Possibility of City of Aspen dams on Castle and Maroon creeks eliminated — @AspenJournalism

The location of the prospective Maroon Creek Reservoir, just below the confluence East and West Maroon creeks. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

From Aspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith):

When Div. 5 Water Court Judge James Boyd issued a final water-rights decree at 7:23 a.m. Tuesday in the Maroon Creek Reservoir case, he removed the prospect of the city of Aspen ever building a 155-foot-tall dam on Maroon Creek or a 170-foot-tall dam on Castle Creek below Ashcroft.

Although the city had reached agreement in October with 10 opposing parties in two water-court cases over the city’s conditional water rights, the agreements were not in effect until the court’s decree was issued in the Maroon Creek Reservoir case.

So now they are.

“It means the city will not build reservoirs at Maroon or Castle,” said Margaret Medellin, a utilities-portfolio manager for the city. “The decree was the last piece we needed to finalize all our negotiations. So until that was in place, Maroon Creek Reservoir was still a possibility.”

In issuing Aspen’s proposed decree for its conditional rights for the Maroon Creek Reservoir, the judge found that the city had been sufficiently diligent and could maintain its conditional water rights for another six years, but in doing so, he also enshrined the city’s commitment to move the rights out of the Maroon Creek valley. He did the same for the Castle Creek rights last month when he issued a decree for the conditional rights tied to the potential Castle Creek Reservoir.

“The judge’s final decree ensures that the Maroon and Castle dams are dead,” said Matt Rice, Colorado River Basin director for American Rivers, which opposed the city’s efforts to maintain its water rights in the Castle and Maroon creek valleys. “This is a big day for Colorado, the city of Aspen, and for all people that appreciate free-flowing rivers. This collaborative outcome demonstrates that Coloradan’s can protect rivers while planning for a water scarce future.”

The city first filed for the conditional water rights to the two potential reservoirs in 1965, and the decreed rights carry a priority date of 1971. (Please see timeline).

The Maroon Creek Reservoir would have held 4,567 acre-feet of water just below the confluence of West Maroon and East Maroon creeks, in a pristine location in view of the Maroon Bells. The reservoir would have flooded 85 acres of U.S. Forest Service land, including some in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness.

The Castle Creek Reservoir would have held 9,062 acre-feet of water behind a dam on the creek two miles below Ashcroft. The reservoir would have flooded 120 acres on both private and USFS lands, including a small area in the wilderness.

Since first claiming the rights, the city periodically filed little-noticed diligence applications to maintain them. Outside of the diligence filings, however, the city did not take any active steps to develop the two dams, although they were mentioned in various city water-planning documents over the decades.

But the city’s last diligence filing, in October 2016, brought statements of opposition from 10 parties: the USFS, Pitkin County, American Rivers, Western Resource Advocates, Trout Unlimited, Wilderness Workshop and four private-property owners — two who owned land in the Maroon Creek valley and two who own land in the Castle Creek valley.

During the resulting water-court process, the city reached a deal with the opposing parties, agreeing to try and move the conditional water-storage rights out of the two pristine valleys to five identified locations in the Roaring Fork River valley.

The locations are the city golf course; the Maroon Creek Club golf course; the city’s Cozy Point open space; the Woody Creek gravel pit; and a 63-acre parcel of land next to the gravel pit, which the city bought in 2018.

“We worked a long time, and all the parties involved really were thoughtful and creative in trying to come up with a solution that the city got the storage that they desperately need, and we protect our environment,” Medellin said. “So I think it’s a real success story.”

In a joint press release issued Tuesday, representatives from American Rivers, Western Resource Advocates, and Wilderness Workshop praised the deal.

“The judge’s final decree cements over two years of collaborative work to find a win-win solution that both protects Castle and Maroon Creeks in two of the regions most beloved Valleys, and ensures a sustainable future water supply for the City of Aspen,” said Will Roush, executive director of the Wilderness Workshop. “Water can be one of the most contentious issues in the west and I’m proud of our community for coming together to find a solution that benefits both people and place. Our wilderness and public lands deserve to be kept largely free of damaging developments like dams and I’m grateful to the City of Aspen for their work and commitment not only to providing water but also to protecting our environment and public lands.”

And Jon Goldin-Dubois, the president of Western Resource Advocates, said “this final decree marks the beginning of a new era of collaboration to safeguard the Maroon Bells Wilderness and Maroon and Castle creeks. The city of Aspen should be commended for its efforts to pursue water supply alternatives that will ensure future demands are met without sacrificing our rivers and cherished natural landscapes. As growing cities across the West seek sustainable and affordable ways to provide water in the face of climate change, we encourage them to follow Aspen’s lead.”

