Interview: #Colorado’s Water Leader on the New Water Year — @AudubonRockies #COWaterPlan @CWCB_DNR

The Colorado River. Photo credit: Abby Burk

Here’s an interview with Becky Mitchell Director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, from Abby Burk, that’s running on the Audubon Rockies website:

Interview with Becky Mitchell, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board and Colorado commissioner on the Upper Colorado River Commission.

Rebecca Mitchell was named to the Colorado Water Conservation Board on July 5, 2017. Photo credit the Colorado Independent.

October 1st kicked off the new water year. This is when water managers and water wonks focus on existing water supplies and precipitation predictions. Water years run from October 1st through the following September 30th, and Water Year 2020 is poised to be one we will all be talking about for years to come. During it, we’ll see the start of discussions around the agreement that needs to be reached in 2026 to replace the Colorado River Interim Operating Guidelines, further investigation of a potential Upper Colorado River Basin demand management program after the adoption of the Drought Contingency Plans in 2019, and the launch of the first update to Colorado’s Water Plan. It’s a dynamic time for both Colorado River and Colorado water management!

Abby Burk, western rivers regional program manager for Audubon Rockies, reached out to Becky Mitchell—director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) and Colorado commissioner on the Upper Colorado River Commission—to ask six key questions and learn how she’s leading Colorado through these water milestone moments.

Q: Water is such a broad issue that connects all of us. Colorado’s Water Plan, completed in 2015, is four years old. What have been the plan’s successes and challenges? What is your most celebrated Water Plan implementation project?

A: At the CWCB, we work every day to implement the Water Plan, and because of that, I would call the plan’s biggest success its ability to bring all of the important projects and programs that the agency does into better focus with a cohesive whole. In fact, far beyond the CWCB, the Water Plan continually helps to unite countless efforts occurring throughout the state at every level of the public, private, and nongovernmental sphere. While it will always be an ongoing and iterative process, the concrete goals and objectives of the Water Plan have really helped to motivate our community to collectively address our (many) water challenges, which include maintaining momentum, coordinating efforts at every level, and continually funding the innovative and effective projects.

While it’s hard to pick just one example of a celebrated project, the first one that comes to mind is the Homestake Arkansas River Diversion Project. Currently under construction, this project is managed by the City of Aurora and Colorado Springs Utilities to improve the reliability of a major aging diversion structure while at the same time removing the last critical barrier to boat and fish passage on the Upper Arkansas River and restoring important habitat. The CWCB contributed $700,000 to help fund the project, along with funding from Colorado Parks and Wildlife, various other project supporters, and donated easements from the Pueblo Board of Water Works, totaling $7.7 million.

Q: Water is a critical issue for all Coloradans. Whether you play in/around our world class rivers, irrigate your crops, or take a sip of our abundant clean drinking water, our valuable and limited water supply impacts each of us every day. How will the Water Plan keep pace with a growing Colorado and protect what makes Colorado so special: our rivers?

A: From day one, the Water Plan has been a living document. The plan is fundamentally a broad ongoing effort to collectively meet our state’s evolving water challenges in the most effective and mutually beneficial ways. To keep pace with a growing Colorado, Chapter 11 of the plan sets the process for continually refreshing the plan. We have now unified all of the Water Plan components into three main pillars: the main Water Plan (the primary policy document), the Basin Implementation Plans (the local application of the plan), and the Analysis and Tech Update (the plan’s technical foundation). In summer 2019, we finalized the Tech Update and are now updating the Basin Implementation Plans and the Water Plan to support the Tech Update.

A critical aspect of all of these efforts is protecting our special rivers. The Tech Update included the development of an environmental flow tool to help interpret how potential future stream conditions may change, and how to plan for those impacts. We hope this tool and the wealth of other data in the Tech Update will better inform local efforts to address environmental needs, starting with updated analyses in the Basin Implementation Plans.

Q: This is an exciting time for Colorado River water management with the passage of the Drought Contingency Plan (DCP) and the ramp up to the renegotiation of the 2007 interim guidelines in 2026. Considering the DCP, how are you leading Colorado’s place in exploring a possible demand management program? How is Colorado working with other Upper Basin states in looking at options for demand management?

