#Colorado Springs: Have a voice in water planning [November 2] — @csindependent

Colorado Springs Collection System via Colorado College.
Colorado Springs Collection System via Colorado College.

From the Colorado Springs Independent (Pam Zubeck):

Just months after activating the long-awaited Southern Delivery System Pipeline in April, Colorado Springs Utilities is hosting an open house on Wednesday, November 2 to gather comments for its Integrated Water Resource Plan.

The plan hasn’t been updated in 20 years.

Here’s the release:

With some of it traveling more than 200 miles to town, water continues to be one of Colorado Springs’ greatest challenges and opportunities. Water planners at Colorado Springs Utilities are looking to the future and how they can continue to provide reliable, safe and high-quality water for our community.

The public is invited to learn about the Integrated Water Resource Plan at an Open House Wednesday, Nov. 2 from 5:30 to 7 p.m. at the Conservation and Environmental Center (2855 Mesa Rd., Colorado Springs). We will share information about our water system and our plan to meet future needs. Residents will have a chance to weigh in on long-term planning and provide input on water decisions for Colorado Springs. Topics include:

· Water system reliability
· Potential regional water service challenges and opportunities
· Water Supply challenges and risks
· Opportunities to mitigate risks
· Tradeoffs between risk and costs

The Water Resource Plan was last updated in 1996 and laid the groundwork for the Southern Delivery System.

“We have seen a lot change since the last plan was completed. Drought, fires, greater variability in supply and demand, and other factors have really challenged our water resources. The future of our water supply system is equally uncertain,” said Kevin Lusk, Colorado Springs Utilities water planner. “We have undertaken this planning process to address these challenges. It will set the direction for 50-plus years into the future with the goal of ensuring clean, safe and reliable water service for our customers.”

Customers unable to attend the Open House can review planning documents and provide input at http://csu.org.

Air Force: Toxic wastewater sent into Fountain Creek [via sewer system] up to three times a year until 2015 — The Colorado Springs Gazette

The Fountain Creek Watershed is located along the central front range of Colorado. It is a 927-square mile watershed that drains south into the Arkansas River at Pueblo. The watershed is bordered by the Palmer Divide to the north, Pikes Peak to the west, and a minor divide 20 miles east of Colorado Springs. Map via the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District.
The Fountain Creek Watershed is located along the central front range of Colorado. It is a 927-square mile watershed that drains south into the Arkansas River at Pueblo. The watershed is bordered by the Palmer Divide to the north, Pikes Peak to the west, and a minor divide 20 miles east of Colorado Springs. Map via the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District.

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Tom Roeder):

Peterson Air Force Base sent water laced with toxic firefighting foam into Colorado Springs Utilities sewers as often as three times a year, the service said in an email response to Gazette questions.

The service said the practice of sending the wastewater mixed with perfluorinated compounds from the firefighting foam into sewers stopped in 2015 and said criminal investigators are looking into a discharge of 150,000 gallons of chemical-laden water from the base announced last week…

The Air Force contends its earlier discharges of contaminated wastewater were “in accordance with (utilities) guidelines,” which Colorado Springs Utilities disputes.

“I’m not aware that we have ever authorized them to discharge that firefighting foam into the system,” Utilities spokesman Steve Berry said.

The chemicals in the firefighting foam, which can’t be removed by the Utilities sewage treatment plant, flowed into Fountain Creek, which feeds the Widefield Aquifer. Unlike other contaminants which settle out of water into sediment, perfluorinated compounds remain in solution, increasing the likelihood of contamination stemming from a release into the sewer system.

The impact on other water users is unclear. Colorado Springs’ and Pueblo’s drinking water does not come from the creek…

Berry said the last release of contaminated water from Peterson flowed through the Las Vegas Street sewage treatment plant before the utility was told of the 150,000-gallon discharge from a holding tank on the base. That means utility workers had no way to measure the toxicity of the water.

“Once we were notified, that stuff had long moved through our system and out of service territory,” Berry said.

The Air Force said an investigation into the discharge is ongoing and involves the service’s Office of Special Investigations and experts from the Environmental Protection Agency.

Last week, Peterson officials said releasing the contaminated water from a holding tank near the base fire training area required opening two valves and activating an electric switch, making it possible that the release was intentional.

The fire training area includes a collection system meant to contain the foam in a pair of holding tanks…

Berry said in the wake of the latest incident, Utilities has told the Air Force that its firefighting foam isn’t welcome in city sewers.

He called on the Air Force to release the alleged “guideline” the service cited to justify its earlier releases.

“That does not sound right to me at all,” he said.

The Air Force on Friday reiterated its contention that the service has been a good neighbor. The service has contributed $4.3 million toward filtering water for Security, Widefield and Fountain. Peterson is also replacing the foam in its firetrucks this week with a substance deemed less hazardous. The old foam is being disposed of as toxic waste.

