Youth and water – conservation

Mile High Water Talk

Denver Water's Teacher Resource Packet illustrates the three Rs of water conservation. Denver Water’s Teacher Resource Packet illustrates the three Rs of water conservation.

Last week’s Youth Education blog post, Youth and water – following a water drop, focused on the movement of water through the water cycle. Now that you understand the journey of Denver’s water — let’s talk about how to conserve our most precious resource.

Week three: Use only what you need

The weather in this area constantly fluctuates (Ebbs and flows highlights the extremes we faced in 2013 alone), but it’s typically dry. Denver receives an average of 15 inches of precipitation each year, which is about a fourth of the precipitation a tropical city such as Miami receives. We’ve also experienced several severe droughts in the past that have challenged our water system. We never know the extent of a dry period or when precipitation may come, so conservation has to be a way of…

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St. Vrain Creek Restoration Master Planning Process Begins — Lyons Recorder #COflood

Storm pattern over Colorado September 2013 -- Graphic/NWS via USA Today
Storm pattern over Colorado September 2013 — Graphic/NWS via USA Today

Here’s the release from Boulder County (Stacey Proctor) via the Lyons Recorder:

As part of long-term flood recovery, Boulder County has hired consultant Michael Baker Jr., Inc. to complete a master plan for the St. Vrain Creek watershed, which includes South St. Vrain Creek, North St. Vrain Creek, and the main stem of St. Vrain Creek to the confluence with Boulder Creek.

The master plan will be used to guide the county, municipalities, and individual landowners in identification and prioritization of stream rehabilitation and restoration projects. The goal of the master planning effort and subsequent project implementation is increased resiliency in communities, economies, and river systems.

“Using an open and collaborative process among public agencies, property owners, ditch companies, stakeholders, and the public, the St. Vrain master plan will help facilitate the transition to the next phase of creek recovery,” said Dave Jula, St. Vrain Creek Watershed Master Plan Project Manager, for Michael Baker Jr., Inc.

The master planning effort is funded by a grant from the Colorado Water Conservation Board, Boulder County, and other local agencies. The project will begin immediately with public meetings, field assessments, and data analysis. The final master plan is expected to be completed by early fall.

The consultant was selected through a competitive process by the St. Vrain Creek Coalition. The St. Vrain Creek Coalition consists of representatives from Boulder County, Natural Resource Conservation Service, Town of Lyons, City of Longmont, St. Vrain and Left Hand Water Conservancy District, USDA Forest Service, Arapaho Roosevelt National Forest, Colorado Department of Transportation, and the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

“After thorough review of the bids we received, the St. Vrain Creek Coalition selected Michael Baker Jr., Inc. for the project because of their strong technical expertise and their commitment to citizen participation in the process,” said Julie McKay, St. Vrain Creek Coalition lead for Boulder County.

Please refer to http://www.BoulderCountyCreekPlan.org for the schedule of public meetings, which will be announced in May.

Similar master planning efforts are underway for many other watersheds in Boulder County, including Left Hand Creek, Little Thompson River, and Fourmile Creek. For more information on any of the master plans, please contact Stacey Proctor, Communications Specialist at 303-441-1107 or sproctor@bouldercounty.org.

More South Platte River Basin coverage here.

The Spring 2014 newsletter from the Rio Grande Land Trust is hot off the presses

riograndelandtrustspring2014newslettercover

Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:

… there is nothing quite like the sense of accomplishment we experience at the closing of a conservation easement.

Conserving land and water is really our core function. And it gives us the chance to work with some of the most committed and generous people here in the Valley who deeply care about the future of their ranches. This is so evident in the heartwarming story in this newsletter from Eveyln Buss about conserving the ranch that she and her brother Doug Davie inherited from their parents. We are grateful to them for protecting that beautiful ranch on the Rio Grande, and its exceptional water rights forever.

Likewise, we were able to complete the conservation easement on the lovely Garcia Ranch on the Conejos River in December of 2013. Along with his daughters, Lana and Tania, Reyes Garcia was committed to protecting the legacy of his family on that land. His article expressing the deep meaning of this was featured in our Spring 2013 newsletter (you can find that issue on our website).

