Farms get boost in water from Fryingpan-Arkansas Project #ColoradoRiver #COriver

Here’s the release from the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District (Chris Woodka):

Agriculture received the lion’s share of water from the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project this year, when an abundant water supply is expected to boost Arkansas River flows as well as imported water.

Allocations totaling 63,000 acre-feet were made by the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District board on Thursday (May 16), with 48,668 acre-feet going to agriculture, and 14,332 going to cities. The district is the agency responsible for management of the Fry-Ark Project, which is operated by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

“This is a remarkable outcome for the Arkansas River basin, given the dry conditions we faced last year,” said Garrett Markus, water resources engineer for the district. “The conditions look favorable during the next three months, when rainfall should add to the abundant snowpack already in the mountains.”

Water users in nine counties benefit from the supplemental water provided by the Fry-Ark Project, ranging from large cities in Pueblo and El Paso counties to irrigation companies in the Lower Arkansas Valley. Fry-Ark Project water accounts for about 10 percent of flows in the Arkansas River annually.

While cities are entitled to more than 54 percent of project water, their accounts in Pueblo Reservoir are relatively full, freeing up additional water for agriculture. Municipal allocations include:

Fountain Valley Authority, 7,353 acre-feet;
Pueblo Water, 2,000 acre-feet;
Cities west of Pueblo, 2,312 acre-feet;
Cities east of Pueblo, 2,667 acre-feet.

In the event of changing conditions – a reduction of precipitation or rapid melt-off of snow – the District initially will release only 28,256 acre-feet of water to irrigation companies until final imports are certain, with the remainder delivered as soon as the expected total is reached. Municipal allocations would not be affected by a shortfall, because they are all below allocation limits.

Another 17,338 acre-feet of irrigation return flows were allocation, and 10,016 acre-feet will be initially released.

Reclamation estimates the project will yield 84,000 acre-feet this year, but deductions from that total are made for evaporation, transit loss and obligations to other water users reduce the amount of water available to allocate.

The Fry-Ark Project imports an average of about 56,000 acre-feet through its collection system in the Fryingpan River and Hunter Creek watersheds above Basalt. Water comes through the Boustead Tunnel into Turquoise Lake, through the Mount Elbert Power Plant at Twin Lakes and into terminal storage at Pueblo Reservoir.

Three-month projections from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predict cooler and wetter than average conditions for eastern Colorado.

#Snowpack/#Runoff news: Otero County commissioners discuss potential flooding scenarios

Arkansas River Basin High/Low graph April 30, 2019 via the NRCS.

From The La Junta Tribune-Democrat (Christian Burney) The Bent County Democrat:

Southeast Water Conservancy District board member Kevin Karney attended the April 22 Otero Board of County Commissioners meeting to discuss the summer’s projected water levels and the potential for flooding in North La Junta. Land Use Administrator Lex Nichols previously addressed the issue of flooding at a BOCC meeting on March 25.

The water collected in the Pueblo Reservoir and travels through the Lower Arkansas River is controlled by multiple entities, including the Colorado Division of Water Resources, the Bureau of Reclamation and the Army Corps of Engineers.

Whenever levels approach the reservoir’s capacity, the Army Corps of Engineers will release some water into the Arkansas River to prevent over-spill. However, as that water travels downstream, it can collect in North La Junta. If too much water is sent downstream at once, North La Junta cannot bear the load and tends to flood.

Karney attended the BOCC meeting to reiterate the threat posed to North La Junta and to share the Southeast Water Conservancy District’s projected water imports.

When water enters the Pueblo Reservoir flood pool, the Army Corps of Engineers takes over to empty it, said Karney.

The Corps doesn’t technically have any obligation to Otero County to watch how much water they release or how fast they release, Nichols said, but the county had a working relationship with the officials who formerly monitored the Pueblo Reservoir’s flood pool. The problem for Otero County is that those employees have since moved on, and the new crew isn’t savvy to North La Junta’s issue.

Karney encouraged the county to re-establish a working relationship with the new officials to ensure they are aware of North La Junta’s predicament. He indicated it is important to establish that relationship quickly because Southeast Water Conservancy District projections indicate that the county will be receiving higher than average water levels this summer.

