#Colorado’s Water Scarcity May Finally Be Coming For Your Local Duck Pond — KUNC

Buchanan Pond, Evergreen via EvergreenBound.com

From KUNC (Luke Runyon):

To prevent waste and avoid sparking an interstate legal battle, Colorado has started cracking down on what may seem like a drop in the proverbial bucket — illegal ponds.

Martin Mendine recently found himself in the state’s crosshairs. His family ranch is a wide, grassy expanse near southern Colorado’s Spanish Peaks. A fork of the Purgatory River meanders through the land which supports about a hundred cattle, and herds of elk. Migratory sandhill cranes pass through each year…

It’s wet enough to support all this life in part because of a cascade of five small ponds, held in place by dams made of dirt. The ponds are more than 80 years old, Mendine said. They were built when his grandfather tended the ranch.

“So we’ve been running this water now for, you know, damn near (a) century and they’re telling me I can’t use it,” Mendine said…

He got a notice in the mail recently telling him the ponds have been identified as potentially illegal. It said the storage rights needed to create and sustain the ponds don’t exist. To be compliant, he either needs to drain them or come up with a state-approved plan to fill them from a different water source or replace any losses from evaporation…

“Our basin has been over-appropriated for a long period of time,” said Bill Tyner, Colorado’s division engineer for the Arkansas River basin, where Mendine’s ranch is located. The Purgatory River is a tributary to the Arkansas, and runs across an arid stretch of southeastern Colorado…

Using satellite imagery to build an inventory of human-made ponds in the basin, and then cross-referencing with water rights on the books, the state has identified about 10,000 illegal ponds just in the Arkansas basin, Tyner said. He likens it to a string of pearls. Each individual pearl isn’t that costly or consequential on its own. But when pulled together in a line, it’s highly valuable…

His office is now in the midst of a systematic review of all ponds in the Arkansas basin. Using the satellite data, water commissioners, the people who enforce water law on the ground, have been following up with pond owners, letting them know they’ve ended up on a list of potentially illegal ponds, and laying out their options to make them legal…

Purgatoire River in Picketwire Canyon. By cm195902 – https://www.flickr.com/photos/79666107@N00/4120780342/, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=12792476

The ponds in question encompass everything from pools for livestock watering to decorative fountains in business parks to duck ponds scattered across the grounds of a mountainous mansion.

It’s not just the Arkansas basin that’s seeing increased enforcement. State officials have pursued illegal ponds in the upper reaches of the Colorado River basin as well.

The problem with ponds, Tyner said, is evaporation. Water in a shallow pond evaporates more than when it’s flowing through a narrow stream. The state views evaporated water as wasted water…

Without money or access to new water supplies, a landowner’s options to make their ponds legal are limited. There are some exceptions for ponds used for erosion control or livestock watering, but they’re limited in scope. And because the Arkansas basin is one of the most over-appropriated in the state, there’s very little excess water to tap into…

A recent dispute over ponds went to the Colorado Supreme Court last year, where the state prevailed. The ponds in question aren’t allowed to be filled, and the owner was ordered to pay $92,000 in civil penalties, plus attorney’s fees. Machado’s takeaway from that ruling?

“Once the state finds an illegal pond and says you need to drain it, you better do it,” he said.

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

In #Fountain, #Colorado, There’s Plenty Of Room For New Homes. But There Isn’t Enough #Water — Colorado Public Radio

Sprawl

From Colorado Public Radio (Michael Elizabeth Sakas):

Colorado Springs is one of the fastest growing regions in the state. Homes are getting more expensive and harder to buy. The boom is expanding into nearby cities — and the pressure is building…

There are currently fewer than 9,000 taps, or connections, to Fountain’s water supply. Over the last year, Blankenship said developers have applied for nearly 30,000 new taps to the city’s water system.

[Dan] Blankenship is telling developers, Fountain is tapped out…

To support that many new taps, the city would need to buy additional rights to use more water. They would also need a place to store that water, and the city would need to treat it and find a way to get it to homes.

Summary of Observed Wet & Dry Surface Water Hydrology via SCW

That’s getting harder to make happen in a state like Colorado, where most of the people live on the Front Range but most of the water is on the Western Slope.

Where the city of Fountain gets its water from

Fountain gets most of its water from the Pueblo Reservoir, which is filled with water that would otherwise end up in the Colorado River. The reservoir project was built in the 1970s. It’s unlikely the city would be able to build something similar today, Blankenship said. It’s a lot tougher to do that now, just because of the environmental concerns…

Smith said it’s becoming more common for developers to have to secure water rights and pay for additional water infrastructure if they want to build a big project.

But he said the situation in Fountain is unusual…

Fountain hasn’t finalized any plans yet, but they say developers are going to need to help pay the millions of dollars to buy those new water rights, reservoirs, and pipes needed to support that kind of growth. Blankenship, Fountain’s utility director, said instead of the city paying for that upfront, he wants to shift that cost to developers…

No matter how a developer might have to secure water for a new project, the cost will get rolled into the price of a new home, said Kevin Walker, with the housing and building association in Colorado Springs…

Kevin Reidy, a senior water conservation specialist with the Colorado Water Conservation Board, said other water utilities are also worried about how to keep up with growth. Fountain is just the first to talk so openly about the issue…

A big part of Reidy’s job is to get water and land planners to work together, which he said have been too siloed. Reidy helps host training events to get water and land people in the same room to talk about these issues.

“I think we’re kind of hitting that point where people are kind of saying, ‘Okay wow, we’ve got to do things differently,’” Reidy said.

For Fountain, that means telling developers this town doesn’t have the water you need. If you want to build here, you’ll have to bring your own.

2021 #ColoradoSprings Urban Water Cycle, June 11 or 12, 2021 — @WaterEdCO

Photo credit: Water Education Colorado

Click here for all the inside skinny and to register:

Join us June 11 or 12 along Cottonwood Creek for the inaugural Urban Water Cycle Bike Tour in Colorado Springs!

Join us for a fun, free regional bike tour along Cottonwood Creek in Colorado Springs. This tour will connect community members to local water and recreation resources through an approximately 9-mile (mostly downhill) ride.

Both tour days start at Frank Costello Park, with a short ride to Cowpoke Flood Detention and Development. You will then ride downhill all the way to a creek restoration site on Monument Creek. With a short ride back uphill, you will end at Crit Cafe for our final speakers, networking and refreshments on your own.

Tour topics include:

  • What are the Cottonwood Creek, Fountain Creek, and Arkansas River watersheds?
  • Why water quality is important? What is stormwater? What is point source and nonpoint source pollution?
  • How is Colorado Springs conserving water and planning for its future water supply?
  • How are community partners connecting neighborhoods to trails and creeks?
  • How can maintaining pipes allow us to restore creeks?
  • How do we ensure our water is clean and safe?
  • How can you protect stream health?
  • We thank our supporters at Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment, Colorado Springs Utilities, El Pomar Foundation, and Fountain Creek Watershed District. In addition, our partners at the Trails and Open Space Coalition and the City of Colorado Springs Stormwater Enterprise (SWENT) and Parks, Recreation, and Cultural Services made this tour possible. We look forward to a fun and educational day along Cottonwood Creek!

    A Flood Ravaged Downtown #Pueblo 100 Years Ago. Now, The Community Dedicates A New #ArkansasRiver Levee — #Colorado Public Radio

    Graphic credit: The City of Pueblo

    From KRCC (Shanna Lewis) via Colorado Public Radio:

    Pueblo is remembering the victims of the flood that devastated the city a century ago. And on June 3, exactly 100 years later, celebrating its newly rebuilt Arkansas River levee.

    The original flood control structure was constructed after the deadly 1921 deluge. Repairs to bring the 2.8-mile long levee up to current FEMA standards began in 2014 and cost some $25 million…

    The top of the levee now sports a walking trail, and a million-dollar pedestrian suspension bridge connects the trail to the bike path on the other side of the river.

    Grants from the Colorado Department of Transportation and Department of Local Affairs paid for the bridge. Leaf-shaped shade structures, benches and bike racks will be added to the trail later this year.

    It’s all part of a larger recreation plan that includes a second bridge, upgrades to the existing whitewater park and better access to the river from various neighborhoods.

    Along with flood protection and outdoor fun, there’s also a cultural aspect to the levee. Artists covered the old concrete facing of the levee with huge murals over the years, like a giant outdoor art gallery…

    The Pueblo Downtown Association and Pueblo Arts Alliance are hosting a celebration of the new levee on Saturday, June 5, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Activities will include a walk on the levee, actors telling the story of the 1921 flood and group drone photos on the new bridge.

    May showers bring hope to #water experts — The #Pueblo Chieftain

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Heather Willard):

    May in Pueblo brought nearly five inches of rain to the county, marking the month as the third wettest May in the region’s history, and also colder than average.

    Only May 2015, where 5.5 inches of rainfall was recorded, and May 1957, when 5.43 inches of rainfall was recorded, beat the nearly five inches of rainfall in May 2021.

    On May 25th, most of the eastern plains and eastern mountainous region of Colorado have been declared drought-free, defying forecasts from earlier in the year that predicted low precipitation amounts throughout the spring, leading to further drought levels in the summer.

