@EPA Releases Updated #PFBS Toxicity Assessment After Rigorous Scientific Review #PFAS

Here’s the release from the Environmental Protection Agency:

[On April 8, 2021] the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) [release] an updated toxicity assessment for perfluorobutane sulfonic acid (PFBS), a member of a larger group of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). Today’s PFBS assessment is part of EPA’s commitment to restore scientific integrity to all of the agency’s actions and increase the amount of research and information available to the public on PFAS chemicals.

“This PFBS assessment reflects the best available science, involved extensive federal, state, and public engagement, and is critical to EPA efforts to help communities impacted by PFAS,” said senior career scientist Dr. Jennifer Orme-Zavaleta, Acting Assistant Administrator for the Office of Research and Development and the agency’s Science Advisor. “The assessment posted today fixes the errors in the version issued earlier this year, was developed by EPA career scientists, and upholds the values of scientific integrity. I’m proud to release such an important assessment that will help EPA and communities take action to address PFAS and protect public health.”

EPA, federal agencies, states, tribes, and local communities can use the PFBS toxicity assessment, along with specific exposure and other relevant information, to determine if and when it is necessary to take action to address potential health risks associated with human exposures to PFBS under appropriate regulations and statutes.

The assessment released today has gone through all appropriate reviews, includes input EPA received from external peer review, upholds the tenants of scientific integrity, was authored by expert career scientists in EPA’s Office of Research and Development, and has not been compromised by political staff – these were all issues with a version of the assessment that was posted during the previous administration. The release of today’s PFBS assessment upholds the integrity of EPA’s science, which EPA, states, tribes, and more rely on to make decisions that protect the health of their communities.

For more information on PFAS: http://www.epa.gov/pfas.

For more information on the updated PFBS toxicity assessment: https://www.epa.gov/pfas/learn-about-human-health-toxicity-assessment-pfbs.

Dry weather, above normal temperatures expected through June with persistent #drought conditions — The #ColoradoSprings Gazette

Colorado Drought Monitor March 30, 2021.

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Mary Shinn):

While the Front Range was blessed with much needed snow in March, the state’s snowpack has not climbed back up to average on the Western Slope and drought conditions are likely to persist.

As a result of those forecasts, Colorado Springs Utilities expects to rely heavily on its reservoirs this summer, said Patrick Wells, general manager of water resources and demand management for the utility.

But water restrictions aren’t expected beyond its permanent Water-wise Rules that limit outdoor irrigation to three days a week, he said Thursday. The rules also prohibit outdoor watering from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. from May 1 to Oct. 15…

While wet storms brought Colorado Springs twice its average snowfall for March, the city remains 5½ inches of precipitation behind what it should have received over the past 12 months, said Peter Goble, climatologist and drought specialist with the Colorado Climate Center.

Conditions on the Western Slope in the Colorado River watershed — which supplies municipal water supplies and farms from Colorado to California — are also dry, with the amount of water in the snow at 85% to 89% of average, according the National Resources Conservation Service. The snowpack is not nearly enough to break the drought conditions, Goble said…

The dry, thirsty soils are expected to soak up snowpack, cutting expected runoff down to 50% to 70% of average, Goble said. The runoff expectations are important to Colorado Springs because it relies in part on Western Slope water…

The three-month outlook though June doesn’t offer much hope, with increased chances of below normal precipitation and above average temperatures, said Brad Rippey, a drought monitor author with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Further #drought improvements for #Colorado’s eastern plains, mountains — The Kiowa County Press

From The Kiowa County Press (Chris Sorensen):

Additional moisture following a major snowstorm two weeks ago has provided additional drought relief to portions of Colorado’s eastern plains and mountain areas according to the latest update from the National Drought Mitigation Center.

Colorado Drought Monitor one week change map ending March 23, 2021.

The most notable change appeared in southwest El Paso County, where extreme drought decreased two categories to moderate conditions. Southern Teller and a small portion of northern Pueblo counties experienced a similar two category improvement.

Elsewhere in El Paso, Elbert, Lincoln, Pueblo, Prowers and Crowley counties, extreme drought moved into the severe category. Extreme conditions also decreased in Baca and Las Animas counties.

Central Kiowa County remained in extreme drought, while a small area of extreme conditions in the northwest of the county moved to severe.

Colorado Drought Monitor March 23, 2021.

Areas of abnormally dry conditions expanded to replace moderate drought in the San Luis Valley and northern Colorado. Abnormally dry conditions also appeared in southern Yuma and eastern Kit Carson counties.

No improvement was noted in western Colorado, which has been dominated by extreme and exceptional drought for months.

Recent heavy snowfall brought snow water content close to average for mid-March across most of Colorado despite the ongoing areas of significant drought.

Colorado Drought Monitor March 16, 2021.

Overall, 15 percent of the state is in exceptional drought, unchanged from the prior week. Extreme drought fell from 24 percent to 17, while severe conditions dropped to 30 percent from 33. Moderate drought increased from 24 to 30 percent, while abnormally dry conditions increased from four to seven percent, offsetting areas of more significant drought. None of Colorado is free from drought. Percentages do not total 100 due to rounding.

Forest Service approves test drilling for Whitney Reservoir site — @AspenJournalism #EagleRiver

These wetlands, located on a 150-acre parcel in the Homestake Creek valley that Homestake Partners bought in 2018, would be inundated if Whitney Reservoir is constructed. The Forest Service received more than 500 comments, the majority in opposition to, test drilling associated with the project and the reservoir project itself. Photo credit: Heather Sackett/Aspen Journalism

From Aspen Journalism (Heather Sackett):

OK is first step toward dam and reservoir on Homestake Creek

The U.S. Forest Service on Monday approved an application from the cities of Aurora and Colorado Springs for geotechnical drilling in the Homestake Valley, one of the first steps toward building a new dam and reservoir on Homestake Creek.

The approval allows the cities, operating together as Homestake Partners, to drill 10 bore samples up to 150 feet deep and for crews on the ground to collect geophysical data. The goal of the work, which is expected to begin in late summer and last 50 to 60 days, is a “fatal flaw” feasibility study to determine whether the soil and bedrock could support a dam and reservoir.

The project, known as Whitney Reservoir, would be located near the Holy Cross Wilderness Area, which is six miles south of Red Cliff. Various configurations of the project show it holding between 6,850 and 20,000 acre-feet of water. The area is home to a rare kind of groundwater-fed wetland with peat soils known as a fen.

Eagle-Holy Cross District Ranger Leanne Veldhuis approved the project despite receiving a total of 775 comments on the drilling proposal during the scoping period. According to the public scoping comment summary, the most common topics commenters had concerns about included the potential loss of wilderness, the destruction of fens and wetlands, impacts to water quality and disturbance to wildlife.

But just 80 letters — about 10% — were individual comments that the Forest Service considered substantive and specific to the geotechnical investigation. Most comments were form-letter templates from organizations such as Carbondale-based conservation group Wilderness Workshop or pertained to concerns about the Whitney Reservoir project as a whole, not the geotechnical drilling.

“A lot of the public comments were pertaining to a reservoir, and the proposal is not for a reservoir; it’s for just those 10 geotechnical bore holes,” Veldhuis said.

Many commenters also said the level of analysis under the National Environmental Policy Act wasn’t appropriate and questioned why the proposal was granted a categorical exclusion, rather than undergoing the more rigorous Environmental Analysis typical of big projects on Forest Service land. Veldhuis said the geotechnical investigation, a common occurrence on public lands, didn’t rise to the level of an EA; that could come later with any reservoir proposal.

“If the future holds any additional sort of proposal, then that would trigger a brand-new analysis with additional rounds of public comments,” she said. “Any future proposals for anything more would undergo an even bigger environmental analysis than this underwent.”

Homestake Creek flows from Homestake Reservoir near Red Cliff. Starting Wednesday, Homestake Partners will be releasing water out of the reservoir to make sure that water can get to the state line as another option to fulfill the state’s upstream duties of delivering water to the lower basin states (Arizona, California and Nevada). Photo credit: Bethany Blitz/Aspen Journalism

Whitney Reservoir

The proposed Whitney Reservoir would pump water from lower Homestake Creek back to Homestake Reservoir, about five miles upstream. Then it would go through a tunnel under the Continental Divide to Turquoise Reservoir, near Leadville, and then to the cities of Aurora and Colorado Springs. The idea of expanding the intrastate plumbing system to take more water from the headwaters of the Colorado River over to thirsty and growing Front Range cities doesn’t sit well with many people and organizations.

Wilderness Workshop issued a news release saying it would oppose the reservoir project every step of the way. The organization also launched an online petition Monday to rally opposers, which had already garnered more than 200 signatures as of Monday evening.

“We would like to see the Forest Service change course,” said Juli Slivka, Wilderness Workshop’s conservation director. The decision was discouraging, she said, but Wilderness Workshop will continue pressuring the federal agency. “The idea of moving water from the Western Slope to the Front Range is not very appreciated out here.”

A map from Colorado Springs Utilities that shows how tunnels could bring water to Whitney Reservoir from Fall and Peterson creeks, and from the Eagle River. The map also shows the route of a pipeline to pump water from Whitney Reservoir to Homestake Reservoir.

Eagle River MOU

But Front Range municipalities are not the only ones set to benefit from a new water-storage project. The Eagle River Memorandum of Understanding lays out a plan for both Front Range and Western Slope entities to develop water in the upper Eagle River basin. The agreement, signed in 1998, provides 20,000 acre-feet of water a year to Homestake Partners and 10,000 acre-feet a year to the Colorado River Water Conservation District, the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District, Upper Eagle Regional Water Authority and Vail Resorts, known collectively in the MOU as the “Reservoir Company.”

The Reservoir Company is not an applicant in the drilling proposal and none of the Western Slope entities that are parties to the MOU submitted comments on the drilling proposal.

Diane Johnson, communications and public affairs manager for the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District, said the water provider supports Homestake Partners’ right to pursue an application for their water.

“We trust the permitting process to bring all impacts and benefits to light for the community to consider and weigh in total,” Johnson said in an email.

The Forest Service also determined that impacts to wetlands from the drilling are negligible. Homestake Partners plans to place temporary mats across wetland areas to protect vegetation and soils from the people and machinery crossing Homestake Creek. In a June letter, a representative from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said the work did not require a permit from that agency.

The Forest Service also conducted a biological assessment and found that the drilling would not impact endangered Canada lynx.

This story ran in the March 23 edition of The Vail Daily and The Aspen Times.

Aurora, #ColoradoSprings clear hurdle on Whitney Reservoir in Eagle County — The #Aurora Sentinel #EagleRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

From The Aurora Sentinel (Grand Stringer):

U.S. Forest Service District Ranger Leanne Veldhuis approved the cities’ plan Monday to drill into the high-alpine Homestake Valley and test whether the underlying geology could support a reservoir diverting water from the Colorado River to the growing municipalities.

It’s an early, key step in the effort to build the new reservoir, which would be called the Whitney Reservoir, in the National Forest about six miles southwest of the town of Red Cliff.

The cities have long held the water rights to build the new reservoir and divert the water, usually destined for the beleaguered Colorado River, to thirsty residents in Aurora and Colorado Springs.

With approval in tow, Aurora and Colorado Springs have the green light to test for several possible reservoir sites in the Homestake Valley.

Greg Baker, Aurora Water’s manager of public relations, told the Sentinel last year the reservoir could be built in about 25 years if the complicated approval process pans out. The new reservoir in the Homestake Valley could hold between 6,850 acre-feet and 20,000 acre-feet of water, according to the Forest Service…

Notably, the project requires environmental impact studies and possibly an act of Congress, according to Baker, to shave up to 500 acres from the popular Holy Cross Wilderness. However, he added that the plan is far from set in stone.

The plan has drawn scrutiny from conservation groups concerned about devastating the ancient wetland habitant that retains water — an increasingly scare commodity in the West. Various endangered fish species would be downriver from the dam.

The Colorado River itself has seen reduced flows in recent decades, in part because of human-induced climate change. Many environmentalists argue that as much water as possible should be left in the river, which multiple states and Mexico rely on…

Baker said in an email that the drilling study is “routine.”

“We value the collaborative process involved in exploring alternatives that minimize environmental impacts, are cost effective, can be permitted by local, state, and federal agencies, and which will meet the water requirements of the project partners,” he said.

As reported by Colorado Public Radio, the project has also run into early opposition from central Colorado and Western Slope communities.

Democratic state Sen. Kerry Donovan represents seven counties that include communities like Aspen and Crested Butte. In a letter opposing the project, Donovan wrote that, “she can’t express how sternly the people in her district dislike water diversion projects to the front range,” according to CPR.

From The Colorado Sun (Michael Booth and Jason Blevins):

The decision to let the Front Range water utilities move forward in taking more Western Slope water is only one of countless regulatory hurdles for a future Whitney Reservoir, but conservation groups say they are adamantly against any new water transfers to suburban water users across the Continental Divide and will oppose every approval step.

Colorado Headwaters, which opposes any new dams and water transfers, said it expected the approval but remains steadfast against any progress on the project. “We don’t think it will ever be built,” president Jerry Mallett said. “They haven’t done a transmountain diversion in 45 years. Water on the Colorado River is dropping from climate change. We don’t want to lose those natural resources.”

The decision from White River said the approval applies only to drilling 10 test bore holes the utilities applied for, and does not have bearing on any future decisions should the cities pursue the dam north of Camp Hale. The proposed reservoir would hold about 20,000 acre feet…

The cities partnered with Eagle County, the Colorado Water Conservation District, Vail Resorts and other Western Slope water users in 1998 in a deal that gave water rights to Eagle River communities and developed the 3,300 acre-foot Eagle Park Reservoir on the Climax Mine property.

The 1998 Eagle River Memorandum of Understanding included plans for possible reservoirs along Homestake Creek. The agreement — which brought together a diverse group of downstream users as “Homestake Partners” in the Eagle River Joint Use Water Project — also affirmed that no partner could object to a new reservoir plan if it met the memorandum’s agreement to “minimize environmental impacts” and could be permitted by local, state and federal agencies.

The proposed Whitney Reservoir project is not new and “represents our continued pursuit to develop water rights in existence for many years,” Colorado Springs Utilities spokeswoman Jennifer Kemp said.

Kemp said the cities have developed alternatives to building a new reservoir in the Homestake Creek drainage but those other options have not been proposed or discussed publicly. The results of the test boring and geotechnical work will help the two cities vet possible alternatives…

Environmental groups oppose new dams on Homestake in part because they would take water out of tributaries that feed the already-depleted Colorado River. But they are also focused on preserving complex wetlands called “fens” that develop over the long term and support diverse wildlife. They say fens cannot easily be recreated in any mitigation work that utilities traditionally include in dam proposals.

The headwaters group also questions why the Forest Service would encourage any steps when completion of a dam appears impossible. The utility proposals include shrinking the size of the Holy Cross Wilderness Area to create dam access, “which Congress will never approve,” Mallett said.

Lamar City Council Okays #Water Distribution Projects — The #Prowers Journal

The May Ranch near Lamar, Colo., has never been plowed. Photo/Ducks Unlimited via The Mountain Town News

From The Prowers Journal (Russ Baldwin):

The council re-submitted a Tier 1 Grant application to fund half, or $71,818 of funding need to complete an update to the sewer and water master plan for the city. The total cost is estimated at $143,636. This will cover costs for a comprehensive evaluation of Lamar’s current water and wastewater treatment facilities, assessment of distribution and collection systems, capital improvements needed for future wastewater treatment and a rate study for both water and sewer systems.

A loan for $1,089,200 has been secured with the Drinking Water Revolving Fund, allowing the city to move forward on a new water main stretching from Cedar Street to Savage Avenue. The city will coordinate with the current CDOT 287 reconstruction project to minimize any interference with their project running from Savage Avenue south as well as the train track crossing on Main Street. Community Development Director, Morgan Becker, secured a grant for $4,500 which will help defer the cost of flowers for the Main Street planters for the summer. Preliminary construction is expected to start in mid-March.

The geomorphology of #FountainCreek: Life in the Watershed — Fountain Creek Watershed and Greenway District

Elevation (2015, 2019) and Elevation-Change (2015−19) Maps—Study Area 01 By Laura A. Hempel 2020 via USGS

From The Fountain Creek Watershed and Greenway District (Bill Banks) via The Colorado Springs Gazette:

If you catch glimpses of Fountain Creek while driving, biking or walking along the creek, you know it tends to be relatively inactive. You might notice cloudy water due to suspended sediment, or you might spot new underwater sandbars. Most likely, you won’t see major changes. But guess what? Fountain Creek is always changing.

Every year, Laura Hempel PhD and a team of USGS scientists investigate how our creek is changing. Dr. Hempel is a hydrologist with the U.S. Geological Survey’s Colorado Water Science Center, located in Pueblo. She explains that fluvial geomorphology is the study of how rivers shape the landscape — and are shaped by the landscape. This broad definition includes the concepts of hydrology (where the water is, how it gets there, where it’s going) and sedimentation transport. It also encompasses ecology, since vegetation influences how rivers behave.

The USGS began monitoring the geomorphology of Fountain Creek in 2012, and Dr. Hempel joined the team in 2018. Currently, the team measures elevation and elevation change in 10 study areas annually, between January and April. This “leaf-off” season improves the GPS signals. (GPS enables the team to identify exact locations.) Plus, the low flow rate during winter makes it easier to wade in and collect data in the wetted channel. This annual monitoring effort is conducted in cooperation with Colorado Springs Utilities.

In the past, the team used manual survey methods — a time-intensive “boots on the ground” approach. Covering the nearly 400 acres was a monumental effort! This year, the team will begin using LiDAR, an aerial-based mapping technology. “We can collect orders of magnitude more data points with LiDAR,” Dr. Hempel says. “Those data will allow us to produce much higher-resolution maps, which is really exciting.”

In addition to measuring elevation and elevation change, annual monitoring of Fountain Creek’s topography will allow the team to study a variety of geomorphic metrics in the future. “For example, examining changes in the streambed’s elevation can indicate whether a reach is aggrading due to sedimentation or degrading due to erosion,” Dr. Hempel notes. “We also have the ability to measure the width and depth of the active stream channel and document specific changes in geomorphology. For example, is the channel cross-section smooth and U-shaped or is it complex and braided? Is the channel migrating laterally or straightening? These are some examples of metrics we can measure from this long-term monitoring data to quantify the river’s changing geomorphology.”

Why monitor the geomorphology of Fountain Creek?

Dr. Hempel explains that measuring changes in river geomorphology can lead to understanding WHY a change is happening. Specifically, what is causing the change? “Here’s the tricky thing,” she notes. “Rivers are dynamic. For example, river meandering is a natural process. Rivers are constantly evolving, so it’s difficult to disentangle natural geomorphic change and evolution from change that is outside of the river’s natural variability. Taking a step back even further, long-term monitoring tells us whether observed geomorphic changes are — or are not — outside of the river’s natural variability.”

What might indicate an anomalous change from natural variability? “The long-term dataset can give us clues,” Dr. Hempel explains, adding a hypothetical example. “Let’s say that in the historic past, a particular meander bend grew at a rate of ½ foot per year, but for the last 10 years that same meander bend grew at a rate of five feet per year. This could indicate a fundamental change in the behavior of the river. The long-term datasets are incredibly important to document the baseline condition and, subsequently, determine whether a river has changed in a way that is outside of its natural variability.”

Active monitoring gives us an understanding of the long-term picture, particularly when a river’s behavior impacts us. “If a river is migrating laterally at a faster rate and this reduces a farmer’s acreage or threatens I-25, that’s a problem,” Dr. Hempel notes. “Managers in the basin could address this one-off problem by installing riprap, for example, but that might not resolve the long-term issue. By identifying the cause, the long-term issue becomes solvable. That’s why monitoring Fountain Creek’s geomorphology is so important.”

An engaged and informed public is a vital piece of the puzzle

Dr. Hempel encourages residents of Fountain Creek watershed to learn more about our creek. “A river reflects all the changes upstream of it,” she says. “Hydrologists call it the ‘pour point.’ Our creek literally integrates everything that is happening upstream: water, erosion, sediment and people. It’s possible that Fountain Creek can be a healthy, ‘well-behaved’ river. Or it’s possible that it won’t be healthy and well-behaved. When we have an informed public, with their voice and votes, residents can better understand our creek. They can say what they want Fountain Creek to be and, if needed, support and implement measures to improve it.”

Check out interactive maps of Fountain Creek!

If a picture’s worth a thousand words, an interactive map may be worth 10 times more. Take a few minutes to review a brief report titled “Elevation and Elevation-Change Maps of Fountain Creek, Southeastern Colorado, 2015-19,” authored by Dr. Hempel. And don’t miss the 10 interactive maps that accompany the report, illustrating elevation changes for each of the 10 Fountain Creek study areas.

For example, Study Area 1’s map layers show that the meander bend in this reach migrated toward the west and became more exaggerated between 2015 and 2019. Click the elevation-change map button, and you’ll notice that its lateral migration resulted in deposition (an increase in elevation) on the east side of the main channel and erosion (a decrease in elevation) on the west side.

To access the maps’ interactive layers, you’ll need to download the PDF files and view them in Adobe Acrobat DC — or use Adobe Reader DC, which is free to download. Find the report and maps here: http://pubs.er.usgs.gov/publication/sim3456.

Bill Banks is the executive director of the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District. The District was established in 2009, to manage, administer and fund capital improvements necessary to maintain critical infrastructure and improve the watershed for the benefit of everyone in the Fountain Creek watershed.

The Fountain Creek Watershed is located along the central front range of Colorado. It is a 927-square mile watershed that drains south into the Arkansas River at Pueblo. The watershed is bordered by the Palmer Divide to the north, Pikes Peak to the west, and a minor divide 20 miles east of Colorado Springs. Map via the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District.

#ColoradoSprings plans #wetland restoration along South Academy Boulevard — The Colorado Springs Gazette

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

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Mary Shinn):

Overgrown invasive trees and trash that once dominated an 18-acre parcel near Pikes Peak Avenue and South Academy Boulevard have largely been cleared away in recent weeks as Colorado Springs city crews prepare to put in new wetlands.

The lot looks more like a construction site following several weeks of work by crews who removed 200 tons of trash, but this is just a first step in a project expected to take about two years and cost several million dollars to restore the site to a more natural state. The work will slow down stormwater and help improve water quality before it flows downstream, said Richard Mulledy, Stormwater Enterprise manager.

