“How to protect your water rights without an attorney” — the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District

Straight line diagram of the Lower Arkansas Valley ditches via Headwaters

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

The Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District held a workshop on Wednesday night at their Rocky Ford office entitled, “How to protect your water rights without an attorney.” Even though snow was about to start, 15 farmers attended.

“Some people think their ditch company will protect their water rights,” said district Manager Jay Winner, “but that’s not the case. When the water courts were established, they put in a provision for the owners of water rights to stay informed by filing a statement of opposition. It costs only $200, and gives the farmer a seat at the table. He can tell what’s going on with everybody’s information. There weren’t as many water attorneys in those days.

“A farmer knows his water better than the engineers,” continued Winner.

Another presentation of this information will take place as part of the conference with the Ditch and Reservoir Companies Alliance in Lamar at the Colorado Parks and Wildlife building, 2500 So. Main St., on Nov. 7. The meeting will begin at 8 a.m. and will go all day, but this presentation will be at 9:40 a.m. The meeting ends at 2 p.m. with a tour of John Martin Reservoir.

Arkansas Valley Conduit update

From High Plains Public Radio (Abigail Beckman):

Chris Woodka is with the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District. He said part of the reason we’re seeing more water systems violate water standards is that federal and state standards have changed. They are now accounting for even more minute quantities of contaminants.

He said water from wells can be especially affected because, “shallow wells in the alluvial aquifer are high in organic contaminants, nitrate and selenium.”

“Deeper wells often have elevated levels of radioactive materials,” he said. “And nearly all of the communities east of Pueblo take water from wells.”

Some communities have responded by using water filters. Las Animas and La Junta have both installed large reverse osmosis membrane systems to remove contaminants from the water supply. Woodka said that has improved the taste and appearance.

But, he said, even after filtration, radium and uranium can still remain in the water at low levels.

And then there’s the cost.

“Those communities still face tremendous expense in disposing of the waste from the treatment processes,” Woodka said, “which can only be reduced by adding more clean water.” And extra water, let alone clean water, is hard to come by in a drought-prone state like Colorado. But there is one possible solution that’s been in the works for decades.

It’s called the Arkansas Valley Conduit.

Arkansas Valley Conduit Comanche North route via Reclamation

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation describes the conduit as a “bulk water supply pipeline designed to meet existing and future municipal and industrial water demands in the Lower Arkansas River Basin.”

It would include about 230 miles of buried pipeline, a water treatment facility, and water storage tanks. Water would be routed to six counties – Pueblo, Otero, Crowley, Bent, Kiowa and Prowers – and would serve an estimated 50,000 people.

The project was first approved in 1962. Some work was completed in the early 1980’s, but the actual conduit has yet to come to completion. Woodka said that’s mainly because of cost.

“[These] communities could never afford to build [the conduit] themselves.” Woodka explained.

Congress passed a law in 2009 that reduced the amount of money local governments would have to pitch in for the project. Woodka said that finally made the construction of the conduit feasible.

But it’s still a $500 million project.

“The main problem that we’ve run into,” said Woodka, ”has been getting adequate federal appropriations to start building it. He said they are working on ways to lower the overall costs of the project.”

Woodka said lawmakers at the state and national level have been “extremely active” in promoting this project on both sides of the political spectrum…

[Republican State Senator Larry Crowder] said the key now is for residents to get involved.

“We’re getting the cities involved, we’re getting the people in the cities involved to send letters to Senator Gardner, Senator Bennet and Congressmen Buck and Tipton,” he said, “to make sure that they are aware of how the people feel about it.”

New judge for Fountain Creek degradation case — The Pueblo Chieftain

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 (Robert Boczkiewicz):

A different judge is presiding over the 2½-year-old environmental lawsuit against Colorado Springs for degrading Fountain Creek.

Senior Judge John L. Kane Jr. of the U.S. District Court for Colorado has replaced Senior Judge Richard P. Matsch, who died in May.

“This is a very, very important case,” Kane said last week when he held his first proceeding, a status conference, on the case. He has been on the bench for 41 years.

“Taking over a case (from another judge) is not very pleasant” because a lot of catching up is required, he told the attorneys. Thousands of pages of documents have been filed for the litigation.

The federal and state environmental protection agencies filed the lawsuit in 2016, and were joined by the Pueblo County commissioners and the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District…

After a trial last year, Matsch decided Colorado Springs had violated its permit which regulates discharges of the city’s storm water sewer system into the creek.

The next step would be another trial for Kane to determine what Colorado Springs must do to remedy the violations.

However, The Pueblo Chieftain reported July 30 that all sides notified the judge that they have been meeting “regularly and intensively” all year to try to agree on terms to settle the dispute, instead of going to trial again.

At their request, Kane put the case on hold until Nov. 22 to give them more time for that purpose.

At last week’s court conference, a federal attorney told the judge that the violations “are ongoing.”

Twenty-four water systems across the Arkansas Valley are in violation of the Clean Water Act — The La Junta Tribune-Democrat

Arkansas Valley Conduit Comanche North route via Reclamation

From The La Junta Tribune-Democrat (Christian Burney):

Twenty-four water systems across the Arkansas Valley are in violation of the Clean Water Act due to the levels of radioactive contaminants – some of them naturally occurring – in the water, according to data from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

The systems deemed to be in open health-based violation are located in or near La Junta, Cheraw, Rocky Ford, Manzanola, Swink and Wiley, and the water produced by those facilities is high in radioactive elements, radium and uranium and, in fewer instances, gross alpha radiation.

Colorado Sen. Larry Crowder (R-Dist.35) told the La Junta Tribune-Democrat that other municipalities – such as Fowler, Ordway, Sugar City, Las Animas, Eads and Hasty – could also be affected.

While those towns were not identified by the CDPHE to be in open violation of clean water standards, various contaminants such as selenium were measured by some of their water systems, he said.

The fact that radioactive contaminants exist in some water systems is not itself a new development. As Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservation District Manager Jay Winner put it, communities in the region have been dealing with them for years…

But the CDPHE’s findings reveal that radium levels in some Arkansas Valley water systems is up to 63 times higher than levels at the Pueblo Reservoir, and the amount of uranium is up to 12 times higher, Crowder said.

What does that mean if you’re born and raised here and have been drinking the contaminated water your entire life?

Maybe nothing, but the potential does exist for health problems if the impurities in drinking water regularly exceed the maximum contaminant level (MCL) recommended by the EPA and if there is long-term exposure.

For instance, the EPA says prolonged exposure to levels of nitrate (measured as nitrogen) – which is in fertilizer and which makes its way into groundwater and aquifers via runoff – exceeding the MCL could result in serious illness and, potentially, death in infants below 6 months of age.

Long-term exposure to selenium that exceeds the MCL could result in hair or fingernail loss, numbness in fingers or toes and other circulatory problems.

Several water systems tested positive for radium 226 and 228 (combined), which the EPA says could result in an increased risk of cancer, if the exposure is prolonged and above the recommended MCL. Radium appears in groundwater through the erosion of natural deposits…

Crowder requested the water quality tests in preparation for another push to get federal funding for the long overdue Arkansas Valley Conduit, which would deliver water from the Pueblo Reservoir up to about 130 miles downstream, bypassing the sources of contamination and providing cleaner water to communities in the Arkansas Valley.

Fountain Creek lawsuit negotiations update

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 (Robert Boczkiewicz):

Negotiations are underway between Pueblo County, a water conservancy district and environmental protection agencies on one side, and Colorado Springs on the other side, to resolve disputes of many years regarding that city’s defiling of Fountain Creek.

The Pueblo Chieftain has obtained court documents stating that the parties in a two-year-old lawsuit are trying to reach an agreement to settle it, instead of pursuing it further in the U.S. District Court for Colorado.

Both sides have met three times in recent weeks “to discuss potential resolution of the (lawsuit) without further litigation,” states a court document filed last week at the court in Denver. It was filed by Pueblo County commissioners, the Lower Arkansas Water Conservancy District, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the state Department of Public Health and Environment.

Those four entities sued Colorado Springs in 2016, claiming the city violated clean water laws by discharging excessive stormwater and pollutants into the creek, which flows through Pueblo County into the Arkansas River at Pueblo.

After a trial, the judge overseeing the case decided on Nov. 9 in favor of the four entities that sued. Senior Judge Richard P. Matsch ruled Colorado Springs violated its permit that regulates stormwater discharges into Fountain Creek.

The four entities in the court fight with Colorado Springs state in the new court document that the discussions so far “were productive.” They and the city asked the judge to put litigation on hold for three months, to see if they can agree how to remedy the city’s violations.

Matsch on Thursday granted the request.

The board of the Fort Lyons Canal Company approves water sale to #ColoradoSprings

Straight line diagram of the Lower Arkansas Valley ditches via Headwaters

From The Bent County Democrat (Bette McFarren and Jolene Hamilton):

An agreement between a member of the Lower Arkansas Water Management Association and the City of Colorado Springs will allow water originally allocated for agricultural use in the Lower Ark to be used for municipal purposes.

The pact, which was approved by the board of the Fort Lyon Canal Company, was announced Thursday.

“Colorado Springs Utilities purchased 2,500 LAWMA shares for $8.75 million and also will reimburse LAWMA $1.75 million for 500 acre-feet of water storage,” said a LAWMA press release announcing the arrangement. “This storage will give LAWMA added flexibility to manage its water rights both in times of drought and excess.”

“We are appreciative of the Fort Lyon Canal Company board’s approval of this use of the water,” said Don Higbee, LAWMA general manager, in the release. “The agreement with Colorado Springs will benefit many farmers in the Lower Arkansas River Valley. We will gain a more reliable water supply that will increase crop yields for the average shareholder in both wet and dry years.”

The release went on to say, “Colorado Springs Utilities acquired about 2,000-acre-feet of water from a LAMWA member, Arkansas River Farms in July. The agreement allows LAMWA members and Colorado Springs Utilities to take water deliveries alternately 5 out of 10 years.”

Dale Mauch, FLCC board president, told The La Junta Tribune-Democrat that Colorado Springs will get to choose the years it wants the water delivered.

“They’ll wait for the wet years, because they’ll get more water,” said Mauch. “They have water in storage in Pueblo.”

Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District – whose stated mission is “To acquire, retain and conserve water resources within the Lower Arkansas River” – expressed his displeasure with the agreement.

“They will take 71 percent of the water,” he told the La Junta Tribune-Democrat. “That water will never come back to the land. It’s a buy-and-dry.”

Mauch, who is also the FLCC representative to the Super Ditch, said in a telephone interview, “Fort Lyon had nothing to do with LAWMA selling some storage. No damage to Fort Lyon. Not a lot of damage as long as nobody below or in Fort Lyon gets hurt. We don’t have a problem with it. What would hurt is being shorted water.

“It’s set up so everybody gets the same as always. LAWMA’s water stays in, but instead of irrigating land with the water, they dump it back. That percentage gets held up for Colorado Springs – the consumptive use of that amount – that’s what a crop would use. That percent has to stay in the river to keep people from being injured.

“The water must stay in the canal. Their water on those shares will run back to the river. Colorado Springs pays LAWMA so much for water, five out of ten years.”

Five out of ten years is too much, argues Winner, who added that Bent County could be the real loser in the deal. No revenue is headed its way, and county residents could suffer from the loss of commerce.

Winner is also concerned that Colorado Springs won’t stop here.

“If you look at Colorado Springs, their water right portfolio isn’t very good,” he said. “Eighty percent of it is West Slope water. What we have heard is that they will be 23,000 acre-feet short by the year 2030. That’s about 22,000 shares of the Fort Lyon Canal. I think with the project (LAWMA is) doing right now, they’re just dipping their toe in the water, and they plan to take all that water from the Fort Lyon canal.”

While Winner admits it is legal for LAWMA to pursue this project, he said the LAVWCD has the right to try and stop it.

“In this administration, people don’t want to see the buy-and-dry of agriculture any longer,” said Winner. “This district was put here to keep water in the Arkansas Valley, and that’s what we plan on doing.”

Fountain Creek trial: @EPA, et al. v. Colorado Springs begins

The confluence of Fountain Creek and the Arkansas River in Pueblo County — photo via the Colorado Springs Business Journal

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Robert Boczkiewic):

A trial began Wednesday to determine whether the city of Colorado Springs violated clean water laws by discharging pollutants and large-volume water flows from its storm water into Fountain Creek and other Arkansas River tributaries.

The trial is for a 2016 lawsuit by federal and state.environmental agencies against Colorado Springs. The case is central to long-standing disputes that Pueblo County and the Lower Arkansas River Valley have with the city for defiling the creek and the river.

The environmental agencies contend the city is responsible for creating a threat to public health because the stormwaters increase levels of E. coli, pesticides and other pollutants into the creek.

The agencies also contend discharge of “extraordinary high levels of sediment impairs (the creek’s) ability to sustain aquatic life, damages downstream infrastructure and communities like Pueblo, worsen flood damage (and) impairs farmers’ ability to irrigate and obtain water to which they are legally entitled under Colorado law.”

Senior Judge Richard P. Match of U.S. District Court in Denver is presiding over the trial that is expected to run at least 10 days.

The Pueblo County Board of County Commissioners and the Lower Arkansas Water Conservancy District joined the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Colorado Department of Health and Environment as plaintiffs by intervening in the case.

The district is comprised of Pueblo, Otero, Crowley, Bent and Prowers counties.

The lawsuit alleges that damage to the creek and river is caused because Colorado Springs’ stormwater system is inadequate, and for numerous years has violated clean water laws by exceeding discharge limits set in permits issued by the state for the system…

An attorney for the city, Steven Perfrement, defended the city’s efforts to operate the system, and to control discharges of pollutants and the volume of water flows. “The city has adopted programs and enforces them.”

“The deal means another 7,500 shares of water will be leaving Bent County in the future…And that’s a step toward drying up that county” — Jay Winner

Straight line diagram of the Lower Arkansas Valley ditches via Headwaters

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Peter Roper):

A water-sharing agreement between Colorado Springs Utilities and an Arkansas Valley water management group would give that city access to an additional 2,100 acre feet of Arkansas River water a year — an agreement that concerns some regional water users.

That would be in addition to the 50 million gallons of Arkansas River water that Colorado Springs gets each day through the Southern Delivery Service pipeline from Lake Pueblo.

“The deal means another 7,500 shares of water will be leaving Bent County in the future,” argued Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservation District. “And that’s a step toward drying up that county.”

According to news reports, what Colorado Springs has done is buy 2,500 shares of water from Arkansas River Farms, a Littleton-based agriculture company. That purchase makes it a member of the Lower Arkansas Water Management Association.

That’s a nonprofit group of Arkansas River water users. Essentially, it has the job of seeing that water pumped up from groundwater wells is replaced into the river.

The deal that Colorado Springs wants approved calls for a shared use of its 2,500 shares of water between the management group and the city. Over a 10-year-period, the city would have the use of that water for five years, with the management group getting it the other five years.

City officials have said the shared-use plan would help guarantee Colorado Springs has additional water supplies in drought years.

A spokesman for the water management group said the deal would require Colorado Springs to pay for additional storage near Lamar for those years when the city is using the water.

Officials with Colorado Springs Utilities have fended off complaints that this might dry up areas in the Arkansas Valley by noting that the water management group would share authority over the water.

Winner said it is likely his organization, the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservation District, will intervene when the question comes before a state water court for approval. That is likely to be a few years away, he acknowledged.

The next step for the water-sharing plan is to get the approval of the Fort Lyon Canal Co. The water management group has been buying water from that company for its augmentation program and Fort Lyon currently doesn’t allow its water to be routed to cities.

The second step is to get approval from the state water court, which will review any deal to ensure that no other water rights are damaged.

“What we’ve come to understand with climate change is that hydrology is expected to take a turn for the worst” — Pat Wells

Colorado Springs Collection System via Colorado College.

From The Colorado Springs Independent (Pam Zubeck):

olorado Springs Utilities is trumpeting a water-sharing deal involving several parties in the Lower Arkansas River Valley. The agreement is the first of its kind in the state, aligns with the Colorado Water Plan’s edict to share water among users and helps the city secure a water supply for decades to come.

But several people in the valley are skeptical, saying the agreement could transfer irrigation water for crops, much like the so-called “buy and dry” deals of the 1970s and 1980s that exported Crowley County farmers’ water rights held in mountain lakes to municipalities along the Front Range, thereby decimating agriculture.

“Any time water leaves the lower valley it’s a great concern,” says former Bent County Commissioner Bill Long, who’s advising current commissioners on the matter.

But Springs Utilities officials say it’s another step toward assuring adequate water supplies for the city’s population, which is expected to swell to 740,000 people by 2070. Despite the 2016 activation of the controversial Southern Delivery System water pipeline from Pueblo Reservoir, the city needs more water, they say.

“We are exploring developing additional supplies from the Arkansas River basin to diversify our portfolio,” Pat Wells, Springs Utilities’ general manager of water resources and demand management, says. “We are acquiring these water rights as a first step to plan for the future.”

Essentially, the complicated deal gives Utilities access to 2,000 acre feet of water — more than enough for 4,000 households per year — for five out of 10 years from water rights held by the Lower Arkansas Water Management Association. LAWMA, which is entitled to use the water for the other five years, is a member-owned nonprofit that replaces water to the Arkansas River for its members’ depletions caused by irrigation pumping.

The city bought 2,500 LAWMA shares owned by Arkansas River Farms at $3,500 per share, or $8.75 million. The city also paid LAWMA $1.75 million for 500 acre feet of water storage in a former gravel pit in the Lamar area, giving LAWMA flexibility to manage its water rights.

Utilities can place a call on the water any February for that year, and LAWMA is allowed to say “no” for one year in 10. Utilities would take the water through a series of exchanges that involve Pueblo Reservoir.

As Utilities senior project manager Scott Lorenz says, “LAWMA is betting that by doing the deal with CSU they will not only immediately benefit from the 2,000 acre feet in five out of 10 years, but they will also have set in place a replicable model that will allow them to further increase their water portfolio.”

