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.
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.”
Two water court applications, filed in 2000, claiming storage rights in Lake Pueblo and Turquoise Lake are being pulled because federal legislation has stalled. “Because we don’t have the federal legislation on (dam) enlargement, we wouldn’t be able to meet the canandwill provisions of state law,” said Jim Broderick, executive director of the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District.
The district filed for the storage rights after its Preferred Storage Options Plan was completed. The plan identified enlargement of Lake Pueblo and Turquoise Lake as the best ways to increase storage in the Arkansas River basin. But after 12 years, PSOP looks increasingly unlikely.
The district sought federal legislation to study enlargement of the reservoirs, which were built as part of the FryingpanArkansas Project, but hit its first snag when it opposed Aurora’s inclusion in storage plans. A revised version of PSOP included Aurora, which made certain concessions to the Southeastern district in 2003. New agreements were reached with the city of Pueblo in 2004 that would have allowed PSOP to progress.
Ken Salazar, DColo., attempted to broker a settlement among 11 entities that would have allowed PSOP to progress in 2007, but those efforts failed when the Lower Ark sued the Bureau of Reclamation over its storage contract with Aurora.
Since then, Aurora has dropped its insistence to be included in the legislation.
Meanwhile, the “reoperations” of Lake Pueblo — another part of PSOP that defines how nonproject water is stored — have moved ahead through longterm excess capacity contracts for the Pueblo Board of Water Works, Aurora and the Southern Delivery System. The Bureau of Reclamation also is considering a master contract sponsored by the Southeastern district. Southeastern continues to fund studies related to reservoir enlargement, with $132,000 included in next year’s proposed budget, to be adopted in December.
More Preferred Storage Option Plan coverage here and here.
Pueblo’s advantage is that it has not grown into its existing supply, unlike many other Front Range communities. While storage is the key to ongoing statewide strategies, few new projects have been built since the completion of Lake Pueblo in the 1970s. The Preferred Storage Options Plan, which would look at enlarging Lake Pueblo, is 14 years old and “still at Step 1,” [Executive Director Alan Hamel] said. The water board bought 28 percent Bessemer Ditch in 2009 as a way to reduce dependence on Colorado River water, but half of Pueblo’s supply still comes from the Western Slope. It will be at least 10 years before the Bessemer shares are converted to municipal use in water court, Hamel said. At the same time, Pueblo water customers have voluntarily cut their use 17 percent and the water board is looking at other strategies for conservation…
The water board is pricing water service rates to new large users at the true cost of providing water — $16,200 per acre-foot. As it has developed the policy, staff members have worked behind the scenes with city staff and met with the Pueblo Economic Development Corp. to make sure the rates don’t scare off companies that could bring jobs to Pueblo, Hamel said.
“There has to be better ways of using agricultural water,” said John Stulp, water policy adviser for Gov. John Hickenlooper, at a Super Ditch summit meeting Friday. “Rotational fallowing is one of the tools in the tool box,” he said…
The Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District, which supported and funded the startup of Super Ditch, plans to file a substitute water supply plan in February that would allow the program to be up and running by April. State Engineer Dick Wolfe said he believes the Super Ditch fits into the 2002 legislation that allows substitute water supply plans under certain conditions. The law initially was applied to the High Line Canal’s lease of water to Aurora in 2004-05. It allows for a three-year program with return flows accounted for over a five-year period…
If the leasing program continues, it would require a change of use decree in Division 2 water court, a process some have called “the mother of all change cases.” That would be an expensive proposition for both sponsors and objectors, so the Arkansas Basin Roundtable, part of the IBCC process, has discussed ways to develop a common platform to look at engineering as Super Ditch grows.
“Lease-fallowing does a lot of good things and preserves ag water. We might want to use it in the upper valley,” said Terry Scanga, general manager of the Upper Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District, primary sponsors of a grant to develop an administrative tool for measurement during water transfers. “We need to know how to calculate water use. We are in this together.”
More coverage from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:
“We need to be working on new water projects, but that takes time,” said Alan Hamel, executive director of the Pueblo Board of Water Works. “We don’t want ag dry-up to be the main fallback.”
