Lower Arkansas Water Conservancy District board meeting recap

Fountain Creek erosion via The Pueblo Chieftain

From The La Junta Tribune-Democrat (Bette McFarren):

Mark Shea of Colorado Springs Public Works Department was early to the meeting with the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District with the good news that Colorado Springs voters have approved funding of the Fountain Creek Flood Mitigation Project by approving Ballot Issue 2A. The project has not been funded for several years, but some of the projects have been funded through the general fund, explained Engineer Richard Mulledy. The project is now the subject of litigation between Colorado Springs and the LAVWCD, so Attorney Bart Mendenhall urged both sides not to get into the territory of the lawsuit in progress.

Mulledy has been at the helm of the storm water project for two and a half years. Anthony Nunez, Director from Pueblo, asked Mulledy if the current 2A funding replaced the Enterprise Zone, which was originally designed to fund the project but voted out by the people of Colorado Springs. Mulledy said yes. The 2A mandate is intended only for capital projects associated with Fountain Creek Flood Mitigation, drainage maintenance over the 395 square miles of the Colorado Springs area, and the water quality program associated with it. Fees for litigation are not included…

Winner brought up sedimentation as the major cause of the North La Junta flooding problem. “Thirteen feet of sediment under the North La Junta Bridge,” said Winner. “More like 15 feet,” said Bud Quick, whose volunteer earth-moving has protected North La Junta several times. Earlier Quick had declared the problem of flooding in North La Junta will never be solved until the river is dredged and sediment controlled in the Arkansas River.
At the end of the meeting, Rose Ward thanked the LAVWCD for its help in flood mitigation for North La Junta, and at the present time for helping them establish a special district that will enable North La Junta Conservancy District to help itself.

Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill Superfund site cleanup update

Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill superfund site via The Denver Post

From The Canoñ City Daily Record (Sara Knuth):

The Denver-based Colorado Legacy Land, which has been in negotiations with Cotter since July, received a conditional approval from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment on Nov. 8 to take over the defunct uranium mill’s radioactive materials license.

But the company still has a few more obstacles to cross before the deal is final.

During a Community Advisory Group meeting Thursday, Paul Newman of Colorado Legacy Land said the company is waiting for approvals from the state.

Colorado Legacy Land, which is part of environmental cleanup companies Legacy Land Stewardship and Alexco, also is seeking to take over Cotter’s

Schwartzwalder Mine via Division of Reclamation and MIning
Mine near Golden. The project, included in the same transaction as the Cañon City site, still needs a mine permit transfer from the Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety.

“The DRMS is taking a bit more time in their evaluation and approval of that transfer,” Newman said. “Hopefully, we can get that resolved and that one transferred here shortly.”

The company also met with the Colorado Attorney General’s Office and Environmental Protection Agency attorneys to get assigned an administrative order on consent. That process also is still pending.

But if all goes according to plan, Newman said, Colorado Legacy Land hopes to close the deal by the middle of December. From there, the company would “come in where Cotter left off,” Newman said. “So, we have the whole clean-up process in front of us.”

The first major step toward cleanup, he said, would be working through a remedial investigation, a deep look into how far the contamination goes.

Cotter, which opened the Cañon City site in 1958 to process uranium for weapons and fuel, was found in the 1980s to have contaminated nearby wells. It was placed on the U.S. list of Superfund sites, putting Cotter in charge of cleanup efforts. In 2011, Cotter decided to put a halt to uranium production altogether.

Newman, the executive vice president of Legacy Land Stewardship, said Cotter approached Alexco — a company that has been working on the Schwartzwalder Mine for four years — to step in. Colorado Legacy Land was formed by Alexco and Legacy Land Stewardship specifically to take over the cleanup process.

If the state approves the final requirements, the company will own the land. Additionally, Newman said, Colorado Legacy Land is planning to open offices in Cañon City.

As part of requirements outlined in the CDPHE’s conditional license approval, Colorado Legacy Land will need to inform the department of the closing date in writing.

