Supporters seeking rights for Colorado River meet in Denver, amend complaint

The Colorado River in Cataract Canyon.

By Lindsay Fendt, Aspen Journalism

DENVER — Beneath the dim red glow of string lights at the Mercury Cafe in downtown Denver, about 25 people gathered Tuesday afternoon to rally support for a lawsuit against the state on behalf of the Colorado River.

The case, the first of its kind in the United States, has the potential to shift American environmental law by granting nature a legal standing. The suit lists “the Colorado River Ecosystem” as the plaintiff along with people who hope to serve as “next friends” for the river and represent its interests in court.

Five potential next friends were named in the original complaint — Deanna Meyer, Jennifer Murnan, Fred Gibson, Susan Hyatt and Will Falk — all members of the environmental group Deep Green Resistance, which states its goal is to “deprive the rich of their ability to steal from the poor and the powerful of their ability to destroy the planet.”

In an amended complaint, filed on Nov. 6, two more “next friends” were added to the case.

Owen Lammers of Moab is the executive director of Living Rivers, “which empowers a movement to realize social-ecological balance within the Colorado River watershed,” the amended complaint states. Living Rivers is a member of the Waterkeeper Alliance, a New York-based nonprofit dedicated to clean water founded by Robert F. Kennedy Jr.

“Because of Mr. Lammer’s significant relationship with, and dedication to, the Colorado River ecosystem, he is qualified to serve as next friend,” the amended complaint states.

This is a change from the original complaint, which did not cite any particular relationship between the Colorado River and the members of Deep Green Resistance.

Also added to the case was John Weisheit, who is “the person designated as the on-the-water ‘keeper’ per the Waterkeeper Alliance policies. In other words, Mr. Weissheit is the ‘Colorado Riverkeeper,'” the amended complaint states.

Weisheit, 63, “has enjoyed the Colorado River and its tributaries since childhood,” the complaint says. A resident of Moab, he’s been a river guide since 1980 and “continues to lead river trips that support scientific research and public education, in fulfillment of Colorado Riverkeeper’s mission statement.”

Weisheit is also a co-author of the 2004 book “Cataract Canyon, a human and environmental history of the rivers in Canyonlands,” which is a detailed 268-page guide to the “center of the universe.”

Jason Flores-Williams, the lawyer representing members of Deep Green Resistance in Colorado River Ecosystem v State of Colorado, speaks at a rights-for-nature meeting at the Mercury Cafe in Denver on Nov. 14, 2017. The state has moved to dismiss the lawsuit, and is expected to do so again in response to a recently amended complaint filed by Flores-Williams.

Signs of protest

Though the novel case is seeking personhood for the Colorado River ecosystem, the suit’s proponents hope to use it as a launching pad for a broader rights-of-nature movement.

“For you or I to defend a river in court right now we have to show how injury to the river injured us,” said Mari Margil, the associate director for the Pennsylvania-based Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, a rights-for-nature legal group and a legal adviser on the Colorado River case. “There is a growing understanding that our environmental laws are starting in the wrong place.”

Rather than maneuvering within existing environmental law, where nature is considered property, rights-of-nature lawsuits seek to give the natural world rights to exist beyond its use to humanity.

Margil and other rights-of-nature proponents say that our current environmental legal framework — which is based on legislation like the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act — does not go far enough. They point to past court decisions that have granted legal rights to corporations, like the 2010 Citizens United case, and say nature should have that same standing.

“I’ve long acknowledged that what we are doing in the environmental movement has not created change,” Meyer, one of the potential next friends in the lawsuit, said in a recent interview. “We see every biotic system on the planet in decline and nothing has gotten better. Until the river has rights, I don’t see any change happening in the way it is being used and exploited.”

At the meeting in the café in Denver on Tuesday, activists supporting the lawsuit propped up poster boards that said “The Colorado River runs through us” and “Legal standing for the Colorado River,” that were made for a courthouse rally held earlier that morning. They kicked off their meeting with a slow chant praising “sacred Colorado waters” before sitting down to strategize about building support around the lawsuit.

The group is planning protests, awareness campaigns and other rights-of-nature lawsuits in an effort to open up the courts for cases defending ecosystems from environmental ills.