But scrutiny is building for the Air Force, which faced fire from Pikes Peak region politicians this week after a Gazette investigation showed the service ignored decades of warnings from its own researchers in continuing to use the foam. Air Force studies dating to the 1970s determined the firefighting foam to be harmful to laboratory animals.

“We are working together with the community as a good neighbor who has a portion of our 12,000 employees in the affected area,” The Air Force said Friday.

Who has the highest water rates in #Colorado? — @csindependent

Colorado Springs Collection System via Colorado College.
Colorado Springs Collection System via Colorado College.

From the Colorado Springs Independent (Pam Zubeck):

Springs Utilities told LawnStarter that one reason rates are higher in Colorado Springs stems from the fact the city is not located on any major waterway, meaning the city has to import water from elsewhere. That includes a transmountain pipeline, and those don’t come cheap. The other is a 50-mile pipeline from Pueblo Reservoir, recently completed.

Here’s a listing provided in the blog of highest to lowest rates in Colorado:

Colorado Springs Utilities: $469.73
City of Aurora: $460.92
City of Greeley: $376.80
City of Fort Collins: $347.76
City and County of Broomfield: $292.20
City of Aspen: $285.00
City of Boulder: $277.20
City of Westminster: $270.24
City of Arvada: $246.78
Denver Water: $245.88
City of Thornton: $242.04
Board of Water Works of Pueblo: $220.80
Centennial Water District: $183.00

Water rates here will take another leap if a rate increase is approved next month by City Council.

Fountain Creek: 150 KGAL of PFC-laden water released into #Colorado Springs sewer system by Peterson AFB

The Fountain Creek Watershed is located along the central front range of Colorado. It is a 927-square mile watershed that drains south into the Arkansas River at Pueblo. The watershed is bordered by the Palmer Divide to the north, Pikes Peak to the west, and a minor divide 20 miles east of Colorado Springs. Map via the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District.
The Fountain Creek Watershed is located along the central front range of Colorado. It is a 927-square mile watershed that drains south into the Arkansas River at Pueblo. The watershed is bordered by the Palmer Divide to the north, Pikes Peak to the west, and a minor divide 20 miles east of Colorado Springs. Map via the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District.

From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

The spill, which Air Force officials said they’re investigating, happened as the Air Force increasingly faces scrutiny as a source of groundwater contamination nationwide.

The surge of waste containing elevated perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs) — used at military airfields to douse fuel fires and linked by federal authorities to kidney cancer, testicular cancer, low birth weights and other health problems — flowed through a Colorado Springs Utilities wastewater treatment plant before crews could try to block it. Then it trickled into Fountain Creek.

“Even if we would have been able to head it off at the plant, we’re not equipped. I don’t know of any wastewater plants in the country equipped to remove PFCs,” utilities spokesman Steve Berry said. “We would not have been able to remove that chemical before it was discharged back into the environment from our effluent.”

Fountain Creek flows south toward Pueblo and into the Arkansas River.

Pueblo Board of Water Works spokesman Paul Fanning said Pueblo didn’t hear about the spill until reporters made inquiries Tuesday.

“We don’t use any groundwater or surface water from Fountain Creek. We use water from the Arkansas River taken upstream from where Fountain Creek flows in,” Fanning said. “But it is not a good thing to have those contaminants anywhere in our water. There are some reported health effects. It is in our interest to protect our public.”

[…]

The PFC-laced waste was held in a tank at a firefighter training area on the base, located at the southeastern edge of Colorado Springs. PFCs are a component in the aqueous film-forming foam used to extinguish fuel fires.

Air Force officials said in the statement that they discovered the spill Oct. 12 during an inspection. They notified Colorado Springs Utilities the next day. The tank was part of a system used to recirculate water to a firefighter training area…

In Colorado, government well test data show PFCs have contaminated groundwater throughout the Fountain Creek watershed, nearly as far south as Pueblo, at levels up to 20 times higher than that EPA health advisory limit of 70 parts per trillion.

Public-water authorities in Fountain, Security and Widefield have scrambled to provide enough alternative water. Security has been purchasing millions of gallons of diverted Arkansas River water from Colorado Springs, installing new pipelines and minimizing pumping from contaminated municipal wells. Since Sept. 9, Security has not pumped any water from wells, water and sanitation district manager Roy Heald said. “This spill does not affect us immediately,” Heald said. “Our only concern would be the long-term effect on Fountain Creek and the Widefield Aquifer.”

Some parents south of Colorado Springs began paying for bottled water — to be safe. A contractor delivers emergency bottled water to at least 77 households.

The Air Force has contributed $4.3 million to help communities deal with the contamination.