#ColoradoSprings in a scramble to get finance systems in place to collect #stormwater fees

Channel erosion Colorado Springs July 2012 via The Pueblo Chieftain

From The Colorado Springs Independent (Pam Zubeck):

…the Colorado Springs Utilities Board, composed of City Council, must approve placing the monthly $5-per-household fee on residential utility bills, for which the city would pay the agency a one-time fee of $1.8 million and $200,000 a year, the Gazette reported.

Approval of Utilities handling collections is expected, and Strand says it appears that customers who don’t pay the stormwater fee would risk losing all utility services.

“We’re discussing this with Utilities [staff],” Strand says. “If someone doesn’t pay their bill, what’s likely to happen is their utilities will be turned off.”

Fees of $30 per acre for non-residential developed parcels will be billed by the city, which must set up the mechanics to do that. Undeveloped properties will be assessed by the stormwater manager based on impervious surface. (Suthers has said the city will pay an annual bill of about $100,000 for its property, including park land.) Those, too, will be billed by the city.

Strand says the consequence for nonpayment of non-residential billings is “likely” a lien placed on the property, which would require cooperation from El Paso County, the keeper of deed records. “The county commissioners I’ve talked to say they will cooperate,” he says.

In 2011, when the city wanted to collect $765,000 still owed for stormwater fees implemented in 2007 but halted in 2009, county officials refused to add the fees to property tax bills or deeds. Those fees, however, were not approved by voters.

Another complication is which properties, if any, will be deemed exempt from the stormwater fee. The measure approved on Nov. 7 entitles the city to bill nonprofits and churches, but what about federal agencies, such as post offices?

Federal agencies didn’t pay the city’s stormwater fees imposed in 2007, citing sovereign immunity and claiming the fees were a tax and, thus, unconstitutional. But, thanks to a bill signed into law by President Obama on Jan. 4, 2011, which amended the Clean Water Act, the federal government will pay its fair share of local stormwater management services, according to the Association of State Floodplain Managers.

Whether that bill applies to military installations is unclear. However, the association wrote in a newsletter that the law was envisioned as a way to resolve billing disputes with various federal agencies, including in Aurora where the city had billed Buckley Air Force Base $143,445 in outstanding stormwater fees as of May 2010.

Although Strand initially said he thought Peterson Air Force Base, which overlaps into the city limits, could be exempted, when told of the 2011 amendment to the Clean Water Act, he was eager to learn more about it.

“They use our resources, and we respond to help them with fire protection, although they have their own fire service,” he says. “I think they ought to be accountable under this current situation [ballot measure] we passed on Tuesday [Nov. 7].”

“This is a fine example of the new relationship between Pueblo and Colorado Springs” — Terry Hart

The Fountain Creek Watershed is located along the central front range of Colorado. It is a 927-square mile watershed that drains south into the Arkansas River at Pueblo. The watershed is bordered by the Palmer Divide to the north, Pikes Peak to the west, and a minor divide 20 miles east of Colorado Springs. Map via the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Anthony A. Mestas):

Pueblo County officials said Wednesday that they are excited about Colorado Springs voters approving a ballot measure securing $17 million in annual stormwater fees to be used exclusively for stormwater drainage and flood control projects.

“This is a fine example of the new relationship between Pueblo and Colorado Springs. I think it’s wonderful to have two communities rolling up their sleeves to tackle problems the two communities share,” Pueblo County Commissioner Terry Hart said.

The money coming from the new ballot measure will be used to fund projects, including the list of 71 projects identified in the intergovernmental agreement between Pueblo County and Colorado Springs regarding the permit for the Southern Delivery System. SDS is the large pipeline that transfers water from the Pueblo Dam to Colorado Springs…

The IGA commits the Front Range city and its utilities department to pay $460 million for storm water infrastructure, maintenance and education programs over the next two decades.

“As evidenced by the incredible progress that has been made in our stormwater program over the past two years, the city of Colorado Springs is committed to operating an outstanding stormwater program,” said Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers.

