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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From Water Education Colorado (Jerd Smith):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leadville

From The Leadville Herald-Democrat (Sean Summers):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘A Pool Within the Pool’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

Flipping Water

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Enron Fear

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From Heart of the Rockies Radio (Joe Stone):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Mary Shinn):

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

US Drought Monitor December 8, 2020.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s the release from the Environmental Protection AgencyK:

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

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

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

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

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

Background

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

Highlighted Action: Drinking Water

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

Highlighted Action: Cleanup

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

Highlighted Action: Monitoring

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

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

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

    Highlighted Action: Technical Assistance

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

    Highlighted Action: Enforcement

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

    Highlighted Action: Grants and Funding

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

    Highlighted Action: Risk Communications

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

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

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

    On Edge: Eads, a rural Eastern Plains community, plagued by #drought stigma won’t be easy to overcome — The #Colorado Sun

    Susan Greene talks mental health during drought in today’s The Colorado Sun. Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:

    Week after rainless week throughout the growing season has wounded not just local farmland, but also on the emotional landscape

    Here in Kiowa County, farmers have always relied on whatever moisture happens to fall from the sky rather than on irrigation. In August, this 1,300-person community bordering on Kansas was the first part of Colorado where drought conditions surpassed “extreme” to a level meteorologists call “exceptional.”

    That designation – which since has hit wide swaths of the West Slope – stands out on the drought map as a big brown pock.

    Colorado Drought Monitor December 1, 2020.

    Week after rainless week throughout this year’s growing season, it festered like a wound not just on local farmland, but also on the emotional landscape.

    “It’s horrible, just horrible, the ways drought can affect the human mind,” says Jimmy Brown, a third-generation farmer in Eads whose wheat and grain sorghum crops withered this year, just like those of his neighbors. “I doubt there’s a person here whose mental health hasn’t been affected by it.”

    The Eastern Plains have had dry spells. Some old-timers remember Dust Bowl conditions in the 1930s. Their children weathered extreme drought in the mid-1950s, and their children’s children endured acute dryness in 2002 and 2012. Each generation has taught the next to take the long view because they have learned that wishing – or praying – for rain doesn’t make it happen.

    Yet nobody here can remember a year so parched that little grew higher than their work boots. No one recalls ground so dry that even the bindweed stopped growing. Nobody had seen so many rain clouds roll in late afternoons during monsoon season, only to watch them keep rolling eastward without bursting…

    Brown, in addition to farming, serves as Kiowa County’s elected coroner and lone funeral director. He’s not a mental health expert, but is more tuned in than most to how locals are feeling. With drought, he says, comes uncertainty, even among majority of growers who carry insurance compensating them for the losses. With uncertainty come powerlessness, irritability and dread.

    Musings from the frontiers of mountain tourism — The Mountain Town News

    Photo credit: Allen Best/The Mountain Town News

    From The Mountain Town News, September 11, 2019, (Allen Best):-

    Our weekend getaway had us in Salida on Saturday night, enjoying Mexican food while watching people frolic in the Arkansas River.

    It’s a different town altogether from the one I first visited in 1978. The river was celebrated then, too, but the economy was based on extraction. There was a limestone quarry near Monarch Pass that was part of the steel-making process in Pueblo. Many of the town’s residents worked 72 miles away at Climax, extracting molybdenum, which also has a key role as a strengthener of steel.

    Then Ronald Reagan was elected president and the mines shut down. I think this was correlation, not causation, but my old friend, the late Ed Quillen, who had moved his family to Salida in its late days as a mining town, liked to point out that those in rural areas who had voted for Reagan tended to have bad outcomes. Kind of like the farmers today who voted for Trump in 2016.

    Working then at the Mountain Mail, Ed was responsible for producing something called the Progress Edition. One year soon after the mining meltdown he focused the issue on Salida’s attributes as a haven for artists. And that is pretty much the story of Salida today. It’s warmer than the ski-anchored resorts, with a river more at the center, now filled with people of a certain age for whom a good hospital also matters.

    Is Salida a role model for those coal towns that need to find a new career? As I’ve pointed out before, I’m not so sure that the coal towns have the same attributes – although Paonia has certainly been prospering as never before since its coal-based economy began snoozing, many of its new residents—well, no surprise here— people of a certain age seek to escape ski towns.

    In the mid 1990s, Ed had also urged me to check out Saguache. The old hotel, he said, was available for $30,000. He predicted it as the next getaway.

    Saguache Hotel. Photo credit: Allen Best/The Mountain Town News

    In fact, Cathy and I have gotten-away to Saguache, near the top of the San Luis Valley, several times in recent years. It’s higher in elevation than I like, about 7,800 feet, but somehow I seem to breathe easier once I take in those big spaces of the San Luis Valley, rimmed by mountains east and west. And we can afford the price of the motel there.

    Luckily, I can point to some of the mountains as ones I climbed when in my prime or, in wheezing fashion, just beyond: Kit Carson, Challenger, and just below 14,000 feet, Adams, a Sheep and one or two others.

    Saguache has two or three passable restaurants and, at the old Ute theater, had a folk festival going last weekend. As for that old hotel, it looks available and still in need of work.

    Rusted beater. Photo credit: Allen Best

    Across the street was an old Japanese pickup, a four-wheeler, but with a rusted shell, as had occurred with my old Toyota before I abandoned it with 376,000 miles on the odometer. It was a nice portable motel room.

    Rust or not, I wonder what happened that all of our pickups became super-sized. It came during a time when people have become supersized, too. Causation or correlation?

    The story here in Salida and Saguache, I think, is of increments but also anchors and also transportation corridors. Salida is not on an interstate highway, but it is on Highway 50. Saguache is more off the beaten path.

    Too, Salida has the river, a ski area about 20 minutes away. Saguache has … well, the big sky.

    That old hotel may yet get the work it needs to be a viable property. But Ed has been gone now for 7 years, and I suspect I’ll be gone, too, before Saguache becomes a tourist hot spot. That’s OK. It’s nice to know that there are still places with rusted pickups.

    2020 Annual Meeting of the #ArkansasRiver Compact Administration (ARCA), December 9, 2020

    NOTE: Updated meeting link from Kevin Salter Click here.

    From email from the Arkansas River Compact Administration (Kevin Salter):

    Arkansas River Basin via The Encyclopedia of Earth

    First-of-its-kind study estimates daily #PFAS dietary exposure from vegetables in adults and children — #Colorado School of Mines @mines

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

    Here’s the release The Colorado School of Mines (Emilie Rusch):

    Published today in Environmental Science and Technology, the research was led by Mines’ Chris Higgins and Juliane Brown

    Chris Higgins. Photo credit: Colorado School of Mines

    If state and federal regulators focus only on the safety of drinking water, the public could still be exposed to concerning levels of poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs) via the vegetables on their dinner plate if those vegetables are grown with PFAS-impacted water, according to a new study from researchers at Colorado School of Mines and engineering firm Geosyntec.

    Published today in the journal Environmental Science and Technology, the study is the first of its kind to examine PFAS in water that is used to grow crops. Researchers compiled available data on how much individual PFASs are taken into vegetable crops irrigated with contaminated water – in this case lettuce – to estimate the daily dietary exposure intake through vegetables of these so-called “forever chemicals” for both adults and children.

    Graphic credit: Colorado School of Mines

    “While there has been an emphasis on identifying and cleaning up drinking water impacted by PFASs, much less attention has been given to assessing risks from consuming produce irrigated with PFAS-contaminated water,” said Juliane Brown, an environmental engineering PhD candidate at Mines who led the research. “This study brings much needed attention to this issue and highlights the potential risks associated with this critical exposure pathway.”

    PFASs are a large and diverse group of synthetic chemicals used in many commercial and household products, including Class B fire-fighting foams, nonstick-coated cooking pan production, food contact materials, waterproof textiles and many others. An emerging body of evidence shows PFAS exposure can cause cancer and developmental, endocrine, renal and metabolic problems.

    Globally, PFAS contamination of irrigation water and soils in agricultural areas has arisen from a variety of sources, including the use of aqueous film forming foam (AFFF) on military bases and airfields, the application of treated sewage sludge as agricultural fertilizer and releases from nearby industrial facilities.

    But currently, many state and federal agencies are primarily focused on drinking water exposure, missing a potentially importance exposure pathway via irrigation water, said Christopher Higgins, professor of civil and environmental engineering at Mines and senior author of the study.

    “Even when drinking water has been treated and is considered safe, there is a potential for exposure from vegetables irrigated with contaminated water or grown in contaminated soil,” Higgins said. “This study shows that regulations that solely target perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) in drinking water are inadequate to protect human health risks from PFASs.”

    By using statistical modeling techniques akin to the election model prediction forecasts, the Mines-led team was able to consider a range of variability and uncertainty to identify the “most likely” intake and hazard associated with consuming PFAS-contaminated vegetables, using lettuce as a proxy for produce. The team also predicted risk-based threshold concentrations in produce and irrigation water to provide screening levels for assessment. These represent the range of concentrations for individual PFASs in irrigation water predicted to be below a level of concern for human health.

    Using the lowest available human health toxicity reference values and a conservative 5th percentile approach, estimated risk-based threshold concentrations in irrigation water were 38 nanograms per liter (ng/L) for PFOA and 140 ng/L for PFOS, two PFASs commonly targeted by regulators.

    In the case of PFOA, this suggests that even if irrigation water meets the current 70 ng/L PFOA and PFOS U.S. Environmental Protection Agency lifetime health advisory for drinking water, this may not be fully protective of PFOA exposure due to vegetables grown in that water, at least compared to toxicity reference values used by the State of California, which has the lowest toxicity reference value for PFOA in the U.S., Higgins said. Importantly, PFAS contamination also typically includes more than just PFOA or PFOS.

    “Another major implication of this study is we really need to come up with a plan to address PFAS mixtures, as these chemicals are nearly always present as a mixture,” Higgins said

    The team used real-world data from PFAS-contaminated groundwater to conduct a hazard analysis of a theoretical farm comparing different risk estimates based on established state, federal, and international toxicity reference doses. This analysis showed estimated exposures to most PFASs exceeding available or derived human health toxicity reference values – indicating water-to-crop transfer is an important exposure pathway for agricultural communities with PFAS-impacted irrigation water.

    The full study, “Assessing human health risks from per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS)-impacted vegetable consumption: a tiered modeling approach,” is available online at https://dx.doi.org/10.1021/acs.est.0c03411. In addition to Brown and Higgins, co-authors were Geosyntec principal scientist Jason Conder and project scientist Jennifer Arblaster.

    This research was supported, in part, by the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (under Assistance Agreement No G18A112656081.)

    Metropolitan Wastewater Reclamation District Hite plant outfall via South Platte Coalition for Urban River Evaluation

    Here’s the abstract:

    Irrigation water or soil contaminated with per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs) raises concerns among regulators tasked with protecting human health from potential PFAS-contaminated food crops, with several studies identifying crop uptake as an important exposure pathway. We estimated daily dietary exposure intake of individual PFASs in vegetables for children and adults using Monte Carlo simulation in a tiered stochastic modeling approach: exposures were the highest for young children (1−2 years > adults > 3−5 years > 6−11 years > 12−19years). Using the lowest available human health toxicity reference values (RfDs) and no additional exposure, estimated fifth percentile risk-based threshold concentrations in irrigation water were 38 ng/L (median 180 ng/L) for perfluorooctanoate (PFOA) and 140 ng/L (median 850 ng/L) for perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS). Thus, consumption of vegetables irrigated with PFAS impacted water that meets the current 70 ng/L of PFOA and PFOS U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s lifetime health advisory for drinking water may or may not be protective of vegetable exposures to these contaminants. Hazard analyses using real-world PFAS- contaminated groundwater data for a hypothetical farm showed estimated exposures to most PFASs exceeding available or derived RfDs, indicating water-to-crop transfer is an important exposure pathway for communities with PFAS-impacted irrigation water.

    Chaffee County calls for more time, study of contentious Nestlé water-bottling plan — The #ColoradoSun

    From The Colorado Sun (Jason Blevins):

    Commissioners want to measure the potential impact of Nestlé’s proposal to pump, truck and bottle up to 65 million gallons of water a year.

    After several meetings in the last two months featuring hours of public input — virtually all of it opposing the plan — and executive session discussions with attorneys, the county’s three-member board of commissioners on Tuesday announced a plan to hire an economic analysis firm to study the economic impacts of the water-pumping proposal.

    “I want to make the best decision I can with just three people here trying,” Commissioner Greg Felt said on Nov. 10 as he floated the idea of hiring an economist to study Nestlé’s request for a 10-year permit to pump and bottle water from a network of wells on the Arkansas River.

    Nestlé, the world’s largest food and beverage company, began drawing water from the valley in 2009 as part of a 10-year permit. That permit allowed the company to drill wells, build a pipeline and truck water to Denver for bottling under the Arrowhead brand. The company acquires water from the Upper Arkansas River Water Conservancy District every year to augment flows in the river and replace its removal of groundwater.

    Last year the company asked for a permit renewal and, after pandemic delays, the county began studying the request in October. Chaffee County’s commissioners have heard from dozens of residents that a lot has changed in the decade since Nestlé first arrived…

    Nestlé earlier this year announced a plan to replenish all the water it sucks from watersheds and offset the carbon impact of bottling and transporting water. That “zero environmental impact” sustainability plan was followed by news that the international conglomerate was exploring the sale of bottling operations in the U.S. and Canada. The possibility of a sale troubled Chaffee County commissioners. The board drafted new permit rules that, if approved, would require local approval of a new owner to operate under the Nestlé permit.

    Nestlé Waters North America was amenable to the new requirement. And the company earlier this month, in response to local input, crafted new conditions for the permit that would direct more Nestlé money into the local community…

    The new conditions divide the company’s contributions to the county into two tiers based on how much water is extracted for bottling.

    When the company pumps less than 125 acre-feet, or roughly 41 million gallons a year, the school districts in Buena Vista and Salida would get $15,000 a year for the length of the 10-year contract and up to $10,000 more a year for each school district depending on matching funds…

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

    The commissioners will meet again on Dec. 8 to discuss a contract with an economic advisory group — the cost of which will be covered by Nestlé Waters North America — as well as the possible extension of the company’s permit during the analysis.

    Amber Weber appointed to Arkansas Basin Roundtable — Ag Journal

    From The Ag Journal (Christian Burney):

    Amber Weber via LinkedIn

    At the Nov. 2 Board of County Commissioners meeting, commissioners decided to appoint Amber Weber to the Arkansas Basin Roundtable at the recommendation of County Administrator Amy White-Tanabe…

    Weber is no stranger to the Arkansas Basin Roundtable. She has participated on the roundtable in other capacities before. Since 2018, she’s served at the roundtable as Public Education, Participation and Outreach Coordinator. She is also on the Basin Implementation Plan Committee, which Weber said facilitates the discussion of how the Arkansas Basin fits into the Colorado Water Plan.

    “I facilitated educational opportunities, discussions, curated content, hosted workshops, et cetera, all surrounding one goal — water in the Arkansas Basin,” Weber told the La Junta Tribune-Democrat in an email.

    As a PEPO Coordinator, Weber has engaged in agricultural, municipal, recreational and environmental sectors of water, she said.

    “As I transition into a voting role, I am thrilled that I have the opportunity to represent Otero County and will be able to represent the best interests of the County and the citizens within it,” said Weber. “Through this voting seat for Otero County, I will be speaking with the commissioners regularly and ensuring each of them are kept in the loop on all items that come to the roundtable.

    Likewise, Weber will communicate Otero County’s ideas and concerns to the roundtable.

    Weber works as a consultant to Otero County Commissioners in other areas of county interest as well, such as the Ditch and Reservoir Company Alliance, a state-wide organization whose goal is to serve and protect water delivery providers, Weber said; she also serves as the soil health director for the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District “as the district works to navigate the nexus between water and soil quality.”

    Will the West figure out how to share #water? — The Deseret News

    From The Deseret News ( Sofia Jeremias):

    Can farmers stop cities from buying their water rights and drying out agricultural land?

    Flood irrigation in the Arkansas Valley via Greg Hobbs

    Crowley County relied on water from the nearby Arkansas River, and had over 50,000 acres of irrigated farmland until a spate of water sales took place in the ’70s and ’80s. (An acre-foot of water is enough to meet the needs for two families in a year.)

    By 2002, only about 6,000 irrigated acres remained, and by 2017, the number had dropped to roughly 4,600.

    In the dry and arid West, where little rain falls, irrigation is the life blood of farming.

    As droughts become more persistent and urban growth across the Mountain West continues to skyrocket, agricultural communities are increasingly worried about losing their water to far away cities — turning the towns into dust bowls with few job prospects.

    Photo of Crowley County by Jennifer Goodland

    Since 2010, the West’s large cities and small towns have seen an average population growth of 9.1% and 13.3%, respectively. From 2018-2019, Utah, Idaho, and Colorado were the top three fastest growing states in terms of new housing.

    At the same time, the West is experiencing one of its worst droughts in years. More than a third of the West is experiencing “extreme” or “exceptional” drought, and 72.5 million people are living in areas “affected by drought,” The Washington Post recently reported.

    According to Colorado’s 2015 Water Plan between 500,000 to 700,000 acres of irrigated land in the state could disappear by 2050 due to urbanization.

    While places like Colorado’s Front Range, home to a corridor of the state’s largest cities from Denver to Boulder, continues to grow and climate change exacerbates drought conditions, the discourse over water is only going to get more tense.

    Water markets didn’t consider the ripple effects

    Heimerich, who is originally from New York, met and married a girl from Crowley County and they decided to move there in 1987 after his wife was offered a job as a nurse practitioner.

    His father-in-law was a farmer, and he decided to try his hand at the business.

    Heimerich’s father-in-law was one of the few who refused to sell his water rights in the past decades…

    In Crowley, water wasn’t just sold from one farmer to another, or even to nearby cities. Instead, the water flowed out of the county and to Colorado Springs, Aurora and Pueblo (towns between 50 to 100 miles east of the county).

    Because farmers in Crowley organized their farms around joint irrigation canals, once a certain percentage of the farmers that owned shares in a canal sold out, it made maintenance (from repairing breaks in lining to removing vegetation) more difficult and a heavier burden on those left behind.

    Heimerich said the water sales were like a divorce, or the splitting of assets after a family member has died and didn’t leave a will: “It’s that kind of underlying tension, and there’s no real forethought to what the long-term consequences are going to be.”

    Or, as one Crowley County farmer told a newspaper in 1992, “The ones who sold their water sold out their county.”

    […]

    Permanent dry up, like the one time sales that happened in Crowley, happens for a few different reasons: One is if there’s a water shortage that affects both cities and farms, another is water shortages that affect only agriculture, and another is an increased demand for water in areas outside of agriculture.

    What happened in Crowley County was so dire that it has since become the poster child for the negative consequences of “buy-and-dry,” when water goes from supplying farms to cities…

    Plus, the large swaths of dried out farmland have also created ecological problems — from dust to weeds…

    Straight line diagram of the Lower Arkansas Valley ditches via Headwaters

    A new way to share water

    People in Colorado, and other states in the West, have been looking into alternatives to “buy and dry” — a way to balance booming urban populations, water shortages and the needs of agriculture.

    In the past, the roll of water courts in Colorado wasn’t to consider the ripple effects that water sales have on the communities when large amounts of land go dry, said Scott Campbell, a conservation planner and water consultant. “We just need to figure out better ways to help manage our water sources.”

