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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Sunday, January 11, 2009

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From The Hub: "Karen Risch, Ouray's National Weather Service observer, reported total snowfall last month was 74.1 inches, the normal amount is 22.2 inches. Snow on ground averaged 10.9 inches, the usual is 8 inches.

"Total precipitation for the month of December was 3.62 inches as compared to the normal average of 1.65 inches. Average daily temperatures for ranged from a high of 35 degrees to a low of 16.6 degrees. The usual averages, reported Risch, had been 37.5 degrees and 16.2 degrees...

"The northern San Juans had 15 days of measurable snowfall and they recorded their highest-ever snow totals in December at all four study sites -- Red Mountain Pass, Monument, Coal Bank and Molas -- since the Silverton office began operation in November 1992. Red Mountain Pass had 136% of average by the end of the month."

Category: Colorado Water
10:57:02 AM    

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Here's a report on last week's water court approval of the accord settling the case around minimum flows in the Gunnison River through Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, from Katharhynn Heidelberg writing for the Montrose Daily Press. From the article:

Environmental interests are hailing the final decree in the decades-old Gunnison River water case as a win for all concerned. "We reached a settlement anyone can live with," Bart Miller, water program director at Western Resource Advocates, said Wednesday...

The decree, signed Dec. 31 by Gunnison Judge Steven Patrick, ends a 30-year tussle over flow rights for Gunnison River water in the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park...

The park was still a national monument when a 1978 decree established the federal government had water rights in the Black Canyon, and ordered the National Park Service to quantify the right. The NPS then studied the river's flow for several years before engaging in discussion with other federal agencies, filing its water claim in 2001. The Black Canyon was established as a monument in 1933, which gave the federal government priority rights over users whose rights were established later...

Miller said the agreement notes certain junior irrigation rights and other water users within the Gunnison Basin can continue their diversions as though they were senior to the park's right.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here.

Category: Colorado Water
10:50:32 AM    

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From the Delta County Independent: "The Orchard City Town Board, during a special meeting on Dec. 10, voted unanimously to accept a chance to purchase 72.9 acre-feet of water in the Little Gem Reservoir in exchange for cash and other water shares. The town trustees also declined an offer to purchase Trio Reservoir. Both reservoirs are located on Grand Mesa. The town already owns half of the water that Little Gem Reservoir holds at any one time. If the approved purchase goes through as expected, the town will own all but one-sixth of the reservoir, and the town is going to try and buy that, too."

Category: Colorado Water
10:27:43 AM    

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From the Yuma Pioneer: "Yuma officially received right around 18 inches of precipitation in 2008, which is about normal. The weather station at the WY Combined Communications Center in Yuma recorded 18.11 inches last year, while the station at Bo and Patty Vaughn's home west of Yuma recorded 17.37 inches in 2008. However, the vast majority of that, 13.7 inches of precipation, came from June 1 through September 21, the last day of summer."

Category: Colorado Water
10:11:38 AM    

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Colorado is hoping to build a pipeline to deliver water to the Republican River near the border with Nebraska for compliance purposes. At issue is whether the other two parties to the Republican River Compact -- Kansas and Nebraska -- will agree that the volume of water delivered via a pipeline is the same as that amount of water delivered through the river and aquifer. Here's a detailed update on negotiations, from The Yuma Pioneer (Tony Rayl). A few excerpts:

The veil of secrecy shrouding Colorado's negotiations with Kansas and Nebraska on the proposed compact compliance pipeline has been lifted. Revealed is the fact the three states remain at odds on three issues. Also made clear is that Monday, January 26, is an important day.

Leaders from all three states will meet that day, via telephone, with Colorado asking for a decision on the proposed pipeline by the Republican River Compact Administration. If the answer is "yes," then it will be time to get busy on the pipeline. However, Colorado's leaders fully expect a "No" answer. In that case, Colorado then will invoke a call for "fast track arbitration" that must be completed in six months. If the arbitration works out in Colorado's favor, but Kansas and Nebraska still balk at approving the pipeline project (the arbitration is non-binding), then the state will take the issue to the United States Supreme Court. There is no guarantee the Supreme Court would hear the case, and even if it did, it could be quite a while before it appears on the court's docket.

