Colorado Water Congress’ Annual Summer Meeting recap: What is a reasonable planning horizon for municipalities?

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A panel of municipal water providers looked at the effect of a Colorado Supreme Court ruling in 2009 that rejected Pagosa Springs’ claims of future water needs in connection with building a reservoir. The case presented new tests for cities to prove claims of future population,water supply needs and conservation of water supplies, said Peter Nichols, a water attorney who moderated the panel…

The controversy started in 2006 when Trout Unlimited challenged a district judge’s approval of a new Pagosa Springs reservoir based on a 100-year planning window. Trout Unlimited argued the need was speculative.
The state Supreme Court overturned approval of the reservoir and sent the case back to the district court. A new claim, based on a 50-year window and alsochallengedby Trout Unlimited, was rejected in 2009. In the court’s opinion, Pagosa Springs failed to prove its case…

For Grand Junction, planning for a water future is difficult because of the boom-and-bust cycles in the local economy that’s tied to energy development.
“The variety of futures is immense,” said Greg Trainor, Grand Junction Utilities manager. “It’s difficult for us to nail down a future.”[…]

[Rod Kuharich, executive director of the South Metro Water Supply Authority] said the South Metro challenge is even more difficult, because in addition to high growth, the area is mining its groundwater reserves.
“I have to plan for future growth and replace groundwater,” Kuharich said. “The greater the restrictions, the harder planning becomes.” Like Trainor, Kuharich said he believes flexibility is needed to find water solutions. Right now, South Metro is negotiating with Denver and Aurora for using return flows. That’s not a sustainable solution, but one that prevents the communities in South Metro from hunting for ag water supplies.

CSU Water Center Monday lecture recap

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From The Rocky Mountain Collegian (Allison Sylte):

“Water is the basis of civilization,” said Greg Hobbs, a Colorado Supreme Court Justice. “How we use it, conserve it, and make benefit of it is how we keep our society together.” Hobbs spoke to an assembled group of students and community members in the Natural Resources Building Monday about Colorado’s water policy…

Monday’s lecture was organized by CSU’s Water Center, a collection of different departments in the university, which aims to provide information and research about Colorado’s water policy. “Colorado is in a unique position in terms of water use, because we’re a headwater state,” said Reagan Waskom, the director of the CSU Water Center. “And, according to Colorado law, all water is a public resource.”[…]

Hobbs walked the crowd through various intrastate agreements that have been made regarding water use and the inevitable disputes that come about as a result. He gave attendees a timeline of what led to the creation of Lake Mead and Lake Powell, as well as a case in which Colorado gave Kansas $32 million to compensate for misappropriated water. The only way to reach settlements in water disputes, Hobbs said, lies in impartial resolution by our decision makers. Judges, he said, need to be removed from politics to make tough decisions.

Energy policy — Coalbed methane: State Engineer’s produced water rules lawsuit(s) update

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From The Durango Herald (Joe Hanel):

The case, Vance v. Wolfe, earned plaintiffs Bill and Elizabeth Vance a spot in the history of Colorado water law. The fellow plaintiffs, Jim and Theresa Fitzgerald, of Bayfield, celebrated the ruling as a protection of their water rights and the springs they worked for decades to restore to health. But the Legislature’s bill led to a chain of events that has everyone back in court this summer to fight out three new lawsuits…

The Legislature did two things: It gave the engineer’s office until Aug. 1 this year to process the permits, and it allowed State Engineer Dick Wolfe to make rules that exclude gas wells drilled into deep formations from the need to obtain water permits. Wolfe held hearings last year and early this year and eventually decided that many wells in the San Juan Basin don’t need permits. In general, the wells farther north, closest to where the coal formations climb to the surface, still need water permits.

Sarah Klahn, a water lawyer for the Vance and Fitzgerald families, said the rules threaten to undo the significant victory of the Vance case. Klahn and fellow lawyer Alan Curtis filed two new lawsuits against Wolfe for adopting the rules. The first one will be heard in Greeley this year. It claims the state engineer illegally adopted the rules without notifying landowners that their water might be at risk. “The real people who stand to be injured on the ground because of this stuff did not get notice,” Curtis said.

Their first legal notification that something was up was the huge water-rights application to state Water Court by gas companies that landowners got in the mail this year, he said. They are not alone in the fight this time. Other plaintiffs include heavyweights like the Denver Board of Water Commissioners, the cities of Boulder, Centennial and Sterling, and several other water users.

