City of Aspen reaches agreement with five parties on moving Maroon and Castle creek water rights — @AspenJournalism

An illustration of the potential Maroon Creek Reservoir, prepared by Wilderness Workshop. Source: Wilderness Workshop

From Aspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith):

The city of Aspen now has signed settlement agreements from five of the 10 parties opposing its efforts in water court to maintain conditional water storage rights tied to large potential dams on Maroon and Castle creeks, including Pitkin County, Wilderness Workshop, Western Resource Advocates, and two private-property owners in the Castle Creek valley.

“Aspen agrees that it will forego the right to store water pursuant to these water rights at the original decreed locations,” a May 24 staff memo from the city states.

The five parties that have yet to sign agreements include the U.S. Forest Service, American Rivers, Trout Unlimited, and two property owners in the Maroon Creek valley.

According to a draft resolution that the city council is expected to approve at a regular meeting on Tuesday, city staffers and the city attorney “have diligently negotiated with the remaining opposers to seek settlement in regarding their opposition and staff and its attorney believe that stipulations substantially similar to the attached stipulations will be entered with the remaining opposers.”

The city has said that none of the agreements are binding unless all 10 parties agree to the settlement terms.

As the city works through settlement negotiations with the parties, the resulting agreements can become more restrictive, but not less so, which is a common approach to settling water court cases.

For example, the agreement signed by an attorney for Pitkin County regarding Maroon Creek Reservoir does not include the county-owned Moore Open Space as one of the sites where the city may move its storage right, as did an earlier version of the agreement signed by Wilderness Workshop.

Other potential water-storage sites include the current Woody Creek gravel pit site, a piece of vacant land next to the gravel pit recently purchased by the city for potential water storage, the city-owned Zoline open space between the Maroon Creek Club and the Burlingame housing project, the city-owned Cozy Point Open Space at the bottom of Brush Creek Road, and the city’s municipal golf course.

Under the agreements, the city will seek to transfer its conditional water storage rights from the upper Castle and Maroon creek valleys to these other potential reservoir sites, with a maximum storage capacity of 8,500 acre-feet.

A map prepared for the City of Aspen that shows the five potential water-storage sites in the Roaring Fork River valley.

1971 decree

The city has held the conditional water rights for the Castle and Maroon creek reservoirs since 1965 and they carry a 1971 decree date, which the city hopes to carry to the other potential locations.

The potential Maroon Creek Reservoir would hold 4,567 acre-feet of water behind a 155-foot-tall dam on USFS property within view of the Maroon Bells. It would also flood a portion of the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness.

The potential Castle Creek Reservoir would hold 9,062 acre-feet behind a 170-foot-tall dam, mainly on private property, two miles below Ashcroft.

Western Resource Advocates and Wilderness Workshop issued a press release about their agreements with the city on Thursday afternoon.

The release was sent out after the city of Aspen posted the meeting packet for a scheduled May 29 Aspen City Council meeting.

Aspen Public Radio posted a story on Thursday afternoon with the headline, “Aspen agrees to never build dams on Castle and Maroon.”

The Aspen Times and the Aspen Daily News also wrote stories Thursday evening about the city’s progress in reaching settlements with opposing parties.

As part of the deal with the five parties who have signed agreements, or stipulations as they are called in water court, the opposing parties have agreed not to oppose the city’s efforts to change the water rights to the new locations for 20 years.

Six of the 10 parties who filed statements of opposition in December 2016, in response to the city’s due-diligence filing in October 2016, filed in both the Maroon and Castle creek cases.

But the two pairs of private-property owners filed in only one case each.

Double R Creek Limited, and ASP Properties, which control property in the Castle Creek valley where the potential dam would have been built, only filed in the Castle Creek case. They have both signed settlement agreements.

However, Larsen Family LP and Roaring Fork Land and Cattle Co., which own land in the Maroon Creek valley, have yet to sign agreements with the city.

The cases are being processed in Division 5 Water Court in Glenwood Springs. The next status conference in the case is scheduled for June 26, and the 18-month mark in the case is June 30.

From The Aspen Times (Carolyn Sackariason):

Two of the opposers, Wilderness Workshop and Western Resource Advocates, announced the settlement Thursday evening.

Will Roush, conservation director at Wilderness Workshop, commended the city for finding another way to store its water other than in a designated wilderness area.

“It’s a big deal. … Everybody came to a consensus that these were not the right places for dams,” he said.

Roush’s organization, along with nine other parties, sued the city after it applied to the state to extend existing conditional water rights for the two potential reservoirs. The city first applied for those rights in 1965.

