@CSUutilities hydroelectric plant at Pueblo Reservoir will supply Fort Carson

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

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Conrad Swanson):

A hydroelectric plant is planned for construction downstream from the Pueblo Dam to generate renewable energy for Fort Carson. Developers are just waiting for the signal to start building.

The plant would significantly increase the amount of renewable energy Fort Carson consumes, fitting with the post’s “Net Zero” goals of becoming more environmentally friendly.

The Colorado Springs Utilities board will consider adding a military sales tariff during its meeting Wednesday. The tariff would cover costs for Utilities to act as an intermediary, selling the power to Fort Carson after buying it from the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, which would build and operate the plant, said Utilities spokeswoman Amy Trinidad.

Adding the tariff is the “last step” before the district can begin construction, said spokesman Chris Woodka.

“We’ve been ready to pull the trigger on this since January,” he said.

Currently, 8 percent of Fort Carson’s electricity is generated on-site through renewable sources such as solar panels, post spokeswoman Dani Johnson said. She could not say whether the post buys any renewable energy from off-site sources.

But Trinidad said Fort Carson does buy some renewable energy from Utilities. She could not say how much, citing customer privacy. The proposed hydroelectric deal would make up 7 percent of the post’s annual electricity purchase from Utilities, she said.

If the tariff is added, the proposal then will go before the City Council, consisting of the same members as the Utilities board, next month. If the council approves the move, construction on the plant can begin, Woodka said.

The plant would cost about $19 million, most of which comes from a loan the district took out, he said. In the years to come, energy sales are expected to cover the costs and eventually generate funds.

The plant’s construction will not have a financial impact on Utilities ratepayers, Trinidad said.

The plant is expected to generate up to 7.5 megawatts of electricity, Woodka said. Fort Carson will buy half of that, and Fountain Utilities will buy the other half.

The plant could be operational by May 2018, a peak time for generating hydroelectricity because of the high volume of water flowing from the Pueblo Dam, Woodka said.

Utilities then would buy the electricity, which will be transmitted onto its grid, and then sell it to Fort Carson without marking up the price, Trinidad said.

In the past, Fort Carson bought renewable wind energy through Utilities under short-term contracts, which have since expired, said Steve Carr, Utilities’ key account manager for Fort Carson. The pending hydroelectricity contract would last until the end of 2027.

@ColoradoStateU: Groundwater pumping drying up Great Plains streams, driving fish extinctions

A Google Earth image of the crop circles in the lower Arikaree River watershed, highlighting the river reaches that were dry (red), disconnected pools (yellow), and flowing (blue) at the lowest water in late summer 2007. Only one segment of 9 miles of flowing river remained as habitat for fish. The river flows from left to right. Image created by Jeff Falke, University of Alaska Fairbanks.

Here’s the release from Colorado State University:

Farmers in the Great Plains of Nebraska, Colorado, Kansas and the panhandle of Texas produce about one-sixth of the world’s grain, and water for these crops comes from the High Plains Aquifer — often known as the Ogallala Aquifer — the single greatest source of groundwater in North America. A team of researchers, including Colorado State University Professor Kurt Fausch and Jeff Falke, a CSU alumnus and an assistant professor at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, have discovered that more than half a century of groundwater pumping from the aquifer has led to long segments of rivers drying up and the collapse of large-stream fishes.

If pumping practices are not modified, scientists warn that these habitats will continue to shrink, and the fish populations along with them.

The research team combined modeling from the past and future to assess changes in Great Plains streams and their fish populations associated with groundwater pumping from the High Plains Aquifer. The findings have implications for watersheds around the world, because irrigation accounts for 90 percent of human water use globally, and local and regional aquifers are drying up.

A ‘train wreck’

The Arikaree River in 2000 in early summer, when water is near its maximum extent. Photo: Kurt Fausch

Fausch said the study results are sobering. Based on earlier observations and modeling by Falke and a team of graduate students and faculty at CSU, the Arikaree River in eastern Colorado, which is fed by the aquifer and used to flow about 70 miles, will dry up to about one-half mile by 2045.

“You have this train wreck where we’re drying up streams to feed a growing human population of more than 7 billion people,” Fausch said.

