Once legislative darlings, dams now face fresh scrutiny — @WyoFile

A conceptual illustration of a replacement LaPrele Dam above Douglas that engineers estimate could cost between $67 and $112 million. (Wyoming Water Development Commission)

Click the link to read the article on the WyoFile website (Angus M. Thuermer Jr.):

As state water developers search for more than a half billion dollars for dam and reservoir projects, undertakings that have traditionally advanced with little resistance, they’ve run into a new buzz saw of uncertainty powered by rising costs, shaky construction estimates, a fickle bidding environment and cautious legislators.

Wyoming’s drive to store and distribute water comprises at least 17 projects — 13 of which are estimated to cost $541.7 million in 2020 dollars. That sum doesn’t even account for what may be the state’s biggest safety threat — the dangerous LaPrele Dam above Douglas — that an engineer said Wednesday could cost up to $112 million to rebuild.

Lawmakers are pausing to reexamine the dam-building environment, the potential funds available and the merits of the potential investments. They recently cut more than $71 million from a water funding bill and saw Gov. Mark Gordon veto a $45 million residential water/sewer appropriation.

Further, the state’s Water Development Commission on Wednesday rejected the lone bid on the Leavitt Reservoir expansion project in Big Horn County after it came in $31 million above the original $39 million estimate. Rep. Evan Simpson (R-Afton) urged the commission not to use $26 million in contingency funds to forge ahead with the project, even after it had been trimmed from $70.3 million to $66.6 million.

That move underscores a hesitancy to dole out water funds during a time of inflation, high fuel prices, a COVID-19-restrained supply line and a paucity of workers, one state senator said. A pause could allow legislators to better gauge the unsettled construction industry and also what one-time funds might be available through the federal Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

“I think everybody is trying to be cautious,” Sen. Mike Gierau (D-Jackson), a member of the Legislature’s Appropriations and Select Water Committees, told WyoFile. “The last thing we want to do is screw it up — over-pay, over-engineer, cause a cost spiral of our own making — in a good-hearted attempt to solve an issue.”

“Not gonna fly”

Legislators’ hesitancy emerged as the Select Water Committee sought $155 million through Senate File 82 – Supplemental water development—funding, a bill that sponsors trimmed by more than $71 million when opposition became obvious. The quest for general fund money through SF 82 “was not gonna fly,” Simpson told the water commission Tuesday.

An enlarged Leavitt Reservoir would capture additional runoff from the Bighorn Mountains north of Shell and above Greybull. (Google Earth)

The amendment removed funding for the Leavitt expansion, and the proposed Alkali Dam and reservoir, another Big Horn County project. That cost-cutting saved the bill, which contained earmarks for key projects including LaPrele investigations, Fontenelle Reservoir improvements and Goshen irrigation tunnel repairs, Simpson said.

“[I]t was a function of the entire bill going down if they didn’t trim it back,” he said of negotiations in the Senate.

Gov. Gordon, too, took a step back in vetoing $45 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds earmarked for domestic and municipal water and wastewater improvements through the Water Development Commission. He said the money would still be available next year.

By then, “we will have a better idea of the actual utilization of these funds,” Gordon wrote in a letter explaining his line-item action. “[L]awmakers can then evaluate other competing priorities.”

Still, legislators appropriated about $140 million in water planning, construction and supplemental funding bills during the recently concluded budget session. (The money is in the House Bill 73 – Omnibus water bill–planning, Senate File 80 – Omnibus water bill–construction and the supplemental SF 82.) The State Loan and Investments Board also has $50 million earmarked for domestic water and sewer projects and another $50 million for “local government support” that can be used for water and sewage — all through the ARPA program.

That sum, Gordon wrote, “should be ample for the next 12 months while providing us time to better understand other water and sewer funding opportunities that are part of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act,” aka the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

A pause will give lawmakers and planners an opportunity to see whether inflation and other market forces might settle down, Gierau said, cautioning that prices might not ameliorate. Construction costs typically increase at a rate of 2% to 3% a year, a consultant told the Water Development Commission Wednesday.

But in the past year and a half, they have jumped 15%, Pete Rausch, an engineer with RESPEC Consulting & Services, told the panel as he cited U.S. Bureau of Reclamation information.

“Maybe we should just hold off,” Gierau said. “There’s a lot of money floating around out there,” a factor that might be driving up costs.

“We know this [federal ARPA and infrastructure] money is one-time money,” he said. “Let’s just take it easy, try not to bid against ourselves.

