#Aspen seeks community engagement on #water plan — @AspenJournalism

City of Aspen Utilities Resource Manager Steve Hunter stands at the city’s Castle Creek water diversion on Wednesday. Castle Creek is the source of most of Aspen’s potable water.

From Aspen Journalism (Heather Sackett):

Wildfire, infrastructure failure and persistent drought are the three biggest risks to the city of Aspen’s main water sources of Castle and Maroon creeks, according to consultants Carollo Engineers.

“The (risks) you worry about most are the ones that are fairly likely to happen and would have a pretty high consequence if they did,” said John Rehring, senior project manager and vice president of Carollo Engineers.

The risks to Aspen’s water supplies are just one of many topics consultants are taking into account as they develop a roadmap for the next 50 years of the city’s water management. As part of consultants’ data-gathering process, the city is holding the third and final community engagement session from 5 to 6:30 p.m. Wednesday.

The first two sessions were lightly attended, but city officials are hoping more citizens will show up Wednesday.

“I always like to see more people be involved,” said Steve Hunter, utilities resource manager for the city of Aspen. “We want to be completely transparent with the public.”

Carollo is working toward a final water integrated resource plan, or IRP, which they are expected to release by mid 2021. A main component of the plan will be how to address Aspen’s potential water shortages.

Although numbers are still preliminary, according to a presentation engineers gave to the city in January, the city’s estimated shortage is about 2,500 acre-feet on an annual basis. A shortage is defined as an inability to meet all demands at the same time, for example if prolonged drought cut streamflows such that the city could not provide enough water for outdoor irrigation or meet instream flow requirements.

One potential solution would be to bring online three groundwater wells in downtown Aspen, which are currently not being used because of water quality issues like too much fluoride. Having different water sources that might not be subject to natural disasters like wildfires and avalanches the same way Castle and Maroon creeks are would make Aspen’s water supply less vulnerable.

“Having the groundwater in there would help with diversity and risks and vulnerabilities,” Rehring said.

The city has a portfolio of water rights on various local waterways, ditches and wells. But it’s main source of potable water is Castle Creek.

Aspen’s Leonard Thomas Reservoir, which feeds the city’s treatment plant, holds about 10 acre-feet of water. The city is exploring other locations where it could store water as part ofthe development of a water integrated resource plan.

Storage location

Consultants also are working on finding a location to which to move Aspen’s conditional water-storage rights and determining whether the city needs storage at all. After a lengthy water court battle, in June 2019 the city gave up its rights that could have someday allowed it to build dams and reservoirs on upper Castle or Maroon creeks.

The city has identified five other locations where it could possibly store water. Those sites are the city golf course, the Maroon Creek Club golf course, the city’s Cozy Point open space, the Woody Creek gravel pit and a 63-acre parcel of land next to the gravel pit, which the city bought in 2018.

Previous consultants have come to different conclusions about how much water storage the city actually needs. A 2017 report by Deere and Ault Consultants, which was based on conclusions in a risk analysis by Headwaters Corporation, said Aspen needs 8,500 acre-feet of water storage. But a 2016 study by Wilson Water concluded Aspen does not need any storage.

“We are trying to identify just what the storage needs are and better define just how much storage is needed or maybe how to phase in that storage capacity over time,” Rehring said. “We have not zeroed in on any particular site at this point.”

Wednesday’s meeting will take place on Zoom. To register and for more information, go to aspencommunityvoice.com.

Aspen Journalism covers water and rivers in collaboration with Swift Communications newspapers. This story ran in the March 1 edition of The Aspen Times.

Baca Water & San. District prepares to sue US Fish & Wildlife over #water — The #Crestone Eagle #RioGrande

From the Baca Grande Water & Sanitation District (John Loll) via The Crestone Eagle:

The Baca Grande Water and Sanitation District Board of Directors on February 17, 2021 authorized the District’s Attorney Marcus J. Lock to prepare, but not yet file, litigation against the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) for failure to abide by a Water Service Agreement that supplies water to the Baca Grande Subdivision.

Contract negotiations deadlock

Contract negotiations over extending the current Agreement have been on-going for at least 18 months and are now stalemated. USFWS is refusing to abide by procedures stipulated in the Agreement regarding the cost of water purchased from it and would charge a rate almost ten times more than that charged for augmented water purchases in the San Luis Valley, as determined by Dick Wolfe, former State Engineer.

