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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Thursday, January 29, 2009

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The Colorado Water Congress' 51st Annual Meeting is titled, "Water Buffaloes in the Mist: On Solid Ground in an Uncertain Time." The breakout sessions run from environmental issues through water law to the economy and infrastructure.

Here are some highlights from our day at the meeting:

Transition to Green

Panel members for this session were: Drew Peternell, Colorado Trout Unlimited; Becky Long, Colorado Environmental Coalition; Amy Beatie, Colorado Water Trust; and Tom Iseman, The Nature Conservancy.

During the Q&A the panelists were asked about the effects of climate change on their relationship with water providers, industry and consumptive use in general. Long said, "We don't have matching tattoos but we're hanging out a lot more now."

When asked about storage projects Peternell told attendees that TU is not against all storage projects but each has to stand on its own and weigh environmental requirements fairly.

A recent example was the filing by the Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District for their proposed Dry Gulch Reservoir. Colorado Trout Unlimited filed an objection in water court claiming that the size of the reservoir was not in line with projected growth and that the planning horizon of 100 years was too long.

PAWSD got their decree but the Colorado Supreme Court said no, agreeing with TU.

The BLM and Forest Service are currently reviewing several Colorado stream segments for Wild and Scenic designation. The Colorado River District and others are trying to get support for a program that would manage those river segments as Wild and Scenic without pursuing actual designation.

Peternell said that that type of arrangement is acceptable to TU.

The Alluvial Wellfield and River Bank Filtration for the Prairie Waters Project

Richard Tocher brought everyone up to date on the Prairie Waters project. They're building a nearly 40 mile pipeline in two counties -- along a river corridor that is mostly agricultural -- to meet up at new treatment facilities near Aurora Reservoir.

After construction there will be an access road along the South Platte River with access to electrical facilities and wellheads. The rest of the land will be reclaimed as a native prairie grassland environment.

Tests show that together the wells will produce 8,500 gallons per minute (12 cubic feet per second). The project is moving along just fine. The wellfield should be online in February and the pipeline completed late in the summer.

Lost Creek Designated Groundwater basin aquifer study

Before this morning's general session we caught up with Ralf Topper from the Colorado Geological Survey. He was in a good mood after getting funding this week from the Colorado Water Conservation Board for a study of the Lost Creek Designated Groundwater basin's suitability for groundwater recharge and storage.

It's a cool project since it would be storage near the Denver metro area. Underground storage has two distinct advantages over surface reservoirs, no evaporative loss and little surface disturbance.

The CWCB dough along with funding from some other sources will help identify the characteristics of the aquifer including capacity and water movement.

Topper hopes to collect and analyze enough data to be able to offer assurance to water providers that they'll be able to recover most of the water they store in the aquifer. The project needs to provide a, "clear impetus to the water provider to put water in the ground," he said.

Category: Colorado Water
6:11:58 PM    

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Here's a recap of yesterday's meeting of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, from Brent Gardner-Smith writing for the Aspen Daily News. From the article:

Pitkin County's innovative proposal to enter into a trust agreement with the Colorado Water Conservation Board in order to leave more water in the Roaring Fork River was well-received by the CWCB board on Wednesday...

The county and CWCB staff are proposing to enter into a long-term loan of water from the county to the CWCB through a trust agreement. The deal would allow the county to let about 4 cubic feet per second (cfs) of water stay in Maroon Creek, and then in to the Roaring Fork River, instead of being diverted into the Stapleton Brothers irrigation ditch. The county owns the water by virtue of its ownership of land now used as part of the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport. Since it no longer uses the water for irrigation purposes, the county wants to leave the water in the river to help meet the "minimum stream flow" in a reach of the Roaring Fork River as set by the CWCB. The county is also proposing to "loan" another 30 cfs of water it owns from its open space purchases to the CWCB next year, if the proposal is approved.

The CWCB is a state agency with the power to hold "instream flow rights" and the trust agreement with the county will allow the CWCB to hold -- and protect -- the county's water rights -- and leave more water in the stream to help maintain the river's natural ecology. Under the terms of the agreement, the county could ask for the CWCB to return its water rights at any time. The trust agreement would be the first of its kind entered into by the CWCB and the deal would be the first to take advantage of changes to state water law under House Bill 1280 that was passed last year. That bill strengthened the ability of the CWCB to protect water rights it is holding for minimum stream flow purposes. As a result of the CWCB reviewing the proposal on Wednesday, a 20-day period is now open for any party to request a public hearing on the issue. And an 120-day review period is now open. The CWCB board could approve the trust agreement in March...

