The Arkansas Valley Conduit (AVC) has received an additional $100 million in federal funding, the Department of Interior announced Thursday.
“We are exceedingly excited about today’s announcement,” said Jim Broderick, Executive Director of the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District. “This funding will help us to continue to accelerate the construction of the Arkansas Valley Conduit in order to provide a clean, reliable drinking water supply to the people of the Lower Arkansas Valley.”
The AVC is being constructed by the Bureau of Reclamation and the Southeastern District’s Water Activity Enterprise are building the AVC, which will deliver water to 50,000 in 39 communities east of Pueblo. Reclamation has started construction on the trunk line of the AVC, while Southeastern awarded its first contract for Avondale and Boone delivery lines last week.
The most recent funding brings the total federal funding for AVC to $221 million since 2020, on top of about $30 million previously spent.
The state of Colorado has pledged $120 million toward the AVC, Southeastern has contributed $4.8 million and counties and participants have contributed or pledged $3 million in American Rescue Program Act (ARPA) funds, and participants have contributed about $2 million.
WASHINGTON – The Department of the Interior today [July 27 2023] announced a $152 million investment from President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law that will bring clean, reliable drinking water to communities across the West through six water storage and conveyance projects. The projects in California, Colorado and Washington are expected to develop at least 1.7 million acre-feet of additional water storage capacity, enough water to support 6.8 million people for a year. The funding will also invest in a feasibility study that could advance water storage capacity once completed.
President Biden’s Investing in America agenda represents the largest investment in climate resilience in the nation’s history and is providing much-needed resources to enhance Western communities’ resilience to drought and climate change, including protecting the short- and long-term sustainability of the Colorado River System. Through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, Reclamation is investing a total of $8.3 billion over five years for water infrastructure projects, including water purification and reuse, water storage and conveyance, desalination and dam safety. The Inflation Reduction Act is investing an additional $4.6 billion to address the historic drought.
“In the wake of severe drought across the West, the Department is putting funding from President Biden’s Investing in America agenda to work to provide clean, reliable drinking water to families, farmers and Tribes throughout the West,” said Secretary Deb Haaland. “Through the investments we’re announcing today, we will expedite essential water storage projects and provide increased water security to Western communities.”
“Water is essential to every community – for feeding families, growing crops, powering agricultural businesses and sustaining wildlife,” said Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Camille Calimlim Touton. “Our investment in these projects will increase water storage capacity and lay conveyance pipeline to deliver reliable and safe drinking water and build resiliency for communities most impacted by drought.”
The selected projects from today’s announcement are:
B.F. Sisk Dam Raise and Reservoir Expansion Project: $10 million to the San Luis and Delta- Mendota Authority, to pursue the B.F. Sisk Dam Raise and Reservoir Expansion Project. The project is associated with the B.F. Sisk Safety of Dams Modification Project. Once completed, the project will develop approximately 130,000 acre-feet of additional storage.
North of Delta Off Stream Storage (Sites Reservoir Project): $30 million to pursue off stream storage capable for up to 1.5 million acre-feet of water in the Sacramento River system located in the Coast range mountains west of Maxwell, California. The reservoir would utilize new and existing facilities to move water in and out of the reservoir, with ultimate release to the Sacramento River system via existing canals, a new pipeline near Dunnigan, and the Colusa Basin Drain.
Los Vaqueros Reservoir Expansion Phase II: $10 million to efficiently integrate approximately 115,000 acre-feet of additional water storage through new conveyance facilities with existing facilities. This will allow Delta water supplies to be safely diverted, stored and delivered to beneficiaries.
• Arkansas Valley Conduit: $100 million to continue construction of a safe, long-term water supply to an estimated 50,000 people in 39 rural communities along the Arkansas River. Once completed, the project will replace current groundwater sources contaminated with radionuclides and help communities comply with Environmental Protection Act drinking water regulations for more than 103 miles of pipelines designed to deliver up to 7,500 acre-feet of water per year from Pueblo Reservoir.
• Upper Yakima System Storage Feasibility Study: $1 million to begin a feasibility study to identify and assess storage alternatives within the Kittitas Irrigation District area. The district could
utilize conserved water or water diverted for storage as part of total water supply available for tangible improvements in meeting instream flow objectives, tributary supplementation efforts, aquatic habitat improvements, and support the delisting of steelhead and bull trout populations to meet the goals of the Yakima Basin Integrated Plan.
• Cle Elum Pool Raise Project: $1 million to continue to increase the reservoir’s capacity to an additional 14,600 acre-feet to be managed for instream flows for fish. Additional funds for shoreline protection will provide mitigation for the pool raise.
Today’s investments build on $210 million in funding announced last year from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law for water storage and conveyance projects.
A nearly $43 million contract was awarded to a Colorado construction company marking the “first giant step” in the Arkansas Valley Conduit project designed to bring clean drinking water to eastern Pueblo County and southeastern Colorado. The federal Bureau of Reclamation awarded the inaugural contract for the conduit to WCA Construction LLC, for $42.9 million to cover construction of the first 6-mile section of the 30-inch trunk line that extends from the eastern end of Pueblo Water’s system toward Boone. Located in Towaoc, the construction company is owned by the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe and as a tribal enterprise the company employs a workforce that is 70% indigenous…
Since 2020 the federal government has appropriated $51 million toward the project, with those funds paying for the trunk line construction. Pueblo County has awarded $1.2 million in American Rescue Plan Act funding to connect the communities of Avondale and Boone to the trunk line, Woodka said. Work under the initial contract will begin in the spring of 2023 and is expected to be completed in 2024. “We are now in the process of designing those connection lines, then we will be putting those lines in. We hope everything is connected to Boone and Avondale by the end of 2024,” [Chris] Woodka said. That will bring water to about 1,600 Avondale residents and 230 Boone residents. Currently, many people in the areas that will be served by the conduit rely on groundwater supplies that may be contaminated by naturally occurring radionuclides, such as radium and uranium, or use shallow wells that contain harmful microorganisms and pollutants.
The Bureau of Reclamation awarded the inaugural contract of the Arkansas Valley Conduit (AVC) to WCA Construction LLC, for $42,988,099.79. This contract funds construction of the first Boone Reach trunk line section, a 6-mile stretch of pipeline that extends from the eastern end of Pueblo Water’s system toward Boone, Colorado.
The AVC project will use Pueblo Water’s existing infrastructure to treat and deliver AVC water from Pueblo Reservoir to a connection point east of the City of Pueblo along U.S. Highway 50. The water will be either Fryingpan-Arkansas Project water or from participants’ water portfolios, not from Pueblo Water’s resources. Work under this contract will begin in spring of 2023. This section is expected to be completed in 2024.
“Now more than ever, people in the Arkansas River Valley understand the immense value of the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project and the Arkansas Valley Conduit,” said Jeff Rieker, Eastern Colorado Area Manager. “We look forward to the day when these residents can open the faucet and know that their drinking water is safe and healthy.” As the AVC project moves forward, under existing agreements, Reclamation will construct the trunkline, a treatment plant and water tanks while the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District will coordinate with communities to fund and build AVC delivery pipelines. Eventually, the AVC will connect 39 water systems along the 130-mile route to Lamar, Colorado.
The AVC is a major infrastructure project that, upon completion, will provide reliable municipal and industrial water to 39 communities in Southeastern Colorado. The pipelines will bring water from Pueblo Reservoir to Bent, Crowley, Kiowa, Otero, Prowers, and Pueblo counties. It is projected to serve up to 50,000 people in the future (equivalent to 7,500 acre-feet per year).
The AVC was authorized in the original Fryingpan-Arkansas Project legislation in 1962 (Public Law 87-590). The AVC would not increase Fry-Ark Project water diversions from the Western Slope of Colorado; rather, it was intended to improve drinking water quality.
Currently, many people in the areas that will be served by the AVC rely on groundwater supplies that may be contaminated by naturally occurring radionuclides, such as radium and uranium, or use shallow wells that contain harmful microorganisms and pollutants. Alternatives for these communities consist of expensive options such as reverse-osmosis, ion exchange, filtration, and bottled water.
This contract continues many years of hard work by Reclamation, Southeastern, Pueblo Water and other project partners to improve the lives of residents and provide opportunities for economic development and job creation.
If you have any questions or need more information, please contact Anna Perea, Public Affairs Specialist at the Bureau of Reclamation’s Eastern Colorado Area Office, at (970) 290-1185 or email@example.com. If you are deaf, hard of hearing or have a speech disability, please dial 7-1-1 to access telecommunications relay services.
Large water providers from across the Colorado River Basin announced today a commitment to substantially expand existing efforts to conserve water, reduce demands and expand reuse and recycling of water supplies.
The agreement includes water providers in both the upper and lower basins of the Colorado River, stretching from Colorado’s Front Range to Las Vegas and Los Angeles. The providers invite other utilities in the basin to join in the commitment to increasing water-use efficiency and reducing the demand for water.
The agreement comes amid a two-decade drought on the river that affects 40 million people who rely on it for drinking water, agriculture, power production, landscape irrigation, recreation and more. Demands for water in the basin have exceeded available supply, reducing storage levels in lakes Mead and Powell to critically low levels.
The water providers are outlining their commitments in a Memorandum of Understanding that was delivered to Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Camille Touton today. Some providers have committed to pursuing the MOU’s intent while awaiting final approval through their various governing boards.
“We are developing prudent municipal water conservation actions that every community that relies on the Colorado River should be using,” water providers said in the letter to Touton. Moving forward, “We will describe the steps our organizations will take now and codify our commitment to continued effort as we work to ensure our river and the communities it serves continue to thrive. We sincerely hope our commitment to action inspires other stakeholders that share the river to do the same.”
Specifically, the agreement will focus on several key areas as pathways to cutting water use, including:
Develop programs to replace non-functional or passive cool weather turf grass (grass that serves primarily a decorative role and is otherwise unused) with drought- and climate-resistant landscaping, while maintaining vital urban landscapes and tree canopies where appropriate.
Increase water reuse and recycling programs where feasible.
Continue and expand conservation and efficiency programs to accelerate water savings.
“Achieving the protection storage volumes needed to preserve water and hydropower operations within the Colorado River basin cannot be met by a singular country, basin, state, or water use sector,” continued the letter to BOR. “While municipal water use represents only a small fraction of total Colorado River water use, progress begins with one and then many until we are all moving in the same direction.”
While not all the conservation strategies under consideration may make sense for each community, utilities say the agreement demonstrates the commitment that municipal water providers have not only to coordinating and collaborating on strategies to conserve and manage water demands, but to also help protect the Colorado River system.
“The water supply challenges we are facing on the Colorado River are accelerating at an alarming pace. Everyone who relies on the Colorado River must take bold and immediate action to reduce their use on this vital water source,” said Adel Hagekhalil, general manager of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California. “This agreement represents our commitment to working with our municipal partners on the river to come up with innovative, collaborative approaches to better manage our Colorado River supplies and promote a more sustainable future for our communities.”
“With climate change and aridification affecting the entire Basin, improving the health of the Colorado River system requires a swift and collective effort of all water users — in all sectors — to reduce water use and implement actionable strategies, policies and programs to protect this vital resource and balance water supplies with demands,” said John Entsminger, Southern Nevada Water Authority general manager.
“Climate change and overuse of the Colorado River have put us squarely within the crisis we long saw coming. The bottom line now: We all need to work on solutions, no matter our individual impacts on river flows,” said Jim Lochhead, CEO of Denver Water. “While we have long been a conservation leader, Denver Water has consistently said it is prepared to do even more, and the commitments contained in this agreement reflect our readiness to take further important steps to keep more water in the Colorado River Basin.”
“Water issues in the arid west are accelerating,” stated Aurora Water General Manager Marshall Brown. “Aurora is embracing these conservation pathways through Colorado’s largest potable reuse system, an aggressive turf replacement rebate program and a new ordinance that prohibits nonfunctional turf in new developments. We’re doing what needs to be done to ensure a reliable water supply for our community in unpredictable times and we challenge other municipalities to do the same.”
“Colorado Springs Utilities is committed to conservation programming that ensures a clean, reliable water supply for years to come. Building on our customers’ successful 41% reduction in per capita use since 2001, we continue to pursue and implement water efficiency and reuse initiatives that support our vibrant community and make wise use of this valuable resource,” said Colorado Springs Utilities CEO Aram Benyamin.
“The Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District supports the efforts of the Upper Colorado River Commission (UCRC), the State of Colorado, and municipal and agricultural water providers in the basin, to collaborate in bringing the system into balance,” said Jim Broderick, executive director of the district.
Here’s the release from the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District (Chris Woodka):
Roy Vaughan, who retired as the Bureau of Reclamation manager of the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project in 2021, was awarded the Bob Appel Friend of the Arkansas Award Thursday at the 26th annual Arkansas River Basin Water Forum.
“I had no idea I would be getting the award,” Vaughan said. “I really need to thank all of the people I worked with for this great honor.”
Vaughan was surprised by his wife, Stasi, and grown sons Chaz and Colton at the event as they walked onto the stage at the Salida Steam Plant, noting that the day was the 38th anniversary of their wedding.
Vaughan began working for Reclamation in 1992 as dam superintendent at Pueblo Dam, which led him to an interest in all of the water operations of the Arkansas Valley, and water operations such as the Fry-Ark Project that import water from the western slope. He became manager of the Fry-Ark Project in 2008.
Last year’s recipient, Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District Manager Terry Scanga, presented the Appel award and read excerpts from 14 people who worked with him during his career in all parts of the Arkansas River basin. He helped bring people together over such controversial issues as the Preferred Storage Options Plan, Southern Delivery System and Voluntary Flow Management Program. He was always eager to patiently explain water operations with a quick wit and great sense of humor.
“He felt the weight of occasionally failing to satisfy everyone’s wishes far more than he enjoyed the buoyancy of the many times he did indeed satisfy them,” wrote Chaffee County Commissioner Greg Felt. “Perhaps this is the price of being a conscientious public servant. Certainly, it is evidence of a deep regard for all of the envisioned benefits of the Fry-Ark Project.
The Appel Award is named for Bob Appel, who promoted the Arkansas River as coordinator of the Southeast Colorado Resource Conservation and Development Council until his death in 2003.
