Snowpack news: The storms over the weekend boosted snowpack in southwestern Colorado #COdrought

From the Sky-Hi Daily News (Cindy Kleh):

[Winter Park Resort’s] snow total for the entire season stands at 376 inches – more than 31 feet – the most since 2011, according to Steve Hurlbert, Winter Park’s Director of Public Relations and Communications. “We were 28 inches ahead of our historical average of 348 inches, which dates back to when snow records began being kept in 1976. In March, we had 61.5 inches and April finished strong with 37.5 inches, which is almost exactly average (for April).”

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Snow has started melting, but water officials still expect a banner spring runoff.

“We’re running water through the Boustead Tunnel, and the native flows in the Arkansas River basin have picked up,” said Roy Vaughan, manager of the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project for the Bureau of Reclamation.

Snowpack in Colorado dropped to 102 percent of median this week after temperatures rose last week, but peak levels still finished above average.

“The normal peak is April 10, and we were well above average at that time,” Vaughan said. “The Snotel sites can be misleading, because a lot of that snow stays deep in the canyons.”

Nevertheless, runoff is occurring sooner than usual. So far, the Fry-Ark Project has moved 900 acre-feet of a projected 73,800 acre-feet from the Fryingpan River basin to the Arkansas basin.

“In 2009, we had moved 700 acre-feet by this time. It’s to be expected in a big year,” Vaughan said.

Typically, the heaviest flows in the tunnel will continue through June, and more can come through from summer rains or late runoff. The projection of 73,800 acre-feet for the Fry-Ark project was made April 1 and assumed normal precipitation on top of the already abundant snowpack. Since then, there have been several storms over the area. A new forecast will be made this week. Average Fry-Ark imports are about 54,000 acre-feet. Last year, about 47,000 acre-feet were brought into the basin.

With warmer temperatures Arkansas River flows increased last week to nearly double the previous flows. About one-sixth of the flows upstream from Lake Pueblo is water being released by Reclamation to make room for this year’s imports.

Weekly Climate, Water and Drought Assessment of the Upper #ColoradoRiver Basin


I let you readers down. I failed to post the assessment from last week’s NIDIS webinar. Mea culpa.

Click here to go to the NIDIS website hosted by the Colorado Climate Center.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.

Denver Water: Waterton Canyon will be closed May 6-9 to reduce dust on canyon road

The Southern Delivery System is on time and under budget, according to @CSUtilities

The new north outlet works at Pueblo Dam -- Photo/MWH Global
The new north outlet works at Pueblo Dam — Photo/MWH Global

From the Colorado Springs Business Journal (Marija B. Vader):

Wayne Vanderschuere, general manager of the Colorado Springs Utilities water services division, said the Southern Delivery System will be completed on schedule and $150 million under the original budgeted amount.

More Southern Delivery System coverage here and here.

Denver, Aurora and Colorado Springs all utilize non-potable irrigation in city operations

Metropolitan Wastewater Reclamation District Hite plant outfall via South Platte Coalition for Urban River Evaluation
Metropolitan Wastewater Reclamation District Hite plant outfall via South Platte Coalition for Urban River Evaluation

From the Colorado Springs Business Journal (Marija B. Vader):

Colorado Springs Utilities, along with Denver Water and the city of Aurora, all reuse a significant amount of water after it has gone through a treatment plant. It’s called non-potable water and as such is not acceptable for public consumption, cooking or bathing.

The wastewater system collects all the water from homes and businesses, then treats it to conditions set by the state health department. In most treatment centers throughout the state, the treated, non-potable water is then released back to the river or source whence it came. In Colorado Springs, Denver and Aurora, that water is recaptured and reused to water golf courses, public parks, cemeteries and the like. The systems do not extend to residential uses.

“The cost is extremely prohibitive to build such a system,” said Steve Berry of CSU. “Most customers would not tolerate the rate impact.” A system would cost in the hundreds of millions of dollars, he added…

The non-potable system in Colorado Springs provides a capacity of 13 million gallons a day during the summer. The Colorado Springs system has 26 miles of distribution pipelines that stretch to Bear Creek Regional Park, Kissing Camels Golf Course, Patty Jewett Golf Course, the U.S. Olympic Training Center, Peak Vista Community Health Centers, El Paso County, Memorial Park, Evergreen Cemetery, Colorado College, Valley Hi Golf Course and others. This program was put together beginning in 1961. Utilities’ charge for non-potable water is significantly less than for treated water.

