Engineering and Water Practice Under the “New” Water Court Rules: From All Perspectives – CLE, October 17

Urban, agricultural communities clash over #COWaterPlan — The Greeley Tribune

Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013
Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013

From The Greeley Tribune (Kayla Young):

By 2050, projections place Northern Colorado’s population at double its current level — a forecast that threatens to not only challenge but possibly tap out the region’s water resources. In the South Platte Water Basin, a 22,000-square mile district including Weld County, this population boom could equate to major water shortages in the not-so-distant future.

Concerns regarding population and water resource management fueled public questions at the Fort Collins Senior Center on Wednesday at the eighth of nine statewide meetings to gather public input on the Colorado Water Plan. The public discussion is the result of ongoing state legislative efforts, jump started by an executive order from Gov. John Hickenlooper in 2013 calling for input on a plan to tackle the looming water crisis.

As the district with the largest population and greatest need for irrigation water, the South Platte Water Basin has captured particular concern from policymakers looking to balance urban water needs with agriculture. Current consumption in the district has already neared maximum supply capacity, according to data provided by the South Platte Basin Roundtable.

While the district’s water supply capacity maxes out at 736,000 acre-feet per year, water needs for 2050 are estimated to reach over 1.1 million acre feet.

The opinions voiced at the meetings will contribute to a draft submission of a statewide water management plan to Hickenlooper in December. The final Colorado Water Plan is slated for final submission to the governor in December 2015.

Municipal vs. agricultural priorities

The South Platte meeting drew 100 people, the most of all public meetings to date. Attendees reflected the sharp disconnect between concerns of urban populations and those of agricultural communities.

While farmers at the meeting advocated for greater water storage capacity to ease pressure on agricultural allotments, Fort Collins residents expressed concern that tentative reservoir plans such as the Northern Integrated Supply Project would diminish the beauty and value of the Poudre River.

Rather than turn to major reservoir projects, community members like Gina Janette, a former member of the Fort Collins Water Board, proposed a greater focus on demand management. In Fort Collins, she said such efforts have been effective in reducing per capita water consumption.

Fort Morgan dairy farmer Chris Kraft appealed to city residents by reminding them that farmers keep food on our tables and rely on water resources to do so.

“This has no intention of hurting the Poudre River. If we could understand the priority system, this project would help rather than hurt the river. Our community of Fort Morgan would be one of the beneficiaries of the water storage project,” he said, encouraging policymakers in attendance to streamline water storage efforts.

The divide arises from community members who value greater green spaces versus farmers who prioritize the economic value brought from rivers and reservoirs, said Reagan M. Waskom III, director of CSU’s Colorado Water Institute.

“Here in Fort Collins, the community likes the river how it is and they don’t want to see any further depletions, so there is a great deal of opposition here to new reservoir projects,” Waskom said.

“What ag understands is that those projects are not going to create ag water but will take pressure off of them. Their thinking is that if Greeley, Eaton, Ault and Fort Morgan get water from NISP, it’s water that they don’t have to source from ag.”

Another part of the Colorado Water Plan proposal involves alternative transfer mechanisms, a system that would place greater control of water resources in the hands of agriculture to enable better management in drought years.

“Frankly, this is not going to solve very many of our big problems, but it might in some cases — especially in communities like Greeley. Places like Greeley are excellent for this kind of system, if the city wants to do it,” Woskom said.

Sustainability concerns for agriculture

Current projections place irrigated farming acreage on a downward slope in the South Platte River Basin, particularly west of Interstate 25.

While a reduction in farmland equates to better land prices for those who maintain their properties, it casts into doubt the long-term viability of crops like grain and alfalfa in the region.

There are currently 830,000 acres of irrigated farmland in the district, representing 24 percent of the state total, according to data provided at Wednesday’s meeting. By 2050, acreage could drop to as low as 596,000.

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.

Water Values Podcast: Plastic microbeads causing more probs than just water pollution

USBR: On this day in 1913, construction started on the Grand Valley Project #ColoradoRiver

The Grand River Diversion
The Grand River Diversion

More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.

With Close to Average Runoff, Lake Mead Holds Its Own in Late Summer — Rocky Mountain PBS #ColoradoRiver

Lake Mead water levels via NOAA
Lake Mead water levels via NOAA

From Rocky Mountain PBS (Jim Trotter):

The surface elevation of Lake Mead reached the historic low of 1,081.75 feet above sea level during the week of July 7, according to the Bureau of Reclamation. On Aug. 13, the bureau reported the level at 1,080. But as of Wednesday, it had inched back to 1,081.31.

