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Central Colorado water update

Column by John Orr

Water – July 2008 – Colorado Central Magazine

James Tingle Reservoir

Colorado is blessed with a water supply system that has grown up around the annual snowfall, unlike other states which rely on groundwater or rainfall. Our mountain ranges act as reservoirs during the winter, storing snowfall (most years).

In the spring the runoff is utilized to fill reservoirs for use later in the year. But some water goes down the river unused, and therefore many think the state should build more storage.

The Center of Colorado Water Conservancy District (CCWCD), in northern South Park, is doing just that. They’ve entered into a joint project with the Centennial Water and Sanitation District (Highlands Ranch) to build the James Tingle Reservoir.

The 20-acre reservoir will hold about 400 acre feet at a cost of $2.635 million. Its primary purpose is to store Randall Ditch water purchased by the district. CCWCD inked a 50-year lease with Centennial that will provide 200 acre feet for CCWDC and as much as 500 acre feet per year for Centennial.

Rio Grande Basin Roundtable

Four new requests for funding are under consideration by the Rio Grande Basin Roundtable.

First is a project to stabilize diversions and banks on the Conejos River west of U.S. 285. Backers are hoping to replace worn out headgates and diversion structures.

Second is for Platoro Reservoir rehabilitation. Platoro provides storage for Rio Grande Compact compliance, and agricultural water, and recreation. Work is required on the reservoir’s valves and piping.

The third project is for repairs to the Santa Maria and Continental Reservoirs.

Finally, the fourth request is for Rio Grande Headwaters Restoration, which is looking for dough to fund its 2008 Riparian Stabilization Project.

In Situ Uranium Mining News

With uranium prices going up around the world there is a lot of exploration and production activity.

The in situ process for extracting uranium from groundwater aquifers is effective but critics believe it threatens water supplies. As we reported last month Colorado has passed legislation (HB 08-1161) designed to establish regulations to ensure that aquifers are restored when mining operations end. The law resulted from grass roots activity around a project, proposed by Powertech Uranium, Inc., in Weld County. Mining officials helped craft the bill and Powertech’s president remarked, “We can live with this bill.”

The grass roots are watching two central Colorado in situ uranium projects closely.

Horizon Nevada has staked well sites in Park County near Hartsel. Opposition to the project is being organized by Save Our South Park Water 08. If drilling starts it will be governed locally by Park County’s 1041 regulations for water permits.

A second proposed project is located in Frémont County. Black Range Minerals wants to drill 800 test holes in the Tallahassee Creek area. Groundwater pollution is at the center of opposition to this project as well. The company plans to institute a groundwater protection plan so that the aquifer is not harmed, and has applied to Frémont County for a conditional use permit (which they had not received at press time).

Leadville Mine Drainage Tunnel

As we went to press, Stan Christensen from the EPA told Colorado Central, “The well is drilled … They are finishing the pipeline … it’ll be done pretty soon.” The pipeline will transport water from the Leadville mine pool to the Reclamation treatment plant at the mouth of the Leadville Mine Drainage Tunnel (LMDT). Christensen also said that the water level in the pool had dropped 13 feet since it’s high point in the fall.

In late May a U.S. House Natural Resources Subcommittee approved the legislation sponsored by Rep. Mark Udall and Rep. Doug Lamborn that will give Reclamation permanent responsibility for the LMDT.

Short Takes

Alamosa residents are experiencing high levels of chlorine in their tap water while the water department learns the chlorination ropes. They’ve only been chlorinating since the salmonella outbreak earlier this spring. Treatment plants have their individual personalities and requirements.

Reclamation is looking to bring 100,000 acre feet through the Boustead Tunnel this season.

The Rio Grande cutthroat trout is being considered for protection under the Endangered Species Act by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Their latest review shows a decline (from 13 to 5) in core populations, which is considered secure enough to make federal designation optional.

Colorado State Parks recently found dead zebra mussels on a boat at Lake Pueblo during a routine inspection. The boat was brought into Colorado from out of state.

Several reservoirs currently have boating restrictions in place as part of the fight against zebra mussels, including Lake Pueblo, Antero, Eleven Mile, Clear Creek and Rampart reservoirs. Be careful. A new statute sets a fine of $150 for bringing zebra mussels into local waters. The second time around you’ll pay $1,000, and a third offense will get you a year in the slammer.

Over in Cañon City, Cotter Corporation is eating the hookup costs for residents in the Lincoln Park area who want to abandon their wells for a city tap.

The Colorado Department of Natural Resources and the Bureau of Reclamation are in preliminary talks over the state’s desire to lease 200,000 acre feet of water from the Aspinall Unit. The water will be used to protect Colorado in case there is a call on the river by the Lower Basin states. The lease would also allay some of the fears that water from the Gunnison Basin will be used to irrigate the unbridled growth on the Front Range.

In early June, Reclamation was moving water out of Ruedi Reservoir (Fryingpan-Arkansas project) to add to stream flow in the Colorado River for the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program.

Crested Butte’s reworked watershed ordinance went into effect in May. The ordinance requires a land use change permit for activity within the town’s watershed. This passage probably signaled the first step on the way to court.

Crested Butte South property owners get to kick in an extra $18 for a new addition to their treatment system to bring the facility into compliance with state regulations.

In May the legislature passed SB 08-221 and Governor Ritter signed it. The bill authorizes the Colorado Water Resources and Power Development Authority to issue up to $50 million in bonds to fund watershed protection and forest-health projects.

John Orr follows water issues at Please send story ideas and links to jworr [AT] operamail [DOT] com.