@CSUtilities may offer water to outlying communities in El Paso County

The new north outlet works at Pueblo Dam — Photo/MWH Global

From The Colorado Springs Independent (Pam Zubeck):

Should the city be a good neighbor and share its water with those who don’t live within its boundaries?

Yes, says the Colorado Springs Utilities Policy Advisory Committee, which after a year of study has formed draft recommendations that call for removing barriers for bedroom communities to hook up to city water and wastewater systems. The recommendations — due for delivery to the Utilities Board, composed of City Council members, on March 21 — would lower the cost of hookups by up to 26 percent while opening the door to long-term agreements.

So what’s in it for city ratepayers? Plenty, according to Dave Grossman, Utilities strategic planning and government supervisor. New sales could help pay off debt for the $825 million Southern Delivery System (SDS) pipeline from Pueblo Reservoir, erase headlines that give the city a bad name and help outside water providers’ groundwater supplies last longer…

Still, the move raises a lot of questions. Why should city ratepayers share their resources with those who chose to live outside city limits, didn’t pay the costs of major Utilities projects and don’t pay city property taxes? Why allow outsiders to become dependent on city water, when the city will likely need that water for its own population in the future? And, at a time when the city is trying to attract more development within city limits, why give away one of the city’s best bargaining chips?

[…]

Until 2010, the city didn’t sell water outside its limits. The policy changed to accommodate sales for three years or less to districts that experienced water shortages or other problems. But they paid 150 percent of city customer charges. There are 11 water districts, six water and wastewater districts and four wastewater districts in El Paso County. Not all would necessarily want to buy city services, but some would.

Many rely largely on groundwater from the Denver Basin, which is rapidly depleting. Despite state and county measures to assure supplies last, the water table continues to drop.

Utilities has had outside deals with Cherokee Metropolitan District east of Powers Boulevard and Donala Water & Sanitation District east of the Air Force Academy. Cherokee needed water temporarily after court decisions prevented its use of some wells, while Donala uses the city’s pipes to convey water it obtained from Pueblo Board of Water Works.

Water districts form such a patchwork that Sean Chambers, who’s worked for several districts and now runs Chambers Econ & Analytics, has teamed with Peak Spatial Enterprises to create an online tool to compile district information in seven counties from Denver to Pueblo. Funded in part by the Colorado Water Conservation Board, it will feature maps, water rates, sources, conservation practices, water quality reports, consumption and the like, listed by address, for use by the public and the real estate industry.

But what if those districts had access to Springs Utilities’ supply? The city’s roughly 140,000 water customers use about 40 million gallons a day during the winter and more than 100 million gallons a day in the summer, Grossman says. If pressed, the city could provide well over that amount short term, he says.

Besides completing SDS in 2016, which increased the city’s water supply by a third, the city’s abundant supply is linked to conservation measures taken since 2001 that reduced per-person consumption from 130 gallons a day to 82. The city’s system also has capacity; the Bailey Water Treatment Plant, part of SDS, runs at about 10 percent capacity.

As for wastewater, the city has plenty of capacity, Grossman reports, for the next 30-plus years.

More than a year ago, Utilities began looking into whether extending service could benefit everyone. For one thing, the Advisory Committee found, water issues anywhere in the Pikes Peak region impact the city’s reputation and the region’s economy.

For example, in 2016, it was found that groundwater wells had been contaminated with perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs) from firefighting foam at Peterson Air Force Base. The chemicals fouled wells serving Fountain, Widefield/Security and other areas…

Under the committee’s recommendation, outside users would still pay more than city customers — 120 percent of the normal charge for water and 110 percent for wastewater. Currently, the city charges 150 percent for both…

Districts aren’t apt to buy their entire supplies from the city, however, Chambers says. That’s because their goal is conjunctive use — a combination of wells and surface water; if districts can buy water during wet years and pump from their wells in dry years, the aquifer gets a rest and a chance to recharge, he says.

