Raw water project gains traction — Telluride Daily Planet

Lone Cone from Norwood
Lone Cone from Norwood

From The Telluride Daily Planet (Jessica Kutz):

The project to bring raw water irrigation to the town of Norwood is gaining traction with a recently approved grant awarded by the Hermitage Fund, a philanthropic fund advised by the Telluride Foundation.

The $10,000 grant is the first won by The Norwood Lawn & Garden group, community raw water advocates who have been in charge of advocacy efforts and community surveying for the project.
Not to be confused with grey water, raw water is untreated [surface water or groundwater] — in this case from the Gurley Reservoir — that can be used for agricultural and home irrigation.

The raw water project has been on the radar of the town of Norwood for many years but did not become a tangible project until a grant issued to the town by the Colorado Water Conservation Board was used to conduct a $47,000 feasibility study.

After the feasibility study was presented in February, the Norwood Lawn & Garden group was formed and started distributing surveys to the community to see how many residents would be ready to give a tap commitment — a $2,500 fee for installing a tap to access the new water source — which also helps offset the initial costs of the project.

Led by Clay Wadman, the group of volunteers consists of members of the Norwood Water Commission, the Norwood Board of Trustees, the Colorado Water [Conservation] Board and community citizens that want to see raw water from the nearby Gurley Reservoir be directed to the town of Norwood for lawn and garden irrigation purposes.

This grant is one of three that is being solicited in order to see the raw water project come to fruition. A second grant from the Southwestern Water Conservation District for $175,000 will be submitted on Friday, and a third grant will be requested from the state Department of Local Affairs in late fall of 2016.

“Our hope is that this grant from the Hermitage Fund helps spearhead additional fundraising and grant efforts for the project,” April Montgomery, programs director of the Telluride Foundation said.

According to Montgomery, the grant provided by the Hermitage Fund will be split between two areas of concentration: for a senior citizen scholarship fund, which will provide senior citizens on fixed incomes with subsidized or free taps to access the new water source, and for administrative costs associated with running the project including marketing, community outreach and grant-writing initiatives.

The Hermitage Fund was created in memory of Reverend Sylvester Schoening and gives funds to organizations “which promote the preservation and restoration of land, water, natural resources and wildlife habitat in the San Miguel region of Colorado,” according to the Telluride Foundation.

According to Wadman, 107 people have already said they would be interested in the taps (up from 80 in July) and if they could get that number to 150 and win the other two grants the project will have enough funding to begin the first phase of construction in the summer of 2017. The project needs to raise $1.1 million dollars to reach that goal.

Wadman said that for residents, the tap commitments are “a big bullet to bite” but that in the long run it will be worth it. “(People are) going to save money on water bills, water is going to be much cheaper, it is going to make their properties more valuable, and going to make their rentals more rentable.”

If Norwood were to complete the project, it would join the ranks of other Colorado towns that have adapted to a raw water system including Carbondale, Nucla, Dove Creek and Grand Junction.

For Wadman, the raw water project is an extension of the growing agricultural movement taking place in Norwood.

“Norwood is defining itself as food centric. It is gardening, it is food based … raw water supports that,” he said.
Wadman will be presenting at the Norwood Board of Trustees meeting this Wednesday where the presale of taps will be up for discussion.

@USBR: Reclamation Awards $1.4 Million Contract for Work at Lemon Dam

Lemon Dam, Florida River
Lemon Dam, Florida River

Here’s the release the US Bureau of Reclamation (Justyn Liff):

Reclamation has awarded a contract for $1.4 million to Gracon, LLC of Loveland, Colorado for fabricating and installing a steel intake bulkhead gate and refurbishing four trash racks and high-pressure slide gates at Lemon Dam located near Durango, Colo.

The bulkhead gate will seal the intake structure to provide a dry work environment for working on the high pressure slide gates while allowing flows into the Florida River to continue. The trash racks prevent unwanted debris from entering the intake structure and protect the high pressure gates that regulate flows through the dam.

Off-site fabrication for the steel intake bulkhead gate and other preparatory work will begin in September 2016. On-site work at Lemon Dam is tentatively scheduled to begin in late October 2016 and be completed in January 2017.