A: The CWCB has taken two major policy actions regarding a potential demand management program. First, the board passed a support and policy statement back in November, 2018. This statement took into account public comments, stakeholder and water user concerns, as well as board guidance and support for the draft DCPs. This was aimed at guiding the assessment of demand management feasibility.

The board also adopted the 2019 Work Plan in March of this year. This Work Plan represents the first steps toward assessing demand management feasibility as identified in the support and policy statement. The Work Plan tasks CWCB with setting up workgroups to help identify priority issues regarding demand management and holding public regional workshops to garner input and discussion. It also directs the legal, technical, and policy investigations that will inform the Board’s next moves in determining whether a demand management program is appropriate for Colorado.

We communicate regularly with our Upper Basin state partners on their own intrastate efforts to assess demand management feasibility, who are all engaged in similar processes within their borders. As the intrastate investigations continue, the Upper Basin states will share information through the auspices of the Upper Colorado River Commission and their committees to further assess the feasibility of demand management across borders and throughout the Upper Basin.

Q: We have to acknowledge that storage is a part of our water portfolio future. However, none of us have an appetite for big new reservoirs. What are ways that storage can be leveraged for fulfilling the growing needs of water certainty while still supporting Colorado’s healthy rivers?

A: Without sufficient water storage, the vast majority of our current population could not live in this environment; and with a growing population, we will very likely need some additional storage. However, we also need to more effectively manage our existing infrastructure to support healthy rivers.

Examples of this include iterative efforts to re-operate the Ruedi and Chatfield Reservoirs to meet multiple needs, and in the case of Chatfield, to increase storage without raising the dam. Another example is the South Platte Regional Opportunities Water Group, which is currently conducting a feasibility study to examine aquifer storage and recharge, off channel reservoirs, and storage of municipal reuse water, among other things.

Q: What’s your message for people who care about Colorado’s rivers, and the birds and wildlife they support? How will the state take care of its rivers as climate change increases the frequency and intensity of droughts?

A: The takeaway message here is healthy rivers are vital to Colorado’s conservation efforts and quality of life, and the CWCB is committed to maintaining those stream flows for all fish and wildlife that depend on them as well as for the enjoyment of our outdoor recreationists.

More specifically, the CWCB works with partners on appropriating new instream flow water rights to maintain stream flows that support Colorado’s fish, birds, and wildlife and the food and habitat that they need. Particularly in dry years, we work with the Colorado Water Trust, other nonprofit organizations, and water rights owners on leases and other mechanisms for providing and protecting stream flows.

The Tomichi Water Conservation Program involves regional coordination between six water users on lower Tomichi Creek to reduce consumptive use on irrigated meadows as a watershed drought management tool. The project will use water supply as a trigger for water conservation measures during one year in the three-year period. During implementation, participating water users would cease irrigation during dry months. Water not diverted will improve environmental and recreational flows through the Tomichi State Wildlife Area and be available to water users below the project area. Photo credit: Business for Water.

In last year’s example of the Coats Brothers Ditch temporary lease on Tomichi Creek, the ditch owners used the water right for irrigation until July 1, when the CWCB started using it for the Tomichi Creek instream flow water right. This lease provided approximately 202 acre-feet of water to the stream during low flow conditions while providing an economic benefit to the ditch owners. This type of flexible tool is very effective at addressing low flow conditions.

In the face of climate change, which we know will present unique challenges to protecting our rivers and streams, we are committed to finding ways to address those challenges, including working with groups who have identified needs and opportunities in their stream management plans to implement additional stream protection.

Q: What is the one thing that gives you the most hope about where we are heading with water in Colorado?

A: We have engaged stakeholders who care deeply about maintaining the Colorado way of life and the values in the Colorado Water Plan. These stakeholders work with the CWCB, the basin roundtables and communities every day to collaboratively plan for our future and implement projects that drive the Colorado Water Plan forward. These efforts forge partnerships, remove barriers, inspire new generations and encourage a spirit of cooperation that is so important to building multi-purpose, multi-benefit initiatives that meet multiple water needs for farms, urban communities and the environment.

