#Colorado water officials to hoarders during #COVID19 crisis: Quit buying bottled — @AspenJournalism #coronavirus

City of Aspen Utilities Director Tyler Christoff and Operations Manager Justin Forman check for anchor ice formation at the city’s Maroon Creek diversion. Colorado water managers have said there is no risk to water supplies from COVID-19 and therefore no need to stock up on bottled water. Photo credit: Heather Sackett/Aspen Journalism

From Aspen Journalism (David O. Williams):

Municipal water providers in Aspen, Vail, Steamboat and other communities say there is no threat from COVID-19 in their water supplies and that people do not need to hoard bottled water — provided that the employees who operate the various water plants can still come to work.

And yet, two weeks into Colorado’s crisis, you still see people exiting the state’s grocery stores with shopping carts brimming with multipacks of 4-ply Charmin or Angel Soft toilet paper. And buried under the TP, you’ll spot the 48-bottle cartons of Arrowhead or Fiji water.

Toilet paper aside, water systems operators around the state — including ski towns, which are among the hardest-hit areas for the novel coronavirus pandemic — do not understand why people think they need to stock up on bottled water.

“Aspen Water provides safe, high-quality water that exceeds all stringent state and federal drinking-water regulations,” said City of Aspen spokeswoman Mitzi Rapkin. “Aspen’s water-treatment methods use filtration and disinfection process which remove and inactivate viruses.”

The same is true for Front Range water utilities.

“We have wastewater-treatment facilities that work above and beyond the standards devised for us, so there is no worry that water would be impacted by COVID-19,” said Ryan Maecker, spokesman for Colorado Springs Utilities, where surrounding El Paso County is second only to Denver in the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the state.

Those drinking-water standards, established by the Safe Drinking Water Act in 1974, are enforced by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

“The water is treated and it’s disinfected, which takes care of all viruses,” said Linn Brooks, general manager of Eagle River Water and Sanitation District in eastern Eagle County, which has the third-highest number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the state.

Officials say water should be the least of anyone’s concerns during the growing outbreak, which has prompted an unprecedented statewide stay-at-home order and has seen most nonessential businesses and schools shut down.

“No, there are no water shortages. No, municipal water is not a vector for COVID-19,” said Zach Margolis, utility manager for Silverthorne Water & Sewer in Summit County.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the coronavirus is thought to spread in the following manner: “Mainly from person-to-person between people who are in close contact with one another (within about 6 feet) … through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs.”

Michelle Carr, distribution and collection manager for the City of Steamboat Springs Water and Sewer, attended a CDC webinar on the topic of COVID-19 and drinking-water systems.

“It said that the coronavirus is essentially very susceptible to our disinfection processes, and that while our disinfection process targets bacteria, bacteria is less susceptible than this virus,” Carr said. “So, the fact that we’re treating for killing bacteria means that we should adequately be taking care of the COVID virus.”

Buying bottled water during the ongoing pandemic makes no sense, she said.

“Our water is completely safe to drink,” Carr said. “I don’t anticipate that there will ever be an issue where we’re spreading COVID-19 through the treated potable water system. The bottled water is completely unnecessary.”

Brooks won’t speculate on why people are hoarding toilet paper, but she does have a theory regarding the stockpiling of bottled water.

“I think (people) see communications on how to isolate at home, how to prepare to a shelter in place, how to deal with emergencies, and those instructions almost always tell you to get bottled water,” said Brooks, adding that some people inexplicably prefer to drink bottled water all the time. “I don’t particularly understand that because our water here is so great, and (bottled water) certainly has an environmental impact.”

The approximately 10-acre-foot Leonard M. Thomas reservoir holds water diverted from Castle and Maroon creeks and serves as a holding pond to settle water before it is sent into the city’s water treatment plant. Colorado water providers have said there is no direct threat to water supplies from COVID-19. Photo credit: Jordan Curet/Aspen Daily News via Aspen Journalism

Staffing concerns

Various municipal, county and state emergency declarations have been enacted, covering water systems, but officials say those mostly just allow them to apply for state and federal funds or obtain additional equipment if necessary. Most water providers and wastewater-treatment operators are planning for staff shortages and doing everything they can to keep their staff healthy.

“We are not aware of any specific threats to our water system,” said Aspen’s Rapkin. “We have taken proactive measures to isolate our operations staff in order to continue to provide this critical community resource.”

Brooks agrees that staffing is the biggest concern as the virus spreads.

“Our biggest risk is absenteeism of our operators,” she said. “But, that being said, we can run with a pretty lean crew even if we got into some pretty significant absenteeism, as long as it doesn’t hit everyone at once, which we don’t think is likely at all.”