This is all being closely watched by the seven states and Mexico that share Colorado River water. Should Mead fall to 1,075 feet it would trigger a declared shortage on the river, at which point water deliveries could be impacted.

The lake has dropped 128 feet since 2000, during the prolonged drought over big stretches of both the upper and lower basins. But the Upper Colorado River Basin runoff this spring and summer was 94 percent of average, compared to only 47 percent in 2013 and 45 percent in 2012.

Last month, the bureau said it expected a release to Mead from upstream Lake Powell of 8.23 million acre feet during water year 2015, an improvement on the 7.48 million acre feet for water year 2014…

But even with enhanced deliveries from Lake Powell, the bureau has projected that Mead will continue to fall in 2015.

In an interview with Rocky Mountain PBS I-News, Brad Udall, a Western water expert and senior fellow at the University of Colorado School of Law, summed up Lake Mead’s dilemma.

“The problem with Lake Mead is that it’s overused by 1.2 million acre feet every year,” Udall said. “With increased demands and with climate change, it’s a double wallop. What do we do with this 1.2 million acre-feet deficit?”

Ultimately, it might mean revisiting “the Law of the River,” the infinitely complex and arcane set of rules that govern the river’s use, starting with the Colorado River Compact of 1922, and changed by many agreements, lawsuits and rulings since, including acts of Congress and a Supreme Court decree.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here.

River district, county concerned over Crystal River designation — The Aspen Times

Crystal River near Redstone via Wikipedia Commons
Crystal River near Redstone via Wikipedia Commons

From The Aspen Times (John Stroud):

Colorado River District officials worry that possible Wild and Scenic designation for part of the Crystal River could sell western Colorado water interests short when it comes to the need for future storage projects, at least one River District board member advised Garfield County commissioners this week.

“We continue to see the Crystal River as an important water supply for western Colorado,” Dave Merritt, Garfield County’s representative on the 15-member River District board, said during a meeting earlier this week to discuss the proposal.

The push to give Wild and Scenic status to a 39-mile stretch of the Crystal south of Carbondale, from it headwaters in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness to the Sweet-Jessup Ditch headgate just below Avalanche Creek, “attempts to make a determination that the way the river is now is the way should be forever, and that’s a long time,” Merritt said.

“We believe that we need to be able to provide for those who come behind us the same opportunities that we’ve had, and the Crystal River is place where we can meet the needs of the future,” he said, adding there is also concern that the designation could remove local control in favor of federal protections.

County commissioners requested the meeting with River District and White River National Forest officials to get a better understanding of what Wild and Scenic designation would mean, and to offer their thoughts…

Any questions and concerns from the county, the River District or any other entity can be addressed in the eventual federal legislation that would have to go to Congress for consideration, said Redstone resident Bill Jochems.

“The Wild and Scenic Act has great flexibility to address those concerns,” Jochems said, noting that the full River District board has not voted on the proposal, nor will it or the county be asked to do so until the draft legislation is written.

“All we’re asking for is that there be no dams on the main stem of the Crystal above (Sweet-Jessup),” Jochems said. “And it’s not like we’re trying to prevent it forever.”

Small water storage projects could still be pursued downstream of the designation, or on any of the tributaries, he said…

White River National Forest staffers Rich Doak and Kay Hopkins explained that the Crystal River has been listed as eligible for Wild and Scenic status dating back to 1982, and reaffirmed in 2002.

The section of river being studied for formal designation does exhibit many of the “outstanding and remarkable” natural, cultural, historic and recreational values (ORVs) spelled out in the Wild and Scenic Act of 1968.

A key element is also that the proposed waterway be free-flowing. However, it’s possible that streams below an existing dam can be designated as Wild and Scenic, as long as the water releases are adequate to support the identified ORVs, Hopkins said.

“This is the stage of the process where all the hard questions are asked, and is the big planning part of the study,” she said.

The Garfield commissioners sought assurances that existing water rights would be maintained. Commissioner John Martin also asked that stormwater detention projects be addressed in the proposal, pointing to legal struggles in El Paso County related to the ability to build detention ponds.

