@ColoradoClimate: Weekly Climate, Water and #Drought Assessment of the Intermountain West

Click here to read the current assessment. Click here to go to the NIDIS website hosted by the Colorado Climate Center.

New @DenverWater rates start Feb. 1

Northwater Treatment Plant — Denver Water is upgrading and modernizing the northern portion of its water system that was built in the 1930s. The utility is building a new water treatment plant, as seen in this rendering, installing a new pipeline, and redeveloping its Moffat Treatment Plant site. Photo credit: Denver Water

Here’s the release from Denver Water (Travis Thompson):

At its meeting today, the Denver Board of Water Commissioners adopted rate changes to fund essential upgrades and new projects to keep Denver Water’s system running smoothly. The new rates take effect Feb. 1, 2019, and monthly bills for most Denver residents will increase by 55 cents if they use water the same as they did in 2018.

“While the cost to maintain and upgrade the water system continues to increase, rapid development inside the city of Denver has brought in more fees from new taps sold, helping to minimize the 2019 rate increase for Denver customers,” said Jim Lochhead, Denver Water CEO/Manager. “The surrounding suburbs, however, had less development than in the past, reducing the amount collected from new tap fees, which means we’ll need to collect more revenue from suburban water rates in 2019.”

Suburban customers who receive water from one of Denver Water’s 65 distributors will see an additional monthly increase added to their volumetric charges. The Denver City Charter requires that suburban customers pay the full cost of service, plus an additional amount. Learn more about how this works: “Why Denver water costs more in the ‘burbs.”

If you live outside Denver and receive water from a distributor under contract with Denver Water, you can expect to see an annual increase between $23 and $41, which is between $1.90 and 3.40 a month (based on an annual use of 102,000 gallons of water).

Pat Fitzgerald, general manager of four Denver Water distributors including the Platte Canyon Water and Sanitation District and chairman of the suburban districts’ Technical Advisory Committee, which reviews Denver Water’s rates annually, provided this statement:

“The advisory committee supports the rate increase. The cost-of-service study used to determine the difference between inside city and outside city customers is fair and reasonable, and the committee had no objections to the results. The expenses are going up, but they’re all projects that are necessary to provide a reliable and safe source of water.”

The major multiyear projects that water rates fund include building a new, state-of-the-art water treatment plant, installing a new 8.5-mile water pipeline to replace a pipeline that was built in the 1930s, expanding Gross Reservoir to provide a more reliable future water supply, constructing a new water quality lab to ensure the highest water quality standards, investing more than $100 million to repair and replace water pipes, and more. There are 158 major projects identified in Denver Water’s five-year, $1.3 billion capital plan.

A customer’s bill is comprised of a fixed charge, which helps ensure Denver Water has more stable revenue to continue the necessary water system upgrades to ensure reliable water service, and a volume rate. The fixed monthly charge — which is tied to meter size — in 2019 is increasing by 55 cents for most residential customers both inside the city and out.

Denver Water’s rate structure includes a three-tiered charge for water use (called the volume rate). To keep water affordable, indoor water use — like for bathing, cooking and flushing toilets — is charged at the lowest rate. Essential indoor water use is determined by averaging the customer’s monthly water use on bills dated from January through March each year. This is called average winter consumption. Water use above the average winter consumption — typically for outdoor watering — is charged at a higher price.

Volume rates for Denver residents will remain the same, but will increase on suburban bills.

Denver Water operates and maintains more than 3,000 miles of pipe — enough to stretch from Los Angeles to New York — as well as 20 dams, 22 pump stations, 30 underground storage tanks, four treatment plants and more. The water provider’s collection system covers more than 4,000 square miles, and it operates facilities in 12 counties in Colorado.

Denver Water does not make a profit or receive tax dollars, and reinvests ratepayers’ money to maintain and upgrade the water system. The utility is funded by water rates, bond sales, cash reserves, hydropower sales and fees for new service (called System Development Charges).

Customers will see more information about 2019 rates in their bills and on Denver Water’s website over the next few months.

Gross Reservoir — The Gross Reservoir Expansion Project will raise the height of the existing dam by 131 feet, which will allow the capacity of the reservoir, pictured, to increase by 77,000 acre-feet. The additional water storage will help prevent future shortfalls during droughts and helps offset an imbalance in Denver Water’s collection system. With this project, Denver Water will provide water to current and future customers while providing environmental benefits to Colorado’s rivers and streams. Photo credit: Denver Water

The Future of the Dammed — American Planning Organization

Glen Canyon Dam on the Colorado River in April 2017. The dam is 15 miles upstream from Lees Ferry, Arizona. Photo by Alexander Stephens/courtesy Bureau of Reclamation.

