The Cold War Legacy Lurking in U.S. Groundwater — ProPublica

Sign in the Lisbon Valley of southeastern Utah. Jonathan P. Thompson photo.

Click the link to read the article on the ProPublica website, by Mark Olalde, Mollie Simon and Alex Mierjeski, video by Gerardo del Valle, Liz Moughon and Mauricio Rodríguez Pons

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In America’s rush to build the nuclear arsenal that won the Cold War, safety was sacrificed for speed.

Uranium mills that helped fuel the weapons also dumped radioactive and toxic waste into rivers like the Cheyenne in South Dakota and the Animas in Colorado. Thousands of sheep turned blue and died after foraging on land tainted by processing sites in North Dakota. And cancer wards across the West swelled with sick uranium workers.

The U.S. government bankrolled the industry, and mining companies rushed to profit, building more than 50 mills and processing sites to refine uranium ore.

But the government didn’t have a plan for the toxic byproducts of this nuclear assembly line. Some of the more than 250 million tons of toxic and radioactive detritus, known as tailings, scattered into nearby communities, some spilled into streams and some leaked into aquifers.

Congress finally created the agency that now oversees uranium mill waste cleanup in 1974 and enacted the law governing that process in 1978, but the industry would soon collapse due to falling uranium prices and rising safety concerns. Most mills closed by the mid-1980s.

When cleanup began, federal regulators first focused on the most immediate public health threat, radiation exposure. Agencies or companies completely covered waste at most mills to halt leaks of the carcinogenic gas radon and moved some waste by truck and train to impoundments specially designed to encapsulate it.

But the government has fallen down in addressing another lingering threat from the industry’s byproducts: widespread water pollution.

Moab tailings site with Spanish Valley to the south

Regulators haven’t made a full accounting of whether they properly addressed groundwater contamination. So, for the first time, ProPublica cataloged cleanup efforts at the country’s 48 uranium mills, seven related processing sites and numerous tailings piles.

At least 84% of the sites have polluted groundwater. And nearly 75% still have either no liner or only a partial liner between mill waste and the ground, leaving them susceptible to leaking pollution into groundwater. In the arid West, where most of the sites are located, climate change is drying up surface water, making underground reserves increasingly important.

ProPublica’s review of thousands of pages of government and corporate documents, accompanied by interviews with 100 people, also found that cleanup has been hampered by infighting among regulatory agencies and the frequency with which regulators grant exemptions to their own water quality standards.

The result: a long history of water pollution and sickness.

Reports by government agencies found high concentrations of cancer near a mill in Utah and elevated cancer risks from mill waste in New Mexico that can persist until cleanup is complete. Residents near those sites and others have seen so many cases of cancer and thyroid disease that they believe the mills and waste piles are to blame, although epidemiological studies to prove such a link have rarely been done.

“The government didn’t pay attention up front and make sure it was done right. They just said, ‘Go get uranium,’” said Bill Dixon, who spent decades cleaning up uranium and nuclear sites with the state of Oregon and in the private sector.

Tom Hanrahan grew up near uranium mills in Colorado and New Mexico and watched three of his three brothers contract cancer. He believes his siblings were “casualties” of the war effort.

“Somebody knew that this was a ticking atomic bomb,” Hanrahan said. “But, in military terms, this was the cost of fighting a war.”

A Flawed System

When a uranium mill shuts down, here is what’s supposed to happen: The company demolishes the buildings, decontaminates the surrounding soil and water, and encases the waste to stop it from leaking cancer-causing pollution. The company then asks the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the lead agency monitoring America’s radioactive infrastructure, to approve the handoff of the property and its associated liability to the Department of Energy’s Office of Legacy Management for monitoring and maintenance.

ProPublica’s analysis found that half of the country’s former mills haven’t made it through this process and even many that did have never fully addressed pollution concerns. This is despite the federal government spending billions of dollars on cleanup, in addition to the several hundred million dollars that have been spent by companies.

Often, companies or agencies tasked with cleanup are unable to meet water quality standards, so they request exemptions to bypass them. The NRC or state agencies almost always approve these requests, allowing contaminants like uranium and selenium to be left in the groundwater. When ingested in high quantities, those elements can cause cancer and damage the nervous system, respectively.

The DOE estimates that some sites have individually polluted more than a billion gallons of water.

Bill Dam, who spent decades regulating and researching uranium mill cleanup with the NRC, at the DOE and in the private sector, said water pollution won’t be controlled until all the waste and contaminated material is moved. “The federal government’s taken a Band-Aid approach to groundwater contamination,” he said.

The pollution has disproportionately harmed Indian Country.

Six of the mills were built on reservations, and another eight mills are within 5 miles of one, some polluting aquifers used by tribes. And the country’s last conventional uranium mill still in operation — the White Mesa Mill in Utah — sits adjacent to a Ute Mountain Ute community.

So many uranium mines, mills and waste piles pockmark the Navajo Nation that the Environmental Protection Agency created a comic book superhero, Gamma Goat, to warn Diné children away from the sites.

NRC staff acknowledged that the process of cleaning up America’s uranium mills can be slow but said that the agency prioritizes thoroughness over speed, that each site’s groundwater conditions are complex and unique, and that cleanup exemptions are granted only after gathering input from regulators and the public.

“The NRC’s actions provide reasonable assurance of adequate protection of public health and safety and the environment,” David McIntyre, an NRC spokesperson, said in a statement to ProPublica.

“Cleanup Standards Might Suddenly Change”

For all the government’s success in demolishing mills and isolating waste aboveground, regulators failed to protect groundwater.

Between 1958 and 1962, a mill near Gunnison, Colorado, churned through 540,000 tons of ore. The process, one step in concentrating the ore into weapons-grade uranium, leaked uranium and manganese into groundwater, and in 1990, regulators found that residents had been drawing that contaminated water from 22 wells.

The DOE moved the waste and connected residents to clean water. But pollution lingered in the aquifer beneath the growing town where some residents still get their water from private wells. The DOE finally devised a plan in 2000, which the NRC later approved, settling on a strategy called “natural flushing,” essentially waiting for groundwater to dilute the contamination until it reached safe levels.

In 2015, the agency acknowledged that the plan had failed. Sediments absorb and release uranium, so waiting for contamination to be diluted doesn’t solve the problem, said Dam, the former NRC and DOE regulator.

In Wyoming, state regulators wrote to the NRC in 2006 to lambast the agency’s “inadequate” analysis of natural flushing compared to other cleanup options. “Unfortunately, the citizens of Wyoming may likely have to deal with both the consequences and the indirect costs of the NRC’s decisions for generations to come,” the state’s letter said.

ProPublica identified mills in six states — including eight former mill sites in Colorado — where regulators greenlit the strategy as part of a cleanup plan.

When neither water treatment nor nature solves the problem, federal and state regulators can simply relax their water quality standards, allowing harmful levels of pollutants to be left in aquifers.

County officials made a small area near the Gunnison mill off-limits to new wells, and the DOE suggested changing water quality standards to allow uranium concentrations as much as 475 times what naturally occurred in the area. It wouldn’t endanger human health, the agency said, because people wouldn’t come into contact with the water.

ProPublica found that regulators granted groundwater cleanup exemptions at 18 of the 28 sites where cleanup has been deemed complete and liability has been handed over to the DOE’s Office of Legacy Management. Across all former uranium mills, the NRC or state agencies granted at least 34 requests for water quality exemptions while denying as few as three.

“They’re cutting standards, so we’re getting weak cleanup that future generations may not find acceptable,” said Paul Robinson, who spent four decades researching the cleanup of the uranium industry with the Southwest Research and Information Center, an Albuquerque-based nonprofit. “These great mining companies of the world, they got away cheap.”

NRC staffers examine studies that are submitted by companies’ consultants and other agencies to show how cleanup plans will adequately address water contamination. Some companies change their approach in response to feedback from regulators, and the public can view parts of the process in open meetings. Still, the data and groundwater modeling that underpin these requests for water cleanup exemptions are often wrong.

One reason: When mining companies built the mills, they rarely sampled groundwater to determine how much contamination occurred naturally, leaving it open to debate how clean groundwater should be when the companies leave, according to Roberta Hoy, a former uranium program specialist with the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality. She said federal regulators also haven’t done enough to understand certain contaminants at uranium mills.

In one recent case, the NRC fined a mining company $14,500 for incomplete and inaccurate groundwater modeling data. Companies use such data to prove that pollution won’t spread in the future. Freeport-McMoRan, the corporation that owns the fined mining company, did not respond to a request for comment.

At a 2013 conference co-hosted by the NRC and a mining trade group, a presentation from two consultants compared groundwater modeling to a sorcerer peering at a crystal ball.

ProPublica identified at least seven sites where regulators granted cleanup exemptions based on incorrect groundwater modeling. At these sites, uranium, lead, nitrates, radium and other substances were found at levels higher than models had predicted and regulators had allowed.

McIntyre, the NRC spokesperson, said that groundwater models “inherently include uncertainty,” and the government typically requires sites to be monitored. “The NRC requires conservatism in the review process and groundwater monitoring to verify a model’s accuracy,” he said.

Water quality standards impose specific limits on the allowable concentration of contaminants — for example, the number of micrograms of uranium per liter of water. But ProPublica found that the NRC granted exemptions in at least five states that were so vague they didn’t even include numbers and were instead labeled as “narrative.” The agency justified this by saying the groundwater was not near towns or was naturally unfit for human consumption.

Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill superfund site via the Environmental Protection Agency

This system worries residents of Cañon City, Colorado. Emily Tracy, who serves on the City Council, has lived a few miles from the area’s now-demolished uranium mill since the late 1970s and remembers floods and winds carrying mill waste into neighborhoods from the 15.3-million-ton pile, which is now partially covered.

Uranium and other contaminants had for decades tainted private wells that some residents used for drinking water and agriculture, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. The company that operated the mill, Cotter Corp., finally connected residents to clean water by the early 1990s and completed cleanup work such as decontaminating soil after the EPA got involved. But the site remains without a final cleanup plan — which the company that now owns the site is drafting — and the state has eased water quality standards for molybdenum, a metal that uranium mining and milling releases into the environment.

“We have great concerns about what it might look like or whether cleanup standards might suddenly change before our eyes,” Tracy said.

Jim Harrington, managing director of the site’s current owner, Colorado Legacy Land, said that a final cleanup strategy has not been selected and that any proposal would need to be approved by both the EPA and the state.

Layers of Regulation

It typically takes 35 years from the day a mill shuts down until the NRC approves or estimates it will approve cleanup as being complete, ProPublica found. Two former mills aren’t expected to finish this process until 2047.

Chad Smith, a DOE spokesperson, said mills that were previously transferred to the government have polluted groundwater more than expected, so regulators are more cautious now.

The involvement of so many regulators can also slow cleanup.

Five sites were so contaminated that the EPA stepped in via its Superfund program, which aims to clean up the most polluted places in the country.

At the Homestake mill in New Mexico, where cleanup is jointly overseen by the NRC and the EPA, Larry Camper, a now-retired NRC division director, acknowledged in a 2011 meeting “that having multiple regulators for the site is not good government” and had complicated the cleanup, according to meeting minutes.

Homestake Mining Company of California did not comment on Camper’s view of the process.

Only one site where the EPA is involved in cleanup has been successfully handed off to the DOE, and even there, uranium may still persist above regulatory limits in groundwater and surface water, according to the agency. An EPA spokesperson said the agency has requested additional safety studies at that site.

“A lot of people make money in the bureaucratic system just pontificating over these things,” said William Turner, a geologist who at different times has worked for mining companies, for the U.S. Geological Survey and as the New Mexico Natural Resources Trustee.

If the waste is on tribal land, it adds another layer of government.

The federal government and the Navajo Nation have long argued over the source of some groundwater contamination at the former Navajo Mill built by Kerr-McGee Corp. in Shiprock, New Mexico, with the tribe pointing to the mill as the key source. Smith of the DOE said the department is guided by water monitoring results “to minimize opportunities for disagreement.”

Tronox, which acquired parts of Kerr-McGee, did not respond to requests for comment.

May 2022 wildfire smoke obscured the throat of an ancient volcano called Shiprock. Photo credit: Allen Best/Big Pivots

All the while, 2.5 million tons of waste sit adjacent to the San Juan River in the town of 8,000 people. Monitoring wells situated between the unlined waste pile and the river have shown nitrate levels as high as 80 times the limit set by regulators to protect human health, uranium levels 30 times the limit and selenium levels 20 times the limit.

“I can’t seem to get the federal agencies to acknowledge the positions of the Navajo Nation,” said Dariel Yazzie, who formerly managed the Navajo Nation Environmental Protection Agency’s Superfund Program.

At some sites, overlapping jurisdictions mean even less cleanup gets done.

Such was the case near Griffin, North Dakota, where six cows and 2,500 sheep died in 1973; their bodies emitted a blue glow in the morning light. The animals lay near kilns that once served as rudimentary uranium mills operated by Kerr-McGee. To isolate the element, piles of uranium-laden coal at the kilns were “covered with old tires, doused in diesel fuel, ignited, and left to smolder for a couple of months,” according to the North Dakota Geological Survey.

The flock is believed to have been poisoned by land contaminated with high levels of molybdenum. The danger extended beyond livestock. In a 1989 draft environmental assessment, the DOE found that “fatal cancer from exposure to residual radioactive materials” from the Griffin kilns and another site less than a mile from a town of 1,000 people called Belfield was eight times as high as it would have been if the sites had been decontaminated.

But after agreeing to work with the federal government, North Dakota did an about-face. State officials balked at a requirement to pay 10% of the cleanup cost — the federal government would cover the rest — and in 1995 asked that the sites no longer be regulated under the federal law. The DOE had already issued a report that said doing nothing “would not be consistent” with the law, but the department approved the state’s request and walked away, saying it could only clean a site if the state paid its share.

“North Dakota determined there was minimal risk to public health at that time and disturbing the grounds further would create a potential for increased public health risk,” said David Stradinger, manager of the Radiation Control Program in the North Dakota Department of Environmental Quality. Contaminated equipment was removed, and the state is reevaluating one of the sites, he said.

“A Problem for the Better Part of 50 Years”

While the process for cleaning up former mills is lengthy and laid out in regulations, regulators and corporations have made questionable and contradictory decisions in their handling of toxic waste and tainted water.

More than 40 million people rely on drinking water from the Colorado River, but the NRC and DOE allowed companies to leak contamination from mill waste directly into the river, arguing that the waterway quickly dilutes it.

Federal regulators relocated tailings at two former mills that processed uranium and vanadium, another heavy metal, on the banks of the Colorado River in Rifle, Colorado, because radiation levels there were deemed too high. Yet they left some waste at one former processing site in a shallow aquifer connected to the river and granted an exemption that allowed cleanup to end and uranium to continue leaking into the waterway.

The Bluewater disposal site was a uranium-ore-processing site addressed by Title II of the Uranium Mill Tailings Radiation Control Act (UMTRCA). The site transitioned to DOE in 1997 administered under the provisions of a general Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) license.

For a former mill built by the Anaconda Copper Company in Bluewater, New Mexico, the NRC approved the company’s request to hand the site off to the DOE in 1997. About a decade later, the state raised concerns about uranium that had spread several miles in an aquifer that provides drinking water for more than 15,000 people.

The contamination hasn’t reached the wells used by nearby communities, and Smith, the DOE spokesperson, said the department has no plans to treat the uranium in the aquifer. It’s too late for much more cleanup, since the DOE’s Office of Legacy Management’s mission is to monitor and maintain decommissioned sites, not clean them. Flawed cleanup efforts caused problems at several former mills after they were handed off to the agency, according to a 2020 Government Accountability Office report.

“Uranium has been overplayed as a boom,” said Travis Stills, an environmental attorney in Colorado who has sued over the cleanup of old uranium infrastructure. “The boom was a firecracker, and it left a problem for the better part of 50 years now.”

“No Way in Hell We’re Going to Leave This Stuff Here”

Mining companies can’t remove every atom of uranium from groundwater, experts said, but they can do a better job of decommissioning uranium mills. With the federal government yet to take control of half the country’s former mills, regulators still have time to compel some companies to do more cleanup.

Between 1958 and 1961, the Lakeview Mining Company generated 736,000 tons of tailings at a uranium mill in southern Oregon. Like at most sites, uranium and other pollution leaked into an aquifer.

“There’s no way in hell we’re going to leave this stuff here,” Dixon, the nuclear cleanup specialist, remembered thinking. He represented the state of Oregon at the former mill, which was one of the first sites to relocate its waste to a specially engineered disposal cell.

A local advisory committee at the Lakeview site allowed residents and local politicians to offer input to federal regulators. By the end of the process, the government had paid to connect residents to a clean drinking water system and the waste was moved away from the town, where it was contained by a 2-foot-thick clay liner and covered with 3 feet of rocks, soil and vegetation. Local labor got priority for cleanup contracts, and a 170-acre solar farm now stands on the former mill site.

But relocation isn’t required. At some sites, companies and regulators saw a big price tag and either moved residents away or merely left the waste where it was.

“I recognize Lakeview is easy and it’s a drop in the bucket compared to New Mexico,” Dixon said, referring to the nation’s largest waste piles. “But it’s just so sad to see that this hasn’t been taken care of.”

Methodology

To investigate the cleanup of America’s uranium mills, ProPublica assembled a list of uranium processing and disposal sites from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s most recent “Status of the Decommissioning Program” annual reportthe WISE Uranium Project and several federal agencies’ websites. Reporters reviewed fact sheets from the NRC and the Department of Energybefore studying the history of each mill contained in thousands of pages of documents that are archived mainly in the NRC’s Agencywide Documents Access and Management System, known as ADAMS.

We solicited feedback on our findings from 10 experts who worked or work at the NRC, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality, the Southwest Research and Information Center, the University of New Mexico and elsewhere. Additionally, we interviewed dozens of current and former regulators, residents of communities adjacent to mills, representatives of tribes, academics, politicians and activists to better understand the positive and negative impacts of the uranium industry and the bureaucracy that oversees uranium mill cleanup.

We also traveled to observe mill sites in New Mexico, Utah and Colorado.

Map of Abandoned Uranium Mines on the Navajo Nation. Credit: EPA

#ArkansasRiver Watershed Collaborative River Report #snowpack

Arkansas Basin Snowpack Telemetry (SNOTEL) site readings for snow-water equivalent range from 36% of median at the Apishipa site near the Spanish Peaks to 127% at St. Elmo in western Chaffee County. The Brumley SNOTEL site, near Independence Pass, reports 91% of median, while Fremont Pass reports 94%. Glen Cove, north of Pikes Peak, is at 108%. Buckskin Joe in South Park reads 62%. In the Sangre de Cristo Range, Hayden Pass reads 49% of median.

From email from Joe Stone:

On behalf of ARWC, the latest Arkansas River Report is available online at 
https://www.arkcollaborative.org/river-reports. As always, the information in the River Report is free to use as you wish, and all sources of information are linked to in the report.