Fausch described the situation as a “wicked problem,” one with no good solution. “More water is pumped out every year than trickles back down into the aquifer from rain and snow,” he said. “We are basically drying out the Great Plains.”

Pumping has dried up streams, small rivers

Since the 1950s, pumping has extracted nearly as much water as what exists in Lake Erie — about 100 trillion gallons — and almost none of it trickles back into the aquifer.

“This pumping has dried up long segments of many streams and small rivers in the region,” Fausch said. From 1950 to 2010, a total of 350 miles of stream dried up in the large area the team studied in eastern Colorado, southwestern Nebraska and northwestern Kansas. “Our models project that another 180 miles of stream will dry up by 2060,” Fausch said.

An orangethroat darter, one of the nine remaining native fish species in the Arikaree River. Photo: Jeremy Monroe, Freshwaters Illustrated.

The loss of fish in the area is also a concern. “What we’re losing are the fishes that require habitat found only in the rivers and large streams of the region, and replacing them with those that can survive in the small streams that are left,” Fausch said. “We are losing whole populations of species from rivers in that region because there’s no habitat for them.”

As an example, seven of the 16 native fish species that were once found in the Arikaree River have disappeared since the first surveys were done in the 1940s. These fish include small minnows, suckers and catfish, species that the CSU scientist said are not among those that are currently federally endangered or threatened, so there’s little regulatory authority to preserve the habitats.

“We’re losing fish that people really don’t know about,” said Fausch. “They are cool and very beautiful, but not charismatic.”

Losing a river means losing more than fishes

Effects from the groundwater pumping will extend beyond the fishes and streams, too. Farmers in that area hope to conserve enough water so that future generations can continue to work on the land. And the everyday places that benefit from water could also disappear.

“If they lose the river, they’ll not only lose fishes, but they’ll also lose water for their cattle, and cottonwoods that provide shade,” Fausch explained. “They also lose the grass that grows in the riparian zone, which is critical forage for cattle in summer. Some of that’s your livelihood, but it’s also the place you go for picnics, and to hunt deer and turkeys. If you lose the river, you lose a major feature of what that landscape is.”

Center pivot sprinklers in the Arikaree River basin to irrigate corn. Each sprinkler is supplied by deep wells drilled into the High Plains aquifer.

Fausch said that there are some signs of progress, despite the grim findings. Local officials have put meters on wells to ensure that farmers pump only the amount of water allowed under their permits. And farmers are always experimenting with new technology that will allow them to optimize the amount of water they use to achieve the highest crop yields, since it takes electricity to pump the water from deep underground and this is an important cost to them. This doesn’t mean that the groundwater levels that feed streams are not declining, but instead are declining at a slower rate than in the past, he said.

Growing dryland crops an option

One additional option, though it might be a hard sell, is for farmers to grow dryland crops, meaning that they rely only on rainfall each year, instead of pumping water. The problem is the crop yields then vary widely from year to year, depending on the rain.

“Every farmer understands that eventually they will no longer be able to afford to pump as much water,” said Fausch. “Farmers are amazing economists. New options such as economical drip irrigation are being discussed, and farmers will likely switch to these options when they become available.”

Fausch, who has studied rivers throughout his entire career, grows wistful when talking about the research. “When we lose these rivers, we will lose them for our lifetime, our children’s lifetime, and our grandchildren’s lifetime,” he said.

Even if all pumping were stopped tomorrow, the aquifer would refill very slowly, over the next 100 years or more, said Fausch. As the groundwater table rose, rivers would start to flow again.

“Groundwater declines are linked to changes in Great Plains stream fish assemblages” was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Falke received his doctorate in fisheries biology from CSU in 2009. The research team includes scientists from Kansas State University, Tennessee Technological University, U.S. Geological Survey, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, Westar Energy and The Nature Conservancy.

Unique agreement supports the longest rafting season on Colorado’s Arkansas River —

Browns Canyon via BrownsCanyon.org

Here’s the release from the Arkansas River Outfitters Association via PR Newswire:

A successful water management agreement on the Arkansas River exemplifies Colorado’s dedication to its natural resources and the visitor experiences they support, according to the Arkansas River Outfitters Association (AROA).