The city now plans to hire consultants to help it prepare an “integrated water-resource plan,” which it has not done since 1990, and then to file two “change cases” in water court seeking to modify the rights, which remain in place, with significant restrictions, for another six years.

All of the parties who settled with the city have agreed not to oppose the city in its upcoming change cases, which must be filed by June 2025, but other parties may do so.

Whatever the outcome of the city’s future efforts in water court, the agreements in the Maroon Creek case say, “Aspen agrees that after final entry of the final decree, it will not seek to retain any portion of the Maroon Creek Reservoir storage right at its original location.” Agreements in the Castle Creek case have similar language.

Paul Noto, a water attorney with the Aspen-based law firm of Patrick, Miller, Noto, represented American Rivers and Trout Unlimited in the cases, as well as Roaring Fork Land and Cattle Co., a property owner in Maroon Creek.

Noto said he was pleased with the outcome of the water-court process.

“For American Rivers and Trout Unlimited, it’s a really good outcome because you had the specter of dams being constructed near the base of the Maroon Bells and that specter has been removed from the table,” Noto said. “We could argue about how likely that was going to be. It was very unlikely, perhaps impossible. But, regardless, that is completely off the table now. And I think that it was commendable that Aspen agreed to that.”

Medellin, however, said climate change means the reservoirs were becoming more likely, not less.

“Obviously, no one had a big appetite for it because we value our watersheds and the city was trying everything it could to avoid that eventuality,” Medellin said. “But when we look at what climate change is doing in our valley and in our world, there was going to be a future that we wouldn’t have been able to operate without that.”

She also said the city made a big concession in walking away from the two reservoirs, as they would have stored water above the city’s diversion structures on lower Castle and Maroon creeks.

“What we traded was the benefits of having a gravity-fed system with protecting those valleys,” Medellin said. “And that was a trade-off that we all felt was appropriate. But we know that by not having a gravity-fed system, it’s going take some creativity and potentially a pipeline.”

It’s an open question for some whether the really city needs as much as 8,500 acre-feet of stored water to meet its future needs.

A study done for the city by Headwaters Corp. concluded that the city would need 8,500 acre-feet in a much drier future, but that’s including all of the city’s current municipal indoor and outdoor needs, its current irrigation levels on the two golf courses that use city water, and enough water to keep Castle and Maroon creeks above a minimum flow level.

“I understand their desire to plan on the high side,” Noto said. “But I don’t think they proved it and I don’t think they needed to. It was just basically a number that came from horse trading.”

Noto also says it is possible the upcoming water-court process may end up reducing the city’s claim.

“It’s too soon to say if they will take a haircut,” Noto said. “We have to wait and see what the proposal is. I don’t think the city has identified their fill sources and points of diversion, and that’s where the rubber meets the road in terms of the effect on nearby water rights.”

Medellin said she expects the city to now engage with the community in a transparent discussion about the city’s future water needs.

“People have probably lost interest in it to a certain extent, but I think now — as we move into the next phase of the project, where we talk about where are we going to store the water — I imagine that the community is going to get re-engaged,” she said.

Aspen Journalism covers water and rivers in collaboration with The Aspen Times. The Times published this story on June 12, 2019.

#Utah Presses Forward With #LakePowellPipeline Plans Despite #ColoradoRiver Basin Constraints — #Wyoming Public Radio #COriver #aridification

Proposed Lake Powell pipeline. Map via the City of St. George.

From Wyoming Public Radio (Judy Fahys):

Despite the risk that the river resource is overcommitted and it is shrinking, four Upper Basin states – Utah, Wyoming, Colorado and New Mexico – are pushing forward with dams, reservoir expansions and pipelines like the one at Lake Powell that will allow them to capture what they were promised under the 1922 Colorado River Compact. The Lower Basin states of Arizona, Nevada and California have been using that water downstream for nearly a century.

President Donald Trump signed the basin-wide drought contingency plan in April, just weeks after the state of Utah declared in a news release that the river, which serves 40 million people, is “a reliable source of water.”

“What they need to do – the lower states – is use their right that’s allocated to them, and we will use our right that’s allocated to us,” said Mike Styler, who retired recently after 14 years as director of the Utah Department of Natural Resources.

