FromThe Vaily Daily (Randy Wyrick) via The Aspen Times:
The river part of Eagle’s ambitious river park is done, and even the fish appear to be happy about it.
Hobbs Excavating crews recently finished the fourth of four in-river features.
S2O Design, one of the world’s premier river engineering and whitewater design companies, designed the in-river features.
“This setting matches the river’s natural morphology and utilizes the existing river channel really well,” said Scott Shipley, the founder and president of S2O Design. “It will surely be a new focal point for the town.”
The in-river part of the project took two years to build, but the process started long before that with a feasibility study, then design and a detailed hydraulic modeling. The first two features were built last winter and spring when the water was low.
Crews were back in the water last fall, and finished the other two river features in late December. The features create waves, eddies, chutes, and drops to play in for anything from tubes to surfing, standup-up paddling and kayaking.
The park was the first built with S2O’s RapidBlocs that allows the features to be fine-tuned depending on water flows. That will lengthen the boating season in the park…
S2O also designed the riverbank improvements, and included a bypass channel around the two upper features serving as a recreational safe route and a fish migration pathway, and mid-stream fish channels in the lower section so fish can migrate upstream.
After Colorado Parks and Wildlife expressed some concerns about fish migration, the two features built this winter were modified, with crews installing concrete half hemispheres to make it easier for the fish to move…
In 2016 Eagle voters approved a 0.5 percent sales tax to pay for the park and trail improvements. The entire park is scheduled for completion later this spring.
The U.S. Forest Service is questioning whether the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District ever will be able to get approval to build six potential diversion dams and related tunnels and conduits in the Fryingpan River basin that are located on USFS land above 10,000 feet within the Holy Cross Wilderness.
In a statement of opposition filed last month in Division 5 water court in Glenwood Springs, attorneys for the USFS said it “cannot authorize development of these six conditional water rights … because they lie within a congressionally designated wilderness. Only the president has authority to approve water developments within the Holy Cross Wilderness.”
The USFS statement of opposition, which was the only one filed in the case (18CW3063), also said “as currently decreed, the subject water rights raise questions as to whether they can and will be perfected within a reasonable time.”
The opposition statement was submitted July 31 in response to a periodic diligence application filed with the water court by Southeastern on May 28.
Southeastern is seeking to maintain its conditional water rights that are part of the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project. The rights were decreed in 1958. Six of the rights are within the Holy Cross Wilderness, which was designated in 1980, but most are outside of it.
Southeastern, which is based in Pueblo, owns and manages the water rights for the Fry-Ark Project, which was built by the Bureau of Reclamation.
The six diversion dams inside the Holy Cross Wilderness would allow for the diversion of 10 cubic feet per second from an unnamed tributary of the North Fork of the Fryingpan River, for diversion of 135 cfs from Last Chance Creek and for 10 cfs from an unnamed tributary to Last Chance Creek, for 85 cfs from a creek called Slim’s Gulch and for 85 cfs from an unnamed tributary of Slim’s Gulch, and for 50 cfs from Lime Creek.
In all, the six conditional rights in the wilderness would allow for 375 cfs of additional diversions in the Fry-Ark Project.
The diversion structure on Lime Creek would be near pristine Halfmoon Lake, which is above Eagle Lake.
Chris Woodka, who is the issues management coordinator at Southeastern, said the conditional water rights in the wilderness “are like a bargaining chip that we really don’t want to give up.”
“If they could be developed at some point, we would still be interested in developing them, as far as getting the yield from there,” Woodka said. “But can we get more of a yield from the system using the mechanisms we have in place? Probably.”
Maximizing limited yield
The Fry-Ark Project today includes 16 diversion dams and 26 miles of tunnels and conduits on the Western Slope that move water from the Hunter Creek and Fryingpan River basins to the centrally located Boustead Tunnel, which can divert as many as 945 cfs under the Continental Divide.
The water is sent to Turquoise Reservoir near Leadville and then farther into the Arkansas River basin for use by cities and irrigators.