Don Higbee, LAWMA general manager, described it this way in a news release: “We will gain a more reliable water supply that will increase crop yields for the average shareholder in both wet and dry years. If we are collaborating with municipalities for water, we are not competing with them for water. The alternative is we risk buy and dry, which permanently removes water from the valley. This agreement keeps water in the valley.”

[…]

Exporting water, even periodically, makes Mauch nervous, because the 113-mile-long canal serves 94,000 irrigated acres between La Junta and Lamar. Those acres are owned by roughly 200 farmers. “It remains to be seen how it works out for the Fort Lyon Canal, Bent County and the neighbors,” [Dale Mauch] says.

That’s because there are ancillary promises tied to the deal. Arkansas River Farms, which sold water rights as part of the Utilities plan, has vowed to revegetate acreage left without water in the years Utilities uses it, Long says. The farming operation also has said it would build a $40 million dairy and a commercial tomato greenhouse, erect irrigation sprinklers to more efficiently water their acreage in dry years and plant native grasses, as well as provide Bent County a $1.7 million letter of credit and some cash to cover lost property taxes. Property taxes are lower on dryland acreage than irrigated.

“If they [Arkansas River Farms] fulfill their commitments, then it will have success for both parties,” Long says. “If they do not complete revegetations and they do not do the economic mitigation they propose, then we’ll be sorely disappointed and definitely on the short end of the stick.

“The commissioners understand things change,” Long adds, “and we need to use water more efficiently down here, and what Arkansas River Farms has proposed will provide that. If they don’t deliver, I think it would be difficult to do another one like this one.”

And that’s important, because Lorenz says valley water-rights owners and Utilities hope the LAWMA agreement is just the beginning.

Many water users want to explore such agreements, Lorenz says, as they try to secure supplies amid climate change, which adds uncertainty to how much water is available in any given year.

“The partnership allows them [LAWMA] to start to meet that gap both through the additional water and storage,” he says. “If this project is successful CSU will have a path forward to acquire part of the water it needs in the future, as will LAWMA. When it comes to developing future water supply, the status quo isn’t working.”

The Colorado Water Plan specifically calls for water sharing, dubbed “alternative water transfers,” which will benefit agriculture and municipal users. The goal, it says, is to seek contributions from the farming industry while “maximizing options for alternatives to permanent agricultural dry-up.”

In other words, Lorenz notes, “The state of Colorado says, ‘Work things out, so we don’t have to impose things on you.’ This is the first shot at that.”

Utilities gets most of its water from the Western Slope through trans-mountain transfers, but one of those sources, the Colorado River Basin, isn’t producing water to adequately supply the appropriations already committed to.

“There is increased competition for limited water supplies, and our existing system has not yielded as much as we thought back in 1996,” when the SDS project was first conceived, Wells says.

Noting that Utilities used to consult the historical record and assume the past would repeat in the future, Wells says, “What we’ve come to understand with climate change is that hydrology is expected to take a turn for the worst, so we’re mitigating our risk for our customers.”

The deal with LAWMA now goes to water court for approval, although Utilities can use the water pending that approval. That’s good, Lorenz notes, because drought conditions might require Utilities to call on the water as early as next year.

Straight line diagram of the Lower Arkansas Valley ditches via Headwaters

@CSUtilities and the Lower Ark work out long-term water sharing agreement

Straight line diagram of the Lower Arkansas Valley ditches via Headwaters

From The Prowers Journal (Russ Baldwin):

The Lower Arkansas Water Management Association (LAWMA) Board has announced it will participate in a permanent water sharing agreement with Colorado Springs Utilities.

LAWMA and Colorado Spring Utilities have discussed ways to continue their long-term arrangement of water sharing. The agreement would allow Colorado Springs Utilities to acquire 2,500 LAWMA water shares from an existing LAWMA member and take deliveries in 5 out of 10 years. The boards of both entities have voted to approve the agreement.

“This is a very positive arrangement for LAWMA shareholders,” said Don Higbee, LAWMA general manager. “We will gain a more reliable water supply that will increase crop yields for the average shareholder in both wet and dry years.”

Colorado Springs Utilities purchased the water shares for $3,500 per share. Utilities will take delivery of that water in only 5 out of 10 years. In non-delivery years, other LAWMA members will receive the water, effectively increasing the per-share yield of each LAWMA share…

The next step in the process is to obtain a water court decree formally changing the shares to be used for municipal and augmentation use.

Colorado Springs Utilities has been working with agricultural water entities in the Lower Arkansas Valley through short term, informal agreements for decades.

Over the past two decades, it leased 23,000 acre-feet of water to LAWMA and 33,150 acre-feet of water to Fort Lyon Canal Company. In addition, Colorado Springs Utilities also has provided 20,000 acre feet of water to Colorado Parks and Wildlife for use in John Martin Reservoir in Bent County.

“We are interested in water sharing agreements with the agricultural community and have been involved in leasing agreements since the 2002 drought,” said Pat Wells, General Manager, Water Resources, Colorado Springs Utilities. “Utilities has had successful, informal water sharing agreements with LAWMA for many years. This is an extension of that proven relationship.”

“This arrangement continues LAWMA’s positive long-term relationship with Colorado Springs Utilities. They have a proven track record leasing water to us at very reasonable rates,” said Higbee.

As part of the agreement, Colorado Springs Utilities will also reimburse LAWMA $1.75 million for 500 acre-feet of water storage. This storage will give LAWMA added flexibility to manage its water rights both in times of drought and excess. In the years LAWMA receives the water, it can be stored for future use. In the years Utilities receives the water, LAWMA members will be able to rely on the stored water to maintain steady irrigation.

“If we are collaborating with municipalities, we are not competing with them for water. The alternative is we risk buy and dry, which permanently removes water from the valley,” Higbee explained. “This project helps us avoid that.”

Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservation District board meeting recap

Pueblo dam releases

From The Bent County Democrat (Bette McFarren):

The water supply is greater than normal, with Turquoise at 121 percent of normal, Twin Lakes at 98 percent of normal and Pueblo Reservoir at 135 percent of normal. The Pueblo Reservoir must be down to a certain level by April 15, making a spill possible to avoid flooding. Farmers are taking water they can use as requested to ease the situation. Reservoirs in the area are full or nearly full.

Since the rainfall has been less than usual in winter 2017-2018, the abundant water supply is good news for area farmers. The snowpack in the Arkansas River Basin is 59 percent of normal and 54 percent of last year. The normal peak date is April 11 and these figures are as of March 19. All the water in the flood pool must be out by May 1, so that an upriver rainstorm will not cause flooding on the lower river. Therefore, the reservoir will start spilling excess water on April 15. A spill benefits whatever entity has the call on the river; for example, it could be the Rocky Ford Highline, or Holbrook or Fort Lyon by priority dates (original priority date).

The hydroelectric plant being constructed at Pueblo Reservoir is progressing as planned. The Lease of Power Privilege has been finalized with the South East Colorado Water Conservancy District. Reclamation has approved the design, specifications, and submittals for phase 1 and 2 and is currently reviewing the final phase. Construction on the plant began in September 2017. The anticipated start-up for the first turbine is early June 2018.

The hydro produced will be purchased by Fountain and Colorado Springs, said Chris Woodka of the SECWCD on Thursday. “The reason is that Black Hills declined to incorporate the power into its portfolio.” SECWCD has a carriage agreement with Black Hills when the plant starts producing. Woodka continued, “The annual average for production is around 28 million kWh per year, which is basically enough for 4,500 homes.” Revenue from the plant will benefit the Southeastern District, but a 30-year contract with Fountain and a 10-year contract with Springs accounts for all power generated.

Lower Ark District board meeting recap

Arkansas River Basin — Graphic via the Colorado Geological Survey

From The Bent County Democrat:

Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District welcomes new member, keeps same officers, hears three reports.

The Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District welcomed new board member Phillip Chavez at Wednesday’s meeting. Chavez is manager of Diamond A Farms and also has Chavez Family Farms. He was appointed by Judge Mark MacDonnell, and replaces Willard Behm, who completed the term of the late Wayne Whittaker.

All of the LAVWCD officers were retained – Lynden Gill of Bent County as chairman, Leroy Mauch of Prowers County as vice chairman, Melissa Esquibel of Pueblo County as secretary, and Jim Valliant of Crowley County as treasurer. Mauch was reappointed as LAVWCD member on the Fountain Creek Watershed, Flood Control and Greenway Board.

Three PowerPoints were presented on Wednesday. The first was by Chris Woodka on the Arkansas Valley Conduit, the second by Krystal Brown of the United States Geological Survey on a joint survey of USGS and LAVWCD on groundwater in the Lower Arkansas Valley, and the third by Larry Small, a study of Fountain Creek Flood Control.

Woodka went over the history of the Conduit project, which goes back to letters of support from 1952 and 1953 and was created officially when President John F. Kennedy came to Pueblo to sign the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project Act, which contained the Conduit. Through many years of struggle and $22 million spent, the final Environmental Impact Statement was completed in 2013 and recorded in 2014. The lengthy and expensive detour around Pueblo by the Conduit may be bypassed by the new concept put forth by the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District which would use the capacity in Pueblo Water’s system to deliver water at the eastern boundary of Pueblo to the Arkansas Valley Conduit, saving about 10 years in the construction process.

Brown’s presentation was a study in discrete groundwater measurements at 125 sites measured biannually. The data will be used to study climate, land-use practices and water-management practices. The proposed 2018 program involved: 1. Biannual groundwater level measurements of 125 alluvial and basin-fill wells – LAVWCD contributes $211,349 and USGS $9,241; 2. The operation of real-time continuous water temperature and specific conductance monitor to which LAVWCD contributes $10,750 and USGS, $4,605; 3. Seven sites of discrete specific conductance measurements – LAVWCD $4,043, USGS $869.

Larry Small, representing the Fountain Creek Watershed, presented a needs assessment for the Fountain Creek Flood Control Study. Phase 1 was an appraisal study of the feasibility of three alternatives and subalternatives (completed in Jan 2017). Phase 2 is a needs assessment of screen alternatives and involves selecting the preferred alternative, to be completed in Feb 2018. Future phases will be financing, permitting, design and construction. The recommendation is the Floodplain Management alternative. Its advantages are as follows: 1. provides multiple benefits in addition to flood management, 2. has stakeholder support, 3. could attract outside funding for certain components, 4. could be combined with localized floodplain measures in Pueblo at currently flood-prone locations to address the key flood control objectives along Fountain Creek in Pueblo. The Floodplain Management alternative is the only alternative that can be phased, but would require the longest time for completion.

Attorney Peter Nichols received $1,000 from the board toward the cost of filing in opposition to an appeal by New York over a sewage discharge matter to the U.S. Supreme Court. The board went into executive session with the lawyers.

Webinar: Policy Questions Around Water Sharing and Alternative Transfer Methods, January 11th, 2018 — @WaterEdCO

Credit: Cattleman’s Ditches Pipeline Project II Montrose County, Colorado EIS via USBR.

Click here for all the inside skinny and to register:

Flexible water sharing agreements or alternative transfer methods (ATMs) could help keep water in agriculture while supplies are shared with municipalities or others to meet the many water needs of the state’s population. Colorado’s Water Plan calls for 50,000 acre-feet of water to be identified in ATMs by 2030.

How can Colorado reach its goal and scale up the adoption of alternative transfer methods? Join Water Education Colorado to explore the conversations around existing policy and policy changes that might increase the adoption of ATMs.

We’ll hear from expert speakers:

Kevin Rein, Colorado’s State Engineer
Peter Nichols, Special counsel to the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District and to the Lower Arkansas Valley Super Ditch Co., Inc.
Jim Yahn, Manager of the North Sterling Irrigation District

When: January 11th, 2018 9:30 AM through 10:30 AM

Webinar Fee:
WEco member $ 10.00
non-WEco member $ 15.00

Jay Winner awarded “2017 Non-Point Source Award” from Colorado Watershed Assembly

From The Pueblo Chieftain:

General Manager Jay Winner of the Lower Arkansas Water Conservancy District received the prestigious 2017 Non-Point Source Award at the Colorado Watershed Assembly Conference in Avon, Colorado on last month.

He was honored for his outstanding work on multiple non-point source projects as well as being the only person to combine water quality with water quantity. These projects include, but are not limited to: 2,000 acres of Best Management Practices (BMP), Soil Health, Pond Sealing, Canal Lining, Riparian Buffer Zone, Fallowing, and Dry Up.

The conference, displaying best practices for watershed plans and rivers across Colorado, acknowledged the Arkansas River for the first time in years. This conference provided an opportunity for the Arkansas River Valley farmers, producers, agencies, and other interested parties to be recognized for their efforts in water quality and quantity.

Winner thanked the Lower Ark staff and the cooperation of farmers, as these projects would not be possible without any of them.

View of runoff, also called nonpoint source pollution, from a farm field in Iowa during a rain storm. Topsoil as well as farm fertilizers and other potential pollutants run off unprotected farm fields when heavy rains occur. (Credit: Lynn Betts/U.S. Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service/Wikimedia Commons)

Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy board meeting recap

From The La Junta Tribune (Bette McFarren):

Grant money has been received to complete the North La Junta Project started last year. The levee, destined to complete the originally planned project by the Corps of Engineers connecting from the bridge to Al Rite Concrete’s dike will be completed, raised five feet and strengthened. The grant was for $80,000; with the same chip-ins as last year, La Junta would pay $10,000, Otero County $10,000 and the LAVWCD $10,000, making a budget of $110,000. Kenneth Muth, the contractor from last year’s project, estimates $62,000 to complete the levee, leaving about $50,000 for further treatment of the sedimentation problem on the west side of the bridge.

The water quality problem is being investigated with the lining of ponds and lateral ditches to improve the water quality of the water returning to the river. Irrigation by sprinklers and other modern innovations will be tested in farms on three different segments of land illustrating different configurations of farms in the valley: Pueblo County, upper end of Arkansas; Otero County, middle part of Arkansas; Bent County, lower part of the Arkansas. The Pond Lining 319 Grant theorizes that, by reducing the amount of groundwater seepage the water quality at the river will increase. The grant total is $654,550, project length: four years. It has been accepted by the Colorado Department of Health and Environment in the contracting phase. The soil health phase will consider one water long ditch, one water short ditch and one average water supply ditch.

Goble’s report studies John Martin Reservoir and the idea of extra storage in the lower part of the valley. John Martin is a key component of the 1948 Compact between Colorado and Kansas, administered by The Arkansas River Compact Administration, which has three representatives from each state, governor appointed. The reservoir serves 11 Colorado ditches and five Kansas ditches. In addition, it is used to augment groundwater pumping from Colorado Irrigation, municipal and recreational wells. Colorado Parks and Wildlife manages a permanent pool. Active storage at this time is 330,700 acre-feet.

From going almost dry in 2011, it has gone to almost full in 2016. The permanent pool since 1976 could only be helped by Colorado River water. In May of 2017, ARCA passed a resolution allowing water from the Highland Ditch to be stored in the permanent pool (one year agreement, potential for renewal). Colorado Parks and Wildlife needs approximately 2,000 AF to cover evaporation.

The new source is expected to yield around 2,800 AF. A proposal will be made to the State of Kansas for a new 40,000 AF storage account in JMR. Nine Colorado water users have expressed an interest in obtaining additional storage in JMR. They are four augmentation groups (Arkansas Groundwater Users Association, Catlin Augmentation Association, Colorado Water Protective & Development Association, Lower Arkansas Water Management Association), two municipalities (cities of La Junta and Lamar), two conservancy districts (LAVWCD and Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District), one electric company (Tri-State Generation & Transmission Company). The increase would also benefit Kansas, in reducing the chance of un-replaced return flows, less evaporation charged to Kansas accounts, possible modification to the operating plan to allow Kansas to use certain water to recharge the Ogallala Aquifer, and better water quality.

La Junta back in the day via Harvey-House.info

Fountain Creek: #Colorado Springs budget calls for reestablishment of stormwater enterprise

Fountain Creek photo via the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Jakob Rodgers):

Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers pitched a sweeping vision Friday of bolstering the city’s short-staffed police force by 100 officers and modernizing its aging and increasingly-decrepit vehicle fleet.

It hinges, however, on voters agreeing to resurrect the city’s controversial and defunct stormwater enterprise fee in November.

Calling it “basic to our financial viability,” Suthers pitched the fee’s return during his annual summit with City Council – framing it as a means to restore several flagging or aging city services while offering Colorado Springs a powerful bargaining chip in battling a federal lawsuit over years of neglected stormwater needs.

“We have a legal obligation (to fund stormwater projects),” Suthers said. “The question is whether we’re going to fund it at the expense of other things, or are we going to fund it separately.”

Even if a fee is approved by voters in November, the outcome would not be legally binding. But, it would provide a political mandate for future Colorado Springs leaders and lawmakers to follow, Suthers said.

From KRDO.com (Mike Carter):

“Every other large city in America has a stormwater enterprise where they charge a fee to property owners and that money is what’s used for stormwater,” said Mayor Suthers.

It’s a plan that was rejected by springs voters in 2009, but as the city continues its legal battle with the EPA and the state health department, city council members like Bill Murray say continuing to fund stormwater improvements through the city’s general fund simply won’t work.

“It’s taken a big bite out of our general fund. And I’m sure that the citizens, once they’re given the opportunity, to understand it’s either the EPA or us, that they’ll select us because we actually have the solution and they don’t,” Murray said.

The city pays $17 million a year out of its general fund for storm water obligations.

“And that means we have less money available for police officers,” Suthers said. “We need as many as a hundred additional police officers probably over the next 5 to 10 years.”

Suthers says snowplow equipment also comes out of the general fund, leaving the city strapped for cash in three crucial areas.

The stormwater fee based under the previous stormwater enterprise was based in part on a percentage of total impervious area on a property—think sidewalks and driveways. But the city says that can change over time and what used to be a front law under one homeowner change to a concrete driveway under another.

“And so you would have a residential, a tiered residential structure and it would be based on the size of the lot would equate to a specific monthly fee,” said Springs Public Works Director Travis Easton.

