Here’s the release from the University of Northern Colorado:
The Howard Hughes Medical Institute awarded the University of Northern Colorado a five-year, $1 million grant to develop a classroom model and establish a new center to engage more students, from all backgrounds, in the sciences.
UNC is one of 24 colleges and universities selected out of 511 that submitted pre-proposals in the first round of the Inclusive Excellence initiative sponsored by HHMI, the largest private, nonprofit supporter of science education in the United States.
As part of the award, UNC faculty will research student experiences in their STEM classrooms to better understand the conditions that support intrinsic motivation among students. Faculty will then analyze the data and implement instructional practices to help achieve student success —in particular among STEM majors from underrepresented racial and ethnic groups, families in which the student is the first to attend college, low socioeconomic backgrounds in addition to students who transfer, or are military veterans or who identify as LGBTQ.
One of the project’s goals is to increase retention and graduation rates of these traditionally underserved students. The grant will also establish the new Center of Inclusive Excellence in STEM, which will provide infrastructure and leadership to continue STEM faculty development and expand this professional development across campus.
“Our goal is for this work to lead to a culture at UNC where STEM inclusive excellence is the norm and where conversations about improving conditions for intrinsic student motivation and success are commonplace.” said the grant’s principal investigator Susan Keenan, professor and director of the School of Biological Sciences.
HHMI expects that the Inclusive Excellence grants will produce useful models for other schools that might share similar contexts and challenges.
Project Title: Improving Classroom Culture to Support Intrinsic Motivation as a Pathway to STEM Inclusive Excellence
Grant award: $1 million, September 2017-August 2022
Funding Agency: Howard Hughes Medical Institute
Researchers: Project Director Susan Keenan (professor and director of Biological Sciences), Co-Project Directors, Lori Reinsvold (acting director of UNC’s Mathematics and Science Teaching Institute) and Jodie Novak (professor of Mathematics), and Investigator Cassendra Bergstrom (assistant professor of Psychological Sciences)
Of note: Over multiple stages of peer-review by scientists and science educators, HHMI identified 24 schools out of 511 that applied for Inclusive Excellence 2017 awards.
Here’s the release from NOAA (John Leslie and Brady Phillips):
The month of May typically signals both an ending and a beginning: The waning days of spring and then the time-honored leap into summer vacation season.
Before we throw on our bathing suits and flip flops, let’s first take a look back at how last month, spring and the year to date fared in terms of the climate record:
Climate by the numbers May
Last month, the average contiguous U.S. temperature was 60.6 degrees F — 0.4 degrees above the 20th-century average — ranking near the middle of the 123-year period of record. Parts of the West and Southeast were warmer than average with near- to below-average temperatures in parts of the Central and Eastern U.S., according to scientists from NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information.
The average precipitation total for May was 3.31 inches, 0.40 inch above the 20th-century average and tying with 2009 as the 25th wettest on record. Above-average precipitation fell across most of the East and parts of the Rockies and Great Plains.
The average spring (March-May 2017) temperature across the contiguous U.S. was 53.5 degrees F, 2.6 degrees above average, making it the 8th warmest spring on record. From the Rockies to East Coast, most of the seasonal warmth occurred during the early and middle parts of spring.
The average spring precipitation total was 9.39 inches, 1.45 inches above average, making this spring the 11th wettest on record.
Year to date
The year to date (January through May 2017) average temperature for the contiguous U.S. was 47.0 degrees F, 3.7 degrees above the 20th-century average. This YTD period was the second-warmest on record for this period.
The YTD precipitation total was 14.85 inches, 2.46 inches above average, making it the third-wettest January-May on record.
Other notable climate events and facts included:
Record rains in the U.S. East, South: Record and near-record May precipitation fell in the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, Mississippi Valley and central to southern Appalachians. Record flooding was observed in the mid-Mississippi Valley.
Florida remains tinder dry: Continued dryness in Florida caused drought to expand and intensify, prompting large wildfires across central and northern areas of the Sunshine State.
A record-breaking Wisconsin tornado: An EF-3 tornado tracked 83 miles across northern Wisconsin on May 16 resulting in one fatality and 25 injuries. This was one of the longest-track tornadoes in the state’s history.
Continued drought relief: On May 30, 5.3 percent of the contiguous U.S. was in drought, up slightly from early May. Drought improved in the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic and Southeast. Drought worsened in the Northern and Southern Plains and in Florida.
Washington State had a cool start to year: Washington was the only state cooler than average for January to May.
Coastal flooding events rose markedly last year: An update to NOAA’s annual report of high-tide flooding (sometimes referred to as nuisance flooding) found that among most of the cities studied, flooding increased in 2016 by 130 percent on average since the mid-1990s and continues to accelerate.
The city of Aspen has rejected an initial settlement offer made in the unfolding water court cases about conditional water rights tied to two large potential dams on Castle and Maroon creeks.
On May 23 the city’s water attorney, Cynthia Covell, sent a letter to the water attorney for the Larsen Family Limited Partnership, rejecting its settlement proposals made on May 8 and 11.
“Aspen cannot accept your client’s settlement offer,” Covell told Larsen Family attorney, Craig Corona.
The Larsen’s proposal required the city to stay, or put on hold, it’s two current applications to the court to extend its conditional storage rights for another six years.
Then the city could file a new request with the water court to change those conditional water rights to another location and size outside of the Castle and Maroon creek valleys and somewhere within the city limits.
“Our offer was quite clear that there were terms that could be negotiated, and the basic concept was that we would support (along with the other opposers) Aspen’s relocation of its dam rights, in a location and amount to be determined through negotiation,” Marcella Larsen of Larsen Family LP said.