@OmahaUSACE: Public meetings scheduled to discuss Cherry Creek Dam studies

Cherry Creek Dam looking south
Cherry Creek Dam looking south

Here’s the release from the US Army Corps of Engineers (Eileen Williamson):

Three public meetings to provide an update on the status of two studies taking place at Cherry Creek Dam are scheduled for the week of September 20.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will host meetings to provide a status update on alternatives under consideration to address risks from extreme storm events associated with Cherry Creek Dam including a study to modify the dam’s water control plan.
The meetings will be held at the following times and locations:

  • Tuesday, Sept. 20 from 6 – 8 p.m.
    Cherry Creek Presbyterian Church
    Rooms 112/113 (Main Building)
    10150 E. Belleview Avenue
    Englewood, CO 80111
  • Wednesday, Sept. 21 from 5:30 – 7:30 p.m.
    Virginia Village Library
    1500 S. Dahlia Street
    Denver, CO 80222
  • Thursday, Sept. 22 from 5:30 – 7:30 p.m.
    Aurora Municipal Center
    City Café
    15151 E. Alameda Parkway
    Aurora, CO 80012
  • The public meetings will include a presentation and an open house to provide the public an opportunity to ask questions about Cherry Creek Dam and the alternatives being presented and considered as part of the Dam Safety Modification Study and Water Control Plan Modification Study.

    Meeting materials will be made available online following the meetings at http://go.usa.gov/cQ7hP.

    Background: Cherry Creek Dam and Reservoir is located in the southeast Denver metropolitan area on Cherry Creek, 11.4 miles upstream of its confluence with the South Platte River.

    In 2005, (post-Katrina) USACE began screening its dams (approximately 700 across the U.S.) to determine each dam’s risk level. Cherry Creek Dam received an elevated risk rating primarily because of the large downstream population and the potential for overtopping during an extremely rare precipitation event.

    A dam safety modification study began in 2013 and is being conducted in accordance with USACE policy as described in Engineering Regulation 1110-2-1156 “Safety of Dams – Policy and Procedures.” An Environmental Impact Statement is also being prepared pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, as amended.

    #ColoradoRiver: Momentum — Doug Kenney #COriver

    How much water reaches the Westwater stretch of the Colorado River, and then Lake Powell, is taking on increasing importance to Colorado water officials. A new study is underway to look at much more water is available to develop on the Western Slope, and it's caught the attention of east slope water officials. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism
    How much water reaches the Westwater stretch of the Colorado River, and then Lake Powell, is taking on increasing importance to Colorado water officials. A new study is underway to look at much more water is available to develop on the Western Slope, and it’s caught the attention of east slope water officials. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    From Carpe Diem West (Doug Kenney):

    I’ve been spending a lot of time lately talking to colleagues about the current state of the Colorado River, and if there’s one word that captures their collective assessment, it is momentum. Throughout the basin, a lot of really good innovations are occurring. Conservation has, rightly, emerged as a credible management tool, and not merely something for the hippies to talk about. Cooperation among the states, between the US and Mexico, and between the water users and environmentalists, is arguably at an all-time high. Thoughtful people hold key posts in many of the relevant agencies. And so on. Sure, there’s still too many efforts to build new straws to further depletions, some key players—such as the tribes—are still struggling for meaningful inclusion, and there’s never enough money, especially for costly reforms such as improved watershed management. But compared to 20 years ago, or even 10 years ago, it’s a different world. Momentum.

    But is it enough? Can incremental progress on several fronts congeal to form a comprehensive, lasting solution to the river’s problems? And can it happen on a schedule that acknowledges that the climate will continue to warm, populations will continue to grow, and that persistently low reservoir storage makes the region increasingly vulnerable should a few really dry years be around the corner. The challenges are all growing, and despite our current momentum, Lake Mead—the unofficial canary in this coal mine—is projected to drop further over the next 2 years. We are doing better—arguably, much better. Nobody should be shy in acknowledging this; some boasting is justified. But we aren’t winning yet. Can incremental reforms ultimately tip the scales, shifting the basin’s course from one of steady decline to one leading to true sustainability, or will it only delay a day of reckoning that ushers in more sweeping changes—reforms that go beyond what current negotiations envision? I don’t pretend to definitely know that answer. Nobody does. But I suspect we likely need one or more new “grand bargains” to get us to the finish line. If so, the ultimate value of the incremental reforms may be in establishing the networks and laying the groundwork for those conversations to occur. Momentum.

