@csindependent: GOCO grants help trout, Ring the Peak, Manitou, Black Forest

From The Colorado Springs Independent (J. Arian Stanley):

Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) has allotted $250,000 worth of grants from Colorado Lottery money to our area. The money will go to projects that are near and dear to many locals. Here’s a quick outline of their impact (for more, read the press release posted below):

• A planning consultant will be hired to work out environmental and trail alignment obstacles for the gap in the long-planned Ring the Peak trail, which is planned to go around Pikes Peak. The plan should be finished at the end of 2017.

• The last known habitat of the greenback cutthroat trout, the Bear Creek watershed, will see habitat restoration. Grant money will “help the county conduct a full stream survey, producing a detailed implementation plan to remove sediment and optimize the river conditions for the trout, helping ensure its long-term survival.”

• Trail work and forest restoration in Pineries Open Space and Black Forest Regional Park will be completed, improving recreational opportunities, drainage issues, and wildlife habitat.

• Crews will work to create a “fire break” along the Intemann Trail, which runs along the outer edge of Manitou Springs.

Cutthroat trout historic range via Western Trout
Cutthroat trout historic range via Western Trout

Interior Secretary Jewell signs the Record of Decision implementing the new 20-year management plan for operating Glen Canyon Dam

@CBCNews: U.S., Canada ban offshore drilling in Arctic waters

Yes, there is still lots of ice in Antarctica, but it's melting faster than ever. bberwyn photo.

From the Associated Press via CBC News:

President Barack Obama on Tuesday designated the bulk of U.S.-owned waters in the Arctic Ocean and certain areas in the Atlantic Ocean as indefinitely off limits to future oil and gas leasing.

The White House announced the actions in conjunction with the government of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, which also placed a moratorium on new oil and gas leasing in its Arctic waters, subject to periodic review.

“Today, President Obama and Prime Minister Trudeau are proud to launch actions ensuring a strong, sustainable and viable Arctic economy and ecosystem, with low-impact shipping, science based management of marine resources, and free from the future risks of offshore oil and gas activity,” the statement read.

The move helps put some finishing touches on Obama’s environmental legacy while also testing president-elect Donald Trump’s promise to unleash the nation’s untapped energy reserves.

Obama is making use of an arcane provision in a 1953 law to ban offshore leases in the waters permanently. The statute says that “the president of the United States may, from time to time, withdraw from disposition any of the unleased lands of the outer Continental Shelf.”

Environmental groups hope the ban, despite relying on executive powers, will be difficult for future presidents to reverse. The White House said it’s confident the president’s directive will withstand legal challenge and said the language of the statute provides no authority for subsequent presidents to “unwithdraw” waters from future lease sales.

The Atlantic waters placed off limits to new oil and gas leasing, which hold the volume equivalent of 31 Grand Canyons, stretches off the coast of New England south to Virginia.

The administration cited environmental concerns to justify the moratorium. The president also issued a statement noting the minimal level of fuel production occurring in the Arctic. Obama said just 0.1 per cent of offshore crude production came from the Arctic in 2015, and at current oil prices, significant production would not occur in future decades.

“That’s why looking forward, we must continue to focus on economic empowerment for Arctic communities beyond this one sector,” Obama said…

In issuing a permanent ban, Obama appears to be trying to tie the hands of his successor. Trump has vowed a domestic energy revolution and is filling his cabinet with nominees deeply opposed to Obama’s environmental and climate change actions.

Environmental groups were calling for a permanent ban even before the presidential election, but Trump’s victory has provided greater urgency for them and for businesses that rely on tourism and fishing. Trump has said he intends to use all available fuel reserves for energy self-sufficiency — and that it’s time to open up offshore drilling.

“This decision will help protect existing lucrative coastal tourism and fishing businesses from offshore drilling, which promises smaller, short-lived returns and threatens coastal livelihoods,” said Jacqueline Savitz, a senior vice-president at the advocacy group, Oceana.

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

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

The Fort Collins Weather Station on the Colorado State University campus northwest of Lory Student Center and the Transit Center
The Fort Collins Weather Station on the Colorado State University campus northwest of Lory Student Center and the Transit Center

Did the city of Aspen ever really intend to build dams and reservoirs?

A view of the Maroon Bells, through a zoom lens, from the meadow that would be flooded by a potential 155-foot-tall dam on Maroon Creek. The city of Aspen voted Monday to tell the state this month it still intends to build such a dam - someday - if necessary.
A view of the Maroon Bells, through a zoom lens, from the meadow that would be flooded by a potential 155-foot-tall dam on Maroon Creek. The city of Aspen voted Monday to tell the state this month it still intends to build such a dam – someday – if necessary.

