State of #Colorado, water managers, set to work on water-use reduction plan — @AspenJournalism #cwcac2019 #DCP #ColoradoRiver #COriver

Hay fields in the upper Yampa River valley, northwest Colorado. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

From Aspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith):

Colorado officials and regional water managers are poised to start working together on a plan to reduce water use in Colorado, mainly by paying willing irrigators to fallow hayfields, in order to bolster falling water levels in Lake Powell and guard against a compact call on the Colorado River system.

After a series of meetings held last week by the Colorado Water Conservation Board and by Western Slope and Front Range water interests, state officials are now set to begin investigating the feasibility of a “demand management” program that’s “voluntary, temporary and compensated,” and water users and managers throughout Colorado will be asked to help shape the new program.

“Demand management, reduction in consumptive use, is an incredibly threatening concept to Western water users, and certainly to West Slope water users,” Andy Mueller, the general manager of the Colorado River District, told a ballroom full of water professionals Friday during the last day of a three-day Colorado Water Congress meeting here. “Our agricultural community is concerned that what this is really about is taking water from ag and bringing it into urban areas.”

Nonetheless, Mueller said, “this is a time where we have to work collaboratively, with both our urban friends and our rural friends, to figure how we do this together, and how we recognize the values that are important to each of us.”

Mueller also told the Water Congress audience that “the River District is committed to proactively engaging and working with the CWCB and the Front Range to figure out how we can stand up a program that truly protects all of us in this situation. To not do so, to not engage proactively in that conversation, would be irresponsible of every one of us in this room.”

He also laid out the Western Slope’s vision for the program, which centered on sustaining rural communities.

“We want, from a West Slope perspective, our agriculture and our industries and our cities that are going to participate in these programs to have the opportunity to use the water when they need it, and to monetize their assets into a program when they can figure out ways not to use it,” Mueller said.

Demand management is based on the idea that if water that otherwise would be used to grow hay, or turf in suburban settings, can instead be left in the river system to flow into Lake Powell, and into a new regulatory pool of water within the big reservoir, it will help boost water levels in the reservoir, allow for continued hydropower production at Glen Canyon Dam and help the upper-basin states meet their obligations to deliver a minimum amount of water to the lower-basin states under the terms of the Colorado River compact.

A recently concluded four-year test program called the System Conservation Pilot Program paid irrigators in the Upper Colorado River Basin an average of about $200 per acre-foot of conserved consumptive use of water.

Fresh turf, in Thornton, near Denver.

Denver engaged

Jim Lochhead, CEO and manager of Denver Water, was sharing the stage with Mueller on Friday during a panel discussion, after they together had met Thursday with other Front Range water providers in a behind-the-scenes meeting.

Lochhead said the Front Range and the Western Slope are united in their desire to avoid violating the terms of the compact.

“No one wants the result of a situation where we haven’t come together collectively to arrive at a solution,” Lochhead said.

And, he stressed, “Colorado needs to do our part to make sure that the demand-management piece is done in a way that protects all water users in Colorado, East Slope and West Slope.”

“From Denver Water’s perspective, we’re prepared to engage productively, as I’ve indicated many times in the past,” Lochhead said. “We’re prepared to contribute our share of water into a solution that would be collectively agreed to within Colorado and the other upper-basin states, if it is necessary, for our own mutual benefit and survival.”

The state’s emerging demand-management program is tied to the ongoing effort to approve “drought-contingency planning,” or DCP, agreements in the seven states in the Colorado River Basin: Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, New Mexico, California, Arizona and Nevada.

Arizona’s governor on Thursday signed a required piece of state legislation in order to meet a federally imposed deadline, but there are still other DCP agreements that need to be finalized by a new working deadline, March 4. Federal legislation also is required to implement the regional agreements designed to keep both Lake Powell and Lake Mead operating as designed.

Sand and silt are piling up on the Colorado River above Lake Powell, as water levels continue to fall due to persistent drought and encroaching aridification. Water managers from San Diego to Wyoming are working to find ways to keep the river’s reservoirs, and water delivery systems, functioning.

State investigating

On Tuesday during a regular public meeting held in Westminster, the directors of the Colorado Water Conservation Board indicated they were in support of a staff proposal to form seven different work groups in 2019 to study demand management.

Brent Newman, the CWCB’s interstate, federal and water information section chief, and point person on Colorado River issues, told the agency’s board of directors that the state is not yet starting up a demand-management program; it is only studying the feasibility of doing so.

He also said the state is not studying how a curtailment, or mandatory cutback in water use, would be administered by the state if the Colorado River Compact were to be violated.