    Colorado Drought Monitor map June 1, 2021.

    In fact, drought levels west of the Continental Divide remain in extreme and exceptional levels, while east of the Divide has shifted the opposite direction. The shift is dramatic, as severe to extreme drought levels have persisted since August 2019…

    Pueblo averages about 1.6 inches of rainfall in May, [Tony] Anderson explained, and the area received about 4.95 inches this May. The trend was similar across the region, with areas like Colorado Springs recording almost double rainfall amounts from the averages used by the National Weather Service.

    Anderson called the drought clearing “remarkable,” but also expressed concerns that the area could still have a poor water year…

    He also noted that reservoir levels are part of the bad news in this “good news/bad news year.” He said the Arkansas river reservoirs are on average about 80% full, and reservoirs in the Rio Grande are averaging about 67%. “So there’s a lot of storage to fill up going into next year,” he said…

    Anderson explained that the split of drought and non-drought levels in Colorado resulted from storms rising from the east and dropping precipitation as it hit the mountains, instead of the standard Colorado weather pattern of storms approaching from the west.

    Todd Ballard, an agronomy extension agent with Colorado State University who works in Sedgwick County, noted in a recent column that the above average rainfall could be a boon for the state’s eastern agricultural businesses.

    How three days in 1921 forever changed #Pueblo — The Pueblo Chieftain #ArkansasRiver

    1921 Pueblo flood. Photo credit: University of Southern Colorado https://scalar.usc.edu/works/1921-the-great-flood/home

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Zach Hillstrom):

    Over three days in June 1921, Pueblo experienced a natural disaster that forever changed the course of its history.

    Even a century later, the effects of the Great Flood of 1921 can be seen throughout the Home of Heroes, particularly in the city’s infrastructure and economy, which were completely transformed by the devastating flood and Pueblo’s decades-long recovery.

    Many Pueblo natives know most of the city’s seminal story by heart: a cloudburst brought heavy rains to the area on June 2, causing the Arkansas River – which was already prone to seasonal flooding – to swell. More intense rain on June 3 caused the Arkansas River to overflow Pueblo’s levee at just more than 18 feet and envelope downtown Pueblo in water.

    By midnight on June 4, according to the Colorado Encyclopedia, the flooding peaked at more than 241 2 feet. The im- mense volume was enough to break levees in several spots and it took only two hours for Pueblo’s entire business district to become submerged.

    Men stand outside the Union Depot in Pueblo (Pueblo County), Colorado. One man wears a badge. Shows water, mud and debris on the ground, and a flood damaged passenger car wrecked beside the stone depot. Probably a cleaning crew works on mud covered tracks nearby June 1921. Photo credit: Denver Public Library Special Collections

    Damage from the flood, most of which occurred on the second day when both the Arkansas River and Fountain Creek overran their banks, was unimaginable. The flood inundated 300 square miles. More than 500 homes were carried away in the floodwaters along with 98 businesses or industrial buildings, 61 stores, 46 locomotives and more than 1,200 railroad cars. A local lumberyard caught fire; burning lumber was sent floating down flooded city streets. Telephone lines were destroyed, and corpses of cows, horses and other livestock littered the valley. A 1921 report on the flood by the United States Geological Survey estimated the total property damage to be more than $19 million. Adjusted for inflation, that equates to more than $280 million today. Other estimates go as high as $25 million in damage, or nearly $373 million today. The death toll was also catastrophic, though there’s no universally accepted total. Estimates range from fewer than 100 deaths to more than 1,500. The USGS report said 78 bodies were recovered in the aftermath, which is likely a fraction of the actual lives lost. Many bodies washed downstream and were either recovered months later or never found. And many of the dead were poor immigrants, making their absence more difficult for authorities to detect. But even after the water receded, mud and debris had been removed from city streets and the recovered dead were buried, the impacts of the flood on Pueblo were just beginning.

    View of damage from the Arkansas River flood at the Union Depot rail yard in Pueblo (Pueblo County), Colorado. Denver and Rio Grande Western passenger cars are near the passenger platform. Damaged cars are turned over and logs and lumber is scattered across the rail yard June 6, 1921. Photo credit: Denver Public Library Special Collections

    A recovery with dire consequences

    In the aftermath of the flood, it became apparent that Pueblo’s infrastructure was not sufficient to prevent another devas- tating flood event. The city needed a new, larger river channel to ensure that when the Arkansas swelled from spring rains and Rocky Mountain snowmelt, it could not cause such destruction again. Legislation was passed at the Colorado Capitol to create the Pueblo Conservancy District, which set about building a new channel to divert the river away from Downtown Pueblo. “When it was set up years ago, the conservancy district had to move the river to its current location,” said Corinne Koehler, the current president of the Pueblo Conservancy District.

    “Back then, that’s where a lot of the train tracks were, so they had to tear up and move the train tracks, they had to rebuild bridges, it was a multi-faceted project. It wasn’t just putting up a levee, they had to redo roads, bridges, anything that was destroyed that would have been crossing over the Arkansas River.” The levee was completed ahead of schedule in March 1926. And although its completion was a breath of relief for Pueblo in terms of preventing future floods, the creation of the conservancy district came with dire conse- quences to the Pueblo economy.

    Peggy Willcox, a researcher with the Pueblo County Historical Society who helped write a recently published book about the flood entitled, ‘Mad River,’ said the district’s creation was a necessity following the flood, but the legislation enacted had major drawbacks for Pueblo.

    “In order to create the conservancy district to pay for the flood control, they had to get the legislature to approve it,” Willcox said.

    “Well the northern counties, some of them had been wanting a tunnel west from Denver ever since (Gen. William Jackson Palmer) built the (Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad), because there was no viable way to ship goods from Denver west on the D& RG.” Prior to that time, every train going west had to come through Pueblo. So northern Colorado counties, particularly in the Denver area, sought to bypass Pueblo by building a tunnel that could ship freight or passenger trains directly west.

    West Portal Moffat Tunnel.

    To get its conservancy district, Pueblo would have to approve the construction of the Moffat Tunnel – a railroad and water tunnel that cuts through the Continental Divide. It officially opened in 1928.

    “They held Pueblo hostage,” Koehler said, “And said, ‘If you want a conservancy district and a levee, you have to vote for the Moffat Tunnel.” The creation of the Moffat Tunnel was the beginning of the end of Pueblo’s prominence as a railroad hub…

    Aerial view of the flooded Arkansas River in Pueblo (Pueblo County), Colorado. Shows freight cars at the washed out Missouri Pacific Railway Company yard, railroad bridges over the river and the Nuckolls Packing Company building beside standing water. Photo credit: Denver Public Library Special Collections

    Economic impacts in the aftermath of Pueblo’s great flood

    Pueblo’s eventual fall from grace as Colorado’s primary railroad hub was far from the only way the flood devastated the city’s economy. In the days immediately following June 5, many businesses were severely damaged and closed their doors, some forever. “After the flood there were industries that never reopened,” Willcox said. “Pueblo was then the smelter capital of the world, that’s what they called it, and there were only two smelters left and both of them were severely damaged by the flood and never really reopened. ‘So that was a large number of jobs.” Not long after the flood, Willcox said, the CF& I steel mill shut down for several months due to a shortage of raw supplies as well as a lack of railroad access, as the flood heavily damaged lo- cal rails. Several smaller manufactories in flooded areas closed. Many of those that eventually reopened did so in cities outside of Pueblo where there were more workers and easier access to rail transporta- tion. But the bigger impact, Willcox said, was how the flood seemed to dry up investments from out-ofstate capitalists, which were common prior to 1921. “That money kind of dried up after the flood,” Willcox said. “The investment from outside of Pueblo diminished greatly.”

    There was a decades-long recovery effort in Pueblo after the flood

    With some of its most prominent economic drivers devastated by the flood, Willcox said Pueblo’s economy seemed to become more one-di- mensional. “It’s not so much that Pueblo never recovered, it’s that it never recovered the growth rate that it had prior to the flood,” Willcox said. “When you look at the city’s population and the number of industries that were here prior to the flood … Pueblo was a manufacturing center it was really a diverse group of manufactories. “And then after the flood some of them never came back but some of them were no longer as prevalent in the market as they had been and eventually died out. So I think, anecdotally, we became more dependent on the steel mill because of that.” Jonathan Rees, a history professor at Colorado State University Pueblo who has researched the flood extensively, said one of the biggest impacts of the flood was the opportunity cost Pueblo paid in the years that fol- lowed. “There’s the cost of rebuilding the town, there is the economic damage caused by the lost business but there’s also a cost as to what doesn’t happen because Pueblo has to spend so much time rebuilding from the flood,” Rees said. “Different things could have happened to Pueblo but didn’t because we were too busy trying to prevent future disasters.” In the 1920s, the United States economy was seeing one of its strongest periods of prosperity. But while other communities were able to leverage those desirable economic factors for improvement, Pueblo was stuck rebuilding. “You’re investing in the future in the sense that you’re trying to prevent future floods, but you’re not growing businesses, you’re not helping businesses that might not have been able to reopen, you’re not doing the kinds of things that cities that aren’t effected by the flood are doing at the same time,” Rees said.

