Steve Vandiver’s final meeting as Rio Grande Water Conservation District (RGWCD) general manager on Tuesday was peppered with emotion as attendees wished Vandiver well in retirement and expressed their gratitude for his decade of service at the helm.
“What a pleasure it’s been to work with Steve Vandiver as the district manager,” said long-time RGWCD Attorney David Robbins. “He’s been a true leader.”
He added, “He’s advanced the interests of everyone in the Valley significantly.”
Robbins said the new building the district recently completed is a testament to Vandiver’s ability to see the future clearly and move forward . The April 19th meeting was the district board’s first opportunity to meet in the new facility, which was ironically Vandiver’s last meeting as general manager.
Cleave Simpson is the new general manager, and he thanked Vandiver for his guidance during the transition process.
“Thank you for your leadership ,” Simpson told Vandiver. “You set the bar pretty high.”
RGWCD Program Manager Bob Phillips added, “A large part of the success of Subdistrict 1 is on account of Steve Vandiver.” He said he appreciated working with Vandiver, adding “you are a wonderful asset for this community .”
RGWCD Board President Greg Higel told Vandiver, “Thank you for everything you have done. It’s been a pleasure.”
Vandiver is only the third manager since the district was formed in 1967, following Franklin Eddy and Ralph Curtis. Simpson will be the fourth in that nearly 50-year history.
Vandiver acknowledged the staff members who have worked with him and proven their dedication to the district and its mission for the Valley.
“I have been privileged to work with the highest quality staff,” he said, adding that he knew he was leaving the district in capable hands. He also acknowledged Robbins’ law firm and Davis Engineering for their “incredible help to me and the district.”
He thanked Ralph Curtis for leaving the district in such excellent fiscal shape that it was able to build the new structure it is in now, and he thanked his predecessor at the Division of Water Resources, Mac McFadden for his service and his friendship.
Vandiver said it had been a privilege to serve as the general manager for this board. He previously served as the long-time division engineer for the Colorado Division of Water Resources and moved almost immediately to his new position at the RGWCD.
Vandiver said since its formation in 1967, the water district has taken on projects that no other entity in the Valley could have accomplished alone, from the Closed Basin Project to the Rio Grande Natural Area and the fight against AWDI.
“It’s been a progressive, thoughtful board from 1967 to now,” he said. “It’s been an amazing group of individuals .”
He commended the district and its board for bringing so many diverse groups together.
“I think that’s probably one of the most important things this group does is provide a forum for a lot of people to come together and work together for the betterment of this Valley,” Vandiver said.
He said there have been a handful of people who have thrown rocks, and he was not sure why, but so much more can be accomplished when people work together to address problems.
Vandiver acknowledged the dedication of the late Ray Wright and Doug Shriver “who didn’t sit around and wait to see where the chips were going to fall; they got up and they did something for the betterment of the Valley.”
Attendees making reports to the water district board on Tuesday thanked Vandiver for his service and commitment to the water community.
“It’s been a tremendous pleasure working with you,” said Allen Davey, engineer for the district.
Travis Smith, who has served on state water boards with Vandiver, said he has worked with Vandiver since 1978 and shared many great memories with him, like the spilling of Elephant Butte Reservoir in 1985.
“Steve, thank you for your friendship.”
He added, “Steve has served the Valley and the state of Colorado at a high level.”
Here’s the release from the Colorado Water Conservation Board (Ben Wade):
Recent precipitation delivered 103 percent of average April precipitation to-date, helping to boost overall snowpack and alleviate drought conditions across parts of Colorado. Regions of the central mountains and Front Range saw as much as 3 inches of precipitation, Monte Vista received a quarter of their average annual precipitation in just one storm. With short and long term forecasts favoring continued precipitation, and good reservoir storage, water providers have no immediate concerns. Agricultural producers are also in good shape with many looking to increase production this season to compensate for low commodity prices.
Statewide water year to-date precipitation as reported from NRCS is at 98% of average, with the southern portion of the state experiencing drier conditions than the northern half.
