City of Aspen reaches agreement with five parties on moving Maroon and Castle creek water rights — @AspenJournalism

An illustration of the potential Maroon Creek Reservoir, prepared by Wilderness Workshop. Source: Wilderness Workshop

From Aspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith):

The city of Aspen now has signed settlement agreements from five of the 10 parties opposing its efforts in water court to maintain conditional water storage rights tied to large potential dams on Maroon and Castle creeks, including Pitkin County, Wilderness Workshop, Western Resource Advocates, and two private-property owners in the Castle Creek valley.

“Aspen agrees that it will forego the right to store water pursuant to these water rights at the original decreed locations,” a May 24 staff memo from the city states.

The five parties that have yet to sign agreements include the U.S. Forest Service, American Rivers, Trout Unlimited, and two property owners in the Maroon Creek valley.

According to a draft resolution that the city council is expected to approve at a regular meeting on Tuesday, city staffers and the city attorney “have diligently negotiated with the remaining opposers to seek settlement in regarding their opposition and staff and its attorney believe that stipulations substantially similar to the attached stipulations will be entered with the remaining opposers.”

The city has said that none of the agreements are binding unless all 10 parties agree to the settlement terms.

As the city works through settlement negotiations with the parties, the resulting agreements can become more restrictive, but not less so, which is a common approach to settling water court cases.

For example, the agreement signed by an attorney for Pitkin County regarding Maroon Creek Reservoir does not include the county-owned Moore Open Space as one of the sites where the city may move its storage right, as did an earlier version of the agreement signed by Wilderness Workshop.

Other potential water-storage sites include the current Woody Creek gravel pit site, a piece of vacant land next to the gravel pit recently purchased by the city for potential water storage, the city-owned Zoline open space between the Maroon Creek Club and the Burlingame housing project, the city-owned Cozy Point Open Space at the bottom of Brush Creek Road, and the city’s municipal golf course.

Under the agreements, the city will seek to transfer its conditional water storage rights from the upper Castle and Maroon creek valleys to these other potential reservoir sites, with a maximum storage capacity of 8,500 acre-feet.

A map prepared for the City of Aspen that shows the five potential water-storage sites in the Roaring Fork River valley.

1971 decree

The city has held the conditional water rights for the Castle and Maroon creek reservoirs since 1965 and they carry a 1971 decree date, which the city hopes to carry to the other potential locations.

The potential Maroon Creek Reservoir would hold 4,567 acre-feet of water behind a 155-foot-tall dam on USFS property within view of the Maroon Bells. It would also flood a portion of the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness.

The potential Castle Creek Reservoir would hold 9,062 acre-feet behind a 170-foot-tall dam, mainly on private property, two miles below Ashcroft.

Western Resource Advocates and Wilderness Workshop issued a press release about their agreements with the city on Thursday afternoon.

The release was sent out after the city of Aspen posted the meeting packet for a scheduled May 29 Aspen City Council meeting.

Aspen Public Radio posted a story on Thursday afternoon with the headline, “Aspen agrees to never build dams on Castle and Maroon.”

The Aspen Times and the Aspen Daily News also wrote stories Thursday evening about the city’s progress in reaching settlements with opposing parties.

As part of the deal with the five parties who have signed agreements, or stipulations as they are called in water court, the opposing parties have agreed not to oppose the city’s efforts to change the water rights to the new locations for 20 years.

Six of the 10 parties who filed statements of opposition in December 2016, in response to the city’s due-diligence filing in October 2016, filed in both the Maroon and Castle creek cases.

But the two pairs of private-property owners filed in only one case each.

Double R Creek Limited, and ASP Properties, which control property in the Castle Creek valley where the potential dam would have been built, only filed in the Castle Creek case. They have both signed settlement agreements.

However, Larsen Family LP and Roaring Fork Land and Cattle Co., which own land in the Maroon Creek valley, have yet to sign agreements with the city.

The cases are being processed in Division 5 Water Court in Glenwood Springs. The next status conference in the case is scheduled for June 26, and the 18-month mark in the case is June 30.

