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Lower Ark Hears Farmers’ Concerns about a Fountain Creek Dam

LAWCD-meeting-May-18-2016-2

Attendees at the LAWCD, May 18, 2016

At a work session held Wednesday, May 18, 2016, the Lower Arkansas Water Conservancy District (LAWCD) board members listened to farmers’ concerns about the possibility of a dam to be built on Fountain Creek. All board members were in attendance except Melissa Esquibel. First on the agenda was Cindy Lair, Colorado Department of Agriculture. Lair reported on salinity and nutrient pollution in the Arkansas River, stating that agricultural users are not big polluters compared to municipalities. Regardless of historically high levels of salinity in the Arkansas it is likely that the salinity issue will have to be addressed in the future. This means that agricultural users will have to address the issue along with municipalities. How and by what means salinity in the Arkansas will be remediated remains to be seen but funding for remediation may come from NRCS or the Colorado Water Quality Control Department. Regardless of the means and funding, Kansas wants to see Colorado users moving in the right direction by 2022.

Following Lair’s report, Alan Frantz of Rocky Ford, gave a short slide presentation: Fountain Creek vs. Individual Water Rights.  Slides showed graphs and data on Fountain Creek that from 1921 to 1965 (44 years) that there were 21 flows with less than 10,000 cfs and 10 flows higher with 13 years of data missing. From 1966 to 2014 (48 years) there were 36 flows less than 10,000 cfs and 7 flows higher with 5 years of data missing. This data came from the Fountain Creek Flood Control Study of October 14, 2015. Frantz raised the question of: Is there really a problem? Speaking for ditch directors and shareholders of all the ditches, county commissioners, Ark Valley Ditch Association, well associations and others, they think there is not a problem with Fountain Creek and wanted some questions answered.

Jay Winner, Executive Director LAWCD, Bart Mendenhall, Attorney for LAWCD, and Alan Frantz of Rocky Ford, discuss Fountain Creek issues.

Jay Winner, Executive Director LAWCD, Bart Mendenhall, Attorney for
LAWCD, and Alan Frantz of Rocky Ford, discuss Fountain Creek issues.

These groups want an independent engineering study to evaluate possible consequences of any type of structure on Fountain Creek, (whether it be a dam or holding ponds), an in depth assessment of historical precipitation versus stream flow and assess the validity of Duane Helton’s Fountain River study. Furthermore, a professional analysis and discussion on long term effects of structures on the whole river system was also desired. What was needed from LAWCD was expertise and technical assistance. Agricultural users want to form a committee consisting of 5 to 7 individuals, including farmers and ditch directors, a county commissioner or two, with Jack Gobel, District Engineer for LAWCD, for technical support and funding from LAWCD for completion of the study. Frantz asked if there are any valid reasons this study should not be pursued.

Farmers are concerned about the amount of press given to a Fountain Creek dam. A Pueblo Chieftain article published Tuesday, May 17, 2016, the opinions of two researchers, Del Nimmo and Scott Hermann, indicated that a dam on Fountain Creek would decrease erosion. Without mentioning the consequences to peak flow users and prior appropriations to agricultural users, Nimmo said: “A large dam could provide better understanding of what’s happening in the watershed, and be a good recreational benefit to the entire watershed of Fountain Creek.” The main reason for supporting a dam on Fountain Creek is to reduce erosion, which is the primary cause for selenium making its way into the water. Scott Hermann said: “A large dam on Fountain Creek would give us the flood control we need, but also provide recreational opportunities that are primary, with a pool of water as well as tailwater. So we have a fishery and fishing benefits from such a structure.”

In a letter to Dwight Proctor of Swink, from Shinn, Steerman & Shinn, attorneys at law, May 16, 2016, on behalf of District 67 Irrigation Canals Association, expressed their desire to add their voices to apprehensions with the flood mitigation projects on Fountain Creek. Any project on Fountain Creek should be developed with a clear goal of keeping the historic regimen of the Arkansas River intact. As is already understood, many shareholders’ decrees come into priority only during high flow peak events. “Any attempt to delay flows down Fountain Creek flattens the flow of the river and interferes with the vested water rights on the Arkansas River.” Consequently, District 67 would oppose any project that fails to provide a way to keep the Arkansas River whole and to protect all vested water rights on the river.

The response from LAWCD was to distribute the Arkansas River Decision Support System Feasibility Study, December 2011 Report, prepared by Brown and Caldwell for the Colorado Water Conservation Board and Colorado Division of Water Resources and copies of the intergovernmental agreement between Pueblo County and the City of Colorado Springs concerning the Southern Delivery System. Farmers are expected to wade through this hefty document and understand its application to the issues raised without a clear concise synopsis. The other answer was that a dam on Fountain Creek was not even in the realm of possibility. Such obstacles as diverting Interstate 25 onto Fort Carson, moving a railroad bed and perhaps a shopping center were insurmountable barriers to construction of a dam on Fountain Creek. Then there is the issue of funding for such a project and environmental impact studies as well as other regulatory and jurisdictional issues that may arise.

Agricultural users felt that their concerns were not adequately addressed, regardless of assurances from LAWCD board members and its executive director, Jay Winner. Farmers believed they had not been adequately informed of prior actions taken by LAWCD on their behalf in protecting their water rights. LAWCD board members complained of lack of attendance by farmers to LAWCD meetings. Regardless of prior attendance issues, farmers brought their concerns to LAWCD about the continued interest and discussion of a dam on Fountain Creek. Agricultural users believed their concerns about a dam on Fountain Creek were justified and wanted a study undertaken to indicate how structures on Fountain Creek would impact peak flows and priority water rights downstream. Whether these concerns were taken seriously by LAWCD appeared to be a matter of opinion.

By Norman Kincaide

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