In his May 11 letter, attorney Corona told the city, “If there’s no objection and the change is decreed, dams won’t be built in the wilderness and the city will retain its water rights – a win-win.”
But establishing new water storage rights within city limits, with a 1971 priority date, without opposition, may be hard to do, even with the opposing parties in the current cases sitting on the sidelines.
The current water court review was triggered when the Aspen filed two applications in October to maintain its conditional water storage rights, which were decreed in 1971.
Larsen Family LP is one of ten opposing parties in the resulting “due diligence” cases now before the Division 5 water court referee in Glenwood Springs.
The other parties include the U.S. Forest Service, Pitkin County, four environmental organizations, and three owners of high-end residential property in the Castle and Maroon creek valleys.
Corona told the city there was a “general consensus” among the other parties in the case in support of the Larsen Family proposal, which technically only pertained to the Maroon Creek Reservoir case.
But the city decided to sit on its cards.
On May 22, the council held an executive session to discuss, in part, the water court cases.
On May 23, Covell sent Corona the city’s rejection letter.
Corona then sent the letter to the other opposing parties.
“A new application to change the location (of) the Maroon Creek Reservoir conditional storage right would require that a new location be specified,” the city’s May 23 letter said, according to an attorney in the case. “Aspen must complete its supply/demand study and identify an alternative location or locations for the Maroon Creek Reservoir storage right in order to be able to file a change application to move that right, or some portion thereof, to another location.”
Asked about the rejection of the settlement offer, Aspen City Manager Steve Barwick would only say last week via email that ”the City of Aspen is still working with all parties in the water case with the hope of reaching a mutually agreeable settlement. We are still trying to refine water supply and demand estimates and study alternative storage locations.”
A second closed-door and facilitated settlement meeting hosted by the city for the opposing parties is being set up for the first week of August. The first such meeting was held in March.
The city’s conditional storage rights on Castle and Maroon creeks date back to 1965, when the first told the water court it intended to build two reservoirs to meet forecasted demands.
In October 2016, the city again told the state it still intends to build the reservoirs, someday, if necessary.
But since October the city has also has been openly studying alternatives to the two reservoirs, and doing so with the knowledge that it’s possible, in some water court cases, to move and adjust conditional storage rights.
As currently decreed the Maroon Creek Reservoir would hold 4,567 acre-feet of water behind a 155-foot-tall dam just below the confluence of East and West Maroon creeks, within view of the Maroon Bells.
And the Castle Creek Reservoir would hold 9,062 acre-feet of water behind a 170-foot-tall dam across Castle Creek two miles below Ashcroft.
Both dams would flood some portion of the Maroon Bells –Snowmass Wilderness.
The city has done little work on the reservoirs since the mid-1960s. But since 2012 when the rights came into public view, city staffers have increased their warnings to the city council about the city’s lack of storage, save for nine acre-feet at the water treatment plant.
A staff memo for the May 15 work session, for example, said “the Aspen community will face significant challenges maintaining its water supply as we experience changing precipitation and runoff patterns, and possible increased fire, drought, change in runoff timing and lower snowpack levels due to climate change.”
But a raw water availability study prepared by Wilson Water Group in June 2016 indicated the city would not need any storage in the future, although it may need to curtail some irrigation if it wants to maintain minimum flow levels on Castle and Maroon creeks.
And while the council adopted the Wilson Water study as a formal planning document last year, it also recently contracted with an economist at Headwaters Corp. to develop new scenarios illustrating a range of needs and varying levels of risk in a hotter and drier future.
Margaret Medellin, a utilities portfolio manager with the city, told the city council on May 15 that the work from Headwaters will not be complete until the end of summer. And more studies may then be necessary.
That’s been a frustration to Corona.
“Instead of engaging in meaningful settlement discussions, the city engaged a myriad of consultants at great expense to study its ‘needs’ when it already has a demand study,” Corona told the city on May 11. “This work should have been done before filing the application, not after.”
“The City is concerned with giving up the current locations for the dams,” Corona wrote. “But, the City can’t build the reservoirs there, anyway. It would take twenty to forty million dollars (at least) to condemn private property for the Castle Creek dam. The City would need a special use permit to inundate Forest Service property, and private legislation from Congress to inundate wilderness – highly improbable, if not impossible. So, if the City transfers the rights to a new location that has challenges, the City will be no worse off than they are now.”
“The City’s claims are weak,” he also told the city. “In almost fifty years, the City has done almost nothing to develop these rights. The City has no need for storage, especially not a sixty-year supply, according to the City’s engineers. Unless the City settles, it will not come out of these cases with its water rights intact.”
“The delay for the City’s studies is unnecessary and is self-inflicted. With no need for storage, it should be simple to determine a reasonable supply amount and risk,” he also wrote. “The 1,200 acre feet we originally offered would give the City a five-year supply. Is the City concerned that Castle Creek and Maroon Creek will be completely dry for more than five years? If that happens, 1965 reservoir rights are not going to help.”
And he told the city it can expect ongoing opposition from Larsen Family LP.
“Larsen Family LP will never stipulate to diligence for dams in the wilderness,” Corona wrote. “It seems it should be easy for the City to say it will never dam the Maroon Bells. But, apparently, that’s not the case.”
How much water?
There is also a question about how much storage the city thinks is really necessary.
The combined storage of the two potential reservoirs in Castle and Maroon creeks, is 13,629 acre feet, or almost 14,000 acre-feet. Ruedi Reservoir, by comparison, holds 100,000 acre feet.
