Water judge issues decree for Aspen’s Castle Creek water storage right, poised to issue Maroon Creek right — @AspenJournalism #ColoradoRiver #COriver

A wetland that would have been flooded under the potential Castle Creek Reservoir. The reservoir would have stood across the main channel of Castle Creek, about two miles below Ashcroft. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

From Aspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith):

The water court judge reviewing two applications from the city of Aspen to retain, but move, its conditional water-storage rights tied to two potential reservoirs on Castle and Maroon creeks has issued a new decree for the Castle Creek right.

And the judge said Wednesday he is ready to issue a new decree for the Maroon Creek right, once the city works out final language with one of the opposing parties in that case.

“Although perhaps a close call, I’m satisfied and am prepared to approve the conditional rights that have been requested,” District Court Judge James Boyd, who oversees Division 5 water court in Glenwood Springs, said during a case-management conference.

Boyd in November asked Aspen to submit additional information concerning its claims that it has been diligent in developing the dams and reservoirs and that it had a need for the water. The city filed updated information and a slightly revised proposed decree in April, which the judge said he has reviewed.

Under its negotiated settlements with the 10 opposing parties in the Castle and Maroon diligence cases, the city has agreed to store no more than 8,500 acre-feet of water from the two streams in five potential new locations, away from the high-mountain valleys and closer to the Roaring Fork River.

The ten settlements, or stipulations, in both cases are essentially the same for each opposing party, but there are some slight differences. The settlement with Pitkin County in the Maroon Creek Reservoir case is representative.

Under all of the agreements, the city could store either up to 8,500 acre-feet from Castle Creek or up to 8,500 acre-feet from both streams, with a maximum of 4,567 acre-feet coming from Maroon Creek.

The city has at least now obtained a conditional water right to store 8,500 acre-feet from Castle Creek, albeit no longer in the originally proposed location, 2 miles below Ashcroft, and for which it still needs further water court approvals to move the water right to a new location, or locations.

Regarding the remaining issue in the Maroon Creek case, which revolves around the precise wording of a no-precedent clause, Boyd said, “It strikes me there is probably a reasonably decent possibility this issue will go away with a little further negotiation.”

The judge’s announcement during the case-management conference Wednesday regarding his readiness to approve the city’s two diligence applications was made to elicit any further concerns that the water attorneys in the cases may still have.

Hearing no concerns — apart from the no-precedent language issue between Larsen Family LP and the city in the Maroon Creek case — Boyd gave Larsen and the city a month to work things out. In the meantime, he said he would proceed to issue a new decree in the Castle Creek case.

“It’s nice to get at least one of them done,” said the city’s water attorney, Cynthia Covell.

Once the Maroon Creek decree is issued, which Covell does expect to occur, the city plans to prepare an application to water court to move its conditional storage rights to the new potential locations: the city golf course; the Maroon Creek Club golf course, which is partially on city-owned open space; the city’s Cozy Point open space, near the bottom of Brush Creek Road; the Woody Creek gravel pit, operated by Elam Construction; and an undeveloped, 63-acre parcel of land next to the gravel pit, which the city bought for $2.68 million in February 2018 for water-storage purposes.

“I’m sure the city will be undertaking further investigations about the suitability of those sites and what they finally are going to land on,” Covell said. “I’m not really expecting they are going to try to build a reservoir at every single one of those sites, but they will be doing the necessary fieldwork and other kinds of things to determine what makes the most sense for them.”

Covell said there will be “many, many opportunities for the community to be involved in this planning process.”

Under the decrees, the city will have until May 2025 to file a change-of-location application.

But Covell said she would advise that the city do so “sooner rather than later.”

The city in 1965 first filed for water-storage rights tied to potential dams and reservoirs on upper Castle and Maroon creeks. Since then, the city has periodically applied for, and received, findings of diligence from the water court.

The city filed its most recent diligent applications in October 2016. Ten parties filed statements of opposition, and the city reached agreements, or stipulations, with all parties in October 2018. A key provision was that the city had to try to move the water rights out of the high valleys, and if it failed in that effort, it could not return to the two valleys.

Pitkin County, the U.S. Forest Service, American Rivers, Western Resource Advocates, Colorado Trout Unlimited and Wilderness Workshop were opposers in both cases, and each case also included two private-property owners.

Aspen Journalism covers rivers and water in collaboration with The Aspen Times. The Times published a version of this story on Friday, May 10. This updated version reflects the issuance of the signed Castle Creek decree at 11:30 a.m. on May 10.

Current #snowpack and #runoff potential bode well for McPhee releases #ColoradoRiver #COriver

The Dolores River, below Slickrock, and above Bedrock. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism.

From The Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga):

Aquatic biologist Jim White, of Colorado Parks and Wildlife, spoke at a community meeting in Dolores about planned fish surveys, population data and survey techniques.

Parks and Wildlife works with McPhee Reservoir managers to manage downstream flows for three native species that reside in the Lower Dolores – the roundtail chub, bluehead sucker and flannelmouth sucker. The first several miles below the dam to Bradfield Bridge is managed as a cold-water fishery for brown and rainbow trout.

“Roundtail populations have been good,” White said, “and bluehead and flannelmouth are not as abundant.”

The reservoir holds a 33,500 acre-foot reserve for the native fish needs. The “fish pool” is released gradually throughout the year base on biologists’ input. In the winter, flows below the dam are 20-30 cubic feet per second. During summer, they reach 60-80 cfs if there is no whitewater release.

During low water years, the fish pool and farmers share in shortages. When there is a recreation dam release like this year, it is not counted against the fish pool, and the higher flows are managed for ecological benefits such as channel scouring, timing to benefit the fish spawn, and flood plain sedimentation that replenishes nutrient rich sediment on the banks for new seedlings…

Fish counts and surveys are done each year at Slick Rock Canyon, Dove Creek Pump Station, Pyramid Mountain and below the San Miguel confluence.

White explained how a “pit-tag array” installed in 2013 to monitor native fish on the Lower Dolores River works. It is just upstream from the Disappointment Creek confluence.

Native fish captured throughout the Lower Dolores are inserted with a electronic tag, and when they move past the “array” wire above the river, the movement and fish identification is recorded.

So far, 1,421 fish have been tagged. Of those, 38 percent were flannelmouth suckers, 35 were roundtail chubs, and 23 percent were bluehead suckers. Four percent were smallmouth bass, a non-native species biologists are trying to get rid of because they prey on young native fish.

Since installed, 157 tagged fish have been recorded passing under the pit-tag array. In 2018, 14 fish were detected, including eight flannelmouth that arrived after April 8. Five of the flannelmouth were tagged in Slick Rock Canyon, two in the Pyramid Mountain Reach and one tagged in 2014 in the San Miguel River.

The first native fish of 2019 passed under the array on April 5. It was last detected on Oct. 18. On April 16, two flannelmouth were recorded.

Transmountain water boosts dilution of mine drainage and benefits gamefish in the North Fork of the #SouthPlatte #ColoradoRiver #COriver

From The Fairplay Flume (Kelly Kirkpatrick):

Why, exactly, are the fish dying?

Fish kills in the North Fork of the South Platte River are occurring during low water flow periods that fail to dilute the toxicity of heavy metals such as iron, copper and aluminum. Contaminants in the form of heavy metals move downstream, originating primarily from Hall Valley and Geneva Creek mining operations.

When water flow is adequate, there is enough oxygen to negate the impact of the toxins. When water levels are inadequate, fish develop coatings on their gills as a natural self-defense mechanism to the toxins. That protective coating ultimately renders their gills inoperable.

When and why do water levels get too low?

Water flow in the river is dependent upon how much water is released from Dillon Reservoir through Roberts Tunnel, and those decisions are made almost exclusively by Denver Water.

When more water is needed within Denver Water service areas, the rate of the water passing through Roberts Tunnel is set to flow more freely. When water is not needed to serve the Denver Water service area, the flow from Roberts Tunnel is restricted, much to the detriment of the people, and the fish, in Park County.

Water flows can be naturally low in the river during certain seasons. This year, in mid-March, for example, snowmelt had not yet occurred and the river was in its customary state of low flow prior to the fast-approaching late-spring thaw.

An abundance of area-wide spring moisture, however, created a situation where Denver Water service areas enjoyed a surplus of water. Therefore, the flow from Roberts Tunnel and Dillon Reservoir was ceased on March 11 and remained so at least until this writing.

The predictable result was the most recent fish kill, which occurred March 11-15, because flows were simply not sufficient to combat ever-present toxic heavy metals related to mining. No information has been provided by Denver Water as to when the tunnel will be reopened.

Denver Water states its position

When The Flume recently requested a statement from Denver Water regarding flows in the river and operations of Roberts Tunnel, a response was received in timely fashion.

In direct response to whether or not Denver Water felt a moral obligation to residents in Park County related to ecological systems they have long controlled, and whether Denver Water should accept responsibility for maintaining minimal flow in the South Platte River for the environmental and economical benefit of the entire North Fork region, the following statement was submitted:

“We (Denver Water) understand the potential for impacts to the fishery when flows from the Roberts Tunnel are shut down, and certainly recognize and appreciate the effect on the angling community and local businesses and outfitters. Unfortunately, operation of the Roberts Tunnel is directed by legal obligations and decrees tied to Colorado water law and binding agreements with West Slope communities where the water from the tunnel originates.

“As you know, the flows from the Roberts Tunnel originate in water diverted from West Slope rivers and streams into Dillon Reservoir. Denver Water depends on this supply when snow pack within the Upper South Platte watershed is insufficient. However, since early March, portions of the Upper South Platte watershed have received more than four feet of snow and spring precipitation continues to be strong.

“Legally, water supplied through the Roberts Tunnel can only be accessed when water is needed in Denver Water’s service area. Further, any other uses for the water, including augmenting stream flows for aquatic life or recreation uses, are not allowed as a primary purpose for operating the tunnel.

“While we provide projections about how long Denver Water will deliver water through the tunnel, those are only estimates based on snow pack, reservoir storage and other system elements. Those projections can change as conditions change; as they did in late winter and early spring this year.”

Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer’s office