From the City of Westminster via The Northglenn-Thornton Sentinel:
Westminster councilors made a plan official that keeps the city’s water and sewer rates in 2021 the same as this year.
Councilors voted 7-0 June 22 to hold off on a planned increase due to impacts from COVID-19.
The city had been considering a 6% increase in water and sewer rates for 2021 and 2022. That would have increased water rates by about $3.31 month and sewer rates by $3.36 per month. Much of the increase was earmarked for capital work on the city’s pipes and water and sewer infrastructure.
Instead, the city was able to use savings from refinancing some city debt and claiming lower interest rates to cover the costs of the utilities. The city refunded $17.9 million in bonds it sold in 2010, reducing the overall amount owed by $3.6 million over the same term. That savings should allow the city to fund necessary operations and projects in 2021 without a rate increase.
The city will also tap into a $2 million rate stabilization fund and cut $500,000 from the money the utility pays into the general fund to pay water and sewer expenses for the next year.
Westminster offers several programs to help interested customers use less water and manage their bill.
A water bill assistance program offers income-qualified customers — including customers financially impacted by COVID-19 — a $15 per month credit toward their utility bill.
The city also offers several water conservation programs to help residents use less water outdoors including an irrigation consultation program that saves participating customers an average of $150 on their water bill.
The city has also formed an internal task force to identify innovative solutions to maintaining the city’s infrastructure while reducing costs.
Exceptional drought – the worst category – reentered Colorado for the first time since February of last year according to the latest report from the National Drought Mitigation Center.
About half of Baca County, long with a portion of southwest Prowers County, are now in exceptional drought conditions. Above average temperatures and low humidity, along with wind and minimal rain contributed to the ongoing degradation in the southeast portion of the state.
Extreme conditions expanded in southwest Colorado, taking in western Ouray County, central Montrose County, and an increased part of eastern San Miguel County.
Southern and eastern Weld County, along with the remainder of northeast Morgan County, moved into abnormally dry conditions.
The U.S. Monthly Drought Outlook from the Climate Prediction Center calls for drought to persist through July. Through September, drought is expected to expand further in northwest and central Colorado.
Overall, one percent of the state is now in exceptional drought, while extreme conditions held steady at 33 percent. Severe drought dropped one point to 22 percent versus the prior week. Moderate drought was unchanged at 12 percent while abnormally dry conditions were up one percent to 16. The drought-free area of Colorado fell one percent to 16.
More than two-thirds of the state is experiencing moderate drought or worse. One year ago, Colorado was free from abnormally dry conditions and all levels of drought for the first time since tracking began in 2000.
FromThe New Mexico Political Report (Kendra Chamberlain):
For the first time in decades, Albuquerque is facing a dry Rio Grande. Despite a nearly-normal snowpack over the winter, that water never made it down into the river this year. Instead, water managers had to release stored water from reservoirs to keep the Rio Grande flowing. Those stores are running out, and some 28 miles of the river south of Albuquerque has already gone dry.
“We’re going to have a flat sandy dry riverbed with a little ribbon of water meandering through the sand very soon,” Fleck said.
It’s not unusual for stretches of the river, especially south of Albuquerque, to go dry in summer months. But as temperatures rise due to climate change, and the region’s climate becomes more arid, it’s likely that we’ll see more and more dry years for the river, even if snowpacks remain at near normal levels.
The Rio Grande is a highly managed river. The water that flows into and is diverted out of it is governed by the Rio Grande Compact of 1938, which dictates how water is managed and distributed between various communities across Colorado, New Mexico, Texas and Mexico.
In New Mexico, every drop of water that flows through the river is owed to someone. And while the Compact itself is designed to accommodate wetter and drier years, the state has very little wiggle room in how it manages that water in the face of a large, system-scale shift in climate, like we’re beginning to experience now.
Some say now’s the perfect time to rethink water management on the Rio Grande.
