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C o l o r a d o F o u n d at i o n f o r Wat e r E d u c at i o n | Fa l l 2 0 0 7


HEADWATERS | F all 2007 Colorado Foundation for Water Education 1580 Logan St., Suite 410 • Denver, CO 80203 303-377-4433 • www.cfwe.org

C o l o r a d o F o u n d at i o n F o r Wat e r e d u C at i o n | Fa l l 2 0 0 7

Mission Statement

The mission of the Colorado Foundation for Water Education is to promote better understanding of water resources through education and information. The Foundation does not take an advocacy position on any water issue.

On the Cover: The lower Arkansas River photographed near Manzanola by Kevin Moloney.

Letter from the Editor.........................................................................................................1

Board Members Diane Hoppe

The Arkansas River Basin

President

Justice Gregory J. Hobbs, Jr.

Navigating the Adventure........................................................................................2

1st Vice President

Fountain Creek.......................................................................................................10

Matt Cook

2nd Vice President

A Really Good Model.............................................................................................17

Wendy Hanophy

Small Town Dreams...............................................................................................19

Secretary

Just One Chance....................................................................................................24

Assistant Secretary

Rita Crumpton Chris Rowe

CFWE Tour Highlights......................................................................................................27

Treasurer

W.D. Farr: A Remembrance.............................................................................................28

Ken Lykens

Assistant Treasurer

Recreation on the Upper Arkansas— rafters pass through Salida as a burro race takes place, page 2.

Ed Kosmicki

Remembering W.D. Farr, page 28.

Steve Acquafresca Becky Brooks Rep. Kathleen Curry Alan Hamel Taylor Hawes Lynn Herkenhoff Sen. Jim Isgar Veva McCaig Dan McAuliffe Margaret Medellin Dale Mitchell John Porter John Redifer Rick Sackbauer Robert Sakata Reagan Waskom Staff Jeannine Tompkins

Headwaters is a magazine designed to provide Colorado citizens with balanced and accurate information on a variety of subjects related to water resources. Copyright 2007 by the Colorado Foundation for Water Education. ISSN: 1546-0584 Edited by Lori Ozzello. Design by Emmett Jordan. Acknowledgments The Colorado Foundation for Water Education thanks the people and organizations who provided review, comment and assistance in the development of this issue.

Office Manager


Wa†ermarks

Putting out a publication is a sort of relay race.

Kevin Moloney

The editorial committee works out the story budget, then hands it off to the editor who assigns stories to writers. The writers research, interview sources and compose, then send their stories back to the editor. After the editing and fact checking, it goes to the designer, then the printer and out to readers. Race over. Until the next issue. For this issue of Headwaters, we streamlined the process, but expanded the story budget. When the writers began to report in, after they’d talked to contacts and gathered their initial information, we found there was much more to the Arkansas River‘s story than we’d imagined. Peter Roessmann discovers the Arkansas is more than an excellent trout route or exciting place to whitewater raft. Lisa Everitt details the efforts of six groups in central Colorado who negotiated middle ground instead of tangling themselves up in litigation. Karla Demmler explains the history behind a long argument over Fountain Creek. And I found two interrelated groups working to preserve a way of life in the Lower Arkansas Valley. The Arkansas is 1,450 miles long—roughly the same length as the Colorado River—and is a major Mississippi River tributary. The river was claimed by Spanish explorers in the mid 1500s, ceded to France, transferred back to Spain and again to France before Napolean sold the river’s basin as part of the Louisiana Purchase. He needed cash for a war. For more than 25 years, the Arkansas was the border between the United States and Mexico. The list of 17th century explorers who followed her path includes Coronado, de Soto, Marquette and Pike, and she was a trade route for the native Utes. Three hundred thirty seven miles of the Trail of Tears was on the Arkansas. The river was part of the Santa Fe Trail, a guide to the way west. She begins her journey near Leadville, in the Sawatch Range. She winds through the Royal Gorge she carved before she slips east, to the plains. Over her course, she will drop more than 11,000 feet in elevation—almost half of them in its first 125 miles —before joining the Mississippi. Irrigation slows her to a trickle before the Arkansas becomes a braided prairie river in Kansas, but below Tulsa, Okla., she’s a navigable waterway. We don’t have the space to elaborate on everything we found interesting—the generations who’ve explored and depended on the Arkansas, the farming and ranching, the fishing, the bird watching, the hunting, the wildlife, the lore, the tributaries, the compacts. But we will offer you a snapshot of the river’s journey through her home state. Now we’re handing it off to you.

Lori Ozzello Lori Ozzello Editor

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Navigating the

Adventure

IstockPhoto.com

by Peter Roessman



C o l o r a d o f o u n d a t i o n f o r W a t e r E d u c a t i o n


Peter Roessman

The Arkansas River

is unique

among Colorado’s storied waterways, a recreational asset that has no peer. More people make pilgrimages to touch the Arkansas than any other water body in the state. How this developed is a tale of ecology and technology, plan and fate, human nature and luck, with a cast of characters who made it all happen by working together.

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Upper vs. Lower The Arkansas River has two very distinct regions. The Upper Arkansas is a mountain river coursing approximately 150 miles from its headwaters near Leadville to where it slows at Pueblo Reservoir. Below the reservoir, the Arkansas becomes a plains river that works to satisfy municipal and agricultural needs. The two regions play vastly different roles. The Upper Arkansas provides the greatest concentration of recreational activities, while the Lower Arkansas offers opportunities that complement the upper half. The Upper Arkansas always had the genes to be an outstanding recreation river. Runoff from three different mountain ranges, the Sawatch, Mosquito and Sangre de Cristo, feeds the river. The headwaters fall from 10,430 feet above sea level at Leadville to 7,080 near Salida, 53 highway miles away. Below Salida, the river wends in and out of canyons until it reaches the plains at Cañon City. By then, it’s dropped another 1,748 feet. The Upper Arkansas has some of the best and most famous stretches of whitewater in the nation. No major in-channel reservoir arrests its flow until the river reaches Pueblo Reservoir. Two transmountain diversions augment the river and two headwaters reservoirs on major tributaries maintain its flow. Diversions for the first 150 miles are modest by Colorado’s standards. Wager launches an industry Like much of Colorado, the Upper Arkansas River Valley has had its share of boom and bust cycles. Mining arrived with a profitable flourish only to leave behind bewildered communities, ghost towns and environmental damage. The railroad that ran through the valley also departed, leaving rusting tracks that run beside the river for much of its course. Smelters, sawmills and other extractive industries have come and gone. Farms and ranches are the longest enduring economic base left. Recreation is the newest boom. The birth of recreation on the Arkansas River, in a modern sense, begins as many great legends do—with a bet. In 1949 boating any distance on the wild Arkansas was an unknown quantity. A preponderance of rapids and high virgin flows made many a wise man stay away from navigating the river in the wooden or metal canoes of the day, until two men challenged each other to a race to see who could paddle the fastest from Salida to Cañon City. Belying the foolhardiness of the adventure, the deal was sealed over nothing more intoxicating than coffee. Word got out about the friendly wager. Not only did others join the race, but Salida agreed to sponsor the event. The first downriver race on the Upper Arkansas River, soon to be known as FIBArk, an acronym for First in Boating the Arkansas, was an immediate sensation. The Salida Daily Mail-Record reported the banks of the Arkansas were lined with an estimated 10,000 spectators; bumper-to-bumper traffic jammed U.S. Highway 50. Neither the river nor the boaters let them down. Heavy rains boosted flows to the highest level in five years. Of the six craft that left Salida to travel 56 miles downstream to Cañon City, only one survived. The four others either smashed or flipped. Peter Roessman (2)




The fifth was abandoned heading into heavy water. Two Swiss men, Robert Ris of Basel and Max Roemer of Biel, crossed the line after 7 hours, 38 minutes and 12.7 seconds on a river labeled the “meanest, most vicious river in the world.” Neither of the men who conceived the initial challenge even started the race. But that day set in motion a change in the Upper Arkansas. In 2008, FIBArk celebrates its 60th anniversary. The event has evolved from a single downriver boat race to a communitywide cultural event. The classic race was eventually shortened to 26 miles, ending in Cotopaxi, after the original course was termed attempted suicide. Slalom races, pro raft races, freestyle competition, boater-x races, multiple foot races, a parade, concerts, skate park events and even a contest for the craziest river dog were added over years. FIBArk’s growth mirrored the changes in boating, as well as the community’s evolution. FIBArk remains the nation’s pre-eminent whitewater event, attracting 20,000 people from around Colorado, the nation and the world to Salida each June for the four-day event. FIBArk isn’t just about boating, it “represents the community,” says Jamie Keating Klco, FIBArk’s administrator, “and we try to incorporate the entire community.” FIBArk involves so much of the community that by the time the event rolls around, “there’s no one left to volunteer.” Water play While FIBArk got the ball rolling and put the Upper Arkansas on the world map of rivers to run, periodic leaps in technology opened up it to new recreationalists. As equipment changed, so did the number of users on the Arkansas River. In the 1960s, the advent of more durable fiberglass kayaks and canoes permitted paddlers to run rougher sections of water than wooden craft and cloth-covered European folding boats. The 1970s witnessed the birth of commercial rafting on the Arkansas as guides in rubber rafts opened up the river to anyone who wanted to go along for the ride. In the 1980s lightweight plastic kayaks hit the market, providing inexpensive and nearly indestructible boats to an even broader audience of river enthusiasts, and self-bailing rafts made it possible to run river sections, including the infamous Numbers, that would have previously swamped a raft. Since then, an armada of watercraft brought in whole new audiences. Inflatable kayaks, or duckies, and the simple inner tube allowed neophytes to play in the river’s calmer stretches. Fisherman are leaving their waders behind and using boats, catarafts and float tubes to experience flyfishing. Boogie boards, body boards, sledges and other individual flotation devices are making minor forays into river culture, too. But the technological leap that is causing a huge reinvention in paddling sports is the recent introduction of the stubby playboats. These shorter, more acrobatic and nimble kayaks are perfect for playing on standing waves, holes and other hydraulic structures. With this new style, a boater can paddle for an hour and get in and out of the river at the same place.




