From email from the Arkansas River Compact Administration (Kevin Salter):
Click the links for the final notice and agenda for the upcoming Arkansas River Compact Administration Annual and Committee Meetings to be held on December 6thand 7th. Please note that the meeting dates and location were changed at the ARCA Annual Meeting held in December 2023. Also attached are the draft agendas for the ARCA committee and Annual meetings.
The ARCA Committee and Annual meetings will be held at the Jim Rizzuto Banquet Room, Otero College Student Center, 2001 San Juan Ave, La Junta, Colorado.
The 2023 Annual Meeting of the Arkansas River Compact Administration (ARCA) will be held on Thursday, December 7, 2023, commencing at 8:30 a.m. MST (9:30 a.m. CST). If necessary, the annual meeting may be recessed for lunch and reconvened for the completion of business in the afternoon. The public is invited to attend the Annual Meeting.
The Engineering, Operations, and Administrative/Legal Committees of ARCA will meet on Wednesday, December 6, 2023, starting at 2:00 p.m. MST (3:00 p.m. CST) and continuing to completion. The public is invited to attend the Committee meetings.
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.
The meeting announcement and draft agendas can be found on ARCA’s website:
If you have any questions please feel free to contact Andrew or myself.
Kevin Salter, Division of Water Resources, Kansas Department of Agriculture, 4532 W Jones Ave Suite B Garden City, KS 67846, Kevin.Salter@ks.gov, (620) 276 – 2901.
Andrew Rickert, Program Manager, Interstate, Federal, and Water Information Section, Colorado Water Conservation Board, P 303-866-3441 x 3249 | M 720-651-1918, 1313 Sherman St., Room 718, Denver, CO 80203, email@example.com.
Nov. 16, 2023 SALIDA, Colo. – Colorado Parks and Wildlife on Thursday lifted a closure of the Arkansas River above Salida that was imposed last month to allow removal of a low-head dam located 1.5 miles upstream from CPW’s Mount Shavano State Fish Hatchery.
The river was reopened as crews completed removal of the dam and an adjacent boat chute, said Tom Waters, CPW’s park manager for the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area, which encompasses 152 miles of the Arkansas River from Leadville to Pueblo.
“We are happy to announce the river is open again, weeks sooner than expected, to instream recreation,” Waters said. “The closure and mandatory portage signs have been removed and the buoy line barrier across the river has been taken down.”
Waters said final clean-up work along the banks should be done by Nov. 23.
CPW had closed the stretch of river from the Chaffee County Road 166 Bridge to the Salida Boat Ramp to allow heavy equipment to break up and remove the dam, which was first built around 1956 to collect water for the hatchery downstream. The dam was rebuilt in 1987 with an adjacent boat chute.
“By removing the dam, we have eliminated a deadly threat to the thousands who boat on this popular stretch of the Arkansas River each year,” Waters said. River water, spilling over the dam, churned at the bottom of the dam structure, creating a powerful hydraulic that capsized and trapped boaters and swimmers. Since 2010, three people have died at the dam.
Removing the dam also enhances movements of fish – brown trout, rainbow trout and native white suckers – by easing migration access to about 85 miles of the Gold Medal river upstream. Barriers like the dam limit genetic diversity by essentially isolating segments of the river’s fish population.
The ability of fish to move freely in a river also helps to prevent overpopulation by balancing the amount of habitat and forage with the number of fish it can support.
“This project is a great example of how CPW works with its local partners to accomplish important projects for the public,” said April Estep, deputy regional manager of CPW’s Southeast Region. She specifically praised CPW’s partners, including the Chaffee County Board of County Commissioners, who provided $100,000 toward the $1.1 million removal effort.
The dam has not been used as a hatchery water supply since 2000 after whirling disease was detected in the river. Whirling disease is caused by a parasite that infects rainbow trout, leaving them deformed and swimming in circles before it quickly kills the youngest fish. CPW spent $1.5 million at the hatchery to convert it to clean spring water to raise its fish.
The Western Slope delivers 70% of the Colorado River water. So why do Aspen, Vail and other places want to replace thirsty turf?
This story, a collaboration of Big Pivots and Aspen Journalism, is part of a series that examines the intersection of water and urban landscapes in Colorado.
If you’ve ever slipped and spun your way across Vail Pass through a wet, heavy snowstorm, you can be excused for wondering how Eagle River Valley communities could ever have too little water.
Vail and its neighbors do have that problem, though. It has become evident in the growing frequency of drought years in the 21st century.
First came 2002. Water officials, verging on panic, restricted outdoor water use. The drought was believed to be the most severe in 500 years. Fine, thought water officials as rain and snow resumed, we’re off the hook for at least our lifetimes.
In 2012 came another drought, one nearly identical in severity. More bad years followed in 2018 and 2021. The Eagle River normally chatters its way down the valley through Avon and to a confluence with the Colorado River near Glenwood Canyon. In those bad, bad drought years, it sulked. The shallow water was hot enough to endanger fish.
Colorado River flows have declined 20% since 2000. Having water rights is not enough. And the future looks even hotter and, because of that heat, drier. Brad Udall, a senior scientist and scholar at Colorado State University, warns of up to 20% additional flow loss by midcentury.
Average temperatures in the Colorado River Basin are projected by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to rise 5 to 6 degrees Fahrenheit during the 21st century. The agency projects slightly greater increases in Colorado and other upper basin states.
In Vail, managers of the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District have decided they need more storage. They plan a 1,200-acre-foot reservoir near Minturn called Bolts Lake. That compares with the 257,034-acre-foot storage of Dillon Reservoir. At that capacity, this new reservoir will be the most cost-effective way to ensure resilience as the climate becomes more variable. With the reservoir, they hope to capture water during high-runoff years for use in the district’s service territory from Vail through Edwards.
Demand reduction will be another tool of growing importance in a hotter, sometimes drier climate. Managers hope to reduce water demand in the district 5% by 2026 even as new housing, especially more affordable units, gets built. That’s 400 acre-feet per year.
The most productive place to wring these savings will be in water used for outdoor landscapes. Only 25% — or even less — of water applied to lawns returns to streams and rivers compared with 95% of water used indoors.
Siri Roman, the district’s general manager, said short-term change, such as restricted lawn watering in drought years, can be a strategy. But her district wants to effect permanent change.
“It’s not about drought years,” she said. “It’s about a drying climate. We have to get people to shift their attitudes, to know that water is getting to be more scarce.”
Roman’s district, like other water utilities in Colorado, is targeting nonfunctional turf. Precise definitions vary, but nonfunctional generally refers to grasses that require large volumes of water to irrigate but rarely see human feet except when mowed. It is also described as aesthetic turf.
Three years ago, Eagle River Water began offering rebates of $1 per square foot to customers willing to replace thirsty lawns with landscapes that use less water. Using state aid, the district this year bumped up the incentive to $2.
“We are not saying it needs to be stone and look like Arizona,” Roman said.
Directors of the district in October also agreed to new tiered rates that will discourage high-volume consumption.
Other Western Slope communities have also set out to discourage thirsty landscape choices. Motivations vary, but for many, there is also acknowledgement of the need to walk the talk of water conservation expected of Front Range communities. “That is something I hear a lot from communities I am working with,” said Marjo Curgus, a consultant.
‘Lawn Begone’ in Durango
Almost a decade ago, Steve Harris, a water engineer in Durango, summoned the local news media to his house to watch him remove sod from his front yard. He also had bumper stickers produced: “Lawn Gone.” In an editorial, the Durango Herald offered an alternative: “Lawn Begone.”
Harris believed that Colorado needed to make clear that decorative lawns had less value than agriculture. He worked with his state legislators to draft a bill that would have limited transfers of agricultural water to cities if that water went to lawns. As for his own lawn, Harris thought that he and others on the Western Slope couldn’t just pay lip service to this idea.
At the Colorado Capitol, the bill introduced in 2014 by then-Sen. Ellen Roberts and then-Rep. Don Coram was quickly shelved. Local governments objected. So did ag producers who thought state legislators had no business blocking their abilities to sell water rights.
Instead, the idea was directed to an interim committee for further study. Bills sometimes get sent there to die. In this case, the conversation continued, as Roberts had intended.
Since then, legislators have adopted several laws. A bill that passed in 2022, House Bill 22-1151, does not institute a prohibition but instead allocated $2 million to the Colorado Water Conservation Board, $1.5 million of which went to local jurisdictions to spur voluntary replacement of irrigated turf.
The law asserts that for every 100 acres of turf converted to water-wise landscaping, up to 200 acre-feet of water can be conserved. The act defines water-wise landscaping as a water- and plant-management practice that emphasizes using plants with lower water needs.
Whether that much water gets saved also depends upon whether irrigation systems are changed to match the lesser water needs of the new landscapes. Grass that needs 12 inches of supplemental water per year need not continue to get 25.
All that funding has now been allocated. On the Western Slope, the municipalities of Cortez, Glenwood Springs and Frisco were awarded funds as was the Eagle County Conservation District. The state agency said 25% of turf-replacement funds were for Western Slope entities.
Rep. Marc Catlin of Montrose and then-Rep. Dylan Roberts of Frisco, two of the four prime sponsors, are from the Western Slope. Another prime sponsor, Sen. Cleave Simpson of Alamosa, now has a district that encompasses southwest Colorado, while Roberts has become a senator.
Without state funding, Montrose County approved grants for seven turf-replacement projects.
“From the start, I thought this initial effort might have more value from an education and outreach perspective than actual water savings,” said Justin Musser, the county’s natural resources manager.
Projects were chosen based on various objectives. For example, do the new landscapes provide energy savings or wildlife benefits? “We are not overly prescriptive,” said Musser. “If you have a good plan that references standards from the Colorado State University Extension or another reputable source, the application gets a higher ranking.”
Why would Montrose County be interested in yanking sod to save water?
“It’s important that we look at these types of things across the Colorado River basin,” Musser said. “We would want people in California and Arizona and Nevada to be looking at these types of programs, too. I think it makes sense for a place like Montrose County to be conserving water as much as we can, too.”
But, he added, this is “one part of a very complex issue.”
Droughts versus aridification
The Western Slope of Colorado produces 70% of the water in the Colorado River, according to the Colorado River Water Conservation District. Some of that water stays in Colorado. About half of the water for Front Range cities comes from the Western Slope. Yet more of the Colorado River gets diverted to farms in the South Platte and Arkansas river valleys.
And, of course, water from the Western Slope flows downstream to farms and cities in Arizona, California and Nevada.
The Colorado River has infamously been falling short of meeting all demands. The river first failed to reach the Sea of Cortez in the 1960s and, as diversions in Arizona and elsewhere expanded, has ceased to reach the sea altogether since the 1990s — save for an especially engineered pulse in 2014.
In 1922, when delegates of the seven states met to negotiate the Colorado River Compact, they assumed that flows of the early 20th century would be the norm, delivering more than 20 million acre-feet. As Eric Kuhn and John Fleck explain in their book, “Science Be Dammed: How Ignoring Inconvenient Science Drained the Colorado River,” it had been a wet period.
It didn’t stay that wet, and in the 21st century it has been delivering far less water, an average 13.2 million acre-feet through 2022. Andy Mueller, general manager of the Glenwood Springs-based Colorado River District, and others have warned that continued warming could depress flows to 9 million acre-feet during coming decades. Or even less.
Grand Junction more recently adopted regulations curbing water needed for urban landscaping. The city has adopted sustainability goals, “and water plays a big part of that,” said Randi Kim, utilities director for the city of 69,000 people.
Cost savings enter into the city’s calculation as it prepares for a projected 91,000 residents by 2040. The municipal utility taps high-quality water from Kannah Creek, which originates on Grand Mesa. When that is insufficient to meet demands, as the city utility projects will be the case by 2040, the city will tap the Gunnison River but will need to pay more to treat the dirtier water.
Rising heat can also drive higher demand. Grand Junction in July reached 107 degrees, tying the record that had been set just two years before. The city’s 13 highest temperatures have occurred this century.
This is but one aspect of the changing and drying climate, a process that many — including Kim — describe as aridification. “I think people realize that we have to change the way we use and manage water, and it really affects every aspect of our lives,” she said.
Grand Junction’s new regulations apply to new developments. Turf that does not meet the city’s definition of “functional” cannot exceed 15% of landscaping. The new regulations also require low-water vegetation in traffic medians and some other common areas.
Steamboat Springs, although cooler and wetter than Grand Junction, faces similar challenges. It gets 24 inches of precipitation a year, compared with 10 inches for Grand Junction. Some years, the snow along streets of Steamboat gets piled higher than the head of a rim-rattling professional basketball player.
These prodigious snowfalls have not been yielding equally impressive runoffs in the Yampa River. Several times during the longer, hotter summers of the 21st century, the river slunk to such shallow depths that water officials decreed a temporary end to fishing. It almost happened again in July before temperatures cooled and rain arrived.
“We were one day from the river being shut down again,” said Madison Muxworthy of the Yampa Valley Sustainability Council, a nonprofit. “It was crazy.”
Muxworthy calls the Yampa River the “life beat of our community.” The description is apt. Kayakers paddle amid the waves during runoff months, and anglers drop lines every season. There are always people along the river banks.
In 2021, heeding local sentiment, the sustainability council launched a water-conservation program focused on outdoor use. Working with the city government and Mount Werner Water and Sanitation District, the group created a guidance document for landscapes called “Yampascaping.” Four educational workshops this year were well attended.
“Citizens are really interested in this because they see the impacts from climate change that we’re already having,” said Muxworthy, her organization’s soil moisture, water and snow program manager. “It’s really easy for them to make the connection and want to do something about it.”
The Mount Werner district, which serves the base of the city’s bigger ski area, offers rebates of $1 per square foot for turf removal.
Eighty miles south of Steamboat, at a 131-unit multifamily project along the Eagle River called The Reserve, turf-removal incentives of $2 per square foot have also helped the homeowners association replace a half-acre of thirsty grasses with native vegetation. The homeowners hope to replace another 60% of the more than 4 acres of common area.
Saving water is paramount in the mind of Deb Forsline, a director of the homeowners association. She sometimes lulls her grandchildren to sleep with the soothing sound at river’s edge and, at other times, accompanies her husband on fishing expeditions, knitting while he dangles lines. “It’s about saving water for the river, not the money,” she said of the efforts to reduce water for landscaping.
Diane Johnson, communications and public affairs manager at Eagle River Water and Sanitation District, concurs. The $2 per square foot “helps move the thinking of people who have already been thinking about it,” she said.
Roman, the district’s general manager, points to the innate connection that most of her district’s 31,000 consumers have with the outdoors. “A lot of people who live here year-round know that it is irresponsible to overuse.”
A steeper staircase of water rates
After the 2002 drought, the Eagle River district adopted an inclining block rate structure. The more you use, the more you pay. The district got inconsistent results. Larger homes and those with more expansive and water-intense landscaping dropped their use in smaller percentages than smaller homes. The rate structure had been flawed, allowing larger homes to pay less per 1,000 gallons than smaller homes for the same volume of water. Different rates were needed to snag the attention of high-volume consumers.
Aspen had the same problem. It adopted tiered water rates in 2005. Managers thought the rates would discourage high volumes of consumption. But even in drought years, some properties continued stubbornly high volumes.
In 2017, Aspen adopted a new approach. The regulations require reduced water use in the landscape and irrigation plans for new and redeveloped projects. Such caps are called budgets. Like Denver and Boulder, Aspen has almost no new development of raw land. The law imposes a hard cap of 7.5 gallons per square foot of landscape. That’s about a foot of water, or roughly half of the supplemental water required in Colorado for Kentucky bluegrass. The law also requires so-called “smart” irrigation systems and alternative plants but leaves some flexibility in how developers and their consultants stay within the water budgets.
So far, 110 to 120 projects in Aspen have been reviewed, but only 15 to 20 have been executed – still too soon to discern clear results in water savings for the city, said Rob Gregor, utilities permit coordinator. Still, the city has leveled its water use and hopes to achieve even greater efficiencies in water devoted to residential and commercial landscapes. That could leave more water in Castle Creek and the Roaring Fork River, one of the goals of the program.
Durango, with 19,000 people and a projected population of 25,000 by 2035, has considered using rates to nudge high-volume users to less demanding landscapes. Justin Elkins, utilities manager, said the city hopes to encourage voluntary reductions in water use by allowing water users to monitor the volume of their use and compare it to consumption by their neighbors.
The Ute Water Conservancy District has successfully used rates to encourage water conservation. The Grand Junction-based district delivers water to rural and exurban areas of the Grand Valley from Cameo to the Utah border. Customers tend to be more responsive “when it hits them in the pocketbook,” said Andrea Lopez, the district’s external affairs manager. “As they use more water and enter into tiers that become steeper with the more they use, we usually see a reduction in use.”
That’s what Eagle River Water has done. Like Aspen, the Vail Valley has some wealthy homeowners. Under the old tier system, somebody in a smaller home paid more per gallon than somebody in a larger home, if they both used the same large volume.
Beginning in January, Roman was on the agenda of everybody from Rotary clubs to Eagle County commissioners. “Really, this is targeting our excessive users,” she told the Vail Town Council at a June meeting. “They’re the ones that are going to feel this.”
District directors in October approved the new tiered rates that intend to discourage high-volume consumption.
In Wildridge, a neighborhood on the south-facing slopes of Avon, Linn Brooks has shown what is possible in landscape conversions. Fifteen years ago, before she started transitioning her landscape, her home used 15,000 to 25,000 gallons a month. Now, it uses, at most, 7,000 gallons a month and her landscape is commanding.
The takeaway, she said, is that communities can have vibrant landscapes and protect property values – and still use less water.
Next: How did bluegrass lawns in Colorado become the default? Some trace it to the castles of Europe. Half or more of Coloradans live in neighborhoods governed by homeowners associations. Some have started to curb thirsty bluegrass, but others needed a firm nudge this year from state legislators.
Allen Best, a longtime Colorado journalist, publishes Big Pivots, which tracks the energy and water transitions in Colorado and beyond. Aspen Journalism is a nonprofit, investigative news organization covering water, environment and community. This story is part of a five-part series produced in a collaboration between Big Pivots and Aspen Journalism. Find more at https://bigpivots.com and at https://aspenjournalism.org
The Engineering, Operations, and Administrative/Legal Committees of ARCA will meet on Wednesday, December 6, 2023.
The 2023 ARCA Annual Meeting of will be held on Thursday, December 7, 2023.
All meetings are to be held at the Otero College Student Center, 2001 San Juan Ave in La Junta, Colorado. The meeting specifics and draft agendas will be provided at a later date.
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.