That is the situation as it was laid out by Alex Davis of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, State Engineer Dick Wolf, and Peter Ampe with the Colorado Attorney General's Office, during a public meeting held Tuesday morning in the Yuma Ambulance Service building. Approximately 60 people attended the meeting, which was announced less than one week earlier.

Davis said four major issues have come to the forefront during the discussions. One is rather easy to resolve. Kansas stated it did not want Colorado to use the pipeline -- which would be located at the east end of Yuma County and discharge directly into the North Fork of the Republican River at the Colorado-Nebraska state line -- to, for example, pump 40,000 acre feet into the river over the course of four months and then state they are in compact compliance for five years. That was never the intention of the Republican River Water Conservation District, the entity doing the pipeline, which plans on pumping the amount needed each year to meet Colorado's obligations to the Republican River Compact. Therefore, Colorado is going to come up with some kind of agreement on pipeline usage that satisfies Kansas, and also gives Colorado some leeway for overage credit if it pumps a bit too much during a wet year...

However, there are three other issues that Davis said are "insurmountable." One has to do with a credit involving water above Swanson Reservoir in Nebraska. The states could not come to an agreement on how to handle that credit.

Another issue is Nebraska wanting assurances the Haigler Canal would not be shorted. Davis said research showed it actually is a Colorado water right that is administered in Nebraska. She said Colorado offered to make sure water is in the canal, only if it runs dry because of reasons beyond the Nebraska users' control. Davis said Colorado was not going to supply water if the canal went low because the Nebraska users were not utilizing it correctly. The offer was rebuffed.

The third insurmountable issue is the one most are aware of -- Kansas' argument that Colorado needs to meet compliance in each sub-basin, the North Fork, South Fork and Arikaree River, rather than basinwide compliance. In other words, Kansas has taken the stance Colorado cannot use the pipeline to the North Fork to make up for shortages on the South Fork and Arikaree. Colorado's interpretation of the final settlement reached between the three states early this decade, is that it allows Colorado to meet compliance basinwide, not in each sub-basin...

Davis said Colorado has to litigate that issue...

State Engineer Dick Wolfe stressed during Tuesday morning's presentation that the state will not take any curtailment action on irrigation wells while working out the pipeline presentation. In fact, he and Davis both said Colorado will look at all possible options to get into compact compliance without mandating the forced shutdown of wells. Wolfe said the state is looking into more conservation measures, CREP and EQIP continue to pay for wells taken out of production, measurement rules are going into effect this year, and the fate of Bonny Reservoir is still on the table...

Delays on the RRCA approving the pipeline has left the RRWCD hanging for the time being on the estimated $71 million pipeline project -- $50 million for well purchases and $21 million to construct the approximately 12-mile pipeline. RRWCD representatives said Tuesday morning they are maintaining close communications with the sellers, whose wells will be used for the pipeline, to ensure the purchase will go through as planned when everything finally is in place. The RRWCD also has a $60 million loan from the Colorado Water Conservation Board for the project. The loan was approved by the Colorado Legislature last spring. RRWCD leaders were going to confirm it, but it is believed the loan is on the table for one year and that the RRWCD could ask for an extension of up to two years. However, assessment fees increasing from $5.50 per irrigated acre to $14.50 -- to pay for the pipeline debt over 20 years -- will be paid by irrigators on this year's tax bill, even though the pipeline is in a holding pattern for the moment.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here.

Category: Colorado Water
10:07:29 AM    

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From the Parker Chronicle: "In a surprise decision, the Parker Water and Sanitation District voted to postpone an increase in water rates that was approved just more than two weeks ago.

"The district board passed a resolution Jan. 8 to rescind the implementation of a 20 percent increase in water rates and flat service fees. The five board members approved the hike Dec. 22 in the face of heavy public opposition, but now want to wait until the conclusion of a water-rate study later this year before making any further decisions. A work group made up of district staff, town officials, homeowner's association leaders and Parker water customers will help guide the study by researching all possible options to help defray the rising costs of day-to-day operations.

"'We need to improve our communication and involve the public more in district policy making,' said Jason Mumm, Parker water district board treasurer. 'The public working group will be a first step.'"

