2006 was an interesting year for water watchers. Colorado's water supplies are looking pretty good at the end of 2006. The eastern plains got clobbered with storms towards the end of December. Earlier in the year, after starting out OK, the snowpack evaporated early all over the state. Farmers watched crops wither and many didn't plant due to the ongoing drought. The hopes of a few diehard rafters, thinking that they'd get a chance at the Snaggletooth rapid, during high water, were dashed when the River of Sorrows lived up to it's name. We mourned the passing of Luna B. Leopold. CSU put Delph Carter's papers online.
Along towards the end of June the North American Monsoon started, early. By October many mountain reservoirs had recharged sufficiently. There was still a lack of moisture on the eastern plains but overall things got much better. Water nuts all over the state celebrated the return of El Niño hoping that the warm water in the Pacific Ocean would be the harbinger of a wet winter.
State Water Engineer, Hal Simpson, shut down 400 or so wells in the South Platte River Basin due to a lack of permanent augmentation water from the well operators. Farmers were given time to obtain water but many could not. They were then caught short, some with crops in the ground, after the disappointing spring runoff.
2006 was the 30th anniversary of the Big Thompson Flood. Aaron Million announced his plan to build a pipeline from Flaming Gorge Reservoir to the eastern plains. Purecycle Corporation purchased water on the Fort Lyons canal with hopes to pipe it east of Aurora for the development of the old Lowry Bombing Range. A federal judge set aside an agreement between the Feds and Colorado over stream flows in the Black Canyon of the Gunnison.
Gale Norton resigned as head of the Department of Interior and paved the way (or oiled the gears) for Dirk Kempthorne to take over.
Conservation, leading to lower consumption, caused funding problems for water utilities across the state. Development was halted east of Colorado Springs because the Cherokee Metropolitan District was told to stop moving water out of Black Squirrel Basin for it's customers.
2006 was an election year in Colorado and Governor-elect Bill Ritter managed to hang 2003's failed Referendum A around Bob Beauprez's neck. Beauprez failed to rally the faithful on the rainy side of the state partially due to telling them that, "We cannot conserve our way entirely out of this problem." That was the wrong answer from Craig through Montrose, down to Cortez and all the way back east to La Junta.
Aurora moved along with their Prairie Waters Project, hoping to recapture out of basin water and reuse it to extinction. The Animas La-Plata project moved towards completion. Other projects drew the ire of conservationists and environmentalists. The Elkhead reservoir expansion was completed.
Fountain Creek was in the news throughout the year. It's polluted and too much silt is flowing into the Arkansas but despite the problems some want to make it a gem for recreation.
The Recreation In Channel Diversion for Chaffee County was approved. Durango applied for water rights for their water park while Palisade and Glenwood Springs hoped to build new parks.
There were many scientific (and not so scientific) projects to ponder. CloudSat and CALIPSO took off into orbit to help map storms and help predict rainfall. Wyoming hoped to settle once and for all whether or not cloud-seeding works. Las Vegas, Los Angeles and San Diego supported cloud-seeding efforts in Colorado with money.
Scientists investigating climate change put out some dire predictions about future snowpack. The use of hail cannons kindled a bit of conflict and controversy. In May we celebrated America Wetlands Month.
Some hoped that they could get the Colorado Water Quality Control Division to regulate water from oil and gas operations. The Colorado Supreme Court paved the way for limited regulation of oil and gas development by local governments. Palisade and Grand Junction lost their bid to keep oil and gas out of their watershed. Colorado's State Geologist floated the idea that now may be the time to exploit Colorado's abundant geothermal energy.
A couple of authors got together and published a collection of articles and stories about the Cache la Poudre River. They are trying to raise awareness and keep the river wild.
The Pueblo Chieftain was a top source for water information in 2006. In January they ran a series on Colorado water issues. Here's the Coyote Gulch coverage of Part I and II, Part III and Part IV.
Wildlife garnered support from various sources. In December everyone necessary finally signed off on the Platte River Cooperative Agreement. Denver Water stepped up with water releases for the upper Colorado River to help protect the fishery late in the summer.
In October Coyote Gulch hit the big time. We were featured in the High Country News.
