This month has been bill-signing season for Colorado Governor Jared Polis, after a frantic and historically productive General Assembly session. On June 24 alone, Governor Jared Polis signed 18 pieces of legislation into law during signing ceremonies in Denver and Boulder.
Among them were several bills meant to boost Colorado’s economy, improve energy efficiency, protect clean air and address some of the water issues resulting from climate change.
HB-1286 Energy Performance For Buildings – the rule requires the owners of large buildings to improve energy efficiency, and, in connection with that effort, to collect and report on energy-use benchmarking data and comply with rules regarding performance standards related to energy and greenhouse gas emissions and modifying statutory requirements regarding energy performance contracts. Sponsored by Reps. C. Kipp, A. Valdez and Senators K. Priola, B. Pettersen.
HB21-1284 Limit Fee Install Active Solar Energy System– The bill focuses on solar energy, setting moderate limitations on the aggregate amount of fees that may be assessed by governmental bodies for the installation of active solar energy systems. Representatives A. Valdez. and K. Van Winkle, and Senators C. Hansen, and K. Priola.
SB21-264 Adoption of Programs Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions Utilities – The bill defines a “gas distribution utility” (GDU) as a gas public utility with more than 90,000 retail customers. It requires each GDU to file a clean heat plan (plan) with the public utilities commission (PUC). A plan must demonstrate how the GDU will use clean heat resources to meet clean heat targets (targets) established in the bill. The targets are a four percent reduction below 2015 greenhouse gas (GHG) emission levels by 2025 and 22 percent below 2015 GHG emission levels by 2030. Sponsored by Representatives A. Valdez, T. Bernett, and Senator C. Hansen.
SB21-072 Public Utilities Commission Modernize Electric Transmission Infrastructure – with the expansion of electric transmission facilities to meet Colorado’s clean energy goals and the creation of the Colorado electric transmission authority, this bill requires transmission utilities to join organized wholesale markets. It allows additional classes of transmission utilities to obtain revenue through the co-location of broadband facilities within their existing rights-of-way. Sponsored by Representatives A. Valdez, and M. Catlin, and Senators C. Hansen, and D. Coram.
HB21-1238 Public Utilities Commission Modernize Gas Utility Demand-side Management Standards – The bill updates the methods used to determine the cost-effectiveness of demand-side management (DSM) programs of public utilities selling natural gas at retail. It requires that the calculation of future benefits reflects the avoided costs to ratepayers resulting from reduced consumption of natural gas. Representative T. Bernett, and Senator C. Hansen.
Later that afternoon in Confluence Park, Polis signed into law HB21-1260 , a General Fund Transfer Implement State Water Plan. The bill allocates $20 million from the general fund to the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) to be spent to implement the state water plan as follows:
$15 million, which is transferred to the water plan implementation cash fund for expenditures and grants administered by the CWCB to implement the state water plan.
$5 million, which is transferred to the water supply reserve fund for CWCB to disperse to the basin roundtables.
It was sponsored by Representatives A. Garnett and M. Catlin, and Senators Kerry Donovan, and C. Simpson.
Governor Polis also signed two bills that directly relate to the state’s water challenges in the face of accelerating climate changes: HB21-1242 , this bill creates the Colorado Agricultural Drought And Climate Resilience Office – The office will be empowered to provide voluntary technical assistance, non-regulatory programs, and incentives that increase the ability to anticipate, prepare for, mitigate, adapt to, and respond to hazardous events, trends, or disturbances related to drought or the climate. On July 1, 2021, the state treasurer shall transfer all unobligated money in the agriculture value-added cash fund to the newly created agriculture drought and climate resiliency cash fund. It was sponsored by Representative B. McLachlan, and Senator Kerry Donovan.
SB21-189Colorado Water Conservation Board Construction Fund Project – Among the many water-related projects this bill funds, it appropriates the following amounts from the Colorado water conservation board (CWCB) construction fund to the CWCB or the division of water resources in the department of natural resources for the following projects:
Continuation of the satellite monitoring system, $100,000 ( section 1 of the bill);
Continuation of the Colorado floodplain map modernization program, $500,000
Continuation of the weather modification permitting program, $350,000 ( section 3 )
Continuation of technical assistance for federal cost-share programs, $300,000
It was sponsored by Senator Kerry Donovan, and Representatives M. Catlin, and K. McCormick
The Arkansas Valley Conduit promises to bring clean drinking water to more residents of southeast Colorado
n the 1940s, the Arkansas River was dammed south of town to build [John Martin Reservoir], a place locals call the Sapphire on the Plains. The reservoir was tied up in a 40-year battle until Colorado and Kansas came to an agreement, in 2019, to provide an additional water source to help keep the levels high enough for recreation and to support fish.
