FromThe Douglas County News-Press (Thelma Grimes):
As afternoon rainstorms have continued through spring and early summer, officials of the Centennial Water and Sanitation District, the water provider in Highlands Ranch, warn residents that the community is still under a drought watch designation.
“A drought is not just about precipitation,” said Swithin Dick, water rights administrator for Centennial Water. “Precipitation is one part of the equation, but you also have to look at snowpack, water runoff, demand and water supply.”
Centennial Water monitors the water supply for the community daily. On July 7, Centennial Water’s reservoir storage was 8,048-acre feet, or 47% of 17,200 acre-feet total capacity. Centennial Water’s median storage level for July over the past 10 years has been 8,904 acre-feet, or 52% of the capacity…
“Despite the precipitation we have received over the past month, the storage level in our reservoirs has declined,” Dick said. “This is because community water demand has increased, which is offsetting the water we have been able to capture.”
Dick said water supplies are based on water rights priority in the region. Water rights determine who is able to capture the water for use…
Centennial Water has three stages for measuring drought condition. In April, the Centennial Water Board of Directors approved the lowest stage level, drought watch. The drought watch designation is for residents in Highlands Ranch, Solstice, and portions of northern Douglas County.
If drought conditions get worse, the board can approve two new stages, Drought Stage 1 and Drought Stage 2, which would mean higher fees to further encourage residents to practice water conservation.
For instance, a resident who uses between 101% and 120% of the allotted amount, rates would go from $5.52 per 1,000 gallons to $6.95 under a Stage 1 designation. Under a Stage 2 designation, rates would increase to $8.38.
FromThe Tri-Lakes Tribune (Benn Farrel) via The Colorado Springs Gazette:
With limited water resources, the Town of Monument looks to encourage water conservation among residents while the area is experiencing high temperatures in its semi-arid climate and increased water demand.
As the town invests $22 million in improvements to the infrastructure of its water system, an increase in water production and additional storage is in the near future. However, to maintain healthy landscapes around the community, the town is encouraging responsible water practices, implementing water restrictions and has offered tips to efficient water use…
Properties within the service of Triview Metropolitan District are also under restrictions from May 1 through Sept. 30 every year…
Properties which use the Woodmoor Water and Sanitation District are restricted from June 1 to Sept. 30…
On May 31, the Town of Monument released an informational video, “Conserving water using rain barrels,” on its YouTube channel, informing residents of their rights to conserve rainwater with rain barrels and how to do it. A few years ago, the State of Colorado legislature passed House Bill 16-1005 which allows single-family residences to collect rainwater in two barrels maximum, each up to 110 gallons, to be used solely for outdoor use and not consumption or indoor use. It also mandates the top of the barrels must be sealed to prevent pests from getting in.
The bill was geared toward helping homeowners offset the use of their irrigation systems for their landscaping.
Residents of the Town of Monument, who use of the town’s water system, are offered a $50 rebate if receipts for the rain barrel purchases are provided and their account with the Monument Water Department is current. The rebate is given in the form of a credit toward the account.
Tips for installing the rain barrels are available on the Town of Monument’s YouTube channel, or by visiting the town’s website, tomgov.org, clicking on the “Community” tab and visiting the Garden & Landscaping page.
The Triview Metropolitan District is presently making a transition from making use of the non-renewable groundwater from the Denver Basin to renewable surface water. Last year, the district acquired 568-acre feet of water rights and purchased another 1,000-acre feet of water storage in April. Triview acquired nearly 850 acres of land to be used for the development of two large reservoirs which are near completion.
Monument is planning to install a new water treatment system in the coming months that will remove radium from one of its wells allowing it to start serving the town again.
The town expects to spend about $1.5 million on the new water treatment system, an associated building and lab space. The work will expand an existing facility at Second Street and Beacon Lite Road, said Tom Tharnish, Monument’s public works director.
Extended exposure to radium, a naturally occurring element and common along the Front Range, can cause cancer and other health problems over time, according to the Environmental Protection Agency…
The problem was discovered in the city’s 9th well about four years ago and no unsafe levels of radium ever reached residents’ taps. Monument’s engineers designed a system that diluted the radium to safe levels, but that proved to be only a temporary fix. The well was shut down late last year while the town worked on a more permanent solution, Tharnish said.
The new filtration system will employ a resin that will filter out the radium at the end of the water treatment process, he said…
The new technology will also come with ongoing maintenance costs. The resin will need to be replaced every year to 18 months and will require between $18,000 to $20,000, Tharnish said…
Monument’s board of trustees approved drilling a 10th well in November to help offset the loss of water from the well that had to be shut off because of radium pollution. The work was expected to cost $624,975. The new well is expected to be in production next week, Tharnish said.
The community is also seeking additional water rights, so that it doesn’t need to rely as heavily on its groundwater, Wilson said.
Much of the groundwater pumped up from the Denver basin in northern and central El Paso County flows down Monument or Fountain creeks, never to be seen again after it’s been used and treated once.
Colorado Springs Utilities, Monument and six groundwater districts want to see that water returned back to homes and businesses to be reused and to help ease the pressure on groundwater.
The groundwater that’s already flowed through showers, sinks and toilets once could potentially be treated and reused twice, and that could help the diminishing aquifer last longer, said Jenny Bishop, a senior project engineer with the water resources group within Colorado Springs Utilities.
Reusing the water could reduce the amount of fresh groundwater that must be pumped annually, limit the need for new wells, give districts more time to pursue additional water rights and make the most of a finite resource, she said. The deeper groundwater in El Paso County is not replenished by rain or other natural sources.
While Colorado Springs Utilities does not rely on Denver basin groundwater, future water reuse projects identified by an ongoing study involving Monument and the groundwater districts could rely on Utilities infrastructure. In recent years, Utilities has also started to focus more on effective water use across the county.
Utilities “recognizes that long-term water security for the Pikes Peak region depends on the efficient use and reuse of reusable water supplies,” Bishop said.
The Pikes Peak Regional Water Authority Regional Water Reuse Study is going to determine how and where groundwater could be diverted from Monument or Fountain creeks and returned to the water providers. It’s possible the water could be diverted below Colorado Springs and may require new water storage, such as a reservoir or a tank, she said.
Larger projects that could serve multiple water providers, such as Tri-View and Forest Lakes metro districts, are expected to be efficient, Bishop said. The study could also recommend more than one project to recapture water, she said.
Not all of the groundwater that is pumped up from the ground will be available for reuse, because some of it goes into outdoor irrigation, some is used up by thirsty residents, some is lost in the treatment process and some is lost to evaporation in the creeks, among other points of loss. But the water returned to districts could be substantial…
The following water providers are participating the water reuse study although not all of them would benefit from groundwater flowing back to be used again. Some are interested in portions of the project like additional water storage
Woodmoor Water and Sanitation District
Town of Monument
Triview Metropolitan District
Forest Lakes Metropolitan District
Cherokee Metropolitan District
Donala Water and Sanitation District
Security Water District
Colorado Springs Utilities…
The $100,000 study to identify the projects that would allow the most water reuse may be finished by the end of the year. The document is expected to project cost estimates for construction and operation of the projects. The work could include new water storage, such as reservoirs.
Funding, permitting and designing the projects is expected to take a few years as well, Bishop said.
The Elizabeth Board of Trustees voted to adopt the 2021 budget at the Dec. 8 meeting. The budget was submitted in October, and a public hearing was held Nov. 24, where taxpayers were given the chance to raise any objections. The budget includes five funds—the general fund, street maintenance fund, street capital improvement fund, water sewer fund and a capital improvement fund, and the estimated balance of all funds going into 2021 totals $12,666,057…
The estimated general fund for 2021 includes $50,689 from unappropriated surpluses, and projects $2,134,782 from other sources such as water and sewer fees. Property taxes will account for $631,286, bringing the general fund total to $2,816,757. The general fund is used to pay for administration, courts, police services, community development and parks and building maintenance.
The street maintenance fund estimates $461,947, the street capital improvement fund comes in at $4,773,644, the water sewer fund is estimated at $4,243,709, and the capital improvement fund at $370,000.
At the Monument Board of Trustees meeting Aug. 3, 2020…approved two resolutions to continue water projects which have been on hiatus.
Trustees reviewed a resolution to award a project agreement to Forsgren Associates Inc. for the continued design and development of a new two-gallon [two million gallon] water storage tank and associated pipeline into the town’s water system. Public works director Tom Tharnish said a lot of preliminary work had already been done by Forsgren Associates and continuing the project with the firm would quicken the project’s timeline.
The agreement would allow the majority of the engineering for the project, which involved a change in the size of the tank from 1.2 million gallons. The town is already $60,000 into the project, Tharnish said. When originally developing a 1.2 million gallon tank, the additional capacity required for the upcoming reuse pipeline wasn’t considered…
Another resolution was presented to the board to award a contract to Lytle Water Solutions LLC for the design and development of a new water well at the Water Treatment Plant.
Given recent emergency repairs to Wells No. 3 and No. 8, Tharnish said the department’s senior water technicians approached him with concerns for the same incident occurring later this year…
The idea is to drill a new well on the Well No. 4-5 site and build a short pipe to the existing treatment plant. Since this would create additional flow to an existing plant, the plans for the well have to be approved by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
Tharnish said the new well, which would draw from the Arapahoe basin, would produce 190-200 gallons per minute. Presently, Wells No. 4 and 5 produces 100 and 60 gallons per minute, respectively, which is the way the state has permitted them, he said. Trustees approved the resolution 6-0.
Town Manager Mike Foreman said the town is getting ready to sell revenue bonds prior to November to help fund the water projects planned for the next five years and a workshop with the board to review all future water projects would be forthcoming. Foreman said the town has the opportunity to sell $15-20 million in bonds over the next five years.
Tharnish noted Well No. 3 is repaired and operational, producing 25 gallons per minute more than it did previous to experiencing a failure July 5.
FromThe Douglas County News Press (Elliott Wenzler):
A 2-million-gallon underground water tank, which will be the final piece of major infrastructure for the regional Water Infrastructure and Supply Efficiency (WISE) project, is under construction in northwest Douglas County…
“This will be big enough to provide most of the (water) demands that would be necessary for Douglas County for a long time,” said Mary Kay Provaznik, general manager of Dominion Water and Sanitation.
The $5 million project will provide storage for drinking water to the customers of Dominion Water and fire-flow capacity for the Highway 85 corridor. About half of the capacity will go to emergency services, which can be shared in the region, according to a release from the water district.
The tank, which will hold as much water as three Olympic-size swimming pools, will be 30 feet tall and buried in an area between Roxborough Park and Louviers…
“The interest in developing in this area is now possible,” Provaznik said. “Nobody knew how they could develop because there was no way to get renewable water. Now there’s a choice.”
Dominion Water, a special district serving a 33,000 acre area in northwest Douglas County, was formed in 2004 and includes Sterling Ranch, Roxborough and Sedalia.
Construction on the High Zone Water Storage project began in April and is expected to be completed by the end of the year, she said.
El Paso County’s Planning and Community Development Department has been recognized with an Achievement Award from the National Association of Counties. The awards honor innovative, effective county government programs that strengthen services for residents. The department won its 2020 NACo Achievement Award in the Planning Category for its Water Master Plan. This is the second award for the El Paso County Water Master Plan, which also won an award from the American Planning Association (Colorado Chapter) in 2019.
“It is a great honor for El Paso County to be recognized by the National Association of Counties for our Water Master Plan. El Paso County has developed into a national leader in the area of planning for growth and development, particularly with respect to potential impacts to our most important natural resource, water,” said El Paso County Planning and Community Development Executive Director Craig Dossey. “The Water Master Plan provides guidance that is intended to inform future land use decisions, to help ensure that we as a community are able to balance the efficient use of our limited water supplies with the water needs of the current and future residents of our great county.”
The Water Master Plan examines the current state of water resources in El Paso County and provides an overview of county water supply needs to sustain the current population and accommodate growth through the year 2060. The Water Master Plan is a tool used to evaluate development proposals and guide county officials, staff, citizens and water providers as the region experiences significant growth in the coming years. It is an element of the overall County Master Plan, which is currently being developed.
The public can participate in the Master Plan development process and virtually provide feedback on the County Master Plan via interactive online activities at http://ElPaso.HLPlanning.com.
A fast-growing Douglas County city has filed a new claim for water on the South Platte River, a move that could allow it to boost its future water supplies by some 60 percent.
But the action could also undermine SPROWG, an innovative, collaborative effort by more than a dozen Front Range communities to capture and reuse water on the South Platte River near the Nebraska state line and return it to Eastern Plains farm communities, northern Front Range cities, and the metro area.
Parker’s legal move to claim water rights in the same region, in partnership with the Sterling-based Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District, is unfolding just as SPROWG completed a major feasibility study indicating its project could be built for roughly $3.2 billion to $4.2 billion.
Parker’s project, slated to be done in about 10 years, would add 20,000 acre-feet to the city’s current supply of 34,400 acre-feet…
Though SPROWG’s feasibility study has been completed, years of planning lie ahead before the cooperative effort is ready to deliver water, with a completion date yet to be set.
“We are light years ahead of them,” said Ron Redd, manager of the Parker Water and Sanitation District. “We’ve offered to partner on anything they want to do. I hope, especially when it comes to storage, they will want to partner. But we are just way ahead of them.”
The Berthoud-based Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, whose boundary encompasses much of the northern Front Range and extends out to the Nebraska border, is alarmed by Parker’s $500 million proposal, saying it violates the spirit of collaborative water planning embodied in SPROWG and that it could dramatically shrink the amount of water available for others at the table.
“It’s disappointing to me,” said Brad Wind, general manager of Northern Water. “SPROWG was initiated as a community effort. We were going to share the good, the bad and the ugly. When one entity files, it’s a much different process to look at community involvement and decide how to share the yield.”
Parker and the Lower South Platte district plan to develop at least 20,000 acre-feet of water for urban use, a number that rises to 30,000 acre-feet when the agriculture component is added in, according to Joe Frank, manager of the Lower South Platte district.
Frank also said Parker’s project is important to northeastern Colorado because it won’t result in a permanent dry-up of farmland and will give farmers in his district a more reliable source of water, helping stabilize farm communities that are already struggling.
Parker’s Redd said he’s hopeful, given the similarities between the two proposals, that a partnership can be developed with the existing SPROWG collaboration.
“I like the idea of controlling our own destiny,” he said. “And right now we’re assuming we’re going it alone. But my hope is they will join us.”
Jerd Smith is editor of Fresh Water News. She can be reached at 720-398-6474, via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or @jerd_smith.
More than 365 parties in Elbert County have filed statements of opposition with the Colorado Water Court, in District 1, against a request by Independence developers to amend the uses for 75 acre-feet of water per year to include domestic, municipal, industrial, commercial, stock watering, fire protection and exchange and augmentation purposes, both on and off the subject property. Original decreed uses are for in-house and irrigation on the subject property.
A public notice published in the Elbert County News Dec. 19 raised concerns from citizens that developers would be allowed to take water off the property and sell it, and the increased uses would affect the water in their wells, which draw from the Upper Dawson aquifer.
Elbert County citizens rallied and held public meetings to share information about how to address the concerns, with some expressing mistrust of county commissioners and Craft Companies, the developers of Independence. Concerned residents had until Jan. 31 to file a statement of opposition with the water court, if they felt the change would affect their wells. More than 365 did so, with some residents combining their statements and hiring an attorney, and others filing individually.
“I’ve entered about 365 parties so far, and I’m not done,” said water court clerk Connie Coppes on Feb. 3.
Jill Duvall, who helped organize the public meetings, said residents have filed out of a need for self-preservation, since the majority of residents in Elbert County rely on well water.