To their credit Denver Water continued to push conservation. After several years of drought water consumers were in conservation mode. Aurora, Morrison and Thornton had the sense to impose watering restrictions. Folks in Fort Collins kept arguing for conservation over building more storage. Farmers learned that more efficient watering methods can actually hurt water quality and reduce stream flows. Towards the end of the year Boulder introduced customer water budgets.
Storage and Supply
One of the best sources for sustainable water is runoff from the snowpack. As in every year since the ancestral puebloans roamed southwest Colorado, securing water rights, along with building and expanding storage was at the top of many lists. Big plans for new storage were discussed up in northern Colorado including Chimney Hollow Reservoir and Glade Reservoir along with an expansion of Halligan-Seaman Reservoir. Proponents of the proposed Genesee Dam introduced a plan for visual mitigation. Colorado Springs tried to move on Jimmy Camp Reservoir while Pueblo looked at expanding Clear Creek Reservoir. Colorado's U.S. Senators hoped to transfer control over some of the Big Thompson project to local management.
Late in the year the Million Project Pipeline was on everyone's radar. At the end of the year the project was moving full steam ahead.
Ag water continues to be targeted by municipalities, including Aurora's continual quest for long-term exchange deals. The Southeast Water Conservancy Board is watching them closely. There is also pressure on agriculture to provide augmentation water. In January we learned about the high cost the City of Lafayette has incurred buying ag water. Parker's arrangements up in Logan County were in the news.
HB06-1124 was an attempt to ease water law so that farmers could enter into leasing agreements with water utilities without giving up their water permanently.
Congressman John Salazar set the tone of the debate over transmountain diversions saying, "They take good water and then let crap down the river." As usual, the Gunnison River was at the top of the list for transmountain water for the unbridled growth on the Front Range. Union Park Reservoir surfaced briefly. The venerable Grand Ditch was in the news both for failing and for being a sticking point in wilderness protection for Rocky Mountain National Park. Late in the year the Northern Water Conservancy presented a study on the feasibility of moving water from the Yampa River to the Front Range. We're calling it Big Straw North. Earlier in 2006 the second largest water transaction in the history of Northern Colorado history was consumated with the Tunnel Water Transfer.
The Elkhead Reservoir expansion project was completed. Colorado Springs reminded the Upper Arkansas Valley that the city may still be interested in buiding the Elephant Rock Dam. The Upper Ark District looked at the feasibility of expanding Boss Lake. Over near Grand Junction a new reservoir was proposed. It was to be named Grand Valley Lake before being shot down towards the end of the summer. A study of Cherry Creek dam raised fears that it may fail.
The Animas La-Plata project marched steadily towards completion in 2010, reaching the halfway point in July . The contract for the Ridges Basin inlet conduit was awarded in December. The conduit will carry water to Lake Nighthorse from the Animas River. The big project is said by some to be the last of the large-scale water projects for the west.
The legislature looked at increasing underground storage with SB 06-193. The bill directs the Colorado Water Conservation Board to study the feasibility of underground storage in the Arkansas and South Platte river basins. Governor Owens signed SB 06-179 setting the stage for funds for small communities to pay for studies required before new water projects can be built.
Breckenridge proposed to fight gravity with the Blue River Pumpback. Part of the holdup was over the county's 1041 authority.
The East Cherry Creek Valley Water District brought a new pipeline online for their customers southeast of Denver. South Metro water district officials checked their guns at the door and attempted to solve their impending water supply crisis. Rueter-Hess reservoir kept morphing towards Super-Rueter. Castle Rock drafted a new water plan.
Up North H2Oil? was treating water from oil and gas wells for use in agriculture.
The Eagle River Water and Sanitation District is in court trying to prove that Denver should relinquish water rights that the city has not developed.
The lower Arkansas valley was very active in 2006. Three items include the formation of a Super Ditch and the Arkansas Valley Conduit. Another plan floated on the Lower Arkansas River hoped to use water from John Martin Reservoir for an interruptible supply to serve cities in dry years.
The Arkansas Valley Conduit is being planned to supply tap water to several southeastern Colorado communities that are currently suffering from the low water quality and declining supplies in the lower Arkansas River basin. The project, originally part of the Fryingpan-Arkansas project, has never been built because of the difficulties in financing and the desire of some to tie it's funding to the Preferred Options Storage Plan. Money started flowing towards the project in 2006.
