#AnimasRiver: States, tribes release preparedness plan — The Farmington Daily Times

The orange plume flows through the Animas across the Colorado/New Mexico state line the afternoon of Aug. 7, 2015. (Photo by Melissa May, San Juan Soil and Conservation District)
The orange plume flows through the Animas across the Colorado/New Mexico state line the afternoon of Aug. 7, 2015. (Photo by Melissa May, San Juan Soil and Conservation District)

From the Farmington Daily Times (Hannah Grover):

New Mexico, Utah, Colorado, the Navajo Nation and the Southern Ute Indian Tribe released a plan Thursday to prepare for increased water flow in the Animas and San Juan rivers.

The plan addresses the monitoring of sediments left behind after the Gold King Mine spill in August. The spill released more than 3 million gallons of toxic mine waste into the Animas River. As the plume of mine waste floated down the river, it left behind heavy metals in the sediment.

Officials are concerned that the increased water flow in the rivers caused by the snow melt will stir up the sediment.

“The San Juan and Animas rivers are still contaminated from last year’s toxic waste spill, and we expect it to get worse as the snow melts and the water level rises,” New Mexico Environment Department Cabinet Secretary Ryan Flynn said in a press release. “Already, some of our cities are experiencing the effects. In Farmington, for example, there has been a substantial increase in lead found in the Animas River at times of high flows and turbidity. At those times, the city draws its drinking water from reserves instead.”

The preparedness plan calls for New Mexico and the city of Farmington to continue monitoring the river’s turbidity and examining how it relates to the levels of heavy metal. That will help the water users make decisions on use and treatment of the river water, according to the plan.

San Juan County Executive Officer Kim Carpenter said the county is working with the environment department and Farmington officials on monitoring the river. He said the county has taken samples of river water from upstream.

#ColoradoRiver: “We need to be prepared for a range of conditions…and not pray for a wet year” — Anne Castle #COriver

Lake Mead behind Hoover Dam December 2015 via Greg Hobbs.
Lake Mead behind Hoover Dam December 2015 via Greg Hobbs.

From AZCentral.com (Brandon Loomis):

The Southwest needs a new vision and technologies to shore up its diminishing water supplies instead of relying on old “security blankets” like a drought-busting winter that refills America’s two biggest reservoirs, water experts and users argued Monday.

That’s what’s been happening with water use in the Colorado River basin.

No matter how big the reservoir, “if you’re taking more out than you put in, you’ve got a problem,” former U.S. Interior Department water and science chief Anne Castle said.

Castle and other experts, including a Colorado city water director, a California water recycler and a Pinal County farmer, discussed a range of likely responses and challenges at the University of Arizona Water Resources Research Center conference…

In recent years the Colorado has given Lake Mead about 9 million acre-feet a year, while demands from downstream have averaged 9.6 million acre-feet and evaporation has claimed about 600,000 acre-feet each year…

Water recycling will increasingly be a part of the solution, and not just for watering golf courses or cooling power plants, said Fernando Paludi, associate general manager of Southern California’s West Basin Municipal Water District.

His district has invested $600 million in treatment plants allowing reuse for industrial uses, irrigation and groundwater replenishment. Since 1995 it has saved 165 billion gallons that Los Angeles otherwise would have dumped in the sea.

“We all share a water system, the mighty Colorado River,” Paludi said. “Heretofore the paradigm has been to get the water from where it is and bring it to Southern California.”

The future is about diversification and sustainability, he said…

One approach that many hope will free up water in the region is drip irrigation, a technology that delivers what a plant needs directly to its roots by pipe instead of flooding a field and watching water run off or sink into the ground. The potential for savings is huge, given that agriculture uses the majority of the Colorado River’s flows.

Drip irrigation is expensive — about $1,500 more per acre than a flood system — Pinal County farmer Dan Thelander said. Yet “the stars were in alignment” for his farm, Tempe Farming Co. near Maricopa, to install it on 1,000 of its 5,000 acres…

“We need to conserve water, which you can with drip,” Thelander said, “but the long-term outlook for water in Pinal County with the (Central Arizona Project) district is very concerning.”

CAP is the canal system delivering central Arizona’s share from the Colorado downstream of Lake Mead.

Israeli company Netafim invented drip irrigation 51 years ago, Netafim U.S. marketing director Ze’ev Barylka said, and it radically increases yields while decreasing fertilizer costs.