“The court isn’t going to just give us anything,” Jason Flores-Williams, the Denver-based lawyer representing Deep Green Resistance and the potential next friends in the lawsuit, said at the meeting. “How we won’t lose is not based on whatever will happen inside the courtroom, but what happens outside of it.”

So far, the case has moved forward only a couple of short steps. Flores-Williams filed the case on Sept. 25, which the state followed with a motion to dismiss on Oct. 17 on the grounds that the case does not fall under federal jurisdiction and lacked specific injuries attributable to the state.

“The complaint alleges hypothetical future injuries that are neither fairly traceable to actions of the state of Colorado, nor redressable by a declaration that the ecosystem is a ‘person’ capable of possessing rights,” reads the motion to dismiss, which was filed by the Colorado attorney general’s office.

The plaintiffs were then allowed to amend their complaint, and on Nov. 6 Flores-Williams filed a new complaint, invoking rights under the U.S. Constitution in order to keep the case in federal court.

The map of the Colorado River basin included in the amended complaint filed on behalf of the Colorado River ecosystem by members of Deep Green Resistance and other next friends. The map understates the contribution of the Green River to the Colorado River system.

246,000 square miles

Flores-Williams used the opportunity clarify aspects of the original complaint. For example he added that the Colorado River has the right to “be restored” in addition to the right “to exist, flourish, regenerate, [and] naturally evolve.”

He also defined the scope of the plaintiff in the case, the “Colorado River Ecosystem,” saying it “encompasses the area bound by the highpoints and ridgelines where drop-by-drop and grain-by-grain, water, sediment, and dissolved materials ebb their way toward the Gulf of California: some 246,000 square miles (640,000 km2) in southwest North America including portions of Colorado, New Mexico, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada, Arizona, California in the United States, and portions of Baja California and Sonora in Mexico.”

The amended complaint states that the Colorado River ecosystem includes the river’s “major tributaries” and “all the creeks, streams, and tributaries that feed them, along with the surrounding landscape where water percolates and flows underground,” and it includes a map of the entire Colorado River basin.

It also cites the native endangered fish species that are struggling to survive in the Colorado River basin and says the Endangered Species Act “has failed to reverse the pace of biodiversity degradation.”

In terms of the connection between the river ecosystem and those who wish to be seen as “next friends” by the court, the amended complaint claims that “as the human part of the Colorado River ecosystem, next friends and guardians are capable of speaking through words on behalf of the natural communities that comprise the Colorado River ecosystem.”

The amended complaint also elaborates on the idea of personhood for the river, noting “the recognition of the Colorado River ecosystem as a ‘person’ is far less of a stretch than bestowing upon inanimate corporations the status of personhood.'”

And the amended complaint argues that by lack of such recognition the river’s rights are being denied under the due process and equal protection provisions in the U.S. Constitution.

On thing the amended complaint did not do is correct claims in the original complaint that the state of Colorado operates a number of dams and reservoirs on the Colorado River system that are, in fact, operated by the Bureau of Reclamation or other water-management organizations, including Blue Mesa Reservoir on the Gunnison and Green Mountain Reservoir on the Blue River, both tributaries of the Colorado River.

Will Falk,a member of Deep Green Resistance, speaking at the Mercury Cafe in Denver on Nov. 14, 2017. Falk is one of the named plaintiffs in Colorado River Ecosystem v State of Colorado, and has recently been traveling along portions of the Colorado River.

Beyond the law

The courthouse rally and the following rights-of-nature meeting were originally scheduled around a status conference slated for Tuesday, but the court vacated the hearing and gave the state until Dec. 1 to respond to the amended complaint. Flores-Williams expects the state will again move to dismiss the case.

Regardless of the outcome of the lawsuit, the case’s plaintiffs plan to keep fighting against what they see as exploitation on the Colorado River and hope to inspire others to file rights-of-nature cases.

“Our case by itself is not going to transform the American legal system,” Falk, a potential “next friend” in the case said in an interview. “People who care about the environment need to realize that one court case is not going to be a quick fix for a system that has a tradition of exploiting the natural world.”

The amended complaint notes that Falk “recently traveled the waters of the Colorado River.”

