Snowmass approves tax increase for sewer plant overhaul — The Aspen Times

Wastewater Treatment Process
Wastewater Treatment Process

From The Aspen Times:

Snowmass Village water district residents approved a tax increase to pay for a new wastewater treatment plant Tuesday.

Four hundred twenty-eight residents voted in favor of the mill levy increase that will cover the almost $20 million cost of the project, according to unofficial results from Tuesday’s election.

The increase means property owners in the district will pay an additional $1.89 per $100,000 of assessed property value each month. The water district is required to overhaul its wastewater treatment facility in order to comply with new standards handed down by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Sixty-nine residents voted against ballot measure 5A. All residents of the district, including rental tenants, who are registered to vote could participate in the election as well as any property owners or their spouses who are registered to vote in the state of Colorado.

Snowmass Villagers also elected Shawn Gleason and David Spence to fill two vacancies on the district’s board.

Colorado Water Trust: RiverBank 2016 – 15th Anniversary Celebration, June 14, Denver Botanic Gardens

Click here for all the inside skinny.


Denver: 20th Annual WateReuse Research Conference, May 22-24

Denver photo via Allen Best
Denver photo via Allen Best

From the Water Reuse Foundation website:

The latest research focused on helping communities develop resilient water supplies will be presented at the 20th Annual WateReuse Research Conference in Denver, CO on May 22-24, 2016. The Research Conference provides a unique opportunity for water professionals and researchers to interact, network, and discuss current research and future trends. This solutions focused event will provide water professionals and industry with tools to address water scarcity and sustainability challenges.

Click here to register.

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

Upper Colorado River Basin April 2016 precipitation as a percent of normal.
Upper Colorado River Basin April 2016 precipitation as a percent of normal.

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

West Drought Monitor April 26, 2016.
West Drought Monitor April 26, 2016.

#ColoradoRiver: Bonytails reproducing in the wild — #Utah DWR #COriver

Wild bonytail chub
Wild bonytail chub

From the Utah Division of Wildlife via The Deseret News:

For the first time since work to recover bonytail started in the 1980s, they’re raising their own young in the wild, officials with the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources say.

Bonytail are the rarest of the endangered fish that live in the upper Colorado River system.

“This finding represents a major step forward in recovering the species and ultimately getting it removed from the federal endangered species list,” Krissy Wilson, native aquatic species coordinator for the DWR, said in a statement.

In spring 2015, researchers with the DWR found adult bonytail in Stewart Lake near Jensen. The lake is a managed floodplain that’s connected to the Green River. When the floodplain was later drained in the fall, the researchers found 19 young-of-the-year native chub.

As the researchers analyzed their data, they expected the young-of-the-year chubs to be roundtail chubs. But they realized the size of the chubs did not fit with the timing of when the roundtail chubs would have spawned.

“That’s when the researchers got excited,” Wilson said. “Were the specimens they were examining the first documented evidence of bonytail reproducing in the wild?”

The researchers sent the preserved specimens to the Larval Fish Laboratory at Colorado State University. There, scale and body measurement analysis was done. Next, the specimens were sent for genetic testing. Both analyses confirmed what the UDWR researchers were hoping: the specimens were bonytail.

Wilson says the last wild adult bonytail were collected in the late 1990s. Since then, bonytail have been reared at the DWR’s Wahweap State Fish Hatchery at Lake Powell. The bonytail are reared to 12 inches long before being stocked in the upper Colorado River system.

Wilson says for the past four years, the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program and its partner, the Bureau of Reclamation, have coordinated spring releases from Flaming Gorge Dam to connect floodplain habitats along the Green River near Jensen. Connecting the floodplains provides important nursery habitat for the endangered Colorado River fish.

“So far,” Wilson says, “razorback sucker is the species that’s benefitted most from the releases. It’s exciting to see that the releases are also benefitting bonytail.”

Along with bonytail and razorback sucker, humpback chub and Colorado pikeminnow are the four fish the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program is working to recover. More information about the program and its work is available at

Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program
Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program

#ColoradoRiver: As Lake Mead sinks, states agree to more drastic water cuts — The High Country News

Lake Mead behind Hoover Dam December 2015 via Greg Hobbs.
Lake Mead behind Hoover Dam December 2015 via Greg Hobbs.

From The High Country News (Sarah Tory):

For decades, the West’s big reservoirs were like a security blanket, says Anne Castle, the former assistant secretary for water and science at the Interior Department. But the blanket is wearing thin. Under normal conditions, Lake Mead loses 1.2 million acre-feet of water every year to evaporation and deliveries to the Lower Basin states plus Mexico, which amounts to a 12-foot drop. Previously, extra deliveries of water from Lake Powell offset that deficit, but after 16 years of drought and increased water use in the Upper Basin, those extra deliveries are no longer a safe bet.

“There’s a growing recognition that even these huge reservoirs aren’t sufficient to keep the water supply sustainable anymore,” says Castle.

