Don’t waste Mother Nature’s gift: Weekend storm was no #drought buster, but it does mean you can turn off your sprinklers for days — News on Tap

Click the link to read the article on the News on Tap website (Denver Water):

The piles of snow left by last weekend’s storm have melted away, but lawns and landscapes are benefiting from the free water the storm brought to the metro area.

That means lawns won’t need extra water, in the form of sprinklers and irrigation systems, for days, even a week as more rain is in the forecast.

Denver Water saw customer demand drop by about half over the weekend as its customers did a great job responding to Mother Nature’s free water by turning off their sprinklers.

Let all that water soak in! And challenge yourself: Don’t water your lawn until it needs it. (Take the screwdriver test.) Photo credit: Denver Water.

In fact, you’re doing your lawn a favor by turning off the sprinklers and keeping them off for several days after the weekend storm — or any upcoming rain. Babied lawns that get too much water too often can have trouble with Colorado’s hotter summer months.

(And watering too much too often will drive up your monthly water bill to boot!)

“Your lawn can last longer than you think,” said Austin Krcmarik, a water efficiency expert at Denver Water. “Challenge yourself, see how long you can keep your sprinklers off.”

An easy way to test for soil moisture is to probe your lawn with a screwdriver. If it goes into the soil easily, that indicates sufficient moisture. Watch the video below to see how quick and easy this test is to perform.

While the storm dumped up to 2 feet of snow in Colorado’s mountains, it wasn’t a drought buster. (And other parts of the state didn’t see much from the storm.) Denver Water’s planners do not expect the utility’s reservoirs to completely fill this season.

“We hope to fill our reservoirs after every runoff season to help supply us through the hot summer months and into next year,” said Krcmark. “We already know that isn’t going to happen this season, but you can help keep water in our reservoirs by keeping those sprinklers off after storms.”

A general rule of thumb is that you can skip a watering day when we receive ¼ inch within 24 hours.

Weather watchers estimate the storm delivered 1 to 1.5 inches of water to the metro area. And, with the potential for more rain in Denver’s forecast, you may not need to water at all this week.

For now, Denver Water’s regular summer watering rules remain in effect, but additional restrictions could be needed if conditions warrant this summer.

Arapahoe Basin Ski Area, which is in Denver Water’s watershed where the utility collects water, reported receiving 19 inches of snow from the weekend storm. Lots of snow, though unfortunately it wasn’t a drought buster. Photo credit: Arapahoe Basin Ski Area.

Construction kicks off at Gross Reservoir: Denver Water’s critical project to raise the dam by 131 feet gets underway — News On Tap #BoulderCreek #FraserRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Click the link to read the article on the Denver Water website (Jay Adams):

Construction began April 1 on Denver Water’s five-year project to expand Gross Reservoir by raising the height of the dam.

The reservoir and dam, located in the foothills west of Boulder, were named after former Denver Water Chief Engineer Dwight Gross. The dam was completed in 1954 to store water from the West Slope for Denver’s growing population.

The dam was originally designed to be raised in the future when needed.

Now, Denver Water is raising the height of the dam by 131 feet to help ease a storage imbalance in the utilities’ water collection system. Once completed, Gross will be the tallest dam in Colorado.

The dam was originally designed to be raised in the future when needed.
Now, Denver Water is raising the height of the dam by 131 feet to help ease a storage imbalance in the utilities’ water collection system. Once completed, Gross will be the tallest dam in Colorado.

“We’ve been busy bringing trucks, cranes and other heavy equipment to the site to prepare for construction,” said Doug Raitt, construction manager of the Gross Reservoir Expansion Project for Denver Water. “A lot has to be done just to prepare the site for all the work that has to happen.”

Crews navigate a winding road near the dam to bring a large crane to the construction site. Photo credit: Denver Water.

Early work involves blasting rock on the sides of the canyon to make way for the additional concrete that will be placed over the downstream face and above the existing dam.

A machine drills holes into the rock above the dam to place explosives for blasting operations. Photo credit: Denver Water.

Crews also are building a walkway on the upstream side, or reservoir side, of the dam to provide access for workers to walk from one side of the dam to the other.

Upcoming work includes hydroblasting 2 to 3 inches of concrete from the face of the dam so the new concrete will adhere to it. Part of the dam’s spillway will also be removed to prepare for the addition.

Early work involves installing walkways on the upstream side, or reservoir side, of the dam. The walkways are needed because the top of the dam will be removed to make way for the addition. Photo credit: Denver Water.

To raise the dam, crews will start at the bottom and extend the base of the dam out. Then they will build a series of steps up to the dam’s new height — similar to what you see on the sides of an Egyptian pyramid.

The Gross Reservoir Expansion Project involves raising the height of the existing dam by 131 feet. The dam will be built out and will have “steps” made of roller-compacted concrete to reach the new height. Image credit: Denver Water

“When it’s done, it will be the largest dam in Colorado and nearly triple the storage capacity of the existing reservoir,” said Jeff Martin, manager of the Gross Reservoir Expansion Project for Denver Water. “We’re really excited to begin construction on this important project.”

Doug Raitt, construction project manager for Denver Water, stands next to a 60-ton dump truck at the construction site on April 20, 2022. Photo credit: Denver Water.

Martin said that work conducted during 2022 and 2023 will be mostly site preparation for the on-site concrete production and foundation work on the rock on the sides of the dam and around the bottom.

At the height of construction there may be as many as 400 workers on site at a time, Raitt said.

“Raising a dam is often trickier than simply building a new one,” Raitt said. “We have to continue sending water through the dam during construction while transforming the dam into a new structure.”

Crews remove rock that has been blasted away on the north side of the dam. The area near the red machine at the top of the picture will be the new crest of the dam. Photo credit: Denver Water.

Throughout the project, safety will be the No. 1 priority at the site.

“Denver Water and our construction partners have an emphasis on safety for the public and our workers every day,” Raitt said. “We all go through safety training and will continue to evaluate our operations throughout the project.”

Workers take part in safety training with Kiewit-Barnard, the general contractor for the expansion project in April. At the peak of construction, up to 400 workers will be on-site at the dam during the day. Photo credit: Denver Water.

Protecting the environment and wildlife is another important part of the project. Denver Water worked with biologists to make sure there were no bird nests in the area before the start of construction and will continue to do so throughout the project.

Additional environmental mitigation efforts were put in place to protect South Boulder Creek and the reservoir from sediment and erosion washing in during the work. These efforts will continue throughout the project.

Erosion control measures are put up around construction areas to protect dirt and rocks from falling or washing into South Boulder Creek and Gross Reservoir. Photo credit: Denver Water.

Denver Water also is spending time updating community members around the reservoir.

“It’s important that we let them know what’s happening with the project,” Raitt said.

“For months, we’ve been doing outreach to the community with public meetings, newsletters and emails. We’ve received a lot of feedback from our neighbors letting us know what’s important to them and we’ll continue to work with them and update them throughout the project.”

Denver Water is hosting community meetings with residents who live around Gross Reservoir to update them on the project and answer questions. Photo credit: Denver Water.

How much #water is in the snow below? State grant expands high-tech airborne snow surveys to help manage #Colorado’s water supply — News on Tap

Click the link to read the article on the Denver Water website (Cathy Proctor):

The amount of information Colorado water managers have about the state’s crucial snowpack is poised to swell exponentially over the next two years.

In mid-March, the Colorado Water Conservation Board, which aims to help water managers conserve, develop, protect and manage Colorado’s water, approved a $1.9 million grant to help pay for a plane stuffed with high-tech equipment to fly over Colorado’s mountains and measure the snowpack below.

Denver Water used Airborne Snow Observatory, or ASO, flights in 2019 and 2021 to gather data on the snowpack above Dillon Reservoir, the utility’s largest reservoir.

The information helps forecast how much water is expected to come tumbling down the mountain during the spring runoff — a critical time for collecting and storing water for the utility’s 1.5 million water users across metro Denver.

“Getting more and better information about the snowpack improves the accuracy of our spring runoff forecasts, and that helps us in many ways,” said Nathan Elder, water supply manager for Denver Water.

“With better information, we have a better idea of how the spring runoff could impact the environment and recreation, and whether we might have to go on watering restrictions during the summer. It also helps inform us on how we should manage all of water resources,” he said.

This year, in addition to getting ASO data about the snow in the Blue River Basin above Dillon, Denver Water also will get information about the snowpack in the Fraser, Granby and Willow Creek watersheds. Flights are scheduled for April and May, weather permitting.

The blue areas in the map above are where the Airborne Snow Observatory flights are scheduled to collect information about the snowpack in 2022. The light tan areas will be flown this summer and fall to collect baseline information about the ground when it is free of snow. Image credit: Lynker.

Based on NASA-developed technology, LiDAR equipment carried by the ASO planes use beams of light to measure the depth of the snow across entire watersheds and capture reflections from the frozen surface. Data from the flights over the snow-covered watersheds is compared to data collected when the same watershed is free of snow.

The resulting information from comparing the two sets of data tells water managers how much snow is on the ground and how much water it holds, augmenting data collected from SNOTEL sites, which also measure snowpack at selected sites, and decades of historical statistics.

The path of an ASO flight over the Blue River Basin, which flows into Dillon Reservoir, on Monday, April 18, 2022. Image credit: FlightAware.

“We see these ASO flights as a climate adaptation strategy,” said Taylor Winchell, a water resource engineer at Denver Water who works on climate change adaptation and water supply planning issues.

“As our snowpack changes with the changing climate, being better able to measure that snowpack becomes more important as more snow falls as rain, as the timing of the spring melt changes and as snow falls at ever-higher elevations because of warming. We can’t rely as much on historical snowpack datasets to understand the new snowpack reality.”

Winchell worked with water managers throughout Colorado to develop support for the state grant and create a collective known as CASM, short for the Colorado Airborne Snow Measurement group, that grew to include members from federal, state and local government levels, academia, the recreation industry and agriculture industries, as well as local nonprofits and environmental advocacy organizations.

The ASO flight path over the Fraser River, Willow Creek and Granby watersheds on Tuesday, April 19, 2022. Due to a state grant, this is the first year that airborne data from these watersheds will be available for water managers to study. Image credit: FlightAware.

“We had 37 letters of support for the initiative. To have that many groups supporting a water project, that’s unprecedented for a water project in Colorado. It’s rare to see so many people agree on something — but more accurate data helps everyone,” Winchell said.

