Join the Colorado Foundation for Water Education and Colorado Water Congress with support from CoBank on August 16th from 12:00 to 1:00pm, for a timely interactive webinar that explores some of the promising creative funding options available to pay for Colorado’s water future. Learn more about the funding gap, and creative funding mechanisms as discussed by the state finance committee and the Colorado Water Conservation Board. Then dive into options, tips and examples of financing through P3s and cooperative partnerships; venture capital and impact investing; and philanthropic donations and investment. We’ll hear about these very real financing ideas and provide a forum to engage in discussion with experts.
In the face of population growth, Colorado communities are solidifying the work outlined in Colorado’s Water Plan around water storage, infrastructure, education, conservation, and more. Amid new growth, we also face an era of repair, with emerging needs in infrastructure replacement and recovery, environmental and stream management and recovery, recreational needs, and the continued viability of water for agriculture. The water needs of the future may be far different, with more financing needs than we’ve seen to date.
Where will Colorado find the billions of dollars necessary to fund its water future and pay for what’s ahead?
Eric Hecox, South Metro Water Supply Authority
Ben McConahey, Hydro Venture Partners
April Montgomery, The Telluride Foundation and CWCB Board Member
In a one-year retrospective released Monday by the EPA, the federal agency is careful to underscore how the state was involved in planning that led to the blowout, which turned the Animas mustard yellow and deposited heavy metals.
“Throughout the winter and spring of 2015, EPA and CDRMS (Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety) developed plans … During the 2014-2015 investigatory process with CDRMS, the EPA team concluded the GKM (Gold King Mine) adit was likely only partially full of water,” the report says…
The state has attempted to distance itself from planning that led to the blowout.
“DRMS did not have any authority to manage, assess, or approve any work at the Gold King Mine,” former Natural Resources Director Mike King wrote in a Sept. 2, 2015, letter to the EPA, just a week after an EPA internal report was released.
The issue is likely to be highlighted as the state defends itself against a lawsuit filed by New Mexico in the U.S. Supreme Court. The state has until Aug. 22 to respond…
The account does not offer much new information, largely recounting the circumstances that led to the Aug. 5, 2015, blowout, which the EPA described as an “inadvertent” release.
“EPA recognizes the impact that the GKM release had on the people of the Four Corners region,” the retrospective states. “The Agency has worked with affected residents, small businesses, universities, local governments, states and tribes in an extensive effort to assess and address the immediate and potential long-term impacts of the release on water quality in a region adversely impacted by a legacy of contaminated mine-influenced waters from abandoned and unstable hard-rock mines.”
It goes on to encourage Congress to approve a fee on the hard-rock mining industry to help cover costs associated with cleanups. The Republican-controlled Congress has expressed concerns with the proposal.
The EPA has dedicated more than $29 million to respond to the Gold King Mine spill and to provide monitoring in the area. A Superfund listing – which is likely to be approved as early as the fall – would inject millions more into cleanup efforts.
A new State of the Climate report confirmed that 2015 surpassed 2014 as the warmest year since at least the mid-to-late 19th century.
Last year’s record heat resulted from the combined influence of long-term global warming and one of the strongest El Niño events the globe has experienced since at least 1950. The report found that most indicators of climate change continued to reflect trends consistent with a warming planet. Several markers such as land and ocean temperatures, sea levels, and greenhouse gases broke records set just one year prior.
These key findings and others are available from the State of the Climate in 2015 report released online by the American Meteorological Society (AMS).
The report, led by NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information, is based on contributions from more than 450 scientists from 62 countries around the world and reflects tens of thousands of measurements from multiple independent datasets. It provides a detailed update on global climate indicators, notable weather events, and other data collected by environmental monitoring stations and instruments located on land, water, ice, and in space.
“This ‘annual physical’ of Earth’s climate system showed us that 2015’s climate was shaped both by long-term change and an El Niño event,” said Thomas R. Karl, LHD, Director, NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information. “When we think about being climate resilient, both of these time scales are important to consider. Last year’s El Niño was a clear reminder of how short-term events can amplify the relative influence and impacts stemming from longer-term global warming trends.”
The report’s climate indicators show patterns, changes, and trends of the global climate system. Examples of the indicators include various types of greenhouse gases; temperatures throughout the atmosphere, ocean, and land; cloud cover; sea level; ocean salinity; sea ice extent; and snow cover.