From The Aspen Times (Carolyn Sackariason):

Two of the opposers, Wilderness Workshop and Western Resource Advocates, announced the settlement Thursday evening.

Will Roush, conservation director at Wilderness Workshop, commended the city for finding another way to store its water other than in a designated wilderness area.

“It’s a big deal. … Everybody came to a consensus that these were not the right places for dams,” he said.

Roush’s organization, along with nine other parties, sued the city after it applied to the state to extend existing conditional water rights for the two potential reservoirs. The city first applied for those rights in 1965.

Since 2016, city officials have maintained that adequate water storage is needed in anticipation of climate change impacts like drought, fire and changes in runoff.

“City Councils over the decades have worked to preserve Aspen water customers’ water supply, including storage options now and into the future,” Aspen Mayor Steve Skadron said in a statement. “We are pleased that we could achieve a solution with Wilderness Workshop and Western Resource Advocates, and hopefully all the parties invested in a mutually successful outcome, that protects pristine areas of wilderness while still prioritizing Aspen’s water needs for the coming decades.”

In 2017, the city announced its intention to move the conditional storage rights out of both valleys. It has been in negotiations with the opposing entities since then.

Stipulations with the five parties — which Aspen City Council is set to approve Tuesday — would result in the government relocating its water storage rights to six other potential locations in the Roaring Fork Valley…

Roush said he has spoken to representatives of some of those parties and there are no substantial differences in the stipulations. He said he expects those agreements to be signed off on, but in the meantime there is no time like the present to advance his organization’s goal to keep water storage out of the valleys…

“It’s a great day for Castle and Maroon creek valleys, and that those streams will remain free-flowing,” Roush said.

#ColoradoRiver: “…we face an overwhelming risk on the system, and the time for action is now” — Brenda Burman #COriver #aridification

From The Desert Sun (Ian James):

The river basin, which stretches from Wyoming to Mexico, has been drying out during what scientists say is one of the driest 19-year periods in the past 1,200 years.

Its largest reservoir, Lake Mead, now stands just 39 percent full. And the federal government has warned that the likelihood of the reservoir dropping to critical shortage levels is growing.

With all indicators pointing to increasing risks of a water crash in the Southwest, the top official of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation came to the Imperial Valley with a message for the district that holds the largest single entitlement to Colorado River water: It’s time for action to avert a worst-case scenario, and everyone will need to pitch in.

Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman told the Imperial Irrigation District’s board that she wants to see water agencies in California, Arizona and Nevada restart stalled talks on a “drought contingency plan,” under which all sides would agree to temporarily take less water from Lake Mead to keep it from falling to disastrously low levels.

“It’s very important for us to start thinking about, what do we need to do to protect Lake Mead and to protect the water users?” Burman told the IID board on Tuesday. She pointed out that four states in the river’s Upper Basin are working on a regional drought plan, and that during the past three years, the three Lower Basin states had, until recently, been negotiating their plan, too.

“Those talks have sort of fallen off. And I’m here to say for this secretary, for this administration, those talks need to be starting again,” Burman said.

“We need to be talking about what does a drought contingency plan in the Lower Basin look like? And we need action. We need action this year,” she said. “If you take one message from what I’m saying today, it’s that we face an overwhelming risk on the system, and the time for action is now.”

Stressing the urgency of her appeal, Burman showed a chart with a range of possible reservoir levels for Lake Mead in the mid-2020s, including a worst-case scenario in which the reservoir falls to “dead pool” — too low for [releases].