There was much talk around the Preferred Options Storage Plan in 2006. In May the Lower Arkansas Water Conservancy District was still undecided about the plan as proposed legislation languished and water districts and utilities fought. Since the PSOP involves Fryingpan-Arkansas water the rainy side of Colorado also wants a voice further mucking up the prospects of the stalled project. Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District president John Singletary made it clear that they were developing strategies that would not allow Arkansas Valley water out of the basin.
Another project in the Arkansas basin, causing much rancor, is Colorado Springs' proposed Southern Delivery System. Consultant (working for Pueblo) Ray Petros' plan for Fountain Creek would have used effluent to augment Colorado Springs supplies and would have obviated the need for SDS. At the end of the year a new option was added to the SDS Environmental Impact statement, that is the no action alternative.
Some in Southeastern Colorado said that Pure Cycle's purchase of Fort Lyons Canal water was a water grab. The company promised a slow careful approach before building any pipeline, including taking water close to the Kansas border, where it's much more polluted.
The Colorado River Conservation District hoped to buy some Fryingpan-Arkansas project water to help them meet future demand. A secondary benefit would be increased stream flow in winter downstream from Ruedi Reservoir.
Most Coloradoans have forgotten the serious drought that the state faced through most of 2006. Water watchers and farmers haven't, to their credit. Some even started wondering if a return to the dust bowl days of the 1930s was imminent. The snowpack looked pretty good until it disappeared during a warm and dry late spring. Most of the snowpack was gone by the middle of June. Huerfano County issued a drought emergency. By July 59 of Colorado's 64 counties had been designated federal disaster areas. Many reservoirs did not fill from the weak runoff. John Martin reservoir, down in the southeastern corner of Colorado, was pretty much dry come July. The South Platte River Valley was especially hard hit by the drought and the depletion of moisture in the subsoil. Aurora kept up the pressure on the Arkansas River Basin looking for short-term leases for 2007.
In May farmers along the South Platte River received a shock from the State Engineer. 400 wells in the alluvial aquifer were shut down pursuant to a 2003 law that required them to provide permanent augmentation water before pumping. Governor Owens hoped to help with a disaster declaration. The Northern Water Conservancy, Aurora and Fort Collins pledged some transmountain, Wind Gap water to the farmers. That water was of no help when the effected farmers could not get a deal in court with Boulder, Centennial and Sterling, despite taking it to the Colorado Supreme Court. Millions of dollars of crops withered and died. Water attorney, Veronica Sperling, drew accolades and criticism for her role in defending Centnnial and Boulder in the shutdown. Water spies found farmers irrigating despite the shutdown order leading to some farmers being fined. Farmers around the state wondered if they'd be next.
We all received a glimpse of the future of development in Colorado early in the year when the Cherokee Municipal Water District was ordered to stop pumping water out of the Black Squirrel Basin, except in emergencies. Judge Maes' order had ramifications for developments across the state. Developers better have a sustainable water supply lined up long before construction starts. By the end of the year Cherokee had told customers that there could be no lawn watering. The Colorado Supreme Court took up the case in September and upheld Judge Maes' ruling. The Upper Black Squirrel Creek Management District felt like they had dodged a bullet.
Because of the drought conditions across Southwestern U.S. Lake Powell and Lake Mead didn't come close to filling and many were worried that there would be a call on the river from the Lower Basin states. Backpacker magazine floated the idea of a Glen Canyon Nation Park and the draining of Lake Powell. Following a study of tree ring data we learned that the Colorado River Basin has experienced many prolonged droughts over the years. At the end of the summer stream flow above the Blue River on the Colorado River was dangerously low.
It was not all gloom and doom though. Dillon reservoir (operated by Denver Water) filled and spilled for the second year in a row and other Summit County reservoirs benefitted from the rainy summer. Denver Water also entered into an agreement with Xcel that will allow the water utility to fill reservoirs upstream of the electrical utility's Shoshone power plant, with Xcel water, during drought years. The Colorado River basin in the state was not part of the general drought conditions in some of the other basins. The Colorado River Compact states sent the Department of Interior a plan to share the river during drought. Arkansas River flows surprised water managers expecting them to drop off quickly. Towards the end of the year reservoirs were filling nicely across the state and snowpack was off to a good start for 2007.