The second lawsuit, filed in Durango, challenges the map that Wolfe used to decide which wells to regulate. Gas companies paid for the expert who drew the map, and it leaves out wells that should face scrutiny from water regulators, Klahn and Curtis say.

A third lawsuit takes the fight to all of Southwest Colorado. In February, the state engineer amended the rules to include other geological formations, including the shales found in Montezuma, Dolores and western La Plata counties. The rules determined that groundwater in the Paradox formation – which covers a wide swath of Southwest Colorado – is nontributary, meaning gas companies will not have to prepare expensive plans to replace the water they use in their wells. The area has not been drilled for gas yet, but the rocks hold a potentially large amount of shale gas, so it could become an important drilling area in the future. Durango water lawyer Amy Huff filed a separate lawsuit on behalf of several local landowners to challenge the rules over the Paradox formation and other geologic layers. Huff said the state engineer has not done enough to prove that gas companies can take water out of the rock formations without harming surface streams…

An Aspen group, Public Counsel of the Rockies, paid the plaintiffs’ legal fees in the Vance-Fitzgerald lawsuit. In March, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation made a $300,000 grant to Public Counsel of the Rockies to continue the coal-bed methane work, according to the Hewlett Foundation. Public Counsel of the Rockies’ tax forms describe the Vance lawsuit as a test case to bring water regulation to gas wells

More coalbed methane coverage here and here.

Energy policy — oil shale: American Oil Shale is building a processing plant to test their technology

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Oil shale has been the “Next Big Thing” in Colorado for over a 100 years. 2011 could be the year that a company proves to itself and the world that the resource can be produced economically in an environmentally sound way. Here’s a short report from Bloomberg Business Week. From the article:

One of three companies with federal leases to research and develop oil shale in Colorado said it plans to start testing its technology early next year. American Shale Oil said it’s building a processing facility west of Rifle in western Colorado. The company expects to employ about two dozen people during the research phase.

More oil shale coverage here and here.

Water for People scores $5.6 million from the Gates Foundation

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Here’s the release from Water for People:

Water For People (, a nonprofit international development organization, announced today receipt of a $5.6 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to support their innovative Sanitation as a Business program.

The grant represents a significant investment over four years in Water For People’s Sanitation as a Business work, testing possible sustainable sanitation services in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. This groundbreaking program seeks to revolutionize the sanitation sector. The program will combine profit incentives for small local companies and income generation programs for poor households and schools, demonstrating a shift from unsustainable, subsidy-based sanitation programs toward sustainable, profitable sanitation services. By merging business principles of market research and segmentation with comprehensive community involvement and thorough evaluation of results, Water For People aims to create a truly scalable model, expanding affordable sanitation coverage in multiple locations worldwide.

“Water For People is honored to receive this grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. It will allow us to test, improve and expand our entrepreneurial Sanitation as a Business program,” said Ned Breslin, Water For People CEO. “Ultimately, we seek to do more than bring sanitation to millions of people in developing countries. We seek to do so in a way that fundamentally transforms the sector. This model will challenge subsidy-driven, loan finance and passive private sector approaches to the global sanitation crisis.”

“Identifying profitable business models that engage local communities is critical to creating safe and sustainable sanitation systems,” said Rachel Cardone, program officer with Water, Sanitation & Hygiene at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “Water For People is developing and testing these kinds of models, which have the potential to scale up across regions and improve the health, economic, and social conditions of millions of poor people.”

Water For People first began experimenting with Sanitation as a Business principles in Malawi, Africa in 2008. Since then, sanitation entrepreneurs have developed ongoing maintenance relationships with households to service over 1,000 latrines.

Nick Burn, Water For People International Program Director explains, “This program is promising because in many respects it is not just about sanitation. Rather, it is about profit and services, using businesses as a vehicle for reaching far larger numbers of people with sanitation than traditional approaches have been able to do.”

“This is a significant grant for Water For People, and will allow us to build on the initiative already in place in Malawi and increase its capacity to spread beyond Malawi’s borders to benefit communities throughout Africa, Asia, and Latin America,” Burn continued. “The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation grant allows us to broaden and deepen our programmatic work. We hope to work in new ways to help increase impact, go to scale and ideally demonstrate to others that Sanitation as a Business is a powerful approach that can be replicated beyond our programs.”

