CO2: Earth Passes Into ‘Uncharted Territory’ — KQED Science

From KQED Science (Andrew Alden):

This week [November 22, 2015], you can watch as Earth passes a threshold not seen for at least a million years. The concentration of carbon dioxide in the air will rise above 400 parts per million. And scientists predict neither you nor your children will ever see it go below 400 ppm again.

The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said on Monday that this year’s El Niño combined with global warming puts the world “in uncharted territory.”

“This naturally occurring El Niño event and human induced climate change may interact and modify each other in ways which we have never before experienced,” said WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud.

‘An Icon of Climate Change’

When scientists talk about atmospheric CO2, their yardstick is the so-called Keeling curve. It’s the record of the air’s composition, made each day at a station run by the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in the pure air high on Mauna Loa volcano, in Hawaii.

This week’s carbon dioxide readings at the Mauna Loa Observatory are updated every day. As they rise above the 400 parts-per-million threshold, scientists warn that they will not return to it in our lifetimes. (Scripps/UC San Diego)
This week’s carbon dioxide readings at the Mauna Loa Observatory are updated every day. As they rise above the 400 parts-per-million threshold, scientists warn that they will not return to it in our lifetimes. (Scripps/UC San Diego)

Ralph Keeling, the custodian of the CO2 record, made his prediction last week in a blog post on the Keeling Curve website.

The Keeling curve was started in 1958 under the direction of Keeling’s father, Charles David “Dave” Keeling. Today it’s the longest series of such measurements in the world. It was named a National Historic Chemical Landmark this year.

The Keeling curve is an icon of climate change. What does it show?

In the 1960s, Dave Keeling’s measurements showed that the CO2 level in the air was rising steadily. That long-term increase is the mark of human influence. It comes overwhelmingly from the fossil fuels we burn — largely to generate electricity, but also to smelt metals, produce cement, run motors and so on. Other smaller sources of CO2 are from humans cutting down forests and from large-scale mechanical farming, which removes most of the carbon-rich humus contained in soil.

Since the 1960s, the long-term increase in CO2 has sped up. A little over half of the CO2 we produce is absorbed by the ocean and by growing plants. The rest stays in the air and acts as a greenhouse gas.

#ColoradoRiver: Rising temperatures explain drop in reservoirs better than drought

From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

The Colorado River originates in Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, gathering water from tributary rivers that arise near Winter Park and Breckenridge, Vail and Crested Butte.

A little more than halfway on its 1,450-mile route to the Pacific Ocean, the Colorado River gets blocked by a giant slab of concrete called Hoover Dam. This dam creates Lake Mead, the primary water source for Las Vegas.

Lake Mead in December 2012. Photo/Allen Best
Lake Mead in December 2012. Photo/Allen Best

Since 2000, water levels have declined in Lake Mead and the other major Colorado River impoundment, Lake Powell. The usual explanation is drought. Certainly, there have been some very snow-deficient winters, and at one point the Southern Nevada Water Authority decided that its two tunnels into Lake Mead might not be enough if the reservoir declined further. So, a 3-mile tunnel was engineered to come in at the very bottom of the reservoir.

That tunnel, completed at a cost of $817 million, was unplugged in late September, giving Las Vegas a resource in case the reservoir empties. Engineers compared the challenge of the work to construction of the Eisenhower-Johnson Tunnels for Interstate 70 in Colorado. Those two-mile-long tunnels are at over 11,000 feet in elevation.

Speaking at a recent conference sponsored by the Colorado Mesa University Water Center, Doug Kenney warned against thinking that the drought will end.

“There’s a lot of thinking that when the drought ends, the reservoirs will come back,” observed Kenney, a research fellow in western water policy at the University of Colorado-Boulder’s Getches-Wilkinson Natural Resources Law Center.

Kenney also pointed out that over the last 15 years, the good years and bad years of snow have more or less evened out. The total precipitation has declined only a few percentage points from the longer-term average.

Drought is only third on the list of what explains the declining reservoir levels in the Colorado River Basin, he observed. The larger story is that demand has now outstripped supply. Las Vegas, for example, exceeded the population of Manhattan about a decade ago and now has two million people.

But there’s also a second reason why the levels have been declining, said Kenney. Temperatures in the Colorado River Basin have already been rising, causing greater evaporative losses, both in the soil and from reservoirs.