A two-year dam rehabilitation construction project at South Catamount Reservoir will begin October 15th when the North Slope Recreation Area (NSRA) closes for its season. This planned work and closure will continue through Spring 2026. This construction project will result in the closure of all public motor vehicle access to South Catamount and North Catamount due to the use of heavy machinery on the roadway. In addition, access to the public through permitted guided recreational activities, such as fishing and paddle boarding, will not be allowed and their future is uncertain. Hiking access to North Catamount Reservoir will be available during the project but is subject to construction project planning. Crystal Creek Reservoir reopened to the public this summer following similar rehabilitation work to its dam. It will remain open for public recreation for the 2024-2025 seasons. For more information, please email Colorado Springs Utilities at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 719-668-7765.
By way of overview, the CWCB is involved in an amazing number of activities. It oversees the interstate compact compliance on water usage. It works on watershed protection, flood planning, and mitigation. It oversees stream and lake protection, as well as conservation and drought planning. The CWCB oversees water project loans and grants, water use modeling, and water supply planning focused on appropriate stewardship of the state’s water resources; which contrary to the public’s perceptions, is not an infinite resource.
The agendas for these every-other-month sessions are extensive. After moving through the director’s reports, it dived into 18 water plan grants. They ranged from a Colorado Cattlemen’s Association grant to scale up agriculture water education and funding outreach, to a San Luis Valley Rye Resurgence project, to the Blue River Watershed groups habitat restoration project to the Bernhardt Reservoir Water Storage Project for the Central Colorado Water Conservancy District.
Moving from water grants to water project loans, a big topic was a water supply reserve fund application from the Colorado Ag Water Alliance covering nine river basins: Arkansas, Colorado, Gunnison, Metro, North Platte, Rio Grande, South Platte, Southwest, and the Yampa/White/Green basin. Its purpose is to improve agricultural drought resilience and support innovative water conservation.
Near the end of the two-day meeting, the group moved into an executive session to dive into the critical post-2026 Colorado River negotiations. As a Colorado River Upper Basin state, the long-term division of this critical western water resource is becoming contentious, as Upper Basin states remind California, Nevada, and Arizona that they have been using far more than their share.
President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law supporting major water infrastructure project to provide clean, reliable drinking water to 39 communities in southeastern Colorado
Sep 15, 2023
LOVELAND, Colo. – The Bureau of Reclamation has awarded a contract for the second segment of trunkline of the Arkansas Valley Conduit to Pate Construction Co., Inc. for $27,216,950.00. This contract, partially funded by President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, funds construction of Boone Reach 2, which includes a 5.4 mile stretch of water pipeline and 7.4 miles of fiber conduit. Construction will follow Colorado State Highway 96 from North Avondale to Boone, Colorado.
President Biden’s Investing in America agenda represents the largest investment in climate resilience in the nation’s history and is providing much-needed resources to enhance Western communities’ resilience to drought and climate change. Through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, Reclamation is investing a total of $8.3 billion over five years for water infrastructure projects, including water purification and reuse, water storage and conveyance, desalination and dam safety. An overall $160 million has been allocated so far from the Law to complete the Arkansas Valley Conduit project.
This is a major infrastructure project that, upon completion, will provide reliable municipal and industrial water to 39 communities in southeastern Colorado. The pipeline will bring water from Pueblo Reservoir to Bent, Crowley, Kiowa, Otero, Prowers, and Pueblo counties. It is projected to serve up to 50,000 people in the future; equivalent to 7,500 acre-feet of water per year.
“We’re looking forward to this next project milestone,” said Jeff Rieker, Eastern Colorado area manager. “Today’s contract award allows the project to maintain the momentum we’ve built over the past year and helps us achieve the ultimate goal of bringing clean and reliable water supplies to the people of southeastern Colorado.”
“The Arkansas Valley Conduit is vitally important to the people of the Lower Arkansas Valley, so it is very rewarding to see the Bureau of Reclamation moving ahead,” said Bill Long, president of the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, local sponsors of the Arkansas Valley Conduit. “The Southeastern District also is working to complete this project as quickly as possible to provide a better quality of water for the people of the valley.”
Work on the first segment of trunk line began in spring of 2023 with completion anticipated in 2024. Reclamation expects work on the second segment, Boone Reach 2, to begin in late 2023 with completion slated for late summer 2025.
As the Arkansas Valley Conduit project moves forward, under existing agreements, Reclamation plans to construct the trunkline, water tanks, and related components, while the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District coordinates with communities to fund and build the project’s water delivery pipelines. Eventually, the Arkansas Valley Conduit will connect 39 water systems along the 103-mile route to Lamar, Colorado.
The project will use Pueblo Water’s existing infrastructure to treat and deliver Arkansas Valley Conduit water from Pueblo Reservoir to a connection point east of the city of Pueblo along U.S. Highway 50. The project will use water from either the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project or from a participant’s water portfolio, but not from Pueblo Water’s resources.
Congress authorized Arkansas Valley Conduit in the original Fryingpan-Arkansas Project legislation in 1962 (Public Law 87-590). This project does not increase Fryingpan-Arkansas Project water diversions from the western slope of Colorado; rather, it is intended to improve drinking water quality.
Currently, many people in the areas that will be served by the Arkansas Valley Conduit rely on groundwater supplies that contain naturally occurring radionuclides, such as radium and uranium, or use shallow wells that contain harmful microorganisms and pollutants. Alternatives for these communities consist of expensive options such as reverse-osmosis, ion exchange, filtration, and bottled water.
If you have questions or need more information, please contact Anna Perea, public affairs specialist at the Bureau of Reclamation’s Eastern Colorado Area Office, at (970) 290-1185 or email@example.com. If you are deaf, hard of hearing or have a speech disability, please dial 7-1-1 to access telecommunications relay services.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife is ending its management of the John Martin Reservoir State Wildlife Area on Aug. 31 after 55 years after being unable to reach a new agreement with the property’s owner, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
CPW will continue to manage John Martin Reservoir State Park, which is operated under a separate agreement with the Corps.
The 19,471-acre wildlife area surrounds the reservoir west of the state park and is a destination for hunting, fishing, boating, camping and wildlife viewing.
Beginning Sept. 1, any questions about the wildlife area should be directed to the Army Corps.
The Arkansas Valley Conduit (AVC) has received an additional $100 million in federal funding, the Department of Interior announced Thursday.
“We are exceedingly excited about today’s announcement,” said Jim Broderick, Executive Director of the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District. “This funding will help us to continue to accelerate the construction of the Arkansas Valley Conduit in order to provide a clean, reliable drinking water supply to the people of the Lower Arkansas Valley.”
The AVC is being constructed by the Bureau of Reclamation and the Southeastern District’s Water Activity Enterprise are building the AVC, which will deliver water to 50,000 in 39 communities east of Pueblo. Reclamation has started construction on the trunk line of the AVC, while Southeastern awarded its first contract for Avondale and Boone delivery lines last week.
The most recent funding brings the total federal funding for AVC to $221 million since 2020, on top of about $30 million previously spent.
The state of Colorado has pledged $120 million toward the AVC, Southeastern has contributed $4.8 million and counties and participants have contributed or pledged $3 million in American Rescue Program Act (ARPA) funds, and participants have contributed about $2 million.
WASHINGTON – The Department of the Interior today [July 27 2023] announced a $152 million investment from President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law that will bring clean, reliable drinking water to communities across the West through six water storage and conveyance projects. The projects in California, Colorado and Washington are expected to develop at least 1.7 million acre-feet of additional water storage capacity, enough water to support 6.8 million people for a year. The funding will also invest in a feasibility study that could advance water storage capacity once completed.
President Biden’s Investing in America agenda represents the largest investment in climate resilience in the nation’s history and is providing much-needed resources to enhance Western communities’ resilience to drought and climate change, including protecting the short- and long-term sustainability of the Colorado River System. Through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, Reclamation is investing a total of $8.3 billion over five years for water infrastructure projects, including water purification and reuse, water storage and conveyance, desalination and dam safety. The Inflation Reduction Act is investing an additional $4.6 billion to address the historic drought.
“In the wake of severe drought across the West, the Department is putting funding from President Biden’s Investing in America agenda to work to provide clean, reliable drinking water to families, farmers and Tribes throughout the West,” said Secretary Deb Haaland. “Through the investments we’re announcing today, we will expedite essential water storage projects and provide increased water security to Western communities.”
“Water is essential to every community – for feeding families, growing crops, powering agricultural businesses and sustaining wildlife,” said Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Camille Calimlim Touton. “Our investment in these projects will increase water storage capacity and lay conveyance pipeline to deliver reliable and safe drinking water and build resiliency for communities most impacted by drought.”
The selected projects from today’s announcement are:
B.F. Sisk Dam Raise and Reservoir Expansion Project: $10 million to the San Luis and Delta- Mendota Authority, to pursue the B.F. Sisk Dam Raise and Reservoir Expansion Project. The project is associated with the B.F. Sisk Safety of Dams Modification Project. Once completed, the project will develop approximately 130,000 acre-feet of additional storage.
North of Delta Off Stream Storage (Sites Reservoir Project): $30 million to pursue off stream storage capable for up to 1.5 million acre-feet of water in the Sacramento River system located in the Coast range mountains west of Maxwell, California. The reservoir would utilize new and existing facilities to move water in and out of the reservoir, with ultimate release to the Sacramento River system via existing canals, a new pipeline near Dunnigan, and the Colusa Basin Drain.
Los Vaqueros Reservoir Expansion Phase II: $10 million to efficiently integrate approximately 115,000 acre-feet of additional water storage through new conveyance facilities with existing facilities. This will allow Delta water supplies to be safely diverted, stored and delivered to beneficiaries.
• Arkansas Valley Conduit: $100 million to continue construction of a safe, long-term water supply to an estimated 50,000 people in 39 rural communities along the Arkansas River. Once completed, the project will replace current groundwater sources contaminated with radionuclides and help communities comply with Environmental Protection Act drinking water regulations for more than 103 miles of pipelines designed to deliver up to 7,500 acre-feet of water per year from Pueblo Reservoir.
• Upper Yakima System Storage Feasibility Study: $1 million to begin a feasibility study to identify and assess storage alternatives within the Kittitas Irrigation District area. The district could
utilize conserved water or water diverted for storage as part of total water supply available for tangible improvements in meeting instream flow objectives, tributary supplementation efforts, aquatic habitat improvements, and support the delisting of steelhead and bull trout populations to meet the goals of the Yakima Basin Integrated Plan.
• Cle Elum Pool Raise Project: $1 million to continue to increase the reservoir’s capacity to an additional 14,600 acre-feet to be managed for instream flows for fish. Additional funds for shoreline protection will provide mitigation for the pool raise.
Today’s investments build on $210 million in funding announced last year from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law for water storage and conveyance projects.
The upper Roaring Fork River will likely see its highest flows of the season beginning early next week as the transbasin diversion from its headwaters to the other side of the Continental Divide is shut off.
Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co. is expecting to stop diverting from the headwaters of the Roaring Fork, which will result in an additional 350 to 450 cubic feet per second flow downstream through Aspen. Local officials say that amount of water is welcome, doesn’t pose flooding concerns and is a chance to see what natural spring runoff would look like without a transmountain diversion.
“The river is flowing really low right now, particularly for this time of year,” said April Long, an engineer and stormwater manager at the city of Aspen. “We welcome the additional flow and do not believe we have any concern for flooding at this point.”
According to the stream gauge just above Aspen at Stillwater, the Roaring Fork was flowing at 257 cfs on Wednesday — about 62% of average — and the Twin Lakes diversion was taking 344 cfs through the tunnel on Wednesday and up to 437 cfs on Thursday. That means the river could be flowing as high as nearly 700 cfs at Stillwater by early next week. That’s still well below the “action stage” for flooding of 1,048 cfs, as defined by the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center.
Interim General Manager of the Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co. Matt Heimerich said the company’s space in Twin Lakes Reservoir is nearing capacity and the Colorado Canal that brings water to farmers in Crowley County is also full. When those two things happen, Twin Lakes is required to shut off the Independence Pass diversion.
“It’s a little bit of a moving target,” Heimerich said. “It’s dependent on the two conditions and they have to happen in a simultaneous fashion.”
Heimerich said they are projecting to reach the storage condition on Monday, June 19, which means they will start to ramp down diversions on Sunday, June 18. Diversions will resume once water levels drop in the Arkansas River basin and the Colorado Canal can no longer be filled with water on the east side of the divide.
Transmountain Diversion system
The Independence Pass Transmountain Diversion System, operated by Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co., collects runoff from 45 square miles of high alpine terrain, including the New York, Brooklyn, Tabor, Lincoln, Grizzly and Lost Man creek drainages, dumping those flows into Grizzly Reservoir, which can hold 570 acre-feet of water.
From there the water runs through the 4-mile-long Twin Lakes Tunnel under the Continental Divide and into Lake Creek, a tributary of the Arkansas River. Twelve miles later the water arrives at the Twin Lakes Reservoir where it is stored before being sent down the Arkansas River, eventually reaching Front Range cities and Eastern Plains farms with the help of a network of pipelines, pumps and canals.
Four municipalities own 95% of the shares of Twin Lakes water: Colorado Springs Utilities owns 55%; the Board of Water Works of Pueblo has 23%; Pueblo West Metropolitan District owns 12% and the City of Aurora has 5%. It’s Colorado Springs’ largest source of Western Slope water and represents about 21% of the utility’s total water supply.
Because of cool temperatures and cloudy skies, this year’s runoff has been slow and steady so far.
“That’s definitely what we’ve been seeing: a fairly long, extended period of high flows versus a single, well-defined peak,” said Cody Moser, a senior hydrologist with CBRFC.
Prior to the added flows, the Fork near Aspen peaked on May 30 at 417 cfs.
Christina Medved, director of community outreach at the Basalt-based Roaring Fork Conservancy, said the additional flow is great news for the river ecosystem. The group has a planned educational float next week through the North Star Nature Preserve upstream of Aspen, which will look more like the true wetland that it is because of the extra water. Water managers and river lovers in the Roaring Fork Valley like when the Twin Lakes diversion pauses — which often happens in late summer when senior water users in the Grand Valley place the Cameo call, shutting off upstream junior users — because it means more water flowing through local communities.
“What could be exciting is for people to go look at the river,” Medved said. “This is as close as we get to seeing it as if there wasn’t a transbasin diversion.”
Even though officials don’t expect flooding in the Aspen area, they are still urging caution, especially for kids and pets, around high-flowing rivers.
The price of water is rising across the Southwest as utilities look to cover the cost of the increasingly scarce resource, the infrastructure to treat and distribute it and the search for new supplies.
PHOENIX—Across the Southwest, water users are preparing for a future with a lot less water as the region looks to confront steep cuts from the Colorado River and states are forced to limit use to save the river. Farms are being paid to not farm. Cities are looking to be more efficient and find new water supplies. And prices are starting to go up.
In Phoenix, the city’s Water Services Department is preparing to increase residents’ monthly water bills starting this October if the hike is approved by the city council. The city isn’t alone. Water providers throughout the entire Colorado River Basin have raised water rates, or are preparing to, to compensate for increasing costs of infrastructure repairs and water shortages along the river. Inflation is driving up the costs of resources to treat and deliver water to customers, and other additional fees are planned to incentivize conservation.
The issue is economics 101, said Casey Wichman, an assistant economics professor at Georgia Institute of Technology and a university fellow with Resources for the Future who studies water pricing. Providers along the basin are coming to terms with the diminishing supply in the river and the infrastructure that needs to be repaired or replaced, largely driven by the rapid growth in population. All of those drive up costs, he said.
“The cheapest way to build new supply is just to get your customers to use less.” To do that, he said, water utilities often turn to raising rates, making the need to incentivize conservation another driver of the increasing price of water.
Finding new water sources and getting people to conserve more is becoming increasingly important as the Southwest grapples with climate change and looks to shore up its supply.
“We have a lot of people living in areas where the water supplies just aren’t there,” Wichman said.
The region has experienced more than 20 years of drought and decades of overallocation. Arizona’s supply from the Colorado River has already been extensively cut back, and under a proposal from the river’s Lower Basin states introduced last month and supported by the Biden Administration, the states would agree to cut an additional 3 million acre feet of water over the next three years to prevent Lake Mead and Lake Powell, the nation’s two largest reservoirs, from falling to levels that wouldn’t allow electricity generation at the Hoover and Glen Canyon dams, or the river stops flowing past the dams altogether.
In recent years the Central Arizona Project, a 336-mile-long system that delivers Arizona’s allocation of Colorado River water to around 80 percent of the state’s population, has seen a nearly 25 percent cut in the amount of water that flows through its canal.
The price CAP charges is derived from how much it costs to deliver the water to where it needs to go, said Chris Hall, CAP’s assistant general manager for administration and finance. If less water is being delivered to the state, the price of each gallon will go up.
“We’re spreading that cost over fewer acre feet. It’s really just that simple,” he said. “It doesn’t have anything to do with us having to do any major retrofits to accommodate less deliveries or change our business operations in a meaningful way. It’s just less water.”
This year, the cost of an acre foot of water, enough for about three homes for a year, is $217. Next year it will be $270. By 2028, CAP is expecting the price to rise to $323.
“Water in the Southwest is still, especially in Arizona, relatively affordable,” Hall said. CAP’s goal, he said, is ensuring rates go up in a way that is stable.
Rates Have Long Been Too Low, Experts Say
Among the biggest expenditures in water utility infrastructure are pipelines. In order to fund their repairs and replacements, utilities will have to raise the price of water. Many experts believe that is long overdue, and that water rates haven’t been high enough to keep up with the large investments required to keep infrastructure in acceptable condition.
The City of Phoenix has over 7,000 miles of utility pipelines that deliver water to companies and households. The average water pipe will last 70 to 75 years in Arizona, but a large portion of them are reaching that age where they need to be replaced. While these pipes are built to last using what, at the time of any given pipeline’s construction, are enormously expensive and durable components, corrosion takes place over time and the pipe can crack, introducing contaminants into the drinking water system.
“It is a matter of water quality and water reliability,” said Kathryn Sorenson of Arizona State University’s Kyl Center for Water Policy.
Utility companies and elected officials are reluctant to raise prices, she said, which underfunds these vital investments. Other experts believe water prices across the country are historically low, and increases are inevitable.
“Water is remarkably cheap for the value it provides to individuals and how we can’t sustain life without it,” said Wichman, the assistant economics professor.
But raising rates isn’t a simple task, he said. Cities like Phoenix have a much larger customer base to spread the increased costs over, he said, but rural communities tend to just eat the costs or not increase rates at the pace needed.
Wichman said residents feel the same way about higher water rates as they do higher taxes: They’re not big fans.
At a May public meeting regarding the proposed increase in Phoenix’s water rates, residents were skeptical of the proposal. “I want the city to be a lot more creative in how they search for funds to help cover some of these costs other than just putting it on the backs of the ratepayers,” said Jeff Spellman, a West Phoenix resident, who also questioned how the city would make sure the parts of the city most affected by climate change—like his—get the help they need to confront it.
