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.
Flows on the Upper Arkansas River support the most rafted river in the country and gold medal fisheries on a 102-mile reach.
A large part of that is the voluntary flow management agreement that has been in place for 25 years among Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District and other water users.
The Southeastern district board unanimously renewed the agreement [April 21].
“Some of us have concentrated on the rafting, but there’s an awful lot of fishing going on,” said Jim Broderick, executive director.
The agreement maintains flows at Wellsville, just outside Salida, at 700 cubic feet per second from July 1 to Aug. 15 to support rafting. That’s achieved by timing the release of up to 10,000 acre-feet of Fryingpan- Arkansas water from Turquoise and Twin Lakes in Lake County.
“What a backyard we have here!” said Bob Hamel, an outfitter representing the Arkansas River Outfitters Association. “July is our busiest month, so the help you can give us is much appreciated.”
The program also helps fish by stabilizing flows during late summer, winter and spring.
For instance, during the caddis fly hatch which began this week, the flows on the Arkansas River are kept lower than they might naturally be, and even though it might be advantageous to move water in April.
“It’s an amazing balance. All these things are benefiting from the way you’ve been operating,” Hamel said.
Two new board members from opposite ends of the water spectrum joined the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District Thursday.
Dallas May, 58, a farmer and rancher from the Lamar area, and Mark Pifher, 65, a former director of Aurora water, were appointed to the board by 10th Judicial District Chief Judge Deborah Eyler and sworn in Thursday.
Eyler consults with district judges from the areas where appointments are made, because the Southeastern district covers a nine-county area. Terms are for four years.
May is a fourth-generation farmer who owns water shares on the Fort Lyon Canal, Amity Canal, Lower Arkansas Water Management Association and other ditches in the area. He replaces Leonard Pruett, who served one term on the board.
“I’ve been passive and always thought someone else would make the decision,” May said. “But given some of the controversial issues going on, I decided it was time to get involved.”
May said he is most concerned with protecting the water rights of those who choose to continue farming.
“My concern is that irrigation water does not depart the valley and leave it a wasteland,” May said.
He also would like to see the completion of the Arkansas Valley Conduit, the top priority project of the Southeastern district.
“It’s ironic and absurd that Rocky Mountain snowmelt flows past us and we have to buy bottled water,” May said, regarding the need for the conduit. “It’s absurd that people try to buy it and pipe it into another water basin.”
Pifher, 65, of Colorado Springs, replaces Harold Miskel on the board.
Miskel, a retired Colorado Springs Utilities executive, had served since 2002.
Pifher four years ago left Aurora water to work on the Southern Delivery System for Colorado Springs Utilities, retiring last year. He continues as a consultant on SDS and water quality issues. He is the former executive director of the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission.
His expertise on state water issues and additional time on his hands since his retirement led him to apply.
“I hope to continue the work already started by the district on the Arkansas Valley Conduit, the use of water resources and the opportunities for storage,” Pifher said. “I will give a municipal point of view to the board.”
Reappointed to the board were: Gibson Hazard of Colorado Springs, who has been on the board for 28 years; Kevin Karney, an Otero County rancher and commissioner, now in his eighth year; and Vera Ortegon of Pueblo, a former City Council and water board member, who has been on the board for 12 years.
Officers were elected as well. Bill Long of Las Animas is president; Gary Bostrom, Colorado Springs, vice president; Ortegon, secretary; and Ann Nichols, Manitou Springs, treasurer.
Full reservoirs in the Arkansas River basin point to the need for even more storage when dry years return, the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District learned Thursday.
“I don’t think people realize how close we were to spilling water this year,” said Jim Broderick, executive director. “This is the reason you need more storage. People think of storage only during drought and when it’s flooding. We need to get past that and look at additional storage to capture more water.”
The storage situation may not be entirely settled, because heavy rain in May could mean some water safely stored may be released.
“Unless we have another Miracle May, we’ll be all right,” said Phil Reynolds, of the Colorado Division of Water Resources.
To get to “all right,” however, water users have cooperatively released water from Lake Pueblo to meet flood control requirements.
Capacity in Lake Pueblo was decreased by 11,000 acre-feet, to a total of 245,000 acre-feet, this year because of sedimentation. Space for 93,000 acre-feet is reserved for flood control after April 15. That was complicated this year because of high residual storage from 2015.
Aurora, whose water would be first to spill, leased its stored water to farmers last year. The Pueblo Board of Water Works used early leases to move some of its water out of storage, but still has higher than usual levels in reserve.
The Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District moved about 1,500 acre-feet into the permanent pool at John Martin. Colorado Parks and Wildlife moved 5,000 acre-feet of water it leased into Trinidad Reservoir.
But the valley may be running out of places to store water.
“Moving forward in how we move and manage water, storage is a key component,” said Alan Hamel, who was president of the Southeastern district board when the Preferred Storage Option Plan was developed and now represents the basin on the Colorado Water Conservation Board. “This basin needs water storage in the upper basin, more in Pueblo and below Pueblo.”
PSOP, which developed in the late 1990s, was abandoned by the district after multiparty negotiations broke down in 2007, but certain elements moved ahead. One of those was how excess capacity in Lake Pueblo could be better used.
Right now, there are about 27,000 acre-feet of water in the so-called if-and-when accounts that might be vulnerable to spills. Another 57,000 acre-feet of winter water likely would not spill this year, unless more water than expected is collected through the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project.
About 65,000 acrefeet of Fry-Ark water is expected to be brought into Turquoise Lake through the Boustead Tunnel, if conditions remain average, said Roy Vaughan, manager of the project for the Bureau of Reclamation.
In the world of water it happened in the blink of an eye.
Terms for a master contract for excess capacity storage in Lake Pueblo were negotiated between the Bureau of Reclamation and the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District in January in a four-hour session.
“That’s unheard of in recent history,” attorney Lee Miller said.
The negotiations for Aurora’s storage contract in Lake Pueblo, Southern Delivery System and the Windy Gap project by the Northern Water Conservancy District took weeks or months to complete and were hotly contested.
The Southeastern district used those negotiations to streamline its own process. The district had the advantage of preparing for the meeting for 13 years, Miller added.
The terms are essentially the same as SDS gained during its negotiations with the Bureau of Reclamation in 2010. The storage rate will be $40.04 cents per acre-foot (325,851 gallons) in 2017, and increase in subsequent years.
Colorado Springs Utilities, which led SDS negotiations, was stunned in 2010 when Reclamation announced it would use a market rate rather than cost of service in determining storage charges for long-term contracts.
Southeastern avoided the surprise.
“We worked hard for the last four years to determine the factual basis for the rates,” Miller said.
The contract potentially could be used by water providers from Salida to Eads. In its environmental impact statement, Reclamation modeled impacts for 37 water providers who would need nearly 30,000 acre-feet of storage through 2060.
Many of the participants are planning to use the Arkansas Valley Conduit, while others (Fountain, Security and Pueblo West) also have a contract through SDS.
“Now that we have a contract, we will begin working on subcontract with the participants,” Miller said. “Once we get a contract with an actual number (for storage), Reclamation will put it out for public review.”
Nearly 20 years ago, Alan Hamel was fretting about the need for more water storage in the Arkansas Valley.
He’s still on the case.
“This is a good year to talk about water storage, as we did in 1999,” Hamel told the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District board this week. “If we had built it, we would have an additional 75,000 acre-feet of storage.”
At the time, Hamel was president of the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, which had come up with the Preferred Storage Options Plan. The plan proved unworkable because of disagreement among water users over the future purposes of storage.
Today, the need for storage in the Arkansas River basin is closer to 100,000 acre-feet, and most likely will be found in smaller projects, repairs that remove restrictions, better use of existing structures and aquifer storage, Hamel said.
The retired executive director of Pueblo Water is now a member of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, which in November approved Colorado’s Water Plan. The plan was ordered up by Gov. John Hickenlooper in 2013 and developed after hundreds of meetings throughout the state.
It built on the 2004 Statewide Water Supply Initiative, which identified a municipal gap in future supply, and the 2005 creation of the Interbasin Compact Committee and Basin Roundtables. Those activities drew thousands of Coloradans into a conversation about water.
“Going on 56 years in water, I have never seen an effort like this,” Hamel said. “It includes protection of agriculture, and watershed health is a critical component that wasn’t envisioned when we began.”
Hamel credited the Lower Ark district, itself created by voters during the drought of 2002, and its General Manager Jay Winner as constant advocates for protection of Arkansas River water.
“I see Jay in every corner of the state,” Hamel said.
But the Lower Ark board is not entirely convinced the state water plan does enough to protect agriculture.
“As long as growth is the highest and best use for water, you can’t see any way ag can sustain itself, can you?” asked Beulah rancher Reeves Brown, a Lower Ark board member.