Colorado Springs utilities crews will work with the military “to keep PFCs out of our system. That is the goal,” Berry said. “How do we protect our customers and our system from this chemical? That is the focus. It goes beyond the Air Force. It is any industrial process that may use that chemical.”

El Paso County Public Health “takes this discharge seriously and will coordinate with the Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment to collect water samples along Fountain Creek, if warranted,” spokeswoman Danielle Oller said.

CDPHE has been informed, agency spokesman Mark Salley said, adding: “It is under investigation by the Air Force, and the department is waiting for information. … The Air Force has demonstrated its commitment to identifying and addressing PFC contamination at Peterson Air Force Base and facilities nationwide.”

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Tom Roeder and Jakob Rodgers):

The release last week posed no threat to Colorado Springs drinking water.

The base said the release was discovered Oct. 12. The cause hasn’t been determined, but Fred Brooks, Peterson’s environmental chief, said the holding tank was designed to be difficult to discharge.

“It’s not a direct connection,” Brooks said. “This tank would have to have numerous valves switched to actually discharge.”

Was it intentional?

“That’s a possibility,” Brooks said…

An investigation has been opened to determine the cause of the discharge, said Col. Doug Schiess, who commands Peterson’s 21st Space Wing, in the statement.

Colorado Springs Utilities said the chemical-laden water passed through the utility’s Las Vegas Street sewage treatment plant and was released into Fountain Creek. The plant does not have the capacity to remove the chemical.

“There was no risk to the drinking water,” said Steve Berry, a Utilities spokesman. “This did not impact the drinking water, the finished water system, in any way. It went directly into the wastewater system.”

While Peterson notified Colorado Springs, base officials didn’t warn others downstream. Brooks said the base isn’t required to issue a wider notification, noting that the chemical is “unregulated” – a term used for substances that haven’t drawn enforceable drinking water standards…

Peterson had scheduled a public firefighting demonstration on Oct. 12, the day the discharge was discovered. The fire training exercise was canceled, with a spokesman at the base blaming the delay on a “bad valve”

Brooks, the base environmental officer, said two mechanical valves and an electric one must be switched to allow water to flow out of the tank, which held the outflow from fire training exercises dating back as far as 2013.

He said the water wasn’t tested for levels of the firefighting chemical.

A second tank on the base holding fire training residue wasn’t discharged.

The Air Force banned use of the foam outside fire emergencies last year and last month announced a plan to replace the product at all of its bases around the globe. Brooks said the foam at Peterson will be replaced in about two weeks.

The water contamination in Security, Widefield and Fountain has drawn a pair of lawsuits against the manufacturers of the firefighting foam alleging they sold it to the Air Force despite its toxic risks.

Although downstream, no drinking water supplied to Pueblo residents by the Pueblo Board of Water Works comes from Fountain Creek, said Paul Fanning, the agency’s spokesman. The Pueblo Reservoir does not pull from Fountain Creek.

The Widefield Water and Sanitation District is the only water system immediately downstream of the treatment plant now using the Widefield Aquifer, which leaches water from Fountain Creek, where the chemicals flowed.

Widefield officials have previously said they plan to shut off their wells by sometime in October.

Other communities have shut off their wells to the tainted aquifer.

All the water flowing to homes supplied by the Security and Fountain water systems now comes from the Pueblo Reservoir – meaning that last week’s spill should not affect those communities.

“The long-term effects would be concerning,” said Roy Heald, Security water district’s general manager. “But short-term immediate effects – there wouldn’t be any for us.”

The EPA said it wasn’t involved with the spill.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment gave the Air Force a vote of confidence despite the chemical discharge.

“The Air Force has demonstrated its commitment to identifying and addressing (perfluorinated compound) contamination at Peterson Air Force Base and facilities nationwide,” the state agency said.

Photo via USAF Air Combat Command
Photo via USAF Air Combat Command

Choices are narrowing for water development along Eagle River — Aspen Daily News

Eagle River Basin
Eagle River Basin

From Aspen Journalism (Allen Best) via the Aspen Daily News:

Two Front Range cities along with Western Slope parties and the Climax Molybdenum Co. hope to narrow their plans during the next 18 months for new or expanded reservoirs in the upper Eagle River watershed near Camp Hale.

One configuration of a possible new reservoir on Homestake Creek, a tributary of the Eagle River, would force a minor tweaking of the Holy Cross Wilderness Area boundary.

That adjustment along with the presence of ecologically important wetlands along where Whitney Creek flows into Homestake Creek are among the many complexities that partners — including the cities of Aurora and Colorado Springs — face as they consider how to satisfy their projected water needs.

Work underway this fall and expected to wrap up next year focuses on technical feasibility of individual projects. None alone is likely to meet the needs of all the partners.

Also at issue is money. One set of projects would cost $685 million, according to preliminary engineering estimates issued by Wilson Water Group and other consultants in April.