The city will need to change the topography of the property, in part because Spring Creek and a tributary have cut deep ravines across the lot, and plant new native vegetation, including willows and cottonwoods for new wetlands, he said. The creeks themselves could see new boulders and structures to help slow the water down, he said…

In southeastern Colorado Springs, few large undevelopable properties remain, and once restored the parcel could provide a welcoming open space for the neighborhood, he said. The Stormwater Enterprise is working with the parks department on potential trail connections to the property, he said.

The wetlands could improve stormwater quality by removing nutrients from the water, such as nitrogen, that flow in from yard fertilizers and contribute to algae blooms that can kill off wildlife. Wetland plants, such as cattails and bulrushes, can also remove heavy metal particulates from the water and keep them from flowing downstream, he said…

The project is one of hundreds the city has done over the last five years to improve stormwater quality after years of not properly funding infrastructure. The neglect of the stormwater system led to the city recently agreeing to spend $45 million on projects to settle a lawsuit brought by the Environmental Protection Agency, Pueblo County and the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District…

The Colorado Springs City Council approved an increase to monthly stormwater fees set to take effect in July to help cover the cost of those projects. Residential fees will go up from $7 per month to $8 per month over three years.

The project near Pikes Peak Avenue could see some of that funding as it takes shape in the coming years. The recent work to clean up the property and remove trees cost about $100,000 and the full restoration of wetlands could take $2 to $3 million, Mulledy said.

“We are looking to be moving toward a future that is really decoupled from the past” — Kenneth Williams via The #ColoradoSprings Gazette #drought

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Mary Shinn):

The hot dry conditions that melted strong snowpack early in 2020 and led to severe drought, low river flows and record setting wildfires across the state could be a harbinger of what is to come in Colorado.

Climate change is likely to drive “chaotic weather” and greater extremes with hotter droughts and bigger snowstorms that will be harder to predict, said Kenneth Williams, environmental remediation and water resources program lead at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, headquartered in California.

“We are looking to be moving toward a future that is really decoupled from the past,” said Williams, who is leading a long-term watershed research project in Crested Butte.

In 2020, the Colorado River system had 100% of average snowpack on April 1 but then thwarted expectations when it didn’t deliver the 90% to 110% of average runoff that water managers could typically predict. The river system only saw 52% of average runoff because water was soaked up by dry soils and evaporated during a dry, warm spring, said Brad Udall, senior water and climate research scientist at Colorado State University.

“It’s not typical, but it could very well be our future,” he said.

The 2020 drought will end at some point, but that appears unlikely this spring with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration forecasting above-normal temperatures and below-normal precipitation through March, April and May.

Conditions could improve more rapidly on the eastern plains with big spring and summer rain, said Russ Schumacher, Colorado’s state climatologist.

In the larger picture, breaking the drought across the vast Colorado River Basin will likely take a string of winters with much above average snowfall, Schumacher said.

Brad Udall: Here’s the latest version of my 4-Panel plot thru Water Year (Oct-Sep) of 2019 of the #coriver big reservoirs, natural flows, precipitation, and temperature. Data goes back or 1906 (or 1935 for reservoirs.) This updates previous work with @GreatLakesPeck

In the long term, conditions across the Southwest are going to become more arid as average temperatures rise, driven by greenhouse gas emissions, Udall said, with lower soil moisture and stream flows among the negative impacts.

The 19-year stretch of only intermittingly interrupted drought from 2000 to 2018 in the Southwest U.S. was exceeded only by a late 1500s megadrought, the journal Science reported in a paper this year…

New reservoirs could play a role in the future, but construction alone cannot resolve the coming water woes.

“Anyone who thinks they can build themselves out of climate change is nuts,” Udall said. “There is a limit to the amount of storage that’s helpful.”

Too much storage can sit empty and if the water is allowed to sit for too long a valuable portion is lost to evaporation, he said.

In the highly variable years of climate-related weather to come, keeping water flowing to homes and farms will take better planning and a much better understanding of the “water towers of the West,” the remote peaks where significant amounts of snow accumulate above 8,000 feet.

Water managers are keen to know not just how much water may flow into rivers and streams, but when, and also what it might contain because as water flows drop water quality is also likely to be more of a concern…

Fort Collins weather station on the CSU campus via the Colorado Climate Center.

The rapid change has left water managers and researchers in need of better data to understand short-term trends, such as how much runoff to expect this year and longer-term shifts.

Traditionally Colorado and the West have relied on a network of more than 800 snow telemetry sites — SNOTELS, as they are called by the Natural Resources Conservation Service — that automatically collect snowpack, temperature and precipitation. But now more snow is falling at elevations above the SNOTELS and aerial observations are needed to provide an alternative source of data on snowpack utilities and others wouldn’t otherwise know about, Williams said…

A flight from NASA’s Airborne Snow Observatory gathers data about the snowpack above Dillon Reservoir on a flight. Information gathered from the flight helped Denver Water manage reservoir operations. Photo courtesy of Quantum Spatial

So Denver Water is forming a new collaborative to bring utilities, including Colorado Springs Utilities and other water users, such as water conservancy districts that serve farmers and ranchers, together to fund statewide flights, which can be quite expensive, she said.

The formal planning work around what data to collect and funding flights is set to begin in April and already the collaborative has attracted members from across the state, Kaatz said.

The group hopes to start funding the flights in about a year to provide the high quality data to water managers, Kaatz said. Having that data will be a valuable asset in Colorado’s semi-arid climate as it warms, she said.

“Warming is here and now. It’s not the next generation’s challenge.”

[…]

The rapid spring runoff is often the star in the water world. But high elevation groundwater is key to feeding streams in the late summer and winter, helping to sustain fish and late season irrigation. It is also an important source for reservoirs, said Rosemary Carroll, a hydrologist with the Desert Research Institute and collaborator on the Department of Energy projects in Crested Butte.

When Carroll started studying groundwater in the upper Gunnison watershed, she expected to find water that had percolated through the soil for two or three years before reaching streams. Instead, she’s found groundwater about a decade old, which has benefits and drawbacks during dry times, she said.

If the watershed is in a shorter drought, the groundwater can act as a buffer supplying old water that fell as snow and rain years ago, she said. But if it is a sustained drought then the absence of water from the system persists through a lack of groundwater, she said.

If the area continues to see hotter drier conditions, it’s likely that groundwater coming to the surface would be older and there will be less groundwater available to support streams, she said.

Colorado Springs Collection System via Colorado College.

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Mary Shinn):

As Colorado Springs Utilities braces to absorb hundreds of thousands of new residents in the coming decades amid hotter weather, it is looking to conservation, agriculture, and new water supplies from the Colorado and Arkansas rivers to help fill the gap.

Utilities examined 50 future climate scenarios to prepare its latest 50-year plan and settled on a future that will be on average 3 degrees Fahrenheit warmer with no change in average precipitation, instead of relying on historical weather trends to make projections, said Kevin Lusk, a water engineer with Utilities…

As new neighborhoods take shape, particularly in Banning Lewis Ranch, Utilities is planning for the city’s population to increase 53% from about 470,000 people to 723,000, the 50-year plan states. As those residents move in, the city’s annual water demands are expected to rise from 95,000 acre feet a year to 136,000 acre feet a year…

For Colorado Springs, reservoirs are already a key piece of a complex water system that brings 80% of the 95,000 acre feet of water the city uses annually into the area.

The largest amount of new water supply, 90,000 to 120,000 acre feet of water, is expected to come from the new or enlarged reservoirs or water storage within the Arkansas River basin, according to the 50-year plan. One of those projects could be a new reservoir or gravel pit complex between Twin Lakes and Pueblo Reservoirs, the plan states.

These wetlands in the Homestake Creek valley are near the site of the proposed Whitney Reservoir. The Forest Service is considering whether to issue a permit for drilling and a geotechnical study to test whether the site would support a dam. Photo credit: Heather Sackett/Aspen Journalism

Utilities may also build additional reservoir space in the Colorado River watershed, and it is working with Aurora on a highly controversial new reservoir in the Holy Cross Wilderness in Eagle County. The U.S. Forest Service is expected to make a decision soon on whether to permit the exploration of the new reservoir’s feasibility…

Through conservation, Utilities expects to save 10,000 to 13,000 acre feet of water annually, said Patrick Wells, general manager with Colorado Springs Utilities Water Resources and Demand Management. The city’s watering restrictions adopted last year that limit outdoor watering to three days a week from May 1 to Oct. 15 are meant to help achieve long-term water savings and more than 550 acre feet of water was saved in the first year, he said.

In the future, water owned by agricultural interests, particularly farmers and ranches in the Lower Arkansas River basin, will also play a key role. But rather than purchase it outright, Utilities is looking to lease 15,000 to 25,000 new acre feet of water annually.

The leases are a move away from purchasing farms and their associated water rights outright and transferring that water to the city, a practice called buy and dry. In the 1970s, farmers sold the water rights that previously served 45,000 acres in Crowley County leaving only 5,000 acres in production, The Gazette reported previously.

Cities bought water outright from agriculture through the early 2000s as the primary means of transfer, said Scott Lorenz, water sharing senior project manager with Colorado Springs Utilities.

Now, the state and city are focused on lease agreements that can serve farmers in dry times, he said. For example, in a dry year a farm may not have enough water to put all the fields in production, the producer can lease some water to the city and earn money through the water instead, Lorenz said.

Compensating farmers for their water and taking land out of production can have consequences, however, because it can disrupt the overall agriculture market when farmers aren’t buying seed or materials or employing laborers, said Brad Udall, senior water and climate research scientist at Colorado State University. The buyers the farms supply may also go elsewhere for products if farms aren’t producing annually, he said.

Utilities’ already has several lease agreements in place, including one in perpetuity with the Lower Arkansas Water Management Association, a group that replaces the water taken from the Arkansas River through wells. As farmers pump from ground wells supplied by the river, the association ensures water flows back into the river so that downstream residents in Kansas receive their full water rights.

The city has agreed to lease water from the association five out of every ten years and pay for its water every year, said Bill Grasmick, association president. The city also paid for a new reservoir that the association is already using.

WEBINAR: Land Conservation and Water, March 9, 2021 — @WaterEdCO

Click here for all the inside skinny and register:

As land trusts conserve private land, they also protect water rights. Some of Colorado’s land trusts are going beyond the parcel-by-parcel approach to conservation and are tackling big water challenges in a regional way.

During this March 9 webinar, we’ll learn how land trusts work with water rights in Colorado. Then we’ll focus on two visionary projects: Colorado Open Lands and partners in the San Luis Valley are reimagining conservation easements and putting them to work to slow groundwater decline and encourage aquifer sustainability. And the Palmer Land Conservancy is protecting irrigated farmland east of Pueblo along the Bessemer Ditch with conservation easements and, thanks to a high-level landscape-scale analysis, Palmer is combatting the effects of buy and dry by keeping water on the area’s most productive ag land.

How are land trusts making these projects work? Why are they well-positioned to play such an important role in water management? Is there an opportunity for more land trusts to tackle water management challenges in these big, innovative ways? Join us to explore these questions and come prepared with your own.

With speakers:
Melissa Daruna, Keep It Colorado
Sarah Parmar, Colorado Open Lands
Ed Roberson, Palmer Land Conservancy

Presented in partnership by Water Education Colorado and Keep It Colorado

When
March 9th, 2021 12:00 PM through 1:00 PM

Iconic Venetucci Farm to be reborn — full of color — The #ColoradoSprings Gazette #PFAS

Ventucci Farm pumpkin harvest back in the day. Photo credit: Facebook.com

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Debbie Kelley):

By summer, fields of peonies, dahlias, sunflowers, zinnias, cosmos and some 40 other varieties of flowers will shimmer in the sun and bend in the breeze.

A pergola will become a cut-flower processing center. An old tuberculosis hut will be transformed into a flower stand.

The renovated barn will host weddings and community events, the empty pig pen will be converted into bachelor’s quarters and the former chicken coop will serve as an outdoor reception area…

Children will be able to pick a Pueblo-grown pumpkin during a fall festival, with hayrides and activities planned for every Friday, Saturday and Sunday in October.

“This is one of those places that people have good memories, and that’s one of the things that’s driving my desire to be involved — for people to be in the moment and make memories again,” said Nikki McComsey, owner of Gather Mountain Blooms.

McComsey is leasing a portion of the farm and managing the property, which in the 1930s was bought by the family of the late Nick and Bambi Venetucci and now is overseen by two local philanthropic foundations.

The aged fields, where thousands of pumpkins that were given away grew plump, beans and peas could be plucked from the vine and immediately savored, and grass-fed cows, pastured pigs and productive hens roamed, have lain barren for nearly five years.

Widefield aquifer via the Colorado Water Institute.

Unforeseen contamination of the Widefield aquifer, which was saturated with perfluorinated compounds originating from firefighting foam used at Peterson Air Force Base, forced the farm to stop selling edible goods in 2016.

Revenue dried up along with the plants…

The farm’s primary source of income had been selling water from four of its seven wells to the Fountain Valley’s three water districts, said Samuel Clark, executive director of Pikes Peak Real Estate Foundation.

Water leasing netted the farm $260,000 in 2016, Clark said.

Lost revenue from produce and other consumables sold at farmers’ markets ranged from $30,000 to $190,000 annually, he said.

But the farm is poised to become bountiful once again.

After years of working with the Air Force and area water districts, Venetucci’s wells this week were connected to a new filtration system rendering water from the aquifer safe to use, according to Roy Heald, general manager of Security Water and Sanitation District.

#ColoradoSprings #stormwater fee increases approved — The Colorado Springs Gazette

Southern Delivery System map via Colorado Springs Utilities

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Mary Shinn):

Colorado Springs City Council on Tuesday unanimously approved three years of stormwater fee increases that take effect in July.

Several council members acknowledged the fee increases are needed to make up for the city neglecting to maintain stormwater infrastructure and failing to require developers to meet stormwater standards for years, leading to a recently settled lawsuit that will require stormwater control projects to be built…

Residential fees paid through utility bills are to go increase to $7 per month from $5 per month. Residential rates will then go up to $7.50 per month in 2022 and $8 per month in 2023, according to the approved fee structure.

Commercial properties’ monthly fees will go up to $40.50 per acre per month from $30 per acre. In 2022, commercial fees will increase to $43 per acre per month and in 2023 to $45, the proposal shows. The fees are then expected to remain flat through 2035, said Richard Mulledy, Colorado Springs stormwater enterprise manager.

The fee increases are needed to help cover $45 million in projects required by a consent decree approved in the case brought against the city by the EPA, Pueblo County and the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District. The lawsuit stated, in part, that stormwater management in the city was underfunded.

Stormwater fees also must cover $460 million the city is spending over 20 years to build 71 stormwater projects as part of its 2016 agreement with Pueblo County. The agreement was needed to allow Colorado Springs to start pumping water needed to fuel city growth from Pueblo Reservoir through its Southern Delivery System pipeline.

Fountain Creek photo via the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District

Press Release: Unbottle and Protect Chaffee County Water

Graphic via Unbottle and Protect Chaffee County Water

Here’s the release from Unbottle and Protect Chaffee County Water (Jennifer Swacina):

Nestlé, the world’s largest corporate water bottler, agreed to sell its North American bulk bottled water business (including the Arrowhead brand) to private equity firms One Rock Capital and Metropoulous. This $4.3 billion dollar sale is an especially ominous development in light of Wall Street’s accelerating interest in water trading.

The sale announcement raises many questions about what this means for communities currently entangled in legal hearings and permit negotiations with Nestle Waters. Will Nestle remain a part-owner of the company? In Chaffee County, specifically, will new owners follow through on permit commitments that Nestle has previously made – yet failed to complete – such as a conservation land easement? Are the buyers aware that Nestle failed to meet the required quota for hiring Chaffee County truck drivers, and that Nestle’s latest proposal includes investing in a truck driver training program through Colorado Mountain College?

“Nestle has not proven to be a good neighbor, and the only thing worse than Nestle, is Nestle operating undercover,” said Unbottle and Protect Chaffee County Water co-founder, Jennifer Swacina. “Our commissioners can, at their discretion, simply vote to deny this permit extension. They have all the ammunition they need.”

Unbottle and Protect Chaffee County Water stands in solidarity with other grassroots organizations in Ontario Canada, Maine, Florida, California and Michigan, who have been ringing the alarm about Nestle and water privatization for years. Joint statements have been released through The Story of Stuff Project:

“Nestlé’s motivation is clear: to shed itself of its responsibility for the plastic pollution and environmental degradation its water extraction and bottling has caused and the damage these scandals have done to their brand and bottom line. It is also clear that a private equity firm, freed of Nestlé’s reputational responsibilities, will seek to cut expenses at the cost of the limited promises its predecessor made regarding environmental sustainability and community benefit. We call on elected leaders, regulators, advocacy groups and the media in Canada and the US to ‘follow the money’ and expose this deal to the highest levels of public scrutiny.”

Eads Board of Trustees meeting recap — The Kiowa County Press

Kiowa County Courthouse, Eads, Colorado, 1903 via wikimedia.

From the Town of Eads Board of Trustees via The Kiowa County Press:

Water and Sewer rate increase -Town Clerk, Robin Fox, informed the Board of Trustees that it has been 2 years since the last rate increase for Water, Sewer, and Trash Services. Kathy McCracken motioned to increase water and sewer service rates 3% for 2021. Dennis Pearson seconded, motion passed unanimously…

GMS – Director of Public Works, Van Brown, informed the Board that after talking with GMS, the repairs on the Elevated Tank will cost an additional $4,000 because of the additional problems found.

39th Annual Southern Rocky Mountain Agricultural Conference and Trade Show recap — The Valley Courier #RioGrande

Artesian well Dutton Ranch, Alamosa 1909 via the Crestone Eagle

From The Valley Courier (Patrick Shea):

For two hours, a cascade of Zoom presenters on the final day of the 39th Annual Southern Rocky Mountain Agricultural Conference and Trade Show explained different aspects of the San Luis Valley water situation.

Thursday’s, Feb. 4, updates included historical data and projected forecasts, but water users on the call also heard about pressing deadlines. The 2015 Ground Water Use Rules fully take effect on March 15. Some well owners, for example, may not realize how new regulations will affect them this spring…

The program manager for Subdistricts 2, 3 and 6, Pacheco has already been absorbing some of Simpson’s duties since he won the Colorado State Senate District 35 seat. She presented his legislative update while he attended committee meetings in Denver. According to Pacheco, draft legislation called the “30 by 30 Resolution to Save Nature” sets a goal of measuring meaningful improvements in conservation across the country before 2030.

Pacheco said she was “not familiar with the legislation, so I can’t answer many questions. But looking over a short summary, it looks like there may be some potential economic opportunities for producers in the Valley who are looking to participate in conservation efforts.”

Pacheco mentioned retiring wells, planting cover crops and conducting soil projects as examples of these efforts, “just to name a few.”

Before moving on to updates for Subdistricts 2, 3 and 6, Pacheco encouraged participants to contact the San Luis Valley Ecosystem Council Director Christine Canaly for legislative details — 719-589-1518 or info@slvec.org.

In April, Subdistricts 2 and 3 will complete the second year of Annual Replacement Plans (ARPs). “So far,” Pacheco said, “we’ve successfully replaced all stream depletions to all river systems as required under our plans.” Pacheco added that Subdistrict 6 is currently in its first year, and “they have successfully replaced all their depletions to date.”

Subdistricts 3 and 6 operate with sustainability requirements defined in the 2015 Ground Water Use Rules. They are currently within 78% of requirements and look sustainable for a while, although continued drought conditions may threaten the 22% cushion.

Pacheco closed by addressing water users in Subdistricts 2, 3 and 6 who received letters from DWR regarding commercial non-exempt well uses. If they want to become a subdistrict member, they need to contact Pacheco immediately. The customary deadline for receiving subdistrict applications is the first of December for the following year. But the DWR letters mailed in January.

The contract deadline for Subdistricts 4 and 5 is Feb. 15. Although they are no longer soliciting new members, they’re looking for wet water sources on San Luis Creek and Saguache Creeks. They are also seeking Well Injury Payments (WIPs or “forbearance”) on Kerber Creek and Crestone Creek. Partial and full-year Annual Replacement Plans are due. Plans covering March 15 to April 30 are due on March 1, and the annual plan starting in May is due April 15.

The same deadlines apply to Subdistrict 1 water users, according to Program Manager Marisa Fricke. Fricke celebrated 2020, the year with the highest enrollment in subdistrict history. Of the 399 well owners who received letters from DWR, 300 are in the Subdistrict 1 response area. Fricke encouraged owners to reply before making conclusions. One letter recipient called DWR for clarification and resolved the issue right away.

DWR District Engineer Cotten recapped water history from 1938 to present while showing forecasts for hotter, dryer conditions this year. Throughout his update, he referred to the dry years of 2002, 2018 and 2020.

As of Feb. 3, the Snow Water Equivalent for the Upper Rio Grande looks promising at 107%. But runoff forecasts are low. None reach 100% of average as of Feb. 1, and the San Antonio River meandering into New Mexico and back into Colorado ranks lowest among forecasts at 58%.

Referring to letters some well owners received, Cotten reiterated new groundwater rules about to take effect. Wells permitted for domestic drinking and sanitation only will be subject to the Rio Grande rules, which means they will have to cover depletions by joining a subdistrict or presenting an augmentation plan. They can contact DWR for more information.

Closing out the water presentations, SLV Water Conservation District Manager Heather Dutton described opposition to the fifth water export proposal from the San Luis Valley. Previous proposals — San Marcos Pipeline, American Water Development Inc. (AWDI), Stockman’s Water and Sustainable Water Resources – failed. The current pitch from Renewable Water Resources (RWR) does not include water court or permit filings to date, although marketing activities continue.

The RWR website (http://renewablewaterresources.com) provides background and objectives about the proposal. Dutton encouraged people to compare the RWR website with protectsanluisvalleywater.com and the Protect San Luis Valley Water Facebook page to compare data points.

The depth (and salinity) of the water has been disputed since geologist Phil Emery hinted at two billion acre-feet stored in the deposits in 1971. He later explained his miscalculation, but the billion-acre-feet notion persists. Meanwhile, all the Valley water has already been allocated. Two ditches carry water from the Sangre de Cristo mountains to the Wet Mountain Valley between May and July, approximately 1,063 acre-feet a year. The rest heads downstream.

2021 #COleg: The Lower #SouthPlatte Water Conservancy District board keeping an eye on proposed legislation — The #Sterling Journal-Advocate

Jim Yahn: Photo by Havey Productions via TheDenverChannel.com

From The Sterling Journal-Advocate (Jeff Rice):

Two proposed water management bills filed for the 2021 Colorado General Assembly session could prove to be problematic to water interests. Both bills were discussed Tuesday during the Lower South Platte Water Conservancy Districts board of directors meeting in Sterling.

