Comments sought on use of Arkansas River — The Pueblo Chieftain

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Tracy Harmon):

How people enjoy and use the Arkansas River between Leadville and Lake Pueblo will be the focus of state and federal officials as they update the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area management plan.

Of course, the public’s input is encouraged. Public comment on three alternative management plans will be accepted through June 22.

With Alternative 1, use would be increased to a small degree, while Alternative 2 would allow increased use to a much larger degree. Alternative 3 would keep use as it is now without change, according to Kyle Davidson, a spokesman for Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

Public input will help representatives with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service and Colorado Parks and Wildlife develop an environmental assessment, which will include a preferred alternative. It should be available for further public scrutiny this fall.

Essentially, the management plan is a blueprint for how the agencies will manage the 152-mile river corridor and find balance between often-conflicting recreational uses such as rafting and fishing. The Arkansas is the most commercially rafted river in the U.S. and also is home to a Gold Medal Trout fishery.

The recreation area consists of 45 recreation sites, including six campgrounds, 26 boat ramps and 18 developed facilities. About 800,000 visitors use the river corridor each year.
The partnership also is eyeing how it will manage river-based recreation through the newly dedicated Browns Canyon National Monument.

The current management plan can be reviewed at http://cpw.state.co.us/placestogo/parks/ ArkansasHeadwatersRecreationArea/ Pages/publications. aspx. To submit a comment visit cpw. state.co.us/placestogo/ parks/ArkansasHeadwatersRecreationArea/ Pages/default. asps.

Along a Desert River, A New Breed of Rancher — National Geographic

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From the National Geographic Voices blog (Sandra Postel):

“I don’t know what I pump and I don’t care – and that’s crazy,” says Paul Schwennesen, a fit, energetic rancher in his late thirties who might outcompete Clint Eastwood for most handsome cowboy.

On his modest-size ranch, the Double Check, located in the lower San Pedro River Valley of southeastern Arizona, Schwennesen raises cows to supply grass-fed beef to farmer’s markets and seventeen restaurants in Phoenix and Tucson, both cities about an hour-and-a-half away. Schwennesen’s ranch abuts one mile of the San Pedro, and, as an irrigator, his pumping of groundwater contributes to the depletion of the river’s base flow, the current that keeps the river wet and connected during the dry season.

In contrast to most irrigators in the West, Schwennesen wants to be made to care how much groundwater he pumps. A decade ago, he took over operations at Double Check from his father, who now raises cattle in the high country near the Arizona-New Mexico border. Schwennesen is a successful rancher and businessman, but cares about the river, too. In his mind, free water is no friend to the river or the long-term health of the community, and he wants to see water better valued.

“I am a free-market devotee,” Schwennesen said. “Markets are the best way to allocate scarce resources. We’d love to see a market established for water.”

Schwennesen is among a new cadre of farmers and ranchers that brings a more holistic, ecological way of thinking to land management.

“Water is the salient variable in these environments,” he said, as we examined one of his experimental fields on a warm, late-May morning. “Anything you can do to alter the water regime is going to have the biggest effect. And the more organic matter we can squeeze back into the soil, the more water.”

It’s a belief backed by science, and it’s at the core of Schwennesen’s mission. “Well managed land can give back more than it consumes,” he added. “That’s the miracle of it.”

I’ve come to the Double Check smack in the middle of the driest time of the year, typically April to June. The much anticipated El Niño of 2015-16 did not deliver the rains most had hoped for. Just a short distance from where we stood talking, the San Pedro’s channel was dry. Historically this portion of the lower river had flowed intermittently, but over time groundwater pumping and prolonged drought have depleted the base flow and dried up the channel, a condition that’s bothersome to Schwennesen.

The San Pedro is the last major undammed river in the American Southwest. Unlike the Colorado River and the Rio Grande, which flow south toward Mexico, the San Pedro originates in Mexico and flows north some160 miles before joining the westward flowing Gila River near the small town of Winkelman.

