#Snowpack #drought = need for #conservation

Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map February 20, 2018 via the NRCS.

From Weather Nation (Mike Morrison):

Snow pack in the Colorado Rockies acts as water storage and about eighty percent of Denver’s water comes from this mountain snow pack. Snow falling west of the continental that flows into the Colorado River feeds a demand, more than it can supply downstream. Years with a lack of snow in the mountains of Colorado (and other locations) can adversely impact recreation, agriculture, businesses, and residents who depend on the water from snow pack.

In Colorado, agriculture represents about 86 percent of the states water use. Farmers are dependent on snow pack “reservoirs” and in turn so are the customers who ultimately by the crops they produce. Colorado farmers are cognizant about the need for conservation and are generally open to new ideas and technology to reduce water use. Farmers in Colorado are moving away from flood irrigation to more efficient sprinkler and drip system irrigation methods but a majority of irrigation is still done through flooding fields.

While agriculture does take the lion’s share water, there are more than 5 million people in Colorado that can be more efficient with the water they use, myself included. Xeriscape landscaping for homes and businesses is a great way to reduce water use in the summer and can also save big bucks on the water bill. Water efficient buildings with more efficient water fixtures are a plus in the conservation game, but a conscious, educated efforts to be efficient will also make a major impact.

Low snow pack in the mountains can also adversely impact the recreation and tourism of Colorado. Water-related activities, like fishing, canoeing, commercial rafting, snowmobiling, camping, skiing, boating, tubing on snow or rivers and even ice climbing are impacted by a lack of snow and water. Tourism and recreation pump between $7 and $8 billion into the state’s economy annually and employs some 85,000 people.

Snowpack levels across the Colorado Rockies are running well below average so far this year but there is still time for a comeback. There is a chance through the next couple of months for the La Nina phase of the El Niño–Southern Oscillation or ENSO to become neutral which could bring more moisture to the state through the spring.

Even so Colorado water managers are preparing for the consequences of a lower snow pack and have taken precautions to keep reservoirs full. The Colorado Water Plan https://www.colorado.gov/cowaterplan is in its third year of implementation and serves as a road map for managing water now and into the future.

I still have big hopes for more snow this season but these lean years certainly remind us that water is a limited resource that we need to manage astutely.

From The Farmington Daily Times (Hannah Grover):

Farmington officials do not think it will be necessary to implement the city’s drought management plan this year.

The drought management plan was developed in the 1990s and includes four stages of water restrictions.

The city staff is beginning an education campaign about water conservation. The City Council may choose to impose stricter penalties for violations of water restrictions if the drought management plan is implemented.

Public Works director David Sypher presented information about the plan to the City Council during a work session this morning at Farmington City Hall. Sypher said Farmington Lake is at 100 percent capacity.

“It is the primary protection we have against drought,” Sypher said…

The city has various criteria that it looks at when determining whether to implement water conservation steps, Sypher said. He said the most important criteria in his mind is snowpack…

The storm on Monday increased the snowpack in the Colorado mountains near Silverton from 48 percent of normal to a little more than 52 percent of normal, Sypher said. He said earlier in the season the snowpack was down as little as 21 percent of normal.

The snowpack is expected to improve over the upcoming days. Sypher said the forecast for Silverton calls for snow seven of the next nine days.

Other criteria the city looks at includes precipitation, weather projections, the Palmer drought index and stream flow in the Animas River.

The city has four stages to the drought management plan. The first stage is a water-shortage advisory that is intended to get people to start thinking about conserving water.

The city has never had to implement any of the subsequent stages of the drought management plan. The second state requires mandatory conservation, such as only watering lawns three days a week. The third state is a water shortage warning. If the city went into stage three, residents would need to use commercial car washes to wash their vehicle. The fourth stage is a water shortage emergency. If the city had to implement the fourth stage, nearly all outside water use would be prohibited.

Interview: Andy Mueller General Manager of the #ColoradoRiver District #COriver

Andy Mueller photo credit MountainLawFirm.com.