Despite recent precipitation, much of the state has seen above normal temperatures in March and April. Forecasts indicate that warmer temperatures are likely to continue into the spring.
Statewide NRCS SNOTEL water year-to-date precipitation is 98 percent of normal. The Upper Rio Grande has the lowest year-to-date precipitation at 87 percent of average, while the South Platte has the highest at 112 percent of average.
Reservoir storage statewide remains above normal at 111 percent. The Arkansas and Yampa/White basins have the highest storage levels in the state at 120 percent of average; the Upper Rio Grande has the lowest storage levels at 94 percent, just slightly below normal.
The Surface Water Supply Index (SWSI) as of April 1st is near or above average across the majority of the state. At this time of year the index reflects reservoir storage and streamflow forecasts. The lower Arkansas has seen large increases in storage over the last year and has some of the highest SWSI values in the state.
Streamflow forecasts are slightly below normal across many regions of the state with most forecasts ranging between 70-89 percent of average. The North Platte has the highest forecast in the state at 111 percent of average while the Purgatoire has the lower at just 69 percent of average.
The long term experimental forecast favors above average probability of precipitation through spring, with eastern Colorado favored more than the rest of the state. The strong El Nino event is likely to dissipate over the coming months but it is unclear if persistent La Nina conditions will develop. La Nina events tend to result in drier conditions across Colorado, but more so during later years of long-lived events.
The Pacific Decadal Oscillation tied its record high in March after more than two years above normal, which would tend to inhibit the development of a strong La Nina event or lessen its impacts.
Click here to read my Tweets from the meeting on Monday.
Click here to go to the US Drought Monitor website. Here’s an excerpt:
Continued dry weather in the East led to a broad expansion of abnormally dry conditions, especially from central Tennessee and Kentucky eastward and northeastward through the Appalachians and mid-Atlantic region. Meanwhile, heavy precipitation pelted the Plains, bringing significant relief to the areas of dryness and drought that had been intensifying and expanding for the previous few weeks. Out West, moderate precipitation brought improvement to some parts of the northern Rockies experiencing dryness and drought, and improvement was also noted in parts of California and adjacent areas as the impacts of the 2015-2016 wet season on the long-term drought come into clearer focus…
The Plains and Mississippi Valley
Heavy precipitation fell on large sections of the Plains and lower Mississippi Valley, bringing substantial relief to areas where dryness and drought quickly developed over the past several weeks. Locations from central and eastern Texas northward through the Dakotas recorded at least an inch of precipitation, with considerably more (3 to 9 inches) soaking parts of South Dakota, an area from central Nebraska through central and southwestern Kansas and the adjacent High Plains, and a swath from central Oklahoma through north-central Texas. Precipitation totals over the past 90 days in these regions climbed to near or above normal levels. Conditions justified 2-category improvements (from D2 [severe drought] to D0 [abnormally dry]) in small parts of northwestern Oklahoma. Wet weather also brought an end to abnormally dry conditions formerly centered in southwestern Louisiana. The beneficial rains evaded a few areas, most notably west-central Oklahoma, parts of the Texas Panhandle and adjacent High Plains, and the areas of D0 and D1 on the eastern side of the Plains extending into the middle Mississippi Valley. Precipitation for the past 60 to 90 days was only one-third to two-thirds of normal in eastern Kansas, northeastern Oklahoma, northern Arkansas, much of Missouri, and adjacent parts of Iowa and Illinois. Dryness and drought remained essentially unchanged where it existed, and D0 expanded southeastward into southern Missouri and northern Arkansas. Dry weather also prompted slight expansion of abnormally dry conditions near the Black Hills in southwestern South Dakota and adjacent Wyoming…
The Rockies and Intermountain West
The past 7 days brought little or no precipitation to the southwestern Rockies, the Great Basin, and much of Utah, keeping extant D0 to D2 conditions essentially unchanged. More precipitation fell on areas to the north and east, with 1 to locally 3 inches falling on many areas in the remainder of the Rockies and the northern Intermountain West. This removed severe drought from northwestern Montana, and reduced the extent of abnormal dryness in other parts of the state…
The Far West
Little or no precipitation fell on the areas of dryness and drought in the Far West from the southeastern fringes of Washington southward through Oregon, California, and Nevada, but with the wet season winding down (especially in California), its impact on the long-term drought situation and the conditions being set up for the summer dry season are coming into better focus. Based on improved reservoir levels (and potentially water supplies), streamflows, and to a lesser extent groundwater levels, additional improvement was introduced in the Drought Monitor, most notably in some parts of California most intensely impacted by the drought for the past few years. In a nutshell, the northward and northeastward extents of both the extreme (D3) and exceptional (D4) drought areas was reduced, including the removal of all D4 from southwestern Nevada. This is the first week since early July 2013 with no exceptional drought in the state of Nevada…
During April 21 -25, 2016, moderate precipitation totals of 0.5 to 2.0 inches with locally higher amounts are forecast for northern California, much of the Sierra Nevada, the northern tier of the Rockies and Plains, central and eastern Texas, and the central Appalachians. A few tenths of an inch at best are expected in other affected areas across the contiguous 48 states. Temperatures should average a few degrees above normal across much of the Intermountain West, Rockies, and Plains.
