Here’s a report from a tour of Stagecoach Dam from Matt Stensland writing for Steamboat Today. Click through for the cool photo of the drain system from inside the dam. Here’s an excerpt:
It is a careful balancing act at the Stagecoach Dam, where electricity is generated for homes, fish habitat is managed and water is stored for a time when cities, ranchers and industry need it.
Behind the steel door, mineralized sludge covers the concrete walls and incandescent bulbs dimly light the narrow corridor.
These are the guts of the Stagecoach Dam southeast of Steamboat Springs, and it can be a little unnerving knowing that at the other side of the wall, 9,360 pounds of pressure push against each square foot of concrete.
Water drips from the ceiling and falls from drain pipes that collect water from the seeping concrete.
“All dams get water into them,” said Kevin McBride, adding that not having a system to drain the water would create pressure and put the dam’s integrity at risk…
“It’s pretty much paradise here,” said Blankenship, who most recently worked at a coal mine and previously worked in the power house of the USS Enterprise for the U.S. Navy.
Rogers has an electrical engineering degree from the Colorado School of Mines.
In addition to monitoring the integrity of the dam, they oversee the hydroelectric power plant, which was named the John Fetcher Power Plant in 1997. He pushed to make electricity generation part of the dam design.
“I think John was a natural conservationist and to have this capability in a project that size and not do it was a bad thing,” said McBride, referring to Fetcher, who died in 2009 at age 97 after being recognized as one of the state’s water leaders.
Above the loud turbine in the power house sits a sign warning people not to stand underneath. That is because above, there is a large, weighted steel lever that will come crashing down if the power generated at the plant needs to immediately come off the grid.
On Tuesday afternoon, the electrical turbine was generating upwards of 500 kilowatts. The system can generate as much as 800 kilowatts, but generation is limited by the amount of water that is flowing into the reservoir.
“The generation, it fluctuates wildly,” said Andi Rossi, the water district’s engineer. “If the flows get too low, we shut down for power generation. In a big wet year, we’ll make a lot of power.”
The water district had been selling the power to Xcel Energy, but Yampa Valley Electric Association began buying the power last year for six cents per kilowatt hour. In 2016, YVEA paid more than $230,000 for the 3.85 million kilowatt hours generated at the dam. That is enough energy to power about 355 homes.
Power generation varies and is dependent on runoff. During the drought year of 2002, only 1.85 million kilowatt hours was produced. When there was abundant snowfall in 2011, 4.7 million kilowatt hours was produced. Since 1999, an average of 3.8 million kilowatt hours has been made each year…
A tower of concrete in the reservoir beside the dam has three gates that allow different temperatures of water to be mixed and sent through a pipe under the dam toward the generator.
From there, the water is either sent through the generator or through a pipe called a jet flow, which shoots water out of the power plant and helps oxygenate the water for fish habitat in the section of river in front of the dam known as the tailwaters.
The area is an angler’s delight and can only be accessed by snowmobile from the Catamount area or by hiking along a county road from Stagecoach State Park.
“It’s phenomenal,” Colorado Park and Wildlife fish biologist Billy Atkinson said.
With improvements by Parks and Wildlife to the river habitat, the area has thrived for fishing, partly because of the dam and reservoir. Relatively warm water released from the dam keeps the section of river from freezing over, and the water from the reservoir is rich in nutrients for the fish.
“The system is very productive,” Atkinson said.
In 2016, 25 percent more people visited the section of river, and 4,000 trout were measured per mile.
Not all tailwaters below dams in Colorado are experiencing similar success.
“It depends on the dam and the operations of the dam,” Atkinson said.
The state and federal agencies told a judge Thursday that they support the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District’s request to have a courtroom voice in a clean-water lawsuit against Colorado Springs.
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency are suing the city, which discharges pollutants into Fountain Creek and other tributaries.
The Lower Ark district wants to join the case as an intervenor to protect the district’s interest during the litigation…
Senior Judge Richard Matsch is presiding over the case in U.S. District Court in Denver and will decide whether to grant Lower Ark’s request.
The EPA and the state health-environment department filed the lawsuit Nov. 9. It alleges that Colorado Springs’ storm sewer system is violating federal and state clean water laws.