Karen Kwon, a first assistant attorney general of Colorado, echoed that stance in her remarks to the CWCB directors Tuesday.

“We are not talking about how we would administer a curtailment,” Kwon said.

Newman and Kwon are proposing that the CWCB set up work groups, staffed by hand-picked experts, to explore a “plethora of issues” raised by demand management, including policy; monitoring and verification; water administration; the environment; economics; funding; and education and outreach.

The staff also proposed to set up a quarterly series of workshops for water users, managers and stakeholders, as well as engaging the state’s basin roundtables, which meet regularly in each of the state’s major river basins, on the issues raised by demand management.

A detailed work plan for the proposed process is to be presented by CWCB staff to the agency’s directors in March.

Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism covers rivers and water in collaboration with The Aspen Times and other newspapers owned by Swift Communications. The Times published this story Feb. 4.

Boulder County commissioners set March 14 public hearing on Gross Reservoir expansion appeal

The dam that forms Gross Reservoir, located in the mountains west of Boulder. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

From The Boulder Daily Camera (Amy Bounds):

Community members wanting to comment next month at a Boulder County commissioners hearing on whether Denver Water can move forward with an expansion of Gross Reservoir can start signing up next week…

Online sign-ups for the March 14 hearing start Feb. 14, while in-person sign-ups will start an hour before the hearing.

Commissioners plan to continue to take public testimony until all speakers have had an opportunity to comment, according to a news release.

After the public hearing, commissioners will hear Denver Water’s appeal of a decision by the county’s Land Use Department that Denver Water must run the project through what is known as a “1041” review process before construction can begin.

Named for the bill number by which it was enacted in 1974, the 1041 legislation gives local governments the right to control development by agencies beyond their boundaries through a local permitting process.

Denver Water argues the Gross Reservoir expansion is exempt from 1041 requirements. Boulder County claims it is not.

The public hearing will focus on the limited scope of the determination and is not a hearing or decision on the perceived impacts or merits of the reservoir expansion project, according to a news release…

Written comments can be submitted through an online comment form available at bit.ly/GrossDamExpansion. Comments also can be mailed to the Boulder County Commissioners’ Office, P.O. Box 471, Boulder, 80306. Comments need to be received by noon March 12.

Colorado’s Lake Dillon is Warming Rapidly — @CIRES

Grays and Torreys, Dillon Reservoir. Photo credit Greg Hobbs.

From CIRES:

CU Boulder researchers harness 35 years of data to uncover responses of a high-elevation reservoir to a warming world

The surface waters of Lake Dillon, a mountain reservoir that supplies water to the the Denver area, have warmed by nearly 5 degrees Fahrenheit (2.5 degrees Celsius) in the last 35 years, which is twice the average warming rate for global lakes. Yet surprisingly, Dillon does not show adverse environmental changes, such as nuisance algal blooms, often associated with warming of lakes. Researchers at the CIRES Center for Limnology, who have just published a multi-decadal study of Lake Dillon, conclude that the lake’s rapid warming and its lack of ecological response to warming are explained by the high elevation of the lake.

“The warming of Lake Dillon is a result of climate change but, in contrast with warm lakes, which respond in undesirable ways to warming, Lake Dillon shows no environmental response to warming, said William Lewis, Director of the CIRES Center for Limnology and lead author of the new paper published today in AGU’s Water Resources Research. “The explanation for the lake’s ecological stability lies in its low temperature, which serves as a buffer against ecological effects of warming.”

Since 1981, Lewis and colleagues in the CIRES Center for Limnology have collected detailed information not only on Lake Dillon’s temperature, but also on its water quality and aquatic life. Full vertical profiles of water temperature document changes in vertical distribution of heat over time. The record shows that warming of tributary water contributes to warming of the lake’s deepest waters.

“The 35-year data set allows us to see the complete warming pattern of the lake,” said James McCutchan, associate director of the Center. Natural events, including droughts and floods, create interannual variation that obscures the effects of climate change over short intervals, whereas multidecadal data sets can show more clearly the effects of climatic warming.

Dillon is the highest lake yet studied for full water column warming, as Lewis and his colleagues note in their paper. The study also is the first to analyze warming in a reservoir, rather than a natural lake.

“Reservoirs can differ fundamentally from other lakes in their response to warming because they often release water from the bottom as well as the top of the water column,” said Lewis. “They can warm not only from the top, in response to solar radiation reaching the surface, but also from the bottom, as tributaries subject to climatic warming replace cold bottom water with progressively warmer tributary water.”