Both of these ranches were featured properties in RiGHT’s 2012 and 2013 “Save the Ranch” campaigns. In so many ways, these projects were community projects, and we could not have made our way through the many challenges that easements inherently present, without the generous support of our many friends and neighbors who contribute to RiGHT’s work, with donations of time, funds, and so much more. I hope you will share in our deep sense of accomplishment, that together, we are leaving a lasting legacy of conserved land and water for future generations.

More Rio Grande River Basin coverage here.

Colorado-Big Thompson Project update: Carter will fill Monday, Horsetooth at 88% #ColoradoRiver

Colorado-Big Thompson Project east slope facilities
Colorado-Big Thompson Project east slope facilities

From email from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

On Monday, May 5, we will stop pumping water to Carter Lake. Carter is about 98% full and ready for the season.

Colorado-Big Thompson Project water that was going up to Carter will now go to Horsetooth. Horsetooth Reservoir is about 88% full and its water level is still rising.

Boat ramps are open.

From email from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

apologize for a late evening notice. I’m on business travel and communicating across time zones.

This e-mail is to let you all know there are some changes coming to the river flow down the Big Thompson Canyon. Run-off is increasing and so will flows down the canyon, beginning Monday.

Currently, we are seeing run-off inflows up to 200 cfs at night. But, as you have read in previous e-mails, under Free River conditions, we have been able to divert some of that at Olympus Dam to Colorado-Big Thompson Project reservoirs like Carter Lake and Horsetooth Reservoir. This weekend, Free River conditions are ending.

As a result, we will no longer be able to pull some of the spring run-off flows native to the Big T coming into Lake Estes out of the river. Instead, the Big Thompson will resume its native outflow through Olympus Dam to the Canyon.

Currently, we are releasing about 35 cfs. Beginning Monday, May 5, we will start incrementally increasing the releases in several steps. The resulting flows down the Canyon by Monday afternoon could go up to about 140 cfs. It is possible there could be additional increases on Tuesday.

I will send an update on Monday. Meanwhile, please let me know if you have any related questions.

More Colorado-Big Thompson Project coverage here.

A case of #ColoradoRiver Basin Envy Syndrome #RioGrande

From Inkstain (John Fleck):

Stuck out here in the Rio Grande Basin, I’ve long suffered Colorado River Basin Envy Syndrome. The Colorado is the sexy river, which means it gets all the cool science. I dream of an analysis this rich of uncertainties in my river’s streamflow.

Turns out that even within the Colorado River Basin there’s a little Envy Syndrome going on.

More Rio Grande River Basin coverage here. More Colorado River Basin coverage here.

Breckenridge: “We’re a headwaters community, and we want to take a [conservation] leadership role” — Peter Grosshuesch

From the Summit Daily News (Alli Langley):

The town council amended a law during a meeting Tuesday, April 22, to extend water conservation efforts during drought that limited outdoor use to three times a week.

The restrictions were last put in place in 2003 and 2012, and the new rules will take effect June 1.

“We’re a headwaters community, and we want to take a leadership role,” said Peter Grosshuesch, the town’s community development director.

Properties east of Main Street or Highway 9 may water only on Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays, while properties west of those roads may water only on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. On those days, watering is restricted to between 5 p.m. and 9 a.m. the next day.

People can still keep their landscaping alive under those restrictions, Grosshuesch said, calling unlimited water use unwise, especially in a semiarid climate.

According to the Western Regional Climate Center, Breckenridge received an average of 163 inches of snow a year between 1948 and 2005. But that number translates to just 19 inches of water per year.

“Water is a valuable commodity,” Grosshuesch said. “It’s expensive to produce and deliver.”

When the town asked for public comment on how the change would affect pressure-cleaning driveways and parking lots, officials received hearty support.

“The vast majority of people said, ‘No, you shouldn’t be using water to do that. You should just sweep them,’” Grosshuesch said.

But the town exempted using water for cleaning those surfaces anyway, as long as people use hoses with shut-off nozzles.

Some businesses in the food industry expressed concern about the permanent restrictions. Due to health codes, they must clean pollen off their outdoor tables, and they like to do that with water. Grossheusch said that specific case also will be exempt.

First-time violators will be warned, but a second-time offender will be fined $250. A third-time offense warrants a $500 fine, and any offenses after that will cost $750. Out-of-town violators will be charged 1.5 times the fine for residents.