ARWC is the nonprofit organization for the Arkansas Basin Roundtable, a group of water managers and stakeholders working to find solutions to water-related issues in the basin. Roundtable members serve as the ARWC Board of Directors.

U.S. Senators Bennet and Hickenlooper Urge Reclamation to Allocate Additional Funding for the Arkansas Valley Conduit #ArkansasRiver

Arkansas Valley Conduit map via the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District (Chris Woodka) June 2021.

Click the link to read the article on Senator Bennet’s website:

Today [January 23, 2023], Colorado U.S. Senators Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper urged the Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) to consider allocating additional funding from the recent omnibus funding bill for Fiscal Year 2023 (FY23) or the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) for the Arkansas Valley Conduit (AVC).

The AVC is a planned 130-mile water-delivery system from the Pueblo Reservoir to communities in Bent, Crowley, Kiowa, Otero, Prowers, and Pueblo counties. The Conduit is the final phase of the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project, which Congress authorized in 1962.

“[T]he Conduit has been one of Colorado’s top priorities for nearly six decades,” wrote the senators. “Continuing to invest in this project will allow the project’s stakeholders to plan for more effective construction and delivery of clean drinking water throughout Southeast Colorado.”

In the letter, the senators highlight the $60 million allocated for the construction of the AVC from the BIL last fall, and ask BOR to allocate additional funds, which could be immediately applied to help advance different components of the AVC.

“For years, this project languished due to insufficient funding and a prohibitive cost-share agreement,” continued the senators. “Congressional appropriations over the past decade coupled with BOR’s recent $60 million award will finally enable the construction of this long-promised project. More investment, from the FY23 omnibus or future BIL awards, would accelerate the construction timeline and improve planning efficiency.”

Bennet and Hickenlooper have consistently advocated for increased funding for the AVC. The FY23 omnibus spending bill, which was signed into law in December, included $10.1 million for the Conduit after Bennet and Hickenlooper urged the Senate Appropriations Committee to continue to fund the project last May. In October, the senators visited Pueblo to celebrate the announcement of $60 million in BIL funds for the Conduit. The senators and U.S. Representative Ken Buck (R-Colo.) urged the OMB and BOR in July to allocate these funds. In March, Bennet and Hickenlooper secured $12 million for the Conduit from the FY22 omnibus bill. Prior to FY22, Bennet helped secure more than $70 million for the AVC. Bennet and Hickenlooper will continue working in Washington to ensure Colorado has the resources needed to complete this vital project for the region.

In 2009, Congress passed legislation Bennet worked on with former U.S. Senator Mark Udall (D-Colo.) to authorize a federal cost share for the construction of the Arkansas Valley Conduit. In 2013, Bennet and his colleagues sent a letter to the BOR to quickly approve the Conduit’s Environmental Impact Study (EIS) in order to expedite the project’s pre-construction process. In 2014, following Bennet and Udall’s efforts to urge the BOR to quickly approve the Conduit’s EIS, the Record of Decision was signed in February. Bennet joined the groundbreaking for the project in October 2020.

The text of the letter is available HERE and below.

Three New Projects to Protect #Water Supplies for Over a Million Coloradans — #Colorado State Forest Service

Click the link to read the release on the Colorado State Forest Service website:

There is a critical connection between clean drinking water and forests. For 80 percent of Coloradans, their water starts in the state’s forests before making its way downstream to their taps.

Given this connection, it is important for Colorado to protect its forested watersheds from the ever-present threat of wildfire to ensure residents and communities have water for drinking, agriculture and other uses. The Colorado Legislature recognizes this need and passed House Bill 22-1379 during the 2022 legislative session to fund projects that reduce wildfire fuels around high-priority watersheds and water infrastructure.

Today, the Colorado State Forest Service announces three projects funded through HB22-1379 that will reduce the risk wildfire poses to water supplies for more than a million Coloradans.

“We are excited to put these funds provided by the legislature to work in high-priority areas where an uncharacteristic wildfire could significantly impact water supplies and infrastructure,” said Weston Toll, watershed program specialist at the CSFS. “All three projects connect to prior fuels reduction work completed by the CSFS and our partners, so we can make an impact on a large scale in our forests.”

The CSFS received $3 million through HB22-1379 to fund forest management in critical watersheds and has allocated $1 million each to three projects in these locations:

Staunton State Park, Colorado. CSFS Photo.

Staunton State Park, Park and Jefferson counties

The project in Staunton State Park will build upon more than 800 acres of prior fuels treatments to reduce the impact a wildfire could have to water resources, communities, outdoor recreation areas and wildlife habitat. Creeks running through the park feed into the North Fork South Platte River, which flows into Strontia Springs Reservoir. Eighty percent of Denver Water’s water supply moves through Strontia Springs Reservoir.

This area, about 6 miles west of Conifer, is noted as a priority for action in assessments by the CSFS, Denver Water, Upper South Platte Partnership, Elk Creek Fire Protection District and in local Community Wildfire Protection Plans. It is also in a focus area for the Rocky Mountain Restoration Initiative.

“This project will allow us to get into areas of the park we haven’t been able to treat yet,” said Staunton State Park Manager Zach Taylor, “to reduce the risk of a wildfire spreading from the park to adjacent neighborhoods. The project also reduces wildfire risk to creeks in the park and the entirety of the drainage.”

Taylor said that the park has worked alongside neighbors in the area, including private landowners and the U.S. Forest Service, to address wildfire fuels since the park was acquired in the 1980s.

“Staunton State Park lies between all of these communities,” he said. “This project could set up the park for the next 5 to 10 years in helping us meet our goals for fuels reduction.”

Teller County, Colorado. CSFS photo.

North Slope of Pikes Peak, Teller County

The project on the North Slope of Pikes Peak will help protect essential drinking water and water infrastructure for the City of Colorado Springs. Reservoirs on the North Slope provide about 15 percent of the city’s drinking water supply. Work there will add to more than 3,500 acres of prior fuels treatments on Colorado Springs Utilities’ municipal lands and fill an important gap in treated areas around North Catamount Reservoir and the headwaters of North Catamount Creek. It will also help protect infrastructure that conveys water from the utility’s Blue River collection system to the reservoir.

The Pikes Peak Watershed is noted as a high priority area in plans by the CSFS, U.S. Forest Service and Colorado Springs Utilities. It is also in a focus area for the Rocky Mountain Restoration Initiative.

“Colorado Springs Utilities’ 34-year-long partnership with the Colorado State Forest Service has enabled many beneficial forest management activities that reduce the risks and impacts of wildfire in and adjacent to our watersheds,” said Jeremy Taylor, forest program manager with Colorado Springs Utilities. “Through the Pikes Peak Good Neighbor Authority (GNA), we’ve expanded this collaboration to include the U.S. Forest Service for cross-boundary work, and we’re now embarking on the Big Blue project on the North Slope of Pikes Peak. It’s a valued partnership that prioritizes working together to improve forest health and protect our water resources, public lands and neighboring private lands.”

Sheep Mountain, Grand County, Colorado. CSFS Photo.

Fraser Valley, Grand County

The project in the Fraser Valley will lower the risk of wildfire to water supplies for Denver and the towns of Fraser and Winter Park by reducing fuels on U.S. Forest Service, Denver Water and private lands. It connects to several prior treatment areas to establish a connected, large-scale fuel break that could allow firefighters to engage a wildfire in the event of a fire. During the William’s Fork Fire in 2020, the project area was identified as where a wildfire could spread into the densely populated Fraser Valley.

The Grand County Wildfire Council identified the project area as a high priority through planning efforts by the CSFS, USFS, Bureau of Land Management, Denver Water, Grand County and local fire departments.

“These projects are critical for watershed health and source water protection for Denver Water and our 1.5 million customers. Healthy forests equal healthy watersheds,” said Christina Burri, watershed scientist with Denver Water. “Denver Water is so grateful for the partnerships and collaboration that make these projects possible.”

The CSFS expects work on these projects to begin in 2023 and will monitor the project work in future years to evaluate its impact and efficacy. All three projects allow the CSFS and its partners to achieve goals and enact strategies identified in the 2020 Colorado Forest Action Plan and are in areas identified as priorities in the plan.

“Governor Polis and the Colorado legislature have made tremendous investments to protect our watersheds from the increasing threat of wildfires and the Colorado State Forest Service is at the forefront in moving these projects forward”, said Dan Gibbs, executive director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources. “The three projects announced today build on existing efforts to increase resiliency and make impactful investments in key watersheds to create healthier forests and reduce the threat of future wildfires.”

“Thank you to the Colorado Legislature for making the $3 million available for this important work and to our many partners for working alongside the Colorado State Forest Service on these projects,” Toll said. “Together, we are making a landscape-level impact and leveraging our collective resources toward the goal of lowering wildfire risk to water supplies and protecting one of our state’s most precious resources.”

#Water supply and growth: New annexation rule passes in #ColoradoSprings — KOAA #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Colorado Springs with the Front Range in background. Photo credit Wikipedia.

Click the link to read the article on the KOAA website (Bill Folsom), Here’s an excerpt:

The ongoing drought in the west motivated a request from Colorado Springs Utilities for an update to city ordinances on annexing new developments into the city. With five in favor and four against, City Council approved the change saying for any development annexations to be considered, the city’s water supply has to be at 130% of what is needed for existing residents. Mayor John Suthers supported the change saying tough decisions are being forced by the current water crisis along the Colorado River Basin.

“Our citizens are asking a simple question, ‘Can you ensure we’ll have enough water?’ This ordinance acts in the public interest and answers that question loud and clear,” said Suthers…

Many developers from the community spoke against the change saying it will make large developments outside the city almost impossible.

Suthers Tweeted, “If we do nothing to maintain a buffer between our water supply and our water usage, and the city suffers a major curtailment of our Colorado River water, further drought will put us in an untenable situation, and we will be responsible for a failure of public policy.”

Colorado Springs Utilities (CSU) recommended the 130% number following an in-depth review of the organization’s capacity and ability to provide water to the city’s citizens.  Utilities maintain that the city’s 30% margin buffer allows CSU to consistently provide water year in and year out.

$1 million fire mitigation project planned near #ColoradoSprings Utilities’ reservoir — The Colorado Springs Gazette

A 300-acre fire mitigation project scheduled for 2023 is shown on the map in light green. COLORADO STATE FOREST SERVICE

Click the link to read the article on The Colorado Springs Gazette website (Mary Shinn):

Contracted crews will remove trees across 300 acres to reduce the high risk of catastrophic wildfire near North Catamount Reservoir south of U.S. 24, said Luke Cherney, a forester with the State Forest Service. The area on U.S. Forest Service land was prioritized for fire mitigation because of the dense trees, damage from pests and proximity to drinking water infrastructure. The goal is to ensure when the forest burns, it will not be as extreme and hot as some of the state’s most destructive fires, such as the Waldo Canyon fire, that run through the crowns of trees, blackening the landscape and killing nearly all the vegetation. This type of fire can hurt the watershed and water infrastructure because without living plants the ash and sediment will wash into reservoirs and intake pipes, creating major problems for water managers. Areas hit by intense fire also can see major debris flows without any vegetation to hold back soils. Thinning trees will help create conditions where fires will burn at a lower intensity through the underbrush, leaving many trees alive…

View of Pikes Peak from the South Catamount Reservoir. Photo: Andy Schlosberg, CSFS

The parcel, adjacent to areas that Colorado Springs Utilities already has mitigated, never has been mitigated for fire risk, said Jeremy Taylor, Utilities’ forestry program manager, and the work will protect pipelines, electrical lines and the overall watershed. Runoff from a healthy watershed is also far cleaner and easier to treat.  

“We are restoring the landscape to a more historic and healthy condition that previously would have been achieved by wildfire,” he said in an email. 

The project will remove about half the trees in an area where western spruce budworm and Douglas-fir beetle have damaged the forest, Cherney said. The work will increase the space between trees and allow each tree more access to water and nutrients to improve their health, putting them in a better position to fend off pests, he said.

Bobcat® Compact Track Loader with Masticating Attachment. Photo credit: Wilderness Forestry, Inc.

The crews may use masticators to thin trees, Cherney said. The masticators, similar to front-end loaders, are equipped with large drums loaded with metal teeth to remove and mulch trees. In steep areas, crews may also need to use chain saws.

#PFAS from #Colorado military bases contribute to environmental injustice: Toxins from Peterson have contaminated the drinking #water of downstream communities — Colorado Newsline

FORT CARSON, Colo. – 4th Combat Aviation Brigade, 4th Infantry Division receives first CH-47 Chinook helicopters at Butts Army Airfield on Fort Carson, Colo., Jan. 22, 2013. Crew members conduct their post flight checks. The Chinooks are the first CH-47s to arrive to the new combat aviation brigade. (Photo by Sgt. Jonathan C. Thibault, 4th Combat Aviation Brigade, 4th Infantry Division Public Affairs NCOIC/Released)

Click the link to read the article on the Colorado Newsline website (Jonathan Sharp):

For over a century, the U.S. Army has been plagued by the lasting consequences of its negligent use, storage and disposal of hazardous chemicals. As a result, countless troops and dependents residing on contaminated bases regularly came into contact with toxins known to trigger adverse health effects and deadly diseases.

In high-profile cases like North Carolina’s Camp Lejeune, nearly 1 million service members and their families were exposed to deadly toxins for over 30 years (1953-1987), including health hazards like benzene, vinyl chloride, trichloroethylene, perchloroethylene, and per/polyfluoroalkyl substances — PFAS.

Also known as “forever chemicals,” PFAS are a group of over 12,000 artificial compounds that represent a distinct environmental concern due to their resilient molecular structure, which prevents natural decomposition, allowing them to easily permeate the soil and contaminate drinking water sources. Exposure to PFAS has been linked to testicular cancer, organ damage (liver, kidneys), high cholesterol, decreased vaccine efficiency in children, and impaired reproduction.

On Camp Lejeune and more than 700 army bases across the US, PFAS contamination is directly linked to aqueous film-forming foam used since the early 1970s to extinguish difficult fuel blazes. In 2016, the EPA established a health advisory of 70 parts per trillion for PFOA and PFOS, the main PFAS compounds.

Although service members and their relatives are the most burdened, contamination originating from military sources plays a larger role in an insidious pattern of discrimination that affects marginalized minority communities.

Due to discriminatory redlining policies, land in minority neighborhoods was significantly undervalued and became a cost-efficient solution to situate army bases, industrial facilities, landfills, traffic routes, and other sources of toxic pollution. The higher toxic burden that vulnerable minority communities experience due to systemic prejudice is better known as “environmental racism.”

2021 report notes that Colorado has the highest PFAS footprint in the country, with approximately 21,000 sites suspected of using or storing such compounds. Although industrial activities are the primary driver of PFAS’ prevalence, frontline communities also have to contend with contamination from several military sources.

(Widefield aquifer via the Colorado Water Institute.)

Nine army bases in Colorado are known to have been affected by PFAS due to aqueous film-forming foam, with the most contaminated including Schriever Air Force Base (870,000 ppt), Buckley Space Force Base (formerly Buckley Air Force Base, 205,000 ppt), Fort Carson (156,000 ppt), U.S. Air Force Academy (72,000 ppt) and Peterson Space Force Base (formerly Peterson Air Force Base, 15,000 ppt). Significantly, PFAS from Peterson has previously contaminated the drinking water sources of downstream communities, with a CDC study finding PFAS compounds in the blood of residents in one exposed community registering concentrations 1.8 to 8.1 times the national average.

While the Air Force and Department of Defense have been involved in some remediation efforts, from distributing bottled water to installing filters and building treatment plants, their contributions are considered limited by Coloradans, given the lack of actual PFAS cleanup projects. Unlike Camp Lejeune, none of the contaminated Colorado bases are listed as Superfund sites.

Frontline communities exposed to higher health risks due to environmental racism’s lingering effects rely on state and federal authorities to establish a legal framework that keeps polluters accountable and protects vulnerable citizens. Since 2020, Colorado has enacted some of the country’s most stringent PFAS laws and adopted a PFAS narrative policy that closely follows the EPA’s 2016 advisories.

Federally, the National Defense Authorization Act will see aqueous film-forming foam phased out by 2024 and finance PFAS cleanup projects on contaminated installations, while the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law will provide impacted communities with crucial investments to address pollution and other causes of environmental injustice. The Honoring Our PACT Act will provide improved health benefits and compensation for veterans and military families exposed to toxins in highly contaminated locations like Camp Lejeune.

Despite these encouraging developments, the DoD has yet to commence cleanup on any of the most affected bases in the country per NDAA’s provisions, and diseases resulting from exposure to PFAS aren’t recognized as presumptive conditions under HOPA. Moreover, while Colorado adopted the EPA’s 2016 guidelines, it falls behind other states that employ even stricter standards.

Still, Colorado has the opportunity to stay ahead of the game by implementing more effective PFAS standards that align with the EPA’s most current efforts to regulate these toxic compounds. With the goal of setting enforceable maximum contaminant levels in drinking water, the EPA has drastically reduced its non-binding advisories for PFOA and PFOS in June 2022 to a paltry 0.004 ppt and 0.02 ppt, respectively, illustrating the dangers these substances represent even at exceedingly low concentrations.

Products that contain PFAS. Graphic credit: Riverside (CA) Public Utilities

#ColoradoRiver #conservation program will pay for reduced #water use — Heart of the Rockies Radio #COriver #aridification

Fryingpan-Arkansas Project water from the headwaters of the Colorado River flows into Turquoise Lake in the Arkansas Basin via the Boustead Tunnel (photo by Klambpatten, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Turquoise_Reservoir.JPG).

Click the link to read the article on the Heart of the Rockies website (Joe Stone):

As part of a new water conservation program, the Upper Colorado River Commission “is seeking proposals immediately for the voluntary, compensated, and temporary water conservation projects for 2023.”

Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming are Commission members, and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation is a partner in the new conservation program, according to a statement issued Wednesday, Dec. 14, at the Colorado River Water Users Association meeting in Las Vegas, Nevada.

To be considered for funding, proposals for conservation projects will need to be submitted by Feb. 1, 2023. Details are available here.*

The Commission touts the new program as “a key component of the Upper Division States’ 5-Point Plan to address the impacts of the ongoing drought and depleted (water) storage in the Upper Colorado River Basin.”

The new conservation program is relevant here in the Arkansas River Basin because about 130,000 acre-feet of water per year, up to 23 percent of Arkansas River flows, are imported from the Colorado Basin according to Colorado Division of Water Resources data.

The Bureau of Reclamation operates the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project, which imports an average of 57,000 acre-feet of water per year. Colorado Springs, Pueblo and Pueblo West combine to import the other 73,000 acre-feet. Fry-Ark Project water supports local agriculture, cities, towns and industry.

Fry-Ark water and infrastructure also underpin the Voluntary Flow Management Program, which supports the multimillion-dollar recreation economies of Upper Ark communities as well as the Arkansas River’s Gold Medal fishery. 

