From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Hannah Holm):
Since all the major Colorado River diversions to the Eastern Slope cities are junior to the Colorado River Compact, there is concern that this would set off a rush to buy and dry senior Western Slope agricultural water rights to allow those diversions to continue.
So … East Slopers are afraid that failing to take enough Colorado River water east of the divide will lead to a massive dry-up of irrigated agriculture, and Western Slopers are afraid that taking too much will do the same.
Both sides are worried about how this conundrum will be dealt with in Colorado’s statewide water plan, so meetings are multiplying and memos are flying. “Basin Roundtables” of stakeholders on both sides are trying to figure out how to simultaneously strengthen their negotiating position and also find low-impact ways of accommodating each others needs.
Possibilities discussed include:
• Allowing new transfers of Western Slope water to the Front Range, but only when existing reservoirs are full.
• Building new reservoirs to hold Western Slope water that can benefit water users on both sides of the divide (that’s how past controversies of this type have been resolved).
• Ramping up urban conservation to the point where cities won’t need more water from either agriculture or Western Slope streams.
The route taken to resolve this sticky issue will have long-term impacts for the economies, environment and quality of life of communities all across the state. We should all be paying attention.
More transmountain/transbasin diversions coverage here and here.
Here’s a recap of the recent Northern Colorado Energy Summit from Kay McDonald writing for the Big Picture Agriculture blog. Here’s an excerpt:
Today, natural gas costs about four times as much in Europe as here in the U.S., and even more in Japan. In the U.S., for an equivalent amount of BTUs, crude oil costs three to four times as much as natural gas, which is driving a switch to the use of CNG and LNG to power our transportation, especially the heavy fleets and rail. It has replaced coal to generate electricity in power plants, too, reducing emissions and making it possible to integrate green energies like wind and solar more easily.
Keynote Speaker John Harpole
Our first energy summit speaker was John Harpole, President of Mercator Energy LLC. Next, are a few of his key statements.
• “Horizontal drilling technology is the biggest discovery since the splitting of the atom,” he said. The technology allows us to drill down two miles and then horizontally two miles and hit the target the size of a refrigerator. This gives us the ability to tap into an estimated 1,073 trillion cubic feet of gas in shale (nearly half of this country’s traditional potential natural gas resources).
• All of the drillers want the wet liquids and need a way to “get rid” of dry natural gas.
• The new energy supplied from fracking reduces the likelihood of price spikes here in the U.S.
• “The demand curve responds to the supply curve.”
• The technology has changed the situation from one that is “no longer exploration, but manufacturing.” We now have a “gas factory.”
• China believes that they have three times the reserves we have and they will be going after those reserves through fracking, too.
Part of my reason for attending the summit was to hear what they had to say about water use here in Colorado, so I sat in on the water discussion panel.
Tom [Cech] of Metro State University in Denver, told us that one fracking well uses 3-5 million gallons of water, or about the same as 30 households use in one year. (A well can be fracked multiple times.) Because of the recent drought in Colorado, water shares have increased in price to $17,000 this year from $7,000 three years ago.
While the water panel spent much time telling us that the future trend will be reusing produced water from fracking, you only get 20 percent of water back in a shale frack. The representative of the company, High Sierra, told us that there are many patents out there for processes to reuse water, and do it economically. He told of a water reuse pilot project going on in Denver which is testing produced contaminated water from Pennsylvania, shipped to Denver by rail car.
All three of the panelists expressed concern over the fact that agriculture is always the source of water purchases from both the energy industry and urban growth, since the farmer cannot compete economically for the water. They acknowledged that this means less food security for everyone and that agricultural water needs to be protected, that this is a problem.
The entire discussion centered around water shortages, over-allocations, and increasing prices, especially when the future population growth along the front range of Colorado is taken into consideration. Additionally, in Northern Colorado we used to get our snow-melt water runoff in June, but now it happens in April or May.
From the Colorado Springs Independent (Pam Zubeck):
After Mayor Steve Bach and Council President Keith King sent a June 6 letter to Pueblo County misstating the facts about Colorado Springs Utilities’ permit to build the Southern Delivery System (“Storm brewing,” News, July 17), they corrected the record with a new letter sent July 19.
In the June 6 version, the city said a Stormwater Enterprise projects list was submitted “as part of” the 1041 construction permit process for the water pipeline from Pueblo Reservoir. There was no such project list or dollar figure submitted by the city as part of the 1041 permit itself, records show, meaning the city made no concrete pledges to spend a certain amount of money on stormwater or to do certain projects.
Rather, the permit, issued in April 2009, simply requires the city to ensure that Fountain Creek peak flows that result from new development served by the water pipeline are no greater than prior peak flows.
Although City Attorney Chris Melcher said in a statement to the Indy on July 15 that the June 6 letter “was accurate,” Bach and King wrote a new letter on July 19 “to clarify any potential misunderstanding of our letter of June 6, 2013.”
This letter also said that while there were “conversations” about stormwater projects, “it is clear that the 1041 Permit itself does not require or adopt any specific list of capital projects that must be implemented … [n]or does the 1041 Permit require a specific dollar amount to be allocated.”
The July 19 letter prompted Pueblo County Commissioner Sal Pace to tell the Pueblo Chieftain he was “furious” and “confused.”
More Southern Delivery System coverage here and here.
Most ponds used by farmers to feed sprinkler systems are losing more than 20 percent of the water stored in them because of leakage.
A preliminary written report was released this week detailing the findings of the study, being conducted by Agritech Consulting and Valley Ag Consulting for the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District. The study is being conducted in hopes of altering a state formula that assumes only 3 percent loss. At a meeting earlier this month, the district reported that farmers in the study already are able to claim greater leakage, but officials held out little hope the assumptions of the state formula could be changed. The study found 13 of the 22 ponds in the study had leakage rates higher than 20 percent. Measurements were taken as water flowed into ponds and as it ran through sprinklers. Overall, seepage cost farmers 300 acre-feet of the 1,340 acre-feet that flowed into ponds. The state’s formula would have given them credit for just 40 acre-feet.
Gerald Knudsen of Agritech, who analyzed the results of the study, said drought may have been a factor in the data from the first year of the study. The study will continue next year that will help researchers evaluate the relationship between seepage and physical or environmental conditions. “This further review may be significant since the data collected to date represents drought conditions when there is a longer period of time between runs and more frequent use of the ponds may reduce the seepage rates,” the report stated.
The study is being funded by the Colorado Water Conservation Board.
The state uses pond leakage as one factor in its formula to evaluate consumptive use of surface irrigation improvements under 2010 rules designed to head off future disputes with Kansas. The Lower Ark district offers a group plan that helps farmers repay water the state says is owed to the river.
More coverage from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain:
A study of leakage in ponds that feed field irrigation systems already is saving some farmers thousands of dollars in water cost.
But a state formula that assumes only 3 percent of the water leaks won’t be changed until the study results are final — and maybe not even then. The formula is used under Rule 10 of the state engineer’s 2010 consumptive use rules to prevent expansion of water rights under surface irrigation rules. The state pushed for the rules to avoid further challenges by Kansas of Arkansas River Compact violations.
Farmers have to pay for replacement water, so if they can show they are losing more than presumed, they spend less.
The Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District is funding the study by Gerry Knudsen of Agritech and Brian Lauritsen of Valley Ag Consulting to determine how much water leaks out of the ponds.
Seepage varies from 3-5 percent in some ponds to 44 percent at others, depending on how dry the ponds are when they first fill and the type of soil. A total of 26 ponds are in the study, located mostly on the Fort Lyon Canal, where most of the sprinklers are.
The ponds had 1,340 acre-feet of inflow, and lost 300 acre-feet, or 22 percent.
The results from individual ponds already are being used by the Colorado Division of Water Resources to calculate losses on specific farms, but have not altered the presumptive model.
The study, funded by a $60,000 grant from the Colorado Water Conservation Board that was obtained by the Lower Ark district, won’t be complete until 2014. Even then, it might not change the state’s outlook on pond leakage.
“My view is that the ponds will have to be measured forever,” said Jay Winner, manager of the Lower Ark district. “The ponds which have instrumentation will get the credit.”
Knudsen agreed, saying it’s similar to how GPS systems were incorporated into cultivation several years ago because the initial technology soon became essential rather than optional.
Lauritsen added that better meters are needed and must be properly calibrated to get the best results.
More Arkansas Valley consumptive use rules coverage here and here.
The Colorado Drought Task Force will come to Southern Colorado next month to view firsthand the effects of prolonged drought in the Arkansas Valley. State lawmakers, state agency directors and congressional staffers are expected to join the tour.
The Arkansas Valley is in its third year of drought, and is costing area economies millions of dollars annually.
The tour of drought impacts will begin at 8:30 a.m. Aug. 12 at the offices of the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, located in the Pueblo Airport Industrial Park.
Among topics to be discussed are the challenges of enforcing the dust blowing act and testimony from farmers about how the drought is affecting them, according to the Colorado Water Conservation Board.
The day’s events will conclude with a stop at 4 p.m. at the Lamar Community Center, 610 S. Sixth St., Lamar.
Weld County’s quest to add “North Colorado” to the United States met with loud approval Monday night in southwest Weld. Approximately 75 people gathered in the Southwest Weld Complex near Firestone to add their voices to the debate over whether to create the 51st state.
Most could agree on two things: there is a “disconnect” between rural Colorado and the Denver-Boulder area, and secession for northeastern Colorado should be put before the voters as soon as possible. “It may just make a statement,” acknowledged Harry McClintock of Frederick. “But doggone it, I really hope we succeed in doing it!”[…]
…several North Colorado supporters acknowledged that a statehood fight would be an uphill battle at best. “Forming a new state in the atmosphere we have now is much, much harder than it was 150 years ago,” said Dan Oster of Kersey, referring to the last “breakway” state to join the Union, West Virginia in 1863…
On Monday, a long line of speakers ran down their list of grievances: gun regulation, oil and gas regulation, firefighter unionization and — the breaking point for some — Senate Bill 252, which doubled the amount of energy rural cooperatives would have to get from “green” sources. “We’re not falling away from Colorado,” Bruce Sparrow of Keenesburg said. “Colorado’s falling away from us.”
Short of statehood, several also expressed support for a suggestion from Phillips County, that the Colorado constitution should be amended to have the Senate elect one member per county, rather than base both chambers on population.
Weld County will hold two more public comment sessions: today at the Evans Recreation Center, 1100 37th St., Evans; and Wednesday at the Ault Fire Department, 16680 Colo. Highway 14, Ault.
Meanwhile, Conway said, a number of people and even some businesses have expressed interest in moving to the new state.
Weld County residents said they were ready for a major fight Monday evening. Whether that battle is to secede from Colorado or to change representation, all they want is to be heard and to win respect. The nearly 70 people in attendance were participating in the second public meeting Weld County commissioners have hosted to discuss whether their constituents felt a disconnect and wanted to pursue change.
Every person who spoke agreed there is a disconnect between the needs of rural voters and the laws and policies being passed at the state legislature. “If you’re going to start walking on the people that give the government power, then they’re going to start taking that power back,” Travis Showalter of Frederick said.
Most commissioners from the 10 counties who attended a 51st State initiative meeting July 8 shifted their support to the new plan suggested by Phillips County Administrator Randy Schafer. Schafer suggested changing representation in the state Senate or House so that each county would have the same number of representatives. Currently, representation is based on populations.
However, most who spoke at the meeting decided they want the commissioners to pursue seceding from Colorado. “We’re not pulling away from Colorado, Colorado is pulling away from us,” Keenesburg resident Bruce Sparrow said.
Sparrow pointed to laws passed during the last legislative session, such as Amendment 64 that OK’d recreational marijuana and the new renewable energy standards created by SB 252.
Attendees of Thursday’s public meeting held in Fort Lupton expressed similar concerns and asked commissioners to pursue creating a 51st state. “They feel like there are other circumstances where minorities are protected and they’re probably looking for something like that,” said Chip Taylor, executive director of Colorado Counties Inc. “They are concerned about real bona fide issues.”
Weld County Commissioner Barbara Kirkmeyer admitted that the road to actual secession will be a bumpy one. The last state to successfully do so was West Virginia in 1863, according to Kirkmeyer, who was joined by her fellow commissioners, except for Mike Freeman. To actually secede, Weld County would have to put that option before its own voters, then get measures approved at the state and federal levels.
Commissioner Sean Conway, who originally supported the plan to secede, opted to support the other proposal instead. Conway, who is also general government chairman for CCI, plans to have the association make the Phillips County proposal a legislative priority during a September meeting, he said. “I’m supporting it and pushing it. I think the Phillips County proposal makes a lot of sense,” Conway said. If he is successful and CCI votes to make the proposal a priority, the group will seek bipartisan sponsorship and introduce it as a bill at the beginning of the 2014 legislative session in January.
Conway and the other four Weld County commissioners attended the two public meetings. Two more discussions are scheduled, one Tuesday in Evans and another Wednesday in Ault.
It was a massive task. The question was simple: What are the impacts of building dams at various points on Fountain Creek? To do that, the U.S. Geological Survey broke the 932-square-mile drainage area into 72 subbasins, looked at 1,900 cross-sections and relied on historic information from more than a dozen stream gauges. “We used the information that was available, but engineers always want more information,” David Mau, head of the Pueblo USGS office, told the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District last week.
He was careful to point out that funding, property acquisition and water rights questions were not addressed by the study.
Mau released preliminary findings that show Pueblo would get equal protection from flooding by building one large dam or a series of 44 retention ponds along the creek. Most surprising was the relatively strong protection provided by just 10 detention ponds south of Colorado Springs. But the $570,000 study, expected to be finalized later this year, is just the beginning of protection for Pueblo from the highly variable and sometimes destructive flows of Fountain Creek. The political battles over stormwater still are being waged and the costs of alternatives largely unknown, but it is clear that building a series of smaller structures rather than a large earthen dam would cost less.
The district also must determine in the next few years how to spend $50 million coming to it from Colorado Springs as a condition of its 1041 land-use permit with [Pueblo County].