In a series of Southeast Water Conservancy District graphics distributed at the BOCC meeting by Karney, the Fryingpan-Arkansas collection basin, as of March, the snowpack levels are at 162 percent above the median.

The historic median for the snow water equivalent of imported water in the Fryingpan-Arkansas collection basin is just over 10 inches for the month of March. In March of this year, however, the collection basin has experienced nearly 20 inches in imported water.

The Upper Arkansas Basin similarly experienced a 143 percent of median in imported water.

The historical median is just below 15 inches of water, while 2019 projections place water import into the Upper Arkansas Basin at 20 inches of water…

In another Southeast Water Conservancy District document provided by Karney, it’s shown that Pueblo Reservoir, as of April 18, contains 242,849 acre-feet of water out of a maximum available capacity of 245,373 acre-feet.

“There’s available 2,524 acre-feet of space before it gets into flood pool,” said Karney.

“We’re going to be running water soon. And a lot of it,” said Commissioner Jim Baldwin.

The total amount of water expected to be [released] down the Lower Arkansas River in the coming months is approximately 90,500 acre-feet of water, it was stated at the meeting. On average, Otero County sees about 50,000 acre-feet of water over the summer.

Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map April 30, 2019 via the NRCS.

From Discover Magazine (Tom Yulsman):

…many measuring sites in Colorado experienced their wettest spring on record, according to Paul Miller, a hydrologist for the Colroado River Basin Forecast Center. Temperatures also were relatively cool, limiting the kind of premature snowmelt that has been seen with increasing frequency in recent years…

And that’s especially good news for water supplies in the Colorado River Basin. For the past 20 years, drought, aridification from warming temperatures, and increasing consumption, have caused water levels in the region’s two largest and most critical reservoirs — lakes Mead and Powell — to drop to very concerning levels…

As of the end of March, Lake Powell was at 37 percent of capacity, and Lake Mead was at 42 percent. Even though flows into the latter reservoir are projected to be at 130 percent of average, it would take multiple years like this to bring the water back up to comfortable levels.

Don’t count on that happening. Tighi points out that after a very wet year in 2011, people began speculating that a long-term drought in the Colorado River Basin was over. But 2011 “was followed by two of the driest years on record,” she notes. “We consider ourselves lucky that we got this one year reprieve. But luck and hope is not a way to manage and plan for the future.”

The reprieve does appears to forestall a first-ever shortage declaration by the federal government that would occur when Lake Mead’s level drops to 1,075 feet above sea level. That declaration would trigger significant mandatory cutbacks in water use.

Gib Hazard retires after 31 years on Southeastern #Colorado Water Conservancy District Board

Bill Long with Gib Hazard. Photo credit: Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District

Here’s the release from the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District (Chris Woodka):

The second-longest serving director of the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District Board, Gibson Hazard Jr., retired [April 18, 2019] after 31 years of service.

Gibson Hazard Jr., of Colorado Springs, joined the board on April 21, 1988. At his last meeting, fellow board members gave him a rousing send off.

“To put that in perspective, Ronald Reagan was president when you joined the board and gas was 98 cents,” quipped Bill Long, district president. “Since the district was formed (in 1958), we’ve had 72 board members and Gib has served with 47, which is quite an accomplishment. This includes our longest serving board member, (the late) Frank Milenski.”

Hazard served as secretary of the board, and represented El Paso County.

“You worked for the good of the district, which was always important,” Long told Hazard.

Hazard was raised on a ranch in southern Arizona, and graduated from Colorado College in Colorado Springs. He was a founding member of the Colorado Water Protective and Development Association, which is now the largest water augmentation group in the Arkansas Valley.

Hazard also served as manager of the 5,000-acre King-Barrett Ranch and Farm operation in Crowley County before it was sold to the Foxley Cattle Co.

The District presented Hazard an Excellence of Service award.

El Paso County has five members on the 15-member board. Members are appointed by district judges.

Pueblo Dam Hydro plant named for Jim Broderick

Jim Broderick. Photo credit: Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District

Here’s the release from the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District (Chris Woodka):

A hydroelectric generation plant at Pueblo Dam was named for longtime executive director Jim Broderick of the district which is building the facility.

The Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District Board Thursday unanimously passed a resolution naming the plant the James W. Broderick Hydroelectric Power Facility at Pueblo Dam when it is completed.