Without a plan, Colorado stands to lose 700,000 acres of farmland, Hamel replied. He commended the Lower Ark board for pioneering solutions like the Arkansas Valley Super Ditch to find ways water without permanent dry-ups.
“Agriculture was one of the many forces that drove the discussion,” Hamel said. “Some cities are growing on to ag land, but eventually landuse planning and water planning will have to come together.”
A Pueblo West Metropolitan District board member wants Pueblo County commissioners to renegotiate the 1041 agreement for the Southern Delivery System.
“There are numerous, fatal flaws in the present 1041 agreement; too many to mention,” Pueblo West board member Mark Carmel told the Pueblo Board of Water Works this week. “I respectfully suggest that the 1041 permit must be renegotiated to create a true agreement.”
It’s a significant development because Pueblo West is a partner in the SDS water pipeline project, and has already benefited from an emergency use of SDS last summer.
The metro board took a position on Jan. 12 that its water should not be held hostage during the current SDS discussions, but Carmel made it clear that he was speaking as an individual at Tuesday’s water board meeting. The metro board will meet with Colorado Springs Utilities at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday to address Carmel’s concerns.
Both the water board and Pueblo City Council are pondering resolutions requiring more action on stormwater in relation to SDS. Pueblo County commissioners are in the process of determining 1041 compliance on stormwater and other issues in the permit.
The Lower Arkansas Water Conservancy District has requested action by the Bureau of Reclamation under the federal SDS contract and by the Pueblo County commissioners under the 1041 permit to delay SDS until a stable source of stormwater funding is found.
Carmel, a former Pueblo County engineer, said he has seen firsthand the damage Fountain Creek causes in Pueblo. He wants to make sure Colorado Springs has adequate stormwater control measures in place.
“As Colorado Springs’ partner in the SDS project, I believe perhaps Pueblo West bears the most local responsibility to ensure SDS is implemented in such a way that the city of Pueblo does not get wiped out by floodwaters, in our name, if we stand by and do nothing,” Carmel said.
He said politicians’ current assurance of $19 million in annual funding for stormwater improvements in Colorado Springs is not adequate because future councils could easily reverse the action.
“A 10-year intergovernmental agreement is not worth the paper it is written on under the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, because it may be canceled at any budget cycle,” he said.
Carmel said the 1041 agreement should be renegotiated to avoid future misunderstandings.
“Now is the time to ask Colorado Springs to cooperatively renegotiate the terms of the SDS 1041 permit to ensure that it is a win-win deal for both communities,” Carmel said. “Any deal that fails to prevent flooding in Pueblo — through a permanent funding mechanism that cannot change with each election — is not a win for Pueblo.”
CLick here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:
Connor: Find a Fix or We Will
At the 70th Annual Conference of the Colorado River Water Users Association (CRWUA), Deputy Interior Secretary Michael Connor implied that if the lower basin states of Arizona, California, and Nevada can’t find a fix for their Colorado River’s problems, the interior secretary will find it for them. In an Arizona Daily Star article, Connor referenced the need to prevent Lake Mead from falling to dangerously low levels. Should this be the case there would be huge cutbacks in water deliveries to the agricultural sector, cities, and Indian tribes.
According to the Star, the lake has dropped more than 120 feet since 2000. It’s expected to close 2015 at 1,082 feet elevation. The first shortage in the river would be declared at 1,075 feet and Connor indicated that the risk is now up to 30 percent that Lake Mead will drop to potentially dangerous levels in five years. The article also indicated that by next year’s CRWUA conference, Connor hopes the states will have reached agreement and that Interior Secretary Jewell will come to celebrate, either that or contingency plans will need to be implemented.
A draft environmental assessment statement has been completed for a proposed 7-megawatt hydroelectric plant at Pueblo Dam.
The Bureau of Reclamation is accepting comments until Jan. 30 on the project.
The project is a joint eort of the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, Colorado Springs Utilities and the Pueblo Board of Water Works.
Two generators designed to operate at both high and low flows would be constructed on the North Outlet Works, which was built as part of the Southern Delivery System. A separate connection for hydropower was included in the design.
Electrical generation would not consume any water, operating on flows that already are released from the dam.
The Western Area Power Administration would have first opportunity to purchase power, which would be available to Black Hills Energy or Utilities if WAPA declines.
