Branson: Good luck, creativity, and persistence = success for local water treatment

Entering Branson from the south. By Jeffrey Beall – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=23339823

From The Colorado Sun (Kevin Simpson):

Faced with an inadequate filtration system and a $1.2 million estimate to fix it, the community of 55 people got creative. And it paid off.

For a while, it looked like tiny Branson, home to 55 souls in the southernmost part of the state, might almost literally dry up and blow away, becoming a footnote to history.

Not surprisingly in the arid West, water loomed as the culprit. Not that the town ever lacked abundance. Springs in the nearby hills quenched the locals’ thirst for generations. But when the state health department tightened groundwater safety regulations, then found Branson’s purification system out of compliance, the news threatened its very existence.

One engineering report put the cost of fixing the problem, which stemmed from E. coli detection and the determination that the spring water was subject to contamination by surface water, at $1.2 million. Even with loans to cover a new water system that would serve the existing 29 customers, the debt burden promised to crush Branson into the dust, even though locals note that no one has ever reported a water-borne illness.

So, just about a year later, how can the town be planning a celebration?

Last week, Branson learned that that it will receive a state grant that pushes its own unconventional efforts — including a crowdsourcing campaign to raise funds — over the finish line. Only a few bureaucratic hurdles remain before the town begins construction of a new filtration system it discovered through a company just a couple hours away in Rocky Ford. The new system will both satisfy health department standards for purity and cost a tiny fraction of the original estimate.

By embracing the narrative of the rural underdog and adopting an unrelenting bootstrap mentality, Branson found a way, starting last April when it created a web site and began its appeal for contributions from current and former area residents, as well as anyone sympathetic to the plight of diminishing rural towns.

And, as Mayor Rachel Snyder readily admits, a strong element of serendipity also figured into the equation.

The Colorado Department of Public Affairs grant used a point system to determine who would receive money, and Branson’s individual efforts and circumstances aligned to check off a lot of the boxes. Then there was the discovery of Jack Barker’s Innovative Water Technologies, the small company right up the highway that specializes in inexpensive but effective water purification systems, primarily for third-world countries.

Timing also played a significant role: If Branson had applied for the round of grant funding prior to Gov. Jared Polis taking office, it would have missed out on some significant additional savings.

It all added up to a stunning victory for the once-bustling railroad stop that has receded to a quiet outpost whose only bustling activity occurs in the four-day school that serves families in the wide-open rangeland tucked between picturesque mesas and the distant Spanish Peaks.

The latest “Fountain Creek Chronicles” is hot off the presses

Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:

The Future of Fountain Creek: Frost Ranch Owner Takes the Long View

Here in the Pikes Peak region, many of us play in the Fountain Creek Watershed, whether we’re aware of it or not. We might hike or ride our bikes along Fountain Creek and its tributaries. We might fish or paddle our kayak in the creeks or lakes. But most of us don’t work the land – and we rarely witness Fountain Creek’s tempestuous nature.

Jay Frost. Photo credit: Frost Ranch

But Jay Frost, third-generation owner of Frost Ranch south of Fountain, Colorado, has endured the creek’s unruly temperament for decades. “I’ve been watching the creek all my life,” he says. “We make a living here. We try to deal with its unpredictable nature.”

Frost Ranch has deep roots in local ranching and farming traditions. The Frost family raises grass-fed and grass-finished lamb and beef in its irrigated meadows. They grow non-certified organic vegetables and grass/alfalfa hay in the irrigated parts of the farm. The Frost family takes pride in growing healthy, sustainable food. The lamb and beef are free of hormones, antibiotics, and corn; fields are never sprayed; and vegetable planting, irrigating, weeding, and harvesting are all done using holistic and traditional methods.

Fountain Creek’s erosion and sedimentation issues are vexing. How does this impact Frost Ranch?

Photo credit: Frost Ranch

“The creek is flashy,” Jay says. “If there’s a little sniffle of rain in Colorado Springs, here comes the water! We can go from a base flow of 60 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 22,000 cfs. When the water calms down, all the sediment drops. The sediment load in Fountain Creek is crazy!”

