WaterNews: November 2016 is hot off the presses from @DenverWater

Chatfield Reservoir
Chatfield Reservoir

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

5 things you may not know about Chatfield Reservoir

Chatfield State Park is an outdoor sanctuary in Denver’s backyard. But it’s more than a beautiful place — this is one hard-working reservoir. Here’s why.

Chatfield was built for flood control by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, after the 1965 South Platte River flood. During drought, Chatfield water can be pumped to our Marston treatment plant to supplement drinking water supplies. Only water from Denver Water is currently stored behind the dam, even though the dam is federally owned. Colorado State Parks leases the land and oversees park operations.

Chatfield is used for water exchanges to trade downstream users with rights to the water, which allows Denver Water to keep water in the mountain locations of our reservoir system.

Chatfield provides recreational benefits beyond the obvious. In addition to preserving levels for recreation, we use the reservoir to capture water released from Strontia Springs Reservoir. These flows keep the river at optimum levels to support Waterton Canyon’s trout fishery.

Chatfield is about to take on even more responsibility. The Chatfield Storage Reallocation Project will increase water levels by about 12 feet. But this won’t be Denver’s water. Instead, it will help meet demands for growing Front Range communities and downstream farmers. Denver Water will still maintain its original storage pool in the reservoir. The Chatfield Reservoir Mitigation Company also is working with state agencies to develop a plan for a storage “pool” within the reservoir for the environment.

A Plan for the High Line Canal — Confluence Denver

From Confluence Denver (Jamie Siebrase):

Measuring 71 miles from canyon to plains and touted one of the nation’s longest linear parks, the 130-year-old High Line Canal is evolving with Denver. Planning for its future is underway.

You’ll find the High Line Canal’s first headgate just north of Waterton Canyon’s rocky mouth, at a diversion dam on the South Platte River. That dam’s been closed for repairs, though, since the original structure was wiped out in a flood in 2013. Construction on the dam should wrap up next month — too late for this year’s run.

Denver Water owns the High Line, and contracts with seven parks and recreation agencies from Douglas County to Aurora to maintain the canal’s bordering trails and greenways. “Other than where the diversion dam broke, High Line is 100 percent functional,” says , says Tom Roode, Denver Water chief of operations and maintenance.

Despite rumors to the contrary, Denver Water intends to continue running its canal, sending irrigation water to 70 or so active contract holders situated between Waterton Canyon and Fairmount Cemetery, located at about mile 48 on the 71-mile High Line Canal Trail.

Canal users range from wildlife refuges and golf courses to private citizens filling small ponds on their private property. “Current customers,” Roode says, “will always have a water supply, no matter what the future beholds for the canal.”

Running the canal is simple: Denver Water puts water in at the canal’s headgate, and the High Line takes care of the rest. Named for the engineering principle on which it was designed, Denver’s High Line — like others in the state — follows the natural contours of the terrain, dropping a couple of feet each mile, transporting water with gravity, as opposed to a pump or electricity. “Picture a marble rolling down a smooth path really, really slowly,” says Roode.

In good water years, when it has the rights to do so, Denver Water runs its canal two or three times — in the spring and fall, and the summer, perhaps — transporting 120 to 150 cubic feet of water per second, or roughly half the quantity of water it delivered in its heyday, when the canal had 140 headgates and twice as many customers.

Historical interpretations

The English Canal Company — through one of its subsidiaries, Northern Colorado Irrigation Co. — began working on the High Line in 1879, after striking a deal with Kansas Pacific Railway to purchase up to 400,000 acres of excess railroad-grant lands for $1.25 to $2 per acre in exchange for the construction of a canal that would convey water for irrigation.

“Railroads couldn’t sell arid land in the middle of nowhere,” explains Barbara Stocklin-Steely, founder of Denver-based Square Moon Consultants, a historic preservation and planning consulting firm. “The railroad company came up with the idea of building a canal, and selling water rights at the same time it sold land.”

