From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):
Colorado Springs Utilities plans to begin using the Southern Delivery System today, more than seven years after getting the green light from Pueblo County and the Bureau of Reclamation to build it. “We plan on 5 million gallons a day initially, but we may go less. It depends on how we use it,” said John Fredell, SDS project director. “On Thursday, the water we pump will be turned into our system.”
SDS will be able to operate after an agreement was reached on Fountain Creek stormwater control on issues not explicitly covered in Pueblo County’s 1041 permit. The new agreement contains funding benchmarks that were not originally in place.
Over the next 40 years, the amount of water pumped through SDS could increase to as much as 75 million gallons a day. Another 18 million gallons a day could be pumped to Pueblo West, which through a special agreement already is using SDS for its water supply.
The treatment plant as built can treat up to 50 million gallons per day, but eventually could be expanded to treat up to 100 million gallons per day.
As part of SDS, the city of Fountain can receive more of its water through the Fountain Valley Conduit, a line built from Pueblo Dam in the early 1980s as part of the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project.
The other partner in SDS is Security Water and Sanitation, which serves an unincorporated area south of Colorado Springs and has an immediate need for a new water source because of well contamination.
Construction on the $825 million project began in 2011, one year after the Bureau of Reclamation approved the final contract for the use of Lake Pueblo as part of the project. In 2009, Reclamation issued a record of decision that allowed the project to be built.
Also in 2009, Pueblo County commissioners approved a land-use permit under the 1974 HB1041, which lets cities or counties regulate projects that cross their boundaries.
SDS includes a new connection built at Pueblo Dam, three pump stations, a water treatment plant and a treated water pump station. The North Outlet Works, Juniper Pump Station just northeast of Pueblo Dam and about 17 miles of buried 66inch diameter pipeline are the features of SDS in Pueblo County.
The project grew out of water resources plans that began in the late 1980s, when Colorado Springs purchased controlling interest in the Colorado Canal system in Crowley County.
In order to use the water, as well as provide redundancy for its other sources of water, Colorado Springs developed a Water Resource Plan in 1996. That plan identified other alternatives to bring water to Colorado Springs, including a route from a new reservoir at Buena Vista, a Fremont County pipeline and a line from Crowley County.
By the early 2000s, the Buena Vista reservoir was eliminated by environmental protests, and Utilities ruled out Crowley County because of the expense of overcoming water quality issues. By 2008, Fremont County and Pueblo Dam were being seriously considered.
The Pueblo Dam option was chosen in Reclamation’s record of decision as the route.
In the second phase of SDS, which is anticipated to begin between 2020-25, two reservoirs would be built on Williams Creek east of Fountain. The upper reservoir would be terminal storage for the pipeline from Pueblo Dam, while the lower one would regulate return flows from Colorado Springs’ wastewater treatment plant into Fountain Creek.
SDS is designed to serve a population of 900,000, about twice the current number living in Colorado Springs.
The 1996 water resources plan came at a time when Colorado Springs’ population had increased from 70,000 in 1960 to 330,000 in 1996. Utilities already is working on a 50-year plan to meet its future water resource needs.
From the Las Vegas Review-Journal (@RefriedBrean):
Top water officials in Nevada, Arizona and California have negotiated a deal to cut their use of the Colorado River and slow the decline of Lake Mead, but the landmark agreement is far from finished.
Negotiators from Arizona and California are now shopping the plan to various water users and policymakers in their states, where the proposed cuts are likely to be painful and in some cases unprecedented.
Arizona would shoulder most of the reductions, but the tentative deal marks the first time California has agreed to share the pain — if the drought worsens.
“That’s certainly a huge step forward. We see that as a landmark outcome,” said Tom Buschatzke, director of Arizona’s Department of Water Resources.
California is not now required to take any cuts to its 4.4 million acre-foot river allocation, which is the largest among the seven states that share the Colorado.
The voluntary cuts being discussed are designed to prop up Lake Mead and stave off deeper, mandatory forced cuts for Arizona and Nevada if the lake sinks below levels outlined in a 2007 agreement.
“It’s a risk assessment,” Southern Nevada Water Authority chief John Entsminger said of the plan and the talks leading to it.