Whatever Floats Your Boat: Redefining Waters of the U.S. — Huffington Post

fens

From the Huffington Post (Val Wagner):

“Navigable waters.” According to the Internet, the accepted definition is: “deep and wide enough for boats and ships to travel on or through: capable of being navigated.”

Apparently that’s true for everyone… but the Environmental Protection Agency.

The new proposed ruling for the expanded Clean Water Act from the EPA is meant to clarify what is determined as “Waters of the U.S.” In essence, almost any place that water could collect could be subject to regulation and the permitting process.

The CWA was started in 1972 as a way to curb pollution into what was determined navigable water from a single source — without a federal permit.

Most people would probably be amazed at what all requires permission from someone else in order to simply do something… even on your own property. There are permits to build stuff, permits to take down stuff, permits to use water, permits to take away water — I’m sure there are probably even agencies that have permits in order for another agency to allow permits. The process is essentially the same. You apply, based on whatever rules and regulations have been drawn up. You explain why you should be allowed a permit to complete whatever action or build whatever structure you have planned. You present your application with the proper fee, determined by the regulatory board or by law, and you wait to hear back.

Here’s the catch: There is no legal right to be allowed a permit. That’s right, even if you dot your I’s and cross your T’s and pay the fees and fill out each form in triplicate and you state sound reasons as to why your permit should be granted and have science on your side, you may be turned down. Because we all know that decisions don’t always make sense.

More Environmental Protection Agency coverage here.

Living West exhibit at the History Colorado Museum takes on #ColoradoRiver diversions now and in the future

The Storm is Coming -- History Colorado
The Storm is Coming — History Colorado

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

Water, according to Western lore, flows uphill to money. According to a display at the History Colorado Center in Denver, it runs uphill with something else: a grudge.

That’s according to what History Colorado describes as “a groundbreaking new 7,000-square-foot exhibit that explores the living dynamics between the people of Colorado and their state’s extraordinary environment.”

Called “Living West,” the exhibit includes a diorama of Colorado depicting the natural flow of water west from the Continental Divide and the population differential showing the vast majority of people, 80 percent, on the east side of the Rocky Mountains.

“The Western Slope has water, but a small population,” reads the display. “To eastern Colorado, this is a waste; shouldn’t water go where the people are?”

“But piping water east means less for western towns, ranches, and orchards. Western Slope residents believe their future is being sacrificed to benefit the rest of Colorado.”

dontsuckthecoloradoriverdry

The text accompanies a photo of a rally in which protesters waved signs emblazoned with slogans such as “Let Our Rivers Run!” and “Don’t Suck the Upper Colorado River Dry.”

Headlining the text is, “Water comes from the Western Slope (with a grudge.)”

Western Slope residents and water managers said they weren’t consulted on the exhibit, and some suggested that it might be a harbinger of bad feelings to come.

Indeed, the exhibit, which illustrates the way Coloradans from ancient Puebloans to Dust Bowl-era farmers have dealt with drought, is subtitled “The Storm is Coming!”

“Wouldn’t anybody begrudge the fact that their future is being limited?” Mesa County Commissioner Steve Acquafresca said when told of the exhibit. “I wouldn’t dispute the fact — but I think there are good reasons for it.”

“It sounds like somebody is trivializing the issue,” Acquafresca said.

Kids open pumps

There is more to the Colorado River story than the exhibit suggests, said Bonnie Petersen, executive director of Club 20, a Western Slope advocacy organization.

Colorado River Basin including out of basin demands -- Graphic/USBR
Colorado River Basin including out of basin demands — Graphic/USBR

“There’s certainly no recognition that seven states rely on the water over here,” Petersen said, referring to Arizona, Colorado, California, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming.

The diorama is interactive and geared to younger visitors, who can open and close pumps to move water about the state.

“Your job:” the exhibit says, “Send water from Big River in the west to Small River in the east, all the way down to Thirsty Town.”

Another instruction urges visitors to “Crank that pump and keep cranking, Watch the pump move water from Big River into Western Reservoir. This takes water away from Busy City and Dry Throat Ranch.”

That could present an opportunity, Acquafresca said.

“I’d like to go there and direct it back from the east to the west,” Acquafresca said.

“Living West,” according to the History Colorado website, was presented by Denver Water with “generous support” from the Gates Family Foundation.

“Denver Water, yeah, there’s a surprise,” Petersen said.