Prominent Colorado engineer Edwin S. Nettleton was brought on for planning, and the canal was built between 1879 and 1883, during Denver’s original gold boom. It was an overly ambitious project from the get-go. The canal was designed to irrigate 120,000 acres. That number, explains a spokesperson for Denver Water, was pared down to 80,000 acres, then 40,000 acres; only 20,000 acres are actually under cultivation.

“The High Line was a major water system when it was first created, but even then it wasn’t very profitable because it’s a leaky little canal,” says Harriet Crittenden LaMair, executive director for the High Line Canal Conservancy.

What’s more, Northern Colorado Irrigation Company was late filing for water rights; by 1879, 87 holders were already senior to the High Line. “The canal has always struggled as a good, solid water source,” explains Roode, noting that it often went empty during dry periods. Located about 100 miles southwest of Denver near Hartsel, Antero Reservoir was built to supplement the High Line’s supply, and still operates today, except in “really tough drought years,” says Roode, pointing to 2002 and 2012.

The High Line changed hands a couple of times, until Denver Water purchased it — along with Antero Reservoir — from the city in 1924. The leaky canal delivered water to many of its original contract holders for the next six decades, until customers gradually began coming off of the canal in the 1980s.

“We’ve always known the canal is an inefficient way to deliver water,” Roode says, noting that 60 to 80 percent of water put into the canal is lost to seepage and evaporation. “Now,” LaMair adds, “there are better, more sustainable and economically feasible ways to bring water to customers. For example, the Rocky Mountain Arsenal, once a major canal customer, converted to a recycled water system in 2003.

“The canal’s original purpose has changed,” Roode says. To that end, the High Line Canal Conservancy and Denver Water have undergone a comprehensive planning project to identify new long-term uses for the space.

From irrigation to recreation

As far as LaMair is concerned, “Recreational use has surpassed functional use” for the canal. Spanning 11 governmental jurisdictions (including Denver, Aurora, Greenwood Village and Highlands Ranch), winding through residential neighborhoods, public parks, golf courses and industrial spaces, the High Line’s abutting shaded path is one of the longest continuous urban trails in the country. Over 350,000 residents live within a mile of it, and, according to data reviewed by the Conservancy, more than 500,000 people use the canal path annually, for walking and hiking, biking, horseback riding and picnicking.

That path was a maintenance road that was closed to the public until the 1970s. A few years later, in 1978, the High Line Canal Trail was designated a National Recreation Trail by the U.S. Department of the Interior. “That was the beginning of the canal’s evolution into a higher purpose as a greenway,” LaMair says, adding that the trail “is more than a recreational amenity. It’s a wildlife habitat, a community connector and a mobility corridor.”

As the canal’s original purpose wanes, LaMair and her cohorts have come together through the High Line Canal Conservancy, to create a vision plan for future use. Formed in 2014 and comprised of 14 board members plus 50 advisors, the Conservancy’s members see a need for private investment in public spaces. “There aren’t enough taxes ever to do what everyone wants,” says LaMair. “Parks,” she adds, “Don’t get the funding other agencies do.”

While Denver Water will continue to manage the canal for the foreseeable future, it gave the Conservancy permission to create a vision plan for the High Line, and that plan began to materialize by way of a four-part series of Conservancy-sponsored open houses that kicked off in June.

Through October, the Conservancy hosted a dozen public gatherings, and engaged about 3,500 residents through meetings and online surveys. The idea, LaMair says, it to figure out what matters most to community members.

Visions for the future

Resident priorities, LaMair says, have been the Conservancy’s “guiding principles” when creating its vision plan. The public’s highest priority, LaMair begins, is keeping the canal natural. “From Douglas County to urbanized Denver, everyone wants a natural refuge,” she says.

Preservation is key in executing this element of the vision plan, and land acquisition isn’t out of the question, either. The canal corridor, LaMair explains, isn’t very wide. “Another goal,” she says, “is to preserve additional open spaces, and create pocket parks around the canal.”

