Sterling City Council meeting recap

Pawnee Creek

From The Sterling Journal-Advocate (Jeff Rice):

Brad McCloud, a public relations specialist with EIS Solutions, told the Sterling City Council Tuesday evening that the Logan County Water Conservancy District is shifting its focus away from a single large project to a series of smaller ones.

“There have been a lot of changes over the past two years, so (LCWCD) has re-devined their mission and taken a new direction,” McCloud said. “We’re in the process of developing a master plan to take (the district) to the next level.”

McCloud said the “major project” of building a flood-mitigation dam across Pawnee creek isn’t completely off the table, but it probably won’t be done in the foreseeable future…

The conservancy district was formed in 2000 after flash flooding of Pawnee Creek in the spring of 1997 caused widespread damage in the Sterling area. The district was formed specifically to mitigate flooding in the Pawnee Creek drainage area of Logan and Weld Counties.

The centerpiece of the district’s efforts at that time was a proposed dam 131 feet high and 6,800 feet long across the Pawnee about a mile north of where the creek passes under Colorado Highway 14, 11 miles west of Sterling. In the case of a flood along the order of the 1997 event, which flooded southern parts of Sterling, the dam would hold back about 90,000 acre-feet of water.

During an interview Tuesday, prior to the city council meeting, McCloud and LCWCD General Manager Shane Miller said the “big project” simply isn’t feasible and may not be for some time. While they weren’t specific about what other projects should be done, Miller said the district will shift its focus to smaller projects that will mitigate flooding in the immediate future…

McCloud said the LCWCD hopes to work closely with the Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District, which is looking into water storage possibilities in the basin. Although LCWCD isn’t legally allowed to store water for irrigation or recreational uses, McCloud said some of its work may fit with projects that would be proposed by Lower South Platte.

LCWCD also will work closely with the sponsors of the South Platte River Master Plan, which was developed in 2017 to find ways to mitigate flooding damage on the river in Morgan, Washington, Logan and Sedgwick counties.

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

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

U.S. Groundwater in Peril: Potable Supply Less Than Thought — @UofA:

Shaded relief map of the US via

From the University of Arizona (Mari N. Jensen):

Drilling deeper wells may not be a good long-term solution to compensate for increasing demands on groundwater, report UA hydrologist Jennifer McIntosh and colleagues.

The U.S. groundwater supply is smaller than originally thought, according to a new research study that includes a University of Arizona hydrologist.

The study provides important insights into the depths of underground fresh and brackish water in some of the most prominent sedimentary basins across the U.S.

The research by scientists from the University of Saskatchewan, the UA and the University of California, Santa Barbara was published Nov. 14 in Environmental Research Letters.

“We found that potable groundwater supplies in the U.S. do not go as deep as previously reported, meaning there is less groundwater for human and agricultural uses,” said Jennifer McIntosh, a University of Arizona Distinguished Scholar and professor of hydrology and atmospheric sciences.

Drilling deeper wells may not be a good long-term solution to compensate for increasing demands on groundwater.

“We show that there is potential for contamination of deep fresh and brackish water in areas where the oil and gas industry injects wastewaters into – or in close depth proximity to – these aquifers,” McIntosh said. “These potable water supplies are already being used up from the ‘bottom up’ by oil and gas activities.

“Groundwater is the primary source of domestic water supply for about half of the people living in the U.S. About 40 percent of all of the water used in the U.S. for irrigated agriculture comes from groundwater,” McIntosh said. “In Tucson, Arizona, about half of our drinking water comes from groundwater.”

Many rural areas in Arizona and other parts of the U.S. rely exclusively on groundwater for both agricultural and domestic use, she said.

To find out how deep potable groundwater extends, the scientists analyzed water chemistry data from the U.S. Geological Survey for 28 key sedimentary basins in the U.S. and looked at the correlation between water well depths and the depth to the transition between fresh and brackish water.

Until now, the focus has been on monitoring dropping water tables, said lead author Grant Ferguson, principal investigator of the University of Saskatchewan-led Global Water Futures project.

In parts of the western U.S. known to geologists as the Basin and Range Province, fresh groundwater extends down an average of 3,400 feet, McIntosh said. The province includes Nevada, southern Arizona and New Mexico, and extends into parts of California, Utah, Oregon and Idaho.

The new research found the average depth of transition from fresh to brackish groundwater in the U.S. overall is about 1,800 feet, which contradicts previous studies suggesting that fresh groundwater extends down to 6,500 feet.

Especially in parts of the eastern U.S., the team found the transition from fresh to brackish water occurs at less than 1,000 feet. In such regions, drilling deeper wells is not a long-term solution to the need for additional fresh water, the team wrote.

