Will Front Range growth trump river health? — Glenwood Springs Post Independent #ColoradoRiver #COWaterPlan

From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Lauren Glendenning):

Climate change might not be the end-all, be-all in the state’s water discussion, but Brad Udall knows it needs to at least be a part of it.

“The proper way to deal with climate change is to get out of the scientific battles and deal with it as a risk,” said Udall, who is the director and principal investigator of the University of Colorado-National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration Western Water Assessment.

While Colorado isn’t dealing with what Udall says is the biggest climate change impact, sea level rise, it is dealing with impacts of the overall water cycle. The West faces an unprecedented 14-year drought, resulting in low water levels at Lake Mead and Lake Powell, supply-demand gaps, power losses and threats to conservation.

As the atmosphere warms, it also holds more moisture, resulting in water cycle changes. Udall said the effects are already appearing as more rain and less snow, earlier runoff, higher water temperatures and more intense rain.

The higher water temperatures are something that water conservation folks throughout the Western Slope are concerned about. At a recent Colorado Basin Roundtable meeting, Holly Loff, executive director of the Eagle River Watershed Council, introduced to the group a recent assessment of the Upper Colorado River. The study shows that elevated water temperatures are occurring in the Upper Colorado that are above the known thermal tolerance of trout.

Loff said more transmountain diversions out of the basin to the Front Range would only further affect aquatic life, which goes beyond just fish and bugs.

“It impacts everything that uses the riparian area, which is every creature,” Loff said. “Temperature, that is huge. When you take the water out [of the streams for diversions], the water that’s left heats up more. Water temperatures rise, and it completely changes the fish that want to be in that water. Our fishermen are going to see that.”

Loff said she isn’t so quick to join in on the finger-pointing to the Front Range. The Front Range has cut back on wasteful bluegrass lawns, for example, and is doing a great job in terms of per-capita water use.

“They’re actually doing much better than we are” in per-capita water use, she said. “We are all going to have to make some changes.”[…]

[Martha Cochran] points out that agriculture efficiencies could help improve water supplies, but the use-it or lose-it concept hampers progress.

Use-it or lose-it means that a water user who fails to divert the maximum amount of water that their right allows loses some of their rights the next time they go to court to transfer those rights.

“Sprinkling systems for agriculture are more efficient and use less water, they’re easier to control, you can direct them better, they’re more specific about how and when,” Cochran said. “And that’s a good thing, but it’s not [a good thing] if it means you lose your water rights because you’re not using all the water you traditionally used.”[…]

As the state crafts the Colorado Water Plan, one development holds out hope that East and West Slope entities can work together. Just last year, the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement was signed between Denver Water and Western Slope water providers and municipalities. The agreement is a long-term partnership that aims to achieve better environmental health in the Colorado River Basin, as well as high-quality recreational use.

The agreement, which included 43 parties from Grand Junction to Denver, states that future water projects on the Colorado River will be accomplished through cooperation, not confrontation. It’s debatable whether that will happen, given the finger-pointing cropping up during the draft stages of the Colorado Water Plan process.

James Eklund, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board and head of the development of the Colorado Water Plan, believes it can happen, but he admits it won’t be easy.

“The idea is to take that paradigm shift that occurred with the Cooperative Agreement and exploit that and replicate and scale that up to the entire state,” he said. “Doing that is going to require some work.”

But positions like Loff’s that are 100 percent against more transmountain diversion projects are widespread on this side of the Continental Divide, and it’s going to take more than some conversations and a few handshakes to find some middle ground.

“The biggest thing for us, and the entire basin, is that we want to make it perfectly clear that having another transmountain diversion over to the Front Range is really going to damage our recreation-based economy,” she said. “And that it’s going to have more impacts on the environment and on agriculture. They need to understand that we’re not saying we don’t want to share the water, it’s just that there isn’t any more water to share. We have obligations through the compact [to downstream states with legal rights], so more water leaving our basin — that water doesn’t ever come back.”[…]

So that will be part of the process in the coming months as each of the nine basins drafting implementation plans polish up their drafts before sending them off to the state. Two of the Front Range basins, Metro and South Platte, are combining theirs into one document, for a total of eight plans being rolled into the Colorado Water Plan.