Editor’s note: The following is the second part in a series exploring the city of Aspen’s historic intent in filing for and maintaining conditional water rights for storage reservoirs on Castle and Maroon creeks. The series, which began Monday, continues tomorrow.

ASPEN – In December 1965, an engineer working for the city of Aspen filed maps of two dams and reservoirs with the state engineer’s office, indicating the city intended to build a 170-foot-tall dam on upper Castle Creek and a 155-foot-tall dam on upper Maroon Creek.

And by June 16, 1966, Aspen’s claim for storage was formalized in a proposed water-rights decree labeled as Civil Action 5884, which indicates the city of Aspen was serious about building both reservoirs.

Under the heading of “Maroon Creek Reservoir,” for example, the court document says, “The claimant of said reservoir is the city of Aspen.”

“The purposes for which the water stored in said reservoir will be used are industrial, irrigation, domestic, municipal and other beneficial uses, both consumptive and non-consumptive,” the decree application states. “The capacity of said reservoir is 4,567 acre-feet.”

“The appropriation date hereby awarded said structure is the 19th day of July 1965,” the court document continues.

That’s the date on which Aspen City Council directed its consulting engineer, Darrell “Dale” Rea, to prepare maps of both reservoirs.

The court document closes by noting that the conditional water right was “granted on condition that the dam and other structures necessary to store water in said reservoir shall be completed and that the water stored in said reservoir shall be applied to beneficial use with due diligence and within a reasonable length of time.”

In other words, Aspen could have its conditional rights to store water, as long as the city actually built the dams at the center of their claim “within a reasonable length of time.”

That was half a century ago.

A detail from the water right decree for Maroon Creek Reservoir.
A detail from the water right decree for Maroon Creek Reservoir.

On to water court

After the city filed to have its water rights approved, a hearing in water court was held on Nov. 29, 1966, so a water court judge could make a decision about the city’s proposed rights. Rea, the city’s consulting engineer who originally surveyed the Castle Creek and Maroon Creek reservoirs, testified.

An attorney representing Aspen, Janet Gaylord, walked Rea through a series of questions meant to inform the court of Aspen’s intent to store water from the creeks.

Rea said in court that he started working for Aspen as a consulting engineer in July 1956, when the city was trying to acquire and develop a municipal water system.

“At that time we made a feasibility report for the development of surface rights for the city … which included proposed rights on Hunter Creek, Castle Creek and Maroon Creek,” Rea said. “We made the estimated cost for construction of a filter plant and diversion structure necessary to deliver and bring this water to the city of Aspen.”

One key component of the city’s new water system was to rebuild a diversion dam on lower Castle Creek, not far below Midnight Mine Road, and another was to install a 30-inch pipe that could bring 25 cubic feet per second (cfs) of water from the diversion dam to a new water-treatment plant on a knoll above Aspen Valley Hospital between Castle and Maroon creeks.

According to the archives of the Aspen Historical Society, this is a photo of the Aspen water plant under construction in 1966. The plant was a significant step forward for Aspen's municipal water supply system.
According to the archives of the Aspen Historical Society, this is a photo of the Aspen water plant under construction in 1966. The plant was a significant step forward for Aspen’s municipal water supply system.

Water for Aspen

Rea said during these projects he also looked into the supply of, and projected demand for, water in Aspen.

“Our studies of projection show that Castle Creek and Maroon Creek had low flows in the summer that would not be sufficient to sustain the city more than a few years,” Rea testified. “This meant that they would have to store water in either or both of these creeks.”

And so Rea had surveyed two dams that were to sit astride upper Castle and Maroon creeks. Stored water was then to be released to run several miles down the streams to the city’s diversion dams, which would direct the water into pipelines to the city’s water-treatment plant.

Rea identified for the court the November 1964 water plan he prepared for the city, which included charts of flow levels on the creeks, as recorded by the state engineer from 1913 to 1917.

Based on those four years of records, Rea projected that low flows in some dry years could drop to 24 cfs in Castle Creek and 16 cfs in Maroon Creek.

He said such low flows “would not yield enough water unless storage supplemented the flow in the dry years,” and that “these flows would not suffice the city at the presently projected growth for more than, I think, five years.”

“Somewhere between ’70 and ’75,” Rea said, “the city would need supplemental flows either from Maroon Creek, which it is not now presently using, or the construction of storage on Castle Creek.”

Then, reviewing his “proposed steps of development,” Rea said that within “the next five or 10 years” Aspen would need to build a reservoir on Castle Creek and later a reservoir on Maroon Creek.

He added, “That will take care of the city of Aspen for the foreseeable future.”