Native Waters at Risk: Learning to Listen

On April 7, 2016, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed adding the “Bonita Peak Mining District” to the National Priorities List, making it eligible for Superfund. Forty-eight mine portals and tailings piles are “under consideration” to be included. The Gold King Mine will almost certainly be on the final list, as will the nearby American Tunnel. The Mayflower Mill #4 tailings repository, just outside Silverton, is another likely candidate, given that it appears to be leaching large quantities of metals into the Animas River. What Superfund will entail for the area beyond that, and when the actual cleanup will begin, remains unclear.
Eric Baker

From Stanford University: Water in the West (Sibyl Diver):

In 2015, 3 million gallons of drainage water came rushing out of the Gold King Mine near Silverton, Colorado, spewing 190 tons of heavy metals and other contaminants into a tributary of the Animas River, which flows into the San Juan River. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which had been doing some excavation of the passage leading into the mine during an investigation at the site, had triggered pressurized water stored behind a plug at the mine portal. The damage was significant, taking a heavy toll on one community in particular: the Navajo Nation.

“When the spill occurred, it was economically devastating to the region, which is the bread basket of the Navajo Nation,” said Karletta Chief, Assistant Professor of Soil, Water, and Environmental Sciences at the University of Arizona. “It also had a traumatic impact on people. They view the river as the male deity of the Navajo homeland. Seeing it turn yellow really devastated the people.”

Indigenous Knowledge and Water Science

Chief, a hydrologist and a member of the Navajo Nation herself, has spent her career integrating rigorous scientific study with Indigenous knowledge to address urgent water quality problems. Raised in a remote community of Black Mesa, Arizona, where she often served as a translator for her family, Chief went on to receive undergraduate and master’s degrees from Stanford and a PhD from the University of Arizona. Her work on the Navajo Nation on water issues has earned her a place in Stanford’s Multicultural Alumni Hall of Fame.

“I grew up in a tribal community where we were taught to just listen to elders,” says Chief. “When I came to Stanford I had to unlearn that. You were expected to debate your issue, and we are trained to do that as western scientists. You want to interject. A lot of times this is for good reason. Scientists are curious and interested. But it’s important to sit back and just listen.”

Working closely with Navajo Nation community members, Chief focuses on spill response, water quality testing, and supporting local decision-making on key water resource issues.

Water quality is an important issue for the Navajo people, yet access to clean water is a real challenge. More than 8,000 homes on the Navajo reservation do not have access to potable water. Navajo people on the reservation travel an average of 24 miles each way to haul their drinking water. Groundwater contamination and depletion on native lands from mining activities is also a serious concern.

After the Gold King Mine spill, many local Navajo farmers either couldn’t irrigate their fields due to the closure of irrigation intakes or chose not to for fear of contamination. As a result, crop yields were seriously impacted. As many as 2,000 Navajo farmers and ranchers are estimated to have been affected by the spill. Chief, who has been an active force in understanding the Gold King Mine disaster and its impacts, developed a study with tribal members on short-term exposure to mining contaminants.

Typical environmental assessment methodologies do not adequately account for the social and cultural impacts of mining nor integrate Indigenous ways of knowing. “The elders gave us guidance and asked us to incorporate the fundamental Diné (Navajo) philosophy of hózhó,” Chief explains. Sa’ah Naaghái Bik’eh Hózhóón has to do with harmony, restoration, and healing, as well as following the Navajo approach to problem solving.

“I don’t think the EPA considered traditional knowledge in their approach,” says Chief. “In ours, we did this through listening sessions and allowing people to talk and write down their experiences. We had the help of the traditional cultural experts and elders that were involved when we were writing the proposal. This is important because it raises the need to have more accurate ways to do these risk assessments, particularly with Indigenous communities where they use rivers in many more ways than recreation. They revere the river in spiritual ways.”

Community-engaged research also requires communicating scientific findings back to communities in a language and format that is accessible. “When we reported back, we needed the help of cultural experts to make sure that we were doing that effectively,” says Chief. The goal for this work is to support tribal members in using research to make their own assessments, draw their own conclusions, and determine how to heal their community and environment. “Not everyone has gone back to farming,” explains Chief. “But [the research] has definitely helped in answering some questions.”

Communicating the details of spill response to non-English speakers was a challenge. When the Navajo language lacked a word to describe a water contaminant like manganese, Chief and her team worked with traditional knowledge holders and medicine people to name the element. The community outreach “really helped in terms of people understanding what we’re doing and the results that we share; coming back to restoring harmony and healing for the people as a result of this traumatic event,” explained Chief.