North American Monsoon
The early start to 2006's North American Monsoon, coupled with a very wet season brought some relief to Colorado, along with a good deal of flooding and management headaches. Many bans on open fires were lifted in July. One farmer in southeastern Colorado, talking about the rain's effect on his vegetable crop, remarked, "It just perks them up."
Colorado is well known as a whitewater sports mecca. The Upper Arkansas Valley has leveraged the river's potential and now water sports are a booming segment of the economy. New whitewater parks are being planned across the state including Palisasde, Glenwood Springs and Fort Collins. Glenwood Springs hopes to feature a wave maker in their park. Palisade is hoping to piggyback on a fish ladder project for cost sharing. Chaffee County received a Recreation In Channel Diversion right during the year. Pueblo applied for an RICD. Durango's application for an RICD encouraged the Southwestern Water Conservancy District and La Plata County to apply for water on the Animas, for protection of upstream interests. Pagosa Springs hoped to expand their park.
State Senator Jim Isgar introduced SB06-37 in 2006. The bill sought to limit the amount of water that entities could apply for in a Recreation In Channel Diversion for whitewater parks. Governor Owens signed the bill in May.
During 2006 several scientists sought to raise awareness about effluent dominated streams. Boulder Creek was highlighted and the city of Boulder recommended that water utility customers avoid dumping old prescriptions in the sanitary sewer system. Early in the year scientists and others met up in Billings to discuss what was the cause in an upswing of Didymo alga.
The water in most Colorado streams, and certainly all of the major streams, is over-appropriated. The South Platte poses many problems for water managers including re-charging the aquifer. The Ogalla Aquifer was in the news as the fastest disappearing aquifer in the world.
President Eisenhower used to love to fish the Fraser river. In 2006 that experience was under pressure from the diversions and drought. Water temperatures and low flow were behind the move by the Evergreen Trout Unlimited and others asked the EPA to list Bear Creek as impaired. Mercury levels in several Southwestern Colorado reservoirs made the news last summer as did two lakes in Denver. The San Miguel River received Cs and C+s on its ecological health report card. Colorado State University and farmers down on the Arkansas River got together to study the river with an eye towards improving water quality. In October the Roaring Fork Conservancy rated the Roaring Fork's overall quality as high. They were worried about some of it's tributaries. The Eagle River is a success story in many ways but this fall Eagle County floated the idea of requiring that augmentation water for the Eagle be replaced in the Eagle.
Water quality was on the agenda in the legislature. HB 06-1352 would have empowered water court judges to include water quality in their decsions regarding water transfers. The bill died in May.
In May Colorado Springs was hoping to get U.S. District Judge Walker Miller to drop the Fountain Creek lawsuit brought by Pueblo and the Sierra Club. Later that month the Springs tried to show that Pueblo didn't have the legal right to sue. At the end of the year there had been very little movement in the courts and it looked link the lawsuit would end up with a trial. Colorado provided some dough for a study of DNA in E. coli in the creek. A plan was floated from Ray Petros that would combine flood control, recreation and water reuse on Fountain Creek. The plan included a new dam that was shot down by the Bureau of Reclamation in August. Colorado Springs came up with a plan to divert all of the water in the creek if there was a spill. The Sierra club mobilized volunteers to monitor the creek dubbed Water Sentinels. Officials tried to gauge the future problems that unbridled growth in Colorado Springs and environs might cause.
Horsetooth reservoir made the EPA's 303d list. Fossil Creek was named one of the state's dirtiest streams. The Big Thompson was named imperiled.
Colorado Springs spent part of the year in fits and starts over their new stormwater utility. Fees were set and approved in November.
Stream flow and Wildlife
Stream flow in the Black Canyon of the Gunnison was at the heart of one of the most interesting stories of the year as Trout Unlimited and other groups filed a lawsuit against the National Park Service. Judge Clarence Brimmer's ruling, throwing out the deal between Colorado and the National Park Service, was closely watched all over the state. Some called it the largest water rights case in the history of Colorado. The story touches on transmountain diversions, protection of endangered species, management of a fishery (albeit with mostly non-native species), backroom deals between government agencies, local water interests and criticism of the National Park Service.
