From The Colorado Springs Independent (Pam Zubeck):
City stormwater fees, approved by voters in November 2017, will finally be billed this month. For most, the fees aren’t based on impact — or square footage of impermeable surface, such as rooftops or driveways, that lead to runoff. Instead, residential properties will pay a flat $5 a month, whether for a palatial estate or a tiny studio apartment, bringing in an estimated $7.9 million a year.
Nonresidential property owners, who are expected to pay around $8.2 million a year, will be billed $30 per developed acre per month. But properties that are 5 acres or less will pay the fee without any adjustment for impermeable surface, while those larger than 5 acres will be charged fees determined by the city’s stormwater manager based on impermeable surface.
From Aspen Journalism (Heather Sackett):
The city of Aspen continues to make progress on reaching settlement agreements with 10 different parties over its water rights on Maroon and Castle creeks, and a water referee set deadlines that could lead to a resolution before the end of summer.
At a status conference [July 26, 2018], both the city and its opponents said progress is being made toward resolving the cases.
“I feel optimistic we are moving toward a settlement,” said Cindy Covell, a water attorney for the city who is with Alperstein and Covell in Denver.
So far, five of the 10 parties who oppose the city’s efforts in water court to maintain conditional storage rights tied to potential dams on Maroon and Castle creeks have signed settlement agreements. Still left to sign are American Rivers, Trout Unlimited, the U.S. Forest Service, Larsen Family Limited Partnership and Roaring Fork Land & Cattle Co.
Attorney Paul Noto, who represents American Rivers, Trout Unlimited and Roaring Fork Land and Cattle Co., said his clients will likely settle soon.
“I think we are all enthused about how it all ended up,” Noto said. “We are excited about the protections afforded to Castle and Maroon creeks.”
That leaves two other parties that are further away from settling, Larsen Family LP and the U.S. Forest Service.
Attorney Craig Corona of Aspen, who represents the Larsen family, told water court referee Susan Michelle Ryan on Tuesday that he and the city are “definitely” making progress toward finalizing a settlement. The U.S. Forest Service has been difficult to reach lately, according to Covell.
Ryan set a deadline of July 10 for the remaining opposing parties to respond to the city’s settlement proposal. The city must respond to those responses (if a response is necessary) by Aug. 7. The next status conference is scheduled for Aug. 21.
The cases are being heard in Division 5 Water Court in Glenwood Springs. The new deadlines mean the cases will extend past the 18-month deadline of disposition, but Ryan decided to keep them on her docket since progress toward a resolution is being made.
Since 1965, the city has owned conditional water rights for reservoirs on Maroon and Castle creeks. In October 2016, the city filed a diligence application to maintain the water rights, which are tied to potential dams.
The potential Maroon Creek Reservoir would hold 4,567 acre-feet of water and include a 155-foot-tall dam, which would flood part of the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness. The potential Castle Creek Reservoir would hold 9,062 acre-feet behind a 170-foot-tall dam 2 miles below Ashcroft.
The possibility of two new reservoirs and dams didn’t sit well with 10 parties, who filed statements of opposition to the two water rights cases in December 2016.
Under the agreements, the city will seek to transfer its conditional water storage rights to other potential reservoir sites, including a gravel pit near Woody Creek, with a maximum storage capacity of 8,500 acre-feet. As part of the deal, the opposing parties have agreed not to fight the city’s efforts to move the water rights to new locations for 20 years.
The five parties that have already signed the agreements include Pitkin County, Wilderness Workshop, Western Resource Advocates and two private property owners in Castle Creek Valley.
From Aspen Journalism (Heather Sackett):
After months of delays and challenges to the planning process, the city of Aspen quietly unveiled the Upper Roaring Fork River Management Plan earlier this month.
The plan names the stretch of the Roaring Fork River through Aspen as the most at-risk and cites transmountain diversions as the main cause.
The plan, which was a joint project between the city of Aspen and Pitkin County, identified impacts to streamflow and developed goals and strategies to protect river health in the Upper Roaring Fork watershed.
Because of sensitivity around two instances of ongoing litigation — the Busk-Ivanhoe settlement involving transmountain diversions and Pitkin County and the city of Aspen’s conditional water storage rights for the potential Castle and Maroon reservoirs — the focus of the plan shifted after work on it had already begun.
