The effort to legalize use of rain barrels in Colorado appeared to have broken out of its longtime logjam Monday.
Democrats in the state House allowed two GOP amendments meant to ease concerns over rain barrels and their place within Colorado water law.
One amendment makes it clear that having a rain barrel is not a water right, and the other says that the state engineer can step in if water is siphoned off from people with water rights.
“We’ve come a long way,” Republican state Rep. J. Paul Brown, a Republican from Ignacio, said of the compromise. “Property rights are important. The Fifth Amendment of the Constitution establish property rights, and waters rights are a property right.”
Though the water lost to downstream water-rights holders is expected to be small, the principle of water law was at stake, rain-barrel opponents have said.
Most Republicans in the House sided with Democrats on a voice vote Monday. The bill still has to pass a roll-call tally in the chamber, before moving to the Republican-led Senate.
The two amendments reflect the concerns expressed by Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, a Republican from Sterling. Sonnenberg said last week the two points — recognition of prior-appropriation and state stewardship of the practice — had to be addressed before he could support the rain-barrel bill.
Colorado is the only state with an outright ban on residential rain barrels. The proposed law would allow up to two 55-gallon rain barrels to collect water to be used on a resident’s lawn or garden.
In committee last week, Reagan Waskom, director of the Colorado Water Institute and chairman of the Colorado State University Water Center, said CSU’s modeling indicates no detectable impact by rain barrels on downstream runoff. Nearly all of the water would be absorbed in the soil, just as it would be if it was not captured in a rain barrel then applied to the soil, he said.
“People out there in our communities want this,” said Rep. Jessie Danielson, a Democrat from Wheat Ridge who has sponsored the measure the past two sessions, told fellow legislators before Monday’s vote.
“They want to be able to catch a little water and put it on their tomatoes.”
BROOMFIELD – State water officials at the Colorado Water Conservation Board are looking for $100 million a year from a new and reliable source of public funding to help build water projects and programs in Colorado over the next 30 years.
“A dedicated statewide funding source of some kind, outside of existing funding, is probably going to be needed in order to make some of this reality,” Tim Feehan, a deputy director at the CWCB, told the members of the Interbasin Compact Committee on Feb. 23.
One such source of funding could be a statewide water tap fee.
James Eklund, the director of the CWCB, described to the committee members the conversations he’s had recently with state Rep. Don Coram, a Republican who represents District 58 in the southwestern part of Colorado, about a potential statewide tap fee.
Eklund said conceptually the tap fee could be set at, say, 25 cents for every thousand gallons of water used in a household or business.
“It wouldn’t take very much to yield several tens of millions of dollars pretty quickly,” Eklund said.
He added that because Rep. Coram, a fiscal conservative from a rural part of the state, was even willing to discuss the idea of a tap fee gave it credence.
“It’s probably more ripe than I probably would have given it credit for,” Eklund said, before inviting the assembled IBCC members to have a candid conversation about the concept.
The 27-member Interbasin Compact Committee includes 18 representatives from regional river-basin roundtables, two legislative appointees, and seven governor’s appointees. It functions as a statewide advisory board on water issues.
Jay Winner, the director of the Lower Arkansas Water Conservancy District and an IBCC member, was candid.
Winner said he once talked to Mark Waage, manager of water resources planning at Denver Water, about such a statewide tap fee concept. He said that Waage told him, “Jay, you are not going to tell my customers what they will be paying for water, thank you.”
Waage, who sits on the IBCC, then asked state officials where the money from a statewide tap fee would go.
“I’m just trying to understand,” Waage said, “if I am charging my customers a state tap fee, how much of that money is going to go to their water system and how much of that is going to go to somebody else’s water system, or a different water project altogether?”
Feehan of the CWCB responded by saying, “That’s a very good question. Some of it would. And some of it might not.”
Statewide funding sensitive
An effort by the CWCB to secure statewide funding for water projects and programs failed at the polls 13 years ago.
Referendum A, or the Colorado Water Projects Bond, was put on the November 2003 ballot by the state legislature after the drought of 2002. It would have allowed the CWCB to borrow $2 billion for private and project water projects, including environmental and recreational projects, at a borrowing cost of $4 billion.
The arguments against the proposal included that it was too much debt, it did not include specific projects, and that a new public source of funds for water projects was not necessary. Colorado voters rejected the proposal, with 67 percent voting no. The question failed to pass in a single Colorado county.
But the CWCB still sees a need for a statewide source of reliable funding for water projects.
The CWCB released its Colorado Water Plan in November 2015 and the plan cites a need for $20 billion worth of water projects and programs, including river restoration, to meet an estimated gap between supply and demand of 560,000 acre-feet of water by 2050.
Of the $20 billion needed, state officials believe local and regional water providers, such as Denver Water or Northern Water, will raise and spend about $14 billion on water projects.
And they say the CWCB’s existing source of about $100 million in revenue annually will provide $3 billion for projects and programs over the next 30 years.
That brings funding for projects to $17 billion.
But a new source of funds, at another $100 million a year, would produce another $3 billion, raising the statewide spending on water projects and programs to $20 billion, according to CWCB officials.
Feehan told the members of the IBCC that the revenue the state receives now for water projects comes mainly from severance taxes tied to oil and gas drilling, and those taxes are highly variable year-to-year and hard to predict.
For example, in fiscal year 2009, the state received $319 million in severance tax revenue. The next year, it got $36 million.
The severance tax revenue is first split between the state’s Dept. of Local Affairs and the Dept. of Natural Resources, or DNR. Then the CWCB gets half of the tax revenue given to DNR in order to provide loans and grants for water projects.
In fiscal years 2014 and 2015, the state received $259 million and $271 million in severance tax revenues. But 2016 revenues from severance taxes are forecast to be only $62 million.
“So that’s some extreme volatility that you’ve got to deal with when you are trying to actually plan and wrap money around the projects and programs that CWCB does,” Feehan said.
At the meeting last week in Broomfield, the IBCC members were asked to break into small groups and discuss the concept of a statewide source of funding, including a tap fee.
Also meeting with them were members of a funding committee put together by the CWCB. Serving on that committee, which met about seven times last year, are representatives from a number of water districts in the state, including Ute Water, Southeastern Water, Northern Water and South Metro Water.
After the small group discussions, Mike Brod, executive director of the Colorado Water Resources and Power Development Authority, and a member of the funding committee, reported back to the IBCC. He said the discussion at his table included the observation that a statewide funding question might be more successful if it funded areas of state government other than just water.
And specifically in regard to the idea of a statewide tap fee, Brod said, “I don’t know that we had a lot of support for that particular item.”
Sean Cronin, the director of the St. Vrain and Left Hand Water Conservancy District, then shared a funding idea he’s had with the IBCC.
Cronin, who is also the former chair of the South Platte basin roundtable, lives in Loveland and said he voluntarily pays a $7 monthly fee to the city utility’s “GreenSwitch” program because it “feels good” to purchase renewable energy.
He said perhaps water utility customers in Colorado would volunteer to pay an additional fee as part of a “blue tap” program tied to water projects and programs.
“We could generate real millions of dollars on a purely voluntary basis if 20 percent of ratepayers paid into it at a buck a month,” Cronin said.
Cronin said the discussion at his table then went into exactly what the money would be used for, which would need to be worked out.
“But if it was voluntary, it gets away from some of the fears and concerns around mandatory statewide tap fees,” he said.
Jeris Danielson, an IBCC member from the Arkansas basin roundtable, said his group also discussed the idea of selling naming rights to reservoirs.
“We could have Fat Tire Reservoir up in Fort Collins, or New Belgium Lake,” he said. “Maybe that would generate some revenue.”
Eric Hecox, the executive director of the South Metro Water Supply Authority, reported back that his discussion group didn’t talk about specific fundraising mechanisms, but focused on the bigger picture.
“If we are going to look for additional funding sources, we need to be able to tell the story of why that is needed above and beyond our current funding,” he said.
And a concern raised in Hecox’s group was about the new money being spent on the buying and drying of ag lands, where water is moved off of farms to urban uses.
“The biggest concern was that it can’t just be used to fund additional buy-and-dry-type projects,” he said.
T. Wright Dickinson, a rancher whose family owns the Vermillion Ranch in Brown’s Park along the Green River, had earlier in the meeting warned his fellow IBCC members that a statewide funding source might not be popular if it wasn’t structured correctly.
“We have to maintain a balance of power in this funding deal between municipalities, environment and agriculture,” Dickinson said. “And if either one of these gets ahead of it, it’s just one buzzard feeding on the other one’s carcass. And I’m not going to be part of that. If we’re not very careful in that balance of power, you’re just buying ag water to solve the problem.”
Dickinson added, “I understand and respect the administration’s desire to move its agenda along as expeditiously as it can. But I well remember Referendum A and how easy any one of these things are killed by the rumor mill. And if I have to, I’ll start part of the rumor.”
Repayment guarantee fund
The CWCB is exploring other ways to help facilitate water projects and river programs in Colorado than just a statewide tap fee.
One area that Feehan said the state is working on is a guaranteed repayment fund that the state could use to help big regional water projects secure better interest rates.
Feehan said the idea is that for some regional projects, some of the participants, such as small water districts, don’t have top-notch credit ratings and bond rating companies will use the lowest credit rating of any participant to rate a whole bond offering.
But a state guaranteed repayment fund could bring up the collective bond rating given to a big project, saving significant financing costs.
The state would put up about ten percent of any project to offset the “weakest link” in a deal with a number of entities, Feehan said.
Don Carlson, the assistant general manager, operations division, at Northern Water, told the IBCC that a guaranteed repayment fund could make a big difference on two regional water storage projects working there way through state and federal approval process.
Carlson, who sits on the CWCB’s funding committee, said there were 13 different participants in the Windy Gap project, and 15 participating entities in the Northern Integrated Supply Project, or NISP. The entities ranged from small water district to larger cities, such as Loveland and Greeley.
“When we sign a construction contract for Windy Gap Firming, a $350 million project for construction, we have to have all that money in the bank at that time,” Carlson said, making it like “herding cats” to secure the financing for all the entities involved.
“They all have different sources of money,” he said. “The best thing would be if we could pool all them together in a single bond issue.”
Carlson said the NISP project would cost about $600 million.
“So in round numbers, there’s a billion dollars out there that has to be raised for those two projects alone,” he said.
The credit ratings for the participants in the Windy Gap project vary from BBB to AA, Carlson said, and the lower BBB rating would cost $1 million more than an AA rating on the Windy Gap project.
“That’s real money that can saved,” he said. “I think this guarantee repayment fund would be a tremendous benefit. At least in our case, in northern Colorado for these two projects, I think it would be very beneficial for them.”
Feehan told the IBCC the repayment fund was a high priority for the CWCB.
“That’s something that we’re definitely going to move forward on, specifically for some of these projects and future projects that may come online,” he said.
Green bonds and foundations
Another idea supported by the funding committee set by the CWCB is the idea of “green bonds,” or “mission-driven money” that is loaned at lower interest rates if it is tied to, say, environmental restoration.
Carlson told the IBCC how such funding could be put to use.
“When we go through these permitting processes, of course there’s lots of mitigation that needs to be taken of,” he said. “And the participants are more than willing to pay for that. That’s just part of the deal.
“However, once we get through all the federal and state mitigation requirements, we also have to satisfy some local agreements and concerns, just to get local acceptance. So we end up providing some environmental enhancements for these projects.
