From the Vail Daily (Scott N. Miller):
When tackling a big job, success often depends on good information. Cleaning up Gore Creek is one of those big jobs, and people in charge of that task are still working to find out exactly what they’re facing.
To that end, the town of Vail this year has hired SGM, a Glenwood Springs-based engineering, surveying and consulting company, to do some of the most basic research — locating all of the town’s storm sewers and finding out exactly where they go.
That’s a more complicated job than it sounds. At the moment, town officials know the location of no more than 70 percent of the existing storm drainage system.
Kristen Bertuglia, the town’s environmental sustainability manager, said knowing where all of the town’s storm drains are, and where they go, is an important part of the bigger cleanup effort.
Most of the town’s storm drains flow into vaults, essentially big tanks where sand, oil and other pollutants are separated out before water ends up in the creek.
Bertuglia said knowing where those vaults are, and which parts of the drainage system flow into them — along with good mapping of the system — will help town officials develop a schedule for cleaning the vaults, thus keeping them working as they should.
“As soon as the inventory’s done, we can do a better schedule,” Bertuglia said.
More stormwater coverage here.
From The Colorado Independent (Bob Berwyn):
Water fights run deep in this state, and officials long avoided drafting a plan for what to do about it.
But Gov. John Hickenlooper knows avoidance is no longer an option; water is running out.
As Colorado’s population rises, the gap between supply and demand is expected to grow to millions of gallons of water per day by 2050. Already, nearly every drop of groundwater, river-water and rainwater has been claimed in our state.
Just like energy and the Internet, water needs to be regulated.
But farmers and ranchers have one set of interests, city dwellers have another and environmentalists have staked a claim in the fight, too. The current laws, based in frontier feuds, favor farmers and ranchers – particularly the ones whose families have owned their land decades before others.
Some fear states like California, that are already dealing with drought, will grab water from Colorado, either with money or force. After all, water wars are the future, stated a 2012 report from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which oversees the FBI and the CIA.
In 2012, Colorado was ravaged by wildfires and drought. In response, in 2013, Hickenloooper ordered various state departments to craft a long-term water plan. The Colorado Water Conservation Board is heading the effort.
“Throughout our state’s history, other water plans have been created by federal agencies or for the purpose of obtaining federal dollars,” the order says. “We embark on Colorado’s first water plan written by Coloradans, for Coloradans.”
But what Coloradans? City folks? Farmers? Ranchers? Outdoor enthusiasts?
To figure this out, the state needs to hear from people. But do Coloradans even know this planning process is taking place? And, with water wars looming, how can a plan solve the thousands of conflicting water needs Colorado must balance as the planet heats up, our rivers dry up and our population swells.
Don’t touch the water
Theresa Ellsworth didn’t know about the state’s efforts, but she knows in her gut that something is wrong with how water laws work here.
Ellsworth lives halfway between Frisco and Breckenridge, at the foot of the Tenmile Range. In the spring, water rages around her subdivision. Runoff from the mountains surges down the Blue River, feeding millions of gallons of water into Dillon Reservoir each day.
But Ellsworth can’t use any of it, not even a few drops for a petunia patch. She gets her household water from a well, and if she uses well water to wash her car or water her lawn, she’s breaking the law – unless she were to buy into an expensive state-run water trading program that she can’t afford.
“How can I tell somebody this isn’t fair?” she says, with no idea that Hickenlooper’s water-planning process is going on.
Ellsworth isn’t the only one who hasn’t heard of the state water plan or efforts by officials to seek public input before the comment period on the first draft ends [May 1].
John Minor, Summit County’s elected sheriff, didn’t know about the planning effort, either. And he’s a public official who, like it or not, deals with water in his job.
His deputies get called in a few times a year by water inspectors who enforce the state’s peculiar groundwater laws. See, these inspectors risk their necks threatening people with water shut-offs and fines. Colorado water law – a tangled mess – isn’t exactly user friendly. Few have the time or energy to untangle it. And many Coloradans don’t like that the government is on their land and trying to take what they see as their water.
So, they make threats, and Sheriff Minor and his deputies have to help keep the inspectors safe.
Minor, a British-born libertarian, rubs his chin incredulously as he ponders the irony of his job as a water cop. Shouldn’t he know about the state plan?
From the start, Hickenlooper and his water planners have sought widespread public input into Colorado’s first-ever statewide water blueprint, even launching a social media campaign on Facebook and Twitter. There’s a one-stop website for commenting, and it’s easy to sign up for email alerts and snail-mail updates.
But like Minor and Ellsworth, many people who should know and care about the water plan just haven’t been reached — or maybe they have, and just haven’t tuned in.
State officials are trying, “but they’re not very good at it,” Eagle County resident Ken Neubecker said. General skepticism about unwieldy government planning efforts probably cause some people to shy away, added Neubecker, a longtime river runner, fly fisherman and head of the Colorado River Basin Project for American Rivers.
“You can never get too much grassroots involvement,” he said. “This plan is really important for the future of the state. It won’t trump water law, but provides a road map for the future instead of looking back at the past. People need to get their comments in, talk about it and tell their friends,” Neubecker said. “This is a chance for people to actually speak.”
So, what’s the plan?