Four potential scenarios are among 14 modeled by the U.S. Geological Survey:
1. Build 44 detention ponds from the Air Force Academy to the confluence of Fountain Creek at the Arkansas River. Reduction of peak flows: 59%. Reduction of sediment: 18%.
2. Build an 85-foot earthen dam north of the confluence: Peak flows: 56%; sediment: 62%.
3. Build 10 detention ponds between Colorado Springs and Pueblo: Peak flows: 47%; sediment: 8%. 4. Build a diversion channel at the El Paso-Pueblo County line to channel flows into Chico Creek: Peak flows: 42.5%; sediment: 8.4%.
Numbers are based on a 100-year storm centered over downtown Colorado Springs. Peak discharge without any dams is 37,500 cubic feet per second, measured at Pueblo. Sediment load without any dams is 104,000 tons.
Last week, the legislative Interim Water Resources Review Committee met in Gunnison to discuss how that plan is taking shape. The committee’s meeting was held during the 38th annual Water Workshop, a three-day meeting on water resources, held annually at Western State Colorado University in Gunnison. The 10-member water resources committee is chaired by Sen. Gail Schwartz, D-Snowmass Village, and includes legislators for whom water has been a long-standing passion, such as Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling; 2014 gubernatorial candidate Sen. Greg Brophy, R-Wray; and Rep. Randy Fischer, D-Fort Collins.
For their first meeting in 2013, the committee looked at the governor’s executive order, water issues affecting the Gunnison River and agricultural water conservation measures…
In his May executive order, [Governor Hickenlooper] said the state “deserves a plan for its water future use that aligns the state’s many and varied water efforts and streamlines the regulatory processes.” As directed by the order, the CWCB will work with grassroots water groups, the IBCC and the Basin Roundtables to address critical issues raised in the order…
The interim committee discussed the plan with Mike King, executive director of the Department of Natural Resources, and former Commissioner of Agriculture John Stulp, now the governor’s water policy advisor.
The governor is “adamant” about a statewide water plan, King said. Reflecting the water workshop’s theme of “the new normal,” King said the new normal in water policy is that it will be a source of constant change, which may be uncomfortable since people are sometimes resistant to change. “If we don’t develop a vision for the future in water,” the agriculture “buy and dry” will accelerate at an unacceptable rate. He noted that 350,000 agricultural acres in the Front Range are already under contract for their water rights.
Even if the state were to stop future “buy and dry” purchases, Stulp said, “we’d still lose 20 percent of irrigated lands.” The plans developed by the IBCC and Basin Roundtables are being updated, he said, to address drought and flood issues and projected population increases. If preserving agriculture is a priority, the statewide plan needs to look at conservation and whether there are new supply waters available to the state…
While the executive order calls the CWCB, IBCC, roundtables and state agencies to work on the statewide plan, it leaves out one important stakeholder: the Colorado General Assembly. That did not go unnoticed by the interim committee.
“What are we to read into executive order, [with] not a single mention of state legislature” in the order, asked Fischer. “What is our role in the process?”
King was quick to allay those concerns. “It’s obvious we can’t do anything without you,” although it is not articulated in the order, he said. “Your role is however you define it. We will engage you individually and collectively, whatever you choose, and will come back with reports to the interim committee… This is an open invitation for you to participate, which can be more formalized.”[…]
Sonnenberg, who was unable to attend last week’s meeting, told The Colorado Statesman that storage has to be the highest priority for a statewide plan. He noted that in a two-year period, more than one million acre-feet of water in the South Platte left the state, over and above what is required by interstate compacts and decrees. “We have to keep Colorado water in Colorado,” he said. And the reason that water left the state? Farmers weren’t using it in wet years, and there was no place to store the excess. More storage would relieve pressure on the “buy and dry” movement, he added.
Scientists and water experts aren’t yet panicked, but a change in climate and drought in many areas of the United States, including Colorado, has focused their attention on future supply of and demand for water…
“No one is pushing the panic button yet,” said Reagan Waskom, director of the Colorado River Institute and a member of a federal advisory panel. “There is no crisis-driven decision required.”
Drought is perhaps the most evident sign in Southwest Colorado of something gone wrong. Scientists don’t know that global warming is a direct cause of drought, but it exacerbates the situation.
Waskom said drought is an old acquaintance in Colorado, where some counties have been in drought mode for more than four years. “We’ve had plenty of similar droughts – in modern times and in paleo times,” Waskom said. “The only difference is that recently the droughts have been hotter.”[…]
Southwest Colorado – where drought is rated extreme, the step below the exceptional category prevailing on the state’s eastern plains – gets some relief annually from monsoonal rain, traditionally in July and August. But spotty, hit-and-miss distribution favors some over others…
In the short term, the monsoons are expected to continue for a while, dumping above-average precipitation in the region, said Jeff Lukas, a senior research associate at Western Water Assessment at the University of Colorado. But only record precipitation in August and September would pull Southwest Colorado out of its extreme drought, Lukas said.
Lukas said the drought in Colorado isn’t necessarily linked to climate change. “Drought is fundamentally caused by below-average precipitation, but conditions are well within the bounds of historic climate variability,” Lukas said. “We don’t have to invoke climate change to explain low precipitation, but climate change can’t be completely excluded as a cause by influencing storm tracks, for example.”
It should be noted, however, that every “warm season” (April through August) since 2000 has been warmer than the long-term average, Lukas said. The trend is consistent with regional and global warming trends. Lukas said the April-September stretch in 2012 was the warmest summer in Western Colorado since 1895 by more than 1 degree Fahrenheit. “Overall, climate change very likely made the drought worse by raising temperatures during a very dry, but not record-dry period,” Lukas said…
Evidence is piling up that an increasing concentration of greenhouse gases (water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide) in the atmosphere is preventing heat from escaping, thus warming the Earth. Temperatures are on the rise. Globally, the average temperature for June just past tied June 2006 for the fifth-warmest since record keeping began in 1880, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said. Worldwide temperature increase is altering climate as evidenced by melting glaciers and polar ice, lingering drought (as in the Colorado plains), changing weather patterns, increasing ferocity of wildfires, dying coral reefs and the flight of animal species from uncomfortable habitats.
A linear relationship between climate change and any single phenomenon is hard to establish because of the multiple interlocking factors involved. A growing human population, shifting population centers and demand for natural resources add to volatility…
In its latest draft report, a federal advisory committee on climate assessment in the United States says the average temperature has risen 1½ degrees Fahrenheit since 1895, with more than 80 percent of the change occurring since 1980. The report of the broadly constituted federal panel the National Climate Assessment and Development Advisory Committee, or NCADAC, recommends no actions, no policies, but serves as a point of departure for meeting the challenges…
a report by The Durango Herald about snowfall during the 47 ski seasons at Purgatory ski area found that despite annual variations in the snowpack, the total season average snowfall, with a few exceptions, has occurred without tremendous fluctuation.
Nolan Doesken, the state climatologist at the Colorado Climate Center at Colorado State University, said it would be hard to say what is normal precipitation in Southwest Colorado. “There’s been incredible fluctuation,” Doesken said, citing the rain records for Durango and Silverton that go back more than 100 years.
As the environmental challenges Northern Colorado faces in the coming years continue to mount, a look back at headlines of a half-decade ago shows how quickly the region’s environmental concerns have evolved.
Uranium mining, vehicle emissions testing, the bark beetle infestation, rules governing national forest roadless areas and the proposed Glade Reservoir all were among the top environmental issues of the day during the summers of 2008 and 2009.
Back then, controversy over the proposed Glade Reservoir was beginning to boil over, Larimer County residents were learning that emissions tests soon would be required for their vehicles and a company called Powertech was doubling the size of the area it wanted to use for a uranium mine east of Wellington.
The term “fracking” didn’t appear in the Coloradoan until the end of 2009. Oil and gas development in Northern Colorado wasn’t the subject of a news story until early 2010, when the Coloradoan reported that energy companies were likely to rush to Weld County after a well gushing “sweet crude” was drilled near Grover.
Today, Powertech’s uranium mining plans are on indefinite hold. Glade Reservoir is still in the environmental review process. Bark beetles have left millions of dead trees in their wake. Wildfires have ravaged the foothills. Emissions testing is a fact of life. The roadless issue is settled.
Fracking has become one of the region’s most controversial environmental and economic issues. And more attention than ever has turned to severe drought, extreme weather and climate change.
A water shortage in the Colorado River basin is becoming an urgent concern. Catastrophic wildfire is an annual reminder of ongoing drought. Farmers are fallowing their land because of uncertain water availability. The rapid expansion of the oil and gas industry throughout the region has had residents from Fort Collins to Colorado Springs worried about what that means for their air, water and quality of life.
In short, the region’s environmental challenges have changed quickly and dramatically in the past five years. The Coloradoan asked five experts, activists or policymakers what they think the most pressing of these issues are in the coming years and what can be done about them…
[Scott Denning] “Climate change is dramatically changing our forests,” he said. “What we have seen is the trees are dying out at the bottom of their range, and there aren’t lots and lots of seedlings replacing them. We may see deforestation of the foothills in our lifetime.”[…]
[Jenn Vervier] said the region’s most critical environmental issues are the health of the Poudre River watershed; the proximity of oil and gas development to homes, schools and the region’s water supply; over-allocation of the water in the Colorado River; climate change and exurban sprawl…
[Karen Weitkunat] “All other environmental problems have a direct connection to our water resource whether it is quality or quantity,” she said. “It has the most attainable solutions and greatest possibility for universal average citizen involvement since it impacts everyone and everyone shares in the desire for a positive outcome.”[…]
[Randy Fischer] said the list of concerning environmental challenges the region faces is long: Population growth, water quantity and quality, healthy rivers, fossil fuel development, deteriorating forest health, wildfire, climate change and air pollution.
“Readily available, evidence-based solutions exist for all of these concerns except for, perhaps, population growth, which is a driver for most of the environmental issues we face in Northern Colorado,” Fischer said. “Population projections by the state demographer predict that Colorado’s population could double by the year 2050…
[Gary Wockner] ranks population growth, climate change, fracking, destruction of rivers and unsupportive political leadership as the biggest environmental issues Northern Colorado currently faces.
Georgetown mayor Craig Abrahamson signed an agreement on July 9 to accept a $170,000 grant from the Department of Local Affairs to help subsidize the cost of its water meter replacement program. “It a pretty big project, and obviously we’re very pleased and grateful to the department of Local Affairs for their continued support in modernizing our infrastructure,” Abrahamson said.
The grant provider still has to sign its portion of the agreement before it is made official. Installation will get underway sometime in 2014. Approximately 600 meters need to be replaced at a cost of $550 each. The grant will pay for roughly half of the price. The town has to fund the additional $230,000 of the project’s cost. The town board will decide in the coming weeks how much of the town’s matching funds will come from the municipality, or if homeowners will need to pay a portion of the cost for equipment and installation.
Here’s the release from the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District (Diane Johnson):
Gov. John Hickenlooper announced on July 19 that 21 municipal wastewater and sanitation districts throughout Colorado will receive a total of $14.7 million in state grants to help with the planning, design and construction of facility improvements to meet new nutrient standards. The Eagle River Water & Sanitation District submitted three grant applications totaling $1,372,400; each one was fully funded.
“Our staff was very involved with the state in developing these new regulations while simultaneously modeling the regulations’ impact to our capital investment program. This proactive approach allowed the district to strategically position itself to compete for the nutrient grant program funds,” said Board Chairman Rick Sackbauer. “These regulations are the right thing for the environment and these grant funds will reduce the overall cost of compliance to our ratepayers and taxpayers. We are grateful to the state for its contribution.”
The state’s Water Quality Control Commission adopted new standards in September 2012 to help prevent harmful nutrients, such as nitrogen and phosphorus, from reaching state waters. The new regulation requires certain larger domestic wastewater treatment facilities to meet effluent limits for nutrients.
“Coloradans in rural and urban areas will benefit from these new water standards that improve and protect our water,” Hickenlooper said. “This grant funding will help communities offset the costs of bringing their systems into compliance. In addition, the grants will help ensure safe and healthy water for wildlife, agriculture, recreation, and drinking water purposes.”
Excessive nutrients harm water bodies by stimulating algae blooms that consume oxygen, kill aquatic organisms, and ultimately lead to smaller populations of game and fish. While nutrients are naturally occurring, other contributors include human sewage, emissions from power generators and automobiles, lawn fertilizers, and pet waste.
“The district has long been a steward of our local streams. We are planning the required improvements holistically, across our three wastewater treatment facilities, to provide optimal treatment at a reasonable cost for the benefit of our natural environment,” said General Manager Linn Brooks.
The Nutrient Grant Program will help wastewater facilities with the costs of planning for, designing, and implementing system improvements. Funding for the program was made available through HB13-1191 “Nutrient Grant Domestic Wastewater Treatment Plant,” sponsored by Reps. Randy Fischer and Ed Vigil and Sens. Gail Schwartz and Angela Giron. There are about 400 municipal wastewater systems in Colorado. The new nutrient standards apply to about 40 systems that have the greatest impact on the waters of the state.
Here’s the announcement from their website. Here’s an excerpt:
The Project WET Foundation—publisher of the most complete water resources education materials available and leader in the field of water education in the United States and around the world—is inviting everyone with an interest in our most precious natural resource to join us in beautiful Denver, Colorado for the 2013 Project WET USA Conference.
The 2013 Project WET USA Conference will offer five conference strands, a full array of speakers, pre-conference field experiences and dedicated networking opportunities…all within easy reach of some of the best fishing, hiking, biking and other outdoor recreation anywhere.
The 2013 Project WET USA Conference begins on Tuesday evening with an opening night dinner, keynote speaker and reception perfect for networking and continues through Wednesday, Thursday and Friday with presentations, keynote speakers and vendors.
Tuesday evening’s keynote speaker will be Tom Cech, Director of the One World, One Water Center for Urban Water Education and Stewardship.
Here’s a post from Matt Bond writing for the Project Wet Blog. Here’s an excerpt:
The mere fact that you’re reading this blog means you’ve self-identified as someone interested in water education. If you’re like me, you’re even a water geek. And hopefully, as water educators, we’re all interested in telling the entire story of water. As the subject of water rises in public consciousness, and in political and social circles, the importance of educating youth about water is all the more critical. It’s just as important for students to know where their shower water comes from and where it goes as it runs down the drain as it is to understand the reason ice floats. But how do we do that if we don’t really know ourselves?