It is a winding ribbon of green in the desert that offers biological riches far out of proportion to its size. The gallery forests of cottonwoods, willows and mesquite that band both sides of the river provide some of the best remaining habitat for birds and wildlife in the American Southwest.

More than three hundred species of migratory songbirds seek out the San Pedro corridor as they journey between their wintering grounds in Central America and Mexico and their breeding grounds in the United States and Canada. More than fifteen percent of the world’s known population of western yellow-billed cuckoo breeds along the San Pedro. The river system also sustains some eighty species of mammals – one of the richest assemblages of land mammal species found anywhere in the world – as well as more than forty species of reptiles and amphibians.

For such a modest river, its ecological wealth is extraordinary. But irrigated agriculture, copper mining, and in the upper reaches of the valley, urban growth have placed that wealth in jeopardy. Without the ability to reduce groundwater use and keep the river healthy and flowing, the San Pedro’s bounty and beauty will be sacrificed.

That’s where Schwennesen comes in. He has partnered with the Tucson-based Arizona Land and Water Trust and hydrologists at the University of Arizona to see if he can ranch successfully and profitably while cutting his water use by some 20-30 percent. The strategy is to shift to low water-use crops that include a mix of native perennial grasses and an annual rye crop that is seeded directly into the green vegetative cover, avoiding the tillage action that can erode and dehydrate the soil.

With deep and resilient root systems and microbial activity boosting the level of organic matter, the soil should hold water like a sponge, Schwennesen says, reducing the need for irrigation water and helping to replenish the aquifer that feeds the river’s base flow.

#ColoradoRiver Salinity Control Program Reduces River’s Salt Load #COriver

The Central Arizona Aqueduct delivers water from the Colorado River to underground aquifers in southern Arizona. UT researcher Bridget Scanlon recommends more water storage projects like the aqueduct to help protect against variability in the river’s water supply. U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.
The Central Arizona Aqueduct delivers water from the Colorado River to underground aquifers in southern Arizona. UT researcher Bridget Scanlon recommends more water storage projects like the aqueduct to help protect against variability in the river’s water supply. U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

Here’s the release from the Central Arizona Project:

To know the quality, you need to visit the source. That’s the case with CAP water – to know the quality, you need to look to the Colorado River. Back in 1975 – more than 40 years ago – the seven Colorado River Basin states adopted an EPA-approved salinity standard for the Colorado River. This standard provides criteria for dissolved solids and a plan designed to keep the average annual salinity concentrations at or below 1972 levels. Salinity control is important because increased salt levels can limit or prohibit agricultural productivity and add costs to municipal and industrial water users. All Colorado River water users benefit from investments in improved water quality, including those in Mexico.

The Colorado River Salinity Control Program is managed by a partnership of federal and state agencies that have worked cooperatively with tribal communities, irrigation companies and individual water users for the past four decades to control the salinity levels of the Colorado River, while allowing development and use of its waters. CAP represents Arizona water users on the Salinity Control Forum along with the Arizona Department of Water Resources and the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality. Through efforts to date, the salt load of the Colorado River has been reduced by about 1.3 million tons annually. The current plan calls for the creation of an additional 67,000 tons of annual salinity control practices over the next three years.

Today, the Colorado River currently meets all applicable water quality standards, but the challenge in an era of drought is to protect and maintain that quality going forward. To meet this challenge, CAP, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California and Southern Nevada Water Authority joined together in 2011 to form the Lower Colorado River Water Quality Partnership. The Partnership works to identify and implement proactive, collaborative solutions to address Colorado River water quality by identifying the challenges currently facing the River, collaborating on research and policy analysis and developing initiatives and solutions to ensure the River’s future health and sustainability.

