REPORT: Colorado Water Supply Can Exceed Demand Without Building Large Infrastructure Projects

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Western Resource Advocates was the lead group on the new report Meeting Future Water Needs in the Arkansas Basin. Here’s the announcement from the WRA website:

Filling the Gap: Meeting Future Urban Water Needs in the Arkansas Basin is the second report in a series from Western Resource Advocates, Trout Unlimited, and the Colorado Environmental Coalition. In this report, we outline a realistic and balanced water supply portfolio to meet the urban water needs in the Arkansas Basin while protecting Colorado’s waterways, economy, and quality of life. Employing widely accepted data, we explore four water supply strategies: acceptable planned projects, water conservation, reuse, and voluntary water sharing with the agriculture sector. Importantly, our portfolio more than meets future demands of the urban counties of the Arkansas Basin without the need for large, costly, and environmentally damaging transbasin diversions that have been a hallmark of traditional water supply planning.

Our balanced portfolio of water supply strategies more than fills the projected needs of Arkansas Basin communities…

To further explore our proposed water management portfolio, download the full report [or] executive summary.

The strategy relies on conservation, including reuse and cooperation between urban and rural water providers. During the TelePress call today it sounded to me like the groups would support more storage in the Arkansas Valley as long as it isn’t for another transmountain diversion from the west slope. They also indicated a “bank account” for conserved water, but did not know where the water would be stored. Colorado water law so far does not recognize “conserved consumptive use” so any bank would require a trip to water court — just the same as the rotational fallowing plans for the Arkansas Valley Super Ditch. Most ditch companies will tell you that they get killed in a change of use case in water court.

Also, in the South Platte basin at least, much of the water acquired over the years by municipalities is still in agriculture. I wonder if the report considered these changed rights that have not been implemented yet?

Update: Here’s a correction sent in by Jason Bane (Western Resource Advocates):

There was a misunderstanding it appears between what Jorge Figueroa was trying to say and how it may have come across to you. He was trying to use an analogy of a savings account in regards to the catch-all category of system reliability. Utilities generally do not sell off all of the water saved from conservation; rather, they allocated a specific percentage to the catch-all category. The analogy was intended to apply only in the context of system reliability (and definitely wasn’t meant to imply a monetary type of banking gain).

More coverage from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

The report “Meeting Future Needs in the Arkansas River Basin” was released Tuesday by Western Resource Advocates, the Colorado Environmental Coalition and Trout Unlimited. It follows a similar report last year on the South Platte River basin.

Both reports counter a statewide effort by the Interbasin Compact Committee that also includes one or more projects to bring Colorado River water to the Front Range. The environmental groups timed the report to coincide with today’s meeting of the IBCC and a statewide water roundtable summit Thursday in Broomfield.

There may be a question whether water providers accept the figures used in the reports. The Pueblo Board of Water Works is still reviewing the final report for accuracy, said Alan Ward, water resources manager.

The environmental groups said the timing was opportune since the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission last week rejected Aaron Million’s application for a Wyoming-Colorado pipeline. The groups oppose multibillion water projects that run the risk of depleting Colorado River flows.

The report does not address two major threats to Arkansas River basin water supplies — future water raids by South Platte users, such as Aurora’s purchases on the Rocky Ford Ditch and Colorado Canal in the 1980s and ’90s, and water needed for energy development, such as shale oil fracking.
On the other hand, it does not include additional supplies the Pueblo Board of Water Works gained from its purchase of Bessemer Ditch shares, Figueroa said. It also excluded any storage benefit from reservoir enlargement under the Preferred Storage Options Plan, which has been stalled for several years.

Becky Long, of the Colorado Environmental Coalition, said the environmental groups support rotational fallowing programs, such as the Arkansas Valley Super Ditch, as a way of keeping farms in production and while filling temporary needs of cities. “Ag transfers are the smallest piece of the pie,” she said. “There are increasing pressures on farmers and ranchers. We certainly do think there are additional ways to keep farmers on the land.”

More coverage from Kirk Siegler writing for KUNC. From the article:

The report recommends a mix of conservation and water reuse programs and small water development projects, namely a proposal around the Eagle River. Author Jorge Figueroa says if policy managers adopted these strategies, they could actually exceed projected water supply demands by 2050. “A huge amount of water can be kept in the system and resold at a much cheaper price than new, expensive and environmentally damaging infrastructure projects,” Figueroa said.

