Arkansas Valley Conduit update

From High Plains Public Radio (Abigail Beckman):

Chris Woodka is with the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District. He said part of the reason we’re seeing more water systems violate water standards is that federal and state standards have changed. They are now accounting for even more minute quantities of contaminants.

He said water from wells can be especially affected because, “shallow wells in the alluvial aquifer are high in organic contaminants, nitrate and selenium.”

“Deeper wells often have elevated levels of radioactive materials,” he said. “And nearly all of the communities east of Pueblo take water from wells.”

Some communities have responded by using water filters. Las Animas and La Junta have both installed large reverse osmosis membrane systems to remove contaminants from the water supply. Woodka said that has improved the taste and appearance.

But, he said, even after filtration, radium and uranium can still remain in the water at low levels.

And then there’s the cost.

“Those communities still face tremendous expense in disposing of the waste from the treatment processes,” Woodka said, “which can only be reduced by adding more clean water.” And extra water, let alone clean water, is hard to come by in a drought-prone state like Colorado. But there is one possible solution that’s been in the works for decades.

It’s called the Arkansas Valley Conduit.

Arkansas Valley Conduit Comanche North route via Reclamation

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation describes the conduit as a “bulk water supply pipeline designed to meet existing and future municipal and industrial water demands in the Lower Arkansas River Basin.”

It would include about 230 miles of buried pipeline, a water treatment facility, and water storage tanks. Water would be routed to six counties – Pueblo, Otero, Crowley, Bent, Kiowa and Prowers – and would serve an estimated 50,000 people.

The project was first approved in 1962. Some work was completed in the early 1980’s, but the actual conduit has yet to come to completion. Woodka said that’s mainly because of cost.

“[These] communities could never afford to build [the conduit] themselves.” Woodka explained.

Congress passed a law in 2009 that reduced the amount of money local governments would have to pitch in for the project. Woodka said that finally made the construction of the conduit feasible.

But it’s still a $500 million project.

“The main problem that we’ve run into,” said Woodka, ”has been getting adequate federal appropriations to start building it. He said they are working on ways to lower the overall costs of the project.”

Woodka said lawmakers at the state and national level have been “extremely active” in promoting this project on both sides of the political spectrum…

[Republican State Senator Larry Crowder] said the key now is for residents to get involved.

“We’re getting the cities involved, we’re getting the people in the cities involved to send letters to Senator Gardner, Senator Bennet and Congressmen Buck and Tipton,” he said, “to make sure that they are aware of how the people feel about it.”

New judge for Fountain Creek degradation case — The Pueblo Chieftain

The Fountain Creek Watershed is located along the central front range of Colorado. It is a 927-square mile watershed that drains south into the Arkansas River at Pueblo. The watershed is bordered by the Palmer Divide to the north, Pikes Peak to the west, and a minor divide 20 miles east of Colorado Springs. Map via the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Robert Boczkiewicz):

A different judge is presiding over the 2½-year-old environmental lawsuit against Colorado Springs for degrading Fountain Creek.

Senior Judge John L. Kane Jr. of the U.S. District Court for Colorado has replaced Senior Judge Richard P. Matsch, who died in May.

“This is a very, very important case,” Kane said last week when he held his first proceeding, a status conference, on the case. He has been on the bench for 41 years.

“Taking over a case (from another judge) is not very pleasant” because a lot of catching up is required, he told the attorneys. Thousands of pages of documents have been filed for the litigation.

The federal and state environmental protection agencies filed the lawsuit in 2016, and were joined by the Pueblo County commissioners and the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District…

After a trial last year, Matsch decided Colorado Springs had violated its permit which regulates discharges of the city’s storm water sewer system into the creek.

The next step would be another trial for Kane to determine what Colorado Springs must do to remedy the violations.

However, The Pueblo Chieftain reported July 30 that all sides notified the judge that they have been meeting “regularly and intensively” all year to try to agree on terms to settle the dispute, instead of going to trial again.