Residents on fixed incomes, like Spellman, have expressed concern over water increases and how they will affect their lives, as well. “My pension isn’t going up by almost 40 percent like these rates are,” he said.
Higher water rates tend to have a greater impact on people in low-income communities, who generally have less efficient appliances and households with more members, resulting in more use, Wichman said.
He said that utilities often adopt complicated rate structures designed to recover costs, promote conservation and keep fees affordable, but those are all very different, and often contradictory, goals. “Those tend to not work that well,” Wichman said.
There are no laws capping how much municipal utilities can charge per month for water, just some that require it be reasonably priced. The Arizona Corporation Commission, however, has a strict rate-making process, Sorenson said, that is taken very seriously.
Cutbacks, Inflation and Conservation Spike Rates
For providers in Arizona that get water from the Colorado River, the costs are beginning to add up.
Starting this October, Phoenix customers could see a 6.5 percent increase—roughly $2 for the average user per month—with another 6.5 percent increase next March and a final 13 percent increase in 2025. Phoenix Water Services will also impose a water allowance on customers to promote conservation, resulting in a $4 increase each month should customers use more than what is allotted to them.
For Phoenix, the rate increases were born out of trying to find a way to signal to residents how much water they were using, said Water Services director Troy Hayes. The city currently has a flat rate for water until a customer uses a certain number of gallons.
“If you use water below that, your bill doesn’t change,” Hayes said. “So they can go up and go down as long as they stay below that amount. They just don’t have really a concept of the amount of water they’re using.”
Many believe raising water rates is the best, and perhaps the only way to disincentivize citizens from overusing their allotments.
“Back in the 1970s, something like 75 to 80 percent of single-family homes in Phoenix had majority turf or lush landscaping, that number today is down to nine percent,” Sorenson said.
She believes a huge amount of that change is directly related to Phoenix charging more in the summer months for water than winter months, giving a direct price signal that people will pay attention to.
The cost of raw water has gone up 35 percent in recent years, according to the city, but it’s not just the price of water itself driving the change. Inflationary pressures are having big impacts, too, with the chemicals to treat the water to drinkable standards rising by 136 percent.
Measures to reduce the demand on the river and overtaxed aquifers are forcing cities to invest hundreds of millions of dollars to find new sources of water, whether from desalination, agreements with tribal governments, recycling more wastewater or finding new untapped groundwater resources. Those costs, water utility directors and city staff have said, will force utilities to raise rates in the future to pay for the new sources of water.
The pressures from inflation are not isolated to Arizona, though.
Colorado Springs Utilities raised rates by 5 percent at the beginning of the year to address inflation and infrastructure projects. The utility created a separate fund supported by a new fee to purchase other water rights and infrastructure, according to Jennifer Jordan, a spokesperson for the utility. Denver also raised its rates this year.
California has also implemented fees for years to discourage overuse, which is expected to increase.
CPW cautions public to avoid Arkansas River below Lake Pueblo due to high, cold, surging water flows
PUEBLO, Colo. – Colorado Parks and Wildlife and its partner agencies are urging the public to avoid the Arkansas River below the Lake Pueblo State Park dam as flows have exceeded 3,000 cubic feet per second (CFS) due to recent normal runoff from spring snow melt in the mountains and locally heavy rains.
CPW, the Pueblo County Sheriff’s office and the City of Pueblo Fire Department are warning that the currents in the river below the dam are fluctuating dramatically, causing surges in the water levels. And the water is extremely cold below the dam – just 58 degrees – because of the spring runoff from the high mountains around the Upper Arkansas River Valley.
“We urge everyone to stay out of the river until the flows calm down,” said Joe Stadterman, CPW’s park manager at Lake Pueblo. “And anyone fishing along the banks should wear life jackets. This is an especially important time to be safe around the river.”
Spring runoff from snowmelt typically causes water levels in Lake Pueblo, in the Arkansas River below the dam and through the city of Pueblo to jump dramatically. Recent heavy rains have compounded the surge of water into the lake forcing heavier than normal releases from the dam.
This week, water is being released at a rate of about 3,365 cfs. That translates to a discharge rate equal to one cubic foot of water per second or about 7.5 gallons per second. Prior to this surge, water was being discharged at just about 200 cfs or less.
“The tailwaters below the dam are a popular place to fish and tube,” Stadterman said. “But this is not a safe time for any activities in the water. Everyone should wait until this river advisory is lifted and the flows are back to normal.”
The partner agencies expect the river advisory to remain in place for at least a week. Please await further information as to when flows are reduced and the river is back to normal levels.
CPW manages recreation at Lake Pueblo in partnership with its owner, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. The bureau built Lake Pueblo in 1970-75 as part of the Fryingpan-Arkansas water diversion, storage and delivery project. It provides West Slope water to upwards of 1 million Front Range residents, primarily in southeastern Colorado, as well as agricultural irrigation.
Salida’s signature summertime event, the nationally-recognized FIBArk Whitewater Festival, takes place in and around Salida June 15 through 18, 2023 heralding fine whitewater event competition. There are other athletic and fun events like the Raft Rodeo and foolish Hooligan Race downtown as well as musical events throughout. This, the 75th Diamond Anniversary promises to be one for the record books.
The crowd-favorite event, the Hooligan Race, runs from just north of the Whitewater Park, finishing at the park. Crowds line the riverbanks cheering and jeering as they witness competitors literally try to keep it all together in the homemade craft. Anything that floats (and is not a boat) qualifies.
Cleverly-designed (if not well-constructed) “craft” careen downriver, often leading to self-destruction as the occupants try to snag cash envelopes hung from lines across the river. While always a spectacle, safety is key and emergency crews are on hand to snag the unfortunate before they end up down in Cañon City.
Instead, the board said, the Kansas government should take steps to stop the decline of the aquifer and save it for future generations.
“It has taken decades for this to be said formally in writing by an official state body,” said Connie Owen, director of the Kansas Water Office. “… This is nothing less than historic.”
Saving the water source that supports Western Kansas’ economy and communities may seem like an obvious stance to take, but for about 70 years, the state’s policies and management decisions have reflected the idea that eventually, the Ogallala would dry up, said Earl Lewis, Kansas’ chief engineer.
The Kansas Water Authority, which is made up of agricultural and industrial water users and utilities, wants to chart a new course. It voted almost unanimously Wednesday to recommend that the state scrap the policy of “planned depletion.”
“It’s time to deal with this while we still have some choices,” said John Bailey, a member of the Kansas Water Authority from Pittsburg. “If we don’t, we’re going to find ourselves in a very bad situation.”
The Ogallala Aquifer, one of the world’s largest underground sources of fresh water, stretches across parts of eight states from South Dakota to Texas. After World War II farmers started pumping water from it to irrigate crops in arid western Kansas, establishing the region as a booming farming economy. For decades, the water was used with little thought of ensuring enough remained for future generations.
Draining the aquifer would fundamentally change life in western Kansas. Farm properties would lose their value if there’s no water to grow a crop. Families could lose their livelihoods and communities could disappear.
But while it’s widely accepted that the Ogallala is essential to western Kansas, Kansas Water Authority chairwoman Dawn Buehler said many farmers have been waiting on the government to tell them it’s time to do something.
“We’ve heard that over and over from people — that, ‘Well, you know, we’re not at a dangerous zone yet because they’ll let us know when it’s time,’ ” Buehler said.
She continued: “I think the importance of today was saying, ‘It’s time.’ ”
A vote to change course
The Kansas Water Authority, which meets roughly every two months in different locations around the state, voted Wednesday to place language in the body’s annual report to the governor and legislature saying the “policy of planned depletion of the Ogallala Aquifer is no longer in the best interest of the state of Kansas.”
The report will also recommend the state create a formal process to establish goals and actions to “halt the decline of the Ogallala Aquifer while promoting flexible and innovative management within a timeframe that achieves agricultural productivity, thriving economies and vibrant communities — now and for future generations of Kansans.”
It had wide support among the authority members.
“My opinion of this is that it should have been done 15 years ago or 20,” said Lynn Goossen, a farmer from Colby who serves on the Kansas Water Authority and the board of the groundwater management district in northwest Kansas.
Goossen said there are parts of Kansas where the aquifer still has abundant water left but that people are “sticking their heads in the sand” rather than saving it.
The goal to “halt” the decline of the aquifer gave pause to one member of the authority who asked that the statement instead say officials should “address” the decline of the aquifer.
Randy Hayzlett, a farmer and rancher from Lakin who serves on the authority, was the lone vote against the language, though the subsequent vote to send the full annual report to policymakers was unanimous.
Hayzlett said he couldn’t support establishing the goal without details about what it would mean to “halt” the decline of the aquifer.
“That’s a pretty strong word, and it’s going to affect a lot of people,” he said.
Hayzlett said he wanted to do everything possible to remedy the decline of the Ogallala but didn’t want to throw a word out there without a plan to achieve it.
“Is it going to halt declining the aquifer? Is it going to halt the economy of western Kansas?” he said. “Just what’s it going to put a cap on and then how are we going to get there?”
Lewis said Kansas has talked about the issue of the Ogallala Aquifer for 50 years. If authority members wait for a plan, he said, they’ll get bogged down in the details.
“What you’re doing is really setting a course,” Lewis said. “You’re saying, ‘I want to go in that direction. … I don’t know how I’m going to get there and it’s going to take a lot of us working together to get there.’ ”
The Colorado Supreme Court heard this month the case, years in the making, of an angler seeking river access that could have wide-reaching implications for public access to wade and fish certain river stretches in Colorado.
Beyond expanding or restricting fishing access, the court’s decision could also have “monumental consequences for water rights in Colorado,” according to an April 2022 brief from Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser. The state argues that the case could open the door to what’s known as the public trust doctrine, a move that could upset years of water law and impact how water rights are administered.
The lawsuit pits the State of Colorado and water users against the recreation industry and thousands of people in Colorado who believe that the public should have access to streams, even through segments on private lands.
The case, The State of Colorado v. Roger Hill, was initiated more than a decade ago, after Hill waded into the Arkansas River to fish. But private landowner Mark Warsewa, who, with Linda Joseph, owns the land adjacent to that stretch of river, pelted Hill with small stones, shooing him away from fishing on their land. Upon return to his car, Hill found a note threatening that if he returned to the stream, he would be arrested for trespassing on the property.
In 2018, Hill sued Warsewa and Joseph in federal court for Arkansas River access where the river flows past their property, arguing that the state owns the riverbed, and the public has a right to wade, walk, stand and fish there. The case moved to Colorado district court, where it was initially dismissed. But it was heard by the Colorado Court of Appeals in January 2022, and that court agreed that Roger Hill does have standing and sent the case back to the lower court.
Concerned, Weiser weighed in, asking the state’s Supreme Court to intervene in the suit. According to Weiser’s memo, if the state’s high court upholds the Court of Appeals’ decision, it could “disrupt settled agreements for the use of state rivers,” “threaten statewide collaborative efforts providing public fishing access,” upset the “settled expectations” of landowners and water right holders, and “encourage dangerous behavior.”
In December 2022, the Colorado Supreme Court agreed to hear the case, and to look at one question only: Whether Roger Hill has the right to even bring the lawsuit, a principal known as standing. The court heard oral arguments on May 2[, 2023].
“We’ve been focusing on standing for five years now,” said Hill’s attorney Mark Squillace, a University of Colorado law professor, last month during a talk at the University of Denver Water Law Review’s 2023 Symposium. “The argument we’re making is that Roger Hill has the right to stand on the bed of the river which is held by the state in trust for the people if the court is able to determine, which we think it will, that the Arkansas River at this particular location is navigable for title.”
This is the federal “equal footing doctrine,” which says that upon entering the union, a state gains title to the beds of streams that are navigable. For Colorado that means looking at navigability in 1876.
To be considered “navigable for title,” a river must have been used for commerce at the time of statehood using the type of boat or watercraft that would have been used at that time, Squillace said. This “trust” idea comes in if, indeed, the river was navigable in 1876, in which case, the state should be holding the riverbed “in trust” for the people.
During oral arguments, Supreme Court justices focused much of their questioning not on navigability but on the public trust doctrine.
The doctrine is a common law principle which provides that a state hold “in trust” for the public, the public right to navigable waters and the lands beneath them — it must be adopted at the state level.
“The Colorado Supreme Court has held, multiple times, that there is no public trust doctrine,” said Eric Olson, who represented the state on May 2 for the Colorado Attorney General’s Office. Olson has since left the AG’s office.
Establishing a public trust doctrine would require either an amendment to the state constitution or a change in how the Supreme Court interprets the constitution. This case could introduce a public trust doctrine in Colorado.
The Colorado Water Congress, a group that represents water interests in Colorado, opposes any move toward establishing a public trust doctrine because it could undo the way in which the state constitution has been interpreted and interfere with the state’s prior appropriation system of water rights. The state constitution says that water is the property of the public and is subject to appropriation — currently, Coloradans also have a private property right to put water to beneficial use.
According to a fact sheet by the Colorado Water Congress, establishing a public trust doctrine would threaten the state’s “first in time, first in right” prior appropriation system, placing more emphasis on the public’s ownership of water rather than the rights of private water users. The Colorado Water Congress also argues that a public trust doctrine could prohibit or limit the consumptive use of water, alter the timing of diversions, and could invalidate or interfere with existing water rights.
If the court sides with Hill, it would be “destabilizing” said Steve Leonhart, an attorney with the firm Burns, Figa and Will who represents Colorado Water Congress.
“Common law public trust is problematic in itself. If standing is allowed [in State of Colorado v. Hill], what kind of a can of worms could it open for other litigation?” Leonhart asked. “It would just be the beginning of potential litigation up and down the Arkansas River, potential litigation on other streams, potential litigation on land rights but also on water rights,” he said.
But Squillace said other states have public trust doctrines that allow more public access to streams.
“In virtually every other state in the country, the state enjoys broad access rights,” Squillace said during oral arguments. “We’re worse than any other state. One of the things the state is doing in this case is protecting wealthy private landowners. If the public is entitled to have access to those waterways, that’s something the court should protect.”
Groups who filed briefs in support of Hill include American Whitewater, Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, and Colorado River Outfitters Association. Those who filed briefs in support of the state’s arguments include Colorado Water Congress, the landowners, the Colorado Farm Bureau, and the Pacific Legal Foundation.
When Colorado’s high court will rule on the case isn’t clear yet, but attorneys said a decision could come by the end of the year.
Caitlin Coleman is a contributor to Fresh Water News and is editor of Water Education Colorado’s Headwaters Magazine. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Click the link to read the release on the Reclamation webiste (Anna Perea and Elizabeth Smith ):
LOVELAND, Colo. — The Bureau of Reclamation announces a $56 million investment from the President’s Investing in America agenda for the construction of a replacement Leadville Mine Drainage Tunnel Treatment Plant. Originally built in 1991, the plant removes heavy metals from contaminated water caused by mining operations in the Leadville area. It has since reached its service life, and this investment from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law will ensure the plant continues to protect water supply
Since 1991, the treatment plant has operated to remove lead, zinc, manganese, iron, and other heavy metals from contaminated water that flows from the 2-mile-long Leadville Mine Drainage Tunnel. The plant sends 650 million gallons per year of treated, clean water to the headwaters of the Arkansas River in accordance with Environmental Protection Agency guidelines.
“The replacement of the treatment plant represents one of the key priorities that the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law is intended to accomplish, protecting our water supplies for people and the natural environment,” said Jeff Rieker, Eastern Colorado Area Office Manager. “This funding will allow us to replace aging infrastructure that is critical for continued protection of the water resources of the Arkansas River, benefitting both the river itself, as well as the people who rely on it for a wide range of activities and uses.”
At present, the treatment plant has surpassed its expected service life of roughly 30 years. Over the next several years, Reclamation will construct a new treatment plant that incorporates knowledge gained over the past three decades, focuses on safety and improves the plant’s visual impact.
“The new plant will provide a longer service life and continue Reclamation’s commitment to community safety and producing clean water for the Arkansas River,” said Plant Supervisor, Jenelle Stefanic. “There will also be more maneuverability within the floor plan and additional safety features such as fall protection and noise reduction technology.”
Major water infrastructure project funded by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to provide clean, reliable drinking water to 50,000 Coloradans once completed
PUEBLO, Colo. – The Bureau of Reclamation today broke ground on the Boone Reach trunk line of the Arkansas Valley Conduit (AVC), a major infrastructure project under President Biden’s Investing in America agenda that will bring clean, reliable drinking water to 39 communities in southeastern Colorado.
Deputy Assistant Secretary for Water and Science Gary Gold and Reclamation Commissioner Camille Calimlim Touton joined local and Federal leaders at the groundbreaking ceremony where they highlighted the $60 million investment provided through President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law for the project. When completed, the project’s 230 miles of pipeline will deliver as much as 7,500 acre-feet of water annually from Pueblo to Lamar, where water providers in Bent, Crowley, Kiowa, Otero, Prowers and Pueblo counties will serve a projected future population of 50,000.
“The results of the historic investment from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law are evident here today as we see this project moving forward,” said Deputy Assistant Secretary for Water and Science Gary Gold. “This project will bring a long-term, clean water supply to so many communities in southeastern Colorado.”
“Through the President’s Investing in America agenda, Reclamation is now well positioned to help advance these important water projects that have been paused for decades,” said Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Camille Calimlim Touton. “Our investment in this project, dedicated by President Kennedy more than 60 years ago, will provide the path forward for safe drinking water to so many residents of this area.”
“This long-awaited project is a vital step forward for the Arkansas Valley and shows what can be accomplished through a strong coalition of federal, state, and local partnerships,” said Jeff Rieker, Eastern Colorado Area Manager.
“Generations of people of the Lower Arkansas Valley have waited for the AVC for more than 60 years, and now with construction starting, we are seeing the realization of that dream,” said Bill Long, President of the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District. “This is the culmination of years of determination on the part of Reclamation, the District and the AVC participants to get this job done.”
“This is a truly monumental achievement and marks the culmination of decades of hard work, dedication, and collaboration by those who have devoted their lives to the business of water,” said Seth Clayton, executive director of Pueblo Water. “Pueblo Water is proud to be an integral participant in this important time in history.”
The Arkansas Valley Conduit was part of the 1962 Fryingpan-Arkansas Project Act, and its construction represents the completion of the project. Once complete the project will replace current groundwater sources contaminated with radionuclides and help communities comply with Environmental Protection Act drinking water regulations. The connection point for AVC is at the east end of Pueblo Water’s system, at 36th Lane and U.S. Highway 50, and follows the Arkansas River corridor from Pueblo to Lamar, with spurs to Eads and Crowley County. Reclamation is building the trunk line, while the Southeastern District will build the spur and delivery lines. Estimated total cost is about $600 million.
