Metro District Honored for Excellance in Innovation

Metro Wastewater Bob Hite Treatment Plant
Metro Wastewater Bob Hite Treatment Plant

Here’s the release from the Metro Wastewater Reclamation District (Kelley Merritt):

The Water Environment Research Foundation honored Metro Wastewater Reclamation District this week with the Award for Excellence in Innovation for advancing new technology at the Robert W. Hite Treatment Facility (RWHTF).

The District was recognized for collaboration with the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago to explore and evaluate a shortcut in the wastewater treatment process.

Through shared participation in the studies, both utilities were able to reduce research costs and stretch resources.

The award recognizes organizations that have made improvements to wastewater and stormwater collection, storage or treatment operations, facilities, or processes by applying WERF research.
Chairman of the Board Margaret R. Medellin, District Manager Catherine R. Gerali, RWHTF Director of Operations and Maintenance Steve Rogowski, and Operations Officer Jim McQuarrie accepted the award at WEFTEC 2013, held in Chicago this week.

Over a six-month period in 2012, the nearly $205,000 pilot study was developed at the Metro District to determine if the unique approach would be a solution for long-term nutrient removal needs.

The study showed the treatment outcome with the new process was as effective as conventional approaches, but the results were achieved much more efficiently.

The Metro District was formed under Colorado law in 1961 and is the largest wastewater treatment agency in the Rocky Mountain West. It provides wholesale wastewater transmission and treatment service to 59 local governments, including cities, sanitation districts, and water and sanitation districts. They, in turn, provide retail wastewater service to about 1.7 million people in a 715 square-mile service area in metropolitan Denver.

More wastewater coverage here and here.

Flood relief dough is starting to flow #COflood

Flood damage Big Thompson Canyon September 2013 -- photo via Northern Water
Flood damage Big Thompson Canyon September 2013 — photo via Northern Water

From email from Northern Water:

    CWCB Flood Recovery Grant Program

The Colorado Water Conservation Board has approved a $1.65‐million grant for flood recovery purposes, with Northern Water acting as the fiscal agent to administer the Program under the purview of the CWCB.

Grant awards can fund up to 75 percent of project costs that are not reimbursed from other funding sources, up to $25,000 per project for technical services, or up to $20,000 per project for shovel‐ready projects. Water users may be awarded a maximum of $100,000 for any combination of up to five projects.

    Eligible applicants

Eligible applicants include agricultural, domestic, municipal, and/or industrial water users in the South Platte River basin impacted by the September 2013 floods. Neighboring water users are encouraged to work collaboratively to minimize costs and cooperatively address river re‐channelization or relocation.

    Eligible projects

The purpose of this grant is to provide “seed money” for restoration and rehabilitation projects by facilitating document preparation required for CWCB or other loan applications that are necessary to fund the full cost of needed repairs, and to fund initial construction to assist efforts to get back online temporarily or permanently. Grants could be used to further determine the best course for restoring the river channel.

Examples of allowable projects for this short‐term assistance may include, but are not limited to, technical assistance for and/or construction of:

‐ Stream re‐channelization
‐ Diversion structures
‐ Headgates
‐ Conveyance structures
‐ Pipelines
‐ Ditch repair or cleanup

    Timing: Application review and award cycle

Northern Water will begin accepting applications on October 14, 2013. Applications, whether hard copy or electronic, must be received by Northern Water before 4:30 PM on the deadline date. The application and review process will repeat every two weeks until grant funds are exhausted. The table below shows these dates, with an example of four cycles…

*Because cycles are to continue until funds are exhausted, the actual number of cycles could be less or more based on availability of funds.

Contact information and forms
Find more information about the grant program, including the application form and instructions, by:

‐ Visiting Northern Water’s website, http://www.northernwater.org
‐ E‐mailing FloodRecoveryGrantProgram@northernwater.org
‐ Calling Jerry Gibbens or Amy Johnson at Northern Water, 800‐369‐7246

From The Greeley Tribune (Eric Brown):

Colorado officials have made available $15 million for low-interest loans and another $1.65 million in grants to help water providers start repairing systems that were damaged in last month’s historic flooding.

