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

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

From Aspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

375 cfs

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maximizing limited yield

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yield limits

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

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

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

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

Improving existing facilities

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

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

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

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

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

‘Inappropriate location’

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

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

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

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

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

Southeastern District approves $28.8 million budget

Fryingpan-Arkansas Project via the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

R.I.P. Lee W. Simpson

Fryingpan-Arkansas Project via the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Anthony A. Mestas):

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.

R.I.P. Gary Bostrom

From The Colorado Springs Independent (Pam Zubeck):

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.

Southeastern Colorado Water inks agreement with Fountain and Fort Carson for hydro project

The new north outlet works at Pueblo Dam — Photo/MWH Global

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Conrad Swanson):

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.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Jon Pompia):

“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.

@CSUutilities hydroelectric plant at Pueblo Reservoir will supply Fort Carson

The new north outlet works at Pueblo Dam — Photo/MWH Global

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Conrad Swanson):

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.

Fryingpan-Arkansas Project via the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District

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.