For more information, contact Jean van Pelt, Forum Coordinator, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here’s the release from the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District Board (Chris Woodka):
One newcomer is joining five returning members on the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District Board of Directors. The appointments were made by a panel of District Judges in early April, and all six members were sworn into office Thursday, April 21, 2022.
Joining the Board is Matt Heimerich, 64, of Olney Springs, representing Crowley County. He will fill the four-year term of Carl McClure, who served for 17 years before retiring in 2022. The term will expire in 2025.
Heimerich is following in the footsteps of his father-in-law, Orville Tomky, who served on the Southeastern Board from 1988-2005.
Heimerich praised both McClure and Tomky at his first Board meeting for their contributions to Crowley County in dealing with the aftermath of water transfers of water from Crowley County that threatened to devastate the small rural county.
“Trying to bring a transmountain water diversion to the Arkansas Valley started in the 1920s and 1930s, and the need is as strong or stronger today,” Heimerich said. “What else can the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project deliver to meet the challenges faced by the people who live here? On the municipal side of the Project, what a difference it will make when the Arkansas Valley Conduit is completed.”
A New York native, Heimerich married Tomky’s daughter Karen in 1985, and began working in the family’s farming operation in 1987. The family continued farming after water from many of their neighbors’ farms had been sold to municipalities. He is a member of the Colorado Canal and Lake Meredith boards. He plans to make agricultural a priority while on the Southeastern Board.
Heimerich served from 1999-2011 as a Crowley County Commissioner, was on the Arkansas River Compact Administration board from 2007-2013, worked for the Palmer Land Trust in the Arkansas Valley office from 2014-2021, and is a member of the Water Education Colorado advisory board.
Reappointed, and serving four-year terms that expire in 2026 are:
Bill Long, President, a businessman from Las Animas, representing Bent County, first appointed in 2002.
Curtis Mitchell, Vice President, retired Fountain Utilities Director, representing El Paso County, first appointed in 2014.
Ann Nichols, Treasurer, retired General Manager of Finance for Colorado Springs Utilities, representing El Paso County, first appointed in 2006.
Alan Hamel, retired Executive Director of Pueblo Water, representing Pueblo County, first appointed in 1988.
Tom Goodwin, retired from the Forest Service and USDA, representing Fremont County, first appointed in 2011.
The Southeastern District was formed in 1958 to administer the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project, which was approved by Congress in 1962. The District includes parts of nine counties in the Arkansas River basin and brings water into the basin from the Fryingpan River basin on the western slope. There are a total of 15 Directors on the Board.
A half day virtual educational seminar explaining the complicated and often confusing issues surrounding water in SW Colorado.
About this event
Water Law in a Nutshell Workshop
Led by Mr. Aaron Clay, Attorney at Law and former 26-year Water Referee for the Colorado Water Court, Division 4
Friday, April 22, 2022
9:00 AM to 1:00 PM Virtual Live On-Line Course
**Details and link access will be sent directly to you after you register and a couple days prior to the start of the course.
Continuing Education Credits Available:
Realtors: 4 hours CE
Attorneys: 4 hours CLE
Once again we are pleased to present the Water Law in a Nutshell course. A great opportunity to learn with Aaron Clay in an online setting about all aspects of the law related to water rights and ditch rights as applied in Colorado. Subject matter includes the appropriation, perfection, use, limitations, attributes, abandonment and enforcement of various types of water rights. Additional subject matter will include special rules for groundwater, public rights in appropriated water, interstate compacts and more.
From his 26 years as a water referee at the Colorado Water Court, Clay brings his wealth of knowledge that earned him a reputation as one of the top experts in water law to this “Water in a Nutshell” course.
Even if you have done this course before, it is a great refresher as there is so much information to absorb!
We welcome EVERYONE, from anywhere in Colorado, including landowners, realtors, lawyers, water district employees, and anyone else interested in water law.
2022 Ark Basin Water Forum returns to the Salida Steam Plant “Risk and Resilience in the Arkansas Basin” restores in-person event after 2-year pandemic pause”
The 26th episode of the Arkansas River Basin Water Forum, the basin’s premiere water event, will feature the state’s top water experts discussing critical issues facing all segments of water users – agriculture, municipal, recreation, environmental and industrial – and engage attendees in seeking solutions to the many challenges faced in planning for a secure water future for the largest of Colorado’s river basins.
Taking place Thursday and Friday, April 28-29, the 2022 Arkansas River Basin Water Forum will focus on “Risk and Resilience in the Arkansas Basin,” exploring topics that include the effect of Colorado River policies on the Arkansas River, ongoing drought and potential aridification in the southwestern United States, the impact of wildfires on water supplies, and much more (see attached draft program).
Keynote presentations will be provided by Dan Gibbs, Executive Director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, and Chris Sturm, Watershed Program Director, Colorado Water Conservation Board.
The Forum format continues to evolve, influenced by attendee needs and the resources available to provide interactive experiences for attendees. In addition to expert presentations and panel discussions in the morning sessions, a variety of outdoor field trips will be offered on the afternoons of both days of the Forum. Full information on registering for the Forum, including afternoon field trips, is online at http://www.arbwf.org.
Registration costs for the Forum remain an excellent value:
Two-day full registration, including lunches – $200
One-day registration, either Thursday or Friday, including lunch – $100
Percolation and Runoff networking dinner – $20
Plan on joining us Thursday evening for what is, hands-down, one of the funnest parts of the Forum. Not to be missed, the Percolation and Runoff social networking event is designed to raise money for our college scholarship fund. The $20 cost includes a delicious dinner, drinks and sparkling conversation. You won’t find a better dinner and drinks deal in Salida. All proceeds from this event support the scholarship fund, helping us to help students and working professionals in their education and research in water resources, watershed studies, hydrology, natural resources management and other water-related fields.
For more information, contact Jean van Pelt, Forum Coordinator, at email@example.com
Thousands of people in the Lower Arkansas Valley who’ve struggled to deal with contaminated water for more than 20 years will have access to clean water by 2024 under a new agreement signed by the federal government and two Colorado water agencies last week.
The Arkansas Valley Conduit (AVC), as the clean water delivery project is known, will bring water from Pueblo Reservoir through the city of Pueblo and out to communities on the Eastern Plains, such as Avondale and Boone, by 2024, and other communities, such as La Junta, as soon as 2027.
Water officials said the entire pipeline should be completed by 2035 if not sooner. The project will ultimately serve 50,000 people, officials said.
Under the agreements, signed by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the Pueblo Water Board, and the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District March 18, some $40 million in federal and local funding will be available to launch construction, with subsequent funding for the $600 million project anticipated to come from Congress and local water agencies.
In addition, the agreement allows Reclamation and Southeastern to pipe the water through the city of Pueblo’s water system, rather than building a separate system to move the water out to the Eastern Plains. Officials said this new agreement will shave costs and several years off the project.
“This contract signing marks one of the most significant milestones to date towards making the AVC a reality and bringing clean water to communities that desperately need it. It advances the project over 14 miles east from Pueblo Reservoir which puts us much closer to our first participants in Avondale and Boone,” said Brent Esplin, regional director of the Missouri Basin and Arkansas-Rio Grande-Texas Gulf regions for Reclamation, in a statement.
Naturally occurring selenium and lead, as well as radionuclides, have dogged the region’s water systems since the 1960s. Many of the communities face enforcement actions from the state health department because they don’t have the financial resources to treat the water for drinking and then to treat it again for discharge into the wastewater systems that discharge to the Lower Arkansas River and its tributaries, according to Chris Woodka, senior policy manager with the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District. Southeastern operates the federal Fryingpan-Arkansas Project’s Pueblo Reservoir.
“This project will relieve some of the pressures that they face. They will get better quality drinking water and they will see improvements to their discharged water,” Woodka said.
The idea is to deliver clean water from Pueblo Reservoir directly to the communities via the 34-mile pipeline, reducing and sometimes eliminating the contaminants that the water now picks up when it travels through streams and irrigation ditches.
The conduit has been on planning boards for more than 50 years but it wasn’t until a new federal law was approved in 2009 stipulating that the federal government would pick up 65% of the costs that the plan began to advance, Woodka said.
Since then the region has wrestled with getting federal cash to start work and convincing local water agencies and the communities who need the water to cooperate on design issues and costs, Woodka said.
“People are convinced it will get built,” Woodka said. “Now the questions are about affordability.”
And for small towns, those are big questions.
Tom Seaba is La Junta’s director of utilities. His city has comparatively clean water, with no radionuclides and a selenium issue that it is treating via reverse osmosis.
“It could be the silver bullet that everyone would like to take care of the contaminants that are in the water. The flip side is the cost,” Seaba said.
La Junta charges customer $2.50 per thousand gallons for water now, which includes treatment costs. The new water will cost $2.19 per thousand gallons, untreated, and La Junta will still have to find a way to recoup the cost to disinfect and treat the water.
“Now that we’re getting down to brass tacks, we need to see if the underlying reality will do for us what everyone hopes it will. If we can connect and that takes care of the problems we have, sign us up. But if it doesn’t, we will have to do something else,” Seaba said.
Jerd Smith is editor of Fresh Water News. She can be reached at 720-398-6474, via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or @jerd_smith.
Here’s the release from Southeastern Water (Chris Woodka), USBR (Elizabeth Smith), and Pueblo Water (Joe Cervi):
A three-party contract allowing for the Arkansas Valley Conduit to deliver clean drinking water to 50,000 people in 39 communities east of Pueblo was signed by the Bureau of Reclamation on March 18, 2022, following approval by the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District Board and the Pueblo Board of Water Works (Pueblo Water). The contract was drafted after negotiations that began in November 2021.
“This contract signing marks one of the most significant milestones to date towards making the AVC a reality and bringing clean water to communities that desperately need it. It advances the project over 14 miles east from Pueblo Reservoir which puts us much closer to our first participants in Avondale and Boone,” said Brent Esplin, Regional Director of the Missouri-Basin and Arkansas-Rio Grande-Texas Gulf regions for Reclamation. “It is also the culmination of years of collaboration between Reclamation, Southeastern, and Pueblo Water to deliver a more cost-effective project to people of the lower Arkansas Valley.”
The contract will allow the Southeastern District to use capacity in Pueblo Water’s system to treat and deliver AVC water to a pipeline being constructed by Reclamation. The connection point for AVC is at the east end of Pueblo Water’s system, at 36th Lane and U.S. Highway 50.
The water will be either Fryingpan-Arkansas Project water or from participants’ water portfolios, not from Pueblo Water’s resources. The route of the AVC follows the Arkansas River corridor from Pueblo to Lamar, with spurs to Eads and Crowley County. Reclamation is building the trunk line, while the Southeastern District will build the spur and delivery lines. Estimated total cost is about $600 million.
The Southeastern and Pueblo Water boards both unanimously approved the contract on March 15 and 17, 2022, respectively.
“This project is vitally important to the people of the Lower Arkansas Valley,” said Bill Long, President of the Southeastern District board. “It would not be viable, and certainly not affordable without the partnership with Pueblo Water, and I would like to express my appreciation to the board.”
“This is a truly monumental achievement and marks the culmination of decades of hard work, dedication, and collaboration by those who have devoted their lives to the business of water,” said Seth Clayton, executive director of Pueblo Water. “Pueblo Water is proud to be an integral participant in this important time in history.”
Many of the Lower Arkansas Valley water systems face water-quality enforcement actions for radionuclides or surface contaminants in groundwater sources. They face ever increasing costs to cope with these problems. The AVC will eliminate or reduce the effects of those contaminants by delivering filtered water from Pueblo Reservoir.
To deliver the full volume of water through the system, Pueblo Water must make some upgrades, and will receive a $20 million construction recovery fee. In addition, Pueblo Water will receive a $2 million investment payment. As the needs of AVC grow, Pueblo will receive funding for necessary improvements.
This is seen as a win-win opportunity by both Pueblo Water and the Southeastern District because it reduces the cost of an earlier plan to build a new pipeline south of Pueblo.
“Not only does the agreement save the AVC project hundreds of millions of dollars and years of construction time, but it also benefits Pueblo Water customers by providing an opportunity to use the excess capacity we have in our system and deliver water to our neighbors in the Lower Arkansas Valley,” Clayton said.
Pueblo Water will charge an initial rate of $2.19 per 1,000 gallons delivered, which reflects the operation and maintenance costs of those parts of the system needed by AVC. The rate will increase annually at the same rate as Pueblo Water’s other customers.
Pueblo Water will also renew its contract to store excess capacity water in Pueblo Reservoir for a 50- year period under the contract.
Finally, the contract spells out environmental commitments and operating conditions related to AVC.
“The significance of this action is that everybody will have the opportunity to have a clean source of drinking water after more than 20 years of work,” said Jim Broderick, executive director of the Southeastern District.
Alan Hamel, a Southeastern Board member, and former Pueblo Water executive director, said the idea for the AVC actually goes back 60 years, to the 1962 signing of the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project into law.
In 1968, there was a plan to jointly build a federal treatment plant for Pueblo Water and the water line for AVC.
The AVC was put on hold because of the inability of communities to pay for it. The AVC concept was revived in 2000, and a 2009 federal law provided for 65 percent federal funding, to be matched by 35 percent in other funding.
Reclamation issued a Record of Decision in 2014 which endorsed construction of the AVC to proceed via the “Comanche North” alignment. The alignment was modified in 2019 through a collaborative effort between Reclamation, Southeastern, and Pueblo Water which replaced the pipeline around Pueblo with this contract.
Federal funding so far has totaled $40 million, while $100 million in loans or grants is available to AVC through the Colorado Water Conservation Board. The District has contributed $4.8 million through its Enterprise, while participants have paid $1.5 million since 2011.
Pueblo County recently contributed $1.2 million to build delivery lines to Boone and Avondale through local American Rescue Plan Act funds, and other counties or cities in the Arkansas Valley are expected to contribute as well.