The Lake Dillon study program is sponsored by Denver Water, which uses the water for treatment and delivery to Denver residents, and by the Summit Water Quality Committee, which represents the interests of local residents in preservation of Lake Dillon’s water quality.

Folks are beating the mitigation drum to protect watersheds from wildfire

Firefighters work to contain the Ryan Fire in northern Colorado on Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2018. Photo credit: USFS via Firehouse.com

From NBCNews.com (Kaitlin Sullivan):

As more people build homes in fire-prone areas, and as climate change and other factors increase the frequency of fires, there is a growing risk to life and property throughout the West — and a lesser known risk to the region’s already endangered water supply. At least 65 percent of the public water supply in the Western U.S. comes from fire-prone areas.

Blazes like the Tubb Fire and 2018’s massive Camp and Carr wildfires can expose the drinking water for millions of people to the risk of contamination by toxic chemicals and parasites. Experts are concerned the new scale of wildfires torching urban areas could cause damage to public water supply that isn’t immediately apparent.

“Lots of structures, vehicles, and man-made materials were involved in the Camp and Carr fires and there isn’t a lot of information on how the environment is affected when these materials burn,” said Clint Snyder, assistant executive officer of California’s Central Valley Water Board.

The concern is prompting more intensive water testing programs following wildfires and spurring utility companies to invest in wildfire mitigation projects across the West.

HOUSES IN THE WOODS

One-third of U.S. homes are now built in what’s called wildland-urban interface (WUI) areas, areas near or on land prone to wildfire. It’s the fastest-growing land use type in the continental U.S.

According to U.S. Forest Service data, in just 20 years, new WUI areas grew by more than 46 million acres, covering an area larger than Washington State.

When these homes become wildfire tinder, insulation, roofing and home furnishings release toxins as they go up in flames, creating new sources of water contamination.

In addition to releasing toxins into the water supply, fires kill healthy tree roots. Without the roots, contaminating sediment and ash are flushed by rain into the reservoirs, rivers and lakes that supply cities with drinkable water.

In 2017 the U.S. Geological Survey published a study that predicted wildfires could double the amount of sediment in a third of the largest western watersheds by 2050. In some areas, sediment could increase 1,000 percent, potentially carrying parasites and harmful metals and chemicals with it.

According to representatives at the California State Water Resources Control Board, bacteria and parasite contamination, rather than chemical contamination, are the main worries in the wake of the Camp Fire, which burned 153,000 acres and 19,000 structures north of Sacramento, killing at least 86 people.

In Paradise, the town most affected by the Camp Fire, 22 out of 24 water systems were tested for contamination and cleared at the time of writing this article, but until the remaining two can be confirmed as uncontaminated, a Boil Water Notice, first released on Nov. 9, will remain in effect.

Camp Fire, California, 2018. Photo credit: AOL.com

Solomon’s biggest concern is a parasite called cryptosporidium. When bare soil is exposed because vegetation has burned, the sediment that is flushed into water sources often contains spores of the intestinal infection-causing parasite. While a discomfort to healthy people, cryptosporidium can become life-threatening to people who are undergoing chemotherapy, have AIDS, or are elderly.

“Cryptosporidium form spores and that’s a problem because spores are like armored tanks, encasing the pathogen in a way that allows it to invade even significant amounts of chlorine,” said Solomon.

The increased sediment also creates a costly problem for water treatment plants.

Sediment clogs the microfiltration systems that filter parasites in large water treatment systems, requiring expensive clean-ups.

Slopes above Cheesman Reservoir after the Hayman fire photo credit Denver Water.

In 2002, the Hayman Fire cost Colorado utility company Denver Water $27 million, when heavy rains following the fires washed sediment, fallen trees, and man-made debris into the Stronita Springs and Cheeseman Reservoirs. The contaminants had to be filtered out before the water was safe for consumers.

To date, the Tubb Fire is one of California’s starkest examples of post-wildfire water contamination.

Before last year’s larger, deadlier Camp Fire, it was the most destructive California wildfire ever recorded. It burned nearly 37,000 acres, 5,636 homes and businesses, and killed 22 people.

But despite the scope of the blaze, it took a phone call from Gerald Buhrz to alert local authorities to the possibility of water contamination.

“If [he] hadn’t called in to report a chemical smell in the water, we may never have known about it,” said Bennett Horenstein, who was director of Santa Rosa Water during the fire. “It makes me wonder how many times this has happened and gone unreported.”

In total, the City of Santa Rosa had to spend $8 million replacing hydrants, valves, and other water system components in 352 properties, including 1,265 feet of water main.