Forty years may seem like a long time to develop a plan to save fish and improve water levels for a reservoir, but southeastern Colorado is used to long fights when it comes to water…
For nearly a century, leaders in southeastern Colorado have worked on plans to bring clean drinking water to the area through the proposed Arkansas Valley Conduit, but progress on the pipeline project stalled after a major push in the 1960s. Pollution, water transfers and years of worsening drought amid a warming climate continue to build stress for water systems in the area. Adding to that, the area continues to see population decline combined with a struggling economy.
The water needed for the conduit will be sourced from melting snowpack in the Mosquito and Sawatch mountain ranges [ed. and Colorado River Basin]. Under the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project Act, passed in the early 1960s, the water has been allocated for usage in the Lower Arkansas Valley. The water will be stored at Pueblo Reservoir and travel through existing infrastructure to east Pueblo near the airport. From there, the conduit will tie into nearly 230 miles of pipeline to feed water to 40 communities in need.
Renewed plans to build a pipeline to deliver clean drinking water to the Lower Arkansas Valley are bringing hope for many people in southeastern Colorado. But in an area that is inextricably linked to its water, the future can seem unclear…
“Deliver on that promise”
“It was nearly 100 years ago, in the 1930s, that the residents of southeast Colorado recognized that the water quality in the lower valley of the Arkansas River was quite poor,” said Bill Long, president of the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District and a former Bent County commissioner.
Water systems in the district, which includes Pueblo, Crowley, Bent, Prowers, Kiowa and Otero counties, have two main issues affecting drinking water.
The first is that a majority of those systems rely on alluvial groundwater, which can have a high level of dissolved solids. This can include selenium, sulfate, manganese and uranium, which are linked to human health concerns.
Second, the remaining systems in the water district rely on the Dakota-Cheyenne bedrock aquifer that can be affected by naturally occurring radionuclides. Radium and other radionuclides in the underlying geologic rock formation can dissolve into the water table and then be present in drinking water wells, also carrying health risks.
In 1962, residents in southeastern Colorado thought President John F. Kennedy was delivering a solution to their drinking water problem during a ceremony in Pueblo. Congress had passed the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project Act, and Kennedy came to Pueblo to authorize the construction of a pipeline to deliver clean drinking water…
Residents of the 1930s began working on ideas to deliver clean drinking water to southeastern Colorado. By the 1950s, they were selling gold frying pans to raise money to send backers to Washington, D.C., to encourage Congress to pass the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project Act. But it wasn’t until 1962 that the pipeline authorization became a reality.
Fast forward 58 years, and two more politicians came to Pueblo to address a crowd about the same pipeline project. This time, on Oct. 3, 2020, it was at the base of Pueblo Dam. Because of funding shortfalls, the Arkansas Valley Conduit was never built after it was authorized in 1962.
The Colorado communities could not afford to cover 100% of the costs, as initially required, so in 2009, the act was amended to include a 65% federal share and a 35% local cost share. Additionally, in 2020, Congress appropriated $28 million more toward the project, according to the water conservancy district.
That October day, Sens. Michael Bennet and Cory Gardner took turns talking about the importance of the project. They told a small crowd that when the pipeline is built, it will provide clean drinking water to 50,000 residents in southeastern Colorado…
The water conservancy district estimates the pipeline project’s cost will range from $546 million to $610 million…
Physical construction of the pipeline won’t start until 2022, according to the water district…
“The solution to pollution Is dilution”
A hand-painted sign with stenciled letters welcomes travelers on Highway 96 into Olney Springs. The highway cuts across four blocks that make up the width of the small town with around 340 residents.
Olney Springs is one of six water systems in Crowley County that plans to have a delivery point, known as a spur, on the Arkansas Valley Conduit. The plans for the pipeline call for two spurs in Pueblo County, three in both Bent and Prowers counties, and one in Kiowa County. Out of the 40 total participants, the remaining 25 are in Otero County…
Located along the Arkansas River about 70 miles east of Pueblo, La Junta is the largest municipality in Otero County. With its population around 7,000 and a Walmart Supercenter, a Holiday Inn Express and Sonic Drive-In, La Junta can feel like a metropolis when compared to Olney Springs.