The city denies it is violating the laws. Mayor John Suthers recently pointed to additional expenditures the city is making as an example of its commitment to correct storm water problems.
The storm water contains pollutants, including E. coli, that flow into the river from creek tributaries.
The district encompasses Bent, Crowley, Otero, Prowers and Pueblo counties, where considerable produce, including Rocky Ford melons, are grown.
In Thursday’s court filing reviewed by The Pueblo Chieftain, the EPA and the department told Matsch they agree with Lower Ark that it should have a voice in court because the district wants the river water to have adequate quality.
To achieve that, the agencies and the district want Colorado Springs to reduce the amount of polluted discharges.
The environmental agencies contend Colorado Springs mischaracterizes the lawsuit as being focused on past issues, but it in fact “seeks to remedy current and ongoing violations.”
The environmental agencies disagree with Colorado Springs’ arguments that the district has no legal right to become an intervenor and that intervention will unduly complicate the litigation.
The lawsuit seeks a court order requiring the city “to develop, implement and enforce” its stormwater management program, as required by permits the government has issued. The lawsuit goes on to ask a judge to impose monetary penalties on Colorado Springs for the violations.
Here’s the release from Colorado State University (Jim Beers):
The Cache la Poudre River, which flows from the mountains through Fort Collins, Timnath and Windsor to the plains east of Greeley, is at the heart of countless activities: from irrigating crops and lawns to providing drinking water for more than 365,000 people and hosting numerous recreational activities.
Those with connections to and concerns for the Poudre River will gather on Friday, Feb. 3 for the fourth annual Poudre River Forum. After its first three years at Larimer County Fairgrounds, the forum is moving down the river to Greeley as a reminder that the Poudre River is important to all who benefit from it — from its headwaters to its confluence with the South Platte. This year’s forum — the theme is “As the Poudre Flows — Forest to Plains” — will be held from 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. at the Island Grove Events Center, 501 N. 14th Ave., Greeley. Pre-registration is required for all participants.
Understanding the river, each other
Sponsored by the Poudre Runs Through It Study/Action Work Group, the forum serves as a community-wide gathering of people from agricultural, municipal, business, recreational and environmental backgrounds to learn about and discuss issues related to the Poudre River.
“The Poudre River Forum brings together those who use the river for agricultural and urban diversions and those who work to improve its ecological health. In the past those groups have not necessarily seen eye to eye,” said MaryLou Smith, PRTI facilitator. “Increasingly our participants are open to the idea that it takes collective vision and action to make the Poudre the world’s best example of a healthy, working river.”
Once again, this year’s event will be facilitated by the Colorado Water Institute at Colorado State University. “The Forum is a great opportunity for the communities connected by the Poudre River to come together to better understand the entire watershed, and each other,” said Reagan Waskom, director of CWI.
Forests and water quality/quantity
Laurie Huckaby with the U.S. Forest Service, will present “The last 1,000 years in the Poudre according to the trees,” to kick off the topic of how important the upper watershed is to water quantity and quality.
“Water quality and forests are inextricably linked,” said Joe Duda of the Colorado State Forest Service, who will join Huckaby as one of the presenters. “Forest conditions and insects, disease and fire all can have profound impacts on water flow and quality. Only healthy, resilient forests can continuously supply clean water.”
Global lessons for local success
“Finding the Balance: Managing Water for People and Nature” is the message of keynote speaker Brian Richter. Richter has been a global leader in water science and conservation for more than 25 years, and currently serves as chief scientist for the Global Water Program of The Nature Conservancy in Washington D.C. Richter’s ideas about the importance of recognizing the balance of working river/healthy river are the basis for which PRTI was initially formed. He has consulted on more than 120 water projects worldwide, and has served as a water advisor to some of the world’s largest corporations, investment banks, the United Nations, and has testified before Congress on multiple occasions. Richter co-authored,with Sandra Postel, the 2003 book Rivers for Life: Managing Water for People and Nature and in 2014 wrote Chasing Water: A Guide for Moving from Scarcity to Sustainability.