“A good example would be up at Fort Collins. The Poudre River is very important to the city up there. Our studies show that NISP really isn’t going to cause much of a problem, but we still need to get their buy-in, their approval, and their acceptance of the projects.
“So we are going to have to spend a lot of money to enhance the river in many different ways. So the green bonds would be a help to those participants.
“Like I said, they don’t mind paying for the project and to mitigate their impacts, but for these enhancements that benefit the whole community, or even statewide, they would like that to be paid for by the people.”
Feehan said the state is looking at developing about $10 million in green bonds.
Meanwhile, Eklund said he recently met with a number of nonprofit organizations and foundations to discuss ways they could more involved with funding water projects in the state. He said today only three percent of all national philanthropic resources are devoted to funding natural resource projects.
“We’re far outstripped, outpaced, as an issue area to fund by philanthropic giving or foundational giving by education and health care and things like that,” Eklund said.
While not naming any names, he said the leaders of foundations he met with were open to the idea of funding water projects in Colorado, at least after an initial educational meeting.
“Hopefully down the road here, you will start to see more investment in Colorado water in a variety of different areas,” he said. “The hope is we can capitalize on our status as a headwaters state and our ability to be innovative. And hopefully they will grab hold of that in the foundation community and support it a little bit more than the relatively paltry amount that is devoted to natural resources spending from their camp.”
Expanding CWCB authority
Another effort underway is to change state law to allow the CWCB to loan money for projects that include a water treatment component. Today, the agency is restricted to loaning or granting money to raw water projects.
And increasingly, projects like the WISE project on the Front Range include a mix of treated and raw water components.
Hecox, of the South Metro Water Authority, said restrictions on the CWCB’s financing capability added another layer of complexity to the WISE project, which was centered on expanding an existing pipeline used for treated water and using it to also supply raw water to cooperating water districts and cities.
Eric Kuhn, the general manager of the Colorado River District, said the restrictions on the CWCB to only work on raw water supplies stems from fear in the 1980s by rural state legislators that water treatment projects would take up all of the CWCB’s time and money.
But he said, things have changed, noting “It’s really not that simple anymore, especially with re-use and things like the WISE project.”
Kuhn also said the West Slope supports re-use projects on the Front Range, as such projects allow the Front Range water providers to wring more use out of water diverted under the Continental Divide.
Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism is collaborating with the Aspen Daily News and Coyote Gulch on coverage of rivers and water in Colorado. The Daily News published a version of this story on Monday, Feb. 29, 2016.
Eldorado Springs, Colorado, has won the top prize for U.S. tap water at an international tasting contest.
The judges gave out two gold medals for Best Municipal Water on Saturday at the 26th annual Berkeley Springs International Water Tasting in West Virginia. They awarded the top prize among U.S. entries to Eldorado Springs, while Clearbrook, British Columbia, won first place for best in the world.
The award for best purified water went to Bar H2O of Richmond, Michigan.
An entry from Karditsa, Greece, Theoni Natural Mineral Water, won the top prize for bottled water, while the best sparkling water was awarded to Tesanjski Kiseljak of Tesanj, Bosnia.
Ten judges tasted and selected from among dozens of waters from 18 states, seven Canadian provinces and five foreign nations.
“The thing to remember is that El Nino is not over,” said Josh Willis, a climate scientist with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab…
“NASA studies these phenomena from space and we have this really amazing satellite called the ‘Jason’ missions, which tell us how tall the ocean is,” Willis said. “And a lot of the signal, in terms of the El Nino, is really captured by watching heat move around in the ocean – and that’s what these satellites measure with exceptional accuracy.”
The warming of the Pacific waters began last year and this El Nino is considered among the stronger ones, like an El Nino measured in 1997 and 1998. Scientists are puzzled, though. Unlike the one in the late 90s, the current El Nino has not brought a lot of the added moisture it was expected to bring to parts of the West.
“This year’s has peaked so late in the year, we’re still waiting for a lot of those rains,” Willis said…
“Not everything is El Nino. We do have to remember there are weather patterns in the Arctic [that] push cold air out of the Arctic and bring warm air up from the tropics,” Willis said. “This El Nino is fading right now, as we speak, but it’s still there and it’s still kicking.”
Forecasters said, though, don’t count El Nino out just yet.
“As we head into March and April, it does look like the odds favor significantly more precipitation both of those months and potentially another heavy snowfall,” David Barjenbruch with the National Weather Service in Boulder told 9NEWS.
NASA says the current El Nino will stick around through April and possibly even May. What happens after that isn’t clear, but they offered up two potential scenarios. It could change into a La Nina, which is a cooling of waters in the western Pacific or we could see another El Nino emerge. They have seen back to back El Ninos before, so there is precedent for that.
After more than 20 years leading the cleanup of mine waste in the Animas River basin, the future is a bit of a mystery for the Animas River Stakeholders Group now that a Superfund listing is officially in the works.
“I think it’s really just up in the air,” said Peter Butler, a coordinator with the group. “We don’t know at this point. It’ll make it more challenging to do any more remediation projects for sure.”
In Superfund’s stead, a coalition of local, state and federal agencies, as well as mining companies and interested individuals, banded together in 1994 as the Animas River Stakeholders Group to improve the river’s degrading water quality.
The group embarked on an extensive project characterizing the entire Animas basin and the inactive or abandoned mine sites contributing heavy-metal laden water, also known as acid mine drainage. A total of 34 mine waste piles and 33 discharging portals were identified as accounting for 90 percent of the metal loading in the basin, and the stakeholders group drafted a 20-year plan of action.
Strangely, Butler said, stakeholders were just about done with their list when the Environmental Protection Agency triggered the Gold King Mine blowout in August.
“We were at the end of what we could address,” Butler said. “Not what we wanted to address.”
What has limited the stakeholder group is the lack of adequate protection against potential liability when undertaking a remediation project. Though some advocates push a good Samaritan Law year after year in Congress, the legislation ultimately fails.
As a result, despite the group’s successes in the basin, water quality in recent years has diminished in the Animas River, mainly from the mines discharging into one of the river’s tributaries, Cement Creek…
“I think we were mildly surprised (on the size of the Superfund site),” Gardner said. “On the other hand, the last thing we want to do is have a Superfund listing and not address the problem completely. That would be foolish.”
EPA and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment have vowed community involvement throughout the Superfund process, but some local officials remain skeptical.
Doug Jamison, of the health department, said it’s likely some sites will drop out during the Superfund review process, and that could open some opportunities for the stakeholders group to do additional work.
“Nothing changes with their operating parameters,” said Jamison, adding ARSG could also function as a community advisory group.
“The fact it serves as a useful forum to share information and expertise, I don’t see any reason why that wouldn’t continue.”
Still, with no good Samaritan law, the EPA’s authority over most of the basin and a potential cease in funding due to the arrival of Superfund dollars, the group’s days might be numbered.
“I don’t know what our role will be,” said Bill Simon in January. Simon was a founder of the group, and retired in October after 21 years as the group’s lead coordinator.
“I’m not against Superfund, I just don’t want to lose that sense of stewardship that only a close community collaboration can develop.”
Butler said the group had no plans to undertake remediation projects this summer. He said there are sites not included in the Superfund listing that the group wishes to address, but it will wait until local, state and federal agencies have had more time to review the plan.
Location map for abandoned mine near Silverton. The Silver Wing is in the upper right corner of the aerial.
ASPEN – The city of Aspen has applied for an underground water right for a new well across from Herron Park on Queen Street, where it drilled a test well in 2011 and 2013 searching for a geothermal energy source.
The city drilled down 1,520 feet and found that while the water sitting in an underground aquifer in the Leadville Limestone formation was warm, at 90 degrees, it was not hot enough for a geothermal project.
Hot or not, the city still found a significant source of water, that it may want to tap someday.
“There is a very substantial quantity of water available,” said Phil Overeynder, a water resources engineer with the city of Aspen.
A report prepared by Rocky Mountain Water Consulting, LLC in 2008 for the city about the geothermal potential suggested as much.
“Regionally, the Leadville Limestone is recognized as a major aquifer, which has the capacity to yield hundreds to thousands of gallons per minute (gpm) to wells,” the report stated.
The report also cited a 1935 study that reported “as much as 3,250 gpm (7.24 cubic feet per second) were pumped from the underground mine workings beneath Smuggler Mountain during peak runoff,” back when silver miners in Aspen were trying remove the water in mine shafts that reached 1,200 feet below the river.
As the city finished its test well in 2013, it found water flowing up from the deep underground aquifer at 30 pounds per square inch, suggesting it would not take much pumping to secure a steady flow of water.
Under state regulations the well the city previously drilled is a “monitoring well,” meaning it can be used to test water, but not for municipal pumping purposes.
Water could backstop Castle and Maroon supplies
The city filed its water rights application in Division 5 water court in Glenwood Springs on Dec. 31, 2015.
It’s seeking a conditional right to take 3.3 cubic feet per second (cfs) from a new “Aspen Queen Street Well” that would be drilled as deep as 3,000 feet down if necessary.
The well would be located 200 feet from the existing monitoring well in the parking lot next to the Prockter Open Space parcel, which borders the north bank of the Roaring Fork River just above the No Problem Joe Bridge in central Aspen.
The city spent $300,000 on drilling the existing monitoring well. The drilling process, which included drilling two holes, was loud and caused significant consternation among residents in the immediate neighborhood, which includes a number of high-end rental properties.
The city’s application says a new well could still be used for geothermal purposes in accordance with another water right decreed in 2008, but the water is mainly envisioned as a back-up source of municipal water supply.
“It could be that in some of the scenarios with climate change we could be looking at the need to have other sources of supply to back up Castle and Maroon creeks, either in an emergency or drought,” Overeynder said, noting that the new well and potential back-up supply is part of the city’s longterm water planning outlook.
The city’s main sources of water today are Castle and Maroon creeks, both of which have stream-wide diversion dams across them that send water toward the city’s water treatment plant above the hospital.
The city’s water rights application says that the new well water “will be available to address emergencies such as damage or failure of surface diversion infrastructure, fire-fighting needs, and impairment of water quality or quantity at surface diversion structures as a result of fire, avalanche, drought or other conditions.”
On Saturday, February 20, 1993, avalanches thundered across upper Castle and Maroon creeks and almost completely blocked the flow of water in the creeks. The city ordered residents to conserve water to make its remaining 24-to-48 hour supply of water last, according to the Associate Press.
Then Pitkin County Sheriff Bob Braudis was quoted by the AP as saying “I think we have adequate water in the system. If not, if it dries up, our biggest concern is structure fires. We won’t have any water for structure fires.”
The application also says the well water may be put to a wide variety of other uses, “including but not limited to geothermal heat, domestic, fire protection, commercial, industrial, snowmaking, recreational, [fisheries], wildlife, irrigation, freshening, aesthetic, water quality purposes … , augmentation, replacement and substitution, exchange, recharge and storage for subsequent use.”
The application notes that the potential well’s source is “underground water in the Leadville Limestone formation” and that the water is “tributary to the Roaring Fork River.”
Given that the underground water is connected to the flow of the Roaring Fork River, the burden is on the city to show that its new water right would not damage existing water rights.
“We are going to have to be able to demonstrate that our use of that supply, even if it is intermittent or emergency use, still protects all the other water rights holders around us, including the instream flow,” Overeynder said.
The Colorado Water Conservation Board, or CWCB, holds a 1976 instream flow right to 32 cfs of water in the Roaring Fork River between Difficult Creek and Maroon Creek. That level of water is meant to “protect the environment to a reasonable degree.”
