Aspen joins two adversaries in water court to apply for Colorado water funds

A crop of potatoes growing on an irrigated field in lower Woody Creek. The potatoes are being irrigated on land owned by Pitkin County as part of it's open space program.

Western Resource Advocates and Wilderness Workshop are opposing the city of Aspen’s efforts in water court to maintain conditional water storage rights tied to two potential dams on Castle and Maroon creeks. But the environmental organizations are formally collaborating with the city on finding water-supply alternatives to the two potential dams.

In late July, Western Resource Advocates and Wilderness Workshop joined the city in filing a preliminary application with the Colorado Water Conservation Board seeking state funds for a local study of potential “agricultural transfer mechanisms,” or ATMs.

Such programs provide alternatives to the “buy and dry” approach often used by cities to obtain water from ranchers and farmers.

“We all recognize that the issues that face our region will only be solved through the creative interaction of the entire community, and we hope that this effort will lead to more productive and collaborative projects,” Margaret Medellin, a utilities portfolio manager with the city, wrote in an email about the joint application.

CWCB officials recently asked water managers in the state to file either grant applications or notices of intent to apply so they could gauge interest for a new $10 million grant program designed to spur projects and programs spelled out in the 2015 Colorado Water Plan.

By the Aug. 1 deadline the state received 28 such notices for future grant cycles, including the one from the city and the environmental groups. In total, the “intent” notices identified more than $7.6 million in spending on various projects, according to a CWCB newsletter sent out Aug. 3. The CWCB also received 32 regular grant applications, requesting a total of $8.9 million for projects worth $60 million.
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The scope and details of the emerging collaborative effort among the city, Western Resource Advocates and Wilderness Workshop were not included in their preliminary application to the CWCB, including how much money the groups might seek.

“At this point, there isn’t much information to share as project details still need to be developed,” Medellin said. “Once we jointly identify a pilot project, we will submit an application to the CWCB for funds.”

The application says a statement of work, a budget and a list of other funding sources will be forthcoming.

The CWCB’s board of directors will review and approve the new water plan grants in a two-step, two-meeting, process. The next grant application deadline is Oct. 1.

A field in the Roaring Fork River valley below Aspen. The city of Aspen hopes to work with irrigators to develop a source of water to meet its needs.

Work with irrigators

The three entities told the state they “seek to work with one or more irrigators in the Roaring Fork Valley to develop an alternative transfer mechanism that will help meet local water needs and demonstrate an alternative to buy-and-dry.”

According to the state water plan, ATMs can include techniques such as “rotational fallowing,” where irrigators voluntarily enter into a lease to stop watering parts of their fields during drought conditions. Or they can take the form of “interruptible supply agreements,” where irrigators agree to lease a certain percentage of their water to a city.

The joint application to the state says “the exact type of ATM would be determined in collaboration between Aspen, irrigators, Wilderness Workshop and Western Resource Advocates, and be in accordance with ATM types described” in the water plan.

On Aug. 3, the city put forth a settlement agreement to the two environmental organizations it is now collaborating with and to eight other opposing parties in the water court cases regarding the potential dams.

The city said it was willing to move its conditional right to store 4,567 acre-feet of water on Maroon Creek to other locations in the Roaring Fork River valley, including land in Woody Creek next to the Elam gravel pit, and the gravel pit itself.

However, the city did not commit to moving its 9,062-acre-foot right in Castle Creek, apart from a small portion that might flood a sliver of the wilderness.

While Wilderness Workshop and Western Resource Advocates are collaborating with the city on alternatives to storage, they are firmly opposed to the city maintaining storage rights in either Castle or Maroon creek valley.

“Moving the dams out of these two iconic valleys is dead center with our mission,” said Sloan Shoemaker, executive director of Wilderness Workshop. “Working collaboratively with partners in exploring alternative approaches to water supply will help achieve that mission-centric goal.”

A status conference was held about the cases with the water court referee Aug. 10. The parties agreed to another 90-day period to continue settlement efforts, with the next status conference in the case set for Nov. 9.

Aspen Journalism is an independent nonprofit news organization collaborating with The Aspen Times on the coverage of rivers and water. The Times published this story on Thursday, Aug. 17, 2017.

When in Rome: Water as the Denverites water – News on TAP

Water shortages in the fabled Italian city underscore the need to invest in infrastructure, efficiency and planning.

