Arkansas Valley Conduit update

From The La Junta Tribune-Democrat (Bette McFarren):

Issues with clean water supply going back to the settlement of the Arkansas Valley will be aided by the Colorado Water Conservation Board’s approval of a $100 million packet for the Arkansas Valley Conduit.

“The Southeastern District and Reclamation are working to reduce project costs and the need for up-front federal funding in order to begin construction of the Arkansas Valley Conduit project. About $30 million has been invested in planning since 2011,” wrote Chris Woodka in a recent article about the CWCB’s action.

“Most of the issues of water quality in the Arkansas Valley are dealing with nucleides,” said Tom Seaba, water and wastewater director for the City of La Junta. “Our new Waste Water Treatment Plan will reduce the contaminants going back into the river, and we will need time and accurate readings to see how effective it is. I don’t think of Selenium as a contaminant, but as a naturally occurring element in our area. We hope to install some other type of treatment to bring us into complete compliance. We are working under a discharge specific variance that is good for five years, and may be renewed for five years. All other elements are under control. We are in year two of the variance.

“Many of the smaller systems, such as South Swink and May Valley, are in much worse condition. A cleaner water source from the Pueblo Water Reservoir would make compliance with clean water standards a non-issue.” Seaba said 15 of the 24 public water systems in Otero County have state water violations for naturally occurring radioactive contaminations.

Swink and four other small systems are currently importing water from La Junta because of La Junta’s reverse osmosis water treatment plant. For smaller water companies, the improvements La Junta has made are not financially possible.

Arkansas Valley Conduit Comanche North route via Reclamation

#Pueblo Reservoir update

Pueblo Dam

From The La Junta Tribune-Democrat (Bette McFarren) viaThe Bent County Democrat:

Roy Vaughan of the Bureau of Reclamation thinks the Colorado water supply is good overall and particularly so in the Pueblo Reservoir.

As of Nov. 12, 188,138 acre feet of water were stored in Pueblo, of which 141,594 a/f is water tied to the Fryingpan-Arkansas Water Project, the massive project that more than 50 years ago built Lake Pueblo; 41,475 a/f is excess capacity water; 16,142 a/f is winter water storage. There is room for more water — 103,779 a/f of project space in Pueblo; 5,287 a/f of project space in Twin and Turquoise Lakes.

@CWCB_DNR approves $100 million package for Arkansas Valley Conduit — Southeastern #Colorado Water Conservancy District

Arkansas Valley Conduit Comanche North route via Reclamation

Here’s the release from Southeastern (Chris Woodka):

The Colorado Water Conservation Board unanimously approved a $90 million loan and $10 million non-reimbursable investment for the Arkansas Valley Conduit at its November meeting.

The loan, which still requires approval by the Colorado Legislature, will assist in a $500 million project that is being planned by the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District and the Bureau of Reclamation. The AVC will bring clean drinking water to 50,000 people in 40 communities east of Pueblo in Bent, Crowley, Otero, Prowers and Pueblo counties.

The Southeastern District and Reclamation are working to reduce project costs and the need for up-front federal funding in order to begin construction of the AVC project. About $30 million has been invested in planning since 2011.

“Poor water quality has been an issue in this area of the state since before Colorado even existed.  All the way back to explorers traveling along the Arkansas River in the early 1800s noted the poor drinking water in their journals,” said CWCB board member Jack Goble, who lives in Hasty. “And the lack of clean drinking water still exists today.  Taking a drive down Highway 50, you’ll pass by dozens of water filling stations, with at least one in almost every town in the Valley.”

In its presentation, the Southeastern District noted strong support from the State Legislature, the congressional delegation and Gov. Jerad Polis for AVC. The Legislature approved a resolution in January asking the Administration to restore AVC funding. The congressional delegation drafted its own letter to the Administration as well.

“I will continue to support efforts to work with our departments on opportunities to seek state financing and grant opportunities to advance this project,” Polis wrote in a letter earlier this year.

