Boulder County comes out against FERC issuing @DenverWater’s requested license amendment for Moffat Collection System Project

The dam that forms Gross Reservoir, located in the mountains west of Boulder. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

Here’s the letter from Boulder County to FERC via SaveTheColoradoRiver. Here’s an excerpt:

Boulder County is an intervenor in this action and offers the following comments on the Supplemental Environmental Assessment (EA) issued by the FERC’s staff on February 6, 2018, related to the Gross Reservoir Hydroelectric Project (FERC Project No. 2035-099).

As detailed below, Boulder County continues to object to the FERC issuing Denver Water’s requested license amendment. The FERC staffhas failed to address significant issues related to the project; as a result, approval by the FERC is premature and would result in negative and unnecessary impacts on the residents and natural resources of Boulder County.

The EA analyzes only those potential environmental effects of oe·nver Water’s proposal to expand Gross Dam and Reservoir which were not addressed in the 2014 Final EIS prepared by the Army Corps ofEngineers (Corps). The FERC’s staffreviewed the EA, made a finding of no significant impact, and recommended approval by the Commission, as mitigated by environmental measures discussed in the EA.

This approach is flawed because ofthe resulting narrow scope ofthe EA, the lack ofspecificity related to adoption of mitigation measures for project impacts, and the FERC staffs wholesale and unquestioning adoption of the Army Corps of Engineer’s Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS), which FEIS was completed on April 25, 2014, and for which a Record of Decision was issued on July 6, 2017. The FERC should determine that both the FEIS and the EA fail to meet the standards ofthe National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and therefore reject staff’s unreasonable approach.

Steamboat “State of the River” meeting recap

From Steamboat Today (Tom Ross):

“The key with Lake Powell is that it is our river savings account,” Andy Mueller told a gathering of more than 200 people who packed into the Steamboat Springs Community Center Tuesday night for the Steamboat State of the River meeting, less than 50 feet from the banks of the Yampa River…

Less understood, Mueller said, is the Colorado River District’s stake in power generation at Glen Canyon Dam, where water levels are coming perilously close to dropping below the intakes for the power plant.

“It really starts with power generation at Lake Powell,” Mueller said. “That dam is a cash register for those of us on the river. It pays for the Colorado Endangered Fish Program, which allows all of us in Colorado to continue to divert water while the endangered fish are being protected.”


Mueller told his Steamboat audience that agricultural water rights continue to be of preeminent importance in the district.

“On the Western Slope, try to picture what it would look like without ag. It is a very different world if we don’t have irrigated agricultural land,” he said. “That’s where the water is. Eighty percent of the water consumed on the Western Slope is in ag. We have to protect this agriculture, and a lot of that has to do with agricultural water rights.”


The district represents about 28 percent of the physical land mass in Colorado but is home to just 500,000 of the 5 million people in the state. And 57 percent of the water produced statewide comes from the Colorado River District…

Lake Powell, backed up by Glen Canyon Dam, just above the Grand Canyon, is where the Rocky Mountain states, including Utah, Wyoming and the northern portions of Arizona and New Mexico store water to ensure they can meet their obligations to send water to the lower basins states including California, Nevada and southern New Mexico and Arizona.

As of 1999 the reservoir was almost full. But subsequent drought years, notably 2002, drew the reservoir down. It took until 2012 to slowly re-build storage in the vast reservoir, but snowpacks in the Colorado Basin have not been generous since.

As winters have grown milder, river flows are sapped and extended growing seasons are also resulting in plants absorbing more of the available water.

“We’re working on cloud seeding, but you have to have storm events in order to hit them with the silver iodide,” Mueller said.

#Colorado Springs water currently in storage = 3 years of production

Colorado Springs with the Front Range in background. Photo credit Wikipedia.

From The Colorado Springs Independent (Pam Zubeck):

Colorado Springs Utilities says that despite the dry weather of late, its water storage system is at 80 percent capacity, which translates to three years worth of water.

That’s pretty amazing, considering the city doesn’t sit anywhere near a major river, but rather relies on snowpack on Pikes Peak and transmountain water sources.

Here’s a report from Water Resources Manager Abby Ortega, sent to the Independent in an email:

• In June 2015 our storage was at 95 percent of capacity and last year our storage peaked at 93 percent of capacity. It is fairly typical for storage to fluctuate between 15 and 20 percent.

• Our water system storage is above average capacity despite dry conditions locally.

We are always planning for the future to meet our customers’ demand.
We currently have three years of demand in storage.

We are monitoring streamflow, demand and storage to maximize the available water supply.