Hamel and fellow CWCB member Travis Smith addressed a water summit Friday on a proposed pilot program that would allow the Arkansas Valley Super Ditch to sell 500 acre-feet of water next year to El Paso County water providers. “Super Ditch is not without controversy, but is a local solution to determining our future,” Smith said…
Smith, superintendent of the San Luis Valley Irrigation District, hailed the state Supreme Court’s decision last month to approve a plan for subdistricts, which are needed to prevent overpumping of Rio Grande groundwater. “We’re going to fallow 80,000 acres, and the question is how do you do that and take care of the local economy,” Smith said. “In the San Luis Valley, we hurt ourselves with uncontrolled pumping up until 2002. We’re still recovering from the drought.”
Smith said the plan, like Super Ditch, was developed as farmers worked together to find ways out of a dilemma. “I’m optimistic that the ag community can work together and be successful,” Smith said.
More Arkansas Valley Super Ditch coverage here and here.
In the late 20th century the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy Board floated the idea of expanding Pueblo Reseroir since new mainstem reservoirs are nearly impossible to permit nowadays and more storage is identified as one of Colorado’s big needs going forward. Aurora’s insistence on being part of the authorization legislation stalled the project. They are out now so expansion of storage in Lake Pueblo is back on the table. Here’s report from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:
“This allows us in the basin to concentrate on storage and move the PSOP process ahead,” said Alan Hamel, executive director of the Pueblo Board of Water Works.
PSOP stands for the Preferred Storage Option Plan, developed by the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy district in the late 1990s, when Hamel was president of the Southeastern board.
Aurora remained at the table during PSOP discussions through 2007, when talks organized by U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar broke off when the Lower Ark district sued the Bureau of Reclamation over an Aurora storage contract. In the newest agreement, reached as part of the conditions of a motion to dismiss a federal lawsuit, Aurora has dropped its claim to be included in PSOP legislation, while agreeing to support the 2001 PSOP implementation report.
Here’s a look at the settlement that led to the dismissal, from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:
A joint motion filed by all parties in the case asks federal District Judge Philip Brimmer to dismiss the case with prejudice, meaning it cannot be reopened. Stipulations attached to the case require Aurora to abide by an intergovernmental agreement reached with the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District in 2009.
“It means the lawsuit is completely over,” said Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Ark district. “I think this puts the final part of the fence around Aurora. Our agreement restricts them from putting any more infrastructure into the valley to move more water out of here.”
The agreement also reinforces past agreements Aurora has made to limit the amount of water it can move from the valley and defines the service area in which water from the Arkansas River basin can be used. Aurora also has agreed to withdraw its claims from any future legislation to study the enlargement of Lake Pueblo.
Aurora, a city of 300,000 east of Denver, owns water rights in Otero, Crowley and Lake counties and pumps it from Twin Lakes into the South Platte River basin through the Homestake Project, which is operated jointly with Colorado Springs…
One year ago, the case was administratively closed by Brimmer, but Aurora and the Lower Ark initially continued to work for federal legislation to study the enlargement of Lake Pueblo, a condition of the 2009 IGA…
As part of the final IGA, Aurora agreed to withdraw its insistence for a clause allowing it to use the Fry-Ark Project in any legislation to enlarge Lake Pueblo. That has been a sticking point for 10 years, and was one reason for the 2003 agreement. Aurora will unconditionally support a federal study of the enlargement of Lake Pueblo. Aurora also has agreed to fully support projects backed by the Lower Ark District, including Fountain Creek improvements, the Arkansas Valley Super Ditch and the Arkansas Valley Conduit. The city will contribute $2 million over 10 years to such projects. It will also continue funding and support of water quality projects in the Arkansas River basin. The agreement also strengthens Aurora’s commitment to continue revegetation of farmland it dried up with the purchase of water from Crowley County.
More Preferred Options Storage Plan coverage here and here. More Aurora coverage here and here
In a letter sent this week, commissioners asked Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., to include the county and other community leaders in the Arkansas Valley in any discussions about new water storage legislation. “You reportedly have been meeting with water users in their effort to reintroduce legislation for the Preferred Storage Options Plan at Pueblo Reservoir,” the letter from commissioners stated. “We ask that you coordinate not only with water users but with this board and other county commissioners and community leaders in the Arkansas Valley.”
Udall replied that he will not move forward without consensus from all members of the Colorado congressional delegation, as well as the agreement of all stakeholders. “I would never move forward with any legislation until reaching out to the parties to the litigation, my colleagues in the congressional delegation, and all parties concerned and ensuring that there was public input from all groups and communities that would be directly affected,” Udall said Tuesday…
The PSOP bill primarily looks at a feasibility study for enlargement of Lake Pueblo and Turquoise Lake, which is located near Leadville. It is inextricably tied to a series of intergovernmental agreements and further discussions that were conducted by former U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar that broke down in 2007 when the Lower Ark filed its lawsuit.
