Grand Lake garners support for Outstanding National Resource Water designation

Happy New Water Year!

From the Grand Lake Chamber of Commerce via the Sky-Hi Daily News:

Outstanding Grand Lake (OGL), a sustainability arm of the Grand Lake Chamber of Commerce, has started initial meetings with the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission as they move forward on a three-year timeline toward Outstanding National Resource Water (ONRW) designation.

In November, the Town of Grand Lake voted unanimously to support the designation of Colorado’s largest and deepest natural lake to Outstanding National Resource Water status. This would move Grand Lake into the same classification of other highly regarded bodies of water, such as Lake Tahoe in California.

The OGL Committee also met with Keep Tahoe Blue, the League to Save Tahoe, in November, and were encouraged to hear that ONRW boosted both the environmental and the economic success of the lake.

Executive Director for the League, Darcie Goodman Collins, reported that there were no negative impacts on the Lake Tahoe businesses or on new development, with the community fully supporting the designation.

Grand Lake will have further discussions with Lake Tahoe to implement best practices from their community.

In December, OGL has been contacted by the Sonoran Institute in Denver to collaborate with San Luis Rio Colorado, Mexico to bring attention to the Colorado River and its epic journey downstream. This will include the building of a park on the Front Range that illustrates where the headwaters transverse from above Grand Lake, through the delta to reach the ocean.

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

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Click here to read the current assessment. Click here to go to the NIDIS website hosted by the Colorado Climate Center. Here’s the summary:

Summary: January 10, 2017

Last week saw a continuation of the active storm pattern, as snow accumulations continue to build in the higher elevations of the Upper Colorado River Basin. Widespread across the region, precipitation amounts were over 0.5 inches for the week. Many areas received over 2 inches of liquid, and some areas (particularly around Cameron Pass in northern CO and Gunnison County, CO) received in excess of 5 inches of moisture in the last 7 days. Snowpack is above average for the entire region.

East of the Continental Divide, most of the Colorado Front Range cooridor received over 0.5 inches of precipitation, mostly the result of one large snow event that occurred in the middle of the last work week. Northeast CO received between a quarter and half an inch of moisture for the week, while the Arkansas basin was a bit drier, receiving between 0.01 and 0.25 inches.

Over the past 30 days, SPIs are positive across all of the Colorado and the Upper Colorado River Basin. But longer-term, indicators begin to dry out, particularly over eastern CO. While most of the UCRB, and the high elevations along the Continental Divide, appear to be free of drought (short- and long-term) thanks to an excellent recovery of snowpack, lingering drought conditions and impacts continue to be observed and reported in the eastern plains. Water supply is likely to be in good condition for spring irrigation, but drylands may begin to suffer due to high winds and low accumulations of precipitation.

While streamflows throughout the UCRB and eastern CO are in good condition, VIC soil moisture still shows dryness in eastern CO. Fortunately, cooler than average temperatures have dominated over the past month. However, warm temperature anomalies are expected over the next couple of weeks and there does not appear to be any moisture relief soon for eastern CO.

Recommendations

UCRB: It is recommended that much of D0 in eastern UCRB (and along the higher elevations just east of the Continental Divide) be removed, based on last week’s precipitation and SNOTEL SWE percentiles (see green shape on change map).

Eastern Colorado: Status quo is recommended for the eastern plains. A trimming of D2 (purple shape) and D1 (blue shape) are recommended in northern CO and southern WY. The recommended delineations were drawn based on a combination of SNOTEL SWE percentiles, last week’s precipitation, and 6-month PRISM SPIs.

@NOAA: 2016 was 2nd warmest year on record for U.S.

Here’s the release from NOAA:

Last year will be remembered as warmer than average for much of the nation, and depending on where you live, 2016 was either parched, soggy — or both.

To understand how, here’s our U.S. “climate by the numbers” summary for 2016:

Full year, January through December
The average U.S. temperature in 2016 was 54.9 degrees F (2.9 degrees F above average), which ranked as the second warmest year in 122 years of record-keeping. This is the 20th consecutive year the annual average temperature exceeded the average. Every state in the contiguous U.S. and Alaska experienced above-average annual temperatures, according to scientists from NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information.

