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Colorado's public lands are faced with new challenges but water and land management depend on working together. Read about the relationship between water and land in Colorado and how Coloradans are converging to restore Colorado's public lands in the Spring 2018 issue of Headwaters magazine.

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Water Education Colorado

'A Really Good Model'

By Lisa Everitt

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.

‘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 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 43-mile-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' flood-control 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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