More Fryingpan-Arkansas Project coverage here and here. More Preferred Options Storage Plan coverage here and here.
“It’s not fair to suggest that I’ve put my thumb on the scales toward Aurora or the Arkansas Valley,” Udall said. “The role I was playing was in assuring the court that if the parties would agree, then I would be a mediator in the process.” Udall also said there would have to be consensus from the entire congressional delegation, including newly elected Republicans Scott Tipton and Cory Gardner, who will be in the U.S. House.
The Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District is suing the Bureau of Reclamation in the Denver federal court over a 40-year contract awarded to Aurora by Reclamation in 2007. The Lower Ark contended the contract violated the 1962 legislation authorizing the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project, but signed a 2009 agreement with Aurora to stay the case for two years. Part of the agreement was to seek federal legislation that legitimizes use of the Fry-Ark Project by Aurora.
Udall looks at the possibility of such legislation as “one last attempt” to avoid costly court battles over the issue in the future. “If the parties reach agreement, then I would help them vet it,” Udall said. “If there’s not an agreement, then I’m not going to introduce legislation.”[…]
“I’m relying on the parties who come to the table to keep the valley whole, if those parties can come to an agreement,” Udall said. “If the parties don’t agree, I’m doing nothing.”
The information was included in a report by attorneys for Aurora and the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District filed late Friday in the Denver U.S. District Court. The report says Udall has agreed to circulate draft legislation along the lines of past attempts to change federal law to allow Aurora to use Fry-Ark storage and exchange contracts to move water from farms dried up in Lake, Crowley and Otero counties into its South Platte collection system. “Senator Udall indicated that he intends to circulate draft legislation in the next Congress so that the congressional delegation can reach consensus on language that will implement the settlement agreement,” wrote attorneys Stuart Somach, for Aurora, and Peter Nichols, for the Lower Ark, in the joint filing.
The legislation is expected to be much the same as language included in earlier versions of the Preferred Storage Options Plan, a provision of a 2003 agreement with the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, and in the 2004 intergovernmental agreement among Pueblo, the Pueblo water board, Colorado Springs, Fountain, the Southeastern district and Aurora…
The report indicates that if Congress has not enacted legislation by May 13, 2011 — the two-year anniversary of the settlement agreement [In 2009, the Lower Ark and Aurora reached a settlement that included additional concessions by Aurora and placed a stay on the case for two years. Among the provisions was new federal legislation that cleared Aurora to use the Fry-Ark project.] — Aurora and the Lower Ark will provide an amended settlement agreement recommending administrative closure of the case that preserves the right to reopen the case. Periodic status reports also would be included.
More Fryingpan-Arkansas Project coverage here and here.
Little progress has been reported in attempts to change federal legislation to allow Aurora to legally use the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project to move water out of the Arkansas Valley. Aurora and the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District are attempting to persuade federal lawmakers to change the law as part of a settlement of the Lower Ark’s 2007 lawsuit against the Bureau of Reclamation…
While there have been numerous behind-the-scenes, often closed-door meetings among lawyers, staff and lawmakers since then, there has been no movement toward federal legislation, according to a joint brief by attorneys Stuart Somach, for Aurora, and Peter Nichols, for the Lower Ark. The brief was filed Wednesday in the Denver U.S. District Court. “For the majority of the current 111th Congress, the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate have both been preoccupied with drafting, debating and passing health care reform legislation, and more recently with financial reform legislation,” the lawyers reported. “This preoccupation and the upcoming congressional election have rendered it difficult for Colorado’s delegation to fully engage in the process for developing the necessary legislation to implement the settlement agreement.”