Lower Ark pens letter to @EPA chief Pruitt in support of lawsuit

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 (Jon Pompia):

The lower district recently submitted a letter to EPA administrator Scott Pruitt, reminding him that far from “picking on” Colorado Springs — as Lamborn and Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers contend — the “EPA is carrying out its statutory responsibility to enforce the Clean Water Act against a permittee that district has sought for nearly a decade to get to live up to its stormwater obligations.”

The dispatch comes on the heels of letters sent by the Pueblo County commissioners to members of the state’s federal congressional delegation, urging the EPA to follow through on its suit, which was filed in conjunction with the state in U.S. District Court in November 2016.

Signed by Lynden Gill, the lower district’s board chair, the letter goes on to highlight efforts, dating back to at least 2008, in getting Colorado Springs to comply with its stormwater permit. Those efforts extended to the lower district filing a notice of intent to file a citizen’s suit pursuant to the Clean Water Act in November 2014.

The lower district, along with Pueblo County, became parties of interest along with the EPA and the state in the lawsuit charging Colorado Springs with illegally discharging pollutants into Fountain Creek and the Arkansas River.

“In short,” the letter continues, “the lower district appreciates EPA’s enforcement action against the city, action the lower district had felt compelled to undertake on its own before EPA sued the city, and can now jointly pursue with EPA and the State of Colorado.”

The letter concludes with a plea for EPA not to abandon the lower district but pursue enforcement of Colorado Springs’ stormwater violations.

Jay Winner, general manager of the lower district, expressed hope the letter will serve its purpose…

Winner said that while the EPA may choose to withdraw from the lawsuit, it cannot halt it.

“That’s why Pueblo County, the lower district and the state intervened — because if they withdraw, we’re still in,” Winner said.

Bob Rawlings retrospective — Chris Woodka

Bob Rawlings. Photo credit The High Country News

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The speech was delivered late last month at a water forum in Colorado Springs.

To say that Bob Rawlings cared about water in the Arkansas Valley would be a gross understatement. Toward the end of his life, it was his driving passion. As the water reporter for The Pueblo Chieftain and the editor directing water coverage for all of my 31 years at The Chieftain, no one knew this better than I did.

Your reaction to how Mr. Rawlings cared about water would color your interpretation of his concern. I often found that respect for him grew as I traveled east of Pueblo, where people could see first-hand the effects of drying up agriculture in the Lower Arkansas Valley. I saw his reach up here in El Paso County when I attended meetings and listened to people cuss and discuss the publisher of The Pueblo Chieftain. And, I saw more than one public figure or water developer leave his office disappointed, maybe frightful, but still respectful, after Mr. Rawlings chewed them out for not caring about the Arkansas Valley and its water as deeply as he did.

A few of you in this room probably wished, at one time or another, that Robert Hoag Rawlings would just get out of the way. But he never would. And I would suggest that water projects as a whole benefitted from his constant “interference.”

I also observed the subtle shift in Mr. Rawlings’ attitudes on water throughout the years.

When I arrived at The Chieftain in 1985, Mr. Rawlings cared about water like a farmer cares about his crops.

Water was something to be nurtured and its uses in the Arkansas Valley protected. When I came on the scene, water sales in Otero and Crowley counties were under way and a plan to take water out of the San Luis Valley was hatching. Mr. Rawlings believed the land would bloom if we could only weed out the interlopers.

One feature of his newspaper he loved dearly was the rain gauge, which would measure how much moisture different parts of town received from the same cloudburst. He even read a gauge at his own home and called in the results to a clerk for many years. Heaven help the editor who omitted the rain report after even the lightest sprinkle hit Pueblo.

After a heavy deluge, Mr. Rawlings would walk into the newsroom and ask, “So, was that what my father (who was a Las Animas banker) used to call a million-dollar rain?” He expected an answer, so we’d scramble to call all the farmers we knew to come up with one.

Which leads to the next shift. Mr. Rawlings cared about water like a homeowner assesses his property value in relation to what’s happening in the neighborhood. Water was a valuable asset.

He insisted, fairly often, that we continue to tell the story of what happened to Crowley County when the water was sold and separated from the land. He didn’t want his readers, or the state’s leaders, to forget about the value of water. We dreamed up a lot of ways to bring that point home.

Rocky Ford Ditch

During the 1990s, Mr, Rawlings reached the height of his power, I believe. He could pick up a phone on any given afternoon and get as much done as the state Legislature could accomplish in a week. When he learned that the lion’s share of the Rocky Ford Ditch was sold to Aurora, he saw the loss of farm income and referred to Aurora’s purchases as “the death knell” of the Arkansas Valley.

That’s when he went to war.

In the final years, he viewed water as a resource to be protected, and he would go to any lengths to meet that objective.

Mr. Rawlings helped to form the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District, although he’d later shake his head at how that board executed its duties. When the Lower Ark District started making deals with Aurora, he took to the road one morning to confront a roomful of people in Lamar who disagreed with him and later that same day repeated the exercise in Rocky Ford, even as three members of Congress looked on.

He gave emotional speeches before federal panels. He’d use his presses to drum up community support for his views on water transfers and projects. He hired water lawyers, hoping to put himself on equal footing with the big water interests.

“They’re not smarter than us,” he’d bellow at his editorial board. “They just have more smart people.”

A staunch Republican for all of his life, he courted the favor of Democratic senators and congressmen, and even the Sierra Club, when his views of water preservation aligned with theirs. He’d politely tell even Republicans to take a hike if the disagreement was about water.

I am still not sure if I was privileged to spend so much of my journalism career pursuing water stories, or whether I was afflicted with some sort of curse all those years.

But I learned a lot about water because of Mr. Rawlings, and I will miss his drive and determination.

Chris Woodka is a former Chieftain managing editor for production who won numerous awards for his water reporting. He is the Issues Management Program Coordinator for the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District.

For a treat read Matt Jenkins profile of Bob Rawlings (and Chris Woodka) from The High Country News.

Chris Woodka. Photo credit The High Country News

R.I.P. Robert Hoag Rawlings

Bob Rawlings. Photo credit The High Country News.

Here’s the obit from The Pueblo Chieftain. Here’s an excerpt:

Almost immediately after taking over the reins of the newspapers from his late uncle, Frank Hoag Jr., in 1980, he began using the editorial pages to advocate for Pueblo and Southeastern Colorado. He fought to protect institutions such as Colorado State University-Pueblo and the Colorado State Fair, but was best known for his battle to protect the quantity and quality of water that flows into Pueblo from Fountain Creek and the Arkansas River.

Unleashing his newsroom and his editorial writers, Rawlings’ Chieftain published thousands of stories on the topic of water, and won numerous state and regional awards for its reporting and editorials. As a direct result of Rawlings’ efforts, Northern Colorado communities that tried to buy water rights from the Arkansas River Valley were thwarted or forced to accept numerous conditions such as financial payments to government and revegetation of lands dried up.

Also, thanks mostly to Rawlings, the Lower Arkansas Water Conservancy District was approved by voters to likewise fight to protect the area’s water.

It also is safe to say that many significant projects — such as the Historic Arkansas Riverwalk of Pueblo, several multi-million dollar school bond issues, and the acquisition of university status for the University of Southern Colorado, now Colorado State University-Pueblo — might not have taken place without the constant advocacy for and support of Rawlings and The Chieftain.

When Pueblo needed a new main library, voters approved a large, efficient and modernized project. But Rawlings donated an additional $4 million to the project, and the Robert Hoag Rawlings Public Library on Abriendo Avenue became one of the community’s most dazzling landmarks. The architectural wonder is one of many projects throughout the community that have been made possible thanks to Rawlings’ generosity.

Always fascinated by politics, he became friends to governors, U.S. senators and members of Congress — as long as they supported Pueblo and Southeastern Colorado. He worked closely with innumerable City Council members, county commissioners and school board members, pushing them constantly to make his beloved Pueblo even better.

Click here to view the Chieftain Rawlings photo gallery.

More about Bob Rawlings from The Pueblo Chieftain.

Arkansas River Basin — Graphic via the Colorado Geological Survey

Fountain Creek: Pueblo County and Lower Ark join @EPA/CDPHE lawsuit

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Billie Stanton Anleu):

Pueblo County commissioners and the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District can intervene in the suit, U.S. District Judge Richard P. Matsch ruled Thursday.

A year ago, Pueblo County commissioners signed off on an intergovernmental stormwater agreement with Colorado Springs, ensuring that the city will spend $460 million over 20 years to provide 71 stormwater projects aimed at minimizing Fountain Creek’s effects on downstream communities.

The creek flows downstream carrying excess sedimentation, E. coli contamination and other pollution, claims the Lower Ark, which represents the largely agricultural areas of Bent, Crowley, Otero, Prowers and Pueblo counties.

County officials have echoed those concerns.

And the EPA, after conducting audits in 2013 and 2015 of the city’s stormwater system, found that the creek and its tributaries were eroded and widened, their waters combining with surface runoff to create excessive sedimentation and substandard water quality.

Federal officials upbraided the city for not demanding enough infrastructure from developers and for not maintaining the culverts and creeks snaking through the city.

The lawsuit, filed by the U.S. Department of Justice on the EPA’s behalf, and by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, is a serious concern for Mayor John Suthers, who has made the city’s long-neglected stormwater infrastructure a top priority.

In addition to the agreement with Pueblo County, he has more than doubled the stormwater division’s staff, added a new manager and overseen the Nov. 2 release of an inch-thick Stormwater Program Implementation Plan.

The EPA and state filed suit one week later, on Nov. 9.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Anthony A. Mestas):

Pueblo County was granted a motion Thursday that allows the county to join in a federal/state lawsuit against the city of Colorado Springs.

The Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District also was allowed to join the case as an intervenor to protect the district’s interest during the litigation…

Pueblo County filed the motion to intervene last week. The lawsuit was filed Nov. 9 in U.S. District Court in Denver by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment against Colorado Springs.

The Lower Ark district filed the same motion in November.

The lawsuit claims there is harm caused by discharges of pollutants down Fountain Creek into Pueblo and east to the Arkansas River’s other tributaries.

It also claims the city of Colorado Springs made numerous violations of their Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System permit issued by the state.

Alleged violations by Colorado Springs include the failure to adequately fund its stormwater management program, to properly maintain its stormwater facilities and to reduce the discharge of pollutants to the maximum extent practicable.

Hart and fellow Commissioners Sal Pace and Garrison Ortiz have said they cherish the relationship the county has developed with Colorado Springs through negotiations over the Southern Delivery System’s 1041 permit agreement and hope this will not do anything to damage it.

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.
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.

Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District board meeting recap

Arkansas River Basin -- Graphic via the Colorado Geological Survey
Arkansas River Basin — Graphic via the Colorado Geological Survey

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

[Roy] Vaughan’s information confirmed what the directors and audience already knew: the snowpack is super and the water supply in reservoirs way above average. Vaughan wasn’t sure the drought was broken, but Director Leroy Mauch said the breaking of the drought has been announced on the radio. As of January 11, 214,296 acre-feet were stored in the Pueblo Reservoir and 134,442 a/f of project water, 41,694 a/f of excess capacity water, 38,158 a/f of winter water. There are 110,931 a/f of project space in Pueblo and 38,928 a/f of project space in Twin and Turquoise. The collection system has been winterized. Mt. Elbert conduit is presently running 350 cubic feet per second. 205 cfs are moving from Twin to Pueblo. The Bureau intends to move an additional 40,000 a/f from the upper reservoirs. The movement of water will be adjusted according to the forecast and customers’ needs.

Manager Jay Winner is working on pilot programs. In one, some ponds will be sealed to prevent loss through seepage. “We have already shown how much water is lost through evaporation and seepage in present ponds,” said Winner. The base line is established. Another pilot program will test the feasibility of trading water pollution downstream. This may lead to a solution of the problem of certain naturally-occurring pollutants in this area, notably selenium.

Mark Holmberg’s study of hydrology and geospatial analylsis of water table changes in the Lower Arkansas Valley will produce poster-sized maps of the bedrock, alluvial plain and average water levels in the Arkansas River Valley from the Pueblo Reservoir to the Colorado-Kansas Line. His study revealed a drop in water level of approximately 3 percent, presenting figures from 2001, 2008 and 2015. The study is now in the editorial division for finishing touches and will soon be published.

Mike Weber of the LAVWCD gave an overview of conservation trusts. During the year, LAVWCD closed on three easements: Leonard Joseph Proctor, Rex Reyher and Stan Cline. LAVWCD also participated in four easements with the Palmer Land Trust. At the end of 2016, LAVWCD has closed a total of 56 conservation easements (not counting Palmer Land Trust work). LAVWCD now holds easements in the following counties: Bent, Crowley, Custer, Fremont, Huerfano, Otero, Prowers, Pueblo and Teller, and under the following eight ditches/canals: Bessemer, Catlin, Colorado, Fort Bent, Fort Lyon, Highline, Holbrook and Otero.

CDPHE and @EPA hope the Lower Ark is allowed to join their lawsuit

Report: Remediation Scenarios for Attenuating Peak Flows and Reducing Sediment Transport in Fountain Creek, Colorado, 2013
Report: Remediation Scenarios for Attenuating Peak Flows and Reducing Sediment Transport in Fountain Creek, Colorado, 2013

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Robert Voczkiewicz):

The state and federal agencies told a judge Thursday that they support the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District’s request to have a courtroom voice in a clean-water lawsuit against Colorado Springs.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency are suing the city, which discharges pollutants into Fountain Creek and other tributaries.

The Lower Ark district wants to join the case as an intervenor to protect the district’s interest during the litigation…

Senior Judge Richard Matsch is presiding over the case in U.S. District Court in Denver and will decide whether to grant Lower Ark’s request.

The EPA and the state health-environment department filed the lawsuit Nov. 9. It alleges that Colorado Springs’ storm sewer system is violating federal and state clean water laws.

The city denies it is violating the laws. Mayor John Suthers recently pointed to additional expenditures the city is making as an example of its commitment to correct storm water problems.

The storm water contains pollutants, including E. coli, that flow into the river from creek tributaries.

The district encompasses Bent, Crowley, Otero, Prowers and Pueblo counties, where considerable produce, including Rocky Ford melons, are grown.

In Thursday’s court filing reviewed by The Pueblo Chieftain, the EPA and the department told Matsch they agree with Lower Ark that it should have a voice in court because the district wants the river water to have adequate quality.

To achieve that, the agencies and the district want Colorado Springs to reduce the amount of polluted discharges.

The environmental agencies contend Colorado Springs mischaracterizes the lawsuit as being focused on past issues, but it in fact “seeks to remedy current and ongoing violations.”

The environmental agencies disagree with Colorado Springs’ arguments that the district has no legal right to become an intervenor and that intervention will unduly complicate the litigation.

The lawsuit seeks a court order requiring the city “to develop, implement and enforce” its stormwater management program, as required by permits the government has issued. The lawsuit goes on to ask a judge to impose monetary penalties on Colorado Springs for the violations.

Colorado Springs hopes to prevent Lower Ark joining EPA and CDPHE lawsuit

Fountain Creek flood debris May 2014 via The Pueblo Chieftain
Fountain Creek flood debris May 2014 via The Pueblo Chieftain

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Jon Pompia):

Colorado Springs is opposing an Arkansas River water district’s request to join a lawsuit that seeks to stop the city from discharging pollutants into Fountain Creek and other tributaries of the river.

The Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District wants a voice against Colorado Springs by being allowed to take part in the litigation.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Colorado Department of Health jointly filed the lawsuit Nov. 9 in U.S. District Court in Denver against Colorado Springs. The lawsuit claims that the city’s discharges of polluted stormwater into the tributaries violate state and federal clean water laws.

The lawsuit seeks a court order requiring Colorado Springs “to take all steps necessary to redress or mitigate the impact of its violations.”

The lawsuit also seeks a court order to require the city “to develop, implement and enforce” its stormwater management program, as required by permits the government has issued. The lawsuit goes on to ask a judge to impose monetary penalties on Colorado Springs for the violations.

Water runoff from streets, parking lots and other surfaces picks up pollutants that drain into the stormwater sewage system, which discharges it into the creeks.

Pollutants include accumulated debris, chemicals and sediment. They “can adversely affect water quality, erode stream banks, destroy needed habitat for fish and other aquatic life, and make it more difficult and expensive for downstream users to effectively use the water,” the lawsuit states

The water district on Dec. 9 asked Senior Judge Richard Matsch for permission to become an intervenor to protect the district’s interests to have clean and usable water from the river.

The city on Dec. 22 filed arguments opposing the district’s request. The city contends that the district has no legal right to intervene.

The district — as well as Pueblo officials — has long been a critic of Colorado Springs for sending polluted and sediment-filled stormwater, including dangerous E. coli bacteria, into the river and for not controlling flooding the water causes.

The district encompasses Bent, Crowley, Otero, Prowers and Pueblo counties, where considerable produce, including Rocky Ford melons, are grown.

Colorado Springs officials have negotiated a deal with Pueblo County for the city to spend $460 million over 20 years on Fountain Creek flood control.

The Gazette newspaper in Colorado Springs reported last Friday that Mayor John Suthers cited that commitment as an example of how his administration is working to resolve the complaints of its downstream neighbors.

In its court filing opposing allowing the district to become a participant in the litigation, the city said the case will be greatly complicated and costs of litigating it will increase. The city also said that the EPA and state environment department will adequately represent the district’s interests.

Attorney Peter Nichols, representing the district, sees it differently, according to The Gazette: “The question is whether the city is already putting a lot of political pressure on the state and EPA to back off. The district is concerned they might be successful with that pressure, and water quality wouldn’t be improved in Fountain Creek,” Nichols said.

The newspaper reported that district Executive Director Jay Winner said Colorado Springs repeatedly had broken promises about the stormwater problems.

Colorado Springs hopes to keep the Lower Ark out of its legal wrangling with the EPA and CDPHE

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.
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 Colorado Springs Gazette (Billie Stanton Anleu):

Colorado Springs filed arguments last week to keep an Arkansas River water district from joining the federal and state lawsuit that’s demanding cures to city stormwater violations.