Bill Long, President of the Southeastern Board, introduced three of the system operators who will benefit from AVC: Rick Jones of the May Valley Water Association, Norman Noe of the South Swink Water Company, and Tom Seaba of La Junta.

“The only way we can move forward in the Arkansas Valley is to have safe drinking water for all of our residents,” Long said.

May Valley faces state enforcement actions for violations of state standards for radioactive contaminants it has dealt with for 20 years, and other solutions would cost as much as $200 per month per customer, Jones said.

“It’s disheartening to be told you can’t drink the water,” Jones said.

Noe told the CWCB that it is also becoming increasingly expensive to deal with radioactive waste that is produced by the wells that the communities rely on for a water supply.

Seaba said 15 of the 24 public water systems in Otero County have state water violations for naturally occurring radioactive contamination. Four of the systems have already connected with La Junta. La Junta treats water with reverse-osmosis, but the waste stream contains selenium. The city spent $19 million on a wastewater plant and still cannot meet selenium standards.

“If the conduit is funded and built, you will solve the problems for these communities,” Seaba said.

The AVC was authorized in 1962, but was not built because local communities could not afford to pay 100 percent of the cost. New federal legislation in 2009 requires a 35 percent local cost share, but also allows revenues from the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project to be used for construction and repayment of the AVC.

The presentation was at times emotional, teeing off with a recap of the history of the AVC by Alan Hamel, a Southeastern board member and former CWCB member. He showed a video of President John F. Kennedy, who came to Pueblo in 1962 and delivered a stirring speech about the importance of water projects to all of the people in the United States.

Several CWCB members shared their own emotional comments during discussion.

“It’s the responsibility of all of us on the board to make sure that all Coloradans have the basic right for clean drinking water,” said Heather Dutton, who chairs the CWCB.

James W. Broderick Hydropower plant at Pueblo Dam dedicated

Workers prepare a turbine and generator at the James W. Broderick Hydroelectric Power Facility at Pueblo Dam shortly before it began producing electricity this week. Photo credit: The Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District

Here’s the release from the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District (Chris Woodka):

The James W. Broderick Hydropower Plant at Pueblo Dam was dedicated on Monday, September 16, [2019], before a crowd of about 100 people.

The hydroelectric generating facility was completed in May 2019 and is named for James W. Broderick, executive director of the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District.

Southeastern President Bill Long hailed Broderick’s vision for pursuing the project under a Lease of Power Privilege with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. The process was started in 2011, and culminated in 2017, when the lease was signed. Construction of the $20.5 million plant took 18 months.

“Jim has given a lot more than his name to the James W. Broderick Hydropower Plant. It has been Jim’s vision to create this project, and to use the revenues generated by the plant to enhance the benefits of the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project,” Long said. “this is an example of the type of creative thinking and leadership that Jim brings to every aspect of his service to the Southeastern District.”

Broderick, in accepting the honor, credited his wife Cindy and their daughter Amy for his own success as a water leader not only in southeastern Colorado, but throughout the state and the western region. Broderick currently is president of the Colorado River Water Users Association, and has led other agencies within the state, including Colorado Water Congress and the Arkansas Basin Roundtable.

Broderick also recognized the Southeastern District’s early partners in the Lease of Power Privilege, Colorado Springs Utilities and Pueblo Water, for technical assistance and support in bringing the power plant project to completion. Other contributors during the planning and construction process included Black Hills Energy and Pueblo West.

[Those on] hand for the event [included] Brenda Burman, Commissioner of Reclamation, and Becky Mitchell of the Colorado Water Conservation Board…

Burman said the plant is one of 14 built on existing dams so far under a Lease of Power Privilege, and shows how maximum benefits can be realized from existing federal projects. Reclamation operates the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project in cooperation with the Southeastern District. The Project provides supplemental water for cities and farms in the Arkansas River basin by importing water from the Colorado River basin.