“The nice thing about this process is that we can take those kinds of things into consideration,” Doak said.

The Crystal River is one of just five waterways out of 72 within the White River National Forest that meet the national Wild and Scenic standard, Hopkins added.

Others include Cross Creek on the east side of the Holy Cross Wilderness, the South Fork of the White River, and two streams nearing a formal suitability decision by Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management officials later this fall, Deep Creek and the portion of the Colorado River in Glenwood Canyon.

Once a record of decision is made on those two waterways, a legislative “advocate” would need to be identified to carry the bill in Congress, Hopkins said.

Since the Wild and Scenic Act was adopted, only one river in Colorado, the Cache le Poudre River west of Fort Collins, has such designation.

More Crystal River coverage here.

Aspen drinking water tour recap


From the Aspen Daily News (Collin Szewczyk):

Through a program by the Roaring Fork Conservancy, a group of over 20 people seeking to quench their intellectual curiosities concerning the city’s water, how it’s treated and where it comes from, toured the city of Aspen’s drinking water treatment facility this week led by water treatment supervisor Charlie Bailey and Laura Taylor, an operator at the facility.

Christina Medved, watershed education director of the Roaring Fork Conservancy, pointed out the parameters of the Roaring Fork watershed, noting that local rivers and streams are fed from an area the size of a small Eastern state.

“Our watershed is about the size of Rhode Island,” she said. “And over 30 percent of it is in designated wilderness areas.”

She praised the relationship that the conservancy has with local government entities such as the city water department, that allows visitors to check out local facilities, which are normally closed to the general public.

“What’s really exciting is we get access to places like this,” Medved said. “We have really wonderful partners that will say, ‘yeah, we’ll open up the gate for you,’ when you normally can’t get in here and have an audience with Charlie and Laura because they’re busy bringing water to Aspen.”

The plant was completed in December 1966 after Aspen endured a major waterborne epidemic of giardia in the mid-1960s. Giardia is a microscopic parasite that is found in soil, food or water that is contaminated with feces. Another parasite, cryptosporidium, has yet to appear in the Aspen area.

“That was 1964-65; it was the first documented public health problem in the United States,” said Bailey. “There was a documented waterborne problem and that was giardia. There were two redwood tanks up on the hill here that were used for the hydro plant that was down the street, but the Aspen Water Company provided water to the pipes and there was no treatment at all … It was a big hit, they called it ‘Aspenitus.’”

After the outbreak, the city got money together, bought bonds and broke ground on the treatment plant in 1965. There’s been no cases of giardia in the city’s water since the building of the facility, Bailey said.

“There’s lots of giardia in the water and none of it comes out of the pipeline here,” he said. “We’re required to do testing once a year on the performance of our filters and our clear well (a reservoir used for storing filtered water, which flows through a series of baffles, allowing contact time with chlorine for disinfection).”

Beavers were the main culprit for the giardia epidemic, and the area up Maroon and Castle creeks was teeming with them at the time.

“There was a huge beaver population up there,” Bailey said, but added that it’s good to have them in the area. “They’re animals that let us know that the environment is healthy.”

The water plant also checks the water for mining tailings and other non-natural pollutants.

“We’ve requested extra testing of our water sources,” Bailey said. “We’ve done heavy metal testing and we actually do [pharmaceutical] testing, too.”

He added that no traces of either have been found in Aspen’s drinking water.

“Ever since I’ve been here, and even before, there’s been no problem with city water,” he said. “No public outbreaks, no boil orders, because I will not let it happen on my watch.

“We make the water, and the best thing about making the water here is that it’s clean,” Bailey continued. “The water comes from wilderness areas and there is nobody up above us that has dumped back [into the creeks] after industrial processes or anything like that. We get water coming through the geology, through the snowmelt, we are stewards of the water so we really keep track of everything above us and below us.”[…]

The water here is pumped in from Maroon and Castle creeks and begins its journey through the treatment facility and into Aspen taps. He noted that the city has water rights of 142 cubic feet per second (cfs) in Maroon Creek and about 90 cfs in Castle Creek, even though the streams only hit that level during spring runoff…

The purification process
The reservoir, which holds about 4 million gallons in the summer, is the first stop in the purifying process as sediment in the water begins to settle here.