Precipitation for the year totaled 31.70 inches, ranking as the 24th wettest year. The national drought footprint expanded from about 18 percent in January to about 23 percent by the end of December. At just under 19 percent, the average area of drought in the U.S. for 2016 was the smallest since 2010.

December
The month of December was near the long-term average for the month with an average temperature across the contiguous U.S. of 32.9 degrees F, 0.17 degrees above average. The northwestern quarter of the contiguous U.S. was generally cooler than average for the month, while the southern U.S. and the Atlantic Coast states were warmer than average. The precipitation total for the month was 0.34 inch above normal.

Here's a look at the locations of 15 billion-dollar disasters that occurred in the U.S. in 2016. (NOAA NCEI)
Here’s a look at the locations of 15 billion-dollar disasters that occurred in the U.S. in 2016. (NOAA NCEI)

Billion-dollar disasters
Deadly, extreme weather caused major loss of life and damage in 2016.

Last year, the U.S. experienced 15 weather and climate disasters, each with losses exceeding $1 billion for a total of $46 billion. Tragically, the disasters claimed a total of 138 lives:

● 1 drought (affected multiple areas);
● 1 wildfire (affected multiple areas);
● 4 inland floods;
● 8 severe storms; and
● 1 hurricane (Matthew).

This is the second highest number of disasters experienced in one year, with double the record number of inland flooding events for one year.

Since 1980, the U.S. has sustained more than 200 weather and climate disasters that exceeded $1.1 trillion in overall damages.

CU “ColoradoLaw Talks” start February 8, 2017

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Click here to register. From the website:

Colorado Law School are pleased to announce the launch of a new lecture series in 2017. Colorado Law Talks features our faculty and other members of the Colorado Law community. It provides an opportunity hear about the lecturers’ current scholarship, and to discuss the questions and ideas that motivate, influence, and shape their work. The work of Colorado Law’s professors includes an extraordinary array of diverse projects-not just intriguing scholarship, but innovative teaching methods, and valuable contributions to communities beyond the law school. Colorado Law Talks will allow us to share some of these projects with you, providing an important opportunity for Colorado Law and the legal community to engage with ideas, and with one another.

The inaugural Colorado Law Talk “The Law of the River” will be delivered by Professor Sarah Krakoff on Wed., Feb. 8. Professor Krakoff will discuss the many legal and policy issues, including tribal consultation, endangered species, uranium mining, and of course the Colorado River compact, that affect the Colorado River and its surroundings. Professor Krakoff’s lecture will be followed by a reception and an opportunity to mix and mingle with members of our Colorado Law community.

When: Wed., Feb. 8, 5:30 p.m.
Location: Davis Graham & Stubbs LLP, 1550 17th Street, Suite 500, Denver.

Registration Information: The event is free for all Colorado Law students and 2012-2016 Colorado Law graduates, $10 for all other alumni, and $20 for other guests.

The evening’s proceeds will benefit Professor Krakoff’s Advanced Natural Resource Seminar (The Law of the River), which will address all of these issues and more, and will culminate in a two-week raft trip through the Grand Canyon.

Many Indian reservations are located in or near contentious river basins where demand for water outstrips supply. Map courtesy of the Bureau of Reclamation.
Many Indian reservations are located in or near contentious river basins where demand for water outstrips supply. Map courtesy of the Bureau of Reclamation.

Widefield aquifer pollution update

Southern Delivery System map via Colorado Springs Utilities
Southern Delivery System map via Colorado Springs Utilities

From The Colorado Springs Independent (Nat Stein):

‘It’s amazing, really, how it worked out,” says Roy Heald.

Heald, general manager of the Security Water and Sanitation District (SWSD), is referring to perhaps the only piece of good news in the ongoing story of water contamination in communities south of Colorado Springs.

“We got into planning [the Southern Delivery System] two decades ago for redundancy, thinking we’d use it if anything happened, and then it comes online not three weeks before we really needed it,” he says.