Change affects all sectors
An afternoon panel session will probe the impacts of change — positive and negative — along the Poudre River and how they have been similarly and differently addressed by agriculture, urban, and environmental sectors. They will discuss what anticipated future changes might these three sectors see as opportunities or incentives for mutually beneficial collaboration that could result in a healthier, working river?
“It has been said that the only thing that is constant is change,” said John Bartholow, retired ecologist from U.S. Geological Survey, and panel coordinator/moderator. “The question is, can we learn to adapt to those changes sure to come on the Poudre in ways that benefit agriculture, municipalities, and the environment?”
The panel will include Eric Reckentine, deputy director, City of Greeley Water and Sewer; John Sanderson, director of science, Nature Conservancy of Colorado; and Dale Trowbridge, general manager, New Cache la Poudre Irrigating Company.
Videos, displays and music too
The day-long forum also includes “River Snapshots” highlighting more than 15 projects undertaken by a variety of groups on the Poudre last year; “My How the Poudre Has Changed,” featuring historical 1970’s footage of the Poudre; updates from both the cities of Greeley and Fort Collins on current water programs; and over two dozen river-focused displays from community organizations and agencies. The day concludes with a social hour including food, beer and other beverages, and river-themed door prizes.
Colorado Springs is opposing an Arkansas River water district’s request to join a lawsuit that seeks to stop the city from discharging pollutants into Fountain Creek and other tributaries of the river.
The Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District wants a voice against Colorado Springs by being allowed to take part in the litigation.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Colorado Department of Health jointly filed the lawsuit Nov. 9 in U.S. District Court in Denver against Colorado Springs. The lawsuit claims that the city’s discharges of polluted stormwater into the tributaries violate state and federal clean water laws.
The lawsuit seeks a court order requiring Colorado Springs “to take all steps necessary to redress or mitigate the impact of its violations.”
The lawsuit also seeks a court order to require the city “to develop, implement and enforce” its stormwater management program, as required by permits the government has issued. The lawsuit goes on to ask a judge to impose monetary penalties on Colorado Springs for the violations.
Water runoff from streets, parking lots and other surfaces picks up pollutants that drain into the stormwater sewage system, which discharges it into the creeks.
Pollutants include accumulated debris, chemicals and sediment. They “can adversely affect water quality, erode stream banks, destroy needed habitat for fish and other aquatic life, and make it more difficult and expensive for downstream users to effectively use the water,” the lawsuit states
The water district on Dec. 9 asked Senior Judge Richard Matsch for permission to become an intervenor to protect the district’s interests to have clean and usable water from the river.
The city on Dec. 22 filed arguments opposing the district’s request. The city contends that the district has no legal right to intervene.
The district — as well as Pueblo officials — has long been a critic of Colorado Springs for sending polluted and sediment-filled stormwater, including dangerous E. coli bacteria, into the river and for not controlling flooding the water causes.
The district encompasses Bent, Crowley, Otero, Prowers and Pueblo counties, where considerable produce, including Rocky Ford melons, are grown.
Colorado Springs officials have negotiated a deal with Pueblo County for the city to spend $460 million over 20 years on Fountain Creek flood control.
The Gazette newspaper in Colorado Springs reported last Friday that Mayor John Suthers cited that commitment as an example of how his administration is working to resolve the complaints of its downstream neighbors.
In its court filing opposing allowing the district to become a participant in the litigation, the city said the case will be greatly complicated and costs of litigating it will increase. The city also said that the EPA and state environment department will adequately represent the district’s interests.
Attorney Peter Nichols, representing the district, sees it differently, according to The Gazette: “The question is whether the city is already putting a lot of political pressure on the state and EPA to back off. The district is concerned they might be successful with that pressure, and water quality wouldn’t be improved in Fountain Creek,” Nichols said.
The newspaper reported that district Executive Director Jay Winner said Colorado Springs repeatedly had broken promises about the stormwater problems.
From email from the Colorado Water Conservation Board (Rob Viehl):
The CWCB’s annual Instream Flow Workshop will be held on the afternoon of January 25, 2017 at the Hyatt Regency Denver Tech Center in conjunction with the Colorado Water Congress Annual Convention. There is no fee for this particular workshop, and registration with the Colorado Water Congress is not required.