David Hallford, an attorney with Balcomb and Green in Glenwood Springs who represents the Basalt Water Conservancy District, told the CWCB board that "significant additional work must be done to examine the likely impact of the proposed acquisition on these water rights," referring to the water rights associated with the Stapleton Brothers Ditch. "The potential injury to other users on the Roaring Fork River will be severe if these matters are not properly addressed." An attorney for the town of Basalt also wrote a letter expressing concern that the deal between Pitkin County and the CWCB could hurt certain water rights held by the town.

More coverage of the meeting, from Chris Woodka writing for the Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

What's going on is turmoil in the state government's budget that could hit the water community from several directions, including a reduction in funding for projects, possible cutbacks in water enforcement and potential delays in the program to contain invasive mussels. "The cuts that are occurring to water programs are not unique," explained Harris Sherman, director of the Department of Natural Resources. "The pain is being spread across all sectors of state government."[...]

On Tuesday, the board voted to delay consideration of funding some grants from the Water Supply Reserve Account until September. The account uses a combination of funds specifically dedicated to basins and from a statewide pool. The good news: Basin accounts are untouched. The bad news: The Arkansas basin fund is nearly tapped out.

The Arkansas Basin Roundtable last year shifted its funding to a mix of basin and state accounts in recommending approval of a Fountain Creek dredging project for Pueblo and a water study of Upper Black Squirrel Creek. The state share was 77 percent. This month, the roundtable moved all funding for a study of Upper Arkansas groundwater management into the state account. The timing of funds was crucial to levering U.S. Geological Survey funding as well. In March, when the CWCB considers all three applications totalling about $500,000, the funding probably just won't be there. There is about $3.5 million left in basin accounts and $739,000 in the statewide account...

The board opted to wait until September to allocate any of the statewide money in order to get a better idea of funding for the following year...

Worse things loom.

Ritter has proposed that lawmakers take $30 million of mineral severance tax payments out of CWCB construction funds, which are used to fortify dams, put in pipelines and rebuild old irrigation head gates throughout the state. The absence of the money will cripple, but not kill water projects. "We're not canceling any loans already approved, but there could be problems in '09-'10," [CWCB Director] Gimbel said...

The CWCB's construction fund will be reduced to $33.7 million with a $10 million cut. With projects and activities already in line, the fund will have only about $7 million available going into the 2009 fiscal year - an amount that could be eaten by administrative expenses. The severance tax trust fund would take a $20 million hit, leaving it with $60 million. Projects and loans in line now might reduce that to $15.4 million by the 2009 fiscal year.

While that might seem like a lot of money in tough times, there are new customers who would like a piece of it. Denver Water, which has famously paid its own way in the past, has approached the CWCB for funding. In the last five years, the CWCB has loaned $320 million, nearly as much as it provided in the first 25 years of the program. In addition, nine loans totalling about $8 million are in danger of default - a problem the CWCB has never had before...

The state still has federal funds for water project loans coming in through the Colorado Water Resources and Power Development Authority. Like the CWCB, it is a revolving fund which grows every year and expects $175 million to be available for loans this year. Another $83 million could come into the state if Congress approves the current version of an economic stimulus package. The problem: Identified needs total $3.5 billion for more than 600 projects.

Meanwhile, other agencies have even deeper wounds ahead. The Division of Water Resources, the state's water cop, has added staff in response to water court filings it is charged with enforcing. Now, it's being told to make cuts. The division has a $27 million budget and has been told to cut $600,000 this year and $3 million next year, said State Engineer Dick Wolfe. "Is this the new norm?" Wolfe asked. "It's a bad picture and it could get worse. When we get 1,200 new applications a year, we have to administer those rights."

The Division of Wildlife wants to make sure funds appropriated by the state to contain the spread of zebra and quagga mussels stays on line, said Tom Remington, DOW director. "The cost later of failing to contain them will be tenfold," Remington said. Eric Wilkinson, CWCB director from the South Platte basin and director of the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, said boaters should pay more fees to cover those costs.

Category: Colorado Water
7:07:30 AM    

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