State Engineer: Renewable #Water Resources made “inaccurate portrayal” in its proposal — The #Alamosa Citizen #RioGrande

Third hay cutting 2021 in Subdistrict 1 area of San Luis Valley. Photo credit: Chris Lopez

From The Alamosa Citizen (Chris Lopez):

RENEWABLE Water Resources has made an “inaccurate portrayal of the State Engineer’s actions and the facts” in its pitch to Douglas County to partner in exporting water from the San Luis Valley, State Engineer Kevin Rein said.

Rein, in an email response to a series of questions from AlamosaCitizen.com, said RWR misrepresents Douglas County’s reliance on the “Denver Aquifer” and how a “proposed rule change” from the state engineer would drastically affect Douglas County’s relationship with the aquifer.

“The cumulative effect of RWR’s statements is an inaccurate portrayal of the State Engineer’s actions and the facts,” Rein said.

Kevin Rein, Colorado state water engineer, explains why Colorado needs stepped-up measuring of water diversions in the North Park and other rivers in Northwest Colorado while Erin Light, Division 6 engineer, looks on during a meeting in Walden on Oct. 22. Credit: Allen Best

Rein said his office has not taken a position on the RWR proposal because the project, led by former Colorado Gov. Bill Owens, has not been formally submitted for regulatory review to the State Engineer’s Office. RWR is courting Douglas County as an investor in its efforts to export water from the San Luis Valley to Colorado’s Front Range. To move the project to formal review both by Rein’s office and state Division 3 Water Court, RWR needs to identify an end user for its effort to export water from the Valley.

The project has created an uproar, with city officials from Monte Vista the latest to blast it as a “scheme to transport our valuable water resources out of the San Luis Valley.”

“The idea that there is an abundance of water for Douglas County suburbia to continue to sprawl at the San Luis Valley’s expense is shameless,” Monte Vista officials said in a letter to AlamosaCitizen.com. The full letter is here.

Denver Basin Aquifer System graphic credit USGS.

In its pitch, Renewable Water Resources said Douglas County is overly dependent on the Denver Aquifer as its main water supply, and remaining dependent on it threatens the Denver suburb’s property values, economic growth and quality of life.

“Additionally, a proposed rule change could drastically impact Douglas County’s relationship with the Denver Aquifer,” RWR states in its pitch to Douglas County for money. “Colorado’s State Water Engineer recently urged Denver Metro water providers, including those located in Douglas County, to seek renewable sources of water other than the Denver Aquifer. This new guidance will limit the use of the Denver Aquifer and essentially maintain the Aquifer as a ‘preserve.’”

Rein, when asked about the accuracy of RWR’s statements, said, “First, as a matter of hydrogeology, there is one hydrogeologic feature known by scientists and water users as the ‘Denver Basin.’ It stretches from approximately Greeley to Colorado Springs and from the foothills to Limon. Within the Denver Basin is a layering of discrete aquifers that for administration purposes are treated as separate sources. Those aquifers, from the top layer to the bottom layer are: the Dawson Aquifer, the Upper Dawson Aquifer, the Lower Dawson Aquifer, the Denver Aquifer, the Arapahoe Aquifer, the Upper Arapahoe Aquifer, the Lower Arapahoe Aquifer, and the Laramie-Fox Hills Aquifer.

“This information is relevant because the (RWR) report states that ‘Douglas County is currently overly dependent on the Denver Aquifer as its principal water supply…’ However, I know that Douglas County municipal water suppliers and private well owners rely on nearly all of the aquifers I’ve listed, from the Dawson to the Laramie-Fox Hills. Their reliance is not on only the Denver Aquifer.

“Second, the (RWR) Report states, ‘Additionally, a proposed rule change could drastically impact Douglas County’s relationship with the Denver Aquifer.’

“The Report does not cite the claimed ‘rule change.’ For your information, the Division of Water Resources recently proposed amended Statewide Nontributary Ground Water Rules, which rules we regard as consistent with the General Assembly’s statutorily-described allocation of nontributary ground water (see SB73-213; section 37-90-137(4), C.R.S.). To my knowledge, neither RWR nor those Douglas County entities have shown evidence that the State Engineer has ever shown a different application of the General Assembly’s intended allocation. Therefore, I find no support for RWR’s claim that ‘a proposed rule change could drastically impact Douglas County’s relationship with the Denver Aquifer.’ As the State Engineer I believe that RWR should account for this claim since it appears to have no basis.

“In summary, there has been no rule change. If RWR believes the State Engineer’s long-standing application of state statute ‘drastically impacts’ Douglas County, they should also be aware that the State Engineer has not changed its application of the statute in the last 48 years. I am not aware of any evidence to the contrary.”

Renewable Water Resources said it relied on information from a January 2021 environmental law and policy alert on a call for public comment around the proposed amended statewide nontributary groundwater rules.

“Many conversations have and are taking place as to why Front Range cities and towns are going to need to depend less on the Denver Aquifer. And, why water providers in the Front Range are scrambling to find non-Denver aquifer sources,” said spokesperson Monica McCafferty. “This is a known fact in the Front Range and likely to be discussed more in the Douglas County public hearings.”

Rein had a third rebuttal to RWR when the group said in the proposal to Douglas County that Rein had recently urged Denver Metro water providers “to seek renewable sources of water other than the Denver Aquifer,” and called it “new guidance” from the State Engineer.

“I see no basis for this claim,” Rein told Alamosa Citizen. “Since 1996, the State Engineer’s Office has included notes on our correspondence to Douglas County regarding subdivision water supplies that remind the county of the non-renewable nature of the Denver Basin as a water supply. We include the same information on Denver Basin well permits that we issue. We provide this information as a courtesy since we are an agency that knows the science and administrative aspects of the Denver Basin.

“The next statement in the report states that ‘(f)or Douglas County, this ruling is an imminent and practical challenge and catalyst for necessary change.’ The basis of this statement is confusing since there has been no ‘ruling.’ The non-renewable nature of the Denver Basin is the result of hydrogeologic events that occurred millions of years ago. Allocation directives that were put in statute in 1973 reflect that nature of the Denver Basin. Nothing that the State Engineer has done has made the challenge any more ‘imminent.’

“Each of these items may seem small,” Rein said, “but the cumulative effect of RWR’s statements is an inaccurate portrayal of the State Engineer’s actions and the facts.

“I have only commented on the aspects of the letter that portray the State Engineer and our actions in a way that I believe is inaccurate. I will not comment on RWR’s opinions or judgments of Douglas County’s ongoing efforts.”

RWR also misrepresents a Dec. 2018 letter from Rein to the Rio Grande Water Conservation District, Rein said. At that time, Rein had sent correspondence to General Manager Cleave Simpson on the amended Plan of Water Management for Subdistrict 1, and the legal authority he has to curtail groundwater diversions from Subdistrict 1 wells if the conservation district isn’t making progress toward restoring the unconfined aquifer to a sustainable level as ordered by the state water court.

RWR said in its proposal to Douglas County that Rein would shut down wells in the subdistrict for a minimum of three years, boosting its project since its efforts do not rely on the unconfined aquifer.

“Regarding RWR’s reference to my December 2018 letter, if the State Engineer is put in a position of curtailing wells, it would not be ‘…so the objective of the Subdistrict 1 groundwater management plan can be achieved…’ as I read in the proposal. Rather, it would be the result of a regulatory decision that would be necessary due to the fact that the Subdistrict’s Annual Replacement Plan does not meet the objectives of the Rules and the Groundwater Management Plan. This is stated in the December 2018 letter. My letter did not address the amount of time the wells would be curtailed and I don’t know the basis of RWR’s claim that the wells would be curtailed for a minimum of three years.

“As I noted earlier, for RWR’s concept to operate, among other things, they would need to demonstrate through a detailed court approved plan that they would have no impact on the basin as a whole. That is yet to be seen.”

As #drought strikes region, decades of aggressive #water development keep #Aurora in the swim — The Aurora Sentinel

From The Aurora Sentinel (Philip Poston):

To say that Aurora has a prolific portfolio of water rights and reservoirs is apt. Spanning across three water basins, Aurora water is transported 180 miles through a vast and complicated system.

But it hasn’t always been that way…

Aurora was wholly served by the City and County of Denver until 1954, when Denver put into place a “blue line” no longer granting permits for new taps in the ever-growing metropolitan area, leaving parts of Aurora out of Denver’s service region.

In 1957, Aurora purchased the water rights to the Last Chance Ditch and diverted the water that ran through it to be stored near the Cherry Creek Dam.

The completion of phase one of the Homestake Reservoir, which the city shares with Colorado Springs, was in 1967 and with that, Aurora was able to become completely self-reliant when it came to supplying the wet stuff to its residents.

The next 20 years saw rapid growth of Aurora’s water rights acquisitions, including rights in the three major basins being Colorado, Arkansas and South Platte. The city has continued to purchase water rights in areas spanning from Park to Eagle counties.

While the water rights are large in number for Aurora, 95% of the municipality’s water comes from reusable water…

Prairie Waters schematic via Aurora Water.

This is where the Prairie Waters filtration system plays its vital role in supply for the city. Meeting approximately 10% of the demands of the city’s water, the system begins at the South Platte River in southern Weld County, and through a system of 23 wells, water is ushered through hundreds of feet of sand and gravel which serves as a filter to clean out impurities in the water. It is then pumped into basins where it goes through another level of filtration removing even more contaminants. The water is then sent to one of three different pump stations and finally to a purification facility.

UV pretreatment Peter D. Binney Purification Facility.

The Peter D. Binney Purification Facility uses what are some of the most advanced processes of purification in the country, through ultraviolet oxidation, water officials say. With the ability to treat 50 million gallons a day, it’s the largest facility in the nation to use this technology…

With Aurora’s acquired water rights and the Prairie Waters System, Aurora looks to be prepared for the city’s growth.

Aurora Water serves more than 91,000 accounts in a city of more than 386,000 people and that number is rapidly increasing. The population is expected to double in the next 30 to 40 years.

With a bevy of new housing developments popping up on the eastern plains, it’s imperative that Aurora has the water to serve the increasing population with the most recently announced development promising 5,000 new homes.

Aurora water managers have long said that the city is set to provide water to tens of thousands of additional residents for at least another half century. Projections have shown that the city could need more than 40 billion gallons of water a year by 2070, more than double the usage in 2015.

In order to accommodate that amount, there needs to be ample storage, and Aurora has plans for that, too. Aurora currently has 156,000 acre feet of water storage, and enough to provide water to the city for three years, were there not to be another drop.

With 12 current reservoirs along the front range and throughout the mountains, Aurora has plans for three more reservoirs throughout the next 50 years.

One such reservoir has a litany of hurdles to jump, and might even require an act of Congress.

This map shows the location of test holes Homestake Partners plans to drill as part of its geotechnical investigation into the feasibility of a dam site in the Homestake Creek valley. The Forest Service has received more than 500 comments, most of them in opposition to, the drilling and the overall reservoir project. Credit: USFS via Aspen Journalism

The proposed Whitney Reservoir on U.S Forest land in Eagle County would be shared with Colorado Springs. U.S. Forest Service District Ranger Leanne Veldhuis approved the plan this spring allowing the cities to test for possible sites…

With 95% of Aurora’s water being surface, or reusable water, there is always the risk of a low snow-pack, quick evaporation or plain-old drought. The new reservoirs will prevent Aurora having to sell or lease water resulting from not having enough storage.

Wild Horse Reservoir, which looks to be the next reservoir completed, hopefully by decades end, was planned with the purpose of not only providing adequate and better storage, but work in providing better management of exchanged water.

Renewable Water Resources proposes selling San Luis Valley #water to Douglas County—SLV opposition organizes — The #Crestone Eagle #RioGrande

The country’s second largest potato producing region, is in its 18th year of drought in 2020. The San Luis Valley in Colorado is known for its agriculture yet only has 6-7 inches of rainfall per year. San Luis Valley via National Geographic

From The Crestone Eagle (Lisa Cyriacks):

RWR’s proposal to Douglas County is, for an initial payment of $20 million, to build a pipeline that would bring 22,000 acre-feet of water from the San Luis Valley aquifer to the Front Range. If Douglas County agrees, the $20 million would come from ARPS stimulus money.

Struggling with water scarcity, changing climate, and aquifer depletion, San Luis Valley residents object to the proposal. A formidable group has organized around the belief that there is no water available to move outside the San Luis Valley.

Protect Our Water–San Luis Valley lists as members: 15 local water districts and entities; 22 cities and towns; 22 conservation and environmental groups; and two farm groups. On its website local governments in opposition to RWR’s proposal include the Rio Grande Water Conservation District and the Towns of Crestone and Saguache.

Despite their marketing assertions, RWR’s plan to export water from the San Luis Valley was not devised by locals nor will it benefit the entire valley.

RWR needs to find a customer like Douglas County to move its proposal forward. The plan relies on drawing water from the Upper Rio Grande Basin and exporting it to the Front Range. Without an identified end user for the exportation and sale of the water, RWR can’t file its plan in Colorado Water Court.

While the project has been in the works for some time, many questions remain unanswered.

RWR does not own municipal water rights, and RWR would need to buy wells and well rights before filing in court to convert irrigation water rights to municipal water rights.

Until recently, RWR executives asserted specifics about project locations, timetables, or costs were uncertain because they are focused on winning valley support and filing a legal case in Colorado’s water court, which could take three to five years to process. That case would help determine whether the San Luis Valley has enough water for RWR to legally export without hurting existing users.

In general, the proposal before Douglas County Commissioners reveals that RWR would build a wellfield northeast of Moffat. A pipeline would carry water north along state Highway 17, more than 1,000 feet up and over Poncha Pass to two access points along the South Platte River Basin, one at Antero Reservoir and another Elevenmile Reservoir, both in Park County.

In addition, a $50 million “community fund” would be developed under the RWR proposal to assist local communities with schools, broadband or food banks, senior services or job training. A separate pool of money, about $68 million, would pay farmers and ranchers who agree to sell their water rights, known in agriculture circles as “buy and dry.”

Those dollars will come from long-time private investors, according to Sean Duffy, a spokesman for RWR.

An agreement using stimulus money would give Douglas County access to needed water at less than half the typical rate of $40,000 to $50,000 per acre-foot, said RWR spokesman Sean Duffy…

Duffy also pointed out that both the water and economic status quo in the valley are not currently sustainable. Critics say the RWR project will only make the situation worse, while supporters argue it offers a more sustainable solution to the state’s water woes.

The San Luis Valley is described as one of the most arid regions in Colorado, receiving less than 9 inches of precipitation annually. In recent years snowfall on the Sangre de Cristos has been perceptibly less, resulting in reduced stream flows and reduced recharge of the two aquifers below the valley floor.

The shallow unconfined aquifer has been tapped with wells for crop irrigation for several generations and is over-appropriated. Below lies the confined aquifer which Renewable Water Resources believes holds a billion-acre foot of water.

That one-billion-acre foot estimate is highly disputed by local water managers, farmers and ranchers.

San Luis Valley Groundwater

Since 2012 many farms and ranches in the valley have already made self-imposed cuts in irrigation to try and prevent further depletion of the shallow aquifer. A number of subdistricts have been formed as local farmers’ only way of buying more time to solve depletions to the aquifer in their own way. Each subdistrict has until 2031 to replenish water to a predetermined level. Failure to meet those targets could result in the State Engineer’s office shutting down wells until the aquifer reaches that target through unimpeded recharge with no groundwater pumping.

RWR’s proposal is offering very similar benefits to those proposed by Stockman’s Water in 1998, a project that ultimately failed.

Stockman’s Water proposed to export at least 100,000 acrefeet annually, mitigating any water losses by offering, in exchange, 25,000 to 50,000 acre-feet of senior water rights.

Gary Boyce, the manager/ owner of Stockman’s Water, also promised a $3 million trust fund to be administered by Saguache County, and environmental benefits—more riparian and wetland habitat. Renewable Water Resources offers the potential opportunity to add over 3,000 acres to the Baca Wildlife Refuge located off of County Road T.

Cleave Simpson has met with the Douglas County Commissioners. Using federal American Rescue Plan Act funds for the RWR proposal is a twist he didn’t see coming.

“I think it’s unconscionable to use those federal dollars to diminish one community in support of another community,” he said. In addition to representing the San Luis Valley in the Colorado Senate, Simpson is the general manager of the Rio Grande Water Conservation District, which is leading the opposition to the RWR plan.

