Pitkin County and West Slope close to securing 1,000 AF of water for upper Roaring Fork

The upper Roaring Fork River, east of Aspen, near the river’s confluence with Difficult Creek. The stretch of river between Difficult Creek and Maroon Creek is often plagued by low flows in late summer and fall.

By Brent Gardner-Smith, Aspen Journalism

As a way to settle a 2009 state water court case led by Pitkin County and the Colorado River District, the Front Range city of Aurora has agreed to let as much as 1,000 acre-feet of water run down the upper Roaring Fork River each year instead of diverting the water under Independence Pass.

The pending settlement could mean that about 10 to 30 cubic feet per second of additional water could flow down the river through Aspen in summer and fall.

It’s an amount of water that Pitkin County Attorney John Ely said would be “visibly noticeable” and would help bolster flows in the often water-short stretch of the Roaring Fork between Difficult and Maroon creeks.

“It’s exciting,” Ely said. “It’s not very often you get to put water into the upper Roaring Fork. These opportunities are pretty limited, and I’m not sure if we’ll ever see another one.”

A June 13 memo from Ely on the agreement states that “the Pitkin County Healthy Rivers and Streams Board has long recognized this reach of the Roaring Fork as one of the most stressed reaches of the Roaring Fork” and that “the Roaring Fork Conservancy’s State of the Watershed report identifies the upper Roaring Fork just above Aspen and heading into town as being severely degraded.”

The Pitkin Board of County Commissioners is expected to approve the settlement in the form of an intergovernmental agreement with Aurora on Wednesday.

Aurora’s city council also is expected to approve the agreement, as is the Colorado River District board of directors at its July meeting. A Water Court judge has set a July 20 deadline for the parties to file the settlement.

Officials with Pitkin County and the Colorado River District see the deal with Aurora as a victory, especially as some estimates, according to Ely, place the value of water in Aurora at $50,000 an acre-foot, which makes the 1,000 acre-feet of water potentially worth $50 million.

The settlement is also of high value to officials at the Colorado River District, who led the efforts of the West Slope entities in the case.

“I think it’s a big deal,” said Peter Fleming, the general counsel for the Colorado River District, which represents 15 counties on the Western Slope. “I think it’s going to be a good deal for Pitkin County, the Roaring Fork River, and the West Slope as a whole. And frankly, I think it’s a pretty good deal for Aurora, as well.”

But Tom Simpson, a water resource supervisor with Aurora, said it’s a “bittersweet” deal for the growing Front Range city.

“We’ve worked hard on this agreement over the last year,” Simpson said. “It is bittersweet, but we are happy that we are finally there.”

The deal lets Aurora retain its current use of 2,416 acre-feet of water it diverts on average each year from the top of the Fryingpan River Basin, but Aurora also is giving up 1,000 acre-feet of water it now diverts from the top of the Roaring Fork River Basin.

Aurora also is agreeing to abide by operating protocols and future potential use of the senior water rights on the Colorado River now tied to the Shoshone hydropower plant in Glenwood Canyon. That agreement could limit the amount of additional water Aurora can divert in the future from the Colorado River Basin.

The provisions of the agreement relating to the Shoshone water right also include an acknowledgement that the senior water right might someday be changed to include an instream flow right rather than the water being diverted out of the river and sent to the hydropower plant.

“Aurora will not oppose an agreement between a West Slope entity or entities, the Colorado Water Conservation Board, and any other entity entered for the purpose of adding instream flow as an additional use of the senior hydropower right,” the agreement states.

Simpson agreed the overall deal represented a “haircut” for Aurora’s water rights in the Colorado River Basin.

“Yes, we’re going to get the 2,416 acre-feet out of Busk, but we’re going to make these other deliveries on the Roaring Fork, and we might lose just a little bit of water on the Shoshone protocol,” he said. “It’s a haircut, absolutely.”

On the other hand, Simpson said “while this agreement is not perfect, we feel like it is a good agreement, and preserves some of our Busk-Ivanhoe water and lets us all move forward.”

A view of Ivanhoe Reservoir, where water from the upper Fryingpan River headwaters is collected before being sent under the divide to Busk Creek, Turquoise Reservoir, and then the Front Range.

Started in 2009

In December 2009, Aurora filed a water rights application in Division 2 Water Court in Pueblo to change the use of its water rights in the Busk-Ivanhoe transmountain diversion system in the Fryingpan River headwaters.

The system, built in the 1920s, gathers water from Ivanhoe, Pan, Lyle, and Hidden Lake creeks and diverts the water through the Ivanhoe Tunnel to Turquoise Reservoir near Leadville before it is sent to East Slope cities. The system was built to deliver water to irrigators in the lower Arkansas River basin.

The water rights to the system carry appropriation dates from 1921 to 1927, which makes them junior to the senior water rights on the Colorado River near Grand Junction known as the “Cameo call.”

The Pueblo Board of Water Works bought half of the Busk-Ivanhoe system in 1972, and Aurora gradually secured its half-ownership in the system between 1986 and 2001.

In its 2009 application, Aurora told the water court it wanted to change the use of its water in the Busk-Ivanhoe system from irrigation to municipal use.

However, it also conceded it had already been using the Busk-Ivanhoe water for municipal purposes in Aurora, even though its water-right decree limited the use of the water to irrigation in the lower Arkansas River valley. It also came to light that Aurora was first storing the water in Turquoise Reservoir without an explicit decreed right to do so.

That caught the attention of Pitkin County, the Colorado River District, a host of other Western Slope water interests, and the state engineer’s office, which administers water rights.

As Ely put it in a June 13 memo to the Pitkin County commissioners, “In 1987, Aurora began using Busk-Ivanhoe water for undecreed municipal and residential purposes in an undecreed area, the South Platte Valley, after storing the water in an undecreed manner in Aurora system reservoirs.”

Aurora’s stance was that since the water had been diverted under the Continental Divide, it didn’t matter how it used or stored the water, as it should make no difference to the West Slope. But an array of West Slope entities, including the Colorado River District, disagreed with Aurora’s position.

In July 2013 the Western Slope entities and the state took Aurora to a five-day trial in Div. 2 Water Court in Pueblo, arguing that Aurora should not get credit for its 22 years of undecreed water use and storage.

“It was always an issue of fact at trial as to how much water was in play because it depends on how you calculate the yield of the project,” Ely said.

In 2014, thought, the district court judge in Division 2 ruled in Aurora’s favor, and the West Slope interests then appealed to the state Supreme Court.

The appeal process prompted a host of entities on both sides of the Continental Divide to come forward and argue aspects of the case before the court. It also prompted a scolding of Aurora by former Supreme Court Justice Greg Hobbs over the use of undecreed water rights.

In 2016, the Colorado Supreme Court reversed the lower court’s decision, ruled in favor of the Western Slope, and remanded Aurora’s original change application back to the lower court.

“The Supreme Court wrote that notwithstanding the fact that the change application and original decree concerned developed transmountain water, water used for undecreed purposes cannot be included in a calculation for historic consumptive use and is therefore excluded from water available for change of use,” Ely wrote in his June 13 memo.