    Dr. Doug Kenney
    Doug is the Senior Research Associate, Getches-Wilkinson Natural Resources Law Center and Director of the GWC Western Water Policy Program. Doug is a member of The Colorado River Research Group; a self-directed team of ten veteran Colorado River scholars. A founding member of Carpe Diem West, he also participates on the program team. He researches and writes extensively on several water-related issues, including law and policy reform, river basin and watershed-level planning.

    #AnimasRiver: Updated EPA National Priorities List includes #GoldKingMine

    From the Engineering and Mining Journal:

    This week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) added three mining-related sites to the National Priorities List (NPL) of Superfund sites. These include the Bonita Peak Mining District (BPMD) site in San Juan County, Colorado; the Argonaut mine, Amador County, California; and the Anaconda Aluminum Co.’s Columbia Falls Reduction Plant site, also known as the Columbia Falls Aluminum Co. (CFAC) site, in Columbia Falls, Montana.

    The law establishing the Superfund program, the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA), requires the EPA to update the NPL at least annually and clean up hazardous waste sites. The designation comes a little more than a year after the EPA released 3 million gallons of water from the Gold King mine into the Animas River fouling rivers and lakes from Colorado to Nevada. The Gold King mine is one of several abandoned mines in the Bonita Peak district…

    The lawsuits stemming from this mishap are just now coming to a head. The state of New Mexico, however, is suing the state of Colorado, claiming it approved the plans that led to this situation.

    The Bonita Peak Mining District site consists of historic and ongoing releases from mining operations in three drainages, which converge into the Animas River near Silverton, Colorado. Water quality in the BPMD has been impaired by acid mine drainage for decades. Since 1998, the state of Colorado has designated portions of the Animas River downstream from Cement Creek as impaired for heavy metals, including lead, iron and aluminum. The EPA has waste quantity data on 32 of Bonita Peak’s 48 sources. These 32 sources have waste rock and water discharging out of adits at a combined rate of 5.4 million gallons per day. Cadmium, copper, manganese and zinc are the known contaminants associated with these discharges.

    Drought news: No change in depiction for #Colorado

    Click here to go to the US Drought Monitor website. Here’s an excerpt:

    This U.S. Drought Monitor week saw improvements in drought conditions in parts of the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic in association with Hurricane-Tropical Storm Hermine. Hurricane Hermine marked the first hurricane to make landfall in Florida in eleven years since Hurricane Wilma in 2005. The hurricane came ashore along the Florida Panhandle moving northeast and impacting eastern portions of Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina before moving off-shore. The system brought flooding and heavy rainfall accumulations ranging from three-to-eighteen inches with the heaviest accumulations observed in Florida as well as coastal areas of the Carolinas. In the Central Pacific sector, two hurricanes (Hurricane Madeline and Hurricane Lester) approached the Hawaiian Islands during the past week; both veered away from the island chain, however. Some impacts were observed on the windward side of the Big Island where seven-to-nine inches of rain fell in association with moisture from Hurricane Madeline as it passed just south of the Big Island. Elsewhere, significant rainfall accumulations were observed in southeastern New Mexico as well as portions of the Central Plains where bands of heavy rainfall soaked northwestern Kansas. In New England, dryness continued to deteriorate conditions in Maine, New Hampshire, and Upstate New York. In the West, California and the Great Basin remained in a dry pattern…

