@CSUtilities and the Lower Ark work out long-term water sharing agreement

Straight line diagram of the Lower Arkansas Valley ditches via Headwaters

From The Prowers Journal (Russ Baldwin):

The Lower Arkansas Water Management Association (LAWMA) Board has announced it will participate in a permanent water sharing agreement with Colorado Springs Utilities.

LAWMA and Colorado Spring Utilities have discussed ways to continue their long-term arrangement of water sharing. The agreement would allow Colorado Springs Utilities to acquire 2,500 LAWMA water shares from an existing LAWMA member and take deliveries in 5 out of 10 years. The boards of both entities have voted to approve the agreement.

“This is a very positive arrangement for LAWMA shareholders,” said Don Higbee, LAWMA general manager. “We will gain a more reliable water supply that will increase crop yields for the average shareholder in both wet and dry years.”

Colorado Springs Utilities purchased the water shares for $3,500 per share. Utilities will take delivery of that water in only 5 out of 10 years. In non-delivery years, other LAWMA members will receive the water, effectively increasing the per-share yield of each LAWMA share…

The next step in the process is to obtain a water court decree formally changing the shares to be used for municipal and augmentation use.

Colorado Springs Utilities has been working with agricultural water entities in the Lower Arkansas Valley through short term, informal agreements for decades.

Over the past two decades, it leased 23,000 acre-feet of water to LAWMA and 33,150 acre-feet of water to Fort Lyon Canal Company. In addition, Colorado Springs Utilities also has provided 20,000 acre feet of water to Colorado Parks and Wildlife for use in John Martin Reservoir in Bent County.

“We are interested in water sharing agreements with the agricultural community and have been involved in leasing agreements since the 2002 drought,” said Pat Wells, General Manager, Water Resources, Colorado Springs Utilities. “Utilities has had successful, informal water sharing agreements with LAWMA for many years. This is an extension of that proven relationship.”

“This arrangement continues LAWMA’s positive long-term relationship with Colorado Springs Utilities. They have a proven track record leasing water to us at very reasonable rates,” said Higbee.

As part of the agreement, Colorado Springs Utilities will also reimburse LAWMA $1.75 million for 500 acre-feet of water storage. This storage will give LAWMA added flexibility to manage its water rights both in times of drought and excess. In the years LAWMA receives the water, it can be stored for future use. In the years Utilities receives the water, LAWMA members will be able to rely on the stored water to maintain steady irrigation.

“If we are collaborating with municipalities, we are not competing with them for water. The alternative is we risk buy and dry, which permanently removes water from the valley,” Higbee explained. “This project helps us avoid that.”

@COWaterTrust scores water for the Yampa River

Stagecoach Reservoir. Photo credit Upper Yampa River Water Conservancy District.

From Steamboat Today (Eleanor C. Hasenbeck):

The Colorado Water Trust will release a total of 600 acre-feet of water from Stagecoach Reservoir, initially at a rate of 15 cubic feet per second. The releases began on Saturday, said Zach Smith, an attorney for the organization.

“We’ve worked with them to deliver water to and through Steamboat Springs to improve both the fishery and the recreational opportunities that folks there have,” Smith said.

For the most part, the river has hovered between 80 and 90 cfs since July 7. Since the releases, about 90 to 100 cfs of water have been flowing under the Fifth Street Bridge in downtown Steamboat.

Even with the boost, the river is flowing well below its average for the date. It was flowing at 90 cfs at 11 a.m. Tuesday, about 32 percent of its long-term average flow of 273 cfs for July 17…

Though the river is up, it’s unlikely the city would lift voluntary recreational closures on the river through Steamboat.

“At this point, it is not likely that the increased flows from the release are enough to lift the river closure with the current weather patterns that we are seeing,” Craig Robinson, interim director of the city’s Parks and Recreation Department, wrote in an email.

The river is still heating up with water temperatures above 75 degrees, he added. That high temperatures stress trout and other aquatic species that are adapted to live in the Yampa’s cold-water ecosystem. The high water temperatures also decreases the amount of oxygen available to organisms in the river.

“The flows are very helpful for river health as conditions would likely be worse without this additional flow,” Robinson wrote. “If the monsoon season started, and we had a pattern of daily moisture and cooler temps, these combined factors with the additional cfs from the release could reduce the stressors, and the closure could be lifted.”