Those announcements were made at a recent meeting of the South Platte Roundtable — consisting of experts from the South Platte River basin, who meet every other month, sometimes more frequently, to discuss water issues in the region.

The meeting, the group’s first since last month’s floods, drew a larger crowd than normal and featured discussions on funding recovery efforts.

Nearly all agricultural irrigation ditches, reservoir companies and other water providers in the region experienced damage along their systems — ditches, dykes, gravel pits, canals, head gates and other diversion structures along the rivers that were washed out or destroyed and now need to be repaired, or even rebuilt.

Water officials at the meeting acknowledged that the $15 million in emergency loans and $1.6 million in grants would only be “a drop in the bucket” compared to the large amount of dollars needed to complete all of the repairs in the region.

Frank Eckhardt, a board member with the Central Colorado Water Conservancy District in Greeley, said at the meeting his district alone has about $1 million in needed repairs.

While the dollar amount may be small, officials stressed they wanted to free up some dollars quickly, so water providers could get started on the repairs, which need to be done before next spring, when water providers will need to capture mountain snowmelt in their reservoirs, and then deliver water to farmers starting to grow crops.

Officials with the Colorado Water Conservancy Board — an organization created about 75 years ago to provide policy direction on water issues in the state — is providing the $15 million in emergency loans and $1.5 million of the $1.65 million in grants.

The South Platte Roundtable unanimously agreed at its meeting this week to contribute $150,000 to the grant pot, bringing the total in grant dollars available to $1.65 million.

The Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District in Berthoud will serve as the “financial agent” for the grants.

Eric Wilkinson, general manger at Northern Water, explained at the meeting that the grants distributed wouldn’t exceed $25,000, although each water provider could receive up to five grants.

He further noted that, with $25,000 being the maximum, the grants would ideally go toward technical assistance, such as consulting with engineers and other experts, rather than going toward the actual construction work.

The CWCB is handling requests for the $15 million available for emergency loans.

The CWCB will offer 30-year loans, which for three years will carry zero percent interest with no payments required. The following 27 years of the loan payments will include interest based on current rates.

The CWCB’s loans typically require a 10 percent down payment but that’s not required for the $15 million the CWCB recently freed up.

Applications for emergency loans are due by Wednesday, and based on the expected volume of requests, Kirk Russell, the finance and administration chief with the CWCB, said the organization will look to free up more dollars to loan out.

Discussions of doing so will take place during an Oct. 21 meeting of the CWCB, he noted.

Loan applications will also be considered for approval during the Oct. 21 meeting.

The next application deadline for emergency loan funding will be Nov. 1, with those applications being considered at a CWCB meeting in November.

Washed out: Denver Water recovers from floods

Mile High Water Talk

By Ann Baker, Communications and Marketing

The first night it started flooding, the caretakers, who live and work at Gross Reservoir climbed the hill and stayed awake most of the night, watching Advent Creek swarm their houses and office.

They tried to sleep the second night, “but we were too busy watching that garage door — that was our gauge for the water level,” said caretaker Steve Bauman.

When one of the worst storms in Colorado history submerged the Front Range in mid-September, it tore through the northern part of Denver Water’s collection system, forcing two treatment plants offline, reservoirs to swell and access roads to crumble in half.

The storm bumped up water storage 6 percentage points, the largest September increase in our current supply system’s history, said Bob Peters, water resource engineer. And so much rain water slid into Ralston Reservoir after operators turned off the South Boulder…

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‘We’re getting more students talking about water, understanding where their water comes from’ — Dave Miller

Students pulling samples
Students pulling samples
From the Keystone Science School:

H2O OUTDOORS

Fall 2013 Session: November 13-15

Fall 2013 Brochure

H2O Outdoors is a three-day, standards based, educational camp held at the Keystone Science School campus. The program, sponsored by Keystone Science School, Colorado River District, Aurora Water and Denver Water, is open to all Colorado high school students.

H2OThe aim of the program is to help students understand the issues and questions surrounding Colorado’s water resources and how the decision-making process works in real life. Students will experience firsthand where Colorado’s water comes from, learn about Colorado’s water law while hiking the Continental Divide, and conduct hands-on water quality experiments as they explore and observe their watershed. They’ll also meet experts representing actual stakeholder groups, and collaborate with fellow students to create water management policy recommendations. At the close of the program, students will present their findings during a “town hall” style dialogue.

