The latest “The Roundup” newsletter is hot off the presses from @AspenJounalism #EagleRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Contractors for Homestake Partners are drilling test holes for a geotechnical study near Homestake Creek. A proposed project could develop more water from Homestake Creek for Aurora and Colorado Springs, and could also benefit Western Slope entities.
CREDIT: HEATHER SACKETT/ASPEN JOURNALISM

Click here to read the newsletter (Curtis Wackerle). Here’s an excerpt:

The Eagle River Watershed Council on Tuesday hosted a hike for the public in the Homestake Valley, an area receiving increased scrutiny because of a project that proposes to take more water from the Colorado River basin and bring it to the fast-growing Front Range.

The goal of the event — which included presentations from representatives from public-lands conservation group Wilderness Workshop, municipal water provider Aurora Water and other experts — was to provide a broad overview of a complicated issue, according to watershed council executive director Holly Loff.

“We know it’s going to be a long process, but we want to make sure people are engaged in the conversation and look to us as a resource,” Loff said. “We will continue to provide science-based, factual information.”

The watershed council advocates for the health of the upper Colorado and Eagle river watersheds through research, education and projects, according to its website.

Opinion: It’s time to stop shipping water across the Rockies — Writers on the Range #EagleRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

These wetlands, located on a 150-acre parcel in the Homestake Creek valley that Homestake Partners bought in 2018, would be inundated if Whitney Reservoir is constructed. The Forest Service received more than 500 comments, the majority in opposition to, test drilling associated with the project and the reservoir project itself. Photo credit: Heather Sackett/Aspen Journalism

From Writers on the Range (David O. Williams):

David O. Williams is a contributor to Writers on the Range. Photo credit: Writers on the Range

It was 1952 when the cities of Aurora and Colorado Springs first started gobbling up water rights in a remote, high mountain valley on the state’s Western Slope. The valley is called Homestake, and now, those same cities want even more of its pure water.

In western Colorado, where only about 20% of Colorado’s population lives, all water tries to flow toward the Pacific Ocean. On the east side, where most people live, water flows to the Atlantic. To bring the water from the west side to the east side of the Rockies requires lots of money and lots of pipelines.

But money isn’t much of a barrier when your population is exploding: Colorado Springs, with 478,961 residents, and Aurora, with 386,261, need more water. And they aim to get it even if it must cross under the Continental Divide and damage a fragile and ancient wetland called a “fen” in the process.

The new reservoir the two cities plan to build would be five miles downstream from their existing Homestake Reservoir, and called Whitney Reservoir after a creek that flows into Homestake Creek. There’s also a Whitney Park within the nearby Holy Cross Wilderness Area, which could lose some 500 acres if the new reservoir goes through.

The Holy Cross Wilderness Area near Vail, which could lose 500 acres under the new reservoir plan.
(Photo Credit: John Fielder via Writers on the Range)

But protesters are already active, and conservation groups are threatening lawsuits. Meanwhile, the cities have already quietly begun test drilling at four possible dam sites on U.S. Forest Service land along Homestake Creek.

Obstacles, however, are popping up. The Forest Service says it won’t even consider a reservoir proposal that shrinks a wilderness area, and the cities would have to get that approval from both Congress and the White House.

The U.S. congressman for the district, rising Democratic star Joe Neguse, has also made it clear he doesn’t support shrinking a designated wilderness or damaging wetlands. Local leaders are also chiming in: “A Whitney Reservoir would irreparably change and harm our community,” said Minturn Mayor John Widerman and Red Cliff Mayor Duke Gerber, who co-wrote a letter to the Forest Service. Both represent small towns dependent on tourism and outdoor recreation.

State Sen. Kerry Donovan, a Democrat who grew up in the nearby ski town of Vail, also wrote the Forest Service to oppose the dam: “I cannot express how sternly the citizens of my district … oppose water diversion projects to Front Range communities.”

Another issue, and for some it’s the most critical, is the fate of valuable “fen” wetlands that would be destroyed by a dam and reservoir. “This is one of the finest wetlands we can find on our forest — it’s unbelievable,” White River National Forest Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams told Aspen Journalism in 2019. “You can mitigate, but you can’t replace 10,000 years of work.”

etlands, which are havens of biodiversity, offer priceless ecological benefits. As wetlands are lost to development nationwide, critics of the dam project worry about its local impact.
(Photo Credit: John Fielder via Writers on the Range)

Nor can you turn the clock back to 1952, when Colorado’s population was 1.36 million, compared to 5.7 million today, and the global land and ocean temperature was 1.52 degrees Fahrenheit cooler. Climate change, scientists say, will cause the Colorado River to lose up to 31% of its historical flow by 2052. That prediction was a factor in a recent, first-ever federal water shortage declaration.

“When Colorado Springs and Aurora got their water right, the [Holy Cross] wilderness wasn’t there and wetlands at that time were something we were just filling in,” said Jerry Mallett, president of the local conservation group Colorado Headwaters. “Since then (wetlands) have become an extremely valuable resource because of what they can do for groundwater recharge, addressing climate change — all kinds of things.”

Then there’s the issue of Kentucky bluegrass, Colorado’s landscaping groundcover of choice. Kentucky gets more than 50 inches of rain a year compared to the Front Range average of 17, so why pump western Colorado’s high-elevation water through the Rockies for lawns?

Colorado photographer and conservationist John Fielder, who says he’s been just about everywhere within the nearly 123,000-acre Holy Cross Wilderness Area, wants people to just look at his images of the fen wetlands along Homestake Creek, and then ask themselves these questions:

“Is anything more sublime and fertile and life-giving than a 10,000-or-more-year-old fen wetland? You can’t “mitigate” the loss of ancient wetlands by creating a manmade wet place somewhere else. No more water to the Front Range.”

David O. Williams is a contributor to Writers on the Range, writersontherange.org, a nonprofit dedicated to spurring lively conversation about the West. He is a freelance writer who lives near Vail, Colorado.

New reservoir project shared by Colorado Springs, Fountain, Pueblo, Pueblo West, Aurora, Southeastern Enterprise — KRDO

From KRDO (Scott Harrison):

On Tuesday, city leaders approved their involvement in a project to build a new reservoir and partner with four local communities and a metro-Denver city.

The city will work with Fountain, Pueblo, Pueblo West, the Southeastern Water Activity Enterprise and Aurora on the Haynes Creek Reservoir Project, located along U.S. 50 and around 20 miles east of Pueblo, near the town of Boone.

Graphic credit: City of Colorado Springs via KRDO

The Colorado Springs City Council unanimously approved its role in the project during its Tuesday regular meeting.

Councilman Wayne Williams, who also is chairman of the Utilities Board, said that the reservoir is part of the Southern Delivery System for Colorado Springs Utilities…

The six partners will share the $2.8 million cost of the 641-acre reservoir site — with Colorado Springs, Pueblo and Aurora each using 28.5% of the water and thereby paying higher shares of the cost.

The remaining partners will each use 4.7% of the water.

Officials said that because of the permitting process and other requirements, the reservoir likely won’t be ready until 2030 at the earliest.

Red Cliff takes center stage in Homestake Valley Reservoir debate — The #Vail Daily #EagleRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

These wetlands, located on a 150-acre parcel in the Homestake Creek valley that Homestake Partners bought in 2018, would be inundated if Whitney Reservoir is constructed. The Forest Service received more than 500 comments, the majority in opposition to, test drilling associated with the project and the reservoir project itself. Photo credit: Heather Sackett/Aspen Journalism

From Vail Daily (John LaConte):

A group of Colorado residents demonstrated Saturday against the construction of a reservoir in the Homestake Valley, marching through the streets of Red Cliff and treating passing vehicles to a variety of colorful signs.

If you were headed south on Highway 24 on Saturday afternoon, you might have been able to read a clever statement like “Stop the whole dam thing,” and “They can’t ‘fen’ for themselves.”

Or you might have noticed a message or two that was more direct. Using an elongated trash picking tool to hoist her sign, Silverthorne resident Jan Goodwin wrote “CO Springs doesn’t need Red Cliff’s water.”

The group is opposed to building a new reservoir in the Homestake Valley 6 miles southeast of Red Cliff, which would be used by the people of Colorado Springs and Aurora, who hold water rights in the area, including the rights to the water in the existing Homestake Reservoir.

These wetlands in the Homestake Creek valley are near the site of the proposed Whitney Reservoir. The Forest Service is considering whether to issue a permit for drilling and a geotechnical study to test whether the site would support a dam. Photo credit: Heather Sackett/Aspen Journalism

But the nuances of the issue, including the sensitive wetlands known as “fens” and the study required for “the whole dam thing,” as referenced in the signs, was also discussed among the demonstrators. In order to construct a new dam and reservoir, the area will require some study, and the Forest Service has already approved that study, which will allow the cities to drill “10 bore samples up to 150-feet deep using a small, rubber-tracked drill rig as well as collect geophysical data using crews on foot,” according to the Forest Service, along with the construction of more than a half-mile of temporary roads to facilitate the work.

The effort could also impact up to 180 acres of wetlands on lower Homestake Creek, wetlands that include fens — groundwater-fed wetlands which began forming during the last ice age. A scientifically unproven idea to relocate the fens is being spearheaded and paid for by Aurora Water and the Board of Water Works of Pueblo…

A map prepared by Aurora Water that shows a potential 500-acre adjustment to the Holy Cross Wilderness boundary near the potential Whitney Reservoir on lower Homestake Creek. The map as current as of July 16, 2019.

[Charles] Fleming said he would like to see the people of Colorado Springs and Aurora make more of a good faith effort toward water conservation before seeking another reservoir in the Homestake Valley.

“I’d like to see them get rid of the green grass and focus more on xeriscaping first,” he said.

Parks said as a hotelier in Red Cliff, she sees the recreational appeal of the Homestake Valley as a wild space, not a space that would benefit from the creation of a National Recreation Area or reservoir.

One version of the reservoir envisions an encroachment into 500 acres of the Holy Cross Wilderness area of the White River National Forest, which would require an act of Congress.

Pikeview Reservoir tests positive for blue-green algae — #ColoradoSprings Utilities

Warning sign for Blue-green algae at Pikeview Reservoir July 2021. Photo credit: Colorado Springs Utilities

Here’s the release from Colorado Springs Utilities:

Pikeview Reservoir, a popular fishing spot in central Colorado Springs and part of our water system, has tested positive for blue-green algae. While the reservoir is still safe for fishing, humans and pets are prohibited from entering the water until further notice. Anglers are directed to thoroughly clean fish and discard guts.

Pikeview has been removed as a source for drinking water until the reservoir is determined to be clear of the algae. There are no concerns about this affecting water supply for the community.

“It’s our responsibility to provide safe, reliable drinking water to our community and to always consider public safety at our reservoirs. We will continue to closely monitor our reservoirs and take appropriate actions,” Earl Wilkinson, Chief Water, Compliance and Innovation Officer said.

We conduct more than 400 water quality tests a month and collect approximately 12,000 water samples throughout our water system annually. With the increased risk of the blue-green algae, we are increasing the frequency of testing reservoirs at lower elevations.

In the past several years, there’s been increasing occurrence of toxic blue-green algae in reservoirs across the United States, forcing limitation of recreational access to the bodies of water for public safety.

Sickness including nausea, vomiting, rash, irritated eyes, seizures and breathing problems could occur following exposure to the blue-green algae in the water. Anyone suspicious of exposure with onset of symptoms should contact their doctor or veterinarian.

A Massive Plumbing System Moves #Water Across #Colorado’s Mountains. But This Year, There’s Less To Go Around — KUNC

The Lost Man diversion canal, about to duck under SH 82 above Aspen, in the Roaring Fork River watershed. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

From Aspen Public Radio (Alex Hager) via KUNC:

High up on Colorado’s Independence Pass, a narrow, winding road weaves through the evergreens and across mountain streams, up and over the Continental Divide at more than 10,000 feet. At one point that road crosses a canal.

It’s easy to miss if you’re not looking for it, but that canal is part of water infrastructure that makes life on Colorado’s Front Range possible.

The state has a geographical mismatch between where water shows up and where much of the population has settled.

“Wherever you are in this state, you’re either at the source of the drinking water supply, you’re in the middle of the drinking water supply, or you’re at the end of the tap,” said Christina Medved, outreach director at Roaring Fork Conservancy. “So on the Western slope, we are at the source of the water.”

About 80% of Colorado’s water falls on the western side of the state. Much of it is high-mountain snow and rain that eventually trickles down into streams and rivers like the ones on Independence Pass.

But about 80% of Colorado’s people live on the east side of the mountains. Because of gravity, that water doesn’t flow to them naturally. Instead, Colorado’s heavily-populated Front Range relies on a massive plumbing system to keep drinking water flowing to its taps.

Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer’s office

For a century and a half, engineers have carved up the mountains with tunnels and canals that pipe water across the state through trans-mountain diversions. Some of that infrastructure is nestled near the high-alpine headwaters of the Roaring Fork River, which eventually flows through Aspen and Glenwood Springs on its way to the Colorado River. Near Lost Man reservoir, a dam and tunnel create a juncture between water that will follow that natural path westward to the Colorado, and water that will be diverted eastward through the mountains and onto cities such as Colorado Springs.

A tunnel through the mountains draws in water that will pass through two reservoirs and the Arkansas River on its way to the southern portion of the Front Range. Water diverted from the Colorado River basin, through trans-mountain diversions, makes up 60 to 70% of the water used by Colorado Springs. Denver, Greeley, Fort Collins and smaller municipalities on the Front Range also rely heavily on Western Slope water.

Graphic via Holly McClelland/High Country News.

And these kinds of set ups aren’t confined to Colorado. Similar systems bring water to big cities all across the region. Salt Lake City, Albuquerque and Los Angeles rely on canals and tunnels to ship faraway water into their pipes. New ones are in the works on the Front Range and in southern Utah.

But these systems aren’t without critics.

Water from the Roaring Fork River basin heading east out of the end of the Twin Lakes Tunnel (June 2016), which is operated by the Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co., a member of the Front Range Water Council. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

“When you first learn about it, the concept of a trans-mountain diversion is crazy,” said Andy Mueller, general manager of the Colorado River Water Conservation District. “It seems wrong. It seems antithetical to the health of the river. And I have to say all of that’s true.”

His organization was set up in the 1930s to oppose these diversions and ensure that there is enough water for people on the Western side of the state…

The issue is, contemporary environmental values aren’t written into the West’s water law. Instead, water use is defined by regulations written when Colorado first became a state in the 1800s. The rules say that if you have rights to use water, it doesn’t matter if you want to use it hundreds of miles away from its source – even if that requires miles of cross-mountain plumbing to do so.

Colorado Drought Monitor map July 13, 2021.

At this moment, there is less water to pull from in every part of the state. The Front Range escaped from drought after steady spring rains, but those high-mountain areas that usually provide a dependable source of water for all of Colorado are experiencing a different fate. The western slope is deep in the second year of drought conditions, leaving snowpack and river flows lower than they should be.

Mueller thinks that only sharpens the need for the Front Range to curtail its water use. Although they retain the legal right to use a certain amount of water, he’s asking them to use less – which he says will promote the health of rivers and their ecosystems west of the divide.

The ditch that moves water from Lost Man Reservoir to Grizzly Reservoir and then under the Divide to the South Fork of Lake Creek and the Arkansas River.

On the Front Range, those on the receiving end of diversions say they are listening to their western counterparts when they put up distress signals during particularly critical times. They also say deliberate conservation work is paying off in the longer term. Nathan Elder, water supply manager for Denver Water, said over the past two decades, per capita water use in his district is down by 22%.

“Everyone in Colorado needs to decrease their use,” he said…

Amid tension between demands for water on both sides, exacerbated by extreme drought conditions, is the fact that there is not much of an alternative. Colorado’s water system is built to accommodate the fact that the majority of its people and the majority of its water are far from each other. Without fundamental changes to the bedrock of water law, those asking for water will have to work within a system built on trans-mountain diversions…

Some contingency planning – within the reality of a diversion-centric system – is already in place. In Colorado Springs, which receives some of the flow diverted from the top of Independence Pass, re-use practices are helping the city get more mileage out of the water it’s apportioned.

Graphic credit: Water Education Colorado

Abby Ortega, water resources manager for Colorado Springs Utilities, said reused water accounts for 26% of the city’s total portfolio and the city relies heavily on storage to get through dry years like this one.

Brad Udall: Here’s the latest version of my 4-Panel plot thru Water Year (Oct-Sep) of 2019 of the #coriver big reservoirs, natural flows, precipitation, and temperature. Data goes back or 1906 (or 1935 for reservoirs.) This updates previous work with @GreatLakesPeck

But climate change threatens to increase the frequency and intensity of droughts, which has water managers on edge and looking more intently at ways to maximize what’s available.

“Every water planner in the state has some worry with the rapidly declining hydrology on the Colorado river,” Ortega said.

Diminishing #Denver basin #groundwater in El Paso County could be reused instead of flowing downstream — The #ColoradoSprings Gazette #reuse

The confluence of Monument Creek (right) with Fountain Creek (center) in Colorado Springs, Colorado. By Jeffrey Beall – Own work, CC BY 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=78939786

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Mary Shinn):

Much of the groundwater pumped up from the Denver basin in northern and central El Paso County flows down Monument or Fountain creeks, never to be seen again after it’s been used and treated once.

Colorado Springs Utilities, Monument and six groundwater districts want to see that water returned back to homes and businesses to be reused and to help ease the pressure on groundwater.

The groundwater that’s already flowed through showers, sinks and toilets once could potentially be treated and reused twice, and that could help the diminishing aquifer last longer, said Jenny Bishop, a senior project engineer with the water resources group within Colorado Springs Utilities.

Reusing the water could reduce the amount of fresh groundwater that must be pumped annually, limit the need for new wells, give districts more time to pursue additional water rights and make the most of a finite resource, she said. The deeper groundwater in El Paso County is not replenished by rain or other natural sources.

Denver Basin Aquifer System graphic credit USGS.

While Colorado Springs Utilities does not rely on Denver basin groundwater, future water reuse projects identified by an ongoing study involving Monument and the groundwater districts could rely on Utilities infrastructure. In recent years, Utilities has also started to focus more on effective water use across the county.

Utilities “recognizes that long-term water security for the Pikes Peak region depends on the efficient use and reuse of reusable water supplies,” Bishop said.

The Pikes Peak Regional Water Authority Regional Water Reuse Study is going to determine how and where groundwater could be diverted from Monument or Fountain creeks and returned to the water providers. It’s possible the water could be diverted below Colorado Springs and may require new water storage, such as a reservoir or a tank, she said.

Larger projects that could serve multiple water providers, such as Tri-View and Forest Lakes metro districts, are expected to be efficient, Bishop said. The study could also recommend more than one project to recapture water, she said.

Not all of the groundwater that is pumped up from the ground will be available for reuse, because some of it goes into outdoor irrigation, some is used up by thirsty residents, some is lost in the treatment process and some is lost to evaporation in the creeks, among other points of loss. But the water returned to districts could be substantial…

Study participants

The following water providers are participating the water reuse study although not all of them would benefit from groundwater flowing back to be used again. Some are interested in portions of the project like additional water storage

  • Woodmoor Water and Sanitation District
  • Town of Monument
  • Triview Metropolitan District
  • Forest Lakes Metropolitan District
  • Cherokee Metropolitan District
  • Donala Water and Sanitation District
  • Security Water District
  • Colorado Springs Utilities…
  • The $100,000 study to identify the projects that would allow the most water reuse may be finished by the end of the year. The document is expected to project cost estimates for construction and operation of the projects. The work could include new water storage, such as reservoirs.

