@CFWEWater: Public health — safe drinking water

Click here to read the Fall issue of Headwaters Magazine from the Colorado Foundation for Water Education. Here’s their intro:

The Fall 2016 issue of Headwaters magazine looks at public health. The magazine introduces the law and policy governing safe drinking water, then takes a close look at how public health concerns related to as-yet-unregulated contaminants are monitored and evaluated. The issue also focuses on the unique public health challenges rural areas face, while exploring efforts to pursue increased water reuse, including from direct potable reuse systems, through initiatives related to technology and policy. The issue’s articles are set against the backdrop of public alarm raised about the safety of public water during recent high-profile events, including Flint’s lead crisis and PFC groundwater contamination near Colorado Springs. Flip through or download the issue here

Want to receive Headwaters? Contact us for a complimentary copy or support Headwaters and water education by donating to the Headwaters Fund or becoming a member of the Colorado Foundation for Water Education.

Be sure to check Allen Best’s article about reuse, Water on Repeat. Here’s an excerpt:

Castle Rock and other water providers in Denver’s South Metro area understand the need to diversify their water supplies. One big piece of that puzzle is wa- ter reuse. You’ve heard of locovores, people who favor locally sourced food? This is similar. Call it locoagua. Rather than import water from distant sources, these water-strapped communities can reuse certain water supplies again and again, until they are exhausted. For many communities, it’s the lowest-cost alternative. Given proper treatment, it can be the highest-quality alternative, too.

headwaterswinter2016

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

Upper Colorado River Basin December 2016 precipitation as a percent of normal via the Colorado Climate Center.
Upper Colorado River Basin December 2016 precipitation as a percent of normal via the Colorado Climate Center.

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

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Upper Colorado River Basin Water Year 2017 (through December 31, 2016) precipitation as a percent of normal via the Colorado Climate Center.

Colorado Springs hopes to prevent Lower Ark joining EPA and CDPHE lawsuit

Fountain Creek flood debris May 2014 via The Pueblo Chieftain
Fountain Creek flood debris May 2014 via The Pueblo Chieftain

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Jon Pompia):

Colorado Springs is opposing an Arkansas River water district’s request to join a lawsuit that seeks to stop the city from discharging pollutants into Fountain Creek and other tributaries of the river.

The Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District wants a voice against Colorado Springs by being allowed to take part in the litigation.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Colorado Department of Health jointly filed the lawsuit Nov. 9 in U.S. District Court in Denver against Colorado Springs. The lawsuit claims that the city’s discharges of polluted stormwater into the tributaries violate state and federal clean water laws.

The lawsuit seeks a court order requiring Colorado Springs “to take all steps necessary to redress or mitigate the impact of its violations.”

The lawsuit also seeks a court order to require the city “to develop, implement and enforce” its stormwater management program, as required by permits the government has issued. The lawsuit goes on to ask a judge to impose monetary penalties on Colorado Springs for the violations.

Water runoff from streets, parking lots and other surfaces picks up pollutants that drain into the stormwater sewage system, which discharges it into the creeks.

Pollutants include accumulated debris, chemicals and sediment. They “can adversely affect water quality, erode stream banks, destroy needed habitat for fish and other aquatic life, and make it more difficult and expensive for downstream users to effectively use the water,” the lawsuit states

The water district on Dec. 9 asked Senior Judge Richard Matsch for permission to become an intervenor to protect the district’s interests to have clean and usable water from the river.

The city on Dec. 22 filed arguments opposing the district’s request. The city contends that the district has no legal right to intervene.

The district — as well as Pueblo officials — has long been a critic of Colorado Springs for sending polluted and sediment-filled stormwater, including dangerous E. coli bacteria, into the river and for not controlling flooding the water causes.

The district encompasses Bent, Crowley, Otero, Prowers and Pueblo counties, where considerable produce, including Rocky Ford melons, are grown.

Colorado Springs officials have negotiated a deal with Pueblo County for the city to spend $460 million over 20 years on Fountain Creek flood control.

The Gazette newspaper in Colorado Springs reported last Friday that Mayor John Suthers cited that commitment as an example of how his administration is working to resolve the complaints of its downstream neighbors.