But with Rocky Ford melons and other crops at stake, the water district plans to fire back by the Thursday deadline with counterarguments to the U.S. District Court in Denver.

Fountain Creek flows through Colorado Springs and into the Arkansas, bringing excess sedimentation, E. coli contamination and other pollution, the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District claims.

The lawsuit it wants to join was filed last month by the U.S. Department of Justice on behalf of the Environmental Protection Agency and by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

The EPA and Department of Justice negotiated with the city unsuccessfully over the past year to resolve the violations cited in EPA audits in 2013 and in August 2015, two months after Mayor John Suthers took office.

Suthers has made the issue a priority, crafting an agreement with Pueblo County to provide $460 million worth of stormwater projects by 2035, beefing up the city’s stormwater division with a new manager and added engineers and inspectors, and releasing an inch-thick Stormwater Program Implementation Plan on Nov. 2.

The EPA and state nonetheless filed suit one week later, on Nov. 9.

“From my perspective, they’re dwelling in the past,” Suthers said. “We feel very strongly the EPA and state health need to get down to El Paso County and see how many problems we’ve already fixed.”

The Lower Ark, as the district is known, had given notice in November 2014, that it would sue the city for violating its MS4 permit, which allows for the municipal separate storm sewer system.

That’s what the EPA and state now are suing over as well.

“We were precluded from filing our own lawsuit because our claims were essentially the same,” said Peter Nichols, lawyer for the Lower Ark.

“The question is whether the city is already putting a lot of political pressure on the state and EPA to back off. The district is concerned they might be successful with that pressure, and water quality wouldn’t be improved in Fountain Creek,” Nichols said.

The Lower Ark – which represents Bent, Crowley, Otero, Prowers and Pueblo counties – has seen Colorado Springs break stormwater promises repeatedly, said district Executive Director Jay Winner.

The city was collecting about $15 million a year through its Stormwater Enterprise Fund until voters passed ballot Issue 300 in 2009, restricting city enterprise funds. Days later, the City Council voted to phase out the fund by 2011.

Then the Waldo Canyon fire erupted in 2012, creating a burn scar that spawned widespread flooding in 2013, exacerbating problems with Fountain Creek, Monument Creek and other tributaries while spewing sediment and floodwaters downstream.

That year, the EPA audited the city’s stormwater system Feb. 4-7.

Between 2011 and 2014, the city spent $1.6 million a year average on stormwater and had nine full-time employees in that division. Degradation, widening and erosion of streambeds, combined with surface runoff, led to sedimentation and substandard water quality, the EPA and state say.

The next EPA audit, conducted on 14 sections of the city’s system Aug. 18-19, 2015, found “continuous failure” to meet standards or remediate problems highlighted in 2013.

Lower Ark district joins federal lawsuit against #Colorado Springs — @ChieftainNews

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Peter Roper):

The Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District has joined a federal lawsuit against Colorado Springs for not controlling stormwater flooding and discharging pollutants into Fountain Creek and the Arkansas River.

The lawsuit was filed last month in U.S. District Court in Denver by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Colorado Department of Health and Public Environment.

Essentially, the suit argues that Colorado Springs has continued to violate federal clean water standards with discharges into Fountain Creek that sometimes contain high levels of E. coli bacteria and fecal coliform.

The lack of stormwater controls isn’t in question. Colorado Springs officials have negotiated a deal with Pueblo County to spend $460 million over 20 years on flood control.

When the lawsuit was filed, Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers complained that any money the city spends fighting lawsuits over stormwater flooding would be better spent on fixing the problems.

But the Lower Arkansas board decided last month that too little has been done. Its lawyers urged the board to join the lawsuit to make certain the district participates in any negotiated settlement with Colorado Springs over flooding problems on Fountain Creek.

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.
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.

Lower Ark joins Fountain Creek lawsuit — The Pueblo Chieftain

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

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Anthony A. Mestas):

During their monthly meeting…Lower Arkansas board members voted unanimously to join a lawsuit filed last week against Colorado Springs for discharging pollutants into Fountain Creek and the Arkansas River.

Members also said they have asked Pueblo City Council and the Pueblo County commissioners to join the lawsuit, as well.

“I can’t see where Pueblo County and the city cannot step up and do the same thing,” said Anthony Nunez, a former Pueblo County commissioner who sits on the Lower Ark board…

Peter Nichols, an attorney and a Lower Ark director, told board members that intervening in the lawsuit would give them a seat at the table in any sort of trial or negotiated settlement that might occur…

Nunez said Colorado Springs needs to be held accountable and, in the nearly six years he has been on the board, he’s heard the same thing from Colorado Springs over and over again.

“We’ve met with the (Colorado Springs) City Council. I guess to put it in better terms, we meet with half of the City Council because they are always waiting for the next city council,” Nunez said.

“We have talked and talked, and I think it is time that actions be taken.”

[…]

“As long as they can keep giving us the stiff arm — put us off, put us off, put us off — they don’t feel like they have any obligation because, quite frankly, if they have a violation, they pay a small fine and that fine is far less than rectifying the entire problem,” [Melissa Esquibel] said.

Lower Ark District letter triggers Fountain Creek lawsuit

The confluence of Fountain Creek and the Arkansas River in Pueblo County -- photo via the Colorado Springs Business Journal
The confluence of Fountain Creek and the Arkansas River in Pueblo County — photo via the Colorado Springs Business Journal

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Robert Boczkiewicz):

The district says the lawsuit, filed by the federal and state governments, followed on the heels of a letter of concern the district sent Oct. 28 to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The lawsuit was filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Denver by the EPA and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment against the city of Colorado Springs.

The lawsuit alleges that discharges into the creek from the city’s stormwater sewage system violate the federal Clean Water Act and the state Water Quality Control Act.

“It’s time Colorado Springs be held accountable for its continued violations of discharge limits into Fountain Creek,” said Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Arkansas district. Its mission is to protect water resources of the Lower Arkansas River Valley.

“We’ve been trying to get the Springs to recognize their responsibility to Pueblo and the Lower Arkansas Valley for the past 12 years, but there has been close to zero progress when it comes to cleaning up the mess on Fountain Creek,” Winner said.

He said the Oct. 28 letter expressed concerns with Colorado Springs’ 2016 Stormwater Program Implementation Plan. The letter was part of the district’s long-standing complaints about the city’s discharges into the creek.

The lawsuit seeks:

  • A court order requiring Colorado Springs “to take all steps necessary to redress or mitigate the impact of its violations.”
  • A court order requiring the city “to develop, implement and enforce” its stormwater management program, as required by permits the government has issued. The federal and state laws invoked by the lawsuit regulate the discharges.
  • Imposition of monetary penalties on Colorado Springs for the violations.

“This is an historic day for Pueblo, which has been waiting decades for Colorado Springs to clean up Fountain Creek,” Anthony Nunez, a former Pueblo County commissioner who sits on the Lower Ark board, said in a statement issued by the district.

Melissa Esquibel, another Pueblo County member of the district’s board, said the board intends to discuss the lawsuit at its Wednesday meeting in Rocky Ford. The district encompasses Bent, Crowley, Otero, Prowers and Pueblo counties.

The Gazette newspaper in Colorado Springs reported Thursday that the city’s mayor, John Suthers, expressed frustration that the EPA and state environmental agency filed the lawsuit rather than recognize recent strides the city has made to deal with its storm sewer discharges.

“They know they have a mayor and City Council that recognize the problem, understand the problem and are intent on fixing the problem,” the mayor said. “Rather than working with us to get this done, they file a lawsuit.

“Every single dime going to litigate this thing and pay fines should be going into fixing the problem,” Suthers said.

The district sees it differently.

“They’ve dumped on Pueblo in the past, and it looks like they’ll keep on dumping,” Winner said. “We’ve seen nothing to convince us they have changed their attitude that Fountain Creek can be used as an open sewer.”

Fountain Creek erosion via The Pueblo Chieftain
Fountain Creek erosion via The Pueblo Chieftain

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Robert Boczkiewicz):

The lawsuit seeks a court order requiring Colorado Springs “to take all steps necessary to redress or mitigate the impact of its violations.”

Colorado Springs’ discharge from its storm sewer system of toxic pollutants into Fountain Creek has long been a cause of distrust and bad relations between Pueblo and its upstream neighbor.

The lawsuit was filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Denver.

The U.S. Department of Justice filed the lawsuit at the request of the Environmental Protection Agency. The Colorado Attorney General’s office filed the lawsuit at the request of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

The lawsuit claims that polluted discharges from Colorado Springs’ stormwater system violate the federal Clean Water Act and the state Water Quality Control Act.

The 51-page lawsuit states that the discharges flow into Monument Creek, Camp Creek, Cheyenne Creek and Shooks Run, as well as into Fountain Creek.

The lawsuit also seeks a court order to require Colorado Springs “to develop, implement and enforce” its stormwater management program, as required by permits the government has issued. The federal and state laws invoked by the lawsuit regulate the discharges.

The lawsuit also asks a judge to impose monetary penalties on Colorado Springs for the violations.

Water runoff from streets, parking lots and other surfaces picks up pollutants that drain into the stormwater sewage system, which discharges it into the creeks.

Pollutants include accumulated debris, chemicals and sediment. They “can adversely affect water quality, erode stream banks, destroy needed habitat for fish and other aquatic life, and make it more difficult and expensive for downstream users to effectively use the water,” the lawsuit states.

Under federal courts rules, the city is required to respond to the lawsuit after it is served on a city official. In their responses filed at the court, defendants typically state their position on the allegations and claims against them.

Report: Remediation Scenarios for Attenuating Peak Flows and Reducing Sediment Transport in Fountain Creek, Colorado, 2013
Report: Remediation Scenarios for Attenuating Peak Flows and Reducing Sediment Transport in Fountain Creek, Colorado, 2013

LAVWCD has a plan to increase and reallocate storage in John Martin Reservoir

Arkansas River Basin via The Encyclopedia of Earth
Arkansas River Basin via The Encyclopedia of Earth

From The La Junta Tribune-Democrat:

A new proposal for storage in John Martin Reservoir will benefit both Kansas and Colorado, said Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District Manager Jay Winner on Wednesday

A new proposal for storage in John Martin Reservoir will benefit both Kansas and Colorado, said Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District Manager Jay Winner on Wednesday. This proposal is in line with the Colorado Water Plan. The plan was presented by LAVWCD Engineer Mike Weber. Phase I is paid for by a Water Supply Reserve Account grant supplied by the Colorado Water Conservation Board. Research by LAVWCD has determined water users which could potentially use the John Martin Reservoir Account. LAVWCD has also determined the types of water available to those entities that would be suitable for storage at JMR. Those entities include Kansas and Colorado District 67 Ditches (Fort Bent, Keesee, Amity, Lamar, Hyde, Manvel, X-Y Graham, Buffalo and Sisson-Stubbs). Amity is largest user at 49.5 percent of Colorado’s share. This would be in Phase II, if the plan is accepted at the meeting of the 2016 Colorado Kansas Arkansas River Compact. Down the line and several years in the future, other potential users of the storage in JMR might include Catlin Augmentation Association, City of La Junta, City of Lamar, Colorado Water Protection and Development Association, and water conservancy districts such as LAVWCD.

John Martin Reservoir back in the day
John Martin Reservoir back in the day

A permanent pool of 10,000 acre-feet is to be maintained at JMR and is to remain there as authorized by the 1976 resolution, for the purposes of recreation and not subject to a tax.

Several other projects were presented by Winner and commented upon by the Board of Directors, all of whom were present except Legal Director Melissa Esquibel. The North La Junta Water Conservancy District Project, Phase 2, will go before the Otero County Commissioners on Oct. 24, having passed the Otero County Planning Commission. A request has been made to negotiate the contract with the Pueblo Reservoir for 25 years rather than year by year. A commercial building in McClave has been purchased by the LAVWCD to locate some of its offices, notably the engineering having to do with Rule 10, nearer the location of the sites. Agreement with Water Quality through the Department of Agriculture is being sought. Another project had to do with sealing the irrigation ponds and testing for selenium in the ground.

The City of Fountain is contributing $24,000 more than their original $50,000 to the fund for cleaning up Fountain Creek. The other $200,000 is divided equally between the City of Pueblo and the LAVWCD. The money for the project is coming from the Aurora refund, said Winter.

Straight line diagram of the Lower Arkansas Valley ditches via Headwaters
Straight line diagram of the Lower Arkansas Valley ditches via Headwaters

Conservation board grants money to entities — The Pueblo Chieftain

Arkansas River Basin -- Graphic via the Colorado Geological Survey
Arkansas River Basin — Graphic via the Colorado Geological Survey

From The Pueblo Chieftain:

The Colorado Water Conservation Board Thursday, meeting at Edwards, approved seven grants requested by the Arkansas Basin Roundtable.

Among them were funding to improve water supply to the Zinno Subdivision and more Fountain Creek flood control studies.

The St. Charles Mesa Water District received $75,000 from the CWCB toward a $1 million project to connect the Zinno Subdivision to the district.

The subdivision has experienced water outages several times in the past seven years and residents are unhappy about increasing water rates to maintain the system.

The current water provider, Joseph Water, claims the system is safe and reliable. The project is contingent on a district court case.

The state board also approved $93,000 toward a $133,300 study of flood control alternatives on Fountain Creek by the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District.

The district already has completed a U.S. Geological Survey study of the effectiveness of flood control measures, and opted to look at either a dam or series of detention ponds between Colorado Springs and Pueblo. It also determined any impact to water rights could be mitigated.

Other grants included:

  • $60,800 for the Arkansas Basin Roundtable coordinator, a position now filled by Gary Barber.
  • $50,000 toward a $60,000 project by the Fort Lyon Canal to evaluate seepage of the Adobe Creek Dam.
  • $175,000 to the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District toward a $250,000 study of agricultural tailwater return flows.
  • $306,600 to the Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District toward a $642,000 project to evaluate the potential for underground water storage in Fremont, Chafee and Custer counties.
  • $30,000 to the Holbrook Mutual Irrigation Co. for a flow measurement upgrade at its reservoir in Otero County.
  • All of the grants were approved by the Arkansas Basin Roundtable at its August meeting.

    Arkansas Valley Super Ditch update

    Arkansas Valley Conduit Comanche North route via Reclamation
    Arkansas Valley Conduit Comanche North route via Reclamation

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    Lease-fallowing plan so successful, no one notices

    After all of the fireworks that accompanied creation of the Arkansas Valley Super Ditch, the actual operation has attracted little notice.

    By design.

    “We put enough water into the ponds so that no one on the river knows this is happening,” Jack Goble, engineer for the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District, told the board Wednesday.

    Goble gave an update on the Super Ditch pilot program that is providing water to Fountain, Security and Fowler from farm ground dried up on the Catlin Canal near Rocky Ford. The water is accounted for on a dayto- day basis, with deliveries to the cities each month. The response of all participants has been enthusiastic.

    “With crop values down, they want to fallow more farms,” Goble said.

    But under [HB13-1248], passed by the state Legislature in 2013, that can’t happen. The law limits 30 percent of the farmland enrolled in the program to be fallowed in any given year, and each farm can be dried up only three years in 10.

    This year, only 26 percent of the 900 acres on six farms in the program were fallowed and so far have yielded more water than at the same time last year. Through the end of July, the program yielded 239 acre-feet (78 million gallons). That’s on track to beat last year’s yield of 409 acre-feet.

    But that depends on what happens the rest of this irrigation season, Goble said.

    Water not used on fields is channeled into recharge ponds, which mimic the runoff and seepage that would have occurred if the farms had been irrigated. The ponds also cover their own evaporative losses. Recharge stations measure the flows on the ditch each day.

    Those numbers are plugged into formulas that compute the consumptive use — the amount of water crops traditionally grown in the fields would have consumed.

    On a monthly basis, the consumptive use equivalent is transferred, on paper, from Lower Ark accounts to Security and Fountain accounts in Lake Pueblo, where it is transported through the Fountain Valley Conduit.

    For Fowler, the water is moved to Colorado Water Protective and Development Association accounts to augment the town’s wells.

    “We need to let the water community know, ‘Hey, this works,’ ’’ said Peter Nichols, attorney for the Lower Ark district and Super Ditch.

    Participants have had to overcome skepticism, opposition and even lawsuits since 2012 to achieve results that have been favorable to everyone involved, he said.

    Leah Martinsson and Megan Gutwein, of Nichols’ Boulder Law office, are writing articles about the success of the program for national water and legal journals. Nichols also suggested presenting a report on the progress of Super Ditch to Colorado Water Congress and the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

    “We’ve done a pretty incredible job,” added Lynden Gill, president of the Lower Ark board. “The first year, it seemed like there were nothing but roadblocks. It’s absolutely incredible, the progress we’ve made.”

    Lower Ark board meeting recap

    Straight line diagram of the Lower Arkansas Valley ditches via Headwaters
    Straight line diagram of the Lower Arkansas Valley ditches via Headwaters

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    Improving irrigation efficiency in the Lower Arkansas Valley could improve water quality and save farmers money.

    Those are conclusions reached by Tim Gates, a Colorado State University- Fort Collins engineering professor who has overseen 17 years of a large-scale study of salinity of area farms.

    “It’s designed to address the problems facing agriculture and the environment in the valley,” Gates told the Lower Ark board at its monthly meeting this week.

    Those problems include shallow groundwater tables, or waterlogging; excessive salt buildup; crop yield reduction; and buildup of selenium, uranium and nutrient concentrations.

    Studies began in 1999 to track the rate of increase and develop strategies for dealing with the problem. Those studies have been funded by state and local sponsors, including the Lower Ark district.

    A new project, under the auspices of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, will address changes in irrigation that can improve conditions.

    “This will make recommendations for pilot programs throughout the Arkansas Valley that will be tested,” Gates said.
    Board chairman Lynden Gill asked Gates what some examples of pilot projects would be.