“To support the idea that the Colorado River needs rights, I wanted to go see firsthand the problems along the river,” Falk said in a recent interview.

Grand River Ditch July 2016. Photo credit Greg Hobbs.

“It started a couple weeks ago when we went up to La Poudre pass north of Rocky Mountain National Park to see the headwaters of the river,” Falk said. “And you don’t really find a whole lot of natural or wild water. What you find is the Grand Ditch, which is a ditch build in the 1880s that is still carrying water across the Continental Divide and over the Rocky Mountains and to the Front Range. From the very beginning, the river is being exploited. The water is taken from her birthing grounds. From the moments she begins to flow she is being stolen.”

Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism is covering rivers and waters in collaboration with the Glenwood Post Independent, The Aspen Times, the Vail Daily and the Summit Daily News. The Post Independent published a shorter version of the story on Sunday, Nov. 19, 2017.

Milton-Seaman Reservoir expansion update

From The Greeley Tribune (Tyler Silvy):

Expanding the 5,000-acre-foot capacity reservoir has been on Greeley officials’ to-do list for more than a decade. But the type of work the city is planning takes a lot of time, mainly because it involves the federal government.

If everything goes without a hitch, Greeley officials have circled 2030 as the year they’ll increase Seaman to 10 times its current capacity…

Here’s why:

» Greeley has never expanded any of its six reservoirs, and most have been around for nearly a century.

» Increasing Seaman to 53,000 acre-feet of water from 5,000 acre-feet will put Greeley in position to satisfy the city’s water needs for decades. (An acre foot of water is enough water for two families to use for a year). The city uses between 25,000-30,000 acre-feet of water per year: That’s expected to reach 40,000 acre-feet by 2030.

Harold Evans, chairman of the water and sewer board in Greeley, likens the Seaman’s expansion to the kind of planning that has kept water flowing from the city’s Bellvue Treatment Plant area since 1907…

Right now, Greeley is working with a consultant and in conjunction with the Army Corps of Engineers to develop an environmental impact statement.

Greeley is still about two years away from having a draft of that statement.

In the meantime, Greeley officials are working to secure more water rights. The city doesn’t have enough rights to fill the expanded Seaman Reservoir. They’re 40 percent there, and as Reckentine said, it’s an everyday process. Every year, in fact, Greeley commits millions toward purchasing water rights.

Expanding the reservoir could cost $95 million more just in construction costs, according to an estimate provided in a Colorado Water Conservation Board document.

Water rights come from a variety of places, including retiring farms.

Today, Greeley typically uses its reservoirs as drought protection.

Basically, Greeley has water rights from the Colorado, Poudre, Laramie and Big Thompson rivers. But whether Greeley is able to get all of the water it’s owed depends on the rivers’ flow levels.

In drier years, Greeley would have to do without some of that water. That’s where reservoirs come in. Evans said the first reservoirs were used to finish Greeley area crops when river flows weren’t strong enough to do so in late fall.

Snowmelt and water diverted into reservoirs could be tapped for that purpose. Evans said it’s like putting money in the bank. Pound-for-pound, water’s worth more than money, though.

If and when the Seaman Reservoir expansion is complete, Greeley will likely use some of the water from that reservoir every year.

For Evans, that’s a perfect example, among many, of an investment in the future.

Evans mentions the new pipeline from the Bellvue Water Treatment Plant being installed now, with a lifespan of 75-100 years. The Seaman Reservoir has been around since the 1940s.

ABOUT MILTON SEAMAN RESERVOIR

» Built 1941

» Storage: 5,008 acre-feet

» Elevation: 5,478 feet

» Dam height: 115 feet

» Proposed enlargement date: 2029

» Proposed storage: 53,000 acre-feet

SET FOR LIFE?

The Seaman Reservoir expansion will put Greeley in a good position, but Deputy Director of Greeley Water Eric Reckentine hesitates to call it the final answer.

Greeley has a four-point plan when it comes to water:

» Maintain what you have — Greeley has reinforced water lines with concrete and fiberglass to reduce leaks.

» Secure supply to stay ahead of demand — The Windy Gap Project, which ensured water during lean times, is an example of this.