The Partnership recognizes the importance of collaborating on current Colorado River water quality issues and participating in ongoing monitoring and clean-up efforts to maintain the integrity of the Colorado River. The Partnership has closely monitored various remediation efforts throughout the Colorado River Basin and advocated for expeditious clean-up. The Partnership has also reviewed and commented, as needed, on project proposals, including regulatory and legislative project developments, to minimize potential threats to water quality in the Colorado River.

#COWaterPlan: Latinos urge action on water conservation — The Colorado Springs Gazette

A screenshot from the website for Colorado's Water Plan.
A screenshot from the website for Colorado’s Water Plan.

Here’s a guest column from Nita Gonzales and Al Gurule that is running in The Colorado Springs Gazette:

Colorado’s large Latino population relies on our rivers for drinking water, jobs, outdoor recreation and crop irrigation. Our voices and values are similar to the vast majority of Coloradans. But for Latinos, the river and the land it nurtures is also a very personal matter. For centuries, the river provides our culture with a collective sense of “querencia,” a place in which we know exactly who we are, the place from which we speak our deepest beliefs.

When the Colorado Legislature ended its session there was a flurry of action but, sadly, little progress to protect our rivers. The subject of water was barely covered, and perhaps most remarkably, taking action on Colorado’s first state water plan – the blueprint for how water will be managed in Colorado for the foreseeable future – was limited to a small, generic “projects” appropriation.

The landmark water plan, released last year, addresses many water challenges facing our state including: a looming water supply and demand gap, the effects of persistent drought, protecting Colorado’s interstate water rights, and other challenges that could adversely affect the lives of Coloradans.

Gov. John Hickenlooper’s plan includes an unprecedented emphasis on sound conservation measures and directs attention to keeping the Colorado River healthy and flowing. Latinos in Colorado pay close attention to the protection of the Colorado River system, the primary source of water for Colorado and the southwestern U.S. and a significant part of southwestern Latino culture. For Latinos living in the Southwest, protecting this river is more than just smart water management; it is honoring part of a rich cultural heritage.

The lack of engagement on the water plan by the state assembly is surprising and unfortunate. After all, a great deal of care and thoroughness went into our state plan, including input from 30,000 Coloradans. It’s been rightly hailed as a huge step for Colorado’s future water management.

The final plan includes key priorities directly in line with western Latino values for water management:

– A productive economy that supports agriculture, recreation and tourism;

– An efficient and effective water infrastructure; and

– Healthy watersheds, rivers, streams, and wildlife.

The plan includes strong recommendations for funding to preserve and restore the state’s rivers and streams that play an important role in Latino history and daily life. It contains a directive that Colorado invest in unprecedented stream protection and restoration in the form of “stream management plans” for our rivers.

The only real obstacle, at this point it seems, is lack of leadership and action and letting the plan languish, and that is what appears to be happening.

To ensure that the conservation values included in the plan move forward – protecting healthy river flows, our outdoor recreation industry, agricultural heritage, businesses and thriving cities – we must get started now. Gov. Hickenlooper and the Colorado Water Conservation Board should begin working with local leaders to find innovative ways to meet the plan’s ambitious – but attainable – conservation goals. In the latest Colorado College poll, 77% of Coloradans say that we should use existing water resources more efficiently through conservation and reuse.

Nuestro Rio and other Latinos in Colorado are ready to work with Hickenlooper and state leaders to implement the conservation values laid out in the plan. We want to help ensure the protection of our rivers, outdoor recreation, agriculture, industry and our cities.

We ask the governor and the Colorado Water Conservation Board to take meaningful action to implement the plan without additional delays. The time is now to ensure Colorado’s water, our economy and our culture is sustainable for generations to come. We are depending on it.

Nita Gonzales is the director of Nuestro Rio, an organization representing Latinos living in Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada working to educate elected officials and Latino youths about the many ways Latinos are connected to the Colorado River. Al Gurule is a former Pueblo District 2 councilman and a well-known Latino activist in Colorado since the late 1960s.