New water rights in the Roaring Fork drainage typically have to show a source of augmentation, or back-up, water that can be used to protect senior rights in the event of low flows.
The city addressed the need for an augmentation plan in its water rights application and pointed to a number of sources that could be used in such a plan, including 400 acre feet of water it owns in Ruedi Reservoir.
That water could offset a call from senior water rights holders, at least below the confluence of the Fryingpan and Roaring Fork rivers in Basalt.
The CWCB filed a statement of opposition Feb. 19 in the city’s water court case. Such filings can be routine, but the state does express concern about the city’s suggested augmentation plan.
“The proposed plan for augmentation and exchange may not replace depletions in the proper time, place and amount, which could injure CWCB’s instream flow water rights,” the CWCB’s statement of opposition says.
The city’s application also includes a request to divert an additional 1 cfs of water out of the Roaring Fork River into the Riverside Ditch, on top of its current right to divert 3 cfs. The water would be used to irrigate the Prockter Open Space, Herron Park and Newbury Park, among other uses. And the city seeks the right to store 1.5 cfs of water in Snyder Pond, which is in Snyder Park on Midland Ave.
The window for other parties to file statements of opposition in the case (2015CW3119) has been extended, due to a public notice mistake, until March 31.
Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism and the Aspen Daily News are collaborating on coverage of rivers and water. The Daily News published this story on Saturday, Feb. 27, 2016.
Prior coverage by the Aspen Daily News of the city’s geothermal efforts:
Researchers from the University of Arizona and Northern Arizona University will share information this weekend about a study that will focus on three Navajo Nation communities affected by the Gold King Mine spill…
At a community listening session on Sunday in Upper Fruitland, members of the research team will explain the intention of the study and how data will be collected.
The study will focus on the communities of Upper Fruitland and Shiprock and Aneth, Utah, said Karletta Chief, principal investigator for the team. The communities were selected based on the residents’ use of water from the San Juan River and their responses to the spill, Chief said.
She explained Upper Fruitland was chosen because it was the first community on the Navajo Nation exposed to the toxic metals in the river water. Shiprock was selected because the chapter membership opposed the delivery of river water by the tribe’s irrigation system. The team also looked at Aneth because it is located farther downstream from the spill.
The study has three goals, Chief said. The first is to assess changes in sediment, agriculture, soil, river and well water in the three chosen communities.
Chief said team members collected the first round of water samples late last year and are planning to do more collecting in March.
The other goals are to determine the differences in toxic metal exposure among the communities and the association between the perception of risk and actual risk from the mine spill.
The researchers are partnering with the Navajo Community Health Representatives program to recruit 30 households in each community to participate in the study.
The community health representatives will assist in collecting residents’ blood and urine samples, which will be tested for lead and arsenic levels.
The team is also developing focus groups in each community to gather further information. Chief said the identity of participants will be confidential.
The community listening session will start at 9 a.m. Sunday at the Upper Fruitland Chapter house.
For more information, contact Chief at 877-535-6171 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Driscoll Student Center & Sturm College of Law
University of Denver
2055 E Evans Ave, Denver, Colorado 80210
CCLT’s Annual Conservation Excellence Conference is the place for the land conservation community across the Rocky Mountain region to share knowledge and network. With more than 250 attendees annually, CCLT’s conference helps define and influence the future of land conservation in the Intermountain West.
Colorado Coalition of Land Trusts is seeking session proposals for inclusion in the 25th anniversary event, Conservation Excellence 2016.
CCLT has a working agenda for the three-day conference.
In the world of water it happened in the blink of an eye.
Terms for a master contract for excess capacity storage in Lake Pueblo were negotiated between the Bureau of Reclamation and the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District in January in a four-hour session.
“That’s unheard of in recent history,” attorney Lee Miller said.
The negotiations for Aurora’s storage contract in Lake Pueblo, Southern Delivery System and the Windy Gap project by the Northern Water Conservancy District took weeks or months to complete and were hotly contested.
The Southeastern district used those negotiations to streamline its own process. The district had the advantage of preparing for the meeting for 13 years, Miller added.
The terms are essentially the same as SDS gained during its negotiations with the Bureau of Reclamation in 2010. The storage rate will be $40.04 cents per acre-foot (325,851 gallons) in 2017, and increase in subsequent years.
Colorado Springs Utilities, which led SDS negotiations, was stunned in 2010 when Reclamation announced it would use a market rate rather than cost of service in determining storage charges for long-term contracts.
Southeastern avoided the surprise.
“We worked hard for the last four years to determine the factual basis for the rates,” Miller said.
The contract potentially could be used by water providers from Salida to Eads. In its environmental impact statement, Reclamation modeled impacts for 37 water providers who would need nearly 30,000 acre-feet of storage through 2060.
Many of the participants are planning to use the Arkansas Valley Conduit, while others (Fountain, Security and Pueblo West) also have a contract through SDS.
“Now that we have a contract, we will begin working on subcontract with the participants,” Miller said. “Once we get a contract with an actual number (for storage), Reclamation will put it out for public review.”
FromThe Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):
The Grand Valley Drainage District has slashed a fee it planned to levy on new construction to pay for storm-water improvements.
The district approved the reduction of the fee from $500 to $125 per equivalent-residential unit but also left open a way to increase the fee as economic times improve.
Some businesses in the district already have paid fees based on the $500-per-equivalent-residential unit, and any fees over $125 per unit will be repaid by the end of April, General Manager Tim Ryan said.
The development-impact fees were a sticking point between the district and critics of the fees. The Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce said they would be burdensome during an economic downturn.
“I appreciate the district’s recognition of the fragility of the economy, but this isn’t doing away with the impact fee, which is what the chamber originally asked for,” said Diane Schwenke, president and chief executive officer of the chamber.
Under the framework approved by the Drainage District board, the fee will remain at $125 per unit — or 2,500 square feet of impervious surface — until the pace of development picks up.
For every 10 percent increase in the value of building permits, the development fee will increase 25 percent, Ryan said.
“There’s a direct correlation between building permits and demand for drainage services,” Ryan said.
The district in the meantime is proceeding with plans to bill property owners within its boundaries for storm-water improvements.
Most homeowners will receive bills for $36 a year. Businesses, government buildings, nonprofits and others will be charged $36 a year, per 2,500 feet of impervious surface.
The bills are expected to go out at the end of March.
As of Wednesday, Durango has received 0.24 inches of precipitation this month, which is about three-quarters of an inch drier than usual, [Dennis Phillips] said. Last February, Durango had 1.17 inches of precipitation.
A dry period is common for El Nino years, but it typically occurs in January. Phillips said the lag was just how the system unfolded.
But if March follows tradition, the dry slump will come to an end.
“We’re still expecting a wet period in March,” Phillips said. “We’ll continue to build snowpack through much of March and into April. And by melting some of the low elevation snowpack, it eases the river flows and can help with some of the flooding concerns later on.”
Joe Lewandowski, spokesperson for Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s southwest region, said concern won’t set in unless warm and dry weather perpetuates for the next two months…
Other western regions have fared worse from the February dry spell.
Sierra Nevada snowpack, which supplies more than 60 percent of California’s water supply, has hit a five-year high due to a strong El Nino year. But because of this month’s warmth and dryness, snowpack fell below average in mid-February.
Things are more stable for Colorado, where the statewide snowpack has remained stable.
Marcee Bidwell, executive director of Mountain Studies Institute, said because woodland trees like ponderosa rely on snowpack for moisture, winter is an important signal for the summer fire season.
“The big El Nino year flattened out,” Bidwell said. “We started with a lot of snow, which puts us ahead of some of our drier years, but it’s still not the trend we were hoping for.”
Unseasonably warm weather has prompted health officials to offer tips to recreationists on the Animas River as higher water levels stir lingering sediment of 880,000 pounds of metals dumped into the river in August 2015.
San Juan Basin Health Department’s Claire Ninde said the recent spring-like temperatures, which are forecast to continue into March, has the river running high.
“So we just wanted to get ahead of it,” she said.
Every spring, snowmelt surges into the Animas, bringing with it naturally occurring sediments as well as heavy metals from mine waste, and on occasion, changing the color of the river.
But this year is different. On Aug. 5 last year, an Environmental Protection Agency crew breached the Gold King Mine portal, about 10 miles north of Silverton. The spill turned the Animas orange, and though the river returned to its normal shades of blue not long after, concerns remained about heavy-metal laden sediment which contains cadmium, lead and arsenic.
“Sediment left behind from the Gold King Mine has a noticeable yellow-orange color but is otherwise similar to the naturally occurring sediment that is present every spring as water levels rise,” Ninde said. “Exposure to both water and sediment is not expected to harm human health during typical recreational exposure.”
The San Juan Basin Health Department recommends that river users wash with soap and water after exposure, avoid extended contact, supervise children to limit exposure, properly treat water before consumption and rinse fishing and boating equipment after use.
“San Juan Basin Health Department advises the public to avoid areas with orange sediment or discolored standing water,” Ninde added.
According to a news release, the health department, along with state and local partners, is establishing a regular monitoring system of river levels.
Joe Lewandowski, spokesman with Colorado Parks and Wildlife, said this spring runoff wouldn’t be different than years past when it comes to fish.
“Fish in the Animas have been swimming in water that has had metal contamination for years, and they’re still safe to eat,” Lewandowski said. “Most people catch and release, but there are people who keep fish out of the Animas.”
Peter Butler with the Animas River Stakeholders Group said earlier this month that he’s not too concerned about spring runoff and the potential spike in metals from stirred-up sediment.
“Usually, the lowest metal concentrations we see throughout the year are during spring runoff, and that’s because you have so much dilution. So I’m not really expecting an issue.”
Rafting and fishing expedition companies, too, have told The Durango Herald they don’t expect the spill to deter tourists.
EPA previously said in a prepared statement it intends to monitor the river before, during and after spring runoff.
Here’s the release from Colorado State University (Jason Kosovski):
As Colorado’s population grows, especially across the Front Range, issues of water rights and water usage by consumers must be balanced relative to the continued need for water by agricultural producers and the environment. Understanding the impact of changing allocations of water from agriculture to urban areas and policies aimed at conserving groundwater resources is an area of focus for Colorado State University researchers who study water economics in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics.
Needs outpacing supply
“We know that our water needs, both for consumers and industry, are outpacing our current water supply,” said Chris Goemans, associate professor of agricultural and resource economics. “Because water has so many sets of stakeholders – consumers, producers, and environmentalists – there is not always agreement as to how best to utilize this resource.”
Offering options for new approaches to water usage is just one way that ag and resource economists help producers navigate the challenging water allocation decisions that they face. “We don’t tell them what to do,” said Jordan Suter, an associate professor of agricultural and resource economics. “We provide them with the results of models that link producer decisions to future water availability. This information helps producers to better understand the tradeoffs that they face. Ultimately, they decide what is best for their operations and their communities.”
Goemans, Suter and other faculty members in the department take their work directly to the areas that would be most impacted by these water reallocations. They have worked hard to build relationships through community outreach and by meeting with producer groups. They also plan to utilize survey data to better understand how their research and modelling influences the opinions of producers.
Some of these faculty members are involved in collaborative projects that focus on: reducing groundwater pumping in the Northern High Plains region of Colorado; developing models to help explain how population growth in rural, urban, and translation communities has led to increased competition for land and water; and bringing electricity to rural communities in Rwanda.