That’s where utilities come in, whether they are governmental or private, urban or rural, small or large. Or, whether they manage potable, waste or storm water. They can all help tell the parts of the story that are hardest to see. The parts underground, behind walls. The smelly parts, too.
In Colorado alone, there are more than 2,000 public water systems. According to the EPA, there are approximately 155,000 across the nation. Add to that the more than 16,000 wastewater facilities, and there’s probably an expert within easy reach of every school, environmental learning center or community educator—no matter where you are. If I’ve learned one thing in my 20 years in the water industry, those experts are proud of what they do and would like nothing more than to share that with you and your students.
The One World, One Water Center for Urban Water Education and Stewardship (OWOW) has received a $10,000 donation to establish a scholarship.
The gift from Paul and Pam Lander is for the Wes and Ethel Temple Scholarship, named in honor of Paul Lander’s maternal grandparents. They chose MSU Denver as the focus of their philanthropy because, “the University is by, for and about Colorado students.”
Tom Cech, OWOW director, credits Sandra Haynes, dean of the School of Professional Studies, “for making this happen.”
While the details are still being worked out, Cech said that in general, the scholarship will provide assistance to any first-generation MSU Denver student with a water studies minor. He hopes the first award will be made in fall 2014.
Paul Lander is a member of the OWOW advisory council and a veteran of water, energy and land conservation work. He directed the water conservation program for the city of Boulder for 16 years and is an instructor at the University of Colorado and for the American Water Works Association.
Wes and Ethel Temple grew up in the Wheat Ridge area and both graduated from Wheat Ridge High School in 1912, according to a statement from Paul Lander. He notes that his grandmother’s senior paper was on the topic of “Dry Farming in Colorado.” His grandfather held a variety of jobs, including running the Temple Ink Company, which sold printers ink to The Denver Post, and raising silver foxes with his brother in Evergreen.
Fort Collins recently received a $1.08 million grant from the state to help the city’s wastewater treatment facilities meet new state water quality standards.
The grant, from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, is part of $14.7 million awarded to 21 cities for similar work. In Fort Collins, the money will be used for improvements at the Drake Water Reclamation Facility to remove phosphorus and biological nutrients from wastewater, and to investigate local carbon sources to determine the best source for further nutrient removal, according to a city release.
Of the roughly 50 people who attended the first public meeting about a proposal to form the 51st state, nearly all indicated they are in support of seceding from Colorado — an idea many acknowledged would be a tremendous feat.
Weld County commissioners on Thursday evening held the first of four meetings scheduled to allow public comment on issues surrounding their push to form a new state with other northeastern Colorado counties. At the Fort Lupton Recreation Center, all five commissioners laid out their concerns and proposed solutions regarding what they say is a lack of representation for rural voters. “I think people, when they feel disenfranchised, when they feel that their voices are not being heard, I think that’s a problem in a representative form of government,” commissioner Sean Conway said.
Commissioners told the meeting’s attendees they hope to put the 51st state initiative on the ballot come November, giving voters a chance to decide whether to start the secession process with the state. They said they’re also considering a move to change the state’s constitution and give rural counties more representation. “We believe there’s an attack on oil and gas,” commissioner Barbara Kirkmeyer said. “We believe there’s an attack on agriculture. I don’t think those down in Denver understand any of it.”
Commissioners pointed out several issues — including water, energy production and education — on which they see a disconnect between rural voters and urban legislators. When asked for a show of hands, all residents at the meeting indicated that they think they’re getting the short end of the stick on many of those major issues. “I have an issue with urbanites thinking it’s up to them to know what’s best,” Fort Lupton resident Elena Metro said. “I don’t know what’s best for them, and I don’t think they know what’s best for me.”
The vast majority indicated they were all for adding the 51st state initiative to the Weld ballot. Still, some were skeptical that forming another state would be the best remedy. Area farmers voiced concern over seceding from the state that holds most of their water supply. Some said the more reasonable approach seems to be to push for more representation. “I think it would serve us better to be more proactive,” Fort Lupton resident Mary Martin said.
Jeff Hare, who started a Facebook page for the commissioner’s plan to secede, said the idea of getting more representation at the state Capitol just isn’t enough. “It doesn’t right the wrongs that have been happening,” Hare said.
Commissioners and residents alike acknowledged that the secession process will be a complicated one. Meeting-goers urged commissioners to fully explain all aspects of their plan as they move forward.
Commissioners said they’ll soon announce that they’ll have the help of an educational institution in researching the logistics of forming a new state. They’ve scheduled three more public meetings in different parts of the county. “I think this is a very important dialogue to have,” Conway said. “I think it will hopefully allow us to better community with our folks in Denver.”
From email from the Colorado Water Conservation Board (Ben Wade):
The State of Colorado’s DRAFT Drought Mitigation and Response Plan is now available on the CWCB website for public comment. The plan, as well as all associated appendices and documentation, can be down loaded at http://cwcb.state.co.us/. The public comment period for the Plan will be open from 30 days from July 22 through August 20, 2013.
The Drought Plan was revised as a part of the State’s Natural Hazard Mitigation Plan update in compliance with FEMA’s 3-year planning cycle. The revision process has resulted in a State Drought Plan that uses state of the art planning techniques to prepare Colorado for drought. The plan also includes an updated vulnerability assessment and a revised response framework.
From the Colorado Springs Independent (Pam Zubeck):
Although City Council could have changed watering restrictions to three days from two, members played it safe earlier this week and kept the rules at two days for now. However, Councilors did make a concession to residents who are complaining about dying lawns by increasing to 2,500 cubic feet the amount people can use without moving into the next, higher-priced stage of rates. The previous limit had been 2,000 cubic feet. In addition, the drought surcharge was cut from twice the rate to 1.25 times the rate of the next block of charges. All of this becomes effective Aug. 1, so July billings will reflect the previous drought restrictions.
Meanwhile the City of Sante Fe, et. al, are hoping to implement a conservation plan for Colorado River Basin water they have rights to. Here’s a report from Staci Matlock writing for the Sante Fe New Mexican:
“Water demand exceeds the supply,” Santa Fe Mayor David Coss said Thursday as he announced the city’s intention to join with other municipalities in seeking specific actions to help the Colorado River. The San Juan-Chama Project, which delivers water from a Colorado River tributary to the Rio Grande, provides almost half the drinking water for Santa Fe residents through the Buckman Direct Diversion project. As water flows in the San Juan and Rio Grande shrink, there’s the potential for Santa Fe to lose the river as a source of water. The city water system has municipal reservoirs and wells supplying water as well, but those resources also will be affected by an ongoing drought.
All told, an estimated 1 million New Mexicans and 100,000 acres of farmland depend on water from the Colorado River or one of its tributaries that flow through the state. Recreation on the river and its tributaries contributes an estimated $1.7 billion to the state’s economy…
Coss and other city officials think Santa Fe is well situated to be a model for other towns. Currently, Santa Fe residents and businesses use 105 gallons per capita a day, less than several years ago.
Harold Trujillo, a farmer in Mora and vice president of the New Mexico Acequia Association, said the group is trying to help agriculture producers and acequia members find new ways to conserve water. He said the state also needs to come up with a better funding mechanism for regular maintenance, repairs and upgrades of water infrastructure.
It’s been one of those unpredictable Rocky Mountain spring/summers. One of the worst droughts in memory for most of May, June and July, and then monsoon downpours that flood both sections of the San Miguel Canyon – the Placerville to Norwood stretch first, and then a couple days later the Placerville to Deep Creek segment. The area around Newmire (Vanadium) was hit particularly hard. All the culverts got totally clogged, and water was running across the highway in one spot just upstream from the Silver Pick Road, even after most of the mud had been scraped off the highway … Road crews did a great job – both our local CDOT workers and our shorthanded but ever capable County Road and Bridge Department. Sheriff Bill Masters even did a handheld video drive-through that he posted online – better than any newscast … But, truth to tell, the unexpected is one of the things I love about the San Juans. It’s difficult terrain. Subject to rockfall, mudslide, avalanche, highway wildlife and wild storms. Not for the faint of heart … To live in the mountains, through all the various seasons – snow, mud, heat and rain – takes a special kind of person. Someone able to risk dangers and survive adversity. Soft city people need not apply. And yet even urban refugees can learn to adjust, if they’re willing. And motivated. And if they have the help of their neighbors, because that’s the secret of living in the rural West. It takes a rugged individual to cope with calamities, but it takes a community to support an individual’s grit.
The shallow aquifer that waters crops across much of the San Luis Valley continues to shrink to historically low volumes, officials with the Rio Grande Water Conservation District said Tuesday. The unconfined aquifer is down 1.3 million acre-feet from when the district began measuring it in the north-central valley in 1976 and had almost no recovery from last year, leaving many farmers with less irrigation water. “Certainly what we’re hearing is the production on the wells is getting less and less,” Steve Vandiver, the district’s general manager, said. Division Engineer Craig Cotton did not have exact figures on the number of permit applications to redrill wells received by his office.
But that number has grown as last year’s drought extended into this year. “It’s more than we had last year and the last several years,” he said.
Normally, the aquifer recharges in spring and early summer when farmers irrigate with surface water from the Rio Grande. But low flows on the Rio Grande for the last two years have limited the recharge.
A groundwater subdistrict that assesses fees on farmers for their pumping is in its second year of operation. And while its primary objective is to mitigate the impacts of pumping on surface water users, it also has the goal of raising the aquifer to at least 900,000 acres from today’s level over the next two decades.
District Engineer Allen Davey said computer modeling that would help subdistricts to form in other parts of the valley is almost complete. That state-run model would determine the amount of water that would be needed to replace depletions from pumping, but Davey said ground and surface water users still have to discuss where they might find the replacement water. “It’s quite a task to get our arms around those issues,” he said.
Imports of water from the Colorado River basin are providing a substantial amount of water to the Arkansas River basin during the drought. Almost 98,000 acre-feet of water have been imported through the three largest transmountain tunnels — Fryingpan-Arkansas Project, Twin Lakes and Homestake — and more than 7,000 acre-feet through smaller tunnels and ditches. In all, the diversions added 105,500 acre-feet to the Arkansas River system this year. That amounts to about 144 cubic feet per second of river flows all day long, every day of the year in the Arkansas River. That’s a lot, considering that the flow near Salida is only around 600 cfs in the middle of summer. It’s been around 100 cfs through Pueblo most of the year, and was languishing at 270 cfs at Avondale last week.
To put it in other terms, it’s nearly four times as much water as Pueblo runs through its treated water system in a year, and about the average amount used by the Catlin Canal. According to preliminary figures from the Colorado Division of Water Resources:
The Fry-Ark Project brought over more than 46,300 acre-feet this year. It provides supplemental water to cities and farms in the Arkansas River basin.
Twin Lakes, mostly owned by Colorado Springs, Pueblo Board of Water Works, Aurora and Pueblo West, brought in 34,000 acre-feet this year.
Homestake, which delivers water to Colorado Springs and Aurora, brought in more than 17,600 acre-feet.
Busk-Ivanhoe, a tunnel owned by Pueblo and Aurora, added 3,792 acre-feet.
Columbine Ditch, near Fremont Pass and owned by Aurora and Climax, added 1,459 acre-feet.
Pueblo’s Wurtz and Ewing Ditches contributed another 2,273 acre-feet.
A series of detention ponds south of Colorado Springs to Pueblo could do nearly as much to reduce the impacts of a severe flood on Fountain Creek as one large dam. That’s the preliminary finding of a three-year study by the U.S. Geological Survey which will be completed later this year. The results were shared last week by David Mau, head of the Pueblo USGS office. “The report does not address water rights, transit loss or funding issues, just the hydrology and hydraulics,” Mau cautioned the Fountain Creek Watershed district board Friday.
The most effective means of reducing the impacts of a big flood for everyone along the creek would be to construct 44 detention ponds — water holding areas behind 10-foot berms that would not fall under the state’s classification of dams — up and down the creek to the confluence with the Arkansas River. It would include ponds on Monument Creek, the Upper Fountain and major tributaries. Combined, they would retain about 30,350 acre-feet of water and reduce the peak flow of a 100year flood by 59 percent, while reducing sediment by 18 percent.
Ponds would require regular maintenance.
An 85-foot tall dam 10 miles north of the confluence would provide nearly the same protection, reducing peak flows by 56 percent. It would retain far more sediment, reducing it by 62 percent, Mau said. That creates its own problems, however. About 64,000 tons of sediment — 2,500 truckloads of sand — plus trees and other debris would need to be cleared after a 100-year flood. The dam would have a permanent pool of 25,700 acre-feet and capture 25,000 acre-feet of flood water, as modeled in the study. It would also require moving railroad tracks and gas pipelines in Fountain Creek, as well as building a levee to protect Interstate 25.
Ultimately, the reservoir would help Pueblo, but would do little to protect El Paso County communities from flooding. It would cost hundreds of million dollars. Cost estimates have not been done in more than 40 years. Another option, however, would protect Pueblo almost as well, again with little benefit to El Paso County.
It would involve building just 10 detention ponds from Jimmy Camp Creek to Pueblo, and would have the potential of cutting the peak flows by 47 percent. The ponds would also trap less sediment, presumably requiring less maintenance and generating fewer complaints from downstream farmers who rely on flows of sediment. The ponds would have the effect of reducing a 1965-type flood to a less-damaging 1999-type flood. “When we get the $50 million from Colorado Springs, it may be a quicker fix,” said Richard Skorman, a Colorado Springs businessman and former councilman who is a member of the El Paso County stormwater task force. Skorman speculated that it would allow more time for the northern communities to solve internal stormwater problems while giving Pueblo and the Lower Arkansas Valley more peace of mind.
The detention areas could cost up to $1 million each, based on the demonstration project already in place on Pueblo’s North Side. But land acquisition costs could be higher, since the city of Pueblo already owned the land in the pilot project.
