Senator Roberts is lining up with others on the West Slope who are beating the conservation drum #coleg

Hayfield message to President Obama 2011 via Protect the Flows
Hayfield message to President Obama 2011 via Protect the Flows

From the Pagosa Springs Sun (Ellen Roberts):

Things are off to a fast and busy start at the Colorado legislature. We’ve just finished the last of the ceremonial formalities, which are time consuming, but important for their historical significance and in recognizing the other branches of state government that the legislature works with.

We attended the outdoor inauguration of the governor and were fortunate that it was a warmer day than when the arctic chill was reaching into Denver last month. We also heard the governor’s State of the State address, as well as the chief justice of the Colorado Supreme Court’s State of the Judiciary address.

I had the honor of serving as president of the senate already, including for the State of the Judiciary address. It was exciting to have the opportunity to serve in that capacity with the speaker of the house and the chief justice, as it’s likely the first time in Colorado that each of those roles was filled
by a woman.

In the Senate, we’ve been running regular legislative business alongside the ceremonial activities. I’ve already had three of my bills in committees and, fortunately, all were passed out and are moving further along in the process.

The first bill comes from my work on the water interim committee and supports access to the best water conservation strategies for all land use planners who want that information. During the summer and fall, I was part of the water committee that held nine meetings all around Colorado. Citizens in every corner of the state were seeking more in terms of water conservation education and efforts by those managing water resources in the state.

This is a topic where I believe the people are ahead of some of those in governmental service. The bill had bipartisan support in the interim committee and it’ll have bipartisan support as it moves through the process because water conservation isn’t a partisan topic. Conservation is a practical and impactful way to maximize the use of our limited water resources, which Coloradans rightfully treasure, no matter where they live in the state.

The bill was amended to remove any link to financial support from the state, which was done at the request of a few stakeholders. There’s no mandate to use the educational strategies made available through the bill, but it’ll take advantage of the significant expertise on this topic in our semi-arid state and make that information accessible to those who play a very significant

While, today, the vast amount of Colorado water is used in agriculture, there’s an indisputable shift as more of that water is sold to municipalities to support their present and future growth. My personal belief is that keeping agricultural land in production and supporting family operations should be a high priority so that we can keep our food sources close.

That said, water rights are a valuable property right and avail- able for sale at the water owner’s discretion. This bill recognizes those dynamics and will help Colorado make the most of our headwaters we’ve been blessed with, but must also deliver downstream to neighboring states.

I’m missing being home in southwestern Colorado, but the session is off to a good start and I’m thankful to be here.

More 2015 Colorado legislation coverage here.

Using a PrecisionHawk UAV for Water Sampling/Surveying

From MIT Technology Review ( Andrew Rosenblum):

Drones carrying cameras or infrared sensors have already found favor with farmers, police forces, and extreme sports enthusiasts. Now engineers are testing versions of the tiny craft that can do more than just observe.

Prototypes able to swoop down to scoop up water samples are being developed to help ecologists, the oil industry, and others track oil leaks or invasive species. Some can even perform rudimentary analysis on the water they collect.

Commercial drone company PrecisionHawk, of Raleigh, North Carolina, is testing a water sampling drone with some clients in the oil industry. It takes the form of a seaplane and has a pump mounted on its pontoons that can handle even viscous swampwater thick with bugs, mud, or algae. The water is sucked into a container and then carried to a lab to check for signs of oil leaks or spills. (See a short video of the drone in action.)

“If you go up to Northern Canada or Alaska, there are literally thousands of ponds and lakes that are a few acres in size,” says PrecisionHawk CEO Ernest Earon. “Trying to walk through or take a boat to get water samples, it’s an almost impossible task.”

Earon says his team is now researching the possibility of a drone carrying a small spectrometer to analyze water for itself. That would save on energy-draining trips back to the lab.

YangQuan Chen, an engineering professor at the University of California, Merced, is testing a quadcopter drone with a buoyant frame that lands on water to collect a sample to be whisked to back to a lab for DNA extraction and sequencing.