“Let’s sharpen our pencils, make sure we have these projects right,” Gierau said. “We’re not turning them down. Infrastructure money — we’re not walking away from that.”

Poster-child project

The Water Development Commission is not walking away from the Leavitt Reservoir expansion either, a poster-child dam for today’s problems, even though it didn’t accept the $70.3 million bid. The project’s history illustrates the changing landscape for large construction efforts.

Developers estimated in 2017 that the 10-times expansion of the existing reservoir west of the Bighorn Mountains would cost $39 million. By 2020 that grew to $46 million and although several firms expressed interest in constructing a larger dam, only one eventually submitted a bid.

Crops in the Bighorn Basin, like this field of corn, depend on irrigation of the desert environment. A sprinkler system sprays these fields near Hyattville, but much of the agricultural community relies on flows from Boysen Reservoir. (Angus M. Thuermer Jr./WyoFile)

The appointed Water Development Commission, which vets and approves major construction proposed by the water agency, could have transferred $26 million from a contingency account to fund a trimmed-down Leavitt expansion. But that “horizontally sliding” funding method is inappropriate, Simpson, a member of the Legislature’s Select Water Committee, told the water board.

Instead of the administrative transfer, elected lawmakers should scrutinize the project again and have an opportunity to fund it directly, he said.

“Twenty-six million dollars horizontally sliding just makes us shiver,” he said of himself and fellow lawmakers. “You folks have the authority to slide it across tomorrow if you choose to. But talking with my Select Water Committee, we strongly urge you to resist that.

“We believe it could put a very bad rap and bad experience with both your commission and our committee,” Simpson said. “We really need to go back to the Legislature and appropriate the money specifically to that purpose, and frankly, reevaluate whether the feasibility of the project is legitimate.”

Interim Water Development Office Director Jason Mead said the Leavitt expansion remains a “very good” project. “Economic benefits that have been determined there, or calculated, are $118-plus million,” he said. “Eighty million dollars of that is of a public benefit.”

Climate variability, weather extremes and irrigation challenges, “I’m guessing that’s going to be the new normal into the future,” he said. “Trying to make this state and agriculture as drought resilient as we can, we really need to move forward with reservoir projects when we can.”

Mead will bring the reworked project, which already has more than $40 million in appropriated, earmarked funds, back to the commission later this year with the goal of putting it in front of legislators in early 2023, the water commission decided.

Looming LaPrele

When sponsors cut $71 million from the supplemental water funding bill — SF 82 — that action also stripped a $35 million general fund tranche for the proposed Alkali Reservoir in Big Horn County near Hyattville. The project has an existing $59 million appropriation in Water Development Office funds and the general fund allocation presumably could have freed some of that up for other projects.

But the cost of Alkali has ballooned too, even before reaching the bidding and contracting phases. In 2015 developers estimated Alkali would cost $35 million.

But that jumped in 2020 by $24 million, bringing the estimate to the current $59 million. Engineers attribute the 69% increase to geotechnical investigations that revealed a crummy site and embankment material, plus other supply, construction and inflation factors.

Alkali, Leavitt, Fontenelle and most other dam and reservoir projects on the state’s half-billion-dollar list are state development initiatives. The LaPrele reconstruction, however, falls under the safety umbrella.

The Wyoming Water Development Commission organized a tour of the LaPrele dam Aug. 12, 2021. Constructed in 1909, the dam is now considered at risk of catastrophic failure. (Dustin Bleizeffer/WyoFile)

Although it’s only become a worry in recent years, the threat from LaPrele, which could inundate parts of Douglas and Interstate 25 should it fail, has been noted since the 1970s.

It was in that decade some 50 years ago that water managers determined the structure had reached the end of its useful life. Patchwork enabled irrigators and others to brush off the increasing danger until sizeable rockfall hit and damaged the Ambursen-style structure in 2016.

Managers in 2019 restricted the amount of water the 130-foot high, 113-year-old LaPrele Dam could hold back and only then began seriously addressing potential replacement. That could cost as much as $112 million, consultant Rausch told the water commission Wednesday.

A preliminary estimate for reconstruction ranges from a low of $67 million and settles in the middle with an $84 million price tag, Rausch said. Water developers had previously estimated that LaPrele replacement would cost between $50 million and $80 million.

“[A] lot of uncertainty [swirls] around costs and inflation,” Rausch said.

Gov. Mark Gordon is seeking federal help through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, for LaPrele reconstruction.