Eagle River Water and Sanitation District, which treats and provides water for users from East Vail to Wolcott along Interstate 70, took steps to mitigate against absenteeism early on.

“We knew that that was going to be our biggest risk and that protecting our employees was the most important thing that we could do. That’s our highest priority — to keep our staff healthy,” said Brooks, who added that any staffer with a symptom of any kind must stay home from work and not return until they have been free of symptoms for 72 hours.

Even if smaller mountain utilities were to be hit suddenly by a COVID-19 outbreak and get into staffing problems, other water-systems operators would step in to help. A cooperative venture among all utilities across the state and codified with intergovernmental agreements dictates that if a utility needs assistance, others will provide aid.

“So, if there’s somebody that has a plant failure, and we have staffing, we will send our staffing to them,” City of Aurora Water Department spokesman Greg Baker said during a call with other Aurora and Colorado Springs water officials. “I know Colorado Springs has been heavily involved in (mutual assistance) as well, so that should really not be a major concern.”

The desire to hoard bottled water, on the other hand, escapes officials.

“The bottled-water hoarding is a phenomenon we do not understand, because we bring safe, high-quality drinking water to your house,” Baker said. “We deliver it for a half a penny a gallon, so why are people going out and buying water? We do not understand that at all.”

Also, all the plastic is an environmental issue, Baker said, and transporting it around the state or out of state in bottles removes local water from Aurora’s extensive reuse system for irrigation and agriculture.

“So, whenever people take bottled water and start shipping it out, you’re kind of losing that reusable component, and that impacts our culture because we’re so used to reusability. So that hurts us there,” Baker said. “It also hurts us through the fact that, frankly, we have some of the highest-quality water in the state, and why do you need it in a bottle? It’s as irrational as the toilet-paper hoarding.”

Aspen Journalism collaborates with The Aspen Times and other Swift Communications newspapers on coverage of water and rivers. This story ran in the March 28 editions of The Aspen Times and the Vail Daily.

The WISE Partnership recently brought home a “Community Water Champion Award” from WateReuse @DenverWater @AuroraWaterCO

WISE Project map via Denver Water

From Yourhub.Denverpost.com (Todd Hartman):

An innovative water-sharing partnership between Denver Water, Aurora Water and water utilities that serve the south metro area has won national recognition.

The WISE Partnership, WISE being short for Water Infrastructure and Supply Efficiency, recently brought home a “Community Water Champion Award” from WateReuse, a national organization that advances the use of recycled water.

The award marks another sign of success for a project that showcases sustainability on multiple fronts.

WISE not only provides a way for Denver and Aurora to reuse water supplies, it also creates a dependable supply for 10 water providers that serve the south metro region.

That more dependable supply, in turn, reduces pressure to pull more water from the Colorado River, conserves dwindling groundwater supplies south of Denver and diminishes the need for metro area utilities to buy agricultural water in the South Platte River Basin, which can lead to drying up farmland if the water is diverted…

The unusual nature of the WISE project may have helped it capture the national award.

Awards typically recognize a specific facility, such as a water recycling plant, or a technology. WISE includes such features, but also leverages the power of a regionwide partnership to make it all work.

WateReuse described the award this way: “This innovative regional partnership for a sustainable water future will reduce groundwater reliance and bolster renewable water supplies to the South Metro area, while maximizing existing water assets belonging to Aurora and Denver Water.”

WISE works by pulling water that Denver and Aurora have a legal right to reuse from the South Platte River near Brighton. That water is then pumped via pipeline back upstream to Aurora for a series of treatment steps before distribution to project partners…

Simply put, the project’s benefits accrue this way:

  • Denver Water develops a new water supply by being able to use Aurora’s Prairie Waters system and a new revenue stream by selling unused water to the south metro area water providers.
  • Aurora Water benefits by selling unused water and putting unused treatment and pipeline capacity to use while receiving revenue that helps keep its water rates down.
  • The South Metro Water Supply Authority receives a permanent renewable water supply, helping to reduce its reliance on nonrenewable groundwater.
  • River diversion will eliminate portaging — The Leadville Herald

    A river project, partially funded by the CWCB on the Arkansas River at Granite. The project was removing a river-wide diversion structure and replacing it with a new diversion structure that will allow unimpeded boating through Granite. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    From The Chaffee County Times (Max R. Smith) via The Leadville Herald:

    In the mid-1960s, a partnership between the cities of Colorado Springs and Aurora installed a diversion dam in the Arkansas River south of Granite near Clear Creek Reservoir as part of a pipeline system bringing water from the western slope of the Continental Divide to the Front Range.