Nevertheless, there have been meetings with lawmakers and Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar toward drafting the legislation, which includes many of the same provisions that once were bundled in attempts to gain approval for the Preferred Storage Options Plan sponsored by the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District. Meetings this year began Jan. 20, when Aurora met with representatives from the Lower Arkansas Valley Super Ditch, when negotiations on possible leases were opened. No deals have been reached…
On March 9, staff from the Lower Ark district and Aurora met with other PSOP parties: Colorado Springs Utilities, Pueblo Board of Water Works, city of Pueblo, the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District and Fountain. The meeting was not open the public or press, a change from a negotiating process that Salazar, then a U.S. senator, used in 2007 to attempt to solve PSOP. It apparently did not include other parties that had been invited to the PSOP meetings, such as Pueblo West, Lake County, Pitkin County or the Colorado River Conservation District…
Aurora made presentations to the Lower Ark district on March 23, which were covered in The Chieftain. The presentations detailed progress on Super Ditch negotiations, Aurora’s commitment to pay $2 million for Lower Ark projects and shared Aurora’s experience in water lease programs. Meetings with lawmakers began in March, when Aurora and the Lower Ark met with U.S. Sen. Mark Udall and his staff in Washington. Udall directed his staff to set up meetings with staff from other members of the Colorado delegation to discuss the legislation sought under the settlement agreement. There was no public mention of the meetings until the federal court brief was filed. In the March 22-24 trip, Aurora and the Lower Ark district also met with U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter and staff for U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, and U.S. Reps. Mike Coffman, Betsy Markey and Doug Lamborn. Lower Ark officials also met with Ken Salazar’s staff. The first legislative staff meeting was at Udall’s Denver office, was April 30, as staff from the offices of Udall, Bennet, Perlmutter and U.S. Rep. John Salazar met with Lower Ark and Aurora attorneys.
The Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District sued the Bureau of Reclamation in federal court over a 2007 contract that allows Aurora to store and exchange water at Lake Pueblo. As part of a settlement last year, the Lower Ark and Aurora agreed to try to persuade Congress to adopt legislation that officially lets Aurora into the Fry-Ark project. The federal court case was put on hold for two years. Thursday, the South- eastern Colorado Water Conservancy District board was given a progress report on how that legislation is developing. “It all will depend on whether Rep. (John) Salazar is ready to move or not,” Executive Director Jim Broderick said. Reps. Salazar, Betsy Markey and Ed Perlmutter — all Colorado Democrats — hosted meetings about the possibility of legislation and other water issues in Rocky Ford and Lamar last year. By the end of the year, no legislation had been introduced. The Southeastern district has supported the Aurora legislation since 2003, as part of its own agreement with the suburban Denver city of 300,000…
Meanwhile, the two districts took slightly different tacks this week in dealing with two water court filings by Aurora. Aurora is seeking a change of use for water in the Busk-Ivanhoe Ditch, which it shares with the Pueblo Board of Water Works. The ditch was once agricultural and owned by the High Line Canal. Pueblo already has a decree for uses other than agriculture. Aurora and Climax Molybdenum have formed the Fremont Pass Ditch Co. after buying the Columbine Ditch from the Pueblo Board of Water Works last year. They are seeking a change of use related to their own operations. Both are transmountain diversions, and identical water court cases have been filed in Water Divisions 1, 2 and 5.
The Lower Ark board Wednesday voted to enter the cases in order to monitor them and to protect the interests of their own transmountain diversion, the Larkspur Ditch. Lower Ark is buying Larkspur, which imports water from the Gunnison River basin, from the Catlin Canal. The Southeastern board voted to file a statement of opposition in the Busk-Ivanhoe case because the diversion for that tunnel is above the Fry-Ark collection system on the Western Slope.
More Fryingpan-Arkansas Project coverage here and here.
The $8 million study of storage in the Arkansas Valley is actually the primary stated purpose of suggested legislation by the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District and Aurora that is meant to settle a federal lawsuit the Lower Ark has filed against the Bureau of Reclamation. “The additional storage space is crucial to Pueblo and the future of this valley,” said Bud O’Hara, division manager for water resources for the Pueblo Board of Water Works at Thursday’s town hall. O’Hara said the proposed legislation also provides water quality monitoring and fosters cooperation among all water users in the valley…
The legislation being proposed now also would allow other users in the Arkansas Valley outside Southeastern’s boundaries – which take in most cities, towns and farmland in tightly defined parts of nine counties – to enter excess-capacity contracts. Those types of contracts also have been issued for years by Reclamation as well. The Southeastern district presently has no beef with either type of contract, said Jim Broderick, executive director. “Those contracts are allowed, at a higher rate than for users within the district,” Broderick explained. The legislation guards against the increase of diversions from the Colorado River basin, but it does not explicitly limit future diversions from the Arkansas River basin. Aurora is limited in how much water it can take in the next 37 years by the 2003-04 agreements. An agreement with the Lower Ark district extend those limits beyond 2046. The proposed federal legislation does not speak to whether other water users could tap into the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project to move water out of the valley – neither authorizing nor expressly prohibiting others outside the basin who may seek excess-capacity contracts. That could leave the issue of where water is moved open to the interpretation by Reclamation, as it has interpreted past acts of Congress in making its rules.
