Major #SouthPlatteRiver basin project would maximize #reuse of Western Slope water, report says — @AspenJournalism #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

The South Platte River runs by a utility plant near I-25 in Denver. The South Platte River runs by an electricity plant near I-25 in Denver. A project proposed by the South Platte Regional Opportunities Water Group would allow Front Range water managers to maximize the reuse of Colorado River water. Photo credit: Lindsay Fendt/Aspen Journalism

From Aspen Journalism (Lindsay Fendt):

A multibillion-dollar reservoir and pipeline project may one day pull more than 50,000 acre-feet of water per year from the South Platte River before it reaches Nebraska. That’s more than 16 billion gallons of water, enough to fill 25,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools.

The possible project is laid out in a new report from the South Platte Regional Opportunities Water Group, or SPROWG, a group of water managers from the Front Range. If built, the project would enable Front Range water managers to repeatedly reuse water diverted from the Colorado River, something Western Slope water managers have long encouraged and see as a welcome shift.

Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer’s office

“There is a lot of fully reusable water that makes its way down the South Platte,” said Eric Kuhn, a retired manager of the Colorado River Water Conservation District who now writes about Colorado River issues. “This is something that people on the Western Slope have been trying to encourage for probably 70 years.”

The group used a $350,000 grant from the Colorado Water Conservation Board and the South Platte Basin and Metro Basin roundtables to complete the year-long study, which was released in March. The group members hope the project could help close a water-supply gap of as much as 540,000 acre-feet that the state is projecting for the South Platte River basin by 2050.

Since the 1930s, Front Range water planners have looked west to bolster their water supplies. An elaborate series of reservoirs, underground tunnels and pipelines now conveys about 400,000 acre-feet of water annually from the Colorado River headwaters to the South Platte basin.

Water is diverted from the Colorado, Fraser, Blue, Eagle, Fryingpan and Roaring Fork rivers in Grand, Summit, Eagle and Pitkin counties and sent under the Continental Divide to the South Platte basin.

Large projects on the South Platte were previously written off due to the high costs of water treatment, but as the cost and controversy surrounding transmountain diversions have grown, a project such as SPROWG — which would have seemed expensive decades ago — is now on par with most other supplies of water. Depending on which concept configuration is used and whether the water will need to be treated, building the project would cost between $1.2 billion and $3.4 billion to build.

The South Platte River runs near a farm in Henderson, Colorado, northeast of Denver. Henderson is the site of one of the possible reservoirs for the regional water project proposed by SPROWG. Photo credit: Lindsay Fendt/Aspen Journalism

Use to extinction

Each of SPROWG’s storage concepts would capture stormwater and native South Platte water during wet years. While the project would not be used to store water from existing or future transmountain diversions, it would capture water from the Colorado River that made its way back to the river as a return flow after being used elsewhere within the basin.

“SPROWG is not intended to store supplies from an existing or new transmountain diversion project (though it will provide a means to utilize unused reusable return flows from transmountain diversions),” the report said.

Once water is transferred over the mountains to the Front Range, it can legally be used to extinction, meaning that it can return to the river as runoff, be recaptured and be used again perpetually. By decree, certain volumes of Colorado River water can only be reused within a certain area, something the SPROWG project would need to ensure.

“If they are going to take the water in the first place, they should make sure they are reusing that water to the full extent possible,” said Andy Mueller, general manager of the Colorado River Water Conservation District, which was formed in 1937 to protect Western Slope water.

Although the SPROWG project does not require more water from the Western Slope, it is not considered a replacement supply for any of the existing water that the region takes from the Colorado River system. Despite the continued need of existing transmountain diversions, Mueller sees the project as an acknowledgement by at least some on the Front Range that the Colorado River is no longer a feasible option for future water supplies.

“I think there are a number of operators of Front Range systems that recognize that the Colorado River system has hit its limit,” he said.

