2017 #coleg: Funds for invasive species boat inspections diverted by the Colorado Supreme Court

Harvey Gap Reservoir via the Applegate Group.

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

A Colorado Supreme Court ruling last year eliminated severance tax revenues for Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s aquatic nuisance species program, forcing the end of inspections at some sites, CPW says.

As a result, CPW has agreed to close Harvey Gap Reservoir northwest of Silt to watercraft normally requiring such an inspection, due to the agency’s inability to conduct inspections there for species such as invasive zebra and quagga mussels. Hand-launched vessels exempt from the inspections still will be allowed there, including rafts, kayaks, belly boats, float and inner tubes, canoes, windsurfer boards, paddle boards and sailboards.

Hand-launched boats with electric motors will be allowed there, but gas- or diesel-powered engines will be prohibited because they are more at risk of hosting invasive species. The boat ramp will remain closed and all boats must be carried from parking lots or roads.

Meanwhile, the Cortez Journal reports that Totten and Narraguinnep reservoirs in southwest Colorado will be closed to all boating because of concerns among authorities responsible for those sites about possible infestation due to a lack of inspections.

The funding situation also helped prompt CPW this year to pass new regulations subjecting all watercraft, including those exempt from inspection requirements, to a “clean, drain and dry” requirement between each launch. The agency also requires boat operators to pull water drain plugs and remove plants from boats and other equipment upon leaving the water and before leaving the parking area…

CPW says it has coordinated a successful mandatory statewide inspection and decontamination program since 2008, preventing an infestation in the state. The agency says that’s of not just statewide but national importance, because the other primary way mussels can spread is by downstream travel.

The agency says oil and gas severance tax revenues are a primary source of money for the aquatic nuisance species program, but those revenues were eliminated by last year’s court ruling.

In that ruling, the state’s high court overturned the Colorado Court of Appeals and sided with BP America Production Co., finding that a company’s cost of capital is a proper severance tax deduction when claiming deduction costs associated with natural gas transportation and processing.

The decision affected not only BP but other energy producers that have been able to seek refunds on tax payments, reportedly resulting in an impact of tens of millions of dollars to the state. It also means they’re able to pay less in taxes going forward.

CPW’s efforts to shore up its aquatic nuisance species program may be in for some help soon. On Thursday the state Senate unanimously gave final approval to Senate Bill 259, which among other actions would provide $2.45 million to the agency’s aquatic nuisance species fund on the parks and outdoor recreation side, and another $1.2 million to the program’s fund on the wildlife side.

The measure still awaits action in the House, where state Rep. Bob Rankin, R-Carbondale, is its main sponsor.

Earlier this year, CPW also suggested to lawmakers that an aquatic nuisance species fee be assessed on boats, at an amount of $15 for nonmotorized boats, $25 for motorized boats for Colorado residents, and $50 for out-of-state motorized boats.

Meanwhile, CPW said in its release that it “has allocated internal funds and worked with a broad partnership group to raise funds for the 2017 boating season and find sustainable funding solutions.”

It says it has sought help from partners including municipal water providers, irrigation and water districts, federal and state agencies and counties that would share the risk if infestation occurred.

Those partners have provided nearly $1 million in assistance so far.

However, the existing funding shortfall means inspections may be reduced at some stations, and a few lower-risk waters that previously had inspections won’t have stations in operation this year unless the state and its partners are able to find new funding.

Harvey Gap Reservoir is owned by Farmers Irrigation Co. and the Silt Water Conservancy District operates and maintains the reservoir and associated irrigation water delivery infrastructure. CPW leases the reservoir surface and manages its fishery as well as area trails and day-use areas.

CPW restricted boat use at the reservoir at the request of the water district…

Local CPW spokesman Mike Porras said the funding situation remains fluid. He said in northeast Colorado some bodies of water were able to keep inspection stations after local water districts agreed to fund them for the short term. Porras recommends that before trying to go boating at any specific location, people call that location or check the agency’s website, http://www.cpw.state.co.us, to see what restrictions may apply.

Here’s a report about Vallecito Reservoir from Carole McWilliams writing in The Pine River Times. Here’s an excerpt:

Boating access at Vallecito and other Colorado lakes might be threatened by state budget issues.

Jim Schank from the Vallecito Sporting and Conservation Association told the Times, “There’s no money for zebra mussel inspections on lakes in the area.”