In addition to flights over snow-covered mountain watersheds, the grant also will help pay for flights over snow-free ground — collecting essential baseline information that can be used to expand the snow-on flight areas even more next year and beyond, Winchell said.

In this digitized image of the April 2021 snowpack above Dillon Reservoir, red splashes of color show where the snow was the deepest. The line of dots down the mountain is a ski run at Breckenridge Ski Resort where snow-making machines have added snow to the ground. Image credit: Airborne Snow Observatory Inc.

Work also will be underway this year to figure out how to continue the CASM program in the future, as the state’s grant is a one-year grant, Winchell said.

Denver Water managers are looking forward to seeing more ASO information about its watersheds, and also those throughout the state.

“How much snow falls outside our watersheds can affect Denver Water’s supply and operations just like the amount of snow that falls inside our watersheds,” Elder said.

“With this starting to become a statewide program, with data collected from more areas and that data being shared among the partners, it will help everyone better manage Colorado’s water supply.”

With snow leaving the spring stage, a look ahead at water supply: #Denver Water’s collection system approaching ‘peak’ #snowpack, kicking off planning for spring and summer — News on Tap #SouthPlatteRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Click the link to read the article on the News on Tap website (Todd Hartman):

With the 2021-22 snow season winding down, Denver Water is getting a clearer look at water supplies approaching the irrigation, gardening and summer recreation season.

In fact, as 9News meteorologist Cory Reppenhagen has pointed out, much of Colorado likely hit its peak snowpack in late March, meaning we’ve started the process of spring runoff, when the snowpack begins to melt and flow into streams, rivers and reservoirs.

(Caption: Watch Denver Water crews weigh the snow to find out how much water it contains.)

In Denver Water’s collection system, which includes parts of the South Platte River and Colorado River basins, it’s not fully certain we’ve hit our peak — the point when snowpack reaches its highest point before melting off.

Denver Water’s entire collection system. Image credit: Denver Water.

But we’re surely close, as snowpack in Denver Water’s collection system typically peaks around April 20.

What’s it all mean for our water supply? It’s a mixed picture.

Snowpack is a bit below average, but soil moisture has improved compared to last year, meaning more melting snow will find its way to reservoirs and less will disappear into thirsty ground.

Denver Water’s reservoirs are 79% full, on average, which is normal for this period. And runoff is likely to push that number north of 90% when storage peaks midsummer.

A mid-April snowstorm delivered several inches of snow to Colorado’s high country. Photo credit: Denver Water.

“Overall, we’d like the numbers to be higher, but with better soil moisture we expect better runoff than in recent years with similar snowpack,” said Nathan Elder, manager of water supply for Denver Water.

“We have good carry-over storage going into the runoff season because of low winter water use,” he added. “That’s a reflection of good work from our customers in continuing to improve indoor efficiency and water use habits.”

It’s important those good habits extend into the watering season; customers with spring fever should try not to get ahead of things with outdoor irrigation.

Learn how Denver Water works with ski areas through the winter.

Warning! April is too early to turn on hoses, sprinklers and irrigation systems.

A string of snowstorms this year has improved soil moisture in the Denver region. And more storms could still head our way in late April and early May. This time of year, the weather can be unpredictable, and you might think spring has sprung — only to have winter sweep back in for a last goodbye.

And planting ahead of Mother’s Day (May 8 this year) is always a gamble, as the potential overnight freezes still lurk into the early days of the month. Cold temperatures can put an early end to spring seedlings and damage irrigation systems if water inside the piping freezes.

As it stands in mid-April, snowpack is at 88% of average in Denver Water’s Colorado River collection system, and at 74% of average in its South Platte system, though that South Platte figure is affected by a single tracking location with poor snow that has pulled down the broader average; in the wider South Platte River basin, snowpack is currently 90% of normal.

Don’t turn on your sprinklers yet. Late spring snowstorms can easily damage irrigation systems. Photo credit: Denver Water.

And a big wet storm or two, still possible this time of year, would improve the outlook.

Additionally, planned Airborne Snow Observatories (ASO) flights, which measure high elevation snowpack with great precision, will bring additional insight into the snowpack, as well as adjustment to the runoff outlook.

In 2019, flights in the Blue River Basin above Dillon Reservoir revealed more snow than expected at elevations above traditional snow telemetry sites that provide most snowpack data.

“The ASO data gives us the most detailed and accurate insight into snowpack,” said Taylor Winchell, a climate change specialist at Denver Water. “We look forward to seeing what new information that tells us this spring and how it narrows the uncertainty of water supply forecasts.”

A sliver of good news on the #water front: Soil moisture, a key indicator for spring #runoff, has improved in Denver Water’s collection area — News on Tap

Denver Water field crews measure how much water is frozen in the snow near Winter Park on March 29. The utility’s teams take these kind of measurements at 13 sites every month during the winter and early spring. Photo credit: Denver Water.

Click the link to read the article on the Denver Water website (Todd Hartman):

Water news seems dreadful these days, with a megadrought in the Colorado River Basin, hydropower at risk in a fast-draining Lake Powell and a warming climate assuring these issues will only get worse.

So, amid these calamities, Denver Water wants to cite a small measure of good news: Soil moisture levels in parts of Colorado have improved.

Yes, this may only be a temporary blip on a downhill slide, but let’s celebrate what we can.

Soil moisture is a key indicator of drought conditions and has a big impact on water supplies. That’s because dry, thirsty soils can drink up a lot of the snowmelt that otherwise would flow into rivers and reservoirs.

Know your snowpack: 9 facts about Colorado’s snowpack.

Here’s an example from Denver Water’s own system: In 2021, snowpack above Dillon Reservoir peaked at 88% of normal. It wasn’t a banner year for snowpack, but it wasn’t terrible either. But dry soils made the lower snowpack levels far worse — runoff was only 57% of normal.

“The low soil moisture soaked up a lot of the melting snow before it reached rivers and reservoirs,” explained Nathan Elder, water supply manager for Denver Water.

The 2019-20 water year told a similar story, when snowpack peaked at 124% in the South Platte Basin but runoff came in at just 54% of average at one key measuring point.

Low soil moisture can soak up snow runoff, leaving less for rivers and reservoirs. Image credit: Denver Water.

A similar pattern also cut into runoff in 2018.

This year, water forecasters expect a better scenario. That’s because a big monsoon season on the West Slope and in the mountains last summer brought soil moisture levels up. Snowstorms on the Front Range throughout the winter helped soils here, too.

“This year, with soil moisture better, we are expecting more runoff from the snowpack,” Elder said.

Nathan Elder, water supply manager for Denver Water, in April 2019, standing in a snowpit dug to gauge the snow’s temperature, depth,

Currently, snowpack above Dillon is 87% of normal and, because of greater moisture within the soil, streamflow forecasts are higher too — 82% of normal, a big improvement from last year.

Evidence of the improvement in soil moisture comes thanks to data from NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, a federal agency that closely tracks such matters.

The numbers can be complicated, but one way to understand the impact of the soil moisture is in what Denver Water’s water supply managers call “runoff efficiency.”

Learn how Denver Water is leaning into the challenges around climate change.

In a year when soil moisture numbers are just slightly below normal — such as this year — you can expect runoff volumes to be 10% to 15% less than the peak snowpack number.

In a year when soil moisture conditions are worse, as we’ve seen in several recent cases, the dry soils can reduce runoff efficiency by 15% to 20%. That can translate to a big cut in water supply.

Colorado Drought Monitor map April 5, 2022.

Another key measure comes from the U.S. Drought Monitor map. That map shows the Denver metro area — as well as much of Denver Water’s collection area — in “abnormally dry” conditions. That may sound bad, but it is actually a marked improvement from recent months when much of the state was in various stages of drought.

A year ago, the region’s drought levels ranged from “moderate” to “extreme” drought.

Things can still change, of course.

Should we get a long spell of warm, dry weather this spring, the situation could become worse. But, at this point in early spring, things look a bit better than in recent years.

“We’ll obviously be watching our watersheds and the weather closely,” Elder said. “But we take the good news where we can get it and, at least for the moment, we’re happy to see these conditions.”

New milestones at the Northwater Treatment Plant: @DenverWater’s newest water treatment plant continues to take shape

Click the link to read the article on the News on Tap website (Steve Snyder):

The construction of Denver Water’s new Northwater Treatment Plant is on budget and on track to open in 2024, having overcome challenges during 2021 stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic that affected everything from staffing to the supply chain.

This aerial photo from late 2021 shows construction progress on several buildings at the Northwater Treatment Plant. Photo credit: Denver Water.

The Northwater plant, on Highway 93 north of Golden, will be the fourth drinking water treatment plant in Denver Water’s system.

When finished, the new plant will be capable of producing up to 75 million gallons of clean drinking water per day using state-of-the-art technology. The new plant, part of Denver Water’s North System Renewal work, supplements the utility’s aging Moffat Treatment Plant on West 20th Avenue in Lakewood, which was built in the 1930s.

The new plant is being built on 100 acres of Denver Water land next to the utility’s Ralston Reservoir. The site will include seven primary buildings and multiple auxiliary facilities including tanks, clearwells, pump stations and vaults.

Here are some of the highlights from the work done during 2021:

  • Passed 50% construction completion.
  • Passed 1 million hours worked.
  • Completed all the remaining excavation needed to build the structures that will be part of the plant.
  • Placed concrete base slabs for the two underground storage tanks. Called “clearwells,” these 10-million-gallon storage tanks will hold clean, treated drinking water from the plant until it is released into Denver Water’s distribution system.
  • The concrete base of a large, treated water storage tank, or “clearwell,” was placed during one night in June 2021, marking a major milestone for the project. Photo credit: Denver Water.
  • Dried in” the first building on-site, meaning the work was done to make the exterior surfaces of the Clearwell Influent Valve Vault building impermeable to rain and weather.
  • Installed the roof and windows and applied a stone veneer on the plant’s Operations Building and started installation of mechanical, electrical and plumbing works.
  • Completed most of the necessary connections with the Moffat Treatment Plant to enable Moffat to eventually store treated water piped from the Northwater Treatment Plant once the new facility is operational.
  • Earned the Envision Gold Award from the Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure. Envision Awards recognize leadership in building sustainable infrastructure around the world and encourage those involved to consider sustainable choices throughout the life of the project.
  • An artist’s rendering of what the site of the Northwater Treatment Plant will look like when completed in 2024, along with locations of the buildings on-site. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    Don’t blame the upper basin states — Writers on the Range #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    Click the link to read the article on the Writers on the Range website (George Sibley):

    Kyle Roerink’s recent “Writers on the Range” opinion (“A dangerous game of chicken on the Colorado River”) reminds one of Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s 1983 caution in a Washington Post op-ed: “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.”