From the American Planning Organization (Allen Best):

Higher temperatures and lower water levels are causing states to rethink 20th century infrastructure.

The hundred feet of bleached sandstone walls of Glen Canyon exposed by the receding waters of Lake Powell starkly illustrates the conundrum of water infrastructure in western states and the effects of a changing climate. Completed in 1963, the construction of Glen Canyon Dam across the Colorado River in the Utah desert was a landmark in the resolute 20th century effort to harness rivers of the West to provide water for irrigation — and, indirectly, for expanding cities — and hydroelectric power for both.

Today, the dam delivers 1,320 megawatts of low-cost, low-carbon hydroelectric generation to farms and homes as far away as Nebraska. The reservoir, the nation’s second largest, is among 260 on the Colorado River and its tributaries that store and regulate flows in a vast plumbing system supporting a population of 40 million people from Denver to San Diego — cities outside of the river basin itself — and some of our nation’s most productive agricultural areas.

Population growth alone puts pressure on this 20th century infrastructure. Southwestern states grew 37 percent from 1990 to 2010, with no end in sight. Now comes clear evidence of climbing temperatures and hints at shifting precipitation patterns.

Lake Powell, as seen from Glen Canyon’s Carl B. Hayden Visitor Center observation deck. Photo by Alexander Stephens/courtesy Bureau of Reclamation.

Lake Powell, nearly full at the start of this century, is projected to end 2018 at 43 percent of capacity after another year of decreased runoff on the Colorado River. Subpar runoff has been more common than not this century, but unlike droughts of the past that were caused by reduced precipitation, some climate scientists say that warming temperatures have caused more than half the declined flows, due to evaporation and transpiration (when plants absorb water through their roots and then emit water vapor through pores in their leaves).

But Powell is just a chapter in a larger story. It is operated in tandem with Lake Mead, the nation’s largest reservoir, which is 300 miles downstream, below the Grand Canyon. Together, the two reservoirs can store 50 million acre-feet of water. (Smaller reservoirs in the seven basin states can store an additional 10 million acre-feet.)

But this overall bank account has been ebbing toward worrisomely low balances; this autumn, it receded to 28.4 percent of full capacity, among the smallest since the modern water infrastructure was completed last century.

Studying the numbers, some have raised the question of whether Lake Powell is needed at all and suggested that just Lake Mead will suffice in a hotter, likely drier Southwest of the future.

But adequacy of water infrastructure as the climate changes is not just a question for the Colorado River. It applies to the Columbia River of the Pacific Northwest, the Rio Grande of New Mexico and Texas, and California — all homes to giant water infrastructure. A nagging, and still unanswered question, remains: Will infrastructure created during the 20th century continue to serve the needs of the 21st century? And if the answer is no, what can we do about it?

Snowpack in the Watershed

The snow percentile image displayed above indicates where the snow measurement ranks in the historical record (from 1981 to 2010) for each recording site as of April 1, 2018. Many sites are depicted with red dots, indicating the lowest values on record for this time of year. (via NRCS)

Changing times, temperatures

From beginning to end, cities, irrigation districts, and states ambitiously built dams, canals, and tunnels throughout the 20th century. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation was the primary federal dam builder; its mission was to develop water storage and irrigation infrastructure to allow settlement of the arid western states.

Hoover Dam, completed in 1936, was a partial exception, driven by Los Angeles’s thirst for hydroelectric power, in addition to regulating flows for irrigation and controlling floods. In mid-century came the construction of Glen Canyon and other dams on the upper Colorado River Basin.

The last giant push, the Central Arizona Project, was authorized by Congress in 1968 but not completed until 1994. It delivers Colorado River water 337 miles through a concrete-lined canal to Phoenix and Tucson.

Today, rising temperatures threaten to upset the hydrological applecart. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, in a 2016 report to Congress, found that the western U.S. has warmed roughly two degrees Fahrenheit since 1895, compared to 1.3 degrees to 1.9 degrees F in other parts of the country. It will get worse, the report noted, with another five to seven degrees F of warming through the 21st century if greenhouse gas emissions go untamed.

This warming has profound consequences. Longer summers will demand more moisture for both lawns and crops; more rain will fall during winter atop snow, increasing the flooding potential for higher-elevation regions of the high Rockies by 200 percent, according to a study released in August; droughts will be deeper; and precipitation events when they happen, will be more intense.