    Funding, permitting and designing the projects is expected to take a few years as well, Bishop said.

    #ColoradoSprings Utilities’ water-wise rules are here — The Fort Carson Mountaineer

    Colorado Springs with the Front Range in background. Photo credit Wikipedia.

    From The Fort Carson Mountaineer (Susan C. Galentine):

    Colorado Springs Utilities, with approval by the City of Colorado Springs, launched new water-wise rules last year to encourage the efficient use of water in the community.

    The rules align with other Colorado municipalities in conserving water during irrigation season every year, not just during drought conditions. These practices are considered foundational to water use efficiency programs in Colorado to conserve limited resources.

    Springs Utilities is focusing on water-wise rules education and resources to help customers have healthy landscapes while being water wise.

    The impact of the new program on Fort Carson residential water users depends on where people live.

    Fort Carson Family Homes, as a large-water user, will operate under a water allocation plan for managed irrigation areas within housing, said Victor Rodriguez, utility manager, DPW. On-post housing residents may water up to three days a week of their choosing to comply with Springs Utilities guidance.

    Off-post Springs Utilities residential water customers will be required to follow the water-wise rules outlined below.

    Six key customer rules to new water-wise rules:

  • Customers can water up to three days a week on days of their choice.
  • In warmer weather, from May 1 to Oct. 15, run sprinklers before 10 a.m. or after 6 p.m. to reduce evaporation.
  • Do not let water pool on hard surfaces or flow down gutters.
  • Repair leaking sprinkler systems within 10 days.
  • Use a shut-off nozzle when washing anything with a hose.
  • Clean hard surfaces (such as driveways, sidewalks and patios) with water only if there is a public health or safety concern.
  • Homestake Reservoir release proves tricky to track — @AspenJournalism

    Two men fish the Eagle River just above its confluence with the Colorado River in Dotsero. Homestake Partners released 1,667 acre-feet of water down Homestake Creek and into the Eagle River in September to test how a release would work in a compact call.
    CREDIT: BETHANY BLITZ/ASPEN JOURNALISM

    From Aspen Journalism (Heather Sacket):

    Getting water to state line would be key in compact call

    In September, Front Range water providers released some water downstream — which they were storing in Homestake Reservoir — to test how they could get it to the state line in the event of a Colorado River Compact call.

    But accurately tracking and measuring that water — from the high mountain reservoir in the Eagle River watershed all the way through the Colorado River at the end of the Grand Valley — turned out to be tricky, according to a recently released report from the Colorado Division of Water Resources.

    From Sept. 23 through Sept. 29, Colorado Springs Utilities, Aurora Water and Pueblo Board of Water Works released a total of 1,667 acre-feet of water, which would have otherwise been diverted to the Front Range, from the reservoir into Homestake Creek, a tributary of the Eagle River. The release gradually ramped up from about 25 cubic feet per second to 175 cfs and then gradually back down over the seven days.

    But officials were unable to put a number on how much of that water made it to the state line.

    In their attempt to quantify the actual amount of reservoir release delivered to the state line, state engineers ran into challenges that caused uncertainty, they said in an email.

    Although they couldn’t measure how many acre-feet officially made it, State Engineer Kevin Rein said that the exercise was still a success and that all the water, minus transit losses, crossed into Utah.

    “We have heard this is a failure because not everything worked perfectly, but in my mind, this was an opportunity under non-stress conditions to find out what we need to do to ensure that things will work,” Rein said.

    A goal of this project, known as the State Line Delivery Pilot Reservoir Release, was to see if the water could be “shepherded” downstream without senior water-rights holders diverting the extra water. This required Division 5 water commissioners to actively administer some headgates, especially on Homestake Creek and the Eagle River.

    According to the report, the water took about 2½ days to make the journey from the reservoir to the gage on the Colorado River near Cameo — about 16 hours longer than predicted by the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center. Along the way, about 10% of the water either evaporated or was soaked up by thirsty streamside soils and vegetation — processes known collectively as transit loss.

    Making sure water could get to the state line would be essential in the case of a compact call.

    This scenario, the chances of which increase as climate change continues to reduce river flows, could occur if the upper-basin states (Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico) can’t deliver the 7.5 million acre-feet of water per year to the lower-basin states (Arizona, California and Nevada), as required by a nearly century-old binding agreement.

    A compact call could be especially problematic for Front Range water providers since most of their rights that let them divert water over the Continental Divide from the Western Slope date to after the 1922 Colorado River Compact. That means mandatory cutbacks in water use could fall more heavily on the post-compact water rights of Front Range water providers.

    Colorado Springs Utilities and Aurora Water, operating together as Homestake Partners, said the problem was that the rate of release was too low. It was more a matter of flow volume than administration. Even in a dry year, a release of 175 cfs was not high enough to reliably track the water, especially when it reaches the Colorado River, which has a much higher volume of water than Homestake Creek or the Eagle River, and the reservoir release is a smaller fraction of its overall flow.

    In an email to Aspen Journalism, Homestake Partners said: “A bigger pulse of water would overcome some of the issues that DWR had in tracking the release. This sort of result is exactly what we wanted to explore — it tells us that if we, or anyone else in the state, chooses to make a state line release in the future, a higher volume of water will probably need to be released to be reliably tracked.”

    State engineers also had to deal with a river that was constantly in flux. Upstream reservoir releases and changes to irrigation diversions made for additional challenges.

    State officials said it was hard to separate the reservoir release from the rest of the Colorado River’s flow at the state line because of numerous ungaged streams and return flows from irrigation that enter the river between Palisade and the state line.

    “The ungaged inflows could not be subtracted from the total flow in the river, therefore the separated flows were too large and did not allow for the initial waves of the reservoir release to be identified,” officials said in an email.

    The total flows at the state line at the time of the reservoir release’s arrival were around 2,500 cfs, according to DWR.

    The total flows at the state line at the time of the reservoir release’s arrival were around 2,500 cfs, according to DWR.

    River District concerns

    The Glenwood Springs-based Colorado River Water Conservation District, which protects Western Slope water interests, had several concerns about the reservoir release.

    “I think it’s important that the public and the state recognize that they released 1,600 acre-feet of water during an incredibly dry period and they couldn’t actually track it to the state line,” said River District general manager Andy Mueller.

    But Mueller’s concerns go beyond the trouble with tracking. He said the state engineer did not reach out to Western Slope water users who had the potential to be injured by the release. He also doesn’t trust that the cities won’t just refill the hole created by the release with more Western Slope water.

    The River District’s main concern is that in a water-collection system as complex as Homestake Partners — with several different transmountain diversions bringing water from the Western Slope to the Front Range — it’s hard for the state to make sure they won’t take more water to replace the pool they released.

    “From our perspective, it’s very difficult for the state to verify that they haven’t just brought the water over from a different part of their diversion system,” Mueller said. “So it leaves us with a lot of skepticism, and we voiced that in several discussions.”

    To address some of these concerns, the cities are required to submit a verification plan to the state to prove three things: that they had enough space available in reservoirs on the east side of the divide to store the water, and they weren’t just releasing water downstream they couldn’t use anyway; that they actually decreased water taken through the Homestake Tunnel by the same amount as the pilot release; and that they didn’t create additional space in Homestake Reservoir to allow for greater storage this year.

    “In essence, we brought the ‘hole’ we created in our storage in Homestake Reservoir through to the East Slope when we operated the tunnel in February and March,” the Homestake Partners’ email reads. “This was accomplished by not drawing down Homestake Reservoir quite as much as we otherwise could have this winter in preparation for spring runoff.”

    Homestake Creek flows from Homestake Reservoir near Red Cliff. A pilot reservoir release to test how to get water to the state line in the event of a Colorado River Compact Call proved hard to track for state engineers.
    CREDIT: BETHANY BLITZ/ASPEN JOURNALISM

    Demand management

    The reservoir release also could have implications for a potential demand-management program, the feasibility of which the state is currently investigating. At the heart of a demand- management program is a reduction in water use on a temporary, voluntary and compensated basis in an effort to send as much as 500,000 acre-feet of water downstream to Lake Powell to bolster water levels in the giant reservoir — which spans Utah and Arizona — and, indirectly, to meet Colorado River Compact obligations.

    Under such a program, agricultural water users could get paid to temporarily fallow fields and leave more water in the river. Front Range water providers could participate by releasing water stored in Western Slope reservoirs.

    Rein was careful to say that the Homestake pilot release was in no way connected to demand management. Still, the experiment may have revealed potential problem areas should a demand-management program become reality.

    “The ability to track water that is conserved consumptive use all the way to the state line is really critical for the success of that program,” Mueller said. “And if you can’t track a slug of 1,600 acre-feet of water to the state line, how are you going to track the voluntary reduction in use of a small ditch on the West Slope that maybe they are saving 15 acre-feet?”

    Aspen Journalism covers rivers and water in collaboration with the Vail Daily and The Aspen Times. This story ran in the April 16 edition of the Vail Daily and The Aspen Times.

    Forest Service approves test drilling for Whitney Reservoir site — @AspenJournalism #EagleRiver

    These wetlands, located on a 150-acre parcel in the Homestake Creek valley that Homestake Partners bought in 2018, would be inundated if Whitney Reservoir is constructed. The Forest Service received more than 500 comments, the majority in opposition to, test drilling associated with the project and the reservoir project itself. Photo credit: Heather Sackett/Aspen Journalism

    From Aspen Journalism (Heather Sackett):

    OK is first step toward dam and reservoir on Homestake Creek

    The U.S. Forest Service on Monday approved an application from the cities of Aurora and Colorado Springs for geotechnical drilling in the Homestake Valley, one of the first steps toward building a new dam and reservoir on Homestake Creek.

    The approval allows the cities, operating together as Homestake Partners, to drill 10 bore samples up to 150 feet deep and for crews on the ground to collect geophysical data. The goal of the work, which is expected to begin in late summer and last 50 to 60 days, is a “fatal flaw” feasibility study to determine whether the soil and bedrock could support a dam and reservoir.

    The project, known as Whitney Reservoir, would be located near the Holy Cross Wilderness Area, which is six miles south of Red Cliff. Various configurations of the project show it holding between 6,850 and 20,000 acre-feet of water. The area is home to a rare kind of groundwater-fed wetland with peat soils known as a fen.

    Eagle-Holy Cross District Ranger Leanne Veldhuis approved the project despite receiving a total of 775 comments on the drilling proposal during the scoping period. According to the public scoping comment summary, the most common topics commenters had concerns about included the potential loss of wilderness, the destruction of fens and wetlands, impacts to water quality and disturbance to wildlife.

    But just 80 letters — about 10% — were individual comments that the Forest Service considered substantive and specific to the geotechnical investigation. Most comments were form-letter templates from organizations such as Carbondale-based conservation group Wilderness Workshop or pertained to concerns about the Whitney Reservoir project as a whole, not the geotechnical drilling.

    “A lot of the public comments were pertaining to a reservoir, and the proposal is not for a reservoir; it’s for just those 10 geotechnical bore holes,” Veldhuis said.

    Many commenters also said the level of analysis under the National Environmental Policy Act wasn’t appropriate and questioned why the proposal was granted a categorical exclusion, rather than undergoing the more rigorous Environmental Analysis typical of big projects on Forest Service land. Veldhuis said the geotechnical investigation, a common occurrence on public lands, didn’t rise to the level of an EA; that could come later with any reservoir proposal.

    “If the future holds any additional sort of proposal, then that would trigger a brand-new analysis with additional rounds of public comments,” she said. “Any future proposals for anything more would undergo an even bigger environmental analysis than this underwent.”

    Homestake Creek flows from Homestake Reservoir near Red Cliff. Starting Wednesday, Homestake Partners will be releasing water out of the reservoir to make sure that water can get to the state line as another option to fulfill the state’s upstream duties of delivering water to the lower basin states (Arizona, California and Nevada). Photo credit: Bethany Blitz/Aspen Journalism

    Whitney Reservoir

    The proposed Whitney Reservoir would pump water from lower Homestake Creek back to Homestake Reservoir, about five miles upstream. Then it would go through a tunnel under the Continental Divide to Turquoise Reservoir, near Leadville, and then to the cities of Aurora and Colorado Springs. The idea of expanding the intrastate plumbing system to take more water from the headwaters of the Colorado River over to thirsty and growing Front Range cities doesn’t sit well with many people and organizations.

    Wilderness Workshop issued a news release saying it would oppose the reservoir project every step of the way. The organization also launched an online petition Monday to rally opposers, which had already garnered more than 200 signatures as of Monday evening.

    “We would like to see the Forest Service change course,” said Juli Slivka, Wilderness Workshop’s conservation director. The decision was discouraging, she said, but Wilderness Workshop will continue pressuring the federal agency. “The idea of moving water from the Western Slope to the Front Range is not very appreciated out here.”

    A map from Colorado Springs Utilities that shows how tunnels could bring water to Whitney Reservoir from Fall and Peterson creeks, and from the Eagle River. The map also shows the route of a pipeline to pump water from Whitney Reservoir to Homestake Reservoir.

    Eagle River MOU

    But Front Range municipalities are not the only ones set to benefit from a new water-storage project. The Eagle River Memorandum of Understanding lays out a plan for both Front Range and Western Slope entities to develop water in the upper Eagle River basin. The agreement, signed in 1998, provides 20,000 acre-feet of water a year to Homestake Partners and 10,000 acre-feet a year to the Colorado River Water Conservation District, the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District, Upper Eagle Regional Water Authority and Vail Resorts, known collectively in the MOU as the “Reservoir Company.”

    The Reservoir Company is not an applicant in the drilling proposal and none of the Western Slope entities that are parties to the MOU submitted comments on the drilling proposal.

    Diane Johnson, communications and public affairs manager for the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District, said the water provider supports Homestake Partners’ right to pursue an application for their water.

    “We trust the permitting process to bring all impacts and benefits to light for the community to consider and weigh in total,” Johnson said in an email.

    The Forest Service also determined that impacts to wetlands from the drilling are negligible. Homestake Partners plans to place temporary mats across wetland areas to protect vegetation and soils from the people and machinery crossing Homestake Creek. In a June letter, a representative from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said the work did not require a permit from that agency.

    The Forest Service also conducted a biological assessment and found that the drilling would not impact endangered Canada lynx.

    This story ran in the March 23 edition of The Vail Daily and The Aspen Times.

    Aurora, #ColoradoSprings clear hurdle on Whitney Reservoir in Eagle County — The #Aurora Sentinel #EagleRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    From The Aurora Sentinel (Grand Stringer):

    U.S. Forest Service District Ranger Leanne Veldhuis approved the cities’ plan Monday to drill into the high-alpine Homestake Valley and test whether the underlying geology could support a reservoir diverting water from the Colorado River to the growing municipalities.

    It’s an early, key step in the effort to build the new reservoir, which would be called the Whitney Reservoir, in the National Forest about six miles southwest of the town of Red Cliff.

    The cities have long held the water rights to build the new reservoir and divert the water, usually destined for the beleaguered Colorado River, to thirsty residents in Aurora and Colorado Springs.

    With approval in tow, Aurora and Colorado Springs have the green light to test for several possible reservoir sites in the Homestake Valley.

    Greg Baker, Aurora Water’s manager of public relations, told the Sentinel last year the reservoir could be built in about 25 years if the complicated approval process pans out. The new reservoir in the Homestake Valley could hold between 6,850 acre-feet and 20,000 acre-feet of water, according to the Forest Service…

    Notably, the project requires environmental impact studies and possibly an act of Congress, according to Baker, to shave up to 500 acres from the popular Holy Cross Wilderness. However, he added that the plan is far from set in stone.

    The plan has drawn scrutiny from conservation groups concerned about devastating the ancient wetland habitant that retains water — an increasingly scare commodity in the West. Various endangered fish species would be downriver from the dam.

    The Colorado River itself has seen reduced flows in recent decades, in part because of human-induced climate change. Many environmentalists argue that as much water as possible should be left in the river, which multiple states and Mexico rely on…

    Baker said in an email that the drilling study is “routine.”

    “We value the collaborative process involved in exploring alternatives that minimize environmental impacts, are cost effective, can be permitted by local, state, and federal agencies, and which will meet the water requirements of the project partners,” he said.

    As reported by Colorado Public Radio, the project has also run into early opposition from central Colorado and Western Slope communities.

    Democratic state Sen. Kerry Donovan represents seven counties that include communities like Aspen and Crested Butte. In a letter opposing the project, Donovan wrote that, “she can’t express how sternly the people in her district dislike water diversion projects to the front range,” according to CPR.

    From The Colorado Sun (Michael Booth and Jason Blevins):

    The decision to let the Front Range water utilities move forward in taking more Western Slope water is only one of countless regulatory hurdles for a future Whitney Reservoir, but conservation groups say they are adamantly against any new water transfers to suburban water users across the Continental Divide and will oppose every approval step.

    Colorado Headwaters, which opposes any new dams and water transfers, said it expected the approval but remains steadfast against any progress on the project. “We don’t think it will ever be built,” president Jerry Mallett said. “They haven’t done a transmountain diversion in 45 years. Water on the Colorado River is dropping from climate change. We don’t want to lose those natural resources.”

    The decision from White River said the approval applies only to drilling 10 test bore holes the utilities applied for, and does not have bearing on any future decisions should the cities pursue the dam north of Camp Hale. The proposed reservoir would hold about 20,000 acre feet…

    The cities partnered with Eagle County, the Colorado Water Conservation District, Vail Resorts and other Western Slope water users in 1998 in a deal that gave water rights to Eagle River communities and developed the 3,300 acre-foot Eagle Park Reservoir on the Climax Mine property.

    The 1998 Eagle River Memorandum of Understanding included plans for possible reservoirs along Homestake Creek. The agreement — which brought together a diverse group of downstream users as “Homestake Partners” in the Eagle River Joint Use Water Project — also affirmed that no partner could object to a new reservoir plan if it met the memorandum’s agreement to “minimize environmental impacts” and could be permitted by local, state and federal agencies.

    The proposed Whitney Reservoir project is not new and “represents our continued pursuit to develop water rights in existence for many years,” Colorado Springs Utilities spokeswoman Jennifer Kemp said.

    Kemp said the cities have developed alternatives to building a new reservoir in the Homestake Creek drainage but those other options have not been proposed or discussed publicly. The results of the test boring and geotechnical work will help the two cities vet possible alternatives…

    Environmental groups oppose new dams on Homestake in part because they would take water out of tributaries that feed the already-depleted Colorado River. But they are also focused on preserving complex wetlands called “fens” that develop over the long term and support diverse wildlife. They say fens cannot easily be recreated in any mitigation work that utilities traditionally include in dam proposals.

    The headwaters group also questions why the Forest Service would encourage any steps when completion of a dam appears impossible. The utility proposals include shrinking the size of the Holy Cross Wilderness Area to create dam access, “which Congress will never approve,” Mallett said.

    #Aurora and #ColoradoSprings Want More #Water. The Proposed Solution — A New Reservoir — Would Have Far-Reaching Impacts — #Colorado Public Radio

    This map shows the location of test holes Homestake Partners plans to drill as part of its geotechnical investigation into the feasibility of a dam site in the Homestake Creek valley. The Forest Service has received more than 500 comments, most of them in opposition to, the drilling and the overall reservoir project. Credit: USFS via Aspen Journalism

    From Colorado Public Radio (Michael Elizabeth Sakas):

    Aurora and Colorado Springs want to bring more of that water to their growing cities, which are the state’s largest after Denver. To do that, they want to dam up Whitney Creek in Eagle County south of Minturn and create a reservoir that could supply water for thousands of new homes…

    There are a few different spots along the creek that could be the home to the proposed Whitney Reservoir. The largest of the potential sites would hold about 20,000 acre-feet of water…

    Tension between protecting wetlands and securing more water for growing cities

    [Jerry] Mallett’s group works to restore and protect areas like this one — a wetland with fox and moose tracks in the snow.