Aurora’s non-potable system is used to irrigate parks, said Greg Baker, manager of public relations for the Aurora Water Department.

“It’s 5 million gallons a day we can save from potable use,” Baker said. The city’s irrigation season stretches from May 1 through Oct. 30.

“It makes perfect sense,” Baker said. “We don’t always want to apply potable water for irrigation.”

Denver’s non-potable system has a current capacity of 30 million gallons a day, expandable to 45 million gallons a day. The distribution system includes more than 50 miles of pipe with two major pump stations and storage tanks, according to Denver Water’s website. The system began operating in 2004, and when the recycled water system build-out is complete, Denver Water’s recycled supply will account for about 5 percent of the city’s total water volume annually, according to Travis Thompson, media coordinator for Denver Water.

More wastewater coverage here and here.

Snowpack/runoff news

Statewide snow water equivalent as a percent of normal April 28, 2014 via the NRCS
Statewide snow water equivalent as a percent of normal April 28, 2014 via the NRCS

From the Longmont Times-Call (Scott Rochat):

Longmont workers and residents have kept a closer eye on both Left Hand Creek and the St. Vrain River during the last week, when the annual spring runoff of mountain snowmelt began.

During a regular inspection for the water division, Longmont city workers spotted flood debris clogging a stretch of the creek near the 1300 block of Missouri Avenue. Such debris has been a special concern since a blocked channel could lead to more flooding…

In September’s flood, water from Left Hand Creek turned Missouri Avenue into a small river. The flooding left large amounts of mud in the nearby Southmoor Park neighborhood, but city officials and neighbors said afterward that damage would have been even worse without the flood-control improvements that the city made to the creek last summer.

Flows in Left Hand Creek were at 87 cubic feet per second Monday evening, according to online information from the Colorado Division of Water Resources. Levels in its parent stream, the St. Vrain River, were at about 350 cfs at midday — higher than average for the Longmont area at this time of year, according to public works director Dale Rademacher — but had fallen to 307 cfs Monday evening.

2014 Colorado legislation: SB14-103 approved with just one Republican vote #COleg

Low flow toilet cutout via The Ultimate Handyman
Low flow toilet cutout via The Ultimate Handyman

From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

It seems like sneering at apple pie, motherhood, and blue skies. Why would you vote against water-efficient plumbing fixtures?

Nonetheless, S.B. 14-103 was approved by the Colorado Legislature with just one Republican vote. The bill would require that only those plumbing fixtures certified under the WaterSense program can be sold in Colorado as of Sept. 1, 2016.

A representative of Gov. John Hickenlooper said on April 25 that the governor plans to canvas water leaders around the state to understand the impacts to water use and conservation…

Denver Water, the primary proponent of the efficiency legislation, estimates that broad adoption of the water-efficient toilets, urinals, shower heads, and faucets will produce 40,000 acre-feet of savings across Colorado by 2050. The agency serves a quarter of residential customers in Colorado.

“Every conversation about water should start with conservation,” says Greg Fisher, manager of demand planning for Denver Water, parroting a line used by Hickenlooper (and probably many others).

Denver has significantly reduced per-capita consumption in the last 40 years. In the early 1980s, Denver Water coined the word “xeriscaping” to embody the idea of using plants and grasses native to the climate, to minimize the amount of outdoor irrigation at homes.

The drought of 2002 drove Denver to insist, not merely encourage, cutbacks to outdoor use. After the immediate threat ebbed, however, customers generally stuck with their new ways. Residential use in Denver and its service areas in close-in suburbs now averages 85 gallons per capita per day. That’s a 20 percent reduction since the start of the 21st century, but Denver hopes to squeeze another 2 percent of reduction in the next couple years.

Change-outs of indoor plumbing fixtures have helped shrink the per-capita use, says Fisher. Using rebates and assistance to low-income residents, Denver has retrofitted 135,000 toilets in its service area since 2003. The city’s WaterSense Challenge program also provides multifamily customers bulk discounts on toilets, faucet aerators, and showerheads. Field technicians in the agency’s commercial audits replace showerheads and faucet aerators free of charge.