For the Water Plan to be successful, we need to balance all of these needs. Our stakeholders are the lifeblood of Colorado water planning and they serve as a shining example of what public engagement can accomplish.

Colorado water utilities, pushed to respond to climate change, are giving up their energy-guzzling ways — @WaterEdCO

Workers put finishing touches on Denver Water’s new super-sustainable administrative complex. July 17, 2019. Credit: Jerd Smith

From Water Education Colorado (Jerd Smith):

Colorado’s water utilities, seeking environmental street cred and pushed by citizens, are slashing energy use and carbon emissions.

Denver Water, the state’s largest water utility, uses lots, and lots, and lots of energy every year, some 56 million kilowatt hours. That’s roughly the same amount of power that 6,900 homes would use during that same period, according to the U.S. EPA.

Brian Good, the utility’s chief administrative officer, can cite, almost without limit, one energy use statistic after another. That’s because it is his job to take the utility into a new uber sustainable world, one in which it produces as much clean energy as it uses, a quest in the energy world known as “net zero.”

The utility is on track to hit that mark, system-wide, by the end of next year, according to Good.

The heart of the initiative is the utility’s new headquarters on the west side of central Denver. When it is finished it will generate the electricity it needs and will be able to capture rainwater and wastewater on site, treating it so that it can be reused.

Good and others believe the facility will be the most sustainable facility in Colorado. By operating in a way that reduces climate-damaging greenhouse gas emissions, Good said the utility is helping protect the watersheds that are threatened by a warming climate.

“Our water comes from the environment,” Good said, “so we have to demonstrate that we are doing our part to take care of it.”

Large industrial users, such as water utilities and wastewater treatment plants, are among the biggest users of electricity and, as a result, among the biggest emitters of greenhouse gases.

But that may be changing. Utilities from Grand Junction to Englewood, from Colorado Springs to Boulder and Longmont, are investing heavily in climate-friendly technology.

According to a report by the Colorado Energy Office, industrial operations account for one-third of total energy consumption in the United States.

The state is working hard to change that with new laws and emissions goals. By 2050, Colorado plans to have greenhouse gas emissions slashed to the same levels as 2005, according to Michael Turner, director of commercial and industrial energy services for the Governor’s Energy Office.

Water and wastewater utilities are key players in that initiative, according to Turner. He is leading an effort to help major industrial sectors across the state become more sustainable, and he said water and wastewater utilities, as well as large breweries, are poised to make major contributions to the greenhouse gas reduction effort.

“Denver Water has demonstrated that they want to be at the forefront of the conversation,” Turner said. “But a lot of [utilities] have expansive industrial complexes and they have invested in significant reduction goals and projects.”

Net zero is a sort of holy grail in the sustainability world and Denver Water has been chasing it since 2014.

In 18 months, by the end of 2020, the agency will have replaced its 40-year-old, administration building with a new structure that is net zero and whose inner workings include the ability to use carefully constructed interior wetlands to process rainwater from the roof and wastewater generated on-site so that it all can be reused on the campus. The entire seven-building complex will use nearly 60 percent less energy than the old complex, according to Denver Water spokesman Todd Hartman, dropping from 6.25 million kilowatt hours annually to 2.5 million.

“We need to demonstrate the future of sustainable urban water use but also demonstrate that it is not just water. It’s energy as well,” Good said.

Brian Good, chief administrative officer at Denver Water, is leading the effort to help the utility achieve “net zero,” meaning it produces as much clean energy as it uses. July 17, 2019 Credit: Jerd Smith

Once the complex opens, it will have one of the smallest eco footprints possible with existing technologies, Good said. Several of the buildings will be at least partially buried to help reduce heating and cooling loads. Electricity use will be offset by an extensive solar grid and by the utility’s seven hydroelectric plants. All told, the $204 million project is expected to save about $4 million a year in energy costs.

In some parts of the project, Denver Water has pushed out ahead of technologies and the regulators who oversee them.

One Denver building inspector visited the site several months ago to examine its hyper-sophisticated plumbing system for wastewater reuse, only to leave early because he had never seen the technology being deployed and could not render a decision on whether it had been properly installed, according to Good.

