At the risk of sounding like a broken record, March set another heat record for the globe. As Earth continues to warm and is influenced by phenomena such as El Niño, global temperature records are piling up.
For 2016 year to date (January-March), the average temperature for the globe was 2.07 degrees F above the 20th-century average, according to scientists from NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information. This was the highest temperature for this period in the 1880–2016 record, surpassing the previous record set in 2015 by 0.50 degrees F. The globally averaged sea surface temperature for the year to date was also highest on record, surpassing the same period in 1998 by 0.42 degrees F, the last time a similar strength El Niño occurred.
For March, the average temperature for the globe was 2.20 degrees F above the 20th century average. This was not only the highest for the month of March in the 1880-2016 record, but also the highest monthly temperature departure among all months on record, surpassing the previous all-time record set last month by 0.02 degrees F. March also marked the 11th consecutive month a monthly global temperature record has been broken, and is the longest such streak in NOAA’s 137-year climate record.
The Arctic was also impacted by record global heat. Arctic sea ice reached its maximum extent for the year at 5.61 million square miles March 24, the lowest annual maximum extent in the satellite record. This was 431,000 square miles below average and 5,000 square miles below the previous record from 2015.
More: Find NOAA’s reports and download images by visiting the NCEI website.
Recently, I was fortunate enough to moderate a panel at the American Bar Association’s 34th annual Water Law Conference, which took place in Austin, Texas. The panelists were fantastic: Pat Mulroy, the former General Manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority who now holds a number of positions, including Senior Fellow with the UNLV Boyd School of Law and Brookings Institution; Robert Puente, the President and CEO of the San Antonio Water System; and Vail Thorne, Senior Environmental Health & Safety Counsel with Coca-Cola. This week’s podcast is the Q&A session from that conference – a big thanks to the ABA and to each panelist for allowing the session to be recorded and released as a podcast. Listen in for terrific insights from these tremendous panelists.
In this session, you’ll learn about:
The importance of non-revenue water as a conservation measure
Water conservation and its use as a tool for system growth
Challenges faced by utilities as a result of conservation
How companies use conservation to further their social license to operate
How technology affects water conservation
Governance and a common problem often faced by utilities in sustaining their business model
Challenges utilities face when implementing green infrastructure
The importance of education when implementing a water conservation program
LOVELAND – Mike King, the new director of planning for Denver Water, said at a recent meeting that beyond additional transmountain diversions through the Moffatt Tunnel into an expanded Gross Reservoir near Boulder, Denver Water doesn’t have other Western Slope projects on its radar.
King served as executive director of Colorado’s Department of Natural Resources from 2010 until January of this year, when he took the planning director job with Denver Water.
After speaking to a luncheon crowd of close to 200 at the Northern Water Conservancy District’s spring water users meeting in Loveland on April 13, King was asked from the audience “How much more water does Denver Water need from the Western Slope?”
“I think if we get Gross Reservoir approved, the answer is for the foreseeable future, you know, we need to do that first,” King said.
King is a native of Montrose, son of a water attorney, and has a journalism degree from CU Boulder, a law degree from the University of Denver, a master’s in public administration from CU Denver and 23 years of state government experience.
“And I can tell you that the reality is, whether it is from a permitting perspective or a regulatory perspective, the West Slope is going to be a very difficult place,” King continued. “If there is water available, it is going to be a last resort. And I so think that the answer is, that won’t be on our radar.”
Denver Water is seeking federal approval to raise the dam that forms Gross Reservoir, in the mountains west of Boulder, by 131 feet. That would store an additional 77,000 acre-feet of water and bring the reservoir capacity to 118,811 acre-feet. Ruedi Reservoir, by comparison, holds 102,373 acre-feet.
The $360 million project would provide 18,000 acre-feet of firm yield to Denver Water’s system and result in an additional 15,000 acre-feet of water being diverted from the West Slope each year. On average, Denver Water’s 1.3 million customers use about 125,000 acre-feet of West Slope water each year.
The water to fill an expanded Gross Reservoir would mainly come from tributaries of the Fraser and Williams Fork rivers, via the Moffat Tunnel, near Winter Park.
Beyond the Gross Reservoir project, King explained that any future Denver Water projects on the West Slope would need to fit within the confines of the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement, signed by Denver Water and 17 West Slope entities in 2013.