    Mallett has fought Aurora and Colorado Springs before. After these cities teamed up and built Homestake Reservoir in the 1960s, they tried to build the reservoir Homestake II. That project was shut down in the 1990s.

    “We’re not saying you shouldn’t grow or that you’ve got to control the population, that’s your issue,” Mallett said. “Ours is protecting the natural resources for other values.”

    Aurora and Colorado Springs are working together because they have the same problem: Planners don’t think they have enough water where they are to support the cities’ expected growth. If the cities get their way and dam up Homestake Creek, it would reduce the amount of water that ends up in the Colorado River — which the Front Range and some 40 million people have come to rely on over the decades…

    That’s changed, Mallett said. West Slope communities now see water as a crucial part of keeping their economies alive and now fight for it to stay. Democratic state Sen. Kerry Donovan represents seven counties that include communities like Aspen and Crested Butte. In a letter opposing the project, Donovan wrote that, “she can’t express how sternly the people in her district dislike water diversion projects to the front range.

    “West Slope is not in a position I think today where they’re going to roll over and say, ‘Fine, we’ll lose that water,’” Mallett said. “I think they’ve got the political clout now, it’s a new game.”

    If Colorado Springs and Aurora secure permits to build the Whitney Reservoir, it would be the first major trans-mountain water diversion project in decades…

    These wetlands, located on a 150-acre parcel in the Homestake Creek valley that Homestake Partners bought in 2018, would be inundated if Whitney Reservoir is constructed. The Forest Service received more than 500 comments, the majority in opposition to, test drilling associated with the project and the reservoir project itself. Photo credit: Heather Sackett/Aspen Journalism

    Environmentalists are concerned about losing these wetlands, which are threatened by climate change. Delia Malone, an ecologist and wildlife chair of the Colorado Chapter of the Sierra Club, said most animals rely on wetlands…

    Malone said the proposed reservoir locations could include areas that are home to fens, a type of wetland that is rare in the arid West and supports plant biodiversity. Fens have layers of peat, require thousands of years to develop and are replenished by groundwater. Fens also trap environmental carbon, improve water quality and store water…

    Colorado and other states are obligated to send a certain amount of water downstream to states like California because of a century-old agreement. As the Colorado River dries with climate change, and more demand is put on the river, Udall said there’s higher risk for what’s called a “compact call,” a provision that gives downstream states like California authority to demand water from upstream states like Colorado for not sending enough water down the Colorado River.

    If that happens, Udall said newer Colorado water projects — including the proposed Whitney Reservoir — could have to cut their usage to make sure enough water is sent downstream.

    [Brad] Udall said the best available science is needed to answer the question: Is this water better left in the river or sent to Aurora and Colorado Springs?

    Brad Udall: Here’s the latest version of my 4-Panel plot thru Water Year (Oct-Sep) of 2019 of the #coriver big reservoirs, natural flows, precipitation, and temperature. Data goes back or 1906 (or 1935 for reservoirs.) This updates previous work with @GreatLakesPeck

    “The science really does need to be heard here,” Udall said. “It’s somewhat disturbing and is very different from the science that we used in the 20th century to assess the value and benefits of these kinds of projects.”

    Officials in Colorado Springs and Aurora declined CPR News’ interview requests.

    Before the cities can move towards building the reservoir, the U.S. Forest Service has to sign off on structural testing and surveying which requires drilling test holes in the wetlands. A decision is expected later this month on that permit, which has received more than 500 public comments, with most arguing against the drilling and the project as a whole.

    “We are looking to be moving toward a future that is really decoupled from the past” — Kenneth Williams via The #ColoradoSprings Gazette #drought

    From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Mary Shinn):

    The hot dry conditions that melted strong snowpack early in 2020 and led to severe drought, low river flows and record setting wildfires across the state could be a harbinger of what is to come in Colorado.

    Climate change is likely to drive “chaotic weather” and greater extremes with hotter droughts and bigger snowstorms that will be harder to predict, said Kenneth Williams, environmental remediation and water resources program lead at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, headquartered in California.

    “We are looking to be moving toward a future that is really decoupled from the past,” said Williams, who is leading a long-term watershed research project in Crested Butte.

    In 2020, the Colorado River system had 100% of average snowpack on April 1 but then thwarted expectations when it didn’t deliver the 90% to 110% of average runoff that water managers could typically predict. The river system only saw 52% of average runoff because water was soaked up by dry soils and evaporated during a dry, warm spring, said Brad Udall, senior water and climate research scientist at Colorado State University.

    “It’s not typical, but it could very well be our future,” he said.

    The 2020 drought will end at some point, but that appears unlikely this spring with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration forecasting above-normal temperatures and below-normal precipitation through March, April and May.

    Conditions could improve more rapidly on the eastern plains with big spring and summer rain, said Russ Schumacher, Colorado’s state climatologist.

    In the larger picture, breaking the drought across the vast Colorado River Basin will likely take a string of winters with much above average snowfall, Schumacher said.

    Brad Udall: Here’s the latest version of my 4-Panel plot thru Water Year (Oct-Sep) of 2019 of the #coriver big reservoirs, natural flows, precipitation, and temperature. Data goes back or 1906 (or 1935 for reservoirs.) This updates previous work with @GreatLakesPeck

    In the long term, conditions across the Southwest are going to become more arid as average temperatures rise, driven by greenhouse gas emissions, Udall said, with lower soil moisture and stream flows among the negative impacts.

    The 19-year stretch of only intermittingly interrupted drought from 2000 to 2018 in the Southwest U.S. was exceeded only by a late 1500s megadrought, the journal Science reported in a paper this year…

    New reservoirs could play a role in the future, but construction alone cannot resolve the coming water woes.

    “Anyone who thinks they can build themselves out of climate change is nuts,” Udall said. “There is a limit to the amount of storage that’s helpful.”

    Too much storage can sit empty and if the water is allowed to sit for too long a valuable portion is lost to evaporation, he said.

    In the highly variable years of climate-related weather to come, keeping water flowing to homes and farms will take better planning and a much better understanding of the “water towers of the West,” the remote peaks where significant amounts of snow accumulate above 8,000 feet.

    Water managers are keen to know not just how much water may flow into rivers and streams, but when, and also what it might contain because as water flows drop water quality is also likely to be more of a concern…

    Fort Collins weather station on the CSU campus via the Colorado Climate Center.

    The rapid change has left water managers and researchers in need of better data to understand short-term trends, such as how much runoff to expect this year and longer-term shifts.

    Traditionally Colorado and the West have relied on a network of more than 800 snow telemetry sites — SNOTELS, as they are called by the Natural Resources Conservation Service — that automatically collect snowpack, temperature and precipitation. But now more snow is falling at elevations above the SNOTELS and aerial observations are needed to provide an alternative source of data on snowpack utilities and others wouldn’t otherwise know about, Williams said…

    A flight from NASA’s Airborne Snow Observatory gathers data about the snowpack above Dillon Reservoir on a flight. Information gathered from the flight helped Denver Water manage reservoir operations. Photo courtesy of Quantum Spatial

    So Denver Water is forming a new collaborative to bring utilities, including Colorado Springs Utilities and other water users, such as water conservancy districts that serve farmers and ranchers, together to fund statewide flights, which can be quite expensive, she said.

    The formal planning work around what data to collect and funding flights is set to begin in April and already the collaborative has attracted members from across the state, Kaatz said.

    The group hopes to start funding the flights in about a year to provide the high quality data to water managers, Kaatz said. Having that data will be a valuable asset in Colorado’s semi-arid climate as it warms, she said.

    “Warming is here and now. It’s not the next generation’s challenge.”

    […]

    The rapid spring runoff is often the star in the water world. But high elevation groundwater is key to feeding streams in the late summer and winter, helping to sustain fish and late season irrigation. It is also an important source for reservoirs, said Rosemary Carroll, a hydrologist with the Desert Research Institute and collaborator on the Department of Energy projects in Crested Butte.

    When Carroll started studying groundwater in the upper Gunnison watershed, she expected to find water that had percolated through the soil for two or three years before reaching streams. Instead, she’s found groundwater about a decade old, which has benefits and drawbacks during dry times, she said.

    If the watershed is in a shorter drought, the groundwater can act as a buffer supplying old water that fell as snow and rain years ago, she said. But if it is a sustained drought then the absence of water from the system persists through a lack of groundwater, she said.

    If the area continues to see hotter drier conditions, it’s likely that groundwater coming to the surface would be older and there will be less groundwater available to support streams, she said.

    Colorado Springs Collection System via Colorado College.

    From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Mary Shinn):

    As Colorado Springs Utilities braces to absorb hundreds of thousands of new residents in the coming decades amid hotter weather, it is looking to conservation, agriculture, and new water supplies from the Colorado and Arkansas rivers to help fill the gap.

    Utilities examined 50 future climate scenarios to prepare its latest 50-year plan and settled on a future that will be on average 3 degrees Fahrenheit warmer with no change in average precipitation, instead of relying on historical weather trends to make projections, said Kevin Lusk, a water engineer with Utilities…

    As new neighborhoods take shape, particularly in Banning Lewis Ranch, Utilities is planning for the city’s population to increase 53% from about 470,000 people to 723,000, the 50-year plan states. As those residents move in, the city’s annual water demands are expected to rise from 95,000 acre feet a year to 136,000 acre feet a year…

    For Colorado Springs, reservoirs are already a key piece of a complex water system that brings 80% of the 95,000 acre feet of water the city uses annually into the area.

    The largest amount of new water supply, 90,000 to 120,000 acre feet of water, is expected to come from the new or enlarged reservoirs or water storage within the Arkansas River basin, according to the 50-year plan. One of those projects could be a new reservoir or gravel pit complex between Twin Lakes and Pueblo Reservoirs, the plan states.

    These wetlands in the Homestake Creek valley are near the site of the proposed Whitney Reservoir. The Forest Service is considering whether to issue a permit for drilling and a geotechnical study to test whether the site would support a dam. Photo credit: Heather Sackett/Aspen Journalism

    Utilities may also build additional reservoir space in the Colorado River watershed, and it is working with Aurora on a highly controversial new reservoir in the Holy Cross Wilderness in Eagle County. The U.S. Forest Service is expected to make a decision soon on whether to permit the exploration of the new reservoir’s feasibility…

    Through conservation, Utilities expects to save 10,000 to 13,000 acre feet of water annually, said Patrick Wells, general manager with Colorado Springs Utilities Water Resources and Demand Management. The city’s watering restrictions adopted last year that limit outdoor watering to three days a week from May 1 to Oct. 15 are meant to help achieve long-term water savings and more than 550 acre feet of water was saved in the first year, he said.

    In the future, water owned by agricultural interests, particularly farmers and ranches in the Lower Arkansas River basin, will also play a key role. But rather than purchase it outright, Utilities is looking to lease 15,000 to 25,000 new acre feet of water annually.

    The leases are a move away from purchasing farms and their associated water rights outright and transferring that water to the city, a practice called buy and dry. In the 1970s, farmers sold the water rights that previously served 45,000 acres in Crowley County leaving only 5,000 acres in production, The Gazette reported previously.

    Cities bought water outright from agriculture through the early 2000s as the primary means of transfer, said Scott Lorenz, water sharing senior project manager with Colorado Springs Utilities.

    Now, the state and city are focused on lease agreements that can serve farmers in dry times, he said. For example, in a dry year a farm may not have enough water to put all the fields in production, the producer can lease some water to the city and earn money through the water instead, Lorenz said.

    Compensating farmers for their water and taking land out of production can have consequences, however, because it can disrupt the overall agriculture market when farmers aren’t buying seed or materials or employing laborers, said Brad Udall, senior water and climate research scientist at Colorado State University. The buyers the farms supply may also go elsewhere for products if farms aren’t producing annually, he said.

    Utilities’ already has several lease agreements in place, including one in perpetuity with the Lower Arkansas Water Management Association, a group that replaces the water taken from the Arkansas River through wells. As farmers pump from ground wells supplied by the river, the association ensures water flows back into the river so that downstream residents in Kansas receive their full water rights.

    The city has agreed to lease water from the association five out of every ten years and pay for its water every year, said Bill Grasmick, association president. The city also paid for a new reservoir that the association is already using.

    Decision looms on Holy Cross reservoir exploration permit — @WaterEdCO #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification #EagleRiver

    Mystic Island Lake, Holy Cross Wilderness Area, south of Eagle, Colorado. By CoMtMan – Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=12260170

    From Water Education Colorado (Jerd Smith):

    The U.S. Forest Service said it is just weeks away from deciding whether a high-profile request to explore the geological feasibility of a new reservoir site in Colorado’s Eagle County that would capture water flowing from the iconic Holy Cross Wilderness should be granted.

    The request comes from Aurora and Colorado Springs, among others, who want to be able to capture more of the water flowing from the wilderness area to meet their own growing needs.

    David Boyd, a spokesman for the U.S. Forest Service, said a decision is expected “early this year.”

    Proponents had hoped for a decision late last summer, but Boyd said the delay wasn’t unusual and was triggered in part by last summer’s Grizzly Creek Fire.

    Aurora and Colorado Springs, which own and operate the only reservoir in the area, Homestake I, hope to demonstrate that they can divert more water and build another reservoir to serve Front Range and West Slope interests without damaging the delicate wetlands and streams in the mountain forests there.

    But in advance of any request to build an actual reservoir, they have asked the Forest Service for a special use permit to survey the area and to bore several test holes to determine soil conditions and areas best suited to build the proposed Whitney Reservoir.

    If a reservoir were to be built, it would also require that the 122,000-acre-plus wilderness area shrink by 500 acres, an action that will require congressional approval.

    Significant opposition to the exploratory permit erupted almost as soon as the proposal became public last year. The U.S. Forest Service received more than 500 comments on the proposal last summer. The majority of those were opposed to it, citing the need to protect the wilderness and the need to preserve as much of the region’s water as possible. The Eagle River, a part of the Colorado River system, is fed in large part by the Holy Cross watershed.

    Warren Hern, a co-founder of the Defenders of the Holy Cross Wilderness, said the plan would do irrevocable damage to the rare bogs and wildflowers that populate the area.

    He also noted that the proposed reservoir site lies along a major fault line.

    “We will do everything in our power to stop this,” Hern said.

    Greg Baker, a spokesman for Aurora Water, said his agency is well aware of the special relationship thousands of Coloradans have with the Holy Cross and its spectacular wetlands and hiking trails.

    Baker declined to comment for this article, saying the agency would wait until the Forest Service issues a decision.

    But in a recent interview, Baker said the cities had little choice but to pursue additional water supplies to meet growing demand.

    “Water is a rare commodity and it needs to be used very carefully,” Baker said.

    He also said any environmental damage that might occur could be successfully mitigated.

    “What you do is wetlands rehabilitation, where you develop wetlands in other areas on a two- or three-to-one basis so you’re restoring additional wetlands for those you may lose,” Baker said.

    The new proposal comes under a 1998 agreement known as the Eagle River Memorandum of Understanding, which allows the reservoir proponents to develop enough water to serve environmental, municipal and industrial interests.

    Parties to the 1998 agreement include Aurora, Colorado Springs, the Colorado River District, the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District, and the Upper Eagle Regional Water Authority.

    Located west of Vail between Minturn and Leadville, the Holy Cross Wilderness Area was the subject of a significant battle in the 1980s when Aurora and Colorado Springs sought to build a second major reservoir there known as Homestake II.

    After the case made it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, Homestake II was defeated in 1994.

    In exchange, however, the cities were granted permission to develop a smaller amount of water in the future in partnership with Western Slope interests, resulting in the permit request now being considered by the Forest Service.

    Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly listed Vail Associates as a participant in the Whitney Reservoir proposal.

    Jerd Smith is editor of Fresh Water News. She can be reached at 720-398-6474, via email at jerd@wateredco.org or @jerd_smith.

    Local regs loom large in dam battle as #Colorado cities seek more Western Slope water — The Rocky Mountain Post #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    Here’s a deep-dive into the proposed Whitney Reservoir Project from David O. Williams that’s running in The Rocky Mountain Post. Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:

    With Wednesday’s move by the Trump administration to weaken one of the nation’s bedrock conservation laws – the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) – all eyes will increasingly be on local opposition and regulation when it comes to major infrastructure on federal lands.

    That’s pretty much what Eagle County Commissioner Kathy Chandler-Henry told me when I asked about the proposed Whitney Reservoir project currently being scoped out by the U.S. Forest Service along Homestake Creek in southeastern Eagle County. The reservoir is being proposed by Colorado Springs and Aurora to pump Western Slope water to the Front Range.

    All that’s currently being considered by the Forest Service is a test-drilling project to detect fatal flaws and see if one of four possible dam configurations is feasible, at which point an actual proposal for Whitney Reservoir would be submitted and considered by the feds, including a possible request to shrink the Holy Cross Wilderness by up to 500 acres to realign the road.

    The Forest Service was flooded with more than 500 online comments opposing the drilling and the reservoir, demanding higher levels of environmental scrutiny for a special use permit for the drilling project that could be issued under what’s known as a “categorical exclusion.” Opponents are demanding an Environmental Assessment (EA) or Environmental Impact Statement (EIS)…

    What didn’t make it into my Vail Daily story due to space constraints was the Eagle County angle. It’s important because way back in the 1990s, when I first moved to the Vail area, there was a huge battle going on over what was then called Homestake II – a reservoir proposed for the same area by the same cities, which still hold 20,000 acre-feet of water rights here.

    Eagle County used its 1041 permitting powers, which give counties some degree of local control over infrastructure projects with regional or statewide impacts, to deny Homestake II – a move that wound up in court and went all the way to the Colorado Supreme Court before Eagle County ultimately won. Those 1041 regulatory powers were granted by a state law in the 1970s.

    All of that led to the Eagle River Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that outlines how all the various stakeholders in the Eagle River Basin would work together going forward to resolve their issues. But one important thing remains true: Eagle County, not a signatory to the MOU, still has 1041 permitting authority.

    So Chandler-Henry, the water leader on the board, had some important things to say last spring. First, on any proposal that would require redrawing the boundaries of the Holy Cross Wilderness Area: “I can tell you that’s not anything that we would ever be supportive of is moving wilderness boundaries.” Then, on the importance of local permitting power:

    Chandler-Henry points out that federal protections have been stripped away by the current administration, with fens and ephemeral streams recently being removed from the definition of Waters of the United States by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Those changes, she said, are making it much easier for water providers to get their federal permits in place.

    “Which means 1041 is all the more important for local considerations,” Chandler-Henry said, adding she believes her constituents oppose a dam. “I think that that is going to be a huge public sentiment, that we don’t want anything there.”

    That being said, the county has to be somewhat diplomatic on both the test drilling and a possible future reservoir. Eagle County officials said they are working with the Forest Service on the test drilling proposal and may comment later…

    “Eagle County cannot take a position regarding, and will not be commenting on, any future reservoir project because of its permitting authority powers,” county officials said in an email. “Eagle County must avoid prejudging a file based upon this authority.