“This is one of our processes,” Bailey said. “We basically bring the water in here and we slow it down. This helps so much during [peak] runoff … the dirt is tumbling, it’s coming in and all the sudden it settles out here and we’re able to draw off the surface and it’s much, much cleaner.”

He added that the water is usually at about one turbidity unit (TU) — the measurement of cloudiness caused by particulates — when it enters the reservoir. When it leaves it’s at .5 TU; during peak runoff it can be as dirty as 60 TU.

“We get reduction in here,” Bailey said. “That’s just a natural tumbling process, we slow it down and that stuff just falls out.”

The nutrient-rich sediment has to be periodically dug out, but it gets spread around the site making the soil perfect for plant growth.

To the north side of the reservoir lies the remnants of the old Maroon Creek flume that was used to divert water to the “tent city” in the late 1800s. As the group was looking down on the wooden channel one observer noticed a bear hanging out in a nearby tree, adding to the natural feel of the site.

The water next goes into large flocculation tanks — which look like UFOs — that, with the aid of chemicals, coagulate the particulates, churn them about and make the sediment again settle to the bottom.

After settling twice, the water makes its journey to a filtration section of the facility. Here, it’s pushed by gravity through a filter that consists of 18 inches of anthracite (coal) and a foot of sand. It next heads to the clear well for 14 to 15 hours to ensure all giardia is killed.

The state’s regulation allows for drinking water to reach one TU and still be acceptable to drink, but on this day Aspen’s drinking water was a pristine 0.037 TU.

More water treatment coverage here.

EPA: Proposal aims to help farmers

Gore Creek
Gore Creek

From the Environmental Protection Agency (Ken Kopocis) via AgWeek:

When Congress passed the Clean Water Act in 1972, it didn’t just defend the mighty Mississippi or the Great Lakes; it also protected smaller streams and wetlands from pollution. The law recognized that to have healthy communities downstream, we need healthy headwaters upstream.

EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers took targeted action in March to protect the clean water vital to our health and our economy. Science clearly shows us what kinds of streams and wetlands impact water downstream — so our proposal protects those waters.

There’s been some confusion about EPA and the Army Corps’ proposal, especially in the agriculture community. We want to make sure you know the facts.

The agencies’ intent is to protect clean water without getting in the way of farming and ranching. Normal farming and ranching — including planting, harvesting and moving livestock — have always been exempt from Clean Water Act regulation, and our proposal doesn’t change that. We worked with U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resource Conservation Service and the Army Corps of Engineers to exempt 56 conservation practices familiar to many farmers, such as range planting and wetland restoration, who know their benefits to business, the land and water resources.

Despite the myths we’re hearing from some critics, the Clean Water Act only deals with the pollution and destruction of waterways — not land use. Nor does this proposal affect private property rights. Also, the proposal does not regulate new types of ditches, does not apply to groundwater, and does not change the exemption for stock ponds.

With the western U.S. in historic drought, and after seeing how water pollution can threaten communities like Toledo, Ohio, and Charleston, W.Va., the proposal is more important than ever. Paul Schwartz, a farmer from Hotchkiss, Colo., agrees.

“[EPA’s proposal] will provide needed clarity and help address very real water challenges,” he says.

EPA is not interested in a final rule that will make farming more difficult. The agency’s job is to protect our natural resources so farmers can keep doing what they do best — farming.

We understand people have legitimate questions and concerns about the proposal, and we are committed to listening to America’s farmers and ranchers. But we can all agree that protecting the long-term health of our nation’s waters is essential. The public comment period for the proposal is open until Oct. 20, and your input will make sure we get to a strong, achievable final rule.

More Environmental Protection Agency coverage here.

Klaus Wolter’s forecasted SWE for January 1 and April 1, 2015 #COdrought

At last week’s Colorado River District Annual Seminar Jeff Lukas warned that the reliance on the April 1 snowpack to predict streamflow will be lessened by climate change. Nevertheless old habits die hard. Below are Klaus Wolter’s first passes at the January 1 and April 1 SWE, presented last week at the Colorado Water Conservation Board’s Water Availability Task Force meeting. Click here to view Klaus’ slides.

January 1, 2015 snow water equivalent prediction via Klaus Wolter
January 1, 2015 snow water equivalent prediction via Klaus Wolter
April 1, 2015 snow water equivalent predication via Klaus Wolter
April 1, 2015 snow water equivalent predication via Klaus Wolter