Colorado Water
Dazed and confused coverage of water issues in Colorado

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Wednesday, June 6, 2007

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Surfette: "Today, Elisa, Jory and I announced a very important initiative at BlogHer: BlogHers Act.

"BlogHers Act is an opportunity for the BlogHer community to have a collective impact on a global scale. We're going to pick a single issue, organize a year-long campaign, and blog a difference."

The annual BlogHer get together bash is July 27-29 this year.

Coyote Gulch recommends working for sustainable clean drinking water supplies for the world.

8:35:58 PM    

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Here's a report about this week's conference of the Groundwater Management Districts Association in Estes Park, from the Greeley Tribune (free registration required). From the article:

About 125 water users from Colorado as well as Mississippi, Texas, New Mexico, Nebraska, Kansas, Wyoming and Idaho registered for the three-day conference, which concludes today. Monday's sessions concentrated on irrigation well shutdowns or curtailment of irrigation wells in Nebraska, New Mexico, Wyoming, Idaho and Colorado, which also included an overview of problems in other western states by Melinda Kassen, Western Water Project director for Trout Unlimited.

Kassen said ground water in the 1950s was seen as a new source of water, but only recently have Western states come to the realization that ground and surface water are connected and that pumping of wells has an effect on river flows. In Colorado, only 22 percent of the state's population depends on ground water for domestic needs, but in New Mexico, 90 percent of the population depends on that source while 96 percent of Idaho's residents use ground water. That, combined with a drought that signaled the start of the 21st century, has led to the shutdown of wells, such as those along the South Platte River last year.

Category: Colorado Water

7:47:01 AM    

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The Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District's proposed Glade Reservoir is the subject of this in-depth look from the first in a series from the Fort Collins Weekly. From the article:

...a plan by the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District -- called NISP, for Northern Integrated Supply Project -- to build a new reservoir north of Fort Collins capable of holding up to 44,000 acre feet of water to be drawn from the Poudre has created deep divisions. The NCWCD says the proposed Glade Reservoir -- in conjunction with another new reservoir to be located east of Greeley -- is critical to meeting the short-term water needs of 16 communities that are partnered in the project. It's opponents, however, say that the proposal would dry up the Poudre and, in the words of one City Council member, "kill" it.

Other than agreeing that Glade Reservoir will negatively impact water flows in the Poudre River as it passes through Fort Collins, those on either side of this debate accede little else. Opponents reject the very basis of the plan, that it's needed to meet future water needs for participating cities and water districts. They argue that strict conservation measures, especially for agricultural users, could save enough water to make new reservoirs unnecessary...

Despite the arguments against the proposal, it will move one large step toward becoming a reality if the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers gives it the green light. The Corps is currently conducting an environmental impact study of the plan that was expected to be released last year -- Brian Werner, an NCWCD spokesman, says he now expects the EIS to be completed some time this fall. And he says it won't be a moment too soon, if only to help make the district's point that not only is the project necessary, but that its negative impacts on the Poudre won't be nearly as dire as its critics predict...

Even if those opposed remain unconvinced by the report's findings, the fate of the Poudre's water has already been decided in large measure as long ago as 1980. That's the year the NCWCD was granted a conditional right to 220,000 acre feet of storage. In water-rights lingo, a "conditional right" allows a water user to make a claim on water that it believes it will need in the future even if it's not using it at the date the claim was made -- NCWCD staked its claim in response to the city of Thornton's aggressive push to secure water decades ago as it bought up ranches and farms in Northern Colorado. "They weren't buying them because they liked to farm, they were buying them for the water rights," Werner says. "We looked at the Poudre; it's the only river that drains into the Front Range that most years has unused water, so we said, let's file on these water rights. Our Poudre rights are ahead of them on the priority scale. It put us in front of Thornton."[...]

But conditional rights require an application every six years to show the water court that a proposal to use the water is in the works, a process called due diligence. The first plan NCWCD crafted, the Poudre Project, was met with fiery condemnation. It proposed a dam on the Poudre a short distance up the canyon, and the project was unveiled at a community meeting at Poudre Park that Werner recalls vividly. "I wasn't sure we were going to get out of there alive," he says. Since then, the NISP project evolved and was approved by the water court. Although objections to the plan are being raised loudly now, the time to challenge the project in water court was during the last six-year due diligence application, which was in 2002.

Fort Collins has a water right that promises minimum instream flow rates at certain points along the river, but the right is junior to many others, including NCWCD's conditional right. What that means is that those minimum rates aren't possible when senior rights holders call for water upstream of the city -- and that's the reason, Werner argues, the Poudre is often dry.