The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law allocates $8.3 billion for Bureau of Reclamation water infrastructure projects over five years to advance drought resilience and expand access to clean water for families, farmers, and wildlife. The investment will repair aging water delivery systems, secure dams, and complete rural water projects, and protect aquatic ecosystems. The funding for this project is part of the $1.05 billion in Water Storage, Groundwater Storage and Conveyance Projects provided by the Law.
Click the link to read “Arkansas Valley Conduit project breaks ground” on The Pueblo Chieftain website (JamesBartolo/USA Today). Here’s an excerpt:
Advocates of the Arkansas Valley Conduit celebrated the groundbreaking of the conduit’s Boone Reach 1 trunk line, which will connect Pueblo’s water system to Boone, on Friday, April 28, at Martin Marietta Rich Sand & Gravel east of Pueblo. The trunk line is the first 6-mile piece of the conduit’s planned 230mile project stretching from Pueblo to Lamar and Eads. Once completed, the conduit will send up to 7,500 acrefeet of Pueblo Reservoir water to about 50,000 southeastern Colorado residents. WCA Construction LLC., a Towaoc, Colorado-based company owned by the Ute Tribe, was awarded a $42.9 million contract from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation in September 2022 to complete construction of the Boone Reach 1 trunk line.
Communities benefitting from the conduit include communities in eastern Pueblo, Crowley, Otero, Bent, Kiowa and Prowers counties. Drinking water in many of these communities currently contains contaminants like radionuclides and selenium, according to Bill Long, board president of the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District…
Estimates for the total cost of the project are between $600 and $700 million, Long said. Project leaders hope to receive upward of $500 million more from the federal government. After receiving $60 million from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Package, the Arkansas Valley Conduit continues to be a competitive project in the fight for future federal funding, according to U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Camile Touton.
The board voted 3-2 to pass a resolution setting new water rates. Members Joe Mahaney and Nick Madero voted against the resolution. The raise in rates includes a 94-cent monthly fee for residential water users and a $3.17 monthly fee for residential sewer customers. The fees are described as “readiness to serve” fees, which represent the fixed costs the utilities providers experience getting the services to customers, said Jim Blasing, utilities director for the district. The rates will go into effect in May…New residential customers will see an increase in the residential water resource fee and tap fee, totaling a little more than $1,000. Those increases are designed to have new residents help pay for the growth of the system…
Board member Jami Baker Orr said the district has “among the lowest paid district employees” and has been trying to bring those wages up. She also said that the rates are “based on the advice of a water expert” and noted that the district’s facilities are getting older and will need to be upgraded in the near future.
Here’s the releasee from the Arkansas River Basin Water Forum (Joe Stone):
The premier water event in Colorado’s largest river basin happens Tuesday and Wednesday, April 25-26, in Colorado Springs. The 27th Arkansas River Basin Water Forum will feature discussions and presentations on “Facing the Future Together” delivered by top water experts in Colorado and the Ark Basin.
Tuesday’s keynote speaker will be Kelly Romero-Heaney, assistant director of water policy for Colorado’s Department of Natural Resources. Kelly has over 20 years of diverse experience in natural resource issues, having worked as a consultant, hydrologist, environmental specialist and wildland firefighter. In her current position she advises top executives at DNR, the Division of Water Resources and the Colorado Water Conservation Board about water policy issues and legislation.
Rachel Zancanella will deliver Wednesday’s keynote address. Rachel was promoted to Division 2 (Arkansas River Basin) engineer in December 2022 following Bill Tyner’s retirement. She has held multiple positions with DWR, ranging from deputy water commissioner to water resources engineer and lead assistant division engineer. Prior to joining DWR, Rachel worked as a water resources engineer in the private sector.
Mornings at the Water Forum will feature presentations on topics like projects in El Paso County to meet future demand for water, technological advances in snow measurement, transforming landscapes to conserve water, and PFAS mitigation in drinking water supplies.
After lunch, attendees can choose from several tours and field trips. Tuesday afternoon will feature:
A field trip to explore aquifer recharge and water reuse in El Paso County.
A tour of the Mesa Garden, a demonstration garden for water-wise landscapes.
A tour of Fountain Creek that will highlight the importance of Plains fish conservation and visit streamgages managed by DWR and the U.S. Geological Survey.
Wednesday afternoon opportunities include:
A tour highlighting pioneering work in PFAS mitigation using strong base anion ion exchange resin.
A filed trip to Colorado Springs Utilities to see how non-potable water is being reused.
An Art and Ale tour that will feature murals created through the Storm Drain Art Project followed by a visit to a Fountain Creek Watershed District Brewshed Alliance brewery.
Since 1995, the Ark River Basin Water Forum has served the basin by encouraging education and dialogue about water, the state’s most valuable resource, and this year’s Forum will take place at the Doubletree by Hilton.
The Forum remains a very good value:
Two-day full registration, including lunches – $300.
One-day registration, either Tuesday or Wednesday, including lunch – $150.
Percolation and Runoff networking dinner – $20 (all proceeds support the ARBWF Scholarship Fund).
The real fun begins at 5 p.m. Tuesday with Percolation and Runoff, a casual networking event that raises money for the Forum’s college scholarship fund. The $20 cost includes dinner, drinks and entertaining conversation.
Here’s the release from the Arkansas Rover Basin Water Forum (Joe Stone):
Registration is now open for the 2023 Arkansas River Basin Water Forum, slated for Tuesday and Wednesday, April 25-26 at the Doubletree by Hilton in Colorado Springs. Since 1995, the Forum has served Colorado’s Arkansas River Basin by encouraging education and dialogue about the state’s most precious resource – water.
The 27th Forum will feature top water experts in Colorado and the Arkansas River Basin discussing issues critical for all water users, from everyday citizens and entrepreneurs to the water managers, attorneys and engineers who work to ensure a reliable water supply for Basin cities, farms and businesses.
Speakers, presentations, panel discussions and field trips will engage attendees in seeking solutions to the many challenges that must be met in planning for a secure water future for the largest of Colorado’s river basins.
Tuesday’s plenary session will provide an Arkansas Basin perspective on Colorado’s 2023 Water Plan. Upper Ark Water Conservancy District General Manager Terry Scanga will moderate a panel discussion featuring:
Russ Sands, Colorado Water Conservation Board water supply planning section chief.
Mark Shea, Arkansas Basin Roundtable chair.
Anna Mauss, Colorado Water Conservation Board chief operating officer.
Wednesday’s plenary session will examine strategies for preserving agriculture and urban landscapes in a climate of increasing water scarcity. Matt Heimerich, Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District board member, will moderate the session. Panel members are:
Kelly Roesch, Colorado Springs Utilities project manager.
Dillon O’Hare, Palmer Land Conservancy community conservation manager.
Catherine Moravec, Colorado Springs Utilities senior water conservation specialist.
In addition to expert presentations and panel discussions, a variety of tours and field trips will be offered on the afternoons of both days of the Forum. More information about registering for the Forum, including afternoon field trips, is available at arbwf.org.
Registration costs for the Forum remain a very good value:
Two-day full registration, including lunches – $300.
One-day registration, either Tuesday or Wednesday, including lunch – $150.
Percolation and Runoff networking dinner – $20 (all proceeds support the ARBWF Scholarship Fund).
Tuesday evening features the funnest part of the Forum, the Percolation and Runoff social networking event, which raises money for the college scholarship fund. The $20 cost includes dinner, drinks and lively conversation. All proceeds from this event support the scholarship fund, enabling the Forum to help students and working professionals in their education and research in water resources, watershed studies, hydrology, natural resources management and other water-related fields.
Two proposed pumped water storage projects that could expand Colorado’s ability to store renewable energy – one in Fremont County and another between Hayden and Craig in the Yampa River Valley – are moving forward.
Colorado will need green energy storage of some type if it is to attain its mid-century goals of 100% renewable energy. Solar and wind power are highly variable and cannot be turned off and on, like coal and natural gas plants are.
So the search is on for ways to build large-scale storage projects to hold the energy wind and solar generate. Lithium-ion batteries are part of the answer and are being rapidly added to supplement wind and solar. But they typically have a short life span, while pumped water storage hydropower projects can operate for decades.
Pumped water storage has been refined in recent decades but the basic principles remain unchanged. Water is released from a higher reservoir to generate power when electricity is most in demand and expensive. When electricity is plentiful and less expensive, the water is pumped back up to the higher reservoir and stored until it is needed again.
This technology even today is responsible for 93% of energy storage in the United States, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. That includes Cabin Creek, Xcel Energy’s 324-megawatt pumped storage unit near Georgetown. It was installed in 1967.
“These pumped-storage projects are anathema to the modern way of thinking,” says Peter Gish, a principal in Ortus Climate Mitigation, the developer of the Fremont County pumped water storage project.
“But once built and operating, the maintenance costs are very, very low, and the system will last, if properly maintained, a century or longer. The capital investment up front is quite high, but when you run the financial models over 30, 50 or 60 years, this technology is, hands down, the cheapest technology on the market for [energy] storage.”
Ortus Climate Mitigation wants to build a 500-megawatt pumped water storage facility on the South Slope of Pikes Peak above the town of Penrose in Fremont County. This facility – essentially a giant battery for energy storage – would require two reservoirs.
Gish hopes to have a permit from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in 2026. Construction would take up to five years after the permit is approved.
In the Yampa Valley, another developer continues to plug away at a potential application for a site somewhere between Hayden and Craig. Still another idea is said to be in formulation in southwestern Colorado, but no details could be gleaned about that project.
Phantom Canyon, as Ortus calls its project in Fremont County, would require 17,000 acre-feet of water for the initial fill of the two reservoirs to be augmented by about 1,500 acre-feet annually due to losses from evaporation.
The company says it has accumulated water rights.
Gish, a co-founder of Ortus, says his company is “keenly aware” of water scarcity issues in Colorado and looks into ways to reduce the evaporative loss and hence shave water needs. One option is to place solar panels over the reservoirs, producing energy while shading the water. On a vastly smaller scale, that has been done at the Walden municipal water treatment plant in north-central Colorado.
Unlike an unsuccessful attempt by Xcel in 2021 to build a pumped water storage project in Unaweep Canyon on federal land in Western Colorado, the Ortus project near Pikes Peak would involve only private land. The company has exclusive purchase options for 4,900 acres. It also has secured 12 easements for pipeline access from the lower reservoir to the Arkansas River.
Proximity to water sources matters, and so does the location relative to transmission. Penrose is about 30 miles from both Colorado Springs and Pueblo and major transmission lines.
The company last year laid out the preliminary plans with Fremont County planners and hosted a meeting in Canon City to which environmental groups and others were invited. By then, FERC had issued a preliminary permit which is the start of the permitting process. Gish, who has worked in renewable energy for 25 years, says no potential red flags were noted.
“I have found that the local stakeholders are the first people you need to talk to about a project like this,” Gish says, “If you are able to get local support, the rest of the pieces will tend to fall into place. If not, the rest of the process is a much more difficult proposition.”
In Western Colorado, Xcel faced local opposition but also the more daunting process of permitting for a project on federal land. In the Craig-Hayden area, Matthew Shapiro, a principal in green energy company Gridflex Energy, had been examining sites that are on private land. Work continues on geological assessments and other elements, but he says that a “lot of other pieces need to come together before there is real progress.”
In addition to having water, that portion of the Yampa Valley also has the advantage of transmission lines erected to dispatch power from the five coal-burning units that are now scheduled to close between 2025 and 2030.
Shapiro hopes to also use Colorado-sourced water to generate electricity in a pumped-storage project on the North Platte River in Wyoming. Gridflex Energy filed for a license application with FERC last week for the project on Seminoe Reservoir.
“Very few projects have made it that far since the turn of the millennium. It’s a pretty big deal,” Shapiro said.
Long-time Colorado journalist Allen Best produces an e-journal called Big Pivots and is a frequent contributor to Fresh Water News.
A recent satellite image showing snow throughout Colorado offered a glimpse and insight into a novel southern Colorado weather phenomenon: the Pueblo Precipitation Doughnut Hole. sThe image, released by the National Weather Service of Pueblo, showed that most of Colorado received snowfall on Jan. 20, with some cloud cover mixed in. But there was one specific area that missed out on the precipitation, which encompassed portions of east and northern Pueblo County, as well as portions of Cañon City and some of Colorado Springs.
That area is the home of the Pueblo Precipitation Doughnut Hole, a cross-section of terrain from south to north that tends to receive less precipitation than the areas surrounding it because of different geographical features such as Raton Mesa, the Arkansas River Valley, Palmer Divide and the surrounding mountains.
“It’s all about terrain, elevation and elevation change,” said Michael Garberoglio, an NWS meteorologist. “If you’re moving towards Pueblo from any direction, you’re decreasing in elevation, and when air flows down, terrain tends to dry out.”
Precipitation isn’t a fan of that sinking air flow, so those downslope winds contribute to dry and warmer climates for the region, Garberoglio said. It’s something that’s much more common during winter, especially when dealing with snowfall…
Although westerly winds are frequent in the region, intense, low-pressure easterly winds upslope along the terrain, enhancing the possibility for some precipitation, Garberoglio said, as long as they’re strong enough and have enough moisture in them.
Click the link to read the article on the ProPublica website, by Mark Olalde, Mollie Simon and Alex Mierjeski, video by Gerardo del Valle, Liz Moughon and Mauricio Rodríguez Pons
ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for The Big Story newsletter to receive stories like this one in your inbox.
In America’s rush to build the nuclear arsenal that won the Cold War, safety was sacrificed for speed.
Uranium mills that helped fuel the weapons also dumped radioactive and toxic waste into rivers like the Cheyenne in South Dakota and the Animas in Colorado. Thousands of sheep turned blue and died after foraging on land tainted by processing sites in North Dakota. And cancer wards across the West swelled with sick uranium workers.
The U.S. government bankrolled the industry, and mining companies rushed to profit, building more than 50 mills and processing sites to refine uranium ore.
But the government didn’t have a plan for the toxic byproducts of this nuclear assembly line. Some of the more than 250 million tons of toxic and radioactive detritus, known as tailings, scattered into nearby communities, some spilled into streams and some leaked into aquifers.
Congress finally created the agency that now oversees uranium mill waste cleanup in 1974 and enacted the law governing that process in 1978, but the industry would soon collapse due to falling uranium prices and rising safety concerns. Most mills closed by the mid-1980s.
When cleanup began, federal regulators first focused on the most immediate public health threat, radiation exposure. Agencies or companies completely covered waste at most mills to halt leaks of the carcinogenic gas radon and moved some waste by truck and train to impoundments specially designed to encapsulate it.
But the government has fallen down in addressing another lingering threat from the industry’s byproducts: widespread water pollution.
Regulators haven’t made a full accounting of whether they properly addressed groundwater contamination. So, for the first time, ProPublica cataloged cleanup efforts at the country’s 48 uranium mills, seven related processing sites and numerous tailings piles.
At least 84% of the sites have polluted groundwater. And nearly 75% still have either no liner or only a partial liner between mill waste and the ground, leaving them susceptible to leaking pollution into groundwater. In the arid West, where most of the sites are located, climate change is drying up surface water, making underground reserves increasingly important.
ProPublica’s review of thousands of pages of government and corporate documents, accompanied by interviews with 100 people, also found that cleanup has been hampered by infighting among regulatory agencies and the frequency with which regulators grant exemptions to their own water quality standards.
The result: a long history of water pollution and sickness.
“The government didn’t pay attention up front and make sure it was done right. They just said, ‘Go get uranium,’” said Bill Dixon, who spent decades cleaning up uranium and nuclear sites with the state of Oregon and in the private sector.
Tom Hanrahan grew up near uranium mills in Colorado and New Mexico and watched three of his three brothers contract cancer. He believes his siblings were “casualties” of the war effort.
“Somebody knew that this was a ticking atomic bomb,” Hanrahan said. “But, in military terms, this was the cost of fighting a war.”
A Flawed System
When a uranium mill shuts down, here is what’s supposed to happen: The company demolishes the buildings, decontaminates the surrounding soil and water, and encases the waste to stop it from leaking cancer-causing pollution. The company then asks the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the lead agency monitoring America’s radioactive infrastructure, to approve the handoff of the property and its associated liability to the Department of Energy’s Office of Legacy Management for monitoring and maintenance.
ProPublica’s analysis found that half of the country’s former mills haven’t made it through this process and even many that did have never fully addressed pollution concerns. This is despite the federal government spending billions of dollars on cleanup, in addition to the several hundred million dollars that have been spent by companies.
Often, companies or agencies tasked with cleanup are unable to meet water quality standards, so they request exemptions to bypass them. The NRC or state agencies almost always approve these requests, allowing contaminants like uranium and selenium to be left in the groundwater. When ingested in high quantities, those elements can cause cancer and damage the nervous system, respectively.
Bill Dam, who spent decades regulating and researching uranium mill cleanup with the NRC, at the DOE and in the private sector, said water pollution won’t be controlled until all the waste and contaminated material is moved. “The federal government’s taken a Band-Aid approach to groundwater contamination,” he said.
The pollution has disproportionately harmed Indian Country.
Six of the mills were built on reservations, and another eight mills are within 5 miles of one, some polluting aquifers used by tribes. And the country’s last conventional uranium mill still in operation — the White Mesa Mill in Utah — sits adjacent to a Ute Mountain Ute community.
So many uranium mines, mills and waste piles pockmark the Navajo Nation that the Environmental Protection Agency created a comic book superhero, Gamma Goat, to warn Diné children away from the sites.
NRC staff acknowledged that the process of cleaning up America’s uranium mills can be slow but said that the agency prioritizes thoroughness over speed, that each site’s groundwater conditions are complex and unique, and that cleanup exemptions are granted only after gathering input from regulators and the public.
“The NRC’s actions provide reasonable assurance of adequate protection of public health and safety and the environment,” David McIntyre, an NRC spokesperson, said in a statement to ProPublica.
“Cleanup Standards Might Suddenly Change”
For all the government’s success in demolishing mills and isolating waste aboveground, regulators failed to protect groundwater.
Between 1958 and 1962, a mill near Gunnison, Colorado, churned through 540,000 tons of ore. The process, one step in concentrating the ore into weapons-grade uranium, leaked uranium and manganese into groundwater, and in 1990, regulators found that residents had been drawing that contaminated water from 22 wells.
The DOE moved the waste and connected residents to clean water. But pollution lingered in the aquifer beneath the growing town where some residents still get their water from private wells. The DOE finally devised a plan in 2000, which the NRC later approved, settling on a strategy called “natural flushing,” essentially waiting for groundwater to dilute the contamination until it reached safe levels.
In 2015, the agency acknowledged that the plan had failed. Sediments absorb and release uranium, so waiting for contamination to be diluted doesn’t solve the problem, said Dam, the former NRC and DOE regulator.