    The presence of the diversion dam caused that portion of the river to be non-navigable, requiring portaging of one’s raft or kayak.

    By the end of this year, however, Colorado Springs Utilities is on schedule to complete a three-year project to build a new river diversion that will allow boaters to float right through, meaning that the 2020 rafting season will be the first in over 50 years in which the entirety of the Arkansas can be travelled without portage.

    “We’ll see how the snow treats us over the next couple weeks, but we’re really down to some final boulder work in the river and general site cleanup at this point,” said CSU project manager Brian McCormick.

    The intake that pumped water out of the Arkansas (which, legally speaking, comes from the Eagle River Basin as part of the Homestake Project), destined for Aurora and Colorado Springs, “as with anything in the river for 50-plus years, it took some wear and tear,” McCormick said. “By about the mid-2000s, the cities recognized we needed to rehabilitate this structure to keep it as a reliable facility and ensure safety of the river users.”

    Construction on the new $9.1 million diversion project began in 2016 after a number of years of planning, budgeting, and engineering. Support for the project included $1.2 million in grant funding from the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area, Colorado Parks and Wildlife and the Colorado Water Conservation Board…

    Significant to water consumers in Colorado Springs and Aurora, the project utilizes a new intake and piping structure to send water to the Otero pump station, he said.

    Significant to boaters is a chute constructed of boulders and mortar with six two-foot drops that will allow them to pass the intake facility without exiting the river. McCormick said that CSU put the call out to members of Colorado’s river recreation community to participate in a trial run down the chute in November, testing the Arkansas’s newest whitewater feature…

    Significant to the scaled, Omega-3 rich denizens of the Arkansas who swim upstream to spawn every year, the new diversion also features a fish ladder: a sequence of weirs and pools that give brown and rainbow trout a route to move up the river to their spawning grounds.

    Efforts to relocate an ancient wetland could help determine the fate of a water project on Lower Homestake Creek — @AspenJournalism

    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 Aspen Journalism (Sarah Tory):

    One morning last month, Brad Johnson arrived at a patch of rippling yellow grasses alongside U.S. 24, a few miles south of Leadville in the upper Arkansas River valley. Sandwiched among a cluster of abandoned ranch buildings, a string of power lines and a small pond, it is an unassuming place — except, of course, for its views of 14,000-foot peaks rising across the valley.

    But appearances can be deceiving. The rather ordinary-looking property was a fen, which is a groundwater-fed wetland filled with organic “peat” soils that began forming during the last ice age and that give fens their springy feel.

    “It’s like walking on a sponge,” Johnson said, marching across the marshy ground, stopping every now and then to point out a rare sedge or grass species.

    Johnson was visiting the fen to record groundwater measurements before winter sets in. As the lead scientist for the Rocky Mountain Fen Research Project, Johnson is part of an effort spearheaded and paid for by Aurora Water and the Board of Water Works of Pueblo to study new ways to restore fens.

    The research could help facilitate future water development in Colorado, such as the potential Whitney Reservoir project, part of a 20-year water-development plan from Aurora Water and Colorado Springs Utilities for the upper Eagle River watershed. The utilities, working together as Homestake Partners, are looking at building the reservoir in the Homestake Creek valley, south of Minturn, in an area that probably contains fens, which could hinder the project.

    Aurora and Colorado Springs are working together on the reservoir project, and Aurora and Pueblo are funding the fens research. Although the Whitney project is not directly tied to the fen project, if the research efforts are successful, they could help Aurora and Colorado Springs secure a permit approval for the reservoir — and maybe alter the fate of an ecosystem.

    Brad Johnson, a wetland ecologist for the Rocky Mountain Fen Research Project, takes groundwater measurements at the research site near Leadville, while his dogs, Katie and Hayden watch. 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: Sarah Tory/Aspen Journalism

    Irreplaceable resources

    If you’ve walked through Colorado’s high country, chances are you’ve walked by a fen, which are among the state’s most biodiverse and fragile environments. To protect fens, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Environmental Protection Agency drafted a “fen policy” in 1996. The policy, amended in 1999, determined that fens are irreplaceable resources because their soils take so long to regenerate. “On-site or in-kind replacement of peatlands is not possible,” the policy reads.

    Inside the Fish and Wildlife Service, however, a different interpretation emerged. “Irreplaceable” became “unmitigable,” making it difficult or impossible to secure approval for any project that would severely impact fens.

