Coyote Gulch's Colorado Water
The health of our waters is the principal measure of how we live on the land. -- Luna Leopold

Urban Drainage and Flood Control District

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Wednesday, December 19, 2007

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Newsweek is running an article about the drought in the southeastern U.S.

Category: 2008 Presidential Election
7:09:03 PM    

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Here's some video from this week's meeting of the San Antonio, Los Pinos and Conejos River Acequia Preservation Association from SLV Dweller.

Here's a recap of this week's meeting, from The Valley Courier. From the article:

Area surface water right owners filled the Antonito Chamber of Commerce building Monday night to discuss options for protecting their water - including suing the state. The San Antonio, Los Pinos and Conejos River Acequia Preservation Association hosted the meeting which drew in excess of 60 people to hear a presentation by Tim Buchanan, Denver-area water attorney representing the association in its objection to the state engineer's approval of the San Luis Valley's first water management sub-district plan. Buchanan grew up on a farm in the Yuma area and has been involved in water law for about 25 years.

Buchanan said recently-retired State Engineer Hal Simpson and his boss Harris Sherman, director of the Department of Natural Resources, have not been listening to appeals by senior water right owners that their water be protected according to the seniority system set up in the state's constitution. He said it might be time to take more direct action such as a lawsuit against the state. Buchanan said the response he received from Hal Simpson was that he was not willing to address the problem, and Harris Sherman asked him not to file any lawsuit "because we are all going to try to work together on this." Buchanan said, "I am more than happy to work with anybody who wants to comply with the law ... but there becomes a point where talking's got to stop and action's got to occur." He added, "In my opinion we have reached enough talking. It is time for some action."

Buchanan said the current legal fight to protect the senior surface water right owners is over the sub-district's water management plan, but if injuries and depletions to senior water right users are not satisfied in that process, the next legal action may require a lawsuit. "It is very frustrating I think for a guy who owns a water right from the mid-1800's to see somebody's well running and turned on and depleting the river and you can't get water for your senior water right. It is very frustrating and in my view contrary to Colorado law," Buchanan said. He said the Colorado Supreme Court has said senior water rights are to be protected, and he has asked the state engineer to make sure the wells are not depleting the streams or have augmentation plans to replace their injuries to surface water rights, but so far the state engineer has not required that compliance from well owners...

Buchanan shared his experience in the South Platte River where 4,000 wells were out of compliance. "I had been complaining for about 15 years to the state engineer about the failure to get wells to replace depletions," he said. In 2001-2002 the wells in the South Platte basin were required to start replacing depletions or shut down, and as a result about 1,000 wells did shut down and may never operate again, Buchanan said. The other 3,000 wells started replacing depletions or cut back on pumping, he said. As a result, the river came back, Buchanan said. One of his clients had an 1895 water right and during the drought year of 2002 had hardly been able to get any water. However, as a result of the wells cutting back or shutting down, that 1895 water right holder was able to get water all season in 2006, another dry year. "It was just two to three years of getting the replacements going back to the river really enhanced the river enough that water rights that had not seen water in the past or were limited were seeing the water," Buchanan said. He said he believed the same thing would happen in the San Luis Valley if well pumping ceased or well users replaced their depletions. Buchanan said what has happened in the Valley and other river basins such as the South Platte, Arkansas and Republican River, the demands on the aquifers have been much greater than the replacements back, so the aquifers keep falling, "and it is going to continue to be a problem, and right now it is a problem and the senior water rights aren't getting their water."

More coverage from The Pueblo Chieftain. They write:

The water management plan for subdistrict No. 1 would use a combination of assessment fees and federal conservation dollars to pay groundwater users within its boundaries to retire up to 40,000 acres from production...

The attorney, who grew up on a farm near Yuma, said he would like to see how groundwater withdrawals and their associated depletions of surface streams and rivers would be replaced. Whether that replacement comes in the form of water or monetary compensation should be determined by the injured party, he said...

Surface water users on the Conejos, as well as the Rio Grande, have objected to the existing regulation of water in the valley. The state enforces the Rio Grande Compact through the curtailment of surface water users, many of whose water rights date back to the 1850s, while groundwater appropriations are not curtailed.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here.

Category: Colorado Water
7:05:03 PM    

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Enforcement of groundwater pumping rules is the subject of this article from The Denver Post. They write:

Sandy Kucharczyk had no problem getting a county permit to install a hot tub outside her ski-town home. Filling it was another story. Kucharczyk, like hundreds of other Summit County residents, had waded into a full-blown water war. She was told her well water was for indoor use only -- no car washing, no lawn sprinklers and no hot tub...