More conservation coverage here.

Drought/Snowpack news: The South Platte basin snowpack (87%) drops below average again, statewide — 77%

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Most of Colorado is now classified as under drought conditions, according to a report by the state’s water availability task force, which met last week in Denver. “Early February precipitation in parts of the state has helped to increase snowpack levels somewhat. However, all major basins of the state remain below normal,” the task force report states. “Severe drought conditions still remain in Baca County as well as the San Luis Valley.”[…]

…streamflows in the Arkansas River basin are below average as the region enters its 18th month of drought. The surface water supply index is well below average, partly because of weather conditions and the drawdown of Homestake Reservoir for repairs…

The outlook for water imported to the Arkansas River basin from the Colorado River basin is not good, either. Yields are expected to be only 75-80 percent of average, even if snowfall is average the rest of the season. In the Upper Colorado River basin snowpack is only at 71 percent. It is the source of water for the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project, Twin Lakes, Homestake and other diversions that can bring as much as one-fourth of water supplies into the Arkansas basin.

Conservationists charge Governor Hickenlooper with ‘greenwashing’ oil and gas groundwater contamination

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From the Summit County Citizens Voice (Bob Berwyn):

In [an] ad, posted on the Colorado Oil & Gas Association website, Hickenlooper makes a flat-out claim that there hasn’t been any groundwater contamination associated with drilling and hydraulic fracturing since 2008. You can listen to Hickenlooper’s message here.

The message touted Colorado’s new oil and gas drilling regulations which are intended to protect the environment as well as to give industry regulatory certainty. The context of the message was to advertise Colorado as open for the oil and gas business business, but the problem is that Hickenlooper’s statement is not completely accurate or truthful. In fact, there have been dozens of documented cases of groundwater contamination in the state since 2008 from leaky pipes, corroded tanks and other problems that are common in any industrial setting. “There are spills on a weekly basis that affect groundwater,” said Earthjustice attorney Mike Freeman, adding that state records show there were 58 spills from oil and gas operations in 2011.

“The first step is admitting we have a problem,” Freeman said. “It’s safe to say, the disclosure rules are not preventing drilling operations from contaminating water,” he said, adding that the state’s rules are only a first step toward ensuring environmental protection. “The state’s own records show that spills and releases routinely affect ground water. Statements like those in the COGA ad will only hurt the state’s efforts to show it is responsive to legitimate concerns about and gas development in Colorado communities.”

More coverage from Bruce Finley writing for The Denver Post. From the article:

“It is certainly true that spills and releases associated with equipment failures at drilling sites have occurred and have impacted shallow groundwater,” Hickenlooper spokeswoman Megan Castle said. “That’s a very different process from drilling and hydraulic fracturing.”[…]

A letter to Hickenlooper from 13 environmental groups says the COGA ad “misleads the public by ignoring the high incidence of groundwater contamination from spills and releases of toxic chemicals at or near drilling sites.” The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, charged with regulating and simultaneously encouraging oil and gas activity, has documented numerous spills that have contaminated soil and water. These include instances where petroleum liquids and fracking wastewater were spilled. Corroding tanks and pipelines and leaking waste pits have led to spills of toxic material, including cancer-causing benzene.

More coverage from the Switchboard (Amy Mall). From the article:

In Colorado, archaic rules allow toxic oil and gas facilities to be as close as 150 feet to a child’s bedroom window. These operations can be in someone’s backyard and on their property without consent if a family does not own the rights to the oil and gas beneath its land–and most Coloradans do not.

The COGA ads tout the latest Colorado rule requiring disclosure of fracking chemicals. While disclosure is essential to preserve the public’s right to know about chemicals in their community, and NRDC calls for nationwide disclosure of fracking chemicals for better regulation of this industry, disclosure is only one part of what’s needed in a comprehensive regulatory structure to protect health and the environment from the dangers of fracking. Disclosure alone does not prevent drinking water contamination–rather it lets citizens know what chemicals might be in their drinking water after it has been contaminated. And many of the chemicals can still be kept secret by oil and gas companies.