Buschatzke called the effort a “proactive, planned response” to what’s happening on the river before it becomes a crisis…
Nevada’s share of the proposed cuts is comparatively small, but so is the state’s annual river allocation of 300,000 acre-feet, Entsminger said.
Nevada would leave 8,000 acre-feet of water in Lake Mead each year under the first round of voluntary cuts, while Arizona would lose 192,000 of its 2.8 million acre-foot allocation. One acre-foot of water is enough to supply two average Las Vegas Valley homes for just over a year.
The annual reductions would increase to 10,000 acre-feet for Nevada and 240,000 acre-feet for Arizona should the surface of Lake Mead drop another 32 feet from current level, to 1,045 feet above sea level.
Elevation 1,045 is also where California would see voluntary cuts, which start at 200,000 acre-feet a year and increase by 50,000 with every additional 5-foot drop in Lake Mead.
The voluntary cuts being discussed for Nevada and Arizona come on top of the escalating series of mandatory shortages the two states will have to absorb as the lake drops below elevations 1,075, 1,050 and 1,025.
Entsminger said the most Nevada stands to lose in a given year is 30,000 acre-feet in voluntary and mandatory cuts. Thanks largely to the success of local conservation efforts, the state currently has a surplus of about 80,000 acre-feet available annually to absorb the cuts.
“We think at all reservoir elevations there’s not a volume that we can’t handle,” he said.
Buschatzke said Arizona officials are in the early stages of selling the plan to water users. The deal also requires the blessing of the Arizona Legislature, something that’s unlikely to happen until next year.
California officials face a similar uphill battle as they lobby in the Golden State, Buschatzke said…
On Tuesday, Nevada Sens. Harry Reid and Dean Heller won Senate approval for an amendment that would add $50 million to a program that pays cities, farms, factories and power plants for efficiency improvements aimed at keeping more water in the river.
The Colorado River System Conservation Program was launched in 2014 with $11 million in seed money from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the water authority and the largest municipal water suppliers in Arizona, California and Colorado.
Reid in a telephone call Tuesday said the pilot program has “done well” so far, but the river needs all the help it can get.
“My dad used to swim across the Colorado River,” the Searchlight native said. “The Colorado River is a tiny little river to do all that it’s counted on to do.”
From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Charles Ashby):
A bill to prevent new evidence from being presented in groundwater rights appeals got caught in a legislative maelstrom Tuesday from which it can’t return.
After more than two hours of public testimony, most of which was in favor of the idea, the measure at first failed to get a motion to be referred out of the Senate Judiciary Committee, leaving it in a kind of legislative limbo for a while.
Later, however, the panel returned and killed HB1337 long after its sponsor, Sen. Ray Scott, R-Grand Junction, had left.
During that time, Scott had started to investigate ways to get the support he needed to revive the bill in hopes of persuading the chairwoman of the committee, Sen. Ellen Roberts, to have an actual vote on it.
Problem was, though, that Durango Republican was one of a majority of senators on the five-member committee who opposed the bill, which the committee ultimately killed on a unanimous vote.
Scott wasn’t happy at the outcome because he believed he had the votes to get the measure out of committee even though it was opposed by Senate President Bill Cadman, R-Colorado Springs, who took nearly three weeks to assign it to a committee.
“Sad to see such disingenuous activities by senators,” the Grand Junction Republican said. “Didn’t even have the courage to kill the bill in front of farmers and ranchers who are left holding the empty water bucket.”
The measure was designed to align the Colorado Groundwater Commission with other state panels when it comes to adjudicating certain issues, in this case, groundwater rights. Unlike decisions made by that commission, appeals in all other state panels — much like lower courts in general — bar the introduction of new evidence on appeal.
Scott said that practice has allowed well-funded water rights sellers to try a case twice, something small farmers and ranchers told the committee they can’t afford to do.
The bill also pitted two well-heeled investors against each other: former GOP Gov. Bill Owens and billionaire businessman Phil Anschutz. Owens, who opposed the bill, is executive director of a land and water development and asset management company; Anschutz, who supported the bill, has numerous farming interests, many of which rely on groundwater supplies…
On Tuesday, the Senate gave final approval to SB97 to bar the Legislature from using severance tax revenues for anything other then their intended purpose.
Those taxes, paid by mineral extraction companies, go to fund the Colorado Department of Natural Resources and in grant and direct disbursements to local communities, to offset the impact of such industries as mining and oil and gas development.