Source: When in Rome: Water as the Denverites water – News on TAP

#Drought news: Normal conditions return around #Denver, Metro Area, Phillips County

Click here to go to the US Drought Monitor Website. Here’s an excerpt:


Temperatures were cooler than average for much of the contiguous U.S. this week, including 4-8 degrees F below average across a large part of the Plains and Midwest this past week. Only Washington and Oregon saw temperatures more than 4 degrees above average for the period. With the below-average temperatures came a lot of rain in some regions, notably across northern Texas and much of Oklahoma, where rainfall was more than 600% of normal for this time of year. There were also substantial rains in parts of Wyoming, Nebraska, parts of the Dakotas, and in many places across the southeast. Rainfall was below average in southern Texas, parts of the midwest, northeast, and northwest, particularly notable in Montana where wildfires are prevalent…

High Plains

With the recent rainfalls, conditions returned to normal in northwestern Kansas along the Nebraska border and across extreme southern Kansas. In southwestern Nebraska, moderate drought shrank (D1) in Perkins, Chase, Hayes, and Lincoln Counties, following precipitation totals of up to nearly 4 inches. Likewise in the Nebraska panhandle, normal conditions prevail once again across eastern Box Butte, northeastern Morrill county, and northern Garden Counties, thanks to precipitation totals of 1.5-2.5 inches over the past week. Heavy rain also erased remaining dryness in Laramie County, Wyoming. Conditions improved to abnormally dry (D0) in parts of Custer, Blaine, and Loup counties in central Nebraska after two consecutive nights of heavy rainfall. Moderate drought also shrank slightly in north central Holt and south central Boyd counties, where up to 3.5 inches of rain fell. And normal conditions returned to a swath from Ewing to Atkinson in Holt County. Some areas in South Dakota received 3-7 inches of rain over the past week, contributing to improving conditions in some northeastern, north central, and south central pockets. However, the west was not as fortunate. Extreme drought (D3) creeped farther west in Meade County while severe drought (D2) expanded in Jackson. In southwestern North Dakota, rainfall helped alleviate exceptional drought (D4, the worst category), although due to the extremely poor growing conditions, it remained around the Hettinger County area. Conditions also improved in Colorado. Normal conditions returned around the Denver metro area and in Phillips County in the northeastern corner of the state…


In far southern California, drought conditions in Imperial County have now improved to moderate (D1) as long-term drought continues to plague this area and nearby regions. Conditions also improved around eastern Nevada into western Utah as abnormally dry (D0) conditions returned to normal in most of region, save for a region encompassing part of southwestern White Pine and northeastern Nye Counties. Conditions also returned to normal in the Unita Mounains at the Utah / Wyoming border. In Montana, abnormally dry conditions extended southward to the Wyoming border, encompassing more of northern Beaverhead and most of Madison Counties. There have been recent reports of water shortages in Beaverhead, Madison, Gallatin, Jefferson, Park Counties. Ninety-eight percent of the topsoil rated short to very short in Montana and fire danger is high…

Looking Ahead

For the week of August 16-23, rain is forecast across most of the contiguous United States, save most of the western quarter and part of eastern to southern Texas. Rainfall may be in excess of two inches or more in some areas that will significantly benefit, including much of the Plains from North Dakota south through Oklahoma, parts of the midwest where dry conditions have recently creeped in, and across much of the East Coast states. Over the next few days, temperatures are broadly forecast to be in the 70s to 80s across much of the northern tier and 80s to 90s across much of South. Temperatures in the 90s and higher are likely limited mostly to Texas, southwestern Arizona, and southern California.

Looking further ahead into the second week period, above-average temperatures are favored across most of the contiguous U.S., particularly in southern Texas, Florida, and part of the upper midwest to the mid- and North Atlantic states, while below-average conditions are favored in Alaska. Wetter-than-average are favored across much of the eastern two-thirds of the contiguous U.S., part of the west, most notably western New Mexico, ad eastern Alaska. Drier-than-average conditions are favored across most of Texas and Oklahoma, along with the northwestern tier of the Contiguous U.S. and western Alaska.

@EPA: Extension of Comment Period for the Definition of “Waters of the United States” #WOTUS – Recodification of Pre-existing Rules

Middle Dutch Creek near the Grand River Ditch. Photo credit Greg Hobbs.