Simultaneously, the ranch is literally losing property from erosion. “We have a big cut bank – we refer to it as the Great Wall,” Jay notes. “It’s 60 feet deep and at least a quarter of a mile long. It’s sloughing off soil all the time.”

Jay adds that floodwater can wash away fences and irrigation pipes, and sedimentation can damage irrigation infrastructure. The Frost family no longer grazes livestock near the creek due to the invasion of non-native plants. “Parts of the creek are choked with trees and exotic species like salt cedar [tamarisk] and Russian olive trees,” he says. “You can’t fence the dang thing. It’s just gnarly.”

That’s why, nearly three decades ago, Jay helped to form a coalition to begin focusing on the Fountain Creek Watershed – and begin addressing its many issues regarding flooding, erosion, and sedimentation.

This early initiative helped to pave the way for the formation of the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control & Greenway District. Soon after the District was formed, Frost Ranch collaborated with District engineers to address a serious erosion issue on the ranch. According to the Project Summary, the lack of vegetation along approximately 400 feet of the creek’s bank allowed soil to be readily removed during high-flow events, resulting in flood damage, bank erosion, and increased downstream sedimentation.

Unfortunately, the repair project didn’t hold – a flooding incident washed it away. But Jay isn’t completely surprised, due to the turbulent nature of the creek. “Fountain Creek is normally a dribble, but it’s prone to flooding,” he says. “It can be wilder than hell when it’s really rolling.”

A Comprehensive Solution is the Best Way Forward

Bank stabilization Fountain Creek. Photo credit: Frost Ranch

When it comes to Fountain Creek, Jay Frost takes the long view. “I believe we can find a comprehensive solution – a silver bullet – that will address the entire Fountain Creek Watershed,” he says. “A comprehensive solution – an absolutely engineered approach – is always better than just taking a stab at the issues, project by project.”

This is one of the benefits of the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District, which is addressing the watershed comprehensively. In fact, since 2009, the District has planned and/or implemented more than a dozen construction projects to address critical erosion and sedimentation issues throughout the watershed. Various project aspects involve restoring the main channel, realigning the creek, stabilizing steep cut banks, revegetating, protecting wetlands, and restoring riparian habitat. At the end of the day, if Fountain Creek has less erosion, less sedimentation, better quality and accessible water, we all benefit.
I n the conversation with Jay, it was noted that ranchers and farmers are on the front lines of water issues, fighting the good fight. “Yeah,” Jay replies, “but it’s so worth it.”

Learn more about the Frost Ranch Stabilization Project: http://www.fountain-crk.org/completed-projects/frost-ranch-bank-stabilization-project/
Learn more about Frost Ranch farm dinners, hunting club, and wedding packages: http://www.Frost-Livestock.com
Brand image and photos courtesy of Frost Ranch.

@EPA awards Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment $1,17 million to improve water quality in the Lower #ArkansasRiver and Lower #GunnisonRiver basins

Here’s the release from the Environmental Protection Agency (Lisa McClain-Vanderpool):

EPA and the state partner with the agriculture industry to restore watersheds

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has awarded $1,170,000 to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) to improve water quality in streams, rivers and lakes. The funding comes through a Nonpoint Source Program Clean Water Act (Section 319) grant, which is given to states to implement programs that address various sources of pollution in surface and groundwater to meet and maintain water quality standards.

“EPA is partnering with CDPHE to restore water quality in two critical river basins, the Lower Arkansas and the Lower Gunnison,” said EPA Regional Administrator Gregory Sopkin. “These rivers are important environmental, economic and recreational resources for the state of Colorado. By working together to reduce pollutants, we will continue to improve these beautiful, natural resources well into the future.”