While outdoor use is responsible for roughly three-quarters of residential water use, indoor plumbing changes can yield perhaps surprising savings…

At a House of Representatives committee hearing in March, Republicans questioned why Colorado needs a “one size fits all” approach to water efficiency. The general tone was that government had no right getting involved in people’s bathrooms. One of those committee members, Don Coram, a Republican from Montrose, later told a gathering in Durango that he opposed the bill because it wouldn’t save much water and it was impossible to enforce, according to a report in the Durango Herald.

Fisher had first taken the idea of water-efficiency standards to legislators two years ago, but admits now that he wasn’t ready to answer all the questions. This time, he says, he was ready, and his core argument was that more efficiency does not preclude consumer choices…

WaterSense-labeled toilets use 20 percent less water per flush but perform as well or better than today’s standard toilets and older toilets that use much more water.

Toilets once needed 7 gallons of water per flush. That dropped to 3.5 gallons and then, by 1996, 1.6 gallons. Now, all toilets certified by WaterSense use 1.28 gallons or less, with some models using as little as 0.8 gallons per flush.

WaterSense-certified bathroom faucets outfitted with aerators can save 30 percent.

Why mandate WaterSense fixtures? Building codes have begun requiring greater efficiency. And consumers at The Home Depot and other places are buying them on their own…

Fisher said Denver Water decided that mandates were needed to capture the entire market, retail and wholesale, and accelerate the pace of adoption.

“If we felt comfortable that the market was going to take care of this in the near future, I don’t think we would have seen the need for the bill,” says Fisher.

But he also said that Denver, in its strategies, wants to emphasize that lifestyles need not be sacrificed even as greater efficiencies are wrung out of water supplies…

This is just one of a trio of bills aimed at increasing water conservation and efficiency that were introduced in the Colorado Legislature this year. The most controversial was introduced by Sen. Ellen Roberts, the lone Republican to cross the partisan aisle to vote for the efficiency mandate. Based in Durango, she proposed strict limits on lawn sizes in any subdivision using new imports of water in cases where farms had been dried up for municipal supplies. The idea was sent to an interim summer committee for further consideration.

Yet another bill, introduced by Sen. Gail Schwartz, a Democrat from Snowmass Village, would have allowed legal transfer of water saved by farmers and ranchers through improved efficiencies. Under her original proposal in S.B. 14-023, the saved water could have been donated as dedicated instream-flow right in the rivers and creeks. It reportedly has run into opposition because of various concerns.

More 2014 Colorado legislation coverage here.

Pueblo County approves funding for Fountain Creek District, CO Supreme Court will not hear county lawsuit

Fountain Creek Watershed
Fountain Creek Watershed

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A plan to fund a study of either a dam or series of detention ponds on Fountain Creek is now in the hands of Colorado Springs City Council. Pueblo County commissioners Monday approved prepayment of $291,000 in interest payments by Colorado Springs Utilities to the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District. Part of that, about $60,000, would fund the next phase of a dam study on Fountain Creek. Last week, the district narrowed that effort to compare either a dam or series of detention ponds to reduce the impact of Fountain Creek floods on Pueblo. The money would be an advance payment on $50 million Utilities pledged to pay the district for Fountain Creek dam studies under its 1041 agreement with Pueblo County for its Southern Delivery System.

Colorado Springs already has prepaid $600,000 of that to the Fountain Creek district. If it agrees to pay another $291,000, Pueblo County will deduct that amount from the $50 million as well, under the resolution passed Monday.

“CSU staff was recommending not paying (the interest), because they said, ‘We don’t see what we’re getting,’ ” said Terry Hart, chairman of the commissioners. “We see an enormous benefit to the district in converting this drainage ditch into an amenity that everyone, including Colorado Springs, can enjoy.”

Utilities is controlled by the Colorado Springs City Council, however. Last week, Hart received assurances from Colorado Springs Councilman Val Snider that the payment would be examined.

“I’m astonished they have to ask what’s in it for them,” added Commissioner Liane “Buffie” McFadyen. “It’s imperative that they work with us.”

