— Gizmodo (@Gizmodo) May 18, 2015
— Coloradoan (@coloradoan) May 18, 2015
From the Fort Collins Coloradan (Kevin Duggan):
The bodies of water once were strip mines where excavators and bulldozers roamed, pulling up rich deposits of gravel, sand and river rock. Noisy crushing machines sorted out the materials, which went toward building roads, bridges and buildings and decorating gardens.
In their wake, the mining operations left behind deep, gaping pits in the Poudre Valley landscape that over time were transformed into water-storage vessels and “natural” areas.
“There is not a natural lake on the Poudre,” said Rob Helmick, a senior planner with Larimer County. “All of those areas have been mined at some point. In many cases, it happened decades ago.”
A review of aerial photos of the river between Laporte and the Larimer/Weld county line near Windsor showed at least 30 permitted gravel-mining sites and about 70 ponds of various shapes and sizes, Helmick said. Many of the pits likely predate state and county regulations on gravel-mining operations.
A state law passed in 1977 put an end to the practice of abandoning spent gravel pits by requiring reclamation of mining sites, said Tony Waldron, mineral program manager with the Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety.
“It used to be a rape-and-escape mentality,” he said. “Operators moved on and left the mines behind.”
Today, an operator must post a bond with the state that is returned only after reclamation work, such as grading and planting native plants to re-vegetate a site, is completed and the permit closed.
The reclamation and treatment a pit receives depends upon its next use. The complexities of state law on water ownership also come into play…
The water volumes may be small compared to large reservoirs, but they matter to the districts, he said. The partnership expects to spend about $17 million on the project.
“We don’t have the return-flow obligations that Greeley has, so we are going for storage,” DiTullio said. “Every little bit helps. And it’s a natural use for those pits.”
State water law requires water managers to account for where their water comes from and where it goes, including evaporation. The pits are lined with clay or have “slurry walls” built around them to keep groundwater out of the facilities.
The state’s permitting process and testing requirements have strict standards, including the slope of a pit, Guggisberg said…
A mined-out gravel pit once was considered a liability by property owners, Waldron said. The pits were sold for low prices or given away to municipalities and counties to use as natural areas.
Attitudes started to change in the 1990s when water storage became a statewide issue and major reservoir projects, such as Two Forks Dam proposed west of Denver, became increasingly difficult and expensive to build.
A law passed in 1981 requiring owners of unlined pits that were connected to groundwater flow to account for evaporation and replace the lost water by was another complication.
Former pits became a viable way to store and release water to meet state regulations for augmenting water lost to evaporation, said Mark Sears, natural areas manager with Fort Collins. Being able to return water to the Poudre motivated the city’s Natural Resources Department to partner with Fort Collins Utilities to build Rigden Reservoir off East Horsetooth Road.
Some ponds are stocked for fishing by the Colorado Division of Wildlife and Parks. The river areas are highly popular, Sears said.
“Just from their scenic value, the river natural areas are great,” he said. “And they are wonderful habitat, especially around the edges, for a variety of species.”
More Cache la Poudre watershed coverage here.
From The Greeley Tribune (Sharon Dunn):
The piles of dirt tend to rise daily, as the heavy construction continues to dredge into the earth about five miles east of Kersey.
The massive dirt-moving operation, which involves a couple of handfuls of heavy construction equipment, has been dredging ground for three months to dig the 70 Ranch Reservoir, a planned 6,000 acre-foot reservoir just north of U.S. 34 and west of Weld County Road 69, about 15 miles east of Greeley.
The $10 million project will be used to help replenish water that farmers pump from the fields in Weld County, and supply water to municipalities east and south of Denver.
The project is headed by Bob Lembke, president of United Water and Sanitation District, which supplies water to the East Cherry Creek Valley Water and Sanitation District and Arapahoe County Water and Wastewater Authority. The project also is under the auspices of the Sand Hills Metropolitan District, which is the subject of a lawsuit by two oil and gas companies, citing their taxes were used incorrectly through the district.
“Upon completion, it will be somewhere in the neighborhood of 6,000 acre-feet of storage, and it will be used to store water rights in that section of the Platte River and serve as location for storage for well augmentation plans,” Lembke said.
The reservoir may be a bit a source of contention for some involved in Weld agriculture, as it is seen as yet another way to divert water from the county to municipal users. The concern of outside municipalities buying up water rights on Weld farms has been ongoing for years.
Lembke said the reservoir will be used chiefly for Weld uses, though there will be storage for some water rights outside of Weld.
