The federal government is designating $4 billion from the Inflation Reduction Act for drought mitigation work in the Colorado River basin. On Wednesday, the Department of the Interior announced that total, indicating that $500 million will go to efficiency upgrades in the river’s Upper Basin states of Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, and Wyoming. Another chunk of IRA money will be set aside for direct payments to farmers and ranchers to forgo water deliveries from Lake Mead in the river’s Lower Basin, primarily in Arizona and California. Federal officials are not specifying how much money will be available for that first round of payments. The funding represents a rare infusion of federal money for a climate change-fueled crisis that is plaguing the Southwest’s water supply. About 40 million people rely on water from the Colorado River, which is being strained by warming temperatures and steady demand. Colorado River governance is typically left to the states, which have historically produced stopgap measures to avoid catastrophe, but have failed to conserve enough water to prop up the river’s biggest reservoirs. Over the summer, talks among the states turned to interstate finger pointing…
Water policy experts often point to “buy and dry” or fallowing programs as an important step in freeing up water for the parched region. Nearly 80% of the Colorado River’s water is used by the agriculture sector, and paying growers to temporarily fallow their fields would allow water managers to leave more in reservoirs, where dropping levels have served as visual barometers for the river’s rapid drying. But farm groups warn that if fallowing is done too rapidly or haphazardly, rural economies throughout the region will suffer. The IRA funding will be used for a “system conservation” program in which growers can apply for federal payouts. The federal government will pay $330 per acre-foot for a one-year agreement with a grower, $365 per acre-foot for two years, and $400 for a three year commitment. The first opening for proposals began Wednesday and will last until Nov. 22. The Bureau of Reclamation, the federal agency which operates major dams and reservoirs around the basin, said applicants should include a description of their fallowing plans, the amount of water they’d be conserving, and a plan to measure and document the amount they’re cutting back…
John Boelts, owner of a fruit and vegetable farm in Yuma, Arizona, said he’s seen estimates that price an acre-foot of water at $1,200 to $2,200, so the federal payouts might not be big enough to convince farmers to forfeit some of their water…A group of farmers near Yuma recently proposed a water conservation plan in which they would be paid about $1500 per acre-foot of water saved, according to Axios. Boelts called the program a “start in the right direction,” but said he doubts that new federal payments will be enough for farmers in his circles.
Ensuring a system that is providing clean, safe water to 25% of the state’s population will continue delivering requires taking the long view when it comes to maintenance and upgrades.
At Denver Water, projects from replacing water mains to building a new treatment plant are carefully vetted to ensure they will bolster the system as it exists today and for the decades ahead.
“Our mission is to deliver a clean, safe, reliable water supply to 1.5 million people, and also to sustain our vibrant communities for years to come,” said Jim Lochhead, the CEO/Manager of Denver Water.
To do that, the utility expects to invest about $2.3 billion into the system during the next 10 years, from large projects to regular inspection and maintenance programs designed to ensure the system is flexible, resilient and efficient.
Denver Water’s approach has been recognized repeatedly by its peers in the water industry and others.
The awards committee specifically called out the utility’s sustainable, scalable and streamlined design approach to the project, which leaves room at the site for future expansions as needed.
The redevelopment of its Operations Complex near downtown has won several awards since its completion a few years ago, including a LEED Platinum certification for the utility’s Administration Building, just one of many the project received for its sustainable aspects. The building includes solar power panels on its roof and parking structures, a highly efficient radiant heating and cooling system and an on-site wastewater recycling system that treats water for reuse flushing toilets and irrigation.
Here’s an overview of some of Denver Water’s work:
Work on the Gross Reservoir Expansion Project, the subject of more than 20 years of planning, got underway in April. Expected to be complete in 2027, the project will raise the height of the existing dam by 131 feet.
The higher dam will nearly triple the amount of water that can be stored in Gross Reservoir, providing Denver Water with more flexibility to manage its water supply in the face of increasingly variable weather and snowpack patterns.
The additional storage capacity also will provide a greater balance between Denver Water’s separate north and south water collection areas.
Much of the work done on the expansion during 2022 and 2023 will be site preparation for the on-site quarry and concrete production plant and removing rock from the sides and bottom of the existing dam to make room for the new concrete. Workers also have been hydroblasting the face of the dam, removing a few inches of concrete, to leave a rougher surface for the new concrete to adhere to.
At the height of construction, there will be as many as 400 workers on-site and when complete, the dam will be the tallest in Colorado.