Rural Pueblo County residents are expected to see improvements to their drinking water in the next few years, thanks to $12.7 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act Funds being disbursed by Pueblo County Commissioners…Projects receiving funding include the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, which is working to deliver drinking water to Avondale and Boone as part of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s Arkansas Valley Conduit project, said Chris Woodka, issues management coordinator for the district. It will receive $1.2 million to build delivery lines out of the bureau’s trunk line in eastern Pueblo County. That will bring water to about 1,600 Avondale residents and 230 Boone residents. Avondale Water District also will receive $3.2 million and the town of Boone’s water project will get $1.5 million…
The communities’ water will come out of the Pueblo Reservoir. Once the water arrives in the eastern Pueblo communities, water managers will only have to re-chlorinate it before getting it to their customers, Woodka said…
Of the remainder of the $12 million water infrastructure funds, Beulah Water Works and Colorado City Metro will get more than $3 million. Last July, the Colorado City Metropolitan District dealt with a low water pressure crisis caused by an internet outage at the district’s water treatment plants.
Some of the highest concentrations of radium-contaminated drinking water in the nation are clustered in rural southeast Colorado, according to a recent compilation of data.
The problem is hardly new. The presence of radium in the area’s groundwater, which is linked to an increased cancer risk particularly for children, has been known for decades. The newly compiled data shows that out of the 50,000 water systems included in the research, six of the ten worst radium levels in the nation are in Colorado.
The water providers are required to inform their customers of the contamination, and they say they’d like to fix the problem, but providing clean, radium-free tap water in the most remote areas comes with an untenable price tag.
A massive infrastructure project that promises to largely resolve the problem, the Arkansas Valley Conduit, broke ground this year, but its completion is years away and the bulk of its funding hasn’t materialized yet.
For now, most are hopeful that the conduit will be fully funded and fully built, but until then, the faucets in the area will still provide water with as much as four times the legal radium limit…
Radium poses a unique risk to children, because it is treated by the human body like calcium and deposited into developing bones, where it remains radioactive and can kill and mutate cells.
Although the area’s groundwater was known to have contaminants, high levels of radium in Colorado’s groundwater became a regulatory problem around 20 years ago, when the Environmental Protection Agency promulgated new radionuclide standards. Federal law allows up to 5 picocuries of radium-226 or radium-228, the most common versions of the element, per liter of water…
According to the Environmental Working Group’s new drinking water contamination data compilation, the worst radium content in the nation is found in Rocky Ford, where there was an average of 23 picocuries of radium per liter of water.
Eighteen other water systems in Colorado contain more than the legal limit. Most are clustered around the small rural towns of Rocky Ford, Swink and La Junta, about an hour’s drive east from Pueblo. The new data show one in every six Otero County resident has tap water above the federal limit.
After years of testing, studies and planning, the solution that‘s emerged is one proposed sixty years ago: The Arkansas Valley Conduit, the massive clean water delivery system proposal that stalled for decades over the project’s equally massive price tag.
Elsewhere in the state the Peak View Park mobile home park, situated on a wooded hillside along U.S. Route 24 in Woodland Park, registered more than twice the legal limit of radium for years, as the owners struggled to get the problem fixed…
But a key feature of the system Peak View Park installed is the access to Woodland Park’s sewer system. LaBarre said he had to make arrangements with the city’s wastewater treatment officials about the timing of their extraction system’s wastewater disposal, so that they can send the radium-saturated byproduct of the extraction process into the sewer when the system can adequately handle it…
The lack of a sewer system is what cripples any similar efforts in the more rural areas around La Junta. There, where many of the residents use septic tanks, storing an extraction byproduct would be prohibitively expensive…
Bill Long, the president of the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, said the towns along the first 12 miles of the [Arkansas Valley Conduit], Boone and Avondale, should be getting clean water from the conduit by 2024.
More funding will be needed to finish the project, and Long said he believes there will be money allocated from the recently passed federal infrastructure bill, and that the funds could help get the conduit finished, but that the details aren’t yet clear.
The playground that flows through Chaffee County delivered the goods this summer, with fat waves and tourist dollars churning out what Bob Hamel calls a banner season on the Arkansas River.
“If it’s a good rafting year, that drives the economy,” says Hamel, Executive Director of Arkansas River Outfitters Association and who sits at the Arkansas Basin Water Roundtable. “Everybody I talked to was up.”
The number of visitors to the 143-mile Arkansas River Recreation Area was already up 18 percent in 2020. The river economy typically flows more than $70 million a year into local communities.
But Hamel, like so many in the water community, is acutely aware of potential shoe dropping in the Upper Colorado River Basin, which ultimately plays out on the Arkansas River.
None of the water in America’s West, or anywhere, for that matter, operates in a vacuum. When the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation made its historic shortage declaration on the Colorado River on Aug. 16, the famed waters through Browns Canyon National Monument, as well as the local economy and environment that ripple out from them, were arguably in a stranger position than the day before.
In the words of Federal Water Master John Thorson, “Water links us to our neighbor in a way more profound and complex than any other.”
Upon the Aug. 16 announcement, Arizona farmers braced for 512,000 fewer acre-feet in the 2022 water year. The news was no surprise, really; they’d anticipated it for months.
For now, Nevada will lose 21,000 acre-feet. California, with the most senior water rights among the three states that comprise the Lower Colorado River Basin along with Mexico, has been spared for the time being.
The situation has players in the water industry girding for more news nobody wants to hear. Lake Mead, the major reservoir for the lower basin states, had hit a historic low of 1,067 feet, threatening the levels for hydropower for 1.3 million people. Without significant changes to two decades of drought driven by changing climate, more restrictions are likely on tap.
And with that, talk is intensifying in the upper basin, where the Bureau could declare a shortage as soon as 2022. Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico comprise the upper basin states that rely on Colorado River water…
Just as Lake Mead’s ability to supply water and electricity in the lower basin has been threatened, the levels at Lake Powell and the threshold required for hydropower could trigger cutbacks for the upper states. Glen Canyon Dam generates 5 billion kilowatt hours of electricity annually.
For the record, things at Lake Powell aren’t great. While Lake Mead is sitting at about 35 percent capacity – a level not seen since it started to fill with the completion of Hoover Dam in 1936 – Lake Powell, which began forming in 1963 with the construction of Glen Canyon Dam, is a scant 30 percent of full pool.
The reservoir, which straddles Utah into Arizona, is down 50 feet from a year ago, evidenced by a stark white ring against the red desert rock, representing former water levels. Canyons that were once underwater are emerging, and houseboat rental companies cancelled reservations through August. Responding to the historic low water levels, the National Park Service issued a ban on launching the boats in mid-July.
The Hardest-working River in the West
The Colorado could easily be called the hardest-working river in the West, originating as a modest creek in Grand County and eventually draining a massive watershed that serves 40 million people before it ends, 1,450 miles later, at its battered delta in the Gulf of California.
The Upper Arkansas River Basin eventually echoes what’s happening on the Colorado. The Fry-Ark, the trans-basin diversion project originating on the Frying Pan River in Pitkin County, bears notable responsibility for the fun and stream ecology hereabouts, and in turn, the local economy between July 1 and Aug. 15. During that timeframe up to 10,000 acre-feet in supplemental flows are set free from the Twin Lakes and Turquoise Lake reservoirs…
Fry-Ark, short for Frying Pan-Arkansas, was authorized in 1962 and completed in 1981. President John F. Kennedy called what would be a $585 million endeavor a game changer, a model for the future owned by all Americans.
Not that the proposal rolled in unscathed for a few approval strokes of Kennedy’s pen. A change-up from the considerably larger and scuttled Gunnison-Arkansas proposal, Fry-Ark would not happen easily. Enduring nearly endless political stalling from its genesis – mostly from Western Slope residents who weren’t keen on seeing their water sent to the eastern side of the Continental Divide – it also caught the wrath of California and Arizona politicos, who argued that any water diverted from the Colorado River Basin was ultimately bad news for them.
During that time, Americans also became increasingly concerned about the environmental issues surrounding the big resource development projects springing up, and Fry-Ark met opposition from groups such as the Sierra Club, Isaac Walton League and the Wilderness Society. But severe drought in the West in the 1950s was close enough to the 1930s Dust Bowl era to gather steam in Congress for water development.
In the end, after considerable pitchfork throwing, the Ruedi Dam and Reservoir were offered up to the Western Slope as a storage solution and compromise of sorts. Construction began in 1964. The project was the first step of the massive, gutsy Fry-Ark. Its network of storage, tunnels and canals would in time send a reliable supply of water to east slope farmers, industries and cities, plump the summer waves moving through Chaffee County and help support a Gold Medal fishery in the off seasons…
Editor’s note: In late July, Gates Family Foundation and the Colorado News Collaborative announced that Ark Valley Voice (AVV) Journalist Tara Flanagan was awarded a water fellowship, to participate in a statewide newsroom effort to strengthen water reporting at newsrooms across Colorado. This is the first in a series of stories about the importance of water in the west, specifically focused on the Arkansas River basin.
John Rauch and his family have operated the Cedar Springs Marina here since 1986. But three weeks ago, when the federal government suddenly ordered millions of gallons of water to be released from Flaming Gorge Reservoir down the Green River to Lake Powell, Rauch wasn’t prepared.
“It was a total gut punch,” he said on a recent hot, sunny morning. As visitors trekked down to rent his pontoon boats, and others slid their fishing craft into the reservoir, Rauch and his employees were already planning which boat docks and ramps would have to be relocated to keep them afloat. The reservoir is projected to drop as much as 2 feet a month through the fall as water is released.
Drought has plagued the Colorado River Basin for 20 years, but it hit crisis proportions this summer, pushing lakes Powell and Mead to historic lows and triggering, for the first time, emergency releases of water from Utah’s Flaming Gorge, Colorado’s Blue Mesa, and New Mexico’s Navajo reservoirs.
All told, 181,000 acre-feet of water are to be sent to Lake Powell by the end of December. Powell has dropped so low that its hydropower plants, which supply millions of homes with electricity and generate revenue for such things as a critical Colorado River endangered species program, may stop operating as early as next year if water levels continue to drop as they have been. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation estimates there is a 3 percent chance of this occurring next year and a 29 percent chance of this occurring in 2022. But given the speed of the Powell’s decline, no one wants to risk a hydropower shutdown.
Since their construction in the 1960s these reservoirs, known as Reclamation’s Colorado River Storage Project reservoirs, have acted as a giant savings account, helping ensure that if a crisis erupted on the river, the Upper Colorado River Basin states of Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico would have enough water on hand to fulfill their legal obligation to deliver water to Nevada, Arizona and California, known as the Lower Basin states.
Colorado’s Blue Mesa Reservoir, part of the Aspinall Unit, is already low, at just 43 percent of capacity as of last month. Fed by the Gunnison River, a major tributary of the Colorado, the reservoir is tourism hot spot on Colorado’s West Slope.
Kathleen Curry, a former Colorado lawmaker, sits on the Colorado River District Board. She said she understands the need for the releases, but she said the changes in the shoreline at Blue Mesa aren’t going unnoticed.
“It’s taking residents and visitors by surprise, just because I don’t think anyone was expecting it,” she said.
The releases come under a special Upper Basin Drought Contingency Plan approved by Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico in late 2018. A similar drought plan is in place for the Lower Basin, and they have been cutting back withdrawals from Lake Mead for the past two years.
Still the river system is drying out. And water leaders in Colorado are deeply worried that their carefully protected savings account is going to dry up too quickly to solve the Colorado River’s long-term problems.
Will it work?
“I understand and support the necessity of the Secretary [of the Interior] taking this action,” said Jim Lochhead, CEO of Denver Water. “The major concern I have is that Reclamation says the 181,000 acre-foot release will raise Lake Powell three feet. But I don’t know that they can even show that. I don’t know that they have accounted for transit losses and other losses.
“It’s important when these releases are made that they are accounted for, that we know where this water is going. If it doesn’t actually get down to [Lake Powell] to accomplish what it was designed to do, we should have kept it in that savings account,” Lochhead said.
Becki Bryant, a spokesperson for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s Upper Colorado River region, said the agency is working to create a hydropower buffer in Lake Powell and believes the releases are adequate to accomplish that. But Reclamation is not yet doing the kind of precise tracking and accounting known as water “shepherding,” to ensure flows make it downstream, that Lochhead is requesting.
On Aug. 1, Lake Powell’s elevation stood at 3,553.8 feet above sea level. The action point, or so-called target elevation is 3,525. When that point came close in July, Reclamation moved quickly to order the emergency releases.
Powell’s hydropower plant stops generating power when it drops to 3,490 feet in elevation, according to Reclamation.
“Reclamation expects the additional release of water will be sufficient to protect Lake Powell’s target elevation through 2021. That target elevation provides a 35-vertical-foot buffer designed to minimize the risk of dropping below the minimum power pool elevation of 3,490 feet, and balances the need to protect the infrastructure at Powell’s Glen Canyon Dam.
“Shepherding water would be beneficial but is challenging on many levels for Colorado River Basin states,” said Bryant via email.
Bryant said Reclamation will continue to consult with the Upper Basin states as it monitors reservoir levels and weather forecasts. Should conditions deteriorate further, the agency could examine whether to declare the releases futile and stop them, as it is allowed to do under the 2018 Drought Contingency Plan.
The water being released is so-called “system water,” meaning that it isn’t owned by a particular user.
Held by the federal government for the benefit of the Upper Basin states, the amounts of water specified in the release plan are jaw-dropping: 125,000 acre-feet from Flaming Gorge; 36,000 acre-feet from Blue Mesa; and 20,000 acre-feet from Navajo. An acre-foot of water is enough to cover one acre of land to a depth of 12 inches.
If that same amount of water were going to cities, it would be enough to serve more than 362,000 homes for one to two years. If going to farms, it could irrigate more than 113,000 acres, depending on the crop.
If the historic, 20-plus-year drought cycle doesn’t end soon, refilling those reservoirs is going to be difficult. And that has water managers worried.
“My level of concern is quite high,” said Becky Mitchell, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, the state’s lead water planning and policy agency. She also sits on the four-state Upper Colorado River Basin Commission, which advises Reclamation on river issues.
“And I can’t tell yet if [the releases] are going to do the trick,” she said. “But we have to respond to the levels in Powell.”
Under the 1922 Colorado River Compact, Colorado and the other Upper Basin states must deliver 7.5 million acre-feet (maf) [per year, 75 maf per 10 years] of water to the Lower Basin on a 10-year running average. Right now, the Upper Basin is delivering roughly 9.2 maf, Mitchell said, meaning that there is still time to help the system come back into balance before the Lower Basin states could legally call for more water than they currently receive.