    Roerink, who heads the Great Basin Water Network, claims that the Upper Colorado River Basin states are shirking their responsibilities while the Lower Basin states valiantly work to grapple with the ongoing basin-wide drought. “With (reservoir) water savings gone,” he says, “the Lower Basin has been trying to cope, though the Upper Basin carries on business as usual.”

    Brad Udall: Here’s the latest version of my 4-Panel plot thru Water Year (Oct-Sep) of 2021 of the Colorado River big reservoirs, natural flows, precipitation, and temperature. Data (PRISM) goes back or 1906 (or 1935 for reservoirs.) This updates previous work with
    @GreatLakesPeck.

    “Business as usual” in the Upper Basin has always been dealing with the realities of an erratic river, the annual flows of which can go from 5.8 million acre-feet in 1977 to 24.8 million acre-feet in 1984. The Upper Basin lives with that reality, dry years and wet. [ed. emphasis mine]

    But the Bureau of Reclamation has regularly and faithfully released to the Lower Basin, from Powell Reservoir, the Colorado River Compact and Mexican Treaty allotments –- 8.23 million acre-feet only dropping a little below those allotments half a dozen times since Powell began to fill in the 1960s. Dry year or wet, the Lower Basin always gets its full allotment.

    Usually, more than that designated quantity is sent to the Lower Basin (as much as 12 million acre-feet above in 1984). The Compact and Mexican Treaty require that the Upper Basin send downriver 82.5 million acre-feet over a 10-year period; as of 2020, the 10-year running total was 92.5 million acre-feet.
    So the Lower Basin never bears the brunt of low flows, as Roerink claims; it has always received its Compact and Treaty allocations since Powell Reservoir filled, usually with some extra, regardless of what was happening in the “real river” the Upper Basin states live with.

    It is true that the Lower Basin states are currently “’trying to cope” with river shortages by making some difficult cutbacks in their uses. But what they are trying to cope with is their own excessive use of the water stored in Mead Reservoir.

    For decades the three downstream states –- primarily California –- have been using considerably more than their Compact allotment of 7.5 million acre-feet; they have also not been subtracting from their allotment the significant losses to evaporation in desert storage and transit (automatically figured into Upper Basin use through the Powell releases).

    The structural deficit refers to the consumption by Lower Basin states of more water than enters Lake Mead each year. The deficit, which includes losses from evaporation, is estimated at 1.2 million acre-feet a year. (Image: Central Arizona Project)

    This has resulted in what is euphemistically called a “structural deficit,” but is just the Lower Basin using more water than its entitlement. That was more or less okay before the Upper Basin use was fully developed, and before the Central Arizona Project came online; the Bureau’s extra releases, above Compact requirements, covered the overuse. No more.

    So now the Lower Basin states, which have been drawing an annual average of 1.2 million acre-feet more out of Mead Reservoir than has flowed into it, are trying to bring their usage down to the actual Compact allotment. Drought might exacerbate that challenge, but it doesn’t cause it, nor does Upper Basin lollygagging.

    The Upper Basin has not even used its full Compact allocation because it became obvious that the river could not supply that on a dependable basis. The Upper Colorado River Compact divides the Upper Basin states’ permissible consumptive uses by percentages rather than a set amount like the Lower Basin gets, but exactly what that allows each state is obviously ambiguous, depending on what “average flow” is used.

    Are the Upper Basin states doing their part to ensure prudent uses of the river? They are developing “demand management” programs to pay farmers and ranchers to fallow some of their land to increase flows to Powell Reservoir. Last summer, Blue Mesa Reservoir’s recreation season was cut short to send most of the Reservoir’s water down to bolster Powell.

    Denver Water is also working hard to re-plumb its city for reuse, as well as running an ongoing conservation program that has reduced their deliveries to a 1970 level with half a million more people.

    Could the Upper Basin states be doing more? Probably, and they probably will be. But they are less to blame for the Lower Basin state’s dilemmas than are the Lower Basin states themselves.

    George Sibley

    George Sibley is a contributor to Writers on the Range, writersontherange.org, a nonprofit dedicated to spurring lively discussion about Western issues. He has written extensively about the Colorado River.

    Graphic via Holly McClelland/High Country News.

    Counting every drop: #Colorado approves $1.9M for high-tech snow, #water measuring program — @WaterEdCO #snowpack

    Colorado and othehr Western states are hoping to increase the use of Aerial Snowborne Observatories to better measure the water content in moutain snowpacks. Credit: NASA Hydrological Services

    Click the link to read the article on the Water Education Colorado website (Jerd Smith):

    Colorado has approved a $1.9 million snow measuring initiative based on NASA technology that will help communities across the state better measure and forecast how much water each winter’s mountain snowpack is likely to generate, using planes equipped with sophisticated measuring devices.

    The Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) has been testing the accuracy of the flight-based data measuring work since 2015, according to Erik Skeie, who oversees the program for the CWCB. The board approved funding for the new $1.9 million initiative at its March 16 board meeting.

    The new collective, known as Colorado Airborne Snow Measurement group, includes utilities, irrigation districts and environmental groups, including Northern Water, Denver Water and the Dolores Water Conservancy District, among others. In all, 37 water-related groups wrote letters in support of the grant and the measuring program, Skeie said.

    Northern Water, which supplies more than 1 million residential, commercial and farm customers on the Northern Front Range, is hopeful the grant will help create an annual monitoring and measurement effort.

    ”I think it’s a really good program if we can make it sustainable into the future,” said Emily Carbone, water resources specialist at Northern Water.

    This map shows the snowpack depth of the Maroon Bells in spring 2019. The map was created with information from NASA’s Airborne Snow Observatory, which will help water managers make more accurate streamflow predictions. Jeffrey Deems/ASO, National Snow and Ice Data Center

    Airborne Snow Observatory technology uses planes equipped with LiDAR, a pulsing radar, to develop a grid that contains a deeply detailed picture of the ground when it isn’t covered by snow. Then, during the winter months, those planes fly the same terrain once or more each month when it is covered with snow. In this way, the instruments are able to measure snow depth and snow reflectivity. These data, combined with computer-based models, allow the ASO to generate precise readings on when the snow will actually melt and how much water the snowpack in different regions actually contains.

    Traditional forecasts can be off by as much as 40%, and sometimes more. But ASO forecasts have been shown to have accuracy rates of 98%.

    As the megadrought in the Colorado River Basin has intensified, and climate change has altered snowfall and traditional patterns of snowmelt, finding better ways to measure the water content of snow has become critical, said Taylor Winchell, a climate adaptation specialist at Denver Water who is overseeing the utility’s flight data program.

    A flight from NASA’s Airborne Snow Observatory gathers data about the snowpack above Dillon Reservoir on a flight. Information gathered from the flight helped Denver Water manage reservoir operations. Photo courtesy of Quantum Spatial

    Denver Water began using the technology in 2019.

    “As the snowpack is changing, the more accurate measurements that we can have help us adapt our operations to a new water future and it helps us make the most of every drop in the system,” Winchell said.

    Since the early 1930s, snowpacks have been measured manually and via remote ground-sensing by the federal Natural Resources Conservation Service. Colorado and other Western states use a network of dozens of snotel sites to collect on-the-ground data, but forecasts can change dramatically if the weather becomes volatile, as has been the case more often in recent years.

    That volatility and the ongoing drought have made water forecasting even more critical for water agencies. If water supplies come in lower than forecasts indicated, cities and irrigation districts can come up short of water, causing disruptions in deliveries, among other problems.

    But ASO technology is expensive. Denver Water spends about $145,000 for two flights, a cost that includes subsequent modeling as well. But the forecasts have proved to be so accurate that the utility is committed to its ongoing use.

    California is spending roughly $7 million annually and that cost could grow to more than $20 million if the golden state opts to expand the geographic reach of its ASO program, according to Tom Painter, a former NASA scientist who helped develop the ASO technology and who is now the CEO of Airborne Snow Observatories Inc., the NASA spinoff that is commercializing the technology.

    A similar program in Colorado, one expansive enough to cover all the critical mountain watersheds, could cost as much as $15 million annually, Painter said.

    The work would include flying some 10 flights per year per river basin during January, February, March and April, with additional flights in late spring as the snow begins to melt. Then flight data would be incorporated into forecast models.

    Predicting snowmelt and its water content as warm weather arrives has been a tricky issue for researchers and water utilities because it becomes highly variable.

    “That’s when traditional models start to fall apart,” Painter said. “They can’t hold onto the snowpack well enough. So having the data from ASO is nice to keep the forecast accurate. It’s like looking at your checking account balance a couple of times a month.”

    Skeie, of the CWCB, said the new approach to measuring what’s known as snow water equivalent, or the amount of water contained in the snow, will take much of the guess work out of annual water forecasts.

    And he’s hopeful that the multi-million price tag can be covered by an array of agencies, including the water utilities, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and state governments, among others.

    “It’s going to take all of that to make it sustainable,” Skeie said. And with the backing of the Colorado Airborne Snow Measurement group, it’s more likely to occur than it has been before.

    Using ASO, in combination with snotel data, “is the difference between having someone describe a picture to you, and being able to see it in 4D,” he said. “It’s incredibly useful.”

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

    First steps on Gross Reservoir expansion: After 20 years of preparation, first signs of construction work emerging in vicinity of dam — News on Tap

    Expanding the reservoir requires raising the dam 131 feet by placing new concrete on the existing structure. Image credit: Denver Water.

    Click the link to read the article from Denver Water (Todd Hartman):

    After nearly two decades of planning and permitting, Denver Water’s work to expand Gross Reservoir northwest of Denver is set to kick off.

    Over the coming weeks, residents living near the reservoir may notice early signs of construction activity, including limited tree removal, more heavy equipment on roadways and shifts in recreation access to the reservoir.

