From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):
Recycling and reusing water in Colorado
Recycled and reused water was a recurrent theme in comments at the inaugural Water in the West Symposium in downtown Denver on Thursday, particularly in regards to Colorado’s South Platte River Basin.
The 243,000-square-mile basin includes Denver and other cities of the northern Front Range, with a population now of 3.5 million expected to grow to 6.1 million by 2050. Viewed as an economic region, it includes not only the nation’s 9thmost agriculturally productive county, Weld County, but also arguably what Mazdak Arabi, associate professor at Colorado State University, suggested is the fastest-growing economic river basin in the United States.
But the South Platte Basin has, from the 1890s forward, outstripped its native supplies, depending instead upon vast amounts of water imported from across the Continental Divide.
“Any water imported from the Western Slope should be reused and recycled to extinction,” said Mizraim Cordero, vice president of government affairs for the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce.
Bruce Karas, vice president of environment and sustainability for Coca-Cola North America, talked about “cleaning up water as much as they can and reusing it” in its operations.
Dan Haley, chief executive of the Colorado Oil & Gas Association, talked about recycling of water used in hydraulic fracturing. Fracking, he said, uses only 0.10 percent of Colorado’s water each year, and the wells created by the fracking operation typically produce for 25 to 30 years.
Colorado always has had de facto water reuse. Water drained off a farmer’s field goes into the river and becomes the source for another farm downstream. Ditto for sewage treatment. The South Platte River is virtually a trickle at times as it flows through Denver—until enlivened once again (at least by standards of the arid West) by the gushing waterfall of releases from the Metro Wastewater Reclamation District’s treatment plant.
Beginning in 2010, with completion of Aurora’s Prairie Water Project, reuse was stepped up. Aurora drilled wells along the South Platte near Brighton and now pumps the water 34 miles and 1,000 feet higher to a high-tech treatment plant along E-470 and then mixes it with more water imported directly from the mountains.
This water infrastructure has also been put to use in the expanded WISE partnership, which was directly referenced by Bart Miller, of Western Resource Advocates. Denver Water provides some of its rights to reuse its water imported from the Western Slope to assist south metro communities that have been heavily reliant upon diminishing aquifers.
That recycling itself combined with stepped up conservation in the metro area does itself pose a growing problem of its own. Jim McQuarrie, chief innovation officer at the Metro Wastewater Reclamation District, said total dissolved solids in the South Platte River have been rising. “The river is getting saltier and saltier and saltier,” he said. “We are creating a salt loop.”
Salt can be removed, creating a brine that poses a disposal problem. The technology is also expensive, as was mentioned by Mike Reidy, senior vice president of corporate affairs for Leprino Foods.
Leprino is the nation’s largest supplier of mozzarella cheese, most of which is produced in Western states and most of which is consumed in Eastern states. Part of that production comes from two cheese factories in Colorado, the first in Fort Morgan and more recently a plant in Greeley on the reclaimed site of the former Great Western sugar factory along the Poudre River.
In its operations, Leprino can reuse water, but not as completely as it would like. Reverse osmosis does a “pretty good job” of cleaning up water, but is very expensive. “It uses a lot of electricity. There has to be a better way.”
Figuring out that better way, Reidy went on to say, might be one role for the new water research campus being developed jointly by Denver Water with Colorado State University.
This was the coming-out conference for this new partnership. The Water Resources Center is to be located on the grounds of the soon-to-be-redeveloped Great Western Stock Show complex north of downtown. It’s bisected by I-70, with the most visible infrastructure being the aging but still functional Denver Coliseum. Both policy and technology research foci are envisioned.
The partnership was formally announced last September, but even then, much was yet to be worked out.Jim Lochhead, chief executive of Denver Water, at the initial announcement, said the exact research area was yet to be determined,as well ashow to set the work apart from that being done elsewhere.
A continued exploration of that question was another theme in at least the first day of the Water in the West Symposium. CSU will plan to move its water quality laboratories to the campus. Tony Frank, the president of CSU, said the lab conducts 200,000 water-quality studies per year.
Frank also talked about emergingwater issues: nutrient loading, abandoned mine pollution and – yet again – the push to use recycled water. That reuse, he added, “will require innovation and a number of different policy innovations to ensure we protect public health while using water efficiently.”