The odds favor above-normal precipitation across most of the contiguous 48 states and southern Alaska during April 26 – 30, 2016. There are enhanced chances for subnormal precipitation in the D0 areas in southeastern Georgia and northeastern Florida, and no tilt of the odds towards either wetness or dryness in central South Carolina and in the Big Bend region of Texas and adjacent New Mexico. Enhanced chances for warmer than normal conditions exist from the southern half of the Plains eastward to the central Appalachians and the Southeast Coast and across Alaska, but cooler than normal weather is favored in most of the Far West, the northern Plains, and the Northeast.
The City Council committed Colorado Springs on Wednesday to spend more than $460 million over 20 years on a stormwater projects pact with Pueblo County.
The intergovernmental agreement, negotiated chiefly by Mayor John Suthers, is expected to resolve Fountain Creek stormwater problems for downstream residents and avert lawsuits threatened by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency through the Department of Justice and by Pueblo County.
Further, the accord would allow Colorado Springs Utilities’ Southern Delivery System to start pumping water as scheduled on April 27.
Pueblo County officials threatened to rescind that $825 million project’s 1041 permit, which they issued in April 2009, if the city didn’t ante up enough guaranteed funding for stormwater projects.
The deal now hinges on a vote by Pueblo County’s three commissioners, set for 9 a.m. Monday.
Any delay of the SDS would reduce the worth of warrants on equipment and work while leaving four partner communities – Colorado Springs, Pueblo West, Fountain and Security – without the water deliveries they expect.
The council, meeting in special session Wednesday, didn’t hesitate to approve the pact. Only Councilwoman Helen Collins, a steadfast foe of government spending, dissented in the 8-1 vote.
The agreement calls for 71 stormwater projects to be completed by 2035. Engineers for Pueblo County and Colorado Springs chose the projects and will review them each year to allow for fluctuating priorities.
The money will be spent in five-year increments, at a rate of $100 million the first five years followed by $110 million, $120 million and $130 million. Any private developers’ projects or other efforts would be in addition to the promised amounts.
If the projects aren’t completed in time, the accord will be extended five years. And if Colorado Springs can’t come up with the money required, the city-owned Utilities will have to do so.
The agreement was tweaked slightly Wednesday, on request of the Pueblo County commissioners, to increase one miscalculated payment to a water district by $332, to add the word “dam” to references to a study of water-control options, and to add “and vegetation” to a clause about removing debris from Pueblo’s city levees. A clause was added to note that after the agreement expires, both sides agree to coordinate and cooperate with one another, as they always will be upstream-downstream neighbors.
“This is basically an investment in this city,” said water attorney David Robbins, a consulting lawyer for the council. “The stormwater facilities would have ultimately had to be built anyway. They benefit your citizens, not just the people downstream.”