ABOUT THE STUDY
A study of dam sites on Fountain Creek by the U.S. Geological Survey won’t be finalized until later this year.
The $570,000 study included $300,000 funding from Colorado Springs as part of Pueblo County’s 1041 permit conditions for the Southern Delivery System.
It looked at 14 scenarios ranging from a few detention ponds on Monument Creek to a big dam on Fountain Creek itself.
Engineers used available records to assess how much the peak flow and sedimentation would be reduced as a result of projects at varying points along Fountain Creek.
Meanwhile the board is holding firm on their authority to review the Southern Delivery System’s potential impacts to Fountain Creek streamflow and water quality. Here’s a report from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain:
The Southern Delivery System should still be subject to review by a district formed to protect Fountain Creek, the district’s board decided Friday. Colorado Springs Utilities plans to cross Fountain Creek with its pipeline under the SDS plan. The Fountain Creek district was given primary land-use authority in the flood plain between Fountain and Pueblo, but last month El Paso County claimed that authority for utility projects.
The board plans to tell El Paso County commissioners that the county’s newly adopted 1041 regulations do not supersede the authority of the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District under powers given to it by the state Legislature in 2009. A 1974 law, HB1041, allows counties to regulate projects with statewide impacts. “Why were we established?” board member Jane Rhodes asked in frustration.
“These tools on land use are tools we can use, and powers given to us by statutory right,” Pueblo County Commissioner Terry Hart said, adding that the nearly broke district cannot afford its own legal counsel to protect that power.
Other Fountain Creek board members agreed and directed Executive Director Larry Small to relay their concerns to El Paso County commissioners at an Aug. 6 meeting. Even Dennis Hisey, an El Paso County commissioner, was taken aback by his board’s stance. “I don’t see how it would take our right away from this board,” he said, adding that although he directed the action, he was not among those who drafted language in the 1041.
Hart said Pueblo County has interpreted its own 1041 regulations as a layer of authority, not an absolute power. “I think our position is that any design still has to be approved by the district,” Small said.
FromThe Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):
Williams expects to remove and treat as many as 26 million gallons of groundwater over a half-year to a year at the site of its natural gas liquids leak alongside Parachute Creek. That’s according to a water management plan recently approved by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s Hazardous Materials and Waste Management Division.
The approval comes as Williams has been dealing with a recent spike in benzene levels at a monitoring site in the creek, including a reading of 9.2 parts per billion on Monday. That’s the highest reading in the creek since testing began following discovery of the leak, and follows a reading of 5.5 ppb July 11.
That had been the first reading in the creek above the state drinking water standard of 5 ppb since May 1. However, the state doesn’t consider the creek to be a drinking water source, and instead a maximum standard of 5,300 ppb applies to protect aquatic life there.
Health Department spokesman Mark Salley noted in a recent media update that the contamination is isolated to one creek test location and does not appear to be traveling. “All other sample points remain non-detect for contamination, including the town of Parachute’s diversion point for irrigation water,” he said.
On July 13, Williams began operating new air sparge wells to upgrade a sparge/vapor extraction system. The new wells were placed to stop the flow of benzene-contaminated groundwater around the east end of the system. That flow may be causing the increased benzene readings. A new air sparge/vapor extraction system farther upstream also is scheduled to be activated next week. “The intent of this system will be to treat contaminated groundwater closer to the original source area and speed up the overall cleanup process,” Salley said.
Williams estimates about 10,000 gallons of hydrocarbons in a natural gas liquids pipeline leaving its adjacent gas processing plant leaked from a faulty gauge into soil and groundwater this winter, and that it has recovered about 7,600 gallons.
It plans to remove millions of gallons of groundwater at a rate of 50 gallons per minute, clean it and return it to the aquifer under a system that it has installed and been testing. About 155,000 gallons of tainted groundwater removed in March has been disposed of in an injection well in Grand County, Utah. Williams also has been shipping about 1,500 cubic yards of excavated soil to a landfill in East Carbon, Utah.
Donna Gray with the energy company Williams says the system erected [last] Sunday is one of seven aeration and vapor extraction systems. The process is also called air sparging. “That involves introducing air or oxygen to both the surface area and groundwater in the soil, in the spill area,” Gray says.
The technology goes after contaminants like benzene that have been absorbed in soil and dissolved in groundwater. The process is similar to blowing bubbles with a straw into a bowl of water. Once the contaminants make contact with air, they disappear from the water.
Contamination of Parachute Creek worsened this week, more than six months after an oil and gas industry spill, with levels of cancer-causing benzene exceeding the federal safe drinking water limit. Water samples drawn near the spill at a Williams Co. gas-processing plant near Parachute showed benzene levels at 5.5 parts per billion on July 11 and 9.2 ppb on July 15, according to data provided Thursday by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
These are the first test results since May showing benzene levels in surface water exceeding the federal standard of 5 ppb. Benzene levels in groundwater remain much higher than the limit. CDPHE water quality overseers have set a state limit for benzene in Parachute Creek at 5,300 ppb, based on aquatic life, because the creek isn’t designated as a water source for people.
Benzene dissipates at sampling locations downstream toward a gate where the town of Parachute can divert creek water for irrigation. CDPHE spokesman Mark Salley said the increasing benzene levels “do not represent a risk to public health.”
Williams last weekend began running new aeration systems to extract benzene vapors – part of a cleanup. Salley said an additional aeration and vapor extraction system will be activated next week in an effort to treat contaminated groundwater closer to the source of the spill and speed the overall cleanup.
Tons of contaminated soil are being hauled to a facility in Utah.
The benzene sampled near the spill “is isolated and does not appear to be traveling,” Salley said. CDPHE officials expect the new system will bring levels down.
Williams has blamed the spill on a mechanical failure. It released more than 10,000 gallons of hydrocarbon liquids from a valve on a pipeline, contaminating soil and groundwater. When the spill was revealed, companies and state and federal agencies scrambled to protect Parachute Creek, which flows into the Colorado River.
FromThe Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):
About 2,100 gallons of produced water from oil and gas development sprayed into a field south of New Castle and a small amount reached a stock pond after a WPX Energy water line valve leaked July 2.
The incident has prompted WPX to make an infrastructure adjustment in what it calls its Kokopelli Field operations in that area.
WPX reported to the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission that the incident happened when water was being transferred between two storage pits. A valve intended to isolate a lower water line section failed, allowing pressure to build up in that section until an above-ground riser with a pressure rating below that of the line ruptured.
The fluid that reached the field then entered a diversion ditch supplying water to the man-made stock pond, and about two barrels, or 84 gallons, entered the pond.
WPX’s report said the pond sits on a high, arid mesa and “has no means of communication” with other surface water, thus posing no threat to public water systems. Nevertheless, the town of Silt’s water operator was notified as a courtesy. The report said all but about a barrel of the water couldn’t be recovered because it had soaked into the dry soil.
Produced water contains a mix of hydraulic fracturing fluid and water that comes up from the geological formation where oil and gas is being recovered. A soil sample showed benzene to be present at just above the oil and gas commission’s permissible level in a sediment trap in the ditch, with salt measurements also exceeding what’s allowed. WPX spokeswoman Susan Alvillar said that benzene was found along a road and nowhere else, and may not be related to the spill. However, WPX had the trap cleaned out. The ditch also had high salt levels and was to be flushed with fresh water. The landowner was to decide whether more fresh water should be added to the pond to dilute it because of excessive salt, or if the pond should be drained and refilled.
Besides replacing the faulty valve, WPX replaced all risers in its Kokopelli Field with below-ground connections of the proper pressure rating. Alvillar said WPX didn’t install the system that leaked. It bought its Kokopelli assets from Orion Energy Partners.
In an e-mail “action alert” Wednesday, Citizens for a Healthy Community in Delta County cited the WPX spill and others such as this year’s leak from a Williams natural gas liquids line near Parachute Creek. “Equipment failure and accidents happen all of the time, and that’s why we need to keep drilling rigs away from sensitive areas, like riparian zones, water bodies, irrigation systems, cropland and ranches, and homes and schools,” the group said.
Alvillar said WPX handled the incident responsibly. “I think that’s the key to being able to operate, is we just have to expect human and mechanical failures from time to time. It happens and the response is what’s the important thing,” she said.
Inflows have been very low this season so the Upper Colorado River Basin will get a break on deliveries to the Lower Basin next water year. Here’s a report from Dennis Webb writing for The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel:
When states in the lower Colorado River Basin agreed to 2007 criteria under which Lake Powell could potentially provide them less than the normally required amount of water, they “probably never thought it would happen,” says Eric Kuhn, general manager of the Colorado River District.
Now the unthinkable is appearing likely. Under current hydrological projections, it’s expected that the 2007 provision will kick in, providing for Powell to pass on 7.48 million acre-feet in the 2014 water year, which starts Oct. 1.
It normally is obligated to release at least 8.23 million acre-feet per year. While it has come up a bit short some years due to measurement errors, it probably has never released fewer than about 8 million acre-feet annually since Powell first filled after completion of Glen Canyon Dam, said hydraulic engineer Katrina Grantz of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s Upper Colorado Region.
This is what happens when the region experiences the driest 14 years on record, with just three years of above-average precipitation, and drought conditions the last two winters. Kuhn said this year “is shaping up to be one of the four or five driest years for inflow into Lake Powell.”
A total of just 4.43 million acre-feet of water, or 41 percent of average, is expected to flow into Lake Powell this water year—not quite half of what will have flowed out. It’s expected to be holding just 10.5 million acre-feet by Sept. 30, just a few million acre-feet more than it releases each year, and 43 percent of capacity. An acre-foot is about 326,000 gallons. “I don’t know that I would use the word ‘problem’ exactly but it’s dry. We’re very lucky we have the storage we have to carry us through these dry periods,” Grantz said.
Gary Wockner, campaign coordinator for the group Save the Colorado, considers the situation more dire. “The bottom line is that more water is being taken out from the system than is flowing into the system and it absolutely is unsustainable,” he said.
Indeed, Bureau of Reclamation data indicates that its total reservoir storage in the Colorado River Basin by Sept. 30 is projected to be at 49 percent of capacity, at about 28.9 million acre-feet, Grantz said. The previous low since Powell was first filled was 50 percent, in 2004. Combined, Powell and Lake Mead are projected this fall to reach their lowest percentage of capacity since Powell’s filling, at 45 percent, or 22.6 million acre-feet, compared to a previous low of 46 percent in 2004.
Powell’s current predicament comes as the Bureau of Reclamation also is considering ways of trying to head-off what it has projected could be an annual shortfall of 3.2 million acre-feet by 2060 in the Colorado River Basin.
Wockner notes that more projects are planned to use diverted Colorado River water along the Front Range. “You can’t take any more water out of the system without it impacting someone else’s water supply,” he said.
Potentially historic lows
Current projections have Powell dropping by the end of 2014 to an elevation within about 10 feet of its low point in 2004, Grantz said. By early 2005, Powell reached its lowest level since it first filled.
History suggests it’s a time for concern, but not panic. In 2010 water-watchers were worried about low water levels in Lake Mead, but then came epic winter snows. “That bought three years of relief, probably,” Kuhn said.
Said Grantz, “One big (water) year can really help us out a lot.”
Indeed, part of the reason Powell will be able to release less water is because Mead will be high enough under the 2007 criteria to make do with less. Those same criteria allow for increased releases from Powell under certain circumstances to help Mead.
For Kuhn, “The real concern is, what happens if next year’s dry?”
Grantz said the Bureau of Reclamation is expecting a below-average runoff year next year, partly because soil is so parched that precipitation is more likely to be absorbed by it rather than reaching streams.
Kuhn fears that could lead to low enough water by 2015 that it could start to affect hydroelectric production at Glen Canyon Dam. He said water less than 25 or 30 feet above the power plant intakes could be low enough for a vortex to form, damaging turbine blades.
Revenue from that plant helps pay for river hydroelectric projects and operation and maintenance of electric lines, as well as programs such as endangered fish recovery.
Grantz said the Bureau of Reclamation believes it would take three or more years of continuing dry conditions before power-generation problems could arise.
Kuhn also believes the reduced release of water from Powell next year would likely result in the declaration of a first-ever water shortage for Nevada, Arizona and Mexico by 2015 or 2016. While the reductions they would experience wouldn’t necessarily cause great hardship at first, that would change if the shortage declaration went into a second year, he predicts.
Kuhn said some of his concerns remain hypothetical ones until it’s known what this winter brings. But at the same time, he said planning ahead for possible continued drought provides more flexibility than waiting until next April to act.
One thing that strikes him is that even while the river is currently challenged at a systemwide level, that isn’t necessarily reflected in local-level decisionmaking. For example, Denver Water recently eased its watering restrictions after late-season snow resulted in its reservoirs filling.
How much water is in Lake Powell may not greatly concern a lot of upstream municipalities and other water users, but Kuhn believes it should, given the need to meet downstream obligations. “I think in future drought years we’re going to have to have a system in place so as Powell approaches these lower levels we start to cut back” consumption, he said.
When Denver eased its restrictions, it asked residents to continue using less, citing the need for everyone to do their part to protect against the possibility of another dry winter.
Here’s a recap of Colorado River Day events from Sam Waters writing for The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel:
Thursday marked 92 years since the Colorado River got its name and folks in five cities across the country took time to honor the famous waterway and talk about its importance. In its second year, Colorado River Day took place in Grand Junction, Denver, Las Vegas, Santa Fe and Phoenix. The event was organized by a wide coalition of organizations including the National Young Farmers Coalition, Save the Colorado, Protect the Flows and Nuestro Rio, in an effort to bring people together in support of maintaining the river. This year’s event focused on water conservation.
The Grand Junction event, held at the river overlook at Eagle Rim Park on Orchard Mesa, had a variety of speakers who talked about the importance of the river and conserving water.
Grand Junction City Council members Bennett Boeschenstein and Jim Doody spoke along with the town of Paonia’s mayor, Neal Schwieterman. Farmer Brad Webb of Mesa Park Vineyards also spoke as a representative of the local agricultural community. “We’re here today to encourage our elected officials to talk about conservation,” said event organizer Kate Greenberg of the National Young Farmers Coalition. “We’re focused on conservation both from a municipal and agricultural standpoint.”