At their request, Kane put the case on hold until Nov. 22 to give them more time for that purpose.

At last week’s court conference, a federal attorney told the judge that the violations “are ongoing.”

Twenty-four water systems across the Arkansas Valley are in violation of the Clean Water Act — The La Junta Tribune-Democrat

Arkansas Valley Conduit Comanche North route via Reclamation

From The La Junta Tribune-Democrat (Christian Burney):

Twenty-four water systems across the Arkansas Valley are in violation of the Clean Water Act due to the levels of radioactive contaminants – some of them naturally occurring – in the water, according to data from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

The systems deemed to be in open health-based violation are located in or near La Junta, Cheraw, Rocky Ford, Manzanola, Swink and Wiley, and the water produced by those facilities is high in radioactive elements, radium and uranium and, in fewer instances, gross alpha radiation.

Colorado Sen. Larry Crowder (R-Dist.35) told the La Junta Tribune-Democrat that other municipalities – such as Fowler, Ordway, Sugar City, Las Animas, Eads and Hasty – could also be affected.

While those towns were not identified by the CDPHE to be in open violation of clean water standards, various contaminants such as selenium were measured by some of their water systems, he said.

The fact that radioactive contaminants exist in some water systems is not itself a new development. As Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservation District Manager Jay Winner put it, communities in the region have been dealing with them for years…

But the CDPHE’s findings reveal that radium levels in some Arkansas Valley water systems is up to 63 times higher than levels at the Pueblo Reservoir, and the amount of uranium is up to 12 times higher, Crowder said.

What does that mean if you’re born and raised here and have been drinking the contaminated water your entire life?

Maybe nothing, but the potential does exist for health problems if the impurities in drinking water regularly exceed the maximum contaminant level (MCL) recommended by the EPA and if there is long-term exposure.

For instance, the EPA says prolonged exposure to levels of nitrate (measured as nitrogen) – which is in fertilizer and which makes its way into groundwater and aquifers via runoff – exceeding the MCL could result in serious illness and, potentially, death in infants below 6 months of age.

Long-term exposure to selenium that exceeds the MCL could result in hair or fingernail loss, numbness in fingers or toes and other circulatory problems.

Several water systems tested positive for radium 226 and 228 (combined), which the EPA says could result in an increased risk of cancer, if the exposure is prolonged and above the recommended MCL. Radium appears in groundwater through the erosion of natural deposits…

Crowder requested the water quality tests in preparation for another push to get federal funding for the long overdue Arkansas Valley Conduit, which would deliver water from the Pueblo Reservoir up to about 130 miles downstream, bypassing the sources of contamination and providing cleaner water to communities in the Arkansas Valley.

Fountain Creek lawsuit negotiations update

The Fountain Creek Watershed is located along the central front range of Colorado. It is a 927-square mile watershed that drains south into the Arkansas River at Pueblo. The watershed is bordered by the Palmer Divide to the north, Pikes Peak to the west, and a minor divide 20 miles east of Colorado Springs. Map via the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Robert Boczkiewicz):

Negotiations are underway between Pueblo County, a water conservancy district and environmental protection agencies on one side, and Colorado Springs on the other side, to resolve disputes of many years regarding that city’s defiling of Fountain Creek.

The Pueblo Chieftain has obtained court documents stating that the parties in a two-year-old lawsuit are trying to reach an agreement to settle it, instead of pursuing it further in the U.S. District Court for Colorado.

Both sides have met three times in recent weeks “to discuss potential resolution of the (lawsuit) without further litigation,” states a court document filed last week at the court in Denver. It was filed by Pueblo County commissioners, the Lower Arkansas Water Conservancy District, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the state Department of Public Health and Environment.

Those four entities sued Colorado Springs in 2016, claiming the city violated clean water laws by discharging excessive stormwater and pollutants into the creek, which flows through Pueblo County into the Arkansas River at Pueblo.