The CRCA, says that “if there is more water, it only comes after the West Slope says they agree with it and it makes sense,” King said. “That sets the bar so incredibly high and gives them the ultimate ability to say, ‘This is good for the West Slope.’
“And so I just don’t think Denver Water is going to be looking to the West Slope,” King continued. “I think anybody who manages natural resources, and water in particular, will never say ‘never’ to anything, but I think it is certainly not on our radar.”
Not on Denver Water’s radar, perhaps, but it is worth noting that Denver Water is the only major Front Range water provider to have signed the cooperative agreement with the West Slope.
When asked what he thought of King’s remarks about West Slope water, Eric Kuhn, the general manager of the Colorado River District said he thought the comments reflect “the concept that if Denver takes more water from the West Slope it could undermine the security/reliability of what they already take.”
Kuhn’s comment relates to the possibility that if Denver Water diverts too much water from the Western Slope, it could help trigger a compact call from the lower basin states, which could pinch Denver’s transmountain supply of water.
Editor’s note: Above is a recording of Mike King, the director of planning for Denver Water, speaking after lunch in front of about 200 people at Northern Water’s spring water users meeting, a public meeting held at The Ranch event center in Loveland on Wednesday, April 13, 2016. The recording, made by Aspen Journalism, begins shortly after King had begun his remarks. It is 26:34 in length. At 8:20, King discusses the development of the Colorado Water Plan. At 22:40, King answers a question about the governor’s endorsement of the Windy Gap project and another phrased as “How much more water does Denver Water need from the Western Slope?”)
A buoyant crowd
Earlier in the meeting engineers from Northern Water — which supplies water to cities and farms from Broomfield to Fort Collins — told the mix of water providers and water users from northeastern Colorado that they could expect an average spring runoff this year, both from the South Platte and the Colorado Rivers.
They were also told that Northern Water was making progress on its two biggest projects: the Windy Gap Firming Project, which includes construction of Chimney Hollow Reservoir near Berthoud; and NISP, the Northern Integrated Supply Project.
NISP includes two new reservoirs, Glade and Galeton, to be filled with East Slope water from the Cache La Poudre River, which runs through Fort Collins and into the South Platte River.
Just before lunch, John Stulp, the special policy advisor on water to Gov. John Hickenlooper, read a surprise letter from the governor endorsing the Windy Gap project, which would divert an additional 9,000 acre-feet of water each year, on average, from the upper Colorado River and send it through a tunnel toward Chimney Hollow.
Windy Gap is part of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project, which diverts on average 260,000 acre-feet a year from the Western Slope.
The Windy Gap project does include environmental mitigation measures for the sake of the Colorado River, and has approval from the required state agencies and Grand County, but it still needs a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
A political risk
After lunch, King shared some insights from his old job as head of the state’s department of natural resources.
“I think it’s important that you understand what the development of the state water plan looked like from the governor’s perspective and the state’s perspective,” King told his audience.
As head of DNR, King had oversight over the Colorado Water Conservation Board, which was specifically tasked by the governor in late 2013 to produce the state’s first-ever water plan, and to do so in just two years.
King said that he, Stulp and the governor knew that a water plan in Colorado could be “the place where political careers went to die.”
“So the thing we had to make sure that came out of this, knowing that we weren’t going to solve the state’s water issues in two years, was that we had to do this in a manner that politically, this was viewed as a big win, and that future governors and future elected officials would say, ‘We need to do this again and we need to continue this discussion,’” King said.
“Not because the governor needed a political win,” King added, “but because to have the next stage of the water plan, to have the discussion in five years, you can’t have an albatross around this, and I think we were able to do that, and so we’re very proud of that.
“If we had a political mushroom cloud, no one would have ever touched the Colorado Water Plan again,” King continued. “That meant we aimed a little bit lower than maybe we would have liked, and I’ve gotten this at Denver Water, talking about lost opportunities in the Colorado Water Plan. Maybe we did aim just a little bit lower than we should have.”
King said the state was not able to “reconcile the inherent conflicts” in the various basin implementation plans, or BIPs, that were put together by regional basin roundtables as part of the water planning process.
And he acknowledged that the plan has been criticized for not including a specific list of water projects supported by the state, and for reading more like a statement of problems and values than a working plan.
“One of things that has been driven home to me time and time again in the two months that I’ve been at Denver Water is that planning is not something you do every five or six years,” King said. “Planning is a continuous process.”