Simpson reminds us that there is a long history of legal fights over water export claims in the San Luis Valley. The Rio Grande Water Conservancy District already had money set aside to challenge the RWR proposal after the court awarded valley residents legal fees from a previous failed export case involving a developer in the 1970s, called American Water Development Incorporated.

USBR Releases Draft Environmental Assessment for Arkansas Valley Conduit #ArkansasRiver

Arkansas Valley Conduit Logo. Credit: USBR

Here’s the release from the Bureau of Reclamation (Elizabeth Smith):

The Bureau of Reclamation released a draft environmental assessment to supplement a final environmental impact statement (FEIS) completed in 2013 for proposed changes associated with construction and operation of the Arkansas Valley Conduit (AVC).

“Reclamation released an AVC Supplemental Information Report, in June 2021, that identified proposed changes in the AVC footprint, AVC participants, and a three-party contract with the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District (Southeastern) and Pueblo Water,” said Reclamation Eastern Colorado Area Manager, Jeffrey Rieker. “This draft environmental assessment provides the supplemental analysis of the information in that report.”

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

Reclamation would construct the AVC trunkline and Southeastern while AVC participants and others would construct AVC spur and delivery pipelines under the Proposed Action. The AVC project would utilize Pueblo Water’s existing system to treat and deliver AVC water from Pueblo Reservoir to a connection point east of the City of Pueblo along U.S. Highway 50, and eliminate 24.7 miles of pipeline construction around the city of Pueblo that was originally included the FEIS’s selected alternative.

The three-party contract will address AVC’s use of Pueblo Water’s water treatment plant and water delivery system, as well as Pueblo Water’s continued use of excess capacity storage in Pueblo Reservoir. The contract also incorporates the storage of additional water rights associated with the Bessemer Ditch and will replace an existing 25-year excess capacity contract that expires in 2025.

The environmental assessment has been prepared in compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act and is available for public review and comment at: https://www.usbr.gov/gp/ecao/avc/. The 2013 AVC FEIS, 2014 AVC Record of Decision, and 2021 AVC Supplemental Information Report can also be accessed from this webpage. Reclamation is requesting that any comments on the draft environmental assessment be submitted by January 30, 2022. Comments can be sent to tstroh@usbr.gov. For additional information, please contact Terence Stroh, Environmental Specialist, at 970-461-5469 or the above email address.

AVC is and authorized feature for the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project in Southeastern Colorado in Pueblo, Crowley, Otero, Bent, Prowers and Kiowa Counties. You can find more information on the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project at: https://www.usbr.gov/projects.

What a light #snowpack could mean for #Pueblo — The Pueblo Chieftain

Colorado snowpack basin-filled map December 27, 2021 via the NRCS.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Lacey Latch):

The statewide snowpack has grown over the past month due to winter storms across the western slope, but much of southeast Colorado has remained without significant precipitation, leaving the mountains with very little snow at the start of the winter.

Right now, according to data from the Natural Resources Conservation Service Colorado, the Arkansas River Basin has only measured 76% of the snowpack average for this time of year. In contrast, the Gunnison River Basin to the west has already reached 118% of that area’s average snowpack. If this continues, the limited runoff could contribute to harsher conditions when the seasons change, according to National Weather Service meteorologist Mark Wankowski. These conditions are due in large part to the climate pattern La Niña, Wankowski said, which…impacts the weather around the world and in the United States every few years…

Tope of Pike’s Peak looking northeast December 28, 2021. Credit: The City of Colorado Springs

So far, Colorado has seen between two and four feet of snow across Wolf Creek Pass and other areas throughout December, which has helped to boost the statewide snowpack, he said. “But for Southeast Colorado, the Arkansas River Basin is lagging. And this is pretty typical for especially the southeastern mountains,” he said. “The headwaters of the Arkansas River in the last month have been doing well but as you can tell … there’s no snow on Pike’s Peak, or very little.” This low snowpack level in southeastern Colorado is normal for a La Niña year, Wankowski said, but it still carries with it some potential consequences. And while the state as a whole is catching up in terms of the annual snowpack, the coming months will be critical in determining what the runoff will look like for the southeastern part of the state. “We need to continue this onslaught of snow,” Wankowski said. “If we don’t see much in the southeast mountains, which again is pretty typical for La Niña, we will be in danger of seeing drought continue to grow and get worse as well as the potential for spring and summer wildfires.”

#Drought Persists and Deepens across South Central and Southeast #Colorado — The Prowers Journal #ArkansasRiver

Colorado Drought Monitor map December 14, 2021.

From The Prowers Journal (Russ Baldwin):

SYNOPSIS:

November of 2021 was a very warm and dry month across most of south central and southeast Colorado, as well as the state as a whole, with November of 2021 coming in as the 3rd warmest and 11th driest November on record in Colorado. Despite a good dose of mountain precipitation over the past week, the persistent dry and warm weather experienced from the late summer through the fall has allowed for drought conditions to persist and deepen across south central and southeast Colorado.

Extreme drought (D3) conditions are indicated across southern Baca County into extreme southeastern Las Animas County. Severe drought (D2) conditions are depicted across the rest of Baca County, southern Prowers County, southeastern Bent County and eastern portions of Las Animas County.

Moderate drought (D1) conditions are indicated across Kiowa County, the rest of Crowley County, central Las Animas County, Otero County, and the rest of Bent and Prowers Counties. More information about drought classification can be found at: http://droughtmonitor.unl.edu/About/AbouttheData/DroughtClassification.aspx

AGRICULTURAL:

The persistent warm, windy and generally dry weather has continued to dry out soils, with CPC soil moisture data, as well as short term (1 week and 1 month) and longer term (2 and 3 month) Evaporative Demand Drought Index (EDDI) data, indicating very dry conditions across much of south central and especially southeast Colorado.

Arkansas River Basin High/Low graph December 16, 2021 via the NRCS.

HYDROLOGIC:

NRCS data indicated November statewide mountain precipitation was only 52 percent of median, as compared to 90 percent of median in November of 2020. This brings the statewide 2022 water year to date precipitation total to 77 percent of median overall, compared to 71 percent of median overall for 2021 water year to date precipitation.

In the Arkansas basin, November precipitation was 52 percent of median overall, as compared to 95 percent of median in November of 2020. This brings the Arkansas basin 2022 water year to date precipitation total to 57 percent of median, compared to 90 percent median overall for 2021 water year to date precipitation.

In the Arkansas Basin, water storage at the end of November came in at 90 percent of median overall, as compared to the 92 percent of median storage available at this same time last year.

NRCS data also indicated statewide snowpack was at 78 percent of median as of December 19th, 2021, with the Arkansas Basin coming in at 66 percent of median and the Rio Grande Basin coming in at 81 percent of median. Snow pack in Rio Grande basin saw an impressive increase over the past week, as December 1st snow pack data indicated the Rio Grande basin was at 35 percent of median overall at the end of November.

CLIMATE SUMMARY:

The average temperature in Alamosa for the past month of November was 35.0 degrees. This is 4.7 degrees above normal and makes November of 2021 the 2nd warmest November on record.

The average temperature in Colorado Springs for the past month of November was 45.9 degrees. This is an amazing 6.4 degrees above normal and makes November of 2021 the 2nd warmest November on record in Colorado Springs, just behind November of 1949 when the average monthly temperature was 47.4 degrees.

The average temperature in Pueblo for the past month of November was 45.3 degrees. This is 4.8 degrees above normal and makes November of 2021 the 8th warmest on record in Pueblo.

Land developer seeks to de-annex 2,400 acres in #Fountain as it eyes #ColoradoSprings #water — The Colorado Springs Gazette

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.

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Mary Shinn):

One of the Pikes Peak region’s largest real estate development companies is planning thousands of homes on roughly 5,600 acres on Fountain’s east edge, but it might take Colorado Springs’ water to transform the prairie.

La Plata Communities had banked on Fountain to provide at least some of the water necessary for a new company development, known as Amara; a southern portion of the property, the Kane Ranch, was annexed by Fountain in 2008.

Now the company is asking to remove, or de-annex, the 2,400-acre Kane Ranch from Fountain’s boundaries, likely in favor of requesting Colorado Springs to annex the land.

The company framed its need to leave Fountain as a failure of the city to plan ahead for future water needs, according to documents La Plata submitted to the city. Fountain officials say they are facing unprecedented demands on the city’s water system and could not have anticipated so much growth at once.

The unusual de-annexation proposal by La Plata Communities — the Springs-based developer of Briargate, a master-planned residential and commercial development that covers 10,000 acres on the city’s north side — underscores water’s importance as the lifeblood of development in the Pikes Peak region.

In an arid climate where water is precious, developers who don’t have it can’t do business. And that’s why Colorado Springs and its vast water resources have always been appealing.

Colorado Springs Utilities is planning to serve nearly 54% more people — an increase from 470,000 to 723,000 — in the next 50 years. The agency has developed an extensive plan that includes new reservoirs, water reuse and conservation to meet future needs.

Some of the hundreds of thousands of new residents could move into new subdivisions to the city’s north, east and south.

A city of Colorado Springs map shows 158 square miles that the city would consider annexing for new development. The map is not a commitment to annex those properties, but it does help guide decisions, Planning and Community Development Director Peter Wysocki said.

A large portion of La Plata Communities’ new Amara development is considered an area Colorado Springs would annex and it would make sense for the whole project to be annexed, if the city determines it can provide services to it, Wysocki said.

The proposed Amara development is composed of two areas.

The 3,200-acre Tee Cross Ranch Properties lies in unincorporated El Paso County, east and north of Fountain; the late rancher, developer and philanthropist Robert Norris, known as the Marlboro Man because of his appearance in advertisements for the cigarette brand, owned the property as part of the more than 95,000 acres he controlled in the county.

The 2,400-acre Kane Ranch, south of Squirrel Creek Road, is within Fountain’s boundaries and at the heart of La Plata’s frustration outlined in a fiery petition the company submitted seeking to remove it from the city’s boundaries…

Fountain’s decision to ask the developers to bear the costs of infrastructure development and water storage also was “unworkable,” it said…

Fountain has faced a flood of developer requests to build — together representing 30,000 new homes across 24 projects in 14 months — more than it could immediately serve, said Todd Evans, Fountain’s deputy city manager…

It would be like the city of Colorado Springs trying to expand from 600,000 taps, or buildings needing water service, to 1.8 million, he said.

Demand just from the Kane Ranch property would have represented 25% of the demand of the city’s entire system, Fountain Utilities Director Dan Blankenship said…

The Fountain City Council will decide in the coming months whether to grant La Plata’s de-annexation request and return the Kane Ranch to El Paso County’s jurisdiction. If the property is removed from Fountain’s city limits, La Plata could ask for annexation by Colorado Springs.

Colorado Springs already is weighing the annexation of a northern portion of Amara and a decision on that parcel is possible in 2022, Wysocki said.

Some Coloradans’ drinking water still has highest radium levels in the nation — The #ColoradoSprings Gazette

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

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Evan Wyloge):

Some of the highest concentrations of radium-contaminated drinking water in the nation are clustered in rural southeast Colorado, according to a recent compilation of data.

The problem is hardly new. The presence of radium in the area’s groundwater, which is linked to an increased cancer risk particularly for children, has been known for decades. The newly compiled data shows that out of the 50,000 water systems included in the research, six of the ten worst radium levels in the nation are in Colorado.

The water providers are required to inform their customers of the contamination, and they say they’d like to fix the problem, but providing clean, radium-free tap water in the most remote areas comes with an untenable price tag.

A massive infrastructure project that promises to largely resolve the problem, the Arkansas Valley Conduit, broke ground this year, but its completion is years away and the bulk of its funding hasn’t materialized yet.

For now, most are hopeful that the conduit will be fully funded and fully built, but until then, the faucets in the area will still provide water with as much as four times the legal radium limit…

Radium poses a unique risk to children, because it is treated by the human body like calcium and deposited into developing bones, where it remains radioactive and can kill and mutate cells.

Although the area’s groundwater was known to have contaminants, high levels of radium in Colorado’s groundwater became a regulatory problem around 20 years ago, when the Environmental Protection Agency promulgated new radionuclide standards. Federal law allows up to 5 picocuries of radium-226 or radium-228, the most common versions of the element, per liter of water…

Rocky Ford Melon Day 1893 via the Colorado Historical Society

According to the Environmental Working Group’s new drinking water contamination data compilation, the worst radium content in the nation is found in Rocky Ford, where there was an average of 23 picocuries of radium per liter of water.

Eighteen other water systems in Colorado contain more than the legal limit. Most are clustered around the small rural towns of Rocky Ford, Swink and La Junta, about an hour’s drive east from Pueblo. The new data show one in every six Otero County resident has tap water above the federal limit.

After years of testing, studies and planning, the solution that‘s emerged is one proposed sixty years ago: The Arkansas Valley Conduit, the massive clean water delivery system proposal that stalled for decades over the project’s equally massive price tag.

Elsewhere in the state the Peak View Park mobile home park, situated on a wooded hillside along U.S. Route 24 in Woodland Park, registered more than twice the legal limit of radium for years, as the owners struggled to get the problem fixed…

But a key feature of the system Peak View Park installed is the access to Woodland Park’s sewer system. LaBarre said he had to make arrangements with the city’s wastewater treatment officials about the timing of their extraction system’s wastewater disposal, so that they can send the radium-saturated byproduct of the extraction process into the sewer when the system can adequately handle it…

The lack of a sewer system is what cripples any similar efforts in the more rural areas around La Junta. There, where many of the residents use septic tanks, storing an extraction byproduct would be prohibitively expensive…

Bill Long, the president of the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, said the towns along the first 12 miles of the [Arkansas Valley Conduit], Boone and Avondale, should be getting clean water from the conduit by 2024.

More funding will be needed to finish the project, and Long said he believes there will be money allocated from the recently passed federal infrastructure bill, and that the funds could help get the conduit finished, but that the details aren’t yet clear.

Arkansas River Basin alluvial aquifers via the Colorado Geological Survey

Colorado launches #PFAS takeback, emergency grant programs — @WaterEdCO

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

From Water Education Colorado (Jerd Smith):

This fall Colorado has launched two new programs, one aimed at removing firefighting foam containing so-called “forever chemicals” from fire departments, military bases and other properties and an emergency grant program aimed at helping communities where the chemicals have appeared in drinking water.

The chemicals, known broadly as PFAS or poly- and per-fluoroalkyl substances, have long lifespans and have been linked to certain cancers. Contained in such common substances as Teflon and Scotchguard, they are also widely used to fight fires, particularly those involving jet fuel.

“We’re learning more every day about PFAS and its exposure in our environment,” said Erin Garcia, a spokeswoman with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE).

Widefield aquifer via the Colorado Water Institute.

The unregulated substances were once thought to be rare, but since at least 2015 have shown up at alarming levels in communities such as Fountain and Security, where groundwater was contaminated by runoff from the nearby Peterson Air Force Base. Those two communities were forced to shut down their water systems, find temporary substitute supplies, and build new treatment systems.

The chemicals have also been found in groundwater wells that serve Commerce City and in areas near the Suncor Refinery in Adams County and Buckley Air Force Base in Aurora, among other sites.

Two years ago, as more testing revealed more contaminated sites, the CDPHE vowed to boost its oversight. Since then the Colorado Legislature has provided the health department with more authority and money to combat the problem, including conducting surveys to identify contaminated sites and drinking water systems, and providing as much as $8 million to buy contaminated firefighting foam and store it, and to help communities whose water has been tainted by the compounds.

Sugarloaf Mountain fire station.

Dozens of fire departments, military facilities, water utilities, and commercial properties as diverse as hotels and apartment complexes, are now monitoring and testing for the substances.

As Colorado has ramped up its oversight, last month the EPA announced it would begin work on a regulation that will, for the first time, set a limit on PFAS compounds in drinking water. It is set to be available for public review next fall and would be finalized by the fall of 2023.

Ron Falco, CDPHE’s safe drinking water program manager, said he’s pleased the EPA is moving to regulate PFAS, but he said fast action is critical.

“We want the EPA to hit that timeline,” he said.

The South Adams County Water and Sanitation District, which serves Commerce City, is watching the state’s progress carefully. It discovered PFAS contamination in 2018 when it began testing voluntarily for the substances after the crises in Fountain and Security.