A major part of Denver Water’s investment forecast is the Lead Reduction Program, which launched in January 2020.
The water Denver Water delivers to customers is lead-free, but lead can get into drinking water as the water passes through old lead service lines that carry water from the water main in the street into the home.
The program reduces the risk of lead getting into drinking water by replacing the estimated 64,000 to 84,000 old, customer-owned lead service lines at no direct cost to the customer. Households enrolled in the program are provided with water pitchers and filters certified to remove lead to use for cooking, drinking and preparing infant formula until six months after their lead service line is replaced.
It’s the biggest public health campaign in the utility’s history and through the end of September, more than 14,000 lead service lines have been replaced.
The program aims to replace about 4,500 lead service lines every year, and the utility is working through final approvals to accept federal funding. The money will allow the utility to replace an additional number of lead service lines (at no direct cost to the customer) above the 4,500 currently slated for replacement in 2023. This additional funding will help speed up the replacement program while keeping rates as low as possible for customers.
In March 2020, Denver Water also raised the pH of the water it delivers to customers to help reduce the risk of lead getting into water as it passes through customers’ internal plumbing that may contain lead.
Northwater Treatment Plant
Work on Denver Water’s new, state-of-the-art Northwater Treatment Plant next to Ralston Reservoir north of Golden this year passed a milestone, with 2.5 million hours of work poured into its design and construction since 2016.
The treatment plant, scheduled for completion in 2024, will include 14 buildings and be able to clean 75 million gallons of water per day. Its design left room for the plant to be expanded to clean up to 150 million gallons of water per day in the future as needed.
During this last year, roofs have been placed on buildings, allowing workers to start installing electrical lines and HVAC equipment.
Construction also has continued on the two giant water storage tanks, which will be mostly buried underground when complete. Each tank is capable of holding 10 million gallons of clean, safe drinking water.
It will house Denver Water’s new water quality laboratory, expected to become fully operational during 2023, and replaces a facility that has been tucked into the Marston Treatment Plant south of U.S. Highway 285 and South Wadsworth Boulevard, on the south side of Denver Water’s service area.
Locating Denver Water’s water quality laboratory in the midst of CSU’s new Spur campus ensures the utility’s water experts will be working near researchers, scientists and others tackling issues surrounding water, agriculture and public health that are important to the metro area, state and region.
Two other buildings are at the CSU Spur campus, Vida, which opened in January 2022 and focuses on life and public health, and Terra, which opened earlier this year and focuses on land and food.
With the completion of the Hydro building, the campus will house experts dedicated to exploring how the three disciplines intersect — and interact — with each other.
As the metro area grows and changes, its often an opportunity for Denver Water to upgrade older elements of its system — before new development takes place.
That was exactly the situation at Loretto Heights in the southwest part of Denver.
The site is best known for the historic tower built in the 1890s as part of a boarding school and college. But buried under that same hill is a 575-foot-long concrete tunnel, 7 feet in diameter, used to deliver water from the Marston Treatment Plant in southwest Denver to the downtown area.
Before construction on a new residential development at Loretto Heights began, Denver Water worked with the developer to do needed upgrades and repairs at the site before homes were built — and to avoid disrupting the new neighborhood later.
Earlier this year, crews dug down to uncover pipes and valves installed a century ago, removed the four original valves, placed new pipes, installed a single new valve and repaired cracks inside the tunnel.
Watch a video of the Loretto Heights project.
Denver Water also is continuing its investment in replacing its water mains under streets and installing new ones where needed. The utility has more than 3,000 miles of pipe in its system, enough to stretch from Seattle to Orlando.
The utility is working toward a goal of replacing 1% of its installed water mains every year, or more than 145,000 feet of pipe.
And in recognition that the drought in the Colorado River Basin affects us all, Denver Water and several large water providers from across the basin have committed to substantially expanding existing efforts to conserve water.
Denver Water is working with partners — including local governments, fellow water providers, and experts in water use and landscapes — to develop programs that will help transform our landscapes and expand our indoor and outdoor conservation efforts.
Being financially responsible
Denver Water has a long been proactive with maintaining and improving its vast network of dams, pipes, canals and treatment plants — and planning ahead for the future.
And that work extends to the financial side of the utility.
Denver Water doesn’t receive tax dollars or make a profit. Its infrastructure projects, day-to-day operations and emergency expenses, like water main breaks, are funded by a mixture of water rates, bond sales, cash reserves, hydropower sales and fees for new service (called System Development Charges).