King also said that there were some “tremendous successes” in the water plan, including the basin implantation plans, or BIPs, even though they sometimes conflicted.
“We got BIPs from every single basin,” King said. “The basins turned over their cards and said ‘This is what we need.’ So now we have a major step forward.”
Other plan elements
King said other successes in the Colorado Water Plan include the stated goal of conserving 400,000 acre-feet of water by 2050 and a nod to changing land use planning in Colorado.
King said tying land use to water availability “was something we never discussed in Colorado because it infringed on local control and it was just kind of a boogieman in the room.”
But he pointed out that “the vast majority of the basin implementation plans said, expressly, ‘We need to have this discussion’ and ‘We need to start tying land use to water availability,’” King said. “That’s a good thing. That’s a major step forward.”
When it comes to land use and Denver Water, King said driving down the per capita use remained a high priority and that if Denver proper grows, it is going to grow up through taller buildings, not by sprawling outward.
King also said Denver Water was working to manage, and plan for, the already apparent effects of climate change, especially as spring runoff is now coming earlier than it used to.
“We know that the flows are coming earlier, we know that the runoff is coming earlier,” King said, noting that reality is causing Denver Water to plan for different scenarios and ask questions about storage and late summer deliveries of water.
“For us, the most immediate thing is, is that we know it’s getting warmer,” King said. “In the last 20 years we’ve seen that, the way the [run offs] are coming earlier. We know we’ve had catastrophic events that are incredibly difficult for us to manage. And so we’re trying to work through that.”
Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism, the Aspen Daily News and Coyote Gulch are collaborating on coverage of rivers and water. The Daily News published this story on Wednesday, April 20, 2016.
The Longmont City Council reached a consensus Tuesday night — they would rather the city pay roughly $47 million in cash instead of using debt for a portion of the Windy Gap Firming Project.
Water rates are set to increase by 9 percent in 2017, 2018 and 2019, then 8 percent in 2020 and 2021, said Dale Rademacher, general manager of public works and natural resources.
Paying cash for Windy Gap is cheaper for the city in the long run, but staff estimates it will raise water rates by 21 percent in 2017 and then by another 22 percent in 2018, rather than the planned 9 percent. Debt financing would have cost almost $25 million more in the long term with a predicted 5 percent interest rate but resulted in more gradual rate increases between 5 and 14 percent in the short term…
City Manager Harold Dominguez said there are plans in the works to test utility rate discounts for low-income households. To qualify, a single Longmont resident would need to make less than $12,720 in a year or a married couple would need to earn less than $17,146 in a year, although those limits could have adjusted slightly since the test program was introduced.
The City Council also directed Rademacher to explore alternative financing so the entire burden of the $47 million doesn’t fall on ratepayers. There’s a Windy Gap surcharge on new water taps that sunsets at the end of 2017. Councilmembers said they’d rather the surcharge just stayed in place in order to generate funds for the Windy Gap project.
Additionally, a property owner can either transfer non-historical water rights to satisfy a raw water requirement or pay cash-in-lieu. Staff will study limiting it to cash payment only in order to pay for Windy Gap.
Meanwhile, here’s the view from Grand County (Lance Maggart):
The long awaited development of Northern Water’s Chimney Hollow Reservoir cleared one of the final two hurdles on the road to construction in late March when the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) released its 401 water quality certification for the project, generally referred to as the Windy Gap Firming Project (WGFP).
The issuance of the 401 water quality certification from the CDPHE was one of two final steps in the permitting process required for construction on the project to begin. The 401 certification from the state comes after 13 years of work. According to Northern Water’s Public Information Officer Brian Werner Northern Water began the formal permitting process for the development of Chimney Hollow Reservoir in 2003. Since beginning the formal permitting process Northern Water and other participants have spent roughly 15 million dollars on the projects permitting process.
Now that Northern Water has received their 401 certification from the state the municipal water provider is awaiting a 404 wetlands permit from the US Army Corp of Engineers, the final permitting step before construction can begin on Chimney Hollow.
404 WETLAND PERMITS
As a matter of practice 404 wetlands permits from the Corp of Engineers require issuances of state certifications, like the CDPHE 401 water quality certification, before the Corp of Engineers can complete their own permitting processes. “This is the next to the last step in getting the project permitted,” stated Project Manager Jeff Drager.