    Although Johnson is in favor of fen conservation, the Fish and Wildlife Service’s “unmitigable” interpretation bothered him. Not only was that status not supported by the fen policy itself, he believes saying “no” all the time is not in the best interest of fens.

    “My fear is that if we don’t have the means of mitigating our impacts, we’ll just impact them,” he said.

    Eventually, Johnson believes, conservationists will have to make some concessions to development. But by researching better mitigation techniques, he hopes he can help preserve fens in the long run.

    Fen soils are made of a rich, organic peat material that take thousands of years to form and require a constant groundwater source to survive. At the Rocky Mountain Fen Research Project, scientists transplanted fen soils from another site to the “receiver” site south of Leadville where they restored a groundwater spring to sustain the transplanted soils. Photo credit: Sarah Tory/Aspen Journalism

    An organ transplant

    For water utilities, fens have been particularly troublesome. Fens like to form in high-alpine valleys, the places best suited for dams and water reservoirs that take water from rivers mostly on the Western Slope and pump it over the mountains to supply the Front Range’s growing population.

    But the fen policy has stymied many of the utilities’ plans to develop new water projects. Those defeats helped spur Front Range utilities to start researching new mitigation strategies that would help them comply with environmental regulations — and get around the fen policy.

    “They wanted to figure out how to do this right so they could actually permit their projects,” Johnson said.

    Through the fen-research project, Aurora and Pueblo saw an opportunity to address the fen policy’s requirement that a project offset unavoidable impacts to a fen by restoring an equivalent amount of fen elsewhere.

    Since the fen project began 16 years ago, Aurora and Pueblo have invested $300,000 and $81,500 in the research, respectively. More recently, other funders have joined the effort, including Denver Water, Colorado Springs Utilities at about $10,000 each and the Colorado Water Conservation Board ($100,000).

    After a number of fits and starts, Johnson three years ago settled on a design for the research that would test whether it’s ecologically possible to transplant fen soils from one location to another. First, Johnson restored the original groundwater spring at the old Hayden Ranch property. Then, he and a team of helpers removed blocks of soil from another degraded fen site and reassembled them, like an organ transplant, at the “receiver” site, where the restored spring now flows through veinlike cobble bars and sandbars, feeding the transplanted fen.

    Brad Johnson, the lead scientist for the Rocky Mountain Fen Research Project, at the project site in the Upper Arkansas River Valley. Launched by two Front Range water utilities in 2003, the project is studying a new way to mitigate potential impacts to fens, an ecologically rich and fragile wetland found throughout Colorados’ high country. Photo credit: Sarah Tory/Aspen Journalism

    Positive signs

    It’s still too early to know whether the project could eventually serve as a fen-mitigation strategy for a new reservoir, but Johnson is optimistic about the results thus far. In 2017, after just one growing season, he was shocked to discover 67 different plant species growing at the transplanted fen site — compared with just 10 at the donor site. He was thrilled by the news. The data showed that the transplanted fen ecosystem is thriving.

    That’s good news for utilities such as Aurora, too.

    A week after Johnson visited the Rocky Mountain Fen Project site, Kathy Kitzmann gave a tour of the wetland-filled valley formed by Homestake Creek where Aurora and Colorado Springs are planning to build Whitney Reservoir.

    Kitzmann, a water resources principal for Aurora Water, drove down the bumpy, snow-covered road that winds along the valley bottom, pointing to the two creeks that would — along with Homestake Creek and the Eagle River, near Camp Hale — help fill the reservoir. A pump station would send the water upvalley to the existing Homestake Reservoir and then through another series of tunnels to the Front Range.

    In the lower part of the valley, Kitzmann stopped at the first of four potential reservoir sites — ranging in size from 6,000 acre-feet to 20,000 acre-feet — that the utilities have identified for the project and the wetlands it would inundate.

    “You can sort of see why it wouldn’t be the best, just given the vastness of the wetlands,” Kitzmann said.

    Farther along, the valley becomes more canyonlike, with higher rocky walls and fewer wetlands — probably offering a better reservoir site, said Kitzmann, although the permitting agencies won’t know for sure until they complete their initial feasibility studies.

    In June, Aurora and Colorado Springs submitted a permit application to the U.S. Forest Service to perform exploratory drilling and other mapping and surveying work, but the agency has not yet approved the permit.

    Potential fen impacts are just one of several environmental hurdles facing the project. One of the Whitney alternatives would encroach on the Holy Cross Wilderness. Aurora and Colorado Springs have proposed moving the wilderness boundary, if necessary, to accommodate the reservoir.

