@CSUtilities may offer water to outlying communities in El Paso County

The new north outlet works at Pueblo Dam — Photo/MWH Global

From The Colorado Springs Independent (Pam Zubeck):

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.

Elbert County growth fueled by sweet spot in the Denver Basin Aquifer system

Denver Basin aquifer map

From ColoradoPolitics.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.

Study Estimates about 2.1 Million People using Wells High in Arsenic — @USGS

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
    This map shows estimates of how many private domestic well users in each county may be drinking water with high levels of arsenic. An estimated 2.1 million people throughout the U.S. may be drinking domestic well water high in arsenic

    “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.

  • Study: Elbert County water supplies look good into the future

    Denver Basin aquifer map

    From The Elbert County News (Jodi Horner):

    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.

    Variables considered

    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.

    El Paso County inks deal with Forsgren Associates, Inc for water master plan

    From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Rachel Riley):

    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.

    Castle Rock Water recognized as industry leader for the second year in a row

    Castle Rock and Pikes Peak. Photo credit VisitCastleRock.org

    Here’s the release from Castle Rock:

    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.”

    To find out more about everything happening with Castle Rock Water, head to http://CRgov.com/water, or check out the new conservation website http://CRconserve.com.

    Douglas County to developers: Focus more on a renewable supply

    Denver Basin aquifer map
    Denver Basin aquifer map

    From The Golden Transcript (Jessica Gibbs):

    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.

    douglascounty