To share their results, Chief’s team participated in teach-ins organized by community environmental organizations. They broadcasted their findings over radio forums in Navajo language and presented at various chapter meetings, representing different parts of Navajo Nation.

More recently, Chief has co-organized a conference on Indigenous perspectives on water, with community leaders taking a prominent role. Chief has also developed short 1-2 minute videos that can be streamed in the waiting rooms of hospitals. “When you’re engaging tribes, not everybody is the same. There are different sectors of the tribal community that need to be considered,” says Chief. “It is not always the young people. There are health experts and elders. It is not always the tribal leaders.”

“I am still learning about how to report back to the community,” Chief explains. “There is such a large number of people in different sectors of the Navajo population, so it is a really daunting task to reach out to everybody.”

Responding to the Gold King Mine Spill

Chief is continuing her community-based research with tribal partners. This includes the Navajo Gold King Mine Exposure Project, a household-level biomonitoring initiative to investigate biological accumulation of toxins in community members over time. Initial findings have shown no significant evidence of long-term health impacts from the spill, although the research team did find slightly elevated arsenic levels for Navajo people compared to the general U.S. population. It remains to be seen what these results will look like as time goes on.

Recent investigation by the EPA has also detected elevated lead levels at sites near the mine up to 100 times higher than the danger level for wildlife. There are approximately 5,105 abandoned mines in Colorado, 3,989 in New Mexico, 10,697 in Utah, and 24,183 in Arizona.

“It’s a sleeping giant, and a wake-up call for everybody to act quickly on stabilizing the area and reducing risk in the future,” cautions Chief. “There are thousands of abandoned mines in the region and the risk of a spill like this is really high.”

In 2016, about one year after the Gold King Mine disaster, the EPA added the Bonita Peak Mining District as a Superfund site. The district is made up of 48 mining-related sites including Gold King.

Although the EPA has declared Superfund cleanups a priority the Gold King Mine cleanup remains lingering in the study stages. Meanwhile, the legal fight for fair compensation for the Navajo Nation continues. A ruling in the United States District Court for the District of New Mexico against Environmental Restoration, LLC. (the contract company that excavated the mine and caused the spill) upheld the Nation’s claims of negligence and also upheld their right to seek punitive damages. All of which harkens back to the importance of Chief’s meaningful engagement with Indigenous knowledge in her research. The issue in seeking damages for the Navajo is keeping accurate records and receipts, which may not fully reflect their losses in terms of the cultural importance of the river and surrounding lands.

Chief’s next project supported by a million dollar grant through the National Science Foundation (NSF) Research Traineeship program is to develop a new training program at the University of Arizona. The program, which is currently accepting applications for graduate students, will include learning the fundamentals of energy and water efficiency and a project-based class working with Indigenous communities. The emphasis is on interdisciplinary thinking to encourage “a holistic view of problem solving that is needed to bring water to Native American communities,” says Chief.

One of the principles that the program will cover is the importance of understanding the diversity of Native American tribes. “Across hundreds of tribal communities, they are diverse in many ways,” Chief explains. “Within a tribal community, there are many more ways that the tribal community is diverse. It’s not one size fits fit all. So, when scientists are working with tribal communities it’s important to remember that. We need to make sure that we do not apply other tribal experiences to the tribes we’re working with,” says Chief. “More and more it is really about listening, and especially working with grassroots organizations that are the movers and shakers.”

Pagosa Springs: #Geothermal Resource Workshop set for May 23, 2018

Photo credit: Colorado.com

From the Geothermal Greenhouse Partnership (Sally High) via The Pagosa Sun:

Geothermal Greenhouse Partnership (GGP) welcomes Colorado School of Mines (CSM) and Colorado Geologic Survey back to Pagosa Springs this week.

CSM’s seventh Geophysics Field Camp builds on previous years’ research into Archuleta County’s geothermal plumbing.

