Colorado water utilities, pushed to respond to climate change, are giving up their energy-guzzling ways — @WaterEdCO

Workers put finishing touches on Denver Water’s new super-sustainable administrative complex. July 17, 2019. Credit: Jerd Smith

From Water Education Colorado (Jerd Smith):

Colorado’s water utilities, seeking environmental street cred and pushed by citizens, are slashing energy use and carbon emissions.

Denver Water, the state’s largest water utility, uses lots, and lots, and lots of energy every year, some 56 million kilowatt hours. That’s roughly the same amount of power that 6,900 homes would use during that same period, according to the U.S. EPA.

Brian Good, the utility’s chief administrative officer, can cite, almost without limit, one energy use statistic after another. That’s because it is his job to take the utility into a new uber sustainable world, one in which it produces as much clean energy as it uses, a quest in the energy world known as “net zero.”

The utility is on track to hit that mark, system-wide, by the end of next year, according to Good.

The heart of the initiative is the utility’s new headquarters on the west side of central Denver. When it is finished it will generate the electricity it needs and will be able to capture rainwater and wastewater on site, treating it so that it can be reused.

Good and others believe the facility will be the most sustainable facility in Colorado. By operating in a way that reduces climate-damaging greenhouse gas emissions, Good said the utility is helping protect the watersheds that are threatened by a warming climate.

“Our water comes from the environment,” Good said, “so we have to demonstrate that we are doing our part to take care of it.”

Large industrial users, such as water utilities and wastewater treatment plants, are among the biggest users of electricity and, as a result, among the biggest emitters of greenhouse gases.

But that may be changing. Utilities from Grand Junction to Englewood, from Colorado Springs to Boulder and Longmont, are investing heavily in climate-friendly technology.

According to a report by the Colorado Energy Office, industrial operations account for one-third of total energy consumption in the United States.

The state is working hard to change that with new laws and emissions goals. By 2050, Colorado plans to have greenhouse gas emissions slashed to the same levels as 2005, according to Michael Turner, director of commercial and industrial energy services for the Governor’s Energy Office.

Water and wastewater utilities are key players in that initiative, according to Turner. He is leading an effort to help major industrial sectors across the state become more sustainable, and he said water and wastewater utilities, as well as large breweries, are poised to make major contributions to the greenhouse gas reduction effort.

“Denver Water has demonstrated that they want to be at the forefront of the conversation,” Turner said. “But a lot of [utilities] have expansive industrial complexes and they have invested in significant reduction goals and projects.”

Net zero is a sort of holy grail in the sustainability world and Denver Water has been chasing it since 2014.

In 18 months, by the end of 2020, the agency will have replaced its 40-year-old, administration building with a new structure that is net zero and whose inner workings include the ability to use carefully constructed interior wetlands to process rainwater from the roof and wastewater generated on-site so that it all can be reused on the campus. The entire seven-building complex will use nearly 60 percent less energy than the old complex, according to Denver Water spokesman Todd Hartman, dropping from 6.25 million kilowatt hours annually to 2.5 million.

“We need to demonstrate the future of sustainable urban water use but also demonstrate that it is not just water. It’s energy as well,” Good said.

Brian Good, chief administrative officer at Denver Water, is leading the effort to help the utility achieve “net zero,” meaning it produces as much clean energy as it uses. July 17, 2019 Credit: Jerd Smith

Once the complex opens, it will have one of the smallest eco footprints possible with existing technologies, Good said. Several of the buildings will be at least partially buried to help reduce heating and cooling loads. Electricity use will be offset by an extensive solar grid and by the utility’s seven hydroelectric plants. All told, the $204 million project is expected to save about $4 million a year in energy costs.

In some parts of the project, Denver Water has pushed out ahead of technologies and the regulators who oversee them.

One Denver building inspector visited the site several months ago to examine its hyper-sophisticated plumbing system for wastewater reuse, only to leave early because he had never seen the technology being deployed and could not render a decision on whether it had been properly installed, according to Good.

The effort to reuse wastewater has been particularly challenging with state regulations still being written for on-site wastewater reuse systems.

“We thought it would be great to capture the rainwater off our roof before it hits the ground. We also thought it would be great to capture our wastewater and use it to flush our toilets. Neither of these was legal at the time [planning began],” Good said.

Since then the utility secured a water right to capture the rainwater, but regulations governing how wastewater can be treated on-site and reused have yet to be finalized, though Denver Water is working with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to develop them.

“We eventually got a permit to build the [wastewater] system,” Good said. “But we still don’t have a permit to run it.”

Denver Water’s net-zero initiative comes as concerns over climate change and rising greenhouse gas emissions grow.

But it isn’t the only large utility spending big bucks to slash emissions.

South Platte Water Renewal Partners, which processes wastewater for Englewood, Littleton and several small water districts, next month will become the first wastewater utility in the state to capture the biogas emitted from its waste treatment facility, converting it to natural gas, and injecting it into a pipeline for Xcel Energy. The program benefits the environment by reducing the amount of methane, a highly damaging greenhouse gas, released into the atmosphere. It also allows SPWRP to earn a climate credit, which it then sells in a climate exchange marketplace.

