I’m heading over to Steamboat Springs for the Colorado Water Congress’ Summer Conference and Membership Meeting. Posting will be hit and miss through Friday. I’ll try to catch up on Saturday. Follow me on Twitter (@CoyoteGulch).
From American Rivers (Sinjin Eberle):
I have noticed a lot of chatter lately about the situation at Lake Mead. Dramatic overuse, prolonged drought, and the effects of increased temperatures have led to a historically low volume of water stored in the largest reservoir on the Colorado River. One of the most critical components of water in the west is less than 40% full. Yet while some people scramble for a quick fix or point fingers, others see the long game and note the optimism that working together for smart, sustainable solutions can bring. There is hope, there is a roadmap, and together we have the knowledge, skill, and foresight to make it happen.
The Discovery Channel recently produced a new documentary, Killing the Colorado, a made-for-TV version of the lengthy ProPublica series of the same name. The show is excellent, comprehensive, and features a number of voices that you may not expect to be featured in a film about the environment. Imperial valley agricultural producers, water managers, a red-state Senator and a blue-state Governor – all identifying problems facing the basin, and most putting forth an optimistic view that a human-caused predicament can be solved with human-inspired ingenuity.
One quote in particular is poignant – there is a scene with Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper in his office flipping through a binder full of historic water compacts. Upon his observance of the generations of water agreements, he remarks “The thing you realize when you go through these [water] compacts, is that everyone is in this together.” Given the situation facing Lake Mead, a growing chorus of voices around Lake Powell, the birth of the Colorado Water Plan, and a recognition that heathy rivers support healthy agriculture and sustainable economies, we truly are all rowing the same boat together in the Colorado Basin.
But, how can Lake Mead affect Colorado from a thousand miles downstream? Well, due to the Colorado River Compact of 1922, headwaters states like Colorado must send a certain amount of water to the Southwestern states of Arizona, Nevada, and California – it’s the law of the river, and the law of the land. And since when the Compact was developed, California was a fast growing destination, it has priority and can “call” for water if needed. For years, California has had the luxury to get much of the surplus of water that Colorado and Wyoming have sent downstream to be stored in Lake Powell and Lake Mead. But now with prolonged drought, a fast-growing population across the entire Southwest, and a substantial agricultural economy (especially in the Imperial Valley), the era of surplus water is over. As such, Lake Mead is directly connected to Colorado, whether we like it or not, and that connection is the Colorado River.
Killing the Colorado does a fantastic job over nearly an hour-and-a-half of highlighting a variety of colorful characters who have recognized that shortage and a lack of water will change everything in the future – that future is now. But while both the show and the written article are excellent at highlighting the situation, they don’t delve deeply into what I think is most important – that real solutions do exist, and we know how to implement them, it simply takes our collective will to get them moving. Solutions like urban and agricultural conservation and efficiency, like reuse and recycling, like innovative water banking and flexible management practices, like continuing the shift towards renewable energy (solar and wind don’t devour cooling water like natural gas and coal plants require). But while these efforts all seem daunting and out of an individual’s control, there are actions that each of us can take every day that together, make a huge difference. Like buying and installing your own rain barrel for your outside plants and flowers, like supporting your local farmer at the farmer’s market – small things that have a great impact, especially when we all do them together.
Solutions do exist, and as Arizona Senator Jeff Flake said “The drought over the past couple of years has awakened all of us to the future we have if we don’t do better planning. There are many things that are out of our control…Planning is so important. Conserving. Recharging. Water banking. Water markets. These are all important things that have to take place.”
Let’s get started!
From The Farmington Daily Times (Joshua Kellogg):
The Gold King Mine Citizens’ Advisory Committee heard an update on the quality of the drinking water during its meeting today at San Juan College.
Stephanie Stringer, chief of the New Mexico Environment Department’s Drinking Water Bureau, gave a presentation to the committee on the status of public water systems in the Animas and San Juan watersheds.
The committee includes 11 volunteers who monitor efforts to document the long-term effects of the mine spill, which in August 2015 released more than 3 million gallons of towaste water with heavy metals into the Animas Rivers.