    One of the solutions that’s been gaining traction is water sharing agreements. Campbell has been a proponent for a new kind of water market: one where water is a “cash crop,” something farmers can lease to municipalities (rather than a one-off sale) and provides another form of stable income…

    However, despite a handful of pilot programs, water sharing agreements have yet to become ubiquitous, although they originated in California nearly two decades ago.

    Palo Verde, California, farmers started leasing water to the Metropolitan Water District in Southern California in the early 2000s. A similar agreement occurred with the Imperial Irrigation District in Southern California…

    In March, Utah’s governor signed a water banking bill, which would allow farmers to lease water to municipalities. And in Wyoming, ranchers were paid to forgo irrigation and instead let their water run down the rivers that feed Lake Powell and Lake Mead…

    Eric Hanagan is a fifth generation farmer in Otero County. He farms about 1,500 acres, primarily vegetables, seedless watermelons, cantaloupes, peppers and tomatoes, along with a few alfalfa fields…

    Hanagan began participating in a water leasing agreement a few years ago. A third of his farmland is fallowed (i.e. he does not plant crops) each year. The water is then leased to municipalities…

    Hanagan’s land is irrigated by the Catlin Canal, one of many irrigation ditches that feeds water from the Arkansas River to the surrounding land.

    His farm is one of six on the canal that participates in the lease-fallowing program. Farms that leased their water received about $700 dollars per fallowed acre according to the 2019 report from the Lower Arkansas Valley Super Ditch Company…

    Will cities and farmers accept alternatives at greater scale?
    It remains an open question whether or not cities in the Mountain West will be open to leasing rather than buying water rights and permanently drying up farms.

    “It just gives us a level of certainty and control that you don’t get as part of a rotational leasing program,” said Alan Ward, the division manager for water resources for Pueblo, another city in the Arkansas Basin that has been experiencing moderate population growth in the past few years.

    In 2009, Ward started to worry about the impacts of climate change, making the water they receive from the Colorado River less reliable. So the city of Pueblo started purchasing water in an irrigation ditch east of the city…

    Bessemer Ditch circa 1890 via WaterArchives.org

    While Pueblo doesn’t need the water they’ve purchased just yet — they currently lease the water back to farmers, some are worried about what will happen when the city does need the water it purchased.

    “They are poised to dry about 5,000 acres of some of our best production ground in the state,” said Campbell, who is working on an effort called the Bessemer Project, which aims to retain some of the irrigated land along the Bessemer where water rights were sold to Pueblo.

    “Unfortunately what happened in this sale, and what happens in a lot of these buy and dry deals, is that some of the best farm ground could be dried.”Campbell hopes to try a variety of different methods to keep some the best irrigated land along the Bessemer ditch in production — from rotational fallowing to water sharing to using more efficient ways of irrigating.

    #ColoradoSprings faces $2 million fine, $43 million in projects after proposed #stormwater settlement — KRDO

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

    From KRDO (Scott Harrison):

    The city would pay a fine of $2 million and commit to an additional $43 million in stormwater projects over 15 years, Mayor John Suthers announced earlier this week.

    Suthers said “an agreement in principle” exists for a settlement between the city — the defendant in the case — and the plaintiffs including the Environmental Protection Agency, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, Pueblo County and the lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District.

    “We’re now entering a 30-day comment period,” he said. “At the end of it, the judge will evaluate whether he wants to approve the settlement. I suspect he will.”

    The mayor said that in the next few weeks, city officials will explain settlement details to the public, and that he already has City Council approval to pay the penalty.

    “The federal government would get $1 million of the fine, and the state would get the other half,” he said. “The state’s share actually goes into a current project in the Arkansas River. That’s a lot better than a $12 million fine that was initially discussed.”

    As a result of the penalty, however, Suthers said the city will have to raise its stormwater fee to homeowners and businesses over the next 15 years to pay the penalty…

    Suthers said the city’s stormwater issues were a result of inaction by previous city councils, but upon his election as mayor in 2015 he pledged to address the issue and heal the rift between Pueblo County leaders, who had threatened to sue the city.

    In fact, in the spring of 2016, Pueblo County agreed on a long-range plan in which the city would spend $460 million over 20 years on 71 stormwater projects, maintenance and enforcement.

    To help generate the needed revenue, Suthers in 2017 pushed for the re-establishment of a stormwater fee ultimately passed by voters that November…

    The city hoped its progress on stormwater issues would prevent a lawsuit, but in November 2016 the EPA initially filed suit and the other plaintiffs joined in. U.S. District Judge Richard Matsch presided over the weeklong bench trial in Denver in September 2018, and issued his ruling two months later.

    Water Wars and Hidden Riches on #Colorado’s High Plains — Westword #groundwater

    From Westword (Alan Prendergast):

    If nothing else, [Wes] McKinley’s crusade has brought attention to the profound disconnect between the emerging water crisis in eastern Colorado and a state policy that encourages total depletion of the resource. The surface water in virtually all of the state’s major river basins, from the Colorado, Arkansas and Rio Grande rivers to the humblest creeks, has been over-appropriated for decades. The major source of non-tributary water in the Far Quarter is the High Plains Aquifer, also known as the Ogallala Aquifer. Farms and ranches have been draining the aquifer, a vast underground reservoir of fresh water stretching across eight states, at an accelerating rate, despite warnings that the overpumping is likely to have catastrophic effects on fish habitat, interstate compact agreements and the sustainability of the aquifer itself, which requires centuries to recharge.

    Cimarron River Basin. By Shannon1 – Drawn by myself; shaded relief data from NASA SRTM North America imagery here, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=12115861

    The warnings have been trickling through Baca County for more than fifty years. A 1966 study of groundwater in the area of the Cimarron River, which cuts across the southeast corner of Colorado and then vacillates between Kansas and Oklahoma, concluded that “the most serious problem in the Cimarron Basin appears to be the extreme decline of water levels from pumping.” A 2001 report prepared for the Southern High Plains Groundwater Management District noted that groundwater levels in the district had dropped a hundred feet in the past half-century; the report recommended a moratorium on all new and replacement wells in the High Plains Aquifer, except for domestic wells with a modest pumping rate of 15 gallons per minute.

    Yet no moratorium was ever put in place. Instead, the Colorado Ground Water Commission has continued to issue large-capacity well permits like they were gimme caps. Data provided by the Colorado Division of Water Resources indicates that the commission granted 64 permits for new wells in the Southern High Plains in the last 21 months — a rate that’s more than triple the average number for the previous five years.

    “Colorado does not have a statutory directive that impact to an aquifer needs to be considered when issuing a well permit,” says Kevin Rein, the state engineer, who also serves as executive director of the groundwater commission.

    Long-range studies about climate change and dwindling aquifers don’t figure in the permitting process, which is preoccupied with mundane questions of how many other wells are operating within half a mile of the new well and whether an immediate neighbor would suffer “material damage” from additional pumping. McKinley contends that the rules as currently written don’t adequately protect the resource and shift the burden of proof to the opponents, who have to show that their own water rights would be adversely impacted by a new well. But Rein points out that some groundwater management districts have successfully petitioned the commission for a declaration that their area is over-appropriated, a finding that prevents the issuance of new well permits.

    “That has happened in many of the basins, but it hasn’t happened in the Southern High Plains,” Rein observes. It isn’t the commission’s place to get involved in promoting such prohibitions or seeking changes in the law that would protect the High Plains Aquifer from more wells, he adds: “As the state engineer, I don’t have the charge to bring that sort of policy discussion.”

    Water attorney Curtis estimates that McKinley’s objections cost his clients $200,000 in legal expenses and delays. McKinley’s time would have been better spent, he suggests, gathering the required technical data to petition the commission to close the district to new wells.

    “Water rights are vested property rights, and you can’t strip someone of those rights without a proper basis,” Curtis says. “He knows the process. Either he doesn’t have the energy to do it the right way or he doesn’t care. But he never presented a single piece of relevant evidence to support his position.”

    A major factor in the recent surge of permits in Baca County is a ramping up of irrigation wells on the Cimarron Valley Ranch, a 45,000-acre cattle ranch that stretches along 22 miles of the Cimarron River in Oklahoma and Colorado. Owned by Georgia-based LGS Holding Group, the property is for sale for $39,900,000, reduced from $45 million. An online real estate listing touts “some of the best hunting in the country,” including the ranch’s resident elk herd, as well as “incredible diversity in regard to terrain, wildlife, livestock grazing, income opportunities and more.” Also prominently mentioned is the ranch’s ample water supply and new well permits, which will allow the operation to double its number of irrigation pivots.

    The mega-ranch’s wells account for nearly half of the permits the commission has issued in the Southern High Plains over the past two years. That rankles local rancher Dan Caldwell, a longtime friend of McKinley’s, whose property lies just across the state line from the Oklahoma stretch of the Cimarron Valley Ranch. Caldwell says that he, too, filed an objection to the LGS permits, but was told he hadn’t proved material damage — and that he could be liable for legal fees if he persisted. He knew his objection wasn’t going anywhere, he says, when he learned a representative of the Colorado Attorney General’s Office was joining the case —representing the groundwater commission, not the citizens of Baca County.

    “We have no recourse,” Caldwell says. “We are nothing to them. There’s no reason to give our water away so freely, but they’re doing it.”

    The Southwest Kansas Groundwater Management District also protested the LGS applications, on the grounds that new pumping along the Cimarron River was bound to diminish supplies downstream. A few years ago, Kansas won a long-running lawsuit concerning Colorado’s excessive water use under the Arkansas River Compact, but no such compact exists regarding the Cimarron.

    “Colorado has a presumption that there’s water available for any application unless there’s a hearing,” notes Mark Rude, executive director of the district. “We had to become an opposer of the application in order to be involved in the hearing process. We’ve since discovered that Colorado works to not have a hearing process.”

    Like Caldwell and McKinley, Rude was told there wouldn’t be a hearing because he lacked the legal standing to object. Southwest Kansas no longer permits new wells that would draw upon the High Plains Aquifer out of concern over the falling water table. But neither Colorado nor Oklahoma has followed suit.

    “We have tools in Kansas to propose reductions in allocations, just to make the water last a little longer,” Rude says. “But it’s hard to have those conversations locally when people say, ‘Well, it’s unrestricted in Colorado and the Oklahoma Panhandle.’”

    Rein calls the recent spike in permits in Baca County “anomalous” and doesn’t see any particular cause for concern in the recent water enhancements at a 45,000-acre ranch. “Certainly, some people in the basin are alarmed,” he says. “Is the commission alarmed? I don’t think we’ve had open discussion about that.”

    McKinley doesn’t know what his objections might have accomplished, but he hopes more people will ask questions about where the water is going. “You don’t know what works and what don’t,” he says. “I’ve always thought there’s nothing wasted; it’s an experience gained. Sometimes, though, you pay a lot of tuition and wonder what you’ve learned.”

    Dinosaur tracks in Picketwire Canyon. Photo credit: USFS

    The only public access to the dinosaur tracks in Picketwire Canyon is by way of the Withers Canyon trailhead, an eleven-mile round trip. With the guided four-wheel tours suspended, you have three choices for mode of transport: mountain bike, horseback or on foot.

    Bikers might think twice, after watching a few cautionary YouTube videos about the many, many goat’s head stickers and opportunities for flat tires. The horse option has some drawbacks, too; although most of the path is a level stroll along the canyon floor, the steep descent into the canyon on a rock-strewn trail and the purgatorial ascent at the end may not be something you want to do on top of a thousand-pound animal.

    That leaves the third option, a six-hour hike in rugged and largely exposed country. Since temperatures in the canyon can be intense from late spring until early fall, reaching as high as 110 degrees in July and August, the Forest Service advises visitors to carry “at least” a gallon of water per person. (In 2017, two summer hikers died in separate heat-related incidents.) But on a temperate fall day, the startling, shifting environment of the canyon — from juniper-and-piñon prairie to meadows lined with cottonwoods to bright fields of yarrow and cacti in bloom — can make you forget you’re wandering through the northern edge of the Chihuahuan Desert.

    For most visitors, the highlight of the journey is crossing the Purgatoire to arrive at a vast limestone plain, the stamping ground of monsters. The giant paw prints embedded in the ancient lake shore, back when the canyon was a lush, steamy tropical retreat, tell a story about lumbering, plant-eating apatosauruses traveling in gregarious herds, and the three-toed carnivores who stalked them. This quarter-mile stretch of the river is the most extensive set of dinosaur tracks in North America, yet it’s just a small portion of the Jurassic riches in the area; numerous fossils have been painstakingly unearthed by volunteers under the supervision of a Forest Service paleontologist.

    The bones and tracks may be the main draw, but they’re hardly the only one. In 1988, a University of Wisconsin student on a field trip headed down from the west rim of the canyon to check out the dinosaur tracks. On the way down, he came across a petroglyph panel in a shallow alcove and snapped a picture of it. He assumed the panel was already well known to researchers. It wasn’t. According to Loendorf’s account in his book Thunder & Herds: Rock Art of the High Plains, when a wildlife biologist familiar with the canyon saw the photo, “he realized that he was looking at a significant and previously unknown site.”

    The panel features a single human figure in the center, surrounded by three dozen quadrupeds — some with elaborate antlers, some suggestive of bison and sheep. The central figure holds an object in its right hand, possibly a net or snare, indicating a form of control over the animals. Loendorf regards the Zookeeper, as the panel has become known, as one of several key rock-art sites in the area that provide glimpses into the hunter-gatherer culture that once flourished there. He believes a climatic event more than 600 years ago, one that ruined crops and drove the game away, may have been responsible for its abrupt disappearance.

    “You have these obvious hunt scenes, driving animals — antelope, probably — into nets, and then it just ends,” he notes. “It pretty much suggests that the Apishapa were affected, like all of the Southwest, by drought. I personally think at least some of the Apishapa people were seasonal and pulled back to the mountains in the wintertime. And the drought period ended that; then they stayed close to the mountains year-round. Then came the Apache and the Comanche. They weren’t dependent on trying to grow corn.”

    Major breakthrough reached in #FountainCreek case to settle clean water lawsuit — The #Pueblo Chieftain

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Robert Boczkiewicz):

    After years of hard feelings in Pueblo County and the Lower Arkansas River valley about Colorado Springs’ degradation of Fountain Creek and the river, a resolution is on the horizon.

    That city, government clean water agencies, Pueblo County and a lower valley water conservancy district have decided how to solve their dispute in order to improve the quality of water flowing in the creek from the city into Pueblo County and eastward down the river.

    The confluence of Fountain Creek and the Arkansas River in Pueblo County — photo via the Colorado Springs Business Journal

    On Thursday, they submitted a 169-page proposed agreement, known as a “Consent Decree,” to Senior Judge John L. Kane Jr. of the U.S. District Court for Colorado.

    The plan would require Colorado Springs to spend millions of dollars to improve its storm water sewer system in order to better control pollution discharges and excessive flows into the creek…

    Meanwhile, Jay Winner, general manager of the water conservancy district, told The Chieftain the plan will benefit both Pueblo and the lower valley.

    “This will be of great help in the lower part of the basin improving water quality,” Winner,said. “Water quality is the next great paradigm shift throughout the world.”

    […]

    All of the litigants — the five parties to the case –negotiated for the past year what the city would do to remedy the violations.

    The discharges damaged the creek bed and caused flooding, as well as creating a public health risk. Key agricultural regions of the lower valley have been affected by the polluted water and excessive volume.

    The plan requires Colorado Springs to perform $11 million of mitigation to offset the environmental harm caused by its alleged violations, and pay the United States a $1 million civil penalty.

    In addition, instead of receiving a civil penalty payment, the state “agrees that the city shall satisfy the state civil penalty through performance of a State approved supplemental environmental project valued at $1 million, to be performed” by the water conservancy district, according to a document filed Thursday in court…

    Winner pointed to several benefits that the agreement would bring.

    “The communities that have wells in the alluvium should get a much higher quality of water,” he said. The plan “should remove just enough silt so that the river stays in the channel and does not spread out due to an increased bed load, leaving more water in the channel as opposed to flooding areas such as North La Junta.

    “This should keep more water in the ditches to help farmers,” Winner said. “When the river crests its banks that water belongs to farmers and they are unable to use it.”

    Arkansas River Basin — Graphic via the Colorado Geological Survey

    #ColoradoSprings could spend $45 million to settle @EPA lawsuit — The Colorado Springs Gazette

    Report: Remediation Scenarios for Attenuating Peak Flows and Reducing Sediment Transport in Fountain Creek, Colorado, 2013

    From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Mary Shinn):

    The lawsuit filed in 2016 claimed the city’s stormwater control efforts were underfunded and understaffed starting in 2009 and for years afterward. The suit also said the city’s failure to control stormwater degraded, eroded and widened Fountain Creek and its tributaries.

    City officials stepped up stormwater control efforts in recent years after voters approved a stormwater fee in 2017.

    But for years, poor stormwater control sent silt washing down Fountain Creek to the Arkansas River where it filled in the channels of both waterways and caused flooding in communities downstream, including Pueblo and La Junta, said Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District…

    The proposed consent decree will also hold the city of Colorado Springs accountable to complete the stormwater projects needed to improve water quality, he said. The document outlines required audits, milestones the city must meet, and hefty fines if it fails to complete the required work.

    The proposed consent decree is expected to be finalized soon. It must be submitted to U.S. District Court Judge John Kane by Friday, according to court records. The judge set a deadline for submission of the decree, after the parties were granted six requests for more time to reach an agreement…

    U.S. Department of Justice spokeswoman Danielle Nichols said the proposed consent decree requires the city to spend $11 million on projects intended to mitigate the alleged violations of water quality standards in Fountain Creek and its tributaries. In addition to helping reduce the flow of silt, the work will help keep oil, grease, heavy metals, pesticides, fertilizers and bacteria out of the waterways, she said…

    Fulfilling the requirements of the proposed consent decree could require $100 million in spending to improve stormwater control and associated projects, Nichols said. However, the city would have spent $55 million of the $100 million anyway on operating, personnel and other costs, said Travis Easton, Colorado Springs’ public works director.

    The $45 million required to fulfill the consent decree is in addition to the $460 million the city is spending over 20 years to build 71 stormwater projects to meet its 2016 agreement with Pueblo County, he said.

    The spending on the consent decree includes $2.1 million mostly in fines that the Colorado Springs City Council approved Tuesday. That money will come from the general fund, not stormwater fees, Mayor John Suthers said.

    The federal government will receive $1 million in fines and the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District will receive $1 million in state fine revenue to fund projects, according to the proposed consent decree. Pueblo County will receive $25,000 to cover lawsuit costs and the conservancy district will receive $100,000 for lawsuit costs, the document shows…

    The fine revenue set aside for the conservancy district will help it fund projects across its five-county territory and help it secure additional grant money to meet the needs for water quality projects, Winner said. The district needs to put in projects, such as riparian zones and ditch lining, he said.

    The district could put in $100 million in water quality projects and still have work to do, he said.

    #Colorado City may raise rates to patch up leaky system

    Water infrastructure as sidewalk art

    From KOAA.com (Spencer Humphrey):

    … the Pueblo County town of Colorado City is at risk of having its water supply go dry within months…

    [James Eccher] does have plans to help the issue long-term, which includes adding more wells to fill the lake since the city holds all of its groundwater rights.

    “We’re looking at building a second dam,” Eccher said. “Which is gonna be another chunk of money.”

    But none of that can’t happen right away.

    “There’s a lot of forces out there and we’re not the only small town looking for money,” he said.

    Eccher said he has reached out to several government agencies, including the Department of Local Affairs, to talk about funding, but hasn’t heard back.