That’s the concept behind WISE (Water, Infrastructure and Supply Efficiency), a coalition of 12 entities, including Denver Water, Aurora Water and the South Metro Water Supply Authority created after the 2002 drought.

Chambers notes that outside sales could help the city retire debt and fund maintenance and operations. Having attended most of the committee’s meetings, Chambers attests the city’s top goal is to serve existing customers. “Utilities has been very protective,” he says, “saying regionalization will not happen unless it’s a benefit to the citizen owners and ratepayers.”

For example, Grossman notes the committee wants to include options for conveying and treating water, but that no outside contracts would be executed if they’d erode the city’s targeted storage benchmarks.

Watershed health in the Arkansas Valley

Aspen trees in autumn. Photo: Bob West via the Colorado State Forest Service.

From The Mountain Mail (Kim Marquis):

It’s not a question of if a wildfire will burn in Chaffee County but a question of when, according to a report by the Colorado State Forest Service, a state agency charged with helping homeowners prepare for a wildfire.

Colorado has seen a 400 percent increase in acres burned by wildfire since the 1990s, according to the report. Widespread insect infestations have killed off wide swaths of the state’s forests, and while residents can’t see it yet, the situation is no different in Chaffee County.

More than half of Chaffee County’s forested lands are insect-infested, according aerial surveys by the Salida Ranger District.

The majority of the rest of the trees are at risk, especially at higher elevations where spruce beetles are spreading from the south, Salida District Ranger Jim Pitts said.

Only five spruce trees per acre look dead now, but the visible mortality rate – when needles turn brown and then drop – will increase to 120 trees per acre in just a few years, he said.

In addition to spruce beetles, the county’s forest pests include other bark beetles and Western spruce budworm – the state’s most widespread insect defoliator.

The budworm in 2016 caused damage on 12,000 acres in Chaffee County, Kathryn Hardgrave, a forester with the Salida Field Office of the Colorado State Forest Service, said.

Chaffee County so far has experienced no major wildfires. The community could be better prepared to deal with a wildfire and lessen the aftereffects, Pitts said.

Fire mitigation on private land is just the beginning. More than 80 percent of the county is composed of federal lands, and the county’s forest health is in dire straits, Pitts said.

Federal land managers have ramped up fire mitigation efforts in Chaffee County in the past three years by treating more than 4,000 acres with thinning and prescribed burns, he said. Nearly 20,000 acres have been treated since 2009, but more work needs to be done.

“The acres we’ve treated so far are in high-priority areas, but we do have holes, and we’ve got to work on filling in some of those gaps that will provide a better buffer,” he said.

Recent work on Monarch Pass will protect infrastructure and power lines near the ski area and reduce the chance that the pass would act like a funnel in a wildfire, Pitts said, which is what happened in the Sangre de Cristos during the Hayden Creek Fire in 2016.

A team of Colorado Parks and Wildlife and U.S. Forest Service biologists, staff and volunteers fanned out along rugged Newlin Creek and four tributaries on Oct. 25, 2017, to search of cutthroat trout rescued from the South Prong of Hayden Creek during a 2016 wildlife. Photo credit Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

Pitts said the county’s deeper forests still need to be treated, where thick stands of trees could fuel a fire. Preconstructed, strategically placed fire breaks can provide opportunities to stop a wildfire from spreading.

In 2002, more than 2,000 fires burned 502,000 acres in Colorado and forced the evacuation of 81,000 residents, according to the State Forest Service report.

Ten years later, six people lost their lives and more than 600 structures were destroyed during the 2012 fire season that caused more than $538 million in losses.

Since then, the wildfire season has lengthened, resulting in fires that start earlier, last longer, cost more to suppress and cause more damage, according to the report, which noted that forests provide social, economic and ecological benefits by offering outdoor recreation opportunities, providing fresh water and supporting diverse wildlife species.