“More than 90 percent of us out here are on wells. If they run dry we’re done,” said Duvall. “I think the main concern for all of us is them taking the water off the property. And we would like to see them take the water from the lower aquifers for construction.”
The water in question comes from five bedrock aquifers in the Denver Basin aquifer system, with Upper and Lower Dawson being in Elbert County. Other aquifers include Denver, Arapahoe and Laramie-Fox Hills, all of which have their eastern extent in Elbert County.
Susan Schick, a member of Independence Water Warriors, agreed that the potential to take water off site is a big concern, but also said many don’t trust county commissioners to stop it from happening if the time comes.
“Primarily we don’t want the water to go off site,” said Schick. “The county commissioners have confirmed that a public hearing would be needed before that could happen, but we don’t trust that they would respect the wishes of the public if that time came. I don’t think our commissioners are planning for those of us who are already out here.”
Commissioner Chris Richardson has maintained that no water will ever leave the county.
“Bottom line is that there is to be no transfer of water out of the county, and any use/sale off the development but within the county can only be approved in a public hearing with the BOCC,” Richardson stated in a previous interview.
With so many statements of opposition filed with the water court, it could be quite a while before Craft’s request for a water amendment could be approved, or denied…
Craft representatives have expressed a willingness to speak with concerned citizens, both during public meetings and in previous Elbert County News stories. They issued this statement regarding the filing of statements of opposition.
“We have repeatedly offered to answer any questions regarding the Upper Dawson amendment by listing our outreach representative’s contact information (Peter Wall) on social media and in two local community articles (Elbert County News and Ranchland News). To date, our representative has not received a single inquiry from those opposing this amendment. As we’ve stated, we used standard language in the Upper Dawson amendment — language that is well within our rights. In fact, the language we used is the same language that has also been used in many of our opposers’ decrees.
Dominion, a wholesale district, has the vision to develop a renewable water and centralized wastewater system for northwest Douglas County. Dominion’s system provides options where none have existed before.
To create a water system that is built to last, we leveraged location, infrastructure and partnerships to create a regionally integrated network. As we grow, our values remain the same: dependability, water quality, environmental stewardship and innovation.
Dominion began this journey by partnering with other water providers to leverage regional assets to most economically and efficiently serve our customers. We continually engage our regional partners and prioritize cooperation within the water and wastewater community.
Currently, we have agreements with South Metro WISE (Water Infrastructure and Supply Efficient Partnership), Aurora and Castle Rock for renewable water. These agreements, along with Dominion’s other water supplies, give us the flexibility to provide water to Sterling Ranch and potentially new customers within our 33,000-acre service area.
Dominion will continue to grow and strengthen its portfolio. In addition to our water supply agreements with regional partners, in 2019, Dominion’s board approved the purchase of 500 acre-feet of storage in the Chatfield Reallocation Project from the state of Colorado. With this storage, shared with nine other water providers, Dominion will expand its ability to efficiently utilize its renewable water.
In 2020 Dominion’s long-term investments will connect northwest Douglas County to the largest water providers in Colorado. At the heart of Dominion’s system is the new Eastern Regional Pipeline that will bring 1,325 acre-feet of renewable WISE water to our region and add to Dominion’s already robust and reliable water supply portfolio.
This pipeline is the key to bringing renewable water to northwest Douglas County, giving those on unsustainable groundwater an exciting opportunity. The pipeline will not only carry the WISE supply but also future supplies to serve prospective customers and firefighting capabilities for much of the region. The new pipeline is nearly complete and is expected to connect this summer, completing a loop the south metro water providers have been working toward for over a decade.
Dominion also continues to stay in the forefront of innovative solutions to support and develop water technology, sustainability and management. We are developing rainwater harvesting through the only state-approved pilot project. In late 2019, thanks to a long-running relationship between Vanderbilt University and Sterling Ranch, Dominion, Aurora and South Metro partners are working with Vanderbilt on water-treatment technologies that would address water quality challenges faced broadly by Colorado and nationwide.
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.
Urban water broker builds $22 million reservoir to boost development and agricultural land
The desire to expand housing, commerce and other development around metro Denver and on arid high plains once deemed inhospitable has driven an innovative urban water broker to build a $22 million reservoir on a ranch 70 miles east of the city along the South Platte River.
Water siphoned from the river through a pipeline this summer has filled about a third of this 5,500-acre-foot — or 1.8-billion-gallon — 70 Ranch Reservoir. It’s the latest new storage in an expanding network of reservoirs that United Water and Sanitation District president and ranch owner Bob Lembke is installing to meet rising demands from Front Range suburbs hooked on dwindling groundwater.
The reservoir that Lembke built near his private 13,000-acre 70 Ranch, purchased in 2003, took three years to complete, the largest synthetically lined reservoir west of the Mississippi River. It reflects growing impatience with constraints that could limit development along Colorado’s booming Front Range.
Others in northeastern Colorado also are planning, and seeking funds, to build much larger reservoirs that, like this one, would capture South Platte water otherwise bound for Nebraska. Lembke has been able to avoid red tape — and has left critics asking questions — by working with wealthy water-poor suburbs, building on land he owns and using former gravel pits off the main channel of the river.
“We’d like to try to enhance the economic development. I’m a native. I grew up in Arapahoe County. As a native Coloradan, jobs for my kids, and eventually my grandkids, are important,” Lembke said in a recent interview in his headquarters suite at the Denver Tech Center.
“If you look at Denver, they’ve done a wonderful job planning for their water. But outside of the Denver service area? There’s a lot of challenges in how to get water and economic growth in these areas not served,” Lembke said…
“We have tens of thousands of acre-feet of water that, without storage, will leave the state — to no economic value here in Colorado. We can accommodate a great deal of quality growth. … I am a problem solver. I like to tackle difficult problems. Providing water increases the value of land that otherwise did not have water,” he said…
“Whether on the South Platte River, the Colorado River or the Yampa River, we’re not in favor of converting agricultural water use to municipal use,” said Andy Mueller, manager of the Colorado River District, which represents western Colorado communities.
The new 70 Ranch Reservoir northeast of Denver “brings up questions,” Mueller said. “Is it water to support new growth? Or is it water to support the existing population that is dependent on groundwater?”
The hedge fund investors purchasing land and water rights in western Colorado typically seek double-digit returns, Mueller said. “They believe there’s monetary value there for their investors. We’d say that’s speculation. How do we make sure there is not emerging speculation by outside investors who may not have community values? How do we help farmers and ranchers stay in business?”
Colorado leaders for decades have declined to regulate population growth and development. But the growing private interests in water, perhaps reviving the role private financiers played developing water systems in the 19th and early 20th centuries, has piqued concerns.
“Because traditionally in the West we have the mind-set that water is the property of the people, we are concerned when water is being controlled and distributed by a private corporation that may have very different interests from the collective group of people who are affected by the use of that water,” said Anne Castle, formerly the top federal water official in the Obama administration, now a senior fellow at the University of Colorado Law School’s Getches-Wilkinson Center for Natural Resources, Energy and the Environment.
For an urban water broker to buy agricultural land and install a reservoir “is all perfectly legal and allowable,” Castle said. “But it does make us nervous because we tend to think governmental entities will have some accountability to the people to recognize the different kinds of values people put on water. We just don’t have that assurance with a private corporation.”
Lembke in his role as president of United Water and Sanitation also serves as president of the Weld Adams Water Development Authority, which owns and operates the 70 Ranch Reservoir. He pointed out that these so-called special-use districts are governmental groups…
Denver-based water attorney David Robbins called Lembke “a very smart man. He is an entrepreneur. He is filling a niche.”
The 70 Ranch site also is used for experiments in drip irrigation, aimed at using water more efficiently to grow plants where otherwise vegetation might not survive…
Lembke now is installing other reservoirs — including two that he would own privately — as part of a network that when completed would store about 30,000 acre-feet for supplying water to suburbs, agriculture, industry and other development along Colorado’s Front Range.
He has built, or is in the process of building, four reservoirs upriver from the 70 Ranch at high-growth locations along the South Platte: in Milliken (12,000 acre-feet), between Commerce City and Brighton (3,500 acre-feet), east of Lochbuie (4,000 acre-feet) and in Fort Lupton (5,000 acre-feet).
These will supply businesses and housing developers in each booming area “to help them achieve their goals for economic growth and development” using surface water from the river rather than by pumping from over-tapped underground aquifers, Lembke said.
“Everything has got a finite limit,” he said. “But if we use water intelligently, we have the potential for long-term growth in this region.”
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.
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.
Centennial Water has been serving Highlands Ranch for more than three decades, with 90% of water coming from renewable river supplies, according to its website.
The local water district advocates for water efficiency throughout the year, but specifically collaborates with the Irrigation Association during July, Colorado’s warmest month.
Leading by example
Centennial Water follows a number of practices to ensure the community’s water supply is used wisely.
Those practices include utilizing high-efficiency rotary nozzles, which use 20% to 30% less water than traditional nozzles by slowly delivering multiple rotating streams instead of a fixed stream.
The water district also promotes a process called cycle and soak, which applies water in three, shorter cycles, allowing the water to seep into the soil, “promoting healthier plants and landscape and eliminating water runoff.”
Soil in Highlands Ranch has high clay content, meaning its water capacity is reached very quickly, sometimes as fast as five minutes, according to Thomas Riggle, Centennial Water’s water conservation and efficiency coordinator.
“Once soil reaches its water capacity, it can no longer hold water, which results in runoff,” Riggle said in the release. “Therefore watering for multiple, shorter periods of time is more effective and promotes healthier plants and soil.”
Centennial Water strives to educate community members on the history of water in Highlands Ranch and how to implement best water conservation practices. Schools, businesses and organizations can request a visit from a water ambassador or Centennial Water staff member at http://centennialwater.org/water-conservation/education-opportunities. The water expert will go over local water challenges and solutions.
Centennial Water offers a number of incentive programs that reward residents for their water conservation efforts.
Piloted in 2018, the turf replacement program offers a rebate of $1 per square foot —with a $1,000 maximum — to residents who replace water-intensive plants, such as Kentucky Bluegrass, with xeric or drought-tolerant vegetation, such as bee balm, aster, coneflower, sunflower and marigold. Replacement with artificial turf or hardscape may be accepted but require further approval, according to Centennial Water.
Another program piloted in 2018 is the high-efficiency nozzle retrofit program. Residents may receive $1 for each traditional, fixed spray nozzle they replace with a rotary nozzle, which fits on most popup sprinkler heads.
The document says the county’s current water supply is about 146,000 acre-feet per year, but demand is expected to increase to about 160,000 acre-feet per year by 2040 and 206,000 acre-feet per year by 2060…
The plan, prepared by Englewood-based engineering firm Forsgren Associates Inc., makes a variety of recommendations for closing the gap, including monitoring groundwater well levels, exploring ways to reuse water, finding new water sources and considering changes to the county’s land use approval process.
The county is home to more than 21,300 permitted groundwater wells and roughly 70 water providers, from small districts to municipal departments, according to the plan.
Water providers in once rural parts of the county, such as Monument, face mounting concerns about how to ensure that residents have enough water as the population continues to rise.
The primary water source for areas that are not served by Colorado Springs Utilities is the Denver Basin. Experts say it’s hard to pinpoint the rate at which water levels are falling in the system of aquifers, which were filled by precipitation over many years.
By 2060, the county’s current annual supply would be enough to serve a little more than half of the projected population, according to the plan. More residents could potentially be served by Denver Basin groundwater, but only if it’s still economical to pump, the plan states.
Per state law, county commissioners generally decide if there’s sufficient water to serve a new development during final platting, the stage of the land use approval process in which lots are created, said Mark Gebhart, deputy director of the county Planning and Community Development Department.
But the plan suggests that the county consider changing its rules so that determination can be made earlier, such as when a preliminary plan or zoning change is approved, to help ensure that new developments are planned with water supply in mind.
The plan also recommends that the county re-evaluate a subdivision regulation that requires developers to prove that they have a 300 years’ supply of water. The requirement, three times as stringent as a state standard that requires proof of 100 years’ supply, could be waived if developers agree to conservation-minded practices, such as reuse of captured wastewater to offset demands, the plan suggests…
The plan also advises that the county encourage water providers to find more reliable water sources that are replenished regularly by precipitation, rather than deep groundwater sources that are slow to recharge. One possibility might be importing water from the Arkansas River, the plan states.
Click here to go to Water Education Colorado (Rachel Champion) and read the whole interview. Here’s an excerpt:
Lisa Darling, Water Education Colorado’s trusted board president, has years of experience working with water reuse—we sat down with her to learn more. Lisa works as executive director of the South Metro Water Supply Authority (SMWSA), an organization that formed in 2004 when rapidly-growing south metro communities reliant on declining non-renewable groundwater realized they had to shift their water portfolios if they were to be sustainable. Now SMWSA relies on the Water Infrastructure and Supply Efficiency Partnership (WISE) between Denver Water, Aurora Water, and 13 SMWSA members, reusing water from Aurora’s Prairie Waters Project—which Lisa worked on for Aurora before moving to SMWSA in 2017. An excerpt of the interview is available in the fall 2018 issue of Headwaters magazine, but you can follow along with the full interview here!
For years, Castle Rock Water has made providing long term, renewable water a priority. Now, a major milestone has been reached and the first drops of WISE water are headed to Town. Join the celebration to help commemorate this accomplishment and take a look at what’s coming up next for water in Castle Rock.
The fun-filled family celebration will be from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. Friday, June 8. Bring the kids, sunscreen and a great attitude to Gemstone Park, 6148 Sapphire Pointe Blvd., to join the festivities and celebrate the WISE water partnership.
After stakeholders officially cut the ribbon, the community is invited for a festival full of games, food trucks, bump soccer, bounce houses, a foam party, giant bubbles, water colors and more. Plus, get a chance to meet the Most Hydrated Man in Castle Rock.
The celebration will help mark more than 9 years of planning and $50 million in infrastructure to help ensure the community’s strong water future. When the WISE partnership was created, many communities in Colorado were faced with a drought. With limited, non-renewable resources, communities knew they needed to come up with a plan. Regional water providers saw the opportunity to partner in a solution and share in the expense to buy, transport and treat renewable water.
The WISE partnership is an arrangement between Denver Water, Aurora Water and 10 other south metro water providers to import renewable water. Castle Rock is the southernmost community partner.
Castle Rock Water finished the last piece of infrastructure – connecting a pipeline from Outter Marker Road to Ray Waterman Treatment Plant – in late 2017. The first drops of imported WISE water came to Town in late April.
Should the city be a good neighbor and share its water with those who don’t live within its boundaries?
Yes, says the Colorado Springs Utilities Policy Advisory Committee, which after a year of study has formed draft recommendations that call for removing barriers for bedroom communities to hook up to city water and wastewater systems. The recommendations — due for delivery to the Utilities Board, composed of City Council members, on March 21 — would lower the cost of hookups by up to 26 percent while opening the door to long-term agreements.
So what’s in it for city ratepayers? Plenty, according to Dave Grossman, Utilities strategic planning and government supervisor. New sales could help pay off debt for the $825 million Southern Delivery System (SDS) pipeline from Pueblo Reservoir, erase headlines that give the city a bad name and help outside water providers’ groundwater supplies last longer…
Still, the move raises a lot of questions. Why should city ratepayers share their resources with those who chose to live outside city limits, didn’t pay the costs of major Utilities projects and don’t pay city property taxes? Why allow outsiders to become dependent on city water, when the city will likely need that water for its own population in the future? And, at a time when the city is trying to attract more development within city limits, why give away one of the city’s best bargaining chips?
Until 2010, the city didn’t sell water outside its limits. The policy changed to accommodate sales for three years or less to districts that experienced water shortages or other problems. But they paid 150 percent of city customer charges. There are 11 water districts, six water and wastewater districts and four wastewater districts in El Paso County. Not all would necessarily want to buy city services, but some would.