These rising temperatures have broad implications: hay, corn, and cotton crops need more water, and soils dry out more readily. “The warming climate affects the water cycle in ways that are problematic for the basin,” he said.

Dagmar Llewellyn, of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, said that rising temperatures predicted by climate models will increase demands for water used by agriculture and municipal lawn watering.

But hotter temperatures will also increase evaporation of existing reservoirs, such as Elephant Butte, on the Rio Grande in New Mexico, which already loses a quarter of its annual storage to evaporation.

Better storage mechanisms will be needed as the climate warms, she said, and suggested that recharge of a partially depleted aquifer underlying Albuquerque might be one answer.

Rural Nebraska, Keystone, and the Paris climate talks — The Mountain Town News

A sign along U.S. Highway 20 in Stuart, Nebraska, in May 2012. Stuart is on the edge of the Sand Hills, a few miles from Newport. Photo/Allen Best
A sign along U.S. Highway 20 in Stuart, Nebraska, in May 2012. Stuart is on the edge of the Sand Hills, a few miles from Newport. Photo/Allen Best

From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

How Nebraska’s farm towns became part of U.S. climate change strategy

To call Newport, Neb., a small town inflates its size. Located on the edge of the sparsely populated Sand Hills, the hamlet has just 70 people. Like nearly all of Nebraska’s rural areas, it has been shedding residents.

But Newport will have an influence on upcoming climate negotiations in Paris. Opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline first arose at Newport and other itty-bitty places on the Great Plains. Ranch and farm owners became riled up by what they considered bullying tactics by the proponent, Calgary-based TransCanada. Their opposition caught the attention of national environmental groups and climate-change activists such as Bill McKibben, who in turn made the Keystone a centerpiece of their campaigns against fossil fuels.

President Barack Obama last week said that opponents had overstated the effect of the pipeline in causing increased greenhouse gas emissions, but nonetheless affirmed the veto by Secretary of State John Kerry. At issue, he said, was U.S. credibility when he meets other world leaders in Paris. Approving Keystone XL, he said, “would have undercut that global leadership.”

As with the civil rights movement 50 years before, the Keystone story testifies to the power of grassroots protest. Determined, local activists—when amplified—can make a difference. The Keystone story, however, had unlikely partners.

Rural Nebraska bleeds conservative red. In Rock County, where Newport is located, Obama got only 18 percent of the votes in 2008. Four years later, he got only 13 percent. People were furious about Obama’s Affordable Health Care Act. They don’t like mandates. They don’t think Koch is a four-letter word.

Unlike most of the Great Plains, the Ogalalla Aquifers has been rising in Nebraska. During spring, it sometimes comes to the surface in the Sand Hills. May 2012 photo/Allen Best
Unlike most of the Great Plains, the Ogalalla Aquifers has been rising in Nebraska. During spring, it sometimes comes to the surface in the Sand Hills. May 2012 photo/Allen Best

More unpopular than Obama, though, were the land agents for TransCanada who had begun banging on ranch-house doors. The company already had pipeline in eastern Nebraska to export diluted bitumen from the tar-like sands of northern Alberta to U.S. refineries. This time, the company chose a more direct route that nicked the corner of the state’s iconic Sand Hills. The Ogallala Aquifer lies below the Sand Hills, and during spring, rises to the surface. This pipeline route didn’t set well with ranchers and farmers. As I learned during a reporting trip there for a magazine several years ago, they’re fiercely protective of their land and water.

One day in 2009, Lynda Buoy, who has a small ranch in the Sand Hills, went to Newport to talk about this with several ranch women over coffee at Sunny’s Café. The women she met, ranging from their 30s to their 70s, didn’t know what to do. They had received letters from TransCanada offering terms for easements but also a warning: accept this offer or else their property would be condemned. “They were devastated that this could happen in America,” says Buoy. Only later did they learn that TransCanada had no such authority.

Meetings in small towns drew large crowds. Environmental groups got involved. Climate change was not yet at the forefront of their messaging. Long-time Sierra Club representative Ken Winston urged landowners to stand their constitutional grounds against a foreign corporation. Those messages resonated with conservatives who listened to Mike Huckabee’s radio program by day and watched Fox News at night.

The National Farmers Union passed a resolution in 2010 crafted with the aid of local representative Graham Christensen. The National Wildlife Federation sponsored trips by locals to testify in Washington D.C. Money began flowing downward from national groups. If driven by different motives, big-green environmental organizations and grassroots activists had a common goal.