Large wildfires can cause flooding, erosion, degraded water quality and reduced water storage capacity, harming drinking supplies, agriculture and additional segments of the economy, the report said.

Flooding after wildfires in other parts of the state has altered seasonal flows, leading to unfavorably timed runoff, and put so much sediment into reservoirs that it reduced storage capacity, according to the State Forest Service, which also found that water quality can be impacted for at least five years after a fire.

More from The Mountain Mail:

Communities can benefit in a wildfire with planning and preparation

The Salida Field Office of the Colorado State Forest Service has assessed 1,079 properties for wildfire risk – roughly 19 percent of homes in unincorporated areas of the county.

Of those, 40 percent have high or very high risk, and so far, only 13 percent are known to have been treated by landowners to mitigate risk.

Homes in the zone where fire on the forest can potentially be stopped before it reaches communities are in the wildland urban interface (WUI) – pronounced “woo-wee” – where development meets or intermingles with forests.

WUI property owners often underestimate their situation, Colorado State Forest Service Salida Office Forester Kathryn Hardgrave said.

“A lot of them moved there or put their house there because of the trees, so you’re asking them to take away the appeal,” Hardgrave said. “They don’t realize what the consequences could be or if it’s their second home, they don’t think it will be as dramatic.”

Community Wildfire Protection Plans define the WUI and help shape treatment priorities for surrounding lands. They also address local firefighting capability and defensible space around homes and subdivisions.

Chaffee County is one of 49 in Colorado with a countywide plan, but the number of smaller plans covering fire protection districts and communities at the subdivision or HOA level in Chaffee County is small, according to tracking by the state agency.

There are 235 of these smaller plans in the state, including six in Chaffee County: Alpine/St. Elmo, Game Trail, Maysville/North Fork, Mount Harvard Estates, Trail West and Poncha Springs.

Additional programs help neighborhoods become Fire Adapted Communities or Firewise Communities, when homeowners take personal responsibility to reduce wildfire risk by creating safer and healthier conditions for people and nature.

“When there is a wildfire over the ridge heading toward your community, these plans are what you go to,” Salida District Ranger Jim Pitts said.

Colorado has 151 Firewise Communities, including eight in the town of Breckenridge. Chaffee County has three – Alpine, St. Elmo and Maysville – and no Fire Adapted Communities.

Being “Firewise” will pay off in the event of a wildfire, Pitts said, because it ensures agencies that residents have done what they can to prepare.

“If it is not a safe environment to go in and take a stance to protect a structure or make a fire line, we are not going to put firefighters in there,” Pitts said.

The plans also describe the resources and steps that people agree to take in an evacuation.

“That planning all adds up quickly in an emergency assessment,” Pitts said.

For more information about community fire mitigation, contact the Colorado State Forest Service Salida Field Office at 539-2579 or visit csfs.colostate.edu/salida.

Elbert County growth fueled by sweet spot in the Denver Basin Aquifer system

Denver Basin aquifer map

From ColoradoPolitics.com (Marianne Goodland) via The Colorado Springs Gazette:

Water watchers concerned

There’s also worry about how much water the development would need, and whether that water will truly stay in Elbert County.

The county is in what some residents call a “sweet spot.” There are four major aquifers under the county: Dawson, Denver, Fox Hills and Arapahoe. No other county on the Front Range sits on all four. The Denver Basin, which includes the four aquifers, is the major water supply for the south metro Denver area, and reaches all the way to Colorado Springs to the south and Greeley to the north.

Virtually all of the water providers in the south metro area are looking for ways to save the rapidly diminishing water in the Denver Basin aquifers, which do not respect county lines. That’s meant millions of dollars spent to find other water sources.

And Colorado history is replete with examples of water rights in rural eastern plains counties or those surrounding towns being sold to urban interests, which adds to the wariness of Elbert residents.