“Some are in Adams County, some are Weld, some go to Araphoe County. Some will benefit 70 Ranch directly to get land there irrigated because we have a fair amount of farmland that needs water,” Lembke said.
One potential user could be Central Colorado Water Conservancy District, which serves Adams, Weld and Morgan counties. Lembke has been in discussions with district leaders, who have not yet committed to using the reservoir for its storage purposes. Three years ago, voters in the water conservancy district approved spending $60 million to secure water storage.
Executive Director Randy Ray has about half of that today to find and develop additional water supplies.
“This could be one of those projects,” Ray said. “We’re evaluating additional gravel pit storage projects. We have a lot of options to look at and 70 Ranch could be one of those.”
Any involvement in the project would have to be vetted through the district’s board of directors, which is made up of area farmers.
Ray said the reservoir’s location is ideal, and its size also is appealing.
“The location for 70 Ranch reservoir is very good,” Ray said. “It’s downstream of where all tributaries come into the Platte. A lot of people call it the fat part of the river because you have the St. Vrain, Thompson and Cache la Poudre, all entered in the river, and typically, on a wet or average year, there’s enough flow on the river there that junior water rights can be diverted and filled.
“So the location, we like, it’s a good place,” Ray said. “We’ve been looking for a site in that area since the bond passed.”
The perception problem, however, may prove difficult.
“There is this perception that a lot people do not like United Water’s and other entities’, like Castle Rock, Aurora, Thornton, they don’t like these municipalities moving water from Weld County,” Ray said.
“It could be a perception thing that Central Water Conservancy District is the hometown (agency) partnering with an entity that’s moving water out of the district.”
The district represents about 1,000 wells on about 600 family farms, a large percentage of which are in Weld County.
Ray said if his board sees benefits for its membership to store water in the 70 Ranch Reservoir, the perception may be a non-issue.
“Myself and the board, provided we understand the terms and conditions and take a good look and try to determine what future brings from a relationship with other water users in a joint water storage, and long as its not injurious to members, and benefits outweigh the negatives, they generally think we should keep partnering with these outfits,” Ray said.
Partnering on water storage projects like this are typically advantageous, Ray said.
“The more you can partner with other water users and stretch costs and increase supplies, the better off you’re going to be,” he added. “With any partnership you get into, you never know who your partner’s going to be in the future.”
Ray said the chief concern is keeping costs down.
“We want to get into projects that the long-term operation and maintenance costs are affordable for our constituents,” he said. “It wouldn’t be smart to buy into a cheap facility and your costs are three times what another facility would be.”
The reservoir should be competed in 2016-17.
From the Grand Junction Free Press (Hannah Holm):
With Colorado’s population expected to increase by leaps and bounds in coming decades, increased water use surely must follow, right? Maybe not, or at least not by the same amount.
Two reports recently came out that underscore the serious supply/demand imbalance building in the Colorado River Basin and outline measures to address it. Both note that population and water use increases don’t necessarily go hand-in-hand.
The first report is a follow-up to the 2012 Colorado River Basin Supply and Demand Study, which corralled reams of data from tree ring studies and climate models to exhaustively demonstrate that the basin’s future water supplies are highly unlikely to come anywhere close to meeting the water needs projected through the middle of the 21st century.
Titled Colorado River Basin Stakeholders Moving Forward to Address Challenges Identified in the Colorado River Basin Water Supply and Demand Study, this report chronicles the efforts of many stakeholders and experts charged with “identifying actionable steps to address projected water supply and demand imbalances that have broad-based support and provide a wide range of benefits.” Three work groups identified a wide range of potential actions to promote urban conservation, agricultural efficiency and low-impact agricultural transfers, and managing water in ways that benefit the environment and recreation while meeting other needs.
The second report, “The Case for Conservation,” is a concise position paper by a group of scholars collaborating under the banner of the Colorado River Research Group. This paper bluntly calls for reducing water consumption. It notes that annual water use in the Colorado River Basin already exceeds supplies, leading to dropping reservoir and groundwater levels. The authors call for leaving more water in rivers, reservoirs and aquifers in order to protect against drought and benefit the environment.
Despite the differences in tone, both reports cite data showing that in recent decades, the population has increased much more than water use in the urban areas that use Colorado River Basin water. For example, the Moving Forward report presents data showing that:
On Colorado’s Front Range, the population has increased by about 60 percent (1 million people) since 1980, but water deliveries have only increased by about 26 percent.
The urban areas surrounding Albuquerque and Santa Fe have added more than 320,000 people since 1980, but since 1990, water deliveries have actually dropped by about 12 percent.