Later, in 2013, another unlikely pairing called the Cowboy-Indian Alliance was forged, partnering the landowners with the indigenous Ponca, Pawnee, and Sioux along with other tribes in Canada.

Karl Connell objected to the terms offered by TransCanada and to the very presence of a pipeline across his ranch along the Niobrara River. May 2012 photo/Allen Best
Karl Connell objected to the terms offered by TransCanada and to the very presence of a pipeline across his ranch along the Niobrara River. May 2012 photo/Allen Best

Landowners in Nebraska did not kill the Keystone XL pipeline, but they created the situation that allowed Secretary of State John Kerry to veto the permit. It’s like a car going by at 60 mph, says John K. Hansen, the president of Nebraska Farmers Union. At that speed, you might notice that it’s red or an SUV, but not much more. Only when the car stops can you see the wheel-well rust or the front-fender dent. Ranchers and farmers slowed this speeding car for closer inspection.

The civil rights movement has certain parallels. Fifty years ago this past August, Congress passed the Voting Rights Act. It did so only after Bloody Sunday on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, several months before. U.S. Congressman John Lewis, then a student activist from Georgia, was among the victims that day. Martin Luther King Jr. later led marchers successfully to the state capitol in Montgomery. But King and the student activists arrived only after the local residents had shown their pluck, insisting on their right as Americans to vote. Changes happen from the grassroots.

Bill McKibben at an event in Telluride, Colo. Photo/Allen Best
Bill McKibben at an event in Telluride, Colo. Photo/Allen Best

Last week, shortly after Obama’s announcement, environmental leaders proudly noted that this was the first defeat of major fossil fuel infrastructure and suggested further efforts to keep carbon in the ground.

That’s still not a strong message in Nebraska. “I can guarantee you that none of these cowboys believe in climate change,” said Buoy last weekend from her home in the Sand Hills. “They know there’s something weird with the weather, but they don’t think it’s climate change.”

But Christensen, the former Farmers Union representative, very much has climate change in mind. He has returned to the farm north of Omaha that has been in his family since 1867. Now, he wants to push the energy revolution from the grassroots. Farmers, he says, need to be energy generators, harnessing the power of wind and other renewable resources. Working at the grassroots, he’s trying to help them.

Allen Best originally reported on the pipeline controversy in 2012 for Planning, a magazine of the American Planning Association.

Ute Water customers to pay more for 4th year in a row — The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Charles Ashby):

Rates for Ute Water customers are headed higher for the fourth year in a row.

The water conservancy district’s board of directors announced Tuesday that starting Jan. 1 the minimum charge for the first 3,000 gallons of water used in a month will go from $20 to $22, while residential tap fees will increase 3 percent, from $6,800 per tap to $7,000.

That’s double the rate increases the district imposed this year. In 2012, the district’s rate was $15 for the first 3,000 gallons.

The increase is needed to replenish reserve funds the district used when it bought water in Ruedi Reservoir near Basalt from the Bureau of Land Management, which the district did in 2013, said Joe Burtard, external affairs manager for the district. The additional money from the latest increase is for the district’s next major project, expanding Monument Reservoir on Grand Mesa, he said.

“Our board has been really aggressive and proactive in establishing a reserve fund for projects like Ruedi,” he said. “What we don’t want to do is, go into the construction of Monument Reservoir and take out loans and bonds to pay for that because that increases the construction costs, and that cost is then passed on to our consumers.”

Burtard said the increase is expected to generate about $800,000 a year toward that project, he said.

He said the increases stem from a Raw Water Study the district did back in 2011, which identified the need for more water storage, as much as 21,400 acre-feet, to handle the anticipated population growth in the Grand Valley.

That population is expected to increase the district’s customers to about 197,000 residents by 2045, more than double the 80,000 people it serves now.

To address that potential demand, the district has been working in recent years to expand its water supplies, including purchasing more acre-feet at Ruedi and expanding Monument Reservoir.

The Monument project, which is expected to cost about $21 million, would provide another 4,700 acre-feet of water. The district is nearing the end of getting a permit for the project, Burtard said.

This summer, the district also spent about $450,000 on a hydropower electric project, which is designed to power its water-treatment plant and help it save operating costs in the long term.

The district also is expanding pipelines on Orchard Mesa and in the Redlands areas, expanding its water pumping capabilities and upgrading or replacing some of its vehicles, he said.