Utilities wanted to add language to the county’s resolution indicating it was in good standing when it came to the 1041 permit. The commissioners balked at that, and made it clear in the resolution that 1041 compliance is a separate issue. The board also put in a clause that requires the Fountain Creek District to provide an annual report of how the money is spent.

“Colorado Springs hasn’t always been a good neighbor to us,” said Commissioner Sal Pace. “I’m hopeful the $50 million will be enough to leverage hundreds of millions needed to build flood detention storage.”

Meanwhile Pueblo District Attorney Jeff Chostner is weighing his legal options in his water quality challenge to CSU’s 1041 permit from the county. Here’s a report from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain:

Pueblo District Attorney Jeff Chostner is looking at legal options, including a possible federal lawsuit, after the state Supreme Court rejected his petition to reconsider water quality rulings for the Southern Delivery System. The Colorado Supreme Court Monday refused to reconsider an appeals court’s decision to overturn Pueblo District Judge Victor Reyes’ order for the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission to redo its assessment of SDS on Fountain Creek and the Arkansas River.

Chostner and the Rocky Mountain Environmental Labor Coalition wanted the high court to uphold Reyes’ 2012 ruling, which was reversed by a three-judge panel last July.

“I’m very disappointed in the outcome of the suit and we’re weighing our legal options,” Chostner said shortly after learning of the Supreme Court decision.

“Colorado Springs Utilities believed all along in the state’s approval of the SDS water quality certification and are pleased that today’s Supreme Court decision finally brings this issue to closure,” said John Fredell, SDS program director.

The original complaint was made by former DA Bill Thiebaut, and Reyes agreed with him that the state water quality board should have held Colorado Springs Utilities to a numerical standard, rather than relying on an adaptive management program.

The state ignored its own standards in approving a water quality certification for SDS, Reyes said.

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Monica Mendoza):

Monday’s Supreme Court denial of the petition means the Colorado Court of Appeals July ruling stands and Colorado Springs Utilities can complete its work on the pipeline as planned.

“We believed all along in the state’s approval of the SDS water quality certification and are pleased that today’s Supreme Court decision finally brings this issue to closure,” said John Fredell, SDS program manager.

In July, the Colorado Court of Appeals said Colorado Springs Utilities had done all the necessary work to ensure that SDS would not wreck water quality in Fountain Creek. The court had reversed a Pueblo County judge’s ruling against a state water quality certification for Colorado Springs’ SDS pipeline project. The Water Quality Commission gave the SDS its stamp of approval after more than a year of study. The commission’s approval was challenged by former Pueblo District Attorney Bill Thiebaut and the Rocky Mountain Environment and Labor Coalition.

However, the appellate court cited a number of reports and analyses and found that all the proper tests were completed and that there was substantial evidence that showed SDS will not violate water quality standards in Fountain Creek.

In August, Chostner requested that the Colorado Supreme Court review the appeals court decision.

“Obviously I am very, very disappointed with it,” Chostner said of the Supreme Court denial. “We are taking a look at our legal options as to how we can respond to it.”

SDS has been embroiled in controversy, piles of federal, state and local regulations and litigation for years. The project was launched to bring more water to Colorado Springs, Fountain, Security Water District and Pueblo West for future population growth. The first stretch of pipe was built in 2010 and the pipeline is expected to be completed by 2016. Utilities officials say the estimated cost of the phase 1 of the project – 53 miles of pipeline, three pump stations and a new water treatment plant capable of delivering up to 50 million gallons of water per day – is $841 million, about $150 million less than projected.

From the Colorado Springs Independent (J. Adrian Stanley):

The Colorado Supreme Court denied an appeal today by the Pueblo County District Attorney that sought to derail Colorado Springs Utilities’ Southern Delivery System. The decision clears the last major potential roadblock for the $898 million pipeline from Pueblo Reservoir to Colorado Springs, which is already well under construction.

Pueblo County alleged that the state’s approval of permits for the project didn’t adequately consider water quality issues. Pueblo has long fought SDS, claiming that the return flow from the pipeline along Fountain Creek will exacerbate stormwater and water quality issues.

More Fountain Creek coverage here and here.