The Colorado Department of Parks and Wildlife has been in charge of inspections to prevent introduction of invasive zebra and quagga mussels into clean lakes. People bring boats that have been in infested water, such as Lake Powell, and the mussels can reproduce prolifically and clog pumps, pipes, and other structures.

The Sporting and Conservation Association took over operation of the Vallecito marina two summers ago after the previous private operator pulled out and no other private operator wanted to take it over…

Park and Wildlife “will match what we raise,” Schank said. “Right now it would be Friday to Sunday to have the boat ramp open. There are a lot of people here that rely on that.”

He urged people to contact state legislators about this.

Durango Parks and Wildlife Office spokesman Joe Lewandowski told the Times his department isn’t definite what sort of match DPW might provide…

DPW is working with irrigation, water, and recreation districts around the state to find a solution, Lewandowski said. “Vallecito isn’t the only lake affected. It’s lakes all over the state. … It’s a pretty major problem throughout the state. We’re as concerned about it as anybody else, to make sure recreation stays open.”

Pine River Irrigation District Superintendent Ken Beck told the Times that there have been a series of meetings with the Sporting and Conservation Association, DPW and other entities. “We’re trying to generate a fundraising campaign and let folks know that the money we received from CPW has dried up… It took 21 reservoirs out of funding for boat inspections.”

He continued, “Last year we had around $48,000 to fund recreation” at Vallecito. PRID budgets dam operation and maintenance functions separate from recreation. Beck noted that Vallecito is an irrigation project. In the past, PRID shareholders have made it clear they don’t want their assessments used to subsidize recreation.

The goal is to get $48,000 for this year if local fundraising can bring in $24,000, and hope DPW can match it, Beck said.

He is sending solicitation letters to individuals and entities that could be affected by a lack of boating access.

“We’ll continue to meet,” Beck said. “We’ll fund it and have the lake open. If we don’t receive anything, there will be significant impacts.”

“We have a clean reservoir now,” he said, but noted there have been boats at Vallecito that tested positive for the mussels. “We were able to decontaminate them before they went in the water. … It’s a lot easier to prevent infestation than to remediate. That could get really expensive.”

Non-motorized boats will be allowed on Narraguinnep Reservoir

Narraguinnep Reservoir. Photo credit Andreas Hitzig.

From The Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga):

The Montezuma Valley Irrigation Co. on Tuesday retreated from its boating ban at Narraguinnep Reservoir and agreed to allow some hand-launched, non-motorized watercraft.

The revised ban still includes motorized and trailered boats, including jet skis. Such watercraft can carry water from infected lakes in the engines, bilges and ballasts, according to the MVIC.

The specific list of nine non-motorized boats that are allowed on the lake include kayaks, canoes, rafts, belly boats, windsurfer boards, sailboards, float tubes, inner tubes and paddle boards.

“The board is in agreement on allowing those crafts,” Gerald Koppenhafer, president of the MVIC board, said on Tuesday.

Totten Lake, which is owned by the Dolores Water Conservancy District, also recently banned boating, but is also expected to allow the specific list of non-motorized boats, general manager Mike Preston said on Tuesday.

“The intention of our board is to be consistent with MVI and allow the exempted watercraft,” he said…

The boating ban triggered an outcry from the boating community, and generated complaints to the Montezuma county commission. Dozens of comments for and against the policy were posted on The Journal’s Facebook page.

McPhee Reservoir allows all types of boating, but trailered and motorized watercraft can only enter the lake through two boat inspection stations at the McPhee boat ramp and the House Creek boat ramp. The list of nine, hand-launched boats can launch from anywhere. Funding is available for boat inspection stations at McPhee but not other area lakes.

Irrigation companies and lake managers are trying to prevent the invasive mussel from entering Colorado waterways. Once a lake becomes contaminated with the mussels, they cannot be eliminated and cause damage to irrigation infrastructure, including dams, municipal systems and power plants. Mitigating a mussel contamination year-to-year also dramatically increases operation costs.

A decision is pending on how to prevent a mussel contamination at Groundhog Reservoir, which also is owned by MVIC.

Boating halted at Totten Reservoir, prevention of quagga and zebra infestation cited

Zebra and Quagga Mussels

From The Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga):

The Dolores Water Conservancy District board voted unanimously on Thursday to close Totten Lake to all boating to prevent contamination by non-native quagga and zebra mussels…

The Totten closure follows a boating ban on Narraguinnep Reservoir, enacted last week by the privately owned Montezuma Valley Irrigation Co., which also cited the mussel threat.