The goal is to collect what is called environmental DNA, or eDNA, left behind by plants, animals, or other organisms. Analyzing eDNA provides a way to track diseases and endangered or invasive species. The technique is used to track populations of invasive Asian Carp around the Great Lakes, for example. Grabbing water samples by drone could make the approach more powerful by covering larger areas, says Chen. “There are some places that cannot be reached by boat or vehicle,” says Chen. “You simply cannot go there, so you have to use a drone.”

Chen says his biggest challenge has been to work out a way for the drone to land on moving water or during inclement weather. An onboard sensor registers wind gusts and software adjusts thrust in turn. The drone can scoop up water, but the researchers have not sequenced eDNA in the samples it collected.

In the long term, miniaturization of high-throughput genetic sequencing devices could allow drones to analyze their own samples, says geneticist Mike Miller of the University of California, Davis, who is collaborating with Chen. “Maybe in not that long, there’ll be drones deployed all over California, dipping down into water, sequencing all of the DNA on the fly and sending the data back to a central location,” Miller says.

Carrick Detweiler, an assistant professor of computer science and engineering at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, is working on a similar drone he calls a “Co-Aerial Ecologist.” It uses a one-meter dangling tube to suck water onboard like a straw. With water stored in onboard vials, it can then measure the samples’ temperature or conductivity (a proxy for salinity).

At a popular recreation area in Nebraska, Detweiler’s drone has already sampled from a series of small manmade lakes for toxic algae. The task routinely takes a crew of humans 12 to 14 hours, but the drone can do it in about two. The drone has also been used to search Nebraska waterways for the larvae of the invasive zebra mussel.

Detweiler predicts that there will soon be many more hands-on drones appearing. “The next generation of vehicles five to 10 years from now will be capable of getting really close to the environment, like water-sampling or collecting leaf samples,” he says. Detweiler has begun work on a drone that plucks leaves from crops with a mechanical arm, to determine the health of plants, or identify the exact variety of a weed infesting a corn field.

Chen hopes that drones like these could become cheap enough for just about anybody to use. PrecisionHawk’s seaplane drone costs $16,500 even without water sampling gear, which is scheduled to be available as an optional extra later this year. That’s cheap for oil companies but too expensive for many environmental organizations or scientists.

Chen believes that his design could lead to a water sampling drone that costs only $1,000. He envisions ecologists and even journalists being able to routinely sample bodies of water for analysis at the lab, providing a new layer of environmental oversight. “We need to make it affordable,” he says.

H/T Circle of Blue Water News.

More water pollution coverage here.

Colorado Water Wise: Sign up for the @projectwet workshop on February 10 in Greeley

Drought News: No change in #drought status for Colorado

Click here to go to the US Drought Monitor website. Here’s an excerpt:


Drier than normal conditions prevailed over most of the country last week, precipitation totals exceeding a few tenths of an inch were restricted to a swath from the eastern Carolinas northward up the coast and through New England, and across the northern Intermountain West and the Pacific Northwest and southward to northwestern California. Generally 3 to 6 inches soaked areas of northern Oregon and Washington to the west of the Cascades, and 1 to 3 inches were observed in much of the Intermountain West and from Delaware norteastward to central Maine…


Between 2 and 5 inches of precipitation fell on a small part of northwesternmost California, but the bulk of the state was dry. Following some of the previous week’s deterioration in some areas, areas of dryness and drought changed little this week. Short-term deficits continued growing in the Sierra Nevada and adjacent Nevada, and intensely dry conditions persisted…

Central and Southern Plains

It’s been a dry 30 days from the eastern Texas Panhandle and the central tier of Oklahoma northeastward through southern and eastern Kansas and into Missouri. Amounts below half of normal are widespread, and only 1/10 of normal at best was measured in a swath from west-central to north-central Oklahoma. The dry conditions prompted fairly broad expansion of D0 through eastern sections of Oklahoma and Kansas, plus adjacent Missouri. Patchy deterioration was noted farther west in the region. South of the Texas Panhandle, precipitation has been variable lately, and drought designations have likewise improved at some places and times, and deteriorated in others. But short-term conditions have averaged much closer to normal across the region as a whole, with precipitation shortfalls observed on time scales of 6 months to multiple years…