La Junta is one of two Arkansas Valley Conduit participants, along with Las Animas, that uses reverse osmosis to remove potentially harmful and naturally occurring toxins from the water. Reverse osmosis is a process that uses pressure to push water through a membrane to remove contaminants. According to the Department of the Interior and the Bureau of Reclamation’s Arkansas Valley Conduit Environmental Impact Statement, reverse osmosis can treat source water to meet standards, but the brine from the process “is an environmental concern, and operation costs are high.”
The other participants use conventional methods to treat water. The environmental impact statement said those methods can be as simple as adding chlorine for disinfection and filtration or adding chemicals to remove suspended solids, but that those treatments “…cannot remove salt or radionuclides from water.”
Tom Seaba, director of water and wastewater for La Junta, said out of a total of 24 water districts in Otero County, 19 were in violation with the state due to elevated levels of radionuclide.
Four of the 19 came into compliance with the state’s drinking water standards after La Junta brought them onto its water system. The remaining 15 are still in violation with the state, according to Seaba.
La Junta spent $18.5 million to build a wastewater treatment plant that came online in 2019 to help meet water standards for its community. But the city’s water treatment came with its own issue: selenium.
After La Junta treats its water using reverse osmosis, the water system is left with a concentrate, which is safe drinking water. However, it’s also left with a waste stream high in selenium. “That wastewater has to go somewhere,” Seaba said. It goes to the city’s new wastewater treatment plant…
According to the environmental impact statement, “La Junta’s wastewater discharge makes up about 1.5% of average annual flow in the Arkansas River.” The study goes on to say that during drought or low-flow events, the wastewater discharge can contribute up to half of the streamflow downstream from the gage.
Seaba is looking to the Arkansas Valley Conduit as a possible answer. “The solution to pollution is dilution,” he said. The water from the pipeline will not have a selenium problem, Seaba explained. By blending water from the conduit with the selenium waste from reverse osmosis, La Junta hopes to reduce costs and stay compliant with Environmental Protection Agency standards to discharge into the river.
The environmental review studied a section of the Arkansas River from where Fountain Creek runs into the river east to the Kansas border. The study found that a section of the river was impaired by selenium…
“I sure don’t drink it”
The EPA sets a maximum contaminant level in drinking water at 5 picocuries per liter of air for combined radium and 30 micrograms per liter for combined uranium. If contaminant levels are above those numbers, the water system is in violation of drinking water regulations, which the state enforces.
According to data provided by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, the Patterson Valley Water Company in Otero County, one of the 40 pipeline participants, had the highest result of 31 picocuries per liter for combined radium in 2020. In that same county, Rocky Ford, another pipeline participant, had a high result of 0.2 picocuries per liter for combined radium. According to the state health department, Rocky Ford’s combined radium sample numbers were last recorded in 2013.
Manzanola, also in Otero County and a pipeline participant, topped the list with the highest result of 42 micrograms per liter for combined uranium in 2020. In contrast, 19 other pipeline participants, from across the valley, had results of 0 micrograms per liter for combined uranium, according to the most recent numbers from the state health department.
Levels of the two carcinogens are sporadic throughout the valley. The average of the highest results of all 40 participants in the pipeline for combined radium is roughly 8 picocuries per liter and combined uranium is roughly 5 micrograms per liter. According to Seaba, averaging the members’ highest results might seem unfair to some individual water systems because it brings their numbers up, but what those averages do show is that water in Pueblo Reservoir, which will feed the future conduit, is approximately three times less affected by combined radium and combined uranium than the average of current water used by pipeline participants. In 2020, the highest result of combined radium in the Pueblo Reservoir was 2.52 picocuries per liter, and the highest result of combined uranium was 1.7 micrograms per liter…
“I sure don’t drink it,” said Manny Rodriquez. “I don’t think anybody in town drinks the water.”
Rodriquez, who grew up in and still lives in Rocky Ford, was not sure if the water at his apartment was in violation of the state’s clean drinking water act or not. State data showed at that time his water was not in violation. Colorado is required to notify residents if their water system is in violation of the clean drinking water act…
MaryAnn Nason, a spokesperson for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, used an example to show how violations can add up: “If a public water system has two entry points that fail for both combined radium and gross alpha (measures of radionuclides), and they have those same violations for 10 years each quarter, that is going to appear as 160 violations on the website. But really, it is one naturally occurring situation that exists for a relatively long time,” Nason said.