And in this area too, Denver Water has received high marks.
For a recent bond sale, which brought in about $200 million to invest into the system, rating agencies extended Denver Water’s existing triple-A credit rating, the highest available. The agencies cited multiple factors, including the utility’s strong financial management for the rating.
The rating was just another example of how at Denver Water, sustainability isn’t just a word, it’s embedded throughout the organization, from its long-range planning for a warmer future to the training it provides to inspire its employees to go the extra mile for customers.
Discharging chemicals into waterways violates the Clean Water Act.
Sixty days have passed since FSEEE delivered a notice of intent to file a lawsuit against the U.S. Forest Service for its use of fire retardant in violation of the Clean Water Act (CWA). The Forest Service has not responded, so we have filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Missoula, Montana.
The CWA prohibits the discharge of pollutants into U.S. waters without a permit, yet the Forest Service has discharged hundreds of millions gallons of fire retardant without a permit since 2012. In a draft environmental impact statement (EIS), the Forest Service admits that it and its contractors discharged retardant from aircraft directly into U.S. waterways on at least 376 occasions between 2012 and 2019.
Fire retardant is a pollutant, and the agency’s use of retardant is ongoing and increasing, putting additional waters at risk from these illegal chemical dumps. The Forest Service draft EIS states that fire retardant “may affect” 57 threatened and endangered aquatic species and is “likely to adversely affect” an additional 32 aquatic species, further acknowledging that the Forest Service regularly discharges a chemical pollutant into waterways.
The Forest Service has taken the position that a June 23, 2011, letter from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) excuses its failure to obtain a permit. Nonetheless, an EPA opinion cannot amend an act of Congress, and the CWA requires a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit for the discharge of fire retardant from aircraft into waterways.
In our notice of intent, FSEEE expressed a willingness to discuss effective remedies for these CWA violations, but since the 60-day notice period passed without any response from the Forest Service, FSEEE’s lawsuit seeks “injunctive relief to compel the Forest Service to comply with applicable environmental statutes.”
On Sept. 21, a group of Colorado State University professors came together to inform the Fort Collins community about “the overconsumption of natural resources,” as stated on the CSU School of Global Environmental Sustainability website.
Avogadro’s Number, a bar and restaurant near campus, hosted the “Managing the Planet: Over Consumption What Can We Do?” event. The panel was composed of experienced professors, including Susan Golicic, management department chair and professor; Joe Scalia, civil and environmental engineering associate professor; Meagan Schipanski, soil and crop sciences associate professor; Terry Yan, design and merchandising professor; and Gene Kelly, moderator and SoGES faculty research liaison and deputy director of the Agricultural Experiment Station and associate dean of CSU Extension.
Questions came from a few of the audience members, starting with a professor of environmental economics at Front Range Community College, who asked how changing manufacturing processes could lessen impact on the environment.
“Anywhere from 30-35% of all our waste is packaging,” Golicic said, but there are a few companies that are working hard to convert to being more efficient and sustainable.
This first question essentially sparked a core idea that it “comes down to the orientation and the belief system of the upper management of the individual companies,”Golicic said. Companies that recognize their impact on the environment tend to fall under merchandising and the food industry, like Patagonia, which was mentioned several times throughout the panel on their success in sustainability.
Patagonia allows customers to send back some of their products to get them repaired if needed to reduce the act of overconsumption. However, industries like oil and mining that can have a harsh effect on surrounding ecosystems tend to turn their heads.
“A good grade of copper today is 3%, which means we’re generating 97% waste,”Scalia said pertaining to the mining of copper being an unfortunate culprit in adding to waste.
“To get to a circular economy, we need to be really critically thinking about what we’re consuming,” Scalia said in his support of increased mining. “I would hope that we see a flurry of … effectively mining, … and then we stop needing more inputs.”
An additional action that has been practiced to help the movement of sustainability has been in textile science, which “is very innovative … by really focusing on how they can utilize more natural fiber or how they can recycle more polyester or to really bring the next level of the materials to use that could be more sustainable,” Yan said.
The downside of these practices is companies might also have to use unsustainable chemicals within their products to keep up with demand of the consumers. Corporations like Ball work diligently to replace plastic cups with aluminum but “can’t produce their products fast enough,” Golicic said.
A common issue in remaining sustainable is the consumer’s demand. To close out the event, Kelly asked the question, “If there was one thing in your discipline that you think is sort of the biggest lever that could be changed, … what would it be?”