    In the meantime, he said in order to fix up the area’s aging, leaky infrastructure, they’re considering raising tap fees for water and sewer use.

    2020 Annual Meeting of the #ArkansasRiver Compact Administration (ARCA) will be held on Wednesday, December 9, 2020

    Arkansas River Basin via The Encyclopedia of Earth

    From email from the Arkansas River Compact Administration (Kevin Salter):

    This is the preliminary notice for the upcoming Arkansas River Compact Administration Annual and Committee Meetings. The meeting specifics and draft agendas will be provided at a later date.

    Please note that the meeting dates were changed at the ARCA Annual Meeting held in December 2019. And the location was changed at the ARCA Special Meeting held earlier this month (October 2020) to allow for virtual meetings.

    The 2020 Annual Meeting of the Arkansas River Compact Administration (ARCA) will be held on Wednesday, December 9, 2020. The Engineering, Operations, and Administrative/Legal Committees of ARCA will meet on Tuesday, December 8, 2020. Consideration is being given to having the committee meetings start on the morning of December 8th. All meetings will be held on a virtual meeting platform. At this time, which virtual platform to be used has not been determined. Specific information on accessing the meetings will be provided along with the draft agendas later.

    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/

    #Pueblo wins national award for its efforts to address algal pollution in waterways, saving taxpayers $20m

    Photo credit: The City of Pueblo

    Here’s the release from the City of Pueblo:

    The City of Pueblo was nationally recognized for implementing the first full hydrocyclone/ammonia controlled nutrient removal process in the United States and for improvements to the James DiIorio Water Reclamation.

    The city received the prestigious Water Environment Federation 2020 Project Excellence Award for its pioneering improvements that additionally saved over $20 million for taxpayers and increased capacities.

    “From the continental divide to the Mississippi, our waterways are connected. What happens in Colorado will impact the Gulf’s algae problems and I am happy to announce Pueblo is leading Colorado to reduce algal bloom,” said Mayor Nick Gradisar. “In addition, our wastewater team saved taxpayers over $20 million, which shows our team is doing everything it can to be environmental leaders while being great financial stewards.”

    The City of Pueblo partnered with Brown and Caldwell, an engineering and construction firm, to develop an advanced system of nutrient removal through aeration control and hydrocylone-base wasting process.

    “We want to meet the Water Quality Control Division Discharge Permit requirements without adding additional costs for the citizens,” said Nancy Keller, Wastewater Director for the City of Pueblo. “We have a system now that protects aquatic life and improves the quality of our down stream communities.”

    In 2012, the State of Colorado introduced new standards to reduce the algal growth and aquatic life impairments. The first phase of reductions had to be met by April 2021 and the next phase of reductions will go into effect in 2027.

    “Our success in this project allows the facility to earn credits with the Water Quality Control Division that will delay implementation of the 2027 standards in our discharge permit, allowing technology improvements to occur, hopefully decreasing that large capital expense also,” said Keller.

    With the new system the City of Pueblo’s Wastewater Department was also able to increase the capacity of this process by 50% while reducing electrical and chemical costs.

    Algae blooms deprives waterways of much needed oxygen leading to Hypoxic (dead) zones.

    Hypoxia, or dead zone, occurs when a body of water or waterway has increased levels of nutrient pollution which is primarily caused by human involvement. These increased nutrients cause an overgrowth of algae which when it decomposes, reduces the supply of oxygen.

    The Nutrient Removal Project was expected to cost an estimated $20-25m. The City of Pueblo, with partners Brown and Caldwell, implemented Ntensity enhanced nutrient-removal system in for a total cost under $2 million.

    The DiIorio Facility treats more than 10 million gallons of wastewater per day.

    Nestlé 2009 Chaffee County 1041 permit agreement was controversial — The Ark Valley Voice

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

    From The Ark Valley Voice (Daniel Smith):

    Editors note: This is the second of a three-part series examining the proposal to renew the county 1041 permit for Nestlé Waters North America.

    With public hearings upcoming on whether Chaffee County should grant a 10-year extension with Nestle Waters North America (NWNA) of its 1041 permit to pump water from a local aquifer to truck to Denver for bottling as Arrowhead Spring Water, a review of the agreement’s history is informative.

    The initial 1041 permit approved in 2009 was new legal ground for the county at the time.

    Nestlé purchased more than 100 acres of land from the late Frank McMurray, the Big Horn Springs, in 2007; reportedly for more than $850,000. Nestlé had planned to pull water from that spring, but NWNA Natural Resources Manager Larry Lawrence said the company decided against using that spring over environmental concerns. A promised conservation easement on that property at the time has yet to be completed.

    Nestlé also purchased the onetime fish hatchery property from Harold and Mary Hagen on the site of the Ruby Mountain Spring. This is the spring that Nestlé now taps for the water it takes from Chaffee County. The 11 acres reportedly sold for more than $2,800,000.

    Nestlé established a pumping station at Johnson Village after buying about 1.4 acres of land and the liquor store owned by Steve Hansen for $1,125,000. The store was torn down at the site and the pumping station with large storage tanks built on the site, connected by miles of pipeline from the Ruby Mountain Springs pump house.

    State water law requires use permits to include replacement (augmentation) of the water they extract, under complex rules mindful of numerous water rights, especially of those with senior water rights downstream on the Arkansas River.

    Terry Scanga, head of the Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District, explained that while the district didn’t agree then to lease the company water for its replacement, it was able to strike an agreement for the water with the City of Aurora. That agreement ended at some point; the district now does leave the replacement water to Nestlé, contingent on it being placed into the river upstream of its spring site.

    The district received more than $152,000 last year from Nestlé for that replacement water.

    The original 1041 pact would allow Nestlé to pump as much as 65 million gallons annually from the spring. But local officials say that currently, the amounts pumped never approaches that limit.

    At the pumping station, 25 large tanker trucks per day fill up with the water collected in a 30,000-gallon storage tank on-site, and then drive up U.S. Hwy 285 about 130 miles to the Denver bottling plant, where it is treated and packaged in plastic bottles for sale in hundreds of stores around the state.

    Lawrence said each of those trucks weighs about 87,000 pounds fully loaded, so drivers take their time getting to their destination. The firm doing the hauling, D.G. Coleman, has a good safety record.

    Scanga, who has dealt with water law and water issues for decades, said from his perspective Nestlé has met the requirements of their 1041 permit regarding the water regulations.

    Opposition groups, including Unbottle and Protect Chaffee County Water and the long-established environmental group 350 Central Colorado disagree and point to other permit conditions such as hiring local truck drivers, they say have not been met.

    They are also critical of what they term is a lack of real oversight of the operation by the county.

    Nestlé, portraying itself as a ‘good neighbor,’ has financially supported community causes and provided funds for educational programs.

    These include paying a half-million dollars into two education endowments for Salida and Buena Vista schools. It has made $20,000 in one-time donations; including $10,000 to the Chaffee County Community Foundation, as well as contributions to the Boys and Girls Club; local Trout Unlimited chapter, and others.

    Thousands of cases of Nestlé Water were also donated to Food Bank of the Rockies and other entities.

    Critics often say while commendable, those community benefits are relatively minor in comparison to the profits the company garners from its bottled water sales and the loss of county water as a resource.

    We’ll explore more specifics of the pros and cons of this contentious issue in our next report.

    Public hearings on the proposed permit renewal are scheduled for 5:00 p.m. Oct. 20 and 9:00 a.m. Oct. 22 at the Chaffee County Fairgrounds. Attendance has to be limited due to COVID-19 concerns, but the hearings will also be available for viewing online.

    Nestlé Waters North America 1041 permit renewal hearings on tap October 20, 22, 2020 — The Ark Valley Voice

    Location map for Nestlé operations near Nathrop via The Denver Post.

    From The Ark Valley Voice (Daniel Smith):

    Editors note: This is the first of a three-part series examining the proposal to renew the county 1041 permit for Nestlé Waters North America.

    For two days later this month, Oct. 20 and 22, Chaffee County Commissioners will hear from citizens and organizations in public hearings on the proposal to renew a 1041 permit granted to international conglomerate Nestlé Waters North America. If approved, the permit would allow Nestlé to continue to pump and truck local spring water it later sells as bottled water.

    The original permit, granted by then-commissioners in 2009 was a controversial decision and the renewal has also generated opposition from activists who want the county to end the agreement.

    Basically, the company pumps millions of gallons of water from the Ruby Mountain Spring in the north county annually, pipes it to a collection tank and pump station at Johnson Village, where it is loaded onto tankers, driven to a Denver bottling plant, and sold as Arrowhead Spring Water in plastic bottles.

    The original (and current) agreement allows Nestlé to withdraw as much as 65 million gallons of water from the aquifer. However, company officials say Nestlé draws less than half that amount currently.

    The original permit granted to Nestlé in 2009 was opposed by many residents, and an organized resistance to renewing the agreement has recently been mounted.

    Larry Lawrence, Resource Manager for Nestlé Waters North America spoke with Ark Valley Voice recently about the agreement, what it provided both the company and community, and how the company has met the 1041 permit requirements, which some opponents of renewal dispute.

    An engineer by profession, Lawrence has been with Nestlé Waters since 2003, and came to Colorado in 2019. He says he was already aware of the project through technical reviews with earlier resource managers prior to joining this assignment.

    Lawrence said an earlier resource manager (Bruce Lauerman) was assigned to this area, and Lawrence took over in 2019. Looking for a water source closer to Denver, he said was a priority.

    “The Arrowhead brand was marketed in New Mexico, Colorado, Idaho and a portion of Montana, all from California,” said Lawrence. “In reviews of not only our physical footprint but our carbon footprint and other aspects, where would we want to locate another factory? So Denver was chosen because of the reach we would have from this factory and to cover this market, which was a pretty good size bottled water market,” he added.

    The factory was built in 2006, producing Nestlé Pure Life, a purified water from the municipal water system in Denver. Nestlé soon realized they wanted to produce the Arrowhead spring water brand. The prior Nestlé representative reviewed area springs and contacted various water agencies to see if they knew of any potential spring sources.

    The Hagen Fish Hatchery on the Arkansas River, no longer in operation, was identified by the Colorado Division of Water Resources. Nestlé reached out to the Hagen family and reached a letter of intent for purchase at that time.

    Lawrence said that at that time, they did several different studies. These included hydrological, environmental, and biological, to determine the impact of water collection there, water level withdrawal potential, and to determine the sustainability and volume of the site.

    “A-number one for us is we never want to be in a position to where we recommend to the company to purchase a spring source that is non-sustainable,” said Lawrence. “…that would be a huge mistake for us, and it’s not a good business decision at all.”

    The sites were studied to confirm a reasonable withdrawal rate to allow for replenishment at a sustainable rate. Another site, Bighorn Spring was reviewed, and because it did not meet replenishment rates, was not developed with Nestlé opting in favor of Ruby Mountain Springs.

    Prior to that, Lawrence said other resource managers had looked at many other sites but they were ruled out for various reasons. In some cases it was because the water rights had been sold, even though there was a viable spring. According to Lawrence, springs in the eastern and southern U.S. are quite different than those generally found in the west.

    It is an understatement to say that water issues are complex, especially in the west. Once the local site was selected, Nestlé reviewed what local and state government rules were for the permitting process.

    The 1041 process in Colorado and in Chaffee County at the time was fairly new, and Nestlé, said Lawrence, was one of the first companies to enter that process.

    “The spring here at Ruby Mountain Springs is similar to other mountain springs we see in the west. One of the differences here is we do have the Arkansas River running adjacent to the spring source,” he said.

    The Nestlé operation includes the pumping stations at the spring site and long lengths of piping underground connecting to the Johnson Village property. That facility includes a large 30,000-gallon storage tank and pumps. Here, the water is loaded to tanker trucks that weigh about 87,000 pounds when full, which make the trips to the Denver bottling facility.

    According to the permit, about 25 truckloads are allowed to run on U.S. 285 daily.

    Next, we’ll review some of the issues and local opposition to the Nestlé 1041 renewal.

    Local regs loom large in dam battle as #Colorado cities seek more Western Slope water — The Rocky Mountain Post #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    Here’s a deep-dive into the proposed Whitney Reservoir Project from David O. Williams that’s running in The Rocky Mountain Post. Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:

    With Wednesday’s move by the Trump administration to weaken one of the nation’s bedrock conservation laws – the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) – all eyes will increasingly be on local opposition and regulation when it comes to major infrastructure on federal lands.

    That’s pretty much what Eagle County Commissioner Kathy Chandler-Henry told me when I asked about the proposed Whitney Reservoir project currently being scoped out by the U.S. Forest Service along Homestake Creek in southeastern Eagle County. The reservoir is being proposed by Colorado Springs and Aurora to pump Western Slope water to the Front Range.

    All that’s currently being considered by the Forest Service is a test-drilling project to detect fatal flaws and see if one of four possible dam configurations is feasible, at which point an actual proposal for Whitney Reservoir would be submitted and considered by the feds, including a possible request to shrink the Holy Cross Wilderness by up to 500 acres to realign the road.

    The Forest Service was flooded with more than 500 online comments opposing the drilling and the reservoir, demanding higher levels of environmental scrutiny for a special use permit for the drilling project that could be issued under what’s known as a “categorical exclusion.” Opponents are demanding an Environmental Assessment (EA) or Environmental Impact Statement (EIS)…

    What didn’t make it into my Vail Daily story due to space constraints was the Eagle County angle. It’s important because way back in the 1990s, when I first moved to the Vail area, there was a huge battle going on over what was then called Homestake II – a reservoir proposed for the same area by the same cities, which still hold 20,000 acre-feet of water rights here.

    Eagle County used its 1041 permitting powers, which give counties some degree of local control over infrastructure projects with regional or statewide impacts, to deny Homestake II – a move that wound up in court and went all the way to the Colorado Supreme Court before Eagle County ultimately won. Those 1041 regulatory powers were granted by a state law in the 1970s.

    All of that led to the Eagle River Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that outlines how all the various stakeholders in the Eagle River Basin would work together going forward to resolve their issues. But one important thing remains true: Eagle County, not a signatory to the MOU, still has 1041 permitting authority.

    So Chandler-Henry, the water leader on the board, had some important things to say last spring. First, on any proposal that would require redrawing the boundaries of the Holy Cross Wilderness Area: “I can tell you that’s not anything that we would ever be supportive of is moving wilderness boundaries.” Then, on the importance of local permitting power:

    Chandler-Henry points out that federal protections have been stripped away by the current administration, with fens and ephemeral streams recently being removed from the definition of Waters of the United States by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Those changes, she said, are making it much easier for water providers to get their federal permits in place.

    “Which means 1041 is all the more important for local considerations,” Chandler-Henry said, adding she believes her constituents oppose a dam. “I think that that is going to be a huge public sentiment, that we don’t want anything there.”

    That being said, the county has to be somewhat diplomatic on both the test drilling and a possible future reservoir. Eagle County officials said they are working with the Forest Service on the test drilling proposal and may comment later…

    “Eagle County cannot take a position regarding, and will not be commenting on, any future reservoir project because of its permitting authority powers,” county officials said in an email. “Eagle County must avoid prejudging a file based upon this authority.

    “Eagle County plans to meet with the USDA USFS to discuss procedural questions regarding the proposed Whitney Creek Geotechnical Investigation project. Depending upon the outcome of that conversation, Eagle County may or may not choose to provide comment [to the Forest Service],” officials added.

    Chandler-Henry, who talked to me well before the formal test drilling application and the recent Trump move to gut NEPA, said the county is keeping an open mind on 1041 permitting for whatever proposal eventually comes before the board. However, she reiterated that shrinking the Holy Cross boundary – something Congress would have to approve – is a non-starter.

    “Sen. [Michael] Bennett’s office says that whenever they’re approached by Aurora Water about moving those boundaries in Holy Cross, they say, ‘You need to go see what Eagle County thinks.’” Chandler-Henry added. “To date they have not done that because I think they know what we think about that.”

    An official with Bennet’s office confirmed they are aware of the wilderness adjustment plan but are not supportive of pulling back boundaries to make room for a proposed reservoir because there is not broad local backing. Bennet has been a strong advocate of wilderness expansion, not shrinkage…

    Conservation groups see this as a key issue, linking the test drilling to an eventual dam proposal that could lead to less wilderness. The original Homestake II proposal would have been in the Holy Cross Wilderness Area…

    Chandler-Henry said Eagle County is firm on the wilderness issue but staying openminded on 1041 so any proposal can be weighed fairly on its merits.

    “One of the things that we’re doing, which is going to be really useful, is trying to tie our 1041 permitting in with the community water plan that [Eagle River Watershed Council] is working on … because a 1041 allows us to look at environmental impact, economic impact, infrastructure,” Chandler-Henry said, adding the utility has been modeling for future growth.

    “Those are always our concerns with any sort of 1041 permit,” Chandler-Henry added. “What happens if water is dammed up in a reservoir? Then what happens to the Eagle River, to the environment, to the subdivisions that are relying on that water, to the recreation economy?”

    Chandler-Henry said Aurora Water has been a part of that planning process…

    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

    The U.S. Forest Service has been inundated with more than 500 online comments in opposition to a geotechnical and drilling study by the cities of Aurora and Colorado Springs to determine the feasibility of a second reservoir in the Homestake Creek drainage six miles southwest of Red Cliff, including objections from nearby towns and a local state senator…

    Operating together as Homestake Partners, Aurora and Colorado Springs own water rights dating back to the 1950s that, under the 1998 Eagle River Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), ensure them 20,000 more acre-feet of average annual water yield. They’ve been studying four potential dam sites in the Homestake Valley several miles below the cities’ existing Homestake Reservoir, which holds 43,600 acre-feet…

    Western Slope signatories of the Eagle River MOU were tight-lipped on the geophysical study and drilling. Jim Pokrandt, director of community affairs for the Colorado River District, declined to comment on the investigatory test work, saying only, “Yes, we have signed the MOU. That said … we are not participating in the Whitney Creek effort.”

    Diane Johnson,communications and public affairs manager for the Eagle River Water & Sanitation District, said: “The short answer is we – [ERWSD] and Upper Eagle Regional Water Authority — support [Homestake Partners’] right to pursue an application for their yield. We trust the permitting process to bring all impacts and benefits to light for the community to consider and weigh in total.” Neither organization submitted a comment to the Forest Service…

    Two prominent local conservation groups – the Eagle Valley Land Trust and the Eagle River Watershed Council – both submitted comments to the Forest Service expressing serious reservations about both the drilling and the possibility of a dam…

    The Eagle River MOU was drawn up after a lengthy court battle that ended in the 1990s when Eagle County rejected the cities’ Homestake II reservoir proposal using its 1041 powers under a state law passed in the 1970s that gives counties permit authority over certain outside infrastructure projects that could impact the local economy and environment.

    Besides Homestake Partners (the two cities), the MOU was signed by the Colorado River District, Climax Molybdenum Company, and the Vail Consortium consisting of the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District, Upper Eagle Regional Water Authority and Vail Associates (now Vail Resorts).

    The two private companies signed onto the MOU – Vail Resorts and Freeport-McMoRan (Climax) – declined to comment on either the drilling study or Whitney Reservoir.

    Any proposed water storage project by any of the signatories has to meet the objectives of the MOU, which are, “Develop a joint use water project in Upper Eagle River basin that minimizes environmental impacts, is cost-effective, technically feasible, can be permitted by local, state and federal agencies, and provides sufficient yield to meet the water requirements of project participants as hereinafter defined.”