    “We want residents and visitors to the area to be aware and informed; we are taking the initial steps on the project, including mobilization of equipment, in the weeks to come,” said Jeff Martin, the program manager for the expansion project.

    “We want to be transparent about the work underway and we want to share information proactively while continuing to address questions and respond to concerns our neighbors have shared. Most importantly, we want to ensure everyone’s safety on the roadways.”

    A consistent place to get up-to-date information on the expansion project will be through the project website http://grossreservoir.org as well as via a Google My Map.

    The public also can contact Denver Water through email, a phone hotline and virtual office hours, as well as by signing up for email updates and following the utility’s social media channels. Those contact details also are available on the project website and at http://denverwater.org.

    Denver Water also held public outreach sessions in February for residents living in the vicinity of the project. About 80 neighbors attended to learn more about what to expect as construction ramps up.

    Raising the existing Gross Dam and expanding the reservoir will improve water reliability for more than 1.5 million people. Image credit: Denver Water.

    Here are some key things to expect in the coming weeks and months. In many cases, specific start dates for work are still being developed. Those will be shared at http://grossreservoir.org as details are finalized.

  • Improvements to Gross Dam Road. To protect the safety of all drivers, Denver Water is widening the road in various sections to address tight curves as well as improving the intersection at State Highway 72 and Gross Dam Road. Signage and traffic control will be in place to help drivers safely navigate the affected areas.
  • Improving the intersection of State Highway 72 and Gross Dam Road will improve safety for all drivers. Image credit: Denver Water.
  • Limited tree removal. Some trees will be removed in areas planned for site development on the south side of the dam, at the future quarry location, in areas along Gross Dam Road and other areas where various construction activities are planned.
  • Equipment mobilization. Trucks and other heavy equipment will be spotted more frequently on Highway 72 and nearby roads as contractors position materials for upcoming work on roads and near the base of the dam.
  • Denver Water is committed to ensuring materials are delivered safely to the project site. Image credit: Denver Water.
  • Recreation changes. Access to recreation areas on the south side of the dam, including Windy Point, Osprey Point and Miramonte Picnic Area, will be closed in mid-March. Public boat launch access will be relocated from Osprey Point to the North Shore peninsula. This Google My Map is a good place to check for up-to-date information on recreation and access.
  • Access to the North Shore of the reservoir will also be limited temporarily this spring for construction of a temporary parking lot to help accommodate recreation shifts during the expansion project.

    Recreation access will change during the expansion project, this Google My Map is a good place to check for up-to-date information. Image credit: Denver Water.

    Construction activities will increase as the weather warms.

    By this summer, truck trips in the canyon are expected to increase to nearly 20 trips per day and the workforce will grow to roughly 300 people, though a ridesharing program will help reduce traffic impacts. That intensity will drop off again as the weather cools.

    “We recognize this project will have disruptions to the community near the project and within Coal Creek Canyon,” Martin said. “We are committed to clear, two-way communication with the public and keeping people fully informed as we move forward on this critical project.”

    New partnership ready to lead historic canal into the future: Canal Collaborative will formalize roles, responsibilities along the High Line Canal News on Tap

    Highline Canal trail map. Credit: Google maps via Water Education Colorado

    Click the link to read the article from Denver Water (Jay Adams and Steve Snyder):

    The High Line Canal Conservancy has formalized a public-private partnership with Denver Water and 11 jurisdictions to preserve, protect and enhance the 71-mile High Line Canal.

    Members of the new Canal Collaborative will work together to support the canal corridor as it evolves from its role as an irrigation channel owned by Denver Water and expands into a new linear park and emerging stormwater management system.

    enver Water CEO/Manager Jim Lochhead takes part in a signing ceremony held Jan. 26 to officially launch the Canal Collaborative, a public-private partnership aimed at guiding the future of the High Line Canal. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    The agreement creating the collaborative formalizes roles and responsibilities for the long-term management, funding and governance of the canal.

    “This partnership was built on the premise that together we can do more for the canal than any one entity can do alone. The deep respect for varied local perspectives, combined with the power of the community’s vision and commitment has been a winning strategy that has resulted in a common vision and new governance structure to ensure the canal is cared for as a vital backbone of our region’s open space system for generations to come,” said Harriet Crittenden LaMair, executive director of the High Line Canal Conservancy.

    “Denver Water has a century-old canal that has outlived its usefulness,” said Jim Lochhead, CEO/Manager at Denver Water. “We wanted to transform the canal into a recreational and environmental crown jewel for the region and with the help of a dozen partners who shared the vision, we have come together to realize that vision through the Canal Collaborative.”

    Watch the High Line Canal Conservancy’s State of the Canal news conference and learn about new projects along the canal in this TAP story.

    Several members of the newly formed Canal Collaborative gathered along the High Line Canal on Jan. 26, to celebrate the signing of the landmark partnership. Left to right in the picture above are: Jim Lochhead, Denver Water CEO/Manager; Paula Herzmark, HLCC board chair; Harriet Crittenden LaMair, HLCC executive director; Nancy Sharpe, Arapahoe County Commissioner; Shannon Carter, Arapahoe County Open Spaces director; Tom Roode, head of Denver Water operations and maintenance; Kendra Black, Denver City Councilwoman; Scott Gilmore, deputy executive director of Denver Parks and Recreation. Photo credit: Denver Water. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    Digging into #water savings: Video tour highlights Arapahoe County’s #sustainability in action — News on Tap

    Mrs. Gulch’s Blue gramma “Eyelash” patch August 28, 2021.

    Click the link to read the article from Denver Water:

    Arapahoe County is embarking on a water conservation project this winter at its Administration Building in Littleton to improve the county’s water efficiency.

    The project will transform a 3-acre field of Kentucky bluegrass into a native, prairie grass field capable of surviving on the water Mother Nature provides in the semi-arid climate of Colorado’s eastern plains. The change will save the county 1.5 million gallons of water each year.

    A 3-acre expanse of Kentucky bluegrass on the west side of the Arapahoe County Administration Building in Littleton will be converted into a field of prairie grass in 2022. Photo credit: Arapahoe County.

    Learn more about the roots of Arapahoe County’s water-saving project.

    Tour the project, in the video below, as work began in January.

    Behind the scenes at the Northwater Treatment Plant: Take a tour of one of #Denver Water’s largest construction projects — News on Tap

    From News on Tap (Steve Snyder):

    Denver Water’s new, state-of-the-art drinking water facility is rapidly taking shape on a 183-acre site next to Ralston Reservoir north of Golden in Jefferson County.

    Watch this video to catch up on the progress of one of Denver Water’s largest construction projects.

    When complete and operational in 2024, the new Northwater Treatment Plant will be capable of cleaning up to 75 million gallons of water a day. Construction of the plant remains on time and on budget.

    The new plant is part of Denver Water’s North System Renewal effort, which includes the construction of a new pipeline (completed in September 2021) to carry water from the new plant and upgrades at the old Moffat Treatment Plant built in Lakewood in the 1930s.

    Learn about new case studies in water utility greenhouse gas mitigation from the Water Utility Climate Alliance, including Denver Water’s sustainable Northwater Treatment Plant. Decreasing greenhouse gas emissions is a priority for Denver Water, and projects like these help get us to our goal of reducing emissions 50% from a 2015 baseline by 2025.

    The North System Renewal work brings critical updates to an aging 80-year-old system that was reaching the end of its lifespan.

    A rendering of what the Northwater Treatment Plant site will look like when complete and operational in 2024. Most of the two round storage tanks will be buried underground. Image credit: Denver Water.

    The advanced new technology that is part of new Northwater Treatment Plant will provide:

    Sustainability: Hydropower generation equipment at site of the Northwater plant will produce enough energy to operate the treatment plant, significantly reducing carbon dioxide emissions.

    Reliability: Advanced treatment processes will improve resiliency in times of potentially challenging treatment issues, such as those created by drought or wildfires.

    Flexibility: The Northwater plant was designed to be expanded if needed to meet future water demands and changing regulatory standards.

    When Denver Water is finished building the new water treatment plant, redeveloping the Moffat Treatment Plant, and installing a new pipeline, the utility’s northern system will be more resilient and adaptable to changing demands for water now and into the future.

    New Public-Private Management Model for the High Line Canal — The High Line Canal Conservancy

    From email from the High Line Canal Conservancy (Suzanna Fry Jones):

    The Canal Collaborative officially launches to formalize the new governance model, making permanent the powerful public-private partnership between 13 regional partners, including the High Line Canal Conservancy and Denver Water

    Denver, CO (January 26, 2022) – The High Line Canal Conservancy today announces the public-private partnership known as the Canal Collaborative that formalizes a new partnership between 13 regional entities to preserve, protect and enhance the 71-mile High Line Canal. This powerful collaborative brings partners together in a collective impact model – working together to support the Canal’s transition from a part of Denver Water’s historic irrigation system to its new role as a 71-mile linear park and emerging stormwater management system. The newly formed Canal Collaborative formalizes roles and responsibilities for the long-term management, funding and governance of the Canal

    “This Partnership was built on the premise that together we can do more for the Canal than any one entity can do alone. The deep respect for varied local perspectives, combined with the power of the community’s vision and commitment has been a winning strategy that has resulted in a common vision and new governance structure to ensure the Canal is cared for as a vital backbone of our region’s open space system for generations to come,” said Harriet Crittenden LaMair, High Line Canal Conservancy Executive Director.

    To formalize the launch of the Canal Collaborative, key leaders from across the region, joined together to witness Jim Lochhead, CEO and Manager of Denver Water, owner of the Canal, sign the long-awaited Memorandum of Understanding at the first annual State of the Canal. To a virtual audience of nearly 100, key leaders presented on Canal preservation and enhancement progress achieved to date and what’s to come in the next phase of improvements and implementation of The Plan for the High Line Canal (The Plan), including $130M dedicated for improvements over the next 15 years.

    “Denver Water had a century old canal that had outlived its usefulness” said Jim Lochhead, Denver Water CEO. “We wanted to transform the canal into a recreational and environmental crown jewel for the region. And with the help of a dozen partners who shared the vision, we have come together to realize that vision through the Canal Collaborative.”