So, rather than going back to Water Court and continuing to fight over the potential size of the Busk-Ivanhoe rights, which the West Slope now saw as being between zero and well-less than 2,416 acre-feet, Aurora began negotiating in January 2017 with the Western Slope entities still in the case, which included Pitkin County, Eagle County, the Colorado River District, the Grand Valley Water Users Association, the Basalt Water Conservancy District, Eagle County, Orchard Mesa Irrigation District, and Ute Water Conservancy District.

Today, each of those entities is also a party to the intergovernmental agreement expected to be submitted to the water court in July, along with a proposed decree for Aurora’s Busk-Ivanhoe rights.

Ely said Pitkin County didn’t start out in the case with an eye on securing 1,000 acre-feet for the Roaring Fork, but did have a local interest in the operation of the Busk-Ivanhoe project.

“We weren’t doing it to obtain an end result, we were doing it because the [Busk-Ivanhoe] project is in our backyard and we felt it was the right thing to do,” Ely said. “And all the other dialogue developed after the trial and the Supreme Court decision.”

At the time of the 2016 Colorado Supreme Court decision, Pitkin County had spent $353,000 in legal and other fees in the case, using money brought in by a tax to fund the county’s Healthy River and Streams program, which includes litigation in water court.

Since then, Ely said the county had spent an additional $27,300 for hydrology and engineering work, but had not spent more on additional outside legal help, as he and Assistant County Attorney Laura Makar handled the settlement negotiations for the county.

The dam across the main stem of the upper Roaring Fork that diverts water from Lost Man Creek and the Roaring Fork into a tunnel under Green Mountain and, eventually, into Grizzly Reservoir and the tunnel under Independence Pass to the Arkansas River basin. Some of the water owned by Aurora will be bypassed at this point to run down the Roaring Fork.

Pan, or Fork?

For Pitkin County and other Western Slope entities, it made more sense to negotiate with Aurora for some of the water it owns in the Independence Pass-Twin Lakes system rather than the Busk-Ivanhoe system, as any water bypassed by the Busk-Ivanhoe system would be scooped up by the Fry-Ark Project, which sits below the Busk-Ivanhoe system in the upper Fryingpan valley and also diverts water to the East Slope.

Aurora owns 5 percent of the shares in the Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co., which operates the Independence Pass Transmountain Diversion System. Its share of the water diverted each year from the top of the Roaring Fork equals about 2,100 acre-feet a year, so the 1,000 acre-feet of water equals about half of Aurora’s water in the Twin Lakes company.

In the 10 years from 2007 through 2016, Twin Lakes Co. diverted a total of 485,762 acre-feet of water from the upper Roaring Fork River Basin through its diversion system, putting the 10-year average for that period at 48,567 acre feet. 2011 was the biggest year of diversions since 2007, with 67,463 acre-feet diverted, and 2015 was the lowest year since 2007, with 18,374 acre-feet diverted.

Colorado Springs owns 55 percent of the shares in Twin Lakes Co., Pueblo 23 percent, Pueblo West 12 percent, and Aurora 5 percent. There are also other minority shareholders, holding 5 percent of the shares, still using the water from the system for agriculture.

Twin Lakes is not a party to the intergovernmental agreement between Aurora and the West Slope entities, but it is willing to work with all involved to make the water deliveries as beneficial as possible for the Roaring Fork River.

Ely said Pitkin Country was grateful for the willingness of the Twin Lakes Co. to work with the county and the Colorado River District to release the water in a way that benefits the river, even if it means more work for the operators of the Independence Pass-Twin Lakes system.

According to Kevin Lusk, the president of the Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co. and a senior engineer at Colorado Springs Utilities, the company is simply responding to the desires of a shareholder in the company, Aurora.

He also said it’s legal under a 1976 water-rights decree held by Twin Lakes to bypass water for use on the West Slope instead of diverting it under the Continental Divide.

“The decree allows for this type of operation and so really all we’re doing as a company is accommodating the request of one of our shareholders to do something that was contemplated and provided for in the decree,” Lusk said.

And as part of the agreement, representatives from Pitkin County, the Colorado River District, Aurora, and Twin Lakes will meet each year to agree on a delivery schedule for the water that describes the “desired rate, timing, amount, location and ultimate use of the water, as well as the operational needs and constraints” of the Independence Pass-Twin Lakes diversion system.

In a letter attached to the agreement laying out how Aurora and the Twin Lakes Co. plan to manage the releases, Aurora said it “would prefer the water to be delivered at times of the year and at locations that will provide the most benefit to the Roaring Fork River stream flow. Typically this will be in the second half of the summer, beginning July 15, through the fall season.”

And Pitkin County feels the same way, according to Ely.

“We would like it delivered later in the year when the flows of the river start to go down,” he said.

However, Lusk at Twin Lakes said if the West Slope entities wait too long in the season to bypass the water, it may not be there to bypass.

“I know that there is a great interest in saving a lot of this water and bypassing it at the end of the season,” Lusk said. “But it’s going to be a bit of a balancing act. You’ve got to take the water when it’s there, because if you don’t take advantage of it there won’t be any to release later.”

Lusk also said that if the West Slope really wanted to take full advantage of the water, it might consider building a reservoir above Aspen to store the water at peak runoff and then release it later in the season.

Grizzly Reservoir on Lincoln Creek, well above its confluence with the Roaring Fork River at Lincoln Gulch Campground. The reservoir briefly stores water before it is diverted under the Continental Divide.

Flows on the Fork

According to a draft resolution to be voted on by the Pitkin County commissioners Wednesday, there were several factors that went into the county’s goal of acquiring 1,000 acre-feet per year of water for the upper Fork, including “the expected amount of yield for Aurora in the Busk-Ivanhoe system; existing in-basin and out-of-basin diversions from the Roaring Fork River between Independence Pass through the City of Aspen; potential future demand on the river; extent of existing conditional water rights; and the results of a stream analysis and channel measurement study.”

If the deal is approved, as soon as next year 700 acre-feet of Aurora’s water is expected to be captured briefly in the Independence Pass system, which includes dams on Lost Man Creek, the main stem of the Roaring Fork River, and on Grizzly Creek, and then released down either the Fork or Lincoln Creek toward Aspen.

Another 200 acre-feet of Aurora’s Twin Lakes water will be held in Grizzly Reservoir on Lincoln Creek, which holds 570 acre-feet of water. That water will then be released late in the year, after most transmountain diversions have stopped, to bolster late-season flows in the river.

“So it’s actually reservoir release of previously stored water, while the [700 acre-feet] is a true bypass of water that would have gone through the tunnel that day to the other side,” Lusk said. “It’s new for us. We typically don’t operate the reservoir that way. Typically we would run that reservoir quite a bit lower, just for safety-of-dam reasons. But this change in operation is going to be holding the reservoir up much fuller for a lot longer, and we just need to watch the behavior of the dam.”

Another 100 acre-feet of water could also eventually be left in the Roaring Fork each year after a complicated exchange-of-water arrangement is worked out with Aurora and other parties on the Fryingpan River, which brings the potential total water left in the Fork to 1,000 acre-feet.

There is also a drought contingency provision which will allow Aurora to bypass 100 acre-feet less than they would have under the deal if the water level in their system of reservoirs falls below 60 percent on April 1 in a given year. So in a dry year, that could bring additional flows in the Roaring Fork back to 900 acre feet.