Balancing the economic and environmental impact
Competition for water is not limited to people. The environment requires water for fish, wildlife and other natural functions. Dana Hoag, a professor of agricultural and resource economics, helps producers make decisions that balance the economic and environmental impact of their land and water management practices. “Providing accurate and credible information about the economic impact of pollution from agriculture allows farmers, ranchers, and off-farm stakeholders to make informed decisions about how to balance protecting the environment and farm livelihoods,” said Hoag.
The significant role of agriculture
Whether their focus is on water usage or the impact of pollution, there is no question that agriculture plays a significant role in the quantity and quality of water available. “The competition for water is real,” said Dale Manning, assistant professor of agricultural and resource economics. “Our role as a land grant institution is to provide the citizens of Colorado with information and options for water usage that help ensure that we get the most value from our scarce water resources, considering both current and future generations.”
FromThe Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):
Colorado’s water plan overlooks an important element: forest health, especially in the headwaters areas, a Club 20 committee said Thursday.
A supplement to the next phase in the water plan should discuss wildfires and their effects on water quality and forest health, the committee said during winter meetings in Grand Junction.
The committee recommended the full board consider the resolution when it meets in April in Grand Junction. It also is to be considered today by Club 20’s public-lands committee.
Wildfires around the West have pushed the issue of water quality to the forefront, said Chris Treese, co-chairman of the committee and spokesman for the Colorado River Water Conservation District.
In addition to recommending that the water plan consider forest health, the resolution also suggests that Club 20 urge the federal government to stop taking money from land-planning and forest-health projects to refill quickly depleted wildfire-suppression accounts.
Projects such as one being considered by the Grand Mesa Uncompahgre and Gunnison national forests to deal with a spruce-beetle infestation and aspen decline should be fully funded, the resolution said.
Club 20 is a lobbying and promotional organization representing the Western Slope in Denver and Washington, D.C.
Committee meetings continue today at Ute Water Conservancy District, 2190 H 1/4 Road.
For the second time in eight months, the Southern Delivery System is providing water to Pueblo West after a pipeline break, help that “could mean the difference between life and death,” in the words of one Pueblo West official.
The repeat bailout for those 35,000 residents comes even as Pueblo County rethinks the critical 1041 permit granted to Colorado Springs Utilities to pump Arkansas River water from the Pueblo Reservoir.
The massive water project is scheduled to start pumping 5 million gallons of water a day on April 27 to Pueblo West, Colorado Springs, Fountain and Security.
As Pueblo County negotiates with the City of Colorado Springs for more stormwater projects to protect it from Fountain Creek surges, using the 1041 permit as its bargaining chip, the Pueblo West Metro District’s recurring reliance on SDS underscores the benefit of redundant water systems.
“This is the second time SDS has stepped in to supply water to Pueblo West when there was a problem, and I just think it evidences the fact that, No. 1, SDS is important not only to Colorado Springs, but also to other water users, including Pueblo West,” said Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers.
“And we have evidenced a wholly cooperative attitude to make sure our partner in this project continues to have uninterrupted water delivery,” Suthers said. “We are trying to be as cooperative as we can. We think we’re all in this together, and we hope we get reciprocal cooperation coming back the other way.”
Pueblo County commission Chairwoman Liane “Buffie” McFadyen said, “The (system) redundancy has always been Pueblo West’s mantra as to why they entered the agreement with Colorado Springs Utilities on SDS, and it’s tangibly being demonstrated right in front of us.
“It’s a huge concern having municipal drinking water as well as water to fight fires,” McFadyen said, especially because 11,000 households and some commercial customers depend on the Metro District for water.
Asked how county negotiations are proceeding with Colorado Springs for Fountain Creek stormwater projects, McFadyen said, “Very thorough. And comprehensive. I can say we hope we won’t go to court (with the city), but it’s not something we would rule out.”
Requests for comment were not returned by key Metro District leaders: Manager Darrin Tangeman, Utilities Manager Scott Eilert and board member Jerry Martin.
But Metro District officials did join an emergency conference call with the county, other SDS partners and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation late last week to ensure that Pueblo West could tap into the SDS North Outlet Works and continue delivering water with no disruptions over the weekend.
“I just think it’s wonderful that Pueblo West has the opportunity to back up its systems,” said John Fredell, SDS project manager. “We’ve said all along there are three reasons for SDS: growth in all our communities, to back up our systems and for security, staving off water shortages.”
SDS also allows the partners to take down their systems for repairs while still getting water, Fredell said. Although an agreement allows Pueblo West to use the North Outlet Works for 30 days, SDS will provide “whatever it is they need,” he added. “They may have to rebuild that whole pipe under the (Arkansas) river.”
SDS also provided water to Pueblo West in July after a pipeline crack was found in its South Outlet Works on the other end of the Pueblo Reservoir dam.
“We aren’t just talking drinking water and sprinklers for lawn maintenance,” Pueblo West Fire Chief Brian Caserta told the Pueblo Chieftain at the time.
“A rupture of that single supply line would mean no water to fight fire. Having a redundant water supply in a crisis could mean the difference between life and death,” said Caserta, then the Metro District’s interim director.
Click here to go to the US Drought Monitor website. Here’s an excerpt:
Increasingly warm weather prevailed across much of the nation, with beneficial rain observed from Texas to the central and northern Atlantic Coast. Seasonable dryness over the Great Plains accompanied temperatures averaging 10 to 15°F above normal, with numerous daily record highs noted over southern portions of the region. Out west, progressively warmer weather heightened concerns of early snow melt, with early-week rain and mountain snow falling short of weekly normals and doing little to ease long-term drought…
Sunny skies and above-normal temperatures prevailed across this drought-free region, with daytime highs reaching 90°F in central and southwestern Kansas and upper 70s to lower 80s elsewhere. While still within the central Plains’ climatologically dry season, the recent abnormal warmth hastened winter wheat out of dormancy and will heighten the need for topsoil moisture over the upcoming weeks…
Spring-like warmth was observed over the northern Plains, with daytime highs reaching the upper 60s (°F) in southern Montana and lower 70s in southern South Dakota. Light precipitation was observed across much of the region, though amounts were again insufficient to offer relief from Abnormal Dryness (D0) and Moderate Drought (D1)…
Southern Plains and Texas
After early-week heat, increasingly wet weather resulted in a significant reduction of Abnormal Dryness (D0) and Moderate Drought (D1) over much of the region. Early in the period, daytime highs topped 80°F across Texas and Oklahoma, with readings touching 90°F over the southern High Plains and Deep South Texas. While the hot, windy conditions sparked wildfires and increased concerns over “flash drought”, widespread, moderate to heavy rain (1-3 inches, locally more) during the latter half of the period reduced or eliminated a wide swath of D0 and D1 over central and southern portions of Texas and neighboring Oklahoma. In contrast, persistent short-term dryness necessitated expansion of D0 and D1 in Deep South Texas…
Despite some welcomed rain and mountain snow at the beginning of the weekly drought assessment period, a return to dry, warmer weather by week’s end renewed concerns of a sub-par Water Year even with the ongoing strong El Niño. There were localized improvements to drought intensity and coverage, but the overall trend was toward maintaining or increasing the West’s multi-year drought.
In northern portions of the region, additional rain and mountain snow continued the locally favorable Water Year in the Northwest and resulted in further reductions of Abnormal Dryness (D0) across southwestern Oregon, eastern Washington, and northern Idaho. Farther east, Moderate Drought (D1) was likewise reduced in south-central Montana (Big Horn County) to reflect near- to above-average reservoir storage and Water Year precipitation. In contrast, Wyoming’s snowpack Snow Water Equivalent (SWE) remained below the 10th percentile (40 to 70 percent of average) in the Bighorn Mountains and below the 20th percentile (50 to 85 percent of average) in the River Range, where Severe (D2) and Moderate (D1) Drought were introduced, respectively.
Farther south, there were small changes to the dryness/drought depiction from the Great Basin into the Four Corners Region. In the D1 and D2 areas around Great Salt Lake, reservoir storage hovered near or below 60 percent of average for the date, reflecting the lingering impacts of the region’s long-term drought. D0 was expanded over central Arizona and southeastern New Mexico, where the favorable first half of the Water Year has given way to protracted dryness over the past 90 days (generally less than 50 percent of normal, locally less than 40 percent). Furthermore, the initially favorable snowpacks in the lower Four Corners have begun to rapidly diminish, with SWE near or below the 20th percentile (less than half of normal) from central Arizona into western New Mexico.
In the core drought areas of California and western Nevada, welcomed early-week rain and mountain snow gave way to warm, dry weather. Despite locally impressive precipitation totals during the 7-day period (ending Tuesday morning at 4 a.m., PST) , wetter-than-normal conditions for the week were confined to the northern-most counties in California as well as portions of the Sierra Nevada. Extending back another 7 days, precipitation over the past two weeks — even with this week’s rain and snow — has fallen well short of normal over most of the state. Nevertheless, a boost to northern California’s SWE and reservoir storage led to a small reduction of Extreme Drought (D3). However, the recent overall trend toward warmer, drier weather — despite the ongoing strong El Niño — has raised concerns over increasing short-term drought impacts in addition to the region’s ongoing long-term (“L” Impact) drought. To illustrate, a pronounced pocket of short-term dryness extends from the foothills of the San Jacinto Mountains southeast of Los Angeles northwestward to Santa Barbara, where rainfall has averaged a meager 33 to 50 percent of normal during the current Water Year (since October 1)…
Stormy, occasionally cold weather in the East will contrast with warmth and dryness across much of the west. A potent winter storm will march northeastward across the Great Lakes, producing additional locally heavy showers across the Atlantic Coast States as well as moderate to heavy rain and snow in the Midwest. In the storm’s wake, briefly chilly conditions east of the Mississippi will give way to a rapid warm up by early next week. Generally tranquil weather will prevail from the Plains into the upper Midwest, though here, too, increasingly warm conditions will develop into next week. Unfavorably warm, dry weather will persist from California and the Great Basin into the lower Four Corners Region, while periods of rain and mountain snow continue farther north from the Northwest into the northern and central Rockies. The NWS 6- to 10-day outlook for March 1 – 5 calls for above-normal temperatures across western and central U.S. as well as much of the Northeast, with cooler-than-normal conditions confined to the upper Midwest. Meanwhile, below-normal precipitation is anticipated from the central and southern Pacific Coast eastward onto the High Plains and upper Midwest.
The February 15th forecast for the April – July unregulated inflow volume to Blue Mesa Reservoir is 620,000 acre-feet. This is 92% of the 30 year average. Snowpack in the Upper Gunnison Basin is currently 99% of average. Blue Mesa Reservoir current content is 565,000 acre-feet which is 68% of full. Current elevation is 7488 ft. Maximum content at Blue Mesa Reservoir is 829,500 acre-feet at an elevation of 7519.4 ft.
Black Canyon Water Right
The peak flow and shoulder flow components of the Black Canyon Water Right will be determined by the May 1 forecast of the April – July unregulated inflow volume to Blue Mesa Reservoir. If the May 1 forecast is equal to the current forecast of 620,000 acre-feet of runoff volume, the peak flow target will be equal to 4,797 cfs for a duration of 24 hours. The shoulder flow target will be 461 cfs, for the period between May 1 and July 25. The point of measurement of flows to satisfy the Black Canyon Water Right is the Gunnison River below Gunnison Tunnel streamgage at the upstream boundary of Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park.