However, the power lines would be connected to the Black Hills substation that provides electricity to the Juniper Pump Station that provides power for SDS to pump water to Pueblo West and El Paso County.
The assessment notes there would be potential temporary impacts on air quality, water quality and wildlife (including some fish die-o) during construction.
Long-term eects would be less noticeable and not significant, because the flows into the Arkansas River, state fish hatchery, South Outlet Works or the SDS pipeline are not altered, according to the document.
Water once destined to be exported to feed growth on the Front Range could fuel economic growth in the Lower Arkansas Valley, but Bent County officials are wary of unforeseen consequences.
“Where is the water going to move to?” asked Bent County Commissioner Lynden Gill after Monday’s presentation by Arkansas River Farms at the Fort Lyon Canal’s annual meeting. “Are they going to double up water on sprinklers near Las Animas or move it somewhere else? I had assumed the water would be staying in Bent County.”
Arkansas River Farms outlined its plans to dry up 6,700 acres on the Fort Lyon while improving another 5,700 acres with surface-fed sprinklers, rather than flood irrigation. The company owns 18,400 shares of Fort Lyon water, about one-fifth of the total.
The water was purchased by High Plains A& M 15 years ago with grand plans to market it statewide. Those were shot down, first in water court and then by the state Supreme Court.
C&A Companies, one of the Arkansas River Farms partners also unveiled its plan to pipe Lamar Canal water to the Front Range in 2011.
But now, the plan is to use the water to open up new farming opportunities in Bent and Prowers counties, said Karl Nyquist, one of the principals in C&A.
“We could be the biggest job creators in this area,” Nyquist said at Monday’s Fort Lyon meeting.
And what about those pipeline plans?
“You haven’t heard me talk about it lately, have you?” Nyquist answered, adding the company will be more open as plans progress.
Bill Grasmick, the largest farmer on the Lamar Canal and a board member of the Lower Arkansas Water Management Association, said wells that have not been used in several years would be operated thanks to the water taken off the Fort Lyon.
They have talked to Bent and Prowers counties about building dairies, feed lots or vegetable farms that would provide an additional boost to the local agricultural economy. But the plans are not specific.
The water from the Fort Lyon would be used in LAWMA well-augmentation plans, which are not limited to historic boundaries for use. “About 22 percent of our local economy comes from agriculture, so any reduction will have a negative impact,” said Bill Long, another Bent County commissioner.
But looking at map of Arkansas River Farms plans, most of the improved farms are located near Las Animas, while dry-ups largely are further east, where farmers are just as likely to trade in Lamar as Las Animas, he said.
“Ultimately, there’s a chance it could be very beneficial,” Long said.
Of more concern to Long is the upcoming water court change case. That would quantify the consumptive use of the Fort Lyon shares and open them up for other uses.
“That’s one step closer to getting it in a pipeline,” said Long, who is president of the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, which took the lead role in the legal battle to stop High Plains.
There are too many unanswered questions to pass judgment, Gill said. Tuesday, the commissioners met with conservancy districts that want to supervise revegetation. And the Fort Lyon shareholders have set aside Jan. 28-29 to question the company about its impacts on the canal itself. Primary concerns so far are the revegetation question and the proposal to leave some water behind to cover losses on shared laterals.
Gill, who is also chairman of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District, is alarmed that dry-up could begin next year under a substitute water supply plan concurrent to a water court filing.
Long pointed out that in previous cases where revegetation was insufficient and caused problems later with weeds and blowing dust. If the Fort Lyon water is used outside Bent County, 1041 regulations also could be applied, Long said.
“We’re going to do everything we can to protect the ag economy in Bent County, and make sure if anything is done, it is beneficial to the county,” Long said.
A $22.5 million budget was reviewed Thursday by the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District board.
The board will meet at 11 a.m. Dec. 3 to give final approval to the budget.
Most of the budget, about $12.3 million, goes toward repaying the federal government for construction of the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project. Of that, $5.3 million repays the Fountain Valley Conduit through an assessment only on the portion of the district in El Paso County, according to a presentation by Leann Noga, finance coordinator.
Districtwide, a 0.9 mill levy will collect about $7 million to repay the Fry-Ark debt. The rate will not change.
A total operating budget of $4 million is projected, funded by a 0.035 mill levy, specific ownership tax, enterprise contract revenues and grants.
The district’s primary projects in the coming year will be continued work on the Arkansas Valley Conduit, negotiating a federal contract for an excess capacity master contract to store water in Lake Pueblo and adding hydropower to the North Outlet Works at Pueblo Dam.