The State of the Climate in 2015 is the 26th edition in a peer-reviewed series published annually as a special supplement to the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society. “The State of the Climate report continues to be critically important as it documents our changing climate. AMS is proud to work with so many from the science community to make this publication happen,” said Keith Seitter, Executive Director of AMS. The journal makes the full report openly available online (link is external).
The Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled the annual public meeting for Ruedi Reservoir Water Operations.
August 11: Basalt Town Hall, 101 Midland Avenue, Basalt, Colo., 7 to 8:30 p.m.
The meeting will provide an overview of Ruedi Reservoir’s 2016 projected operations for late summer and early fall, which are key tourist seasons in Basalt. The meeting will include a public question and answer session.
For more information, please contact Tim Miller, Hydrologist, Eastern Colorado Area Office, by phone or e-mail: (970) 962-4394, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jim Lochhead, the CEO and manager of Denver Water, said Tuesday that building new dams in the Colorado River basin is not at the top of his to-do list. Nor, for that matter, is drying up farms to provide water for Colorado’s growing cities.
But he says Colorado still needs to have hard conversations about how to flexibly manage its water. In particular, he wants farmers to be able to share water with Denver and other cities without worrying that they may lose their water rights.
Speaking at the annual Western Water Symposium at Colorado State University, Lochhead credited the 2015 Colorado Water Plan as being a useful “compendium of the issues” but said it highlighted relatively easy solutions without fully addressing the harder challenges.
“I don’t think the solution is $20 billion of new water projects for Colorado, but that’s an easy thing to go look for,” said Lochhead, head of the state’s largest water utility that supplies 1.4 million people, and stores nearly 40 percent of its water in Summit County’s Dillon Reservoir.
A coordinated plan is needed, Lochhead said.
“We’re not there yet with the state water plan to develop any kind of coordinated principle vision for the future, much less how to get there,” he said.
Lochhead, who took the helm of Denver Water in 2010, described Colorado’s historical approach to water as a zero-sum game where there had to be a winner and a loser.
That zero-sum game lost its moorings in the second half of 20th century as a result of new federal and state laws, court decisions and political fights, Lochhead said.
He said that two decades have brought more collaboration between diverse interests, including those on both sides of the Continental Divide, and it is reflected in such projects as Wolford Mountain Reservoir near Kremmling.
Both Denver Water and the Colorado River Water Conservation District have an interest in Wolford Reservoir, with Denver Water on track to soon own 40 percent of the water in the reservoir. The water has many benefits, among them providing late-summer water to meet needs of four endangered fish species in the Colorado River near Grand Junction.
Another collaborative effort has been launched in the Winter Park area. There, Denver plans to increase diversions from the Fraser and Williams Fork rivers, but is doing so with the blessing of local authorities, thanks to a collaborative “learning by doing” effort in Grand County that seeks to reduce streamflow impacts from both new and existing diversions.
But Lochhead believes Colorado must still dramatically change its water allocation methods as it faces population growth. Demographers project that Colorado’s 5.4 million population will double within a few decades. If we seek to provide the water for the additional residents the way we provided for the first 5 million, he said, “we won’t like the outcome very well.”
The river itself
A second challenge is the Colorado River itself, the fountain that supplies at least part of the water for 40 million people, from corn farms in northeastern Colorado to San Diego. And despite some good snow years, the two big reservoirs on the lower Colorado River, Lake Powell and Lake Mead, are both low enough to keep a ballroom full of water experts up at night.
It could get worse. And, according to projections of climate models, it likely will.
Laurna Kaatz, an in-house climate expert at Denver Water, recently told the Metro basin roundtable it’s still not clear if it will be hotter and drier, or hotter and wetter in Colorado in the future, but there is little doubt it will be hotter.
More major dams on the Colorado River are not the solution, Lochhead said. Evaporative losses would result in more loss than gain, he said, although he did allow for the possibility of relatively small dams.
Denver Water is, however, studying the potential for putting water into aquifers beneath the city, creating underground storage — storage that could, in theory, hold water from the Western Slope.
And Denver Water is looking to store up to an additional 15,000 acre-feet of Western Slope water in an expanded Gross Reservoir, southwest of Boulder. The $360 million project seeks to raise the elevation of the dam by 131 feet, which would increase the capacity of the reservoir by 77,000 acre-feet, bringing it up to 119,000 acre-feet.
Lochhead said that Colorado needs more flexible water management options that allow for greater sharing of the resource.
About 85 percent of water in Colorado is used by agriculture and ranchers and farmers tend to have the oldest and most senior water rights.