The effort to reuse wastewater has been particularly challenging with state regulations still being written for on-site wastewater reuse systems.

“We thought it would be great to capture the rainwater off our roof before it hits the ground. We also thought it would be great to capture our wastewater and use it to flush our toilets. Neither of these was legal at the time [planning began],” Good said.

Since then the utility secured a water right to capture the rainwater, but regulations governing how wastewater can be treated on-site and reused have yet to be finalized, though Denver Water is working with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to develop them.

“We eventually got a permit to build the [wastewater] system,” Good said. “But we still don’t have a permit to run it.”

Denver Water’s net-zero initiative comes as concerns over climate change and rising greenhouse gas emissions grow.

But it isn’t the only large utility spending big bucks to slash emissions.

South Platte Water Renewal Partners, which processes wastewater for Englewood, Littleton and several small water districts, next month will become the first wastewater utility in the state to capture the biogas emitted from its waste treatment facility, converting it to natural gas, and injecting it into a pipeline for Xcel Energy. The program benefits the environment by reducing the amount of methane, a highly damaging greenhouse gas, released into the atmosphere. It also allows SPWRP to earn a climate credit, which it then sells in a climate exchange marketplace.

Grand Junction was the leader in biogas capture and conversion, using the natural gas to fuel its fleet operations.

The City of Boulder’s utility division too is preparing to capture and convert its biogas, rather than flaring it off, and will likely sell it to Western Disposal, a regional trash hauler, according to Cole Sigmon, the project engineer overseeing the program. Western will use the gas to power 15 of its trucks as part of a fleet conversion from diesel to natural gas.

Longmont is close to finalizing its own biogas recapture facility and Colorado Springs is in the midst of a feasibility study.

In addition, when the new National Western Center is completed in 2025, it will be heated with waste heat captured from the Metropolitan Wastewater Reclamation District’s wastewater collection system.

At SPWRP, much of the work has been driven by the cities, their citizenry, and their joint quest for sustainability, said Dan DeLaughter, data and regulatory program manager.

“Water and wastewater [operations] account for 35 percent of municipal energy bills,” DeLaughter said. “So we are continuously looking for ways to reduce energy use.”

As the solar panels go up at Denver Water’s new complex and the high-tech interior wetlands are built, Good continues to watch the electric meter reports.

Two years ago, he said, even before the complex was complete, the utility almost hit net zero, thanks to the large amounts of power its hydroelectric plants were able to produce that year.

By the end of 2020, Good believes the utility should be able to fully hit the net zero mark.

“It’s going to be close, but we set a stretch goal. If we miss, we’ll keep plugging away. If we hit it, we will set a new goal,” he said.

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

“We know population will double by 2050, and we know the rivers won’t” — Chris Matkins

Poudre River Bike Path bridge over the river at Legacy Park photo via Fort Collins Photo Works.

From The Fort Collins Coloradoan (Jacy Marmaduke):

The all-American ideal of an expansive, emerald green lawn accounts for almost two-thirds of the average Fort Collins resident’s water bill.

But the two main water providers serving Fort Collins taps — Fort Collins Utilities and Fort Collins-Loveland Water District — want to change that. The two districts are focusing increasingly on outdoor irrigation to meet conservation goals and deal with the water demands of a growing population…

Fort Collins Utilities provides water to most of Fort Collins north of Harmony. Fort Collins-Loveland Water District provides water to most of Fort Collins south of Harmony as well as parts of Loveland, Timnath, Windsor and Larimer County.

Fort Collins Utilities, whose water use has consistently declined since the ’80s, has a goal of reducing water use another 10% by 2030. Fort Collins-Loveland Water District is headed toward a goal of reducing water use 10% between 2015 and 2024.

“We know population will double by 2050, and we know the rivers won’t,” said Chris Matkins, Fort Collins-Loveland Water District general manager. “So we understand that we’ve got to make some changes.”

Fort Collins Utilities has lowered its overall water use since the ’80s, and the community’s per-capita use reached 143 gallons a day in 2018 (down from 248 in 1989). Fort Collins-Loveland Water District’s per-capita use reached about 177 gallons a day in 2014 and has significantly declined since then, Matkins said.