In May, the Environmental Protection Agency issued a health advisory lowering what’s considered a safe amount of perfluorinated chemicals — a highly prevalent but unregulated toxin that’s been linked to low birth weights, heart disease and cancer. Wells drawing from the Widefield aquifer, which supplies around 80,000 people’s drinking water, then tested at nearly 20 times the EPA’s recommended threshold in some cases.

Right away, SWSD took mitigating steps by instigating watering restrictions, fast-tracking an infrastructure project to boost connectivity between service areas and negotiating more access to surface water through the newly operational SDS pipeline. By September, all groundwater wells were shut off. But all that came at a price.

“The exact cost is hard to pin down at this point because we’ve still got bills coming in,” Heald says, “but yeah, this was a huge unanticipated expense.” To get an idea, consider groundwater typically accounts for half the district’s total water supply. Forgoing cheap groundwater in favor of more expensive surface water, even if just for the last four months of the year, cost SWSD around $1 million in 2016, when it expected to spend $100,000. The district has deferred other capital projects, prioritized new ones and diminished its cash reserve, meaning it needs money.

But from whom?

At the very least, the Security, Widefield and Fountain water districts are all expecting some portion of the $4.3 million the Air Force pledged over the summer after Peterson Air Force Base admitted a chemical-laden fire retardant used for decades on base could be the source of contamination.

Air Force spokesman Steve Brady gave the Indy a rundown of how the money’s being spent: Homes on private well water will get reverse osmosis systems installed; NORAD and Security Mobile Home Parks will get granular activated carbon systems, as will Stratmoor Hills, Fountain and Widefield public water systems; First United Pentecostal Church will tap into Security water; SWSD will construct new piping to hook into Colorado Springs Utilities; the Fountain Valley Shopping Center, private homes that don’t agree to take ownership of a filtration system once installed and the Venetucci farmhouse will continue getting bottled water.

The Air Force’s pledge has been messaged as a “good neighbor” gesture and not a signal of responsibility, meaning that for now, available funds are finite. The Air Force Civil Engineer Center is working to confirm or deny the possibility that contaminants came from Peterson Air Force Base while public health officials (and private litigants) continue to investigate other possible polluters.

A damning outcome of those inquiries could warrant additional compensation, but until then, affected parties will have to just deal on their own.

“I know we’ll get some share of that $4.3 million, but whatever it is won’t be enough to cover our costs,” says Heald, whose district hasn’t received a check from the Air Force yet. “There could be grants available at the state level, but those are in the thousands or tens of thousands range. We’re looking at millions. I’ve talked to our congressional representatives but I don’t know about federal sources. Maybe folks will have other ideas, because whatever the source, our ratepayers didn’t cause this so they shouldn’t have to pay for it.”

Security residents will start seeing higher water bills immediately. Rates were already scheduled to rise in 2017 before this situation arose, but now the hike could be steeper. Unless some new windfall comes through before the next rate study gets underway in the fall, you can guess what direction rates will continue to go. Still, a typical water bill in Security during 2016 was $36 —about half of a typical Colorado Springs bill.

Fountain is in a similar, though not identical, position. “We don’t need to use groundwater in the wintertime — that’s been the standard for years,” Utilities Director Curtis Mitchell tells the Indy, explaining that groundwater only ever flowed through taps during peak demand over the summer. Ahead of that time this year, Mitchell has negotiated extra surface water through a capacity swap with Colorado Springs Utilities. Groundwater will only enter the equation once filtration systems are installed and working reliably.

Widefield has been off well water since November, according to department manager Brandon Bernard, who says four pilot projects are underway to find the best technology for filtering out PFCs. He’s aiming to get a small treatment facility built by May and another, bigger one “in the near future.” (Because Widefield isn’t an SDS partner, it has limited surface water, hence the primary focus is on treating well water.)

“All of the capital costs to pilot and build the treatment will be taken from cash reserves,” Bernard wrote by email. “The only costs the customers will incur through rates will be to cover operation and maintenance of these facilities. … We aren’t sure how much of the $4.3 million is portioned for WWSD and have not heard when we will receive it.”