In Nebraska, the North and South Platte rivers come together. Demands on the Platte have created problems for four endangered species, whooping cranes, piping plover, least tern and pallid sturgeon. During 2006 a new agreement was reached to protect the endangered species. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service signed on in June, Nebraska approved it in November, Colorado followed suit and Wyoming signed off at the end of the month. The Department of Interior finalized the agreement with their approval in December and whooping cranes were seen dancing in the streets.
The Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District was instrumental in getting a conservation easement on Trout Creek. The easement was the first for the district. In September the Upper South Platte and the Center of Colorado Water Conservancy Districts bought 30 acre feet of water rights for augmentation.
The Colorado Water Conservation Board started the ball rolling for a in-stream right for the Arkansas to help with habitat.
Water managers in the Upper Colorado River Basin turned the valves to enhance the spring snowmelt peak and provide habitat for the native fish such as the Colorado Pikeminnow. The Colorado Division of Wildlife hoped to resolve the problem of non-native species along with the U.S. Department of Wildlife. In September a court overturned the Bush administration's decision to not seek endangered species protection for the Colorado River Cutthroat Trout. The Roan Plateau, in the news due to oil and gas leases, is home to a genetically pure strain of cutthroats and a successful program to protect them. In December, New Mexico, Colorado, four tribes and the Interior Department extended a program to recover endangered fish in the San Juan River
Legislation in 2005 set up Water Roundtables for each major river basin in Colorado. During 2006 the members started working on issues after the state ponied up $40 million. Governor Owens appointed several members of the Interbasin Compact Committee in January. The first meeting was held in February. Towards the end of the year American Whitewater put out a call for paddlers to join Roundtables to represent the interests of kayakers and rafters. The Colorado River Roundtable declined the opportunity to partner with the people trying to build a whitewater park in Palisade since the project wouldn't generate any wet water. HB06-1400, signed by Governor Owens in May, set up the state's first charter for interbasin water compacts.
A Bureau of Reclamation employee sent a shock wave through the Gunnision Roundtable when he suggested that the Endangered Species Act could trump Colorado water law.
Local Regulation of Watersheds
One interesting trend, that gained some visibility 2006, were moves by local governments to regulate their watersheds. Counties and municipalities looked at controlling the storage of chemicals and the regulation of oil and gas activities. Grand Junction tried a strategy of bidding against oil companies for leases in their watersheds.
Tamarisk and other invasive species
Colorado stepped up the pace of the fight against Tamarisk during 2006. West of Grand Junction the BLM and the Palisade Insectary, operated by the Colorado Department of Agriculture, released Tamarisk beetles to help with control. The invasive plant was removed at John Martin Reservoir while several organizations along the Arkansas River hoped to coordinate efforts for effectiveness. In the fall federal legislation was winding it's way through Congress. President Bush signed the bill in October. In November we heard about success on the San Miguel River. NASA stepped up with satellite imagery for tracking invasive plant species.
Big Thompson Flood 30th Anniversary
2006 was the 30th anniversary of the Big Thompson Flood. There were many stories of the community and bravery around the tragedy. Coyote Gulch remembers the storms across Northern Colorado that day. We had been fighting the rains for an entire week up in the Flat Tops Wilderness. The night of the flood we were holed up in Steamboat.
Predicting the Weather and Climate Change
Weather prediction got a boost when CloudSAT and CALIPSO were launched in April, as was COSMIC. It wasn't long before scientists were able to start analyzing the images.
Is there enough science around climate change to predict the future? Some warn that there is and that water dependent businesses in the state should be making plans now to deal with supply variability that is different from historical experience. Up in Craig they're teaching water management in the schools. Good idea.
Thanks for another great year
Coyote Gulch sends out a heartfelt thanks to all of the readers and commenters. We also want to thank the movers and shakers behind water issues in Colorado. You keep it interesting.
We apologize for the links that have gone dead. News organizations are in trouble here in the first part of the 21st century. Some require registration for the online services, some expire links in favor of selling copies of articles at a later date. They're all looking to bolster revenue from declining classified advertising and ad revenue in general. They do a great job reporting on water issues across the state and getting at the heart of the problems and opportunites. Why not resolve to help them out in some way in 2007? Without the various news sources there would not be a Coyote Gulch in it's present form.
Here's the link to Coyote Gulch's 2005 Colorado Water Year in Review.