Colorado Water Conservation Board Director Becky Mitchell expressed support for the new program in a statement Wednesday. She emphasized, “The most impactful thing that can be done to manage the Colorado River System is to reduce uses in dry years.”

Mitchell noted that Colorado’s “strict administration of water rights based on hydrology” effectively achieves drought-year water-use reductions. “In 2021, administration impacted water use on over 203,000 acres within the Colorado River Basin in Colorado.”

Mitchell cited preliminary data from the Upper Colorado River Commission showing that the four Upper Basin states used 25% less water in 2021 than in 2020” in response to limited water availability.

“We must continue to live within the means of what the river provides year to year,” Mitchell said, “and we ask others to do the same. This is the only way the system will continue as we know it into the future.”

In requesting that others “live within the means of what the river provides,” Mitchell implicates the three Lower Colorado River Basin states – California, Arizona and Nevada.

The 1922 Colorado River Compact divided Colorado River water between the four Upper Basin states and the three Lower Basin states. The Compact requires the Upper Basin states, where most of the precipitation falls, to deliver a 10-year rolling average of 7.5 million acre-feet (maf) of water to Lees Ferry, Arizona, just south of the Utah state line. Of that water, California is entitled to 4.4 maf, Arizona, 2.8 maf, and Nevada, 0.3 maf.

The Compact also established a benchmark of 16.5 million acre-feet (maf) of water per year for Colorado River flows. However, data from NOAA show that average flows from 2000 to 2021 have dropped to 12.3 maf per year.

To date, the Upper Basin states have consistently met the 7.5-maf Compact requirement. At a meeting of Colorado’s Interbasin Compact Committee earlier this year, Mitchell shared statistics showing that Upper Basin states have significantly reduced water usage while Lower Basin states have not.

Colorado River Consumptive use graphic credit: Heart of the Rockies Radio

As the numbers reveal, Lower Basin states’ water usage – more than 2 maf per year beyond the 7.5 maf delivered by the Upper Basin – has trended higher, even as the 10-year rolling average dropped to 11.78 maf for 2012-21.

Specifically, 2019 saw Colorado River flows of 17.75 maf, a rare yearly surplus of 3.8 maf. In 2020, flows dropped to 9.6 maf, 4.5 maf less than the water used that year.

In 2021, flows dropped further, to 7.1 maf. Even with Upper Basin states reducing their water use by more than a million acre-feet in 2021, total water use in the Basin exceeded Colorado River flows by 6.4 maf, dropping water levels in lakes Mead and Powell to record low levels.

* The Upper Colorado River Commission’s Dec. 14 statement notes that full implementation of the water conservation program “is contingent on the passage of pending legislation in Congress” and finalization of an funding agreement between the Commission and the Bureau of Reclamation.

EPA expects to finish residential cleanup of #Colorado Smelter Superfund Site by spring 2024 — The #Pueblo Chieftain

Colorado Smelter Site and Area Neigborhoods. Credit: EPA

Click the link to read the article on The Pueblo Chietain website (James Bartolo). Here’s an excerpt:

With soil sampling 98% complete at the Colorado Smelter Superfund Site, the Environmental Protection Agency seeks to finish its residential cleanup by spring 2024, if not sooner.

Since 2015, the EPA has conducted outdoor soil and indoor dust samplings of lead and arsenic levels at residences near the former Colorado Smelter. When samples taken from residences show harmful levels of contaminants, the properties are then earmarked for EPA cleanup.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the EPA’s progress on dust sampling has trailed behind its soil sampling efforts. The agency has sampled dust at 73% of the properties it’s targeted in Pueblo’s Bessemer, Eilers and Grove neighborhoods.

As of Oct. 28, about 44% of the 1,833 properties that have received soil sampling have required cleanup, according to the EPA, as have about 36% of the 1,361 dust-sampled properties.

#Pueblo: City council approves additional $1 million for Pueblo sewer project — The Pueblo Chieftain

View of Historic Arkansas Riverwalk of Pueblo (HARP) with super moon. By John Wark – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=29422639

Click the link to read the article on The Pueblo Chieftain website (James Bartolo). Here’s an excerpt:

After additional funds were approved by Pueblo City Council on Monday night, a total of $3 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds will be allocated to a 6,200-foot sanitary sewer line on Pueblo’s west side…Funded by ARPA and the Pueblo Wastewater Department, the project will cost an estimated $6.8 million, according to the city of Pueblo.

“We have been in the process of designing that sewer line,” Pueblo Mayor Nick Gradisar said. “There are a couple of arroyos. Some of that sewer line is going to be 13 to 30 feet deep. It turns out to be much more expensive.”

The multi-million dollar project is expected to benefit several developments, including Southern Colorado Clinic, the Pueblo YMCA, the Wildhorse Annexation, the proposed WL Annexation and the incoming Pueblo County detention center.

“This really is a major trunk line that will collect waste from a number of areas,” said Andrew Hayes, the city’s director of public works. “As the rest of the West Side develops in the vicinity of Southern Colorado Clinic, the YMCA— those areas will also feed into this very same line.”

2022 Annual Meeting of the #ArkansasRiver Compact Administration (ARCA) will be held on Thursday, December 8, 2022

Map of the Arkansas River drainage basin. Created using USGS National Map and NASA SRTM data. By Shannon1 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=79039596

From email from ARCA (Kevin Salter):

These meetings will be held at the Lamar Elks Lodge No. 1319, 28157 US Highway 287, Lamar, CO 81052, on December 7th and 8th.  We are planning on an in-person meetings with a virtual option.  That being said, we cannot guarantee effective technology to facilitate listening in on these meetings at this point though we will do our best.  A Zoom meeting link can be requested by contacting Stephanie Gonzales at arca.co.ks@gmail.com on December 6th.

As of now, there are no restrictions that would affect having these meetings in person, but that is subject to change.  These are public meetings, between the States of Colorado with other local, State, and federal agencies participating.  There may be restrictions for those attending and we hope that you can respect those restrictions.  If you are unable to do so, please consider participating in the virtual meeting option.

This is the final notice for the upcoming Arkansas River Compact Administration Annual and Committee Meetings.  Please note that the meeting dates and location were changed at the ARCA Annual Meeting held in December 2022.

The 2022 Annual Meeting of the Arkansas River Compact Administration (ARCA) will be held on Thursday, December 82022.  The Engineering, Operations, and Administrative/Legal Committees of ARCA will meet onWednesday, December 72022.  These meetings are to be held at Lamar Elks Lodge No. 1319, 28157 US Highway 287, Lamar, CO 81052.  The meetings are intended to be in person, but as noted above there will be a virtual option.

Meetings of ARCA are operated in compliance with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act. If you need a special accommodation as a result of a disability please contact Stephanie Gonzales at (719) 688-0799 at least three days before the meeting.

This and additional information can be found on ARCA’s website, please check back often since the meeting information will be added as it becomes available:

If you have any questions please feel free to contact Andrew or myself.

Where did the #PFAS in your blood come from? These computer models offer clues — Environmental Health News

PFAS contamination in the U.S. via ewg.org.

Click the link to read the article on the Environmental Health News website (Marlowe Starling):

New research could help pinpoint “forever chemicals” exposure — giving communities a roadmap for cleanup and individuals direction on what to avoid.

Downstream of a Chemours fluorochemical manufacturing plant on the Cape Fear River in North Carolina, people living in Brunswick and New Hanover counties suffer from higher-than-normal rates of brain tumors, breast cancers and other forms of rare — and accelerated — diseases.

Residents now know this isn’t a coincidence. It’s from years of PFAS contamination from Chemours.

It wasn’t easy to make the connection. More than a decade of water testing and lawsuits identified the link between aggressive cancers and per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS – a class of more than 9,000 toxic and persistent man-made compounds known informally as “forever chemicals.” They’re commonly found in nonstick cookware, water-resistant clothing, firefighting foam, cosmetics, food packaging and recently in school uniforms and insecticides.

The difficulty of tracing these chemicals to a specific source is that Americans — 97% of us, by one estimate — are exposed to potentially thousands of PFAS.

New research published in Science of the Total Environment now finds that tracing models can identify sources of PFAS contamination from people’s blood samples. Instead of using environmental measures of PFAS as a proxy for how people are exposed, the methods use blood samples as a more direct way to map people’s exposure.

“If this works, it would allow us to identify, without any prior knowledge, what people are being exposed to and how they’re being exposed to it,” Dylan Wallis, a lead author of the paper and toxicologist formerly at North Carolina State University, told EHN.

The research, while not yet perfect, marks the beginning of what could become a wide-scale method of determining where the PFAS in our blood came from—such as our food, drinking water or use of nonstick cookware—and how much of it came from each source. But its effectiveness hinges on the need to collect more comprehensive data on where PFAS occurs in people’s bodies, the environment and sources. If scientists can collect this data, then these methods would be able to draw a roadmap for people’s exposure, allowing us to pinpoint problem areas, avoid contamination and implement regulatory changes.

PFAS in blood samples

For this tracing method to work, scientists need an idea of which compounds exist in air, water, food and everyday products in a determined community. First, they have to know where to look for PFAS. This study used data from previous research to identify the types of PFAS in drinking water. Then, they test blood samples for which PFAS are in people’s bodies—although using blood alone gives us only part of the contamination picture, Carla Ng, a chemical and biological engineer at University of Pittsburgh, told EHN. Once they match PFAS proportions in blood to what’s in their drinking water, as in this study, they can gain clues to which sources contributed the chemicals showing up in people’s blood.

“You start to build this picture of what are the inputs, what’s the material they’re getting their exposure from, and then what’s in their blood,” Ng, who was not involved in the study, explained.

Widefield aquifer via the Colorado Water Institute.

The new study analyzed blood samples taken in 2018 and 2020 from residents in Wilmington, North Carolina, and three towns in El Paso County, Colorado. Both communities are near well-known PFAS polluters: the Chemours facility in North Carolina, which manufactures fluoropolymers for nonstick and waterproof products, and the Peterson Space Force Base in Colorado, which uses PFAS-containing firefighting foam, also called AFFFs.

Related: PFAS on our shelves and in our bodies

The team used computer models to identify 20 PFAS compounds from residents’ blood samples and then grouped them in categories representing different sources. Some are easy to identify because manufacturers often use a specific type of PFAS. For example, the compounds found in firefighting foam have a unique signature, like a fingerprint, making Peterson Space Force Base the obvious culprit. But more diffuse sources of PFAS, such as those in dust or food, are harder to pin down because scientists aren’t sure which PFAS are in them or where they come from.

In North Carolina and Colorado, the sources were more obvious, allowing the research team to test models’ ability to identify sources. However, to conduct similar research on a national scale is not so simple. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey has tested levels of PFAS in blood samples nationwide since 1999, but it only tests for a specific list of PFAS, which could overlook the full spectrum of compounds.

Drinking water in both locations in the study shows high levels of fluoroethers and fluoropolymers, many of which are “legacy” PFAS, meaning they have been phased out of production for at least a decade but are still found in drinking water. Because the chemical bonds are so strong, they persist in the environment for years, which is why they show up in blood samples long after companies have stopped using or manufacturing them. Long-chain PFAS like PFOA and PFOS, which are the most-studied compounds with a longer structure of carbon-fluorine bonds, are harder to break down, and they bond to proteins in the blood more easily than short-chain compounds.

“These last a really long time,” Wallis said of long-chain PFAS, which were recorded at levels several times higher than national averages. “If you were drinking a really high level of it 40 years ago, you would still have really high levels of it 40 years later.”

A pollution snapshot

Wallis said they were surprised the models worked because they have never been used for PFAS before. They were built to trace other contaminants in the environment, like particles in air pollution, rather than in people.

Tracing PFAS is more challenging than tracing air pollution for several reasons, Xindi Hu, a lead data scientist at the research organization Mathematica, told EHN. Hu conducted earlier research using a different type of computer analysis of blood samples to identify the main sources of PFAS contamination in the Faroe Islands.

Many PFAS lack distinct chemical fingerprints to tell researchers exactly where a particular compound came from, Hu said. But in the study led by Wallis, the chemical fingerprints from the Space Force base in Colorado and fluorochemical facility in North Carolina are well-known.

“When you take a blood sample, it’s really just a snapshot,” she said. “So how do you translate this snapshot of concentration back to the course of the entire exposure history?”

That’s partly why the new paper’s authors conducted this study: The more compounds that are correctly linked to a source, the better these models will work, Wallis said. In essence, they need a better database of PFAS compounds so the models know how to connect the dots.

PFAS also react differently in the human body than in the environment, and scientists still don’t fully understand how we metabolize different compounds. Shorter-chain PFAS, for example, are more likely to appear in urine samples than in blood because they are water-soluble, said Pittsburgh’s Ng, who studies how PFAS react in humans and wildlife.

“If you’re doing everything on the basis of blood levels, it may not tell you everything you need to know about exposure and potential toxicity,” she said, adding that PFAS could also accumulate in the liver, brain, lungs and other locations where it’s difficult to take samples.

Worse, more modern PFAS with carbon-hydrogen bonds can actually transform into other types of compounds as the body metabolizes them, which could give a false impression of what people are exposed to.

“The key to identifying a good tracer is a molecule that doesn’t transform,” Ng said. Some PFAS are great tracers, she added, but “the more transformable your PFAS is in general, the poorer the tracer is going to be.”

That’s why newer PFAS compounds like GenX were not detected in blood samples or used as tracers in the recent study.

“These models aren’t going to account for everything,” Wallis said. “No model is.”

Stopping the contamination 

Wallis and their co-authors said they hope the models can become more accurate for less exposed communities in the future. With more data, it would be easier to suggest what to avoid instead of guessing where PFAS exposures come from, Wallis said, adding that it could lead to more protective regulations.

Although these models can vaguely help identify where compounds might come from in a particular community, it’s not a definitive solution, Alissa Cordner, an environmental sociologist and co-director of the PFAS Project Lab who was not involved in the recent study, told EHN. Even if there’s no immediate application of these methods, identifying where PFAS are is the first step.

“Everybody can point their fingers at other possible sources of contamination,” Cordner said. “The best way to address this is not to try to, after the fact, link people’s exposure to a contamination source. It’s to stop the contamination.”

From Your Site Articles

When buying a home — think about #water — The #ColoradoSprings Gazette

Mrs. Gulch’s Blue gramma “Eyelash” patch August 28, 2021.

Click the link to read the article on The Colorado Springs Gazette website (Susan Beckman and Andrea Cole). Here’s an excerpt:

Finding and paying for water is no easy task for these developers and their communities, leading to potential water restrictions as existing resources are stretched to the limit. In addition, as communities seek to encourage lower water usage increased costs are often times passed on to the residents. As a result of these costs, many homebuyers have shifted their focus to water and affordability. Wise homebuyers understand how important the precious resource of water is to the sustainability and survival of their community and are seeking places to live that have water supply plans and water demand management systems in place that serve as a foundation for the community as a whole…

Some of the things homebuyers should consider when looking for a community with a strong water demand management foundation include:

Innovate land planning: Look for a community with thoughtful lot sizes and focused landscape areas. Each of the new homes should be designed with landscaped yard that come with a water budget, water efficient landscaping and irrigation system that is designed to minimize the use of water. Each home should also come with installation specifications that require all new construction to be equipped with water efficient fixtures and appliances linked to new technologies.

Dual water metering: Seek out modern technology that puts the homeowner in charge of the water needs and water usage. This includes separate meters for indoor (less expensive water) and outdoor (more expensive water). This takes the guess work out of how much water that a homeowner is using. The homeowner is provided technology, and a phone app, that provides real-time feedback of their water use. This tool empowers residents to monitor their water usage, it also allows them to differentiate the water that is being used outside and the water being used inside.

Smart irrigation control systems: New homes should come equipped with a smart irrigation controller (Rachio Smart Irrigation System is an example) that integrates a dual water metering system into each home. These controllers help to optimize outdoor watering patterns and gives the plants in the yard the water they need to be healthy. The systems also monitor the weather and automatically adjust the outdoor watering schedule based on local and current weather conditions, so you are not watering your lawn during a rainstorm. The smart irrigation system also alerts a homeowner to water leaks and the homeowner can shut off the water remotely to avoid a flood.

Drought tolerant plant selections and landscape guidelines: In conjunction with the Denver Botanic Gardens, some Colorado communities have identified a set of outdoor plants for use by residents that are attractive, require less water and are drought tolerant (bird friendly options are also available). Landscape reviews by community districts also provide residents with ways to manage their home’s water budget to avoid use of more expensive water without compromising landscaping design that can be enjoyed by residents. Some communities will also provide classes to educate residents on gardening and water management.

Investing in resources: Forward thinking communities have invested extensive resources in home builder and customer education about water use, installed WaterSense approved fixtures and have implemented an innovative water budget-based rate structure that provides incentives to customers to manage their outdoor water use within a water budget.

Green Mountain Falls Trustees Approve New Water Pump Station — The Mountain Jackpot News

By Smallbones – Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10986442

Click the link to read the article on The Mountain Jackpot News website. Here’s an excerpt:

The Green Mountain Falls Board of Trustees approved plans last week for a new vastly expanded water pump station, being developed by  Colorado Springs Utilities.

According to a town staff report,  “the new pump station will be located at 10685 Hondo Ave. and will ensure reliable water service for residents and businesses in Green Mountain Falls. It will also provide a safer and more readily accessible working space for CSU, enabling more efficient maintenance and repair activities. CSU is currently finalizing an easement agreement with the property owner to allow the pump station to be built on the site.”

The project was recently discussed by the planning commission. At last week’s trustees meeting, the elected leaders had an extensive discussion with representatives of the project applicant, Dewberry Engineers. The trustees support the project goals, with the need for better infrastructure and the fact that the current pump station, located at the base of several prime trail areas, is outdated. The main concern dealt with a staging area for the preliminary construction efforts. Following considerable discussion, the staging area will occur at intersection of Ute Pass Avenue and Olathe Street. Not all the trustees were on board with the details, especially with the pre-construction staging area, which could involve a number of vehicles. But the Dewberry representatives stressed that they had limited options in GMF due to the small roadways.

The project will get underway sometime in 2023.

Through a Memorandum of Understanding delivered to the @usbr, the @SNWA_H2O & water agencies in the Upper & Lower #ColoradoRiver Basin affirmed their commitments to implement comprehensive & innovative #water #conservation programs, initiatives, policies & actions within their communities #COriver #aridification #CRWUA2022

Just another day on the job in 1890 – Measuring the velocity of streams in a cable-suspended, stream-gaging car on the #ArkansasRiver in #Colorado — USGS

#PalmerLake’s major financial issues likely leading to #water rate increases — The Tri-Lakes Tribune

Palmer Lake via Wikipedia Commons

Click the link to read the article on The Tri-Lakes Tribune website (Breeanna Jent). Here’s an excerpt:

Palmer Lake water customers will likely see their bills increase in the near future as the town looks to boost revenues to its self-sustaining water enterprise, which is projected to have inadequate funding in 2023. “Inadvertent” incorrect billing of 15 water accounts and the town’s failure to increase water rates by 3% annually starting in January 2020, as stipulated by a 2019 town resolution, have caused the budget shortfall, according to administrative and financial documents. Staff are now “working on the issues” and will “bring options to the (Board of Trustees) to consider,” Deputy Town Clerk Julia Stambaugh said by email this week…

Stambaugh reported in a Sept. 29 town memo the water account billing issues had been resolved. It was unclear how long the town had incorrectly billed the water accounts in question. But now, ballooning loan repayments upcoming in 2024 and the “significant rise” in the cost of materials for infrastructure mean the town’s water fund won’t have enough money in its projected 2023 budget, finance documents show.