Many rely largely on groundwater from the Denver Basin, which is rapidly depleting. Despite state and county measures to assure supplies last, the water table continues to drop.
Utilities has had outside deals with Cherokee Metropolitan District east of Powers Boulevard and Donala Water & Sanitation District east of the Air Force Academy. Cherokee needed water temporarily after court decisions prevented its use of some wells, while Donala uses the city’s pipes to convey water it obtained from Pueblo Board of Water Works.
Water districts form such a patchwork that Sean Chambers, who’s worked for several districts and now runs Chambers Econ & Analytics, has teamed with Peak Spatial Enterprises to create an online tool to compile district information in seven counties from Denver to Pueblo. Funded in part by the Colorado Water Conservation Board, it will feature maps, water rates, sources, conservation practices, water quality reports, consumption and the like, listed by address, for use by the public and the real estate industry.
But what if those districts had access to Springs Utilities’ supply? The city’s roughly 140,000 water customers use about 40 million gallons a day during the winter and more than 100 million gallons a day in the summer, Grossman says. If pressed, the city could provide well over that amount short term, he says.
Besides completing SDS in 2016, which increased the city’s water supply by a third, the city’s abundant supply is linked to conservation measures taken since 2001 that reduced per-person consumption from 130 gallons a day to 82. The city’s system also has capacity; the Bailey Water Treatment Plant, part of SDS, runs at about 10 percent capacity.
As for wastewater, the city has plenty of capacity, Grossman reports, for the next 30-plus years.
More than a year ago, Utilities began looking into whether extending service could benefit everyone. For one thing, the Advisory Committee found, water issues anywhere in the Pikes Peak region impact the city’s reputation and the region’s economy.
For example, in 2016, it was found that groundwater wells had been contaminated with perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs) from firefighting foam at Peterson Air Force Base. The chemicals fouled wells serving Fountain, Widefield/Security and other areas…
Under the committee’s recommendation, outside users would still pay more than city customers — 120 percent of the normal charge for water and 110 percent for wastewater. Currently, the city charges 150 percent for both…
Districts aren’t apt to buy their entire supplies from the city, however, Chambers says. That’s because their goal is conjunctive use — a combination of wells and surface water; if districts can buy water during wet years and pump from their wells in dry years, the aquifer gets a rest and a chance to recharge, he says.
That’s the concept behind WISE (Water, Infrastructure and Supply Efficiency), a coalition of 12 entities, including Denver Water, Aurora Water and the South Metro Water Supply Authority created after the 2002 drought.
Chambers notes that outside sales could help the city retire debt and fund maintenance and operations. Having attended most of the committee’s meetings, Chambers attests the city’s top goal is to serve existing customers. “Utilities has been very protective,” he says, “saying regionalization will not happen unless it’s a benefit to the citizen owners and ratepayers.”
For example, Grossman notes the committee wants to include options for conveying and treating water, but that no outside contracts would be executed if they’d erode the city’s targeted storage benchmarks.
FromColoradoPolitics.com (Marianne Goodland) via The Colorado Springs Gazette:
Water watchers concerned
There’s also worry about how much water the development would need, and whether that water will truly stay in Elbert County.
The county is in what some residents call a “sweet spot.” There are four major aquifers under the county: Dawson, Denver, Fox Hills and Arapahoe. No other county on the Front Range sits on all four. The Denver Basin, which includes the four aquifers, is the major water supply for the south metro Denver area, and reaches all the way to Colorado Springs to the south and Greeley to the north.
Virtually all of the water providers in the south metro area are looking for ways to save the rapidly diminishing water in the Denver Basin aquifers, which do not respect county lines. That’s meant millions of dollars spent to find other water sources.
And Colorado history is replete with examples of water rights in rural eastern plains counties or those surrounding towns being sold to urban interests, which adds to the wariness of Elbert residents.
Elbert County plans to tap the aquifer to satisfy its projected growth. Last year, a company hired by the county conducted a rural water supply study that would project water demands for the Independence project and another near Kiowa, the county seat, up to 2035 and 2050. Will Koger of Forsgren Associates told those gathered at a community forum that the two developments would require about 9,000 acre-feet per year by 2050, or about 3.2 billion gallons per year.
There are alternatives available, too, Koger said, noting that agricultural land that is developed for residential use will also provide water and the water rights that go with it to satisfy those developments.
That didn’t sit well with some of those at the forum, who pointed out that tapping the aquifer means pumping nonrenewable groundwater, and that could affect wells, the primary source of water for just about everyone in Elbert County.
The county has little in the way of options, with little surface water available from streams or rivers, according to an April 2017 presentation from the state Division of Water Resources.
But the demand for aquifer water is low compared to the available supply, Koger told the audience, and the developments would tap less than 1 percent of what’s available.
The plaintiffs in the lawsuit against the Independence project question whether the issue of water is about the development or if it’s about selling water to next door Douglas County. They point to a map included in the Forsgren presentation that they said shows a proposed one-way pipeline that goes from the Independence site to Rueter-Hess Reservoir in Douglas County.
The development schematics includes a proposal for six special districts that would manage the water, which strikes Richard Brown and other concerned residents as odd. The six districts, according to a water and sanitation proposal developed for the county, would be contained within a small section of the development that would not include any homes. One district is an “overlay” that would control the rest.
The developer, Craft Companies, and its owner and board would be the only voters in those districts, according to the water and sanitation proposal.
Here’s the release from the USGS (Joseph Ayotte/Hannah M Hamilton):
Most Arsenic Presumed to be From Naturally Occurring Sources
A new study by the U.S. Geological Survey and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates about 2.1 million people in the U.S. may be getting their drinking water from private domestic wells considered to have high concentrations of arsenic, presumed to be from natural sources.
“About 44 million people in the lower 48 states use water from domestic wells,” said Joe Ayotte, a USGS hydrologist and lead author of the study. “While we’re confident our research will help well owners understand if they live in an area of higher risk for arsenic, the only way for them to be certain of what’s in their water is to have it tested.”
Using a standard of 10 micrograms of arsenic per liter — the maximum contaminant level allowed for public water supplies — the researchers developed maps of the contiguous U.S. showing locations where there are likely higher levels of arsenic in groundwater, and how many people may be using it.
Nearly all of the arsenic in the groundwater tested for this study and used to map probabilities is likely from natural sources, and is presumed to be coming primarily from rocks and minerals through which the water flows.
The findings highlight the importance of private well owners working with their local and state officials to determine the best way to test and, if necessary, treat their water supplies.
“Fortunately, in most areas of the country and with appropriate safeguards, the majority of homeowners can get good quality drinking water from private wells,” said Ayotte. “But this study is a good reminder that prudent, routine testing of the water, including its interaction with the water supply system, is an essential first step so homeowners and their families can confidently drink water from their faucets.”
Using water samples from more than 20,000 domestic wells, the researchers developed a statistical model that estimates the probability of having high arsenic in domestic wells in a specific area. They used that model in combination with information on the U.S. domestic well population to estimate the population in each county of the continental United States with potentially high concentrations of arsenic in domestic wells.
“One of our study’s basic assumptions is that the probability of high arsenic can be estimated by a statistical model. We also assume that the domestic water use population is represented by census information used in the study,” said Ayotte.
Some of the locations where it’s estimated the most people may have high-levels of arsenic in private domestic well water include:
Much of the West – Washington, Oregon, Nevada, California, Arizona, New Mexico
Parts of the Northeast and Midwest – Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Maryland, Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois Ohio, Indiana
Some of the Atlantic southeast coastal states – Florida, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina
“Although high-arsenic wells can occur in all 48 contiguous states, it is more prevalent in some states than in others,” said Ayotte. “The study did not include Alaska and Hawaii.”
The researcher provided a cautionary note that while the study provides state and county estimates, they are not intended to take the place of more detailed or local information that may already be available in some areas.
Long-term exposure to arsenic in domestic wells may cause health-related problems, including an increased risk of cancer. Testing and, if necessary, treating the water is an effective way of reducing or eliminating the concern. A CDC fact sheet provides more information, as does the CDC’s Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.
“Ultimately, this study should be helpful not only in assessing the likelihood of people being exposed to arsenic in domestic well water, but the results of the study may assist other researchers evaluate situations where adverse health outcomes such as cancers or adverse birth outcomes may be related to environmental factors,” said Ayotte.
Public water supplies are regulated by the U.S. EPA, but maintenance, testing and treatment of private water supplies are the sole responsibility of the homeowner. About 44 million people in the U.S. get their drinking water from private wells, yet surveys indicate many homeowners are unaware of some basic testing that should be done to help ensure safe drinking water in the home.
The study, “Estimating the high-arsenic domestic-well population in the conterminous United States” by J.D. Ayotte, L. Medalie, S.L. Qi, L.C. Backer, and N. T. Nolan is available online in Environmental Science and Technology.
The purpose of the study was to determine what water sources would be available to the county through 2050.
Forsgren found that Elbert County has 54 million acre-feet of water available right now…
The study found that the rate of use is affecting water availability at a rate of less than 1 percent a year.
In 2018 the demand volume is anticipated at 8,100 acre-feet per year (AFY). By the year 2050 the expected demand is 9,005 AFY.
“Based on population projections by DOLA, the county has enough water for in excess of 300 years,” said County Commissioner Grant Thayer, a retired engineer with experience in reservoir engineering.
When Forsgren assembled information for the case scenarios of how the county might source water in the future, it took into account four variables: agricultural transfers (if a shift in agriculture occurs and how that would impact water supply), non-renewable groundwater, reusable water and imported water.
Koger reiterated that importing water is not the goal at this point.
“It is not easy; it requires an expensive infrastructure,” he said. “It’s much cheaper to drill for water.”
The impact of Douglas County and surrounding areas was brought up several times throughout the evening.
“How can it (the water level) be measured if Douglas County goes crazy and pumps a lot, what does it do to us?” Paul Hunter of Elizabeth asked.
Koger, who lives in Elbert County, agreed that water usage in surrounding areas will impact the water levels beneath Elbert County.
“We are dependent on how quickly people around us use water,” he said.
“Everyone is using the same aquifers,” Koger said, indicating that the study was specifically done to find out how much water the county has available and “project out what the options would be for Elbert County.”
“It’s a planning study — we are finding what looks like a likely future,” Koger explained. “There are so many variables ahead of us — it’s more of a matter of monitoring what’s going on and planning for what we think will happen.”
The Forsgren presentation of the preliminary draft information is available to download from the Elbert County website at http://www.elbertcounty-co.gov.
Last week, county commissioners approved a roughly $272,000 contract with Englewood-based engineering firm Forsgren Associates, Inc., to develop a water master plan. The document, expected to be finished by the end of 2018, will map providers’ water sources and infrastructure, clear the way for water to be considered earlier in the county’s development review process and make forward-thinking recommendations, Dossey said.
As the region’s population increases, so does the demand for water, a dwindling resource in the arid high desert of Colorado’s Front Range and plains. Small, rural districts can’t rely indefinitely on overdrawn aquifers. Nor can they afford massively expensive pipeline projects, such as Utilities’ $825 million Southern Delivery System, or to buy rights to water west of the Continental Divide, where most of the state’s supply is found.
“We’re talking 50 to 100 years out that we’re going to see issues, potentially, with water supply,” Dossey said. “It’s important that the county take the lead and work with each of the providers to work on a plan for the future.”
If water providers in the Colorado Springs vicinity don’t replace existing groundwater sources with more reliable water supplies by 2030, it could result in an annual regional shortfall of up to 25,000 acre-feet, or more than 8 billion gallons, according to Utilities’ Integrated Water Resource Plan, which was approved in February.
“There’s a huge gap to fill if we’re going to continue to grow,” said Dave Doran, a director for the Upper Black Squirrel Creek Ground Water Management District in eastern El Paso County. “There’s just so many more straws in the ground. Inevitably, these aquifers are dropping rapidly.”
Tens of thousands of residents rely on groundwater drawn from the depleting aquifers of the Denver Basin, according to local water officials.
How fast water levels within the Denver Basin aquifers are falling is up for debate. Kip Petersen, general manager for the Donala Water and Sanitation District, believes the aquifers could dwindle to a point where it would no longer be cost-effective for providers to pump water from them within the next 50 years.
“The water that we’re pulling out has been there for millions and millions of years. Once that water’s out, it’s out,” said Petersen, whose district services about 2,800 homes in the Gleneagle area. “That’s the big search right now – how do we offset a declining aquifer like the Denver basin with a renewable source?”
Petersen’s district is one of the few in the county that’s secured renewable water sources, including water rights to a Leadville ranch and Fountain Creek, to serve about a third of its customers, he said.
Utilities’ water resource plan, a roughly $2 million project, explores options for how the agency might help smaller providers fill a supply gap. One possibility would allow the providers to use Utilities’ delivery infrastructure during wetter years when demand falls in Colorado Springs. Another potential solution would involve Utilities selling other entities water to supplement existing resources. But with so-called “regionalization” comes a host of technical and legal challenges. The Utilities Policy Advisory Committee is researching the risks and benefits of working with smaller providers in the Pikes Peak region, said Steve Berry, a Utilities spokesman.
Whether it’s paving the way with a long-term water plan, rising to the challenge of having the best tasting water in Colorado, or setting an example for conservation – Castle Rock Water is a leader in the water industry. For the second year in a row, the department is being recognized for its efforts.
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment awarded Castle Rock Water the Gold Award in the Pursing Excellence Program for the department’s push to go above and beyond regulatory compliance. In 2015, Castle Rock Water was the first water provider in Colorado to receive the Gold Tier.
The award noted the Town’s steps to be a leader in the industry and share best practices with other organizations. The department was also recognized for its operational procedures for source water protection measures, treatment goals and distribution components.
Additionally, the department was recognized for four other actions:
Large meter audit – this audit examined the 5 percent of customers that make up 30 percent of consumption
Lateral arm well placement – this plan involves the innovative use of horizontal arms for vertical well production; horizontal arms doubles the production of vertical wells
Valve and hydrant maintenance program – with this program in place, repair and emergency budgets are easier to estimate; additionally, customers are better informed of outages
Chemical optimization – continually analyzing the chemical solutions used for water treatment to ensure the highest quality water and lowest treatment costs
“Castle Rock Water’s faithful commitment to the environment extends to our staff, our customers and to the community in which we operate,” said Castle Rock Water Director Mark Marlowe. “We take our motto, be water wise, to heart, and are committed to being a leader among the water industry.”
The county held a late afternoon public workshop on Nov. 14 for proposed changes to the county’s water zoning plan.
Conversation was diligent and thorough, despite a sparsely attended meeting of six people in addition to county staff.
The exact portion of the plan under review is Section 18A, which helps determine if a proposed development has an adequate water supply, particularly in terms of quality, quantity and dependability. Douglas County’s Board of Commissioners first adopted 18A in 1998, but it has been revised in 2002, 2005, 2007 and 2013.
County experts said the regulations are primarily for new housing developments or properties seeking to rezone for reasons like expansion. Additionally, they mostly pertain to unincorporated Douglas County, as most municipalities or other water districts have their own regulations.
The main changes in Section 18A were to remove about 15 pages of repetitive sections and more clearly explain if a developer would qualify.
But staff also has proposed Section 18B, an entirely new set of regulations that will act as an alternative to Section 18A.
As the resolution stands, developers must meet a water demand standard of .75 acre-feet per residence per year.
A demand standard is an estimate of how much water a household or development will need, said Kati Rider, a planning resource supervisor with Douglas County.
An acre-foot is how water is measured. One way to think of it, Rider said, is to imagine it as the equivalent to the amount of water that woud spread across an acre of land at one foot deep.
However, county staff said, the average household uses closer to .40 or .45 acre-feet. The .75 standard is costly for developers and may require them to source more water than necessary.