    It’s also likely that the wetlands in the Homestake Valley contain fens, but until the utilities conduct wetland studies around the proposed reservoir sites next summer, the scope of the impacts remains uncertain.

    Environmental groups including Colorado Headwaters, a nonprofit, oppose the Whitney Reservoir project, arguing that it would destroy one of the state’s most valuable wetlands, as well as an important habitat for wildlife and rare native plants.

    In the meantime, Aurora is hopeful that Johnson’s research might one day help solve some of the environmental problems around new water development. “We are excited about proving that you can restore and rehabilitate fens,” Kitzmann said.

    The dam in the Eagle River headwaters that forms Homestake Reservoir, which diverts water to the Front Range. If the wetlands in the Homestake Creek valley contain ancient peat bogs called fens, it could hinder the progress of the Whitney Reservoir project. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journailsm

    Inevitable impacts

    But is a transplanted fen as good as not touching one in the first place?

    A Fish and Wildlife Service spokesperson said fens are still designated a “Resource Category 1,” which means that the appropriate type of mitigation is avoidance, or “no loss.”

    White River National Forest supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams echoed the spokesperson’s statement, noting that land managers place a high emphasis on protection for fens: “It’s really hard to replace a wetland in these high elevations.”

    Johnson, asked whether he was worried that his research into fen mitigation might end up facilitating the kinds of projects that are most damaging to fens. He sighed. “I’m sensitive to that,” he said.

    But like it or not, Johnson believes that more impacts to fens are inevitable. As Colorado’s population grows, water utilities will have to build new reservoirs, the state will need new roads and ski resorts will want to expand.

    “I can’t argue with whether they should get built,” he said. “I’m just a wetlands guy.”

    Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism collaborates with the Vail Daily and other Swift Communications newspapers on coverage of water and rivers. This story appeared in the Nov. 18 print edition of the Vail Daily.

    Fish ladders and boat chutes part of a massive dam rebuild on the #ArkansasRiver — @ColoradoSun

    Homestake Arkansas River Diversion. Photo credit: Colorado Springs Utilities

    From Colorado Springs Utilities:

    Project Overview / Background

    The Homestake Project is a trans-mountain raw water collection, storage, and delivery system co-owned and operated by the cities of Colorado Springs and Aurora, Colo.

    The Homestake Arkansas River Diversion (ARD), between Granite and Buena Vista, Colo., was constructed in 1964 as the original intake for the Otero Pump Station. Water is now primarily withdrawn from Twin Lakes, however the ARD remains an alternate point of diversion. The ARD has deteriorated and requires repair. The ARD was not originally designed as a navigable facility.

    Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) manages the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area (AHRA) which includes the site of the ARD. CPW expressed interest in partnering with Springs Utilities on a rehabilitation project to include a boat chute for downstream navigation as this location is currently considered the only non-navigable reach of the Arkansas River between Leadville and Canon City, Colo.

    The Upper Arkansas River is both one of the most heavily used rivers in the United States for whitewater recreation and is a Gold Medal Trout Fishery. The river is managed to support multiple objectives including water supply and delivery and outdoor recreation.

    The cities of Aurora and Colorado Springs are constructing a rehabilitation project that will replace the intake and diversion, provide a boat chute for downstream navigation, and provide upstream fish passage for spawning of brown and rainbow trout. The project also included improving river safety for recreational users and providing whitewater boat portage. User safety was an extremely important design consideration.

    A physical model was constructed to test and refine hydraulic elements to optimize performance, maximize user safety and meet design guidelines for recreational whitewater for all three components: boat chute, fish passage and the new intake structure.

    The $9 million construction cost of the project is being jointly funded by the cities of Aurora and Colorado Springs. $1.2 million in grants is coming from Colorado Parks and Wildlife and the Colorado Water Conservation Board through grant funding to support the Colorado Water Plan (Water Supply and Demand Gap and Environmental and Recreation Grant Programs). The Pueblo Board of Waterworks is donating the easements necessary to construct and maintain the diversion.

    Here’s a report from Jason Blevins writing for The Colorado Sun:

    But just below the former riverside mining camp of Granite, where a dilapidated dam built in 1964 has long blemished the Arkansas River’s beauty, rebar jutted from concrete blocks, preventing raft passage and spawning trout battled the steep wall of blasted rocks to reach upstream pools.

    “Not a lot of thought went into recreation or fish when this dam was built,” said Ronald Sanchez, an engineer with Colorado Springs Utilities.