It’s like a community development plan that lays out a vision and direction, but it will require execution, said Jim Pokrandt, communications and education director for the Colorado River District.

“Hopefully it will address how we can get down the path of efficiency and the land use discussion,” he said. “It’s a very painful discussion, but not as painful as the need to start digging a new transmountain diversion tomorrow.”

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.

Donala merges wastewater operations with Academy — Tri-Lakes Tribune

Wastewater Treatment Process
Wastewater Treatment Process

From the Tri-Lakes Tribune (Danny Summers):

It may not by the biggest wastewater merger in Colorado history, but Donala Water and Sanitation grew by more than 10 percent when the Academy Water and Sanitation District Board approved a resolution to connect its wastewater operations with Donala.

“Academy made the decision between Colorado Springs Utilities and us,” said Donala general manager Kip Peterson. “It makes sense for both Academy and us from a cost perspective.”

Academy, which has about 300 customers, managed its own wastewater treatment for nearly five decades. Donala has about 2,800 customers and has shown steady growth through difficult economic times in recent years.

“We’ve been talking with Academy about this merger for the last decade,” Peterson said. “We had a wastewater treatment plant already designed with that thought in mind.”

Peterson said that pipes will be laid from Academy’s lagoon on Spring Valley Drive to Donala’s collection pipes. From there, a lift station will pump Academy’s wastewater to the Donala pipes for treatment by the Upper Monument Creek Regional Wastewater Treatment Facility.

Peterson said the process will take some time and probably will not begin take place until the fall 2018, as required by Academy’s wastewater permit.

Academy’s Board was forced to make a change months ago because of new state regulations that could not be met by the district’s current lagoon treatment system. It looked at building a new plant at its current location, but the Board found that option to be much too costly.

Meanwhile, Donala’s General Manager explains why rate continue to increase in this report from Danny Summers writing for the Tri-Lakes Tribune. Here’s an excerpt:

One of Kip Peterson’s main goals as general manager of Donala Water and Sanitation is to keep an open-door policy to the folks in his District.

One of the main questions most residents want to know is why do their water rates continue to go up and why are they restricted on their outside watering?

“That is a big concern for a lot of people,” Peterson said. “And I completely understand why.”

Earlier this month, Peterson and his staff included in its newsletter to its customers a rare comparison with some local water companies. The list included Donala, Woodmoor, Woodmen Hills, Colorado Springs, Monument and Triview.

“I put it out there so folks can see for themselves, Peterson said. “I have a very strong belief that we have to remain transparent.”

Donala customers have been on water restrictions for eight years. Colorado Springs Utilities customers were on water restrictions in 2013, but that was lifted this year.

“I think that was a mistake,” Petersons said. “I think that sends a bad message to the community. Do you really want to conserve water or do you want to make money?

“(Donala’s) rate structure is intentionally designed for conservation.”

More wastewater coverage here.

AWRA Colorado Section: Wastewater as a New Supply, webinar August 20

Pueblo Board of Water Works leases net $1.07 million in revenue

Pueblo photo via Sangres.com
Pueblo photo via Sangres.com

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Improved weather conditions have freed up more water for the Pueblo Board of Water Works to lease, filling in a potential hole in revenues. Water leases on the spot market this year will bring in about $1.07 million, with 8,567 acre-feet (2.8 billion gallons) leased through the bidding process.

An additional 2,535 acre-feet in leases to two well augmentation groups and to Mauro Farms were approved Tuesday, bringing in $228,750, after the initial round of leases in March. The additional water is being provided because imports from the Western Slope are higher than expected, while demand in Pueblo has tapered off during a cool, wet summer, said Alan Ward, water resources manager.

Pueblo’s transmountain water sources have yielded more than 19,000 acre-feet in the first six months of this year, about 128 percent of average. More than 44,000 acre-feet of water are in storage, 114 percent more than last year at the same time.

