@CWCB_DNR: August 2018 #Drought Update

Click here to read the latest update from the Colorado Water Conservation Board (Ben Wade):

In response to persistent and prolonged drought conditions throughout the southern half of the state and along the western border, ​the Governor activated the ​Colorado Drought Mitigation and Response Plan​ for the agricultural sector​ ​on May 2, 2018​, ​additional information can be found ​HERE​.

With only six weeks left in the 2018 water year, October through July of this year has been the second warmest and the fifth driest October through July period in the 123 year record. However, statewide values poorly convey the stark contrast across the state. July and August to-date have been as much as 5 degrees above average in parts of western Colorado, while the northeastern plains have been near normal with some isolated record low temperatures. Monsoon rains have brought beneficial moisture to some regions including the San Luis Valley and Arkansas Basin, however the Northwest has seen limited precipitation resulting in worsening drought conditions. This week brought nearly an inch of rain to parts of Mesa County, yet the 2018 water year remains the driest year on record for the Grand Mesa; indicating long term deficits continue to dominate.

■ SNOTEL water year to-date precipitation statewide is 67 percent of average, but ranges from 47 percent of average in the Southwest basins to 85 percent of average in the South Platte River Basin. The Rio Grande is at 53 percent of average; while the Gunnison is at 56 percent and would need 512 percent of average precipitation between now and September 30th to reach normal levels. The Arkansas is faring slightly better at 62 percent, while the northern basins of the Colorado and Yampa- White are at 76 and 75 percent of average, respectively.

■ High temperatures, and below average precipitation have led to increasing water demand across much of the state. Reservoir storage, statewide is at 86 percent of normal, with the Arkansas, Colorado, Yampa-White, South Platte and Rio Grande all near normal levels, despite recent declines. However, the Southwest basins of the San Miguel, Dolores, Animas & San Juan, and Gunnison have seen significant decreases in reservoir storage and are now at 52 and 64 percent of normal, respectively.

■ Warm water temperatures, coupled with low flows continue to stress fish populations, with continued fish kills reported and state hatcheries are struggling to keep up supplies, many of these areas are also impacted by ash flows and post fire related water quality issues. Water users have been working collaboratively across the state to maintain flows, where possible, and voluntary fishing restrictions are the most widespread the state has seen.

■ Agriculture has been heavily impacted this growing season by both high temperatures, drought, and hail. Irrigation canals are being shut off early due to lack of supply, and fail and prevent crop acreage is high. Hay production is down and range conditions poor, producers are concerned about finding enough feed for cattle resulting in continued sell off.

■ Some small water systems are being impacted by both continued dry conditions resulting in limited supply, and some reports of water hauling to meet demands. Restrictions, both voluntary and mandatory have been enacted in some communities, with Front Range water providers better situated than small west slope communities with limited storage.

■ Long term forecasts indicate an increased likelihood of above average temperatures for September through November. Southwestern Colorado is forecast to continue to benefit from additional monsoon moisture and has an increased likelihood of above average precipitation into Fall.

■ An El Niño watch has been issued, meaning there is a greater than 70 percent chance of an El Niño developing, which could bring an increased chance of wet extremes for southern Colorado beginning this Fall, however the ​Northwest corner remain an area of big concern going into the fall, as El ​Niño​ can result in dry conditions to the north.

Click here to read the presentations.

Front Range water group pushes back project that would pull from #ColoradoRiver, citing lawsuit — @AspenJournalism #COriver

A view of the location of the proposed Chimney Hollow dam and reservoir site in the foothills between Loveland and Longmont. The 90,000 acre-foot reservoir would store water for nine Front Range cities, two water districts and a utility, and is being held up a lawsuit challenging federal environmental reviews. Graphic credit: Brent Gardner-Smith

From Aspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith):

The Front Range water district that wants to build the Chimney Hollow Reservoir and pull more water from the Colorado River is delaying construction bids and issuing revenue bonds, citing a lawsuit by Save the Colorado, the Sierra Club and other environmental groups challenging federal approvals for the project.

The Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District had hoped to have the project, now estimated at $570 million, under construction by early 2019 and completed by 2023, but now it is uncertain when construction will begin because of the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Denver late last year.

“Our original schedule was to be out to bid about right now and we would be selling bonds right now,” Jeff Drager, Northern’s director of engineering, said earlier this month.

