Western States Water Council: 2009 symposium day 3 recap

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Federal Roles, Regulations and Planning Functions

The last day of the conference started out with a panel of representatives from four federal agencies moderated by Tony Willardson (Western States Water Council) and included: Chandler Peter (Denver Regulatory Office, Omaha District, Army Corps of Engineers); Bert Garcia (Director , Ecosystems Protection Program, Regions 8, Environmnetal Protection Agency); Randy Karstaedt (Director, Physical Resources, U.S. Forest Service); Meg Estep (Mountain-Prairie region, Chief, Water Resources Division, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service).

Peter explained that the Corps regulatory authority comes from Seciton 404 of the Clean Water Act and Section 10 of the Rivers and Harbors Appropriation Act. He added that the Corps doesn’t bring any money to the table in the permit process, nor do they participate in planning — their job is to tell applicants what to do and what not to do.

Collaboration is the name of the game now. Peter hopes to move the EPA (at least in his office) to work collaboratively with water and land developers. He told the conference that much of the information that the Corps uses comes from submittals and that there is opportunity to collaborate on data collection and analysis.

Peter ran through some of the requirements for a permit. The Corps requires a needs analysis with each application. He said, “The amount of water needed translates directly to effects on aquatic resources.” The intensity of the review can be adjusted, “in light of the level of impact,” but he admitted that the needs analysis process can, “involve substantial cost and effort.” Some of the elements of the analysis are, demand, reliability of the source, conservation efforts, water rights, contracts, leases, and growth projections.

The Corps is statutorily required to evaluate alternatives to any proposed project and choose the option with the least environmental effect, he said.

The Corps, according to Chandler, is trying to improve the permitting process. He cited three examples where, after multi-year efforts and high investment, the application ended up in litigation and the applicant was denied the permit. Two Forks Dam made the list. Proponents spent some $40 million and in the end the reservoir was not approved.

Fort Collins and Greeley have agreed to partner with the Corps to test a new collaborative process, according to Peter. The pilot is the proposed Halligan and Seaman reservoirs expansion.

Garcia also cited Section 404 of the Clean Water Act as the authorizing legislation for the Environmental Protection Agency’s regulatory efforts. He asked the question, “What can we do to improve the process?”

He advocates transparency in the give and take between the EPA and thos the agency regulates. The more they know about projects the better they can integrate processes.

Garcia told the conference that the EPA will be promoting more low impact development.

Karstaedt said that the U.S. Forest Service is a land management agency rather that a regulatory agency. Most of us, “depend on rural areas and forests for our water,” he said. In the west forests comprise around 19% of the land area but supply more than half of the fresh water. He added that in Colorado the numbers are 22% of the land in forest provides 68% of the water supply. Nationally, he said, ranches, farms, private and state forests and federal land provide 80% of the drinking water supplies.

The USFS has been buying acreage near forest land to simplify watershed management. They recently purchased parcels in the Beaver Creek Watershed.

Estep told the conference that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service gets their charter from the Endangered Species Act. Their job is to prevent species from going extinct or ending up listed as threatened.

The Candidate Conservation Program, “…assesses species and develops and facilitates the use of voluntary conservation tools for collaborative conservation of candidate and other species-at-risk and their habitats, so that these species do not need the protection of the Endangered Species Act,” according to the USFW website.

They will also work with landowners to protect endangered species to set up best management practices through their Habitat Conservation Planning program.

A current focus of the agency is water quality.

More Colorado water coverage here.

Lamar: Colorado Water Resources and Power Development Authority runs out of dough

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From the Lamar Ledger (Aaron Burnett):

One month after opening bids for a major waste water improvement project, the city of Lamar will likely be shelving the project through at least the end of the year. Funding for the project, which was intended to replace the waste water system’s main lift station, dried up this past week when the Colorado Water Resources and Power. Development Authority (CWRPDA) informed city staff that the authority would not be able to offer a loan for the project in 2009. The city had applied for and been approved for up to $2 million in loan funds from the authority and was notified as late as August that the loan would be in place for 2009. City Administrator Ron Stock informed the council during its Monday evening meeting that staff had explored alternative funding sources, but had yet to identify one that would prove practical for the project.

More wastewater converage here.

H.R. 3123: Leadville Mine Drainage Tunnel cleanup

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From The Colorado Independent (Katie Redding):

The Leadville Mine Drainage Remediation Act of 2009, HR 3123, sponsored by Colorado Republican Doug Lamborn of the 5th District, would order the federal Bureau of Reclamation to take responsibility for the entire length of the Leadville Mine Drainage Tunnel, which drains zinc, cadmium and lead-laced water from many of Leadville’s historic mines. “We’re ecstatic that we’ve made it through the House again,” said Lake County Commissioner Ken Olsen…

The bill also directs the Bureau to work with the Environmental Protection Agency to treat additional water from the Superfund site. The Bureau has done so in the past, but alleged that it does not have the authority to treat the water in perpetuity.

