@USBR awards $3.4 million contract to aid the recovery of the critically endangered razorback sucker #ColoradoRiver #COriver

Ron Rogers biologist with Bio-West Inc., holds a large razorback sucker captured in Lake Mead near the Colorado River inflow area

Here’s the release from the Bureau of Reclamation (Mark McKinstry, Amee Andreason):

The Bureau of Reclamation today awarded a $3.4 million contract to Bio-West Inc., of Logan, Utah, to determine how habitat, flows, water temperatures, trends in other fish species and other variables affect the endangered razorback sucker in the Lake Mead and the Grand Canyon inflow areas.

The razorback sucker is one of four large-bodied river fish native to the Colorado River Basin. Currently listed as endangered under the authority of the Endangered Species Act, the fish was historically abundant throughout the basin and was predominately found in the main stem river and major tributaries of Arizona, California, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming. The current distribution and abundance of razorback sucker is greatly reduced from historic levels. However, populations have persisted, made possible due to aggressive stocking efforts throughout the Colorado Basin.

Grand Canyon and Lake Mead currently have the only self-sustaining and recruiting population of endangered razorback suckers in the Colorado River Basin. Under this contract, researchers will be able to study this population of fish to determine their population numbers, age structure, movement patterns from the river back and forth to Lake Mead, and spawning areas in the lake and river. Understanding this population will help in the recovery of this critically endangered fish throughout its range.

The work accomplished under this contract will include seven 2-week efforts in Grand Canyon from March through September 2019 and will investigate adult razorback sucker spawning and movement patterns in Grand Canyon and Lake Mead. This will help to identify the types of habitat used by these fish in addition to determining a population estimate. These activities will support conservation efforts in the Grand Canyon and Lake Mead and will provide updated information on a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposal to revise the recovery goals for the razorback sucker.

Coal. Guns. Freedom? — @HighCountryNews #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround #greenwave

From The High Country News (Jonathan Thompson). This article first appeared in The High Country New on Sept. 21, 2017:

Coal. Guns. Freedom.

I saw these three words on a little sticker affixed, discordantly, to the window of a car in a small Colorado town. It struck me as funny at first: Coal and guns being elevated to the status of platonic ideals or, even more loftily, the refrain of a bad country song. All it was missing was Jesus, beer and Wrangler butts. A few days later, though, as I sat on a desert promontory overlooking northwestern New Mexico, the sticker didn’t seem so funny. As the sunrise spilled across sagebrush plains and irrigated cornfields, it also illuminated a narrow band of yellow-brown clouds on the horizon.

The clouds were smog, a soup of sulfur dioxide, particulates, nitrogen oxide and other pollutants emanating from the smokestacks of the coal-burning Four Corners Power Plant and San Juan Generating Station, on either side of the San Juan River Valley. The people of the Four Corners have experienced that cloud in one form or another nearly every day for the past half century. Our skies have been sullied, as have our lungs; mercury wafts from these and other smokestacks and falls with rain on Mesa Verde National Park and in the clear, icy streams of the San Juan Mountains. The plants suck millions of gallons of water from the river each day for steam production and cooling, and they leave behind mountains of ash, clinkers and sludge, tainted with mercury, arsenic, selenium and other toxic material. That’s all in addition to the tens of millions of tons of climate-altering carbon dioxide the stacks release each year.

We’ve been told that this is just the price we pay for power, that this is what it costs to keep the lights on in Phoenix, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, that we have no choice but to live with it. To stop burning coal, or even try to mitigate the harm, we’ve been told, will put thousands of hard-working Americans out of a job, skyrocket electricity costs, and black-out our lights and computers.

Coal. Guns. Freedom.

Now, however, as many of the biggest coal plants near the end of their lives, coal-fired electricity is going the way of the steam locomotive and manual typewriter. It’s becoming clear that King Coal was a big lie, a long-standing myth. For decades, we’ve been hoodwinked by the fetishization of coal, to the detriment of us all.

Navajo Generating Station and the cloud of smog with which it blankets the region. Photo credit: Jonathan Thompson via The High Country News

Coal fueled the white invasion of the West. It stoked smelters, powered locomotives and generated steam, driving mills that processed tons and tons of rock. Newcomers heated their homes and cooked with coal, thousands of them toiling in mines to keep the fires going. The coal industry rose up on those miners’ backs, reaping enormous profits that lined politicians’ pockets. These lawmakers returned the favor by keeping regulations minimal and royalties low on federal mineral reserves, and by sending in troops to murder striking miners. “Coal is the fuel of the present,” crowed the author of a 1906 US Geological Survey report, “and so far as can be seen, will continue to lead … for a long time to come.”

