2016 #coleg: #COWaterPlan finally shows signs of progress — The #Colorado Independent

Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013
Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013

From The Colorado Independent (Marianne Goodland):

Since John Hickenlooper’s administration finalized Colorado’s first-ever statewide water plan in November, watchdogs have been wondering when — and if — state officials might start putting the document into action.

Some had feared the issue, which is likely to irk at least some of the state’s many competing water interests, might be put off until after the November election. But, alas, there’s at least some forward movement this election year.

This week, state lawmakers are taking a first look at an annual water projects bill that includes at least three items that might trigger some water planning momentum.

The largest? A $5 million yearly transfer to the Colorado Water Conservation Board construction fund “to implement the state water plan.” That money would come from a severance tax “perpetual base” account that had $350 million in the bank as of June.

But what would that $5 million be spent on? The measure, Senate Bill 16-174, doesn’t exactly say, other than it could be “studies, programs or projects.”
Rep. Ed Vigil of Fort Garland, the Democratic chair of the House Agriculture, Livestock and Natural Resources Committee, is the House sponsor on the bill, which was introduced Monday. Asked Tuesday what the state would get for taxpayers’ $5 million investment, he said that was a question he intends to ask the Water Board when the bill hits his committee.

The Water Board, which is part of the state’s Department of Natural Resources, is responsible for implementing the water plan — a pet plan of Hickenlooper, who has said that warding against a massive, mid-century water shortage is a key goal of his second term.

The state water plan, finalized November after two years and more than 24,000 public comments from throughout the state, lacks specifics on what legislation should be proposed or even which specific projects would help Colorado solve a looming water shortage of some one-million acre-feet by 2050.

An acre-foot of water is the amount of water it would take to cover Sports Authority field at Mile High from endzone to endzone with one foot of water. A family of four uses about one acre-foot of water per year, or about 326,000 gallons, according to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

“It’s a step in the right direction, but there’s still not much there in there,” water lawyer Peter Nichols, one of Hickenlooper’s water appointees, told The Colorado Independent as the water plan was being drafted last summer. “There are a lot of platitudes and clichés and nice words like ‘foster,’ ‘develop,’ ‘encourage,’ and ‘coordinate’ in this draft. But those aren’t action words. Those words won’t carry us. They’re not going to meet our water needs for 2050.”

This week’s water projects bill does propose some specifics — albeit relatively small ones in the $20 billion context of the statewide water plan’s projected price tag.

One provision in the measure seeks $200,000 from the Conservation Board’s construction fund to study underground storage, such as refilling aquifers, “along the front range [sic].” That provision matches up neatly with a bill awaiting action from the House Appropriations Committee.

House Bill 16-1256, sponsored by Rep. J. Paul Brown of Ignacio, got a glowing vote of support from the House Agriculture Committee last month. Brown’s bill would task the water conservation board with studying storage possibilities along the South Platte River between Greeley and Julesburg. But if that measure fails to survive the full House, the study could still move forward under the projects bill being proposed this week.

The second specific item tied to the water plan is $1 million to update the Statewide Water Supply Initiative, also known as SWSI (pronounced SWA-sea). That 2010 study, commissioned by the Conservation Board, identified the one million acre-foot water shortage that became the driving force behind creating the state water plan.

But many believe the SWSI figure is too low, perhaps by as much as another one million acre-feet. During the water plan development process, officials on the Conservation Board stated the SWSI study would be updated in the next year or two to more accurately estimate the water shortage Coloradans will face in the future.
The bill is on the calendar for its first hearing in the Senate Agriculture, Natural Resources and Energy Committee on Thursday.

The time to address water planning is before the reservoir run dry.

When the ground shifted under the hooves of #Colorado’s water buffaloes — The Mountain Town News

From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

During the next few years, two major installations will take shape in Denver that will seek to inform urban development of the future, including the use of water.

Along I-25, jut southwest of downtown, Denver Water has already started redeveloping its administrative campus. Most of the buildings there are more than 50 years old, but the water agency also sees it as an opportunity with the $195 million redevelopment to demonstrate the technology and concepts of the future.

Jim Lochhead -- photo via Westword (Alan Prendergast)
Jim Lochhead — photo via Westword (Alan Prendergast)

With all that it has planned said Jim Lochhead, the chief executive of Denver Water, the agency thinks it can reduce the amount of water needed for the campus by 50 percent. The agency, he said, is embracing “total reuse.”

The other project to keep an eye on within Denver is at the Coliseum and Western Stock Show complex along I-70 north of downtown Denver. With state backing, the aging complex will be redeveloped by Denver in concert with Colorado State University using cutting-edge building technologies but also minimal water uses.

