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

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Project Healing Waters

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Wednesday, January 7, 2009

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Last night the Fremont County Planning Commission put the kibosh on Colorado Springs' backup plans to run their proposed Southern Delivery System pipeline through the county, according to a report from Chris Woodka writing for the Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

After brief discussion, and the addition of several contingencies and conditions, the planners rejected the application, 5-2. Voting against the application were Dean Sandoval, Mike Schnobrick, Bill Jackson, Keith McNew and Tom Doxey. Chairman Tom Piltingsrud and Herm Lateer voted for it. Those who voted against the application said it did little to explain how Fremont County would benefit or be protected if a special use permit were approved. One planning panel member said it was "insulting" to Fremont County to be considered as the fallback option for the pipeline.

Fremont County commissioners will consider the application at 10 a.m. Feb. 10 at a public hearing, with a recommendation against approval from the planning commission. Colorado Springs officials plan to make a complete presentation of the project at the public hearing...

The Fremont County Planning Commission asked questions Tuesday about issues ranging from potential condemnation of property, moving water to Penrose-area users, roads and lake levels. Public comments were heard on the potential of the project to affect levels in the Arkansas River and to use the project to ensure Colorado Springs cooperation in preserving recreation flows during summer months. "I definitely would not want condemnation in Fremont County for the benefit of El Paso County," McNew said. McNew voted against the motion because of negative impacts on property values and water rights in Fremont County...

If the line goes through Fremont County, there could be opportunities for the Beaver Park Irrigation Company and Penrose Water District to hook into the line, officials at Tuesday's meeting said. "The line could carry water to Beaver Park and Penrose, but not at no cost," said Bruce McCormick, chief of water services for Colorado Springs Utilities. "There could be good relationships."

Tony Keenan, of the Arkansas River Outfitters Association, said Fremont County could ask Colorado Springs to become a participant in a voluntary flow management program that provides for minimum flows in the Arkansas River through Aug. 15 during the spring and summer rafting season. It also maintains flows for fish during fall and winter months.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here.

Category: Colorado Water
6:43:01 PM    

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Here's an update on the Pueblo Board of Water Works attempt to sell the Columbine Ditch and buy shares of the Bessemer Ditch, from Chris Woodka writing in the Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

The Pueblo Board of Water Works has pushed back the date for long-term lease proposals and the potential sale of the Columbine Ditch. Today initially was the deadline set for proposals at the November water board meeting. The new deadline is Feb. 3, said Alan Hamel, executive director. Both the sale of the Columbine and more long-term leases hinge on the ability of the water board to purchase more water rights in the Arkansas River basin.

The water board is looking at shifting its dependence on transmountain assets, like the Columbine Ditch, which brings water into the Arkansas Valley from the Eagle River basin. The board is looking at purchasing some shares on the Bessemer Ditch, but has not reached any final agreements, Hamel said...

After an attempt last summer by El Paso County interests - communities outside of Colorado Springs, but including Fountain, a partner in the Southern Delivery System - the Pueblo water board renewed its interest in possibly purchasing some Bessemer shares. The El Paso group offered about $10,000 per share and the water board's offer is in the same ballpark. The water board would have no immediate need for the shares - it keeps more than a year's worth of water used within the city's system in storage. Under its long-term plan, however, the water board is attempting to adjust its water supplies to be less dependent on Western Slope imports...

The water board also owns several other ditch rights that cross the Continental Divide, shares in Twin Lakes and receives a portion of its water from the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project. At build-out, the Pueblo water rights portfolio would be 60 percent dependent on Western Slope water. In 2007, the water board embarked on a strategic plan to reduce its dependency on imports to 50 percent by acquiring additional water rights in the Arkansas Valley...

The Bessemer Ditch, located just east of Pueblo and with a diversion point at Pueblo Dam, would be the ideal source of water for the water board. However, shareholders would have to approve use of the water outside the area traditionally irrigated under the ditch and any water used outside that area would have to go through a change application in Division 2 Water Court. If the water board is successful in obtaining more in-basin water rights, it plans to sell the Columbine Ditch for a minimum of $30.5 million. That money would be coupled with a $40 million board issue and lease revenues to purchase new water rights. The board purchased the Columbine Ditch, located at 11,500 feet above sea level 13 miles north of Leadville, in 1953. The ditch was built in 1931 and brings the water of three small streams tributary to the Eagle River into the Arkansas Basin.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here and here.