It has about $6 million budgeted for capital projects for next year. “Water providers are having to become really creative in thinking outside of the box in how they’re going to develop additional water resources,” Burtard said. “One of ours was the purchase of Ruedi Reservoir, which I think anyone can say that’s probably the most significant that Ute Water’s ever made in its history.”

He said the district’s board of directors prefers to build its cash reserves to pay for large projects rather than go into debt or sell bonds for such projects.

Burtard said the board opted for an increase in its 3,000-gallon minimum rather than implement a different tiered payment structure because it doesn’t want to penalize people who conserve water by staying under that threshold.

The board also didn’t like the idea of increasing tap fees because of fears it might hinder growth, but felt it was better to put a greater burden on future development rather than existing customers, he said.

Grand Junction back in the day with the Grand Mesa in background
Grand Junction back in the day with the Grand Mesa in background

USGS: Flooding in the South Platte River and Fountain Creek Basins in eastern Colorado, September 9–18, 2013


Here’s the abstract from the United States Geological Survey:

On September 9, 2013, rain began to fall in eastern Colorado as a large low-pressure system pulled plumes of tropical moisture northward from the Pacific Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico. By September 16, 2013, as much as 12 to 20 inches of rain had fallen in the foothills of the Front Range of the Southern Rocky Mountains and adjacent plains near Colorado Springs, Colorado, north to the Colorado-Wyoming border. The rain caused major flooding during September 9–18, 2013, in a large part of the South Platte River Basin and in the Fountain Creek Basin. The floods resulted in several fatalities, more than 31,000 damaged or destroyed structures, and an estimated 3 billion dollars in damages. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) documented peak stage, streamflow, or both from the flood event for 80 sites located on selected rivers and streams in the South Platte River and Fountain Creek Basins and on the Platte River in Nebraska. The majority of flood-peak streamflows occurred on September 12 or 13, 2013, coinciding with the period of maximum rainfall. The flood resulted in new record peak streamflows at 17 streamgages having at least 10 years of record; 13 in the South Platte River Basin and 4 in the Fountain Creek Basin.

Flooding in the South Platte River Basin was primarily contained to select streams in Aurora and the Denver metropolitan area, most of the mountain tributaries joining the main stem South Platte River from Denver to Greeley, and in the main stem South Platte River from Denver to the Colorado-Nebraska State line. In Aurora, where about 15 inches of rain fell, streamflow peaked at 5,470 cubic feet per second (ft3/s) in Toll Gate Creek, a tributary to Sand Creek. Downstream from Aurora near the confluence with the South Platte River, Sand Creek peaked at 14,900 ft3/s, which was the highest streamflow since at least 1992, but less than the peak of 25,500 ft3/s in 1957 that occurred 4 miles upstream from the mouth. Flood-peak streamflows in the Denver metropolitan area were generally below historic records. The peak of 3,930 ft3/s on September 12 at the State of Colorado streamgage South Platte River at Denver ranked 59 out of 116 peaks and was less than the 1965 peak of 40,300 ft3/s. Ten of the 13 streamgages in the South Platte River Basin with new record peak streamflows were located on the mountain tributaries; Bear Creek, Fourmile Creek, Boulder Creek, St. Vrain Creek, the Big Thompson River, and the Cache la Poudre River. A daily average streamflow of 8,910 ft3/s on September 13 in Boulder Creek at the confluence with St. Vrain Creek was more than twice the previous instantaneous peak of 4,410 ft3/s from 1938. The USGS calculated a peak streamflow of 23,800 ft3/s for the St. Vrain Creek at Lyons; the highest streamflow on record at this State of Colorado streamgage (122 years of record) is 10,500 ft3/s from 1941. A peak streamflow of 16,200 ft3/s was calculated for the Big Thompson River at mouth of canyon near Drake streamgage, which is the second highest peak in 90 years of record and about one-half the magnitude of the peak of 31,200 ft3/s from July 31, 1976. A streamflow of 60,000 ft3/s in the South Platte River at Fort Morgan (September 15, 2013) suggests that a new record streamflow occurred in the main stem in the Greeley area, about 45 miles upstream from Fort Morgan. The current peak of record at a State of Colorado streamgage at Kersey, about 6.5 miles downstream from Greeley, is 31,500 ft3/s from 1973. Given that there was minimal inflow between Kersey and Fort Morgan, the USGS estimates there was probably at least 60,000 ft3/s at Kersey, which would be almost double the peak streamflow of record from 1973.