Water rights are private, said Lochhead, “but you can’t really do anything with that property right except what you are currently doing with it unless you go to water court. And by going to water court you put that entire water right at risk.”
In Colorado’s water courts, objections to changes in uses of water rights are often filed. The process can be lengthy and expensive for those seeking to make changes.
“You need a safe process where you don’t have to put your water right at risk, and you understand that you don’t have to spend years negotiating,” he said.
And Lochhead thinks Colorado also needs another conversation about conservation, where the emphasis is not about sacrifice but about innovation.
Denver Water intends to demonstrate what is possible as it redevelops its 35-acre headquarters campus along Interstate 25 near downtown Denver. There, planners think they can reduce demand for potable water by more than 50 percent.
In water reuse, said Lochhead, Colorado is “way behind the curve” as compared to some world cities, including Amsterdam and Sydney.
Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism and the Aspen Daily News are collaborating on the coverage of water and rivers. The Daily News published this story on Friday, July 29, 2016.
The Gold King Mine Spill has exposed a bigger problem whose solution seems incredibly complex. Hundreds of abandoned mines in southwestern Colorado have leached tainted water into nearby streams for decades. The EPA has been trying to get a handle on the issue for years. That’s why the agency had crews working at Gold King Mine last August.
It’s emblematic of a much larger problem that exists across the Western United States. One GAO report estimates 33,000 hard rock abandoned mines are causing environmental problems. And one year after the Gold King Mine spill, many experts say the country is no closer to a solution.
The proposed Bonita Peak Mining District contains 48 mining-related sites in the region. But local officials said it wasn’t easy getting on board with the Superfund idea.
“There was a lot of sleepless nights,” said Willy Tookey, San Juan County administrator. For more than a decade, the government here shied away from Superfund status.
The two biggest concerns for local leaders was that a listing would cause a drop in property values and a drop tourism.
Tookey said intense negotiations with the EPA over this past year led to new confidence. And assurances.
“Because of the circumstances I think we were able to get these answers that we weren’t able to before,” he said.
The EPA expects to make a final decision on whether Superfund status will be approved this fall. From that point, it could take years for the agency to approve a work plan and funding.
There were two weak monsoon surges from late June through July, said Joe Ramey, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service office in Grand Junction. The stronger, third surge this week could hold the potential for flash flooding.
One such storm materialized about 3 p.m. Monday over Durango. It brought a mix of rain, hail and lightning that started a small wildland fire and flooded some businesses, including south City Market, where the back half of the store from aisles 1 to 6 was soaked.
The city of Durango reported some culverts were plugged, but no major flooding. The deluge centralized over the city, said Butch Knowlton, director of La Plata County’s Office of Emergency Management…
The monsoon is a seasonal phenomenon in which winds start coming from the south instead of the west. Then, as high pressure sets up in the Southwest, winds help pull water into the region from the gulfs of Mexico and California. Because of solar heating, a thermal low develops over the desert Southwest, which helps to pull even more rain into the region. As these two events interact, the familiar, seasonal pattern of almost daily thunderstorms ensues.
Where’s La Niña?
This year’s weather has been influenced by the El Niño phenomenon, which brought heavy snow to the Four Corners this winter. El Niño has ended, according to the weather service, but with a twist this year: El Niño’s opposite effect, La Niña, is unlikely to occur. La Niña is often linked to drier winters.
“El Niño is over, but La Niña has not replaced it,” Ramey said.
El Niño occurs when temperatures in a patch of ocean off Ecuador’s coast rise by about 1 degree (0.5 degree Celsius) from three-month averages. The effect is that storms generally track in a more southerly direction across the U.S.
La Niña occurs when the patch of equatorial Pacific cools by about 1 degree from the average. It results in generally drier winters in the Four Corners as storms take a northerly track.
In June, weather service forecasters saw the ocean temperatures drop from El Niño, and reported the likelihood of a La Niña was 77 percent.
“It is now at 55 percent, so it is setting up for an ENSO (El Niño Southern Oscillation) neutral pattern,” which is neither El Niño or La Niña, Ramey said.
The neutral pattern isn’t necessarily bad news for the upcoming winter, he said, but it makes the long-term winter forecast more unpredictable.
“ENSO neutral years do not have a favorite pattern, and the storm tracks vary widely,” Ramey said. “The climate record shows these years can be dry or wet, so it is kind of a wild card.”
Since 1950, there have been 19 El Niños. Of those, in the season that followed a La Niña occurred 11 times and an ENSO neutral occurred five times.