Aspen city council member Bert Myrin said on May 15 he did not think that the city would ever need more than about ten percent of the conditional 14,000 acre-feet described in the city’s conditional rights.
Myrin said council members should know the size of the need before studying various alternatives, such as an “in-situ” reservoir under the city’s golf course, which could hold about 1,200 acre feet.
“I think it would help us to have a better idea of the problem we’re trying to solve before we try and solve the problem,” he said.
But Scott Miller, Aspen’s public works director, said the result of the Headwaters Corp. study will not be a single number.
“We’ll have a range of risks,” Miller told the council members. “A range of need, and a range of risk. Then you guys are going to lead the discussion about where we go from here.”
Marcella Larsen, of Larsen Family LP, Larsen also responded to questions in writing from on Aspen Journalism on May 31 about the settlement proposal:
Larsen is a retired attorney and served for four years as the assistant Pitkin County attorney from 1997 to 2001. Her remarks, as perhaps the most aggressive of the opposing parties in the two cases, are notable.
AJ: In a May 23 letter, the city informed your attorney that it could not accept your settlement offer because it had not developed an alternative location for the Maroon Creek Reservoir storage right. First, to clarify, your settlement offer was for both the Maroon and Castle creek reservoirs, correct?
ML: The Larsen LP is a party only in the Maroon Creek case, but it was our understanding that the other opposers, including Pitkin County, the U.S. Forest Service, the multiple environmental non-profits, and other private property owners whose properties would be inundated by Aspen’s dams were all generally open to pursuing the offer further. The offer was a concept that would be worked out among the parties, and could have included the Castle Creek side, but unfortunately Aspen rejected it out of hand.
AJ: Next, the city says it is still defining how much storage it needs. Do you yet understand whether that means the city needs something less than a combined nearly 14,000 acre feet of storage?
ML: The City hasn’t said they need less than the 14,000 acre feet claimed and, at their latest work session, they maintained the possibility they will need all 14,000 acre feet. However, Aspen’s own 2016 Wilson Water Group Water Supply Availability report shows that Aspen has no need for any water storage, much less giant dams in wilderness areas. As in zero need. That study concludes that Aspen will only need 231 acre feet per year in 2064.
Wilderness Workshop and Western Resource Advocates recently shared their analysis of how Aspen might simply conserve water to avoid dams in wilderness areas. Instead of trying to justify 14,000 acre feet of storage that would provide sixty-five years of unneeded storage, we wish Aspen would identify a realistic storage amount and location. As evident from our settlement offer, we will support Aspen storage in locations other than the White River National Forest and wilderness areas—and that’s even if Aspen choses to build storage it does not need.
AJ: Your settlement offer included a condition that the storage be located within the city of Aspen. Was that a firm condition? If so, why was it included?
ML: Our offer was quite clear that there were terms that could be negotiated, and the basic concept was that we would support (along with the other opposers) Aspen’s relocation of its dam rights, in a location and amount to be determined through negotiation. Again, that offer was rejected by Aspen. The reason we included a condition that the relocated water storage be located in Aspen (and let’s be clear about what we are talking about here, which would be industrial-scale development, similar to other extractive industries), is because we believe Aspen should not externalize the impacts of its growth and force others (Pitkin County, the Forest Service, private property owners, and the public) to bear the burden of Aspen’s failure to adequately plan for and control its own growth. (Again, this assumes that storage is actually needed, or will be built by Aspen regardless of need.)
AJ: What do you expect from the city’s supply/demand study from Headwaters?
ML: The credible and credentialed expert Aspen hired in 2016 to prepare Aspen’s Water Supply Availability report concluded that Aspen “can always provide sufficient potable and raw water supplies” without dams/reservoirs. When Aspen realized that the Wilson Water Group’s finding conflicted with their desire to continue with dam rights up Castle and Maroon Creek, they hired an economist (not a scientist) to prepare a new report.
We expect this new “study” from Headwaters will do what Aspen wants it to do: prove up an extreme “Mad Max” scenario where both Castle and Maroon Creeks are obstructed for a long period of time, wildfires burning, land sliding, and water short. Also, expect huge projected population increases, where many in this dystopian “Mad Max” world decide to make Aspen their full-time home. In short, we expect this new “study” will attempt to demonstrate the “need” for storage Aspen’s prior experts, the Wilson Water Group, did not support.
AJ: Have you heard a credible explanation why the Wilson Water study is somehow incomplete?
ML: No. Wilson Water Group provided the type of demand analysis typical for municipal planning, and prior to Aspen’s water court filing, there was no indication Aspen believed it was “somehow incomplete.”
AJ: You’ve reserved the right to re-refer the case to the water judge at the July status conference. Do you think you will do that at that time?
ML: We reserved the right to re-refer the case at any time between the last status conference on May 9 and the next one on August 10. The City wants to have a settlement conference in late July or early August. We are looking for some indication from Aspen that they will commit to moving the dams out of wilderness areas, along the lines we already offered. If Aspen continues to advocate for wilderness dams without any offer of settlement, then, yes, of course we will re-refer the case. Aspen’s wilderness area dams, in the iconic Maroon Bells, should be opposed by everyone, except for perhaps the Trump Organization. We will do our part to further that cause, as I’m sure the other opposers will do as well, because Aspen’s dams in national forest and wilderness areas is fundamentally bad public policy and contrary to the values of our environmentally-conscious, nature-respecting, slow-growth community.
Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism is collaborating with The Aspen Times, the Glenwood Springs Post Independent, the Vail Daily and the Summit Daily on coverage of water and rivers in the upper Colorado River basin. The Times published a shorter version of this story on June 13, 2017.