    Gates responded that several have already been proven, including:

  • The Super Ditch lease-fallowing program. Letting some ground recover periodically can improve its productivity over time.
  • Improving technology, such as adding sprinklers or drip irrigation.
  • Sealing canals with PAM, which can reduce seepage by 30-80 percent.
  • Management of fertilizer to avoid excessive amounts.
  • Improving riparian corridors, which can act to filter out contaminants.
  • The district has a new goal of improving water quality in the Lower Arkansas Valley. This could improve crop production and wildlife habitat. It also might fend off future legal challenges by Kansas over water quality.

    Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District board meeting recap

    View of runoff, also called nonpoint source pollution, from a farm field in Iowa during a rain storm. Topsoil as well as farm fertilizers and other potential pollutants run off unprotected farm fields when heavy rains occur. (Credit: Lynn Betts/U.S. Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service/Wikimedia Commons)
    View of runoff, also called nonpoint source pollution, from a farm field in Iowa during a rain storm. Topsoil as well as farm fertilizers and other potential pollutants run off unprotected farm fields when heavy rains occur. (Credit: Lynn Betts/U.S. Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service/Wikimedia Commons)

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    A district formed in 2002 to keep water in the Arkansas Valley is turning its attention toward the quality of that water.

    “We cannot stick our heads in the sand,” General Manager Jay Winner told the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District board Wednesday. “There’s going to be a paradigm shift to water quality.”

    Winner’s comment followed an assessment of how state regulations on nutrients in water will shift in the near future by Peter Nichols, the district’s attorney and a former chairman of the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission.

    Nichols explained that four large dischargers in the Arkansas River basin — Colorado Springs, Pueblo, Fountain and Security — are headed toward state standards that will require them to further treat discharged wastewater to meet numeric standards for nutrients by 2022.

    In addition, there will be more limits on nonpoint source pollutants, those which do not have a defined source. While the state enforces water quality, the directives are issued by the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

    “What they’ll look at is whether the levels are protective to uses downstream,” Nichols said.

    That would affect the largest user of water in the basin: large-scale, commercial irrigated agriculture.

    “This is a very large problem,” Nichols said. “The state has taken an incremental approach to fund projects to get (the numbers) under control.”

    The Lower Ark has taken an active role in flood control on Fountain Creek and the Arkansas River in the past, Winner said. It will now be more concerned about projects that improve water quality as well.

    There also is concern that regulations for irrigators on water quality could tighten, and the Lower Ark’s Super Ditch program, which fallows some land so water can be leased, would benefit water quality, according to ongoing studies by Colorado State University- Fort Collins.

    The Lower Ark also is developing a pilot project on 2,000 acres to see how improvements like sprinklers or drip systems could improve water quality. This would complement past studies that show water quality gains by changing irrigation patterns.

    Arkansas River Farms denies it has plans to move water to cities — The Pueblo Chieftain

    Straight line diagram of the Lower Arkansas Valley ditches via Headwaters
    Straight line diagram of the Lower Arkansas Valley ditches via Headwaters

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    An attorney for Arkansas River Farms told the Fort Lyon Canal board Monday that the partnership’s plans do not include selling water to Front Range communities.

    “That’s not what this program does,” attorney Steve Sims said, referring to suggestions in a recent Chieftain editorial that the $50 million purchase of farms on the Fort Lyon Canal were a first step toward permanent dry-up.

    Sims explained afterward that the plan to shift some of the water into well augmentation plans and dry up other acres is a way to make the farms more valuable in the future.

    “It’s really just moving into corporate farming,” Sims said.

    Karl Nyquist, who talked in 2011 about moving Lamar Canal water to the Front Range, issued a statement to the board that his company, C&A, has invested in the area for 20 years and is now working with the Syracuse Dairy in Kansas to supply forage from 10,000 acres of farm ground.

    He also said his new partners, Resource Land Holdings, are interested in investing another $15$20 million in developing the Fort Lyon land and working with other farmers to create more valuable dairy or vegetable farms.

    Not everyone was convinced.

    “I think there’s going to be a demon in the shadows,” said Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District, who was among about 75 people, mostly shareholders, who attended the hearing. “Nyquist said he was going to move the water off the farmland, and this is just a parallel path. A leopard can change the color of his spots, but he’s still a leopard.”

    The Lower Ark will wait until a water court case is filed to formalize its objections to the ARF plan, Winner added.

    Arkansas River Farms asked the Fort Lyon board to initiate bylaw changes and approve an operating agreement to change the timing of irrigation as part of a plan that would dry up 6,400 acres in order to improve irrigation on 6,200 acres clustered near Las Animas.

    The board plans at least another day of hearings to answer more questions.

    Fort Lyon shareholders were invited to attend the daylong public meeting at St. Mary’s School, and to question the engineers and partners in the Arkansas River Farms about the perceived effects. The partnership requested the meeting at last year’s annual meeting as a way to iron out canal company issues before a case is filed in water court to change 7,500 shares of the 17,413 shares ARF owns from agricultural to well augmentation.

    The board’s concern is whether the plan leaves enough water in shared laterals to properly serve remaining shareholders and how canal drains, the way water is returned to the Arkansas River, would be affected.

    “I’m scared to death of what will happen on the drains, where they could do anything they want,” said Don McBee, who farms near Lamar.

    The amounts of water ARF suggests for mediation for laterals are not measurable and longterm impacts on water quality 10 years down the road are unknown, McBee said.

    “If they get an agreement, what will the next guy to buy these farms get away with?” he asked.

    2016 #coleg HB16-1228: Aurora tells judge legislation hurts ability to take Ark Valley water– The Pueblo Chieftain

    Colorado Capitol building
    Colorado Capitol building

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    Aurora has filed a water court challenge to its 2009 agreement with the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District, claiming legislation the city itself backed could hurt its ability to remove water from the Arkansas Valley…

    HB1228, the latest version of flex water rights legislation Aurora, Colorado Corn and Ducks Unlimited began promoting in 2013, was signed into law by Gov. John Hickenlooper in May. The current bill is titled “Alternative Transfer Mechanism for Water Rights” rather than flex legislation.

    During committee hearings, lawmakers tiptoed around saying the bill set up a flex water right. But some members of Colorado Water Congress jokingly called it “Son of Flex” during the process.

    The bill allows water to be transferred from farms to other uses five years out of 10, but only within the basin of origin under a new type of court decree. It also requires the Colorado Water Conservation Board and state engineer to approve and develop rules about how to implement transfers on an annual basis.

    Aurora’s lobbyist, Margy Christiansen, registered in support of the bill in March. Also in March, Lower Ark officials testified before the CWCB that Arkansas Valley Super Ditch would have no interest in using the legislation because it was too cumbersome.

    Lower Ark proposed a different method that has yet to be introduced as legislation.

    In a court filing Friday, Aurora’s attorney John Dingess asked Division 2 Water Court Judge Larry Schwartz to limit Super Ditch’s used of HB1228, claiming it would reduce the amount of water available to Aurora to take out of the Arkansas River basin.

    One of the provisions of the 2009 agreement between Aurora and the Lower Ark was that Aurora would first attempt to lease water, if needed, from the Super Ditch.

    In his filing, Dingess argues that Super Ditch would not be able to lease water to Aurora because the city is outside the Arkansas River basin. He also argues there would be less water available to Aurora because the new bill would make leases available five years out of 10.

    In the Super Ditch pilot program, leases are available only three years in 10 from any farm.

    Aurora is constrained by its 2003 agreement with the Southeastern District to take water only three years in 10 until 2028. Aurora could lease water in seven years out of 15 until 2043 under the agreement. Aurora is limited to leasing 10,000 acre-feet of water (3.26 billion gallons) annually and only in drought-recovery years.

    Finally, Dingess questions the constitutionality of HB1228 because it promotes speculation.

    “The change frees up to half the yield of the water right from the anti-speculation doctrine in that neither the type of use nor place of use need be specified in the change decree,” Dingess wrote. “Suspension of the anti-speculation doctrine presents constitutional questions.”

    Arkansas River Basin storage administration

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    To look at the numbers, you’d expect to see otters frolicking everywhere in the Arkansas River basin.

    Then you realize that the nearly 10,000 storage vessels in Southeastern Colorado are spread over more than 28,000 square miles in mostly arid or semiarid areas. Then consider that many of the reservoirs are seldom full. Finally, the vast majority are pond-sized, not lakes.

    Still, someone has to keep an eye on them all, because water stored in them rightfully belongs to someone else. In the past 10 years, there have been 79 orders issued by the state in relation to improper storage practices.

    “The Arkansas River is a big basin, and there’s a lot of complexity in the basin,” Assistant Division Engineer Bill Tyner told the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District last week. “We put our emphasis on the top 200 structures.”

    Tyner then walked the board through the different types of reservoirs that are known to exist. Even that can be a problem to determine, because reservoirs are man-made, while natural features such as lakes, ponds or wetlands on a creek might show up in aerial photographs.
    There are more than 1,500 decreed structures in the Arkansas Valley, although some may not be in use or are restricted.

    Of those, only 20 hold more than 10,000 acrefeet (3.25 billion gallons), and another 169 hold more than 100 acre-feet.

    The rest are there, legal to use, but subject to water rights administration. In other words, they cannot store water if a user with a senior appropriation right is calling for the water downstream.

    The largest reservoirs are John Martin Reservoir, which was built for flood control and to settle interstate compact differences between Kansas and Colorado, and Lake Pueblo, which was built as part of the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project for water supply, flood control and recreation.
    There are nearly 1,800 erosion control dams, which must be under 15 feet in height, store less than 10 acre-feet and can be drained in 36 hours. They have to be dry 80 percent of the time.

    “There are a lot of these at the Pinon Canyon Maneuver Site to mitigate vehicle damage,” Tyner said.

    As would be expected, erosion control dams are found in the hilly areas of the basin in the Upper Arkansas, El Paso County and the Spanish Peaks area.

    There are more than 5,400 livestock tanks, which fall under a specific state statute that has the same criteria as erosion dams, but also sets a chronological priority within the same drainage.

    “Livestock ponds have a seniority system, but it’s not as formal as a decreed right,” Tyner said.

    Gravel pit ponds are a different category. There are about 750. The ponds intercept groundwater because of activities by humans, so must be augmented to replace evaporation losses. Those are most common on the Eastern Plains, where gravel mining is prevalent.

    There are roughly 140 head stabilization ponds, which are limited to storing water up to 72 hours, by state policy, primarily to reduce sediment for sprinkler or drip irrigation.

    Aside from the known reservoirs, there are unknown storage systems including post-wildland fire facilities, stormwater detention ponds and unregistered ponds used for erosion control, livestock or head stabilization.

    Fountain Creek cleanup projects on hold until fall

    Fountain Creek flood debris May 2014 via The Pueblo Chieftain
    Fountain Creek flood debris May 2014 via The Pueblo Chieftain

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    Projects to clean up Fountain Creek will resume this fall, after danger of flooding has subsided.

    At least two projects are anticipated. One would remove debris from the channel between Eighth Street and Colorado 47, while the other would reconstruct the access road and embankment on a side detention pond behind the North Side Walmart.

    “Getting debris out of the channel is the first priority,” said Jeff Bailey, Pueblo stormwater manager. “The debris that gets in there can cause havoc, and it’s the reason we lost the embankment.”

    Work will have to wait until water goes down and there’s less danger of flooding.

    “We’re in the flood season, and you don’t want to have equipment sitting in the creek if something happens,” Bailey said. “Also, in the summer, the vegetation is thick and your equipment can overheat. We’ll wait until the flows go down.”

    The city has started cleaning up debris north of the Colorado 47 bridge, in order to reduce the chances that the detention pond could be further damaged. Some of the trees obstructing the Eighth Street bridge also were removed, although sediment still is clogging portals under the bridge.

    The dredging will get a boost from a $279,000 project funded by Pueblo County, the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District, the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District and the Colorado Water Conservation Board. Pueblo County and the Lower Ark are chipping in $100,000 each; Fountain, $74,000; and the state $5,000.

    The project is the brainchild of Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Ark district, and is similar to a project at North La Junta on the Arkansas River. The idea is to temporarily clear the channel at relatively little cost.

    “It shouldn’t cost millions of dollars for routine maintenance,” Winner said. “What we will find, if we can get rid of the debris, is that we will pass the water through more quickly without flooding and get the water downstream to farmers.”

    Long-term projects can be more costly, such as the Army Corps of Engineers’ $750,000 project to fortify Fountain Creek at the railroad tracks near 13th Street. That project rebuilt an earlier $500,000 project that began to wash out during last year’s floods. The detention pond and a sediment collector that were installed in 2011 as demonstration projects cost $1.5 million and are not working well.

    Bailey is not sure how $3 million in payments over three years from Colorado Springs Utilities would be used. Under the April stormwater agreement between Colorado Springs and Pueblo County, the money is available if it is matched by the city of Pueblo. Pueblo can use $1.8 million previously paid to the county by Utilities for its share of the match.

    “I have a pretty good idea of the types of projects: to recertify the levee, and for removal of debris, vegetation and silt,” Bailey said. “I want to make darned sure we’re using it for the purposes it was intended for in the right way.”

    Pueblo County Children’s Water Festival recap

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    You could sit all day and stare at the Pueblo Dam and not have a clue about why it’s there, who built it and what it’s for.

    Or, if you’re lucky enough to be a fourth- or fifth-grader in Pueblo County, you could spend a day filled with fun activities and learn everything from water safety to the water cycle — including the Pueblo Dam and the kitchen sink.

    The Children’s Water Festival began in 1999 and continues each year since, except for 2015, in early May at Colorado State University-Pueblo. About 1,800 fourth- or fifth-graders attend each year from Pueblo City Schools (D60), Pueblo County School District 70 and private schools.

    In 2015, the festival was canceled, ironically, because of weather. It was wet and cold the entire month of May, but the big concern was the possibility of thunderstorms. The 2016 program was geared for fifth-graders, who had missed their chance as fourth-graders last year.

    “The kids have always enjoyed it,” said Linda Hopkins, a retired employee of the Bureau of Reclamation, who helped coordinate the festival for many years.

    She explained that the Pueblo event was patterned after the Nebraska Groundwater Festival, which started in Grand Island, Neb., in 1988.

    Internally, Reclamation decided a Pueblo festival would be a good idea in 1999. By then, there were a few other water festivals for children in some other parts of Colorado.

    Reclamation in 1999 was involved in one of its most controversial periods in Pueblo since it built Pueblo Dam in the 1970s. The dam was being reinforced to improve its stability, a move that some interpreted as a precursor to enlargement that could benefit large municipal users such as Colorado Springs and Aurora.

    “Part of it was to get the bureau’s name out there in a positive way, but mostly it was to expose the kids to water information,” Hopkins recalled. The idea was that the children would take the information home and discuss it with parents or other family members.

    Local water providers were immediately supportive, and continue to contribute resources and people each year. The festival has operated smoothly, organizing squadrons of teachers, students and parents armed only with coolers of sack lunches and a big appetite for a six-hour course of water games, lessons and contests.

    This year’s festival, held last Tuesday at CSU-Pueblo, was sponsored by Reclamation, the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District, the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, the Pueblo Board of Water Works, Pueblo West and the St. Charles Mesa Water Conservancy District. CSU-Pueblo makes the entire campus available for activities.

    “We have a closeout meeting after the festival each year, then start meeting in September or October to plan the next year,” said Toni Gonzales, of the Southeastern district.

    The presenters range from high school students to water professionals. With the exception of the Mad Science demonstration — a crowd-pleasing experience that goes beyond water — all of the presenters are volunteers.

    “I came to one of these when I was in fourth grade,” said Tony Valenzuela, a member of the Future Farmers of America and Pueblo County High School student.

    On Tuesday, he was demonstrating how to set irrigation siphon tubes. The process involves coaxing water through a 4-foot metal tube by capping one end and firmly jiggling it. Farmers use the skill to flood irrigate crops planted in furrows.

    “Our family used to farm,” Valenzuela said.

    Erik Duran, fire inspector for the Pueblo Fire Department, went over a math lesson with the visual aids of 1-gallon and 5-gallon water cans and a pumper truck that can hold up to 3,000 gallons.

    “That hose can pump 1,500 gallons per minute, so how long would it take to empty the tank?” Duran said.

    “Two minutes!” the students responded, but you could tell they were thinking: “How long before we get to shoot the hose at those targets?”

    Nearby, other students were solving a simpler equation as workers from Pueblo Water demonstrated in real time what happens when a pipe leaks under pressure. Water was shooting out in a 20-foot plume and the goal appeared to be finding out the minimum time running through water (while screaming) in order to soak the maximum amount of clothing.

    About three seconds, apparently.

    If you go to a water festival, chances are good you’ll get wet.

    On the stage of Hoag Hall, Pueblo County High School students gave a theatrical demonstration of the hydrologic cycle, including the popular song: “Evaporation, Condensation, Precipitation, Runoff.”

    Well, it was mostly popular because the high school students invited all the teachers in the auditorium to join them onstage in an impromptu line dance.

    Other outside displays demonstrated the water cycle, how to stay safe while boating or forest health. Inside, students in one room conducted a mock water court, applying Colorado’s water law to a manufactured dispute. In another, Water Wizards from competing schools answered some tough questions that ranged from global to local in scope.

    Tough?

    Such as: “How many gallons are used to produce the typical Pueblo lunch (hamburgers, French fries and a soda).”

    That’s downright cruel to a kid who hasn’t eaten lunch yet and can look forward only to the peanut butter and jelly sandwich in the cooler. Still, one young lady had the gumption to answer: 1,500 gallons?

    Correct, or roughly half a fire truck.

    Water festivals are becoming more popular. Trinidad hosted its first in 2012, at the height of a drought. Salida and Colorado Springs are looking at starting their own.

    After 17 years, Pueblo’s version continues to give kids a chance to soak up water knowledge.

    Southeastern #Colorado Water board meeting recap

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    Full reservoirs in the Arkansas River basin point to the need for even more storage when dry years return, the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District learned Thursday.

    “I don’t think people realize how close we were to spilling water this year,” said Jim Broderick, executive director. “This is the reason you need more storage. People think of storage only during drought and when it’s flooding. We need to get past that and look at additional storage to capture more water.”