A young skier on Buttermilk Mountain about 1965. Aspen was starting to grow as a result of its ski areas, but it wasn't clear how big the community would get by 2000.
A young skier on Buttermilk Mountain about 1965. Aspen was starting to grow as a result of its ski areas, but it wasn’t clear how big the community would get by 2000.

Locals and visitors

Gaylord, the attorney for the city, asked Rea about his population projections.

Rea said his estimates took into account “transit population,” referring to the growing number of visitors coming to Aspen in both winter and summer, as well as “permanent residents.”

He estimated that the combination of visitors and locals equaled 7,000 people in 1965, and the combination would rise to 30,000 people in 1990.

“We have found that it is necessary for Aspen to have storage on these streams in order to meet this population,” he told the court.

In his 1964 plan, Rea at one point had estimated that as many as 66,000 people might someday live in the greater Aspen area, but in his court testimony, he spoke of a more modest population estimate.

Rea’s estimate of a population of 30,000 people was fairly accurate, although time would prove that Aspen’s municipal water system would be able to serve 30,000 people without having to build a reservoir.

By 2008, for example, Aspen’s year-round resident population was about 6,400. And data from the Aspen Consolidated Sanitation District showed that another 8,000 people or so were also in town each day, bringing the town’s average daily population to about 15,000.

But peak days such as the Fourth of July and Christmas could attract about 30,000 people to Aspen.

“In 2007, the average daily flow of sewage to the treatment plant, which is next to the river below the Aspen Business Center, was about 1.5 million gallons, which means there were an average of 14,362 people in town each day,” the Aspen Daily News reported in 2008. “The plant can handle 3 million gallons a day, which is enough capacity for about 31,000 people.”

Sheep being driven across the Castle Creek bridge from their summer range in the mountains, in 1967. Sheep were grazed on the ski areas in Aspen and Snowmass until the early 1980s.
Sheep being driven across the Castle Creek bridge from their summer range in the mountains in 1967. Sheep were grazed on the ski areas in Aspen and Snowmass until the early 1980s.

Timing and feasibility

During his 1966 appearance in water court, the judge asked Rea when the city proposed to complete the two dams for which it held water rights.

“Well, they have three alternatives,” Rea replied of the city. “I would say between ’70 and ’75 one of these will need to be constructed in order to [supplement] the direct flow.”

He also said that while the city might build both dams at once, “from the actual demand they would build this one first and the other one later.”

“It is proposed that they drill the two reservoir sites for the geological surveys, and depending upon that result they will select either the Maroon Creek Reservoir or Castle Creek Reservoir, and it will be constructed and there is no time schedule for the second reservoir,” Rea said, speaking in November 1966. “I would assume that all of these facilities would be needed within the next 35 years.”

A detail of a letter sent by Dale Rea to the Aspen city manager in 1967 about studying the Maroon and Castle creek reservoirs.
A detail of a letter sent by Dale Rea to the Aspen city manager in 1967 about studying the Maroon and Castle creek reservoirs.

Feasibility study?

On May 5, 1967, Rea sent a letter to Leon Wurl, Aspen’s city manager, proposing to conduct a feasibility study for the two reservoirs.

“We would recommend the preparation of an interim report during the 1967-68 winter season,” Rea said. “The purpose of this report would be to form the basis of a continuance with the district court on the reservoir and pipeline decrees.”

The reference to “the basis of a continuance” is to the expected diligence review that would be required for the proposed reservoirs.

“A final report could be performed only after geological studies and field surveys have been completed along with investigations for financing the project,” Rea wrote. “Geological studies could start in 1968 or 1969. The engineering cost of such a report should await discussions with the council on the actual scope of such a report.

“The interim report would set forth problems that would have to be evaluated before construction could start on the dams,” Rea also wrote.

He provided an outline of information that today still seems relevant. And much of the information he proposed the city investigate has apparently never been done. Or if it has, the city has yet to make it public following a request under the Colorado Open Records Act.

Rea’s outline included investigating and compiling information about water rights, hydrologic data, and geologic data.

It also included producing surveys, maps and “data” on the proposed dams, including “choice of materials for constructing dam” and “final location of dam.”

A 2016 rendering from Wilderness Workshop of a potential Maroon Creek Reservoir, which would hold 4,567 acre-feet of water behind a 155-foot-tall dam. The rendering was prepared by a professional hydrologist and is based on plans submitted to the state by the city 1965.
A 2016 rendering from Wilderness Workshop of a potential Maroon Creek Reservoir, which would hold 4,567 acre-feet of water behind a 155-foot-tall dam. The rendering was prepared by a professional hydrologist and is based on plans submitted to the state by the city 1965.