The six potential dams and tunnels in the Holy Cross Wilderness would connect to the existing Fry-Ark Project at the Carter Creek dam and tunnel, which is the most northerly point of the system. It was completed in 1981.
James DuBois, an attorney in the environment and natural resources division at the Justice Department and who filed the USFS statement of opposition, said he could not discuss the case.
In that case, the USFS eventually agreed, in a 2011 stipulation, that Southeastern would study “the potential for moving its conditional water rights off of wilderness lands” during the next six-year diligence period, which ended in May.
It also would look at other ways to increase the project’s “authorized yield.”
Under the project’s operating principles, the authorized yield of the Fry-Ark Project is limited to diverting 120,000 acre-feet in any one year, and to diverting no more than 2.35 million acre-feet over a 34-year rolling average, or an annual average of 69,200 acre-feet.
From 2010 to 2015, the project diverted an average of 63,600 acre-feet, indicating there is more yield to be gained.
This year, a dry year, about 39,000 acre-feet was diverted. In 2011, the last really wet year, 98,900 acre-feet was diverted, according to an annual report on the Fry-Ark Project prepared by the Bureau of Reclamation.
Improving existing facilities
In accordance with the 2011 stipulation, a study on how to get more water out of the system was done by Wilson Water Group and presented to Southeastern in April.
In the presentation slides, Wilson Water told Southeastern’s board of directors that “analysis indicates contemplated project yield could be met through existing infrastructure and software upgrades.”
Another option studied was to move the six rights in the Holy Cross Wilderness downstream and out of the wilderness. However, Wilson Water said it would require pumping stations to lift the water back up to Fry-Ark system and the “cost per-acre feet is likely prohibitive.”
Despite the finding that improving the existing system would increase the yield on the project, Southeastern voted in April to file for diligence on the six conditional rights within the wilderness, along with other conditional rights, telling the court that “while the construction of certain conditionally decreed project features has not yet been started, there is no intent to abandon these features or any of the conditional water rights … .”
Upon learning of the diligence application this week, Will Roush, the executive director of Wilderness Workshop in Carbondale, said “the Holy Cross Wilderness is a completely inappropriate location” for the development of the conditional water rights.
“Lime Creek, Last Chance Creek and the surrounding lands and tributaries provide amazing opportunities for solitude and the rare opportunity to experience a landscape and alpine watershed free of human infrastructure and without the diversion of water,” Roush said.
An informational memo on the diligence case was presented to the Southeastern board of directors on Aug. 16, and there was no discussion of the case by the board.
An initial status conference in the diligence case has been set for Sept. 18.
Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism is covering the Roaring Fork and Colorado river basins in collaboration with The Aspen Times. The Times published this story on Saturday, August 19, 2018. This version of the story corrected the date of the earlier stipulation between Southeastern and USFS, which was reached in 2011, not 2012, when the case was closed.
In a memo to the district’s elected board, communications and public affairs manager Diane Johnson wrote that streamflows measured on Gore Creek, the Eagle River near Minturn and the Eagle River at Avon are all running significantly below seasonal norms.
As of July 22:
• Gore Creek was running at 36 cubic feet per second, 38 percent of the normal flow.
• The Eagle River near Minturn was running at 49 cfs, 43 percent of normal.
• The river at Avon was running at 108 cfs, 36 percent of normal.
Those readings are among the lowest on record. Only the drought years of 2002 and 2012 showed lower streamflows from April 1 to July 22. Even in those drought years, the graph lines show the occasional bump, when rainfall temporarily boosted streamflows.
This year, those bumps haven’t developed.
THE MISSING MONSOON
The short boosts to streamflow in those other years started coming in about mid-June, the result of the annual “monsoon” flow that generally brings some significant moisture to the area.
The U.S. Climate Prediction Center in late spring predicted a better-than-average change of precipitation into the summer. That hasn’t developed so far this year.