“Our commitment, and the commitment of our citizens, is evident in passage of Ballot 2A to provide a dedicated funding source for stormwater infrastructure, operations and maintenance.”

Suthers said this commitment will continue as the city of Colorado Springs and Colorado Springs Utilities invest $460 million over the next two decades to stormwater operations that will improve the city’s ability to mitigate flooding and preserve water quality while meeting the requirements of its MS4 Permit.

#Stormwater fee passes in #ColoradoSprings

Heavy rains inundate Sand Creek. Photo via the City of Colorado Springs and the Colorado Springs Independent.

From KKTV (Jessica Leicht):

Colorado Springs voters passed Ballot Issue 2A, a dedicated stormwater fee. The city says it will generate $17 to $20 million annually for stormwater infrastructure and maintenance.

The fee stems from a lawsuit filed by the EPA, State of Colorado and Pueblo County against the City of Colorado Springs. It alleged the city failed to “adequately fund its stormwater management program,” causing problems for cities to the south. In an agreement with Pueblo, the City of Colorado Springs committed to providing at least $17 million in funding every year for stormwater infrastructure improvements to prevent issues downstream.

Mayor John Suthers says the money the city was using under that agreement, came out of the city’s general fund. Now, he says the general fund money can be reallocated to hire more police officers and firefighters.

“What this means is we’ll be able to take this dedicated revenue stream, deal with our legal problems surrounding stormwater and we’re also going to be able to deal with our public safety staffing issues,” Mayor Suthers said.

The approved measure means a monthly fee, of $5.00 per residential property, and $30.00 per acre for non-residential properties. The fee will show up on utility bills starting in July 2018.

The city says, properties bigger than five acres with significant areas of previous surface will be assessed by the Water Resources Engineering department.

A look back at #Kansas v. #Colorado and river compacts

Arkansas River Basin via The Encyclopedia of Earth

From the High Plains Midwest Ag Journal (Kylene Scott):

Kansas v. Colorado began in 1902 with the issue of whether Colorado was taking too much Arkansas River water from Kansas. Claims were made that the land surrounding the river banks was less valuable because of reduced flow. The issue was again revisited in 1907 where the Supreme Court dismissed Kansas’ petition. After examination of transcripts from the litigation, the court found Kansas was justified in its claims. It has continued to be brought to the Supreme Court with official designations in 1943, 1985, 1995, 2001 and 2009.

“In fact, this was the largest U.S. Supreme Court case that had ever come before the justices up to this time,” Sherow said during his presentation at the 3i Show in Dodge City, Kansas, Oct. 13.

To delve into the case, one must understand a little bit about economics and the American market system at the time.

“The American economic system is more than just economics. It’s also culture. It embodies values,” Sherow said.

There are three components to the market culture. The first, any natural resource is looked at for its economic potential.

“When you see a tree you see lumber. When you see water you see cubic feet per second that can be used in economic production. When you see a mountainside you see mining and the ores that are in it,” Sherow said.

The second part is human beings have a natural right to use their own labor to create value out of those commodities.

The third component is the government has the right and the obligation to protect individual natural rights to use those commodities for their own economic gain.

“These were things that were very important in terms of making sense out of this lawsuit,” Sherow said.

Even though the case originated with central Kansans wanting water in the Arkansas River, blame was placed on farmers irrigating in western Kansas. Sherow said early pump systems in the western part of the state were based on windmills with small ponds feeding flood irrigation systems.

“Sugar beets made irrigation in western Kansas profitable,” he said. “Irrigation was an iffy proposition in Kansas, but with this it became a very important economic source in the state.”

At the time of the litigation, Colorado and Kansas had different ways of thinking about water, according to Sherow. Colorado had prior appropriation built into their state constitution. It recognized three beneficial uses the state would protect—domestic, agricultural and industrial uses.

