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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Sunday, January 25, 2009

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The Pueblo Board of Water Works approved continued participation in the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program last week, according to a report from Chris Woodka writing for the Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

The program to provide up to 10,825 acre-feet of water annually for fish in the Colorado River basin was started in 1983 to protect the Colorado pikeminnow, bonytail chub, humpback chub and razorback sucker. The group also provides funds for Tom Pitts of the Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Project to monitor activities of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to help in the fish recovery program. The Pueblo water board this year agreed to pay its share of $11,827. Participants in the program include major importers of Western Slope water, including Denver, Colorado Springs, Aurora, Pueblo and the Northern and Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy Districts. West Slope water providers, the Colorado River Water Conservation District and conservancy districts also provide funding.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here.

Category: Colorado Water
10:34:44 AM    

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From the Pueblo Chieftain (Jeff Tucker): "Representatives from the Lower Arkansas River Valley and Colorado Springs Utilities were on the East Side Thursday night, pitching a plan to put a park along the Fountain Creek, stretching roughly from Eighth Street south to the confluence with the Arkansas River. The park will be one of four created as part of the Fountain Creek Corridor Master Plan. Designers of the park want to take the sediment built up at the bottom of the channel and use it along with compost produced at the city wastewater treatment plant to build a park along the Fountain that creates a public space and reinforces the levees."

More Coyote Gulch coverage here.

Category: Colorado Water
10:24:44 AM    

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Here's an update on the South Park National Heritage Area, from Tom Locke and Debra Orecchio writing for the Fairplay Flume. From the article:

The Senate passed the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009 (Senate Bill 22) by a vote of 73-21. The act is actually a package of 160 lands bills that includes one bill targeting the South Park designation. It had broad bipartisan support in the Senate and is expected to have broad bipartisan support in the House.

Edward C. Nichols, president and chief executive officer of Colorado Historical Society and the state historic preservation office, said in a press release that the passage of the bill marks an important moment in Colorado history. The National Heritage Area designation is vital to maintaining Colorado's natural beauty, heritage and historic character, Nichols added.

The bill would create national heritage areas in two other parts of Colorado: Sangre de Cristo Mountains and the Cache La Poudre River Corridor.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here.

Category: Colorado Water
9:44:33 AM    

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From the Colorado Springs Gazette (Andrea Brown): "Woodland Park is back on tap. A boil water order was lifted Saturday morning, three days after a water main broke along Highway 24 and contaminated the city's drinking water, officials said."

Category: Colorado Water
9:30:25 AM    

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From the Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka): "The current offer for Bessemer Ditch shares by the Pueblo Board of Water Works is higher than other recent sales of agricultural water in the Arkansas Valley, but some say it's worth even more. The water board says the price is fair. The water board, if it finalizes the sale, will pay $10,150 per share for about 7,000 shares of the Bessemer Ditch. That's roughly 35 percent of the ditch. That's more than three times the price of water rights on other valley ditches in recent sales, and even higher than the $6,500 per share paid for five shares of the Bessemer Ditch last year."


All told, the costs per share to the water board would be roughly $13,500, Hamel said. The water board estimates about 1.5 acre-feet per acre yield, meaning a total cost of about $9,000 per acre-foot.

That pales in comparison to the proposed sale of the Columbine Ditch. The board is seeking at least $30.48 million for the ditch, which would yield about 1,337 acre-feet a year, about $22,800 per acre-foot. The Bessemer Ditch water represents the right amount in the right place for the water board. It is now delivered at Pueblo Dam, like Pueblo's water supply. It has water rights senior to many of Pueblo's rights. Still, the Columbine Ditch water rights are usable in three basins - the Colorado, South Platte and Arkansas rivers - and deliver pristine water. The ditch now brings water from the Eagle River into the Arkansas River basin north of Leadville. Because it is imported, the water can be used to extinction, which effectively doubles its yield - meaning a user in the South Platte or Arkansas actually would be paying about $11,400 per acre-foot if the water is fully used. Pueblo's water board wants to jettison that water right, however, in favor of gaining more resources in the valley. Climate change and increased demands on the Colorado River make the transmountain diversion a less certain bet...

The Columbine sale is one of four pieces the water board would have to put together in order to complete the Bessemer Ditch sale. It is also planning to use its $12 million water development fund, a $40 million bond issue and revenue from new leases to finance the package. The deadline for bids on the Columbine Ditch and new leases is Feb. 3, but staff recommendations won't be made until the Feb. 17 water board meeting, Hamel said. The board also needs the change in bylaws to move on the sale, he added. The water board plans to wrap up the sale by Aug. 11, but has an option for an extended deadline of Nov. 1.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here.

Category: Colorado Water
9:20:39 AM    

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Here's an update on the process that will establish new irrigation rules on the lower Arkansas River, from Chris Woodka writing for the Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

The rules also cover things like canal lining and surface drip irrigation systems that were put in after 1999. Any improvements fed by wells are covered under 1996 rules. Farmers came to the Lower Ark last month, saying they needed help in developing engineering to prove their points while the rules are being developed. Farmers say the state overestimates the amount of water lost to the Arkansas River from surface irrigation efficiency and is reluctant to share the information that goes into models that measure the effects. "There is a high level of mistrust between the farmers and the state," said Fred Heckman, a Fort Lyon Canal shareholder. "How do we get these people on our side?"

The Lower Ark board voted unanimously last week to provide independent engineering analysis for farmers. The board specified that its own funds, not a pending application for $250,000 from the Colorado Water Conservation Board, would be used to fund the engineering...