The upper Roaring Fork River at the Cascades at about 6 p.m. on Thursday, June 16, 2016, after Lincoln Creek surged into the Fork, about an hour after the Twin Lakes Tunnel was closed. When the Twin Lakes system is closed for whatever reason, as it has been the past several seasons, the Roaring Fork River leaps to life with renewed intensity.

Other provisions

The pending Busk-Ivanhoe settlement also includes a provision that allows the Basalt Water Conservancy District to store 50 acre-feet of water in Ivanhoe Reservoir, which holds 1,200 acre-feet of water and serves more as a forebay for the Ivanhoe Tunnel diversions than a storage reservoir.

And, in a provision to Aurora’s benefit, the West Slope entities, including Pitkin County, have agreed not to fight, at least on a wholesale basis, the permitting of two potential reservoirs that Aurora is working on, Wild Horse Reservoir in South Park and Box Creek Reservoir, which could hold between 20,000 and 60,000 acre-feet on private land on the south flank of Mt. Elbert.

“Any participation in the permitting processes by the West Slope Parties will not seek to prevent the project in its entirety and comments or requests may be raised only for the purpose of addressing water related impacts caused directly by either of the two above specified projects on the West Slope,” the draft agreement between Aurora and the West Slope says.

The concession from the West Slope is significant as Box Creek Reservoir will be able to store water from the West Slope.

The West Slope entities also agree not to oppose changes in diversion points tied to the Homestake transmountain diversion system in the Eagle River Basin, not to oppose Aurora’s efforts to repair the Ivanhoe Tunnel, which is also called the Carlton Tunnel. The tunnel was originally built as a railroad tunnel, and then used as a highway tunnel.

Finally, the parties to the deal have agreed, in what’s called a “diligence detente,” not to challenge in water court for 15 years a list of conditional water rights, held by both East Slope and West Slope entities, that are required to periodically file due-diligence applications with the state.

The list of conditional water rights includes rights held by Aurora tied to the Homestake project and rights by the Southeastern Water Conservancy District tied to the Fry-Ark Project. They also include rights held by the Colorado River District on a number of West Slope water projects, including the potential Iron Mountain Reservoir near Redcliff and the Wolcott Reservoir near Wolcott.

Notably, the agreement does not include provisions to legally shepherd the water from the Independence Pass-Twin Lakes system all the way to the confluence of Maroon Creek, so it’s possible that diverters on the river near Aspen, such as the Salvation Ditch, could pick up the water left in the river.

However, Ely said the county will seek cooperation from diverters on the river near Aspen.

“We’ve had some conversations with water users on this side of the hill, and we’ve had conversations with the Division 5 engineer’s office, and we’re hopeful that when the water is being bypassed and put in the river and there is an increase of flow, folks won’t take advantage of that and we’ll be able to get it down through Aspen,” Ely said. “And eventually, you know things will change, and we hope to have that water associated with its own water right, so we can call it further down, but that won’t be the case right away.”

An additional benefit to the deal, according to Ely, is that the management of the 1,000 acre-foot pool of water from Aurora may also lead to better management of a 3,000 acre-foot pool of water also available in the Independence Pass-Twin Lakes system.

That pool was created to mitigate the impacts to the Roaring Fork River from diversions by the Fry-Ark Project on Hunter, Midway, and No Name creeks, which drain into the Fork in central Aspen. And while Twin Lakes releases the water down the Roaring Fork, releases from the Fry-Ark Project replace the water in Twin Lakes Reservoir, where both transbasin diversion systems can send water.

For years, the water from the 3,000 acre-foot pool has been released at a rate of 3 cfs on a year-round basis and has not been timed to help bolster low-season flows. Now, given the greater cooperation over the management of the 1,000 acre-foot pool from Aurora, how the 3,000 acre-foot pool from Fry-Ark is managed may also change, to the benefit of the river.

Aspen Journalism is collaborating on the coverage of rivers and water with The Aspen Times. The Times ran a shorter version of this story on Tuesday, June 12, 2018.

Honing in on options for a potential White River Dam near Rangely

Looking up the White River valley, with the Wolf Creek valley opening up to the left. The view is from Hwy 64.

By Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

CRAIG — Three variations of a potential dam that could someday sit astride the main stem of the White River between Meeker and Rangely have been examined by the Rio Blanco Water Conservancy District in Rangely.

Last week in Craig, Steve Jamieson, a principal engineer and president at W.W. Wheeler and Associates, told the members of the Yampa, Green and White river basin roundtable that an 80-foot-tall dam built across the main stem of the White River at Wolf Creek could store 68,000 acre-feet of water.

He said a 104-foot-tall dam across the river could store 138,000 acre-feet.

And a 290-foot-tall dam across the valley floor could store 2.9 million acre-feet of water.

“The maximum you can get here is 2.9 million acre-feet in this bucket,” Jamieson said. “It’s a big bucket, and you can do that with a dam that it’s about 290 feet high. It would be a very efficient dam site, but you need to have the water to fill it.”

A slide being presented by Steve Jamieson of Wheeler a showing the range of dam and reservoir sizes that have been studied for the potential White River Dam on the main stem of the White River 23 miles east of Rangely. The dams range in size from 80-feet-tall to 290-feet-tall and could store between 68,000 AF to 2.9 MAF. The dam sizes were studied as part of Phase 2A of the White River storage project, and the state has provided $500,000 in funding so far to study the project.
Steve Jamieson, left, of Wheeler and Associates, and Brad McCloud, right, showing an illustration of where the axis of a 290-foot-tall dam across the White River would be. The big dam would require a 500-foot-wide spillway, which would mean relocating a section of Hwy 64.

Water enough

About 500,000 acre-feet of water a year runs down the lower White River each year, flowing through Meeker and Rangely and into Utah and the Green River.

And between 1923 and 2014, the annual flow in the White River at the Utah line ranged from 200,000 to 1.2 million acre-feet, according to Wheeler and Associates.

The potential White River Dam would be located 23 miles east of Rangely, along Highway 64.

The existing Taylor Draw Dam, which forms Kenney Reservoir on the main stem of the White River, is six miles east of Rangely.

That reservoir was built in 1984 to hold 13,800 acre-feet of water, but it’s gradually silting in, as was expected in a 1982 EIS done for the project. The surface area still “available for recreation,” or boating, is now less than 335 acres, down from 650 acres when the reservoir opened.

The dam’s hydro plant, however, is still generating about $500,000 a year in electricity revenue for the Rio Blanco district in a run-of-river setup.

A slide being presented by Steve Jamieson of Wheeler and Associates and Brad McCloud of EIS Solutions showing the range of dam and reservoir sizes that have been studied with state funding for the Wolf Creek drainage. The dams range in size from 80-feet-tall to 260-feet-tall and could store 41,000 AF to 1.6 MAF. The dam sizes were studied as part of Phase 2A of the White River storage project, and the state has provided $500,000 in funding so far to study the project.

Off-channel too

Jamieson also has been studying an off-channel dam in the Wolf Creek drainage, which is a broad, dry valley on the north side the river, just upstream of the proposed White River Dam site.