For some residents like Ruby Lucero, 83, it makes little difference to her if her water is in violation with the state or not. She plans to buy her drinking water no matter what the results say about her tap water…
“The struggling farmer”
In the past decade, Otero County has seen a 2.9% drop in population. Residents have a ballpark difference of $38,000 in the median household income compared to the rest of the state, and the county is not alone. All six counties that are part of current plans for the Arkansas Valley Conduit are seeing economic hard times.
Adding to those factors is drought. Years of drought keep hitting the area’s No. 1 industry: agriculture.
The Rocky Ford Ditch’s water rights date back to 1874, making them some of the most senior water rights in the Arkansas River system. In the early 1980s, Aurora was able to buy a majority of those water rights. Over time, Aurora acquired more shares and has converted them to municipal use…
“We still have a heavy lift before us”
Planned off the main trunk of the Arkansas Valley Conduit, a pump station near Wiley will push water along a spur to support Eads in Kiowa County. Water that ends up in Eads will have traveled the longest distance of the pipeline project. The majority of the pipeline will be gravity-fed, but this section will need to be pumped uphill.
The journey is a good representation of Eads’ battle with water. Not only is clean drinking water needed, but the area is also desperate for relief from years of drought exacerbated by climate change…
Long said that Eads is different from a majority of the other participants in the project because it is not located along the Arkansas River…
The domestic water that will be delivered via the conduit is even more important for a town like Eads, said Long. “It’s very difficult to attract new industry when you have a limited supply of very poor water.”
Long believes the conduit will make a huge difference to support communities in the Lower Arkansas River Valley…
Long has been working on the Arkansas Valley Conduit project for nearly 18 years.
“After such a long fight, to finally be where we are feels good, but honestly I can say it doesn’t feel as good as I thought it would. Only because I know we have so much work still to do, and I know how difficult the past 18 years have been,” Long said. “We still have a heavy lift before us.”
Another record breaking day of heat lies ahead for Western Washington. Along with this, high fire danger is expected today along and east of I-5 as conditions remain dry and easterly winds increase this afternoon. Use extreme caution today! #wawxpic.twitter.com/Rhy6FhYwJj
That’s how the National Weather Service described the historic heat wave that is hitting the Pacific Northwest, pushing daytime temperatures into the triple digits and breaking all-time high temperature records in places unaccustomed to such extreme heat.
Portland, Oregon, reached 110 degrees Fahrenheit (43.3 Celsius) Sunday, breaking the all-time temperature record of 108 F (42.2C), which was set just a day earlier. Oregon’s Capital city, Salem, also recorded the highest temperature in its history on Sunday: 112 F (44.4 C), breaking the old mark by 4 degrees.
Records were being broken across the region, and the sizzling temperatures were expected to get even hotter Monday.
The temperature hit 101 F (38.3 C) at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport on Sunday. The National Weather Service said that is the first time the area recorded two triple digit days since records began being kept in 1894.
It got so hot in Seattle that the city parks department closed a community pool in the southern portion of the city because of “unsafe, dangerous pool deck temperatures.”
Seattle’s light rail trains may have to operate at reduced speeds because of excessive heat on the tracks, causing delays that could continue into the work week, Sound Transit said Sunday.
The heat wave also moved into Idaho, where temperatures above 100 F (38 C) are forecast in Boise for at least seven days starting Monday. Ontario, Oregon — a city near the Idaho border — could see at least a week of triple-digit temperatures, including a high of 109 F (42.8 C) Wednesday, forecasters said.
Cities were reminding residents where pools, splash pads and cooling centers were available and urging people to stay hydrated, check on their neighbors and avoid strenuous activities…
The National Weather Service in Coeur d’Alene said this week’s weather “will likely be one of the most extreme and prolonged heat waves in the recorded history of the Inland Northwest.”
The scorching weather was caused by an extended “heat dome” parked over the Pacific Northwest. Kristie Ebi, a professor at the University of Washington who studies global warming and its effects on public health, says the days-long heat wave was a taste of the future as climate change reshapes global weather patterns.
The high temperatures were forecast to move into western Montana beginning Monday.