“This revision may matter to residents as it may be a way to encourage new development to utilize renewable water resources, rather than groundwater, in all areas of the county,” Rider said.
Under 18B, developers could propose higher-density developments if they also promise to use less groundwater, rely on more renewable water sources and prove they can accomplish that goal.
Not more than 50 percent of the water supply could come from non-renewable sources. Although the overall amount of water use might be greater, the hope is to encourage a more environmental approach.
If the amendments continue to gain traction, they would pass before the Planning Commission and the Board of Commissioners for final approval.
Public comment is accepted at http://www.douglas.co.us through Nov. 23. Information aboutthe amendments may be found through the county’s Project Records Online (PRO) online tool.
Commissioners will schedule a work session to review the input after public comment closes.
A new long-term plan by the South Metro Water Supply Authority, which serves 13 water providers in the greater Denver-Aurora area, avoids any mention of taking water from the Arkansas River basin.
That’s significant, because the group’s 2007 master plan included two possible pipeline routes from the Arkansas River basin as a way of filling future water supply needs. Located in some of the fastest-growing areas of Colorado, South Metro’s population increased to 325,000 in 2016 from 250,000 in 2005.
South Metro communities were built on water from the Denver Basin aquifer, but began shifting their focus to finding new renewable supplies, conservation and increasing efficiency as ways to stretch their supplies.
“I think our members wanted to focus on projects that are on a foreseeable timetable,” said Eric Hecox, executive director of the authority. “The study confirms our region’s tremendous progress toward securing a sustainable water future. There is more to be done, but there is no question we are on the right path.”
With Pure Cycle’s sale of its Fort Lyon Canal water rights last year, no South Metro member has any projects planned in the Arkansas Valley. Pure Cycle is connected to the emerging Rangeview district east of Aurora.
Annual demand for South Metro is expected to more than double to 120,000 acre-feet (39 billion gallons) by 2065. Increased storage, expanded use of the WISE agreement with Denver and Aurora and continuing conservation efforts are expected to fill 38,400 acre-feet in the next 50 years.
The WISE agreement allows South Metro areas to reuse return flows from the Denver area through Aurora’s Prairie Waters Project. Reuter-Hess Reservoir and the East Cherry Creek Valley pipeline have opened new ways to use water. Per capita use in the South Metro area has decreased 30 percent since 2000.
Another 30,000 acre-feet annually of new supplies still are needed by 2065, according to the revised master plan released Tuesday. About two-thirds of that supply is identified in existing projects, but the plan proposes finding the remainder through cooperative agreements with other users in the South Platte and through the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement, Hecox said.
Finally, individual members of the South Metro group are developing innovative solutions. For instance, Sterling Ranch is harvesting rainwater and incorporating conservation into land-use design. Other communities have initiated landscape regulations and some are even paying property owners to remove turf or plants that use excessive amounts of water. Some rate structures have been changed to promote conservation.
The new plan fits in with Colorado’s Water Plan, which seeks collaborative solutions rather than buying agricultural water rights and drying up farmland.
“A remarkable transformation is happening in the South Metro region,” said James Eklund, executive director of the Colorado Water Conservation board. “Colorado’s Water Plan calls for innovative water management and this study demonstrates how this important region is transitioning to a more sustainable water supply.”
Neighboring water districts in the Monument area sending help to the Triview Metro District which enacted emergency restrictions Tuesday amid an unexpected water shortage.
The Town of Monument notified residents via Facebook that the Donala Water District, which has a connection with Triview, will open their line temporarily to help during the shortage. The Town of Monument does not have a direct connection with Triview, but manager Chris Howe said they will send some utility workers to help where needed.
Triview District Manager Valerie Remington said the district noticed a spike in demand in mid-June. There was another peak on Monday diminishing the water supply to an emergency level.
Remington said there were no obvious signs of a major pipe break. They have not filed a report of a water theft with local law enforcement, but Remington said they have not ruled out the possibility.
“We haven’t ruled out any of the different possibilities right now,” she said. “I can’t say, since we don’t know what it is, I can’t say what it is what else I can’t say what it isn’t.”
Triview recently charged a transmission line to service the new Sanctuary Point development. Remington said no houses have been built there and the district ruled out that line a source of the sudden drop in supply.
Under the emergency restrictions, customers are prohibited from outdoor watering. Customers who violate the restriction will be warned on their first offense. Second offenses carry a $50 fine, third offenses a $500 fine and all subsequent offenses will be fined $750.
Outside watering is suspended for Monument residents.
Following a period of high usage, the Triview Metropolitan District has restricted outside watering “until further notice,” according to its website.
“We are continuing to experience a water problem and are asking that all residents stop outside watering until we are able to correct the issue,” the district said.
According to Gazette news partner KKTV, a spike in use around the holiday is to blame.
The district said demand among its 4,200 customers has risen to about 2 million gallons of water per day. Just one of the district’s eight wells has the capacity to pump 1.8 million gallons of water each day, KKTV reported.
“The restrictions went into place on July 4 as we noticed that our tank levels were always getting lower and we were having trouble recovering,” District Manager Valerie Remington told KKTV.
The district used about 2 million gallons of water a day over the last two weeks.
The district’s eight wells – located in Denver and Arapahoe – produce a daily pump of 1.8 million gallons.
“Recent water demand within the Triview Metropolitan District has far exceeded anything that the district has experienced in the past,” the district stated. “For the time being, the district, as a whole, needs to reduce usage overall to ensure that sufficient water tank storage can be maintained to supply more critical household needs and potential fire fighting requirements.”
The Tri-Lakes Monument Fire Protection District first learned about the water restrictions Friday.
We think of reservoirs as bodies of water, places created by dams where you can go sailing or fishing. Denver Water is investigating whether Denver’s future reservoirs will lie several hundred feet below the feet of its customers in aquifers called the Arapahoe and Laramie-Fox Hills.
Aquifer recharge has been used in many places as a way to store water. Arizona, for example, stores water for Las Vegas in an innovative partnership as well as water for its own use. In metropolitan Denver, the Centennial Water and Sanitation District, which serves Highlands Ranch, has also been pumping water into an aquifer, for withdrawal when needed. Others in the Denver area have also used it, with various degrees of success.
Denver has 17 reservoirs already able to store a combined maximum of 690,000 acre-feet. The adequacy of that storage is challenged by the uncertainties posed by the changing climate and continued population growth, said Bob Peters, a water resource engineer with Denver Water, speaking at a National Groundwater Association conference in Denver on April 25. Among the options now being studied is whether the aquifers underlying the city could also provide storage.
The city is bisected by the South Platte River. For most of the year, the river is over-appropriated, meaning there is no new water to be claimed. Furthermore, many of Denver’s existing rights from the South Platte are junior, meaning Denver might be left short in years of little snow or rain.
In a PowerPoint presentation, Peters also showed a variety of scenarios, all depicting gaps between needs and supplies. Denver is pursuing stepped-up conservation and greater reuse.
Denver also wants to divert more water from the Colorado River Basin through its Moffat Tunnel delivery system near Winter Park. That Moffat system expansion would include raising the height of Gross Dam, located southwest of Boulder, by 125 feet, nearly tripling the capacity of the reservoir. Denver has not received final authorization from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Aquifer storage might also play a role in Denver’s future. Pumping water underground results in no evaporation, Peters said, requires fewer permits, and has less of an environmental footprint. Plus, it’s less costly than above-ground storage and can be done in small increments, unlike dams.
Challenges include figuring out where to put wells in urban areas, questions about the quality of water to be injected, and uncertainty about how much the water can later be recovered.
“We know it’s feasible. The question is whether it will work for Denver Water,” said Cortney Brand, of Leonard Rice Engineers, a consulting group.
Brand outlined Denver’s aquifers. The Arapahoe Basin is 500 to 2,100 feet thick, but the water-bearing sands of that formation are only 150 to 250 feet thick and not necessarily in one seam. The water-bearing sands of the Fox Hills has average thickness of 382 feet. These are averages for wells logged within Denver, but the city is only 2.5 percent of the much broader Denver Basin.
But the understanding of what lies underneath is not as sharp as those figures might suggest. To get a clearly image of the ability of the aquifers in specific areas to store water, three or more wells are being drilled this year.
With those additional wells, he said, engineers expect that they can deliver designs and cost estimates of a pilot project for an aquifer storage and recovery project by the end of 2016.
How much storage might these wells provide? The study intends to answer that question, but Denver Water’s website suggests that nobody should expect a quick Dillion Reservoir. One recharge sit could store an estimated 20 to 150 acre-feet of water per year. That compares with the 7,863 acre-feet stored by Denver’s smallest surface reservoir, Strontia Springs.
From the Town of Castle Rock via the Castle Rock News-Press:
Before the spring landscape season gets underway, Castle Rock officials are reminding resisdents to conserve water by using some of the town’s conservation programs.
Town Council approved earlier this month the 2016 Conservation Rebate Incentive Program, which offers rebates as part of an overall water-conservation plan.
The incentive program rewards residents transitioning from high-water-use landscaping and inefficient irrigation to other water-smart alternatives. It’s funded with money from water restriction violations and tier-four conservation surcharges. Funds are limited, and rebates are awarded on a first-come, first-served basis.
A household can qualify for each rebate only once.
The rebate program includes:
· Smart irrigation controllers — 50 percent of the controller cost up to $300
· Rotary nozzle retrofit — up to $5 per nozzle
· Rain sensors — 50 percent of the cost of the sensor up to $50
· SmartScape renovations — $1 per square foot up to $1,500 for high-water-use plant material, such as Kentucky bluegrass, removed and replaced with either Xeriscape or hardscape.
The Town Council also approved the 2016 Water Use Management Plan. Castle Rock Water uses watering restrictions to help residents efficiently use water outdoors during warmer months.
By staggering water use on an every-third-day schedule, Castle Rock Water can maintain positive pressures throughout the water system, ensure appropriate fire flows and allocate time for water reservoir recovery.
Restrictions will be in place during June, July and August. Residents must follow a circle, diamond, square schedule that will be mailed to their homes around May 1 and is posted at CRgov.com/waterschedule.
Also, to promote efficient water use, outdoor irrigation will not be allowed between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. However, there are no time or day restrictions associated with hand watering.
These restrictions allow residents to water only during cooler, more humid times of day. This is when evapotranspiration — a measurement of how much water needs to be used to replace water lost through evaporation and transpiration — is at its lowest, and watering is most effective.
Both the rebate program and watering restrictions are outlined in Castle Rock Water’s Water Efficiency Master Plan. Since the plan was adopted in 2006, Castle Rock residents have exceeded and maintained the conservation goal of 18 percent or 165 to 135 gallons per person per day.
An updated plan was recently approved in 2016 and sets a goal for an additional 18 percent (122 to 100 gallons per person per day) of water savings by 2055.
The Parker Water & Sanitation District is putting out a call for candidates to fill three vacancies on its board of directors.
The May 3 mail-ballot election will enable district customers to vote on candidates to assume seats held by Kelly McCurry, Bill Wasserman and Dale Reiman, whose terms expire this year. Prospective candidates must file “affidavits of intent” to the Parker Water & Sanitation District by Feb. 29, according to a resolution passed by the current board on Jan. 14.
If there are “not more candidates than offices to be filled,” district manager Ron Redd, who is serving as the designated election official, will cancel the election and declare the candidates elected, the resolution said.
With assurances Denver would not be coming after San Luis Valley water in the near future, the Rio Grande Roundtable this week approved $10,000 to support a south metro Denver area water project.
The decision was not unanimous, however, with opposing votes coming from Juanita Martinez, who represents Costilla County water groups, Ron Brink, who is an Alamosa County representative on the roundtable, and Gene Farish, attorney for multiple municipalities in the Valley.
Sixteen other members of the roundtable voted to support the WISE (Water, Infrastructure and Supply Efficiency) Project with $10,000 from the funds allocated to the Rio Grande Basin. The other basin roundtable boards throughout the state have financially supported the project, which will recycle water from the Denver and Aurora water systems to south metro water providers and their customers.
The treatment plant for the project will cost about $6.5 million. The south metro water providers have already purchased pipeline to transport water from the Denver and Aurora systems to southern metro areas like Highlands Ranch and Castle Rock.
Eric Hecox, executive director of the South Metro Water Supply Authority, made the initial presentation for the $10,000 request to the roundtable in January and made the formal request to the board this week. He said this project would reduce the draw on nonrenewable groundwater resources that have traditionally supplied the southern metro communities.
He said the project would also reduce the metro areas’ need to look to agricultural transfers or other basins for water supplies.
Hecox stressed that the water providers he represented were not after Valley water, and if they did look to other water sources outside of Denver, it would be the Colorado River system or South Platte, not the Rio Grande system.
It’s been proposed to move San Luis Valley water in the past,” he said. “There’s water projects proposed . We have not had any discussions with them. Our members have not had any discussions with them. The planning work we are doing is looking at basin solutions in the South Platte Basin or other partnerships with has support from throughout the state.
She said even though the basin might only be providing $10,000, “what you are getting is a lot more good will for yourselves “you are getting a good standing.”
She explained to Hecox that irrigating in the area she represents is still accomplished through shovels and opening irrigation ditches, and although she was fascinated by this project , which would use “left over discarded water,” she was skeptical about it.
She said she was opposed to the motion for funding, and everyone she spoke to in her county told her to not even consider it. She pointed to the Arkansas Valley where farmland has been dried up so people in the Denver area can have nice lawns and golf courses.
“It’s almost like a ghost town driving through there. It’s sad and it breaks everybody’s heart,” she said. “It’s even hard to talk about.”
Brink, who also voted against the funding, said the Denver area does not even recognize the Valley “except when they want some money or water.”
He added, “I am totally against this.”
Hecox said the project was not asking much money from the basin roundtables across the state, but one of the reasons for seeking some support from them Denver.”
Martinez said if the metro water group had no interest in the Valley’s water, then it must water “our good name” to show that it was to show cross-basin cooperation. He added that the metro water providers were trying to find solutions that would use renewable supplies, such as those from Denver and Aurora, rather than continuing to deplete nonrenewable supplies. He said the communities served by the south metro providers have also implemented significant amounts of conservation programs.
“That will go on and continue to reduce outside irrigation in south metro,” he said.
He said conservation efforts have reduced per capita water use by 30 percent over the last 10-15 years.
Rio Grande Water Conservation District Manager Steve Vandiver said he had raised concerns about supporting this project when it was initially presented, and the concern about “completing the loop” that would make it easier to export Valley water to the Denver area was still a concern of his.
However, he said after speaking further with Hecox, he believed the metro water authority had the Valley’s best interest in mind.
“They have convinced me that the project as it exists today is going to delay the need for outside supplies outside of the South Platte Basin,” he said.
Roundtable member Dale Pizel said, “There’s obviously some distrust between the San Luis Valley and the Front Range, for good reason, because we have been beaten up pretty good and had to fight off some pretty serious battles, but if we don’t solve Denver’s water problem, it’s going to keep coming back, “They are going to keep coming after our water.”
He said the Valley water leaders needed to put their distrust aside and help Denver and the Front Range solve their water problems so they don’t come after the Valley’s water.
Roundtable member Judy Lopez agreed. She commended the Denver area water providers for working together to address their water needs among themselves .
Vandiver said this project would be built whether or not it receives the Valley’s support. He wanted the minutes to reflect that the Valley supported the project with some reservation and concerns.
“We do this with some trepidation but want to support these efficiencies and conservation efforts on the Front Range to try to keep the monkey off our back as long as we can,” he said.