These watershed projects will result in a significant reduction of pollutants such as selenium, metals and nutrients. CDPHE will use the grant money to support the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District to implement agricultural best management practices that improve water quality in the Arkansas River. In addition, work on the Lower Aspen Canal pipeline and interconnect will be carried out in partnership with the Crawford Water Conservancy District to address water quality issues in the Gunnison River basin. The grant will also fund outreach, education and planning.

Funding for this project is one part of EPA’s overall effort to ensure that America’s waters are clean and safe. This year, EPA is distributing more than $165 million in section 319 grants to states, territories, and tribes to reduce nonpoint runoff in urban and rural settings, including efforts to reduce excess nutrients that can enter our waters and cause public health and environmental challenges. Over the last two years, states restored over 80 waters and reduced over 17 million pounds of nitrogen, nearly 4 million pounds of phosphorus, and 3.5 million tons of excess sediment through section 319 projects. This 319 grant received by Colorado complements the $12.7 million Clean Water State Revolving Fund grant Colorado received this year.

For more information regarding EPA’s Nonpoint Source grant program visit: https://www.epa.gov/nps/319-grant-program-states-and-territories

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dan West):

The Crawford Water Conservancy District provides supplemental irrigation water supplies for approximately 8,200 acres and full water supplies for 1,423 acres in Delta and Montrose counties, according to its website.

It has operated the Smith Fork Project for the Bureau of Reclamation, which includes the Aspen Canal, since 1964.

The Smith Fork Project utilizes flows from the Smith Fork, Iron, Muddy, and Alkali Creeks…

Over the last two years, states restored more than 80 waters and reduced more than 17 million pounds of nitrogen, nearly 4 million pounds of phosphorus, and 3.5 million tons of excess sediment through section 319 projects, according to the EPA.

Chaffee County: Nestlé Waters 1041 permit renewal extended six months to allow for public comment

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

From The Ark Valley Voice (Jan Wondra):

In a decision reflecting the complicated process of renewing a Colorado 1041 Permit, the Board of Chaffee County Commissioners moved to direct staff to extend the Nestlé Water (NWNA) permit and set a hearing six months down the road, due to the need for proper public notification. The six month time frame was requested by Nestlé to prepare for the required public hearing.

The hearing to consider renewal of the permit under which Nestlé has operated since 2009 had been initially scheduled based on the county’s standard 15 day public hearing notice requirements. But the process of renewing a Colorado 1041 permit requires at least a 30 day notice of public hearing, which did not occur in this case. Nestlé is requesting a 10-year extension.

“The extension is the simplest for us and the county,”said Nestlé Western U.S. Director Larry Lawrence, who attended the Oct. 15 meeting. “ We have been in good standing for the past ten years. When we reviewed our 1041 permit we had a couple different methods we could do: modify it [the agreement], or extend for 10 years. The process as I understood it was simply, all we had to do was file a formal written request, which we did on Sept. 16. We’re happy to work on other modifications as allowed.”

[…]

In 2009, after a comprehensive two-year permitting process that included significant stakeholder input, Nestlé was given unanimous approval by the Board of Chaffee County Commissioners to operate and source water from the Ruby Mountain Springs site in Chaffee County. At that time, the county required two permits in order for NWNA to operate in Chaffee County:

  • a Special Land Use Permit (SLUP) to develop a water supply in an area currently zoned as rural or commercial and,
  • a 1041 Permit to identify and mitigate any potential impacts from the proposed project.
  • The last-minute discovery that the scheduling of the Nestlé 1041 permit process was made in error, required formal action. While the BoCC initially discussed continuing the matter to its Nov. 19 regular meeting, “This does require notice to the public and public comment,” said Tom…

    A motion was made by Commissioner Keith Baker to extend the current Nestlé permit for six months, to the time of the public hearing regarding the 1041 permit, which should occur in April, 2020. Commissioner Rusty Granzella seconded and it passed unanimously.