    This model of regional collaboration started to take shape in 2010 when, for the first time in the 140-year history of the Canal, governments, agencies and a nonprofit partner from across the region stepped forward, committing to deep collaboration that resulted in a powerful regional community driven vision plan, a framework plan and new governance structure to guide the future of our regional legacy. These successful collaborations culminated in agreements to create the Canal Collaborative, memorializing collaboration in a collective impact model for long-term sustainability ensuring The Plan becomes a reality for the people of the region to enjoy for generations to come.

    “Arapahoe County has committed tremendous resources to the Canal since 2010. We’re thrilled that this new entity will bring together the various jurisdictions so we can hear from each partner and the public about the best ways to preserve and protect the High Line Canal for the future,” said Arapahoe County Commissioner Nancy Sharpe.

    Over the next 15 years, the collaborative will work together to implement over $130 million of trail improvements, including improved access and safety, enhanced environmental health for the region and improved quality of experience.

    Canal leaders (left to right): Chief Executive Officer Jim Lochhead, Denver Water; Board Chair Paula Herzmark, High Line Canal Conservancy; Executive Director Harriet Crittenden LaMair, High Line Canal Conservancy; Commissioner Nancy Sharpe, Arapahoe County; Open Spaces Director Shannon Carter, Arapahoe County; Chief Operations and Maintenance Officer Tom Roode, Denver Water; Council Member Kendra Black, City and County of Denver; and Deputy Executive Director of Parks & Recreation Scott Gilmore, City and County of Denver. Photos by Evan Semón Photography
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    CEO Jim Lochhead of Denver Water signing the Memorandum of Understanding to officially launch the Canal Collaborative. Photos by Evan Semón Photography
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    Canal Collaborative Memorandum of Understanding. Photos by Evan Semón Photography
    720-620-6767

    Why we love juicy flakes (and you should, too!): Not all snowflakes are created equal; some have more love to give — News on Tap #snowpack #runoff

    Photo via Snowflakes Bentley (Wilson A. Bentley)

    When the snowflakes begin to fall, we’re guessing the last thing on your mind is moisture content.

    Isn’t all snow created equal? Turns out, there is a big difference between the type of snowflake and how much moisture it will produce — which makes a difference in filling our mountain reservoirs.

    Check out our infographic to see why juicy flakes are best.

    Graphic credit: Denver Water. Click to enlarge.

    Hundreds ignore, refuse #Denver’s efforts to remove dangerous lead #water pipes — @WaterEdCO

    Denver Water crews replacing a lead service line at 1657 Vine Street. Jan. 12, 2021. Credit: Jerd Smith

    From Water Education Colorado (Jerd Smith):

    Hundreds of Denver property owners have failed to respond to requests or have directly refused to allow Denver Water to replace lead service lines leading to homes and businesses, a situation that jeopardizes the city’s efforts to keep lead out of drinking water.

    The pipe replacement program, one of the largest in the country, is being done to help the agency comply with the federal Safe Drinking Water Act, which sharply limits lead in drinking water.

    Since the program’s approval by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment in 2020, Denver Water has replaced some 10,000 service lines out of 68,000 targeted in the program.

    But the agency has yet to decide how to bring reluctant property owners into the fold, according to Alexis Woodrow, Denver Water’s lead reduction program manager.

    “Of course we would like to get 100% consent or compliance and we’re continuing to come up with communications to make sure homeowners understand the why behind this work,” Woodrow said.

    According to data obtained by Fresh Water News through an Open Records Act request, 534 property owners, roughly 5% of those targeted by the program to date, have either failed to respond to the agency’s request to replace the service lines or have specifically refused to allow the work to be done.

    Top reasons for refusing, according to Woodrow, are that homeowners don’t want their landscapes disturbed or they believe their lead service lines have already been replaced.

    Denver, which is Colorado’s largest municipal water utility, has known lead was present at the tap in some of its customers’ homes since it appeared in routine sampling in 2013. The levels exceeded the benchmarks set under the Safe Drinking Water Act.

    For several years, the utility ran pilot tests and negotiated with CDPHE and EPA over how best to eradicate the harmful metal. Though the amounts of lead found in Denver’s tap water samples varied, no amount of lead is considered safe to ingest, especially for young children.

    Though lead isn’t present in the city’s treated water, it shows up at customers’ taps if it is delivered through aging lead service lines, where corrosion allows it to seep into the supply.

    Cities across the country, including Pittsburgh, Penn., Newark, N.J., and Washington, D.C., have been dogged by an increase in lead contamination as service lines age and corrode, allowing the lead to comingle with water supplies, eventually reaching taps.

    The CDPHE issued an order in 2018 requiring Denver to begin adding phosphorous to its water, one of the most effective ways to reduce corrosion in pipes. But phosphorous is also a pollutant and causes problematic algae blooms in lakes and rivers. Adding it to the municipal drinking water supply would also make it harder for wastewater treatment operators to meet their own obligations to keep phosphorous out of rivers and streams.

    Due to those concerns, Aurora, Metro Water Recovery, The Greenway Foundation, and eventually Denver, sued the CDPHE in 2018 to stop the order from taking effect.

    The dispute was settled after Denver was able to obtain a rare variance under the Safe Drinking Water Act in exchange for agreeing to invest some $68 million over 15 years to replace lead service lines, offer free water filters to residents as they wait for the new lines to be installed, conduct community education programs, and increase the pH of the water supply to also help reduce corrosion in pipes.

    In earlier negotiations the utility had proposed replacing the lines at a much slower rate that would have taken decades to complete.

    MaryAnn Nason, CDPHE spokesperson, said the agency is happy that Denver Water has been able to replace so many lines so quickly.

    “While we are pleased, our goal is to have everyone participate or use a filter to keep themselves safe,” Nason said via email.

    “When Denver Water’s program was approved, a strong outreach component was included. We wanted Denver Water to reach out to the community and provide educational materials about why this is important to do and how it protects public health. We understand the disruption to their lives is significant, but the outreach program is intended to help customers understand the safety and health benefits of replacing their service line,” she said.

    Citing state privacy laws, Denver Water declined to identify addresses of properties that had not complied with the replacement requests. But an analysis of the zip codes where the agency has been shut out shows that the largest number, 124, are in 80205, which encompasses an area north and west of City Park and which includes Five Points and the Whittier neighborhoods.

    The zip code with the second largest number of non-compliant property owners, 72, is 80220, an area that includes South Park Hill, Montclair and Hilltop.

    Though no large apartment complexes have refused to replace lead lines, according to Denver Water, dozens of small multi-family units have yet to agree to have the work done, according to Fresh Water News’ analysis.

    Tom Romero, an associate professor of law at the University of Denver and an expert on water equity issues, said the replacement program is critical to providing safe drinking water to everyone in the city.

    “I definitely am concerned for all of those residents where you have recalcitrant property owners that are refusing to have these lead pipes replaced,” Romero said.

    “This is definitely a public health issue,” he said. “It’s pretty remarkable that they have been able to get a 95% response, but any lead level is putting people at risk. It goes to the duty of Denver Water to provide safe drinking water to us all.”

    This year is the third year of program, and is a critical benchmark with the EPA, which will decide later this year whether to allow Denver to continue the work, or use a different strategy.

    Denver Water’s Woodrow said the agency is still trying to decide how aggressive to be with reluctant property owners because legally it could access the properties without the owner’s consent.

    “We have discussed internally if we could compel the customer,” she said. “But we haven’t gotten there yet in terms of making a decision.”

    But that may change.

    “When you’re looking at the long-term strategy, we’re going to have to come up with additional tactics to get these lines replaced,” she said.

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

    #Water rates to rise slightly in 2022: Supporting the large, complex system that provides water to 1.5 million people across the #Denver metro area — News on Tap

    From Denver Water (Cathy Proctor and Kim Unger Jay):

    Lea este artículo en español.

    Since its formation more than 100 years ago, Denver Water has always planned ahead when investing in the system that today supplies clean, safe drinking water every day to a quarter of Colorado’s population.

    And with a variety of changes — from regulations to weather patterns — expected in the future, the utility and its 1,000 employees are continuing the work needed to maintain, repair, protect and upgrade its 4,000 square miles of watershed and 3,000 miles of pipe, plus its dams, pump stations and underground storage tanks and more.

    Denver Water delivers safe, clean water to 1.5 million people every day, 25% of Colorado’s population. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    While the global COVID-19 pandemic has added another layer of complexity, Denver Water has worked to keep rate increases for customers as small as possible.

    On Oct. 27, the Denver Board of Water Commissioners adopted new water rates that will effective Jan. 1, 2022, to help pay for critical upgrades and projects to keep this system operating efficiently. How that rate increase will affect individual customer bills will vary depending on where the customer lives in Denver Water’s service area and how much water they use.

    For typical single-family residential customers who receive a bill from Denver Water, if they use 104,000 gallons of water in 2022 as they did in 2021, the new rates will increase their monthly bill by a range of about 47 cents to $1.34 depending on where they live.

    “Denver Water’s mission is to ensure that we deliver safe, clean water to the people who rely on us every day,” said CEO/Manager Jim Lochhead. “Over the next 10 years, we are forecasting an estimated investment of $2.6 billion into our system to increase its resiliency, reliability and sustainability in the face of changes we are anticipating. From more frequent droughts and wildfires to additional regulations we expect we will be asked to meet — we will be prepared.”

    A helicopter collects water from Dillon Reservoir during efforts to contain the Ptarmigan Fire near Silverthorne, Colorado, in late September. Photo credit: John Baker, safety specialist at Denver Water.

    A customer’s monthly bill is comprised of a fixed charge, which helps ensure Denver Water has a more stable revenue stream to continue the necessary water system upgrades to ensure reliable water service, and a volume rate for the amount of water used.

    The fixed monthly charge — which is tied to the size of the meter — is increasing by 74 cents in 2022 for most single-family residential customers to ensure Denver Water is recovering 20% of its needed revenue from fixed charges.

    After the fixed monthly charge, Denver Water’s rate structure has three tiers based on the amount of water used.

    “Even with such large efforts in our future, it’s our goal to have slow and steady rate increases with even, annual adjustments that allow our customers to plan ahead and avoid rate shocks,” said Fletcher Davis, rates manager for Denver Water.

    To keep water affordable, the first tier, which covers essential indoor water use for bathing, cooking and flushing toilets, is charged at the lowest rate.

    The amount of water in this first tier is determined for each customer by averaging their monthly water use as listed on bills dated January through March each year. This is called their average winter consumption.