The hydropower project is a joint venture with Colorado Springs Utilities and Pueblo Water and is expected to total $5.2 million, but the cost is reflected in the Southeastern district budget since it is the lead agency.
Although it’s way too early to make a prediction, the water year so far is shaping up better than last year.
“We’re in much better shape than we were at this time last year,” Alan Ward, water resources manager for Pueblo Water, said Tuesday.
All the indicators are good — maybe too good if there is such a thing when it comes to water supply.
Snowpack, boosted again by a storm this week, is above average in both the Arkansas and Colorado river basins.
Pueblo is storing nearly 50,000 acre-feet of water (16.3 billion gallons) in four reservoirs (Lake Pueblo, Clear Creek, Turquoise and Twin Lakes).
“We have more than we’d like at Twin Lakes, but we’re waiting to see how likely a spill (at Lake Pueblo next spring) will be before we move it down,” Ward said.
Lake Pueblo began storing winter water Sunday and is likely to reach capacity in April, when water above a certain level has to be evacuated to make room for flood control.
That depends, however, on whether conditions stay wet over the next few months. The National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center shows it is likely that conditions will be wetter than average through next May.
Lake Pueblo is likely to fill to the brim and some water stored there released to make room for flooding next spring.
The prognosis came Thursday at the meeting of the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District.
“The bad news is the (Army) Corps (of Engineers) will not provide deviation this year,” said Jim Broderick, executive director of the Southeastern district. “The good news is they would be glad to take an informal look at our requests.”
The Corps has granted a deviation from a regimen that requires a certain level in Lake Pueblo by April 15, allowing water to remain in the reservoir until May 1, when flows increase and calls for water typically increase.
By that time, the reservoir is usually swollen from winter water storage and more water from upstream reservoirs that has been moved by the Bureau of Reclamation or other users.
Going into the winter, Lake Pueblo is at 138 percent of average, storing about 185,000 acre-feet of water. If average amounts of water are moved in over the winter, almost 20,000 acre-feet of water stored in Lake Pueblo by then could “spill,” or be released early.
One of the ideas Broderick mentioned was to use a sliding pool, based on the likelihood of flooding, that would allow for additional storage later in the season.
Opening the concept up formally could have the drawback of the need for an environmental impact statement that potentially could result in an even more restrictive storage regime.
This year resulted in nearly record flows on the Arkansas River, said Bill Banks, new chief of the U.S. Geological Survey in Pueblo. Nearly 1 million acre-feet of water flowed past the gauge at Avondale this year, which is at the top of the range over the past 40 years and nearly twice the typical year.
The Corps has granted deviation in storage criteria in recent years, partly for repairs and construction on the Arkansas River levee. That would not be needed this year.
Last spring’s high flows resulted in filling some of the flood-control capacity in Lake Pueblo.
Just because there hasn’t been as much talk about tamarisk lately doesn’t mean the invasion is over. Now, talk has begun again, but the message has changed.
Eradication is out; control is in.
While tamarisks, or saltcedars, are watergulpers, a fully grown tree uses only about 20 gallons a day, not 200 gallons as mistakenly was often reported in the past.
And trees should be taken out for a reason, and with a plan, not just because they are bad invaders.
Those messages have been conveyed twice in the last week by the Tamarisk Coalition to area conservancy districts. Based in Grand Junction, the group incorporated in 2002. The group works with other organizations to improve habitat, not just wipe out saltcedars.
“In a nutshell, what we do is help people restore rivers. We’re focused on that,” Stacy Beaugh, executive director of the Tamarisk Coalition, told the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District board last week. “You can’t just cut them down and walk away.”
She assured the Southeastern board, which took the lead in earlier tamarisk removal programs for the Arkansas Valley, that Southeastern Colorado remains a high priority.
A few days later, the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District heard from Rusty Lloyd, program director with the Tamarisk Coalition.
Lloyd explained that the group no longer is concerned with completely removing the trees, many of which were purposely planted for erosion control. But it supports efforts to remove pockets of the plant where possible and natural controls such as beetles to knock back the numbers.
“The beetle can weaken the plants, and some plants don’t come back,” Lloyd said. “It seems to be doing its job, but it’s sporadic.”
Lloyd said there are water quantity and quality benefits from removing tamarisk, but the purpose for any program should look at other issues such as improving wildlife habitat. A plan should be in place to replace tamarisk with more beneficial species.