The Arkansas River Voluntary Flow Management Program helps ensure there is water for whitewater rafting on the river well into August. The cooperative agreement among water users is unique in that it includes recreation in water management decisions.

AROA is part of the agreement with the Colorado Department of Natural Resources and other agencies that not only supports summer flows for whitewater rafting, but also manages water year-round for a healthy fishery.

The program, which started in 1990, is a model management technique for all other rivers in the American West. It allows whitewater rafting outfitters to offer the longest boating season in Colorado, AROA Executive Director Bob Hamel said.

“The water program recognizes that recreation is part of our lifestyle, and that its economic impact is important,” Hamel said.

Whitewater rafting generated $179.8 million in spending among the state’s commercial users last year, according to the Colorado River Outfitters Association.

The Arkansas River is America’s most popular whitewater rafting destination, hosting nearly a quarter of a million visitors last season and attracting kayakers and private rafters from around the world. The river hosts more than 40 percent of the state’s commercial rafting market, in part due to the longer season, but also because its 100-plus miles of whitewater rapids offer something for nearly everyone.

Technical boating, mild family float trips, multi-day camping and inn-to-inn rafting, plus standup paddle boarding and kayaking, are popular trips among families and friends of all ages.

With the mountain towns of Salida, Buena Vista and Cañon City nearby, visitors lengthen their stays and plan additional outdoor fun like horseback riding, ATV tours and hiking the area’s concentration of 14,000-foot peaks.

More than 100 miles of the Arkansas River was designated Gold Medal in 2014, meaning anglers can expect trophy trout fishing on a long, contiguous river segment that constitutes nearly a third of the state’s Gold Medal miles.

For information about current water levels and booking a Colorado whitewater rafting adventure, contact an Arkansas River outfitter at http://www.ArkansasRiverOutfitters.org.

@USGS: High Plains Aquifer Groundwater Levels Continue to Decline

High Plains aquifer water-level changes, predevelopment (about 1950) to 2015. Figure 1 from USGS SIR 2017-5040.(Public domain.)

Here’s the release from the USGS:

The U.S. Geological Survey has released a new report detailing changes of groundwater levels in the High Plains aquifer. The report presents water-level change data in the aquifer for two separate periods: from 1950 – the time prior to significant groundwater irrigation development – to 2015, and from 2013 to 2015.

“Change in storage for the 2013 to 2015 comparison period was a decline of 10.7 million acre-feet, which is about 30 percent of the change in recoverable water in storage calculated for the 2011 to 2013 comparison period,” said Virginia McGuire, USGS scientist and lead author of the study. “The smaller decline for the 2013 to 2015 comparison period is likely related to reduced groundwater pumping.”

In 2015, total recoverable water in storage in the aquifer was about 2.91 billion acre-feet, which is an overall decline of about 273.2 million acre-feet, or 9 percent, since predevelopment. Average area-weighted water-level change in the aquifer was a decline of 15.8 feet from predevelopment to 2015 and a decline of 0.6 feet from 2013 to 2015.

The USGS study used water-level measurements from 3,164 wells for predevelopment to 2015 and 7,524 wells for the 2013 to 2015 study period.

The High Plains aquifer, also known as the Ogallala aquifer, underlies about 112 million acres, or 175,000 square miles, in parts of eight states, including: Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas and Wyoming. The USGS, at the request of the U.S. Congress and in cooperation with numerous state, local, and federal entities, has published reports on water-level changes in the High Plains aquifer since 1988 in response to substantial water-level declines in large areas of the aquifer.

“This multi-state, groundwater-level monitoring study tracks water-level changes in wells screened in the High Plains aquifer and located in all eight states that overlie the aquifer. The study has provided data critical to evaluating different options for groundwater management,” said McGuire. “This level of coordinated groundwater-level monitoring is unique among major, multi-state regional aquifers in the country.”