    Water use above the average winter consumption — typically used for outdoor watering — is charged at a higher price. Efficient outdoor water use is charged in the second tier (middle rate), followed by additional outdoor water use in the third tier (highest rate).

    Meet customers who used Garden In A Box, a Resource Central program supported by Denver Water, to beautify their landscapes with water-wise plants.

    The difference in volume rates for customers who live inside Denver compared to those who live in the suburbs is due to the Denver City Charter, which was changed in 1959 to allow permanent leases of water to suburban water districts based on two conditions: 1) there always would be an adequate supply for the citizens of Denver, and 2) suburban customers pay the full cost of service, plus an additional amount.

    Denver Water encourages customers to be efficient with their water use.

    Using less water means more water can be kept in the mountain reservoirs, rivers and streams that fish live in, and Coloradans enjoy. And using less water also can lower your monthly water bills, saving money.

    “We are continuing our work maintaining and replacing water mains in the street, building a new state-of-the-art treatment plant and water quality laboratory, preparing for the needed expansion of Gross Reservoir and replacing old, customer-owned lead service lines to protect our customers from the risk of lead in drinking water,” Lochhead said.

    “At the same time, we use the tools available to us to help pay for the necessary investment in our system and keep our rates as low as possible.”

    In addition to rates paid by customers, Denver Water relies on bond sales, cash reserves, hydropower sales and the fees paid when new homes and buildings are connected to the system.

    The utility does not make a profit or receive tax dollars. It reinvests money from customer water bills to maintain and upgrade the water system.

    Infographic credit: Kim Unger, Denver Water.

    Prepping for mountain snowmelt today and tomorrow: Learn how #ClimateChange complicates the spring #runoff season and what @DenverWater is doing about it — News on Tap

    From Denver Water (Jay Adams):

    Managing water collected from the mountain snow’s spring runoff has plenty of challenges — and will become more complex in the future due to climate change.

    “As water planners, we prefer to see predictable weather patterns,” said Nathan Elder, water supply manager at Denver Water. “Unfortunately, every year is different and with climate change we’re seeing more variability and that makes it tougher to manage our water supply.”

    That challenge may be most acute during runoff season, that critical — and brief — window of time when snow melts, flows into streams and fills reservoirs. Climate change may lead to changes in runoff timing that, in turn, require more nimble reservoir operations.

    What’s happening?

    Since the 1960s, average temperatures in Colorado have increased 2.5 degrees, according to the Colorado Water Conservation Board. That change is manifesting in significant ways.

    “We’re seeing more swings between wet and dry years, more variation in year-to-year stream runoff and earlier runoff,” said Laurna Kaatz, climate program manager at Denver Water. “We’re also expecting to see more extreme weather events like extreme heat and enhanced drought, but we could also see more intense rainstorms and flooding especially if heavy rain falls on top of a lot of snow.”

    Timing is everything

    The timing of the snow runoff in Summit County, which is home to Dillon Reservoir, provides an example of how climate change impacts not only water collection but also recreation and flooding.

    Rapid snowmelts caused by rain falling on snow could lead to a greater risk of flooding below Dillon Dam.

    During a gradual runoff, Denver Water can take steps to minimize the risk of flooding below the dam, however, if there are more instances of warm weather combined with rain falling on snow, large amounts of water can fill Dillon quickly and send water through the dam’s overflow spillway. This scenario can lead to high water levels on the Blue River through Silverthorne.

    “We do our best to minimize high flows out of our reservoirs, but if there is a fast runoff, we can only do so much and there’s a greater chance for flooding downstream if there’s a major rain-on-snow event,” Elder said.

    Changes in runoff and precipitation also impact when Dillon Reservoir fills — or doesn’t fill — which plays a role in boating season and water levels for the Dillon and Frisco marinas.

    The timing of the runoff also impacts Denver Water’s ability to make the most of its water rights.

    “Later runoff allows us to use our water rights to match higher customer demand during the summer watering season,” Elder said. “Early runoff means we have to let some water go downstream before we can put it to use on the Front Range. This also impacts how much water we can store for times of drought.”

    When Dillon Reservoir is full, water flows down its overflow spillway into the Blue River. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    Extreme weather events

    Colorado has seen several big swings in weather over the last 20 years, suggesting the kind of uncertainty that may be more pronounced as climate change intensifies and the resulting complexity in managing the snow runoff.

    Most recently, the winter of 2017-2018 was exceptionally dry across the state but was followed by above average snow in 2018-2019.

    The years 2012 through mid-2013 were another period of drought, followed by record flooding in September 2013. Two wet years followed in 2014 and 2015.

    The dramatic weather turnaround in 2002 and 2003 is another example of how extreme weather impacts Denver Water’s water supply and planning.

    Those years marked a major period of drought. In 2003, Denver Water was preparing to have water restrictions and Dillon Reservoir was more than half empty and critically low. But in March 2003, the Front Range and central mountains got hit with a major snowstorm that filled Denver Water’s reservoirs.

    “A drought could last one year or several and then be followed by big snow years,” Elder said.

    “We could get most of our water for the year from one or two big storms, so we have to be prepared for these situations.”

    Swings in weather patterns and extreme events could have Denver Water planning for drought conditions with watering restrictions for customers and end up with a surplus of water after a big storm.

    Cheesman Reservoir during the 2002 drought. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    Planning for climate uncertainty

    Denver Water has relied primarily on historical weather patterns and data to plan for how much water it will collect from mountain streams. Now the utility is incorporating climate change into its long-range preparation through scenario planning.

    “One component of scenario planning involves creating a variety of potential climate scenarios instead of simply assuming patterns will stay the same over the next 50 to 100 years,” said Jeff Bandy, a water resource manager at Denver Water. “This approach helps us plan for potential changes in climate and evaluate our system’s reliability.”

    Denver Water takes data from global climate models and uses the information to create various outcomes on streamflow and precipitation in its water collection system.

    The planning team develops scenarios that include variables such as warmer temperatures, more precipitation and shifts in timing of precipitation, all of which result in changes to volume and timing of runoff in Denver Water’s watersheds.

    “We evaluate the scenarios and determine if future infrastructure projects or operational changes are needed,” Bandy said.

    Denver Water’s entire collection system. Image credit: Denver Water.

    Enhancing data collection

    Denver Water collects water from 4,000 square miles in Colorado’s central mountains and foothills. With such a large area, getting accurate and timely information about weather and streamflow conditions is critical to water supply management.

    “We use a lot of different data sources to manage and forecast water supply and a lot of these data sources are based off historical climate data,” Elder said. “With a changing climate, the current data sources are no longer as reliable as they used to be. This makes it more difficult to manage our reservoirs.”

    In preparation for more weather extremes and variability, Denver Water has begun investing in new technology to get a more accurate picture of the snowpack above Dillon.

    Looking to the south from a plane above Dillon Reservoir in June 2019, during an Airborne Snow Observatory flight to gather data on the snowpack above the reservoir for Denver Water. Photo credit: Quantum Spatial.

    “In April 2019 we used NASA’s Airborne Snow Observatory, which uses a plane, to measure snowpack over the mountains in our watershed,” Elder said. “The more we know about the snow, water content and runoff, the better decisions we can make when it comes to managing our water supply for our customers and the communities where our reservoirs are located.”

    Nathan Elder, Denver Water’s manager of water supply, tracks a variety of factors to keep tabs on the snowpack and water supply. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    What can customers do?

    The best way communities can be prepared for the impacts of climate change is to use water wisely.

    “Our water supply is vulnerable to climate and our customers play a major role in how we manage our system,” Elder said. “That’s why we always ask our customers to be efficient with their water all year long and even in wet years.”

    Water is a limited resource in Colorado so climate change will impact communities on both sides of the Continental Divide.

    “Climate change means water change and that’s important to us all,” Kaatz said. “So, it’s our goal at Denver Water to make sure we’re thinking about it and actively preparing for the changes we’re going to experience.”

    New projects take shape along High Line Canal: @DenverWater pledges $10M to long-term care of the historic canal — News on Tap

    From News on Tap (Jay Adams):

    When Denver’s early settlers built the High Line Canal back in the 1880s, little did they know what the future would hold for the 71-mile man-made waterway that stretches from Waterton Canyon southwest of Littleton all the way to Aurora.

    The High Line Canal was originally designed to deliver irrigation water to farmers on the dry plains of Denver. While Denver Water still owns and uses the canal to deliver irrigation water to customers, the canal corridor also has grown into a recreational asset and an ecological resource for the metro area.

    On the recreational side, each year around 500,000 people walk, run and ride the canal’s 71-mile maintenance road that also serves as a popular trail. As an ecological resource, some sections of the canal structure itself are now being used for stormwater management.

    The High Line Canal is an irrigation ditch built in the 1880s. Denver Water still uses the canal to deliver irrigation water to customers when conditions allow. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    The evolution of the public’s use of the canal for recreation and stormwater management, along with its original role as a water delivery method, is one of the reasons why Denver Water and regional partners, including cities, counties, park and flood districts and stormwater management entities, have partnered with the High Line Canal Conservancy. The nonprofit organization’s mission is to preserve, protect and enhance the 71-mile canal in partnership with the public.

    Denver Water plays an active role in the ongoing discussions about the canal’s future as it continues to serve its High Line customers. Because the canal has a junior water right and experiences high seepage and evaporation losses over large distances, Denver Water is looking for more reliable and efficient ways to deliver water to some of the High Line customers.

    The High Line Canal in operation in May 2021. The canal is an inefficient means of delivering water long distances. It can get clogged with debris and loses 60% to 80% of its water to the ground due to seepage. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    “As the canal’s role in the metro area evolves, Denver Water is committed to making sure it remains a beneficial asset to the community,” said Jeannine Shaw, government relations manager at Denver Water. “That’s why in 2020, the Denver Water Board of Commissioners approved a historic $10 million pledge to the High Line Canal Conservancy to invest in the long-term care and maintenance of the canal corridor.”

    Included in the pledge is a piece of property and an office building located adjacent to the canal in Centennial for the Conservancy to use as its new headquarters.

    The High Line Canal Conservancy’s new headquarters is located along the canal in Centennial. Denver Water provided the building to the nonprofit as part of a financial pledge in 2021. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    As part of this evolution, the Conservancy, Denver Water and canal stakeholders are creating a new management structure called the Canal Collaborative to formally connect the regional partners as they guide the future of the canal.