The Wolf Creek Dam would be located 3,000 feet back from the river and 170 feet above it.

An 80-foot-tall version of that dam could store 41,000 acre-feet of water, a 119-foot-tall dam could store 130,000 acre-feet, and a 260-foot-tall dam could store 1.6 million-acre feet, Jamieson said.

“This is really good dam site here, I like this,” Jamieson said. “It’s very flexible.”

However, the off-channel Wolf Creek Dam would require that water be pumped up from the river, at a high cost, or delivered via a 40-mile long canal or pipeline starting near Rio Blanco Lake — closer to Meeker than Rangely.

“It’s going to be a very long and expensive canal,” Jamieson said.

The pumping facility for a 90,000 acre-foot reservoir, which was studied in 2014, was estimated to cost $18.2 million build and up to $1.1 million a year to operate.

Jamieson said Highway 64 would need to be moved to accommodate the biggest White River Dam option, which requires a 500-foot-wide spillway on one side of the river valley.

The river itself would also have to be moved during construction.

“You’d be constructing two to three years at least,” Jamieson said. “So what we looked at is actually building a tunnel around into this abutment that we would divert the White River through during construction.”

A slide presented by Steve Jamieson of Wheeler and Associates on May 9, 2018, showing the maximum inundation area of a 290-foot-tall dam on the main stem of the White River. Jamieson presented the slide at the May 9, 2018 meeting in Craig of the Yampa/White/Green basin roundtable.

Gardner-sized

Jamieson said the district started studying the maximum size of the potential reservoirs after Sen. Cory Gardner asked during a site visit, “How big can you make this reservoir?”

During his presentation Jamieson repeatedly referred to Sen. Gardner, using phrases such as “this is the maximum Cory Gardner reservoir.”

A roundtable member asked, “Did the senator promise the money for this?”

The basin roundtables operate under the auspices of the Colorado Water Conservation Board and review grants for water projects.

“No, he did not, unfortunately,” said Brad McCloud of EIS Solutions, a public affairs consulting firm retained by the district. “We asked.”

The Colorado Water Conservation Board also wants to know what the maximum reservoir size is.

“Based on recent comments from some stakeholders, it may be beneficial to build the largest possible reservoir at Wolf Creek,” the scope of work for a 2017 grant from the board to the district states.

It also says “a much larger reservoir … could have additional benefits to the state.”

One of those benefits could be helping the state avoid a compact call on the Colorado River.

“Part of the Phase 2A study is to determine if the project may have the potential to provide Colorado compact curtailment insurance during periods of drought,” the 2017 grant application from the district said.

Since 2013, the district has received three grants totaling $500,000 from the Colorado Water Conservation Board for its White River project, and the potential benefit of compact compliance has been mentioned in all three grants.

The White River near the vicinity of the Wolf Creek drainage. The river sends about 500,000 acre-feet of water a year across the state line into Utah, with flows ranging from 200,000 AF to 1.2 MAF a year. The White drains the western side of the Flat Top Mountains and flows through Meeker and Rangely.

20,000 or 90,000

On Wednesday in Craig, Jamieson downplayed compact curtailment and focused on the district’s goal of creating a 20,000 or 90,000 acre-foot “working pool” of water inside larger potential reservoirs.

For example, it would require a 138,000 acre-foot on-channel reservoir to establish a 90,000 acre-foot working pool for the district, after allowances for a recreation pool and a 24,000 acre-foot sedimentation pool — which would fill in over 50 years.

To establish a need of the stored water, Jamieson cited a 2014 study showing demand in the basin at 91,000 acre-feet in 2065.

That’s on the high end, though.

The low-end need in 2065 was 16,600 acre-feet.

The district filed in water court in 2014 for a 90,000-acre-foot storage right at both the on-channel and off-channel locations.

But Erin Light, the division engineer in Div. 6, told the district in July 2017 “this application continues to contain aspects that are speculative and this is concerning to me.”

She questioned the district’s use of the highest estimates for such potential uses as oil shale production and flows for endangered fish.

The water attorney for the district, Ed Olszewski, responded to Light in August.

He said the district “disputes that any portion of the application is speculative” and the application is intended to be “as flexible as possible.”

As Jamieson wrapped up his presentation, he said the Rio Blanco district plans to “initiate project permitting” in 2019.

“I know we’re very aggressive,” Jamieson said. “We’re making progress.”

Aspen Journalism is covering water and rivers in collaboration with The Aspen Times and the Glenwood Springs Post Independent. The Times and the Post Independent published this story on Monday, May 14, 2018.

Aspen moves closer to settling Castle and Maroon creek dam cases

Under conditional water rights held by the city of Aspen since 1965, a 155-foot-tall dam would be built in this location on Maroon Creek to store 4,567 acre-feet of water. The city of Aspen is moving closer to reaching agreements with 10 opposing parties in water court to move the water rights to other locations.

By Brent Gardner-Smith, Aspen Journalism

City of Aspen officials are hoping to reach an agreement by May 29 with the 10 opposing parties in two water court cases over the city’s conditional water rights tied to potential dams on Maroon and Castle creeks.

While that timeline may be ambitious, one of the parties in the two cases, Double R Creek Ltd., which owns a residential property that would be flooded by the Castle Creek Reservoir, recently signed a settlement agreement with the city.

“My client has settled and feels that the settlement is a good one for my client since it eliminates the threat of the development of that reservoir anywhere in the Castle Creek valley,” said Kevin Patrick, a water attorney with Patrick, Miller and Noto who represents Double R Creek Ltd. “We’re pleased.”

The potential Castle Creek Reservoir, which would store 9,062 acre-feet of water behind a 170-foot-tall dam 2 miles below Ashcroft, would flood portions of the residential property owned by Double R Creek Ltd.

It also would flood residential property across Castle Creek owned by Asp Properties LLC, which also is opposing the city in water court.

The Maroon Creek Reservoir would hold 4,567 acre-feet of water behind a 155-foot-tall dam, located just below the confluence of East and West Maroon creeks on U.S. Forest Service property, within view of the Maroon Bells.

A graphic from Wilderness Workshop that shows how the potential Maroon Creek Reservoir would appear behind a 155-foot-tall dam just below the confluence of East and West Maroon creeks.

Other locations

Under similar settlement proposals sent to all the parties in the cases, the city would agree to move its conditional storage rights out of the Maroon and Castle creek valleys to six other potential locations in the Roaring Fork River valley, according to sources close to the court cases.

If the change in location of the water-storage rights is approved in water court, the city could retain the right to transfer as much as 8,500 acre-feet of water storage across those locations, down from the potential combined total of 13,629 acre-feet in Castle and Maroon creeks, but only in those six new locations.

The locations include the existing gravel pit in Woody Creek on land the city recently purchased for water storage next to the gravel pit, on the city’s golf course, on the Moore Open Space near the roundabout, on land near the Burlingame housing development and on the Cozy Point Open Space at the bottom of Brush Creek Road.

On May 29, city staff plans to present the signed agreement with Double R Creek Ltd. to the City Council in a regular public meeting for its final review and approval. They also are working to present signed agreements, or stipulations, with the other nine opposing parties in the cases, as well.