In Wyoming, state regulators wrote to the NRC in 2006 to lambast the agency’s “inadequate” analysis of natural flushing compared to other cleanup options. “Unfortunately, the citizens of Wyoming may likely have to deal with both the consequences and the indirect costs of the NRC’s decisions for generations to come,” the state’s letter said.
ProPublica identified mills in six states — including eight former mill sites in Colorado — where regulators greenlit the strategy as part of a cleanup plan.
When neither water treatment nor nature solves the problem, federal and state regulators can simply relax their water quality standards, allowing harmful levels of pollutants to be left in aquifers.
County officials made a small area near the Gunnison mill off-limits to new wells, and the DOE suggested changing water quality standards to allow uranium concentrations as much as 475 times what naturally occurred in the area. It wouldn’t endanger human health, the agency said, because people wouldn’t come into contact with the water.
ProPublica found that regulators granted groundwater cleanup exemptions at 18 of the 28 sites where cleanup has been deemed complete and liability has been handed over to the DOE’s Office of Legacy Management. Across all former uranium mills, the NRC or state agencies granted at least 34 requests for water quality exemptions while denying as few as three.
“They’re cutting standards, so we’re getting weak cleanup that future generations may not find acceptable,” said Paul Robinson, who spent four decades researching the cleanup of the uranium industry with the Southwest Research and Information Center, an Albuquerque-based nonprofit. “These great mining companies of the world, they got away cheap.”
NRC staffers examine studies that are submitted by companies’ consultants and other agencies to show how cleanup plans will adequately address water contamination. Some companies change their approach in response to feedback from regulators, and the public can view parts of the process in open meetings. Still, the data and groundwater modeling that underpin these requests for water cleanup exemptions are often wrong.
One reason: When mining companies built the mills, they rarely sampled groundwater to determine how much contamination occurred naturally, leaving it open to debate how clean groundwater should be when the companies leave, according to Roberta Hoy, a former uranium program specialist with the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality. She said federal regulators also haven’t done enough to understand certain contaminants at uranium mills.
In one recent case, the NRC fined a mining company $14,500 for incomplete and inaccurate groundwater modeling data. Companies use such data to prove that pollution won’t spread in the future. Freeport-McMoRan, the corporation that owns the fined mining company, did not respond to a request for comment.
At a 2013 conference co-hosted by the NRC and a mining trade group, a presentation from two consultants compared groundwater modeling to a sorcerer peering at a crystal ball.
ProPublica identified at least seven sites where regulators granted cleanup exemptions based on incorrect groundwater modeling. At these sites, uranium, lead, nitrates, radium and other substances were found at levels higher than models had predicted and regulators had allowed.
McIntyre, the NRC spokesperson, said that groundwater models “inherently include uncertainty,” and the government typically requires sites to be monitored. “The NRC requires conservatism in the review process and groundwater monitoring to verify a model’s accuracy,” he said.
Water quality standards impose specific limits on the allowable concentration of contaminants — for example, the number of micrograms of uranium per liter of water. But ProPublica found that the NRC granted exemptions in at least five states that were so vague they didn’t even include numbers and were instead labeled as “narrative.” The agency justified this by saying the groundwater was not near towns or was naturally unfit for human consumption.
This system worries residents of Cañon City, Colorado. Emily Tracy, who serves on the City Council, has lived a few miles from the area’s now-demolished uranium mill since the late 1970s and remembers floods and winds carrying mill waste into neighborhoods from the 15.3-million-ton pile, which is now partially covered.
Uranium and other contaminants had for decades tainted private wells that some residents used for drinking water and agriculture, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. The company that operated the mill, Cotter Corp., finally connected residents to clean water by the early 1990s and completed cleanup work such as decontaminating soil after the EPA got involved. But the site remains without a final cleanup plan — which the company that now owns the site is drafting — and the state has eased water quality standards for molybdenum, a metal that uranium mining and milling releases into the environment.
“We have great concerns about what it might look like or whether cleanup standards might suddenly change before our eyes,” Tracy said.
Jim Harrington, managing director of the site’s current owner, Colorado Legacy Land, said that a final cleanup strategy has not been selected and that any proposal would need to be approved by both the EPA and the state.
Layers of Regulation
It typically takes 35 years from the day a mill shuts down until the NRC approves or estimates it will approve cleanup as being complete, ProPublica found. Two former mills aren’t expected to finish this process until 2047.
Chad Smith, a DOE spokesperson, said mills that were previously transferred to the government have polluted groundwater more than expected, so regulators are more cautious now.
The involvement of so many regulators can also slow cleanup.
Five sites were so contaminated that the EPA stepped in via its Superfund program, which aims to clean up the most polluted places in the country.
At the Homestake mill in New Mexico, where cleanup is jointly overseen by the NRC and the EPA, Larry Camper, a now-retired NRC division director, acknowledged in a 2011 meeting “that having multiple regulators for the site is not good government” and had complicated the cleanup, according to meeting minutes.
Homestake Mining Company of California did not comment on Camper’s view of the process.
Only one site where the EPA is involved in cleanup has been successfully handed off to the DOE, and even there, uranium may still persist above regulatory limits in groundwater and surface water, according to the agency. An EPA spokesperson said the agency has requested additional safety studies at that site.
“A lot of people make money in the bureaucratic system just pontificating over these things,” said William Turner, a geologist who at different times has worked for mining companies, for the U.S. Geological Survey and as the New Mexico Natural Resources Trustee.
If the waste is on tribal land, it adds another layer of government.
The federal government and the Navajo Nation have long argued over the source of some groundwater contamination at the former Navajo Mill built by Kerr-McGee Corp. in Shiprock, New Mexico, with the tribe pointing to the mill as the key source. Smith of the DOE said the department is guided by water monitoring results “to minimize opportunities for disagreement.”
Tronox, which acquired parts of Kerr-McGee, did not respond to requests for comment.
All the while, 2.5 million tons of waste sit adjacent to the San Juan River in the town of 8,000 people. Monitoring wells situated between the unlined waste pile and the river have shown nitrate levels as high as 80 times the limit set by regulators to protect human health, uranium levels 30 times the limit and selenium levels 20 times the limit.
“I can’t seem to get the federal agencies to acknowledge the positions of the Navajo Nation,” said Dariel Yazzie, who formerly managed the Navajo Nation Environmental Protection Agency’s Superfund Program.
At some sites, overlapping jurisdictions mean even less cleanup gets done.
Such was the case near Griffin, North Dakota, where six cows and 2,500 sheep died in 1973; their bodies emitted a blue glow in the morning light. The animals lay near kilns that once served as rudimentary uranium mills operated by Kerr-McGee. To isolate the element, piles of uranium-laden coal at the kilns were “covered with old tires, doused in diesel fuel, ignited, and left to smolder for a couple of months,” according to the North Dakota Geological Survey.
The flock is believed to have been poisoned by land contaminated with high levels of molybdenum. The danger extended beyond livestock. In a 1989 draft environmental assessment, the DOE found that “fatal cancer from exposure to residual radioactive materials” from the Griffin kilns and another site less than a mile from a town of 1,000 people called Belfield was eight times as high as it would have been if the sites had been decontaminated.
But after agreeing to work with the federal government, North Dakota did an about-face. State officials balked at a requirement to pay 10% of the cleanup cost — the federal government would cover the rest — and in 1995 asked that the sites no longer be regulated under the federal law. The DOE had already issued a report that said doing nothing “would not be consistent” with the law, but the department approved the state’s request and walked away, saying it could only clean a site if the state paid its share.
“North Dakota determined there was minimal risk to public health at that time and disturbing the grounds further would create a potential for increased public health risk,” said David Stradinger, manager of the Radiation Control Program in the North Dakota Department of Environmental Quality. Contaminated equipment was removed, and the state is reevaluating one of the sites, he said.
“A Problem for the Better Part of 50 Years”
While the process for cleaning up former mills is lengthy and laid out in regulations, regulators and corporations have made questionable and contradictory decisions in their handling of toxic waste and tainted water.
More than 40 million people rely on drinking water from the Colorado River, but the NRC and DOE allowed companies to leak contamination from mill waste directly into the river, arguing that the waterway quickly dilutes it.
Federal regulators relocated tailings at two former mills that processed uranium and vanadium, another heavy metal, on the banks of the Colorado River in Rifle, Colorado, because radiation levels there were deemed too high. Yet they left some waste at one former processing site in a shallow aquifer connected to the river and granted an exemption that allowed cleanup to end and uranium to continue leaking into the waterway.
For a former mill built by the Anaconda Copper Company in Bluewater, New Mexico, the NRC approved the company’s request to hand the site off to the DOE in 1997. About a decade later, the state raised concerns about uranium that had spread several miles in an aquifer that provides drinking water for more than 15,000 people.
“Uranium has been overplayed as a boom,” said Travis Stills, an environmental attorney in Colorado who has sued over the cleanup of old uranium infrastructure. “The boom was a firecracker, and it left a problem for the better part of 50 years now.”
“No Way in Hell We’re Going to Leave This Stuff Here”
Mining companies can’t remove every atom of uranium from groundwater, experts said, but they can do a better job of decommissioning uranium mills. With the federal government yet to take control of half the country’s former mills, regulators still have time to compel some companies to do more cleanup.
Between 1958 and 1961, the Lakeview Mining Company generated 736,000 tons of tailings at a uranium mill in southern Oregon. Like at most sites, uranium and other pollution leaked into an aquifer.
“There’s no way in hell we’re going to leave this stuff here,” Dixon, the nuclear cleanup specialist, remembered thinking. He represented the state of Oregon at the former mill, which was one of the first sites to relocate its waste to a specially engineered disposal cell.
A local advisory committee at the Lakeview site allowed residents and local politicians to offer input to federal regulators. By the end of the process, the government had paid to connect residents to a clean drinking water system and the waste was moved away from the town, where it was contained by a 2-foot-thick clay liner and covered with 3 feet of rocks, soil and vegetation. Local labor got priority for cleanup contracts, and a 170-acre solar farm now stands on the former mill site.
But relocation isn’t required. At some sites, companies and regulators saw a big price tag and either moved residents away or merely left the waste where it was.
“I recognize Lakeview is easy and it’s a drop in the bucket compared to New Mexico,” Dixon said, referring to the nation’s largest waste piles. “But it’s just so sad to see that this hasn’t been taken care of.”
We solicited feedback on our findings from 10 experts who worked or work at the NRC, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality, the Southwest Research and Information Center, the University of New Mexico and elsewhere. Additionally, we interviewed dozens of current and former regulators, residents of communities adjacent to mills, representatives of tribes, academics, politicians and activists to better understand the positive and negative impacts of the uranium industry and the bureaucracy that oversees uranium mill cleanup.
We also traveled to observe mill sites in New Mexico, Utah and Colorado.
On behalf of ARWC, the latest Arkansas River Report is available online at https://www.arkcollaborative.org/river-reports. As always, the information in the River Report is free to use as you wish, and all sources of information are linked to in the report.
ARWC is the nonprofit organization for the Arkansas Basin Roundtable, a group of water managers and stakeholders working to find solutions to water-related issues in the basin. Roundtable members serve as the ARWC Board of Directors.
Today [January 23, 2023], Colorado U.S. Senators Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper urged the Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) to consider allocating additional funding from the recent omnibus funding bill for Fiscal Year 2023 (FY23) or the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) for the Arkansas Valley Conduit (AVC).
The AVC is a planned 130-mile water-delivery system from the Pueblo Reservoir to communities in Bent, Crowley, Kiowa, Otero, Prowers, and Pueblo counties. The Conduit is the final phase of the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project, which Congress authorized in 1962.
“[T]he Conduit has been one of Colorado’s top priorities for nearly six decades,” wrote the senators. “Continuing to invest in this project will allow the project’s stakeholders to plan for more effective construction and delivery of clean drinking water throughout Southeast Colorado.”
In the letter, the senators highlight the $60 million allocated for the construction of the AVC from the BIL last fall, and ask BOR to allocate additional funds, which could be immediately applied to help advance different components of the AVC.
“For years, this project languished due to insufficient funding and a prohibitive cost-share agreement,” continued the senators. “Congressional appropriations over the past decade coupled with BOR’s recent $60 million award will finally enable the construction of this long-promised project. More investment, from the FY23 omnibus or future BIL awards, would accelerate the construction timeline and improve planning efficiency.”
Bennet and Hickenlooper have consistently advocated for increased funding for the AVC. The FY23 omnibus spending bill, which was signed into law in December, included $10.1 million for the Conduit after Bennet and Hickenlooper urged the Senate Appropriations Committee to continue to fund the project last May. In October, the senators visited Pueblo to celebrate the announcement of $60 million in BIL funds for the Conduit. The senators and U.S. Representative Ken Buck (R-Colo.) urged the OMB and BOR in July to allocate these funds. In March, Bennet and Hickenlooper secured $12 million for the Conduit from the FY22 omnibus bill. Prior to FY22, Bennet helped secure more than $70 million for the AVC. Bennet and Hickenlooper will continue working in Washington to ensure Colorado has the resources needed to complete this vital project for the region.
In 2009, Congress passed legislation Bennet worked on with former U.S. Senator Mark Udall (D-Colo.) to authorize a federal cost share for the construction of the Arkansas Valley Conduit. In 2013, Bennet and his colleagues sent a letter to the BOR to quickly approve the Conduit’s Environmental Impact Study (EIS) in order to expedite the project’s pre-construction process. In 2014, following Bennet and Udall’s efforts to urge the BOR to quickly approve the Conduit’s EIS, the Record of Decision was signed in February. Bennet joined the groundbreaking for the project in October 2020.
The text of the letter is available HERE and below.
There is a critical connection between clean drinking water and forests. For 80 percent of Coloradans, their water starts in the state’s forests before making its way downstream to their taps.
Given this connection, it is important for Colorado to protect its forested watersheds from the ever-present threat of wildfire to ensure residents and communities have water for drinking, agriculture and other uses. The Colorado Legislature recognizes this need and passed House Bill 22-1379 during the 2022 legislative session to fund projects that reduce wildfire fuels around high-priority watersheds and water infrastructure.
Today, the Colorado State Forest Service announces three projects funded through HB22-1379 that will reduce the risk wildfire poses to water supplies for more than a million Coloradans.
“We are excited to put these funds provided by the legislature to work in high-priority areas where an uncharacteristic wildfire could significantly impact water supplies and infrastructure,” said Weston Toll, watershed program specialist at the CSFS. “All three projects connect to prior fuels reduction work completed by the CSFS and our partners, so we can make an impact on a large scale in our forests.”
The CSFS received $3 million through HB22-1379 to fund forest management in critical watersheds and has allocated $1 million each to three projects in these locations:
Staunton State Park, Park and Jefferson counties
The project in Staunton State Park will build upon more than 800 acres of prior fuels treatments to reduce the impact a wildfire could have to water resources, communities, outdoor recreation areas and wildlife habitat. Creeks running through the park feed into the North Fork South Platte River, which flows into Strontia Springs Reservoir. Eighty percent of Denver Water’s water supply moves through Strontia Springs Reservoir.
This area, about 6 miles west of Conifer, is noted as a priority for action in assessments by the CSFS, Denver Water, Upper South Platte Partnership, Elk Creek Fire Protection District and in local Community Wildfire Protection Plans. It is also in a focus area for the Rocky Mountain Restoration Initiative.
“This project will allow us to get into areas of the park we haven’t been able to treat yet,” said Staunton State Park Manager Zach Taylor, “to reduce the risk of a wildfire spreading from the park to adjacent neighborhoods. The project also reduces wildfire risk to creeks in the park and the entirety of the drainage.”
Taylor said that the park has worked alongside neighbors in the area, including private landowners and the U.S. Forest Service, to address wildfire fuels since the park was acquired in the 1980s.
“Staunton State Park lies between all of these communities,” he said. “This project could set up the park for the next 5 to 10 years in helping us meet our goals for fuels reduction.”
North Slope of Pikes Peak, Teller County
The project on the North Slope of Pikes Peak will help protect essential drinking water and water infrastructure for the City of Colorado Springs. Reservoirs on the North Slope provide about 15 percent of the city’s drinking water supply. Work there will add to more than 3,500 acres of prior fuels treatments on Colorado Springs Utilities’ municipal lands and fill an important gap in treated areas around North Catamount Reservoir and the headwaters of North Catamount Creek. It will also help protect infrastructure that conveys water from the utility’s Blue River collection system to the reservoir.
The Pikes Peak Watershed is noted as a high priority area in plans by the CSFS, U.S. Forest Service and Colorado Springs Utilities. It is also in a focus area for the Rocky Mountain Restoration Initiative.
“Colorado Springs Utilities’ 34-year-long partnership with the Colorado State Forest Service has enabled many beneficial forest management activities that reduce the risks and impacts of wildfire in and adjacent to our watersheds,” said Jeremy Taylor, forest program manager with Colorado Springs Utilities. “Through the Pikes Peak Good Neighbor Authority (GNA), we’ve expanded this collaboration to include the U.S. Forest Service for cross-boundary work, and we’re now embarking on the Big Blue project on the North Slope of Pikes Peak. It’s a valued partnership that prioritizes working together to improve forest health and protect our water resources, public lands and neighboring private lands.”
Fraser Valley, Grand County
The project in the Fraser Valley will lower the risk of wildfire to water supplies for Denver and the towns of Fraser and Winter Park by reducing fuels on U.S. Forest Service, Denver Water and private lands. It connects to several prior treatment areas to establish a connected, large-scale fuel break that could allow firefighters to engage a wildfire in the event of a fire. During the William’s Fork Fire in 2020, the project area was identified as where a wildfire could spread into the densely populated Fraser Valley.
The Grand County Wildfire Council identified the project area as a high priority through planning efforts by the CSFS, USFS, Bureau of Land Management, Denver Water, Grand County and local fire departments.
“These projects are critical for watershed health and source water protection for Denver Water and our 1.5 million customers. Healthy forests equal healthy watersheds,” said Christina Burri, watershed scientist with Denver Water. “Denver Water is so grateful for the partnerships and collaboration that make these projects possible.”
The CSFS expects work on these projects to begin in 2023 and will monitor the project work in future years to evaluate its impact and efficacy. All three projects allow the CSFS and its partners to achieve goals and enact strategies identified in the 2020 Colorado Forest Action Plan and are in areas identified as priorities in the plan.
“Governor Polis and the Colorado legislature have made tremendous investments to protect our watersheds from the increasing threat of wildfires and the Colorado State Forest Service is at the forefront in moving these projects forward”, said Dan Gibbs, executive director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources. “The three projects announced today build on existing efforts to increase resiliency and make impactful investments in key watersheds to create healthier forests and reduce the threat of future wildfires.”