While Western Slope water managers interviewed for this story were all generally supportive of the project, the Colorado Basin Roundtable, which represents different water districts and users within the basin, has not yet taken a formal opinion on it.

Conceptual projects outlined by SPROWG will allow water managers to reuse Colorado River water. Three of the four project alternatives include an approximately 80-mile pump-and-pipeline system that would move water from a reservoir in Balzac, northeast of Denver, uphill to the metro area. Graphic credit: SPROWG

Conceptual project

The concepts outlined in the report are still far from a fully formed project, as no steps have been taken toward permitting, acquiring land or even identifying a user for the water. But SPROWG members hope that the analysis could be the first step toward a basinwide water project, a cooperative effort not typical of other large water projects.

“It just seems like something that we need to do, organizing the basin and helping the basin function as efficiently as possible,” said Matt Lindburg, SPROWG’s senior engineering consultant. “It will definitely be a project and concept that folks want to pursue.”

The report analyzed four possible storage and pipeline configurations that would collect agricultural water returned to the lower South Platte as runoff from the region’s farms, and then pump it back to the Denver metro area.

Three of the four project alternatives include an approximately 80-mile pump-and-pipeline system that would move water from a reservoir in Balzac, northeast of Denver, uphill to the metro area. The pipeline would allow the metro area to reuse some water that it already returned to the river as runoff or through water-treatment plants. The conceptual reservoirs could store between 220,000 and 409,000 acre-feet of water.

The idea to design a basinwide water project came from conclusions in the South Platte Storage Study, a 2018 analysis of basin-water supplies that was funded by the Colorado legislature.

That study found that the state was sending an average of 293,000 acre-feet more water down the South Platte and into Nebraska than what is required by the South Platte River Compact, an agreement between the two states that governs how much water Colorado is able to take from the river.

The SPROWG project would be designed to capture some of this water while remaining within the confines of the compact. The report suggested that water could be reused rather than the basin continuing to rely on either Western Slope or agricultural water.

In recent decades, agriculture along the South Platte has been the other main source of water for growing municipalities. Municipal governments buy out farms with senior water rights and dry up the fields, sending the water to the cities.

“This is probably the only other option on the table,” said Joe Frank, general manager of the Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District. “We want to do as much as we can to minimize the pressure on those other sources of water.”

The report also shows that the cost of the water from the projects would be consistent with other projects in the region — between $18,400 and $22,600 per acre-foot for untreated water and between $33,600 and $43,200 for treated water.

Whether cities will need additional South Platte water in the future, some of it is already spoken for. In March, 600,000 cranes — 80% of the world population — will visit an 80-mile stretch of the mainstem of the Platte River in Nebraska, where the birds fatten up on grain before a long migration north. Water flowing in the river makes this spectacle possible.

Even if the SPROWG concept were built, it would need to work within the confines of the Platte River Recovery Program, which was created to help protect these cranes and other endangered species on the river.

The recovery program, which secured additional water and land for habitat, has led to a dramatic increase in the population of endangered birds during migration season in Nebraska. SPROWG’s designers say they would work within the program, timing reservoir releases and saving water for specific ecological needs, but the report does not include a full environmental analysis.

Aspen Journalism is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization covering water and rivers in collaboration with The Aspen Times and Swift Communications newspapers. This story ran in the April 25 edition of The Aspen Times.

#Snowpack news: #BlueRiver Basin = 120% of normal

Click on a thumbnail graphic below to view a gallery of snowpack data from the NRCS.

From The Summit Daily (Taylor Sienkiewicz):

Despite a drier spring than Summit County saw last year, the Blue River basin’s snowpack total is well above the seasonal average. Treste Huse, a senior hydrologist for the National Weather Service in Boulder, said the Blue River basin sits with 120% of the average for snow-water equivalent, or how much water is held in the snowpack.