“In the midst of our planning effort, we changed course a little bit and moved away from a scope that was intended to identify ways of re-managing water or administering water differently,” said Seth Mason, an engineer with Lotic Hydrological, the Carbondale-based firm that was hired to produce the plan. “We stepped back from that scope and moved into DSS tools.”
DSS, or decision support systems, are computer models that let water managers simulate how different factors might affect stream flows.
The plan compiles years of studies and data, provides an assessment of existing conditions and provides a framework for making decisions to improve the ecological health of the Upper Roaring Fork River and its tributaries.
The plan mentions several water management opportunities that warrant further investigation such as dry-year water leasing with the Salvation Ditch Co. and municipal raw water supply reductions.
April Long, City of Aspen clean river program manager, presented the plan to the Pitkin County Open Space and Trails board at its June 7 meeting. The board recommended sending it to the Pitkin County Commissioners for approval.
“The important thing from the board’s point of view is that we want scientific, responsible information before we do some of our projects on something as sensitive as the river,” said Graeme Means, chair of the Pitkin County Open Space and Trails board.
The plan evaluated eight reaches in the Upper Roaring Fork. On the the main stem of the Roaring Fork, consultants looked at from Lost Man Creek to Difficult Creek, Difficult Creek to Salvation Ditch and Salvation Ditch to Castle Creek. They looked at the tributaries of Lincoln Creek from Grizzly Reservoir to its confluence with the Roaring Fork, Hunter Creek from the Fry-Ark Project diversions to its confluence with the Roaring Fork, Castle Creek from Conundrum Creek to its confluence with the Roaring Fork and Maroon Creek from West Maroon to its confluence with the Roaring Fork.
The Roaring Fork River through the City of Aspen emerged as the reach most at risk, with riparian health, flow modification, water pollution, development and land use, habitat fragmentation and aquatic flora and fauna all ranking as poor or at high risk for impact. The minimum flow set by the Colorado Water Conservation Board to maintain ecological health — 32 cfs — is often not met on this stretch in late summer.
The plan also clarifies community values surrounding rivers and water and found that the stretch of the Roaring Fork that flows through downtown Aspen also is the most concerning to the public. This stretch of river, and most of the river upstream of Aspen, could soon see roughly 10 to 30 more cubic feet per second of additional water as a result of a pending settlement between Pitkin County and the Colorado River District and City of Aurora.
The water court case settlement concerning the Busk-Ivanhoe transmountain diversion is expected to let as much as 1,000 more acre-feet of water run into the Upper Roaring Fork River each year instead of being diverted under Independence Pass to the Front Range.
It was this pending case that contributed to the delay and change in scope to the plan. It was originally scheduled to be released in July 2017.
The risk for impact to the river from flow modification was ranked as high or moderate on all eight evaluated reaches of the Upper Roaring Fork watershed.
“Flow is a huge issue on all of our segments. Nobody got an ‘A’ there,” Long said. “Flow can be considered the master variable for a healthy river. It will impact a lot of the other characteristics.”
Most of those modifications to flows in the Upper Roaring Fork watershed come in the form of transmountain diversions, which reduce the yield in the Roaring Fork River above Mill Street by 40 percent.
The plan names the Independence Pass Transmountain Diversion System as the primary cause of human-caused shortages in flows. The IPTDS completely dewaters portions of the Upper Roaring Fork River for significant periods each year, according to the plan.
Operated by the Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co., the system takes an average of 43,000 acre-feet per year from the Roaring Fork headwaters through Twin Lakes Tunnel No. 1 to the Arkansas basin where it is used for East Slope municipal and irrigation purposes. The tunnel under the divide can move 625 cfs of water out of the Roaring Fork basin.
“I really want people to understand how much water is diverted from this river,” Long said. “It does require a lot of coordination and communication and collaboration.”
But despite the Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co.’s outsized role in the health of the Upper Roaring Fork and that representatives from the company served on the plan’s technical advisory group, the company’s president Kevin Lusk said he has not been involved in anything related to the plan in over nine months. Although he participated in early meetings, Lusk said he had not seen the plan until Aspen Journalism sent it to him and therefore has not read it and cannot comment.