#COleg: Upper #ColoradoRiver Basin demand management program update, Interim Water Resources Committee meeting recap #COriver #aridification

Changing nature of Colorado River droughts, Udall/Overpeck 2017.

From Water Education Colorado (Larry Morandi):

A local legislator is questioning the need for a new drought contingency plan on the Colorado River that would help boost supplies in Lake Powell and protect the state against a future demand for its water from California, Arizona and Nevada.

State Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, has questioned a possible water conservation plan that could become part of the drought plan that all seven states that share the river – Wyoming, Utah, New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona, Nevada and California – signed earlier this year.

As part of that agreement, the Upper Basin states —Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and New Mexico — were for the first time ever given the legal right to store extra water in Lake Powell that is not subject to mandatory releases to the Lower Basin’s Lake Mead. The storage pool is authorized to hold up to 500,000 acre-feet of water — enough for roughly 1 million homes — and could help the Upper Basin meet future obligations to the Lower Basin during an especially dry period on the river.

But now the Upper Basin states are exploring whether it makes sense to create a so-called demand management program that would pay farmers and cities to voluntarily and temporarily slash their water use —and be compensated for it — and to take that saved water and put it in Lake Powell.

Sonnenberg has questioned the need for the program, saying that as long as Colorado complies with the rules of the 1922 Colorado River Compact, its water users should be protected by the courts from any legal demands from the Lower Basin states.

“Are we worried that the Supreme Court would not hold our compact to the letter of the law?” Sonnenberg asked. His questions came during a meeting earlier this month of the state legislature’s Interim Water Resources Review Committee.

In fact, the main concern isn’t the terms of the 1922 compact, but the ability of the Colorado River to continue supplying the 40 million people who rely on its flows. If flows drop too low, due to ongoing drought and climate change, then the Upper Basin might have difficulty meeting its compact obligations to the Lower Basin, putting its water users at risk. Agriculture producers and communities across the state rely on the Colorado River, and major metropolitan areas, including Denver, import Colorado River water to serve their residents and industries.

But Sonnenberg isn’t alone. The likely focus on ag cutbacks troubles Rep. Marc Catlin (R-Montrose), former manager of the Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Association.

“We’re still looking at agriculture as a living reservoir that we don’t have to build,” he said, “because we can just keep chipping away at the acreage.”

And Catlin questioned the temporary nature of the program, citing testimony from earlier in the meeting by Colorado State University climate scientist Brad Udall suggesting stream flows throughout the Colorado River Basin will continue to drop due to higher temperatures, earlier runoff and reduced snowpack, creating a permanent, rather than temporary, need for the water.

Rebecca Mitchell, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB), said the water-saving effort could give everyone breathing room, so that if and when Colorado River supplies drop, the seven states can manage the issue themselves, rather than relying on the courts.

Since irrigated agriculture consumes 85 percent of water in the West, cutting back farm water use to fill the Lake Powell pool is one method that would most likely be used if Colorado ultimately decides to create this conservation program. Mitchell and her agency have committed that no matter the shape the program takes it would be voluntary, temporary, and compensated.

Andy Mueller, general manager of the Glenwood Springs-based Colorado River Water Conservation District, said he isn’t sold on the need for the conservation program, but that Colorado water users need to be looking ahead in order to be prepared. “The concern has to be where we are headed right now,” he said.

Surplus deliveries to the Lower Basin from high water years in 2011 and 2012 have dropped off, he noted, and “we can see a rising risk of the Upper Basin being in a position where we may violate the compact.”

Committee chair, Sen. Kerry Donovan (D-Wolcott), committee chair, said the uncertainty that lies ahead should be dealt with now, “We don’t know [the potential for a compact call] but not knowing that, and the significance of the issue we’re dealing with, is motivation enough to not go through the experience of learning the answer after (we spend) years in the court system.”

The CWCB, which has convened a series of public work groups to study the feasibility of the new drought pool, has not set a deadline for a decision on the program.

Renewable Water Resources San Luis Valley transmountain diversion project update

Aerial view of the San Luis Valley’s irrigated agriculture. Photo by Rio de la Vista.