One bill, originated by State Rep. Richard Holtorf, R-Akron and co-sponsored by Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, calls for an evaluation of ways to implement underground water storage, as called for in the five-year-old Colorado’s Water Plan. Another seeks to clarify the rights of various members of a mutual ditch company, especially when some shares of the company are owned by non-irrigators.

LSPWCD manager Joe Frank told his board he has “some concerns that we’re mixing apples and oranges” with the underground storage bill. Frank said that, although it’s a statewide bill, it still comes down to taking unappropriated water out of the South Platte River Basin and storing it outside the basin.

“You’d have to move the (water) out of the South Platte basin into a designated basin,” Frank said. “Almost any underground storage inside the (South Platte) basin is going to be alluvial to the river.”

Colorado designated groundwater basins. Map credit: Robert Longenbaugh September 14, 2014

That means attempts to store the water underground inside the basin would only result in water being pulled out of the river in times of excess flow and pumped right back into the river’s aquifer, resulting in no actual benefit. Instead, the water would have to be pumped and piped to a designated basin outside the South Platte basin, such as the Ogallala Aquifer, to be pumped out again at a later time.

The other problem, Frank said, is getting the water into the storage basin in the first place. He said designated basins are best recharged by pumping water into a surface reservoir and letting it seep into the aquifer below. Otherwise, high-powered pumps are required for deep injection well storage.

According to Holtorf’s bill, the Colorado Water Conservation Board would contract with “a Colorado institution of higher education” to do the study, but no specific college or university was mentioned in the draft bill.

The second draft that Frank discussed concerns water rights for members of mutual ditch companies. Sometimes called irrigation companies or just ditch companies, these companies are owned by member shareholders who receive water during the irrigation season according to the size of their shareholdings. As the name implies, the shareholders mutually agree on who gets their water when. Irrigators don’t receive their water continuously during the irrigation season, but in large quantities over short periods of time. Over the course of an irrigation season, all shareholders get their share of the water, just not all at the same time.

Problems arise when non-irrigators, such as municipalities or industries, own shares of mutual ditch companies. That ownership occurs through a change-of-use case adjudicated in Colorado Water Court. Those “change cases” can cause confusion in the running of a ditch company because the new users generally want their water continuously during the irrigating season.

There also is contention over what happens to water that a shareholder doesn’t use; at issue is whether the unused water can be used by other shareholders or must be turned back to the river or reservoir from which it came.

At the heart of the matter is a 1975 water case, Jacobucci v. District Court, which should have settled the matter. A key passage in that decision states, “the benefit derived from the ownership of such stock is the right to the exclusive use of the water it represents …” Exclusivity, as understood by most in the legal profession, means “if it’s mine and I don’t use it, you can’t use it either.”

Most ditch companies, however, don’t actually operate that way, but allow the use of unused water as long as it’s put to beneficial use. It is, according to LSPWCD Vice President Gene Manuello, a matter of common sense.

“It’s just common sense that we all work together,” Manuello said during the meeting Tuesday. “That’s why it’s called a mutual ditch company, we work to our mutual benefit. Let’s not change how we run a mutual ditch company.”

The draft legislation seeks to clarify the rights of mutual ditch company shareholders but, according to the discussion at Tuesday’s meeting, it does anything but that.

Frank told the board the bill has “a lot of moving parts,” and seems to have been inspired by recent change cases. He said attempts to figure out exactly what the bill means haven’t been very helpful. Manuello, who sits on a number of water boards and committees, said he was on a conference call about the bill recently and gained no new insight from the meeting…

The draft legislation was submitted by Rep. Jeni Arndt, D-Fort Collins, who chairs the House Agriculture, Livestock and Water Committee, and Rep. Marc Catlin, R-Montrose, who is the ranking Republican on that committee.

#Pueblo Board of #Water Works implements safety project for #ArkansasRiver — KOAA

Pueblo photo via Sangres.com

From KOAA (Samantha Alexander):

The safety project includes replacing the dam near City Park with drops, which would make it safer for those tubing or kayaking from Lake Pueblo dam through the levee near downtown.

“It’s number one hazard mitigation project, but number two it is a tremendous quality of life project for the community,” said Seth Clayton, Executive Director of The Pueblo Board of Water Works.

The project is estimated to cost a little over ten million dollars. The board is hoping to receive a grant from the Federal Government.

Construction on the drops would begin sometime next year.

#Colorado Division of #Water Resources cracks down on ponds in #ArkansasRiver basin: “Ultimately, someone is taking a haircut that has a legitimate water right” (Matt Heimerich) — @AspenJournalism

This pond is in Red Rock Canyon Open Space in Colorado Springs. State water engineers are beginning an evaluation of ponds without legal water rights throughout the Arkansas River basin. Photo credit: Colorado Division of Natural Resources via Aspen Journalism

From Aspen Journalism (Heather Sackett):

State engineers in the Arkansas River basin are beginning to crack down on more than 10,000 ponds without legal water rights, which they say are harming senior rights holders.

Last month, Colorado’s Division of Water Resources in Division 2 rolled out a new pond-management plan, which they say will help relieve pressure in the over-appropriated basin by restoring water to senior rights holders. The first step was mailing on Jan. 14 informational brochures to 317 pond owners.

Even though the ponds targeted in this effort may have existed for many decades, they don’t have a legal right on the books to divert and store the water. The main concern with these ponds is water loss through evaporation. According to the brochure, for every acre of pond surface area, up to 1 million gallons of water — which is just over 3 acre-feet — is lost to evaporation each year. Division 2 Engineer Bill Tyner said, “Tens of thousands of acre-feet over time would be maintained in the Arkansas River system with a pond-management system in place.”

Although the cumulative water loss could threaten Colorado’s ability to meet its obligations to deliver water to Kansas under the Arkansas River Compact, the main issue is injury to senior water users. Added together, these ponds without a water right could deplete enough water that it makes it hard for these senior water rights holders to get the full amount to which they are entitled.

“Once we put the data together and we could look at the images of ponds and get a count of the number and relative sizes on average of those ponds, it did make us just very sure that this was a problem that could have some very negative consequences for the basin if we didn’t get more aggressive about the way that we took it on,” Tyner said.

Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer’s office

Front Range water users divert water from the headwaters of the Roaring Fork and Fryingpan rivers into the Arkansas Basin, but the new pond-management plan probably won’t affect those transmountain diversions, Tyner said.

According to Colorado water law, anyone is allowed to divert water from a stream simply by putting it to beneficial use as long as it does not harm senior water-rights holders. To protect their ability to keep using the water and save their place in line, most users make their water right official by getting a decree through water court. This enshrines the water right in Colorado’s system of prior appropriation in which older water rights have first use of the river.

According to Colorado water law, anyone is allowed to divert water from a stream simply by putting it to beneficial use as long as it does not harm senior water-rights holders. To protect their ability to keep using the water and save their place in line, most users make their water right official by getting a decree through water court. This enshrines the water right in Colorado’s system of prior appropriation in which older water rights have first use of the river.

Because these undecreed ponds don’t have an official water right, they are taking water out of priority, which amounts to stealing water from senior users.

Matt Heimerich, the consumptive-use representative on the Arkansas River Basin Roundtable, said that over the past two decades the Arkansas River system has been under incredible pressure because of erratic and below-average flows. He described the shifting baseline of what constitutes a severe drought.

“It seems to me we just keep moving the bar lower,” he said. “How bad can the river get? We are always looking for the next threshold.”

Drought and warming temperatures fueled by climate change comprise the backdrop for the implementation of the pond-management plan.

“The system is drying out and the water right holder that typically would be in priority, they don’t have the amount of water they had in the past,” Heimerich said. “Ultimately, someone is taking a haircut that has a legitimate water right.”According to Colorado water law, anyone is allowed to divert water from a stream simply by putting it to beneficial use as long as it does not harm senior water-rights holders. To protect their ability to keep using the water and save their place in line, most users make their water right official by getting a decree through water court. This enshrines the water right in Colorado’s system of prior appropriation in which older water rights have first use of the river.

Because these undecreed ponds don’t have an official water right, they are taking water out of priority, which amounts to stealing water from senior users.

Matt Heimerich, the consumptive-use representative on the Arkansas River Basin Roundtable, said that over the past two decades the Arkansas River system has been under incredible pressure because of erratic and below-average flows. He described the shifting baseline of what constitutes a severe drought.

“It seems to me we just keep moving the bar lower,” he said. “How bad can the river get? We are always looking for the next threshold.”

Drought and warming temperatures fueled by climate change comprise the backdrop for the implementation of the pond-management plan.

“The system is drying out and the water right holder that typically would be in priority, they don’t have the amount of water they had in the past,” Heimerich said. “Ultimately, someone is taking a haircut that has a legitimate water right.”

This pond in Chaffee County near Salida is one of thousands in the Arkansas River Basin that is being evaluated by the Division 2 engineer’s office as part of a new pond management program. Engineers say ponds without decreed water rights could injure senior water rights holders. Photo credit: Colorado Division of Natural Resources via Aspen Journalism

Augmentation plans

In order to be allowed to keep water in a pond, pond owners must replace the water loss to the system, usually through what’s known as an augmentation plan.

In some areas in Division 2, pond owners can purchase water to replace their depletions through a conservancy district. Salida-based Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District offers this replacement water, but manager Ralph “Terry” Scanga doesn’t believe there is enough water to fully augment all the ponds in the already over-appropriated basin.

“That’s a concern of mine because that’s a lot of water,” Scanga said. “I don’t think it’s being overstated what the impact could be.”

Scanga, who also serves on the Arkansas River Basin Roundtable, said it may be time to prioritize certain water uses over others. Having domestic water for use in homes may be more essential than ponds for aesthetic purposes, he said.

“You may want that pond and you may have enough money to purchase that augmentation plan from the district, but is that a wise use of that resource?” Scanga said. “Those are the real hard questions that need to be asked.”

Un-decreed ponds can be found throughout the state, including in the Roaring Fork watershed. Last fall, Division 5 engineers issued five cease-and-desist orders for ponds without water rights that they said were out of priority and depleting the Colorado River system.

So far, state engineers are focusing their pond-management plan on just the Arkansas River basin; it’s not yet a statewide program. Still, Tyner said it’s a big undertaking for his division. It could take five years for engineers and water commissioners to work their way through all the ponds.

“How do you eat an elephant? It’s one bite at a time,” Tyner said. “Our approach is to be systematic about it and fair as we go.”

Aspen Journalism covers water and rivers in collaboration with Swift Communications newspapers. Its water desk is supported by Sam Walton via the Catena Foundation. This story ran in the Feb. 1 edition of The Aspen Times.

Are there rivers beyond the #Colorado? — The Mountain Town News #RioGrande #ArkansasRiver #SouthPlatteRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Cache la Poudre River. Photo credit: Allen Best

From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

Jeff Lukas co-wrote a Colorado River book. It deserves attention, he says, but it’s not the only river of the West!

Jeff Lukas calls the Colorado the “charismatic megafauna of Western rivers.” This riverine equivalent of grizzly bears, bald eagles, and humpback whales gets lots of attention, including national attention.

Some of that attention is deserved. It has the nation’s two largest reservoirs, among the nation’s tallest dams, and many of the most jaw-dropping canyons and eye-riveting national parks in the country. It also has 40 million to 50 million people in Colorado and six other southwestern states, plus Mexico, who depend upon its water, and a history of tensions that have at times verged on the political equivalent of fist-fights.

Jeff Lukas via the Western Water Assessment.

Just the same, Lukas admits to some crankiness about all the attention lavished on the Colorado River—including his own. It is not the only river in the West. Other rivers, including those in the state of Colorado, have problems and attributes, too. They should, he says, get more time on stage. These other rivers, too, do an awful lot of heavy lifting.

Lukas recently became a water consultant after 11 years at the CU Boulder-based Western Water Assessment, a program that works with water decision-makers across Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming, along with other research institutions. Before that he was a dendrochronologist, an analyst of the rings found in the bores extracted from trees to understand past growth and hence weather and climates. He calls himself a geographer at heart.

If he has never rafted the Colorado River’s great canyons, Lukas knows the river basin very well. After all, he was the co-lead author on a recently-released 500-page synthesis report—essentially, a book—called “Colorado River Basin Climate and Hydrology: State of the Science.” Brad Udall, a former colleague of Lukas’s at Western Water Assessment, called it the “most comprehensive scientific report ever produced about the Southwest’s iconic river.” [Click here to read the Coyote Gulch post about the report.]

Even before climate change began to intrude into the hydrology of the river, as Udall and other climate scientists have now documented, the Colorado River was tasked to be all that everybody wanted it to be. It’s unlike the Mississippi, dumping vast amounts of water into the Gulf of Mexico. The Colorado is a much smaller river and, since the 1990s, has almost never delivered water to the Sea of Cortez, an arm of the Pacific Ocean. That is part of the river’s drama.

Other river basins have drama, too. The rivers may not be as long. Their canyons may not be quite as absorbing. The challenges, though, aren’t all that different.

The Colorado River Basin “doesn’t have as many unique challenges as we’ve been led to believe,” says Lukas. “It gets too much attention. It leads to a biased view of Western water issues, at least from a national perspective. Most other rivers do not get examined in the same way, either by researchers or the media.”

The Platte River plods through downtown Denver, a small workhorse with a big load. Top photo, the ice-fringed Poudre River during early winter. Photos/Allen Best

A case in point is the river book shelf. Every year a new book seems to come out about the Colorado River. The South Platte River? Not so much. There’s Ellen Wohl’s body of work, including “Virtual Rivers” and “Wide Rivers Crossed,” Tershia d’Elgin’s memoir about her father, “The Man Who Thought He Owned Water,” and “Confluence: The story of Greeley Water,” one of several books by former Colorado Supreme Court Justice Greg Hobbs. The shelf is short for books about these other rivers.

A woman jogs along the South Platte River underneath highways and railroad tracks near downtown Denver. Photo credit: Allen Best

The South Platte is in many ways Colorado’s most important river. It arises along the Continental Divide in Colorado, near the town of Fairplay, traveling south before circling around for descent through the foothills to the Great Plains. If you’ve flown from Phoenix to Denver, you have hewed to some of this route as the plane glides down toward landing. Continuing north before veering eastward at Greeley, the river is augmented by the Poudre and the Big Thompson, along with Clear Creek, the St. Vrain, and Boulder Creek.

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

In its journey the South Platte and these tributaries provide water for 4 million of Colorado’s 5.8 million residents and some of its most productive farms. As recently as 2015, some 86% of the water in the South Platte gets used by agriculture – sometimes time and again. By some estimates, water from the Platte gets used seven times before the river meekly enters Nebraska, thoroughly tired.

Like the Colorado River, the Platte has problems aplenty. The Colorado has been tamed, but so has the South Platte. The Colorado becomes nothing—literally—shortly after it enters Mexico. The South Platte becomes basically nothing during its journey through Denver.

Dylan Wilson on the banks of the Rio Grande near Las Cruces, N.M. Photo credit: Allen Best

Context always matters. “You know the saying that all politics is local,” says Lukas. “All vulnerability is local.”

Even within this one basin, the challenges differ. Consider the consequences of the 2002 drought. Aurora, the strapping suburb on Denver’s eastern side, came uncomfortably close to draining its reservoirs. In response, the city tightened up conservation measures but also created a major water-reuse project called Prairie Waters. It reclaims water released after treatment at the Metropolitan Wastewater Treatment Plant after it has flowed for about 20 miles in the river’s banks and adjoining aquifers. Near Fort Lupton, the water gets drawn from an aquifer for pumping 34 miles back to Aurora Reservoir.

Denver Water, a much bigger provider, rode out that drought more easily. There were pinches, which it is still trying to address via both conservation but also expansion of Gross Reservoir. But the point is that context matters—and, oh by the way, it’s not just the Colorado River struggling to meet all the demands imposed on it.

This is from the Jan. 28, 2021, issue of Big Pivots, an e-magazine tracking the energy transition in Colorado and beyond. Subscribe at http://bigpivots.com

Making his case even more granular, Lukas points to the needs and vulnerabilities in just one city, Boulder.

“People who live in Gunbarrel (a community jutting out from the city’s northeast corner) have a different vulnerability relative to their water supply than do people in the central part of Boulder, because they are served by a different set of raw water sources, treatment plants, and pipelines.”

Like the Colorado River, the Platte is a contentious river among the states through which it passes. Actually, there has been contention in nearly every river originating in Colorado.

Rio Grande and Pecos River basins. Map credit: By Kmusser – Own work, Elevation data from SRTM, drainage basin from GTOPO [1], U.S. stream from the National Atlas [2], all other features from Vector Map., CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11218868

Consider the Rio Grande, which arises in the San Juan Mountains and flows through the San Luis Valley on its way into New Mexico and eventually the Gulf of Mexico. New Mexico believes that the river never delivers enough water. From south of that border, flows are carefully monitored.

The Arkansas River slithers across the prairie near the remains of Bents New Fort, in southeastern Colorado. Photo credit: Allen Best

The Arkansas River Basin has also provoked expensive courtroom showdowns with Kansas. Colorado and Kansas don’t even pronounce the name of the river the same, East of Holly, where the river enters the Sunflower State, it becomes the ar-Kansas River. In the Centennial State, it’s universally the Ar-kan-saw River.

Sure, the Arkansas and the South Platte both benefit from imported water from the Colorado River Basin. In the case of the Platte, a little more than 33% of the annual flows comes from the various tunnels and ditches that extract water from the Colorado River headwaters. But just because these rivers get help from the Colorado River does not diminish their own unique challenges.

Arkansas River Basin via The Encyclopedia of Earth

Again, there’s the question of how can the co-author of a 500-page report about the Colorado River say that this same river gets too much attention, at least compared to other rivers. Lukas acknowledges he sounds like the pot calling the kettle black.

It is, he says, a matter of balance.

“It would be valuable to have this same sort of science synthesis done for other basins as well,” he said.

Pueblo #drought conditions aided slightly by recent snow — The #Pueblo Chieftain

Colorado Drought Monitor January 19, 2021.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Heather Willard):

“We need snow and a lot of snow,” warned Tony Anderson, service hydrologist for the National Weather Service in Pueblo. Anderson has been studying the drought levels in Southern Colorado for years and said that this is the worst he has seen, possibly ever…

The dry weather spells bad news for the continuing drought.

“What (the climatic indicators) are telling us right now is we have a very good chance of being warm and dry through April and May,” Anderson said. “Now, that’s not to say they are going to be warm and dry, it’s just that the probabilities are good. This is one of those times where I really hope I’m wrong.”

Anderson noted Pueblo County is typically one of the drier areas in the state, tempering the severity of the current drought situation…

The other part of the equation is that Pueblo has received more precipitation than other parts of the state this year, which is unusual. Typically, Pueblo receives less precipitation throughout the year than the mountainous regions, but recent months have been wet in relation to other areas of the state.

Anderson tracks the area’s precipitation amounts, as well as temperatures, vegetation growth and rivers for drought data. This same data is what the U.S. Drought Monitor, a national organization that focuses on broad-scale conditions, uses to publish a weekly drought map…

The city’s reserves are in good shape for the upcoming year, noted Alan Ward, Pueblo Department of Water Works Water Resources Division Manager, but as a precautionary measure short-term water lease agreements have been put on hold. The agreements are typically used for agricultural purposes.

“We have about 30,000 acre feet of water in storage, which should be plenty to meet full demand,” Ward said. “As always, we advise our residents to use water wisely.”

Meet the gun-toting ‘Tenacious Unicorns’ in rural #Colorado — @HighCountryNews

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

From The High Country News (Eric Siegel) [January 14, 2021, be sure to click through for the photos]:

A year ago, transgender rancher Penny Logue found the dome. Fed up with a hostile landlord in the city and fearful for their safety amid record-high deaths in the transgender community nationwide, Logue and her business partner, Bonnie Nelson, sought refuge in the rural, open rangelands.

The geodesic dome perched on sprawling acreage in the remote Wet Mountain Valley on the eastern flank of the Sangre de Cristo Mountain Range, near the rural ranching hamlet of Westcliffe, Colorado. They were intrigued. “Domes are funky and cool and a bit against the status quo — and they help the planet,” Logue told me. So they bought it.

“They are weird but useful,” she said, “which is the essence of queer.”

If the dome caught their attention, the dramatic Wet Mountain Valley convinced them to stay. “We fell in love,” said Logue. “You emerge out of the mountains into the valley and the Sangre de Cristo range just breaks in front of you.” She and Nelson were unexpectedly taken with Westcliffe too — its quaint storefronts and theater, the wide sidewalks, signs for “Shakespeare in the Park.”

They bought the dome, and by March, with the pandemic raging and a divisive presidential election roiling, relocated to the valley and created the Tenacious Unicorn Ranch, a community of gun-loving, transgender, anti-fascist alpaca ranchers. While they already knew the financial, physical, and emotional challenges of operating a successful ranch, they had no idea that the Wet Mountain Valley had become a cauldron of right-wing conservatism — home to militias, vigilantes, Three Percenters — anathema to the ranch’s gender-inclusive, anti-racist, ecological politics.

Penny Logue reclines on a pile of hay as she coaxes the friendliest members of the ranch’s alpaca herd closer to her. Photo credit: Luna Anna Archey/High Country News

But rather than retreat, the unique LGBTQ+ community, around a dozen strong, asserted its right to exist. They armed up and began speaking out, quickly developing a local reputation that galvanized other local rural progressives. In the process, they’ve showed how queer communities can flourish. “We belong here,” Logue told me this past November. “Queers are reclaiming country spaces.”

CUSTER COUNTY, COLORADO, where the newly formed Tenacious Unicorn Ranch is located, is named after George Armstrong Custer. It was founded in March 1877 — nine months after Custer’s defeat at The Battle of Little Bighorn — and its overwhelmingly white, rural and conservative population hovers at around 5,000. While Colorado as a whole has shifted left in recent years, Custer County has tacked right: In every presidential election since 2008, when John McCain carried the county by 63%, the percentage of Republican votes has steadily increased; Trump won with nearly 70% in 2020.

But the county defies easy categorization. Locals describe Westcliffe, the county seat, as politically “purple.” The town is a mecca of sorts, a gateway to thousands of acres of protected wilderness, and its pristine dark skies attract photographers and stargazers from around the world. (It is a certified International Dark Sky Community, one of only a handful worldwide.) A number of countercultural communities have found a foothold there over the years—from Mission: Wolf, an off-the-grid wolf sanctuary founded in the 1980s, to the Mountain Publishing Company, the conservative media organization that publishes the weekly Sangre de Cristo Sentinel (“The Voice of Conservative Colorado!”). The Sentinel’s articles and columns — one called “Patriot Alert!” — editorialize on gun culture, patriotism and the history of “the Old West.”

