Rueter-Hess dam and reservoir offer hope for thirsty Colorado communities — The Denver Post

From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

Colorado water planners facing a projected 163 billion-gallon statewide annual shortfall by 2050 now are aiming to emulate water-stressed Parker (population 50,000), which labored for three decades to build its 185-foot-high Frank Jaeger dam, reservoir and plant. Parker’s leaders were driven by a desire to enable population growth up to 120,000 people without pumping more from dwindling underground aquifers.

Parker officials began their project in 1985 after anticipating a water shortfall as suburban development exploded. Longtime Parker Water employee Frank Jaeger scouted sites, filed for permits and obtained rights to divert water. Town leaders initially planned a reservoir to hold 16,200 acre-feet of water.

At first they focused on flooding Castlewood Canyon State Park. Courts rejected this.

Jaeger then negotiated with landowners for the current site, between Parker and Castle Rock. Environmental studies started in 1997. Designs were done in 2002. Construction began in 2004. In 2008, Jaeger and other suburban officials decided to make it a bigger reservoir, holding 75,000 acre-feet.

The reservoir was completed in 2012. And an adjacent water-cleaning plant last summer began operating — bringing reservoir water to residents who long have relied on declining underground water.

Any state push to build reservoirs will require determination and patience, said Jaeger, now retired. “You’ll need state sponsorship,” he said. “And you’ll need somebody who is going to stay around for the whole deal. They’re going to take a lot of heat.”

More dams and reservoirs likely would cost hundreds of millions and, if off the main stem of a river, require huge amounts of electrical power to pump water.

Parker installed five grid-powered motors — three 1,250 horsepower, two 500 horsepower. These move water from headwaters of Cherry Creek, at a diversion point near Stroh Road, through a 3-mile, 48-inch-diameter steel pipe that runs up a 250-foot-high hill before it reaches Rueter-Hess.

Then there’s the matter of obtaining enough water to fill Rueter-Hess, factoring in annual evaporation losses of about 3 percent.

Parker secured limited junior rights to surface water and, in May 2011, began diverting to fill the reservoir. When senior rights holders call for water in dry times, Parker’s diversions must stop. Today, Rueter-Hess holds 21,000 acre-feet.

The water treatment plant uses state-of-the-art filtering and chemical treatments to remove algae and minerals such as phosphorus so that the reservoir water is safe.

As Parker Water’s team formally opened the plant last month, [Ron] Redd said state planners will need to get started soon.

“It took Parker Water 25 years,” he said. “They’ll probably need more storage than what they are indicating. … You’re never disappointed with more storage.”

Durango: City voters approve bond to remodel sewer plant

Durango
Durango

From The Durango Herald (Mary Shinn):

“It truly is the right decision,” said Mayor Dean Brookie.

The remodel is necessary to ensure the plant can continue to meet water-quality regulations, as Durango continues to grow.

At the beginning of 2016, the city can now hire a company to design the sewer plant’s remodel, which will take about a year. Construction of the $58 million project will take about 18 months, said Mary Beth Miles, assistant to the city manager. The project needs to be finished to meet the Feb. 28, 2018, deadline when the state will review the plant’s permit.

The other $10 million in debt, approved by voters, will be used for sewer-related projects, not necessarily at the plant.

Without voter approval to finance the plant, the city would have had to look at emergency rate increases and cash financing the project, city councilors said.

“(The vote) averted a significant potential additional increase in sewer rates that would have been required to make interim improvements to the plant,” Brookie said…

The opposition group that pushed for a “no” vote hopes the council will revisit the alternative locations, including Cundiff Park, a site near Sawmill Road Site or combine with the South Durango Sanitation District, said Jon Broholm, who helped organize the opposition.

However, the group has not come to a consensus on which site would be best, he said.

The city council has already spent about $100,000 on engineering studies to research moving the plant and found insurmountable technical, environmental and financial challenges, Brookie said.

In addition, the few acres of park land that could be gained by moving the plant would cost more than all the open space purchased by the city over 20 years.