“This is not going to work, going forward,” said Jen Pelz, a biologist, attorney and Wild Rivers Program Director at WildEarth Guardians. “Communities, as well as the river itself, are going to be in great danger if we keep operating on a year-to-year basis, praying for rain and hoping we’re going to have another 1980. That’s not going to happen under the new climate regime.”
New Mexico is already using more water than it has access to
The Rio Grande Compact is a complex interstate legal agreement between governments and districts that rely on the Rio Grande to supply drinking water and irrigation water to their respective communities. Under the pact, Colorado delivers each year a certain amount of water to New Mexico, and New Mexico, in turn, is required to deliver a certain amount of water to the Elephant Butte Reservoir. That water is then distributed to irrigators in New Mexico and Texas south of the reservoir.
The delivery obligations are based on the amount of precipitation received each year. In dry years, New Mexico has lower delivery obligations to the reservoir, and in wet years, the state has higher delivery obligations. Mike Hamman, CEO and chief engineer of the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District, said the Compact was designed with an eye towards the boom and bust water cycle of the Rio Grande.
“The states that are in the Rio Grande Compact have designed and developed whole operating procedures around wide swings in water supply,” Hamman told NM Political Report. “The Compact is scaled to try to encompass that as best as it can, it functions reasonably well since its inception.”
New Mexico is already out of step with its water supply as determined by the Compact. A 2004 study commissioned by the Interstate Stream Commission (ISC) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers offered a first thorough look at the state’s water budget since the 1930s. The study found that, given average water flows and average water depletions, New Mexico is short 40,000 acre feet of water each year, on average.
“If you add everything up, according to this study, our uses of the river, plus natural uses that we’re responsible for under the Compact accounting, exceed the average supply by 40,000 acre feet per year,” said Norm Gaume, a retired licensed professional water engineer who formerly served as director of the ISC. Gaume commissioned the study in the 1990s, though it was published after his tenure at the ISC.
“Our uses of water, on average, exceed our average supply. Not in the future, because of climate change, but [in 2004],” he said.
The study has never been updated, but there’s some hope that the state’s water use has actually decreased in the interim — even if just slightly — thanks to the water conservation efforts in the cities of Santa Fe and Albuquerque, the Rio Grande’s two largest municipal water users.
“They’ve been very, very successful in their water conservation programs, so their per-capita use is going way down,” said Fleck. He added that the acreage of irrigated land in the Middle Rio Grande is also declining, which may translate into some smaller water savings.
Pelz commended water conservation progress, but noted that even in wet years, the water budget shortfall can be seen in some stretches of the river in southern New Mexico
“Last year, when the river was flush with water because it was an above-average water year, the river still went dry in the San Acacia reach, below the San Acacia diversion dam,” Pelz said. “That’s because we’ve over-allocated our system, and we’re not doing anything to protect the right of the river to have any water.”
Responding to climate change
Meanwhile, climate change is shifting how the region experiences precipitation. And that, water managers say, will likely impact New Mexico’s water future and its ability to meet its delivery obligations year to year.
“We’re entering a period now where there’s a shift in temperatures and precipitation as a result of the climatic changes going on. That can definitely be a compounding factor,” Hamman said. “It creates higher demand for existing crops and vegetation, as well as changes the way snowmelt accumulates and runs off. It’s not only affecting the volumes, it’s affecting the timing. That’s a little different than what we have historically experienced.”
Hamman said the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District began implementing what he called adaptation strategies since the mid-1990s. Those include minimizing diversions, maximizing storage and optimizing what water is in the river.
“There’s a bunch of different pieces to that puzzle that we’re working on already,” Hamman said.
But a significant amount of the state’s water budget cannot be controlled by water management. Looking back to the 2004 study, Gaume pointed out that nearly half of Rio Grande water depletion is caused by evaporation and other natural mechanisms, not human activity.
“The natural depletions are not very controllable, and they keep going, even if we don’t have much flow going in,” he said.
Climate change and aridification will likely cause these natural depletions to increase, the effects of which will ripple throughout the communities that rely on water from the Rio Grande.