In the Southern Nevada urban area, which includes Las Vegas, the population increased by about 2.6 times between 1980 and 2013, while water use increased by only 1.7 times. Water use has actually declined over the past decade, while the population has leveled off a bit.
Between 1991 and 2013, Phoenix saw increased its population by 47 percent, but increased water deliveries by only 4.5 percent.
Southern California urban areas have grown in population by about 50 percent (6 million people) since 1980, while increasing water use by about 20 percent. Since a hitting a high in 2007, use has decreased despite continued moderate population growth.
The biggest divergence between population and water use trends has come since 2000.
The Colorado River Research Group paper describes the alternative to reducing water use as “further draining streams, reservoirs and aquifers to a point of collapse” or “spending billions to import or desalinate new supplies (if available, and only after decades of work).” The authors call “the many inefficient water uses that persist throughout the basin” an opportunity “to embrace.”
Speaking of opportunities, the Moving Forward report cites reducing outdoor water use through technology, behavior change and the adoption of water-thrifty landscapes as one of the biggest opportunities to stretch limited water supplies. Outdoor water use is the largest component of household water use, and can also be reduced by increasing housing density, leading to smaller yards.
If you want to read these reports and make your own judgements about what supply/demand strategies make sense, you can find them here:
Colorado River Basin Stakeholders Moving Forward to Address Challenges Identified in the Colorado River Basin Water Supply and Demand Study, released by the US Bureau of Reclamation: http://www.usbr.gov/lc/region/programs/crbstudy/MovingForward/Phase1Report.html
“The Case for Conservation,” released by the Colorado River Research Group: http://www.coloradoriverresearchgroup.org/ (click on “What’s new from the Colorado River Research Group.”)
This is part of a series of articles coordinated by the Water Center at Colorado Mesa University in cooperation with the Colorado and Gunnison Basin Roundtables to raise awareness about water needs, uses and policies in our region. To learn more, go to http://www.coloradomesa.edu/WaterCenter. You can also find the Water Center on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/WaterCenter.CMU or on Twitter at https://twitter.com/WaterCenterCMU.
More Colorado River Basin coverage here.
From KUNC (Maeve Conran):
“The 2040 forecast for Colorado is about 7.8 million people, increasing from about 5 million in 2010,” said Elizabeth Garner, the state demographer. “How will we deal with it? Where will we put them? How will we provide water resources and other resources, whether it takes 20, 30, 40, 50 years to get there?”
The bulk of Colorado’s growth will happen between Pueblo and Fort Collins, said Garner, putting increased pressure on the state’s already tight water supplies. That population surge is why many groups who are concerned about water resources in Colorado are calling for land planning to play a greater role in the state’s water plan.
“Half of our drinking water on the Front Range is going to outdoor water use,” said Drew Beckwith, a water policy manager with Western Resource Advocates.
For Beckwith, the state water plan should encourage growing cities to incorporate water conservation in their land planning decisions. Relatively simple measures like requiring increased density in new housing developments will have big water savings.
“If you put houses closer together and they have less lawn, they’re going to use less water,” Beckwith said.
More and more municipalities are already recognizing the need to use less irrigation water. In 2004, the City of Westminster established landscape regulations requiring a maximum of 15 gallons per square foot water use per year. Stu Feinglas, the city’s water resources analyst said the results have been dramatic.
“We found that Westminster single family homes are using about 70 percent of the water we project[ed] they would need for their yards,” Feinglas said.
Since 2001, Westminster has added about 12,000 people, yet the water demand has stayed the same or gone down slightly. Feinglas credits better water efficiency in plumbing fixtures and a reduction in outdoor water use. That’s on an individual household basis; changes are also happening at a larger planning level…
Drew Beckwith with Western Resource Advocates said the state could play a significant role in encouraging more municipalities to conserve water through similar kinds land planning practices. For him, the first place to start is the Colorado Water Plan.
“In Colorado, we have a law that says in everyone’s comprehensive land use plan, you have to consider tourism,” Beckwith said. “In Arizona, for instance, there’s a requirement for you to have a water element of your comprehensive plan. Perhaps something like that would be appropriate in Colorado.”
Currently, developers must show they can provide water for their projects, but master plans aren’t required to include water as a consideration.
The Colorado Water Conservation Board said the upcoming water plan won’t mandate land use policies for local government and planning agencies, but the state legislature is getting a head start on linking land planning and water use. Governor John Hickenlooper has signed into law a measure [.pdf] that allows municipalities free training in water-demand management and water conservation.
More conservation coverage here.