“What happened in Fountaingrove should be a learning opportunity for water systems nationally,” Horenstein said…

Denver Water, which manages 12 water storage facilities throughout Colorado, announced in January that it’s pledging $16.5 million to the From Forest to Faucets Project, a partnership with the U.S. Forest Service that will protect crucial watersheds from wildfire. Colorado has more than 14 million acres of U.S. National Forest land and almost 90 percent of it is located in watersheds that feed public water supplies.

Officials in Arizona enacted a plan in July that prescribes tree thinning and controlled burns for the three watersheds that feed the C.C. Cragin Reservoir. The project is funded in part by a local utility company called Salt River Project…

“Fire mitigation projects are not just urgent because of the fact that people live near these forests, but the fact that people live downstream from these watersheds,” [Linda Wadleigh] said.

Moffat Collection System Project update: “I think their position is pretty clear” — Jim Lochhead #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Denver Water is seeking approvals from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the state of Colorado to expand Gross Reservoir, which is southwest of Boulder. The 77,000 acre-foot expansion would help forestall shortages in Denver Water’s water system and offer flood and drought protection, according to Denver Water.

From The Sky-Hi News (Lance Maggart):

On Wednesday a collection of six environmental advocacy groups – Save the Colorado, the Environmental Group, Wildearth Guardians, Living Rivers, Waterkeeper Alliance Inc. and the Sierra Club – filed a lawsuit in Colorado’s federal district court against the proposed Gross Reservoir Expansion Project, alternately called the Moffat Firming Project…

The legal process surrounding Gross Reservoir has deep significance to Grand County. The county serves as the source for much of the water Denver Water relies upon, which is transported out of the county through the Moffat Tunnel near Winter Park Resort. The county is also party to a collaborative water management group called Learning By Doing. The group looks to improve river habitat in Grand County by conducting environmental water projects and through other means.

The lawsuit filed by the environmental groups does not name Denver Water and instead is directed at the US Army Corps of Engineers, the Department of the Interior and the US Fish and Wildlife Service. The 57-page complaint lays out 32 separate specific claims related to alleged violations of the National Environmental Policy Act, the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act.

The alleged violations claimed by the environmental groups cover a wide range of technical issues related to the formal processes by which large construction projects, such as the Gross Reservoir Expansions, are approved by federal agencies. Many of the claims made by the environmental groups revolve around allegations that the Corps of Engineers, Interior Dept. and US Fish and Wildlife failed to exercise independent judgment related to claims made by Denver Water about the project.

“Denver Water’s proposal to build the largest dam in Colorado history will hurt the 40 million people in six states and two countries who depend on the Colorado River – a critical but disappearing, resource – for their water supply,” said Daniel E. Estrin, general counsel and advocacy director at Waterkeeper Alliance. “Waterkeeper Alliance stands united with our many Colorado River Basin Waterkeepers who are fighting to protect their waterways and their communities from this senseless and destructive water grab.”

For their part officials from Denver Water said the court filing did not surprise them.

“We expected it,” Jim Lochhead, CEO of Denver Water, said. “This is a really critical project for Denver Water. In the last 15 years we have come close to running out of water a couple of time at the north end of the system.”

Lochhead noted that those two incidents came in 2002 and 2013.

While Denver Water is not directly named in the lawsuit Lochhead said the organization will be entering the lawsuit to “provide our own perspective on the adequacy of the approvals.”

“We are confident the federal agencies follow regulations and federal law,” Lochhead said. “I think a court will uphold the findings by those agencies.”

When asked whether he believed Denver Water and the environmental groups who oppose the Gross Reservoir Expansion Project could reach some form of compromise agreement Lochhead answered, saying, “I think their position is pretty clear.”

Moffat Collection System Project update: Environmental groups file lawsuit

The dam that forms Gross Reservoir. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

From Colorado Public Radio (Grace Hood):

A suit filed against three U.S. government agencies seeks to stop the expansion of Denver Water’s Gross Reservoir in Boulder County…

Gross Reservoir provides water to 1.4 million Front Range customers. The expansion would divert more water from Colorado River headwater tributaries during wet years. In a nutshell, the project seeks to raise the height of the existing dam by 131 feet; storage capacity would increase by 77,000 acre feet.

The environmental groups who sued say the U.S. government permitting process inadequately evaluated the impact of the large project on streamflows. There are also concerns about how construction would affect wildlife.

“We went above and beyond mitigation of environmental impacts under the permits,” Denver Water CEO Jim Lochhead said. “We sat down with Grand County, Eagle County… and a host of agencies across Western Colorado, and developed a series of environmental enhancements to the streams of Western Colorado.”