“We’re hopeful that when we come to council we’re going to have stipulations from all the parties,” said Margaret Medellin, utilities portfolio manager for the city. “And if we don’t, we will take what we have and continue to work toward a point of settlement.”

Outstanding areas of agreement among some of the opposing parties and the city revolve around assurances that the city won’t try and move its conditional rights, fail in its attempt, and then return to seeking to maintain its conditional rights in the Castle and Maroon valleys.

Patrick said the agreement he signed on behalf of his client includes those assurances.

An illustration prepared by Wilderness Workshop of the potential Castle Creek Reservoir, based on plans filed by the city of Aspen with the state in 1965 to create water rights for the reservoir. The city is now moving closer to reaching agreement with parties opposing the city’s 2016 due-diligence application to maintain the rights.

Ongoing process

The other parties in the two cases include two property owners in Maroon Creek, Larsen Family LP and Roaring Fork Land and Cattle Co., Pitkin County, the U.S. Forest Service, Wilderness Workshop, Western Resource Advocates, American Rivers, and Trout Unlimited.

The city first applied for the conditional water storage rights for the two potential reservoirs in 1965 and the decree for the rights carries a 1971 priority date. (See timeline.)

In October 2016, the city submitted two due-diligence applications for the reservoirs and the cases attracted opposition from 10 parties across the two cases.

In July 2017, the city announced its intention to move the conditional storage rights out of both valleys and has been in negotiations with the opposing parties in the case since then.

On Tuesday, the city’s water attorney, Andrea Benson of Alperstein and Covell in Denver, updated the Division 5 water court referee, Susan Michelle Ryan, on the city’s settlement efforts.

“Since the last status conference, I believe we’ve made some good progress toward settlement with all of the opposers,” Benson said.

Benson said in addition to having a signed stipulation with Double R Creek Ltd., the city has also reached a “settlement in concept” with both Western Resource Advocates and Wilderness Workshop. (See “minute order” on status conference from the water court referee.)

Will Roush, the conservation director at Wilderness Workshop, said his organization’s main goal in the cases has been “protecting those two creeks and ensuring that there wasn’t the possibility of building dams on either creek. Dams obviously fragment streams and the riparian habitat. So our goal has always been to protect the ecosystems of those two valleys.”

Paul Noto, a water attorney also with Patrick, Miller and Noto, is representing American Rivers, Trout Unlimited, and the Roaring Fork Land and Cattle Co. in the cases.

“We’ve been working with the city toward settlement, and it seems like we’re making progress, and we hope to have the case wrapped up shortly,” Noto said Tuesday.

Medellin, who declined to discuss the specifics of the proposed settlements, said city staff has been “negotiating with council’s direction.”

She also said the city’s position is that all of the parties in the case need to agree to settle for the final deal to be struck.

“We think we’ve been able to come to a place where we are all going to get what we want, or close to it,” she said.

Aspen Journalism is covering water and rivers in collaboration with The Aspen Times. The Times published this story on Wednesday, May 9, 2018.

Wringing what’s left out of the booming South Platte river basin

Development along the I-25 corridor north of Denver is booming, according to water providers in the South Platte basin. A new proposed storage and re-use plan will help meet demands they say.

By Brent Gardner-Smith, Aspen Journalism

KEYSTONE – Representatives of various water providers in the South Platte River basin said Wednesday they intend to develop a new water-storage project that includes 175,000 acre-feet of storage at three locations on the South Platte River system.

The potential project would store 50,000 acre-feet of water in Henderson, just north of Denver, 100,000 acre-feet in Kersey, downstream of Greeley, and 25,000-acre-feet further downriver on the Morgan County line at the Balzac Gage, east of Snyder.

By comparison, Ruedi Reservoir above Basalt holds about 100,000 acre-feet of water and Dillon Reservoir in Summit County holds about 257,000 acre-feet.

“We think we have something that could help the Front Range and the South Platte, and the state as a whole,” said Jim Yahn, who represents the South Platte basin on the Colorado Water Conservation Board and is manager of the North Sterling Irrigation District.

The proposal, which does not include a new transmountain diversion, is coming from an informal and collaborative working group that included officials from Denver Water, Aurora Water, and Northern Water, along with officials from other water providers and users, such as Yahn.

The group called itself the South Platte Regional Opportunities Working Group, or SPROWG, which rhymes with frog.

Now a new regional water organization is expected to be formed to guide the proposal toward permitting and funding, said Lisa Darling, the executive director of the South Metro Water Supply Authority.

Darling was on the working group and she was presenting the project to the members of the Interbasin Compact Committee, or IBCC, in Keystone on May 2.

She said the various water providers in the South Platte realized that “not unifying was not an option” and that the group developed “a series of projects that could be linked together to benefit everybody as a whole.”

Darling also said, “We have to be able to maintain control of the supply, and not have it leave the state unnecessarily.”

The South Platte River rises in the mountains west of Denver, runs through the city north to Greeley, and then turns east toward the Nebraska line.

According to slides presented to the IBCC, the reasons to do the big project because it would “maximize use and effectiveness of available water on South Platte” and “minimize traditional agricultural ‘buy and dry.’”

“There is no choice,” Darling told the IBCC. “We have to work together to do this, and we really don’t have a choice.”

The project, which would provide 50,000 acre-feet of “firm yield,” is based on capturing water in the river at times when it is physically and legally available, such as in wet years, and then storing it for release as needed in a regional water re-use system.

New facilities would include off-channel reservoirs, reclaimed gravel pits, and underground storage facilities, at the three strategic locations along the river to give providers more flexibility. There might also be some storage at Julesburg, near the Nebraska state line.

A key component of the project is a long pipeline and pump system from the lower river back to the metro area north of Denver, in order to re-use the water released earlier from the upstream storage facilities. Each time the water went through the system, up to 40 percent could be re-used, Yahn said.

“It’s a big one,” said Yahn, of the project. “It doesn’t fulfill all the needs, especially on the other basins, but on the South Platte it could be a pretty big deal.”

He also said the storage and re-use project would be in addition to all the other planned water projects in the South Platte basin, as listed in the “basin implementation plan” developed by the Metro and South Platte basin roundtables.

“It’s not in place of anything,” Yahn said. “It’s not in place of NISP (Northern Integrated Supply Project). It’s not in place of Gross (Reservoir) enlargement. It’s not in place of any of those other things that all of our entities are trying to do on the South Platte to meet some of our water demand.”

The project also builds upon a recently completed study of available storage sites in the lower South Platte basin. That study found there was available water to store, and a “long list of possible storage sites,” as well as a wide range of types of facilities, and costs.

A map shown by representatives of the South Platte Regional Opportunities Working Group to the members of the Interbasin Compact Committee on May 2, 2017, Keystone. The map shows three large water-storage facilities and a re-use pipeline back to the north metro area.

Help ag, and cities?

Yahn said that storage on the river upstream of irrigators on the lower South Platte would allow farmers to sell their water to cities in a more flexible way. They could, for example, fallow a portion of their fields instead of selling the whole farm.

He also said that would spread the potentially negative economic impact of “buy and dry,” which can change the economies of agricultural communities, across a bigger area in the South Platte basin.