Flooding in the Fountain Creek Basin was primarily contained to Fountain Creek from southern Colorado Springs to its confluence with the Arkansas River in Pueblo, in lower Monument Creek, and in several mountain tributaries. New record peak streamflows occurred at four mountain tributary streamgages having at least 10 years of record; Bear Creek, Cheyenne Creek, Rock Creek, and Little Fountain Creek. Five streamgages with at least 10 years of record in a 32-mile reach of Fountain Creek extending from Colorado Springs to Piñon had peak streamflows in the top five for the period of record. A peak of 15,300 ft3/s at Fountain Creek near Fountain was the highest streamflow recorded in the Fountain Creek Basin during the September 2013 event and ranks the third highest peak in 46 years. Near the mouth of the basin, a peak of 11,800 ft3/s in Pueblo was only the thirteenth highest annual peak in 74 years. A new Colorado record for daily rainfall of 11.85 inches was recorded at a USGS rain gage in the Little Fountain Creek Basin on September 12, 2013.

Mt. Emmons treatment plant deal in the works — The Crested Butte News

Mount Emmons
Mount Emmons

From The Crested Butte News (Mark Reaman):

In what has been described as a “serendipitous” and “interconnected” moment, there could be real headway in a permanent solution to the Mt. Emmons water treatment plant and overall molybdenum mine situation.

While very preliminary, the signals are good that this new path with new players, in part spurred by last summer’s dramatic Gold King Mine release into the Animas River, could bring about substantial changes to the Red Lady situation.

Gunnison County, the town of Crested Butte, several departments in the state, mining giant Freeport-McMoRan and U.S. Energy, the company with rights to the local molybdenum deposit, appear to be headed toward a collaborative deal to upgrade and permanently fund the water treatment plant on Coal Creek and address the idea of a potential mine.

This most recent chapter in a very long story started late last August when the county and the town sent a letter to the state and feds expressing serious concern over U.S. Energy’s ability to maintain the water treatment plant, especially if an accident occurred at the plant. U.S. Energy had been taking a giant financial hit with the decrease in energy prices and it has only gotten worse, with its stock selling this week for under 30 cents a share.

The two local governments sent a letter saying that the environmental and human health consequences of any release of untreated mine drainage are beyond the governments’ response capacity. They asked the Colorado Water Quality Control Division to reopen a permit renewal process for the mine’s discharge permit, which regulates the water treatment plant.

Several state agencies, including the Department of Natural Resources, the Colorado Water Quality Control Division, the State Attorney General’s Office and the Colorado Division of Reclamation Mining and Safety, set up a meeting in October. Crested Butte town attorney John Belkin, Gunnison County attorney David Baumgarten and special counsel for the town, Barbara Green, met with them to discuss concerns about U.S. Energy and its financial ability to continue operating the plant. By all accounts, it was a positive meeting.

Shortly after that, Freeport-McMoRan, a renowned international copper, gold and molybdenum miner that operates the Climax and Henderson moly mines in Colorado, also came into the picture. While it never had an interest in the molybdenum beneath Mt. Emmons, the company bought Phelps Dodge in 2007. That mining corporation had acquired the company that originally built the water treatment plant. Freeport in essence became tied to the site through a connection of mergers and acquisitions.

‘Colorado’s Conceptual Framework’ included in #COWaterPlan — Aspen Journalism

Hand wheel Brent Gardner Smith/Aspen Journalism

From Aspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith):

A way to look at any new transmountain diversions in Colorado has been dubbed “Colorado’s Conceptual Framework” in the Colorado Water Plan after previously being called “the seven points” and the “draft conceptual agreement” as it has evolved over the past two years.

It’s a lofty title for a framework that major water providers on the east slope are adamant does not carry any force of law, rule, or policy, and which still divides water stakeholders in Colorado.

But no matter what it is called the framework is, despite challenges, in fact included in the first-ever Colorado Water Plan, which was developed by the Colorado Water Conservation Board and presented to the governor on Nov. 19.

A number of Front Range entities told the CWCB that it should not adopt the conceptual framework or include it in the water plan.

“Even with wording changes, the basin roundtables recommend that the CWCB not adopt the framework as it is a work in progress that may be modified as dialogue continues,” wrote the S. Platte and Metro basin roundtables, two of nine regional water-supply groups that meet under the auspices of the CWCB, in a combined Sept. 17 comment letter.