    The Plains
    Across the Plains, short-term conditions improved in isolated areas of western South Dakota and northeastern Wyoming leading to one-category improvements in areas of Extreme Drought (D3), Severe Drought (D2), and Moderate Drought (D1). Conversely, a small area of Extreme Drought (D3) in northwestern South Dakota was slightly expanded in response to very dry conditions observed on satellite-based vegetative health products as well as reports of lack of forage and deteriorating stock pond conditions. In northwestern Kansas, a band of heavy rain improved conditions leading to the removal of an area of Moderate Drought (D1) and reduction in areas of Abnormally Dry (D0). Temperatures were two-to-eight degrees above average in the Northern Plains while further south temperatures hovered within a few degrees of normal…

    The West
    During the past week, average temperatures were below normal across California, most of the Great Basin, Northern Rockies, and western portions of the Southwest while areas east of the Continental Divide were slightly above normal. Overall, the West was dry last week with the exception of areas of isolated precipitation in northwestern Washington, eastern Montana, and southeastern New Mexico. Dryness during the past 90 days led to expansion of areas of Abnormally Dry (D0) and Moderate Drought (D1) in southeastern and south-central Idaho. In northwestern Wyoming, an area of Severe Drought (D2) was expanded in the headwater region of the Snake River where baseflow has been well below normal. In southeastern New Mexico, locally heavy rainfall accumulations ranging from two-to-ten inches led to one-category improvements in areas of Abnormally Dry (D0) and Moderate Drought (D1)…

    Looking Ahead
    The NWS WPC 7-Day Quantitative Precipitation Forecast (QPF) calls for significant rainfall accumulations (two-to-five inches) across the nation’s midsection – primarily focused on eastern portions of the Southern Plains, Midwest, and southern portions of the Southwest in association with Tropical Storm Newton. Rainfall accumulations in southeastern Arizona and southern New Mexico are forecasted to be in the two-to-four inch range. Dry conditions are forecast in the Far West, Pacific Northwest, and Intermountain West. The CPC 6–10 day outlooks call for a high probability of above-normal temperatures in the eastern third of the U.S. and most of the Pacific Northwest while below-normal temperatures are expected in the Desert Southwest, Intermountain West, Rockies, and extending eastward into the Plains and western portions of the Midwest. Below-normal precipitation is forecasted for the Pacific Northwest, Northern Rockies, Northern Plains, and northern portions of the Mid-Atlantic while there is a high probability of above-normal precipitation across the Central Rockies, eastern portions of the Southwest, Central and Southern Plains, and northern portions of the Midwest.

    A hazy legal question lingers over water rights for Basalt marijuana facility

    The High Valley Farms marijuana cultivation facility near Basalt. The court has yet to rule on the question in posed: can a water right be issued specifically to grow pot when it is still illegal to grow weed under federal law?
    The High Valley Farms marijuana cultivation facility near Basalt. The court has yet to rule on the question posed: Can a water right be issued specifically to grow pot when it is still illegal to grow weed under federal law?

    By Brent Gardner-Smith, Aspen Journalism

    BASALT – It’s been two years since High Valley Farms, LLC applied for a water right to grow marijuana near Basalt, but it’s still not known if officials in the Division 5 water court will issue a decree to water pot plants when it is still a federal crime to do so.

    And while the hazy legal question posed by court officials has been lingering in the air since 2014, High Valley Farms has amended its application twice and both times has increased the size of its proposed water right.

    Instead of seeking a right to use 2.89 acre-feet annually from an on-site well and the Roaring Fork River, High Valley Farms is now seeking to use 9.24 acre-feet a year.

    Put in terms of gallons instead of acre-feet, High Valley Farms has gone from asking for the right to use 941,711 gallons of water a year, or 2,580 gallons a day, to asking for 3,010,867 gallons a year, or 8,249 gallons a day.

    Further, High Valley Farms has recently picked up two opposers in the case, both oil-company executives from Texas who own property near the 25,000-square-foot pot-growing facility along Highway 82.

    The opposition is WCAT Properties, LLC controlled by Earl Michie of Midland, Texas, and the Spencer D. Armour III 2012 Trust, controlled by the namesake, also of Midland.

    Both men, according to their attorney, Scott Miller of Basalt, are concerned that the use of water at the High Valley Farms facility is drying up wells on their property, and are less concerned about the issues of federal law raised in the case.

