Adiós Water Year 2017 #snowpack

Colorado is mostly melted out. Click on a thumbnail graphic to view a gallery of snowpack data from the NRCS.

@ColoradoClimate: Weekly Climate, Water and #Drought Assessment of the Intermountain West

Upper Colorado River Basin month to date precipitation through June 18, 2017 via the Colorado Climate Center.

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

Telluride Regional Wastewater Plan update

Telluride

From The Telluride Daily Planet (Justin Criado):

Council members and several town officials visited their Mountain Village neighbors to the north in order to discuss the proposed Telluride Regional Wastewater Treatment Master Plan. The plan has not been formally finalized, but it’s not likely to change drastically, Public Works Director Paul Ruud said.

The two-hour work session included a presentation highlighting immediate, short-term and long-term goals over the next 10 years…

The current wastewater treatment plant at Society Turn serves the communities of Telluride, Mountain Village, Eider Creek, Sunset Ridge, Aldasoro and Lawson Hill.

The plant is reaching its originally designed capacity, officials explained. Plus, Department of Public Health and Environment regulations through the Colorado Discharge Permit System have been altered over the years. (Colorado Water Quality Control Division stipulations regarding acceptable metals levels in the water also changed beginning this year.)

Those variables, in conjunction with an increased waste stream and new treatment options, make updating and eventually expanding the current plant paramount within the next decade…

Immediate focuses include talking with commercial wastewater dischargers about pre-treatment agreements, seasonal restrictions on septage hauling to the plant and a receiving station for storage of septage, among other items.

Ruud called the more immediate objectives “stepping stones.”

The long-term plan, outlined until 2027, includes plant expansion to meet possible new state nutrient regulations.

The San Miguel Valley Corporation owns the land immediately around the current plant. Ruud said there have been “very preliminary” talks with corporation officials about possibly acquiring more land.

The total cost of all proposed master plan improvements would be in the $30-$40 million range. Telluride officials explained addressing future wastewater plans in annual budgets would help with the planning process. (Telluride had a specific focus on water and wastewater projects when sculpting its 2017 budget.)

The recently opened, $22 million Fruita wastewater plant was used as an example of what is possible, but Ruud explained Telluride’s wastewater flow is higher than Fruita’s, which calls for larger improvements.

Telluride Town Manager Greg Clifton said none of the master plan objectives are necessarily “set in stone” just yet…

The city continues to replace outdated water lines, update treatment plant technology, and develop better ways to store and treat water and wastewater.

Water and wastewater projects are covered through separate enterprise funds, which use taxes and service fees to raise capital.//

For 2017, projected Telluride Water Fund revenues are $2.6 million, while projected expenditures are $3.5 million.

Plans to replace more pipes around town and the Bridal Veil Basin are in the works for this year, including repairs to pipes that carry water through the Lewis and Blue lakes areas. The Mill Creek Water Treatment Plant is in need of equipment and holding tank updates, which are projected to be $278,500, according to town officials.

Clifton added that exploring alternative, outside funding options will be a hot topic at future meetings.

#Utah continues monitoring of the San Juan River #GoldKingMine #AnimasRiver

On April 7, 2016, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed adding the “Bonita Peak Mining District” to the National Priorities List, making it eligible for Superfund. Forty-eight mine portals and tailings piles are “under consideration” to be included. The Gold King Mine will almost certainly be on the final list, as will the nearby American Tunnel. The Mayflower Mill #4 tailings repository, just outside Silverton, is another likely candidate, given that it appears to be leaching large quantities of metals into the Animas River. What Superfund will entail for the area beyond that, and when the actual cleanup will begin, remains unclear.
Eric Baker

From KSL.com (Amy Joi O’Donoghue):

Erica Gaddis, the newly appointed director of the Utah Division of Water Quality, briefed a committee of lawmakers on the situation during a Tuesday hearing, detailing that 540 tons of heavy metals now rest at the bottom of Lake Powell.

Testing by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency revealed that the heavy metal concentrations had all been flushed to Lake Powell by last July, carried along by the currents in the San Juan River.

