“#Colorado has a workable fabric of law and governance that has stood the test of time” — Greg Hobbs

From The Mountain Mail (Joe Stone):

The 22nd annual Arkansas River Basin Water Forum featured retired Colorado Supreme Court Chief Justice Gregory Hobbs as keynote speaker Thursday at Salida SteamPlant.

Terry Scanga, Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District general manager, introduced Hobbs as “a mentor and teacher to the water community,” praising Hobbs’ talent for writing clearly and succinctly about Colorado water complexities.

Hobbs’ talk painted a historical picture of Colorado water management beginning with the Ancestral Puebloans who lived at Mesa Verde and Hovenweep, where they constructed water storage reservoirs using primitive wood and stone tools.

Hobbs’ talk included slides from his collection of historical maps that show the evolution of various countries and territories in what is now the western United States, including a watershed map created by famous explorer John Wesley Powell.

Hobbs said Powell wanted to organize settlements around water and watersheds, which would have prevented trans-basin water diversion, forcing water users to conserve the scarce resource in the arid West.

Hobbs shared a wealth of historical information, noting that federal legislation in the 1860s separated water from the land and allowed water to be taken from one place to be put to beneficial use in another location.

This change from riparian water rights of the eastern U.S. laid the foundation for Colorado’s system of Prior Appropriation, summarized as “First in time, first in right,” Hobbs said.

Key to this system is the fact that the Colorado Constitution established water as a public resource in 1876, Hobbs said, adding that rights to use water are a special type of property right.

The Prior Appropriation system allows the transfer of water rights, and Hobbs said senior water rights are the most valuable property rights in Colorado.

Hobbs said the system has worked for more than 100 years, and recent efforts to subject water rights to the free market system would have devastating consequences.

When it comes to water, Hobbs said, “Colorado has a workable fabric of law and governance that has stood the test of time.”

Delph Carpenter's 1922 Colorado River Basin map with Lake Mead and Lake Powell
Delph Carpenter’s 1922 Colorado River Basin map with Lake Mead and Lake Powell

Buena Vista takes steps to protect water supply — The Mountain Mail


From The Mountain Mail (Joe Stone):

The town of Buena Vista recently developed a Source Water Protection Plan that prioritizes concerns about the town drinking-water supply and identifies strategies to protect that water supply.

Buena Vista Public Works Director Greg Maggard and John Duggan with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) provided an overview of the BV plan during the monthly meeting of the Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District board of directors April 14.

The BV plan, Maggard said, employs a two-step strategy recommended by CDPHE (1) to prioritize town water sources based on susceptibility to contamination and (2) to prioritize potential contaminant sources.

Following this strategy, Maggard said contaminant sources were prioritized based on the prevalence of contaminants and specific contaminants that represent the greatest threat to the water supply.
Using data from a variety of sources, including the Colorado Wildfire Risk Assessment, Maggard said town staff:

Identified areas of concern for public water systems.

Identified mine sites within 3 miles upstream from water system intakes and 1,000 feet from streams.

Established baseline water quality data for all water sources.

Scheduled ongoing source-water monitoring at regular intervals.

Mines and large septic systems represent the most significant threats to the Buena Vista water supply, Maggard said.

The source water protection planning process was developed as a result of a 1996 congressional amendment to the U.S. Safe Drinking Water Act that required each state to develop a source water assessment and protection (SWAP) program.

In the first phase of the SWAP program, Duggan said, Colorado conducted an assessment of all public water supplies.

The second phase is about protecting source water and involves developing and implementing a source water protection plan. Duggan stressed that phase 2 is voluntary but supported by funds from the state.

Prior to undertaking the source water protection planning process, Buena Vista had already established a Source Water Protection District around its drinking water sources, allowing the town to review county building permit applications inside district boundaries.

Maggard said the town’s new plan would complement the district and probably should have been developed prior to forming the district.