    A lot of thought is going into fish and recreation now, as water managers in Colorado Springs and Aurora join the Colorado Water Conservation Board, the Pueblo Board of Water Works, Colorado Parks and Wildlife and the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area in rebuilding the diversion that directs water to the Front Range.

    The $9.1 million project will make the entire river from Leadville to Cañon City navigable for rafts for the first time in at least 55 years.

    It’s part of the vast Colorado Springs- and Aurora-owned Homestake Project that brings Eagle River Basin water from the Holy Cross Wilderness to the Arkansas River Basin, through the Homestake, Turquoise and Twin Lakes reservoirs for delivery to the Front Range cities.

    The cities started construction of the Arkansas River diversion in July 2018, creating three distinct channels below a rebuilt intake that serves as a backup water diversion to the Otero Pump station downstream of Twin Lakes Dam. Before the Twin Lakes Dam was built in the late 1970s, the diversion was the original intake that collected and directed water to the Otero Pump station for delivery to Aurora and Colorado Springs.

    One channel is a fish ladder for spawning brown and rainbow trout. Another channel is a spillway to accommodate flood-level flows like the ones that swelled the Arkansas River this spring. And a third is a series of six drops allowing rafts safe passage.

    The project marks a new era of collaboration between the diverse interests on the Arkansas River between Leadville and Cañon City, one of the most recreated stretches of river in the U.S.

    “For me the coolest thing about it is that you have these large water utilities in Colorado going above and beyond to do the right thing for the next 50 years,” said Salida-based whitewater park engineer Mike Harvey.

    Ten years ago, Harvey helped the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area craft a report urging Aurora and Colorado Springs to consider recreation and fish when it came time to rebuild the Granite Dam diversion…

    The Arkansas River accounts for more than $74 million of the $177 million in economic impact created by commercial rafting in Colorado. The 102 miles of river in the Upper Arkansas River Valley also ranks among the 322 miles of Colorado waterways that qualify as Gold Medal Fisheries that can yield a dozen large trout per acre. It also supplies a large percentage of water to Colorado Springs and Aurora via the 66-inch pipeline that runs from the Otero Pump Station.

    Rebecca Mitchell, the executive director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, said the project exemplifies the collaboration of the Colorado Water Plan, which gathered perspectives from all types of water users in the state to create a policy roadmap for future water planning across the state.

    Colorado Parks and Wildlife and the conservation board provided $1.2 million in funding through Colorado Water Plan grant programs.

    Aurora, Colorado Springs move toward building additional Homestake reservoir — The Aurora Sentinel

    A wetland area along Homestake Creek in an area that would be flooded by a potential Whitney Reservoir. Aurora and Colorado Springs, seeking to build the reservoir, have recently submitted a drilling application to the U.S. Forest Service to search for fatal flaws in the geology under four potential dam alignments. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    From The Aurora Sentinel (Grant Stringer):

    Local officials say damming a creek between Leadville and Minturn — and routing water normally flowing into the Colorado River — is necessary to sate the future thirsts of a city growing on land where water is scarce.

    Aurora Water and Colorado Springs Utilities recently applied together for a permit to drill underground near the creek and test where a large Whitney Reservoir would be best situated.

    Aspen Journalism first reported the early step to build the reservoir.

    For the dam, the utilities are eyeing four possible locations about six miles southwest of Red Cliff.

    But damming Homestake Creek would also require moving the boundary of the Holy Cross Wilderness, affecting ancient, pristine wetlands.

    Greg Baker, Aurora Water’s manager of public relations, said the Whitney Reservoir could be built in 25 years if key steps such as test drilling on Forest Service land are approved.

    Baker said it’s another creative step to make sure that Aurora doesn’t go dry.

    “You don’t leave anything on the table when you’re in Colorado, because most of the water has been appropriated in river basins,” he said.

    Baker said the reservoir could eventually hold anywhere from 9,000 acre-feet to 19,000 acre-feet of water. The water would then be pumped near Leadville and travel to the Front Range through tunnels to the South Platte River basin.

    Currently, only Aurora and Colorado Springs would benefit, Baker said.

    The project is another alliance between Aurora Water and Colorado Springs Utilities. The two cities — the state’s largest behind Denver — are both growing quickly. Baker said the new reservoir could help ensure the taps keep flowing, especially in an era with snowpack decreases that imperil creeks and rivers.

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

    From The Colorado Springs Independent (Pam Zubeck):

    The two partners in the transmountain Homestake project have applied to the U.S. Forest Service to drill for soils testing at four potential dam sites.

    The Aspen news agency also reported the partners must obtain congressional and presidential approvals to adjust the Holy Cross Wilderness boundary to accommodate a dam.