Runoff patterns have already shifted. Spring comes earlier nearly everywhere — posing problems for water infrastructure in the West, which was mostly created with the assumption of a large snowpack that melts in the summer months. But a study by Oregon State University’s Philip Mote and others found that more than 90 percent of snow monitoring sites with long records across the western U.S. had dramatic declines in the water content of April 1 snowpacks. Altogether this loss, said the paper published in the journal Nature, was comparable in volume to the water in Lake Mead.

“The magnitude of these changes relative to the built storage reservoirs, and the certainty with which continued warming will lead to continued declines at a similar or increasing rate, illustrates the immense challenge facing Western water managers,” Mote wrote.

Mote’s report warns that those solutions will likely require some heavy lifting by water managers and public officials. “Patterns of water use that became established (even entrenched) during the climate of the past cannot be changed without intense political effort owing to large cultural, economic, and infrastructure investments in the status quo ante. … Solutions will have to lie primarily in the linked arenas of water policy (including reservoir operating policies) and demand management.” (For more an overview of demand management policies, see “Water Pressure,” August/September 2018.)

“We need to do a much better job of integrating [this] new reality into our water management decisions,” says Heather Cooley, director of the water program at the Pacific Institute in Oakland, California.

Shrinking Water Levels in Lake Powell

Changes in the northeastern reaches of Lake Powell are documented in this series of natural-color images taken by the Landsat series of satellites between 1999 and 2017. The Colorado River flows in from the east around Mile Crag Bend and is swallowed by the lake. At the west end of Narrow Canyon, the Dirty Devil River joins the lake from the north. (At normal water levels, both rivers are essentially part of the reservoir.) At the beginning of the series in 1999, water levels in Lake Powell were relatively high, and the water was a clear, dark blue. The sediment-filled Colorado River appeared green-brown. To see the complete series go to: earthobservatory.nasa.gov/WorldOfChange/LakePowell. Photos via NASA

New approaches

Higher rates of evaporation caused by warmer temperatures have played into current conversations about water infrastructure, including the debate about Lake Powell. Environmentalists never did like that the reservoir inundated 186 miles of lovely rust-colored canyons. In 1975, even before the reservoir had filled, Edward Abbey had mischievously imagined the dam fracturing in his novel The Monkey Wrench Gang. Critics say that the reservoir has made the Colorado River through Grand Canyon National Park a beautiful and sometimes dangerous irrigation ditch.

Arguments in recent years have pivoted more on climate change. Given the declined flows in the Colorado River Basin, could one reservoir — downstream at Lake Mead — suffice? A canyon could be restored and there would be evaporation from just one reservoir, not two. An average six feet of water per year evaporates from the surface of Lake Powell, a little less than downstream at Lake Mead in the Mojave Desert.

Dan Beard, a former commissioner of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, has emerged as the most prominent advocate for removing Glen Canyon Dam. The dam, he says, was conceived during a different time. “Seventy-five years ago, there were no American environmental laws to protect the Colorado River, the science of climate change did not yet exist, and the flow of water in the Colorado River was much higher,” he wrote in an op-ed published a few months ago in the Denver Post.

“There is no new water to fill these facilities, and there won’t be because of the inevitable impacts of climate change,” he wrote.

Evaporation is also an issue in New Mexico. The state’s largest reservoir, Elephant Butte, located in the desert south of Albuquerque, serves as primary storage for the Rio Grande. Climate projections point toward a much hotter and drier future for the river basin. Might that future better be served by more reservoirs in higher-elevation and cooler locations, such as at the river’s headwaters in Colorado? That idea was proffered by U.S. Sen. Tom Udall — whose father and uncle were influential in creating this 20th century infrastructure — at a conference in Santa Fe this past spring.

With river flows declining, there have been calls for more storage. But nobody realistically expects another Grand Coulee in the 21st century. The good sites for dams have been taken, and the environmental impacts are better understood, or at least more strongly argued.

Anne Castle, who was the Interior Department assistant secretary for water and science in the Obama administration for five years, sees value in “small strategic storage that will allow more efficient utilization of the water we have.” In some cases, this merely requires retrofits. She cites the example of Fontenelle Reservoir, located in southwestern Wyoming.

Loose stones, called rip-rap, were originally used to fortify the upper portion of the Fontenelle Dam, making it more resistant to erosion from waves, but not the lower portion (largely because the dam’s designers never expected water levels to get that low). That means water levels cannot currently be drawn down below the reinforced section, limiting the amount of usable water storage. To remedy this in the likelihood of worsening drought conditions, the state wants to reinforce the lower part of the dam wall.