Peter Roessman

The recent introduction of the stubby playboats allows boaters to paddle for an hour and get in and out of the river at the same place. This innovation is key to understanding the explosion in urban whitewater parks, such as Salida’s Riverside Park and Buena Vista’s whitewater park (pictured). This innovation is key to understanding the explosion in urban whitewater parks, such as Salida’s Riverside Park, Buena Vista’s whitewater park and many others. Paddling no longer requires vehicle shuttles, hence the new term park and play. It is now a sport that can be enjoyed on a lunch break. The excitement of playboating is enough to bring an entirely new crowd into the sport. Boating in all forms has profoundly changed the region’s culture. It’s a naturally social sport that for logistical and safety reasons normally requires a group. FIBArk board member Ed Loeffel recalls boating, “gave you an incentive to broaden your circle…it broadened the community.” Loeffel came to the valley 30 years ago because of FIBArk and now is practicing radiologist in Salida. In Buena Vista and Salida, kayaks and rafts are ubiquitous. They’re in the river, on tops of cars, in back yards and on front porches. Buses and vans shuttling passengers and rafts are an inescapable summer sight. As the river rises so does the population. Raft guides converge from all over the world to work at the commercial companies. When the season ends, guides either head to ski resorts for the winter, return to college or move on to other rafting hotspots in West Virginia, New Zealand, Costa Rica or Chile. Show me the money Boating’s popularity on the Upper Arkansas now makes it the most commercially rafted stretch of river in the nation, some argue even in the world. In a single day, as many as 460 commercial crafts launch into the Arkansas. The river itself accounts for just under half of all paddling activity in the entire state. The economic impact of commercial boating on the Arkansas is nearly $65 million, an enormous sum considering that it is almost completely derived from just two counties—Chaffee and Fremont. Commercial use on the Arkansas has more than twice the market share of the entire mainstem of the Colorado River, its next closest competitor. By 2001, more than a quarter million commercial user days were logged on the Arkansas. Then came 9/11. Bill Dvorak, a commercial guide with 30 years of experience on the river, recalls that on 9/11 bookings for the rest of the year just vanished. The 2002 drought followed. A widely broadcast statement—that all of Colorado was on fire—threw business into a tailspin. It plummeted by 45 percent from the previous year. 

Though numbers rebounded in 2003 and continue to increase, through 2006 commercial trips have yet to exceed the record 2001 season. The end of the Wild West As with all water resources in Colorado, there simply isn’t enough river to meet the demand. By the 1980s, anyone with a raft and paddle hawked himself as a river guide. Under pressure from the area’s rafting industry, the Colorado legislature in 1984 passed the River Outfitting Licensing Bill requiring trained guides, along with first aid kits, life vests and spare paddles, on every raft. Guide companies had to be licensed and have liability insurance. The law even stipulated that guides must not operate a raft under the influence of drugs or alcohol. The rules immediately cut the number of rafting enterprises to about 150, down from more than 400. The AHRA Pushing for state licensing of commercial rafting was the first in a long string of river management actions that made commercial outfitters as successful at diplomacy as they are in business. With a strong impetus from the area’s boating community, the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area was created in 1989, combining the resources of the Bureau of Land Management and Colorado Department of Parks and Outdoor Recreation. Blending the BLM’s resource management skills and State Park’s expertise in working with the public, AHRA’s mission encompassed managing lands, and facilities, as well as permits, river use guidelines and other protective measures. The AHRA, innovative from its inception, continues to refine its operations by working with a 14-member citizens task force chosen by seven different groups, including land owners, private boaters, commercial guides, anglers, environmental groups, water users and local governments. The task force identifies problems and develops solutions to emerging issues that confront the river, keeping the recreation area ahead of potential conflicts. The AHRA has been instrumental in increasing the sustainability of park resources, keeping the peace on the river and providing education and etiquette training for the different users of the recreation area. As has been the history of recreation in the area, times are changing. Camping increased along the river. RV use is up, especially among retirees. More families

C o l o r a d o f o u n d a t i o n f o r W a t e r E d u c a t i o n


spend time by the river, looking for activities for adults and children. The demographic additions are on top of the incremental growth of traditional users. A new wrinkle to the AHRA is the 20,000-acre Brown’s Canyon Wilderness Study Area which may lead to the creation of the first piece of Colorado wilderness outside of a high alpine environment. The canyon is one of the few stretches of the Upper Arkansas without a paved road and it attracts a wide array of wildlife. The bedrock to maintain the resource’s viability is the partnership of federal and state resources along with the cooperation of regional water providers. Assistant Park Manager John Geerdes points out, “It’s a pretty unique situation…it’s very good not only for the resource but for the local communities.” The Voluntary Flow Management Program In 1990, another cooperative process yielded the Voluntary Flow Management Program. When a sharp drawdown of Twin Lakes Reservoir was announced, rafters asked that it be timed to coincide with rafting season rather than releasing the water in the winter. The VFMP takes advantage of public benefits written into the authorization for the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project: recreation and development of fish and wildlife resources. As non-reimbursable project benefits of the Fry-Ark Project, the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District and its project partner, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, are permitted to manage their flow regime to benefit recreation and fisheries. The primary objective is to maintain year-round minimum flows for the fishery. The VFMP works on a July1–June 30 program year. From July 1 through Aug. 15, flows in the Arkansas, measured from the Wellsville gage downstream of Salida, are augmented to maintain a flow of 700 cubic feet per second by releasing project water from Twin Lakes. The volume released plateaus at 10,000 acre feet, with any additional water needed to sustain flows coming from other agreements and stipulations. The commercial boating community purchases replacement water to keep the river whole by compensating SECWD for the 10 percent transit loss. Since 90 percent of Southeastern’s consumptive use is downstream of Pueblo Reservoir, the flow management program does not affect the project’s yield. Moving water from Twin Lake to Pueblo Reservoir is part of the district’s normal operations. The flow program only affects when water is moved. Beginning Aug. 15, flows decrease to the year round minimum flow of 250 cfs. From Oct. 15 through Nov. 15, a spawning flow rate is instituted. It may vary from year to year, from 300 to 700 cfs. A period of minimum incubation flows follow, ranging from 250 to 400 cfs based on what the river flow was during spawning. As the runoff begins, Reclamation adjusts flows to keep them within a range of 250- 400 cfs from April 1 through May 15 as trout fry emerge. After May 15, the river’s peak rules until the end of the flow year. Once the 10,000 acre-foot point is reached and water is still needed, yet another innovative and unexpected arrangement kicks in. Figuring that in three out of every 10 years

