Aurora: “We have more water in our system than we’ve ever had since we’ve been recording” — Joe Stibrich

From The Aurora Sentinel (Rachel Sapin):

“We have more water in our system than we’ve ever had since we’ve been recording,” Aurora Water Resources Management Advisor Joe Stibrich told congressional aides, city council members, city staff and Aurora residents on a tour of the city’s vast water distribution system last week. “We hit 99 percent of our storage capacity about a week ago.”

In total, Aurora Water has more than 156,000 acre-feet of water storage, which could supply the city with years of emergency supply in case of a drought.

The city gets water from three river basins. Half of the city’s water comes from the South Platte River Basin, a quarter comes from the snow melt flows from Colorado River Basin, and a quarter from the Arkansas River Basin.

But Aurora was not always a municipal water powerhouse.

In 2003, Aurora’s water supply level was at 26 percent capacity, the lowest in the city’s history. The idea for the at-the-time innovative Prairie Waters Project came about in the wake of that severe drought.

The $653-million Prairie Waters Project increased Aurora’s water supply by 20 percent when it was completed, and today provides the city with an additional 3.3 billion gallons of water per year.

The entire system pumps water from wells near Brighton, where it’s then piped into a man-made basin and filtered through sand and gravel. From there, the water is then piped 34 miles through three pumping stations to the Binney Water Purification Facility near Aurora Reservoir, where it’s softened and exposed to high-intensity ultraviolet light. The water is then filtered through coal to remove remaining impurities.

“It’s the crown jewel of our system,” said Stibrich during the tour. “Prairie Waters almost creates a fourth basin for us.”

But even before Prairie Waters, the first “crown jewel” project that allowed Aurora to grow and become the state’s third-largest city, was the one that allowed Aurora to cut most of its water ties with Denver.

Throughout the 1900s and into the 1960s, Aurora relied on the Denver Water Board for its supply. But the partnership between the neighboring cities grew contentious when, in the 1950s, Denver Water imposed lawn watering restrictions on a booming metropolitan area. Part of those restrictions included a “blue line” that prevented some Aurora suburbs from getting permits for new tap water fees.

In 1958, Aurora partnered with Colorado Springs to construct the Homestake Project, located in southern Eagle County in the Colorado River basin. The project was designed to use water rights purchased on the Western Slope that could supply the two cities.

For nearly a decade after the project was conceived, it was mired in legal battles with Denver and Western Slope entities. The first phase of the dam wasn’t even completed until 1967. In the 1980s, Aurora and Colorado Springs unsuccessfully attempted to expand the water collection system within the Holy Cross Wilderness area as part of a phase two plan.

The issue to this day is divisive, said Diane Johnson, a spokeswoman with the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District during the city’s tour of the reservoir.

“For people to think we might be having some other dam up here and impacting their access to wilderness is an emotional issue,” she said.

It was a memorandum of understanding created in 1998 between Eagle County and the two Front Range cities that identifies 30,000 acre-feet of water in the Eagle River basin to be divided into thirds between the three entities that helped alleviate tensions and put the project back on track.

Today Homestake Reservoir provides Aurora with 25 percent of its water, and Aurora Water officials are looking at various ways to expand their storage to satisfy the Eagle River MOU.

One idea is a small reservoir in the Homestake Valley near the Blodgett Campground. Aurora Water officials said the issue with that plan is having to relocate the winding Homestake Road to a portion of the Holy Cross wilderness to accommodate it. Another alternative, which Aurora Water officials said they prefer, is to create a holding facility called a forebay, in the same valley, along Whitney Creek, that would hold water pumped back from a former World War II military site known as Camp Hale. From the holding facility, water could be further pumped up the valley to Homestake Reservoir.

Aurora Water officials are still working through the various politics of the alternatives, and repeatedly emphasized during the tour that there is no “silver bullet’ when it comes to water storage.

From Homestake, water travels east through the Continental Divide and tunnel where it’s sent to Turquoise Lake, then to Twin Lakes Reservoir near Leadville.