Northern Plains and upper Midwest

No precipitation fell last week, but seasonably to abnormally cold weather essentially locked conditions in place, preventing deterioration…

The High Plains, Rockies, and Intermountain West

The only significant precipitation was observed in central and western Idaho, part of eastern Washington and Oregon, and a patch in western Wyoming. Central and northern Idaho received 1 to 3 inches in spots. Precipitation here has been persistently above normal for the last several months, and few if any drought impacts have been reported of late. Thus, D0 was removed from a broad area in central Idaho, with more limited improvement in some adjacent areas.

The rest of the northern Intermoutain West received a few tenths to one inch of precipitation, and the rest of this broad region across the interior West was dry, save for isolated spots getting a few tenths of an inch at best. Drought tends to change slowly across this region, but precipitation deficits became large enough to bring north-central Arizona into extreme drougtht…

The Pacific Northwest

Significant precipitation fell on areas west of the Cascades (4 to 10 inches in some areas), but this region is climatologically wet, and there was little impact on areas of dryness and drought. Much lighter precipitation from the Cascades eastward precluded any improvement there. Areas of dryness and drought remained unchanged…

Looking Ahead

At least one storm system will track from the southern Plains eastward across the Gulf Coast states and northward along the Eastern Seaboard during January 22 – 26, 2015. As a result, a large swath along that path and the adjacent Appalachians should get at least an inch of precipitation, and totals may reach 3 inches in eastern Texas and along the central Gulf Coast. Farther north and west, including non-coastal New England and the northern Appalachians, only a few tenths of an inch are expected at best. Above-normal temperatures will settle across a large area from the middle Ohio Valley and central Great Lakes region westward through central and northern sections of the Plains and Rockies, plus the entire Intermountain West and West Coast. Daily high temperatures could average 15oF to 24oF above normal in the northern Plains and adjacent Rockies. In the Great Basin and most of California, 9oF to 12oF is expected. Only the southern sections of the Rockies and High Plains will average significantly colder than normal, with anomalies of -3oF to -9oF.

Conditions should be drier than normal for the ensuing 5 days (January 27 – 31, 2015) across the northern halves of the West Coast and Intermoutain West. The odds also favor drier than normal conditions in a broad area from the Plains eastward to the Piedmont and from the northern Mississippi Valley and central Great Lakes region southward to the central Gulf Coast. Meanwhile, enhanced chances for unusually heavy precipitation extend from the North Carolina Coastal Plains northward along the coast and through New England. In addition, the southern Great Plains, all of the High Plains, the southern Rockies, and the Southwest also have enhanced chances for surplus precipitation. Odds favor subnormal temperatures from the Mississippi Valley eastward, and warmer than normal conditions from the Plains westward to the Pacific.

Breckenridge: 5% bump in water rates to build fund for new water plant


From the Town of Breckenridge via the Summit Daily News:

For the first time in recent memory, the town of Breckenridge will raise water usage rates by 5 percent for residential and commercial customers across town.

In an effort to both encourage conservation and kick-start funding for a proposed new water plant, the town council last year approved a higher water utility rate for 2015. Historically, water fees have increased at a low pace of 1 percent annually. Beginning this March, the town’s water usage rates will increase by 5 percent and plant investment fees (PIFs) will jump by 10 percent, the steepest hike since 2007, according to town records.

“Rapidly increasing demands, especially in the drought-prone West, are placing an immense strain on this limited, precious resource,” Mayor John Warner said. “It is our duty to address this critical issue for our community.”

The 5 percent rate increase for residential and commercial users will raise the base residential usage charge from $31.26 to $32.81 over a two-month billing cycle, an increase of $1.55. That translates to a $9.30 increase annually per customer.

For customers beyond town limits, such as homes in the Blue River neighborhood, the two-month rate is 50 percent higher, according to the town’s 2011 water plant feasibility study. Those customers will pay $18.60 more per year.