“What happens when temperatures go up? Evaporation goes up even faster — much faster than temperature, it’s not a linear function at all,” Gaume said. “So reservoir evaporation is going to go way up, evaporation from the bosque and the river is going to go up. We’re not sure what’s going to happen to our supply, but what we do know is that our net supplies are going to go down, because evaporation losses are going to go up.”
What kind of future for the Rio Grande do we want?
Water experts agree there are big conversations to be had around what kind of future New Mexico residents want for the Rio Grande. But experts also agree those conversations haven’t happened yet.
“This is a values question. What does the community value?,” Fleck said. “We do not have in the Middle Rio Grande Valley a management framework where we can even have those conversations about what our community values are. What do we want that river to look like?”
Pelz and WildEarth Guardians have a few ideas. Pelz authored a 2017 report that looked at what she called out-of-the-box thinking about water management on the Rio Grande. It proposes exploring whole-basin approaches to managing the river, rather than the piecemeal management structure that currently exists.
“We’ve been advocating for a long time to have the National Academy of Sciences study this idea — have [people] who don’t have an interest in the basin, who are scientists, look at all the different reservoir authorizations, and the Compact, to see if there are better ways we could operate reservoirs that would help make sure farmers got delivered water, also make sure that there’s water in the river when the environment and species need the water, communities could ensure they have water when they need it. That’s more of a long-term solution,” she said. “These three states have three different laws around allocating water. If the whole basin were managed together, it’d probably be a different story.”
Altering the state’s Rio Grande water management would require renegotiating parts of the Rio Grande Compact, which is something that all three states would need to agree to do. At present, there doesn’t seem to be much support for considering renegotiating any parts of the Compact among the parties.
In an email to NM Political Report, Office of the State Engineer spokesperson Kristina Eckhart said New Mexico isn’t interested in opening up negotiations, given the current litigation between the state and Texas over water.
“Texas mediated a 2008 agreement in the Lower Rio Grande that takes water apportioned to New Mexico by the Compact away from New Mexico, and then in 2013 sued New Mexico in the U.S. Supreme Court claiming Texas is being harmed. Given those actions, New Mexico sees no reason to renegotiate the Compact at this time,” Eckhart said. She added that there’s currently no drought contingency planning occurring, either.
The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation has just begun work on a Rio Grande River Basin study in New Mexico, which will include “projections and water supply and demand within the basin and analysis of how existing water and power infrastructure and operations will perform in the face of changing water realities,” said Mary Carlson, a spokesperson for the Bureau.
The Bureau partnered with the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District, the ABCWUA, the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission, as well as tribes, environmental organizations, educational institutions, and community organizations for that study.
The Bureau is also working with the ISC “on the development of forecasting tools to help better project delivery requirements under the Compact, to improve decision-making related to how much water to store upstream, and how much to send down to Elephant Butte for Compact delivery,” she said.
Could the basin study open up an opportunity for the three states to consider coming back to the negotiating table to deal with climate change in the future?
“Potentially,” Hamman said, adding that there are some other aspects of the Compact that need consideration, too.
“There are some definite reservoir regulation issues that need to be looked at, and maybe a whole different idea of net precipitation, if it’s moving towards more of a monsoon-driven system, then a snow melt system, a lot of those kinds of things need to be looked at,” he said. “Once those options are developed, then I think the interest of the other Compact states would increase.”
In the meantime, New Mexicans will have to make do with a sandy Rio Grande this year.
Here’s a guest column from Jim Ling that’s running in the Fort Collins Coloradoan:
From where I stand, the South Fort Collins Sanitation District (SFCSD) is proud to announce it is nearing the completion of its approximately $35 million wastewater reclamation expansion, which includes improvements to its facility.
These much-needed improvements, slated for completion by the end of the year, allows us to meet new, more strict requirements from the U.S.Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE), in addition to providing additional capacity for future growth.
With this expansion, SFCSD can delay the implementation of future regulations by up to a decade, providing more time to budget for future requirements. Building now proves more economical than waiting, allowing SFCSD to do more with less.