For more information about Water For People and the organization’s initiative Sanitation as a Business, contact Peter Mason, Director of Marketing and Communications at or visit the website at

Thanks to the Denver Business Journal for the

La Salle: Groundwater seepage problems

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From The Greeley Tribune (Bill Jackson):

[Bill Tulk’s] home is among several in La Salle that have had basement flooding problems in the past couple of weeks, but Tulk and water officials said it’s something they have no control over. It’s caused by too much surface water the past three years, which comes on the heels of nearly five years of dry conditions that drove water tables to near record lows in some cases. “It’s high water levels. There’s nothing anybody can do about it,” Tulk said, except install sump pumps to keep the water out, which he has done in the past week. He said he installed one on the south side of his house about a week ago and put in another on the northwest corner of his house over the weekend. He was pumping the water into his back yard, but when it became saturated, he started pumping into the gutter and letting the water run down the street…

The homes are along the Union Ditch, an irrigation company that supplies water from a point near Milliken to east of La Salle, and some people blamed the ditch company for the problems. But Tulk and others said it’s not the company’s fault. Gary Alles of the Union Ditch Co. said the problem is fields in the area of the neighborhood that have been irrigated all summer long. On top of that, groundwater levels have risen because of an excess of surface water this year and the previous two years. “Our ditch has been running a foot and a half to 2 feet below the ditch bank all year long,” Alles said, noting that he, too, has had problems at his home northeast of La Salle. “We’ve been running two, 3-inch (sump) pumps most of the summer to keep water out of the basement,” he said, adding that his farm is at the east end of the Union Ditch.

Dick Wolfe, head of the Colorado Division of Water Resources, said levels of groundwater aquifers up and down the South Platte River have increased by 2-3 feet and his office has been getting calls throughout the summer from residents with water problems in basements. Those calls, he said, have come from Boulder all along the river to the northeast. There have been similar problems in the Ault and Nunn areas of northern Weld County, as well, Wolfe said, and again, it’s due to rising groundwater tables.

More South Platte River Basin coverage here and here.

Energy policy — nuclear: Powertech plans ‘aquifer enhancement’ at proposed Centennial Project operation

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From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Bobby Magill):

Powertech’s plan for in situ leaching now includes a process called “aquifer enhancement.” The report says aquifer enhancement involves raising the water table beneath the mine site by injecting fresh water into the ground around the perimeter of each field of wells used for uranium extraction. The fresh water, which will likely come from the Colorado-Big Thompson Project once water rights are purchased, will keep the oxygen levels around the uranium ore at the correct level so the ore can be extracted. The aquifer enhancement process will create a “hydraulic fence” around each well field, but the report says, “No modeling has been completed by Powertech to assess the effect of the hydraulic fence on the surrounding water resources during operation.”

David Berry, director of the Colorado Mined Land Reclamation Office, said he is uncomfortable speculating on what Powertech’s aquifer enhancement process might mean. “Regardless, state standards apply,” he said.

More nuclear coverage here and here.

The Colorado Water Quality Division hits Colorado Springs with $50,000 in fines for spills

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The Colorado Water Quality Division of the Department of Public Health and Environment has determined violations of previous compliance orders for sanitary sewer overflows during the last five years resulted in civil penalties of more than $50,000, according to consent decrees on amendments to previous compliance orders. Previous penalties have totaled about $400,000…

The amount of contaminants spilled in the last five years is far less than the discharges from 1998-2005 that led to the compliance orders, but each incident is a violation of state law, according to amendments released this month by the Colorado Water Quality Division.

The division listed eight releases of partially treated wastewater, called reclaimed water, between 50 and 3,500 gallons into Monument Creek or Fountain Creek from 2006-10. Causes ranged from equipment or line failure to contractor damage. Civil penalties for those releases totaled $13,266. The division listed 18 releases of raw sewage into Fountain Creek or its tributaries ranging from 2 to 8,700 gallons from 2006-10. The releases were caused by blockages, vandalism and in one case equipment malfunction. Civil penalties for those releases totalled $43,624…

Colorado Springs has spent $143 million in improvements to comply with state orders on its sanitary sewer system since 2000. The political furor over the continued spills into Fountain Creek resulted in the Fountain Creek Vision Task Force and led to the formation of the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District. Colorado Springs also committed to spend $75 million over 15 years for additional wastewater system improvements as part of its 1041 permit with Pueblo County for the Southern Delivery System, and reported spending $9 million toward that figure last year.

More Fountain Creek coverage here and here.