Jack Holmes: One solution to numerous water projects — The Vail Daily “Valley Voices”

Eagle River Basin

Here’s a guest column about water projects for the upper Eagle River Valley, from Jack Holmes, that’s running in theThe Vail Daily:

There are at least five water-related project proposals being considered for the Upper Eagle River Valley from Dowd Junction to the top of Tennessee Pass in the next 50 years. These include several tributaries of the Eagle River.

One combined project could take care of all major stakeholders and turn the area into a model for the future. The alternative will be five decades of litigation and a patchwork of projects that will be costly to all communities.

It is not about who will get the water. That is settled by Colorado Water Law and the 1989 Memorandum of Understanding. It is about whether the parties involved will work together, which happened during the drought of the early 2000s, or go in separate directions, which was the case during the middle 1950s.

The common project would be an Upper Eagle Pipeline and Storage Co. from Dowd Junction to Tennessee Pass. Storage, if needed, could be at Bolts Lake and Camp Hale. The 20-mile-long pipeline would follow the route of the Eagle River, the Railroad, the U.S. 24 highway or some combination thereof depending on what works and preserves the existing scenic corridor between Dowd Junction and Tennessee Pass.

That is the lowest continental divide pass in the Central Rockies. Those wanting to move or store water would need to pay accordingly. A trench and bury pipeline approach would seem to a good approach.

This proposal would give all major parties what they need at a reasonable cost. Memorandum of Understanding obligations could be met. To be sure, this would require some compromise. Camp Hale restoration might need to shift from some limited and expensive wetland restorations to a series of small reservoirs but probably would get more visitors to honor the 10th Mountain Division. Extensive wetlands are a few miles away on Homestake Creek in the original Camp Hale boundaries.

Building the one project pipeline and reservoirs would require funding, but it should cost less than tunnels, which are problematic to begin with because of potential seismic activity that would destroy the tunnels. In fact, the concept could be sold as a demonstration project worthy of grant funding.

While moving of water is not attractive to environmentalists, the concentration of project impacts in a well-established corridor makes sense. To be sure, the rail corridor would need to be preserved for possible future use, but an adjoining pipeline could be helpful in this regard.

If Front Range communities are more willing to pay for initial construction than Western Slope entities, the first phase of the project could start at the junction of Fall Creek and the Eagle River.

A major environmental question is how much effort should be spent to erase existing environmental impacts in the Eagle River and its Homestake Creek tributary basins above their lower Red Cliff junction. Such actions could merely shift impacts to the other basin at great public and environmental expense.

Anybody familiar with these issues knows that this proposal is a simplified summary. However, it also is known that 50 years in court and countless engineering and field hours can be curtailed by working together. The public has every right to insist that every attempt be made to arrive at a unified approach. While there are some good studies of limited areas, consideration of the larger area is missing at this point.

Jack Holmes is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Hope College in Holland, Mich., and vice-chair of the Holy Cross Wilderness Defense Fund. He has backpacked in the Holy Cross Wilderness since 1959 and is a summer resident on Homestake Creek above Red Cliff. For many years, he taught a summer course on wilderness politics.

Minturn councillors say no to water project

Mountains reflect off of Bolts Lake, back in the day, as seen from US 24 S in Colorado. Photo via
LessBeatenPaths.com.

From The Vail Daily (Edward Stoner):

Minturn turned down a proposal Wednesday that would have provided enough water for substantial growth within the town, including the Battle Mountain developer’s proposal to build up to 712 homes near Maloit Park and Tigiwon Road.

The Minturn Town Council voted 7-0 to deny the proposed deal between Minturn, the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District and the Battle Mountain developer.

Most residents who spoke at the meeting opposed the deal.

“We need to control our water,” said Minturn resident Woody Woodruff. “We can’t turn over that control to somebody else, because water is going to set the future of this town.”

The developer had asked for a decision to approve or deny the deal Wednesday.

Earle Bidez, mayor pro tem, cited continued concerns on the part of Minturn with the agreement — as well as an increasingly “negative” tone from the developer.