Each year, the CWCB’s Stream and Lake Protection Section hosts an annual workshop that provides state and federal agencies and other interested entities and persons an opportunity to recommend certain stream reaches or natural lakes for inclusion in the State’s Instream Flow (ISF) Program. The entities that make ISF recommendations will present information regarding the location of new recommendations as well as preliminary data in support of the recommendation. There will be an opportunity for interested stakeholders to provide input and ask questions. In addition to presentations of new ISF recommendations, this year’s workshop will include: (1) an overview of the ISF Program and the new appropriation process; and (2) discussion of pending ISF recommendations from previous years.
ASPEN – The United States of America and Pitkin County are among the 10 parties that have filed statements of opposition in two conditional water rights cases being pursued by the city of Aspen in water court for Maroon Creek Reservoir and Castle Creek Reservoir.
In addition to the two governments, four environmental organizations and four private-property owners filed statements in the cases by the Dec. 31 deadline.
Such statements of opposition are typically short and generic, and simply give notice of formal entry into a case. But the statements filed by the U.S. and Pitkin County offer some insight into their concerns about the city’s water rights applications.
Attorneys at the U.S. Justice Department acting on behalf of the U.S. Forest Service told the court the city “cannot show that it can and will” complete the two reservoirs “within a reasonable time” because both potential reservoirs would flood portions of the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness.
And Pitkin County told the court the city “appears to be speculating with no reasonable demonstration of need” for the reservoirs.
The city filed two applications in Division 5 water court in Glenwood Springs on Oct. 31, one for Maroon Creek Reservoir (16CW3128) and one for Castle Creek Reservoir (16CW3129). Aspen is seeking to extend the conditional water storage rights for another six years. The rights were appropriated in 1965 and adjudicated in 1971.
The city has filed diligence applications for the reservoirs eight prior times, in 1972, 1977, 1981, 1985, 1989, 1995, 2002 and 2009, and each time has been awarded a new diligence decree for the conditional rights.
The conditional rights, as currently decreed, cannot be made absolute unless the city builds a dam 155 feet tall and an estimated 1,280 feet wide across Maroon Creek, within view of the Maroon Bells, and a dam 170 feet tall and an estimated 1,220 feet wide across upper Castle Creek.
The Maroon Creek Reservoir would hold 4,567 acre-feet of water and flood 85 acres of land, and the Castle Creek Reservoir would hold 9,062 acre-feet of water and flood 120 acres of land. Water in both reservoirs would flood some land within the wilderness boundary.
The federal case
The two statements of opposition from the federal government are nearly identical, save for the name of the potential reservoirs in each case. Both begin by saying the reservoir would require a Forest Service permit, and then they raise the wilderness issue.
“Maroon Creek Reservoir would impound water that would inundate lands within the Maroon Bells – Snowmass Wilderness Area,” the statement in the Maroon Creek case said. “Development of Maroon Creek Reservoir is not authorized by [federal law] or any existing special use permit or land use authorization.
“Under the Wilderness Act of 1964, the U.S. Forest Service cannot authorize any new development of conditional water rights, including the conditional water right requested in Case No. 16CW3128 in the Maroon Bells–Snowmass Wilderness Area,” it continued.
“Because the applicant [the city] does not hold a valid right to use or occupy national forest system lands, and the U.S. Forest Service lacks authority to authorize development of Maroon Creek Reservoir within the Maroon Bells–Snowmass Wilderness Area, the applicant cannot show that it can and will complete the claimed appropriation within a reasonable time,” the statement of opposition said.
The statements of opposition from the U.S. were signed by John Cruden, the assistant attorney general at the Environment and Natural Resources Division in the Department of Justice in Washington, D.C., and James DuBois, a trial attorney with the department, who is based in Denver.
In September, the acting district ranger in the Aspen-Sopris Ranger District, Kevin Warner, told the Aspen City Council it would take a presidential exemption to the Wilderness Act to allow the Forest Service to issue a permit for the reservoirs.
“Based on our understanding of the Wilderness Act, and the fact that there was no exception built into the designation for the Maroon Bells wilderness area … it would need to go to the president,” Warner said.
The city has not filed for a Forest Service permit for either reservoir.
