“System-use agreement” between Central Arizona Project and the federal Bureau of Reclamation a major milestone for vital water-delivery system
Central Arizona Project board President Lisa Atkins and board member Sharon Megdal signing the CAP System Use Agreement on Feb. 2
Central Arizona Project and the federal Bureau of Reclamation reached an historic agreement on Thursday that allows for “new and innovative” uses of the CAP’s 336-mile system of canals, including transporting new water supplies, exchanging supplies among users and efficiently accessing water stored underground by the Arizona Water Banking Authority and others.
The agreement creates a legal framework for a variety of water supplies to be moved through the system, including many dedicated to addressing possible future shortfalls in Arizona’s Colorado River water allocations.
“It allows for flexibility in managing our Colorado River water supplies,” said Tom Buschatzke, director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources.
ASPEN – The city of Aspen is embarking on a new “community-based” planning effort to find out how much water the city may need in the future and how best to meet that demand.
The process is also to include a review of water storage options in lieu of moving forward with the potential Maroon and Castle reservoirs, for which the city holds conditional water rights.
“We know there is a lot of expertise in the community,” Margaret Medellin, the city’s utilities portfolio manager told the Aspen City Council on Tuesday during a work session. “We want Aspen to know we are listening. We want to engage.”
Local water stakeholders are expected to be interviewed in the coming weeks by consultants hired by the city from Consensus Building Institute in Cambridge, Mass.
Aspen City Manager Steve Barwick advised council members that the overall water-planning effort could cost “several hundred thousand dollars.”
While the city has already signed a number of contracts with various firms for its new planning efforts, it has not yet hired a consultant to specifically determine future water storage needs and to find out whether it might ever really need to build large dams on Castle and Maroon creeks, as it has recently again told the state it intends to do if necessary.
It’s also not clear why officials feel the need to go beyond a “water supply availability” study completed for the city in June 2016 by Wilson Water Group. That study did not identify a clear need for additional storage facilities.
That study found that “the results of this analysis indicate the City can always provide sufficient potable and raw water supplies under these modeled demand and hydrology scenarios. Existing water supply infrastructure and water rights portfolio developed and managed by the City do not appear to be limiting factors in this evaluation.”
It also said “the results of this study indicate that under historical hydrology conditions, water demands through the next 50 years can be met. However, under specific dry climate change scenarios, the City would be required to implement several tools to curtail water demands in order to fulfill the objectives of providing a reliable water supply for potable, raw, and ISF (insteam flow) purposes. All of the water supply alternatives … are either in place currently or the City is actively working towards bringing them online.”
Those “water supply alternatives” in the report include a new water reuse facility and a deep well, but not either of the two large potential reservoirs on Castle and Maroon creeks.
The study concludes by noting that “for the 50-year planning window, under the largest growth and driest climate scenario an average monthly ISF deficit of 3.5 cfs is possible, and could be satisfied by increased well pumping.”
After this week’s work session both David Hornbacher, the city’s director of utilities, and council member Art Daily, said that the new water planning effort would seek to find out how much water storage Aspen might actually need in the future.
“We’re going for a community-based approach and that approach includes looking at the future demands and looking at supply alternatives,” Hornbacher said. “What is different from the previous report is that we’re engaging a lot of the members in the community and other interested parties to have a lot of input into some of the ideas.”
Daily, who is also a senior partner at the Holland and Hart law firm in Aspen, said the question of “What do we need?” is “the first thing we’re looking at. Definitely.”
“We don’t know what the future is going to require of us, but let’s make some reasonable assumptions about what we might realistically need in the way of storage,” Daily said. “And what alternatives are there to those two reservoirs?”
“That’s just smart planning and thinking,” Daily also said. “We know that the reservoir options are there. But are there better alternatives that have less impact on critical valleys, critical landscapes, private lands and county lands? I don’t know that we’ve in the past ever really closely analyzed what those options are.”
The city has filed two applications in Division 5 water court to extend its conditional water rights tied to the potential Castle and Maroon creek reservoirs, and 10 parties have filed statements of opposition in the two cases, including Pitkin County.
The water rights date to 1965 and the city has yet to undertake a comprehensive and detailed feasibility study of either potential reservoir.