The plan, which cost $200,000, was funded 50-50 by the city and county. Pitkin County Open Space and Trails Director Gary Tennenbaum said the county has a lot of concerns about the water in the Upper Roaring Fork River, especially near the North Star Nature Preserve a few miles upstream from the city limits. The county also owns parcels adjacent to the Roaring Fork River between Aspen and Woody Creek in an area known as the Gorge.
“We have been waiting to do Northstar projects until the plan was finished,” Tennenbaum said. “It kind of validates the planning we have been doing and it really gives us more impetus to get started on some of these county projects.”
From The Aspen Times (Scott Condon):
Colorado Parks and Wildlife and multiple partners are urging anglers to carry thermometers with them and quit fishing when the water in rivers and streams hits 67 degrees.
“We’re definitely concerned right now. Temperatures are reaching the high 60s and even 70 on the Colorado (River),” Kendall Bakich, an aquatic biologist with CPW for area 8, said Tuesday.
The agency last sought a voluntary fishing closure on the Roaring Fork for high water temperatures and low flows in 2012. Bakich said anglers are urged to go out earlier in the day, when air and water temperatures tend to be lower.
“Two o’clock is a good rule of thumb” of when temperatures climb, she said.
Rick Lofaro, executive director of Basalt-based Roaring Fork Conservancy, said the nonprofit organization is working with CPW, Trout Unlimited and the Roaring Fork Fishing Guide Alliance to spread the word about the voluntary closures of waters in the valley.
From the City of Monte Vista via The Monte Vista Journal:
This year’s dry conditions may bring to mind the multi-year drought experienced throughout the San Luis Valley starting in 2002. The sustained lack of precipitation and over-appropriated water usage caused nearby streams and water tables to shrink. Some wells even dried up.
The situation seemed dire but a Valley-wide effort— which includes farmers and ranchers paying for water and fallowing portions of their fields—has helped water usage get to a more sustainable level. The Valley’s shared aquifer has since recovered nearly 250,000 acre-feet of water.
While it’s great that the aquifer is rebounding, there’s more that can be done to help it recharge to sustainable usage levels, says Monte Vista City Manager Forrest Neuerburg.
Engineering consultant SGM was hired to help draft a water efficiency plan for the city, which includes implementing water saving strategies such as water meter testing and maintenance, time-of-day outdoor watering restrictions, efficiency incentives, a system-wide water audit and even the xeriscaping of municipal properties. The city also plans on upgrading old appliances and fixtures in municipal buildings over time (toilets, showerheads, sprinkler heads, etc.).
The city, Neuerburg said, additionally plans on seeking grant monies to fund rebates for Monte Vista residents wanting to swap out old appliances and fixtures with newer water-efficient ones. Other cities with similar rebate plans include the city of Longmont, which offers residents a $100 rebate on their utility bills for upgrading to dual flush toilets and $50 for low flow toilets. Brighton offers $125 rebates on WaterSense washing machines and $100 on toilets.
While agriculture uses about 99 percent of water that’s pumped from the aquifer, towns like Monte Vista use their fair share. It’s worth noting that the city’s annual water demand has declined by about half since the installation of water meters in the early 2000s—but from 2012 to 2016, Monte Vistans averaged 135 to 145 gallons of water used per person per day. Add to that local businesses and municipalities and Monte Vista’s daily water usage tops 169 to 182 gallons per day, translating to some six million gallons of water being pumped from the aquifer each month in Monte Vista alone.
According to the EPA statistics, the average American used between 80 to 100 gallons of water a day at home. That means Monte Vista residents use more than the national average.
Conserving water isn’t as much trouble as people might think. “Something as simple as turning off the water while brushing your teeth or shaving will save a significant amount of water,” Neuerburg said. Running the dishwasher just once a week saves nearly 320 gallons of water annually. And repairing leaky faucets, running toilets and dysfunctional hose connections can save some 180 gallons a day.
“Xeriscaping is also one easy thing people can do,” Neuerberg said, “and the cool thing about it is that you can make your yard really pretty without bluegrass.” He also suggests natural organic products like Revive, which can help your lawn absorb water more efficiently, “You just spray your lawn down with it and it helps your lawn retain water.”
Resources to help with water-saving ideas include Colorado Native Plant Society, Colorado Water Wise, Environmental Protection Agency and Energy Smart Colorado, which offers some rebates for water-saving products on home-improvement projects.
The Monte Vista Water Efficiency plan can be viewed at http://cityofmontevista.com for public comment.