Lake Powell is the Upper Basin’s largest storage pool on the system and is designed to be the four Upper Basin states’ major source of protection. Because of their legal obligations, Colorado water users are closely monitoring this year’s plunge in Powell, with the threat to hydropower production being seen as a dangerous antecedent to a compact call.
“That the system continues to deteriorate is concerning,” Lochhead said.
Roughly half of Denver Water’s supplies are derived from water rights it owns on the Colorado River system. While one portion of its portfolio dates back to 1921, and would therefore trump a 1922 compact call, several other rights were established later, meaning the utility might have to stop pulling from those water sources if Colorado were forced to cut back in order to meet compact obligations.
Other Front Range water providers, who also have Colorado River rights, are even more vulnerable, including the Pueblo-based Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District.
Southeastern’s rights date only to 1957.
Contingency v. reality
Lee Miller, Southeastern’s attorney, said the Colorado River crisis remains a long-term problem for his agency.
The rapid deterioration this year, however, is prompting everyone to rethink how much time they have to balance the massive river system as drought and a warming climate, as well as population growth, continue to sap its flows.
“Both the Upper and Lower Basin have now had to initiate elements of their drought contingency plans. When we passed it a couple of years ago everyone thought, “It’s good to have a contingency plan.’ But I don’t think anyone thought we would have to use the plans this quickly. It’s gone from being a contingency to being a reality, and that’s concerning.”
Back up at Flaming Gorge, John Rauch is watching the levels drop and making his own contingency plans.
“We are planning for the worst,” Rauch said. “For the foreseeable future, the outlook is dry. If it ends up that by the end of all of this that the reservoir becomes a river channel, we will be down there at water’s edge selling worms.”
Jerd Smith is editor of Fresh Water News. She can be reached at 720-398-6474, via email at email@example.com or @jerd_smith.
Tackling the challenges surrounding climate change and water supply will require collaboration and creative thinking, Colorado’s top water leaders and senior federal officials agreed Thursday.
More than a dozen state officials and water leaders from across the state met at Denver Water’s Operations Complex with Department of the Interior Secretary Deb Haaland to discuss the impacts of climate change, the ongoing drought across the Colorado River Basin and how leadership and collaboration at every level will be needed to help address it.
After the discussion, Jim Lochhead, Denver Water’s CEO/Manager, welcomed the group — which included Interior’s Assistant Secretary for Water and Science Tanya Trujillo, Colorado Congresswoman Diana DeGette, Rebecca Mitchell, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, and Colorado Commissioner of Agriculture Kate Greenberg — to a news conference at the utility’s Administration Building, completed in 2019, that is itself a demonstration of the future of water and water efficiency in an urban setting.
Lochhead said the roundtable also included a discussion of the investments Denver Water is making in watershed health, through its From Forests to Faucets program that includes partners at the state and federal level, water conservation, resiliency and sustainability.
Haaland said she was glad to tour “this beautiful building” and praised the roundtable for bringing a wide range of people together for a thoughtful and important discussion…
Greenberg said it meant a lot to the people working across Colorado’s agriculture sector to know issues surrounding climate change were “top of mind” at both the state and federal level…
Attendees at the water leaders’ roundtable discussion were:
Deb Haaland, Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior.
Tanya Trujillo, Assistant Secretary for Water and Science, U.S. Department of Interior.
Davis Raff, Chief Engineer, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.
Carly Jerla, Senior Water Resources Program Manager, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.
Diana DeGette, U.S. Representative for Colorado’s First Congressional District.
Colorado Gov. Jared Polis.
Colorado Lt. Governor Dianne Primavera.
Kate Greenberg, Colorado Commissioner of Agriculture.
Dan Gibbs, Executive Director, Colorado Department of Natural Resources.
Rebecca Mitchell, Director, Colorado Water Conservation Board.
Jim Lochhead, CEO/Manager, Denver Water.
Christine Arbogast, representing Colorado Water Congress.
Peter Fleming, General Counsel, Colorado River Water District.
Jim Broderick, Executive Director, Southeastern Colorado Water Conservation District.
Ken Curtis, General Manager, Dolores Water District Manager (retired).
Steve Wolff, General Manager, Southwest Water Conservation District.
Jennifer Pitt, Colorado River Program Director, National Audubon Society
The Arkansas Valley Conduit promises to bring clean drinking water to more residents of southeast Colorado
n the 1940s, the Arkansas River was dammed south of town to build [John Martin Reservoir], a place locals call the Sapphire on the Plains. The reservoir was tied up in a 40-year battle until Colorado and Kansas came to an agreement, in 2019, to provide an additional water source to help keep the levels high enough for recreation and to support fish.
Forty years may seem like a long time to develop a plan to save fish and improve water levels for a reservoir, but southeastern Colorado is used to long fights when it comes to water…
For nearly a century, leaders in southeastern Colorado have worked on plans to bring clean drinking water to the area through the proposed Arkansas Valley Conduit, but progress on the pipeline project stalled after a major push in the 1960s. Pollution, water transfers and years of worsening drought amid a warming climate continue to build stress for water systems in the area. Adding to that, the area continues to see population decline combined with a struggling economy.
The water needed for the conduit will be sourced from melting snowpack in the Mosquito and Sawatch mountain ranges [ed. and Colorado River Basin]. Under the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project Act, passed in the early 1960s, the water has been allocated for usage in the Lower Arkansas Valley. The water will be stored at Pueblo Reservoir and travel through existing infrastructure to east Pueblo near the airport. From there, the conduit will tie into nearly 230 miles of pipeline to feed water to 40 communities in need.
Renewed plans to build a pipeline to deliver clean drinking water to the Lower Arkansas Valley are bringing hope for many people in southeastern Colorado. But in an area that is inextricably linked to its water, the future can seem unclear…
“Deliver on that promise”
“It was nearly 100 years ago, in the 1930s, that the residents of southeast Colorado recognized that the water quality in the lower valley of the Arkansas River was quite poor,” said Bill Long, president of the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District and a former Bent County commissioner.
Water systems in the district, which includes Pueblo, Crowley, Bent, Prowers, Kiowa and Otero counties, have two main issues affecting drinking water.
The first is that a majority of those systems rely on alluvial groundwater, which can have a high level of dissolved solids. This can include selenium, sulfate, manganese and uranium, which are linked to human health concerns.
Second, the remaining systems in the water district rely on the Dakota-Cheyenne bedrock aquifer that can be affected by naturally occurring radionuclides. Radium and other radionuclides in the underlying geologic rock formation can dissolve into the water table and then be present in drinking water wells, also carrying health risks.
In 1962, residents in southeastern Colorado thought President John F. Kennedy was delivering a solution to their drinking water problem during a ceremony in Pueblo. Congress had passed the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project Act, and Kennedy came to Pueblo to authorize the construction of a pipeline to deliver clean drinking water…
Residents of the 1930s began working on ideas to deliver clean drinking water to southeastern Colorado. By the 1950s, they were selling gold frying pans to raise money to send backers to Washington, D.C., to encourage Congress to pass the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project Act. But it wasn’t until 1962 that the pipeline authorization became a reality.
Fast forward 58 years, and two more politicians came to Pueblo to address a crowd about the same pipeline project. This time, on Oct. 3, 2020, it was at the base of Pueblo Dam. Because of funding shortfalls, the Arkansas Valley Conduit was never built after it was authorized in 1962.
The Colorado communities could not afford to cover 100% of the costs, as initially required, so in 2009, the act was amended to include a 65% federal share and a 35% local cost share. Additionally, in 2020, Congress appropriated $28 million more toward the project, according to the water conservancy district.
That October day, Sens. Michael Bennet and Cory Gardner took turns talking about the importance of the project. They told a small crowd that when the pipeline is built, it will provide clean drinking water to 50,000 residents in southeastern Colorado…
The water conservancy district estimates the pipeline project’s cost will range from $546 million to $610 million…
Physical construction of the pipeline won’t start until 2022, according to the water district…
“The solution to pollution Is dilution”
A hand-painted sign with stenciled letters welcomes travelers on Highway 96 into Olney Springs. The highway cuts across four blocks that make up the width of the small town with around 340 residents.
Olney Springs is one of six water systems in Crowley County that plans to have a delivery point, known as a spur, on the Arkansas Valley Conduit. The plans for the pipeline call for two spurs in Pueblo County, three in both Bent and Prowers counties, and one in Kiowa County. Out of the 40 total participants, the remaining 25 are in Otero County…
Located along the Arkansas River about 70 miles east of Pueblo, La Junta is the largest municipality in Otero County. With its population around 7,000 and a Walmart Supercenter, a Holiday Inn Express and Sonic Drive-In, La Junta can feel like a metropolis when compared to Olney Springs.
La Junta is one of two Arkansas Valley Conduit participants, along with Las Animas, that uses reverse osmosis to remove potentially harmful and naturally occurring toxins from the water. Reverse osmosis is a process that uses pressure to push water through a membrane to remove contaminants. According to the Department of the Interior and the Bureau of Reclamation’s Arkansas Valley Conduit Environmental Impact Statement, reverse osmosis can treat source water to meet standards, but the brine from the process “is an environmental concern, and operation costs are high.”
The other participants use conventional methods to treat water. The environmental impact statement said those methods can be as simple as adding chlorine for disinfection and filtration or adding chemicals to remove suspended solids, but that those treatments “…cannot remove salt or radionuclides from water.”
Tom Seaba, director of water and wastewater for La Junta, said out of a total of 24 water districts in Otero County, 19 were in violation with the state due to elevated levels of radionuclide.
Four of the 19 came into compliance with the state’s drinking water standards after La Junta brought them onto its water system. The remaining 15 are still in violation with the state, according to Seaba.
La Junta spent $18.5 million to build a wastewater treatment plant that came online in 2019 to help meet water standards for its community. But the city’s water treatment came with its own issue: selenium.
After La Junta treats its water using reverse osmosis, the water system is left with a concentrate, which is safe drinking water. However, it’s also left with a waste stream high in selenium. “That wastewater has to go somewhere,” Seaba said. It goes to the city’s new wastewater treatment plant…
According to the environmental impact statement, “La Junta’s wastewater discharge makes up about 1.5% of average annual flow in the Arkansas River.” The study goes on to say that during drought or low-flow events, the wastewater discharge can contribute up to half of the streamflow downstream from the gage.
Seaba is looking to the Arkansas Valley Conduit as a possible answer. “The solution to pollution is dilution,” he said. The water from the pipeline will not have a selenium problem, Seaba explained. By blending water from the conduit with the selenium waste from reverse osmosis, La Junta hopes to reduce costs and stay compliant with Environmental Protection Agency standards to discharge into the river.
The environmental review studied a section of the Arkansas River from where Fountain Creek runs into the river east to the Kansas border. The study found that a section of the river was impaired by selenium…
“I sure don’t drink it”
The EPA sets a maximum contaminant level in drinking water at 5 picocuries per liter of air for combined radium and 30 micrograms per liter for combined uranium. If contaminant levels are above those numbers, the water system is in violation of drinking water regulations, which the state enforces.
According to data provided by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, the Patterson Valley Water Company in Otero County, one of the 40 pipeline participants, had the highest result of 31 picocuries per liter for combined radium in 2020. In that same county, Rocky Ford, another pipeline participant, had a high result of 0.2 picocuries per liter for combined radium. According to the state health department, Rocky Ford’s combined radium sample numbers were last recorded in 2013.
Manzanola, also in Otero County and a pipeline participant, topped the list with the highest result of 42 micrograms per liter for combined uranium in 2020. In contrast, 19 other pipeline participants, from across the valley, had results of 0 micrograms per liter for combined uranium, according to the most recent numbers from the state health department.
Levels of the two carcinogens are sporadic throughout the valley. The average of the highest results of all 40 participants in the pipeline for combined radium is roughly 8 picocuries per liter and combined uranium is roughly 5 micrograms per liter. According to Seaba, averaging the members’ highest results might seem unfair to some individual water systems because it brings their numbers up, but what those averages do show is that water in Pueblo Reservoir, which will feed the future conduit, is approximately three times less affected by combined radium and combined uranium than the average of current water used by pipeline participants. In 2020, the highest result of combined radium in the Pueblo Reservoir was 2.52 picocuries per liter, and the highest result of combined uranium was 1.7 micrograms per liter…
“I sure don’t drink it,” said Manny Rodriquez. “I don’t think anybody in town drinks the water.”
Rodriquez, who grew up in and still lives in Rocky Ford, was not sure if the water at his apartment was in violation of the state’s clean drinking water act or not. State data showed at that time his water was not in violation. Colorado is required to notify residents if their water system is in violation of the clean drinking water act…
MaryAnn Nason, a spokesperson for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, used an example to show how violations can add up: “If a public water system has two entry points that fail for both combined radium and gross alpha (measures of radionuclides), and they have those same violations for 10 years each quarter, that is going to appear as 160 violations on the website. But really, it is one naturally occurring situation that exists for a relatively long time,” Nason said.
For some residents like Ruby Lucero, 83, it makes little difference to her if her water is in violation with the state or not. She plans to buy her drinking water no matter what the results say about her tap water…
“The struggling farmer”
In the past decade, Otero County has seen a 2.9% drop in population. Residents have a ballpark difference of $38,000 in the median household income compared to the rest of the state, and the county is not alone. All six counties that are part of current plans for the Arkansas Valley Conduit are seeing economic hard times.
Adding to those factors is drought. Years of drought keep hitting the area’s No. 1 industry: agriculture.
The Rocky Ford Ditch’s water rights date back to 1874, making them some of the most senior water rights in the Arkansas River system. In the early 1980s, Aurora was able to buy a majority of those water rights. Over time, Aurora acquired more shares and has converted them to municipal use…
“We still have a heavy lift before us”
Planned off the main trunk of the Arkansas Valley Conduit, a pump station near Wiley will push water along a spur to support Eads in Kiowa County. Water that ends up in Eads will have traveled the longest distance of the pipeline project. The majority of the pipeline will be gravity-fed, but this section will need to be pumped uphill.