Fountain and Security’s increased reliance on SDS may cost their customers, but it provides some relief to Colorado Springs — primary investor, owner and operator of the $825 million pipeline. As partners, Fountain and Security already contributed their share of construction costs, but moving more water through it offsets operational costs.

“We’re running at really low levels right now, so there’s plenty of room in the pipe for our partners,” says Colorado Springs Utilities spokesman Steve Berry. “The bottom line is we’re one big community here in El Paso County, so we’re happy to be flexible for them, but it also takes some of the financial burden [of running SDS] off our customers.”

The costs of getting SDS up and running have been factored into CSU’s rates over the past five years, Berry says, so Phase 1 is pretty much paid for. Phase 2, including new storage construction and reservoir resurfacing, has yet to be reflected in customers’ water bills. Other capital improvement projects like maintaining aging pipes elsewhere in CSU’s raw water system, replacing main lines under downtown and modernizing storage tanks and treatment facilities are coming later.

So whatever reprieve Colorado Springs water users get will be overshadowed by other expenses. “Unfortunately, base rates typically don’t go down — they either stay constant or they increase,” says Berry, who emphasizes that partners’ usage won’t compromise CSU’s access to water. CSU still has precious “first-use” water rights and plenty of redundancy built into its overall system. “But to have a high-quality, reliable water source requires a hefty investment,” Berry adds.

Reliable is the key word there, as demonstrated by the crises playing out in Security, Widefield and Fountain, and communities across the country where drinking water is compromised. Part of the trend is having better detection instruments and part is better science showing potential harm, Heald observes. But, he says, what remains constant is America’s “leap before you look” approach to regulating toxins in our environment — chemicals get introduced to the market before anyone really knows what risk they pose.

Heald offers this summation: “You don’t know what you don’t know, but when you do know, you know it’s going to cost more.”

Loveland: Solar to replace hydro from damaged Idylwilde dam

Idylwilde Dam via Loveland Water and Power
Idylwilde Dam via Loveland Water and Power

From TheDenverChannel.com (Kurt Sevits):

The city of Loveland has finished work on a large-scale solar power installation that aims to replace the damaged Idylwilde hydroelectric dam.

The dam, built in 1917, was badly damaged in the Sept. 2013 floods that devastated the Front Range corridor.

Loveland received about $9 million in disaster recovery funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to construct the new Foothills Solar and Substation project, which the city says is capable of producing more power than the dam.

The Idylwilde Dam’s hydroelectric facility was capable of producing 900 kilowatts of electricity before it was removed. The new solar project, on the other hand, has a capacity of 3.5 megawatts, more than tripling the output of the dam.

City officials said the solar project is expected to produce about 6,813 megawatt hours of electricity each year — enough to power about 574 homes.

To produce as much power as possible, the array uses solar tracking technology, which allows the panels to move throughout the day so they’re always facing the sun.

Boulder-based Namaste Solar designed and built the solar array.

The city said the project is the first energy-producing facility to receive approval through FEMA’s “Alternate Project” program, which permits the use of federal money for new construction when restoring a damaged building isn’t considered to be in the public interest.

$5.1 million of the FEMA funds were used to build the solar array. The remainder will be used to construct an electric substation on the site. It’s expected to be completed in the spring.

Water Challenges for Young Western Farmers

Your Water Colorado Blog

When you hear the word “farmer,” what is the first thing that comes to mind? Most people have a preconceived notion of what farming looks like, as well as what is involved in the actual practice of farming. While the average age of an American farmer is 58, and farmers over the age of 65 outnumber farmers under 35 by a ratio of six-to-one, the next generation of farmers is emerging across the country. Their work is yielding joys and challenges previously not experienced, as young farmers face a future impacted by drought, climate change and increasing municipal demands on water supplies.

This recent crop of innovative young farmers is featured in the newly released short film Conservation Generation, presented by the National Young Farmers Coalition (NYFC), an organization that “represents, mobilizes, and engages young farmers to ensure their success.” The four young farmers featured in Conservation Generation are…

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