It already had in place a carbon filtering system and was able to strengthen it to reduce PFAS contamination in its system to 35 parts per trillion (ppt), half of the EPA’s voluntary 70 ppt guideline. It also had to shut down wells whose contamination levels were so high, 2400 ppt, that no amount of carbon filtering could remove the chemicals fast enough to keep the drinking water safe.

“The key here is that we can treat the current levels,” said Kipp Scott, manager of drinking systems at the South Adams County district, but better treatment will be needed once the federal regulation takes effect.

And that means the district will need to install a new system that uses an ion exchange technology to remove the chemicals. Its estimated cost is $70 million. Scott said the district hopes the state’s emergency grant fund and new federal infrastructure dollars will help cover the cost.

“I hope this moves in the right direction, and we can continue to provide safe water to our customers,” Scott said.

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

The threat to #Colorado’s acequias and the communities that depend on them: In the San Luis Valley, the communal and egalitarian resource offers a way of life — @HighCountryNews

From The High Country News [November 23, 2021] (Sarah Tory):

Every summer in Colorado’s San Luis Valley, a long, high desert valley ringed by mountains, Jose Martinez watches in admiration as water flows from an irrigation pipe across the contours of his land, feeding the eight acres of alfalfa he grows near his home in San Francisco, a town of less than 90 people. The water comes from a network of communal irrigation ditches, or acequias, which comes from an Arabic word meaning “water bearer.” The acequias were built in part by his ancestors who arrived in southern Colorado more than 150 years ago with other Hispanic families from what is now New Mexico, establishing seven villages around Culebra Creek.

“I get to thinking, back in the day, these men dug it all by what we call pico y pala — pickaxe and shovel,” Martinez, 76, told me when I visited recently. We were sitting in his kitchen on a cold October day with his wife, Junita, 70, while the two of them explained how acequias work.

Unlike normal irrigation ditches, acequias are a communal resource, collectively owned and governed by their parciantes, or members — the group of small-scale farmers with water rights to the ditch. Acequias are egalitarian, too: whether you irrigate one acre or 100 acres, you get one vote in decisions about the ditch in exchange for helping to clean and maintain the acequia. The parciantes elect a three-member commission to make decisions around ditch maintenance and operations, as well as a mayordomo to manage the irrigation infrastructure and tell people when they can irrigate and when they have to shut their gates.

Junita and Jose Martinez on their vara land, which is pipe irrigated with acequia water. Jose remembers when his family would plant vegetables on their plot, but now he plants hay, which requires less labor, and yields a larger profit.
Luna Anna Archey

In Colorado, acequias are found in four of the southernmost counties and irrigate only a tiny fraction of the state’s agricultural output. But in a region where some water rights have been sold to the highest bidder and private gain is sometimes prioritized over collective well-being, acequias remain a powerful antidote to the forces threatening rural communities — a way of valuing local resources beyond their dollar amount and a catalyst for sharing them in times of scarcity. During dry years, acequias work to ensure that everyone weathers the shortages equitably; occasionally, Jose has opted to forego his water entirely when he sees no prospect of a decent crop, so that other parciantes can have more.

“Our concept is community,” Junita explains. “If I can’t get something, why should I hurt my neighbor, if I could just let him have my water — maybe he can grow something?”

The Culebra-Sanchez Canal, a feeder ditch in the acequia system in the San Luis Valley.
Luna Anna Archey

THAT COMMUNAL MINDSET originates in part from the families who arrived in the southern San Luis Valley in the mid 19th century to settle the one-million-acre Sangre de Cristo Land Grant. Drawn by promises of land and resources, they established small farming communities on land where the Cuputa band of Ute people had roamed for thousands of years, until they were gradually killed or forced out by European colonizers beginning in the 1600s. The families settling the valley beginning in the 1850s were primarily from Mexico, which had sold the territory now known as New Mexico — including the southern end of the San Luis Valley — to the U.S. government a few years earlier at the conclusion of the Mexican-American War.

Families built acequias and shared access to a mountainous tract of land in the nearby Sangre de Cristo mountains, known locally as La Sierra, which they relied on for water, firewood and foraging. The land grant was eventually sold, but its subsequent owners honored the historical rights of local families to access La Sierra.

Growing up, Jose Martinez remembers how families built cellars to store the vegetables grown on the land nourished by the acequias, as well as meat from deer and elk hunted in La Sierra — food that would last them the winter. Although they live in what is now one of Colorado’s most impoverished counties, “we ate like kings,” he said.

That all changed in 1960, when John Taylor, a North Carolina timber baron, bought 77,500 acres of La Sierra, renaming it the Cielo Vista Ranch and closing it off to the local community to create a logging operation. Taylor’s logging wrought lasting damage on the land. Poorly constructed roads created erosion, reducing the amount of water that flowed from the mountains into the acequias, according to area residents.

One of many gates blocking public access to privately-owned Cielo Vista Ranch. Residents with ancestral rights to the land won access in a Supreme Court ruling. They now have keys to the gates, but are only able to use the land for specific purposes, like gathering firewood, and they often face harassment by Ranch employees.
Luna Anna Archey

The water wasn’t the only resource reduced or eliminated as a result of Taylor’s actions. Without access to La Sierra for grazing, local families lost their herds and the culture of self-sufficiency that had sustained them for decades. Many, like Jose Martinez’s family, moved out of the valley. Those that stayed saw their health and well-being deteriorate. People went on food stamps and rates of diabetes soared. There were psychological impacts, too.

“You lose the relevance of what your land means,” said Shirley Romero Otero, the head of the Land Rights Council, which formed in the town of San Luis in the late 1970s to stop Taylor from denying access to the property. (A group of San Luis community members are participating in The Colorado Trust’s Community Partnerships strategy; Romero Otero previously was part of this effort.)

In 1981, the Land Rights Council mobilized local residents to sue Taylor for blocking their historical right to access the property. The ensuing legal battle lasted 40 years, fought by generations of the same families and leading to an April 2003 Colorado Supreme Court ruling, Lobato v. Taylor. The ruling granted people the right to graze their animals, cut timber and gather firewood on the land, if they could prove they were heirs to property that was part of the original Sangre de Cristo land grant.

The privately-owned Culebra Range in the background of San Francisco, Colorado. Residents call the mountains La Sierra.
Luna Anna Archey

“WE’RE SUCH DIEHARDS,” Junita told me, pointing to an old black-and-white photo from the early days of the land rights struggle taped to their refrigerator. Her husband was among the roughly 5,000 people given keys to access the ranch gates after a nearly 15-year process of identifying the land grant descendants.

“We won’t let go,” Jose added.

The Martinezes owe their persistence in part to the acequias, which are the lifeblood of each village, binding people to the land and to each other. Every spring, acequia communities gather for an annual ritual called La Limpieza to clean the ditch in preparation for the irrigation season. For families, it serves as a de facto reunion — regardless if someone has moved to Denver or to California, people come back for La Limpieza.

For Junita, that communal aspect is why acequias are important: working together to cultivate a shared resource. It’s also why she feels so strongly about protecting those resources from wealthy outsiders who threaten that culture. “We’re a land- and water-based people,” Junita explained.

The current owner of the Cielo Vista Ranch is William Harrison, heir to a Texas oil fortune, who bought the Cielo Vista property in 2018. According to its real estate listing, the ranch was listed at $105 million and encompasses 23 miles of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, including 18 peaks over 13,000 feet and one over 14,000 feet, Culebra Peak — the highest privately owned mountain in the U.S., and quite possibly the world.

Harrison’s ranch hands have intimidated and harassed local people who tried to access the property, according to court filings and residents — despite the legal rulings affirming the rights of the land grant heirs. With the threat of a violent confrontation growing, Jose and Junita’s children told their father they don’t want him going up onto the ranch alone to collect firewood, which he, like many locals, uses to heat their home.

A week before I visited, the Land Rights Council filed a motion in Alamosa Municipal Court to safeguard local residents’ rights to access the ranch. During a two-day hearing, a judge heard testimony about how the ranch’s aggressive surveillance tactics infringed on the community’s hard-won traditional land rights, including tracking people with drones and armed ranch hands approaching people with dogs. The ranch denied use of such tactics.

In an email, Harrison, through his lawyer, wrote that he believes that a few “bad apples” have abused those rights on occasion, illegally hunting, joy-riding ATVs and sneaking onto the property to fish. “That being said, we are fully committed to bringing the animosity of the past to a close, and are making a good-faith effort to bring healing and peace,” he added.

A sign in the town of San Luis provides notification of a community meeting about accessing La Sierra.
Luna Anna Archey

IF ACEQUIAS are the seams holding communities together, they are also what makes them vulnerable: the stitching that can come undone. In recent years, developers have approached communities elsewhere in the San Luis Valley to buy their water rights and then move the water from the aquifer below the valley over Poncha Pass and into the Arkansas River for growing Front Range cities.

“Some of those places look like ghost towns because of that,” said Peter Nichols, a lawyer with the Acequia Project, a pro-bono legal assistance program supported by the University of Colorado Boulder Law School.

Thus far, acequia communities have resisted those efforts, ensuring their water stays with the land. With the help of the Acequia Project and Colorado Open Lands, an environmental nonprofit, acequias have adopted bylaws that protect acequias from outside buyers.

Still, like any collaboration, acequias are not perfect, said Sarah Parmar, the director of conservation at Colorado Open Lands. “It’s messy because there are human relationships involved, and anytime you have a community that goes back multiple generations, there are going to be grudges and things that have happened that they’re going to bring into those situations,” Parmar said.

But more than anything, acequia communities recognize that water is not just an asset; “it’s a piece of everything,” Parmar told me. “If you pull on that thread, the whole sweater unravels.”

Junita and Jose Martinez at their home in San Francisco, Colorado. Nana Ditch, the “mother ditch,” runs through their property.
Luna Anna Archey

JOSE GRABBED JUNITA’S ARM to steady her as the two walked outside to show me the Nana Ditch, the “mother ditch” that gurgles beneath the willow trees in their backyard.

“It would kill me to see water flow by that doesn’t belong to us,” Junita said. “We’d have to go away.”

Today, abandoned houses are scattered amongst the roads and villages of the Culebra watershed — a reminder of how this community, like so many rural communities, has changed. North of the villages, giant agricultural operations have replaced the smaller family-run vegetable farms that once filled the San Luis Valley, while their high-tech center pivot irrigation systems are depleting the aquifers beneath the valley floor at an alarming rate.

Meanwhile, so many people have left, with the population of Costilla County nearly half what it was in 1950. When their children were growing up, Jose and Junita moved to Colorado Springs so the girls could get a better education. But people are returning to the valley, too, like Martinezes did in 2002. Jose began growing alfalfa on his family’s eight acres again, and a few years ago, two of the girls bought the lots on either side of their parents, where they hope to one day build their own homes.

In the Spanish dialect spoken in northern New Mexico and southern Colorado, there is a term called querencia, which translates roughly to “heart home or place.” Even after they left the valley, Jose and Junita would bring the girls back to San Francisco every summer to remind them: “This is where you come home.”

Junita and Jose Martinez’s land on the periphery of San Francisco, Colorado.
Luna Anna Archey

This story was republished with permission from Collective Colorado, a publication of The Colorado Trust.

Sarah Tory writes from Carbondale, Colorado. Follow @tory_sarah

#Colorado weather: Unseasonably warm fall could mean warmer, drier winter in Pueblo — The #Pueblo Chieftain #ENSO

La Niña intensifies the average atmospheric circulation—surface and high-altitude winds, rainfall, pressure patterns—in the tropical Pacific. Over the contiguous United States, the average location of the jet stream shifts northward. The southern tier of the country is often drier and warmer than average. NOAA Climate.gov illustration.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Lacey Latch):

Most years by Nov. 9, Puebloans would have already experienced their first snowfall and retired their lighter jackets for heavy winter coats.

That’s not the case this year.

“The weather patterns have just been really unfavorable for any sort of snow here in Pueblo so far this year,” said Cameron Simco, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Pueblo. “It’s just been kind of warm and the systems that come through are really fast and don’t give us a lot of time to get snow here.”

With temperatures in Pueblo reaching 80 degrees over the weekend of Nov. 6-7, the city came just a few degrees short of setting new record high temperatures for those dates.

Meanwhile, Colorado Springs and Alamosa were both hot enough over the weekend to set new record highs, according to the NWS.

What this means for Pueblo’s winter ultimately comes down to the larger climate patterns moving through the atmosphere.

“I know we’re forecasted from our climate partners to have a La Niña, which gives Pueblo generally a drier, warmer winter,” Simco said.

#Fountain looking to #ColoradoSprings Utilities to help fill water gap — The Colorado Springs Gazette

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Mary Shinn):

The city of Fountain is on the hunt for more water to support growth and the most likely short-term option is an agreement with Colorado Springs Utilities.

“Fountain is coming to the ceiling of the treated water supply,” said Mike Fink, city water resources manager, during a recent board meeting.

While the city owns enough water rights to double its treated water capacity, enough to serve 8,800 taps, developing the infrastructure to treat that water will take time and purchasing water could provide a more immediate solution, Utilities Director Dan Blankenship said.

In the long-term, the town expects residents could consume about four times as much water as they do now, a recent water master planning process showed, Fink said. The study showed the town uses about 3,167 acre feet of water annually, or about 1 billion gallons and it will need 11,527 acre feet or about 3.75 billion gallons, he said. The town’s maximum daily demand for water could also increase four fold, he said…

The need for more water is not tied to a calendar date, rather it will be driven by the speed of growth within the city’s service area. Those developments will also be expected to pay for additional water infrastructure, Blankenship said.

The town’s service area is distinct from the town’s boundaries because five water providers serve homes and businesses within the city’s boundaries, Fink said.

To meet the need, Blankenship said he recently put in a formal request to Colorado Springs Utilities to purchase treated water and would like to have an agreement in two years, he said…

the water could be delivered to Fountain by way of a new water main line that could run from the Edward Bailey Water Treatment Plant south to the eastern side of Fountain, he said.

Blankenship would like to see an agreement to purchase water over 15 to 25 years until the water is needed to serve Colorado Springs, he said…

Fountain is also working on a new reservoir so it can use water rights it already owns. It has purchased gravel pits on the very southwest side of Fountain west of Interstate 25, just north of the Nixon power plant and has hired a consultant that is designing the new facility. However, the excavation company must complete reclamation on the property before the town can start work, Blankenship said.

Widefield aquifer via the Colorado Water Institute.

Town officials are also exploring other options, such as injecting the Widefield aquifer with surface water from Fountain Creek to store it, he said. When water is stored in existing aquifers none of it is lost to evaporation.

The Widefield aquifer is contaminated with chemicals from firefighting foam that used to be used on Peterson Space Force Base and all the water from the aquifer goes through extensive treatment to ensure its safe for consumption.

Still, Fountain, Security and Widefield are interested in the injection as a potential to increase water storage, Blankenship said…

“There’s science that indicates the aquifer could be cleaned over time,” he said.

Denver Basin Aquifer System graphic credit USGS.

Fountain could also become a partner in the project to recapture Denver basin groundwater water released into Fountain Creek by northern water users.

A map being shown around El Paso County by suburban water agencies traces the path of the Loop, a complex $134 million pipeline and pumping project that would allow northern and eastern communities in the county to reuse aquifer water returning to Fountain Creek, and pipe along water rights they have bought up on the southern side of the county. (Provided by Woodmoor Water and Sanitation District)

Colorado Springs Utilities, Monument and six groundwater districts are working together on the feasibility of capturing the water.

It’s possible the water could be diverted below Colorado Springs and may require new water storage, such as a reservoir or tank, Colorado Springs Utilities said in the past.

Colorado Springs’ overhaul of development rules calls for scaling back high-water turf grass — The #ColoradoSprings Independent

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

From The Colorado Springs Independent (Pam Zubeck):

Changes in landscaping regulations for new Colorado Springs developments are on the horizon, the latest effort to curtail the use of water-thirsty lawns as drought continues to grip the West and pressure the Colorado River, the source of up to 70 percent of the city’s water supply.

The rules would reduce the amount of turf a residential lot would be allowed to have to minimize use of the city’s water supply on landscaping.

Part of Retool COS, a revamp of all city regulations governing development, the turf restrictions could be adopted as early as next May.

But those rules won’t affect existing sprawling lawns and high water-using plants. Officials hope the use of tiered water rates and education will encourage property owners to reduce demand, which already has happened.