Huse said the water in the Blue River basin snowpack is well above average for this time of year. The snowpack in the basin holds about 19.3 inches of water, compared with the average 15.7 inches of water that the basin’s snowpack typically holds this time of year…

Colorado Drought Monitor April 21. 2020.

Huse said that the majority of storms this year have come from the northwest and have favored the north central mountains, missing the southern mountains. The U.S. Drought Monitor’s national drought summary, which was last recorded April 21, reports that severe drought has expanded over most of southern Colorado. The Colorado Climate Center at Colorado State University’s April 21 update lists the eastern plains of Colorado as an area of concern and reported that snowmelt in the Four Corners region has “kicked into high gear” and is melting faster and earlier than normal…

Going over the year in precipitation amounts, Huse said Summit County had a good October, November was fairly dry and then precipitation accumulation amounts shot up in December. She reported that February into March was great for precipitation as February saw record snowfall amounts at some of the ski areas.

Precipitation has leveled off in April with small storms bringing little accumulation aside from one recent storm system that brought 1.4 inches of snow-water equivalent. Huse said the snowpack levels were above average going into April, but the recent storm helped bring the numbers even higher.

Blue River snowpack April 27, 2020 via the NRCS.

The Blue River basin nears the end of the precipitation cycle toward the end of April. Huse said the weather service looks at yearly precipitation from July 1 through the end of June. She said that on April 17, Dillon’s total snowfall was around 102.1 inches while normal seasonal snowfall is 107 inches, putting Dillon just a few inches shy of the average snowfall total but ahead of average for mid-April. Huse said that at this time of year, the average snowfall amount in Dillon is 94.5 inches.

As she reported in early March, Huse said snowfall totals are above average but not abnormal. She said this is the 77th highest amount of snowfall for a year in Dillon out of 112 years. The highest annual snowfall Dillon has recorded was in 1935 when the town saw 227 inches of snow.

While water in the snowpack is above average this year, Huse said the late-season precipitation is not nearly as high as 2019, which was an anomaly. She reported that while the snow-water equivalent is around 19.3 inches this year, in 2019 the Blue River basin had around 21.2 inches.

Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map April 28, 2020 via the NRCS.

#Colorado Activists Cry Foul Over @POTUS’s #CleanWaterAct Rollback — Westword #WOTUS #DirtyWaterRule

Photo credit from report “A Preliminary Evaluation of Seasonal Water Levels Necessary to Sustain Mount Emmons Fen: Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forests,” David J. Cooper, Ph.D, December 2003.

From Westword (Chase Woodruff):

Environmental activists got an unwelcome gift from the federal government on the eve of the fiftieth anniversary of Earth Day, when officials with the Environmental Protection Agency revoked clean-water protections for thousands of streams across Colorado. Now advocates and state officials are taking President Donald Trump’s administration to court.

One of many bedrock environmental laws targeted for rollbacks by the Trump administration, the Clean Water Act has protected the “waters of the United States,” including rivers, lakes, streams and wetlands, since its passage in 1972. But a rule change announced by the Trump administration on April 21 would dramatically narrow the definition of those “waters,” removing protections for many wetlands and smaller, intermittent streams, and potentially threatening ecosystems and drinking water supplies…

The EPA’s decision will hit especially hard in Colorado and other Western states where water is already a precious resource. The new rule excludes all “ephemeral” streams, which only flow after rainfall or snowmelt, and some “intermittent” streams, which only flow for part of the year. An estimated 55 percent of streams in Colorado are classified as intermittent or ephemeral, according to conservation group Trout Unlimited…

Under the new rule, which will formally take effect on June 20, developers and industrial interests will be able to build in many wetland areas or near ephemeral streams without applying for Clean Water Act permits. That could dramatically speed up construction of projects like oil and gas pipelines, while environmental-review processes are significantly weakened.

“Lobbyists for corporate agribusiness, developers, and the oil and gas industry have long demanded that federal protections be removed for streams and wetlands,” says Hannah Collazo, director of Environment Colorado. “This is just plain wrong. Clean water is vital for our health, our way of life, and for nature itself.”

