U.S. Water News Online
PUEBLO, Colo. -- The Bureau of Reclamation and Aurora have
signed a 40-year contract for storage and exchange in Lake Pueblo.
Meanwhile, the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District is
preparing to file a lawsuit in federal court that most likely will
call for a full environmental impact statement on the contract and
question the bureau's authority to issue the contract.
The contract allows Aurora to store up to 10,000 acre feet in Lake
Pueblo and give the city of 300,000 east of Denver the ability to
make a paper trade of 10,000 acre feet of water to upstream
reservoirs each year.
Initially, the bureau could collect as much as $1.2 million per
year, including maintenance fees. Fees increase by 1.79 percent each
year, doubling by the end of 40 years, depending on periodic
adjustments for operation and maintenance.
The Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District also will
receive an estimated $24 million from Aurora over the life of the
contract, pursuant to a 2003 agreement.
Aurora has operated one-year contracts with similar provisions
since 1986 to move water from water rights it purchased in Crowley
and Otero counties. Aurora pumps water from the valley into the South
Platte River through the Otero Pump Station, which connects to Twin
Lakes via the Otero Pipeline.
"The goal provides surety with an ongoing agreement, rather than
the year-to-year arrangement," Aurora Mayor Ed Tauer said. "Our hope
is that it settles the discussion about the agreement."
Tauer said the 2003 agreement with Southeastern prohibits Aurora
from buying more water in the valley and caps the amount of leases.
"The 40-year agreement doesn't let Aurora move any more water than
it has in the past," Tauer said.
The Lower Ark district disagrees with the long-term contract for
several reasons, said John Singletary, chairman of the Lower Ark
"We're prepared," Singletary said. "We could have a lawsuit by the
end of next week."
The Lower Ark board meets in Rocky Ford and will discuss the
issue, Singletary added.
Primarily, the district is pushing for a full environmental impact
statement, rather than a finding of no significant impact issued
earlier by the bureau in its environmental assessment. The bureau
listed five commitments in its report that would allow it to
re-examine the Aurora deal if conditions change and has a provision
in the contract for termination, either for cause or any other
reason. Aurora has agreed to seven conditions that limit the times it
can exchange water.
But, Singletary said those conditions are not enough.
"We haven't had enough time to fully study the changes,"
Fundamentally, the district also will protest the contract on the
grounds that the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project, which the bureau
operates, was never intended to be used to move water out of the
Arkansas Valley, Singletary said.
Pueblo Dam was constructed as part of the Fry-Ark Project, which
was approved by Congress in 1962 to provide supplemental water to
farms and cities. The project brings water from the Fryingpan River
through the Boustead Tunnel at Turquoise Lake, as well as collecting
a small amount within the basin during flood events. Project water
also is stored in Twin Lakes and Pueblo. Reservoirs rarely have
filled since the project was completed and the bureau also leases
excess-capacity space to many water users within the basin.
Aurora and the Lower Ark were scheduled to talk about issues
surrounding the contract after Aurora City Council postponed
consideration of the contract on Aug. 27. Those talks never occurred,
largely because of scheduling conflicts, and Aurora's council agreed
to sign the contract.
"We'd had three or four meetings before that," Tauer said. "We've
not been able to reach an agreement over that period, but I'd be
happy to meet with them at any time."
Tauer added he is not certain how involved Aurora will be in any
"Certainly, what happens to the contract affects us," he said.
Singletary said there is still a wide gap between Aurora and the
Lower Ark and is not sure more meetings will reduce it.
"I'm not saying I wouldn't sit down and talk with him, but we have
a lot of disagreement," Singletary said.
Singletary said he wants additional assurances that Aurora would
not lease more water from the valley by leasing more than the current
three years in 10 restrictions. The 2003 agreement with Southeastern
allows for more frequent leases by Aurora after 25 years. More
frequent leases are also part of Aurora's joint filing with the High
Line Canal in a 2005 exchange case. Singletary also wanted assurances
from Aurora that it would work for legislation to prohibit future
transbasin water transfers.
Aurora would commit to opposing transbasin transfers by other
parties in water court, but Singletary said that's not enough. Aurora
routinely opposes water transfers within the basin already.
"(Ed Tauer) asked me, 'What if I agreed that Aurora would never
buy another drop of Arkansas River water?' But it never went any
further," Singletary said. "My mission is still to protect the river
and keep the water in the valley."
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