    The storage situation may not be entirely settled, because heavy rain in May could mean some water safely stored may be released.

    “Unless we have another Miracle May, we’ll be all right,” said Phil Reynolds, of the Colorado Division of Water Resources.

    To get to “all right,” however, water users have cooperatively released water from Lake Pueblo to meet flood control requirements.

    Capacity in Lake Pueblo was decreased by 11,000 acre-feet, to a total of 245,000 acre-feet, this year because of sedimentation. Space for 93,000 acre-feet is reserved for flood control after April 15. That was complicated this year because of high residual storage from 2015.

    Aurora, whose water would be first to spill, leased its stored water to farmers last year. The Pueblo Board of Water Works used early leases to move some of its water out of storage, but still has higher than usual levels in reserve.

    The Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District moved about 1,500 acre-feet into the permanent pool at John Martin. Colorado Parks and Wildlife moved 5,000 acre-feet of water it leased into Trinidad Reservoir.

    But the valley may be running out of places to store water.

    “Moving forward in how we move and manage water, storage is a key component,” said Alan Hamel, who was president of the Southeastern district board when the Preferred Storage Option Plan was developed and now represents the basin on the Colorado Water Conservation Board. “This basin needs water storage in the upper basin, more in Pueblo and below Pueblo.”

    PSOP, which developed in the late 1990s, was abandoned by the district after multiparty negotiations broke down in 2007, but certain elements moved ahead. One of those was how excess capacity in Lake Pueblo could be better used.

    Right now, there are about 27,000 acre-feet of water in the so-called if-and-when accounts that might be vulnerable to spills. Another 57,000 acre-feet of winter water likely would not spill this year, unless more water than expected is collected through the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project.

    About 65,000 acrefeet of Fry-Ark water is expected to be brought into Turquoise Lake through the Boustead Tunnel, if conditions remain average, said Roy Vaughan, manager of the project for the Bureau of Reclamation.

    “But that’s a moving target,” Vaughan said.

    "Miracle May" -- Upper Colorado River Basin May 2015 precipitation as a percent of normal
    “Miracle May” — Upper Colorado River Basin May 2015 precipitation as a percent of normal

    2016 #coleg: HB16-1392 (Water Banks Administration) update

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    A water banking bill being considered in the state Legislature would help farmers keep their water rights while increasing the range of uses.

    “Farmers always get the short end of the stick. The state likes to pick on farmers,” said Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District.

    Farms face a policy of “use it or lose it” that means if water can’t be used on a specific parcel of land, it flows downstream. Water banking could mean about 5-10 percent more water could be put to use each year, according to some estimates.

    “Once a farmer deposits the water in this water bank, he can use it in any way within the Arkansas Valley,” Winner explained.

    The bill, HB16-1392, is sponsored by Reps. Jeni Arndt, D-Fort Collins, and Ed Vigil, D-Fort Garland, and Sen. Larry Crowder, R-Alamosa. The Lower Ark district is backing the bill as a way of improving on the 2013 legislation, HB1248, that established a pilot program now being used by the Arkansas Valley Super Ditch.

    Winner spoke about the bill Thursday with The Pueblo Chieftain editorial board.

    Winner expects the water bank to succeed where others have failed because it will be useful to farmers. It allows for short-term leases, either to cities or other farms, that are now possible, but expensive and complicated to execute. No change in water right is required, since the leases would be made under administrative rules under the supervision of the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

    “This is a way to bring some land back into production,” Winner said. “The water rights decree never changes, but it provides more options to the farmers.”

    The legislation also could advance concepts such as deficit crop irrigation, supplementing sprinklers or well and or partial irrigation of a parcel.

    Farmers would be limited to putting water into the “bank” every three years in 10 or using no more than 30 percent of the total consumptive use water supply over that time. Water would not be able to leave its basin of origin. [ed. emphasis mine]

    “It makes the water more valuable to farmers,” Winner said

    Straight line diagram of the Lower Arkansas Valley ditches via Headwaters
    Straight line diagram of the Lower Arkansas Valley ditches via Headwaters

    “…eventually land use planning and water planning will have to come together” — Alan Hamel

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    Nearly 20 years ago, Alan Hamel was fretting about the need for more water storage in the Arkansas Valley.

    He’s still on the case.

    “This is a good year to talk about water storage, as we did in 1999,” Hamel told the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District board this week. “If we had built it, we would have an additional 75,000 acre-feet of storage.”

    At the time, Hamel was president of the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, which had come up with the Preferred Storage Options Plan. The plan proved unworkable because of disagreement among water users over the future purposes of storage.

    Today, the need for storage in the Arkansas River basin is closer to 100,000 acre-feet, and most likely will be found in smaller projects, repairs that remove restrictions, better use of existing structures and aquifer storage, Hamel said.

    The retired executive director of Pueblo Water is now a member of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, which in November approved Colorado’s Water Plan. The plan was ordered up by Gov. John Hickenlooper in 2013 and developed after hundreds of meetings throughout the state.

    It built on the 2004 Statewide Water Supply Initiative, which identified a municipal gap in future supply, and the 2005 creation of the Interbasin Compact Committee and Basin Roundtables. Those activities drew thousands of Coloradans into a conversation about water.

    “Going on 56 years in water, I have never seen an effort like this,” Hamel said. “It includes protection of agriculture, and watershed health is a critical component that wasn’t envisioned when we began.”

    Hamel credited the Lower Ark district, itself created by voters during the drought of 2002, and its General Manager Jay Winner as constant advocates for protection of Arkansas River water.

    “I see Jay in every corner of the state,” Hamel said.

    But the Lower Ark board is not entirely convinced the state water plan does enough to protect agriculture.

    “As long as growth is the highest and best use for water, you can’t see any way ag can sustain itself, can you?” asked Beulah rancher Reeves Brown, a Lower Ark board member.
    Without a plan, Colorado stands to lose 700,000 acres of farmland, Hamel replied. He commended the Lower Ark board for pioneering solutions like the Arkansas Valley Super Ditch to find ways water without permanent dry-ups.

    “Agriculture was one of the many forces that drove the discussion,” Hamel said. “Some cities are growing on to ag land, but eventually landuse planning and water planning will have to come together.”

    Arkansas River Basin via The Encyclopedia of Earth
    Arkansas River Basin via The Encyclopedia of Earth

    Fountain Creek: “Colorado Springs has offered $19 million a year, which is inadequate” — Ray Kogovsek

    Fountain Creek flooding 1999 via the CWCB
    Fountain Creek flooding 1999 via the CWCB

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    Pueblo City Council wants the federal government to crack down on Colorado Springs for violating its stormwater permit in order to reduce the risk of damage from Fountain Creek flooding.

    Two weeks after approving a resolution with a list of recommended conditions for Pueblo County commissioners to apply in an anticipated intergovernmental agreement, council voted to send the same list to the U.S. Attorney’s office.

    Among the conditions would be the expenditure by Colorado Springs of $50 million annually to address a $534 million backlog of stormwater control projects, adequate staffing to maintain structures already in place, a reliable source of future stormwater funding and additional help to dredge Fountain Creek in Pueblo in order to maintain levees.

    The action was requested by City Council President Steve Nawrocki because Colorado Springs is on two tracks of negotiations over its lack of stormwater control, City Attorney Dan Kogovsek explained.

    “Colorado Springs has offered $19 million a year, which is inadequate,” Kogovsek said.

    Pueblo County is looking at assurances of future stormwater control in relation to its 1041 permit for Southern Delivery System. The U.S. Attorney’s office is working with the Environmental Protection Agency on prosecuting Colorado Springs violations of its stormwater permit.

    The city’s resolution refers to the 2009 demise of the Colorado Springs stormwater enterprise as a contributing factor to continued sedimentation in Fountain Creek that increases the risk of flooding in Pueblo.

    A Wright Water Engineers report for Pueblo County revealed that 370,000 tons of sediment annually is deposited in Fountain Creek between Colorado Springs and Pueblo. A root cause for the increased load is the increase in impervious surfaces in Colorado Springs since 1980.

    Colorado Springs had a stormwater enterprise in March 2009 when Pueblo County issued the 1041 permit for SDS. The Bureau of Reclamation considered it to be in place when it issued a record of decision for SDS.

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    Colorado Springs has not confronted its stormwater problem on Fountain Creek for years, and there’s no reason to believe they will after the current crisis blows over, in Jay Winner’s opinion.

    “Every elected official from the Springs knows how to feed this crap to Pueblo in order to keep sending it down Fountain Creek,” said Winner, general manager of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District. “Every city council comes to us with the same message. I want our elected officials in Pueblo to understand what has happened.”

    Colorado Springs last month sent emissaries to the Pueblo Board of Water Works, Pueblo City Council and Pueblo County commissioners to convince them that the city has seen the light after facing legal action from the federal Department of Justice and Environmental Protection Agency.

    That didn’t stop council from passing a resolution recommending that commissioners push for $50 million annual funding for stormwater in Colorado Springs, more help with dredging Fountain Creek and other measures to mitigate damage from increased flows. Commissioners maintained a hard stance that the 1041 conditions require stormwater control, and might not be enough if just followed to the letter.

    Do the right thing

    In short, both wanted Colorado Springs to do the right thing when it comes to Fountain Creek.

    The Lower Ark district has been trying to do that since 2005, shortly after Winner stepped into his job — first through negotiations and then through the threat of a federal lawsuit. They worked cooperatively on a $1.2 million Fountain Creek corridor plan that was crucial to early funding of the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District. The relationship has soured.

    Winner was at some of the meetings last month where Colorado Springs pleaded for time and understanding, but is far from convinced Colorado Springs will follow through on promises this time. He heard Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers’ pitch that it’s better to spend money on solutions than lawyers — even though lawyers were in the mayor’s entourage.

    “Put your money where your mouth is. There are a couple of ways to do this. Maybe it’s time the legal system goes through the process, to make sure Colorado Springs spends the money on the solution,” Winner said. “I believe they could be fined up to $38,000 a day, so that might get their attention. Maybe the EPA could talk to its sister agency, the Bureau of Reclamation, and not let them turn on SDS until this gets taken care of.”

    2013: Shortfalls found

    Winner is concerned that last year’s EPA audit said Colorado Springs had taken little action to correct deficiencies identified in a February 2013 audit.

    A look at the audit reveals the Colorado Springs stormwater department had been gutted in late 2012 and personnel reassigned to other areas.

    Testing of water quality samples in the Fountain Creek watershed was farmed out to the U.S. Geological Survey, the results were ignored and staff was poorly trained to do the work itself.

    Waivers of regulations meant to assure developers would properly install drainage structures and ponds were granted routinely without inspection, resulting in siltedup, overgrown ditches and basins.

    City staff failed to follow through on cleaning up a gasoline spill that occurred during the inspection while the EPA waited on site. Snow was forecast for the next day.

    The solution promised to federal inspectors was a regional stormwater task force that would eventually try to form the Pikes Peak Regional Drainage District, which would have generated $40 million annually to address a $700 million backlog of needs in El Paso County.

    When voters rejected that idea in November 2014, Colorado Springs apparently did nothing to correct the problems by the time EPA inspectors returned.

    2015: Nothing fixed

    The 2015 EPA audit revealed interviews with city stormwater staff who said they did not have the funding or personnel to fix the problems identified by the EPA.

    It revealed other things too.

    For instance, a 2010 Colorado Springs Utilities stabilization project for a 66-inch-diameter sanitary sewer line on Shooks Run was not properly installed, never inspected by city stormwater staff and never maintained.

    Colorado Springs staff told inspectors $11 million in high priority projects could be undertaken when Federal Emergency Management Agency funds came through. The EPA noted that some of the projects were routine maintenance, not flood damage.

    The audits are far from exhaustive. In 2013, a team of four inspectors spent four days poking through records and visiting some sites. In 2015, five inspectors spent two days.

    But the offenses were judged serious enough that EPA threatened legal action last year.

    Chess game

    So what was the Lower Ark district doing during the two-year gap?

    Trying to move stormwater into the limelight.

    Unsuccessfully, it turned out, as Colorado Springs made flanking maneuvers in a political game of chess.

    Colorado Springs was, in 2013, trying to deal with the aftermath of the Waldo Canyon Fire, which destroyed 346 homes in 2012 and badly damaged the mountains west of the city. The challenges included building storm detention ponds that were quickly filled in with silt and overrun by summer rains.
    Winner tried to raise the issue with the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District, which had shelved its own plans to secure a funding source — state law allows it to collect a mill levy — while the stormwater task force worked in El Paso County.

    In July 2013, Winner raised questions about Fountain Creek water quality as it relates to downstream farming, but was told by Colorado Springs Mayor Steve Bach and Council President Keith King that the city was not obligated to do projects that benefit Pueblo or downstream communities in the Arkansas Valley.

    Bach presented a list that purported to show $46 million in stormwater projects, although many of those used federal grants, were aimed at fire mitigation or would not be completed by the end of the year. Many dealt with new damage that occurred after the 2009 demise of the stormwater enterprise.

    In September 2013, during one of the most intense floods on Fountain Creek since 1999, Lower Ark attorney Peter Nichols explained the connection between high water levels on Fountain Creek and the presence of E. coli in the water at a Pueblo County commissioners hearing.

    Nichols pointed out the 2012 report card of the American Society of Civil Engineers that gave Colorado Springs mostly Ds and Fs when it came to stormwater control. The city’s per capita funding was the lowest for any large city in Colorado.

    At the same meeting, Pueblo County commissioners heard assurances from Colorado Springs Utilities officials and Councilwoman Jan Martin, who voted to repeal the stormwater enterprise in 2009, that stormwater needs would be met.

    Colorado Springs also was successful in 2013 in fending off a legal challenge in the state Supreme Court and an appellate court by the Pueblo district attorney — Bill Thiebaut started it; Jeff Chostner finished it — over water quality in Fountain Creek.

    A lawsuit is born

    A week after the commissioners’ hearing, the Lower Ark board instructed Nichols to begin preparing a federal lawsuit alleging violations of the Clean Water Act. That lawsuit was put on hold last year until the EPA action plays out, but federal attorneys are plowing some of the same ground.

    Originally, the Lower Ark sought to sue Reclamation because stormwater control is tied into the federal contract for Southern Delivery System. It’s also a part of Pueblo County’s 1041 permit for SDS, which must be met under federal guidelines.

    After the 2014 vote against the regional stormwater authority, the focus of the lawsuit shifted to Colorado Springs.

    “We’d heard enough by that point,” Winner said.

    Winner has pushed for setting up stormwater as a standalone utility that would be isolated from political whims of Colorado Springs City Council. The current promise of $19 million annually doesn’t necessarily bind future councils to spend money in a way to improve conditions on Fountain Creek, he said.

    “I’m glad the EPA is doing something, because Colorado Springs has been thumbing their noses at us for a long time,” Winner said. “They came down here and tried to tell the water board that street sweeping in Colorado Springs will somehow benefit Pueblo. I’d recommend we delay SDS until the EPA gives Colorado Springs a clean bill of health.”

    Lower Ark board meeting recap

    From The Fowler Tribune (Bette McFarren):

    The Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District board of directors determined to send letters to the Board of Reclamation and the Pueblo County Commissioners at their Monday meeting.

    The Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District board of directors determined to send letters to the Board of Reclamation and the Pueblo County Commissioners at their Monday meeting. They also heard informative reports, backed a youth program for the Colorado State Fair, and gave Mark Pifher a dubious reception on the latest Colorado Springs stormwater control program.

    Attorneys Melissa Esquibel and Peter Nichols prepared letters to the Bureau of Reclamation and to the Pueblo County Commissioners concerning the stormwater issue with Colorado Springs. Mark Pifher was present to represent Colorado Springs and presented their new plan, which sounded suspiciously like their old plan to the LAVWCD. “We’re sketchy,” said Nichols. Nichols asked for a copy of the plan.

    The letter written by Attorney Melissa Esquibel and board member Anthony Nunez of Pueblo asked the Board of Reclamation to review the contract for the Southern Delivery System and suspend it until Colorado Springs can prove it has a stormwater system. At the meeting, Manager Jay Winner and Chairman Lynden Gill established the plan as presented by Pifher has no oversight, other than the city itself.

    The letter drafted by Peter Nichols at Winner’s request, is to Pueblo County commissioners. It cites provisions in Pueblo County’s 1041 permit for SDS that require Colorado Springs to meet all federal, state and local permits, regulations and laws.

    Reeves Brown asked for a contribution from the Board of $1,872 initially and $400 a year, for as long as they wanted to be members, for the 1872 Club, a part of a foundation for the support of State Fair activities. This club supports the young exhibitors, the FFA and 4-H members who participate in the fair competitions each year. The board agreed with and passed his request.

    Hydrologist Karl Wetlaufer, United States Department of Agriculture/Natural Resources Conservation Service, explained the Snotel program for reporting snowpack and its effect on stream flow and water supply in Colorado. Snotel stands for SNOwpack TELemetry system. It is a data collection system that works through radio transmission to the ionosphere, where the information is bounced back to centers which collate and put the data on the Internet. There are 183 Snotel sites, 114 in Colorado, 20 in Wyoming, 27 in New Mexico and 22 in Arizona. In addition, there are 95 snow courses in Colorado. The shelter with instrumentation weighs the snow and the precipitation gauge checks the moisture content. There is one problem: animals tend to wander in; a dead elk once made the report look as though there was a large snowfall in one isolated area.

    At present, the Arkansas River Basin is 112 percent of normal and 102 percent of yearly accumulation. Working with figures from the snowpack, engineers can predict water supply available in the state.

    Judy Lopez, program director, Rio Grande Watershed Conservation and Education Initiative, made a presentation for Environthon, an educational competition for students in grades 9 through 12. Environthon focuses on five areas: 1. aquatics and water usage and laws, 2. soil and land usage and agriculture, 3. forestry, 4. wildlife, bugs to large animals, 5. weeds and other non-native critters which shouldn’t be here. They hope to encourage future hydrologists, foresters, and others who serve the environment. She asked the LAVWCD Board to become a banner sponsor, at the $1,000, $1,500, $2,000, $2,500 or up level. They took the matter under advisement.