Chimney Hollow Reservoir is at the core of what’s known as the Windy Gap Firming Project. Northern, through its affiliated municipal subdistrict, plans to build the 90,000 acre-foot reservoir to provide a “firm annual yield” of 30,000 acre-feet of water from the Colorado River to nine Front Range cities, two water districts and a utility.

About 9,000 acre-feet a year of additional water is expected to be diverted from the headwaters of the Colorado River as a result of the project.

The 346-foot-tall dam, which would be the third tallest in Colorado, is located between Loveland and Longmont in Larimer County next to an existing reservoir, Carter Lake.

Drager said since the litigation was filed last year Northern has taken the opportunity to do more engineering and design work on the dam, including the upcoming drilling of 40 holes to further explore softer rock found at the location of the left abutment of the dam.

“We’re now scheduled to be at a point where we could go out to bid for construction and issue bonds probably in February or March,” he said.

But at that point Drager said Northern would have to see what progress has been made in the lawsuit.

“If I had to guess,” he said, “I’d say we’ll be slowed down.”

The parties in the lawsuit are waiting for the judge in the case to rule on if the voluminous administrative record in the case is complete, including on a motion to add a recent report commissioned by Save the Colorado on actual water use, and if motions to intervene in the case by Northern, the Colorado Department of Natural Resources and the city of Broomfield will be accepted…

The lawsuit contends that a review of the proposed project by the Bureau of Reclamation and the Army Corps of Engineers under the National Environmental Policy Act was flawed and that the resulting approvals should be overturned.

The federal review of the project began 2003. Reclamation issued its approval in 2014 and the Corps issued its approval in May 2017.

Five nonprofit environmental groups filed a lawsuit in October, including Save the Colorado, Save the Poudre, Living Rivers, the Waterkeeper Alliance and WildEarth Guardians. The Colorado chapter of the Sierra Club joined the lawsuit in November.

“The Windy Gap Firming Project is an apt example of inadequate analysis and poor decision-making that will ultimately result in significant new diversions from the Colorado River to provide the Front Range with unneeded water supply,” the environmental groups told the court in a recent brief.

The delay in issuing bonds means that the 12 entities paying for the project will have to contribute $10 million in cash to allow Northern to keep the project moving forward, instead of using money expected to be available after selling municipal bonds. The 12 entities have put in $34 million to date toward the project.

“We had hoped that our funding for 2019 was going to come from sale of the bonds and starting construction, but because of the litigation that we have, that’s delayed a little bit,” Drager told Northern’s board of directors at a meeting in Berthoud on August 9. “That $10 million will be provided by the participants in early 2019 and that should carry us through, we hope, until we are ready to put the project out to bid and sell the bonds to pay the rest of the cost.”

Northern owns and operates the Colorado-Big Thompson Project, which includes the huge Lake Granby Reservoir and the Adams Tunnel that sends over 200,000 acre-feet of water of Colorado River each year under Rocky Mountain National Park to the east slope.

The C-BT Project also diverts water pumped up from the relatively small 445-acre-foot Windy Gap Reservoir, built in the early 1980s to serve as a pumping forebay on the Colorado River, just below its confluence with the Fraser River in Grand County.

But Windy Gap is limited in how much water it can deliver because of its junior water rights and instream-flow obligations below the dam.

Northern says Chimney Hollow Reservoir will allow it to pump water from Windy Gap in wetter years and store the water until needed in drier years by the 12 participating entities, which include Broomfield, Greeley, Longmont and Loveland.

But the environmental groups say the federal agencies reviewed the proposed project with an overly narrow focus on how to fix the Windy Gap project and not on other potential ways to meet Front Range water demands.

“Reclamation did not seriously consider reasonable alternatives to provide water to Windy Gap participants and allowed (Northern) to plow ahead with its original choice — the firming project — and double down on its busted bet,” the lawsuit states.

Reclamation and the Corps told the court in May that the agencies conducted “an independent evaluation” and concluded the project “is needed to meet a portion of the existing and future water needs of the growing east slope municipalities.”

Northern, on its website, points out “the project has been approved by the U. S. Bureau of Reclamation, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Grand County, Colorado Parks and Wildlife and endorsed by Gov. John Hickenlooper. It also has support from several environmental groups such as Trout Unlimited.”