    If the reservoir is built, water would be pumped through a tunnel under the Continental Divide to Turquoise Reservoir at Leadville and on to the two cities.

    Turrquoise Reservoir, which stores water brought under the Continental Divide from the Eagle, Fryingpan and Roaring Fork river headwaters.

    Lowry Landfill Superfund Site update

    Lowry Landfill 2008

    From The Aurora Sentinel (Grand Stringer):

    For two decades, hydrogeologist Lee Pivonka has monitored toxic waste at and around the Superfund site for Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

    He’s one of the most prominent voices in the state calling for more scrutiny of the site.

    Pivonka told Sentinel Colorado that pollution testing wells — not private wells for drinking — north of the Superfund site boundary were found to have unacceptably high levels of contamination as far back as 1995, when city councillors gave Murphy Creek the green light. Chemicals in many wells have never returned to acceptable levels, he said.

    Dioxine plume Lowry Landfill via The Denver Post.

    In 2002, EPA became concerned with a chemical called 1,4 dioxane. The stuff is widely found in trace amounts in household products such as detergents and shampoos. It is probably a carcinogen if ingested in high-enough concentrations through drinking contaminated water, the EPA says, but most people will not be exposed to it that way in their lifetimes. The New York state legislature recently passed a ban on products with more than trace amounts of 1,4 dioxane. The bill is pending Governor Andrew Cuomo’s signature.

    For Murphy Creek golfers teeing off and residents, the danger is low, the WSDs said.

    Further to their point, it’s unheard of for golfers to drink the creek water. The course itself, like the Murphy Creek neighborhood, is irrigated with clean City of Aurora water.

    But scientists have also monitored 1,4 dioxane because it moves quickly in water. They believe that tracking the chemical could indicate other toxic waste following it.

    As the state government’s lead researcher for the site, Pivonka has watched for the last 20 years and conducted more evidence about the leaking waste. In 2015, he co-authored a lengthy analysis to try and spur new fixes.

    That paper mapped underground chemicals spreading down the Murphy Creek wash past East Jewell Avenue, below the edge of the Murphy Creek Golf Course and the community itself.

    The paper estimated that 425.6 million gallons of contaminated water has leaked from the site in the plume, according to data from about a decade earlier. It’s a worrisome prospect for homes near the plume and on well water, such as the Raders’.

    In the paper, Pivonka recommended that the EPA and the polluters try something new. The EPA recently heeded his suggestion that EPA stop injecting huge amounts of treated water north of the site.

    Water was treated for various chemicals except for 1,4 dioxane, and pumped north of the site until the early 2000s. The WSDs then began treating water for 1,4 dioxane and injecting that north of the site until October 2018.

    But while Pivonka and others conduct their own studies, the EPA and polluters have relied on separate studies and often come to separate conclusions. The debate over how and when the pollution has spread is rooted in a parallel universe of research at the EPA.

    That agency’s conclusions, however, are often based on research commissioned by the WSDs.

    The WSDs told Sentinel Colorado that, based on their information and EPA conclusions, the plan for containing the waste is currently protecting the public.

    Karen Crummy of public relations firm BluePrint Strategies responded to Sentinel Colorado as the WSD spokeswoman. Crummy is routinely a spokesperson for oil and gas industry political causes.

    The group believes the plume exists but is shrinking, pointing to data from a commissioned 2018 study indicating decreases in 1,4 dioxane levels at various locations north of the site.

    Dave Wilmoth, a City and County of Denver official and environmental engineer, recently toured the site. He is a site expert representing Denver in the WSD group…

    Wilmoth said the plan in place is working effectively. The contamination north of the site is little more than trace amounts of 1,4 dioxane, he said, blaming the outdated practice of dumping water contaminated with the stuff beyond the site’s northern barrier wall.

    “No regulations,” he said of 1,4 dioxane. “No one knew.”

    But that was almost two decades ago.

    EPA spokesperson Rich Mylott said the containment plan is “working effectively to prevent off-site exposure to contaminants.”

    However, the EPA is not sure that shallow and deep groundwater is safe from contamination, and directed the WSDs to commission their own studies of possible contamination. Two years ago, the agency declined to say in a multi-year study and report whether the site was adequately protecting the public.

    The possible contamination of aquifers is a huge concern for Pivonka and Rader.

    Two aquifers, the Denver and Dawson, overlap just north of the site where the plume is contaminating surface waters. The Dawson formation lies above the Denver, a 3,000-square mile table of water, separated by a leaky barrier of earth.