From the Colorado Springs Independent (Pam Zebeck):
It won’t be long before the new Edward W. Bailey Water Treatment cranks up to filter water coming from Pueblo Reservoir through the Southern Delivery System pipeline…
…a few weeks ago, we got the royal tour of the water treatment facility on Marksheffel Road from two operators — Chad Sell and Jay Hardison — who are as excited as little kids who just got new bicycles for Christmas. They’re happy because a redesign of the project placed most treatment processes under one roof, making it not only more efficient but much more convenient to be monitored by Colorado Springs Utilities staff.
SDS project manager John Fredell explains how Utilities got a good deal from bidders: “What we said is, ‘We want to see your value engineering ideas right up front.’ One said, ‘We can shrink this way down, put it all under the same roof and still deliver the same quantity and same quality of water, and we can do this with four miles less piping.’ Four miles!”
There’s nothing extraordinary really about the Bailey treatment plant, named for a former long-time Utilities water division employee. The plant uses a traditional processes of flocculation, sedimentation and ozone to filter water and deal with any taste and odor problems.
But there are certain design features that take the operators into account. For one thing, the plant can be controlled off-site by an operator using a mobile device. Also, access to the pipes below the various stages of treatment are readily accessible for maintenance and repairs. And, the plant will require only six employees on duty at any given time. It has a 10-million-gallon holding tank.
The plant is built so that it can be easily expanded from 50 million gallons a day to 100 million gallons, Hardison notes. “Here’s a pad for a future generator,” he says. “We can add another generator and go to 100, like for our great grandkids.”
While the whole system could become operational within just a few months, for now, operators are running it through the rinse cycle to be sure all is in working order. “So we’re currently testing all the processes out,” Hardison says. “We’re stopping and starting the plant, trying to get it fine-tuned. Plants run really well when they’re run all the time, continuously. If you stop and start, they’re not very good. We’re almost to the point where we will run it continuously.”
He adds that one thing operators will learn during the testing is the “bookends of the low end and high end” of what the plant is capable of.
A Colorado Springs delegation, headed by Mayor John Suthers, took a trip to Pueblo Monday, and stormwater was the topic of discussion with both Pueblo County commissioners and city councilors.
Commissioners talked with the Springs leaders at length about a new inter-governmental agreement that will make sure stormwater management is a priority for years to come. They are working quickly to finalize the details before turning on the Southern Delivery System…
So Colorado Springs and Pueblo County are talking it out. On Monday, Suthers showed off all his city’s progress towards stormwater management since he was elected last year, with a new $19 million a year mitigation plan. He says unlike broken promises in the past, an additional inter-governmental agreement will ensure those measures continue beyond his tenure, with assurances to spend more than $200 million on stormwater in the first decade.
Suthers says, “Rather than having the voters say, ‘no we don’t want to pay this,’ we will be contractually, and by court order, obligated to have a sustainable, appropriately funded stormwater system.”
Pueblo County commissioners still want more input in which stormwater mitigation projects come first, namely the ones that directly impact their constituents, but the governments say they are working together better now than ever before. “Hopefully reasonable people can find reasonable solutions without having to go to court,” says McFadyen, “and likely that will be an inter-governmental agreement with enforceability clauses that both parties can agree on.”
“These are tough problems,” admits Suthers, “but they need to be resolved and I think both sides definitely want to resolve them.”
The Colorado Springs group also presented to Pueblo city councilors Monday evening, talking specifically about Fountain Creek and the funds they have given to help dredge the sediment built up over the past year.
From the Colorado Springs Independent (Pam Zebeck):
Mayor John Suthers got an earful from Pueblo County commissioners Monday after laying out the city’s plan to deal with its stormwater problem.
The city is in a tiz, because Pueblo County now has leverage to force the city of Colorado Springs to make good on past promises to control storm runoff, which empties into Fountain Creek and brings sediment rushing down to Pueblo. The creek, overwhelmed by flood waters, already has claimed hundreds of acres of farmland.
Now, as Colorado Springs gets ready to activate the Southern Delivery System pipeline from Pueblo Reservoir, it must meet requirements of a construction permit, commonly called a 1041 permit, granted by Pueblo County in 2009.
On top of that, the city is facing a federal consent degree or court order to comply with federal Clean Water Act requirements for its stormwater system due to years of noncompliance.
“We’re going to solve this problem and not kick the can down the road,” Suthers told commissioners Monday afternoon at a meeting in Pueblo. “A federal consent decree or judgment cannot be ignored, and neither can an IGA [intergovernmental agreement] with Pueblo.”
Pueblo County Commissioner Terry Hart noted the Springs has “breached” promises to deal with stormwater in the past, most notably by doing away with the Stormwater Enterprise in late 2009. Suthers noted that came after a ballot measure was approved by voters, which essentially required the city deep-six the enterprise. He said the city’s new scheme, to carve out $16 million a year from the general fund with another $3 million a year contributed by Colorado Springs Utilities for 10 years, doesn’t rely on voter approval.
But Hart wants the IGA to extend well beyond 10 years. In fact, he proposed the IGA last for the life of the SDS project, which could be 30 to 40 years.
He also asked if Colorado Springs was willing to suspend activation of the SDS pipeline until the IGA is worked out. Not likely, Suthers said, due to warranties on the components of SDS.
Hart also suggested the city pump more money into Fountain Creek restoration beyond $50 million agreed to as part of the 1041 permit.
Suthers said he’s “nervous” committing the city “into perpetuity” but said an IGA could be hammered out that allowed for additional terms beyond 10 years if certain triggers are met.
Pueblo County Commissioner Sal Pace asked if Colorado Springs could commit a substantially greater amount per year than the $19 million now identified under the IGA, to which Suthers said the amount could go up to $25 million per year based on inflation. But he noted that huge increases, such as up to $50 million a year, aren’t likely.
On one thing everyone seemed to agree: The solution doesn’t lie in another court battle. Hart noted Colorado Springs could outspend Pueblo in court, and Suthers later told media that a lawsuit isn’t the answer. That said, Hart said he wants an “enforcement mechanism,” should Colorado Springs yet again fail to meet its promises, such as the authority of Pueblo to stop flows through SDS for noncompliance. That idea seemed to be a non-starter, although Suthers was willing to discuss another demand by Hart — to allow Pueblo County officials to participate in negotiations with the Environmental Protection Agency and the Justice Department regarding its noncompliance with stormwater discharges.
Suthers said he hopes to iron out an IGA within the next 30 days.
Pueblo County commissioners were gracious but appeared unappeased Monday by Colorado Springs leaders’ promises to resolve stormwater issues that have hit downstream communities hard.
And the Pueblo City Council, in a symbolic gesture, unanimously passed a resolution Monday night to support county efforts to hold Colorado Springs accountable for stormwater problems along Fountain Creek and recommend a 10-year plan in exchange for allowing Colorado Springs Utilities to keep its 1041 permit and commence with the Southern Delivery System…
Work on the first priority project, a detention pond on Sand Creek, starts next week. Colorado Springs has hired Richard Mulledy, a professional engineer who previously worked for the City of Pueblo and most recently has been deputy director of water resources for Matrix Design Group in Colorado Springs, as Stormwater Division manager. He starts work Feb. 22.
While Colorado Springs leaders outlined a long list of measures being undertaken to address the stormwater issue, officials with Colorado Springs Utilities and the city remained baffled by the intertwining of what they see as two separate measures.
Utilities has met every condition of its 1041 project, said SDS Director John Fredell. On April 27, the project is to start pumping 5 million gallons of Arkansas River water a day initially from Pueblo Reservoir to Pueblo West, Colorado Springs, Security and Fountain.
Colorado Springs, meanwhile, is negotiating with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which accused the city in October of neglecting stormwater needs for years. A two-day EPA inspection turned up deteriorating infrastructure, inadequate inspections and excessive sedimentation, among other problems.
At stake is the city’s own water permit.
The effort to hold Utilities’ 1041 permit ransom because of municipal stormwater failures by Colorado Springs is mixing apples and oranges, Suthers and Fredell noted. But Pueblo city and county leaders see the permit for the $825 million SDS as the best bargaining chip to get what they want.
When Suthers assured Pueblo city leaders that more than $250 million worth of stormwater work would be done in 10 years, newly elected Pueblo City Councilwoman Lori Winner cited a CH2M Hill engineering study from 2013 saying the stormwater needs amounted to more than $500 million.
“It’s really a wish list,” Suthers said. “The voters are not going to give me $50 million a year. I don’t want to make any agreement contingent on whether (local anti-tax activist) Doug Bruce likes it or not.”
Because Colorado Springs voters repeatedly voted down stormwater measures in recent years, as Bruce exhorted them to oppose the “rain tax” in 2014, Suthers and the council decided to pay for that need directly from the city budget. The fire and police departments were squeezed and raises frozen in the 2016 budget to find the money.
“I’ll never come up with $500 million,” Suthers said in a rare show of exasperation. “There’s just no way in hell.”
The Pueblo commissioners repeatedly intoned the need for solid enforcement measures in any intergovernmental agreement.
“We as a community have heard a lot of promises from your community for a very long time,” Commissioner Terry A. Hart said. ” . Whatever we do going forward, we can’t base it on mere promises.”
The only “silver lining” in the city’s problems with the EPA is that any resulting federal decree will serve as a mandate, ensuring that the pact with Pueblo County is enforced, Suthers said.
Another enforceable provision would be to designate Utilities, as a long-time city enterprise, to meet the financial requirements through its annual “excess revenue” returns to the city if Colorado Springs failed to meet its stormwater obligation.
Hart questioned whether a fifth branch of Utilities couldn’t be created to handle stormwater. But that would require a change in the City Charter, approval by Colorado Springs voters, who have opposed all recent stormwater measures, and other complex machinations involving ratepayers who don’t live in the city, said Andres Pico, chairman of the Utilities board.
Commissioner Sal Pace questioned whether the SDS couldn’t be turned off if sufficient stormwater work isn’t done, or whether the project could be delayed while a new agreement is drafted.
Neither idea is feasible, however. The SDS is a sprawling system with water treatment plants, pumping stations and precise chemical requirements that cannot be stopped once it gets started. And the notion of delaying it would cause Utilities to lose time on its warranties, some on millions of dollars worth of work and equipment, Suthers said.
Asked what would happen after a 10-year agreement, the mayor said language could be added to renegotiate the pact every 10 years, with a clause for inflationary increases.
“We’re going to continue our negotiations with the county and everybody else involved and try to resolve this issue,” Suthers said Monday evening.
As for the commissioners’ questions earlier in the day, he said, “I thought they brought up good points that can be the basis for more negotiations.”
John Fredell, project director for Southern Delivery System, last week tried to build a case that the EPA’s enforcement action on the failure of Colorado Springs to maintain stormwater control is unrelated to SDS.
He told the Pueblo Board of Water Works that Pueblo County’s 1041 permit for SDS only applies to ensuring new development won’t increase Fountain Creek flows.
“It’s not all lumped into SDS,” Fredell said, trying to convince the water board of his position.
But a review of the history leading up to the county’s 1041 permit shows he is wrong.
The first sentence of condition No. 23 in the 1041 permit indeed mimics the incremental approach taken by the Bureau of Reclamation, holding Colorado Springs liable for new development as a result of SDS. That’s exactly the point Fredell made.
Further on in the condition, however, it states:
“Regulations shall comprehensively address peak flow conditions, runoff volumes, and flood hazards, incorporating at a minimum all relevant components of existing regulations of Colorado Springs.”
It also calls for maintaining all structures and complying with stormwater permits, things the EPA says Colorado Springs has not done.
Presumably, those regulations would not apply only to new growth, but to the entire city of 186 square miles that already exists — 20 percent of the Fountain Creek watershed.
Beyond that, Fountain Creek was always a big part of SDS.
Stormwater permits and the need to control flows into Fountain Creek are mentioned in the 2004 intergovernmental agreement that was used to get support for SDS from the city of Pueblo and the Pueblo Board of Water Works. On its face, Colorado Springs’ lapsed performance appears to put it in violation of the IGA.
When the Fountain Creek Vision Task Force began meeting in 2006, many conversations mentioned the increased flows that would occur when SDS was in operation. Planning for more flows was added to an ongoing effort to deal with flows that already had increased as Colorado Springs grew from the 1970s on.
The demise of Colorado Springs’ stormwater enterprise was foreseen by Pueblo County’s attorney in comments in 2008 as the environmental impact statement for SDS was being prepared by Reclamation.
Reclamation did not consider the possibility, saying comments about stormwater were unrelated to the federal permit in its responses. The record of decision that approved SDS made the assumption the stormwater enterprise would stay in place before and after the project was built.
So Pueblo County put additional assurances that Colorado Springs would be responsible for controlling water going into Fountain Creek. It also required the city to pay $50 million to a district that had not yet been created.
The Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District was formed by the state Legislature in 2009 to improve Fountain Creek and administer those funds, and has taken Utilities to task over the timing of payments.
The county’s 1041 regulations also were written and adopted when a stormwater enterprise that generated $15.8 million in revenue annually already was in place.
More coverage from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain:
Who said this?
“The City of Colorado Springs is moving forward to address long-term stormwater management.”
No, it wasn’t Colorado Springs City Council President Merv Bennett talking to the Pueblo Board of Water Works last week. The above quote came from Mayor Lionel Rivera during a presentation by Colorado Springs Utilities officials to the Pueblo City Council on July 11, 2005.
They were there to assure Pueblo that Colorado Springs was dead serious when it came to living up to the conditions of an Intergovernmental Agreement signed a year earlier. An agreement that would eventually pave the way for the construction of the Southern Delivery System.
More than a decade later, Colorado Springs Utilities and political leaders are back in town trying to head off a rising tide of outrage in Pueblo County that has been bubbling up the last two months. In November, Colorado Springs learned it faces Environmental Protection Agency enforcement action for failing to meet the minimum requirements of its state stormwater discharge permit.
“They come down here and tell us what they think we want to hear, and then they do nothing,” said Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District General Manager Jay Winner. “How many times are we going to let that happen?”
Last week, the Pueblo Board of Water Works and Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District heard what Colorado Springs had to say for itself. This week, Pueblo County commissioners and Pueblo City Council will get more of the same.
On Monday, Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers and others is scheduled to meet with commissioners at 1:30 p.m. and with City Council at 7 p.m.
What Colorado Springs is offering involves more than lip service. There are real dollars on the table.
The city will double the size of its stormwater staff by the end of 2017, and a new stormwater director will be on board within a month. About $12 million a year will be spent on capital projects to begin to address a $535 million backlog, and $7 million for maintenance. There is another $1.5 million from other city departments directed toward maintenance.
There will be 70 actions to meet the deficiencies outlined in the EPA audit, Utilities reported.
Several slides in the Colorado Springs presentation show before and after photos of neglected drainage ditches that were highlighted in the EPA audit.
Not everyone’s convinced this is a step forward.
“Those trees in the drainage ditches must have been growing for two years to reach that size,” Winner said. “When you look at the numbers they’re throwing around, you have to wonder what happened during the seven years they didn’t have a stormwater enterprise. Are they just playing catch-up, or is this a real improvement?”
That’s been a common pattern, a review of documents about stormwater collected over the past 11 years reveals.
For instance, the progress report of stormwater improvements given to Pueblo City Council in 2007 are identical to a list of unfinished business presented to Colorado Springs City Council in 2009 as it was demolishing the stormwater enterprise after it had been operating for two years on a $15.8 million annual budget. The list of most critical projects then totaled about $40 million and none of them had been touched.
The total backlog was about $500 million.
Although the Lower Ark district, then-Rep. Sal Pace, county commissioners and other local officials pressured Colorado Springs on stormwater, there was little action for two years. The city adopted a new strong-mayor form of government and its council membership completely turned over in a four-year period. At one point, the city failed to send an elected representative to meetings of Fountain Creek district for six months in 2011.