    Arkansas River Basin High/Low graph January 20, 2016 via the NRCS.
    Arkansas River Basin High/Low graph January 20, 2016 via the NRCS.

    LAWCD board meeting recap: Shut down SDS

    Fountain Creek Watershed
    Fountain Creek Watershed

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    Colorado Springs Utilities claims that violations of federal stormwater standards are not related to permits for the Southern Delivery System being contested by the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District.

    “Documents for the (Bureau of Reclamation’s) Record of Decision refer to the stormwater enterprise numerous times, so to me there’s a tie,” Lower Ark General Manager Jay Winner told the board Wednesday.

    The Lower Ark board agreed, and fired off two letters to regulatory agencies requesting to delay SDS until stormwater issues are solved. They ask for protection for Pueblo and other downstream communities from Fountain Creek flows that have been increased by decades of growth in Colorado Springs.

    The first — brought to the board by Winner and Pueblo County board members Melissa Esquibel and Anthony Nunez — asks Reclamation to review its contract for SDS and suspend it until Colorado Springs proves it has a stormwater control plan in place.

    The second letter — drafted by attorney Peter Nichols at Winner’s request — is to Pueblo County commissioners and cites provisions in the Record of Decision and Pueblo County’s 1041 permit for SDS that require Colorado Springs to meet all federal, state and local permits, regulations and laws. John Fredell, the director of the SDS project, tried to make the case Tuesday to the Pueblo Board of Water Works that the enforcement action by the Environmental Protection Agency against Colorado Springs has nothing to do with SDS.

    That viewpoint was echoed Wednesday by Mark Pifher, a Colorado Springs consultant, at the same time as he enumerated renewed efforts by Colorado Springs to beef up stormwater control.

    Pifher touted that new leadership in Colorado Springs is committed to correcting the errors that led up to the EPA action.

    Winner wasn’t buying it.

    “We listened to ‘there is a real commitment’ in 2005, when (water chief) Gary Bostrom, (council members) Lionel Rivera, Larry Small and Richard Skorman came here and told us the same thing,” Winner said. “We tried to get an IGA so there would be an enforceable document.”

    Winner said the commitment appears to come and go depending on who is elected, and doubted whether the current plan to fix stormwater control would stay in place after the next cycle.

    Nichols questioned whether the $19 million Colorado Springs has committed to stormwater control would come close to the $600 million in needs identified by one study.

    Pifher tried to deflect that by saying many of the projects identified fall into the category of a “wish list,” while the action plan now under consideration addresses the most critical projects.

    “We’re skeptical,” Nichols said.

    Both letters tie the current EPA enforcement action to the Record of Decision and 1041 permit, saying the violation of the federal stormwater permit alone should trigger denial of use of SDS by Colorado Springs.
    Winner added that there is no acknowledgement by Colorado Springs that flooding on Fountain Creek is a result of unchecked growth upstream.

    #Colorado Springs Issue 300 abolishing permanent stormwater funding, “the definition of hoodwink” — Jay Winner

    Fountain Creek erosion via The Pueblo Chieftain
    Fountain Creek erosion via The Pueblo Chieftain

    From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Billie Stanton Anleu):

    Colorado Springs city and Utilities officials on Tuesday fended off another in a rash of recent challenges to the massive Southern Delivery System water project, scheduled to start operating April 27.

    The Pueblo Board of Water Works agreed to table for one month a resolution supporting Pueblo County efforts to require guaranteed stormwater funding if the SDS is to keep its hard-won 1041 permit.

    Pueblo County issued that permit only after Colorado Springs Utilities spent years negotiating and crafting complex agreements with county, local, state and multiple federal agencies.

    It’s the key to the $829 million SDS, one of the biggest modern-day water projects in the West, geared to deliver up to 50 million gallons of water a day to Pueblo West, Colorado Springs, Fountain and Security.

    But Utilities’ massive project and its 1041 permit are not to be confused with the city of Colorado Springs’ beleaguered MS4 permit, SDS Director John Fredell told the Water Works board.

    The city’s MS4, or Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System permit, is vulnerable since longtime neglect of critical stormwater controls led the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to cite the city in October with multiple violations.

    For years, Colorado Springs hasn’t properly enforced drainage regulations, conducted adequate inspections, required developers to provide enough infrastructure or maintained and operated its own stormwater controls adequately, EPA inspections in August concluded. [ed. emphasis mine]

    Now city officials are negotiating with the EPA and the Department of Justice to maintain the MS4 permit. They don’t deny the EPA’s claims. Indeed, they had discussed the problems and started scrambling for solutions shortly after John Suthers was sworn in as mayor last June, months before the EPA inspections.

    Fountain Creek Watershed
    Fountain Creek Watershed

    But downstream Pueblo County has been a prime victim of Colorado Springs’ failure to control stormwater surging through Fountain Creek and its tributaries. And the county holds the 1041 permit, which some believe could be used as leverage.

    As Colorado Springs development has sprawled farther, more sponge-like land has morphed into impermeable pavement, leaving stormwater roiling across the terrain.

    Sediment in Fountain Creek has increased at least 278-fold since the Waldo Canyon fire in 2012, pushing water levels far higher, reported Wright Water Engineers Inc. of Denver, contracted by the county. [ed. emphasis mine]

    Sediment grew from 90 to 25,075 tons per year while water yields increased from 2,500 to 4,822 acre-feet, the engineers found. [ed. emphasis mine]

    City and Utilities officials have been meeting with those engineers and their own consulting engineering firm, MWH Global, to prioritize projects.

    They’ve developed a list of 73, including 58 projects recommended by Wright Water, said city Public Works Director Travis Easton. Work on the first of those commences next week, with detention ponds to be developed along flood-prone Sand Creek near the Colorado Springs Airport.

    But skepticism lingers in Pueblo County, despite that effort plus creation of a new Stormwater Division, more than doubling the number of city inspectors and enforcement staff and the vow to dedicate $19 million a year to stormwater solutions.

    They’ve heard promises before, Water Works board members noted Tuesday. They want a guaranteed, ironclad source of funding to stanch the stormwater that inundates their communities. And they want it yesterday.

    “History’s important,” said Dr. Thomas V. Autobee, a Water Works board member.

    Jay Winner, executive director of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District, had threatened in August to file a federal lawsuit against Colorado Springs for violations of the Clean Water Act.

    Tuesday, Winner reminded the water board of how the then-Colorado Springs City Council eradicated its stormwater enterprise fund in 2009 – soon after the 1041 permit was issued – “the definition of hoodwink.”

    Voters had just passed Issue 300, requiring payments to city-owned enterprises to be phased out. The subsequent council vote still rankles downstream Fountain Creek denizens.

    Still, that fund never provided more than $15.8 million, Fredell noted. By contrast, the city and Utilities now are determined to spend more than $19 million a year on stormwater for at least 10 years.

    They’re working on an intergovernmental agreement that would provide the guarantees Pueblo County seeks.

    “Enforceablity is always an issue,” Mark Pifher, SDS permitting and compliance manager, told the Water Works board. “But we’re in discussion with the EPA and Department of Justice. The handwriting is on the wall. There will be either a consent decree or a federal order, and nothing is more enforceable.”

    “If we can work this draft into something sustainable,” Autobee said, “that’s what I’d like to see.”

    Board Chairman Nicholas Gradisar said he’s encouraged by the city and Utilities’ concerted efforts and swift action. “What I’m not encouraged by is the inability to come to agreement with Pueblo County.”

    Gradisar said the funding must be guaranteed in perpetuity, not only 10 years, with an enforcement mechanism that doesn’t require a federal lawsuit.

    Suthers, City Council President Merv Bennett and Utilities officials will meet with the Pueblo County Board of Commissioners at 1:30 p.m. Monday to continue discussions on the fate of the 1041 permit.

    That meeting is in commission chambers at the old downtown Pueblo County Courthouse, 215 W. 10th St.

    That night, the Pueblo City Council is to decide on a resolution similar to that tabled by the Water Works Board. It would support the county’s efforts to obtain sustained stormwater funding from Colorado Springs.

    The council meets at 7 p.m. Monday at City Hall, 1 City Hall Place, in Council Chambers on the third floor.

    More coverage from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain:

    The Pueblo Board of Water Works decided to wait a month before dipping its toes into the fray between Colorado Springs and Pueblo County over the Southern Delivery System.

    The board tabled a resolution demanding a permanent funding mechanism for stormwater control on Fountain Creek in connection with Pueblo County’s 1041 permit with SDS, after testimony muddied the waters.

    After SDS Project Director John Fredell tried to convince the water board that the two issues are not related, Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District cried foul.

    “When you talk about stormwater, it’s not about the law or politics,” Winner said, turning to Colorado Springs oŸcials and inviting them to look at the damage along Fountain Creek in Pueblo. “The people are the ones getting injured. You need to do something about stormwater. You people are causing the issue.”

    Winner said the Lower Ark district has tried for more than a decade to get Colorado Springs to agree to permanent funding.

    Colorado Springs City Council President Merv Bennett, under questioning by water board President Nick Gradisar, admitted that Colorado Springs has not been in compliance with its stormwater permit. He, along with Colorado Springs Councilman Andy Pico and Public Works Director Travis Easton, explained in detail how the city would spend $19 million annually to address stormwater control.

    About $12 million would go toward capital costs and $7 million to maintenance.

    “It’s not only for downstream users, but for the benefit of Colorado Springs,” Bennett said. “We’re not waiting.
    We’re moving forward.”

    Colorado Springs is trying to negotiate a 10-year agreement with Pueblo County to ensure the funds stay in place.

    Part of the water board’s resolution was to support Pueblo County in the bargaining.

    Gradisar questioned whether that would go far to cover $500 million in identified stormwater projects, and blamed politics for the failure of past efforts to fund flood control.

    “Left to its own devices, Colorado Springs Utilities would have taken care of these problems,” Gradisar said.

    Southern Delivery System route map -- Graphic / Reclamation
    Southern Delivery System route map — Graphic / Reclamation

    “But your voters . . . they probably wouldn’t have passed SDS.”

    Water board member Tom Autobee brought up the issue of the $50 million Colorado Springs Utilities promised to pay to the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District when SDS goes on line.

    Fredell explained that the SDS pipeline, pumps and treatment plant still are in testing, so Utilities does not believe the payment is due until 2017 under the 1041 agreement. Fountain Creek district Executive Director Larry Small, a former Colorado Springs councilman, said it should have been paid last week.

    Fredell argued that stormwater control is not a condition of the 1041 permit, since the permit deals with new growth related to SDS.

    Since SDS is not serving customers, it does not apply, he said.

    “But the damage is being caused now, what happens with SDS,” Gradisar replied?

    That drew a reaction from Pueblo West Metropolitan District board member Mark Carmel, who questioned whether SDS was just a speculative venture for Colorado Springs. He called for reopening the entire 1041 permit to incorporate new concerns.

    Water board member Mike Cafasso said the draft resolution presented at Tuesday’s meeting could be improved and moved to table it. Other board members agreed to take it up again at the board’s February meeting.

    Find a permanent revenue stream for stormwater — Pueblo Board of Water Works to #Colorado Springs

    Channel erosion Colorado Springs July 2012 via The Pueblo Chieftain
    Channel erosion Colorado Springs July 2012 via The Pueblo Chieftain

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    The Pueblo Board of Water Works Tuesday will consider a resolution that calls for Colorado Springs to find a permanent source of funding for stormwater control of Fountain Creek.

    The resolution was provided to The Pueblo Chieftain by board President Nick Gradisar. It ties a recent Environmental Protection Agency audit of stormwater violations to a 2004 intergovernmental agreement among the board, Colorado Springs Utilities and the city of Pueblo as well as the 2009 Pueblo County 1041 permit for Southern Delivery System.

    The action would direct Executive Director Terry Book to contact the EPA to relay the community’s concern over the stormwater permit violations, which were revealed in November.

    It also supports Pueblo County in its enforcement of the 1041 permit, which could delay the expected operation of the SDS pipeline in April.

    The water board resolution also says Utilities, which was the lead agency for obtaining the 1041 permit, should have more of a role in the stormwater negotiations.

    “Pueblo Water believes any revised 1041 permit or agreement must provide an adequate enforcement mechanism such that future funding of stormwater infrastructure is no subject future funding of stormwater infrastructure is no subject to the whims of different political leaders in Colorado Springs or the other SDS participants,” the proposed resolution reads in part.

    It also suggests the stormwater regulations need to be in place for as long as the SDS pipeline is in operation.

    That echoes concerns expressed last year by Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District, who suggested stormwater should be a fifth utility for Colorado Springs along with water, sanitary sewer, gas and electric service.
    Colorado Springs had a stormwater enterprise in place in 2009 when it received federal and Pueblo County approval to build SDS, a 50-mile, $841 million water delivery pipeline from Pueblo Dam to Colorado Springs.

    After a vote to sever utility payments from the city’s general fund in November 2009, Colorado Springs City Council chose to abolish the stormwater enterprise, but left other revenuesharing mechanisms in place.

    The Lower Ark has placed its proposed federal court action on hold until EPA enforcement of the state stormwater permit under the federal Clean Water Act is complete.

    Pueblo County is still contemplating whether Colorado Springs has met its stormwater obligations under the 1041 permit.

    Pueblo City Council is scheduled to vote on a resolution requiring Colorado Springs stormwater compliance at its Jan. 25 meeting.

    Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers and City Council have proposed a plan to redirect $19 million annually from other city and Utilities funds.

    Meanwhile, here’s the view from upstream via The Colorado Springs Gazette (Billie Stanton Anleu):

    Colorado Springs is revving up its stormwater program, more than doubling its staff of inspectors and engineers to deflect lawsuit threats and fix problems cited by Pueblo County and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

    Mayor John Suthers vowed from the start of his tenure in June to address the city’s long-neglected stormwater problems, and he soon started carving $16 million from the city’s 2016 budget to add to $3 million from Colorado Springs Utilities.

    “I can’t emphasize enough, this money wasn’t easy to come by,” Suthers said. “I’ve got a lot of unhappy police officers and firefighters out there,” because raises and staff additions were frozen for the year.

    That $19 million dedicated to stormwater issues this year compares with $5 million from the city’s general fund in 2015, though federal grants bolster expenditures yearly. But Pueblo County officials are lamenting the loss of the Stormwater Enterprise Fund, which the City Council dismantled in 2009. They’re pointing to the eradication of that fund as cause to possibly rescind the 1041 permit they issued to Utilities to build and operate the $829 million Southern Delivery System.

    The timing of the threat couldn’t be worse. The enormous project is scheduled to start pumping April 27, delivering up to 50 million gallons of water a day to Pueblo West, Fountain, Security and Colorado Springs.

    Meanwhile, the EPA has threatened to sue Colorado Springs for not meeting terms of its Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System permit, better known as the MS4. After inspections in August, the EPA reported that the city didn’t have enough resources, inspections or internal controls to maintain and operate its stormwater infrastructure properly. The city also doled out too many waivers and failed to hold developers’ “feet to the fire,” the inspectors found.

    Water, of course, flows downstream. So unrestrained stormwater, excessive sedimentation and degraded water quality become problems for the people in Pueblo County.

    Neither Suthers nor the City Council has denied the magnitude of those problems. Indeed, the city and Utilities have proposed an intergovernmental agreement that would guarantee a minimum of $19 million a year in floodwater projects for 10 years. Utilities would be on the hook if the city experienced an economic downturn.

    In addition, the city is creating a Stormwater Division to be staffed by 58 full-time employees compared with the current 28, adding inspectors and engineers.

    The budget for MS4 compliance alone is increasing from $3 million to about $7.1 million. The total comes to $8.56 million if you include the cost of MS4 responses by street sweepers, firefighters and Utilities.

    The Arkansas Roundtable ponies up $194,000 for multi-use project

    Arkansas River Basin -- Graphic via the Colorado Geological Survey
    Arkansas River Basin — Graphic via the Colorado Geological Survey

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    Can a water project be all things to all people?

    The Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District wants to find out.

    The Arkansas Basin Roundtable approved a $194,000 grant last week to determine if irrigated agriculture, environmental, recreation, municipal supply, hydropower and aquifer storage can be satisfied in one project.

    The Colorado Water Conservation Board will consider final approval of the grant at its March meeting.

    The project involves the 200-acre Lake Ranch near Salida, which the district owns.

    Right now, the property is irrigated by a center- pivot sprinkler, but the plan is to expand the types of uses to include a hydropower system on the Cameron Ditch above the property, recharge ponds and wetlands on two corners of the field which are not being used and research on another corner. Farm structures occupy the remaining corner of the field.

    In addition, a leasefallowing program would provide water to nearby cities, and results would be used in educational programs.

    “This is the smaller program, to see if some of these ideas work,” said Terry Scanga, general manager of the Upper Ark district.

    If they do, a much larger project on Trout Creek that would cover 1,800 acres and could provide an additional 20,000 acre-feet in storage would be attempted.

    That would be a boon to the Upper Ark district, which formed in 1979 to improve water use for numerous smaller entities in Chaffee, Custer and Fremont counties. Past studies have looked at improving how water supply is measured, the availability of underground storage and developing a leasefallowing tool to measure consumptive use when transfers occur.

    “Multiple purpose projects are necessary for providing additional needed water supplies in the 21st century,” the district noted in its grant application.

    Purgatoire River
    Purgatoire River

    More Arkansas Roundtable coverage from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain:

    Several ditches along the Purgatoire River are in line to get a much-needed $271,000 makeover through a state grant approved last week by the Arkansas Basin Roundtable.

    The roundtable approved a $90,000 grant request to improve structures on six ditch companies that have deteriorated through erosion. The ditches, along with the Purgatoire Conservancy District, will contribute $121,000 and apply for a $60,000 loan from the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

    The CWCB still must act on the grant and loan at its March meeting.

    “All of the ditches are in the Trinidad Project,” said Jeris Danielson, manager of the Purgatoire district. “We estimated we could lose 10 percent of the water.”