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

Coming from water-abundant Ohio, Andy Mueller used to have trouble explaining his line of work to relatives on trips back east.

“When I used to say ‘I’m in water law,’ they’re like, what, are you a sewer lawyer?

“I think that’s one of the unique characteristics about the West, is the scarcity of water is what drives our communities and the value of a reliable water supply is so critical to vibrancy of a community on the Western Slope,” Mueller said.

These days, Mueller is in water policy, as the new general manager for the Colorado River District, a taxpayer-funded, 15-county entity based in Glenwood Springs. Such work is a little easier to explain back east, and even among western Coloradans, describing what the river district does can be difficult. But Mueller says that at its core, the district advocates for water users on the Western Slope.

While historically, water has been depicted as something that has driven a wedge between communities, “I think it should be something that ties our communities together,” Mueller said. “We all need it, we all depend on it, we all want it in one way or the other. If we can work together (on water) we’re much stronger.”

Mueller was an undergraduate student pursuing his history degree at Kenyon College in Ohio when he took a class on history in the American West and became intrigued about the region.

“I remember thinking, I wanted to get involved in that,” he said.

Mueller, 49, moved out west to get his law degree at the University of Colorado, having been attracted to the school because of its reputation for natural resources law. Almost immediately after becoming an attorney he was able to take over a practice in Ouray in which he focused heavily in areas such as water and hard-rock mining, working with clients across western Colorado including farmers and ranchers, Ouray County, developers, logging companies and others.

“I really learned from my clients what it meant to live on the Western Slope and it was a really good experience,” he said.

In 2006 he was appointed as Ouray County’s director on the Colorado River District board, eventually serving nine years on the board, including two as president. One of the key accomplishments during his board years was the cooperative Colorado River agreement reached between the district and other Western Slope entities and Denver Water. After decades of expensive legal battles, the agreement provided a path for Denver Water to develop water while addressing Western Slope concerns such as the need for river restoration.

“We were able to really get some significant commitments from Denver to participate in very important projects for our headwaters communities in terms of the health of our river systems,” Mueller said.

He eventually relocated his law practice to Glenwood Springs, joining a firm there. Meanwhile, longtime river district general manager Eric Kuhn made the decision to retire.

Mueller said he was pretty upfront when he applied to replace Kuhn that he couldn’t fill Kuhn’s shoes.

“He’s really a giant in the intellectual world of water policy but I have other skills and talents I think will serve the district well,” Mueller said.

Mueller said the district has two charges — to protect the Western Slope and Colorado’s share of the river.

“That’s a very significant charge for a little government agency like ours,” he said, noting that there are other well-funded water entities out there looking after the interests of millions of people the river serves in places including Phoenix, Las Vegas and Southern California.

For Mueller, a major issue facing the district is the increasing variability of climate and the changes that result. Growing seasons are lengthening, which can benefit agriculture, but also mean more water consumption. At the same time, recent droughts have meant decreased flows into Lake Powell, which Upper Basin states rely on for meeting obligations to downstream states that already use more water than they’re entitled to under an interstate compact.

“The biggest issue we have as a river district is helping the basin as a whole try to bring the system into balance,” he said.

Mueller said it’s important to do drought-contingency planning and look to conservation while keeping in mind how to accommodate projected growth and development.

The district has been involved in initiatives such as analyzing pilot projects for limited rotational fallowing of agricultural land for farmers who are compensated in return. The goal is to explore alternatives to buying and permanent drying of agricultural lands to meet municipal water needs should drought lead to a water supply crisis. But Mueller said it’s important that agriculture be protected and that Eastern Slope cities and farmers also do their part to head off shortages.

“If our agricultural community is going to step up and contribute, so should everyone who depends on Colorado River water,” he said.