Aspinall Unit Operations ROD
Pursuant to the Aspinall Unit Operations Record of Decision (ROD), the peak flow and duration flow targets in the lower Gunnison River, as measured at the Whitewater gage, will be determined by the forecast of the April – July unregulated inflow volume to Blue Mesa Reservoir and the hydrologic year type. At the time of the spring operation, if the forecast is equal to the current forecast of 620,000 acre-feet of runoff volume, the hydrologic year type will be set as Average Dry. Under an Average Dry year the peak flow target will be 8,070 cfs and the duration target at this flow will be 10 days.
Projected Spring Operations
During spring operations, releases from the Aspinall Unit will be made in an attempt to match the peak flow of the North Fork of the Gunnison River to maximize the potential of meeting the desired peak at the Whitewater gage, while simultaneously meeting the Black Canyon Water Right peak flow amount. The magnitude of release necessary to meet the desired peak at the Whitewater gage will be dependent on the flow contribution from the North Fork of the Gunnison River and other tributaries downstream from the Aspinall Unit. Current projections for spring peak operations show that flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon could be in the 5,000 to 5,500 cfs range for 10 days in order to achieve the desired peak flow and duration at Whitewater. If actual flows on the North Fork of the Gunnison River are less than currently projected, flows through the Black Canyon could be even higher. With this runoff forecast and corresponding downstream targets, Blue Mesa Reservoir is currently projected to fill to an elevation of around 7516.2 feet with an approximate peak content of 801,000 acre-feet.
Commissioner Kevin Karney met with the Southeast Colorado Water Conservancy District last week. The board is working on getting last year’s winter water distributed before there has to be a spill from Pueblo Reservoir. First spill, out of district, has already been taken care of by Aurora’s sale of water shares to well companies and storage (Holbrook took some of it). Some deliveries to ditches are already started.
If John Martin spills in May as expected, there is a possibility of a free river. The water supply is excellent and the snow melt has hardly begun. Allen Hamel of Colorado Water Conservancy Board projects the board will use the plan and guidelines developed by the state. Winter water in Pueblo is at 125,000 acre-feet as of Thursday, as compared with 105,000 last year at this time and an average of 88,784 af. There is talk of dredging the Pueblo Reservoir to increase capacity.
While skeptical of the EPA officials’ lack of specifics on such things as reimbursements to downstream entities for monitoring efforts, the commissioners said the agency seemed receptive to their concerns.
“To me, the meeting was a commitment to engagement, which might be an adequate, realistic expectation,” said Commissioner Julie Westendorff. “I do think we were heard, and I think based on the comments that they shared, I think they were sincere in thanking us for coming and telling them what it looks like on the ground.”
The commissioners were in town to attend the National Association of Counties legislative conference, but Commissioner Gwen Lachelt said that a priority during the visit was to press the EPA about its commitment to long-term monitoring.
“The timing of our trip is not just happenstance,” Lachelt said. “We really wanted to have this meeting with the EPA to make sure that they help get all of these programs in place in time. They told us that they’ve spent $8 million so far responding to the spill, so that includes the $2 million treatment plant (for Cement Creek), and probably a lot of personnel costs and water testing.”
A major focus of their hour-long meeting was to discuss spring runoff and the possibility of heavy metal pollutants, laced with river sediment, being disturbed from the Animas riverbed. The EPA previously stated its plans to monitor before, during and after the spring runoff because of the Aug. 5 spill that sent 3 million gallons of mining heavy-metal-laden sludge into the river.
“La Plata County doesn’t have the expertise to come up with a monitoring plan or response plan, and so we need to get help from the state and from the EPA to help us do this,” Westendorff said…
Lachelt said coordination between the EPA regions was severely lacking, especially in response to the spill. She said the agency needs to establish a more direct contact to respond to spill-related issues across the regions…
While the EPA didn’t offer the commissioners much in the way of long-term, agency-led solutions, they agreed that the meeting was a productive step toward establishing a working relationship with the agency. And the commissioners are willing to branch out to push for more meaningful responses.
From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Jacy Marmaduke):
In light of the Flint water crisis and national concern on the safety of drinking water, the Coloradoan submitted a public records request to the Water Quality Control Division of the state’s Department of Public Health and Environment earlier this month.
The request asked for three data points:
1. Water test results for lead submitted to the state by public water systems in 2013-2015;
2. A list of public water systems out of compliance with drinking water standards;
3. The number of lead service lines in the state classified by the lowest level of geography available – whether by city, zip code or water system.
The Water Quality Control Division responded to the Coloradoan’s request on Tuesday. A list of public water systems out of compliance was included in the response.
The first request was fulfilled for free because it will take less than an hour to collect the data. After the first hour of work on a request, state agencies are free to charge requestors up to $30 an hour to fulfill requests.
For the third request, the state is asking for $61,200, equivalent to 2,040 hours of staff and attorney time the state estimates will be needed to compile the data.
The Department of Public Health and Environment charges $30 an hour for all staff time associated with locating and producing records for those who request them, in accordance with Colorado open records law.
Officials at the Association of State Drinking Water Administrators indicate that if a water system has a lead action level in exceedance, then the water system “must submit the detailed inventory system.” Colorado has had water systems with lead action level exceedances.
The state reports drinking water systems in Colorado don’t have to submit to the state the number of lead service lines within the system. Instead, they must identify their sample locations and indicate whether the sample was supplied by a lead service line or if the sample location contains lead pipes or copper pipes with lead solder.
The Water Quality Control Division is prohibited from releasing the addresses of public utility users, so staff would have to retract all individual homeowner addresses from the sample location data, according to the division’s response to the records request.
That process, along with research, retrieval, review and production of the records, would take more than 2,000 hours – or nearly a year of working weeks if a single staff member carried out the work.
The Coloradoan is seeking to collect the state data as part of a national project in conjunction with the USA TODAY Network on drinking water safety across the U.S.
The Tamarisk Coalition announces they recently received two grants on the behalf of the Desert Rivers Collaborative that will greatly help their cause. Tamarisk officials say grants from the Colorado Water Conservation Board and the Bacon Family Foundation, totaling more than $200 thousand, will allow the coalition to continue streamside restoration efforts in the Grand Valley.
It is projected that approximately 70 acres of additional riverside habitat will be restored, thanks to $175 thousand from the Colorado Water Conservation Board and $30 thousand from the Bacon Family Foundation. The funding will be used to pay different crews and contractors to use native plantings for re-vegetation and remove tamarisk, an invasive plant from the Eurasia region, as well as Russian olive, a thorny shrub and small tree that have overtaken a lot of riverside area.
In addition, the funding will tremendously aid in reducing wildfire risk and improving river function, soil conditions, and water quality, and ultimately improve our local habitat for fish and wildlife.
“The overall goal is to improve riparian health here in the Grand Valley, and it’s a continuation of projects that have been going on for several years,” says Shannon Hatch with the Tamarisk Coalition.
Funding from the Bacon Family Foundation will also allow the hiring of an intern to assist with project mapping, maintenance efforts, data management, technical assistance, community outreach, and engagement.
Like grow lights and center-pivot irrigators, snow guns are technological lynchpins of the Colorado economy.
But what governs how snow is made? And what are its impacts?
The region’s humidity is a major factor. If the air is dry enough, snow can be made at temperatures above freezing, or 32 degrees. Just as evaporating sweat helps to cool us, when it’s dry, water droplets evaporate and cool as they’re ejected from snow guns. Thus, in dry conditions, evaporative cooling lowers localized temperatures enough to freeze water droplets, even with temps up to 40 degrees. Conversely, when air is moist, little evaporation occurs and lower ambient air temperatures are needed for ice crystals to form.
During snowmaking, another type of cooling – called expansive or adiabatic – also takes place. If you’ve ever felt how cold a can of compressed air gets after usage, you’ve experienced this effect. Such cooling occurs when compressed air shot from a snow gun expands as it’s released from the water nozzle. The expansion causes cooling, helping to freeze the water droplets. This process can drop temps nearly 100 degrees within inches of the water nozzle.
Many ski areas have hundreds of snow guns and a cornucopia of special nozzles to take advantage of these phenomena. They are used on the ground or mounted on towers, poles or lances. All rely on high water pressure and high air pressure to produce snow.
Man-made snow isn’t shaped like the delicate and pointy six-sided snowflakes that children cut from folded paper. Rather, it is shaped like a sphere and is a denser, larger particle. Sometimes the cores of flakes made by snow guns aren’t frozen by the time they hit the ground, so the piles, or whales, of snow are allowed to cure for days until they’re bulldozed into place.
Whether it’s fresh or stale, artificial snow behaves quite differently than nature’s own. To skiers and riders, it’s more akin to sticky concrete than to fluffy powder. That’s because it’s almost 30 percent ice and 70 percent air, compared with the best natural snow, which is about 10 percent ice and 90 percent air. One positive is that man-made snowflakes are more durable, making them ideal for establishing a base or creating jumps, pipes and terrain parks.
Snowmaking uses an incredible amount of energy. It takes megawatts to transfer water uphill and cool it before pumping it; to compress, cool and dehumidify air before sending it downpipe; and to install, maintain and run all of the associated equipment.
With higher temperatures and higher humidity, the costs can more than double. That’s why there’s been a push over the years for better technology that brings efficiencies in energy, climate and timing. For example, nozzles have improved to the point where they make much smaller crystals with less air, which translates to more snow for the same amount of pumping energy.
Today’s snow guns use less than a third of the air employed by those a decade ago – a notable achievement given that compressing air requires more energy than pumping water. Some ski areas store water in upslope ponds, which then feed into snowmaking lines, again saving pumping energy. Other ski areas have built bottom-of-mountain storage ponds because pumping water long distances, with the miles of pipe needed to transport water to snow guns, is expensive.
In general, 20 percent more snow is made in Colorado today, using 40 percent less energy, than 10 years ago.
But what about the water? Most of it is purchased or taken from streams, rivers and runoff. Like the Front Range’s “buy and dry” strategy for securing agricultural water, ski corporations have snapped up senior water rights to the tune of millions per year. Fortunately, nearly 80 percent of this water gets returned to the system whence it came, with the remainder lost to evaporation. Some even recapture the meltwater and reuse it.
The quantity – and timing of diversion/return – of this water has serious impacts on the quality of water and scope of downstream watersheds.
And the future? As the planet warms, the high country will have warmer average low temperatures. The ski seasons will become shorter, and their shoulders will be less predictable because spring storms will more frequently bring rainfall or freezing rain in place of light fluffy snow. So snowmaking will become even more important, despite the fact that the energy byproducts from installing, maintaining and operating snow guns contribute to global warming.
Notwithstanding these issues, plan on seeing more snowmaking. It feeds the state’s economic engine and continues to improve in efficiency, reducing its environmental impact. Over the long haul, it is more predictable than the cloud-seeding strategies invested in by skiing and agriculture industries.
From the US Army Corps of Engineers (Eileen Williamson/Katie Seefus):
Bear Creek reservoir near Lakewood, Colorado, will be lowered twice from the current lake level of 5,558.7 feet to about 5,557.5 feet to allow for valve replacement work at Bear Creek Dam.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Omaha District will begin the first lowering today and the second lowering will begin late next week.
To lower the reservoir, releases will be increased to 70 cubic feet per second (cfs) which fall within channel capacity and are significantly less than the maximum 2015 summer release of 500 cfs. It will take less than one day for the reservoir to refill to the normal lake level of 5,558 feet.
This work is being conducted in response to damage documented following recent flooding. Beginning Friday, March 11, normal operations will resume. Bear Creek Lake will be closed to all ice activities due to fluctuating lake levels.
The valve replacement work has been coordinated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers with the State of Colorado and the City of Lakewood.