“There are a number of cases where potentially you could go a kilometer or so deep for fresh groundwater, but there are other areas of the United States where in maybe a maximum of 200 or 300 meters you would run into saline groundwater – essentially you would be done in terms of water resources,” said Ferguson, an associate professor at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon, Canada.

In addition, the injection of water, chemicals or sand that occurs with hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” or the injection of wastewater may drive waters containing hydrocarbons into adjacent areas that contain potable water.

Co-author Debra Perrone, assistant professor of environmental studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara, said, “In some basins, injection wells are installed shallower than the transition from fresh to brackish water.”

Addressing how much separation between groundwater resources and oil and gas activities is needed to protect groundwater will require additional research, the team writes.

Based on their findings for the U.S., the authors suggest the amount of fresh groundwater available globally may also be less than previously thought. They note that an estimated more than five billion people live in water-scarce areas, many of which rely on groundwater and where, in some cases, significantly more water has been taken out of a groundwater basin than is coming in.

The authors studied the U.S. because the needed data was more readily available than in Canada or other countries.

The research paper by Ferguson, McIntosh, Perrone and Scott Jasechko of the University of California, Santa Barbara, “Competition for shrinking window of low salinity groundwater,” is available here:

The Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, the U.S. National Science Foundation, the Canada First Research Excellence Fund and the W. M. Keck Foundation funded the research.

2018 Annual Meeting of the Arkansas River Compact Administration, December 7, 2018

Arkansas River Basin via The Encyclopedia of Earth

From the Kansas Department of Agriculture:

he 2018 Annual Meeting of the Arkansas River Compact Administration (ARCA) will be held on Friday, December 7, 2018, commencing at 9:00 A.M. CST (8:00 A.M. MST) at the Clarion Inn, Garden City, Kansas. The meeting will be recessed for lunch at about 12:00 P.M. and reconvened for the completion of business in the afternoon as necessary.

The Engineering, Operations, and Administrative/Legal Committees of ARCA will meet on Thursday, December 6, 2018, also at the Clarion Inn, starting at 1:00 PM. CST (12:00 P.M. MST) and continuing to completion. The public is invited to attend the Committee meetings.

Meetings of ARCA are operated in compliance with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act. If you need a special accommodation as a result of a disability please contact Stephanie Gonzales at (719) 688-0799 at least three days before the meeting.

The start times listed are tentative and will be firmed up with the final notice provided ahead of this meeting. The meeting agendas, announcement and a map to the location are available here and on ARCA’s website:

@USBR Releases Draft Environmental Documents for Platte River Recovery Extension

Here’s the release from the Bureau of Reclamation (Brock Merrill):

The Bureau of Reclamation has released the Final Environmental and Biological Assessment (EA) and signed the Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) for the Platte River Recovery Implementation Program, Proposed First Increment Extension. Reclamation, working with the states of Wyoming, Colorado, and Nebraska, water users, and environmental and conservation organizations, proposes to extend the First Increment of the basin-wide, cooperative Recovery Implementation Program by 13 years. Reclamation participates in the Program to meet its obligations under the Endangered Species Act.

The purpose of this action is to continue implementing Program projects in order to accomplish the following:

  • Reduce flow shortages in the Platte River aimed at conforming with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service target flows
  • Continue land management activities necessary to provide habitat for target threatened and endangered species
  • Continue integrated monitoring, research, and adaptive management, in order to assess the progress of the Program and inform future management decisions
  • The final EA and FONSI evaluates and discloses the potential impacts of the proposed 13 year extension of the Program’s First Increment. The final EA and FONSI does not represent the final decision of the Secretary of the Interior, in cooperation with the Governors of the states of Colorado, Nebraska, and Wyoming, to extend the Program. The final EA and FONSI informs the Secretary that the potential impacts of the proposed extension do not warrant the preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement. The formal decision by the Secretary regarding whether or not to extend the Program in cooperation with the Governors will occur at a later date.

    The final EA and FONSI are available for viewing at For additional information or to receive a printed copy of the EA or Draft FONSI, please contact Brock Merrill at 307-532-1093 or

    The Platte River is formed in western Nebraska east of the city of North Platte, Nebraska by the confluence of the North Platte and the South Platte Rivers, which both arise from snowmelt in the eastern Rockies east of the Continental Divide. Map via Wikimedia.

    #LasVegas planners design third intake pump station for the day the #ColoradoRiver stops at #HooverDam #COriver #aridification

    To address unprecedented drought conditions and provide long-term protection of Southern Nevada’s primary water storage reservoir—Lake Mead— the Southern Nevada Water Authority constructed a third drinking water intake capable of drawing upon Colorado River water at lake elevations below 1,000 feet (above sea level). Intake No. 3 ensures Southern Nevada’s access to its primary water supply if lake levels continue to decline due to drought conditions. It also protects municipal water customers from water quality issues associated with declining lake levels. Photo credit: Southern Nevada Water Authority

    From The Nevada Independent (Daniel Rothberg):

    It is hard to fathom, but there is a possible future in which this section of the river — the source of water for millions of Americans from farmers in the Imperial Valley to residents of Phoenix — could dry to a trickle.