Yet even then, Westerners were slowly shifting away from the expensive, dirty and inconvenient fuel. The electricity that powered the mines and towns was, by and large, generated from falling water. And when the pipelined bounty of the 1920s’ natural gas boom spread from New Mexico and Texas across the West, homeowners switched en masse to gas for cooking and heating, saying goodbye to stokers, clinkers and coal’s pervasive, greasy film.

By 1950, coal provided a mere 10 percent of the West’s electricity. Natural gas generation was eating into that slice, and plans for a network of dams along the Colorado River threatened to flood the grid with even more cheap, coal-displacing hydropower. Steam locomotives went the way of the dinosaurs, driven to extinction by diesel. American coal consumption fell by 20 percent in the 1950s alone; in the West it plummeted by 40 percent.

Facing an existential crisis, the coal industry executives knew they could not compete based on the merits of their fuel. Instead, they set out to imbue it with symbolism and mythology. Coal was not just coal, the lobbyists argued. It was abundant, reliable and deserving of a seat in the pantheon of American culture, alongside cowboys, guns — and, yes, freedom. (They also managed to convince the Sierra Club that coal plants were a green alternative to river-ruining dams.)

Most of all, coal was equated with honest jobs for hard-working miners (and voters) — never mind that mechanization and efficiency had been killing off mining jobs since the early 1900s. The shift from coal to diesel and natural gas was framed not as mere consumer choice between commodities, but as an attack on some ineffable American value.

Coal. Guns. Freedom.

The industry enlisted Sen. Wayne Aspinall, a Democrat from the coal state of Colorado, to its cause, and Congress created the Office of Coal Research in 1960 “to encourage and stimulate the production of coal in the United States through research and development … and maximize the contribution of coal to the overall energy market.” Lawmakers from coal-producing counties and states ganged up on other forms of energy, taxing natural gas, for example, or requiring public institutions to heat with coal, free market be damned.

In 1952, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation released its “Study of Future Power Transmission for the West.” It revealed the perverse logic that prevailed at the time: Since both the population and per capita electricity use were rapidly increasing, new power plants were needed. The new power supplies would lower electricity prices, thus drawing more people and encouraging more consumption, which would then spur the building of more power plants, and so on. It was a recipe for a slow-building disaster, regardless of what fueled the power plants. Pushing coal as the main ingredient made it that much more catastrophic.

The authors of the report acknowledged that natural gas was relatively cheap and clean, easy to transport and abundant. Nevertheless, they recommended coal to power the massive fleet of new plants, because they worried that natural gas supplies might someday run short. In so doing, they signaled that the federal government, far from being “fuel neutral,” had a strong preference for coal. The mythology around coal became policy.

Starting in the mid-1960s, coal plants were built across the nation at a rapid rate, with more than 10,000 megawatts of coal-generated capacity — the equivalent of about five Four Corners power plants — added annually. Smoke-belching plants rose up from the deserts of Utah, Arizona and New Mexico, including several on or near the Navajo Nation, sending their juice to the air conditioners, televisions and “electrified homes” of Los Angeles, Phoenix and Las Vegas. Monstrous draglines gouged into spare mesas, and smog settled over valleys and obscured mesa and mountain views. Each of the new plants emitted at least 10 million tons of greenhouse gases annually.

The coal frenzy was not dampened by the passage of the Clean Air Act of 1970 — it took years to implement the law, and even longer to enforce it. In 1977, Congress strengthened the act in ways that would give cleaner-burning natural gas a leg up. But that was nullified by another law, the Powerplant and Industrial Fuel Use Act of 1978, which prohibited the use of natural gas as a primary fuel for generating electricity. It was a blatant act of market interference, in which the government chose coal over cleaner-burning natural gas. Lawmakers and lobbyists argued the law would help the U.S. achieve energy independence, but that was yet another myth. All it really did was double down on coal, thus tightening a stranglehold on the nation’s grid that would take decades to loosen.