    “Eagle County plans to meet with the USDA USFS to discuss procedural questions regarding the proposed Whitney Creek Geotechnical Investigation project. Depending upon the outcome of that conversation, Eagle County may or may not choose to provide comment [to the Forest Service],” officials added.

    Chandler-Henry, who talked to me well before the formal test drilling application and the recent Trump move to gut NEPA, said the county is keeping an open mind on 1041 permitting for whatever proposal eventually comes before the board. However, she reiterated that shrinking the Holy Cross boundary – something Congress would have to approve – is a non-starter.

    “Sen. [Michael] Bennett’s office says that whenever they’re approached by Aurora Water about moving those boundaries in Holy Cross, they say, ‘You need to go see what Eagle County thinks.’” Chandler-Henry added. “To date they have not done that because I think they know what we think about that.”

    An official with Bennet’s office confirmed they are aware of the wilderness adjustment plan but are not supportive of pulling back boundaries to make room for a proposed reservoir because there is not broad local backing. Bennet has been a strong advocate of wilderness expansion, not shrinkage…

    Conservation groups see this as a key issue, linking the test drilling to an eventual dam proposal that could lead to less wilderness. The original Homestake II proposal would have been in the Holy Cross Wilderness Area…

    Chandler-Henry said Eagle County is firm on the wilderness issue but staying openminded on 1041 so any proposal can be weighed fairly on its merits.

    “One of the things that we’re doing, which is going to be really useful, is trying to tie our 1041 permitting in with the community water plan that [Eagle River Watershed Council] is working on … because a 1041 allows us to look at environmental impact, economic impact, infrastructure,” Chandler-Henry said, adding the utility has been modeling for future growth.

    “Those are always our concerns with any sort of 1041 permit,” Chandler-Henry added. “What happens if water is dammed up in a reservoir? Then what happens to the Eagle River, to the environment, to the subdivisions that are relying on that water, to the recreation economy?”

    Chandler-Henry said Aurora Water has been a part of that planning process…

    These wetlands, located on a 150-acre parcel in the Homestake Creek valley that Homestake Partners bought in 2018, would be inundated if Whitney Reservoir is constructed. The Forest Service received more than 500 comments, the majority in opposition to, test drilling associated with the project and the reservoir project itself. Photo credit: Heather Sackett/Aspen Journalism

    The U.S. Forest Service has been inundated with more than 500 online comments in opposition to a geotechnical and drilling study by the cities of Aurora and Colorado Springs to determine the feasibility of a second reservoir in the Homestake Creek drainage six miles southwest of Red Cliff, including objections from nearby towns and a local state senator…

    Operating together as Homestake Partners, Aurora and Colorado Springs own water rights dating back to the 1950s that, under the 1998 Eagle River Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), ensure them 20,000 more acre-feet of average annual water yield. They’ve been studying four potential dam sites in the Homestake Valley several miles below the cities’ existing Homestake Reservoir, which holds 43,600 acre-feet…

    Western Slope signatories of the Eagle River MOU were tight-lipped on the geophysical study and drilling. Jim Pokrandt, director of community affairs for the Colorado River District, declined to comment on the investigatory test work, saying only, “Yes, we have signed the MOU. That said … we are not participating in the Whitney Creek effort.”

    Diane Johnson,communications and public affairs manager for the Eagle River Water & Sanitation District, said: “The short answer is we – [ERWSD] and Upper Eagle Regional Water Authority — support [Homestake Partners’] right to pursue an application for their yield. We trust the permitting process to bring all impacts and benefits to light for the community to consider and weigh in total.” Neither organization submitted a comment to the Forest Service…

    Two prominent local conservation groups – the Eagle Valley Land Trust and the Eagle River Watershed Council – both submitted comments to the Forest Service expressing serious reservations about both the drilling and the possibility of a dam…

    The Eagle River MOU was drawn up after a lengthy court battle that ended in the 1990s when Eagle County rejected the cities’ Homestake II reservoir proposal using its 1041 powers under a state law passed in the 1970s that gives counties permit authority over certain outside infrastructure projects that could impact the local economy and environment.

    Besides Homestake Partners (the two cities), the MOU was signed by the Colorado River District, Climax Molybdenum Company, and the Vail Consortium consisting of the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District, Upper Eagle Regional Water Authority and Vail Associates (now Vail Resorts).

    The two private companies signed onto the MOU – Vail Resorts and Freeport-McMoRan (Climax) – declined to comment on either the drilling study or Whitney Reservoir.

    Any proposed water storage project by any of the signatories has to meet the objectives of the MOU, which are, “Develop a joint use water project in Upper Eagle River basin that minimizes environmental impacts, is cost-effective, technically feasible, can be permitted by local, state and federal agencies, and provides sufficient yield to meet the water requirements of project participants as hereinafter defined.”

    ERWSD’s Johnson said the water provider can’t comment on Whitney Reservoir because its environmental impacts have yet to be defined, but she did have overall praise for the MOU.

    “To date, water users in the Eagle River basin have received great benefits from the MOU,” Johnson said. “It has been the basis to develop key elements of the local municipal and snowmaking water supplies that have been essential to the economic vitality of our community.”

    The MOU provides 20,000 acre-feet for the cities, 10,000 acre-feet of firm water yield for the Vail Consortium (meaning if there’s a shortage, those needs are met first), and 3,000 acre-feet of water storage for Climax. About 2,000 acre-feet were already developed with Eagle Park Reservoir, but that leaves 28,000 acre-feet of yield and 3,000 of storage undeveloped.

    Reservoir-release pilot project in #Colorado begins this week to test possible compact call — @AspenJournalism #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    Homestake Creek flows from Homestake Reservoir near Red Cliff. Starting Wednesday, Homestake Partners will be releasing water out of the reservoir to make sure that water can get to the state line as another option to fulfill the state’s upstream duties of delivering water to the lower basin states (Arizona, California and Nevada). Photo credit: Bethany Blitz/Aspen Journalism

    From Aspen Journalism (Heather Sackett):

    Beginning Wednesday, Front Range water providers will release water stored in Homestake Reservoir in an effort to test how they could get water downstream to the state line in the event of a Colorado River Compact call.

    Aurora Water, Colorado Springs Utilities and Pueblo Board of Water Works will each release 600 acre-feet from Homestake Reservoir, which is near the town Red Cliff, for a total of 1,800 acre-feet that will flow down Homestake Creek to the Eagle River and the Colorado River.

    The release, scheduled to take place Wednesday through Sept. 30, will produce additional flows ramping up to 175 cubic feet per second.

    That amount of water represents less than 0.3% of current systemwide storage for Colorado Springs Utilities and less than 0.4% of Aurora’s storage, according to a news release from Aurora Water.

    The Front Range Water Council, an informal group made up of representatives from Front Range urban water providers and chaired by Denver Water CEO Jim Lochhead, approached the state engineer about running the experiment.

    “The Front Range Water Council is, of course, concerned about what’s going on on the Colorado River in terms of climate change and the flows and compact compliance issues,” said Alexandra Davis, deputy director for water resources at Aurora Water. “We thought it would be helpful to do a pilot project to test some of those authorities and administration capabilities with the state engineer.”

    The utilities are releasing water downstream that would have otherwise been sent to the Front Range in a water-collection system known as a transmountain diversion.

    Two men fish the Eagle River just above its confluence with the Colorado River in Dotsero. Beginning Wednesday, Homestake Reservoir will begin releasing 1,800 acre-feet of water to flow into the Eagle River, then into the Colorado River and down to the Utah border. Photo credit: Bethany Blitz/Aspen Journalism

    Compact-call scenario

    A compact call could occur if the upper basin states (Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico) can’t deliver the 7.5 million acre-feet of water per year to the lower basin states (Arizona, California and Nevada), as required by a nearly century-old binding agreement. This could trigger an interstate legal quagmire, a scenario that water managers desperately want to avoid.

    A compact-call scenario could be especially problematic for Front Range water providers since most of their rights that let them divert water over the Continental Divide from the Western Slope date to after the 1922 Colorado River Compact. Many Western Slope consumptive water rights date to before the compact, so they are exempt from involuntary cutbacks under a compact call. That means those cutback obligations could fall more heavily on the post-compact water rights of Front Range water providers.

    The goal of the pilot project is to see how the water could be shepherded downstream to the state line. Division of Water Resources engineers will have to make sure senior water rights holders don’t divert the extra water. Water commissioners are visiting dozens of irrigation headgates on the Eagle River to ensure this doesn’t happen, said Division 5 engineer Alan Martellaro.

    “We will see how much work and time and pre-planning it is going to take to make sure these ditches don’t pick up the water,” he said.

    But even with shepherding, it’s unlikely the entire 1,800 acre-feet will make it to the state line because of this year’s dry conditions. Water managers expect to see transit losses in the form of evaporation and thirsty riparian vegetation along the riverbanks sucking up the water. That’s OK because this year’s dry conditions could mimic the conditions that water managers would expect to see in a year with a compact call.

    “Not coincidentally, if there’s a need to do this for compact administration in the future years, it’s probably going to be under dry conditions,” said Colorado State Engineer Kevin Rein.

    Figuring out how much water actually makes it to Utah is one of the main questions this experiment will try to answer.

    “That’s the perfect question to give validity to this pilot,” Rein said. “We will have a better answer for you on that after the pilot is done.”

    Water managers will be closely monitoring stream gauges to track the release as it flows downstream. Martellaro estimates it will take the water about four days to get from the headwaters of Homestake Creek to the state line west of Grand Junction.

    The release will be a big boost for streamflows in Homestake Creek and the Eagle River, which was running at 15 cfs near Red Cliff on Tuesday afternoon, according to the U.S. Geological Survey stream gauge. The Colorado River near Glenwood will rise from Tuesday’s reading of 1,920 cfs.

    The release will begin at 9 a.m. [September 23, 2020] with an additional 25 cfs coming out of Homestake Dam and slowly ramp up to 175 cfs, reaching that level by Wednesday afternoon. It will stay there until Monday morning, then ramp down slowly over the final two days to keep fish from being stranded in side pools, Martellaro said. According to Greg Baker of Aurora Water Public Relations, streamflows will still be below spring runoff levels and there’s no concern about flooding.

    The Eagle River, left, flows into the Colorado River in Dotsero. On Wednesday, Homestake Reservoir will begin releasing 1,800 acre-feet of water to flow into the Eagle River, then into the Colorado River and down to the Utah border. Photo credit: Bethany Blitz/Aspen Journalism

    Demand-management implications

    The reservoir release also could have implications for a potential demand-management program, the feasibility of which the state is currently investigating. At the heart of a demand-management program is a reduction in water use on a temporary, voluntary and compensated basis in an effort to send as much as 500,000 acre-feet of water downstream to Lake Powell to bolster water levels in the giant reservoir and, indirectly, to meet Colorado River Compact obligations.

    Under such a program, agricultural operators could get paid to leave more water in the river, but the program stirs fears of Front Range water providers throwing money at the problem without having to reduce their own consumption, while Western Slope fields are fallowed.

    Responding to those concerns, Denver Water’s Lochhead has said his agency would participate in a demand-management program by using “wet water.”

    This week’s Homestake release is an example of how Front Range water providers could send water stored in Western Slope reservoirs downstream under a demand-management program.

    “What we are trying to do is help the state engineer gather options and thinks through how these might operate in practice, which might be helpful to the state of Colorado,” said Pat Wells, general manager for water resources and demand management at Colorado Springs Utilities.

    Aspen Journalism is a local, nonprofit, investigative news organization covering water and rivers in collaboration with The Aspen Times and other Swift Communications newspapers. This story ran in the Sept. 23 edition of The Aspen Times.

    Homestake Partners participate pilot project in #EagleRiver — Aurora Water #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    Eagle River Basin

    Here’s the release from Aurora Water (Greg Baker):

    Reservoir release being made in cooperation with State Engineers Office

    Beginning Wednesday, September 23, 2020, the Homestake Partners, which is comprised of Aurora Water and Colorado Springs Utilities, will make a one-time release of approximately 1,800 acre feet of water from Homestake Reservoir in Eagle County. The objective of this reservoir release is to determine the effectiveness of current administrative practices in shepherding released water from Homestake Reservoir, located south of Minturn, CO, downstream to the Colorado State Line.
    This pilot project was developed by the Front Range Water Council and utilizes water contributed by Aurora Water and Colorado Springs Utilities, as well as by the Pueblo Board of Water Works. This water will be released from Homestake Reservoir into Homestake Creek, which is tributary to the Eagle River and the Colorado River.

    The pilot release protocols were developed cooperatively with the Colorado State Engineer’s Office, with the release expected to provide the State and Division Engineers, as well as water users on the West Slope and East Slope, with valuable information related to compliance with the Colorado River Compact and the Upper Colorado River Compact. The project will test important aspects of administration practice. It will also provide data on hydrologic influences that would affect the timing and amount of the arrival of the released water at the state line.

    “For municipalities that rely either wholly or partially on the Colorado River for their drinking water, it’s critical to understand all of the potential aspects a compact curtailment could have on our supplies,” said Pat Wells, General Manager for Water Resources and Demand Management for Colorado Springs Utilities. “Gathering this data before we get to that point will help us all plan for the future.”

    As the water is released into Homestake Creek and travels downstream to the Eagle River and the Colorado River, the State Division of Water Resources will “shepherd” or facilitate the released water to the state line. The release of 1,800 AF represents contributions of 600 AF each by Colorado Springs Utilities, Pueblo Board of Water Works, and Aurora Water. This will not put any of the entities’ storage at risk; for example, 600 AF represents less than 0.3% of current system-wide storage in Colorado Springs Utilities’ raw water system and less than 0.4% of Aurora’s storage.

    “The timing is perfect for this sort of investigation,” stated Alexandra Davis, Deputy Director for Water Resources for Aurora Water “Our reservoirs are well positioned at this time, even with the current drought conditions, and the lower flows in the rivers mean we will generate valuable information regarding protocols and practices currently in place for releasing stored water.”

    The release is scheduled to occur Sept 23 – Sept. 30 and will produce flows of less than 175 cfs (cubic feet/second). These flows are higher than normal for this time of year in Homestake Creek and Eagle River, but within normal spring/summer runoff levels. There is no inundation concern for property adjacent to the tributaries.

    The project also has the support by Boulder-based Western Resource Advocates.

    “We are pleased these Front Range communities are taking a proactive step to address questions about conserving municipal water and shepherding saved water downstream,” Laura Belanger, senior water resources engineer and policy advisor with Western Resource Advocates said. ”This test release will help us understand potential benefits for water security and streams and demonstrates that all Colorado communities have an important role to play in ensuring a sustainable water future for Colorado.”

    Booming Front Range cities take first steps to build $500 million dam, reservoir near Holy Cross Wilderness — The Denver Post

    Here’s an in-depth report from (Bruce Finley) writing in The Denver Post. Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:

    A hundred miles from Colorado’s Front Range house-building boom, field scientist Delia Malone dug her fingers into spongy high-mountain wetlands at the edge of the Holy Cross Wilderness.

    She found, about 15 inches underground, partially decayed roots, twigs and the cold moisture of a fen. These structures form over thousands of years and store water that seeps down from melting snow.

    Malone has been digging about 20 holes a day, surveying fens for the U.S. Forest Service, to better understand nature’s water-storage systems — which sustain vegetation and stream flows that 40 million people across the Colorado River Basin rely on in the face of increasing aridity.

    Aurora and Colorado Springs are planning to flood these wetland fens and replace natural storage with a man-made system: a $500 million dam and a reservoir that may require changing wilderness boundaries.

    The cities each own rights to 10,000 acre-feet a year of the water that flows out of the wilderness and would pump what the reservoir traps, minus evaporation, through tunnels under mountains to other reservoirs and, finally, to pipes that deliver steady flows from urban faucets, toilets, showers and sprinkler systems…

    Fens play a key role ensuring that streams and rivers still flow after winter snow melts. And as climate warming leads to earlier melting and depletes surface water in the Colorado River, natural wetlands increasingly are seen as essential to help life hang on. The benefits stood out this summer as the West endured record heat, wildfires and drought…

    Yet Front Range developers’ desire for more water is intensifying. Across the mountains at construction sites on high dusty plains, roads and power lines have been installed, heavy dirt-movers beep and carpenters thwack atop roofs.

    Local governments already have approved permits allowing house-building at a pace that in some areas is projected to nearly double water consumption.

    Colorado Springs officials issued 3,982 permits for new single family homes last year, 18% higher than the average over the previous five years, according to data provided to The Denver Post. They estimated the current population around 476,000 will reach 723,000 “at build-out” around 2070. This requires 136,000 to 159,000 acre-feet of water a year, city projections show, up from 70,766 acre-feet in 2019.

    Aurora officials estimated their population of 380,000 will reach 573,986 by 2050. They’ve approved entire new communities, such as the 620-acre Painted Prairie with more than 3,100 housing units in the “aerotropolis” that Denver leaders have promoted near Denver International Airport, and projected current water consumption of 49,811 acre-feet a year will increase to 85,000 acre-feet and even as much as 130,158 acre-feet in a high-growth, rapid-warming scenario…

    To make a new dam and reservoir more palatable, the cities are exploring unprecedented “mitigation” of digging up and physically removing the underground fens, then hauling them and transplanting them elsewhere to restore damaged wetlands. An experiment on a ranch south of Leadville, officials said, is proving that this could help offset losses of Homestake Creek wetlands.

    This would challenge a federal policy laid out in 1999 at Interior Department regional headquarters in Denver that classifies fens as “irreplaceable.” The policy says “onsite or in-kind replacement of peat wetlands is not thought possible” and that “concentrated efforts will be made to encourage relocation of proposed reservoirs… that might impact fens, when practicable.”

    Covered by grasses and shrubs, water-laden fens blanket the Homestake Valley — wetlands filled with porous peat soils that receive minerals and nutrients in groundwater. Moving such wetlands, if attempted, would require massive hauling of soil blocks combined with the delicate precision of an organ transplant to retain ecological functioning…

    Some environmental groups are preparing for legal combat should the cities seek required state, county and federal permits. Others haven’t weighed in. Conservation Colorado leaders declined to comment on this water push.

    Transplanting fens as mitigation to try to restore wetlands elsewhere “for our convenience” is impossible, WildEarth Guardians attorney Jen Pelz said. “Fens and other sensitive high-elevation wetlands are quite beautiful and mysterious, more art than science, not something we can re-engineer.”

    Dams and diversions proposed in recent years around the West “are just as destructive as those built a century ago, and building dams today is actually more irresponsible because we know that dams disconnect aquatic and riparian habitat, cause species extinction, disrupt ecosystem function, dry rivers and harm native cultures and communities,” she said.

    “We need to start removing dams, not building more. This project is one of many where water managers are looking to cash in on their undeveloped rights or entitlements at the expense of people and the environment. … It’s time to draw a line in the sand.”

    Eagle County 1041 authority looms large in proposed Whitney Reservoir debate as feds slash more regs — Real Vail

    These wetlands, located on a 150-acre parcel in the Homestake Creek valley that Homestake Partners bought in 2018, would be inundated if Whitney Reservoir is constructed. The Forest Service received more than 500 comments, the majority in opposition to, test drilling associated with the project and the reservoir project itself. Photo credit: Heather Sackett/Aspen Journalism

    From Real Vail (David O. Williams):

    With Wednesday’s move by the Trump administration to weaken one of the nation’s bedrock conservation laws – the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) – all eyes will increasingly be on local opposition and regulation when it comes to major infrastructure on federal lands.