Category: Colorado Water
6:30:23 PM    

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From the Denver Post (David Olinger): "The Colorado chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineers gave the state's infrastructure an overall grade of C+ in a report released Tuesday, rating Colorado's aviation system highest and its roads as the worst. It also forecast that 10 of the 13 systems evaluated will deteriorate in the next two years: dam safety, drinking water, wastewater treatment, aviation, roads, environmental cleanup, bridges, education, energy and mass transit. Only air quality was projected to improve."

More from the article:

Population growth and deferred maintenance are combining to stress Colorado's highways, bridges and water and sewer lines, many of which are a half-century old and nearing the end of their designed lifetimes, the engineers found...

The ASCE report also forecasts a costly series of pipe replacement projects for Colorado's drinking-water systems, many of which were laid during a population surge after World War II. Because water lines last 50 to 75 years, "much of the pipe installed in the 1940s and 1950s may require replacement over the next 20 years," the report said...

That comes as no surprise to Kevin Bommer, a policy advocate for the Colorado Municipal League. Colorado cities and towns are looking at nearly $3 billion in water and wastewater projects "in the face of a declining economy and shrinking revenues," he said. And while larger cities have enough customers to finance replacement projects, the costs "put a lot of smaller local governments in a tough spot."

Category: Colorado Water
6:17:08 PM    

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The state water court has approved last year's agreement for minimum and shoulder flows in the Gunnison River. Here's a press release from email from Peter Roessmann at Western Resource Advocates:

Water Court Finalizes Decree to Benefit Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

Last week, the water court in the Gunnison River basin entered a decree formally adopting an agreement between the United States, conservationists, water users, the State of Colorado, and others that will recognize and protect water rights for river flows in Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. After more than 30 years of dispute, this action resolves one of Colorado's most contentious water rights battles.

The final settlement reached last year, which now has been blessed by the water court, creates a flow regime that includes annual peak flows and shoulder flows -- tied to natural water availability -- plus a year-round base flow of 300 cubic feet per second. Collectively, these elements are critical to the health of the Park and the Gunnison River. With the water rights decree in place, changes to the flow in the Gunnison River will be noticeable beginning with this spring's runoff.

"This agreement recognizes the importance of Black Canyon National Park and the need to preserve its spectacular resources for the benefit of present and future generations," said Libby Fayad, representative for the National Parks Conservation Association.

The flow regime will protect the water-dependent resources of the Black Canyon and help restore the ecological balance in the river system disrupted by three federal dams immediately upstream of the Park. The flows will create a healthier environment for a world class trout fishery, cleanse sediment deposits that have caused whirling disease in trout, clear woody debris, maintain the river channel, and greatly improve the aesthetics of a flowing river for hundreds of thousands of visitors from around the world each year.

"This landmark ruling acknowledges that the Gunnison River offers recreational and natural resource benefits that deserve protection," said Drew Peternell, director of Trout Unlimited's Colorado Water Project.

"The new flow regime will greatly benefit the ecology and visitor experience at the Park, protecting it as a national treasure," added Wendy McDermott, Executive Director of the High Country Citizens' Alliance.

The decree finalizes the settlement agreement reached last June, the product of over nine months of intense negotiation. The settlement process addressed concerns about river management from a broad array of stakeholders, including irrigators in the Gunnison basin, hydroelectric power producers, flat water recreationists, boaters, federal agencies (including the National Park Service, Bureau of Reclamation, and Fish & Wildlife Service), State of Colorado, towns concerned about flood control, anglers, and environmental groups.

"It took lots of effort, but the negotiation resulted in a win-win[~]a water right that protects the Park and accommodates other water uses," said Bart Miller, attorney for Western Resource Advocates, representing five of the conservation groups.

"Considering the number of organizations and interests involved, the water settlement epitomizes the tremendous complexities of environmental negotiation," said Andy Spielman, a partner at Hogan & Hartson, representing, on a pro bono basis, all seven conservation groups involved in the case. "What's truly encouraging is how everyone's needs were addressed with integrity to create a workable compromise for all."

In 2003, conservation groups successfully challenged an ill-conceived agreement between the State of Colorado and federal agencies that would have prevented protective flows. In late 2006, a federal court judge rejected the 2003 agreement as violating several provisions of federal law. "The outcome here is due, in large part, to the important role of environmental groups who were watchdogs over protecting this national resource," said Steve Smith, representative from The Wilderness Society.