Grand Junction was the leader in biogas capture and conversion, using the natural gas to fuel its fleet operations.

The City of Boulder’s utility division too is preparing to capture and convert its biogas, rather than flaring it off, and will likely sell it to Western Disposal, a regional trash hauler, according to Cole Sigmon, the project engineer overseeing the program. Western will use the gas to power 15 of its trucks as part of a fleet conversion from diesel to natural gas.

Longmont is close to finalizing its own biogas recapture facility and Colorado Springs is in the midst of a feasibility study.

In addition, when the new National Western Center is completed in 2025, it will be heated with waste heat captured from the Metropolitan Wastewater Reclamation District’s wastewater collection system.

At SPWRP, much of the work has been driven by the cities, their citizenry, and their joint quest for sustainability, said Dan DeLaughter, data and regulatory program manager.

“Water and wastewater [operations] account for 35 percent of municipal energy bills,” DeLaughter said. “So we are continuously looking for ways to reduce energy use.”

As the solar panels go up at Denver Water’s new complex and the high-tech interior wetlands are built, Good continues to watch the electric meter reports.

Two years ago, he said, even before the complex was complete, the utility almost hit net zero, thanks to the large amounts of power its hydroelectric plants were able to produce that year.

By the end of 2020, Good believes the utility should be able to fully hit the net zero mark.

“It’s going to be close, but we set a stretch goal. If we miss, we’ll keep plugging away. If we hit it, we will set a new goal,” he said.

Jerd Smith is editor of Fresh Water News. She can be reached at 720-398-6474, via email at jerd@wateredco.org.

Minnie Lynch Mine and Akron Mine cleanup

From Trout Unlimited (Jason Willis) via The Chaffee County Times:

The exclamation I hear most often from the general public, industry or federal/state partner organizations is “I didn’t know Trout Unlimited did that.”

That refers to abandoned mine land clean-up projects. TU has had an AML program for over 10 years, I’ve been part of it for the last 7.

The scope, complexity and budget of our projects have grown a lot in the past 4-5 years.

A cleanup will commonly consist of targeting an abandoned hardrock mine, 23,000 of which exist in Colorado, that has acidic, heavy metal-laden water, waste-rock or tailings (processed ore) on site.

Our staff will then characterize a site through water or soil chemistry testing to attain baseline metal concentration levels. This data can then be used in a reclamation design/plan that best suits a certain location.

The characterization part of the work is important. There is no one-size-fits-all type solution at many of these sites due variations in contamination, elevation, aspect, water and historical properties.

My program in TU has taken on a larger cradle-to-grave project management role in the recent past since we have the expertise to do most of this characterization and design ourselves.

This helps cut down on costs that ultimately can go into the ground to accomplish more work at a site.

The work most commonly focuses on revegetating barren and discolored waste rock or tailings areas, as well as managing water around those areas to keep it clean. I’m simplifying these techniques quite a bit. The pictures tell the story best.

The first two photos were taken from a project TU completed in partnership with the U.S. Forest Service near Bonanza. Previous activity in the Bonanza Mining District at the Minnie Lynch Mine left this drainage dead due to contaminated soils and water.

Our work focused on confining the flow of Minnie Lynch Gulch into a sustainable stream channel while also incorporating soil amendments into the barren floodplain to establish native vegetation.

The two photos were taken 1 year apart showing impressive results. The native vegetation has continued to thrive 3 years after implementation with local cattle even being observed enjoying the fruits of our labor.

Another local project TU completed in partnership with USFS was the Akron Mine cleanup, which is in the headwaters of Tomichi Creek near the town of Whitepine.

This nationally award-winning project moved over 120,000 cubic yards of mine wastes out of the floodplain and into two large on-site repositories.

The wastes exhibited high levels of lead and zinc, making ecological and human health a priority for clean-up actions. By moving the wastes, a 60-foot wide floodplain was established along an 1,100-foot section of Tomichi Creek. The entire 8-acre footprint was revegetated using native seed. A large culvert was also removed that was acting as a fish barrier to local brown and brook trout populations.

These are just two example projects of the “I didn’t know TU did that” category of work. Over the past 3-4 years, the TU Colorado AML program has spent $500,000 to $1.2 million annually on construction towards these types of projects that protect the state’s water quality.

That is no small task given the increased scrutiny from federal agencies, legal hurdles, lack of funding and varied site complexities.

Fortunately, federal agencies have been recently motivated to facilitate these types of clean-ups with existing Good Samaritan protections while also exploring legislative fixes that will help protect third party organizations like TU from potential legal ramifications.

With over 25 projects under the program’s belt over the last 7 years in Colorado, TU looks to continue to build capacity and chip away at our state’s water quality issues stemming from abandoned mines.

With increased climate variability, overallocation and increased population influx in Colorado, this type of work will become more significant when it comes to protecting our water resources.