The journey is a good representation of Eads’ battle with water. Not only is clean drinking water needed, but the area is also desperate for relief from years of drought exacerbated by climate change…
Long said that Eads is different from a majority of the other participants in the project because it is not located along the Arkansas River…
The domestic water that will be delivered via the conduit is even more important for a town like Eads, said Long. “It’s very difficult to attract new industry when you have a limited supply of very poor water.”
Long believes the conduit will make a huge difference to support communities in the Lower Arkansas River Valley…
Long has been working on the Arkansas Valley Conduit project for nearly 18 years.
“After such a long fight, to finally be where we are feels good, but honestly I can say it doesn’t feel as good as I thought it would. Only because I know we have so much work still to do, and I know how difficult the past 18 years have been,” Long said. “We still have a heavy lift before us.”
Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:
Southwestern Water Conservation District Hires New General Manager
Southwestern Water Conservation District (SWCD) is pleased to announce the hiring of its newest General Manager, Steven W. Wolff.
Board President Jenny Russell expressed the board’s enthusiasm in naming Wolff as General Manager for the Southwestern District. “Steve immediately stood out in an impressive pool of candidates for the GM position,” said Russell.
Wolff is currently Administrator of the Interstate Streams Division within Wyoming’s State Engineer’s Office in Cheyenne. The Interstate Streams Division oversees Wyoming’s rights and responsibilities outlined in the seven interstate water compacts and three interstate water decrees the state is signatory to. Wolff is also responsible for the development of technical and policy recommendations on inter- and intra-state water issues. The Southwestern board was also pleased and impressed with Wolff’s work with river basin planning efforts of the Wyoming Water Development Commission for each of Wyoming’s seven major river basins. He will be winding down his representation of Wyoming over the next month.
Wolff’s interstate experience will be invaluable to the Southwestern District in its involvement in complex interstate negotiations on the Colorado River, state and federal water policy advocacy, local water planning efforts, water education, and other critical, water-related matters.
“I am honored to be offered this opportunity to contribute to the District’s leadership on West Slope water issues and look forward to becoming an active part of the Southwestern community. I thank the board for their confidence in me,” Wolff said. “We are undoubtedly entering a critical period in providing a reliable water supply for all uses, and no place is more significant than the Colorado River basin. Water management is challenging at a local, regional, and national scale. I look forward to working with the Southwestern District board and the many stakeholders to define and implement a vision for sustainable water resources in southwest Colorado,” added Wolff.
Wolff currently serves as gubernatorial appointee representing Wyoming to the Western States Water Council, the Colorado River Basin Salinity Control Forum, and the Glen Canyon Dam Adaptive Management Program. He also currently serves as chair of the Upper Colorado River Commission’s Engineering Committee and the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program’s Management Committee.
“We look forward to Steve’s long and productive leadership with the Southwestern District,” concluded Russell.
The Southwestern Water Conservation District was created by the Colorado legislature 80 years ago to protect, conserve, and develop the water resources of the San Juan and Dolores River basins and to safeguard for all of Colorado the waters of the Colorado River basin to which the state is entitled.
Here’s the release from the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District (Chris Woodka):
Five Directors were reappointed to the Board of Directors of the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, and were sworn in on Thursday, April 15, 2021.
Reappointed are: Seth Clayton, Executive Director of Pueblo Water, representing Pueblo County, and Secretary of the Board; Andrew Colosimo, Government Affairs Manager for Colorado Springs Utilities, representing El Paso County; Greg Felt, Chaffee County Commissioner and a member of the Colorado Water Conservation Board; Carl McClure, a Crowley County farmer; and Howard “Bub” Miller, an Otero County farmer and rancher.
The Southeastern District is the state agency responsible for the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project, which is operated by the Bureau of Reclamation. The Fry-Ark Project includes Pueblo Reservoir, Twin Lakes, Turquoise Reservoir, Mount Elbert Forebay and Power Plant at Twin Lakes, Ruedi Reservoir, a West Slope Collection System, and the Boustead Tunnel.
The Fry-Ark Project is designed to import 69,200 acre-feet annually for use by cities and farms in the Arkansas River basin from the Fryingpan River watershed near Basalt. Fry-Ark Operating Principles list environmental conditions that must be met when water is diverted.
The District also operates the James W. Broderick Hydropower Plant at Pueblo Dam, which was completed in 2019 under a Lease of Power Privilege with Reclamation.
The District is working with Reclamation to build the Arkansas Valley Conduit, a pipeline that will deliver a clean source of drinking water to 50,000 people in 40 communities east of Pueblo.
The District includes parts of nine counties, and has 15 directors who are appointed to 4-year terms by a panel of District Court judges.
Other directors of the Board are: President Bill Long, Bent County; Vice-President Curtis Mitchell, El Paso County; Treasurer Ann Nichols, El Paso County; Pat Edelmann and Mark Pifher, El Paso County; Patrick Garcia and Alan Hamel, Pueblo County; Tom Goodwin, Fremont County; Kevin Karney, at-large; and Dallas May, Prowers and Kiowa Counties.
Dignitaries from throughout the nation, including U.S. Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt and Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman, gathered at Lake Pueblo for the groundbreaking of a pipeline that will deliver clear water to the Lower Arkansas River Valley…
As the conduit will bypass the Arkansas River, including the portion on Pueblo’s lower East Side where the heavily polluted Fountain Creek dumps into the river, it is seen as a regional solution to drinking water quality problems facing rural communities of Southeastern Colorado…
It may be a decade or more before the conduit will be built, but the project is well on its way now.
When completed, the conduit will serve an estimated 50,000 people in Southeastern Colorado via some 260 miles of pipeline.
Bill Long, president of the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District and former Bent County commissioner, said: “It’s kind of an emotional event because generations have actually worked on this project and to finally see this kind of progress where we can deliver safe water to folks, which also provides a great opportunity for economic development is close to unbelievable. It truly is a great day.”
John Singletary, former chairman of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District, agreed:
“As a young boy in the Arkansas Basin, I sold gold frying pans to support the effort that eventually lead to President Kennedy coming to Pueblo to sign the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project into a law,” Singletary said. “This was the first step in seeing the Arkansas Valley Conduit built. In the decades since, people like Senator Michael Bennet have never lost sight that this project is more than politics. The Conduit is a vision turned reality to help reduce dry-up of farm ground and provide clean drinking water for 50,000 people in 40 communities east of Pueblo.”
The total project cost is estimated at somewhere between $564 and $610 million to complete over a 15-year period and about $30 million a year for the next 15 years will need to be appropriated to see it finished.
Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colorado, who also has spent a lot of time and effort on the project throughout his career, echoed Long’s comments about ground finally being broken for the conduit.
“It is a testament to the commitment of generations of people in the Lower Arkansas Valley to bring clean drinking water to communities that were promised it in the early ’60s and never had that promise fulfilled,” Bennet said. “One of the first things I heard about when I became a senator was the Arkansas Valley Conduit because of Bill (Long) and because of Ray Kogovsek, who had been the congressman for that area, and made the case about how important it was.”
Bennet said the progress made on getting the conduit built has been a true bipartisan effort in which Democrats and Republicans have worked hand-in-hand…
The conduit, part of the original Fryingpan-Arkansas Project, would bring water from Pueblo Dam to Lamar and Eads, serving about 40 communities along the route. As it will bypass the Arkansas River, including the portion on Pueblo’s lower East Side where Fountain Creek dumps into the river, it is seen as a regional solution to drinking water quality problems facing rural communities of Southeastern Colorado.
Many of those water providers are facing enforcement action for high levels of naturally occurring radionuclides in well water. A new source of clean water through the Arkansas Valley Conduit is the least expensive alternative, according to a 2013 Environmental Impact Statement.
While the project is breaking ground, there is still a long way to go, Bennet cautioned.
The total project cost is estimated at somewhere between $564 and $610 million to complete over a 15-year period and about $30 million a year for the next 15 years will need to be appropriated to see it finished.
“It’s not going to be easy to do but we’re going to fight for it,” Bennet said.
Here’s the release from the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District (Chris Woodka):
The Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District applauded state approval of a $100 million financing package for the Arkansas Valley Conduit that will allow construction to begin in the near future.
The Colorado General Assembly passed the annual Colorado Water Conservation project bill which contains the funding earlier this month, and Governor Jared Polis signed the bill into law on Monday.
“The Arkansas Valley Conduit will be a lifeline for the Lower Arkansas Valley for generations to come,” said Bill Long, President of the Southeastern District. “Governor Polis, the General Assembly and the CWCB have all shown vision and foresight with this support of the AVC. This goes beyond just financing a pipeline, because really it’s an investment to assure clean drinking water for the future.”
Long also noted the strong bipartisan support the AVC enjoys from the entire Colorado congressional delegation, and noted in particular the leadership of Senators Cory Gardner and Michael Bennet, and Congressmen Scott Tipton and Ken Buck.
“I want to thank the CWCB board and staff for including this funding in their annual bill, and express our sincere gratitude to the legislators from the Arkansas Basin for their leadership and support,” said Kevin Karney, chairman of the District’s AVC committee. “The recognition by the State of Colorado of the benefit of partnering with the Bureau of Reclamation on this project is an enormous boost.”
The AVC is estimated to cost between $564 million and $610 million to complete over a 15-year period. The $100 million in state funding would include $90 million in loans and $10 million in grants over the life of the project. When complete, the AVC will provide clean drinking water to 50,000 people in 40 communities.
The AVC had received funding since 2010 to prepare for construction of the 130-mile pipeline which will deliver a safe drinking water supply to the Lower Arkansas Valley. In February of this year, the Bureau of Reclamation announced that $28 million of FY ’20 funding was being directed to the conduit, in an effort to move from planning and design into construction. An additional $8 million has been requested for FY ’21 and is under consideration by Congress.
“The unanimous approval of this funding package by the CWCB board last November was the absolute catalyst for an improved federal funding picture,” said Southeastern District Executive Director Jim Broderick. “Colorado, like other Western states, recognizes developing a strong partnership with Reclamation allows us to overcome water quality and water supply challenges in rural areas.”
The Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District and U.S. Bureau of Reclamation recently adopted a project management plan that will guide construction of the Arkansas Valley Conduit…
Terry Scanga, general manager of the Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District, said he didn’t see the AVC having much impact on Salidans and others in the area. “It’s not going to change river flows,” he said. “It’s not going to impact the allocation (of water) communities in the upper basin get.”
After thinking about it for a second he said some transit loss might have a “minimal impact” on irrigators, but added that the advantages of the project far outweigh those potential effects.
[Sam] Braverman said they’re not creating any new water diversions from Colorado’s Western Slope. The big change, he said, is that water will now be piped from Pueblo to surrounding municipalities instead of letting it flow to them in the river, which will improve drinking water quality…
Salinity, selenium and uranium found in the natural environment all pose water-quality challenges for the Arkansas River in southeastern Colorado.
Several communities the conduit will serve currently can’t drink their tap water.
“There’s at least 5,000 people who literally have radioactive water coming out of their pipes,” Braverman said. “They can’t drink their water, and (the municipalities) can’t afford to filter it out.”
Braverman said another 11,000-12,000 people in the communities get their water from reverse osmosis, but the state doesn’t see those systems as permanent solutions because they put their effluent back into the river. He said drying the effluent, packing it and taking it to landfills would be too costly to be a realistic solution.
“There’s no way those communities could afford to do that,” he said. “The AVC is really the only answer for all of these communities; this a game changer for disadvantaged areas.”
The AVC will provide water for municipal and industrial use.
The project management plan describes how the project will be executed, monitored and controlled.
Under the plan, the Pueblo Board of Water Works will deliver AVC water to a point east of Pueblo. A contract among the Reclamation Bureau, Pueblo Water and Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District is in the discussion stage. From that point, the bureau will construct the trunk line, a treatment plant and water tanks, while Southeastern will coordinate with communities to fund and build connections.
Southeastern will serve as lead on the “spur and delivery lines” portion of the project and seek funding to design and construct this portion of the project, $100 million of which has already been secured from the Colorado Water Conservation Board, subject to legislative approval.
Braverman said they just started final design on the first 12 miles of the pipeline…
Braverman said communities the AVC will serve have been hearing about it for decades, but getting the $28 million recently was the first chunk of money they’ve secured to begin construction.
“That was a complete shift from where we were,” Braverman said. “Now it’s just a matter of the funding stream continuing.”
Here’s the release from the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District (Chris Woodka):
Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District and the Bureau of Reclamation have adopted a project management plan that will guide construction of the Arkansas Valley Conduit (AVC).
The AVC is a pipeline project that will deliver clean drinking water to 40 communities serving 50,000 people from Pueblo Dam to Lamar and Eads on the eastern plains. This water supply is needed to supplement or replace existing poor quality water and to help meet AVC participants’ projected water demands. The estimated cost of the AVC is between $564 million and $610 million.
“The Project Management Plan is the blueprint for how we will build the Arkansas Valley Conduit, and an important step in the future of the AVC,” said Bill Long, President of the Southeastern District Board of Directors. “The AVC is absolutely necessary for the future water quality and health of the Arkansas Valley.”
“The Department of the Interior and Reclamation are committed to improving the water supplies of rural southeastern Colorado,” said Commissioner Brenda Burman. “I look forward to our continued collaboration with Southeastern to move this long-delayed project forward.”
“The communities of the Lower Arkansas Valley deserve clean drinking water, which the Arkansas Valley Conduit will supply for 50,000 Coloradans for generations to come,” said Senator Cory Gardner, R-Colo. “I was proud to secure robust federal funding of $28 million to begin construction for the first time since Congress authorized the project and President Kennedy promised completion nearly six decades ago. The project management plan adopted by the Bureau of Reclamation and the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy is another great step forward for this project and I’ll continue to work with local and federal leaders to ensure we deliver abundant and affordable clean drinking water to the Colorado communities in need.”
“This is a significant milestone in our efforts towards construction of the AVC,” said Jeff Rieker, Eastern Colorado Area Manager for Reclamation. “This plan will guide design and construction by Reclamation and Southeastern, and streamline our joint efforts to provide clean water to these communities.”
Reclamation and Southeastern have worked together for the past year to envision a layout for the AVC that reaches communities with the poorest water quality most quickly, reduces overall costs, and reduces the need for federal appropriations. Many communities have issues with radioactive elements in groundwater supplies. Others face increasing costs to treat water and to dispose of waste by-products from that treatment.