The conservation groups involved in the federal case and the water rights negotiations include Environmental Defense Fund, High Country Citizens' Alliance, National Parks Conservation Association, The Wilderness Society, Trout Unlimited, Western Colorado Congress, and Western Slope Environmental Resource Council, and Western Resource Advocates.

Western Resource Advocates is a non-profit conservation organization dedicated to protecting the West's land, air, and water. For more information, please visit

Trout Unlimited is a private, non-profit organization dedicated to conserving, protecting and restoring North America's coldwater fisheries and their watersheds. For more information, visit

The mission of High County Citizens' Alliance is to champion the protection, conservation and preservation of the natural ecosystems within the Upper Gunnison River Basin. For more information please visit

More coverage from the Associated Press via the From the article:

After more than 30 years, the fight over use of the river flowing through the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is finished. A state water court in Gunnison has formally adopted an agreement among state and federal officials, water users and conservation groups on rights to the Gunnison River. The agreement is to ensure there's enough water in the canyon to maintain wildlife and a healthy ecosystem while meeting other needs, including irrigation, recreation and hydroelectric power production.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here.

5:18:10 PM    

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Shell oil has applied for a decree for 8% of the annual Yampa River flow, according to a report from Mark Jaffe writing for the Denver Post. From the article:

Shell Oil, seeking to buttress its oil-shale plans, has filed for the first major water right on northwest Colorado's Yampa River -- the last river basin in the state with unappropriated water. Shell's snap-up of about 8 percent of the Yampa's peak spring water flow may complicate Front Range plans to move water from the river by pipeline and comes as energy companies scramble to secure water rights. Energy companies control about 26 percent of the flow and 56 percent of the water storage volume in the Upper Colorado Basin, according to a study by planning groups for the Colorado, Yampa and White rivers...

The Shell application for a conditional water right, filed Dec. 30 in Water Court in Steamboat Springs, seeks to take 375 cubic feet per second of water from the river. That represents about 8 percent of the average April-to-June flow. "That is a lot of water," said Jim Pokrant, a spokesman for the Colorado River Water District. There is no direct charge for obtaining unappropriated water. But an applicant must prove to a water court that the water will be put to beneficial use and that the proposed plan is viable. If there are challenges to the application, it could take 18 months and tens of thousands of dollars to get the water right, said Bart Miller, water project director for Western Resource Advocates...

Shell's plan is to pump the water into a new reservoir covering 1,000 acres and holding 45,000 acre-feet of water. "This is part of our strategy to develop diversified resources so we can reduce our impact on other water users," said Tracy Boyd, a Shell spokesman. Shell would take water only during the high-flow spring period, Boyd said...

The Yampa flow between April and June averages 4,740 cfs at the town of Maybell, which is just above the proposed Shell intake, according to U.S. Geological Survey data. The average flow drops to 368 cfs by July...

Shell's Boyd said the amount of water that shale development will need -- 1.5 to 3 barrels of water for every barrel of shale oil, according to a roundtable study -- is being overstated...

The water-use estimates are based on using coal-fired power plants to provide the energy that shale-oil operations will need and rough guesses on the water needed for converting rock to oil. "Granted, part of the problem is the industry really hasn't come out with good estimates," Boyd said. The industry is aiming to be more efficient than forecast by the current estimates, Boyd said. Still, Shell's pursuit of Yampa water rights underscores the growing competition in the state for water.

More coverage from Gary Harmon writing for the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel. From the article:

Shell Oil has filed for an industrial water right on the Yampa River for use in development of oil shale, should the company decide to move forward with the idea...

Shell's filing seeks 375 cubic feet per second from the Yampa to fill a 45,000-acre-foot reservoir in Moffat County in an area known as Cedar Springs Draw, said Tracy Boyd, communications and sustainability manager for the Shell Mahogany Research Project. The company will need to divert only spring runoff water to fill the reservoir, Boyd said. The filing is intended to increase the diversity of water rights the company owns for the eventual development of oil shale, Boyd said. The company is working to reduce the amount of water it will use if it proceeds with development and will "apply best water-management practices to treatment, storage and reuse," he said...

Once the filing is published, interested parties can file statements of opposition to the water right, even though they might not necessarily oppose it. Among them will be the Colorado River Water Conservation District, which will enter the case as an opposer, but not an opponent, spokesman Chris Treese said. "We have told Shell we want to be working with them" on the proposal for the reservoir to accommodate municipal, environmental, recreational and other uses, as well as Shell's planned industrial use.