Mueller and his wife, Kara, are raising two high-school-age girls in Glenwood Springs. Mueller enjoys water recreationally as a rafter and fly-fisherman, and also hunts elk, mountain bikes and skis. He said it was hard giving up his law career, but it was worth doing so to get to work with a talented staff at the river district. He sees his new job as a logical progression after 23 years of advocating for Western Slope families as an attorney.

“Now I get to (advocate) for the entire Western Slope and that’s why I’m excited about this job,” he said.

Cañon City could see lawsuit from two ditch companies for routing stormwater to ditch easements

This graphic shows the estimated cost for upgrades, repairs and maintenance of each stormwater basin. (City of Cañon City)

From The Cañon City Daily Record ( Carie Canterbury):

A second local ditch company is making preparations to potentially sue the City of Cañon City for allegedly utilizing irrigation ditches as a stormwater utility.

During Monday’s city council meeting, former mayor George Turner, who also serves as the secretary/treasurer for the Cañon City & Oil Creek Ditch Company, said the city has been putting off stormwater improvements for the last 150 years and utilizing the irrigation ditches in the community as its stormwater utility…

He said the Hydraulic Ditch Company has increased its assessment by $2 a share and the Cañon City & Oil Creek Ditch Company has increased its assessment by $5 per share for the sole purpose to generate a fund to hire water attorneys to potentially sue the city.

Mannie Colon, the president of the Cañon City Hydraulic & Irrigating Ditch Company, initiated litigation last year against the city when he felt his solutions to the decades-long stormwater problems had been dismissed and not adequately implemented.

In response, a stormwater task force consisting of representatives from the City of Cañon City, Fremont County and local ditch companies was formed in March 2017 to look at solutions.

The city, county and the Hydraulic & Irrigating Ditch Company recently mutually have agreed to fund a $180,000 study to investigate and mitigate stormwater flooding of the ditch. The city council earlier this month approved a tolling agreement that preserves any legal right the ditch company believes it may have against the city and county for stormwater flooding while also maintaining the rights, claims or defenses of the city and county.

The city contends that the cost of stormwater mitigation has gone up, but fees haven’t.

The fee hasn’t increased in 10 years, and the city has an operating fund deficit in the stormwater fund that is compounded by a $75 million capital project backlog.

In order to get the utility back in the black, fees would need to double, which also would provide for about $4 million in capital improvements during the next 10 years. Second reading of an ordinance that would double stormwater fees was tabled during Monday’s meeting.

Some members of the public said they don’t mind increasing the fees, but they felt doubling them was much too excessive. However, City Administrator Tony O’Rourke said to meet the entire capital needs for the stormwater problem, the rate would have to increase in a rate in excess of 1,000 percent.

During Monday’s meeting, there was much discussion about an effort to get county officials to take more of an active role in the stormwater problem.

Stormwater is collected in eight drainage basins within the city and Fremont County. The city physically only represents 18 percent of the area within these eight drainage basins, the other 82 percent is in the unincorporated area of Fremont County, which does not impose a stormwater fee for those residents.

“The drainage basins are in the county, and that’s who should be helping us pay for this,” Mayor Preston Troutman said.

Councilman Mark Gill pointed out that on a $220,000 home, Cañon City receives about $46 in property taxes while the county receives about $197…

The city is looking to create a regional stormwater basin authority, where all the residents within the eight basins would share the cost of stormwater management. This requires the support and concurrence of the Fremont County Commissioners who would have to approve a service plan before it could go before voters for approval.

Former Councilman Dennis Wied said doubling the stormwater fee is particularly unfair to businesses. He said there are 1,000 business properties in town, and 5,000 residential properties, but the businesses pay 52 percent of the total stormwater fee. Additionally, he said a proposed stormwater impact fee would go from about $750 per acre to about $11,000 an acre…

Other citizens asked for an explanation on how money in the stormwater fund is spent, specifically a $620,600 transfer to other funds.