» Build storage for the lean times — The Milton Seaman Reservoir expansion project is the best example of this.

» Conserve the water you have — Greeley has a state-approved water conservation plan, and the new water budgets are another example of conservation.

THE OTHER RESERVOIRS

Here’s a quick look at Greeley’s other five reservoirs:

» Barnes Meadow Reservoir — Built in 1922 and located across Colo. 14 from Chambers Lake in the Roosevelt National Park, Barnes Meadow Reservoir holds 2,349 acre-feet of water.

» Peterson Lake Reservoir — Built in 1922, and located southwest of Chambers Lake and adjacent to Colo. 156, Peterson Lake Reservoir holds 1,183 acre-feet of water.

» Comanche Reservoir — Built in 1924, and located along Beaver Creek and west of the Colorado State University Mountain campus, the Comanche Reservoir holds 2,628 acre-feet of water.

» Hourglass Reservoir — Built in 1898, and also located along Beaver Creek and west of the Colorado State University Mountain campus, the Hourglass Reservoir holds 1,693 acre-feet of water.

» Twin Lakes Reservoir — Built in 1924, and located southwest of Pingree Park off Colo. 14, Twin Lakes Reservoir holds 278 acre-feet of water.

From The Greeley Tribune (Tyler Silvy):

Doug Billingsley doesn’t know what he’s going to do to replicate the peace and quiet of his work when he retires and re-enters the hubbub of normal life. Greeley pays Billingsley to live at Milton Seaman Reservoir, about 15-20 minutes from the mouth of the Poudre Canyon. Billingsley lives in a city-provided house, and has lived there for the past eight years with his wife, who suffers from multiple sclerosis, and her caretaker.

Billingsley monitors the Seaman Reservoir. The reservoir is Greeley’s largest, and its water levels can rise and fall quickly. He must ensure the banks and dams are sound and functioning properly, and he’s charged with releasing water down the Poudre Canyon when necessary. Call him the water shepherd.

He’s used to the solitude, if not the quiet.

“I drove over the road truck for 18 years, and was by myself for up to 30 days at a time — I lived in a truck,” Billingsley said. “This is no biggie; this is heaven.”

The city pays him a salary as well as his living expenses. But there’s a catch: He’s on call 24 hours per day, seven days per week.

The floods of 2013 are a prime example. And Billingsley spent the better part of a week stuck at home after a bridge went out, trapping folks up the canyon. Of course, he had to monitor Seaman’s water levels during the flood, as well.

Billingsley’s wife loves having him at home every night, and he loves being there.

Apart from animals there’s nothing to bother a Seaman Reservoir caretaker. They’ve seen elk, mountain lions, bears, but none of them hurt anybody, he says.

‘As the Poudre Flows — Forest to Plains’ theme of Poudre River Forum

Scott Hummer, general manager of North Poudre Irrigation Company, talks about how his agency worked with Fort Collins Natural Areas and Colorado Parks and Wildlife to include a fish passage when the irrigation company replaced a diversion structure on the Poudre River that was destroyed by the 2013 floods. Work was completed [in February 2016]. (Pamela Johnson / Loveland Reporter-Herald)
Scott Hummer, general manager of North Poudre Irrigation Company, talks about how his agency worked with Fort Collins Natural Areas and Colorado Parks and Wildlife to include a fish passage when the irrigation company replaced a diversion structure on the Poudre River that was destroyed by the 2013 floods. Work was completed [in February 2016]. (Pamela Johnson / Loveland Reporter-Herald)

Here’s the release from Colorado State University (Jim Beers):

The Cache la Poudre River, which flows from the mountains through Fort Collins, Timnath and Windsor to the plains east of Greeley, is at the heart of countless activities: from irrigating crops and lawns to providing drinking water for more than 365,000 people and hosting numerous recreational activities.

Those with connections to and concerns for the Poudre River will gather on Friday, Feb. 3 for the fourth annual Poudre River Forum. After its first three years at Larimer County Fairgrounds, the forum is moving down the river to Greeley as a reminder that the Poudre River is important to all who benefit from it — from its headwaters to its confluence with the South Platte. This year’s forum — the theme is “As the Poudre Flows — Forest to Plains” — will be held from 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. at the Island Grove Events Center, 501 N. 14th Ave., Greeley. Pre-registration is required for all participants.