From The Denver Post (Joey Bunch):
A legislative battle over ground-water disputes that divided top Republicans washed out in committee Tuesday afternoon.
House Bill 1337 would have made it harder for municipalities, developers or others to win court cases for permits to pump water that might otherwise be used agriculture didn’t get a motion for a vote after hours of testimony from farmers and water districts.
The bill would keep those who would dispute decisions from the state Ground Water Commission from introducing new evidence in the appeal process. Their competitors said it would allow them to out-spend farmers, ranchers and rural water districts to overpower them in court.
“The size of a checkbook should not determine how water is managed,” Marc Arnusch, a Weld County farmer and member of the Lost Creek Ground Water Management District told the Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday.
Committee chairwoman Ellen Roberts, a Republican from Durango who is a lawyer, said that instead of the routine 2 out of 100 state Ground Water Commission cases a year that are appealed to district court, many more would have to pay for studies and legal expertise up front to hedge against the potential of an appeal later.
“I don’t see how this would reduce costs for everybody,” she said. “It would drive them up.”
The bill was sponsored by Sen. Ray Scott, a Republican from Grand Junction who is considering a run for governor in 2018.
Scott and House sponsor Don Coram have been at odds over the bill with Republican Senate President Bill Cadman and the last Republican governor, Bill Owens, who personally urged Republican lawmakers to kill the bill.
Owens works for an investment group that deals in water.
The legislation sailed through the Democrat-led House, passing 60-5 on April 1. It was not assigned to a Senate committee until three weeks later.
“It’s been a wild ride to get to this hearing,” Scott said.
The bill’s supporters fear municipalities getting well permits to pump year-round instead of seasonally, as agriculture does.
“No one wants to see more ‘buy and dry’ of ag water,” Colorado Farm Bureau president Don Shawcroft said. “This legislation is necessary to level the playing field on applications to change water rights in designated basins. What’s happened is that if the application is appealed to the district court, the applicant is using legal maneuvering to bring new information that was not presented to the Ground Water Commission.”
From The Durango Herald (Peter Marcus):
A measure that aimed to level the playing field for farmers and ranchers appealing groundwater rights rulings drowned in the Legislature on Tuesday.
The legislation would have prohibited entering new evidence on appeal after a state commission makes a decision on groundwater disputes…
The bill had powerful opposition from former Gov. Bill Owens, a Republican, and Senate President Bill Cadman, R-Colorado Springs.
“Big boy politics at its worst,” lamented Rep. Don Coram, R-Montrose, who co-sponsored the bill in the House, where it passed 60-5, with the support of Rep. J. Paul Brown, R-Ignacio.
The 12-member Colorado Ground Water Commission issues decisions on disputes. Appeals, however, are handled by water court judges in district courts across the state.
State law allows for new evidence to be entered upon appeal when the issue hits water court, though such appeals are rare.
At that time, larger water interests – often those that try to transfer water from agricultural to municipal use – rely on water engineers and other experts to stack evidence in the case, say proponents of the bill.
Smaller farmers and ranchers – who are fighting for their water rights – are forced to invest in attorneys to combat the insertion of new evidence. Costs can become unbearable.
“It finally puts a stop to the games being played by those looking to take advantage of our designated basin system,” Marc Arnusch, a member of the Ground Water Commission, said of the legislation.
“A case must be heard again completely from the beginning, which causes a great deal of time and money.”
Coram assumed the measure would be a simple fix to an obvious problem. But that was before it became embroiled in politics.
Since leaving office in 2007, Owens has worked on water and land resource issues, including proposing water sales to municipalities. Coram gave Owens and Cadman “100 percent credit” for the bill’s troubled path in the Senate.
“I’ve worked on things in this building that’s taken me two, three years to get through. I’ll be back,” Coram said.
Critics of the bill – including Sen. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango – say the measure would erode an unbiased appeals process before a judge. They point out that most of the commission members are political appointments by the governor, unlike a court.
“It’s a stacked commission,” Roberts said.
“When you go to court, there is an independent judge … there are procedural differences.”
From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):
Animas River headwaters contamination exceeds state standards for cadmium, copper, lead and other toxic acid metals draining from inactive mines, officials from the Environmental Protection Agency and Sunnyside Gold Corp. revealed Tuesday.