“Jim always takes a proactive approach through strategic planning and forward thinking in addressing the many and complex challenges that confront the Southeastern District, seeking solutions that are fair and equitable, and that protect and conserve the water resources of Colorado and the Southeastern District,” Board President Bill Long in proposing the resolution.

Broderick has led the team constructing the hydro plant through the initial steps for obtaining a Lease of Power Privilege from the Bureau of Reclamation to the eventual construction.

After obtaining final Reclamation approval to construct the hydro plant in 2017, the District signed a design-build contract with Mountain States Hydro of Sunnyside, Wash. Construction began in September of 2017, and is now substantially completed. Testing of the equipment at the plant is underway, and should be completed in May, when flows on the Arkansas River will increase to optimal levels for power production.

The $20.3 million hydro plant will use the natural flows released from the North Outlet at Pueblo Dam to the Arkansas River without consumption of any water. The plant uses three turbines and two generators individually or in combination to produce up to 7.5 megawatts of electricity at flows ranging from 35 to 810 cubic feet per second.
Based on historic averages, the hydro plant will be able to generate an average of 28 million kilowatt-hours annually, or enough electricity to power 2,500 homes.

The plant was funded by loans from the Colorado Water Conservation Board and the District’s Enterprise Activity.

“This is an important step for the District,” Broderick said. “We envision this as a long-term revenue source for Enterprise programs, such as the Arkansas Valley Conduit. Equally important will be the new source of clean power we have created.”

Power from Pueblo Dam Hydro will be sold to the city of Fountain, and to Fort Carson, through a separate agreement with Colorado Springs Utilities for the first 10 years of generation. For the next 20 years, Fountain will purchase all of the power generated by the plant.

“We’re very excited,” said Curtis Mitchell, utilities director for Fountain, and vice-president of the Southeastern Board. “This provides us with a source of clean electric power, and it has the added benefit of saving money for our ratepayers.”

Interior of the new Broderick Power Plant. Photo credit: The Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District

#ArkansasRiver: Southeastern District approves $22.3 million budget

Fryingpan-Arkansas Project via the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District

Here’s the release from the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District (Chris Woodka):

Southeastern District approves $22.3 million budget

The Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District Board of Directors Thursday approved a $22.3 million budget for 2019 that includes payments for the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project, support for the Arkansas Valley Conduit and the anticipated opening of a hydroelectric generation plant at Pueblo Dam.

Most of the budget comprises pass-through payments to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

Fry-Ark Project costs total $8 million, which includes $1.46 million for repayment and $6.54 million for operation and maintenance. An amendment to the repayment contract this year established a fixed rate of repayment, and a maintenance fund for the project. The project includes Pueblo Dam, Twin Lakes, Turquoise Lake and a Western Slope collection system that brings water from the Colorado River basin into the Arkansas River basin.

Fountain Valley Authority payments total $5.36 million. The Fountain Valley Authority includes Colorado Springs, Fountain, Security, Widefield and Stratmoor Hills. Its water supply comes from Pueblo Dam through a pipeline constructed in the 1980s.

The District also will pay $272,382 on behalf of participants in the Excess Capacity Master Contract at Pueblo Reservoir. The contract was established in 2016 to allow participants to store water in the reservoir when space is available.

The budget projects $350,000 for spending in support of the Arkansas Valley Conduit. Reclamation has $6.8 million available for AVC-related activities as well.

The $20.3 million hydroelectric plant at Pueblo Dam is expected to come online in early 2019. The plant is nearing completion and was financed with a $17.3 million loan from the Colorado Water Conservation Board, and a $3 million loan from the District’s Enterprise Fund. Power will be sold to the city of Fountain and Fort Carson through Colorado Springs Utilities. Revenues are expected to total $900,000 in 2019.

The District mill levy for the coming year will by 0.944 mills, which is not substantially different from previous years. The District covers parts of nine counties from the Arkansas River headwaters to the Kansas state line.

@USFSRockyMtns opposes Fry-Ark conditional water rights in Holy Cross Wilderness — @AspenJournalism

Pristine Halfmoon Lake, shown here under hazy skies in August 2018, is on Lime Creek within the Holy Cross Wilderness and is near the location for a potential diversion dam and tunnel back toward the existing Fry-Ark Project to the south. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith Aspen Journalism

From Aspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith):

The U.S. Forest Service is questioning whether the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District ever will be able to get approval to build six potential diversion dams and related tunnels and conduits in the Fryingpan River basin that are located on USFS land above 10,000 feet within the Holy Cross Wilderness.