Put a bucket under your downspout and collect rain running off your roof to water your garden. You’re an outlaw in Colorado.
Critics have lambasted the state for barring this quaint eco-friendly, urban-farming technique, but to rural Coloradans devoted to prior appropriation, the water rule that the first person to take water secures rights to it into the future, rainwater harvesting should be banned.
While this square state is one of 19 governing water with a prior appropriation doctrine, we’re the only one to ban rainwater collection.
James Eklund, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, doesn’t see harm in the practice. He’s the brains behind Colorado’s state water plan, Gov. John Hickenlooper’s strategy for avoiding a massive water shortage by 2050.
The water plan pushes the state to take a leading role in water usage and conservation, something the anti-rain barrel ban makes a mockery of, as the law’s critics see it. Last year, an attempt to rid the state of the ban was stalled and eventually defeated by Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, a Sterling Republican who said the changing the law would undermine first-come first-serve water rights for farmers and ranchers in his district. Rainwater, as proponents of prior appropriation see it, is included under the first-come-first-serve doctrine. Even urban runoff replenishes streams, rivers and aquifers, they say.
For the second time in two years, lawmakers are trying to undo the ban, saying a rigid interpretation of Colorado water laws shouldn’t get in the way of much needed water conservation. Democratic Reps. Jessie Danielson of Wheat Ridge and Daneya Esgar of Pueblo took a bill to strike the law to the House Agriculture, Livestock and Natural Resources committee Monday for a first hearing.
Danielson and Esgar brought witnesses to the hearing who championed the bill, saying rainwater would be put to good use in the state’s suburbs and cities. Rainwater harvesting would educate Coloradans about water scarcity and conservation, said the bill’s defenders.
Drew Beckwith of Western Resource Advocates said rain barrels would help inform the public about water issues.
“It makes visible what is invisible,” Beckwith said.
Ag committee member Rep. Jon Becker said the new bill’s proponents had not addressed farmers and ranchers’ concerns that allowing rain barrels would undermine prior appropriation and deprive rural communities of much needed water for livestock and crops.
Last fall, Colorado State University’s centers on stormwater and urban water studied the impact of rainwater collection. In an average rainfall, about 8,000 gallons of water fall on a lot with a home, according to the study. A rain barrel would collect roughly 55 gallons. The new bill would allow up to two rain barrels per household. Uncaptured rainfall would evaporate or run off into underground drainage systems, back to rivers and creeks, and to downstream ranchers, farmers and towns.
The CSU study concluded that the impact of collecting rainwater on downstream users would be minimal, according to the presentation made to the committee.
The bill directs those who collect rainwater to use it to water lawns and gardens, and not for drinking.
Currently, most Coloradans who water their lawns use treated drinking water instead of runoff. That makes no sense, said water board head Eklund to the committee.
Farmer Jim Yahn of Sterling, who says he and fellow farmers and ranchers measure every drop of water to make sure they’re not ripped off, didn’t buy Eklund’s arguments.
“We’re not anti-rain barrel,” Yahn told the committee. “We’re against the misuse of the prior appropriation system.”
Yahn pointed out that “wet” years with above-average rainfall are unusual, and he fears he won’t have enough water in the more normal, dry years.
“You either believe in prior appropriation or you let water go” outside of the priority system, Yahn said.
There’s no recourse in the bill for those who say they would lose water from rainwater harvesting. If someone in the priority system wants to argue they have less water because of rain barrels, they’d have to figure out the specific person who took more than their share and seek redress with the state water courts. Doing so would be impossible, Sonnenberg told The Independent.
The bill offers no means for ensuring rain water collectors are accountable to water law, Sonnenberg said Tuesday, and he expects it to be amended to address that issue.
Currently, water courts rule on such issues; however, the process is too costly for the average Coloradan. Sonnenberg said the state water engineer could be given that task of investigating rain water barrel users abusing their rights.
Becker asked the sponsors to consider some way to replace water collected by rain barrel users, an idea that was floated in the interim Water Resource Review Committee last summer. He also asked that the bill be amended to halt rainwater collection when there are calls on the rivers. A call occurs when people with more water rights have less than they are entitled to and take water from those with fewer rights.
Even fellow Republicans didn’t support Becker’s amendment, saying it was unenforceable.
Danielson and Esgar said they worked with water rights holders to create a bill that would honor prior appropriation and still allow rainwater collection. Danielson cited her ag family’s dependence on first-come-first-serve water rights as a reason the bill would not undermine prior appropriation.
Environmentalists cheered as the bill passed, 10-2, with three Republicans backing it. That included Rep. Lori Saine of Firestone, whose constituents have battled flooded basements and fields for the last several years. Next, the House will debate the bill, where it will likely pass.
The big question is whether the bill will be able to clear the Senate Agriculture, Natural Resources and Energy Committee, a Republican-majority committee led by Sonnenberg, who opposed the bill last year.
Sonnenberg told The Independent his support hinges on amendments that reinforce prior appropriation doctrine.
To appease him, Danielson and Esgar secured an amendment to put language supporting first-some-first-serve water rights into the bill’s statement of intent.
Conservation Colorado called the ban on rain barrels antiquated and said the bill would help connect Coloradans to their water use.
The public supports rain barrels, the group said in a statement, so opponents “must move out of the way and recognize that Coloradans want to use rain barrels…”
In cheering the bill’s passage, Esgar noted that people can shovel snow off their sidewalks and put the snow onto their lawns.
If you can do that, she said, “Why can’t you collect rainwater and put it on your garden?”
Snowmass water customers will decide in May whether to fund an upgrade of their wastewater treatment plant through a mill levy.
The project, which the Snowmass Water and Sanitation District estimates it needs $19.85 million to complete, must be finished by spring 2020 to comply with new standards for water quality set by the Environmental Protection Agency. The water board decided at its meeting Tuesday to ask voters to approve a bond issue for the debt of the project, which it believes will be less of a burden on its customers than a rate increase.
To bring in the almost $20 million needed without the bond issue, the district would have to hike sewer service fees by about 80 percent, said District Manager Kit Hamby. The exact ballot language that will go before voters in May is being recalculated, but as of now, the district estimates that its tax collections would need to increase to $1.68 million annually.
“As a mill levy, voters can write that off on their taxes, but if we increase service fees, they can’t,” Hamby said. “We’d have to look at a different mechanism to fund this … if we don’t get this approved.”
Rain barrels would have less impact on water rights than uses such as stock ponds and rural household wells or just shoveling snow off the sidewalk into the grass and planting trees in cities, in Rep. Daneya Esgar’s estimation.
“It does not make a lot of sense to pick and choose water rights,” the Pueblo Democrat told the House agriculture committee Monday. “We have strong data that shows no impact.”
But some agricultural groups are stubbornly insisting that they’ll suffer by a thousand 55-gallon cuts.
“You’re taking a little bit of water. Can you measure it? Maybe not,” said Jim Yahn, manager of the North Sterling irrigation district and a member of the state Interbasin Compact Committee. “But at some point the ground is saturated and it’s going to run off.”
The bill to legalize two 55-gallon rain barrels per single-family home, HB1005, passed the committee on a 10-2 vote Monday and now heads to the House floor. Water could be stored and used later on gardens or lawns.
The bill is similar to a measure that passed the state House last year, only to be corked in a Senate committee at the end of the session. This year, there are some modifications that clearly state rain barrels will not interfere with the constitutional and legal doctrine of prior appropriation. Two amendments to safeguard water rights were added Monday.
But the committee drowned an amendment proposed by Jon Becker, R-Fort Morgan, to curtail rain barrels during river calls, a move co-sponsor Jessie Danielson, D-Wheatridge, called “hostile.” The sponsors also have raised an umbrella against attempts to put control of rain barrels in the hands of the state engineer.
The bill as it is got a neutral response from the Division of Water Resources, and conceptual support from the Colorado Water Conservation Board.
“We as a state want our brand to be about water innovation,” CWCB executive director James Eklund told the committee, adding that rain barrels fit well with the public education component of Colorado’s Water Plan.
Reagan Waskom, director of the Colorado Water Institute, broke down the impact of rain barrels by the numbers for the committee, based on Colorado State University studies.
A 4,000-square-foot urban lot would receive 45,000 gallons of water from 7 inches of rain during the agricultural growing season. The ground absorbs 2 inches per foot anyway. Typical landscaping on that lot would use 90,000 gallons in the same period. What’s more, the rooftops and sidewalks that are built on that lot increase runoff by a factor of 10.
“The amount stored by a rain barrel would be captured in the soil anyway,” Waskom said.
In areas where they are legal — all other 49 states — only 5-10 percent of households use them.
“If we could show a difference (in the percentage using barrels) we would, but you multiply by zero and get zero,” Waskom said.
Yahn, along with other ag groups, testified that downstream producers in the South Platte watch Denver rain events closely and rely on the surge in the river.
“We’ve been in the rain collection business for more than 100 years. It’s called reservoirs and the water is taken in priority,” Yahn said.
He asked what legal recourse farmers would have under the proposed bill.
Deputy State Engineer Kevin Rein later explained it would be difficult to pursue a remedy for rain barrels.
But Rein also confirmed Esgar’s assertion that far more water is taking out of priority already in stock ponds and through household wells on 35-acre lots which can take enough water for three homes, an acre of garden and domestic animals.
Colorado also allows a pilot project at Sterling Ranch in Douglas County to harvest rainwater that would otherwise go to a stream under a 2009 law, Rein said.
Environmental groups support the bill as a way to increase urban awareness about conservation.
“They begin to understand how much water a lawn or garden takes,” said Drew Beckwith of Western Resource Advocates. “It makes visible what is invisible to most people.”
FromThe Colorado Springs Gazette (Ryan Maye Handy):
Residents in Security-Widefield who have private wells near Fountain Creek should check their water for excess chemicals, federal officials said Monday.
The perfluorinated compounds are commonly found in surface protection products for carpets, but should not be in the local drinking water. The chemicals were found during water quality tests done in January.
They don’t fall under water quality regulations, but they are on the Environmental Protection Agency’s list of things to monitor and keep out of a water supply. Since the amounts of chemicals are trace, the water supply meets the health standards for drinking water, although the effects of consuming the chemicals are largely unknown.
“The EPA has set health advisory limits,” said Brandon Bernard, the water department manager for the Widefield Water and Sanitation District. “The amounts that were detected in our aquifer were well below that. We are talking about (less than) one part per billion, which is like a teaspoon in an Olympic-sized swimming pool.”
The EPA, with the help of the El Paso County Public Health and its state-level counterpart, the Department of Public Health and Environment, must determine where the chemicals are coming from and how they got into the aquifer. Until that mystery is solved, it’s unlikely that officials will be able to stop the flow of chemicals, said Tom Gonzales, the deputy director of the county’s health department…
The chemicals came from the Widefield aquifer, which parallels Fountain Creek and is the source for nearly half of the Widefield district’s water. The district has nine wells that pump blended aquifer water, which is mixed with water from Pueblo Reservoir before it goes to local homes.
At least six of those wells showed low concentrations of the perfluorinated compounds, but no levels in other tests. Since the results have varied, more tests will be done, Bernard said.
“There isn’t enough data at this point, really, to get a good idea of what’s going on,” he said.
The state and EPA are putting together a plan to test groundwater and trace the chemicals back to their source. Meanwhile, since county labs can’t test for the chemicals, residents in certain areas who get water from private wells are being asked to get their water tested. The area of concern runs along Fountain Creek from Interstate 25 to the Colorado Springs Airport, between East Fountain Boulevard to the city limits of Fountain. It includes the Widefield water district, which serves 25,000 customers, and water sources in Fountain and Security.