additional augmentation flows will be needed, State Parks will pay up to $100,000 to purchase additional Twin Lakes water. To reimburse State Parks, the commercial outfitting community imposed a 0.25 percent surcharge on its gross receipts, producing around $30,000 annually. If the extra water is needed in only three out of 10 years, the expense to State Parks and the contribution from the outfitters should balance out. What has happened since 2001 is that extra water has been needed in every year except 2007. Complicating matters further is the increasing cost of water. The extra $100,000 could purchase 2- to 3,000 acre feet of additional flow augmentation in some years, but in 2006 it bought only 600 acre feet. Since none of the purchased flow augmentation water is consumed, the water can be resold to recoup some of the original cost after it reaches Pueblo Reservoir. It also can go downriver to John Martin Reservoir to maintain storage for recreation. Another layer of complexity in administering recreation flows: Aurora’s ability to exchange 20,000 acre feet of water from former agricultural use near Rocky Ford upstream to Twin Lakes Reservoir. From Twin Lakes, Aurora sends water back down valley through a pipelinethat parallels the Arkansas River to the Otero Pump Station where water is pumped uphill 700 feet to drop by gravity into the South Platte River Basin. This exchange potential, which puts water into a pipeline instead of the river, could significantly alter the web of agreements that maintain recreation flows. To remedy the possible conflict, an agreement was negotiated in 2000 with Aurora for a flow indexing program. Aurora’s exchange potential is limited by the Upper Arkansas’ flow. When flows at the Wellsville Gage exceed 3,000 cfs, Aurora can take up to 500 cfs. As flows decrease to between 1,500 and 2,000 cfs, Aurora lowers its exchange to 175 cfs. From 1,500 to 1,000, Aurora’s exchange drops to 125 cfs, and decreases again between 500 and 1,000 cfs, to 75 cfs. If the river flows fall to 250 to 500 cfs, Aurora’s exchange goes down to 50. Other restrictions also bind Aurora. The city will not exchange any water between July 1 – August 15, leaving a window from May through June and Aug. 15 through September to move all of its water. The program, Aurora’s Arkansas and Colorado River Basin Manager Gerry Knapp admits, “makes it more difficult” to make the exchanges. To ensure full yield, Aurora employs additional contract exchanges with other entities. A movie, a parasite, a plant and a plan Sometimes lost in all the paddling is that the Arkansas is an outstanding fishery that suffered from misunderstanding and misrepresentation. The Arkansas never had the storied traditions of some of Colorado’s other rivers. The Upper Arkansas was known as a small fish trout river for years, partly due to its fast flows. And the perception that the river was overrun with paddlers discouraged impressionable anglers from wading into the Upper Ark. A convergence of unrelated events—a movie, a parasite, a water treatment plant, a management plan and drought— altered the trajectory of fishing and dispelled misconceptions. Whirling disease, a parasitic condition especially lethal to young rainbow trout, stole into Colorado’s fishing scene in

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the mid-1980s. The Upper Arkansas has been a brown troutdominated stream since the introduction of non-native species. It fared better because of the brown’s resistance to whirling disease. While other fisheries’ trout populations nosedived, whirling disease cemented the dominance of browns that now comprise about 90 percent of Upper Ark’s fish population. Countering the image of paddling sports’ interference with the fishing has been a difficult problem to overcome. The two have always segregated. Paddlers seek out whitewater while trout fishermen look for quieter, slower flows. Boaters are on the river in the heat of the day while fishermen have better luck in the cool morning and evening hours. The AHRA’s establishment went a step further, designating some sections of the river specifically for fishing, leaving anglers alone in prime fishing habitat. With the AHRA’s management of commercial outfitting, most boating use is confined to popular stretches of whitewater. The rest of the river is open. The Upper Arkansas, as ArkAnglers partner Greg Felt notes, “is a big beast.” At nearly 150 river miles, fishermen have an awful lot of river to explore. In 1992, California Gulch and Hollywood affected fishing on the Upper Arkansas. That February, operators flipped a switch at a water treatment plant in California Gulch, near Leadville, to clean up contaminated water released from the Yak Tunnel. The tunnel was a dewatering system for a series of hard-rock mines that for a century annually discharged about 210 tons of heavy metals into the Arkansas River. The drastic reduction in contaminants was apparent almost immediately downstream of Leadville. The health of the aquatic food chain rebounded dramatically. Fish are bigger, healthier and live to up to seven years. Before, fish survived to less than half that in the upper reaches. A no less revolutionary event occurred when Robert Redford’s “A River Runs through It” was released in October, romanticizing fly fishing and spawning a continuing love affair with the sport. The lure of flyfishing has smitten the Baby Boomers in particular. They bring their disposable income and active lifestyle to the Upper Arkansas, creating a demand for retirement and second homes close to quality flyfishing. The 2002 drought lowered river elevations and increased water temperatures around the state. In other rivers fish died or suffered. In the Upper Arkansas the brown trout boomed. As a species browns are tolerant of a wider range of temperatures than other trout. They took advantage of lower and slower flows to feed more efficiently, spend less energy fighting currents and grow in size and number. The higher flows during the Arkansas River’s boating season discourage the growth of monster trout. But, the wild brown trout population in the Upper Ark is in the range of 4,000-5,000 fish per mile, an “extremely high” density, says the Colorado Division of Wildlife’s Michael Seraphin. The late spring Mother’s Day caddis and blue wing olive mayfly hatches that occur as early as mid-April through midMay sets the river alight with feeding fish. The hatch is aided by the flow management regime that reduces the chance of high flows blowing out the hatch. The hatch fills fishes’ bellies as area fishermen pack hotels. It’s normally a slow time, between

Fisherrman have nearly 150 miles of river to explore in the upper Arkansas. 

iStockPhoto.com


“…in the future lies a new form that will again challenge the values, perceptions and use of the river in ways we haven’t imagined.” the end of ski season and the beginning of rafting. Fishing is its own economic force on the Upper Arkansas, to the tune of more than $17 million in direct expenditures in the three headwaters counties. And after Aug. 15th, anglers return to the river again. At the Upper Arkansas’ terminus sits Pueblo Reservoir, the first major in-channel reservoir on the river and one of the most popular state parks in Colorado. Covering more than 4,500 surface acres, 1.5 million visitors generate upwards of $16 million in associated revenues each year. A cool water reservoir, Pueblo offers anglers in the basin sport fish such as walleye, wiper, catfish and bass. The reservoir is also popular for boaters and jet skiers. Pueblo’s Whitewater Park: the Metropolitan Recreation Revolution Downstream of the reservoir, the Arkansas River was disregarded for paddling. The slower, less pristine water entering the city held little attraction. But in 1998, the Army Corps of Engineers was looking at fish habitat improvement projects on the river through Pueblo. A channelized and confined stretch was written off because it would provide little opportunity. High water temperatures and two low-head dams on either end impeded fish passage. So Bob Walker, owner of Pueblo’s The Edge kayak shop, asked, “Can I have it?” What came from the desire to create some paddling opportunities in Pueblo evolved into a series of drop structures suitable for boaters. They would also act as a 2,000-foot fish ladder in what is still quality trout habitat. Three years ago the Pueblo Whitewater Park opened, featuring eight drop structures of varying difficulty over a ½-mile stretch. Each of the drops is known by the portion of what is billed as the world’s largest mural, painted on the side of the channel’s concrete embankments. The park is becoming an essential stop for boaters on the way to the Upper Arkansas. It is the perfect warm-up spot before they hit bigger water upstream. “I just marvel at how many people come from Boulder, New Mexico and Grand Junction,” says Walker. Flows through the park can range from a calm 250 cfs in the winter to more than 1,500 cfs, which Walker concedes, “can get hairy.” The portion of the river occupied by the park had been a dumping ground for trash and a squatting area for the homeless. The river enhancements are part of Pueblo’s riverfront improvement plan meant to revive the river on its way through town. Now a flotilla of kayaks, rafts, knee boards, boogie boards and even the occasional surfboard plays in the waves. Walker says there is enough room for non-conventional river

users to use the park. “Pretty much anything is welcome…if you play by the rules.” East to Kansas As it crosses Colorado’s eastern plains, recreation on the Arkansas changes from whitewater to flat water. Access to the river becomes more limited because of private ownership of land adjacent to the river. Water quality decreases with more intensive human use and reuse, and the water warms up. Gone are the large crowds of paddlers. Instead, there are powerboats, jet skis and flat water fishing craft on the prairie reservoirs. John Martin, located between Las Animas and Lamar, is the largest Colorado reservoir east of the Continental Divide. It’s closer to Kansas and Oklahoma than Denver and most of its users travel from the Front Range for a different type of recreation experience. Out-of-state visitors boat and fish on this cool water fishery where warm water species—bass, saugeye, walleye, catfish and crappie—can be caught along with trout. On the plains, waterfowl and terrestrial hunting are important to the regional economy. The reservoirs and farm ponds attract ducks and geese, and the concentration of larger game animals increases with proximity to the river. The Arkansas River Valley attracts another largely unnoticed recreation enthusiast: the birder. Situated squarely in the important Atlantic flyway migration route for birds, the Arkansas River Valley serves as a stopover and habitat for a wide variety of permanent and migratory birds. More than 7 million birders a year visit Colorado and they flock to rural areas in need of tourist dollars. Success Recreation on the Arkansas continues to evolve in surprising and lucrative ways. It is blessed with success, but the river has not gotten by on its natural talent alone. It took hard work, like the recreation industry that paid its own way and bought a share of the water it uses. Hard work, like negotiating and comprising and regularly revisiting those compromises to reach a more perfect recreation future. And it took luck. Luck like a crazy bet on a boat race, or someone in a laboratory seeing a new use for a material, or the federal government realizing the time had come to recognize the benefits of fish habitat and recreation. But if history has taught any lessons about recreation, it is that out there in the future lies a new form that will again challenge the values, perceptions and use of the river in ways we haven’t imagined. And it will again take the right people, the right circumstances, hard work and vision to thrive on the Arkansas River.