Although Wyoming is uncertain of the outcome of that request, “we’ve heard some positive feedback from our congressional representatives that have helped us … as well as the Bureau of Reclamation,” water office head Mead told his oversight commission.

WyoFile is an independent nonprofit news organization focused on Wyoming people, places and policy.

Wyoming rivers map via Geology.com

On some of these long-record gauges you can really see the extraordinarily wet period that preceded the 1922 #ColoradoRiver Compact — Lauren Steeley @MadreDeZanjas #COriver #GreenRiver #aridification #Rstats

Report: Multi-Agency Water Reuse Programs: Lessons for Successful Collaboration — The National Reuse Action Plan and WaterReuse

Click the link to read the report on the EPA website. Here’s the executive summary:

Collaboration is the gateway to greatness. Recycled water can be a safe and reliable water supply, but to develop it the agencies responsible for managing water, wastewater, and stormwater must work together. In the United States, this type of cooperation is inhibited by the challenge of aligning missions and allocating responsibilities and costs among separate organizations. Collaboration is also complicated by complex regulations, operational details, and a utility’s natural inclination to maintain independent control of all projects within their jurisdictions.

Recycling wastewater effluent, stormwater, and other impaired sources is an essential element of an integrated, resilient, and sustainable water supply. However, the dominant institutional arrangements in the United States (and most other nations) today constitute a patchwork approach to water resource management. Water utilities and wastewater agencies created years ago in response to historical needs now operate as distinct entities, each with its own legal mandate, service area, professional staff, management team and personality, governance and public oversight structure, regulatory and technological challenges, and financial and economic constraints. While these institutions were well-suited to solve last century’s water problems, they are less able to address today’s challenges that require integrated water management—including water reuse.

Despite this fragmented institutional landscape, many agencies have found ways to work together to create successful regional water reuse programs. By focusing on their common interests and forging durable working agreements, they have joined together to create “virtual” water utilities adding recycled water to their portfolio of supplies to complete the water cycle and achieve greater resilience for their communities. While the challenges are great, these examples of successful partnerships around the United States offer many important lessons.

The National Water Reuse Action Plan Action Item 2.16 was initiated to support the development of multi-agency water reuse programs by identifying “challenges, opportunities and models for interagency collaboration.” This project consists of 1) a framework for evaluating interagency relationships in the water sector (including an annotated bibliography); 2) five case studies of multi-agency reuse projects in the United States; and 3) a summary of “lessons learned,” references, and exercises to help agencies develop more productive collaborations.

In a World on Fire, Stop Burning Things: The truth is new and counterintuitive; we have the technology necessary to rapidly ditch #FossilFuels — @BillMcKibben in the @NewYorker

The coal-fired Tri-State Generation and Transmission plant in Craig provides much of the power used in Western Colorado, including in Aspen and Pitkin County. Will Toor, executive director of the Colorado Energy Office has a plan to move the state’s electric grid to 100 percent renewable energy by 2040. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

Click the link to read this important article that’s running on the New Yorker website (Bill McKibben). Here’s an excerpt:

On the last day of February, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued its most dire report yet. The Secretary-General of the United Nations, António Guterres, had, he said, “seen many scientific reports in my time, but nothing like this.” Setting aside diplomatic language, he described the document as “an atlas of human suffering and a damning indictment of failed climate leadership,” and added that “the world’s biggest polluters are guilty of arson of our only home.” Then, just a few hours later, at the opening of a rare emergency special session of the U.N. General Assembly, he catalogued the horrors of Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, and declared, “Enough is enough.” Citing Putin’s declaration of a nuclear alert, the war could, Guterres said, turn into an atomic conflict, “with potentially disastrous implications for us all.”

What unites these two crises is combustion. Burning fossil fuel has driven the temperature of the planet ever higher, melting most of the sea ice in the summer Arctic, bending the jet stream, and slowing the Gulf Stream. And selling fossil fuel has given Putin both the money to equip an army (oil and gas account for sixty per cent of Russia’s export earnings) and the power to intimidate Europe by threatening to turn off its supply. Fossil fuel has been the dominant factor on the planet for centuries, and so far nothing has been able to profoundly alter that. After Putin invaded, the American Petroleum Institute insisted that our best way out of the predicament was to pump more oil. The climate talks in Glasgow last fall, which John Kerry, the U.S. envoy, had called the “last best hope” for the Earth, provided mostly vague promises about going “net-zero by 2050”; it was a festival of obscurantism, euphemism, and greenwashing, which the young climate activist Greta Thunberg summed up as “blah, blah, blah.” Even people trying to pay attention can’t really keep track of what should be the most compelling battle in human history…