Follow-ups

The city was slow to respond to Rea’s suggestion of an investigation into the dams, so Rea sent a follow-up letter.

In the Jan. 12, 1968, missive to Aspen’s Wurl, Rea presented costs for “engineering, aerial [photography] and geological in the eight items of our letter and outline of May 5, 1967.

“The report as presented should firm up the location, capacity and cost of the two reservoirs,” Rea said. “It will also show how much water is needed, where it will be used, and the cost of treating and transmitting the water to the areas of use. Methods of financing the total construction costs will be also presented.”

In November 1968, Rea checked one of the items off his list for additional study when he submitted a preliminary report to the city on “stream gauging, hydrology and water supply.”

“The purpose of this preliminary report is to collect data that will supplement the water filings made with the state engineer in December 1965 for reservoirs on Castle and Maroon creeks,” he wrote. “This report is limited to stream gauging, hydrology and water supply because they offer a good beginning that is highly desirable and lays the foundation for collection of further needed data in order to adequately design the two dams.”

On March 3, 1969, Rea wrote yet another proposal letter to the city, which included a detailed budget for an investigation into the reservoirs.

“We would recommend the entire preliminary report be started in 1969 and completed in 1969 or 1970,” Rea wrote.

Under the heading “Final Report – Phase II” he wrote, “This final report may be completed on both dams at the same time or at separate times. There will be some savings in field investigations if the two dams are investigated at the same time.”

He went on to write that for “the purpose of a capital improvement program, we would recommend that $22,500 be set up for 1971 and $22,500 in 1972 to cover pre-design information on the two dams. This can always be deferred if financially necessary, provided the attorney feels that the criteria of ‘due diligence’ has been met.”

As 1969 drew to a close, it appears the city had yet to act on Rea’s suggestion to conduct a detailed feasibility study of the dams. But while the city was apparently sitting on its hands, the Bureau of Reclamation conducted its own investigation, which did not bode well for the Castle Creek dam site.

Next in our series: The Bureau of Reclamation finds serious flaws at the Castle Creek Reservoir site.

Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism, the Aspen Daily News, and Coyote Gulch are collaborating on the coverage of rivers and water. The Daily News published this story on Tuesday, Dec. 27, 2016.

#Snowpack news: “We are now above average in every basin in the state” — Chris Woodka

Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map via the NRCS.
Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map via the NRCS.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (John Pompia):

The fronts deposited enough snow in the mountains to put the state above average for the year in terms of moisture content in the snowpack, noted Chris Woodka of the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District.

“It’s also good for ski areas, which got off to a late start,” Woodka added.

The snowpack seems to be evenly distributed across the state, which is good news for Southern Colorado and the Rio Grande basin — which last year experienced drier conditions than the rest of the state.

After the holiday storms, the Arkansas basin’s moisture content stands at 113 percent above normal, with the Rio Grand basin at 111 percent above normal.

While it is too early in the year to talk about the snowpack in terms of water supply, Woodka called the recent developments “a good sign, because the water year, which began Oct. 1, started out very dry.

“We are now above average in every basin in the state.”

The Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District keeps a particularly watchful eye on the Upper Colorado and Arkansas River basins in order to gauge how much water the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project will yield.

“But we wait until March or April before we get too excited about the numbers,” Woodka said.

The severity of the recent dry spell is illustrated in the winter water program, administered by the Southeastern District for future agricultural use.

“During the first month, Nov. 15 to Dec. 15, of this year, we stored 24,640 acre-feet — which is half of last year’s total by this time and only 60 percent of the 20-year average,” Woodka said.

In its Dec. 22 assessment, the U.S. Drought Monitor listed most of the state in beginning stages of drought. That, however, is likely to change this week with the additional snow pack in the mountains — certainly welcome news.

“In the future, the fight for water will be intense” — Russell Begaye

Navajo Reservation map via NavajoApparel.com
Navajo Reservation map via NavajoApparel.com

From the Navajo-Hopi Observer:

On Dec. 15, Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye spoke before the 2016 Colorado River Water Users conference session, Tracking the Waters: Reclamation and the Ten Tribes Partnership Tribal Water Study.

Begaye said the tribal water study will aid the Navajo nation in establishing a foundation to assess our use of the Colorado River water for future Navajo Nation water projects.

“In the future, the fight for water will be intense,” he said. “The Navajo Nation will aggressively fight to protect our land, water and its people. Securing water rights and water development projects are priorities of the Navajo Nation.”

The Tribal Water Study will be used to assess system impacts resulting from development of tribal water and help identify tribal water development challenges and opportunities. The study began in January 2014 and was conducted jointly by the Bureau of Reclamation and the Ten Tribes Partnership.