“We have not been able to reach a deal with the district,” he said. “We didn’t get far enough with Battle Mountain to know what we would have ended up with. But I don’t think we can get there from listening to (residents) for the last few months. The negotiation would have to change very much to get there.”

Minturn currently provides its own water from Cross Creek, separate from the rest of the valley’s supply. But the water from Cross Creek is limited — more water is needed if the town wants to grow significantly.

Under the proposal, the developer would have paid for a $5.6 million water pipe, or “interconnect,” that would have connected the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District’s water supply to Minturn’s, providing more water for growth and a redundant supply in case of emergency. The developer also offered more than $3 million in other infrastructure improvements for Minturn, whose aging water system is in need of significant repairs.

The deal also would have allowed the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District to build a $48 million reservoir at Bolts Lake, which is now dry.

It would have been contingent upon the developer receiving the approvals it needs to build the 712 homes.

Cross Creek Trail. By Photo credit: Kim Fenske, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=12597269

Piping a +100 year-old ditch will leave 40% more water in Abrams Creek for fish #EagleRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver

Cutthroat trout historic range via Western Trout

From The Vail Daily (John LaConte):

On Thursday, representatives from Trout Unlimited, Colorado Parks & Wildlife, the Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Colorado Water Conservation Board, Eagle River Watershed Council, the Town of Gypsum, the Buckhorn Valley Metropolitan District and Scott Green Excavating raised a toast to the completion of a pipeline from the creek which replaces a more than 100-year old ditch…The more than $1 million project hinges on the fish screen and the data collection station. If water levels aren’t recording properly, Buckhorn Valley won’t know when they’re able to divert, as they’ve agreed to take water only when stream levels are above 1.25 cubic feet per second.

That agreement saw some referee action in water court, said attorney Steve Bushong, who helped the metro district obtain a judge’s decree which confirmed that the project can go forward without impacting the metro district’s water rights. The decree came through in November after a slight holdup from the city of Aurora, which diverts water out of Eagle County to the Front Range via Homestake Reservoir.

“Aurora stipulated out of that case; they just asked for some kind of no precedent language, which we were able to work out and include,” Bushong said…

Mefford screen
Another complicated part of the project is the diversion point itself — if it doesn’t allow fish to pass through safely from both sides, the whole project will have been in vain.

Designed by hydraulic/fish passage engineer Brent Mefford, the Abrams Creek fish screen benefits from Mefford’s many years of research with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation studying screen layout, orientation to channel flow, debris management and use of isolation gates.

“Having a fish person design a screen, they understand fish behavior,” said Kendall Bakich with Colorado Parks & Wildlife. “The way this screen is designed, it allows the fish to swim on the screen if it gets in there.”

On Thursday, members of Colorado Parks & Wildlife witnessed the fish screen working properly from both directions.

“Within 10 minutes (of arriving at the site) we had a fish in here,” Bakich said while examining the fish screen on Thursday. “It worked just like it should.”

Learn more about the project at tu.org.

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.

#Aurora, #ColoradoSprings seek to drill on lower Homestake Creek dam sites — @AspenJournalism #ColoradoRiver #EagleRiver #CORiver #aridification

Homestake Creek, flowing toward the Eagle River, near the Alternative A dam site being studied by Aurora Water and Colorado Springs Utilities, about three miles up Homestake Road from U.S. 24. The photo was taken on July 13, 2019. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

From Aspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith):

The cities of Aurora and Colorado Springs are increasing their efforts to develop a reservoir on lower Homestake Creek in the Eagle River basin that would hold between 6,850 acre-feet and 20,000 acre-feet of water.

The two Front Range cities, working together as Homestake Partners, have filed an application with the U.S. Forest Service to drill test bores at four potential dam sites on the creek, renowned for its complex wetlands.

They briefed members of Colorado’s Congressional delegation in April about federal legislation they are drafting that would adjust the Holy Cross Wilderness boundary near the dam sites.