“To prevent a mussel contamination, and to be consistent with MVIC’s decision, the board voted to prohibit all boating on Totten,” said DWCD general manager Mike Preston.

The boating ban on the two lakes is for all non-motorized and motorized, and includes kayaks, canoes, stand-up boards, windsurfers, oar boats, rafts and jet-skis. Fishing at the popular lake will be allowed from the shore.

“There was a lot of debate on our board about possible exceptions, but the board decided that to be clear, and best protect our irrigators, the ban will be to all boating,” said MVIC manager Brandon Johnson.

A boating closure order for Totten is being drawn up in cooperation with the Colorado Parks and Wildlife, which manages the fishery. A locked gate on the boat ramp will be installed soon. Narraguinnep already has a locked gate installed. Violators at Totten and Narraguinnep will be issued tickets by Parks and Wildlife and the Montezuma County Sheriff’s Office.

Boat inspection stations are effective at preventing a mussel contamination in lakes. But there is no funding for inspection stations at Totten or Narraguinnep, so managers say their only other option is to close them to boating because the contamination risk is too great.

The Dolores Water Conservancy District is also tightening up boating access on McPhee this year to better prevent the mussels from entering the regional irrigation reservoir.

Boating is still allowed at McPhee because there is funding for boat inspections. But access for motorized and trailered watercraft is only allowed during the season through two boat inspection stations at the McPhee and House Creek boat ramps.

When the stations are closed, newly installed locked gates will prevent lake access. In the past, boats could still launch when the inspection stations were closed.

To accommodate boaters who return to the ramps after the boat stations are locked, one-way spike strips will be installed this season to allow boaters to exit the lake after hours.

“We made that concession to prevent boaters from becoming stranded on the lake,” said McPhee engineer Ken Curtis.

McPhee managers adopted the state standard for preventing the mussel that requires trailered and motorized boats to be inspected, but allows non-motorized, hand-launched craft to enter the lake anywhere without inspection.

In general, non-motorized kayaks, canoes, rowboats, stand-up boards, and windsurfers pose less of a risk or contaminating a waterway with mussels.

However, mussels on a boat from an infected lake can be transported to another waterway.

All boats and their motors should be cleaned, drained and dried before entering a waterway and after leaving a waterway.

MVIC also owns Groundhog Reservoir, and is considering closing it to boating. A decision is expected soon.

Boating halted at Narraguinnep Reservoir to prevent quagga infestation

Quaggas on sandal at Lake Mead

From The Durango Herald (Jim Mimiaga):

The permanent boating ban went into effect Tuesday, said Brandon Johnson, general manager of the Montezuma Valley Irrigation Co., which owns the reservoir.

“We can’t afford to get the mussel in there because of the damage they cause to our infrastructure,” he said. “We had to take drastic action against this threat because we’re in the irrigation business, not the recreation business.”

Mussels from infected lakes, including Lake Powell, can travel in standing water of boats and contaminate other lakes, clogging pipes, valves and canals.

“If they get in there, we can’t deliver water to our stockholders, costs will increase to mitigate them, and they will get into side rolls and pipes,” Johnson said.

The Narraguinnep ban is for all boats, motorized and non-motorized, and includes jet skis, fishing boats, row boats, kayaks and canoes. Colorado Parks and Wildlife would enforce the ban and issue tickets.

Whether paddle boards and windsurfing would be allowed is not clear. “The board decided on a boating ban,” Johnson said. “Whether those two are boats is up to the enforcement agencies.”

MVIC also owns Groundhog Reservoir and is evaluating whether it will close that lake to boating, Johnson said.

Boating could possibly continue at Narraguinnep if there were a boat inspection program, he said, but the irrigation company cannot afford it.

“Recreation is the responsibility of Colorado Parks and Wildlife,” Johnson said.

Parks and Wildlife operates local boat inspection programs, including for McPhee Reservoir, to check for the mussel and decontaminate boats.

But CPW spokesman Joe Lewandowski said the agency does not have the funding to add more boat inspection programs.

“We’re scrambling for funding for the lakes where we do have inspection stations. They are costly to operate,” he said…

McPhee Reservoir is also restricting access to the lake beginning this year to prevent a mussel contamination. Boat ramps at McPhee and House Creek will be gated, and trailered boats can launch only when boat inspection stations are open.

