CWCB: The August 2015 #Drought Update is hot off the presses

Colorado Drought Monitor August 18, 2015
Colorado Drought Monitor August 18, 2015

Here’s the release from the Colorado Water Conservation Board (Taryn Finnessey/Tracy Kosloff):

Colorado remains largely drought free despite decreased precipitation in late July and early August. This is in part due to moderate summer temperatures over the same time period. Drier conditions in recent weeks have led to declining soil moisture levels, but overall evapotranspiration rates are below average for the season, and pasture conditions are reportedly good. Water supplies continue to increase and statewide storage is the highest we have seen since 2000. Water providers are reporting system-wide storage levels greater than 90 percent of capacity. Demand is also lower than this time last year.

 State wide water year-to-date precipitation is 99 percent of average, up 19 percent since May 1st. Precipitation to-date in August is 79 percent of average following multiple months of above average precipitation.

 July temperatures were below average resulting in the coolest July in over a decade (2004). August temperatures have been warmer, but the western slope continues to be below average.

 In the San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan river basins August precipitation to-date is 118 percent of normal, exceeding average total August precipitation in just the first two weeks of the month. Coupled with abundant accumulation in the two previous months this region is seeing greatly improved conditions.

 Reservoir Storage statewide is at 117 percent of average as of August 1st. The Arkansas has the highest levels in the state at 153 percent of average. John Martin Reservoir in the lower Arkansas is experiencing its highest storage levels since 2001. The Upper Rio Grande has the lowest storage levels at 92 percent of average, this is also the only basin with below average storage.

 The Surface Water Supply Index (SWSI) is abundant across much of the South Platte and Arkansas, and near normal in the remainder of the state. The state has recently complete a automation tool for the index and a revised detailed monthly report can be found at

 El Niño has gained strength over the last few months and continues to be forecasted as a strong event, if not a “Super El Niño.” The last “Super El Niño” was in 1997 when Colorado experienced above average precipitation.

 Short term forecasts favor mountain precipitation over the plains with localized storms statewide.

Denver Water to push sustainability with $195M campus redevelopment — Denver Business Journal

Denver Water's planned new administration building via the Denver Business Journal
Denver Water’s planned new administration building via the Denver Business Journal

From the Denver Business Journal (Cathy Proctor):

Its central administration building at its 34.6-acre campus southeast of downtown, between West Sixth and West 12th avenues just east of the freight railroad tracks, pre-dates the computer age.

Jim Lochhead, Denver Water’s CEO, says the administration is the “nerve center” of the organization, and “in the ‘70s, when we built this building there were no computers — now there are.”

The average age of the buildings on the campus is 55 years old, and one of the buildings is 130 years old — an old pump station now converted into a conference center.

So when Denver Water decided that it needed to upgrade for the 21st century, the biggest question was whether the agency should leave its historic location, or stay, Lochhead said.

After a review, the decision was that it was more cost efficient to stay, he told the Denver Business Journal.

So Denver Water is embarking on a four-year, $195 million redevelopment of the campus — and in the process building a showcase for state-of-the-art energy and sustainable water conservation practices, Lochhead said.

Construction is slated to begin in January 2016 and finish in the summer of 2019…

Denver Water has hired Trammell Crow, a real estate developer; Mortenson Construction, which will be the prime general contractor; and RNL Design, which will be the prime architect on the project.

Money to pay for the project will come from the agency’s capital fund, which is supported with bonds that are repaid using revenues from water sales to customers, he said.

Construction will focus first on consolidating equipment, warehouse and maintenance buildings on the north side of the property into new, dedicated buildings on the southern edge of the property, near the Sixth Avenue side. The new administration center will be on the north side of the property, along West 12th Avenue.

Lochhead said Denver Water hopes the new administration center will be certified as LEED Platinum, the highest certification under the Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design program overseen by the U.S. Green Building Council for buildings that have taken steps to cut water and energy usage at the site.

Lochhead said Denver Water wants the new campus to demonstrate state-of-the-art water conservation techniques, including the capture, treatment and reuse rainwater to irrigate landscape on the site.
That will require the agency to seek a water right for the rainwater from the state’s water courts, he said.

Also, the agency wants to build a mini-water treatment plant to collect and treat water used at the new administration building — and reuse that water, such as from toilets and sinks, for irrigation purposes.

And Lochhead said plans also are in the works to tap into a Denver Water pipeline along West 12th Avenue and couple it with a geothermal heating and cooling system for the new administration building.

After the water is piped through the building to heat it or cool it, depending on the weather, the water will be sent back to the larger pipeline for use by customers, he said.

“We want to be financially responsible and we also have a commitment to sustainability, we’re building a campus that will be here for decades, with the water and energy use that mirrors that sustainability,” he said. “These are concepts that we can prove out and others can use.”

From The Denver Post (Emilie Rusch):

On the revitalized campus, graywater, the gently used water from sinks, clothes washers and showers, will be treated and reused in toilets and irrigation, where potable water isn’t necessary.

Stormwater runoff will be minimized and collected for reuse in irrigation. Rainwater will be harvested.

A geothermal well system, tied into a water conduit on 12th Avenue, will allow the utility to “extract energy from our own drinking water,” Lochhead said.

An “eco machine” in the new administration building’s lobby will look like a greenhouse but will be a working biotreatment system, treating wastewater on-site for irrigation or discharge into the South Platte River.

“We think we can be at the cutting edge, to help prove out a lot of the technology and sustainability concepts that can be replicated at other major developments in the city,” Lochhead said.

#AnimasRiver: Navajo farmers reject use of water — The Durango Herald

San Juan Smelter Durango back in the day via Western Americana
San Juan Smelter Durango back in the day via Western Americana

From the Associated Press (Felica Fonsceca) via The Durango Herald:

One of the largest communities of Navajo farmers along the San Juan River has voted to keep irrigation canals closed for at least a year following a spill of toxic sludge at the Gold King Mine above Silverton.

The unanimous vote by more than 100 farmers in Shiprock, New Mexico, was heart-wrenching and guarantees the loss of many crops, Shiprock Chapter President Duane “Chili” Yazzie said Monday.

But he said farmers don’t want to risk contaminating the soil for future generations.

“Our position is better safe than sorry,” Yazzie said.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Navajo Nation EPA have said the water is safe for irrigation, based on surface water testing. Other communities off the reservation have cleared the water for drinking, recreation and irrigation.

The Navajo Nation has been hesitant to lift restrictions on using the river water, mostly over concerns about contaminants being stirred up and washed down the river.

Tribal President Russell Begaye has asked several farming and ranching communities impacted by the Aug. 5 spill from the Gold King Mine, to weigh in by passing resolutions with an official position.

Shiprock is the only community that has submitted a resolution so far, tribal spokesman Mihio Manus said.

From The Denver Post (Jesse Paul):

Officials in Silverton and San Juan County announced Tuesday they will work with communities downstream to petition Congress for federal disaster funds to clean up mine waste in the Upper Animas Mining District.

In a joint resolution passed Monday night by the town’s board and Tuesday morning by the county commission, officials said they hope the petition will bring adequate funding to the area to clean up the long-term impacts of historic mining.

“The people of the town of Silverton and San Juan County understand that this problem is in our district and we feel we bear a greater responsibility to our downstream neighbors to help find a solution to the issue of leaking mines,” the resolution said…

The resolution says disaster funding could pay for building and operating a water treatment facility in upper Cement Creek and further remediation of the contaminated mines in the Upper Animas River Basin.

Officials say the federal money could also help support the Southern Ute, Ute Mountain Ute and Navajo Nation which were hit hard by the Gold King spill.

Mark Eddy, a spokesman for the town and San Juan County, said Tuesday while this petition for federal funds is not linked to Superfund, it does not remove that option from the table.

“It’s not saying ‘Let’s do this instead of something else,’ ” Eddy said. “It’s ‘Let’s do this while we look at all the other options.’ ”

“Superfund goes through its own longer-term process. Federal disaster funds can be released a lot quicker,” he added.

The town’s board and county commissioners say they hope a formal request for disaster funds can be made to Congress within several weeks.

From The Durango Herald (Jonathan Romeo):

Less than three weeks after 3 million gallons of contaminated mine runoff surged down the Animas River, Environmental Protection Agency officials said metal concentrations in surface water are trending toward pre-event conditions.

The EPA said it validated river samples from the Animas River and San Juan River in New Mexico collected on Aug. 11 and Aug. 14. Officials believe the samples indicate the rivers are returning to levels before the Aug. 5 spill…

But some say there is far more concern and uncertainty when it comes to the mineral-rich orange sediment that settled on the banks and Animas riverbed.

The sediment, which contains elevated levels of lead and arsenic, poses a potential health risk in both the short- and long-term…

As of Monday afternoon, EPA spokeswoman Jennah Durant said the mine is releasing water at a rate of approximately 559 gallons per minute. Durant said that water is captured and treated before being discharged into Cement Creek, a tributary of the Animas.