Denver and the West have entered a new era that recognizes limits. Lochhead, in a recent presentation at the Rocky Mountain Land Use Institute. During the 25 years of the conference there has been an “extraordinary remarkable transition in the paradigm of water,” he said.

In the first half of the 20th century, water developers, commonly called “water buffaloes,” encountered little opposition to their work. But after World War II, they “really ran into this new world that they didn’t understand,” said Lochhead.

The South Platte River typically all but vanishes as it passes through Denver’s industrial neighborhood north of downtown, downstream of the Burlington Ditch diversion, near the Cherokee power plant. Photo/Allen Best
The South Platte River typically all but vanishes as it passes through Denver’s industrial neighborhood north of downtown, downstream of the Burlington Ditch diversion, near the Cherokee power plant. Photo/Allen Best

The buffaloes understood water development in ways that were both monolithic and linear. Major cities and other agencies developed water, and they just ran over the opposition. Their development was linear, in that they just expected to do one more project after another. Their attitude, he said, was “if we run out of water, we’ll just get more.”

Lochhead identified a pivotal change in the 1950s, when a proposal to dam the Yampa River at Echo Park in northwest Colorado was fought by environmental groups and conservationists such as Wallace Stegner.

“They really didn’t see the first signs of the world shifting from under them as the Sierra Club was able to defeat construction of the dam in Echo Park,” he said. The water buffaloes didn’t see what was coming as Congress adopted the Wilderness Act and then a raft of environmental legislation. They didn’t see it when Jimmy Carter issued his “hit list” of federally funded reclamation projects in 1977, which effectively became the end of the era of dam building.


In Colorado, according to Lochhead, the pivot came in the early 1990s, when Two Forks Dam was defeated. It was a stern rebuke to the thinking of Colorado’s water developers, who believed if “just only they could get one more big water project.”

Denver, in the 21st century, has been part of the new wave of thinking. This has been evident most clearly in the plans to enlarge Gross Reservoir, southwest of Boulder. The increased water will come from stepped-up diversions from across the Continental Divide, in the Fraser and Williams Fork valleys, at the head of the Colorado River.

At first glance, this looks like business as usual. But this project has been different. Nobody questioned Denver’s right to the water under Colorado water law. But Denver at the outset admitted that there were other considerations, especially when the streams were already nearly tapped out. With the increased diversions, up to 80 percent of the flows of the Fraser River will be diverted.

West portal Moffat Water Tunnel
West portal Moffat Water Tunnel

The plan worked out after lengthy negotiations between Denver Water representatives and those from Grand County and the Western Slope is complex. What is pertinent is that some of the major environmental groups, most notably Trout Unlimited, endorsed the settlement. And here’s a key principle:

When diversions occur will matter equally, or even more so, than how much is diverted.

Lochhead also pointed to the need for partnerships with irrigators downstream on the South Platte River. Denver has pledged to step up the reuse of the water it imports from the Western Slope, and it is entitled, by law, to use that water to extinction. Using the water to extinction, however, means less water for those downstream.

“We will have to have partnerships in how we deal with those impacts,” said Lochhead.

Also speaking on the same panel at the Rocky Mountain Land Use institute was Lawrence McDonnell, an adjunct professor of water law at the University of Colorado. The broad change in the West in the last quarter-century has been a small shift of water from agricultural produce to municipal uses, to accommodate rapid population growth. In the eight states, population grew 60 percent from 1990 to 2010, with most of that growth occurring on urban areas.

“Leadership has to come from cities,” he said, and it has. Growth has occurred “in ways that often resulted in far less per-capita water use.”

Dolores River: Southwestern Water files lawsuit over spring minimum flows

Dolores River watershed
Dolores River watershed

From the Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga):

In September, the Colorado Water Conservation Board agreed to establish minimum in-stream flows up to 900 cubic-feet per second in spring on the Dolores River between the confluence of the San Miguel River and Gateway.

The new flow standards on the 34-mile stretch are intended to help river health, including three species of native fish: the flannelmouth sucker, bluehead sucker and roundtail chub.

Local water boards objected to the new standard, arguing that the flows were too high and could not be met in drought conditions. In addition, there was fear that water stored in the upstream McPhee Reservoir could be used to meet the standard.

But the CWCB denied their appeal, and the minimum flow plan for the Lower Dolores River was approved. In December, SWCD responded by filing a lawsuit in Colorado’s Division 4 water court in Montrose to try and overturn or modify the flow allocation.

Their lawsuit claims CWCB’s action on the Lower Dolores River exceeds the ISF’s statutory standard of “minimum stream flows to preserve the natural environment” and that it does not protect “present uses” of the water.