Tom Renwick, a forecaster at the Grand Junction office of the National Weather Service, said the monsoonal flow in Western Colorado usually develops when a high-pressure system sets up over Texas and Oklahoma and a low-pressure system develops over the desert Southwest United States. When that happens, moisture is sucked up from the south and ends up being deposited in Western Colorado.
Renwick said high pressure has been setting up in the wrong place so far this year.
That high pressure usually means dry conditions. At the moment, high pressure is farther west than it needs to be to bring rain.
“It’s basically on top of us,” Renwick said.
While Western Colorado hasn’t been getting its usual summer rainfall, Renwick said other areas are seeing seasonal precipitation. The monsoons have hit Mexico.
CONCERN FOR AQUATIC LIFE
Locally, the lack of the monsoon rains is starting to concern water providers.
In an email, Johnson wrote that the district and other water providers “are now back to a bit worried about how our streams will do during the normal low-flow months of August on.”
That said, there are adequate supplies for domestic use.
Aquatic life can be hard-hit by low streamflows, especially when those low flows are combined with warm temperatures.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife last week called for a voluntary fishing closure on portions of the Eagle, Colorado, Crystal and Roaring Fork rivers. Anglers are asked to stop fishing from 2 p.m. to midnight on stretches of those streams. Water temperatures near or above 70 degrees Fahrenheit can be damaging to fish that are caught and released back into the water.
Rainfall and cooler water temperatures are good for both aquatic life and landscaping. Until those rains come, though, district customers are being asked to let their landscaping dry out a bit.
When the monsoonal flow might develop remains an open question, but Renwick said he’s optimistic.
There’s a possible monsoonal pattern developing later this week for New Mexico, the Front Range and parts of Wyoming, but not Western Colorado.
The Eagle River roils with spring runoff in June 2011 near Edwards, Colo. Photo/Allen Best
Roaring Fork River, Grottos, on Monday morning June 13, 2016, looking downstream, with diversions into the Twin Lakes Tunnel at over 600 cfs. While impressive at this level, the whitewater frenzy that resulted after the tunnels were closed was far more intense. Photo Brent Gardner-Smith <a href="http://aspenjournalism.org".Aspen Journalism.
Crystal River near Redstone via Wikipedia Commons
The upper Colorado River, above State Bridge. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism
Here’s the release from Colorado Parks and Wildlife:
Due to high water temperatures and low flows, Colorado Parks and Wildlife is implementing voluntary fishing closures between 2 p.m. – 12 a.m. on sections of the Eagle River, Colorado River, Crystal River, and Roaring Fork River in Northwest Colorado. The fishing closure is effective immediately, until further notice.
Although anglers are not legally prohibited from fishing in these stretches, CPW is asking anglers to fish early in the day and find alternative places to fish until conditions improve.
Sections for the voluntary fishing closures include:
Eagle River from Wolcott downstream to its confluence with the Colorado River
Colorado River from State Bridge downstream to Rifle
Crystal River from Avalanche Creek downstream to its confluence with the Roaring Fork River
Roaring Fork River from Carbondale downstream to its confluence with the Colorado River.
“We appreciate the patience of our angling community as we work through some tough climate conditions,” said Northwest Regional Manager JT Romatzke. “Conserving our state’s fisheries is critical, not just for anglers, but for the local communities and businesses that rely on these resources for their livelihoods.”
CPW will place signs along the four sections of rivers to notify anglers and encourage them to consider fishing at higher elevation lakes and streams where environmental factors are much less severe, particularly during the afternoons and evenings.
If current conditions persist, CPW may consider further fishing restrictions which may include all-day voluntary fishing closures or mandatory fishing closures.
CPW recommends anglers contact their local CPW office for the most recent information relative to fishing closures, fishing conditions, and fishing opportunities.
Local watershed organizations are also good resources for information on river health including the Roaring Fork Conservancy, Eagle River Watershed Council, and the Middle Colorado Watershed Council.</blockquoteL
The plan is a joint effort by the Eagle River Water & Sanitation District and the Upper Eagle Regional Water Authority that outlines actions the organizations will take to meet increasing regional water demands with available supply into the future in an environmentally and fiscally responsible manner.
