Click here to read the bulletin. There will be an informational briefing concerning Clear Creek at the December 12, 2016 meeting.
From email from Reclamation (Peter Soeth):
On Monday at 5:30 pm of this week diversions through the Adams Tunnel to the east slope of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project began. While this picks up, Lake Estes will rise slightly and is expected to be return to typical levels by next mid-week.
The Olympus Dam slide gate remains set to release low-level winter flows to the Big Thompson River.
This rate of fill will be maintained for several days to ensure safe operations below the Estes Power Plant. The majority of the water in Lake Estes enters through the power plant via the C-BT Project.
Track Lake Estes’ water elevation at our tea cup page: http://www.usbr.gov/gp-bin/arcweb_olydamco.pl
From The Longmont Times-Call (John Fryar):
The Boulder County commissioners this morning approved flood-recovery projects that the cities of Longmont and Boulder have planned for stream properties they own in unincorporated areas of the county.
Commissioners Elise Jones and Deb Gardner approved Longmont’s application for restoration work inside the city’s Button Rock Preserve, along a 1.3-mile stretch of North St. Vrain Creek between the Button Rock Dam spillway and Longmont reservoir.
The commissioners also approved the Boulder Open Space and Mountain Parks’ application for reconstructing the bank and channel of Boulder Creek and an in-stream and riparian habitat restoration project near the junction of Boulder Creek and South Boulder Creek — an area lying north of Valmont Road and west of North 61st St.
No members of the general public spoke at today’s commissioners’ hearings before Jones and Gardner voted their approvals of the two projects, each of which is to repair damages from the September 2013 floods. Commissioner Cindy Domenico did not attend the meeting.
In each case, the cities will have to meet a number of conditions in order to proceed with the projects, including getting county grading permits and floodplain development permits.
From The Greeley Tribune (Dan England):
Bruce Sikich didn’t like it when his boss put the land they cared for in the hands of Colorado Open Lands.
Sikich went to school with Clyde Abbett’s son. Sikich wasn’t very nice to Abbett’s son — Sikich was a macho punk before the U.S. Navy straightened him out — but they got along. One day, while Clyde Abbett watched Sikich work next door on his stepfather’s property, Abbett asked Sikich if he wanted to farm, too. That was 30 years ago.
Abbett became Sikich’s best friend. Sikich visited him many days in the home, trimmed his trees at his Greeley house and misses him dearly now that he’s gone.
Sikich was upset at Abbett’s decision to put the land in a conservation trust. It seemed to go against everything they’d worked for as farmers. Farmers, he said, don’t like to be told what to do, and the organization put restrictions on the land, even beyond the obvious ones that promise to leave the land untouched by development. He can’t ride his race bike out on the farm. Workers came around and sniffed out noxious weeds on the land.
And yet, because Sikich loved Abbett, he understood. His land abutted the South Platte River, and that drew bald eagles and a heron rookery and places full of pasture where Abbett could rest his arms on his tractor wheel and look out into the flowing water. He buried his dogs on a nearby hill.
At times people would offer Abbett money. They said they just wanted to build a farmhouse on his land. Sikich himself advised Abbett to take the money. It was good money. Yet Abbett never trusted them. More often than not, the person secretly wanted to mine the land for gravel, and Abbett didn’t want anyone to gouge a hole in his land.
“This farm isn’t great,” Sikich said. “The soil isn’t that good, and it lays poorly. But it’s a beautiful place.”
It’s the kind of place Colorado Open Lands hopes to keep protected. The organization, which recently merged with the Colorado Conservation Trust, considers Weld County land — like the tract owned by Abbett’s estate and farmed by Sikich — to be some of the most important land in the state. It also appears to be coveted by developers. And now there’s a race to control it.
“While we work statewide, I believe that Weld County is under the greatest resource pressure,” said Sarah Parmar, director of conservation of Colorado Open Lands. “We have a unique moment in time to conserve those lands in the country that are most critical to habitat, food production and community character.”
Weld County faces three distinct development pressures that could further change the way it looks, even breathes, Parmar said, in the next decade. Many counties face one of those pressures. Weld faces all three: Mining, both gravel and oil and gas; an exploding population; and nearby municipalities thirsty for water.
The new organization hopes to show its renewed commitment to Weld by opening an office in northern Colorado. The organization is even considering Greeley for its location, although Fort Collins also is in the mix.