Pitkin County’s view
Staff attorneys for Pitkin County told the court that the city should be held to “strict proof” to its claims, including its “ownership of or enforceable property interest” in the dam and reservoir sites.
“This water right is located within a designated wilderness area and the applicant’s ability to obtain the property interest necessary to construct the structure, as decreed, within this wilderness area is unproven,” the county told the court.
The county also told that court the city’s 2016 water supply study “demonstrates that this water right is unnecessary to meet current and future demand within a reasonable planning period using normal population growth assumptions.”
It also said recent statements by Aspen’s mayor and city council members “indicate that (the city) does not intend to effectuate these water rights in a reasonable time period,” and that the city “appears to be speculating with no reasonable demonstration of need.”
In all, 16 statements of opposition were filed in the two water court cases by 10 different parties.
In addition to the two governments, U.S. and Pitkin County, four environmental organizations filed statements in both cases: Colorado Trout Unlimited, American Rivers, Wilderness Workshop and Western Resource Advocates.
As such, there is a common set of six parties in each case – the two governments and the four environmental groups – and they’ve filed 12 statements between them, six in each case.
There are also four different property owners, two in each case, and they each filed one statement. That adds four statements to the list of 12, for a mind-numbing total of 16.
Making it somewhat easier to track, the list does break out into eight parties in each case: two governments, four environmental organizations, and a unique pair of property owners.
The differing pairs of property owners in each case brings to 10 the total number of parties across the two cases.
The two property owners who filed in the Maroon Creek case are Roaring Fork Land and Cattle Co. and Larsen Family LP.
Roaring Fork Land and Cattle is an entity controlled by Thomas and Margot Pritzker. The Pritzkers, who are on the Forbes billionaires list, own property near T-Lazy-7 Ranch in the Maroon Creek valley.
Marcella Larsen of Aspen is the co-manager of the Larsen Family LP, based in Boca Raton, Fla., and she signed the statement of opposition. The Larsen family owns residential property in the lower Maroon Creek valley.
The two property owners who filed in the Castle Creek case are Double R Creek Ltd. and Asp Properties LLC. Double R Creek is controlled by Robert Y.C. Ho, a member of a prominent Hong Kong family, while Asp Properties is controlled by Charles Somers, the CEO of a company based in California.
The properties owned by Ho and Somers are located under the potential dam site of Castle Creek Reservoir, two miles below Ashcroft.
The statements of opposition filed by the four environmental groups do not offer much insight as to why they are in the cases, but they issued press releases about their filings.
“Aspen does not need these dams for municipal water supply, climate resiliency, or for stream protection – now or at any time in the foreseeable future,” a Dec. 28 from om American Rivers quoted Matt Rice, its director of programs in the Colorado River basin, as saying.
The same release also quoted David Nickum, the executive director of Colorado Trout Unlimited, as saying, “Building dams on free-flowing streams in one of Colorado’s most iconic wilderness areas is the last approach we should be taking to meet water needs in the 21st Century.”
Wilderness Workshop of Carbondale, which is collaborating with Western Resource Advocates of Boulder, released both a press release on Dec. 21 and an article about the water court cases from its newsletter.
“Both dams would inundate portions of the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness and cause significant environmental damage: severing the streams in two, flooding important riparian habitat, and reducing the ecologically critical spring peak flows,” Wilderness Workshop’s newsletter said.
“The city council met three times this fall to discuss water rights, but those meetings focused almost exclusively on the impact of population growth and climate change to Aspen’s future water supply,” Wilderness Workshop members were told. “They were silent on the ecological impacts of the dams, the regulatory obstacles, financial costs and dubious assertion that these rights actually protect the streams. Over a dozen concerned citizens spoke, unanimously asking the city to abandon their water rights.
“Despite this outcry, the city is moving ahead. All five council members justified their vote on the basis that we might need to store water in the future despite their recent study concluding just the opposite,” the organization said.
In its press release, the Wilderness Workshop quoted Will Roush, its conservation director, as saying: “We’re filing for two reasons: first, to have a seat at the table with the city and other parties to find common ground and second, to make sure that dams are never built on Castle or Maroon Creeks.”
David Hornbacher, the city’s director of utilities and environmental initiatives, declined to comment on the statements of opposition.