    “So when America is roaring, Pueblo isn’t.” After the Great Depression came the New Deal, and Rees said although Pueblo did benefit some from the New Deal, it likely would have had a greater effect on Pueblo and its growth if flood recovery efforts were not still taking place. As Pueblo struggled, its neighbor to the north, Colorado Springs, was put in a position to pros- per. “I would simply imagine that any program that came to Colorado Springs between 1921 and 1965, could have come to Pueblo under different circum- stances,” Rees said. “It’s safe to say that before World War II we were a much bigger place. We have certain advantages over Colorado Springs like our steady supply of water. However, we are engaged in rebuilding the entire downtown for a very long time.” Rees said that rebuilding Pueblo and redesigning its infrastructure was a necessary endeavor, but one that set Pueblo’s development back years, if not decades.

    “While we’re doing that to guarantee our future existence, other places are taking advantage of good economic times or government programs in bad economic times to help become bigger and more economically active than they had before,” Rees said.

    “And Pueblo was essentially holding in place for most of the 20th century.”

    View of a flood on Fountain Creek in Pueblo (Pueblo County), Colorado. Shows a washed out railroad bridge partly buried in mud and silt in the creek. A Denver and Rio Grande Western train is beside the creek in the distance. June 1921. Photo credit: Denver Public Library Special Collections

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Tracy Harmon):

    When it came to covering the flood of June 3, 1921, The Colorado Daily Chieftain, also known as The Pueblo Chieftain, went to extraordinary measures to keep the citizens of Pueblo informed as news of the devastation unfolded. It all started with a Saturday, June 4, 1921, special edition emblazoned with the all-caps headline, “FLOOD EXTRA.” The two-page special edition had no photographs and no advertisements. It even had empty space at the bottom of the second page, a testament to how hastily it was put together. A June 9 edition of the Chieftain reported, “it was utterly impossible” to print regular editions of the paper, “because of the failure of electric power and gas,” and the editor promised to republish the extra editions “when regular conditions are restored.” That first extra edition was chock full of stories about “The largest flood visiting Pueblo since Decoration Day 1894,” which “gutted the business and wholesale business districts of the city.” Initially, the paper announced, “More than a score of lives were reported lost when both the Missouri Pacific and the Denver and Rio Grande passenger trains were swept into the river near Nuckolls Packing company. Many others were reported dead.”

    View of flooded buildings, debris and flood water from the Arkansas River in Pueblo (Pueblo County), Colorado. Shows submerged commercial buildings, houses and telephone poles in Goat Hill (Tenderfoot Hill) in northeast Pueblo June 6, 1921. Photo credit: Denver Public Library Special Collections

    Puebloans faced rebuilding one-seventh of the city

    By June 12, the newspaper reported the city faced “the necessity of rebuilding about one-seventh of its present area. It is inconceivable that this great industrial city, so favorably located for commerce, should drop out of existence or shrink to the proportions of a village.” That same issue shared stories of large objects moved by the flood waters like a freight car forced sideways through a brick apartment house, another freight car carried a block and a half and a 3,000-pound safe that traveled across Union Avenue.

    There also was an instance of a body in a steel casket that traveled a distance of more than a mile. Tales of Puebloan’s generosity were shared as both known and unidentified bodies were laid to rest with flowers paid for by “warm sympathetic hearts. Pueblo’s undertakers and florists have bestowed the humane tribute in every case, whether high or low, rich or poor, black or white, known or unknown.” Official water depths were reported including the McCarthy block, at North Main and Union, where the water reached a depth of 12-feet-6 inches. The width of the flood was reported as one mile “through the center of the city’s business section, with losses totaling more than $3 million.” The city’s drinking water was finally declared safe to drink on June 12. One story reported that P.A. Payne of Pueblo, who had been arrested by Colorado Springs police on a bootlegging charge, was saved from certain death as “the flood sweat away every vestige of the house.” Another story reported the body of Missouri Pacific passenger train Engineer S.G. Evans was recovered 10 miles downriver and shortly afterwards, “the body of a two-day old baby was recovered in the same district.” By June 15, the newspaper looked to the future and urged, “The matter of making the Arkansas flood proof is the big subject now in hand. ‘Pueblo’s flood was not one of something breaking, accidental or unforeseen, but has been a real live danger of the past and is a remaining danger of the future unless checked,” one prominent businessman, who was unnamed, was quoted. The June 15 issue also had a story under the headline, “How the flood left the heart of Pueblo,” indicated that once the water subsided, the mud was “over 2 feet deep” and “workers prodded through the mud in search of victims buried in the slime.” The June 16 issue of the newspaper had a story about the brave dog “Casabianca” who stayed on a shed roof for three days even though the distance to the dry land was short. Other dogs even waded out to visit her, but she stayed put until her owner arrived and carried her to safety along with a bundle of clothes which she had apparently been guarding. By June 16, the newspaper also was reporting on damage downstream of Pueblo in La Junta.

    View of a small house that was carried by the flood waters of the Arkansas River and came to rest against the side of a brick garage in Pueblo, Colorado. The garage has damaged walls. Two men pose beside the garage. Ruts in the deep mud are near the buildings. Photo credit: Denver Public Library Special Collections

    From KOAA (Caitlin Sullivan):

    A high-risk zone, could this happen again?

    Meteorologically speaking, an event like this can and will happen again. The largest floods in state history generally happen along the front range, specifically along main rivers (Arkansas, Cache La Poudre, Big Thompson, South Platte, etc.).

    The north-south oriented Rockies create a barrier for wind flow, forcing air to rise and condense along the front range, creating rain and thunderstorms.

    During the June 1921 flood, a persistent easterly flow of warm and humid was funneled along the Arkansas River from wide-open Pueblo county into the sharper canyon in Fremont county. This led to 5 days of heavy rain totaling over 6 inches in Florence and Pueblo. This rain was most intense the night of June 3rd and the morning of June 4, where a cloudburst (extremely heavy burst of rain) led to the Arkansas river cresting at a whopping 24.66 feet.

    At its peak, the Arkansas river flow was at 103,000 cubic feet per second (cfs), where the levees were built for 40,000 cfs at the time.

    Pueblo levee Arkansas River.

    The main concern about future floods is whether infrastructure can withstand them. Pueblo was able to rebuilt just a few years after the flood and increased the city’s ability to withstand another flood of 1921.

    CDC releases #PFAS exposure assessment results — The #ColoradoSprings Independent

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

    From The Colorado Springs Independent (Heidi Beedle):

    The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) have released the initial results of exposure assessments conducted in communities near current or former military bases known to have had per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in their drinking water.

    Individuals who participated in the assessments provided blood and urine samples to CDC and ATSDR for analysis. The assessment focused on El Paso County near Peterson Air Force Base, in the Fountain Valley and Security-Widefield areas.

    The assessments measured the levels of three specific PFAS chemicals in 346 residents’ bodies: PFOS, PFHxS, and PFOA, and found levels higher than in the general U.S. population, as measured by National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). Most people in the United States have been exposed to PFAS and have PFAS in their blood…

    Results of the 2020 PFAS exposure assessment in El Paso County.
    Courtesy Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry

    While levels of PFOA and PFOS chemicals were only slightly higher than the general population, levels of PFHxS in El Paso County residents were higher than any other population surveyed, except the people who manufactured the chemicals in Alabama. “What we’ve been fighting for, for five years, is identifying how contaminated we are from the toxic firefighting foam, the PFHxS,” said Rosenbaum. “We are highly contaminated in El Paso County.”

    The most recent results from the CDC and ATSDR were presented alongside results from the 2018 and 2019 PFAS Aware study conducted by the Colorado School of Public Health, and showed a slight decrease in PFAS levels overall. “[PFAS Aware] did a 200 person blood study and then a final 50,” said Rosenbaum. “I was in the 200 and the final 50, and my levels dropped from 19 [micrograms per liter, μg/L] to 12 [μg/L]. You can see just how high we are from 2019, and it’s dropping a little by 2020, because as we’re not drinking this water, it’s not bio-accumulating in our system. What’s been in our system is slowly filtering out as we go to the bathroom.”

    FIBArk RunOff successful despite lower than normal water — The Mountain Mail

    Screen shot of The Mountain Mail website May 25, 2021.

    From The Mountain Mail (Brian McCabe):

    Middle and high school students from around Colorado competed May 15 and 16 in the 2021 FIBArk RunOff, a series of slalom and downriver races.

    “The weekend of racing was a huge success, although water levels were lower than normal,” Alli Gober, FIBArk river events coordinator, said. “It’s always exciting to see younger paddlers stepping into the competition mind-set. Some of these young paddlers may go on to race internationally in the future, and it all starts here.”

    Eye in the sky: How a drone service is able to help Southern #Colorado farmers — The #Pueblo Chieftain

    Photo credit: Barn Owl Drone Services

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Tracy Harmon):

    From helping farmers keep an eye on their crops to capturing video footage for business marketing, Barn Owl Drone Services is working to take flight in Southeastern Colorado.