Funding Arrives to Complete the Arkansas Valley Conduit — The Ark Valley Voice #ArkansasRiver

The outfall of the Bousted Tunnel, which delivers water from the Roaring Fork and Fryingpan rivers to the East Slope.

Click the link to read the article on the Ark Valley Voice website (Jan Wondra). Here’s an excerpt:

The Bureau of Reclamation (BoR) announced on Monday that it will direct $60 million in federal funding from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) towards advancing the construction of the Arkansas Valley Conduit (AVC), a 130-mile pipeline project from Pueblo Reservoir east to Eads, Colorado that will deliver safe, clean drinking water to 50,000 people in 40 communities. The Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) has supported this project with $100 million in grants and loans. The Arkansas Valley Conduit project is the final element of the larger Fryingpan-Arkansas Project, which Congress authorized in 1962. The project has literally been decades in the making.

“The SECWCD is thrilled with the announcement by the Bureau of Reclamation that $60 million from the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act has been allocated for construction of the Arkansas Valley Conduit. This follows on the heels of the award of the first construction contract for the Boone reach,” said Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District Senior Policy and Issues Manager Chris Woodka.

“This commitment from BoR is a clear indication of their intent to move this project forward to completion, and to direct resources to it so that clean drinking water will be delivered sooner than originally planned,” he added. “We thank each and every one of you for your patience, and your ongoing support.”

The 5.5 mile Boustead Tunnel transports water from the Fryingpan River drainage into the Arkansas by way of Turquoise Lake (pictured here).

Senators Bennet and Hickenlooper Deliver $60 Million from Bipartisan #Infrastructure Law for Arkansas Valley Conduit: Funding Will Provide Safe Drinking #Water for S.E. #Colorado #ArkansasRiver

President John F. Kennedy at dedication of the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project.

Click the link to read the release on Senator Bennet’s website:

Today [October 17, 2022], Colorado U.S. Senators Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper welcomed an announcement from the Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) of the distribution of $60 million in funds from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to support the completion of the Arkansas Valley Conduit (AVC), providing Coloradans with a secure and safe supply of water. In July, the senators and U.S. Colorado Representative Ken Buck urged the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and BOR to allocate funds from the infrastructure law for the AVC. The Weeminuche Construction Authority, an enterprise of the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, has been awarded the contract for this phase of construction of the AVC.

“Sixty years ago, President Kennedy came to Pueblo and promised to build the Arkansas Valley Conduit to deliver clean drinking water to families in Southeastern Colorado. Since I’ve been in  the Senate, I’ve fought to ensure the federal government keeps its word to Colorado and finishes this vital infrastructure project,” said Bennet. “One of the first bills I passed helped to jumpstart and fund construction on the Arkansas Valley Conduit, and with this announcement, we’ve delivered more than $140 million to help complete construction and deliver on this decades-old promise.”

“Thanks to the Bipartisan Infrastructure Act, long-stalled projects like the Ark Valley Conduit are moving forward. Today, we’re bringing this 60 year project over the finish line,” said Hickenlooper. 

Arkansas Valley Conduit map via the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District (Chris Woodka) June 2021.

The AVC is a planned 130-mile water-delivery system from the Pueblo Dam to communities throughout the Arkansas River Valley in Southeast Colorado. This funding will expedite the construction timeline for the Conduit and allow for federal drinking water standards to be met more quickly. The Conduit is the final phase of the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project, which Congress authorized in 1962.

Bennet and Hickenlooper have consistently advocated for increased funding for the AVC. In May, the senators sent a letter to the Appropriations Committee to include funding for the AVC in the FY23 spending bill. In March, Bennet and Hickenlooper helped secure $12 million for the Conduit from the FY22 omnibus bill. Bennet and Hickenlooper will continue working in Washington to ensure communities have the resources needed to complete this vital project for the region.

“We have been working hard to move this project from planning to construction. This announcement follows the first construction contract award, and is a clear indication that the District and Reclamation will continue to partner in this long-time effort to bring clean drinking water to the Lower Arkansas Valley. Our Senators were key to obtaining more than $8 billion for the Bureau in the IIJA, and our delegation’s long-standing bipartisan support along with support from the State of Colorado have put the conduit on Reclamation’s front line for construction,” said Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District board president Bill Long.

“The Ute Mountain Ute Tribe and its construction enterprise are honored to be a partner in delivering safe drinking water to the Lower Arkansas Valley. Like other projects Weeminuche Construction Authority has been a part of, the Arkansas Valley Conduit has been a long time coming, but will provide enormous benefit. The infrastructure dollars for the Bureau of Reclamation, making this possible, are a credit to Senator Bennet’s efforts to build support for Western water infrastructure,” said Michael Preston, Board President, Weenuch-u’ Development Corporation of the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe.

“As a regional leader in water issues in southern Colorado, Pueblo Water is proud to help push the Arkansas Valley Conduit forward. Our strong relationship with the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, the Bureau of Reclamation, and other partners helped make it possible for this project to come to fruition. Through this partnership, communities in Southeastern Colorado will have access to clean water faster than thought possible,” said Seth Clayton, Executive Director of Pueblo Water.

Background: 

Prior to this announcement, Bennet has helped secure over $80 million for the AVC.

In 2009, Congress passed legislation written by Bennet and former U.S. Senator Mark Udall (D-Colo.) to authorize a federal cost share and the construction of the Arkansas Valley Conduit. Bennet then worked to secure $5 million in federal funding for the project. 

In 2013, Bennet and his colleagues sent a letter to the BOR to quickly approve the Conduit’s Environmental Impact Study (EIS) in order to expedite the project’s completion. In 2014, following Bennet and Udall’s efforts to urge the BOR to quickly approve the Conduit’s EIS, the Record of Decision was signed in February. After President  Obama’s budget included an insufficient level of funding for the project, Bennet led a bipartisan letter urging the administration and the House and Senate Appropriations Committees to allow the Conduit’s construction to move ahead as planned. Bennet successfully urged the Department of Interior to designate $2 million in reprogrammed funding from FY14 for the Conduit. Bennet secured language in the FY15 Senate Energy and Water Development Appropriations Act that sent a clear signal to the BOR that the Conduit should be a priority project. 

In 2016, Bennet secured $2 million from the BOR’s reprogrammed funding for FY16, after the project had initially received only $500,000. Bennet then secured $3 million for the AVC as part of the FY17 spending bill. Bennet secured $3 million for the Conduit for FY18.

In April 2019, Bennet and former U.S. Senator Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) wrote to then-Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Ranking Member Feinstein, urging them to provide funding for the Conduit. Bennet, Gardner, former U.S. Congressman Scott Tipton (R-Colo.), and Buck wrote to the Department of the Interior urging the Department to support the project. Bennet secured approximately $10 million each year for the Conduit in the FY19 and FY20 spending bills. In 2020, Bennet welcomed $28 million from the BOR to begin construction on the AVC to help bring clean drinking water to Colorado communities. He secured $11 million for the AVC in FY21. He joined the ground breaking in October 2020.

Arkansas River Basin via The Encyclopedia of Earth

$500,000 grant supports Custer County reservoir project — Heart of the Rockies Radio

Photos by Allen Tian, The Colorado Independent, and courtesy of Dark Skies Inc of the Wet Mountain Valley.

Click the link to read the article on the Heart of the Rockies Radio website (Joe Stone):

The Colorado Water Conservation Board awarded a $500,000 grant to the Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District and Round Mountain Water and Sanitation District for construction of a new reservoir near Westcliffe.

Upper Ark Project Manager Gracy Goodwin reported the grant award during the Thursday meeting of the Upper Ark board of directors in Salida.

Upper Ark General Manager Terry Scanga said the total cost of the project is estimated at $3 million and that the Upper Ark District is responsible for a third of the cost under its agreement with Round Mountain.

Round Mountain provides water water and sanitation services to the towns of Westcliffe and Silver Cliff, serving a population of approximately 1,000.

As previously reported, the Upper Ark District and Round Mountain began collaborating on the project to address the need for a source of augmentation water on Grape Creek upstream from DeWeese Reservoir. The 7-acre reservoir will have a storage capacity of approximately 150 acre-feet.

Goodwin reported that Engineering Analytics, the firm hired to design the reservoir, recently completed a topographic survey for the intake infrastructure and the dam. The company is also finalizing the reservoir design and starting work on the construction drawings.

The Colorado Water Conservation Board also provided funding for an initial feasibility study and the design work, and Goodwin said Upper Ark staff are investigating additional sources of funding to help pay for construction costs.

In addition to its augmentation water needs, Round Mountain faces significant wastewater treatment challenges.

Citing an “overtaxed wastewater treatment plant” that “cannot adequately process additional effluent,” the Round Mountain board of directors enacted a moratorium on the sale of water and sewer taps Jan. 1., effectively halting new construction in Westcliffe and Silver Cliff.

Information on the Round Mountain website indicates the district’s wastewater treatment plant “is 46 years old, built with a technology that cannot meet current environmental standards and receiving considerably more sewage than it can fully process.”

The proposed Round Mountain Reservoir would provide a much-needed source of augmentation water in Custer County.

$43M to bring clean water: Arkansas Valley Conduit to serve east #Pueblo County — The Pueblo Chieftain #ArkansasRiver

Fryingpan-Arkansas Project via the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District (Click to enlarge)

Click the link to read the article on The Pueblo Chieftain website (Tracy Harmon). Here’s an excerpt:

A nearly $43 million contract was awarded to a Colorado construction company marking the “first giant step” in the Arkansas Valley Conduit project designed to bring clean drinking water to eastern Pueblo County and southeastern Colorado. The federal Bureau of Reclamation awarded the inaugural contract for the conduit to WCA Construction LLC, for $42.9 million to cover construction of the first 6-mile section of the 30-inch trunk line that extends from the eastern end of Pueblo Water’s system toward Boone. Located in Towaoc, the construction company is owned by the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe and as a tribal enterprise the company employs a workforce that is 70% indigenous…

Since 2020 the federal government has appropriated $51 million toward the project, with those funds paying for the trunk line construction. Pueblo County has awarded $1.2 million in American Rescue Plan Act funding to connect the communities of Avondale and Boone to the trunk line, Woodka said. Work under the initial contract will begin in the spring of 2023 and is expected to be completed in 2024. “We are now in the process of designing those connection lines, then we will be putting those lines in. We hope everything is connected to Boone and Avondale by the end of 2024,” [Chris] Woodka said. That will bring water to about 1,600 Avondale residents and 230 Boone residents. Currently, many people in the areas that will be served by the conduit rely on groundwater supplies that may be contaminated by naturally occurring radionuclides, such as radium and uranium, or use shallow wells that contain harmful microorganisms and pollutants.

Reclamation awards construction contract for initial segment of Arkansas Valley Conduit: #Boone Reach Contract 1 connects six miles of pipeline to the eastern end of #Pueblo Water’s system #ArkansasRiver

Arkansas Valley Conduit map via the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District (Chris Woodka) June 2021.

From email from Reclamation (Elizabeth Smith):

The Bureau of Reclamation awarded the inaugural contract of the Arkansas Valley Conduit (AVC) to WCA Construction LLC, for $42,988,099.79. This contract funds construction of the first Boone Reach trunk line section, a 6-mile stretch of pipeline that extends from the eastern end of Pueblo Water’s system toward Boone, Colorado.

The AVC project will use Pueblo Water’s existing infrastructure to treat and deliver AVC water from Pueblo Reservoir to a connection point east of the City of Pueblo along U.S. Highway 50. The water will be either Fryingpan-Arkansas Project water or from participants’ water portfolios, not from Pueblo Water’s resources. Work under this contract will begin in spring of 2023. This section is expected to be completed in 2024.

“Now more than ever, people in the Arkansas River Valley understand the immense value of the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project and the Arkansas Valley Conduit,” said Jeff Rieker, Eastern Colorado Area Manager. “We look forward to the day when these residents can open the faucet and know that their drinking water is safe and healthy.” As the AVC project moves forward, under existing agreements, Reclamation will construct the trunkline, a treatment plant and water tanks while the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District will coordinate with communities to fund and build AVC delivery pipelines. Eventually, the AVC will connect 39 water systems along the 130-mile route to Lamar, Colorado.

The AVC is a major infrastructure project that, upon completion, will provide reliable municipal and industrial water to 39 communities in Southeastern Colorado. The pipelines will bring water from Pueblo Reservoir to Bent, Crowley, Kiowa, Otero, Prowers, and Pueblo counties. It is projected to serve up to 50,000 people in the future (equivalent to 7,500 acre-feet per year).

John F. Kennedy at Commemoration of Fryingpan Arkansas Project in Pueblo, circa 1962.

The AVC was authorized in the original Fryingpan-Arkansas Project legislation in 1962 (Public Law 87-590). The AVC would not increase Fry-Ark Project water diversions from the Western Slope of Colorado; rather, it was intended to improve drinking water quality.

Currently, many people in the areas that will be served by the AVC rely on groundwater supplies that may be contaminated by naturally occurring radionuclides, such as radium and uranium, or use shallow wells that contain harmful microorganisms and pollutants. Alternatives for these communities consist of expensive options such as reverse-osmosis, ion exchange, filtration, and bottled water. 

This contract continues many years of hard work by Reclamation, Southeastern, Pueblo Water and other project partners to improve the lives of residents and provide opportunities for economic development and job creation.

If you have any questions or need more information, please contact Anna Perea, Public Affairs Specialist at the Bureau of Reclamation’s Eastern Colorado Area Office, at (970) 290-1185 or aperea@usbr.gov. If you are deaf, hard of hearing or have a speech disability, please dial 7-1-1 to access telecommunications relay services.

Map of the Arkansas River drainage basin. Created using USGS National Map and NASA SRTM data. By Shannon1 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=79039596

Agencies looking into #water quality on Lincoln Creek: Mine drainage could be a cause of recent issues — @AspenJournalism #RoaringForkRiver

Lincoln Creek is one of several drainages that flow into Grizzly Reservoir, a collection pool for Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Company. Drainage from defunct upstream mines may be partly responsible for the water’s yellow color. Photo credit: Heather Sackett/Aspen Journalism

Click the link to read the article on the Aspen Journalism website (Heather Sackett):

State, local and federal agencies are working to figure out what is causing changes to the waters and streambed of Lincoln Creek.

In recent days, the water in Lincoln Creek below Grizzly Reservoir has turned a milky green color and a sediment — yellow in some places, white in others — has settled on the streambed. The water flowing into the reservoir from upper Lincoln Creek ran yellow on Saturday.

According to Andrew Wille, a concerned citizen and educator who has done a field study in the area, the discolored stream is not totally unusual.

“I would say (Lincoln Creek above the reservoir) is always like that, but it might be a little worse this year,” said Wille, who is also a member of Pitkin County’s Healthy Rivers board but clarified he was not speaking on the group’s behalf.

What is unusual, Wille said, is that the issue extends below the reservoir to the water flowing down Lincoln Creek to its confluence with the Roaring Fork River.

“I was just kind of concerned and upset it made its way into the Roaring Fork,” he said.

Prior to mining, snowmelt and rain seep into natural cracks and fractures, eventually emerging as a freshwater spring (usually). Graphic credit: Jonathan Thompson

A culprit could be defunct mines in the area, where prospectors mined gold, silver, lead and copper in the early 1900s. It includes the well-known Ruby Mine near the ghost town of the same name.

Bryan Daugherty, an environmental health specialist with Pitkin County, took samples of the water in the creek last week.

“It could be that we have had significant weather up there and it has opened up some of the channels or something that expose more of the mining waste,” Daugherty said. “We just don’t have a great answer as to why it looks different than it has in the past years.”

Officials may have more answers after Tuesday, when a team of water quality experts from different agencies, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Roaring Fork Conservancy and others, are scheduled to test the waters of Lincoln Creek. It is part of an ongoing water quality monitoring program.

Water from the Ruby Mine adit — which is the mine’s opening — mixes with water from Lincoln Creek in late August. Defunct mines in the area could be affecting water quality downstream. CREDIT: ANDRE WILLE

Mines could be a cause

Jeff Graves, program director for the Colorado Inactive Mine Reclamation Program, said the Ruby Mine was brought to his attention last year when there was a fish die-off in Grizzly Reservoir. His agency, the Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety, joined other agencies in water quality sampling in early summer. Those results are not back yet.

But Graves said the problem may not be caused solely by the Ruby Mine.

“There’s obviously some legacy mining up there; that includes the Ruby Mine,” he said. “But there’s also a significant geologic component unrelated to mining. So there are a couple different things going on that we need that sampling data back to clarify what the actual cause of any potential problems are downstream.”

Graves estimated there are about 400 mines across Colorado that are discharging into waterways and potentially creating a water quality issue downstream. He said there has not been any reclamation done on the Ruby Mine and that it would not have fallen under any regulatory authority at the time it was mined around the turn of the 20th century.

Grizzly Reservoir will be drained next summer for a rehabilitation project on the dam, tunnel gates and outlet works. The reservoir serves as the collection bucket for water from the surrounding drainages before it’s diverted through the Twin Lakes Tunnel to the Front Range. CREDIT: HEATHER SACKETT/ASPEN JOURNALISM

Much of the water collected in Grizzly Reservoir from the high mountain drainage of Lincoln Creek is sent through the Twin Lakes Tunnel under the Continental Divide to be used in Front Range cities. Colorado Springs Utilities owns the majority of the water from the Twin Lakes system, which represents the city’s largest source of West Slope water and about 21% of its total supply.

Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Company Manager Bruce Hughes said on Monday that the Twin Lakes system was operating normally, which at this time of year means not diverting to the Front Range and instead letting the water from Grizzly Reservoir flow down Lincoln Creek.

Graves said in general, the environmental concerns associated with mines involve aquatic life like fish and the bugs they eat. The orange color of the water and stained streambed is from iron; the white is from aluminum, he said.

“Generally speaking, there is very little human health concerns associated with the sites,” he said. “Most of the time, it is aquatic life concerns and the specific concern is zinc. Fish are very intolerant to high levels of dissolved zinc in the water.”

As of Saturday [September 24, 2022], there were still plenty of fish swimming in Grizzly Reservoir.

Aspen Journalism covers rivers and water in collaboration with The Aspen Times. This story ran in the Sept. 27 edition of The Aspen Times.

