From the Bookcliff, Mount Sopris and South Side Conservation Districts (Dennis Davidson) via The Glenwood Springs Post Independent:
The Bookcliff, South Side and Mount Sopris Conservation Districts have received funding of $500,000 for the next two years to assist agriculture landowners in portions of Garfield and Pitkin counties improve water quality and conserve water use.
The Targeted Conservation Program is part of the USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service’s (NRCS) Environmental Quality Incentives Program.
Local landowners must match these funds from loans, grants or their own funds. This will make a total investment to improve water quality of nearly $2 million in the Colorado and Roaring Fork river drainages.
The request was developed by the local conservation districts because landowners could not obtain cost share funds through the normal cost share programs of USDA conservation programs. The request targets the need of cost share on larger group projects.
Some of the goals of Bookcliff, South Side and Mount Sopris Conservation Districts that will be addressed with this funding are:
• Improve overall water quality, watershed health and water quantity in the mainstream of the Colorado River and its tributaries.
• Reduce salts and sediments in the waters of the Colorado River.
• Reduce unwanted vegetation such as tamarisk, Russian olive, willow, reed canary grass and other hydrophytic plants.
• Help landowners reduce annual maintenance and disturbances in ditches.
• Improve the habitat for the threatened and endangered warm water fish in the Colorado River below Rifle.
• Reduce labor and production costs for agriculture producers.
The first year’s allocations have already received requests for funds to install irrigation pipelines, irrigation diversion structures and associated management practices.
The consumptive use of agriculture water benefits beyond local citizens, but also extends worldwide in the production of food and fiber. Ecosystem improvement will include the upland, rangeland, forest land, wildlife land and the riparian area along each of the natural streams and rivers, while maintaining the water rights of the landowners.
Our local farmers and ranchers are conservationists striving to improve our environment through the proper use and management of water, plants, soil and animals and maintaining these resources for the current production of food and fiber, and for the future.
For additional information or questions, call the local conservation district office or the NRCS at (970) 945-5494.
The city of Aspen now has until Dec. 29 to provide a “substantive” response to central questions raised by state officials in water court regarding the city’s efforts to develop dams and reservoirs on upper Maroon and Castle creeks.
The questions raised by the state include whether the city can get a permit for the dams, if it can build the dams in reasonable time, if it has a specific plan to build them, and if it needs the water the reservoirs would hold.
After a status conference on Nov. 9 in water court in Glenwood Springs regarding two due diligence applications the city filed in December 2016 for the two potential dam-and-reservoir projects, a water court referee said, for the second time since August, that the city must provide a substantive response to key issues raised by the state.
Susan Ryan, the referee in Division 5 water court, said the city must do so whether or not it is able to reach settlement agreements with the 10 opposing parties in the two cases.
“It is going to require a written response to that summary of consultation regardless of whether or not settlement is reached with all the opposers in the case,” Ryan said during the status conference. “And so I just wanted to clarify that that is what I typically require in every water case and that is what I will require here.”
A summary of consultation in water court can be a routine review of a water rights application by two state officials, the division engineer, who administers water rights, and the water court referee, who functions as an administrative judge and seeks to resolve cases, if possible, before they are sent to a water court judge.
They said the city “must demonstrate that it will secure permits and land-use approvals that are necessary to apply the subject water rights to beneficial use” and the city must show it “will complete the appropriations within a reasonable time.”
They also said “a specific plan is in place to develop the subject water rights,” that the city “must demonstrate substantiated population growth in order to justify the continued need for these water rights” and that the city is “not speculating with the subject water rights.”
Maroon Creek Reservoir would hold 4,567 acre-feet of water behind a 155-foot-tall dam and encroach on portions of the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness. Castle Creek Reservoir, as currently decreed, would hold 9,062 acre-feet of water behind a 170-foot-tall dam, and would also flood some land in the wilderness boundary.
In two diligence applications filed on Oct. 31, 2016, the city told the court it has “steadily applied effort to complete the appropriation” of the conditional water rights for both of the reservoirs over the past six years, and that it has done so “in a reasonably expedient and efficient manner under all the facts and circumstances.”