In a statement of opposition filed last month in Division 5 water court in Glenwood Springs, attorneys for the USFS said it “cannot authorize development of these six conditional water rights … because they lie within a congressionally designated wilderness. Only the president has authority to approve water developments within the Holy Cross Wilderness.”

The USFS statement of opposition, which was the only one filed in the case (18CW3063), also said “as currently decreed, the subject water rights raise questions as to whether they can and will be perfected within a reasonable time.”

The opposition statement was submitted July 31 in response to a periodic diligence application filed with the water court by Southeastern on May 28.

Southeastern is seeking to maintain its conditional water rights that are part of the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project. The rights were decreed in 1958. Six of the rights are within the Holy Cross Wilderness, which was designated in 1980, but most are outside of it.

Southeastern, which is based in Pueblo, owns and manages the water rights for the Fry-Ark Project, which was built by the Bureau of Reclamation.

A detail of map of the Fry-Ark Project prepared by the Colorado River District, showing potential diversion points as purple circles. The map does not show the wilderness boundary.
A map prepared as part of a study by Wilson Water Group showing the locations of six potential diversion dams in the Holy Cross Wilderness, shown in light purple. The diversion points would be connected with tunnels and conduits and connected to the existing Fry-Ark Project system at Carter Creek, the most northern dam and tunnel in the existing system.
A map filed as part of Southeastern’s diligence application that shows the extent of the Fry-Ark Project. On its southern end, it diverts water from creeks near Aspen. The conditional rights within the Holy Cross Wilderness are on its northern end.

375 cfs

The six diversion dams inside the Holy Cross Wilderness would allow for the diversion of 10 cubic feet per second from an unnamed tributary of the North Fork of the Fryingpan River, for diversion of 135 cfs from Last Chance Creek and for 10 cfs from an unnamed tributary to Last Chance Creek, for 85 cfs from a creek called Slim’s Gulch and for 85 cfs from an unnamed tributary of Slim’s Gulch, and for 50 cfs from Lime Creek.

In all, the six conditional rights in the wilderness would allow for 375 cfs of additional diversions in the Fry-Ark Project.

The diversion structure on Lime Creek would be near pristine Halfmoon Lake, which is above Eagle Lake.

Chris Woodka, who is the issues management coordinator at Southeastern, said the conditional water rights in the wilderness “are like a bargaining chip that we really don’t want to give up.”

“If they could be developed at some point, we would still be interested in developing them, as far as getting the yield from there,” Woodka said. “But can we get more of a yield from the system using the mechanisms we have in place? Probably.”

The entrance to the Chapman Tunnel on the creek in Chapman Gulch, part of the existing Fry-Ark diversion system.

Maximizing limited yield

The Fry-Ark Project today includes 16 diversion dams and 26 miles of tunnels and conduits on the Western Slope that move water from the Hunter Creek and Fryingpan River basins to the centrally located Boustead Tunnel, which can divert as many as 945 cfs under the Continental Divide.

The water is sent to Turquoise Reservoir near Leadville and then farther into the Arkansas River basin for use by cities and irrigators.

The six potential dams and tunnels in the Holy Cross Wilderness would connect to the existing Fry-Ark Project at the Carter Creek dam and tunnel, which is the most northerly point of the system. It was completed in 1981.

James DuBois, an attorney in the environment and natural resources division at the Justice Department and who filed the USFS statement of opposition, said he could not discuss the case.

DuBois filed a similar statement of opposition in a 2009 diligence filing for Southeastern’s conditional rights.

In that case, the USFS eventually agreed, in a 2011 stipulation, that Southeastern would study “the potential for moving its conditional water rights off of wilderness lands” during the next six-year diligence period, which ended in May.

It also would look at other ways to increase the project’s “authorized yield.”

A view of the Slim’s Gulch area in the upper Fryingpan River basin. The Lime Creek basin is on the other side of the jagged ridge in the background, and a tunnel under the mountain would move water from Lime Creek to Slim’s Gulch.