    That’s pretty much what Eagle County Commissioner Kathy Chandler-Henry told me when I asked about the proposed Whitney Reservoir project currently being scoped out by the U.S. Forest Service along Homestake Creek in southeastern Eagle County. The reservoir is being proposed by Colorado Springs and Aurora to pump Western Slope water to the Front Range.

    All that’s currently being considered by the Forest Service is a test-drilling project to detect fatal flaws and see if one of four possible dam configurations is feasible, at which point an actual proposal for Whitney Reservoir would be submitted and considered by the feds, including a possible request to shrink the Holy Cross Wilderness by up to 500 acres to realign the road.

    The Forest Service was flooded with more than 500 online comments opposing the drilling and the reservoir, demanding higher levels of environmental scrutiny for a special use permit for the drilling project that could be issued under what’s known as a “categorical exclusion.” Opponents are demanding an Environmental Assessment (EA) or Environmental Impact Statement (EIS)…

    in the 1990s, when I first moved to the Vail area, there was a huge battle going on over what was then called Homestake II – a reservoir proposed for the same area by the same cities, which still hold 20,000 acre-feet of water rights here.

    Eagle County used its 1041 permitting powers, which give counties some degree of local control over infrastructure projects with regional or statewide impacts, to deny Homestake II – a move that wound up in court and went all the way to the Colorado Supreme Court before Eagle County ultimately won. Those 1041 regulatory powers were granted by a state law in the 1970s.

    All of that led to the Eagle River Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that outlines how all the various stakeholders in the Eagle River Basin would work together going forward to resolve their issues. But one important thing remains true: Eagle County, not a signatory to the MOU, still has 1041 permitting authority.

    So Chandler-Henry, the water leader on the board, had some important things to say last spring. First, on any proposal that would require redrawing the boundaries of the Holy Cross Wilderness Area: “I can tell you that’s not anything that we would ever be supportive of is moving wilderness boundaries.” Then, on the importance of local permitting power:

    Chandler-Henry points out that federal protections have been stripped away by the current administration, with fens and ephemeral streams recently being removed from the definition of Waters of the United States by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Those changes, she said, are making it much easier for water providers to get their federal permits in place.

    “Which means 1041 is all the more important for local considerations,” Chandler-Henry said, adding she believes her constituents oppose a dam. “I think that that is going to be a huge public sentiment, that we don’t want anything there.”

    That being said, the county has to be somewhat diplomatic on both the test drilling and a possible future reservoir. Eagle County officials said they are working with the Forest Service on the test drilling proposal and may comment later.

    “Eagle County cannot take a position regarding, and will not be commenting on, any future reservoir project because of its permitting authority powers,” county officials said in an email. “Eagle County must avoid prejudging a file based upon this authority.

    “Eagle County plans to meet with the USDA USFS to discuss procedural questions regarding the proposed Whitney Creek Geotechnical Investigation project. Depending upon the outcome of that conversation, Eagle County may or may not choose to provide comment [to the Forest Service],” officials added.

    Chandler-Henry, who talked to me well before the formal test drilling application and the recent Trump move to gut NEPA, said the county is keeping an open mind on 1041 permitting for whatever proposal eventually comes before the board. However, she reiterated that shrinking the Holy Cross boundary – something Congress would have to approve – is a non-starter…

    Western Slope signatories of the Eagle River MOU were tight-lipped on the geophysical study and drilling. Jim Pokrandt, director of community affairs for the Colorado River District, declined to comment on the investigatory test work, saying only, “Yes, we have signed the MOU. That said … we are not participating in the Whitney Creek effort.”

    Diane Johnson,communications and public affairs manager for the Eagle River Water & Sanitation District, said: “The short answer is we – [ERWSD] and Upper Eagle Regional Water Authority — support [Homestake Partners’] right to pursue an application for their yield. We trust the permitting process to bring all impacts and benefits to light for the community to consider and weigh in total.” Neither organization submitted a comment to the Forest Service…

    Impacts from fatal-flaw drilling

    If approved by the Forest Service for a special use permit, Homestake Partners would send in crews on foot to collect seismic and other geophysical data later this summer or fall. Then crews with heavy equipment would drill 10 bore holes of up 150 feet deep in three separate possible dam locations on Forest Service land.

    Crews would use a standard pickup truck, a heavy-duty pickup pulling a flatbed trailer, and a semi-tractor and trailer that would remain on designated roads and parking areas, with some lane closures of Homestake Road (703) and dispersed campsites possible.

    For off-road boring operations, crews would use a rubber-tracked drill rig, a utility vehicle (UTV) pulling a small trailer, and a track-mounted skid steer. The drill rigs are up to 8 feet wide, 22 feet long, and 8 feet high and can extend up to 30 feet high during drilling, requiring possible tree removal in some areas. The rigs would also have to cross Homestake Creek and some wetland areas, although crews would use temporary ramps or wood mats to mitigate impacts.

    According to a technical report (pdf) filed by Homestake Partners, the subsurface work is expected to take up to five days per drilling location, or at least 50 days of daytime work only. However, continuous daytime noise from the drilling could approach 100 decibels, which is equivalent to an outboard motor, garbage truck, jackhammer or jet flyover at 1,000 feet. If work is not done by winter, crews have up to a year to complete the project and could return in 2021.

    The drilling process would use several thousand gallons of Homestake Creek water per day that engineers say “would have negligible impacts on streamflow or aquatic habitat. Water pumped from Homestake Creek during drilling would amount to less than 0.01 [cubic feet per second], a small fraction of average flows.”

    Homestake Partners would avoid wetlands as much as possible during drilling, but “where temporary wetland or waters disturbance is unavoidable, applicable 404 permitting would be secured from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps).” Crossing of Homestake Creek would occur in late summer or fall when stream flows are low, and no drilling would occur in wetlands.

    While no permanent roads would be built for the drilling, temporary access routes would be necessary and reclaimed as much as possible. “Access routes would be selected to reduce surface disturbance and vegetation removal, and to avoid identified or potential unexploded ordnances (UXOs) discovered during field surveys.” The famed 10th Mountain Division of the U.S. Army used the area for winter warfare training during World War II.

    Forest Service flooded with comments opposing Whitney Reservoir, drilling — @AspenJournalism

    These wetlands, located on a 150-acre parcel in the Homestake Creek valley that Homestake Partners bought in 2018, would be inundated if Whitney Reservoir is constructed. The Forest Service received more than 500 comments, the majority in opposition to, test drilling associated with the project and the reservoir project itself. Photo credit: Heather Sackett/Aspen Journalism

    From Aspen Journalism (David O. Williams):

    The U.S. Forest Service has been inundated with more than 500 online comments — the vast majority in opposition — to a geophysical study and drilling by the cities of Aurora and Colorado Springs to determine the feasibility of a second reservoir in the Homestake Creek drainage, including objections from nearby towns and a local state senator.

    The geophysical study and the drilling are the next step in the lengthy process of developing a reservoir on lower Homestake Creek.

    The mayors of Red Cliff and Minturn signed and submitted separate but identical letters questioning the legality of drilling 10 boreholes on Forest Service land near the Holy Cross Wilderness Area, which is six miles southwest of Red Cliff, to see whether soil and bedrock can support a dam for what would be known as Whitney Reservoir. Avon’s attorney has asked for a public comment extension to Aug. 4 so that it can hold a hearing.

    “A Whitney Reservoir would irreparably change and harm our community,” Minturn Mayor John Widerman and Red Cliff Mayor Duke Gerber wrote in their letters, submitted June 30. “We are paying close attention to these proposals, other moves by Homestake Partners and the public controversy. This categorical exclusion is rushed, harmful and unlawful.”

    Operating together as Homestake Partners, the cities of Aurora and Colorado Springs own water rights dating to the 1950s that, under the 1998 Eagle River Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), give them the basis to pursue developing 20,000 acre-feet of water a year from the Western Slope. They’ve been studying four potential dam sites in the Homestake Valley several miles below the cities’ existing Homestake Reservoir, which holds 43,600 acre-feet of water.

    The smallest configuration of Whitney Reservoir, if deemed feasible and ultimately approved, would be 6,850 acre-feet, and the largest would be up to 20,000 acre-feet. The reservoir, on lower Homestake Creek, would pump water up to Homestake Reservoir, about five miles upstream, then through a tunnel under the Continental Divide to Turquoise Reservoir near Leadville.

    In 2018, Homestake Partners paid $4.1 million for 150 acres of private land, which it leases back to the former owner for a nominal fee. That land, which would be inundated to accommodate a large portion of Whitney Reservoir’s surface area, is braided with streams and waterfalls and is lush with fens and other wetlands. It’s also home to a cabin once used as an officers quarters for the famed 10th Mountain Division of the U.S. Army. The site is not far from Camp Hale, between Red Cliff and Leadville, where soldiers trained for mountain warfare during World War II.

    This cabin, once used by the 10th Mountain Division of the U.S. Army, sits on a 150-acre parcel owned by Homestake Partners. The site of the proposed Whitney Reservoir is near Camp Hale, between Red Cliff and Leadville. Photo credit: David O. Williams/Aspen Journalism

    Eagle River MOU

    The Eagle River MOU is an agreement between Aurora and Colorado Springs and a bevy of Western Slope water interests. The Colorado River Water Conservation District, Eagle River Water & Sanitation District, Upper Eagle Regional Water Authority, and Vail Resorts are collectively defined in the MOU as the Reservoir Company. None of those entities submitted comments to the Forest Service on the drilling proposal. And according to Diane Johnson, communications and public affairs manager for the ERWSD and UERWA, none are helping to pay for the feasibility study and none are involved in the reservoir project, except to the degree that it is tied to the MOU.

    The MOU provides for 20,000 acre-feet of average annual yield for the cities. “Yield” refers to a reliable supply of water. In some cases, yield equates to storage in a reservoir, but yield can also be created by other methods, such as pumping water uphill from a smaller, refilled reservoir, which is an option being studied by the cities on lower Homestake Creek. The MOU also provides for 10,000 acre-feet of “firm dry year yield” for the Western Slope entities in the Reservoir Company, and firm dry year yield means a reliable supply even in a very dry year. Those entities have developed about 2,000 acre-feet of that allocated firm yield in Eagle Park Reservoir, and it’s not yet clear whether the Whitney Reservoir project would help them realize any additional yield.

    “The short answer is we support (Homestake Partners’) right to pursue an application for their yield,” Johnson said. “We trust the permitting process to bring all impacts and benefits to light for the community to consider and weigh in total.” .

    Jim Pokrandt, director of community affairs for the River District, declined to comment on the investigatory test work, saying only, “Yes, we have signed the MOU. That said, … we are not participating in the Whitney Creek effort.”

    Besides Homestake Partners and the Reservoir Company, the MOU was signed by the Climax Molybdenum Company. The two private companies signed onto the MOU — Vail Resorts and Freeport-McMoRan (Climax) — also declined to comment on either the drilling study or Whitney Reservoir.

    Under the MOU, various parties can pursue projects on their own, and the other parties are bound to support those efforts, but only to the degree that a proposed project meets the objectives of the MOU, including whether a project “minimizes environmental impacts.”

    Many of the 520 online comments as of the June 30 deadline objected to testing for the possibility of a dam, expressing concern for the complex wetlands in the area, but most of the comments also strongly condemn the overall project: a potential future Whitney Reservoir.

    The cities are trying to keep the focus on the test drilling.

    “This is simply a fatal-flaw reservoir siting study that includes subsurface exploration, and it’s basically just to evaluate feasibility of a dam construction on lower Homestake Creek,” said Maria Pastore, Colorado Springs Utilities’ senior project manager for water resource planning. “It’s simple exploratory work to determine if we can even go ahead with permitting and design.”

    Marcia Gilles, acting ranger for the Eagle-Holy Cross District, said her office will continue accepting comments at any time during the ongoing analysis of the geophysical study despite the June 30 deadline. She added that if the Forest Service concludes there are no “extraordinary circumstances,” she can render a decision using what is known as a categorical exclusion and then issue a special-use permit as soon as August. A categorical exclusion requires less environmental scrutiny than other forms of analysis.

    “At this time, the proposed action appears to be categorically excluded from requiring further analysis and documentation in an environmental assessment (EA) or environmental impact statement (EIS),” Gilles said. “Should the environmental analysis find extraordinary circumstances, the Forest Service would proceed to analyzing the project in an EA or EIS.”

    State Sen. Kerry Donovan, a Vail Democrat, disagrees. She wrote to the Forest Service on June 30: “I … strongly urge you not to categorically exclude this project from (National Environmental Policy Act) analysis. I cannot express how sternly the citizens of my district oppose water diversion projects to Front Range communities.” Her district encompasses seven Western Slope counties, including Eagle, where the dam would be located.

    Donovan called the proposed investigation — which would require temporary roads, heavy drilling equipment, continuous high-decibel noise, driving through Homestake Creek and use of its water in the drilling process — an affront to the “Keep It Public” movement, which advocates for effective federal management on public lands.

    These wetlands in the Homestake Creek valley are near the site of the proposed Whitney Reservoir. The Forest Service is considering whether to issue a permit for drilling and a geotechnical study to test whether the site would support a dam. Photo credit: Heather Sackett/Aspen Journalism

    Drilling impacts

    If approved by the Forest Service for a special-use permit, Homestake Partners would send in crews on foot to collect seismic and other geophysical data later this summer or fall. Crews with heavy equipment would then drill 10 boreholes up to 150 feet deep in three possible dam locations on Forest Service land. The drilling would take place on Forest Service land but not in a wilderness area.

    Crews would use a standard pickup truck, a heavy-duty pickup pulling a flatbed trailer, and a semi-truck and trailer that would remain on designated roads and parking areas, with some lane closures of Homestake Road and dispersed campsites possible.
    For off-road boring operations, crews would use a rubber-tracked drill rig, a utility vehicle pulling a small trailer, and a track-mounted skid steer. The drill rigs are up to 8 feet wide, 22 feet long and 8 feet high, and can extend up to 30 feet high during drilling, possibly requiring tree removal in some areas. The rigs would also have to cross Homestake Creek and some wetland areas, although crews would use temporary ramps or wood mats to mitigate impacts.

    According to a technical report filed by Homestake Partners, the subsurface work is expected to take up to five days per drilling location, or at least 50 days of daytime work only. However, continuous daytime noise from the drilling could approach 100 decibels, which is equivalent to either an outboard motor, garbage truck, jackhammer or jet flyover at 1,000 feet. If work is not done by winter, crews have up to a year to complete the project and could return in 2021.

    The drilling process would use several thousand gallons of Homestake Creek water per day that engineers say “would have negligible impacts on streamflow or aquatic habitat. Water pumped from Homestake Creek during drilling would amount to less than 0.01 (cubic feet per second), a small fraction of average flows,” according to a technical report included with application materials.

    Homestake Partners would avoid wetlands as much as possible during drilling, but “where temporary wetland or waters disturbance is unavoidable, applicable 404 permitting would be secured from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.” Crossing of Homestake Creek would occur in late summer or fall when streamflows are low, and no drilling would occur in wetlands.

    While no permanent roads would be built for the drilling, temporary access routes would be necessary and reclaimed as much as possible.

    “Access routes would be selected to reduce surface disturbance and vegetation removal, and to avoid identified or potential unexploded ordnances (UXOs) discovered during field surveys,” according to the technical report. The 10th Mountain Division used the area for winter warfare training during WWII.

    Another concern cited in the report is the potential impact to Canada lynx. Listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, “only Canada lynx has potential habitat in the vicinity of the project area,” according to the report. “No impacts on lynx are anticipated from the proposed work because much of the activity would occur near Homestake Road, a well-traveled recreation access road. Work would be conducted over a short period (approximately five to six weeks) and impacts on potential habitat would be negligible.”

    The vast majority of comments from a variety of environmental groups and concerned citizens focused on potential impacts to the area’s renowned wetlands and peat-forming fens, which the project proponents say they will avoid as much as possible. So far, Gilles said she is not aware of any legal challenges to the project.

    Two prominent local conservation groups — Eagle Valley Land Trust and Eagle River Watershed Council — submitted comments to the Forest Service expressing serious reservations about both the drilling and the possibility of a dam.

    “Geophysical exploration has an obvious significant nexus and direct relation to additional future actions, i.e., dam construction, which may in time massively impact the Eagle River watershed — regardless of whether the future actions are yet ripe for decisions,” ERWC officials wrote.

    This map shows the location of test holes Homestake Partners plans to drill as part of its geotechnical investigation into the feasibility of a dam site in the Homestake Creek valley. The Forest Service has received more than 500 comments, most of them in opposition to, the drilling and the overall reservoir project. Credit: USFS via Aspen Journalism

    Wilderness boundary

    Even if the test drilling returns favorable results for a reservoir project, there is another obstacle that Homestake Partners will have to clear if they want to move forward with two iterations of the project: a wilderness-boundary change, which would require an act of Congress and the president’s signature.

    The Whitney Reservoir alternatives range from 6,850 to 20,000 acre-feet and in some configurations would require federal legislation, which the cities are working to draft, requesting a boundary adjustment for the nearby Holy Cross Wilderness Area. The largest Whitney proposal would require an 80-acre adjustment, while an alternative location, lower down Homestake Creek, would require a 497-acre adjustment.

    White River National Forest Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams discounts the notion that his agency should reject outright the test-drilling application, as some environmental groups have suggested, until the wilderness-boundary issue is determined. Although some local and state lawmakers have said they are against shifting a wilderness boundary, Fitzwilliams said it’s still too soon for him to take up the wilderness issue.

    “These are test holes,” Fitzwilliams said of the drilling, which is intended to see whether the substrata are solid enough for a dam and reservoir. “Going to get a (wilderness) boundary change is not a small deal for them, so why would you do it if you find fatal flaws? That’s a red herring.

    “I understand it; nobody wants to see a dam in the Homestake drainage. I get that. But it just seems prudent to do (the drilling) to see if there’s any reason to go further.”

    Aspen Journalism is collaborating with the Vail Daily and other Swift Communications newspapers on coverage of water and rivers. This story was published online by Vail Daily on July 9, 2020 and in its print edition on July 10. The early online version of the story was edited to clarify aspects of the Eagle River MOU.

    Hundreds of comments submitted over Holy Cross Wilderness water export proposal — @WaterEdCO

    A map prepared by Aurora Water that shows a potential 500-acre adjustment to the Holy Cross Wilderness boundary near the potential Whitney Reservoir on lower Homestake Creek. The map as current as of July 16, 2019.

    From Water Education Colorado (Jerd Smith):

    Forty years after the Holy Cross Wilderness Area was created, an early effort to explore tapping its water supplies has generated more than 500 comments to the U.S. Forest Service.

    Aurora and Colorado Springs, which own and operate the only reservoir in the area, Homestake I, hope to demonstrate that they can divert more water and build another reservoir to serve Front Range and West Slope interests without damaging the delicate wetlands and streams in the mountain forests there.

    But first, they are asking the Forest Service for a special use permit to survey the area and to bore several test holes to determine soil conditions and areas best suited to build the proposed Whitney Reservoir. The public comment period closed June 30, although the Forest Service said it will continue to accept comments.

    If a reservoir were to be built, it would also require that the 122,000-acre-plus wilderness area shrink by 500 acres, an action that will require congressional approval.

    Significant opposition to the permit request is already building, with the Holy Cross Wilderness Defense Fund threatening legal action to stop the surveying and drilling of test holes into soils, according to comments submitted to the Forest Service.