Community members can review the draft plan at the district office in Vail during business hours and anytime online.
Both the district and the authority are required to have a water efficiency plan on file with the Colorado Water Conservation Board, which is part of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources. The CWCB awarded grant funds to the district and authority to assist with plan development and there must be a period for the public to comment on the proposed plan. This public comment period follows an extensive stakeholder outreach process where the plan was presented to nearly 20 community groups, several of which can be viewed on the High Five Access Media website (watch a video). Feedback at those presentations has informed the current draft.
All comments received will be considered for integration into the final plan and will be noted in a plan appendix. The district and authority boards of directors will review the final plan in August and approve its submittal to the CWCB, which makes the final determination that the plan meets state guidelines and accepts it.
To submit comments, contact water demand management coordinator Maureen Mulcahy by email, phone (970-477-5402), or mail: 846 Forest Road, Vail, CO 81657. Written comments are preferred for better tracking and inclusion in the final plan.
Click here to view the draft plan. For more information call Mulcahy at 970-477-5402.
A groundbreaking ceremony saw the first shovels of dirt turned Tuesday, July 10. Excavation should continue through the summer, and concrete should follow in the fall.
Water is scheduled to begin flowing in the fall of 2020…
The town’s current and only water treatment plant runs at 90 percent capacity during peak demand, and some days it’s higher, said Brandy Reitter, Eagle town manager. The new plant will generate as much as 2.5 million gallons of water per day and can be expanded to 5 million gallons per day. It should fulfill the town’s projected growth needs for the next 20 years.
“The town must accommodate its existing users. We also want to accommodate new customers and growth. We cannot consider new development unless we have the water to serve,” Reitter said. “Now is the time. The demands have increased significantly and we cannot wait any longer.”
This new water plant will be on the Eagle River. The current plant is on Brush Creek and is the town’s only source of water.
The town has good water rights on the Eagle River, thanks to tireless work by former town manager Willy Powell, Reitter said.
Bryon McGinnis, Eagle’s public works director, said the second water plant will help the town preserve those hard-won water rights…
A second water plant is also a public safety issue, McGinnis said, pointing out the many wildfires burning around Western Colorado.
The Lake Christine fire near Basalt hit that town’s watershed and strained its system. However, Basalt has a system of wells near the Roaring Fork River, and that second water source kept the water flowing, McGinnis said.
The town of Eagle saved $10 million and used it as a down payment on the new plant.
“Development has, for many years, paid its own way. The town has collected and saved fees to help pay for this,” Reitter said.
The remaining cost will be covered by a low-interest, 20-year loan from a state revolving fund.
Broomfield-based MWH Constructors will build the plant.
As a way to settle a 2009 state water court case led by Pitkin County and the Colorado River District, the Front Range city of Aurora has agreed to let as much as 1,000 acre-feet of water run down the upper Roaring Fork River each year instead of diverting the water under Independence Pass.
The pending settlement could mean that about 10 to 30 cubic feet per second of additional water could flow down the river through Aspen in summer and fall.
It’s an amount of water that Pitkin County Attorney John Ely said would be “visibly noticeable” and would help bolster flows in the often water-short stretch of the Roaring Fork between Difficult and Maroon creeks.
“It’s exciting,” Ely said. “It’s not very often you get to put water into the upper Roaring Fork. These opportunities are pretty limited, and I’m not sure if we’ll ever see another one.”
A June 13 memo from Ely on the agreement states that “the Pitkin County Healthy Rivers and Streams Board has long recognized this reach of the Roaring Fork as one of the most stressed reaches of the Roaring Fork” and that “the Roaring Fork Conservancy’s State of the Watershed report identifies the upper Roaring Fork just above Aspen and heading into town as being severely degraded.”
The Pitkin Board of County Commissioners is expected to approve the settlement in the form of an intergovernmental agreement with Aurora on Wednesday.