    ERWSD’s Johnson said the water provider can’t comment on Whitney Reservoir because its environmental impacts have yet to be defined, but she did have overall praise for the MOU.

    “To date, water users in the Eagle River basin have received great benefits from the MOU,” Johnson said. “It has been the basis to develop key elements of the local municipal and snowmaking water supplies that have been essential to the economic vitality of our community.”

    The MOU provides 20,000 acre-feet for the cities, 10,000 acre-feet of firm water yield for the Vail Consortium (meaning if there’s a shortage, those needs are met first), and 3,000 acre-feet of water storage for Climax. About 2,000 acre-feet were already developed with Eagle Park Reservoir, but that leaves 28,000 acre-feet of yield and 3,000 of storage undeveloped.

    Arkansas Valley Conduit project launched — The Pueblo Chieftain

    Arkansas Valley Conduit “A Path Forward” November 22, 2019 via Southeastern.

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Steve Henson):

    Dignitaries from throughout the nation, including U.S. Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt and Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman, gathered at Lake Pueblo for the groundbreaking of a pipeline that will deliver clear water to the Lower Arkansas River Valley…

    As the conduit will bypass the Arkansas River, including the portion on Pueblo’s lower East Side where the heavily polluted Fountain Creek dumps into the river, it is seen as a regional solution to drinking water quality problems facing rural communities of Southeastern Colorado…

    It may be a decade or more before the conduit will be built, but the project is well on its way now.

    When completed, the conduit will serve an estimated 50,000 people in Southeastern Colorado via some 260 miles of pipeline.

    Bill Long, president of the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District and former Bent County commissioner, said: “It’s kind of an emotional event because generations have actually worked on this project and to finally see this kind of progress where we can deliver safe water to folks, which also provides a great opportunity for economic development is close to unbelievable. It truly is a great day.”

    John Singletary, former chairman of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District, agreed:

    “As a young boy in the Arkansas Basin, I sold gold frying pans to support the effort that eventually lead to President Kennedy coming to Pueblo to sign the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project into a law,” Singletary said. “This was the first step in seeing the Arkansas Valley Conduit built. In the decades since, people like Senator Michael Bennet have never lost sight that this project is more than politics. The Conduit is a vision turned reality to help reduce dry-up of farm ground and provide clean drinking water for 50,000 people in 40 communities east of Pueblo.”

    The total project cost is estimated at somewhere between $564 and $610 million to complete over a 15-year period and about $30 million a year for the next 15 years will need to be appropriated to see it finished.

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Rayan Severance):

    Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colorado, who also has spent a lot of time and effort on the project throughout his career, echoed Long’s comments about ground finally being broken for the conduit.

    “It is a testament to the commitment of generations of people in the Lower Arkansas Valley to bring clean drinking water to communities that were promised it in the early ’60s and never had that promise fulfilled,” Bennet said. “One of the first things I heard about when I became a senator was the Arkansas Valley Conduit because of Bill (Long) and because of Ray Kogovsek, who had been the congressman for that area, and made the case about how important it was.”

    Bennet said the progress made on getting the conduit built has been a true bipartisan effort in which Democrats and Republicans have worked hand-in-hand…

    The conduit, part of the original Fryingpan-Arkansas Project, would bring water from Pueblo Dam to Lamar and Eads, serving about 40 communities along the route. As it will bypass the Arkansas River, including the portion on Pueblo’s lower East Side where Fountain Creek dumps into the river, it is seen as a regional solution to drinking water quality problems facing rural communities of Southeastern Colorado.

    Many of those water providers are facing enforcement action for high levels of naturally occurring radionuclides in well water. A new source of clean water through the Arkansas Valley Conduit is the least expensive alternative, according to a 2013 Environmental Impact Statement.

    While the project is breaking ground, there is still a long way to go, Bennet cautioned.

    The total project cost is estimated at somewhere between $564 and $610 million to complete over a 15-year period and about $30 million a year for the next 15 years will need to be appropriated to see it finished.

    “It’s not going to be easy to do but we’re going to fight for it,” Bennet said.

    #Monument trustees approve $22 million financing plan to fund water system improvements — The #ColoradoSprings Gazette

    Water infrastructure as sidewalk art

    From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Benn Farrell):

    At the board’s Sept. 21 meeting, they heard recommendations from town staff and special legal counsel regarding the potential for using the sale of revenue bonds to fund major improvements to its water system over the coming years.

    However, instead of revenue bonds, it was recommended Monument create an ordinance to enter a site lease agreement and lease purchase agreement to market Certificates of Participation (COPs) — an alternate form of financing…

    Presently, the town has a 2A water fund and an enterprise water fund for its improvements. Formal revenue bonds would have the town fund improvements from just one fund, Richey said. Using Certificates of Participation is a way many municipalities, counties and school districts fund projects without having to raise taxes and is a financial structure approved by the Colorado Supreme Court, Richey said. The collateral for the agreement would be town-owned property, infrastructure and improvements.

    With the agreement, Monument would lease its collateral property to BOK Financial in Denver, which would act as the financial trustee in exchange for an anticipated $22 million. BOK Financial then leases back the property to the town, and Monument pays “base rents” to pay off the $22 million over time, Richey said.

    Richey said Certificates of Participation also carry added protection for the town since they involve leases over a particular term and not transfer of title. Monument would not lose title to any of its assets, he said.

    While town staff plans on raising $22 million through marketing these COPs, other terms like interest rates and repayment amount will depend on market conditions when the certificates go to market. The agreement guarantees the interest rate would not exceed 4.5%, but with present rates it is expected to be just under 3%, Town Manager Mike Foreman said…

    Terms for repayment would not exceed 30 years, but Richey said town staff is negotiating for lower terms. Richey also said as base rents are paid, subleased property in the agreement could be removed, which is the goal, or substituted with other property of equal or lesser value.

    The board approved the ordinance 6-0 with no opposition from trustees, staff or the public…

    Foreman noted the anticipated $22 million from the COPs would leave an additional $5 million in the 2A fund.

    Camp Creek Drainage Improvement Project completed — KOAA.com

    From KOAA.com (Colette Bordelon):

    The Waldo Canyon Fire changed the way our community looks at natural disasters. A project designed in response to side effects of the blaze is now completed, and aims to be proactive, rather than reactive.

    Near Garden of the Gods lies the Camp Creek Drainage Improvement Project. It’s a 17-acre floodwater detention and sediment collection facility…

    After the Waldo Canyon Fire, the burned vegetation was not able to absorb moisture in the way it normally would. Consequently, the area saw flooding, with sediment rolling down the hillsides as well.

    So, the Camp Creek Drainage Improvement Project was designed, with the help of federal, state, and local agencies. A Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) grant for $8.9 million bankrolled the project, as well as $844,000 from the city.

    Representatives from FEMA and the state visited the completed project on Monday. “If we could do more mitigation across the country, we’d be a much safer country, we’d be a much more resilient country,” said Peter Gaynor, the FEMA Administrator…

    In addition, approximately 100 people no longer live in the floodplain. “We’re really not moving people out of the floodplain, we’re moving the floodplain right? And so, we’re changing the shape and the footprint of the floodplain,” said Klein.

    The 169 acre-foot storage reservoir is estimated to hold around 360,000 gallons of water, according to the Stormwater Enterprise Manager for the City of Colorado Springs, Richard Mulledy.

    Mulledy said the project has made around 100 residents who previously lived within the floodplain safer. He also said they now do not have to pay for floodplain insurance, which can be expensive.

    Plus, it will create better evacuation routes during floods if necessary.

    Camp Creek channel via City of Colorado Springs

    The latest developments in the Fountain Valley #PFAS contamination saga — The #ColoradoSprings Indy

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

    From The Colorado Springs Indy (Heidi Beedle):

    Since the 2016 revelation that groundwater in Fountain Valley, which provided drinking water for Security-Widefield and Fountain, was contaminated with toxic per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), which include a number of individual chemicals such as PFOS, PFOA, PFHxS and PFHpA, government agencies, residents and community activists have been struggling to come to terms with what is arguably one of the largest ecological contaminations in Colorado’s history.

    On Aug. 4, Chris Reh, associate director of the U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), led a virtual information session for residents of Security-Widefield and Fountain regarding its ongoing PFAS exposure assessment. The assessment will randomly select participants and test blood, urine and tap water for levels of PFAS chemicals. According to Reh, the assessment will identify how people might be exposed to chemicals, calculate the extent of exposure and determine if there is a threat to health.

    ATSDR’s exposure assessment is the first part of a process that will continue in 2021 with the Pease Study, a national multi-site study conducted locally by the Colorado School of Public Health that will look at the human health effects of PFAS exposure through drinking contaminated water. While the sites chosen for this study are near Air Force operations, PFAS exposure extends far beyond Air Force bases. Much of the focus in El Paso County is on Fountain Valley, but the Air Force Academy on the city’s Northside also released PFAS chemicals, and residents of Woodmen Valley report health concerns as well, though they are not included in the ATSDR exposure assessment.

    El Paso County is one of eight sites nationwide identified by ATSDR for exposure assessments related to PFAS chemicals. The sites, located in Alaska, Colorado, Delaware, Massachusetts, New York, Texas, Washington and West Virginia, are co-located with Air Force bases that used aqueous film forming foam (AFFF), a type of chemical used to extinguish fuel fires and that contains PFAS chemicals…

    Since 2016, community activists have been working to raise awareness of this environmental threat, and Colorado legislators have recently passed laws to address PFAS contamination. While much of the blame, and legal consequences, for this massive and widespread contamination have been aimed at companies that produce PFAS chemicals, such as DuPont and 3M, the military has known of the potential dangers of these chemicals since at least 1989.

    The Air Force Occupational and Environmental Health Laboratory published a study titled “Biological Analysis of Three Ponds at Peterson AFB [Air Force Base], Colorado Springs CO” in November 1989 that raised concerns about contamination coming from the installation. “A series of three man-made ponds on the golf course at Peterson AFB, Colorado Springs CO were analyzed to determine their current ecological status and future potential for recreational fishing,” notes the report, which goes on to identify that “Pond 3 cannot be recommended for stocking with fish in its current condition. Low species diversity suggests that this pond is being stressed by an unknown pollutant.” The report identifies a nearby storm drain as a “chronic source of pollutants for this pond.” While the Air Force analyzed a number of factors, such as pH and the levels of phytoplankton and zooplankton, it was quick to identify AFFF as a possible problem, noting that it “was accidentally spilled into pond 3 shortly before the first fish kill. A subsequent restocking resulted in a second fish kill.”

    […]

    Stephen Brady of the Peterson-Schriever Garrison Public Affairs office commented, “When there is a potential our missions are having, or may have had, an adverse impact on communities, we take appropriate measures to protect it. When PFOS was discovered in the aquifer south of base in 2016, we immediately stopped using the legacy foam during fire response and training. We replaced the legacy foam in our fire response vehicles in November 2016 and in the hangar fire suppression systems in 2018 with a more environmentally responsible foam. Our first responders will only use the new environmentally responsible firefighting foam for emergency life-saving response, and do not discharge it during training. The Air Force takes environmental stewardship seriously, and continuously strives to meet or exceed environmental standards.”

    By the early 2000s DuPont and 3M were facing lawsuits from residents near their plants and increased scrutiny from the Environmental Protection Agency, but it wasn’t until 2016 that the EPA formally issued a health advisory regarding PFAS chemicals and set advisory levels of contamination at 70 parts per trillion (ppt)…

    While Rosenbaum was organizing FVCWC, the Colorado School of Public Health began to study exposure and health effects from PFAS chemicals. The study was named “PFAS Aware.” In 2018 the PFAS Aware team began sampling water in Fountain Valley. Initial results published in December 2018 showed that “total PFASs in untreated well water ranged from 18 – 2300 ppt” and that “PFASs detected are typical of fire-fighting foam-impacted groundwater.”

    On Sept. 18, 2019, the Air Force Academy sent a notice to Woodmen Valley residents, signed by Col. Brian Hartless, the installation commander, warning them that “firefighting foam containing PFOS and PFOA was used for firefighter training at the Academy from the 1970s until 1990, when we began to consolidate all of our training at Peterson Air Force Base. After that time, the equipment used to dispense the foam was periodically tested until approximately 2005.” Hartless did note that “this firefighting foam has never been used to extinguish a petroleum-based aircraft fire at the Academy” and that “the foam now in use at the Academy is a more environmentally friendly formula that we began using in approximately 2017.” Hartless went on to inform residents that the Air Force would begin sampling wells within the Woodmen Valley Fire Protection District.

    According to Hartless, Air Force Civil Engineer Center representatives “identified 37 private wells used for drinking water at homes closest in proximity to the southern base boundary for sampling. To date, 35 of the 37 wells have been sampled.”

    ATSDR contamination assessment area.
    Courtesy ATSDR via The Colorado Springs Indy

    Bill Beaudin, a Woodmen Valley resident since 1978, questions the Air Force’s testing process. “The north border of our property is the south border of the Academy,” he says. “We live on six acres. For many years until 1995 we all used well water. We were offered to go on city water at that time and most of us took that option. About 38 families chose not to go on city water for whatever reason.”

    Longtime residents like Beaudin were concerned about the fact that the Air Force only tested the wells still in use. “The rest of us all drank that water and so did our children for all of those years in the ’70s, ’80s and early ’90s until we went on city water,” says Beaudin, “and yet the Air Force Academy chose to just do this select group.”

    On March 24, the Air Force announced in a news release, “recent well water monitoring tests on the southeast perimeter of the U.S. Air Force Academy show Perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) below the Environmental Protection Agency’s Lifetime Health Advisory level of 70 ppt.”

    While the Air Force reported PFOS and PFOA levels below the EPA advisory limits, Rosenbaum says that doesn’t tell the whole story. ”There’s 4,700 different types [of PFAS],” she says, “PFHxS is toxic firefighting foam, which may or may not have PFOA, which is Teflon, or PFAS, which is Scotchgard water-repellent. So when the Air Force Academy said ‘we’re below levels of PFOA and PFAS,’ all of us activists who have been doing this for four years were like, ‘duh.’ You don’t have a Teflon pan company. You don’t have a Scotchgard water-proofing company. You have toxic firefighting foam, so here, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility [PEER] did a FOIA [Freedom of Information Act request] to try to get the PFHxS levels, and they are really high.”

    On March 12, 12 days before the Air Force’s statement, PEER reported that “The Air Force Academy test data of neighboring drinking water wells found levels of two individual PFAS chemicals, PFHxS and PFHpA, at more than 200 ppt in two locations” and “combined PFAS levels at a single well of 503.9 ppt and 537.8 ppt across two separate tests.”

    The consternation over the levels of PFAS chemicals in the water stems from concerns over the health effects of exposure to these chemicals. Heightened levels of PFAS chemicals have been linked to health problems such as increased cholesterol levels, changes in liver enzymes, decreased vaccine response in children and increased risk of kidney or testicular cancer, according to Rachel Rogers, an environmental health scientist with ATSDR.

    “A neighbor that was four houses away, her husband died of testicular cancer,” says Beaudin. “A neighbor who has since passed away died from both kidney and bladder cancer. They were longtime neighbors of ours.”

    Rosenbaum notes, “The main health issues here are kidney cancers, prostate cancer and a lot of autoimmune diseases.” Autoimmune disease are often difficult to diagnose because symptoms can come from other common conditions…

    Lawmakers in Colorado addressed problems with PFAS contamination during the 2019 legislative session. Tony Exum, D-House District 18; Lois Landgraf, R-House District 21; Pete Lee, D-Senate District 11; and Dennis Hisey, R-Senate District 2, sponsored House Bill 1279, which bans the use of AFFFs that use PFAS chemicals for testing or training purposes. In 2020 the same group of legislators sponsored House Bill 1119, which further regulates the use of PFAS chemicals.

    On July 10, The city of Colorado Springs and Colorado Springs Utilities, along with the cities of Aurora, Greeley, Fountain and a number of water districts filed a motion to vacate an administrative action hearing by the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission (WQCC) in regards to a proposed new policy to address PFAS contamination, referred to as policy 20-1. The motion states, “The Joint Parties recognize the importance of assuring that drinking water supplies are not contaminated by PFAS, and that water supplies contaminated by PFAS are cleaned up. Vacating the administrative action hearing will not preclude the cleanup of PFAS; it will require that regulatory measures imposed by the Water Quality Control Division are properly authorized through a rulemaking hearing.”

    Rosenbaum was confused by the motion. “At first the injunction was pretty difficult to understand,” she says. “Here we are Saturday morning and it came across that they wanted all the PFAS discussions taken out of the meeting. This is our fifth contamination to our water district here. We have to do something completely different and drastic and start writing new policy. The state health department wasn’t making a new law, they were adding language to the policy they already had in place.

    According to Jennifer Kemp, a public affairs specialist with Colorado Springs Utilities, “The reason for our joining several other Front Range entities on the motion to vacate is because we did not agree with the WQCC’s approach to regulating PFAS. Under Colorado’s State Administrative Procedure Act, a policy is a general statement of interpretation that is not meant to be a binding rule. Therefore, we joined other stakeholders in asserting that the regulation of PFAS is so important that it should have been accomplished with a thorough rulemaking process to establish a statewide PFAS standard.”

    On July 14 the WQCC adopted policy 20-1. “What this policy does,” explains Rosenbaum, “is it forces wastewater to test for PFAS. Your drinking water is fine, it’s not contaminated yet, but do you have an industry that’s dumping everything into the wastewater? We have the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, so they’re not dumping in rivers anymore but they’re dumping into wastewater.

    Now we’re making that accountable in our state. Now we’re explicitly stating in writing CDPHE [Colorado Department of Health and Environment] will receive extra funding to help that water district do an investigation of the industries that are connected to the wastewater system to see if they have PFAS. If they do, now they have to filter it at their site. If you own a restaurant, you have a grease trap. You can’t just dump in the wastewater. If you have a dental office, it’s explicitly written that they have to filter mercury. We’re not doing anything different, we’re just directly applying it where they’ve gotten away with no rules because they’ve been allowed to self-regulate.”

    While ATSDR completes their current study, Rosenbaum is planning her next steps. “We need to set maximum contaminant levels in this state,” she says. “What we can do is stop the industry from adding more [PFAS contamination] in. New Hampshire set it at 18 ppt, where the state health department wanted to set it at 700 ppt for PFHxS, which is stupid. The EPA isn’t monitoring PFHxS, they’re just doing PFOA and PFAS, so we brought in evidence from other states saying PFHxs is actually the more harmful one because it’s more prevalent.”

    Nestlé seeks more time in Chaffee County as locals ask to be “unbottled” — @WaterEdCO

    Arkansas River in Chaffee County. Nestlé is asking to continue exporting water from Chaffee County as locals ask to be “unbottled.” Credit: Wikipedia via Water Education Colorado

    From Water Education Colorado (Jerd Smith):

    Bottled water company Nestlé is seeking permission to extend its operations in Colorado’s Chaffee County, a move that is generating significant community opposition.

    Nestlé Waters North America first won permission to export spring water from Chaffee County in 2009, building a pipeline and trucking the water to Denver where it is packaged.

    Location map for Nestlé operations near Nathrop via The Denver Post.

    The company hopes to renew its original 10-year permit to tap Ruby Mountain Springs near Buena Vista, which expired last fall. The water is sold under the Arrowhead brand.

    Chaffee County Commissioners are expected to take up the matter at an Oct. 20 hearing.

    Nestlé Natural Resources Manager Larry Lawrence declined an interview request, but in an email said the company strives to maintain environmentally sensitive operations and that extending the permit would create no new stress on the springs.