This April, in a move that harkens back to the 1950s, Energy Secretary Rick Perry launched a review of the electrical grid, clearly looking to kill regulations and otherwise prop up the flagging coal industry. Perry presumed that reliable and “critical baseload resources,” such as coal-power, were being unfairly bullied off the grid by “regulatory burdens” and “the market-distorting effects of federal subsidies that boost one form of energy at the expense of others.” Meanwhile, long before the review was complete, the Trump administration went about killing environmental protections aimed at keeping harmful pollutants out of the air, rescinded an initiative to get corporations to pay their fair share for mining coal owned by U.S. taxpayers, and halted a study of the effects of mountaintop mining — all in the name of reliability, affordability and, of course, jobs.

It must have been a shock, therefore, when Perry’s own experts concluded in August that government interference isn’t killing coal; the free market is. “The biggest contributor to coal and nuclear plant retirements has been the advantaged economics of natural gas-fired generation,” the study’s authors wrote, essentially repeating common knowledge. Furthermore, coal’s phase-out and the increase in renewable energy on the grid have not hurt reliability or, for that matter, caused a net loss in jobs.

The findings were of little surprise to industry watchers. Coal’s foreseeable decline began when Congress repealed the Fuel Use Act in 1987. That opened the way for a huge buildup of natural gas-generated capacity. When the shale drilling revolution glutted the market with natural gas beginning in 2008, an abundance of power plants were already on hand to put it to use. The Great Recession caused electricity demand to plateau at about the same time, and the combination of factors caused wholesale electricity prices to fall. The myth of coal as the most affordable fuel perished, though its greater symbolism has proven more stubborn.

The buildup of wind and solar power further decreased overall electricity prices in relation to coal. Playing a minor role in coal’s misfortune were “a suite of environmental regulations” — from the Clean Power Plan to the Mercury and Air Toxics Standard — that, Perry’s review says, “had varying degrees of effects on the cost of generation.” While these rules do affect coal more than other fuels, they aren’t “unfairly” targeting coal, as the industry and its boosters contend. Rather, they target air pollution, and coal happens to be the most polluting fuel currently in use. Other Obama-era regulations are harder on natural gas — both the Environmental Protection Agency and Bureau of Land Management’s methane rules targeted oil and gas production, leaving methane-venting coal mines alone.

Between 2002 and 2016, some 59,000 megawatts of coal-generated capacity were taken off the grid nationwide due to plant retirements. Salt River Project announced it would shut down its Navajo Generating Station in 2019 because the plant no longer made economic sense. Colstrip in Montana is slated to go dark in 2027, and Intermountain Power Project in Utah will close in 2025. Public Service Company of New Mexico wants to phase coal out altogether over the next 15 years, which includes shutting down San Juan Generating Station in 2022 and divesting from Four Corners Power Plant. It won’t be an easy task, since the utility currently gets 54 percent of its electricity from coal, but PNM analysts insist that more efficiency and a switch to natural gas, nuclear and renewables will cost their ratepayers less in the long-run.

Energy Information Administration

Even the coal plants that continue to run are seeing less use, and different uses, causing coal to lose ground. The Navajo Generating Station put out 30 percent less power in 2015 than it did two years earlier, for example, so if it weren’t scheduled to be shut down, it might just fade away. Two decades ago, coal plants were mainly used as a baseload power source, meaning they’d run at maximum output around the clock in order to supply the minimum demand on the grid. Yet in 2016, according to a Western Interstate Energy Board analysis, only a small handful of plants spent more than half the year in baseload operation.

So when coal plants go dark, the grid won’t lose much in the way of baseload power or the reliability it purportedly provides. “Reliability is adequate today,” Perry’s review concludes, going on to say that the loss of capacity due to retirements has been replaced, and that energy-source diversity is as high as ever. Another piece of the coal myth, smashed.

One of the few things that coal-generation has going for it is “fuel assurance.” That is, coal plants can stockpile fuel on site. Natural gas is more difficult to store, and relies on vulnerable pipeline networks. Solar and wind power are weather dependent. For the centralized coal plants of the Interior West, however, fuel assurance is offset by the fact that the plants rely on long-distance powerlines to deliver the goods, and those not only leak a lot of electricity, they can be taken out by extreme weather, wildfire, saboteurs and even squirrels.

Such practical considerations, however, do not make for powerful myth. Symbolism does. And the coal industry seethes with symbolism.

Coal. Guns. Freedom.