More Coyote Gulch coverage here.

Category: Colorado Water
9:45:02 AM    

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From the Wet Mountain Tribune: "Letters of interest to fill a vacancy on the board of directors for Round Mountain Water and Sanitation District are still being accepted. To date Jerry Lacy and Bob Gilchrist, both of Westcliffe, have submitted letters of interest."

In addition, on January 8th the board was going to take up the potential lease of water to the Upper Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District for augmentation in Custer County.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here.

Category: Colorado Water
9:37:35 AM    

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From the Trinidad Times (Randy Woock): "The City of Trinidad has received correspondence from the U.S. Army voicing tentative and unofficial support for the Las Animas County government's desire to tap into a water line that connects the water supply for the city with the Piñon Canyon Maneuver Site and the Department of Corrections (DOC) prison facility to the east of Trinidad, but questions remain for the Army about the effect of further sharing the water.

"City council member John Rino broached the topic of the water line at Tuesday's city council meeting, citing a conversation with Las Animas County Commissioner Jim Montoya concerning the Army's new openness to the idea of sharing the water line with the county."

Category: Colorado Water
9:26:57 AM    

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From the Lamar Ledger (Aaron Burnett): "The 4th Congressional District's newest representative did not waste any time in getting started. Rep. Betsy Markey took her oath of office Tuesday and signed on as a co-sponsor for three bills with fellow Colorado Democratic Rep. John Salazar on the first day of the 111th Congress.

"The three bills, originally proposed by Salazar during the 110th Congress, deal with agriculture, water and the creation of the Sangre de Cristo National Heritage Area. For southeastern Colorado, H.R. 173 would create a 65-35 cost sharing agreement between the Bureau of Reclamation and local entities. Salazar, who was recently named to the House Appropriations Committee said he is hopeful that funding in the proposed economic incentive plan could be harnessed to fund a portion of the project.

"The Arkansas Valley Conduit was originally authorized as part of the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project signed by Pres. Kennedy in 1962. The conduit, currently estimated to cost $350 million, would provide water to approximately 50,000 people in communities along the lower Arkansas Valley."

More Coyote Gulch coverage here.

Category: Colorado Water
9:09:09 AM    

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From the Del Norte Prospector: "Join the Colorado Field Institute at 7 p.m. Jan. 15 for an introduction to how the Rio Grande Headwaters Trust (RiGHT) has been working with land owners to protect farms and ranches through conservation easements. The free program will be held in the auditorium in the business building at Adams State College. Light refreshments will be served, and the program will end at 8:30 p.m. RiGHT Executive Director Nancy Butler and Stewardship Director Aaron Derwingson will give landowners the background to understand how conservation easements work, with examples, definitions and practical information."

Category: Colorado Water
8:54:33 AM    

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From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent(John Gardner): "Work on the new Wastewater facility in New Castle is expected to begin as soon as February 1. According to New Castle Public Works Director John Wenzel, city officials signed a contract on Thursday, Jan 8, with Salida based Moltz Construction for a reported $6.58 million. With added cost of engineering and design, Wenzel estimated total costs to be around $7.5 million. However, that price is a welcomed surprise when initial costs were reported as high as $16 million...Construction is also expected to be completed by the end of 2009 despite initial estimates that it could take until mid 2010 to be competed."

Category: Colorado Water
8:45:49 AM    

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Folks along the Yampa River and across Colorado are wondering what effects Shell's application for a water right on the river will have on their operations and the area's livelihood. Here's a report from Tom Ross writing for the Steamboat Pilot & Today. From the article:

Powerful interests are coming after the water that originates from melting snow in the mountains of Northwest Colorado. That was the message that Russell George, then executive director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, brought to a water symposium at Hayden High School on June 1, 2006. George, a former state legislator from Rifle, said it was inevitable that unappropriated water in the Yampa would be called upon to balance the entire state's needs and obligations. The announcement by Shell this week underscores the likelihood that the Yampa also will be called upon to help meet the nation's needs for energy...

...Routt County Commissioner Doug Monger said if Shell succeeds in obtaining the rights, the water picture in Northwest Colorado will change forever. "We now have just joined the rest of the world and the rest of the state in having our river over-appropriated," Monger said. "For us in the valley, to further develop any water, it makes it that much more complicated."[...]