WHERE RESOURCES ARE VALUABLE
Although it will talk to any landowner about conservation, Colorado Open Lands does not hope to conserve every piece of farmland from development. The organization maps out areas where it believes resources are the most valuable. Those resources include wildlife habitat, prime soil on agricultural land and water rights. Many areas of Weld have all those, and those pressures that Parmar mentioned above all threaten them in some way.
Two of those pressures won’t surprise anyone who’s lived in Weld the last few years. Oil and gas development and population growth both demand a lot from our county.
The oil and gas boom is no longer, although there are indications that it could pick back up again. But Weld still has double the next highest county’s number of active wells. And though population projections do depend a bit on oil and gas, many still have Weld doubling its residents in the next 25 years.
The last is a bit more complicated, but it’s still important, and it shows how hot spots such as the South Platte River can be impacted even when developers don’t necessarily want to build subdivisions on its banks.
The organization’s worked with 15 landowners in Weld County to conserve more than 18,000 acres of land and the associated water rights. Those water rights are just as important as habitat, Parmar said, because municipalities in the Denver area appear to be targeting Weld for its water. Those cities, to feed their growth, will purchase the water rights and leave the land in what many call “buy and dry” deals. Though that can still create habitat for some wildlife, the deals also leave thousands of useless acres surrounding small or mid-sized municipalities.
Water rights often support both agricultural production and wildlife habitat. Weld has some of the best soils in Colorado, but those soils are considered prime only if they are irrigated, Parmar said. And the habitat in Weld is more valuable than many of its residents may realize.
“The juxtaposition of native prairie and the riparian and wetland habitats, which are often created by irrigation, harbors an amazing array of species,” Parmar said. “In other words, it is the land and water together that create these stacked economic benefits and habitat values.”
It’s already happened in Weld, and it happened long ago, in 1986, when the city of Thornton purchased nearly 20,000 acres of irrigated farmland in Weld and Larimer counties. Pierce and Ault still feel the effects of its stagnated growth from that purchase.
The South Platte Basin is expected to take the biggest hit to irrigated agriculture in order to meet that projected water gap, Parmar said. That’s why Colorado Open Lands hopes to target more land along the South Platte such as the tract Sikich farms as well as other key areas of Weld, such as the protection of private lands surrounding the Pawnee National Grassland.
“The South Platte is incredibly important, as all waterways are in Colorado, because they create a convergence of resources valued by people and wildlife,” Parmar said. “The development along these waterways can have a disproportionate impact on species and can create greater problems for communities when major flood events happen, as we saw in 2013.”
Those who hope to protect those water rights — Parmar refers to her organization and others like it as the “conservation community” — do need to show the same kind of flexibility they want from municipalities and landowners, Parmar said. One way to compromise may be to tie water rights to farms but allow some leasing for municipal needs.
REAL AND LASTING ECONOMIC BENEFITS
Even as Parmar insists there are real and lasting economic benefits from wildlife habitat and agriculture, there’s no doubt Weld’s also benefited from the recent growth boom and the one that occurred in the early 2000s. Oil and gas filled our coffers: At one point, the county had a $100 million reserve fund. Gravel mining’s also an important part of that.
There is some concern that conservation easements will attempt to stop oil and gas development and gravel mining. There’s already a lot of mining along the South Platte corridor, said Tom Parko, director of planning services for Weld County.
Conservation easements naturally place restrictions on use once they’re in place, as the idea is to preserve the land in its most pristine state. Those restrictions usually include subdivisions and residential structures, and they almost always prohibit the sale of water rights.
If an owner has the mineral rights, the organization may ask the landowner give up the right to sell them or mine them on the surface. Lateral drilling is permitted, Parmar said.
However, most of the time, a third party owns the mineral rights in Weld County, and in that case, a conservation easement can’t prohibit oil and gas development, and the land trust works with the owner to limit the impact if any mining takes place.
“We are not against oil and gas development, or residential development,” Parmar said. “Our goal is to work to see it done well and in the most appropriate places.”
A GOOD FIT
The organization does make some inquiries, but it doesn’t try to convince landowners to move into conservation easements. Not all of the land is a good fit, and it’s a commitment and a financial sacrifice, even with the tax benefits an easement provides. Landowners need to be sure it’s a good fit for them.
But just as the old adage that once one house pops up, others follow, that can also be true of conservation easements, Parmar said. Once you get that first conservation easement, it’s easier to get others. That’s true in part because the organization does do some limited outreach to landowners, just like developers might.
“But it’s the neighbors and others who do most of the marketing for us,” Parmar said. “Word of mouth is our best resource.”
Still, she looks at those three pressures that Weld faces, the growth and oil and gas and the prospect of our water going to other cities, a situation unique to our county, and sees it as an opportunity for residents.