High Plains aquifer water-level changes, predevelopment (about 1950) to 2015. Figure 1 from USGS SIR 2017-5040.(Public domain.)
Bar graph showing change in water-in-storage, predevelopment to 2015, by state and in total for the High Plains aquifer. States in region include Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas and Wyoming. (Public domain.)
Bar graph showing change in recoverable water in storage, 2011 to 2013 (orange) and 2013 to 2015 (green), in million acre-feet by state and in total for the High Plains aquifer. Recoverable water in storage from 2013 to 2015 for the aquifer declined 10.7 million acre-feet, which is about 30 percent of the recoverable water in storage change from 2011 to 2013. This difference is likely related to reduced groundwater pumpage during the 2013 and 2014 irrigation seasons as compared to the 2011 and 2012 irrigation seasons. (Public domain.)

USAF delivers new carbon filter to Fountain

Widefield aquifer via the Colorado Water Institute.

From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

U.S. Air Force contractors on Thursday delivered the first of two $400,000 carbon filters designed to strip away two perfluorinated chemicals contaminating city water supply wells…

“We’re a public water system making sure we meet the regulations, even the health-advisory level. Our community — this is a priority for them. We’re going to deal with this,” Fountain utilities director Curtis Mitchell said, watching as a crane lowered two 19-foot-tall filtration tanks near a public library.

“This is a huge step forward,” he said, “because it will give us access to some of our groundwater again.”

But farmer Susan Gordon and other residents of the Fountain Creek watershed still are raising questions about the human-health impact of exposure through drinking water.

Gordon for years drank contaminated water from domestic wells and recently received results from a workers comp blood test showing a PFC called PFHxS in her blood at more than 100 times normal level. Three family members and some people who work on the farm with her also had elevated perfluorinated chemicals in their blood.

While she’s healthy now, “who knows what it could mean 10 years from now?” Gordon said. “Not just me, but lots of people living in these communities have been exposed.”

[…]

Fountain shifted city supplies to surface water sources after contamination was detected last year at levels above the EPA limit of 70 parts per trillion. But nearly 80,000 people in Fountain, Security and Widefield, as well as other communities south of Colorado Springs, long have relied on groundwater as a primary source of drinking water.

Water providers in Security have shifted to surface water delivered from a reservoir west of Pueblo along the Arkansas River, and those in Widefield and Stratmoor Hills have put in water-cleaning systems…

It was unclear whether Fountain’s filters would remove PFHxS. Karl Kuching, business development for the Air Force contractor TIGG, said the filters have proved successful removing some of the PFHxS at a site in Washington state.

Removing short-chain PFCs may require more frequent changing of the carbon, which is injected into the tops of tanks in a slurry and, when exhausted, drained out the bottoms, he said. Two tanks are used. When system operators detect a contaminant “breakthrough,” one tank still filters out contaminants while carbon in the first tank is replaced…

Water restrictions last summer reduced water use so that surface water sources met most of the demand. The restrictions might be imposed again after Tuesday, Mitchell said, so untreated well water isn’t tapped.

#Runoff news: Royal Gorge open for rafting

Photo via Royal Gorge Whitewater Festival

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Tracy Harmon):

Rafts have returned to the Royal Gorge section of the Arkansas River this week [June 25th] now that flows are receding and tourism is looking up in the region…

The river was running higher than 3,200 cfs for much of the past three weeks, a level that had commercial rafts voluntarily avoiding that section due to safety concerns…

What August will bring remains to be seen. If the river drops below 700 cfs, the voluntary flow program will kick in and augmentation will keep the flow at that level through Aug. 15 to accommodate rafting.

From the Canon City Daily Record (Sarah Matott):

Kyle Horne, programs director at the Cañon City Area Recreation and Park District and co-chairman for the Royal Gorge Whitewater Festival, said festival attendance was down Friday night [June 23, 2017] and was still waiting on numbers for Saturday.

He said weather definitely played a role Friday night, as it was rainy and cold, as compared to a typical summer night…

On Saturday, Horne said the Arkansas River was flowing at about 3,400 cubic feet per second in the afternoon and was flowing at 3,160 cubic feet per second Sunday morning. Leading up to the festival, the river levels were being watched carefully by festival organizers after an unexpected water release from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation caused the river to spike.

The water release came from Twin Lakes Reservoir, which is about 13 miles south of Leadville in Lake County.