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Fountain Creek Story by Karla Demmler

Photographs by Kevin Moloney

Fountain Creek joins the Arkansas River (left) in southeast Pueblo. 10

C o l o r a d o f o u n d a t i o n f o r W a t e r E d u c a t i o n


Just think of Fountain Creek as a wayward adolescent—

Denver Public Library, Western History Collection

unkempt, prone to outbursts, and struggling to fill rising expectations.

Once a little creek that dried up in the summer, Fountain Creek now is a critical waterway connecting the rapidly urbanizing communities of Pueblo and Colorado Springs. But development is taking its toll. Raw sewage spills and floods drew a pair of federal lawsuits, along with state fines and the ire of Colorado Springs’ downstream neighbors. Poor water quality continues to hound the creek. In a 2006 survey conducted by The Osprey Group, more than two-thirds of the respondents felt Fountain Creek’s conditions were worsening. The response: a convergence of community will and scientific research to find the momentum to create long-term solutions.

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11


creek’s historic floodplain. Many blame new development and imported water for the Fountain’s problems. And with demands for more water to be pumped in, the problems may become worse. In April 1999, a storm stalled over south central Colorado, an area prone to flash floods. The ground became so saturated that the surface became essentially impervious. As Fountain Creek surged to 13,200 cubic feet per second, huge chunks of streambank calved off. Landowners in the lower watershed watched as acres washed into the creek. In Pueblo, flood devastation was some of the worst. One city park was inundated and almost buried in sediment.

Lisa Ross, senior stormwater engineer for Colorado Springs, says “The city is excited to have the opportunity to make improvements to the stormwater system that have been needed for a long time.” Unnatural flows Among its many roles, Fountain Creek acts as both source and receptacle for Colorado Springs’ water supply. Tributaries in the Fountain Creek watershed contribute about 15 percent of Colorado Springs drinking water. The city pumps another 70 percent from west of the Continental Divide, and the remainder of the city’s supply originates as snow on Pikes Peak. After use by people and businesses, Colorado Springs discharges most of the West Slope water into Fountain Creek as wastewater effluent and return flows from lawn and other irrigation. Development enabled by imported, non-native water changed Fountain Creek’s flow patterns over time. Historically, sections of the creek partially dried up in the summer. Now the creek runs year-round, and at certain times of the year, its flows are almost entirely supported by wastewater effluent and irrigation return flows. Increasing problems with flooding and erosion along the creek are well documented. In the 2003 Fountain Creek Watershed Plan, flooding, sedimentation and erosion ranked as the top three problems. Fountain Creek resembles many small waterways in the arid West. Changing land use modifies the historic channel, urban development hems in the creek banks and forces them to narrow and straighten—and become more prone to floods and erosion. Throughout the watershed, the spread of impervious surfaces such as roads and parking lots send bursts of stormwater into the creek, instead of allowing for slower natural drainage through soils. To make matters worse, urban development infringes on the creek’s natural flood zones. For example, portions of Pueblo’s downtown lie directly within the 12

Stormwater solutions Faced with flooding problems that won’t abate, Colorado Springs’ stormwater management ramped up over the last decade. They have a big job to do. The region’s stormwater system is extensive, including 1,355 miles of stormwater pipeline, as well as some 3,069 points where storm drains discharge to creeks. With new development, these numbers continue to grow. To help pay for improvements to the 40-plus-year-old system, the city levied a new stormwater enterprise fee, which cost the average household about $7.50 per month. Officials say the fee generated $14.3 million in 2007, and should bring in $15.6 million in 2008. “The city is excited to have the opportunity to make improvements to the stormwater system that have been needed for a long time.…Our budget in the past was only a couple million dollars a year. Now we have the opportunity to do a lot more,” says Lisa Ross, senior stormwater engineer for the city. In a June meeting, Colorado Springs officials assured the Pueblo City Council that they have identified a backlog of capital projects estimated to cost $295 million, with $66.5 million classified as high priority. Over the next five years, Colorado Springs earmarked money for 13 of 24 most critical projects. In public presentations city officials tout the breadth of their efforts to help the Fountain, including new floodplain regulations, increased spending on stormwater infrastructure, water conservation programs and an ongoing non-potable water recycling system. They argue the efforts are sufficient to bring

Homes cover the hills east of Colorado Springs, next to the yet-unbuilt Banning-Lewis Ranch project. The Colorado Springs development could house an additional 140,000 people when complete.

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the watershed’s flood problems under control—even as the city grows and adds more runoff. But some downstream residents are not impressed, calling the Springs’ stormwater initiatives nothing but long overdue maintenance. And there may be a long way to go between the city’s good intentions and the on-the-ground measures necessary for lasting solutions. Dennis Maroney, Pueblo’s stormwater utility director, says the Springs’ improvements are welcome, but long-term fixes must involve ways to ease urbanization’s impact. The solutions include cluster development with more open space, narrower streets and fewer impervious areas, such as traditional asphalt parking lots. Pueblo has been working to implement these sorts of solutions in its new annexations for the last two years. Developers are required to implement stormwater practices that ensure the creeks’ new hydrograph matches its old one to the best extent practicable. “What Fountain Creek is doing, is trying to adapt to meet conditions,” says Maroney. “But we have to address the causes rather than the symptoms. What we are seeing in Fountain Creek are really symptoms of upstream development…If we don’t treat development differently, we will continue to have the same problems.” But Maroney is positive about the work to resolve these issues in collaborative groups such as the Fountain Creek Vision Task Force. “Overall the community is working together much more than it has in the past.” Some of the upstream development Maroney refers is the Banning-Lewis Ranch, already under construction on the northeastern border of Colorado Springs. The mega-development could house up to 140,000 new residents.

Pueblo’s stormwater utility director, Dennis Maroney, says, ”If we don’t treat development differently, we will continue to have the same problems.”

Effluent makes its way through the treatment system at the Las Vegas Wastewater Treatment Plant in Colorado Springs. Treated water from the plant runs into the Fountain Creek system. Water supply for this kind of growth is closely tied to Springs’ proposal to construct the billion-dollar Southern Delivery System, a 43-mile pipeline from Pueblo Reservoir, designed to meet the region’s water needs until 2046. The utility spent more than 11 years and $59 million advancing the SDS project—currently in the throes of the environmental review process with the federal government. At completion, the pipeline is designed to bring some 78 million gallons of new water into the Colorado Springs area. And this is exactly what downstream residents are afraid of. Studies sponsored by Colorado Springs have shown that the SDS project could double non-native water in Fountain Creek, to about 33 percent of average stream flow. It’s a situation some feel is clearly untenable. Despite ongoing opposition, Pueblo gave a nod to the pipeline as part of a six-party intergovernmental agreement signed in 2004. In exchange for support of the SDS pipeline, Pueblo, Aurora, Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, Pueblo Board of Water Works, Fountain and Colorado Springs, agreed to modify their water management operations to improve and maintain flows in the Arkansas River below Pueblo Reservoir. It was one step forward for regional cooperation and additional water development in the area. But other legal and environmental hurdles remain. One of those hurdles is to how boost the creek’s failing water quality. Creek or sewer drain? Fountain Creek is far from pristine. Common problems like trash, dirty stormwater discharges, irrigation inflows high in sediment and nutrients, and wastewater effluent make it hard for this struggling creek to grasp at good ecosystem health. Frequent sewage spills and increasing urbanization along the stream corridor help place the creek on the state’s list of most polluted waters. One red flag is Colorado Springs’ history of sewage spills into the creek. It’s enough to give any utilities manager heartburn. One of the worst happened during the 1999 flood, when approximately 70 million gallons of raw sewage spilled from the city’s Las Vegas Wastewater Treatment Plant into the raging creek. H e a d w a t e r s | F a l l 2 0 0 7

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“What I did from day one was look for a place we could live together,” says LAVWCD chair John Singletary. “If we can find a way to return water to the Arkansas in the same condition as (Colorado Springs) takes it out of the reservoir, I can support it.”

And the spills continued. Between 2004-2005, Springs logged 21 spills into the creek, some larger than others. In 2005, there were two major spills, one the result of vandalism and the other from a flash flood, releasing some 300,000 gallons of raw sewage into the waterway. In June 2006, workers failed to shutoff a valve on a wastewater pipe, sending 62,000 gallons of sewage into Sand and Fountain creeks. In March 2007, a vandalism-related spill into a tributary of Fountain Creek sent another dirty water surge downstream. The string of incidents angered Pueblo residents, provoked two federal lawsuits, and spurred the state to levy several $100,000-plus fines on the utility. As a result, between 2000 and 2007, the Colorado Springs Utilities invested almost $90 million to inspect and rehabilitate its wastewater collection system. The utility made a commitment to spend more than $250 million on continued improvements by 2025. One of its newest projects is a spill recovery system that uses an existing diversion dam to capture the entire flow of the creek for up to four hours at flows of up to 170 cubic feet per second. The creek’s contents can then empty into an 18 mil-

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lion gallon asphalt-lined holding pond until it is pumped and treated at the Las Vegas Wastewater Treatment Plant. The $10 million project is located on the former Pinello Ranch, south of Colorado Springs and downstream of all the city’s current and proposed wastewater treatment plants. Ongoing water quality studies by the state, Colorado State University-Pueblo, the U.S. Geological Survey, Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District and other partners investigate water quality hotspots. But there are no definitive answers to date. And so, poor water quality in the creek remains a point of contention. “What I did from day one was look for a place we could live together,” says LAVWCD chair John Singletary. “If we can find a way to return water to the Arkansas in the same condition as (Colorado Springs) takes it out of the reservoir, I can support it.” Cooperation and vision Multiple efforts are in place to help bring Fountain Creek back from the brink of crisis. One is an ongoing Army Corps of Engineers study of flooding and erosion. Preliminary recommendations were released in late August.