When I visited the ranch around Thanksgiving, the late-afternoon light was reverberant, volleying off the Wet Mountains and Sangre de Cristos, casting a luminous glow across the landscape. J, a Texan who moved to the ranch in June — after losing her job and housing in the pandemic — waved to me from a long stairwell outside the dome’s entrance. Dressed in all-black denim, she was masked and distanced in a black cowboy hat and stylish black boots, armed with her favorite firearm, a Ruger-57. Ten enthusiastic dogs — five Great Pyrenees and Australian shepherd puppies, all named after Star Trek characters (Worf, Seven of Nine, Geordi, Lore and Data) — howled, tails wagging like windshield wipers. Nearly a hundred hissing alpaca trundled across the pasture.

The ranch exists at a philosophical intersection that is immediately evident inside the dome, where a wall displays prized firearms — Bonnie’s sniper, a Springfield AR-15, two 12-gauge shotguns and a 22-rifle — and flags for The Iron Front, the anti-Nazi symbol used by 1930s paramilitary groups, which now symbolizes anti-fascism and intersectional Pride. Pride flags with colorful stripes — pink, rose, yellow, green, pewter, black, white — bedeck the wall, celebrating asexuality, agender identity, lesbianism and nonbinary gender identities.

Since Logue founded the ranch in 2018, its frontier libertarian ethos has attracted social justice activists and gun-rights advocates, all seeking sanctuary. “We’re a haven. We offer work, we offer shelter, we offer peace,” says Logue, gesturing toward the expansive open space surrounding us. “There are a lot of people who visit for upwards of a week and just enjoy their time away from society,” Nelson added.

“And cry,” Logue said. “When that ranch gate shuts behind you, the cis world stays out there.”

On that November afternoon at the barn, Justine — a 21-year-old who moved to the ranch in July — filled water basins for the alpaca and sheep and fed the ducks and chickens. “I started the watering because it was needed, but then I realized I was doing it because it got me out of bed,” she said. “As long as the alpaca are healthy and fed, we can keep growing and help more people.”

Logue and her cohort seek to challenge the patriotic myths — about Manifest Destiny, liberty and freedom — that their Wet Mountain Valley neighbors double-down on in The Sentinel. “The American frontier or ‘the American West’ wasn’t conquered with rugged individualism,” she said. “It was conquered by communities sticking together. … Nobody did that by themselves.” Their social mission — akin to that of mutual-aid networks and similar to anti-fascist groups like The Redneck Revolt as well as leftist pro-gun groups like the John Brown Gun Club or the Socialist Rifle Association — stems from their political commitments. “It isn’t through harsh words and violence that you defeat fascism,” Logue told me. “It’s through building community, but only if you can stay alive long enough to do it. That means you have to be armed — because fascists are armed, always.”

This is something they’ve learned firsthand. “There are militias in the Wet Mountain Valley,” Logue said. “They’ve showed up armed and threatening.” That spurred the ranchers to arm up. “Moving here demanded gun ownership,” she continued. The ranchers watched from their front porch with a high-powered scope and sniper rifle — the Springfield AR-15 on the living room wall — staking out visitors loitering at the end of their driveway. The visits ceased. It’s rumored locally that militias unofficially “patrol” their surroundings to establish dominance. “In order to be treated as a human, you have to show you can defend yourself more than they can hurt you,” Logue said. “Then you can reach equality.”

But achieving that has been elusive. This past summer, with COVID-19 cases rising, residents disagreed about local officials’ handling of the pandemic. The town’s political conflicts erupted on July Fourth, when armed demonstrators — led by The Custer Citizens for Liberty, a right-wing patriot group that The Sentinel frequently endorsed — paraded through downtown Westcliffe, protesting the Custer County Board of Health’s decision to cancel the annual Independence Day Parade. The ranchers had planned to avoid the protest downtown but got caught in the crowds during morning errands. “We saw them flying the Three Percenter flags front and center and everybody was armed. It was a fascist parade,” Logue told me. “So, we came back and started antifa accounts on Instagram. We called them out on being Nazis by tweeting about them, then on Facebook.”

What happened next surprised them. “There was a real upsurge from the leftist community in the Valley,” said Logue. The outcry created an unexpected opening, as they unknowingly tapped into long-simmering sentiments. Meanwhile, they found another niche: Many residents began employing them in local handiwork and physical labor. The ranchers also provide recycling services at the county landfill. That has exponentially increased their visibility: “It’s really hard for people to paint you as ‘weird’ or whatever, if you’re just helping people,” Logue said.

If the political headwinds they faced seem daunting, they’ve also made them adapt. “We’re queer. We get second-guessed all the time,” Logue said. “We’re always having to innovate and think ahead.” When they couldn’t get certain Department of Agriculture livestock loans, for example — alpacas are technically classified as pets — they acquired a few sheep. “There’s something inherently queer about how many alpaca we have. People don’t know what to do with us,” said Kathryn, one of Logue’s partners, who goes by her first name only. “Sure, we’ll bring out some sheep, I guess that makes us ‘normal’ or whatever, but that’s the closest we’ll get to assimilation.”

This underscores a larger point: Exceeding established categories, and reinventing something better in their wake, is a hallmark of “Camp culture” — what critic Susan Sontag famously described in her 1964 essay “Notes on ‘Camp’” as the “love of the exaggerated, the ‘off’ … the spirit of extravagance.” The perceived surplus or frivolity is the point. Hence the large number of alpaca (nearly 200, as of January): It’s a sensibility, a vision — a distinctly ecological one. “We deliberately chose alpaca because their poop is particularly good for establishing deep soil,” Logue said. “We do natural farming and ranching, so we don’t rob the land of its inherent goodness. We make it better.” The Tenacious Unicorns and their brand of Camp culture are leading the way, seeding a blueprint, reinventing what rural America can be.

“What we lose by thinking of rural America as a white stronghold. …” Logue drifted off. “You know, there’s plenty of space in those communities for queer voices.”

Eric Siegel is an editorial intern for High Country News. Email him at eric.siegel@hcn.org.

Decision looms on Holy Cross reservoir exploration permit — @WaterEdCO #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification #EagleRiver

Mystic Island Lake, Holy Cross Wilderness Area, south of Eagle, Colorado. By CoMtMan – Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=12260170

From Water Education Colorado (Jerd Smith):

The U.S. Forest Service said it is just weeks away from deciding whether a high-profile request to explore the geological feasibility of a new reservoir site in Colorado’s Eagle County that would capture water flowing from the iconic Holy Cross Wilderness should be granted.

The request comes from Aurora and Colorado Springs, among others, who want to be able to capture more of the water flowing from the wilderness area to meet their own growing needs.

David Boyd, a spokesman for the U.S. Forest Service, said a decision is expected “early this year.”

Proponents had hoped for a decision late last summer, but Boyd said the delay wasn’t unusual and was triggered in part by last summer’s Grizzly Creek Fire.

Aurora and Colorado Springs, which own and operate the only reservoir in the area, Homestake I, hope to demonstrate that they can divert more water and build another reservoir to serve Front Range and West Slope interests without damaging the delicate wetlands and streams in the mountain forests there.

But in advance of any request to build an actual reservoir, they have asked the Forest Service for a special use permit to survey the area and to bore several test holes to determine soil conditions and areas best suited to build the proposed Whitney Reservoir.

If a reservoir were to be built, it would also require that the 122,000-acre-plus wilderness area shrink by 500 acres, an action that will require congressional approval.

Significant opposition to the exploratory permit erupted almost as soon as the proposal became public last year. The U.S. Forest Service received more than 500 comments on the proposal last summer. The majority of those were opposed to it, citing the need to protect the wilderness and the need to preserve as much of the region’s water as possible. The Eagle River, a part of the Colorado River system, is fed in large part by the Holy Cross watershed.

Warren Hern, a co-founder of the Defenders of the Holy Cross Wilderness, said the plan would do irrevocable damage to the rare bogs and wildflowers that populate the area.

He also noted that the proposed reservoir site lies along a major fault line.

“We will do everything in our power to stop this,” Hern said.

Greg Baker, a spokesman for Aurora Water, said his agency is well aware of the special relationship thousands of Coloradans have with the Holy Cross and its spectacular wetlands and hiking trails.

Baker declined to comment for this article, saying the agency would wait until the Forest Service issues a decision.

But in a recent interview, Baker said the cities had little choice but to pursue additional water supplies to meet growing demand.

“Water is a rare commodity and it needs to be used very carefully,” Baker said.

He also said any environmental damage that might occur could be successfully mitigated.

“What you do is wetlands rehabilitation, where you develop wetlands in other areas on a two- or three-to-one basis so you’re restoring additional wetlands for those you may lose,” Baker said.

The new proposal comes under a 1998 agreement known as the Eagle River Memorandum of Understanding, which allows the reservoir proponents to develop enough water to serve environmental, municipal and industrial interests.

Parties to the 1998 agreement include Aurora, Colorado Springs, the Colorado River District, the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District, and the Upper Eagle Regional Water Authority.

Located west of Vail between Minturn and Leadville, the Holy Cross Wilderness Area was the subject of a significant battle in the 1980s when Aurora and Colorado Springs sought to build a second major reservoir there known as Homestake II.

After the case made it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, Homestake II was defeated in 1994.

In exchange, however, the cities were granted permission to develop a smaller amount of water in the future in partnership with Western Slope interests, resulting in the permit request now being considered by the Forest Service.

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly listed Vail Associates as a participant in the Whitney Reservoir proposal.

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.

CDPHE will not lower mercury limits — The #Leadville Herald-Democrat

Leadville

From The Leadville Herald-Democrat (Sean Summers):

Following more than a year of back-and-forth with state regulators, the Leadville Sanitation District has been issued a new wastewater discharge permit that will allow for the same amount of mercury to be present in treated water released into California Gulch.

The new permit, issued by the Colorado Department of Health and Environment (CDPHE), came after outside evaluations and public comments to the state agency called attention to Leadville Sanitation District’s (LSD) inability to meet proposed lower mercury limits without substantial upgrades.

The previous permit limited acceptable mercury levels in treated water to 0.077 micrograms per liter. Though CDPHE was going to require a lower limit of 0.044 micrograms per liter in the new permit, the limit will remain the same under the recently implemented five-year discharge permit.

While the new permit maintains the same limits for mercury levels, it requires the sanitation district to monitor for a number of contaminants not previously recorded, including uranium and radium, among others.

The permit, citing a 1989 report regarding the release of gasoline from underground storage tanks, also calls for new monitoring of benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene given the potential for groundwater contamination from the Tabor Grand Hotel service site.

The permit went into effect on Jan. 1, and requires regular reporting of contaminant levels to CDPHE.

LSD has had issues meeting the 0.077 microgram-per-liter mercury limit in the past. The district was found to be out of compliance with state-determined mercury limits in 2017, prompting evaluations of the district’s collection system.

As the organization responsible for receiving, treating and releasing all of Lake County’s wastewater, LSD has since been evaluating the sources of entry for contaminants into the county’s wastewater system.

While the district has not been able to pinpoint the exact entry point for mercury and other contaminants, evaluations of the district’s aging collection system, made up of pipes and drains throughout Leadville, suggest that the intake system has leaks which may allow for contaminant infiltration and leakage.

After recording a lower-than-expected amount of incoming sewage based on the number of residences and businesses served in the sanitation district, CDPHE is requiring LSD address the issue under the new permit. In its explanation of the new requirement, CDPHE says the low input may be a result of sewage leaking from the collection system before reaching the treatment facility.

The new permit requires LSD to meet acceptable mercury limits stipulated in the 2021 permit by September 2023. The district is required to submit a report that identifies sources of cadmium, zinc, benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene by Sept. 30 of this year.

Wall Street Eyes Billions in the #Colorado’s #Water — The #NewYork Times #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Water Asset Management bought this 57-acre parcel as part of a $6 million deal in January 2020. The land is irrigated with water from the Grand Valley Irrigation Company Canal. Photo credit: Bethany Blitz/Aspen Journalism

Here’s an in-depth look at current water transfers in the Colorado River Basin Ben Ryder Howe that’s running in The New York Times. Click through to read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:

Investor interest in the river could redefine century-old rules for who controls one of the most valuable economic resources in the United States.

There is a myth about water in the Western United States, which is that there is not enough of it. But those who deal closely with water will tell you this is false. There is plenty. It is just in the wrong places.

Cibola, Ariz., is one of the wrong places. Home to about 300 people, depending on what time of year you’re counting, the town sits on the California border, in a stretch of the Sonoran Desert encircled by fanglike mountains and seemingly dead rocky terrain. Driving across the expanse, where the temperature often hovers near 115 degrees, I found myself comforted by the sight of an oncoming eighteen-wheeler carrying bales of hay, which at least implied the existence of something living where I was headed.

Thanks to the Colorado River, which meanders through town, Cibola is a verdant oasis that chatters at dusk with swooping birds. Along both banks, a few hundred acres produce lush alfalfa and cotton, amid one of the more arid and menacing environments in North America.

This scene is unlikely to last, though. A few years ago a firm called Greenstone, a subsidiary of a subsidiary of the financial-services conglomerate MassMutual, quietly bought the rights to most of Cibola’s water. Greenstone then moved to sell the water to one of the right places: Queen Creek, a fast-growing suburb of Phoenix 175 miles away, full of tract houses and backyard pools.

Transferring water from agricultural communities to cities, though often contentious, is not a new practice. Much of the West, including Los Angeles and Las Vegas, was made by moving water. What is new is for private investors — in this case an investment fund in Phoenix, with owners on the East Coast — to exert that power.

When I reached Holly Irwin, a county supervisor who lives in Cibola, by phone a couple of weeks after my visit, she was angry.

“They’re going to make big bucks off the water, and who’s going to suffer?” she said. “It’s the rural counties going up against big money.”

Grady Gammage Jr., a spokesman for Greenstone, said, “In my view there is enough water both to sustain a significant agricultural economy on the river and to support urban growth in central Arizona.”

[…]

Water from the Colorado River flows through the Grand Valley Irrigation Company’s canal near Palisade, shown in a file photo. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

In the West, few issues carry the political charge of water. Access to it can make or break both cities and rural communities. It can decide the fate of every part of the economy, from almond orchards to ski resorts to semiconductor factories. And with the worst drought in 1,500 years parching the region, water anxiety is at an all-time high.

In the last few years, a new force has emerged: From the Western Slope of the Rockies to Southern California, a proliferation of private investors like Greenstone have descended upon isolated communities, scouring the driest terrain in the United States to buy coveted water rights.

The most valuable of these rights were grandfathered in decades before the population explosion in desert cities like Phoenix and Las Vegas, and privilege water access to small, often family-owned farms in stressed communities. Rechanneling water from rural areas to thirsty growth spots like Queen Creek has long been handled by municipal water managers and utilities, but investors adept at sniffing out undervalued assets sense an opportunity.

As investor interest mounts, leaders of Southwestern states are gathering this month to decide the future of the Colorado River. The negotiations have the potential to redefine rules that for the last century have governed one of the most valuable economic resources in the United States…

Increasingly, the river is threatened by drought, with flows down 20 percent over the last 20 years. As a result, the talks starting in January will be a vehicle for urgent attempts to manage the water, including replenishing downstream reservoirs. By design, the five-year process is ponderous and built to be consensus-driven, with an eye toward shared sacrifice.

Most of the water in the 1,450-mile-long river comes from Colorado, and as that state’s top water official from 2013 to 2017, James Eklund directed the creation of a comprehensive long-term plan to address climate change, the first by a state in the West. He believes that the last best hope against the drought is a market-based solution, one that allows private investors seeking a profit a significant hand in redrawing the map of water distribution in the West.

“I have seen time and again the wisdom of using incentives that attract private sector investment and innovation,” Mr. Eklund said. “Dealing with the threat of climate change to our water requires all sectors, public and private, working together.”

James Eklund, hails from a Western Slope ranching family. He often works to add a touch of levity to otherwise serious-minded state-level water meetings. Photo credit: Aspen Journalism

To proponents of open markets, water is underpriced and consequently overused. In theory, a market-based approach discourages wasteful low-value water uses, especially in agriculture, which consumes more than 70 percent of the water in the Southwest, and creates incentives for private enterprise to become involved. Investors and the environment may benefit, but water will almost certainly be more expensive…

The interested players range from financial firms to university endowments to investor groups, including at least two in Colorado led by former governors. T. Boone Pickens, the Texas oilman who died in 2019, was an early evangelist of water buys. Another supporter is Michael Burry, the hedge fund manager portrayed by Christian Bale in “The Big Short,” who made more than $800 million shorting the subprime mortgage market in the mid-2000s.

Matthew Diserio, the president and co-founder of the hedge fund Water Asset Management, has called the U.S. water business “the biggest emerging market on earth” and “a trillion-dollar market opportunity.”

WAM, based in New York and San Francisco, invests broadly in water-related ventures, and one of its core businesses is collecting water rights in arid states like Arizona and Colorado. Since leaving government, Mr. Eklund has become WAM’s legal counsel and public face.

“They’re making water a commodity,” said Regina Cobb, the Arizona assemblywoman who represents Cibola. “That’s not what water is meant to be.”

Private investors would like to bring in or amplify existing elements of Wall Street for the water industry, such as futures markets and trading that occurs in milliseconds. Most would like to see the price of water, long set in quiet by utilities and governments, rise precipitously.

Traders could exploit volatility, whether due to drought, failing infrastructure or government restrictions. Water markets have been called a “paradise for arbitrage,” an approach in which professionals use trading speed and access to information for profit. The situation has been compared to the energy markets of the late 1990s, in which firms like Enron made money from shortages (some of which, it turned out, traders engineered themselves).

Many see the compact as a safeguard isolating the river from the market.

The negotiating states will be focused on restoring the flow of the Colorado River, which has been so diminished by use that from 1998 to 2014 it did not even reach its natural terminus in the Gulf of California. But they will also be looking at rebalancing water levels in Lake Powell and Lake Mead, two federally owned reservoirs that hold water to use in case of extreme drought…

“The reality is we have an overallocated river,” said Jeffrey Kightlinger, general manager of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, the largest water supplier in the country. “You’ve got two drivers exacerbating the problem. One, moving very rapidly, is climate change. And you’re still seeing continued growth. So you’re going to see a very important negotiation.”

The emergence of open markets could outpace the negotiations. If states, cities, big farms and utilities were able to buy water freely, especially across state lines, the allocations of the compact could be obviated and the governmental power to manage the fate of the river eroded.

“The Western model is a sort of comprehensive, consensus-based public discussion, and it’s worked very well,” said Bruce Babbitt, a former governor of Arizona and secretary of the interior during the Clinton administration. “My fear is that the speculators are going to break it. They’re going to try to break up the system.”

‘A Pool Within the Pool’

In the last few years, Colorado has been debating a water policy approach that has further piqued the interest of private investors: paying farmers not to use the river at all.

Demand management, as the policy is known, is an attempt to solve the so-called wrong places problem and free up water from agriculture and reroute it to urban uses and conservation.

“The idea is, if you pay the farmers enough, they’ll go away,” said Brad Udall, a water and climate researcher at Colorado State University whose family have been lawmakers in the region for 60 years…

It’s not necessarily a new concept — in parts of Southern California, farmers have been paid for more than a decade to fallow land. Nor is it official policy yet. But Mr. Eklund would like it to be.

As Colorado’s water commissioner, he piloted a demand-management program and was known for crisscrossing Colorado’s back roads to convince skeptical farmers of the benefits of the approach. Later, as the state’s negotiator on the Colorado River, he helped make it an official goal of the compact states.

Mr. Eklund secured an “account” in Lake Powell. In theory, water saved by demand management could flow to the account, often called “a pool within the pool,” and be drawn upon if the current drought continues to realize worst-case scenarios.

However, the same water could also flow where water often flows: toward the highest bidder. WAM and other investors could theoretically create their own reservoir “accounts” and let the water sit until its value was maximized.

Andy Mueller, general manager of the Colorado River District, is skeptical. “They’d have to have a storage account of their own in a federal reservoir, and from my perspective that’s a nonstarter,” Mr. Mueller said. “Right now, we have legal and political mechanisms in place to prevent that from happening.”

He added, though, that the pressure of the drought could shift the terrain. “Is that something that can change? Yeah. And crisis drives change.”

[…]

Flipping Water

The proponents of water markets say they are not in it just for the money. They believe that the West has an outdated and overregulated system governing access to water, which has encouraged the cultivation of crops in the desert.

“Agriculture all over the West required the development of irrigation infrastructure, such as dams and ditches,” Mr. Libecap said. “Often, the best land in the West is not along rivers, so you needed to move water.”

The system worked as long as there was enough to go around, said Mr. Libecap, who recently advised the State of Colorado on its growing water problems…

Mr. Mueller believes that the demand management pilot program triggered a land rush in rural western Colorado, with investors snapping up farms and flipping their water rights.

WAM has become one of the largest landholders in the Grand Valley, a high-mountain desert on the Western Slope of the Rockies, 250 miles west of Denver. But Mr. Eklund denies that the firm is flipping water rights…

Of course, not everyone has been displeased by the arrival of hedge funds reportedly paying millions in cash for old farms. Marc Catlin, a third-generation farmer who represents western Colorado in the General Assembly, said, “A farmer’s property is their 401(k).”

The Enron Fear

Where water investors have historically gotten involved in markets is through agriculture, with mixed results.

In 2015, California got just 5 percent of its average annual snowpack, the lowest in 500 years. Utilities, which in previous dry years bought water from farmers, found they could no longer afford it. The price had risen tenfold in a matter of months.

It wasn’t just the drought: California’s crops had shifted from low-value seasonal vegetables like lettuce and bell peppers to permanent non-staples, like almonds, that were so valuable that it was no longer economical for farmers to sell water to cities, even as prices spiked.

Mr. Kightlinger, of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, traces the recent private-investor interest in water to the 2015 crisis. “When you have pistachio and almond farmers willing to pay 10 times the average price, people sit up and say, ‘How can I own some of this?’” he said…

California’s agricultural water markets — a mosaic of online exchanges connecting farmers and water brokers — are considered a potential model for the West: fast, flexible and responsive to extreme weather. In September, Nasdaq and CME Group, the world’s largest derivatives marketplace, announced plans to open a futures market for California water, joining it with commodities like Brent crude oil and soybeans.