“In managing the supply chain, the biggest issue is transportation,” Golicic said. “Transportation is really expensive, and it’s gotten more expensive because of the delays in the supply chain.”
“What we really need is more mining in the U.S. that’s local — that’s not requiring us to transport commodities all over the world,” Scalia said, adding to the transportation issue discussion.
There are many factors to consider with overproduction and waste, like global food insecurity from an agricultural perspective.
“I think we need to be more humble and realize it’s many levers,” Schipanski said. “If we can get away from the overproduction mindset, I think we’ll be better on conservation.”
But there are local practices individuals can slowly try to apply to their daily lives as consumers in any industry.
“Buy better, buy less and also buy secondhand if you can,” Yan said, taking the approach of advice around the overconsumption of clothing.
Overall, the battle for global sustainability will become more of an apparent issue than ever before if consumers don’t change their demand habits, in addition to companies’ upper management considering putting more sustainable practices in place.
Click the link to read about the water cycle on the USGS website:
The water cycle describes where water is on Earth and how it moves. Human water use, land use, and climate change all impact the water cycle. By understanding these impacts, we can work toward using water sustainably.
What is the water cycle?
The water cycle describes where water is on Earth and how it moves. Water is stored in the atmosphere, on the land surface, and below the ground. It can be a liquid, a solid, or a gas. Liquid water can be fresh or saline (salty). Water moves between the places it is stored. Water moves at large scales, through watersheds, the atmosphere, and below the Earth’s surface. Water moves at very small scales too. It is in us, plants, and other organisms. Human activities impact the water cycle, affecting where water is stored, how it moves, and how clean it is.
Pools store water
Oceans store 96% of all water on Earth. Ocean water is saline, meaning it’s salty. On land, saline water is stored in saline lakes. The rest of the water on Earth is fresh water. Fresh water is stored in liquid form in freshwater lakes, artificial reservoirs, rivers, and wetlands. Water is stored in solid, frozen form in ice sheets and glaciers, and in snowpack at high elevations or near Earth’s poles. Water vapor is a gas and is stored as atmospheric moisture over the ocean and land. In the soil, frozen water is stored as permafrost and liquid water is stored as soil moisture. Deeper below ground, liquid water is stored as groundwater in aquifers. Water in groundwater aquifers is found within cracks and pores in the rock.
Fluxes move water between pools
As it moves, water can change form between liquid, solid, and gas. Circulation mixes water in the oceans and transports water vapor in the atmosphere. Water moves between the atmosphere and the surface through evaporation, evapotranspiration, and precipitation. Water moves across the surface through snowmelt, runoff, and streamflow. Water moves into the ground through infiltration and groundwater recharge. Underground, groundwater flows within aquifers. Groundwater can return to the surface through natural discharge into rivers, the ocean, and from springs.
What drives the water cycle?
Water moves naturally and because of human actions. Energy from the sun and the force of gravity drive the continual movement of water between pools. The sun’s energy causes liquid water to evaporate into water vapor. Evapotranspiration is the main way water moves into the atmosphere from the land surface and oceans. Gravity causes water to flow downward on land. It causes rain, snow, and hail to fall from clouds.
We also affect water quality. In agricultural and urban areas, irrigation and precipitation wash fertilizers and pesticides into rivers and groundwater. Power plants and factories return heated and contaminated water to rivers. Runoff carries chemicals, sediment, and sewage into rivers and lakes. Downstream from these sources, contaminated water can cause harmful algal blooms, spread diseases, and harm habitats for wildlife.
The water cycle and climate change
Climate change is actively affecting the water cycle. It is impacting water quantity and timing. Precipitation patterns are changing. The frequency, intensity, and length of extreme weather events, like floods or droughts, are also changing. Ocean sea levels are rising, leading to coastal flooding. Climate change is also impacting water quality. It is causing ocean acidification which damages the shells and skeletons of many marine organisms. Climate change increases the likelihood and intensity of wildfires, which introduces unwanted pollutants from soot and ash into nearby lakes and streams.
What determines water availability?
Humans and other organisms rely on water for life. The amount of water that is available depends on how much water there is in each pool (water quantity). Water availability also depends on when and how fast water moves (water timing) through the water cycle. Finally, water availability depends on how clean the water is (water quality). By understanding human impacts on the water cycle, we can work toward using water sustainably.
Read more about the components of the water cycle in more detail: