Conway says the discussion has helped draw attention to important issues behind the movement, especially the sense of increasing alienation between rural counties and the state’s political center in Denver.
“Even if this vote is unsuccessful in some or all of the counties next Tuesday, we’ve made huge progress… in terms of pointing out what, essentially, started this,” Conway said. “We’re now at the point where everybody, including the governor – who previously didn’t acknowledge the problem – acknowledges the problem. Legislative leaders acknowledge the problem.”
If the vote does favor the effort, Conway says he expects more counties to join the breakaway movement.
“I think a lot of counties are sitting on the sidelines right now, saying ‘let’s see what happens Tuesday,’ ” Conway said. “So I think you’ll see additional counties decide to become part of this.”
If voters decline to approve the measure, Conway says they won’t press the issue. A few lawmakers are working on alternative ideas, including a plan to change the way rural, sparsely populated counties are represented at the capitol.
For Conway, the time and effort was worth it to get the message across to state leaders.
Meanwhile US Senate candidate Ken Buck is not on board with the movement. Here’s a report from Kurtis Lee writing for The Denver Post. Here’s an excerpt:
Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck said Wednesday he will vote in opposition to a rural effort to secede from Colorado and form a 51st state.
“I think the better strategy is to work to defeat the out-of-touch politicians causing this feel of separation,” said Buck, a GOP candidate in 2014 for U.S. Senate. Five Republicans have announced their candidacies and are vying to challenge incumbent Democratic U.S. Sen. Mark Udall…
“It’s a symbolic gesture,” he said of the secession plan. “But there are a lot of people who feel strongly they’re being ignored. My wife, Perry, and I are traveling around the state on weekends and that sentiment is wide spread.”
Jeffrey Hare, co-founder of 51st State Initiative, said told The Denver Post Monday many rural voters, especially in Weld County, have sent in their mail-in ballots — a good indicator they back the idea of breaking away from Colorado.
“Those early rural voters seem to us to be very motivated in getting in their ballots and supporting this initiative,” Hare told the Post. “But we’ll see on election night, of course.”
Incentives for drip irrigation, addressing water-consuming vegetation along rivers and more water storage are all needed to protect the future of agriculture in Colorado. Those were among the main points stressed by Brighton-area vegetable grower Dave Petrocco, who was asked to present during the South Platte Forum last week. The two-day forum featured discussions on all aspects of water — agriculture, oil and gas production, municipal use, climate and the ski industry.
While the event included presentations from ag experts with Colorado State University Extension and other CSU ag faculty, Petrocco was the only full-time ag producer who presented at the event. He took the opportunity to hammer home a few messages widely shared with others in the ag industry — which uses 85 percent of the state’s water. Drip irrigation, he stressed, uses 40 percent less water than traditional irrigating methods, but the upfront cost of implementing a drip system is $2,000 to $3,000 per acre. Petrocco — who has 225 of his 2,600 acres of farm ground under drip irrigation, and plans to have another 100-plus acres under drip next year — said farmers in California and Arizona have been pioneers in making the switch to drip.
“But in their climate, they have two growing seasons,” Petrocco said, explaining that with such large production each year, California and Arizona farmers can more easily recoup the costs of making the move to drip.
That’s not the case in Colorado, Petrocco said, and in a state where water on farms is routinely being sold to growing cities, those still farming in the future are going to need to make the most of their limited resources. While farmers need to gravitate to drip, he said he’d like to see the state of Colorado provide incentives for farmers to do so because of the high costs. If farmers aren’t more resourceful with their water, farm ground will continue disappearing in Colorado, he said.
With limited water and Colorado’s semi-arid climate, rapidly growing cities here have routinely bought their needed water from farmers and ranchers, leaving behind the land — an ongoing trend known as “buy and dry.” At the current rate of buy and dry, 500,000 to 700,000 acres of irrigated farm ground could be out of production by 2050, according to the Statewide Water Supply Initiative study, released in 2010.
That’s why Petrocco said he’s pushing for the state to help farmers move toward drip irrigation systems — and why he also is pushing for more water-storage projects, which would capture excess snowmelt in abundant years instead of sending more water than legally necessary across the state line to Nebraska, which has occurred in recent years.
Petrocco also stressed the need for the state to address the wild vegetation along the rivers — known as phreatophytes. A cottonwood tree, for example, can consume 1,000 gallons of water each day, maybe more, he explained. And as the trees and other vegetation have grown thicker along the rivers and continue to do so, those plants are soaking up water and depleting surface flows and groundwater levels, which could be used by agricultural, industrial or municipal users. That vegetation needs to be better controlled, he said.
Petrocco said he also believes the state’s augmentation requirements are too stringent, and they need to be re-examined. Augmentation water is needed to make up for depletions to the aquifer caused by pumping water out of the ground. Under the state’s current requirements, some farmers have struggled to afford needed augmentation water and have had their groundwater wells curtailed or shut off. But, in recent years, groundwater levels in the South Platte have risen, causing basements to flood in some areas, among other problems. Some, including Petrocco, believe groundwater wells pumping less than they once did is responsible for the aquifer being too full. The issue is now being studied by scientists at CSU.
“I firmly believe we’re over-augmenting,” said Petrocco, who, in referring to the many water challenges Colorado faces, stressed that addressing the issues won’t be easy. “We grow crops in a great place … close to the people and the markets, so there’s less transportation needed … a lot of sunshine during the day and cool nights — perfect for certain crops.
“We just need water, and we’ve got some things to figure out to make sure we have enough.”
Meanwhile the current drought in the Colorado River Basin is one of the worst in 1,200 years. Here’s a report from Matt Jenkins writing for the High Country News. Here’s an excerpt:
The current drought began in 2000, and is now entering its 14th year. When matched up against every other 14-year period since 762 A.D., it falls in the driest 2 percent of all those periods.
That means the current 14-year period is, as federal Bureau of Reclamation head Michael Connor told a Senate committee this summer, “one of the lowest in the Basin in over 1,200 years.”
That’s true, says Jeff Lukas, with the Western Water Assessment at the University of Colorado, adding that the tree rings show a half-dozen decade-or-longer droughts that were likely more severe than the current one.
What was OARS founder and president George Wendt doing on the 38th floor of Denver’s Grand Hyatt the day after the government shutdown ended, and his company was scrambling to resume raft trips on the Grand Canyon and other closed waterways? He was doing his part to ensure something even more important than river access … water.
Wendt was a panelist at the first ever Business of Water summit, hosted by nonprofit Protect the Flows, a group of nearly 1,000 businesses focused on the issue of water sustainability and responsible water consumption policies. On hand to hear keynote talks from the likes of U.S. Senator Mark Udall (D-CO) were representatives from utility companies, outfitters, marina operators and more than 35 corporations, including PepsiCo, AT&T, MGM Resorts International and New Belgium Brewing Co. sharing practices aimed at sustainable water management…
The Colorado River was recently named the most endangered river in America. Participating businesses, said Protect the Flows co-director Craig Mackey, have a vital stake in solutions to best manage the river’s widening supply and demand gap.
“The purpose of the summit is threefold,” he said. “It’s to build a forum for business leaders to network and engage on water sustainability, share business best practices, case studies and tools to promote water efficiency and conservation, and create a strong business voice and platform to advance water policy to incentivize water innovation, efficiency and conservation.”
The Colorado River, he added, is a major economic driver which, if it were a company, would rank at number 155 on Fortune 500 list, ahead of General Mills, and be the country’s 19th largest employer. It supports nearly 250,000 jobs in six states, produces $26 billion in economic output, contributes $3.2 billion in annual taxes and creates $10.4 billion in annual earnings, salaries and wages. The recently completed Colorado River Basin Study shows that water conservation efforts can yield at least 3 million acre feet of water and is the most cost-effective and easily implementable way to bring water supply and demand on the Colorado back into balance…
“We wouldn’t be in business without water in the Colorado River,” adds Wendt, echoing the sentiments of all of those in attendance.
From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Hannah Holm):
So far this year, we’re getting off to a good start. On Oct. 29, all of western Colorado’s river basins registered at least 128% of the historical median amount of water held in the form of snow for that date. Underscoring the need to not take snowpack numbers too seriously at this time of year, however, is the fact that the same set of figures showed one river basin in southern Utah at over 2000% of the median for this date! Just one week before, the same basin showed no data.
As the water year wears on, the snow numbers will get less dramatic and start to tell us more about what to expect when next spring’s runoff begins. For now, you can learn more by looking at current hydrologic conditions and long-range weather forecasts.
October so far has been a good one for precipitation in the Upper Colorado River Basin. The only areas receiving significantly less than average are in southeastern Utah, but even that area received good moisture in September. These precipitation numbers are reflected in soil and vegetation moisture levels, which are normal-to-wet across most of the Upper Colorado River Basin.
Streamflows are not quite as good, with the Colorado River at 93% of normal near the Colorado-Utah state line, the Green River at 75% of normal at Green River, and the San Juan River near Bluff at 41% of normal for this time of year.
Reservoir levels continue to show the drought conditions the region experienced in 2012 and the first part of 2013. Blue Mesa Reservoir, Colorado’s largest, is 42% full; Lake Powell, the Upper Basin’s largest is 45% full, while Navajo and Flaming Gorge are doing a bit better at 56% full and 75% full, respectively. Reservoir levels in eastern Utah are significantly lower…
Klaus Wolter, a NOAA meteorologist based at the University of Colorado, has issued an experimental forecast showing above-average snowpack for most Colorado river basins on Jan. 1; but given that most of the region’s snow typically accumulates later on, even that doesn’t tell us much about what kind of water year to expect in 2014…
Two good websites for tracking a wide range of climate data are:
Here’s the release from the American Water Works Association:
A new AWWA report updates estimated costs of an anticipated perchlorate standard being developed by the US Environmental Protection Agency.
The new cost-impact assessment updates a 2009 review by including additional treatment strategies and accounting for regulatory limits already in place in California and Massachusetts.
In addition to ion exchange, this assessment considers also costs associated with blending, source abandonment and development of new sources. In all, the estimated national compliance costs for a perchlorate maximum contaminant level ranging from 2 to 24 ppb is smaller than estimated compliance costs for other drinking water regulations.
There’s room in a $900 million water pipeline project for all sorts of businesses. Even brick-makers.
Joe Welte, whose grandfather founded Summit Brick and Tile in Pueblo in 1902, gave a brief account of his family’s business at Tuesday’s celebration for local contractors who have worked on the Southern Delivery System. The event also marked the beginning of work on the Juniper Pump Station, the final piece of SDS construction in Pueblo County. He concluded with a story about his brother Tom’s visit to an elementary school, where he asked students to build a wall using either klinkers — bricks deformed by heat — or straight bricks. The students chose straight bricks, saying the wall would tumble with klinkers on the foundation.
“Whether you are starting an education, planning your life or building for our water future, make sure that you use straight brick at the bottom,” Welte said.
Summit Brick is one of about 100 local companies that are benefiting from contracts for SDS, a water delivery pipeline from Pueblo Dam to Colorado Springs that also benefits Pueblo West. Its part is relatively small: 50,000 4-by-4-by-12-inch bricks for the facade of the Juniper Pump Station, which amounts to about two days’ production.
“With the downturn in the economy, this came at a good time,” Welte said.
The bricks played a symbolic role at Tuesday’s event, as representatives of local companies build a wall and received commemorative bricks — made in Pueblo County, of course.
The largest amount of local contracts went to ASI Constructors, which holds three contracts for $50 million. The company builds dams and other water projects all over the world.
“It’s not often that we get to participate in a project of this magnitude in our own backyard,” ASI President John Bowen said.
He touted the safety of the project, 68,000 man-hours without a lost-time accident, and economic benefit, $800,000 in wages, for his company alone.
Government officials from both El Paso and Pueblo counties, including newly elected state Sens. George Rivera of Pueblo and Bernie Herpin of Colorado Springs, attended the event as well.
From the Colorado Springs Independent (Pam Zubeck):
On Tuesday, the city kicked off construction of the Juniper pump station not far from the outlet from the dam that was built earlier as part of SDS. It’s one of three pump stations that, according to Colorado Springs Utilities, represent some of the largest components of the project; cumulatively, they’ll cost $76.5 million. A third of that will go to Colorado contractors. The prime contractor is Archer Western Constructors of Arlington, Texas.
To update, here are some notes on SDS’ progress, provided by Springs Utilities:
• The SDS pump stations will move water 1,500 feet in elevation from Pueblo Dam to the new water treatment plant under construction in El Paso County. At full capacity, SDS will be able to transport up to 96 million gallons of water per day (MGD) – 18 MGD to Pueblo West and the remaining 78 MGD to the El Paso County partner communities of Colorado Springs, Security and Fountain.
• Garney Construction of Kansas City, Mo., is installing a 0.3-mile, 90-inch-diameter pipeline that will link Pueblo Dam to the Pueblo West Metropolitan District and other project partners. After Colorado Springs, Pueblo West is the second leading beneficiary of the SDS project.
• Major SDS construction work commenced in Pueblo County in 2011 with the start of the new connection to Pueblo Dam. Since then 18 miles of pipe have been installed in Pueblo County and a total of 42 total miles installed project-wide. Recently, the SDS pipeline construction project through Pueblo West was recognized by Engineering News Record as the Best Water Project in 2013 for the mountain states region.
• Construction of the nearly $1 billion project is resulting in significant benefits to the local economy. To date, more than 300 companies and organizations in Colorado have helped plan and construct SDS, including 100 in Pueblo County. Of the more than $362 million spent to plan and build SDS, more than $289 million has gone to Colorado companies.
When complete, the Juniper water pump station in Pueblo will have many motors and one of them will have the horsepower of four Formula 1 racing cars.
It will need it to pump water 1,500 feet in elevation from Pueblo Reservoir to Pueblo West, Fountain, Security and Colorado Springs. Juniper station at Lake Pueblo State Park will be one of three water pump stations needed to move up to 96 million gallons of water up hill 53 miles in the Colorado Springs Utilities’ Southern Delivery System pipeline…
The entire $1 billion project is expected to be completed by April 2016 and could pump 5 million gallons daily at first but with eventual capacity to pump up to 96 million gallons daily.
From the Colorado Springs Business Journal (Rebecca Tonn):
The Southern Delivery System starts construction of the Juniper Pump Station at Lake Pueblo State Park and the last remaining section of pipeline in Pueblo County on [October 29, 2013]. Area businesses that will perform work or provide materials to build SDS components in the county will participate in a brick-laying ceremony, from 2 – 3 p.m.
More Southern Delivery System coverage here and here.
More storage is needed to prevent flooding and provide certainty for Western agriculture during droughts, U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton said Tuesday.
“Without the ability to store the water that falls on Colorado’s slopes, the West as we know it would not exist,” Tipton said during a House water and power subcommittee hearing.
The committee heard testimony from water experts, including a hydrologist, a state regulator from Oregon, a Trout Unlimited lawyer and a farmer on how federal red tape in water projects could be reduced.
“There has never been a more prescient time for development of water projects,” said hydrologist Robert Shibatani of Sacramento, Calif. He made the case for storing excess flows of water in any basin where they exist.
Witnesses urged more multi-purpose projects that meet environmental, flood control and supply for cities and farms.
Committee members agreed on the need for more storage, but differed in approach. Democrats said other approaches such as conservation or market approaches that don’t increase federal spending to be developed more fully. Tipton and other Republicans said federal regulations have hindered water development that could have benefited Colorado.
“Unfortunately, radical groups have failed to realize the potential environmental benefits from increased storage and have held up the development of new projects with endless litigation and a variety of other tactics,” Tipton said.
Tipton said more storage is needed to avoid continued dry-up of agriculture.
“Colorado farmers and ranchers have been enticed to sell over 191,000 acre-feet of water for municipal and industrial use since 1987,” Tipton said, adding that farmers who now rely on leases from cities found their supplies cut back this year as cities sought to replenish their storage.
“The growing West needs new water projects and the federal government should be fostering a regulatory environment that encourages new surface storage production rather than stifling these efforts,” Tipton said.