In other business district board members:

  • Learned that the state recently approved the district’s engineering application for storing water in the alluvial aquifer near Johnson Village.
  • Heard an update on the Lake Ranch Multi-Use Project, which received more than $200,000 in grant money and will include a 5- to 8-acre demonstration garden.
  • Decided to initiate efforts to obtain grant funding to begin phase 2 of the district’s water balance study, which would examine potential aquifer storage in the Wet Mountain Valley.
  • Learned that the district currently stores 3738.9 acre-feet of water in various reservoirs.
  • Voted not to acquire additional Fry-Ark Project water since the district will carry over 1,569 of project water from previous years.
  • Heard a report on the Cottonwood Reservoir feasibility study indicating the survey work will be completed in May once the ice has melted.
  • Heard an update on the rainwater harvesting bill, which is now law.
  • Unanimously agreed to stipulate out of Water Court case 07CW129.
  • #ColoradoRiver: Will Denver’s future water reservoirs lie underfoot and not behind dams? — The Mountain Town News

    Denver photo via Allen Best
    Denver photo via Allen Best

    From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

    We think of reservoirs as bodies of water, places created by dams where you can go sailing or fishing. Denver Water is investigating whether Denver’s future reservoirs will lie several hundred feet below the feet of its customers in aquifers called the Arapahoe and Laramie-Fox Hills.

    Aquifer recharge has been used in many places as a way to store water. Arizona, for example, stores water for Las Vegas in an innovative partnership as well as water for its own use. In metropolitan Denver, the Centennial Water and Sanitation District, which serves Highlands Ranch, has also been pumping water into an aquifer, for withdrawal when needed. Others in the Denver area have also used it, with various degrees of success.

    Denver has 17 reservoirs already able to store a combined maximum of 690,000 acre-feet. The adequacy of that storage is challenged by the uncertainties posed by the changing climate and continued population growth, said Bob Peters, a water resource engineer with Denver Water, speaking at a National Groundwater Association conference in Denver on April 25. Among the options now being studied is whether the aquifers underlying the city could also provide storage.

    The city is bisected by the South Platte River. For most of the year, the river is over-appropriated, meaning there is no new water to be claimed. Furthermore, many of Denver’s existing rights from the South Platte are junior, meaning Denver might be left short in years of little snow or rain.

    In a PowerPoint presentation, Peters also showed a variety of scenarios, all depicting gaps between needs and supplies. Denver is pursuing stepped-up conservation and greater reuse.

    Denver also wants to divert more water from the Colorado River Basin through its Moffat Tunnel delivery system near Winter Park. That Moffat system expansion would include raising the height of Gross Dam, located southwest of Boulder, by 125 feet, nearly tripling the capacity of the reservoir. Denver has not received final authorization from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.


    Aquifer storage might also play a role in Denver’s future. Pumping water underground results in no evaporation, Peters said, requires fewer permits, and has less of an environmental footprint. Plus, it’s less costly than above-ground storage and can be done in small increments, unlike dams.

    Challenges include figuring out where to put wells in urban areas, questions about the quality of water to be injected, and uncertainty about how much the water can later be recovered.

    “We know it’s feasible. The question is whether it will work for Denver Water,” said Cortney Brand, of Leonard Rice Engineers, a consulting group.


    Brand outlined Denver’s aquifers. The Arapahoe Basin is 500 to 2,100 feet thick, but the water-bearing sands of that formation are only 150 to 250 feet thick and not necessarily in one seam. The water-bearing sands of the Fox Hills has average thickness of 382 feet. These are averages for wells logged within Denver, but the city is only 2.5 percent of the much broader Denver Basin.

    But the understanding of what lies underneath is not as sharp as those figures might suggest. To get a clearly image of the ability of the aquifers in specific areas to store water, three or more wells are being drilled this year.

    With those additional wells, he said, engineers expect that they can deliver designs and cost estimates of a pilot project for an aquifer storage and recovery project by the end of 2016.

    How much storage might these wells provide? The study intends to answer that question, but Denver Water’s website suggests that nobody should expect a quick Dillion Reservoir. One recharge sit could store an estimated 20 to 150 acre-feet of water per year. That compares with the 7,863 acre-feet stored by Denver’s smallest surface reservoir, Strontia Springs.