“What could go there that’s worth costing the taxpayers $20 million?” Brookie asked…

Improvements to the plant are underway to make sure it does not violate water-quality standards, said Steve Salka, utilities director.

Construction on a basin at the park that separates sludge from water was finished last week for less than the estimated $500,000, he said.

He also needs to build new aeration basins for about $5 million to meet the state’s standards for ammonia, a chemical that is toxic to fish.

If the construction was not completed by 2018, the city could potentially violate its permit every day, he said.

Voters approve “deBrucing” of Dolores Water Conservancy District mill levy

From the Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga):

Voters have approved a request by the Dolores Water Conservancy District to freeze the mill levy at the current rate of 0.483…

Mcphee Reservoir
Mcphee Reservoir

The district sought to avoid the ratcheting down effect on the district’s budget because of fluctuating property values.

“Passage of Ballot Issue 4A will really help the Dolores Water Conservancy District provide a stable water supply for our farmers and communities going forward,” said DWCD general manager Mike Preston. “We want to offer our deepest appreciation to the voters for supporting this measure.”

Preston said passing the measure allows DWCD to better secure grant money, which is important to keep McPhee Reservoir and delivery systems in good shape. He said the funds will allow the district to face growing challenges of protecting water rights, and dealing with drought and emerging threats to McPhee Reservoir, such as an invasion of quagga mussels that could damage water delivery systems and kill sport fishing.

Setting a permanent tax mill levy allows the district to stabilize its income relative to area growth and retain any additional income it receives.

According to the district, “changing laws and regulations at the federal and state levels, including BLM and Forest Service management plans, require increased vigilance, negotiation and legal involvement to protect established District water rights.”

Ballot Issue 4A is a waiver to the Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR), known as “deBrucing.”

2016 Colorado legislation #coleg: Implement alternative ag transfer methods with a water bank?

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The idea of a statewide water bank is being floated by the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District.

Coincidentally, they would be tied to ATMs.

Not automated teller machines, but alternative transfer methods, one of the key elements in the upcoming state water plan.

The state Legislature’s interim water resources committee heard the proposal Thursday from Lower Ark General Manager Jay Winner and attorney Leah Martinsson, who are working with state Rep. Jeni Arndt, D-Fort Collins, to draft a bill for the 2016 session.

“ATMs are in the state water plan, and the district has been a leader in these types of temporary transfers since it was formed in 2002,” Martinsson told the panel. “The district realized the old way of going to court to dry up the land was not going to work.”

Other programs to provide temporary transfers have not worked because they are tied to permanent water rights changes adjudicated in water court, Martinsson said. That includes flex marketing legislation Arndt sponsored in the last session.

“Farmers don’t trust the process,” she said.

The Lower Ark worked to form the Arkansas Valley Super Ditch in 2008. Under the 2013 law, HB1248, the group was able to operate a pilot program this year that leased water from the Catlin Canal to Fowler, Fountain and Security.

The concept of the water bank would build on that, limiting administrative transfers to just three years in 10 under the supervision of the Colorado Water Conservation Board. Transfers from the Rio Grande and Colorado River basins would be prohibited, Martinsson said.

“The banks would be set up on a conservative model, so you don’t argue over 23 gallons of water,” Martinsson said, referring to water accounting challenges that doomed Super Ditch’s early efforts. “We’re proposing leaving 5-10 percent in the river above what was historically left there.”

That would provide environmental benefits, she said.

Winner said the goal is to keep water on the land by providing an option where water is not sold on a permanent basis.

“What we’re trying to do is have another tool for farmers,” Winner said. “I think this would prevent speculation both by water developers and farmers. It helps keep water on the land, but gives the water rights holders the opportunity to use the water.”

Spinney Mountain Reservoir
Spinney Mountain Reservoir

#COWaterPlan: “It makes a large water transfer less likely” — Theresa Conley

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Conservation groups say the upcoming Colorado Water Plan has moved their concerns to the forefront, but more work is needed to ensure future water projects are environmentally friendly.

“What we don’t have are criteria for which projects the state will support and why,” said Drew Beckwith of Western Resource Advocates. “A $20 billion water plan is not a water plan, because we don’t have $20 billion to spend.”