“There are lots of invasive species we are concerned with,” Lloyd said. “We don’t blindly advocate people tearing out plants. You need to have a purpose.”
Past efforts to remove tamarisks have not always worked and sometimes cleared the way for other invasive species to take hold.
“We learn as much from our failures as we do from our successes,” Lloyd said.
Tamarisk leaf beetle
Tamarisk leaf beetles at work
2014 Tamarisk leaf beetle distribution map via the Tamarisk Coalition
Each month, a roomful of water wonks has convened monthly to iron out the Arkansas Valley’s water issues for the past decade.
Soon, if a state grant is approved, more people may be able to join in the fun.
The Arkansas River Basin Water Forum and the Arkansas Basin Roundtable want to spend $50,000 annually for a three-year program to increase public awareness.
Specifically, the grant would fund a water video specific to the Arkansas Valley, increase the number of water festivals, public library activities and host community meetings to explain water policies. In addition, it would be used to hire a part-time coordinator for the events.
“You can hit a broader audience than any one organization can do,” said Julia Gallucci, water educator for Colorado Springs Utilities. She spoke at Wednesday’s roundtable meeting.
The roundtable moved the grant request to the Colorado Water Conservation Board, which will consider funding it. The program would require about $72,000 in matching funds and $24,000 in in-kind services from area water groups as well.
It builds on existing activities. The water forum has been held each year for more than 20 years. The Pueblo Children’s Water Festival at Colorado State University-Pueblo in May began as a water education tool for fourth-graders 18 years ago. Ironically, rain canceled the event this year. Several valley water groups have had other water education efforts over the years.
The idea is to create toolkits for minifestivals and add large water festivals in Salida and Colorado Springs
Now, with the state water plan and the accompanying basin implementation plan nearing completion, the roundtable wants more chances for water education.
Don’t worry. It’ll be fun.
The Arkansas Basin Roundtable Wednesday elected officers for the coming year.
Sandy White, a water attorney now with the Huerfano Conservancy District, will be the chairman.
Terry Book, executive director of Pueblo Water, and SeEtta Moss, of the Arkansas Valley Audubon Society, are vice chairs. Jay Winner, of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District, and Jeris Danielson, of the Purgatory Water Conservancy District, are representatives to the Interbasin Compact Committee.
Terry Scanga, of the Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District, is secretary-recorder.
Alan Hamel is a member of the Colorado Water Conservation Board.
Jim Broderick, executive director of the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, is past-president and IBCC alternate.
Conditions are right for a big year of winter water storage, but the problem may be where to put it all.
“We can’t predict where the water will be stored,” Phil Reynolds of the Colorado Division of Water Resources told the annual meeting of the winter water storage group.
The group is made up of the large canals east of Pueblo. After Pueblo Dam was completed in 1975, irrigators were able to curtail flows during the winter months and use the water later in the season. Under a court decree, water is stored from Nov. 15-March 15 under the program administered by the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District.
Last year, more than 128,000 acre-feet (41.7 billion gallons) of water was stored in Lake Pueblo, John Martin Reservoir or o-channel reservoirs operated by some of the ditch companies. That’s more than the five-year average and close to the 20-year average.
The problem this year is that record rains in May and early June filled up most reservoirs.
While some of the water was used during the relatively dry months at the end of summer, reservoirs in the Lower Arkansas Valley are well above normal.
Winter conditions could be wet because of a strong El Nino condition. In similar years, that has meant a heavy spring runoff, said Terry Dawson of the Bureau of Reclamation.
Lake Pueblo is already at 138 percent of capacity — a capacity that recently was deemed smaller because of sedimentation in the reservoir.
“We are afraid at this point we may be in danger of spilling,” Dawson said.
But it won’t be the farmers’ water that spills. There are still 22,723 acre-feet of this year’s winter water that will be released next spring, and an estimated 50,000 acre-feet of new water that could come into Lake Pueblo this winter.
Before that could spill, however, water stored in temporary accounts or under long-term municipal contracts would be released.
Anticipating that, Aurora, whose water would spill first, already is making plans to drain its account through leases to Colorado Parks and Wildlife, which will use the water in the Great Plains Reservoirs that are part of the Amity Canal system.
Reynolds identified more than 100,000 acrefeet of practical storage space that could be used downstream of Lake Pueblo. There are also 140,000 acre-feet available in the Great Plains Reservoirs.