Finally, in 2012, the city’s attorney advised then-Mayor Steve Bach that, in his legal opinion, Colorado Springs ought to be spending at least $13 million annually to control stormwater. Colorado Springs City Council and El Paso County commissioners answered by forming a regional stormwater task force, which Bach opposed on the grounds that Colorado Springs should manage its own storm systems, ultimately dooming regional stormwater control.
By 2014, the $500 million project list was scrapped after a stormwater task force decided it was old and outdated — largely because of new damage from the Waldo Canyon Fire in 2012 and to a smaller degree, the Black Forest Fire in 2013.
In a new study, CH2MHill came up with 239 projects totaling almost $535 million in Colorado Springs, carefully weeding out obsolete and duplicated projects. Of those, 44 totaling $160 million were called high priority, which indicated there are public health or safety issues evident, according to the engineers’ report.
The regional cost, which included all needed work on Fountain Creek and its tributaries in El Paso County, was $723 million.
Later in 2014, El Paso County voters rejected a proposal by the task force to raise $40 million annually with a regional drainage district to address all those issues.
The huge backlog was mentioned at both the water board and Lower Ark meetings, with some trying to do the math at how long it would take to address the problems if the $12 million annual capital expenditure stays in place — say 40 or 50 years.
But Colorado Springs backs away from saying those lists will ever be completed or that they even mean anything.
At the Lower Ark meeting last week, Colorado Springs Utilities consultant Mark Pifher called the $534 million figure a “wish list,” insisting that projects with the highest priority would be tackled first. Utilities board Chairman Andy Pico told the water board that work will start soon on the highest priority projects.
Meanwhile, Colorado Springs has found the $841 million needed to build SDS, a project that will supply the city with the water it needs for the next 40 years, completing all major construction in just five years.
“They’ve done what they wanted to do, while doing the minimum to comply with their obligations to Pueblo,” Winner said. “How much longer are we going to put up with that?”
A Pueblo West Metropolitan District board member wants Pueblo County commissioners to renegotiate the 1041 agreement for the Southern Delivery System.
“There are numerous, fatal flaws in the present 1041 agreement; too many to mention,” Pueblo West board member Mark Carmel told the Pueblo Board of Water Works this week. “I respectfully suggest that the 1041 permit must be renegotiated to create a true agreement.”
It’s a significant development because Pueblo West is a partner in the SDS water pipeline project, and has already benefited from an emergency use of SDS last summer.
The metro board took a position on Jan. 12 that its water should not be held hostage during the current SDS discussions, but Carmel made it clear that he was speaking as an individual at Tuesday’s water board meeting. The metro board will meet with Colorado Springs Utilities at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday to address Carmel’s concerns.
Both the water board and Pueblo City Council are pondering resolutions requiring more action on stormwater in relation to SDS. Pueblo County commissioners are in the process of determining 1041 compliance on stormwater and other issues in the permit.
The Lower Arkansas Water Conservancy District has requested action by the Bureau of Reclamation under the federal SDS contract and by the Pueblo County commissioners under the 1041 permit to delay SDS until a stable source of stormwater funding is found.
Carmel, a former Pueblo County engineer, said he has seen firsthand the damage Fountain Creek causes in Pueblo. He wants to make sure Colorado Springs has adequate stormwater control measures in place.
“As Colorado Springs’ partner in the SDS project, I believe perhaps Pueblo West bears the most local responsibility to ensure SDS is implemented in such a way that the city of Pueblo does not get wiped out by floodwaters, in our name, if we stand by and do nothing,” Carmel said.
He said politicians’ current assurance of $19 million in annual funding for stormwater improvements in Colorado Springs is not adequate because future councils could easily reverse the action.
“A 10-year intergovernmental agreement is not worth the paper it is written on under the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, because it may be canceled at any budget cycle,” he said.
Carmel said the 1041 agreement should be renegotiated to avoid future misunderstandings.
“Now is the time to ask Colorado Springs to cooperatively renegotiate the terms of the SDS 1041 permit to ensure that it is a win-win deal for both communities,” Carmel said. “Any deal that fails to prevent flooding in Pueblo — through a permanent funding mechanism that cannot change with each election — is not a win for Pueblo.”
Colorado Springs Utilities claims that violations of federal stormwater standards are not related to permits for the Southern Delivery System being contested by the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District.
“Documents for the (Bureau of Reclamation’s) Record of Decision refer to the stormwater enterprise numerous times, so to me there’s a tie,” Lower Ark General Manager Jay Winner told the board Wednesday.
The Lower Ark board agreed, and fired off two letters to regulatory agencies requesting to delay SDS until stormwater issues are solved. They ask for protection for Pueblo and other downstream communities from Fountain Creek flows that have been increased by decades of growth in Colorado Springs.
The first — brought to the board by Winner and Pueblo County board members Melissa Esquibel and Anthony Nunez — asks Reclamation to review its contract for SDS and suspend it until Colorado Springs proves it has a stormwater control plan in place.
The second letter — drafted by attorney Peter Nichols at Winner’s request — is to Pueblo County commissioners and cites provisions in the Record of Decision and Pueblo County’s 1041 permit for SDS that require Colorado Springs to meet all federal, state and local permits, regulations and laws. John Fredell, the director of the SDS project, tried to make the case Tuesday to the Pueblo Board of Water Works that the enforcement action by the Environmental Protection Agency against Colorado Springs has nothing to do with SDS.
That viewpoint was echoed Wednesday by Mark Pifher, a Colorado Springs consultant, at the same time as he enumerated renewed efforts by Colorado Springs to beef up stormwater control.
Pifher touted that new leadership in Colorado Springs is committed to correcting the errors that led up to the EPA action.
Winner wasn’t buying it.
“We listened to ‘there is a real commitment’ in 2005, when (water chief) Gary Bostrom, (council members) Lionel Rivera, Larry Small and Richard Skorman came here and told us the same thing,” Winner said. “We tried to get an IGA so there would be an enforceable document.”
Winner said the commitment appears to come and go depending on who is elected, and doubted whether the current plan to fix stormwater control would stay in place after the next cycle.
Nichols questioned whether the $19 million Colorado Springs has committed to stormwater control would come close to the $600 million in needs identified by one study.
Pifher tried to deflect that by saying many of the projects identified fall into the category of a “wish list,” while the action plan now under consideration addresses the most critical projects.
“We’re skeptical,” Nichols said.
Both letters tie the current EPA enforcement action to the Record of Decision and 1041 permit, saying the violation of the federal stormwater permit alone should trigger denial of use of SDS by Colorado Springs.
Winner added that there is no acknowledgement by Colorado Springs that flooding on Fountain Creek is a result of unchecked growth upstream.
Colorado Springs city and Utilities officials on Tuesday fended off another in a rash of recent challenges to the massive Southern Delivery System water project, scheduled to start operating April 27.
The Pueblo Board of Water Works agreed to table for one month a resolution supporting Pueblo County efforts to require guaranteed stormwater funding if the SDS is to keep its hard-won 1041 permit.
Pueblo County issued that permit only after Colorado Springs Utilities spent years negotiating and crafting complex agreements with county, local, state and multiple federal agencies.
It’s the key to the $829 million SDS, one of the biggest modern-day water projects in the West, geared to deliver up to 50 million gallons of water a day to Pueblo West, Colorado Springs, Fountain and Security.
But Utilities’ massive project and its 1041 permit are not to be confused with the city of Colorado Springs’ beleaguered MS4 permit, SDS Director John Fredell told the Water Works board.
The city’s MS4, or Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System permit, is vulnerable since longtime neglect of critical stormwater controls led the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to cite the city in October with multiple violations.
For years, Colorado Springs hasn’t properly enforced drainage regulations, conducted adequate inspections, required developers to provide enough infrastructure or maintained and operated its own stormwater controls adequately, EPA inspections in August concluded. [ed. emphasis mine]
Now city officials are negotiating with the EPA and the Department of Justice to maintain the MS4 permit. They don’t deny the EPA’s claims. Indeed, they had discussed the problems and started scrambling for solutions shortly after John Suthers was sworn in as mayor last June, months before the EPA inspections.
But downstream Pueblo County has been a prime victim of Colorado Springs’ failure to control stormwater surging through Fountain Creek and its tributaries. And the county holds the 1041 permit, which some believe could be used as leverage.
As Colorado Springs development has sprawled farther, more sponge-like land has morphed into impermeable pavement, leaving stormwater roiling across the terrain.
Sediment in Fountain Creek has increased at least 278-fold since the Waldo Canyon fire in 2012, pushing water levels far higher, reported Wright Water Engineers Inc. of Denver, contracted by the county. [ed. emphasis mine]
Sediment grew from 90 to 25,075 tons per year while water yields increased from 2,500 to 4,822 acre-feet, the engineers found. [ed. emphasis mine]
City and Utilities officials have been meeting with those engineers and their own consulting engineering firm, MWH Global, to prioritize projects.
They’ve developed a list of 73, including 58 projects recommended by Wright Water, said city Public Works Director Travis Easton. Work on the first of those commences next week, with detention ponds to be developed along flood-prone Sand Creek near the Colorado Springs Airport.
But skepticism lingers in Pueblo County, despite that effort plus creation of a new Stormwater Division, more than doubling the number of city inspectors and enforcement staff and the vow to dedicate $19 million a year to stormwater solutions.
They’ve heard promises before, Water Works board members noted Tuesday. They want a guaranteed, ironclad source of funding to stanch the stormwater that inundates their communities. And they want it yesterday.
“History’s important,” said Dr. Thomas V. Autobee, a Water Works board member.
Jay Winner, executive director of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District, had threatened in August to file a federal lawsuit against Colorado Springs for violations of the Clean Water Act.
Tuesday, Winner reminded the water board of how the then-Colorado Springs City Council eradicated its stormwater enterprise fund in 2009 – soon after the 1041 permit was issued – “the definition of hoodwink.”
Voters had just passed Issue 300, requiring payments to city-owned enterprises to be phased out. The subsequent council vote still rankles downstream Fountain Creek denizens.
Still, that fund never provided more than $15.8 million, Fredell noted. By contrast, the city and Utilities now are determined to spend more than $19 million a year on stormwater for at least 10 years.
They’re working on an intergovernmental agreement that would provide the guarantees Pueblo County seeks.
“Enforceablity is always an issue,” Mark Pifher, SDS permitting and compliance manager, told the Water Works board. “But we’re in discussion with the EPA and Department of Justice. The handwriting is on the wall. There will be either a consent decree or a federal order, and nothing is more enforceable.”
“If we can work this draft into something sustainable,” Autobee said, “that’s what I’d like to see.”
Board Chairman Nicholas Gradisar said he’s encouraged by the city and Utilities’ concerted efforts and swift action. “What I’m not encouraged by is the inability to come to agreement with Pueblo County.”
Gradisar said the funding must be guaranteed in perpetuity, not only 10 years, with an enforcement mechanism that doesn’t require a federal lawsuit.
Suthers, City Council President Merv Bennett and Utilities officials will meet with the Pueblo County Board of Commissioners at 1:30 p.m. Monday to continue discussions on the fate of the 1041 permit.
That meeting is in commission chambers at the old downtown Pueblo County Courthouse, 215 W. 10th St.
That night, the Pueblo City Council is to decide on a resolution similar to that tabled by the Water Works Board. It would support the county’s efforts to obtain sustained stormwater funding from Colorado Springs.
The council meets at 7 p.m. Monday at City Hall, 1 City Hall Place, in Council Chambers on the third floor.
More coverage from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain:
The Pueblo Board of Water Works decided to wait a month before dipping its toes into the fray between Colorado Springs and Pueblo County over the Southern Delivery System.
The board tabled a resolution demanding a permanent funding mechanism for stormwater control on Fountain Creek in connection with Pueblo County’s 1041 permit with SDS, after testimony muddied the waters.
After SDS Project Director John Fredell tried to convince the water board that the two issues are not related, Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District cried foul.
“When you talk about stormwater, it’s not about the law or politics,” Winner said, turning to Colorado Springs ocials and inviting them to look at the damage along Fountain Creek in Pueblo. “The people are the ones getting injured. You need to do something about stormwater. You people are causing the issue.”
Winner said the Lower Ark district has tried for more than a decade to get Colorado Springs to agree to permanent funding.
Colorado Springs City Council President Merv Bennett, under questioning by water board President Nick Gradisar, admitted that Colorado Springs has not been in compliance with its stormwater permit. He, along with Colorado Springs Councilman Andy Pico and Public Works Director Travis Easton, explained in detail how the city would spend $19 million annually to address stormwater control.
About $12 million would go toward capital costs and $7 million to maintenance.
“It’s not only for downstream users, but for the benefit of Colorado Springs,” Bennett said. “We’re not waiting.
We’re moving forward.”
Colorado Springs is trying to negotiate a 10-year agreement with Pueblo County to ensure the funds stay in place.
Part of the water board’s resolution was to support Pueblo County in the bargaining.
Gradisar questioned whether that would go far to cover $500 million in identified stormwater projects, and blamed politics for the failure of past efforts to fund flood control.
“Left to its own devices, Colorado Springs Utilities would have taken care of these problems,” Gradisar said.
“But your voters . . . they probably wouldn’t have passed SDS.”
Water board member Tom Autobee brought up the issue of the $50 million Colorado Springs Utilities promised to pay to the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District when SDS goes on line.
Fredell explained that the SDS pipeline, pumps and treatment plant still are in testing, so Utilities does not believe the payment is due until 2017 under the 1041 agreement. Fountain Creek district Executive Director Larry Small, a former Colorado Springs councilman, said it should have been paid last week.
Fredell argued that stormwater control is not a condition of the 1041 permit, since the permit deals with new growth related to SDS.
Since SDS is not serving customers, it does not apply, he said.
“But the damage is being caused now, what happens with SDS,” Gradisar replied?
That drew a reaction from Pueblo West Metropolitan District board member Mark Carmel, who questioned whether SDS was just a speculative venture for Colorado Springs. He called for reopening the entire 1041 permit to incorporate new concerns.
Water board member Mike Cafasso said the draft resolution presented at Tuesday’s meeting could be improved and moved to table it. Other board members agreed to take it up again at the board’s February meeting.
From the Centennial Citizen (Paul Donahue and Eric Hecox):
Is our water future secure?
It’s a question on the minds of many in Castle Rock and the entire south metro Denver region — and for good reason. After all, water is what makes our outstanding quality of life possible. If we want future generations to enjoy our communities as we do, we must ensure they have access to a secure and sustainable water supply that meets their future needs.
From conversations throughout the region, we know Castle Rock residents and those in the entire south metro area understand the critical role water plays in delivering the quality of life we desire for our children, in addition to supporting property values, job creation and economic growth.
We know residents are aware the region historically has relied too heavily on declining groundwater supplies and must diversify its supply for long-term sustainability. We know they view water as a top priority for the region and support an all-of-the-above approach that includes conservation and reuse, storage and new renewable supplies.
We also know Castle Rock residents as well as residents across the south metro area value partnership among leaders throughout the region to get the job done in the most economically responsible manner. Working together to secure water rights, build infrastructure and efficiently use storage space helps spread the costs and the benefits to customers throughout the region.
The answer to the question on people’s minds is not clear-cut. While our region is on the path to delivering a secure water future for generations to come, this effort is ongoing and will require continued support from our communities to see it through to the end.
The good news is that we have a plan, and we are executing that plan.
Thanks to innovative conservation approaches, the region has seen a 30 percent decrease in per capita water use since 2000. That means the typical south metro household or business, including those in Castle Rock, is using 30 percent less water than just 15 years ago. Declines in the region’s underground aquifers — historically the main water source for the region — have slowed considerably in that same time period, a testament to efforts across the region to diversify water supplies and maximize efficiency through reuse.