Gaddis, who assumes her new role next Monday, said metals such as copper, zinc and aluminum tested above federal standards in 2015 in aquatic life in more than 150 samples. By 2016, only aluminum remained — with counts that exceeded the standard in 126 samples…

Gaddis told members of the Legislature’s Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee that Utah, the three other states impacted and Native American tribes are working together to monitor long-term impacts.

That task is complicated given the extent of legacy mining operations in the Bonita Peak Mining District in Colorado, where there are 48 historic mines near Silverton.

Gaddis pointed out that over the last decade, it’s estimated there have been 877 million gallons of water released, with 8.6 million tons of tailings generated from the life of those mines.

The Utah Department of Environmental Quality has been reimbursed by the EPA for nearly $464,000 in costs in the initial response and another $212,000 in costs have received preliminary approval by the federal government.

Gaddis said about $20 million has been appropriated by a congressional act to help Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and Native American tribes with long-term monitoring.

Utah is also keeping its options open for any potential litigation against the EPA regarding the spill, she added.

Cement Creek aerial photo — Jonathan Thompson via Twitter

@COWaterPlan update

Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013

Here’s an interview with Bart Miller about the Colorado Water Plan from Water Deeply (Matt Weiser):

Recent adoption of the first Colorado Water Plan sets the state on a path to resolve projected shortfalls in water supply, but the plan has flaws that still need attention, explains Western Resource Advocate’s Bart Miller.

COLORADO FACES AN estimated water deficit of 560,000 acre-feet by 2050, due in part to an expected population increase. But it has a long-term plan to address that looming shortage.

The Colorado Water Plan – the first-ever statewide water strategy in Colorado – was ordered up by Gov. John Hickenlooper in 2013 and finalized at the end of 2015. This May, the state legislature allocated a first slug of dedicated funding to meet objectives in the plan.

The goal is to bring water demand into balance with supply while maintaining existing urban and agricultural values and also improving stream health throughout the state.

To learn more about the plan, Water Deeply recently spoke with Bart Miller, Healthy Rivers Program director at Western Resource Advocates in Boulder. Miller has followed the plan closely, both during its drafting and as implementation begins.

Water Deeply: Why this plan? What’s the conflict behind it?

Coyote Gulch and Bart Miller at the State of the Rockies Speaker Series 2011.

Bart Miller: The state of Colorado has seen and will continue to see a lot of growth – and in the last 15 years a lot of drought. So those two combined create what the plan describes as a gap in supply and demand looking out just a few decades ahead. The plan also recognizes some troubling trends in Colorado. Some of that is related to what we often refer to as “buy and dry”: cities buying up agricultural lands to get their water, and completely retiring the (farm) use on those lands.

Also, there has been some conflict between east versus west. The Front Range has harvested water from the west side of Colorado such that today there is over 500,000 acre-feet collected from the Western Front and delivered to the Front Range.

The executive order that called for the Water Plan back in 2013 was really, for the first time, describing broadly the water values the state has. Despite a history where water has been diverted for agriculture, cities and mining, the Water Plan points out there are a range of values, including viable communities, viable agriculture, viable recreation and smart land use. Those are the values the state has that cities and state agencies embrace. So I think it was an effort to get all those out on the table as co-equal partners in the state’s future water needs.

Water Deeply: Does the plan lay out a particular budget or investment scheme?

Miller: Not quite. It leaves most of the financial questions unresolved. It sets out objectives for all those different values that I mentioned. It tries to put a price tag on the funding gap to make all these things happen by 2050. The plan recognizes much of that funding will come from existing sources, in that cities, if building a water project, will be able to raise that funding and apply it to the customers they serve.

But there are some items that have been underfunded or even unfunded over the course of the past few decades. A need for new funding is things like stream health.

Water Deeply: Is there anything binding in the plan? Does it set any hard deadlines?

Miller: I’d say no. It’s largely a planning document. It suggests that different objectives could be met through a series of actions. It suggests legislation that might be helpful, as well as executive or administration actions by the state agencies in collaboration with others. It notes some things, like urban water conservation, are really going to happen through water utilities and their planning process. So the short answer is no.

But there is a pretty wide suite of recommendations, many of which are starting to be implemented. But it’s really just taking the first steps toward implementation.

Water Deeply: Is this a good plan, in your opinion?