In July, the city said it was seeking a way to transfer decreed storage rights to locations other than the decreed locations on Castle Creek and Maroon Creek.
On Nov. 7, city of Aspen voters rejected a ballot question that would have given the city the go-ahead to issue $5.5 million in general obligation bonds to purchase a 60-acre parcel in Woody Creek to use for water storage, in conjunction with the gravel pit operated by Elam Construction.
But city officials, before the vote, had stated they intended to buy the Woody Creek parcel whether the ballot question was approved or not. A recent study for the city found that between 1,000 acre-feet and 8,000 acre-feet of water could be stored using varying combinations of the land the city intends to buy and the gravel pit.
Also in July, the city filed brief responses to the summaries of consultation. But in August the water court referee said the city’s effort fell short.
City not eager to file response
During the Nov. 9 status conference, the city’s water attorney, Cynthia Covell of Alperstein and Covell, told Ryan the city would still prefer not to lay out its case in a substantive response at this stage of the proceedings.
“Since the last status conference the city has been working to finalize the reports that it has needed to assist in the settlement process, including its supply-and- demand risk assessment study, and its evaluation of one or more alternative storage sites that are not located in federal wilderness areas or on Castle Creek or Maroon Creek,” Covell said.
Covell said the city has only this week received responses from all 10 of the opposing parties to a Sept. 20 settlement proposal from the city, and that the City Council was scheduled meet in executive session Monday to discuss the responses.
“So at this point, Aspen would like to devote its time and resources to seeing if we can reach a settlement by the end of the year, we hope in both cases,” Covell said.
Attorneys in the cases said in August the main sticking point in the settlement negotiations was that the city wanted to keep open its options regarding transferring rights tied to the potential Castle Creek reservoir, while opposing parties want the rights for the potential reservoirs fully removed from both valleys.
During the status conference, after determining it was still the city’s position that it would prefer not to provide substantive answers at this time, Ryan asked the opposing attorneys what they thought.
“I frankly don’t buy the argument that it’s a hiccup or roadblock in terms of settlement,” attorney Paul Noto said. “I actually feel that it may lay some cards on the table that may in fact help settlement.”
Noto is representing American Rivers, Colorado Trout Unlimited, and the Roaring Fork Land and Cattle Co. in the Maroon Creek case, and the two environmental groups in the Castle Creek case.
Also opposing the city in the cases are Western Resource Advocates, Wilderness Workshop, Pitkin County, USFS, Larsen Family Limited Partnership in the Maroon Creek case, and Double R Creek Ltd. and Asp Properties LLC in the Castle Creek case.
Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism is collaborating with The Aspen Times on coverage of water and rivers. The Times published this story online on Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2017.
Aspen voters denied the city permission Tuesday to use $5.5 million in general obligation bonds to buy a piece of land in Woody Creek that would potentially be converted into a reservoir for future water storage.
Unofficial results showed the measure was decided by a 53.4 percent to 46.6 percentage margin.
The outcome of the vote won’t preclude the city from acquiring a 58-acre parcel of land from Woody Creek Development Co. The city has had the property under contract to buy for $2.65 million.
The city had said that even without voter approval, it would still buy the property possibly by using certificates of participation to finance the deal or through cash and internal financing.
The city’s pending purchase of the land was in response to public outcry over statements it had made in previous water court filings that it could dam both Maroon and Castle creeks for future water supply.
The city has various reservoir options for the Woody Creek land, as Aspen Journalism reported in October that the largest one would span 8,000 acre-feet at a cost of $81 million, with a 5,000-foot-long dam, based on a study by Longmont-based engineering firm Deere and Ault.
The actual development of the reservoir is not in the city’s immediate future, Aspen Journalism reported.
“Developing water storage is an effort that will take time to fully implement, as it involves property acquisition, studies, planning, permitting, engineering and design before any construction can begin,” Margaret Medellin, a utilities portfolio manager in the city’s water department, was quoted as saying. “This is not an overnight process. Securing the property is the first step.”
