Colorado Springs asks councillors for water rate increase in 2016

Colorado Springs circa 1910 via
Colorado Springs circa 1910 via

From the Colorado Springs Independent (Pam Zebeck):

The Southern Delivery System, due to become operational next year, hasn’t cost as much as predicted in 2010, which led to lower and fewer rate increases since that time. Originally, Colorado Springs Utilities planned to increase water rates by 12 percent per year for six years. Instead, rates went up by 12 percent each in 2011 and 2012 and 10 percent each in 2013 and 2014.

That said, revenue hasn’t generated as much money as CSU planned, according to a City Auditor’s Office assessment of water rates released this month.

When the costs of the pipeline from Pueblo Reservoir to Colorado Springs came in some $400 million less than originally projected, that meant the city had to borrow less, the audit reports…

In any event, Springs Utilities proposes to change gas, electric and water rates in 2016. The water rate increase would increase the typical residential bill from $57.07 a month this year to $59.62 next year, an increase of $2.55 per month, or 4.5 percent…

Rates changes will become effective January 1 if approved by City Council, which doubles as the Utilities Board.

La Plata County: Water Information Program land use forum recap

San Juan River from Wolf Creek Pass
San Juan River from Wolf Creek Pass

From The Pine River Times (Carole McWilliams):

Land use choices and water use are connected. So how come water people and land use planners don’t work together as water supply becomes more at risk and state population keeps growing?

That was the focus of a water and land use forum on Oct. 23 at the La Plata County Administration Building. It was organized by the Durango-based Water Information Program (WIP).

Denise Rue-Pastin, the director of the program, cited predictions that global population will reach 10 billion by 2050.

“Some of the information being presented is kind of a downer,” she warned. “Hopefully you (participants) will be armed with the information you need to make really good decisions.” She showed maps of global water shortage areas, including in the U.S., areas of growing food demand, and regions where wars are being fought over water…

She cited the Colorado Water Plan aimed at addressing water supply gaps as state population grows to a predicted 10 million.

The final plan must be presented to the governor by Dec. 10. She cited the familiar statistic that 80 percent of state population is on the Front Range while 80 percent of the water is on the West Slope, and 80 percent of water use in Colorado is for agriculture…

The Colorado Water Plan “doesn’t say a lot about what we should be doing,” although it lists ideas such as development that does not increase water demand, referred to as net zero, [Drew] Beckwith said. “The divide between water planners and land use planners is sometimes a challenge.” There are efforts to come up with estimates of how increased density might affect water use, he said.

The Water Plan will tout a goal to have 75 percent of state population living in communities that have incorporated water saving actions, Beckwith said. He asked for comments…

Beckwith said, “The challenge I see is for you in the southwest (part of the state) to say we don’t want any more trans-mountain (water) diversions, you need to lead by example.”

Shepard cited subdivision covenants and homeowner associations that require outside landscaping, and the HOA will sue for non-compliance.

That’s illegal under a state law passed a couple years ago, Beckwith responded.

Rue-Pastin raised another issue. “I know of a water utility that got rid of their water conservation because one of their directors said, ‘If we don’t use it, we’ll lose it.'”

Beckwith added that some utilities depend on the income from selling more water, but, “When you need more supply and conservation is the cheapest alternative, it makes sense.”[…]

Green and Beckwith listed ways to link water and land use:

. a system to allocate water taps

. impact fees on building permits

. use of state authorized 1041 powers to protect water supplies from diversions

. comprehensive/ master plans that encourage denser development and water conservation

. landscaping codes

. more development restrictions in areas with less groundwater

. prohibitions on outside water use, as in Summit County

. requirements for water efficient appliances.

Green cited the need to go beyond “aspirational” master plans to implementation in land use regulations.

Beckwith said, “At the end of the day, it depends on what your community cares about.”

“Good Samaritan” legislation on agenda — The Pueblo Chieftain

Colorado abandoned mines
Colorado abandoned mines

From the Associated Press (Dan Elliott) via The Pueblo Chieftain:

Congressional Republicans revived “Good Samaritan” legislation Thursday designed to encourage companies and nonprofits to help clean up thousands of abandoned mines across the nation by protecting them from liability for environmental accidents.

The proposal was one of three the House Natural Resources Committee unveiled after the Environmental Protection Agency inadvertently unleashed 3 million gallons of wastewater laced with heavy metals from an inactive Colorado gold mine in August. Rivers were contaminated in Colorado, New Mexico and Utah, including the Southern Ute Reservation and Navajo Nation.