Perry’s grid review found that the coal industry has shed nearly 40,000 jobs over the last 15 years, but attributes those losses not only to the downturn in demand but also “increased mechanization and a shift to western coal” — the massive mines of Wyoming’s Powder River Basin need fewer workers than those in Appalachia to extract each ton of coal. For each job lost due to displacement of coal by natural gas, solar or wind power, another rose to take its place in an electricity generation-related industry. The Energy Department’s 2017 employment report found that coal power plants and mines employed about 160,000 people, while the wind and solar industry provided more than 475,000 jobs. Coal jobs carry far more symbolic and therefore political heft, however, since no one has yet figured out how to romanticize solar-panel installation.

When Obama was castigated for a so-called war on coal, it was not for trying to mitigate a catastrophic global habit, but for attacking miners, a powerful symbol in rural, white, American culture (85 percent of coal miners are white men, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics). When Trump demonstrates that he “digs coal” by rolling back regulations, he’s banking on rural nostalgia and pushing back against Obama, who for portions of white America became a symbol of urban elitism, progressivism and blackness.

Coal boosters have meanwhile seized upon this mythology for cynical ends. Trump has used it to blot out Obama’s legacy (one of his few discernible policy goals), and to solidify his base of white, male voters. The regulation rollback is good for coal’s bottom line, yet instead of using the savings to hire more workers, companies have poured the extra revenue into executive pay and bonuses. Top executives in the industry make, on average, $200,000 per year, plus millions of dollars in bonuses, while a miner toiling in dangerous conditions gets just $55,000 — if he hasn’t been replaced by a machine. The pay gap has only grown as the industry has faded, as though the folks at the top are grabbing all they can before the industry crumbles.

Meanwhile, neither Trump nor anyone else is helping out the miners themselves, the humans behind the symbolism. The Trump administration has delayed or rolled back a number of rules aimed at miner health and safety and nominated a former coal executive to head up the Mine Safety and Health Administration. Mining-related fatalities are up this year, with 20 deaths overall, 12 of which were in coal mines. And the Republicans in Congress are working hard to lower taxes on the rich — which doesn’t include most coal miners — at the expense of the rest of us, and to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, which although flawed and fragile, remains the best safety net many have.

If anything, the Energy Department’s review of the grid made it clear that rescinding regulations would do nothing to save the coal industry, or the miners who make it run. It offered very few justifications for saving coal plants. But that’s unlikely to stop Trump, Perry and friends from doing what they can to prop up the coal industry. After all, they’ve got the myth behind them. As for the land, the air, the water, and the people who live near and work in the plants and mines, they’ll continue to pay the price for coal, guns, and freedom. And if those ever become the lyrics of a country song, it will be a tragic one indeed.

Jonathan Thompson is a contributing editor at High Country News. He is the author of a book about the Gold King Mine spill. [ed. It is interesting how the fossil fuel industry is using many of the same arguments in 2018 that were used by the extractive industries that Thompson chronicles. I guess they work.] Follow @jonnypeace

Why Jon Kyl was chosen to replace John McCain — @HighCountryNews #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Verde River near Clarkdale along Sycamore Canyon Road. Photo credit: Wikimedia

From The High Country News (Paige Blankenbuehler):

On Aug. 25, Republican Sen. John McCain died of brain cancer after representing Arizona in Congress for more than three decades. Responsibility for appointing McCain’s replacement fell to Arizona’s Republican Gov. Doug Ducey, who faced a difficult choice: Should he appoint an establishment Republican in the mold of McCain, or a far-right flamethrower like President Donald Trump? Last Tuesday, Ducey made his move, installing former Arizona Sen. Jon Kyl, R, who retired in 2013, in McCain’s seat.

Ducey’s decision is a stabilizing and pragmatic one, and in an especially turbulent political moment, it seems to transcend pure political expediency. Kyl, who has a history of negotiating important and contentious water deals, returns to the Senate at a critical juncture for Arizona’s future water security, as it struggles to finalize its portion of the so-called “drought contingency plan” for the lower Colorado River.

The two other states in the Lower Colorado River Basin — Nevada and California — have already hammered out how they’ll contribute to the plan, a voluntary water conservation agreement aimed at boosting water levels in Lake Mead. The states hope that by taking less water from Lake Mead now, they can prevent more severe shortages that will be imposed if the shrinking reservoir drops below certain levels. Arizona’s failure to adopt a plan — the result of a self-defeating battle between two water agencies over how much the state should voluntarily conserve — is holding up this critical planning process. And ironically, Arizona has the most to lose from failing to stave off shortages. Because it holds the most junior water rights to the Colorado River, the amount of water it siphons from the river to keep Phoenix, Tucson and hundreds of farms wet would be cut the most during a shortage, which could be declared as soon as 2020.