The Colorado Water Conservation Board provided a $17.2 million loan to construct the hydroelectric plant. Mitchell hailed the plant, which uses water to produce energy, as the type of project the state will become involved with as it moves in the future.

The power plant will generate, on average, 28 million kilowatt hours of electricity annually, enough to power 2,500 homes a year. It was constructed under a design-build contract with Mountain States Hydro of Sunnyside, Wash.

Power will be sold to the City of Fountain, and to Fort Carson, through Colorado Springs Utilities.

Arkansas Valley Conduit update

From High Plains Public Radio (Abigail Beckman):

Chris Woodka is with the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District. He said part of the reason we’re seeing more water systems violate water standards is that federal and state standards have changed. They are now accounting for even more minute quantities of contaminants.

He said water from wells can be especially affected because, “shallow wells in the alluvial aquifer are high in organic contaminants, nitrate and selenium.”

“Deeper wells often have elevated levels of radioactive materials,” he said. “And nearly all of the communities east of Pueblo take water from wells.”

Some communities have responded by using water filters. Las Animas and La Junta have both installed large reverse osmosis membrane systems to remove contaminants from the water supply. Woodka said that has improved the taste and appearance.

But, he said, even after filtration, radium and uranium can still remain in the water at low levels.

And then there’s the cost.

“Those communities still face tremendous expense in disposing of the waste from the treatment processes,” Woodka said, “which can only be reduced by adding more clean water.” And extra water, let alone clean water, is hard to come by in a drought-prone state like Colorado. But there is one possible solution that’s been in the works for decades.

It’s called the Arkansas Valley Conduit.

Arkansas Valley Conduit Comanche North route via Reclamation

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation describes the conduit as a “bulk water supply pipeline designed to meet existing and future municipal and industrial water demands in the Lower Arkansas River Basin.”

It would include about 230 miles of buried pipeline, a water treatment facility, and water storage tanks. Water would be routed to six counties – Pueblo, Otero, Crowley, Bent, Kiowa and Prowers – and would serve an estimated 50,000 people.

The project was first approved in 1962. Some work was completed in the early 1980’s, but the actual conduit has yet to come to completion. Woodka said that’s mainly because of cost.

“[These] communities could never afford to build [the conduit] themselves.” Woodka explained.

Congress passed a law in 2009 that reduced the amount of money local governments would have to pitch in for the project. Woodka said that finally made the construction of the conduit feasible.

But it’s still a $500 million project.

“The main problem that we’ve run into,” said Woodka, ”has been getting adequate federal appropriations to start building it. He said they are working on ways to lower the overall costs of the project.”

Woodka said lawmakers at the state and national level have been “extremely active” in promoting this project on both sides of the political spectrum…

[Republican State Senator Larry Crowder] said the key now is for residents to get involved.

“We’re getting the cities involved, we’re getting the people in the cities involved to send letters to Senator Gardner, Senator Bennet and Congressmen Buck and Tipton,” he said, “to make sure that they are aware of how the people feel about it.”

@USBR to Host Ruedi Reservoir Water Operations Public Meeting

Fryingpan River downstream of Ruedi Reservoir. Photo credit Greg Hobbs

Here’s the release from the Bureau of Reclamation (Tyler Johnson):

The Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled the annual public meeting to discuss the Ruedi Reservoir Water Operations for the 2019 water year.

The meeting will be held on August 7, 2019, from 6:30-8:00 pm at the following location:

Roaring Fork Conservancy River Center
22800 Two Rivers Road
Basalt, CO 81621

The meeting will provide an overview of Ruedi Reservoir’s 2019 projected operations for late summer and early fall, which are key tourist seasons in Basalt. Also, representatives of the Colorado Water Conservation Board and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will give a presentation on the upcoming implementation of the Ute Water Conservancy District lease of Ruedi Reservoir water to the Board for instream flow use in the 15-Mile Reach of the Colorado River. The meeting will include a public question and answer session.

For more information, please contact Tim Miller, Hydrologist, Eastern Colorado Area Office, by phone or e-mail: (970) 461-5494, or tmiller@usbr.gov.