Aurora only owns the rights to a limited amount of storage in Twin Lakes, and that water has to be continuously lifted 750 feet via the Otero Pump Station to enter a 66-inch pipeline that leads to the Front Range.

The Otero Pump station — located on the Arkansas River about eight miles northwest of Buena Vista — is another impressive facet of Aurora’s vast water system, and the last stop on Aurora’s water journey before it is delivered to the Spinney Mountain Reservoir in South Park. With the ability to pump 118 million gallons per day, Otero provides half of Aurora’s and 70 percent of Colorado Springs’ drinking water, delivered from both the Colorado and Arkansas basins to the South Platte River Basin.

Tom Vidmar, who has served as the caretaker at Homestake for nearly 30 years and lives right next to the pump station, said the biggest issue facing Aurora’s water system is storage.

“We actually spilled water out of Homestake this year and didn’t collect (the) full amount we were eligible to take, simply because the reservoirs are at capacity,” Vidmar said during a tour of the massive pump facility. He said the electricity costs alone for Aurora to pump the water add up to around $450,000 a month.

A project Aurora Water officials hope to see come to fruition in 15 years is turning land the city purchased at Box Creek north of Twin Lakes in Lake County into additional storage space so water can be pumped more efficiently through Otero.

“Box Creek is an important project. It gives us more breathing room,” said Rich Vidmar, who is Tom Vidmar’s son and an engineer with Aurora Water, during the tour. “As we look at storage and where to develop storage, right now we’re looking at spots where we have chokepoints in our system where we’re not able to operate perfectly to get as much water as possible.”

Just as the state anticipates that its population of 5 million will double by 2050, so does Aurora — and storage will be key to providing water for a city that could potentially grow to more than 600,000 residents in the coming decades.

But the mountains aren’t the only place where Aurora hopes to expand its reservoirs. The city also is looking to expand Aurora Reservoir even further east.

At a July study session, Aurora Water Officials described a feasibility study being conducted to determine just how much water Aurora could store at a future reservoir, which would sit on the former Lowry Bombing and Gunnery Range.

More Aurora coverage here.

Denver Water gets pressured to end fluoride dosing

The water treatment process
The water treatment process

From the Associated Press (Ivan Moreno) via the Fort Collins Coloradan:

The discussion at Denver Water, which serves about one out of five of Colorado’s 5 million residents, comes as other utilities in the state and the country debate fluoridation. In some cases, fluoridation opponents are pressuring them to do so, claiming that it damages teeth and bones.

Two weeks ago, the mountain community of Snowmass Village, about 165 miles west of Denver, decided to stop water fluoridation, joining a handful of other Colorado municipalities that have discontinued the practice in recent years.

“The ultimate goal is to stop this absolutely insane process,” said Paul Commett, a retired chemistry professor and director of the New York-based Fluoride Action Network. About 200 places worldwide have stopped putting fluoride in drinking water since 2010, according to the group.

The movement has caught the attention of Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper and his chief medical officer, Dr. Larry Wolk. They released a joint statement Wednesday, hours before the Denver Water Board met for public discussion.

“More than 70 years of research has proven that community water fluoridation is a safe, effective and inexpensive method of improving the oral health of all Coloradans,” the statement said.

Denver Water plans to decide Aug. 26 what to do about adding fluoride to water, a practice it has maintained since 1953…

About 72 percent of Colorado residents consume fluoridated water through their drinking systems. Nationally, 75 percent of people have access to fluoridated water.

“One of the benefits of having fluoride in the water system is that everybody in the community can benefit from it regardless of their age, their income, their race, their gender, because all you have to do is drink the water and have access to that benefit,” said Katya Mauritson, Colorado’s dental director.

She said fluoride in water reduces cavities and leads to savings of about $61 per year in dental costs, she said.

“We really do have a large number of children and adults that have untreated cavities that are preventable. We need water fluoridation in order to ensure that they stay healthy. Oral health does affect overall health,” Mauritson said.

Fluoride is a mineral found in the soil and water. Some areas naturally have the dosage recommended by the government, and in others, utilities add it.

Commett said that amounts to delivering medication without consent.

More water treatment coverage here.