Until now, federal pronouncements after the EPA-triggered Aug. 5 Gold King blowout touted a return to pre-disaster conditions along the river.
But the move toward an ambitious Superfund cleanup of 48 mine sites in southwestern Colorado has catalyzed cooperation and a far more aggressive, comprehensive and precise approach toward acid mine drainage.
At Tuesday’s Animas River Stakeholders Group forum, locals along with EPA and Sunnyside officials all said they now find those “pre-spill conditions” intolerable. Fish haven’t been able to reproduce in the Animas for a decade, even 50 miles to the south through Durango.
Beyond the Gold King and other Cement Creek mines, “there are elevated levels (of heavy metals) in all three drainages” flowing into the Animas, said Rebecca Thomas, the EPA’s project manager. “It is a much broader look now.”
EPA officials this week are holding forums in tribal communities, Durango and Silverton to discuss their Superfund process, which usually drags out for more than a decade. An official listing of the Animas area as a National Priority List disaster, a step toward funding for cleanup, isn’t expected until fall.
The shift here from skepticism toward energetic stewardship is reflected in more community groups demanding, and in some cases conducting, increased testing of river water and sediment to monitor contamination.
The Mountain Studies Institute, a Durango-based research group, did an investigation of aquatic insects that live in sediment on river banks and found that copper levels increased between 2014 and 2015.
Sunnyside Gold Corp. manager Larry Perino presented data from tests of mining wastewater launched last fall on the day of the Gold King disaster. Contractors sampled on Sunnyside properties a couple of miles east of Silverton — a different drainage from Cement Creek — where mining waste tailings sit along the main stem of the upper Animas.
Those tailings as water rushes over them apparently are leaking the cadmium, copper and six other metals at levels exceeding Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment standards. The cadmium and copper had dissolved into Animas headwaters.
Sunnyside shared the data at Tuesday’s meeting in Silverton.
Dan Wall of the EPA then presented federal data showing lead contamination of soils along Cement Creek and in water near the tailings heaps containing elevated cadmium, zinc, manganese and copper.
EPA crews have done tests around Animas basin for decades and increasingly are trying to pinpoint mine site sources of contamination.
“We have to do more high-resolution work before we start talking smoking guns,” Wall told the locals at the forum.
A broadening cooperation is happening despite EPA efforts to target Sunnyside, owned by the global mining giant Kinross, as a responsible party obligated to pay a share of Superfund cleanup costs.
“Just because you are a potentially responsible party doesn’t mean it has to be adversarial,” Perino said.
Conservation groups such as Trout Unlimited have raised concerns about possible re-churn of heavy metals from the 3 million-gallon Gold King deluge as snow melts, increasing runoff into the upper Animas. But biologists also point to benefits of dilution to reduce concentrations of dissolved heavy metals.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife aquatic biologist Jim White confirmed that, since the shutoff of a water treatment plant on Cement Creek in 2005 when Sunnyside’s American Tunnel was plugged, fish populations deteriorated along a 30-mile stretch of the Animas south of Silverton.
There are few rainbow and brown trout today, and brook trout decreased by 80 percent after 2004, White said.
“It is not healthy. Things have gotten worse in the Animas River since 2004 or 2005,” he said. “We’ve seen this consistent dropoff — the primary thing is the dissolved metals” including zinc, cadmium and aluminum.
Even 50 miles south in Durango, the fish put into the river in stocking programs have not been able to reproduce, he said.
“We’re just not seeing young fish surviving, in Durango as well,” White said.
Other forces, such as sediment from urban development and fertilizer runoff, also play a role downriver in addition to acid metals drainage from inactive mines.
Hundreds of inactive mines continue to drain more than 1,000 gallons a minute of toxic acid heavy metals into Animas headwaters. It is one of the West’s worst concentrations of toxic mines.
For at least a decade before the Gold King disaster, the mine drainage reaching Animas canyon waters along a 30-mile stretch south of Silverton “had a hideous impact,” Trout Unlimited chapter president Buck Skillen said.
“We’ve lost almost all of the trout and a number of bugs,” Skillen said. “We’ve had the equivalent of the Gold King spill every four to seven days over the last 10 years. But the water didn’t turn orange. So it wasn’t on everyone’s radar.”