As the consequences of severe drought become more apparent, Colorado Springs residents should recognize the condition of the state’s rivers has a direct impact on them, says Colorado Springs Utilities spokesperson Natalie Eckhart…

West Drought Monitor map October 26, 2021.

Drought in the West has spanned 20 years, and on Oct. 18, the Bureau of Reclamation released its Two-year Probabilistic Projections that updated modeling for inflows at Lake Powell and Lake Mead, fed by the Colorado River, showing the reservoirs are at risk of reaching critically low levels…

The Bureau of Reclamation study removed the wet period of the 1980s from the calculations and “further underscores the possible dire drought conditions that the [Colorado] Basin may experience in the next two years and the need for immediate action to bolster resiliences going forward,” the Water for Colorado Coalition said in a release. The coalition is made up of nine organizations — including The Nature Conservancy, Conservation Colorado, Trout Unlimited and Western Resource Advocates — that work to ensure the state’s rivers support those who depend on them.

The study and projections illustrate “the grim state of hydrology in the Basin and offers an impetus for urgent collaborative action,” the coalition said.

“The Colorado River is in trouble, and under the status quo there is uncertainty as to how the River system will continue to support thriving economies, communities, and river systems within the state, let alone the 40 million people, trillion dollar economic market, diverse cultures, and myriad fish and wildlife habitats that rely on it.”

The coalition urged water users to incorporate all the tools available to “increase preparedness and resilience to climate change,” including voluntary conservation efforts, forest management and restorative agricultural practices to boost soil health and reduce loss of water…

For Colorado Springs Utilities, the need to monitor and conserve water is a pragmatic one, not being located on a river system but rather relying heavily on transmountain supplies, most notably from the Colorado River.

About 50 percent of the city’s water supply comes from the Colorado River Basin. That portion rises to 70 percent with reuse, a method that allows for additional use of previously used water. For example, once water is used for domestic purposes, it’s treated and reused in the city’s non-potable system.

“We take the risks very seriously and employ a number of mitigation strategies,” Colorado Springs Utilities Board Chair Wayne Williams says via email.

Among those:

• Diversifying Colorado River sources by acquiring and developing rights from various other sources, including share agreements with lower Arkansas River Valley agricultural users.

• Expanding the current infrastructure to allow for more storage. Utilities has spent millions of dollars in recent years repairing and upgrading dams at its reservoirs for maximum storage potential. It secured the equivalent of a third of the city’s supply by inking a storage contract at Pueblo Reservoir and building the Southern Delivery System pipeline to Colorado Springs, which became operational in 2016. It’s also in the planning and research stage of building a new reservoir in the White River National Forest in Eagle County to perfect water rights owned by the city and Aurora since the 1950s.

• Reducing per capita water consumption through efficiency and conservation measures. Data show the average use per person in Colorado Springs dropped from 139 gallons per day in 2000 to 82 gallons per day this year, Springs Utilities spokesperson Jennifer Kemp says. Moreover, of that 139 gallons some 20 years ago, 60 percent went for outdoor use, while outdoor use today comprises only 41 percent of total usage per person.

• Exploring more uses for the city’s non-potable water supply.

• Researching the feasibility of incorporating recycled water into the domestic supply.

Now, the city’s Retool COS land use code proposes to incorporate “recognized water conservation principles” into development requirements to conserve water.

The proposal calls for reducing consumption through use of xeriscape concepts and “standards for the selection, installation, and maintenance of organic soil amendments and plant materials, and the conservation of indigenous plant[s].”

Those steps will, in turn, reduce mowing and fertilization requirements of limited turf areas, preserve species habitat, and curtail air, water and noise pollution, Retool COS says.

Specifically, the proposed code change would apply to all single-family and two-, three- and four-family residential projects by limiting turfgrass to no more than 25 percent of the portion of the lot not covered by a primary or accessory structure or a driveway, patio, deck or walkway.

Also, no contiguous area of less than 100 square feet could be planted with high-water-use turfgrass or other landscaping with spray irrigation. This provision’s intent is to minimize pockets of high water turf outside of the “tree lawn” — that space between a detached sidewalk and street curb, Planning Supervisor Morgan Hester says in an email…

Past efforts have included education about plants and their individual watering needs, and tiered rate structures that increase the per-unit cost of water based on levels of usage. Simply put, the more water you use, the higher the price, or the less water you use, the lower your bill will be.

A hotter, drier west poses hard questions for the #water flowing out of the #ColoradoRiver — The Ark Valley Voice #ArkansasRiver #COriver #aridification

Headwaters of the Arkansas River basin. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journlaism

From The Ark Valley Voice (Tara Flanagan):

Colorado’s map from the Oct. 26, 2020, U.S. Drought Monitor looked like some kind of fresh hell, its swaths of red and orange highlighting what happens when there is too much heat and not enough water for a long time. Colorado’s resulting fire crisis had good company; much of the Western United States had similar stories of people running from their homes as the fires closed in.

It was so 2020, as further evidenced by the strain on the Colorado River and the ongoing wake-up calls in communities that receive its water – directly or diverted.

Locally, Chaffee County’s economies lean on supplemental summer releases into the Arkansas River. Despite two decades of drought and aridification, the Arkansas has been able to remain visually stunning in the high season – not entirely due to the workings of nature. It’s uncertain how that may change.

Colorado Drought Monitor October 27, 2020.

One year later, the colors on Colorado’s map have softened to shades of beige and an innocuous-looking lemon-yellow, with darker spots remaining in the northwest corner and the far southwest edge. With some rain to its credit over this past summer and perhaps just plain luck, Colorado managed to escape the land-killing infernos such as the Cameron Peak Fire and the aptly named East Troublesome Fire of 2020.

Nobody knows exactly how those 2020 fires would have raged had not a major snowstorm rolled in on Oct. 25 last year and snuffed their trajectories. As it stood, East Troublesome charred 193,212 acres and 580 structures.

Snow is good. And traditionally it has been the utility player, if not hero, in the seven-state region served by the Colorado River, where, in a perfect world, it stores naturally on Colorado’s mountain peaks. Upon melting with a timed grace and running off in mid-spring, it flows south and west to the Gulf of California, serving some 40 million people en route.

Thanks to warmer temperatures and aridification, that sweet rhythm is off. Spring runoff gushes from the peaks too fast and sinks into the parched landscape before enough of it gets to its intended waterways.

Colorado Drought Monitor map October 26, 2021.

That said, later-season snows helped address an alarming dry trend in the spring of 2021, helping Chaffee County look better on the Drought Monitor and delighting those with fixations on the SNOTEL system and its high-country snowpack reports. The infusion of summer rain gave the appearance of a kinda-maybe monsoon pattern locally.

Water flowing through the Fry-Ark system, the trans-basin diversion from the Colorado River that flows out of the Frying Pan River in Pitkin County and which is released from Turquoise Lake and Twin Lakes, once again plumped the moneymaking waves in the Arkansas River from July 1 until mid-August this year.

Under the Voluntary Flow Management Program with the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District (SECWCD), 10,000 acre-feet of water is allocated during that time; moved to benefit recreation. All told, Fry-Ark sends out an average of 58,000 acre-feet each year, much of it going to agriculture below the Pueblo Reservoir.

It didn’t hurt that the Pueblo Board of Water Works was able to release 6,000 acre-feet from Clear Creek Reservoir early in the summer season. It echoed the cooperative dance of moving large amounts of water that has, by necessity, developed between water entities. This highlights the increased communication that is one of the upsides in the long-reaching, exhaustive conversations about water among an exhaustive list of stakeholders in Colorado and the West.

Chris Woodka, Senior Policy and Issues Management Manager with the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, said the increasing pressures on water have caused groups to come to the table and seek solutions. “What’s different is we’re talking all the time with each other,” he said. “There was a time when people were wary of how other people were moving water. Everyone now realizes it’s to their advantage to talk.”

With water from Fry-Ark and Clear Creek Reservoir – not to mention rain, the fattened Arkansas River gurgled through the county once again and gave more than a passing nod to the local economies over the summer. Pandemic aside, things seemed nice and easy.

“It almost gives you a false sense of security,” [Greg] Felt said, noting that with continuing drought and aridification, there are increasing signs of hydrological systems not being able to correct themselves.

“That whole program is built on Fry-Ark water,” he said. “There’s a lot at stake here. Diversions from the Fry-Ark project could be seriously impacted, and that’s a major concern.”

“It’s a no-brainer, probably, that a voluntary flow management program will be a lower priority than delivery for consumptive use,” he added.

Indeed, nothing is truly nice and easy anymore as the West faces challenges to just about everything that is known about water and how it continues to serve us…

…with average temperatures in the Colorado River Basin running 2 degrees Fahrenheit hotter than in the 20th century, those original nice ideas [Colorado River Compact] are being retooled or sidelined in the name of badly needed, better ideas; addressing drought, aridification and salination, and how to feed people when the river can’t help so much anymore. A new plan for operating the Colorado River is due in 2026.

#ArkansasRiver Compact Administration 2021 Annual Meeting — December 8-9 2021

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

From email from ARCA (Kevin Salter):

This is the preliminary notice for the upcoming Arkansas River Compact Administration Annual and Committee Meetings. Please note that the meeting dates and location were changed at the ARCA Annual Meeting held in December 2020. The meeting specifics and draft agendas will be provided at a later date.

The 2021 Annual Meeting of the Arkansas River Compact Administration (ARCA) will be held on Thursday, December 9, 2021. The Engineering, Operations, and Administrative/Legal Committees of ARCA will meet on Wednesday, December 8, 2021. Tentatively, these meetings are to be held at the Clarion Inn in Garden City, Kansas. The meetings are intended to be in person, but it will depend on the circumstances. We are exploring the options to have a hybrid meeting that will allow remote access. If the circumstances warrant, the meeting will be held virtually. More information will be provided as it becomes available. Any final decision should be made prior to November 29th.

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

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

New projections for low #ColoradoRiver flows speed need for dramatic conservation

From The Colorado Sun (Michael Booth):

A new federal system for projecting Colorado River water flows in the next two years confirms dire news about drought draining the West’s key reservoirs, and increases pressure on Colorado to conserve water immediately to avoid future demands from down-river states, conservation groups say.

The federal Bureau of Reclamation’s new system for projecting vital Colorado River flows in the next two years drops earlier, wetter years out of the historical reference, and gives more weight to two recent decades of drought. The regular October update this week shows water runoff into Lake Powell, the storage basin for four Upper Colorado Basin states, was only 32% of average for the 2021 water year, which runs from October to September.

The new projections for the next two years show that even with federal officials draining portions of Blue Mesa, Flaming Gorge and Navajo reservoirs to get more water to Lake Powell’s hydroelectric generating station, a moderate winter would leave the Colorado River in the same crisis a year from now. And a low-water scenario this coming winter season would drop Lake Powell well below the minimum level required to generate electricity by November 2022.

In addition to federal officials trying to protect hydroelectric generation at Lake Powell, and at Lake Mead as the downstream water bank for the Lower Basin states, water compacts govern how much Colorado River water needs to go downstream for use by agriculture and cities…

“We don’t have any more time to talk about it,” Matt Rice, co-chair of the Water for Colorado Coalition and Director of American Rivers’ Colorado River Basin Programs, said after reviewing the latest Bureau of Reclamation update.

Starting with the October update, the bureau begins the historical average calculations in 1991, instead of the 1981 cutoff used until now. The 1980s were much wetter in the Colorado River Basin, Rice said.

“These projections are worse than they have been in the past, but they’re also more realistic,” Rice said. Many conservation groups find that a positive step despite the bad news, Rice added, because it increases pressure on state water officials, local water conservancy districts, agriculture interests, cities and environmentalists to work faster on solutions.

At the same time, Rice said, the updated numbers should drive home the reality that there is 20% less water available now in the Colorado River than as recently as 2000. “There’s no more flexibility in the system, right? We’re looking over the edge of the cliff.”

Water conservation experts in Colorado have worked for years to avoid their worst-case scenario, which is a “call” or a sudden demand from federal managers to deliver more water for hydropower or to satisfy the compacts with the Lower Basin. Without advance planning, a call would force the state water engineer and local conservancy districts to cut irrigators’ water rights based only on the seniority of their water-use rights.

While state and local officials have been working with nonprofits on conservation plans, there are legal tangles that could require new legislation, and seemingly endless ethical questions about which parts of the state would suffer the most water loss, said Sonja Chavez, director of the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District…

The boat ramp at the Lake Fork Marina closed for the season on Sept. 2 due to declining reservoir levels. The Bureau of Reclamation is making emergency releases out of Blue Mesa Reservoir to prop up levels in Lake Powell and preserve the ability to make hydropower.
CREDIT: HEATHER SACKETT/ASPEN JOURNALISM

Blue Mesa Reservoir in her region has been nearly drained by drought and by federal officials taking extra from Western reservoirs to solidify Lake Powell’s power pool. Blue Mesa is projected to soon be down to 27% full, Chavez said. Blue Mesa was 33% full in mid-September, according to Bureau of Reclamation records.

State and private officials have cooperated to experiment with “demand-management” programs, where instead of buying agriculture land and its accompanying water rights outright, they buy the right to rent the water for a few years out of a decade. That rented water can be sent downstream in dry years, and in theory the restoration of water in other years should preserve the farm or ranch land while providing income for the farmer.

But renting or buying of water rights on the scale to meet compact demands would require hundreds of millions of dollars, with no current pot of money to pull from, water experts say. Colorado officials have mentioned the possibility of using money from the infrastructure stimulus plan currently under debate by Congress, but it’s uncertain whether the bill will pass, and how much water-related money will be in it if it does…

The largest amounts of water to be conserved are in agriculture, by far, but Front Range residents must be part of the statewide discussion about finding more water for the downstream Colorado River, Rice and Chavez said.

“You’re not going to get as much out of a city compared to what is the amount of irrigation water diverted for agriculture,” Chavez said. “But there’s also agriculture on the Front Range that benefits from our transmountain diversions,” some of which are created and controlled by urban water departments. “That has to be part of the picture.”

Front Range cities take water from the Roaring Fork River basin in a transmountain diversion through the Twin Lakes Tunnel. The city of Aspen is studying the potential for an Alternative Transfer Method, or ATM, to increase its water supplies, which could include approaching transmountain diverters about participating in a water-sharing agreement. Photo credit: Elizabeth Stewart-Severy/Aspen Journalism

#LaJunta market grower optimistic despite challenges facing agriculture — The La Junta Tribune-Democrat

Flood irrigation — photo via the CSU Water Center

From The Ag Journal (Candace Krebs) via The La Junta Tribune-Democrat:

As seasonal farmers markets move into the final stretch, the produce is abundant, even if water availability in some cases curtailed production early on.

A sustained period of warm, dry days have been good for the peppers, tomatoes, melons and pumpkins, one La Junta area farmer said…

Every summer for the past 38 years, there’s been a Hanagan on this street next to the park selling produce, Hanagan said, serving multiple generations. The Old Colorado City market in Colorado Springs is one of the oldest in the state.

Frank Schmidt, owner of Schmidt Apiaries and the long-time operator of the market, said the venue was thriving. Even so, over the years it has become harder to retain actual farmers to anchor the market, while artisans and crafters proliferate, he said.

Schmidt is grateful to have around five or six farms still bringing produce, but he’s lost a few long-time produce vendors in recent years. Lusk Farms, of Rocky Ford, switched from growing produce to full-time hay production. Lippis Farm, of Florence, quit largely in frustration over the time, effort and expense involved in maintaining organic certification…

Farming is getting tougher, and most farmers feel like agriculture, in general, is under attack from a combination of rising costs, cumbersome regulations and controversial voter petitions backed by special interest groups, [Chuck] Hanagan said…

That’s why the agriculture community was so alarmed by the proposed PAUSE Act, short for Protect Animals from Unnecessary Suffering, which would have banned routine animal husbandry practices and required animals to live out a certain amount of their lives before slaughter, among other provisions.

It was struck down on legal grounds before ever being placed on the ballot, but it would have prohibited preg-checking and artificial insemination, practices Hanagan said are fundamental to good agricultural management, by conflating them with deviant sex acts…

The Colorado Department of Labor and Employment is in the process of drafting the new bill, which is due for final adoption no later than Jan. 31. It is aimed at addressing overtime wages for farm workers and making sure they have access to key service providers and heat stress protections…

A Colorado Agricultural Labor Survey conducted by Colorado State University last year found that among 213 respondents, the median wage range was $13-$15 per hour, consistent with the most recent averages reported by the National Agricultural Statistics Service Farm Labor Survey…

Farms such as Hanagan’s that bring in Mexican farmworkers through the federal H2A program are already required to provide housing, utilities and transportation, he said.