‘Not a very desirable location’
“That was pretty creative thinking 40 years ago,” Daily said, referring to the city’s filing for water rights on Castle and Maroon creeks, during an on-the-record interview in council chambers after Tuesday’s work session.
“We know today it is not a very desirable location to flood – Maroon Creek and that whole drainage,” Daily said. “And the lake and the mountains around it. We would hate to touch any of that. There is no question. And I don’t think anybody in the community feels differently about that.
“But I’m glad we still have those conditional rights,” Daily continued. “Let’s not give those up until we develop an alternative strategy.
“This is hard stuff. I don’t know exactly how you go about it. I’m no engineer. But I’m glad we’re embarked on the evaluation, the study. We are going to develop a lot of knowledge we don’t have today. And I’m not saying this is easy or inexpensive or anything but it’s critical to the long-term future of our community.”
During Tuesday’s work session, the council members were told by Ashley Perl, the director of the city’s climate-change program, that “Our lack of [water] storage makes us extremely vulnerable to a changing climate.”
After the meeting, Daily said the city still needs more information to determine how vulnerable it may actually be.
“Part of the study is, what are the realistic climate considerations for us?” Daily said. “None of us have the answers. And none of us want to be excitable or over-reactive. I just want to learn all we can.
“The information we have developed to date, it’s thin. It’s not persuasive yet. I think some of our assumptions are becoming more and more supported by what we’re learning.
“If climate change continues, as it seems to be moving, and I don’t buy Trump’s argument that there is no such thing, then we need to prepare a future where we may have less water. It’s that simple. And I think it is our job to prepare for that as best we can.
“The first thing we’re looking at is how much may we need. And making certain assumptions about the climate and what are our water resources going to look like 30, 40 years from now.
“If we don’t plan for it now, as best we can, with whatever how many years it is going to be, we won’t get it done. And we may not get it done in time. So let’s get on it.
“I think that’s what, really, the whole community is supportive of. It’s a question of exactly how you do it and what are we trying to accomplish and what do we need to know? Those are all good questions.”
Listening to opposers
Daily also said he expected the city to listen to the parties who’ve filed statements of opposition in the Castle and Maroon creek water rights cases.
“If they’ve got anything to offer us, I want to hear that too,” Daily said. “And collaboration is critically important in something like this that has such a community impact. You know, we need all the input we can get. We need all the expertise that’s out there. And then we need to develop new expertise.
“It’s a tough process. [But] what I like is, the city – the proponents, and the opponents – they are going to collaborate because they all know that the best possible solution is if everybody’s intellect gets involved at the same time. And ultimately they may continue to oppose and never settle, but let’s find out.
“We’re going to have to work together. And these guys all want a realistic solution and they all want to know, what’s the real assessment of the potential problem?”
According to a Jan. 27 staff memo from Medellin, the city has recently entered into a contract with Sopris Engineering of Carbondale to “update surveying for Castle Creek Reservoir.”
It also notes that city staff “met with dam and reservoir expert, Terry Arnold, to review existing geological data.”
The memo does not discuss further study of or surveying the potential Maroon Creek Reservoir, which would be built in view of the Maroon Bells.
The city has also entered into a contract with Headwaters Inc. of Utah “to perform a preliminary review of risks in Aspen’s demand and supply through 2065.”
The city has also hired Deere and Ault Consultants to study the feasibility of storing water in old mines in the Aspen area.
The city staff memo said, “consultants Don Deere and Victor DeWolf met with staff and performed [an] on site investigative tour of local mines” on Jan. 26.
On Tuesday staff included several photos of the consultants walking in a dark local mine as part of their presentation to council.
Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism, the Aspen Daily News, and Coyote Gulch are collaborating on coverage of water and rivers. The Daily News published a shorter version of this story on Feb. 3, 2017.
While Col. Doug Schiess, commander of the 21st Space Wing at Peterson Air Force Base, wouldn’t elaborate on details of the five-year plan, he said information about an internal Air Force report would be released in late June or early July.
The Air Force used firefighting foam at the base for decades that contained perfluorinated compounds. High quantities of the chemical in drinking water from the Widefield Aquifer triggered an EPA advisory last spring.
A Gazette investigation in October revealed that the service kept the foam in use despite Defense Department studies over the years that showed it was harmful to laboratory animals.