Yield limits

Under the project’s operating principles, the authorized yield of the Fry-Ark Project is limited to diverting 120,000 acre-feet in any one year, and to diverting no more than 2.35 million acre-feet over a 34-year rolling average, or an annual average of 69,200 acre-feet.

From 2010 to 2015, the project diverted an average of 63,600 acre-feet, indicating there is more yield to be gained.

This year, a dry year, about 39,000 acre-feet was diverted. In 2011, the last really wet year, 98,900 acre-feet was diverted, according to an annual report on the Fry-Ark Project prepared by the Bureau of Reclamation.

A view of the Last Chance Creek basin in the upper Fryingpan River basin. The main stem of Last Chance Creek wraps around the forested mountain in the middle of the photo, and a tributary to the south is off to the right, just out of view in the photo. Photo credit: Aspen Journalism

Improving existing facilities

In accordance with the 2011 stipulation, a study on how to get more water out of the system was done by Wilson Water Group and presented to Southeastern in April.

In the presentation slides, Wilson Water told Southeastern’s board of directors that “analysis indicates contemplated project yield could be met through existing infrastructure and software upgrades.”

Another option studied was to move the six rights in the Holy Cross Wilderness downstream and out of the wilderness. However, Wilson Water said it would require pumping stations to lift the water back up to Fry-Ark system and the “cost per-acre feet is likely prohibitive.”

Despite the finding that improving the existing system would increase the yield on the project, Southeastern voted in April to file for diligence on the six conditional rights within the wilderness, along with other conditional rights, telling the court that “while the construction of certain conditionally decreed project features has not yet been started, there is no intent to abandon these features or any of the conditional water rights … .”

A sign marking the boundary of the Holy Cross Wilderness in the Last Chance Creek basin. The trail up the basin does not see a lot of hiking traffic. Photo credit: Aspen Journalism

‘Inappropriate location’

Upon learning of the diligence application this week, Will Roush, the executive director of Wilderness Workshop in Carbondale, said “the Holy Cross Wilderness is a completely inappropriate location” for the development of the conditional water rights.

“Lime Creek, Last Chance Creek and the surrounding lands and tributaries provide amazing opportunities for solitude and the rare opportunity to experience a landscape and alpine watershed free of human infrastructure and without the diversion of water,” Roush said.

An informational memo on the diligence case was presented to the Southeastern board of directors on Aug. 16, and there was no discussion of the case by the board.

An initial status conference in the diligence case has been set for Sept. 18.

Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism is covering the Roaring Fork and Colorado river basins in collaboration with The Aspen Times. The Times published this story on Saturday, August 19, 2018. This version of the story corrected the date of the earlier stipulation between Southeastern and USFS, which was reached in 2011, not 2012, when the case was closed.

Southeastern District approves $28.8 million budget

Fryingpan-Arkansas Project via the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District

Here’s the release from the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District (Chris Woodka):

The Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District Thursday approved a $28.8 million budget for 2018, which includes the District’s general fund, Enterprise water fund and a newly created hydropower fund within the enterprise.

The general fund totals $16 million, most of which reflects Fryingpan-Arkansas Project payments to the Bureau of Reclamation. Those payments total $13.1 million, including $7.4 million from property taxes in parts of nine counties for Fry-Ark Contract obligations, and $5.3 million in payment from the Fountain Valley Authority in El Paso County. Other payments to Reclamation include $265,000 for excess-capacity contracts and an estimated $117,000 for winter water.

The District assesses a 0.940 mill levy, of which 0.9 mills goes toward the Reclamation Fry-Ark Contract; 0.035 mills for operation; and 0.005 mills for refunds and abatements adjustments. Tax collections total about $7.8 million.

Operating revenues and expenditures for the District are expected to top $2.5 million in 2018.

The water activity enterprise, the district’s business arm, has a $2.7 million budget in 2018. Enterprise funds are generated from water sales, surcharges on water storage or sales and contractual arrangements.

The hydroelectric fund supports an electric generation plant under construction at Pueblo Dam. The Colorado Conservation Board approved a $17.2 million loan in 2016 toward the $20 million project. The remainder of the project is funded by the enterprise. Expenditures in 2018 are expected to be nearly $10 million.

Construction began in October 2017, after purchase of power details were finalized. The power plant should begin operations in 2018, with the first full year of electricity production in 2019.