“You’re not hurting, economically, any one area,” Yahn said. “You’re spreading it out and farmers are getting a little bit of extra money for their water, using it a little differently, treating it as a commodity, getting some interest out of it. But really, to do that, you need storage.”

Yahn also told the IBCC, “Basically, we’re trying to give farmer’s options. But you’ve got to have a place to put the water.”

Sean Cronin, the executive director of the St. Vrain and Left Hand Water Conservancy District in Longmont, also served on the working group, which was formed after the 2015 Colorado Water Plan was completed.

“I want to emphasize how significant this analysis and this effort has been, because it’s really a fundamental shift in how the South Platte was thinking of things at that time,” Cronin told the IBCC members. “It was told ‘you need to get your house in order.’ And this is very much in that vein, of getting the South Platte’s house in order.”

He also said “there is a sense of urgency for this. If you’ve traveled on I-25 between, say, north of Thornton to Ft. Collins, there is an absolute crazy boom going on right now in that corridor.”

A new home, complete with lush lawn, not far from I-25 in Thornton. The northern metro area is booming and water providers are willing to use 'buy-and-dry' as a way to move water from the ag sector to the municipal sector.

Price tag?

The project proponents did not provide a cost estimate during their presentation on Wednesday.

“As for costs, the number is, gazillions,” Darling told the IBCC members. “It is a very, very large number.”

But not large enough that the working group thought state funding would be needed.

“That was never really talked about at SPROWG, as to where the funding was coming from, or whether there was going to be state funding,” Cronin said. “In fact, it was sort of a presumption that the individual water providers would find enough value in this on a cost per acre foot that they could collectively get there and pull off a project. But we didn’t get there. There was no cost-benefit analysis.”

He said water from the Colorado-Big Thompson project, which serves the northern Front Range, was now “going for $38,000 an acre-foot, and developers aren’t even batting an eye, because houses are now going for $400,000. So, it is on in the South Platte.”

He said the storage and re-use project might actually take pressure off of water supplies from the Western Slope.

“The urgency for what we’re trying to do I think helps, ultimately, the West Slope because these guys are going to be scrambling for buy-and-dry, and when that’s all done they’re going to be looking elsewhere,” he said.

The Moffat Tunnel and water pipe, at Winter Park, is an example of existing transmountain diversion that brings water to the South Platte River basin. While the South Platte working group's project does include new transmountain water, there are concerns it could lead to more such water being shipped under the Continental Divide.

Interbasin view

The Interbasin Compact Committee, or IBCC, operates under the auspices of the Colorado Water Conservation Board and is charged with sorting out potential conflicts between basins, especially those brought up by transmountain diversions under the Continental Divide.

It includes two representatives from each of the state’s nine basin roundtables, six governor’s appointees and two members of the state legislature.

The South Platte project does not include new sources of West Slope water, but concerns were still raised by West Slope interests on the IBCCC last week that the South Platte project could eventually draw more water through existing transmountain diversions.

Eric Kuhn, the former general manager of the Colorado River Water Conservation District who remains a governor’s appointee to the IBCC, suggested that the West Slope might want to see “some protections that these reservoirs don’t end up sitting there empty for a long time and that it doesn’t just drag additional transmountain water over the hill.”

T. Wright Dickinson, a rancher along the Green River, also serves as a governor’s appointee on the IBCC.

“I think the South Platte is clearly demonstrating what many around this table has asked, in the context of fully utilizing your own resources,” Dickinson said. “But I have a concern that the project could in fact pull water through existing projects – more water across the divide.”

Bruce Whitehead, the executive director of the Southwestern Water Conservation District in Durango, commented on the South Platte basin’s apparent stance that the project was happening regardless of what the West Slope thought.

“I’m a little concerned about ‘we’re moving forward, with or without you,’” Whitehead said. “I’m not sure that’s the way we’re going to get cooperation.”

He also suggested the West Slope might embrace the project if it also included “an acknowledgement there won’t be any more development of water from the West Slope.”

That drew a chuckle from some IBCC members, as Front Range water interests have said they do not intend to walk away from the Western Slope as a source of water.

There are two “water development concept workshops” set up for the public to learn more about the South Platte project, one on May 10 at 1:30 p.m. at Denver Water’s headquarters in Denver and one on May 15 at 3 p.m. at Northern Water’s headquarters in Berthoud.

Yahn said the two meeting locations does not mean the project is coming from Denver Water and Northern Water.

“Denver and Aurora were part of it, and Northern, but it wasn’t them,” Yahn said. “It was all of us just thinking outside the box together. And taking off our agency hats.”

Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism is collaborating on the coverage of rivers and waters with The Aspen Times. The Times published a shorter version of this story on Monday, May 7, 2018.

Water experts talk drier Colorado at new Colorado State forum

Brad Udall, a senior water and climate research scientist at CSU, telling a crowd of water mavens on April 27 in Denver that Colorado faces a drier future, which means more fires. Udall studies the Colorado River basin and says there's been a 20 percent decline in water in the system since 2000.

By Brent Gardner-Smith, Aspen Journalism

DENVER – Some heavy hitters were invited by Colorado State University to speak at the inaugural Water in the West Symposium in Denver last week, including U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, the prior secretary of agriculture; Tom Vilsack of Iowa; U.S. Sen. Michael Bennett; and Gov. John Hickenlooper.

But the two players likely to have the biggest long-term impact on water in the West — climate change and drought — were escorted to the event at the McNichols Civic Center Building in downtown Denver by Brad Udall, a senior water and climate research scientist at CSU who studies the Colorado River Basin.

Udall’s version of climate change came wearing a T-shirt Udall designed with five “climate basics” listed on it: “It’s warming; It’s us; Experts agree; It’s bad; We can fix it.”

“The outlook is for a much drier Colorado” Udall told an audience of about 400 people on Thursday, which means less water and more fires in the state.

And he noted, “climate change is water change.”

Brad Udall, a climate researcher at CSU, has boiled down his findings to fit on a t-shirt. He told an audience at the inaugural Water in the West Symposium to expect a drier Colorado due to rising temperatures caused by human-induced climate change.

‘Odd and unusual’

Colorado State is preparing to build a new water center in partnership with Denver Waver on the National Western Center campus that’s being developed on the site of the long-running stock show in Denver.

And the symposium was a way of illustrating how one aspect of the new water center will function by bringing people together to talk about water policy and science.

The current 18-year-drought in the Colorado River Basin now has a name: the “Millennium Drought,” and it’s got Udall spooked.

“Something very odd and unusual is going on here,” Udall told the symposium crowd.

He said the period from 2000 to 2017 “is the worst drought in the gauged record” of the Colorado River and that flows have declined an average of 20 percent a year since the turn of the century due to rising temperatures.

It’s also time, Udall said, to consider that “drought” is no longer an apt description for what Colorado is facing, which is really long-term “aridification.”

“‘Drought’ implies we’re going to get out of it,” Udall said.

A slide from Brad Udall's presentation on April 26, 2018 at the CSU Water in the West Symposium. The slide describes the 20 percent drop in Colorado River flows since 2000, a condition Udall expects to also be the case in 2050.
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, left, shakes hands with Tom Vilsac, the prior secretary of agriculture, on Friday in Denver during the Water in the West Symposium put on by CSU. Perdue, a Republican, and Vilsac, a Democrat, had a civil and well-informed exchange about water and ag in front of about 400 people.

