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