But Olsen had no patience for federal agencies who won’t use their already-built plant to treat nearby contaminated water. “The plant is made to treat contaminated water entering the Arkansas River,” he insisted. “It’s a public plant.” Olsen added that he was “extremely hopeful” that Senators Udall and Bennet would be able to secure passage of S. 1417 in the Senate.

More H.R. 3123 coverage here.

Weminuche Wilderness: Federal judge denies dam project at Emerald Lake

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From The Durango Herald (Dale Rodebaugh):

In a Sept. 18 ruling, U.S. District Court Judge John L. Kane dismissed a claim by the irrigation district that in 1940 it acquired the right build a dam at Emerald Lake. Kane also upheld the federal government’s position that heirs of the man who built a dam there about 1895 have no claim, either. The legal battle started about 2004 when Pine River Irrigation District, which provides Vallecito Reservoir water for irrigators in southeast La Plata County, attempted to resurrect what it alleged was the right to build a water-storage facility at Emerald Lake. The lake and nearby Little Emerald Lake, a total surface of 300 acres, sit at about 10,000 feet elevation in Hinsdale County.

Daniel Israel, a Denver attorney who represents the irrigation district, said Friday that an appeal is possible. “There’s a long history here,” Israel said. “We relied on a federal court decision eight or nine years ago, but Judge Kane rejected the court’s analysis. We don’t agree with his reading.” Israel said the 1891 law on which the early dam builder acted never has been analyzed by a federal court of appeals.

More San Juan Basin coverage here and here.

Western States Water Council: 2009 Symposium day two recap

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From The Durango Herald (Joe Hanel):

Speaking at a conference on water and population growth, Ritter restated a water policy he’s had since his first campaign for governor: look first to conservation and sharing water among cities and farmers, and to trans-basin diversions only as a last resort…

Thirty years ago, it was an era of plenty, Ritter said. Colorado had fewer than 3 million people, and three of its four major river basins were open to claims of new water rights. Today, the state has 5 million people, and only the Colorado River has unappropriated water. “We’re in an era of water scarcity and tradeoffs,” Ritter said…

On Tuesday, Ritter urged water planners to slow down and ask questions about Colorado’s future before dedicating more water to urban growth. “What will Colorado and the West look like in 50 years if we continue business as usual? Is this the world that we want our children to inherit?” Ritter did not define under what conditions he would back a transfer of water from west to east, but he said his administration would oppose it unless it improved all parts of the state.

More coverage from The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

“Water must be a part of the conversation when it comes to creating vibrant, liveable communities,” Ritter told the Western States Water Council symposium on water and land use. “Any growth plan we have must acknowledge the scarcity of water.”[…]

The state needs to be smart about how it grows, and so it is rightly investing money through the Colorado Water Conservation Board in studies of water availability, water scarcity, conservation plans and sharing water. “There is no silver bullet,” Ritter said.

Ritter also lauded Aurora for pioneering water reuse through its $700 million Prairie Waters Project, which seeks to recapture flows from the South Platte River for direct reuse. “Aurora bought a lot of water from around the state, and a lot of people looked at Aurora as recklessly growing,” Ritter said. Since the 1980s, Aurora has purchased most of the Rocky Ford Ditch, part of the Colorado Canal, shares in Twin Lakes and ranches in Lake County in order to export the water from rights on those lands. Since it imports the water from another basin, it can theoretically reuse it to extinction, but that requires investment in infrastructure – a well field, pipeline and treatment plant in the case of Prairie Waters. “There is an ability to reuse that water, and that decreases the need for water from other parts of the state,” Ritter said.

More coverage from The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka). From the article:

While Boulder made a decision years ago to limit growth despite having an adequate water supply for a city three times its size, Douglas County has maintained an aggressive growth policy with skimpy water supplies.

“The vision was a compact city surrounded by open space,” said Peter Pollock, who worked for 25 years as a planner for the city of Boulder. Boulder used every tool available to regulate growth and invented a few, determining where growth would come and how fast. The city worked with the county to maintain the rural nature of its outskirts, Pollock said. Pollock called the conflicting needs within the community useful in evaluating the trade-offs needed to obtain the desired results. Unlike many others at the conference, Pollock said water should be used as a tool to reinforce sustainable development, saying no community would be built if roads could not serve it…

“Efforts to control growth through water are futile,” Shively said. At least 50 percent of the state’s growth is from natural increases – from raising families and having children and grandchildren remain in the state. Communities like Castle Rock and Highlands Ranch already have per-capita water rates lower than most other areas of the state. The community is looking at rainwater harvesting, but the solution is to bring in more water from outside the Front Range to meet needs, Shively argued. “We have to teach our kids about water, and that we can’t conserve our way out,” Shively said.