“Thank you to the Colorado Legislature for making the $3 million available for this important work and to our many partners for working alongside the Colorado State Forest Service on these projects,” Toll said. “Together, we are making a landscape-level impact and leveraging our collective resources toward the goal of lowering wildfire risk to water supplies and protecting one of our state’s most precious resources.”
Click the link to read the article on the KOAA website (Bill Folsom), Here’s an excerpt:
The ongoing drought in the west motivated a request from Colorado Springs Utilities for an update to city ordinances on annexing new developments into the city. With five in favor and four against, City Council approved the change saying for any development annexations to be considered, the city’s water supply has to be at 130% of what is needed for existing residents. Mayor John Suthers supported the change saying tough decisions are being forced by the current water crisis along the Colorado River Basin.
“Our citizens are asking a simple question, ‘Can you ensure we’ll have enough water?’ This ordinance acts in the public interest and answers that question loud and clear,” said Suthers…
Many developers from the community spoke against the change saying it will make large developments outside the city almost impossible.
Suthers Tweeted, “If we do nothing to maintain a buffer between our water supply and our water usage, and the city suffers a major curtailment of our Colorado River water, further drought will put us in an untenable situation, and we will be responsible for a failure of public policy.”
Colorado Springs Utilities (CSU) recommended the 130% number following an in-depth review of the organization’s capacity and ability to provide water to the city’s citizens. Utilities maintain that the city’s 30% margin buffer allows CSU to consistently provide water year in and year out.
Contracted crews will remove trees across 300 acres to reduce the high risk of catastrophic wildfire near North Catamount Reservoir south of U.S. 24, said Luke Cherney, a forester with the State Forest Service. The area on U.S. Forest Service land was prioritized for fire mitigation because of the dense trees, damage from pests and proximity to drinking water infrastructure. The goal is to ensure when the forest burns, it will not be as extreme and hot as some of the state’s most destructive fires, such as the Waldo Canyon fire, that run through the crowns of trees, blackening the landscape and killing nearly all the vegetation. This type of fire can hurt the watershed and water infrastructure because without living plants the ash and sediment will wash into reservoirs and intake pipes, creating major problems for water managers. Areas hit by intense fire also can see major debris flows without any vegetation to hold back soils. Thinning trees will help create conditions where fires will burn at a lower intensity through the underbrush, leaving many trees alive…
The parcel, adjacent to areas that Colorado Springs Utilities already has mitigated, never has been mitigated for fire risk, said Jeremy Taylor, Utilities’ forestry program manager, and the work will protect pipelines, electrical lines and the overall watershed. Runoff from a healthy watershed is also far cleaner and easier to treat.
“We are restoring the landscape to a more historic and healthy condition that previously would have been achieved by wildfire,” he said in an email.
The project will remove about half the trees in an area where western spruce budworm and Douglas-fir beetle have damaged the forest, Cherney said. The work will increase the space between trees and allow each tree more access to water and nutrients to improve their health, putting them in a better position to fend off pests, he said.
The crews may use masticators to thin trees, Cherney said. The masticators, similar to front-end loaders, are equipped with large drums loaded with metal teeth to remove and mulch trees. In steep areas, crews may also need to use chain saws.
For over a century, the U.S. Army has been plagued by the lasting consequences of its negligent use, storage and disposal of hazardous chemicals. As a result, countless troops and dependents residing on contaminated bases regularly came into contact with toxins known to trigger adverse health effects and deadly diseases.
In high-profile cases like North Carolina’s Camp Lejeune, nearly 1 million service members and their families were exposed to deadly toxins for over 30 years (1953-1987), including health hazards like benzene, vinyl chloride, trichloroethylene, perchloroethylene, and per/polyfluoroalkyl substances — PFAS.
Also known as “forever chemicals,” PFAS are a group of over 12,000 artificial compounds that represent a distinct environmental concern due to their resilient molecular structure, which prevents natural decomposition, allowing them to easily permeate the soil and contaminate drinking water sources. Exposure to PFAS has been linked to testicular cancer, organ damage (liver, kidneys), high cholesterol, decreased vaccine efficiency in children, and impaired reproduction.
On Camp Lejeune and more than 700 army bases across the US, PFAS contamination is directly linked to aqueous film-forming foam used since the early 1970s to extinguish difficult fuel blazes. In 2016, the EPA established a health advisory of 70 parts per trillion for PFOA and PFOS, the main PFAS compounds.
Although service members and their relatives are the most burdened, contamination originating from military sources plays a larger role in an insidious pattern of discrimination that affects marginalized minority communities.
Due to discriminatory redlining policies, land in minority neighborhoods was significantly undervalued and became a cost-efficient solution to situate army bases, industrial facilities, landfills, traffic routes, and other sources of toxic pollution. The higher toxic burden that vulnerable minority communities experience due to systemic prejudice is better known as “environmental racism.”
A 2021 report notes that Colorado has the highest PFAS footprint in the country, with approximately 21,000 sites suspected of using or storing such compounds. Although industrial activities are the primary driver of PFAS’ prevalence, frontline communities also have to contend with contamination from several military sources.
Nine army bases in Colorado are known to have been affected by PFAS due to aqueous film-forming foam, with the most contaminated including Schriever Air Force Base (870,000 ppt), Buckley Space Force Base (formerly Buckley Air Force Base, 205,000 ppt), Fort Carson (156,000 ppt), U.S. Air Force Academy (72,000 ppt) and Peterson Space Force Base (formerly Peterson Air Force Base, 15,000 ppt). Significantly, PFAS from Peterson has previously contaminated the drinking water sources of downstream communities, with a CDC study finding PFAS compounds in the blood of residents in one exposed community registering concentrations 1.8 to 8.1 times the national average.
While the Air Force and Department of Defense have been involved in some remediation efforts, from distributing bottled water to installing filters and building treatment plants, their contributions are considered limited by Coloradans, given the lack of actual PFAS cleanup projects. Unlike Camp Lejeune, none of the contaminated Colorado bases are listed as Superfund sites.
Frontline communities exposed to higher health risks due to environmental racism’s lingering effects rely on state and federal authorities to establish a legal framework that keeps polluters accountable and protects vulnerable citizens. Since 2020, Colorado has enacted some of the country’s most stringent PFAS laws and adopted a PFAS narrative policy that closely follows the EPA’s 2016 advisories.
Federally, the National Defense Authorization Act will see aqueous film-forming foam phased out by 2024 and finance PFAS cleanup projects on contaminated installations, while the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law will provide impacted communities with crucial investments to address pollution and other causes of environmental injustice. The Honoring Our PACT Act will provide improved health benefits and compensation for veterans and military families exposed to toxins in highly contaminated locations like Camp Lejeune.
Despite these encouraging developments, the DoD has yet to commence cleanup on any of the most affected bases in the country per NDAA’s provisions, and diseases resulting from exposure to PFAS aren’t recognized as presumptive conditions under HOPA. Moreover, while Colorado adopted the EPA’s 2016 guidelines, it falls behind other states that employ even stricter standards.
Still, Colorado has the opportunity to stay ahead of the game by implementing more effective PFAS standards that align with the EPA’s most current efforts to regulate these toxic compounds. With the goal of setting enforceable maximum contaminant levels in drinking water, the EPA has drastically reduced its non-binding advisories for PFOA and PFOS in June 2022 to a paltry 0.004 ppt and 0.02 ppt, respectively, illustrating the dangers these substances represent even at exceedingly low concentrations.
As part of a new water conservation program, the Upper Colorado River Commission “is seeking proposals immediately for the voluntary, compensated, and temporary water conservation projects for 2023.”
Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming are Commission members, and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation is a partner in the new conservation program, according to a statement issued Wednesday, Dec. 14, at the Colorado River Water Users Association meeting in Las Vegas, Nevada.
To be considered for funding, proposals for conservation projects will need to be submitted by Feb. 1, 2023. Details are available here.*
The Commission touts the new program as “a key component of the Upper Division States’ 5-Point Plan to address the impacts of the ongoing drought and depleted (water) storage in the Upper Colorado River Basin.”
The new conservation program is relevant here in the Arkansas River Basin because about 130,000 acre-feet of water per year, up to 23 percent of Arkansas River flows, are imported from the Colorado Basin according to Colorado Division of Water Resources data.
The Bureau of Reclamation operates the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project, which imports an average of 57,000 acre-feet of water per year. Colorado Springs, Pueblo and Pueblo West combine to import the other 73,000 acre-feet. Fry-Ark Project water supports local agriculture, cities, towns and industry.
Fry-Ark water and infrastructure also underpin the Voluntary Flow Management Program, which supports the multimillion-dollar recreation economies of Upper Ark communities as well as the Arkansas River’s Gold Medal fishery.
Colorado Water Conservation Board Director Becky Mitchell expressed support for the new program in a statement Wednesday. She emphasized, “The most impactful thing that can be done to manage the Colorado River System is to reduce uses in dry years.”
Mitchell noted that Colorado’s “strict administration of water rights based on hydrology” effectively achieves drought-year water-use reductions. “In 2021, administration impacted water use on over 203,000 acres within the Colorado River Basin in Colorado.”
Mitchell cited preliminary data from the Upper Colorado River Commission showing that the four Upper Basin states used 25% less water in 2021 than in 2020” in response to limited water availability.
“We must continue to live within the means of what the river provides year to year,” Mitchell said, “and we ask others to do the same. This is the only way the system will continue as we know it into the future.”
In requesting that others “live within the means of what the river provides,” Mitchell implicates the three Lower Colorado River Basin states – California, Arizona and Nevada.
The 1922 Colorado River Compact divided Colorado River water between the four Upper Basin states and the three Lower Basin states. The Compact requires the Upper Basin states, where most of the precipitation falls, to deliver a 10-year rolling average of 7.5 million acre-feet (maf) of water to Lees Ferry, Arizona, just south of the Utah state line. Of that water, California is entitled to 4.4 maf, Arizona, 2.8 maf, and Nevada, 0.3 maf.
To date, the Upper Basin states have consistently met the 7.5-maf Compact requirement. At a meeting of Colorado’s Interbasin Compact Committee earlier this year, Mitchell shared statistics showing that Upper Basin states have significantly reduced water usage while Lower Basin states have not.
As the numbers reveal, Lower Basin states’ water usage – more than 2 maf per year beyond the 7.5 maf delivered by the Upper Basin – has trended higher, even as the 10-year rolling average dropped to 11.78 maf for 2012-21.
Specifically, 2019 saw Colorado River flows of 17.75 maf, a rare yearly surplus of 3.8 maf. In 2020, flows dropped to 9.6 maf, 4.5 maf less than the water used that year.
In 2021, flows dropped further, to 7.1 maf. Even with Upper Basin states reducing their water use by more than a million acre-feet in 2021, total water use in the Basin exceeded Colorado River flows by 6.4 maf, dropping water levels in lakes Mead and Powell to record low levels.
* The Upper Colorado River Commission’s Dec. 14 statement notes that full implementation of the water conservation program “is contingent on the passage of pending legislation in Congress” and finalization of an funding agreement between the Commission and the Bureau of Reclamation.
With soil sampling 98% complete at the Colorado Smelter Superfund Site, the Environmental Protection Agency seeks to finish its residential cleanup by spring 2024, if not sooner.
Since 2015, the EPA has conducted outdoor soil and indoor dust samplings of lead and arsenic levels at residences near the former Colorado Smelter. When samples taken from residences show harmful levels of contaminants, the properties are then earmarked for EPA cleanup.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the EPA’s progress on dust sampling has trailed behind its soil sampling efforts. The agency has sampled dust at 73% of the properties it’s targeted in Pueblo’s Bessemer, Eilers and Grove neighborhoods.
As of Oct. 28, about 44% of the 1,833 properties that have received soil sampling have required cleanup, according to the EPA, as have about 36% of the 1,361 dust-sampled properties.
After additional funds were approved by Pueblo City Council on Monday night, a total of $3 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds will be allocated to a 6,200-foot sanitary sewer line on Pueblo’s west side…Funded by ARPA and the Pueblo Wastewater Department, the project will cost an estimated $6.8 million, according to the city of Pueblo.
“We have been in the process of designing that sewer line,” Pueblo Mayor Nick Gradisar said. “There are a couple of arroyos. Some of that sewer line is going to be 13 to 30 feet deep. It turns out to be much more expensive.”
The multi-million dollar project is expected to benefit several developments, including Southern Colorado Clinic, the Pueblo YMCA, the Wildhorse Annexation, the proposed WL Annexation and the incoming Pueblo County detention center.
“This really is a major trunk line that will collect waste from a number of areas,” said Andrew Hayes, the city’s director of public works. “As the rest of the West Side develops in the vicinity of Southern Colorado Clinic, the YMCA— those areas will also feed into this very same line.”
These meetings will be held at the Lamar Elks Lodge No. 1319, 28157 US Highway 287, Lamar, CO 81052, on December 7th and 8th. We are planning on an in-person meetings with a virtual option. That being said, we cannot guarantee effective technology to facilitate listening in on these meetings at this point though we will do our best. A Zoom meeting link can be requested by contacting Stephanie Gonzales at email@example.com on December 6th.
As of now, there are no restrictions that would affect having these meetings in person, but that is subject to change. These are public meetings, between the States of Colorado with other local, State, and federal agencies participating. There may be restrictions for those attending and we hope that you can respect those restrictions. If you are unable to do so, please consider participating in the virtual meeting option.
This is the final notice for the upcoming Arkansas River Compact Administration Annual and Committee Meetings. Please note that the meeting dates and location were changed at the ARCA Annual Meeting held in December 2022.
The 2022 Annual Meeting of the Arkansas River Compact Administration (ARCA) will be held on Thursday, December 8, 2022.The Engineering, Operations, and Administrative/Legal Committees of ARCA will meet onWednesday, December 7, 2022. These meetings are to be held at Lamar Elks Lodge No. 1319, 28157 US Highway 287, Lamar, CO 81052. The meetings are intended to be in person, but as noted above there will be a virtual option.
Meetings of ARCA are operated in compliance with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act. If you need a special accommodation as a result of a disability please contact Stephanie Gonzales at (719) 688-0799 at least three days before the meeting.
This and additional information can be found on ARCA’s website, please check back often since the meeting information will be added as it becomes available:
If you have any questions please feel free to contact Andrew or myself.
New research could help pinpoint “forever chemicals” exposure — giving communities a roadmap for cleanup and individuals direction on what to avoid.
Downstream of a Chemours fluorochemical manufacturing plant on the Cape Fear River in North Carolina, people living in Brunswick and New Hanover counties suffer from higher-than-normal rates of brain tumors, breast cancers and other forms of rare — and accelerated — diseases.
Residents now know this isn’t a coincidence. It’s from years of PFAS contamination from Chemours.
It wasn’t easy to make the connection. More than a decade of water testing and lawsuits identified the link between aggressive cancers and per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS – a class of more than 9,000 toxic and persistent man-made compounds known informally as “forever chemicals.” They’re commonly found in nonstick cookware, water-resistant clothing, firefighting foam, cosmetics, food packaging and recently in school uniforms and insecticides.
The difficulty of tracing these chemicals to a specific source is that Americans — 97% of us, by one estimate — are exposed to potentially thousands of PFAS.
New research published in Science of the Total Environment now finds that tracing models can identify sources of PFAS contamination from people’s blood samples. Instead of using environmental measures of PFAS as a proxy for how people are exposed, the methods use blood samples as a more direct way to map people’s exposure.
“If this works, it would allow us to identify, without any prior knowledge, what people are being exposed to and how they’re being exposed to it,” Dylan Wallis, a lead author of the paper and toxicologist formerly at North Carolina State University, told EHN.
The research, while not yet perfect, marks the beginning of what could become a wide-scale method of determining where the PFAS in our blood came from—such as our food, drinking water or use of nonstick cookware—and how much of it came from each source. But its effectiveness hinges on the need to collect more comprehensive data on where PFAS occurs in people’s bodies, the environment and sources. If scientists can collect this data, then these methods would be able to draw a roadmap for people’s exposure, allowing us to pinpoint problem areas, avoid contamination and implement regulatory changes.
PFAS in blood samples
For this tracing method to work, scientists need an idea of which compounds exist in air, water, food and everyday products in a determined community. First, they have to know where to look for PFAS. This study used data from previous research to identify the types of PFAS in drinking water. Then, they test blood samples for which PFAS are in people’s bodies—although using blood alone gives us only part of the contamination picture, Carla Ng, a chemical and biological engineer at University of Pittsburgh, told EHN. Once they match PFAS proportions in blood to what’s in their drinking water, as in this study, they can gain clues to which sources contributed the chemicals showing up in people’s blood.
“You start to build this picture of what are the inputs, what’s the material they’re getting their exposure from, and then what’s in their blood,” Ng, who was not involved in the study, explained.
The new study analyzed blood samples taken in 2018 and 2020 from residents in Wilmington, North Carolina, and three towns in El Paso County, Colorado. Both communities are near well-known PFAS polluters: the Chemours facility in North Carolina, which manufactures fluoropolymers for nonstick and waterproof products, and the Peterson Space Force Base in Colorado, which uses PFAS-containing firefighting foam, also called AFFFs.
The team used computer models to identify 20 PFAS compounds from residents’ blood samples and then grouped them in categories representing different sources. Some are easy to identify because manufacturers often use a specific type of PFAS. For example, the compounds found in firefighting foam have a unique signature, like a fingerprint, making Peterson Space Force Base the obvious culprit. But more diffuse sources of PFAS, such as those in dust or food, are harder to pin down because scientists aren’t sure which PFAS are in them or where they come from.
In North Carolina and Colorado, the sources were more obvious, allowing the research team to test models’ ability to identify sources. However, to conduct similar research on a national scale is not so simple. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey has tested levels of PFAS in blood samples nationwide since 1999, but it only tests for a specific list of PFAS, which could overlook the full spectrum of compounds.
Drinking water in both locations in the study shows high levels of fluoroethers and fluoropolymers, many of which are “legacy” PFAS, meaning they have been phased out of production for at least a decade but are still found in drinking water. Because the chemical bonds are so strong, they persist in the environment for years, which is why they show up in blood samples long after companies have stopped using or manufacturing them. Long-chain PFAS like PFOA and PFOS, which are the most-studied compounds with a longer structure of carbon-fluorine bonds, are harder to break down, and they bond to proteins in the blood more easily than short-chain compounds.
“These last a really long time,” Wallis said of long-chain PFAS, which were recorded at levels several times higher than national averages. “If you were drinking a really high level of it 40 years ago, you would still have really high levels of it 40 years later.”
A pollution snapshot
Wallis said they were surprised the models worked because they have never been used for PFAS before. They were built to trace other contaminants in the environment, like particles in air pollution, rather than in people.
Tracing PFAS is more challenging than tracing air pollution for several reasons, Xindi Hu, a lead data scientist at the research organization Mathematica, told EHN. Hu conducted earlier research using a different type of computer analysis of blood samples to identify the main sources of PFAS contamination in the Faroe Islands.