...Eric Kuhn, general manager of the Colorado River Water Conservation District, is worried that Colorado's margin for providing water to growing communities already is thin. Kuhn told the Steamboat Pilot & Today in the summer of 2006 that under the Colorado River Compact, he estimated that as little as 250,000 acre-feet remains to be stored behind new dams. His estimate took into account another 250,000 acre-feet of water from the larger Colorado River system already tied up in planned water projects...

[A Colorado Basin Roundtable] study finds that oil shale could demand water on several levels. The first is in the recovery of petroleum products from the rock. [Shell spokesperson Tracy Boyd] said his company is studying a process that would use a freeze wall -- essentially freezing ground water in an area surrounding oil shale deposits to isolate them, and then de-watering the earth inside that boundary. Water would be consumed in the process of separating petroleum products as they come out of the ground. Later, water would be pumped back into the area to replace what had been previously pumped out. However, large amounts of water would be consumed by new power plants needed to supply the energy the oil shale process requires. And additional water would be consumed by the growing legion of energy workers.

Greg Trainor, who participated in the report on the water needs of energy development in western Colorado, said it concluded that at full production, it could take as many as 14 new power plants -- the size of the existing coal-fired plant in Craig -- to meet oil shale's demands. Trainor is the utilities and street system director for the city of Grand Junction. Oil shale development would require "a huge effort just in terms of construction of power plants," Trainor said. "Think of the energy that would go into building the power plants."[...]

Monger said the fact that Shell is seeking water rights in the Yampa River will have profound implications for water users in the valley. To begin with, any new water right would be junior to Shell's. The water likely would remain in the river for 15 years to come, but the date when it becomes activated would hang over the valley's future.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here and here.

Category: Climate Change News
8:40:33 AM    

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The Denver Post (Mark Jaffe) is spotlighting conservationist's efforts to find common ground with irrigators with an eye towards protecting riparian environments. From the article:

Conservation groups such as Trout Unlimited are usually opponents of irrigation dams, which help farmers and block the free flow of rivers. But in the case of the [Montana's] Ruby dam -- and similar projects across the West -- conservation groups are helping to finance dam rehabilitation with an environmental component.

In Colorado, the Nature Conservancy helped obtain $13.2 million for the Elkhead Reservoir on the Yampa River. In Idaho, Trout Unlimited obtained a $375,000 grant for conservation measures for a dam project on the Snake River. "We are trying to get out of the fish vs. farmer box," said Laura Ziemer, director of Trout Unlimited's Montana water project...

In 2007, a $31 million expansion of the Elkhead Reservoir on Colorado's Yampa River was finished with the support of the Nature Conservancy. The Colorado River Water Conservation District, which manages the dam, put up $17.8 million for the expansion. The remaining $13.2 million came, with the Nature Conservancy's help, from a federal recovery program for endangered fish. In exchange for the money, 5,000 acre-feet of water will be permanently dedicated to endangered fish -- such as the Colorado pikeminnow and the humpback chub -- and an additional 2,000 acre-feet will be leased for instream flows...

Trout Unlimited and the city of Boulder are in preliminary talks with Denver Water to see whether some extra water for South Boulder Creek can be included in the proposed expansion of Gross Reservoir. "It is very early in the process," said Dave Little, Denver Water's manager of water recourse planning. "There is a question of where the extra dollars would come from."[...]

Meanwhile, the San Luis Irrigation District is actively courting conservation groups to become part of a planned $30 million upgrade of the Rio Grande Reservoir dam. The nearly 100-year-old dam has to be rehabilitated to meet federal safety standards and provide water to the 150 farming operations in the valley, according to Travis Smith, the district's superintendent. Under interstate compact, Colorado is required to deliver to New Mexico about 30 percent of the Rio Grande flow, which averages about 630,000 acre-feet. Approximately 200,000 of that comes through the Rio Grande Reservoir, Smith said. Most of that water is sent down the river during the peak spring flow, but if the dam is improved to hold more water, some could be released during environmentally sensitive, low-flow periods later in the season, Smith said. The district is talking with Trout Unlimited, the Nature Conservancy and state and federal wildlife agencies about the idea.