    Also opposing the process, among others, is Colorado state Sen. Kerry Donovan, who represents several West Slope counties. “Our wilderness areas are afforded the highest levels of protection and to begin action that disturbs them today begins a process of destroying them forever,” she said. [Editor’s note: Donovan is on the Board of Trustees of Water Education Colorado, which sponsors Fresh Water News].

    In addition, she wrote, “With drought conditions becoming the new normal…it is imperative we protect high altitude water resources and keep each drop in the basin it was born in.”

    The Eagle River is a tributary to the drought-stressed Colorado River, whose flows have already begun a serious decline.

    Eagle River Basin

    Jerry Mallet is president of Colorado Headwaters, an environmental advocacy group. The fight to stop the proposal, he said, “will be as big as the Two Forks fight was several years ago,” referring to the successful effort to stop Two Forks Reservoir from being built on the South Platte River in 1990.

    Aurora and Colorado Springs point to their legal obligations to develop a project that serves multiple interests, and which also protects the environment, while ensuring their citizens have access to water in the future.

    “The studies…will provide the factual data necessary to identify and evaluate feasible reservoir alternatives to provide critical water supplies for human and environmental purposes,” said Colorado Springs spokesperson Natalie Eckhart. “We recognize the necessity to partner with other agencies throughout this process and are committed to working collaboratively with other communities and agencies to best manage our shared water resources.”

    The proposal comes under a 1998 agreement known as the Eagle River Memorandum of Understanding, which allows the reservoir proponents to develop enough water to serve environmental, municipal and industrial interests. Aurora and Colorado Springs hope to develop 33,000 acre-feet of water, an amount roughly equal to that used annually by 66,000 homes.

    Under the proposal, Aurora and Colorado Springs would receive 20,000 acre-feet, West Slope interests would receive 10,000 acre-feet, and 3,000 acre-feet would be set aside for the Climax Molybdenum Company.

    Parties to the 1998 agreement include Aurora, Colorado Springs, the Colorado River District, the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District, the Upper Eagle River Water and Sanitation District, as well as Vail Associates.

    Diane Johnson, spokesperson for the two Eagle River districts, said the agencies haven’t yet taken a position on the proposal, citing the need for the analysis required for the special use permit as well as any actual construction of a reservoir to be completed.

    Located west of Vail between Minturn and Leadville, the Holy Cross Wilderness Area was the subject of a significant battle in the 1980s when Aurora and Colorado Springs sought to build a second major reservoir there known as Homestake II.

    After opponents successfully took their case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, Homestake II was defeated in 1994.

    In exchange, however, the cities were granted permission to develop a smaller amount of water in the future in partnership with Western Slope interests, resulting in the project that is now being proposed to the Forest Service.

    To submit your comments or to get more information about the survey and drilling proposal, visit this U.S. Forest Service’s web page.

    Jerd Smith is editor of Fresh Water News. She can be reached at 720-398-6474, via email at jerd@wateredco.org or @jerd_smith.

    A wetland area along Homestake Creek in an area that would be flooded by a potential Whitney Reservoir. The cities of Aurora and Colorado Springs are looking to develop additional water in Eagle County and divert it to the Front Range. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    Growing thirst from Front Range cities threatens Holy Cross Wilderness — The Vail Daily #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    A wetland area along Homestake Creek in an area that would be flooded by a potential Whitney Reservoir. The cities of Aurora and Colorado Springs are looking to develop additional water in Eagle County and divert it to the Front Range. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    From The Vail Daily (John LaConte):

    The public’s chance to comment ends Tuesday in the U.S. Forest Service’s consideration of a permit that would allow the first action in a process which could create a new reservoir in the Homestake Valley near Red Cliff.

    The special use permit would allow the cities of Aurora and Colorado Springs to build roads and drill holes in an area of the White River National Forest which is near the Holy Cross Wilderness, 6 miles southwest of Red Cliff.

    Ultimately, if constructed, a 20,000-acre-foot reservoir would flood a corner of the wilderness area and would also relocate Homestake Road, requiring the removal of 500 acres from the Holy Cross Wilderness area.

    But at this time, the Forest Service is only seeking comments on the impacts of the drilling, not the dam. The drilling would give crews information about the feasibility of dam sites, but the drilling in itself would have impacts to the forest as 8-foot-by-22-foot drill rigs could cross wetlands and cut down trees in the path to their drilling destination, where holes of 150 feet would be dug…

    In soliciting comments in June, “we are focusing solely on the potential impacts from this preliminary geophysical work,” said Marcia Gilles, acting Eagle-Holy Cross district ranger. “Any further proposals that might be submitted after this information is collected would be evaluated separately.”

    […]

    “They’re calling this the Whitney Project; I’m calling it Homestake III,” said Mike Browning, a former water attorney in Colorado who is now the chair of the Eagle Summit Wilderness Alliance.

    The “Homestake III” handle is in reference to the project known as Homestake II, in the early 1980s, which bears a strong resemblance to the Whitney Creek effort. The Homestake II project also sought to build another reservoir beneath the existing Homestake Reservoir, which was constructed in 1964. The Homestake II idea was eliminated in large part to Hern’s efforts.

    “(Hern) was really the spokesperson and really the leader of that movement in the 1980s,” Browning said. “The Holy Cross Wilderness Defense Fund was marshaling the local comments and local opposition.”

    In his Sunday letter to the Forest Service, Hern said the Holy Cross Wilderness Defense Fund, which he co-founded In 1982, has not changed its stance on the project.

    “The people of Colorado love this wilderness and have supported our efforts for over forty years to establish it and preserve it,” Hern wrote. “You should not underestimate the intensity of these feelings and the attitudes of the public in this matter.”

    […]

    ERO Resources Corporation and RJH Consultants, Inc., which prepared the technical report for the special use permit application, referenced the memorandum of understanding in its report.

    “The objective of this study is to evaluate opportunities to construct reservoir storage to develop a portion of the yield contemplated in the (memorandum of understanding),” according to the report, which was published in November. “Specifically, the subsurface explorations described below would provide valuable information regarding the suitability of the area for reservoir development. The cities are currently considering and evaluating multiple reservoir sizes with potential storage capacities between 6,850 and 20,000 acre-feet.”

    #Drought task force activates, Colorado Springs Utilities looks to reservoirs — The #ColoradoSprings Independent #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    US Drought Monitor June 23, 2020.

    From The Colorado Springs Independent (Pam Zubeck):

    As drought conditions deepen, Colorado Governor Jared Polis on June 23 sought activation of the state’s Drought Task Force and Phase 2 of the State Drought Mitigation and Response Plan.

    The governor’s office said in a release the drought spans 81 percent of the state, with severe and extreme conditions affecting a third of the state, including El Paso County.

    Colorado’s Drought Task Force includes officials with the departments of Agriculture, Natural Resources, Local Affairs and Public Safety, and the Colorado Water Conservation Board. The second phase of the plan means the task force will assess initial damages and impacts of drought in areas experiencing severe or extreme drought and recommend mitigation measures. In addition, the Agricultural Impact Task Force is activated to make an assessment on physical and economic impacts.

    Meantime, there doesn’t appear to be any plan to further restrict water use in Colorado Springs where customers have been under restrictions since May to water their lawns no more than three times a week…

    Colorado Springs currently has more than two years’ worth of water in storage, which is good news for gardeners, because more severe water restrictions wouldn’t be triggered until the amount in storage falls to a 1.5-year supply, [Pat] Wells says.

    View from the Pitkin County end of Homestake Reservoir. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    Utilities recently completed land acquisition for the 30,000-acre-foot Gary Bostrom Reservoir, the second phase of SDS, which is planned for construction near Bradley Road southeast of the city in the next decade. Another project, called the Eagle River project in the mountains, will create another reservoir, hopefully by 2040 to 2050, Wells says…

    Some years, snowpack fills reservoirs to the brim and rainfall reduces demand, but not every year.

    “What we’re seeing is a lot more variability in the swings,” Wells says, noting that water managers study tree rings, climate change models and other data to try to predict what lies ahead.

    “While our demand has flattened and we’re serving more customers with the same amount of water,” he says, “our supplies are becoming more variable.”

    As Wells quips, quoting baseball legend Yogi Berra, “The future ain’t what it used to be.”

    Take the Colorado River, which provides water to multiple states and Mexico. It’s been in drought conditions for 20 years and provides 60 to 70 percent of Colorado Springs Utilities’ supply.

    Climate change is causing the Southwest aridify. (Left) Since the 1930s, increasing temperatures have caused the percentage of precipitation going to evapotranspiration (ET) to increase at the expense of precipitation going to Colorado River flow, resulting in an unprecedented and still ongoing megadrought (shading) starting in 1999 (8). (Right) Higher temperatures have already reduced Colorado River flow by 13%, and projected additional warming, assuming continued high emissions of greenhouse gases, will increase ET while reducing river flow even more through the 21st century. Data on Left are 20-y running means from ref. 5, and data on Right are calculated from Representative Concentration Pathways (RCP) 8.5 multimodel Coupled Model Intercomparison Project–Phase 5 (CMIP5) ensemble temperature increases projected for the Upper Colorado River Basin combined with temperature sensitivity of −9.3%/°C estimated by ref. 5, assuming no change in precipitation. Graphic credit: Jonathan Overpeck/Brad Udall

    “We are going to reach a point, as demand continues to grow in the West and supplies become uncertain, we’re going to have to use water more efficiently and cut back some of our demand on the Colorado River,” he says.

    At present, Utilities is capable of delivering 95,000 acre feet of water on demand, but that demand is forecast to rise to 136,000 acre feet in the decades to come.

    That’s why Utilities is pursuing a multi-pronged approach to expanding its water supply.

    “With a growing population, we have to bring in more supplies,” Wells says. “Our storage needs grow as our cities grow.”

    Besides storage, Utilities wants to work more deals with agricultural users like it did in the Arkansas Valley in 2018. Another strategy might be to expand the number of non-potable systems used for irrigation. But ultimately, Utilities, like other water providers in the West, likely will be confronted with re-treating and recycling water back into its domestic delivery system.

    “In the next 30 to 50 years it may become more technically feasible to do direct potable reuse,” he says, noting that the Colorado Water Conservation Board has approved a grant for a Utilities reuse demonstration project in partnership with Aurora, Denver and Colorado School of Mines.

    From The Associated Press via The Aurora Sentinel:

    Polis’ order follows dwindling mountain snowpack, a warmer-than-average spring and far less precipitation than normal, Colorado Politics reported Wednesday. It also comes as the U.S. Drought Monitor reported this week that extreme drought expanded in northern New Mexico and eastern Colorado.

    The order also activates an state agricultural task force to determine the drought’s potential crop and cattle damage impact and the possible economic fallout for the state’s $8 billion farming industry.

    Abnormally dry conditions affect mountain and plains regions and roughly 80% of the state’s landmass is in some form of drought.

    Winter snowfall was low in most of Colorado and May precipitation was less than half of normal, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service, a branch of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

    Reservoir levels are dwindling in southern and southwestern Colorado, including the agricultural San Luis Valley and the Gunnison River Basin, the service said.

    Becky Bolinger, a climatologist at Colorado State University’s Colorado Climate Center, said high winds, low humidity, high temperatures and lack of precipitation have produced a “flash drought” situation with higher than normal water evaporation in much of the state that particularly affects agriculture.

    The summer promises higher temperatures and low rainfall and the summer monsoons that deliver rain from the southwest won’t make up for current conditions, Bolinger said.

    Here’s the release from the Colorado Department of Agriculture (Sara Leonard):

    Governor Jared Polis requested activation of Colorado’s Drought Task Force and Phase 2 of the State Drought Mitigation and Response Plan this week as drought conditions deepen, reaching more than 81% of the state, with severe and extreme drought conditions in 33% of the state (40 counties).

    Colorado’s Drought Task Force – which includes leadership from the Departments of Agriculture, Natural Resources, Local Affairs, Public Safety, and the Colorado Water Conservation Board – determined the need to activate Phase 2 of the Drought Plan on June 18 after a third of the state reached extreme drought conditions. “Phase 2” indicates officially directing the Drought Task Force to assess initial damages and impacts of drought in areas experiencing severe or extreme drought and to recommend mitigation measures. This Phase also activates the Agricultural Impact Task Force, which will conduct an initial assessment on physical and economic impacts and recommend opportunities for incident mitigation.

    Counties impacted by abnormally dry (D0) and moderate (D1) drought will continue to be closely monitored. The 40 counties currently experiencing severe (D2) and extreme (D3) drought include: Alamosa, Archuleta, Baca, Bent, Chaffee, Cheyenne, Conejos, Costilla, Crowley, Custer, Delta, Dolores, Eagle, El Paso, Elbert, Fremont, Garfield, Gunnison, Hinsdale, Huerfano, Kiowa, Kit Carson, La Plata, Las Animas, Lincoln, Mesa, Mineral, Montezuma, Montrose, Otero, Ouray, Pitkin, Prowers, Pueblo, Rio Grande, Saguache, San Miguel, San Juan, Washington, and Yuma.

    To stay informed on Colorado drought issues, sign up for the State’s Drought Updates or visit the Colorado Water Conservation Board website.

    From The Sterling Journal Advocate (Jeff Rice):

    The extreme northern tier of counties, including Logan County, has so far been spared from the ongoing drought. South Platte Basin reservoir levels are at 89 percent of capacity basin-wide, down a percentage point from the same time last year. In the lower reaches, irrigation reservoirs are between 76 percent of capacity at Empire and 97 percent capacity at North Sterling, again each a few percentage points down from a year ago.

    West Drought Monitor June 23, 2020.

    USFS solicits comments on proposed #Aurora dam near Holy Cross — The Aurora Sentinel

    A wetland area along Homestake Creek in an area that would be flooded by a potential Whitney Reservoir. The cities of Aurora and Colorado Springs are looking to develop additional water in Eagle County and divert it to the Front Range. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    From The Aurora Sentinel (Grand Stringer):

    The White River National Forest opened a public comment period last week concerning the next phase of a would-be reservoir project dubbed the Whitney Reservoir. Water authorities in Colorado Springs and Aurora plan to divert water near the Vail Valley — normally destined for the Colorado River — to the Front Range by way of pumps and tunnels.

    Greg Baker, Aurora Water’s manager of public relations, said in November the Whitney Reservoir could eventually hold between 9,000 acre-feet and 19,000 acre-feet of water.

    For comparison, Cherry Creek Reservoir stores more than 134,000 acre-feet.

    Aurora Water and its southern counterpart, Colorado Springs Utilities, applied for a Special Use Permit to do so. Geologists would conduct ground-level seismic analyses of the ground below and also drill up to 150 feet below the surface. Currently, the operation proposes ten drilling sites.

    The water could help Aurora meet the needs of a rapidly-expanding city while capturing water rights Aurora already holds, Baker said. He estimated the reservoir could be completed in 25 years if key steps were met, including a geological analysis.

    The Whitney Reservoir project drew early attention from Colorado River conservationists and a fishing association concerned for the health of local fish habitats and the river system. Prolonged drought and existing diversions have already diminished Colorado River flows in recent decades.

    The project could also impact pristine wetland ecosystems and would also require cutting near 500 acres from the Holy Cross Wilderness.

    Members of the public can find more information about the project on the U.S. Forest Service website. Comments can be made any time but will be “most helpful” if submitted before June 30, 2020, the Forest Service said in an information release…

    To comment on the project, or propose a different course of action, submit a comment online at https://cara.ecosystem-management.org/Public/CommentInput?Project=58221.

    Water restrictions now in effect for #ColoradoSprings Utilities’ customers — KOAA.com

    Orr Manufacturing Vertical Impact Sprinkler circa 1928 via the Irrigation Museum

    From KOAA.com:

    As of May 1 customers cannot run sprinklers or water your lawn more than three days a week. You can choose which days to water, but it’s best to spread it out.

    Also under the Water-wise Rules, you can only run sprinklers before 10 a.m. and after 6 p.m.

    Those restrictions remain in place through October 1.

    #ColoradoSprings watering rules

    Orr Manufacturing Vertical Impact Sprinkler circa 1928 via the Irrigation Museum

    From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Fredricka Bogardus):

    Adoption of permanent water conservation principles prior to a drought crisis makes sense. We live in a semiarid climate and will have periodic droughts. Long-term planning is always less costly and painful than crisis response.

    The new ordinance addresses the frequency and time of watering for those using automatic sprinkler systems.

    1. You may operate sprinklers up to three times per week, your choice of days. This is adequate frequency for turf and almost all plants that will do well in our climate.

    For more information on turf irrigation frequency check out Colorado State University fact sheet 7.199 Watering Established Lawns (https://extension.colostate.edu/topic-areas/yard-garden/watering-established-lawns-7-199/).

    2. Between May 1 and Oct. 15, sprinkler operation is prohibited from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. During the warm hours of the day, most water applied will be lost to evaporation. While it might seem to be a good idea to run the sprinklers mid-day when it is very warm, it will actually be less beneficial to the turf than watering at a cooler time of the day.

    3. Drip irrigation, watering cans and hose watering with a shut-off nozzle are allowed at any time.

    4. If you are establishing a new landscape or have other special circumstances, you can apply to Colorado Springs Utilities for a permit or allocation plan.

    5. Broken or leaking sprinkler systems are required to be repaired within 10 days.

    6. Water runoff across nonirrigated ground, street or sidewalks is prohibited.

    #Colorado water officials to hoarders during #COVID19 crisis: Quit buying bottled — @AspenJournalism #coronavirus

    City of Aspen Utilities Director Tyler Christoff and Operations Manager Justin Forman check for anchor ice formation at the city’s Maroon Creek diversion. Colorado water managers have said there is no risk to water supplies from COVID-19 and therefore no need to stock up on bottled water. Photo credit: Heather Sackett/Aspen Journalism

    From Aspen Journalism (David O. Williams):

    Municipal water providers in Aspen, Vail, Steamboat and other communities say there is no threat from COVID-19 in their water supplies and that people do not need to hoard bottled water — provided that the employees who operate the various water plants can still come to work.

    And yet, two weeks into Colorado’s crisis, you still see people exiting the state’s grocery stores with shopping carts brimming with multipacks of 4-ply Charmin or Angel Soft toilet paper. And buried under the TP, you’ll spot the 48-bottle cartons of Arrowhead or Fiji water.

    Toilet paper aside, water systems operators around the state — including ski towns, which are among the hardest-hit areas for the novel coronavirus pandemic — do not understand why people think they need to stock up on bottled water.

    “Aspen Water provides safe, high-quality water that exceeds all stringent state and federal drinking-water regulations,” said City of Aspen spokeswoman Mitzi Rapkin. “Aspen’s water-treatment methods use filtration and disinfection process which remove and inactivate viruses.”

    The same is true for Front Range water utilities.

    “We have wastewater-treatment facilities that work above and beyond the standards devised for us, so there is no worry that water would be impacted by COVID-19,” said Ryan Maecker, spokesman for Colorado Springs Utilities, where surrounding El Paso County is second only to Denver in the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the state.

    Those drinking-water standards, established by the Safe Drinking Water Act in 1974, are enforced by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

    “The water is treated and it’s disinfected, which takes care of all viruses,” said Linn Brooks, general manager of Eagle River Water and Sanitation District in eastern Eagle County, which has the third-highest number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the state.

    Officials say water should be the least of anyone’s concerns during the growing outbreak, which has prompted an unprecedented statewide stay-at-home order and has seen most nonessential businesses and schools shut down.

    “No, there are no water shortages. No, municipal water is not a vector for COVID-19,” said Zach Margolis, utility manager for Silverthorne Water & Sewer in Summit County.