After a trial, the judge overseeing the case decided on Nov. 9 in favor of the four entities that sued. Senior Judge Richard P. Matsch ruled Colorado Springs violated its permit that regulates stormwater discharges into Fountain Creek.

The four entities in the court fight with Colorado Springs state in the new court document that the discussions so far “were productive.” They and the city asked the judge to put litigation on hold for three months, to see if they can agree how to remedy the city’s violations.

Matsch on Thursday granted the request.

The board of the Fort Lyons Canal Company approves water sale to #ColoradoSprings

Straight line diagram of the Lower Arkansas Valley ditches via Headwaters

From The Bent County Democrat (Bette McFarren and Jolene Hamilton):

An agreement between a member of the Lower Arkansas Water Management Association and the City of Colorado Springs will allow water originally allocated for agricultural use in the Lower Ark to be used for municipal purposes.

The pact, which was approved by the board of the Fort Lyon Canal Company, was announced Thursday.

“Colorado Springs Utilities purchased 2,500 LAWMA shares for $8.75 million and also will reimburse LAWMA $1.75 million for 500 acre-feet of water storage,” said a LAWMA press release announcing the arrangement. “This storage will give LAWMA added flexibility to manage its water rights both in times of drought and excess.”

“We are appreciative of the Fort Lyon Canal Company board’s approval of this use of the water,” said Don Higbee, LAWMA general manager, in the release. “The agreement with Colorado Springs will benefit many farmers in the Lower Arkansas River Valley. We will gain a more reliable water supply that will increase crop yields for the average shareholder in both wet and dry years.”

The release went on to say, “Colorado Springs Utilities acquired about 2,000-acre-feet of water from a LAMWA member, Arkansas River Farms in July. The agreement allows LAMWA members and Colorado Springs Utilities to take water deliveries alternately 5 out of 10 years.”

Dale Mauch, FLCC board president, told The La Junta Tribune-Democrat that Colorado Springs will get to choose the years it wants the water delivered.

“They’ll wait for the wet years, because they’ll get more water,” said Mauch. “They have water in storage in Pueblo.”

Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District – whose stated mission is “To acquire, retain and conserve water resources within the Lower Arkansas River” – expressed his displeasure with the agreement.

“They will take 71 percent of the water,” he told the La Junta Tribune-Democrat. “That water will never come back to the land. It’s a buy-and-dry.”

Mauch, who is also the FLCC representative to the Super Ditch, said in a telephone interview, “Fort Lyon had nothing to do with LAWMA selling some storage. No damage to Fort Lyon. Not a lot of damage as long as nobody below or in Fort Lyon gets hurt. We don’t have a problem with it. What would hurt is being shorted water.

“It’s set up so everybody gets the same as always. LAWMA’s water stays in, but instead of irrigating land with the water, they dump it back. That percentage gets held up for Colorado Springs – the consumptive use of that amount – that’s what a crop would use. That percent has to stay in the river to keep people from being injured.

“The water must stay in the canal. Their water on those shares will run back to the river. Colorado Springs pays LAWMA so much for water, five out of ten years.”

Five out of ten years is too much, argues Winner, who added that Bent County could be the real loser in the deal. No revenue is headed its way, and county residents could suffer from the loss of commerce.

Winner is also concerned that Colorado Springs won’t stop here.

“If you look at Colorado Springs, their water right portfolio isn’t very good,” he said. “Eighty percent of it is West Slope water. What we have heard is that they will be 23,000 acre-feet short by the year 2030. That’s about 22,000 shares of the Fort Lyon Canal. I think with the project (LAWMA is) doing right now, they’re just dipping their toe in the water, and they plan to take all that water from the Fort Lyon canal.”

While Winner admits it is legal for LAWMA to pursue this project, he said the LAVWCD has the right to try and stop it.