Keystone Science School provides meals and dorm-style housing for all students and chaperones. Thanks to generous sponsorships from the Colorado River District, Aurora Water and Denver Water, the program is offered at no charge to participants and requires only a nominal administrative fee. Our goal is to create a program with a diverse geographic representation of students across Colorado.

Watch this video produced by our partners at Aurora Water!

From the Sky-Hi Daily News (Leia Larsen):

Through a hands-on three-day camp held at the Keystone Science School, students will learn where Colorado’s water comes from and the intricacies of the state’s water law. The school started the program, called H20 Outdoors, in 2009. This year, the school will be accepting 60 applicants, doubling its amount of participants from years past…

Hiking through the Continental Divide, students will conduct water quality experiments and study their watershed. They’ll meet with actual water stakeholders in Colorado, including Denver Water and the Colorado River District. They’ll assume stakeholder roles and work with fellow students to create their own water management recommendations.

“That’s really something that makes this program different,” Miller said. “Students are given a stakeholder role, and assume that role through the whole program and exploring things through that lens.”

More education coverage here.

‘I don’t intend to sit back and watch the daisies grow’ — Pat Mulroy #ColoradoRiver

Pat Mulroy via The Earth Institute at Columbia University
Pat Mulroy photo via The Earth Institute at Columbia University

From the Las Vegas Sun (Conor Shine):

In the early months of the new century, life was good for Pat Mulroy.

A years-long and often contentious battle over Nevada’s right to excess water that roared down the Colorado River, through Lake Mead and into California, was nearing a resolution. Mulroy’s tenacious negotiating and relentless politicking, traits that would come to define her career, had her and all of Southern Nevada poised for a momentous victory that would allow the region a share of the river surplus and the fuel for continued growth.

“There was probably a four-month window in 2000 when I could have said: ‘OK. The world is wonderful. I’m putting on my rose-colored glasses and I’m done,’” Mulroy said. “I miss those four months.”

In the nine years since 1991, when she became general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority, Mulroy already had made more progress raising the region’s stature among Colorado River players than any Las Vegas water official had in the previous 60 years.

But unknown to Mulroy and other water officials along the Colorado River, a drought of unprecedented severity was taking hold in the western United States.

“We were happily overusing the Colorado River in 2000 and 2001. I took a resource plan to the board that showed we had a reliable 50-year water supply and then … whammo,” she said…

There’s still more to be written about the future of water in a region besieged by drought, but Mulroy’s days as a central character are numbered. After 24 years at the helm of the Las Vegas Valley Water District and then SNWA, Mulroy, 60, announced last month her retirement…

Her prowess helped Nevada earn respect among Colorado River states and transformed once-wasteful local water districts into a unified organization recognized nationally for its conservation efforts.

“We may only have only 2 or 3 million people in Nevada, but she has an equal voice on the Colorado River as the 37 million people in California,” said Sen. Harry Reid, a longtime Mulroy ally. “They have to respect us because of her.”

Mulroy’s legacy will be tied to the success of the sprawling metropolis she helped water, the billions the authority spent doing it and the environmental costs of a controversial grab for groundwater in rural Nevada.

“Mulroy was not here when they first pumped water out of Lake Mead and into Las Vegas. It wasn’t supposed to be our main water supply, and now of course we are utterly dependent on it. That’s not her fault; her job is to make the water flow, and she’s done that,” said historian Michael Green, a professor at College of Southern Nevada. He places Mulroy in a category alongside Reid, casino magnate Steve Wynn and others for their impact on Southern Nevada. “You can argue about what she did, but you can’t argue that she did it.”[…]

From its founding in 1991 until 1999, the authority’s budget grew from $600,000 to roughly $150 million. Today, its operating budget is $454 million. New pipelines, pumping stations and treatment facilities were needed to keep up with the constant influx of new residents.