Asked about the option for a dam, Robbins said, “It has been studied, studied again, and another study may add to our knowledge, but doesn’t require this city to contribute any more money. The dam would require moving two railroads and an interstate highway. Just the facility relocation costs make it quite expensive.”
Colorado Springs has failed to properly enforce drainage regulations, conduct adequate inspections, require enough infrastructure from developers or properly maintain and operate its stormwater controls, the EPA found during inspections in August.
The downstream victim has been Pueblo County, which saw Fountain Creek sediment increase at least 278-fold since the Waldo Canyon fire in 2012, degrading water quality and pushing water levels higher, Wright Water Engineers Inc. found during a study for the county last year.
Sediment increased from 90 to 25,075 tons a year, while water yields rose from 2,500 to 4,822 acre-feet, the engineers found.
As Colorado Springs development sprawls, the amount of impermeable pavement grows. So the city also is beefing up its long-underfunded Stormwater Division, increasing the staff of 28 to 58 full-time employees, mostly inspectors, and more than doubling the $3 million budget for compliance to about $7.1 million.
The city and Utilities negotiated for nearly a year with Pueblo County, as Colorado Springs has beefed up its stormwater program to fix the problems and fend off the threats of lawsuits.
The Pueblo Board of Water Works would like to see up-front bonding and longer term for an intergovernmental agreement between Pueblo County and Colorado Springs.
Still, it’s probably the best deal possible, the board agreed during comments on the proposed deal at Tuesday’s monthly meeting.
In February, the board provided its input with a resolution recommending certain actions to Pueblo County commissioners.
Colorado Springs City Council approved the deal Wednesday, while Pueblo County commissioners will meet on it Monday. It provides $460 million for stormwater projects over the next 20 years, triggers $50 million in payments over five years for Fountain Creek dams and adds $3 million to help dredge and maintain levees in Pueblo.
“One of the things we encouraged Colorado Springs to do was bond the projects up front,” said Nick Gradisar, president of the water board. “It would be to everyone’s advantage to do the projects sooner rather than later.”
Board member Tom Autobee said the agreement is comprehensive, but was uncertain about the 20-year timeline for improvements.
“What I’d like to see is to extend it beyond 20 years for the life of the project,” Autobee said. “We need to look at that.”
Board member Jim Gardner was assured by Gradisar that Pueblo County is guaranteed a voice in which projects are completed.
“They have a priority list and can’t switch unless both sides agree, as I understand it,” Gradisar said.
“This is a great opportunity to correct the issues,” said Mike Cafasso.
“What we said got listened to,” added Kevin McCarthy. “I think this is the best deal we’re going to get.”
Colorado Springs won’t need the full use of the Southern Delivery System for years, but some can’t wait for the $825 million water pipeline to be turned on.
Pueblo County commissioners heard testimony supporting a proposed agreement with Colorado Springs designed to settle issues surrounding the City Council’s decision to abolish its stormwater enterprise after the county had incorporated it into conditions for a 1041 permit in 2009.
“One in five people in Pueblo County live in Pueblo West and are impacted by SDS,” said Jerry Martin, chairman of the Pueblo West metro board. “With the newest break, we will depend on SDS for a very long time.”
Pueblo West joined the SDS project as a costsaving alternative to a direct intake on the Arkansas River downstream of Pueblo Dam. It shared in the cost of permitting and building the pipeline.
Last summer, it used SDS when its own pipeline broke.
Pueblo West’s main supply comes from the South Outlet Works and crosses under the river. The new break is more severe, Martin explained.
An agreement reached last summer allows Pueblo West to use SDS before it is fully operational, and settled some lingering legal issues related to Pueblo West’s partnership in SDS.
Security Water and Sanitation District, located south of Colorado Springs, also needs SDS to go online before summer, said Roy Heald, general manager of the district.
“Security has an immediate need for water because there are emerging contaminant in our wells,” Heald said.
Seven of the district’s 25 wells into the Fountain Creek aquifer were found to be contaminated earlier this year. The solution is to blend water from the Arkansas River with the well water to dilute contaminants. Right now, Security gets enough water from the Fountain Valley Conduit to make its supply safe. But in summer, water demands will increase, Heald explained.