The McPhee boating restriction does not include hand-launched, non-motorized boats such as canoes, kayaks, rafts, windsurfers and paddle boards. Non-motorized, hand-launched boats are free to launch anytime from anywhere on McPhee. However, all boat owners should make sure to clean, drain and dry all boats before and after entering any waterway to avoid invasive species contamination.

@Northern_Water will revisit boat inspection dough at March 2 meeting

From The Loveland Reporter-Herald (Pamela Johnson):

The board discussed the issue at its Thursday board meeting and will revisit contributing to the $300,000 program at its March 2 meeting.

The inspections are to prevent invasive mussels from getting into the water via boats. If these mussels get into the water, which is used for drinking and agriculture through the region, they can affect aquatic life as well as the infrastructure that stores and moves the water.

Previously, Colorado Parks and Wildlife paid for all the inspections statewide at a cost of $4.5 million, but the agency lost its funding this summer due to a Colorado Supreme Court decision that changed the face of oil and gas severance taxes.

The parks agency is working on legislation for new fees to cover the program as soon as 2018, but the funding for this summer is up in the air.

Stakeholders proposed a three-way split of the total $300,000 cost at the two reservoirs. Larimer County agreed to pay one third from its parks fees, Colorado Parks and Wildlife agreed to pay one third from its reduced budget, and officials with both agencies had hoped Northern Water would kick in the final piece.

After its meeting Thursday, the board released the following statement: “The Northern Water board was briefed … regarding the funding challenges for ongoing boat inspections on the reservoirs associated with the Colorado-Big Thompson Project. Following significant discussion, the board directed staff to continue discussions with the various aquatic nuisance species (ANS) stakeholders. It is likely staff will provide a related resolution and a 2017 ANS funding plan to the board at its March planning and action session.”

Map of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project via Northern Water
Map of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project via Northern Water

Whither the invasive mussel prevention at Green Mountain Reservoir?

Green Mountain Dam via the Bureau of Reclamation
Green Mountain Dam via the Bureau of Reclamation

From the Summit Daily News (Kevin Fixler):

It may still be peak ski season, but the time for boating is right around the corner and local officials are at a loss for how to keep up an invasive species prevention program at Green Mountain Reservoir with funding reserves currently bone dry…

Green Mountain, located on the northern end of the county along the Blue River, is considered a relatively high-priority site because of its proximity to the Front Range, and, as a result, large volumes of boaters. It’s why Summit County administrators are ramping up efforts to find financial resources and maintain area boat inspections on the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation-owned reservoir and curb these critters’ arrival…

Green Mountain is much smaller scale, with annual inspection costs that run upwards of $80,000. From 2009-14, the U.S. Forest Service fully funded these watercraft review and decontamination measures based out of the Heeney Marina, but the federal agency was forced to eliminate the program in 2015 due to slashed budgets. Colorado Parks and Wildlife stepped up and paid for the aquatic nuisance species prevention efforts in 2015 and 2016, but recently ran into diminished allocations as well and had to pull out of Summit and focus reserves on only extremely high-risk CPW waters this upcoming summer…

For its part, the Bureau of Reclamation acknowledges awareness of this growing problem, but does not itself conduct or organize recreation or related facilities on the bodies of water it possesses. Instead, it merely authorizes approved activities as managed by partner agencies, such as Larimer County at both Horsetooth Reservoir and Carter Lake in Northern Colorado, and therefore expects those entities to cover these associated costs.

CPW still intends to provide training to staff at Green Mountain’s Heeney Marina in 2017, and do its best to assist with monitoring at a reduced rate. The state agency is also presently in discussions with the Forest Service, as well as other organizations, to see what amount of collaboration might be possible to continue the nuisance species prevention programming in future years.

Meanwhile, at a governmental level, the idea of a bill this legislative cycle requiring a permit in the form of a vessel sticker, say, at a cost of $5 per kayak and $25 per larger boat, has been floated. But as of yet, no one in the General Assembly has stepped up to sponsor such a proposal, even as summer fast approaches.

Inside the Stagecoach Dam: Harnessing the Power — Steamboat Today

Photo credit Upper Yampa River Water Conservancy District.
Photo credit Upper Yampa River Water Conservancy District.

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.