Understanding the river, each other

Sponsored by the Poudre Runs Through It Study/Action Work Group, the forum serves as a community-wide gathering of people from agricultural, municipal, business, recreational and environmental backgrounds to learn about and discuss issues related to the Poudre River.

“The Poudre River Forum brings together those who use the river for agricultural and urban diversions and those who work to improve its ecological health. In the past those groups have not necessarily seen eye to eye,” said MaryLou Smith, PRTI facilitator. “Increasingly our participants are open to the idea that it takes collective vision and action to make the Poudre the world’s best example of a healthy, working river.”

Once again, this year’s event will be facilitated by the Colorado Water Institute at Colorado State University. “The Forum is a great opportunity for the communities connected by the Poudre River to come together to better understand the entire watershed, and each other,” said Reagan Waskom, director of CWI.

Forests and water quality/quantity

Laurie Huckaby with the U.S. Forest Service, will present “The last 1,000 years in the Poudre according to the trees,” to kick off the topic of how important the upper watershed is to water quantity and quality.

“Water quality and forests are inextricably linked,” said Joe Duda of the Colorado State Forest Service, who will join Huckaby as one of the presenters. “Forest conditions and insects, disease and fire all can have profound impacts on water flow and quality. Only healthy, resilient forests can continuously supply clean water.”

Global lessons for local success

“Finding the Balance: Managing Water for People and Nature” is the message of keynote speaker Brian Richter. Richter has been a global leader in water science and conservation for more than 25 years, and currently serves as chief scientist for the Global Water Program of The Nature Conservancy in Washington D.C. Richter’s ideas about the importance of recognizing the balance of working river/healthy river are the basis for which PRTI was initially formed. He has consulted on more than 120 water projects worldwide, and has served as a water advisor to some of the world’s largest corporations, investment banks, the United Nations, and has testified before Congress on multiple occasions. Richter co-authored,with Sandra Postel, the 2003 book Rivers for Life: Managing Water for People and Nature and in 2014 wrote Chasing Water: A Guide for Moving from Scarcity to Sustainability.

Change affects all sectors

An afternoon panel session will probe the impacts of change — positive and negative — along the Poudre River and how they have been similarly and differently addressed by agriculture, urban, and environmental sectors. They will discuss what anticipated future changes might these three sectors see as opportunities or incentives for mutually beneficial collaboration that could result in a healthier, working river?

“It has been said that the only thing that is constant is change,” said John Bartholow, retired ecologist from U.S. Geological Survey, and panel coordinator/moderator. “The question is, can we learn to adapt to those changes sure to come on the Poudre in ways that benefit agriculture, municipalities, and the environment?”

The panel will include Eric Reckentine, deputy director, City of Greeley Water and Sewer; John Sanderson, director of science, Nature Conservancy of Colorado; and Dale Trowbridge, general manager, New Cache la Poudre Irrigating Company.

Videos, displays and music too

The day-long forum also includes “River Snapshots” highlighting more than 15 projects undertaken by a variety of groups on the Poudre last year; “My How the Poudre Has Changed,” featuring historical 1970’s footage of the Poudre; updates from both the cities of Greeley and Fort Collins on current water programs; and over two dozen river-focused displays from community organizations and agencies. The day concludes with a social hour including food, beer and other beverages, and river-themed door prizes.

Registration is $50 and includes lunch. Scholarships for students and reduced rates are available. The deadline to register is Friday, Jan. 27 at http://prti.colostate.edu/forum_2017.shtml.

For more information, contact event coordinator Gailmarie Kimmel at PoudreRiverForum@gmail.com or 970-692-1443.