Beyond preserving the canal’s natural landscape, there’s a desire to preserve its history, too. The Conservancy hired Stocklin-Steely’s Square Moon Consultants to do a reconnaissance survey, to identify the canal’s natural resources — infrastructures including dams, gates and flumes — and its historical resources, such as old farmhouses that once used the canal. Stocklin-Steely wrapped up her survey in September after examining 191 different properties along the canal; she says it’s “the first comprehensive look at canal history for its full 71 miles.”

“One big takeaway,” she says, “is that there’s a very small number of historic farmsteads left along the canal. There isn’t much in the way of historic interpretation along the trail.” Recommendations in a report issued to the Conversancy last week include a call for historic interpretation along the trail, in the form of digital apps and/or signs.

Beyond safeguarding nature and history, locals intend to protect neighborhood character, too. Hence, the vision plan outlines five distinct character zones along the canal, and requests a “varied” trail. “The public wants the trail to have its own unique elements in all of the different communities,” LaMair explains.

Her penultimate draft calls, too, for enhanced connectivity. There are 81 at-grade crossings on the canal’s trail, and some are “major challenges,” LaMair says, pointing to Santa Fe Drive in Douglas County.

Meanwhile, Denver, Cherry Hills Village and Arapahoe County have already begun to address one such crossing problem at the intersection of Hampden Avenue and Colorado Boulevard. Funding has been secured to reroute the trail underneath both busy roads next to Denver’s Wellshire Golf Course, and construction is expected to begin in 2017.

Degraded conditions have left some sections of the trail unusable; the Conservancy addresses physical repairs, along with connectivity, too, which has been an ongoing issue for recreational users who would like to see the High Line linked to other trail systems, as well as nearby retail and amenities.

Finally, there’s the question of what to do with the ditch itself. “It’s not overly efficient; it has a lot of issues,” says Stocklin-Steely. “But,” she adds, “I think that maintaining it as an earthen ditch with water flowing is really kind of spectacular.” It’s certainly hard to argue that a concrete-lined canal would have the same appeal for meandering visitors.

The Conservancy’s final vision element, then, explores ways to enhance the canal itself. “There’s a lot of concern over how vegetation will survive if Denver Water ever stops running the canal,” LaMair says. That’s prompted Denver Water to consider the canal for stormwater filtration, which could give the old, leaky waterway new life as a detention pond of sorts.

“We don’t know what the future holds,” Roode says, adding, “The first question we have to answer is what the vision for the canal will be.”

You can find a draft of the vision plan on the Conservancy’s website.

Uncompahgre Water Partnership: We’ve been slimed!

Macro Invertebrates via Little Pend Oreille Wildlife Refuge Water Quality Research
Macro Invertebrates via Little Pend Oreille Wildlife Refuge Water Quality Research

From the Uncompahgre Water Partnership:

Every year, a few weeks before Halloween, the Uncompahgre River seems to blossom with slimy, bubbling growths in areas of the lowest flow. This substance is green algae, decaying and releasing bubbles that are often trapped by iron deposits. Though the algae appears more prominently and abundantly in this season, it’s actually present in the river – even in high flow areas – year round. This fall, the slime may be more noticeable due to more pronounced bubbles caused by the unusually warm temperatures.

While this algae is a typical condition of many river systems and streams, it suffocates macroinvertebrates. According to Uncompahgre Watershed Partnership board member and River Watch volunteer Dudley Case, River Watch experts explained that the zinc in the Uncompahgre River negatively effects both fish and macroinvertebrates, and the slime clogs up areas where they might nest and reproduce.

“Macroinvertebrates are a food source for fish, so the less macroinvertebrates, the less fish. Since the slime is so endemic in the river, reducing the slime safely would be a useful project,” said Case.

Observing and reporting on these types of water issues is one of the goals of the Uncompahgre Watershed Partnership (UWP) as we monitor watershed conditions and communicate with stakeholders. We are reviewing our Watershed Plan this winter so we can make updates related to project and study results from recent years. We hope you will contribute your observations and ideas about priorities to the review and update process. Please feel free to contact us anytime with your thoughts, and we will be back in touch with you to collect input in the coming months, too.