A former state lawmaker, Styler originally voted on pushing forward with the 140-mile Lake Powell Pipeline. Once completed, the diversion project, which would draw from the lake, which straddles the Utah-Arizona border, about 86,000 acre-feet a year. That’s enough water to support nearly 100,000 households…

The St. George metropolitan area was the third-fastest growing in the nation last year, according to U.S. Census Bureau data released in April. Past data showed the area as the fastest growing in 2017 and the fifth-fastest growing between 2010 and 2018.

Pipeline proponents anticipate the trend will continue, with the current population of around 171,000 residents expected to swell to around 509,000 by 2065. And that growth is why they insist the pipeline is necessary…

The state has already spent more than $30 million on its application to build the pipeline. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is currently reviewing the project’s environmental impacts. The Washington County Water Conservancy District, a project partner, estimates that the license could be finalized in two years, construction would begin a few years later and the pipeline would be operating by around 2030.

But pipeline critics call the project too risky, too pricey and unnecessary. They contend that too much Colorado River water has already been promised to too many people.

“We are way beyond the budget of what the Colorado River can deliver, and when you just look at how much water is in the river and how much everyone else wants to take out, it’s just not there,” said Nick Schou, conservation director for the nonprofit Utah Rivers Council.

Schou said the Lower Basin states are facing cuts of as much as 500,000 acre-feet at the same time the Upper Basin states are planning nine projects that will draw about 400,000 acre-feet.

“Not only are we overusing the water, but there’s going to be a lot less to go around in the future,” Schou said…

The project’s overall cost is another big concern for critics. Proponents estimate the pipeline’s cost between $1.1 billion and $1.8 billion. Critics say the price tag will probably be $3.2 billion or higher. And water users would be saddled with the cost, since the what used to be common federal subsidies for big water projects have evaporated.

Save the Colorado is allowed to intervene in @DenverWater lawsuit v. @BoulderCounty

Workers build the Moffat Tunnel in the 1920s.

From The Loveland Reporter-Herald (Sam Lounsberry) via The Denver Post:

An environmental group’s motion to intervene in a dispute between Denver Water and Boulder County over the proposed expansion of Gross Reservoir was granted by a judge on Tuesday.

Court documents show Boulder District Judge Andrew Ross Macdonald will allow the group, Save the Colorado, to enter the case as a party on behalf of Boulder County, the defendant in the suit.

Denver Water filed the complaint against the county after it decided the utility would have to subject its controversial proposed dam expansion — which would be the largest construction project in the county’s history — through the county development approval process.

The case is still moving through court, with Denver Water trying to avoid subjecting its project to county [1041 regulations].

Joint Wolf Creek [Reservoir] work session between BLM and commissioners — The Rio Blanco Herald Times

A view of the White River foreground, and the Wolf Creek gulch, across the river. The Rio Blanco Water Conservancy District has been using state funds, and their own, to study two dam options for this area between Meeker and Rangely on the White River. Photo credit: Aspen Journalism/Brent Gardner-Smith

From The Rio Blanco Herald-Times:

RBC | BLM White River Field Office Manager Kent Walter hosted a work session with the Rio Blanco County Board of County Commissioners, et al. on May 30 to discuss the Coal Ridge boundary map of the proposed Wolf Creek Reservoir project. Rio Blanco County Commissioners Gary Moyer and Si Woodruff were present along with the county’s water conservancy district and natural resource specialist Lanny Massey. Assisting with the BLM’s presentation of the updated boundary map and associated data was Heather Sauls, BLM planning and environmental coordinator. Representatives from the engineering firm EIS Solutions were also present.

The discussion was primarily focused on an attempt to find an agreeable solution to designate a portion of the Coal Ridge area as off limits to motorized vehicles. As presented previously, this restricted area would include a large portion of the shoreline of the proposed Wolf Creek Reservoir.

“This lake is going to be a really big deal economically for Rio Blanco County. We’re looking for a guaranteed buffer area along the shore for recreational purposes. This would include motorized vehicle access,” Commissioner Moyer said.

After extensive discussion, an agreement was reached on a proposed border of the restricted area, guaranteeing a minimum of a quarter mile buffer around the proposed reservoir shoreline. It was agreed that a new plan will not preclude or restrict any Rio Blanco County projects around the reservoir perimeter and would grant engineers and construction equipment full access to the dam sites.