Yet another suggestion came from Brad Udall, a senior climate research scientist at Colorado State University. He has carved out a specialty in trying to understand how the changing climate is impacting the Colorado River Basin. A 20 percent decline in precipitation has occurred in the basin—the source of much of the water of both cities and farms in eastern Colorado —from 2000 to 2017. This is despite a 5 percent increase in moisture content in the warming atmosphere.
“Something very odd and unusual is going on,” Udall said.
About half the volume of the reservoirs has been lost during this period, about two-thirds of which can be explained by reduced precipitation.
Increased temperatures that cause evaporation as well as transpiration, explain about a third. Temperature inducted losses in the basin will more than triple by 2050, he said, and increase almost six-fold by the end of the century.
Snowpack remains a mystery. “We really don’t know what is going on (with the snowpack),” he said in suggesting a topic area.
Perhaps the most over-arching statement came from Cordero, from the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, who suggested that the campus can became the NREL (National Renewable Energy Laboratory) for water.
Lochhead neatly summarized the reason for the symposium and the new partnership and research center at the Stock Show Complex by using a phrase he has often used since becoming chief executive of Denver Water. Colorado, he said, cannot grow the next 5 million people the same way it did the first five million residents.
From Colorado State University (Tiana Nelson):
Former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack opened the first day of the inaugural Water in the West Symposium likening the situation around water to a book he reads to his grandchildren – a book where there was a problem. First, the children’s book characters try to avoid the problem, then they try to ignore the problem, then they try to bury the problem.
“All without realizing that within each problem there is enormous opportunity,” said Vilsack, who serves as a special advisor to Colorado State University. “There is an incredible opportunity to lead a national and global effort in this area, that’s why this convening is so important.”
The Symposium, presented by CSU and held at the McNichols Civic Center Building in downtown Denver, sold out with 400 attendees, and showcased more than 30 speakers from across the state and nation representing diverse perspectives in water. Farmers, policy makers, researchers and educators, conservationists, associations, consortiums, corporate professionals, cities, utilities, municipalities, agribusinesses and hundreds of businesses and individuals who rely on water for the production of their goods and services filled the room, representing more than 200 different organizations.
The Symposium is the initial step as CSU prepares to begin construction on the Water Resources Center, the first building to be constructed on the new National Western Center campus, in Spring 2019.
The discussion at the Symposium mirrors what will happen at the Water Resources Center – mirrors the effort to educate, mirrors that innovation will play a key role, and mirrors that policy will continue to be important, Vilsack said.
Vilsack joked that the Symposium is the first conference he’s ever been to without built-in breaks, which will “show how serious we are about this.”
A full day of programming on Thursday included speakers and panels around:
Water challenges and opportunities The Colorado Water Plan Colorado water successes and challenges A forum featuring Colorado gubernatorial candidates
Dr. Tony Frank, president of CSU and chancellor of the CSU System, noted the University’s importance as a convener for the conversation around water – a conversation furthered by the Symposium and the future Water Resources Center.
Land grant universities such as CSU are about breaking down boundaries, creating new knowledge, and disseminating that knowledge, Frank said.
“We’re going to see that really apply at the Water Resources Center. You’ll see a robust application of innovation,” he said. By listening to one another and respecting diverse perspectives, “I’m confident that the conversations we will have will be fruitful.”.
Speakers echoed Frank’s charge of the importance of the issue of water having an impact on everyone and having the power to galvanize diverse interests to collaborate around it.
“We do realize that every drop counts. We all live here, we breathe the same air that you breathe, we drink the same water that you drink,” said Dan Haley, president and CEO of the Colorado Oil & Gas Association.
“Yes, I’m a CSU graduate; yes, I’m the Colorado Commissioner of Agriculture, but at the end of the day, I’m a farmer and rancher from Yuma County, Colorado,” said Don Brown. “Water is a great connector; we all need it, we all use it.”
Mizraim Cordero, vice president of Government Affairs for the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, said water is important to the entire state, and water policy and sustainability is key to attracting businesses.
“We care about our agriculture industry, our tourism industry, our beverage production industry, our energy industry,” said Cordero. “We want to make sure that in Colorado – not just Denver but all of Colorado – the economy is thriving.”