    The business launched in August 2017 when Jaron Hinkley, his sister Sarah Hinkley and her husband, Brian Stafford, felt obligated to move “back home” to the La Junta area when their grandparents needed help due to medical issues…

    Barn Owl Drone Services launched its drone and robotic services for farmers with the first drone in the air during the growing season of 2018. A fleet of seven drones helps the company’s five employees monitor crops and plant conditions.

    On the robotics end the service uses “owl perches” which are artificial-intelligence supported weather stations, to detect insects and disease. The stations also can measure soil moisture and soil temperatures, to “help our farmers and to help reduce the use of resources like water,” Sarah said…

    With hemp farmers the company offers male plant detection and removal. Although the company focuses on farmers, other clients from gravel pits and landfills to feed lots can benefit by having the drones keep tabs on volumes and supplies.

    Unprecedented 21st century #drought risk in the American Southwest and Central Plains — ScienceAdvances

    Click here to read the article:

    Abstract
    In the Southwest and Central Plains of Western North America, climate change is expected to increase drought severity in the coming decades. These regions nevertheless experienced extended Medieval-era droughts that were more persistent than any historical event, providing crucial targets in the paleoclimate record for benchmarking the severity of future drought risks. We use an empirical drought reconstruction and three soil moisture metrics from 17 state-of-the-art general circulation models to show that these models project significantly drier conditions in the later half of the 21st century compared to the 20th century and earlier paleoclimatic intervals. This desiccation is consistent across most of the models and moisture balance variables, indicating a coherent and robust drying response to warming despite the diversity of models and metrics analyzed. Notably, future drought risk will likely exceed even the driest centuries of the Medieval Climate Anomaly (1100–1300 CE) in both moderate (RCP 4.5) and high (RCP 8.5) future emissions scenarios, leading to unprecedented drought conditions during the last millennium.

    INTRODUCTION
    Millennial-length hydroclimate reconstructions over Western North America (1–4) feature notable periods of extensive and persistent Medieval-era droughts. Such “megadrought” events exceeded the duration of any drought observed during the historical record and had profound impacts on regional societies and ecosystems (2, 5, 6). These past droughts illustrate the relatively narrow view of hydroclimate variability captured by the observational record, even as recent extreme events (7–9) highlighted concerns that global warming may be contributing to contemporary droughts (10, 11) and will amplify drought severity in the future (11–15). A comprehensive understanding of global warming and 21st century drought therefore requires placing projected hydroclimate trends within the context of drought variability over much longer time scales (16, 17). This would also allow us to establish the potential risk (that is, likelihood of occurrence) of future conditions matching or exceeding the severest droughts of the last millennium.

    Quantitatively comparing 21st century drought projections from general circulation models (GCMs) to the paleo-record is nevertheless a significant technical challenge. Most GCMs provide soil moisture diagnostics, but their land surface models often vary widely in terms of parameterizations and complexity (for example, soil layering and vegetation). There are few large-scale soil moisture measurements that can be easily compared to modeled soil moisture, and none for intervals longer than the satellite record. Instead, drought is typically monitored in the real world using offline models or indices that can be estimated from more widely measured data, such as temperature and precipitation.

    One common metric is the Palmer Drought Severity Index (PDSI) (18), widely used for drought monitoring and as a target variable for proxy-based reconstructions (1, 2). PDSI is a locally normalized index of soil moisture availability, calculated from the balance of moisture supply (precipitation) and demand (evapotranspiration). Because PDSI is normalized on the basis of local average moisture conditions, it can be used to compare variability and trends in drought across regions. Average moisture conditions (relative to a defined baseline) are denoted by PDSI = 0; negative PDSI values indicate drier than average conditions (droughts), and positive PDSI values indicate wetter than normal conditions (pluvials). PDSI is easily calculated from GCMs using variables from the atmosphere portion of the model (for example, precipitation, temperature, and humidity) and can be compared directly to observations. However, whereas recent work has demonstrated that PDSI is able to accurately reflect the surface moisture balance in GCMs (19), other studies have highlighted concerns that PDSI may overestimate 21st century drying because of its relatively simple soil moisture accounting and lack of direct CO2 effects that are expected to reduce evaporative losses (12, 20, 21). We circumvent these concerns by using a more physically based version of PDSI (13) (based on the Penman-Monteith potential evapotranspiration formulation) in conjunction with soil moisture from the GCMs to demonstrate robust drought responses to climate change in the Central Plains (105°W–92°W, 32°N–46°N) and the Southwest (125°W–105°W, 32°N–41°N) regions of Western North America.

    RESULTS
    We calculate summer season [June-July-August (JJA)] PDSI and integrated soil moisture from the surface to ~30-cm (SM-30cm) and ~2- to 3-m (SM-2m) depths from 17 GCMs (tables S1 and S2) in phase 5 of the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP5) database (22). We focus our analyses and presentation on the RCP 8.5 “business-as-usual” high emissions scenario, designed to yield an approximate top-of-atmosphere radiative imbalance of +8.5 W m−2 by 2100. We also conduct the same analyses for a more moderate emissions scenario (RCP 4.5).

    Over the calibration interval (1931–1990), the PDSI distributions from the models are statistically indistinguishable from the North American Drought Atlas (NADA) (two-sided Kolmogorov-Smirnov test, p ≥ 0.05), although there are some significant deviations in some models during other historical intervals. North American drought variability during the historical period in both models and observations is driven primarily by ocean-atmosphere teleconnections, internal variability in the climate system that is likely to not be either consistent across models or congruent in time between the observations and models, and so such disagreements are unsurprising. In the multimodel mean, all three moisture balance metrics show markedly consistent drying during the later half of the 21st century (2050–2099) (Fig. 1; see figs. S1 to S4 for individual models). Drying in the Southwest is more severe (RCP 8.5: PDSI = −2.31, SM-30cm = −2.08, SM-2m = −2.98) than that over the Central Plains (RCP 8.5: PDSI = −1.89, SM-30cm = −1.20, SM-2m = −1.17). In both regions, the consistent cross-model drying trends are driven primarily by the forced response to increased greenhouse gas concentrations (13), rather than by any fundamental shift in ocean-atmosphere dynamics [indeed, there is a wide disparity across models regarding the strength and fidelity of the simulated teleconnections over North America (23)]. In the Southwest, this forcing manifests as both a reduction in cold season precipitation (24) and an increase in potential evapotranspiration (that is, evaporative demand increases in a warmer atmosphere) (13, 25) acting in concert to reduce soil moisture. Even though cold season precipitation is actually expected to increase over parts of California in our Southwest region (24, 26), the increase in evaporative demand is still sufficient to drive a net reduction in soil moisture. Over the Central Plains, precipitation responses during the spring and summer seasons (the main seasons of moisture supply) are less consistent across models, and the drying is driven primarily by the increased evaporative demand. Indeed, this increase in potential evapotranspiration is one of the dominant drivers of global drought trends in the late 21st century, and previous work with the CMIP5 archive demonstrated that the increased evaporative demand is likely to be sufficient to overcome precipitation increases in many regions (13). In the more moderate emissions scenario (RCP 4.5), both the Southwest (RCP 4.5: PDSI = −1.49, SM-30cm = −1.63, SM-2m = −2.39) and Central Plains (RCP 4.5: PDSI = −1.21, SM-30cm = −0.89, SM-2m = −1.17) still experience significant, although more modest, drying into the future, as expected (fig. S5).

    Fig. 1 Top: Multimodel mean summer (JJA) PDSI and standardized soil moisture (SM-30cm and SM-2m) over North America for 2050–2099 from 17 CMIP5 model projections using the RCP 8.5 emissions scenario.
    SM-30cm and SM-2m are standardized to the same mean and variance as the model PDSI over the calibration interval fromthe associated historical scenario (1931–1990). Dashed boxes represent the regions of interest: the Central Plains (105°W–92°W, 32°N–46°N) and the Southwest (125°W–105°W, 32°N–41°N). Bottom: Regional average time series of the summer season moisture balance metrics from the NADA and CMIP5models. The observational NADA PDSI series (brown) is smoothed using a 50-year loess spline to emphasize the low-frequency variability in the paleo-record. Model time series (PDSI, SM-30cm, and SM-2m) are the multimodel means averaged across the 17 CMIP5models, and the gray shaded area is the multimodel interquartile range for model PDSI.

    In both regions, the model-derived PDSI closely tracks the two soil moisture metrics (figs. S6 and S7), correlating significantly for most models and model intervals (figs. S8 and S9). Over the historical simulation, average model correlations (Pearson’s r) between PDSI and SM-30cm are +0.86 and +0.85 for the Central Plains and Southwest, respectively. Correlations weaken very slightly for PDSI and SM-2m: +0.84 (Central Plains) and +0.83 (Southwest). The correlations remain strong into the 21st century, even as PDSI and the soil moisture variables occasionally diverge in terms of long-term trends. There is no evidence, however, for systematic differences between the PDSI and modeled soil moisture across the model ensemble. For example, whereas the PDSI trends are drier than the soil moisture condition over the Southwest in the ACCESS1-0 model, PDSI is actually less dry than the soil moisture in the MIROC-ESM and NorESM1-M simulations over the same region (fig. S7). These outlier observations, showing no consistent bias, in conjunction with the fact that the overall comparison between PDSI and modeled soil moisture is markedly consistent, provide mutually consistent support for the characterization of surface moisture balance by these metrics in the model projections.