The session provided participants a foundation of the Ten Tribes Partnership, collaborative efforts to include the member tribes in future basin water studies and the publishing date of the study.

The Navajo Nation, which is entirely located in the upper and lower portion of the Colorado River Basin, appropriated more than $250 million over the next five years toward water infrastructure development for water projects.

“The Office of the President and Vice-President has created a qualified team to work alongside the Navajo Nation Council to ensure our water rights are protected for future generations,” Begaye said.

Representatives from the Navajo Nation and the Bureau of Reclamation also had a meeting to discuss the Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project, the Southwest Navajo Rural Water Project, the Western Navajo Water Supply Project and Bureau of Reclamation programs updates.

“Creating and completing critical infrastructure water projects is essential, not only to provide our people with water, but to improving economic development and for job creation for the Nation,” Begaye said.

The Colorado River Basin Tribes Partnership, also known as the Ten Tribes Partnership, is an organization formed in 1992 by 10 federally recognized tribes with reserved water rights in the Colorado River Basin. The member tribes are: Ute Indian Tribe, Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, Southern Ute Indian Tribe, Jicarilla Apache Nation, Navajo Nation, Chemehuevi Indian Tribe, Colorado River Indian Tribes, Fort Mojave Indian Tribe, Quechan Indian Tribe and Cocopah Indian Tribe

The Tribal Water Study is expected to be published in early 2017. More information about the study is available at http://www.usbr.gov/lc/region/programs/crdstudy/tribalwaterstudy.html.

Here’s the release about the water study from Reclamation:

U.S. Department of the Interior Assistant Secretary for Water and Science Anne Castle announced today a collaborative agreement for the Bureau of Reclamation to work with the Colorado River Basin Tribes Partnership (Ten Tribes Partnership) in a tribally-focused effort to address projected water supply and demand imbalances in the Colorado River Basin.

This effort, implementing commitments identified in the Colorado River Basin Water Supply and Demand Study published last December, will focus specifically on issues facing the tribal communities in the basin and their water resources.

“The Colorado River is the essential foundation for the physical, economic and cultural sustenance of the tribes in the Ten Tribes Partnership, and it is critical that we work together to address existing and future threats to the adequacy of supplies and the River itself,” said Castle. “A hallmark of success and progress on difficult Colorado River issues has been collaborative efforts among various parties with vested interests in the River, and the agreement announced today is an excellent example.”

“The Colorado River Basin Tribes Partnership is an important stakeholder in water use for multiple purposes including irrigation, recreation, wildlife and habitat restoration, municipal, industrial, mining, power generation, as well as cultural and religious activities,” said T. Darryl Vigil, chairman of the Ten Tribes Partnership.

Castle announced the agreement today at a joint event with key representatives of the Ten Tribes Partnership in Albuquerque. Reclamation and the Ten Tribes Partnership will collaborate on the study on the role of tribal water rights that is expected to be completed by December 2015. Castle says Interior and the Partnership will allocate financial resources and technical expertise for the effort – including today’s commitment by Reclamation to provide $100,000 to jump start the study effort. Reclamation Commissioner Michael L. Connor says ensuring meaningful tribal participation with financial assistance from the agency’s Basin Study Program will only help to improve the effort.

“I am pleased that we have been able to build upon our work with the Ten Tribes Partnership to ensure tribal issues continue to be addressed in Colorado River Basin Study activities,” Connor said. “Reclamation’s commitment to meet the nation’s obligations to Indian Country continues to be strong and unwavering.”

The 2012 Colorado River Basin Water Supply and Demand Study, the most comprehensive study of future supplies and demands on the Colorado River ever developed, was produced collaboratively with a wide array of stakeholders including the Ten Tribes Partnership. The study’s findings projected significant shortfalls between expected water supplies and demands in the Colorado River Basin in coming decades. The study is widely acknowledged as a call to action for all who rely on the Colorado River. Building upon recent successful efforts to improve water management in the Basin, recent efforts have focused on enhancing the resiliency and sustainability of the Basin’s limited resources.

The Colorado River Basin Tribes Partnership began in 1992 and is made up of ten tribes: the Chemehuevi Indian Tribe, Cocopah Indian Community, Colorado River Indian Tribes, Fort Mojave Indian Tribe, Jicarilla Apache Nation, Navajo Nation, Quechan Indian Tribe, Southern Ute Indian Tribe, Ute Mountain Ute Indian Tribe and Ute Tribe of the Uintah and Ouray Reservation. For more information on the Partnership visit: http://www.crwua.org/colorado-river/ten-tribes.