Yet only 4 percent of the world’s farmland uses it.

“It’s really in its infancy,” Barylka said…

Besides technological shifts, Castle said the region needs legal reform of water rights to make its management more nimble.

For instance, she said, Colorado has a water bank that would allow rights holders who don’t need to use all of their water allocation in any given year to deposit some water for sale to other users without risking loss of their full allocation in future years.

Such arrangements throughout the river basin are complicated by the legal requirement to research and prove that new water uses won’t harm other users. It’s a costly and time-consuming process that deters all but large “buy and dry” farm fallowing programs that many communities hope to avoid, Castle said.

The Southwest must adapt to climate change instead of hoping for a snowy winter in the Rockies or El Niño rains to reverse the drying, Castle said.

“We need to be prepared for a range of conditions,” she said, “and not pray for a wet year.”

Boyce water proposal still active — the Valley Courier

From the Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

Gary Boyce’s death does not mean the water project he was proposing is over.

“Gary Boyce was a partner in this project and he is dearly missed. The project, however, is moving forward,” stated Monica McCafferty, spokesperson for the Sustainable Water Resources (SWR) project.

She stated on Tuesday that SWR is continuing to meet with San Luis Valley residents and is encouraged with the positive feedback from residents.

“While the long-term plan is to eventually proceed to water court, there is no concrete timeframe for such action,” she added. “We are currently focused on continued outreach to the community and taking in their feedback.”

Boyce, a Saguache area rancher who spearheaded the SWR project in the Valley , died of cancer at age 68 earlier this month.

In a September 2014 interview, Boyce said he had not yet filed a water court application but would be moving forward in the near future. “This is not a forever process. This is something that needs to move expediently,” he said at that time.

He formed Sustainable Water Resources in 2011 with the stated goal of developing 35,000 acre feet annually from the confined aquifer in the northern part of the San Luis Valley by pooling existing water rights including some of his own. The water would be transferred from the Rio Grande Basin (the San Luis Valley) to the Platte River Basin, according to Sustainable Water Resources.

At the time SWR owned 25,000 acres of ranch lands with senior water rights and planned to purchase additional water rights.

In 2014 Boyce said he planned to set up a SLV Economic Assistance Fund of $150 million, with $50 million targeted for county governments and school districts. He said he had hoped the Rio Grande Water Conservation District would agree to help distribute the other $100 million through a global augmentation plan for the San Luis Valley that would include the water district’s Sub-District 1. However, the water district declined his offer, so Boyce said he would distribute $100 million through the company “to deal directly with those that are going to retire wells, retire farms.”

Boyce indicated that those who supported the project would be the ones who would receive SLV Economic Assistance Fund money.

“Once we file our application I think we are going to know who supports the project and who does not, who’s been helpful and who hasn’t,” he said in the 2014 interview.

He did not disclose who was backing this project but said it was all private money and did not specify the market but stated, “The market is there.”

Boyce said some of his ranches would be the first to participate with water rights in this proposal.

“I don’t see the project as I designed it, as my engineers designed it, as any threat to my ranches,” he said at that time. “If this was somebody else doing this project I would still be involved. This is the kind of project that’s going to help my neighbors and my ranching operation.”

Rio Grande Water Users Association Attorney Bill Paddock said during that group’s annual meeting this month that the water association was able to successfully restrict Boyce’s water rights from becoming the basis of a water export plan. Paddock said Boyce had filed a change of water rights application on Rito Alto and Kerber Creeks, which Paddock believed was the first step in Boyce’s export plan. The Rio Grande Waters Association and others fighting the change case were able to restrict Boyce’s water rights for “efforts to move water out of the San Luis Valley,” Paddock said.

“Those water rights are limited to use in the San Luis Valley and cannot form any basis for an out of Valley export plan,” Paddock said.

McCafferty indicated on Tuesday, however, that even without Boyce or his water, the Sustainable Water Resources project would be moving forward.

Rio Grande River Basin via the Colorado Geologic Survey
Rio Grande River Basin via the Colorado Geologic Survey

SDS: Pueblo County and #Colorado Springs are still talking 1041 permit requirements

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Pueblo County and Colorado Springs continue to negotiate over the 1041 permit for Southern Delivery System, but there has been no resolution of issues regarding stormwater control.

“We’re still engaged in negotiations,” Pueblo County Commissioner Terry Hart told The Pueblo Chieftain this week. “We have made it clear that if we are able to pound out an agreement, it will be tentative and open to public review.”