    For estimates of observed drought variability over the last millennium (1000–2005), we use data from the NADA, a tree-ring based reconstruction of JJA PDSI. Comparisons between the NADA and model moisture are shown in the bottom panels of Fig. 1. In the NADA, both the Central Plains (Fig. 2) and Southwest (Fig. 3) are drier during the Medieval megadrought interval (1100–1300 CE) than either the Little Ice Age (1501–1849) or historical periods (1850–2005). For nearly all models, the 21st century projections under the RCP 8.5 scenario reveal dramatic shifts toward drier conditions. Most models (indicated with a red dot) are significantly drier (one-sided Kolmogorov-Smirnov test, p ≤ 0.05) in the latter part of the 21st century (2050–2099) than during their modeled historical intervals (1850–2005). Strikingly, shifts in projected drying are similarly significant in most models when measured against the driest and most extreme megadrought period of the NADA from 1100 to 1300 CE (gray dots). Results are similar for the more moderate RCP 4.5 emissions scenario (figs. S10 and S11), which still indicates widespread drying, albeit at a reduced magnitude for many models. Although there is some spread across the models and metrics, only two models project wetter conditions in RCP 8.5. In the Central Plains, SM-2m is wetter in ACCESS1-3, with little change in SM-30cm and slightly wetter conditions in PDSI. In the Southwest, CanESM2 projects markedly wetter SM-2m conditions; PDSI in the same model is slightly wetter, whereas SM-30cm is significantly drier.

    Fig. 2 Interquartile range of PDSI and soil moisture from the NADA and CMIP5 GCMs, calculated over various time intervals for the Central Plains.
    The groups of three stacked bars at the top of each column are from the NADA PDSI: 1100–1300 (the time of the Medieval-era megadroughts, brown), 1501–1849 (the Little Ice Age, blue), and 1850–2005 (the historical period, green). Purple and red bars are for the modeled historical period (1850–2005) and late 21st century (2050–2099) period, respectively. Red dots indicate model 21st century drought projections that are significantly drier than the model simulated historical periods. Gray dots indicate model 21st century drought projections that are significantly drier than the Medieval-era megadrought period in the NADA.

    When the RCP 8.5 multimodel ensemble is pooled together (Fig. 4), projected changes in the Central Plains and Southwest (2050–2099 CE) for all three moisture balance metrics are significantly drier compared to both the modern model interval (1850–2005 CE) and 1100–1300 CE in the NADA (one-sided Kolmogorov-Smirnov test, p ≤ 0.05). In the case of SM-2m in the Southwest, the density function is somewhat flattened, with an elongated right (wet) tail. This distortion arises from the disproportionate contribution to the density function from the wetting in the five CanESM2 ensemble members. Even with this contribution, however, the SM-2m drying in the multimodel ensemble is still significant. Results are nearly identical for the pooled RCP 4.5 multimodel ensemble (fig. S12), which still indicates a significantly drier late 21st century compared to either the historical interval or Medieval megadrought period.

    Fig. 3 Same as Fig. 2, but for the Southwest.
    Fig. 4 Kernel density functions of PDSI, SM-30cm, and SM-2m for the Central Plains and Southwest, calculated from the NADA and the GCMs. The NADA distribution (brown shading) is from 1100–1300 CE, the timing of the medieval megadroughts.
    Blue lines represent model distributions calculated from all years from all models pooled over the historical scenario (1850–2005 CE). Red lines are for all model years pooled from the RCP 8.5 scenario (2050–2099 CE).

    With this shift in the full hydroclimate distribution, the risk of decadal or multidecadal drought occurrences increases substantially. We calculated the risk (17) of decadal or multidecadal drought occurrences for two periods in our multimodel ensemble: 1950–2000 and 2050–2099 (Fig. 5). During the historical period, the risk of a multidecadal megadrought is quite small: <12% for both regions and all moisture metrics. Under RCP 8.5, however, there is ≥80% chance of a multidecadal drought during 2050–2099 for PDSI and SM-30cm in the Central Plains and for all three moisture metrics in the Southwest. Drought risk is reduced slightly in RCP 4.5 (fig. S13), with largest reductions in multidecadal drought risk over the Central Plains. Ultimately, the consistency of our results suggests an exceptionally high risk of a multidecadal megadrought occurring over the Central Plains and Southwest regions during the late 21st century, a level of aridity exceeding even the persistent megadroughts that characterized the Medieval era.

    Fig. 5 Risk (percent chance of occurrence) of decadal (11-year) andmultidecadal (35-year) drought, calculated from the multimodel ensemble for PDSI, SM-30cm, and SM-2m.
    Risk calculations are conducted for two separate model intervals: 1950–2000 (historical scenario) and 2050–2099 (RCP 8.5). Results for the Central Plains are in the top row, and those for the Southwest are in the bottom row.

    DISCUSSION
    Within the body of literature investigating North American hydroclimate, analyses of drought variability in the historical and paleoclimate records are often separate from discussions of global warming–induced changes in future hydroclimate. This disconnection has traditionally made it difficult to place future drought projections within the context of observed and reconstructed natural hydroclimate variability. Here, we have demonstrated that the mean state of drought in the late 21st century over the Central Plains and Southwest will likely exceed even the most severe megadrought periods of the Medieval era in both high and moderate future emissions scenarios, representing an unprecedented fundamental climate shift with respect to the last millennium. Notably, the drying in our assessment is robust across models and moisture balance metrics. Our analysis thus contrasts sharply with the recent emphasis on uncertainty about drought projections for these regions (21, 27), including the most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change assessment report (28).

    Our results point to a remarkably drier future that falls far outside the contemporary experience of natural and human systems in Western North America, conditions that may present a substantial challenge to adaptation. Human populations in this region, and their associated water resources demands, have been increasing rapidly in recent decades, and these trends are expected to continue for years to come (29). Future droughts will occur in a significantly warmer world with higher temperatures than recent historical events, conditions that are likely to be a major added stress on both natural ecosystems (30) and agriculture (31). And, perhaps most importantly for adaptation, recent years have witnessed the widespread depletion of nonrenewable groundwater reservoirs (32, 33), resources that have allowed people to mitigate the impacts of naturally occurring droughts. In some cases, these losses have even exceeded the capacity of Lake Mead and Lake Powell, the two major surface reservoirs in the region (34, 35). Combined with the likelihood of a much drier future and increased demand, the loss of groundwater and higher temperatures will likely exacerbate the impacts of future droughts, presenting a major adaptation challenge for managing ecological and anthropogenic water needs in the region.

    MATERIALS AND METHODS
    Estimates of drought variability over the historical period and the last millennium used the latest version of the NADA (1), a tree ring–based reconstruction of summer season (JJA) PDSI. All statistics were based on regional PDSI averages over the Central Plains (105°W–92°W, 32°N–46°N) and the Southwest (125°W–105°W, 32°N–41°N). We restricted our analysis to 1000–2005 CE; before 1000 CE, the quality of the reconstruction in these regions declines.

    The 21st century drought projections used output from GCM simulations in the CMIP5 database (22) (table S1). All models represent one or more continuous ensemble members from the historical (1850–2005 CE) and RCP 4.5 (15 models available) and 8.5 (17 models available) emissions scenarios (2006–2099 CE). We used the same methodology as in (13) to calculate model PDSI for the full interval (1850–2099 CE), using the Penman-Monteith formulation of potential evapotranspiration. The baseline period for calibrating and standardizing the model PDSI anomalies was 1931–1990 CE, the same baseline period as the NADA PDSI. Negative model PDSI values therefore indicate drier conditions than the average for 1931–1990.

    To augment the model PDSI calculations and comparisons with observed drought variability in the NADA, we also calculated standardized soil moisture metrics from the GCMs for two depths: ~30 cm (SM-30cm) and ~2 to 3 m (SM-2m) (table S2). For these soil moisture metrics, the total soil moisture from the surface was integrated to these depths and averaged over JJA. At each grid cell, we then standardized SM-30cm and SM-2m to match the same mean and interannual SD for the model PDSI over 1931–1990. This allows for direct comparison of variability and trends between model PDSI and model soil moisture and between the model metrics (PDSI, SM-30cm, and SM-2m) and the NADA (PDSI) while still independently preserving any low-frequency variability or trends in the soil moisture that may be distinct from the PDSI calculation. The soil moisture standardization does not impose any artificial constraints that would force the three metrics to agree in terms of variability or future trends, allowing SM-30cm and SM-2m to be used as indicators of drought largely independent of PDSI.

    Risk of decadal and multidecadal megadrought occurrence in the multimodel ensemble is estimated from 1000 Monte Carlo realizations of each moisture balance metric (PDSI, SM-30cm, and SM-2m), as in (17). This method entails estimating the mean and SD of a given drought index (for example, PDSI or soil moisture) over a reference period (1901–2000), then subtracting that mean and SD from the full record (1850–2100) to produce a modified z score. The differences between the reference mean and SD are then used to conduct (white noise) Monte Carlo simulations of the future (2050–2100) to emulate the statistics of that era. The fraction of Monte Carlo realizations exhibiting a decadal or multidecadal drought are then calculated from each Monte Carlo simulation of each experiment in both regions considered here. Finally, these risks from each model are averaged together to yield the overall risk estimates reported here. Additional details on the methodology can be found in (17).