Aurora’s city council also is expected to approve the agreement, as is the Colorado River District board of directors at its July meeting. A Water Court judge has set a July 20 deadline for the parties to file the settlement.
Officials with Pitkin County and the Colorado River District see the deal with Aurora as a victory, especially as some estimates, according to Ely, place the value of water in Aurora at $50,000 an acre-foot, which makes the 1,000 acre-feet of water potentially worth $50 million.
The settlement is also of high value to officials at the Colorado River District, who led the efforts of the West Slope entities in the case.
“I think it’s a big deal,” said Peter Fleming, the general counsel for the Colorado River District, which represents 15 counties on the Western Slope. “I think it’s going to be a good deal for Pitkin County, the Roaring Fork River, and the West Slope as a whole. And frankly, I think it’s a pretty good deal for Aurora, as well.”
But Tom Simpson, a water resource supervisor with Aurora, said it’s a “bittersweet” deal for the growing Front Range city.
“We’ve worked hard on this agreement over the last year,” Simpson said. “It is bittersweet, but we are happy that we are finally there.”
The deal lets Aurora retain its current use of 2,416 acre-feet of water it diverts on average each year from the top of the Fryingpan River Basin, but Aurora also is giving up 1,000 acre-feet of water it now diverts from the top of the Roaring Fork River Basin.
Aurora also is agreeing to abide by operating protocols and future potential use of the senior water rights on the Colorado River now tied to the Shoshone hydropower plant in Glenwood Canyon. That agreement could limit the amount of additional water Aurora can divert in the future from the Colorado River Basin.
The provisions of the agreement relating to the Shoshone water right also include an acknowledgement that the senior water right might someday be changed to include an instream flow right rather than the water being diverted out of the river and sent to the hydropower plant.
“Aurora will not oppose an agreement between a West Slope entity or entities, the Colorado Water Conservation Board, and any other entity entered for the purpose of adding instream flow as an additional use of the senior hydropower right,” the agreement states.
Simpson agreed the overall deal represented a “haircut” for Aurora’s water rights in the Colorado River Basin.
“Yes, we’re going to get the 2,416 acre-feet out of Busk, but we’re going to make these other deliveries on the Roaring Fork, and we might lose just a little bit of water on the Shoshone protocol,” he said. “It’s a haircut, absolutely.”
On the other hand, Simpson said “while this agreement is not perfect, we feel like it is a good agreement, and preserves some of our Busk-Ivanhoe water and lets us all move forward.”
Started in 2009
In December 2009, Aurora filed a water rights application in Division 2 Water Court in Pueblo to change the use of its water rights in the Busk-Ivanhoe transmountain diversion system in the Fryingpan River headwaters.
The system, built in the 1920s, gathers water from Ivanhoe, Pan, Lyle, and Hidden Lake creeks and diverts the water through the Ivanhoe Tunnel to Turquoise Reservoir near Leadville before it is sent to East Slope cities. The system was built to deliver water to irrigators in the lower Arkansas River basin.
The water rights to the system carry appropriation dates from 1921 to 1927, which makes them junior to the senior water rights on the Colorado River near Grand Junction known as the “Cameo call.”
The Pueblo Board of Water Works bought half of the Busk-Ivanhoe system in 1972, and Aurora gradually secured its half-ownership in the system between 1986 and 2001.
In its 2009 application, Aurora told the water court it wanted to change the use of its water in the Busk-Ivanhoe system from irrigation to municipal use.
However, it also conceded it had already been using the Busk-Ivanhoe water for municipal purposes in Aurora, even though its water-right decree limited the use of the water to irrigation in the lower Arkansas River valley. It also came to light that Aurora was first storing the water in Turquoise Reservoir without an explicit decreed right to do so.
That caught the attention of Pitkin County, the Colorado River District, a host of other Western Slope water interests, and the state engineer’s office, which administers water rights.
As Ely put it in a June 13 memo to the Pitkin County commissioners, “In 1987, Aurora began using Busk-Ivanhoe water for undecreed municipal and residential purposes in an undecreed area, the South Platte Valley, after storing the water in an undecreed manner in Aurora system reservoirs.”