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The Corps document included ideas for development policy changes, among them: • Require post-development hydrographs to match predevelopment; • Consider downstream impacts; and • Create a Fountain Creek Watershed Authority as a funding source for large-scale projects. The Corps also suggested a series of projects, ranging from ecosystem restoration, to channel stability and flood prevention structures.  Large-scale projects include a Pueblo levee and the construction of a Fountain Creek dam above Pueblo. In another initiative, the LAVWCD signed an agreement with Colorado Springs to fund development of a Fountain Creek Master Plan. Each will contribute $300,000 over two years to study environmental concerns facing the creek and investigate potential solutions. “We are envisioning Fountain Creek as a recreational corridor,” says LAVWCD General Manager Jay Winner. “The district has made Fountain Creek one of our three major priorities in 2008.” Working to put all the puzzle pieces together, El Paso County launched the Fountain Creek Vision Task Force at Sen.

Ken Salazar’s urging. Comprised of diverse governmental, environmental representatives as well as other interest groups, the task force is working on a strategic plan to transform the Fountain into a regional asset and a healthy waterway. Part of this vision is Sen. Ken Salazar’s Crown Jewel initiative. Unveiled a year ago, Salazar’s proposal would surround the creek with a network of trails, wildlife habitat, and even a state park. On a more controversial note, he also proposed a feasibility of a multi-purpose dam to help alleviate flooding and other environmental woes. The Vision Task Force conducts regular meetings open to the public, and is brainstorming solutions to achieve its goals. The group began to tackle some of the thornier issues, such as potential funding sources for implementation. Despite the challenges, the process appears to be working. “When we started getting into the substance of the matter,” says Heather Bergman, task force facilitator, “people were doing it right. I feel we have really good representation from all the bodies. They send their staff to every meeting. People are doing a lot of work on this.” After years of neglect and unknowns, Fountain Creek appears to be on the brink of a renaissance. “Now is the time,” says Bergman. And Fountain Creek is counting on it.

“We are envisioning Fountain Creek as a recreational corridor,” says LAVWCD General Manager Jay Winner. “The district has made Fountain Creek one of our three major priorities in 2008.”

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Bacteria, mineral add to creek’s problems Fountain Creek above U.S. Highway 47 is on the state’s list of most polluted waterway for elevated levels of E. coli, and in some segments, selenium. Both occur naturally, but in high doses can cause serious health and environmental problems. Recent studies conducted by Colorado State University-Pueblo and funded by the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District found E. coli levels increase as the creek nears Pueblo. Mammals and birds’ intestinal tracts contain E. coli bacteria. If ingested, the bacteria can cause intestinal problems and even death. Some E. coli is normal in streams but its presence may indicate pathogens in the water. If Fountain Creek is to meet state standards for recreation and swimming, levels must decrease significantly. Currently, Fountain Creek’s levels are well above the state’s limit, 126 organisms per 100 cubic milliliters. During storm events or warm periods of the summer, E. coli levels spike, to tens

of thousands of organisms per 100 milliliters. A lower priority for cleanup is the elevated selenium concentrations in the creek’s sediments and waters. Selenium, a naturally occurring trace element, is common in ancient marine sediments. If the soils are irrigated, selenium can leach from the soil and concentrations may increase in streams, lakes and wetland areas. Although an important element for human and animal health, even slightly elevated quantities may cause reproductive and other deformities in aquatic life and birds. In 2006, Pueblo District Attorney Bill Thiebault joined the Sierra Club in a federal lawsuit charging Colorado Springs and its utility with continued violations of the Clean Water Act. Colorado Springs officials counter the suit only hampers further negotiations, and that it is not the place for Pueblo to “over legislate” the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s enforcement. The suit is pending.

Fountain Creek pictured near its junction with the lower Arkansas River in Pueblo, Colo. 16

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By Lisa Everitt

Kevin Moloney

‘A Really Good Model’

Faced with

competing needs

and priorities for the

same stretch

of the Arkansas River, six agencies took a

unique approach three years ago.

They cooperated. Colorado Springs wanted help moving forward with the Southern Delivery System, a proposed 66-inch raw water pipeline that would bring Fryingpan-Arkansas water to the Pikes Peak region—water to which the city has held water rights and it has continuously perfected. Pueblo and its Board of Water Works wanted a recreational in-channel diversion to support the higher flow levels needed for its nine-mile Arkansas River Legacy Project, which restored fish habitat and vegetation below Pueblo Dam and created a whitewater park in downtown Pueblo. Aurora and the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, which manages the Fry-Ark Project, wanted support for an application filed with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation for an excess capacity contract for both storage and exchange of Arkansas Basin water acquired in the 1980s. Fountain sought to protect its investment in the existing Fountain Conduit, which delivers raw water from Pueblo Reservoir to Fountain and other south El Paso County communities, and to improve water quality in Fountain Creek. Without filing a single lawsuit, without involving the legislature, and with no shots fired except in the pages of the Pueblo Chieftain, the six entities were able to secure

rights for water acquisition, exchange and use in the Arkansas Basin by promising not to block one another’s efforts, and to support one another’s projects. The Six Party Intergovernmental Agreement was signed in May 2004. More than three years down the road, the parties continue to agree that cooperation, rather than lawyering up and fighting, was the right way to go. “I think the program is working well,” says Alan Hamel, executive director of the Pueblo Board of Water Works. “You can see that in the amount of additional water that was in the river in 2005 and 2006.” Flow management added more than 10,900 acre feet through Pueblo in the plan’s first year and 6,500 acre feet in the second full year of operation. Aurora’s application with Reclamation is moving forward, as is the planning process for the Southern Delivery System. Pueblo’s Legacy Project and its kayak park opened in 2005. Paddlers and anglers are happy; exchanges happened on schedule for agricultural users. More than that, the Six Party IGA has become a model for how agencies can work together to preserve water interests and other scarce resources – including money, goodwill and time.

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“It’s a really good model of how to deal with diverse needs and issues,” says Gerry Knapp, Colorado-Arkansas basin manager for the city of Aurora Water Department. “It kept us all out of court.…We all gave up a little something, and I think everyone gained something.” Wayne Vanderschuere, water supply manager for Colorado Springs Utilities, thinks the Six Party IGA is a little ahead of its time, and stands to have an impact on how broader questions are discussed, such as competition between non-consumptive and consumptive uses, how to achieve inter-regional and inter-basin cooperation, and ways to mediate the eternal feuds between cities and rural communities, agriculture and recreation, growth and preservation. “Probably down the road somewhere, we’ll have to have a conversation about priorities of beneficial uses of water in this state,” he predicts. The way the Six Party IGA was assembled “is illustrative of a very beneficial approach.” How did the Six Party IGA come together, and what impact has it had on the six entities today? The agreement began as a discussion in 2002 over flow management and preferential storage options plans for Arkansas River water. The Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, the Board of Water Works of Pueblo, Colorado Springs Utilities, and Fountain favored enlarging Pueblo and Turquoise reservoirs for storage of both Fry-Ark and non-Fry-Ark water. Pueblo was opposed, fearing that reduced flows through the city would jeopardize the proposed $8 million Legacy Project, which sought to improve the health of the river and its banks from the dam to Fountain Creek, promising economic benefit from anglers and paddlers as well. Pueblo had filed for a junior water right for its proposed recreational in-channel diversion, but had no senior water right for leverage. So it turned to other entities in the Fry-Ark system and proposed some collaborative back-scratching. The key element for collaboration is a flow management system in which all parties agree to manage their water rights and exchanges in such a way that minimum flows through Pueblo’s RICD are assured on a more continuous and reliable basis. In exchange for support of the flow management system, which ensured more consistent flows on the stretch of the Arkansas from the reservoir to Fountain Creek and beyond, Pueblo agreed to support Colorado Springs and its municipal partners in the development of the Southern Delivery System, including a proposal to connect the SDS pipeline to Pueblo Reservoir, rather than downstream. Pueblo also agreed to support proposed legislation for the Preferred Storage Options Plan, and Colorado Springs agreed to support “economic development, tourism, transportation and other initiatives of mutual benefit to the Pikes Peak region, Pueblo and the lower Arkansas Valley.” With El Paso County and Fort Carson slated for growth, Colorado Springs Utilities’ challenge is not to acquire more water rights but to deliver the water it already owns, stored in a facility its ratepayers funded. To that end, the Southern Delivery System plan—a set of seven alternatives—is wending its way through required 18