    UPPLEMENTARY MATERIALS
    Supplementary material for this article is available at http://advances.sciencemag.org/cgi/ content/full/1/1/e1400082/DC1

    Fig. S1. For the individual models, ensemble mean soil moisture balance (PDSI, SM-30cm, and SM-2m) for 2050–2099: ACCESS1.0, ACCESS1.3, BCC-CSM1.1, and CanESM2.

    Fig. S2. Same as fig. S1, but for CCSM4, CESM1-BGC, CESM-CAM5, and CNRM-CM5.

    Fig. S3. Same as fig. S1, but for GFDL-CM3, GFDL-ESM2G, GFDL-ESM2M, and GISS-E2-R.

    Fig. S4. Same as fig. S1, but for INMCM4.0,MIROC-ESM, MIROC-ESM-CHEM, NorESM1-M, and NorESM1-ME models.

    Fig. S5. Same as Fig. 1, but for the RCP 4.5 scenario.

    Fig. S6. Regional average moisture balance time series (historical + RCP 8.5) from the first ensemble member of each model over the Central Plains.

    Fig. S7. Same as fig. S6, but for the Southwest.

    Fig. S8. Pearson’s correlation coefficients for three time intervals from the models over the Central Plains: PDSI versus SM-30cm, PDSI versus SM-2m, and SM-30cm versus SM-2m.

    Fig. S9. Same as fig. S8, but for the Southwest.

    Fig. S10. Same as Fig. 2, but for the RCP 4.5 scenario.

    Fig. S11. Same as Fig. 3, but for the RCP 4.5 scenario.

    Fig. S12. Same as Fig. 4, but for the RCP 4.5 scenario.

    Fig. S13. Same as Fig. 5, but for the RCP 4.5 scenario.

    Table S1. Continuous model ensembles from the CMIP5 experiments (1850–2099, historical + RCP8.5 scenario) used in this analysis, including the modeling center or group that supplied the output, the number of ensemble members, and the approximate spatial resolution.

    Table S2. The number of soil layers integrated for our CMIP5 soil moisture metrics (SM-30cm and SM-2m), and the approximate depth of the bottom soil layer.

    This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial license, which permits use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, so long as the resultant use is not for commercial advantage and provided the original work is properly cited.

    The Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District endorses Fremont County #restoration project — Heart of the Rockies Radio

    Van Norman Project graphic credit: River Science via Heart of the Rockies Radio

    From Heart of the Rockies Radio (Joe Stone):

    Members of the Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District board of directors agreed to support a stream restoration project for a 2-mile section of Oak Creek on the Van Norman Ranch near Cañon City.

    Luke Javernick, executive director of Cañon City-based River Science, provided an overview of the project at the District’s May board meeting.

    As a demonstration project, the endeavor promises to provide important information to guide future restoration efforts, and since the land lies within the Upper Ark District, directors and staff agreed on the importance of being involved to better understand the risk to water rights as well as the benefits.

    Javernick said the benefits of “process-based stream restoration” include wildfire suppression and habitat improvements in the stream as well as in the riparian zone. “But the real impact is restoring hydrologic connectivity between the surface water and groundwater.”

    Process-based restoration involves hand-building stream features that mimic natural structures, he said. “We’re mimicking nature, encouraging natural river processes for beneficial restoration,” and those structures can be modified or removed to accommodate the dynamics of the stream. “It takes time … five to 10 years.”

    From the District’s perspective, one of the most important questions the project will attempt to answer is how stream restoration effects flows and, therefore, water rights.

    “If you’re slowing the water down and allowing it to soak into the aquifer, when do you get that equilibrium?” Javernick asked. “We need UAWCD support because you’re the experts in water rights administration. … We need your help in navigating what types of creative solutions might be available.”

    The Van Normans have an Oak Creek water right. However, the Town of Rockvale has the senior water right on Oak Creek, Javernick said, and “the Town is onboard.”

    The Colorado Water Conservation Board has awarded a $99,900 grant to the Van Norman Project, and Javernick indicated that the Phase I project budget includes $10,000 for the Upper Ark District. “We’re asking for a $10,000 (in-kind) match.”

    Family faces tough decision as #water resources tap out in Southern #Colorado — KRDO

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

    From KRDO (Lauren Barnas):

    Jessica Woelfel’s family is weighing whether or not they can continue living in their home of six years in Midway, south of Fountain, as affordable water options dry up.

    “It’s forcing us out of our home,” said Woelfel. “We’re going to have to move and we own this place. We’re kind of down to the last resort here.”

    Because her family doesn’t live in Fountain City limits, they can’t receive Fountain City water. Because they don’t live in Pueblo, they can’t get a key for access to Pueblo water. The family says Wigwam utilities quoted them $50,000 for a new water tap and pipes to their home. Unable to afford that hefty bill, her household pays Koury Transport to truck in water from the Pueblo area at a rate of $85 per 1,000 gallons…

    Owner of Koury Transport, Grant Koury, says he does everything he can to keep costs low. But the business model factors in upfront water costs, rising fuel prices, heavy equipment, insurance, delivery, and labor fees.

    Koury told 13 Investigates the company services 20 to 40 Midway-area homes twice a week. Each roundtrip takes about five hours. Koury says his business also faces limited water supply coupled with increasing demand…

    Meanwhile, the Fountain Utilities Department is evaluating how it can accommodate thousands of new taps amid rapid development plans…

    The city of Fountain currently provides water to 8,700 taps. A recent study revealed a way to improve the water delivery system. City leaders are implementing a plan that would increase the number of available water taps in Fountain by 1,000 to 1,200…

    The Fountain Utilities Department calculated the demand for new water taps across all proposed development projects. It’s more than three times the current supply.

    #Runoff news (May 16, 2021): Commercial rafters unsure how much Blue River will run next month — The Summit Daily

    From The Summit Daily (Antonio Olivero):

    Kevin Foley, president of Performance Tours Rafting, said Friday, May 14, that recent reports he has received from Denver Water indicate the organization is likely to prioritize filling the Dillon Reservoir.

    “What we are being told is, right now, the reservoir is low and snowpack is below average, so their model this year going to be more fill and spill,” Foley said.

    Each spring and summer, Denver Water determines how much water it will release into the Blue River north of the Dillon Dam based on how much water is needed in different locations throughout an intricate network of water systems and reservoirs that service water users.

    Foley said current conditions and a low water level in Dillon Reservoir point to Denver Water filling the reservoir with any new snow or rain in the coming weeks, rather than diverting flows downstream into the Blue River.

    Foley said he will find out more from Denver Water at a meeting next week, but as of now, he said it’s unlikely there will be an extended season on the Blue…

    The Class 2 to 3 Blue River stretch, which usually takes just over an hour for commercial trips, runs 5 to 6 miles from a U.S. Forest Service put-in at Hammer Bridge through Boulder Canyon down to a take-out at Columbine Landing. Foley said Performance Tours and KODI Rafting’s cutoff for the stretch is usually 500 cfs, signaling when they can start and stop. He said the best rafting on the Blue is at 1,000 cfs.

    The commercial rafting season on the Blue is notoriously fickle, sometimes very short at just a couple of weeks in dry years to up to two months of rafting in wet seasons…

    Foley said drainages down on the Arkansas River near Buena Vista are looking much better than the Blue. He credited the voluntary flow management program on the Arkansas that enables commercial companies to raft on good, augmented flows deep into summer. Trips out of Buena Vista have been operating for some commercial companies since May 1.

    “America the Beautiful” initiative would conserve 30 percent of U.S. lands and waters by 2030 — The Ark Valley Voice

    Salida Steam Plant Arkansas River

    From The Ark Valley Voice (Jan Wondra):

    Thursday morning, Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet released a statement welcoming a new federal initiative that supports a Senate effort he began in 2019. The Biden Administration’s “America the Beautiful” initiative is focused on achieving the conservation goal of conserving 30 percent of U.S. lands and waters by 2030 through locally-led and voluntary efforts.

    “Land and water conservation is a critical part of our effort to tackle the climate crisis. This report is a strong start and lays out a vision that aligns with the kind of conservation efforts we know to be successful in Colorado — efforts that take a locally led, collaborative, and inclusive approach and bring into the fold the private landowners, farmers, and ranchers who are already stewards of our natural resources. It’s the same approach that brought together the ranchers, hunters, anglers, and local elected leaders who worked for over a decade to draft the CORE Act.”

    Bennet went on to say he was glad to see the administration’s commitment to empowering local communities to drive the process.

    Here in Chaffee County, as in many other western counties and states, local conservation efforts have often been the driving force behind conservation efforts. In the past four years, they have also been the voice of local opposition to the opening of public lands to commercial development, and the marring of pristine public land and natural resources.

    Water treatment plants that will remove ‘forever chemicals’ from El Paso County water nearing completion — The #ColoradoSprings Gazette #PFAS

    From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Mary Shinn):

    Three new water treatment plants in Fountain, Security and Widefield needed to remove toxic “forever chemicals” from the groundwater, carrying a heavy price tag of $41 million, are nearing completion.