Colorado State University receives $12 million award to establish urban water sustainability research network

Sloans Lake at sunrise via
Sloans Lake at sunrise via

From Colorado State University (Kate Jeracki):

A consortium of 14 academic institutions and key partners across the country is addressing the challenges that threaten urban water systems in the United States and around the world. With support from a $12 million cooperative agreement from the National Science Foundation, Colorado State University leads the effort to establish the Urban Water Innovation Network (UWIN).

The mission of UWIN is to create technological, institutional, and management solutions to help communities increase the resilience of their water systems and enhance preparedness for responding to water crises.

UWIN builds on long-standing programs at CSU for research and training, and trusted leadership in all facets of water resources. These programs include urban water conservation, sustainable urban drainage systems and flood control, drought management, pollution control, water resources planning and management, ecological engineering, climate sciences, and urban biodiversity.

Mazdak Arabi, associate professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at CSU, serves as the director of UWIN. Other CSU faculty involved with UWIN include professors Sybil Sharvelle, Brian Bledsoe, Neil Grigg, Jorge Ramirez, Dan Baker, and Scott Denning from the CSU College of Engineering, and LeRoy Poff with the Department of Biology.

According to the 2014 Global Risks Perception Survey by the World Economic Forum, water crises are the top global risk to the viability of communities throughout the world. From the crippling droughts and water shortages in the West to the devastating floods in the East and South, water systems in the U.S. have been impacted by changes in climate, demographics, and other pressures. Our absolute reliance on water is why Americans express greater concern about threats to water than about any other environmental issue and why more than half of all Americans worry a great deal about it, according to latest Gallup poll of environmental concerns.

Extreme events and global climate change can have profound impacts on water security, shattering the most vulnerable communities and instilling enormous costs on governments and economies. Effective response to these challenges requires transitioning to both technological and management solutions that protect water systems from pressures and enhance their resilience.

The vision of UWIN is to create an enduring research network for integrated water systems and to cultivate champions of innovation for water-sensitive urban design and resilient cities. The integrated research, outreach, education and participatory approach of UWIN will produce a toolbox of sustainable solutions by simultaneously minimizing pressures, enhancing resilience to extreme events, and maximizing co-benefits. These benefits will reverberate across other systems, such as urban ecosystems, economies and arrangements for environmental justice and social equity.

The network will establish six highly connected regional urban water sustainability hubs in densely populated regions across the nation to serve as innovation centers, helping communities transition to sustainable management of water resources. Strategic partnerships and engagement with other prominent U.S. and international networks will extend UWIN’s reach to more than 100 cities around the world.

Key UWIN partners and collaborators include the Water Environment Research Foundation (WERF), the Urban Sustainability Directors Network (USDN), and the Network for Water in European Regions and Cities (NETWERC H2O).

This innovative and adaptive research approach will ultimately produce an Urban Water Sustainability Blueprint, outlining effects and tradeoffs associated with sustainable solutions for cities of all sizes. It will also provide steps and guidance for action based on the collective knowledge gained by the research and the collaborative approach of the SRN. The Blueprint will be rigorously vetted by regional stakeholders across the U.S. and the global urban water community.

The UWIN consortium includes:

Colorado State University
Arizona State University
Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies
Florida International University
Howard University
Oregon State University
Princeton University
University of Arizona
University of California-Berkeley
University of California-Riverside
University of Maryland Baltimore County
University of Miami
University of Oregon
University of Pennsylvania

For more information please contact UWIN coordinator Meagan Smith at

More education coverage here.