    The ditch companies include Picketwire, Enlarged Southside Irrigation, Chilili, Baca, New John Flood and El Moro. All are located in the Trinidad area of Las Animas County.

    The project will rebuild headgates, flumes and culverts at various locations. As part of the project, about 1,000 feet of bank along the Purgatoire River will be restored and stabilized.

    The Trinidad Project is a federal project that relies on water stored in Trinidad Reservoir. Over the last 20 years, it has averaged only 40 percent of its full supply. The improvements will restore about 5,000 acre-feet (1.6 billion gallons) annually toward basin water needs, according to the application.

    Tamarisk
    Tamarisk

    Finally, here’s a report about efforts to mitigate flooding in La Junta from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain:

    An $85,000 plan to remove a “pinch point” in the Arkansas River that has caused flooding in North La Junta got the blessing of the Arkansas Basin Roundtable this week.

    The roundtable approved a $25,000 grant toward the project by the North La Junta Water Conservancy District to deal with a problem that has persisted since a flood in the spring of 1999. Other funding is being provided by the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District, Otero County and La Junta.

    The grant will take out several islands of tamarisk, or saltcedar, using a drag line and reconfigure dikes that apparently only aggravated flooding through the area. Combined, the projects will increase the channel capacity of the Arkansas River through North La Junta.

    “This is one of my favorite projects because we did it with one engineer and no lawyers in the room,” quipped Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Ark district.

    The 1999 flood did serious damage to North La Junta, and the district has worked steadily since then to improve channel capacity through the area. Floods in recent years have renewed fears that past efforts were not as effective as hoped.

    In another move, the roundtable approved a $48,000 grant toward a $54,800 project to replace a domestic water supply pipeline that serves about 175 families in the McClave area. The grant helps hold down water rates for customers in an area that eventually will be served by the Arkansas Valley Conduit.

    The Colorado Water Conservation Board will consider final approval of the grants at its March meeting.

    Past dry-ups should be a lesson for restoring land — The Pueblo Chieftain

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    When large tracts of land are disturbed, it takes more than good intentions to return it to something approaching a natural state.

    The recipe includes water, seeds, know-how and — most importantly — time.

    Those lessons have been learned in the most painful way over time in the Arkansas Valley as farmland has been taken out of production, sacrificed for pipelines, scorched by drought or ravaged by fire.

    Fears that those lessons have not been learned well enough have surfaced this month as a patchwork plan for farm dryups was revealed by Arkansas River Farms. The company plans to dry up about 6,700 acres of the 14,400 acres it owns on the Fort Lyon Canal, using it to support wells on farm ground elsewhere.

    The most painful lesson came for Ordway in 2008, when a fire ripped through dried-up farms in Crowley County that were no longer the responsibility of those who took the water off the land. The fire, started by a controlled burn fanned by winds, claimed two lives, 16 homes and 9,000 acres of mostly former farmland.

    Water was first taken off farms in Crowley County in the 1980s, when water owned by a cattle feeding operation was sold to Colorado Springs, and most remaining Colorado Canal shares were snapped up by Aurora. By that time Colorado Springs and Pueblo had bought Twin Lakes shares that had provided supplemental water for Crowley County farms for decades.

    Water courts insisted on revegetation plans when the Colorado Canal shares were converted in the late 1980s, as well as for the dry-up of farms on the Rocky Ford Ditch by Aurora. Those plans appeared to be complete, only to fall apart.

    Shortly after the 2008 fire, the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District sighted in on the dry-up as an important contributing factor.

    Not long after, the district was successful in obtaining tougher court provisions for the Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association purchase of nearly half of the Amity Canal. Annual reports on all dry-ups, temporary or permanent were required in perpetuity. It has been successful in applying it in other water cases since then.

    And this year, Aurora returned to lands dried up in its 1999 purchase of Rocky Ford Ditch shares even after revegetation was certified by a panel of experts. The drought had damaged some of the vegetation, so Aurora used some of its water to try to reestablish the grasses.

    Aurora in 2000 had to come back to Rocky Ford land that was improperly revegetated from its first purchase.

    All of which feeds into continued concern about the announced dry-ups on the Fort Lyon.

    “Who’s going to have long-term responsibility to make sure this gets done?” said Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Ark district. “We are looking at assuring revegetation in perpetuity, and it should be the responsibility of those who are moving the water.”

    Winner pointed to contracts when water was sold to the Lower Arkansas Water Management Authority that required landowners who had sold their water to protect the land. That led to large dust storms blowing across the landscape – even across highways — during the recent drought. “When you see that — people have died from that — you realize that it should be the responsibility forever of those who are using the water,” Winner said.

    One of the questions posed to Karl Nyquist, a partner in Arkansas River Farms, last week was whether water could return to lands that were dried up. The answer was uncertain.

    Two conservation districts in Bent and Prowers counties are proposing a plan to monitor revegetation efforts in the Arkansas River Farms dry-up.

    It’s modeled after Aurora’s most recent efforts, trying to incorporate all of the lessons which have been learned so far. They have pitched it to county commissioners before an application to change the use of water has been filed.

    “What I told them was to not be in such a hurry,” said Bill Long, Bent County commissioner.

    Fort Lyon Canal’s shareholders will have a hearing about the Arkansas River Farms plan on Jan. 28-29. But Long said the issues should be hashed out in water court, rather than predetermined.

    On revegetation, Winner agrees.

    “I believe the water court needs to be the policeman,” Winner said.

    Straight line diagram of the Lower Arkansas Valley ditches via Headwaters
    Straight line diagram of the Lower Arkansas Valley ditches via Headwaters

    “We’re going to do everything we can to protect the ag economy in Bent County” — Bill Long

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    Water once destined to be exported to feed growth on the Front Range could fuel economic growth in the Lower Arkansas Valley, but Bent County officials are wary of unforeseen consequences.

    “Where is the water going to move to?” asked Bent County Commissioner Lynden Gill after Monday’s presentation by Arkansas River Farms at the Fort Lyon Canal’s annual meeting. “Are they going to double up water on sprinklers near Las Animas or move it somewhere else? I had assumed the water would be staying in Bent County.”

    Arkansas River Farms outlined its plans to dry up 6,700 acres on the Fort Lyon while improving another 5,700 acres with surface-fed sprinklers, rather than flood irrigation. The company owns 18,400 shares of Fort Lyon water, about one-fifth of the total.

    The water was purchased by High Plains A& M 15 years ago with grand plans to market it statewide. Those were shot down, first in water court and then by the state Supreme Court.

    C&A Companies, one of the Arkansas River Farms partners also unveiled its plan to pipe Lamar Canal water to the Front Range in 2011.

    But now, the plan is to use the water to open up new farming opportunities in Bent and Prowers counties, said Karl Nyquist, one of the principals in C&A.

    “We could be the biggest job creators in this area,” Nyquist said at Monday’s Fort Lyon meeting.
    And what about those pipeline plans?

    “You haven’t heard me talk about it lately, have you?” Nyquist answered, adding the company will be more open as plans progress.

    Bill Grasmick, the largest farmer on the Lamar Canal and a board member of the Lower Arkansas Water Management Association, said wells that have not been used in several years would be operated thanks to the water taken off the Fort Lyon.

    They have talked to Bent and Prowers counties about building dairies, feed lots or vegetable farms that would provide an additional boost to the local agricultural economy. But the plans are not specific.

    The water from the Fort Lyon would be used in LAWMA well-augmentation plans, which are not limited to historic boundaries for use. “About 22 percent of our local economy comes from agriculture, so any reduction will have a negative impact,” said Bill Long, another Bent County commissioner.

    But looking at map of Arkansas River Farms plans, most of the improved farms are located near Las Animas, while dry-ups largely are further east, where farmers are just as likely to trade in Lamar as Las Animas, he said.

    “Ultimately, there’s a chance it could be very beneficial,” Long said.

    Of more concern to Long is the upcoming water court change case. That would quantify the consumptive use of the Fort Lyon shares and open them up for other uses.

    “That’s one step closer to getting it in a pipeline,” said Long, who is president of the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, which took the lead role in the legal battle to stop High Plains.

    There are too many unanswered questions to pass judgment, Gill said. Tuesday, the commissioners met with conservancy districts that want to supervise revegetation. And the Fort Lyon shareholders have set aside Jan. 28-29 to question the company about its impacts on the canal itself. Primary concerns so far are the revegetation question and the proposal to leave some water behind to cover losses on shared laterals.

    Gill, who is also chairman of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District, is alarmed that dry-up could begin next year under a substitute water supply plan concurrent to a water court filing.

    Long pointed out that in previous cases where revegetation was insufficient and caused problems later with weeds and blowing dust. If the Fort Lyon water is used outside Bent County, 1041 regulations also could be applied, Long said.

    “We’re going to do everything we can to protect the ag economy in Bent County, and make sure if anything is done, it is beneficial to the county,” Long said.

    Straight line diagram of the Lower Arkansas Valley ditches via Headwaters
    Straight line diagram of the Lower Arkansas Valley ditches via Headwaters

    Alternative Transfer Methods: “For 10 years we’ve talked about how a (water leasing) program would work” — Pat Wells

    Straight line diagram of the Lower Arkansas Valley ditches via Headwaters
    Straight line diagram of the Lower Arkansas Valley ditches via Headwaters

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    Colorado Springs Utilities wants to be Super Ditch’s “dance partner.”

    “For 10 years we’ve talked about how a (water leasing) program would work,” said Pat Wells, water resources supervisor for Utilities. “Super Ditch has always seemed lik e a logical fit. . . . If you’re interested in another dance partner, it’s a natural fit for Colorado Springs.”

    A formal letter suggesting a partnership was sent to the Super Ditch and Lower Ark district in October. It outlined the conditions under which Utilities would be willing to participate.

    Wells made the offer again to the combined boards of the Arkansas Valley Super Ditch and Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District last week. They were reviewing the success of the first year of a pilot program that delivered 409 acre-feet of water from farmers on the Catlin Canal to Fountain, Security and Fowler.

    While the pilot program aims to provide a sustained yield to the cities under varying hydrological conditions, Colorado Springs is interested mainly in topping off its supplies in drought recovery years.

    One of the provisions of the 2013 HB1248 legislation would allow for leasing water from farms in three years out of 10. That scenario is most appealing to Utilities because it usually has enough water from other sources.

    The Colorado Springs system can hold 252,000 acre-feet of water in storage, but small amounts are useful.

    “In a recovery year, 2,000 acre-feet in the right place would help us,” Wells said. “We’re not looking for a base supply year-in and year-out.”

    Colorado Springs does not anticipate needing to establish a program in the next year, but is looking ahead to have a program in place should it be needed.

    “Our storage is as full as it has been in several years,” Wells said.

    The breathing room will allow Utilities and Super Ditch at least a year to negotiate and the soonest a program would be launched is in 2017, both sides agreed.

    Colorado Springs purchased part of the High Line Canal lease from Aurora in 2005. During that year, Utilities also leased water from Pueblo Water to make up for depletions from three drought years prior to that time.

    Meanwhile, here’s a report detailing this year’s pilot alternative transfer from Super Ditch to Arkansas Basin municipalities written by Chris Woodka for The Pueblo Chieftain:

    A handful of farmers on the Catlin Canal were able to dry up some of their land this year and lease the water to cities in the first demonstration of how the Arkansas Valley Super Ditch would work.

    The temporary fallowing of ground was carried out under a program supervised by the Colorado Water Conservation Board under the 2013 HB1248 that allows lease-fallowing project demonstration throughout the state. No more than 30 percent of farm ground can be dried up in any year over a 10-year period, or any parcel more than three years in 10.

    “I think it’s calmed down the water community statewide, because it’s not hurting farmers, and the farmers say ‘We’re getting a good deal,’ ” Peter Nichols, told the combined boards of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District and the Super Ditch last week. “We had a good year and learned to build a bigger project.”

    There were 60 conditions placed on the project in a rule-making process earlier this year in the third attempt to get a lease program off the ground. The Lower Ark district helped form the Super Ditch in 2008.

    About 409 acre-feet (133 million gallons) were leased to Fountain, Security and Fowler, netting $500 per acre-foot for the farmers. They were also paid a $150 per acre readiness to serve fee.

    To get to that number, the farmers dried up 235 of the 900 acres — well under the 30 percent annual limit — which translated into 252 shares of the 1,047 Catlin Canal shares enrolled in the program. The yield worked out to about 1.75 acre-feet per acre, so the total payoff was a little more than $1,000 per acre. That was not a bad outcome, considering depressed commodity prices were the norm.

    “We put more water into the ground than we would have owed,” said Jack Goble, an engineer with the Lower Ark district. “It’s paid up so we don’t have to release water from Lake Pueblo for the next 20 years.”

    The program gave the district and Super Ditch a chance to look at the real-world impacts of weather conditions on a lease-fallowing program. The farmers used one augmentation station to show water was being bypassed and two recharge ponds that replace flows that would have seeped into the ground from fields. Water was transferred to Lake Pueblo, where it could be used directly by Fountain and Security, or for augmentation flows that support Fowler’s wells through the Colorado Water Protective and Development Association.

    Ironically, a rainy May and June made it difficult to claim recharge credits because it was too wet to run much water through the canal. But the high water levels made exchanges and trades easier so the program could be a success. The test program provided about 90 percent of the water that would have been available under the best conditions.

    Typical Drip Irrigation System via Toro
    Typical Drip Irrigation System via Toro

    “As a farmer, I couldn’t have been happier,” said Phillip Chavez, of Diamond A Farms. “We put in drip systems and laser-leveled the (fallowed) fields.”

    One of the outcomes of the project was a leasefallowing tool that conforms the engineering of the project to other water models, including those set up for surface sprinklers and wells to comply with the Arkansas River Compact. Still, Kansas looked at each of the farms in the program twice during the irrigation season to make sure the required ground had been fallowed.

    More about the economic effect of ATMs from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain:

    With farming, it’s always a wild guess in planning for the year ahead.

    Crop prices could be high at the beginning of a season, and plummet by the end. Weather could bring drought, floods or hail — sometimes all of them — in any given year. Or, in that rare year, a bumper crop could bring premium prices as well.

    All of which provides the groundwork for the theory of water leasing — providing a stable income with a known price for an expected amount of water.

    It could be another crop for farmers, but there are hidden considerations.

    “Leasing water depends on conditions. If it’s wet, no one wants it,” Brett Bovee, regional director for WestWater Research said. “It also depends on where you are in the state, and what kind of premium you can get over your baseline crop.”

    Bovee was one of the featured speakers at a workshop last week at Pueblo Community College hosted by the Ditch and Reservoir Company Alliance. The workshop studied the economic, legal and political issues surrounding alternative transfer methods in Colorado.

    ATMs, as the water community has chosen to shorthand them, have been a big topic in the state over the last decade. The Arkansas Valley Super Ditch is at the forefront, completing the first statesupervised transfer this year. ATMs also are a big piece in Colorado’s Water Plan.

    ATM: The acronym conjures an unfortunate analogy, where you put money in and take water out. It’s not as simple as that.

    Super Ditch has raised the bar for water prices in Colorado. While the average per-acre yield for the Arkansas Valley’s major crops is at the lower end in the state, it is leasing water to cities at the highest rate.

    In other parts of the state, the rates range from $35-$337 per acrefoot, showing a wide disparity.

    Farmers have to evaluate whether leases help their bottom line or pull water away from crops that might pay off better, Bovee said.

    There are online tools that allow them to work out how much might be made growing a crop versus leasing the water.

    Beyond the simple economics, there are multiple considerations to be taken into account.

    On the plus side, leasing provides relatively stable prices, a high return, financing for other on-farm improvements and an alternative use for water while retaining a water right.

    Drawbacks include impacts to the community, keeping a cover crop growing, keeping weeds down and the headaches of the transfer itself (engineering, legal issues and transaction costs).

    “Leases can disrupt farm employment and business relationships,” Bovee said.

    Statewide, water leasing has had little impact on the overall economy, but the effects locally can be tragic, as the dry-ups in Crowley County illustrate.

    “The harm comes from taking water from one area and moving it out,” he said. “If agriculture makes up most of the economy and you move the water out, the effect is magnified.”

    2016 Colorado legislation #coleg: Implement alternative ag transfer methods with a water bank?

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    The idea of a statewide water bank is being floated by the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District.

    Coincidentally, they would be tied to ATMs.

    Not automated teller machines, but alternative transfer methods, one of the key elements in the upcoming state water plan.

    The state Legislature’s interim water resources committee heard the proposal Thursday from Lower Ark General Manager Jay Winner and attorney Leah Martinsson, who are working with state Rep. Jeni Arndt, D-Fort Collins, to draft a bill for the 2016 session.

    “ATMs are in the state water plan, and the district has been a leader in these types of temporary transfers since it was formed in 2002,” Martinsson told the panel. “The district realized the old way of going to court to dry up the land was not going to work.”

    Other programs to provide temporary transfers have not worked because they are tied to permanent water rights changes adjudicated in water court, Martinsson said. That includes flex marketing legislation Arndt sponsored in the last session.

    “Farmers don’t trust the process,” she said.

    The Lower Ark worked to form the Arkansas Valley Super Ditch in 2008. Under the 2013 law, HB1248, the group was able to operate a pilot program this year that leased water from the Catlin Canal to Fowler, Fountain and Security.

    The concept of the water bank would build on that, limiting administrative transfers to just three years in 10 under the supervision of the Colorado Water Conservation Board. Transfers from the Rio Grande and Colorado River basins would be prohibited, Martinsson said.

    “The banks would be set up on a conservative model, so you don’t argue over 23 gallons of water,” Martinsson said, referring to water accounting challenges that doomed Super Ditch’s early efforts. “We’re proposing leaving 5-10 percent in the river above what was historically left there.”

    That would provide environmental benefits, she said.

    Winner said the goal is to keep water on the land by providing an option where water is not sold on a permanent basis.

    “What we’re trying to do is have another tool for farmers,” Winner said. “I think this would prevent speculation both by water developers and farmers. It helps keep water on the land, but gives the water rights holders the opportunity to use the water.”

    Spinney Mountain Reservoir
    Spinney Mountain Reservoir