“I’m not saying that any of these things are inherently bad, but they are all pressures on resource conversion,” Parmar said, “and for a county whose identity and economic drivers have been largely agricultural, these combined pressures provide an opportunity for the residents of Weld County to think about their vision for its land and water.”
Sikich’s knees and hips hurt, and he recently watched his grandkids play hockey in Minnesota and enjoyed that. He misses that now. He’s 62. He probably could do another five years, maybe even seven, but he’s not sure he wants to do that. He misses his family, and he misses Abbett as well.
“He was my purpose,” Sikich said of his close friend and boss, “and now he’s gone. Honestly without him, it’s just no fun anymore.”
Maybe he’s now reflecting on his career, but he’s happy with Colorado Land Trust and the work it does.
He doesn’t know how long he’ll be around to work the land. But he’s satisfied knowing Abbett would have liked knowing it will be around after he’s gone.
From The Fairplay Flume (Lynda James):
Will-O-Wisp Metropolitan District’s water project 1041 special development permit for the now nullified Tanglewood Reserve Planned Unit Development was revoked on Nov. 3.
The county 1041 permit, approved in 2008, was to minimize impacts from the metro district developing infrastructure to pump water from Elk Creek and pipe it up Mount Evans Boulevard to the Tanglewood PUD.
The final plat for the 400-plus lot high density Tanglewood, located adjacent to Pine Junction on both sides of U.S. Highway 285, was conditionally approved in 2006 and nullified in 2015 for not fulfilling the conditions of approval.
The land was slated to be the second phase of the WOW subdivision development in the 1980s, is in WOW service area and WOW was going to use its Elk Creek water rights to provide water.
Phase 2 was never developed and the land has been through several owners since then.
At the Nov. 3 meeting, Park County Attorney Lee Phillips said the 1041 permit stated that if substantial material changes occurred after approval, the commissioners shall suspend the permit and set a hearing to determine whether new requirements are needed or if revocation was appropriate.
Phillips said the commissioners suspended the permit in June and decided to schedule a hearing to determine if it should be revoked since the PUD plat had been nullified.
Phillips said the county received a letter from WOW in August asking that the permit be kept active.
WOW’s attorney Richard Toussaint attended the Aug. 25 commissioners meeting and asked the commissioners not to revoke the district’s water project 1041 permit.
Toussaint said the permit was needed so WOW could continue to show the state that it was completing due diligence on the conditional water right WOW owned on Elk Creek.
He said a possibility exists that WOW could lose their water rights if the 1041 permit was revoked and WOW could not continue its due diligence.
By state water law, due diligence means actively doing something to reach the point where the water rights are put to beneficial use. Once beneficial use is established, the water right becomes absolute, instead of a conditional water right.
Toussaint said WOW wants to start building the infrastructure in Elk Creek as part of its due diligence. (See “Residents pack room for … ” in the Sept. 2 issue of The Flume).
A hearing was set for Sept. 22, but continued to Nov. 3 because Doug Windemuller, whose property would have been impacted the most, was gone in September.
Neither Toussaint nor anyone from WOW attended the Nov. 3 hearing.
Windemuller owns one of the three lots in Woodside Park subdivision where infrastructure was proposed both on land and in the creek.
At the hearing, he recommended revocation and that if a different land development on that property was permitted, then WOW could reapply for a 1041 to meet that development’s water needs.
Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:
The C-BT Project water year ended on Oct. 31. C-BT Project storage levels on Nov. 1 were above average for a third consecutive year, with 548,274 acre-feet in active storage. The Nov. 1 average is 444,177 AF. Deliveries increased in 2016 over 2015 levels, with 204,078 AF delivered (including quota, Carryover Program and Regional Pool Program water). Forty-six percent of the deliveries were from Horsetooth Reservoir, 40 percent from Carter Lake and the remaining 14 percent went to the Big Thompson River, Hansen Feeder Canal and the South Platte River. Estimated deliveries to municipal and industrial users totaled 102,157 AF, while agricultural deliveries were approximately 101,921 AF.
From @circleofblue (Brett Walton):
The old ecological and political order is crumbling. When calculations are complete, 2016 will be the hottest year on record, surpassing a mark set one year ago. The oceans are rising at an increasing rate. In the American West, it is too warm and dry this month for snow, delaying the accumulation of a natural water reserve that cities, farms, and fisheries rely on during the summer. Politics are no less turbulent. After the U.S. election, domestic regulations affecting energy development, infrastructure spending, and water supplies are in flux. Allies in the struggle to slow global carbon pollution ponder America’s commitment to the Paris Agreement, which went into effect earlier this month.