#Drought news: Monsoon poised to set up again for Colorado

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


An upper-level ridge dominated the southern Plains, bringing hot and dry weather, while an active storm track triggered areas of rain across the northern tier States during this U.S. Drought Monitor (USDM) week. Cool fronts sliding southward brought showers and thunderstorms to parts of the central Plains to Southeast. Moderate to exceptional drought maintained its hold on the West. Low streams, parched soils, and the risk of wildfires helped extreme drought to tighten its grip on the Pacific Northwest, while the lack of tropical cyclone rainfall in the Caribbean continued to worsen drought conditions in Puerto Rico. Florida to southeastern Georgia was blanketed with areas of 2+ inches of rain. Hit or miss showers and thunderstorms across the rest of the Southeast gave local downpours to some localities while their neighbors remained parched…

The Northern and Central Plains and Midwest

Storms moving along cool fronts dropped areas of 2+ inches of rain, with locally 4+ inches, mostly in drought-free regions. But the storms largely missed the Great Lakes region. Areas of D0 were added to the Arrowhead of Minnesota, northern parts of Michigan, and northeast Wisconsin to reflect recent dryness as well as longer-term deficits. Green Bay, Wisconsin is nearly 5 inches below normal for the year-to-date. Meanwhile, local storms (dropping 2+ inches of rain) trimmed D0 in west central Minnesota, eastern South Dakota, and northwest Iowa.

Showers and thunderstorms gave parts of Nebraska and Kansas 1+ inches of rain, while neighboring counties received little rain. July 27 USDA NASS reports indicated that 30% of the topsoil and 26% of the subsoil in Nebraska was rated short or very short of moisture, and 35% of winter wheat was rated in poor to very poor condition, a result of dryness earlier in its growing season. In Kansas, 24% of topsoil and 25% of subsoil was rated short or very short of moisture. While most crops in Nebraska were weathering the recent dry spell well, sandier soils were beginning to show signs of stress. D0 expanded into central Kansas and southwestern to central Nebraska, and D0 ovals were added to parts of the Nebraska panhandle and southeast Nebraska, where the last 30-60 days have seen below-normal precipitation. An SL drought impacts area was added to northwestern Kansas and southwestern Nebraska where precipitation deficits were longer-term and stream levels were below normal…

The Southern Plains to Southeast

Hot and dry weather continued across parts of eastern and southern Texas, increasing evaporation and the risk of wildfires. July 27 USDA NASS reports indicated rapid drying of topsoil and subsoil moisture in eastern and southern Texas and the Trans-Pecos. In the Northeast district, 54% of the topsoil and 47% of the subsoil were rated short or very short of moisture. The values were 57% and 49%, respectively, for the Southeast district, 63% and 37% for the Upper Coast district, 66% and 57% for the South district, and 48% and 56% for the Trans-Pecos district. As a result, D0 was expanded across parts of eastern Texas, spots of D0 were added in southern Texas, and an oval of D1 introduced in northeast Texas. But most crops across the state were rated in fair to good condition, except 33% of oats and 20% of wheat were rated in poor to very poor condition…

The West

Frontal rains and leftover moisture from Hurricane Dolores brought above-normal precipitation to parts of California, Nevada, Montana, and the Pacific Northwest this week. The heavier rainfall amounts ranged from half an inch to 2 inches, with less than half an inch common. This is the dry season for the Far West, so even minor amounts of rain equate to well above normal.

While the rains in southern California during the past couple weeks have caused local flooding and inhibited wildfire development, reservoirs saw no increase in storage. A frontal low near the end of the week gave parts of Montana 3+ inches of rain, resulting in contraction of D0-D2 east of the Rockies. In northern Nevada, D3 was pulled back over Humboldt County due to above-normal precipitation at many time scales and improving range land conditions. The SL/L impacts boundary was shifted westward a bit in southern California to reflect the impact of rains the last two weeks from the remnants of Hurricane Dolores.

In New Mexico, 52% of the topsoil and 39% of the subsoil was rated short or very short of moisture, but recent rainfall aided crop development, with most crops in fair to good condition. D1 was deleted from Rio Arriba County due to above-normal precipitation at many time scales and improved soil moisture conditions. The D0 and D1 in western New Mexico reflected long-term hydrological impacts, with reservoir levels at Caballo, Elephant Butte, and Heron reservoirs still well below normal.