Here’s an update on Pueblo West’s reasoning behind their lawsuit against being required to join the Pueblo flow program as a condition of connecting to Colorado Springs Utilities’ proposed Southern Delivery System, from Chris Woodka writing for the Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:
Pueblo County, under its 1041 land-use regulations, is requiring all SDS participants – Colorado Springs, Fountain, Security and Pueblo West – to participate in the flow program set up under 2004 intergovernmental agreements. Colorado Springs and Fountain already participate.
Pueblo West claims it would lose a minimum of $5.3 million in the value of its water if it participates in the flow program, according to a lawsuit filed in district court by attorneys Tom Mullans and Robert Krassa. The estimate is based on an annual average of 531 acre-feet, about 6 percent of the annual water supply for the metro district. The suit claims, among other things, that this amounts to a taking of private property. The suit also acknowledges that Pueblo West stands to gain $3 million to $7 million by its participation in SDS because it would be able to connect to the SDS pipeline for $1 million rather than build a river intake that could cost up to $8 million. “This cost savings is Pueblo West’s sole benefit from participation in SDS,” the lawsuit states. The metro district attorneys claim the condition of participation in the flow program was not brought up until late in the 1041 process, and that Pueblo West never committed to joining the flow program…
While the county cannot directly enforce the flow program, it can hold participants to a portion of the IGA that requires their support for actions that prevent others from exchanging water against forgone exchanges, [Ray Petros, special counsel for Pueblo County] said.
Pueblo West argues that its Wild Horse Dry Creek exchange occurs above the area covered in the city of Pueblo’s recreational in-channel diversion decree and that its exchange decree from Lake Meredith existed long before the Pueblo flow program. Additionally, Pueblo West signed over the authority to negotiate all permits to Colorado Springs Utilities in a 2007 agreement, Petros said.
More coverage from Mike Spence writing for the Pueblo West View:
The SDS is a 50-mile pipeline that would take water from the north side of Pueblo Dam and pump it north to serve Colorado Springs, Fountain, Widefield and Security. Pueblo West officials had hoped to get a “T” off the pipeline as it comes through Pueblo County. That access would increase Pueblo West’s daily water capacity from 12 million gallons to 30 million gallons, assuring the community adequate water when it reached build-out. It also would give Pueblo West a second access to its water in the reservoir. But the county requirement, made as part of its 1041 permit process, would force Pueblo West to give up a portion of that water. The Flow Manage Program is part of an intergovernmental agreement signed in 2004 by Pueblo, the Pueblo Board of Water Works, Colorado Springs, Aurora, Fountain and the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District. Pueblo West was not part of the IGA, nor the negotiations on flow management program – and was not a signee to the pact.
At issue is the amount of water Pueblo West would have to contribute to the Flow Management Program. Pueblo officials estimate Pueblo West’s contribution would be about 92 acre feet of water annually. Pueblo West disputes that, saying the loss could be anywhere from 1,400 to 3,200 acre feet of water annually. Colorado Springs Utilities asked MWH Engineering to model Pueblo West’s participation in the flow management program. MWH Engineering came back with an estimate of at least 649 acre feet on average would be lost under the most ideal conditions. “We think that estimate is conservative,” said Steve Harrison, Pueblo West’s director of utilities, noting that it was based on a flow rate of 100 cubic feet per second in the river’s upper gauge and did not include the loss of further re-use. Using a multiplier of 1.8 to factor in that re-usage, the amount of lost water is approximately 1,200 acre feet of water, according to Harrison. Yet, even using the Colorado Springs estimate, which is more than seven times greater than the estimate made by Pueblo officials, the cost to Pueblo West to replace the water would be millions. “Considering a conservative $11,000 per acre foot for water such as Bessemer Ditch, this would be equal to $7.139 million for replacement water,” according to a report Harrison gave to the board of directors…
If Pueblo West were to attempt to replace that water with shares from Twin Lakes, the cost would be much higher – more than double. The last time Pueblo West purchased water shares from Twin Lakes they cost $26,000 per acre foot. That cost would likely be higher now, if the shares were available at all.
Despite the lawsuit, Pueblo West officials said they still are open to a compromise. “We would be willing to be good partners and contribute some of our water to help the kayak course,” said Pueblo West metro board Chairman Stan Hren. “But not the amount the county is calling for.”