Elbert County plans to tap the aquifer to satisfy its projected growth. Last year, a company hired by the county conducted a rural water supply study that would project water demands for the Independence project and another near Kiowa, the county seat, up to 2035 and 2050. Will Koger of Forsgren Associates told those gathered at a community forum that the two developments would require about 9,000 acre-feet per year by 2050, or about 3.2 billion gallons per year.

There are alternatives available, too, Koger said, noting that agricultural land that is developed for residential use will also provide water and the water rights that go with it to satisfy those developments.

That didn’t sit well with some of those at the forum, who pointed out that tapping the aquifer means pumping nonrenewable groundwater, and that could affect wells, the primary source of water for just about everyone in Elbert County.

The county has little in the way of options, with little surface water available from streams or rivers, according to an April 2017 presentation from the state Division of Water Resources.

But the demand for aquifer water is low compared to the available supply, Koger told the audience, and the developments would tap less than 1 percent of what’s available.

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit against the Independence project question whether the issue of water is about the development or if it’s about selling water to next door Douglas County. They point to a map included in the Forsgren presentation that they said shows a proposed one-way pipeline that goes from the Independence site to Rueter-Hess Reservoir in Douglas County.

The development schematics includes a proposal for six special districts that would manage the water, which strikes Richard Brown and other concerned residents as odd. The six districts, according to a water and sanitation proposal developed for the county, would be contained within a small section of the development that would not include any homes. One district is an “overlay” that would control the rest.

The developer, Craft Companies, and its owner and board would be the only voters in those districts, according to the water and sanitation proposal.

Does federal legal precedent prior to statehood allow river access?

Browns Canyon via BrownsCanyon.org

From The Denver Post (Jason Blevins):

Colorado Springs fisherman Roger Hill has had repeated run-ins with Mark Warsewa, whose property spans the Arkansas River between Texas Creek and Cotopaxi. Hill likes to wade from public land nearby and fish in the river near Warsewa’s place.

“I own the bottom of the river,” said Warsewa, who bought the property in 2006.

Hill on Friday sued Warsewa in U.S. District Court, arguing the bottom of the river actually is public property. His lawyers point to a federal doctrine called “navigability for title,” which holds that if a waterway was used for commercial activity at the point of statehood, the state owns the stream bed and the public has access.

With historical records showing loggers sending hundreds of thousands of railroad ties down the Arkansas River before Colorado became a state in 1876, Hill’s attorneys hope to prove “navigability for title” and, therefore, unfettered public access.

If Hill wins, the Arkansas River could be open for wade fishing through private land, and the standard could apply to just about every Colorado waterway. It also could resolve a thorny public-access issue that Colorado’s Western neighbors — New Mexico, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming and Utah — have cleared up in recent years.

“There has been a lot of confusion around this. Private landowners have been led to believe that they have the right to block access to waterways in front of their property, but that is only true if that river was not navigable for title purposes,” said Mark Squillace, a professor at the University of Colorado Law School who, with Dillon attorney Alexander Hood, is representing Hill. “This case has the potential to bring some clarity to the law and show that, yes, like any other state in the country, we have the right to access state-owned river beds under navigability for title.”

Stream-access issues erupt every several years in Colorado. A landowner on the Lake Fork of the Gunnison River in 2001 sued to block a river outfitter from floating guests past his property. Owners at a private fishing community on the South Platte River above Cheesman Gorge once chained a gate to the riverbed to block kayakers from passing through the property.

Still, little has been done to permanently resolve stream- and river-access conflicts in Colorado. No state laws or regulations define navigability.

The Colorado Supreme Court, in the seminal 1979 People vs. Emmert case, upheld a trespass conviction against rafters who floated on the Colorado River through private property in Grand County. In 1983, the Colorado attorney general sought to clarify the court’s decision with a legal opinion that paddlers floating through public property only commit criminal trespass if they touch the river bottom. The boaters could, however, be charged with civil trespass.