Since 2016, city officials have maintained that adequate water storage is needed in anticipation of climate change impacts like drought, fire and changes in runoff.

“City Councils over the decades have worked to preserve Aspen water customers’ water supply, including storage options now and into the future,” Aspen Mayor Steve Skadron said in a statement. “We are pleased that we could achieve a solution with Wilderness Workshop and Western Resource Advocates, and hopefully all the parties invested in a mutually successful outcome, that protects pristine areas of wilderness while still prioritizing Aspen’s water needs for the coming decades.”

In 2017, the city announced its intention to move the conditional storage rights out of both valleys. It has been in negotiations with the opposing entities since then.

Stipulations with the five parties — which Aspen City Council is set to approve Tuesday — would result in the government relocating its water storage rights to six other potential locations in the Roaring Fork Valley…

Roush said he has spoken to representatives of some of those parties and there are no substantial differences in the stipulations. He said he expects those agreements to be signed off on, but in the meantime there is no time like the present to advance his organization’s goal to keep water storage out of the valleys…

“It’s a great day for Castle and Maroon creek valleys, and that those streams will remain free-flowing,” Roush said.

The “trails” and tribulations of Waterton Canyon – News on TAP

Why this wild retreat next to the city is such a great attraction — and why we’ve so often had to close its gates.

Source: The “trails” and tribulations of Waterton Canyon – News on TAP

2018 #COleg: Eagle County folks welcome extension of #Colorado Lottery

Floating the tiger, Yampa River, 2014. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

From The Vail Daily (Pam Boyd):

Last week, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper signed SB18-066 into law, extending the operation of the Lottery Division to July 1, 2049, 25 years past July 1, 2024, the date it was previously scheduled to terminate.

“It’s great news and we’re pleased this avenue of funding has been extended to help ensure that everything we love about Colorado — its wildlife, natural resources, rivers and trails — will continue to benefit from the lottery proceeds for another 25 years,” said town of Vail Communications Director Suzanne Silverthorn.

The Colorado Lottery is marking its 35th anniversary this year. After Colorado voters approved a state lottery in 1980, the General Assembly created a Lottery Division to administer the program as an enterprise fund, which means it receives no tax dollars. Since 1983, the Colorado Lottery has returned more than $3 billion in proceeds to the state to invest in outdoor recreation and land, water and wildlife conservation. Since 1992, this work been funded through three organizations: the Conservation Trust Fund, Colorado Parks and Wildlife and Great Outdoors Colorado…

Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg and Sen. Leroy Garcia in the Colorado Senate and Rep. Jeni James Arndt and Rep. Cole Wist in the Colorado House of Representatives sponsored SB18-066. The bill netted a vote of 30 in favor and five opposed in the Senate and 48 in favor and 16 opposed (with one representative excused) in the House…

In 25 years, Great Outdoors Colorado, which annually receives up to half of lottery proceeds against a cap, has funded more than 5,000 projects in all 64 Colorado counties through its partners: local governments, nonprofit land trusts and Colorado Parks and Wildlife. Projects include school yards, playgrounds and enriching outdoor education spaces for our state’s urban and rural youth; hundreds of miles of trails; and more than 1,600 parks and outdoor recreation areas. Great Outdoors Colorado funding has also supported the state park system, conserved critical wildlife habitat and protected farms and ranch land.

Conservation Trust Fund, a program of Colorado’s Department of Local Affairs, receives 40 percent of lottery proceeds to fund conservation and recreation work across the state, and Colorado Parks and Wildlife receives 10 percent for state parks. In years when lottery profits exceed the Great Outdoors Colorado cap, which they typically do, spillover dollars go to the Colorado Department of Education’s Public School Capital Construction Assistance Fund, called BEST.

WISE water arrives in Castle Rock; join the celebration June 8 — @crgov

WISE System Map via the South Metro Water Supply Authority

Here’s the release from the Town of Castle Rock:

For years, Castle Rock Water has made providing long term, renewable water a priority. Now, a major milestone has been reached and the first drops of WISE water are headed to Town. Join the celebration to help commemorate this accomplishment and take a look at what’s coming up next for water in Castle Rock.

The fun-filled family celebration will be from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. Friday, June 8. Bring the kids, sunscreen and a great attitude to Gemstone Park, 6148 Sapphire Pointe Blvd., to join the festivities and celebrate the WISE water partnership.

After stakeholders officially cut the ribbon, the community is invited for a festival full of games, food trucks, bump soccer, bounce houses, a foam party, giant bubbles, water colors and more. Plus, get a chance to meet the Most Hydrated Man in Castle Rock.