federal review by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation under the National Environmental Protection Act. Colorado Springs Utilities is hoping to have a draft environmental impact statement completed by the first quarter of 2008, and a final recommendation in 2009, according to Andy Colosimo, spokesman for Colorado Springs Utilities. “It’s a long, slow, tortuous process,” he says. The Southern Delivery System would bring water owned by Colorado Springs, Fountain and Security through a 43mile-long pipeline from Pueblo Reservoir, or the Arkansas below the reservoir dam, to a new water treatment plant northeast of the Colorado Springs airport. Raw water from the Arkansas would be exchanged for treated wastewater from the Springs, delivered down Fountain Creek to irrigators in the lower Arkansas Valley. Later phases would add two water storage reservoirs to the system. Geography and technology compel Colorado Springs to act. Unlike other Front Range cities, “we don’t sit on a major river,” Colosimo points out. The city’s three pipelines from the Western Slope “are pretty much full.” Colorado Springs notes that El Paso County taxpayers have contributed nearly 74 percent of the loan repayment for the Fry-Ark Project and its facilities, but its municipalities are the only Fry-Ark participant cities not taking their water directly from Lake Pueblo. Despite cooperation from Pueblo, the SDS project continues to come under fire. Its critics allege that it would “dry up” the Arkansas River through Pueblo, appropriate farmers’ water rights, kill small towns down the river valley and degrade water quality in Fountain Creek as development sends more storm water runoff and treated waste water south. Those and hundreds of other concerns have been listened to and addressed in the proposals currently before Reclamation, Colosimo says. The most visible part of the agreement—the improved stretch of the Arkansas through Pueblo—has been open for three summers, with raves from anglers and kayakers, hikers and bikers. Upgrades provide a healthier stream for fisheries and wetlands, Hamel said, while improving the banks and trails and getting rid of tamarisk and other non-native species. Its design allows water to pond during high flows so the fish have a place to ride out big water, while keeping flows deep and consistent enough for aquatic species to survive during dry spells. “It’s a more inviting place,” Hamel says. “It truly seems like a waterway.” The kayak park—whose drops are also designed as fish passages—has attracted attention from national paddling magazines and local regulars who have named each drop after the murals painted on the walls of the Arkansas’ floodcontrol channels. On several key weekends for paddlers, many agencies were able to coordinate exchanges to produce epic flows. In some cases, four times the usual amount of water provided kayakers with a weekend of thrills. “It’s a fairly novel approach,” says Vanderschuere. “If we need to move water, we’ll bank it up and then move it all at once. It actually works out pretty good.” Hamel warns that the flow management plan works as long as nature cooperates. “It doesn’t guarantee water,” he says. “If Mother Nature doesn’t put any water into the system, we’re out of luck.”

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S mall T own D reams “The economic benefit of this project goes to the very survival of many of the small towns. With the threat of shutdown looming for some water providers due to non-compliance with Health Department standards, there is the possibility of these small municipalities being forced out of existence.” —from a Nov. 28, 2006 memo to Colorado Water Conservation Board from Bruce Johnson and Mike Serlet, CWCB Water Supply and Finance Section

A commemorative sign (above) shows the old plant at Sugar City, Colo. Sugar City lost a sugar beet plant in the late 1960s and has never fully recovered. A shopper (top) climbs out of his car on Main St. in Ordway, Colo.

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Story by Lori Ozzello Photographs by Kevin Moloney

“I think we have a good chance of getting a substantial appropriation this year,” says Bent County Commissioner Bill Long. “Some of our work is beginning to look fruitful. It might be realized in 2008.”

Arkansas Valley Conduit proponents speak with guarded optimism about the chances that all the pieces— federal legislation and adequate funding chief among them—will fall into place. They talk about how a pipeline from Pueblo Reservoir

Congress will override it.

would breathe life into shrinking towns and shore up shaky

“It’s been seven years since the last WRDA was passed,”

economies. How water quality will improve. How companies

explains Palacio. “It’s got broad bi-partisan support. The public

and manufacturers can relocate to the valley once there’s an

is taking a serious look at infrastructure, especially after Katrina

adequate, quality water supply.

and the bridge collapse in Minneapolis. This (WRDA) includes

“I think we have a good chance of getting a substantial appropriation this year,” says Bill Long. “Some of our work is beginning to look fruitful. It might be realized in 2008.” Long, a Bent County commissioner, chairs the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District and the Arkansas Valley Conduit Committee.

locks, dams and bridges, and work along the Gulf Coast. Some of these projects have been pending for years.” Once approved, the WRDA authorizes Congress to ask for the money. If Congress OKs the appropriation, it will happen in 2008, Palacio said. The conduit’s progress this year represents a turning point

In early August, a House-Senate conference committee

in the lower Arkansas River Valley.

approved the 2007 Water Resources Development Act. The

In 1962, Congress’ approval of the Fryingpan-Arkansas

conference report passed 381-40 in the House and headed to

Project included plans for a 143-mile conduit to divert water from

the Senate, under the threat by President George Bush to veto

Pueblo Reservoir to rural towns and communities as far east as

the measure. The $20 billion compromise bill includes $79 mil-

Lamar. Since then the project has been in financial limbo.

lion for the conduit.

The original legislation required 100 percent local funding

Rick Palacio, deputy communications director for Rep. John

by the beneficiaries, but a feasibility study in 2003 concluded

Salazar, says if Bush does veto the bill, there’s a good chance

the 41 participating agencies were unable to pay for either the

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The sun rises over lower Arkansas River near Rocky Ford, Colo.

conduit or the no action alternative. GEI Consultants estimated

the lower valley. The region has seen more than its share of

the participants could foot, at most, 25 percent of the bill. The

tough breaks, including the loss of major manufacturers and

U.S. Bureau of Reclamation wanted 35 percent.

hundreds of jobs, and water sales to Front Range cities that

Colorado’s Congressional delegation is working toward a compromise with Reclamation.

eroded the farm economy. “The water conduit for Pueblo and Otero counties is criti-

U.S. Senator Ken Salazar says it repeatedly: The southeast-

cal to the public safety of the Lower Arkansas Valley. Already,

ern corner of the state is withering on the vine. Conduit sup-

communities have received notice that they are not in compli-

porters say Salazar, Sen. Wayne Allard, and Reps. John Salazar

ance with EPA safety standards,” Rep. Salazar said.

and Marilyn Musgrave “stepped up” and pleaded the region’s case in Washington.

“The cost of cleaning the water is astronomical,” says Jay Winner, the general manager of the Lower Arkansas Valley

In June, Allard secured $600,000 to plan the project.

Water Conservancy District, a project participant, from his

Reclamation spokeswoman Kara Lamb says, “There hasn’t

office in Rocky Ford.

been a resolution on the funding issue. It depends on the final bill. There is a lot of discussion going on.”

Neighboring La Junta and Las Animas installed reverse osmosis plants, but still have to dispose of the contaminants

Despite the talks, water quality issues multiplied in the

and reject water from the process. Early in 2007, the Colorado

valley as standards tightened over the years. By the time the

Department of Public Health and Environment shut down 16

river gets to Rocky Ford, about 50 miles downstream of the

wells in Otero, Baca and Las Animas counties. Levels of the

reservoir, it’s already picked up effluent, selenium and natural

naturally occurring uranium in the groundwater exceeded EPA

contaminants. At that point, the Arkansas River still has almost

standards. CDPHE is at work formulating possible solutions.

90 miles to go before it reaches Lamar.

“Our first issue is to address water quality,” says Long from his

The cost of inaction has become one of water quality,

home in Las Animas. “Building the conduit will provide for a bright-

often preventing industries and companies from locating in

er future. It’s twofold. When we have these (local) water companies

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A young boy walks past an abandoned storefront in Manzanola, Colo.

that can’t meet the standards, we have to do something.” The gravity-flow pipeline would start at Pueblo Reservoir.

“The (CWCB) board felt pretty strongly” about the loan, Johnson says, knowing it would “create momentum.”

At Bessemer, the water would be treated before it contin-

Lower Arkansas’ Winner agrees. “For the first time, (the

ues. The plan means the 16 downstream cities and towns

project) actually has some legs. It’s got a lot of traction in

and two dozen agencies won’t have to re-treat conduit

Colorado. I also think the people are behind it because if they

water when it arrives, except to add chemicals particular

don’t get it through this time, it’s not going to happen.…I see a

to their systems.

lot of people’s hopes built on it.”

Last November, the Colorado Water Conservation Board

Water providers in the valley say generally their supplies

helped make the future a bit brighter when it approved a $60

are adequate to meet demands through 2050. What they need,

million loan to Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy

they each say, is the pipeline.