Here’s the release from the Environmental Protection Agency:

Extension of the Comment Period for Proposed Rule “Definition of ‘Waters of the United States’ – Recodification of Pre-existing Rules”

August 16, 2017

EPA and the Army are extending the comment period by 30 days for the proposed first step of the review of the definition of ‘Waters of the U.S.’ to provide additional time for stakeholders to weigh in.

The comment period, as now extended, will close on September 27, 2017. The proposed rule was signed by the Administrator and posted to EPA’s website on June 27th and published in the Federal Register on July 27th. With this extension, the public will have more than 90 days to review the proposal. When finalized, the proposed rule would replace the 2015 Clean Water Rule with the regulations that were in effect immediately preceding the 2015 rule. For more information on the proposed rule:
Pre-Publication Version

The EPA Acting Assistant Administrator for Water, Michael Shapiro, along with Mr. Douglas Lamont, senior official performing the duties of the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works, signed the following document on 08/16/2017, and EPA is submitting it for publication in the Federal Register (FR). While we have taken steps to ensure the accuracy of this Internet version of the rule, it is not the official version. Please refer to the official version in a forthcoming FR publication, which will appear on the Government Printing Office’s FDsys website ( and on ( in Docket No. EPA-HQ-OW-2017-0203. Once the official version of this document is published in the FR, this version will be removed from the Internet and replaced with a link to the official version.

Denver councillors move Platte to Park Hill project forward

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

From The Denver Business Journal (Cathy Proctor):

The vote [August 14, 2017 was 10-3, with councilmembers Rafael Espinoza, Paul Kashmann and Debbie Ortega the three “no” votes.

The project aims to reduce the potential for flooding in Denver’s northern neighborhoods, from Globeville, Elyria and Swansea to northwestern Park Hill. The projects are designed to capture and funnel the water from the neighborhoods to the South Platte River.

But critics of the interconnected projects say their sole purpose is to aid the Colorado Department of Transportation’s (CDOT) $1.2 billion initiative to expand I-70 on Denver’s northern flank.

CDOT officials have said the I-70 project, which includes ripping out a 50-year-old viaduct and adding a tolled express lane to each direction of the highway between I-25 and Chambers Road, has its own set of flood-mitigation elements. Those elements will be built, but might be reduced in size due to Denver’s projects, according to the agency.

Critics of the I-70 project, including those who have filed lawsuits, say halting the project may force the state to shift the highway’s route further to the north. CDOT said it looked at what’s called the “reroute option” and found it would cost more than $3 billion, farm more than the Central 70 project, and clog the surface streets of north Denver with traffic.

Kashmann, one of the no votes, said he believes Denver’s drainage project and CDOT’s I-70 project “are tightly interwoven, and the city is far more than an interested party.”

Kashman said he believes CDOT is saving money on the Central 70 project by having the city do the Platte to Park Hill project.

Espinoza said the project helps CDOT while harming City Park Golf Course, which will be redesigned with a larger detention pond on the west side as part of the Platte to Park Hill effort.

“If you vote for this, you’re saying to vote for the priorities of CDOT over this asset [City Park Golf Course],” he said.

But halting the Platte to Park Hill project won’t halt the Central 70 project, Councilman Paul López said.

Nor would a “no” vote lead CDOT to decide to reroute I-70 traffic onto other highways further north, he said.

“If you vote no on this, it won’t bring back the reroute [option],” López said.

Nor would a no vote eliminate the risk of flooding in the neighborhoods, Councilwoman Mary Beth Susman noted.

Councilwoman Stacie Gilmore said the project’s planned redesign of the City Parks Golf Course will bring native landscaping to the course. The councilwoman is the target of an ethics complaint, over her vote on Aug. 7 in favor of the contracts, due to her marriage to a city parks official…

City Park Golf Course, as it exists today, is “a human-created, overwatered ecosystem” devoted to non-native turf grass, Gilmore said.

After the project “the landscape will be more sustainable, with wetland areas to help filter stormwater runoff and contaminants in the water. We’ll improve on the non-native environment,” Gilmore said.

Councilman Wayne New said he appreciated the project’s flood mitigation efforts — but, “putting on his golfer’s hat” — said the improvements to the golf course also are important.