There is the possibility of competition for the water from the Northern Water Conservancy District, based in Berthoud, which has floated the idea of diverting Yampa River water to the Front Range. A Colorado man, Aaron Million, also is seeking to divert water from Flaming Gorge Reservoir to the Front Range, claiming that water in the river is subject to use by Colorado under the compact that governs the Colorado River and its tributaries. A budding oil shale industry has just as much right to the Yampa River's unallocated flows as anyone else, Treese said.

The reservoir would be a couple miles long and about one-third of a mile wide at the widest point, near a dam in Cedar Springs Draw, Boyd said. Water would be pumped out of the Yampa and into the reservoir, he said. Runoff could fill the reservoir in about two months, he said. Shell has yet to decide how much water it will need for oil shale development, and Boyd emphasized the company has yet to decide to seek commercial production. Company officials have said that decision is years away. The industrial right Shell is seeking is among the largest of the water rights the company has accumulated over decades, Boyd said.

Update: More coverage from the Steamboat Pilot & Today:

Shell Frontier Oil & Gas Inc. has filed for surface water and water storage rights on the Yampa River, from two diversion points west of Maybell in Moffat County.

Erin Light, local water division engineer for the state Department of Natural Resources, confirmed Wednesday that Shell filed an application at the Routt County Justice Center on Dec. 30, 2008. The application requests a surface, or direct-flow, allocation of 375 cubic feet per second, or cf/s. In late June of 2008, during peak runoff, the Yampa flowed through downtown Steamboat Springs at about 2,000 cf/s.

Shell's request is a conditional water right, meaning if decreed the water will not be used immediately but will be available for Shell in the future. Shell is requesting to pull the water from two diversion points that are west, or downstream, of Maybell in Moffat County -- but upstream of the Yampa's confluence with the Little Snake River, Light said.

Shell's application says the water would be used "for industrial and mining purposes, including but not limited to drilling activities ... power generation ... and other activities in connection with the mining and production of oil and other products from oil shale."

The application also requests a water storage right to construct and fill the Cedar Springs Draw Reservoir in the same Moffat County area, off a tributary of the Yampa, using water from the requested direct-flow allocation. The reservoir would hold 45,000 acre-feet of water.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here.

Category: Climate Change News
6:33:14 AM    

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Here's an update on Colorado's early season snowpack, from Bill Jackson writing for the Greeley Tribune. From the article:

Snowpack in the Colorado mountains is above average for the first of January, according to officials with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service. Overall, the state's snowpack is 120 percent of the Jan. 1 long-term average, and is the highest since 1997. In fact, Allen Green, state conservationist with the Conservation Service, said 2009 is only the third time that above-average January totals were measured across the state in the past 12 years...

A series of heavy storms the past few weeks have delivered heavy snow to the Rio Grande, Arkansas and San Juan River basins, Green said in a press release. "We've seen a snowfall pattern which is strikingly similar to last year in these basins," Green said. After a very dry fall, several intense storms brought heavy accumulations to boost snowpack totals to well above average by the Jan. 1 surveys. Current snowpack readings in these basins range from 135-140 percent of average, and are nearly identical to those statistics of a year ago. The Rio Grande basin's 140 percent of average is the highest January total measured since 1985, bringing the best news to water users in this basin in decades, Green said...

With the December storm pattern favoring southern Colorado, the northern basins received smaller totals, which range from 86-99 percent of average in the Yampa, White, and North and South Platte river basins. While these basins remain slightly below average, only the North Platte is short of exceeding last year's totals for this date...

As the New Year begins, reservoir storage is also in good condition statewide. With no basins showing any potential shortages, the statewide totals are at 98 percent of average and are 101 percent of last year's storage volumes.

Category: Colorado Water
6:22:18 AM    

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From The Hub (Chris Pike): "Local attorney Andrew Mueller will serve another three-year term with the Colorado River Water Conservation District, this year as president of its Board of Directors. Mueller was officially re-appointed Monday by the Board of County Commissioners as Ouray County's representative on the CRWCD board. Last year he served as the board's vice president and said he expects to become president at the January meeting. 'Through that position I have been able to lead the search for viable means of protection and conservation of waters originating on the Western Slope of Colorado,' said Mueller in a recent e-mail to the BOCC."

Category: Colorado Water
6:14:42 AM    

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