    Separately company officials have said repeatedly that preserving water resources is key to their ability to continue selling water. The beverage maker has 25 plants in the United States, including the one in Colorado.

    In the meantime, local activists have collected more than 1,200 signatures on Change.org opposing the permit extension.

    Unbottle and Protect Chaffee County Water, with 300-plus members, said the permit renewal poses an ongoing threat to local water supplies due to chronic drought and climate change. Activists also say that Nestlé donations of bottled water to local nonprofits increases the county’s recycling costs, and that Nestlé has not followed through on some of the commitments it made to the county, including taking steps to preserve important property along the Arkansas River near the springs.

    “We believe we are an environmentally sensitive county,” said Francie Bomer, one of the activists leading the effort to cancel the permit.

    “We don’t like plastic and we don’t believe the benefit to the county is equal to the value of the water Nestlé is taking out,” Bomer said.

    The conflict comes as bottled water manufacturers across the U.S and Canada face mounting criticism over their use of groundwater. Five states, Maine, Michigan, Montana, Oregon, and Washington, are moving to ban or sharply limit the industry.

    Earlier this year Nestlé opted to sell its Canadian operations, exiting a country in which local opposition had grown strong, according to published reports.

    Under its Chaffee County permit, Nestlé is required to monitor water levels in the Ruby Mountain Springs and to replace any water it takes under a replacement plan overseen by the Salida-based Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District.

    Such plans are often required under state law, and are designed to ensure water users downstream of diversion sites with more senior water rights aren’t harmed by upstream diversions.

    Manager of the Upper Arkansas Water District, Terry Scanga, said the replacement plan relies on water from Turquoise Lake in Leadville, which fully covers any water removed from Chaffee County by Nestlé. Scanga said the district has no plans to contest the permit renewal.

    Nestlé is required to monitor water levels and habitat conditions as part of its agreement with the county. In its 2019 annual report, the company said it extracted 89 acre-feet of spring water, 5.6 percent of the 1,573 acre-feet of overall flow measured. An acre-foot is equal to nearly 326,000 gallons.

    If its permit is renewed, the company estimates annual production would grow at 2 percent annually, but would still be well below the amount to which it is legally entitled.

    In addition, ongoing monitoring by the company shows that the spring recovers quickly as water is extracted and that no harm to habitat has been noted since 2010.

    “To date, spring water production has been well below the permit limitations and at no time over the last decade of monitoring has stress to the spring system resulted in conditions where pumping was required to be reduced, either to meet criteria under the permit or due to observations that indicated operations were negatively impacting upstream or downstream users or the ecological and biological systems,” the report states.

    Bomer is skeptical of those reports because they have not been independently verified by outside experts.

    Earlier this year, in advance of the permit renewal effort, the county hired experts to evaluate Nestlé monitoring data, according to Chaffee County Attorney Jennifer Davis.

    Whether Chaffee County will become another bottled water hot spot in the international battle isn’t clear yet.

    “We are a tiny county. Are we part of that bigger effort? No. We’re just trying to protect our resources so they will be here when we need them,” Bomer said. “But if we contribute to to that effort, that would be okay.”

    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.

    Booming Front Range cities take first steps to build $500 million dam, reservoir near Holy Cross Wilderness — The Denver Post

    Here’s an in-depth report from (Bruce Finley) writing in The Denver Post. Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:

    A hundred miles from Colorado’s Front Range house-building boom, field scientist Delia Malone dug her fingers into spongy high-mountain wetlands at the edge of the Holy Cross Wilderness.

    She found, about 15 inches underground, partially decayed roots, twigs and the cold moisture of a fen. These structures form over thousands of years and store water that seeps down from melting snow.

    Malone has been digging about 20 holes a day, surveying fens for the U.S. Forest Service, to better understand nature’s water-storage systems — which sustain vegetation and stream flows that 40 million people across the Colorado River Basin rely on in the face of increasing aridity.

    Aurora and Colorado Springs are planning to flood these wetland fens and replace natural storage with a man-made system: a $500 million dam and a reservoir that may require changing wilderness boundaries.

    The cities each own rights to 10,000 acre-feet a year of the water that flows out of the wilderness and would pump what the reservoir traps, minus evaporation, through tunnels under mountains to other reservoirs and, finally, to pipes that deliver steady flows from urban faucets, toilets, showers and sprinkler systems…

    Fens play a key role ensuring that streams and rivers still flow after winter snow melts. And as climate warming leads to earlier melting and depletes surface water in the Colorado River, natural wetlands increasingly are seen as essential to help life hang on. The benefits stood out this summer as the West endured record heat, wildfires and drought…

    Yet Front Range developers’ desire for more water is intensifying. Across the mountains at construction sites on high dusty plains, roads and power lines have been installed, heavy dirt-movers beep and carpenters thwack atop roofs.

    Local governments already have approved permits allowing house-building at a pace that in some areas is projected to nearly double water consumption.

    Colorado Springs officials issued 3,982 permits for new single family homes last year, 18% higher than the average over the previous five years, according to data provided to The Denver Post. They estimated the current population around 476,000 will reach 723,000 “at build-out” around 2070. This requires 136,000 to 159,000 acre-feet of water a year, city projections show, up from 70,766 acre-feet in 2019.

    Aurora officials estimated their population of 380,000 will reach 573,986 by 2050. They’ve approved entire new communities, such as the 620-acre Painted Prairie with more than 3,100 housing units in the “aerotropolis” that Denver leaders have promoted near Denver International Airport, and projected current water consumption of 49,811 acre-feet a year will increase to 85,000 acre-feet and even as much as 130,158 acre-feet in a high-growth, rapid-warming scenario…

    To make a new dam and reservoir more palatable, the cities are exploring unprecedented “mitigation” of digging up and physically removing the underground fens, then hauling them and transplanting them elsewhere to restore damaged wetlands. An experiment on a ranch south of Leadville, officials said, is proving that this could help offset losses of Homestake Creek wetlands.

    This would challenge a federal policy laid out in 1999 at Interior Department regional headquarters in Denver that classifies fens as “irreplaceable.” The policy says “onsite or in-kind replacement of peat wetlands is not thought possible” and that “concentrated efforts will be made to encourage relocation of proposed reservoirs… that might impact fens, when practicable.”

    Covered by grasses and shrubs, water-laden fens blanket the Homestake Valley — wetlands filled with porous peat soils that receive minerals and nutrients in groundwater. Moving such wetlands, if attempted, would require massive hauling of soil blocks combined with the delicate precision of an organ transplant to retain ecological functioning…

    Some environmental groups are preparing for legal combat should the cities seek required state, county and federal permits. Others haven’t weighed in. Conservation Colorado leaders declined to comment on this water push.

    Transplanting fens as mitigation to try to restore wetlands elsewhere “for our convenience” is impossible, WildEarth Guardians attorney Jen Pelz said. “Fens and other sensitive high-elevation wetlands are quite beautiful and mysterious, more art than science, not something we can re-engineer.”

    Dams and diversions proposed in recent years around the West “are just as destructive as those built a century ago, and building dams today is actually more irresponsible because we know that dams disconnect aquatic and riparian habitat, cause species extinction, disrupt ecosystem function, dry rivers and harm native cultures and communities,” she said.

    “We need to start removing dams, not building more. This project is one of many where water managers are looking to cash in on their undeveloped rights or entitlements at the expense of people and the environment. … It’s time to draw a line in the sand.”

    Monument Trustees approve continued development of water projects, site plans — The Pikes Peak Tribune

    Denver Basin Aquifer System graphic credit USGS.

    From The Pikes Peak Tribune (Ben Farrell):

    At the Monument Board of Trustees meeting Aug. 3, 2020…approved two resolutions to continue water projects which have been on hiatus.

    Trustees reviewed a resolution to award a project agreement to Forsgren Associates Inc. for the continued design and development of a new two-gallon [two million gallon] water storage tank and associated pipeline into the town’s water system. Public works director Tom Tharnish said a lot of preliminary work had already been done by Forsgren Associates and continuing the project with the firm would quicken the project’s timeline.

    The agreement would allow the majority of the engineering for the project, which involved a change in the size of the tank from 1.2 million gallons. The town is already $60,000 into the project, Tharnish said. When originally developing a 1.2 million gallon tank, the additional capacity required for the upcoming reuse pipeline wasn’t considered…

    Another resolution was presented to the board to award a contract to Lytle Water Solutions LLC for the design and development of a new water well at the Water Treatment Plant.

    Given recent emergency repairs to Wells No. 3 and No. 8, Tharnish said the department’s senior water technicians approached him with concerns for the same incident occurring later this year…

    The idea is to drill a new well on the Well No. 4-5 site and build a short pipe to the existing treatment plant. Since this would create additional flow to an existing plant, the plans for the well have to be approved by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

    Tharnish said the new well, which would draw from the Arapahoe basin, would produce 190-200 gallons per minute. Presently, Wells No. 4 and 5 produces 100 and 60 gallons per minute, respectively, which is the way the state has permitted them, he said. Trustees approved the resolution 6-0.

    Town Manager Mike Foreman said the town is getting ready to sell revenue bonds prior to November to help fund the water projects planned for the next five years and a workshop with the board to review all future water projects would be forthcoming. Foreman said the town has the opportunity to sell $15-20 million in bonds over the next five years.

    Tharnish noted Well No. 3 is repaired and operational, producing 25 gallons per minute more than it did previous to experiencing a failure July 5.

    Hard-to-predict water year leaves Ruedi Reservoir levels low — @AspenJournalism #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    Sailboats dock at the Aspen Yacht Club marina in 2018. Levels in Ruedi Reservoir are projected to be down to about 84,500 acre-feet around Sept. 1, which could reduce access to the club’s boat ramp. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    From Aspen Journalism (Heather Sackett):

    Ruedi Reservoir is feeling the effects of an unusual water year, with less water for endangered fish and with low reservoir levels predicted for late summer and fall.

    “This year was a strange year,” Tim Miller, a U.S. Bureau of Reclamation hydrologist who manages operations at Ruedi, said at an annual public meeting about reservoir operations held virtually Wednesday. “For most of the year, it seemed like we were doing well, we thought we would get a fill on the reservoir. However, things really turned around in late spring and early summer.”

    At the meeting convened by the Bureau of Reclamation, Miller said the reservoir, which holds just over 102,000 acre-feet of water, topped out at 96,750 acre-feet this year — about 5,000 acre-feet short of filling. That means there is 5,000 acre-feet less water available this season to boost flows downstream for endangered fish in what’s known as the “15-mile reach” of the Colorado River near Grand Junction.

    As reservoir levels continue to drop over the next month, Aspen Yacht Club members may not be able to access the boat ramp over Labor Day weekend. By Sept. 1, reservoir levels are predicted to be down to about 84,500 acre-feet and the surface to be at an elevation of 7,747 feet, which is 19 feet lower than when it’s full.

    “After Sept. 1, it’s going to be dicey,” Miller said of accessing the private marina’s boat ramp. The U.S. Forest Service boat ramp will still be accessible at those levels, he said.

    Bruce Gabow of the Aspen Yacht Club said that when water levels are 13 feet below full, the club’s docks become grounded and inoperable. He said that most years, boats are taken out of the reservoir by mid-September, but with water levels dropping sooner this year, many will need to go before the end of August.

    “Everyone has kind of been expecting it, but they will be bummed out,” he said of the club’s members.

    Ruedi Reservoir is currently 92% full, at 94,065 acre-feet. It topped out on July 17 at 96,914 acre-feet. In 2018, the reservoir also didn’t fill, topping out at 92,650 acre-feet, according to Miller.

    Each spring, Miller must decide how much water to release from Ruedi and when to release it to make room for inflow from snowmelt. Those decisions are based on streamflow forecasts from the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center and the Natural Resources Conservation Service, as well as the Bureau of Reclamation’s statistical forecasts.

    This year’s unusual conditions made for tricky forecasting, leading some to question whether more and better data collection is needed, instead of relying primarily on snow telemetry, or SNOTEL, data. These automated remote sensors collect weather and snowpack information in remote watersheds, but they provide only a snapshot of a specific location. Each of the three forecasting agencies over-predicted Ruedi inflow for the months of April, May and June.

    Usually, the amount of runoff closely mirrors snowpack. And with snowpack in the Roaring Fork River basin slightly above normal, as measured by SNOTEL sites, it seemed that is where runoff would also end up. But parched soils from a dry fall sucked up some of the moisture before it made its way to streams and eventually the reservoir. Miller also suspects that a high rate of sublimation — where snow goes from a frozen state to vapor, skipping the liquid phase — may have also played a role.

    “To do our statistical forecast, it’s 90% snowpack only,” Miller said. “We had some different variables this year.”

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    By the end of May, Miller realized inflow projections were too high and began scaling back releases. Ruedi also did not participate in Coordinated Reservoir Operations this year. In the annual CROS, which began around May 29, water managers from across the state aimed to enhance peak spring runoff by releasing water from reservoirs at the same time. The peak flows have ecological benefits, especially for fish in the 15-mile reach.

    “It was pretty much a last-minute declaration we couldn’t do CROS,” Miller said.

    This photo from August 2018 shows low water levels at the Aspen Yacht Club docks at Ruedi Reservoir. The reservoir missed filling by 5,000 acre-feet in 2020 because of low runoff. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    Better data?

    April Long, executive director of Ruedi Water & Power Authority, suggested that water managers should explore other ways of collecting data in addition to SNOTEL information to improve forecast accuracy. The city of Aspen and Denver Water have experimented with LiDAR technology — which analyzes the reflection of laser light to create detailed three-dimensional maps — to track the depth of mountain snowpack, providing a more complete picture of the water contained in that snowpack.

    “With this year of unexpected results from our snowpack and the way it melted off, I have concern that with climate change and climate variability, we are going to see more uncertainty,” Long said in a follow-up interview with Aspen Journalism. “I wonder how much benefit we could gain if we knew a little more.”

    Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect the date Ruedi storage peaked in 2020.

    Aspen Journalism is a local, investigative, nonprofit news organization that collaborates on coverage of water and rivers with The Aspen Times and other Swift Communications newspapers. This story ran in the Aug. 7 edition of The Aspen Times.

    Reservoir Releases to Bolster Flows in 15-Mile Reach of #ColoradoRiver — The #Colorado Water Trust #COriver #aridification

    A map of the Fry-Ark system. Aspen, and Hunter Creek, are shown in the lower left. Fryingpan-Arkansas Project western and upper eastern slope facilities.

    Here’s the release from the Colorado Water Trust, et al. (Mark Harris, Mark Harris, Donald Anderson, and Scott McCaulou):

    On Saturday, August 1, Colorado Water Trust, Grand Valley Water Users Association, and Orchard Mesa Irrigation District will initiate their implementation of an agreement that will deliver 877 acre-feet of water to the Grand Valley Power Plant and the 15-Mile Reach of the Colorado River above its confluence with the Gunnison River near Grand Junction, Colorado this summer. Grand Valley Water Users Association and Orchard Mesa Irrigation District identified available capacity in their water delivery system for Colorado Water Trust to deliver water decreed for power generation through the Grand Valley Power Plant, from where it subsequently returns to the 15-Mile Reach. This delivery will mark the second execution of an innovative agreement that Colorado Water Trust, Grand Valley Water Users Association, and Orchard Mesa Irrigation District entered last year with assistance from the Upper Colorado Endangered Fish Recovery Program and the Bureau of Reclamation.

    The agreement furthers common goals of streamflow restoration for the 15-Mile Reach and takes steps toward unlocking a $425,000 grant from Walton Family Foundation to renovate the aging Grand Valley Power Plant. Thanks to donor support, Colorado Water Trust has purchased stored water from the Colorado River District. That water will be released from Ruedi Reservoir to the Colorado River for use in the power plant and to increase 15-Mile Reach flows to support four species of endangered fish including the Colorado Pikeminnow, Humpback Chub, Bonytail, and Razorback Sucker.

    “We are so grateful to Grand Valley Water Users Association and Orchard Mesa Irrigation District for coordinating with us to boost flows in the 15-Mile Reach. Seeing the project work for a second year in a row proves the lasting success of our partnerships, and it’s particularly important to the fish this year, with flows as low as they are.” says Kate Ryan, Senior Staff Attorney for Colorado Water Trust.

    This is the second time in the past two summers that Colorado Water Trust purchased water stored in Ruedi Reservoir for release to the 15-Mile Reach of the Colorado River to help maintain healthy streamflow and water temperatures. Purchases since 2019 will result in delivering over 1200 acre-feet of water to the Colorado River. Colorado Water Trust works closely with Grand Valley Water Users Association and Orchard Mesa Irrigation District to identify when there is available capacity in the power plant. Colorado Water Trust also works closely with the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program to determine when the 15-Mile Reach needs supplemental water most to support the fish. When these two conditions overlap, Colorado Water Trust releases the water purchased out of storage for delivery to the power plant and then the 15-Mile Reach.

    “Orchard Mesa Irrigation District and the Grand Valley Water Users Association appreciate the Colorado Water Trust’s facilitation of this agreement–it benefits our two organizations at the Grand Valley Power Plant, and the many other water users who support flows through the 15-Mile Reach. We believe these kinds of collaborative efforts to be of great value to the people of Colorado, the Colorado River, and the fish,” says Mark Harris, General Manager of Grand valley Water Users Association.

    “Maintaining adequate flows for endangered fish through the 15-Mile Reach is possible only because of the extraordinary cooperation our Recovery Program enjoys from multiple partners and stakeholders. We are delighted to add the Colorado Water Trust to that mix of cooperators. This year, in light of unusually low flow conditions in the Colorado River, the additional water made available through this leasing arrangement is especially welcome,” says Donald Anderson, Hydrologist and Instream Flow Coordinator for the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program.

    The Roaring Fork Conservancy also helps to inform Colorado Water Trust of conditions on the Fryingpan and Roaring Fork Rivers to so that releases will complement flows on the stream sections between Ruedi Reservoir and the Colorado River. This year, the water released from Ruedi Reservoir will serve a few purposes before it supports the health of endangered, native fish in the Colorado River in the 15-Mile Reach. The water will bring flows in the Fryingpan River closer to their average, and will cool water temperatures on the Roaring Fork River. Finally, on the Colorado River, the water will generate hydropower, helping to produce clean energy.

    “Flowing rivers are an economic engine in Colorado, providing immense value to irrigators, drinking water providers, and recreation across the state,” says Todd Reeve, CEO of Bonneville Environmental Foundation and Director of Business for Water Stewardship. “It is for this reason that we are seeing more and more corporate funders step forward to invest in innovative projects like this one that help keep the rivers in Colorado flowing.”

    Essential to the project’s success are dedicated donors: Bonneville Environmental Foundation, Coca Cola, Colorado Water Trust donors, and Daniel K. Thorne Foundation. Without these generous donations and the collaborative work of local and state agencies, water releases to support the health of the 15-Mile Reach of the Colorado River would not be possible.

    ABOUT COLORADO WATER TRUST: Colorado Water Trust is a statewide nonprofit organization that works collaboratively with partners all across Colorado on restoring flow to Colorado’s rivers in need using solutions that benefit both the people we work with and our rivers. Since 2001, we’ve restored 12 billion gallons of water to rivers and streams across the state.

    This map shows the 15-mile reach of the Colorado River near Grand Junction, home to four species of endangered fish. Water from Ruedi Reservoir flows down the Fryingpan River and into the Roaring Fork, which flows into the Colorado River in Glenwood Springs. Map credit: CWCB

    @USBR to Host Ruedi Reservoir Water Operations Public Meeting #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    From email from Reclamation (Elizabeth Jones):

    The Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled the annual public meeting to discuss the Ruedi Reservoir Water Operations for the 2020 water year.