    Representatives from the Canal Collaborative pose with supporters for a picture to celebrate their work. Photo credit: High Line Canal Conservancy.

    “The collaborative helps us do more together than any one entity can do alone,” said Suzanna Fry Jones, senior director of programs and partnerships for the High Line Canal Conservancy. “The collaborative management structure will ensure this treasured resource is preserved, protected and enhanced as a regional legacy for future generations.”

    The formalized structure will benefit citizens and the environment along all 71 miles of the canal as it winds its way through Denver as well as Adams, Arapahoe and Douglas counties.

    The Canal Collaborative includes the High Line Canal Conservancy, Denver Water, Arapahoe and Douglas counties, the cities of Aurora, Denver, Cherry Hills Village, Greenwood Village and Littleton, the Highlands Ranch Metro District, the Mile High Flood District, the Southeast Metro Stormwater Authority and South Suburban Parks and Recreation.

    Read about the different canals that carry water through Denver Water’s complex system.

    “The collaborative is important because we need to have a group that brings together all of the jurisdictions so we can hear from each one of those entities and their communities about what’s most important to them,” said Nancy Sharpe, Arapahoe County Commissioner for District 2, which includes Centennial, Greenwood Village, a portion of Aurora and unincorporated central Arapahoe County.

    The Conservancy was formed in 2014 and has developed “The Plan for the High Line Canal,” which lays out guidance for repurposing the corridor along with over 100 recommendations for new projects.

    Here’s a look at some of the developments along the canal in recent years.

    Ecological resource

    Under the new Stormwater Transformation and Enhancement Program, High Line Canal partners are looking at ways to allow and move stormwater through areas of the canal to improve water quality and manage local flooding in the South Platte River Basin. This is in addition to the canal’s existing irrigation delivery purposes.

    Stormwater is any rain and snow that eventually flows off any impervious surface and into the canal.

    Several structures have been built in or on the side of the canal to help manage the flow of stormwater through the channel.

    The new structures that are located on the side of the canal help improve drainage on city streets and collect debris and trash before water enters the canal.

    The structures being built inside the canal also help catch and stop debris and trash from flowing down the channel. They also temporarily slow down and detain water to filter out sediment.

    These structures are designed to improve water quality before the water reaches receiving streams. Moving stormwater through the canal could provide an additional 100 days that the canal could be wet in some parts of the channel, which would benefit vegetation along the corridor while also enhancing the recreational user experience.

    “Often times across the country, old utility and railroad corridors become degraded once their primary uses have been reduced, so we’re happy to see areas of the High Line Canal being maximized and transformed into green infrastructure,” Shaw said.

    The City of Littleton built a stormwater management system on Windemere Street. Snow and rain drain through a grate on the street and into a pipe that flows into the High Line Canal. Photo credit: Denver Water.
    The City and County of Denver built four “drive-through forebays” at the end of several streets next to the High Line Canal across from Eisenhower Park. Before the structures were built, stormwater would flow uncontrolled and unfiltered into the canal. The forebays act as pre-treatment structures that will slow water down and allow sediment and trash to settle onto the street before entering the canal. Photo credit: Denver Water.
    The City and County of Denver built three concrete structures called water quality berms in the canal. This structure in the canal at Wellshire Golf Course will control the flow of water and catch trash and debris, making it easier to remove while providing cleaner water. Photo credit: Denver Water.
    A new water quality berm with a headgate in the High Line Canal at Eisenhower Park in Denver. The berm temporarily detains stormwater to promote filtration of sediment before water passes through to improve water quality in the canal’s receiving streams. Photo credit: High Line Canal Conservancy.
    When the High Line Canal is not in operation, gates are fully opened at stream crossings. This allows stormwater that’s been filtered in the canal to go into receiving streams such as Big Dry Creek at deKoevend Park in Centennial. Big Dry Creek eventually flows into the South Platte River. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    Along with Littleton and Denver, stormwater projects are also being implemented in Centennial, Douglas County and Greenwood Village with additional projects in progress. Learn more about the Stormwater Transformation and Enhancement Program in this video.

    Denver Water and its regional partners also are exploring other opportunities to allow the canal structure to be used. In areas where it has adequate stormwater capacity the canal could provide additional benefits to the neighboring communities and their surrounding environment to improve water quality in the South Platte River basin.

    “As we navigate the evolving future for the lands the High Line Canal irrigates, Denver Water is excited to further the work with our regional partners to find additional utility for this cherished resource,” Shaw said.

    The High Line Canal in September 2021, near the South Quebec Way trailhead in southeast Denver. The canal is dry most of the year when not in operation for irrigation deliveries. Moving stormwater through the channel improves water quality and could add an additional 100 days when the canal could be wet in some parts of the canal. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    Tree canopy health

    There are more than 23,000 mature trees along the High Line Canal, but many are at the end of their life span. The Conservancy is working with Denver Water and regional partners to remove dead trees and trim others to improve overall tree health and safety along the canal’s recreational trail.

    To maintain the canal’s urban forest, the Conservancy’s Plan recommends planting 3,500 new trees by 2030. The species of trees being planted will be more drought tolerant than many of the old cottonwood trees currently along the canal.

    In the fall of 2021, the Conservancy, along with the support of local volunteers and The Park People, planted 175 new, drought-tolerant trees. Photo credit: High Line Canal Conservancy.

    Trail improvements

    A major goal of the Conservancy and the Canal Collaborative is to make it easier, safer and more fun to walk or ride on the canal’s recreational trail. The Conservancy is working with local jurisdictions to add new pedestrian bridges, trailheads, underpasses, mile markers and wayfinding signs.

    A biker rides through the new underpass that goes under South Colorado Boulevard and East Hampden Avenue next to Wellshire Golf Course in south Denver. The project provides a critical connection to allow safe passage under two busy streets, resulting in easier trail access and encouraging more users. The collaborative project was funded by the City and County of Denver, Cherry Hills Village and Arapahoe County along with funds from the federal government. Photo credit: Denver Water.
    A new sign along the High Line Canal trail in Aurora installed in 2021 provides a map to help trail users navigate the corridor. Photo credit: Denver Water.
    Arapahoe County Open Spaces opened a new trailhead on South Quebec Way in southeast Denver. The site includes parking, a bathroom, a trash can and a trail map. Adding new trailheads is major goal of the High Line Canal Conservancy to improve access and facilities for the public. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    Canal Improvement Zones

    Under The Plan, the Conservancy has worked with the community and jurisdictional partners to identify nine Canal Improvement Zones. These are locations where residents asked for trail enhancements to increase physical activity, foster community connections and create access points to nature.

    Many of the sites are in diverse neighborhoods where the canal corridor has been historically under-utilized and lacked investment.

    Enhancements may include pedestrian bridges, improved trail access, benches, signs, gathering spots and play areas.

    The first location to see new projects is the Laredo Highline neighborhood in Aurora, thanks to a $180,000 grant from the Colorado Health Foundation and an additional $180,000 from Arapahoe County.

    A rendering of enhancements to the High Line Canal trail in Aurora’s Laredo Highline neighborhood. The enhancements include a new pedestrian bridge to improve trail access and new play and seating areas. Image credit: High Line Canal Conservancy.

    “I grew up in the Laredo Highline neighborhood and the canal has always helped bring the community together,” said Aurora resident Janak Garg. “We’re really looking forward to the new bridge and other improvements coming to the neighborhood.”

    Janak Garg and his family stand at the spot where a new pedestrian bridge will be built across the canal in Aurora’s Laredo Highline neighborhood. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    New mile markers

    A very noticeable and welcome improvement to the trail is the addition of new mile markers. In the past, there were a variety of mile markers with different mileage from each jurisdiction, which made it confusing for hikers and bikers.

    Now there are new Colorado red sandstone mile markers that line the trail from start to finish, paid for through donations by the Conservancy’s founding partners.

    Most of the markers have a quote or message from the founding partners, like Al Galperin who lives near the South Quebec Way Trailhead, whose message reads: “Be the reason someone smiles today.”

    “I hope it brings a little bit of extra joy to people on the trail,” Galperin said. “It’s nice to be able to help out and see all the new features coming to the canal.”

    Al Galperin and his dog Brody stand next to one of the new mile markers along the High Line Canal trail. Galperin is one of the High Line Canal Conservancy’s Founding Partners who made a donation to help fund the mile marker project. Photo caption: Denver Water.

    “It’s inspiring to see all these improvements and we’re excited for the future of the canal,” Shaw said. “The Conservancy and all of the partners are doing a great job leading the way and working with Denver Water and the community.”

    Denver Water crews participate with volunteers to help clean up the canal in Aurora in April 2021. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    Visit highlinecanal.org to sign up for monthly emails for information on events throughout the year. The website also provides information about history of the canal, new projects and volunteer opportunities.

    Denver Water reaches Gross Reservoir settlement, but #water supply concerns remain — The #Denver Post #SouthPlatteRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    Gross Reservoir. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    From The Denver Post (Conrad Swanson):

    The utility will pay millions to mitigate environmental concerns for Boulder County residents

    The county received assurances Denver Water would pay to mitigate environmental damages expected from the work, but the deal still left Commissioner Matt Jones “heartsick.” He said commissioners fought for the best deal possible but he’s still concerned about the damage the project could do locally and for the millions of people who depend on the Colorado River…

    Climate scientists and legal experts said they’re skeptical the parched Colorado River will provide enough water for Denver Water to fill an expanded Gross Reservoir. And even if the water’s there, the expansion and other projects like it will inevitably worsen water shortages on Colorado’s Western Slope and downstream, they said.

    Utility officials, however, hailed the settlement and said that while they won’t be able to fill the reservoir every year — which they’ve known all along — years with above-average precipitation will provide more than enough water.

    “We’re gonna fill the reservoir,” Denver Water Project Manager Jeff Martin said.

    Climate change is trending in the wrong direction for such strong confidence, cautioned Mark Squillace, the Raphael J. Moses Professor of Natural Resource Law at the University of Colorado Law School.

    “This just seems a bit insane to me that Denver Water is unwilling to acknowledge” that climate change is only likely to worsen water shortages on the Western Slope, Squillace said.