Under the plan, AVC water will be delivered to a point east of Pueblo by the Pueblo Board of Water Works. A contract among Reclamation, Pueblo Water and Southeastern is in the discussion stage.
From that point, Reclamation will construct the trunk line, a treatment plant and water tanks, while Southeastern will coordinate with communities to fund and build connections. Reclamation and Southeastern continue to meet regularly, using remote technology, to work on activities such as design, land acquisition and environmental review that will lead to construction.
“We’re on a path to begin construction in the near future, but we still have a lot of work to do,” said Kevin Karney, who chairs Southeastern’s AVC Committee. “Part of that will be reaching out to AVC participants to help shape how the AVC is developed. Overall, I’m excited to see the AVC moving forward.”
Congress provided additional funds to Reclamation in FY 2020. Reclamation allocated $28 million for construction of the AVC in February, and an additional $8 million for 2021 was requested in the President’s budget. The Colorado Water Conservation Board approved a $100 million finance package that still must be approved by the Colorado Legislature. Other potential sources of funding are being considered.
The AVC was part of the 1962 Fryingpan-Arkansas Project Act, but was never built because communities could not afford 100 percent of the costs. In 2009, the Act was amended to provide a 65 percent federal cost share. Reclamation identified a preferred alternative in 2014, which has been modified in the latest project management plan.
For additional information, contact Chris Woodka at Southeastern, (719) 289-0785; Darryl Asher at Reclamation, (406) 247-7608.
Here’s the release from the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District (Chris Woodka):
Christine Arbogast, a driving force in the political world of water for four decades, received the highest water award from the Colorado Water Congress at its annual convention last month.
Ms. Arbogast was surprised to learn she is the 2020 Wayne N. Aspinall “Water Leader of the Year” Award during the closing luncheon at the convention.
“I had no idea, but it truly is an honor,” she said.
“What is consistent about Chris is that she cares about people,” one CWC member said. “I would say she is passionate about ensuring people who wouldn’t normally have access get heard on Capitol Hill and gets their voice heard.”
The award has been presented annually since 1981 in recognition of lifetime achievements, service and commitment to Colorado water projects or programs. Ms. Arbogast is the third woman to receive the award. Nominations are screened by the CWC board and voted on by past recipients.
A native of Pueblo, Ms. Arbogast is a graduate of Southern Colorado State College (now Colorado State University-Pueblo), with a degree in journalism and political science. After working for the Fremont County Sun and Durango Herald, she began work a press secretary for U.S. Rep. Ray Kogovsek, D-Colo., in 1979.
After Kogovsek left office in 1984, Ms. Arbogast was special projects administrator for the Colorado Department of Agriculture as the Always Buy Colorado (now Colorado Proud) began. But she soon returned to politics and her old boss when she joined Kogovsek & Associates in 1985. She took over the firm in 2017 after Kogovsek’s death.
Kogovsek & Associates works primarily in Western states on resource and tribal issues as well as for local government, capital construction projects, and public land use.
Among the firm’s clients are the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, the city of Pueblo, Southwestern Water Conservancy District, Rio Grande Water Conservation District, the Republican River Conservation District, the Ute Mountain Ute and Southern Ute tribes, and the Dolores Water Conservancy District.
Ms. Arbogast was instrumental in completing the Ute Mountain Ute Indian Rights Settlement, defeating American Water Development Inc.’s attempt to appropriate Rio Grande groundwater, and creating the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Rio Grande Natural Area.
Most recently, she helped the Southeastern District and Bureau of Reclamation secure state and federal funding for the Arkansas Valley Conduit.
She is the current president of the National Water Resources Association, a group that connects state water agencies such as CWC to advocate for water issues on the national level. For years, she has headed the Federal Affairs Committee of NWRA, and strengthened its role.
She has been a mentor to countless people in her field, and serves as president of the non-profit Women in Water Scholarship Fund.
Here’s the release from Southeastern (Chris Woodka):
The Arkansas Valley Conduit received $28 million in federal funding to finish design and begin construction of the long-awaited pipeline.
“We are very grateful and thankful for the work of Senator Gardner and our delegation in securing this funding,” said Bill Long, president of the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, sponsor of the AVC. “This amount of money is a real milestone in the history of the project.”
“I think this is a wonderful example of bi-partisan support and partnership of federal, state and local officials that is needed to secure a safe drinking water supply, not only for the people of Southeastern Colorado, but for every rural American,” Long said…
The AVC is seen by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment as the best remedy for high levels of naturally occurring radioactive materials in drinking water for about 15 of the water providers. Other communities are also facing issues of expensive treatment for other sorts of contamination.
The $28 million is the first step in a $600 million project to provide clean drinking water from Pueblo Dam through a 130-pipeline to Lamar and Eads. The Colorado Water Conservation Board approved a $100 million finance package for AVC in November. State legislative approval is needed to finalize the availability of those funds.
The Bureau of Reclamation and Department of Interior worked with other cabinet-level agencies in the past two months as part of an initiative to find efficiencies in construction of water projects.
The AVC will provide clean drinking water to about 50,000 people in 40 communities east of Pueblo.
The AVC was first authorized as part of the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project in 1962 as a way to provide supplemental water to communities east of Pueblo. It was never built because of the cost to local water systems.
In 2009, federal legislation made revenues from the Fry-Ark Project available for construction and repayment of the AVC. A 2014 Record of Decision by the Bureau of Reclamation determined the AVC was the best solution for water quality and supply problems in the Lower Arkansas Valley.
Reclamation has worked with the Southeastern District for the past three years in planning efforts to reduce costs and the time needed to reach water systems east of Pueblo.
Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet today released the following statement applauding news that the Arkansas Valley Conduit will receive $28 million of Bureau of Reclamation funding to begin construction on the water diversion and storage project in the lower Arkansas Valley, which would bring clean drinking water to an estimated 50,000 Coloradans:
“For more than five decades, Coloradans in the southeastern corner of our state have been waiting for the federal government to fulfill its promise to deliver clean drinking water to their communities. Since I came to the Senate, we’ve worked together to pursue any and every avenue possible to ensure we fulfill that promise and build the Arkansas Valley Conduit,” said Bennet. “I’m thrilled this project is one step closer to breaking ground and ensuring that families in southeastern Colorado have access to a safe water supply.”
The Arkansas Valley Conduit is the final component of the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project, a water diversion and storage project in the lower Arkansas Valley. Once constructed, the Conduit will deliver clean drinking water to families and municipalities throughout Southeastern Colorado.
Congress passed legislation by Bennet and former U.S. Senator Mark Udall (D-Colo.) to authorize the construction of the Arkansas Valley Conduit.
Bennet worked to secure $5 million in funding to begin construction on the Conduit as part of the Energy and Water Appropriations Conference Report.
Bennet and his colleagues sent a letter to the Bureau of Reclamation to quickly approve the Conduit’s Environmental Impact Study (EIS) in order to expedite the project’s completion.
Following Bennet and Udall’s efforts to urge the Bureau of Reclamation to quickly approve the Conduit’s EIS, the Record of Decision was signed in February.
After the President’s budget included an insufficient level of funding for the project, Bennet led a bipartisan letter urging the administration and the House and Senate Appropriations Committees to allow the Conduit’s construction to move ahead as planned.
Bennet successfully urged the Department of Interior to designate $2 million in reprogrammed funding from Fiscal Year (FY) 2014 for the Conduit.
Bennet secured language in the FY 2015 Senate Energy and Water Development Appropriations Act that sent a clear signal to the Bureau of Reclamation that the Conduit should be a priority project.
Bennet secured $2 million from the Bureau of Reclamation’s reprogrammed funding for FY 2016.
Bennet secured $3 million for the Conduit as part of the FY 2017 Energy & Water Appropriations bill.
Bennet secured $3 million for the Conduit for FY 2017.
In April, Bennet and Senator Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) wrote to Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander and Ranking Member Dianne Feinstein, urging them to prioritize funding for the Conduit.
Bennet, Gardner, Congressman Scott Tipton (R-CO-3), and Congressman Ken Buck (R-CO-4) wrote to the Department of the Interior urging the Department to support the project.
Bennet secured approximately $10 million for the Conduit in the December 2019 spending bills for Fiscal Year 2020.
The Arkansas Valley Conduit, a 130-mile water pipeline that would serve as many as 40 communities and 50,000 people east of Pueblo, is receiving a major financial boost to begin construction, decades after the project was authorized by the U.S. Congress…
The funding will come from the Department of the Interior Bureau of Reclamation’s Fiscal Year 2020 work plan.
Here’s the release from the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District (Chris Woodka):
Pat Edelmann, who spent his career exploring water issues in the Arkansas River basin, has rejoined the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District board.
Edelmann, 64, was appointed to the board this month to represent El Paso County. He lives in Colorado Springs. Edelmann served on the board as a Pueblo County representative from 2014-17. He replaces Gibson Hazard, who retired from the board in April.
“I resigned because I had moved, so I am happy to be serving again,” Edelmann said.
Edelmann retired from the U.S. Geological Survey after 37 years in 2011. He served 32 years in the Pueblo USGS office. During that time, he spearheaded numerous water quality studies dealing with the Arkansas River, Fountain Creek and other tributaries to the river during a time when water quality emerged as a central issue for water development in the basin.
The Southeastern District includes parts of nine counties, and administers the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project in partnership with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. There are 15 directors on the board who are appointed by District Court judges in Pueblo and within their specific geographic areas.
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.
The outflow of the Bousted Tunnel just above Turquoise Reservoir near Leadville. The tunnel moves water from tributaries of the Roaring Fork and Fryingpan rivers under the Continental Divide for use by Front Range cities, and Pitkin County officials have concerns that more water will someday be sent through it.
Boustead Tunnel Construction via The Aspen Times
The end of the tunnel that brings water from Hunter Creek to the Fryingpan River drainage, and then on to the eastern slope. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith, Aspen Journalism.
A portion of the flow in Hunter Creek is diverted to the Front Range and to locations downvalley from Aspen.
FromThe 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.
…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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.”
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.
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 … .”
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.
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.
A longtime Southeastern water advocate and founding member of the St. Charles Mesa Water Association has died.
Lee W. Simpson, of Pueblo, died on Oct. 18. He was 86.
Simpson was on the Southeastern Board of Directors from 1981-2009, and served as the treasurer of the board from 1988-2009.
He also was the founder of the St. Charles Mesa Water District, and extremely active in helping small water districts throughout the state improve service. He played a big role in creating the Colorado Rural Water Association. He also represented St. Charles Mesa Water on the board of the Bessemer Ditch.
“Lee was a remarkable man, and a guy who truly understood the relationship of municipal water needs and irrigation. He was on the Bessemer Ditch board and the Southeastern Board during some of the most tumultuous times for water transfers in the Arkansas Valley, yet always kept his composure. He was modest and unassuming, yet had done some of the most important work in the water community. I can’t think of anyone who did not respect his opinion and admire what he had done,” said Chris Woodka, Issues Management Program Coordinator with the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District.
Woodka, who wrote many years for The Pueblo Chieftain as its water expert, said: “I think it’s a testament to his passion for water that two of his children both pursued careers in water. David followed him as general manager of the St. Charles District and on the Southeastern board. Tom worked for the Southeastern District, State Engineer and now for Aurora. Both have told me how much they gained from their father’s knowledge about water.”
Born on June 6, 1931, in Pueblo, Simpson served in the U.S. Air Force and was the first board president and founding member of the Saint Charles Mesa Water Association.
He was also the first general manager of the St. Charles Mesa Water District and served in that capacity until his retirement in 2000.
Simpson served on numerous boards, including the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, Pueblo County School District 70 Board of Education, Bessemer Irrigating Ditch Co. and Centennial Bank of Blende; and was instrumental in development of the Colorado Rural Water Association.
Simpson is survived by his wife of 65 years, Kathryne Simpson; children, Vicky Adkins of Pueblo, William (Linda) Simpson of Canon City, David (Kathy) Simpson of Pueblo and Tom (Suzanne) Simpson of Pueblo; and numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
A memorial service was held Monday in the Montgomery & Steward Chapel. Montgomery & Stewart Funeral Directors handled the arrangements.
A Colorado Springs native, Bostrom was named chief water officer in 2011 after having served as general manager for planning, engineering and resource managment in water services. He also worked in water supply acquisition, water and wastewater infrastructure planning and engineering, and developing regional partnerships. He was instrumental in the development of the Arkansas River Exchange Program, the 1996 Water Resource Plan and the Southern Delivery System permitting process.
Bostrom served as a director on the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, was past president of the Fountain Valley Authority, a director for the Aurora-Colorado Springs Joint Water Authority, and a director for the Homestake Steering Committee. Additionally, he is past president of the Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Company, the Lake Meredith Reservoir Company and the Lake Henry Reservoir Company.
The Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which owns and operates the Pueblo Dam, signed an agreement last week allowing for the soon-to-be-built plant to connect to the dam, Chris Woodka, the district’s issues management program coordinator, said in a release.
The agreement was signed after the Colorado Springs City Council unanimously approved the creation of a military sales tariff on Tuesday. The tariff will cover costs for Colorado Springs Utilities to act as an intermediary, buying power from the district and selling it to Fort Carson.
With all the necessary agreements in place, the district hired Mountain States Hydro, LLC, to build the $19 million plant, Woodka said. Construction will begin in September and the plant should be operational by the spring.
Half of the electricity from the plant, estimated to be up to 7.5 megawatts, will be sold to Fort Carson and the other half will be sold to Fountain Utilities.
The plant is expected to generate about $1.4 million in revenue each year, Woodka said.
“This is a monumental moment in the history of the district,” said Jim Broderick, the district’s executive director. “We have been working to put all of the pieces in place since 2011. Now that this project is coming to fruition, it represents not only a sustainable income stream for our stakeholders, but develops a clean source of power for the future.”
Added Chris Woodka, the district’s issues management program coordinator, “The Lease of Power Privilege clears the way for the hydropower plant to connect to Pueblo Dam, a federally owned structure. Mike Ryan, director of the Great Plains Region for Reclamation, signed the lease Friday.”