Category: Colorado Water
8:18:48 AM    

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With all the talk of a job-creating stimulus package Ed Quillen takes a look back in history at Colorado infrastructure that was built during the New Deal with its jobs programs, in his column in today's Denver Post. From the column:

When I look around this part of the world [ed. Quillen lives in Salida], I can see some enduring results. Several public buildings erected under those auspices, from the Saguache Community Center to the Scout Hut in Salida, remain in use. Giant, eroded gullies on the west side of Trout Creek Pass, the result of pioneer deforestation and flash floods, were tamed by check dams built by the CCC. Monarch Mountain, the ski area that may be this county's largest winter employer, began as a WPA project. So did the hot springs pool in Salida, which remains in operation...

Denver's first major transmountain water diversion was the Moffat Tunnel, which had two bores -- a big one for the railroad tracks and an adjacent, smaller pioneer bore that could be made into a conduit for water from the Fraser River. Fearing a drought, Denver started the upgrade in 1933, then halted it on account of big wet spring snowstorms. But that summer, the city asked for PWA assistance, and by 1938 the city had a new water supply, which was augmented in 1940 by another PWA project, the Jones Pass Tunnel, to divert water from the Williams Fork River.

Colorado Springs also used PWA grant money to boost its water supply by building reservoirs on the north slope of Pikes Peak, and throughout the state, dams and wells and canals were built with New Deal money to improve municipal water supplies. The post- World War II population growth along the Front Range couldn't have happened without those Depression-era water projects.

On the other end of the water flow, dozens of sewage-treatment plants were built in Colorado with PWA and WPA money, from Brush to Steamboat Springs.

Category: Colorado Water
8:05:41 AM    

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The Greeley Tribune editorial staff has sorted out the controversy around the bills that would add wilderness protection to Rocky Mountain National Park. From their editorial:

...last year, the northern Colorado delegation, including former Rep. Marilyn Musgrave, former representative and now Sen. Mark Udall, former Sen. Wayne Allard and Secretary of the Interior designee Sen. Ken Salazar drafted a compromise bill that finally seemed as if it would pass. The bill could designate nearly 250,000 acres of Rocky Mountain National park as wilderness area, protecting it from development for anything other than what nature intended. One of the biggest issues with the bill centered on water projects within the proposed boundary, especially the Colorado-Big Thompson project, which pumps water through pipes from Grand Lake underneath the park, dumping some in the Grand Ditch for users downstream.

But controversy over the bill started last week, when Weld County Commissioner Sean Conway raised issues with a version of the bill put forward by Sen. Salazar. Salazar's version of the Rocky Mountain Wilderness Bill could actually be acted on today. The bill is included in the Omnibus Public Land Management Act -- which combines about 160 bills covering nearly every state. This large package was supposed to represent a new era in bipartisanship, but some objections to the bill have already been raised, even a threat of a filibuster by Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., if the bill is put forward in a special meeting today. Conway is concerned Salazar's version of the bill does not include language agreed upon by the original delegation that would have protected water users. It seems Sen. Jeff Bingaman, a Democrat from New Mexico, wanted to add a provision that would give the Secretary of the Interior power to overrule provisions of the wilderness bill. This concerned water users, who wanted to ensure their rights to the water from the area was protected. Later, a colloquy was added that clarified this position, and satisfied most of the water users. But Conway is concerned the colloquy, essentially a written addition to the bill, would not stand up if challenged in court. He has even asserted that Salazar needs to pull his version of the bill from the Omnibus package.

Then this week, Udall, Salazar, and newly elected Reps. Betsy Markey and Jared Polis introduced yet another Wilderness Bill, which includes the original language negotiated by the delegation in 2007. Udall and Salazar's office have both said the second bill was introduced as a backup, just in case the Omnibus Act fails. They both assert the bills are essentially the same. Conway said this second bill is what the delegation intended, and should replace Salazar's bill.

Water users say they are satisfied both bills would do the job. Dennis Harmon, manager of the Water Supply & Storage Co, which runs the Grand Ditch, said he believes either one would serve the purposes of water users.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here.