Since the discovery of the chemicals, Widefield has not shut down its water supply, Bernard said. Treatment systems can remove the perfluorinated compounds , and residents who use water from private wells can buy treatment equipment at local home improvement stores, officials said.
Legislative efforts to reform the 1872 mining law and establish a royalty fee and remediation fund similar to coal mining have stalled in Congress, with opposition from the mining industry.
On the three-month anniversary of the Gold King Mine spill, U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., along with New Mexico Democrats Sens. Martin Heinrich and Tom Udall, introduced the Hardrock Mining and Reclamation Act of 2015 to modernize the 1872 mining law.
Under the legislation, mining companies would be charged a royalty fee on new mines and a Hardrock Minerals Reclamation Fund would be established, similar to the coal mine fund. The senators estimated that the royalty fees would bring in nearly $100 million annually to help remediate abandoned mines.
In an interview with The Durango Herald, Bennet said the focus of the hard-rock mining reform bill is to level the playing field.
“It just doesn’t seem fair to me that you have to pay royalties for coal, oil and gas but you don’t have to pay royalties for mining,” Bennet said. “What this bill does is create a nominal royalty rate and a reclamation fee so that there’s money available to do the cleanup that needs to be done at these mines. And we have less momentum there, and we’ve got to find some way to get bipartisan support for that bill, but we’ll keep working on it.”
The legislation, along with a similar House bill, is stuck in committee. But earlier this week, the La Plata County commissioners sent a letter to Bennet and other congressional representatives voicing their support for reforms to the 1872 mining law.
Philip Clelland, a spokesman for Bennet, said senators sponsoring the legislation continue to advocate for reforms.
“Senator Bennet and the other bill sponsors are talking to Republicans about a possible path forward and potential modifications to the bill,” Clelland said. “The Gold King Mine spill was an unfortunate reminder of the seriousness of this issue, and we hope it spurs action on this and other bills. Coloradans shouldn’t have to live in fear that contaminants from these abandoned mines are in their water. There isn’t an easy path in Congress, but we’re committed to moving this bill forward.”
The Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Symposium is set to take place March 1-2 at the University of Colorado.
The “WASH” Symposium was started in 2012 by a small, interdisciplinary group of CU students and is now in its fourth year.
This year’s events will feature discussions about water, sanitation and hygiene in conflict and disaster zones, urban challenges, schools and healthcare facilities, innovative financing and sustainability.
From the New Mexico Acequia Association (Olivia Romo):
“Un año si, y un año no” is a dicho spoken by many acequia farmers in New Mexico who understand that our weather cycles present challenges like drought, crops and huertas freezing, and the uncertainty of water flow through the ditches in the Spring. For the Mayordomo, they must prepare themselves for the year-round projects, inventory, annual limpa, and other hydrological observations throughout the year. Being a Mayordomo is one of the hardest but most rewarding jobs on the ditch and it takes a healthy mind, body, and spirit to be able to do the hard physical labor and communicate to parciantes and the comisión con respeto por nuestra agua, gente, y cultura.
In the middle of winter the acequia duties are in hibernation but the Mayordomo is evaluating the snowpack visually and researching how this year’s season will unfold. Asking questions to oneself like, “will the river feeding our acequia experience heavy run off? If the answer is yes, many begin to prepare for extra blocking at the atarque to prevent runoff damages to the banks, compuertas, and silting. In February, as Mayordomo you are firming up your plans for the limpia, formalizing billings (often in cooperation with the treasurer), and securing your date to do an acequia walk to evaluate damaged areas or impacts from desagüe to atarque. This may also be a time for your annual membership meeting or to have a special meeting of the commission or membership according to your bylaws. It would be important to have this meeting after the acequia walk in order to report back on any beaver damns, silt pockets clogged culverts, weak embankments, or damage by gophers or muskrats.
Finally, in late March or early April this is when the acequia work really begins! The phones are ringing, mailing and other notices goes out to the members and the Mayordomo is going through his/her check list of things to get together before the crew is ready to work. There are many dynamics in preparing for the limpia, here are just a few general notes:
1. Gather crew, assemble parciantes, or gather peones
3. Inform all other landowners of upcoming limpia so s to avoid easement issues
4. Possibly obtain a burn permit from your county fire marshal
5. Mark out special work areas for cleaning and repair if that is a custom on your ditch
6. Grease all head gates and valves as the limpia progresses.
*Note: Plan the limpia to be done as close to the date of planned opening of the head gate; this prevents wind blowing in debris if too much time passed before opening head gate and letting water flow.
It is now time for the water to flow, open your head gate after triple checking for any debris or blockages and experience the sacred rush of water running through the freshly cleaned ditch. This sound is a reminder of dedication of the numerous mayordomos and possibly your ancestors who have dedicated their lives to this work and life giving element. You can begin to dream of summer, with birds chirping, trees blossoming, and the sounds and smell of earth when she heaves in release as the plows turn dirt. Irrigation will soon be in full swing and the hard work of planting and cultivating will begin and you see yourself spending time with your parciantes and vecinos who are planting, growing, then shortly after preparing fresh meals from their acequia grown crops. Then suddenly the ringing of palas striking rocks and bordos wake you from this day dream, its only April, get back to work there is no time to waste!
Note: Piece includes excerpt from the Mayordomia Handbook/Field Guide & Acequia Governance Handbook, Education Material produced by NMAA.
Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:
GREG HOBBS AT CMU 2/25
Session #2 of Hutchins Water Center’s annual 3-evening Water Course will be held at CMU Thurs, 2/25 from 6-9pm. The session will feature Grand Junction water attorney Mark Hermundstad and recently retired CO Supreme Court Justice Greg Hobbs. Attorneys can earn 3 CLE’s and Realtors can get 3 hours of CE credit for attending. The session will also live-stream. Details are http://www.coloradomesa.edu/water-center/2016-water-course.html.
Silverton and San Juan County leaders voted unanimously to pursue Superfund status on Monday to clean up the Gold King and other inactive mines in the area. The plan includes 46 mines and two settling areas.
“I think history has been made. This is one of the most important decisions ever made by county commissioner or town council,” said San Juan County Commissioner Scott Fetchenhier…
“There were two big concerns about Superfund that this community had,” Silverton Standard editor Mike Esper told CPR News January. “One: It would kind of foreclose on the future of returning to mining. And the other one, the big one: The bad publicity. We are totally reliant on tourism at this point. … But, the Aug. 5 blowout … kind of blew that argument out of the water. That game is over. We had the bad publicity by not having Superfund, and by not addressing the problem that’s only going to make the publicity worse.”
The spill also brought new and wider attention to southwestern Colorado’s inactive mines beyond the Gold King, some of which leach water laced with heavy metals like zinc and iron.
Fetchenhier worked closely with the EPA before the vote to secure certain assurances in writing. Those included making sure that town and county leaders have a seat at the table during the long remediation process. That’s where EPA officials decide which mines need work, and what that work will be.
The Superfund site could be finalized as soon as this fall. But it will take years of research before actual clean up can begin.
The town of Silverton and San Juan County, Colo., will request that Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper support a Superfund designation for 48 polluted mines in the mountains north of Silverton.
The request will come in the form of a letter to Hickenlooper, specifically asking him to work with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency officials to add the Bonita Peak Mining District — the name selected for the cleanup site — to the Superfund National Priorities List as a federal cleanup site.
Town and county officials have negotiated in the past months with the EPA regarding what mines and mine-related sources would be included for cleanup as part of the Bonita Peak Mining District.
The EPA states in a letter to Hickenlooper dated Feb. 19 that the 48 mines and mine-related sources dump arsenic, cadmium, copper, manganese, zinc, lead and aluminum into the Animas River at a rate of 3,740 gallons per minute or 5.4 million gallons per day.
Hickenlooper must inform the EPA by Feb. 29 whether he supports the designation.
The Superfund designation would allow the EPA to use funds appropriated by Congress to remediate the mining district and sue parties responsible for the contamination. The EPA’s Superfund appropriation in fiscal year 2015 was $1.1 billion, according to the U.S. EPA’s website.
Town and county officials voted unanimously in favor of the decision at a special meeting held here Monday afternoon.
Officials told the approximately 80 residents in attendance that voting in favor of the Superfund designation meant Silverton would continue to be involved in the remediation process.
Reversing decades of opposition, Silverton and San Juan County leaders voted Monday to ask the state to pursue a Superfund cleanup of the Gold King and 45 other inactive mines contaminating headwaters of the Animas River.
Local leaders also are lining up Gov. John Hickenlooper and Sen. Michael Bennet as backup for dealing with the Environmental Protection Agency…
And local officials are demanding the EPA continue running a temporary water treatment plant above Silverton to reduce contamination until a final cleanup is done. Superfund cleanups typically take longer than a decade, depending partly on congressional funding.
“I was not in favor of Superfund. I still don’t like it. But if we don’t do it, it will be done for us,” Commissioner Ernie Kuhlman told 90 or so residents packing Silverton’s Town Hall before the vote.
“If we don’t make this move, they will, and we won’t have a seat at the table.”
Silverton’s seven town trustees and San Juan County’s three commissioners voted unanimously to send a letter to Hickenlooper urging him to ask the EPA to designate a “Bonita Peak Mining District” environmental disaster — the first step toward a Superfund cleanup…
The locals are pressing the EPA to commit to running a temporary water treatment plant above Silverton until a final cleanup is done and perhaps install another plant.
The EPA put in the plant to remove millions of tons of metals sludge still draining from the Gold King, although not from other nearby mines.
Silverton officials say they want the EPA to treat waste from those mines, too, during a multiyear Superfund process.
For the second year in a row, a legislative storm is brewing in Colorado over who legally owns drops of rain.
A bill that would allow gardeners to store 110 gallons of runoff from their roof in up to two rain barrels passed on a 10-2 bipartisan vote in a House committee Monday. Republicans in the state Senate let a similar bill expire without a vote on the chamber floor at the end of last year’s session.
Opponents cited state water law that says rainfall must be allowed to move unabated back into the ecosystem to feed aquifers and reservoirs for those who hold expensive water rights.
In theory, proponents say, when the rainwater goes on gardens or lawns, it would then return to the larger environment. In the bargain, rain-barrel users would get a sense of how little it rains in Colorado and how much water they use on their property,
“This is a simple tool that will encourage water conservation and encourage people to use water wisely at their homes,” said Rep. Jessie Danielson, a Democrat from Wheat Ridge, who is one of the bill’s sponsors.
Colorado is the only state that bans rain barrels and is one of just four states that restrict so-called rainwater harvesting, joined by Arizona, Oklahoma and Utah, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Reagan Waskom, director of the Colorado Water Institute and chairman of the Colorado State University Water Center, said an experiment showed no detectable impact on downstream runoff. Nearly all of it is absorbed in the soil, just as it would if it was not captured.
CSU is neutral on the bill, he said.
“The water that’s captured in a rain barrel would be captured in the soil, anyway,” Waskom said. “You’re not going to be able to measure it.
“It’s very important, every drop, to the downstream users,” he said.
Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, a chief opponent last year, said the bill would face problems in the Senate if it does not acknowledge the state’s prior appropriation doctrine, which ensures those with senior water rights get their share. The bill also must identify a state agency or other authority to see that happens, he said.
FromThe Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Charles Ashby):
Colorado would become the last state in the West to allow its residents to collect rainwater in barrels from their rooftops under a bill that won approval in a House committee on Monday.