According to the Colorado River Day website, the Colorado River and its tributaries run through seven states and supply drinking water for 36 million Americans. The river system irrigates 15 percent of the nation’s crops and facilitates recreation, which adds up to $26 billion annually and supports a quarter-million American jobs.
“Essentially no matter where we live in the West, we’re affected by the Colorado River,” Greenberg said.
Most of the speakers mentioned that conservation is “the low-hanging fruit” and is a great step in ensuring the sustainability of the river.
In addition to hosting media events in five Western cities, the organizations putting on the events asked mayors across the southwest to sign a statement saying they support conservation first, Greenberg said.
She said the statement will be delivered to the U.S. Department of the Interior and seven Colorado River states urging them to produce actionable measures on urban water conservation, agricultural water conservation and healthy river flows via the basin study work groups.
They are also hosting social media events and are asking people to use the hashtag #CoRiver on Twitter and connect with their elected officials that way.
“It’s our responsibility to take care of this river not for today, but for tomorrow,” Councilor Doody said.
A district formed to fix Fountain Creek is anxious to see how Colorado Springs Mayor Steve Bach will react to findings of an El Paso County stormwater task force. The question was raised at Friday’s meeting of the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District by Pueblo County Commissioner Terry Hart. “The district has a statutory function to tackle flood control,” Hart said. “We have a major role.”
While most of the participants in the stormwater task force are also represented on the Fountain Creek board, Pueblo County’s interests can be incorporated through the district.
But Hart questioned El Paso County and Colorado Springs representatives about Bach’s willingness to allow the stormwater study and funding recommendations to move forward. Bach balked at the task force findings in January that Colorado Springs has a backlog of $680 million in stormwater projects. He ordered up a separate study to verify those needs.
The task force is wrapping up phase II of its study and will issue another report in October. “Hopefully, when the report comes out, (Bach) will jump in,” said Gabe Ortega, Fountain mayor pro-tem, who chairs the Fountain Creek board. “The majority of the region is on-board and ready to move forward.”
Richard Skorman, a former Colorado Springs councilman who lost to Bach in the 2011 election, said the task force is sorting out the possibilities of how funds to address stormwater could be raised — through a fee based on area or sales tax, for instance — and has not reached a recommendation.
Whichever method of funding is chosen, a public vote is likely to be required, and officials are aiming for a 2014 election date.
“I think the mayor is willing to sit down and look at a regional meeting, but he’s not embracing the task force,” Skorman said.
Why it matters
Pueblo officials have sought protection from floods on Fountain Creek while Colorado Springs worked to expand its water system to accommodate the rapid growth that has occurred in the past four decades by providing redundancy in water supply and to meet the needs of future growth.
Having a stormwater enterprise in place was listed as a given in Colorado Springs Utilities permits for its $940 million Southern Delivery System.
Last week, Bach and City Council President Keith King told Pueblo County Commissioner Sal Pace that the city is not required to have an enterprise in place or fund stormwater projects at a specific level.
Pace disputed that, but Pueblo County commissioners would have to hold a formal hearing to determine if Colorado Springs has violated the conditions of its 1041 permit for SDS.
The Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District has asked the Bureau of Reclamation to prepare a supplemental environmental impact statement for SDS because stormwater control has deteriorated since 2009, when Colorado Springs City Council abolished the stormwater enterprise, based on its interpretation of a municipal ballot question.
Pueblo District Attorney Jeff Chostner will ask the Colorado Supreme Court to overturn an appeals court ruling on Fountain Creek.
Last week, a three-judge appellate panel overturned District Judge Victor Reyes’ order for the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission to redo its certification of Colorado Springs’ mitigation plan for Fountain Creek and the Arkansas River. The case was originally filed by former District Attorney Bill Thiebaut. “I think there are contradictions within the opinion about what Judge Reyes could and couldn’t do,” Chostner said Tuesday. “They were also wrong on the facts and in saying that he acted in a capricious way.”
One of the major criticisms in last week’s reversal of Reyes’ order was that he chose to adopt Thiebaut’s complaint almost in its entirety. “It’s not unusual for a judge to pick one side over the other,” Chostner said. A petition for a writ of certiorari will be filed with the Supreme Court by the Aug. 29 deadline, Chostner said.
John Barth, a Hygiene water attorney hired by Thiebaut, and Chostner’s staff will work on the appeal.
Reyes issued the order last year for the commission to re-evaluate its certification for Colorado Springs Utilities’ plan for mitigation of impacts from the Southern Delivery System on Fountain Creek and the reach of the Arkansas River from Pueblo Dam to Avondale.
Thiebaut and the Rocky Mountain Environmental Labor Coalition opposed the plan, mainly because it relies on an adaptive management program that was spawned in the Bureau of Reclamation’s environmental impact statement for SDS. The opponents argued for a numerical standard instead.
The state certification is necessary for Army Corps of Engineers’ approval to work in Fountain Creek under the federal Clean Water Act.
More Southern Delivery System coverage here and here.
A program that keeps flows for fish and recreation in the Upper Arkansas River is being recognized by the Palmer Land Trust with an innovation in conservation award. The award will be presented Oct. 9 in Colorado Springs. It recognizes unique partnerships that protect natural heritage.
The voluntary flow program allows transfer of water in the Fryingpan- Arkansas Project in a way that benefits fish on the Arkansas River. Water brought from the Colorado River basin is stored in Turquoise and Twin Lakes and moved to Lake Pueblo under the Fry-Ark Project. In 1990, a program was established to move the water at opportune times in order to control temperature and spawning conditions for fish, as well as to boost flows for rafting during the summer months. During the drought, the water has been crucial to meeting flow targets on the river. “This year we’ll move 14,000 acre-feet,” said Roy Vaughan, manager of the Fry-Ark Project for the Bureau of Reclamation. “It’s water that we would have to move anyway.”
The program is coordinated by Reclamation, which controls river releases; Colorado Parks and Wildlife; the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District; and the Arkansas River Outfitters Association, along with other water users and groups in the Arkansas River basin.
An offensive against the Russian olive tree — an invasive species that chokes out native cottonwoods and willows — has been launched by Denver, Lakewood, Englewood, Colorado Heights and the Fort Logan National Cemetery. “They’re thorny, nasty trees,” said Drew Sprafke, an official with the city of Lakewood Regional Parks. “When they form those dense stands, no one can get through them.”
Using a grant from the Colorado Water Conservation Board, an 11-person crew from Mile High Youth Corps will be working through early August removing the trees from the lower Bear Creek watershed.
Introduced to Colorado as an ornamental tree, Russian olives can be identified by their narrow, silvery leaves and olive-shaped fruit. They prefer moist, riparian areas, but can be found just about anywhere — along streams, in fields and open space, even ditches, Sprafke said
The eventual goal, Sprafke said, is to remove every Russian olive from Bear Creek Lake Park to the South Platte in Denver during a multiyear process.
The trees are considered a List B noxious weed by the state of Colorado, meaning local governments are required to manage and limit their spread.
Sprafke estimates there are 1,500 Russian olives between Bear Creek Lake Park and Wadsworth Boulevard.
From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Hannah Holm):
Attendees of the Colorado Water Workshop in Gunnison July 17-19 heard sobering news about the long-term, devastating impacts expected from the West Fork Fire complex east of Alamosa in the San Juan and Rio Grande national forests.
The fires are burning in an area hard hit by beetle kill, with many dead trees. Despite previous scientific disagreements about how beetle kill would affect wildfire behavior, anecdotal evidence suggests that areas with extensive beetle kill burn with much greater thoroughness and intensity than areas with healthy trees. This appears to be the case with the West Fork Fire complex.
The 100,000+ acres the complex has burned so far encompass the headwaters of the Rio Grande River, in a basin even harder hit by drought in recent years than the rest of Colorado.
And now the monsoon rains are here: Good for putting out fires, but problematic in other ways. Hard rain hitting burned over ground can create tremendous destruction: Land slides and loads of sediment and debris choking streams, reservoirs and other water infrastructure on which downstream communities depend.
The Colorado Water Trust started releasing the water it leased in Stagecoach Reservoir this week to help with flows through town, but Colorado Parks and Wildlife biologist Billy Atkinson is asking anglers to get their fishing in early. “The water temperature is a lot more favorable in the morning,” Atkinson said Thursday. “By the afternoon, water temperatures are well into the 70s.” It would be beneficial for the health of the fish in the Yampa if people refrained from fishing in the afternoon, he said.
There’s no closure, like what happened during last year’s even lower flows, but if anglers could call it a day by noon, it would help. Dissolved oxygen levels in the river still are good, he said, and the fish still are spread out.
Water temperatures in recent days have exceeded the magic number — 70 degrees — where fish have a difficult time surviving and improper fishing can mean death, even for fish you release. “Trout have a slime-like coating over their bodies, which helps protect them against infectious diseases,” said Brad Dunkle, a guide with Minturn Anglers. “Mishandling, or using improper equipment such as a nylon net, will strip the fish of its slime. The warmer water makes it harder for them to regenerate that slime, so mishandling a fish in warm water can be a death sentence.”
What does the most endangered river in America look like? Its color was a little off this week, mucked up by a series of gully washers that blasted the arroyos lining its banks. It’s noticeably shallow, too, flowing at an undernourished water level quickly warmed by the July sun. And it’s crowded, filled with rafters, fishermen, tubers and paddle surfers seeking one of the precious few places with water to play in during another summer of drought. There are signs posted along the river asking anglers to avoid late afternoon fishing, minimize handling during catch-and-release and try to keep fish in the water in an effort to sustain the fishery through adverse conditions. There’s a growing amount of green algae drifting in the current, countless rocks jutting above the waterline and the odor of death luring dogs to roll on the beach of an otherwise inviting eddy. Almost everyone, save the dog’s owner, is smiling.
Maybe that’s because they know that in spite of all the troubles currently facing the Colorado River, things could be worse. The smile might fade if they considered the future reality of 2013’s “Most Endangered River,” as named by the conservation group American Rivers. Things will be worse, at least before they get better. “This year’s America’s Most Endangered Rivers report underscores the problems that arise for communities and the environment when we drain too much water out of rivers,” American Rivers president Bob Irvin said. “We simply cannot continue with status quo water management. It is time for stakeholders across the Colorado Basin to come together around solutions to ensure reliable water supplies and a healthy river for future generations.”
Recreational setbacks are but a fraction of the overarching Colorado River quandary, but hardly an irrelevant one. Basin-wide, the Colorado River supports a growing annual recreation economy of $26 billion, and its recreational relevance is obvious here at the headwaters.
The river’s over-allocation is also obvious, painfully so in times like this, and well-documented. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s Colorado River Basin Water Supply and Demand Study released late last year found that water demand in recent years is already outpacing river flows. The future poses even greater challenges, with about a 10 percent reduction in flows forecast by 2060 because of climate change, persistent drought and other factors. The government’s self-proclaimed “call to action” report projects water demand outpacing supply in the Colorado River basin by 3.2 million acre-feet by 2060.
While we watch the river deteriorate here at home, they’re at least talking about it in Washington. A recent Senate subcommittee hearing included testimony on potential solutions that have been batted around for years, including agricultural and municipal conservation measures and infrastructure upgrades to ensure healthy flows. “It’s time to roll up our sleeves and make the tough decisions for the river’s future,” said Russ Schnitzer, agriculture policy adviser for Trout Unlimited. “We know what’s needed — increased collaboration and partnerships among water stakeholders, including municipalities, industry, farmers and ranchers, and sportsmen. We’re all in this together.”
Thirty-six million people from Denver to Los Angeles drink Colorado River water. The river irrigates nearly 4 million acres of farmland, which grows 15 percent of the nation’s crops. Cities continue to grow; meanwhile irrigated agriculture currently consumes more than 70 percent of the water supply within the basin. “Irrigation efficiency projects, habitat reconnection and restoration, and improving in-stream flow conditions are the kind of low-hanging fruit that can benefit multiple interests,” Schnitzer said.
Sportsmen and recreational users of all walks can be counted among those interests. Because if outdated and inadequate water management persists in the Colorado basin, we most certainly will be counted out.
Scott Willoughby: 303-954-1993, email@example.com or twitter.com/willoughbydp
Colorado River Day
Thursday marks the 92nd anniversary of the day the Colorado River was officially re-named from the “Grand” to the “Colorado.” Denver is one of six cities hosting a celebratory event and day of action as part of Colorado River Day. The event unites urban and rural constituencies who are calling on the Department of Interior and state governors across the basin to implement an actionable plan to improve conservation and river flow, not just further study. Denver Mayor Michael Hancock will participate at a press conference at Tory Chavez Peace Garden (3825 Shoshone St.) at 11 a.m. A press conference will also be held on the river in Grand Junction at Eagle Rim Park (2746 Cheyenne Dr.) at 11:00 a.m.
Here’s the release from Governor Hickenlooper’s office:
Gov. John Hickenlooper announced today that 21 municipal wastewater and sanitation districts throughout Colorado will receive a total of $14.7 million in state grants to help with the planning, design and construction of facility improvements to meet new nutrient standards.
“Coloradans in rural and urban areas will benefit from these new water standards that improve and protect our water,” Hickenlooper said. “This grant funding will help communities offset the costs of bringing their systems into compliance. In addition, the grants announced today will help ensure safe and healthy water for wildlife, agriculture, recreation and drinking water purposes.”
Excessive nutrients harm water bodies by stimulating algae blooms that consume oxygen, kill aquatic organisms and ultimately lead to smaller populations of game and fish. While nutrients are naturally occurring, other contributors include human sewage, emissions from power generators and automobiles, lawn fertilizers and pet waste.
The state’s Water Quality Control Commission adopted new standards in September 2013 to help prevent harmful nutrients, such as nitrogen and phosphorus, from reaching state waters. The new regulation requires certain larger domestic wastewater treatment facilities to meet effluent limits for nutrients.