District. Under the terms of the 30-year, 3.25 percent interest

“The water quality on the Arkansas is changing, sometimes

loan, Southeastern will collect fees from the participants, and

it changes drastically in just a few miles,” says Joe Kelley, La

then repay CWCB. Money changes hands only if enabling leg-

Junta’s director of water and wastewater treatment. La Junta

islation passes and the pipeline is built.

now depends entirely on groundwater for its domestic supply.

“It’s ingenious, really, the package CWCB put together,” says Winner.

“A consistent quality of water helps us,” Kelley says. “With water down the river, we lose an average of 12 percent. With

CWCB’s Bruce Johnson, who shepherded the loan through

a pipeline we get that 12 percent. On average, that amounts to

the application process, explains that participants will pay

140-150 acre feet a year that we’re losing to evaporation. That’s

usage fees to Southeastern, which will pool the money. A year

a supply that we could use.”

after the conduit is complete, Southeastern will begin to repay the principle and interest.

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Colorado’s Congressional delegation is working hard on the problem, too.

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A burned-out school building decays outside of Rocky Ford, Colo.

Children race for the bus in Sugar City, Colo. In early February, Wayne Allard and Ken Salazar implored the Senate Subcommittee on Water and Power to once again consider a plan to pay for the conduit, this time with an understanding of the area’s financial capabilities.

this momentum. “This is the fifth year in a row I have sponsored this legislation. The people of southeastern Colorado have waited long enough.” Advocates say the project brought all the communities

“Legislation doesn’t generally pass through Congress quick-

together for a common good.

ly,” says Allard. “After pushing this bill in the Senate for the past

Forty-five years after the Fry-Ark’s approval and 30 after its

four years, we’re finally seeing some movement. We’ve got

completion, the lower Arkansas Valley’s dream of a pipeline

momentum building, and I am optimistic that we can build on

may be in sight.

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Just one chance Story by Lori Ozzello | Photographs by Kevin Moloney

People in the Lower Arkansas Valley have known for years land. Nichols is certain most observers won’t notice. If twothat Front Range cities and water districts would like to buy thirds of the region’s irrigators participate and fallow a quarter up their water. of the overall land under the ditches, the physical change won’t But it was a 2002 event in the midst of drought that prompt- be apparent, he says. ed a change and sparked the formation of the Lower Arkansas In the valley, water rights date back to 1861. During the Valley Water Conservancy District. 2002 drought, priority dates newer than 1865 didn’t produce, Almost three years ago, the young district began promoting says Nichols. Even so, the region yielded 100,000 acre feet of the idea of an innovative water management and land fallow- water for irrigated farms and a combined population of about ing project. The Super Ditch—some50,000. Compare that to the Coloradoone came up with the name during Big Thompson, where a 70 percent a meeting and it stuck, says the quota in 2002 yielded 217,000 acre feet district’s attorney Peter Nichols—to for eight counties and an estimated lease water, fallow a fraction of the 750,000 people. valley’s irrigated farmland and infuse No wonder Front Range cities have much needed cash into the region. long eyed the eastern plains’ supplies, LAVWCD, says general manager says Winner. Plus, “it’d be easy to build Jay Winner, now has its “fingers in a a pipeline” across the plains to waterlot of pies.” strapped communities in Douglas and Approved by voters in November northern El Paso counties. 2002, LAVWCD serves Pueblo, Otero, But that’s not generally what the Bent, Prowers and Crowley counties. Lower Ark wants. It wants a turnIts focus is the protection of water around. Irrigation water flows near Boone, Colo. rights along the lower Arkansas River “If we keep doing business the where an estimated 80 percent of the water irrigates 300,000 way we have,” says Singletary, “we won’t survive.” acres of land. Subtle changes in the area’s agriculture-based economy Winner and Nichols, the Lower Ark’s attorney, talk in tan- began to emerge as far back as 1950s, says Nichols. When dem about their involvement in the projects, studies and state Sugar City’s beet processing plant shut down in 1967, speculaefforts. But the top priority is evident: convincing farmers, tors descended to cherry pick the best water rights, then sold ditch companies and leaders of fading rural towns to see and them. The trend quietly continued, gaining momentum with support the Super Ditch. If implemented, the Lower Ark would each economic downturn. facilitate joint operations of seven ditch companies and 50 difWater sales in the 1970s essentially dried up Crowley ferent water rights to lease. County’s irrigated farms, sending their Twin Lakes Canal water “The beauty is the lessor and the lessee will never know to the Front Range corridor. The 5,500-resident county’s curwhere the water comes from,” says John Singletary, who rent population includes nearly 2,000 prisoners housed at an chairs the LAVWCD’s board of directors. “The Super Ditch Olney Springs facility. Nearly a fifth of county residents are takes the competition out of it.” below the poverty line, and between 2000 and 2006, Crowley The plan could fallow up to 25 percent of the participants’ County’s population dropped 2.4 percent. 24

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Transfers had dried up an estimated 78,000 acres, says the have steady income, they can take that to the bank when they Lower Ark. go in for loans.…We want to make sure rural towns stay alive. Then in 2002, an investment group, High Plains A&M, Look at the economics, follow the big water projects. Where snapped up Fort Lyon Canal shares in the hopes of gaining a they are, there’s money and growth.” majority, changing the bylaws and use, and piping water out of Winner and Nichols tick off more benefits: the valley. Objectors filed suit, arguing the proposed changes violated the state’s anti-speculation doctrine. The water court • With more money in the valley, it may be possible agreed, denying the investors’ case. On appeal, the Colorado to keep educated young people there. Rocky Ford’s Supreme Court affirmed the water high school used to number about court’s findings and dismissed the 140 graduates each year. Now, says The seven canals included in the Super Ditch plan: High Plains application. Winner, senior classes are down to The case was a wake-up call. 50 and the kids who go away to col• Highline LAVWCD formed, then joined studlege generally don’t return. • Oxford • The Super Ditch will create oppories on Colorado Springs’ proposed • Fort Lyon Southern Delivery System and tunities for small communities to • Catlin Fountain Creek, and began to estabsurvive and thrive. The district is • Holbrook lish conservation easements. working with Colorado State agricul• Bessemer Then came the idea for a Super ture economists to accurately fore• Rock Ford High Line Ditch. cast the economic impact. • Water rights will be preserved. Besides keeping water in the Of the seven, only the Bessemer is lined. • State organizations, such as the lower Arkansas, proponents say the Super Ditch could restore prosperity Division of Wildlife, can lease water, to the communities and farms on the southeastern plains. guaranteeing a supply for fish, migratory birds and Singletary says water sales to the Front Range dried up other animals. about 60,000 acres in the valley. “A lot of people forget Crowley County, the Rocky Ford In the midst of promoting the Super Ditch, Winner, Nichols Ditch,” he says, and what those sales cost the rest of the valley. and Singletary know they don’t have much time. “The theory behind (the sales) is that a few people get a little “We’ve been working on this for 2 ½ years,” says Winner. money and it’s gone or they are. Some long-time valley residents are resistant to the idea, so the “It doesn’t take anyone particularly bright to drive up and three devote a lot of time to talks with area leaders. down Highway 50 and see the financial conditions of our “This is new and different” to the valley farmers, Nichols towns.” says. Participants will have to overcome historical baggage and Winner, Nichols and Singletary say that if the water is territorial issues to make it work. leased instead of sold, ditch companies and irrigators will have “There’s a 100-year history of the (seven) canals fighting a reliable income stream from the leases. each other,” says Dale Mauch, a Lamar area farmer and former “What the Super Ditch can do,” says Winner, “is put $15- to Fort Lyon Ditch president. “It’s almost like countries that have $20 million into the economy. That’s a big number. If farmers battled for years and then try to form a peace treaty. It’s seven

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“We all know the end of the book… Water’s going to go where the money is.”

Arkansas River Ditch System

who have sued each other, fought with each other. “If everyone keeps in mind that we’re so powerful together, we can do it. The biggest part of that is getting a value on the water. ” And to convince the farmers, they’ll have to have information. “Farmers want numbers,” says Nichols. The district has compiled water supply data and carefully studied the concept. “We’ve done a lot of research,” Singletary says, ticking off information about fallowing, statistics, dry year averages and long-term contracts. “We’ll go through the reappraisal process so the value of the leases follows market prices. It also gives the (farmers) a documented income stream. They can take it to the bank.” Mauch says they all know what happens if it doesn’t work. “We all know the end of the book,” he says. “Water’s going to go where the money is. It’s just a matter of getting there. If we can make it work it will be a win-win situation for everyone involved. The farmers will have something they can lease every year and cities get guaranteed water supplies.” The idea isn’t new. California water districts experimented with it during a drought in the early 1990s, says Nichols, and it first popped up in academia long before then. In July 2001, farmers in the Palo Verde Irrigation District in southern California inked a deal with the Metropolitan Water District. In exchange for fallowing 7 to 29 percent of their land, the participating farmers each received a signing bonus and will be paid $550 per acre per year for land taken out of production. In exchange, Metropolitan Water District receives between 25,000 and 111,000 acre feet annually. What is new is the idea of combining the resources of 26

seven ditch companies, including the state’s largest, the 140mile-long Fort Lyon. Says Winner, “The project is too big for a ditch company here to take on by itself. We’re facilitating it.” The Super Ditch will require a series of change cases. The necessary engineering has already been conducted. “What protects us is a decree in court saying what this water can be used for,” says Singletary. “That’ll take several years because it’s a little off the norm.” Nichols and Winner said a lot of details are still to be hammered out. For instance, the Super Ditch participants envision a durable right of refusal, giving them the first option to buy valley water that’s up for sale. They’d also like to set it up so that a designated amount of revenue stays in the Super Ditch to acquire more water rights. How does a group guarantee, say, a 30-year contract with a city? “The contract is an interest in real property,” Nichols says. “The lease transfers with the property” in the event a farm is sold or inherited. Nichols says the region has a “window of opportunity to put in an alternative.” Winner is emphatic, stressing the project has to be successful to keep southern Colorado alive. “The people who say it won’t work are the ones who don’t like to see change,” Mauch says. “It may not work, but it’s something we really have to try. We only have one chance.” He reiterates that there is still a lot to do, and only one chance. Quips Singletary: “Stay tuned. We don’t know what we’ll be doing tomorrow.”