The market in the Colorado-Big Thompson Project is also nimble and responsive. An engineering marvel from the heyday of federal water construction, the project is a vast network or reservoirs filled by a tunnel that pipes water from the Colorado River 13 miles under the Continental Divide. The high-tech market there services Denver and other cities, fueling development in some of the fastest-growing housing markets in the country. In the last 10 years, the price of water there has gone up more than eightfold.

In Australia, however, water markets have had unintended consequences. Valued at $2 billion after 14 years in existence, Australia’s markets primarily facilitate trades in agricultural areas. When started, they were hailed as a fast, flexible way of redistributing water on the driest inhabited continent, with little regulation attached.

“We went harder and faster than anyone and let the market rip,” said Stuart Kells, a professor at La Trobe Business School in Melbourne. “We let anyone come play.”

This led to domination by professional investors with no ownership of farmland, Mr. Kells said. As a result, “water has turned into a financialized product like what happened to energy in the late 1990s,” he said.

Last year, Australia’s devastating wildfires and drought spiked water prices. Subsequently, the government’s antitrust department started an inquiry. Though it stopped short of calling for a shutdown, an interim report last summer recommended comprehensive changes in water markets, citing inadequate regulation and market exploitation by professional traders.

“Here water is very scarce, and in periods of shortage traders essentially cheer on the drought,” Mr. Kells said. “The markets have become a paradise for arbitrage.” He compared the dynamic to “California in the 1990s, where fires and outages were beneficial for traders because of price spikes and you saw Enron traders cheering on fires.”

Australia has also seen the advent of a market in complex financial products, such as derivatives, based on water.

“What has happened in Australia should be a cautionary tale for America,” Mr. Kells said. “The way the markets were set up left them open to being gamed.”

Chaffee County commissioners extend Nestlé 1041 permit to August 4, 2021 #ArkansasRiver

A plane flying across the Sawatch Range in Colorado in the approximate location of Monarch Pass in February 2017 showed the string of 14,000-foot peaks commonly called the Collegiate Peaks to the north. Photo/Allen Best

From Heart of the Rockies Radio (Joe Stone):

The Chaffee County Commissioners approved a contract for Denver-based Harvey Economics to conduct an economic impact study of Nestlé Waters North America’s local operations.

In corresponding moves, the Commissioners voted to extend Nestlé’s existing 1041 permit to Aug. 4, 2021, and voted to continue the permit hearing to Jan. 19, 2021.

The existing permit allows Nestlé to pump up to 196 acre-feet of water per year at Ruby Mountain Spring, and Nestlé has applied for a 10-year permit extension.

The Commissioners have temporarily extended the original permit by more than a year, and this most recent extension will allow Nestlé to continue its operations while the economic study is conducted.

The extension also allows time for county officials, Nestlé and members of the public to review and comment on the economic study.

In discussing the timeline for the ongoing 1041 hearing, the Commissioners indicated they expect Harvey Economics to complete the study in approximately 3 months, after which Nestlé will have the study reviewed by a consultant.

Members of the public will have an opportunity to review the study, review Nestlé’s response, and comment on both documents, with Commissioners expecting to render a decision on Nestlé’s permit application by early June.

If the Commissioners deny the permit extension, Nestlé would have until Aug. 4, 2021, to phase out its Chaffee County operations.

Commissioners Chairman Greg Felt raised the issue of plastic bottles and asked Nestlé Natural Resource Manager Larry Lawrence about the feasibility of converting an existing bottling plant to use biodegradable bottles.

#Colorado winter snow outlook bleak after dry summer; emergency #drought plan activated — The #ColoradoSprings Gazette #snowpack

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Mary Shinn):

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is calling for drought conditions across the state to persist and possibly worsen into next year as a La Niña weather pattern brings above-normal temperatures and dry conditions to the southwestern U.S., said David Miskus, a meteorologist with the Climate Prediction Center.

US Drought Monitor December 8, 2020.

The entire state is already seeing drought conditions, with more than two-thirds in extreme or exceptional drought. Most of El Paso County is in extreme drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

To help prepare, Colorado has activated its municipal emergency drought plan for only the second time in history as several cities say they need to prepare for what is almost certainly going to be a dangerously dry 2021.

For Colorado Springs Utilities, activating the drought plan means increasing its communication between other major water users about water storage, future water supplies, and operational plans, said Patrick Wells, general manager with Colorado Springs Utilities Water Resources and Demand Management…

Planning for drought and water supply in the state is becoming harder as supply becomes increasingly variable, Wells and other experts said…

Brad Udall: Here’s the latest version of my 4-Panel plot thru Water Year (Oct-Sep) of 2019 of the #coriver big reservoirs, natural flows, precipitation, and temperature. Data goes back or 1906 (or 1935 for reservoirs.) This updates previous work with @GreatLakesPeck

For example, last winter’s snowfall was fairly strong across the state and, on April 1, the snowpack for the upper Colorado River Basin had reached 100% of average. But the basin saw only 52% of normal runoff when experts would have expected to see much, much more water, said Brad Udall, senior water and climate research scientist at the Colorado Water Institute at Colorado State University.

Colorado Springs relies heavily on water from the Colorado River basin.

Water in the Colorado basin was likely lost to thirsty soils because the fall of 2019 was so dry and some water likely evaporated in the warm spring temperatures, he said.

“It’s not typical, but it could very well be our future,” Udall said…

For water users along the lower Arkansas River, in counties like Pueblo and Otero, the runoff from the 2020 snowpack came fast along with higher temperatures that drove evaporation, said Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District…

But, he agrees with Udall, that higher temperatures and lower flows could be the new normal. Lakes east of Pueblo are seeing 50% of their capacity lost to evaporation and that could go up, he said. So projects to preserve water in the system need to get underway to help deal with it, he said.

“We are still managing water like we did 50 years ago,” Winner said.

Lining ditches and ponds can help more water reach the fields and once it gets there, center-pivot sprinkler systems and drip irrigation can also help farms water more efficiently, he said.

New Interim Strategy Will Address #PFAS Through Certain @EPA-Issued #Wastewater Permits

Here’s the release from the Environmental Protection AgencyK:

Aggressively addressing per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in the environment continues to be an active and ongoing priority for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Today, the agency is announcing two important steps to address PFAS. First, EPA issued a memorandum detailing an interim National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permitting strategy for addressing PFAS in EPA-issued wastewater permits. Second, EPA released information on progress in developing new analytical methods to test for PFAS compounds in wastewater and other environmental media. Together, these actions help ensure that federally enforceable wastewater monitoring for PFAS can begin as soon as validated analytical methods are finalized.

“Better understanding and addressing PFAS is a top priority for EPA, and the agency is continuing to develop needed research and policies,” said EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler. “For the first time in EPA’s history, we are utilizing all of our program offices to address a singular, cross-cutting contaminant and the agency’s efforts are critical to supporting our state and local partners.”

“Managing and mitigating PFAS in water is a priority for the Office of Water as we continue our focus on meeting 21st century challenges,” said EPA Assistant Administrator for Water David Ross. “These actions mark important steps in developing the underlying science and permitting techniques to address PFAS in wastewater where the discharge of these chemicals may be of concern.”

EPA’s interim NPDES permitting strategy for PFAS provides recommendations from a cross-agency workgroup on an interim approach to include PFAS-related conditions in EPA-issued NPDES permits. EPA is the permitting authority for three states (Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Mexico), the District of Columbia, most U.S. territories including Puerto Rico, Indian Country, and certain federal facilities. The strategy advises EPA permit writers to consider including PFAS monitoring at facilities where these chemicals are expected to be present in wastewater discharges, including from municipal separate storm sewer systems and industrial stormwater permits. The PFAS that could be considered for monitoring are those that will have validated EPA analytical methods for wastewater testing, which the agency anticipates being available on a phased-in schedule as multi-lab validated wastewater analytical methods are finalized. The agency’s interim strategy also encourages the use of best management practices where appropriate to control or abate the discharge of PFAS and includes recommendations to facilitate information sharing to foster adoption of best practices across states and localities.

In coordination with the interim NPDES permitting strategy, EPA is also providing information on the status of analytical methods needed to test for PFAS in wastewater. EPA is developing analytical methods in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Defense to test for PFAS in wastewater and other environmental media, such as soils. The agency is releasing a list of 40 PFAS chemicals that are the subject of analytical method development. This method would be in addition to Method 533 and Method 537.1 that are already approved and can measure 29 PFAS chemicals in drinking water. EPA anticipates that multi-lab validated testing for PFAS will be finalized in 2021. For more information on testing method validation, see https://www.epa.gov/cwa-methods.

Background

EPA continues to make progress under its PFAS Action Plan to protect the environment and human health, including:

Highlighted Action: Drinking Water

  • In December 2019, EPA accomplished a key milestone in the PFAS Action Plan by publishing a new validated method to accurately test for 11 additional PFAS in drinking water. Method 533 complements EPA Method 537.1, and the agency can now measure 29 chemicals.
  • In February 2020, EPA took an important step in implementing the agency’s PFAS Action Plan by proposing to regulate PFOA and PFOS drinking water.
  • EPA also asked for information and data on other PFAS substances, as well as sought comment on potential monitoring requirements and regulatory approaches.
  • In November 2020, EPA issued a memo detailing an interim National Pollutant Discharge Elimination (NPDES) permitting strategy for PFAS. The agency also released information on progress in developing new analytical methods to test for PFAS compounds in wastewater and other environmental media.

Highlighted Action: Cleanup

  • In December 2019, EPA issued Interim Recommendations for Addressing Groundwater Contaminated with PFOA and PFOS, which provides guidance for federal cleanup programs (e.g., CERCLA and RCRA) that will also be helpful to states and tribes.
  • The recommendations provide a starting point for making site-specific cleanup decisions and will help protect drinking water resources in communities across the country.
  • In July 2020, EPA submitted the Interim Guidance on the Destruction and Disposal of PFAS and Materials Containing PFAS to OMB for interagency review. The guidance would:
    • Provide information on technologies that may be feasible and appropriate for the destruction or disposal of PFAS and PFAS-containing materials.
    • Identify ongoing research and development activities related to destruction and disposal technologies, which may inform future guidance.
  • EPA is working on the proposed rule to designate PFOA and PFOS as hazardous substances under CERCLA. In the absence of the rule, EPA has used its existing authorities to compel cleanups.

Highlighted Action: Monitoring

  • In July 2020, EPA transmitted the Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule 5 (UCMR 5) proposal to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for interagency review. EPA anticipates proposing nationwide drinking water monitoring for PFAS that uses new methods that can detect PFAS at lower concentrations than previously possible.
  • Highlighted Action: Toxics

  • In September 2019, EPA issued an advanced notice of proposed rulemaking that would allow the public to provide input on adding PFAS to the Toxics Release Inventory toxic chemical list.
  • In June 2020, EPA issued a final regulation that added a list of 172 PFAS chemicals to Toxics Release Inventory reporting as required by the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020.
  • In July 2020, EPA issued a final regulation that can stop products containing PFAS from entering or reentering the marketplace without EPA’s explicit permission.
  • Highlighted Action: Scientific Leadership

    • EPA continues to compile and assess human and ecological toxicity information on PFAS to support risk management decisions.
    • EPA continues to develop new methods to test for additional PFAS in drinking water.
    • The agency is also validating analytical methods for surface water, groundwater, wastewater, soils, sediments and biosolids; developing new methods to test for PFAS in air and emissions; and improving laboratory methods to discover unknown PFAS.
    • EPA is developing exposure models to understand how PFAS moves through the environment to impact people and ecosystems.
    • EPA is working to develop tools to assist officials with the cleanup of contaminated sites.
    • In July 2020, EPA added new treatment information for removing PFAS from drinking water.

    Highlighted Action: Technical Assistance

    • Just as important as the progress on PFAS at the federal level are EPA efforts to form partnerships with states, tribes, and local communities across the country.
    • EPA has provided assistance to more than 30 states to help address PFAS, and the agency is continuing to build on this support.
    • These joint projects allow EPA to take the knowledge of its world-class scientists and apply it in a collaborative fashion where it counts most.

    Highlighted Action: Enforcement

    • EPA continues to use enforcement tools, when appropriate, to address PFAS exposure in the environment and assist states in enforcement activities.
    • EPA has already taken actions to address PFAS, including issuing Safe Drinking Water Act orders and providing support to states. See examples in the PFAS Action Plan.
    • To date, across the nation, EPA has addressed PFAS in 15 cases using a variety of enforcement tools under SDWA, TSCA, RCRA, and CERCLA (where appropriate), and will continue to do so to protect public health and the environment.

    Highlighted Action: Grants and Funding

    • Under this Administration, EPA’s Office of Research and Development has awarded over $15 million through dozens of grants for PFAS research.
    • In May 2019, EPA awarded approximately $3.9 million through two grants for research that will improve the agency’s understanding of human and ecological exposure to PFAS in the environment. This research will also promote a greater awareness of how to restore water quality in PFAS-impacted communities.
    • In September 2019, EPA awarded nearly $6 million to fund research by eight organizations to expand the agency’s understanding of the environmental risks posed by PFAS in waste streams and to identify practical approaches to manage potential impacts as PFAS enters the environment.
    • In August 2020, EPA awarded $4.8 million in funding for federal research to help identify potential impacts of PFAS to farms, ranches, and rural communities.

    Highlighted Action: Risk Communications

    • EPA is working collaboratively to develop a risk communication toolbox that includes multimedia materials and messaging for federal, state, tribal, and local partners to use with the public.

    Additional information about PFAS can be found at: http://www.epa.gov/pfas

    PFAS contamination in the U.S. via ewg.org. [Click the map to go to the website.]

    On Edge: Eads, a rural Eastern Plains community, plagued by #drought stigma won’t be easy to overcome — The #Colorado Sun

    Susan Greene talks mental health during drought in today’s The Colorado Sun. Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:

    Week after rainless week throughout the growing season has wounded not just local farmland, but also on the emotional landscape

    Here in Kiowa County, farmers have always relied on whatever moisture happens to fall from the sky rather than on irrigation. In August, this 1,300-person community bordering on Kansas was the first part of Colorado where drought conditions surpassed “extreme” to a level meteorologists call “exceptional.”

    That designation – which since has hit wide swaths of the West Slope – stands out on the drought map as a big brown pock.

    Colorado Drought Monitor December 1, 2020.

    Week after rainless week throughout this year’s growing season, it festered like a wound not just on local farmland, but also on the emotional landscape.

    “It’s horrible, just horrible, the ways drought can affect the human mind,” says Jimmy Brown, a third-generation farmer in Eads whose wheat and grain sorghum crops withered this year, just like those of his neighbors. “I doubt there’s a person here whose mental health hasn’t been affected by it.”

    The Eastern Plains have had dry spells. Some old-timers remember Dust Bowl conditions in the 1930s. Their children weathered extreme drought in the mid-1950s, and their children’s children endured acute dryness in 2002 and 2012. Each generation has taught the next to take the long view because they have learned that wishing – or praying – for rain doesn’t make it happen.

    Yet nobody here can remember a year so parched that little grew higher than their work boots. No one recalls ground so dry that even the bindweed stopped growing. Nobody had seen so many rain clouds roll in late afternoons during monsoon season, only to watch them keep rolling eastward without bursting…

    Brown, in addition to farming, serves as Kiowa County’s elected coroner and lone funeral director. He’s not a mental health expert, but is more tuned in than most to how locals are feeling. With drought, he says, comes uncertainty, even among majority of growers who carry insurance compensating them for the losses. With uncertainty come powerlessness, irritability and dread.

    Musings from the frontiers of mountain tourism — The Mountain Town News

    Photo credit: Allen Best/The Mountain Town News

    From The Mountain Town News, September 11, 2019, (Allen Best):-

    Our weekend getaway had us in Salida on Saturday night, enjoying Mexican food while watching people frolic in the Arkansas River.

    It’s a different town altogether from the one I first visited in 1978. The river was celebrated then, too, but the economy was based on extraction. There was a limestone quarry near Monarch Pass that was part of the steel-making process in Pueblo. Many of the town’s residents worked 72 miles away at Climax, extracting molybdenum, which also has a key role as a strengthener of steel.

    Then Ronald Reagan was elected president and the mines shut down. I think this was correlation, not causation, but my old friend, the late Ed Quillen, who had moved his family to Salida in its late days as a mining town, liked to point out that those in rural areas who had voted for Reagan tended to have bad outcomes. Kind of like the farmers today who voted for Trump in 2016.

    Working then at the Mountain Mail, Ed was responsible for producing something called the Progress Edition. One year soon after the mining meltdown he focused the issue on Salida’s attributes as a haven for artists. And that is pretty much the story of Salida today. It’s warmer than the ski-anchored resorts, with a river more at the center, now filled with people of a certain age for whom a good hospital also matters.

    Is Salida a role model for those coal towns that need to find a new career? As I’ve pointed out before, I’m not so sure that the coal towns have the same attributes – although Paonia has certainly been prospering as never before since its coal-based economy began snoozing, many of its new residents—well, no surprise here— people of a certain age seek to escape ski towns.

    In the mid 1990s, Ed had also urged me to check out Saguache. The old hotel, he said, was available for $30,000. He predicted it as the next getaway.

    Saguache Hotel. Photo credit: Allen Best/The Mountain Town News

    In fact, Cathy and I have gotten-away to Saguache, near the top of the San Luis Valley, several times in recent years. It’s higher in elevation than I like, about 7,800 feet, but somehow I seem to breathe easier once I take in those big spaces of the San Luis Valley, rimmed by mountains east and west. And we can afford the price of the motel there.

    Luckily, I can point to some of the mountains as ones I climbed when in my prime or, in wheezing fashion, just beyond: Kit Carson, Challenger, and just below 14,000 feet, Adams, a Sheep and one or two others.

    Saguache has two or three passable restaurants and, at the old Ute theater, had a folk festival going last weekend. As for that old hotel, it looks available and still in need of work.

    Rusted beater. Photo credit: Allen Best

    Across the street was an old Japanese pickup, a four-wheeler, but with a rusted shell, as had occurred with my old Toyota before I abandoned it with 376,000 miles on the odometer. It was a nice portable motel room.

    Rust or not, I wonder what happened that all of our pickups became super-sized. It came during a time when people have become supersized, too. Causation or correlation?

    The story here in Salida and Saguache, I think, is of increments but also anchors and also transportation corridors. Salida is not on an interstate highway, but it is on Highway 50. Saguache is more off the beaten path.

    Too, Salida has the river, a ski area about 20 minutes away. Saguache has … well, the big sky.

    That old hotel may yet get the work it needs to be a viable property. But Ed has been gone now for 7 years, and I suspect I’ll be gone, too, before Saguache becomes a tourist hot spot. That’s OK. It’s nice to know that there are still places with rusted pickups.

    2020 Annual Meeting of the #ArkansasRiver Compact Administration (ARCA), December 9, 2020

    NOTE: Updated meeting link from Kevin Salter Click here.

    From email from the Arkansas River Compact Administration (Kevin Salter):

    Arkansas River Basin via The Encyclopedia of Earth

    First-of-its-kind study estimates daily #PFAS dietary exposure from vegetables in adults and children — #Colorado School of Mines @mines

    PFAS contamination in the U.S. via ewg.org. [Click the map to go to the website.]

    Here’s the release The Colorado School of Mines (Emilie Rusch):

    Published today in Environmental Science and Technology, the research was led by Mines’ Chris Higgins and Juliane Brown

    Chris Higgins. Photo credit: Colorado School of Mines

    If state and federal regulators focus only on the safety of drinking water, the public could still be exposed to concerning levels of poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs) via the vegetables on their dinner plate if those vegetables are grown with PFAS-impacted water, according to a new study from researchers at Colorado School of Mines and engineering firm Geosyntec.

    Published today in the journal Environmental Science and Technology, the study is the first of its kind to examine PFAS in water that is used to grow crops. Researchers compiled available data on how much individual PFASs are taken into vegetable crops irrigated with contaminated water – in this case lettuce – to estimate the daily dietary exposure intake through vegetables of these so-called “forever chemicals” for both adults and children.

    Graphic credit: Colorado School of Mines

    “While there has been an emphasis on identifying and cleaning up drinking water impacted by PFASs, much less attention has been given to assessing risks from consuming produce irrigated with PFAS-contaminated water,” said Juliane Brown, an environmental engineering PhD candidate at Mines who led the research. “This study brings much needed attention to this issue and highlights the potential risks associated with this critical exposure pathway.”

    PFASs are a large and diverse group of synthetic chemicals used in many commercial and household products, including Class B fire-fighting foams, nonstick-coated cooking pan production, food contact materials, waterproof textiles and many others. An emerging body of evidence shows PFAS exposure can cause cancer and developmental, endocrine, renal and metabolic problems.

    Globally, PFAS contamination of irrigation water and soils in agricultural areas has arisen from a variety of sources, including the use of aqueous film forming foam (AFFF) on military bases and airfields, the application of treated sewage sludge as agricultural fertilizer and releases from nearby industrial facilities.

    But currently, many state and federal agencies are primarily focused on drinking water exposure, missing a potentially importance exposure pathway via irrigation water, said Christopher Higgins, professor of civil and environmental engineering at Mines and senior author of the study.

    “Even when drinking water has been treated and is considered safe, there is a potential for exposure from vegetables irrigated with contaminated water or grown in contaminated soil,” Higgins said. “This study shows that regulations that solely target perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) in drinking water are inadequate to protect human health risks from PFASs.”

    By using statistical modeling techniques akin to the election model prediction forecasts, the Mines-led team was able to consider a range of variability and uncertainty to identify the “most likely” intake and hazard associated with consuming PFAS-contaminated vegetables, using lettuce as a proxy for produce. The team also predicted risk-based threshold concentrations in produce and irrigation water to provide screening levels for assessment. These represent the range of concentrations for individual PFASs in irrigation water predicted to be below a level of concern for human health.

    Using the lowest available human health toxicity reference values and a conservative 5th percentile approach, estimated risk-based threshold concentrations in irrigation water were 38 nanograms per liter (ng/L) for PFOA and 140 ng/L for PFOS, two PFASs commonly targeted by regulators.

    In the case of PFOA, this suggests that even if irrigation water meets the current 70 ng/L PFOA and PFOS U.S. Environmental Protection Agency lifetime health advisory for drinking water, this may not be fully protective of PFOA exposure due to vegetables grown in that water, at least compared to toxicity reference values used by the State of California, which has the lowest toxicity reference value for PFOA in the U.S., Higgins said. Importantly, PFAS contamination also typically includes more than just PFOA or PFOS.