Category: Colorado Water
7:54:30 AM    

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Both potential routes for Colorado Springs' proposed Southern Delivery System involve return flows of effluent down Fountain Creek and eventually to the Arkansas River. Springs' officials understand this and are open to mitigation requirements -- building on their efforts over the last few years -- to make sure that the increased flows do not impact Fountain Creek negatively. Here's a report from Chris Woodka writing for the Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

"We know what the Bureau of Reclamation has said about mitigation for the preferred route of SDS in the final environmental impact statement," Fredell said. "If the route were to change, the mitigation of impacts on Fountain Creek would be the same or similar."[...]

There likely would be additional requirements imposed by commissioners if SDS would come through Pueblo County, however. A county staff report discusses millions of dollars in improvements that are needed on Fountain Creek, and county officials have talked about payments for broad programs rather than specific impacts on Fountain Creek. "It is difficult to quantify what would be an appropriate amount of monetary mitigation to build projects that would offset SDS impacts to Fountain Creek," a Dec. 3 report by county consultants Banks and Gesso stated...

"The Pueblo County mitigation could be a range of things - less, more or the same as the EIS," Fredell said. "Who knows what they will be until we hear specifics?" The specifics are expected to be revealed at a continuation of a Pueblo County hearing at 6 p.m. Jan. 21 at the Sangre de Cristo Arts and Conference Center. The public will have a chance to respond on Feb. 4.

Reclamation's proposed mitigation - which still must be finalized in a record of decision later this month and through later contract talks - involves only a general outline of what would be required. Reclamation would work with the Army Corps of Engineers, Colorado Springs, its partners and other groups with jurisdiction over Fountain Creek to coordinate agreements. Reclamation remains in the picture in either the Pueblo or Fremont County option because Colorado Springs wants excess-capacity contracts at Lake Pueblo under either plan. A Corps study completed last year and a Corridor Master Plan, developed by Colorado Springs and the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District, are specifically mentioned in the EIS. The staff report is more focused on monetary payments for Fountain Creek improvements, including the cost of unfunded stormwater improvements, the 46 projects (including a dam) in the Corps study and the wetlands and side detention ponds in the corridor study. Colorado Springs and Reclamation have remained focused on identifying only impacts tied directly to SDS, while the county wants to look at broader impacts from growth and development...

At a meeting of Action 22 in Pueblo County last week, Fredell said taking care of Fountain Creek would be a top priority as part of the SDS project. "Additional wetlands on Fountain Creek, sinuosity, bank stabilization to armor banks and sedimentation in Pueblo County ... are all areas we plan to attack aggressively as part of our mitigation," Fredell said...

[Carol Baker, Colorado Springs' Fountain Creek programs coordinator] explained how the corridor plan would provide 400 acres or side detention ponds and 500 acres of wetlands with the capability to contain flows of 10,000 cubic feet per second - in the range of a 10-year flood - for up to four hours. She said about 3 miles of banks along the 40-mile stretch between Fountain and Pueblo are suffering from erosion, usually caused by straightening the creek upstream and speeding the flow of water. A demonstration project at Clear Springs Ranch, one of the worst sites along the creek and owned by Colorado Springs, would show how bank improvements could reduce the cutting effect of the stream. Trails would be added at the site, with the eventual aim of creating a bike and hiking trail from Colorado Springs to Pueblo, connecting with a Front Range trail system. Another project at the confluence of the Fountain and the Arkansas River would use a mechanical dredging system, sludge and plants to strengthen a levee that has weakened over time, Baker said. Two other projects are planned along the creek as well...

Another big difference between the two options would be protection of flows in the Arkansas River. Colorado Springs is bound by a 2004 intergovernmental agreement only if the pipeline comes from Pueblo Dam, although there is no guarantee about what would happen to the Pueblo flow program, which curtails exchanges during times of low water in the Arkansas River. The city has always indicated the agreement could simply go away if the Fremont County route were chosen, and its exchanges into Lake Pueblo are governed by earlier agreements and court decrees. Operationally, there would be little benefit for Colorado Springs to adhere to the flow regime set up under the 2004 IGA.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here, here and here.

Category: Colorado Water
7:41:56 AM    

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