    The meeting will be held on August 5, 2020, from 6:30-8:00 pm using Webex (Webex is a web-based platform that hosts online meetings with HD video, audio and screen sharing.)

    To join from a mobile device (attendees only):
    Dial: 1-415-527-5035, 1992510741## US Toll

    To join by phone:
    Dial: 1-415-527-5035 US Toll

    The meeting will provide an overview of Ruedi Reservoir’s 2020 projected operations for late summer and early fall, which are key tourist seasons in Basalt. Also, representatives of the Colorado Water Conservation Board and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will give a presentation on the upcoming implementation of the Ute Water Conservancy District and Garfield County leases of Ruedi Reservoir water to the Board for instream flow use in the 15-Mile Reach of the Colorado River. The meeting will include a public question and answer session.

    For more information, please contact Tim Miller, Hydrologist, Eastern Colorado Area Office, by phone or e-mail: (970) 290-4895, or tmiller@usbr.gov.

    The blue expanse of Ruedi Reservoir as seen from the air. Students with the Carbondale-based Youth Water Leadership Program took to the air with EcoFlight to see how people have modified water in the Roaring Fork watershed. Photo credit: Heather Sackett/Aspen Journalism

    #Colorado commission adopts new policies on regulation of firefighting foam chemical — The #ColoradoSprings Gazette #PFAS

    From Colorado Politics (Marianne Goodland) via The Colorado Springs Gazette:

    The Colorado Water Quality Control Commission, part of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, announced Wednesday the approval of a new policy to reduce the use of perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances — also known as PFAs, a chemical found in firefighting foam.

    Widefield aquifer via the Colorado Water Institute.

    Among the most serious problems caused by PFAs in Colorado: contaminated well water supplies in El Paso County, most notably in the Widefield aquifer that serves the communities of Fountain, Widefield and Security.

    The policy “will provide the department with clear guardrails for setting wastewater discharge permit limits on the chemicals released into local waterways. It also provides time for city and county wastewater treatment plants to work to reduce the chemicals from industries that use them and that discharge their wastewater with these chemicals into local sewer systems,” according to a CDPHE statement…

    …delays by the EPA in developing a standard for surface or groundwater limits on PFAs has now prompted the state’s water quality commission to take action of its own. The new policy has been in the works since February.

    It’s not without its detractors, including a nine-member group known as AF CURE (the Arkansas Fountain Coalition for Urban and River Evaluation). That group includes Colorado Springs Utilities; the sanitation districts for Fountain, Security and Widefield; and the Tri-Lakes water district. The group claimed the policy is more stringent than existing state policy on groundwater standards and would control decision-making for groundwater discharge for central El Paso County, in the vicinity of Fountain Creek.

    AF CURE claimed the policy addresses “parent” PFAs compounds with no known toxicity. The policy would also present challenges to public utilities projects, including costs, according to a group presentation Tuesday.

    Colorado Springs Utilities said it has spent $120,000 for PFAs testing in the past eight months, including installing 21 monitoring wells. The water quality division failed to fully look at the economic impact of the policy, the group said. “Do not adopt Policy 20-1 as drafted. There are many unaddressed issues wih significant complications.” And doing the policy through a rulemaking hearing, instead of the administrative hearing held Tuesday, would allow for a “more robust cost/benefit analyses.”

    […]

    The Water Quality Control Division said what’s known about PFAs in Colorado is not enough:

  • 50% of community systems have unknown levels of PFAS in drinking water
  • 96% of community water systems haven’t had their sources tested
  • 95% of surface water segments have not been tested, which leads to questions about how PFAs impacts fish, livestock and crops
  • 20% of Colorado’s population relies on private wells, yet nearly none have been tested, and shallow wells are a higher risk.
  • John Putnam, environmental programs director for the CDPHE, said in a statement Wednesday that “we can’t wait for the EPA to come up with guidance; it would take too long. We need to take action now using the most current and best information available so we can start getting a better sense of the level of exposure we have in our state and to take the necessary steps to protect Coloradans from being more at risk.”

    The Water Quality Control Division recently collected 71 samples from rivers and streams around Colorado, and every one of them showed at least some detectable levels of PFAs. A sample collected at the mouth of Sand Creek in Commerce City showed a level of 77 parts per trillion, which exceeded the EPA’s drinking water limit of 70 parts per trillion.

    While the commission statement said they were unaware that anyone was drinking that water, it’s still a concern since PFAs doesn’t break down and can impact downstream drinking water supplies.

    The sampling data indicates that industrial companies that have discharge permits for wastewater may be playing a role in the buildup of PFAs in water supplies. There are several companies that treat and discharge wastewater into Sand Creek, according to the commission statement.

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

    From Chemical and Engineering News (Cheryl Hogue):

    To set an enforceable limit, the EPA must pass through a complex set of steps established in law to regulate contaminants in drinking water. And powerful lobbies that face cleanup liability, including the chemical industry, oppose regulation of PFAS as a group…

    LONG TIME COMING

    The question of whether and how much to regulate these persistent chemicals in drinking water has spanned the administrations of US presidents George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Donald J. Trump. “This is a multi-administration failure to take action on PFOA and PFOS and on the broader class of PFAS chemicals that may pose health effects,” says Melanie Benesh, legislative attorney for the Environmental Working Group, which has called for limiting the two chemicals in drinking water since the early 2000s. “It has taken EPA an extraordinarily long time to do anything.”

    Action toward possibly regulating these chemicals in drinking water began about a decade ago, when the EPA gathered data collected by water utilities on occurrence and levels of PFOA and PFOS. Neither PFOA nor PFOS is manufactured domestically anymore, but communities across the nation face legacy pollution. Also, either chemical may still be imported as a component, such as a coating, in products.

    Drinking water in at least 25 states is tainted with PFOA or PFOS. In some areas, including the Pease Tradeport, other PFAS also turn up, according to data gathered by the Environmental Working Group and Northeastern University. Overall, PFAS may contaminate public drinking-water systems that serve an estimated 19 million people living in the US.

    #ColoradoSprings sees benefits from #stormwater improvements — KOAA

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

    From KOAA (Melissa Greathouse):

    Recent heavy rain is testing draining in Colorado Springs, and so far improvements seem to be working…

    The city made a commitment four years ago to improve infrastructure, including redoing drainage and bringing the system up-to-date.

    That work is ongoing, but so far the efforts seem to be making a difference.

    “A lot of that too is coordination with us and the 2C program, so when they go in to repave roads, they’re rebuilding curb and gutter, we’re working with them to replace pipe, fix that conveyance as we go,” said Stormwater Enterprise Manager Richard Mulledy.

    City leaders say runoff appears to be cleaner because less trash is making its way downstream.

    Controlling the speed and the amount of water is also helping.

    #Colorado Water Officials Create First-Ever Regulations For ‘Forever Chemical’ #PFAS — Colorado Public Radio

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

    From Colorado Public Radio (Sam Brasch):

    The state’s Water Quality Control Commission voted unanimously Tuesday to enact a policy to put new limits on per-and poly-fluoroalkyl substances, better known as PFAS. The class of chemicals is a common ingredient in everything from nonstick pans to foam used to smother flames from jet fuel.

    A growing body of scientific evidence has linked the chemicals to a range of health problems, including cancer and pregnancy issues. Meanwhile, federal efforts to regulate the chemicals have lagged, leaving states to take action on their own.

    Liz Rosenbaum, founder of the Fountain Valley Clean Water Coalition, was relieved to see Colorado join the list of states cracking down on the chemicals…

    Rosenbaum’s community just south of Colorado Springs is widely seen as ground-zero for Colorado’s growing PFAS pollution crisis. In 2016, scientists found elevated levels of a specific PFAS in the drinking water for Security, Widefield and Fountain. The study traced the contamination to firefighting foam used at Peterson Airforce Base. Two years later, another study found elevated levels of the same chemical in community members’ blood.

    Further testing has since revealed the chemicals in waterways across the state. Recent results from a state study found four water sources where levels exceeded a health guideline set by the Environmental Protection Agency in 2008. All of the samples had some detectable levels of the chemicals.

    In an effort to control the problem, the Colorado Water Quality Control Division proposed rules to require wastewater treatment plants and industrial sites to monitor the chemicals. It also established the authority for the state to limit the chemicals in future wastewater permits.

    But the focus on wastewater was met with a fierce backlash from cities and private interests.

    Three days before the commission hearing, Aurora, Colorado Springs and Greeley joined utilities and water districts in demanding regulators pause deliberations over the new rules. The motion to vacate claimed the rules focused on wastewater treatment plants, which do not add PFAS to water systems.

    The groups called on the regulators to instead focus the source of the chemicals, like companies making carpet products or consumers using nonstick pans.

    The Metro Wastewater Reclamation District, which serves more than 2 million people around metro Denver, put an especially shocking number behind their objection. If the state required wastewater districts to clean up the chemicals, it could cost ratepayers over $700 million.

    Representatives for the Colorado Water Quality Control Division dismissed those concerns. Manufacturers and airfields would also face new scrutiny to clean up the chemicals, which means the wastewater district probably wouldn’t end up stuck with the problem. Under the rules, the district also likely wouldn’t face any of the new limits on PFAS until 2031. Meg Parish, a permit manager with the division, said by then it could be far cheaper to clean up the chemicals.

    Forest Service flooded with comments opposing Whitney Reservoir, drilling — @AspenJournalism

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

    From Aspen Journalism (David O. Williams):

    The U.S. Forest Service has been inundated with more than 500 online comments — the vast majority in opposition — to a geophysical study and drilling by the cities of Aurora and Colorado Springs to determine the feasibility of a second reservoir in the Homestake Creek drainage, including objections from nearby towns and a local state senator.

    The geophysical study and the drilling are the next step in the lengthy process of developing a reservoir on lower Homestake Creek.

    The mayors of Red Cliff and Minturn signed and submitted separate but identical letters questioning the legality of drilling 10 boreholes on Forest Service land near the Holy Cross Wilderness Area, which is six miles southwest of Red Cliff, to see whether soil and bedrock can support a dam for what would be known as Whitney Reservoir. Avon’s attorney has asked for a public comment extension to Aug. 4 so that it can hold a hearing.

    “A Whitney Reservoir would irreparably change and harm our community,” Minturn Mayor John Widerman and Red Cliff Mayor Duke Gerber wrote in their letters, submitted June 30. “We are paying close attention to these proposals, other moves by Homestake Partners and the public controversy. This categorical exclusion is rushed, harmful and unlawful.”

    Operating together as Homestake Partners, the cities of Aurora and Colorado Springs own water rights dating to the 1950s that, under the 1998 Eagle River Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), give them the basis to pursue developing 20,000 acre-feet of water a year from the Western Slope. They’ve been studying four potential dam sites in the Homestake Valley several miles below the cities’ existing Homestake Reservoir, which holds 43,600 acre-feet of water.

    The smallest configuration of Whitney Reservoir, if deemed feasible and ultimately approved, would be 6,850 acre-feet, and the largest would be up to 20,000 acre-feet. The reservoir, on lower Homestake Creek, would pump water up to Homestake Reservoir, about five miles upstream, then through a tunnel under the Continental Divide to Turquoise Reservoir near Leadville.

    In 2018, Homestake Partners paid $4.1 million for 150 acres of private land, which it leases back to the former owner for a nominal fee. That land, which would be inundated to accommodate a large portion of Whitney Reservoir’s surface area, is braided with streams and waterfalls and is lush with fens and other wetlands. It’s also home to a cabin once used as an officers quarters for the famed 10th Mountain Division of the U.S. Army. The site is not far from Camp Hale, between Red Cliff and Leadville, where soldiers trained for mountain warfare during World War II.

    This cabin, once used by the 10th Mountain Division of the U.S. Army, sits on a 150-acre parcel owned by Homestake Partners. The site of the proposed Whitney Reservoir is near Camp Hale, between Red Cliff and Leadville. Photo credit: David O. Williams/Aspen Journalism

    Eagle River MOU

    The Eagle River MOU is an agreement between Aurora and Colorado Springs and a bevy of Western Slope water interests. The Colorado River Water Conservation District, Eagle River Water & Sanitation District, Upper Eagle Regional Water Authority, and Vail Resorts are collectively defined in the MOU as the Reservoir Company. None of those entities submitted comments to the Forest Service on the drilling proposal. And according to Diane Johnson, communications and public affairs manager for the ERWSD and UERWA, none are helping to pay for the feasibility study and none are involved in the reservoir project, except to the degree that it is tied to the MOU.

    The MOU provides for 20,000 acre-feet of average annual yield for the cities. “Yield” refers to a reliable supply of water. In some cases, yield equates to storage in a reservoir, but yield can also be created by other methods, such as pumping water uphill from a smaller, refilled reservoir, which is an option being studied by the cities on lower Homestake Creek. The MOU also provides for 10,000 acre-feet of “firm dry year yield” for the Western Slope entities in the Reservoir Company, and firm dry year yield means a reliable supply even in a very dry year. Those entities have developed about 2,000 acre-feet of that allocated firm yield in Eagle Park Reservoir, and it’s not yet clear whether the Whitney Reservoir project would help them realize any additional yield.

    “The short answer is we support (Homestake Partners’) right to pursue an application for their yield,” Johnson said. “We trust the permitting process to bring all impacts and benefits to light for the community to consider and weigh in total.” .

    Jim Pokrandt, director of community affairs for the River District, declined to comment on the investigatory test work, saying only, “Yes, we have signed the MOU. That said, … we are not participating in the Whitney Creek effort.”

    Besides Homestake Partners and the Reservoir Company, the MOU was signed by the Climax Molybdenum Company. The two private companies signed onto the MOU — Vail Resorts and Freeport-McMoRan (Climax) — also declined to comment on either the drilling study or Whitney Reservoir.

    Under the MOU, various parties can pursue projects on their own, and the other parties are bound to support those efforts, but only to the degree that a proposed project meets the objectives of the MOU, including whether a project “minimizes environmental impacts.”

    Many of the 520 online comments as of the June 30 deadline objected to testing for the possibility of a dam, expressing concern for the complex wetlands in the area, but most of the comments also strongly condemn the overall project: a potential future Whitney Reservoir.

    The cities are trying to keep the focus on the test drilling.

    “This is simply a fatal-flaw reservoir siting study that includes subsurface exploration, and it’s basically just to evaluate feasibility of a dam construction on lower Homestake Creek,” said Maria Pastore, Colorado Springs Utilities’ senior project manager for water resource planning. “It’s simple exploratory work to determine if we can even go ahead with permitting and design.”

    Marcia Gilles, acting ranger for the Eagle-Holy Cross District, said her office will continue accepting comments at any time during the ongoing analysis of the geophysical study despite the June 30 deadline. She added that if the Forest Service concludes there are no “extraordinary circumstances,” she can render a decision using what is known as a categorical exclusion and then issue a special-use permit as soon as August. A categorical exclusion requires less environmental scrutiny than other forms of analysis.

    “At this time, the proposed action appears to be categorically excluded from requiring further analysis and documentation in an environmental assessment (EA) or environmental impact statement (EIS),” Gilles said. “Should the environmental analysis find extraordinary circumstances, the Forest Service would proceed to analyzing the project in an EA or EIS.”

    State Sen. Kerry Donovan, a Vail Democrat, disagrees. She wrote to the Forest Service on June 30: “I … strongly urge you not to categorically exclude this project from (National Environmental Policy Act) analysis. I cannot express how sternly the citizens of my district oppose water diversion projects to Front Range communities.” Her district encompasses seven Western Slope counties, including Eagle, where the dam would be located.

    Donovan called the proposed investigation — which would require temporary roads, heavy drilling equipment, continuous high-decibel noise, driving through Homestake Creek and use of its water in the drilling process — an affront to the “Keep It Public” movement, which advocates for effective federal management on public lands.

    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

    Drilling impacts

    If approved by the Forest Service for a special-use permit, Homestake Partners would send in crews on foot to collect seismic and other geophysical data later this summer or fall. Crews with heavy equipment would then drill 10 boreholes up to 150 feet deep in three possible dam locations on Forest Service land. The drilling would take place on Forest Service land but not in a wilderness area.

    Crews would use a standard pickup truck, a heavy-duty pickup pulling a flatbed trailer, and a semi-truck and trailer that would remain on designated roads and parking areas, with some lane closures of Homestake Road and dispersed campsites possible.
    For off-road boring operations, crews would use a rubber-tracked drill rig, a utility vehicle pulling a small trailer, and a track-mounted skid steer. The drill rigs are up to 8 feet wide, 22 feet long and 8 feet high, and can extend up to 30 feet high during drilling, possibly requiring tree removal in some areas. The rigs would also have to cross Homestake Creek and some wetland areas, although crews would use temporary ramps or wood mats to mitigate impacts.

    According to a technical report filed by Homestake Partners, the subsurface work is expected to take up to five days per drilling location, or at least 50 days of daytime work only. However, continuous daytime noise from the drilling could approach 100 decibels, which is equivalent to either an outboard motor, garbage truck, jackhammer or jet flyover at 1,000 feet. If work is not done by winter, crews have up to a year to complete the project and could return in 2021.

    The drilling process would use several thousand gallons of Homestake Creek water per day that engineers say “would have negligible impacts on streamflow or aquatic habitat. Water pumped from Homestake Creek during drilling would amount to less than 0.01 (cubic feet per second), a small fraction of average flows,” according to a technical report included with application materials.

    Homestake Partners would avoid wetlands as much as possible during drilling, but “where temporary wetland or waters disturbance is unavoidable, applicable 404 permitting would be secured from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.” Crossing of Homestake Creek would occur in late summer or fall when streamflows are low, and no drilling would occur in wetlands.

    While no permanent roads would be built for the drilling, temporary access routes would be necessary and reclaimed as much as possible.

    “Access routes would be selected to reduce surface disturbance and vegetation removal, and to avoid identified or potential unexploded ordnances (UXOs) discovered during field surveys,” according to the technical report. The 10th Mountain Division used the area for winter warfare training during WWII.

    Another concern cited in the report is the potential impact to Canada lynx. Listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, “only Canada lynx has potential habitat in the vicinity of the project area,” according to the report. “No impacts on lynx are anticipated from the proposed work because much of the activity would occur near Homestake Road, a well-traveled recreation access road. Work would be conducted over a short period (approximately five to six weeks) and impacts on potential habitat would be negligible.”

    The vast majority of comments from a variety of environmental groups and concerned citizens focused on potential impacts to the area’s renowned wetlands and peat-forming fens, which the project proponents say they will avoid as much as possible. So far, Gilles said she is not aware of any legal challenges to the project.

    Two prominent local conservation groups — Eagle Valley Land Trust and Eagle River Watershed Council — submitted comments to the Forest Service expressing serious reservations about both the drilling and the possibility of a dam.

    “Geophysical exploration has an obvious significant nexus and direct relation to additional future actions, i.e., dam construction, which may in time massively impact the Eagle River watershed — regardless of whether the future actions are yet ripe for decisions,” ERWC officials wrote.

    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

    Wilderness boundary

    Even if the test drilling returns favorable results for a reservoir project, there is another obstacle that Homestake Partners will have to clear if they want to move forward with two iterations of the project: a wilderness-boundary change, which would require an act of Congress and the president’s signature.

    The Whitney Reservoir alternatives range from 6,850 to 20,000 acre-feet and in some configurations would require federal legislation, which the cities are working to draft, requesting a boundary adjustment for the nearby Holy Cross Wilderness Area. The largest Whitney proposal would require an 80-acre adjustment, while an alternative location, lower down Homestake Creek, would require a 497-acre adjustment.