Map of the Roaring Fork River drainage basin in western Colorado, USA. Made using USGS data. By Shannon1 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=69290878

Farms use 80% of the West’s water. Some in #Colorado use less, a lot less — @WaterEdCO

Cattle of the Bow & Arrow herd, graze in a frosted corn field on the 7,770 acre Ute Mountain Ute Farm & Ranch Enterprise near Towoac, Colorado. About 700 head of cattle, graze on the farm and ranch lands during the winter. During the summer the herd is moved to mountain pastures. (Dean Krakel photo, special to EWC)

Click the link to read the article on the Water Education Colorado website (Allen Best):

At Spring Born, a greenhouse in western Colorado near Silt, you see few, if any, dirty fingernails. Why would you? Hands never touch soil in this 113,400-square-foot greenhouse.

You do see automation, long trays filled with peat sliding on conveyors under computer-programmed seeding devices. Once impregnated, the trays roll into the greenhouse.

Thirty days after sprouting, trays of green and red lettuce, kale, arugula, and mustard greens slide from the greenhouse to be shorn, weighed and sealed in plastic clamshell packages. Hands never touch the produce.

Spring Born says it needs 95% less water compared to leafy greens grown using Colorado River water a thousand miles downstream in Arizona and California. That region supplies more than 90% of the nation’s lettuce. At Silt, the water comes from two shallow wells that plumb the riverine aquifer of the Colorado River, delivering about 20 gallons per minute. The water is then treated before it is piped into the greenhouse. This is agriculture like nowhere else.

he all-mechanized operations at Spring Born’s large greenhouse near Silt, Colo., produce leafy greens by maximizing the use of water. Spring Born says it needs 95% less water compared to greens grown using Colorado River water 1,000 miles downstream in Arizona and California.
From the Hip Photo courtesy of Spring Born

Great precautions are taken to avoid contamination and prevent the spread of pathogens. Those entering the greenhouse must don protective equipment.

There’s no opportunity for passing birds or critters to leave droppings. As such, there is no need for chlorine washes, which most operations use to disinfect. Those washes also dry out the greenery, shortening the shelf life and making it less tasty. The Spring Born packages have an advertised shelf life of 23 days.

Spring Born likely constitutes the most capital-intensive agricultural enterprise in Colorado. Total investment in the 250-acre operation, which also includes traditional hay farming and cattle production, has been $30 million. The technology and engineering come from Europe, which has 30 such greenhouses. The United States has a handful.

Agribusiness in Colorado generates $47 billion in economic activity but it ties to one reality: The future is one of less water. So how exactly can agriculture use water more judiciously?

The Thirsty Future

A Desert Research Institute study published in April 2022 concluded that the warming atmosphere is a thirstier one. Modeling in the study suggests that crops in some parts of Colorado already need 8% to 15% more water than 40 years ago. Agricultural adaptations to use less water are happening out of necessity.

Grahic credit: Colorado Climate Center

Colorado has warmed about 2.5 degrees Fahrenheit in the last 120 years. Warming has accelerated, with the five hottest summers on record occurring since 2000.

Higher temperatures impact the amount of snowfall and amount of snowpack converted to water runoff. “As the climate warms, crops and forested ecosystems alike use water more rapidly,” says Peter Goble, a research associate at the Colorado Climate Center. “As a result, a higher fraction of our precipitation goes into feeding thirsty soils and a lower fraction into filling our lakes, streams and reservoirs. Essentially, a warmer future is a drier future.”

This year was a good example of the drying trend.

Dolores River watershed

Snowpack was around average in the San Juan Mountains, but spring arrived hot and windy. Snow was all but gone by late May, surpassed in its hurried departure only in 2018 and 2002. Farmers dependent on water from the Dolores River, still reeling from last year’s meager supplies, were required to accept lesser supplies yet again as the growing season began this year.

The Ute Mountain Ute Farm and Ranch Enterprise, the most southwesterly agriculture operation in Colorado, expected less than 30% of its regular water delivery from McPhee Reservoir. This was on top of a marginal year in 2021, too. Simon Martinez, general manager of the operation, said just 15 of the 110 center pivots had crops under cultivation in early June. Employment was cut in half, and the 650-head cow-calf operation had been slimmed to 570.

Pressured by compacts

The warming climate is not alone in spurring adaptations. In many river basins, irrigators must also worry about delivery of water to downstream states specified by interstate compacts.

Water conservation districts formed in the last 20 years are paying farmers to decrease pumping and planting to save the water that remains in the aquifers, comply with compacts, and transition to less water use.

Kansas River Basin including the Republican River watershed. Map credit: By Kmusser – Self-made, based on USGS data., CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4390886

Directors of the Republican River Water Conservation District, in northeastern Colorado were successful in voluntarily retiring 4,000 acres by June 2020. They are confident about retiring 10,000 acres in the area between Wray and Burlington before 2025. They’re less sure of achieving the 25,000 acres that compact compliance will require by 2029.

Rio Grande Water Conservation District directors in south-central Colorado have an even greater lift. They must figure out how to retire 40,000 irrigated acres by 2029. They’re at 13,000.

High commodity prices have discouraged farmer participation. The pot of local, state and federal money hasn’t been sufficient to fund high enough incentives to compete with commodity pricing. A bill, SB22-028, Groundwater Compact Compliance Fund, which passed in the Colorado Legislature in May, will allocate $60 million to both the Republican and Rio Grande basins to help them comply with interstate river compacts by reducing the acreage outlined above. The law says that if voluntary reductions cannot be attained, Colorado may resort to mandatory reductions in groundwater extraction.

From Sprinklers to New Crops

Even as center-pivot sprinklers are removed in the Republican River Basin and San Luis Valley, they are going up in the Grand Valley of western Colorado. There, instead of drafting groundwater, they are distributing Colorado River water, because they are reducing labor costs and reducing water use.

The geography of the valley from Palisade to Fruita and Loma does not immediately favor center pivots. They work best as a pie within a square, a full 40 or 160 acres. Parcels in the Grand Valley tend to be more rectangular. That means a pivot can arc maybe three-quarters of a circle. That slows the payoff on investment.

Why the pivot, so to speak, on pivots? Perry Cabot, a water resource specialist with Colorado State University’s Western Colorado Research Center near Fruita, sees two, sometimes overlapping, motivations. (Cabot also serves on the Water Education Colorado Board of Trustees.)

The greater motivation is the desire to save labor. That itself is good, he says, because the investment reflects an intention to continue farming. “People are obviously doing it for the long haul,” he says.

The other motivation appears to be water related. “The feedback I get is, to paraphrase the farmers, at some point in the future we are going to have less water to farm with and so we must prepare for that,” Cabot says.

Incremental improvements have improved efficiency. Experiments at the CSU research center in Walsh have shown conclusively the advantage of long-drop nozzles that spray the water just a couple feet off the ground, reducing evaporation.

Jason Lorenz with Agro Engineering talks about irrigation, soil moisture and chemistry during a soil workshop for students in Colorado’s San Luis Valley. Courtesy of AgroEngineering

Technology can help perfect a producer’s irrigation set up. Consider work in the San Luis Valley by Agro Engineering, crop consultants who seek to assist growers in producing maximum value with minimum water application. Potatoes, the valley’s largest cash crop, thrive in warm, but not hot, days and cool nights. They need 16 to 18 inches of water per year, of which 13 to 15 inches comes from irrigation. This includes two inches applied during planting, to moisten soils sufficiently for germination. They do not do well with too much water, explains Jason Lorenz, an agricultural engineer who is a partner in the firm. That, and the need to align use with legal requirements, gives growers compelling reason to closely monitor water.

The company uses aerial surveys conducted from airplanes to analyze whether the desired uniformity is being achieved. The latest advancement, multispectral aerial photography, enables the detection of green, red and near-infrared light levels. These images indicate the amount of vegetative biomass, vegetative vigor, and the greenness of the leaves. Variations show where crops are healthier and where there are problems, including insects and diseases, water quality, or soil chemistry problems.

Any discussion of water and agriculture in Colorado must include a focus on corn. In 2021, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, almost 1.4 million acres in the state were devoted to corn, with well more than half of that irrigated.

Corn is also thirsty. So far, efforts to produce corn with less water have come up short, says Colorado State University water resources specialist Joel Schneekloth. But if corn still needs the same amount of water, researchers have succeeded in producing greater yields.

How about alternatives to corn? Sunflowers, used to make cooking oil but also for confections, came on strong, but acreage shrank from 132,000 acres to 59,000 acres statewide between 2010 and 2019. For farmers, corn pays far better.

Quinoa may be possible. It consumes less water. But no evidence has emerged that it’s viable in eastern Colorado. The demand is small. Demand also remains small for black-eyed peas, which a bean processing facility in Sterling accepts along with pinto, navy and other beans.

“We can find low-water crops, but they just don’t have huge markets,” explains Schneekloth who conducts studies for the Republican and South Platte basins at a research station in Akron. There has to be enough production to justify processing facilities, he said. One such processing facility proximate to the Ogallala aquifer in Colorado—it was in Goodland, Kansas—closed because it didn’t have enough business.

Nearly all of the corn in Colorado is grown to feed livestock. What if, instead of eating beef or pork, we ate plant-based substitutes? The shift, says Schneekloth, would save water. It takes seven pounds of forage and grain to produce one pound of meat. For a meat substitute, it’s closer to one for one. But that tradeoff isn’t that simple in most places. Much of the cattle raised in Colorado start on rangeland, feeding off of unirrigated forage, which is not suitable for crop production.

Besides, Schneekloth says he has a hard time imagining a mass migration to meat substitutes in the near future. Plant-based substitutes cost far more and the product, to many people, remains unsatisfactory. “Mass migration will be a hard one to sell,” he says. “Maybe eventually, but it won’t happen for a long time, I don’t think.”

Healthier Soils

Soil health has emerged as a lively new frontier of research and practice and the integration of livestock and crop production is one of its tenets—manure adds nutrients to the soil and builds organic matter, improving soil health.

Soil, unlike dirt, is alive. It’s full of organisms, necessary for growing plants. Wiggling worms demonstrate fecund soil, but most networking occurs on the microscopic level. This organic matter is rich with fungi and bacteria. Iowa’s rich soils have organic content of up to 9%. The native soils of Colorado’s Eastern Plains might have originally had 5%. The farms of southeastern Colorado now have 1% to 3%.

Derek Heckman is on a quest to boost the organic matter of his soil to 5% or even higher. It matters because water matters entirely on the 500 acres he farms in southeastern Colorado, just west of Lamar.

Derek Heckman, who farms near Lamar in eastern Colorado, is implementing various soil health practices to build the organic matter of his soil, improve water retention, and stretch limited water supplies farther. Allen Best

“Water is the limiting factor for our farms a majority of the time,” he explains. “We are never able to put on enough water.”

Heckman’s water comes from the Fort Lyon Canal, which takes out from the Arkansas River near La Junta. In a good year, he says, his land can get 25 to 30 runs from the ditch. Last year he got 16 runs. This year? As of early May, Heckman was expecting no more than 10 runs.

“The more organic matter there is, the more the moisture-holding capacity of the soil,” he explains. This is particularly important as water supplies dwindle during the hot days of summer.

“Let’s say we have 105 degrees every day for two weeks,” says Heckman. “Organic content of your soil of 3% might allow you to go four additional days without irrigation and without having potential yield loss or, even worse, crops loss.”

Heckman, 31, practices regenerative agriculture.

In explaining this, Heckman shies away from the word sustainable. It’s too limiting, he says. “I don’t want to just sustain what I’m doing. Regenerative is bringing the soil back to life.”

Growing corn in the traditional way involved plowing fields before planting. The working of the field might involve five passes by a tractor, compacting the soil and reducing its porosity. The plows disrupt microbial life.

For several decades, farmers and scientists have been exploring the benefits of less intrusive tilling of the soil. Beginning about 20 years ago, Heckman’s father was one of them. The scientific literature is becoming robust on the benefits of what is generically called “conservation tillage.”

Irrigated corn fields of eastern Colorado can require 10% less irrigation water depending upon tillage and residue management practices, according to a 2020 paper published by Schneekloth and others.

Heckman experiments continuously, trying to find the best balance of cover crops, minimal tilling, and the right mix of chemicals.

“A lot of guys are comfortable with what grandpa did and what dad did, and that’s what they do,” he says. “I want to see changes in our operation.”

On the Western Slope, soil health restoration is being tested in an experiment on sagebrush-dominated rangelands south of Montrose. Ken Holsinger, an ecologist with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, says the intent is to restore diversity to the lands and improve the water-holding capacity of the soil.

Holsinger says the federal land was likely harmed by improper livestock grazing, particularly prior to adoption of the Taylor Grazing Act in 1934, but may well have continued until the 1970s prior to implementing modern grazing practices.

This experiment consists of a pair of one-acre plots that have lost their topsoil and have become dominated by sagebrush and invasive vegetation. Such lands produce 200 to 300 pounds of forage per acre but should be producing 800 to 1,000 pounds per acre of native grasses. The soil will be amended with nutrients to restart the carbon cycle. Afterward, 50% of the sagebrush will be removed.

“We are looking at restarting the carbon cycle and ultimately holding more water in the soil profile,” says Holsinger.

One way these enhanced, restored soils help is by preventing the monsoonal rains that western Colorado typically gets in summer from washing soil into creeks and rivers, muddying the water. If the experiment proves successful, then the task will be to cost-effectively scale it up, ideally to the watershed level.

Back in Silt, at the site of Spring Born, Charles Barr, the company’s owner, speaks to the need for innovation. “That will be the model going forward for all of these agricultural areas,” he says. “They have to find new sources of revenue, they have to find new ways of doing business, and they have to find new ways to conserve water.”

An earlier version of this article appeared in the Summer 2022 edition of Headwaters magazine

Allen Best grew up in eastern Colorado, where both sets of grandparents were farmers. Best writes about the energy transition in Colorado and beyond at BigPivots.com.

#SouthPlatteRiver Surfers Want Updated #COWaterPlan to Go With the Flow — Westword

The second wave at River Run Park, Benihanas, is a high-speed, dynamic wave that gives up great rides but can be challenging to surf for beginners. Once you have it dialed, it’s one of the best high-performance waves in the state. It features a wave shaper – a set of three adjustable plates underneath the water that allow the wave to be dialed for particular flows. At higher flows (from 250 cfs to over 750 cfs) the wave creates a large A-Frame wave that can run from waist to chest high. Under 180 cfs, the wave is usually too weak to hold a surfer. Photo credit: EndlessWaves.net

Click the link to read the article on the Westword website (Catie Cheshire). Here’s an excerpt:

People who use the South Platte River for recreation, particularly river surfers, are hoping the next iteration of the Colorado Water Plan will include stronger language about the importance of recreation on the river. An updated version of the plan originally developed in 2015 during the John Hickenlooper administration will take effect in 2023, and the public can currently weigh in on the Colorado Department of Natural Resources draft. David Riordon, an avid river surfer in Denver, says he was pleasantly surprised that the draft indicated a positive approach to recreation, but hopes there will be more specifics regarding the use of the South Platte in the final document. While Riordon recognizes that the plan must tackle big issues across the state, he points out that river surfers keep a close eye on the South Platte’s status in metro Denver when they spend time on the waves at River Run Park in Englewood. “We see what comes by us or what doesn’t come by us,” Riordon says. “That could be water. It could be people. It could be fish, it could be trash. It could be plants. All kinds of stuff comes by us.”

Currently, river surfers gauge several factors, such as the discharge from Chatfield Reservoir and the City of Englewood, to see if the water is running at enough cubic feet per second to surf, generally 180 cfs. Riordon thinks the flow of the South Platte should be controlled the way it is on the Arkansas River, where a voluntary flow management program ensures that the Arkansas will be high enough for recreation during summer months, including rafting and fishing…Although the agreement guiding the Arkansas River program is between the Colorado DNRColorado Parks and Wildlife, Trout Unlimited, the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District and the Arkansas River Outfitters Association, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation actually operates it, measuring the reservoirs and controlling the outlet gates to ensure a constant flow of at least 700 cfs from July 1 to August 15. It also maintains a 250 cfs level during fall and winter months to improve conditions for trout. To create something similar on the South Platte, Riordon, who’s president of the Colorado River Surfers Association, hopes to connect with other stakeholders to apply for a grant from the Metro Basin Roundtable to determine if the idea would be feasible…

The new iteration [of the Colorado Water Plan] includes goals for protecting and enhancing both environmental and recreational attributes of the South Platte. Compared to the first version, completed before the original 2015 Colorado Water Plan, it takes a stronger stance on social justice and ensuring equitable access to recreation on the river, [Sean Chambers] continues.

The South Platte River Basin is shaded in yellow. Source: Tom Cech, One World One Water Center, Metropolitan State University of Denver.

Replacing Your Lawn — CSU Extension #Pueblo County

Photo credit: CSU Extension Pueblo County

Click the link to read the article on the CSU Extension Pueblo County website (Sherie Shaffer):

We have been getting a lot of questions lately from homeowners wanting to replace their lawns with more water wise, and beneficial plants. This is a fantastic trend, seeing as how water is a very limited resource, and that lawns do not have much to offer to our native pollinators.

If lawn replacement has been on your mind, here are some things to think about. The first thing to consider is, how much of your lawn are you actually using? Looking into lawn replacement does not have to mean getting rid of all lawn but reducing your lawn to the areas that are being used. Children use lawns to run and play, as do pets. Keeping lawn areas that are being used is great, but if you have lawn areas that are not being used, you may want to consider replacing them with something else.

Once you identify areas of lawn that you would like to replace, the next step is getting rid of the lawn. There are a few options. One option is to cover the areas of undesired lawn with a thick layer of newspaper or cardboard for about 2 months. This will suffocate the lawn and kill it leaving you with a blank slate. You can also till the area several times over a period. A quicker, albeit less environmentally friendly way of getting rid of the lawn would be to use a nonselective herbicide. If you go this route, be sure to read the label and follow all instructions. Never apply herbicides to flowering plants being visited by pollinators (such as dandelions) and avoid spraying when it is windy or over 80° F to avoid drift, which could harm desirable plants.

Once the lawn is gone, I would suggest looking into getting a soil test. If you are going to put in the effort to plant something new and beautiful, you may as well see what is going on in your soil and what you can do to make it optimal for your new plants. If you don’t want to get your soil tested, you can simply add some plant-based compost and mix it in with the native soil. This will help with soil texture, which will improve drainage and moisture retention.

Now for the exciting part, what should you plant?? If you want to keep the same type of look as your lawn, you can go for a groundcover plant. Creeping thyme, Veronica, creeping jenny, sedum, or oregano are some low growing options that you can investigate. A whole list of water wise groundcovers can be found here: https://extension.colostate.edu/topic-areas/yard-garden/xeriscaping-ground-cover-plants-7-230/.