The support from some environmental organizations, including Trout Unlimited, stems from the mitigation measures designed to reduce its impact on the Colorado River headwaters, including a new bypass, or connectivity, channel that will allow more of the river to flow past the Windy Gap Reservoir.

Lurline Underbrink Curran, the former county manager for Grand County, has also appealed to Robert Kennedy, Jr., of Waterkeeper Alliance, to drop the lawsuit.

“Any lawsuit that delays or stops this work is a detriment to the Colorado River,” Currant wrote in Oct. 2017. “If the Windy Gap Project does not go forward, the hard-won concessions evaporate, and the Colorado River will continue to degrade.”

Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism is covering the Roaring Fork and Colorado River basins for The Aspen Times. The Times published this story on its website on Tuesday, Aug. 21, 2018, as did the Glenwood Springs Post Independent.

Aspen settles Castle Creek Reservoir case, closing in on Maroon case — @AspenJournalism

Upper Castle Creek, about two miles below Ashcroft, where the city holds conditional water storage rights tied to the potential Castle Creek Reservoir, which would be formed by a 170-foot-tall dam. Photo credit: Aspen Journalism/Brent Gardner-Smith

From Aspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith):

After getting two signed settlement agreements from the United States on July 23, the city of Aspen now has agreements with all of the parties contesting its conditional water storage rights in the Castle Creek valley, and with all but one of the parties opposing its rights in the Maroon Creek valley.

During a status conference in water court Tuesday about the two cases, the city’s water attorney, Cindy Covell of Alperstein and Covell, told the court that of the 10 opposing parties in the two cases, only one, Larsen Family LP, has yet to sign a settlement agreement with the city.

Covell also told the water court referee and opposing attorneys in the two cases, that she “appreciated everybody’s hard work and assistance in getting the Castle Creek case resolved, and as far as we’ve gotten on the Maroon Creek case. It was a real team effort and everybody was very helpful.”

The city now intends to ask the referee to move a proposed water-rights decree in the Castle Creek Reservoir case to a water court judge for review and expected approval.

And the city hopes to soon send a similar decree to the water court judge in the Maroon Creek Reservoir case.

Margaret Medellin, a utilities portfolio manager in Aspen’s water department, said the city is still talking about detailed language with the attorney for Larsen Family LP.

“I wish we had that last signature so we can really celebrate, but it seems like we keep having to push that out,” she said.

Craig Corona, the attorney for Larsen Family LP, told the court Tuesday, “I believe we are making progress in getting toward resolution.”

James DuBois, an attorney in the environmental and natural resources division of the U.S. Justice Dept. in Denver, said Wednesday he could “confirm that the United States has entered into stipulations in both 16CW3128 and 3129,” the Maroon Creek and Castle Creek reservoir cases.

The agreements in both cases allow the city to try to transfer as much as 8,500 acre-feet of its conditional water storage rights from the Castle and Maroon creek valleys to four potential locations between Aspen and Woody Creek in the Roaring Fork River valley, and do so without opposition from the parties in the cases.

The agreements also provide that if the city fails in its attempts to move the water rights out of the Castle and Maroon creek valleys, it is barred from returning to the originally decreed locations.

The city has said that all of the parties in each case need to sign agreements in order for the deals to be struck.

Rob Harris, an attorney at Western Resource Advocates who also represented Wilderness Workshop in the cases, said Tuesday he was pleased to “finalize the deal as it applies to Castle Creek.”

“This means there won’t be a big dam in that valley and that’s a win for the city, residents and anyone who cares about this place,” Harris said. “And now we’re looking forward to hopefully seeing the Maroon Creek case resolved in the same way.”

The cases began almost two years ago when the city filed periodic “diligence applications” with the state in an effort to maintain its 1971 rights for the reservoir.

The Maroon Creek Reservoir would hold 4,567 acre-feet of water behind a 155-foot-tall dam about 3 miles below Maroon Lake. The Castle Creek Reservoir would hold 9,062 acre-feet of water behind a 170-foot-tall dam about 3 miles below Ashcroft.

A total of 10 parties filed statements of opposition in the two diligence cases.

On Tuesday, the court set another status conference in the Maroon Creek case for Oct. 16, but did not set one in the Castle Creek case.

Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism is covering rivers and water in the Roaring Fork and Colorado River basins in collaboration with The Aspen Times and other news organizations. The Times published this story on Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2018.