    According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the coronavirus is thought to spread in the following manner: “Mainly from person-to-person between people who are in close contact with one another (within about 6 feet) … through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs.”

    Michelle Carr, distribution and collection manager for the City of Steamboat Springs Water and Sewer, attended a CDC webinar on the topic of COVID-19 and drinking-water systems.

    “It said that the coronavirus is essentially very susceptible to our disinfection processes, and that while our disinfection process targets bacteria, bacteria is less susceptible than this virus,” Carr said. “So, the fact that we’re treating for killing bacteria means that we should adequately be taking care of the COVID virus.”

    Buying bottled water during the ongoing pandemic makes no sense, she said.

    “Our water is completely safe to drink,” Carr said. “I don’t anticipate that there will ever be an issue where we’re spreading COVID-19 through the treated potable water system. The bottled water is completely unnecessary.”

    Brooks won’t speculate on why people are hoarding toilet paper, but she does have a theory regarding the stockpiling of bottled water.

    “I think (people) see communications on how to isolate at home, how to prepare to a shelter in place, how to deal with emergencies, and those instructions almost always tell you to get bottled water,” said Brooks, adding that some people inexplicably prefer to drink bottled water all the time. “I don’t particularly understand that because our water here is so great, and (bottled water) certainly has an environmental impact.”

    The approximately 10-acre-foot Leonard M. Thomas reservoir holds water diverted from Castle and Maroon creeks and serves as a holding pond to settle water before it is sent into the city’s water treatment plant. Colorado water providers have said there is no direct threat to water supplies from COVID-19. Photo credit: Jordan Curet/Aspen Daily News via Aspen Journalism

    Staffing concerns

    Various municipal, county and state emergency declarations have been enacted, covering water systems, but officials say those mostly just allow them to apply for state and federal funds or obtain additional equipment if necessary. Most water providers and wastewater-treatment operators are planning for staff shortages and doing everything they can to keep their staff healthy.

    “We are not aware of any specific threats to our water system,” said Aspen’s Rapkin. “We have taken proactive measures to isolate our operations staff in order to continue to provide this critical community resource.”

    Brooks agrees that staffing is the biggest concern as the virus spreads.

    “Our biggest risk is absenteeism of our operators,” she said. “But, that being said, we can run with a pretty lean crew even if we got into some pretty significant absenteeism, as long as it doesn’t hit everyone at once, which we don’t think is likely at all.”

    Eagle River Water and Sanitation District, which treats and provides water for users from East Vail to Wolcott along Interstate 70, took steps to mitigate against absenteeism early on.

    “We knew that that was going to be our biggest risk and that protecting our employees was the most important thing that we could do. That’s our highest priority — to keep our staff healthy,” said Brooks, who added that any staffer with a symptom of any kind must stay home from work and not return until they have been free of symptoms for 72 hours.

    Even if smaller mountain utilities were to be hit suddenly by a COVID-19 outbreak and get into staffing problems, other water-systems operators would step in to help. A cooperative venture among all utilities across the state and codified with intergovernmental agreements dictates that if a utility needs assistance, others will provide aid.

    “So, if there’s somebody that has a plant failure, and we have staffing, we will send our staffing to them,” City of Aurora Water Department spokesman Greg Baker said during a call with other Aurora and Colorado Springs water officials. “I know Colorado Springs has been heavily involved in (mutual assistance) as well, so that should really not be a major concern.”

    The desire to hoard bottled water, on the other hand, escapes officials.

    “The bottled-water hoarding is a phenomenon we do not understand, because we bring safe, high-quality drinking water to your house,” Baker said. “We deliver it for a half a penny a gallon, so why are people going out and buying water? We do not understand that at all.”

    Also, all the plastic is an environmental issue, Baker said, and transporting it around the state or out of state in bottles removes local water from Aurora’s extensive reuse system for irrigation and agriculture.

    “So, whenever people take bottled water and start shipping it out, you’re kind of losing that reusable component, and that impacts our culture because we’re so used to reusability. So that hurts us there,” Baker said. “It also hurts us through the fact that, frankly, we have some of the highest-quality water in the state, and why do you need it in a bottle? It’s as irrational as the toilet-paper hoarding.”

    Aspen Journalism collaborates with The Aspen Times and other Swift Communications newspapers on coverage of water and rivers. This story ran in the March 28 editions of The Aspen Times and the Vail Daily.

    River diversion will eliminate portaging — The Leadville Herald

    A river project, partially funded by the CWCB on the Arkansas River at Granite. The project was removing a river-wide diversion structure and replacing it with a new diversion structure that will allow unimpeded boating through Granite. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    From The Chaffee County Times (Max R. Smith) via The Leadville Herald:

    In the mid-1960s, a partnership between the cities of Colorado Springs and Aurora installed a diversion dam in the Arkansas River south of Granite near Clear Creek Reservoir as part of a pipeline system bringing water from the western slope of the Continental Divide to the Front Range.

    The presence of the diversion dam caused that portion of the river to be non-navigable, requiring portaging of one’s raft or kayak.

    By the end of this year, however, Colorado Springs Utilities is on schedule to complete a three-year project to build a new river diversion that will allow boaters to float right through, meaning that the 2020 rafting season will be the first in over 50 years in which the entirety of the Arkansas can be travelled without portage.

    “We’ll see how the snow treats us over the next couple weeks, but we’re really down to some final boulder work in the river and general site cleanup at this point,” said CSU project manager Brian McCormick.

    The intake that pumped water out of the Arkansas (which, legally speaking, comes from the Eagle River Basin as part of the Homestake Project), destined for Aurora and Colorado Springs, “as with anything in the river for 50-plus years, it took some wear and tear,” McCormick said. “By about the mid-2000s, the cities recognized we needed to rehabilitate this structure to keep it as a reliable facility and ensure safety of the river users.”

    Construction on the new $9.1 million diversion project began in 2016 after a number of years of planning, budgeting, and engineering. Support for the project included $1.2 million in grant funding from the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area, Colorado Parks and Wildlife and the Colorado Water Conservation Board…

    Significant to water consumers in Colorado Springs and Aurora, the project utilizes a new intake and piping structure to send water to the Otero pump station, he said.

    Significant to boaters is a chute constructed of boulders and mortar with six two-foot drops that will allow them to pass the intake facility without exiting the river. McCormick said that CSU put the call out to members of Colorado’s river recreation community to participate in a trial run down the chute in November, testing the Arkansas’s newest whitewater feature…

    Significant to the scaled, Omega-3 rich denizens of the Arkansas who swim upstream to spawn every year, the new diversion also features a fish ladder: a sequence of weirs and pools that give brown and rainbow trout a route to move up the river to their spawning grounds.

    Efforts to relocate an ancient wetland could help determine the fate of a water project on Lower Homestake Creek — @AspenJournalism

    A wetland area along Homestake Creek in an area that would be flooded by a potential Whitney Reservoir. The cities of Aurora and Colorado Springs are looking to develop additional water in Eagle County and divert it to the Front Range. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    From Aspen Journalism (Sarah Tory):

    One morning last month, Brad Johnson arrived at a patch of rippling yellow grasses alongside U.S. 24, a few miles south of Leadville in the upper Arkansas River valley. Sandwiched among a cluster of abandoned ranch buildings, a string of power lines and a small pond, it is an unassuming place — except, of course, for its views of 14,000-foot peaks rising across the valley.

    But appearances can be deceiving. The rather ordinary-looking property was a fen, which is a groundwater-fed wetland filled with organic “peat” soils that began forming during the last ice age and that give fens their springy feel.

    “It’s like walking on a sponge,” Johnson said, marching across the marshy ground, stopping every now and then to point out a rare sedge or grass species.

    Johnson was visiting the fen to record groundwater measurements before winter sets in. As the lead scientist for the Rocky Mountain Fen Research Project, Johnson is part of an effort spearheaded and paid for by Aurora Water and the Board of Water Works of Pueblo to study new ways to restore fens.

    The research could help facilitate future water development in Colorado, such as the potential Whitney Reservoir project, part of a 20-year water-development plan from Aurora Water and Colorado Springs Utilities for the upper Eagle River watershed. The utilities, working together as Homestake Partners, are looking at building the reservoir in the Homestake Creek valley, south of Minturn, in an area that probably contains fens, which could hinder the project.

    Aurora and Colorado Springs are working together on the reservoir project, and Aurora and Pueblo are funding the fens research. Although the Whitney project is not directly tied to the fen project, if the research efforts are successful, they could help Aurora and Colorado Springs secure a permit approval for the reservoir — and maybe alter the fate of an ecosystem.

    Brad Johnson, a wetland ecologist for the Rocky Mountain Fen Research Project, takes groundwater measurements at the research site near Leadville, while his dogs, Katie and Hayden watch. The cities of Aurora and Colorado Springs are looking to develop additional water in Eagle County and divert it to the Front Range. Photo credit: Sarah Tory/Aspen Journalism

    Irreplaceable resources

    If you’ve walked through Colorado’s high country, chances are you’ve walked by a fen, which are among the state’s most biodiverse and fragile environments. To protect fens, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Environmental Protection Agency drafted a “fen policy” in 1996. The policy, amended in 1999, determined that fens are irreplaceable resources because their soils take so long to regenerate. “On-site or in-kind replacement of peatlands is not possible,” the policy reads.

    Inside the Fish and Wildlife Service, however, a different interpretation emerged. “Irreplaceable” became “unmitigable,” making it difficult or impossible to secure approval for any project that would severely impact fens.

    Although Johnson is in favor of fen conservation, the Fish and Wildlife Service’s “unmitigable” interpretation bothered him. Not only was that status not supported by the fen policy itself, he believes saying “no” all the time is not in the best interest of fens.

    “My fear is that if we don’t have the means of mitigating our impacts, we’ll just impact them,” he said.

    Eventually, Johnson believes, conservationists will have to make some concessions to development. But by researching better mitigation techniques, he hopes he can help preserve fens in the long run.

    Fen soils are made of a rich, organic peat material that take thousands of years to form and require a constant groundwater source to survive. At the Rocky Mountain Fen Research Project, scientists transplanted fen soils from another site to the “receiver” site south of Leadville where they restored a groundwater spring to sustain the transplanted soils. Photo credit: Sarah Tory/Aspen Journalism

    An organ transplant

    For water utilities, fens have been particularly troublesome. Fens like to form in high-alpine valleys, the places best suited for dams and water reservoirs that take water from rivers mostly on the Western Slope and pump it over the mountains to supply the Front Range’s growing population.

    But the fen policy has stymied many of the utilities’ plans to develop new water projects. Those defeats helped spur Front Range utilities to start researching new mitigation strategies that would help them comply with environmental regulations — and get around the fen policy.

    “They wanted to figure out how to do this right so they could actually permit their projects,” Johnson said.

    Through the fen-research project, Aurora and Pueblo saw an opportunity to address the fen policy’s requirement that a project offset unavoidable impacts to a fen by restoring an equivalent amount of fen elsewhere.

    Since the fen project began 16 years ago, Aurora and Pueblo have invested $300,000 and $81,500 in the research, respectively. More recently, other funders have joined the effort, including Denver Water, Colorado Springs Utilities at about $10,000 each and the Colorado Water Conservation Board ($100,000).

    After a number of fits and starts, Johnson three years ago settled on a design for the research that would test whether it’s ecologically possible to transplant fen soils from one location to another. First, Johnson restored the original groundwater spring at the old Hayden Ranch property. Then, he and a team of helpers removed blocks of soil from another degraded fen site and reassembled them, like an organ transplant, at the “receiver” site, where the restored spring now flows through veinlike cobble bars and sandbars, feeding the transplanted fen.

    Brad Johnson, the lead scientist for the Rocky Mountain Fen Research Project, at the project site in the Upper Arkansas River Valley. Launched by two Front Range water utilities in 2003, the project is studying a new way to mitigate potential impacts to fens, an ecologically rich and fragile wetland found throughout Colorados’ high country. Photo credit: Sarah Tory/Aspen Journalism

    Positive signs

    It’s still too early to know whether the project could eventually serve as a fen-mitigation strategy for a new reservoir, but Johnson is optimistic about the results thus far. In 2017, after just one growing season, he was shocked to discover 67 different plant species growing at the transplanted fen site — compared with just 10 at the donor site. He was thrilled by the news. The data showed that the transplanted fen ecosystem is thriving.

    That’s good news for utilities such as Aurora, too.

    A week after Johnson visited the Rocky Mountain Fen Project site, Kathy Kitzmann gave a tour of the wetland-filled valley formed by Homestake Creek where Aurora and Colorado Springs are planning to build Whitney Reservoir.

    Kitzmann, a water resources principal for Aurora Water, drove down the bumpy, snow-covered road that winds along the valley bottom, pointing to the two creeks that would — along with Homestake Creek and the Eagle River, near Camp Hale — help fill the reservoir. A pump station would send the water upvalley to the existing Homestake Reservoir and then through another series of tunnels to the Front Range.

    In the lower part of the valley, Kitzmann stopped at the first of four potential reservoir sites — ranging in size from 6,000 acre-feet to 20,000 acre-feet — that the utilities have identified for the project and the wetlands it would inundate.

    “You can sort of see why it wouldn’t be the best, just given the vastness of the wetlands,” Kitzmann said.

    Farther along, the valley becomes more canyonlike, with higher rocky walls and fewer wetlands — probably offering a better reservoir site, said Kitzmann, although the permitting agencies won’t know for sure until they complete their initial feasibility studies.

    In June, Aurora and Colorado Springs submitted a permit application to the U.S. Forest Service to perform exploratory drilling and other mapping and surveying work, but the agency has not yet approved the permit.

    Potential fen impacts are just one of several environmental hurdles facing the project. One of the Whitney alternatives would encroach on the Holy Cross Wilderness. Aurora and Colorado Springs have proposed moving the wilderness boundary, if necessary, to accommodate the reservoir.

    It’s also likely that the wetlands in the Homestake Valley contain fens, but until the utilities conduct wetland studies around the proposed reservoir sites next summer, the scope of the impacts remains uncertain.

    Environmental groups including Colorado Headwaters, a nonprofit, oppose the Whitney Reservoir project, arguing that it would destroy one of the state’s most valuable wetlands, as well as an important habitat for wildlife and rare native plants.

    In the meantime, Aurora is hopeful that Johnson’s research might one day help solve some of the environmental problems around new water development. “We are excited about proving that you can restore and rehabilitate fens,” Kitzmann said.

    The dam in the Eagle River headwaters that forms Homestake Reservoir, which diverts water to the Front Range. If the wetlands in the Homestake Creek valley contain ancient peat bogs called fens, it could hinder the progress of the Whitney Reservoir project. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journailsm

    Inevitable impacts

    But is a transplanted fen as good as not touching one in the first place?

    A Fish and Wildlife Service spokesperson said fens are still designated a “Resource Category 1,” which means that the appropriate type of mitigation is avoidance, or “no loss.”

    White River National Forest supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams echoed the spokesperson’s statement, noting that land managers place a high emphasis on protection for fens: “It’s really hard to replace a wetland in these high elevations.”

    Johnson, asked whether he was worried that his research into fen mitigation might end up facilitating the kinds of projects that are most damaging to fens. He sighed. “I’m sensitive to that,” he said.

    But like it or not, Johnson believes that more impacts to fens are inevitable. As Colorado’s population grows, water utilities will have to build new reservoirs, the state will need new roads and ski resorts will want to expand.

    “I can’t argue with whether they should get built,” he said. “I’m just a wetlands guy.”

    Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism collaborates with the Vail Daily and other Swift Communications newspapers on coverage of water and rivers. This story appeared in the Nov. 18 print edition of the Vail Daily.

    @CSUtilities plans water and wastewater rate increases for January 1, 2020

    Colorado Springs circa 1910 via GhostDepot.com

    From the Colorado Springs Independent (Pam Zubeck):

    Utilities plans water and wastewater rate increases, effective Jan. 1, that would drive up the typical residential bill by $5.71 a month, a commercial bill by $7.90, and an industrial bill by $99.55.

    Fish ladders and boat chutes part of a massive dam rebuild on the #ArkansasRiver — @ColoradoSun

    Homestake Arkansas River Diversion. Photo credit: Colorado Springs Utilities

    From Colorado Springs Utilities:

    Project Overview / Background

    The Homestake Project is a trans-mountain raw water collection, storage, and delivery system co-owned and operated by the cities of Colorado Springs and Aurora, Colo.

    The Homestake Arkansas River Diversion (ARD), between Granite and Buena Vista, Colo., was constructed in 1964 as the original intake for the Otero Pump Station. Water is now primarily withdrawn from Twin Lakes, however the ARD remains an alternate point of diversion. The ARD has deteriorated and requires repair. The ARD was not originally designed as a navigable facility.

    Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) manages the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area (AHRA) which includes the site of the ARD. CPW expressed interest in partnering with Springs Utilities on a rehabilitation project to include a boat chute for downstream navigation as this location is currently considered the only non-navigable reach of the Arkansas River between Leadville and Canon City, Colo.

    The Upper Arkansas River is both one of the most heavily used rivers in the United States for whitewater recreation and is a Gold Medal Trout Fishery. The river is managed to support multiple objectives including water supply and delivery and outdoor recreation.

    The cities of Aurora and Colorado Springs are constructing a rehabilitation project that will replace the intake and diversion, provide a boat chute for downstream navigation, and provide upstream fish passage for spawning of brown and rainbow trout. The project also included improving river safety for recreational users and providing whitewater boat portage. User safety was an extremely important design consideration.

    A physical model was constructed to test and refine hydraulic elements to optimize performance, maximize user safety and meet design guidelines for recreational whitewater for all three components: boat chute, fish passage and the new intake structure.

    The $9 million construction cost of the project is being jointly funded by the cities of Aurora and Colorado Springs. $1.2 million in grants is coming from Colorado Parks and Wildlife and the Colorado Water Conservation Board through grant funding to support the Colorado Water Plan (Water Supply and Demand Gap and Environmental and Recreation Grant Programs). The Pueblo Board of Waterworks is donating the easements necessary to construct and maintain the diversion.

    Here’s a report from Jason Blevins writing for The Colorado Sun:

    But just below the former riverside mining camp of Granite, where a dilapidated dam built in 1964 has long blemished the Arkansas River’s beauty, rebar jutted from concrete blocks, preventing raft passage and spawning trout battled the steep wall of blasted rocks to reach upstream pools.

    “Not a lot of thought went into recreation or fish when this dam was built,” said Ronald Sanchez, an engineer with Colorado Springs Utilities.

    A lot of thought is going into fish and recreation now, as water managers in Colorado Springs and Aurora join the Colorado Water Conservation Board, the Pueblo Board of Water Works, Colorado Parks and Wildlife and the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area in rebuilding the diversion that directs water to the Front Range.

    The $9.1 million project will make the entire river from Leadville to Cañon City navigable for rafts for the first time in at least 55 years.

    It’s part of the vast Colorado Springs- and Aurora-owned Homestake Project that brings Eagle River Basin water from the Holy Cross Wilderness to the Arkansas River Basin, through the Homestake, Turquoise and Twin Lakes reservoirs for delivery to the Front Range cities.

    The cities started construction of the Arkansas River diversion in July 2018, creating three distinct channels below a rebuilt intake that serves as a backup water diversion to the Otero Pump station downstream of Twin Lakes Dam. Before the Twin Lakes Dam was built in the late 1970s, the diversion was the original intake that collected and directed water to the Otero Pump station for delivery to Aurora and Colorado Springs.