    White River National Forest Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams discounts the notion that his agency should reject outright the test-drilling application, as some environmental groups have suggested, until the wilderness-boundary issue is determined. Although some local and state lawmakers have said they are against shifting a wilderness boundary, Fitzwilliams said it’s still too soon for him to take up the wilderness issue.

    “These are test holes,” Fitzwilliams said of the drilling, which is intended to see whether the substrata are solid enough for a dam and reservoir. “Going to get a (wilderness) boundary change is not a small deal for them, so why would you do it if you find fatal flaws? That’s a red herring.

    “I understand it; nobody wants to see a dam in the Homestake drainage. I get that. But it just seems prudent to do (the drilling) to see if there’s any reason to go further.”

    Aspen Journalism is collaborating with the Vail Daily and other Swift Communications newspapers on coverage of water and rivers. This story was published online by Vail Daily on July 9, 2020 and in its print edition on July 10. The early online version of the story was edited to clarify aspects of the Eagle River MOU.

    State announces results of community water sampling project — #Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment #PFAS

    Here’s the release from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment:

    The state announced the results of a project that tested water statewide for PFAS, pervasive chemicals that originate from toxic firefighting foam and other sources. The state found that none of the treated drinking water tested was above the EPA’s health advisory level, but the state did find higher levels of the chemicals in some groundwater sources.

    The results are posted online in a data dashboard. With $500,000 awarded from the state legislature, the department facilitated the sampling of 400 water systems and 15 firefighting districts– as well as 152 groundwater sources and 71 surface water sources like rivers and streams. The sampling included about half of the drinking water systems in the state serving around three-quarters of the population.

    “The current results show that no drinking water tested above the EPA health advisory for two chemicals,” said Kristy Richardson, state toxicologist at the Department of Public Health and Environment. “At the same time, we know science is evolving, and we are committed to using the most current and best available information to provide health-based guidance on exposure to the chemicals. As new studies become available, our understanding of health effects in humans — and our recommendations — will continue to be refined.”

    Key findings:

  • Four entities that tested source water had sample results that exceeded the EPA health advisory. Three of the four entities already tested for the chemicals in previous years and have notified the public of those results– Stratmoor Hills Water and Sanitation District and Security Water and Sanitation District located in El Paso County and Sugarloaf fire district located in Boulder County. The entities are either not using that source water or treating the water to remove the chemicals before using it as drinking water. The additional entity is Fourmile Fire District.
  • Fourmile Fire District, located in Teller County, had not previously tested for the chemicals and found high levels in a well at one of their stations, but the state was informed the firefighters do not drink this well water. The fire district, local public health agency, and state are examining the geographical area to see if any residents living nearby may be impacted. Residents that live near the Four Mile station will be notified of the results and what steps they can take if they are concerned.
  • The state also sampled rivers and streams. All of the samples collected had some detectable level of the chemicals. The sample collected at the mouth of Sand Creek in Commerce City was above the EPA drinking water health advisory, but the state isn’t aware of anyone directly drinking this affected water. Nonetheless, high levels of the chemicals in streams can impact downstream drinking water supplies since they don’t break down.

    The data indicate that industrial entities that have permits to discharge wastewater into rivers and streams may play a large role in the buildup of the chemicals. Sand Creek was sampled twice– one upstream of Commerce City on the east end of Aurora and one downstream before it flows into the South Platte. A number of industries treat and discharge wastewater in that area. The upstream sample result was 13 ppt, and the chemical amount increased downstream to a combined level of 77 ppt for the chemicals, a level above EPA’s drinking water health advisory.

    The state recently released a survey that state dischargers are required to fill out providing information about the use and storage of certain products containing the chemicals. This will help the state better understand the risk of the chemicals entering state waters.

    The state is also using its hazardous waste authority to require various sites along the Front Range to evaluate potential impacts to groundwater. State inspectors have evaluated three oil and gas facilities in the area of Sand Creek, and found that one facility has significantly impacted groundwater next to Sand Creek. The state will use the groundwater data and the surface water data from Sand Creek to determine if additional measures are needed to protect the creek.

    “This is an essential step in filling in the gaps in our understanding of where the chemicals are in the state,” said John Putnam, director of environmental programs at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. “But, our work is not complete — we will continue to work to assess conditions for the other systems not sampled, private wells near areas of contamination, and Colorado’s waters. And, we’ll work to find solutions where the chemicals are found at high levels and to safely dispose of materials before they get to our waters.”

    As part of its action plan to address the chemicals, the state will propose a water quality policy to the Water Quality Control Commission in mid-July to enhance its ability to get more data on discharges of the chemicals to state waters and provide guidance on the need for filtration or other treatment. The policy will also help the state set limits on the chemicals from entering our waters.

    Additionally, in spite of the shortened session, the legislature passed two important laws regarding the chemicals. There are now restrictions on the use of firefighting foam that contains the chemicals and a fee structure so the state can have the necessary resources to provide guidance on the health impacts and investigate and support communities that may be impacted. The fees will provide critical resources to (1) support additional sampling and health assessment for systems; (2) implement a takeback program to take back and dispose of materials with the chemicals; and (3) assist systems that have found the material in their source water.

    More information about the chemicals can be found at http://www.colorado.gov/pacific/cdphe/pfcs. You may also call the state at 303-692-2606 or email at http://cdphe_toxcall@state.co.us should you have questions about the toxicity of the chemicals.

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

    Arkansas Valley Conduit funding gets final approval — The Pueblo Chieftain

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Ryan Severance):

    Construction of the Arkansas Valley Conduit is expected to begin in the near future following the state’s approval of a $100 million financing package for it.

    The Colorado General Assembly has approved the annual Colorado Water Conservation project bill that contains the funding, and Gov. Jared Polis signed that bill into law earlier this week…

    The Arkansas Valley Conduit is estimated to cost between $564 and $610 million to complete over a 15-year period, according to Chris Woodka of the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District.

    The $100 million in state funding would include $90 million in loans and $10 million in grants over the life of the project. When complete, the conduit will provide clean drinking water to 50,000 people in 40 communities.

    The conduit had received funding since 2010 to prepare for construction of the 130-mile pipeline which will deliver a safe drinking water supply to the Lower Arkansas Valley.

    In February, the Bureau of Reclamation announced that $28 million of fiscal year 2020 funding was being directed to the conduit in an effort to move from planning and design into construction. An additional $8 million has been requested for fiscal year 2021 and is under consideration by Congress, Woodka said.

    Arkansas Valley Conduit “A Path Forward” November 22, 2019 via Southeastern.

    CPW gets $25,000 GOCO grant for improvements at Bosque del Oso SWA — The Trinidad Chronicle-News

    Bosque del Oso State Wildlife Area via Sangres.com

    From The Trinidad Chronicle-News (Eric John Monson):

    Recently Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) awarded a $25,000 grant to Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) to enhance solar water wells at Bosque del Oso State Wildlife Area (SWA), the largest SWA in Colorado at 30,000 acres.

    The grant is part of GOCO’s CPW Director’s Innovation Fund (DIF), a partnership between GOCO and CPW. The program is designed to fund small-dollar, innovative projects across the agency.

    Bosque del Oso currently has 11 solar water wells, but only three are in operation. The functioning wells are miles apart, and the two forks of the Purgatoire River that run through the property are on opposite ends. In addition, the lake and streams are typically dry by June each year, limiting water resources for wildlife and their habitat.

    “Bosque del Oso is one of the largest jewels in the SWA portfolio,” said GOCO Parks and Wildlife Program Manager Emily Orbanek. “Water for wildlife in the Bosque del Oso is hugely important. There is not a ton of flowing water there. So, it is important to get the wells up and running and several of them have been out of commission for a while now.”

    CPW will be responsible for completion of the work.

    According to GOCO the funding will help CPW make improvements to four of the non-functional wells to ensure they operate properly. Some wells may need to be re-drilled, and large tanks will be installed to collect water for wildlife and prevent it from seeping into the soil. This will directly benefit all wildlife by creating proper access to water and will help distribute wildlife more equally across the property, enhancing hunting and viewing experiences.

    GOCO awards $1.6 to conserve local ranches — The Mountain Mail

    Uncompahgre Fritillary butterfly. By USFWS Mountain-Prairie – Uncompahgre fritillary butterfly, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=74757856

    From Great Outdoors Colorado via The Mountain Mail:

    The Great Outdoors Colorado board awarded a $1,625,000 grant this month to Central Colorado Conservancy in partnership with The Trust for Public Land and Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust to help conserve four ranches covering more than 2,400 acres in Chaffee County.

    The project is part of the Heart of the Arkansas Initiative, aiming to protect water resources and diverse landscapes surrounding the Arkansas River.

    The grant is part of GOCO’s Special Opportunity Open Space grant program, which funds high-value conservation projects that seek funding beyond the $1 million maximum request amount set in GOCO’s ongoing Open Space grant program.

    Those projects help give outdoor recreationists places to play and enjoy scenic views, protect wildlife habitat, safeguard the state’s water supply and watersheds and sustain local agriculture.

    “This GOCO grant will help match the conservancy’s easement awards received through Chaffee County’s new Common Ground Fund, which supports community-based conservation projects for local agriculture, healthy forests and managing recreation impacts,” Adam Beh, conservancy executive director, said.

    “Our local communities value these ranchland conservation projects and have shown their support through generous donations to match our other fundraising efforts. We appreciate and respect the local landowners who have made the choice to help protect this beautiful valley.”

    The three organizations will protect four ranches: Centerville Ranch, Arrowpoint Ranch, Pridemore Ranch and Tri Lazy W Ranch. The cattlemen’s trust will hold the conservation easement on Pridemore Ranch, while the conservancy will hold the conservation easements for the other three ranches.

    This conservation work is also supported by funding from the Gates Family Foundation, Colorado Parks and Wildlife and the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

    The properties boast several miles of stream and riparian corridors along the Upper Arkansas River as well as significant water rights that support agricultural production while contributing to overall watershed health. They also support outdoor recreation experiences for visitors to Browns Canyon National Monument and nearby public lands along the Arkansas River.

    In conjunction with surrounding private and public lands, the properties create a continuous corridor of open space that serves as a seasonal migration route for big game species.

    The riparian areas and surrounding wetlands support several species listed as “greatest conservation need” by Colorado Parks and Wildlife and birds of “conservation concern” as defined by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

    Data from the Fish and Wildlife Service also indicates the landscape is suitable for several federally threatened or endangered species, including North American wolverine, Mexican spotted owl and Uncompahgre fritillary butterfly.

    The properties operate as working ranches and will continue to do so after conservation easements are in place. Tri Lazy W Ranch has won numerous awards for exceptional stewardship of the land, and Arrowpoint Ranch provides natural beef to several local restaurants.

    Centerville Ranch and Pridemore Ranch both feature several hundred acres of irrigated land and produce thousands of tons of hay each year.

    While unrestricted public access is not permitted on any of the properties, visitors can access and fish a section of the Arkansas River that flows through Pridemore Ranch via the adjacent Pridemore State Wildlife Area.

    Centerville Ranch and Arrowpoint Ranch will feature limited opportunities for guided hikes, 4-H programs and volunteer work days.

    To date, GOCO has invested more than $14.2 million in projects in Chaffee County and conserved more than 3,500 acres of land there. GOCO funding has supported conservation of Steel Ranch, Buena Vista River Park, Ruby Mountain Campground and Salida River Trail, among other projects.

    Great Outdoors Colorado invests a portion of Colorado Lottery proceeds to help preserve and enhance the state’s parks, trails, wildlife, rivers and open spaces.

    GOCO’s independent board awards competitive grants to local governments and land trusts and makes investments through Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

    Created when voters approved a constitutional amendment in 1992, GOCO has since funded more than 5,300 projects in all 64 Colorado counties without any tax dollar support. Visit GOCO.org for more information.

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

    Governor Signs Bill to Fund Arkansas Valley Conduit — Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District

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

    The Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District applauded state approval of a $100 million financing package for the Arkansas Valley Conduit that will allow construction to begin in the near future.

    The Colorado General Assembly passed the annual Colorado Water Conservation project bill which contains the funding earlier this month, and Governor Jared Polis signed the bill into law on Monday.

    “The Arkansas Valley Conduit will be a lifeline for the Lower Arkansas Valley for generations to come,” said Bill Long, President of the Southeastern District. “Governor Polis, the General Assembly and the CWCB have all shown vision and foresight with this support of the AVC. This goes beyond just financing a pipeline, because really it’s an investment to assure clean drinking water for the future.”

    Long also noted the strong bipartisan support the AVC enjoys from the entire Colorado congressional delegation, and noted in particular the leadership of Senators Cory Gardner and Michael Bennet, and Congressmen Scott Tipton and Ken Buck.

    “I want to thank the CWCB board and staff for including this funding in their annual bill, and express our sincere gratitude to the legislators from the Arkansas Basin for their leadership and support,” said Kevin Karney, chairman of the District’s AVC committee. “The recognition by the State of Colorado of the benefit of partnering with the Bureau of Reclamation on this project is an enormous boost.”

    The AVC is estimated to cost between $564 million and $610 million to complete over a 15-year period. The $100 million in state funding would include $90 million in loans and $10 million in grants over the life of the project. When complete, the AVC will provide clean drinking water to 50,000 people in 40 communities.

    The AVC had received funding since 2010 to prepare for construction of the 130-mile pipeline which will deliver a safe drinking water supply to the Lower Arkansas Valley. In February of this year, the Bureau of Reclamation announced that $28 million of FY ’20 funding was being directed to the conduit, in an effort to move from planning and design into construction. An additional $8 million has been requested for FY ’21 and is under consideration by Congress.

    “The unanimous approval of this funding package by the CWCB board last November was the absolute catalyst for an improved federal funding picture,” said Southeastern District Executive Director Jim Broderick. “Colorado, like other Western states, recognizes developing a strong partnership with Reclamation allows us to overcome water quality and water supply challenges in rural areas.”

    Arkansas Valley Conduit “A Path Forward” November 22, 2019 via Southeastern.

    2020 #COleg: Gov. Polis in #ColoradoSprings to sign bills for regulating toxic firefighting foam — KRDO

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

    From KRDO (Kelsie Brentzel):

    While neighbors of Peterson Air Force Base and the Air Force Academy are still dealing with the effects of chemicals in firefighting foam that got into the environment, Gov. Jared Polis was in Colorado Springs on Monday to sign bills into law that establishes when and how PFAS can be used.

    PFAS, or perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, has been linked to detrimental health effects when found in groundwater. The PFAS family of compounds been deemed “forever chemicals” because they do not break down in the environment.

    They were created to make products like Scotchgard and Teflon and are used on military installments and airports in firefighting foam.

    Until today there were little to no regulations of the dangerous chemicals in Colorado.

    The new laws establish testing and use procedures for PFAS; and it also orders the solid and hazardous waste commission to create rules for facilities, fire departments, or others who want to use or store PFAS. The law also prohibits the use of class B firefighting foam that contains PFAS in certain aircraft hangars starting in 2023.

    A $25 fee for every petroleum load that enters the state will also go into effect. The money collected will fund PFAS in Colorado…

    In the meantime, it’s possible Colorado could create its own limits for the chemicals in drinking water, as other states have.

    Growing thirst from Front Range cities threatens Holy Cross Wilderness — The Vail Daily #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    A wetland area along Homestake Creek in an area that would be flooded by a potential Whitney Reservoir. The cities of Aurora and Colorado Springs are looking to develop additional water in Eagle County and divert it to the Front Range. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    From The Vail Daily (John LaConte):

    The public’s chance to comment ends Tuesday in the U.S. Forest Service’s consideration of a permit that would allow the first action in a process which could create a new reservoir in the Homestake Valley near Red Cliff.

    The special use permit would allow the cities of Aurora and Colorado Springs to build roads and drill holes in an area of the White River National Forest which is near the Holy Cross Wilderness, 6 miles southwest of Red Cliff.

    Ultimately, if constructed, a 20,000-acre-foot reservoir would flood a corner of the wilderness area and would also relocate Homestake Road, requiring the removal of 500 acres from the Holy Cross Wilderness area.

    But at this time, the Forest Service is only seeking comments on the impacts of the drilling, not the dam. The drilling would give crews information about the feasibility of dam sites, but the drilling in itself would have impacts to the forest as 8-foot-by-22-foot drill rigs could cross wetlands and cut down trees in the path to their drilling destination, where holes of 150 feet would be dug…

    In soliciting comments in June, “we are focusing solely on the potential impacts from this preliminary geophysical work,” said Marcia Gilles, acting Eagle-Holy Cross district ranger. “Any further proposals that might be submitted after this information is collected would be evaluated separately.”

    […]

    “They’re calling this the Whitney Project; I’m calling it Homestake III,” said Mike Browning, a former water attorney in Colorado who is now the chair of the Eagle Summit Wilderness Alliance.

    The “Homestake III” handle is in reference to the project known as Homestake II, in the early 1980s, which bears a strong resemblance to the Whitney Creek effort. The Homestake II project also sought to build another reservoir beneath the existing Homestake Reservoir, which was constructed in 1964. The Homestake II idea was eliminated in large part to Hern’s efforts.

    “(Hern) was really the spokesperson and really the leader of that movement in the 1980s,” Browning said. “The Holy Cross Wilderness Defense Fund was marshaling the local comments and local opposition.”

    In his Sunday letter to the Forest Service, Hern said the Holy Cross Wilderness Defense Fund, which he co-founded In 1982, has not changed its stance on the project.

    “The people of Colorado love this wilderness and have supported our efforts for over forty years to establish it and preserve it,” Hern wrote. “You should not underestimate the intensity of these feelings and the attitudes of the public in this matter.”

    […]

    ERO Resources Corporation and RJH Consultants, Inc., which prepared the technical report for the special use permit application, referenced the memorandum of understanding in its report.

    “The objective of this study is to evaluate opportunities to construct reservoir storage to develop a portion of the yield contemplated in the (memorandum of understanding),” according to the report, which was published in November. “Specifically, the subsurface explorations described below would provide valuable information regarding the suitability of the area for reservoir development. The cities are currently considering and evaluating multiple reservoir sizes with potential storage capacities between 6,850 and 20,000 acre-feet.”

    #Drought task force activates, Colorado Springs Utilities looks to reservoirs — The #ColoradoSprings Independent #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    US Drought Monitor June 23, 2020.

    From The Colorado Springs Independent (Pam Zubeck):

    As drought conditions deepen, Colorado Governor Jared Polis on June 23 sought activation of the state’s Drought Task Force and Phase 2 of the State Drought Mitigation and Response Plan.

    The governor’s office said in a release the drought spans 81 percent of the state, with severe and extreme conditions affecting a third of the state, including El Paso County.

    Colorado’s Drought Task Force includes officials with the departments of Agriculture, Natural Resources, Local Affairs and Public Safety, and the Colorado Water Conservation Board. The second phase of the plan means the task force will assess initial damages and impacts of drought in areas experiencing severe or extreme drought and recommend mitigation measures. In addition, the Agricultural Impact Task Force is activated to make an assessment on physical and economic impacts.

    Meantime, there doesn’t appear to be any plan to further restrict water use in Colorado Springs where customers have been under restrictions since May to water their lawns no more than three times a week…

    Colorado Springs currently has more than two years’ worth of water in storage, which is good news for gardeners, because more severe water restrictions wouldn’t be triggered until the amount in storage falls to a 1.5-year supply, [Pat] Wells says.