Guzman Energy gets $130 million in new money. What will it do with it? — The Mountain Town News

Xcel Energy’s Greater Sandhill Solar Farm north of Alamosa, Colo. Colorado’s San Luis Valley has some of the nation’s best solar resource. Photo/Allen Best

From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

Guzman Energy Group—the financier of Taos-based Kit Carson Electric Cooperative’s bid to develop renewable energy sources—this week announced it has secured $130 million from two Colorado-based investors, Boulder-based Vision Ridge Partners and Denver-based Zoma Capital.

Guzman gained attention in the Rocky Mountains in 2016 when it paid Tri-State Generation & Transmission a $37.5 million exit fee to break Kit Carson’s contract.

The co-operative had previously been committed to buying 95 percent of its electricity from Tri-State, a Denver-area based wholesale supplier now made up of 43 electrical co-operatives in Colorado, New Mexico, Wyoming and Nebraska. Included are the cooperatives serving Crested Butte, Telluride, Durango, Wolf Creek and several other ski areas.

Several of the co-ops serving mountain communities have discussed, either informally or in elections, the idea of seeking buy-outs of their contracts with Tri-State.

Tri-State remains heavily reliant on coal-based generation. Kit Carson, with the aid of Guzman, has set out to develop the solar potential of northern New Mexico.

Kit Carson and Guzman say that hitching their wagon to solar, instead of coal, will save the co-op’s 30,000 members $50 million to $70 million during the next decade.

With Guzman as financier, Kit Carson plans to develop up to 35 megawatts of small solar arrays by 2022. That will meet 35 percent of all electrical demand and 100 percent during daylight hours on sunny days.

Guzman has made it clear it is interested in providing energy services to other such as it is now providing for Kit Carson. Last March, for example, company representatives spoke about what Guzman could offer Pueblo, Colo., at a forum hosted by Pueblo’s Energy future.

Electricity for Pueblo is provided by Black Hills Energy, but the city council has adopted a 100 percent renewable energy goal. Pueblo recently has retained a firm to study how it might go about ending its contract with Black Hills.

It’s not clear just how important these investments are to Guzman’s plans. One individual in the co-op world interpreted the announcement as further proof that smart money is moving toward rapid development of renewable energy. But another individual, also speaking off the record, was more skeptical of the importance of the money to Guzman. In this view, this isn’t enough money to allow the company to pick up new clients as it did with Kit Carson. In this view, Guzman is and will remain a niche player.

About the investors:

Zoma Capital was co-founded by Ben and Lucy Ana Walton. Zoma Capital, based in Denver, invests in a broad range of market-based sustainable solutions addressing environmental and social challenges, with an emphasis on energy, water and community development, and with a geographic focus on Colorado and Chile.

Zoma’s website says that in Colorado in the realm of energy, it is focused on “accelerating energy technologies to create a more efficient, responsive and modernized electric grid.”

Ben Walton is the grandson of Walmart founder Sam Walton and, an architect by training, was reported by Business Insider in 2013 to be living in Aspen.

“Guzman energy’s efforts to realign the energy economy—in unique bilateral markets in New Mexico, Colorado and beyond—aligns with our dedication to investing in a more efficient, responsive and modernized electric grid,” said Melissa Cheong, chief investment officer of Zoma Capital in a prepared statement.

Vision Ridge Partners, which is based in Boulder, is a fund of $430 million that in 2014 launched a Sustainable Asset Fund with Capricorn Investment Group and the Grantham Foundation for the Protection of the Environment, according to the firm’s website. It was founded by Reuben Munger in 2008.

“At Vison Ridge, we focus on opportunities that are good for the environment that we also believe can deliver strong financial returns,” said Munger in a prepared statement. “And with Guzman Energy having been very vocal in sharing its long-term mission of making communities thrive and be more competitive, we see this as an excellent fit.”

Guzman describes itself as a full-service energy company whose services include providing wholesale power, energy trading and hedging services.

“We offer communities—empowered by their desire for a more sustainable and competitive energy future—a path to achieve their goals,” said Chris Riley, president of Guzman Energy.

“We accomplish this via a focus on renewables, mixed when necessary with traditional fuel types; smart-grid tech; increased efficiencies; battery storage; and more, thereby leading the efforts to transition our energy economy into the renewable age.”

Riley grew up in Utah, the son of a coal miner.