At the same time, major new water infrastructure projects are coming online throughout the region that bring new renewable supplies, storage capacity and reuse capabilities. These include the WISE (Water Infrastructure and Supply Efficiency) Partnership with Denver Water, Aurora and several other regional organizations including Castle Rock Water, the Chatfield Reallocation Project, Rueter-Hess Reservoir, the Northern Project and Castle Rock’s Plum Creek Purification Facility, to name a few.
The 13 members that make up the South Metro Water Supply Authority provide water to 80 percent of Douglas County and 10 percent of Arapahoe County. Together, they are partnering among each other as well as with local government leadership and water entities across the region and state to execute their plan to secure a sustainable water future for the region.
Since becoming a member of the South Metro Water Supply Authority, Castle Rock Water has helped lead implementation of the WISE project, new water storage reservoir projects and other regional renewable water supply efforts. WISE water will be available to Castle Rock residents by 2017 and even earlier for some of the other South Metro residents. A project like WISE represents as much as 10 percent of the renewable water needed for both current and future residents in Castle Rock.
The members of the South Metro Water Supply Authority, including Castle Rock, each have long-term water plans. Through partnerships, these projects are made possible by sharing in the needed investments and other resources when completing the time-consuming task of acquiring additional renewable water and building the required infrastructure.
This collaboration is supported by the state and is in line with the Colorado Water Plan. This regional support has been critical in providing feasible strategies to ensure water for future generations.
Is our water future secure? No, not yet. But we’re well on our way to getting there.
Paul Donahue is the mayor of Castle Rock and has served on the town council for eight years. Eric Hecox is the director of the South Metro Water Supply Authority, a regional water authority made up of 13 water provider members that collectively serve more than 300,000 residents as well as businesses in the south metro Denver area. South Metro Water’s membership spans much of Douglas County and parts of Arapahoe County, including Castle Rock, Highlands Ranch, Parker and Castle Pines.
South Metro Water Supply Authority boundaries
WISE System Map via the South Metro Water Supply Authority
Chatfield Watershed via the Chatfield Watershed Authority
There’s no evidence of water-based contaminants seeping into drinking water wells atop a vast oil and gas field in northeastern Colorado, according to Colorado State University scientists working to protect and inform citizens about the safety of their water.
Ken Carlson, professor of civil and environmental engineering, has led a series of studies analyzing the impact of oil and gas drilling on groundwater in the 6,700-square-mile Denver-Julesburg Basin, which extends north-south from Greeley to Colorado Springs, and east-west from Limon to the foothills.
The studies have been performed under the auspices of the Colorado Water Watch, a state-funded effort begun last year for real-time groundwater monitoring in the Denver-Julesburg Basin. The basin shares space with more than 30,000 active or abandoned oil and/or natural gas wells. The CSU researchers primarily looked at the 24,000 producing and 7,500 abandoned wells in the Wattenberg Field, which sits mainly in Weld County.
“We feel that our results add to our database of knowledge,” Carlson said. “There isn’t a chronic, the-sky-is-falling type of problem with water contamination.”
That isn’t to say that some of the water wells in the basin over the Wattenberg oil and gas field aren’t compromised. Carlson’s team found that 2 percent of their sampled wells showed seepage of oil- and gas-related methane – a flammable greenhouse gas that’s the main component in natural gas.
And that’s not good, Carlson said. Methane, a concern for climate change emissions, can also be explosive (which is why coal mines blow up, and why the movie “Gasland” portrayed flaming taps). But it’s not toxic, and isn’t a huge factor in terms of drinking water safety. It also is found in large quantities in the basin from naturally occurring, biogenic sources.
With regard to the really bad stuff – the bariums, chromiums and other soluble contaminants that people have been worried about getting into their water – Carlson’s team didn’t find any.
Their studies strengthen the theory that thermogenic (originating from oil and gas formations) methane contamination is most likely due to stray gas moving along the outside of compromised well casings in and around the aquifers. Well casings are the cement and steel housing around the production tubing of the oil rig. That tubing penetrates the ground, straight through the aquifer, and into the oil- and gas-rich sediment thousands of feet below.
“My guess is that most of the thermogenic methane-contaminated wells we see out there are 10 to 30 years old,” Carlson said. “Well casing requirements and monitoring have tightened up significantly since the 2009 regulations.”
A series of studies, led by CSU civil and environmental engineer professor Ken Carlson, analyzed the impact of oil and gas drilling on groundwater in the 6,700-square-mile Denver-Julesburg Basin, which extends between Greeley and Colorado Springs and between Limon and the foothills.
The studies were done under the auspices of the Colorado Water Watch, a state-funded effort started last year for real-time groundwater monitoring in the DJ Basin. The basin shares space with more than 30,000 active or abandoned oil and natural gas wells, say CSU researchers.
They primarily looked at the 24,000 producing and 7,500 abandoned wells in the Wattenberg Field, which sits mainly in Weld County.
“We feel that our results add to our database of knowledge,” Carlson said. “There isn’t a chronic, the-sky-is-falling type of problem with water contamination.”
Still, some of the water wells in the basin over the Wattenberg field are compromised, says CSU. Carlson’s team found that 2 percent of their sampled wells showed seepage of oil- and gas-related methane — a flammable greenhouse gas that’s the main component of natural gas.
Methane, in addition to being a concern for climate change emissions, can also be explosive. Still, it’s not toxic and isn’t a huge factor in terms of drinking-water safety.
But other worrisome soluble contaminants — including barium and chromium — were not found by Carlson’s team.
They say that strengthens the theory that thermogenic — that which originates from oil and gas formations — methane contamination is most likely due to stray gas moving along the outside of compromised well casings in and around aquifers.
Rick Beane, a certified arborist who lives in Chatfield Estates southwest of Highlands Ranch, fills a 350-gallon tank with water from a nearby fire hydrant three times a week. He takes the tank home and uses his cistern to get tap water.
He’s been doing this for the past five years because his well went dry.
“It’s unbelievable considering he lives in south metro Denver,” said Melanie Goetz, a former Roxborough Water and Sanitation District board member.
But Beane’s water troubles may now be solved.
Like many others in the area, he will receive treated water — hopefully by next fall — from an intergovernmental agreement between Roxborough Water and Sanitation District and Centennial Water and Sanitation District.
The agreement will deliver water to residential customers in Chatfield Acres and Chatfield East subdivisions, along with existing businesses in the Titan Road Industrial Park.
“The biggest benefit is that we are going to have good, domestic water,” Beane said. “I think it’s great that the county and two water districts have come to a solution for a 20-year problem.”
Douglas County and its Water Alternatives Program spearheaded the agreement to help communities that owned wells.
Once word was out that the county wanted to help, Douglas County Commissioner Jill Repella worked with Aurora Water to get 150 acre-feet of water supplied through Roxborough Water and Sanitation District, said general manager Larry Moore.
The county then paid for preliminary engineering work to determine if it was possible to get treated water to homes in Chatfield and businesses in Titan Road Industrial Park.
Last November, an election was held for the public with a detailed ballot about the logistics of the new water, including how the project would be financed and the infrastructures needed.
“The results were a pretty good indication that the people wanted this water project,” Moore said.
Aurora Water, Centennial Water —the provider for Highlands Ranch — and Roxborough Water worked together to deliver treated water to about 251 homes.
Centennial will pick up the water from Aurora Water, treat it, store it and deliver it to paying customers in master meters, the volume of public water used by residents and businesses. Roxborough will then measure the master meters to determine how much water its customers will need the following month.
Construction for appropriate delivery infrastructures will start in early 2016. It will take about seven months to complete the project, Moore said. Paying customers will have treated water by next fall.
After decades of drawing down nonrenewable groundwater aquifers, the region of 300,000 people spanning most of Douglas County and some of Arapahoe County is transitioning to sustainable supplies. This provides much-needed security to future generations hoping to call south Denver home.
The latest success came last month when a first-of-its-kind partnership among the metro region’s three major water entities — Denver Water, Aurora Water and South Metro Water Supply Authority — received unprecedented statewide support.
The Water Infrastructure and Supply Efficiency (WISE) project now stands alone as the only water project in Colorado to receive funding from basin roundtables across the state. The Colorado Water Conservation Board, the state of Colorado’s lead agency on water, also provided grant money in support of WISE.
The reason for the broad support lies in the collaborative approach that has been the hallmark of South Metro Water’s plans. WISE is widely seen as a way for a growing part of the metro area to cooperatively help solve some of its own water supply issues…
When WISE water deliveries begin in 2016, some of Colorado’s fastest-growing communities will receive a new sustainable water supply. Participating South Metro members include Highlands Ranch (served by Centennial Water), Cottonwood, Dominion, Inverness, Meridian, Parker, Pinery Water, Rangeview, Stonegate and Castle Rock.
At the same time, Denver Water will receive a new back-up supply, and Aurora Water will receive funding to help offset costs of its Prairie Waters project.
WISE is a significant part of South Metro’s plan for a sustainable water future. Combined with other infrastructure investments in supply, storage and reuse, and aggressive conservation efforts that have seen per capita use drop by 30 percent in the past decade, we are witnessing a seismic transition.
In 2003, the Rocky Mountain News ran an explosive three-day series, “Running Dry,” on what many perceived as a looming water crisis in the south metro region. At the time, aquifers in some parts of the region were being drawn down at a rate of about 30 feet per year and the vast majority of the region’s water came from nonrenewable sources. A year later, local water providers joined together to create the South Metro Water Supply Authority and started creating the plan that is being executed now.
Today, annual aquifer declines are one-sixth of what they used to be and continue to decrease. And while areas such as Highlands Ranch are already mostly renewable, the region as a whole is on track to receive the majority of its supplies from renewable sources by 2020.
That’s remarkable headway in a short period of time given the complexities of water planning.
The region still has more work ahead. But given the progress to date and with continuing support for South Metro Water’s plans and projects, we can feel confident in predicting that the days of alarming headlines around the south metro region’s water future are in the past.
Eric Hecox is the director of the South Metro Water Supply Authority. Diane Hoppe is a former state representative and current chair of the Colorado Water Conservation Board.
Here’s the release from the South Metro Water Supply Authority (Russ Rizzo):
The WISE water project today received unprecedented statewide support, becoming the first water infrastructure project in Colorado to receive funding from Basin Roundtables across the state.
The Colorado Water Conservation Board approved $905,000 in state and regional grant funding for the WISE (Water Infrastructure and Supply Efficiency) project, including funds from seven of the state’s nine Basin Roundtables.
“We are excited and grateful for the broad, statewide support for this important project,” said Eric Hecox, executive director of the South Metro Water Supply Authority, which represents 13 water providers comprising most of Douglas County and a portion of Arapahoe County. “This is a significant part of our region’s plan to transition to a more secure and sustainable water supply, and benefits of WISE extend throughout the region and to the West Slope.”
WISE is a partnership among Aurora Water, Denver Water and South Metro Water to combine available water supplies and system capacities to create a sustainable new water supply. Aurora and Denver will provide fully treated water to South Metro Water on a permanent basis. WISE also will enable Denver Water to access its supplies during periods when it needs to. All of this will be accomplished while allowing Aurora to continue to meet its customers’ current and future needs.
“This project is reflective of the regional and statewide collaboration the State Water Plan calls for to meet the future water needs of Coloradans,” said former State Representative Diane Hoppe, chair of the Colorado Water Conservation Board. “The broad financial support from Basin Roundtables across the state reflects the cooperation and smart approach that the Denver metro area’s leading water providers have taken.”
The Basin Roundtables, created in 2005 with the Colorado Water for the 21st Century Act, represent each of the state’s eight major river basins and the Denver metropolitan area. The grants are part of the state’s Water Supply Reserve Accounts program that assists Colorado water users in addressing their critical water supply issues and interests.
Roundtables that have committed funds to WISE so far include:
Metro Basin Roundtable
South Platte Basin Roundtable
North Platte Basin Roundtable
Colorado Basin Roundtable
Arkansas Basin Roundtable
Gunnison Basin Roundtable
Yampa/White/Green Basin Roundtable
“The Colorado Basin applauds the WISE participants for their forward thinking and collaborative approach,” said Jim Pokrandt, chair of the Colorado Basin Roundtable, which includes Grand Junction and Glenwood Springs. “WISE benefits not just the Front Range but the West Slope as well. The project enables the metro region to re-use its trans-mountain supplies, thereby reducing the need to look to other regions for water supply. In addition, the WISE agreement is an integral part of the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement under which the West Slope receives funding to help meet our water project and environmental needs.”
Construction on the WISE project began in June and will continue into 2016. When WISE begins delivering water in 2016:
●The South Denver Metro area will receive a significant new renewable water supply;
●Denver will receive a new backup water supply;
●Aurora will receive funding from partners to help offset its Prairie Waters Project costs and stabilize water rates; and
●The West Slope will receive new funding, managed by the Colorado River Water Conservation District, for water supply, watershed and water quality projects.
Securing a Sustainable Water Supply for South Metro Denver
South Metro Water and its 13 water provider members are executing a plan to transition to renewable supplies. The plan focuses on three areas: conservation and efficiency; infrastructure investment; and partnership among local and regional water suppliers.
The region has made tremendous progress over the past decade, reducing per capita water use by more than 30 percent and adding new renewable water supplies and storage capacity that have significantly decreased reliance on nonrenewable groundwater.
Congratulations to the water treatment personnel at the City of Castle Rock. From email from the Rocky Mountain Section of the AWWA (Greg Baker):
Who has the tastiest water in the Rocky Mountains? According to the judges at a taste test at the 2015 Rocky Mountain Section of the American Water Works (RMSAWWA) annual conference in Loveland, Colorado, Castle Rock Water has the best water in the region. Nine municipalities from a three state region competed for the title of best drinking water based on taste, odor and appearance. The winner of this competition will represent the RMSAWWA at the national “Best of the Best” taste test at the AWWA Conference in Chicago next June.
The winners of today’s competition were Castle Rock Water taking first place, East Cherry Creek Valley Water and Sanitation District in second, with Denver Water and Aurora Water tying for third place.
Judging this event were Cory Reppenhagen, with 7News in Denver, Erin O’Toole, reporter with KUNC Radio in Ft. Collins, Colorado, Pinar Omur-Ozbeck with Colorado State University, David Dani with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, and John Donahue from North Park Public Water District in Machesny, Illinois.
The RMSAWWA is the regional section for the AWWA, which is the largest non-profit, science-based organization for drinking water professionals in the world. The RMSAWWA covers Wyoming, Colorado and New Mexico and has over 2,400 members, representing water utilities, engineering consultants and water treatment specialty firms.
More than $1.3 billion in water projects for the Arkansas Valley are queued, although how they will be funded is unknown.
That’s the conclusion of the Arkansas Basin Roundtable, which finalized its comments on the state water plan Wednesday.
The roundtable again voiced its overriding concern that water for agriculture be protected.
“At some point, agricultural use may be more valuable (than urban use),” said Joe Kelley, La Junta water superintendent. “In some years, the cities may not have the demand. It’s best not to buy and dry, to take the water away permanently.”
The roundtable also agreed to eight challenges that were identified by Gary Barber, who chaired the roundtable for several years before becoming a consultant on the basin implementation plan. That plan is finished, but it feeds into the state water plan by identifying projects and goals for the Arkansas River basin.
A list of projects included rough cost estimates that still need revision. The most expensive included $400 million for future Colorado Springs development, $400 million for the Arkansas Valley Conduit, $277 million for the Pikes Peak Regional Water Authority and at least $100 million for Fountain Creek projects.
Another $100 million or so is needed for an Upper Arkansas multiuse project, a fledgling watershed protection effort and support for the Arkansas Valley Super Ditch.
Finally, there are 135 smaller projects that total about $65 million.