Larry Small, the executive director of the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District, said the agreement paves the way for flood control projects seven years after the district was formed.
Small was on City Council when the stormwater enterprise was abolished on a 5-4 vote. He voted against eliminating the fee that was then in place. He was hired to run the Fountain Creek district two years later. The district has representatives from both Pueblo and El Paso counties.
The district was formed by the state Legislature out of concerns about the effect of El Paso County’s growth on Fountain Creek and the danger that is posed to Pueblo.
The $460 million for Colorado Springs stormwater projects over the next 20 years is needed to slow down Fountain Creek, but that doesn’t mean Pueblo would be protected. There are at least 18 projects south of Colorado Springs involving either detention ponds or dams that the district wants to get started on.
That process would get a kick start with $20 million in the next nine months if the agreement is approved by commissioners and Colorado Springs City Council in the next week. Three more payments of $10 million over the next three years would follow under terms of the 1041 agreement.
“This agreement says that we’re not just going to put something in place, but that we’re going to monitor it,” Small told commissioners. “It’s a cooperative, collaborative process. We don’t have to rely on rumors and innuendo.”
The city of Pueblo also would benefit from a potential $6 million in Fountain Creek dredging or levee maintenance projects that would cost the city only $1.2 million over the next three years. Pueblo Stormwater Director Jeff Bailey last week told The Pueblo Chieftain that the city has projects lined up, depending on how the funds are structured.
A separate $255,000 project to dredge between Colorado 47 and the Eighth Street bridge already is in the works. It would be funded by Pueblo County, the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District, the Fountain Creek district and the state.
For Colorado Springs, SDS is a 40-year solution to provide water both for future growth and redundancy for the major water infrastructure it already has in place. Earlier comments to commissioners from Colorado Springs officials indicated only about 5 million gallons per day initially would flow through the SDS pipeline to El Paso County. It has a capacity of 75 million gallons per day.
Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers said warranties on the project kick in when testing on SDS is completed at the end of this month, however, so Colorado Springs also would like to see the pipeline up and running by next week.
Fountain Creek erosion via The Pueblo Chieftain
Fountain Creek swollen by stormwater November 2011 via The Pueblo Chieftain
Fountain Creek flooding 1999 via the CWCB
Fountain Creek Watershed
The confluence of Fountain Creek and the Arkansas River in Pueblo County — photo via the Colorado Springs Business Journal
The new north outlet works at Pueblo Dam — Photo/MWH Global
Greeley water officials are continuing to push a new water rate system that would provide residents with incentives to cut their consumption, and local leaders are warming up to the idea.
The Water and Sewer Board went over the plan again during its meeting Tuesday afternoon.
Today, Greeley residents pay a flat rate for water that doesn’t take into account how much they use, and regionally, that’s rare.
“Really, Greeley and Loveland are the only cities left in northern Colorado that have uniform rates,” said Eric Reckentine, the department’s deputy director of water resources.
A few cities, such as Aurora and Colorado Springs, charge their residents in uniform blocks for usage.
Greeley officials find the blocks arbitrary. Someone who irrigates a lawn that’s 1,000 square feet obviously will use more water to do so than someone who owns a 500-square-foot lawn.
Greeley is opting for a tiered water rate based on a water budget, or calculated allowance, water planners give residents. Planners use the number of people in a household and the amount of land the resident could irrigate to decide how many gallons a month each home should use. They allot 55 gallons per person per day. They give a little more than two gallons per square foot of irrigable land.
A four-person family on an average lot would get 21,000 gallons per month.
Under the new plan, the family would pay $3.88 per 1,000 gallons within the budget, and the rate would increase incrementally as the water usage exceeded the budget.
There are four tiers. If residents are within budget, using 100 percent or less of the allotment, they get the reduced rate. If use falls between 100 and 130 percent of the allotment, it’s considered inefficient use, and it will cost $4.74 for each 1,000 gallons in that range. If residents keep overusing and get into the 130-150 percent of their allotment range, they’ll pay $6.04 for that segment. If they get past 150 percent of their allotment, that will cost $8.62 for every 1,000 gallons.