    For more information about Denver’s project, see the agency’s website explanation.

    For more about the conference, see: https://ngwa.confex.com/ngwa/2016gws/webprogram/Paper10883.html

    Denver Basin Aquifers confining unit sands and springs via the USGS. Page for report where graphic was taken: http://pubs.usgs.gov/pp/1770/
    Denver Basin Aquifers confining unit sands and springs via the USGS. Page for report where graphic was taken: http://pubs.usgs.gov/pp/1770/

    #AnimasRiver: Communities, state agencies await #EPA reimbursement from #GoldKingMine spill — The Durango Herald

    From The Durango Herald (Jessica Pace):

    Since Aug. 5, state and local entities estimate they’ve spent hundreds of thousands on expenses associated with the Gold King Mine spill. While the Environmental Protection Agency has footed the bill for some expenses, communities don’t know if and how much more they’ll be reimbursed.

    The EPA, which triggered the spill that polluted regional watersheds with 3 million gallons of heavy-metal mine water, has reimbursed partial sums to state, tribal and local governments, and pledges to provide more. But on Wednesday, an EPA official told La Plata County commissioners and staff that reimbursement in full isn’t feasible.

    And others are facing the same uncertainties.

    In the spill’s aftermath, government, health and environment officials scrambled to understand the impacts, coordinate efforts, communicate with the public, seek money from the EPA and plan for the future. These efforts continue almost nine months later. Figures provided by the La Plata County finance department reflect expenditures of $472,714, for personnel, travel, water monitoring and other costs. For that, the county has received $197,792 reimbursement through the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and $6,170 through the state of Colorado, which leaves $258,966 unpaid.

    In Silverton and San Juan County, the story is much the same.

    The town and county were reimbursed $220,000 for costs associated with the spill from August to October, but are seeking an additional $110,000.

    “We haven’t been promised anything at all from that amount,” said San Juan County Commissioner Ernie Kuhlman. “And that bothers me.”

    Bill Gardner, the town administrator, said the costs to pursue a Superfund listing extended through February. The issue of reimbursement was a roadblock for the community in deciding to pursue the listing.

    Ultimately, the town and county agreed to pursue the EPA’s hazardous cleanup program.

    “Now the EPA is saying we can’t reimburse you for costs, but the costs are directly related to achieving a Superfund status, which everyone – the EPA, La Plata County and Silverton – agreed they wanted,” Gardner said.

    “So it is frustrating.”

    Kuhlman said in a public meeting with the EPA this week, representatives said the agency could not commit to paying any further reimbursements.

    That, Kuhlman said, may have the adverse effect of Silverton and San Juan County not making any commitments themselves.

    “We’re the smallest county in the state, and probably the smallest budget, so it was our expectation we would be paid back for this,” he said. “The EPA saturates you with paperwork, and it costs money to have people to process that paperwork, and I don’t recommend we spend anymore unless we get paid back.”

    The city of Durango spent $444,032 in the wake of the Gold King spill, which includes revenue the city lost when irrigation was shut down for nine days. The sum also included helping close the Animas River, keeping the public informed and research and meetings on how to address the spill, among other costs, according to city documents. So far, the EPA has agreed to pay the city $2,471, but the city has not received a check.

    The city has asked for about $5.7 million in compensation over the next 15 years, which would include the amount spent on the immediate response and ongoing monitoring of river health, said City Manager Ron LeBlanc.

    “We just want the city to be made whole,” he said.

    The EPA keeps changing the rules about reimbursement requirements and the Oct. 31 deadline seems arbitrary, he said. “The EPA, quite frankly, has not made anything clear to us,” LeBlanc said.

    The EPA has encouraged communities to draft cooperative agreements outlining goals and anticipated costs related to the spill. But last week, an EPA official told La Plata County that the federal agency could not accommodate all requests. County staff considered that a reversal of what the EPA had told them.