    The plant in Widefield was finished in February, the Security plant is expected to be operational this week and the Fountain plant is expected to be complete in June, following a pause in construction that lasted more than a month, officials with each district said.

    Construction of the Fountain plant was halted because the supplier of critical piping for the plant could not provide it, said Dan Blankenship, utilities director for Fountain, adding that the supplier’s work was delayed by the coronavirus. In a written statement the Air Force Civil Engineer Center said work on the $7 million plant in Fountain is expected to resume May 3. The other two plants are expected to cost a combined $34 million, the statement said.

    The Air Force is paying for the water treatment plants that will remove per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) from groundwater because investigations showed the contamination came from Peterson Air Force Base, where firefighters used a foam rich in one of those compounds for decades to put out aircraft fires…

    Widefield aquifer via the Colorado Water Institute.

    Water providers stopped using the groundwater after the contamination was discovered in 2015 and 2016, and studies are still ongoing to learn about the long-term health consequences of the contamination. The compounds’ ability to stay in the body led to their nickname “forever chemicals.”

    Encouraging results from one of the studies conducted by the Colorado School of Public Health and Colorado School of Mines showed that the amount of chemicals in blood samples taken from 53 exposed residents dropped from 2018 to 2019, according to a presentation of results. The median level of the chemical most closely associated with firefighting foam dropped 50% in the participants, results showed…

    The new treatment plants are meant to protect the public from additional exposure to the chemicals and allow the districts in some cases to return to using a key water source.

    In Security, the new plant was tested in December, and water samples showed it was removing problematic chemicals down to undetectable levels, said Roy Heald, general manager of the Security Water and Sanitation Districts.

    #COVID19’s impact on Southern #Colorado rafting was rough, but not as bad as expected — The #Pueblo Chieftan

    Recreational vehicle: Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Tracy Harmon):

    It’s hard to imagine, but for some rafting company owners, COVID concerns did not decimate business last summer. In his 10 years at the helm of Rocky Mountain Outdoor Center, owner Brandon Slate has never been as busy as he was last summer despite the global pandemic.

    “Last year (in the spring) phones were not ringing at all and we ended up having the busiest season since I’ve been running the company,” Slate said. “It was crazy.”

    Andy Neinas, Echo Canyon River Expeditions owner, said he is ready to put the challenging year of 2020 behind him and focus on the upcoming summer season. It was the restaurant portion of his business and the high costs of transporting customers to the river that hurt his bottom line…

    According to the Colorado River Outfitters Association’s annual report, the late start to the rafting season was compounded by the health regulations which forced rafting companies to run at partial capacities…

    “Reduced rafting participation is reflected in the 2020 economic impact on the state’s economy,” the report reads. “Due to high unemployment, the downturn in travel and reduced discretionary spending, this report reflects the significant impacts our industry encountered.

    “However, outfitters displayed resiliency and adaptability in an unprecedented environment.”

    Overall number of rafters taking to Colorado waterways totaled 430,175 last summer, a reduction of 112,230 customers or a nearly 21% decline. On the Arkansas River, the impact was not as stark.

    There were 182,005 rafting clients boating the Arkansas in 2020, down just 8,241 customers or 4.3% less when compared to 190,246 rafters in 2019.

    The statewide economic impact for commercial rafting in 2020 was $148. 7 million, compared to a 2019 impact of $184.9 million. Although there was a $26.2 million difference, the numbers were “much more robust than anticipated,” according to the report.

    In the Arkansas River Valley, rafting brought $24.5 million in direct expenditures to rafting companies in 2020, down just $1.3 million from 2019’s $25.8 million. All totaled, the economic impact of rafting — when other expenditures such as lodging, restaurant, dining and gasoline sales are figured in — was $62.9 million to the area in 2020, down $3.1 million for 2019.

    #Drought and #snowpack: Recent cold and snow are just what April needs — The Ark Valley Voice

    From The Ark Valley Voice (Tara Flanagan):

    The truth is, cold and wet weather this time of year can buy some time for the snowpack, which began to recede earlier this month as the weather warmed. That’s fairly normal, albeit a tad on the early side. The question is, how fast it will melt off and how much of that mountain water will go where we need it most?

    The easy answer, perhaps another snappy comeback, is that nobody knows for certain at this point. But after a 2020 that saw record wildfires in the state, a no-show for the mountain monsoons, this year parched soils will almost certainly suck up runoff as it travels toward waterways. In a best-case scenario, Chaffee County needs a cool spring, regular precipitation and not a lot of wind.

    If it’s warm, dry, sunny, and windy, as was the case in early April, that’s another situation. “When you put all four of those together, that’s when you’re really losing snow,” said Chaffee County Commissioner Greg Felt. He’s a longtime river outfitter who sits on numerous water-related commissions, including the Colorado Water Conservation Board, and was recently appointed to the board of directors for the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservation District.

    Felt said Chaffee County is looking relatively good in terms of municipal water supplies and assets coming into the Arkansas River for the summer season. That includes the significant supply from the Fry-Ark Project, which imports an average of 58,000 acre feet from the headwaters of the Fryingpan River to the Arkansas Basin. Waters from Fry-Ark get used for agriculture, well augmentation, and municipalities, as well as fisheries and meeting recreation goals in the Arkansas River Voluntary Flow Management Program. That program aims to keep minimum boating flows of 700 cubic feet per second(cfs) at the Wellsville Gauge each year between July 1 and Aug. 15.

    Snowpack doesn’t guarantee stream flow, according to Felt. There’s the matter of soil condition and how much water it draws, as well as sublimation, where the snow is lost into warm, windy air.

    So the past week’s cold and wet weather has been a blessing in that regard.

    The Arkansas River Basin snowpack on April 1 was measuring at 105 percent of median, and to our south, the Upper Rio Grande was at 110 percent. To the west, the Gunnison River Basin lags at 89 percent of normal and has yet to stage a comeback.

    The Front Range was certainly feeling less wrung-out after the record snowstorms in mid-March. The month came in as the second wettest March since 1872 and it toned down the U.S. Drought Monitor’s sea of red that depicted extreme drought in eastern Colorado. At the beginning of March, 99 percent of Colorado was in moderate drought or worse, with 56 percent in the extreme category.

    Colorado Drought Monitor April 20, 2021.

    As of April 15, however, 92 percent of Colorado remained in a moderate drought, and the extreme drought areas had scaled back to 32 percent. So the precipitation helped. The Drought Monitor is updated on Thursdays, so it’s too soon to say if the recent snow in the high country has changed the hot colors on the map.

    It does appear that the precipitation and cold weather have boosted the snowpack for now. In the Arkansas River Basin, for example, snowpack was measuring at 77 percent of median on April 13, but was up to 85 percent April 20.

    May Ranch receives #Colorado Leopold #Conservation Award — Sand County Foundation

    Photo credit: May Ranch via The Conservation Fund

    Here’s the release from the Sand County Foundation:

    The May Ranch of Lamar has been selected as the recipient of the 2021 Colorado Leopold Conservation Award®.

    Photo credit: May Ranch via The Conservation Fund

    The May Ranch is owned and operated by the Dallas and Brenda May family of Prowers County. The conservation practices that the Mays have implemented on their cattle ranch have improved the wildlife habitat, water quality and grass and soil health.

    The award, given in honor of renowned conservationist Aldo Leopold, recognizes ranchers, farmers, and forestland owners who inspire others with their voluntary conservation efforts on private, working lands.

    The Mays will be presented with the award on Monday, June 21 at the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association’s 2021 Annual Convention held at the Double Tree by Hilton in Grand Junction.

    In Colorado the award is presented annually by Sand County Foundation, American Farmland Trust, Colorado Cattlemen’s Association, Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust, Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, and USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service.

    “The 2021 Leopold Conservation Award nominees and applicants showcased the diversity of agriculture in Colorado and the immense dedication farming and ranching families have to the lands they steward, their communities, and their families,” said Erik Glenn, Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust Executive Director. “This year’s applicants featured an impressive array of families and operations from around the state. CCALT is proud of this year’s recipient the May Ranch and the entire May family.”

    “Colorado farming and ranching families proudly produce the food that feeds the world and provide invaluable benefits to their communities and the environment. These contributions, in addition to outstanding stewardship practices and conservation achievements, are exemplified by all the Leopold Conservation Award applicants,” said Janie VanWinkle, Colorado Cattlemen’s Association President. “CCA warmly extends its congratulations to the May family on their well-deserved recognition, and being leaders in Colorado’s conservation and ranching industry.”

    “Recipients of this award are real life examples of conservation-minded agriculture,” said Kevin McAleese, Sand County Foundation President and Chief Executive Officer. “These hard-working families are essential to our environment, food system and rural economy.”

    “As the national sponsor for Sand County Foundation’s Leopold Conservation Award, American Farmland Trust celebrates the hard work and dedication of the Colorado recipient,” said John Piotti, AFT president and CEO. “At AFT we believe that conservation in agriculture requires a focus on the land, the practices and the people and this award recognizes the integral role of all three.”