Meanwhile, Pueblo West, an SDS partner, won’t jump into the fray.

Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers earlier this month laid out a plan to apply $450 million to stormwater projects on Fountain Creek and its tributaries over the next 20 years.

Many of those projects would benefit Pueblo County as well as Colorado Springs, and Pueblo County would have a say in prioritizing the projects, Suthers said.

The proposal is an attempt to make up for Colorado Springs’ decision to abolish its stormwater enterprise in 2009, and its failure to comply with state and federal stormwater permits.

Pueblo County officials publicly were cool to Suthers’ suggestion, pointing out that negotiations on several points have been underway for nearly a year. Meanwhile, Pueblo City Council and the Pueblo Board of Water Works adopted resolutions supporting Pueblo County in negotiations.

This week, Pueblo West Metropolitan District board member Mark Carmel attempted to get the board to weigh in on the negotiations, but other members of the board declined.

Carmel said the 20-year timeline proposed by Colorado Springs is too short and Pueblo could still be at risk from flooding on Fountain Creek caused by growth to the north. His proposal was not considered by the board.

As a result, Carmel is exploring his own candidacy for Pueblo County commissioner for the principle purpose to “influence a true agreement on SDS.”

“We need leaders who will not roll over and play dead to Colorado Springs; leaders who must remain vigilant to achieve a permanent solution to flooding before new SDS water magnifies the problem,” Carmel said.

Jerry Martin, president of the Pueblo West board, said he is generally satisfied with how Colorado Springs has treated Pueblo West in SDS.

Pueblo West became part of the SDS project in 2007, agreeing to take water from it rather than directly from the Arkansas River below Pueblo Dam as a backup to its own pipeline from the dam and as a way to increase capacity of its water system. The agreement also designated Colorado Springs as the lead negotiator for SDS.

Pueblo West has used its connection to SDS twice, once last summer and the other beginning last month, as a way to get water. Agreements signed in relation to that settled issues among Pueblo West, Pueblo County and the city of Pueblo related to water issues, but not the 1041 permit with Colorado Springs.

“Colorado Springs has performed well during the disaster last summer and now,” said Martin. “We remain silent, because we’re not involved with Fountain Creek flooding. This current resolution is between Pueblo County and Colorado Springs.”

Southern Delivery System map via Colorado Springs Utilities
Southern Delivery System map via Colorado Springs Utilities

White House conference identifies the need for projects

Water infrastructure as sidewalk art
Water infrastructure as sidewalk art

From FastCoexist.com (Charles Fishman):

Water problems have been front and center recently, between the disastrous lead poisoning of Flint’s water system and the drought that has now plagued California for half a decade. So the water community was quietly hoping the first-ever White House Water Summit on March 22 might be something like, say, the Olympic diving competition. High profile. Attention-grabbing, even if you don’t normally pay attention. With a few truly astonishing performances that might go viral.

It was an expectation built in part by weeks of small-group meetings and preparation by the White House, that water problems would, for a day, take center stage in the national policy discussions—and that water might then join other issues, like energy and jobs, in getting much more routine attention.

Instead, the summit was more like a July afternoon at the local community pool—a few too many people crowded into the water for anyone to really stand out. At a preliminary event in December, the White House Roundtable on Water, administration officials had suggested they might ultimately announce a bold national stretch goal related to water: to cut total U.S. water use by 33% from current levels, for instance; or push to cut the cost of desalination by 75%, so desalinated water had what the White House called “pipe parity,” no more expensive than water from a reservoir, well, or river.

In fact, at the summit, water conservation wasn’t even a topic of any of the dozen sections. Desalination, if it came up at all, was mentioned only in passing.

The summit, instead, was a quick tour across the wide horizon of water issues: replacing outdated pipes in cities, providing resilience to water utilities (and also farmers) in the face of climate change, and paying for the infrastructure work that needs to be done. Thirty-one people spoke, about 14 topics, in the course of three-and-a-half hours. Everyone got about seven minutes.

Although the summit had a little gloss of a big event—everyone got to go home with a box of M&Ms or Hershey kisses signed in gold by Barack Obama—in fact it was little different than a lot of water innovation meetings held around the country. Undoubtedly valuable, effective in connecting people from different water communities who don’t see each other that often, but not game-changing for water issues, not even game-changing for the people and projects spotlighted.