You can also plot out some garden beds that have annual and perennial flowers. CSU Extension has many plant lists if you need some inspiration on what to plant. You can start browsing here: https://cmg.extension.colostate.edu/gardening-resources/online-garden-publications/flowering-herbaceous-plants-flowers-ground-covers-and-ornamental-grasses/.

The Master Gardener help line is open Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays from 9 am to 11 am and 2 pm to 4 pm if you would like to seek further advice on replacing your lawn from a trained volunteer.

Major municipal #water providers across #ColoradoRiver Basin announce commitment to significant reductions in water use — @DenverWater #COriver #aridification

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Map credit: AGU

Click the link to read the article on the Denver Water Website:

Large water providers from across the Colorado River Basin announced today a commitment to substantially expand existing efforts to conserve water, reduce demands and expand reuse and recycling of water supplies.

The agreement includes water providers in both the upper and lower basins of the Colorado River, stretching from Colorado’s Front Range to Las Vegas and Los Angeles. The providers invite other utilities in the basin to join in the commitment to increasing water-use efficiency and reducing the demand for water.

The agreement comes amid a two-decade drought on the river that affects 40 million people who rely on it for drinking water, agriculture, power production, landscape irrigation, recreation and more. Demands for water in the basin have exceeded available supply, reducing storage levels in lakes Mead and Powell to critically low levels.

The water providers are outlining their commitments in a Memorandum of Understanding that was delivered to Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Camille Touton today. Some providers have committed to pursuing the MOU’s intent while awaiting final approval through their various governing boards.

“We are developing prudent municipal water conservation actions that every community that relies on the Colorado River should be using,” water providers said in the letter to Touton. Moving forward, “We will describe the steps our organizations will take now and codify our commitment to continued effort as we work to ensure our river and the communities it serves continue to thrive. We sincerely hope our commitment to action inspires other stakeholders that share the river to do the same.”

Specifically, the agreement will focus on several key areas as pathways to cutting water use, including:

  • Develop programs to replace non-functional or passive cool weather turf grass (grass that serves primarily a decorative role and is otherwise unused) with drought- and climate-resistant landscaping, while maintaining vital urban landscapes and tree canopies where appropriate.
  • Increase water reuse and recycling programs where feasible.
  • Continue and expand conservation and efficiency programs to accelerate water savings.
  • “Achieving the protection storage volumes needed to preserve water and hydropower operations within the Colorado River basin cannot be met by a singular country, basin, state, or water use sector,” continued the letter to BOR. “While municipal water use represents only a small fraction of total Colorado River water use, progress begins with one and then many until we are all moving in the same direction.”

    While not all the conservation strategies under consideration may make sense for each community, utilities say the agreement demonstrates the commitment that municipal water providers have not only to coordinating and collaborating on strategies to conserve and manage water demands, but to also help protect the Colorado River system.

    Links to the letter to the BOR, the MOU and a support letter from the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District.

    Quotes from signatories to the BOR letter:

    “The water supply challenges we are facing on the Colorado River are accelerating at an alarming pace. Everyone who relies on the Colorado River must take bold and immediate action to reduce their use on this vital water source,” said Adel Hagekhalil, general manager of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California. “This agreement represents our commitment to working with our municipal partners on the river to come up with innovative, collaborative approaches to better manage our Colorado River supplies and promote a more sustainable future for our communities.”

    “With climate change and aridification affecting the entire Basin, improving the health of the Colorado River system requires a swift and collective effort of all water users — in all sectors — to reduce water use and implement actionable strategies, policies and programs to protect this vital resource and balance water supplies with demands,” said John Entsminger, Southern Nevada Water Authority general manager.

    “Climate change and overuse of the Colorado River have put us squarely within the crisis we long saw coming. The bottom line now: We all need to work on solutions, no matter our individual impacts on river flows,” said Jim Lochhead, CEO of Denver Water. “While we have long been a conservation leader, Denver Water has consistently said it is prepared to do even more, and the commitments contained in this agreement reflect our readiness to take further important steps to keep more water in the Colorado River Basin.”

    “Water issues in the arid west are accelerating,” stated Aurora Water General Manager Marshall Brown. “Aurora is embracing these conservation pathways through Colorado’s largest potable reuse system, an aggressive turf replacement rebate program and a new ordinance that prohibits nonfunctional turf in new developments. We’re doing what needs to be done to ensure a reliable water supply for our community in unpredictable times and we challenge other municipalities to do the same.”

    “Colorado Springs Utilities is committed to conservation programming that ensures a clean, reliable water supply for years to come. Building on our customers’ successful 41% reduction in per capita use since 2001, we continue to pursue and implement water efficiency and reuse initiatives that support our vibrant community and make wise use of this valuable resource,” said Colorado Springs Utilities CEO Aram Benyamin.

    “The Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District supports the efforts of the Upper Colorado River Commission (UCRC), the State of Colorado, and municipal and agricultural water providers in the basin, to collaborate in bringing the system into balance,” said Jim Broderick, executive director of the district.

    Grizzly Reservoir to be drained next summer for rehab work: Repairs planned for dam, tunnel, outlet works — @AspenJournalism

    Grizzly Reservoir will be drained next summer for a rehabilitation project on the dam, tunnel gates and outlet works. The reservoir serves as the collection bucket for water from the surrounding drainages before it’s diverted through the Twin Lakes Tunnel to the Front Range. CREDIT: HEATHER SACKETT/ASPEN JOURNALISM

    Click the link to read the article on the Aspen Journalism website (Heather Sackett):

    Grizzly Reservoir, the high-mountain lake above Aspen formed by damming Lincoln and Grizzly creeks, will be drained next summer for repairs to the dam, tunnel and outlet works.

    After spring runoff next year, Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Company will draw down the reservoir so workers can install a membrane over the steel face of the dam, which was constructed in 1932 and is corroded and thinning, according to a May report on the feasibility of the dam rehabilitation.

    The report, by RJH Consultants, Inc. of Englewood, included an inspection and evaluation of the infrastructure, and presented different options for rehabilitation. Half the cost of the study — $50,000 — was funded by the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

    The project will also replace the gates that control the flow of water into the Twin Lakes Tunnel and repair the outlet works that release water down Lincoln Creek. According to the report, the outlet works have issues with cracks, holes and seepage, and the more-than-80-year-old tunnel gates have problems with leakage, are difficult to operate and require significant maintenance every year.

    “The purpose of the rehabilitation of the dam is to address dam safety concerns associated with the corroded and thinning upstream-slope steel facing, uncontrolled seepage, and operational problems with the outlet works,” the report reads.

    Twin Lakes officials expect the project to be completed in October 2023. They will also draw down the reservoir this month to weld a small test portion of the dam membrane to see how it fairs through the harsh winter at 10,500 feet. That work is scheduled to begin Aug. 22 and the reservoir will be refilled in October.

    “That infrastructure is aging and it’s time to do some rehab work on it,” said Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Company Board President Kalsoum Abbasi.

    Grizzly Dam is considered a high hazard dam by the Division of Water Resources. That does not mean it’s likely to fail, but it means loss of life would be expected if the dam did fail. The last state inspection in 2021 found the dam satisfactory — the highest rating — and said full storage capacity was safe.

    The report estimated a nearly $7 million price tag for the rehabilitation work. Twin Lakes plans to get a CWCB loan for some of the cost and will pay the remainder with money raised from assessments on its water users.

    #ColoradoRiver crisis: Dispute, #drought have local implications — The #Pueblo Star Journal #COriver #aridification

    A view across Lake Pueblo in Lake Pueblo State Park. The view is towards the south from Juniper Road. By Jeffrey Beall – Own work, CC BY 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=61042557

    Click the link to read the article on the Pueblo Star Journal website (Joe Stone):

    Two decades of drought conditions in the Colorado River Basin have prompted dire warnings and alarming headlines about climate change and the Colorado River water crisis. Critically low water levels in lakes Mead and Powell now threaten the ability to generate electricity at Glen Canyon and Hoover dams and spurred Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Camille Touton to issue an ultimatum: On June 14, Touton announced that Colorado Basin states would have 60 days to come up with a plan to reduce water use by 2-4 million acre-feet per year. (An acre-foot of water is the amount needed to cover an acre of land with one foot of water.)

    If Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada and California can’t agree on a plan, the bureau will use its emergency authority to make the cuts, Touton said.

    Fryingpan-Arkansas Project via the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District (Click to enlarge)

    The Arkansas Basin receives about 130,000 acre-feet of water per year from the Colorado Basin – up to 23 percent of Arkansas River flows, according to Colorado Division of Water Resources data. The Bureau of Reclamation operates the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project, which imports an average of 57,000 acre-feet of water per year. Colorado Springs, Pueblo and Pueblo West combine to import the other 73,000 acre-feet. Fry-Ark Project water supports local agriculture, cities, towns and industry. Fry-Ark water and infrastructure also underpin the Voluntary Flow Management Program, which supports the multimillion-dollar recreation economies of Upper Ark communities as well as the Arkansas River’s Gold Medal fishery.

    Water imports to the Arkansas Basin already face risks. Worsening drought conditions could impede Fry-Ark water imports as the project is required to meet minimum streamflows on the West Slope. A call for water on the Colorado River could also curtail water imports.

    ‘Living within our means’

    The 1922 Colorado River Compact divided Colorado River water between Upper Basin states – Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico – and Lower Basin states – Arizona, Nevada and California. The compact requires the Upper Basin states, where most of the precipitation falls, to deliver a 10-year rolling average of 7.5 million acre-feet, or maf, of water to Lees Ferry, Arizona, just south of the Utah state line. Of that water, California is entitled to 4.4 maf, Arizona 2.8, and Nevada 0.3. The compact also established a benchmark of 16.5 million acre-feet (maf) of water per year for Colorado River flows. However, data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration show that average flows from 2000 to 2021 have dropped to 12.3 maf per year.

    To date, the Upper Basin states have consistently met the 7.5-maf compact requirement. At a recent meeting of the Interbasin Compact Committee, Colorado Water Conservation Board Director Rebecca Mitchell shared statistics showing that Upper Basin states have significantly reduced water usage while Lower Basin states have not.

    As the numbers reveal, Lower Basin states’ water usage – more than 2 maf per year beyond the 7.5 maf delivered by the Upper Basin – has trended higher, even as the 10-year rolling average dropped to 11.78 maf for 2012-21. Specifically, 2019 saw Colorado River flows of 17.75 maf, a rare yearly surplus of 3.8 maf. In 2020, flows dropped to 9.6 maf, 4.5 maf less than the water used that year. In 2021, flows dropped further, to 7.1 maf.

    Even with Upper Basin states reducing their water use by more than a million acre-feet, total water use in the basin exceeded flows by 6.4 maf in 2021.

    Colorado officials have indicated they have no plans to make additional cuts to meet the federal mandate. Amy Ostdiek, a section chief with the CWCB, told the Colorado Springs Gazette that sending water downstream from Blue Mesa, Flaming Gorge and Navajo reservoirs represents a significant sacrifice in water security for the Upper Basin states. At a recent Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District meeting, Ostdiek observed that, while the Upper Basin states have always lived with the need to limit water use to whatever is available, the Lower Basin states have “drawn down reservoirs instead of limiting usage. … We are living within our means in the Upper Basin, but that’s not happening in the Lower Basin.”


    Ostdiek acknowledged that Arizona and Nevada are taking cuts to their Colorado River water allocations “for the first time ever,” but what about California, the most prodigious user of Colorado River water? All seven basin states signed on to the 2019 Drought Contingency Plan, agreeing to reduce their use of Colorado River water, but the Imperial Irrigation District in Southern California’s Imperial Valley refused to compromise, according to an Aug. 27, 2021, story by ProPublica. With 3.1 million acre-feet of Colorado River water rights, the Imperial District accounts for 70% of California’s compact allotment and is by far the largest single water rights holder in the Colorado Basin.

    Imperial District Board President James Hanks expressed the district’s refusal to compromise when state officials gathered in Phoenix to sign the 2019 plan.

    “As champagne is being prepared for debauched self-congratulation in Phoenix, remember this: The IID is the elephant in the room on the Colorado River as we move forward. And like the elephant, our memory and rage is (sic) long,” Hanks said.

    As the Bureau of Reclamation’s mandate now makes clear, the 2019 plan proved insufficient to avert the current crisis and the Imperial District is indeed the elephant in the room, refusing to recognize the current reality on the Colorado River.

    Growing cotton in a desert

    The Imperial Valley lies within the Sonoran Desert and receives less than 3 inches of rain per year. It was uninhabited until 1901, when the Imperial Canal brought Colorado River water into the valley from Mexico. Because of the desert climate and poor groundwater quality, virtually all water demand in the Imperial Valley is satisfied with Colorado River water. The Imperial Irrigation District delivers that water, and 97% goes to agriculture.

    Food production is a critical use of water, but not all agricultural water uses produce food. Growing cotton is one example, and the Imperial District supplies Colorado River water to 463,721 acres of cotton fields, according to the District’s most recent crop report. Arizona also uses Colorado River water to grow cotton in the desert. U.S. Department of Agriculture data show that Arizona farmers grew 258,000 acres of cotton in 2021.

    Water consumption data from the University of Arizona shows that growing cotton in the desert requires 41.2 inches of water per year. In other words, cotton grown in the Imperial District and Arizona requires about 2.8 million acre-feet of water per year. But while one area of the federal government (Bureau of Reclamation) calls for reduced water use in the basin, another (Department of Agriculture) subsidizes those cotton fields, providing more than $4 billion between 1995 and 2015.

    Not a sudden crisis
    Mitchell and Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser recently penned an editorial pointing out that Colorado is one of the few U.S. states that administers water rights based on “the availability of water supply in a particular location at a particular time.” Colorado’s water management system was key to the Upper Basin reducing water usage by 25% in 2020, “a huge reduction in water use of almost one million acre-feet.” When added to the “661,000 acre-feet of water provided from Upper Basin reservoirs in 2022, the Upper Basin is providing roughly 43% of its annual water use to help protect Lake Powell.”

    In spite of the disparities between Upper and Lower Basin water use, officials in Lower Basin states – like Tom Buschatzke, director of Arizona Department of Water Resources, and Adel Hagekhalil, general manager of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California – responded to the bureau’s mandate by urging collaboration. As the numbers show, the Upper Basin states, especially Colorado, have done much more to conserve water than the Lower Basin states, which have consistently taken more than their share of water under the 1922 compact.

    Another example of Colorado’s leadership in responsible water use is groundwater management. Since 1969, Colorado has recognized the physical connection between surface waters and most groundwater aquifers. The Lower Basin states have not. For example, rivers deposit rocks and sand along their channels and floodplains. River water fills the spaces between the rocks and sand, forming alluvial aquifers. These aquifers are an integral part of streams and rivers; pumping water from them reduces surface-water flows.

    In general, Arizona law does not recognize the physical connection between groundwater and surface water. From a legal standpoint, Arizona allows groundwater pumping that reduces streamflows to the detriment of senior water rights. California is just beginning to legally recognize the connection between surface water and groundwater, but groundwater extraction continues to deplete aquifers and cause subsidence, a gradual sinking of land. Ground currently is sinking more than a foot per year in some parts of California, according to ongoing research and multiple news reports.

    Finally, anyone reading the alarming headlines would be tempted to believe that the Colorado River crisis is a sudden, unprecedented result of accelerating climate change, but a report published in the May 2007 issue of Geophysical Research Letters indicates otherwise. The authors used paleo-climate data to reconstruct Colorado River flows at Lees Ferry dating back to the year 762. They document multiple “multi-decadal (Upper Colorado River Basin) droughts” during the past 1,260 years, including one “in the mid-1100s” that persisted for “about six decades.”

    This means that 15 years ago scientists demonstrated that, even without the effects of climate change, the current 20-year drought was not uncommon and the situation can get much worse, a reality that the Lower Basin states ignored.

    “It should be obvious to anyone: Trying to fill a bathtub with the drain wide open is foolish,” wrote Terry Scanga, general manager of the Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District. “This is precisely what the operators of the Colorado River system (lakes Powell and Mead) have been attempting to do for the past 20 years. They have disregarded the increased withdrawals by the Lower Basin states and the ubiquitous arid nature of the Southwest.”

    This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

    Is the #ColoradoRiver a bellwether for the [#Colorado’s] other river systems? — The #GrandJunction Daily Sentinel #COriver #aridification

    Click the link to read the guest column on the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel website (Eric Kuhn and Jennifer Gimbel). Here’s an excerpt:

    Unfortunately, the situation on the Colorado River is not unique. Colorado’s mountains are the headwaters of four major river systems: the Colorado, the Platte, the Arkansas and the Rio Grande. Each river provides critical water supplies for the present and future needs of our state; each is being impacted by the effects of climate change; and under Interstate water compacts signed decades ago, Colorado must share each with its neighboring downstream states. Climate change, or what scientists are now referring to as aridification, has caused all of Colorado to be hotter and drier. The combined effects of climate change, interstate water compact obligations and intense competition for the available water among different communities and water use sectors within our state means that future Coloradans will have to learn to do more with less water. This will take bold action, compromise and a new era of innovation and cooperation among competing water interests within Colorado and among Colorado and its neighboring states.

    Rio Grande through the eastern edge of Alamosa July 5, 2022. Photo credit: Chris Lopez/Alamosa Citizen

    Already, the farmers in Colorado’s fertile Rio Grande Basin are struggling to maintain an aquifer by restricting pumping. They face an awful choice — reduce their collective uses of the aquifer to a sustainable level so that some farms can survive, or they all fail. At the same time, the surface water supply from the Rio Grande River, which must be shared with New Mexico and Texas, has diminished and most likely will continue to do so.

    The Republican River’s South Fork near Hale, Colorado, with the region’s seemingly endless fields. Credit: Wikimedia Commons/Jeffrey Beall

    The Republican River Basin, a small but agriculturally important river system that originates on the plains and flows east to its confluence with the Missouri River, is also stressed by overuse of the river supply. Productive farm fields are being fallowed so that Colorado can comply with the Republican River Compact. Fortunately for the Rio Grande and Republican river basins, the General Assembly set aside $60 million to buy out farms in order to leave water in the aquifers and river systems. That amount is a drop in the bucket for what will be needed to recover and sustain those systems.

    The Arkansas River and South Platte River systems also have significant challenges. These basins are home to 85% of Colorado’s population and to most of its commercial agriculture. The farm economy in the Arkansas has already suffered when the Colorado State Engineer had to cut back the use of alluvial wells, which were depleting flows to the Arkansas River and causing Colorado to be out of compliance with the Arkansas River Compact. The South Platte River system, which relies on return flows to sustain the river past the state line, is seeing much higher demands. The current return flow regime is threatened by Nebraska reinvigorating the proposed Perkin’s Ditch, a century-old feature provided for in the 1923 South Platte Compact. Both these basins are being hammered by the combined impacts of Front Range cities rushing to buy and dry existing farms to provide water for future growth while their water supplies imported from the Colorado River Basin have become less reliable due to climate change caused drought and compact obligations.