More coverage from The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka). From the article:

“The moment Douglas County or Aurora gets into trouble, it affects the value of every home on the Front Range,” Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper told the Western States Water Council symposium on water and land use Tuesday. “We’re having a discussion on regionalism.”

Denver has entered an intergovernmental agreement with two of its large neighbors to share resources, but that stops short of a commitment to supply water, added Chips Barry, director of Denver Water. “We’ll share our resources, but not our customers,” Barry said. For example, Denver and other communities generate return flows that it cannot physically reuse, but may be able to recycle through Aurora’s Prairie Waters Project, now 80 percent complete. Those flows could be captured for later reuse, with cooperation, Barry said…

“The West Slope is beginning to understand having a Front Range that is distressed for water is not helpful,” Barry said. “What we’re trying to do is settle 50 years of dispute. Denver wants certainty on the Blue River.”[…]

Mark Pifher, director of Aurora Water, said the marketplace may be the driver for conservation. “Water is too scarce, and what you have to do to provide infrastructure is too expensive,” Pifher said. “The costs to the consumer and the developers will come to a point where they are self-regulating.”

More coverage from The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka). From the article:

Over in Texas…there might be enough water, but it’s not in the right place. Parts of the state have been in drought since 1996. Dallas has grown faster than its supply of water, said Carolyn Brittin, deputy executive administrator of the Texas Water Development Board. In the past, water was a top-down activity in Texas, with permits issued for use wherever that use popped up. Groundwater is still not administered. Now, the state is trying to incorporate local decisions in its long-range water planning for storage and delivery, Brittin said. Conservation and reuse are becoming popular concepts, but Texas still doesn’t mess with land-use planning. Before it’s all done, 1.5 million acre-feet will have to come off farms unless the state can develop some of its 20 identified reservoir sites. Land regulation appears to be a last resort. “We’re going to grow . . . I find it fascinating that you would contemplate permits for subdivisions based on water availability,” Brittin said. “That’s pie in the sky for me, because I’m from Texas.”

More coverage from The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka). From the article:

…state Rep. Kathleen Curry, D-Gunnison, encountered a surprising amount of friction over a bill in 2008 (HB1141) that simply asked local governments to take water into account before issuing permits. “Local control is something that is in the fabric of this state and that’s not going to change any time soon,” Curry told the Western States Water Council symposium on water and land use Tuesday. While the state has a role, there are also issues of private property rights and water rights that play into these decisions.

And, judging from a parade of speakers at the conference Tuesday, a wide spectrum of what can be accomplished building-by-building, lot-by-lot, throughout a community and along a watershed. Planners discussed everything from low-flow appliances to rainwater capture to stormwater runoff on a small scale. Larger-scale solutions included high-density development, filling in empty urban spaces and locating essential businesses near homes through zoning to create pedestrian-friendly communities. “The danger of imposing the solution that we can all fit our hands around is that it isn’t going to work in every situation,” said Andy Hill, a Colorado Department of Local Affairs specialist in sustainable community development…

A report by Drew Beckwith looked at communities in Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah that analyzed how techniques like using recycled water from homes to irrigate, reducing water use by appliances and Xeriscape landscaping significantly reduced water use. For instance, the Civanno community near Tucson, Ariz., used 35-45 percent less water than the already-low levels in the area, while reducing peak demand, Beckwith said.

More Colorado water coverage here and here.

Montrose County League of Women Voters: Water a Vital Resource October 1

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From email from the Colorado Watershed Assembly:

The first in a series of meetings hosted by the Montrose County League of Women Voters about regional programs working toward sustainability.

Join us and guest speakers from the Uncompaghre Watershed Planning Partnership and the City of Montrose Public Works Department for a forum on how to sustain water quality for businesses, citizens and wildlife for the next 100 years. Sarah Sauter of the UWPP will speak on its goal of improving water qualtiy and riparian habitat within the Uncompaghre River Basin by developing a collaborative watershed plan that would address heavy metals, selenium, wise land use planning, storm water, protection of drinking water supplies, flood hazard mitigation, river access, healthy fisheries, wildlife, public education and recreation. The City of Montrose Storm Water Management Program is dedicated to protecting the quality of surface waters, ponds, creeks and rivers.

Thursday, October 1,7: 00 p.m., Montrose Library Community Room Call Barb Krebs at 249-3989 for more information.