Denver Water's collection system via the USACE EIS
Denver Water’s collection system via the USACE EIS

“Denver Water,” Larry Clever, general manager of the Ute Water Conservancy District in Grand Junction, guessed when told of the exhibit. “I didn’t know. I just figured it was Denver Water.”

“And people wonder why we don’t trust them,” said Diane Schwenke, president of the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce.

Denver Water, however, had little to do with the display that prominently bears its name, said spokesman Travis Thompson.

“We had no influence or design on the content of the exhibit,” Thompson said. “It wasn’t for us to tell the story. It was for them to tell the story.”

“Them” is History Colorado, a nonprofit organization previously referred to as the Colorado Historical Society. It’s also a state agency that receives funding under the Division of Higher Education.

A spokesperson for the museum didn’t respond to several requests for comment.

East-west relations

Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer's office
Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer’s office

The transmountain diversion display “seems a little biased” toward a Front Range perspective, said David Bailey, curator of history at the Museum of Western Colorado in Grand Junction, who has viewed the exhibit.

“Usually you try to give all a voice,” Bailey said. “Our job is to make you think about the topic, in this case the historic and present-day crisis of water.”

Denver Water is a major transmountain diverter and water provider to 1.3 million customers that just last year reached an agreement with water providers and local governments down the Colorado River Basin that was hailed as marking a new era in east-west water relations.

Lurking beneath the good feelings, however, has been the possibility of a new transmountain diversion. Although Gov. John Hickenlooper’s state water plan is being drafted without identifying one, it is to set out a way by which such a project could be pursued.

And James Lochhead, who heads Denver Water, last month signed a letter on behalf of the Front Range Water Council saying that a new transmountain diversion is a necessity.

Talks about a state water plan “should begin with an assurance, and not simply a hope” for a new project diverting water from the Colorado River to the Front Range.

Broader picture

Western Slope water is now sent east via 24 transmountain diversions that suck up, in a wet year, about 600,000 acre feet of water. An acre foot of water, or 325,851 gallons, is enough to supply about two and a half Front Range households for a year, according to DenverWater.org.

It’s also about 8 percent of the water that the upper Colorado River Basin states are required to deliver to the lower basin under a 1922 compact governing management of the river.

The amount of water diverted east could be crucial in a succession of dry years as the upper and lower basins deal with keeping enough water in Lake Powell to ensure the efficient operation of the electricity-generating turbines and putting enough water into Lake Mead downstream, Clever said.

The issue involves more than diverting water, Clever said.

Front Range water interests “want everybody to pay for a diversion,” Clever said. “They want the West Slope to help pay for taking our water.”

The fact is, said Grand County Manager Lurline Underbrink Curran, the Colorado River Basin “might not have as much water to give as everybody thinks we do.”

To be certain, Denver Water has lived up to its agreement with the Colorado River Basin, Curran said, but the tone of the exhibit bearing its name and citing the grudging nature of the Western Slope is “somewhat disturbing,” Curran said.

“Does the West Slope grudgingly withhold water?” Curran said. “No, in my opinion. The West Slope wants to have recognition of the needs and uses (of water) on the West Slope.” Those uses aren’t limited to ranches and orchards, Curran said, noting that the West Slope has growing cities and industries of its own, just as on the East Slope.

It’s possible that the message children absorb isn’t one favoring transmountain diversions, Acquafresca said.

“If Denver Water is trying to indoctrinate kids to view water resources as the Front Range does, I think that’s the wrong approach,” Acquafresca said. “Children could easily ask themselves, ‘Shouldn’t water flow where God meant for it to flow?’”

More education coverage here.

Northern Water slows down rate restructuring push #ColoradoRiver

Colorado-Big Thompson Project Map via Northern Water
Colorado-Big Thompson Project Map via Northern Water

From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Ryan Maye Handy):

Without changes to its water rates, Northern Water’s expenses are on track to exceed its revenue in 2015. At its monthly meeting on Thursday, the board reviewed a study it commissioned to outline options for future water-rate hikes.

Northern Water released the rate study on Tuesday, and several water district managers and lawyers asked the board on Thursday to postpone its decision until they had more time to review the massive document.