Aurora’s stance was that since the water had been diverted under the Continental Divide, it didn’t matter how it used or stored the water, as it should make no difference to the West Slope. But an array of West Slope entities, including the Colorado River District, disagreed with Aurora’s position.
In July 2013 the Western Slope entities and the state took Aurora to a five-day trial in Div. 2 Water Court in Pueblo, arguing that Aurora should not get credit for its 22 years of undecreed water use and storage.
“It was always an issue of fact at trial as to how much water was in play because it depends on how you calculate the yield of the project,” Ely said.
In 2014, thought, the district court judge in Division 2 ruled in Aurora’s favor, and the West Slope interests then appealed to the state Supreme Court.
The appeal process prompted a host of entities on both sides of the Continental Divide to come forward and argue aspects of the case before the court. It also prompted a scolding of Aurora by former Supreme Court Justice Greg Hobbs over the use of undecreed water rights.
In 2016, the Colorado Supreme Court reversed the lower court’s decision, ruled in favor of the Western Slope, and remanded Aurora’s original change application back to the lower court.
“The Supreme Court wrote that notwithstanding the fact that the change application and original decree concerned developed transmountain water, water used for undecreed purposes cannot be included in a calculation for historic consumptive use and is therefore excluded from water available for change of use,” Ely wrote in his June 13 memo.
So, rather than going back to Water Court and continuing to fight over the potential size of the Busk-Ivanhoe rights, which the West Slope now saw as being between zero and well-less than 2,416 acre-feet, Aurora began negotiating in January 2017 with the Western Slope entities still in the case, which included Pitkin County, Eagle County, the Colorado River District, the Grand Valley Water Users Association, the Basalt Water Conservancy District, Eagle County, Orchard Mesa Irrigation District, and Ute Water Conservancy District.
Today, each of those entities is also a party to the intergovernmental agreement expected to be submitted to the water court in July, along with a proposed decree for Aurora’s Busk-Ivanhoe rights.
Ely said Pitkin County didn’t start out in the case with an eye on securing 1,000 acre-feet for the Roaring Fork, but did have a local interest in the operation of the Busk-Ivanhoe project.
“We weren’t doing it to obtain an end result, we were doing it because the [Busk-Ivanhoe] project is in our backyard and we felt it was the right thing to do,” Ely said. “And all the other dialogue developed after the trial and the Supreme Court decision.”
At the time of the 2016 Colorado Supreme Court decision, Pitkin County had spent $353,000 in legal and other fees in the case, using money brought in by a tax to fund the county’s Healthy River and Streams program, which includes litigation in water court.
Since then, Ely said the county had spent an additional $27,300 for hydrology and engineering work, but had not spent more on additional outside legal help, as he and Assistant County Attorney Laura Makar handled the settlement negotiations for the county.
Pan, or Fork?
For Pitkin County and other Western Slope entities, it made more sense to negotiate with Aurora for some of the water it owns in the Independence Pass-Twin Lakes system rather than the Busk-Ivanhoe system, as any water bypassed by the Busk-Ivanhoe system would be scooped up by the Fry-Ark Project, which sits below the Busk-Ivanhoe system in the upper Fryingpan valley and also diverts water to the East Slope.
Aurora owns 5 percent of the shares in the Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co., which operates the Independence Pass Transmountain Diversion System. Its share of the water diverted each year from the top of the Roaring Fork equals about 2,100 acre-feet a year, so the 1,000 acre-feet of water equals about half of Aurora’s water in the Twin Lakes company.
In the 10 years from 2007 through 2016, Twin Lakes Co. diverted a total of 485,762 acre-feet of water from the upper Roaring Fork River Basin through its diversion system, putting the 10-year average for that period at 48,567 acre feet. 2011 was the biggest year of diversions since 2007, with 67,463 acre-feet diverted, and 2015 was the lowest year since 2007, with 18,374 acre-feet diverted.