Officials at Northern Water said they expect the 404 wetlands permit is forthcoming and anticipate its issuance in the next few months. Werner was quick to point out that Governor John Hickenlooper has officially endorsed the project, a first in the history of the state according to a press release from Northern Water highlighting the endorsement.
“Northern Water and its many project partners have worked diligently, transparently and exhaustively in a collaborative public process that could stand as a model fro assessing, reviewing and developing a project of this nature,” stated Hickenlooper in a letter read at Northern Water’s Spring Water Users meeting in Loveland last week by the Governor’s Water Policy Advisor John Stulp.
Once Northern Water has secured the final permit for the project from the Corp of Engineers work on Chimney Hollow Reservoir can begin. Chimney Hollow is eventually expected to store 90,000 acre-feet of water and will be located just west of Carter Lake Reservoir in southern Larimer County. The development of the reservoir will mean additional water diversions out of Grand County. The total estimated price tag for the WGFP is around $400 million.
Despite environmental concerns produced by the additional diversions both Grand County and the conservation group Trout Unlimited have endorsed the project, following sustained negotiations between Northern Water and various stakeholders from the western slope regarding environmental mitigation and adaptive management plans for the Colorado and Fraser Rivers. A press release from Trout Unlimited praised the river protections that were reaffirmed with the state 401 certification.
“We strongly believe these permit conditions establish a strong health insurance policy for the Upper Colorado River,” stated Mely Whiting, counsel for Trout Unlimited. In their press release Trout Unlimited outlines conditions within the 401 certification the organization feels will address both fish habitat issues and water quality needs including: monitoring of stream temperatures, key nutrients and aquatic life, providing periodic “flushing flows” to cleanse the river during runoff and requiring ongoing monitoring and response if degraded conditions are detected.
The 401 certification and the environmental protections included with it were made possible in part from a more collaboratively minded interaction between west slope stakeholders such as Grand County and Trout Unlimited and east slope diverters Northern Water and Denver Water. “This long-term monitoring and flexibility of response is called ‘adaptive management’ and it’s a critical feature of the permit requirements,” stated Whiting. “Adaptive management recognizes that stakeholders can’t foresee every problem, and it provides a process for ongoing monitoring and mitigation of river problems as they arise.”
Grand County local Kirk Klancke is the president of the Colorado Headwaters Chapter of Trout Unlimited and has long championed the health of both the Fraser and Colorado Rivers. Klancke spoke positively about the adaptive management and collaborative spirit that has made negotiations for the WGFP possible. “We wouldn’t be at this point without the leadership of Grand County and their persistent efforts to improve the health of the Colorado River,” stated Klancke. “The Northern subdistrict also deserves credit for listening to our concerns and working with all stakeholders to find solutions.”
Last weekend’s snow was wet and heavy enough to snap trees, but a welcome relief for dry conditions in parts of the state.
Nearly all of the Arkansas River basin received 1-2 inches of moisture from the recent storms, bringing the year-to-date totals above average for the area. Pueblo received more than 1.5 inches of rain in the last week to bring the year’s total to more than 3 inches, according to the National Weather Service.
It was good news for Colorado’s snowpack in most basins, bringing the state up to 98 percent of median.
While the Southwest, Gunnison and Rio Grande basins remain below the median, the remainder of the state is at or above normal just as the peak day for snowpack in most places — mid-April — arrived. Prior to the weekend snow, most places had been lagging.
A range of 2-4 feet of snow fell in the mountain areas, with lower elevations in Chaffee and Lake counties reporting up to 2 feet of snow. Parts of Pueblo County got about 1 foot of snow, which was welcome, but caused some damage.
Dave Van Manen, ranger for Pueblo Mountain Park in Beulah, posted on Facebook a poetic tribute to one of his favorite trees that fell victim to the storm: “The ‘leaning tree’ — the large ponderosa pine at the start of the Tower Trail in Pueblo Mountain Park — succumbed to the weight of this weekend’s heavy wet snow. I have spent many, many hours in the company of this amazing tree. The words of Henry David Thoreau come to mind, ‘I frequently tramped 8 or 10 miles through the deepest snow to keep an appointment with a beech-tree, or a yellow birch, or an old acquaintance among the pines.’ In my mind, this tree will always be there at the start of the Tower Trail. — Ranger Dave.”
Water managers, who are hard-eyed realists when it comes to snow, might have a different take. The snowpack in the Upper Colorado and Upper Arkansas River basin is now at 120-140 percent of median in terms of water content, assuring a healthy supply once spring runoff begins.
Water from the Upper Colorado River basin supplies transmountain diversion projects such as Twin Lakes and the Fryingpan- Arkansas Project that bring water into the Arkansas River basin each year.
Storage in the Arkansas River basin remains nearly full, so continued wet weather this spring could mean water held in reservoirs may need to be released. At Lake Pueblo, water managers lowered the level successfully to meet an April 15 deadline in order to leave enough space for flood protection.
The Lower Arkansas Valley, which had been moving into drought conditions, received about an inch of precipitation and sometimes more from the rainy weather that began Saturday. That moisture will benefit winter wheat that was sown last fall and improve soil moisture for the coming growing season.
The massive spring storm has delivered in a big way to Winter Park Resort, which has picked up 23.5 inches of fresh powder over the last 48 hours with more on the way. The new snow sets up stellar late-season conditions and there’s still plenty of time to enjoy it as Winter Park closes on April 24 and Mary Jane closes on May 7.
Reports around Englewood listed snowfall depths varying from six to a little more than 10 inches. While the snowfall made a pretty picture, the water-heavy snow did result in many owners finding broken branches and damaged bushes in their yards…
“The heavy, wet snow broke some tree limbs in our parks,” said Jerry Barton, Englewood Parks supervisor. “I think we saw the most tree damage in Romans and Duncan parks.”
He said the crabapple trees got hit hard because the leaves were out and the pink blossoms had already bloomed. He said many of the pear trees on corners on South Broadway also suffered damage.
Two parks maintenance crews were out April 18. The crew in Romans Park on West Floyd Avenue was using a small chain saw to trim and take down many of the broken limbs. Crew member Jake McClure said they would have to get the larger chain saw as the broken limbs on many of the crabapple trees were too large to try to cut with the small chain saw.
Federal and state officials have agreed in principle to a $6 million settlement with a mining company to recover cleanup costs at the Superfund site just north of town.
A proposed consent decree with Denverbased CoCa Mines was filed in U.S. District Court in Denver Thursday.
The proposal would still be subject to a 30-day public comment period and the approval of the court.
Through last June, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency had spent $10 million on the Nelson Tunnel/Commodore Waste Rock Pile Superfund site.
More than half of that money went toward the stabilization of the waste rock pile and the reinforcement of the West Willow Creek channel that runs along side it during an emergency response in 2008 and 2009.
In a complaint filed the same day as the proposed consent decree, EPA alleged that a company operating under a joint venture partnership with CoCa had sent 500 tons of mine waste onto the waste rock pile and contributed to its destabilization.
The complaint also alleged that CoCa inherited liability for the site when it bought out its former partner in 1989 and thereafter failed to conduct cleanup.
CoCa Mines owned and operated in an area that’s now part of the Superfund site from 1973 to 1993.
Cleanup work at the Superfund site has come to a halt while EPA conducts a feasibility study on potential remedies for the Nelson Tunnel, which is responsible for the majority of the contaminants in West Willow Creek.
One potential option would involve the dewatering of the collapsed tunnel, although it would be dependent upon the initiation of mining by Rio Grande Silver at the nearby Bulldog Mine. The tunnel, completed in 1902, was used to drain and ventilate mines along the Amethyst vein, while also providing a route to haul ore out of the mines.
About 47,000 Colorado Springs Utilities customers are being notified that a water quality standard has been exceeded at the Fountain Valley Authority’s water treatment plant.
Those customers get a blend of water from Utilities and the FVA, but the exceedance of Total Organic Carbon does not pose a health threat, Utilities advises.
Leaves, sticks, dirt and other substances washed into the Pueblo Reservoir, where the FVA gets its water, during heavy rains over the past two years.
The excessive levels of TOC occurred temporarily in the first quarter of 2016, Utilities reports. Although the TOC exceeded standards, it “does not pose an immediate health risk and is not an emergency,” Utilities said in a news release.
A standard is set for TOC because it can lead to formation of disinfection byproducts, which can have adverse health effects. Those byproducts include trihalomethanes and haloacetic acids.
Both byproducts are below drinking water standards and thus pose no health risks, Utilities reports.
The FVA also supplies water to Security, Widefield, Stratmoor Hills and Fountain through their water districts, which are responsible for alerting their customers.