Uncompahgre River watershed
Uncompahgre River watershed

NASA: GOES-R launch now scheduled for November 18

GOES-R Prepares For Launch. Photo credit NASA.
GOES-R Prepares For Launch. Photo credit NASA.

Woo hoo! We need better real-time data now that humankind has killed stationarity.

Click here to go the GOES-R website.

#Colorado Springs to invest heavily in stormwater improvements, hoping to stave off EPA action — The Colorado Springs Gazette

Heavy rains inundate Sand Creek. Photo via the City of Colorado Springs and the Colorado Springs Independent.
Heavy rains inundate Sand Creek. Photo via the City of Colorado Springs and the Colorado Springs Independent.

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Billie Stanton Anleu):

The EPA threatened to sue after it audited the city stormwater system in August 2015 – two months after Mayor John Suthers took office – and found no improvement since a dismal state audit in February 2013.

“We have not yet resolved the issues (with the EPA),” Suthers said in an interview Wednesday. “Our emphasis of course is looking forward: Let’s make things right. We think any kind of large fine would be unproductive. We feel we’ve done a really good job at addressing all the deficiencies.”

A new Stormwater Program Implementation Plan released Wednesday outlines how the division staff will more than double, from 28 to 66 full-time employees, all dedicated to stormwater, with 49 already on board.

The annual city budget for MS4 permit compliance climbs from about $3 million to about $7.1 million this year. That Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System permit allows the flow into interstate waters, from Fountain Creek into the Arkansas River to the Mississippi River and into the Gulf of Mexico.

The $7.1 million devoted to MS4 comes in addition to $9.2 million a year being spent on capital projects, plus $3 million from Colorado Springs Utilities, for a total of more than $19 million a year.

In order to protect water quality, strict enforcement will be launched at construction and industrial sites and with private developers who don’t comply.

In all, 71 projects will be completed over the next 20 years, with channel improvements consuming the most funds. In order to speed such improvements, though, the city might use outside contractors on capital projects until all additional staff members are on board.

Suthers had a message for the community. “We have to face the fact that Colorado Springs has underfunded its stormwater program for a number of years. And we have a lot of work to do.”

Unlike most every other city in America, he said, “We don’t have a dedicated fund for stormwater.”

The City Council could create a stormwater fund unilaterally if it chose to do so. But the mayor wants more information first, so members of public works, finance and the city attorney’s office are researching how other cities’ stormwater programs are structured…

But without a stormwater fund, how will the city pay its $16 million annual obligation?

“We’re going to get it from the general fund until we can get it from another fund. If the city falls short in any five-year period with the intergovernmental agreement (with Pueblo County), Utilities makes up the difference,” he said.

“I’m not worried about that. What I’m worried about rather is the consequences to the city if this doesn’t get funded. I would hope the average Joe would want the city of Colorado Springs to be compliant. The EPA does have jurisdiction over stormwater.”

This strong push to “make things right” comes after nearly a decade of essentially ignoring stormwater concerns. The recession started in 2008, and voters in 2009 backed Issue 300, which weakened city use of enterprise funds. The then-City Council promptly eliminated the city’s Stormwater Enterprise Fund, which levied fees based mostly on a property’s impervious surface area.

The loss of that $15 million to $16 million a year infuriated officials in Pueblo County, who threatened to withdraw the vital 1041 permit for the Southern Delivery System, an $825 million project that was 20 years in the making. Pueblo County, after all, was receiving heavy sedimentation in flows from Fountain Creek.

Suthers soon found himself surfing dual waves of stormy waters – negotiating with Pueblo County to save the delivery system, and conferring with the EPA on how best to meet requirements of the MS4 permit.

Months of frustrating negotiations with Pueblo County finally resulted in April in the 20-year agreement for the city to complete 71 capital projects, spending more than $460 million over 20 years.