And Aurora spent $4.1 million in 2018 to purchase a 150-acre private inholding parcel that accounts for about half the surface area of the 20,000-acre-foot version of the reservoir, removing one obstacle in the way of submitting a comprehensive land-use application to the Forest Service.

“We are in preparation to permit this overall project, to try and get that larger application in, so every piece of the project has had more time and effort spent on it,” said Kathy Kitzmann, a water resources principal with Aurora Water.

One of four potential dam sites on lower Homestake Creek, about four miles above U.S. 24, between Minturn and Leadville. From this location, the dam that forms Homestake Reservoir higher up the creek can be seen. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

Eagle River MOU

The Whitney Reservoir project is defined in part by the Eagle River Memorandum of Understanding, a 1998 agreement that gives Aurora and Colorado Springs a basis to pursue 20,000 acre-feet of water from the Western Slope.

Parties to the MOU include Aurora, Colorado Springs, Climax Molybdenum Co., Colorado River Water Conservation District, Eagle River Water and Sanitation District, Upper Eagle Regional Water Authority, and Vail Associates.

Peter Fleming, the River District’s general counsel, told the district’s board in a July 1 memo that the River District is “not participating in any Homestake Creek based alternative at this time, this effort is now being carried forward solely by the Homestake Partners.”

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.”

A view, from the Alternative A dam site, of the Homestake Creek valley. The triangle shape in the distance is the dam that forms Homestake Reservoir. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

Serious intent

Whitney Reservoir takes its name from Whitney Creek, which flows into Homestake Creek just above the four potential dam alignments now being studied. The dam that would form Whitney Reservoir would stand across Homestake Creek, not Whitney Creek. Homestake Creek flows into the Eagle River at Red Cliff.

Asked how serious the two cities are about the Whitney Reservoir project, Kevin Lusk, the principal engineer at Colorado Springs Utilities, said, “We’ve been serious about it for the last 20 years.”

And he said the recent drilling application “is another step in the continuum from concept to reality.”

On June 25, the two cities submitted an application with the Eagle-Holy Cross Ranger District for permission from the White River National Forest to drill 13 test bores 150 feet to explore the geology under the four sites.

The sites are clustered on the creek between 3 and 5 miles above the intersection of U.S. 24 and Homestake Road, shown as Forest Road 703 on most maps. The intersection is not far below Camp Hale, between Minturn and Leadville.

The drilling application says Aurora and Colorado Springs are conducting “a fatal-flaw level reservoir siting study” that “comprises subsurface exploration to evaluate feasibility of dam construction on lower Homestake Creek.”

White River National Forest supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams said review of the drilling application itself is “fairly standard stuff.”

“We’ll definitely send out a scoping statement, asking for public comment, but it won’t be about a dam,” he said. “It will be about drilling the holes.”

Each of the 13 borings would take up to five days to drill, so there could be 65 days of drilling this fall or, if the application is not approved this year, in 2020, according to Lusk.

The project includes taking a “track-mounted drill rig or a buggy-mounted drill rig,” a “utility vehicle pulling a small trailer” and a “track-mounted skid steer” onto public lands along 10-foot-wide “temporary access routes.”

The drill rigs are about 8 feet wide, 22 feet long and 8 feet high. To get the rigs to drilling sites, some wetlands may need to be crossed and trees will be cut as necessary.

The information about the geology under the four sites will help determine the size of a dam on a given alignment and how much water a reservoir would hold, Lusk said. And that could affect how much wilderness area might be encroached on.

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.

Wilderness boundary

Given that Aurora and Colorado Springs are still working through various options, it’s not clear yet how big of an adjustment to the wilderness boundary they might ultimately seek from Congress.

The current proposed legislation developed by the cities asks to remove 497 acres from the wilderness boundary, but it is also expected to include a reversion provision so if all 497 acres are not needed, the boundary adjustment could be reduced.

According to Lusk, in one the of the alternatives studied, about 80 acres would need to be removed from the wilderness area if Whitney Reservoir was to hold 20,000 acre feet of water. However, the cities have yet to rule out the option of building an alternate reservoir below the Whitney Reservoir location – Blodgett Reservoir – which could require a larger boundary adjustment, although not the full 497 acres.