    Both are important sources of drinking water for the dry Front Range. Serious contamination would threaten a key resource that scientists believe will become more scarce in the decades to come.

    The EPA also acknowledges the existence of the surface water plume in the review but said the WSDs need to conduct more studies before it creates a plan.

    In the years since, the polluters’ group has been doing just that. They say they are working to get the additional data EPA needs to again find the site remedy “effective and protective.”

    The WSDs said it could also consider new solutions, such as drilling new monitoring wells — in addition to the 500 that already exist — changing how they monitor the groundwater, and studying the impact of injecting water north of the site.

    The prospect of polluters running their own studies for the EPA worries Bonnie Rader, who is now chairing the site Community Advisory Group.

    The group has long received funds from the EPA to hire out its own, independent contractors to study the pollution.

    She doesn’t trust the polluters nor the EPA to reach their own conclusions.

    The CAG consultant, McGinnis and Associates, reviewed a polluter-funded study of the site in 2013. Rader sent the review to a lead scientist at the EPA, who analyzed the study line-by-line, finding inaccuracies and omissions. The errors include misrepresenting levels of 1,4 dioxane in test wells.

    McGinnis also believes the plume is growing, not shrinking.

    It’s emblematic of an information gap that strains relationships between the various consultants and agencies.

    Different studies come to different conclusions, frustrating all parties involved. Technical disagreements can turn sharky in tone.

    Generally, the EPA and polluters believe they should stay the course, while CDPHE and the citizen-hired McGinnis and Associates think more should be done to contain and clean up the waste.

    The EPA and polluters can press ahead with their own plans, but area residents and their consultants are extremely concerned about the leaking waste and continue to pressure them.

    In the 2017 review, EPA staffers conducted interviews with locals. “All private citizens interviewed are concerned about groundwater contamination and the use of private residential wells,” the report says.

    The gulf between the parties has also widened because of little trust and bad communication.

    Four years after his paper’s findings, Pivonka said the EPA and polluters “have not been receptive to the recommendations, and continue the same approach to the site.”

    Rader is disillusioned with the WSDs and their studies. She said she’s been hearing the same old reassurances for the last 30 years while the waste spreads north, closer to her home.

    The polluters’ trust disagrees with the notion that they have not listened to residents, Crummy said. She said WSD representatives regularly attend meetings with locals.

    The mass of evidence, varying conclusions and convictions on all sides leaves residents with vague concerns at best but nightmares at worse about the situation actually harming people…

    …the mere possibility of pollution has encouraged new, suburban residents to forge an alliance with Rader and other environmental crusaders. While a subdivision lies close to the spreading plume, they are vehemently opposed to a new plan to house thousands of new residents on its doorstep, for reasons of their own…

    The Superfund site and its leaking waste was not news to [Nicole] Johnston, who represents the eastern frontier region of the city. She actually became involved in the CAG herself before running for city council, and was interviewed in the EPA’s 2017 review study that downgraded the protectiveness of the site.

    She said that 1,4 dioxane may not even be her biggest concern, compared to other chemicals dumped in the Superfund site.

    “They put some really, really bad things in there,” she said. “Those other, really bad chemicals could be right behind it.”

    Johnston met with Rep. Jason Crow that April afternoon when he visited the plume.

    She said that, although the plume concerns her very much, the possibility of two injection wells about five miles from the site could dramatically change the area’s geology.

    The wells, proposed by Wyoming- and Denver-based Expedition Water Solutions, would flush mostly saltwater and other by-products from oil and gas extraction more than 10,000 feet below the surface.

    Injection wells are known to cause earthquakes in some circumstances, according to the United States Geological Survey.

    But the science that the Superfund site geology could be disrupted is far from certain.

    Zach Neal, a spokesperson for EWS, said the proposed location was the only possible place for the injection wells because of county zoning restrictions.

    He added that the wells would be safely built and regulated. EWS would inject the waste far deeper below the surface than the Denver and Dawson aquifers.

    Arapahoe County officials told Sentinel Colorado that staff are still reviewing the applications, and the state government agency charged with reviewing proposals has not taken action since EWS filed its paperwork in February.

    Arapahoe County Commissioner Jeff Baker represents the Superfund site area and the residents that live in the unincorporated county. He said he’s also worried about the injection well permits and will be scrutinizing them, he said.

    But Baker said he is also open to considering whether the solution to keeping residents safe from the Lowry Landfill should still be trying to contain the waste. He’s open to discussing a plan to clean up the waste, once and for all.

    It’s an idea that Bonnie Rader has clamored for during the last 50 years.