A second bill would allow the Bureau of Land Management and nonprofits to solicit donations to clean up abandoned mines and oil and gas wells. The BLM oversees more than 380,000 square miles of federal land. The third would funnel more money toward training mining engineers as the current generation nears retirement.

An EPA-led contractor crew accidentally triggered the spill at the Gold King Mine in southwestern Colorado while trying to drain water backed up inside. The crew was trying to insert a drainage pipe through debris blocking the mine but didn’t measure the water depth first, according to a review by the Interior Department.

Republicans have been among most vocal in criticizing the EPA for the spill, but none of the bills revealed Thursday appeared to directly target the agency or limit its authority to clean up abandoned mines.

“The idea is EPA is still involved,” said Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, chairman of the committee. “The magnitude of the scale is simply overwhelming, and they cannot handle it. They need help.”

Similar legislation previously introduced by both Republicans and Democrats has failed. Colorado Republican Rep. Doug Lamborn, sponsor of the new measure, said that’s because either environmentalists or the industry didn’t like the bills.

“We’re trying to thread the needle and have both buy-in from environmentalists and industry support,” he said.

He said the Obama administration might block his bill, until a new president takes over in 2017. But without liability protection, “no one in their right mind” would attempt a cleanup, he said.

Lamborn and Bishop said the bill will not offer protection for deliberate or negligent acts or cover companies that caused the environmental damage in the first place.

“Bad actors by definition are not Good Samaritans,” Bishop said.

None of the bills provides compensation for rafting companies, farmers or others who lost money because of the spill, which released pollution into the Animas and San Juan rivers and sent an eerie mustard yellow plume downstream.

Bishop said he wants to see a compensation fund, but that will require cooperation from other committees.

#ColoradoRiver Basin: Parties looking to build on 2007 Shortage Sharing Agreement for Powell and Mead

Colorado River Basin, USBR May 2015
Colorado River Basin, USBR May 2015

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

nterim guidelines for managing both Lake Powell and Lake Mead and the Colorado River system still have more than a decade to go before they expire, but have been successful enough that parties are already looking to start talks about making them a little less interim.

The guidelines were finalized in 2007 and are scheduled to expire in 2026. While negotiations to extend them are scheduled to begin in 2020, they could start even sooner, Steve Wolff with the Wyoming State Engineer’s Office said Thursday at the Upper Colorado River Basin Water Forum, presented by Colorado Mesa University’s Ruth Powell Hutchins Water Center.

“They’re starting way in advance of when they actually expire,” he said.

Ted Kowalski, interstate section chief of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, credited former Interior Secretary Gale Norton, of Colorado, for helping provide direction for the agreement. He said it has resulted in a “historic relationship” between states in the Upper and Lower Colorado river basins. Beforehand, representatives of the two basins couldn’t agree on anything and meetings between them usually included talk about possible litigation, he said.

Now, he says, “I can’t stress enough how the 2007 guidelines are working in the context of collaboration.”

The two big reservoirs are the two most important storage facilities in the river basin, said Eric Kuhn, general manager of the Colorado River District, based in Glenwood Springs. The guidelines integrate operations of the two reservoirs, for the first time operating them as a system, and govern what level of water shortages the Interior secretary has to impose when there’s not enough water to fully supply the Lower Basin states of California, Nevada and Arizona.

Chuck Cullom with the Central Arizona Project, which diverts Colorado River water for use in that state, said the project is a junior water user vulnerable to shortages. It’s important to understand how the river system will operate in shortages, and the guidelines determine how much water will be sent downstream from Powell each year based on rigorous and “refereed” determinations, he said.

“There’s no shenanigans. Everyone knows how the system is going to operate from year to year regardless of politics or changes in administration, and that’s important for all of us,” he said.

Conservation and collaboration have been important components of the guidelines, with water entities across the river system being motivated to take voluntary steps to keep water in the reservoirs at levels that avoid shortages. Kowalski said an example is the investment by Lower Basin states of hundreds of thousands of dollars in cloud-seeding programs in Wyoming, Colorado and Utah to try to boost precipitation levels.

The Lower Basin states don’t get to claim any of the extra water that results.

“But rather it’s built on this idea that if we have more water in the system, we’re all going to benefit,” he said.