What concerns opponents, who have formed a group called the Save the Poudre Coalition, is that the rights to be used to fill Glade Reservoir will take water out during critical peak flows, threatening wildlife habitat and wetlands ecosystems. Werner says that if NISP is approved by the Corp, as a condition of the permit, no water will be drawn out of the river if Fort Collins minimum stream flows are not being met, even though Fort Collins' rights are junior to what will be utilized by NISP. "Their claim is that this project is going to dry up the river, but any time those minimum stream flows are not being met, we won't divert water," he say. "We will not be responsible for drying the river up, those are water rights that go back to the early 1900s that have been drying up the river for a century." Gary Wockner, one of the main opponents of the NISP plan, doesn't necessarily disagree, but he argues that taking water out of the Poudre during peak flow years will be detrimental to the river's ecology -- saying that NISP won't dry up the river, he says, "is kind of an irrelevant claim because most of those dry ups don't occur during peak flow periods. The detail they're not really discussing is the water they're proposing to take out is mostly peak flow water that occurs during the melting season." He agrees that "senior water holders can and do sweep that river," and adds that "this is one more threat. Peak flows are one of the main components that keep a river ecologically healthy because they recycle nutrients, they move sediment around, they create sandbars, they create habitat." He also agrees that challenging the plan in court isn't likely, but will take his opposition up through the EIS process, which -- once it's released -- has a mandatory public comment period...

More Coyote Gulch coverage here.

Category: Colorado Water

7:35:08 AM    

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The Greenland Ice Cap is melting faster than predicted. Here's a look at the issue from Reuters. They write:

A new island in East Greenland is a clear sign of how the place is changing. It was dubbed Warming Island by American explorer Dennis Schmitt when he discovered in 2005 that it had emerged from under the retreating ice. If the ice cap melted entirely, oceans would rise by 7 metres (23 feet), flooding New York and London, and drowning island nations like the Maldives...

Greenland, the world's largest island, is mostly covered by an ice cap of about 2.6 million cubic km (624,000 cubic miles) that accounts for a 10th of all the fresh water in the world. Over the last 30 years, its melt zone has expanded by 30 percent, and now the cap loses 100 to 150 cubic km of ice every year -- more than all the ice in the Alps...

In the past 15 years, winter temperatures have risen about 5 degrees Celsius (9 Fahrenheit) on the cap, while spring and autumn temperatures increased about 3 degrees Celsius (5 Fahrenheit). Summer temperatures are unchanged...

The more the surface melts, the faster the ice sheet moves towards the ocean. The glacier Swiss Camp rests on has doubled its speed to about 15 km (9 miles) a year in the last 12 years, just as its tongue retreated 10 km into the fjord...

If you're a fisherman in Greenland, however, global warming is doing wonders for your business. Warmer waters entice seawolf and cod to swim farther north in the Atlantic into Greenlandic nets. In this Disko Bay town, the world's iceberg capital, the harbour is now open year-round because winter is no longer cold enough to freeze it solid. Warmer weather also boosts tourism, a source of big development hopes for the 56,000 mostly Inuit inhabitants of Greenland, which is a self-governing territory of Denmark. Hoping to lure American visitors, Air Greenland launched a direct flight from Baltimore last month, and there is even talk of "global warming tourism" to see Warming Island. One commentator, noting the carbon dioxide emissions such travel would create, has called that "eco-suicide tourism".

Category: 2008 Presidential Election

7:10:32 AM    

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The Pueblo Chieftain was on the road in Colorado Springs last night, in an attempt to educate residents there about concerns with the the Springs' proposed Southern Delivery System. The Colorado Springs Gazette was on hand for the meeting. From the article:

Pueblo officials came to Colorado Springs on Tuesday night to explain their beefs with the city's water pipeline project, but their criticism mostly fell on deaf ears. "I think it's a snow job," said Dan Henrichs, superintendent of the Highline Canal Co., which handles water in the Avondale area downstream from Pueblo. "I don't know that it's accomplishing anything." The meeting at Colorado College drew roughly 150 people, about half of whom were Colorado Springs Utilities employees, according to a Colorado Springs official. Colorado Springs Mayor Lionel Rivera and Utilities CEO Jerry Forte sat in the front row...

The forum -- featuring five Puebloans and Richard Skorman, Sen. Ken Salazar's aide -- was sponsored by The Pueblo Chieftain, a vocal and acerbic opponent of Utilities' Southern Delivery System. Jane Rawlins, daughter of Chieftain publisher Bob Rawlins, said the aim was to help Colorado Springs see the issue from Pueblo's point of view...