However, winter water must be distributed equally to canal companies, and John Martin or the large reservoirs operated by Amity and the Fort Lyon Canal cannot be used by everyone.
The space in Lake Pueblo will get even tighter during the winter water program because Reclamation plans to run some water from Turquoise and Twin Lakes into the reservoir to make room for next year’s Fryingpan-Arkansas imports.
“We’ll need to know where and how much you plan to store, so we know what’s stored in Lake Pueblo and what can be moved,” said Jim Broderick, Southeastern executive director.
Lake Pueblo is slowly filling with sediment that has reduced its capacity to hold water by about 7 percent over the last 40 years.
The equivalent of 19 feet of dirt over a football field, or 19 acre-feet, is coating various parts of the bottom of the reservoir, a natural consequence for any lake fed by streams and rivers.
The capacity for conservation storage — accounts that can be emptied and refilled — is down to 245,800 acre-feet.
The Bureau of Reclamation made the determination to apply the new limits at the beginning of the water year on Oct. 1 based on data collected in 2012, said Roy Vaughan, manager of the Fryingpan- Arkansas Project. It’s the first detailed look at sedimentation since 1994, when Reclamation found deposits were less than expected because the Arkansas River maintained its current at the bottom of the lake.
At Thursday’s meeting of the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District board, the impact on future storage was discussed.
“We’re looking at water for the next generation,” said Jim Broderick, executive director of the Southeastern district. “We’ve been in a wetter period for the last couple of years, and reservoir levels have been near the top.”
About 25,000 acre-feet — nearly the amount Pueblo Water pumps in a year — could spill next spring if weather conditions are normal through the winter months and water is used in the same fashion as in the past. Lake Pueblo water levels still are about 138 percent of average, even though some water has been released over the past three months.
“What are the solutions?” Broderick asked Vaughan.
“Enlargement or dredging,” Vaughan replied quickly. “It’s been a 7 percent reduction over (40) years. That’s not to say something could be put in place. But what are the costs and who’s willing to pay?”
A third option would be to time storage and releases among users of the dam.
Two of the options, enlargement and re-operations, were considered in the district’s Preferred Storage Options Plan, largely abandoned when it stalemated after a decade of contention among Arkansas Valley water users.
Re-operations have largely been addressed by long-term federal contracts that overlay the basic protocol for Pueblo Dam’s operation.
Physical enlargement of the dam likely would mean reopening negotiations.
Dredging has its own issue. For one thing, the sediment is broadly spread over the floor of the lake, and is not lying in a big chunk that could be scooped out. According to the Reclamation report, it’s not settling in the area immediately above the lowest outlet on the dam.
Dredging might also worsen water quality, adding costs for treatment.
There are other economic considerations.
“The Fry-Ark water will stay in place because it’s cheap,” Broderick said. “But can you get your water out if you bring it in from transmountain sources? How much is the water worth? If we lose storage, how do we replace that?”
Board member Vera Ortegon said water users have managed water in the past so it does not spill. Water does not actually shlosh out of the dam, but is released to keep levels low enough to contain potential floods from upstream.
“We have not spilled much, have we?” Ortegon asked.
“No,” Vaughan said. “But we use additional storage in wet years, and then it’s pulled down in a dry cycle. You have to figure out what to do in wet years, so enlargement still comes into play.”
More from the Chieftain:
Lake Pueblo began storing water in January 1974 and released water the next year.
Its total crest is almost 2 miles long, with 23 concrete buttresses in the center of the earthen dam.
Its original capacity to store 265,000 acrefeet for conservation use has been reduced to 245,800 acrefeet
The 550foot spillway at an elevation of 4,898 feet is designed to carry 191,500 cubic feet per second when the reservoir is at maximum elevation, 4,919 feet. That has never happened.
There are five outlets on the dam, all with multilevel intakes: Bessemer Ditch (393 cfs), the north outlet works (1120 cfs), the spillway outlets (8,190 cfs), the fish hatchery (30 cfs) and the south outlet works (345 cfs). To reduce flooding downstream, releases to the river are usually kept below 6,000 cfs.
Flows below the dam are timed to match water coming into the reservoir, except when water is being released from accounts or stored by exchange or in the winter water program.
Sedimentation could be accelerated if erosion increases on tributaries above Lake Pueblo, including runoff from areas damaged by large wildfires (such as the Royal Gorge Fire in 2013) or prolonged rain (such as road washouts in Fremont County earlier this year).