From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

Dangling money, the developers at Renewable Water Resources — which counts former Gov. Bill Owens as a principal — contend that because the urban Front Range is the richest part of the state, it has the potential to give the most to the poorest.

They envision pumping 22,000 acre-feet per year from 14 wells drilled 2,000 feet deep at the foot of the Sangre de Cristo mountains, building a pipeline costing $250 million to $600 million, and then pumping water at least 40 miles northward over Poncha Pass toward Front Range cities.

“We need between 300,000 acre-feet and 500,000 acre-feet of new water for the Front Range. The question is: Where’s that going to come from?” said Sean Tonner, managing partner of Renewable Water Resources.

“We can take it out of the Colorado River, but we know what the stresses are there. The Poudre River? The Arkansas? The South Platte is already the most over-appropriated river. Folks are looking at moving water from the Mississippi River back to Colorado,” he said. “These are the lengths people are looking to for adding water.”

Exporting San Luis Valley water would be “fairly easy” compared with other options, Tonner said…

The San Luis Valley retort? “There is no win-win,” said Cleave Simpson, manager of the Rio Grande Water Conservation District and a farmer, who has been traveling statewide to make the case against this trans-basin diversion of water…

The intensifying water battle here reflects the rising tensions and inequities across the arid western United States, where water and control over water looms as a primary factor of power. Thirsty Castle Rock, Parker, Castle Pines and other south metro Denver suburbs, where household incomes top $110,000 and development has depleted the groundwater, can marshal assets that dwarf those of farmers in the San Luis Valley, where families’ average income is less than $35,000…

State officials in Denver say they will study Renewable Water Resources’ proposal once the developers file it at the state water court in Alamosa.

“We’ll have to have a perspective of being open to anything,” said Colorado Department of Natural Resources director Dan Gibbs, declining to take a position…

A Renewable Water Resources diagram provided to The Denver Post presented details of a water-siphon project that would begin near Moffat on a company-owned ranch with 14 wells spaced 1 mile apart. A pipeline, 24 inches to 32 inches in diameter, would convey no more than 22,000 acre-feet of water per year northward at least 40 miles over Poncha Pass to Salida, and also to a point west of Fairplay, Tonner said.

San Luis Valley water then could be diverted into the Arkansas River, the Eleven Mile Reservoir used by Colorado Springs and the upper South Platte River that flows into a series of Denver Water reservoirs, he said.

The exported valley water purchased by south Denver suburbs ultimately would be stored in the newly enlarged Chatfield Reservoir southwest of Denver and Parker’s Rueter-Hess Reservoir, still barely half full. Suburban water users would pay the cost of the pipelines, Tonner said, and Renewable Water Resources would use $68 million raised from investors to purchase water rights in the valley — rights to pump 32,000 acre-feet of water for irrigation. But the developers would export no more than 22,000 acre-feet a year. The difference would mean a net gain for the aquifer…

At least 40 farmers have inquired about selling water rights, some of them meeting with former Gov. Owens and other Renewable Water Resources officials. Tonner also declined to identify those farmers…

The ethics of siphoning water away from low-income areas toward the richest parts of the state would have to be considered as part of the state’s water project planning process, said Rebecca Mitchell, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

“That is definitely something that has to be looked at. Is that the way we want to grow as a state? Is that what the value structure is?” Mitchell said. “There are cases where those (trans-basin diversions) can be win-win. But without the buy-in of the local community, there are going to be struggles.”

In recent months, Renewable Water Resources’ principals have been working quietly in the valley, meeting with farmers and proposing the creation of a $50 million “community fund” and possibly other payments. Just the annual interest income from such a fund could exceed Saguache County’s current budget, Tonner said.

By paying farmers for a portion of their water rights, Renewable Water Resources could help them stay on their land, perhaps growing different crops that require less water such as hemp, and infuse the valley with the $50 million and possibly other payments while also retiring wells to ensure a net gain of water in the aquifer.

‘Greywater’ Could Help Solve Colorado’s Water Problems. Why Aren’t We All Using It? — Colorado Public Radio

Graywater system schematic.

From Colorado Public Radio (Michael Elizabeth Sakas):

Colorado was the last Western state to legalize greywater usage in 2013. Officials say that by 2050, our water supply could fall short for over one million people. Climate change makes the future of Colorado water even more uncertain.