    “The intent is not that this co-op agreement would cover future activities,” EPA Superfund remedial program director Bill Murray told the county on Wednesday. “For Superfund sites, we don’t often have future costs included.” Murray also pointed out that the EPA will incur its own costs with Superfund remediation at the Bonita Peak Mining District.

    Calls to legal staff for the Southern Ute and Ute Mountain Ute tribes were not returned, but the Southern Ute tribe said in September that response costs totaled about $200,000, with more expenses expected. The EPA reported it has reimbursed the Southern Ute tribe $116,372 to date…

    Gov. John Hickenlooper said he spoke with EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy on Thursday and she said the EPA intends to stick with its commitments.

    “I think the right way to do this is to sit down with the local county officials and municipal officials and some people from the state and some people from the EPA in an aggressive, but thoughtful, way, and make sure that what compensation should be taken care of, that gets paid and we hold the EPA’s feet to the fire and not budge an inch,” Hickenlooper said. “They made certain commitments that I think we should hold them to.”

    From The Durango Herald (Jessica Pace):

    La Plata County recently received $9,700 from the Environmental Protection Agency for costs related to the Gold King Mine spill, which county officials say is a fraction of what it is owed.

    Earlier this year, the county received about $200,000 from the EPA for costs incurred immediately after the Aug. 5 EPA-triggered spill of 3 million gallons of contaminated mine drainage into the Animas and San Juan rivers.

    But county staff calculated the federal agency should cover an additional $249,224 in expenses related to the spill, and $9,817 to cover costs related to a tour of Superfund sites officials attended last fall to determine the feasibility of Superfund designation for the Bonita Peak Mining District.

    “Last week, we received an award of $9,786 to reimburse for the majority of the costs incurred on the feasibility of the Superfund designation,” County Finance Director Diane Sorensen said. “The $249,224 is still unpaid.”

    The county applied to establish a cooperative agreement with the EPA, asking for a total of $2.4 million, which includes the $249,224, over a 10-year period for remediation efforts directed toward water quality and mine cleanup. The federal agency is reviewing that agreement.

    County commissioners were dismayed with receiving only $9,786 and the lengthy process.

    “This has been an expensive education,” Commissioner Brad Blake said.

    County officials plan to meet next week with the EPA’s Superfund remedial program director, Bill Murray, to discuss the proposed cooperative agreement.

    The call for reimbursement is regional. Last month, the New Mexico Environment Department called for the EPA to issue $1.5 million for costs related to short-term emergency response efforts. The collective request came from 14 New Mexico state agencies, university organizations and communities.

    The city of Durango recently received about $2,471 of a initial $444,000 request. The city applied for its own cooperative agreement for $5.6 million to be paid over a 15-year period for incurred and ongoing remedial expenses.

    “The initial ($9,786) award to La Plata County was solely to reimburse them for some verifiable costs toward activities they participated in, referring to the Superfund tour to evaluate eligibility for the National Priorities List,” said Cinna Vallejos, who leads the regional Ecosystems Protection and Remediation Support Program for the EPA. “It’s not uncommon for these agreements to be funded incrementally.”

    Vallejos said the EPA will continue to evaluate cooperative agreement applications from the county, city and other entities and determine what is allowable. She said they stand to receive more in the future but could not say if the requested amounts will be awarded in full.

    She could not disclose details about the Southern Ute Indian Tribe’s application for reimbursement or amounts awarded.

    The EPA’s recommendation to designate the Bonita Peak Mining District as a Superfund site was added to the Federal Register on April 7.

    Gold King Mine entrance after blowout August 2015
    Gold King Mine entrance after blowout August 2015

    #ClimateChange: World Bank — Carbon Finance for Sustainable Development 2015 annual report


    Click here to read the report. Here’s an excerpt:

    “Putting a price on carbon is now widely acknowledged as a priority. Helping countries get it right will be key, and market-based approaches can help with that,” Vikram Widge, Head Carbon and Climate Finance World Bank Group…