As far as challenges, the roundtable agreed to eight points Barber developed from 10 years of discussion. The most daunting is the need to find 30,000-50,000 acre-feet for new uses, both agricultural and municipal, that will occur because all of the Arkansas basin’s water is appropriated.
One particular concern noted that although needs have been identified, no solutions have emerged to fill those needs.
Other challenges include replacing nonrenewable Denver Basin groundwater, finding collaborative solutions, protecting recreational flows, maintaining water quality on Fountain Creek and in the Lower Arkansas Valley, renovating aging reservoirs and finding regional solutions.
Comments to the final draft of the state water plan are due by Thursday.
The plan and information about how to comment may be found at coloradowaterplan.com.
The final version of the Colorado Water Plan will be submitted by the Colorado Water Conservation Board to Gov. John Hickenlooper by Dec. 10.
FromThe Colorado Springs Gazette (Ryan Maye Handy):
The rolling grasslands of western Douglas County might look like prime Front Range real estate. But beyond the beauty of the nearby foothills, there is a deeply buried problem with the land: Water is hard to come by.
Technically, there is some water in the shallow aquifers that lie beneath the western prairies, the next frontier of Douglas County’s growth. But decades ago, wells in the area started going dry or pumping muddy water into faucets. The Denver Basin aquifer, the historic provider of water for Douglas, is a finite resource that can’t sustain the growth that the county has planned for the next 20 years and beyond. When wells are drilled, they are poor producers and easily overwhelmed by daily tasks – such as fueling showers, running dishwashers and watering lawns.
“All the free water, the cheap water, is starting to go away,” said Larry Moore, the general manager of the Roxborough Park Water and Sanitation District, which runs area’s main water treatment facility. “All you’ve got to do is pump it up.”
But when water no longer pumps up, water districts and homeowners in Douglas must find an alternative. Once considered one of the fastest growing counties in the country, Douglas County’s growth has already outpaced its water resources.
The county’s water crisis has been unfolding for decades, but recently it has taken aggressive and unprecedented steps to try and reverse its fate. The county commissioners have set a goal to wean county residents off the Denver aquifer, an ancient water source that is rapidly declining.
Seven years ago the county hired Tim Murrell as its water resources planner to help engineer ways for residents to abandon their wells and join water districts that get their water from the mountains. As a water planner working for a county that doesn’t provide water service, Murrell’s job is unique.
“I am the only one of (my) type in the state who was hired by the county to look at water issues,” said Murrell, who previously helped New Mexico compile a state water plan.
Murrell’s task is to get rural communities to use what he calls “renewable water” – water that does not come from the area’s limited aquifer, but from reservoirs and rivers naturally refilled annually by snowpack.
While Murrell’s county role might be unique, his outlook is one of increasing popularity in Colorado, a state in the midst of creating its first statewide water plan. Due this December to Gov. John Hickenlooper, the water plan will identify Colorado’s future water shortages and suggest ways to bring more water to rapidly growing communities both east and west of the Great Divide. Critics of the plan have said that it offers many problems but few solutions, although the plan’s advocates say that is has begun a difficult and invaluable conversation about water. Public comment on the second draft of the plan closes on Sept. 17.
Thirty years ago, El Paso County was one of the few counties in the state that required proof of water before development plans are approved, said Mark Gebhart, deputy director of El Paso County Development Services. The circa-1986 ordinance requires all developments with lots 35 acres and under to have enough water for 300 years, three times the state requirement. That requirement has only been waived in rare cases when a district had other conservation measures in place.
But as in Douglas County, there are areas in El Paso that were settled years before water conservation and planning were mandatory, Gebhart added.
“They have never had to prove to anyone that they have water, and some of those properties in the southern part of the county, they don’t have water,” he said.
Nonetheless, El Paso County hasn’t seen a massive loss in groundwater, unlike those counties south and west of Denver.
“The highest areas of water level declines have been in Douglas and Jefferson counties,” said Gebhart. “Hundreds of vertical feet of water decline.”
Water becoming scarce
In Douglas County, lack of water has become a barrier to development and growth. While the county’s picturesque westside offers acres of open land, the farther west development pushes, the harder it is to find water.
The geology of the Denver basin means that western aquifers are shallower and less plentiful – wells have to be drilled deeper and at greater expense. For years, dry or poor quality wells were a well-known problem that became more noticeable as development spread. Sometimes businesses in the area go days without water, said Murrell.
One western subdivision, Plum Valley Heights, had been struggling for years to get its 29 homes off wells before they went dry. The community became one of the county’s first major successes of water planning, thanks to some luck, a 2014 ballot measure and millions of dollars of county money. The neighborhood also benefited from a new mindset, shared by the Douglas County commissioners, that the county’s water future was partly in their hands.
“The commissioners had never taken an active role on this in past,” said Commissioner Jill Repella. “If any community goes dry, who are they going to come to? They are going to come to the commissioners.”
It didn’t take long for Jack McCormick to discover that his well in Plum Valley Heights was no good. McCormick and his wife bought a house in the subdivision in 1986, and a couple of years later, McCormick suddenly realized what it meant to live with little water on Douglas County’s westside.
“I was out filling my horse tanks one morning and my wife was in the shower and the shower went dry,” McCormick recalled. “And I kept filling my horse tank.”
The episode began decades of wrangling to get more water for the subdivision, where McCormick became accustomed to not running multiple water appliances at once or having his water supply run out before the lawn was fully watered. Although his well had been tested when he bought the home, McCormick learned that there was much more going on underground than he had realized.
The Denver aquifer has four layers, each essentially an underground storage container for water. The basin stretches from southern Weld County to northern El Paso County, west to Jefferson County and as far east as Lincoln County. The water is coveted for its accessibility and high quality – unlike water that comes from the mountains, Denver aquifer water doesn’t require as much treatment to make it drinkable, Murrell said. The water is also irreplaceable: once it has been used up, there is no way to refill it.
By contrast, most water sources in El Paso County are considered renewable – such as the Widefield aquifer, which is refilled by stream flow, said Gebhart. Districts like Woodmoor Water and Sanitation, which rely primarily on non-renewable aquifers like the Denver basin, have purchased other water rights to make up for the loss, Gebhart said.
The Denver Basin aquifer remains is ideal for residents in central Douglas County, but simple differences in geology make accessing aquifer water close to the mountains nearly impossible.
As various layers of bedrock jut out of the land forming rock outcroppings and hills, a layer of the aquifer is lost. What layers that are left underground can be hard to reach and have unreliable water quality.
When he bought a house in Plum Valley Heights, McCormick knew nothing about wells, water and the aquifer. He came from Indiana, where his well was productive at only 75 feet deep. But in the Denver basin in Douglas, wells are drilled hundreds or thousands of feet down and can cost up to $1 million, said Moore. As a reminder that west Douglas water is not reliable, Moore keeps a jug of it in his office.
“It’s almost like red clay mud,” said Moore of the water in the jug. “That’s what they are pulling out is water and mud. The water is not very clear at all.”
Moore’s Roxborough district resolved the problem of poor well water nearly 40 years ago, when developers discovered that there wasn’t enough groundwater to sustain a subdivision. The district bought an old concrete water treatment plant from the city of Aurora and with it 50 years of water, which Aurora shuttled from the mountains in a massive underground pipe. But when Moore started with the district in 1989, the eventual expiration of the water contract loomed.
“That’s been my career goal, to figure out a water supply,” he said.
At the forefront in water planning
Driving along U.S. 85 west in Castle Rock last week, Murrell pointed out many “for sale” signs and small businesses in an industrial park – all competitors for limited resources. He also pointed to a vast expanse of empty grassland, adorned only with a few signs for Sterling Ranch, a subdivision of more than 12,000 homes approved in 2011 after years of hearings and wrangling over water. According to a county ordinance passed in 1999, Sterling Ranch has to have 100 percent renewable water, which means it won’t be relying on the Denver aquifer.
With such a big development on the horizon, big changes in water use will make Douglas County a forerunner when it comes to managing water.
“It has very often been at the forefront of trying to plan this out,” said Gebhart, of Douglas County’s approach to water planning.
In November 2014, after more than two decades of struggles to get a better water source for Plum Valley Heights, the neighborhood voted overwhelmingly to join the Roxborough district, which secured a new 90-year water contract with Aurora for $26 million. The new deal with Aurora brought 50 extra taps to Roxborough, which it offered to other westside businesses and residences, including Plum Valley Heights, which had dry wells.
After using the same crumbling water treatment facility since 1958, as of late summer Roxborough had started work on a new $32 million facility, half of which will be covered by Sterling Ranch, said Moore. The new water treatment plant will be finished in roughly two years, and be one of the first in the state to use ultraviolet technology for its primary form of water treatment, instead of relying on chemicals, Moore added.
But the Douglas County commissioners also took a bold step to help fund some of the much-needed changes in the region, said Murrell. It will cost $15 million to plug Plum Valley Heights in Roxborough’s system, $5 million of which was paid for with county money. The money will be eventually paid back in tap fees, said Murrell. Pitching in the money was a “no-brainer” for the commissioners said Repella, who added that a lack of water could have had a ripple effect on the rest of the county’s land value.
This year, the county has focused on participating in a multi-million dollar project known as the Water, Infrastructure and Supply Efficiency partnership, which links the Denver metro areas to system of recycled and unused water. If all goes as planned, the project will bring more water to communities like Douglas County, as it works to abandon its reliance on groundwater.
“We had a new realization that the county has a responsibility to be proactive to make sure that residents are moving in the right direction,” said Repella. “To take a step back and brush your hands and say, ‘Okay everybody, you are on your own now,’ that’s not responsible.”
It didn’t quite amount to paying northern cities to stay out of the Arkansas River basin…but it could help.
The Arkansas Basin Roundtable Wednesday agreed to chip in $10,000 to a multimillion-dollar project by the Water Infrastructure and Supply Efficiency partnership, but only if Aurora promises not to use it to create an artificial trigger for more leases from the Arkansas River basin.
The money is just a show of support for a $6.4 million component that would get the right mix of water into a pipeline that connects Aurora’s $800 million Prairie Waters Project with a $120 million pipeline south of Denver to meet the future needs of 14 water providers who are members of the South Metro Water Authority.
Seven of the state’s nine roundtables, including the Colorado River basin, have contributed $85,000 to the project. Two roundtables are set to act on requests for $20,000 in the next two months, and another $800,000 is being sought from a state fund. WISE is ponying up $5.5 million.
The Colorado Water Conservation Board will be asked to approve the grants in September.
WISE would deliver up to 10,000 acre-feet annually of reused water primarily brought into the South Platte River basin by Denver and Aurora. Its backbone would be nearly $1 billion in existing infrastructure.
The $6.4 million would be for a treatment plant that would blend Prairie Waters and well water in the East Cherry Creek Village pipeline. That would relieve demand on Denver Aquifer groundwater and the need for cities to buy farm water — including Arkansas Valley water — said Eric Hecox, executive director of the South Metro group.
“In the big scheme of things, this is important because it meets a need in a big gap area,” Hecox said.
The proposal caused unease for water conservancy districts which have agreements with Aurora, however.
“The city of Aurora transfers water out of the Arkansas basin,” said Terry Scanga, general manager of the Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District. “This project increases demand on Aurora’s supplies. I’m not OK with this unless there is some sort of amendment that says if (a storage shortfall) is triggered, they won’t come back into the basin.”
Aurora signed agreements with the Upper Ark, Southeastern and Lower Ark districts over the past 12 years that limit new leases from the Arkansas Valley. There are numerous requirements of how Aurora uses and stores water that factor into a complex equation.
The roundtable agreed that the benefits of reducing demand on the Denver Basin aquifer in northern El Paso County would help the Arkansas Valley. The WISE project would also slow, but not necessarily stop, future water raids in the Arkansas Valley.
Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Ark district, asked Hecox about South Metro’s 2006 master plan that included future Arkansas River projects as options. Hecox said a new master plan is being developed that does not contain those projects.
“So you can come into the Arkansas basin?” Winner asked.
“Legally, yes,” Hecox replied. “But we have no plans to.”
In the end, the roundtable endorsed the $10,000 token support, but only on the condition that Aurora formally assures the three districts and the roundtable that WISE won’t be used as an excuse to take more Arkansas River water.
The Water Infrastructure and Supply Efficiency (WISE) project is a partnership among Aurora Water, Denver Water and the South Metro Water Supply Authority to combine available water supplies and system capacities to create a sustainable new water supply. Aurora and Denver will provide fully treated water to South Metro Water on a permanent basis. WISE also will enable Denver Water to access its supplies during periods when it needs to.
All of this will be accomplished while allowing Aurora to continue to meet its customers’ current and future needs.
Aurora’s Prairie Waters system will provide the backbone for delivering water from the South Platte when Aurora and Denver Water have available water supplies and capacity. The water will be distributed to the South Metro Denver communities through an existing pipeline shared with Denver and East Cherry Creek Valley Water and Sanitation District, and new infrastructure that will be constructed over the next 16 months…
WISE is a key element to this plan. With construction agreements in place, we will break ground in coming weeks to begin connecting water systems throughout the Denver Metro area. When WISE begins delivering water in 2016:
• The South Denver Metro area will receive a significant new renewable water supply;
• Denver will receive a new backup water supply;
• Aurora will receive funding from partners to help offset its Prairie Waters Project costs and stabilize water rates; and
• The Western Slope will receive new funding, managed by the River District, for water supply, watershed and water quality projects.
The Douglas County commissioners took an important step in helping secure the county’s water future at their regular meeting on Aug. 26.
By joining in on the South Metro Water Infrastructure and Supply Efficiency (WISE) Authority’s agreement with Denver Water and Aurora Water, the county will be the recipient of 2,775 acre-feet of water per year for a 10-year period, starting in 2016…
The South Metro WISE Authority is made up of 10 water providers that are all part of the larger South Metro Water Supply Authority. Nine of those water providers — Centennial, Cottonwood, Dominion, Inverness, Meridian, Parker, Pinery, Stonegate Village and Castle Rock — are located in Douglas County. The 10th, Rangeview Metropolitan District, is located in Aurora.
“This region has been working hard for a very long time to bring renewable water supplies into the area,” SMWSA Executive Director Eric Hecox said. “We have a legacy of developing non-renewable groundwater and the effort for many years has been to transition our current population off of groundwater as well as to provide water for future economic development, and I think this project achieves that.”
The WISE project began in 2008 as a way for members to identify processes, cost, distribution, timing, storage and legal issues relating to distributing treated reusable water return flows from Denver and Aurora for use by SMWSA water users.
The group tasked with utilizing this water is the South Metro WISE Authority. The primary purpose of the authority is to reduce members’ dependence on non-renewable Denver Basin wells and provide reliable long-term water supply for residents.
“While we often refer to the Denver Basin aquifers in a negative way, they do provide an extremely important drought reserve,” Douglas County Water Resource Planner Tim Murrell said. “By reducing Denver Basin well pumping to a secondary source rather than a sole supply, the basin can continue to be a valuable asset in times of drought.”
In 2013, Aurora, Denver and the South Metro WISE Authority finalized the water delivery agreement. As part of the deal, 100,000 acre-feet of water will go to the authority’s providers over a 10-year period.
At the time of the agreement, the authority members were only able to agree on 7,225 acre-feet per year. This left 2,775 acre-feet per year that would be lost if not claimed. Douglas County has been working with the authority members over the last year to reserve the 2,775 acre-feet per year supply for the county.
The WISE members are funding new infrastructure that will move the water from Aurora’s Binney Water Purification Facility to its end locations, beginning in 2016. Water purchased by the county, as well as by some of the other providers, will be stored at the Rueter-Hess Reservoir south of Parker.
The county will pay a $97,125 annual reservation fee through 2020; 2,000 acre-feet of water per year will be available for use and purchase by WISE members, and 775 acre-feet will be available for use and purchase by non-members.