Still, with each new version of the water plan, conservation groups are seeing more attention to ideas like urban conservation, land use planning and protection of the environment.

“There is more environmental resiliency,” said Theresa Conley of Conservation Colorado. “It makes a large water transfer less likely.”

The final version of the water plan is expected to be presented to Gov. John Hickenlooper by the Colorado Water Conservation Board on Nov. 19. It’s the result of two years of meetings launched by Hickenlooper’s executive order in 2013.

From the start, conservationists saw a better chance to incorporate their perspective into the document. Prior to the executive order, they were releasing competing visions for addressing the gap between a growing population and a finite water supply.

Throughout the process, new voices have been heard, Beckwith said.

“There were 30,000 comments. When’s the last time the CWCB got even 30 comments on a water policy issue?” Beckwith said.

Western Resource Advocates also supports voluntary, fairly compensated temporary transfers of agricultural water to meet urban needs.

“The default is that it’s too easy to go buy a farm and dry up the land,” Beckwith said.

Conley said the water plan must be a living document.

“We will be watching and mindful of what’s coming out of the Legislature,” she said. “There is still more that needs to be hashed out.”

Colorado transmountain diversions via the University of Colorado
Colorado transmountain diversions via the University of Colorado

“This well-reasoned decision prevents Colorado from becoming a laboratory for untested uranium technologies” — Jeff Parsons

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Tracy Harmon):

A company’s application to conduct exploratory borehole drilling for uranium in the Tallahassee neighborhood west of Canon City has been denied.

The Mined Land Reclamation Board on Oct. 28 denied the application from Black Range Minerals that would have allowed development of an underground borehole extraction experiment in the Tallahassee Creek area. As presented, the application would have proceeded under the minimal requirements of a prospecting permit.

Objections to the proposal were filed by opponents including Tallahassee Area Community, Inc., Coloradoans Against Resource Destruction and the Information Network for Responsible Mining.

“Under Colorado law, the difference between prospecting activities versus mining activities equates to a big difference in how carefully regulators review the permit and how well water quality will be monitored and protected,” said attorney Jeff Parsons, who represented the opponents and Tallahassee resident Kay Hawklee in the proceedings. “This well-reasoned decision prevents Colorado from becoming a laboratory for untested uranium technologies that haven’t yet proven they can be utilized without polluting the watershed.”

Australia-based Black Range Minerals initially started exploring for uranium in the Taylor Ranch area west of Canon City in 2008 and got approval from the Fremont County Commission in 2010 to expand exploration on an additional 2,220 acres of property known as the Hansen Deposit, which is believed to be the largest uranium deposit in the district.

Black Range proposed to the state to use underground borehole mining, dubbed uranium fracking. The process involves drilling a hole up to 24 inches in diameter into a uranium deposit, lowering a rotating nozzle into the ground, blasting a highpressure water jet stream into the rock in order to fracture it and develop an underground cavern before pumping a uranium-bearing slurry back to the surface for processing.

Black Range’s proposal submitted to the state anticipated the development of the underground borehole passing through an unconfined drinking water aquifer in the Tallahassee Creek basin, but omitted a complete water-quality monitoring plan, Parsons said.

“The proposal that Black Range Minerals submitted was so minimalist that the company didn’t even identify the location of the main borehole or the detailed water-monitoring regime normally required for mining activities,” he said.

“This was an attempt by Black Range Minerals to get its mining operation going on the quick,” said Cathe Meyrick, president of Tallahassee Area Community group. “If we’re going to have an uranium mine next door, we expect the state to require a thorough review, including a comprehensive water monitoring plan and have enough protections in place to ensure that our drinking water isn’t contaminated.”

uraniumdrilling

Weekly Climate, Water and Drought Assessment of the Upper #ColoradoRiver Basin

Upper Colorado River Basin October 2015 precipitation as a percent of Normal via the Colorado Climate Center
Upper Colorado River Basin October 2015 precipitation as a percent of Normal via the Colorado Climate Center

Click here to read the current assessment. Click here to go to the NIDIS website hosted by the Colorado Climate Center.