Peter Nichols, water attorney for the Lower Ark and a member of the committee drafting the rules, said there has been compromise although misunderstanding continues. "The state engineer and the CWCB are trying to meet us in the middle," Nichols said. "The state has approached it as a policeman, rather than helping."

Meanwhile, the Lower Ark board changed quit a bit on Wednesday. Here's a report from Chris Woodka Writing for the Pueblo Chieftain:

Pueblo County Commissioner Anthony Nunez joined the Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District board Wednesday, following his appointment to the board by Chief District Judge Dennis Maes.

Nunez replaces Loretta Kennedy, who left her position as commissioner to work for U.S. Rep. John Salazar in 2007.

The Lower Ark named Pete Moore of Crowley County as chairman; Linden Gill, Bent County, vice chairman; Wayne Whittaker, Otero County, treasurer; and Melissa Esquibel, Pueblo County, secretary.

Leroy Mauch of Prowers County and Moore were reappointed to the board along with Nunez, all for four-year terms.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here.

Category: Colorado Water
9:10:39 AM    

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Pitkin County is working on implementing their new sales tax dedicated to keeping more water in the rivers and streams in the county, according to a report from Brent Gardner-Smith writing for the Aspen Daily News. From the article:

In November, county voters approved a 0.1 percent sales tax worth $1 million a year to create a "healthy rivers and stream fund" to "secure, create, and augment minimum stream flows."[...]

And this week, the county is proposing to set up a revocable trust with the CWCB to hold some of the county's water rights, which could eventually let perhaps another 30 cubic feet per second of water flow down the Roaring Fork River that otherwise would be diverted for irrigation and other uses...

If the CWCB board blesses the concept of creating a "long term loan of water" through a "trust agreement," the county would initially let about 4 cfs of water now running out of Maroon Creek and into the Stapleton Brothers irrigation ditch to instead flow into the Roaring Fork River. Then, after a year, the county has the option to add another approximately 34 cfs of water to the trust managed by CWCB, and to the river. Those county water rights are now largely designated for irrigation on land held by the county's open space program and the water is diverted from Brush Creek, Owl Creek, Woody Creek, Sopris Creek, the Crystal River and other tributaries of the Roaring Fork.

Under the trust, the CWCB would hold the county's water rights and protect them from being challenged under Colorado water law, which has a strident "use or lose it" approach to water rights. "We have not done one of these using a trust agreement before, so it is unusual" said Bassi. "But one of the good things of our acquisition program is that it is very flexible and we can use just about any agreement that works for the water rights holder." The trust agreement would also be the first transaction at the CWCB to use the protections established in House Bill 1280, according to Amy Beatie, the executive director of the nonprofit Colorado Water Trust. That bill, passed last year and sponsored by Colorado state Sen. Gail Schwartz of Snowmass Village, strengthened the protection for water rights that are loaned or leased to the CWCB. The change in the use of the county's water rights from irrigation and other "beneficial uses" to "instream flow" rights would still need to be approved by a state water court, which can be a lengthy, complicated and expensive process. The trust agreement with the CWCB also needs to be approved by the Pitkin County commissioners.

The CWCB is the only entity in the state that can legally hold instream flow rights designed to "protect the natural environment to a reasonable degree." Typically, the instream flow rights held by the CWCB are junior water rights acquired after 1973. And when it comes to diversions during low flow years, those junior rights have to yield to senior water rights held by other parties. The Stapleton Brothers Ditch water rights owned by the county date back to 1933, and the county also owns other senior water rights.

The CWCB also has a "minimum stream flow" program that determines the minimum amount of water that should be left in a river or stream to protect the environment. The agency sets minimum flows for different sections, or reaches, of rivers and streams. Sometimes the minimums are set differently in summer and winter. The reach of the Roaring Fork River between the confluence of Maroon Creek and the Fryingpan River is 55 cfs from April 1 to Sept. 30 and 30 cfs from Oct. 1 to March 31. The minimum stream flow in Maroon Creek is 14 cfs year-round...

The CWCB board will consider the matter for the first time on Wednesday, Jan. 28 at a meeting in Denver, which starts a 120-day period for board review. Final approval could be granted by the board in March. "I don't anticipate that Front Range water users will be concerned about this," Bassi said. "But it is possible that owners of water rights on the Roaring Fork River would be concerned about it. Whenever there is a change of use on the river, other water rights holders take a hard look to see if it will impact their water rights." On Thursday, Bassi said the CWCB had so far received one letter from someone in the local area asking questions about the proposal.

Ely worked to set up the innovative arrangement with the CWCB, with the help of the Colorado Water Trust, in response to two different circumstances the county encountered. The first is that the county wants to manage some of its open space land in its natural state, which means not irrigating the land to grow hay. But if the county does not divert the water it owns, it could potentially weaken or lose its water rights. The trust with the CWCB would let the county leave its water in the river while still enjoying the protection of a state agency specifically charged with holding water rights to the environmental benefit of the state's rivers and streams...

The second circumstance is the need to manage the water rights in the Stapleton Brothers Ditch that are connected with the land used for the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport. That water once irrigated several hundred acres of fields that are now under an expanding airport runway and taxiway. Because the airport is operated as an "enterprise fund" governed by the state's Taxpayers Bill of Rights, the county cannot give its water rights to the CWCB for instream flow purposes, but instead must sell or lease them. And the CWCB doesn't have the money to purchase the water. The trust agreement allows the county to loan the water to CWCB, and to the river, and stay within the guidelines of an enterprise fund. The terms of the trust also allow the county to ask that any or all of its water rights be released from the trust at any time. And it sets up a process where it is simple and easy to add more water rights to the trust, although changes to additional water rights would still need to be approved through water court.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here.

Category: Colorado Water
8:57:57 AM    

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