It further states that the new in-stream flow is inconsistent with CWCB’s statutory responsibility to develop water for beneficial and future use for state residents, and that the new standard is inconsistent with CWCB’s appropriation of an in-stream flow regime on the San Miguel River.

John Porter, SWCD board president, says it’s time to rethink the in-stream flow program so that some of it is reserved for future growth.

“A small amount, 1 to 2 percent of average in-stream flows, should be held by the CWCB for future domestic uses,” he said during a meeting with the Montezuma County commissioners. “We want to get people talking about the idea.”

The so-called “carve out” concept suggests tapping in-stream flow allocations to provide a more accessible water supply for unforeseen small development projects.

In defending the new Dolores River in-stream flows, CWCB was joined in the lawsuit by Western Resource Advocates, Conservation Colorado, and San Juan Citizen’s Alliance…

The new in-stream flows for Lower Dolores River begin below the San Miguel confluence are as follows: minimum flows of 200 cfs from March 16 to April 14; 900 cfs from April 15 to June 14; 400 cfs from June 15 to July 15; 200 cfs from July 16 to Aug. 14; and 100 cfs from Aug. 15 to March 15.

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

Upper Colorado River Basin month to date precipitation for March 2016 through the 27th.
Upper Colorado River Basin month to date precipitation for March 2016 through the 27th.

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

#Snowpack news: Last week’s storminess boosts N. #Colorado basins

Westwide SNOTEL map March 29, 2016 via the NRCS.
Westwide SNOTEL map March 29, 2016 via the NRCS.

From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

Federal snow survey data show snowpack at 96 percent of the median statewide, with most mountain areas above average and less in southern parts of the state.

Stream flows at 80 percent of the 115 monitors registered normal or higher, including the Colorado River and headwaters west of the Continental Divide.

Mountain snowpack serves as slow-release water storage, closely watched by irrigators and municipal supply managers, because it affects the amount of water that will end up in streams, rivers, reservoirs and irrigation canals. Water in mountain snowpack normally peaks in April.

“We know we were getting nervous and uneasy a couple of weeks ago because of the lack of March snow. It looked as if we were losing snowpack. But the last two weeks, we reverted to colder and stormier weather, and we are pretty much good for this time of year,” state climatologist Nolan Doesken said.

“You put it all together, we are looking pretty good into July on water supply. Municipal water supplies are in great shape. Agricultural supplies may need a little more bolstering yet.”

At a drought forecast meeting Tuesday, state and federal officials noted that soil in southeastern parts of Colorado remains dry, registering on federal drought monitors.

Weather forecasters were anticipating temperature increases over the next two weeks, accelerating snow melting and runoff, along with significant precipitation.

Recent storms in the San Juan Mountains of southwestern Colorado were stirring up reddish dust, which absorbs sunlight when deposited on mountain snowfields.

Dust on snowfields could accelerate snow melting in the coming weeks, causing melting up to 50 percent faster, said Karl Wetlaufer, assistant Colorado snow survey supervisor for the federal Natural Resources Conservation Service.

“This can have a notable effect. It absorbs a lot more sun, and the snow melts faster. That causes more of a peak in water runoff. With that faster runoff, it could possibly increase the chances of flooding.”

From CBS Denver (Justin McHeffey):

All watersheds in Northern Colorado are in good shape. The North Platte is the highest with 108 percent of average, the Yampa and White River basin have 102 percent, and the Colorado River remains at a strong 105 percent.

Southern Colorado hasn’t benefited from as much snowfall recently and is due for a storm. The San Miguel, Dolores, Animas, and San Juan River basins have fallen to 81 percent. There should be some relief coming to the southwest this week with mountain snow in the forecast.

Earlier this month, snowmelt was accelerated by a stretch of warm and dry conditions.

Since the weather has become more active, we’ve reversed this trend in the South Platte basin and snowpack is now moving in the right direction. Looking at the graph, notice how the purple line is now on the left side of the red line — this means the amount of snow on the ground is greater than average. The surrounding lines represent previous years’ moisture and how they compare to a typical season. The yellow line is from the year 2014 when the South Platte had over 120 percent of average snow.

Last week’s storm broke Denver’s snowfall record for March 23 — Denver International Airport measured 13.1 inches. The snow that fell was particularly heavy and wet. In Boulder, the snow reached a 7 to 1 ratio. In other words, 7 parts snow to 1 part water — just about as moisture-packed as we see in Colorado.

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Kaitlin Durbin):

Concerns about water supply heading into Colorado’s dry season were alleviated in parts of the state by last week’s two-punch snowstorm.