“Farmers are very good with managing natural resources because they have to be,” he said. “People think of that as soil and water, but just as important — and maybe more important — is their labor. You have to take care of that or you’re not going to be successful.”

Hanagan said his family has worked with some of the same employees from south of the border for 30 or 40 years, which creates mutual trust and allows for a great deal of flexibility in how they do their jobs.

Benefits from Upper #ArkansasRiver Water Conservancy District programs — The Mountain Mail

Graphic via the Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District

From The Mountain Mail (Terry Scanga):

In 1979 the Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District was formed. Since that time innumerable benefits have been provided to the citizens of the district.

The primary goal of the district is protection of water rights within the Upper Arkansas. Continuous monitoring and involvement in legislative measures that impact water rights, involvement in water court cases that have the potential to negatively impact Upper Basin water rights and operating umbrella augmentation plans that prevent injury to water rights by making weekly water replacements to affected rivers and streams by out-of-priority uses are the major areas of work.

Other areas include conducting water studies such as ground water monitoring, water balance studies with the U.S. Geologic Survey, identification of and development of alluvial water storage, watershed health activities such as spearheading the Monarch Pass Steep Slope Timber Harvesting Project and water education programs. The benefits of these programs are not always recognized by citizens of the district.

Water resource development is essential to an effective water right protection program. The most obvious and direct benefit of this is the district’s umbrella augmentation plan program. Augmentation is a little understood water resource concept that was developed in 1969 when Colorado fully recognized in legislation the connection between tributary ground water and surface water. With this recognition all ground water production was brought under and regulated by the prior appropriation system.

Basically, this meant that the right to extract ground water for use would be governed by the date of first use. In an arid country such as Colorado, and in particular eastern Colorado, there is never enough water to satisfy all legal claims. Thus, priority of use is controlled by the established date of first use or “First in Time Is First in Right.” This legislation prevented most well use except when a “fully consumable” water source was used to replace the amount of water used up by the well. In other words, the well use would have to be augmented with a court-decreed “Plan of Augmentation.”

The full impact of this was not completely felt until the decision of the Kansas-Colorado Compact lawsuit and the adoption by Colorado in 1995 of the “Amended Rules and Regulation on Tributary Ground Water Use in the Arkansas Basin.”

Fortuitously, the district had filed in 1992 and obtained an umbrella augmentation plan in 1994. The benefits have been enormous for citizens within district boundaries of its decreed augmentation areas needing augmentation to use their wells, surface diversion or ponds.

The value of being able to enroll into the district’s augmentation plan and continue to use one’s well is best quantified by cost savings. Typical residential well augmentation requires a source of fully consumable water, storage, an engineering plan and a water court decree. The typical current cost for such a plan ranges from a low of $80,000 to $150,000 per residence. The cost per residence with the district’s plan is less than $4,500, a savings per residence of $75,000 to more than $145,000.

Presently the district provides augmentation to over 2,000 wells. The vast majority of these are for residential use. This savings expressed in dollars would represent a cost savings to district citizens of as much as $290 million.

The additional and as important benefit is to rivers and streams in the district. Annually more than 700-acre feet of water is released to our streams and available to support water rights and protect them from injury.

Further benefits are the water infrastructure that is maintained and constructed that supports recreation and the environment. Many of the area lakes and reservoirs are filled with district owned and controlled water rights, such as O’Haver Lake.

The studies and watershed health projects the district has undertaken in its 35 years of existence provide a wealth of knowledge and data for present and future understanding of our water resource and a roadmap to future water development.

Ralph “Terry” Scanga is general manager of the Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District.

Cutthroat Trout reintroduced to southern #Colorado waterways — KOAA

CPW staff spawn unique cutthroat trout rescued from Hayden Pass fire. Photo credit Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

From Colorado Parks & Wildlife via KOAA:

Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) continues to reintroduce one of the state’s prized animals to its natural habitat.

This week, CPW officers released infant Colorado River Cutthroat Trout to waterways in Southern Colorado. These fish were released into the North French Creek drainage because this body of water does not contain fish in its higher regions, allowing the trout to grow and reproduce.

The fish being stocked are the descendants of roughly 200 fish taken out of Hayden Creek near Salida, Colorado, during the Hayden Pass Fire in 2016. The fish were then taken to a CPW fish hatchery for their protection.

CPW said because of the fire, the creek is still uninhabitable, which is why they are putting the fish in other areas.

“When we have three to five stable populations in the Arkansas watershed, I’ll know we are preserving this unique species,” said PSICC Fisheries Biologist Janelle Valladares. “When I’m working on this project, I always think about conservationist Aldo Leopold. He said, ‘To keep every cog and wheel is the first precaution of intelligent tinkering’. We may not know just how this fish fits into the larger picture, but despite fires and flooding, it is important to preserve as many species as possible until we have a more complete understanding of their contribution to the environment.”

Crews will stock about 2,000 fish over the next few weeks and plan to stock more over the next three years.

“Actively managing these increasingly rare fisheries habitats is critical to maintaining the viability of these rare cutthroat,” said Pikes Peak District Ranger Oscar Martinez. “I am excited we can capitalize on the unique characteristics of Ruxton and French Creeks to help us with the stewardship of the cutthroat in response to an increasing number of stressors, like climate change and wildland fire events.”

The fish are most closely related to the Colorado River cutthroat trout, but with unique genetics that do not exist in any other trout population. The genetics of these cutthroat trout match museum specimens collected from Twin Lakes, near Leadville, Colorado, in 1890, according to CPW.

Metro districts for massive Peyton subdivision approved, but some have concerns — The #ColoradoSprings Gazette

Developer 4 Site Investments plans to build more than 3,200 homes north of Judge Orr Road adjacent to Eastonville Road and U.S. 24. County commissioners on Tuesday, Sept. 28, 2021, voted to approve a service plan for four new metropolitan districts that will fund the subdivision. Courtesy of Grandview Reserve Sketch Plan

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Breeanna Jent):

El Paso County commissioners on Tuesday approved four new metropolitan districts that will fund a proposed subdivision of more than 3,200 homes in Peyton, a move some locals say could alter the area’s “small-town feel” as thousands of expected residents move in.

Commissioners voted unanimously to form the metropolitan districts that propose issuing $290 million in debt over 30 years to build the planned Grandview Reserve subdivision on about 768 acres between U.S. 24 and Eastonville Road, near Falcon Regional Park.

Grandview Reserve developers expect to build up to 3,260 single-family homes in the new subdivision over 14 years, said Russell Dykstra of law firm Spencer Fane LLC, representing developer 4 Site Investments LLC. About 244 homes would be built each year from 2022 through 2032 before construction gradually tapers down between 2033 and 2036, according to meeting documents. Previously, anticipated build-out was planned to occur over eight years.

County planner Kari Parsons said homes were expected to sell on average for about $340,000. Developers will charge each future property owner special district taxes to finance the $295 million debt. Owners of a newly built $400,000 home in the subdivision could owe about $1,859 in taxes annually, Dykstra said.

The proposal presented Tuesday was revised from a previous request to form five new metropolitan districts that proposed issuing $250 million in debt to build the new development. Parsons said developers now proposed issuing $290 million in debt because of increased construction costs…

Developers contended several other nearby districts — including the 4-Way Ranch, Meridian Ranch and Woodmen Hills metro districts — cannot support nor pay for traffic, water and storm drainage improvements planned for the area, meeting documents show.

In a March 31 letter addressed to commissioners and included in meeting documents Tuesday, the 4-Way Ranch Metropolitan District said it cannot provide services to the proposed Grandview Reserve subdivision because it does not have enough water. The district also said forming four new Grandview Reserve Metropolitan Districts “would provide an economic alternative for services and would eliminate undo [sic] financial burden” on the 4-Way Ranch Metro District No. 2.

The Grandview Reserve Metro District would provide water to the Grandview Reserve subdivision, which needs about 1,200 acre-feet a year, developers said. An acre-foot of water is enough to cover an acre of land to a depth of about one foot and is considered the amount needed by a family of four for about a year.

Denver Basin Aquifer System graphic credit USGS.

The metro district would source mostly from the Arapahoe and Laramie-Fox Hills aquifers, but offsite wells from neighboring lands owned by 4 Way Ranch will “likely be needed” for full development, meeting documents show.

Upper Black Squirrel Creek Designated Groundwater Basin
Upper Black Squirrel
Creek Designated Groundwater Basin

Mirko Cruz of Trout Raley law firm, representing the Upper Black Squirrel Creek Ground Water Management District, said the developer hasn’t “provided sufficient evidence” that the new metro district owns or controls adequate water rights to service the development. Developers have a purchase and sale agreement “for a portion of the water needed” to meet the subdivision’s demands but it doesn’t prove their guaranteed right to use the water, he said…

Cherokee Metropolitan District will provide wastewater services to the subdivision, developers said.

#Water and sewer rates in #PuebloWest could increase 20, 48% in order to meet its needs — The #Pueblo Chieftain

Pueblo West

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Tracy Harmon):

If Pueblo West is to keep up with its growth, water and sewer rate increases are a must, a consultant told the Pueblo West Metro District Board on Sept. 27…

The water resource fee of $35,290 would be charged to new residential customers who want to connect to both water and sewer service. Extra funds would enable the district to purchase more water shares to keep up with demand.

Currently, new construction permits are about $20,000 for water and sewer or $11,000 for water only, said Jim Blasing, director of utilities for Pueblo West. Board Vice President Matt Smith said the $35,290 price tag seemed high when compared with communities in the area…

Options outlined for proposed rate increases

Melanie Hobart, project manager for FCS Group, shared with the board three scenarios for water fees to help the district realize growth. That growth would call for a $15 million water treatment plant expansion in 2027.

If the district wants new growth to pay for itself, it could enact the $35,290 water resource fee and charge existing customers a 4.6% annual increase. If new growth is charged just 50% of the water resource fee, existing customers would be charged 8.3% more annually.

Smith said he would prefer to see a medium between the first two choices.

In the third water scenario, without a water resource fee, there would be a 20% increase in all water bills next year and 10% annually from 2023 onward. Sewer rate scenarios included one the consultants recommended where customers would see a 20.3% increase in 2022, a 6.5% increase from 2023 to 2027 and a 3.25% increase the following four years.

The second sewer option, which would prevent the district from going into debt, would call for a 48% bill increase for customers in 2022 and a 23.5% increase in 2023.

Pueblo West resident Joe Mahaney suggested the district prioritize a capital improvement project that would enable the use of treated wastewater for non-potable uses like parks. He also suggested higher water rates for users who consume more than 9,000 gallons a month.

Residents will have a chance to weigh in on the proposed rate increases the district settles on at a public meeting set for 5 p.m. Nov. 8 at Fire Station 3, 729 E. Gold Drive.

#Drought increasing in southern #Colorado — KOAA

Colorado Drought Monitor one week change map ending September 21, 2021.

From KOAA (Alex O’Brien):

This week, a reintroduction of D1 Moderate drought levels has returned to Crowley county and surrounding areas as well as Baca county.

We are in much better shape this September versus September 2020, where the majority of the state was under severe and extreme drought. And last fall brought one of the worst wildfire seasons in state history.

Colorado Drought Monitor September 22, 2020.

Until now, Colorado Springs has been riding on a precipitation surplus from wet weather in Spring and early Summer. For the first time this year, Colorado Springs is at a deficit for the water year.

Drought is a marathon, not a sprint. It takes a long time to develop and a long time to fix. This summer’s initial improvement in drought across eastern Colorado now seems to be tipping the other way.

Looking ahead, the Climate Prediction Center anticipates precipitation leaning below average in Fall, and temperatures will likely be above average.

This Fall forecast supports drought persisting or worsening into 2022.

Opinion: It’s time to stop shipping water across the Rockies — Writers on the Range #EagleRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

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 Writers on the Range (David O. Williams):

David O. Williams is a contributor to Writers on the Range. Photo credit: Writers on the Range

It was 1952 when the cities of Aurora and Colorado Springs first started gobbling up water rights in a remote, high mountain valley on the state’s Western Slope. The valley is called Homestake, and now, those same cities want even more of its pure water.

In western Colorado, where only about 20% of Colorado’s population lives, all water tries to flow toward the Pacific Ocean. On the east side, where most people live, water flows to the Atlantic. To bring the water from the west side to the east side of the Rockies requires lots of money and lots of pipelines.

But money isn’t much of a barrier when your population is exploding: Colorado Springs, with 478,961 residents, and Aurora, with 386,261, need more water. And they aim to get it even if it must cross under the Continental Divide and damage a fragile and ancient wetland called a “fen” in the process.

The new reservoir the two cities plan to build would be five miles downstream from their existing Homestake Reservoir, and called Whitney Reservoir after a creek that flows into Homestake Creek. There’s also a Whitney Park within the nearby Holy Cross Wilderness Area, which could lose some 500 acres if the new reservoir goes through.

The Holy Cross Wilderness Area near Vail, which could lose 500 acres under the new reservoir plan.
(Photo Credit: John Fielder via Writers on the Range)

But protesters are already active, and conservation groups are threatening lawsuits. Meanwhile, the cities have already quietly begun test drilling at four possible dam sites on U.S. Forest Service land along Homestake Creek.

Obstacles, however, are popping up. The Forest Service says it won’t even consider a reservoir proposal that shrinks a wilderness area, and the cities would have to get that approval from both Congress and the White House.

The U.S. congressman for the district, rising Democratic star Joe Neguse, has also made it clear he doesn’t support shrinking a designated wilderness or damaging wetlands. Local leaders are also chiming in: “A Whitney Reservoir would irreparably change and harm our community,” said Minturn Mayor John Widerman and Red Cliff Mayor Duke Gerber, who co-wrote a letter to the Forest Service. Both represent small towns dependent on tourism and outdoor recreation.

State Sen. Kerry Donovan, a Democrat who grew up in the nearby ski town of Vail, also wrote the Forest Service to oppose the dam: “I cannot express how sternly the citizens of my district … oppose water diversion projects to Front Range communities.”

Another issue, and for some it’s the most critical, is the fate of valuable “fen” wetlands that would be destroyed by a dam and reservoir. “This is one of the finest wetlands we can find on our forest — it’s unbelievable,” White River National Forest Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams told Aspen Journalism in 2019. “You can mitigate, but you can’t replace 10,000 years of work.”

etlands, which are havens of biodiversity, offer priceless ecological benefits. As wetlands are lost to development nationwide, critics of the dam project worry about its local impact.
(Photo Credit: John Fielder via Writers on the Range)

Nor can you turn the clock back to 1952, when Colorado’s population was 1.36 million, compared to 5.7 million today, and the global land and ocean temperature was 1.52 degrees Fahrenheit cooler. Climate change, scientists say, will cause the Colorado River to lose up to 31% of its historical flow by 2052. That prediction was a factor in a recent, first-ever federal water shortage declaration.

“When Colorado Springs and Aurora got their water right, the [Holy Cross] wilderness wasn’t there and wetlands at that time were something we were just filling in,” said Jerry Mallett, president of the local conservation group Colorado Headwaters. “Since then (wetlands) have become an extremely valuable resource because of what they can do for groundwater recharge, addressing climate change — all kinds of things.”

Then there’s the issue of Kentucky bluegrass, Colorado’s landscaping groundcover of choice. Kentucky gets more than 50 inches of rain a year compared to the Front Range average of 17, so why pump western Colorado’s high-elevation water through the Rockies for lawns?

Colorado photographer and conservationist John Fielder, who says he’s been just about everywhere within the nearly 123,000-acre Holy Cross Wilderness Area, wants people to just look at his images of the fen wetlands along Homestake Creek, and then ask themselves these questions:

“Is anything more sublime and fertile and life-giving than a 10,000-or-more-year-old fen wetland? You can’t “mitigate” the loss of ancient wetlands by creating a manmade wet place somewhere else. No more water to the Front Range.”

David O. Williams is a contributor to Writers on the Range, writersontherange.org, a nonprofit dedicated to spurring lively conversation about the West. He is a freelance writer who lives near Vail, Colorado.