Mulroy successfully persuaded voters in 1998 to approve a 0.25 percent increase in the county sales tax to pay for construction. With Reid’s help, Mulroy got a portion of the millions made each year from federal land sales around Las Vegas diverted to SNWA. The funds helped fuel a $2.1 billion expansion of water treatment and delivery systems, a spending binge that 15 years later residents are just starting to feel through rate hikes.

Like many critical decisions throughout her career, Mulroy insists necessity forced the water system expansion…

Her efforts put California on notice and positioned the Golden State as a water-hogging, water-wasting villain.

“The beginnings were pretty rocky. We were the ones with the most to lose,” said Jeff Kightlinger, general manager of Southern California’s Metropolitan Water District. “She was tough and she was calling us out, saying that we were not being responsible players on the river. I remember pushing back on her: ‘You’re a city in the desert; you don’t need to be telling Southern California what we should do.’”

Mulroy found an ally in Bruce Babbitt, interior secretary under President Bill Clinton and a former Arizona governor. Babbitt had once represented the rural Nevada counties opposing Mulroy’s groundwater grab, but the two found common ground in reining in California.

Negotiations on the river dragged in the late 1990s. Concerns were addressed, compromises were made.

“Pat is a very strong-willed person. She’s very upfront and very outspoken. Some people would say a little bit over the top at times,” said David Modeer, general manager of the Central Arizona Project, which provides water to large portions of Arizona, including Phoenix. “The bottom line with Pat is she is always willing to reach an equitable compromise.”

Deliberations resulted in a pair of landmark deals formalized in 2001 — one requiring California to share surpluses as long as the Colorado was flush and another allowing Nevada to bank part of its unused allocation in Arizona, building up a savings for a non-rainy day…

Dire circumstances called for drastic, expensive measures that Mulroy again said were the only available choices. Among the most visible was the authority’s “cash for grass” program, which provided $165 million worth of rebates to consumers who replaced their water-thirsty lawns with efficient xeriscaping. More than 130 million square feet of turf were ripped up, forever altering the suburban landscape but saving 7 billion gallons of water each year.

Consumption fell from an annual high of 330,000 acre-feet of water to 234,000 acre-feet — even while the valley’s population grew by 400,000 people…

With the Colorado’s ability to meet Southern Nevada’s water needs in question, the authority restarted its plans to build a pipeline to siphon groundwater from four rural counties, this time reducing its scope to target five valleys.

Ranchers, environmentalists and rural elected leaders objected.

“She’s really been hard to nail down on exactly what is she going to do up here. How much is the project going to cost? It’s been difficult to get into a real discussion with them,” said Gary Perea, a former White Pine County commissioner. “We are going to have all of the negative effects and none of the positives.”

Mulroy plowed ahead, driven again by what she saw as necessity.

“It’s not a matter of right or wrong, it’s the only solution. The one thing I’ve said over and over again is give me another solution that works,” Mulroy said.

She had her supporters, too.

“It wasn’t as if she has had a royal flush and she could pick whatever cards she wanted. She had very few hands,” Reid said. “She did the best she could. When it’s all over and done with, it will be good for the whole state.”

If the project clears legal battles, the debt-strapped agency still would need to find a way to pay for the pipeline, which is estimated to cost at least $3.2 billion…

Rapidly dropping levels at Lake Mead forced construction of a third intake straw to ensure the authority can draw from its biggest water source.

The project has since gone $200 million over budget, to $800 million. Paying for it wouldn’t have been a problem had the recession not halted the valley’s growth and, with it, the continuous stream of connection fees that had fueled the previous decade’s boom.

Over four years, the authority’s connection fee revenue, its main way of paying for new construction, dropped 98 percent from a high of $188 million to a recession low of just $3 million.

This pinch forced the authority to draw down reserves and delay projects. With the economy still sputtering and debt payments set to ratchet up, the authority turned to a rate hike in 2012. Mulroy describes the increase as the biggest, if not the only, regret of her career.

“We tried so hard to protect the community in 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011. We refinanced debt. We lived off our reserves. We probably pushed it too far.”

Included in the rate increase was a surcharge on rarely used fire lines — special dedicated water lines that provide more water pressure in case of a fire. Businesses previously hadn’t paid for those lines, and the surcharge led to the tripling of some customers’ water bills — several thousand dollars in some cases.