The increasing demand for a limited amount of water in the state has prompted crackdowns on illegal use by everyone from second-home owners in resort areas to ranchers on the Eastern Plains. "If you're using water outside the terms and conditions of your permit, you're literally stealing someone else's water," said Scott Hummer, a state water commissioner who issued warnings to more than 200 residents near Breckenridge this fall. That someone-else includes Denver and a string of small ranches with senior water rights. In Summit County, the illegal use of water from about 3,900 "household only" wells siphons flows from the Blue River, which supplies the ranches and runs into Denver's Dillion Reservoir. Hummer found illegal uses at about half of the 500 homes he visited in the upper Blue basin, spying new sod planted around a wellhead, ornamental ponds, mother-in-law apartments and outdoor hot tubs -- lots of outdoor hot tubs...

Water rights are valuable and marketable property under Colorado's water law, which is based on a seniority system but includes many idiosyncrasies. New wells can be drilled when homes are built, for example, even though they tap groundwater that would have percolated into rivers and been available for other users. Water from the restricted wells can be used for a potted plant on the windowsill inside a house, but not one out on the porch. It is the increasing number of these wells that has become a problem in Summit County, where they are drying the Blue River. Andy Carlberg, the manager of the Breckenridge Sanitation District, noted that some homeowners have tried to compensate by buying "augmentation" water from Summit County or a private provider. That replacement water is stored downstream in the Dillon Reservoir, so it doesn't help the upper Blue River where the flows are reduced...

Frequently, Phil Morse, a water hauler from Bailey, has become that alternative, filling hot tubs from a 1,235-gallon tank on the back of his four-wheel-drive truck. "The day after the crackdown, I got a ton of calls," the owner of Water Boy Inc. said while pumping 500 gallons into a new hot tub behind an oversized log home. Morse charges $300 for a single hot tub, less if he can avoid extra 140-mile trips by having neighbors bring him out at the same time. "When I go to Breck, I'm gone for half a day," he explained. "I think these people can afford it."

Category: Colorado Water
7:03:38 AM    

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From The Pueblo Chieftain, "The Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area will host a holiday open house from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday at the visitors' center, Sackett and G streets. Refreshments will be served and there will be a prize drawing at the end of the day for a special gift basket. Visitors can enter a raffle ticket for the drawing at any time during the day and need not be present to win. A holiday craft-making activity will run from 2 to 3 p.m. for children and adults. Call 719-539-7289 for more information."

Category: Colorado Water
6:53:50 AM    

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Last month residents of eastern Fremont County voted to join the Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District. This month the vote is headed to court, according to The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

The legality of a ballot initiative is being questioned even after voters approved inclusion of eastern Fremont County in the Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District last month. On Nov. 6, voters in the Fremont Re-1 and Re-2 school districts (encompassing the towns of Canon City, Florence and Penrose) approved inclusion in the water conservancy district with 4,680 "yes" votes to 4,274 "no" votes. On Dec. 11, objectors filed a notice of intent alleging the election was not legal. The objection was filed by Salida attorney Bill Alderton on behalf of Ivan Widom of Canon City and Mark Emmer of Salida...

The motion alleges the election was not legal because a mail-in ballot was used. Former District Court Judge John Anderson ruled in 2001 that a mail ballot could not be used under the water conservancy act. "But that ruling dealt with the election of a director, not inclusion of new lands. They are saying because of the mail ballot the election is illegal," said Terry Scanga, manager of the Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District. "The action of the Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District, in conducting the election, is void as it is without authority to conduct such an election," Alderton wrote in his notice. "This is their (objectors) last gasp and they are reaching for straws. It is absolutely incorrect," Scanga said. The objectors' motion also questions the ballot wording in terms of the fiscal impact. The question lists an estimated maximum dollar amount of tax increase for 2008 at $10,141. "The actual tax increase will be $178,954," Alderton wrote. "This is a misrepresentation is material and not trivial as it misrepresents the tax increase as being 17 times less than it actually is." "It was that low because the tax actually won't be levied until 2009," Scanga said. "What does that have to do wit it? That doesn't make sense - it's the wrong numbers," Widom said.

Objectors also found fault with the pro-and-con summaries that were mailed to each register voter prior to the election. Scanga said the summaries followed Taxpayer's Bill of Rights rules. "My con statement was 479 words in length but was edited by the designated election official - Scanga - to 274 words. That is one of the main reasons why I am contesting this - they cheated and that's not right," Widom said...

The Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District has until Friday to write a response to the notice, Scanga said. A court hearing has not been set.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here. Here's a long essay by Ed Quillen in Colorado Central Magazine written before the vote.

Category: Colorado Water
6:50:59 AM    

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Here's an update on the Animas-La Plata project from The Durango Herald. From the article:

The topping-out ceremony last month on construction of the Animas-La Plata Project dam - 39 years after Congress approved the project - served notice on agencies planning to use water from the reservoir behind the dam that there still is work to be done. In addition to the newly formed La Plata West Water Authority - created to deliver drinking water to the Dryside portion of the county - other water users in the $500 million A-LP Project must decide how they will get water. The reservoir, named Lake Nighthorse for former Colorado Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell, will be filled from Animas River water and is expected to be at capacity by 2011. The A-LP Project, a negotiated agreement on American Indian water-right claims, will benefit three Indian tribes and other water users in Colorado and New Mexico.

A-LP partners are discussing how the system will be operated, said Barry Spear, the legal counsel to the Southwestern Water Conservation District. Preliminary discussion is taking place about the formation of a Project Operations Committee, which in turn will decide who will oversee operations and management of the project and how it will be done, Spear said. "Since some partners can take water either from the Animas River or the San Juan River (in New Mexico), negotiations are taking place about how much each partner will pay," Spear said. "No decisions have been made." While the partners talk, the State Department of Natural Resources is looking at recreational opportunities. The department on Nov. 1 announced plans to raise $3 million for a state park and a boat ramp on Lake Nighthorse. The department has said it wants a solid recreational plan ready before the lake is filled.

Whatever recreational development takes place, Lake Nighthorse won't be a stagnant body of water, said Pat Page with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which oversees construction of the federally financed project. "The reservoir was designed for active use, meaning that water will enter and leave the basin," Page said. "Lake Nighthorse will be similar to Vallecito Reservoir or McPhee Reservoir in that the level of the water will fluctuate depending on who takes water and how much water comes in."[...]

One place to take water from the reservoir is at the downstream end of the dam's 1,400-foot outlet tunnel. There, one 30-inch pipe serves as an emergency-release valve to handle heavy runoff; the other is a connection from which water users can take their share of reservoir water.

Several A-LP partners own shares of the 120,000 acre-feet of water in Lake Nighthorse. They are the state of Colorado; the Southern Ute Indian Tribe and the Ute Mountain Ute Indian Tribe; the San Juan Water Commission, which serves urban areas in northern New Mexico; the La Plata Conservancy District, which supplies water to rural neighborhoods in northern New Mexico; the Navajo Nation in New Mexico, which will divert its A-LP water from the San Juan River near Farmington and transport it via a pipeline to Shiprock about 30 miles away; the city of Durango and La Plata West Water Authority, which have contracted for the water allocation belonging to the Colorado Water Resources and Power Development Authority and the Animas-La Plata Water Conservancy District.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here.

Category: Colorado Water
6:36:04 AM    

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Durango is moving the outfall for their treatment plant further downstream on the Animas to help with water quality in the soon to fill Lake Nighthorse according to The Durango Herald. From the article:

In a no-discussion action, Durango city councilors took the first step in early December to redirect the outflow of the city's sewage-treatment plant into the Animas River farther downstream. Although the discharge from the plant has been treated to remove contaminants, city officials want to make sure the water being sucked into a new reservoir southwest of Durango stays clean. Starting in 2011, the reservoir will store drinking water for American Indian tribes and other water users in Colorado - including Durango - and New Mexico. "A water-quality study recommended that the sewage-discharge line be relocated downstream to keep total phosphate levels in the reservoir down," according to Barry Longwell, deputy construction engineer on the Animas-La Plata Project of which the reservoir is part. "Phosphate is a nutrient, and a high nutrient load results in algae growth."

The reservoir at Ridges Basin has a capacity of 120,000 acre-feet of water. Filling is scheduled to begin in 2009 and take two years to complete. As a result of the council vote earlier this month, the city will ask the Bureau of Reclamation for $1 million to reroute the sewage plant outfall so that treated waste enters the Animas River at the Santa Rita bridge - about a half-mile south of the Ridges Basin reservoir intake on the Animas. At present, the sewage-treatment plant discharges treated waste into the Animas just to the north of the Ridges Basin pumping station. Under an agreement with the city, the Bureau of Reclamation, which is building the A-LP, will pay 100 percent of the cost of construction and construction administration of the new sewage pipeline. The city will own and operate the outfall, which will be on city property...