The money will be spent in five-year increments, at a rate of $100 million the first five years followed by $110 million, $120 million and $130 million. Any developers’ projects or other efforts would be in addition to the promised amounts.

If the projects aren’t done in time, the accord will be extended five years. And if Colorado Springs can’t come up with the money required, the city-owned Utilities will have to do so.

But while negotiations with Pueblo County were tough, efforts to satisfy the EPA evidently have proven even more difficult. A decision from the federal agency is expected “relatively quickly,” Suthers said.

Whatever the EPA decides, Suthers long has insisted that the city’s stormwater shortcomings must be fixed.

“I mean this very sincerely,” he told The Gazette last April. “It’s the right thing to do. And it’s something we should do.”

#COP21: Paris Climate Agreement Starts Now — @CircleOfBlue


From Circle of Blue (Codi Kozacek):

The Paris climate agreement goes into effect today, legally requiring countries around the world to honor their pledges to cut carbon emissions. Those pledges, however, are not enough to stop climate change from reaching dangerous levels, according to a United Nations report. A separate study quantified the effect of an individual person’s carbon emissions on melting sea ice in the Arctic. In Cambodia, the government promised to investigate the sand mining industry after learning that a huge amount of illegal mining is likely taking place, putting rivers and fisheries at risk. Officials in the United States reported that the drought is over for parts of California, but many areas remain under extremely dry conditions.

“The Paris agreement sends a much-needed signal to politicians and industry that we have to build a new world, and this has to start now. However, the deal is not enough to keep people and the planet safe.” –Harjeet Singh, global lead on climate change for ActionAid, an international organization based in Johannesburg. The Paris agreement, a binding global pact to limit carbon emissions and slow global warming, goes into effect today. (Guardian)

Air Force plans to spend $2 billion to clean up PFC-contaminated water — The Denver Post

Widefield aquifer via the Colorado Water Institute.
Widefield aquifer via the Colorado Water Institute.

From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

A Pentagon team met leaders of Colorado communities whose water has been contaminated with a toxic chemical used to fight fuel fires — and a top official on Wednesday declared the Air Force will move aggressively nationwide, expecting to spend $250 million on studies and $2 billion for cleanup.

Meanwhile Environmental Protect Agency officials said the agency will back increased testing of groundwater in Colorado. Initial tests found the Fountain Creek watershed contaminated with the perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs) at levels exceeding a federal health limit nearly as far south as Pueblo. EPA officials also said they’ll consider developing regulations for PFCs, which have been linked by scientists to low birth weights, cancers of the kidneys and testicles, and other problems.

And military officials at Peterson Air Force Base, where contractors are drilling for 77 samples of soil and 24 samples of groundwater to try to find sources of PFC contamination, announced that their recent report of a 150,000-gallon spill into Colorado Springs sewers was erroneous. They said they now believe 20,000 gallons laced with PFCs flowed into a pond and evaporated.

Colorado residents in 25 homes south of the base whose municipal well water tested bad will receive reverse-osmosis water treatment systems, officials told utilities officials from Widefield, Fountain and Security. Military contractors have tested water in 68 homes so far.

In using Aqueous Film-Forming Foam (AFFF) containing PFCs to fight fuel fires at bases nationwide, the Air Force did not know PFCs could cause harm, said Mark Correll, deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force. While studies for decades have looked at these and other chemicals, Corell said none concluded AFFF shouldn’t be used. Correll rejected suggestions the Air Force was negligent…

The $250 million for studying contamination at bases nationwide and $2 billion for cleanups is in addition to a $900,000 research contract to the Colorado School of Mines to develop a system to destroy PFCs in water.

“This is a really big deal for the Air Force,” Correll said. “The business of the U.S. Air Force is to defend the people of this country. The last thing we want to do is put them at risk.”