Pueblo County Commissioner Jeff Chostner accused Colorado Springs of "rapacious" growth during which it "lost its soul." Pueblo, he said, bears the brunt of El Paso County's growth as more effluent -- and at times untreated sewage in cases of spills -- flows down the creek. He proposed a regional water authority be created to clean up the creek and turn it into a linear park for fishing, cycling and wildlife habitat...

Ray Petros, a Denver water attorney hired by Pueblo County, said the problem results from the city importing 85 percent of its supply from the Western Slope and returning it into a stream that can't handle such volumes. The relationship between Pueblo and Colorado Springs is important, because Pueblo County commissioners may determine under what conditions the pipeline can be built. Colorado Springs has challenged Pueblo County's authority to do that in a lawsuit, which is pending. The Bureau of Reclamation is reviewing the project and will rule on the pipeline's path in 2008.

Category: Colorado Water

6:49:07 AM    

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From today's Denver Post: "The Colorado Division of Wildlife has acquired 1 1/2 miles of the upper Arkansas River in perpetual easement, the first such project funded by the Colorado Habitat Stamp. Known as the Hardeman Property, the easement spans both sides of the river just upstream from the Granite State Wildlife Area, roughly midway between Leadville and Buena Vista. It previously had been open to public access through a short-term lease. Just downstream from the confluence with dam-controlled Clear Creek, this stretch of the Arkansas typically remains ice-free throughout the winter."

More coverage from the Mountain Mail. They write:

One and a half miles along the Arkansas River in Lake County is the first project in the state paid for with money from Colorado Habitat Stamp sales. Known as the Hardeman Property, it extends north from the Chaffee County line. Bruce McCloskey, Colorado Division of Wildlife director announced the acquisition Monday. McCloskey said the easement extends along both sides of the Arkansas north of the Granite State Wildlife Area...

Cost of the easement was $99,000 of which stamp sale proceeds paid $89,000. Local Collegiate Peaks Anglers Chapter of Trout Unlimited members pitched in the additional $10,000 they raised through auctions and fund-raisers such as the chapter Caddis Festival Banquet. "Any time we can preserve stream habitat from future development we are all for that - its just a good thing to do," Mark Cole, president of Collegiate Peaks TU said. "Another advantage of this purchase is the stretch of the river below the Ball Town junction at Colo. 82 and U.S. 24 is it's the only open stretch of the river in Lake County during the winter." Perpetual public access and wild brown trout means anglers can find a stretch of open water year around, he said.

Category: Colorado Water

6:37:37 AM    

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Here's an update on the Fountain Creek lawsuit from the Pueblo Chieftain. The judge in the case is allowing more instances of spills to be added to the case. The trial date is set for September 17th. From the article:

Magistrate Judge Boyd Boland of U.S. District Court, in making his decision, granted the requests of the Pueblo County district attorney and the Sierra Club. The newly added instances of discharges into the creek cover 13 spills, from October through March, which were not in the most recent versions of the lawsuits. The original versions of the lawsuits were filed in late 2005 by District Attorney Bill Thiebaut and the environmental group. Boland said he will not allow the district attorney and Sierra to add any more instances of spills after Tuesday. He said doing so would be unfair to Colorado Springs in finishing its preparation to defend against the lawsuits. The case now "has to be in final stages and brought to trial," Boland said...

Judge Walker Miller has set a 10-day trial to begin Sept. 17. He could, however, decide the case without a trial, relying instead on written arguments already submitted, and issue a summary judgment...

Miller is presiding over the case and Boland is assisting him on pre-trial matters. The district attorney and Sierra previously have added additional instances of discharges by amending their original lawsuits. Boland heard arguments Tuesday for almost an hour on whether Thiebaut and the club should be allowed to add to their lawsuits even more instances of spills. Before the hearing began, Walsh was asked whether Tuesday's dispute was likely to affect the overall outcome of the case. He responded that the dispute was "pretty procedural." The city pointed out to Boland that the district attorney already has amended his lawsuit six times and that Sierra has amended its lawsuit two times...

"We need closure," Colorado Springs' attorney, John Walsh of Denver, told Boland, in arguing against adding the additional instances. He said there needed to be a cut-off so the city would know sufficiently in advance about everything that it will have to defend against. Sierra countered that the more recent instances should be added because they purportedly show "a repeat pattern" and are "part of the continuing problem of the Colorado Springs sewage system." The recent instances "show the remedy (ordered by the state health department) is not working," Thiebaut's attorney, Jon Barth of Hygiene, told Boland.