“You can get a lot more usable storage without having to build anything new,” says Castle.

Groundwater recharge takes the burden off surface storage, says the Pacific Institute’s Cooley, allowing reservoirs to be used more for flood control. “Groundwater recharge also diminishes water lost to evaporation. It will help us deal with more extremes in the future,” she says.

Cooley also says dispersed and smaller water storage would be more resilient in case of natural catastrophes, such as earthquakes. And in California and elsewhere, demand-side management and conservation programs can be leveraged even more to make communities less reliant on big water projects. For example, while some state and local water laws limit water reuse, San Francisco now requires all buildings of 250,000 square feet or more to institute water reuse within the building.

Not every strategy is appropriate in every location, Cooley says, and none of them are particularly easy. “But I think they will be necessary to meet our 21st century challenges.”

Divers and marine operations specialists perform an inspection at Fontenelle Dam in Wyoming. Photo by Alexander Stephens/courtesy Bureau of Reclamation.

Who will foot the bill?

Beyond the question of what infrastructure makes sense in the 21st century, there’s also the question of who will maintain aging dams, canals, and other delivery systems. The federal government and its generous piggy bank largely disappeared after the dams were built. Castle, the Washington veteran, doesn’t assume that “federal investment in water will never go up again.” But neither is federal aid certain.

That question of funding faces Colorado’s Mark Harris, the general manager of the Grand Valley Water Users Association. The association administers a small diversion dam on the Colorado River built in 1916, along with 55 miles of canal and 150 miles of pipe and smaller ditches, called laterals. This infrastructure delivers irrigation water to 23,340 acres of vineyards, peaches, and other agricultural products around Grand Junction. Increasingly, this water gets transferred to new suburban and exurban homes.

Harris says Grand Valley’s water customers mostly accept the challenge of climate change, recognizing that existing infrastructure, in addition to being a century old, may not entirely be adequate for changing pressures. But new concrete and reconfigured headgates are not the only issue.

“We have 19th century (water) laws, 20th century facilities, and 21st century expectations,” Harris says. Physical infrastructure is not the only thing that must be updated, he says. “There is also the rehabilitation and evolution of our thinking.”

California provides a case study because of its wild extremes: drought from 2011 to 2014 that was deeper than any in the state’s recorded history followed by a winter in 2016–2017 that, in the state’s northerly sections, was the wettest ever.

Floodwater threatened to take out the Oroville Dam, forcing evacuation of 200,000 people. (See “Lessons Learned from the Oroville Dam Spillway,” May 2017.)

“These changing conditions threaten an already deteriorating infrastructure system, which traditionally has been planned, designed, and engineered based on historical climate and weather data and trends on the assumption that the past is a good predictor of the future,” reads “Built to Last,” a December 2017 report about California water infrastructure by the Union of Concerned Scientists.

The scientists call for “climate-smart” infrastructure as California spends the $7.5 billion for various water projects approved by voters in 2014. (Voters this month will be asked to approve another $9 billion bonding capacity). There have been proposals for more big dams, but they have lost out to small storage, including aquifer recharge projects.

Beard, the now-retired boss of federal dams who supports tearing down Glen Canyon Dam, says water solutions for western communities need to be more local. It starts, he says, with realistic prices being assigned to water. In many cases, water now is essentially free. We pay for its transportation, but not for the water itself. He further points out that many water proposals even during the 20th century, such as making dams higher, faltered when those who would benefit were asked to pay.

The answers for both population growth and climate change, he says, lie closer to home, not in trying to tap new resources far away.

Allen Best writes about water in the Great Plains and western states frequently from a base in Denver. He can be found at http://mountaintownnews.net.

#ColoradoSprings councillors approve @CSUtilities 2019 budget

Colorado Springs with the Front Range in background. Photo credit Wikipedia.

From KOAA (Tyler Dumas):

Tuesday, the Colorado Springs City Council unanimously approved the 2019 budget and rates for Colorado Springs Utilities customers.

The city said local water and wastewater systems are old and in need of ongoing repair and refurbishment.

According to the city, the typical residential wastewater customer will see an increase of about $0.88 per month. The city said this increase, the first since 2010, is largely due to inflationary costs…

Typical residential water customers will experience a monthly increase of $3.80, according to the city. This funding supports a “significant” upgrade to the Phillip H. Tollefson Water Treatment plan, as well as work to repair water mains, according to the city.

The city also said that most commercial and industrial customers will also experience increases to base rates for wastewater and water services.