“With the prior appropriations system, which stresses first in time first in right,” Sherow said, “the first person to use the water establishes the right to it and we’ll have that right in perpetuity.”

The next person has the right to the water they put in economic use. The later the date on the prior appropriation right, the less likely the later person will get the water use.

“The earlier the date, the more likely to get water as the rivers flow,” Sherow said.

By 1900 between Pueblo, Colorado, and the Kansas/Colorado state line there were nearly 100 irrigation systems in place. These systems provided for more than 7,000 farms and 300,000 acres in the Arkansas River Valley of Colorado as well as domestic uses in Pueblo and Colorado Springs. The Colorado Fuel and Iron Company also used water off the Arkansas River.

“So the economic use of water in those three beneficial uses was extensive, well developed by 1900,” Sherow said.

Around Garden City, Kansas, there was approximately 30,000 acres in irrigation by the time the suit came in to play. What is now the Bureau of Reclamation also got involved with one of the first pump irrigation projects in the area.

Marshall Murdock was the editor of the Wichita Eagle in the early 1900s. He was a powerful individual and concerned for his city since they had to rely solely upon railroads for transportation of goods in and out of the city.

“Everybody was held captive to what railroad rates were,” Sherow said. “If you’re a farmer shipping out wheat or if you’re a retailer bringing in goods on the railroad, those railroad rates determine what your bottom-line is going to be.”

Murdock felt held hostage by the railroad companies and wanted another source of transportation in and out of Wichita. He wanted it to be river transportation.

“Think about that,” Sherow said. “Bringing river transportation and steamboats up the Arkansas River to Wichita.”

Sherow said Murdock was no fool but he knew the river needed more depth and more flowing water. During his time as editor he noticed the flow seemed to lessen each year. The riverbanks were compressing, which concerned him. He convinced the Army Corps of Engineers to bring a snag boat to Wichita in the Arkansas River in 1880.

“It got to Wichita, believe it or not, and when the snag boat was turned around to go back down the river it got stuck on sand bars almost immediately. People jumped off the boat and landed in 2.5 inches of running water in the Arkansas River,” Sherow said. “It was about the last time the Army Corps of Engineers really considered making Wichita an inland port.”

Undeterred, Murdock still wanted to get more water down the Arkansas River. He pointed fingers at “those greedy farmers out around Garden City causing all our water problems here at Wichita,” Sherow said.

“Now think about how you feel about that if you’re a farmer relying on the Arkansas River at Garden City and all at once one of the most powerful newspaper editors in Kansas is saying you’re the root of all my problems,” he said. “Well they didn’t take that very well.”

Murdock did some research and learned about the other irrigation companies in Colorado and later shifted his blame.

“Everybody knew something was going to have to break here because the United States government prior to the creation of the reclamation service was very interested in including the federal resources to increase irrigation,” Sherow said.

Eventually the case came to a head and in May 1907 the suit was settled.

“So out of this comes the notion we’ve got to put states together to come up with a way to divide water among themselves,” Sherow said. “This created interstate water compacts.”

The interstate water compacts helped avoid litigation like the Kansas v. Colorado case and became very important to water in the west.

“It is prime to everything else has followed since that time,” Sherow said. “So western Kansas and eastern Colorado have created the modern litigating system that we have today and it came out of this suit. I can’t over emphasize how important this suit was.”

@COParksWildlife: Grunt work of biologists includes assessing habitat, documenting what is there, and what is not, to guide wildlife management into the future

A team of Colorado Parks and Wildlife and U.S. Forest Service biologists, staff and volunteers fanned out along rugged Newlin Creek and four tributaries on Oct. 25, 2017, to search of cutthroat trout rescued from the South Prong of Hayden Creek during a 2016 wildlife. Photo credit Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

Here’s the release from Colorado Parks and Wildlife:

Conservation work often involves grueling slogs through dense forests

WETMORE, Colo. – On a recent cold October morning, a team of 20 aquatic biologists, other staff and volunteers from Colorado Parks and Wildlife and the U.S. Forest Service fanned out across five drainages in the rugged foothills of the Wet Mountains.