Anthropogenic #Drought: How Humans Affect the Global Ecosystem — Earth & Space Science News

A comparison of the Aral Sea in 1989 (left) and 2014 (right). Credit: NASA. Collage by Producercunningham. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.
A comparison of the Aral Sea in 1989 (left) and 2014 (right). Credit: NASA. Collage by Producercunningham. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

From Earth & Space Science News (Amir AghaKouchak):

Imagine the Sahara Desert, but with grasslands, wetlands, eclectic wildlife, and an intricate ecosystem lushly nestled around a large freshwater lake the size of Germany. Around 6,000 years ago, Lake Mega-Chad was the largest freshwater lake on Earth. In just a few hundred years, it was reduced to a lake around a thousand times smaller, and what we know today as Lake Chad. This is an example of significant change in water availability in response to natural climate variability. In the Anthropocene era, however, natural variability is not the primary driver of the observed water stress and environmental degradation. They are human driven, or anthropogenic.

Since the beginning of industrialization, significant growth in population, agriculture, and industry have increased water use and challenged water and environmental management. In many parts of the world, human water use has exceeded available renewable water supply. Development and growth not only increases human water use, but also increases greenhouse gas emissions that, in the long run alter precipitation patterns. Droughts pose significant water and food security challenges, especially in semiarid and arid regions of the world. Droughts can be broadly categorized into four groups: meteorological droughts (deficit in precipitation), agricultural droughts (deficit in soil moisture), hydrologic droughts (deficit in runoff and/or groundwater resources), and socio-economic droughts (higher demand than the available supply). The latter is meant to account for the human impacts on droughts by describing the available resources relative to human water needs. However, a meaningful exploration of drought must go beyond supply issues to include water demands, adaptability, policy, and the two-way feedback of humans on both water supply and regional demands.

In a recent article, we call this anthropogenic drought, which is water stress caused or intensified by human activities, including increased demand, outdated water management, climate change from anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions, growing energy and food production, intensive irrigation, diminished supplies, and land use change.

The environmental impacts of anthropogenic drought are seen around the world including in developed and developing countries. There are many stressed lakes and wetlands around the world affected by increasing water withdrawals and the resulting anthropogenic drought. For example, Lake Urmia, in northwest Iran, was once the second largest saltwater lake on Earth (figure below). We show in a commentary that over the past 40 years, the area of Lake Urmia has decreased by around 80%, most of the change occurring between 2009-2015. But this lake has survived many extreme droughts in the past. When extreme environmental conditions occur, questions often arise regarding the potential role of human-caused or natural climate change. Both are important and deserve our attention. But a question less often asked is, what is the impact of increased human water demand in creating water stress? In the past 15 years, around 20 man-made dams started operation in Lake Urmia’s basin, diverting the lake’s freshwater inflow to irrigation and farming. Lake Urmia is a hypersaline lake, and its desiccation will increase the frequency of salt storms generated from the exposed lakebed. In turn, salt storms will likely reduce productivity of the surrounding agricultural lands, causing migration out of the region. Poor air, land, and water quality all have serious health effects including birth defects, and chronic respiratory and eye diseases. This is a classic case of anthropogenic drought and human-induced changes leading to substantial environmental degradation.

The first victim of anthropogenic droughts is the natural ecosystem, evidenced by the widespread environmental degradation we see around the world. Extensive research is necessary to develop comprehensive frameworks for assessing anthropogenic drought impacts on the natural ecosystem and wildlife. This is critical if we want to sustain both economic prosperity and productive native ecosystems. A breakthrough in this area will not be possible without close collaboration of policy-makers and an interdisciplinary team of scientists.

#Solar watering systems: “You store water instead of electricity” — Vance Fulton

Photo via SolarPumps.com.
Photo via SolarPumps.com.

From The Craig Daily Press (Michael Neary):

Solar-powered water systems let livestock drink more easily and take pressure off ponds and streams

[Vance Fulton], an engineering technician with the Natural Resources Conservation Service, described the way solar energy provides an effective way for landowners to transport water to their livestock.

“Especially around here, (landowners) have found that solar is a much more efficient way to pump water than the old windmills,” Fulton said.