Kyl’s expertise could be crucial in the final negotiations over the three-state plan, and impacted Ducey’s decision to send him back to the Senate. Kyl, a former water attorney, ushered landmark water-rights settlements through Congress during his previous tenure, resolving decades-long legal disputes between the federal government and Arizona tribes. “His expertise on water and natural resource issues will be very beneficial to our state as we face new challenges in those areas,” Ducey said in his August announcement. “Now is not the time for on-the-job training.”

In Arizona, water has historically been an area of bi-partisan collaboration, but that has shifted in recent years, according to Chuck Coughlin, a longtime Arizona GOP consultant who worked on McCain’s first Senate campaign in 1986. The current drought planning has mostly been stymied by disputes between agencies within Arizona, but Republicans are also caught between conflicts among their constituents — namely, agricultural interests and developers — as water becomes more of a political concern among voters.

And growing partisanship on both the far-left and far-right has made consensus on water issues more difficult to reach. “There’s distrust from both parties that collide over water in Arizona,” Coughlin said. “The right distrusts any deal involving the federal government, and the left holds a lot of distrust about the state being able to confront scarcity over climate change. Kyl certainly has demonstrated the ability to bridge those sentiments in the past.”

Kyl will not play a major role in the drought plan’s details. But the agreement will have to pass the state Legislature, and because it’s part of a multi-state effort, it will require federal legislation to become legally binding. Kyl — if he continues to hold the Senate seat — would be expected to exert pressure on state lawmakers and Congress to finalize a deal. And Ducey hopes that Kyl will play “an active role” at the federal level in more broadly representing Arizona’s interests in the West’s ever-shrinking water supply. Of course, Kyl has only committed to serve through the current session, and it’s possible the drought plan won’t make it to Congress by then.

Ducey’s decision to bring Kyl back also included more partisan calculations. Kyl was sworn in the same day confirmation hearings began for conservative judge Brett Kavanaugh, a nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court. As a lobbyist at Covington & Burling, Kyl has helped shepherd Kavanaugh through the confirmation process, and is sure to vote to put him on the high court, cementing a conservative majority for perhaps decades to come.

Kyl’s selection also illuminates the delicate politics of a changing electorate. As a whole, historically deep-red Arizona is becoming more moderate, and Democrats have a realistic shot this fall of flipping retiring Republican Sen. Jeff Flake’s seat. Yet the Republican base in Arizona remains as conservative as ever. In the GOP primary for Flake’s seat, the anti-immigrant former sheriff, Joe Arpaio — who forced prisoners to wear pink underwear and march in chain gangs — got 20 percent of the vote. Kelli Ward, who campaigned with far-right conspiracy theorist Mike Cernovich and hinted that McCain timed his death to hurt her Senate bid, got 28 percent. Martha McSally, who entered the campaign as a measured McCain-style Republican, then tacked right, won with 53 percent.

In choosing ultra-conservative Kyl, Ducey, who is also up for election this November, won’t anger his base and is also unlikely to alienate moderate voters because of Kyl’s reputation for getting things done. The GOP establishment hopes that Kyl’s presence in the Senate, even if it’s brief, will bridge some of the partisanship with his “get real” presence. “(Kyl’s) governing capabilities shouldn’t be overlooked,” said Paul Carrese, a political research and director of Arizona State University’s School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership. The Senate is far more partisan than it was even six years ago. “But Kyl has demonstrated that he knows the place and has experience.”

Paige Blankenbuehler is an assistant editor for High Country News.

Shortage on the Colorado River is Imminent, but a Catastrophic One is Not — Jennifer Pitt

Lake Mead December 2017. Photo credit: Greg Hobbs

From Audubon (Jennifer Pitt):

Parties in Arizona must keep pushing to leave more water in Lake Mead.

The new Lake Mead forecast is out… and it isn’t pretty. The Bureau of Reclamation (USBR) now predicts a 57% likelihood that Lake Mead will drop below 1,075 feet in 2020. The risk has grown an additional 5% since the last update.

This means there is nearly a 3 in 5 chance there will be mandatory reductions in Colorado River water for farmers in Central Arizona, and less water for the Central Arizona Groundwater Replenishment District (CAGRD), which uses “excess” water, when available, to offset groundwater pumping for specific housing developments. Stated a different way, this could affect Arizona’s economy. Elsewhere in the Lower Colorado River Basin, specifically in Mexico, other water users will have less water to use as well. But because of deals and compromises that Arizona negotiated in the past, water users in California and Nevada won’t feel the impact of the shortages to the same degree.