A resolution unanimously approved by the city council on Oct. 10 said, “the city is obligated and intends to provide a legal and reliable water supply and to that end can and will develop all necessary water rights, including but not limited to, Maroon Creek Reservoir and Castle Creek Reservoir.”
In its diligence applications, the city told the court the two reservoirs are “part of Aspen’s integrated water supply system” and “part of Aspen’s long-range plan to maintain a water supply to meet current and future demand.”
Further, the city said it has “steadily applied effort to complete the appropriation” of the water rights for the reservoirs and it has done so “in a reasonably expedient and efficient manner under all the facts and circumstances.”
However, in its Oct. 10 resolution, the city council also directed its staff to “enhance and increase the city’s efforts to investigate alternative locations and sizing requirements of the Maroon Creek Reservoir and/or Castle Creek Reservoir, and to report its findings back to City Council for further consideration and action as appropriate.”
Typically in water court cases, opposing parties are given a year to try and work out their differences under the guise of a water court referee. The discussions among parties in this phase of the process are private.
If parties cannot reach agreement within a year, they can ask for another six months. And then dates are eventually set for a trial in front of a judge.
Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism, the Aspen Daily News, and Coyote Gulch are collaborating on coverage of rivers and water. The Daily News published this story on Monday, Jan. 2, 2017.
Colorado Springs filed arguments last week to keep an Arkansas River water district from joining the federal and state lawsuit that’s demanding cures to city stormwater violations.
But with Rocky Ford melons and other crops at stake, the water district plans to fire back by the Thursday deadline with counterarguments to the U.S. District Court in Denver.
Fountain Creek flows through Colorado Springs and into the Arkansas, bringing excess sedimentation, E. coli contamination and other pollution, the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District claims.
The lawsuit it wants to join was filed last month by the U.S. Department of Justice on behalf of the Environmental Protection Agency and by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
The EPA and Department of Justice negotiated with the city unsuccessfully over the past year to resolve the violations cited in EPA audits in 2013 and in August 2015, two months after Mayor John Suthers took office.
Suthers has made the issue a priority, crafting an agreement with Pueblo County to provide $460 million worth of stormwater projects by 2035, beefing up the city’s stormwater division with a new manager and added engineers and inspectors, and releasing an inch-thick Stormwater Program Implementation Plan on Nov. 2.
The EPA and state nonetheless filed suit one week later, on Nov. 9.
“From my perspective, they’re dwelling in the past,” Suthers said. “We feel very strongly the EPA and state health need to get down to El Paso County and see how many problems we’ve already fixed.”
The Lower Ark, as the district is known, had given notice in November 2014, that it would sue the city for violating its MS4 permit, which allows for the municipal separate storm sewer system.
That’s what the EPA and state now are suing over as well.
“We were precluded from filing our own lawsuit because our claims were essentially the same,” said Peter Nichols, lawyer for the Lower Ark.
“The question is whether the city is already putting a lot of political pressure on the state and EPA to back off. The district is concerned they might be successful with that pressure, and water quality wouldn’t be improved in Fountain Creek,” Nichols said.
The Lower Ark – which represents Bent, Crowley, Otero, Prowers and Pueblo counties – has seen Colorado Springs break stormwater promises repeatedly, said district Executive Director Jay Winner.
The city was collecting about $15 million a year through its Stormwater Enterprise Fund until voters passed ballot Issue 300 in 2009, restricting city enterprise funds. Days later, the City Council voted to phase out the fund by 2011.
Then the Waldo Canyon fire erupted in 2012, creating a burn scar that spawned widespread flooding in 2013, exacerbating problems with Fountain Creek, Monument Creek and other tributaries while spewing sediment and floodwaters downstream.
That year, the EPA audited the city’s stormwater system Feb. 4-7.
Between 2011 and 2014, the city spent $1.6 million a year average on stormwater and had nine full-time employees in that division. Degradation, widening and erosion of streambeds, combined with surface runoff, led to sedimentation and substandard water quality, the EPA and state say.
The next EPA audit, conducted on 14 sections of the city’s system Aug. 18-19, 2015, found “continuous failure” to meet standards or remediate problems highlighted in 2013.