The lack of mountain snowpack has contributed to record and near-record low streamflows across much of the Pacific Northwest, with tinder-dry conditions resulting in the closing of the forests in northern Idaho. According to July 27 USDA NASS reports, topsoil and subsoil moisture continued to decline, with topsoil short or very short of moisture across 80% of Oregon, 65% of Washington, and 52% of Idaho, and subsoil short or very short of moisture across 80% of Oregon, 65% of Washington, and 46% of Idaho. Pasture and range conditions were rated poor to very poor across 47% of Oregon, 41% of Washington, and 14% of Idaho, which were slight increases compared to the previous week. Crop harvesting continued, and while most crops were in fair to good condition across the region, 32% of the winter wheat crop in Oregon was rated in poor to very poor condition.

The stream and soil moisture conditions prompted expansion of D3 across the Idaho panhandle and into eastern Washington, and the introduction of D3 and fill-in of D2 along coastal Oregon and Washington. D3 expanded into the upper John Day of Oregon and further in west central Idaho due to fish kills caused by warm temperatures and low streamflows. Warm stream temperatures due to low flows and hot weather caused fish trauma and disease, and fish kills, which prompted the closing of streams to all fishing along the Washington Cascades. D3 was added to the Washington Cascades to reflect these impacts as well as agricultural and water supply impacts. In Idaho, the Salmon Falls Tract that irrigates from Salmon Falls Creek was shut down for the season on July 19th with an allotment that was estimated to be between the 6th and 10th of the 1910-2015 historic record, and a shutdown date that was much earlier than normal. This shutdown cuts off irrigation water which will have a serious impact on agriculture in the region for the remainder of the season. D1-D2 were expanded in southern Idaho as a result. Improved water supply conditions along the Snake River and cooler temperatures prompted improvement of D2 to D1 in southwest Idaho…

Looking Ahead

Monsoon showers and thunderstorms will bring rain to the Southwest during July 30-August 5, while frontal rains will moisten parts of the country east of the Rockies. A tenth of an inch or more of rain, with locally 2+ inches, is expected across the Southwest and into the southern Plains. A quarter of an inch to locally over an inch is forecast to fall from the central Plains to the Northeast and parts of the Southeast, with parts of Florida expecting locally 4+ inches. It will be dry across much of northern California and the Pacific Northwest, as well as the Mid-Mississippi Valley, and into the Northern Rockies. Near- to cooler-than-normal temperatures shift to the Great Lakes, while hotter-than-normal temperatures return to the Northwest and continue over the South.

The 6-10 day and 8-14 day outlooks keep the area of below-normal temperatures across the Northern Rockies to Northeast, with warmer-than-normal temperatures expected for the southern tier States, West Coast, and most of Alaska. The greatest chances for above-normal precipitation during August 6-12 are expected to be across the Rockies, central to northern Plains, Midwest, and into the Northeast. Below-normal precipitation is expected over the southern Plains to Southeast, Far West, and most of Alaska.

August 4 thru August 9 precipitation probability outlook via the Climate Prediction Center
August 4 thru August 9 precipitation probability outlook via the Climate Prediction Center

Colorado River System Conservation Program off to a good start #ColoradoRiver #COriver

Colorado River Basin including Mexico, USBR May 2015
Colorado River Basin including Mexico, USBR May 2015

From the Las Vegas Review-Journal (Henry Brean):

Water officials insist a pilot program designed to save Colorado River water and boost Lake Mead and Lake Powell is off to such a promising start that they are already looking to pour more money into it.

The Southern Nevada Water Authority is poised to chip in as much as $1.5 million on top of the $2 million it already committed to the Colorado River System Conservation Program, which was established last year among the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the water suppliers from the four largest communities served by the Colorado.

“I think it’s working very well. We were very pleased with the level of interest in the lower basin and the upper basin … and the diversity of the proposals,” said Colby Pellegrino, the authority’s Colorado River programs manager.

Pellegrino said the program has received about 20 proposals for conservation projects so far, more than a dozen of which came from the lower basin states of Nevada, Arizona and California. Negotiations are now underway on five of those projects — three in Arizona and two in California — to determine how much money they should receive and how much water they might save.

To date, the only project to receive final approval is one actually proposed by the Southern Nevada Water Authority. Pellegrino said the authority has agreed to leave 15,000 acre-feet of water in Lake Mead over the next two years instead of storing it for future use.