The Nutrient Grant Program will help wastewater facilities with the costs of planning for, designing and implementing system improvements. Funding for the program was made available through HB13-1191 “Nutrient Grant Domestic Wastewater Treatment Plant,” sponsored by Reps. Randy Fischer and Ed Vigil and Sens. Gail Schwartz and Angela Giron. There about 400 municipal wastewater systems in Colorado. The new nutrient standards apply to about 40 systems and will have the greatest impact on the waters of the state.
…MONSOON RAINS CONTINUE TO BRING RELIEF IN THE DROUGHT TO PORTIONS OF SOUTH CENTRAL AND SOUTHEAST COLORADO…
THE SOUTHWEST MONSOON HAS REMAINED ACTIVE ACROSS COLORADO OVER THE PAST WEEK AND CONTINUES TO BRING BENEFICIAL RAIN TO MUCH OF SOUTH CENTRAL AND SOUTHEAST COLORADO. THE MUCH NEEDED RAINFALL CONTINUES TO BRING SHORT AND LONG TERM RELIEF TO THE SEVERE TO EXTREME DROUGHT WHICH HAS HAD ITS GRIP ON THE AREA FOR THE PAST TWO YEARS. THE GREATEST PRECIPITATION HAS FALLEN OVER AND NEAR THE EASTERN MOUNTAINS…WHICH HAS RECEIVED WIDESPREAD AMOUNTS BETWEEN 3 AND 6 INCHES SINCE THE BEGINNING OF JULY.
WITH THIS IN MIND…THE CURRENT US DROUGHT MONITOR CONTINUES TO SHOW SOME IMPROVEMENT IN THE DROUGHT ACROSS THE SOUTH CENTRAL AND SOUTHEAST COLORADO AND NOW DEPICTS SEVERE DROUGHT (D2) CONDITIONS IN PLACE ACROSS CENTRAL AND EASTERN PORTIONS OF FREMONT COUNTY…SOUTHWESTERN TELLER COUNTY AND EXTREME NORTHEASTERN CUSTER COUNTY. IN ADDITION…MOST OF LAKE COUNTY IS NOW DEPICTED AS ABNORMALLY DRY (D0).
HOWEVER…EXCEPTIONAL (D4) DROUGHT CONDITIONS REMAIN INDICATED ACROSS MOST OF THE SOUTHEAST COLORADO PLAINS…INCLUDING SOUTH CENTRAL AND SOUTHEASTERN PORTIONS OF EL PASO COUNTY…CENTRAL AND EASTERN PORTIONS OF PUEBLO COUNTY…CENTRAL AND EASTERN LAS ANIMAS COUNTY…AS WELL AS ALL OF CROWLEY…OTERO… KIOWA…BENT…PROWERS AND BACA COUNTIES.
EXTREME DROUGHT (D3) CONDITIONS CONTINUE TO BE DEPICTED ACROSS EASTERN HUERFANO COUNTY…WEST CENTRAL PORTIONS OF LAS ANIMAS COUNTY….EXTREME EASTERN FREMONT COUNTY…SOUTHEASTERN TELLER COUNTY…MOST OF THE REST OF EL PASO AND PUEBLO COUNTIES…AND EXTREME SOUTHWEST MINERAL COUNTY.
SEVERE DROUGHT (D2) CONDITIONS REMAIN ACROSS SOUTHERN CHAFFEE COUNTY…WESTERN FREMONT COUNTY…NORTHERN TELLER AND EXTREME NORTHWESTERN EL PASO COUNTIES. SEVERE DROUGHT (D2) CONDITIONS ALSO REMAIN ACROSS THE REST OF MINERAL COUNTY…AS WELL AS ALL OF SAGUACHE…RIO GRANDE…CONEJOS…ALAMOSA AND COSTILLA COUNTIES.
MODERATE DROUGHT (D1) CONDITIONS REMAIN DEPICTED ACROSS THE REST OF CHAFFEE COUNTY AND EXTREME SOUTHERN LAKE COUNTY.
MORE INFORMATION ON THE US DROUGHT MONITOR CLASSIFICATION SCHEME CAN BE FOUND AT: WWW.DROUGHTMONITOR.UNL.EDU/CLASSIFY.HTM
SUMMARY OF IMPACTS…
THE VERY DRY CONDITIONS ACROSS THE STATE CONTRIBUTED TO THE START OF SEVERAL NATURALLY CAUSED AND HUMAN INDUCED WILDFIRES OVER THE PAST FEW MONTHS…INCLUDING THE BLACK FOREST FIRE…WHICH HAS BECOME THE STATES MOST DESTRUCTIVE WILDFIRE ON RECORD…WITH NEARLY 500 HOMES DESTROYED.
WITH THE ONSET OF THE SUMMER MONSOON…AREAS IN AND AROUND THESE NEWLY CREATED AND OTHER RECENT BURN SCARS ACROSS SOUTH CENTRAL AND SOUTHEAST COLORADO…HAVE ALSO EXPERIENCED DESTRUCTIVE FLASH FLOODING DUE TO THE LOSS OF VEGETATION AND THE DEVELOPMENT OF HYDROPHOBIC SOILS CAUSED BY THE FIRES.
HOWEVER…THE BENEFICIAL MONSOONAL RAINS HAS PROVIDED SOME SHORT TERM RELIEF TO THE AREA…WITH SEVERAL LARGE MUNICIPAL WATER PROVIDERS EASING OR HAVING PLANS TO EASE THE STRICT WATER RESTRICTIONS IMPLEMENTED THIS PAST SPRING…INCLUDING DENVER WATER AND COLORADO SPRINGS UTILITIES.
THE STATE HAS SETUP THE FOLLOWING WEBSITE TO GIVE INDIVIDUALS INFORMATION ON WHAT THE CURRENT WATER RESTRICTIONS IN THEIR SPECIFIC COMMUNITY ARE:
Click on the thumbnail graphic for the July 1 to July 21 precipitation map for the Upper Colorado River Basin. Click here to read the current assessment. Click here to go to the NIDIS website from the Colorado Climate Center.
From email from the Colorado Water Congress (Meg Meyer):
Please join the Colorado Water Congress in Steamboat Springs for our 2013 Summer Conference and Membership Meeting. This year’s Summer Conference is packed with valuable information not to be missed. The agenda below and attached highlights the workshops and sessions scheduled.
Registration is available online or by faxing in the registration form.
From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Mike McKibbin):
The 16- to 24-month project will include improvements to the city’s raw water pump station, a new 24-inch raw water pipeline to the new 40,000-square-foot plant, a radio tower at the Graham Mesa plant for remote data transmission of the city’s water system to the pump station and then by cable to the new plant, and connections to water transmission and main lines.
The original plan was to start work this summer, but Utilities Director Dick Deussen said it took much longer than anticipated for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to sign off on the final permits. That led the city’s consultant, Malcolm Pirnie ARCADIS, to reassign staff engineers to other projects, since they could not proceed without the permits, Deussen said.
The city also changed the location of the plant within the site east of Rifle, off U.S. Highway 6, so additional groundwater and other tests were required by the health department and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, added Resident Engineer Jim Miller.
“It’s closer to the wetlands, so we need to know how to manage that,” he said. “We also need to know about the bedrock elevation.”[…]
In their regular meeting after the workshop, City Council approved a resolution supporting an application for a Colorado Department of Local Affairs Energy and Mineral Impact Assistance Fund grant to help acquire and install a natural gas-fueled backup generator at the plant. The 1,600- to 1,750-kilowatt generator, with emissions control equipment, would serve as a secondary power source to keep the facility operating during power outages, city Government Affairs Coordinator Kimberly Bullen told council. It would also allow the city to take advantage of Xcel Energy’s interruptible service option credit, Miller noted. That credit allows Xcel to call the city and ask them to reduce electrical usage at the plant due to heavy summer demands on their distribution system, Miller explained…
The estimated cost of the generator is more than $1.4 million, with the city seeking half that amount, or $735,000, in the grant application. The city’s 50 percent share would come from the Colorado Water and Power Resources Authority loan that’s funding the project, Bullen said.
Colorado’s Instream Flow Program — the first of its kind in the West — was established by a law passed by the Colorado legislature in 1973, though it took six years to subsequently survive legal challenges. A pair of water leaders in Colorado described the program’s history and evolution during a talk last Thursday as part of the 38th annual Colorado Water Workshop at Western State Colorado University.
It was an appropriate topic at this year’s workshop — the theme of which was “Planning for the New Normal” — given that 40 years ago, the implementation of the Instream Flow Program introduced a “new normal” by challenging the assumption that water must be diverted for a right to be granted. “The program provides the legal foundations for a new understanding of the value of water that goes beyond direct human uses,” said Jeff Sellen, director of the Water Workshop. The law set up a regulatory framework for establishing water rights that depict minimum flows in a stream or levels in natural lakes. Under the program, only the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) can hold those rights.
But one local woman traces the program’s roots back to a meeting among three visionaries at Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory (RMBL) in Gothic in the mid-1960s. “Instream flow has it’s origin with the question ‘Why?’ over a glass of wine,” said Gunnison’s Scottie Willey, a longtime RMBL researcher…
While the intent of the 1973 law specifically aims to protect the environment to a reasonable degree, secondary benefits have resulted “for fisheries and for recreation,” said Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District (UGRWCD) General Manager Frank Kugel. “There’s extensive flow protection in our basin,” he added.
Linda Bassi, chief of CWCB’s Stream and Lake Protection Section, said during last week’s Water Workshop talk that to date more than 9,000 miles of streams have been protected by instream flow rights across the state — in addition to levels in 480 natural lakes…
Following the passage of the instream flow law, prominent Colorado water attorney David Robbins worked to ensure that the program remained. He was part of a team that filed for instream flow rights on three waterways in the Crystal River Basin — “test cases” for the new law. Each were “headwaters” streams of the type that even today comprise the bulk of protected segments under the program. Robbins explained during last week’s Water Workshop that most of the water community in 1973 still believed the new law to be unconstitutional. “It didn’t produce a recognized beneficial use under past case law and statutes,” he explained. “And it would preclude a portion of water from streams from citizens being able to remove that water in the future and apply it to another beneficial use.”
That is, Colorado’s “first in time, first in right” appropriation system did not prior to then provide a widely recognized means of protecting the natural environment by establishing water rights. Not until 1979 was the Instream Flow Program upheld in state Supreme Court.
Robbins said that the 1973 law was largely in response to efforts already underway at the time to recognize non-consumptive water rights — including in Gothic. “It’s purpose was in part to blunt the fledgling effort to amend the constitution to recognize instream flows as a recognized use within Colorado,” said Robbins. “We need to be very clear that prior to 1973, it was the generally held view in Colorado that in order to obtain a decreed water right, you had to divert the water from a river.”
Here is Part I of the The Valley Courier’s new series about Colorado’s water supply gap, written by Judy Lopez. Here’s an excerpt:
The Rio Grande Basin encompasses approximately 8,000 square miles, including the San Luis Valley. This high mountain valley extends approximately 100 miles from north to south and 50 miles from east to west.
Water in the Rio Grande Basin is currently over appropriated (and has been since the 1890s). All of the waters of the Rio Grande and Conejos River and their tributaries are subject to the terms of the Rio Grande Compact. This combined with the fact that the Valley’s groundwater resources have been over used and areas across the basin face groundwater depletions mean that the need for decision making is increasingly urgent. By 2050, a shortfall of 180,000 acre feet (AF) is expected, which includes the agricultural groundwater shortage which is being addressed by pending rules and regulations and fallowing farm land via the groundwater sub-district. The goal of each of these actions is to achieve sustainable aquifers through better management and reduction of groundwater pumping.
The whole case revolves around the fact that water is recognized as one of the most vital substances to sustain life. Then why is it one of the most undervalued resources in the world? Universally people do not understand the variety of services that water provides to sustain a nation’s economic development and the health of its population. Where would the manufacturing, electronics, or agriculture industries be without water?
Water helps to provides psychological benefits, too. In a report from the American Waterworks Association, “People derive pleasure from recreational activities and find comfort knowing that the water they drink is of the highest quality”. With this said, in developed countries, knowledge of water resources by the majority of the population is at best minimal.
Why? One reason could be that water utilities have been successful in providing high-quality water on demand. They are so good at in fact that the process of sanitizing and delivering water remains of little or no concern. So much so that most of the developed population is complacent about water resources, by valuing the outcomes and giving little regard to the inputs. One could predict that the misuse and abuse of water is the direct result of the perception that water has little or no value at all.
The real value of water is not the price or cost associated with its production – the real value of water is related to the services it provides. While water to sustain human life can be assigned a particular value; water used for environmental purposes, such as developing and maintaining wetlands, is assigned another value. The value is dependent upon a person’s background, belief system and interests.
More Rio Grande River Basin coverage here and here.
Sheldon Zwicker has been keeping an eye on irrigation ditches at his family’s McElmo Canyon ranch since he was no taller than a cattail and was tagging along to help his grandfather water crops. The 68-year-old remembers farmers and ranchers getting hot under the collar about water disputes then. And he’s not surprised that, in the current drought year, the same squabbles have water users in ditchside near-brawls, threatening one another with shovels, pitchforks, guns and words.
Water has been fought for since before King Hammurabi first declared in his famous Code somewhere around 1795 B.C. that farmers needed to be neighborly about using it. That’s never been an easy code to follow throughout history because water is a paycheck to those in the agricultural trade. It’s an especially tough sell these days in Colorado when all but a sliver of the state is in various levels of drought.
In the southwest corner of Colorado, where a dozen water users operating on a sort of honor system might rely on one ditch, the problem seems to be particularly bad. When those users are tempted to take more than their share to sprinkle on crispy crops and slake the thirst of baking bovines, the number of disputes has gone up as fast as the midsummer thermometer. “There’s probably more disputes over water down here now than there is over wives. It’s been a real trying year,” Zwicker said. “When it’s 110 (degrees) out and you’re trying to get your crops wet, and you’re out of water, and you find your neighbor has it, well, you blow your stack.”
There are no statewide figures for the anecdotal spike in water disputes this year. Each county and the dozens of water districts and ditch companies in Colorado handle the trouble in different ways.