Colorado’s Water Plan wants to close the gap and recognizes greywater as one tool to help make that happen. However, not a single state-approved greywater system has been built since it was legalized. Only Denver, Castle Rock and Pitkin County have adopted the code, known as Regulation 86, that regulates how greywater gets done in the state.

Avery Ellis isn’t happy about that. He was closely involved when the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment set the rules.

“It takes a little civil disobedience and a little public support to push these laws into local adoption,” the greywater installer said.

In his yard in Longmont, there are young trees and shrubs that are watered through one of his greywater systems.

Longmont isn’t Denver or Castle Rock and it’s nowhere near Pitkin County. In addition to his water saving rebellion, Ellis teaches and helps others how to go greywater without a permit. Because so far, even in the places where it’s been adopted, no one has even applied for a greywater permit.

Not a single one.

In Colorado, only two types of greywater systems are legal. This first one is called “laundry to landscape.” The second is more complicated and costly. Wastewater from a shower or sink is collected in a storage tank and is used for the landscape or to flush toilets. There’s internal plumbing and the water needs to be filtered and treated and can’t be stored for more than 48 hours…

There’s been some interest in these water saving systems in Pitkin County, which adopted greywater in 2018, but environmental health manager Kurt Dahl thinks that “due to the complication of the regulation they didn’t see the benefit.”

[…]

The city of Castle Rock is the newest to adopt the state’s greywater rules, but only for new construction. Retrofitting an old home or building isn’t allowed. Mark Marlowe, the director of Castle Rock Water, cites cost as the contributing factor behind that decision…

That doesn’t mean it won’t ever happen, Marlowe said, but they don’t have the resources to allow just anyone to put in a greywater system.

And that’s why some cities and counties have chosen not to take on greywater at all. Douglas County said it would be too complicated and costly for the county to oversee. They also point to the potential for public health risks.

Boulder won’t either, at least right now. Joe Taddeucci, the city water resources manager, said they first need to study if adopting greywater is worth it. One major concern are water rights. Does the city have the OK to use greywater on lawns, instead of sending it back to the river for the next user downstream? How much water would actually be conserved? And what would it take to regulate this?

…One of the only examples of a large-scale greywater system in the state is a dorm at the University of Colorado Boulder. Williams Village North was built with plumbing that collects wastewater from showers and sinks to flush toilets. Since the city of Boulder hasn’t adopted greywater, the system operates under a research exemption.

“Testing for chlorine levels, alkaline levels. And greywater systems of this size and magnitude are still fairly new technology, and we do want to make sure that we understand it better before we implement in a new building.”

At peak use, when students are in school and the dorm is full, the system uses about 2,000 gallons of greywater a day to flush toilets. It’s an example of where some of the biggest year-round savings can happen.

Sybil Sharvelle, an associate engineering professor at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, has been involved in greywater research for nearly 20 years. She also advised the state on the rules and is disappointed to see all the growth and construction over the past 10 years has failed to include greywater.

@ASU water policy expert addresses new #drought plan: State will take less water from the #ColoradoRiver under a new contingency plan #DCP #COriver #aridification

Lake Mead, behind Hoover Dam, shows the effects of nearly two decades of drought. (Image: Bureau of Reclamation)

Here’s the release from Arizona State University (Marshall Terrill):

The Southwest’s long-standing drought has left the state staring down a historic and first-ever Colorado River water cutback in 2020.

Starting Jan. 1, Arizona will see a 6.9% reduction of Colorado River water under the Lower Basin Drought Contingency Plan, which was finalized in May with California, Nevada and the federal government. Mexico will give up 3% of its allotment under a separate agreement.

The cuts are part of a plan to keep Lake Mead, a reservoir at the Arizona-Nevada boundary, functional. Water levels for both Lake Mead and Lake Powell have precipitously dropped as a result of historic over-allocation and a drought that started in 2000.

ASU Now spoke to Sarah Porter, director of the Kyl Center for Water Policy at ASU’s Morrison Institute for Public Policy, about the cutbacks and what they will mean for Arizona’s agriculture and the state’s roughly 7 million residents.