Aspen Journalism has been producing a timeline concerning the potential Castle Creek Reservoir and the potential Maroon Creek Reservoir. The historic timeline has grown fairly massive, so AJ has updated the tail end of the timeline, starting with Oct. 31, 2016, when the city of Aspen filed two diligence applications on the reservoirs. Please see below.
Oct. 31, 2016, City files two diligence applications, one for Castle Creek Reservoir and one for Maroon Creek Reservoir.
March 3, 2017, A report from the Consensus Building Institute is completed. The report, prepared for the city after extensive stakeholder interviews by outside consultants, found that “the city currently has a unique opportunity to plan for Aspen’s future water needs in an engaged, collaborative, and comprehensive way, but some daunting challenges do exist.”
It also said:
“There is a need to carefully manage the relationship and timing between the collaborative process and the due diligence case currently before the water court referee in Division 5.”
“Stakeholders expressed concern regarding the degree of transparency that will be possible, in light of the concurrent conditional water rights case and indications from the city that some of the information germane to the court may not be publicly released during that time.”
“Stakeholders expressed interest in transparency regarding the data and studies being used by the city, including the city’s underlying assumptions and beliefs regarding the data, its sources, comprehensiveness, and predictability.”
And, “The city has an opportunity to increase trust in its process and decisions and also must overcome a deficit, to some degree, of public trust.”
March 16, 2017, Aspen officials, Steve Barwick and Margaret Medellin, discuss storage needs and options with Pitkin County Healthy Rivers and Streams Board. At the meeting, which was recorded by Aspen Journalism, Barwick told the river board:
“All of this, this whole notion of how much water do we need and how much water do we need to store, and all of that, has been based upon very preliminary analysis. And now it’s time to tighten up the whole analysis and do a rational set of studies so we can have a rational discussion with the entire valley about what are we going to do here. How much storage do we need, and where do we want to put it?”
Barwick also said:
“We have a very large work program that we’re looking at doing. We’re going to be spending hundreds of thousands of dollars over the next few years. But we don’t anticipate that we’re going to get even preliminary answers for several years down the road.”
March 21, 2017, The first initial settlement conference in the diligence cases held. According to multiple parties in attendance, early on in the meeting Aspen Mayor Steve Skadron scolded the opposing parties for “suing” the city in water court.
March 28, 2017, Brent Gardner-Smith of Aspen Journalism interviews Ward Hauenstein, candidate for Aspen city council for Grassroots TV’s “Probeline” series. Hauenstein would go on to win a seat on the council in a runoff election on June 6, 2017. The interview turns to the subject of the Castle and Maroon creek reservoirs at at 36:50.
April 5, 2017, Brent Gardner-Smith of Aspen Journalism interviews Ann Mullins, an incumbent city council member, for “Probeline.” Mullins would be re-elected, with the most votes of any council candidate, in May, to a second four-year term. The interview turns to the subject of the Castle and Maroon Creek reservoirs at 37:23.
April 5, 2017, The Aspen Times asks the two mayoral candidates their opinions about the diligence rights and the dams and reservoirs.
Aspen Mayor Steve Skadron, who would go on to handily win re-election in May, said “The city should reserve its rights. Without knowing more about viable alternatives to water storage, it simply would not be prudent water management or responsible government to give up these water rights.”
April 6, 2017 Brent Gardner-Smith of Aspen Journalism interviews Aspen Mayor Steve Skadron for “Probeline.” Skadron would be re-elected in May to a third two-year term. The interview turns to the subject of the Castle and Maroon Creek reservoirs at 47:44.
April 12, 2017, The Aspen Times asks council candidates about the potential dams.
Ann Mullins, who would go on to get the most votes in the election for council, said “The last thing I want to do is build a dam, and in the next few years with the cooperation of everyone concerned we can come up with the solution that works for Aspen.”
Ward Hauenstein, who would go on to win a run-off for a council seat, said, “The city should not build dams on either Maroon or Castle creeks. The environment should not be compromised.”
April 19, 2017, The Aspen Daily News publishes a letter from the “city of Aspen Utilities and Environmental Initiatives staff via Margeret Medellin,” a member of the staff.
The letter states that “Aspen’s legal rights for storage in Maroon and Castle Creeks have been a part of our Integrated Water System since 1965. To maintain these rights, Aspen must file diligence applications with water court every six years through a public process. These rights are not, nor have they ever been, secret.”
April 25, 2017, Aspen Journalism interviews Chris Treese, the external affairs manager at the Colorado River District about Aspen’s conditional water rights. The resulting edited transcript explores a number of questions about conditional water rights. The River District is not a part in the water court cases, and it has itself walked away from conditional storage rights on the Crystal River. Treese’s perspective is worth reading. Highlights below.
“BGS: To be clear, if you’ve steadily applied effort to ‘complete the appropriation’ of the conditional water right, then you’re moving towards storing the water. And if you are moving toward storing water, you need to be moving toward building a structure, a dam.
“CT: Yes, right.
“BGS: That’s what ‘complete the appropriation’ ultimately means, right?
“CT: Yes it does. Storage is clearly the end game, but diligence doesn’t specifically mean you’ve applied for a permit, or that you’ve hired bond counsel. There are a lot of early steps that may qualify as diligence.”
“Municipalities have enjoyed almost unfettered ability to hold on to water rights and to perfect their conditional rights as part of their portfolio, either because they are growing or because they may grow. So the great and growing cities doctrine has provided an essentially unconstrained ability for municipalities to hold large quantities of water rights.”