The conversation commencing because of the Symposium is in essence “a beginning of the virtual water center,” Vilsack said.
“It hasn’t even been built and look what it’s already doing … this is just the beginning.”
From ColoradoPolitics.com (Marianne Goodland) via The Durango Herald:
Among the discussion points throughout the day was the state’s water plan, developed through an executive order in 2013 from Gov. John Hickenlooper and completed in 2013. It lays out a blueprint for dealing with a potential shortage facing the state in the coming decades…
Hickenlooper has tasked the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) with implementation of the plan and the General Assembly has put starter funds into it – roughly $15 million in the past two years and another $7 million in the 2018-19 budget through the annual CWCB projects bill.
One of the big questions is what happens to the plan when Hickenlooper leaves office next January and a new governor takes the helm. Whether all of the candidates at Thursday’s forum had ever read it was another question.
Some of the top-tier gubernatorial candidates – Republicans Walker Stapleton and Doug Robinson and Democrat Cary Kennedy – were “no-shows” for the forum. So was Democratic U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, who was in Washington but he sent a surrogate, water attorney Courtney Krause.
Those who did attend: businessmen Republicans Victor Mitchell and Greg Lopez; and Democrats and Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne and former state Sen. Mike Johnston.
And then there was a last-minute addition: Scott Helker, a libertarian candidate who told Colorado Politics in January that he hoped a run for governor might lead to other offices, like state Senate or some other political position.
Candidates discussed how the water plan should move forward, as well as finding the dollars to do it; the future of the outdoor recreation economy; innovation, awareness and citizen involvement; and shortages on the over-appropriated Colorado River.
Mitchell said he supports the state water plan. He said he would look for storage solutions to keep water on the Eastern Plains and seek incentives for farmers to grow more water-efficient crops. He also said the state should fully fund the water plan but didn’t offer ideas on how to do that.
Johnston said the state should figure out what its top priorities are for the water plan and how to fund it. His platform includes changes to the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights to allow for public investment in infrastructure, which for him includes roads, bridges and water.
He said he also would look for ways to avoid “buy and dry” – the practice of buying up farmland for its water rights – and come up with incentives for conservation in municipal and agricultural water use.
Lynne identified several issues, including an effort to galvanize people to understand that the state is in crisis, which she said is helped somewhat by the critically low snowpack predicted for the state this year. As for funding the plan, she indicated it would take a partnership among federal, local government, private entrepreneurs and water providers.
Krause, speaking on Polis’ behalf, called for a community effort to fund the plan, including a ballot measure, which she said would require the governor to work with the legislature and with other stakeholders.
Lopez said Hickenlooper deserved credit for coming up with the plan and called for the use of state lottery dollars, rather than a change to TABOR or asking taxpayers for more money.
Helker talked about beavers, and how when he was a child, someone had used dynamite to blow up a wall he’d built near beaver ponds near his home. The stream that fed the ponds never went dry until then, he said.
A rapid-fire series of questions followed. Mitchell, when asked about the role of research universities in Colorado’s water future, called for block-grant funding in life sciences research. Johnston, asked about the outdoor recreation industry, said he would seek reauthorization of Great Outdoors Colorado, which provides grants for outdoor recreation and conservation projects and would protect in-stream flows for the fishing and rafting industries…
Lopez’ topic was how to protect rivers and how to ensure the state’s water supply in the face of the low snowpack. “We need to get more moisture,” he said, but added that he also would look for ways to speed up the permitting process for storage.
Lynne, asked about how to get people of color, low-income and tribal communities engaged in water conversations, pointed out that as lieutenant governor she is already having those conversations with the tribes in her role as state head of Indian affairs.
Krause, on the topic of entrepreneurship, pointed to Polis’ track record on entrepreneurial activities but focused largely on improving the market for industrial hemp.
Finally, the candidates took a moment to address a question on how to convince Coloradans that their lives depend on water. Embrace conservation, said Mitchell. Use the governor’s office as a bully pulpit, said Johnston. Raise awareness, added Lynne. Start with water education in grade schools, Krause said. Talk about water every day, or every week or every month, Lopez suggested.
Click here to view the Tweets from the symposium (click on latest, start at the bottom of the page).