Durango is scheduled to receive 1,900 acre-feet of A-LP water to meet growth well into the future. In the short term, water would be pumped directly from the Animas to the city's treatment plant on College Mesa as it is now. Later, water stored in the reservoir would be transported by a gravity-fed pipeline to a new treatment plant above Animas Air Park off La Posta Road. Rogers said probably fewer than 5 acres would be needed for a new treatment plant. The city would have to purchase the land, Rogers said. "It makes sense to have two water-treatment plants," Rogers said. "You don't have all your eggs in one basket." The city's water-treatment plant on College Mesa treats about 1.5 billion gallons of water annually as well as supplying 200 million gallons of water a year for raw-water irrigation. The plant has the capacity to treat 14 million gallons of water a day for drinking. Peak demand for potable water in 2006 was 8.5 million gallons a day. In a report last year, the city said it gets most of its water for 18,500 residents of the city and nearby unincorporated areas from the Florida River. The Animas River supplements the supply in the summer. But in the future, the city will need more water from the Animas because the amount of water available from the Florida is limited.

Category: Colorado Water
6:28:33 AM    

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Here's an article about the Guidelines for the operation of Lake Powell and Lake Mead [pdf] signed last week by Dirk Kempthorne from The Ouray News. From the article:

On Dec. 13 at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas, without the filing of a single lawsuit, seven southwestern states signed a sweeping agreement to update the 85-year-old Colorado River Compact to reflect new demands and lower water levels. Since the Town of Ridgway (and the City of Ouray) are top-feeders on a waterway that starts in on our mountain peaks and ends in the Gulf of Mexico, we don't much get involved in downstream water politics. But perhaps we should, given this new-day, climate change affected environment in which we live. Last week's agreement was truly significant, the most important changes since the first compact was drafted in 1922. And the manner in which it came about -- no real winners or losers, but a cooperative regional effort to solve problems -- was as surprising as it was refreshing...

Here at the headwaters of the San Juans, water has been historically plentiful and cheap, though those days are evolving into ones where a conservation mindset prevails. (Ironically, the town has a water treatment plant expansion coming on line, meaning that the frequent lawn watering restrictions imposed during dry months in recent years could be unnecessary going forward.) So from our perch atop this grand water system (and it was in the drafting of the 1922 pact that the Grand River was changed in name to Colorado), we can take the Interior secretary's advice and celebrate a collective and smart way to handle today's water conditions.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here.

Category: Colorado Water
6:11:54 AM    

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The omnibus funding bill passed by the U.S. Senate on Monday night includes funding for studying the Arkansas Valley Conduit and completing the Fountain Creek Watershed Plan, according to The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

Funds for two area water projects are included in the omnibus bill now moving toward the White House after passage Tuesday by the U.S. Senate. The bill would provide $600,000 for continued planning of the Arkansas Valley Conduit and $149,000 to complete the Fountain Creek Watershed Plan, according to U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Colo...

The $600,000 [for the conduit] would come through the State and Tribal Assistance Grant program of the Environmental Protection Agency and would be used to develop preliminary plans for the conduit...

The Fountain Creek funding of $149,000 would come through the Army Corps of Engineers and would be used to evaluate several projects on Fountain Creek designed to mitigate the effects of flooding, erosion and sedimentation. The most significant to Pueblo would be a project to dredge Fountain Creek and remove vegetation, as well as a cursory study of a dam north of Pueblo to curtail stormwater.

More coverage here and here.

Category: Colorado Water
6:01:32 AM    

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Here's a an explanation of snow water equivalent and a cool graph [pdf] of the snow water equivalent for Vail Mountain, from The Vail Daily. They write:

Snow Water Equivalent (SWE) is a common snowpack measurement. It is the amount of water contained within the snowpack. It can be thought of as the depth of water that would theoretically result if you melted the entire snowpack instaneously. For example, say there is a swimming pool that is filled with 36 inches of new powdery snow at 10% snow water density. If you could turn all the snow into water magically, you would be left with a pool of water 3.6 inches deep. In this case, the SWE of your snowpack would equal 36" x 0.10 = 3.6 inches.

The NRCS measures SWE at many remote SNOTEL sites and uses the data for stream flow forecasting. However, many scientists and recreationists are interested in snow depth instead of SWE. The relationship between the two values is explained here. To determine snow depth from SWE you need to know the density of the snow. The density of new snow ranges from about 5% when the air temperature is 14° F, to about 20% when the temperature is 32° F. After the snow falls its density increases due to gravitational settling, wind packing, melting and recrystallization.

Category: Colorado Water
5:48:29 AM    

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