    View from the Pitkin County end of Homestake Reservoir. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    Utilities recently completed land acquisition for the 30,000-acre-foot Gary Bostrom Reservoir, the second phase of SDS, which is planned for construction near Bradley Road southeast of the city in the next decade. Another project, called the Eagle River project in the mountains, will create another reservoir, hopefully by 2040 to 2050, Wells says…

    Some years, snowpack fills reservoirs to the brim and rainfall reduces demand, but not every year.

    “What we’re seeing is a lot more variability in the swings,” Wells says, noting that water managers study tree rings, climate change models and other data to try to predict what lies ahead.

    “While our demand has flattened and we’re serving more customers with the same amount of water,” he says, “our supplies are becoming more variable.”

    As Wells quips, quoting baseball legend Yogi Berra, “The future ain’t what it used to be.”

    Take the Colorado River, which provides water to multiple states and Mexico. It’s been in drought conditions for 20 years and provides 60 to 70 percent of Colorado Springs Utilities’ supply.

    Climate change is causing the Southwest aridify. (Left) Since the 1930s, increasing temperatures have caused the percentage of precipitation going to evapotranspiration (ET) to increase at the expense of precipitation going to Colorado River flow, resulting in an unprecedented and still ongoing megadrought (shading) starting in 1999 (8). (Right) Higher temperatures have already reduced Colorado River flow by 13%, and projected additional warming, assuming continued high emissions of greenhouse gases, will increase ET while reducing river flow even more through the 21st century. Data on Left are 20-y running means from ref. 5, and data on Right are calculated from Representative Concentration Pathways (RCP) 8.5 multimodel Coupled Model Intercomparison Project–Phase 5 (CMIP5) ensemble temperature increases projected for the Upper Colorado River Basin combined with temperature sensitivity of −9.3%/°C estimated by ref. 5, assuming no change in precipitation. Graphic credit: Jonathan Overpeck/Brad Udall

    “We are going to reach a point, as demand continues to grow in the West and supplies become uncertain, we’re going to have to use water more efficiently and cut back some of our demand on the Colorado River,” he says.

    At present, Utilities is capable of delivering 95,000 acre feet of water on demand, but that demand is forecast to rise to 136,000 acre feet in the decades to come.

    That’s why Utilities is pursuing a multi-pronged approach to expanding its water supply.

    “With a growing population, we have to bring in more supplies,” Wells says. “Our storage needs grow as our cities grow.”

    Besides storage, Utilities wants to work more deals with agricultural users like it did in the Arkansas Valley in 2018. Another strategy might be to expand the number of non-potable systems used for irrigation. But ultimately, Utilities, like other water providers in the West, likely will be confronted with re-treating and recycling water back into its domestic delivery system.

    “In the next 30 to 50 years it may become more technically feasible to do direct potable reuse,” he says, noting that the Colorado Water Conservation Board has approved a grant for a Utilities reuse demonstration project in partnership with Aurora, Denver and Colorado School of Mines.

    From The Associated Press via The Aurora Sentinel:

    Polis’ order follows dwindling mountain snowpack, a warmer-than-average spring and far less precipitation than normal, Colorado Politics reported Wednesday. It also comes as the U.S. Drought Monitor reported this week that extreme drought expanded in northern New Mexico and eastern Colorado.

    The order also activates an state agricultural task force to determine the drought’s potential crop and cattle damage impact and the possible economic fallout for the state’s $8 billion farming industry.

    Abnormally dry conditions affect mountain and plains regions and roughly 80% of the state’s landmass is in some form of drought.

    Winter snowfall was low in most of Colorado and May precipitation was less than half of normal, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service, a branch of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

    Reservoir levels are dwindling in southern and southwestern Colorado, including the agricultural San Luis Valley and the Gunnison River Basin, the service said.

    Becky Bolinger, a climatologist at Colorado State University’s Colorado Climate Center, said high winds, low humidity, high temperatures and lack of precipitation have produced a “flash drought” situation with higher than normal water evaporation in much of the state that particularly affects agriculture.

    The summer promises higher temperatures and low rainfall and the summer monsoons that deliver rain from the southwest won’t make up for current conditions, Bolinger said.

    Here’s the release from the Colorado Department of Agriculture (Sara Leonard):

    Governor Jared Polis requested activation of Colorado’s Drought Task Force and Phase 2 of the State Drought Mitigation and Response Plan this week as drought conditions deepen, reaching more than 81% of the state, with severe and extreme drought conditions in 33% of the state (40 counties).

    Colorado’s Drought Task Force – which includes leadership from the Departments of Agriculture, Natural Resources, Local Affairs, Public Safety, and the Colorado Water Conservation Board – determined the need to activate Phase 2 of the Drought Plan on June 18 after a third of the state reached extreme drought conditions. “Phase 2” indicates officially directing the Drought Task Force to assess initial damages and impacts of drought in areas experiencing severe or extreme drought and to recommend mitigation measures. This Phase also activates the Agricultural Impact Task Force, which will conduct an initial assessment on physical and economic impacts and recommend opportunities for incident mitigation.

    Counties impacted by abnormally dry (D0) and moderate (D1) drought will continue to be closely monitored. The 40 counties currently experiencing severe (D2) and extreme (D3) drought include: Alamosa, Archuleta, Baca, Bent, Chaffee, Cheyenne, Conejos, Costilla, Crowley, Custer, Delta, Dolores, Eagle, El Paso, Elbert, Fremont, Garfield, Gunnison, Hinsdale, Huerfano, Kiowa, Kit Carson, La Plata, Las Animas, Lincoln, Mesa, Mineral, Montezuma, Montrose, Otero, Ouray, Pitkin, Prowers, Pueblo, Rio Grande, Saguache, San Miguel, San Juan, Washington, and Yuma.

    To stay informed on Colorado drought issues, sign up for the State’s Drought Updates or visit the Colorado Water Conservation Board website.

    From The Sterling Journal Advocate (Jeff Rice):

    The extreme northern tier of counties, including Logan County, has so far been spared from the ongoing drought. South Platte Basin reservoir levels are at 89 percent of capacity basin-wide, down a percentage point from the same time last year. In the lower reaches, irrigation reservoirs are between 76 percent of capacity at Empire and 97 percent capacity at North Sterling, again each a few percentage points down from a year ago.

    West Drought Monitor June 23, 2020.

    Heart of the Arkansas Initiative: Conservancy receives $1.6M GOCO grant — The Chaffee County Times #ArkansasRiver

    Looking westerly from a meadow on the Centerville Ranch. Photo credit: Central Colorado Conservancy via The Chaffee County Times

    From Great Outdoors Colorado via The Chaffee County Times:

    The Great Outdoors Colorado board awarded a $1,625,000 grant to Central Colorado Conservancy this month in partnership with The Trust for Public Land and Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust to help conserve four ranches covering more than 2,400 acres in Chaffee County.

    The project is part of the Heart of the Arkansas Initiative, aiming to protect the water resources and diverse landscapes surrounding the Arkansas River.

    This grant is part of GOCO’s Special Opportunity Open Space grant program, which funds high-value conservation projects that seek funding beyond the $1 million maximum request amount set in GOCO’s ongoing Open Space grant program.

    These projects will help give outdoor recreationists places to play and enjoy scenic views, protect wildlife habitat, safeguard the state’s water supply and watersheds and sustain local agriculture.

    “This GOCO grant will help match the Conservancy’s easement awards received through Chaffee County’s new Common Ground Fund, which supports community-based conservation projects for local agriculture, healthy forests and managing recreation impacts,” said Adam Beh, executive director for the Conservancy.

    “Our local communities value these ranchland conservation projects and have shown their support through generous donations to match our other fundraising efforts. We appreciate and respect the local landowners who have made the choice to help protect this beautiful valley.”

    TPL, CCALT and the Conservancy will protect four ranches: Centerville Ranch, Arrowpoint Ranch, Pridemore Ranch and Tri Lazy W Ranch. CCALT will hold the conservation easement on Pridemore Ranch, while the Conservancy will hold the conservation easements for the other three ranches.

    This conservation work is also supported by funding from the Gates Family Foundation, Colorado Parks and Wildlife and the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

    “The Trust for Public Land has been working with the Conservancy and CCALT for nearly 13 years to help give working landowners in the valley conservation options to help them achieve their financial goals, so we don’t lose the working lands and water rights that are the lifeblood to agriculture and public recreation in the Upper Arkansas Valley,” said Wade Shelton, TPL senior project manager. “By working together, we’ve been able to achieve far more than we’d ever be able to accomplish working on our own, so we don’t lose the very things that make the Upper Arkansas Valley such a special place.”

    The properties boast several miles of stream and riparian corridors along the Upper Arkansas River as well as significant water rights that support agricultural production while contributing to overall watershed health. They also support high quality outdoor recreation experiences for visitors to Browns Canyon National Monument and nearby public lands along the Arkansas River.

    In conjunction with surrounding private and public lands, the properties create a continuous corridor of open space that serves as a seasonal migration route for big game species.

    The riparian areas and surrounding wetlands support several species listed as “greatest conservation need” by Colorado Parks and Wildlife and birds of “conservation concern” as defined by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

    Data from USFWS also indicates that the landscape is suitable for several federally threatened or endangered species, including North American wolverine, Mexican spotted owl and Uncompahgre fritillary butterfly.

    The properties operate as working ranches and will continue to do so after conservation easements are in place. Tri Lazy W Ranch has won numerous awards for exceptional stewardship of the land, and Arrowpoint Ranch provides natural beef to several local restaurants.

    Centerville Ranch and Pridemore Ranch both feature several hundred acres of irrigated land and produce thousands of tons of hay each year. Conservation will ensure that these lands continue to support the local economy and sustain the area’s rich agricultural heritage.

    The Arkansas River provides numerous opportunities for outdoor recreation and is designated as Gold Medal waters for trout fishing.

    While unrestricted public access is not permitted on any of the properties, visitors can access and fish a section of the Arkansas River that flows through Pridemore Ranch via the adjacent Pridemore State Wildlife Area.

    Centerville Ranch and Arrowpoint Ranch will feature limited opportunities for guided hikes, 4-H programs and volunteer work days.

    Anyone passing through the area will enjoy the exceptional views of the open land stretching between the Arkansas River and the Collegiate Peaks.

    To date, GOCO has invested more than $14.2 million in projects in Chaffee County and conserved more than 3,500 acres of land there. GOCO funding has supported the conservation of Steel Ranch, Buena Vista River Park, Ruby Mountain Campground and Salida River Trail, among other projects.

    Great Outdoors Colorado invests a portion of Colorado Lottery proceeds to help preserve and enhance the state’s parks, trails, wildlife, rivers and open spaces.

    GOCO’s independent board awards competitive grants to local governments and land trusts, and makes investments through Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

    Created when voters approved a constitutional amendment in 1992, GOCO has since funded more than 5,300 projects in all 64 counties of Colorado without any tax dollar support. Visit GOCO.org for more information.

    The Trust for Public Land creates parks and protects land for people, ensuring healthy, livable communities for generations to come. Millions of people live near a Trust for Public Land park, garden or natural area, and millions more visit these sites every year.

    The properties boast several miles of stream and riparian corridors along the Upper Arkansas River as well as significant water rights that support agricultural production while contributing to overall watershed health. They also support high quality outdoor recreation experiences for visitors to Browns Canyon National Monument and nearby public lands along the Arkansas River.

    In conjunction with surrounding private and public lands, the properties create a continuous corridor of open space that serves as a seasonal migration route for big game species.

    The riparian areas and surrounding wetlands support several species listed as “greatest conservation need” by Colorado Parks and Wildlife and birds of “conservation concern” as defined by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

    Data from USFWS also indicates that the landscape is suitable for several federally threatened or endangered species, including North American wolverine, Mexican spotted owl and Uncompahgre fritillary butterfly.

    Uncompahgre Fritillary butterfly. By USFWS Mountain-Prairie – Uncompahgre fritillary butterfly, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=74757856

    The properties operate as working ranches and will continue to do so after conservation easements are in place. Tri Lazy W Ranch has won numerous awards for exceptional stewardship of the land, and Arrowpoint Ranch provides natural beef to several local restaurants.

    Centerville Ranch and Pridemore Ranch both feature several hundred acres of irrigated land and produce thousands of tons of hay each year. Conservation will ensure that these lands continue to support the local economy and sustain the area’s rich agricultural heritage.

    The Arkansas River provides numerous opportunities for outdoor recreation and is designated as Gold Medal waters for trout fishing.

    While unrestricted public access is not permitted on any of the properties, visitors can access and fish a section of the Arkansas River that flows through Pridemore Ranch via the adjacent Pridemore State Wildlife Area.

    Centerville Ranch and Arrowpoint Ranch will feature limited opportunities for guided hikes, 4-H programs and volunteer work days.

    Anyone passing through the area will enjoy the exceptional views of the open land stretching between the Arkansas River and the Collegiate Peaks.

    To date, GOCO has invested more than $14.2 million in projects in Chaffee County and conserved more than 3,500 acres of land there. GOCO funding has supported the conservation of Steel Ranch, Buena Vista River Park, Ruby Mountain Campground and Salida River Trail, among other projects.

    Great Outdoors Colorado invests a portion of Colorado Lottery proceeds to help preserve and enhance the state’s parks, trails, wildlife, rivers and open spaces.

    GOCO’s independent board awards competitive grants to local governments and land trusts, and makes investments through Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

    Created when voters approved a constitutional amendment in 1992, GOCO has since funded more than 5,300 projects in all 64 counties of Colorado without any tax dollar support. Visit GOCO.org for more information.

    The Trust for Public Land creates parks and protects land for people, ensuring healthy, livable communities for generations to come. Millions of people live near a Trust for Public Land park, garden or natural area, and millions more visit these sites every year.

    To support The Trust for Public Land and share why nature matters to you, visit http://www.tpl.org.

    The Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust is a nonprofit land conservation organization whose mission is to “…conserve Colorado’s western heritage and working landscapes for the benefit of future generations.” Visit ccalt.org for more information.

    Central Colorado Conservancy protects the lands, waters and quality of life of Central Colorado as our communities face pressure and rapid growth.

    Through land easements, restoration efforts and connecting our communities to conservation, Central Colorado Conservancy is leading the change to preserve the places and quality of life we all love for generations to come.

    Visit http://centralcoloradoconservancy.org for more information.

    #ColoradoSprings: Effective immediately, Prospect Lake closed until further notice due to presumed return of blue-green algae

    Prospect Lake in Memorial Park. By Beverly & Pack – Colorado Ballon Classic 2009, Labor Day Weekend, Prospect Lake in Memorial Park in Colorado Springs, CO. Uploaded by Tomer T, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=19191608

    Here’s the release from the City of Colorado Springs:

    The City of Colorado Springs has closed Prospect Lake, in Memorial Park, effective immediately, until further notice due to the presumed return of toxic algae. The closure follows a visual inspection Monday, June 15 by Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services staff. A precautionary water sample is scheduled to be taken from the lake by Colorado Springs Utilities on Tuesday, June 16. This test is to confirm the presence of mycrocystin toxin, which is produced by cyanobacteria, also known as blue-green algae.

    “Our region has again been experiencing hot, dry weather, creating conditions similar to what we experienced prior to the 2019 algae bloom in Prospect Lake,” said Erik Rodriguez, health, safety and environmental specialist with the Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services Department. “Given today’s visual inspection, and the lake’s recent history with mycrocystin toxin, we have closed Prospect Lake for usage at this time. If Tuesday’s water sample returns positive, we will continue to test weekly until the bacteria clears up.”

    Prospect Lake was closed for 12 weeks in the late summer and early fall of 2019 due to blue-green algae. Since that time, Parks’ staff has taken proactive measures, including the application of an enzyme-based, non-pesticide treatment that consumes the biomass at the bottom of the lake and helps oxygenate the water. The first two treatments were applied May 26 and June 11. The next scheduled treatment is Tuesday. Additionally, more water will be added to the lake, which will increase the oxygen level and help dilute the toxin.

    During the closure, the following activities are prohibited: swimming, bathing, paddle boarding, tubing, water skiing and non-motorized boating of any kind. No pets are allowed. The use of permitted motorized boats is encouraged as this activity can help aerate the water. Fishing areas will remain open, though anglers are urged to clean fish well and remove guts.

    BLUE-GREEN ALGAE BACKGROUND

    What is harmful algae?

    Blue-green algae are a type of bacteria common in lakes throughout Colorado. When conditions are right, blue-green algae multiplies quickly. Those conditions include sustained hot weather, stagnant water, and polluted stormwater runoff.

    These conditions result in too much nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus in the water. This causes the harmful bacteria to grow faster than the ecosystem can handle. The increased bacteria harm water quality, decrease the amount of oxygen available to animals living in the water, and can produce a toxin that is harmful to humans and pets.

    Blue-green algae are self-limiting, naturally-occurring bacteria, which means it eventually phases itself out of bodies of water.

    The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) offers additional information about blue-green algae on its website.

    2020 #COleg: @COParksWildlfe: Passage of SB20-003 [State Parks Improvement Appropriation] provides $1 Million in support for #Colorado’s next state park

    A view of Fishers Peak from the property that will become Colorado’s next state park. Senate Bill 3 provides $1 million toward the park’s continuing development. Photo credit: Colorado Parks & Wildlife

    Here’s the release from Colorado Parks & Wildlife (Rebecca Ferrell):

    In the closing hours of the 2020 legislative session, Colorado legislators approved $1 million to support efforts to develop Colorado’s next new state park around iconic Fishers Peak near Trinidad.

    The Colorado Legislature’s passage of Senate Bill 3 will provide critical funding to help Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) develop trails and infrastructure on the 19,600-acre property that features Fishers Peak, a landmark that towers over Trinidad and guided pioneers along the Santa Fe Trail in the 1800s.

    “We extend our sincere gratitude to the Legislature for recognizing the value of investing in Colorado’s state parks,” said Dan Prenzlow, Director of Colorado Parks and Wildlife. “As we’ve all worked through the many challenges of the COVID-19 outbreak, including budgetary challenges, one constant was the ability for people to center themselves a bit in nature while visiting our parks. Having this investment in our next state park will allow us to provide even more of Colorado’s outdoors to our residents and visitors.”

    The funding authorized by this bill will support the early stages of the park’s infrastructure development. A master planning process that will guide future development of the park is also underway, involving community stakeholders and additional project partners The Nature Conservancy, Trust for Public Land, the City of Trinidad and Great Outdoors Colorado. While the property is not yet open to the public, CPW’s goal of providing initial public recreational access to a portion of the property by early 2021 remains in place.

    “This initial investment in our 42nd state park would not have been possible without the strong advocacy and support of Governor Polis, Senators Leroy Garcia, Dennis Hisey, and Representatives Daneya Esgar and Perry Will, along with the businesses, local governments in Trinidad and Las Animas County and our non-profit partners,” said Dan Gibbs, Executive Director, Department of Natural Resources. “We came together during a difficult year to provide needed resources to move forward on what is going to be a signature and our second largest state park. I can’t wait to climb the flanks of Fishers Peak or try new mountain bike trails of this fantastic amenity which will serve as a draw for visitors and recreationists alike to explore the Park and other attractions of this incredible region of Southern Colorado.”

    Though Senate Bill 3 has undergone several iterations as the state made adjustments for the costs of the COVID-19 pandemic, Gov. Jared Polis, the Colorado Department of Natural Resources and Colorado Parks and Wildlife remain committed to creating a state park with input from the local community, sportspersons and other conservation stakeholders.