“The Supreme Court found that 50 years is a reasonable planning horizon, and it recognizes that water projects take a long time to develop and water rights can be evermore critical during a period like 50 years. It also said that there has to be some common sense, some historical reality, to the projections over that 50-year period.”
“What you can’t do is come in to a diligence filing and say, ‘We’ve talked about this.’ That’s not diligence. You would have had to do more than talk about it, you would have had to at least study it.”
“The courts recognize that developing a reservoir is not as simple as getting a bunch of spray-painted shovels and having a ground-breaking ceremony. There are a lot of studies, and permits, and financing, and there’s a lot that goes into the early conditional period when planning for a reservoir.”
“We don’t see this as the bargaining chip that we need to, or have been asked to, help preserve. It’s a tool in the toolbox, perhaps, but we haven’t analyzed exactly how these water rights might be used in the ongoing poker game.”
April 27, 2017, Western Resource Advocates and Wilderness Workshop sent a letter and a memo to the city of Aspen proposing to work with the city on exploring three alternatives to the potential reservoirs – water efficiency, reuse of water, and alternative agricultural transfer.
April 30, 2017, Aspen Daily News publishes a letter from Marcella Larsen titled “Aspen dams wrong policy, bad precedent.”
She wrote, “Remember, Aspen’s dams are a specific approval to store water in a particular place far up Castle and Maroon creeks, conditioned on actual construction of dams within a reasonable period of time. Aspen’s senior water rights that supply drinking water are not the same as the conditional dam rights. If this case does not settle and goes to trial, Aspen will have to prove it can, will, and legitimately needs to dam the Maroon Bells, including wilderness areas.”
May 1, 2017, the city of Aspen sends a draft work plan with an anticipated timeline for various studies to all of the attorneys representing the opposing parties in the Castle and Maroon creek cases and cc’s six city officials.
The work plan includes tasks (primarily studies) estimated completion dates, and consultants, if known. The tasks are named below and sorted by the “estimated end date” on the chart from the city:
“investigation of mine water/storage potential,” July 2017, Deere and Ault;
“investigation of in-situ storage,” July 2017, Deere and Ault;
“groundwater system strategy,” December 2017, HRS;
“collaborate with WRA, WWW and others on conservation, reuse, agriculture transfers and other alternatives,” December 2017, TBD;
“update climate change models,” December 2017, TBD;
“update streamflow and demand projections,” December 2017, Headwaters Corp.;
“studies in support of public process;” December 2017, TBD;
“public outreach,” until February 2018, consultant tbd;
“present recommendations of public process to city council,” February 2018 to April 2018, no consultant;
“implementation of reuse system,” April 2018, Carollo;
“conservation programs,” June 2018, Element, others TBD; and
“additional studies as required to respond to city council direction,” June 2018, TBD.
None of the studies listed directly pertain to the feasibility of either the Castle or Maroon creek reservoirs.
May 8, 2017, Craig Corona, the water attorney for the Larsen Family Limited Partnership, sends a settlement letter to Cynthia Covell, the water attorney for the city of Aspen. (The letter is later released to the public by Marcella Larsen, on May 15, 2017).
The letter says, “We propose that the opposers agree to a stay of this diligence proceeding to give the City time to file an application to change the location and size of the reservoir water rights in water court. At a minimum, the City would have to agree to move the reservoirs from their decreed location to a location within the City’s jurisdiction.”
May 9, 2017, a status conference on the two water court cases for Castle and Maroon is held by the water court referee. The referee holds, in a “minute order,” that the city must file a response to the summary of consultation in the case by July 10, 2017, and also on that same day must file “a timeline that is as concrete as possible for completing the reports necessary to support the diligence claims.” The next status conference was set for Aug. 10, 2017. Notably, Larsen Family LP reserved its right to re-refer the case directly to the water court judge at any time.
May 9, 2017, Cynthia Covell sends Craig Corona a letter regarding the settlement proposal. The letter was later referenced in a story published by the Aspen Daily News, on May 18, 2017, in this paragraph: “Cynthia Covell, a Denver water attorney who handles water rights issues for the city, responded to the May 8 letter with questions about how the stay would function, while also defending the city’s ongoing process to study future water supply and demand, Corona said.”
May 11, 2017, Craig Corona sends Cnythia Covell another letter regarding the Larsen settlement proposal. (The letter is made public by Marcella Larsen on May 15, 2017).
The letter states, in part:
“If all parties agree to it, the City’s two diligence cases can be stayed and put on hold while the City files an application to change the location of the reservoirs. The goal would be to have the opposers agree not to oppose the change application (with some limitations). If an outside party opposes because the diligence cases aren’t finished first, the City could withdraw the change application and the parties will be in the same position they are in now. But, if there’s no objection and the change is decreed, dams won’t be built in the wilderness and the City will retain its water rights – a win-win. Unlike our first proposal, this allows the City to test whether a change case will be successful before giving up the decreed locations.”
“The City is concerned with giving up the current locations for the dams. But, the City can’t build the reservoirs there, anyway. It would take twenty to forty million dollars (at least) to condemn private property for the Castle Creek dam. The City would need a special use permit to inundate Forest Service property, and private legislation from Congress to inundate wilderness – highly improbable, if not impossible. So, if the City transfers the rights to a new location that has challenges, the City will be no worse off than they are now.”
“The City’s claims are weak. In almost fifty years, the City has done almost nothing to develop these rights. The City has no need for storage, especially not a sixty-year supply, according to the City’s engineers. Unless the City settles, it will not come out of these cases with its water rights intact.”