    Among the many outstanding landowners nominated for the award were finalists: Fetcher Ranch of Clark in Routt County, and LK Ranch of Meeker in Rio Blanco County.

    The Leopold Conservation Award in Colorado is made possible thanks to the generous contributions from American Farmland Trust, Colorado Cattlemen’s Association, Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust, Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, Sand County Foundation, Stanko Ranch, Gates Family Foundation, American AgCredit, Colorado Department of Agriculture, The Bird Conservancy of the Rockies, The Nature Conservancy in Colorado, and McDonald’s.

    Sand County Foundation presents the Leopold Conservation Award to landowners in 22 states for extraordinary achievement in voluntary conservation.

    For more information on the award, visit http://www.leopoldconservationaward.org.

    ABOUT MAY RANCH

    “We understand that our ranch is not just a collection of land, plants, cattle, and wildlife,” says Dallas May, “but it is a community.”

    Conserving that community in a sustainable way is a goal shared by Dallas and his wife Brenda, and the families of their grown children: Holly, Riley and Haley.

    Intense pressures to develop native grasslands cannot compete with the family’s desire to protect their land’s biodiversity. The Mays have partnered with wildlife and conservation organizations that share their land ethic. Their collaborations have improved water quality and quantity by restoring streams, wetlands, and eight playas. Managed grazing on grasslands, installation of wildlife-friendly fencing, native tree plantings, and expanded watering locations have produced a model of how livestock and wildlife can thrive together.

    The wetlands on May Ranch provide an oasis for migratory birds. Beef from their grass-fed cattle is marketed with a “Raised on Bird Friendly Land” label as part of the Audubon Society’s Conservation Ranching Program. Forty years of selective breeding of registered Limousin cattle has produced cattle with traits complimentary to grasslands and a semi-arid climate. Audubon Society guidelines track the ranch’s environmental sustainability, and health, welfare and feeding of the cattle. It’s just one way the Mays use third-party verifications to measure and manage conservation success.

    Their property is monitored for rangeland health as part of an innovative carbon credit offset program that assigns a fair market value for sequestering carbon in the soil of grazing lands. May Ranch has hosted surveys of bird and botanical species, including when the Denver Botanical Gardens’ floristics team identified more than 90 plant species never documented in Prowers County. A conservation easement held by the Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust ensures the operation will never lose its wildlife habitat and conservation values. Off the ranch, Dallas serves on a variety of community, water, and conservation committees and boards, including the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission.

    Prior to 1994 the May’s cropland was irrigated entirely by flood irrigation. Since then, irrigation sprinklers have vastly improved their water efficiency, allowing them to raise more crops with less water. The Mays purchase composted manure from area dairy farms as fertilizer to grow corn and alfalfa that is sold as feed for the dairies. Following the corn harvest, turnips, field radishes, and winter rye are planted as cover crops to benefit the soil.

    Conservation’s impact on the May Ranch is seen in ways large and small. There’s the seven miles of Big Sandy Creek that runs through the ranch. While this tributary of the Arkansas River has been reduced to pools of water and remnant patches of wetland elsewhere, its entire reach across the ranch contains surface water and healthy wetlands. Then there’s what a botanical survey discovered. The Wright’s false willow is the host plant on which painted grasshopper nymphs can feed.

    “Even though it seems disproportionate to compare grasshopper nymphs and the small area they inhabit to miles of wetland and riparian areas and all of the associated species in that large landscape,” Dallas May said, “both contribute significantly to the diversity needed for a healthy and thriving ecosystem.”

    Whether it is the ecosystem, community, or ranch, it’s in good hands with the May family.

    # # #

    LEOPOLD CONSERVATION AWARD PROGRAM

    The Leopold Conservation Award is a competitive award that recognizes landowner achievement in voluntary conservation. Sand County Foundation, and national sponsor American Farmland Trust, present the award in California, Colorado, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Wisconsin, and in New England (Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont). http://www.leopoldconservationaward.org

    Directors Reappointed to Southeastern District Board

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

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

    Five Directors were reappointed to the Board of Directors of the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, and were sworn in on Thursday, April 15, 2021.

    Reappointed are: Seth Clayton, Executive Director of Pueblo Water, representing Pueblo County, and Secretary of the Board; Andrew Colosimo, Government Affairs Manager for Colorado Springs Utilities, representing El Paso County; Greg Felt, Chaffee County Commissioner and a member of the Colorado Water Conservation Board; Carl McClure, a Crowley County farmer; and Howard “Bub” Miller, an Otero County farmer and rancher.

    The Southeastern District is the state agency responsible for the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project, which is operated by the Bureau of Reclamation. The Fry-Ark Project includes Pueblo Reservoir, Twin Lakes, Turquoise Reservoir, Mount Elbert Forebay and Power Plant at Twin Lakes, Ruedi Reservoir, a West Slope Collection System, and the Boustead Tunnel.

    The Fry-Ark Project is designed to import 69,200 acre-feet annually for use by cities and farms in the Arkansas River basin from the Fryingpan River watershed near Basalt. Fry-Ark Operating Principles list environmental conditions that must be met when water is diverted.

    The District also operates the James W. Broderick Hydropower Plant at Pueblo Dam, which was completed in 2019 under a Lease of Power Privilege with Reclamation.

    The District is working with Reclamation to build the Arkansas Valley Conduit, a pipeline that will deliver a clean source of drinking water to 50,000 people in 40 communities east of Pueblo.

    The District includes parts of nine counties, and has 15 directors who are appointed to 4-year terms by a panel of District Court judges.

    Other directors of the Board are: President Bill Long, Bent County; Vice-President Curtis Mitchell, El Paso County; Treasurer Ann Nichols, El Paso County; Pat Edelmann and Mark Pifher, El Paso County; Patrick Garcia and Alan Hamel, Pueblo County; Tom Goodwin, Fremont County; Kevin Karney, at-large; and Dallas May, Prowers and Kiowa Counties.

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

    Here’s the release from the Environmental Protection Agency:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Colorado Drought Monitor March 30, 2021.

    From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Mary Shinn):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    From The Kiowa County Press (Chris Sorensen):

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

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

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

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

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

    Colorado Drought Monitor March 23, 2021.

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

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

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

    Colorado Drought Monitor March 16, 2021.

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

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

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

    From Aspen Journalism (Heather Sackett):

    OK is first step toward dam and reservoir on Homestake Creek

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Whitney Reservoir

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

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

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

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

    Eagle River MOU

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    From The Aurora Sentinel (Grand Stringer):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    From The Prowers Journal (Russ Baldwin):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Why monitor the geomorphology of Fountain Creek?

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

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

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

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

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

    Check out interactive maps of Fountain Creek!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Mary Shinn):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Mary Shinn):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    […]

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

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

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

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

    Colorado Springs Collection System via Colorado College.

    From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Mary Shinn):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Click here for all the inside skinny and register:

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

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

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

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

    Presented in partnership by Water Education Colorado and Keep It Colorado

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

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

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

    From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Debbie Kelley):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Widefield aquifer via the Colorado Water Institute.

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

    Revenue dried up along with the plants…

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

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

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

    But the farm is poised to become bountiful once again.

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

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

    Southern Delivery System map via Colorado Springs Utilities

    From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Mary Shinn):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Press Release: Unbottle and Protect Chaffee County Water

    Graphic via Unbottle and Protect Chaffee County Water

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Eads Board of Trustees meeting recap — The Kiowa County Press

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

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

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

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

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

    Artesian well Dutton Ranch, Alamosa 1909 via the Crestone Eagle

    From The Valley Courier (Patrick Shea):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Jim Yahn: Photo by Havey Productions via TheDenverChannel.com

    From The Sterling Journal-Advocate (Jeff Rice):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Pueblo photo via Sangres.com

    From KOAA (Samantha Alexander):

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

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

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

    Construction on the drops would begin sometime next year.

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

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

    From Aspen Journalism (Heather Sackett):

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

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

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

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

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

    Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer’s office

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Augmentation plans

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Cache la Poudre River. Photo credit: Allen Best

    From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

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

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

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

    Jeff Lukas via the Western Water Assessment.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Arkansas River Basin via The Encyclopedia of Earth

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

    It is, he says, a matter of balance.

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

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

    Colorado Drought Monitor January 19, 2021.

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Heather Willard):

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

    The dry weather spells bad news for the continuing drought.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    From Water Education Colorado (Jerd Smith):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Leadville

    From The Leadville Herald-Democrat (Sean Summers):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    […]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    ‘A Pool Within the Pool’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    […]

    Flipping Water

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

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

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

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

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

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

    The Enron Fear

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    From Heart of the Rockies Radio (Joe Stone):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Mary Shinn):

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

    US Drought Monitor December 8, 2020.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Here’s the release from the Environmental Protection AgencyK:

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

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

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

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

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

    Background

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

    Highlighted Action: Drinking Water

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

    Highlighted Action: Cleanup

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

    Highlighted Action: Monitoring

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

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

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

    Highlighted Action: Technical Assistance

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

    Highlighted Action: Enforcement

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

    Highlighted Action: Grants and Funding

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

    Highlighted Action: Risk Communications

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

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