The first draft Coloradans are being asked to read and comment on is 300 pages long. It’s clouded with fuzzy statements about conservation and cooperation among water users. It’s vague. [ed. emphasis mine]
Hidden behind the fuzziness is a blueprint that does not solve historic tensions between water-producing areas west of the Continental Divide and water-hungry areas to the east, commenters suggest. Front Range cities and farms need the water to continue to thrive, but Western Slope farmers, environmentalists and outdoors enthusiasts are close to saying, “Not one more drop.”
Federal agencies have sent in comments, wrangling for control. This is one more chapter in the century-long drama over water rights between Colorado and the feds.
State agencies insist they share goals with the feds: more water conservation, reuse and recycling – all nebulous concepts.
The plan calls for more options to avoid permanently drying up farmland, but it doesn’t say what farmland or where. It needs to be specific to make it more than just a memo or feel-good document, water watchdogs say.
Today is the last chance to comment about what people like and don’t like about the first draft. Once the second draft gets released, the public will have another chance to comment between July 15 and Sept. 17.
Whether or not everybody who wants a say knows he or she can have one has yet to be seen.
With our series “Colorado water: What’s the plan?” The Colorado Independent will in the coming months cover the formation of the water blueprint and detail the political, economic social and environmental tugs-of-war that will be stretching it as it takes shape.
Please follow our multimedia coverage and weigh in with your comments and questions as we try to make sense out of one of the driest yet most pressing issues we face.
More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.
Here’s guest column written by Timothy Egan for The New York Times asking how the current drought will permanently alter California? Here’s an excerpt:
But California, from this drought onward, will be a state transformed. The Dust Bowl of the 1930s was human-caused, after the grasslands of the Great Plains were ripped up, and the land thrown to the wind. It never fully recovered. The California drought of today is mostly nature’s hand, diminishing an Eden created by man. The Golden State may recover, but it won’t be the same place.
Looking to the future, there is also the grim prospect that this dry spell is only the start of a “megadrought,” made worse by climate change. California has only about one year of water supply left in its reservoirs. What if the endless days without rain become endless years?
In the cities of a changed California, brown is the new green. A residential lawn anywhere south of, say, Sacramento, is already considered an indulgence. “If the only person walking on your lawn is the person mowing it,” said Felicia Marcus, chairwoman of the State Water Resources Control Board, then maybe it should be taken out. The state wants people to convert lawns to drought-tolerant landscaping, or fake grass.
Artificial lakes filled with Sierra snowmelt will become baked-mud valleys, surrounded by ugly bathtub rings. Some rivers will dry completely — at least until a normal rain year. A few days ago, there was a bare trickle from the Napa, near the town of St. Helena, flowing through some of the most valuable vineyards on the planet. The state’s massive plumbing system, one of the biggest in the world, needs adequate snow in order to serve farmers in the Central Valley and techies in Silicon Valley. This year, California set a record low Sierra snowpack in April — 5 percent of normal — following the driest winter since records have been kept.
To Californians stunned by their bare mountains, there was no more absurd moment in public life recently than when James Inhofe, the Republican senator from Oklahoma who is chairman of the environment and public works committee, held up a snowball in February as evidence of America’s hydraulic bounty in the age of climate change…
But now, just about everyone in California knows that it requires a gallon of water to grow a single almond, or that agriculture accounts for 80 percent of the water used by humans here. Meanwhile, the cities have become leaders in conservation. It takes 106 gallons of water to produce an ounce of beef — which is more than the average San Francisco Bay Area resident uses in a day. Mayor Eric Garcetti of Los Angeles wants to reduce the amount of water the city purchases by 50 percent in the next decade, cutting back through aggressive use of wastewater and conservation.
It’s outlandish, urban critics note, for big farm units to be growing alfalfa — which consumes about 20 percent of the state’s irrigation water — or raising cattle, in a place with a third of the rainfall of other states. And by exporting that alfalfa and other thirsty crops overseas, the state is essentially shipping its precious water to China…
What will come, then, from this disrupting drought is likely to be a shift of power. The urban “almond shaming” chorus is quick to note that the crop uses enough water to support 75 percent of the state’s population. In other words, there would be no water shortage in San Diego or Los Angeles if nut growers shut off the pumps.
“Imagine if somebody ever said, ‘Let’s have a vote on how to use California’s water,’ ” said Daniel Beard, a former Bureau of Recreation commissioner and a critic of federal dam building. “That’s the last thing big agricultural interests would want.”
The food industry is ripe for disruption. The land that has been left fallow now in the Central Valley is still less than 5 percent of all the irrigation acreage in California. Another 5 percent would leave most of the industry standing, and leaner. Low-value, high-water crops would disappear, as is already happening.
Absent a vote of the people, the free market could end up as the decider. The big city water districts have more than enough money to buy farm water in a freewheeling exchange. Indeed, they’ve been making numerous purchases for years — though limited by complex water contracts and infrastructure that makes it difficult to pipe large amounts from one place to the other.
In addition, one fear of making water an open-market commodity is that rich and politically powerful communities would get all the clean water they needed, while poor public districts would be left out. A class system around breathable air has already developed in China. Is abundant water the next must-have possession of the 1 percent?