The board also postponed a decision to set the water rates for 2015, which will likely increase by 9 percent for all stakeholders…

Northern Water plans to raise the cost of Colorado-Big Thompson or CB-T shares, which many districts rely on for most of their water. Regardless of the board’s ultimate decision, water rates will increase for Fort Collins Utilities, which gets about half of its water from the Big Thompson. Utilities costs for Fort Collins customers will not be affected, a city official previously said.

The rate study, done by CH2MHill in Denver, came up with three options for rate changes, all of which would double or triple the costs of water for farmers and cities alike.

At its Thursday meeting, the board eliminated one option, which would keep the existing rate system.

In June, the board will decide between the two remaining options, which could turn out to be drastically different after 10 years, according to CH2MHill’s research:

• One option could mean a sharp increase in water rates. For municipalities and industrial clients, at most, one unit of CB-T water would jump from $28 per acre foot to $51.90 per acre foot by 2016. For irrigators, this increase would bump the cost from $10 to $18.70 per acre-foot.

• The other model would likely mean a more gradual increase. By 2016, this option would bump municipal and industrial rates to $49.10 and irrigation rates to $20.90 per acre foot.

Only those who own fixed-rate contracts would escape the proposed changes. Fixed-rate allotments were created in 1957 and set at $1.50 per acre-foot. The city of Fort Collins owns 6,052 fixed-rate units among its 18,885 total units of CB-T water.

Several water district managers asked the board to reconsider the fixed-rate contracts and allow them to absorb some of the costs of modern water operations.

Dennis Jackson, who worked on the rate study for CH2MHill, cautioned that a volatile economy could drastically change some of the study’s findings. While a strong economy would make rate hike unnecessary, a weaker economy would likely mean more increases in the future, he told the board.

“If for some reason the economy were to stall, and if we had conditions that were sluggish and not as forecasted, assessments would need to be higher, 15 to 20 percent higher,” Jackson said.

More Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District coverage here.

Hope for Howard Fork water quality? CDRMS is looking at acid mine drainage mitigation again. #ColoradoRiver

Howard Fork via The Trust for Land Restoration
Howard Fork via RestorationTrust.org

From The Telluride Daily Planet (Heather Sackett):

… the Colorado Division of Reclamation Mining and Safety is beginning the process of trying to stabilize the mine near Ophir and improve the water quality of streams in the area. The DRMS project aims to see if there is a way to stop water from flowing through the mine, which will also help improve the water quality of Howard Fork, which flows into the San Miguel River. The project is being overseen by the Environmental Protection Agency, which has been investigating the water quality and taking samples from the Iron Springs Mining District for a couple of years, according to EPA Site Assessment Manager Jean Wyatt.

“It’s in part to understand the baseline conditions for water quality and understand if something can be done to stop the mine water from passing through the workings of the mine,” Wyatt said. “There are elevated levels of zinc and iron coming out of that mine … We want to understand what the conditions are and who could contribute resources or expertise to increase the quality of the watershed in general.”

DRMS is seeking bids from contractors to reopen the portal and stabilize and rehabilitate portions of the underground workings of the Carbonero Mine. The project will also include the construction of a platform at the portal, construction of water management structures near Ophir Pass Road below the site and re-grading and reclamation of certain areas.

“That’s the goal: to stabilize the mine and enter and see what, if anything, can be done,” said Bruce Stover, director of the DRMS Inactive Mine Reclamation Progam. “This isn’t a final remediation by any means. This is just part of an ongoing investigation.”

Glenn Pauls is the landowner of the site. In the 1980s, Pauls acquired many of the mining claims in the area — he estimates about 1,100 acres in roughly 100 claims at one point — with the intention of making a trade with the Forest Service at some point. His goal, he said is to preserve the Ophir Pass Road and keep it open for Jeep traffic. Pauls said he would like to create a hydroelectricity project at the Carbonero Mine site, once the water quality studies are complete.

“The idea is that we open it up and find out if the water coming in the back end is clean,” he said. “I can’t touch the water until someone gives me the OK.”

A mandatory pre-bid meeting for interested contractors is planned for the site on Ophir Pass Road about a half-mile east of Ophir at 10:30 a.m. June 11. The submission deadline for bids is June 24. For more information about the project, contact Kristin Miranda at the Department of Natural Resources/Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety at 303-866-3567 ext. 8133 or kristin.miranda@state.co.us.

More San Miguel River watershed coverage here.