Aurora Water’s Kathy Kitzmann likens the investigation to being somewhere between the second and third leg around the bases.

“We’re not in the home stretch,” Kitzmann said at a recent meeting.

Still to be decided, as costs estimates are firmed up, is how badly Aurora, Colorado Springs and other water interests want the additional storage.

The Glenwood Springs-based Colorado River Water Conservation District has decided it only needs another several hundred-acre feet of yield.

John Currier, chief engineer for the river district, said that the less expensive studies have been done. Coming studies will be more expensive.

“I think we are to the point that the cost of investigations themselves are going to start driving the decisions, and I also think that the timing and need of the partners is helping drive those decisions,” Currier said.

At one time, the idea of pumping water eastward from Ruedi Reservoir was considered. That idea has been discarded as part of this investigation.

This exploration of water what-ifs is governed by a 1998 agreement, the Eagle River memorandum of understanding, or MOU.

The MOU envisioned water projects collaboratively constructed in ways that benefit parties on both Eastern and Western slopes, as well as Climax, the owner of the molybdenum mine that straddles the Continental Divide at Fremont Pass. Minimal environmental disruption is also a cornerstone of the agreement.

Long legal fight
The collaboration stems from a milestone water case. Aurora and Colorado Springs in 1967 completed a major water diversion that draws water from Homestake Creek and its tributaries.

Homestake Reservoir has a capacity of 43,500 acre-feet, or a little less than half of Ruedi, and is located partly in Pitkin County. The water is diverted via a 5.5-mile tunnel to Turquoise Lake near Leadville and into the Arkansas River.

Near Buena Vista that water is pumped 900 feet over the Mosquito Range into South Park for eventual distribution to Aurora and Colorado Springs.

But the cities left water rights on the table. In 1987, they returned to Eagle County with plans to divert water directly from the Holy Cross Wilderness.

The Colorado Wilderness Act of 1980 that created Holy Cross left the legal door open for a new water diversion. The law specified that “this act shall not interfere with the construction, maintenance, and/or expansion of the Homestake Water Development Project of the cities of Aurora and Colorado Springs in the Holy Cross Wilderness.”

But Colorado had changed greatly from 1967 to 1987 and state laws adopted in the early 1970s gave Eagle County expanded land-use authority. County commissioners in 1988 used that authority to veto Homestake II.

That veto, which was appealed all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, along with the denial of the Two Forks Dam southwest of Denver at about the same time, signaled that Colorado was in a new era of water politics.

Under Colorado water law, though, the two cities still owned substantial water rights in the Eagle River Basin. Guided by the Glenwood Springs-based Colorado River District, negotiations led to an agreement to develop projects to jointly benefit the former protagonists: 10,000 acre-feet of guaranteed dry-year yield for Western Slope users, 20,000 acre-feet of average-year yield for the cities, and 3,000 acre-feet for Climax.

Eagle Park Reservoir is an off-channel reservoir located on property formerly owned by the Climax Molybdenum Company (Climax) at the Climax Mine in the upper Eagle River Basin, which was originally used to store mine tailings. As part of the mine reclamation process, Climax removed tailings deposits from the reservoir and converted the facility to a fresh water storage reservoir. In 1998, Eagle Park Reservoir Company (EPRC) purchased the reservoir from Climax and began using it for municipal, industrial, irrigation, and environmental water supply purposes. Photo via Leonard Rice Engineers.
Eagle Park Reservoir is an off-channel reservoir located on property formerly owned by the Climax Molybdenum Company (Climax) at the Climax Mine in the upper Eagle River Basin, which was originally used to store mine tailings. As part of the mine reclamation process, Climax removed tailings deposits from the reservoir and converted the facility to a fresh water storage reservoir. In 1998, Eagle Park Reservoir Company (EPRC) purchased the reservoir from Climax and began using it for municipal, industrial, irrigation, and environmental water supply purposes. Photo via Leonard Rice Engineers.

Water supply options
Expansion of Eagle Park Reservoir is one option being studied.

Located near Fremont Pass at the headwaters of the East Fork of the Eagle River, it was originally created to hold mine tailings from Climax. In the 1990s it was gutted of tailings in order to hold water. A consortium of Vail Resorts, two-interrelated Vail-based water districts, and the Colorado River District combined to create a reservoir.

Aurora and Colorado Springs agreed to subordinate water rights in order to ensure firm yield for the Western Slope parties.

To expand the reservoir from the existing 3,300 acre-feet to 7,950 acre-feet could cost anywhere from $39.1 million to $70.8 million, depending upon how much work, if any, is needed to manage seepage beneath the existing dam. Test borings that began Sept. 12 will advance the design of the larger reservoir. Five possible configurations date from 1994.