The water in question is being leased by the authority from water-right holders on the Virgin and Muddy rivers. In return for leaving that water in Mead and relinquishing any claim to it, the authority will be paid $2.25 million — or about $150 per acre-foot — out of the conservation program’s coffers to recoup its costs…

The Colorado River System Conservation Program’s interstate conservation program was originally seeded with $11 million — $3 million from the Bureau of Reclamation, the federal agency that oversees the river and many of its dams, and $2 million each from the water authority, the Central Arizona Water Conservation District, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California and Denver Water. The Bureau of Reclamation recently agreed to contribute another $3 million.

The money is being used to help cities, farms, factories and power plants pay for efficiency improvements and conservation measures that reduce their use of river water.

But unlike previous conservation collaborations on the Colorado, the water saved under this program is being left in the river to help bolster lakes Mead and Powell, its two largest reservoirs.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here.

The latest newsletter from the Water Center at CMU is hot off the presses #ColoradoRiver #COriver

Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:


The Western Association to Enjoy Rivers (WATER) invites the public to participate in the annual cleanup of the Colorado River in the Grand Valley on August 8. For the event website, click here; for an article giving details and background on the event, click here.

From The Grand Junction Free Press (Bob Richardson):

It is time to think about the Summer Colorado River Cleanup on Saturday, August 8th 2015 in the Grand Valley. Find a boat, find a team and join the fun!

The Colorado River is an important part of the identity of Grand Junction as well as a contributor to the quality of life in Mesa County. With commercial outfitters, fishermen, locals and tourists all using the river, it is vital to keep it as pristine as possible.

This will be the 11th official river cleanup coordinated by the Western Association to Enjoy Rivers Club, but for many years prior to that, the WATER Club organized informal cleanups.

Are you compelled to participate in this year’s cleanup? There will be three crews cleaning the river from Corn Lake to the Loma boat launch. The first crew will put in at Corn Lake State Park and go to the Blue Heron boat ramp at the Redlands Parkway. The second crew will put in at Blue Heron and go to Fruita State Park. A third crew will put in at Fruita State Park and go to the Loma boat launch. If there is enough water in the river, a section may be added from Palisade to Corn Lake.

On August 8th, each crew will meet at their respective put-in at 9:00 A.M. and organize a shuttle. There will be dumpsters at each take out provided by the City of Grand Junction, Town of Fruita and the Bureau of Land Management. The WATER Club does not supply boats, so you will need a raft, canoe or kayak and a tarp to protect the boat. Also, a bucket for sharp items is useful. Participants should wear sturdy shoes that can get wet, gloves and wear a life jacket.

The WATER club will supply trash bags, State Park entry tags, and beautiful t-shirts funded by 5-2-1 Drainage Authority. Amec Foster Wheeler will provide an appreciation BBQ at Canyon View Park at the “handball shelter” at the southwest corner of the park at 5:00 P.M. Donated items from Cabelas, REI and Edgewater Brewery will be given away by raffle.

In the past we have found a lost dog, a hot tub and even a kitchen sink. So be prepared for an interesting day!

You can sign up for a section of river at Whitewater West (418 South 7th St.) 970-241-0441. You can also contact Bob Richardson at 970-261-5061 with questions.

While the river cleanup is currently the WATER Club’s main activity, the group has a long history of activities to help people enjoy rivers. The group was started in the early 1980s by a local sporting goods store when kayaking was first starting to get popular. When that shop closed, volunteers took over.

Projects included organizing the Westwater volunteer ranger program and working with public lands agencies to talk with local boaters about the paper permit system. Back in those days you couldn’t get information about permits on the web and the paper system was complicated, so they had meetings to educate folks about how to work their way through the system.

The WATER club was also instrumental in the proposal to try to get a whitewater park at the Price-Stubb dam near Palisade, which ultimately failed, and they helped organize against a major fee increase by Dinosaur National Monument because the fees wouldn’t have gone back to the river.

The WATER Club is currently organized by Dennis Adams and Bob Richardson.

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 You can also find the Water Center on Facebook at or on Twitter at