    Colorado’s future economy will depend on implementing innovative methods to sustain, deliver and treat water supplies while leaving enough water in our streams to maintain healthy and thriving aquatic ecosystems. Water delivery entities need to think broader to collaborate with others on ways to manage and share their supplies and their systems.

    Guest column #Water Talks: The crisis of the #ColoradoRiver system — The Ark Valley Voice

    Glen Canyon Dam creates water storage on the Colorado River in Lake Powell, which is just 27% full in June 2022. Bureau data on the reservoir’s water-storage volume showed a loss of 443,000 acre-feet. Credit: U.S. Bureau of Reclamation

    Click the link to read the column on the Ark Valley Voice website (Terry Scanga):

    It should be obvious to anyone; trying to fill a bathtub with the drain wide open is foolish. This is precisely what the operators of the Colorado River System (Lake Powell and Lake Mead) have been attempting to do for the past 20 years. They have disregarded the increased withdrawals to the Lower Basin states (California, Arizona, and Nevada) and the ubiquitous arid nature of the Southwest.

    The Colorado River system and the Colorado Compact Administration were set up with a series of reservoirs recognizing the aridity of the region and the unpredictable amount of annual precipitation. With reservoirs, when water is more abundant the excess can be stored for later use when the inevitably drier periods arrive. In recent years, instead of reserving excess flows in the reservoirs, this excess was released to the lower basin states with the resultant excess draw-down of the vital storage system.

    Most of the water supply for the Colorado River System is supplied by the Upper Basin States, Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, and New Mexico. As planned, these states have continuously supplied the required 75-million-acre feet in 10 years, or an average of 7.5 million per year.

    The amount of water that each of these states uses each year is completely dependent upon precipitation and in Colorado is allocated strictly by the prior appropriation system without the benefit of a storage system to draw upon for leaner years except for water saved under the prior appropriation system. As such Colorado’s prior appropriation system automatically operates as a forced reduction in water use—a built-in “conservation brake”.

    In contrast, the Lower Basin States, California, Arizona, and Nevada receive their Colorado River supply from reservoirs and have the luxury of taking any excess deliveries in wetter years or drawing previously saved water from storage in drier years.

    The prudent regime would be to reserve the excess amounts in storage for use during drier periods. Instead of this exercise of prudence, the Lower Basin states have continuously gambled those wetter periods would arrive and replenish the reservoirs.

    In the chart below, we clearly see how Colorado and the Upper Basin states have reduced their use during drought while the Lower Basin states have increased their use during the same period.

    The primary purpose of Lake Powell and Lake Mead is for hydro-power production and secondarily for drinking and irrigation. The falling levels of these reservoirs spell disaster for power production and now the Bureau of Reclamation is sounding the alarm.

    Unfortunately, unless drastic measures are taken that significantly reduce the annual draw by the Lower Basin States for the foreseeable future, all Colorado River reservoirs will be jeopardized. Blue Mesa and Flaming Gorge have already been lowered to rescue the Lower Basin reservoirs. The present crisis is more about having allowed the Lower Basin to over appropriate water from the system than the impact of the drier period of the past 20 years.

    In Colorado, the Arkansas Basin and the entire Eastern portion of Colorado depend on a significant portion of its water from Colorado River system imports. In the Arkansas, about 15 percent of all river flows are derived from this system.

    In drier periods these flows have always been reduced since they are regulated by the prior appropriation system. However, further reductions could come if the Lower Basin is not forced to comply with the Compact. It is possible that political forces could reduce the amount of water exported to the Eastern portion of Colorado — and that includes the Arkansas Basin.

    By: Ralph “Terry” Scanga, General Manager. Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District

    Graphic via Holly McClelland/High Country News.

    Multi-Purpose Storage Account Created in John Martin Reservoir — Colorado Division of Water Resources @DWR_CO

    This view is from the top of John Martin Dam facing west over the body of the reservoir. The content of the reservoir in this picture was approximately 45,000 acre-feet (March 2014). By Jaywm – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=37682336

    Here’s the release from the Colorado Division of Water Resources:

    The Arkansas River Compact Administration (ARCA) passed a resolution on July 1, 2022 establishing a 20,000-acre feet multi-purpose storage account in John Martin Reservoir. This new account is intended to benefit water users in Colorado and Kansas and promote commonly held interests not directly related to the Kansas-Colorado Arkansas River Compact such as water quality improvements.

    This is a pilot project to determine how a multi-purpose storage account could operate, document benefits, and determine if there are any adverse impacts from such an account. The account will be operated in accordance with an operating plan agreed to by the states and will terminate on March 31, 2028, unless extended by ARCA. This account is in addition to other accounts that are present in John Martin Reservoir.

    The need for a multi-purpose storage account was recognized by municipalities, well augmentation and surface irrigation improvement replacement groups, water conservancy districts, and other water users within the Arkansas River Basin in Colorado. The concept of a multi-purpose account was brought to ARCA in 2013. The Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District with funding support from the Colorado Water Conservation Board helped further develop this account for the states to consider. Kansas and Colorado worked through issues and negotiated for much of the past decade to agree upon establishing this account in John Martin Reservoir as a pilot project through March 2028.

    ARCA administers provisions of the Compact, including operations of the John Martin Reservoir. Colorado has three representatives who serve on ARCA: Rebecca Mitchell, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board; Lane Malone, Holly, Colorado; and Scott Brazil, Vineland, Colorado. Kansas has three representatives who serve on ARCA: Earl Lewis, chief engineer of the Kansas Department of Agriculture’s Division of Water Resources; Randy Hayzlett, Lakin, Kansas; and Troy Dumler, Garden City, Kansas. Jim Rizzuto, Swink, Colorado, serves as the federal chair.

    Find more information about ARCA at http://www.co-ks-arkansasrivercompactadmin.org.

    It’s been a decade since the #WaldoCanyonFire started near #ColoradoSprings. CSU’s Tony Cheng reflects on how it fits into #Colorado wildfire history — Colorado Public Radio #ActOnClimate

    A helicopter drops water on the fire as firefighters continued to battle the blaze that burned into the evening hours in Waldo Canyon on the U.S. Air Force Academy June 27, 2012. The fires, which have burned more than 15,000 acres, began spreading to the southwestern corner of the Academy in the early morning, causing base officials to evacuate residents. (U.S. Air Force Photo by: Master Sgt. Jeremy Lock) (Released)

    Click the link to read the article on the Colorado Public Radio webisite (Shanna Lewis). Here’s an excerpt:

    The Waldo Canyon fire started in the mountains west of Colorado Springs ten years ago on June 23. Smoke was actually first reported on June 22, 2012 but it wasn’t located until the next day. Just days later it roared into the city, killing two people and destroying hundreds of homes in the Mountain Shadows neighborhood. It also burned the Flying W Ranch.

    Tony Cheng leads the Colorado Forest Restoration Institute and the Southern Rockies Fire Science Exchange Network at Colorado State University-Fort Collins. He visited the area with KRCC’s Shanna Lewis and reflected on the significance of the Waldo Canyon fire for Colorado.

    Here’s an excerpt from their conversation, which has been edited for clarity.

    Shanna Lewis: How does the Waldo Canyon fire fit into the historical context of wildfires in Colorado?

    Tony Cheng: Wildfires in Colorado have always been around. So it shouldn’t be surprising that we had an event like Waldo. What was unique about Waldo was how it got into the suburban communities of Colorado Springs and transformed from a wildland fire into an urban conflagration. We really had never seen that in Colorado, nothing that really was of the magnitude of destruction.

    Now, we’ve seen similar kinds of transitions from wildland fire into urban fire in places like California, but when it happened here, I think it was a real wake up call, especially at that time.

    The other thing (is) that Waldo Canyon came on the heels of other fires, such as the Hayman fire in 2002, that burned almost 138,000 acres. There was definitely some loss of homes and structures, but not of the magnitude of Waldo. Subsequent to that, we’ve seen more and more of these fires that transitioned from a wildland fire into an urban conflagration.

    Waldo Canyon Fire

    60 days and counting: #ColoradoRiver cutbacks achievable, experts say, as long as farm interests are on board — @WaterEdCO #COriver #aridification #GetchesWilkinson2022

    Glen Canyon Dam creates water storage on the Colorado River in Lake Powell, which is just 27% full. Credit: U.S. Bureau of Reclamation

    Click the link to read the article on the Water Education Colorado website (Jerd Smith):

    Colorado River Basin states will succeed in complying with an emergency federal order that came just last week to slash water use by millions of acre-feet, experts said, but it will take time plus major deals with farm interests and tribal communities, and will likely require that the basin, whose flows and operational structure were divided by the 1922 Colorado River Compact, be united and managed as one entity.

    “The world has shifted under our feet this week,” said Doug Kenney, former director of the Western Water Policy Program at the University of Colorado Boulder. “We are all being asked to innovate at a pace and scale that I don’t think we were thinking of. Sometimes a big threat from the federal government is what you need.”

    The states have 60 days to come up with a water reduction plan.

    Kenney’s comments came June 17 at the Getches-Wilkinson Law Conference on Natural Resources at the University of Colorado Boulder.

    Kenney was referring to a June 14 emergency request from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Camille Touton, telling the seven states that comprise the Colorado River Basin that they will need to find 2 million to 4 million acre-feet of water use reductions in the next 18 months to stave off a potential collapse in the Colorado River system.

    Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming, in comparison, use roughly 3.5 million acre-feet (maf) annually.

    Lake Powell, which can store roughly 26 maf of water when full, and its sister reservoir, Lake Mead, with 29.4 maf of storage, are two of the largest reservoirs in the United States.

    A 20-year megadrought, considered to be the worst in 1,200 years, including two back-to-back intense drought periods during 2020 and 2021, has left each of the reservoirs well below their former levels, with Lake Mead just 24% full, and Lake Powell down to about 27% of capacity.

    Touton’s order came just six weeks after the federal government and the states approved two other major agreements, one to hold 500,000 acre-feet of water in Lake Powell that would normally have been released to Lake Mead for Arizona, California and Nevada, and another releasing 500,000 acre-feet from Flaming Gorge Reservoir on the Utah-Wyoming state line to further boost levels in Lake Powell.

    Under the terms of the 1922 Colorado River Compact, the Upper Basin is made up of Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming, while the Lower Basin comprises Arizona, California and Nevada and Mexico.

    Map credit: AGU

    Each basin was given the rights to 7.5 million acre-feet of water, with an additional 1.5 million acre-feet of water for Mexico. But the river has generated much less than that for decades, and since the megadrought began in the early 2000s, the river’s flows have declined and stored water supplies in Powell and Mead have shrunk as well.

    How the new reduction orders will affect supplies in Colorado and other Upper Basin states, who have never used their full entitlements to the river’s flows, isn’t clear yet.

    To find ways to cut 2 million to 4 million acre-feet of water will require intense negotiations, and maybe even legal action, according to Bill Hasencamp, who manages Colorado River supplies for the Los Angeles-based Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, which serves 19 million people in Los Angeles, San Diego and elsewhere.

    Under the terms of the 1922 compact and subsequent agreements, California was entitled to use 4.4 million acre-feet of Colorado River Water, but because supplies were abundant and the river generated millions of acre-feet of extra water every year, California routinely used more than its share. That changed in 2003, when the federal government ordered it to cut back.

    With last week’s announcement, Hasencamp said, “It feels like I am going through 2003 again. The lessons are still applicable today. Having a federal threat is a pretty good motivator.”

    Despite the enormity of the challenge, Hasencamp said he was optimistic that the states would reach a deal, just as they did 20 years ago.

    “It’s going to be painful,” Hasencamp said. “Some people will lose their jobs. These are such tough decisions that there could be fallout…but we have some pretty smart people in the basin. Let them be creative.”

    Twenty years ago, California was able to reduce its use by arranging intermittent land fallowing deals with major agricultural irrigators, such as the Imperial Irrigation District. It also made deals with Arizona and Utah to stabilize its water supplies.

    Now, Hasencamp said, California is down to using just 4.2 million acre-feet of Colorado River water annually, below its formal allocation.

    From the 2018 Tribal Water Study, this graphic shows the location of the 29 federally-recognized tribes in the Colorado River Basin. Map credit: USBR

    Some 30 tribes in the seven-state basin control millions of acre-feet of water, or an estimated 22% to 26% of the basin’s annual water supplies, some of which has never been diverted or stored due to a lack funding, pipelines and reservoirs.

    Tribal concerns will have to be addressed to reach a deal, said Lorelei Cloud, a council member with the Southern Ute Tribe in southwestern Colorado.

    Even now, she said, “Tribes are not compensated for their water that is in Lake Powell and Lake Mead. Everybody is depending on tribes not to use their water. But the federal government needs to fulfill its trust responsibilities to the tribes.”

    James Eklund, a water attorney and former director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, said that the federal government and the states will have to relax or eliminate the divisions between the upper and lower basins, because they sharply limit flexibility in managing the drought-strapped river system.

    “We are in a crisis and we have an opportunity to reexamine [the 1922 compact]. Even five years ago, I would have said that is too much. That’s going too far.

    “But a whole-basin approach is much more appropriate than continuing this fiction of an artificially bifurcated basin,” Eklund said.

    Colorado officials have said repeatedly that they have always had to live with cutbacks as a result of lower flows that naturally occur in the system when you’re up high in the headwaters and don’t have substantial water storage to fall back on.

    They also point to the two emergency releases from Flaming Gorge in 2021 and 2022, and releases from Colorado’s federally owned Blue Mesa Reservoir, as evidence of their having already given plenty of water to help stabilize the system.

    And though Lower Basin states have already begun implementing cutbacks involving hundreds of thousands of acre-feet of water, this new ask is much larger and must be answered quickly, experts said.

    Because farm interests control roughly 80% of the river’s water supplies, farmers are going to be asked to fallow land and to put a price on how much that will cost other water users and federal government.

    Peter Nichols is a Colorado water attorney who helped craft a large-scale farm fallowing program in the Lower Arkansas Valley that was modeled after work that California’s Metropolitan District did in the early 2000s. Rather than buying farm land and drying it up, what’s known as the Super Ditch project allows farmers to lease their water when it is convenient and in times of drought.

    The Super Ditch took years in water court and three trips to the Colorado legislature to finally implement, but it serves as an example of what can be done through the seven-state basin to achieve the federally mandated cutbacks, Nichols said.

    “Irrigators are going to be willing to do this,” Nichols said. “But they’re going to be interested in three things: price, price and price.”

    “They are also interested in flexibility,” Nichols said. “They don’t want to be tied in forever. If the price of onions goes through the roof, they will want out. They will want to be able to grow onions.”

    Still the framework is out there and is workable, he said.

    “[California’s] Metropolitan proved you can do this. But you can’t do it quickly. Reclamation has drawn a couple of lines in the sand and it has changed what we have to do and the amount of time we have to do it in,” he said.

    Jerd Smith is editor of Fresh Water News. She can be reached at 720-398-6474, via email at jerd@wateredco.org or @jerd_smith.

    Poll shows deep opposition to Renewable #Water Resources water export plan: #ClimateChange surfaces as top concern among #SanLuisValley residents — @AlamosaCitizen

    Click the link to read the article on the Alamosa Citizen website (Mark Obmascik):

    THE IRS. Head lice. Bill Cosby. Nickleback. Congress.

    Every member of this unlikely group has one thing in common: Each is more popular than the Renewable Water Resources plan to pump water from the San Luis Valley to the Front Range of Colorado.

    According to the Alamosa Citizen survey of voter attitudes in the San Luis Valley, the RWR plan is supported by less than 1 percent of local voters. It is opposed by 91 percent. Eight percent said they had no opinion of the water export project proposed by former Gov. Bill Owens and several other leaders of his administration.

    SEE THE RESULTS:
    Quality of life
    Water & climate
    Education & childcare
    Employment & financial security
    Internet use

    Widespread opposition to RWR was one of the major findings on natural resource issues to come from the random survey, which was directed by the Alamosa Citizen and financed, in part, by the Rio Grande Water Conservation District.

    The survey also yielded many other strong local opinions on the health of the Rio Grande (pessimistic), climate change (it’s hurting the river), and the impact of drought on local farms and businesses (not good.) More on those issues below.

    Still, it’s hard to find anything in modern American life liked less than RWR’s approval rating of 0.7 percent. Among the things with better approval ratings among voters than the RWR project: head lice, colonoscopies, used car salesmen, and dental root canal procedures, according to one national poll.

    Anchovies on pizza, as well as turnips and brussel sprouts for dinner, get higher ratings than RWR. Disgraced comedian Bill Cosby is 20 times more popular in the U.S. than RWR is in the San Luis Valley. The Internal Revenue Service, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and Congress all get higher marks, according to another poll.

    RWR backers said their own polling showed better numbers, but they declined to release the poll.

    “From day one to today, our team has never wavered in visiting the San Luis Valley, meeting with individuals and educating them about what we aim to do,” said Renewable Water Resources spokeswoman Monica McCafferty in a statement. “We are naturally suspect of this survey (Alamosa Citizen) that is likely agenda-driven. We stand by our proposal, which took years to craft and presents numerous advantages for the San Luis Valley.”

    The Alamosa Citizen conducted a 48-question survey which included questions on water and environmental issues. The survey was mailed to a random sampling of registered voters in each of the six counties of the San Luis Valley and was conducted by Nebraska-based rural survey specialist Craig Schroeder, who has surveyed attitudes of more than 60,000 people in 47 states over the past 20 years.

    RWR proposes to pump out 22,000 acre-feet of water per year from a deep aquifer in the San Luis Valley while buying and retiring 31,000 acre feet of water currently used in the Valley for irrigated agriculture. As a result, RWR says a “surplus of 9,000 acre-feet will go back into the San Luis Valley’s shallow section of the aquifer.”

    Local water officials have disputed RWR’s ability to export supplies from the Valley without harming existing farmers, wildlife, and the Great Sand Dunes National Park. The region faces increasing water restrictions after two decades of drought.

    RWR had been wooing suburban Douglas County as a destination for the water, but the Alamosa Citizen reported last month that county commissioners there backed away from the proposal after their attorney highlighted several legal and engineering hurdles.

    The company told Douglas County it is pursuing a “legislative strategy” for some of those issues.

    “People here have been hearing about these water export proposals for 60 years now, and we’re just tired of it,” said state Sen. Cleave Simpson, who also serves as general manager of the Rio Grande Water Conservation District. “When it happened in other places, the outcome of selling your water rights for export has not turned out well for the community.”

    HE Alamosa Citizen survey showed citizen awareness of the water project is extremely high. Nearly 94 percent of respondents said they had heard of a project to export water from the San Luis Valley to the Front Range of Colorado.

    About two-thirds of respondents said they had heard specifically of Renewable Water Resources.

    Of the residents who were familiar with RWR, 63 percent said they disapproved of the company. Eight percent approved. The remainder said they had no opinion about the company.