The extra cost didn’t come in increments when city officials first heard the plan in February. Anything outside the budgeted water was charged at the highest tier a resident hit.
“You paid that amount for all of it,” Mayor Tom Norton said during an interview. “It was kind of more of a punishment.”
Greeley and water department officials said the goal was to recover costs for overuse, which is about 300 acre-feet every year. An acre-foot of water is how much an average family uses in a year.
“That’s several million dollars worth of water,” Water Board Chairman Harold Evans said.
Local officials are anticipating the summer opening of a park along the South Platte River that will provide some fresh opportunities for a cooldown.
River Run at Oxford will be a multifaceted park and trailhead offering access to the metro area’s river, improved riparian habitat and unique recreational and educational opportunities officials hope will make it a regional draw.
The site is just west of Broken Tee Golf Course, along West Oxford Avenue on the Sheridan-Englewood border. When the first phase of the estimated $14 million project opens this summer, it will bring a rocky beach, in-water recreation features and a picnic pavilion with flush-toilet bathrooms to the east bank of the Platte, as well as improvements to ensure safer flood flow passage and a state-of-the-art sand filter for water running into the river.
“The point of this project was to engage the river for recreation but also from an ecological and function standpoint, as well as education,” said Laura Kroeger, an engineer with Urban Drainage and Flood Control Districtand manager of the River Run project.
Last week, earth movers shuffled boulders along the river bank as crews with contractor Naranjo Civil Constructors worked on a pair of drop structures that will create features for kayaking, paddleboards or inner tubes. One of the structures includes an adjustable concrete plate that can create a standing wave, a feature that Kroeger said exists only in one other place in the country, to her knowledge.
“Right now, if you want to kayak or play in the river , you would need a flow of about 1,000 (cubic feet per second) and that might only happen a few days a year,” she said of water flows required for river recreation. “With this, we can adjust the drop structure based on the release from Chatfield Reservoir to get more use. It’s designed for 200 cfs.”
River Run is about half a mile from the Oxford Avenue light-rail station and a short walk from the Englewood Recreation Center. The golf course is nearby and its parking lot has grown by 70 spaces to accommodate future River Run visitors.
Englewood has publicly accessible water at the lake at Centennial Park, but city open space manager Dave Lee said, “I think river access is the big thing we’ve never had before.”
“That’s one of the reasons people want to live in Colorado — for these unique opportunities,” added Dorothy Hargrove, Englewood’s director of parks, recreation and library.
The project continues to evolve. Kroeger said partners are pursuing funding to add safety signs as well as educational information to help teachers from area schools who could bring students to River Run to learn about riparian habitat.
River Run has two future phases: completion of a trail along the east side of the Platte, connecting it to the Big Dry Creek Trail near Union Avenue; and additional upstream flow improvements. It should conclude in 2018, Kroeger said.
Kroeger and others applauded the collaboration that went into the large-scale project. Aside from the cities and Urban Drainage, the South Suburban Parks and Recreation District, the Colorado Water Conservation Board and Arapahoe County Parks and Open Space are partners.
Arapahoe County Open Spaces grants and acquisitions manager, Josh Tenneson, said that collaboration dates to 2006 when the 21-member South Platte Working Group was convened. The group has allocated more than $25 million to various projects, including recent work at Littleton’s South Platte Park and the upcoming Reynold’s Landing Park project. All told, the county has dedicated around $5 million to River Run, he said.
Sheridan recently secured a $350,000 Great Outdoors Colorado grant to build a playground at the River Run trailhead. Sheridan City Manager Devin Granbery said he could see the park delighting city residents and boosting business at the city’s marquee shopping area, nearby River Point at Sheridan.
“I think it will serve as a regional draw similar to the way that (Denver’s) Confluence Parkdraws users into that area,” Granbery said. “Hopefully, after people use the amenities there, they’ll eat at a Sheridan restaurant or do some shopping.”