    “Another major implication of this study is we really need to come up with a plan to address PFAS mixtures, as these chemicals are nearly always present as a mixture,” Higgins said

    The team used real-world data from PFAS-contaminated groundwater to conduct a hazard analysis of a theoretical farm comparing different risk estimates based on established state, federal, and international toxicity reference doses. This analysis showed estimated exposures to most PFASs exceeding available or derived human health toxicity reference values – indicating water-to-crop transfer is an important exposure pathway for agricultural communities with PFAS-impacted irrigation water.

    The full study, “Assessing human health risks from per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS)-impacted vegetable consumption: a tiered modeling approach,” is available online at https://dx.doi.org/10.1021/acs.est.0c03411. In addition to Brown and Higgins, co-authors were Geosyntec principal scientist Jason Conder and project scientist Jennifer Arblaster.

    This research was supported, in part, by the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (under Assistance Agreement No G18A112656081.)

    Metropolitan Wastewater Reclamation District Hite plant outfall via South Platte Coalition for Urban River Evaluation

    Here’s the abstract:

    Irrigation water or soil contaminated with per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs) raises concerns among regulators tasked with protecting human health from potential PFAS-contaminated food crops, with several studies identifying crop uptake as an important exposure pathway. We estimated daily dietary exposure intake of individual PFASs in vegetables for children and adults using Monte Carlo simulation in a tiered stochastic modeling approach: exposures were the highest for young children (1−2 years > adults > 3−5 years > 6−11 years > 12−19years). Using the lowest available human health toxicity reference values (RfDs) and no additional exposure, estimated fifth percentile risk-based threshold concentrations in irrigation water were 38 ng/L (median 180 ng/L) for perfluorooctanoate (PFOA) and 140 ng/L (median 850 ng/L) for perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS). Thus, consumption of vegetables irrigated with PFAS impacted water that meets the current 70 ng/L of PFOA and PFOS U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s lifetime health advisory for drinking water may or may not be protective of vegetable exposures to these contaminants. Hazard analyses using real-world PFAS- contaminated groundwater data for a hypothetical farm showed estimated exposures to most PFASs exceeding available or derived RfDs, indicating water-to-crop transfer is an important exposure pathway for communities with PFAS-impacted irrigation water.

    Chaffee County calls for more time, study of contentious Nestlé water-bottling plan — The #ColoradoSun

    From The Colorado Sun (Jason Blevins):

    Commissioners want to measure the potential impact of Nestlé’s proposal to pump, truck and bottle up to 65 million gallons of water a year.

    After several meetings in the last two months featuring hours of public input — virtually all of it opposing the plan — and executive session discussions with attorneys, the county’s three-member board of commissioners on Tuesday announced a plan to hire an economic analysis firm to study the economic impacts of the water-pumping proposal.

    “I want to make the best decision I can with just three people here trying,” Commissioner Greg Felt said on Nov. 10 as he floated the idea of hiring an economist to study Nestlé’s request for a 10-year permit to pump and bottle water from a network of wells on the Arkansas River.

    Nestlé, the world’s largest food and beverage company, began drawing water from the valley in 2009 as part of a 10-year permit. That permit allowed the company to drill wells, build a pipeline and truck water to Denver for bottling under the Arrowhead brand. The company acquires water from the Upper Arkansas River Water Conservancy District every year to augment flows in the river and replace its removal of groundwater.

    Last year the company asked for a permit renewal and, after pandemic delays, the county began studying the request in October. Chaffee County’s commissioners have heard from dozens of residents that a lot has changed in the decade since Nestlé first arrived…

    Nestlé earlier this year announced a plan to replenish all the water it sucks from watersheds and offset the carbon impact of bottling and transporting water. That “zero environmental impact” sustainability plan was followed by news that the international conglomerate was exploring the sale of bottling operations in the U.S. and Canada. The possibility of a sale troubled Chaffee County commissioners. The board drafted new permit rules that, if approved, would require local approval of a new owner to operate under the Nestlé permit.

    Nestlé Waters North America was amenable to the new requirement. And the company earlier this month, in response to local input, crafted new conditions for the permit that would direct more Nestlé money into the local community…

    The new conditions divide the company’s contributions to the county into two tiers based on how much water is extracted for bottling.

    When the company pumps less than 125 acre-feet, or roughly 41 million gallons a year, the school districts in Buena Vista and Salida would get $15,000 a year for the length of the 10-year contract and up to $10,000 more a year for each school district depending on matching funds…

    Ruby Mountain Springs site. Photo credit: Nestle Waters North America

    The commissioners will meet again on Dec. 8 to discuss a contract with an economic advisory group — the cost of which will be covered by Nestlé Waters North America — as well as the possible extension of the company’s permit during the analysis.

    Amber Weber appointed to Arkansas Basin Roundtable — Ag Journal

    From The Ag Journal (Christian Burney):

    Amber Weber via LinkedIn

    At the Nov. 2 Board of County Commissioners meeting, commissioners decided to appoint Amber Weber to the Arkansas Basin Roundtable at the recommendation of County Administrator Amy White-Tanabe…

    Weber is no stranger to the Arkansas Basin Roundtable. She has participated on the roundtable in other capacities before. Since 2018, she’s served at the roundtable as Public Education, Participation and Outreach Coordinator. She is also on the Basin Implementation Plan Committee, which Weber said facilitates the discussion of how the Arkansas Basin fits into the Colorado Water Plan.

    “I facilitated educational opportunities, discussions, curated content, hosted workshops, et cetera, all surrounding one goal — water in the Arkansas Basin,” Weber told the La Junta Tribune-Democrat in an email.

    As a PEPO Coordinator, Weber has engaged in agricultural, municipal, recreational and environmental sectors of water, she said.

    “As I transition into a voting role, I am thrilled that I have the opportunity to represent Otero County and will be able to represent the best interests of the County and the citizens within it,” said Weber. “Through this voting seat for Otero County, I will be speaking with the commissioners regularly and ensuring each of them are kept in the loop on all items that come to the roundtable.

    Likewise, Weber will communicate Otero County’s ideas and concerns to the roundtable.

    Weber works as a consultant to Otero County Commissioners in other areas of county interest as well, such as the Ditch and Reservoir Company Alliance, a state-wide organization whose goal is to serve and protect water delivery providers, Weber said; she also serves as the soil health director for the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District “as the district works to navigate the nexus between water and soil quality.”

    Will the West figure out how to share #water? — The Deseret News

    From The Deseret News ( Sofia Jeremias):

    Can farmers stop cities from buying their water rights and drying out agricultural land?

    Flood irrigation in the Arkansas Valley via Greg Hobbs

    Crowley County relied on water from the nearby Arkansas River, and had over 50,000 acres of irrigated farmland until a spate of water sales took place in the ’70s and ’80s. (An acre-foot of water is enough to meet the needs for two families in a year.)

    By 2002, only about 6,000 irrigated acres remained, and by 2017, the number had dropped to roughly 4,600.

    In the dry and arid West, where little rain falls, irrigation is the life blood of farming.

    As droughts become more persistent and urban growth across the Mountain West continues to skyrocket, agricultural communities are increasingly worried about losing their water to far away cities — turning the towns into dust bowls with few job prospects.

    Photo of Crowley County by Jennifer Goodland

    Since 2010, the West’s large cities and small towns have seen an average population growth of 9.1% and 13.3%, respectively. From 2018-2019, Utah, Idaho, and Colorado were the top three fastest growing states in terms of new housing.

    At the same time, the West is experiencing one of its worst droughts in years. More than a third of the West is experiencing “extreme” or “exceptional” drought, and 72.5 million people are living in areas “affected by drought,” The Washington Post recently reported.

    According to Colorado’s 2015 Water Plan between 500,000 to 700,000 acres of irrigated land in the state could disappear by 2050 due to urbanization.

    While places like Colorado’s Front Range, home to a corridor of the state’s largest cities from Denver to Boulder, continues to grow and climate change exacerbates drought conditions, the discourse over water is only going to get more tense.

    Water markets didn’t consider the ripple effects

    Heimerich, who is originally from New York, met and married a girl from Crowley County and they decided to move there in 1987 after his wife was offered a job as a nurse practitioner.

    His father-in-law was a farmer, and he decided to try his hand at the business.

    Heimerich’s father-in-law was one of the few who refused to sell his water rights in the past decades…

    In Crowley, water wasn’t just sold from one farmer to another, or even to nearby cities. Instead, the water flowed out of the county and to Colorado Springs, Aurora and Pueblo (towns between 50 to 100 miles east of the county).

    Because farmers in Crowley organized their farms around joint irrigation canals, once a certain percentage of the farmers that owned shares in a canal sold out, it made maintenance (from repairing breaks in lining to removing vegetation) more difficult and a heavier burden on those left behind.

    Heimerich said the water sales were like a divorce, or the splitting of assets after a family member has died and didn’t leave a will: “It’s that kind of underlying tension, and there’s no real forethought to what the long-term consequences are going to be.”

    Or, as one Crowley County farmer told a newspaper in 1992, “The ones who sold their water sold out their county.”

    […]

    Permanent dry up, like the one time sales that happened in Crowley, happens for a few different reasons: One is if there’s a water shortage that affects both cities and farms, another is water shortages that affect only agriculture, and another is an increased demand for water in areas outside of agriculture.

    What happened in Crowley County was so dire that it has since become the poster child for the negative consequences of “buy-and-dry,” when water goes from supplying farms to cities…

    Plus, the large swaths of dried out farmland have also created ecological problems — from dust to weeds…

    Straight line diagram of the Lower Arkansas Valley ditches via Headwaters

    A new way to share water

    People in Colorado, and other states in the West, have been looking into alternatives to “buy and dry” — a way to balance booming urban populations, water shortages and the needs of agriculture.

    In the past, the roll of water courts in Colorado wasn’t to consider the ripple effects that water sales have on the communities when large amounts of land go dry, said Scott Campbell, a conservation planner and water consultant. “We just need to figure out better ways to help manage our water sources.”

    One of the solutions that’s been gaining traction is water sharing agreements. Campbell has been a proponent for a new kind of water market: one where water is a “cash crop,” something farmers can lease to municipalities (rather than a one-off sale) and provides another form of stable income…

    However, despite a handful of pilot programs, water sharing agreements have yet to become ubiquitous, although they originated in California nearly two decades ago.

    Palo Verde, California, farmers started leasing water to the Metropolitan Water District in Southern California in the early 2000s. A similar agreement occurred with the Imperial Irrigation District in Southern California…

    In March, Utah’s governor signed a water banking bill, which would allow farmers to lease water to municipalities. And in Wyoming, ranchers were paid to forgo irrigation and instead let their water run down the rivers that feed Lake Powell and Lake Mead…

    Eric Hanagan is a fifth generation farmer in Otero County. He farms about 1,500 acres, primarily vegetables, seedless watermelons, cantaloupes, peppers and tomatoes, along with a few alfalfa fields…

    Hanagan began participating in a water leasing agreement a few years ago. A third of his farmland is fallowed (i.e. he does not plant crops) each year. The water is then leased to municipalities…

    Hanagan’s land is irrigated by the Catlin Canal, one of many irrigation ditches that feeds water from the Arkansas River to the surrounding land.

    His farm is one of six on the canal that participates in the lease-fallowing program. Farms that leased their water received about $700 dollars per fallowed acre according to the 2019 report from the Lower Arkansas Valley Super Ditch Company…

    Will cities and farmers accept alternatives at greater scale?
    It remains an open question whether or not cities in the Mountain West will be open to leasing rather than buying water rights and permanently drying up farms.

    “It just gives us a level of certainty and control that you don’t get as part of a rotational leasing program,” said Alan Ward, the division manager for water resources for Pueblo, another city in the Arkansas Basin that has been experiencing moderate population growth in the past few years.

    In 2009, Ward started to worry about the impacts of climate change, making the water they receive from the Colorado River less reliable. So the city of Pueblo started purchasing water in an irrigation ditch east of the city…

    Bessemer Ditch circa 1890 via WaterArchives.org

    While Pueblo doesn’t need the water they’ve purchased just yet — they currently lease the water back to farmers, some are worried about what will happen when the city does need the water it purchased.

    “They are poised to dry about 5,000 acres of some of our best production ground in the state,” said Campbell, who is working on an effort called the Bessemer Project, which aims to retain some of the irrigated land along the Bessemer where water rights were sold to Pueblo.

    “Unfortunately what happened in this sale, and what happens in a lot of these buy and dry deals, is that some of the best farm ground could be dried.”Campbell hopes to try a variety of different methods to keep some the best irrigated land along the Bessemer ditch in production — from rotational fallowing to water sharing to using more efficient ways of irrigating.

    #ColoradoSprings faces $2 million fine, $43 million in projects after proposed #stormwater settlement — KRDO

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

    From KRDO (Scott Harrison):

    The city would pay a fine of $2 million and commit to an additional $43 million in stormwater projects over 15 years, Mayor John Suthers announced earlier this week.

    Suthers said “an agreement in principle” exists for a settlement between the city — the defendant in the case — and the plaintiffs including the Environmental Protection Agency, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, Pueblo County and the lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District.

    “We’re now entering a 30-day comment period,” he said. “At the end of it, the judge will evaluate whether he wants to approve the settlement. I suspect he will.”

    The mayor said that in the next few weeks, city officials will explain settlement details to the public, and that he already has City Council approval to pay the penalty.

    “The federal government would get $1 million of the fine, and the state would get the other half,” he said. “The state’s share actually goes into a current project in the Arkansas River. That’s a lot better than a $12 million fine that was initially discussed.”

    As a result of the penalty, however, Suthers said the city will have to raise its stormwater fee to homeowners and businesses over the next 15 years to pay the penalty…

    Suthers said the city’s stormwater issues were a result of inaction by previous city councils, but upon his election as mayor in 2015 he pledged to address the issue and heal the rift between Pueblo County leaders, who had threatened to sue the city.

    In fact, in the spring of 2016, Pueblo County agreed on a long-range plan in which the city would spend $460 million over 20 years on 71 stormwater projects, maintenance and enforcement.

    To help generate the needed revenue, Suthers in 2017 pushed for the re-establishment of a stormwater fee ultimately passed by voters that November…

    The city hoped its progress on stormwater issues would prevent a lawsuit, but in November 2016 the EPA initially filed suit and the other plaintiffs joined in. U.S. District Judge Richard Matsch presided over the weeklong bench trial in Denver in September 2018, and issued his ruling two months later.

    Water Wars and Hidden Riches on #Colorado’s High Plains — Westword #groundwater

    From Westword (Alan Prendergast):

    If nothing else, [Wes] McKinley’s crusade has brought attention to the profound disconnect between the emerging water crisis in eastern Colorado and a state policy that encourages total depletion of the resource. The surface water in virtually all of the state’s major river basins, from the Colorado, Arkansas and Rio Grande rivers to the humblest creeks, has been over-appropriated for decades. The major source of non-tributary water in the Far Quarter is the High Plains Aquifer, also known as the Ogallala Aquifer. Farms and ranches have been draining the aquifer, a vast underground reservoir of fresh water stretching across eight states, at an accelerating rate, despite warnings that the overpumping is likely to have catastrophic effects on fish habitat, interstate compact agreements and the sustainability of the aquifer itself, which requires centuries to recharge.

    Cimarron River Basin. By Shannon1 – Drawn by myself; shaded relief data from NASA SRTM North America imagery here, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=12115861

    The warnings have been trickling through Baca County for more than fifty years. A 1966 study of groundwater in the area of the Cimarron River, which cuts across the southeast corner of Colorado and then vacillates between Kansas and Oklahoma, concluded that “the most serious problem in the Cimarron Basin appears to be the extreme decline of water levels from pumping.” A 2001 report prepared for the Southern High Plains Groundwater Management District noted that groundwater levels in the district had dropped a hundred feet in the past half-century; the report recommended a moratorium on all new and replacement wells in the High Plains Aquifer, except for domestic wells with a modest pumping rate of 15 gallons per minute.

    Yet no moratorium was ever put in place. Instead, the Colorado Ground Water Commission has continued to issue large-capacity well permits like they were gimme caps. Data provided by the Colorado Division of Water Resources indicates that the commission granted 64 permits for new wells in the Southern High Plains in the last 21 months — a rate that’s more than triple the average number for the previous five years.

    “Colorado does not have a statutory directive that impact to an aquifer needs to be considered when issuing a well permit,” says Kevin Rein, the state engineer, who also serves as executive director of the groundwater commission.

    Long-range studies about climate change and dwindling aquifers don’t figure in the permitting process, which is preoccupied with mundane questions of how many other wells are operating within half a mile of the new well and whether an immediate neighbor would suffer “material damage” from additional pumping. McKinley contends that the rules as currently written don’t adequately protect the resource and shift the burden of proof to the opponents, who have to show that their own water rights would be adversely impacted by a new well. But Rein points out that some groundwater management districts have successfully petitioned the commission for a declaration that their area is over-appropriated, a finding that prevents the issuance of new well permits.

    “That has happened in many of the basins, but it hasn’t happened in the Southern High Plains,” Rein observes. It isn’t the commission’s place to get involved in promoting such prohibitions or seeking changes in the law that would protect the High Plains Aquifer from more wells, he adds: “As the state engineer, I don’t have the charge to bring that sort of policy discussion.”

    Water attorney Curtis estimates that McKinley’s objections cost his clients $200,000 in legal expenses and delays. McKinley’s time would have been better spent, he suggests, gathering the required technical data to petition the commission to close the district to new wells.

    “Water rights are vested property rights, and you can’t strip someone of those rights without a proper basis,” Curtis says. “He knows the process. Either he doesn’t have the energy to do it the right way or he doesn’t care. But he never presented a single piece of relevant evidence to support his position.”

    A major factor in the recent surge of permits in Baca County is a ramping up of irrigation wells on the Cimarron Valley Ranch, a 45,000-acre cattle ranch that stretches along 22 miles of the Cimarron River in Oklahoma and Colorado. Owned by Georgia-based LGS Holding Group, the property is for sale for $39,900,000, reduced from $45 million. An online real estate listing touts “some of the best hunting in the country,” including the ranch’s resident elk herd, as well as “incredible diversity in regard to terrain, wildlife, livestock grazing, income opportunities and more.” Also prominently mentioned is the ranch’s ample water supply and new well permits, which will allow the operation to double its number of irrigation pivots.

    The mega-ranch’s wells account for nearly half of the permits the commission has issued in the Southern High Plains over the past two years. That rankles local rancher Dan Caldwell, a longtime friend of McKinley’s, whose property lies just across the state line from the Oklahoma stretch of the Cimarron Valley Ranch. Caldwell says that he, too, filed an objection to the LGS permits, but was told he hadn’t proved material damage — and that he could be liable for legal fees if he persisted. He knew his objection wasn’t going anywhere, he says, when he learned a representative of the Colorado Attorney General’s Office was joining the case —representing the groundwater commission, not the citizens of Baca County.

    “We have no recourse,” Caldwell says. “We are nothing to them. There’s no reason to give our water away so freely, but they’re doing it.”

    The Southwest Kansas Groundwater Management District also protested the LGS applications, on the grounds that new pumping along the Cimarron River was bound to diminish supplies downstream. A few years ago, Kansas won a long-running lawsuit concerning Colorado’s excessive water use under the Arkansas River Compact, but no such compact exists regarding the Cimarron.

    “Colorado has a presumption that there’s water available for any application unless there’s a hearing,” notes Mark Rude, executive director of the district. “We had to become an opposer of the application in order to be involved in the hearing process. We’ve since discovered that Colorado works to not have a hearing process.”

    Like Caldwell and McKinley, Rude was told there wouldn’t be a hearing because he lacked the legal standing to object. Southwest Kansas no longer permits new wells that would draw upon the High Plains Aquifer out of concern over the falling water table. But neither Colorado nor Oklahoma has followed suit.

    “We have tools in Kansas to propose reductions in allocations, just to make the water last a little longer,” Rude says. “But it’s hard to have those conversations locally when people say, ‘Well, it’s unrestricted in Colorado and the Oklahoma Panhandle.’”

    Rein calls the recent spike in permits in Baca County “anomalous” and doesn’t see any particular cause for concern in the recent water enhancements at a 45,000-acre ranch. “Certainly, some people in the basin are alarmed,” he says. “Is the commission alarmed? I don’t think we’ve had open discussion about that.”

    McKinley doesn’t know what his objections might have accomplished, but he hopes more people will ask questions about where the water is going. “You don’t know what works and what don’t,” he says. “I’ve always thought there’s nothing wasted; it’s an experience gained. Sometimes, though, you pay a lot of tuition and wonder what you’ve learned.”

    Dinosaur tracks in Picketwire Canyon. Photo credit: USFS

    The only public access to the dinosaur tracks in Picketwire Canyon is by way of the Withers Canyon trailhead, an eleven-mile round trip. With the guided four-wheel tours suspended, you have three choices for mode of transport: mountain bike, horseback or on foot.

    Bikers might think twice, after watching a few cautionary YouTube videos about the many, many goat’s head stickers and opportunities for flat tires. The horse option has some drawbacks, too; although most of the path is a level stroll along the canyon floor, the steep descent into the canyon on a rock-strewn trail and the purgatorial ascent at the end may not be something you want to do on top of a thousand-pound animal.

    That leaves the third option, a six-hour hike in rugged and largely exposed country. Since temperatures in the canyon can be intense from late spring until early fall, reaching as high as 110 degrees in July and August, the Forest Service advises visitors to carry “at least” a gallon of water per person. (In 2017, two summer hikers died in separate heat-related incidents.) But on a temperate fall day, the startling, shifting environment of the canyon — from juniper-and-piñon prairie to meadows lined with cottonwoods to bright fields of yarrow and cacti in bloom — can make you forget you’re wandering through the northern edge of the Chihuahuan Desert.

    For most visitors, the highlight of the journey is crossing the Purgatoire to arrive at a vast limestone plain, the stamping ground of monsters. The giant paw prints embedded in the ancient lake shore, back when the canyon was a lush, steamy tropical retreat, tell a story about lumbering, plant-eating apatosauruses traveling in gregarious herds, and the three-toed carnivores who stalked them. This quarter-mile stretch of the river is the most extensive set of dinosaur tracks in North America, yet it’s just a small portion of the Jurassic riches in the area; numerous fossils have been painstakingly unearthed by volunteers under the supervision of a Forest Service paleontologist.

    The bones and tracks may be the main draw, but they’re hardly the only one. In 1988, a University of Wisconsin student on a field trip headed down from the west rim of the canyon to check out the dinosaur tracks. On the way down, he came across a petroglyph panel in a shallow alcove and snapped a picture of it. He assumed the panel was already well known to researchers. It wasn’t. According to Loendorf’s account in his book Thunder & Herds: Rock Art of the High Plains, when a wildlife biologist familiar with the canyon saw the photo, “he realized that he was looking at a significant and previously unknown site.”