Relief from payment of excessive water prices is critical for the District going forward, as many components in the aging water delivery system are approaching their replacement dates. The current deadlock in negotiations is also inhibiting the District’s efforts to move forward on the purchase of water rights from USFWS. Purchase of water rights is central to the long-term health of the District and would end, as one Director said, “Throwing money down a bottomless well.”

Savings from excessive rates may help stabilize the District’s fiscal posture that has required two recent rate increases. A Lease To Own arrangement may also prove feasible, but is dependent upon being able to reach agreement on a fair rate to be charged.

The District’s Board of Directors also authorized contact with our political representatives to educate them and seek their assistance in resolving these critical issues. Educating our northern valley communities is called for as well, as they have shown in prior water battles that their determination is one of the greatest sources of advocacy available.


The Baca Grande Water and Sanitation District originally leased water rights from a company called Arizona-Colorado Land & Cattle Company back in 1972. This company owned the Luis Baca Grant No. 4 and the water rights that went with it. The purpose of the lease was “to assure the availability of the water supply necessary” for the District’s operations. In 1997, the District entered into a new Water Service Agreement with Cabeza de Vaca Land & Cattle Company, LLC, which was a successor to the previous company and became the new owner of the Baca Ranch and the leased water rights. The purpose of the new Agreement remained the same, to ensure the District had access to a sufficient supply of water to serve the District’s customers.

This 1997 agreement is still in effect, but now the lessor is USFWS as a result of the federal government’s acquisition of what is now the Baca Grande National Wildlife Refuge in 2004. The Water Service Agreement is perpetual in nature unless terminated by the District. However, the District would prefer to purchase the water rights and own them outright rather than continue to make lease payments to USFWS forever.

In the Great Sand Dunes Park and Preserve Act of 2000 Congress authorized the Secretary of the Department of the Interior (which includes USFWS) to sell water rights to the District. This has yet to happen.

Maintaining positive relations with Baca National Wildlife Refuge

It’s important to make a distinction between the local USFWS representatives with whom the District has enjoyed excellent relationships throughout the years. The District very much hopes to continue with the same regard in future endeavors. Rather, the issues seem to occur in regional and national levels.

Opportunities to become involved

Soon the District will be crafting opportunities for community members to become involved in our efforts. Items under consideration include: Campaign Committee? Zoom Public Information Meetings? Postcard Campaign to elected representatives? Forming Alliances with other Local and Valley Groups?

Offer input now

You can offer your suggestions and ideas now by email to: info@bacawater.com.

How #cloudseeding can boost mountain #snowpack — Yale #Climate Connections

Scenes from the Seeded and Natural Orographic Wintertime Clouds: The Idaho Experiment (SNOWIE) project, which was undertaken in Idaho’s Payette Basin in winter 2017. Credit: Joshua Aikins via Aspen Journalism

From Yale Climate Connections (Sarah Kennedy):

In the spring, melting snowpack in the Rocky Mountains feeds the Colorado River, which supplies drinking water to 40 million people across seven states. But as the climate warms, snowpack is shrinking, prompting concerns over water shortages.

One technique that can help increase precipitation is called cloud seeding. It’s been used in some areas since the 1950s.

A machine or airplane releases particles, such as silver iodide, into developing storm clouds. The particles attract molecules of water vapor, and if the conditions are right, those droplets form more rain or snow.

Mohammed Mahmoud is with the Central Arizona Water Conservation District, which has funded cloud seeding projects in the Rocky Mountains for years.

“The type of cloud seeding we’re interested in is winter cloud seeding, and what that does is enhance the snow pack,” he says. “So that ultimately, in the spring, that enhanced snowpack can increase the runoff that water users rely on downstream.”

The practice remains controversial, but researchers have found that cloud seeding can increase the amount of precipitation that falls in a storm by up to 15%.

So it can help reduce the impact of climate change on critical water supplies.

Without Active Spring Snow, State’s #Snowpack On Track To Be Below Average (March 2, 2021) — CBS #Denver #runoff

From CBS Denver (Jamie Leary):

Colorado’s high country is just weeks away from its average peak snowpack date. Current measurements are on the fast track to coming up short.

“Our snowpack has been struggling. We’re close to average, but not quite to average so the likelihood of getting average snowpack is pretty low at this point. It’s most likely that most areas of our state will have a little bit below average snowpack when we end the season,” said Becky Bolinger, Assistant State Climatologist with the Colorado Climate Center at CSU.