New reservoir project shared by Colorado Springs, Fountain, Pueblo, Pueblo West, Aurora, Southeastern Enterprise — KRDO

From KRDO (Scott Harrison):

On Tuesday, city leaders approved their involvement in a project to build a new reservoir and partner with four local communities and a metro-Denver city.

The city will work with Fountain, Pueblo, Pueblo West, the Southeastern Water Activity Enterprise and Aurora on the Haynes Creek Reservoir Project, located along U.S. 50 and around 20 miles east of Pueblo, near the town of Boone.

Graphic credit: City of Colorado Springs via KRDO

The Colorado Springs City Council unanimously approved its role in the project during its Tuesday regular meeting.

Councilman Wayne Williams, who also is chairman of the Utilities Board, said that the reservoir is part of the Southern Delivery System for Colorado Springs Utilities…

The six partners will share the $2.8 million cost of the 641-acre reservoir site — with Colorado Springs, Pueblo and Aurora each using 28.5% of the water and thereby paying higher shares of the cost.

The remaining partners will each use 4.7% of the water.

Officials said that because of the permitting process and other requirements, the reservoir likely won’t be ready until 2030 at the earliest.

Crops Struggle As A Record-Dry Summer Follows A Record-Wet Spring For Parts Of The Eastern Plains — Colorado Public Radio

From Colorado Public Radio (Michael Elizabeth Sakas):

Colorado’s Eastern Plains saw a lot of rain in the spring, which helped half of the state escape drought.

Summer was a different story. Many areas got much less rain than normal, and some spots around Washington and Yuma counties recorded their lowest amount of precipitation on record.

Courtesy of Russ Schumacher, from West Wide Drought Tracker

Now drought has started to creep back in.

State climatologist Russ Schumacher said a weather station in Akron recorded its second-wettest spring, followed by the driest summer recorded there.

Joel Schneekloth, a regional water resource specialist with Colorado State University Extension, said if the extra spring moisture had been met with average summer rainfall, it would have been a “fantastic” year for many crops.

Schneekloth said the “saving grace” of this summer for the plains was the wet spring and closer-to-normal temperatures meant farmers used just a little more water than average. He said that made the biggest difference compared to historically dry summers in years like 2012 and 2002…

The wet spring meant most corn growers in Washington County will likely have a better year than they did in 2020, Schneekloth said. The county’s average corn crop yielded around 15 bushels per acre in 2020, but that average could increase to 35 this year.

What’s hurting the most this summer is proso millet, which was the third-largest crop for Washington County, according to 2017 data from the USDA.

“In our area for the most part, it’s a disaster,” Schneekloth said.

The millet is planted in early June, and the area’s last good rain was weeks before that. Schneekloth said the shallow roots failed in the dry soil. Those dry soils will have a long-term effect going into the fall because they will make planting wheat before the winter tough, Schneekloth said. He hopes some rain will fall before then…

Ron Meyer, an agronomist for Colorado State University Extension, said the extreme rain helped some crops on the Eastern Plains.

Meyer worried there wouldn’t be any wheat to harvest after a dry fall and winter in 2020 and into 2021. But the moisture got the wheat-growing again in March, which resulted in an above-average crop.

Once it stopped raining again in the summer, spring-planted crops like corn, sunflower and millet are now struggling.

Crop residue. Photo credit: Joel Schneekloth

Meyer said the dry summer shows why it’s important for farmers and ranchers to adapt to a warming climate. One way is through “banking” soil moisture by adopting practices that promote soil health and reduce tilling, as well as using drought-adapted varieties of crops to improve their chances of having a good harvest in extreme conditions.

Fountain Creek watershed projects improve quality of life, but impact often goes unnoticed — The #Pueblo Chieftain

Highway 47 Bank Restoration Project before project. Photo credit: Fountain Creek Watershed
Flood Control And Greenway District

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Sara Wilson):

The work managed by the Fountain Creek Watershed, Flood Control and Greenway District can be “unrecognizable,” but its leaders want citizens to recognize the importance of its flood control projects, as well as understand why it’s crucial to find more funding.

One of those projects in Pueblo is the restoration of approximately 3,000 feet of the creek that runs under the US Highway 47 bridge near Jerry Murphy Road, completed in November 2018.

“It was $6.6 million for something you would drive by and not recognize, while at the same time it protects a major thoroughfare,” District Executive Director Bill Banks said while giving the annual tour of the district’s projects on Sept. 10.

After Highway 47 Project. Photo credit: Fountain Creek Watershed
Flood Control And Greenway District

In this instance, a 2015 flooding event catalyzed the Colorado Department of Transportation to partner with the district to realign the creek in order to protect the bridge. CDOT contributed $1.5 million to the project, which also included major landscaping design to provide bank and floodplain stabilization…

Pueblo Channel Project at 13th Street before. Photo credit: Fountain Creek Watershed
Flood Control And Greenway District

Another large project the district completed in June 2021 is a 2,600 feet stretch of the creek that ends at the 8th Street bridge on the East Side. That $3.4 million project narrowed the creek channel from 600 feet to an average of 150 feet. This both stabilized the channel and made it easier for the water to push sediment through, rather than dumping it haphazardly along the banks.

“A lot of conventional wisdom is to make a channel really wide in order to convey as much water as possible to prevent flooding,” said Aaron Sutherlin, who oversaw the 8th Street bridge project with Matrix Design Group. “When you make things as wide as possible, you lose the ability to transport sediment. What you get in a system is sediment that dumps out in places you don’t know where it’s going to go. That’s exactly what happened at this site.”

That project also built the creek to withstand up to 6,000 cubic feet per second, a so-called “100-year flood.”

Pueblo Channel Project at 13th Street after. Photo credit: Fountain Creek Watershed

That influx was a $50 million payout from Colorado Springs Utility to offset the impact of its water delivery system from the Pueblo Reservoir to the cities of Colorado Springs and Fountain. So far, Banks said the district has spent about $27 million from those funds and has identified over $200 million worth of projects.

Farmers restore native grasslands as groundwater disappears — The Associated Press

The dry bed of the Arkansas River near the Santa Fe Trail crossing at Cimarron, Kansas. The Ogallala aquifer groundwater levels in much of western Kansas started dropping in the 1950s as pumping increased, according to the Kansas Geological Survey. File Photo / Max McCoy

From The Associated Press (Tammy Webber):

For decades, the Texas Panhandle was green with cotton, corn and wheat. Wells drew a thousand gallons (3,785 liters) a minute from the seemingly bottomless Ogallala aquifer, allowing farmers to thrive despite frequent dry spells and summer heat.

But groundwater that sustained generations is drying up, creating another problem across the Southern plains: Without enough rain or groundwater for crops, soil can blow away — as it did during the Dust Bowl of the 1930s.

“We wasted the hell out of the water,” says Muleshoe, Texas, farmer Tim Black, recalling how farmers irrigated when he was a kid. Water flooded furrows or sprayed in high arcs before farmers adopted more efficient center-pivot systems.

His grandfather could reach water with a post-hole digger. Black is lucky to draw 50 gallons (189 liters) a minute from wells up to 400 feet (122 meters) deep.

Now farmers are facing tough choices, especially in parts of Texas, New Mexico and Oklahoma.

Some are growing less-thirsty crops or improving irrigation. Others, like Black, are replacing some cash crops with cattle and pastureland.

And more are planting native grasses that go dormant during drought, while deep roots hold soil and green with the slightest rain…

Black, a former corn farmer, plants native grasses on corners of his fields, as pasture for cattle and between rows of wheat and annual grass.

The transition to cattle, he hopes, will allow his oldest son to stay on the land Black’s grandparents began plowing 100 years ago. His younger son is a data analyst near Dallas…

More than half the currently irrigated land in portions of western Texas, eastern New Mexico and the Oklahoma Panhandle could be lost by the end of the century, according to a study last year. And the central part of the aquifer could lose up to 40% of irrigated area by 2100.

Those losses might be slowed as farmers adapt to lower water levels, researchers say. But the projections underscore the need for planning and incentives in vulnerable areas.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is prioritizing grasslands conservation in a “Dust Bowl Zone” in parts of Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas.

But reestablishing native vegetation in the sandy soil over the Ogallala has proven difficult where irrigation ceased on former Kansas farmland. The same is true on land outside the Ogallala previously irrigated with river water, including in Colorado’s Arkansas River Valley.

Extended periods of drought that plagued the Southwest over the past 20 years likely will continue, says meteorologist Brad Rippey with the USDA.

So farmers may need to use some remaining groundwater to reestablish native grasses, says study co-author Meagan Schipanski, an associate professor of soil and crop sciences at Colorado State University.

Historic photo of the High Plains in Haskell County, Kansas, showing a treeless semi-arid grassland and a buffalo wallow or circular depression in the level surface. (Photo by W.D. Johnson, 1897)

August was hot and dry for eastern #Colorado and #drought is knocking at our door — KOAA

From KOAA (Alex O’Brien):

For Colorado Springs, August is making weather headlines as the 4th driest and 2nd warmest on record for the city. The average temperature was 74° which ties 2nd place for warmest with 2020. The record-holder is 2011 at an average temperature of 74.1°.

Colorado Springs saw a measly 0.20″ of rain in August, making for the 4th driest on record. August is typically the second wettest month for the city at an average of 2.96″.

In Pueblo, the stats aren’t as dramatic with August being the 15th warmest on record at 76.4°. Pueblo received 1.23″ of rain which is 0.88″ below average.

Statewide, eastern Colorado was hot and dry this month and western Colorado was wet and cool.

These patterns had an influence on drought, with improvement seen in the west and worsening in the east.

Colorado Drought Monitor one month change map ending August 31, 2021.

But as a whole, Colorado Springs is running near average for the 2021 water year thus far, after running on a surplus from spring and early summer.

As aquifers drain, El Paso County is hoping a nearly endless loop of water can fight future shortages — The #Colorado Sun

Fountain Creek through Colorado Springs.

From The Colorado Sun (Michael Booth):

Could a $134 million pipeline recycling suburban water help wean communities off depleted aquifer sources? The latest complex solution for the arid, fast-growing West…

For the H20 molecules lying thousands of feet underground in the Denver Basin aquifer, trapped by millions of years of geologic shifts, there would be a long journey ahead.

Should they get sucked up a well owned by a northern El Paso County water agency, the water drops may first be sprinkled on a lawn in, say, the Woodmoor district east of Monument. From there, the water would sink back underground and flow downhill toward Monument Creek. On into Fountain Creek, and south toward the Arkansas River.

Then the drops would ripple past Colorado Springs, which is desperate to entrap more water of its own for future growth, and is pushing for unloved dams 100 miles away to bring more Western Slope water over the Continental Divide.

On the water would glide past Security, Widefield and other communities, which are struggling to secure clean water supplies of their own in the wake of contamination from polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) running off firefighting foam used for decades at a local military base.

Still going, the hardworking aquifer water then would pass farmland that will eventually be dried up by Woodmoor and other northern suburbs buying agriculture water for their own growth. At the town of Fountain, the water would pass a town that has slowed new homebuilding because it doesn’t have enough future supply for new water taps.

Chilcott Ditch looking towards headgate. Photo credit: Chilcott Ditch Company

And then those precious H20 molecules would hit a curve of Fountain Creek where the Chilcott Ditch headgate looms like an ominous fork in the road of life: If Woodmoor and its allies get their way, the molecules they pulled from the timeless aquifer will get diverted here and sent into a $130 million-plus pipeline, to be shipped back north to the top of El Paso County. The journey for those molecules would begin all over again, in a project appropriately dubbed The Loop, until — in the official water rights phrase — the original aquifer water has been “used to extinction.”

But that only happens if El Paso County and local water agencies convince the keepers of the federal American Rescue Plan that the stimulus funds can be used for water projects like the Loop, and not just highways.

Can this tortured trip for the ancient, sandstone-filtered water really be the best solution to Colorado’s relentlessly expanding water demands?

“There’s something in it for everybody,” said Jessie Shaffer, Woodmoor Water and Sanitation District manager and a key proponent of the Loop…

Backers of the Loop idea say it would solve many problems at once.

It would reduce unsustainable withdrawals from the Denver Basin aquifers, with local water providers already on notice they need to find alternative sources. The pipeline would allow the homes in subdivisions north and east of Colorado Springs to use southern water rights they’ve already purchased but can’t access. And it would promote water recycling, considered a key to Colorado’s water use future, by allowing those northern areas to reuse aquifer water after it’s run off into Fountain Creek and shipped north again by the Loop.

From a purely practical standpoint, drilling new wells into the aquifer is getting so expensive that the suburban districts think twice even when they own the rights. As the aquifer sinks from overuse, drilling prices soar.

Williams mentioned a northern exurban community that spent more than a million dollars on a well to water its new golf course…

A map being shown around El Paso County by suburban water agencies traces the path of the Loop, a complex $134 million pipeline and pumping project that would allow northern and eastern communities in the county to reuse aquifer water returning to Fountain Creek, and pipe along water rights they have bought up on the southern side of the county. (Provided by Woodmoor Water and Sanitation District)

El Paso County grew by more than 17%, and more than 100,000 people, between 2010 and 2020. As developers work to build out planned communities in areas like Flying Horse or Banning Lewis Ranch, the county’s population is projected to expand by hundreds of thousands more in the coming decades.

State water engineers who control withdrawals from aquifers have allowed cities and other water buyers to take out water at a rate protecting a 100-year life for the underground pools. Alarmed at the drops in the Denver Basin pools, El Paso County changed the local standard to preserve 300 years of life for the aquifers. That was another push to local water providers to find other sources.

The Loop pipeline, Shaffer said, is a key to shifting “off of a finite and exhaustible water supply onto a long term, renewable and sustainable water supply.”

[…]

That’s where the American Rescue Plan, signed by President Biden in March, comes into the picture. State and local agencies will battle over the $1.9 trillion stimulus funding for years to come, but Colorado water officials are hopeful some grants can be used for drinking water supply projects. There also may be far more stimulus and infrastructure funding to come, in a building package awaiting final U.S. House approval and a greatly expanded recovery budget that may pass under reconciliation.

Denver Basin Aquifer System graphic credit USGS.

#ColoradoSprings voters to decide whether to dedicate $20M for #wildfire mitigation — The Colorado Springs Gazette Cheyenne Edition

Black Forest Fire June 2013 via CBS Denver

From The Colorado Springs Gazette Cheyenne Edition (Mary Shinn):

Colorado Springs residents will decide in November whether to allow the city to keep up to $20 million in tax revenue to create a wildfire mitigation fund.

The Colorado Springs City Council voted unanimously to place on the ballot a question asking voters to retain the money and spend no more than 5% of the funding annually. The city needs voter approval to keep the funds because they are in excess of the Taxpayer Bill of Rights cap, a limit on how much tax revenues can grow each year.

Any additional funding over $20 million will be refunded to voters through their city utility bills, Mayor John Suthers said.

Colorado Springs Fire Chief Randy Royal said the new funds would help protect the 35,000 homes in the wildland urban interface, where homes are adjacent to wooded areas where fire danger is highest…

The city could use the funds to pay crews to do direct fire mitigation such as trimming back trees, shrubs and other vegetation. It could also use the funds for evacuation planning and community wildfire education.

Waldo Canyon Fire. Photo credit The Pueblo chieftain.

Mitigation could help prevent the level of catastrophe the city saw during the Waldo Canyon and Black Forest fires, Councilman Richard Skorman said…

The ballot question does not list all the ways the money could be used to mitigate fire to ensure the city can use the money as it’s needed, Suthers said. He expects the money to be used throughout the community, including areas such as Palmer Park and Corral Bluffs Open Space on the east side. The money can also be used outside the city’s boundaries if necessary.

If the question passes, the city expects to invest the money and use interest from the funds for mitigation and a portion of the main funds, he said.

The city could also replenish the fund with future TABOR retention questions, he added.

Skorman said he didn’t want to see the 5% limit on spending placed in the ballot question in case the city had an important opportunity for wildfire mitigation funding come up.

However, Suthers supported the limit to help show the community the money wouldn’t be spent all at once. The council as a whole supported the limitation as well in its vote.

How low can Ruedi Reservoir go? — @AspenJournalism #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

The boat ramp at Ruedi Reservoir allows motor boats to access the water. The Bureau of Reclamation is projecting that the reservoir will fall to 55,000 acre-feet this winter.
CREDIT: HEATHER SACKETT/ASPEN JOURNALISM

From Aspen Journalism (Heather Sackett):

Bureau of Reclamation warns of potential impacts to Aspen hydro plant, water contract holders

Water levels at Ruedi Reservoir could fall so low this winter that the city of Aspen could have difficulty making hydro-electric power and those who own water in the reservoir could see shortages.

