, Palmer Land Trust is committed to preserving open spaces, outdoor recreation, and working farms and ranches. Our goals as a land trust are well-aligned with the working tenets of the Colorado Water Plan.

    Past solutions to solving water supply problems at the expense of working farms and ranches and the environment are no longer acceptable. As the state’s largest basin, it is imperative that the identified water supply gap in the Arkansas not create winners and losers over the equitable distribution of this precious resource.

    What projects do you plan to fill the gap?


    1. Planning and implementing land and water conservation projects to have maximum flexibility for leasing/ sharing water over time.
    2. Water reallocation projects which benefit agriculture, municipalities, recreation and wildlife habitat.


    After an in-depth study, Palmer Land Trust made the decision to open an office in Rocky Ford with the purpose of exploring economic-based alternatives to large-scale water transfers from irrigated agricultural to municipalities. Palmer’s conservation easements use language that, in addition to tying the water rights to the land in perpetuity, allow for short-term leasing opportunities when an extended drought threatens the viability of municipal water providers.

    Palmer Land Trust is also an active participant in a coalition of farmers, water providers, locally elected officials and research institutions examining strategies on how to ensure the long-term sustainability of farming under the Bessemer Ditch as farmers face increasing competition for land and water in eastern Pueblo County.

    How do we keep the gaps for agriculture and municipalities from becoming bigger?


    Integrate landuse planning and water planning. Do not allow subdivisions to be permitted without proven sources of water.


    Palmer believes that one of the ways to avert conflicts between municipalities and agriculture is to engage the urban/suburban citizen in a dialogue regarding the importance of irrigated farming to the region’s economy and cultural identity. The demand for locally-grown foods is increasing at a rapid pace.

    Drying up farms along the Arkansas River is counterproductive on many levels. Our visibility in the greater Pikes Peak Region affords Palmer a unique opportunity to help close this gap between agriculture and municipalities.

    Southwestern Water hears proposals for Dryside irrigation — The Cortez Journal

    Animas-La Plata Project map via USBR
    Animas-La Plata Project map via USBR

    From The Durango Herald (Jessica Pace) via The Cortez Journal:

    Options to pump Animas River water to Redmesa for irrigation were recently floated to the Southwestern Water Conservation District, though none of the projects have funding.

    The proposals would pump water uphill from the Lake Nighthorse intake to Redmesa Reservoir, east of the La Plata River and about four miles north of the New Mexico border.

    “The 700-foot elevation difference is the reason it hasn’t been done, and demand is the reason it won’t go away,” said Steve Harris, a water engineer who designed the projects. “Taylor Reservoir is an attempt to better use what little water is out there, but we’re still short-changed.”

    Under the 1922 La Plata River Compact, the state is required to send half of the La Plata River’s flow from Hesperus, when it is discharging at 100 cubic feet per second or less, to New Mexico. But hot summers, peak irrigation season and subsequent low flows can prevent Colorado from fulfilling this obligation.

    The Bobby K. Taylor Reservoir, just south of Redmesa, was designed to allow Colorado water users to divert water that would otherwise flow to New Mexico. Harris’ designs would offer another means of getting water to La Plata County’s Dayside…

    The proposals vary in construction and operational costs and size.

    One would pump 14 cfs from the Lake Nighthorse intake to Redmesa Reservoir, discharging at points along the way including at Long Hollow Reservoir. The cost of construction is estimated at $43.5 million.

    Another proposal, which would cost about $430 million to build, would pump 287 cfs through larger pipelines. This project would require new infrastructure because the 287 cfs would exceed existing infrastructure’s capacity.

    A third proposal would pump 14 cfs directly from the Animas River to Redmesa Reservoir for a construction cost of $58.5 million.

    Whitehead said it would be premature to name a preferred design, or say how a future project might be funded.

    “The important thing with all of them is that they all show there are benefits, and it comes down to refining them and seeing who would potentially partner with us.”