In order to satisfy all federal requirements related to the project, members of the district have been working for the past 18 months to put a series of other agreements in place.
“The district has contracted with Mountain States Hydro, LLC, to build the plant,” Woodka said, “with construction to begin in September. It is scheduled to be completed during the fall and winter months when releases from Pueblo Dam generally decrease.”
It’s anticipated that the plant will be online by spring 2018.
The plant will cost about $19 million to build. Last year, the district secured a $17.2 million loan from the Colorado Water Conservation Board, with the district’s business enterprise providing matching funds.
Over time, those funds will be paid off by revenues from the sale of power.
For a decade, power from the plant will be purchased by the city of Fountain and by Colorado Springs Utilities for use at Fort Carson.
“After that, Fountain intends to purchase all of the power for at least 20 more years,” Woodka said.
The plant will generate up to 7.5 megawatts of power by using three turbines capable of producing power from 35 to 800 cubic feet per second of flow in the Arkansas River. Water will pass through a connection that was built into the service line for the Southern Delivery System, then into the Arkansas River.
Projections by district staff show that an average of 28 million kilowatt hours will be produced annually, with about $1.4 million in average revenue per year.
This money will be used to pay off the CWCB loan and to satisfy contractual agreements with the Bureau of Reclamation, as well as a carriage agreement with Black Hills Energy. All remaining funds will go to enterprise activities, including the Arkansas Valley Conduit.
A hydroelectric plant is planned for construction downstream from the Pueblo Dam to generate renewable energy for Fort Carson. Developers are just waiting for the signal to start building.
The plant would significantly increase the amount of renewable energy Fort Carson consumes, fitting with the post’s “Net Zero” goals of becoming more environmentally friendly.
The Colorado Springs Utilities board will consider adding a military sales tariff during its meeting Wednesday. The tariff would cover costs for Utilities to act as an intermediary, selling the power to Fort Carson after buying it from the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, which would build and operate the plant, said Utilities spokeswoman Amy Trinidad.
Adding the tariff is the “last step” before the district can begin construction, said spokesman Chris Woodka.
“We’ve been ready to pull the trigger on this since January,” he said.
Currently, 8 percent of Fort Carson’s electricity is generated on-site through renewable sources such as solar panels, post spokeswoman Dani Johnson said. She could not say whether the post buys any renewable energy from off-site sources.
But Trinidad said Fort Carson does buy some renewable energy from Utilities. She could not say how much, citing customer privacy. The proposed hydroelectric deal would make up 7 percent of the post’s annual electricity purchase from Utilities, she said.
If the tariff is added, the proposal then will go before the City Council, consisting of the same members as the Utilities board, next month. If the council approves the move, construction on the plant can begin, Woodka said.
The plant would cost about $19 million, most of which comes from a loan the district took out, he said. In the years to come, energy sales are expected to cover the costs and eventually generate funds.
The plant’s construction will not have a financial impact on Utilities ratepayers, Trinidad said.
The plant is expected to generate up to 7.5 megawatts of electricity, Woodka said. Fort Carson will buy half of that, and Fountain Utilities will buy the other half.
The plant could be operational by May 2018, a peak time for generating hydroelectricity because of the high volume of water flowing from the Pueblo Dam, Woodka said.
Utilities then would buy the electricity, which will be transmitted onto its grid, and then sell it to Fort Carson without marking up the price, Trinidad said.
In the past, Fort Carson bought renewable wind energy through Utilities under short-term contracts, which have since expired, said Steve Carr, Utilities’ key account manager for Fort Carson. The pending hydroelectricity contract would last until the end of 2027.
From the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District via The Pueblo Chieftain:
A hefty snowpack and relatively full municipal storage means farms will get a larger than usual share of Fryingpan-Arkansas Project water this year.
About 80 percent, or 44,000 of the 55,000 acre-feet allocated by the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District board Thursday, will go to irrigation companies throughout the Arkansas River basin. In addition, agricultural interests were allocated 20,000 acre-feet in return flows. A total of 28 ditches and three well groups will benefit.
That water comes on top of about 12,000 acre-feet leased earlier this year by Pueblo Water to farms, ditches or well associations…
“The extra water which the municipalities have no place to store is always welcome in Crowley County and the Arkansas Valley,” said Carl McClure, a Crowley County farmer who heads the allocation committee of the district.
The Southeastern allocation is about 25 percent above average, thanks to a snowpack that remains heavy and is still growing. The Fry-Ark water is imported from the Upper Colorado River basin through the 5.4-mile long Boustead Tunnel into Turquoise Lake.
More than half of the water is reserved for cities, but if they have no place to store it, it is allocated to agriculture. Fry-Ark water sells for $7 per acre-foot, plus surcharges that pay for programs that benefit water users. By comparison, Pueblo Water leases averaged $55 per acre-foot this year.
The district expects to bring more than 68,000 acre-feet into the Arkansas River basin this year, but prior commitments such as the Pueblo fish hatchery, evaporation and transit loss adjustments are made before the amount of water sold can be determined.
The Southeastern district guarantees 80 percent of the water, holding back some in case the runoff fails to meet projections. The Boustead Tunnel can only take a certain amount of water at one time and only when sufficient flows, as determined by court decrees, are available on the Western Slope. The remaining 20 percent is delivered when the district determines flows will be sufficient.
That should not be a problem this year, as the Bureau of Reclamation projected imports to be about 77,000 acre-feet, well above the amount Southeastern factored in.
For municipal allocations, the Fountain Valley Authority was able to take about 7,000 acre-feet, or half of its entitlement. Pueblo Water and Pueblo West are not seeking any water. Cities east of Pueblo claimed 3,132 acre-feet, while cities west of Pueblo were allocated 1,164. Most chose not to request their full allocation.
Allocating Fry-Ark water is the primary function of the Southeastern District, which was formed in 1958 to provide supplemental water to the Arkansas River basin.
From the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District via The Pueblo Chieftain:
His career included shepherding Colorado Springs’ water supply through a labyrinth of changing regulations and requirements during a time when the city experienced explosive growth and environmental pressures.
Now he’s working to improve water supplies throughout the entire Arkansas River basin.
Gary Bostrom, 60, retired water services chief for Colorado Springs Utilities and now a member of the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District board, received the Bob Appel Friend of the Arkansas River award [April 27, 2017] at the Arkansas River Basin Water Forum.
“It’s a great honor to be recognized, and to be included among all of the past winners of this award,” Bostrom said.
The forum met last week in Colorado Springs.
“I’d like to wake on the morning they turned on the switch for Southern Delivery System, and retire in the afternoon,” Bostrom once told a reporter.
He didn’t quite make the finish line, retiring in 2015, about a year before SDS went online. The $825 million pipeline project was completed in April 2016, after a 20-year planning process that required negotiations with communities up and down the Arkansas River.
Bostrom’s concern for Arkansas Valley water issues continues. He joined to the Southeastern District board in 2009, and is now vice president.
The district annually allocates supplemental water to cities and farms in the Arkansas River basin, participates in the Upper Arkansas River voluntary flow management program, is constructing a hydropower plant at Pueblo Dam and is preparing for construction of the Arkansas Valley Conduit.
Bostrom also is a member of the Colorado Springs Parks and Recreation Advisory Board.
He and his wife Sara have four children and three grandchildren and live in Colorado Springs.
The Southwestern Water Conservation District hosted a conference titled “Solving the Water Funding Puzzle” at the DoubleTree Hotel in Durango to confront the budget crisis.
Colorado’s overriding challenge lies in how water management is funded, said Bill Levine, budget director for the state Department of Natural Resources.
Much of the state’s revenue stream for water-supply management is tied to federal energy, including severance taxes from the oil and gas industry, which exposes Colorado to the ebb and flow of the volatile oil and gas industry.
“When energy values drop, so does the revenue stream, so it is by nature volatile,” Levine said. “Revenue that is not tied to the energy industry is needed.”
Because of a weak energy market and a costly court ruling, the state’s revenues from severance taxes dropped from $271 million in fiscal year 2015 to $67 million in fiscal year 2016.
And in 2016, the state lost a lawsuit brought by British Petroleum over severance taxes. The state is refunding energy companies – $113 million so far – after the Colorado Supreme Court ruled that the companies qualify for a deduction the Department of Revenue had been denying them.
State and local agencies have paid a price.
The drop in revenues from federal minerals caused program budgets for the Colorado Water Conservation Board to drop from $14 million in 2015 to $8 million in 2016.
The cuts wiped out funding for boat inspection programs needed to stop invasive quagga and zebra mussels, which has limited boating at McPhee Reservoir and Totten Lake in Montezuma County.
Grant programs of the Department of Local Affairs also were cut, because they too depend on severance tax revenues.
Severance tax revenues have funded the Southwest Basin Roundtable grant program that supports water projects in southwest Colorado. Funding will suffer, and there will be less grant money, said roundtable chair Mike Preston.
In La Plata County, the basin fund helped to finance an inlet from Lake Nighthorse as part of a plan to provide municipal water for Fort Lewis Mesa, which includes the communities of Breen and Kline.
It’s been tapped to support a project improving water supply at Lake Durango, which serves Durango West communities. And the grants have supported an Animas River community forum, which is establishing emergency response protocols to protect water users in the event of a toxic spill such as the 2015 Gold King Mine disaster.
Finding funding solutions
Several potential sources of revenue for water-related infrastructure and programs were presented at the packed conference.
Emily Brumit, of the Colorado Water Congress, gave an update on legislative proposals and a ballot initiative that would support water-related budgets, including the struggling boat-inspection programs.
For example, Senate Bill 259 proposes to replace lost severance tax revenues with $10 million from the general fund to support forest restoration, species conservation and boat inspection programs. House Bill 1321, introduced this week, would create a revenue stream through a sticker fee to fund boat inspection programs.
And Initiative 20 focuses on oil and gas severance taxes. Its primary goal is to increase the severance tax rate, eliminate the severance tax credit that is based on property taxes, eliminate the stripper well exemption and require that a portion of severance tax revenue be paid for specific purposes…
Legislators are considering asking voters to approve a container tax on beverages to raise $100 million to $200 million per year for water-related needs. A vote could end-run the Taxpayers Bill of Rights, exempting it from TABOR revenue caps.
Other ideas presented at the conference included a new water fee paid by residential consumers, new water tap fees and new tourism fees…
Government specialist Christine Arbogast said the idea of private-public partnerships is popular for new money. But she does not believe they are a viable local solution locally.
“The expected rate of return of 5-8 percent from private investors is too much for the tax base of smaller communities,” she said.
La Plata County Commissioner Brad Blake urged the crowd to take a long-term vision on solving the budget crisis, like previous generations did.
“We have good water rights, but don’t have a way to move it around well,” he said. “The pioneers built dams, ditches and levees. Now we are tasked with looking ahead to provide water infrastructure in our area. We need more public involvement so we get all the help we need to overcome this monumental task.”
Pueblo West will have the right to store water in Pueblo Reservoir in the future, should the storage be needed, after the Metropolitan District agreed to enter into a subcontract with the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District…
The master plan contract is between the Bureau of Reclamation and the water district, and Pueblo West now has a subcontract with water district for its storage rights.
The contract allows Pueblo West to begin paying for 10 acre feet, at the starting rate of $40.04 per acre foot of water, in 2017. But the contract gives Pueblo West the ability to store as much as 6,000 acre feet of water in the future should the storage ability be necessary.
The Pueblo Dam will soon be producing enough renewable energy to power 3,000 homes. The Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District plans to begin construction of the $19.5 million hydroelectric generating station later this year. The construction site will be located downstream form the Pueblo Dam River Outlet which was constructed to serve as the connection for the Colorado Springs Utilities Southern Delivery System.
“We’ll be using the water that’s flowing into the river again, we won’t be consuming any of that water,” explained Conservancy District spokesman Chris Woodka.
The District borrowed $17 million from the Colorado Water Conservation Board to build the plant. It will house a trio of turbines, each capable of producing electricity whether the river is moving fast or slow.
“We designed it so that it would at several different flows so that we could get the maximum production out of it,” Woodka said.
With a rating of 7.5 megawatts, the plant will create enough power for roughly 3,000 homes. It’s the kind of clean power that City leaders in Pueblo want for their community…
The Conservancy District expects to generate around $1.4 million annually from the sale of it’s electricity. Groundbreaking is expected to take place in May and Woodka said their goal is to have the power plant go online in the Spring of 2018.
As 2016 draws to a close, the yearlong precipitation level is lower than in 2015 but not far off from the average annual precipitation.
Through Friday, 2016’s precipitation level was 11.91 inches, down when compared to 2015’s mark of 16.66 inches. When compared to the average annual precipitation of 12.55 inches, however, this year’s moisture level is only slightly lower.
According to the U.S. Geological Survey water supply website, Fountain Creek and the Arkansas River are currently above average; flows were mostly above average throughout the year.
From a standpoint of moisture content in the state’s snowpack, recent holiday weather fronts proved to be a welcome gift. The fronts deposited enough snow in the mountains to put the state over the average for the year in terms of moisture content.
As of Friday, the Arkansas basin’s moisture content was at 115 percent of average, and the Rio Grande basin was at 106 percent of average.
The National Weather Service’s three-month temperature outlook indicates that Pueblo will be above average, with an equal chance of conditions being wet or dry through that timespan.
Chris Woodka of the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District points out that, “We imported 59,214 acre-feet of water this year (2016) from the Fryingpan River watershed, which was just slightly above the average of 55,907 acre-feet for the Fry-Ark Project.
“It was a good year, because we were able to provide 45,000 acre-feet of supplemental water for municipal, domestic and agricultural use in the Arkansas River basin,” he said.
Statistics provided by the Board of Water Works indicate that city water consumption was higher in 2016 than the previous year: 7,900,914 gallons to 7,511,255, but under the five-year average of 8,104,317.
As far as pumpage, the water that is treated and then sent out from the plant, 8,481,644 gallons were pumped, an increase over 2015’s 7,924,727 but below the five-year average of 8,614,500.
Here’s the release from the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District (Chris Woodka):
The Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District has signed an Excess Capacity Master Storage Contract with the Bureau of Reclamation, culminating an effort that began in 1998.