The Aspen City Council has directed the city manager to buy a parcel of land in Woody Creek, regardless of the results of a current ballot question, and told staff via a resolution to “proceed with plans to develop the Woody Creek parcel for water storage.”
The parcel is 58 acres of land now owned by Woody Creek Development Co. (WCDC) that the city plans to buy for $3 million, even if city voters reject a $5.5 million bonding question to finance the purchase in next week’s election.
And the water storage includes a variety of potential reservoirs on the WCDC property and the neighboring gravel pit, which is operated by Elam Construction.
The biggest reservoir in the city’s options could top out at 8,000 acre-feet, would cost $81 million, and require “construction of a 5,000-foot-long dam, with a 60-foot maximum section,” according to a study completed in September for the city by Deere and Ault, an engineering firm in Longmont.
The study includes four alternatives, all of which are flexible and could be adjusted, city officials said.
The first option is to build a 1,000 acre-foot surface reservoir in the existing gravel pit. That could be built “relatively quickly, possibly within a few years,” the study says, while additional reservoirs on the WCDC site could then be completed within “the order of a decade.”
The city has no stated plans to buy the gravel pit, and the mine’s current reclamation plan, regulated by Pitkin County, does not mention turning the gravel pit into a reservoir. Nonetheless, the existing gravel pit and potential new pits on the neighboring WCDC parcel are at the center of the city’s water storage plans.
“The city and its consultant, Deere and Ault, have identified a property located in the Woody Creek area … as a high-value property for water storage,” states a resolution approved by Aspen City Council on Oct. 23. The resolution directs the city manager to buy the property and staff to move forward with developing the water storage.
The WCDC parcel and the neighboring gravel pit are a short walk up a hill behind the Woody Creek post office, on a level bench formed by 200 feet of cobble, gravel, and large boulders left behind by melting glaciers.
Margaret Medellin, a utilities portfolio manager in the city’s water department, said the reservoirs in Woody Creek, seen by the city as good options to potential reservoirs on Castle and Maroon creeks, will not be built anytime soon.
“Developing water storage is an effort that will take time to fully implement, as it involves property acquisition, studies, planning, permitting, engineering and design before any construction can begin,” Medellin said. “This is not an overnight process. Securing the property is the first step.”
Another step is clarifying the city’s demand for stored water.
A recent risk analysis done for the city by Headwaters Corporation suggests in a worst-case scenario in 2065, the city might see occasional shortages in the range of 2,000 acre-feet, but more work needs to be done to see how that translates into a specific water-storage need.
The Deere and Ault study recommends that the city should next “perform a water resources analysis to better understand how the [Woody Creek] site can be used to optimize the flexibility of the city’s water rights.”
Finance and water rights
Before voting to approve Resolution 139 at an Oct. 23 City Council meeting to buy the WCDC parcel, Councilman Adam Frisch described how he saw the ballot question, which is question 2C on the city of Aspen ballot.
“This is an election question [and] council’s direction is that this [is] going to be purchased, it’s just a matter of how,” Frisch said. “And it’s either going to be done with using general obligation bonds, if the voters give us approval, [or] with COPs, which will be slightly more expensive, but we’re planning on executing that path if the voters don’t support us.”
Certificates of participation (COPs) are an alternative method for the city to obtain project financing.
Aspen City Manager Steve Barwick then said, “We may not use COPs. COPs would be possible. But we could also do some internal financing and use cash. You’ve identified the key issue though. It’s about the financial method rather than whether or not you are going to buy it.”
And while the city has said it intends to develop reservoirs in Woody Creek as an alternative to the potential Castle and Maroon reservoirs, it is still officially pursuing approval in water court for two due-diligence applications that would allow it to maintain conditional water storage rights on Castle and Maroon.
The city issued a press release in July stating its intent to transfer a portion of its water storage rights out of the Castle and Maroon creek valleys to Woody Creek, but it has not done so to date. It also is in settlement talks with the 10 parties opposing its due-diligence applications, and a status conference is set for Nov. 9.