A mandatory fishing closure is still in place in the tailwaters of Stagecoach Reservoir. The river is closed between the dam and the lowermost park boundary. Anglers who violate the Colorado Parks and Wildlife closure order could receive citations.

The agency also has instituted a voluntary closure of the river from Chuck Lewis State Wildlife Area to the western edge of Steamboat. Area Wildlife Manager Kris Middledorf said wildlife managers and biologists continue to discuss river conditions and evaluate the agency’s closures.

Once snowpack melts, increases in the Yampa’s flow come from the area’s sparse rainfall, reservoir releases and groundwater that returns to the river after it’s used to irrigate agriculture.

Since 2012, reservoir releases have boosted flows in the Yampa in every year except 2014, Smith said. Last year, the Yampa saw the last release allowed under an approval issued by the Colorado Water Conservation Board, which allowed for three years of releases to benefit in-stream flows over the course of 10 years.

Current releases operate outside of the Water Conservation Board program and are designated to benefit municipal users.

“The fish don’t care by which legal mechanism that water is in there, as long as the flow is up,” Smith said.

The Water Trust purchased the water using funding from the Nature Conservancy, Tri-State Generation and Oskar Blues Brewery’s CAN’d Aid Foundation.

Should flows in the river remain low once the Colorado Water Trust’s initial 600 acre-feet of water is sent downstream, the trust could use other funding sources to purchase more water, Smith said. In the past, the city has cooperated to release city-owned water from the reservoir after the Colorado Water Trust has released its allocation of water, he added.

“We know that the community up there loves this river, and they love it enough to know when to get out of it when it’s stressed,” Smith said. “If we can improve it with additional flow for the community up there, that’s what the Water Trust is around for.”

From Steamboat Today (Eleanor C. Hasenbeck):

Colorado Parks and Wildlife is lifting the mandatory fishing closure on the sixth-tenth mile section of the Yampa River below the dam at Stagecoach State Park, effective immediately…

Voluntary closures remain in effect on the river through Steamboat Springs between the Chuck Lewis State Wildlife Area and the west end of town.

Parks and Wildlife officials caution some form of angling restrictions could be re-enacted should environmental conditions worsen…

“Fish early when it’s cooler, and take care when handling fish,” he said. “Land them quickly, handle them gently with wet hands, or use a net, then return them to the water as soon as possible.”

The mandatory closure was implemented June 14 to protect the fishery after minimal snowpack resulted in low stream flows during the hottest time of the year. Since then, Parks and Wildlife has been continuously monitoring conditions on this stretch of river.

Anglers are encouraged to call their local Parks and Wildlife office for the latest information about fishing closures, fishing conditions and alternative places to fish.

For more information, contact Stagecoach State Park at 970-736-2436, or Parks and Wildlife’s Steamboat Springs office at 970-870-2197.

@CWCB_DNR OKs leases for Ruedi Reservoir water to help endangered fish — @AspenJournalism #ColoradoRiver #COriver

A map of the Fry-Ark system. Aspen, and Hunter Creek, are shown in the lower left. Fryingpan-Arkansas Project western and upper eastern slope facilities.

From Aspen Journalism (Heather Sackett) via The Glenwood Springs Post Independent:

The Colorado Water Conservation Board on Wednesday approved two leases of water from Ruedi Reservoir designed to help different types of fish populations in the Colorado and Fryingpan rivers.

For the fourth year in a row the state agency will lease water from the Ute Water Conservancy District to bolster flows in what’s known as the “15-mile reach” of the Colorado River between the Palisade area and the confluence of the Gunnison River in Grand Junction. That stretch of the river is critical habitat for native endangered fish species, including the humpback chub.

This year’s renewed lease agreement will allow the CWCB, which was meeting this week in Glenwood Springs, to release from Ruedi Reservoir 6,000 acre-feet of water held for the Ute Water Conservancy District by the Bureau of Reclamation, which operates the reservoir.

At $7.20 per acre-foot, it will cost $43,200 and come out of the CWCB’s species conservation trust fund. The water releases will take place during September and October, according to Linda Bassi, chief of the CWCB’s stream and lake protection department.

“It’s really important for us to be providing water to the 15-mile reach,” Bassi told the directors of the CWCB. “Every drop counts.”