As the Steering Committee charged with securing Arizona’s commitment a new statewide deal to reduce Colorado River water use slogs on despite imminent shortage, Arizona faces incredible risk. Under current rules Arizona is exposed to bearing the brunt of Colorado River shortages, which could be catastrophic. In the event of extended drought, central Arizona could lose its entire Colorado River water supply in the next 5 years.

The solution on the table, the Lower Basin Drought Contingency Plan (DCP), would engage California and Nevada to share the pain of reducing water use along with Arizona, and would trigger an agreement already in place with Mexico to conserve even more. (It’s important to remember that the U.S. – Mexico agreement adopted in 2017 that commits Mexico to more water conservation also commits the two countries to habitat restoration in the Colorado River Delta.) Moreover, under the DCP’s rules water users would conserve water more frequently, but in smaller volumes. The DCP is effectively an insurance policy that engages many to make relatively small cuts in water use so it’s less likely anyone (read: Arizona) is hit with catastrophic cuts.

We understand these can sound like fighting words to water users asked to sign on to a new deal for something that may not appear, on the surface, to bring immediate relief from water shortages. Indeed, the DCP cannot create new water. But it does establish a broader base to share in reducing water use. And by starting water conservation requirements earlier than is currently required, it reduces the probability of Lake Mead sinking so low that no water can be released at all. If Arizona stakeholders can rally themselves to agreement, the DCP will buy the state some time and engage Mexico, California, and Nevada in their commitments to leave more water in Lake Mead. We need them.

It is up to Arizona’s Colorado River water stakeholders—tribes, cities, farmers, homebuilders, businesses, non-governmental organizations, and residents—to keep pushing each other towards consensus on the deals within Arizona that make using less Colorado River palatable (we didn’t say enjoyable) to water users.

That means:

  • Reasonable mitigation for Central Arizona Project agriculture in return for their commitment to use less Colorado River water
  • Permission for Arizona’s tribes to leave more water in Lake Mead on a voluntary basis
  • Recognition of the limits of Colorado River water supplies to support future growth in Central Arizona
  • Coordination among parties to sustainably manage Arizona’s Colorado River supplies
  • Maintaining Arizona’s legacy of groundwater management statewide, ensuring the reliability of regulations already in place
  • The problem is clear, and one significant step toward a solution, the DCP, is teed up for Arizona to embrace. People, birds, and Arizona’s sustainability depend on it.

    Haley Paul contributed to this article.

    Proposed Central #Colorado Water Conservancy District $47 million ballot aimed at resilient infrastructure

    Recharge pond graphic via the Central Colorado Water Conservancy District.

    From Central’s website:

    Central’s Board places GMS bond measure on November 2018 ballot

    The Board of Directors of the Central Colorado Water Conservancy District placed a bond question for the Groundwater Management Subdistrict on to the 2018 ballot. Central’s board and management stated this measure is important to start planning the next steps to secure water rights and build storage for the region. The projects in the bond include:

  • Construction of 5,000 acre-feet of additional reservoir storage—which will increase Central’s holdings by 25 percent—in the Fort Lupton and Greeley/Kersey areas.
  • Construction of the Robert W. Walker Recharge Project, a large project at the Weld and Morgan county lines that will divert water from the South Platte River and send those flows to groundwater recharge basins as far as 5 miles from the river. This will increase drought resiliency for water users in the District. Central was awarded $1.5 million in state and federal grants for the estimated $15 million project.
  • Purchase of several senior water rights that are becoming available for the District’s portfolio, including the purchase of water currently being leased by Central, which will ensure this water stays in the community to be used by local farms and businesses.
  • To review the ballot language, click here. Please contact Central’s office if you have any questions.

    From The Greeley Tribune (Sara Knuth):

    Randy Ray said every local water manager remembers years like 2002 and 2012.

    “That’s one thing water managers don’t forget: the dry years. We always forget about the wet ones, except for the catastrophic floods,” said Ray, executive director of the Central Colorado Water Conservancy District. “How did their water supplies react to the dry years?”

    Water officials try to answer when they look toward the future of their systems. That’s why the Central Colorado Water Conservancy District will place a $48.7 million bond question on the ballot this November in an effort to address priorities that, officials said, would help the district plan for droughts such as the ones that ravaged this part of the state in 2002 and 2012. Another drought currently bakes portions of the state this year, as well.