Miller: I think yes. It’s a good planning document. It has good objectives, it recognizes a wide range of values. It doesn’t clearly spell out how we’ll get from here to 2030 or even 2050. So it’s in need of more milestones. We’ve got broad objectives for urban conservation, land-use planning, stream health and building new water storage. But it doesn’t have much in the way of measurement points, ways to check in.

And then there’s the price tag. It does spell out a need for some new sources of funding. The good news is, this year the state legislature passed a bill in May that allocates a lot of money to the state Water Conservation Board – $20 million or so – toward implementing the water plan. A project bill is passed by the legislature every year. This year is the first time they included a large boost in funding. They took an existing revolving loan account, and there’s a large enough balance in it that they felt comfortable spending part of it down, which will not be reimbursed. A lot of it will be for grants.

Water Deeply: The plan calls for 400,000 acre-feet of water savings by 2050. Is that ambitious enough?

Miller: That’s a significant number for Colorado. As a point of reference, the water project that serves the Denver metro area serves about 1.3 million customers, and their annual use is about 250,000 acre-feet. So in rough terms, 400,000 acre-feet is enough to meet the needs of over 2 million people, and probably even more. In a state like Colorado, where you’ve only got 5 million residents today, that’s a good goal and a pretty big goal, and a pretty important part of the puzzle.

Water Deeply: Even so, the plan projects a 560,000 acre-foot gap in water needs by 2050, right?

Miller: The plan did both supply and demand projections in various parts of the state. It saw there could be a shortage, yes. But interestingly, a lot of the objectives in the plan will greatly reduce that gap. For example, urban conservation. If cities continue on the track they’ve been on the last 15 years, which is reducing water use per capita by about 1 percent per year, that’s going to save a large chunk of the 400,000 acre-feet, through urban conservation. So at some level, I would de-emphasize the importance of that gap, because there are several approaches that will make that gap shrink or disappear.

Water Deeply: The plan also calls for 400,000 acre-feet of new water storage. Do we know what those projects will be?

Miller: Some of them, yes. At least a couple of those fairly large water projects are already in progress. The proponents in one case are Denver Water, and in another case a northern Colorado group of cities working together under a group called Northern Water. They both have had projects proposed for 15 years or more, and they are in the process of getting environmental reviews done.

Those two projects combined would point toward well over half of that 400,000 acre-foot goal. The rest of that 400,000 acre-foot – it’s an open question what projects will get built. And even these two are not done. They’re not built yet, and there may be delays or objections to those yet. The plan did not directly articulate which projects would be inside the 400,000 acre-foot goal.

Water Deeply: What do the watershed protection components of the plan involve?

Miller: One involves a state program – called Watershed Protection – that has been around a number of years. It does some things like sediment control and prescribed burns.

And there’s a new element tucked inside that same program that has additional funding called stream management planning. It focuses specifically on river health and streamflow. This is meant to be kind of an organic process where stakeholders inside a particular river basin identify stream reaches that are in trouble: they’re dry, or they may have temperature issues. And they try to identify what options there might be to help those streams. It’s meant to identify problems and lay out a suite of solutions.

There’s study from about five years ago that found Colorado River-based recreation and tourism generates in the neighborhood of about 80,000 jobs a year and adds about $9 billion a year to state’s economy. So there’s a growing recognition of the importance of rivers to the state.

Water Deeply: The plan also calls for identifying new funding sources for water projects. How will this work?

Miller: Yes, the plan is looking for options to raise an additional $100 million by 2020 and $3 billion by 2030. The plan estimated the unfunded piece of implementing the plan is $3 billion. All that’s still being discussed. There’s no firm plan yet for what the best mechanism for that is.

The plan recognizes there are important water values across the state that do need to be addressed to help communities meet their conservation goals. But I think the funding need is probably an underestimate, because the plan did not go into very great detail about the costs of remedying stream health.

Water Deeply: You mentioned there’s also a need to prioritize how funding is spent.

Miller: There are many objectives in the plan. And there are gaps – perceived and real funding gaps. But there’s not yet a real clear process for applying criteria on how public funds are spent.

So that’s an important next step, and I hope it will come to pass that those criteria are used. That, plus the long-term funding, will be really the proof of the truth in meeting our plan goals. The goals and objectives are great. We’ll hopefully find ourselves in a place where we’ve made good decisions two or three years from now.