    “Leave our water here,” one survey respondent wrote. “If Denver can’t handle their needs, then they need to control growth.”

    “Exporting SLV water will devastate the valley – farming, wildlife, and habitat,” wrote another.

    “Water export to Douglas County would be an economic death sentence for the San Luis Valley and the communities it sustains,” said another respondent.

    The Alamosa Citizen survey showed the RWR plan comes at a tough time for water users in the San Luis Valley.

    When asked whether the Rio Grande aquifer had enough water to share with growing areas of Colorado that need more water, Valley residents responded with a resounding no – 89 percent disagreed.

    Eight of every 10 survey respondents agreed that the Rio Grande is “diminishing from severe drought.” By a 48 to 35 percent margin, Valley residents disagreed with this statement: “The Rio Grande is a healthy river.”

    Two-thirds of Valley residents agreed that climate change is negatively affecting the Rio Grande. Only 14 percent agreed that the Rio Grande can “withstand climate change.”

    In some ways, this means the San Luis Valley is more concerned about climate change than other regions, especially rural areas where voters have been more skeptical about the issue. The most recent national poll by Gallup on environmental issues found that 59 percent of Americans believe that the effects of climate change have already begun to happen.

    The Valley’s belief in climate change is unusual especially when politics are considered. Nationally, only 11 percent of Republicans say they believe climate change will pose a serious threat in their own lifetimes. But in the San Luis Valley, most survey respondents say the threat is already here.

    Only one in 10 local respondents agree that the Valley has enough water to meet local needs for the next 30 years. Nearly 85 percent of respondents say the Valley will face cutbacks in irrigation water in the next five years.

    “Farmers are out of time to self-regulate,” wrote one respondent. “The state should start imposing harsh restrictions now instead of kicking the can down the road.”

    “The San Luis Valley has become a desert because of climate change and the farmers / ranchers who have drained the aquifer by installing sprinkler systems,” wrote another respondent.

    “Farmers don’t need bossy legislators telling them how to use their water,” wrote another. “Most farmers are already on the brink of fiscal disaster. They need help, not more laws curtailing their use of water.”

    Almost every resident said there was a chance they would be personally impacted by drought.

    About seven of 10 Valley residents agreed with this statement: “We need to act now to reduce water use to continue to grow the San Luis Valley’s economy in the future.”

    Only 8 percent disagreed with this statement: “Rising temperatures will impact the San Luis Valley’s future water needs.”

    “Climate change is bigger than we are,” wrote one respondent.

    #FIBArk Whitewater Festival June 16-19, 2022 #ArkansasRiver

    Click the link for all the inside skinny from the FIBArk website.

    #ArkansasRiver Report for May 30, 2022 — The Arkansas River Collaborative

    Click the link to read the report on the Arkansas River Collaborative website:

    Wetter weather patterns have tempered drought conditions in the upper Arkansas Basin and boosted snowpack, but the latest U.S. Drought Monitor report shows Extreme to Exceptional drought (D3-D4) across Baca, Bent and Prowers counties with Extreme drought extending into four adjoining lower-basin counties.

    Colorado Drought Monitor map May 31, 2022.

    Snowpack

    As the National Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) map shows, Arkansas Basin snowpack was at 101% of median as of May 29. The Fremont Pass SNOTEL site is reporting 90% of median.

    Reservoir Storage

    May 29 reservoir data from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation showed 205,838​ acre-feet of water stored in Pueblo Reservoir and 63.7% full. Twin Lakes Reservoir is 76.8% full at 108,219 acre-feet. Turquoise Lake is currently 58.1% full with 75,227 acre-feet in storage. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers data show 30,014 acre-feet of water currently stored in John Martin Reservoir. In spite of low water levels, the Colorado Parks and Wildlife website shows the east boat ramp at John Martin State Park is still open.

    River Flows

    Arkansas River flows are 202 cfs near Leadville, 690 cfs at Granite, 1,380 cfs at Wellsville and 1,570 cfs at Cañon City. Below Pueblo Dam and near Avondale, flows are 1,090 cfs and 1,390 cfs, respectively. The Rocky Ford gauge is reporting 495 cfs. Below John Martin Reservoir flows are 610 cfs, and at Lamar, 58.8 cfs.

    Voluntary Flow Management Program

    Flow management targets to support recreational boating are slated to begin July 1 after spring runoff.

    River Calls

    Currently, the Arkansas Basin has 14 calling water rights, including four on the mainstem – the Fort Lyon Canal (1887 priority), the Hyde Ditch (1887), the X-Y Irrigating Ditch (1889) and the Arkansas River Compact for flows at the Colorado-Kansas state line. The most senior calling right is the Model Ditch with an 1865 priority date on the Purgatoire River. The 1866 Gonzales Ditch right continues to call for Apishapa River water. Other tributary calls include the RB Willis Ditch on Wahatoya Creek, a Cucharas River tributary, the Reservoir and the Pedro Gomez ditches on the Huerfano River and the Tremayne Ditch No.1 on Fourmile Creek. The most junior calling water right on Ark River tributaries is the Waggoner Ditch on Stout Creek with an 1880 priority date.

    Attorney: Renewable Water Resources plan has too many holes for Douglas County ARPA investment — The #Alamosa Citizen #RioGrande

    Potential Water Delivery Routes. Since this water will be exported from the San Luis Valley, the water will be fully reusable. In addition to being a renewable water supply, this is an important component of the RWR water supply and delivery plan. Reuse allows first-use water to be used to extinction, which means that this water, after first use, can be reused multiple times. Graphic credit: Renewable Water Resources

    Click the link to read the article on the Alamosa Citizen website (Chris Lopez):

    THE Renewable Water Resources proposal runs counter to the Colorado Water Plan, would likely trigger a federal review under the Wirth Amendment for the harm it could do to the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Baca National Wildlife Refuge, and doesn’t have a developed augmentation plan to meet the required one-for-one replacement within the same Response Area to get the plan through state water court.

    Those are some of the findings Attorney Steve Leonhardt laid out in confidential memorandums released Tuesday by Douglas County. The problems Leonhardt sees with the proposal convinced Commissioner Abe Laydon to not support RWR’s request for investment by using federal American Rescue Plan Act money.

    However, Laydon and Commissioner George Teal remained open to Renewable Water Resources coming back to them if they can solve the concerns spelled out by Leonhardt, who Douglas County hired on contract to review the RWR plan. Commissioner Lora Thomas, who’s been opposed to RWR, said she did not want Douglas County to spend any more of its time and tax dollars on the RWR plan.

    “This is good news for the San Luis Valley and it speaks to the hundreds and perhaps thousands of people who spoke out against this unviable proposal,” state Sen. Cleave Simpson, general manager of the Rio Grande Water Conservation District, said in a released statement.

    The problems detailed by Leonhardt are many, particularly as the water exportation proposal relates to the required augmentation plan and the need for Renewable Water Resources to solve that problem by changing existing state rules that govern groundwater pumping in the Valley.

    RWR told Douglas County it’s developing a “legislative strategy” to address the requirement.

    “In the San Luis Valley, an augmentation plan for wells must not only prevent injury to water rights on the stream system, but must also maintain the sustainability of both the Confined Aquifer and the Unconfined Aquifer,” Leonhardt said in a bulleted memorandum.

    “This requires, at a minimum, providing one-for-one replacement for all water pumped, either by retiring historical well pumping or by recharging the aquifer.”

    The attorney said not only does the RWR proposal lack a developed augmentation plan but that it cannot meet the state rule that requires “one-for-one replacement within the same ResponseArea.”

    “RWR cannot meet this requirement, even if it were to acquire and retire all wells within its Response Area. Therefore, RWR’s plan cannot succeed without an amendment to this rule. RWR is developing a legislative strategy to address this issue.”

    Leonhardt’s memo concluded that “the two reasonable options would be to (1) reject the proposal; or (2) continue discussions with RWR (and perhaps other interested parties in Douglas County and/or the San Luis Valley) to see if agreement can be reached on an acceptable proposal.”

    Laydon and Teal chose option 2. Thomas wanted Douglas County to walk away altogether.

    “Douglas County welcomes ongoing discussions with RWR, should they be able to provide new information or otherwise overcome these hurdles,” said a statement released by Douglas County.

    Simpson, during a recent taping of The Valley Pod, told Alamosa Citizen that changing the rules and regulations governing groundwater pumping in the Valley would be a difficult challenge.

    “To change the rules and regs, they’d have to go to court as well,” Simpson said. “They would be seeking authorization to change the rules that we all live by. Those are confined aquifer new-use rules and rules and regulations for groundwater withdrawals that everybody else here lives with.

    “I’ve highlighted this from the very beginning, that’s a pretty tough hill for them to climb. The money behind this though, I suspect if Douglas County wants to participate in this we’ll see them in court.”

    Douglas County will not use COVID funds on San Luis Valley #water project: County may consider proposal in future, but Laydon’s vote puts on brakes for now — The #CastleRock News-Press #RioGrande

    Potential Water Delivery Routes. Since this water will be exported from the San Luis Valley, the water will be fully reusable. In addition to being a renewable water supply, this is an important component of the RWR water supply and delivery plan. Reuse allows first-use water to be used to extinction, which means that this water, after first use, can be reused multiple times. Graphic credit: Renewable Water Resources

    Click the link to read the article on the Castle Rock News Press website (Elliot Wenzler). Here’s an excerpt:

    The Douglas County commissioners have decided not to use American Rescue Plan Act dollars on a controversial water supply project but may consider it again in the future. Commissioner Abe Laydon, the decisive vote on the issue, announced his vote during a May 24 work session…

    Laydon said his decision was because the county’s outside legal counsel concluded that the project was not eligible for ARPA funds and recommended the county not participate…

    One issue outlined in the memo is that Renewable Water Resources has not formed an augmentation plan — as would be required by law — showing how they will avoid injury to other water rights through their project. Commissioner Lora Thomas has been against the proposal since it was brought before the county and said she is not in support of continuing any conversations with RWR or paying for outside legal counsel to continue assessing it.

    Roy Vaughan, who retired as the Reclamation manager of the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project in 2021, was awarded the Bob Appel Friend of the Arkansas Award Thursday at the 26th annual #ArkansasRiver Basin #Water Forum

    Roy Vaughan relaxes with his family at the Salida Steam Plant shortly after receiving the Bob Appel Friend of the Arkansas Award at the 26th annual Arkansas River Basin Water Forum Thursday, April 28, 2022. Photo credit: Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District

    Here’s the release from the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District (Chris Woodka):

    Roy Vaughan, who retired as the Bureau of Reclamation manager of the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project in 2021, was awarded the Bob Appel Friend of the Arkansas Award Thursday at the 26th annual Arkansas River Basin Water Forum.

    “I had no idea I would be getting the award,” Vaughan said. “I really need to thank all of the people I worked with for this great honor.”

    Vaughan was surprised by his wife, Stasi, and grown sons Chaz and Colton at the event as they walked onto the stage at the Salida Steam Plant, noting that the day was the 38th anniversary of their wedding.

    Pueblo Dam

    Vaughan began working for Reclamation in 1992 as dam superintendent at Pueblo Dam, which led him to an interest in all of the water operations of the Arkansas Valley, and water operations such as the Fry-Ark Project that import water from the western slope. He became manager of the Fry-Ark Project in 2008.

    Last year’s recipient, Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District Manager Terry Scanga, presented the Appel award and read excerpts from 14 people who worked with him during his career in all parts of the Arkansas River basin. He helped bring people together over such controversial issues as the Preferred Storage Options Plan, Southern Delivery System and Voluntary Flow Management Program. He was always eager to patiently explain water operations with a quick wit and great sense of humor.

    “He felt the weight of occasionally failing to satisfy everyone’s wishes far more than he enjoyed the buoyancy of the many times he did indeed satisfy them,” wrote Chaffee County Commissioner Greg Felt. “Perhaps this is the price of being a conscientious public servant. Certainly, it is evidence of a deep regard for all of the envisioned benefits of the Fry-Ark Project.

    The Appel Award is named for Bob Appel, who promoted the Arkansas River as coordinator of the Southeast Colorado Resource Conservation and Development Council until his death in 2003.

    For more information, contact Jean van Pelt, Forum Coordinator, at arbwf1994@gmail.com.

    Salida Steam Plant Arkansas River

    Southeastern #Colorado Water Conservancy District Board Appointments announced

    Click the image for a larger view.

    Here’s the release from the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District Board (Chris Woodka):

    One newcomer is joining five returning members on the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District Board of Directors. The appointments were made by a panel of District Judges in early April, and all six members were sworn into office Thursday, April 21, 2022.

    Joining the Board is Matt Heimerich, 64, of Olney Springs, representing Crowley County. He will fill the four-year term of Carl McClure, who served for 17 years before retiring in 2022. The term will expire in 2025.

    Heimerich is following in the footsteps of his father-in-law, Orville Tomky, who served on the Southeastern Board from 1988-2005.

    Heimerich praised both McClure and Tomky at his first Board meeting for their contributions to Crowley County in dealing with the aftermath of water transfers of water from Crowley County that threatened to devastate the small rural county.

    “Trying to bring a transmountain water diversion to the Arkansas Valley started in the 1920s and 1930s, and the need is as strong or stronger today,” Heimerich said. “What else can the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project deliver to meet the challenges faced by the people who live here? On the municipal side of the Project, what a difference it will make when the Arkansas Valley Conduit is completed.”

    A New York native, Heimerich married Tomky’s daughter Karen in 1985, and began working in the family’s farming operation in 1987. The family continued farming after water from many of their neighbors’ farms had been sold to municipalities. He is a member of the Colorado Canal and Lake Meredith boards. He plans to make agricultural a priority while on the Southeastern Board.

    Heimerich served from 1999-2011 as a Crowley County Commissioner, was on the Arkansas River Compact Administration board from 2007-2013, worked for the Palmer Land Trust in the Arkansas Valley office from 2014-2021, and is a member of the Water Education Colorado advisory board.

    Reappointed, and serving four-year terms that expire in 2026 are:

  • Bill Long, President, a businessman from Las Animas, representing Bent County, first appointed in 2002.
  • Curtis Mitchell, Vice President, retired Fountain Utilities Director, representing El Paso County, first appointed in 2014.
  • Ann Nichols, Treasurer, retired General Manager of Finance for Colorado Springs Utilities, representing El Paso County, first appointed in 2006.
  • Alan Hamel, retired Executive Director of Pueblo Water, representing Pueblo County, first appointed in 1988.
  • Tom Goodwin, retired from the Forest Service and USDA, representing Fremont County, first appointed in 2011.
  • The Southeastern District was formed in 1958 to administer the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project, which was approved by Congress in 1962. The District includes parts of nine counties in the Arkansas River basin and brings water into the basin from the Fryingpan River basin on the western slope. There are a total of 15 Directors on the Board.

    ‘Morally wrong’ for Douglas County to be coveting water from the San Luis Valley — @AlamosaCitizen #RioGrande

    Douglas County Commissioner Abe Laydon, right, with attorney Steve Leonhardt, who Douglas County has hired to help it work through RWR’s water exportation proposal. Photo credit: Alamosa Citizen

    Click the link to read the article on the Alamosa Citizen website (Chris Lopez):

    RIO Grande County Commissioner John Noffsker made Douglas County Commissioner Abe Laydon a counter-offer to the Renewable Water Resources exportation proposal: Douglas County gives the San Luis Valley its annual sales tax collections from Park Meadows Mall in exchange for some water.

    Noffsker’s point? That the Valley has no more right to sales tax dollars collected by Douglas County than Douglas County has to water in the San Luis Valley aquifers.

    Pleasantries were exchanged Saturday [April 23, 2022] between Laydon and a few mostly elected officials during a two-hour exchange at Nino’s Restaurant in Monte Vista. The conversation didn’t reveal anything new or anything Laydon and Douglas County haven’t heard over the past four months as Douglas County weighs whether to invest in the Renewable Water Resources water exportation plan.

    “You’re the tip of the spear on this one,” Noffsker said in making Laydon aware that people watching Douglas County’s deliberations know Laydon holds the deciding vote on the three-member commission, with Commissioner Lora Thomas dead set against RWR and Commissioner George Teal in support.

    “Once you start putting a straw in this body of water, there’s no end game,” Noffsker said.

    “You’re basically saying to us, much as what happened to the Native Americans, that you have something we want and we can do more with it than you can, and that is wrong,” said Noffsker. “It’s morally wrong. When we have to sit here and defend how we use our water, we shouldn’t have to do that. This water belongs to the Valley. It should not be taken out of here to benefit somebody else.”

    The meeting at Nino’s with Noffsker and other local elected officials was Laydon’s second of the day. Earlier Laydon and Special Counsel Steve Leonhardt met privately with farmers who Laydon said expressed a variety of concerns, from lack of knowing what’s going on in the subdistrict formations of the Rio Grande Water Conservation District to concerns about their small operations and whether small farms would survive the period of persistent drought and climate change.

    With the local elected officials, which included Monte Vista Mayor Dale Becker and Alamosa Mayor Ty Coleman and Commissioner Lori Laske, Laydon raised the idea of a community fund that Renewable Water Resources has touted as part of its proposal. The Douglas County commissioner was told the community fund was a slap in the face to residents of the San Luis Valley.

    “It’s not about money, it’s about keeping the (water) resource here,” said Alamosa City Councilman Mike Carson. Carson works at the Rio Grande Water Conservation District and is coordinating the Protect San Luis Valley campaign fighting the RWR exportation proposal.

    Karla Shriver, president of the Rio Grande Water Conservation Subdistrict 2 board, said additional financial relief for Valley farmers is on the way through legislation currently moving through the state legislature. A bill sponsored by state Sen. Cleave Simpson would create a new compact compliance fund and would have around $30 million of American Rescue Plan Act money awarded to Colorado in it to help farmers in the San Luis Valley meet groundwater compliance targets set by the state. Read more about the legislation HERE.

    Renewable Water Resources has voiced opposition to the legislation. It sees the bill as a government bailout for San Luis Valley farmers at a time when RWR is asking for money from Douglas County and dangling those tax dollars in front of Valley farmers to buy them out.

    San Luis garden. Photo credit: The Alamosa Citizen

    Noffsker said the RWR proposal is only about making a return on investment, while the Valley fights for its economic livelihood.

    “I don’t mean any urban/rural fights,” said Noffsker. “But what’s happening is an urban area that apparently wants to grow more, wants to take from us to do it. If we do something like this, we are being dictated to by the Front Range on what our lives are going to be. That is not correct.”

    Laydon, as he’s said in other meetings, told the group that Douglas County only wants to partner with communities that welcome Douglas County and that want to partner with it. He didn’t find that broad support on his weekend trip to the San Luis Valley, and he hasn’t heard any outpouring of support in the months he and his colleagues have been studying the Renewable Water Resources exportation plan.

    Unless, of course, Douglas County wants to give up its retail sales tax revenues. Sacrificing a golf course or two might help as well.

    Denver Basin Aquifer System graphic credit U