    Central’s boundaries stretch through parts of Weld, Adams and Morgan counties and serve about 550 farmers who operate about 1,000 irrigation wells…

    The recharge project, the biggest of the three, would claim an estimated $15 million of the funding in an effort to divert water from the South Platte River and send flows to groundwater basins about 5 miles away from the river. Officials said that would create storage to increase drought resiliency for the district’s water users.

    For Ray, the recharge project is a solution to problems years in the making.

    “It’s complicated, but then again, it’s simple,” he said. “If you want to pump groundwater, you’ve got to replace it. We’re just simply putting water in the aquifer to offset pumping and generate additional supplies that we can count on.”

    Recharge projects, which have been in use for decades, exploded in the late 1990s, as strict regulations for well pumping required water users to replace the groundwater they pumped. They work by diverting water to a pond and allowing it to seep into the ground, and eventually, back to the river.

    At the Walker Recharge Project, which is named after a former district president, officials plan to divert the water from the South Platte River when it’s flowing at a high level to ponds along a plateau as far as 5 miles away.

    The district purchased the land for the project in 2015 after it became clear to Central officials that the district can’t rely on leasing reusable water from Thornton, Aurora, Longmont and Westminster sewer discharge plants the way it has in the past.

    Because the population in those cities is growing, Ray said, city officials are more reluctant to give their extra water supplies away. Water managers in those cities remember dry years such as 2002 too.

    Plus, Ray said, the district views the projects as better financial investments.

    “It’s like renting a house,” Ray said. “The landowner is getting the equity, and you’re just basically paying their mortgage.”

    Ray said the other main projects outlined in the ballot question — the reservoir storage and additional senior water rights — also will play a role in helping the district rely less on water leases from cities. The gravel pit reservoir storage, he said, would help the district divert water from the river quickly when water levels are high for additional storage.

    But Ray said the biggest selling point for the bond issue is agriculture.

    “That’s our big campaign, our big message to our constituents, preserving irrigated agriculture in the county,” Ray said.

    By purchasing additional senior water rights, he said, the district could help slow a trend called “buy-and-dry,” in which cities buy water rights from farms.

    “So, when one of those cities purchases those water rights, they retire the land, and it’s got to go back to a dry land setting, which has a lot of negative associations with that,” Ray said. “The economy dries up and the tax bases go away.”

    If Central takes over that water right, Ray argued, farmers would still have access to groundwater to irrigate a portion of the farmland.

    “If you’re 80 years old, 70 years old, that farm and its water rights are your 401(k),” Ray said. “We want to be an alternative to these beautiful senior water rights in Weld County being transferred to Denver, Arapahoe, Douglas counties and reside here under the management of the water conservancy district.”

    @CSUtilities extends CEO contract offer to Aram Benyamin

    Here’s the release from Colorado Springs Utilities:

    Board extends offer for CEO

    In an open session on Sept. 17, the Utilities Board unanimously voted to extend an offer to Aram Benyamin to be the next Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Colorado Springs Utilities.

    Nearly 130 candidates from across the United States submitted their resumes for consideration. In June, the Utilities Board reviewed the top candidates and determined which candidates should complete advanced screening. In July, the Board reviewed the information and selected seven candidates to proceed as semifinalists.

    Over the last few weeks, the full Utilities Board conducted seven semi-finalist interviews with internal and external candidates. Deliberations on who would be moving on as finalists were concluded prior to the Aug. 22 Board meeting.

    As part of the process, there were opportunities for employees and the public to meet the CEO finalists and provide feedback to the Board. The Utilities Board incorporated the feedback they received from employees and the public and considered the information as they interviewed the candidates.

    Aram Benyamin, P.E.
    General Manager of Energy Supply
    Colorado Springs Utilities

    Aram Benyamin currently serves as the General Manager of the Energy Supply Department at Colorado Springs Utilities.

    Prior to Colorado Springs Utilities, Mr. Benyamin was the Senior Assistant General Manager, head of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power’s (LADWP) power system, the nation’s largest municipal utility.

    At LADWP, Mr. Benyamin was responsible for 4,000 employees with an annual budget of $3.9 billion, serving more than four million residents of Los Angeles.

