Change the Course: Lessons from a water stewardship movement — GreenBiz

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

From GreenBiz.com (Sandra Postel/Val Fishman):

We’re not going to pull any punches. We’re building a water stewardship movement, and we hope you’ll join us. More than 130,000 people and 22 companies already have. Our goal is nothing less than to change the way society uses, manages and values freshwater.

By now most of us have heard the pronouncement “water is the new oil.” But in fact, it’s so much more. Water is the basis not only of our economies, but of life itself.

As demands bump up against the limits of a finite supply, rivers are running dry, lakes are shrinking and groundwater is being depleted. From California to China to Brazil, severe droughts have forced curtailments of water deliveries. This year, for the first time, the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, ranked water crises as the No. 1 global threat.

Known risks
Companies know that water risks pose bottom-line risks, and many have begun to boost their water productivity, getting more output and revenue per gallon used. Manufacturing facilities are recycling and reusing water. More food and beverage companies are working actively with their raw-ingredient suppliers to shrink the water footprints of their products.

Curbing water use is essential. But what do we do about the dammed and dried-up rivers and depleted wetlands?

In the Colorado River Basin alone, a $26 billion-a-year recreation economy depends not on water being diverted out of rivers, but on flows staying in rivers. During the drought of 2012, the western Colorado tourist town of Steamboat Springs saw cash registers go silent when the Yampa River dropped too low for rafting and fly-fishing.

Water security depends on meeting the needs of people and ecosystems. Achieving it requires two things: Figure out how to live happy and productive lives while consuming less water; and restore flows to depleted rivers and freshwater ecosystems.

@EPA not satisfied with SDEIS for NISP

From The Fort Collins Coloradan (Jacy Marmaduke):

The Environmental Protection Agency has qualms about the review process for the Northern Integrated Supply Project, detailed in 20 pages of comments made public Thursday.

The EPA gave a rating of “Environmental Objections — Insufficient Information” to the Army Corps of Engineers’ supplemental draft environmental impact statement, which was subject to public comments until Sept. 3.

The “environmental objections” rating means the EPA has identified significant environmental impacts that the project must avoid. The “insufficient information” rating means the EPA found that the SDEIS doesn’t contain enough information to fully analyze the project’s environmental impacts.

The EPA’s comments aren’t necessarily binding, but the agency has veto power over the permitting process.

Both ratings are one step away from the worst the EPA can dole out. The EPA could have rated the project “environmentally unsatisfactory,” meaning it shouldn’t proceed as proposed, and “inadequate,” which would have required the Army Corps to release another supplemental draft.

The EPA’s rating is consistent with calls from the Fort Collins City Council, Save the Poudre and the Larimer County Board of Commissioners that the Army Corps conduct additional analysis of how NISP would affect water quality in the Poudre River, the primary source of water for a project that would create two reservoirs to provide 40,000 acre feet of water annually to 15 participants. Those include 11 cities/towns and four water districts. Towns include Windsor, Severance, Dacono, Eaton, Evans, Erie, Frederick, Firestone, Fort Lupton, Fort Morgan and Lafayette. The Fort Collins-Loveland Water District is a participant.

Essentially, the SDEIS includes a half-finished water quality analysis that predicts what kind of water quality effects might occur — temperature changes and increased concentration of certain sediments — but not the magnitude of those effects. The SDEIS says the full analysis will be in the final environmental impact statement, slated for release next summer.

NISP opponents took issue with the lack of full analysis because the Army Corps isn’t planning for a public comment period between the final EIS and its record of decision on the project.

In its comments, the EPA recommends the Army Corps publish the additional analysis before the final EIS and allow for a formal public comment period.

Map of the Northern Integrated Supply Project via Northern Water
Map of the Northern Integrated Supply Project via Northern Water

Arkansas Basin Roundtable meeting recap #COWaterPlan

Arkansas River Basin -- Graphic via the Colorado Geological Survey
Arkansas River Basin — Graphic via the Colorado Geological Survey

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

More than $1.3 billion in water projects for the Arkansas Valley are queued, although how they will be funded is unknown.

That’s the conclusion of the Arkansas Basin Roundtable, which finalized its comments on the state water plan Wednesday.

The roundtable again voiced its overriding concern that water for agriculture be protected.

“At some point, agricultural use may be more valuable (than urban use),” said Joe Kelley, La Junta water superintendent. “In some years, the cities may not have the demand. It’s best not to buy and dry, to take the water away permanently.”

The roundtable also agreed to eight challenges that were identified by Gary Barber, who chaired the roundtable for several years before becoming a consultant on the basin implementation plan. That plan is finished, but it feeds into the state water plan by identifying projects and goals for the Arkansas River basin.

A list of projects included rough cost estimates that still need revision. The most expensive included $400 million for future Colorado Springs development, $400 million for the Arkansas Valley Conduit, $277 million for the Pikes Peak Regional Water Authority and at least $100 million for Fountain Creek projects.

Another $100 million or so is needed for an Upper Arkansas multiuse project, a fledgling watershed protection effort and support for the Arkansas Valley Super Ditch.

Finally, there are 135 smaller projects that total about $65 million.

As far as challenges, the roundtable agreed to eight points Barber developed from 10 years of discussion. The most daunting is the need to find 30,000-50,000 acre-feet for new uses, both agricultural and municipal, that will occur because all of the Arkansas basin’s water is appropriated.

One particular concern noted that although needs have been identified, no solutions have emerged to fill those needs.

Other challenges include replacing nonrenewable Denver Basin groundwater, finding collaborative solutions, protecting recreational flows, maintaining water quality on Fountain Creek and in the Lower Arkansas Valley, renovating aging reservoirs and finding regional solutions.

Comments to the final draft of the state water plan are due by Thursday.

The plan and information about how to comment may be found at coloradowaterplan.com.

The final version of the Colorado Water Plan will be submitted by the Colorado Water Conservation Board to Gov. John Hickenlooper by Dec. 10.

#AnimasRiver: Many in Congress are grandstanding instead of finding dough for cleanup and solution

From The Colorado Statesman (David O. Williams):

As Congress sharpens its knives for what will likely be multiple committee hearings on the accidental release by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency of 3 million gallons of toxic mine wastewater into the Animas River on Aug. 5, local officials are focused on disaster relief.

Their pleas for congressional help come amid a chorus of criticism aimed at the federal agency, which on Wednesday issued its own internal review of the blowout, concluding it was “likely inevitable” and caused mainly by an “underestimation of the water pressure in the Gold King Mine.”

The EPA report and a separate Department of Interior investigation are unlikely to satisfy members of Colorado’s congressional delegation who are calling for extensive hearings on the matter following the August recess, but Silverton town administrator Bill Gardner isn’t particularly interested in the blame game.

“We, as Silverton and San Juan County staff … think that shouldn’t be the conversation right now,” Gardner told The Colorado Statesman. “The conversation in Congress, which is what we’re going to need to find resources to remedy this problem, should be about, ‘What are the best steps for finding a solution?’”

Silverton and San Juan County on Tuesday adopted a joint resolution calling for a concerted effort — with other downstream communities affected by the blowout — to secure both short- and long-term federal disaster funding to stop the discharge, which has been occurring for years at a rate of up 800 gallons per minute. There are several abandoned mines in the area that have been draining into the local watershed since the late 1800s.

That doesn’t necessarily mean local officials are doing a 180 and suddenly seeking an EPA Superfund designation, which might make additional federal remediation dollars available, although that is a possibility. Gardner says there are so many toxic sites on the EPA’s National Priorities List and so little funding that a Superfund listing might not solve the problem.

Gardner acknowledges the EPA has a role going forward and points to the success the agency has had mopping up the nearby Mineral Creek drainage and working with the local Animas River Stakeholders Group to mitigate the situation in Cement Creek, which is devoid of aquatic life.

“So there has been some good work done, but the challenge comes with this sticking point about Superfund, and the concerns are real simple,” Gardner said. “EPA is not funded the way it was in 1990. It simply has lost support for funding.”[…]

in 1995 Congress cut off a tax on petroleum and chemical imports that provided a steady trust fund of billions in cleanup resources. By 2003 the fund had no set funding, and cleanup efforts slowed dramatically, with Congress paying for Superfund remediation out of the general fund.

In 2010, former EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson unsuccessfully lobbied Congress to reinstate the Superfund “Polluters Pay” tax, and Oregon Democratic Earl Blumenauer has introduced a bill to reinstate the Superfund tax in the current Congress, although its chances of success are thought to be slim with both chambers controlled by Republicans.

Whether the Gold King and other nearby mines need to be plugged, a wastewater treatment facility needs to be built in the Cement Creek drainage, or some other scientific solution should be implemented, Gardner says Congress should fund a comprehensive, long-term solution.

“The point is, we think we’d really be making a mistake if we use a Band-Aid approach,” he said. “The easiest Band-Aid — and I’m not saying it isn’t important, because it is — would be to just put the water treatment facility at Cement Creek. We need to look at the whole problem, and we think this could be a pilot program because we know there are thousands of mines throughout the Intermountain West that [are leaking toxins into watersheds].”

Meanwhile, the spotlight will continue to shine brightly on the EPA, with critics lining up on both sides of the aisle. Democratic Reps. Diana DeGette of Denver and Ben Ray Luján of New Mexico this week fired off a letter requesting an EPA oversight hearing to Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton, a Republican.

Rep. Doug Lamborn, a Colorado Springs Republican, sent a letter to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy blasting the “blatant hypocrisy” of her agency, which he says would heavily fine or jail owners of a private company that caused such a disaster.

Of course, private companies — long since out of business — left the toxic mining waste surrounding Silverton. But they did it more than 100 years ago, when there was no EPA. A Lamborn spokesman did not return calls and emails requesting additional comment.

Rep. Scott Tipton, a Cortez Republican whose district includes Silverton, has been equally critical of the EPA. A spokesman on Wednesday said the lawmaker will consider Silverton and San Juan County’s request for federal disaster funding after the recess.

“With regard to federal assistance, Congressman Tipton’s office is reviewing all of the options to determine what is most appropriate and doable,” Tipton spokesman Josh Green said in an email, adding the EPA continues to drag its feet providing information about the spill.

“Congressman Tipton has numerous inquiries into the EPA asking critical questions about how the spill occurred, and the EPA’s response and communication following the spill, which was abhorrent and virtually non-existent,” Green said. “The EPA to date has not been close to being responsive enough, and this will no doubt be a topic raised during future Congressional hearings and investigations.”[…]

Legislatively, Colorado’s congressional delegation is split on party lines, with Republicans backing a Good Samaritan law that would absolve third parties — such as state and local governments, nonprofits and mining companies — from long-term liability cleaning up old mines.

Democrats would like to not only pass Good Samaritan legislation but also reform the 1872 Mining Law to require royalties from companies mining on public lands. That money would create a cleanup fund for abandoned mines.

Silverton’s Gardner, who came out of retirement to try to heal a divided town and was only on the job three weeks before the blowout, says Good Samaritan legislation is good starting point but Congress must quickly get off the EPA issue and come up with meaningful solutions.

“It’s clear to me that the debate over who is going to administrate and find the solution is contributing to a serious delay in addressing the problem,” Gardner said.

#ColoradoRiver District Annual #CRDSeminar recap

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Klaus Wolter speaking at the 2015 Colorado River District Annual Seminar — Tweet via the Colorado River District

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

California’s water-supply problem is by default the problem of the entire Colorado River Basin, and basin states ignore it at their own peril, two speakers warned Thursday.

“You have to keep track of what’s going on in California. California affects the Colorado River and vice versa,” Jennifer Gimbel, principal deputy secretary for water and science at the U.S. Department of Interior, said during the Colorado River District’s annual water seminar in Grand Junction.

Pat Mulroy, retired general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority, warned that Lake Mead is dropping ever closer to a point at which it would no longer be capable of releasing water for downstream uses. That will lead to panic and irrational behavior, she predicted, and federalization of a river system under which water is now governed and allocated by interstate compact.

“We will have all-out chaos,” said Mulroy, now senior fellow for climate adaptation and environmental policy at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas’ law school.

California is coping with a severe drought, the effects of which have been amplified by the inability of varying interests there to build flexibility into water management, store water in wet years and otherwise prepare for dry times, Mulroy said.

“The story of California is the story of missed opportunities, and of the inability, the human inability, to find solutions,” she said.

Gimbel, former director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, said part of California’s problem is a lack of sufficient in-state water storage capability to help it prepare for dry years, as opposed to the high-capacity storage provided by Lake Mead and Lake Powell on the Colorado.

“It’s quite honestly what’s saved our bacon over these last 15 years of the drought,” Gimbel said.

She said the heavy precipitation during what’s being called the “Miracle May” earlier this year helped stabilize water levels in Lake Powell. That has provided some breathing room for dealing with what’s an ongoing drought, and efforts to deal with it must continue, Gimbel said.

She said Lower Basin states have had “difficult discussions” in this regard, “and when things get bad people tend to go back to their positions.”

“… I think that we have to do better on this river. We cannot give up, and it means that when we get scared we cannot retreat to our corners and close the door. We can’t do it alone.”

She hopes that Colorado learns from California’s experience “about drawing lines in the sand, litigating and being unable to move forward.” She said as work began on Colorado’s state water plan, she worried about the rhetoric she was hearing, and about people falling back to their standard positions.

“You can protect what you want to protect, go after what you want to go after,” but everyone has to work together, said Gimbel, who praised the progress that since has been made on the plan.

Said Mulroy, “It is not easy to try to find a new balance point, it is not easy to try to understand your adversary’s position or your fellow stakeholder’s position.”

That is something that has yet to occur in California, she said.

Mulroy sees a need for people to view themselves as citizens of the Colorado River Basin. Everyone has to conserve water and participate in the management of the system, and water needs to be viewed not just as a right but a responsibility, she said.

“If we each take a little bit less in times when we can … and we set limits on how far we’re comfortable letting the system drop before we start recharging the system, then we won’t be sitting in front of dry reservoirs,” Mulroy said.

Asked about concern on the Front Range that conservation measures could mean fewer green lawns and reduced property values, she talked about the initial resistance in the Las Vegas area to efforts to have homeowners convert to more desert landscaping, before they realized it could be beautiful and also end the need to mow lawns.

“It is a real cultural shift, but people need to understand there is a need to conserve,” Mulroy said.

She said that in considering the challenges river basin states face in the years ahead, it’s important to keep in mind the “amazing transformation” that has occurred in connection with the Colorado River’s management over the last 20 years. Parties in Colorado and other states have overcome acrimony and finger-pointing to forge agreements that have drawn attention from people in other parts of the world who have river systems facing similar challenges.

“We need to look at the successes in order to keep the challenges that we face in perspective and not perceive them as insurmountable,” Mulroy said.

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Duffy Hayes):

Amid lots of previous discussion about a Front Range water grab, by way of a new transmountain diversion, speakers from the host group of Thursday’s water conference hoped to persuade attendees to focus their future attention on a more immediate need — water conservation and decreasing people’s usage.

Eric Kuhn, general manager of the Colorado River District, host of the 2015 Annual Water Seminar, focused his talk on “demand management,” a different way of saying finding ways to use less of the water in the river.

“If we’re in a problem, we’ve got to reduce our demands,” Kuhn told the audience. “Utilities do it. Every utility has a contingency plan for demand management. We should look at the (Colorado River Basin) as a big utility, and we’re going to have to figure out — when those times are needed, when the conditions are right — how to manage our demand.”

“The need for demand management is matter of when, not if,” Kuhn said.

As water officials across the state continue to work toward a statewide water plan, too much focus thus far has been on defending West Slope water interests from a new transmountain diversion — or TMD — of Colorado River water, speakers said.

“Our message is, if you look at the future, TMD is always a significant issue, but there are other things, now including preserving existing uses, that in our view have reached a par with, or exceeded in significance, that need for a TMD,” Kuhn said.

“We really need to stop focusing on this notion of a new transmountain diversion,” said Dan Birch, deputy general manager of the Colorado River District, who spoke after Kuhn. “A new TMD is not a real clear and present danger that we have in front of us.”

Click here to go to the #CRDSeminar Twitter stream from yesterday’s seminar.