An adjustment to a wilderness boundary requires an act of Congress and the president’s signature. In April, representatives from the two cities described the potential boundary change to staffers of U.S. Sens. Michael Bennet and Cory Gardner and U.S. Reps. Scott Tipton, Jason Crow, Joe Neguse and Doug Lamborn.

Fitzwilliams said Monday the Forest Service won’t accept a full-blown land-use application for Whitney Reservoir until the wilderness boundary issue has been worked out through federal legislation, if that is still needed after the final version of the reservoir is better defined.

Kitzmann said she is reaching out to stakeholders to continue to refine the legislative language and the map showing the extent of the proposed boundary change.

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

Wetlands and fens

On another front, Aurora Water and Colorado Springs Utilities staffers are hosting a tour this week for the directors of the Colorado Water Conservation Board of the Homestake Plant and Fen Relocation Project, near Leadville.

The CWCB directors, holding their July meeting in Leadville, also will hear a presentation at their meeting about the fen-relocation effort, which consists of moving “fen-like organic soils and plant life” from one location in blocks or bales to another location and “reassembling them in a specially prepared groundwater-fed basin.”

Many regulatory agencies do not believe it’s possible to re-create complex fen wetlands, according to a CWCB staff memo, but that regulatory stance “may be related to the lack of scientific investigation on fen mitigation.”

A 2016 study estimated between 26 and 180 acres of wetlands on lower Homestake Creek would be impacted by Whitney Reservoir.

“This is one of the finest wetlands we can find on our forest — it’s unbelievable,” Fitzwilliams said. “From an environmental impact standpoint, this would not be a project that we would be favorable to.”

But Lusk said the fen-relocation project near Leadville is “proof of concept” that replacing fens, while “a tough nut to crack,” can be done.

Fitzwilliams may be hard to persuade.

“You can mitigate,” he said, “but you can’t replace 10,000 years of work.”

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.
Homestake Reservoir, which is partially in Pitkin County, but mainly in Eagle County. Below the reservoir the Homestake Creek valley is visible, as well as short section of what’s known as Homestake Road. Water held in the potential Whitney Reservoir would be pumped up to Homestake Reservoir and then sent to the Front Range. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

Forebay and pumping

Despite the wetlands and wilderness challenges, Lusk and Kitzmann said no fatal flaws have been found yet in what they view as an important future element of their water-supply systems.

The new reservoir would serve as a collection point for water brought in via tunnels from the Eagle River and Fall and Peterson creeks, and for water captured from Homestake Creek.

The reservoir would also serve as a forebay, as the water captured in Whitney Reservoir would be pumped 7 miles up to Homestake Reservoir. Once there, it can be sent through a tunnel under the Continental Divide to Turquoise Reservoir, near Leadville, and then on to Aurora and Colorado Springs.

The two cities own and manage Homestake Reservoir, the upper end of which is in Pitkin County. The reservoir opened in 1967 and normally stores 43,600 acre-feet of water from seven high-mountain creeks behind a 231-foot-tall dam. About 25,000 acre-feet a year is sent through the Homestake Tunnel each year to the Front Range.

Homestake Partners also has a conditional water-storage right from 1995 to store 9,300 acre-feet of water behind a potential 110-foot-tall dam in what is called Blodgett Reservoir, located on Homestake Creek below the Whitney Reservoir sites. Blodgett Reservoir also has a longer history, and has been viewed as an alternate location for older water rights – appropriated in 1952 and adjudicated in 1962 – that are tied to Homestake Reservoir.

Aspen Journalism covers rivers and water in collaboration with The Aspen Times and other Swift Communications newspapers. The Times published this story on Wednesday, July 17, 2019. This version includes a clarification concerning the size of the adjustment to the wilderness boundary and the date of the water rights for Blodgett Reservoir.