Environmental groups have already announced plans to sue over what they call Trump’s “Dirty Water Rule,” and so has Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser, who said in a statement that the administration’s decision is “based on flawed legal reasoning and lacks a scientific basis.”

Colorado Rivers. Credit: Geology.com

Guest column: 5 ways the #COVID19 crisis has created an #ageism crisis – and what to do about it #coronavirus

Here’s a guest column from Manfried Diehl that’s running on the Colorado State University “Source” website:

Manfred Diehl, Professor, Human Development and Family Studies, College of Health and Human Sciences, Colorado State University, October 14, 2016

Researchers who are studying the human aging process from a behavioral perspective are getting increasingly concerned that their efforts to reduce ageism in our society are being rapidly undone during the COVID-19 crisis. Ageism includes the propagation of negative age stereotypes, discrimination against older adults, and stigmatization based on age.

Here are five ways in which the COVID-19 crisis has also created an ageism crisis that requires everyone’s attention.

1. In public discussions, older adults are regularly referred to as “the elderly.” The use of this word is viewed as derogatory in nature by many professional organizations, including the Gerontological Society of America and the American Psychological Association. The reason for that is that the word “elderly” invokes images of frailty, vulnerability and senility. Yet, the overwhelming majority of older adults (e.g., persons over the age of 60 or 65) are neither frail, vulnerable or senile. Indeed, the majority of older adults lead vigorous and productive lives.

2. The public discussions also ignore that a person’s age is, in general, not a good indicator of that person’s level of functioning, and that older adults are the most diverse age group in our society. Therefore, a person’s age should not become the sole criterion for whether this person receives testing or treatment during the COVID-19 crisis. Other criteria, such as a person’s symptoms, preexisting health conditions, and other risk factors should become the decisive factors – for both older and younger adults. Indeed, it is important to not withhold important health care from younger adults (e.g., reversed ageism) with the argument that they are reserved for older adults. Such an approach only sows intergenerational division where intergenerational solidarity is needed.

3. Although the public emphasis on older adults’ greater susceptibility to COVID-19 may be well-intentioned, it is also important to keep in mind that it is not age per se that makes older adults more susceptible. Rather, it is the co-morbidities that are more likely to happen as individuals get older that make a person more vulnerable. For example, a 50-year-old with asthma, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease may be more vulnerable to the COVID-19 virus than a healthy 70-year-old. Again, age alone is just a number and we should not stigmatize anybody because of that number.

4. Another aspect of ageism that has reoccurred in public debates is the “greedy old geezer” argument. That is, older adults may create a disproportional burden on societal resources, such as the health-care system, that would be better invested in younger generations. Although it is correct that the rate of hospitalizations and fatalities is higher for older adults, currently it is not clear at all whether this is also the case for the rate of infections. As the pandemic unfolds, it may well be that the rate of infections will actually turn out to be significantly higher in younger age groups. This is another reason why it is important to refrain from blaming the old and to engage in intergenerational solidarity. Let’s face it: We are all in this together!

5. Finally, it is important to acknowledge that many older adults are making valuable contributions to their communities during the COVID-19 pandemic. Increasingly we are hearing stories that retired nurses and doctors are responding to the needs of their local communities and help provide services in testing lines, emergency rooms, and on hospital floors. Other activities that older adults are contributing to in their communities is helping with the production of protective gear, helping with child care, and serving as caregivers to loved ones. Again, it is important to acknowledge these valuable contributions and to refrain from thinking that “old = worthless.”

In summary, behavioral aging researchers advocate for a balanced portrayal of older adults in our society and remind us that later adulthood is a life stage that we all – if we have the good fortune to live long enough – will experience at some point in time.

Manfred Diehl is a University Distinguished Professor in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies, which is part of CSU’s College of Health and Human Sciences.