For the three Lower Basin states — California, Arizona and Nevada — that rely heavily on Lake Mead, the situation is particularly urgent. For the last several years, Mead has hovered around 1,075 feet above sea level, the point at which harsh water rationing measures kicks in. And if conditions in the reservoir continue to worsen, the Interior Department could even take control of water allocation from Lake Mead.

So, with the threat of a federal takeover looming, last summer, water policy leaders in the Lower Basin states, along with the Bureau of Reclamation, the reservoir’s operator, began meeting to discuss ways they can jointly boost water levels in Lake Mead. Some of the details are now available and indicate that all three states are now willing to accept additional water cuts from the reservoir on top of the cuts that they previously agreed to make in 2007.

Those measures follow a set of federal guidelines adopted nine years ago to manage water deliveries from Lake Mead given the likelihood of future shortages. The guidelines established a series of thresholds for the reservoir’s water levels that would trigger increasingly severe cutbacks for the Lower Basin states. At the time they were negotiated, few people anticipated that the drought would last as long as it has, but as Lake Mead inched closer to the critical 1,075 mark, water managers in the Lower Basin realized that the existing guidelines were not enough to prevent an eventual shortage.

While the terms of the new agreement between California, Arizona, and Nevada are still being negotiated, a few details have emerged. For starters, the Bureau of Reclamation has pledged to cut 100,000 acre-feet annually through efficiency measures such as lining irrigation canals to prevent seepage, or possibly by re-opening the long-shuttered Yuma Desalination Plant.

The three states’ willingness to collectively ration their water use would have been unthinkable just a few decades ago when states fought each other in court to win as much water from the Colorado River. The cooperation is a nod to how new climate realities are re-shaping old water politics in the West. Take California, for instance. Legally, the state could hold onto every drop until Lake Mead is nearly down to mud, since the 1968 law that authorized the Central Arizona Project’s construction gave California highest priority water rights to the Colorado River. But at that point, says Castle, they’re just as impacted as everyone else.

Other collaborative agreements to reduce the strain on the Colorado River include a 2014 Memorandum of Understanding between the big water providers in the Lower Basin states, the Bureau of Reclamation, and the Central Arizona Project, pledging “best efforts” to conserve 40,000 acre feet in Lake Mead. In 2014, major municipal water providers in Arizona, California, Nevada and Colorado also agreed to fund new water conservation projects through a pilot initiative called the Colorado River System Conservation program.

For the Lower Basin especially, the negotiations are necessary to avoid the potential federal takeover, says Tom Buschatzke, the director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources. Although the Secretary of the Interior, Sally Jewell, has not voiced any immediate plans to that effect, in the past, she has made public statements on the matter.

For Buschatzke, the threat is clear: “She’ll take action if we don’t collaborate,” he says.

Here are the cuts states could face:

Arizona would lose 512,000 acre-feet of its total 2.8 million acre-feet per year allotment if Lake Mead dips below the 1,075 feet threshold. That’s 192,000 acre-feet more than the 320,000 acre-feet it had previously agreed to cut under the 2007 guidelines. Further cuts occur if the reservoir continues to drop. In another unprecedented move, Arizona water officials are talking of trying to spread cuts across all sectors of the state’s economy that rely on CAP water for drinking and irrigation — cities, farms, industries, Indian tribes and others — instead of letting only farmers take the brunt of the cuts, as dictated by their junior water rights.


Thanks to the 1968 law that authorized CAP’s construction, California’s 4.4 million acre feet allotment is shielded from most of the cuts should a shortage on Lake Mead be declared. But as part of the new negotiations, the state has volunteered to cut its water use from Lake Mead by 200,000 acre feet if the reservoir’s levels fall below 1,045 feet and up to 350,000 acre-feet if levels sink to 1,030 feet.


The state with the smallest allotment of Colorado River water, Nevada would take a much smaller share of the cuts — 8,000 acre-feet if Mead drops below 1,045 feet and 10,000 acre-feet after that — because it has the right to only 300,000 acre-feet.

EPA provides [additional] $600,000 to monitor water in Animas, San Juan river — The Durango Herald

A “get well soon” balloon floats in the contaminated waters of the Animas River flowing through Durango on Monday afternoon August 10, 2015 -- photo The Durango Herald, Shane Benjamin
A “get well soon” balloon floats in the contaminated waters of the Animas River flowing through Durango on Monday afternoon August 10, 2015 — photo The Durango Herald, Shane Benjamin

From The Durango Herald (Mary Shinn):

An additional $600,000 has been set aside by the Environmental Protection Agency for a real-time warning system that will be installed in the Animas and San Juan rivers that would alert local governments to pollution.

The EPA had set aside $2 million for water and sediment monitoring, but that was found to be inadequate, Shaun McGrath, the Region 8 administrator, told the Durango City Council on Tuesday. A total of $465,000 was allocated to the state of Colorado.

States and tribes will use the additional funds for a system they started collaborating on in February, McGrath said.

There is no timeline for the additional warning system to be installed, he said.

Sen. Michael Bennet, Sen. Corey Gardner and U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton have pushed for additional funding to provide better data to communities along the Animas and San Juan watersheds, according to a news release.