After community outcry, the authority cut the surcharge in half. A citizens committee’s subsequent review and endorsement of the reduced surcharge was proof, Mulroy said, it was the right and necessary course of action, even if it could have been handled better…

“If we hadn’t have had to go out and essentially spend almost another $1 billion on the third intake that has no growth component to it, we would have had a slight rate increase but never what we had in 2012,” she said. “We’re not the only water utility in the country that’s building facilities that we never thought we’d have to in order to adapt.”[…]

It’s in the international forum that Mulroy hopes to write her next chapter.

She said she’s developed a deep compassion for the social and humanitarian impacts of global water access.

“I took a job and found a passion,” she said. “I am convinced that one of society’s primary challenges over the course of the next 60 or 70 years is going to be water resources. The struggle is we have 19th-century infrastructure and 19th-century attitudes that aren’t equipped to deal with what’s ahead. I don’t intend to sit back and watch the daisies grow.”

More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.

Fountain Creek: ‘We certainly have to plan for more than a 10-20 year event’ — Dennis Hisey

Fountain Creek Watershed via the Colorado Springs Gazette
Fountain Creek Watershed via the Colorado Springs Gazette

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A special district formed to improve Fountain Creek should be looking at what it would take to build a large flood control dam, officials from two counties agreed Thursday.

“I don’t think it’s too early to begin looking at a dam, when you look at the events up north,” Pueblo County Commissioner Sal Pace said during a workshop with El Paso County and Colorado Springs officials.

Smaller retention ponds in Boulder and Larimer counties were overrun by the force of water from 500-year storms, while larger dams in the Denver area held, Pace said.

“There is a lesson to be learned. Do we need a large flood control structure on Fountain Creek?” Pace asked.

“In my view, that has to be driven by science and the Fountain Creek district needs to be involved in it,” said Dennis Hisey, an El Paso County commissioner. “We certainly have to plan for more than a 10-20 year event.”

The U.S. Geological Survey is completing a study for the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District that shows a large dam is equally effective as 44 small retention ponds.

The cost of building and operating either type of system remains an unknown.

“I hope our next step (for the Fountain Creek district) is to look at the cost of each of the options,” said Terry Hart, chairman of the Pueblo County commission.

“If an event (like last month’s Northern Colorado storms) hit us next season, it would be incredibly devastating to all of our jurisdictions,” Hart said.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The Army Corps of Engineers is being asked to repair a project it completed just four years ago to stabilize a critical portion of bank along Fountain Creek in Pueblo. Repairs made in 2009 washed out during a Sept. 13 storm that also damaged other portions of Fountain Creek throughout the city of Pueblo. The Corps repairs would be in addition to an estimated $200,000 of work by the city in the Fountain Creek channel.

“I don’t know how long the process would be,” said Daryl Wood, Pueblo stormwater coordinator. “We’ll rely on the Corps to rebuild the embankment.”

The washout occurred on about 165 feet of a wire-wrapped levee at 13th Street. The area is critical, because the bank is just a few feet away from Union Pacific railroad tracks and a few yards from the 13th Street interchange of Interstate 25. The railroad has been notified.

While the Fountain Creek levee protects the Downtown area, washouts could affect its effectiveness at that point. Fountain Creek hits and departs the bank at a 90-degree angle under the current alignment. The Corps would have to decide if the alignment of the waterway could be changed through that section.

Prior to 1999, Fountain Creek flowed parallel to the area. Some large boulders set to protect the 13th Street area washed out in subsequent storms, and the wire-wrapped rip-rap that replaced them washed out this year.

The Eighth Street Bridge is located just downstream and several large trees were left strewn in the channel after the Sept. 13 storms, creating the potential for clogging the waterway as well.

“When the storm happened on Sept. 13, there were 2.8 inches of rain above Pueblo in a 24-hour period,” said Will Trujillo, levee safety program manager for the Corps. “In spot locations, there were 12-13 inches of rain.

When we receive that type of storm we notify any public sponsor in that section.”

The sponsor in this case is the city of Pueblo, which now has the job of detailing the damage to the project.

The Corps will schedule an inspection, determine the extent of damage and make any needed repairs, Trujillo said.

More Fountain Creek coverage here and here.