Sarah Porter, director of the Kyl Center for Water Policy at ASU’s Morrison Institute for Public Policy. Photo credit: Arizona State University

Question: Are these cuts a move that has been anticipated for some time, and should Arizona residents be worried?

Answer: Yes, the cuts have been anticipated and were agreed to by the parties to the Drought Contingency Plan or DCP. In fact, until a few months ago, we expected deeper cuts, but good mountain snowpack last winter and aggressive conservation efforts shored Lake Mead up a bit. The cuts are part of a larger plan to safeguard the Colorado River system. The plan was negotiated for several years and finalized this spring.

The Lower Basin DCP incentivizes conserving water in Lake Mead while also imposing bigger and bigger cuts should lake levels fall to certain levels. Water users on the Central Arizona Project, which brings Colorado River water to central and southern Arizona, are in line to take largest cuts because they are the lowest priority users.

The 2020 cuts won’t really be felt by Arizona water users because the state has never built out demand for all of its Colorado River supplies. For years, Arizona water managers have used “extra” Colorado River water for aquifer recharge and other purposes. Annually starting in 2015, Arizona has voluntarily conserved in Lake Mead the equivalent amount of this year’s cut.

Rather than worry, Arizona residents should continue to find ways to permanently use water more efficiently. Statewide, Arizona uses the same amount of water today as it did in the mid-1950s, though we now have seven or eight times the population and a much larger economy. There are still lots of opportunities to stretch our water supplies through conservation and efficiency measures.

Q: Who will be the first group of people to feel the sting of cuts in Colorado River supplies?

A: If Lake Mead falls below 1,075-feet elevation, Arizona will take additional cuts and farmers in Pinal County will be the first to feel the impacts. They plan to turn to groundwater (that is, water pumped from wells) to make up for some of those cuts.

Cities are in a different situation. Municipal providers that use CAP supplies tend to have high priority rights, so they would be among the last CAP users to experience cuts. Many cities in the Phoenix and Tucson areas have diverse water portfolios, including groundwater, reclaimed water and other surface water, which gives them a measure of resilience against cuts in Colorado River supplies. And since passage of the 1980 Groundwater Management Act, growth has been tied to long-term water supplies in the state’s most populous areas, so water providers must plan well in advance for foreseeable supply reductions.

Q: So if agricultural is the first to take a hit, will this mean the cost of fruits and vegetables will likely go up — and by how much?

A: That’s a question for an economist, but I will note that Arizona’s agriculture industry is not monolithic when it comes to water supplies. Right now, only Pinal County farmers are facing cuts — other Arizona farmers have higher priority Colorado River rights or get their water from other sources. Two-thirds of Pinal County’s agricultural revenues come from cattle and dairy. That production will not be directly affected by cuts in CAP deliveries. The county’s main irrigated crops are cotton and hay.

Q: What’s the effect going to be on individual households and what should consumers be mindful of, or start practicing?

A: For some households, water rates may increase as their water providers take additional steps to ensure water deliveries in the event of decreased Colorado River supplies. In addition, some households in newer developments in Maricopa, Pinal and Pima Counties depend on groundwater and are required to pay into a fund to purchase water supplies to replenish the groundwater withdrawn for their use. This amount shows up as an assessment on county property-tax bills. As fewer supplies become available, the costs of water to meet the replenishment obligation may also increase.

We should always treat water as the precious resource it is here in Arizona. The single best way for an individual household to help is to permanently reduce the amount of water used for outside landscaping.

Q: Is this going to be the new normal or a sign of things to come?

A: We should think of this as the new normal. Lake Mead is over-allocated. The prolonged drought has exacerbated the problem because it results in less extra water in the system. There are signs that the region is aridifying, meaning that average flows in the Colorado River may decrease.

We shouldn’t overlook the conservation efforts that are critical to keeping the Colorado River system functional. The Drought Contingency Plan includes important ground rules for conserving water in Lake Mead, and Arizona’s Colorado River Indian Tribes and the Gila River Indian Community, along with CAP, will be conserving and storing significant quantities of water in the lake.

Changing nature of Colorado River droughts, Udall/Overpeck 2017.