Colorado still relies on the 1983 legal opinion, which is not binding and has not been tested by a Colorado court. (Colorado and Arizona recently finished below six other Western states for stream access in the annual Western States Conservation Scorecard by the Center for Western Priorities.)

In 2011, then-Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter created a River Access Mediation Commission to help resolve access conflicts between landowners and boaters. That commission has not been appointed since 2015.

The Hill lawsuit highlights “an interesting point” with the evidence of commercial activity on the Arkansas River before Colorado’s statehood, said Nathan Fey, the Colorado stewardship director for American Whitewater. But he’s nervous. A victory or loss could have sweeping impacts across the state, he said.

“Regardless of which way this goes, there’s going to be trouble,” said Fey, whose job entails traveling around the state dealing with river access conflicts on a case-by-base basis.

If Hill wins, Fey said, the next issue will be to address whether the state has the right to claim a riverbed property that previously was considered private property and how much, or if, that landowner should be reimbursed if that property is deemed public. If Hill loses, Fey said, “it could have much broader implications for a pretty robust outdoor recreation economy surrounding water in Colorado, especially on the Arkansas, the nation’s most rafted river.”

“I think there’s a lot of risk here,” said Fey, noting that wading fishermen are clearly contacting the river bottom in violation of the 1983 legal opinion and this case could force a decision that impacts floating boaters.

Warsewa, who learned of the lawsuit Friday, said he doesn’t have issues with rafters or fishermen floating the Arkansas River through his property. He does have problems with fisherman walking on the river just past the riverbank below his home. In 2015, he pleaded guilty to a menacing charge after firing a handgun when fishermen were in the water.

@CSUtilities: Water Services Officer Named

Luther Earl Wilkinson’s first day as the Water Services Officer at Colorado Springs Utilities is Feb. 26, 2018.

Here’s the release from Colorado Springs Utilities:

Today [January 26, 2018], Colorado Springs Utilities CEO Jerry Forte announced the new Water Services Officer: Earl Wilkinson. His first day with Springs Utilities is Monday, February 26, 2018.

“Earl’s experience includes managing stormwater, wastewater and water divisions in multiple municipalities, as well extensive planning, design and construction experience,” Forte said. “He has served on numerous committees and boards where he established a focused customer-service approach with staff, politicians, consultants, citizens and other governmental agencies that builds trust and confidence. I am excited for the knowledge and expertise Earl will bring to our organization.”

Wilkinson has more than 26 years of experience working for municipal governments. Since 2009 he’s served as the Director of Public Works for the City of Pueblo. In this role, he collaborated with Colorado Springs Utilities and many of our stakeholders. He previously served as a senior professional engineer and administrator in Toledo, Ohio.

“I’m thrilled to be selected to be a part of the Colorado Springs Utilities team and look forward to working in an organization that is an industry leader in municipal utilities,” Wilkinson said.

Wilkinson has a bachelor’s degree in Civil Engineering from the Rose Hulman Institute of Technology in Terre Haute, Ind. and a master’s degree in Public Administration from the University of Colorado Colorado Springs. He is married and has three daughters and five grandchildren.

The Water Services Officer position has been vacant since Jan. 5, 2018, when Dan Higgins retired.

Lower Ark District board meeting recap

Arkansas River Basin — Graphic via the Colorado Geological Survey

From The Bent County Democrat:

Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District welcomes new member, keeps same officers, hears three reports.

The Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District welcomed new board member Phillip Chavez at Wednesday’s meeting. Chavez is manager of Diamond A Farms and also has Chavez Family Farms. He was appointed by Judge Mark MacDonnell, and replaces Willard Behm, who completed the term of the late Wayne Whittaker.

All of the LAVWCD officers were retained – Lynden Gill of Bent County as chairman, Leroy Mauch of Prowers County as vice chairman, Melissa Esquibel of Pueblo County as secretary, and Jim Valliant of Crowley County as treasurer. Mauch was reappointed as LAVWCD member on the Fountain Creek Watershed, Flood Control and Greenway Board.