Montezuma County has had enough trouble that Sheriff Dennis Spruell has designated a water deputy to act as a mediator and an enforcer when neighbors call in accusing one another of stealing, hogging or wasting water. That deputy has been fielding 20 to 30 calls a day lately, compared with four or five calls in the past. He’s not the only one overburdened by water woes. On some hot mornings, the Montezuma Valley Irrigation Co.’s water commissioner in Cortez has received 20 to 30 calls by coffee-break time.
Disputes range from finding suspicious shovel-built ditches to catching someone red-handed diverting water.
One method of stealing water is for a water thief to open a gate in the middle of the night to divert water to his crops and to sneak back before daylight to reset the water flow and try to cover up the crime.
Drought maps can bring some understanding of this kind of desperation. Montezuma County shows up on the drought map covered in orange — the color denoting extreme drought. In southeast Colorado, the fire-engine red identifying a worse rating — exceptional drought — has crept across more than 10 counties of farm country. Even with recent rains, Colorado is colored with the shades of lesser drought — the yellow of “severe drought” and the cream-colored tone of moderate drought. One bit of green now snakes down north central Colorado, which means an upgrade from drought to “abnormally dry.” In the “exceptional drought” area of southeast Colorado, the irrigation water situation has gotten so bad for a second year in a row that water squabbles are actually few between farmers who are all in the same dire boat.
“There isn’t much dispute here over water because there isn’t any,” Fort Lyon Canal Co. manager Wesley Eck said. Nearly three-fourths of the 93,000 acres the canal company supplies are without water this year because a depleted Arkansas River and its tributaries can no longer deliver. Farmers didn’t even bother planting many of their crops this year.
In the southwest corner, the McPhee Reservoir is trickling 25 percent of water to farmers and ranchers, the Ute Mountain Ute tribe and a fishery. “We not only have a limited supply, but the duration of the season will be cut short,” said Mike Preston, general manager of the Dolores Water Conservancy District that disburses McPhee water. That district uses pressured meters to track exactly how much water users get so there is less room for arguing about fair shares. Arguments tend to happen more when users have a direct flow of water in a canal that is dispersed to individual users’ fields through the use of flow-controlling headgates. “So everyone is kind of suffering together,” Preston said.
Water woes have resulted in more disputes than just neighbors throwing punches and shovels. Legal actions are also in the arsenal with larger users. In Craig, the U.S. Department of Justice has filed charges against two brothers who allegedly cut unauthorized ditches to take water from BLM lands to their ranches.
In the Canyons of the Ancients, in southwest Colorado, a citizens group has sued the BLM alleging the government is taking water that should belong to individual citizens.
The city of Ouray has asked a water court to change its water rights so agricultural users downstream can’t cut back on the city’s allotment in dry times.
And for farmers who aren’t currently fighting about water, Nate Midcap, the manager of the Central Yuma Groundwater Management District in the relatively wet drought-stricken northeast corner of Colorado, has a prediction, given the fact that aquifers are dropping and heat waves are increasing: “Sooner or later they will be.”
The Colorado Springs City Council has voted to remain in Stage IIB (two days a week outdoor watering) of the Water Shortage Ordinance, with a change to the threshold by which a Colorado Springs Utilities residential water customer would pay a drought surcharge. Effective Aug. 1, the entry point for block 3 water pricing has been increased to 2,500 cubic feet of water usage, up from 2,000 cubic feet.
The updated drought surcharge has been reduced from twice the block 3 cost, to 1.25 times the block 3 cost.
Commercial customers are billed using a baseline calculated from 2012 average water use. Commercial customers exceeding that baseline will now be charged 1.25 times the current price, and 1.15 times the current price for non-potable water use.
Here’s the latest drought update from the Colorado Water Conservation Board (Ben Wade):
June was the 9th warmest June on record (dating back to 1895) with most areas of the state experiencing temperatures 2-4 degrees above normal. Compounding the warm temperatures was the lack of precipitation; as a percent of average, June was the driest month of 2013. Above average temperatures have continued to-date in July, with the western slope seeing temperatures 4-5 degrees above normal. However, July has also brought well above average moisture for many portions of the state, alleviating, but not eliminating, dry conditions in those areas. Water providers feel they have adequate storage and supplies to meet customer demands for the remainder of the summer months.
As of the July 16, 2013 US Drought Monitor, 100% of Colorado continues to experience some level of drought classification. Conditions across the state have slightly improved since June. Two percent of the state, isolated to the northern Front Range foothills, are now classified as D0 (abnormally dry), while D1 (moderate) conditions cover 35% of the state. D2 (severe) conditions comprise 29% and D3 (extreme) accounts for an additional 17%. 17% of the state is experiencing D4 conditions (exceptional drought).
As of July 3, 2013, all of Colorado’s 64 counties have some level of Federal USDA Drought designation. 53 Colorado counties have primary designations, while an additional 11 counties have designations for being contiguous to the primary counties.
Following two consecutive months of below average precipitation statewide, July to-date has seen precipitation levels ranging from 100% of average in the Yampa/White to 243% of average in the Upper Rio Grande. The state as a whole has seen 163% of average precipitation thus far in July. Since October 1, 2012 the state as a whole has received 78% of average precipitation.
Spring snow storms brought significant gains in the snowpack to the Colorado and South Platte River basins, which helped to fill reservoirs and improve storage; however increased demands and higher temperature have led to a slight decline in overall statewide storage, as a percent of average, from 78% last month to 74%.
The Rio Grande has the lowest storage levels at 35% of average, well below where the Basin was this time last year. All but two basins (the Upper Colorado and the Yampa/ White) have storage levels below where they were this time last year.
Improvements in storage levels from earlier in the year, coupled with successful drought response measures have led many municipalities along the Front Range to relax mandatory watering restrictions. http://www.coh20.co remains active and can be utilized to determine what restrictions are in place in local communities.
Surface Water Supply Index (SWSI) values remain largely negative, with the exception of the Colorado Headwaters which sits at +2.27 due to strong reservoir storage. The July SWSI uses the observed streamflow measured during June rather than a forecasted flow. Many streamflows across the state remain below average.
The long term experimental forecast for late summer (July-September) favors precipitation on the eastern plains of CO, while the northern Front Range may face renewed drought conditions. The Climate Prediction Center forecasts for August through October and October through December both show high probability for above normal temperatures, while equal chances of wet and dry conditions are reflected in the precipitation forecast.
This is the second consecutive year the Colorado Water Trust has leased 4,000 acre-feet of water in Stagecoach Reservoir.
“Last year, we saw that adding water to the Yampa River was of tremendous value not only to the natural environment but also to Steamboat Springs and other communities along the river,” staff attorney for the Colorado Water Trust Zach Smith said in a news release. “We look forward to working with Upper Yampa to create similar benefits again this year.”
The Yampa River at the Fifth Street bridge was flowing at 120 cubic feet per second Tuesday morning, below the median for the date of 181 cfs. Last year, the group’s release bolstered the river by about 26 cfs for most of the summer.
#According to the release, Colorado Parks and Wildlife aquatic biologist Bill Atkinson suggested that releases from Stagecoach Reservoir start at a range of 30 cfs to help with high water temperatures. As part of those water temperature concerns, Atkinson has asked anglers to avoid fishing after noon, when the water temperatures have been reaching the upper 70s.
Colorado Springs leaders have told Pueblo County commissioners the city is not required to address specific stormwater projects or spend a set amount under its Southern Delivery System 1041 permit. It’s infuriated Commissioner Sal Pace, because the position apparently contradicts an June 6 letter in which Colorado Springs pledged to address the needs identified in the permitting process for SDS, a pipeline that will deliver water from Pueblo Dam to El Paso County. “I don’t know if I’m more furious or confused,” Pace said. “All one has to do is read the SDS environmental impact statement and see that the stormwater enterprise is mentioned over and over. In the June 6 letter, they indicated they were committed to addressing their stormwater needs. Now, in one simple letter, the city has reversed all that.”
As a state lawmaker, Pace challenged the elimination of the stormwater enterprise and continues to question the decision as a commissioner.
Pueblo County commissioners are seeking a meeting with Colorado Springs officials to discuss SDS compliance, but no date has been set. Violations of the 1041 permit would have to be addressed at a formal compliance hearing, and are not subject to the individual opinions of commissioners. Apparently, Colorado Springs is taking the position that it is only required to pay $50 million to a Fountain Creek improvement district, spend $75 million on bolstering sewer lines and ensure that SDS does not increase flows under the county permit for its $940 million water supply project. “It is clear the 1041 permit itself does not require or adopt any specific list of capital projects that must be implemented to address Fountain Creek peak flows, run-off volumes or other flood hazards,” Colorado Springs Mayor Steve Bach and Council President Keith King wrote in a letter to Pace last week. ‘’Nor does the 1041 permit require a specific dollar amount to be allocated toward stormwater projects.”
Comments in March 2012 by City Attorney Chris Melcher that Colorado Springs should be spending at least $13 million annually on stormwater touched off a flurry of stormwater activity three years after council abolished the city’s stormwater enterprise.
An El Paso County task force identified $900 million in capital projects, $686 million in Colorado Springs. Bach launched an independent review of Colorado Springs’ share.
During that time, the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District asked the Bureau of Reclamation to reopen its environmental analysis of SDS because it originally assumed the stormwater enterprise was in effect. Last week, the district released figures showing the city’s expenditures on stormwater dwindled to nearly nothing in 2012.
Colorado Springs is spending $46 million on stormwater projects this year, with more than half going toward dealing with impacts from the Waldo Canyon Fire.
The burden of meeting water quality standards will increasingly fall on farmers in the Lower Arkansas Valley as a result of inaction on stormwater in Colorado Springs. “It’s outrageous that they do not want to take the responsibility for stormwater,” said Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District. “Pueblo and the Lower Ark district have tried to cooperate, but it seems that every The federal Food Modernization and Safety Act passed last year puts increased responsibility for water quality on farmers who irrigate and market raw food, Winner said. Lower Ark district studies show that water quality on Fountain Creek has continued to decline since Colorado Springs abolished its stormwater enterprise.
Winner was reacting to news reported in The Chieftain Tuesday that Colorado Springs Mayor Steve Bach and Council President Keith King say their city is not obligated to do any specific projects or fund stormwater at any certain levels under Pueblo County permits for the Southern Delivery System.
Bach and King made that clear in a letter to Pueblo County Commissioner Sal Pace last week.
That’s a slap in the face to Winner, who received assurances stormwater would be funded at Colorado Springs City Council meetings in 2005, when the stormwater enterprise was formed, and in 2009, when it was dissolved. But a recent analysis by the Lower Ark district shows funding dropped to almost nothing in 2012. It has increased to $46 million this year, largely because of concerns about funding levels for SDS permits raised by Colorado Springs attorney Chris Melcher last year and the after-effects of the Waldo Canyon Fire. “The enterprise was supposed to fund the backlog of projects,” Winner said. That backlog now is estimated to be $686 million, a figure Bach questions. “They disguise their intentions and do nothing.”
Winner said the stormwater enterprise was listed as reasonably foreseeable in the 2009 environmental impact statement for SDS by the Bureau of Reclamation. “It has to be in place before one drop of water moves through SDS,” Winner said.
Conversely, Reclamation says a stormwater enterprise in Colorado Springs or El Paso County is not reasonably foreseeable in its current evaluation of the Arkansas Valley Conduit. But Reclamation has not reopened the EIS for SDS, despite a Lower Ark request last year.
Winner also questions whether the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District is weighted too heavily in favor of El Paso County. He is critical of the district for focusing on impacts of Waldo Canyon near Colorado Springs rather than downstream impacts. The district was formed in part to satisfy how $50 million in payments from Colorado Springs to improve Fountain Creek would be handled under Pueblo County’s 1041 permit for SDS. The district played a role in the current discussion over stormwater in El Paso County, backing a study that showed Colorado Springs’ stormwater funding lagged far behind other Front Range communities.
However, Colorado Springs leadership has at times ignored the district. For six months in 2011 no representative from Colorado Springs attended Fountain Creek meetings, as reported in the Sept. 24, 2011, Pueblo Chieftain. “I don’t recall that Mayor Bach ever has attended a Fountain Creek board meeting,” Winner added.
More Southern Delivery System coverage here and here.
The Winter Park Ranch Water and Sanitation District has successfully negotiated a short-term water rights lease with the Colorado Water Conservation Board and the State Engineer’s Office. The Colorado Water Conservation Board officially ratified the lease on Tuesday, June 16. The lease is seen as a tool to help boost local streamflows in St. Louis Creek and the Fraser River at a time when a significant portion of the river’s water is diverted to the Front Range via the Moffat Tunnel, which impacts fish and flows to the Colorado River. But through a 2003 Colorado statute, water rights can be loaned or leased to improve the volume of water flowing through rivers and streams. Winter Park Ranch saw the statue as an opportunity to benefit its home river.
Here’s the release from the US Department of Interior:
U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Vilsack and U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Sally Jewell today announced a federal, local and private partnership that will reduce the risks of wildfire to America’s water supply in western states. The Western Watershed Enhancement Partnership is part of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan, which outlines a comprehensive approach to reduce carbon pollution and better prepare the United States for the impacts of climate change, including increased risk of wildfires and drought.
Through the Western Watershed Enhancement Partnership, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the U.S. Department of the Interior (Interior) will work together with local water users to identify and mitigate risks of wildfire to parts of our nation’s water supply, irrigation and hydroelectric facilities. Flows of sediment, debris and ash into streams and rivers after wildfires can damage water quality and often require millions of dollars to repair damage to habitat, reservoirs and facilities.
USDA’s Forest Service and Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation will kick off the new partnership through a pilot in the Upper Colorado Headwaters and Big Thompson watershed in Northern Colorado. The partnership will include the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District and Colorado State Forest Service and builds off of past agreements between the Forest Service and municipal water suppliers, such as Denver Water’s Forest to Faucets partnership.
“Today’s announcement brings together the West’s largest forest land manager with the West’s largest water provider to ensure the resilience of our forests and their capacity to provide water supply amid climate threats,” said Vilsack. “This partnership will increase forest resilience, improve water quality, and reduce the risk of catastrophic damage from wildfire. This is good news for anyone who pays a water bill, and it is good news for our environment.”