Trout Unlimited is one such group that has supported the Gross Reservoir expansion, citing successful stream augmentation programs along the Fraser River…

Revving up the legal gears could pose a setback for Denver Water, which has spent years securing the necessary permits. Now that it has those in place, environmental groups are seeking to stop construction.

Denver Water’s collection system via the USACE EIS

New @DenverWater rates start Feb. 1

Northwater Treatment Plant — Denver Water is upgrading and modernizing the northern portion of its water system that was built in the 1930s. The utility is building a new water treatment plant, as seen in this rendering, installing a new pipeline, and redeveloping its Moffat Treatment Plant site. Photo credit: Denver Water

Here’s the release from Denver Water (Travis Thompson):

At its meeting today, the Denver Board of Water Commissioners adopted rate changes to fund essential upgrades and new projects to keep Denver Water’s system running smoothly. The new rates take effect Feb. 1, 2019, and monthly bills for most Denver residents will increase by 55 cents if they use water the same as they did in 2018.

“While the cost to maintain and upgrade the water system continues to increase, rapid development inside the city of Denver has brought in more fees from new taps sold, helping to minimize the 2019 rate increase for Denver customers,” said Jim Lochhead, Denver Water CEO/Manager. “The surrounding suburbs, however, had less development than in the past, reducing the amount collected from new tap fees, which means we’ll need to collect more revenue from suburban water rates in 2019.”

Suburban customers who receive water from one of Denver Water’s 65 distributors will see an additional monthly increase added to their volumetric charges. The Denver City Charter requires that suburban customers pay the full cost of service, plus an additional amount. Learn more about how this works: “Why Denver water costs more in the ‘burbs.”

If you live outside Denver and receive water from a distributor under contract with Denver Water, you can expect to see an annual increase between $23 and $41, which is between $1.90 and 3.40 a month (based on an annual use of 102,000 gallons of water).

Pat Fitzgerald, general manager of four Denver Water distributors including the Platte Canyon Water and Sanitation District and chairman of the suburban districts’ Technical Advisory Committee, which reviews Denver Water’s rates annually, provided this statement:

“The advisory committee supports the rate increase. The cost-of-service study used to determine the difference between inside city and outside city customers is fair and reasonable, and the committee had no objections to the results. The expenses are going up, but they’re all projects that are necessary to provide a reliable and safe source of water.”

The major multiyear projects that water rates fund include building a new, state-of-the-art water treatment plant, installing a new 8.5-mile water pipeline to replace a pipeline that was built in the 1930s, expanding Gross Reservoir to provide a more reliable future water supply, constructing a new water quality lab to ensure the highest water quality standards, investing more than $100 million to repair and replace water pipes, and more. There are 158 major projects identified in Denver Water’s five-year, $1.3 billion capital plan.

A customer’s bill is comprised of a fixed charge, which helps ensure Denver Water has more stable revenue to continue the necessary water system upgrades to ensure reliable water service, and a volume rate. The fixed monthly charge — which is tied to meter size — in 2019 is increasing by 55 cents for most residential customers both inside the city and out.

Denver Water’s rate structure includes a three-tiered charge for water use (called the volume rate). To keep water affordable, indoor water use — like for bathing, cooking and flushing toilets — is charged at the lowest rate. Essential indoor water use is determined by averaging the customer’s monthly water use on bills dated from January through March each year. This is called average winter consumption. Water use above the average winter consumption — typically for outdoor watering — is charged at a higher price.

Volume rates for Denver residents will remain the same, but will increase on suburban bills.

Denver Water operates and maintains more than 3,000 miles of pipe — enough to stretch from Los Angeles to New York — as well as 20 dams, 22 pump stations, 30 underground storage tanks, four treatment plants and more. The water provider’s collection system covers more than 4,000 square miles, and it operates facilities in 12 counties in Colorado.

Denver Water does not make a profit or receive tax dollars, and reinvests ratepayers’ money to maintain and upgrade the water system. The utility is funded by water rates, bond sales, cash reserves, hydropower sales and fees for new service (called System Development Charges).

Customers will see more information about 2019 rates in their bills and on Denver Water’s website over the next few months.

Gross Reservoir — The Gross Reservoir Expansion Project will raise the height of the existing dam by 131 feet, which will allow the capacity of the reservoir, pictured, to increase by 77,000 acre-feet. The additional water storage will help prevent future shortfalls during droughts and helps offset an imbalance in Denver Water’s collection system. With this project, Denver Water will provide water to current and future customers while providing environmental benefits to Colorado’s rivers and streams. Photo credit: Denver Water