The GGP invites the public to a scientific retrospective of collected data and updated interpretations of the local geothermal resource on
Wednesday, May 23. The workshop is at the Archuleta County CSU Extension building from 6 to 8 p.m. The GGP workshop contains two presentations.

Dr. Andrei Swidinsky and Stephen Cuttler of CSM will present a seven-year retrospective of the geophysical data collected by CSM students. Each year’s field camp adds to our understanding of the underground structure of our geothermal aquifer.

Dr. Paul Morgan is senior geo- thermal geologist at Colorado Geological Survey. In 2017, Morgan published Origins and Geothermal Potential of Thermal Springs in Archuleta County, including Pagosa Springs, Colorado, USA (Revisited). The paper was first presented at the international Geothermal Resource Council’s 2017 conference. The Archuleta County public can hear Morgan’s revised interpretations at the GGP workshop.
The GGP is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit operating an educational park in downtown Pagosa Springs. The nonprofit park demonstrates geothermal direct energy use, year-round horticulture and environmental awareness. Twenty-first century water conservation and geothermal potential are priorities of GGP’s mission.

GGP’s Education Dome is busy with student and volunteer activity, and the Community Garden Dome and Innovation Dome are being constructed. Pagosa Springs Centennial Park’s Riverwalk is the site of the GGP project.

There is no charge for the GGP’s geothermal resource update work- shop, although donations to the nonprofit are accepted. The public is welcome.

As warming continues, ‘hot #drought’ becomes the norm, not an exception — #NewMexico Political Report #aridification

West Drought Monitor May 15, 2018.

From the New Mexico Political Report (Laura Paskus):

“Climate change for the Southwest is all about water,” said Jonathan Overpeck, who has spent decades studying climate change and its impacts in the southwestern United States. Warming affects the amount of water flowing in streams, and the amount of water available to nourish forests, agricultural fields and orchards. There’s also the physics of the matter: A warmer atmosphere holds more moisture, demanding more from land surfaces. Plants need more water, too. “Any way you look at it,” Overpeck said, “water that normally would flow in the river or be in the soil ends up instead in the atmosphere.”

[…]

Past southwestern droughts were notable for declines in precipitation. But today’s droughts are different, he explained. Even in wet years, which will still occur as the climate changes, warmer conditions dry out the landscapes.

“With atmospheric warming, we’re getting what we’re calling ‘hot droughts’ or ‘hotter droughts,’” he said. “That means that they’re more and more influenced by these warm temperatures, and the warm temperatures tend to make the droughts more severe because they pull the moisture out of plants, they pull the moisture out of rivers and out of soil—and that moisture ends up in the atmosphere instead of where we normally like to have it.”

From 1952 until 1956, below-normal rainfall caused “critical water deficiencies in much of the southern half of the Nation,” according to a 1965 U.S. Department of the Interior report. The 1950s drought had widespread impacts on New Mexico’s communities and economy. Today’s drought conditions, which Overpeck explains have been moving around the Southwest for 19 years, are exacerbated by warmer temperatures. The global temperature is 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit higher than it was in 1880, and the Southwest is warming at an even faster rate.

“What we’re seeing now in the drought that’s going on is that it’s more due to temperature increase and less due to precipitation deficit,” he said. And “hot drought” is what we should prepare to face in the future, too.

“More and more so, the droughts will really be defined by hotness, by warm temperatures that just suck the moisture out of the soil, suck the moisture out of our rivers,” he said. “And leaves the droughts an ever more devastating manifestation.”

The Roaring Fork Conservancy is working to get Cattle Creek off the 303(d) list

Map of the Roaring Fork River watershed via the Roaring Fork Conservancy

From Aspen Public Radio (Elizabeth Stewart-Severy):

Roaring Fork Conservancy has been studying the creek since 2015, and water quality coordinator Chad Rudow told commissioners Monday that research shows parts of the creek are healthier than the state thought.

“We’re pretty excited and pretty hopeful that at least a section of Cattle Creek will come off of that 303(d) list,” Rudow said.

