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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.