At the same time, Pueblo pumped just above 5 billion gallons through its treated water system as of July 31, a decrease of 7.83 percent from the five-year average. The board has 39,890 accounts, which represents an increase of 324 over 2005.

Roughly two-thirds of the board’s revenue comes from metered water sales within the city, which are projected to bring in $23.3 million. However, if decreased use continues, that figure could be about $1 million less by the end of the year.

More Pueblo Board of Water Works coverage here.

Drought news: Southeast Colorado sees some relief from the #COdrought

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Once again, Southern Colorado has drawn the short end of the cloud. The latest state drought assessment shows that a wet, cool summer is alleviating drought conditions in much of Colorado, but the southern third of the state is still in some sort of drought condition. Parts of Crowley, Otero, Bent and Kiowa counties remain in the worst shape with extreme drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, an assessment compiled by the nation’s top scientists. For other parts of the region, it is the first time in more than two years that no areas of exceptional drought — the highest stage — have been reported.

“The drought is well into its fourth year, but recent rains have brought relief,” according to a report co-authored by Taryn Finnessey of the Colorado Water Conservation Board and Tracy Kosloff of the Division of Water Resources. “It will likely take years for rangelands and producers to recover.”

In all, about 40 percent of the state remains in some sort of drought condition, which is much better than a year ago, when nearly all of the state was affected.

The good news is that much of the state is bouncing back to normal following rains that have been sufficient to douse fire danger while not causing the widespread flooding seen in 2013.

That’s not to say it’s been nothing but peaceful, gentle sprinkles. In the town of Eads, located north of Lamar, 7 inches of rain fell in just a few hours ending the dust in torrents of mud.

Statewide, Snotel weather stations are showing precipitation is 103 percent of average, while reservoir storage is at 97 percent of average. Storage and streamflow conditions remain worst in the Rio Grande basin.

July rainfall was plentiful along the Front Range, with many areas — El Paso, Huerfano and western Otero counties among them — receiving two-three times average amounts.

Temperatures during the first two weeks of August have been 3-4 degrees cooler than normal, helping to alleviate drought conditions, the report noted.

Meanwhile many eyes are watching the development of El Niño. Here’s a report from 9News (Maya Rodriguez):

Earlier this year, scientists predicted “El Nino” would be strong this year. That didn’t happen right away, but it’s picking up steam again…

For a state that’s grappled this year with heavy snow in the mountains and a severe drought in the plains, it sometimes seemed like Colorado’s weather had a split personality. With an El Nino now predicted to strengthen in the Pacific, Colorado’s winter could look different, depending on your elevation.

“When I think of El Nino, it’s giving us a little bit to hang our hats on in the very challenging world of trying to make seasonal climate predictions,” said Nolan Doesken, state climatologist for Colorado and part of the Colorado Climate Center at CSU.

Doesken said El Ninos don’t create a certainty for what the weather might bring in the future, but historically, they do show patterns.

“El Nino tips the odds a little bit towards certain factors dominating more often than ‘usual,'” he said.

One example: snowfall…

“The stronger the El Nino, the more likely we are to have some big fall and winter storms at lower elevations,” Doesken said.

Yet, the opposite can be true in the northern and central mountains, where a strong El Nino historically means less snow there…

“Winter recreationists and springtime whitewater rafters all love to watch accumulation of snow in mid-winter, but El Nino does not necessarily bode well for winter accumulations,” Doesken said, speaking about areas in the northern and central mountains.

Climatologists say there are many factors that could determine how much snow we see this winter. Still, El Nino is something they keep an eye on.

From the Albuquerque Journal (John Fleck):

If “drought” is the villain, is “El Niño” – the climate pattern that brings our winter snows – the hero?

And if the answer is “yes,” has our hero abandoned us? What had been looking over the late spring and early summer like it could be gangbuster of an El Niño looks like it’s fizzling, slashing the odds of a wet winter to bail us out of this drought.