“City Park Golf Course needs to be improved,” New said. “It has beautiful views of our city, but it can be something that is notable. It’s a good public golf course, but it can be more.”

The city contracts approved Monday were:

  • A three-year, $6 million, on-call program management contract between the city and Parsons Transportation Group to design and build drainage improvements at the City Park Golf Course and in Park Hill at 39th Avenue.
  • A $7.6 million, one-year contract with Flatiron Constructors Inc to install a 84-inch storm drainage pipe and 24-inch sanitary pipe from 48th Avenue and Dahlia Street to approximately 360 feet north of Smith Road and Dahlia Street.
  • A $44.99 million, three-year contract with Saunders Construction LLC to design and build improvements to the City Park Golf Course.
  • Jim Gardner won’t seek re-election to the Pueblo Board of Water Works

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Jon Pompia):

    Now, after 18 years on the city’s Board of Water Works, Jim Gardner, 85, won’t be seeking reelection…

    “I’m old,” Gardner said with a laugh. “But I can shoot my age in golf and I want to spend more time going that.”

    When a vacancy on the water board opened up in 1999, Gardner was appointed by City Council to fill the slot.

    He said frequent conversations with a friend — well-known civic activist and longtime water board member Bud Whitlock — helped spur his interest in water and related issues.

    “Mr. Whitlock would talk about it all the time as being very important,” Gardner said. “And water is an engineering type thing and I’m interested in that kind of stuff.”

    After his appointed term ended in 2000, Gardner chose to run for the seat and was successful in obtaining it — a pattern he repeated for three terms.

    Along the way, Gardner said he “really got to know Alan Hamel,” the longtime executive director at Board of Water Works of Pueblo. “And he was a good guy to work with.

    “One of the first things I remember is working with Alan to reduce the cost of operation in the water department. I thought we were spending too much money on the buildings and so forth. And we got that done.”

    Another cause Gardner championed was the filling of key department positions with local, rather than out-of-the-area, talent.

    “People were retiring, especially from important sections,” Gardner explained. “And Alan came to a meeting one day and said, ‘We will have do a big search for a financial director,’ and so forth.

    “And I said, ‘You know Alan, I think we can find them all right here in town.’ And Alan did just that — he never went outside out of town again.

    “It’s important that they use local people who are qualified,” he said.

    Now that he is stepping down, Gardner has offered his endorsement to Sandy Gutierrez, who just announced her intention to run for the open board seat.

    “I’ve known her over the years to be a level-headed person,” he said. “And she will learn a lot working with the board.”

    A board, by the way, that Gardner praised as being top shelf.

    “I’m proud to say that we worked to get a good board and today we have a first-class board. It’s very cohesive,” Gardner said. “They all have good heads. No one carries an agenda to the board. They listen to the staff, which I also will say is first-class.

    “It’s amazing how well we work together.”

    One of the major acquisitions Gardner played an instrumental role in is the purchase of the Bessemer Ditch.

    “That goes back years ago, during the drought of 2001, 2002,” Gardner said. “And I was worried about the Western Slope curtailing our water through the mountains.

    “And I said, ‘We’ve got to buy more native water.'”

    And the city did just that, securing 32 percent of the Bessemer Ditch.

    “It’s going to cost a lot of money but it’s native water, and the federal government can’t mess with us. Now, we’ve got a lot of water but we need security.”

    On all levels, Gardner’s tireless efforts on behalf of the board are appreciated and will long be remembered.

    “Jim got on the board shortly after I started working,” said Alan Ward, Pueblo Water’s water resources division manager. “So pretty much my whole career he’s been on the board.

    “And he’s led us through some big capital projects like the purchase of the Bessemer Ditch. He’s dedicated a lot of years to us and he will be missed, I can tell you that.”

    As an architect and principal in HGF Architects, Inc., Gardner’s elaborate handiwork can be seen throughout the region — from Buell Children’s Museum/Sangre de Cristo Arts and Conference Center to Pueblo Community College’s Academic Center and Learning Facility to the Pueblo City-County Health Department building.

    @CPW and @JSandersonCO find ~8 week old bluehead sucker fry in Dolores River

    August 16, 2017: Colorado ParksWildlife and John Sanderson found imperiled bluehead sucker fry on Dolores River — a hopeful sign.
    Blue head sucker
    Dolores River watershed