The city holds conditional water rights to the potential Castle Creek Reservoir, two miles below Ashcroft, and to the potential Maroon Creek Reservoir, about a mile below Maroon Lake.
An Oct. 13 staff memo from David Hornbacher, the city’s director of utilities and environmental initiatives said the city is working to transfer “some or all of its Maroon and/or Castle creek conditional water storage rights” to the Woody Creek parcel.
In his remarks last week, Frisch said “this is about a stage of protecting water rights and hopefully, possibly, moving our water storage plans from the upper Ashcroft and Maroon Creek down to the Woody Creek area.”
The potential reservoirs studied by Deere and Ault are not on either a creek or a river, but are “off-channel” reservoirs that would be filled “using a pipeline from existing ditch structures,” which are not specified.
Water in the reservoir would be released via an outlet pipe and a spillway to the Roaring Fork River, which is 150 feet below the reservoir sites.
The first phase of the first alternative in the Deere and Ault study is to build a 1,000 acre-foot reservoir in the lower end of the existing gravel pit. The reservoir would require “low asphalt cored dams” to hold back the stored water.
The next phase is to excavate the lower end of the WCDC parcel to create a 700-acre-foot reservoir. It would require a 20-foot-high dam and a “geosynthetic liner” on the bottom of the excavated area.
A second reservoir could then be dug out and lined on the WCDC property to hold 800 acre-feet of water.
Building the two reservoirs on the WCDC site would require mining 3 million cubic yards, or 4.5 million tons, of material, according to Deere and Ault.
Combined, the three reservoirs — two on the WCDC site, one in the existing gravel pit — would hold 2,500 acre-feet and would cost $73 million to build ($29,000 an acre-foot of stored water).
The next alternative “represents the maximum storage vessel that could be realized using both parcels,” according to Deere and Ault.
This reservoir requires a 5,000-foot-long dam wrapping around the downvalley end of the existing gravel pit and then along the west side of the WCDC parcel. It would store 8,000 acre-feet and cost $81 million ($10,000 per acre-foot).
It would also require excavating 11 million cubic yards, or 16.5 million tons, of gravel.
The third alternative describes a 1,000-acre-foot reservoir in the existing gravel pit and another 2,000-acre-foot reservoir on the WCDC parcel. These two reservoirs would together store 3,000 acre-feet and cost $74 million ($25,000 an acre-foot).
The fourth alternative is a small and expensive underground reservoir built on the WCDC parcel and would hold 320 acre-feet and cost $48 million ($150,000 an acre-foot).
Aspen Journalism is collaborating with The Aspen Times, the Glenwood Springs Post Independent, the Vail Daily, and the Summit Daily on coverage of rivers and water. The Times published this story on Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2017
Here’s the release from Colorado Parks and Wildlife (Mike Porras):
Effective immediately, Colorado Parks and Wildlife is instituting a voluntary fishing closure at a popular area on the Frying Pan River located downstream from the Ruedi Reservoir Dam. The fishing spot – known locally as the ‘toilet-bowl’ – will experience significantly reduced flow as water that normally feeds the pool will be re-routed to facilitate required dam maintenance.
Work on the dam – owned and operated by the Bureau of Reclamation – could continue through Nov. 10; however, it could take longer if additional work is necessary.
“The situation will leave the fish in the pool isolated, stressed and very easy to catch,” said Area Aquatic Biologist Kendall Bakich. “It would not be very sporting to fish in this area until after conditions improve.”
Bakich says the angling community complied with a voluntary closure when a similar situation occurred last year.
“We appreciate everyone’s patience.” she said. “We will let the public know when conditions improve and when the voluntary fishing closure is lifted.”
Anglers can expect to see signage advising of the closure and are urged to find alternative fishing locations in the meantime.
Although the closure is voluntary, CPW officials say a more stringent emergency closure enforceable by law is an option if angler compliance is minimal.