Aspinall Unit operations update: Gunnison Tunnel deliveries to start March 28

Gunnison Tunnel via the National Park Service
Gunnison Tunnel via the National Park Service

From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

Releases from Crystal Dam will be increased from 600 cfs to 700 cfs on Monday, March 28th. Irrigation diversions to the Gunnison Tunnel will begin on Monday, March 28th. The latest runoff forecast is now at 79% of average. The current content of Blue Mesa Reservoir is 563,000 acre-feet which is 68% full.

Flows in the lower Gunnison River are currently above the baseflow target of 1050 cfs. River flows are expected to stay above the baseflow target for the foreseeable future.

Pursuant to the Aspinall Unit Operations Record of Decision (ROD), the baseflow target in the lower Gunnison River, as measured at the Whitewater gage, is 1050 cfs for March and April.

Currently, there are no diversions into the Gunnison Tunnel and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon are around 600 cfs. After this release change Gunnison Tunnel diversions will be at 200 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon should be around 500 cfs. Current flow information is obtained from provisional data that may undergo revision subsequent to review.

The Ag Water NetWORK is conducting a survey of ag water right holders

From the Partners for Western Conservation website:

The Ag Water NetWORK is conducting a survey of ag water right holders to better understand perceptions, interests and concerns related to ag water rights and ag water leasing.

The survey is designed to get a better understanding of how agriculture water right users feel about leasing agricultural water for other uses. The survey represents a collaborative effort between Colorado agricultural and conservation organizations. Irrigated agriculture is essential to keeping a viable, sustainable agricultural industry in Colorado. Agriculture controls 86% of the water in Colorado, and it is crucial that agricultural producers make their preferences and concerns known as it relates to ag water leasing.

The results of the survey will be published. No information will be released that can enable identification of a specific survey respondent. If you have questions about ag water leasing or would like to provide input via a one-on-one interview, please contact Phil Brink, CCA Ag Water Network Consulting Coordinator at 303-475-3453 or phil@brinkinc.biz.

Click here to fill out the survey.

Flood irrigation -- photo via the CSU Water Center
Flood irrigation — photo via the CSU Water Center

Town’s drinking water is safe, high quality — The Estes Park Trail-Gazette

Estes Park
Estes Park

From The Estes Park Trail-Gazette (David Persons):

If you are concerned about lead in your water, you may wish to have your water tested. When your water has been sitting for several hours, you can minimize the potential for lead exposure by flushing your tap for 30 seconds to 2 minutes before using water for drinking or cooking.

Additional information on lead in drinking water, testing methods, and steps you can take to minimize exposure is available from the Safe Drinking Water Hotline at 800.426.4791 or at http://www.epa.gov/safewater/lead.

For more information about Estes Park’s water, go online to http://www.colorado.gov/pacific/townofestespark/consumerconfidencereport.

The water that Estes Park residents drink is among the cleanest, highest quality water in the state, according to town officials.

Recent testing seems to confirm that.

That’s comforting to know since a regional newspaper story last Sunday – citing test results of high levels of lead found in drinking water at four sites in the Estes Valley – had many people around town wondering what might be coming out of their tap.

“We’re very proud to remind the community that the town works around-the-clock to provide high-quality water to our customers,” said Estes Park Town Administrator Frank Lancaster. “We continually surpass strict federal and state standards to provide the very best drinking water possible.”


So what’s being done to ensure that the town’s drinking water is clean and rid of contaminants like lead?

According to Estes Park Public Information Officer Kate Rusch and Estes Park Laboratory and Water Quality Supervisor Diana Beehler, the town, as a water utility, is required by federal law to have a corrosion control program to minimize lead in drinking water and is required to do annual testing.

The corrosion control program began in the late 1980s and involves adding a chemical which coats pipes and plumbing fixtures to prevent water from corroding the metals. This program includes on-going monitoring of the treatment chemicals, the distribution system and households in our community to ensure that the corrosion control is effective.

The most recent annual testing of town drinking water occurred in 2015. The town sampled 23 homes that were built between 1982 and 1986. Homes were tested, instead of businesses, because lead poisoning is a chronic condition that occurs over long periods of time, and most people are drinking water from their homes daily.

Federal requirements mandate that the town reports the value at the 90th percentile, which was 2.3 parts per billion (ppb) of lead. The highest value in all the homes tested in 2015 was 6.5 ppb, Rusch and Beehler said. On the other hand, 14 of the 23 homes sampled were below the detection limit of 1 ppb.