Colorado Springs owns 55 percent of the shares in Twin Lakes Co., Pueblo 23 percent, Pueblo West 12 percent, and Aurora 5 percent. There are also other minority shareholders, holding 5 percent of the shares, still using the water from the system for agriculture.
Twin Lakes is not a party to the intergovernmental agreement between Aurora and the West Slope entities, but it is willing to work with all involved to make the water deliveries as beneficial as possible for the Roaring Fork River.
Ely said Pitkin Country was grateful for the willingness of the Twin Lakes Co. to work with the county and the Colorado River District to release the water in a way that benefits the river, even if it means more work for the operators of the Independence Pass-Twin Lakes system.
According to Kevin Lusk, the president of the Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co. and a senior engineer at Colorado Springs Utilities, the company is simply responding to the desires of a shareholder in the company, Aurora.
He also said it’s legal under a 1976 water-rights decree held by Twin Lakes to bypass water for use on the West Slope instead of diverting it under the Continental Divide.
“The decree allows for this type of operation and so really all we’re doing as a company is accommodating the request of one of our shareholders to do something that was contemplated and provided for in the decree,” Lusk said.
And as part of the agreement, representatives from Pitkin County, the Colorado River District, Aurora, and Twin Lakes will meet each year to agree on a delivery schedule for the water that describes the “desired rate, timing, amount, location and ultimate use of the water, as well as the operational needs and constraints” of the Independence Pass-Twin Lakes diversion system.
In a letter attached to the agreement laying out how Aurora and the Twin Lakes Co. plan to manage the releases, Aurora said it “would prefer the water to be delivered at times of the year and at locations that will provide the most benefit to the Roaring Fork River stream flow. Typically this will be in the second half of the summer, beginning July 15, through the fall season.”
And Pitkin County feels the same way, according to Ely.
“We would like it delivered later in the year when the flows of the river start to go down,” he said.
However, Lusk at Twin Lakes said if the West Slope entities wait too long in the season to bypass the water, it may not be there to bypass.
“I know that there is a great interest in saving a lot of this water and bypassing it at the end of the season,” Lusk said. “But it’s going to be a bit of a balancing act. You’ve got to take the water when it’s there, because if you don’t take advantage of it there won’t be any to release later.”
Lusk also said that if the West Slope really wanted to take full advantage of the water, it might consider building a reservoir above Aspen to store the water at peak runoff and then release it later in the season.
Flows on the Fork
According to a draft resolution to be voted on by the Pitkin County commissioners Wednesday, there were several factors that went into the county’s goal of acquiring 1,000 acre-feet per year of water for the upper Fork, including “the expected amount of yield for Aurora in the Busk-Ivanhoe system; existing in-basin and out-of-basin diversions from the Roaring Fork River between Independence Pass through the City of Aspen; potential future demand on the river; extent of existing conditional water rights; and the results of a stream analysis and channel measurement study.”
If the deal is approved, as soon as next year 700 acre-feet of Aurora’s water is expected to be captured briefly in the Independence Pass system, which includes dams on Lost Man Creek, the main stem of the Roaring Fork River, and on Grizzly Creek, and then released down either the Fork or Lincoln Creek toward Aspen.
Another 200 acre-feet of Aurora’s Twin Lakes water will be held in Grizzly Reservoir on Lincoln Creek, which holds 570 acre-feet of water. That water will then be released late in the year, after most transmountain diversions have stopped, to bolster late-season flows in the river.
“So it’s actually reservoir release of previously stored water, while the [700 acre-feet] is a true bypass of water that would have gone through the tunnel that day to the other side,” Lusk said. “It’s new for us. We typically don’t operate the reservoir that way. Typically we would run that reservoir quite a bit lower, just for safety-of-dam reasons. But this change in operation is going to be holding the reservoir up much fuller for a lot longer, and we just need to watch the behavior of the dam.”
Another 100 acre-feet of water could also eventually be left in the Roaring Fork each year after a complicated exchange-of-water arrangement is worked out with Aurora and other parties on the Fryingpan River, which brings the potential total water left in the Fork to 1,000 acre-feet.