That’s according to projections by the Bureau of Reclamation, which operates the reservoir near the headwaters of the Fryingpan River. At the annual Ruedi operations meeting on Aug. 5, officials estimated the reservoir will fall to around 55,000 acre-feet this winter, what’s known as carry-over storage. According to Tim Miller, a hydrologist with the Bureau of Reclamation who manages operations at Ruedi, the lowest-ever carry-over storage for the reservoir was just over 47,000 acre-feet in 2002, one of the driest years on record. Last year’s carry-over was about 64,000 acre-feet.

At 55,000 acre-feet, the elevation of the water is about 7,709 feet. That’s about two feet lower than Aspen officials would like.

“We don’t like being below 7,711,” said Robert Covington, water resources/hydroelectric supervisor for the city.

That’s because the hydro plant needs a certain amount of water pressure to operate. The higher the water elevation, the more water pressure there is.

According to Covington, power providers Xcel Energy and Holy Cross Energy sometimes temporarily and quickly shut down the hydro-electric plant when there are problems with transmission lines or they need to do repairs.

“It’s very common for these types of plants to automatically shut down,” Covington said.

The problem is that restarting the plant requires a larger amount of water than the 40 cubic feet per second that is roughly the minimum amount required to operate the plant efficiently.

“It’s very difficult for us to get back online so we end up pushing more water through for a very short period of time,” he said.

If Aspen has to shut down the plant because flows are too low, the city could purchase more wind power to maintain its 100% renewable portfolio.

“When we go lower on hydro, we go with wind, which is generally the most cost-effective,” said Steve Hunter, utilities resource manager with the city.

Anglers dock at Ruedi Reservoir on Aug. 5. Bureau of Reclamation officials project that low carry-over storage combined with another low runoff year could lead to shortages for water contract holders.
CREDIT: HEATHER SACKETT/ASPEN JOURNALISM

Shortages to contract holders

Another consequence of low carry-over storage means that Ruedi will start out even lower next spring when the snow begins to melt and the reservoir begins to fill again. That means if there is below-average runoff again, some contract holders who own water in Ruedi could have to take shortages, something that has never happened before, Miller said.

There are 32 entities that have “contract water” in Ruedi, which the bureau releases at their request. This is water that has been sold by the bureau to recover the costs of building and operating the reservoir. The contract pool is separated into two rounds and contract holders will take a previously agreed upon shortage amount depending on which round they are in.

“If we get another similar type of runoff this year, there will be shortages most likely to the contract pool,” Miller said.

The 15-Mile Reach is located near Grand Junction, Colorado

But there are still uncertainties in predicting how low the reservoir will go. The biggest of these is how much water will be released for the benefit of the endangered fish in the 15-mile reach of the Colorado River near Grand Junction.

There is a 10,412 acre-foot pool available for the fish, but in dry years entities that store water in Ruedi will sometimes coordinate to release more fish water in the late summer and fall. This would draw down the reservoir even further. It’s still not clear how much water will be released this fall for the four species of endangered fish.

“The release defines the carry-over,” Miller said.

Despite initial bureau forecasts in April that projected Ruedi could probably fill to its entire 102,373 acre-foot capacity, Ruedi ended up only about 80% full this year. July 11 was the peak fill date at 83,256 acre-feet and an elevation of 7,745 feet.

“It was probably a little over-optimistic,” Miller said of the April forecast. “But at the time our snowpack was average. It was a reasonable forecast given the conditions.”

As climate change worsens the drought in the Western U.S., Ruedi is not the only reservoir to face water levels so low that they threaten the ability to produce hydroelectric power. Last month, the bureau began emergency releases from Upper Basin reservoirs, including Blue Mesa on the Gunnison River, to prop up levels in Lake Powell and preserve the ability to produce hydropower at Glen Canyon Dam.

This story ran in the Aug. 10 edition of The Aspen Times.

Toxic Threat The military polluted #NewMexico waters and soils with #PFAS and is fighting against cleanup of the “forever problem” — The #SantaFe Reporter

Release of firefighting foam. PFAS are substances found in firefighting foams and protective gear, as well as many household products, like pizza boxes and rain jackets. Graphic credit: ITRC

Here’s an in-depth report from Laura Paskus that’s running in The Santa Fe Reporter. Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:

Today, we know the [firefighting] foam contained toxic chemicals responsible for polluting the water around hundreds of military bases nationwide, including Cannon and Holloman Air Force bases in New Mexico. And the toxic chemicals are present in the drinking water of millions of Americans…

Over the years, [Kevin] Ferrara has learned that the military knew Aqueous Film Forming Foam (AFFF) was dangerous—and so did the companies that manufactured it. But without federal regulations that set drinking water standards or hazardous waste limits, states like New Mexico still can’t hold the Pentagon accountable for the pollution that has crept from the bases into the wells of local residents and businesses. Meanwhile, military firefighters like Ferrara wonder what’s happening within their own bodies—and the bodies of those whose water they polluted.

In the waning days of Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration, the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) was grappling with a problem. A “forever” problem, as it turns out.

Contractors hired by the military were investigating whether AFFF used at the state’s three Air Force bases had contaminated groundwater with PFAS.

In an August 2018 conference call, Air Force officials told state officials that PFAS had been found in wells at Cannon Air Force Base at concentrations above the US Environmental Protection Agency’s lifetime health advisory of 70 parts per trillion. Further studies showed the levels exceed 26,000 parts per trillion—more than 370 times that EPA health advisory—and that PFAS was also in off-base wells that supply homes and dairies in Clovis.

In October, NMED, the New Mexico Department of Health and the New Mexico Department of Agriculture publicly announced the presence of the contamination on and off the base. They advised private well-owners within a 4-mile radius of the base to use bottled water. NMED issued a notice of violation against the Air Force for breaking state regulations. The agency issued “corrective action permits” with cleanup mandates for the military’s state permits.

But in January 2019, just after Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham took office, the US Department of Defense sued New Mexico, challenging the state’s authority to mandate cleanup.

And although the state made no announcements nor issued any corrective actions, a report the Air Force submitted to NMED during the Martinez administration showed that groundwater samples of PFAS at Holloman Air Force Base were as high as 1.294 million parts per trillion. In February 2019, NMED issued a notice of violation against the Air Force over Holloman, too.

The following month, in March 2019, New Mexico filed its own lawsuit, asking a federal judge to compel the Air Force to act on, and pay for, cleanup at Cannon and Holloman.

But that hasn’t worked out as planned.

“We wanted action quickly. When that wasn’t available, or that wasn’t on the table, that’s when we litigated,” NMED Secretary James Kenney says in an interview.

The lawsuit has been lumped in with hundreds of other PFAS-related lawsuits. One court in South Carolina now oversees all cases regarding PFAS and the military’s use of the AFFF—more than 750 separate actions.

Even though New Mexico has tried to extricate itself from the multidistrict litigation, hoping to pursue its case against the Air Force without being tied to those hundreds of other cases, a judge has denied that request. And in June, the Biden administration’s Defense Department called New Mexico’s attempts to compel cleanup under state permits “arbitrary and capricious.”

In summary, three years after the Air Force notified New Mexico of the PFAS pollution, there are no clean-up plans in place at Cannon or Holloman, though earlier this year, Cannon announced an on-base pilot project to test the best ways to remove PFAS from water. And even though the military knows when, why and how the contamination happened, it has sued New Mexico to say the state can’t make it clean up the problem.

Meanwhile, state Environment Sec. Kenney says the EPA needs to set federal pollution standards for the toxic substances.

In 2016, the EPA established a lifetime health advisory for two types of PFAS found in firefighting foams, perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS). But that advisory of 70 parts per trillion isn’t a regulatory limit. That means states like New Mexico don’t have any legal tools to require that polluters like the military clean up PFAS.

A “gut punch” as water rushes from #FlamingGorge to save #LakePowell’s hydropower system — @WaterEdCO #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Boaters at Cedar Springs Marina on Flaming Gorge Reservoir. The reservoir’s levels are expected to drop 2 feet a month under an emergency release of water designed to keep Lake Powell’s hydropower system operating. July 22, 2021 Credit: Jerd Smith

From Water Education Colorado (Jerd Smith):

John Rauch and his family have operated the Cedar Springs Marina here since 1986. But three weeks ago, when the federal government suddenly ordered millions of gallons of water to be released from Flaming Gorge Reservoir down the Green River to Lake Powell, Rauch wasn’t prepared.

“It was a total gut punch,” he said on a recent hot, sunny morning. As visitors trekked down to rent his pontoon boats, and others slid their fishing craft into the reservoir, Rauch and his employees were already planning which boat docks and ramps would have to be relocated to keep them afloat. The reservoir is projected to drop as much as 2 feet a month through the fall as water is released.

Drought has plagued the Colorado River Basin for 20 years, but it hit crisis proportions this summer, pushing lakes Powell and Mead to historic lows and triggering, for the first time, emergency releases of water from Utah’s Flaming Gorge, Colorado’s Blue Mesa, and New Mexico’s Navajo reservoirs.

All told, 181,000 acre-feet of water are to be sent to Lake Powell by the end of December. Powell has dropped so low that its hydropower plants, which supply millions of homes with electricity and generate revenue for such things as a critical Colorado River endangered species program, may stop operating as early as next year if water levels continue to drop as they have been. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation estimates there is a 3 percent chance of this occurring next year and a 29 percent chance of this occurring in 2022. But given the speed of the Powell’s decline, no one wants to risk a hydropower shutdown.

Savings accounts

Since their construction in the 1960s these reservoirs, known as Reclamation’s Colorado River Storage Project reservoirs, have acted as a giant savings account, helping ensure that if a crisis erupted on the river, the Upper Colorado River Basin states of Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico would have enough water on hand to fulfill their legal obligation to deliver water to Nevada, Arizona and California, known as the Lower Basin states.

Credit: Chas Chamberlin

Colorado’s Blue Mesa Reservoir, part of the Aspinall Unit, is already low, at just 43 percent of capacity as of last month. Fed by the Gunnison River, a major tributary of the Colorado, the reservoir is tourism hot spot on Colorado’s West Slope.

Kathleen Curry, a former Colorado lawmaker, sits on the Colorado River District Board. She said she understands the need for the releases, but she said the changes in the shoreline at Blue Mesa aren’t going unnoticed.

“It’s taking residents and visitors by surprise, just because I don’t think anyone was expecting it,” she said.

The releases come under a special Upper Basin Drought Contingency Plan approved by Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico in late 2018. A similar drought plan is in place for the Lower Basin, and they have been cutting back withdrawals from Lake Mead for the past two years.

Still the river system is drying out. And water leaders in Colorado are deeply worried that their carefully protected savings account is going to dry up too quickly to solve the Colorado River’s long-term problems.

Will it work?

“I understand and support the necessity of the Secretary [of the Interior] taking this action,” said Jim Lochhead, CEO of Denver Water. “The major concern I have is that Reclamation says the 181,000 acre-foot release will raise Lake Powell three feet. But I don’t know that they can even show that. I don’t know that they have accounted for transit losses and other losses.

“It’s important when these releases are made that they are accounted for, that we know where this water is going. If it doesn’t actually get down to [Lake Powell] to accomplish what it was designed to do, we should have kept it in that savings account,” Lochhead said.

Becki Bryant, a spokesperson for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s Upper Colorado River region, said the agency is working to create a hydropower buffer in Lake Powell and believes the releases are adequate to accomplish that. But Reclamation is not yet doing the kind of precise tracking and accounting known as water “shepherding,” to ensure flows make it downstream, that Lochhead is requesting.

On Aug. 1, Lake Powell’s elevation stood at 3,553.8 feet above sea level. The action point, or so-called target elevation is 3,525. When that point came close in July, Reclamation moved quickly to order the emergency releases.

Powell’s hydropower plant stops generating power when it drops to 3,490 feet in elevation, according to Reclamation.

“Reclamation expects the additional release of water will be sufficient to protect Lake Powell’s target elevation through 2021. That target elevation provides a 35-vertical-foot buffer designed to minimize the risk of dropping below the minimum power pool elevation of 3,490 feet, and balances the need to protect the infrastructure at Powell’s Glen Canyon Dam.

“Shepherding water would be beneficial but is challenging on many levels for Colorado River Basin states,” said Bryant via email.

Bleak forecasts

Bryant said Reclamation will continue to consult with the Upper Basin states as it monitors reservoir levels and weather forecasts. Should conditions deteriorate further, the agency could examine whether to declare the releases futile and stop them, as it is allowed to do under the 2018 Drought Contingency Plan.

The water being released is so-called “system water,” meaning that it isn’t owned by a particular user.

Held by the federal government for the benefit of the Upper Basin states, the amounts of water specified in the release plan are jaw-dropping: 125,000 acre-feet from Flaming Gorge; 36,000 acre-feet from Blue Mesa; and 20,000 acre-feet from Navajo. An acre-foot of water is enough to cover one acre of land to a depth of 12 inches.

If that same amount of water were going to cities, it would be enough to serve more than 362,000 homes for one to two years. If going to farms, it could irrigate more than 113,000 acres, depending on the crop.

If the historic, 20-plus-year drought cycle doesn’t end soon, refilling those reservoirs is going to be difficult. And that has water managers worried.

“My level of concern is quite high,” said Becky Mitchell, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, the state’s lead water planning and policy agency. She also sits on the four-state Upper Colorado River Basin Commission, which advises Reclamation on river issues.

“And I can’t tell yet if [the releases] are going to do the trick,” she said. “But we have to respond to the levels in Powell.”

Cedar Springs Marina near Dutch John, Utah, on Flaming Gorge Reservoir in the early 1960s. In a first, emergency releases are being made under the 2018 Upper Colorado River Basin Drought Contingency Plan. Photo courtesy of the Rauch family.

Legal reckoning?

Under the 1922 Colorado River Compact, Colorado and the other Upper Basin states must deliver 7.5 million acre-feet (maf) [per year, 75 maf per 10 years] of water to the Lower Basin on a 10-year running average. Right now, the Upper Basin is delivering roughly 9.2 maf, Mitchell said, meaning that there is still time to help the system come back into balance before the Lower Basin states could legally call for more water than they currently receive.

Lake Powell is the Upper Basin’s largest storage pool on the system and is designed to be the four Upper Basin states’ major source of protection. Because of their legal obligations, Colorado water users are closely monitoring this year’s plunge in Powell, with the threat to hydropower production being seen as a dangerous antecedent to a compact call.

“That the system continues to deteriorate is concerning,” Lochhead said.

Roughly half of Denver Water’s supplies are derived from water rights it owns on the Colorado River system. While one portion of its portfolio dates back to 1921, and would therefore trump a 1922 compact call, several other rights were established later, meaning the utility might have to stop pulling from those water sources if Colorado were forced to cut back in order to meet compact obligations.

Other Front Range water providers, who also have Colorado River rights, are even more vulnerable, including the Pueblo-based Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District.

Southeastern’s rights date only to 1957.

Contingency v. reality

Lee Miller, Southeastern’s attorney, said the Colorado River crisis remains a long-term problem for his agency.

The rapid deterioration this year, however, is prompting everyone to rethink how much time they have to balance the massive river system as drought and a warming climate, as well as population growth, continue to sap its flows.

“Both the Upper and Lower Basin have now had to initiate elements of their drought contingency plans. When we passed it a couple of years ago everyone thought, “It’s good to have a contingency plan.’ But I don’t think anyone thought we would have to use the plans this quickly. It’s gone from being a contingency to being a reality, and that’s concerning.”

Back up at Flaming Gorge, John Rauch is watching the levels drop and making his own contingency plans.

“We are planning for the worst,” Rauch said. “For the foreseeable future, the outlook is dry. If it ends up that by the end of all of this that the reservoir becomes a river channel, we will be down there at water’s edge selling worms.”

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.

Red Cliff takes center stage in Homestake Valley Reservoir debate — The #Vail Daily #EagleRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

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 Vail Daily (John LaConte):

A group of Colorado residents demonstrated Saturday against the construction of a reservoir in the Homestake Valley, marching through the streets of Red Cliff and treating passing vehicles to a variety of colorful signs.

If you were headed south on Highway 24 on Saturday afternoon, you might have been able to read a clever statement like “Stop the whole dam thing,” and “They can’t ‘fen’ for themselves.”