#ColoradoRiver: The Grand River Ditch — Greg Hobbs #COriver

The Grand River Ditch

A State Engineer Map of 1907-8 shows the Grand River Ditch diverting from Water District 51, upper Colorado River drainage, across the Continental Divide into Water District 3 in the upper Poudre River drainage (shown in red middle left hand side); also showing Chambers Lake (upper left hand side of map)

seomap1907grandriverditch

July 20 inspection of Grand River Ditch led by Dennis Harmon, General Manager, Water Supply and Storage Company. From left to right Randy Gustafson (Water Rights Operation Manager, City of Greeley), Dennis Harmon, and Michael Welsh (Historian, University of Northern Colorado).

dennisharmonrandygustafsonmichaelwelsh07202016greghobbs

The Grand River Ditch has an appropriation date of 1890 for 524.6 c.f.s of water diverted from the Colorado River Basin to irrigate 40,000 acres of land in the Poudre Basin through the Larimer County Ditch. The water flow of the ditch is continuously measured at this gauging station on La Poudre Pass.

grandriverditchgagingstationlapoudrepassgreghobbs

West of the Divide, the Grand River Ditch contours towards and around the Never Summer Range in Rocky Mountain National Park (established in 1915 after construction of the Grand River Ditch) for 14.77 miles to Baker Gulch.

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A wetland at the western side La Poudre Pass,

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gives birth to the baby Colorado River.

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Discarded horse slip scrapers bolted together perhaps to armor the spillway of a small now-breached dam in the vicinity of the ditch.

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The Grand River ditch is located above the Little Yellowstone Canyon with spectacular views of the Never Summer Range.

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The mining town of Lulu City was located down in the valley where, not far beyond, Lake Granby now gathers water for delivery east to Northern Colorado through the Adams Tunnel.

lulucitylakegranbygrandriverditch072016greghobbs

In the early 21st Century a stretch of the Grand River Ditch was washed away and repaired. Rehabilitation of the mountainside is proceeding under supervision of the National Park Service. Water Supply and Storage Company contributed $9 million in settlement of NPS claims.

grandriverditchslidearea072016greghobbs

grandriverditchslidearea072016greghobbs

grandriverditchslidearea072016greghobbs

The easement Water Supply and Storage Company owns for the Grand River Ditch also serves as a hiking path along a number of gushing creeks.

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The ditch is fitted with gates that are opened to bypass creek water after the summer season comes to a close.

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The water flowing through La Poudre Pass drops into Long Draw Reservoir located in the Roosevelt National Forest east of the Continental Divide.

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Moose and deer share wetland meadows of a long summer evening.

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Water Supply and Storage Company stores Poudre River water in Chambers Reservoir.

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Greg Hobbs and Dennis Harmon on the Continental Divide.

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Greg Hobbs, July 20, 2016.

In #Colorado, Farmers and Cities Battle Over Water Rights — NPR

Flood irrigation -- photo via the CSU Water Center
Flood irrigation — photo via the CSU Water Center

From NPR (Liz Baker):

The City of Thornton is one of many growing suburbs of Denver, Colo. On a day without much traffic, it’s only a 20-minute commute into the state capitol, and its new homes with big yards make it an attractive bedroom community. Nearly 130,000 people live there, and the population is expected to keep booming.

All that big growth comes with a big need for water. In the 1980s, Thornton placed its hopes in the Two Forks Dam project, which would have provided the city with enough water well into the future. But when that project started to seem uncertain, Thornton started looking for another source.

“We essentially embarked on a plan to purchase a large quantity of water rights associated with irrigated agriculture in Larimer and Weld Counties,” Water Resources Manager for the City of Thornton, Emily Hunt says…

That town’s mayor, Butch White, says the town was outraged when they found out that Thornton, an urban city, was behind the purchases. Some of that anger was because of property taxes — since Thornton is a municipality, it is exempt from paying taxes on all that land surrounding the community — taxes that used to support the local school and fire districts.

There was also a deeper reason for Ault’s hard feelings: According to Colorado water law, once a water right is converted from agricultural to municipal use, that land is permanently dried out. Irrigation, and therefore agriculture, can never return to that property. And agriculture had supported the town of Ault for a century.

This process called “Buy and Dry” is the result of the West’s Gold-Rush era water laws that follow a simple rule: first in right, first in use. That means people with longer links to a property, for example, a farmer whose family has been on a piece of land since pioneer days gets water priority over someone who hasn’t been there as long…

Thornton got approval [ed. a water court decree] to divert its water shares from Ault, but that came with a lot of stipulations which make the conversion a slow process. And for its part, Thornton believes it has done a fair job of managing the situation. It pays Ault a voluntary payment in lieu of property taxes, and plants native grasses on the dried up farms…

Eventually, Thornton will build a pipeline to divert water from Ault to their city 60 miles away.