They split into six teams and bushwhacked up and down six miles, give or take, of the remote upper reaches of Newlin Creek and its four tributaries, following the creek beds as they snaked along treacherous cliffs, through jumbles of huge boulders and under fallen trees between Locke and Stull mountains.

The teams hiked for hours as the sun turned the day into short-sleeve weather, taxing some of the crew clad in rubber wading outfits and lugging 30-pound Electrofisher units on their backs.

The Electrofishers were needed to test the waters of each tributary for the presence of fish, especially any of the genetically unique cutthroat trout that had been rescued from the massive 2016 Hayden Creek wildfire.

At the time, CPW biologists ducked behind fire lines and rescued 194 of these fish from the South Prong of Hayden Creek. Of the total, 158 were taken to a CPW hatchery near Gunnison and placed in isolation. The other 36 were released in Newlin Creek in hopes they would reproduce naturally.

Hundreds more of these genetically unique fish were left behind in Hayden Creek with hopes they would survive. But monsoon rains later inundated the stream with debris, ash and sediment, leaving little hope the remaining cutthroats survived.

That knowledge gave special importance to the Newlin fish survey. Anywhere that trickles of water pooled enough to offer fish habitat, the CPW/USFS teams stopped and utilized the electrofishing units in hopes of catching a few of the 36 fish that were released.

They repeated the process dozens of times as they thrashed through the brush, scrambled over rocks, under felled trees and past caves and piles of bones from predator kills. At the end of a 10-hour marathon fish survey, the results were less than what they had hoped for: biologists were unsuccessful in locating any of the introduced fish.

But Josh Nehring, senior aquatic biologist for CPW’s Southeast Region, said the day was far from a wasted effort. In fact, it was a pretty typical day in the life of CPW biologists who are on the front lines of the agency’s efforts to perpetuate the wildlife of Colorado.

“We came to see if we can find any of the Hayden cutthroat,” Nehring said. “We wanted to see how they were doing. And we wanted to assess Newlin Creek for potentially re-introducing more of those fish here in the future.”

As with greenback cutthroat trout found in Bear Creek in Colorado Springs, CPW’s goal is to reintroduce native fish their historic landscape. And if Hayden Creek is unable to support fish in coming years as it recovers from the wildfire, CPW biologists need to find other creeks where they might thrive.

“Newlin Creek is a fairly small stream that we’ve had cutthroat in for a number of years,” Nehring said. “We presumed the upper portions of Newlin were fishless, but we needed to know definitively and assess the quality of the habitat. That’s why today’s fish survey was important. Now we know exactly what we’ve got in Newlin, if we decide we want to put more fish in it someday.”

Similar surveys on creeks, lakes and rivers go on year-round by CPW biologists and interns as they take study the state’s fish, assess the health of the various populations and decide whether to stock the waters. It’s the rarely seen conservation grunt work that pays off in gold-medal streams and lakes and attracts anglers from around the world to Colorado.

And it doesn’t matter if a grueling day of slogging through dense forests doesn’t result in big numbers of fish. Assessing the habitat and documenting what is there, and what is not, will help guide wildlife management and conservation into the future.

“Our mission is to perpetuate the wildlife of the state and conserve the native populations,” Nehring said. “That’s what days like today are about. These native fish were here before man was. If man hadn’t introduced rainbow trout, brown trout or brook trout – all these non-native fish – and altered their habitat, all these streams would be full of cutthroat.

“Unfortunately, they all out-compete the native cutthroat and some of them can mate with them diluting the uniqueness of these fish. I think it’s our duty to protect the cutthroat and make sure they are around for future generations.”

In coming months, Nehring and his team will assess other streams – hiking miles in the heat and cold – to search for new homes for the Hayden Creek cutthroat so they can get out of the hatchery and back in the wild where they belong.

Watch the fish survey work:


Cutthroat trout historic range via Western Trout