While an average or better snowpack is always ideal, our system will withstand the current projected drier conditions without any impact to our customers this year.

Our system-wide storage is currently at about 80 percent of capacity.

The Drought Monitor shows areas with dry conditions have continued to increase across Colorado; however, due to our thoughtful planning, we do not anticipate mandatory water restrictions this year.

This year the biggest threat to our water supply is wildland fire. Springs Utilities’ has a volunteer wildland fire team representing all four services, to protect utilities property (pipes, equipment, watershed/reservoirs, etc.).

Please use water wisely. (Officially, the Water Shortage Ordinance is set at Stage 1 Voluntary Restrictions).

March and April are the most critical months for winter watering as this is when new roots are forming in your landscape. Water a couple of times this month and next on days 40 degrees or warmer.

#Snowpack news: @NorthernWater to set C-BT quota on April 12th

Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map March 17, 2018 via the NRCS.

From The Fence Post (Nikki Work):

As of March 14, the state sits at about 67 percent of the average snowpack, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Things are looking slightly better in northern Colorado, with the two basins that impact Weld County — the Upper Colorado and the South Platte — at 77 percent and 81 percent of the average year, respectively…

Eric Brown, spokesperson for the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, said the dry weather is on Northern Water’s radar, just like it’s on farmers’, but there may be one saving grace — a healthy amount of water in reservoir storage.

Northern Water’s reservoirs are at one of their highest ever levels, with storage at 121 percent of average. Across Colorado, reservoir storage is at about 117 percent of the historic average. While Brown said the water district is optimistic that, in true Colorado fashion, there’s a big spring storm a’comin’, its prepared to use some of its reserves to combat an abnormally dry year.

“In general, farmers who have access to some sort of water in storage should be okay for 2018, as Northern Water’s C-BT Project and reservoirs across the South Platte Basin are sitting at solid levels for the most part,” Brown said. “But for the farmers who don’t have access to water that’s in storage, they really need snow and/or spring rains in the near future.”

But for everyone, use of the water in storage this year creates uncertainties down the road, as some of the current surplus will be used up. Plus, a good, wet snow would bring some much-needed moisture to the plains and help with soil quality, which plays an important role in crop health.

The Northern Water Board will set its quota for C-BT deliveries for the remainder of the 2018 water delivery season at its April 12 board meeting. Both snowpack and C-BT and local non-C-BT reservoir levels will factor into this decision. The board sets a quota each year to balance how much water can be used and how much water needs to stay in storage, and the historic average for the quota is 70 percent.

Colorado-Big Thompson Project Map via Northern Water

#Nebraska: Platte River to Republican River compliance transbasin diversion in the plans

From the Associated Press via

The plan is to divert excess Platte water via canal, culvert and pipeline over the Platte-Republican divide near Smithfield in south-central Nebraska’s Gosper County and run it south into the Republican via Turkey Creek, the Omaha World-Herald reported.

The 25-mile-long stream is a tributary of the Republican starting about 3 miles west of Smithfield. It empties into the Republican between Edison and Oxford. The Republican River rises in Colorado and crosses southern Nebraska before flowing into Kansas.

The primary objective is to help ensure the state’s compliance with an interstate compact that allocates certain percentages of the Republican River’s flows to Nebraska, Kansas and Colorado, said John Thorburn, general manager of the Tri-Basin Natural Resources District in Holdrege. Although the states have been working in harmony on managing the river in recent years, disputes among the three have escalated to the U.S. Supreme Court.
After three years of active planning, project proponents submitted their initial permit paperwork to the Nebraska Department of Natural Resources last week.

Tri-Basin partnered with the Alma-based Lower Republican NRD to develop the $1.4 million to $1.9 million enterprise known as the Platte Republican Diversion Project. It would tap Platte water from a canal owned by the Holdrege-based Central Nebraska Public Power and Irrigation District. The district stores North Platte River water in Lake McConaughy in western Nebraska and delivers it downstream and into canals for delivery to farmers to irrigate cropland.

“This is precedent-setting for Nebraska,” Thorburn said. “We’d be taking otherwise ‘wasted’ water to be put to good use for a beneficial purpose.”
Thorburn and others expect resistance from environmental organizations that have raised concerns, saying there really isn’t extra water in the Platte and that it’s all precious in providing habitat for endangered bird species, including the whooping crane, piping plover and least tern.

The Platte’s floodwater — the excess flows that would be diverted at times — scrubs trees and other vegetation from sand bars and other important habitat for sandhill cranes. Downstream near Lincoln and Omaha, the river replenishes aquifers and well fields providing drinking water to the state’s two largest cities.