Weld County considers new rules regulating water pipelines — The Greeley Tribune

Weld County courthouse via Wikipedia
Weld County courthouse via Wikipedia

From The Greeley Tribune (Catharine Sweeney):

The new water line regulations would require mostly anyone trying to move water through or out of Weld County to go through the use by special review — or USR — process.

This process gives the county commissioners and surrounding residents a say in the development. The commissioners can give conditional permission — forcing the builder to alter their plans. Usually, officials require more landscaping or other mitigation. The USR process also requires two public hearings — one in front of the planning commission and one in front of the county commissioners. Here, residents get three minutes each to air their grievances.

Because Weld doesn’t require a USR permit now, no one gets to weigh in on the projects. Residents, and perhaps even county officials, can get left in the dark.

“We just need to stay up to speed with the things coming in,” County Commissioner Mike Freeman said. “It comes back to protecting our surface owners.”

It will be the first discussion of at least three before the board can pass the rules. Officials can update or change the rules at any point before they’re passed.

Under the current proposed regulations, some organizations would be exempt from the permitting process.

Only companies or agencies building pipelines 16 inches or thicker will have to apply, said Weld County Attorney Bruce Barker.

“The intent is primarily to deal with the aspects of placing and siting a big water pipeline,” he said.

Weld agencies — such as cities and water districts — get some slack as long as the water is staying in the county.

The rules are gentler now than they were in the early stages, Barker said. County officials had stakeholder meetings with those agencies, and representatives let them know that although Colorado water regulations seem like they can handle a one-size-fits-all approach, they can’t.

“Major concerns in places like the Arkansas Valley don’t really apply here,” Barker said.

There aren’t the same level of power struggles over the water, so commissioners are pumping the breaks on the harsh language against moving water out of the county.

Before, the language had Greeley water officials worried.

“We’re always concerned with things that could affect us,” said Greeley Water and Sewer Director Burt Knight. “We’ve got a connection into Windsor, and Windsor extends outside of Weld County.”

They also have pipelines into other counties in case of natural disasters. The infrastructure is already in place so one can back the other up if water supplies get damaged.

“We’re OK with where they’re heading,” Knight said. “They were receptive to some of our comments.”

Indeed they were.

“There are some municipalities in Weld that get big water pipelines into the county,” Barker said. “Those are exempted.”

Greeley is exempt, but other towns trying to use Greeley’s water aren’t.

The city of Thornton started buying farms in the Eaton and Ault areas decades ago.

“Their goal was and still is to go ahead and dry those properties up,” Barker said.

It’s called buy and dry. Organizations buy farmland with water rights, go to water court and get the use changed. Then they use it for something else — such as municipal water.

Thornton’s water would come out of Weld and get pumped south to the city.

They’re gearing up to apply for the USR later this year, Barker said.

Oil and gas pipelines will see similar regulations, Barker said. But because county officials are already working on USR requirements for that industry, pipeline rules will get wrapped up in those laws.

Recently executed agreement designed to increase river health in the Upper #ColoradoRiver and Fraser River

Ike enjoying the Fraser River back in the day
Ike enjoying the Fraser River back in the day

From the Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

Grand County is that part of the snow-rich Western Slope most proximate to the farms and cities of the Front Range. It juts like a thumb eastward, the most easterly point of the Pacific drainage in North America.

As such, it became a target, early and often, of transmountain diversions. The first major diversion across the Continental Divide was completed in 1890 and the last, located at Windy Gap, where the Fraser River flows into the Colorado, in 1985. Several others, more audacious in scale, came between.

Taken together, these great engineering achievements annually draw 60 percent or more of the native flows of this headwater region eastward, over and through the Continental Divide. The water delivered to cities between Denver and Fort Collins have made them among the most vibrant in the country, and the water that flows to farms as far east as Julesberg, hundreds of miles away, among the nation’s most productive.