“This is a great opportunity for the communities of the Arkansas Valley, which allows us to assist and provide them with a more secure water supply for the future,” said Bill Long, president of the Southeastern District board. “It’s been a very long process, much longer than we anticipated, but well worth it.”
The master contract allows participants to store water in Pueblo Reservoir when space is available. Pueblo Reservoir was built by Reclamation to store Fryingpan-Arkansas Project water and for flood control. But it rarely fills with Project water. Excess capacity contracts allow water from other sources, including Fry-Ark return flows, to be stored in Pueblo Reservoir.
The initial contract will allow 6,525 acre-feet of water to be stored in 2017, which will become the minimum number for future years. The contract allows storage of up to 29,938 acre-feet annually for the next 40 years.
For 2017, 16 communities signed subcontracts with the Southeastern District to participate in the master contract. Another 21 communities plan to join once the Arkansas Valley Conduit is built, and do not have an immediate need to join the contract.
Participants in 2017 include: Canon City, Florence, Fountain, La Junta, Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District, Olney Springs, Rocky Ford, Penrose, Poncha Springs, Pueblo West, St. Charles Mesa Water District, Salida, Security, Stratmoor Hills, Upper Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District, Widefield.
“It’s a big step for the District,” said Jim Broderick, executive director of the Southeastern District. “The ability to use excess-capacity storage on a long-term basis has been a goal of the District for almost 20 years. This will add certainty to the process.”
Reclamation first issued excess capacity contracts in 1986. Last year, more than 29 excess-capacity contracts were issued more than 60,000 feet – one quarter of the available space in Pueblo Reservoir. For many years, Pueblo Water, Colorado Springs Utilities and Aurora Water were the major entities that used the contracts on an annual basis.
Pueblo became the first community to get a long-term contract in 2000. Aurora first used its long-term contract in 2008. In 2011, Colorado Springs, Fountain, Security and Pueblo West obtained a long-term contract as part of Southern Delivery System.
The next step for the Southeastern District is the Arkansas Valley Conduit. Reclamation anticipates completing the feasibility study later this year, which will allow construction to begin.
“The master contract is absolutely essential to the conduit,” Long said. “It will give us long-term reliability for a clean water supply.”
From Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District via The Pueblo Chieftain:
A $30 million budget was approved Thursday by the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District board of directors.
The budget is the largest in the history of the district because it reflects spending $12 million in the first phase of a hydropower project at Pueblo Dam. The board is scheduled to consider approval of that project at a special meeting later this month.
“This is an exciting time for the district, with many new opportunities coming to fruition after years of effort by the district board and staff,” said Jim Broderick, executive director. “Every day we are coming closer to fulfilling the vision of those who came before us almost 60 years ago when the district was formed.”
The hydropower project now includes the district and Colorado Springs. The Pueblo Board of Water Works pulled out as partners last month, because it would realize few benefits from the project. When completed, the $20 million project will generate 7.5 megawatts of electric power and become a source of revenue for the district’s Water Activity Enterprise.
The budget’s other large-ticket items include repayment of federal funds for construction of the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project, $7 million, and Fountain Valley Conduit, $5.8 million.
About $24 million is still owed for construction of the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project, which began in 1965. The project includes Ruedi Reservoir, a collection system in the Hunter Creek-Fryingpan River watersheds, the 5.4-mile Boustead Tunnel that brings water across the Continental Divide, Turquoise Lake, the Mount Elbert Forebay and Power Plant, Twin Lakes and Pueblo Reservoir.
The Fry-Ark debt is repaid through a 0.9-mill property tax in the nine-county area covered by the district.
The Fountain Valley Conduit serves Colorado Springs, Fountain, Security, Stratmoor Hills and Widefield, which pay a special property tax.
The operating fund of the district will be $2.3 million, and is funded by a 0.03 mill levy and transfers from the Enterprise fund. The Enterprise operating fund will be $1.8 million, and is mostly funded by fees and surcharges on water activities.
Other than hydropower, the Enterprise will administer excess-capacity storage contracts for district participants for the first time in 2017. The Enterprise also expects the federal feasibility study for the Arkansas Valley Conduit and an interconnection of the north and south outlets on Pueblo Dam to be completed later in 2017. The feasibility study is the final step that must be taken before construction begins.
After a wet spring, summer has been relatively dry, and drought conditions are creeping back into Colorado, particularly over the Rocky Mountains in the center of the state and the Rio Grande basin.
River flows have dropped, so Reclamation and Pueblo Water are running water from accounts in upper reservoirs to Lake Pueblo. This serves two purposes: Creating space for imports next spring and providing water for the voluntary flow program that extends the commercial rafting season.
Finding the additional space in Clear Creek, Twin Lakes and Turquoise reservoirs was problematic this year, because reservoirs still were full from a very wet 2015. Twin Lakes filled early with native water and delayed imports from the Western Slope.
The Fryingpan-Arkansas Project has delivered more than 58,760 acre-feet so far, about 90 percent of what had been expected when allocations were made in May.
The Southeastern District, which determines allocations, will adjust agricultural deliveries, because cities already had requested less water than they were entitled to receive.
Pueblo Water imported about 13,500 acre-feet of water, about 92 percent of normal. Part of the reason was the lack of free space at Twin Lakes, and part was due to maintaining long-term limits since storage space was scarce anyway, said Alan Ward, water resources manager.
Pueblo Water will lease more than 21,700 acre-feet of water this year because of the potential storage crunch earlier this year.
Even so, Pueblo Water had 49,133 acre-feet of water in storage at the end of June, which was down from last year, but 17,600 acre-feet more than was in storage at the end of May. Most of the gain came in the upper reservoirs, and is now being sent to Lake Pueblo, where it is needed for leases and to make space, Ward said.
“Those releases help keep the rafting industry afloat,” Ward said.
The Southeastern district will seek a $17.4 million loan for the project from the Colorado Water Conservation Board today. The loan would be for 30 years at 2 percent interest.
A 7 megawatt hydropower facility is anticipated at the north outlet works, which was constructed by Utilities as part of the Southern Delivery System.
“A hydropower plant and associated facilities will be constructed at the base of Pueblo Dam, utilize the dam’s north outlet works and immediately return flows to the Arkansas River downstream of the dam,” said Signe Snortland, area manager of Reclamation’s Eastern Colorado Area Office.
The next step will be negotiation of a lease of power privilege contract.
About 1.4 miles of new power and fiber optic lines also will be constructed to connect the hydropower plant to Black Hills Energy’s substation at Lake Pueblo.
Construction is expected to begin later this year, with the first power generation to begin in 2018.
Negotiations are continuing with participants in a master contract for the excess capacity storage of water in Fryingpan-Arkansas Project facilities, primarily Lake Pueblo.
The Bureau of Reclamation released a public notice in The Pueblo Chieftain on Saturday seeking comments on its draft master contract with the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District.
The deadline for comments to the Eastern Colorado Area Office in Loveland is Sept. 15.
The contract was negotiated in January, but did not include storage amounts. The district is in the process of meeting with each of the participants on the details of subcontracts, which will be submitted to Reclamation in order to finalize the contract, said Jim Broderick, executive director of the district.
“We’ll be meeting with all the participants in August,” Broderick said.
In the environmental impact statement for the master contract, there were 37 participants seeking nearly 30,000 acre-feet (9.7 million gallons) annually.
More than half of those were participants in the Arkansas Valley Conduit, but others included several communities in the Upper Arkansas Valley, Pueblo West and El Paso County communities.
A bill that would ease the cost burden of the Arkansas Valley Conduit to local communities got its first hearing in the U.S. Senate water and power subcommittee Tuesday.
The bill, S2616, would allow miscellaneous revenues from the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project to be applied to the local match of the conduit.
Legislation in 2009 allowed those revenues to be applied to the federal cost of building the $400 million conduit.
Because of the 65-35 cost share, however, the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District will face heavy expenses. The bill would allow the district’s share to be paid first, with any funds not needed being used to repay the federal share.
Under the new law, the costs of Ruedi Dam, the Fountain Valley Conduit and South Outlet Works still would be repaid before funds could be used for the conduit. Like the Arkansas Valley Conduit, they are all parts of the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project which was authorized in 1962.
The district is anticipating up to $100 million in loans from the Colorado Water Conservation Board — $60 million already has been committed, said Bill Long, president of the district board.
He presented the committee with a letter of support from the CWCB.
Long, a Las Animas businessman and Bent County commissioner, detailed the water quality problems faced by the Lower Arkansas Valley. Those include radioactivity, salts and sulfates. The 40 communities involved in the project serve more than 50,000 people and face increasingly strict regulatory standards, he said.
“S2616 will achieve the goal of significantly reducing federal outlays while providing a reliable, safe drinking water supply to the rural communities in the Lower Arkansas River Valley,” Long said. “The alternative — contaminated supplies which pose a significant threat to public health and prohibitive costs for individual system improvements — is unacceptable.”
Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., a member of the committee, and Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., are co-sponsors of the legislation.
“Water is a precious resource in Colorado and throughout the west. As home to the headwaters for 20 states, our communities continuously look for ways to conserve water,” Bennet said.
During the hearing, Estevan Lopez, commissioner for the Bureau of Reclamation, lent his support to the bill.
“While we are still undertaking a detailed analysis of the full implications of such a reallocation of federal receipts, the reallocation of federal revenues to a non-federal entity for the benefit of that non-federal entity should be given careful consideration,” Lopez said.
Lopez said about $21 million in appropriations already has been provided through this year. At least $3 million is anticipated this year.
Construction on the conduit is expected to begin in 2019.
Once the conduit is completed, there would be a 50-year repayment of the 35 percent local share that is addressed in S2616.
You could sit all day and stare at the Pueblo Dam and not have a clue about why it’s there, who built it and what it’s for.
Or, if you’re lucky enough to be a fourth- or fifth-grader in Pueblo County, you could spend a day filled with fun activities and learn everything from water safety to the water cycle — including the Pueblo Dam and the kitchen sink.
The Children’s Water Festival began in 1999 and continues each year since, except for 2015, in early May at Colorado State University-Pueblo. About 1,800 fourth- or fifth-graders attend each year from Pueblo City Schools (D60), Pueblo County School District 70 and private schools.
In 2015, the festival was canceled, ironically, because of weather. It was wet and cold the entire month of May, but the big concern was the possibility of thunderstorms. The 2016 program was geared for fifth-graders, who had missed their chance as fourth-graders last year.
“The kids have always enjoyed it,” said Linda Hopkins, a retired employee of the Bureau of Reclamation, who helped coordinate the festival for many years.
She explained that the Pueblo event was patterned after the Nebraska Groundwater Festival, which started in Grand Island, Neb., in 1988.
Internally, Reclamation decided a Pueblo festival would be a good idea in 1999. By then, there were a few other water festivals for children in some other parts of Colorado.
Reclamation in 1999 was involved in one of its most controversial periods in Pueblo since it built Pueblo Dam in the 1970s. The dam was being reinforced to improve its stability, a move that some interpreted as a precursor to enlargement that could benefit large municipal users such as Colorado Springs and Aurora.
“Part of it was to get the bureau’s name out there in a positive way, but mostly it was to expose the kids to water information,” Hopkins recalled. The idea was that the children would take the information home and discuss it with parents or other family members.
Local water providers were immediately supportive, and continue to contribute resources and people each year. The festival has operated smoothly, organizing squadrons of teachers, students and parents armed only with coolers of sack lunches and a big appetite for a six-hour course of water games, lessons and contests.
This year’s festival, held last Tuesday at CSU-Pueblo, was sponsored by Reclamation, the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District, the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, the Pueblo Board of Water Works, Pueblo West and the St. Charles Mesa Water Conservancy District. CSU-Pueblo makes the entire campus available for activities.
“We have a closeout meeting after the festival each year, then start meeting in September or October to plan the next year,” said Toni Gonzales, of the Southeastern district.
The presenters range from high school students to water professionals. With the exception of the Mad Science demonstration — a crowd-pleasing experience that goes beyond water — all of the presenters are volunteers.
“I came to one of these when I was in fourth grade,” said Tony Valenzuela, a member of the Future Farmers of America and Pueblo County High School student.
On Tuesday, he was demonstrating how to set irrigation siphon tubes. The process involves coaxing water through a 4-foot metal tube by capping one end and firmly jiggling it. Farmers use the skill to flood irrigate crops planted in furrows.
“Our family used to farm,” Valenzuela said.
Erik Duran, fire inspector for the Pueblo Fire Department, went over a math lesson with the visual aids of 1-gallon and 5-gallon water cans and a pumper truck that can hold up to 3,000 gallons.
“That hose can pump 1,500 gallons per minute, so how long would it take to empty the tank?” Duran said.
“Two minutes!” the students responded, but you could tell they were thinking: “How long before we get to shoot the hose at those targets?”
Nearby, other students were solving a simpler equation as workers from Pueblo Water demonstrated in real time what happens when a pipe leaks under pressure. Water was shooting out in a 20-foot plume and the goal appeared to be finding out the minimum time running through water (while screaming) in order to soak the maximum amount of clothing.
About three seconds, apparently.
If you go to a water festival, chances are good you’ll get wet.
On the stage of Hoag Hall, Pueblo County High School students gave a theatrical demonstration of the hydrologic cycle, including the popular song: “Evaporation, Condensation, Precipitation, Runoff.”
Well, it was mostly popular because the high school students invited all the teachers in the auditorium to join them onstage in an impromptu line dance.
Other outside displays demonstrated the water cycle, how to stay safe while boating or forest health. Inside, students in one room conducted a mock water court, applying Colorado’s water law to a manufactured dispute. In another, Water Wizards from competing schools answered some tough questions that ranged from global to local in scope.
Such as: “How many gallons are used to produce the typical Pueblo lunch (hamburgers, French fries and a soda).”
That’s downright cruel to a kid who hasn’t eaten lunch yet and can look forward only to the peanut butter and jelly sandwich in the cooler. Still, one young lady had the gumption to answer: 1,500 gallons?
Correct, or roughly half a fire truck.
Water festivals are becoming more popular. Trinidad hosted its first in 2012, at the height of a drought. Salida and Colorado Springs are looking at starting their own.
After 17 years, Pueblo’s version continues to give kids a chance to soak up water knowledge.