In its introduction to the framework in Chapter 8, the water plan recognizes that “a long-standing controversial issue in Colorado is the development of water supply from the Colorado River system for use on the eastern slope. It is controversial because of supply gaps, environmental health, compact compliance, and other issues.”

The water plan describes describes the framework as providing “a path forward that considers the option of developing a new transmountain diversion and addresses the concerns of roundtables, stakeholders, and environmental groups. The conceptual framework presents seven principles to guide future negotiations between proponents of a new transmountain diversion, if it were to be built, and the communities it would affect.”

Some of the framework in the River House on the San Juan River.
Some of the framework in the River House on the San Juan River.

The principles

The seven principles include concepts such as making sure a new transmountain diversion, or TMD, does not increase the likelihood of a compact call from states in the lower Colorado River basin, ensuring the eastern slope has other sources of water in dry years, and establishing guidelines for when diversions may need to be curtailed to keep enough water in Lake Powell.

The framework also says new diversions should not limit Western Slope development, that it’s important to increase both municipal and agricultural water-conservation efforts in Colorado, and that steps should be taken repair damaged river ecosystems with or without new diversions.

The water plan says the CWCB will “use the conceptual framework as an integrated package of concepts to: encourage environmental resiliency; set high conservation standards; develop stakeholder support for interstate cooperative solutions; and establish conditions for a new multi purpose and cooperative transmountain diversion (TMD) project if proposed in the future.”

The framework was drafted and adopted by the members of the Interbasin Compact Committee, which includes two representatives from each of the state’s nine basin roundtables, six gubernatorial appointees, two legislative appointees, and the director of compact negotiations on the IBCC.

The group’s “main charge is to work with the basin roundtables to develop and ratify cross-basin agreements,” the water plan says.

The end of the tunnel that brings water from Hunter Creek to the Fryingpan River drainage, and then on to the eastern slope.
The end of the tunnel that brings water from Hunter Creek to the Fryingpan River drainage, and then on to the eastern slope.


The water plan describes both the conceptual framework and the lingering geographic differences of opinion about future transmountain diversions.

“Generally, eastern slope roundtables identify the need for a balanced program to preserve the option of future development of Colorado River System water,” the plan says.

“Western Slope roundtables express concern regarding the impact on future development on the Western Slope, as well as the potential for overdevelopment related to both a Colorado River compact deficit and critical levels for system reservoir storage, such as the minimum storage level necessary to reliably produce hydroelectric power at Glen Canyon Dam,” the plan states.

The water plan also finds that the Colorado River basin roundtable, which meets regularly in Glenwood Springs, and the S. Platte and Metro roundtables, which meet in Longmont and Denver, respectively, have the “greatest divergence” when it comes to the idea of more TMDs.

“In its BIP, the Colorado Basin Roundtable points out the variability in hydrology, stating that TMDs ‘should be the last “tool” considered as a water supply solution, once the many and complex questions are addressed over hydrology,'” the plan says.

On the other side of the divide, the water plan says that “in the South Platte/Metro basin implementation plan, the roundtable advocates to ‘simultaneously advance the consideration and preservation of new Colorado River supply options.’”

“Both viewpoints recognize the constraints of water availability and Colorado water law, but differ in their beliefs about whether such a project fits into water supply planning,” the plan concludes.

The members of the Front Range Water Council also have made it clear to the CWCB that they don’t see the framework as binding.

In a Sept. 15 letter to the CWCB on the water plan, the council said that the framework “’has no regulatory force or effect. Rather, it is guidance, the implementation and use of which will depend on the positions taken by the parties who engage in good faith negotiations on the construction of future specific proposed projects.”

The Front Range Water Council includes Denver Water, Aurora Water, Colorado Springs Utilities, Northern Water, the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, the Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co., and the Board of Water Works of Pueblo.

A heron at rest along the bank of the Colorado River.
A heron at rest along the bank of the Colorado River.


The concept of “environmental resiliency” is also laid out in the framework and is done so on terms that are as environmentally staunch as any other statement in the water plan.

The framework says that “Colorado’s Water Plan, basin implementation plans, and stakeholder groups across the state should identify, secure funding for, and implement projects that help recover imperiled species and enhance ecological resiliency, whether or not a new TMD is built.“

In terms of next steps on the conceptual framework, the water plan only says that “the CWCB will monitor ongoing discussions” at the roundtable and Interbasin Compact Committee levels “that involve the topics associated with the seven principles of the conceptual framework.”