Roaring Fork Conservancy has submitted its data to the Colorado water quality division, which will analyze it this year.

Garfield County agreed to Roaring Fork Conservancy’s request for $10,000 to continue studying water quality and take steps to improve it. Rudow said the studies have identified some clear trends…

There isn’t just one culprit; diversions, agriculture, septic systems and commercial development all contribute.

Roaring Fork Conservancy is working with landowners to better manage riparian areas and septic systems, and Rudow said continued outreach is key.

Because there are many diversions on Cattle Creek, the stream doesn’t see a typical spring runoff flow, which clears out pollutants and sediments. So Roaring Fork Conservancy is also working with water rights owners to discuss a pulse flow to mimic spring runoff.

#ColoradoRiver solutions #COriver

On the Colorado River. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

From The Sterling Journal-Advocate (Ken Mirr):

Under the Compact, the Upper Basin States are obligated to deliver 7.5 million acre feet (maf) of water downstream to the thirsty Lower Basin states. Unfortunately, this requirement was derived from faulty baseline data as the rainfall patterns that occurred in the years prior were abnormally high and the flows were vastly overestimated. Delivery of this amount of water will be further impacted by warming climate projections that indicate that the region will become drier in the long-term, and we may be in an era of steadily declining river flows along the Colorado. To make matters worse, demand in all of the basin states like Colorado are increasing as populations in the area continue to grow, further stressing the already over-allocated river.

These devastating impacts are evident in the water storage levels within the river’s two largest reservoirs, Lake Powell and Lake Mead, which are measured in order to determine if the Compact obligations are being met. Recently the reservoir levels have dropped to their lowest levels since 1937 and have shrunk to less than half their capacity. Until now, the system has worked, but if the Upper Basin states fail to deliver the mandatory volume of water to the reservoirs then the Lower Basin states could make a “Compact call” forcing the Upper Basin to curtail use of post-1922 water rights from the Colorado. That means Colorado’s growing population, amidst a warming and drier climate, will be forced to use less water so Lower Basin states can receive their legally obligated share.

To address diminishing flows and greater demand for the water, agricultural producers in Colorado’s west slope are participating in a voluntary pilot program that compensates them for temporarily fallowing their crops and letting the water run down the river.

In 2014, facing declining levels in lakes Mead and Powell, the Upper Colorado River Commission (UCRC), the Bureau of Reclamation and four water providers piloted a program in the Upper Basin to test water conservation strategies that could be part of a drought contingency plan. The goal of the Colorado River System Conservation Pilot Program (SCPP) was to demonstrate the viability of proactive, cooperative and voluntary compensated means to reduce the risk of reaching critical reservoir levels needed to protect the Compact entitlements. The program allows farmer and ranchers to voluntarily and temporarily let water run down the river and forego the use of their water to irrigate fields in exchange for compensation. The SCPP also reduces “buy and dry” scenarios where struggling farmers are bought out so developers can have access to their water for neighborhoods or transfer their water to municipalities.

A shining example is the 9,177-acre Porcupine Ridge Ranch in Routt County, Colorado and the latest to take advantage of the UCRC’s program by voluntarily reducing consumptive use of its water rights and fallowing 1,941 acres of their irrigated hay fields, or nearly twenty percent of their ranch. In exchange, the ranch will receive up to $421,650, in addition to the current cattle and hunting leases that remain operative alongside the water fallowing. This is one of the largest awards given to a single property in Colorado and outlines a model of what’s to come, if ranchers and farmers take advantage of the opportunity while they can.

As the Compact nears its 100th birthday, policymakers and landowners alike need to take an honest and accurate view at rainfall rates amidst a warming and migrating population to rebalance water needs and who gets what (and why.) The SCPP is a start in the right direction as it addresses water supply shortages and provides a possible hedge against potential future Compact calls. It also benefits agricultural producers by creating a potential income source by funding voluntary conservation measures while also avoiding buy and dry measures that separate their water from the land.