    Lincoln Park Superfund annual meeting set for Thursday — The Cañon City Daily Record

    Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill superfund site via the Environmental Protection Agency

    From The Cañon City Daily Record:

    The EPA Annual Meeting reporting on activities at the Superfund site will be from 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday at the Abbots Room, Abbey Conference Center. Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and Environmental Protection Agency officials will be present as well as representatives of Colorado Legacy Land to answer questions and take comments from Fremont County residents. The Lincoln Park neighborhood and the site of the former Cotter uranium mill south of Cañon City were declared a Superfund site in 1984 due to the widespread groundwater and soils contamination from the operation of the mill.

    The September meeting of the Community Advisory Group for the Lincoln Park Cotter Superfund site was held Sept. 19 at the Garden Park Room.

    Updates on early cleanup actions included the TCE (trichloroethylene) plume near the Shadow Hills Golf Club. The Work Plan was approved in July 2019 by the agencies. Testing of all the soil borings is complete and installation of monitoring wells began Sept. 26.

    The Soil Excavation Evaporation Pond Construction Plan is out for comment. This plan is proposed to speed the dewatering of the radioactive tailings located at the former Cotter mill site. The CDPHE and EPA, as well as the community, have an opportunity to review the plan. The deadline for comments is 5 p.m. Oct. 15 to Dustin McNeil at dustin.mcneil@state.co.us. A link to the work plan and other documents is available at: https://sites.google.com/state.co.us/cotter-uranium-mill/documents-available-for-public-review-and-comment.

    Emily Tracy, chairperson of the Community Advisory Group, states “Now that early actions toward the cleanup of the Lincoln Park Site are moving forward under the ownership of Colorado Legacy Land, the community will be able to have critical input in the process. At the meeting, you will be able to ask why these actions are being taken and how the physical action of removal, moving soils, pumping water from the primary impoundment will move the cleanup toward the Remedial Investigation of the site. That is the next step in the EPA CERCLA process which may be proposed as early as next year.”

    Tracy continued: “It should be remembered that 5-6 million tons of toxic materials sit in the 157-acre impoundment ponds. According to past estimates, 1.5 million gallons of contaminated water and 1.5 million tons of contaminated soils sit waiting for cleanup, and still threaten our community if anything goes wrong.”

    “If a Lincoln Park resident has a well, they are advised not to use it because of contamination from the uranium mill. Wouldn’t it be great to have the use of that water?” asks CAG member Sharyn Cunningham, who had to stop using her wells many years ago. “If there is any hope for cleaning up our Lincoln Park wells, we all need to make sure it is done and done right!”

    #Colorado Lawmakers Call For More Federal Money To Clean Up Chemical Contamination From #PFAS — Colorado Public Radio

    Widefield aquifer via the Colorado Water Institute.

    From Colorado Public Radio (Dan Boyce):

    Local environmental activists and state lawmakers gathered near Colorado Springs on Tuesday to call for more federal support in cleaning up toxic PFAS chemical contamination near some of the state’s military bases, most recently including the U.S. Air Force Academy.

    Firefighting foams used regularly on military bases for decades leached chemicals into local groundwater supplies. In 2016, the Environmental Protection Agency issued a health advisory warning of a connection between PFAS and certain types of cancer.

    The military has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on cleanup nationwide, including $50 million at Peterson Air Force Base alone.

    But speakers at the event organized by the nonprofit Environment Colorado said much more funding is still needed.

    Fountain Valley Clean Water Coalition founder Liz Rosenbaum urged Colorado’s congressional delegation to fight for more PFAS cleanup funds in next year’s National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

    “We have done everything that we can possibly do from the local level, from our city, the county and the state,” Rosenbaum said. “This is a national contamination because it has been done by the department of defense. So we have to look to Congress and our elected officials in D.C.”

    Republican Rep. Doug Lamborn sits on the conference committee which is working out differences between Senate and House versions of the NDAA. Lamborn’s office did not send a representative to the press conference.

    Republican state Sen. Dennis Hisey said he doesn’t think it matters where the money comes from, as long as Congressional leaders work to raise awareness of how much is left to do in cleaning up these so-called “forever chemicals.”