“We are glad the EPA has heeded these concerns, and we’ll continue to work to make sure it meets its commitment to fully reimburse the community for expenses related to cleanup and recovery from the spill,” Bennet said, in the release.

Councilor Dean Brookie lauded the additional funding.

“It will allow for a more robust and state-of-the-art system then was previously achievable,” said Councilor Dean Brookie.

In the event of another acidic mine wastewater spill like the 3 million gallons released by the EPA on Aug. 5, 2015, the system will ensure downstream communities wouldn’t have to wait for a person to inform them of the emergency, Brookie said.

There are 30 testing locations along the Animas, San Juan and Colorado rivers, Brookie said.

The EPA is also considering additional reimbursements to the local governments, including the city and La Plata County, McGrath said.

State, local and tribal governments have received $881,152 in reimbursements.

The city has been promised $2,471 to cover a tour city councilors took related to Superfund designation. But 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…

The city wants to provide the EPA with all the information necessary to help fit within the federal guidelines, Durango City Manager Ron LeBlanc told McGrath.

“The city wants to work as a team with the EPA and the county,” he said.

@DenverWater supports allowing graywater use


Here’s the release from Denver Water (Stacy Chesney/Travis Thompson):

Denver Water CEO Jim Lochhead’s statement in response to Denver City Council’s ordinance to allow graywater use:

“Water conservation has been key to ensuring we meet the needs of future generations, and it’s time that as a city and state we take additional steps to embrace an integrated, sustainable approach to urban water management. Using the right quality water for the right use is a critical step in a sustainable water future for Colorado, and this step by the Denver City Council shows the kind of progressive action we need to be taking to make sure we have enough water to meet our future needs. We applaud the leadership of the city of Denver in taking this important step.”

2016 #coleg: HB16-1337 (Appellate Process For Decisions About Groundwater) dies in State Senate

Map of the South Platte River alluvial aquifer subregions -- Colorado Water Conservation Board via the Colorado Water Institute
Map of the South Platte River alluvial aquifer subregions — Colorado Water Conservation Board via the Colorado Water Institute

From The Greeley Tribune (Nikki Work):

[Scott Tietmeyer], who has been involved in a water dispute since the early 2000s, said the future of farming in northern and eastern Colorado is water, but with farmers going bankrupt to defend it, that future is getting drier. For more than a decade, Tietmeyer and other farmers in his area have fought to protect their water rights. But protecting groundwater can be a pricey endeavor.

This year, Colorado Reps. Edward Vigil, D-Fort Garland, and Don Coram, R-Montrose, introduced House Bill 1337 to address this issue. The bill would make it so no new evidence could be introduced at appeals.

The way the system is set up, at each level of appeals in a water hearing, new evidence can be presented. This makes it so farmers, ranchers and other water rights holders have to pay for new engineering, research and legal defense of new evidence at every step of the process, because either party in the lawsuit can withhold key pieces of their argument to improve the likelihood of a win after an appeal.

Sen. John Cooke, R-Greeley, planned to vote for the bill on the Senate floor because in every other kind of trial, the same evidence has to be used at an appeal that is used at an initial hearing.

The bill passed the Colorado House of Representatives 60-5, but it was killed in the Senate Judiciary Committee last week. A similar bill was killed last year as well.

The bill would have helped farmers and ranchers in situations similar to Tietmeyer’s.

Fourteen years ago, Tietmeyer and several other famers in the Upper Crow Creek River Basin were told their groundwater pumps caused or could cause surface water loss for a senior water rights holder. This complaint started a legal process that’s still going today.

Despite the first hearing ruling going in favor of Tietmeyer and the other farmers, the senior water rights holder appealed the case all the way to the Colorado Supreme Court, which ruled that Tietmeyer and the others would have to yield to the senior water rights holders if they could prove their use of the water would suffer.

That ruling was in 2006. The decade since has been filled with research and legal battles between the surface and groundwater users. Tietmeyer said the newest round of trials have escalated to the Supreme Court again.

Not every case is as draining on time or funds as Tietmeyer’s. Some take place between two farmers, or between a municipal water user and a rancher or in the most worrisome cases, a big water buyer and a farmer.

Rep. Jon Becker, R-Fort Morgan, said HB 1337 would have blocked a lot of the illegal water speculation that takes the water off of ag lands. Becker, who supported the bill in the House, said the bill was really “common sense,” and he guaranteed he is willing to carry the bill next year.

In the years since the lawsuit in the Upper Crow Creek Basin started, Tietmeyer said his family has spent close to $100,000 on the litigation. Others in the area who own more wells than he does have spent even more, he said. Tietmeyer has seen some farmers forced to choose between their water rights and bankruptcy. At least seven wells in the area have been sitting out of use for more than a decade because their owners couldn’t afford to go to trial.

Tietmeyer said defending his wells was never a question, despite the financial burden, because he needs the water to irrigate his wheat, corn and alfalfa, and to guarantee his farm has a future.

“As a farmer, we’re putting everything upfront, because we can’t afford to lose these rights,” Tietmeyer said. “When you’ve gone 11 years and no one will ever benefit from that court case, there’s something wrong.”