Town of Vail Issues Caution Regarding Use of Pesticides

Gore Creek is healthy as it emerges from the Eagles Nest Wilderness Area, but has problems soon after, via The Mountain Town News. All photos by Jack Affleck.

Here’s the release from the Town of Vail:

Many of the pesticides used to protect trees in Vail can unintentionally kill beneficial insects, both on land and in Gore Creek. As a way to reduce the negative impacts of pesticide use, town officials are asking homeowners, property managers and commercial applicators to carefully consider what they are spraying and how it is being applied, and to implement the use of Integrated Pest Management practices for all pest control.

The town’s Public Works and Environmental Sustainability departments have produced resource guides available for download here and at LoveVail.org that provide important recommendations regarding the use of pesticides in Vail. “Careful Where You Point that Thing,” a pocket guide to safe landscaping practices, fertilizer and pesticide use, is available at LoveVail.org or in print at the town offices. Homeowners can reduce the use and impacts of pesticides by considering some of the following recommendations:

  • Now that the mountain pine beetle epidemic is behind us, lodgepole pines no longer need annual spraying.
  • At the same time, a new insect, spruce beetle, is attacking natural spruce trees along Gore Creek. Attaching MCH pheromone packets to susceptible trees and removing affected trees before spring can slow their spread without the use of harmful sprays.
  • Work with a licensed applicator and request trunk and root applications over foliar applications. Improper pesticide use can be particularly harmful to aquatic insects, and can quickly wipe out sensitive species like mayflies, caddisflies and stoneflies for an entire season.
  • The Town of Vail encourages Integrated Pest Management techniques that include mechanical, cultural and biological pest control options over the use of chemicals whenever possible. These integrated resources can be found online from the Colorado State Extension office at CSU IPM.
  • Gregg Barrie, senior landscape architect, is encouraging property owners to take a few minutes to review the pesticide practices resource guides, then share your concerns about stream health to your commercial applicator and help get Gore Creek off of the list of impaired waterways.

    For more information, contact Barrie at 970-479-2337 or email gbarrie@vailgov.com.

    GoPro Mountain Games recap

    Steep Creek Championship 2016 1st Place Alec Voorhees. Photo Caleb Chicoine/Downriver Media

    From The Vail Daily (John LaConte) via The Summit Daily:

    Dane Jackson has been called the world’s best kayaker and, on Thursday, he bested boaters from all over the globe to prove the title true.

    Jackson was the only American man in the top five at the Steep Creek Championship, a timed race down Homestake Creek that doubles as the kick off to the GoPro Mountain Games every year.

    International competitors outnumbered Americans in the women’s event, with only four female competitors completing both of their preliminary round runs through the tight section of class-5 whitewater.

    Adriene Levknecht, of Greenville, South Carolina, was the fastest woman on the day.

    Colorado was well represented in the competition, with Glenwood Springs paddlers Kenny and Dally Kellogg, Peter Farmelo of Silverthorne and Alex Tansey of Kremmling holding it down as the most local kayakers in the 37-person field.

    Tansey said if they had any “home water” advantage, it was the fact that they were already acclimated to the elevation and the cold water.

    “Some of these folks aren’t used to true snowmelt water,” Tansey said. “As cold as cold can get.”

    Traveling to Colorado for the first time from Costa Rica, Arnaldo Cespedes said the water nearly paralyzed him at first.

    “Even though I was wearing a wet suit, I thought that I was going to get frozen,” he said.

    Cespedes said as a result, he didn’t perform as well as he was expecting…

    Paddlers from Chile, Argentina, Canada, France and Norway also competed.

    Second-place Gerd Serrasoles, a native of Catalonia, now calls the Columbia River Gorge home in White Salmon, Washington…

    The Ultimate Mountain Challenge tests competitors across six events of their choosing, with at least one biking and paddling event mandatory. It wraps up on Sunday with the Pepi’s Face Off, also mandatory, which sets a clock to 30 minutes and pits runners against each other in a challenge to see who can complete the most laps up the steep, 40% grade ski run at the base of Gondola One in Vail.