More coverage from the Colorado Springs Gazette. They write:

A federal magistrate Tuesday added 11 more sewage and chlorine spills to an already lengthy list of spills for which Colorado Springs Utilities is being sued. Pueblo-area district attorney Bill Thiebaut sued Colorado Springs in 2005, saying repeated sewage spills into Fountain Creek violated the federal Clean Water Act. The suit seeks fines of as much as $32,500 per day. Since the original filing, officials for the district attorney's office and the Sierra Club have amended the complaint several times to include nearly every spill of wastewater, nonpotable water or chlorine that the utility has reported to state officials. Tuesday's additions, which include incidents from April 2006 to March, bring the total number to several dozen...

Those final stages are approaching quickly, with a two-week bench trial set for Sept. 17. Barth is expected to argue that the constant spills have made life unbearable for residents downstream from Colorado Springs, while [John Walsh] will note the $110 million in changes the utility has begun to remedy the situation.

Fox 21: "Water use is a controversial topic here in Southern Colorado. Since Colorado Springs Utilities proposed a Southern Delivery System back in 2002, many people have been concerned it has created a division between El Paso County and Pueblo. On Tuesday night, community leaders gathered to address these issues at forum in Colorado Springs dubbed 'Common Ground: Put Yourself In Pueblo's Place.' [Jane Rawlings] said, 'We'd like to see some reuse. We'd like to see a dam with some flood control.'"

More Coyote Gulch coverage here.

Category: Colorado Water

6:21:24 AM    

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Most of Colorado has experienced a warm dry spring. Here's a look at snowpack in the Roaring Fork basin from the Aspen Times (free registration required). From the article:

The warm, dry spring devoured Colorado's snowpack and created an anticlimactic end to the runoff on rivers and streams, according to data collected by two government agencies this week. The statewide snowpack was only 40 percent of average as of June 1, the U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service reported...

The snowpack was virtually gone in the Roaring Fork basin below the 10,600-foot elevation, the agency data showed. Field observations by Aspen Times staffers last weekend in the Fryingpan Valley indicated the snow only remained on north-facing slopes in the dark timber and high peaks above 11,000 feet...

This year, the statewide snowpack was about 96 percent of average on Jan. 1, but warm, dry conditions kept whittling away at it. Levels around the state plummeted in March because of warm conditions. The June 1 reading of 40 percent of average was the lowest for the season, the conservation service said. The quick runoff will take a toll on the white water season. A revised report released Tuesday by the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center showed that the Roaring Fork River reached its probable peak at Glenwood Springs on May 20 -- two to four weeks before the normal peak flow. The provisional peak flow was a paltry 3,450 cubic feet per second. Last year the river peaked on May 23 at 5,640. The average peak on the Roaring Fork River at Glenwood is 6,150 and falls between June 3 and 18, the river forecast center said.

The Rocky Mountain News reports that Denver, "...received 72.6 inches of snow between July 2006 and June 2007. The 30-year average snowfall in Denver is 61.7 inches. However, overall precipitation in Denver so far this calendar year is still below average. There were 5.97 inches of precipitation through Tuesday compared with a 30-year average for the same period of 6.82 inches, according to the National Weather Service."

More coverage from They write:

The southwest and northwest parts of the Western Slope are really hurting. The runoff there is anywhere between 50 to 85 percent of normal, but the water feeding Lake Dillon is running high. Experts say the snow has melted about three weeks earlier than usual this year because there wasn't as much snow to come down...

The three rivers that feed Lake Dillon are anywhere from 80 to 99 percent of normal, which means the lake is in good shape. In April, water levels were already higher than they have been in 25 years for spring time. Recreationists are taking advantage of the high water...

Denver Water said Lake Dillon is so full, it might spill over Tuesday night, and that all of its reservoirs should be full in a week.

Here's a report from up on the South Platte River from the Sterling Journal-Advocate. They write:

The 3.55 inches of rain that fell this May were about 28 percent above the 30-year average of 2.77 inches. Added to the high precipitation levels since Jan. 1, total 2007 precipitation stands at 66 percent more than the average. Nearly all the May precipitation fell as rain, with very little harmful hail...

Randy Buhler, agronomy agent for the Extension, noted that the sequence of showers in May has provided excellent soil profile moisture. All the area irrigation reservoirs have been filled, and the water level in the South Platte River is running higher than usual. For April 2007, the last month with statistics available, the average flow measured at Kersey was 1,566 cfs -- cubic feet per second. This is nearly double the historic average of 849 cfs for April. Kersey is the last measuring point on the river before it reaches Sterling, giving an indication of flow on the lower South Platte.

Category: Colorado Water

6:15:39 AM    

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