    The panel features a single human figure in the center, surrounded by three dozen quadrupeds — some with elaborate antlers, some suggestive of bison and sheep. The central figure holds an object in its right hand, possibly a net or snare, indicating a form of control over the animals. Loendorf regards the Zookeeper, as the panel has become known, as one of several key rock-art sites in the area that provide glimpses into the hunter-gatherer culture that once flourished there. He believes a climatic event more than 600 years ago, one that ruined crops and drove the game away, may have been responsible for its abrupt disappearance.

    “You have these obvious hunt scenes, driving animals — antelope, probably — into nets, and then it just ends,” he notes. “It pretty much suggests that the Apishapa were affected, like all of the Southwest, by drought. I personally think at least some of the Apishapa people were seasonal and pulled back to the mountains in the wintertime. And the drought period ended that; then they stayed close to the mountains year-round. Then came the Apache and the Comanche. They weren’t dependent on trying to grow corn.”

    Major breakthrough reached in #FountainCreek case to settle clean water lawsuit — The #Pueblo Chieftain

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Robert Boczkiewicz):

    After years of hard feelings in Pueblo County and the Lower Arkansas River valley about Colorado Springs’ degradation of Fountain Creek and the river, a resolution is on the horizon.

    That city, government clean water agencies, Pueblo County and a lower valley water conservancy district have decided how to solve their dispute in order to improve the quality of water flowing in the creek from the city into Pueblo County and eastward down the river.

    The confluence of Fountain Creek and the Arkansas River in Pueblo County — photo via the Colorado Springs Business Journal

    On Thursday, they submitted a 169-page proposed agreement, known as a “Consent Decree,” to Senior Judge John L. Kane Jr. of the U.S. District Court for Colorado.

    The plan would require Colorado Springs to spend millions of dollars to improve its storm water sewer system in order to better control pollution discharges and excessive flows into the creek…

    Meanwhile, Jay Winner, general manager of the water conservancy district, told The Chieftain the plan will benefit both Pueblo and the lower valley.

    “This will be of great help in the lower part of the basin improving water quality,” Winner,said. “Water quality is the next great paradigm shift throughout the world.”

    […]

    All of the litigants — the five parties to the case –negotiated for the past year what the city would do to remedy the violations.

    The discharges damaged the creek bed and caused flooding, as well as creating a public health risk. Key agricultural regions of the lower valley have been affected by the polluted water and excessive volume.

    The plan requires Colorado Springs to perform $11 million of mitigation to offset the environmental harm caused by its alleged violations, and pay the United States a $1 million civil penalty.

    In addition, instead of receiving a civil penalty payment, the state “agrees that the city shall satisfy the state civil penalty through performance of a State approved supplemental environmental project valued at $1 million, to be performed” by the water conservancy district, according to a document filed Thursday in court…

    Winner pointed to several benefits that the agreement would bring.

    “The communities that have wells in the alluvium should get a much higher quality of water,” he said. The plan “should remove just enough silt so that the river stays in the channel and does not spread out due to an increased bed load, leaving more water in the channel as opposed to flooding areas such as North La Junta.

    “This should keep more water in the ditches to help farmers,” Winner said. “When the river crests its banks that water belongs to farmers and they are unable to use it.”

    Arkansas River Basin — Graphic via the Colorado Geological Survey

    #ColoradoSprings could spend $45 million to settle @EPA lawsuit — The Colorado Springs Gazette

    Report: Remediation Scenarios for Attenuating Peak Flows and Reducing Sediment Transport in Fountain Creek, Colorado, 2013

    From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Mary Shinn):

    The lawsuit filed in 2016 claimed the city’s stormwater control efforts were underfunded and understaffed starting in 2009 and for years afterward. The suit also said the city’s failure to control stormwater degraded, eroded and widened Fountain Creek and its tributaries.

    City officials stepped up stormwater control efforts in recent years after voters approved a stormwater fee in 2017.

    But for years, poor stormwater control sent silt washing down Fountain Creek to the Arkansas River where it filled in the channels of both waterways and caused flooding in communities downstream, including Pueblo and La Junta, said Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District…

    The proposed consent decree will also hold the city of Colorado Springs accountable to complete the stormwater projects needed to improve water quality, he said. The document outlines required audits, milestones the city must meet, and hefty fines if it fails to complete the required work.

    The proposed consent decree is expected to be finalized soon. It must be submitted to U.S. District Court Judge John Kane by Friday, according to court records. The judge set a deadline for submission of the decree, after the parties were granted six requests for more time to reach an agreement…

    U.S. Department of Justice spokeswoman Danielle Nichols said the proposed consent decree requires the city to spend $11 million on projects intended to mitigate the alleged violations of water quality standards in Fountain Creek and its tributaries. In addition to helping reduce the flow of silt, the work will help keep oil, grease, heavy metals, pesticides, fertilizers and bacteria out of the waterways, she said…

    Fulfilling the requirements of the proposed consent decree could require $100 million in spending to improve stormwater control and associated projects, Nichols said. However, the city would have spent $55 million of the $100 million anyway on operating, personnel and other costs, said Travis Easton, Colorado Springs’ public works director.

    The $45 million required to fulfill the consent decree is in addition to the $460 million the city is spending over 20 years to build 71 stormwater projects to meet its 2016 agreement with Pueblo County, he said.

    The spending on the consent decree includes $2.1 million mostly in fines that the Colorado Springs City Council approved Tuesday. That money will come from the general fund, not stormwater fees, Mayor John Suthers said.

    The federal government will receive $1 million in fines and the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District will receive $1 million in state fine revenue to fund projects, according to the proposed consent decree. Pueblo County will receive $25,000 to cover lawsuit costs and the conservancy district will receive $100,000 for lawsuit costs, the document shows…

    The fine revenue set aside for the conservancy district will help it fund projects across its five-county territory and help it secure additional grant money to meet the needs for water quality projects, Winner said. The district needs to put in projects, such as riparian zones and ditch lining, he said.

    The district could put in $100 million in water quality projects and still have work to do, he said.

    #Colorado City may raise rates to patch up leaky system

    Water infrastructure as sidewalk art

    From KOAA.com (Spencer Humphrey):

    … the Pueblo County town of Colorado City is at risk of having its water supply go dry within months…

    [James Eccher] does have plans to help the issue long-term, which includes adding more wells to fill the lake since the city holds all of its groundwater rights.

    “We’re looking at building a second dam,” Eccher said. “Which is gonna be another chunk of money.”

    But none of that can’t happen right away.

    “There’s a lot of forces out there and we’re not the only small town looking for money,” he said.

    Eccher said he has reached out to several government agencies, including the Department of Local Affairs, to talk about funding, but hasn’t heard back.

    In the meantime, he said in order to fix up the area’s aging, leaky infrastructure, they’re considering raising tap fees for water and sewer use.

    2020 Annual Meeting of the #ArkansasRiver Compact Administration (ARCA) will be held on Wednesday, December 9, 2020

    Arkansas River Basin via The Encyclopedia of Earth

    From email from the Arkansas River Compact Administration (Kevin Salter):

    This is the preliminary notice for the upcoming Arkansas River Compact Administration Annual and Committee Meetings. The meeting specifics and draft agendas will be provided at a later date.

    Please note that the meeting dates were changed at the ARCA Annual Meeting held in December 2019. And the location was changed at the ARCA Special Meeting held earlier this month (October 2020) to allow for virtual meetings.

    The 2020 Annual Meeting of the Arkansas River Compact Administration (ARCA) will be held on Wednesday, December 9, 2020. The Engineering, Operations, and Administrative/Legal Committees of ARCA will meet on Tuesday, December 8, 2020. Consideration is being given to having the committee meetings start on the morning of December 8th. All meetings will be held on a virtual meeting platform. At this time, which virtual platform to be used has not been determined. Specific information on accessing the meetings will be provided along with the draft agendas later.

    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.

    As information becomes available, it will be updated on ARCA’s website:
    https://www.co-ks-arkansasrivercompactadmin.org/

    #Pueblo wins national award for its efforts to address algal pollution in waterways, saving taxpayers $20m

    Photo credit: The City of Pueblo

    Here’s the release from the City of Pueblo:

    The City of Pueblo was nationally recognized for implementing the first full hydrocyclone/ammonia controlled nutrient removal process in the United States and for improvements to the James DiIorio Water Reclamation.

    The city received the prestigious Water Environment Federation 2020 Project Excellence Award for its pioneering improvements that additionally saved over $20 million for taxpayers and increased capacities.

    “From the continental divide to the Mississippi, our waterways are connected. What happens in Colorado will impact the Gulf’s algae problems and I am happy to announce Pueblo is leading Colorado to reduce algal bloom,” said Mayor Nick Gradisar. “In addition, our wastewater team saved taxpayers over $20 million, which shows our team is doing everything it can to be environmental leaders while being great financial stewards.”

    The City of Pueblo partnered with Brown and Caldwell, an engineering and construction firm, to develop an advanced system of nutrient removal through aeration control and hydrocylone-base wasting process.

    “We want to meet the Water Quality Control Division Discharge Permit requirements without adding additional costs for the citizens,” said Nancy Keller, Wastewater Director for the City of Pueblo. “We have a system now that protects aquatic life and improves the quality of our down stream communities.”

    In 2012, the State of Colorado introduced new standards to reduce the algal growth and aquatic life impairments. The first phase of reductions had to be met by April 2021 and the next phase of reductions will go into effect in 2027.

    “Our success in this project allows the facility to earn credits with the Water Quality Control Division that will delay implementation of the 2027 standards in our discharge permit, allowing technology improvements to occur, hopefully decreasing that large capital expense also,” said Keller.

    With the new system the City of Pueblo’s Wastewater Department was also able to increase the capacity of this process by 50% while reducing electrical and chemical costs.

    Algae blooms deprives waterways of much needed oxygen leading to Hypoxic (dead) zones.

    Hypoxia, or dead zone, occurs when a body of water or waterway has increased levels of nutrient pollution which is primarily caused by human involvement. These increased nutrients cause an overgrowth of algae which when it decomposes, reduces the supply of oxygen.

    The Nutrient Removal Project was expected to cost an estimated $20-25m. The City of Pueblo, with partners Brown and Caldwell, implemented Ntensity enhanced nutrient-removal system in for a total cost under $2 million.

    The DiIorio Facility treats more than 10 million gallons of wastewater per day.

    Nestlé 2009 Chaffee County 1041 permit agreement was controversial — The Ark Valley Voice

    Arkansas River headwaters. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    From The Ark Valley Voice (Daniel Smith):

    Editors note: This is the second of a three-part series examining the proposal to renew the county 1041 permit for Nestlé Waters North America.

    With public hearings upcoming on whether Chaffee County should grant a 10-year extension with Nestle Waters North America (NWNA) of its 1041 permit to pump water from a local aquifer to truck to Denver for bottling as Arrowhead Spring Water, a review of the agreement’s history is informative.

    The initial 1041 permit approved in 2009 was new legal ground for the county at the time.

    Nestlé purchased more than 100 acres of land from the late Frank McMurray, the Big Horn Springs, in 2007; reportedly for more than $850,000. Nestlé had planned to pull water from that spring, but NWNA Natural Resources Manager Larry Lawrence said the company decided against using that spring over environmental concerns. A promised conservation easement on that property at the time has yet to be completed.

    Nestlé also purchased the onetime fish hatchery property from Harold and Mary Hagen on the site of the Ruby Mountain Spring. This is the spring that Nestlé now taps for the water it takes from Chaffee County. The 11 acres reportedly sold for more than $2,800,000.

    Nestlé established a pumping station at Johnson Village after buying about 1.4 acres of land and the liquor store owned by Steve Hansen for $1,125,000. The store was torn down at the site and the pumping station with large storage tanks built on the site, connected by miles of pipeline from the Ruby Mountain Springs pump house.

    State water law requires use permits to include replacement (augmentation) of the water they extract, under complex rules mindful of numerous water rights, especially of those with senior water rights downstream on the Arkansas River.

    Terry Scanga, head of the Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District, explained that while the district didn’t agree then to lease the company water for its replacement, it was able to strike an agreement for the water with the City of Aurora. That agreement ended at some point; the district now does leave the replacement water to Nestlé, contingent on it being placed into the river upstream of its spring site.

    The district received more than $152,000 last year from Nestlé for that replacement water.

    The original 1041 pact would allow Nestlé to pump as much as 65 million gallons annually from the spring. But local officials say that currently, the amounts pumped never approaches that limit.

    At the pumping station, 25 large tanker trucks per day fill up with the water collected in a 30,000-gallon storage tank on-site, and then drive up U.S. Hwy 285 about 130 miles to the Denver bottling plant, where it is treated and packaged in plastic bottles for sale in hundreds of stores around the state.

    Lawrence said each of those trucks weighs about 87,000 pounds fully loaded, so drivers take their time getting to their destination. The firm doing the hauling, D.G. Coleman, has a good safety record.

    Scanga, who has dealt with water law and water issues for decades, said from his perspective Nestlé has met the requirements of their 1041 permit regarding the water regulations.

    Opposition groups, including Unbottle and Protect Chaffee County Water and the long-established environmental group 350 Central Colorado disagree and point to other permit conditions such as hiring local truck drivers, they say have not been met.

    They are also critical of what they term is a lack of real oversight of the operation by the county.

    Nestlé, portraying itself as a ‘good neighbor,’ has financially supported community causes and provided funds for educational programs.

    These include paying a half-million dollars into two education endowments for Salida and Buena Vista schools. It has made $20,000 in one-time donations; including $10,000 to the Chaffee County Community Foundation, as well as contributions to the Boys and Girls Club; local Trout Unlimited chapter, and others.

    Thousands of cases of Nestlé Water were also donated to Food Bank of the Rockies and other entities.

    Critics often say while commendable, those community benefits are relatively minor in comparison to the profits the company garners from its bottled water sales and the loss of county water as a resource.

    We’ll explore more specifics of the pros and cons of this contentious issue in our next report.

    Public hearings on the proposed permit renewal are scheduled for 5:00 p.m. Oct. 20 and 9:00 a.m. Oct. 22 at the Chaffee County Fairgrounds. Attendance has to be limited due to COVID-19 concerns, but the hearings will also be available for viewing online.

    Nestlé Waters North America 1041 permit renewal hearings on tap October 20, 22, 2020 — The Ark Valley Voice

    Location map for Nestlé operations near Nathrop via The Denver Post.

    From The Ark Valley Voice (Daniel Smith):

    Editors note: This is the first of a three-part series examining the proposal to renew the county 1041 permit for Nestlé Waters North America.

    For two days later this month, Oct. 20 and 22, Chaffee County Commissioners will hear from citizens and organizations in public hearings on the proposal to renew a 1041 permit granted to international conglomerate Nestlé Waters North America. If approved, the permit would allow Nestlé to continue to pump and truck local spring water it later sells as bottled water.

    The original permit, granted by then-commissioners in 2009 was a controversial decision and the renewal has also generated opposition from activists who want the county to end the agreement.

    Basically, the company pumps millions of gallons of water from the Ruby Mountain Spring in the north county annually, pipes it to a collection tank and pump station at Johnson Village, where it is loaded onto tankers, driven to a Denver bottling plant, and sold as Arrowhead Spring Water in plastic bottles.

    The original (and current) agreement allows Nestlé to withdraw as much as 65 million gallons of water from the aquifer. However, company officials say Nestlé draws less than half that amount currently.

    The original permit granted to Nestlé in 2009 was opposed by many residents, and an organized resistance to renewing the agreement has recently been mounted.

    Larry Lawrence, Resource Manager for Nestlé Waters North America spoke with Ark Valley Voice recently about the agreement, what it provided both the company and community, and how the company has met the 1041 permit requirements, which some opponents of renewal dispute.

    An engineer by profession, Lawrence has been with Nestlé Waters since 2003, and came to Colorado in 2019. He says he was already aware of the project through technical reviews with earlier resource managers prior to joining this assignment.

    Lawrence said an earlier resource manager (Bruce Lauerman) was assigned to this area, and Lawrence took over in 2019. Looking for a water source closer to Denver, he said was a priority.

    “The Arrowhead brand was marketed in New Mexico, Colorado, Idaho and a portion of Montana, all from California,” said Lawrence. “In reviews of not only our physical footprint but our carbon footprint and other aspects, where would we want to locate another factory? So Denver was chosen because of the reach we would have from this factory and to cover this market, which was a pretty good size bottled water market,” he added.

    The factory was built in 2006, producing Nestlé Pure Life, a purified water from the municipal water system in Denver. Nestlé soon realized they wanted to produce the Arrowhead spring water brand. The prior Nestlé representative reviewed area springs and contacted various water agencies to see if they knew of any potential spring sources.

    The Hagen Fish Hatchery on the Arkansas River, no longer in operation, was identified by the Colorado Division of Water Resources. Nestlé reached out to the Hagen family and reached a letter of intent for purchase at that time.

    Lawrence said that at that time, they did several different studies. These included hydrological, environmental, and biological, to determine the impact of water collection there, water level withdrawal potential, and to determine the sustainability and volume of the site.

    “A-number one for us is we never want to be in a position to where we recommend to the company to purchase a spring source that is non-sustainable,” said Lawrence. “…that would be a huge mistake for us, and it’s not a good business decision at all.”

    The sites were studied to confirm a reasonable withdrawal rate to allow for replenishment at a sustainable rate. Another site, Bighorn Spring was reviewed, and because it did not meet replenishment rates, was not developed with Nestlé opting in favor of Ruby Mountain Springs.

    Prior to that, Lawrence said other resource managers had looked at many other sites but they were ruled out for various reasons. In some cases it was because the water rights had been sold, even though there was a viable spring. According to Lawrence, springs in the eastern and southern U.S. are quite different than those generally found in the west.

    It is an understatement to say that water issues are complex, especially in the west. Once the local site was selected, Nestlé reviewed what local and state government rules were for the permitting process.

    The 1041 process in Colorado and in Chaffee County at the time was fairly new, and Nestlé, said Lawrence, was one of the first companies to enter that process.

    “The spring here at Ruby Mountain Springs is similar to other mountain springs we see in the west. One of the differences here is we do have the Arkansas River running adjacent to the spring source,” he said.

    The Nestlé operation includes the pumping stations at the spring site and long lengths of piping underground connecting to the Johnson Village property. That facility includes a large 30,000-gallon storage tank and pumps. Here, the water is loaded to tanker trucks that weigh about 87,000 pounds when full, which make the trips to the Denver bottling facility.

    According to the permit, about 25 truckloads are allowed to run on U.S. 285 daily.

    Next, we’ll review some of the issues and local opposition to the Nestlé 1041 renewal.

    Local regs loom large in dam battle as #Colorado cities seek more Western Slope water — The Rocky Mountain Post #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    Here’s a deep-dive into the proposed Whitney Reservoir Project from David O. Williams that’s running in The Rocky Mountain Post. Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:

    With Wednesday’s move by the Trump administration to weaken one of the nation’s bedrock conservation laws – the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) – all eyes will increasingly be on local opposition and regulation when it comes to major infrastructure on federal lands.

    That’s pretty much what Eagle County Commissioner Kathy Chandler-Henry told me when I asked about the proposed Whitney Reservoir project currently being scoped out by the U.S. Forest Service along Homestake Creek in southeastern Eagle County. The reservoir is being proposed by Colorado Springs and Aurora to pump Western Slope water to the Front Range.

    All that’s currently being considered by the Forest Service is a test-drilling project to detect fatal flaws and see if one of four possible dam configurations is feasible, at which point an actual proposal for Whitney Reservoir would be submitted and considered by the feds, including a possible request to shrink the Holy Cross Wilderness by up to 500 acres to realign the road.

    The Forest Service was flooded with more than 500 online comments opposing the drilling and the reservoir, demanding higher levels of environmental scrutiny for a special use permit for the drilling project that could be issued under what’s known as a “categorical exclusion.” Opponents are demanding an Environmental Assessment (EA) or Environmental Impact Statement (EIS)…

    What didn’t make it into my Vail Daily story due to space constraints was the Eagle County angle. It’s important because way back in the 1990s, when I first moved to the Vail area, there was a huge battle going on over what was then called Homestake II – a reservoir proposed for the same area by the same cities, which still hold 20,000 acre-feet of water rights here.

    Eagle County used its 1041 permitting powers, which give counties some degree of local control over infrastructure projects with regional or statewide impacts, to deny Homestake II – a move that wound up in court and went all the way to the Colorado Supreme Court before Eagle County ultimately won. Those 1041 regulatory powers were granted by a state law in the 1970s.

    All of that led to the Eagle River Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that outlines how all the various stakeholders in the Eagle River Basin would work together going forward to resolve their issues. But one important thing remains true: Eagle County, not a signatory to the MOU, still has 1041 permitting authority.

    So Chandler-Henry, the water leader on the board, had some important things to say last spring. First, on any proposal that would require redrawing the boundaries of the Holy Cross Wilderness Area: “I can tell you that’s not anything that we would ever be supportive of is moving wilderness boundaries.” Then, on the importance of local permitting power:

    Chandler-Henry points out that federal protections have been stripped away by the current administration, with fens and ephemeral streams recently being removed from the definition of Waters of the United States by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Those changes, she said, are making it much easier for water providers to get their federal permits in place.

    “Which means 1041 is all the more important for local considerations,” Chandler-Henry said, adding she believes her constituents oppose a dam. “I think that that is going to be a huge public sentiment, that we don’t want anything there.”

    That being said, the county has to be somewhat diplomatic on both the test drilling and a possible future reservoir. Eagle County officials said they are working with the Forest Service on the test drilling proposal and may comment later…

    “Eagle County cannot take a position regarding, and will not be commenting on, any future reservoir project because of its permitting authority powers,” county officials said in an email. “Eagle County must avoid prejudging a file based upon this authority.

    “Eagle County plans to meet with the USDA USFS to discuss procedural questions regarding the proposed Whitney Creek Geotechnical Investigation project. Depending upon the outcome of that conversation, Eagle County may or may not choose to provide comment [to the Forest Service],” officials added.

    Chandler-Henry, who talked to me well before the formal test drilling application and the recent Trump move to gut NEPA, said the county is keeping an open mind on 1041 permitting for whatever proposal eventually comes before the board. However, she reiterated that shrinking the Holy Cross boundary – something Congress would have to approve – is a non-starter.

    “Sen. [Michael] Bennett’s office says that whenever they’re approached by Aurora Water about moving those boundaries in Holy Cross, they say, ‘You need to go see what Eagle County thinks.’” Chandler-Henry added. “To date they have not done that because I think they know what we think about that.”