Another option is to create a new relatively small dam on or adjacent to Homestake Creek, near its confluence with Whitney Creek. This is three miles off of Highway 24, between Camp Hale and Minturn.

Among the four possible configurations for this potential Whitney Creek Reservoir is a tunnel to deliver water from two creeks, Fall and Peterson, in the Gilman area.

A third option is restoration of a century-old dam at Minturn that was breached several years ago. Bolts Lake, however, would serve only Western Slope interests.

Still on the table is a new reservoir on a tributary to the Eagle River near Wolcott. That reservoir has been discussed occasionally for more than 30 years. However, like a Ruedi pumpback, it’s not part of the current discussion involving the Eagle River MOU partners.

Complex wetlands
Most problematic of the options is Whitney Creek. It would require relocation of a road and, in one of the configurations, water could back up into the existing wilderness area. For that to happen, Congress would have to tweak the wilderness boundary.

Wetlands displacement could also challenge a Whitney Reservoir. An investigation underway seeks to reveal whether those wetlands include areas classified as fens. Fens are peat-forming wetlands fed primarily by groundwater. As they may take thousands of years to develop, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service specifies that “every reasonable effort should be made to avoiding impact fens.”

“If fens are found, I expect a lengthy debate about the quantity and quality of fens required to be a fatal flaw,” said the river district’s Currier in a July memorandum. That determination will be made before drilling is authorized to determine whether a dam is possible.

Western Slope parties, said Currier in the memo, “believe an Eagle Park enlargement may ultimately become very attractive because the environmental and permitting issues are much, much simpler than a Whitney Creek alternative.”

Nearly all the alternatives being considered in the Eagle River Basin would require extensive pumping, as opposed to gravity-fed reservoir configurations. Water would have to be pumped 1,000 vertical feet into Eagle Park Reservoir, for example, then pumped again to get it across the Continental Divide.

A Whitney Creek Reservoir would require less, but still expensive pumping. Water in the reservoir would be received by gravity flow, but from there it would be pumped about seven miles up to Homestake Reservoir. Whether it can accommodate more water has yet to be determined, one of many dangling question marks.

Earlier, the parties had investigated the possibility of using an aquifer underlying Camp Hale as a reservoir. But drilling to determine the holding capacity proved maddening complex. Accounting for water depletions from pumping would have been very difficult. Further, operation of the system to prevent impact to other water users and instream flows would have been problematic. The idea was abandoned in 2013.

Currier, in his July report to the River District board of directors, outlined several questions that he said should provoke discussion among the Eagle River partners this fall: How much of the water outlined under the 1998 agreement does each party realistically need, and when? Are they ready to begin seeking permits after this new round of investigation to be completed next year?

Need for water?
This week, in response to questions from Aspen Journalism, the Eagle River MOU partners explained the need for the water to be developed between 2036 and 2050.

Both Aurora and Colorado Springs have added major projects in recent years. After the drought of 2002, a very-worried Aurora pushed rapidly for a massive reuse project along the South Platte River called Prairie Waters. It went on line in 2010 — far more rapidly than any project on the Eagle River could have been developed.

Colorado Springs last year began deliveries of water from Pueblo Reservoir via the Southern Delivery System, an idea first conceived in 1989. The Vail-based water districts also increased their storage capacity after 2002.

At a meeting in Georgetown in August, representatives of the two cities said they were unsure of the precise need for water.

Greg Baker, a spokesman for Aurora Water, describes a “delicate balancing act” about what is “going to be most reliable and what is going to be most environmentally permittable and permissible.”

Brett Gracely, of Colorado Springs Utilities, said project costs are “still in the realm of other projects are we looking at.”

The 1998 agreement specified that costs of initial studies should be divided equally, four ways. As the project progresses, the costs are to be split according to percentage of yield that each party would gain.

Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism and the Aspen Daily News are collaborating on the coverage of rivers and water. More at http://www.aspenjournalism.org.

prairiewaterstreatment
Aurora Prairie Waters Project
Southern Delivery System map via Colorado Springs Utilities
Southern Delivery System map via Colorado Springs Utilities

Glenwood Springs still facing challenge to water rights for new whitewater parks

Looking up the Colorado River as it flows through Horseshoe Bend, just east of downtown Glenwood Springs. The site is one of three where Glenwood Springs seeks to build a whitewater park. The city is now in the process of obtaining a water right for the parks but has yet to reach agreements with Aurora and Colorado Springs about the proposed water rights.
Looking up the Colorado River as it flows through Horseshoe Bend, just east of downtown Glenwood Springs. The site is one of three where Glenwood Springs seeks to build a whitewater park. The city is now in the process of obtaining a water right for the parks but has yet to reach agreements with Aurora and Colorado Springs about the proposed water rights.

By Brent Gardner-Smith, Aspen Journalism

GLENWOOD SPRINGS – The city of Glenwood Springs is making progress toward securing a recreational water right for three potential whitewater parks on the Colorado River, but it has yet to come to terms with Aurora, Colorado Springs and the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

In kayaking terms, it could be said the city has greased close to a dozen Class II and III rapids so far since it started its run through water court in 2013. And it’s recently made it cleanly through a Class IV hole called “Denver Water.” But it is now facing two gnarly Class V rapids called “Homestake” and “CWCB.”

Aurora and Colorado Springs are co-owners of the Homestake Project, which includes a reservoir on Homestake Creek in the upper Eagle River basin that holds 43,300 acre-feet of water.

The water is stored and then shipped through the Homestake Tunnel to Turquoise Reservoir and on to the two Front Range cities, which also hold conditional water rights in the Homestake Project that could allow for development of more water.

The two cities, acting jointly as Homestake Partners, have told the water court and the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) that Glenwood Springs is claiming more water than it needs for a valid recreational experience.

And they say Glenwood Springs’ proposed water right for the parks would prevent the additional development of more water-supply projects in the upper Colorado River basin within Colorado.

“Glenwood’s proposed RICD [recreational in-channel diversion] would unilaterally foreclose development in the Colorado River basin above Glenwood, affecting users both in the basin and on the Front Range,” Aurora and Colorado Springs told the water court in June 2015. “This will result in further ‘buy and dry’ of agricultural water rights, and could in addition motivate West Slope users to make trans-basin diversions from other river basins, such as the Yampa and Gunnison.”

Looking up the Colorado River as it flows past the No Name rest stop on I-70. The site is one of three locations for potential whitewater parks that the city of Glenwood Springs is seeking a water right for.
Looking up the Colorado River as it flows past the No Name rest stop on I-70. The site is one of three locations for potential whitewater parks that the city of Glenwood Springs is seeking a water right for.

Seeking flow

Glenwood Springs has filed for a single water right tied to “three proposed boating parks” to be known as the No Name, Horseshoe Bend and Two Rivers whitewater parks. Each park would include two wave-producing structures.

The whitewater parks would be able to call for between 1,250 cubic feet per second of water from April 1 to Sept. 30, for 2,500 cfs between June 8 and July 23, and for 4,000 cfs for five days between June 30 and July 6.

The ability for Glenwood to call for 1,250 cfs doesn’t seem to be much of an issue in the case, as that’s the same amount of water that the Shoshone hydropower plant upstream of the proposed whitewater parks has been calling downriver since 1902.

But flows of 2,500 and 4,000 cfs are apparently a different matter.

“We see nothing substantiating that there is any demand for water-based recreational experiences beyond those that are already available in view of the current stream regimen,” wrote attorneys for Homestake in 2014.

Yet the city has so far managed to file signed stipulations in water court with Denver Water, Ute Water Conservancy District, Orchard Mesa Irrigation District, Grand Valley Water Users Association, Ute Water Conservancy District, Glenwood Hot Springs Lodge and Pool, Bureau of Land Management and Colorado Dept. of Transportation.

The most recent of those agreements approved in Div. 5 water court in Glenwood Springs was with CDOT on July 25 and with Denver Water on May 31.

The agreement with Denver Water includes a provision where Glenwood Springs will not oppose a future, and as yet undefined, project to develop an additional 20,000 acre-feet of diversions from the West Slope, as contemplated in the 2013 Colorado River Cooperative Agreement, or CRCA, which Glenwood Springs signed.

“We’ve just agreed that we’re not going to have our water right impede that project once it’s defined and agreed to by the signatories of the CRCA,” said Mark Hamilton of Holland and Hart, the attorney representing Glenwood Springs in the case (2013CW3109).

Glenwood Springs has also reached conceptual agreements with the Colorado River District, West Divide Water Conservancy District and the town of Gypsum, but has yet to file signed stipulation agreements with the court.

Also in the case, but in support of Glenwood Springs’ application, are American Whitewater, Western Resource Advocates, and Grand County.

“We’ve made a really diligent specific effort to address a whole variety of concerns from a whole bunch of different people,” Hamilton said. “We’re making every effort to get there, but until Homestake and CWCB come to rest, we can’t assure anybody we still don’t need to have some kind of hearing in front of Judge Boyd.”

Judge James Boyd oversees water court proceedings in Div. 5 water court. The city’s application is still before the water court referee, who works with opposing parties to see if settlements can be reached before referring the case to the judge.

The referee has given the parties at least until Oct. 27 to see if agreements can be reached, but extensions of time are not usually hard to obtain.

Hamilton is set to meet on Sept. 8 with representatives from Aurora and Colorado Springs in another effort to reach an agreement. It will be the fourth such meeting since February.

Joe Stibrich, the water resources policy manager for Aurora Water and a member of the board of the Homestake Steering Committee, said last week he couldn’t discuss the ongoing settlement negotiations, but did say Aurora and Homestake Partners were working in good faith.

He also said, however, that the concerns already articulated by the two cities to the court and CWCB are still outstanding.

A view from the Pitkin County end of Homestake Reservoir, located on Homestake Creek, a tributary of the upper Eagle River.
A view from the Pitkin County end of Homestake Reservoir, located on Homestake Creek, a tributary of the upper Eagle River.

Carving out the MOU

Aurora and Colorado Springs are both parties to the Eagle River Memorandum of Understanding, which is tied to the Homestake Reservoir and Tunnel.

The 1998 agreement allows for a new water supply project in the upper Eagle River basin that would provide 10,000 acre-feet of water for a variety of West Slope entities and 20,000 acre-feet for Aurora and Colorado Springs.

Such a project is now being actively studied, and may include a new dam on lower Homestake Creek that would flood complex wetlands.

Hamilton put a clause in the draft water rights decree that Glenwood Springs “shall not use the RICD water rights as a basis to oppose” projects described in the Eagle River MOU.

“That’s something that we offered up without even having a settlement agreement with them,” Hamilton said. “It was my initial shot at trying to draft a ruling that I though would address their concerns. And so I would envision that any additional settlement terms would be laid on top of what we’ve already put in there.”

There is likely more than the Eagle River MOU of interest to Aurora and Colorado Springs.

In 2012, the two cities told the BLM and USFS, in comment letters regarding potential Wild and Scenic designation on a section of the Colorado River, that “as much as 86,400 acre feet of water supplies may be developed by completion of the Homestake Project” and that “Aurora and Colorado Springs plan to develop the remaining portions of Homestake Project.”

Looking up the Colorado River toward Glenwood Springs at Two Rivers Park, where the city of Glenwood may someday build a whitewater park. The city has been working since 2013 on securing a recreational water right for three such parks on the river.
Looking up the Colorado River toward Glenwood Springs at Two Rivers Park, where the city of Glenwood may someday build a whitewater park. The city has been working since 2013 on securing a recreational water right for three such parks on the river.

The CWCB

Even if an agreement can be worked out with Aurora and Colorado Springs, Glenwood Springs will still need to come to terms with the Colorado Water Conservation Board, which recommended in June 2015 that the water court deny the city’s RICD filing.

The CWCB is charged by the state legislature with reviewing proposed RICDs and then making a recommendation to the water court.

When it came to Glenwood’s filing, the CWCB board of directors concluded in an 8-to-1 vote that it would “impair Colorado’s ability to fully develop its compact entitlements” and would not promote “the maximum beneficial use of water” in the state.

The state agency also directed its staff to oppose Glenwood’s filing in water court.

It’s not clear at this point how Judge Boyd might handle the recommendation-to-deny from the CWCB, or if Glenwood Springs might be able to get the CWCB to change its stance opposing the proposed water right.

“If we reach settlements with Homestake it’s possible that the CWCB would then reconsider and change its recommendations,” Hamilton said.

When it comes to reaching terms with Aurora and Colorado Springs, Hamilton said he remains “optimistic.”

“There is diligent ongoing discussion on all sides and good faith efforts being made,” he said. “And if it fails, it fails, and we’ll go to Judge Boyd and start setting deadlines and dealing with things more formally. But I think everybody is giving it a fair shot and seeing if we can get there shy of that.”

Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism and the Aspen Daily News are collaborating on coverage of rivers and water. The Daily News published this story on Monday, Sept. 5, 2016.

Fountain Creek stormwater mitigation update

The Fountain Creek Watershed is located along the central front range of Colorado. It is a 927-square mile watershed that drains south into the Arkansas River at Pueblo. The watershed is bordered by the Palmer Divide to the north, Pikes Peak to the west, and a minor divide 20 miles east of Colorado Springs. Map via the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District.
The Fountain Creek Watershed is located along the central front range of Colorado. It is a 927-square mile watershed that drains south into the Arkansas River at Pueblo. The watershed is bordered by the Palmer Divide to the north, Pikes Peak to the west, and a minor divide 20 miles east of Colorado Springs. Map via the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District.

From The Colorado Springs Independent (Pam Zubeck):

While the [Fountain Creek Watershed Drainage, Flood Control and Greenway District] has limped along for seven years with more hopes than funding, now it’s flexing some muscle after an injection of $10 million from Colorado Springs Utilities. It was the first of five such payments through 2020 that are part of the city’s deal with Pueblo County for the city’s Southern Delivery System pipeline from Pueblo Reservoir, completed in April.

But so much needs to be done that the money quickly will be absorbed into a long list of projects, leaving the district, again, penniless.

“What we’re going to find out is that $50 million is much less than what we need for that project list,” says district executive director Larry Small, former Springs vice mayor.

The district has conducted a host of studies over the years and done a few projects, including sediment reduction near the confluence of Fountain Creek and the Arkansas River east of downtown Pueblo. Thus far, its projects have been largely funded through grants from such agencies as the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

Now, with the Utilities money, it wants to take on the herculean task of trying to reshape the creek.

First up is a bank restoration project along the Masciantonio Trust farm just south of the El Paso County-Pueblo County line where, over the years, the creek’s rushing waters have carved away a massive amount of land, leaving sand bars behind and sending tons of sediment down the creek every year.

“The creek has seriously eroded the bank there,” Small says. “It’s taken 12 acres of farm land.”

The project’s engineering study was launched in July, and a construction contract will be awarded next year, he says, with a budget of $2.5 million.

It’s unclear if the project actually will restore those 12 acres, because that would require a huge amount of fill material, Small says.

“We are looking at an option to restore the creek to the 1955 channel,” he says, “but we have to figure out how to deal with the hole that would leave behind the wall we would have to build.”

The problem, he adds, is that Young’s Hollow flows into the creek at that point and can carry a water flow of up to 6,000 cubic feet per second during heavy storms, so the creek has to be equipped to handle that volume.

“This is a challenge,” he says.

Two more projects for the farm also are planned, he says, noting, “That whole 4-mile stretch is seriously eroded.”

Another project will assess stability and sediment along the entire 51 miles of the creek from Colorado Springs to its confluence with the Arkansas.

“That’s going to generate a project list where we need to do bank restoration,” Small says. Started in May this year, the study will wind up in March and be followed by an evaluation of flood control alternatives, which includes a dam.

That study, also started in May, will address how much land would be required, how a dam would function, what property the district would need to acquire and what permitting processes would be necessary, among other things.

This month, the district began compiling a drainage criteria manual, which will enable the board to evaluate development that takes place within the district and recommend requirements to the jurisdictions at issue, such as city of Fountain, city of Colorado Springs, Pueblo County or El Paso County.

So as Small says, the district has quickly picked up the pace this year.

“As I told some people recently, on May 31, I had one project, and on June 1, I had five projects,” he says.

The biggest single project undertaken by the district so far is dredging the levees east of Pueblo at a total cost of $5.25 million. Funded with additional money from Springs Utilities, Pueblo County and Pueblo’s stormwater enterprise fund, the project will be overseen by the Fountain Creek district, which also will loan $1.25 million to Pueblo to be repaid in 2018, Small says.

The project will begin this year — the district hopes to let the contract this fall — and be finished next year, if all parties sign off on the plan, which is expected, he says. The dredging will start at 18th Street and extend to the creek’s confluence with the river. The job will include removing vegetation and two railroad piers that act as debris traps.

The source of money for projects when the $50 million from Springs Utilities runs out isn’t clear. Small says the board, in coming years, will start researching a ballot measure for a property tax to fund the district. Even after all the projects are built, money will be needed for maintenance, he says.

The district covers all of El Paso and Pueblo counties. One mill would generate roughly $6.85 million from El Paso County taxpayers and $1.6 million from Pueblo County taxpayers, for a total of about $8.5 million a year. (Assessed value of property in El Paso County totals $6.85 billion, and in Pueblo County, $1.66 billion.)

About $8 million a year is a lot for a district that’s never spent more than $480,000 in any single year so far and relied on grants from various agencies and member contributions from Green Mountain Falls, Palmer Lake, Manitou Springs, Fountain, Colorado Springs, Pueblo, El Paso County and Pueblo County.

Any infusion of cash, though, is subject to revenue limits imposed by the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, so in early 2015 the district created a companion agency, the Fountain Creek Watershed Water Activity Enterprise. The enterprise is exempt from TABOR revenue caps, Small says, as long as less than 10 percent of its funding comes from state and local grants. The $10 million annual payments for five years from Utilities are not considered grants, he says.

But the Utilities’ payments, while large, won’t fix all the creek’s problems, says Greg Lauer, Fountain city councilor and district board member.

“When you look at the substantial need for projects and maintenance, these numbers barely scratch the surface,” he says. Lauer predicts the board will begin discussing a tax measure next year, though it’s unlikely it would appear on the 2017 ballot.

For one thing, he notes, the board needs “legal clarification.” For example, would a tax measure approved by voters in El Paso County but not in Pueblo County result in the tax being applied only in El Paso County, or would it be considered defeated? Would a tax approved by a majority of voters, regardless of their place of residency, result in it being added to the tax rolls in both counties?

Regardless, Lauer says it’s hard to argue against ongoing funding when the board is reminded regularly by landowners along the creek about flood damage.

For now, though, the board is eager to get long-awaited projects underway with the money it has.

“We are so beyond excited,” Lauer says. “It’s been a long time coming.”