Hren said the amount of water Pueblo West is being asked to contribute to the Flow Management Program is disproportionate to the amount of water it is receiving. “What does Colorado Springs contribute to the Flow Management Program, 1,500 acre feet?” Hren asked. “Colorado Springs has 300,000 acre feet of water, that’s less than one half of one percent of their total water. If you used that percentage for Pueblo West, it would be about 50 acre feet of water a year.”[…]
[Steve] Harrison, director of utilities for Pueblo West, said the district takes water from a pipeline at the dam and releases it from a sewage treatment plant on the eastern edge of Pueblo West. The water then flows down Wild Horse Dry Creek to the Arkansas River, giving Pueblo West the right to take a similar amount again from Lake Pueblo. Pueblo West is allowed to reuse the water because it comes from Twin Lakes, which is non-native to the Arkansas basin. Now, though, the county wants some of Pueblo West’s water to flow from the dam through the city of Pueblo, which has not been done in the past…
…the bottom line is that Pueblo West would lose water, perhaps a significant amount of water to the Flow Management Program. Mullans said it would be expensive to replace that lost water, and later may not be possible at all. There are far more water users in the Arkansas Valley that there is water, he said. “It was not easy to build up this portfolio of water rights,” he said. “And we need more.”
One Pueblo West resident wondered why Pueblo West doesn’t walk away from the SDS project and built a reservoir access of its own. The cost of building a pump station would be about $8 million, compared to the cost of $1 million for the “T” off the SDS pipeline, plus about $250,000 as part of Pueblo West’s share of the SDS project. Another reason, Mullans pointed out, was that even if Pueblo West withdrew from the SDS and sought to build its own pump station from the reservoir, the county would again step in with its 1041 permit process and demand that Pueblo West participate in the flow management program. The county’s 1041 process applies to all water or wastewater pipes 12 inches in diameter or bigger.
More coverage from Chris Woodka writing for the Pueblo Chieftain:
Pueblo County is not in a position to allow Pueblo West an exemption from the Pueblo County flow management program, its water attorney said Wednesday. The reason is not that the county has any power to enforce the flow program, but because the conditions of past intergovernmental agreements require that all participants in Southern Delivery System adhere to the program, said Ray Petros, special counsel for the county…
“The county permitting process is a way of promoting universal application of the flow program. It would be unconscionable for one member not to participate,” Petros said. The March 2004 IGA among Pueblo, the Pueblo Board of Water Works and Colorado Springs has a provision that requires all parties to prevent others from exchanging against flows that are a result of curtailment of exchanges. “The 2004 agreement says that if the forgone flows are exchanged upon, then it’s King’s X for everyone,” Petros explained. The same provisions are referenced in the May 2004 IGA that brought Aurora, Fountain and the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District into the flow program.
A provision of legislation for the Preferred Storage Options Plan, which included Pueblo West, and the Upper Arkansas and Lower Arkansas Valley Water conservancy districts until negotiations were suspended in late 2007, required year-round target flows of 100 cubic feet per second for the Arkansas River below Pueblo Dam. Aurora and the Lower Ark, along with most of the other PSOP partners, are supporting similar federal legislation.
Finally, Pueblo West agreed, in its 2007 IGA with Colorado Springs for SDS to support Colorado Springs Utilities as its bargaining agent for all permits required to build SDS.
In addition, Colorado Springs listed the Pueblo flow program as one of the benefits for Pueblo County in information that was distributed at meetings it sponsored in advance of Pueblo County 1041 hearings – including two in Pueblo West. “Pueblo West should have known of the contractual agreements that had been made,” Petros said. “Pueblo West does not have a case against Pueblo County. The remedy would be is not to go forward with SDS.”
Pueblo West stands to lose much more if it pulls out of SDS, Petros said. The largest loss would be a 10,000 acre-foot storage contract with the Bureau of Reclamation in Pueblo Reservoir, which is part of the SDS package, if the pipeline for the project comes from Pueblo Dam.
Aurora and the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District sent their idea of what legislation should look like to U.S. senators and representatives last week, and provided copies to partners in ongoing talks about the Preferred Storage Options Plan…
The legislation would provide authorization for Aurora and water users who are inside the Arkansas Valley, but outside the boundaries of the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, to obtain excess-capacity contracts in Lake Pueblo and other Fry-Ark facilities. It would also authorize a feasibility study of enlarging Lake Pueblo and Turquoise Lake, the key features of the original [Preferred Storage Option Plan] legislation.