Telluride councillors told: “We are a steward to our water resources…We are stewards for what we need now and into the future” — Karen Guglielmone

Photo via TellurideValleyFloor.org

From The Telluride Daily Planet (Suzanne Cheavens):

Karen Guglielmone, the Town of Telluride’s environment and engineering division manager, presented the yearly water audit to Town Council in a Tuesday work session, which emphasized the importance of conservation, despite the town’s abundant water supply.

“We are a steward to our water resources,” she told council. “We are stewards for what we need now and into the future.”

The annual report has been produced since 2014, when the town adopted a Water Efficiency Plan, which was subsequently approved by the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) late that year. The annual report reveals figures such as overall municipal water use — and losses — and indicates trends that can help officials modify the plan.

Water losses are attributed to a number of factors including leaks, unauthorized consumption, faulty metering and data errors.

Leaks, Guglielmone explained, are common in municipal water systems as they age. One such leak occurred under East Columbia Avenue in 2018, which officials then said had likely been a progressive event due to pressure from a rock. Directly on the waterline. There are more of those, Guglielmone said.

“We can expect a slow increase of leaks over time,” she said. “We have others we can’t locate precisely.”

Despite the challenges of controlling losses, in 2018 the loss rate dipped by 13.5 percent when compared to the last five years of collecting data. Last year’s losses were calculated to be 26 million gallons, down from 2017’s 37 million gallons. Telluride’s losses are still high compared to other municipalities.

“We’re high on our water loss,” she said. “Fifteen percent is the goal, though 25-30 percent is more the reality,”

Residential water use is holding steady, according to the report. The fact that it stayed about the same (118 million gallons) is “pretty cool,” Guglielmone said…

Town Attorney Kevin Geiger noted that overall the town is in good shape as far as its supply is concerned.

“Our water portfolio is robust,” he said. “(Blue Lake) is a very large reservoir for our town. It is the envy of municipalities in Colorado.”

Telluride’s water rights are also strong…

Incorporating the Blue Lake reservoir and the Pandora water treatment plant became necessary when the town’s growth overtook what Mill Creek could provide, Geiger explained. Past water usage reports, which reflected peak days such as those that occur during the Telluride Bluegrass Festival, necessitated the work to bring Blue Lake into the fold…

Council member Geneva Shaunette said she liked the idea of the stricter irrigation practices that the town imposed during last year’s parched summer.

“I’m a fan of every other day irrigation,” she said. “Maybe grass isn’t the best thing.”

Unfortunately, even though low maintenance buffalo grass uses half the water, many landscapers’ clients prefer water-hungry Kentucky bluegrass, Guglielmone said. “We can’t police everything.”

Thornton Water Project update

From The Fort Collins Coloradoan (Jacy Marmaduke):

Larimer County leaders are asking a court to uphold their rejection of the Thornton pipeline.

The city of Thornton sued Larimer county commissioners in April, asking the Larimer County District Court to overturn the board’s decision and either approve one of the two proposed pipeline routes or force the county to do so. Larimer County commissioners filed their response to Thornton’s lawsuit Monday afternoon.

The legal battle is the latest twist in a yearslong fight over a proposed pipeline that would carry Poudre River water from reservoirs north of Fort Collins to Thornton…

Pipeline opponent No Pipe Dream and river advocacy group Save the Poudre both plan to intervene in the lawsuit, those groups’ leaders told the Coloradoan. If the court allows the groups to intervene, they’ll become parties in the lawsuit…

Commissioners argue the court must affirm their decision if there’s any “competent evidence” in the record supporting it. Competent evidence is a legal term describing evidence that tends to prove a matter in a dispute.

The county also argues the court doesn’t have the authority to substitute its own judgment on the pipeline path. If the court decides commissioners made the wrong call, it must send the case back to the board for reconsideration and correction, the answer argues.

Next steps in the lawsuit could include a motion for judgment or a scheduling conference for the parties to discuss the potential of a settlement or plan a discovery period and timeline for a trial.

Map via ThorntonWaterProject.com

Lot’s of excitement at #GlenCanyonDam in 1983, old Seldom Seen Smith came close to getting his wish but @USBR engineered a solution

1983 – Color photo of Glen Canyon Dam spillway failure from cavitation, via OnTheColorado.com

This is quite a series of video from the USBR and Awesome Science detailing the problems in 1983 at Glen Canyon Dam after first fill of Lake Powell and the destruction in the left spillway. They also show the reconstruction of the spillways and testing afterward. They’ll likely never be used again.

Seldom Seen’s prayer at about Glen Canyon Dam from The Monkey Wrench Gang — Edward Abbey