Many PFAS lack distinct chemical fingerprints to tell researchers exactly where a particular compound came from, Hu said. But in the study led by Wallis, the chemical fingerprints from the Space Force base in Colorado and fluorochemical facility in North Carolina are well-known.
“When you take a blood sample, it’s really just a snapshot,” she said. “So how do you translate this snapshot of concentration back to the course of the entire exposure history?”
That’s partly why the new paper’s authors conducted this study: The more compounds that are correctly linked to a source, the better these models will work, Wallis said. In essence, they need a better database of PFAS compounds so the models know how to connect the dots.
PFAS also react differently in the human body than in the environment, and scientists still don’t fully understand how we metabolize different compounds. Shorter-chain PFAS, for example, are more likely to appear in urine samples than in blood because they are water-soluble, said Pittsburgh’s Ng, who studies how PFAS react in humans and wildlife.
“If you’re doing everything on the basis of blood levels, it may not tell you everything you need to know about exposure and potential toxicity,” she said, adding that PFAS could also accumulate in the liver, brain, lungs and other locations where it’s difficult to take samples.
Worse, more modern PFAS with carbon-hydrogen bonds can actually transform into other types of compounds as the body metabolizes them, which could give a false impression of what people are exposed to.
“The key to identifying a good tracer is a molecule that doesn’t transform,” Ng said. Some PFAS are great tracers, she added, but “the more transformable your PFAS is in general, the poorer the tracer is going to be.”
That’s why newer PFAS compounds like GenX were not detected in blood samples or used as tracers in the recent study.
“These models aren’t going to account for everything,” Wallis said. “No model is.”
Stopping the contamination
Wallis and their co-authors said they hope the models can become more accurate for less exposed communities in the future. With more data, it would be easier to suggest what to avoid instead of guessing where PFAS exposures come from, Wallis said, adding that it could lead to more protective regulations.
Although these models can vaguely help identify where compounds might come from in a particular community, it’s not a definitive solution, Alissa Cordner, an environmental sociologist and co-director of the PFAS Project Lab who was not involved in the recent study, told EHN. Even if there’s no immediate application of these methods, identifying where PFAS are is the first step.
“Everybody can point their fingers at other possible sources of contamination,” Cordner said. “The best way to address this is not to try to, after the fact, link people’s exposure to a contamination source. It’s to stop the contamination.”
Finding and paying for water is no easy task for these developers and their communities, leading to potential water restrictions as existing resources are stretched to the limit. In addition, as communities seek to encourage lower water usage increased costs are often times passed on to the residents. As a result of these costs, many homebuyers have shifted their focus to water and affordability. Wise homebuyers understand how important the precious resource of water is to the sustainability and survival of their community and are seeking places to live that have water supply plans and water demand management systems in place that serve as a foundation for the community as a whole…
Some of the things homebuyers should consider when looking for a community with a strong water demand management foundation include:
Innovate land planning: Look for a community with thoughtful lot sizes and focused landscape areas. Each of the new homes should be designed with landscaped yard that come with a water budget, water efficient landscaping and irrigation system that is designed to minimize the use of water. Each home should also come with installation specifications that require all new construction to be equipped with water efficient fixtures and appliances linked to new technologies.
Dual water metering: Seek out modern technology that puts the homeowner in charge of the water needs and water usage. This includes separate meters for indoor (less expensive water) and outdoor (more expensive water). This takes the guess work out of how much water that a homeowner is using. The homeowner is provided technology, and a phone app, that provides real-time feedback of their water use. This tool empowers residents to monitor their water usage, it also allows them to differentiate the water that is being used outside and the water being used inside.
Smart irrigation control systems: New homes should come equipped with a smart irrigation controller (Rachio Smart Irrigation System is an example) that integrates a dual water metering system into each home. These controllers help to optimize outdoor watering patterns and gives the plants in the yard the water they need to be healthy. The systems also monitor the weather and automatically adjust the outdoor watering schedule based on local and current weather conditions, so you are not watering your lawn during a rainstorm. The smart irrigation system also alerts a homeowner to water leaks and the homeowner can shut off the water remotely to avoid a flood.
Drought tolerant plant selections and landscape guidelines: In conjunction with the Denver Botanic Gardens, some Colorado communities have identified a set of outdoor plants for use by residents that are attractive, require less water and are drought tolerant (bird friendly options are also available). Landscape reviews by community districts also provide residents with ways to manage their home’s water budget to avoid use of more expensive water without compromising landscaping design that can be enjoyed by residents. Some communities will also provide classes to educate residents on gardening and water management.
Investing in resources: Forward thinking communities have invested extensive resources in home builder and customer education about water use, installed WaterSense approved fixtures and have implemented an innovative water budget-based rate structure that provides incentives to customers to manage their outdoor water use within a water budget.
The Green Mountain Falls Board of Trustees approved plans last week for a new vastly expanded water pump station, being developed by Colorado Springs Utilities.
According to a town staff report, “the new pump station will be located at 10685 Hondo Ave. and will ensure reliable water service for residents and businesses in Green Mountain Falls. It will also provide a safer and more readily accessible working space for CSU, enabling more efficient maintenance and repair activities. CSU is currently finalizing an easement agreement with the property owner to allow the pump station to be built on the site.”
The project was recently discussed by the planning commission. At last week’s trustees meeting, the elected leaders had an extensive discussion with representatives of the project applicant, Dewberry Engineers. The trustees support the project goals, with the need for better infrastructure and the fact that the current pump station, located at the base of several prime trail areas, is outdated. The main concern dealt with a staging area for the preliminary construction efforts. Following considerable discussion, the staging area will occur at intersection of Ute Pass Avenue and Olathe Street. Not all the trustees were on board with the details, especially with the pre-construction staging area, which could involve a number of vehicles. But the Dewberry representatives stressed that they had limited options in GMF due to the small roadways.
Palmer Lake water customers will likely see their bills increase in the near future as the town looks to boost revenues to its self-sustaining water enterprise, which is projected to have inadequate funding in 2023. “Inadvertent” incorrect billing of 15 water accounts and the town’s failure to increase water rates by 3% annually starting in January 2020, as stipulated by a 2019 town resolution, have caused the budget shortfall, according to administrative and financial documents. Staff are now “working on the issues” and will “bring options to the (Board of Trustees) to consider,” Deputy Town Clerk Julia Stambaugh said by email this week…
Stambaugh reported in a Sept. 29 town memo the water account billing issues had been resolved. It was unclear how long the town had incorrectly billed the water accounts in question. But now, ballooning loan repayments upcoming in 2024 and the “significant rise” in the cost of materials for infrastructure mean the town’s water fund won’t have enough money in its projected 2023 budget, finance documents show.
The Bureau of Reclamation (BoR) announced on Monday that it will direct $60 million in federal funding from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) towards advancing the construction of the Arkansas Valley Conduit (AVC), a 130-mile pipeline project from Pueblo Reservoir east to Eads, Colorado that will deliver safe, clean drinking water to 50,000 people in 40 communities. The Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) has supported this project with $100 million in grants and loans. The Arkansas Valley Conduit project is the final element of the larger Fryingpan-Arkansas Project, which Congress authorized in 1962. The project has literally been decades in the making.
“The SECWCD is thrilled with the announcement by the Bureau of Reclamation that $60 million from the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act has been allocated for construction of the Arkansas Valley Conduit. This follows on the heels of the award of the first construction contract for the Boone reach,” said Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District Senior Policy and Issues Manager Chris Woodka.
“This commitment from BoR is a clear indication of their intent to move this project forward to completion, and to direct resources to it so that clean drinking water will be delivered sooner than originally planned,” he added. “We thank each and every one of you for your patience, and your ongoing support.”
Today [October 17, 2022], Colorado U.S. Senators Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper welcomed an announcement from the Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) of the distribution of $60 million in funds from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to support the completion of the Arkansas Valley Conduit (AVC), providing Coloradans with a secure and safe supply of water. In July, the senators and U.S. Colorado Representative Ken Buck urged the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and BOR to allocate funds from the infrastructure law for the AVC. The Weeminuche Construction Authority, an enterprise of the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, has been awarded the contract for this phase of construction of the AVC.
“Sixty years ago, President Kennedy came to Pueblo and promised to build the Arkansas Valley Conduit to deliver clean drinking water to families in Southeastern Colorado. Since I’ve been in the Senate, I’ve fought to ensure the federal government keeps its word to Colorado and finishes this vital infrastructure project,” said Bennet. “One of the first bills I passed helped to jumpstart and fund construction on the Arkansas Valley Conduit, and with this announcement, we’ve delivered more than $140 million to help complete construction and deliver on this decades-old promise.”
“Thanks to the Bipartisan Infrastructure Act, long-stalled projects like the Ark Valley Conduit are moving forward. Today, we’re bringing this 60 year project over the finish line,” said Hickenlooper.
The AVC is a planned 130-mile water-delivery system from the Pueblo Dam to communities throughout the Arkansas River Valley in Southeast Colorado. This funding will expedite the construction timeline for the Conduit and allow for federal drinking water standards to be met more quickly. The Conduit is the final phase of the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project, which Congress authorized in 1962.
Bennet and Hickenlooper have consistently advocated for increased funding for the AVC. In May, the senators sent a letter to the Appropriations Committee to include funding for the AVC in the FY23 spending bill. In March, Bennet and Hickenlooper helped secure $12 million for the Conduit from the FY22 omnibus bill. Bennet and Hickenlooper will continue working in Washington to ensure communities have the resources needed to complete this vital project for the region.
“We have been working hard to move this project from planning to construction. This announcement follows the first construction contract award, and is a clear indication that the District and Reclamation will continue to partner in this long-time effort to bring clean drinking water to the Lower Arkansas Valley. Our Senators were key to obtaining more than $8 billion for the Bureau in the IIJA, and our delegation’s long-standing bipartisan support along with support from the State of Colorado have put the conduit on Reclamation’s front line for construction,” said Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District board president Bill Long.
“The Ute Mountain Ute Tribe and its construction enterprise are honored to be a partner in delivering safe drinking water to the Lower Arkansas Valley. Like other projects Weeminuche Construction Authority has been a part of, the Arkansas Valley Conduit has been a long time coming, but will provide enormous benefit. The infrastructure dollars for the Bureau of Reclamation, making this possible, are a credit to Senator Bennet’s efforts to build support for Western water infrastructure,” said Michael Preston, Board President, Weenuch-u’ Development Corporation of the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe.
“As a regional leader in water issues in southern Colorado, Pueblo Water is proud to help push the Arkansas Valley Conduit forward. Our strong relationship with the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, the Bureau of Reclamation, and other partners helped make it possible for this project to come to fruition. Through this partnership, communities in Southeastern Colorado will have access to clean water faster than thought possible,” said Seth Clayton, Executive Director of Pueblo Water.
Prior to this announcement, Bennet has helped secure over $80 million for the AVC.
In 2009, Congress passed legislation written by Bennet and former U.S. Senator Mark Udall (D-Colo.) to authorize a federal cost share and the construction of the Arkansas Valley Conduit. Bennet then worked to secure $5 million in federal funding for the project.
In 2013, Bennet and his colleagues sent a letter to the BOR to quickly approve the Conduit’s Environmental Impact Study (EIS) in order to expedite the project’s completion. In 2014, following Bennet and Udall’s efforts to urge the BOR to quickly approve the Conduit’s EIS, the Record of Decision was signed in February. After President Obama’s budget included an insufficient level of funding for the project, Bennet led a bipartisan letter urging the administration and the House and Senate Appropriations Committees to allow the Conduit’s construction to move ahead as planned. Bennet successfully urged the Department of Interior to designate $2 million in reprogrammed funding from FY14 for the Conduit. Bennet secured language in the FY15 Senate Energy and Water Development Appropriations Act that sent a clear signal to the BOR that the Conduit should be a priority project.
In 2016, Bennet secured $2 million from the BOR’s reprogrammed funding for FY16, after the project had initially received only $500,000. Bennet then secured $3 million for the AVC as part of the FY17 spending bill. Bennet secured $3 million for the Conduit for FY18.
In April 2019, Bennet and former U.S. Senator Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) wrote to then-Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Ranking Member Feinstein, urging them to provide funding for the Conduit. Bennet, Gardner, former U.S. Congressman Scott Tipton (R-Colo.), and Buck wrote to the Department of the Interior urging the Department to support the project. Bennet secured approximately $10 million each year for the Conduit in the FY19 and FY20 spending bills. In 2020, Bennet welcomed $28 million from the BOR to begin construction on the AVC to help bring clean drinking water to Colorado communities. He secured $11 million for the AVC in FY21. He joined the ground breaking in October 2020.
The Colorado Water Conservation Board awarded a $500,000 grant to the Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District and Round Mountain Water and Sanitation District for construction of a new reservoir near Westcliffe.
Upper Ark Project Manager Gracy Goodwin reported the grant award during the Thursday meeting of the Upper Ark board of directors in Salida.
Upper Ark General Manager Terry Scanga said the total cost of the project is estimated at $3 million and that the Upper Ark District is responsible for a third of the cost under its agreement with Round Mountain.
Round Mountain provides water water and sanitation services to the towns of Westcliffe and Silver Cliff, serving a population of approximately 1,000.
As previously reported, the Upper Ark District and Round Mountain began collaborating on the project to address the need for a source of augmentation water on Grape Creek upstream from DeWeese Reservoir. The 7-acre reservoir will have a storage capacity of approximately 150 acre-feet.
Goodwin reported that Engineering Analytics, the firm hired to design the reservoir, recently completed a topographic survey for the intake infrastructure and the dam. The company is also finalizing the reservoir design and starting work on the construction drawings.
The Colorado Water Conservation Board also provided funding for an initial feasibility study and the design work, and Goodwin said Upper Ark staff are investigating additional sources of funding to help pay for construction costs.
In addition to its augmentation water needs, Round Mountain faces significant wastewater treatment challenges.
Citing an “overtaxed wastewater treatment plant” that “cannot adequately process additional effluent,” the Round Mountain board of directors enacted a moratorium on the sale of water and sewer taps Jan. 1., effectively halting new construction in Westcliffe and Silver Cliff.
Information on the Round Mountain website indicates the district’s wastewater treatment plant “is 46 years old, built with a technology that cannot meet current environmental standards and receiving considerably more sewage than it can fully process.”
A nearly $43 million contract was awarded to a Colorado construction company marking the “first giant step” in the Arkansas Valley Conduit project designed to bring clean drinking water to eastern Pueblo County and southeastern Colorado. The federal Bureau of Reclamation awarded the inaugural contract for the conduit to WCA Construction LLC, for $42.9 million to cover construction of the first 6-mile section of the 30-inch trunk line that extends from the eastern end of Pueblo Water’s system toward Boone. Located in Towaoc, the construction company is owned by the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe and as a tribal enterprise the company employs a workforce that is 70% indigenous…
Since 2020 the federal government has appropriated $51 million toward the project, with those funds paying for the trunk line construction. Pueblo County has awarded $1.2 million in American Rescue Plan Act funding to connect the communities of Avondale and Boone to the trunk line, Woodka said. Work under the initial contract will begin in the spring of 2023 and is expected to be completed in 2024. “We are now in the process of designing those connection lines, then we will be putting those lines in. We hope everything is connected to Boone and Avondale by the end of 2024,” [Chris] Woodka said. That will bring water to about 1,600 Avondale residents and 230 Boone residents. Currently, many people in the areas that will be served by the conduit rely on groundwater supplies that may be contaminated by naturally occurring radionuclides, such as radium and uranium, or use shallow wells that contain harmful microorganisms and pollutants.
The Bureau of Reclamation awarded the inaugural contract of the Arkansas Valley Conduit (AVC) to WCA Construction LLC, for $42,988,099.79. This contract funds construction of the first Boone Reach trunk line section, a 6-mile stretch of pipeline that extends from the eastern end of Pueblo Water’s system toward Boone, Colorado.
The AVC project will use Pueblo Water’s existing infrastructure to treat and deliver AVC water from Pueblo Reservoir to a connection point east of the City of Pueblo along U.S. Highway 50. The water will be either Fryingpan-Arkansas Project water or from participants’ water portfolios, not from Pueblo Water’s resources. Work under this contract will begin in spring of 2023. This section is expected to be completed in 2024.
“Now more than ever, people in the Arkansas River Valley understand the immense value of the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project and the Arkansas Valley Conduit,” said Jeff Rieker, Eastern Colorado Area Manager. “We look forward to the day when these residents can open the faucet and know that their drinking water is safe and healthy.” As the AVC project moves forward, under existing agreements, Reclamation will construct the trunkline, a treatment plant and water tanks while the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District will coordinate with communities to fund and build AVC delivery pipelines. Eventually, the AVC will connect 39 water systems along the 130-mile route to Lamar, Colorado.
The AVC is a major infrastructure project that, upon completion, will provide reliable municipal and industrial water to 39 communities in Southeastern Colorado. The pipelines will bring water from Pueblo Reservoir to Bent, Crowley, Kiowa, Otero, Prowers, and Pueblo counties. It is projected to serve up to 50,000 people in the future (equivalent to 7,500 acre-feet per year).
The AVC was authorized in the original Fryingpan-Arkansas Project legislation in 1962 (Public Law 87-590). The AVC would not increase Fry-Ark Project water diversions from the Western Slope of Colorado; rather, it was intended to improve drinking water quality.
Currently, many people in the areas that will be served by the AVC rely on groundwater supplies that may be contaminated by naturally occurring radionuclides, such as radium and uranium, or use shallow wells that contain harmful microorganisms and pollutants. Alternatives for these communities consist of expensive options such as reverse-osmosis, ion exchange, filtration, and bottled water.
This contract continues many years of hard work by Reclamation, Southeastern, Pueblo Water and other project partners to improve the lives of residents and provide opportunities for economic development and job creation.
If you have any questions or need more information, please contact Anna Perea, Public Affairs Specialist at the Bureau of Reclamation’s Eastern Colorado Area Office, at (970) 290-1185 or firstname.lastname@example.org. If you are deaf, hard of hearing or have a speech disability, please dial 7-1-1 to access telecommunications relay services.
State, local and federal agencies are working to figure out what is causing changes to the waters and streambed of Lincoln Creek.
In recent days, the water in Lincoln Creek below Grizzly Reservoir has turned a milky green color and a sediment — yellow in some places, white in others — has settled on the streambed. The water flowing into the reservoir from upper Lincoln Creek ran yellow on Saturday.
According to Andrew Wille, a concerned citizen and educator who has done a field study in the area, the discolored stream is not totally unusual.
“I would say (Lincoln Creek above the reservoir) is always like that, but it might be a little worse this year,” said Wille, who is also a member of Pitkin County’s Healthy Rivers board but clarified he was not speaking on the group’s behalf.