There is also a drought contingency provision which will allow Aurora to bypass 100 acre-feet less than they would have under the deal if the water level in their system of reservoirs falls below 60 percent on April 1 in a given year. So in a dry year, that could bring additional flows in the Roaring Fork back to 900 acre feet.
The pending Busk-Ivanhoe settlement also includes a provision that allows the Basalt Water Conservancy District to store 50 acre-feet of water in Ivanhoe Reservoir, which holds 1,200 acre-feet of water and serves more as a forebay for the Ivanhoe Tunnel diversions than a storage reservoir.
And, in a provision to Aurora’s benefit, the West Slope entities, including Pitkin County, have agreed not to fight, at least on a wholesale basis, the permitting of two potential reservoirs that Aurora is working on, Wild Horse Reservoir in South Park and Box Creek Reservoir, which could hold between 20,000 and 60,000 acre-feet on private land on the south flank of Mt. Elbert.
“Any participation in the permitting processes by the West Slope Parties will not seek to prevent the project in its entirety and comments or requests may be raised only for the purpose of addressing water related impacts caused directly by either of the two above specified projects on the West Slope,” the draft agreement between Aurora and the West Slope says.
The concession from the West Slope is significant as Box Creek Reservoir will be able to store water from the West Slope.
The West Slope entities also agree not to oppose changes in diversion points tied to the Homestake transmountain diversion system in the Eagle River Basin, not to oppose Aurora’s efforts to repair the Ivanhoe Tunnel, which is also called the Carlton Tunnel. The tunnel was originally built as a railroad tunnel, and then used as a highway tunnel.
Finally, the parties to the deal have agreed, in what’s called a “diligence detente,” not to challenge in water court for 15 years a list of conditional water rights, held by both East Slope and West Slope entities, that are required to periodically file due-diligence applications with the state.
The list of conditional water rights includes rights held by Aurora tied to the Homestake project and rights by the Southeastern Water Conservancy District tied to the Fry-Ark Project. They also include rights held by the Colorado River District on a number of West Slope water projects, including the potential Iron Mountain Reservoir near Redcliff and the Wolcott Reservoir near Wolcott.
Notably, the agreement does not include provisions to legally shepherd the water from the Independence Pass-Twin Lakes system all the way to the confluence of Maroon Creek, so it’s possible that diverters on the river near Aspen, such as the Salvation Ditch, could pick up the water left in the river.
However, Ely said the county will seek cooperation from diverters on the river near Aspen.
“We’ve had some conversations with water users on this side of the hill, and we’ve had conversations with the Division 5 engineer’s office, and we’re hopeful that when the water is being bypassed and put in the river and there is an increase of flow, folks won’t take advantage of that and we’ll be able to get it down through Aspen,” Ely said. “And eventually, you know things will change, and we hope to have that water associated with its own water right, so we can call it further down, but that won’t be the case right away.”
An additional benefit to the deal, according to Ely, is that the management of the 1,000 acre-foot pool of water from Aurora may also lead to better management of a 3,000 acre-foot pool of water also available in the Independence Pass-Twin Lakes system.
That pool was created to mitigate the impacts to the Roaring Fork River from diversions by the Fry-Ark Project on Hunter, Midway, and No Name creeks, which drain into the Fork in central Aspen. And while Twin Lakes releases the water down the Roaring Fork, releases from the Fry-Ark Project replace the water in Twin Lakes Reservoir, where both transbasin diversion systems can send water.
For years, the water from the 3,000 acre-foot pool has been released at a rate of 3 cfs on a year-round basis and has not been timed to help bolster low-season flows. Now, given the greater cooperation over the management of the 1,000 acre-foot pool from Aurora, how the 3,000 acre-foot pool from Fry-Ark is managed may also change, to the benefit of the river.
Aspen Journalism is collaborating on the coverage of rivers and water with The Aspen Times. The Times ran a shorter version of this story on Tuesday, June 12, 2018.