For more information about the voluntary fishing closure, contact Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s Glenwood Springs office at 970-947-2920.
For more information about work on the dam and dam operations, contact Tim Miller of the Bureau of Reclamation at 970-962-4394.
The water and sanitation district wastewater management plant, located next to the Snowmass Club Commons housing complex, is currently undergoing a major overhaul and expansion.
Upgrades to the current facility and a 44,000-square-foot expansion will allow the water and sanitation district to meet heightened state requirements for total removal of inorganic nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorus and ammonia from local streams and rivers. It also will improve efficiency as water demands increase.
Gov. John Hickenlooper in May 2013 issued Regulation 85, calling for the implementation of a strategic plan for all of Colorado’s water resources with a phased schedule for statewide wastewater plants to comply.
Each of the 44 water treatment districts in the state will now be required to start implementing these new regulations. Due to its size and location in a priority watershed, the Snowmass plant falls into the Department of Health’s first phase with a 2020 deadline.
The district considered 14 different processes and plant configurations to comply with total removal of inorganic nutrients before deciding on a University of Cape Town configuration with membrane bioreactor for enhanced biological nutrient removal.
Upgraded state-of-the-art equipment — including a supervisory control and data acquisition and an industrial control system that interfaces with equipment — will allow the operation of the plant to be monitored 24/7.
Probes can now detect potential concerns on a minute-by-minute basis, even offering remote monitoring and management.
As an example, Snowmass Water and Sanitation District resident project representative Shea Meyer said, “if a restaurant dumps grease, we can detect it a good deal before it contaminates and clogs up the system.”
Additional improvements will include the installation of new high-efficiency motors and a new charcoal-odor control system…
With a price tag of nearly $24 million, which Snowmass Village voters approved in May 2016 via a mill-levy tax, expectations are high…
The new plant should last at least 30 years, potentially upward of 50 or 60, Hamby said, “assuming additional (Environmental Protection Agency) regulations do not affect us.”
After thoroughly excavating the existing holding-pond base, the initial phase of the estimated 30-month project will officially begin.
Once the concrete pour is underway, the project construction contractor, RN Civil Construction of Centennial Colorado, will prepare and issue a timeline for the project.
RN Civil project manager Dave Ortt said he expects the construction schedule to be available within the next week.
Hamby said quality, safety and cost efficiency would all take precedence over the 2020 deadline and that the district may ask for an extension if necessary.
By Heather Sackett, Aspen Journalism
EAGLE — The Eagle River Watershed Council is moving ahead with an environmental and recreational needs assessment for the Eagle River basin as part of its effort to create an integrated water-management plan for the river and potentially its tributaries.
To do so, the organization is pulling together disparate groups for some difficult conversations about how the river is used — a requirement of the 2015 Colorado Water Plan.
“We decided the time is right to call all the people into the room,” said Holly Loff, executive director of the Watershed Council.
The Eagle-based nonprofit organization wrapped up meetings last week with representatives from stakeholder groups such as river guides, private land owners, conservation groups, local governments, federal and state agencies, ranchers, water commissioners and trans-mountain diverters in the Eagle River basin, which include the cities of Aurora and Colorado Springs. Representatives from each of the groups are scheduled to participate in a joint meeting this week.
The goal of the talks is to understand the concerns of stakeholders, which will help develop the objectives for the integrated water-management plan. Such plans are also often called “stream management plans.”
In addition to input from stakeholders, a study of the Eagle River basin is also compiling previously collected water-quality data. This information will guide future river-management efforts, as well as permitting and approval processes for future water projects. Loff described the project to members of the Colorado Basin Roundtable on Monday, Sept. 25, at a meeting near Kremmling.
Studying the river
Loff said the study area would include the length of the Eagle River, from its headwaters at Tennessee Pass to its confluence with the Colorado River at Dotsero. And the two-year planning effort will include a look at the prospect of additional storage in the river basin, as envisioned by a project described in the Eagle River Memorandum of Understanding, which includes a potential new reservoir on lower Homestake Creek below the existing Homestake Reservoir.