“In this administration, people don’t want to see the buy-and-dry of agriculture any longer,” said Winner. “This district was put here to keep water in the Arkansas Valley, and that’s what we plan on doing.”

Fountain Creek trial: @EPA, et al. v. Colorado Springs begins

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

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Robert Boczkiewic):

A trial began Wednesday to determine whether the city of Colorado Springs violated clean water laws by discharging pollutants and large-volume water flows from its storm water into Fountain Creek and other Arkansas River tributaries.

The trial is for a 2016 lawsuit by federal and state.environmental agencies against Colorado Springs. The case is central to long-standing disputes that Pueblo County and the Lower Arkansas River Valley have with the city for defiling the creek and the river.

The environmental agencies contend the city is responsible for creating a threat to public health because the stormwaters increase levels of E. coli, pesticides and other pollutants into the creek.

The agencies also contend discharge of “extraordinary high levels of sediment impairs (the creek’s) ability to sustain aquatic life, damages downstream infrastructure and communities like Pueblo, worsen flood damage (and) impairs farmers’ ability to irrigate and obtain water to which they are legally entitled under Colorado law.”

Senior Judge Richard P. Match of U.S. District Court in Denver is presiding over the trial that is expected to run at least 10 days.

The Pueblo County Board of County Commissioners and the Lower Arkansas Water Conservancy District joined the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Colorado Department of Health and Environment as plaintiffs by intervening in the case.

The district is comprised of Pueblo, Otero, Crowley, Bent and Prowers counties.

The lawsuit alleges that damage to the creek and river is caused because Colorado Springs’ stormwater system is inadequate, and for numerous years has violated clean water laws by exceeding discharge limits set in permits issued by the state for the system…

An attorney for the city, Steven Perfrement, defended the city’s efforts to operate the system, and to control discharges of pollutants and the volume of water flows. “The city has adopted programs and enforces them.”

“The deal means another 7,500 shares of water will be leaving Bent County in the future…And that’s a step toward drying up that county” — Jay Winner

Straight line diagram of the Lower Arkansas Valley ditches via Headwaters

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Peter Roper):

A water-sharing agreement between Colorado Springs Utilities and an Arkansas Valley water management group would give that city access to an additional 2,100 acre feet of Arkansas River water a year — an agreement that concerns some regional water users.

That would be in addition to the 50 million gallons of Arkansas River water that Colorado Springs gets each day through the Southern Delivery Service pipeline from Lake Pueblo.

“The deal means another 7,500 shares of water will be leaving Bent County in the future,” argued Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservation District. “And that’s a step toward drying up that county.”

According to news reports, what Colorado Springs has done is buy 2,500 shares of water from Arkansas River Farms, a Littleton-based agriculture company. That purchase makes it a member of the Lower Arkansas Water Management Association.

That’s a nonprofit group of Arkansas River water users. Essentially, it has the job of seeing that water pumped up from groundwater wells is replaced into the river.

The deal that Colorado Springs wants approved calls for a shared use of its 2,500 shares of water between the management group and the city. Over a 10-year-period, the city would have the use of that water for five years, with the management group getting it the other five years.

City officials have said the shared-use plan would help guarantee Colorado Springs has additional water supplies in drought years.

A spokesman for the water management group said the deal would require Colorado Springs to pay for additional storage near Lamar for those years when the city is using the water.

Officials with Colorado Springs Utilities have fended off complaints that this might dry up areas in the Arkansas Valley by noting that the water management group would share authority over the water.

Winner said it is likely his organization, the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservation District, will intervene when the question comes before a state water court for approval. That is likely to be a few years away, he acknowledged.

The next step for the water-sharing plan is to get the approval of the Fort Lyon Canal Co. The water management group has been buying water from that company for its augmentation program and Fort Lyon currently doesn’t allow its water to be routed to cities.

The second step is to get approval from the state water court, which will review any deal to ensure that no other water rights are damaged.