    Miller also represents the Roaring Fork Club, which filed the first statement of opposition in the case. That, too, concerns its water rights, not federal legal questions about growing pot.

    A graphic from High Valley Farms showing the location of the facility and water sources.
    A graphic from High Valley Farms showing the location of the facility and water sources.

    More water

    High Valley Farms, which is controlled by Jordan Lewis, the owner of the Silverpeak marijuana store in Aspen, wants to use the water covered by the proposed water right to fill and refill large underground storage tanks. The water will be used for plants in the indoor greenhouse, and to power the mist and evaporative cooling systems in the greenhouse.

    Those systems now include an expensive odor-suppression system that uses water and carbon filters to stop the smell of potent buds from wafting through the neighborhood.

    The water would also be used in sinks and bathrooms in both the greenhouse and a nearby single-family home, and for landscaping purposes on the 4.7-acre lot, which is near the Roaring Fork Club, just upvalley from Basalt.

    Rhonda Bazil, the attorney for High Valley Farms, declined on Tuesday to discuss the application.

    The map submitted with the original High Valley Farms water right application in August 2014.
    The map submitted with the original High Valley Farms water right application in August 2014.

    Legal questions

    Both the original application from High Valley Farms in August 2014 and the amended version in May 2015 prompted the same question from the water referee in Division 5 water court: Can a water right to grow marijuana be granted in Colorado when growing pot is still a federal crime?

    “The application must explain how the claim for these conditional water rights can be granted in light of the definition of beneficial use as defined [under state law],” the water referee said in a summary of consultation in August 2015. “Specifically, beneficial use means the ‘use of that amount of water that is reasonable and appropriate under reasonably efficient practices to accomplish without waste the purpose for which the appropriation is lawfully made.’”

    The document put an emphasis on the word “lawfully,” as in, can it be done lawfully if it is still a federal crime?

    It was the first time a water court official in Colorado had posed the question, and the case is likely to set a precedent, at least in Division 5, which encompasses the Colorado River basin above the Gunnison River.

    The answer to the question remains outstanding, although Bazil, the attorney for High Valley Farms, filed a response to the court in November 2015 making three main points.

    She argued that the state water engineer has already said it’s OK to use water to grow pot plants; that the federal Bureau of Reclamation has also said it’s fine to water pot plants in Colorado (as long as you don’t use water taken directly from a federal facility); and that the federal government has long ceded general management of water rights to the states.

    Bazil also told the court at the time, “If this court were to determine that, contrary to the findings of the state engineer, the use of water for marijuana facilities is not a beneficial use, the entire industry, which reportedly employs almost 160,000 resident, would be shut down.”

    An underground water tank, yet to be buried, next to the High Valley Farms grow facility in Basalt in February 2016.
    An underground water tank, yet to be buried, next to the High Valley Farms grow facility in Basalt in February 2016.

    Next steps

    After receiving the second amended application from High Valley Farms in May, the water court referee set Oct. 4 as the next date for a status conference.

    But on Aug. 31, in response to a motion to extend from High Valley Farms, the referee vacated the scheduled October status conference while all the parties await the third “summary of consultation” in the case from the division engineer’s office.

    Once the consultation, or review of the application, is submitted to the court, High Valley Farms will have 30 days to respond and “circulate a proposed ruling.” There is no deadline set for the consultation to be submitted by the division engineer.

    Opposers in the case will then have another 30 days to respond to the proposed ruling from High Valley Farms, and a status conference will be scheduled after that.

    When ready to act, the water court referee doesn’t necessarily have to address the larger legal question posed by the High Valley Farms application in order to recommend approval by the water court judge.

    If satisfied by answers to the lingering federal question, the referee could simply recommend approval of a proposed decree, without comment.

    If the referee denies the decree, for any reason, the decision could then be appealed to the water court judge. And an eventual decision by the judge could be appealed directly to the Colorado Supreme Court.

    In the meantime, High Valley Farms can continue to water its pot plants; it just doesn’t have a decreed water right to do so.

    Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism and the Aspen Daily News are collaborating on coverage of rivers and water. The Daily News published this story on Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2016.