And now, with the birth of the Sage Grouse Initiative, the solar-powered systems are receiving increasing amounts of federal support. Fulton said the systems have received funding through the Farm Bill for decades — but for the last several years, SGI has targeted more money for the solar-powered projects in places where the sage grouse is affected, such as Moffat County.

Surprising as it may seem at first glance, the creation of multiple water sources for cattle helps sage grouse too.

The system often works this way: A solar panel powers a pump that drives water through an underground pipeline, and the pipeline delivers the water to troughs at various points in the land so that animals can drink. The pump often fills up a storage tank for a backup water supply, as well.

The system, as Fulton explained it, creates an efficient means of supplying water to animals on the land. By creating several water sources, the system also eases stress on the ponds, puddles and streams where animals may gather to drink. That benefits a host of creatures — including the sage grouse.

Chris Yarbrough, formerly a biologist with the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, who is now regional habitat biologist for Idaho Fish and Game, explained how a water system such as this can help sage grouse. If there’s only one pond on a ranch, he said, that’s where the cows will congregate.

“That area will probably get overgrazed, and you’ll probably get a lot of weeds — things that aren’t good for wildlife,” he said.

But water troughs scattered throughout the land can attract animals to different spots, easing the pressure on a pond or a stream.

“The grasses and (other plants) then have a chance to grow,” he said — something that’s good for sage grouse and lots of other species, as well.

Yarbrough said much of the funding to install solar pumping systems in Moffat County is generated by the SGI, launched by the Natural Resources Conservation Service in 2010.

Fulton said the NRCS works with about 20 landowners in Moffat County on solar watering systems, and he noted there may be others using solar power, as well. It’s a number that’s far larger, he said, than it was about a decade ago, before the SGI.

One of the Moffat County landowners who uses solar-powered system is Doug Davis, who has a ranch called Davis Family Farm LLC that lies in the eastern part of the county.

“We discovered a very good water source up high, and because it’s up high you can use gravity flow,” Davis said.

Davis explained that the solar panel on this ranch pumps water from the well into a storage tank — and from that storage tank, gravity allows the water to flow through pipes to troughs throughout the property. Davis said that, on another property, he uses the solar-powered pump to push water directly to the troughs.


Either way, Davis said he’s glad to be using solar energy. He used to use windmills, which could be tough to maintain and less reliable.

“Windmills are much higher maintenance, and the wind does not blow as consistently as the sun shines,” he said. “Solar, which has turned out to be a low-maintenance, relatively low-cost proposition for us, is a winner.”

As Fulton walked through Davis’s land on that sunny July day, he pointed to some small nuances in the equipment, including strategically placed fencing to protect the plumbing from the animals drinking from the troughs, and a “small animal escape ramp” to let otherwise trapped animals climb to safety.

Fulton said the solar-powered system works without batteries, which means that energy is transferred directly to the pumps. It also means that the amount of energy may vary from day to day, depending on the supply of sunlight at a given time. That’s where the agility of the pumps comes into play.

“These pumps are able to work on variable voltage,” he said. “They’ll even continue to pump on a slightly cloudy day.”

Storing water during the sunny days, Fulton said, creates a water supply to use on the cloudy ones.

“You store water instead of storing electricity,” he said.

Fulton said, too, that advances in technology — in the pumps and the solar panels — have made the system even better than it used to be.

“It got more dependable, more efficient through the years,” he said — a sign that the sun soaking ranches throughout the county will be put to good use for many more years to come.

@CMUWater: Upper #ColoradoRiver Basin Water Forum recap

Hay meadows near Gunnison
Hay meadows near Gunnison

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

Eckert alfalfa grower Paul Kehmeier has driven across large, parched swaths of eastern Colorado where agricultural water rights apparently have been sold for municipal use.

He doesn’t want Eckert to look like that, so a few years back he and his father got involved with exploring alternatives under which agriculture can temporarily transfer water for other uses rather than resorting to the permanent, “buy-and-dry” approach to meeting water supply demands in Colorado.