C o l o r a d o f o u n d a t i o n f o r W a t e r E d u c a t i o n


Jeannine Tompkins (2)

CFWE Highlights

Overlooking Taylor Reservoir, tour participants listen to presentations that highlight both sides of the Union Park issue. The Union Park proposal would develop a series of pipelines and a 1.2 million acre foot reservoir to transfer water from the Upper Gunnison to Colorado’s Front Range. Participants also learned about Taylor Park Dam operations.

Now they know about the Gunnison More than 60 participants—including water professionals, real estate agents, engineers and the 2007 Water Leaders Course members—toured the Gunnison River Basin June 25 and 26. Members of the Legislative Interim Water Committee also joined the group. The tour included stops at Taylor Park Reservoir, the Gunnison Water Park, Morrow Point Dam, Gunnison Tunnel, Project 7 Water Treatment Facility, Rodgers Mesa Research Farm and the river restoration projects near Hotchkiss. Tour participants had the opportunity to learn factual information on opposing sides of many issues related to the tour stops. They also were treated to a fabulous steak dinner in Montrose, courtesy of the staff at the Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Association. The Foundation would like to extend an additional thank you to our tour sponsors: the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District, the Colorado River District, the Colorado Water Conservation Board, Southwestern Water Conservation District and the Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Association for their generous support. The Foundation would especially like to acknowledge the support of MWH Americas, Inc., the title sponsor of the tour. Finally, the Foundation would like to thank all of the speakers and presenters for providing so much information. Participants gather after completing a tour of Morrow Point Dam. Since 9/11, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which owns the facilities, has curtailed most tours.

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A R e m e m b ra n c e

William Daven Farr: Student of Water and Life By Jim Witwer

After failing to deflect this request to remember W.D. Farr by nominating more qualified candidates, I opened the file in my office bearing his name. It is embarrassingly thin. Nearly two generations separated us during his life. Perhaps, then, the best perspective I can provide begins as a common, ignorant one. How easy it is to take for granted all but his reputation as a leader in water, banking, and agriculture. I played in Greeley’s Farr Park as a boy, but did not then know that the park had been part of his farm near the end of the Greeley and Loveland Irrigation Company ditch (or even that there was such a ditch). I worked briefly one summer at Farr Feedlots, but did not learn of the work he did nationally to improve the quality of U.S. beef until much later. Only during a working relationship with him late in his life did I begin to see the contours of what he was still busy building: A life filled with optimism and effort to improve the communities in which he lived. My first letter from Mr. Farr contained the following passages: I believe that Greeley is in a unique position to plan a perfect city that will continue to be very attractive to new people and new industry.…I have seen Greeley grow from a population of 5,000 to the present 75,000. If we had ever dreamed that we would grow this much and this fast we could have prevented many costly problems. Who else writes, or thinks, like this? Few in modern

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times. An exhortation to strive for the perfect city, a blunt acknowledgment of current imperfection, and a second implied demand—to dream big dreams and then put on your overalls, as the saying goes. In an 1887 speech to Fort Collins farmers that Mr. Farr’s son, Bill, sent me later, Professor Elwood Mead noted: On your shoulders rests a greater responsibility than devolves on your brothers in regions of more abundant rainfall. You must not only attend to your individual affairs but assist in the control and management of their common interest, on the wise management of which the prosperity of the State so largely depends. This may as well have been Mr. Farr’s credo. He acted so often out of a sense of duty to improve the community—and so often focused on projects to benefit future generations of that community. We still play in the parks that Mr. Farr worked to build. The Colorado-Big Thompson and Windy Gap projects and Greeley’s water system may be best known to Coloradans. Service in the nascent Environmental Protection Agency, and long involvement with the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, count among his accomplishments. He also played a pivotal role in negotiations that led to federal designation of parts of the Cache la Poudre River as wild and scenic. In a 2000 newspaper clipping, he wondered aloud if he was an environmentalist, but then added, “You have to take care of the environment. We hope the world will be here in hundreds of years.” What Mr. Farr accomplished, and why he did it, make up only part of his story. How he worked—his thirst to find information and trends in that information, his

C o l o r a d o f o u n d a t i o n f o r W a t e r E d u c a t i o n

iStockPhoto.com

Flyfisherman, water visionary, banker, lamb and cattle feeder, farmer, rancher, dad, grandfather, great grandfather, friend and mentor to many, WD Farr, 97, died Aug. 14 in his native Greeley.


“The next 50 years will be the best we have ever experienced. I’m only sorry that I won’t be there with you to enjoy them.” uncanny ability to adapt and surHis approach required enough mount failure, and his compashumility to acknowledge and sion for others engaged in the learn from failure. In the 1980s, same effort—distinguishes him when his proposal to sell some as much or more. of Greeley’s reservoirs and use His interest in one topic—the the proceeds to acquire other weather—illustrates the first of water supplies met opposition these traits. Most of us are used from the Greeley City Council, to discussing the weather for five he instead ensured that the city or ten seconds. With Mr. Farr, spent adequate funds to rehabilithose conversations easily could tate those reservoirs. When the exceed five minutes. He ravenWindy Gap Project water rights ously reviewed the work of local, were thrown out of court for regional, and international climafailure to provide Western Slope tologists, and constantly checked water interests with additional William Daven Farr predictions against outcomes. compensatory storage beyond 1910-2007 A copy of the program from that of the original C-BT Project, the 1999 National Western Stock Show dinner, which he was instrumental in directing additional payments named Mr. Farr a “Citizen of the West,” reminds me (part of the money for Wolford Mountain Reservoir). that, while he was a compendium of historical inforThe final ingredient to Mr. Farr’s work style was mation, he preferred to recount the past with an eye his care for those working with him. Even as his voice to the future. He did not view the past as the good grew faint late in life, he never sought to end your old days. conversation without asking after you and your fam“The next 50 years,” he told those assembled at the ily. Though a man of boundless passion and drive, he dinner, “will be the best we have ever experienced. I’m always remembered that people matter. only sorry that I won’t be there with you to enjoy them.” It is tempting to conclude this remembrance with He knew, as Twain noted, that history does not a lament that we may have seen the last of people repeat itself—at best it sometimes rhymes. What he with such a remarkable communitarian spirit. Then tried to teach us was less specific knowledge than we in the water community could more comfortably how to think, to plan and execute based upon the best complain that the world is so much more complex information we have, and to learn from the experience now, and the water supply challenges we face nearly and move further ahead. He did not hold grudges or insurmountable—the low-hanging fruit are gone. nurse old injuries. There was no use, or time, for that. Such responses would, of course, miss the point of His view of water policy, and life, combined enthusi- Mr. Farr’s life. “If you get busy planning and working asm and the scientific method. He was a great teacher hard,” he would tell us, “things will work out well.” precisely because he was a great student. Can’t you hear him still?

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Colorado Foundation for Water Education

Citizen’s Guides

The Colorado Foundation for Water Education is pleased to announce the newest addition to the Citizen’s Guide series, Citizen’s Guide to Denver Basin Groundwater. This publication, along with all of the other CFWE publications and membership information, is available at cfwe.org, or by calling 303-377-4433.

1580 Logan St., Suite 410 • Denver, CO 80203

Citizen’s Guides: Colorado Water Law, Colorado Water Quality Protection, Colorado’s Water Heritage, Where Your Water Comes From, Colorado Water Conservation, Colorado’s Environmental Era

Profile for Water Education Colorado

Fall 2007 Arkansas River Basin  

The Arkansas River is unique among Colorado's storied waterways, a recreational asset that has no peer. More people make pilgrimages to touc...

Fall 2007 Arkansas River Basin  

The Arkansas River is unique among Colorado's storied waterways, a recreational asset that has no peer. More people make pilgrimages to touc...

Profile for cfwe