The risks are real. From 2009-2011, there were more than a thousand spills related to oil and gas operations in Colorado–many of which impacted groundwater and/or surface water with potentially highly toxic materials. Last September, the Denver Post reported that four oil and gas companies alone had 350 spills in Colorado in less than two years. The Post highlighted one spill that contaminated groundwater with benzene–a known carcinogen. In 2010, a Las Animas County landowner found approximately 500 gallons of grayish brown murky water in his cistern that he believes is linked to nearby hydraulic fracturing. This family has extensive water testing documentation going back many years, verifying that their water was always clean and clear until the nearby fracking took place.

The newspaper ad states it is “brought to you as a public service,” which makes it sound like a “public service announcement,” but this is misleading. While the Colorado Independent Ethics Commission decided that it is okay for elected officials to use their personal credibility and the position of their office to better educate the public on issues relating to their government position, in its decision, the Ethics Commissions used examples of public service announcements that discuss the importance of voting, filling out the census form, retrieving unclaimed property, and discouraging the illegal use of alcohol.

None of those examples promote one industry or mislead the public with a false sense of security about considerable and well-documented public health and environmental threats.

More oil and gas coverage here and here.

Colorado is proposing new nutrient standards for nitrogen and phosphorus in wastewater streams

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I missed this opinion piece in favor of tougher nutrient standards from Ross Vincent and Seve Glazer that is running in The Pueblo Chieftain. It was part of a point/counterpoint that the Chieftain ran on Sunday. Here’s my original post. Thanks to Desmid for the heads up in the comments for the post. Here’s an excerpt from the article I missed:

…imagine our disappointment at learning that the city of Pueblo has joined forces with some other municipal dischargers in attempting to weaken new clean water protections proposed by the state health department. The issue in this case is nutrients — predominantly chemicals containing nitrogen and phosphorus. These nutrients are commonly found in lawn and agricultural fertilizers, in some commercial products (such as cleaners), in some industrial discharges, and in human and animal excrement. They find their way into our streams and lakes primarily in urban, suburban, and industrial discharges, and in urban and agricultural runoff. Here on the Front Range, the biggest sources are municipal sewage and stormwater discharges.

When nutrient pollution is allowed to accumulate in our lakes and rivers, it can harm aquatic life, sometimes causing fish kills. In drinking water, it can compromise human health because some nitrogen and phosphorus compounds are toxic and others can react with disinfectants used to kill bacteria in drinking water treatment facilities to form cancer-causing disinfection by-products. Levels of both nitrogen and phosphorus in parts of the Arkansas River basin are already more than 10 times higher than what should occur naturally, and we should expect those levels to get worse if Colorado’s Front Range population continues to grow as expected.

Some cities, like Pueblo, are arguing that the cost of reducing nitrogen and phosphorus levels in their discharges will be too high, that no one will want to pay for the necessary treatment, and that we should only address part of the problem — the phosphorus part — because only treating for phosphorus will be cheaper.

That is a stunningly shortsighted and ultimately self-defeating argument. It is eerily reminiscent of the complaints we sometimes hear from big industrial polluters when science reveals problems with pollutants in their discharges. If the state fails to act responsibly on both phosphorus and nitrogen pollution now, it is likely that the federal government will step in with more stringent requirements, with shorter fuses and even more costly solutions.

If the city’s arguments prevail, all the city will have succeeded in doing is to delay the inevitable. The nitrogen pollution problem will not go away. As ratepayers, we will be required to invest in phosphorus-only treatment now and then we will be hit again later with additional and duplicative improvements in our city’s wastewater treatment systems to deal with nitrogen.

More wastewater coverage here and here.

San Luis: Chlorine flushing of the water system is complete, CDPHE is waiting on test results to lift the boil order

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Matt Hildner):

Linda Smith, a public information officer for the Alamosa County Emergency Operations Center, said if the tests came back negative it would then be up to officials with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment on whether to lift a boiled water advisory…

Crews worked through the weekend flushing chlorinated water through the town’s pipes and Smith said monitoring revealed the chlorination had run at proper levels. “All of that is looking good so far,” she said…

Should the advisory be lifted this week, Smith did not know if the San Luis Water and Sanitation District would immediately begin chlorinating the town’s water. The district decided Friday to abandon a disinfection waiver that had allowed it to distribute untreated groundwater from two wells. Tommy Rodriguez, the district’s water operator, said earlier the district had the equipment it needed to move forward with chlorination.

More water treatment coverage here.