Kehmeier has incorporated methods such as splitting irrigation seasons or starting irrigation later in the year, and received financial compensation in return, taking advantage of funding available to explore the feasibility of such voluntary efforts in boosting overall water supplies.

He’s found that his alfalfa can withstand the changes in irrigation that result from such measures.

“So alfalfa is well-suited to it. I nominate alfalfa for this duty,” Kehmeier wryly observed Thursday during the annual Upper Colorado River Basin Water Forum put on by Colorado Mesa University’s Ruth Powell Hutchins Water Center.

Kehmeier participated in an $11 million pilot conservation program launched by the Bureau of Reclamation and several major municipal water providers to test various agriculture and municipal conservation projects in the Colorado River Basin. He’s interested in taking advantage of future opportunities to release water downstream rather than irrigate. But he also warned of shortcomings that need to be addressed, such as the laborious eight-month process it took him to get a signed contract.

“I don’t think the average farmer is going to go through that kind of hassle to lease a little bit of water,” he said.

He also suggested that such a program could be made more user-friendly for agricultural interests if it was administered through the Natural Resources Conservation Service, which has local offices and already administers the Conservation Reserve Program, under which farmers are paid to leave fields fallow. The pilot water conservation program is being administered in the Upper Colorado Basin by the Upper Colorado River Commission. It’s been extended through next year to fund another round of projects.

While the program doesn’t specifically send conserved water to Lake Powell, its goal is to look at ways to boost storage levels of that reservoir so the reservoir can be used to keep meeting Upper Colorado Basin water delivery obligations to downstream states, especially in times of drought.

In Colorado, water-transfer approaches are being explored by a working group on water banking, made up of the Colorado River District, the Colorado Water Conservation Board, The Nature Conservancy and others. Water banking is a conceptual idea for addressing the risks of water shortages through payments to water rights holders to curtail use, with the saved water being stored or held in account elsewhere, Aaron Derwingson of The Nature Conservancy said.

The working group has been involved in some of the pilot water conservation projects, and in ongoing field studies in partnership with Colorado State University, to test the ability of farms to reduce irrigation levels and later be able to return to normal levels of production. Derwingson indicated the results so far have been promising, particularly when it comes to split-season irrigation. They’ve also shown the importance of managing fields while they’re fallow to control weeds, prevent wind erosion and ensure the fields look well-managed from a community perspective, he said.

Another approach that’s being piloted involves transitioning to organic operations, with water saved during the transition and a resulting crop that can be sold at a higher price.

The next step for the working group is to try such measures at a larger scale with a project next year in the Grand Valley involving 10 farmers, 1,250 acres and 3,200 acre feet of water. The program will cost $1 million for payments to farmers and other costs including program administration and infrastructure improvements.

“It’s a significant step up from where we’ve been in the past and I think a good model for where we can go in the future,” he said.

Ultimately, he said, water banking can’t just involve agriculture.

“It must involve everyone that relies on water in the Colorado River Basin,” he said. “Everyone really shares in that risk (of a shortage) and so everyone’s got be involved in the solution.”

Brett Bovee of Westwater Research has done a financial analysis of lease-based water transfer alternatives to buy-and-dry on the Front Range. He said incentives or subsidies may be needed to induce such approaches by municipal water providers, as well as an exploration of ways to reduce costs.

“Leasing water in the long term looks to be more costly (than permanent acquisition of water rights). If it is, you have to address that to get people interested,” he said.

It also would help to focus on trying to get involvement in leasing programs by water entities that are water-stressed and have limited supply options, he said. That could help build an initial comfort level in the idea and lead to more widespread use.

James Eklund, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, said it will be important to learn from the pilot projects and water banking efforts.

Otherwise, he warned of “the unintended consequences of just letting inertia build to the point where monied, Front Range interests are going to want to just buy senior water rights on the West Slope and solve the (water supply) problem that way.”