But this achievement has had a hidden cost that became more apparent in recent years. Combined with the frequent drought since 2000, the depletions have left the Colorado River shallow and warm as it flows through Middle Park. It is, according to environmental advocates, a river on the edge of ecological collapse, unable to support sculpin, trout, and other fish…

Now come new efforts, the most recent announced earlier this month, to bring the Colorado River and its tributaries back from this brink.

Called the Mitigation and Enhancement Coordination Plan, the agreement between Denver Water, Grand County, and Trout Unlimited proposes to govern Denver’s incremental diversions through the Continental Divide known as the Moffat firming project. However, according to the architects of the deal, it should also serve as a model in the ongoing dialogue as Colorado’s growing metropolitan areas look to squeeze out the final drops of the state’s entitlements to the Colorado River, as defined by the Colorado River compact of 1922 and other compacts.

“It is a demonstration of a new way of doing business that should be a model as Colorado talks about meeting its water gaps (between demands and supplies),” says Jim Lochhead, chief executive of Denver Water…

David Taussig, a native of Grand County and now the county’s water attorney, working from the 16th Street firm of White & Jankowski in downtown Denver, also sees the agreement as a model. “Nobody knows what (the agreements) will look like, but there are ways to develop things that benefit the Western Slope,” he says.

There are skeptics, unable to explain this strange alchemy in which a river can in any way benefit from having less water, as the agreement insists can be the case.

Among those withholding enthusiasm is Matt Rice, the Colorado coordinator for American Rivers. He points out that the agreement covers just 4 of the 32 creeks and streams trapped by Denver Water in the Fraser Valley and the adjoining Williams Fork. Too, like too many other similar programs, the data collection begins after permits are awarded, not before, which he thinks is backward.

In short, while Denver is careful to talk about “enhancements,” he thinks it falls short of addressing full, cumulative impacts.

Cumulative impacts are likely to be a focal point of federal permitting. While the Environmental Protection Agency is likely to have a voice, the vital 404 permit must come from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The parties to the new agreement have asked that their agreement be incorporated into the permit…

Under terms of this agreement, however, Denver Water is required to spend $10 million in direct costs in Grand County.

A major concern on the Fraser River is higher temperatures caused by more shallow flows, harmful or even deadly to fish. The money would go to such things as temperature-monitoring stations, to track how warm the Fraser is getting in summer months.

In places, creeks and the Fraser River will be rechanneled. A river with 75 percent of its flows diminished over a year’s cycle has less need for width. Instead, it needs a narrower course, to allow more depth and hence the colder water needed for aquatic life. Such work was already started several years ago on a segment near the Safeway store in Fraser.

A far greater financial cost to Denver specified by the agreement is the agency’s commitment to forfeit up to 2,500 acre-feet annually of the city’s added 18,700 acre-foot take…

A final environmental impact statement from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is expected in late April. The federal agency can also impose conditions of its own making. They would be included in a record-of-decision, which is expected to be issued in late 2015.

A permit from the Colorado Department of Health and Environment is also needed. Boulder County insists it also has say-so over enlargement of Gross Reservoir, an assertion contested by Denver Water.

In addition, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission must award a permit for revised hydroelectric generation at Gross.

At earliest, expansion of Gross could start in 2018 and be ready to capture spring runoff in 2022…

Mely Whiting, an attorney for Trout Unlimited, says the new deal builds on both the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement and the Windy Gap settlements. They mesh together and, downstream from Windy Gap, should have great benefit.

The weakness is that in the Fraser Valley, there is little existing baseline data. “We don’t have a very good grasp on either what we have lost or what we may lose in the future,” she says. “We know there have been declines, but don’t have nearly as much information (as below Windy Gap). So the effort will be to develop a strong baseline and get a strong understanding of what is going on up there.”

At the end of the day it is a compromise, and Whiting admits that not all environmentalists are thrilled.

“On my side of the equation, when I talk to people in the conservation community, some people want language that nails Denver to the ground, so that they have no wiggle room. They want things very predictable,” she says.

“This Learning by Doing agreement is not extremely predictable,” she added. “We have some basic parameters. There are three ways we are going to measure, to monitor to make sure the values of the streams aren’t going down.”

More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.