    LADWP’s power system spans over four states. It includes 7,327 megawatts of generation capacity, 3,507 miles of high-voltage 500, 230 and 138 kV AC transmission lines, two 900 miles of 500 kV DC lines and a 465 square mile area of overhead and underground power distribution network.

    Mr. Benyamin is a Professional Engineer and has a bachelor’s of science degree in engineering from California State University, Los Angeles. He also has a master’s degree in business administration (MBA) from University of La Verne and a master’s degree in public of administration (MPA) from California State University, Northridge.

    He has also earned a Certificate, Senior Executives in State and Local Government, Harvard University, Kennedy School of Government; Certificate, Executive Business Management Program, University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), Anderson School of Management; Certificate, Engineering and Technical Management, UCLA; Certificate, Business Management Program, UCLA; Certificate, Leadership for the 21st Century, UCLA; Certificate, Total Quality Management, UCLA; Certificate, Construction Management, UCLA.

    Mr. Benyamin’s current and past board member and trustee affiliations include YMCA Downtown Colorado Springs Board Member, Armenian General Benevolent Union, Worldwide District Committee Board Member, Boys and Girls Scouts commissioner, troop committee member and volunteer, Trustee of Joint Safety and Training Institutes, Southern California Public Power Association board member, Large Public Power Council board member and California Municipal Utilities Association board member.

  • View Mr. Benyamin’s resume.
  • See Mr. Benyamin written responses to interview questions.
  • Read Mr. Benyamin’s video interview transcript.
  • From The Colorado Springs Independent (Pam Zubeck):

    Monday, Sept. 17, the Colorado Springs Utilities Board voted to offer the energy supply general manager, Aram Benyamin, a contract as the new CEO of the $2 billion enterprise.

    Benyamin would replace Jerry Forte, who retired in May after more than 12 years as CEO.

    He came to Utilities in 2015 from Los Angeles Department of Water and Power after he was ousted the previous year due to his close association with the electrical workers union, according to media reports. He also had supported the challenger of Eric Garcetti, who was elected as mayor.

    Benyamin tells the Independent that he will accept the offer, although details are being worked out, including the salary. Forte was paid $447,175 a year.

    Benyamin will take his cues on major policy issues from the Utilities Board but does have thoughts on power supply, water rights and other issues involving the four services offered by Utilities: water, wastewater, electricity and gas.

    He says he hopes to see more options emerge for Drake Power Plant, a downtown coal-fired plant that’s been targeted for retirement in 2035. That’s way too late, according to some residents who have pushed for an earlier decommissioning date…

    Utilities has been slower than some to embrace solar and wind, because of the price point, but Benyamin says prices are going down. “Every time we put out an RFP [request for proposals] the prices are less,” he says, adding that renewables will play a key role in replacing Drake’s generation capacity, which at present provides a quarter to a third of the city’s power.

    While sources are studied, he says the city is moving ahead with “rewiring the system” to prepare for shutting down the plant. But he predicted a new source of generation will be necessary.

    Though he acknowledged he’s not fully versed in Utilities’ water issues, he says it’s his goal to “serve the city first.”

    “Any resources we have we need to prioritize them to the need of the city today and the future growth and then decide what level of support we can give to anybody else,” he says.

    The Utilities Policy Advisory Committee earlier this year called for lowering the cost of water and wastewater service for outsiders — notably bedroom communities outside the city limits which are running lower on water or face water contamination issues.

    Benyamin also says he’s open to further studying reuse of water. “Any chance we have to recycle water or use gray water for irrigation or any other use that would take pressure off our supplies, that’s always a great idea to look into,” he says.

    From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Conrad Swanson):

    “My short-term vision is to take a look at the organization and kind of recalibrate the vision of what a public utility should be and how a public utility should fit into the vision of the city itself,” Benyamin said.

    Long-term goals include identifying what fuel changes Utilities will face and examining the water supply and transmission, he said.

    Benyamin said he wants to insert leadership that will boost revenues while maintaining competitive rates. He also foresees increasing renewable energy production and energy storage.

    “Renewables and storage are the trend of the future,” he said. “That’s where we’re going.”

    Technology for storage and renewable energy, such as wind and solar, are becoming more efficient and affordable, Benyamin said. Combining those two factors with improved distribution of electricity will enable Utilities to be more versatile, he said.

    The coal-fired Martin Drake Power Plant downtown is to be closed no later than 2035, but Benyamin said that date could be moved up significantly with more technology, storage and transmission options.

    Colorado Springs with the Front Range in background. Photo credit Wikipedia.