City Engineer Adam Lancaster said the majority of the money is spent on maintenance and a great deal is spent on compliance with the city’s MS-4 stormwater permit. Some funds are spent for a local contractor for maintenance and an inter-fund transfer also is used for the city’s street crews to do some maintenance…

Wied said when the stormwater fee was first instituted, it was for the purpose to build up funds to address stormwater problems, not day-to-day operations. He said 100 percent of the city’s street sweeper is being charged to the stormwater fund, which he alleges just started recently…

Wied also said that 20 percent of the time spent by 14 people in the street department is charged to the stormwater fund…

A study analysis being conducted by an independent consultant is looking into how inter-fund transfers have been calculated. O’Rourke said preliminary results indicate that the city has not been charging the stormwater fund sufficiently, and the general fund is continuing to subsidize that fund by about $180,000 in addition to what it currently transfers. It is in violation of TABOR for the city to supplement the stormwater fund with the general fund, he said.

Wied said the city, staff and the council the last 11 years have been fully aware of expenses that can and must be charged to a utility and those that don’t. He took exception to the comments made that certain fees have to be charged to the stormwater fund…

Finance Director Harry Patel said since 2006, cost allocations have been moved from the general fund into the stormwater fund, and he will provide documentation during an upcoming meeting. The fund transfers were in council-approved budgets and on audited statements, he said.

The council agreed to table the discussion to the next general government meeting that will be at 4 p.m. March 7 at City Hall.

Councilwoman Ashley Smith asked that city staff bring back an in-depth analysis of spending and allocation requirements, as well as a state of future plans and proposed projects.

Cañon City photo credit DowntownCañonCity.com

Pitkin County embraces reuse of household graywater — @AspenJournalism

From Aspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith) via the The Aspen Times:

Pitkin County is now the second county in Colorado that can issue permits for graywater systems that allow some household water to be reused to irrigate lawns and flush toilets.

Graywater is defined by both the county and the state as water coming from bathtubs, showers, bathroom sinks and washing machines. It does not include water from toilets, urinals, kitchen sinks, dishwashers or non-laundry utility sinks, which is often called blackwater.

The city and county of Denver was the first to adopt a similar permitting process in 2016, and did so after the state approved guiding regulations in 2015. The Pitkin County commissioners unanimously approved an ordinance last week that sets up the county’s permitting process, which is voluntary.

The city of Aspen also is considering adopting a graywater permitting system to complement its recently adopted water-efficient landscaping regulations.

Kurt Dahl, the county’s environmental health manager, said a 1999 statewide study found that typical indoor residential uses amounted to 69 gallons of water per person per day, and of that 28 gallons is graywater as defined by the state.

Graywater systems work by diverting household water away from its normal course — toward septic tanks and sewage systems — and into another set of pipes and storage tanks, where it sits until it is reused.

If the water is used for irrigation, the water must be filtered before storage and then, optimally, pumped out into a subsurface drip irrigation system. It cannot be applied via sprinklers.

If graywater is used to flush toilets, it must be disinfected and dyed before being sent to a toilet.

Single-family households can store up to 400 gallons of water a day in a tank for either irrigation or toilet flushing, and multi-family and commercial entities can store up to 2,000 gallons a day.

Graywater systems require double-piping of plumbing systems, which can be expensive to install in existing homes, and so may be better suited, at least economically, to new construction projects.

Brett Icenogle, the engineering section manager at the Colorado Department of Public Health, said Friday he was happy to see Pitkin County adopt a graywater permitting process, and he hopes other jurisdictions follow suit, even if current public demand seems low today.

“We don’t want to wait until there is a water shortage to put regulations in place,” Icenogle said.

The local permitting process begins with the county’s environmental health department, and also requires plumbing and building permits. If used for irrigation, it may also require a state water right.

Dahl served on a group that developed the state’s regulations, and he’d like to see other uses added to the state’s list, such as fire suppression.

“I want to get this to the point where using graywater is an option for everyone,” Dahl said.

Aspen Journalism is collaborating with The Aspen Times on coverage or rivers and water. More at http://www.aspenjournalism.org.