The diversion would not occur during the June-through-August irrigation season, Thorburn said.
The potential economic impact of the project in the Republican basin would range from $14.2 million to $33 million, depending on how much of the water required to meet interstate agreements and obligations comes from the diversion versus other sources, according to a study by the Bureau of Business Research at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

The Platte in central Nebraska is designated by the Natural Resources Department as over appropriated, meaning there is more demand for the water than the river can provide. It is the state’s only over appropriated river. Still, there are times when floods funnel high water down the river’s usually shallow channels.

An engineering study by Olsson Associates of Lincoln for the project partners indicated that under two scenarios a potential 57,000 to nearly 140,000 acre-feet of unallocated water could have been diverted from the Platte into the Republican during the period of 2013 to 2016. An acre-foot is the volume of water that would cover an acre of land 12 inches deep.

The peak scenario would require 100 cubic feet per second of water to flow down Turkey Creek at times. A cubic foot is like a box of water measuring one foot by one foot by one foot. It contains around 7½ gallons. This rate of flow is a bit less than the volume of water Omahans see in Big Papillion Creek at Q Street in a typical March.

Turkey Creek’s current base flow is about 12 cubic feet per second. Erosion-control measures and other improvements would allow the creek to handle diverted flows up to 100 cubic feet per second without damaging the surrounding land in Gosper and Furnas Counties, according to the engineering study. The draft application calls for diverting 275 cubic feet per second from the Platte in order to provide up to 100 cubic feet per second into Turkey Creek.

Aaron Million’s latest project met with skepticism in #Wyoming

The confluence of the Green and Yampa rivers in 2016. How much water reaches this point, bound for Lake Powell, has implications across the west and Colorado, and an ongoing water study might suggest how to manage water in a severe drought. Photo credit Brent Gardner-Smith.

From The Wyoming Business Report (MJ Clark):

Although Colorado has the right to develop its unused compact water, as does Wyoming, those involved in Wyoming water issues note that this project could result in major changes in how water is managed in the basin, since it changes how much water will be headed downstream from Flaming Gorge.

The first time was expected to divert 250,000 acre-feet of water, and to cost $3 billion. After working with the Army Corps of Engineers on the project for two years, the Corps cancelled Million’s application in July of 2011.

The second try

Million immediately tried again and proposed tapping into the Green River at two sites – one just three miles below the city of Green River, Wyoming and the other from the western edge of the Flaming Gorge reservoir. Although the amount of water he wanted was the same, this time, Million quoted the cost as between $7 billion and $9 billion because he was adding a hydropower component to the plan. Thanks to the hydropower aspect, this new project would be under the authority of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).

A Western Resource Advocates study on the second proposal predicted that not only would the water supplied by the pipeline cost up to ten times the price of water from other developments, it would also lower the level of the popular Flaming Gorge Reservoir by 10 feet – hurting fishing and tourist traffic in the Gorge, and river rafters along the Green and Colorado rivers by $58.5 million a year.

A coalition of more than 250 businesses from seven states; ten conservation groups and Sweetwater County and the City of Laramie fought the development, along with Wyoming Governor Matt Mead, who wrote a letter to FERC that said in part, “”This project would cut a vast swath across southern Wyoming, with the potential for huge impacts in many significant sectors of our economy and aspects of critical resources to Wyoming and Colorado.” Mead also objected to the 25,000 acre-feet of water per year belonging to Wyoming that Million was including in his proposed ‘take.’

When the FERC dismissed Million’s application as “premature” in February of 2012, Million was unfazed and told the Denver Post that, “The FERC dismissal has zero to do with us moving forward.”

The third time

In April of 2012, Million argued his case in a guest column for the Northern Colorado Business Report (at the time a sister paper to the Wyoming Business Report), claiming that less than 5 percent of the “massive Flaming Gorge Reservoir” would be pumped to Colorado’s Front Range annually. Meanwhile, it would help northern Colorado face its own water supply shortfalls.

“If it is environmentally sound, it should be permitted and built,” Million wrote in the column, seemingly addressing the myriad environmental groups voicing fervent opposition to the pipeline. “If not, then stick a fork in it. The truth of a full scientific and environmental evaluation may be hard for some in the environmental community to swallow, but the consequences of not allowing that evaluation to occur remain.”