Excess usage rates will also increase in turn. The base rate for maximum usage will drop from 12,000 gallons to 10,000 gallons per two-month billing cycle. Rates for excess usage will increase from $3.11 per 1,000 gallons to $5.00 per 1,000 gallons. These measures were put in place to encourage conservation efforts, according to a town release.

To assist customers with conservation efforts, the town will send individual water usage history reports shortly after the rate increase. These reports will detail two-year usage history for each customer. Town officials hope the reports can help guide and track conservation efforts, and they come paired with a link to water conservation tips on the town website.

Over the past 10 years, water has factored heavily into council discussions about the town’s future. After noting that water is essential to the community’s economy, natural environment and quality of life, the council made water-related issues a priority and in 2014 completed a comprehensive study on the town’s water system, which strongly recommends the addition of a second water plant.

The PIF increase of 10 percent for 2015 is double the historical annual increase rate of 5 percent. This rate hike is the first step for financing a new plant. Only new customers connecting to the municipal system pay PIFs.

The 2014 water study indicated that the town’s sole water treatment plant, a 41-year-old facility, will not be able to meet future demand. As a result, the town has started the process of planning for a new facility that will help the town meet future water demand as the town continues to grow.

While the town has made strides in conserving water and management efficiency, the current water plant is nearing 80 percent capacity. The current plant will not be able to support new customers outside the current service area, which is supplied by private wells with a high likelihood of failure.

Another benefit of a new plant is emergency readiness. In the event of a wildfire, natural disaster or mechanical malfunction at the current plant, a second water plant would provide a critical back-up system.

The study also found that the Breckenridge system supplies high-quality drinking water at a low cost to customers in comparison to other communities in Colorado. Funding currently comes from user fees, tap fees and water system maintenance fees. The upcoming usage rate and PIF increases are the first such increases. The town council and utility department have not yet decided on any future increases.

“The town is working with water system consultants, engineers and water rights attorneys to secure our community’s water future,” Warner said. “Increased water rates are just one part of taking steps to improve our water utility system. The council and staff are aware that increased rates are rarely welcome news, but we believe that our citizens will understand the critical needs for water conservation and system improvements.”

The Breckenridge Water System study and an informational Q&A on the rate increase are available on the town website at

More infrastructure coverage here

Fountain Creek: “When they talk [Colorado Springs] to us about stormwater, all we get is fuzzy math” — Jay Winner

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Colorado Springs is trying to talk its way out of its stormwater commitment, and the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District is losing its patience.

“You can talk the talk, but you’ve got to walk the walk. That’s not what I’m hearing,” Jay Winner, Lower Ark manager, told his board Wednesday. “When they talk to us about stormwater, all we get is fuzzy math.”

The board will consider whether to proceed with the federal lawsuit next month.

Winner is frustrated because his discussions with Colorado Springs Utilities have been similar to 2005 and 2007, when he was assured by Utilities the city would live up to its commitments to control drainage into Fountain Creek caused by increased runoff from development. When enumerating stormwater projects, Colorado Springs points to street projects that Winner said have nothing to do with controlling the flow into Fountain Creek.

In November, the Lower Ark board voted to prepare a lawsuit under the federal Clean Water Act over violations of its stormwater permit. Since then, the district has hired a firm to sample water quality and has been moving toward a lawsuit.

“Everybody seems to say the right things,” Winner said. “But I keep getting told, ‘Nothing happens until we get a new mayor.’’’ In November, Colorado Springs Councilman Merv Bennett asked the Lower Ark to have patience just days after voters in El Paso County rejected a drainage authority that would have raised nearly $40 million annually to improve Fountain Creek stormwater issues.

Colorado Springs council has made no overtures since then to address Lower Ark’s concerns.

“I’m not hopeful we’ll get anywhere,” Winner said.

Colorado Springs had a stormwater utility in place in 2009, when Pueblo County commissioners approved a 1041 permit for the Southern Delivery System.

The Lower Ark district lobbied Colorado Springs City Council in 2005 for creation of a stormwater utility, specifically to address past stormwater issues on Fountain Creek.

Colorado Springs has a backlog of about $535 million in stormwater projects, according to its most recent accounting.

More Lower Arkansas Water Conservancy District coverage here.