    One channel is a fish ladder for spawning brown and rainbow trout. Another channel is a spillway to accommodate flood-level flows like the ones that swelled the Arkansas River this spring. And a third is a series of six drops allowing rafts safe passage.

    The project marks a new era of collaboration between the diverse interests on the Arkansas River between Leadville and Cañon City, one of the most recreated stretches of river in the U.S.

    “For me the coolest thing about it is that you have these large water utilities in Colorado going above and beyond to do the right thing for the next 50 years,” said Salida-based whitewater park engineer Mike Harvey.

    Ten years ago, Harvey helped the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area craft a report urging Aurora and Colorado Springs to consider recreation and fish when it came time to rebuild the Granite Dam diversion…

    The Arkansas River accounts for more than $74 million of the $177 million in economic impact created by commercial rafting in Colorado. The 102 miles of river in the Upper Arkansas River Valley also ranks among the 322 miles of Colorado waterways that qualify as Gold Medal Fisheries that can yield a dozen large trout per acre. It also supplies a large percentage of water to Colorado Springs and Aurora via the 66-inch pipeline that runs from the Otero Pump Station.

    Rebecca Mitchell, the executive director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, said the project exemplifies the collaboration of the Colorado Water Plan, which gathered perspectives from all types of water users in the state to create a policy roadmap for future water planning across the state.

    Colorado Parks and Wildlife and the conservation board provided $1.2 million in funding through Colorado Water Plan grant programs.

    Blue-green algae found at Pikeview Reservoir — @CSUtilities

    Cyanobacteria. By NASA – http://microbes.arc.nasa.gov/images/content/gallery/lightms/publication/unicells.jpg, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5084332

    Here’s the release from Colorado Springs Utilities:

    There is an increasing occurrence of toxic blue-green algae in reservoirs across the United States this year, forcing the limitation of recreational access to the bodies of water for public safety.

    In a recent test at Pikeview Reservoir, a popular fishing lake in central Colorado Springs and part of our water system, the bacteria was identified.

    While the reservoir is still safe for fishing, as a precautionary meaure, humans and pets are prohibited from entering the water until further notice. Anglers are directed to thoroughly clean fish and discard guts.

    We have removed Pikeview as a source for drinking water until the reservoir is determined to be clear of the algae. There are no concerns about this affecting water supply for our community.

    Presumptive testing has indicated levels of less than 5 mcg/L.

    Sickness including nausea, vomiting, rash, irritated eyes, seizures and breathing problems could occur following exposure to the blue-green algae in the water. Anyone suspicious of exposure with onset of symptoms should contact their doctor or veterinarian. For questions regarding health impacts of exposure, contact the El Paso County Health Department or Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

    Warming temperatures have contributed to the growth of the bacteria.

    From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Liz Henderson):

    The popular fishing lake that lies just south of Garden of the Gods Road tested above acceptable limits for the bacteria the news release read. The water is still safe to fish in, but humans and pets are not allowed. Anglers are asked to clean the fish thoroughly and remove guts, according to the news release.

    The reservoir has been removed as a drinking water source, Utilities stated, however there are no concerns about the tainted water affecting the community.

    Aurora, Colorado Springs move toward building additional Homestake reservoir — The Aurora Sentinel

    A wetland area along Homestake Creek in an area that would be flooded by a potential Whitney Reservoir. Aurora and Colorado Springs, seeking to build the reservoir, have recently submitted a drilling application to the U.S. Forest Service to search for fatal flaws in the geology under four potential dam alignments. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    From The Aurora Sentinel (Grant Stringer):

    Local officials say damming a creek between Leadville and Minturn — and routing water normally flowing into the Colorado River — is necessary to sate the future thirsts of a city growing on land where water is scarce.

    Aurora Water and Colorado Springs Utilities recently applied together for a permit to drill underground near the creek and test where a large Whitney Reservoir would be best situated.

    Aspen Journalism first reported the early step to build the reservoir.

    For the dam, the utilities are eyeing four possible locations about six miles southwest of Red Cliff.

    But damming Homestake Creek would also require moving the boundary of the Holy Cross Wilderness, affecting ancient, pristine wetlands.

    Greg Baker, Aurora Water’s manager of public relations, said the Whitney Reservoir could be built in 25 years if key steps such as test drilling on Forest Service land are approved.

    Baker said it’s another creative step to make sure that Aurora doesn’t go dry.

    “You don’t leave anything on the table when you’re in Colorado, because most of the water has been appropriated in river basins,” he said.

    Baker said the reservoir could eventually hold anywhere from 9,000 acre-feet to 19,000 acre-feet of water. The water would then be pumped near Leadville and travel to the Front Range through tunnels to the South Platte River basin.

    Currently, only Aurora and Colorado Springs would benefit, Baker said.

    The project is another alliance between Aurora Water and Colorado Springs Utilities. The two cities — the state’s largest behind Denver — are both growing quickly. Baker said the new reservoir could help ensure the taps keep flowing, especially in an era with snowpack decreases that imperil creeks and rivers.

    A map prepared by Aurora Water that shows a potential 500-acre adjustment to the Holy Cross Wilderness boundary near the potential Whitney Reservoir on lower Homestake Creek. The map as current as of July 16, 2019.

    From The Colorado Springs Independent (Pam Zubeck):

    The two partners in the transmountain Homestake project have applied to the U.S. Forest Service to drill for soils testing at four potential dam sites.

    The Aspen news agency also reported the partners must obtain congressional and presidential approvals to adjust the Holy Cross Wilderness boundary to accommodate a dam.

    If the reservoir is built, water would be pumped through a tunnel under the Continental Divide to Turquoise Reservoir at Leadville and on to the two cities.

    Turrquoise Reservoir, which stores water brought under the Continental Divide from the Eagle, Fryingpan and Roaring Fork river headwaters.

    @CSUtilities Partners with Forest Agencies to Invest $15 Million in Watershed Restoration — Colorado State Forest Service

    Here’s the release from the Colorado State Forest Service:

    Colorado Springs Utilities, the U.S. Forest Service Rocky Mountain Region and Colorado State Forest Service (CSFS) announced their plans to invest $15 million, over a five-year period, in forest and watershed restoration projects. These projects will occur on more than 11,000 acres in Colorado Springs Utilities’ critical watersheds located on the White River and Pike-San Isabel National Forests

    Today’s announcement comes as part of a signing event held at the Mesa Conservation Center to kick off the second phase of watershed restoration efforts.

    The U.S. Forest Service Rocky Mountain Region and Colorado Springs Utilities have been in partnership since 2013, and together, have reduced the risk of catastrophic wildfire, restored forests impacted by wildfire, and minimized erosion and sedimentation in reservoirs to over 12,000 acres of National Forest System lands.

    “We understand the obligation to the nearly 480,000 customers within the Colorado Springs Utilities area and the importance of healthy watersheds. Thus, we place heavy emphasis on partnerships like these, which allow us to keep clean water flowing to our local communities while maintaining resilient and productive forest lands,” Regional Forester, Brian Ferebee stated.

    “Our dedication to conservation and natural resource sustainability has been amplified with the inclusion of the Colorado State Forest Service.”

    View of Pikes Peak from the South Catamount Reservoir. Photo: Andy Schlosberg, CSFS

    The agreement, which now extends the existing partnership to the CSFS, expands the capacity to implement priority projects, leverage state resources, and balance national, state and local priorities. Since 1987, Colorado Springs Utilities has partnered with the CSFS to manage forests on 13,000-acres in the Pikes Peak Watershed. Their work to protect water quality, improve water yields, and identify and reduce wildfire risk, have dramatically improved forest health.

    Together, the partnership promotes an “all lands” approach that addresses watershed and forest health challenges on the National Forest System and neighboring lands.

    Forest & watershed health projects

    “The destruction of Waldo Canyon required a huge investment from Colorado Springs Utilities to repair damaged water infrastructure and restore severely burned watersheds,” said Earl Wilkinson, Chief Water Services Officer, Colorado Springs Utilities. “Our continued partnership with the U.S. Forest Service and Colorado State Forest Service will enable critical preventative measures to protect our drinking water supply.”

    Under the 2019-2023 program, Colorado Springs Utilities will invest $7.5 million in forest and watershed health projects within critical watersheds. This funding will be matched dollar for dollar by the U.S. Forest Service and the CSFS for a total value of approximately $15 million.

    Management activities associated with these projects will include forest thinning, prescribed fire, invasive species management, road and trail improvements, and stream improvements.

    “Through partnerships like this one, land managers and water providers in Colorado can help ensure clean, reliable water for present and future generations,” said Mike Lester, State Forester and CSFS Director.

    Colorado Springs Utilities has a large mountain water system with many reservoirs and other infrastructure located on U.S. Forest Service Land. Forest restoration and wildfire fuels reduction projects will take place within watersheds near Colorado Springs, including the vicinity of Pikes Peak, the headwaters of the Arkansas River, surrounding Homestake Reservoir on the Eagle River, and in the Blue River watersheds.

    The projects will reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfires and post-fire sedimentation and erosion upstream of Colorado Springs Utilities’ reservoirs and other water delivery infrastructure.

    For details contact:

    Colorado State Forest Service – Ryan Lockwood, (970) 491-8970, ryan.lockwood@colostate.edu
    U.S. Forest Service – Lawrence Lujan, (303) 815-9902, lawrence.lujan@usda.gov

    The wet spring = $3.4 million drop in sales for @CSUtilities in May but beats forecast

    Colorado Springs with the Front Range in background. Photo credit Wikipedia.

    From The Colorado Springs Independent (Pam Zubeck):

    A damp spring that’s pushed Colorado Springs above its normal rainfall total translates to about $3.4 million less in water sales for Colorado Springs Utilities through May this year compared to the same five months last year.

    The dip in sales likely is related to customers curtailing irrigation of lawns, golf courses and other vegetation.

    Last year, Utilities collected $64.7 million in water sales through May, compared to this year’s $61.3 million.

    The biggest gap between last year and this year came in May when Utilities’ water revenue totaled $18.3 million compared to $23.3 million in May 2018.

    Water consumption in May 2018 stood at 2.9 billion gallons, compared to 2 billion gallons in May this year.

    Because Utilities forecasted sales through May 2019 at $18 million but brought in $18.3 million, “We were OK,” says Utilities spokesperson Natalie Watts.

    “In general,” she says via email, “when we do forecasting we tend to [err] on the side of conservativeness because we don’t want to get ourselves into a financial hardship. This is especially true during the months of May and October because the weather can be so different during those two months from year to year. We try to build in a little bit of a cushion in case of a bad year.”

    #Runoff news: Upper #ColoradoRiver reservoir releases planned to bolster streamflow for #endangered fish #COriver

    Katie Creighton and Zach Ahrens both native aquatics biologists for Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (UDWR) standing on the temporary Matheson screen. The Nature Conservancy and UDWR partnered together to build the structure to allow the endangered razorback sucker larvae to enter the Scott M. Matheson Wetlands Preserve without the predators also coming in. Courtesy & Copyright Katie Creighton, Photographer via Utah Public Radio

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

    Entities including Front Range water utilities and the Bureau of Reclamation on Friday began coordinating water releases from upstream reservoirs in a voluntary effort to prolong peak runoff flows in what’s called the 15-Mile Reach upstream of the confluence with the Gunnison River. It’s a critical stretch of river for four endangered fish — the humpback chub, razorback sucker, bonytail chub and the Colorado pikeminnow.

    River flows at Cameo exceeded 20,000 cubic feet per second Saturday. The coordinated reservoir operations are intended to slow the decline of high flows, sustaining those flows for three to five days this week. The first releases from the coordinated program were expected to arrive Monday night; the flows at Cameo earlier Monday were at 18,900 cfs, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

    Strong flows help remove fine sediment from cobble bars that serve as spawning habitat for the fish, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. They also help reconnect the river to backwaters where the fish, especially at the larval stage, can find refuge from the stronger river flows, said Don Anderson, a hydrologist with the agency.

    The releases are being made possible by this year’s ample winter snowpack, which means reservoir operators can release reservoir water without risking the ability to fill the reservoirs.

    Anderson said that in some years the releases are coordinated with the goal of raising peak flows to beneficial levels, but this year the peak flows were high enough it was decided that the reservoir water instead could be used to prolong those flows.

    According to a Fish and Wildlife Service news release, under the coordinated operations:

  • The Bureau of Reclamation is increasing releases at Ruedi Reservoir and Green Mountain Reservoir, with the Green Mountain releases including inflows bypassed by Dillon Reservoir, operated by Denver Water.
  • Denver Water is likely to increase releases from Williams Fork Reservoir.
  • Homestake Reservoir, operated by Colorado Springs Utilities, may participate in the releases after peak flows on the Eagle River recede.
  • The Windy Gap Reservoir and Pump Station, operated by Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, will delay pumping water to Granby Reservoir.
  • The current effort follows reservoir releases by the Bureau of Reclamation earlier this spring on the Gunnison River to boost flows for endangered fish there. In both cases, the efforts are planned in a way intended to keep from resulting in flooding impacts downstream.

    Anderson said the coordinated spring operations on the upper Colorado River started in 1997, and by his count have occurred in 11 years since beginning…

    He said that while the coordinated releases target the 15-Mile Reach, their benefits extend as far as Moab, Utah, improving management of a river floodplain wetlands there that is being used to help in the recovery of razorback suckers.

    Entities including the Colorado River Water Conservation District, Grand Valley Water User Association, Orchard Mesa Irrigation District, Palisade Irrigation District, National Weather Service, Colorado Basin River Forecast Center, Colorado Water Conservation Board, and Xcel Energy also participate in the coordinated reservoir operations effort.

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

    The river is flowing so fast right now that people can float the entire 25-mile Ruby-Horsethief stretch in a day — even as few as four or five hours, Baier said. He said his company is running guided one-day trips there right now and he thinks some people are realizing they can float the stretch in a day rather than needing to make reservations for Bureau of Land Management campgrounds.

    In Glenwood Canyon, raft companies currently aren’t running the Shoshone stretch of the Colorado River due to strong flows, as is typical this time of year. Ken Murphy, owner of Glenwood Adventure Co., said that closure might last perhaps a week longer this year than in a normal year. He said the Shoshone rapids have a brand appeal and people want to raft there, but high water provides lots of other good rafting options. Last year, the Roaring Fork River didn’t provide much of a rafting season, but this year is different. While it usually offers good rafting until maybe the first or second week of July, “now we’re going to be on it we hope maybe until August,” Murphy said.

    He said the Roaring Fork offers beautiful scenery away from Interstate 70 and sightings of bald eagles and other wildlife. And rapids that are usually rated Class 2 are currently Class 3.

    “It gives people enough whitewater to get wet but not scare them,” he said.

    Colorado River trips that put in at the Grizzly Creek area of Glenwood Canyon below Shoshone also are heading farther downstream than normal right now, to New Castle, due to the fast-flowing water, Murphy said…

    Murphy said his company also owns Lakota Guides in Vail. He said the Eagle River in Eagle County will be good for rafting for longer this summer due to the big water year, meaning the company can continue offering trips to guests there rather than having to bus them to Glenwood Springs or the upper Arkansas River. He said the Blue River in Summit County also will benefit from a longer boating season.

    The board of the Fort Lyons Canal Company approves water sale to #ColoradoSprings

    Straight line diagram of the Lower Arkansas Valley ditches via Headwaters

    From The Bent County Democrat (Bette McFarren and Jolene Hamilton):

    An agreement between a member of the Lower Arkansas Water Management Association and the City of Colorado Springs will allow water originally allocated for agricultural use in the Lower Ark to be used for municipal purposes.

    The pact, which was approved by the board of the Fort Lyon Canal Company, was announced Thursday.

    “Colorado Springs Utilities purchased 2,500 LAWMA shares for $8.75 million and also will reimburse LAWMA $1.75 million for 500 acre-feet of water storage,” said a LAWMA press release announcing the arrangement. “This storage will give LAWMA added flexibility to manage its water rights both in times of drought and excess.”

    “We are appreciative of the Fort Lyon Canal Company board’s approval of this use of the water,” said Don Higbee, LAWMA general manager, in the release. “The agreement with Colorado Springs will benefit many farmers in the Lower Arkansas River Valley. We will gain a more reliable water supply that will increase crop yields for the average shareholder in both wet and dry years.”

    The release went on to say, “Colorado Springs Utilities acquired about 2,000-acre-feet of water from a LAMWA member, Arkansas River Farms in July. The agreement allows LAMWA members and Colorado Springs Utilities to take water deliveries alternately 5 out of 10 years.”

    Dale Mauch, FLCC board president, told The La Junta Tribune-Democrat that Colorado Springs will get to choose the years it wants the water delivered.

    “They’ll wait for the wet years, because they’ll get more water,” said Mauch. “They have water in storage in Pueblo.”

    Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District – whose stated mission is “To acquire, retain and conserve water resources within the Lower Arkansas River” – expressed his displeasure with the agreement.

    “They will take 71 percent of the water,” he told the La Junta Tribune-Democrat. “That water will never come back to the land. It’s a buy-and-dry.”

    Mauch, who is also the FLCC representative to the Super Ditch, said in a telephone interview, “Fort Lyon had nothing to do with LAWMA selling some storage. No damage to Fort Lyon. Not a lot of damage as long as nobody below or in Fort Lyon gets hurt. We don’t have a problem with it. What would hurt is being shorted water.

    “It’s set up so everybody gets the same as always. LAWMA’s water stays in, but instead of irrigating land with the water, they dump it back. That percentage gets held up for Colorado Springs – the consumptive use of that amount – that’s what a crop would use. That percent has to stay in the river to keep people from being injured.

    “The water must stay in the canal. Their water on those shares will run back to the river. Colorado Springs pays LAWMA so much for water, five out of ten years.”

    Five out of ten years is too much, argues Winner, who added that Bent County could be the real loser in the deal. No revenue is headed its way, and county residents could suffer from the loss of commerce.

    Winner is also concerned that Colorado Springs won’t stop here.

    “If you look at Colorado Springs, their water right portfolio isn’t very good,” he said. “Eighty percent of it is West Slope water. What we have heard is that they will be 23,000 acre-feet short by the year 2030. That’s about 22,000 shares of the Fort Lyon Canal. I think with the project (LAWMA is) doing right now, they’re just dipping their toe in the water, and they plan to take all that water from the Fort Lyon canal.”

    While Winner admits it is legal for LAWMA to pursue this project, he said the LAVWCD has the right to try and stop it.

    “In this administration, people don’t want to see the buy-and-dry of agriculture any longer,” said Winner. “This district was put here to keep water in the Arkansas Valley, and that’s what we plan on doing.”

    #ColoradoSprings councillors approve @CSUtilities 2019 budget

    Colorado Springs with the Front Range in background. Photo credit Wikipedia.

    From KOAA (Tyler Dumas):

    Tuesday, the Colorado Springs City Council unanimously approved the 2019 budget and rates for Colorado Springs Utilities customers.

    The city said local water and wastewater systems are old and in need of ongoing repair and refurbishment.

    According to the city, the typical residential wastewater customer will see an increase of about $0.88 per month. The city said this increase, the first since 2010, is largely due to inflationary costs…

    Typical residential water customers will experience a monthly increase of $3.80, according to the city. This funding supports a “significant” upgrade to the Phillip H. Tollefson Water Treatment plan, as well as work to repair water mains, according to the city.

    The city also said that most commercial and industrial customers will also experience increases to base rates for wastewater and water services.

    Springs Utilities has an online bill calculator available to see how these changes will affect individuals and commercial customers. An Understanding Your Bill video is also available to assist customers.