Or you might have noticed a message or two that was more direct. Using an elongated trash picking tool to hoist her sign, Silverthorne resident Jan Goodwin wrote “CO Springs doesn’t need Red Cliff’s water.”

The group is opposed to building a new reservoir in the Homestake Valley 6 miles southeast of Red Cliff, which would be used by the people of Colorado Springs and Aurora, who hold water rights in the area, including the rights to the water in the existing Homestake Reservoir.

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

But the nuances of the issue, including the sensitive wetlands known as “fens” and the study required for “the whole dam thing,” as referenced in the signs, was also discussed among the demonstrators. In order to construct a new dam and reservoir, the area will require some study, and the Forest Service has already approved that study, which will allow the cities to drill “10 bore samples up to 150-feet deep using a small, rubber-tracked drill rig as well as collect geophysical data using crews on foot,” according to the Forest Service, along with the construction of more than a half-mile of temporary roads to facilitate the work.

The effort could also impact up to 180 acres of wetlands on lower Homestake Creek, wetlands that include fens — groundwater-fed wetlands which began forming during the last ice age. A scientifically unproven idea to relocate the fens is being spearheaded and paid for by Aurora Water and the Board of Water Works of Pueblo…

A map prepared by Aurora Water that shows a potential 500-acre adjustment to the Holy Cross Wilderness boundary near the potential Whitney Reservoir on lower Homestake Creek. The map as current as of July 16, 2019.

[Charles] Fleming said he would like to see the people of Colorado Springs and Aurora make more of a good faith effort toward water conservation before seeking another reservoir in the Homestake Valley.

“I’d like to see them get rid of the green grass and focus more on xeriscaping first,” he said.

Parks said as a hotelier in Red Cliff, she sees the recreational appeal of the Homestake Valley as a wild space, not a space that would benefit from the creation of a National Recreation Area or reservoir.

One version of the reservoir envisions an encroachment into 500 acres of the Holy Cross Wilderness area of the White River National Forest, which would require an act of Congress.

Chaffee County commissioners approve permit for water bottle company to draw from wells connected to #ArkansasRiver — 9News.com

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

From 9News.com (Zack Newman):

The Chaffee County Board of Commissioners voted Tuesday to approve the conditions under which a water bottling company could continue to pull water from a spring connected to the Arkansas River.

They are allowed to do so through the water right they bought back in 2010, but the county gives the green light if it finds the company follows all of the rules.

The 1041 permit process outlines specific conditions that BlueTriton has to meet in order to pull water out of Chaffee County. BlueTriton, previously known as Nestle, owns two wells. State water records obtained by 9Wants to Know show the company can pull up to 196 acre-feet of water each year…

[Della] Malone said regardless of the amount of water BlueTriton will take, Colorado is at the point where as much water as possible needs to stay in the river to keep fish, and the birds that feed on them, alive…

For the most part, BlueTriton has been a good steward of the water. The county hired W.W. Wheeler and Associates to conduct an updated analysis in 2020 and said the company is not using as much water as it could be.

Gary B. Thompson, an engineer for the water engineering firm W.W. Wheeler and Associates, found the utilization of the wells was not causing problems…

Jennifer Davis, Chaffee County attorney, said in an email that Monroe’s report led to increased wetlands monitoring in the 2009 contract. Any 2021 contract would have similar measures that would allow the county to cancel the contract if there was evidence that the wetlands were being stressed.

“It is important to note that during the recent hearings, evidence was presented that the applicant has substantially complied with those plans over the past 10 years,” Davis wrote. “…If [BlueTriton Brands] fails to comply with the plans, the permit can be suspended or terminated.”

In 2020, Wheeler found the nearby wetlands are healthy and the permit has “adequate” monitoring protocols.

The well permits allow for a maximum of 196 acre-feet per year. On average, the Wheeler report found the wells pulled in 111.7 acre-feet on average. The well had not been tapped for more than 100 acre-feet per year since 2014, according to the report. Any water taken for the water bottling operation is replaced with water from the nearby Turquoise Reservoir and Clear Creek Reservoir…

How much water goes to water bottles?

Kevin Rein, a state engineer and the director of the Colorado Division of Water Resources, said water bottling facilities use a small portion of the state’s water. He wrote in an email that one fairly standard-sized Colorado bottled water company found it was responsible for 0.0006% of the state’s annual water use.

For context – 85.2% of the state’s water goes to agriculture each year and 6.6% are used by cities and commercially according to data from the Colorado Division of Water Resources…

Other requirements of the permit

Other requirements of the contract have mostly been met. Davis said in an email BlueTriton did not finalize a conservation easement, but that commissioners did not penalize the company because deadlines were not clearly explained in the permit.

According to a letter from the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, Nestle did not begin discussions about donating land for an easement until 2019, 10 years after the original 1041 permit was issued by the Chaffee County Commissioners…

BlueTriton will pay $1.2 million across 10 years to various causes like water sustainability, forest health and affordable housing. It will pay $430k in just the first year, then $92,500 each year afterward.

Nestle sold its North American water brands to BlueTriton for $4.3 billion dollars.

Arkansas River Basin — Graphic via the Colorado Geological Survey

#ColoradoSprings Parks & Recreation shows measures taken to conserve #water, reduce usage costs — KRDO

Cottonwood Creek in Colorado Springs. Photo credit: Water Education Colorado

From KRDO (Scott Harrison):

With a limited budget, growing needs, drought and an ever-present demand for water, the city’s Department of Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services is taking steps to reduce its “water footprint.”

In recent years, the department has replaced some Kentucky bluegrass with native grasses in parks and on medians; native grasses are more drought-resistant and need less water.

Replacing grass with artificial turf on heavily-used athletic fields is another strategy being used, as well as xeriscaping (natural landscaping) and other landscaping to replace grass in some areas.

Parks & Rec also is investing more in technology to water grass more efficiently by monitoring water usage and reducing waste.

The department spent $515,000 in 2019 and 2020 on replacing irrigation systems, and expects to spend $150,000 this year; but nearly two-thirds of its present systems are 30 years old or more and replacing those outdated systems will cost an estimated $6.7 million — a process that will take 60 years with current funding levels.

That situation is partly why the department will ask voters in November to approve a slight sales tax increase to pay for a backlog of maintenance and other needs.

Parks & Rec also plans to build or upgrade parks that incorporate some or all of these amenities. Examples are the newer Venezia Park on the city’s northeast side, and the current renovation of Panorama Park on the southeast side.

The city budgeted around $4.7 million for parks watering in 2020 and used 98% of that amount, although some areas needed more than the amount of water allocated; this year’s usage is expected to fall below the budgeted amount of $4.4 million because of wetter weather…

Pikeview Reservoir tests positive for blue-green algae — #ColoradoSprings Utilities

Warning sign for Blue-green algae at Pikeview Reservoir July 2021. Photo credit: Colorado Springs Utilities

Here’s the release from Colorado Springs Utilities:

Pikeview Reservoir, a popular fishing spot in central Colorado Springs and part of our water system, has tested positive for blue-green algae. While the reservoir is still safe for fishing, humans and pets are prohibited from entering the water until further notice. Anglers are directed to thoroughly clean fish and discard guts.

Pikeview has been removed as a source for drinking water until the reservoir is determined to be clear of the algae. There are no concerns about this affecting water supply for the community.

“It’s our responsibility to provide safe, reliable drinking water to our community and to always consider public safety at our reservoirs. We will continue to closely monitor our reservoirs and take appropriate actions,” Earl Wilkinson, Chief Water, Compliance and Innovation Officer said.

We conduct more than 400 water quality tests a month and collect approximately 12,000 water samples throughout our water system annually. With the increased risk of the blue-green algae, we are increasing the frequency of testing reservoirs at lower elevations.

In the past several years, there’s been increasing occurrence of toxic blue-green algae in reservoirs across the United States, forcing limitation of recreational access to the bodies of water for public safety.

Sickness including nausea, vomiting, rash, irritated eyes, seizures and breathing problems could occur following exposure to the blue-green algae in the water. Anyone suspicious of exposure with onset of symptoms should contact their doctor or veterinarian.

A Massive Plumbing System Moves #Water Across #Colorado’s Mountains. But This Year, There’s Less To Go Around — KUNC

The Lost Man diversion canal, about to duck under SH 82 above Aspen, in the Roaring Fork River watershed. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

From Aspen Public Radio (Alex Hager) via KUNC:

High up on Colorado’s Independence Pass, a narrow, winding road weaves through the evergreens and across mountain streams, up and over the Continental Divide at more than 10,000 feet. At one point that road crosses a canal.

It’s easy to miss if you’re not looking for it, but that canal is part of water infrastructure that makes life on Colorado’s Front Range possible.

The state has a geographical mismatch between where water shows up and where much of the population has settled.

“Wherever you are in this state, you’re either at the source of the drinking water supply, you’re in the middle of the drinking water supply, or you’re at the end of the tap,” said Christina Medved, outreach director at Roaring Fork Conservancy. “So on the Western slope, we are at the source of the water.”

About 80% of Colorado’s water falls on the western side of the state. Much of it is high-mountain snow and rain that eventually trickles down into streams and rivers like the ones on Independence Pass.

But about 80% of Colorado’s people live on the east side of the mountains. Because of gravity, that water doesn’t flow to them naturally. Instead, Colorado’s heavily-populated Front Range relies on a massive plumbing system to keep drinking water flowing to its taps.

Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer’s office

For a century and a half, engineers have carved up the mountains with tunnels and canals that pipe water across the state through trans-mountain diversions. Some of that infrastructure is nestled near the high-alpine headwaters of the Roaring Fork River, which eventually flows through Aspen and Glenwood Springs on its way to the Colorado River. Near Lost Man reservoir, a dam and tunnel create a juncture between water that will follow that natural path westward to the Colorado, and water that will be diverted eastward through the mountains and onto cities such as Colorado Springs.

A tunnel through the mountains draws in water that will pass through two reservoirs and the Arkansas River on its way to the southern portion of the Front Range. Water diverted from the Colorado River basin, through trans-mountain diversions, makes up 60 to 70% of the water used by Colorado Springs. Denver, Greeley, Fort Collins and smaller municipalities on the Front Range also rely heavily on Western Slope water.

Graphic via Holly McClelland/High Country News.

And these kinds of set ups aren’t confined to Colorado. Similar systems bring water to big cities all across the region. Salt Lake City, Albuquerque and Los Angeles rely on canals and tunnels to ship faraway water into their pipes. New ones are in the works on the Front Range and in southern Utah.

But these systems aren’t without critics.

Water from the Roaring Fork River basin heading east out of the end of the Twin Lakes Tunnel (June 2016), which is operated by the Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co., a member of the Front Range Water Council. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

“When you first learn about it, the concept of a trans-mountain diversion is crazy,” said Andy Mueller, general manager of the Colorado River Water Conservation District. “It seems wrong. It seems antithetical to the health of the river. And I have to say all of that’s true.”

His organization was set up in the 1930s to oppose these diversions and ensure that there is enough water for people on the Western side of the state…

The issue is, contemporary environmental values aren’t written into the West’s water law. Instead, water use is defined by regulations written when Colorado first became a state in the 1800s. The rules say that if you have rights to use water, it doesn’t matter if you want to use it hundreds of miles away from its source – even if that requires miles of cross-mountain plumbing to do so.

Colorado Drought Monitor map July 13, 2021.

At this moment, there is less water to pull from in every part of the state. The Front Range escaped from drought after steady spring rains, but those high-mountain areas that usually provide a dependable source of water for all of Colorado are experiencing a different fate. The western slope is deep in the second year of drought conditions, leaving snowpack and river flows lower than they should be.

Mueller thinks that only sharpens the need for the Front Range to curtail its water use. Although they retain the legal right to use a certain amount of water, he’s asking them to use less – which he says will promote the health of rivers and their ecosystems west of the divide.

The ditch that moves water from Lost Man Reservoir to Grizzly Reservoir and then under the Divide to the South Fork of Lake Creek and the Arkansas River.

On the Front Range, those on the receiving end of diversions say they are listening to their western counterparts when they put up distress signals during particularly critical times. They also say deliberate conservation work is paying off in the longer term. Nathan Elder, water supply manager for Denver Water, said over the past two decades, per capita water use in his district is down by 22%.

“Everyone in Colorado needs to decrease their use,” he said…

Amid tension between demands for water on both sides, exacerbated by extreme drought conditions, is the fact that there is not much of an alternative. Colorado’s water system is built to accommodate the fact that the majority of its people and the majority of its water are far from each other. Without fundamental changes to the bedrock of water law, those asking for water will have to work within a system built on trans-mountain diversions…

Some contingency planning – within the reality of a diversion-centric system – is already in place. In Colorado Springs, which receives some of the flow diverted from the top of Independence Pass, re-use practices are helping the city get more mileage out of the water it’s apportioned.

Graphic credit: Water Education Colorado

Abby Ortega, water resources manager for Colorado Springs Utilities, said reused water accounts for 26% of the city’s total portfolio and the city relies heavily on storage to get through dry years like this one.

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

But climate change threatens to increase the frequency and intensity of droughts, which has water managers on edge and looking more intently at ways to maximize what’s available.

“Every water planner in the state has some worry with the rapidly declining hydrology on the Colorado river,” Ortega said.

Chaffee County receives legal complaint from Unbottle & Protect Chaffee #Water — The Ark Valley Voice

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

From The Ark Valley Voice (Jan Wondra):

Late on Friday afternoon, July 16, the consumer protest organization calling itself Unbottle & Protect Chaffee County Water (“UPCCW”), a Colorado non-profit corporation, delivered a notice from the law offices of John Barth, of Hygiene, Colorado to the Chaffe Board of County Commissioners, and Chaffee Planning Director Dan Swallow. Interestingly enough, the notice did not include the county attorney’s office.

In it, the group issued a set of complaints; in their view, Chaffee County has failed to follow the required permitting procedure for issuance of a 1041 permit. The group’s basis for that claim; that the county plans to review a draft of the proposed 1041 permit and conditions at the upcoming July 20 BoCC meeting, but that it hasn’t yet made the document available. It also issued its own set of permit conditions.

The UPCCW group takes the position that since the BoCC hasn’t yet made that draft available, the failure to do this constitutes a violation of the law. Further, it claims that the county violated the law by voting to approve the issuance of a 1041 permit for the project, before considering a draft proposal of the 1041 permit and conditions.

The UPCCW was formed specifically to protest the Nestlé Waters North America/BlueTriton 1041 permit. Its nonprofit membership includes residents of Chaffee County opposed to the renewal of a 1041 permit for Nestlé Waters North America — now BlueTriton Brands.

That permit allows the company to pump spring water from Ruby Mountain Spring, on property Nestlé owns in Chaffee County, transfer it to its pumping station in Johnson Village, then trucking it to its Denver bottling plant.

The notice goes on to state that the county didn’t reopen public comments during the last session (this, after multiple public sessions with the most extensive public comment ever held in the county on a proposal, and formal notification of the process laid out to be followed). The group’s complaint; that by not specifically seeking their input on the language of the 1041 permit conditions as it has been drafted, that this also constitutes a violation of the law.

The document also cites numerous state statutes for what it claims; then makes an assertion that it is their perception that Chair Greg Felt has a conflict of interest that should have prevented him from ruling on this. In fact, in what many will consider an audacious request, it asks that the BoCC’s July 6 decision to approve the permit be rescinded and that Mr. Felt recuse himself from the proceedings.

Felt has addressed the issue of conflict of interest not once, but twice during the proceedings. While the protest groups make reference to his role as the Vice–Chairman of the Upper Arkansas Water Conservation District (UAWCD) it’s stated as a perceived conflict; the mission of the UAWCD is to secure and manage water resources to meet the needs of the Upper Arkansas River Valley.

During their July 6 session, following the 2 to 1 vote on the permit, which ended months of lengthy questions and debate, the BoCC openly discussed the necessary timing to proceed with a new 1041 permit, and the development of what will be complex conditions. They pushed county legal, which was concerned about the tight timeframe, to get a first draft ready for them to review in the public meeting on July 20, which they explained would be the beginning of the permit development public process.

Once, or if, the BoCC finalizes a written resolution containing the conditions of the permit renewal, the issuance of that resolution and written 1041 permit will trigger the statute of limitations for any challenges to the BoCC’s actions under Colorado Rule of Civil Procedure 106.