Learn more about the celebration at http://CRgov.com/WISEWater.

The celebration will help mark more than 9 years of planning and $50 million in infrastructure to help ensure the community’s strong water future. When the WISE partnership was created, many communities in Colorado were faced with a drought. With limited, non-renewable resources, communities knew they needed to come up with a plan. Regional water providers saw the opportunity to partner in a solution and share in the expense to buy, transport and treat renewable water.

The WISE partnership is an arrangement between Denver Water, Aurora Water and 10 other south metro water providers to import renewable water. Castle Rock is the southernmost community partner.

Castle Rock Water finished the last piece of infrastructure – connecting a pipeline from Outter Marker Road to Ray Waterman Treatment Plant – in late 2017. The first drops of imported WISE water came to Town in late April.

Follow the entire journey for WISE water with the Most Hydrated Man at http://CRgov.com/WISEWater.

May 2018 Southwest Drought Briefing — @DroughtGov

Southwest Drought Monitor May 22, 2018.

From NIDiS:

For a written summary of the webinar, please click here.

After Hearing Constituents’ Concerns, U.S. Sen. Thune Introduces Legislation to Improve Accuracy of U.S. Drought Monitor

US Drought Monitor May 22, 2018.

Here’s the release from Senator Thune’s office:

“I can’t say it enough – no one knows what’s needed to improve agriculture policy more than the farmers and ranchers who work the land and raise livestock in South Dakota.”

U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee and a longtime member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, today introduced the Improved Soil Moisture and Precipitation Monitoring Act of 2018, legislation that would provide tools and direction to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to help improve the accuracy of the U.S. Drought Monitor and require the coordination of USDA agencies that use precipitation data to determine livestock grazing loss assistance and stocking rates. He also introduced legislation to strengthen and improve the Cooperative Observer Program (COOP) of the National Weather Service, of which the Commerce Committee has jurisdiction, in order to support state-coordinated programs that provide data for the Drought Monitor and other weather programs. The COOP system is the nation’s largest and oldest weather network and is entirely run by volunteers. Thune introduced these bills after hearing directly from several concerned ranchers at an agriculture roundtable event that he hosted in Rapid City in April 2018.

“South Dakota farmers and ranchers are familiar with working through extreme weather conditions, especially drought,” said Thune. “And after the 2016 and 2017 drought conditions in much of Western South Dakota, some of them would probably say they’re all too familiar with it and are very concerned about accurate precipitation measurement. I recently heard some of those concerns firsthand, which is what led to the development of this legislation. Together, I’m hopeful that we can make the Drought Monitor a far more effective and efficient tool and, at the same time, ensure USDA programs are using accurate and consistent data in administering programs that are designed to help the agriculture community.

“I can’t say it enough – no one knows what’s needed to improve agriculture policy more than the farmers and ranchers who work the land and raise livestock in South Dakota. I’m thankful for everything they do for our communities and state and can say with certainty that this is not the first, nor will it be the last piece of legislation that will move through the halls of Congress thanks to their suggestions and input.”

Thune’s Improved Soil Moisture and Precipitation Monitoring Act would:

  • Grant the secretary of agriculture the discretion to improve soil moisture monitoring by increasing the number of monitoring stations or by utilizing other appropriate cost-effective soil moisture measuring devices;
  • Increase the number of precipitation and soil moisture monitoring stations in any area that has experienced extreme or exceptional drought for any six month period since the beginning of 2016, including South Dakota, and authorizes a $5 million per year appropriation to do so;
  • Require USDA to develop standards to integrate data from citizen scientists and to collect soil moisture data; and
  • Require USDA agencies to use consistent precipitation monitoring data and drought assessment across the programs that USDA administers.
  • Thune has heard a number of concerns with respect to the accuracy of the Drought Monitor, especially given its use in determining grazing disaster assistance through programs administered by the Farm Service Agency. Among these concerns is a frustration that USDA does not fully utilize data gathered by existing reporting stations to determine indemnities for insured grazing losses under the Pasture, Rangeland, Forage Insurance Program that is administered by the Risk Management Agency.

    Ranchers have also raised concerns about USDA’s differing rainfall and drought determinations during last summer’s drought that plagued Western South Dakota for several months. For example, the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) determined that some federal grazing lands were too dry and that stocking rates needed to be reduced on USFS grasslands. At the same time, the Drought Monitor classified the same area as not dry enough for ranchers to be eligible for Livestock Forage Program assistance. Thune’s legislation is aimed at addressing these and other concerns.