As the Wyoming Business Report’s Mark Wilcox wrote at the time; “Aaron Million’s confidential business plan to annually pump about 81 billion gallons out of Flaming Gorge and the Green River that feeds it has been revealed to the Associated Press, and it is no small wonder he has not taken ‘no’ for an answer. The plan would bring in an estimated net profit of between $1.4 and $2.4 billion. And that’s after construction costs of somewhere between $2.8 billion and $3.2 billion. And end users of the water would pay up to $117 million in annual operating costs based on a ‘cost plus 20 percent’ business model with estimated operating costs of between $70 million and $90 million.”

Million was granted a FERC hearing on his third proposal on April 23, 2012. Then his proposal was was rejected. “FERC’s ruling doesn’t affect us from the standpoint of continuing to move forward,” Million told the Wyoming Business Report at the time in a phone interview. However, the FERC denied him a re-hearing.

“We are not persuaded by any of Wyco’s unsupported arguments that it should be issued a preliminary permit,” the commission said in its filing…

Is the fourth time a charm?

This January, Million was back with a new approach. This time, he started by petitioning Utah for the water rights. This approach – petitioning for water to export from Utah – was so unusual that the state didn’t even have a form to fill out for it.

Rob Harris, senior staff attorney at Western Resource Advocates (whose Wyoming ties include a grandfather from Basin) notes that the problem with petitioning for water rights as an individual is that “All three states have an anti-speculation doctrine in our water rights laws. [Million] doesn’t actually stand in the shoes of any actual Colorado water users. It’s really basic stuff he’s running up against – it’s why this has floundered in the past, and will continue to flounder until he’s made contractural arrangement with people who he’s going to supply water to.”

An examination of Million’s application with the state of Utah has the all eventual users of the water identified as “TBD.”

Harris points to a previous case in which water from the Arkansas Valley was eyed for the Front Range. “The court said ‘No way! You don’t have any contracts.’ It would be one thing if it were a city doing this, but this is just a guy trying to make money.”

In addition to the change at the start of the process, Million’s fourth try has a few key differences to the last ones. First, he’s moved the point of diversion 50 miles southeast into Utah, away from the Flaming Gorge Reservoir, which should be some relief to the Wyoming outdoor recreation industry – but less comfort to Colorado River rafters.

Second, he’s reduced the amount of water he wants to take each year from 250,000 acre-feet to 55,000 acre-feet. “It’s less water than last time,” Harris admits, “but it’s still a heck of a lot. You could run a pretty good-sized city on 55,000 acre-feet a year.”

Third, he’s changed the name of the company he’s operating from Wyoco Power and Water Inc. to Water Horse Resources LLC.

“I think he’ll point to the tons of growth in the Front Range, and that there is a gap between known [water] supplies and what’s needed to meet the expected population growth,” Harris said. “But if you look at the really big players in water on the Front Range (Denver Water, Colorado Springs, Aurora, Northern Water Conservency District), they’re all pursuing alternative sources [not tapping into the Green River]. They are emphasising creative ways to conserve and share the local water supply.”

FERC extends Gross Reservoir hydroelectric license comment period to April 9, 2018

From The Boulder Daily Camera (Charlie Brennan):

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which is weighing a Denver Water request to raise the Gross Reservoir Dam, expand the reservoir and amend its hydroelectric license for the utility, issued a supplemental environmental assessment of the plans Feb. 6. At that time, the commission set a 30-day window for public comment on the document, set to expire March 8.

Save the Colorado and The Environmental Group of Coal Creek Canyon, through Boulder attorney Mike Chiropolos, and, separately, WildEarth Guardians, filed requests to extend that comment period by 60 days.

“Upon consideration, we find that a 30-day extension is warranted,” the commission’s secretary notified parties in a letter on Tuesday. Comments on that supplemental environmental assessment are now due to FERC by April 9…

Tim Guenthner and his wife, Beverly Kurtz, who live in the Lakeshore Park neighborhood on the north side of the reservoir, have studied issues around the proposed project for years.

Guenthner, with his background in engineering, has concerns about environmental, quality of life and safety considerations relating to Denver Water’s plans for development of an on-site quarry at Osprey Point, as well as the use of roller-compacted concrete to enlarge the dam. That’s a technique that he says has never been applied to a dam project at so great a scale. Previously, a dam raise of 117 feet at San Vicente Reservoir in San Diego County was the highest using this technique — not only in the United States, but the world…

The couple, who are part of The Environmental Group of Coal Creek Canyon, urge those interested in learning more about the $380 million Denver Water project to attend a meeting at 3:30 p.m. Sunday at the Coal Creek Canyon Improvement Association Community Center located at 31528 Coal Creek Canyon Road. The session will be used to plan social media campaigns and educate the public about the project’s current status and implications.