In a matter of days, snowpack went from “Are we going to have enough?” to normal or better levels in northern Colorado, according to Larry Walrod, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Pueblo. The southern half still has reason to worry, he said.

The Pikes Peak region looked promising based on levels of water in snowpack calculated at Glen Cove.

On March 20, three days ahead of the first snowstorm, Glen Cove reported 4.6 inches of water in the snowpack. The average for that time of year is 5.6 inches, Walrod said.

By March 29, the numbers had jumped to 7.2 inches, Walrod said.

That’s important, because mountain snowpack trickles down to city supplies during the runoff season.

“We made some ground in a couple of storms,” Walrod said. “We want to keep those numbers near average. That’s what our system is built on.”

Other areas north of Highway 50 also showed an increase.

Fremont Pass was 4 percent above average with 15.5 inches of water in the snowpack. The median for this time of year is 14.9 inches, Walrod said.

South of Highway 50 has not been as lucky.

Reports at the Apishapa Snotel site, north of Trinidad, showed 0 inches of water in snowpack as of March 20. Following storms later that week, counts were only up to 0.4 inches, Walrod said. The average for this time of the year is 5.9 inches, he said.

The Whiskey Creek Snotel site west of Trinidad, in the Sangre De Cristo Mountains, wasn’t faring better, Walrod said. The area gained 0.3 inches of potential snowmelt following the storm, leaving their total 4.3 inches well below the 10.8 inches expected this time of year, he said.

Woodland Park: Fountain Creek sewage spill

Fountain Creek Watershed
Fountain Creek Watershed

From KOAA.com (Greg Dingrando):

The spill was caused by some rags and roots that clogged a utility line on the south side of Woodland Park, according to utility workers. When the line became clogged, sewage shot up out of a manhole and flowed into the nearby creek.

The original gallon estimate on the spill was 400,000 gallons. But as the investigation went on, the number jumped to about 660,000.

“For one day of waste water treatment, our in-flow at the treatment plant is a little less than 600,000 gallons. So this is more than a day’s worth,” Woodland Park Utilities director Kip Wiley said.

An entire day’s worth of Woodland Park sewage in Fountain Creek could have been worse – Wiley said they dodged a bullet because the the creek was dry.

“Once it got into the creek it dissipated into the soil to where there was no running off down the creek. It wasn’t like there was other water carrying it down the creek. It simply disappeared into the soil,” Wiley said.

Colorado Springs Utilities immediately opened overflow pits on the south side to separate any sewage that made it through.

“Not something we had to do, but we felt in addition to protecting our own community it was probably a good idea to protect our downstream neighbors. That’s very important to us and it’s why we built it in the first place,” said Steve Berry with Colorado Springs Utilities.

El Paso County Public Health immediately took water samples and warned residents to stay away from the creek.

“Most folks are not recreating in Fountain Creek, but we encourage pets and people to stay out of the creek until after testing and we get a better assessment of the impact to Fountain Creek,” said Tom Gonzales with El Paso County Public Health Department.

Meanwhile, back in Woodland Park, the clog was fixed right away, but clean up took a little longer.

“We cleaned up the surrounding area around the manhole. Then cleaned up any signs of visible debris within the creek which was minimal,” said Wiley.

Woodland Park Utilities also did some testing of their own on parts of the creek that did have water and people’s well water who live along the creek. They hope to have results in the next couple days.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

About 650,000 gallons of sewage that spilled into Fountain Creek Monday at Woodland Park likely won’t have any impact on Pueblo.

That’s because Fountain Creek at that point, 15 miles northwest of Colorado Springs, is typically dry, and the liquid dissipated into the soil within about 300 yards of the spill, said Kip Wiley, Woodland Park utilities director.

“Fountain Creek is dry at that point, so it didn’t make it very far, maybe 200-300 yards,” Wiley said.
A 12-inch sewer line clogged by rags and roots discharged untreated sewage from a manhole for several hours, Wiley said.

Staff noticed that the city’s south side lift station was not receiving its expected volume at about 10 a.m. Monday. The manhole, in a field, was located at about 1:30 p.m., and the blockage removed about an hour later, Wiley said.

The initial report to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment indicated the flow of water to Fountain Creek was under snow at the time.

“We experience blockages from time to time,” Wiley said.

The area was treated, local residents advised and governments downstream advised, according to City Manager David Buttery.

Woodland Park sits on a divide and discharges treated sewage into the South Platte River basin, rather than the Arkansas River basin. However, the blockage occurred on the Arkansas River side, causing it to flow into Fountain Creek.