We work hard to protect our customers and the environment by trying to stay ahead of the game and prepare as economically as possible.
The SFCSD serves an area encompassing approximately 60 square miles, including residents in Fort Collins, Loveland, Timnath, Windsor and Larimer County. These valued customers may rest assured that we will continue to provide excellent service and treatment 24/7, 365 days a year.
Performing these types of improvement projects proactively helps control costs, further protecting our customers from unnecessary fee increases. Best of all, we continue to offer very high levels of service at reasonable costs for our customers.
Thanks to careful planning, we expect the project to finish on time according to plans, and under budget.
Capacity increases are paid by growth through the sale of taps and impact fees collected during development. Costs associated with enhanced treatment needs are funded through monthly wastewater charges to our customers.
Our staff and board work hard to be good stewards of our constituents’ money. As of now, the district has not had to borrow to finance these important and necessary projects, thus saving money by avoiding interest payments.
More than 400 miles of collection lines bring wastewater to the water reclamation facility 24-hours per day, 7 days per week, 365 days a year. The current treatment process at the facility is capable of treating 4.5 million gallons of water per day.
As EPA and CDPHE requirements for water reclamation become more stringent, we must adapt and add processes to continuously improve the quality of water discharged from our plant.
By sending cleaner water to the Poudre River, we improve the river’s health. Not only will these facility enhancements continue to provide excellent service and treatment, but they will also allow us to handle the population growth that many communities in Northern Colorado are experiencing.
Water is a finite resource and it needs our protection. We continue to do everything we can to ensure that clean and healthy water is available to future generations.
From the editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup (Averi Reynolds):
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) along with the Department of the Army Corps of Engineers published a final rule defining the Waters of the United States (WOTUS), which may be federally regulated under the Clean Water Act (CWA), under the Navigable Waters Protection Rule (NWPR) effective June 22.
The NWPR, which repeals and replaces the rule published on Oct. 22, 2019 provides four categories of jurisdictional waters and clearly outlines exclusions for many water systems that traditionally were not regulated, as well as defines terms that have never been defined before.
Parrish notes litigation thus far has been about federal overreach. National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) Chief Environmental Counsel Scott Yager says the NWPR, “Restricted federal jurisdiction over the CWA by virtue of pulling out unnecessary waters and pulling back the overreach and providing some additional exclusions for farmers and ranchers.”
The NWPR is in our backyard according to Yager, except for Colorado residents where a judge stayed the rule from taking effect in the state. The 1987 WOTUS definition remains in effect in Colorado as the 2015 rule was appealed with the publication of the NWPR.
“This is a really good development for farmers and ranchers,” says Parrish on the NWPR going into effect in the remaining 49 states.
Parrish says the new NWPR provides farmers and ranchers the clarity they need in defining navigable waters and waters under federal control.
One of the major points of the new definition includes the exclusion of ephemeral waters under federal control, Yager notes. Ephemeral waters are water from precipitation events that do not consistently run, such as runoff from a rain or snowmelt event.
Ephemeral features are no longer under federal control with the passage of NWPR, which was a concern of farmers and ranchers under the previous WOTUS.
Yager declares this, “A huge win under this new rule for farmers and ranchers.”
New rule implementation
Although the new ruling has been passed, Parrish shares that there is more work to do on behalf of agricultural producers. He also says implementation is going to be a major factor for the success of the new rule.
“We are going to have to partner with this administration to ensure the transparency and the clarity the agencies wanted when they developed this rule is realized,” he says.
While the NWPR is an effective law, it is currently being challenged by a multitude of environmental groups and blue states, according to Yager.
He adds, “We are defending the Trump administration’s rule in various courts throughout the United States.”
Yager says producers should enjoy the new water rule.
Parrish adds, “This rule is going to be protective of water quality. It’s going to be protective of the environment. But yet, provide the clarity farmers, ranchers and landowners deserve.”
Averi Reynolds is the editor for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.