Last Tuesday, the Arkansas River was flowing at about 4,100 cubic feet per second, hitting a new peak level for this year after the release occurred.

Before the release, festival organizers were expecting the river levels to be at about 2,400 to 2,000 cubic feet per second.

Horne said the release by the Bureau of Reclamation did have some impact, but the high river levels are simply due to this year’s runoff.

The high river levels caused all inter tube events at the festival to be canceled and a last-minute decision to cancel the rafts from the “build your own boat” race.

Upper Ark board meeting recap

Cottonwood Creek photo credit Zillow.com.

From The Mountain Mail (Joe Stone):

The Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District board of directors addressed two Water Court cases during the May board meeting, an ongoing case to change the use of irrigation water rights in Coaldale and a new filing by the town of Buena Vista for a plan of augmentation for McPhelemy Pond.

The Coaldale case, 2016CW3055, involves Hayden Creek water rights associated with the CB Ranch, which was purchased by Security Water and Sanitation District.

The Upper Ark district has filed a statement of opposition in the case, and Security has filed its preliminary engineering report, proposed decree, proposed water accounting and a revegetation proposal.

In preparation for the district’s response to the filings, Chris Manera, district engineer, has begun a consumptive use analysis.

Manera reported that he is examining return flows from historic irrigation that provided water for approximately 150 acres of alfalfa crops.

An accurate determination of these return flows will be a key factor in this case since Security is required to replace return flows to avoid injury to other water rights.

District Manager Terry Scanga said the San Isabel Land Trust would like to work with Security so that some the historically irrigated land can continue to be used for agriculture, which would prevent the types of problems experienced by the dry-up of other ranches in the Upper Arkansas Basin.

He reported on a meeting with Security and the land trust to discuss the possibility of leasing some of the water for that purpose and said both parties are interested in continuing discussions.

Board members voted to allow district staff to facilitate those discussions.

Kendall Burgemeister, attorney for the district, reported that Security has lost the use of well-water sources due to contamination in the aquifer, making the Hayden Creek water rights more critical to the city’s water supply.

Scanga said another possibility would be for the land trust to acquire other sources of water to keep some of the land irrigated.

In Water Court filing 17CW3022, the town of Buena Vista’s proposed augmentation plan to replace water from evaporative water losses from McPhelemy Pond, would involve exchanges on Cottonwood Creek and use of Cottonwood Reservoir water for augmentation.

Since the Upper Ark district owns Cottonwood Creek water rights and operates Cottonwood Reservoir, board members voted to get into the case to ensure that its water rights and operations are not negatively affected.

According to Buena Vista’s Water Court filing, the amount of water to be augmented is 1.37 acre-feet annually.

In Case 96CW17, the town has a conditional decree for an appropriative right of exchange to allow the town’s purchased Fryingpan-Arkansas Project water to be stored in Cottonwood Reservoir.
As part of its recent filing, Buena Vista also seeks to include augmentation for McPhelemy Pond as an additional use of that water.

At the meeting district directors also:
• Welcomed new board member Dennis Giese, who was appointed to fill the Division 3 seat, corresponding to Chaffee County School District R-31, which was vacated when Frank McMurry resigned.
• Received a detailed presentation from Manera about the efficiency of the DeWeese Irrigation System and potential improvements to increase water storage potential and improve the exchange potential on Grape Creek below DeWeese Reservoir.
• Heard a report from Scanga about meetings of the Arkansas Basin Roundtable and the Colorado Inter-Basin Compact Committee, including the next phase of the Statewide Water Supply Initiative, which will examine how existing projects can meet future water demands.
• Approved an increase in the district education budget from $10,000 to $25,000 to fund a new website and an educational video.
• Heard a report from the Resume Review Committee, responsible for reviewing Division 2 Water Court filings.
• Learned that a “mutually beneficial” agreement with Poncha Springs was reached concerning the Friend Ranch water.
• Learned that Chaffee County officials entered into an intergovernmental agreement with the town of Buena Vista for source water protection.
• Received a legislative update from consultant Ken Baker, who reviewed legislation taken up in the 2017 legislative session.