Similar to a measure that failed last year, the bill would allow homeowners to have up to two 55-gallon rain barrels, but they can only use the water for the purpose of irrigating their lawns and gardens.
In the House Agriculture, Livestock & Natural Resources Committee, which approved the measure on a bipartisan 10-2 vote, proponents of HB1005 said even if all homeowners in the state took advantage of the bill, it would impact a small amount of water in the state.
Yet opponents said that amount is still an impact that could make or break a single farm or ranch downstream.
Jim Yahn, manager of the North Sterling and Prewitt reservoirs in northeast Colorado, said all water in the state is part of a prior-appropriated system that is based on first in time, first in line. That means people own water rights, and those with the most senior rights get the water first.
Taking any water out of the system is a violation of that major tenet in water law, he said.
“Every drop of water is valuable,” Yahn said. “Anytime you get any runoff from your lawn, if you have captured some of that in a rain barrel, you’ve taken water out of the system.”
Proponents, however, said water that is allowed to run off of rooftops either evaporates before making it into that system or is absorbed by plants.
Trapping it and letting people put it for outdoor use causes homeowners to save water because they are using less from their taps, meaning more ends up for downstream use.
“We have an opportunity to support a pretty straightforward bill that will encourage the urban and suburban water users across the state to think twice about the amount of water that they are putting on their landscaping,” said Rep. Jessie Danielson, D-Wheat Ridge, one of the sponsors of the bill. “If they can save even a little bit, it will translate down the line to more water for farms.”
Some opponents of the bill said they would have an easier time with it if it included a clause that would allow for moratoriums on rain barrel use at times when there is a “call” on a river.
That happens when downstream water users who have more senior rights demand their water in dry years.
Rep. Jon Becker, R-Fort Morgan, said the state’s water engineer needs to have more control over the use of such barrels, but the bill doesn’t allow for it.
“To say (there is) a de minimis impact is not necessarily the truth, and is not anything we can prove,” he said. “Because of that, I want to see in the bill someplace that there is an easier way for the state engineer or objectors to come in and talk about this.”
The measure heads to the full House for more debate.
After a slippery ride, lawmakers on Monday advanced a measure that would allow Coloradans to collect rain water that falls on their roofs.
The House Agriculture, Livestock and Natural Resources Committee backed House Bill 1005 by a vote of 10-2, after a more than two-hour hearing. It now heads to the full House for consideration.
The measure is written similar to last year’s bill, which died on the second-to-last day of the session after it failed to receive a Senate floor vote despite a last-minute effort to garner support.
The bill would allow people to capture rain from their roof in up to two 55-gallon barrels for use in their garden or on their lawn.
Sponsors of the bill are hopeful that they can muster enough support to drive it through the legislative process, especially following a study by Colorado State University in September that stated that allowing 100 gallons of rainwater storage per household would not decrease surface runoff by any detectable amount on a typical lot.
“Instead of it going into your windowsill, or possibly a sidewalk, you could use it where you see fit … on your tomato plants and your flower garden,” said Rep. Jessie Danielson, D-Wheat Ridge, a co-sponsor of the bill.
Critics raise concerns about eroding the state’s prior appropriations system, in which water rights are granted to the first person to take water from an aquifer or river, despite residential proximity.
In an effort to address the water rights controversy, some rural lawmakers pushed an amendment that would have allowed the state engineer to intervene if complaints over water rights arise. But the amendment was defeated.
“It was mentioned that a lot of the opposition would go away if … the state engineer had the authority to intervene or had some oversight if necessary. … To me, this amendment actually does that. … I just think it would take a lot of the angst about this bill away,” said Rep. J. Paul Brown, R-Ignacio, who voted for the bill despite the amendment failing.
Rep. Don Coram, R-Montrose, raised concerns with Colorado being a water provider among 18 states that have a prior appropriations system. He voted against the measure.
“We’re not even talking the same thing here,” Coram told supporters of the bill. “We’re a headwater state. We’re the rooftop. We run in every direction.”
State water officials did not take a formal position on the legislation. But James Eklund, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, said the effort could help with a narrative on water conservation in the West.
“The concept of residential rainwater harvesting aligns with the CWCB’s philosophy of promotion of education and water stewardship at a local level …” Eklund said.
The Parker Water & Sanitation District is putting out a call for candidates to fill three vacancies on its board of directors.
The May 3 mail-ballot election will enable district customers to vote on candidates to assume seats held by Kelly McCurry, Bill Wasserman and Dale Reiman, whose terms expire this year. Prospective candidates must file “affidavits of intent” to the Parker Water & Sanitation District by Feb. 29, according to a resolution passed by the current board on Jan. 14.
If there are “not more candidates than offices to be filled,” district manager Ron Redd, who is serving as the designated election official, will cancel the election and declare the candidates elected, the resolution said.
Click here to read the release. Here’s an excerpt:
I am humbled and amazed by what the Colorado chapter has accomplished since its inception. For example, we have conserved 27 land preserves and properties across the state, which host a variety of plant and wildlife habitat as well as educational opportunities with the community. We were instrumental in the establishment of Great Sand Dunes National Park and Great Outdoors Colorado. We brought our science to bear in the state’s first water plan. We manage our own fire crew—The Southern Rockies Wildland Fire Module—to advance forest restoration projects not only in Colorado, but across the country, and we have helped launch global conservation programs in 16 locations. These successes and our continued work conserving important lands, protecting water, and restoring forests in Colorado, have helped us protect one million acres and one thousand river miles across the state.
Great partnerships are key to any success and I am grateful for the partnerships we have made that have allowed this conservation work to flourish. Through our commitment to science, tangible results, collaboration and our non-partisan approach, we have been able to grow support for conservation and educate diverse audiences throughout Colorado about the need for nature in our lives.
Our natural resources are at the heart of our quality of life in Colorado—from the fresh water we drink and the clean air we breathe to our economic prosperity and world-renowned recreational opportunities. But Colorado’s environment continues to face many challenges. Our population is expected to nearly double by 2050. Increased needs for food, water and energy will further strain Colorado’s natural systems.
These challenges require far-sighted solutions. Solutions that build on our track record of results and push us to incorporate new thinking, such as focusing on urban conservation, expanding our sustainable grazing work and leveraging natural solutions to reduce the impacts of climate change.
…it all fits a by-now familiar picture of an Arctic warming up considerably faster than the mid-latitudes, with consequences that could extend far outside of the polar region, says Rafe Pomerance, a former deputy assistant secretary of state who sits on the National Academy of Sciences’ Polar Research Board.
Impacts of Arctic warming are usually considered in isolation, and that’s a mistake, he says. “It’s unraveling, every piece of it is unraveling, they’re all in lockstep together,” Pomerance says. “What tends to happen is, everybody nationally reports on the latest piece of news, which is about one system. You hear about the sea ice absent the temperature trend. So you really have to think of it as a whole.”
Here’s the release from the Western Governors’ Association:
Western Governors have sent comments to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in response to its request for Information on Existing Programs That Protect Water Quality From Forest Road Discharges.
The outreach, sent on Feb. 12, 2016, highlighted states’ federally-recognized authority to manage and allocate water within their boundaries. Submitted comments included: “The Clean Water Act (CWA) does not require EPA to regulate forest road stormwater discharge,” and “EPA should leave the management of stormwater discharges from forest roads to the states, unless otherwise determined by a specific state.”
Western Governors also cited their policy resolution, Water Quality in the West, which states that stormwater runoff from forest roads has been managed as a nonpoint source of pollution under EPA regulation and state law since enactment of the CWA.
Here’s the release from the US Bureau of Reclamation (Peter Soeth):
The Bureau of Reclamation has made a new funding opportunity available for water entities in the Western United States to conduct water reclamation research under the Title XVI Water Reclamation and Reuse Program.
This cost-shared funding opportunity, available at http://www.grants.gov as opportunity number R16-FOA-DO-011, helps communities address water supply challenges by providing much-needed funding for research to establish or expand water reuse markets, improve water reuse facilities, or upgrade new facilities with state of the art technology.
It is expected that up to $2 million will be available for this funding opportunity. Research sponsors must provide 75 percent or more of the study costs.
Funding will be awarded in three categories. Funding group I will be for projects up to $75,000 per agreement for a research study up to 18 months; funding group II will be up to $150,000 per agreement for a research study up to 24 months; and funding group III will be up to $300,000 in federal funds for a research study that can be completed within 36 months.
State, regional, or local authorities; Indian tribes or tribal organizations; or other entities including water districts, wastewater districts, or rural water districts, will be eligible to apply for this funding opportunity. Applicants must be located within the 17 Western States or Hawaii. Applications are due by 4 p.m. Mountain Daylight Time on April 20, 2016.
Title XVI projects provide communities with a new source of clean water, while promoting water and energy efficiency and environmental stewardship. Title XVI supports the President’s “Climate Action Plan,” and the “Executive Order—Preparing the United States for the Impacts of Climate Change.”
This funding opportunity is also an important part of Reclamation’s WaterSMART Program, which supports the White House’s Water Innovation Strategy to address Water Resource Challenges and Opportunities for Water Technology Innovation. For more information about Title XVI or Reclamation’s WaterSMART program, http://visithttp://www.usbr.gov/watersmart.
Click here to read the report from the Colorado River Research Group. Here’s an excerpt:
The Colorado River is one of North America’s greatest natural assets. Flowing from “the land of snow to the land of sun,” in the words of John Wesley Powell, the river provides water and hydroelectricity to 40 million people. Parts of the river network are also superlative for their natural wonder. Grand Canyon and other national parks and monuments of the Colorado Plateau comprise the densest concentration of protected lands in the lower 48 states, and the reservoirs of the watershed are recreational playgrounds. Many of the native fish in the mainstem occur nowhere else on Earth. And the delta of the Colorado River, characterized by Aldo Leopold in the 1920s as “The Green Lagoons,” was once among the most biologically diverse places on the continent.
For many of us who live in the Southwest, the Colorado River not only provides the water and electricity necessary to meet our needs, but also provides beauty and inspiration that sustains and enriches our lives. It is therefore critical that the natural assets of the Colorado River be given equal footing with other uses in decisions about river management. But they are not. In our single‐minded effort to maximize consumptive use of the basin’s waters, we have radically altered the natural environment, leaving many components of the basin ecology on life support. Too often, environmental efforts focus on palliative measures required by laws such as the Endangered Species Act and the Clean Water Act, doing little to restore and maintain the river’s necessary ecological functions.
There are a number of large environmental mitigation programs in place across the basin: namely, the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program and the San Juan River Basin Recovery Implementation Program in the basin’s headwaters; the Glen Canyon Dam Adaptive Management Program focused on the Grand Canyon segment of the river; the Lower Colorado Multi‐Species Conservation Program focused on the highly altered segment between Hoover Dam and Yuma; and the Minute 319 binational planning and monitoring effort concerned with the dewatered delta that is primarily in Mexico. All of these environmental programs provide value in protecting specific native species, protecting native ecosystems, creating novel ecosystem mixes of native and nonnative species, or rehabilitating valued river landscapes within each program’s specific geographic area. These programs are, nevertheless, an incomplete patchwork of largely uncoordinated efforts, existing in some cases to facilitate compliance with environmental laws that might otherwise constrain users from withdrawing additional water from the river system.1 Comprehensive restoration of the entire river network requires cultivation of a basin‐scale vision and strategy for environmental management integrated within emerging strategies concerning water allocation and hydropower production.