“In the West, more than forty Reclamation dams and facilities are on or downstream from Forest Service lands where drier, hotter weather has exacerbated the risk of wildfire,” said Jewell. “This partnership can serve as a model for the West when it comes to collaborative and targeted fire threat reduction and restoration efforts to protect our critical water supplies.”
The Memorandum of Understanding signed today at Horsetooth Reservoir outside of Ft. Collins, Colo., will facilitate activities such as wildfire risk reduction through forest thinning, prescribed fire and other forest health treatments; minimizing post-wildfire erosion and sedimentation; and restoring areas that are currently recovering from past wildfires through tree planting and other habitat improvements.
Horsetooth Reservoir is part of the Colorado Big-Thompson water system which provides water to 860,000 people within eight counties (Boulder, Broomfield, Larimer, Logan, Morgan, Sedgwick, Washington and Weld) and to more than 650,000 acres of agricultural land. It also generates enough electricity to power 58,300 homes annually. The area has experienced several fires in the last few years, including the destructive High Park Fire in June, 2012.
USDA and Interior are working with state and local stakeholders toward formalizing additional partnerships in the following areas:
Salt River-CC Cragin project in Arizona;
Boise River Reservoir in Idaho;
Mid-Pacific Reclamation Region in California;
Yakima Basin in Washington State; and Horsethief Reservoir/Flathead River in Montana.
Nationwide, the National Forest System provides drinking water to more than 60 million Americans. The share of water supply originating on national forest lands is particularly high across much of the West, including the upper Colorado River basin where nearly half of all water comes from National Forests. Healthy forests filter rain and snowmelt, regulate runoff and slow soil erosion – delivering clean water at a far lower cost than it would take to build infrastructure to replace these services.
The goal of the Western Watershed Enhancement Partnership is to restore forest and watershed health and to proactively plan for post-wildfire response actions intended to protect municipal and agricultural water supplies, infrastructures and facilities, water delivery capabilities and hydro-electric power generation. Forest and watershed restoration activities and proactive planning can help minimize sedimentation impacts on reservoirs and other water and hydro-electric infrastructure by reducing soil erosion and the impacts of wildfires, helping water managers avoid costs for dredging, water filtration, and the need to replace damaged infrastructure.
Although comprehensive data on wildfire costs for water users is unavailable, several wildfires in recent decades illustrate the diversity and magnitude of direct costs:
The 1997 Buffalo Creek and 2002 Hayman Fires forced Denver Water to spend more
than $26 million on dredging Strontia Springs Reservoir, treating water and reseeding the forests in the watershed;
The 2000 Cerro Grande Fire cost the Los Alamos Water Utility more than $9 million and generated about $72.4 million in emergency rehabilitation, restoration and flood mitigation cost;
The 2009 station fire and ensuing storms in 2010 cost the Los Angeles County Department of Public Works $30 million in the aftermath to remove sediment from debris basins. LA County Public Works plans to spend an additional $190 million dredging four reservoirs that are no longer able to reliably meet the county’s needs for flood control and water storage capacity; and
The 2011 Las Conchas Fire prompted the cities of Santa Fe and Albuquerque to shut down their water supply intake systems in affected rivers and reservoirs due to ash accumulation.
Top U.S. environmental officials Friday began a push to protect the nation’s federally run water-supply reservoirs against wildfires. The fear is that worsening wildfires will trigger erosion that damages dams, canals and pipelines, and shrinks water storage, ultimately driving up water costs for ratepayers.
“Climate change is upon us, our ecosystems are changing and it’s up to us to work collaboratively,” Interior Secretary Sally Jewell told state, federal and local participants before signing a teamwork agreement at Horsetooth Reservoir, west of Fort Collins, an area where 11 wildfires since 2010 have unleashed sediment that threatens to clog water facilities.
“The sad reality is that when we’re faced with ever-increasing fires and the intensity of these fires, it threatens that water supply,” said USDA Sec. Tom Vilsack. “It threatens the quality and the affordability because if this water has to be treated because of sediment and ash and so forth, it obviously can increase the cost.” Vilsack was joined by Interior Secretary Sally Jewell in Fort Collins near Horsetooth Reservoir. Burn scars from the High Park and Galena fires were faintly visible in the distance.
Flows of ash and debris into streams after the High Park Fire have caused headaches for local municipalities like Greeley and Fort Collins. To reduce this problem, the Western Watershed Enhancement Partnership will focus on restoration and prevention efforts including forest health treatments and efforts to minimize post-wildfire erosion.
Colorado’s pilot project brings together a large group of local, state and federal agencies including the Colorado State Forest Service, Northern Water, the Bureau of Reclamation and the U.S. Forest Service.
Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and Tom Vilsack, the secretary of agriculture, signed a document committing their agencies to work with state and local officials and private landowners in reducing the risk and impact of massive fires. The partnership also is expected to enhance coordinated efforts to keep ash, sediment and other fire debris out of storage facilities such as Horsetooth Reservoir, Vilsack told dignitaries gathered for the signing ceremony. “It will improve water quality; it will protect habitat; and we believe over time it will reduce fire risk,” he said.
Projects that would be pursued through the partnership include reducing “fuel loads” in forested areas through thinning and controlled burns. Controlling erosion after a fire to protect municipal and agricultural water supplies would be another major focus.
A pilot program involving the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, the Colorado State Forest Service and federal agencies would target the watersheds of the Upper Colorado and Big Thompson rivers. The state forest service has organized a timber sale on land near Northern Water facilities. Proceeds from the sale would go toward restoration programs, said Mike Lester, the Colorado state forester.
The agreement — called the Western Wastershed Enhancement Partnership — will make it easier for the two agencies to work on forest thinning and prescribed fires, which reduce erosion, and restoring burned areas through tree planting and other habitat improvements, according to the agencies. The pilot program will focus on northern Colorado, the headwaters of the Colorado River and the Big Thompson River watershed.
U.S. Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., hailed the agreement. “Rivers running thick with soot and flash flooding have tragically shown how the threats wildfires pose to Coloradans and our drinking-water supplies persist long after their final embers are extinguished,” Udall said.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Interior Secretary Sally Jewell inked the agreement in front of the symbolic backdrop of Horsetooth Reservoir above Fort Collins. Black and red remains of burned trees from two recent wildfires loomed over the reservoir, a reminder that fires lead to erosion that clogs water pipes. The agreement is designed to get around bureaucratic barriers and get going on forest thinning projects to prevent fires, and restoration projects after a fire. “It will improve water quality, it will protect habitat and we believe, over time, it will reduce fire risk,” Vilsack said.
For the Forest Service, the agreement means moving quickly in response to fires such as the West Fork Complex. “We’re concerned about the Rio Grande River and the headwater area there. We’re going to be aggressive in our conservation efforts to make sure we maintain the quality and the safety of that water supply,” Vilsack said.
“Holding the signing here in Colorado highlights the fact that we’ve established a pilot project called the Colorado-Big Thompson partnership that brings together Northern Water Conservancy District, Colorado State Forest Service, United States Forest Service, the Bureau of Reclamation, and the Western Area Power Administration,” said Glenn Casamassa, Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests and Pawnee National Grassland forest supervisor…
Water quality is a paramount concern, according to Eric Wilkinson, manager of the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District. “Wildfire also affects the water supplies that are vitally important to our agriculture economy in this area,” he said.
From the Associated Press (Catharine Tsai) via The Pueblo Chieftain:
Federal and local agencies will try to speed up efforts to thin vegetation that could fuel catastrophic wildfires which threaten water supplies and hydroelectric facilities, federal officials said Friday. The Western Watershed Enhancement Partnership was announced at Horsetooth Reservoir near Fort Collins by Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo. It will focus on accelerating forest restoration around reservoirs, dams, irrigation systems and hydroelectric projects to reduce the risk of intense fires.
“When a forest fire takes place, it can compromise the water supply that is in those reservoirs,” Vilsack said. “Sediment can build up, and the ash created by fires can cause huge problems downstream in terms of water quality.” The partnership will help agencies leverage resources to reduce the risk of rivers and water projects getting sullied, Vilsack said.
The U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Bureau of Reclamation are launching the effort with a pilot project in the Upper Colorado headwaters and Big Thompson watershed in Northern Colorado, where the High Park Fire burned last year. Under the project, the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District and Colorado State Forest Service will work with the federal agencies on forest thinning and prescribed burns. The work also will include reseeding and restoring burned forests so not as much sediment will run off from burned areas.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees the Forest Service, and the Interior Department, which includes the Bureau of Reclamation, are working to formalize similar partnerships around the Salt River-CC Cragin project in Arizona; Boise River Reservoir in Idaho; Mid-Pacific Reclamation Region in California; Yakima Basin in Washington state; and the Horsethief Reservoir and Flathead River in Montana.
The initiative builds from the successful “Forest to Faucets” partnership the Forest Service reached with Denver Water, Colorado’s largest water utility, to share costs of mitigating wildfire risks and effects in Colorado.
A Colorado appeals court Thursday reversed Pueblo District Judge Victor Reyes’ order for the state to re-evaluate its assessment of the impacts of the Southern Delivery System on Fountain Creek and the Arkansas River.
Reyes issued an order on April 12, 2012, for the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission to reopen hearings on a 2011 Water Quality Act Section 401 permit for SDS. The permit is necessary for construction of the SDS pipeline across Fountain Creek because it is tied to Army Corps of Engineers permits.
Colorado Springs Utilities is building the $940 million pipeline, which will take water from Pueblo Dam to El Paso County.
The state decision was challenged by former Pueblo District Attorney Bill Thiebaut and the Rocky Mountain Environmental Labor Coalition.
They argued that a numerical water quality standard was needed rather than relying on an adaptive management program that the Bureau of Reclamation established as part of an environmental impact statement leading up to approval of SDS.
They also challenged the way public notices were made and said the state failed to look at the possibility of further degradation of Fountain Creek from population growth in Colorado Springs.
The appeals court opinion said the Water Quality Control Commission did not violate applicable water quality standards, reversing Reyes’ decision.
Judge Stephanie Dunn wrote the opinion, with Judges Nancy Lichtenstein and James Casebolt concurring.
The opinion criticizes Reyes for adopting most of the wording in his decision from the complaint filed by Thiebaut and the coalition, saying it is not the court’s role to reverse a state agency’s decision without more rigorous investigation.
“Where, as here, a district court adopts an order drafted by counsel, we scrutinize the order more critically,” Dunn wrote.
The opinion also said Reyes erred by citing Colorado Springs Utilities’ land condemnation cases in Pueblo West when writing his order. Reyes “made credibility determinations based on information outside the administrative record.”
From the Colorado Springs Business Journal (Amy Gillentine):
The Colorado Court of Appeals reversed a Pueblo County judge’s ruling against a state water quality certification for the SDS project, which will bring water from the Pueblo Reservoir to Colorado Springs, the biggest water project in decades for Colorado Springs Utilities. The multi-million project is well underway, with miles of pipeline already finished and construction started on water treatment plants The appeals court ruled that the state Water Quality Control Commission was correct in approving the SDS water quality certification, according to a press release from Colorado Springs Utilities.
The decision reverses Pueblo County District Court Judge Victor Reyes’ April 2012 ruling against the Water Quality Control Commissions’ unanimous decision approving the 401 water quality certification.
“We are pleased that the Colorado Court of Appeals has ruled in support of the 401 water quality certification for SDS,” said John Fredell, SDS program director. “We always believed that the state Water Quality Control Division did a thorough and complete evaluation of SDS and correctly decided that it would meet State water quality standards. We are pleased that the Court of Appeals has recognized that. It is unfortunate that this matter had to be resolved in the courts, which is a costly process and one that goes against our approach of collaborating with other local governments and stakeholders.”
Even before he took office, District Attorney Jeff Chostner realized he would have a decision to make on a case he inherited from Bill Thiebaut. Pueblo District Judge Victor Reyes ruled in Thiebaut’s favor in April 2012 on a challenge to a Colorado Water Quality Control Commission decision to certify Colorado Springs Utilities’ Southern Delivery System, a pipeline to deliver water from Pueblo Dam to El Paso County.
On Thursday, an appeals court overturned Reyes’ order, saying opponents failed to prove their case.
It’s unknown if there will be an appeal to the Supreme Court. “Jeff Chostner is not in his office today, so I have not even been able to talk to my client. I haven’t had time to carefully read the decision,” said John Barth, a Hygiene attorney. “We’re still reviewing the decision and evaluating our options.”
Those options include a petition for rehearing or calling for a writ of certiorari, which would ask to overturn the appeal decision.
Before he took office, Chostner told The Chieftain that an appeal is not automatic. “If it goes against Colorado Springs, I would certainly defend a successful case,” Chostner said in December. “If it goes against us, I would have to read the language of the opinion before making a decision.”
Colorado Springs Utilities officials were happy with the appeals court decision. “We are pleased that the Colorado Court of Appeals has ruled in support of the 401 water quality certification for SDS,” said John Fredell, SDS Program Director. “We always believed that the state Water Quality Control Division did a thorough and complete evaluation of SDS and correctly decided that it would meet state water quality standards.”
From the Colorado Springs Gazette (Monica Mendoza):
Colorado Springs Utilities has done all the necessary work to ensure that its Southern Delivery System does not wreck water quality in Fountain Creek, the Colorado Court of Appeals ruled Thursday. The ruling is a big win for the utilities’ $1 billion dollar pipeline project and creates “a clean path” for the project to continue, said Keith Riley, deputy program director for SDS. “It means we go forward as planned without adding additional mitigation,” Riley said.
From the Colorado Springs Independent (Pam Zubeck):
“Pleased” probably doesn’t even get close to the feeling of those at Colorado Springs Utilities, given a Colorado Court of Appeals ruling upholding the state’s approval of a certification for the Southern Delivery Pipeline water project. Nevertheless, that’s the word used in a news release by John Fredell, SDS program director, regarding the water quality permit issue. The ruling means a hurdle that has been cited by Pueblo County in correspondence with the Interior Department as a roadblock for SDS has been removed.
More Southern Delivery System coverage here and here.