The Eagle River watershed plan, which was drafted in 2013 by the Watershed Council, lacks an understanding of environmental and recreational water needs, Loff said, a void the new effort seeks to fill. Carbondale-based Lotic Hydrological will be the hydrological consultant on the project and will perform field data collection and analysis.
The 2013 plans noted that “significant concerns were voiced” about conditions of streams in the Eagle River basin, including “continued impacts from mining, damage to riparian habitats, increasing demands for water, the lack of adequate in-basin storage, impacts from untreated urban and road runoff, the possibility of climate change and the prospect for future population growth and development.”
In addition to its work with various local stakeholder groups, the Watershed Council will soon be seeking input from residents of the Eagle River basin about its river-management plan.
“We do want this to be something the community feels they have a voice in,” Loff said. “The community will most certainly be asked to be involved.”
The Boulder-based River Network has selected the Watershed Council as one of four organizations in Colorado to receive direct support and assistance in applying for state funding of the project.
Loff said funding for the study would come from the Colorado Watershed Restoration Program, which is overseen by the Colorado Water Conservation Board, with matching funds coming from a variety of sources, including stakeholders. But it is too soon to put a price tag on the project. Loff said the current process with stakeholder groups is helping to determine the scope of work. Only then can the Eagle River Watershed Council create a budget.
“It is unfortunate that we don’t have the scope, objectives or budget complete yet, but when you consider the fact that those are being established with the help of all of the stakeholders from the various groups, I think most would agree that it is the best approach and a good investment of time if we want this to be a strong plan with buy-in from all parties,” Loff said.
Plans for other rivers
The Watershed Council’s integrated water management plan for the Eagle River is one of many such stream management plans in development across the state. In 2015, the Colorado Water Plan called for 80 percent of priority streams in the state to be covered by stream management plans that address the needs of diverse stakeholders.
The Middle Colorado Watershed Council, for example, is working on a river management plan for 75 miles of the Colorado River from above Glenwood Canyon to DeBeque, according to the council’s executive director, Laurie Rink, who also briefed the members of the Colorado Basin Roundtable on Sept. 25. The plan will also include tributaries to the river along that stretch, but not the Roaring Fork River, which flows into the Colorado in Glenwood Springs, as the Roaring Fork Conservancy has previously studied it.
Link said Middle Colorado Council’s effort was also “very much a stakeholder driven process” and that there would be a “very heavy push on stakeholder agreements” as part of the planning process. Rink also said that her group’s aim is to eventually thread together the various river-management plans being developed in the Upper Colorado River basin, including the Eagle River plan.
Roaring Fork advisors
In the Roaring Fork River basin, City of Aspen officials and a technical advisory group are working on a management plan for the upper reaches of that river above its confluence with Brush Creek, which flows out of Snowmass Village.
Aspen’s technical advisory group is made up of roughly 25 stakeholders and includes Pitkin County officials, the Roaring Fork Conservancy, Trout Unlimited, Colorado Parks and Wildlife and the Salvation Ditch Company, among others.
April Long, an engineer for the City of Aspen whose title is “clean river program manager,” is overseeing the Roaring Fork River management plan. Long said the group met twice during the summer. The meetings with the technical advisors were not open to the public, but Long said the city will seek public feedback as the plan progresses.
Lotic Hydrological is also the consultant on the Roaring Fork plan. Long said officials are using a hydrological simulation computer model, as well as historical data from river gauges, to predict and evaluate different flow scenarios with and without certain diversions.
“You can turn those diversions on or off and see how the river responds when you manage flows differently,” Long said about the model, and can ask, “If you wanted a certain type of ecosystem, what sort of flow do you need?”
Long expects a draft plan of the Roaring Fork River plan to be released in late November.
Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism is collaborating with the Vail Daily, the Summit Daily News, the Glenwood Springs Post Independent and The Aspen Times on coverage of rivers and water. The Vail Daily published this story on Saturday, Oct. 7, 2017. The Glenwood Post published the story in its print version on Monday, Oct. 9.