Insidious issue

Perdue, who was governor of Georgia in 2007 during an extreme drought in that state, said Friday that he learned that drought brings out intense emotions in competing water users.

“Drought is probably one of the most insidious, stressful occasions that I can think of,” Perdue said, in large measures because “you have no idea when it is going to end.”

He acknowledged that water shortages in Georgia are rare compared to Colorado and the West.

“We found ourselves with some of the issues that I know you all are wrestling with, and that is the things that happen between municipalities, agriculture, recreationalists, endangered species, and all those things,” Perdue said.

Perdue, a Republican in President Donald Trump’s cabinet, was interviewed onstage by Vilsack, a Democrat who led the Department of Agriculture under President Barack Obama and is now working with CSU on food and water issues.

The exchange between the two was civil, given the current political climate, and it ended with the two of them reaching out to warmly shake hands and look each other in the eye.

Sen. Michael Bennett (D-Colorado) said Friday at the Water in the West Symposium in Denver that Coloradoans are going to have to trust each other when it comes to water, even if they disagree on things. Bennett also praised Colorado's 2015 state water plan, saying it is a testament to people coming together.

Fire budget

Perdue had also been praised earlier in the day by Sen. Bennett, a Democrat, for Perdue’s help in passing a bill to restore operational funds to the U.S. Forest Service that had been eaten up by the cost of fighting major fires in the West.

Bennett said he’d been working on the issue for nine years and considered both Perdue and Vilsack, for his earlier help on the issue, “heroes of Colorado.”

Bennett also praised the Colorado Water Plan published by the Colorado Water Conservation Board in 2015.

While acknowledging that the plan is “not perfect” and some people find it lacking in details, while others consider it too detailed, Bennett said the plan is a testament to how the state came together over water, “understanding that there is no way we can address this issue if we are at each other’s throats.”

Gov. Hickenlooper leaving the stage Thursday at the Water in the West Symposium in Denver. Hickenlooper, who said he is literally counting the days until his term ends, can count as his legacy the 2015 Colorado Water Plan.

Legacy plan

Gov. Hickenlooper, who signed the executive order in 2013 calling for a state water plan by 2015, spoke to the symposium Thursday, noting that with 259 days to go, he is now actually counting the days until his term of office ends.

He said the water plan, which weighs 4 pounds and took countless meetings over two years to produce, was referred to in the governor’s office during the process as “the colossal exercise.”

Regardless of what one thinks of the plan itself, the governor’s water-planning process did result in a working agreement between water interests on Colorado’s Front Range and Western Slope over a future potential new transmountain diversion under the Continental Divide.

Senior water mangers from both the Front Range and West Slope praised that agreement, or “conceptual framework,” as recently as April 18 at a regional water meeting in Grand Junction.

Given this year’s low snowpack, Hickenlooper also said Thursday the state was now “drawing up the paperwork” to activate the second stage of the state’s drought management plan.

Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism is covering rivers and water in collaboration with The Aspen Times, which published this story on Monday, April 30, 2018, and with the Glenwood Springs Post Independent, which published the story on Tuesday, May 1, 2018, the Vail Daily, which published the story on May 1, 2018, and the Summit Daily News, which published it on May 1, 2018.

Water leaders across Colorado stepping up efforts to educate public about resources

Members of the Colorado River basin roundtable raise their hands during a tour of the Windy Gap Reservoir in September. Water education, on both the Western Slope and the Front Range, often involves tours of water storage and transport facilities.

By Heather Sackett, Aspen Journalism

COLORADO RIVER BASIN – Developed by the Colorado Water Conservation Board and presented to the governor in November 2015, the state water plan recommended creating a data-based water education plan, creating a new outreach, education and public engagement grant fund, and improving the use of existing state education resources.

While many water professionals are beginning to understand the importance of education, one Colorado River Basin Roundtable member has long understood the importance of an education and communications strategy. At-large roundtable representative Diane Johnson is also the communications and public affairs manager for the Eagle River Water & Sanitation District.

In this position, she works in a variety of ways to engage the community, including through weekly spots on local radio station KZYR to talk about things like the preventive maintenance of drain cleaning, safe drug disposal (not flushing them down the toilet) and other issues the district faces. The district also staffs a water station at the farmers market, which Johnson said is a fantastic opportunity to talk with people about how the district brings safe drinking water to the masses.

“We all have much more ability to get our message out to people directly via social media or to your inbox,” Johnson said. “It’s great to have the e-news thing, but you’re not growing the engagement pie. So that’s the whole thing. You get that by having your voice in different places.”

A group of rafters in Fruita preparing for a river trip on the Colorado River this summer. Many water professionals in Colorado are working to educate people about water, and many people’s interest in the subject is formed on recreational river trips.

Communicating with the public

The Colorado River Basin Roundtable, which meets in Glenwood Springs, has not formally “gone pro” in terms of hiring a specialist. Johnson said she sees the benefits of the Colorado roundtable having a position focused on education, but there are currently no plans to hire anyone. The roundtable is working on launching and updating a website as a means to get information to the public about its message, goals, and projects.

“I certainly understand why you would want to have someone that [education] is their focus and will keep getting information out about all this work and conversations that are going on every month,” Johnson said. “So much information is competing for our attention, and we know people care about things they are connected to, so whatever we can do to get more people to care, it just creates an informed citizenry in the state.”

The nine basin roundtables were established in 2005 to facilitate discussions on water management and encourage local solutions. While there is information about each basin roundtable on the Colorado Water Conservation Board website, some roundtables have created their own website, including the Gunnison and Arkansas roundtables.

Two Front Range roundtables have created a position that will help implement their education action plan, their basin implementation plan, as well as Colorado’s Water Plan.

The South Platte and Metro roundtables, which meet in Longmont and Denver, respectively, joined forces this fall and hired Lacey Williams as their first-ever education coordinator. The two basin roundtables (the Metro Basin is located entirely within the South Platte Basin) first combined their resources in 2014-’15 to provide educational outreach activities, but this is the first time a position has been dedicated solely to education.

Williams, who has worked with the Rocky Mountain Water Environment Association and American Water Works, will provide information on water projects and studies and encourage community and stakeholder participation in discussion of issues and solutions.

“Most people don’t know where their water comes from, so they take it for granted,” Williams said. “They don’t necessarily always use it carefully or appreciate or value it. We’ve got to be cognizant of the future and planning appropriately to handle the supply gap that is coming.”

Williams will be paid $44,000, and her contract runs through 2018. A Water Supply Reserve Fund grant provided by the Colorado Water Conservation Board and administered through the Colorado Watershed Assembly funded the position.

Executive director of the Colorado Watershed Assembly, Casey Davenhill, said the sheer number of new people moving to the Front Range is a main reason the education coordinator position is needed.

“I think most of the roundtables have come to see that the task of engaging the public and keeping a robust volunteer group functioning at a high level requires some extra work,” Davenhill said. “New people coming into the community from outside Colorado may not understand about how [water] is used and how important it is and how they can be engaged in decisions that are made around water.”