…the era of large-scale combustion has to come to a rapid close. If we understand that as the goal, we might be able to keep score, and be able to finally get somewhere. Last Tuesday, President Biden banned the importation of Russian oil. This year, we may need to compensate for that with American hydrocarbons, but, as a senior Administration official put it,“the only way to eliminate Putin’s and every other producing country’s ability to use oil as an economic weapon is to reduce our dependency on oil.” As we are one of the largest oil-and-gas producers in the world, that is a remarkable statement. It’s a call for an end of fire.

We don’t know when or where humans started building fires; as with all things primordial there are disputes. But there is no question of the moment’s significance. Fire let us cook food, and cooked food delivers far more energy than raw; our brains grew even as our guts, with less processing work to do, shrank. Fire kept us warm, and human enterprise expanded to regions that were otherwise too cold. And, as we gathered around fires, we bonded in ways that set us on the path to forming societies. No wonder Darwin wrote that fire was “the greatest discovery ever made by man, excepting language.”

It’s 70 F degrees warmer than normal in eastern Antarctica. Scientists are flabbergasted; ‘This event is completely unprecedented and upended our expectations about the Antarctic climate system,’ one expert said — The Washington Post #ActOnClimate

Click the link to read the article on the Washington Post website (Jason Samenow and Kasha Patel). Here’s an excerpt:

The coldest location on the planet has experienced an episode of warm weather this week unlike any ever observed, with temperatures over the eastern Antarctic ice sheet soaring 50 to 90 degrees above normal. The warmth has smashed records and shocked scientists…Parts of eastern Antarctica have seen temperatures hover 70 degrees (40 Celsius) above normal for three days and counting, Wille said. He likened the event to the June heat wave in the Pacific Northwest, which scientists concluded would have been “virtually impossible” without human-caused climate change…The average high temperature in Vostok — at the center of the eastern ice sheet — is around minus-63 (minus-53 Celsius) in March. But on Friday, the temperature leaped to zero (minus-17.7 Celsius), the warmest it’s been there during March since record keeping began 65 years ago. It broke the previous monthly record by a staggering 27 degrees (15 Celsius)…

Keller and Lazzara said in an email that such a high temperature is particularly noteworthy since March marks the beginning of autumn in Antarctica, rather than January, when there is more sunlight. At this time of year, Antarctica is losing about 25 minutes of sunlight each day.

Wille said the warm conditions over Antarctica were spurred by an extreme atmospheric river, or a narrow corridor of water vapor in the sky, on its east coast. According to computer models, the atmospheric river made landfall on Tuesday between the Dumont d’Urville and Casey Stations and dropped an intense amount of rainfall, potentially causing a significant melt event in the area. The moisture from the storm diffused and spread over the interior of the continent. However, a strong blocking high pressure system or “heat dome,” moved in over east Antarctica, preventing the moisture from escaping. The heat dome was exceptionally intense, five standard deviations above normal. The excessive moisture from the atmospheric river was able to retain large amounts of heat, while the liquid-rich clouds radiated the heat down to the surface — known as downward long-wave radiation.
Wille explained warm air is often transported over the Antarctic interior this way but not to this extent or intensity.

#Colorado #Water Conservation Board Approves 50+ Grants to Advance #COWater Plan

MAYBELL DIVERSION Located on the lower Yampa River, a tributary to the Colorado River, the Maybell diversion provides water for 18 agricultural producers in northwest Colorado. © The Nature Conservancy

Click the link to read the article on the CWCB website:

During its March meeting, the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) – a group of 15 governor-appointed representatives from each major Colorado river basin with expertise in water policy and planning – approved 52 grants through the Water Plan Grant Program.

“The Colorado Water Conservation Board is pleased to approve more than 50 projects this month to help advance the Colorado Water Plan, many of which are a direct result from recent stimulus funding approved by Governor Polis,” said CWCB Chair Jackie Brown. “We also look forward to utilizing funding from sports betting as enacted by Proposition DD in the near future to make an even bigger impact. And as we prepare to release the next Water Plan, securing future funding will become increasingly important for our water future.”

This grant program provides critical funding for multi-beneficial water projects in all eight river basins that advance actions outlined within the Colorado Water Plan.