But maybe things aren’t as bad as all that. After a couple of recent trips up and down the Rio Grande this month, it was easy to shrug and ask, what drought?

Driving down I-25 the first weekend in August, I crossed the Rio Salado in northern Socorro County in its full flash-flood mode. Jumping off the freeway at the next exit, I drove out to see the Rio Grande roaring through the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District’s San Acacia Diversion Dam. It was big and muddy and roiling with that unmistakable smell of a desert flash flood and, according to the U.S. Geologic Survey’s gauge just downstream of the dam, the most water at San Acacia in nearly a year.

Then last week, I drove through rain and saw many of the usually dry little arroyos between here and Las Cruces flashing with muddy thunderstorm remnants. The landscape the whole way was a lovely shade of green.

But when I pulled off in Truth or Consequences, and headed through town and up to Elephant Butte Dam, I looked down into a great big empty. Fifteen years of mostly lousy snowpacks in the upstream watersheds that feed the Rio Grande, combined with continued downstream water needs, have left Elephant Butte Reservoir in a hole that will take far more than a couple of wet months to dig out of.

The following day, I got off the freeway and drove the old road toward Las Cruces past irrigation ditches already dry and a bunch of farm fields left fallow because of the irrigation shortfalls. It was a reminder that drought is not one thing and fixing our water shortfalls takes more than a month or two of good rain.

2014 Colorado November election: Pikes Peak Regional Drainage Authority issue to be on ballot, Mayor Bach balks

Pikes Peak with Garden of the Gods in the foreground
Pikes Peak with Garden of the Gods in the foreground

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

El Paso County commissioners Tuesday voted 4-0 to put an issue on November’s ballot that would create the Pikes Peak Regional Drainage Authority to pay for storm water control. Voting for the measure were Chairman Dennis Hisey, Amy Lathen, Darryl Glenn and Peggy Littleton. Commissioner Sallie Clark was absent.

The authority would raise $39.2 million annually to address a $700 million backlog in stormwater projects in the Fountain Creek watershed.

Stormwater control is one of the premises Colorado Springs Utilities used in gaining approval from the Bureau of Reclamation and Pueblo County to build the Southern Delivery System, a pipeline to ship water from Lake Pueblo to El Paso County.

“With this step, the hard part’s over,” Hisey said.

Last week, Colorado Springs City Council approved, on a 7-2 vote, an intergovernmental agreement with El Paso County and other cities in the Fountain Creek drainage.

The next day, Mayor Steve Bach said he opposed the authority. proposals for ways to fund stormwater control within Colorado Springs.

A list of projects, which will be attached to the ballot proposal has yet to be approved, and will probably be in place by the El Paso County commission’s Sept. 2 meeting, Hisey said.

That would give Colorado Springs City Council time to review the list.

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Matt Steiner):

The approval is a huge step in “controlling stormwater,” said Commissioner Amy Lathen, who has played a major role in the regional stormwater task force that first met in August 2012. Dave Munger, co-chairman of the task force, was at Tuesday’s meeting and joined a small contingent who let out a smattering of applause after the commission’s vote.

Munger echoed Lathen about the need to solve stormwater issues regionally.

“Everyone, just about everyone, is aware of stormwater and its significance. Everyone agrees that it is a regional problem,” he said, noting that governments working together will create “a synergy that we’ve never realized.”

The decision appeared to be an easy one for the commissioners. But some debate arose after Colorado Springs Deputy City Attorney Tom Florczak gave the commissioners 18 projects the city insists be added to a list attached to the county’s 

Florczak said the City Council did not include a project list in its resolution that passed on a 7-2 vote Aug. 12.

“The concern of the administration was that by having the list, it is limited,” Florczak said.

“It boils down to one word, flexibility,” said Steve Gardner, the Colorado Springs director of public works who was with Florczak on Tuesday.

After the City Council’s vote on the PPRDA, Mayor Steve Bach held a news conference announcing that he would not support the stormwater initiative.

More 2014 Colorado November election coverage here.