Casey Funk, the senior water attorney at Denver Water, speaking in Grand Junction this summer about the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement, a copy of which he is holding in his arms, during a water education tour put on by Colorado Mesa University. The agreement took years to negotiate between Front Range and Western Slope interests and is one key to understanding how water is managed in Colorado.

Water Education Colorado

The statewide, nonprofit group Water Education Colorado is also prioritizing the importance of educating the public and has rebranded itself to help achieve that. Created by the state Legislature in 2002, the organization was previously called the Colorado Foundation for Water Education. In October, it rolled out the new name to match its new ambitions.

“Colorado Foundation for Water Education was very long, people can’t remember the acronym, and the word ‘foundation’ was tripping people up,” said Stephanie Scott, Water Education Colorado leadership programs manager. “We wanted to eliminate that confusion. Our new brand is moving toward being a new resource in Colorado.”

The organization has two main goals: developing skills and knowledge through its water leaders program and publishing a variety of news and information, including Headwaters magazine. The organization is looking to hire a content manager to organize all the published information from the last 15 years to make it searchable on the website, as well as a water reporter.

“I think the water industry as a whole is starting to value what outreach can do for them,” Scott said. “This burst of education in the state is long overdue and very much needed.”

Editor’s note:  Aspen Journalism is collaborating with the Vail Daily, the Summit Daily News, The Aspen Times, and the Glenwood Springs Post Independent on coverage of rivers and water. The Vail Daily published this story on Wednesday, Dec. 27, 2017, in both its print and online editions. The Summit Daily News published it online on Dec. 27. And The Aspen Times published it on Dec. 30.

Aspen working to use reclaimed water on its golf course

The turf on the city of Aspen's golf course requires 190-acre feet, or 62 million gallons, of water a year to irrigate, and the city would like to use treated water from the regional sanitation plant to meet some of that demand.

By Brent Gardner-Smith and Allen Best, Aspen Journalism

ASPEN – City of Aspen officials hope to begin using water reclaimed from treated effluent at the Aspen Consolidated Sanitation District to irrigate the city-owned golf course in 2018, but first the city and the district have to obtain a permit from the state.

The city wants to use as many as 1 million gallons a day of reclaimed, or reused, water from the sanitation district to irrigate the course, freeing up more water from Castle Creek to meet other needs of customers in the city water department’s service area.

“It does take some of the pressure off the system, giving us some flexibility in maybe using that water elsewhere,” said Margaret Medellin, utilities portfolio manager for the city of Aspen. But she also said, “This doesn’t eliminate the need for water storage.”

It takes 62 million gallons, or 190 acre-feet, of water a year from Castle Creek to irrigate the 109 acres of turf on the city’s golf course, according to Steve Aitken, the city’s director of golf.

Aspen filed for a water right from the state of Colorado for its reuse project in 2005. The conditional water right was granted in 2011.

The water right allows the city to pump 3 cubic feet per second of treated municipal effluent from the sanitation district’s treatment pond 2 miles up to a 19-acre-foot lined pond on the city’s golf course.

The water right allows for irrigation of 132 acres on the city’s golf course, 80 acres on the Maroon Creek Club’s golf course, 21 acres of open space at the Burlingame housing complex and 12 acres along Highway 82. It also allows use for snowmaking on 156 acres of terrain at the Buttermilk ski area.

But while the city has the water right in hand, and has constructed most of the pipeline to the golf course, it lacks a required permit from Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE).

Medellin is confident the city will obtain the permit, as is a consultant for the city on the project, John P. Rehring, an engineer at Carollo Engineers, a large firm specializing in water projects.

“The engineering for this system is relatively simple, and I think there is still time to implement and begin reuse in 2018,” Medellin said. “The pieces that are more complex are the regulatory requirements and arrangements between the city of Aspen and the Aspen Consolidated Sanitation District to operate the system. The CDPHE has remained hopeful that we can complete regulatory requirements in 2018.”

Bruce Matherly, the manager of the Aspen Consolidated Sanitation District, along with the city’s Aitken, filed a letter of intent to use reclaimed water and a user plan to comply with CDPHE in March 2016 for Aspen’s reuse system.

Matherly and Aitken told the state that the city and the sanitation district “would like to investigate the possibility of using reclaimed wastewater produced by [the district] to irrigate the landscape associated with the [city’s] municipal golf course.”

They also told the state “the small amount of nutrients in the reclaimed water would benefit the turf grass at the golf course” and “the reclaimed water supplied would offset the water that would otherwise be taken from side streams from the Roaring Fork River.”

Today, the city irrigates its golf course with water diverted from Castle Creek via the Holden and Marolt irrigation ditches.

The city of Aspen is still working on plans to pump water from this pond at the Aspen Consolidated Sanitation District treatment plant up to its golf course to use for irrigation. The water treatment plant is located on the banks of the Roaring Fork River below the Aspen Business Center.

State concerns

Officials at CDPHE raised some areas of concern in response to the application from the city and the district and asked for additional information.

Maureen Egan, an environmental protection specialist at CDPHE, asked Matherly to clarify how state water-quality standards would be met and measured at the golf course pond.

“It would be important for you to provide information demonstrating your ability to meet the E.coli limit,” Egan, wrote in an email to Matherly in April 2016.

Egan also asked, in another email, “is the impoundment at the golf course a water hazard or are there other instances where golfers or other members of the public may have contact with water in the impoundment?”

“The golf course pond is a water hazard as well as a private fishery,” Matherly told Egan, noting the city would like to retain both uses.

Egan also told Matherly that reuse might pose a challenge to the status of the golf course as a “certified Audubon sanctuary.”

“Reclaimed water, depending on nutrient content, may contribute to growth of blue green algae, which may in some instances produce toxins,” Egan wrote. “It is really difficult to predict what, if any, impact this could have on the bird population.”

In August 2016, the city and the district pulled their application.

“Still working on details of proposed reuse plan,” Matherly wrote in a notice of withdrawal of permit application filed with the state.

The city of Aspen is hoping to store treated water in a pond on its municipal golf course that has been pumped up from the Aspen Consolidated Sanitation District, but has yet to secure a necessary state permit. There are a number of ponds on the golf course, and the biggest would be used to store reused water.

Next steps

In December 2016, the city signed an $8,000 contract with Carollo so that engineers there could study Aspen’s reuse project and prepare a new application to the state. The city is working on details for an additional contract with Carollo along with CH2M, an engineering firm.

In May 2017, consultants with Carollo and city staff met with CDPHE officials “to discuss the next steps for securing a permit for applying reuse water on the golf course.”

A new application is being developed, Medellin reported. Asked if there is doubt as to whether the sanitation district’s level of treatment for E. coli is sufficient to meet state standards, she did not respond. However, she did suggest that regulatory requirements of reuse are challenging.

“Rightly so, the regulatory agencies are being thorough and robust in their reviews,” she wrote. “Additionally, as experience with reuse grows, many of the regulations and interpretations of regulations are changing.”

Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism is collaborating on coverage of rivers and water with The Aspen Times, the Glenwood Springs Post Independent, the Vail Daily, and the Summit Daily News. The Times published this story on Tuesday, Dec. 26, 2017.