Three PowerPoints were presented on Wednesday. The first was by Chris Woodka on the Arkansas Valley Conduit, the second by Krystal Brown of the United States Geological Survey on a joint survey of USGS and LAVWCD on groundwater in the Lower Arkansas Valley, and the third by Larry Small, a study of Fountain Creek Flood Control.

Woodka went over the history of the Conduit project, which goes back to letters of support from 1952 and 1953 and was created officially when President John F. Kennedy came to Pueblo to sign the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project Act, which contained the Conduit. Through many years of struggle and $22 million spent, the final Environmental Impact Statement was completed in 2013 and recorded in 2014. The lengthy and expensive detour around Pueblo by the Conduit may be bypassed by the new concept put forth by the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District which would use the capacity in Pueblo Water’s system to deliver water at the eastern boundary of Pueblo to the Arkansas Valley Conduit, saving about 10 years in the construction process.

Brown’s presentation was a study in discrete groundwater measurements at 125 sites measured biannually. The data will be used to study climate, land-use practices and water-management practices. The proposed 2018 program involved: 1. Biannual groundwater level measurements of 125 alluvial and basin-fill wells – LAVWCD contributes $211,349 and USGS $9,241; 2. The operation of real-time continuous water temperature and specific conductance monitor to which LAVWCD contributes $10,750 and USGS, $4,605; 3. Seven sites of discrete specific conductance measurements – LAVWCD $4,043, USGS $869.

Larry Small, representing the Fountain Creek Watershed, presented a needs assessment for the Fountain Creek Flood Control Study. Phase 1 was an appraisal study of the feasibility of three alternatives and subalternatives (completed in Jan 2017). Phase 2 is a needs assessment of screen alternatives and involves selecting the preferred alternative, to be completed in Feb 2018. Future phases will be financing, permitting, design and construction. The recommendation is the Floodplain Management alternative. Its advantages are as follows: 1. provides multiple benefits in addition to flood management, 2. has stakeholder support, 3. could attract outside funding for certain components, 4. could be combined with localized floodplain measures in Pueblo at currently flood-prone locations to address the key flood control objectives along Fountain Creek in Pueblo. The Floodplain Management alternative is the only alternative that can be phased, but would require the longest time for completion.

Attorney Peter Nichols received $1,000 from the board toward the cost of filing in opposition to an appeal by New York over a sewage discharge matter to the U.S. Supreme Court. The board went into executive session with the lawyers.

Poncha Springs Trustees OK waterline loan

Water infrastructure as sidewalk art

From The Mountain Mail (Brian McCabe):

Poncha Springs trustees moved forward on the town’s water infrastructure project Monday as they voted unanimously to approve a loan from the Colorado Water Resources and Power Development Authority (CWRPDA) and to accept a bid for work on the water trunk line…

They then adjourned and convened as the board of the Water Activity Enterprise Fund.

As that board, they considered Ordinance 2018-1, a 30-year, zero percent interest loan through the CWRPDA not to exceed $2,450,000 for construction of a new water tower and improvements to the town’s water system.

Brian Berger, town administrative officer, presented the ordinance to the board of trustees. He explained that it originally was proposed to fund the trunk line with reserves, but because this loan had been lowered to zero percent interest, with repayments not due to begin for six to eight months, it was the best choice for the town.

He said in a memo to the board that this allowed the best options for well designs and type of elevated tank, and the town was “by no means” required to use the entire amount.

Joe DeLuca with the Crabtree Group, the engineering firm for the trunk line, presented the six bids received for the job.

Lowry Contracting, with a bid of $476,928.68, came in more than $200,000 less than the next lowest bid from ESCO Construction, at $687,784…

In their last order of business as the water board, the trustees decided to table until next month a consideration of the 2018 leasable water bids, as the board thought current bids might change in this fluid situation.