“The delay for the City’s studies is unnecessary and is self-inflicted. With no need for storage, it should be simple to determine a reasonable supply amount and risk. The 1,200 acre feet we originally offered would give the City a five-year supply. Is the City concerned that Castle Creek and Maroon Creek will be completely dry for more than five years? If that happens, 1965 reservoir rights are not going to help.”
“Instead of engaging in meaningful settlement discussions, the City engaged a myriad of consultants at great expense to study its ‘needs’ when it already has a demand study. This work should have been done before filing the application, not after. The City’s reluctance to pursue timely settlement gives the appearance that the City is simply preparing for trial causing unnecessary expense to the City and to the opposers. Perhaps this will change as the make-up of City Council changes.”
“Larsen Family LP will never stipulate to diligence for dams in the wilderness. It seems it should be easy for the City to say it will never dam the Maroon Bells. But, apparently, that’s not the case.”
May 11, 2017, Deere and Ault consultants issue a report on the idea of storing water in old Aspen mines, concluding that “it appears that the cons generally outweigh the pros” and that mine storage is a “high risk alternative.”
May 15, 2017, Aspen city council holds a work session on “Aspen’s water future,” including a presentation from consultants from Deere and Ault on potential mine storage and in-situ storage. At the meeting, there was a limited running discussion of the potential need for the city to store 14,000 acre feet of water, or not.
The documents made public as part of the meeting included:
The May 15 work session included a presentation on the findings from engineers Deere and Ault after their explorations into the feasibility of storing mine in old silver mines in Aspen and of building an in-situ reservoir under the city’s golf course.
The meeting was interesting for the presentations about mine and in-situ storage, but also for a running sub-discussion that revealed more about what some of Aspen’s elected officials know about the potential reservoirs and what they do not know. Please our notes on the meeting. Some highlights are below.
“We don’t even have a ballpark for the upper valley storage solution,” Adam Frisch, Aspen city council member.
“We have an old number, but it would be something that we would need to update,” Margaret Medellin, utilities portfolio manager for the city of Aspen.
“I think it would help us to have a better idea of the problem we’re trying to solve before we try and solve the problem,” Bert Myrin, Aspen city council member.
“So, yes there is money, and yes we potentially we could do it, if we have permission from the president or whatever to build in the Bells, maybe we could do this. The bigger question is, would we?” Myrin.
“I think, personally, we’re about 95, 98 percent built out residentially, as well as commercially, so unless there is a huge transfer of second homes, part-time homes into full-time ownership of epic proportions that’s never been seen in a community, in a resort community, anywhere, I don’t know how we get from 6,500 people full-time to 17,000,” Frisch.
May 15, 2017, Marcella Larsen of Larsen Family Limited Partnership, one of the opposing parties in the Maroon Creek Reservoir case, sends copies of two letters concerning a proposed settlement agreement directly to the Aspen city council and copies the email, with the documents attached, to reporters at Aspen Journalism, The Aspen Times and the Aspen Daily News. The two letters, dated May 8, 2017 and May 11, 2017, were from her attorney Craig Corona to the city’s water attorney, Cynthia Covell.
The subject line of Larsen’s email reads, “Solutions to Aspen’s Wilderness Area Dams, which you don’t even know about … ”
The body of the email is below.
“Dear Aspen City Council:
“As you know, the Larsen Family LP is an objector in Aspen’s efforts to place dams in the Maroon Bells Wilderness Area. Recently, we sent an offer of settlement to Aspen (5/8 and 5/11), which we understand council has not been provided, even though you had a work session today regarding your so-called water storage needs (unsupported by any study, so far).
“At this point, without addressing the legal and ethical issues of failing to provide you our settlement offer, we are simply sharing our offer with you directly.
“Also copied are the press, meaning the public, whom should be informed of the facts as well.
“There are solutions to your wilderness area dams. We hope you will take us up on our generous offer to settle the mess you have gotten yourselves into, without more needless and irresponsible expenditures of taxpayer funds.
Co-Manager, Larsen Family LP”
May 18, 2017, Aspen Daily News publishes a story headlined “Settlement offer proposed to city on future dams.”
May 22, 2017, Aspen city council approves new landscaping and watering regulations designed to reduce water use.
May 22, 2017, the Aspen city council holds an executive session for, in part, the purpose of a “conference with attorneys regarding pending litigation, Castle and Maroon Creek diligence cases … ” and for “determining positions relative matters that may be subject to negotiations; developing strategy for negotiations … ”
May 23, 2017, Cynthia Covell on behalf of the city of Aspen sends Craig Corona, the water attorney for the Larsen Family Limited Partnerhsip, a letter informing him that “Aspen cannot accept your client’s settlement offer.”
The letter was distributed to the attorneys representing other opposing parties in the two cases, and according to an attorney in the cases, the letter also said, “A new application to change the location (of) the Maroon Creek Reservoir conditional storage right would require that a new location be specified. Aspen must complete its supply/demand study and identify an alternative location or locations for the Maroon Creek Reservoir storage right in order to be able to file a change application to move that right, or some portion thereof, to another location.”
The letter also stated that the city was working on a hosting a second settlement meeting during week of July 31 to August 4, and indicated that Steve Wickes, would once again facilitate the meeting.
May 31, 2017, Marecella Larsen of Larsen Family LP responds, in an email exchange, to questions from Aspen Journalism. Larsen is a retired attorney and served for four years as the assistant Pitkin County attorney from 1997 to 2001. Her answers, and point of view, as perhaps the most aggressive of the opposing parties in the two cases, are notable. Highlights below.