About 89,000 San Juan County residents’ water systems were affected by the mine when intakes were closed to protect treatment plants and water reservoirs, according to Stringer’s presentation. That figure does not include water systems on the Navajo Nation, which are not monitored by the state agency.
But in the year after the mine spill, the affected public water systems have remained in compliance with drinking water quality standards, Stringer said.
She said no metal contamination was found in any of the drinking water samples collected by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
“With a couple of minor exceptions of failing infrastructure systems, the public water systems are doing their job, and the water is safe to drink,” Stringer said after the meeting.
While not related to the mine spill, poor infrastructure maintenance is behind the failing treatment systems of the Morningstar and Harvest Gold water systems, Stringer said. Operated by the AV Water Co., the two systems serve nearly 7,000 residents in Crouch Mesa and areas outside Bloomfield. Those customers have been under a boil advisory since May 25 because of the failing treatment plants.
Drinking water from all other public water systems is safe for all uses, according to Stringer.
In her presentation, Stringer also detailed the bureau’s efforts to monitor the quality of the drinking water systems after the mine spill. Stringer said some public water systems are developing plans in case an emergency again threatens drinking water.
“We are encouraging all the public water systems to develop source water protection plans to ensure they know what to do in an event such as this,” Stringer said after the meeting.
The Gold King Mine Citizens’ Advisory Committee will meet next at 5:30 p.m. Sept. 26 at the Nenahnezad Chapter house in Fruitland.
From BizWest (Dallas Heltzell):
“We don’t know if that’s early or late 2017,” said Brian Werner, communications manager for the Berthoud-based Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, the driving force behind the proposed Northern Integrated Supply Project. Noting that the planning process for NISP now is in its 13th year, he added that “given the pace so far, we’d expect to see it released to the public toward the latter part of the year.”
The additional opportunity for public input “is not something we’d ordinarily do,” said John Urbanic, a Littleton-based senior project manager for the Corps’ Omaha District. “There’s typically no comment period on the final because the studies have been completed.”
The change in Corps policy was decided, Urbanic said, because the Corps has done additional water-quality analyses since it issued a Supplemental Draft EIS in June 2015. The final EIS will include updated environmental studies, as well as refinements that project manager Northern Water has made to its proposal.
In April, Northern Water responded to last year’s sharp criticism from citizens and some governmental bodies by revising its plans in order to provide a larger, steadier flow of water in the Cache la Poudre River as it flows through Fort Collins. The change would include releasing 14,000 acre-feet of water a year from Glade Reservoir into the Poudre for a 12-mile stretch through the city, then capturing it again at the “Timnath Inlet” near East Mulberry Street west of Interstate 25 through a pumping station and pipeline that would carry it down the Larimer-Weld county line to Northern Water’s Southern Water Supply Project, which serves communities from Broomfield to Fort Morgan.
Northern Water designed the revision to help allay opponents’ fears that by draining water from the Poudre, NISP would limit opportunities for recreation that include tubing, whitewater kayaking and fishing. The Fort Collins City Council late last summer unanimously voted to conditionally oppose the project, based on a report from a broad range of city departments that listed concerns about water-quality degradation because of reduced streamflow that could cause the city to spend tens of millions of dollars on extra water treatment, as well as what they saw as an incomplete supplemental draft EIS by the Corps.
Northern Water’s revised plan also would eliminate a proposed pipeline from Horsetooth Reservoir, west of Fort Collins, into the NISP system, Werner said — another response to public concerns.
Then in July, Werner said the proposed Galeton Reservoir might have to be moved because the site is home to about two dozen active oil and gas wells operated by Noble Energy…
“The move of the Galeton Reservoir site will not slow down the process further,” Werner told BizWest on Monday.
Urbanic said all public input received during the comment period for the final EIS will be reviewed and addressed in the “Record of Decision,” which completes the Corps’ permitting process.
About a dozen cities and towns and four water districts have signed up to buy water from the project if it wins final approval from the Corps. Supporters see NISP as crucial to keeping up with the growing demands of development, industry and agriculture along the Front Range and catching rainwater and snowmelt for use in drier years.