The federal action level for lead is 15 ppb.

The local samples were taken after the water sat undisturbed in the plumbing for at least six hours to give the water an opportunity to react — allowing a “worst case” scenario for our testing, they said.

So, how safe are the town’s current and older water lines and pipes?

“The town’s main distribution lines are made of ductile iron, cast iron and galvanized steel, which are not a concern when it comes to lead,” Rusch and Beehler said. “The town has no lead main lines and is unaware of any lead service lines on private property. In addition, our corrosion control program is designed to coat the pipes and lead solder to reduce the amount of lead, anywhere in the system that is able to leach into the water.”

If concerned about the possibility of lead in drinking water, homeowners or business owners can test and mitigate the concerns themselves, Rusch and Beehler say.

A licensed plumber can inspect fixtures to determine if any lead sources are present, and a state-approved laboratory can test private water services to determine if lead is present in the water. When the levels are 15 ppb or higher, the EPA recommends taking precautions like flushing the tap for 15-20 seconds, using only cold water for drinking and cooking, and considering purchasing bottled water or a water filter. Flushing the tap is the easiest and most cost effective way to reduce lead if the customer is concerned.

While the town’s water and water system is closely monitored for quality, even the four sites cited by the Fort Collins Coloradoan in its Sunday story — the YMCA of the Rockies, Covenant Heights Camp and Retreat, Prospect Mountain Water Company, and Ravencrest Chalet — have each taken measures to ensure the quality of their drinking water is up to the levels required by state and federal agencies.

According to documents that the Coloradoan was able to obtain, each of those sites had test results that equaled or exceeded the federal action level of 15ppb in recent years.

Wwater samples tested at the YMCA of the Rockies, 2515 Tunnel Road, were found to have exceeded 15ppb four times since 2012, the Coloradoan reported. Those tests involved 10-60 samples taken around the property. The Coloradoan also reported that at least one sample each year since 2012 has tested at or above 15ppb.

YMCA of the Rockies collects water from the Wind River Stream diversion, not the Town of Estes Park. It then disinfects the water, and distributes it to guests and staff.

Martha Sortland, the Communications Director at the YMCA of the Rockies, told the Coloradoan that she believed the elevated levels of lead in drinking water were caused by water left in pipes too long.

When contacted on Wednesday, Sortland told the Trail-Gazette that providing safe drinking water for guests was a high priority, one that the business takes seriously. She added that a lot of time and money is invested in the operation of the water system to ensure water quality.

“The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment provides regulations for safe drinking water,” Sortland said. “Our water falls within those regulations and always has.

“We are committed to adhering to Colorado state water regulations and we will continue to do so unequivocally.

“We have five full-time certified water treatment operators on staff at Estes Park Center, and we have partnered with the experts at JVA Consulting, an independent, third party contractor with expert credentials and experience in water quality management.”

The Coloradoan also reported that lead in drinking water at the Covenant Heights Camp and Retreat, 7400 Colorado Highway 7, tested 117ppb and 143 ppb in 2015, the highest levels of lead in Colorado drinking water recorded since at least 2012.

The high lead levels were attributed to lead soldering in staff cabins. Retreat officials told the Coloradoan that they quickly relocated staffers who had been in the cabins and have retrofitted the water pipes with PEX plastic piping.

Prospect Mountain Water Company (PMWC), also mentioned in the Coloradoan story, is a private community water system that serves about 124 residents.

The company has struggled for years and is now in bankruptcy. It has had lead levels in its drinking water that ranged from 91 ppb (in 2012) to 28 ppb (in 2014) to 15 ppb (in 2015).

Lead pipes and lead soldering are being blamed for the high lead levels.

The water company recently signed a temporary intergovernmental agreement (IGA) with the Town of Estes Park to provide water and run the water system until a new company can be contracted.

Rusch and Beehler said upgrades to the PMWC water system are being planned. They include distribution lines, water tanks and water pumps. The cost of these upgrades will be absorbed by fees paid by the PMWC customers.

In addition, Rusch and Beehler point out that PMWC lead tests have vastly improved since the Town of Estes Park began providing treated water including corrosion control.

Ravencrest Chalet, a bible school located 501 Pole Hill Road, had a high lead test of 16 ppb in 2013. However, that dropped to 4ppb in 2015.

Officials at Ravencrest could not be reached for comment to explain what measures they took to lower their lead level.