Now that you know more of what TU does, I can end with the assurance that our membership and staff will continue to protect our Nation’s Coldwater Resources across Colorado and the U.S.

For more information about Collegiate Peaks Chapter our events and projects visit our website http://collegiatepeaksTU.org

Jason Willis is a former board director for the Collegiate Peaks Chapter and is currently abandoned Mine Program manager for NTU.

#Senate candidates — minus @Hickenlooper and @SenCoryGardner —address planet’s peril at Colorado Springs forum — The #ColoradoSprings Gazette #ActOnClimate

Statewide temperature 1895 through 2018 via the Colorado Climate Center.

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Liz Henderson):

More than 100 people carrying “Agree” and “Disagree” signs came to hear Senate hopefuls’ views on climate change and their solutions during the Planet in Peril forum.

Eight Democrats, Angela Williams, Trish Zornio, Andrew Romanoff, Diana Bray, Lorena Garcia, Michelle Ferrigno Warren, Alice Madden and Stephany Rose Spaulding, and two Unity Party candidates, Joshua Rodriguez and Gary Swing, shared their positions with the audience.

Attendees showed their displeasure with Hickenlooper, who entered the Senate race after dropping out of the Democratic scrum for president, by chanting, “Where is Hick?”

One sign read, “Hey Hiding Hick, our future is at stake!” The Sunrise Movement of Colorado, one of the forum sponsors, said in a tweet that it was disappointed Gardner chose not to attend.

The forum, sponsored by environmental and progressive organizations, focused on addressing climate change through eliminating fracking, reforestation, fostering biodiversity and renewable resources and protecting groundwater.

All of the candidates agreed on the need for immediate climate change action — most used their rebuttal minute to agree with previous speakers. Some rebuked the Trump administration for retreating on environmental protections…

Candidates discussed carbon sequestration, reducing greenhouse gases and training the American workforce to transition to renewable energy jobs.

“The new normal is that the snowpack is melting earlier and we have earlier runoff, and that’s a fact” — Rosemary Carroll #ActOnClimate

Changing nature of Colorado River droughts, Udall/Overpeck 2017.

From Inside Climate News (Bob Berwyn):

Mountain snowpack is shrinking and melting earlier in the spring. Warmer and longer summers dry out vegetation and increase the threat of wildfires in western mountain forests, where the fire season has lengthened by at least a month since 1979.

The growing wildfire risk is just part of an accelerating cycle of global warming impacts in the world’s mountain regions, according to a new Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report that includes a section focused on mountains for the first time in more than 20 years.

“Snow cover duration has declined in nearly all regions, especially at lower elevations, on average by five days per decade,” the mountain chapter of the IPCC report says. On average across Western North America, the European Alps and High Mountain Asia, temperatures are warming by 0.54 degrees Fahrenheit per decade.

That’s melting glaciers and changing mountain river flows, disrupting plants and wildlife, and increasing the risk of extreme rockslides, avalanches and mountain floods caused by rain falling on snow.

Taken together, global warming impacts represent an existential threat to millions of people in the Andes, the Himalaya, the European Alps, and the U.S. Mountain West including Alaska, said Heidi Steltzer, a biologist at Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado, and a lead author of the mountain chapter.

Will Water Reliability Break Down?

In Crested Butte, about 100 miles southwest of Leadville, hydrologist and physicist Rosemary Carroll studies how disruptions to the water cycle will affect local ranchers and ski areas, as well as drinking and agricultural water supplies hundreds of miles away.

The IPCC assessment found that global warming will change the timing and amount of runoff, “affecting water storage and delivery infrastructure around the world,” a finding backed by research focusing on the West.

A 2016 study in six Western mountain ranges showed rising temperatures will shift the snow accumulation zone and runoff timing enough to have significant impacts on water cycles. And some towns in the Rockies and Sierra Nevada are at risk from dangerous flash floods as global warming brings rain, rather than snow, to some mountain regions.

Carroll pointed out her living room window to a craggy ridgeline where she measures how water from melted snow trickles through rocks and meadows down to the East River, on to the Gunnison River and finally into the mighty Colorado.

“The new normal is that the snowpack is melting earlier and we have earlier runoff, and that’s a fact. There’s going to be less water for a given snowpack,” she said. Even in average snowfall years, global warming is reducing the amount of available water for irrigation and storage, she said.

Her research for the University of Nevada’s Desert Research Institute and the U.S. Department of Energy will help communities adapt as global warming disrupts flows from mountain streams. Around Crested Butte, the ski industry and local ranchers will feel the changes first.

But addressing those impacts isn’t as easy as just throwing a new report on the table. Translating science into action requires working with stakeholders from the start.

“Ranchers know what’s happening, they know that things are shifting, but they’re afraid the policy will shift in a way that they will carry the burden of the change. Since they have most of the water, they fear they will have to give up the most, and that it won’t be equitable,” she said.

The states that get their water from the Colorado River are already restructuring water-sharing agreements to stave off shortages and trying to develop new storage plans to account for extreme wet and dry years.