In its court filing opposing allowing the district to become a participant in the litigation, the city said the case will be greatly complicated and costs of litigating it will increase. The city also said that the EPA and state environment department will adequately represent the district’s interests.

Attorney Peter Nichols, representing the district, sees it differently, according to The Gazette: “The question is whether the city is already putting a lot of political pressure on the state and EPA to back off. The district is concerned they might be successful with that pressure, and water quality wouldn’t be improved in Fountain Creek,” Nichols said.

The newspaper reported that district Executive Director Jay Winner said Colorado Springs repeatedly had broken promises about the stormwater problems.

“We’re trying to find ways to protect ourselves” — Mark Harris

Bicycling the Colorado National Monument, Grand Valley in the distance via Colorado.com
Bicycling the Colorado National Monument, Grand Valley in the distance via Colorado.com

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Erin McIntyre):

If you notice that some fields across the valley remain bare when others are sprouting with crops this spring, don’t be alarmed.

Behind those temporarily empty rows is an innovative experiment targeting water savings.

Farmers with the Grand Valley Water Users Association are participating in a pilot study to help determine if it’s feasible to intermittently fallow fields to save water in reservoirs.

The move to pay those in the agricultural community to not plant a portion of their crops is the first time an experiment of its kind has been done in the Grand Valley, and it’s one that could change the way water providers operate in the future to conserve precious resources during drought.

With reservoir levels dwindling and low snowpack levels across many areas in the West, water managers are trying this new tool out to see if it could help them hedge against dry years and protect against catastrophe that could result from scarcity along the Colorado River.

This experiment has a goal of helping to shore up water reserves in Lake Powell, which isn’t just a recreation destination, but an insurance policy to protect Upper Basin states like Colorado against demands on water from the Lower Basin, including California.

The Conserved Consumptive Use Pilot Project began last year, and 10 farmers were chosen from a lottery to participate in the program, which compensates them for not planting a portion of their fields. Instead, the water would be banked in storage, hedging against scarcity in times of drought.

The initial phase of the pilot project is projected to save 3,200 acre-feet of water, which is a drop in the bucket of the 7.5 million-acre feet of Colorado River water earmarked for delivery to Arizona, Nevada and California per year by compact agreement. But it’s a start in exploring how water managers can be flexible and avoid heavy-handed edicts from the federal government, pilot participants said.

“We’re trying to find ways to protect ourselves,” said Luke Gingerich, an engineer contracted to manage the pilot program with GVWUA Manager Mark Harris.

“How do we get ahead of this curve for our benefit?” Harris said. “And how do we do it without damaging people’s interests?”

Organizers of the project have spent extensive time researching the legal implications of fallowing fields and leaving agricultural water in the stream to collect in reservoirs.

Farmers interested in the pilot needed to meet several criteria. They needed to be actively farming at least 120 acres for the past three years, and could only commit half of their acreage for fallowing, among other rules. Some of the stipulations are meant to discourage speculation, which has happened in other lease-fallow situations, Gingerich said.

Commodity prices for crops are hovering near multiyear lows, making the deal more attractive for farmers who are guaranteed at least $356 per acre for participation in the pilot.

Harris called the record-low commodity prices in agriculture an “unhappy coincidence” that may have led some farmers to be more open to the experiment. He said some growers were attracted to the staggered fallowing agreements, allowing them to fallow until August, September or October, which would allow them to plant crops like winter wheat for the next season. Overall, the fallowed land is distributed across the association’s service area, and amounts to less than 5 percent of the total acreage.

The pilot project is about building a contingency plan, preparing for the worst-case scenario. In this case, that would be if water levels at Lake Powell drop below the point where power can be generated, which would likely trigger water curtailment in Colorado and other Upper Basin states.

The program has been funded by a number of entities, including the Colorado River Water Conservation District, the Nature Conservancy and the Water Bank Work Group.

Dan Birch, deputy general manager of the Colorado River Water Conservation District, said his agency has been working on this plan for about eight years. He said the motivation is to find a sensible compromise to avoid dire consequences if Lake Powell’s water levels continue to drop.

“What’s going on overall in the Colorado River system is, things aren’t that good,” Birch said. “You really don’t have to look any further than the reservoir levels in Lake Powell and Lake Mead. Those are our savings accounts.”