Springs Utilities has an online bill calculator available to see how these changes will affect individuals and commercial customers. An Understanding Your Bill video is also available to assist customers.

#Snowpack/#Drought news:

From KRDO (Abby Acone):

Sunday’s snowstorm was quite impressive! Some areas in the Pikes Peak region and the mountains southwest of Pueblo piled up a foot of snow. People we interviewed had mixed feelings about the winter weather, but ultimately loved the moisture…

But just how much does this recent snow affect our snowpack and drought? While statewide, our snowpack numbers are down compared to what we’ve experienced recently, across Colorado, we are 126 percent above-average snowpack levels. That’s great. The Arkansas River basin is more than 160 percent of normal in snowpack. This is fabulous news for our state’s water resources, not to mention favorable conditions for skiers and snowboarders in the high country.

In terms of our drought, it’ll take consistent snowstorms to see a noticeable improvement. One storm isn’t enough to eradicate extreme or even moderate drought. Even still, it’s wonderful to see that recent moisture. Our next updated drought monitor will be released this Thursday.

It’s incredibly important to see good snow in the winter season to mitigate fire danger which tends to increase in the spring. With an El Niño pattern still expected to develop in the coming months, we could be dealing with more active weather this winter season.

“The time to secure #Arizona’s water future is now” — Gov. Doug Ducey #lbdcp #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

From The Arizona Capitol Times (Doug Ducey):

I am so grateful to the people of Arizona for allowing me the opportunity to continue serving as governor of our great state. I am humbled by your confidence and ready to continue working for you. And there’s a lot of important work to do.

As I traveled the state during this campaign – from Mohave County to Cochise County, and everywhere in between – one of the most frequent topics of discussion mentioned by constituents was the important issue of securing our state’s water future. It is clear that Arizonans understand we must make important decisions regarding the management of our scarce water resources. In the face of ongoing drought on the Colorado River, the time to reach responsible and nonpartisan solutions is now.

The solution proposed by Arizona, California, Nevada and the federal government is the Drought Contingency Plan (DCP). This plan will help protect Lake Mead from declining to critically low levels that would cause potentially catastrophic reductions to Arizona’s Colorado River water supplies.

DCP lessens the likelihood of such reductions by imposing prudent reductions earlier and incentivizing water users to leave water in Lake Mead. Mexico is also stepping up with a parallel plan.

Implementing DCP in Arizona will require compromise from every stakeholder. This means setting aside narrow special interests and working for the good of the entire state.

My administration, the Legislature, and stakeholders have been working hard to reach an agreement on how to respond to the impacts of those reductions.

Although those efforts have been productive, some recent proposals are so short-sighted and unsustainable that it requires me to remind all participants why we began this process in the first place.

The foundational purpose of a multi-state drought contingency plan is to transition to a drier future. That transition may warrant a modest amount of mitigation for the increased reductions that would be imposed under DCP. However, in recent stakeholder meetings, demands for water and money to mitigate reductions are growing to insurmountable proportions – more than 1 million acre-feet of water and over $200 million through 2026 – creating an unsustainable precedent for mitigating water reductions in the future.

That is not sound long-term planning, and the people of Arizona expect more from us.

To secure Arizona’s water future, we must prioritize conservation, augmentation and innovation. The plan to implement DCP must adhere to some key principles.

First, we need to reaffirm Arizona’s goal of conserving water to raise and protect Lake Mead elevations. Arizona water users have invested considerable resources in conserving more than 350 trillion gallons of Colorado River water since 2014, raising Lake Mead elevations over 13 feet. Any plan to implement DCP in Arizona must build on those efforts.

Second, we must recognize that drought may be the new normal and that DCP is only an interim measure; our State must preserve long-term resources to address anticipated water supply challenges well into the future.

Third, our actions now should not establish expectations that reductions in Colorado River supply will be mitigated forever.

Finally, we take the broad view. We recognize the need to address impacts on certain water use sectors, but individual interests must be appropriately balanced against the interests of the State as a whole.

It’s time to get to this done and make DCP a priority by working together to find sustainable, long-term solutions to address the challenges we face on the Colorado River. And Arizonans should rest assured — DCP will need to be part of a traditional legislative process, and I will not sign a bill that does not adhere to these important principles, or any bill that does not adequately help to secure our state’s water future.

Arizona has a long history of arriving at such solutions with future generations in mind. We have a rich, legacy of coming together where our water resources are concerned. Arizonans expect us to follow in this tradition — and they expect us to act now.

Gov. Doug Ducey was re-elected to his second term in office on Nov. 6, 2018.