Upper Lake Powell, October 2014.
Upper Lake Powell, October 2014.

The seven principles in the conceptual framework

Principle 1: Eastern slope water providers are not looking for firm yield from a new transmountain diversion (TMD) and the project proponent would accept hydrologic risk for that project.

Principle 2: A new TMD would be used conjunctively with eastern slope supplies, such as interruptible supply agreements, Denver basin aquifer resources, carry-over storage, terminal storage, drought restriction savings, and other non-Western Slope water sources.

Principle 3: In order to manage when a new TMD would be able to divert, triggers are needed. Triggers are operating parameters that determine when and how much water a potential new TMD could divert, based upon predetermined conditions within the Colorado River system.

Principle 4: A collaborative program that protects against involuntary curtailment is needed for existing uses and some reasonable increment of future development in the Colorado River system, but it will not cover a new TMD.

Principle 5: Future Western Slope needs should be accommodated as part of a new TMD project.

Principle 6: Colorado will continue its commitment to improve conservation and reuse.

Principle 7: Environmental resiliency and recreational needs must be addressed both before and conjunctively with a new TMD.

Gears on the top of the dam that forms Lost Man Reservoir, part of the diversion system on the upper Roaring Fork River headwaters.
Gears on the top of the dam that forms Lost Man Reservoir, part of the diversion system on the upper Roaring Fork River headwaters.

Major Transmountain Diversions in Colorado*

Grand River Ditch 18,000 AFY

Adams Tunnel 226,000 AFY

Moffat Tunnel 55,000 AFY

Roberts Tunnel 62,000 AFY

Blue Mountain Project 9,000 AFY

Homestake Tunnel 25,000 AFY

Busk Ivanhoe Tunnel 5,100

Boustead Tunnel 56,000 AFY

Twin Lakes Tunnel 41,000 AFY

San Juan-Chama Project 83,000 AFY

Aurora Homestake Pipeline 16,000 AFY

* Source: Colorado Water Plan

Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism is collaborating with The Aspen Times and the Glenwood Springs Post Independent on coverage of rivers and water.

Bart Miller: Giving thanks for a #COWaterPlan

From the Boulder Daily Camera (Bart Miller):

There is much to be thankful for in our lives. This is especially true for Colorado’s rivers. We fish, boat, picnic, hike, swim and enjoy their serenity. The good news is the Colorado Water Plan is the first time the state has put together a plan for how to address water in Colorado, and it sets a course to ensure that all our kids and grandkids can enjoy thriving Colorado rivers for years to come.

So we raise our glasses to Gov. Hickenlooper and the Colorado Water Conservation Board for adopting a Colorado Water Plan on Nov. 19 that includes many strong elements! This is an important step forward on future water management.

We are extremely pleased that the new water plan sets the first-ever statewide water conservation goal. The Colorado Water Plan sets a goal of conserving 400,000 acre-feet of water by 2050, which is a nearly 1 percent annual reduction in per person water use in our cities and towns. This is a very doable and cost-effective strategy to stretch our existing water supplies, relying on innovation and new best practices that can maintain our high quality of life. This is a common sense approach and a key element for state water management.

Second, the water plan proposes annual funding for healthy rivers, creating ongoing financial support for river assessments and projects that help make our rivers resilient. For too long our state has been overly focused on pipes and concrete to move water around — and not on the impacts to our rivers. We have a $9 billion recreation industry in Colorado that relies on healthy rivers, and our own joy and happiness require healthy rivers. So it’s great to see the plan make a solid down payment toward future river health.

Finally, we applaud that the new plan makes large, new river diversions from the Western Slope to the Front Range highly unlikely. A framework presented in the plan about how to make decisions on these projects will help ensure the expense, time and alternative approaches are thoroughly considered. There are cheaper, faster and better ways to meet our water needs than piping water west to east over the Rockies.

James Eklund and Governor Hickenlooper roll out the Colorado Water Plan, Thursday, November 19, 2015 via The Colorado Independent
James Eklund and Governor Hickenlooper roll out the Colorado Water Plan, Thursday, November 19, 2015 via The Colorado Independent

Fountain Creek: “The Water Quality Control Commission has ignored the problems” — Jay Winner

Fountain Creek Watershed
Fountain Creek Watershed

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Recent revelations about deficiencies in stormwater control could snag Colorado Springs plans to expand its water system.