The reality that water managers are facing is that if water demands continue to increase while snowpack levels dwindle, everyone who depends on the Colorado River isn’t more than a few dry years away from dire straits, said Hannah Holm, coordinator of Colorado Mesa University’s Hutchins Water Center.

“It’s just becoming more and more clear that the Colorado River Basin as a whole could be in real trouble because there’s more water coming out of our system than what’s going into the system, since about 2000,” Holm said. “This is an effort to get in front of it and avoid a crisis.”

High Demand, Low Supply: Colorado River Water Crisis Hits Across The West — @NewsCPR

Colorado River Basin including out of basin demands -- Graphic/USBR
Colorado River Basin including out of basin demands — Graphic/USBR

From Colorado Public Radio (Grace Hood):

For decades, the [Colorado River] has fed growing cities from Denver to Los Angeles. A lot of the produce in supermarkets across the country was grown with Colorado River water. But with climate change, and severe drought, the river is reaching a crisis point, and communities at each end of it are reacting very differently…

The problem is that Colorado’s population will nearly double by 2050. Future residents will need more water. Denver Water CEO Jim Lochhead says more storage is part of the solution. It’s also an insurance policy against future drought.

“From Denver Water’s perspective, if we can’t provide clean, reliable, sustainable water 100 years from now to our customers, we’re not doing our job,” Lochhead says.

Demand for Colorado River water is already stretched thin. So it may sound crazy that places like Colorado and Wyoming want to develop more water projects. Legally, that’s something they are entitled to do.

Wyoming is studying whether to store more water from a Colorado River tributary. “We feel we have some room to grow, but we understand that growth comes with risk,” says Pat Tyrrell, who oversees Wyoming’s water rights.

Risk because in 10 or 20 years there may not be enough water to fill up expanded reservoirs. A 16-year drought has dramatically decreased water supply even as demand keeps growing. And climate change could make this picture worse.

It makes Tyrrell’s job feel impossible.

“You understand the reality today of a low water supply,” he says. “You also know that you’re going to have permit applications coming in to develop more water. What do you do?”

Tyrrell says that as long as water is available, Wyoming will very likely keep finding new ways to store it. But a future with less water is coming.

In California, that future of cutbacks has already arrived. The water that started in Colorado flows more than 1,000 miles to greater Los Angeles.

So even in the sixth year of California’s drought, some lawns are still green.

“Slowly but surely, the entire supply on Colorado River has become less reliable,” says Jeffrey Kightlinger, who manages the Metropolitan Water District in Southern California. He notes that the water level in Lake Mead, the biggest reservoir on the river, has been plummeting.

An official shortage could be declared next winter. “And that’ll be a historic moment,” Kightlinger says.

It’s never happened before. Arizona and Nevada would be forced to cut back on how much water they draw from the river. California would be spared that fate, because it has senior water rights. So you wouldn’t expect to hear what Kightlinger says next.

“We are having voluntary discussions with Arizona and Nevada about what we would do proactively to help,” he says.

California could help by giving up water before it has to, between 5 percent and 8 percent of its supply. Kightlinger isn’t offering this out of the goodness of his heart; if Lake Mead drops too low, the federal government could step in and reallocate all the water, including California’s.

“We all realize if we model the future and we build in climate change, we could be in a world of hurt if we do nothing,” Kightlinger says.

This idea of cooperation is somewhat revolutionary after years of lawsuits and bad blood.

Recently, farmer Steve Benson was checking on one of his alfalfa fields near the Mexican border. “We know there’s a target on our back in the Imperial Valley for the amount of water we use,” he says.

This valley produces two-thirds of the country’s vegetables in the winter — with water from the Colorado River.

In fact, for decades, California used more than its legal share of the river and had to cut back in 2003. This area, the Imperial Irrigation District, took the painful step of transferring some of its water to cities like San Diego.

Bruce Kuhn voted on that water transfer as a board member of the district. “It was the single hardest decision I have ever made in my life,” he says.

Kuhn ended up casting the deciding vote to share water, which meant some farmers have had to fallow their land.

“It cost me some friends,” he says. “I mean, we still talk but it isn’t the same.”

Soon, Kuhn may have to make another painful decision about whether California should give up water to Arizona and Nevada. With an emergency shortage looming, Kuhn may have no choice.