The directors of the CWCB met Wednesday and Thursday as part of their practice of meeting in different parts of the state. On Tuesday, the agency’s board of directors took a tour of Ruedi Reservoir and attended an informational event at the Aspen Yacht Club on the reservoir hosted by the Southeastern Water Conservancy District.

On Wednesday, Bassi described for the directors some of the drastic impacts that low flows can have on fish, including making fish more vulnerable to avian predators, leaving them stranded in small pools or even causing them to get sunburned.

Large diversions on the Colorado River above Palisade that send irrigation water to the Grand Valley, along with other diversions upstream on the river system, can cause the 15-mile reach flows to plummet to detrimental levels.

To help offset the diversions, officials with the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program have set a low-flow target of 810 cubic feet per second this year. The leased water aims to help meet that target.

Since the beginning of July, the flows in the 15-mile reach have fluctuated between about 400 to 500 cfs, well below the target of 810 cfs.

A condition of the lease between Ute Water and the CWCB is that releases from Ruedi will not exceed 300 cfs and will not cause flows in the lower Fryingpan River below the reservoir to exceed 350 cfs, as flows at that level can make it difficult for anglers to wade in the popular fly-fishing river.

The lower Fryingpan on Wednesday flowed at 150 cfs.

WINTER FLOWS IN FRYINGPAN

The CWCB board also approved a lease from the Colorado River Water Conservancy District to increase winter flows on the lower Fryingpan. The proposal was first introduced in May.

The lease will boost the minimum instream flow below Ruedi Reservoir between Jan. 1 and March 31 from 39 cfs to 70 cfs in an effort to prevent the formation of anchor ice.

Low streamflows, combined with frigid temperatures, can lead to ice forming on the bottom of the river. This has a negative effect on aquatic insects, which are food for the brown, rainbow and cutthroat trout that call the lower Fryingpan home.

Under the agreement, the CWCB will pay $65.25 per acre-foot to lease up to 3,500 acre-feet from the River District, for a total cost of $228,775.

The district owns a total of 11,413.5 acre-feet of water in Ruedi, with 7,500 acre-feet of that available for leasing. Of the total the district owns, 5,412.5 acre-feet is to support flows for the endangered fish recovery program.

The proposal to maintain a healthy food source for the “gold medal” fishery’s population of trout was a collaboration between the River District and the Roaring Fork Conservancy, which is based in Basalt.

“We are excited to see [the lease] approved and to partner with the CWCB and the River District,” said Heather Tattersall Lewin, watershed action director for the Conservancy. “It’s really the first lease of its kind.”

DIFFERING COSTS

Although the CWCB board unanimously approved the Ruedi water leases, two board members raised questions about the differing cost per acre-foot for the two projects.

At more than $65 per acre-foot, the River District water costs roughly nine times more than the water leased from Ute Water.

Over the previous three years, the CWCB has spent a total of $194,400 on the Ute Water lease for a total 27,000 acre-feet.

Board member Patricia Wells, who represents the city and county of Denver, said she was trying to reconcile the dramatic difference in price.

Jim Yahn, the current CWCB chair, who represents the South Platte River basin, asked whether CWCB staff had negotiated the cost of the lease with the River District. They did not, Bassi said.

“It struck me, the price difference,” Yahn said.

River District Chief Engineer John Currier explained that earlier this year, in response to the leasing proposal, his organization created a third use-category in addition to its existing categories of agriculture and municipal/industrial: in-channel use.

The River District then decided to market the water at the same price as they do for agriculture use.

“The River District runs a water marketing enterprise,” Currier said. “It’s my job to make sure that enterprise runs in the black.”

Ute Water External Affairs Manager Joe Burtard said the water provider does not try to generate revenue with its leases; instead it simply wants to cover its costs associated with operation and maintenance of the reservoir.

The cost of the River District water didn’t seem to bother board member Russ George, who represents the Colorado River basin on the CWCB board. He said the instream flow leases demonstrate the importance of Ruedi as a storage unit.

“I’m delighted the River District bought the water and we have it for use today,” he said.

Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism is collaborating with The Aspen Times and Glenwood Springs Post Independent on the coverage of rivers and water. More at http://www.aspenjournalism.org.

Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program