Posted: March 26, 2011, By CHRIS WOODKA , The Pueblo Chieftain,
The tangled water issues of 50 communities have to get sorted during the next two years in order to get federal contracts for Lake Pueblo storage and the Arkansas Valley Conduit.
The Bureau of Reclamation has begun an environmental impact study for a master contract and the conduit at the request of the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, which is heading up both projects.
Sometime in 2013, contract negotiations will begin and its up to the water users in the Arkansas Valley to have their act together by then, said Jim Broderick, executive director of the Southeastern district.
It’s also important that the needs are communicated clearly at the beginning of the process, he told participants at a meeting Thursday.
“Reclamation has made it clear they don’t want to deal with 50 agencies . . . Our intent is to put a team together to speak with one voice,” Broderick said. “We want to know the concerns going in, so we can avoid the battles at the end.”
The district intends to have new agreements signed by May 15, meaning each of the communities in the storage or conduit projects has to gain approval of boards or councils. The agreements will deal only with paying for the environmental impact statement and federal contracts, not the eventual construction and operation of the projects.
There is also a complicated cost-sharing matrix with numbers that have been changing on a daily basis as the participants sort out issues of how much water they plan to store, how much agricultural land will be dried up or how much water they plan to take through the conduit.
The district also plans to collect assessments for portions of a water quality study from Colorado Springs, Pueblo and Aurora , even though they are not participants in either of the projects.
The study now includes 37 communities in the excess-capacity contract and 38 communities in the conduit project. There are 25 in both projects.
The excess-capacity contract would be for storage of 28,000-32,000 acre-feet of water in Lake Pueblo, or other Fryingpan-Arkansas Project reservoirs, when space is available. Of that about 8,200 would be available for the conduit. There are also 37,400 acre-feet of project storage space available to communities east of Pueblo.
Fry-Ark water always has a higher priority than excess-capacity water.
The EIS will study the cumulative impacts of storing non-project water in Fry-Ark reservoirs, which could total close to 100,000 acre-feet in the next 50 years. A 2006 Reclamation study determined there is about 130,000 acre-feet of storage space available annually.
Current contracts account for about 50,000 acre-feet of storage annually, and Southern Delivery System contracts now under final review would amount to 40,000 acre-feet.
Security, Fountain and Pueblo West are in both the SDS and Arkansas Valley Conduit contract processes.
Many other current users who rely on one-year contracts are in the Southeastern’s master contract proposal.
Thursday’s meeting was primarily about the cost of the EIS to each participant, and there was some wrangling about how some participants had reduced the amount requested, thus increasing bills for smaller districts.
The reason for the reduced requests was confusion over how types of water were categorized, Project Manager Phil Reynolds explained.
“We’re trying to get the numbers right,” he said.
Broderick stressed that water users have to get court decrees on water rights they plan to use under the master contract through Water Court in the next two years, or risk the possibility that water rights could not be stored.
Steve Harrison, Pueblo West Utilities Director, gave a practical example of why that is necessary. Pueblo West’s water rights from the Hill Ranch were not included in the EIS for SDS.
“You have to get the water analyzed under the EIS, or it can’t be stored under the contract,” Harrison said.
The district has suggested which water rights need to be studied, but Reclamation will call the shots during the EIS, Broderick said.
Pueblo West attorney Tom Mullans raised a concern with a provision about the Pueblo flow program in the proposed agreements. The flow program became an issue with Pueblo West late in the Pueblo County 1041 hearings, and resulted in a lawsuit.
Southeastern, as lead agency for the contract, is also obligated to abide by the provisions of a 2004 agreement that keep flows in the Arkansas River through Pueblo by curtailing exchanges during low-flow periods.
The district will look for a uniform provision that allows Pueblo West to participate in the flow program under the terms of the settlement in the lawsuit, attorney Lee Miller said.
The boards for each of the participants will be voting on uniform agreements that won’t be signed by the district until all have agreed, because the new agreement will supersede previous pacts.
Joe Kelley, La Junta water superintendent, asked if communities could expect to see as much or more of the water they signed up for in determining their share of the EIS cost.
Broderick and Miller said the numbers used for the EIS are most likely a minimum that communities can expect to receive if they participate in the later phases of building and operating the conduit. Some communities may drop out, and the final decision will be made by future Southeastern boards.
“We have spent four to five years in this process to determine use,” said Bill Long, president of the Southeastern board. “It’s not likely that the board would make changes.”
- WHO’S IN?
Participants in the environmental impact study for the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District master storage contract and Arkansas Valley Conduit are sorting out costs based on the amount of storage requested and areas of study.
Storage contract only: Canon City, Pueblo West, Salida, Security, Stratmoor Hills, Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District, Fountain, Florence, Penrose, Poncha Springs, Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District, Widefield.
Conduit and storage contract: Crowley County Water Association, La Junta, Las Animas, St. Charles Mesa Water District, 96 Pipeline, Beehive, Bent’s Fort Water, Eads, Fayette, Fowler, Hilltop, Holbrook Center, Homestead, Manzanola, May Valley, Newdale-Grand Valley, Olney Springs, Ordway, Patterson Valley, Rocky Ford, South Swink, Southside, Valley, Vroman, West Grand Valley.
Conduit only: Boone, Crowley, East End, Eureka, Hancock, Hasty, Lamar, McClave, North Holbrook, Sugar City, Swink, West Holbrook Water Pipeline Association, Wiley.