Commissioners Longinos Gonzalez and Mark Waller pressed Schiess to reveal how much the mitigation work would cost and who would pay the bill if more contamination was found after the five-year time frame.
“That will be done at a much higher level in the Air Force,” Schiess said, when asked if the reclamation funds were readily available now. “They know that that is a big bill and they have put some money aside. That is being budgeted, but I don’t have details.”
Schiess said the five-year plan will ensure that the ground near Peterson and at the Colorado Springs Airport is free of perflourinated compounds. When ingested, the chemicals can remain in the body for decades. The colonel said natural, untainted runoff will eventually dilute the watershed and bring it up to Environmental Protection Agency standards for safe water…
Perfluorinated chemicals have been used in nonstick pans, in stain-resistant treatments for carpet and even in fast-food containers for decades.
Air Force studies done as early as 1979 revealed that the perfluorinated chemical in its firefighting foam caused liver damage, cellular damage and low birth weight to laboratory animals. It has also been tagged as a potential carcinogen.
Last year, EPA lowered its health advisory levels for perfluorinated compounds to 70 parts per trillion, changing the status of some wells that had been previously deemed safe.
On Thursday, Schiess said that the internal draft report about the contamination in southern El Paso County will likely be completed by the contractor in March. The Air Force will send its final report to the EPA in late April. And that information will be ready for public consumption in June or July, he said.
Schiess also brought the commissioners up to date on interim efforts to treat drinking water using filters for homes and businesses.
He said the Air Force had contacted about two dozen residents who had been using bottled water in their homes. According to the colonel, six homeowners declined offers to install reverse osmosis filtration systems, and four have had those measures implemented.
Schiess said the Fountain Valley Shopping Center is still using bottled water and others, such as Venetucci Farm and the Norad View Mobile Home Park are using granular activated carbon filters.
Brown & Caldwell, a construction consulting firm, reviewed the estimate the town received from Moltz Construction in 2016. The estimated cost of $53 million for the new water plant was a surprise to the council during their October budget retreat, causing them to table a final decision. Staff from Brown & Caldwell stated at the January council meeting that the Moltz estimate was thorough and only had slight variances from their own.
“Without water, without sewer, without fire, police, etc., without infrastructure, this community stops. This is, I think, the fundamental purpose of government, is to provide this type of infrastructure,” said Tim Casey, a member of the town’s water task force.
In order to pay for the plant, Breckenridge is working with the Colorado Water Resources and Power Development Authority. The organization is giving the town a 20-year loan with an estimated interest rate of less than 2 percent, said Brian Waldes, the director of finance for the town. Water rent for the town will continue to rise at the previously scheduled rate of 5 percent per year. Waldes said that the town is not anticipating any additional increases. The money from water rent funds will be used to pay the water plant loan.
The plant, which will be located north of the town off of Highway 9, will have a restroom that is accessible from the recreation path located in the area. There will also be a station to fill water bottles.
James Phelps, the interim director of public works, said that the delay in final approval from the council set back the construction timeline for the new plant. Right now the town is working on getting the required permits, a process that could take six months. Phelps said that preparation for the water plant should start around June. The plant will likely be finished in 2020…
Planning for the new plant was largely about getting ahead of water demand for the town. Breckenridge’s current facility, the Gary Roberts Water Treatment Plant, was built in 1971. With only one source of water, the town is vulnerable to drought or other natural disasters. If the plant breaks down, the town would be without an alternative water source.
“We’re discreet. In other words, we’re not hooked into any other town’s … water system,” Waldes said. “If our water system goes down for whatever reason, be it a natural disaster or mechanical failure, there’s no other water plant that can help us.”
Phelps said that once the new water plant is complete, it will enable the town to shut down the Gary Roberts plant temporarily for repairs and general maintenance.
As the demand for water grows with the population, Kim Dykstra, the director of communications for Breckenridge, said that water conservation is still one of the town’s main goals. Phelps added that the new plant could allow the town to expand its service areas to homes that have been getting water from wells, potentially taking dependency away from a water source that may eventually run dry.
Casey also mentioned that because the plant takes water from a diversion of the Blue River, it leaves water in the river, which is another environmental benefit.
The plant comes from years of planning from both the task force as well as the from the feasibility study. But the town was able to build the plant due to past council members obtaining water rights as far back as 1883, Phelps said. It helped to keep the town steps ahead.