Ruedi Reservoir expected to fill, and maybe spill — @AspenJournalism #ColoradoRiver #COriver

The ungated spillway at Ruedi Dam and Reservoir, which automatically spills water into the lower Fryingpan River should the reservoir ever fill beyond its holding capacity of 102,373 acre-feet.

From Aspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith):

Those who keep an eye on the lower Fryingpan River, below Ruedi Reservoir, may have noticed that the river’s flow increased this week in three distinct steps.

On Monday, the river was flowing steadily at just about 200 cubic feet per second.

On Tuesday, it stepped up to 250 cfs, and on Thursday, it took another 50 cfs jump, to 300 cfs.

And on Friday, the river jumped another 25 cfs, heading into the weekend flowing at about 325 cfs. (See USGS gage).

The increases in flow were directed by Tim Miller, a U.S. Bureau of Reclamation hydrologist who manages water levels in Ruedi and also manages water releases from the reservoir, which is about 14 miles above Basalt.

The water from the reservoir was being released through the dam’s outlet structures, as well as through the hydropower plant at the base the dam, into an area that’s popular with anglers, and large fish, and nicknamed the “Toilet Bowl,” due to its swirling waters.

Miller’s goal is to fill the reservoir by July 4, while avoiding overfilling the reservoir, which would cause water to flow over the dam’s spillway, which does not have a flow-controlling gate, as some spillways do.

The top of the ungated spillway at Ruedi Dam. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

Balancing act

Miller is now balancing some factors beyond his control: the deep snowpack above Ruedi, lingering cold temperatures and varying flow levels in the transmountain diversions tunnels in the upper Fryingpan Basin.

On Friday, Ruedi was 64.6 percent full and holding 66,116 acre-feet of water, according to Reclamation. When full, the reservoir holds 102,373 acre-feet.

But, given the deep snowpack above Ruedi, Miller said “it’s very possible” the reservoir could spill, something that, to his knowledge, has only happened a few times since the reservoir and dam were completed in 1968.

The Ivanhoe snow-telemetry, or SnoTel, site above Ruedi, in the Ivanhoe Creek subbasin, is at 10,400 feet. The site shows there was still 54 inches of snow at that elevation Friday. That’s up from 42 inches a week ago but still below the March 14 peak of 90 inches.

“It just really depends on the weather,” Miller said of future releases into and out of Ruedi.

Peak runoff in the upper Colorado River basin within Colorado is now expected to arrive late, between June 15 and June 25, as more cool weather is in the forecast.

Once water reaches this point on the spillway on Ruedi Dam, it’s heading for the river some 285-feet below.

Not for flood control

Victor Lee, also a hydrologist with the Bureau of Reclamation, made a presentation on Ruedi and Green Mountain reservoirs Monday at the Colorado River Basin roundtable in Glenwood Springs.

He said he expected, because of the snowpack, to see above-average releases out of Ruedi as the reservoir fills and to see above-average diversions through the Boustead Tunnel, which sends water collected by the Fryingpan Arkansas Project diversion system under the Continental Divide to Turquoise Lake, near Leadville.

Since 1972, the Fry-Ark Project has diverted an average of 54,000 acre-feet a year through the Boustead Tunnel, but it’s expected to divert 84,000 acre-feet this year, according to Lee.

On Friday, the tunnel was sending east a relatively modest 38 cfs of water, but it had been sending about 300 cfs on May 17.

Lee also sounded a cautionary note about the rare prospect of Ruedi filling, spilling and sending at least 600 cfs of water down the lower Fryingpan.

“I have to stress that Ruedi is not a flood-control project, and if we get filled, there are no gates on the spillway to stop water from going,” Lee said. “And so, if we’re full, and we fill before peak runoff, there is always that chance that we would have excess flows beyond 600 cfs.”

Aspen Journalism covers rivers and water in collaboration with The Aspen Times. The Times published a version of this story on Saturday, May 25, 2019.