    Pueblo Board of Water Works board election crucial to Pueblo’s future — Alan Hamel

    Loaf ‘N Jug Presents the Chile & Frijoles Festival (2015), Historic Downtown Pueblo, CO. Photo Credit: Extremeshots Photography

    Here’s a guest column from Alan Hamel that’s running in the La Junta Tribune Democrat:

    There are two six-year term board seats and one two-year term seat to be filled on the Pueblo Board of Water Works. One incumbent and three new candidates are running for the two six-year seats, and one short-term incumbent and a new candidate are running for the two-year seat.

    This election could be historic, in that, in a short two-year time span, the board could have four new members. A major part of the organization’s success in serving Pueblo with high quality water in a sufficient supply and at a reasonable cost, supported by a highly qualified leadership team and dedicated and qualified employees, is having a tenured board of highly motivated business men and women committed to that mission.

    Not only must they look at today, but 50 years out. That is why this election is so crucial to our future.

    Let’s for a moment reflect on a just few of Pueblo Water’s major successes. First, water supply. Pueblo Water is currently the completing the acquisition of 28 percent of the Bessemer Irrigating Ditch Company. With this addition to Pueblo’s supply, the system can serve a population of 200,000 and through the year 2070.

    Second, water treatment and quality. The system’s water treatment equipment and laboratories are state of the art, meeting or exceeding all state and federal which continually are becoming more demanding. Pueblo Water continually adopts the newest and best methods to deliver the highest quality water to its customers. The water treatment plant capacity is 84 million gallons per day. With Pueblo’s current maximum day usage in the low 50 million gallons per day, the plant is capable of serving Pueblo’s needs well into the future.

    Third, water rates. Pueblo continues to have the lowest rates for potable water of any major utility along the Front Range. Pueblo water rates are 33 percent below the average and 67 percent below the top. This is being done while having an ample supply of water and a modern, dependable and well-maintained system.

    Fourth, long range planning. Pueblo Water has been a leader in its implementation of long range planning, dating back to the 1970s. Over the years, it has enhanced those efforts greatly. Currently in place are plans that span the next 30 years, and in the case of water supply, 50 years.

    This has been a direct result of having a strong and committed elected board, supported by an exceedingly qualified leadership team and backed by highly component and trained employees. The elected board, leadership and employees are all dedicated to serving the customers/citizens of Pueblo.

    With all this in mind, I truly believe it is imperative we re-elect Mike Cafasso to another term to the Pueblo water board. He has served the citizens of Pueblo with distinction and strong leadership in this position for the last 12 years and will provide strong leadership in this historic period in Pueblo Water’s history and in our future.

    He has served as the board president for a total three years during his tenure. His private sector experience is extensive. He is the current chief executive officer at St. Mary-Corwin Medical Center and during his career in banking, he has been president and CEO of two banks in Pueblo.

    Along with his comprehensive experience as an administrator and in finance, he has taken extensive leadership, customer service and innovation practice training over the years. And now he applies that in his everyday life. Pueblo Water and their customers have benefited from his service and training.

    I now want to make one more recommendation for the other six-year seat. I would recommend Chris Woodka, who has been involved for more than 34 years in water supply issues and would be able to transition quickly into a position as a Pueblo water board member. Currently, he is the senior policy and issues manager for the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, a position he has held for three years.

    For the previous 31 years, Woodka worked in various positions at The Pueblo Chieftain. He wrote and researched water issues during his entire career. From 2004 to 2016, his primary emphasis was on water reporting. During that period I got to know him well. In my opinion, he was the most knowledgeable water reporter in Colorado, covering the complex world of water. He thoroughly understands all aspects of Pueblo Water.

    In closing, Pueblo would be well served by electing Mike Cafasso and Chris Woodka to the Board of Water Works.

    Alan Hamel retired from the Pueblo Board of Water Works after 52 years, including 30 years as executive director. He now serves as a board member for the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District and a volunteer in the Pueblo mayor’s office.