What is unusual, Wille said, is that the issue extends below the reservoir to the water flowing down Lincoln Creek to its confluence with the Roaring Fork River.
“I was just kind of concerned and upset it made its way into the Roaring Fork,” he said.
A culprit could be defunct mines in the area, where prospectors mined gold, silver, lead and copper in the early 1900s. It includes the well-known Ruby Mine near the ghost town of the same name.
Bryan Daugherty, an environmental health specialist with Pitkin County, took samples of the water in the creek last week.
“It could be that we have had significant weather up there and it has opened up some of the channels or something that expose more of the mining waste,” Daugherty said. “We just don’t have a great answer as to why it looks different than it has in the past years.”
Officials may have more answers after Tuesday, when a team of water quality experts from different agencies, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Roaring Fork Conservancy and others, are scheduled to test the waters of Lincoln Creek. It is part of an ongoing water quality monitoring program.
Mines could be a cause
Jeff Graves, program director for the Colorado Inactive Mine Reclamation Program, said the Ruby Mine was brought to his attention last year when there was a fish die-off in Grizzly Reservoir. His agency, the Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety, joined other agencies in water quality sampling in early summer. Those results are not back yet.
But Graves said the problem may not be caused solely by the Ruby Mine.
“There’s obviously some legacy mining up there; that includes the Ruby Mine,” he said. “But there’s also a significant geologic component unrelated to mining. So there are a couple different things going on that we need that sampling data back to clarify what the actual cause of any potential problems are downstream.”
Graves estimated there are about 400 mines across Colorado that are discharging into waterways and potentially creating a water quality issue downstream. He said there has not been any reclamation done on the Ruby Mine and that it would not have fallen under any regulatory authority at the time it was mined around the turn of the 20th century.
Much of the water collected in Grizzly Reservoir from the high mountain drainage of Lincoln Creek is sent through the Twin Lakes Tunnel under the Continental Divide to be used in Front Range cities. Colorado Springs Utilities owns the majority of the water from the Twin Lakes system, which represents the city’s largest source of West Slope water and about 21% of its total supply.
Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Company Manager Bruce Hughes said on Monday that the Twin Lakes system was operating normally, which at this time of year means not diverting to the Front Range and instead letting the water from Grizzly Reservoir flow down Lincoln Creek.
Graves said in general, the environmental concerns associated with mines involve aquatic life like fish and the bugs they eat. The orange color of the water and stained streambed is from iron; the white is from aluminum, he said.
“Generally speaking, there is very little human health concerns associated with the sites,” he said. “Most of the time, it is aquatic life concerns and the specific concern is zinc. Fish are very intolerant to high levels of dissolved zinc in the water.”
As of Saturday [September 24, 2022], there were still plenty of fish swimming in Grizzly Reservoir.
Aspen Journalism covers rivers and water in collaboration with The Aspen Times.This story ran in the Sept. 27 edition of The Aspen Times.
At Spring Born, a greenhouse in western Colorado near Silt, you see few, if any, dirty fingernails. Why would you? Hands never touch soil in this 113,400-square-foot greenhouse.
You do see automation, long trays filled with peat sliding on conveyors under computer-programmed seeding devices. Once impregnated, the trays roll into the greenhouse.
Thirty days after sprouting, trays of green and red lettuce, kale, arugula, and mustard greens slide from the greenhouse to be shorn, weighed and sealed in plastic clamshell packages. Hands never touch the produce.
Spring Born says it needs 95% less water compared to leafy greens grown using Colorado River water a thousand miles downstream in Arizona and California. That region supplies more than 90% of the nation’s lettuce. At Silt, the water comes from two shallow wells that plumb the riverine aquifer of the Colorado River, delivering about 20 gallons per minute. The water is then treated before it is piped into the greenhouse. This is agriculture like nowhere else.
Great precautions are taken to avoid contamination and prevent the spread of pathogens. Those entering the greenhouse must don protective equipment.
There’s no opportunity for passing birds or critters to leave droppings. As such, there is no need for chlorine washes, which most operations use to disinfect. Those washes also dry out the greenery, shortening the shelf life and making it less tasty. The Spring Born packages have an advertised shelf life of 23 days.
Spring Born likely constitutes the most capital-intensive agricultural enterprise in Colorado. Total investment in the 250-acre operation, which also includes traditional hay farming and cattle production, has been $30 million. The technology and engineering come from Europe, which has 30 such greenhouses. The United States has a handful.
Agribusiness in Colorado generates $47 billion in economic activity but it ties to one reality: The future is one of less water. So how exactly can agriculture use water more judiciously?
The Thirsty Future
A Desert Research Institute study published in April 2022 concluded that the warming atmosphere is a thirstier one. Modeling in the study suggests that crops in some parts of Colorado already need 8% to 15% more water than 40 years ago. Agricultural adaptations to use less water are happening out of necessity.
Colorado has warmed about 2.5 degrees Fahrenheit in the last 120 years. Warming has accelerated, with the five hottest summers on record occurring since 2000.
Higher temperatures impact the amount of snowfall and amount of snowpack converted to water runoff. “As the climate warms, crops and forested ecosystems alike use water more rapidly,” says Peter Goble, a research associate at the Colorado Climate Center. “As a result, a higher fraction of our precipitation goes into feeding thirsty soils and a lower fraction into filling our lakes, streams and reservoirs. Essentially, a warmer future is a drier future.”
This year was a good example of the drying trend.
Snowpack was around average in the San Juan Mountains, but spring arrived hot and windy. Snow was all but gone by late May, surpassed in its hurried departure only in 2018 and 2002. Farmers dependent on water from the Dolores River, still reeling from last year’s meager supplies, were required to accept lesser supplies yet again as the growing season began this year.
The Ute Mountain Ute Farm and Ranch Enterprise, the most southwesterly agriculture operation in Colorado, expected less than 30% of its regular water delivery from McPhee Reservoir. This was on top of a marginal year in 2021, too. Simon Martinez, general manager of the operation, said just 15 of the 110 center pivots had crops under cultivation in early June. Employment was cut in half, and the 650-head cow-calf operation had been slimmed to 570.
Pressured by compacts
The warming climate is not alone in spurring adaptations. In many river basins, irrigators must also worry about delivery of water to downstream states specified by interstate compacts.
Water conservation districts formed in the last 20 years are paying farmers to decrease pumping and planting to save the water that remains in the aquifers, comply with compacts, and transition to less water use.
Directors of the Republican River Water Conservation District, in northeastern Colorado were successful in voluntarily retiring 4,000 acres by June 2020. They are confident about retiring 10,000 acres in the area between Wray and Burlington before 2025. They’re less sure of achieving the 25,000 acres that compact compliance will require by 2029.
Rio Grande Water Conservation District directors in south-central Colorado have an even greater lift. They must figure out how to retire 40,000 irrigated acres by 2029. They’re at 13,000.
High commodity prices have discouraged farmer participation. The pot of local, state and federal money hasn’t been sufficient to fund high enough incentives to compete with commodity pricing. A bill, SB22-028, Groundwater Compact Compliance Fund, which passed in the Colorado Legislature in May, will allocate $60 million to both the Republican and Rio Grande basins to help them comply with interstate river compacts by reducing the acreage outlined above. The law says that if voluntary reductions cannot be attained, Colorado may resort to mandatory reductions in groundwater extraction.
From Sprinklers to New Crops
Even as center-pivot sprinklers are removed in the Republican River Basin and San Luis Valley, they are going up in the Grand Valley of western Colorado. There, instead of drafting groundwater, they are distributing Colorado River water, because they are reducing labor costs and reducing water use.
The geography of the valley from Palisade to Fruita and Loma does not immediately favor center pivots. They work best as a pie within a square, a full 40 or 160 acres. Parcels in the Grand Valley tend to be more rectangular. That means a pivot can arc maybe three-quarters of a circle. That slows the payoff on investment.
Why the pivot, so to speak, on pivots? Perry Cabot, a water resource specialist with Colorado State University’s Western Colorado Research Center near Fruita, sees two, sometimes overlapping, motivations. (Cabot also serves on the Water Education Colorado Board of Trustees.)
The greater motivation is the desire to save labor. That itself is good, he says, because the investment reflects an intention to continue farming. “People are obviously doing it for the long haul,” he says.
The other motivation appears to be water related. “The feedback I get is, to paraphrase the farmers, at some point in the future we are going to have less water to farm with and so we must prepare for that,” Cabot says.
Incremental improvements have improved efficiency. Experiments at the CSU research center in Walsh have shown conclusively the advantage of long-drop nozzles that spray the water just a couple feet off the ground, reducing evaporation.
Technology can help perfect a producer’s irrigation set up. Consider work in the San Luis Valley by Agro Engineering, crop consultants who seek to assist growers in producing maximum value with minimum water application. Potatoes, the valley’s largest cash crop, thrive in warm, but not hot, days and cool nights. They need 16 to 18 inches of water per year, of which 13 to 15 inches comes from irrigation. This includes two inches applied during planting, to moisten soils sufficiently for germination. They do not do well with too much water, explains Jason Lorenz, an agricultural engineer who is a partner in the firm. That, and the need to align use with legal requirements, gives growers compelling reason to closely monitor water.
The company uses aerial surveys conducted from airplanes to analyze whether the desired uniformity is being achieved. The latest advancement, multispectral aerial photography, enables the detection of green, red and near-infrared light levels. These images indicate the amount of vegetative biomass, vegetative vigor, and the greenness of the leaves. Variations show where crops are healthier and where there are problems, including insects and diseases, water quality, or soil chemistry problems.
Any discussion of water and agriculture in Colorado must include a focus on corn. In 2021, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, almost 1.4 million acres in the state were devoted to corn, with well more than half of that irrigated.
Corn is also thirsty. So far, efforts to produce corn with less water have come up short, says Colorado State University water resources specialist Joel Schneekloth. But if corn still needs the same amount of water, researchers have succeeded in producing greater yields.
How about alternatives to corn? Sunflowers, used to make cooking oil but also for confections, came on strong, but acreage shrank from 132,000 acres to 59,000 acres statewide between 2010 and 2019. For farmers, corn pays far better.
Quinoa may be possible. It consumes less water. But no evidence has emerged that it’s viable in eastern Colorado. The demand is small. Demand also remains small for black-eyed peas, which a bean processing facility in Sterling accepts along with pinto, navy and other beans.
“We can find low-water crops, but they just don’t have huge markets,” explains Schneekloth who conducts studies for the Republican and South Platte basins at a research station in Akron. There has to be enough production to justify processing facilities, he said. One such processing facility proximate to the Ogallala aquifer in Colorado—it was in Goodland, Kansas—closed because it didn’t have enough business.
Nearly all of the corn in Colorado is grown to feed livestock. What if, instead of eating beef or pork, we ate plant-based substitutes? The shift, says Schneekloth, would save water. It takes seven pounds of forage and grain to produce one pound of meat. For a meat substitute, it’s closer to one for one. But that tradeoff isn’t that simple in most places. Much of the cattle raised in Colorado start on rangeland, feeding off of unirrigated forage, which is not suitable for crop production.
Besides, Schneekloth says he has a hard time imagining a mass migration to meat substitutes in the near future. Plant-based substitutes cost far more and the product, to many people, remains unsatisfactory. “Mass migration will be a hard one to sell,” he says. “Maybe eventually, but it won’t happen for a long time, I don’t think.”
Soil health has emerged as a lively new frontier of research and practice and the integration of livestock and crop production is one of its tenets—manure adds nutrients to the soil and builds organic matter, improving soil health.
Soil, unlike dirt, is alive. It’s full of organisms, necessary for growing plants. Wiggling worms demonstrate fecund soil, but most networking occurs on the microscopic level. This organic matter is rich with fungi and bacteria. Iowa’s rich soils have organic content of up to 9%. The native soils of Colorado’s Eastern Plains might have originally had 5%. The farms of southeastern Colorado now have 1% to 3%.
Derek Heckman is on a quest to boost the organic matter of his soil to 5% or even higher. It matters because water matters entirely on the 500 acres he farms in southeastern Colorado, just west of Lamar.
“Water is the limiting factor for our farms a majority of the time,” he explains. “We are never able to put on enough water.”
Heckman’s water comes from the Fort Lyon Canal, which takes out from the Arkansas River near La Junta. In a good year, he says, his land can get 25 to 30 runs from the ditch. Last year he got 16 runs. This year? As of early May, Heckman was expecting no more than 10 runs.
“The more organic matter there is, the more the moisture-holding capacity of the soil,” he explains. This is particularly important as water supplies dwindle during the hot days of summer.
“Let’s say we have 105 degrees every day for two weeks,” says Heckman. “Organic content of your soil of 3% might allow you to go four additional days without irrigation and without having potential yield loss or, even worse, crops loss.”
Heckman, 31, practices regenerative agriculture.
In explaining this, Heckman shies away from the word sustainable. It’s too limiting, he says. “I don’t want to just sustain what I’m doing. Regenerative is bringing the soil back to life.”
Growing corn in the traditional way involved plowing fields before planting. The working of the field might involve five passes by a tractor, compacting the soil and reducing its porosity. The plows disrupt microbial life.
For several decades, farmers and scientists have been exploring the benefits of less intrusive tilling of the soil. Beginning about 20 years ago, Heckman’s father was one of them. The scientific literature is becoming robust on the benefits of what is generically called “conservation tillage.”
Irrigated corn fields of eastern Colorado can require 10% less irrigation water depending upon tillage and residue management practices, according to a 2020 paper published by Schneekloth and others.
Heckman experiments continuously, trying to find the best balance of cover crops, minimal tilling, and the right mix of chemicals.
“A lot of guys are comfortable with what grandpa did and what dad did, and that’s what they do,” he says. “I want to see changes in our operation.”
On the Western Slope, soil health restoration is being tested in an experiment on sagebrush-dominated rangelands south of Montrose. Ken Holsinger, an ecologist with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, says the intent is to restore diversity to the lands and improve the water-holding capacity of the soil.
Holsinger says the federal land was likely harmed by improper livestock grazing, particularly prior to adoption of the Taylor Grazing Act in 1934, but may well have continued until the 1970s prior to implementing modern grazing practices.
This experiment consists of a pair of one-acre plots that have lost their topsoil and have become dominated by sagebrush and invasive vegetation. Such lands produce 200 to 300 pounds of forage per acre but should be producing 800 to 1,000 pounds per acre of native grasses. The soil will be amended with nutrients to restart the carbon cycle. Afterward, 50% of the sagebrush will be removed.
“We are looking at restarting the carbon cycle and ultimately holding more water in the soil profile,” says Holsinger.
One way these enhanced, restored soils help is by preventing the monsoonal rains that western Colorado typically gets in summer from washing soil into creeks and rivers, muddying the water. If the experiment proves successful, then the task will be to cost-effectively scale it up, ideally to the watershed level.
Back in Silt, at the site of Spring Born, Charles Barr, the company’s owner, speaks to the need for innovation. “That will be the model going forward for all of these agricultural areas,” he says. “They have to find new sources of revenue, they have to find new ways of doing business, and they have to find new ways to conserve water.”
Click the link to read the article on the Westword website (Catie Cheshire). Here’s an excerpt:
People who use the South Platte River for recreation, particularly river surfers, are hoping the next iteration of the Colorado Water Plan will include stronger language about the importance of recreation on the river. An updated version of the plan originally developed in 2015 during the John Hickenlooper administration will take effect in 2023, and the public can currently weigh in on the Colorado Department of Natural Resources draft. David Riordon, an avid river surfer in Denver, says he was pleasantly surprised that the draft indicated a positive approach to recreation, but hopes there will be more specifics regarding the use of the South Platte in the final document. While Riordon recognizes that the plan must tackle big issues across the state, he points out that river surfers keep a close eye on the South Platte’s status in metro Denver when they spend time on the waves at River Run Park in Englewood. “We see what comes by us or what doesn’t come by us,” Riordon says. “That could be water. It could be people. It could be fish, it could be trash. It could be plants. All kinds of stuff comes by us.”
Currently, river surfers gauge several factors, such as the discharge from Chatfield Reservoir and the City of Englewood, to see if the water is running at enough cubic feet per second to surf, generally 180 cfs. Riordon thinks the flow of the South Platte should be controlled the way it is on the Arkansas River, where a voluntary flow management program ensures that the Arkansas will be high enough for recreation during summer months, including rafting and fishing…Although the agreement guiding the Arkansas River program is between the Colorado DNR, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, Trout Unlimited, the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District and the Arkansas River Outfitters Association, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation actually operates it, measuring the reservoirs and controlling the outlet gates to ensure a constant flow of at least 700 cfs from July 1 to August 15. It also maintains a 250 cfs level during fall and winter months to improve conditions for trout. To create something similar on the South Platte, Riordon, who’s president of the Colorado River Surfers Association, hopes to connect with other stakeholders to apply for a grant from the Metro Basin Roundtable to determine if the idea would be feasible…
The new iteration [of the Colorado Water Plan] includes goals for protecting and enhancing both environmental and recreational attributes of the South Platte. Compared to the first version, completed before the original 2015 Colorado Water Plan, it takes a stronger stance on social justice and ensuring equitable access to recreation on the river, [Sean Chambers] continues.
Click the link to read the article on the CSU Extension Pueblo County website (Sherie Shaffer):
We have been getting a lot of questions lately from homeowners wanting to replace their lawns with more water wise, and beneficial plants. This is a fantastic trend, seeing as how water is a very limited resource, and that lawns do not have much to offer to our native pollinators.
If lawn replacement has been on your mind, here are some things to think about. The first thing to consider is, how much of your lawn are you actually using? Looking into lawn replacement does not have to mean getting rid of all lawn but reducing your lawn to the areas that are being used. Children use lawns to run and play, as do pets. Keeping lawn areas that are being used is great, but if you have lawn areas that are not being used, you may want to consider replacing them with something else.
Once you identify areas of lawn that you would like to replace, the next step is getting rid of the lawn. There are a few options. One option is to cover the areas of undesired lawn with a thick layer of newspaper or cardboard for about 2 months. This will suffocate the lawn and kill it leaving you with a blank slate. You can also till the area several times over a period. A quicker, albeit less environmentally friendly way of getting rid of the lawn would be to use a nonselective herbicide. If you go this route, be sure to read the label and follow all instructions. Never apply herbicides to flowering plants being visited by pollinators (such as dandelions) and avoid spraying when it is windy or over 80° F to avoid drift, which could harm desirable plants.
Once the lawn is gone, I would suggest looking into getting a soil test. If you are going to put in the effort to plant something new and beautiful, you may as well see what is going on in your soil and what you can do to make it optimal for your new plants. If you don’t want to get your soil tested, you can simply add some plant-based compost and mix it in with the native soil. This will help with soil texture, which will improve drainage and moisture retention.