To navigate the peril, managers need to understand the concept of “deep uncertainty,” argues Robert Lempert, the president of the Society for Decision Making Under Deep Uncertainty, whose mission is to help leaders make better decisions for water, energy, and food systems in a time of rapid environmental and social change.
Uncertainty implies that managers know the potential outcomes of their actions and the probability that they occur. Think of flipping a coin. The result of any particular toss is unknown — but the potential outcomes and the probabilities are not. Fifty percent chance of heads, fifty percent chance of tails.
Formed last December after three years of workshops, the society holds its first official conference on November 16 and 17 in Washington, D.C.
Deep uncertainty acknowledges a dynamic system where inputs — such as rainfall or economic growth or regulations — are changing or unknown. Water utility plans, for instance. These documents often look decades ahead. Actions today — building a desalination plant or increasing the size of a reservoir — will resonate for a generation or more. The deep uncertainty method is about planning for multiple possible futures and finding comfort in complex decisions that may need to be revised.
“Even today, particularly consequential things can surprise you,” Lempert told Circle of Blue the day after Donald Trump was elected U.S. president.
Whatever the Future May Hold
Denver Water is one of the utilities that uses deep uncertainty tools in its planning. Laurna Kaatz, a climate scientist and Denver Water’s adaptation program manager, helped form the society and is one of its “practitioners” — those who make decisions at public agencies.
About one-third of society members are utility planners or managers, like Kaatz. The others are academics or they have a foot in both worlds. Their professional backgrounds are diverse: energy utilities, insurance groups, economists, computer modeling whizzes. The founding organizations include the World Bank, RAND Corporation, and TU Delft, a university in the Netherlands. Both Kaatz and Lempert, who is a scientist at the RAND Corporation, a research group that often advises the U.S. government, said the rainbow of expertise is fertile ground for new ideas. The group’s name springs from a talk by the Nobel Prize-winning economist Kenneth Arrow, Lempert said.
The society’s main objective is to develop tools for better decisions, especially for water. The old water planning model, Kaatz explained, was retrospective. It looked backward at demand and extended that line forward. Many utilities soon found that they had wildly overestimated. On a graph, these projections look like a porcupine: forecasted demand lines pointing sharply upward, like the quills, while actual demand is flat or slopes downward along the spine.
In the past utilities simply built bigger canals and larger reservoirs to buffer against drought. Now those options are rarely the first choice. They are costly and there is not enough water. “We need to be more clever,” Lempert says.
The deep uncertainty analysis unfurls in stages. First, a utility outlines a water supply plan. That plan is put to a stress test by running it through computer model simulations with various assumptions for rainfall, temperature, population growth, regulatory changes, and more. The simulations help identify the conditions under which the plan does not meet water supply targets. What if a there is a drought more severe than the worst on record? What if the economy tanks? How do urban development patterns influence demand? These simulations lead to scenarios, which describe potential future conditions. The UN climate panel does this for carbon emissions. Military leaders do this to test their response to conflict.
“We want to be prepared for the future as best as possible, whatever that future is,” Kaatz said. Scenario planning allows utilities to ask questions that, in the past, would have been viewed as unusual for a utility to consider. For Denver Water this is a series of social values questions. How will the relationship to water change? Will residents not want lawns? Will they demand more density and thus required less outdoor water?
Based on its deep uncertainty analysis, Denver Water is investigating storing water in aquifers for later recovery, Kaatz said. The utility had not considered this option before the analysis.
Lempert says that the deep uncertainty methods are not yet widespread among water utilities, but the ideas are gaining ground. He has worked with a diverse group: on Louisiana’s coastal restoration plan; on sea-level rise and saltwater intrusion with South Florida utilities; and on water supply plans for Southern California utilities.
Denver Water had its wakeup call in 2002 when a severe wildfire charred nearly 80,000 acres of forest above Cheesman reservoir, owned by the utility. The severity of the burn was the worst in seven centuries, according to a U.S. Forest Service assessment. When the rains returned, ash and debris were flushed into the city’s raw water supply. Denver Water spent $US 27 million to dredge two reservoirs and restore the watershed.
“We didn’t anticipate a drought and forest fire that bad,” Kaatz recalled. “It caused us to step back and say, ‘Let’s look into different approaches.’”
Given Denver’s experience, Kaatz wonders what leads utilities down a new path, whether calamity and crisis are necessary for managers to take action. A topic of conversation this week at the conference, no doubt.