The Bureau of Reclamation and Pueblo County need to take a second look at the environmental impact statement that cleared the way to build the $841 million Southern Delivery System, and the newly constructed water pipeline from the Pueblo dam to El Paso County should not be turned on until the issue is settled, said Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District.

“We’ve been saying this for years,” Winner said. “We need to get past the talk from Colorado Springs and stop them from flushing all their crap down Fountain Creek. They need to walk the walk.”

Winner was reacting to an inspection report released this week by the Environmental Protection Agency that could be the basis for a federal lawsuit over inadequate stormwater control in Colorado Springs.
Among other things, the report says the city failed to correct problems identified two years earlier, that it knowingly violated the terms of its municipal separate storm sewer system permit and that it is not enforcing its own guidelines for new development.

Reclamation’s EIS was done in 2009, when Colorado Springs had a stormwater enterprise in place that generated millions of dollars annually to take care of the very problems outlined in the inspection. The assumption by Reclamation was that since it was in place, the only issue were future flows generated by new development related to SDS.

If that created problems, Reclamation relied on a vague “adaptive management” concept to rectify problems.
Reclamation failed to answer political calls to reopen the EIS in 2010 after Colorado Springs City Council torpedoed the stormwater enterprise on a split vote after a city election.

The EPA’s inspection report shows problems continue to worsen as Colorado Springs ignores its stormwater infrastructure. The Colorado Springs City Council and Mayor John Suthers have devised a plan to provide $19 million in funding toward complying with the MS4 permit and addressing a more than $500 million backlog in projects.

Winner said a more permanent funding source is needed, which the EPA concurs with in its inspection report. This needs to be a consideration for Pueblo County commissioners, who are negotiating with Colorado Springs over compliance on the stormwater issue as it relates to the 1041 permit for SDS.

“I think we’ve been hoodwinked long enough by their City Council,” Winner said. “I would hope the new (Pueblo) City Council will become more engaged and not put up with these shenanigans.”

One of the new Pueblo City Council members is Winner’s wife, Lori Winner.

Winner also is uneasy that the Arkansas Basin Roundtable this month endorsed a Colorado Springs Utilities employee, Mark Shea, for a seat on the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission. Winner, a member of the roundtable, urged caution at the meeting. Recently, another Utilities executive, Mark Pifher, (now a consultant for Utilities) served on the commission.

“The Water Quality Control Commission has ignored the problems,” Winner said. “It’s like asking the fox to guard the henhouse.”

More coverage from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain:

Turns out the bare minimum that Colorado Springs said it was doing to prevent contaminated water from its streets flowing into Fountain Creek was not enough to satisfy the federal government.

The one constant that Colorado Springs officials had assured Pueblo County and the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District was being met was the MS4 permit with the Environmental Protection Agency.

MS4 stands for municipal separate storm sewer system, and the existence of the permit itself has been held up for years in presentations by Colorado Springs as evidence that the city was doing basic work to regulate stormwater.

But according to an EPA report finalized in August, little progress has been made to rectify problems identified in a February 2013 audit. The inspection could be the basis for a federal lawsuit over Colorado Springs stormwater deficiencies.

In fact, city o€fficials were aware of shortcomings, as the EPA stated: “During the inspection, city representatives stated they were fully aware of the lack of resources to adequately implement the MS4 program, and cited the termination of the city’s SWENT (stormwater enterprise) in 2009 and overall lack of political, managerial and community support for the city’s MS4 program as contributing factors.”

Photographs in the report show severe erosion, crumbled drop structures, vegetation growing in concrete ditches and cracked channels clogged by logs and trash throughout the city.

Colorado Springs also has assured Pueblo County and the Lower Ark that new development that benefits from the soon-to-be-completed Southern Delivery System would be regulated to avoid any additional impact on Fountain Creek.

There has also been a lot of talk about how the city has developed a design criteria manual to protect Fountain Creek.

The EPA inspection, however, notes that Colorado Springs is doing very little to make new development comply with regulations after looking at more than 600 plans reviewed by the city. The report stated: “It was unclear at the time of the inspection how the city would ensure submittal of appropriate design elements in the future. … The city did not ensure that public and private permanent BMPs (best management practices) were properly designed, approved and installed.”