    That doomsday scenario, if it happens, is still far away. But without cutbacks to water use across the Southwest, it could one day play itself out, especially under drier hydrologic conditions driven by climate change. And it’s scary enough for Las Vegas, which gets 90 percent of its municipal water from the Colorado River, that the city has been spending big money to hedge its bets.

    “You have a lot of people in Vegas who are very good at making bets,” said Jonathan Overpeck, a dean at the University of Michigan’s environmental school and a Colorado River researcher. “[The Southern Nevada Water Authority] is making a bet that it should spend $1.3 billion so that it can get [it’s full allocation], even at dead pool. So I would say that it is a possibility, then.”


    That water users would let the system crash to dead pool is unlikely. To let the once wild river stop at the dam’s edge would be a political and ecological disaster.

    “My gut feeling is we never get there. A whole lot of institutional systems would have to fail to get the lake that low,” said John Fleck, a professor at the University of New Mexico who wrote a book about the Colorado River. “At that point when we get the lake that low, we have huge problems across the West. I am confident that we never get to the point where the lake gets that low, because I am confident that the water management community will never let that happen.”

    But the improbable scenario is still one Las Vegas is working to secure itself against.

    On Tuesday, thousands of yards upstream and about 300 feet below the reservoir’s surface, water authority contractors continued working underground on a pumping station that would protect the city from dead pool if Lake Mead ever dropped to that point. Experts who study Colorado River politics have said that the infrastructure project has changed Las Vegas from one of the least secure cities on the river to one of the most secure cities. When it is completed in 2020, Las Vegas would be the only water user in the lower Colorado River basin that could get water under dead pool conditions.

    “This project is drought driven,” Erika Moonin, a project manager for the water authority, told reporters Tuesday before a tour of the pumping station. “It will allow us to have continued access to our community water supply even if the lake levels get to very extreme low levels.”

    The pumping station will connect to the water authority’s so-called third intake, a straw that allows for access to water deep in the reservoir. Together both projects are expected to cost about $1.35 billion and will give the water authority the ability to pump water below dead pool. But the worst-case scenario is not the only reason the water authority wanted the intake.

    There are other advantages.

    Chief among them is that the water authority’s current pumping infrastructure — at 1,000 feet above sea level — will become inoperable even before the reservoir hits dead pool, which will occur at 895 feet above sea level. The reservoir’s surface currently sits at about 1,078 feet. The station will also allow the agency to access colder, higher-quality water in the reservoir, which is easier to treat.

    Before the third intake was completed, Las Vegas was at risk of having nearly its entire water supply cut off if the reservoir fell below 1,000 feet. That meant no water to a metropolitan area of more than 2 million. Now with the completion of the pumping station, Las Vegas will have a security that no other Lake Mead water user has: the ability to take out water at dead pool.

    “Our delivery mechanism is guaranteed under all hydrologic conditions,” John Entsminger, the water authority’s general manager, said in an interview with The Nevada Independent in August. “That’s not true for anyone downstream of us. From a physical water security standpoint, Las Vegas is better off than any other metropolitan area that takes water from the Colorado River.”


    On Tuesday, about 300 feet below Lake Mead’s current elevation, pumps cleared groundwater that was seeping into the cavern. The hot water, in an area with high thermal activity, has scored the sides of the cave with calcium and iron deposits as it has dripped down the cave’s 40-foot walls.

    In the coming weeks, construction crews plan to remove those pumps, allowing groundwater to fill the area at a rate of roughly 500 gallons per minute. Then, using a submarine, the contractor will remove a bulkhead holding back water from the reservoir, a key milestone. But the site will still not be operable for many months until pumps are installed and a substation is built.

    South of Lake Mead, water still flows out of Hoover Dam and downstream. If the worst-case scenario played itself out and water one day stopped snaking past the dam, river-dependent cities and Southwest agriculture would not be the only collateral damage. Dead pool would cripple the environment to the south, adding the absolute insult to injury for many environmentalists who already decry dams as unnatural obtrusions.

    “You can almost see the Colorado River and Lake Mead as a microcosm for the way that we have treated the environment, particularly in the Western United States, by corralling and controlling resources to achieve an ideal,” said Patrick Donnelly, the Nevada state director for the Center for Biological Diversity. “[Lake Mead is] an emblem to control the West.”