“Instead of trying to justify 14,000 acre feet of storage that would provide sixty-five years of unneeded storage, we wish Aspen would identify a realistic storage amount and location.”
“Our offer was quite clear that there were terms that could be negotiated, and the basic concept was that we would support (along with the other opposers) Aspen’s relocation of its dam rights, in a location and amount to be determined through negotiation. Again, that offer was rejected by Aspen.”
“The credible and credentialed expert Aspen hired in 2016 to prepare Aspen’s Water Supply Availability report concluded that Aspen ‘can always provide sufficient potable and raw water supplies’ without dams/reservoirs. When Aspen realized that the Wilson Water Group’s finding conflicted with their desire to continue with dam rights up Castle and Maroon Creek, they hired an economist (not a scientist) to prepare a new report.
“We expect this new ‘study’ from Headwaters will do what Aspen wants it to do: prove up an extreme ‘Mad Max’ scenario where both Castle and Maroon Creeks are obstructed for a long period of time, wildfires burning, land sliding, and water short.”
June 9, 2017, Aspen City Manager Steve Barwick responds to a query from Aspen Journalism seeking confirmation of the May 23 settlement letter to Craig Corona.
Barwick’s reply, in total, was “The City of Aspen is still working with all parties in the water case with the hope of reaching a mutually agreeable settlement. We are still trying to refine water supply and demand estimates and study alternative storage locations.”
Just last week, the Army Corps of Engineers approved the Chimney Hollow reservoir project, which will hold 90,000 acre feet of water and feed several Front Range communities, including Greeley.
Such infrastructure is vital for future growth, regardless, [Brian] Werner said.
The fight is not over. The conservancy district will continue to fight for the Northern Integrated Supply Project, a proposed water storage and distribution project that will supply 15 northern Front Range communities with 40,000 acre feet of water. That’s been held up at the Army Corps of Engineers for more than a decade. A decision is expected next year.
“Chimney Hollow and NISP will put a major dent into what we’ll need down the road,” Werner said. “More people are coming whether we build this or not. Our future looks a lot better having some of these storage buckets with more people than a lot more people and no storage buckets. We’ll start drying up more farms. We’ve got to have water.”
In addition to water storage, the city of Greeley, has an intense focus on proper drainage to combat the decades-old problem of flooding in Greeley.
Joel Hemesath, public works director, said the city has been working for the past two years with some bond money to improve drainage in and around Greeley. He said the city is gearing up for downtown projects, as well, that will route drainage to a detention pond by the Poudre River via bigger pipes.
Since 2012, the city has spent a little more than $17 million on stormwater projects.
The city also works hard to improve trails, dedicating just shy of $900,000 to them since 2012.
Hemesath said the city would like to extend Sheep Draw Trail through some more western subdivisions, and extend the Poudre Trail farther east.
Like a Frenchman knows good years and bad years for wine, I remember years in Colorado for their snowpack. In 1995, deep snow remained well into summer. In 2002, the snow never came and Coloradans were reminded of how bad drought can be. In 2011, the snow at my family’s favorite backcountry ski trailhead was still 10 feet deep in early May. In 2012, it was drought again; later that summer fires raged west of my home in Fort Collins.
Water from this snowpack is the proverbial lifeblood of Rocky Mountain rivers. In fact, water is the lifeblood of the entire economy of the West—for brewers in cities, for corn growers east of Fort Collins, and for angling guides in our high county. Competition for water can be fierce.
Residents of the Southwest weren’t yet competing for water in 1776 when two Spanish priests — Francisco Atanacio Dominguez and Silvestre Valez de Escalante — christened one of our lifeblood rivers, El Rio de Nuestra Senora de las Dolores. Better known as the Dolores — the Sorrows — many view this epithet as reflecting the current state of the river. In 1983, the gates closed on the McPhee Dam, one of the last projects during the United States Bureau of Reclamation’s era of big dams. Within a decade, a series of dry years came along and a fight exploded over the impacts of the dam on the ecology of the river.
With its origins in the high, remote mountains near Telluride in southwest Colorado, the Dolores is a river of extremes. Fed by snowmelt gushing off the Rocky Mountains, spring flood flows before the dam could reach 1000 times the low flows of late summer. The reason people dam rivers is to make the water supply — in this case irrigation water — more predictable. Capture the spring snowmelt in a reservoir. Send the water to farm fields later in the summer. That’s good for farmers. But it’s bad for native fish.
At the time of Dominguez and Escalante, only about half a dozen fish species lived in the 175 miles of river now below McPhee Dam. These fish are all built for extremes. Aerodynamic bodies help them withstand huge floods. Tolerance for hot temperatures allow them to wait out low, warm waters during drought. Some of these fish can detect chemical and electrical signals of their prey, so they can hunt in dark murky water. Many can live for decades, allowing populations to survive a string of bad years with little or no reproduction.
The best known native of the Dolores is America’s largest minnow: the Colorado pikeminnow. The pikeminnow can reach 6 feet long and weigh up to 80 pounds. One hundred years ago, pikeminnow were so abundant that fishermen would haul them out of rivers with pitchforks. Pikeminnow harvests even supported a commercial cannery near Yuma, Arizona. This species has been around for more than 3 million years. But after just a few decades of 20th century dam building, they were nearly extinct.
Here’s a report from Jason Blevins writing for The Denver Post. Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:
The fickle Dolores River is emblematic of Western water woes, where increasing recreation demands and calls for conservation clash with traditional uses that quench arid towns and farms.
That tension has created conflict in the past, as the river veers from tidal to trickle. There’s no other way to see Slickrock Canyon except by boat, and without raft-floating flows, the canyon is essentially closed.