    An official with Bennet’s office confirmed they are aware of the wilderness adjustment plan but are not supportive of pulling back boundaries to make room for a proposed reservoir because there is not broad local backing. Bennet has been a strong advocate of wilderness expansion, not shrinkage…

    Conservation groups see this as a key issue, linking the test drilling to an eventual dam proposal that could lead to less wilderness. The original Homestake II proposal would have been in the Holy Cross Wilderness Area…

    Chandler-Henry said Eagle County is firm on the wilderness issue but staying openminded on 1041 so any proposal can be weighed fairly on its merits.

    “One of the things that we’re doing, which is going to be really useful, is trying to tie our 1041 permitting in with the community water plan that [Eagle River Watershed Council] is working on … because a 1041 allows us to look at environmental impact, economic impact, infrastructure,” Chandler-Henry said, adding the utility has been modeling for future growth.

    “Those are always our concerns with any sort of 1041 permit,” Chandler-Henry added. “What happens if water is dammed up in a reservoir? Then what happens to the Eagle River, to the environment, to the subdivisions that are relying on that water, to the recreation economy?”

    Chandler-Henry said Aurora Water has been a part of that planning process…

    These wetlands, located on a 150-acre parcel in the Homestake Creek valley that Homestake Partners bought in 2018, would be inundated if Whitney Reservoir is constructed. The Forest Service received more than 500 comments, the majority in opposition to, test drilling associated with the project and the reservoir project itself. Photo credit: Heather Sackett/Aspen Journalism

    The U.S. Forest Service has been inundated with more than 500 online comments in opposition to a geotechnical and drilling study by the cities of Aurora and Colorado Springs to determine the feasibility of a second reservoir in the Homestake Creek drainage six miles southwest of Red Cliff, including objections from nearby towns and a local state senator…

    Operating together as Homestake Partners, Aurora and Colorado Springs own water rights dating back to the 1950s that, under the 1998 Eagle River Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), ensure them 20,000 more acre-feet of average annual water yield. They’ve been studying four potential dam sites in the Homestake Valley several miles below the cities’ existing Homestake Reservoir, which holds 43,600 acre-feet…

    Western Slope signatories of the Eagle River MOU were tight-lipped on the geophysical study and drilling. Jim Pokrandt, director of community affairs for the Colorado River District, declined to comment on the investigatory test work, saying only, “Yes, we have signed the MOU. That said … we are not participating in the Whitney Creek effort.”

    Diane Johnson,communications and public affairs manager for the Eagle River Water & Sanitation District, said: “The short answer is we – [ERWSD] and Upper Eagle Regional Water Authority — support [Homestake Partners’] right to pursue an application for their yield. We trust the permitting process to bring all impacts and benefits to light for the community to consider and weigh in total.” Neither organization submitted a comment to the Forest Service…

    Two prominent local conservation groups – the Eagle Valley Land Trust and the Eagle River Watershed Council – both submitted comments to the Forest Service expressing serious reservations about both the drilling and the possibility of a dam…

    The Eagle River MOU was drawn up after a lengthy court battle that ended in the 1990s when Eagle County rejected the cities’ Homestake II reservoir proposal using its 1041 powers under a state law passed in the 1970s that gives counties permit authority over certain outside infrastructure projects that could impact the local economy and environment.

    Besides Homestake Partners (the two cities), the MOU was signed by the Colorado River District, Climax Molybdenum Company, and the Vail Consortium consisting of the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District, Upper Eagle Regional Water Authority and Vail Associates (now Vail Resorts).

    The two private companies signed onto the MOU – Vail Resorts and Freeport-McMoRan (Climax) – declined to comment on either the drilling study or Whitney Reservoir.

    Any proposed water storage project by any of the signatories has to meet the objectives of the MOU, which are, “Develop a joint use water project in Upper Eagle River basin that minimizes environmental impacts, is cost-effective, technically feasible, can be permitted by local, state and federal agencies, and provides sufficient yield to meet the water requirements of project participants as hereinafter defined.”

    ERWSD’s Johnson said the water provider can’t comment on Whitney Reservoir because its environmental impacts have yet to be defined, but she did have overall praise for the MOU.

    “To date, water users in the Eagle River basin have received great benefits from the MOU,” Johnson said. “It has been the basis to develop key elements of the local municipal and snowmaking water supplies that have been essential to the economic vitality of our community.”

    The MOU provides 20,000 acre-feet for the cities, 10,000 acre-feet of firm water yield for the Vail Consortium (meaning if there’s a shortage, those needs are met first), and 3,000 acre-feet of water storage for Climax. About 2,000 acre-feet were already developed with Eagle Park Reservoir, but that leaves 28,000 acre-feet of yield and 3,000 of storage undeveloped.

    Arkansas Valley Conduit project launched — The Pueblo Chieftain

    Arkansas Valley Conduit “A Path Forward” November 22, 2019 via Southeastern.

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Steve Henson):

    Dignitaries from throughout the nation, including U.S. Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt and Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman, gathered at Lake Pueblo for the groundbreaking of a pipeline that will deliver clear water to the Lower Arkansas River Valley…

    As the conduit will bypass the Arkansas River, including the portion on Pueblo’s lower East Side where the heavily polluted Fountain Creek dumps into the river, it is seen as a regional solution to drinking water quality problems facing rural communities of Southeastern Colorado…

    It may be a decade or more before the conduit will be built, but the project is well on its way now.

    When completed, the conduit will serve an estimated 50,000 people in Southeastern Colorado via some 260 miles of pipeline.

    Bill Long, president of the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District and former Bent County commissioner, said: “It’s kind of an emotional event because generations have actually worked on this project and to finally see this kind of progress where we can deliver safe water to folks, which also provides a great opportunity for economic development is close to unbelievable. It truly is a great day.”

    John Singletary, former chairman of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District, agreed:

    “As a young boy in the Arkansas Basin, I sold gold frying pans to support the effort that eventually lead to President Kennedy coming to Pueblo to sign the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project into a law,” Singletary said. “This was the first step in seeing the Arkansas Valley Conduit built. In the decades since, people like Senator Michael Bennet have never lost sight that this project is more than politics. The Conduit is a vision turned reality to help reduce dry-up of farm ground and provide clean drinking water for 50,000 people in 40 communities east of Pueblo.”

    The total project cost is estimated at somewhere between $564 and $610 million to complete over a 15-year period and about $30 million a year for the next 15 years will need to be appropriated to see it finished.

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Rayan Severance):

    Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colorado, who also has spent a lot of time and effort on the project throughout his career, echoed Long’s comments about ground finally being broken for the conduit.

    “It is a testament to the commitment of generations of people in the Lower Arkansas Valley to bring clean drinking water to communities that were promised it in the early ’60s and never had that promise fulfilled,” Bennet said. “One of the first things I heard about when I became a senator was the Arkansas Valley Conduit because of Bill (Long) and because of Ray Kogovsek, who had been the congressman for that area, and made the case about how important it was.”

    Bennet said the progress made on getting the conduit built has been a true bipartisan effort in which Democrats and Republicans have worked hand-in-hand…

    The conduit, part of the original Fryingpan-Arkansas Project, would bring water from Pueblo Dam to Lamar and Eads, serving about 40 communities along the route. As it will bypass the Arkansas River, including the portion on Pueblo’s lower East Side where Fountain Creek dumps into the river, it is seen as a regional solution to drinking water quality problems facing rural communities of Southeastern Colorado.

    Many of those water providers are facing enforcement action for high levels of naturally occurring radionuclides in well water. A new source of clean water through the Arkansas Valley Conduit is the least expensive alternative, according to a 2013 Environmental Impact Statement.

    While the project is breaking ground, there is still a long way to go, Bennet cautioned.

    The total project cost is estimated at somewhere between $564 and $610 million to complete over a 15-year period and about $30 million a year for the next 15 years will need to be appropriated to see it finished.

    “It’s not going to be easy to do but we’re going to fight for it,” Bennet said.

    #Monument trustees approve $22 million financing plan to fund water system improvements — The #ColoradoSprings Gazette

    Water infrastructure as sidewalk art

    From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Benn Farrell):

    At the board’s Sept. 21 meeting, they heard recommendations from town staff and special legal counsel regarding the potential for using the sale of revenue bonds to fund major improvements to its water system over the coming years.

    However, instead of revenue bonds, it was recommended Monument create an ordinance to enter a site lease agreement and lease purchase agreement to market Certificates of Participation (COPs) — an alternate form of financing…

    Presently, the town has a 2A water fund and an enterprise water fund for its improvements. Formal revenue bonds would have the town fund improvements from just one fund, Richey said. Using Certificates of Participation is a way many municipalities, counties and school districts fund projects without having to raise taxes and is a financial structure approved by the Colorado Supreme Court, Richey said. The collateral for the agreement would be town-owned property, infrastructure and improvements.

    With the agreement, Monument would lease its collateral property to BOK Financial in Denver, which would act as the financial trustee in exchange for an anticipated $22 million. BOK Financial then leases back the property to the town, and Monument pays “base rents” to pay off the $22 million over time, Richey said.

    Richey said Certificates of Participation also carry added protection for the town since they involve leases over a particular term and not transfer of title. Monument would not lose title to any of its assets, he said.

    While town staff plans on raising $22 million through marketing these COPs, other terms like interest rates and repayment amount will depend on market conditions when the certificates go to market. The agreement guarantees the interest rate would not exceed 4.5%, but with present rates it is expected to be just under 3%, Town Manager Mike Foreman said…

    Terms for repayment would not exceed 30 years, but Richey said town staff is negotiating for lower terms. Richey also said as base rents are paid, subleased property in the agreement could be removed, which is the goal, or substituted with other property of equal or lesser value.

    The board approved the ordinance 6-0 with no opposition from trustees, staff or the public…

    Foreman noted the anticipated $22 million from the COPs would leave an additional $5 million in the 2A fund.

    Camp Creek Drainage Improvement Project completed — KOAA.com

    From KOAA.com (Colette Bordelon):

    The Waldo Canyon Fire changed the way our community looks at natural disasters. A project designed in response to side effects of the blaze is now completed, and aims to be proactive, rather than reactive.

    Near Garden of the Gods lies the Camp Creek Drainage Improvement Project. It’s a 17-acre floodwater detention and sediment collection facility…

    After the Waldo Canyon Fire, the burned vegetation was not able to absorb moisture in the way it normally would. Consequently, the area saw flooding, with sediment rolling down the hillsides as well.

    So, the Camp Creek Drainage Improvement Project was designed, with the help of federal, state, and local agencies. A Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) grant for $8.9 million bankrolled the project, as well as $844,000 from the city.

    Representatives from FEMA and the state visited the completed project on Monday. “If we could do more mitigation across the country, we’d be a much safer country, we’d be a much more resilient country,” said Peter Gaynor, the FEMA Administrator…

    In addition, approximately 100 people no longer live in the floodplain. “We’re really not moving people out of the floodplain, we’re moving the floodplain right? And so, we’re changing the shape and the footprint of the floodplain,” said Klein.

    The 169 acre-foot storage reservoir is estimated to hold around 360,000 gallons of water, according to the Stormwater Enterprise Manager for the City of Colorado Springs, Richard Mulledy.

    Mulledy said the project has made around 100 residents who previously lived within the floodplain safer. He also said they now do not have to pay for floodplain insurance, which can be expensive.

    Plus, it will create better evacuation routes during floods if necessary.

    Camp Creek channel via City of Colorado Springs

    The latest developments in the Fountain Valley #PFAS contamination saga — The #ColoradoSprings Indy

    Firefighting foam containing PFAS chemicals is responsible for contamination in Fountain Valley. Photo via USAF Air Combat Command

    From The Colorado Springs Indy (Heidi Beedle):

    Since the 2016 revelation that groundwater in Fountain Valley, which provided drinking water for Security-Widefield and Fountain, was contaminated with toxic per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), which include a number of individual chemicals such as PFOS, PFOA, PFHxS and PFHpA, government agencies, residents and community activists have been struggling to come to terms with what is arguably one of the largest ecological contaminations in Colorado’s history.

    On Aug. 4, Chris Reh, associate director of the U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), led a virtual information session for residents of Security-Widefield and Fountain regarding its ongoing PFAS exposure assessment. The assessment will randomly select participants and test blood, urine and tap water for levels of PFAS chemicals. According to Reh, the assessment will identify how people might be exposed to chemicals, calculate the extent of exposure and determine if there is a threat to health.

    ATSDR’s exposure assessment is the first part of a process that will continue in 2021 with the Pease Study, a national multi-site study conducted locally by the Colorado School of Public Health that will look at the human health effects of PFAS exposure through drinking contaminated water. While the sites chosen for this study are near Air Force operations, PFAS exposure extends far beyond Air Force bases. Much of the focus in El Paso County is on Fountain Valley, but the Air Force Academy on the city’s Northside also released PFAS chemicals, and residents of Woodmen Valley report health concerns as well, though they are not included in the ATSDR exposure assessment.

    El Paso County is one of eight sites nationwide identified by ATSDR for exposure assessments related to PFAS chemicals. The sites, located in Alaska, Colorado, Delaware, Massachusetts, New York, Texas, Washington and West Virginia, are co-located with Air Force bases that used aqueous film forming foam (AFFF), a type of chemical used to extinguish fuel fires and that contains PFAS chemicals…

    Since 2016, community activists have been working to raise awareness of this environmental threat, and Colorado legislators have recently passed laws to address PFAS contamination. While much of the blame, and legal consequences, for this massive and widespread contamination have been aimed at companies that produce PFAS chemicals, such as DuPont and 3M, the military has known of the potential dangers of these chemicals since at least 1989.

    The Air Force Occupational and Environmental Health Laboratory published a study titled “Biological Analysis of Three Ponds at Peterson AFB [Air Force Base], Colorado Springs CO” in November 1989 that raised concerns about contamination coming from the installation. “A series of three man-made ponds on the golf course at Peterson AFB, Colorado Springs CO were analyzed to determine their current ecological status and future potential for recreational fishing,” notes the report, which goes on to identify that “Pond 3 cannot be recommended for stocking with fish in its current condition. Low species diversity suggests that this pond is being stressed by an unknown pollutant.” The report identifies a nearby storm drain as a “chronic source of pollutants for this pond.” While the Air Force analyzed a number of factors, such as pH and the levels of phytoplankton and zooplankton, it was quick to identify AFFF as a possible problem, noting that it “was accidentally spilled into pond 3 shortly before the first fish kill. A subsequent restocking resulted in a second fish kill.”

    […]

    Stephen Brady of the Peterson-Schriever Garrison Public Affairs office commented, “When there is a potential our missions are having, or may have had, an adverse impact on communities, we take appropriate measures to protect it. When PFOS was discovered in the aquifer south of base in 2016, we immediately stopped using the legacy foam during fire response and training. We replaced the legacy foam in our fire response vehicles in November 2016 and in the hangar fire suppression systems in 2018 with a more environmentally responsible foam. Our first responders will only use the new environmentally responsible firefighting foam for emergency life-saving response, and do not discharge it during training. The Air Force takes environmental stewardship seriously, and continuously strives to meet or exceed environmental standards.”

    By the early 2000s DuPont and 3M were facing lawsuits from residents near their plants and increased scrutiny from the Environmental Protection Agency, but it wasn’t until 2016 that the EPA formally issued a health advisory regarding PFAS chemicals and set advisory levels of contamination at 70 parts per trillion (ppt)…

    While Rosenbaum was organizing FVCWC, the Colorado School of Public Health began to study exposure and health effects from PFAS chemicals. The study was named “PFAS Aware.” In 2018 the PFAS Aware team began sampling water in Fountain Valley. Initial results published in December 2018 showed that “total PFASs in untreated well water ranged from 18 – 2300 ppt” and that “PFASs detected are typical of fire-fighting foam-impacted groundwater.”

    On Sept. 18, 2019, the Air Force Academy sent a notice to Woodmen Valley residents, signed by Col. Brian Hartless, the installation commander, warning them that “firefighting foam containing PFOS and PFOA was used for firefighter training at the Academy from the 1970s until 1990, when we began to consolidate all of our training at Peterson Air Force Base. After that time, the equipment used to dispense the foam was periodically tested until approximately 2005.” Hartless did note that “this firefighting foam has never been used to extinguish a petroleum-based aircraft fire at the Academy” and that “the foam now in use at the Academy is a more environmentally friendly formula that we began using in approximately 2017.” Hartless went on to inform residents that the Air Force would begin sampling wells within the Woodmen Valley Fire Protection District.

    According to Hartless, Air Force Civil Engineer Center representatives “identified 37 private wells used for drinking water at homes closest in proximity to the southern base boundary for sampling. To date, 35 of the 37 wells have been sampled.”

    ATSDR contamination assessment area.
    Courtesy ATSDR via The Colorado Springs Indy

    Bill Beaudin, a Woodmen Valley resident since 1978, questions the Air Force’s testing process. “The north border of our property is the south border of the Academy,” he says. “We live on six acres. For many years until 1995 we all used well water. We were offered to go on city water at that time and most of us took that option. About 38 families chose not to go on city water for whatever reason.”

    Longtime residents like Beaudin were concerned about the fact that the Air Force only tested the wells still in use. “The rest of us all drank that water and so did our children for all of those years in the ’70s, ’80s and early ’90s until we went on city water,” says Beaudin, “and yet the Air Force Academy chose to just do this select group.”

    On March 24, the Air Force announced in a news release, “recent well water monitoring tests on the southeast perimeter of the U.S. Air Force Academy show Perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) below the Environmental Protection Agency’s Lifetime Health Advisory level of 70 ppt.”

    While the Air Force reported PFOS and PFOA levels below the EPA advisory limits, Rosenbaum says that doesn’t tell the whole story. ”There’s 4,700 different types [of PFAS],” she says, “PFHxS is toxic firefighting foam, which may or may not have PFOA, which is Teflon, or PFAS, which is Scotchgard water-repellent. So when the Air Force Academy said ‘we’re below levels of PFOA and PFAS,’ all of us activists who have been doing this for four years were like, ‘duh.’ You don’t have a Teflon pan company. You don’t have a Scotchgard water-proofing company. You have toxic firefighting foam, so here, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility [PEER] did a FOIA [Freedom of Information Act request] to try to get the PFHxS levels, and they are really high.”

    On March 12, 12 days before the Air Force’s statement, PEER reported that “The Air Force Academy test data of neighboring drinking water wells found levels of two individual PFAS chemicals, PFHxS and PFHpA, at more than 200 ppt in two locations” and “combined PFAS levels at a single well of 503.9 ppt and 537.8 ppt across two separate tests.”

    The consternation over the levels of PFAS chemicals in the water stems from concerns over the health effects of exposure to these chemicals. Heightened levels of PFAS chemicals have been linked to health problems such as increased cholesterol levels, changes in liver enzymes, decreased vaccine response in children and increased risk of kidney or testicular cancer, according to Rachel Rogers, an environmental health scientist with ATSDR.

    “A neighbor that was four houses away, her husband died of testicular cancer,” says Beaudin. “A neighbor who has since passed away died from both kidney and bladder cancer. They were longtime neighbors of ours.”

    Rosenbaum notes, “The main health issues here are kidney cancers, prostate cancer and a lot of autoimmune diseases.” Autoimmune disease are often difficult to diagnose because symptoms can come from other common conditions…

    Lawmakers in Colorado addressed problems with PFAS contamination during the 2019 legislative session. Tony Exum, D-House District 18; Lois Landgraf, R-House District 21; Pete Lee, D-Senate District 11; and Dennis Hisey, R-Senate District 2, sponsored House Bill 1279, which bans the use of AFFFs that use PFAS chemicals for testing or training purposes. In 2020 the same group of legislators sponsored House Bill 1119, which further regulates the use of PFAS chemicals.

    On July 10, The city of Colorado Springs and Colorado Springs Utilities, along with the cities of Aurora, Greeley, Fountain and a number of water districts filed a motion to vacate an administrative action hearing by the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission (WQCC) in regards to a proposed new policy to address PFAS contamination, referred to as policy 20-1. The motion states, “The Joint Parties recognize the importance of assuring that drinking water supplies are not contaminated by PFAS, and that water supplies contaminated by PFAS are cleaned up. Vacating the administrative action hearing will not preclude the cleanup of PFAS; it will require that regulatory measures imposed by the Water Quality Control Division are properly authorized through a rulemaking hearing.”

    Rosenbaum was confused by the motion. “At first the injunction was pretty difficult to understand,” she says. “Here we are Saturday morning and it came across that they wanted all the PFAS discussions taken out of the meeting. This is our fifth contamination to our water district here. We have to do something completely different and drastic and start writing new policy. The state health department wasn’t making a new law, they were adding language to the policy they already had in place.

    According to Jennifer Kemp, a public affairs specialist with Colorado Springs Utilities, “The reason for our joining several other Front Range entities on the motion to vacate is because we did not agree with the WQCC’s approach to regulating PFAS. Under Colorado’s State Administrative Procedure Act, a policy is a general statement of interpretation that is not meant to be a binding rule. Therefore, we joined other stakeholders in asserting that the regulation of PFAS is so important that it should have been accomplished with a thorough rulemaking process to establish a statewide PFAS standard.”

    On July 14 the WQCC adopted policy 20-1. “What this policy does,” explains Rosenbaum, “is it forces wastewater to test for PFAS. Your drinking water is fine, it’s not contaminated yet, but do you have an industry that’s dumping everything into the wastewater? We have the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, so they’re not dumping in rivers anymore but they’re dumping into wastewater.

    Now we’re making that accountable in our state. Now we’re explicitly stating in writing CDPHE [Colorado Department of Health and Environment] will receive extra funding to help that water district do an investigation of the industries that are connected to the wastewater system to see if they have PFAS. If they do, now they have to filter it at their site. If you own a restaurant, you have a grease trap. You can’t just dump in the wastewater. If you have a dental office, it’s explicitly written that they have to filter mercury. We’re not doing anything different, we’re just directly applying it where they’ve gotten away with no rules because they’ve been allowed to self-regulate.”

    While ATSDR completes their current study, Rosenbaum is planning her next steps. “We need to set maximum contaminant levels in this state,” she says. “What we can do is stop the industry from adding more [PFAS contamination] in. New Hampshire set it at 18 ppt, where the state health department wanted to set it at 700 ppt for PFHxS, which is stupid. The EPA isn’t monitoring PFHxS, they’re just doing PFOA and PFAS, so we brought in evidence from other states saying PFHxs is actually the more harmful one because it’s more prevalent.”