Bolinger’s specialty is drought, and the state of Colorado has been keeping her busy…

With the average peak snowpack for Colorado’s northern mountains in mid-to-late April, the time to make up for the deficit is running out. Bolinger doesn’t see March and April producing enough moisture to get back to average…

Graphic via the NRCS.

Snowfall in February, while not enough to make an overall impact, did help some. Denver Water reported its collection system was at 140% of its normal accumulation for the month. While it’s not far from normal for the season at 92%, Denver Water says it could use more…

Bolinger says utility providers are constantly monitoring drought conditions and advises people pay attention to what they have to say.

“We’re going to continue in this situation where we don’t have quite enough water in the system, so another thing I’m expecting is to see, as we move into the summer, is that many of us are likely going to have some watering restrictions.”

The good news? The lack of moisture means less new growth and fewer fuels for potential fires to burn, but Bolinger is still hopeful the state sees a few strong spring storms.

“What’s keeping me up at night, very specifically, is that we go unseasonably warm, and we don’t get much more snowpack, and it melts too fast, and it melts too early, and we start our summertime temperatures too early. That means we will get into a fire season early, and then we run the risk of having another large and devastating wildfire season.”

Utah snowpack basin-filled map March 2, 2021 via the NRCS.

From Utah Public Radio (Harriet Cornachione):

Last year, Utah experienced its worst drought in 20 years. Typically Utahns count on spring snowpack to remedy a dry year and while February snows have been a boon to ski areas the question remains: are they enough to generate an average water supply?

“In an average year, we’d still have about 40 more days of getting snowpack. So this storm was great. But we’re still supposed to be adding to that,” said Laura Haskell who is the senior engineer with Utah Water Resources.

She updates the U.S. Drought Monitor with Utah’s drought conditions. With 90% of the state is in extreme drought and 57% in exceptional drought, more snow is needed.

“One of the things that’s unique about this year is that yes, right now, we have 81-82% of normal snowpack for the state. But the big problem is the soil moisture, because we are in a domain that we have just not seen before,” said Jordan Clayton.

Clayton is a data collection officer with the National Resources Conservation Service, and is responsible for Utah’s snow survey. He said that even if Utah gets a normal snowpack by early April, stream runoff would still be well below average of how dry the soils are…

[Paul Miller] said based on current conditions at Lake Powell, they are likely forecasting the driest flow on record – about 60 years – in April. That forecast determines how much flow is going to be released out of Lake Powell for the rest of the water year. That impacts all of us…

Haskell noted that municipal residents may not know how current conditions impact the water supply for others, because they get water from a stored system. By being aware earlier of water conditions people can reduce their landscape water use which is one way to help.

West Drought Monitor February 23, 2021.

From Aspen Public Radio (Madelyn Beck):

A recent snowstorm that blew through the Mountain West was a welcome sight for states facing extreme drought. But across the southern half of the region, it may not have been as beneficial as it looks.

That’s because the storm came with a cold snap, and snow that forms in that extremely cold air doesn’t hold as much moisture…

Hendrikx said as a simple rule of thumb, every 10 inches of snow melts down to about 1 inch of water. If that snow forms in more extreme colds, though (like -20 degrees fahrenheit) it can produce half that much.

That translates to less runoff when it melts. Or rather, if it melts before it’s kicked up by the wind and faces sublimation…

Still, every bit of moisture helps in the weeks and months leading into spring. In places like Utah, Nevada, Colorado and New Mexico, the entire state is in a drought…

[Mary] Carlson said the mountains that feed the Rio Grande River have seen some good weeks recently, but they still need plenty more moisture.

Demand Management Feasibility Investigation Framework Concepts Workshop, March 2, 2021 — @CWCB_DNR #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

A bend in Glen Canyon of the Colorado River, Grand Canyon, c. 1898. By George Wharton James, 1858—1923 – http://digitallibrary.usc.edu/cdm/ref/collection/p15799coll65/id/17037, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=30894893

Click here for all the inside skinny.

This workshop is intended for staff to present to the Colorado Water Conservation Board Members what a potential framework concept for a Demand Management program could look like.

The workshop will be live streamed on YouTube for public viewing.

If you would like to make a public comment during the workshop, please complete the Request to Address the Board Form prior to the workshop.

With questions or for more information, contact Sara Leonard.