Pueblo wastewater projects projected costs = $56.7 million over 10 years

Photo of lined pipe via Insituform France.
Photo of lined pipe via Insituform France.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

In the next 10 years, Pueblo will have $56.7 million additional costs to treat wastewater, according to information presented in a recent City Council work session.

More than half of that will occur because of a $31.5 million program to line pipes to keep groundwater out of the sewer system. The option is less expensive than trying to remove selenium at the wastewater treatment plant.

The other $25.2 million is for increased chemical and electricity costs to remove nutrients.
More costs could arise as regulations continue to change.

In December, council approved rate increases of about $3 per month to begin covering the costs. For a home billed for 4,000 gallons of sewage monthly, the total amount is $28.67.

By 2020, the rate will increase to $43.49 per month, with $7.60 of that attributable to the selenium program. The city is spending $1 million to line pipes this year, $2 million next year and $3.5 million each year thereafter to complete the process in 10 years.

The Colorado Water Quality Control Commission in December extended a temporary modification for Pueblo, but said a discharger specific variance is needed by June 2018. At that time, Pueblo will have to present its plan for complying with a numeric limit for selenium discharges from its wastewater plant.

More coverage from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain:

Pueblo couldn’t kick its selenium habit no matter how hard it tried.

Selenium, a natural occurring element that can be toxic at high levels, is loaded into surface water and groundwater as it comes into contact with Pierre shale formations on Wild Horse Creek and Fountain Creek.

But Pueblo’s sewage treatment plant is under the gun to meet state standards within two years, before it is able to prove its point that water leaving the plant actually reduces the selenium that enters the Arkansas River.

What’s more disturbing is that a $31.5 million experimental program to reduce selenium in wastewater lines might actually increase the amount that reaches the river.

The issue has become a matter of contention between Councilman Chris Nicoll and Commissioner Terry Hart, who face off for Hart’s seat in the June 28 Democratic primary. Nicoll says Hart led legal opposition to the city’s case before the state Water Quality Control Commission. Hart says the county pulled out before the state’s eventual decision.

The city was trying for a 10-year path toward a solution, but was given just two years to come up with a plan.

“The wastewater plant is responsible for 6 percent of the selenium loading into the river,” said Pueblo Wastewater Director Nancy Keller. “We could take out 100 percent, and have no impact.”
In many cases, selenium could wind up in wastewater because of industrial processes. In Pueblo, it occurs naturally.

Groundwater containing selenium enters the wastewater system through cracks or holes in mostly clay pipes that are 75-100 years old. The holes are mainly on the top portion of the pipes, because connections over the years have been made by knocking a hole in the pipe and sticking another pipe into it, Keller said.

Unlike water service lines, the sewage lines are under gravity flow, which means that during dry times, the water is unlikely to leak out, although there could be some cracks in the bottom of the line, she said.

But during wet times, the concentration of selenium increases in all types of water, and groundwater rises and puts pressure on the pipes, infiltrating the sewer system.

The city is lining pipes in the western part of Pueblo, where selenium is most prominent. Levels in the groundwater reach up to 8,000 parts per billion in one test well — more than 500 times the stream standard of 14.1 ppb.

During dry to moderate times, the release level from the city’s wastewater plant is between 12-20 ppb.

“If we have a storm, it will go up to 60 ppb,” Keller said. “Yet even when we’re high, the river is higher yet.”

According to scientific studies, the toxicity of selenium in Pueblo’s water is counteracted by sulfates, which are naturally occurring in the same geologic formation, Keller said. No evidence of widespread harmful impacts can be found.

Pueblo is in the process of lining sewer lines and manholes on the West Side, and evaluating the impact. But that will take 10 years to complete, and the state Water Quality Control Commission has set a two-year deadline to develop a numeric standard, called a discharger specific variance, for Pueblo’s wastewater plant.

“The tests we’re doing will have some impact, but there won’t be enough data,” Keller said. “You need a wet period, but don’t know if we’ll get it. We won’t have enough data to make everyone comfortable.”