But, recently, the Dolores River water wrangling has yielded collaboration. And this year, after more than a decade of planning, a diverse team of water users — including water managers, farmers, boaters, conservationists, ecologists and land managers — have galvanized to celebrate and study more than 60 days of boatable flows, creating one of the most vibrant seasons in recent memory on the miles of varying Dolores River below McPhee.
“It’s been a ghost and you have to chase it,” said Schafer, the Western Slope advocacy director for Conservation Colorado, who first navigated Slickrock Canyon during a quick, small release last year. “These last couple years have really opened my eyes to the complexities of Western water policy, the complexities of public land management and the complexities recreation management. But at the end of the day, the overwhelming experience is sheer and utter beauty. This is one of the most spectacular river canyons on the planet.”
The Lower Dolores River through Slickrock Canyon — traversing a 30,000-acre Bureau of Land Management wilderness study area — offers geology spanning hundreds of millions of years.
Entrenched channels carve through Wingate Sandstone, the Kayenta Formation and Navajo Sandstone layers that tower hundreds of feet above the river. Panels of petroglyphs and pictographs reveal the canyon’s millennia-old appeal. Ancestral Puebloan, Archaic and Fremont people frequented the remote canyon. Several pictographs and petroglyphs in the canyon show the horned Fremont Man and bear paws. Some of that artwork is near dinosaur tracks…
Those capricious flows have defined the Lower Dolores since the Bureau of Reclamation finished building the McPhee Dam in 1984. McPhee Reservoir, managed by the Dolores River Water Conservancy District, holds roughly 380,000 acre-feet of water, most of it allocated for agricultural use around the Four Corners region.
In 2004, Dolores River stakeholders gathered to forge a unified mission. The group included the water conservancy district; irrigation users; the Bureau of Reclamation, which owns the dam; the Bureau of Land Management; conservation groups; boater groups such as American Whitewater; and Colorado Parks and Wildlife. That mission outlined how the groups can work together to help boaters — who have a legal right to excess water in McPhee Reservoir — and ecologists eager to protect fish habitat while honoring water rights and allocations for irrigation and municipal uses…
It took almost a decade of meetings — during, incidentally, a prolonged drought that pretty much eliminated releases of unallocated water from McPhee — to hammer out a plan that bolstered fish habitat and maximized recreational flows for boaters.
The Lower Dolores Implementation, Monitoring and Evaluation Plan created a team that helped to manage releases. This year, with a healthy snowpack and good carryover water levels from the previous spring melt, American Whitewater helped negotiate significant releases from McPhee — from the end of March to May 21 and another surprise burst last week.
The surges, including a high-flow, three-day pulse of 4,000 cubic feet per second that limited the length of the boating season but helped restore riparian habitat, marked the largest releases since 2008. The flows drew wildlife scientists, conservationists and boaters in droves.
“We are trying to align everyone’s activities so they all fit together, and this was a really successful year for that effort,” said Michael Preston, manager of the Dolores River Water Conservancy District. “We had really great monitoring this season. We have a plan. We have objectives. We are going to start learning a great deal.”
The Nature Conservancy and Colorado Parks and Wildlife worked together in March to study the deeply channelized river bed before the big flow and then again in April and May to observe the river during a variety of flows. The hope was the big pulse and the sustained flows helped push the river out of its entrenched channel, allowing it to scour riverbanks of dense willows and alder, and restore eddies and backwaters…
Jim White, an aquatic biologist with Colorado Parks and Wildlife, got onto the Dolores River below McPhee last month for the first time since 1990. He was looking for endemic populations of roundtail chub, bluehead sucker and flannelmouth sucker fish. He found all three in Slickrock Canyon. His team did not find any smallmouth bass, which can decimate native fish populations. That’s all good news…
“The main thing we want to do is make sure we don’t lose any more ground in terms of the fishery. The density of fish is pretty low, but all three species are present,” says White, who tagged more than 500 fish that can be followed through antennas set above and below Slickrock Canyon. “They are using the habitat in Slickrock and other sections of river. Having a good water year like this helped. Everyone was on the same page. The 4,000 cfs disrupted the channel and … created better fish habitat.”
While scientists surveyed fish, American Whitewater and the Dolores River Boating Advocates canvassed boaters. Conservationists and recreationists have united on the Dolores, merging their missions in a singular push for more water.
The boater survey is trying to quantify the economic impact of boaters rallying in the West End of Montrose County. Paddling advocates want to know whether the flows were announced early enough and whether the timing of the releases offered enough opportunity to float through the wild canyons of the Dolores River.
Early reports show crowding was not an issue, but boaters — almost all of them private paddlers — lamented the accessibility of potential campsites: unimproved sandy beaches that haven’t really been used for several years. Most of the river bank through Slickrock is densely armored with virtually impenetrable willows. Upstream, in Ponderosa Gorge, where the lush mountain river transitions to a red-walled desert canyon, impassable alder thickets guard the banks.
“American Whitewater negotiated a high-flow release, hoping it would help recover fish and habitat. That meant a shorter season. But we will trade a few days if we can get that water down there to work for a healthier ecology,” says American Whitewater’s Nathan Fey.
Rafters rally when the Dolores runs. They come from across the West, with trailers from several states stacked more than a hundred deep at the Bedrock takeout on a Sunday in mid-May…
With McPhee Reservoir pretty much full a month-and-a-half into irrigation season, there’s a good chance that releases will happen again next year, especially if winter snowpack is around normal. Water users, Preston says, are upgrading sprinkler technology, reducing irrigation demand.