    Martin said he still expects to break ground on the five-year, $464 million project by April…

  • Denver Water will pay $5 million to residents most impacted by the work and agreed to reduce noise and dust from the project using electric rather than diesel generators.
  • Denver Water’s drivers must complete bicycle awareness training, provide “truck free” days for cyclists and “leave Gross Dam Road in a better condition than before the project.”
  • Denver Water will pay $5.1 million to replace open space lands that would be flooded by the reservoir expansion and transfer 70 acres near Walker Ranch Open Space to Boulder County.
  • Denver Water will pay $1.5 million to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the project and another $1 million to restore a stretch along South St. Vrain Creek.
  • Squillace said while those terms might benefit county residents, it’s still not enough and he was disappointed to hear commissioners agreed to settle.

    “We were between a rock and a hard place,” Jones said. “We were pushed into this corner of knowing that and trying to figure out what we could get for Boulder County residents…

    Martin said he and others at Denver Water expect to be able to fill the expanded reservoir in average and above-average years. South Boulder Creek, which is not part of the Colorado River system, also feeds into the reservoir and could supplement water in dry years on the Western Slope, he noted…

    [David] Bahr suggested Denver Water could instead pipe in water from the Missouri River or other places in the Midwest that are expected to see more water in the coming years. While Martin said those types of ideas could be explored for the more distant future, Denver Water officials maintain that an expanded Gross Reservoir is the best course of action for now.

    The project could still come to a halt, Squillace said. The more delays the work faces, the more climate data will be available, increasing political pressure for Denver Water to seek another way to secure its water supply.

    “I’m still not so convinced that the project’s ever going to actually be built,” he said.

    Brad Udall: Here’s the latest version of my 4-Panel plot thru Water Year (Oct-Sep) of 2021 of the Colorado River big reservoirs, natural flows, precipitation, and temperature. Data (PRISM) goes back or 1906 (or 1935 for reservoirs.) This updates previous work with
    @GreatLakesPeck.

    Gross Reservoir Expansion Project is a go after federal, state and local reviews finalized: Project to raise dam will improve water reliability for more than 1.5 million people while benefiting the environment — News on Tap

    From Denver Water (Jay Adams and Todd Hartman):

    After nearly 20 years of preparations, the expansion of Gross Reservoir in Boulder County is moving ahead.

    Last week, Denver Water took the final step necessary to proceed with the project after striking an agreement with Boulder County to take additional actions to offset impacts of the project.

    The accord with Boulder County means Denver Water can proceed with the long-awaited project that will raise the dam, triple the reservoir capacity and mean far more water security for 1.5 million people in an era of more intense droughts, heavier rain events and earlier snowmelt – all driven by climate change.

    “Today is an historic occasion for Denver Water,” CEO/Manager Jim Lochhead told Denver’s Board of Water Commissioners on Nov. 3, upon acceptance of the Boulder County agreement.

    “We bring to a conclusion the federal, state and local review processes that will allow us to begin construction of the expansion of Gross Reservoir.”

    Expanding the reservoir requires raising the dam 131 feet by placing new concrete on the existing structure. Image credit: Denver Water.

    Denver Water personnel will begin close coordination with Boulder County and others to prepare the area and local roadways for construction. Denver Water will continue to engage and communicate with project neighbors to ease impacts of the work.

    “In the two decades Denver Water has spent preparing for the project, we have been driven by a singular value: the need to do this expansion the right way, by involving the community, by upholding the highest environmental standards and by protecting and managing the water and landscapes that define Colorado,” Lochhead said.

    “Boulder County and its residents share these perspectives, and we look forward to continuing to work with them as the project moves ahead.”

    Building the Gross Reservoir Dam in the 1950s. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    Gross Dam was built in the 1950s and named after Dwight D. Gross, a former chief engineer at Denver Water. It was built to store water from the West Slope that travels through the Moffat Tunnel, as well as water from South Boulder Creek.

    “The original engineers designed the dam so that it could be raised twice, if needed,” said Jeff Martin, Gross Reservoir project manager. “Based on our water supply projections and current system shortfalls, that need is here.”

    Denver Water began the permitting process to raise the dam in 2003 and received approvals from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment in 2016 and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 2017.

    The plan cleared its final federal hurdle on July 16, 2020, when the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission gave its approval for the project and ordered Denver Water to proceed with design and construction.

    The project has earned support from major environmental groups, business interests, water users on both sides of the Continental Divide and elected officials on both sides of the aisle, including the state’s last five governors.

    Raising the dam will increase the reservoir’s storage capacity by 77,000 acre-feet of water and make Gross Reservoir the second-largest in Denver Water’s system. When complete, Gross Reservoir will be able to hold 119,000 acre-feet, second only to Dillon Reservoir in Summit County, which is capable of holding just north of 257,000 acre-feet.

    The graphic shows the existing dam and water level and how high the new dam will rise above the current water level. Image credit: Denver Water.

    Expanding Gross Reservoir is a major part of Denver Water’s long-term, multipronged approach to deliver safe, reliable water to more than 1.5 million people today and those who will call the Front Range home in the future. That approach includes increased water efficiency, recycling water and responsibly sourcing new storage.

    The additional reservoir capacity will enable increased water capture in wet years to help avoid shortages during droughts. It will also help offset a current imbalance in Denver Water’s collection system that is a significant risk.

    Denver Water has a water storage imbalance between its two collection systems with 90% of its reservoir storage located in the utility’s South System compared to 10% in its North System. This storage imbalance creates vulnerability if there is a drought, mechanical issue or emergency that affects the South System. The storage imbalance is one of the reasons Denver Water is expanding Gross Reservoir. Image credit: Denver Water.

    “Right now, 90% of our water storage is on the south end of our water collection system, but just 10% of our storage is on the north end,” Martin said.

    “By enlarging Gross Dam, we’ll be able to store more water in the north, which will improve our flexibility in the event there’s a problem on the south side that could come from any number of operational issues or threats, like wildfires.”

    Once filled, the expansion at Gross will provide an additional 72,000 acre-feet of water storage, which is roughly the amount 288,000 residential households would use for one year.

    In addition, 5,000 acre-feet of storage space in the expanded reservoir — known as the environmental pool — is reserved to support environmental needs as part of an agreement with the cities of Boulder and Lafayette. Water from the environmental pool will be used to provide beneficial stream flows along a 17-mile stretch of South Boulder Creek below the dam during dry periods to protect fish and aquatic insects.

    Denver Water also has committed over $20 million to more than 60 environmental mitigation and enhancement projects on both sides of the Continental Divide as a result of the project. According to Colorado officials, those commitments will provide a net environmental benefit for the state’s water quality.

    Denver Water will use its existing water rights to fill the reservoir when it is complete. Engineers expect it will take around five years to fill the newly expanded portion of the reservoir, depending on precipitation and water use from customers.

    “In the end, this project won’t be judged by whether we raised the dam, but rather how we went about expanding the reservoir,” Lochhead said. “We will continue to seek community input and look forward to working with Boulder County as the project moves ahead.”

    Major $2.6 billion, 10-year investment on tap: How @DenverWater is protecting the #water system now — and preparing for the future News on Tap

    From News on Tap (Cathy Proctor and Jay Adams):

    From protecting customers from the risk posed by old lead service lines to preparing to meet the challenges of the future, Denver Water takes a long-term view when planning for the future.

    And the utility has been recognized nationally for its work, by peer utilities as well as by federal officials.

    Denver Water in early October was recognized — for the second time — by the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies, a group representing the largest publicly owned drinking water suppliers in the United States.

    At the association’s annual meeting, held in Denver this year, Denver Water received the group’s 2021 AMWA Sustainable Water Utility Management Award for its work to curb carbon emissions, increase its use of renewable energy and protect the environment and its communities.

    Denver Water crews install a new culvert over Cabin Creek in Grand County in partnership with the U.S. Forest Service and Grand County Learning By Doing. The new culvert will improve habitat for native cutthroat trout in the stream. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    Denver Water’s groundbreaking Lead Reduction Program was recognized by the national utility association and also was highlighted by leaders at the Environmental Protection Agency earlier this year for the jobs it created and its unique approach to diverse communities.

    Replacing all the old, customer-owned lead service lines in Denver Water’s service area at no direct cost to the customer will take 15 years to complete, and it’s just one of the major undertakings that make up the utility’s 10-year forecast for an estimated $2.6 billion investment into the system that supports about 25% of the state’s population, including Colorado’s capital city.

    About 90% of the forecast investment over the next decade is dedicated to large projects and regular annual inspection and maintenance programs that protect customers, position Denver Water for the future and continue regular monitoring programs for infrastructure already in place. The remaining investment focuses on maintenance and improving the resiliency of the system.

    “Powerless” against #Denver Water, #Boulder County OKs deal to triple size of Gross Reservoir — The #Colorado Sun

    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

    From The Colorado Sun (Michael Booth):

    Commissioners say they hate the project, but the odds of winning a lawsuit were poor. Denver Water upped the offer to help mitigate impacts of construction to $12.5 million.

    The Boulder County Commissioners on Tuesday unanimously approved a settlement allowing Denver Water to expand the dam and pool at Gross Reservoir, despite vocal opposition from some residents, after a $10 million mitigation deal was sweetened by $2.5 million to soften construction impacts for neighbors.

    Denver Water is likely to vote Wednesday to approve a total of $12.5 million in mitigation and open space donations for Boulder County, after last-minute talks raised the sum.

    The commissioners said they were heartsick at the destruction the dam expansion will cause for neighbors and for revered county open lands. But, they added, county attorneys advised them that federal laws preempt their planning process because the existing dam includes a hydroelectric generator and is therefore controlled by federal laws.

    The attorneys said Boulder County would lose a federal suit filed by Denver Water and that the agency would withdraw its mitigation offer if they delayed a vote.

    Denver Water already has the federal approval it needs to raise the dam on South Boulder Creek by 131 feet, and inundate the surrounding forest for 77,000 more acre-feet of storage, nearly tripling capacity…

    The commissioners wanted Denver Water to go through the county’s existing “1041” land use process, allowed under state law, before construction on the Gross Reservoir expansion begins. But in July, Denver Water sued, saying federal laws superseded Boulder County’s process and that its federal permit required the utility to begin construction by 2022. Boulder County was intentionally slowing down the project, Denver Water argued…

    Denver Water Manager Jim Lochhead said in a statement after the vote, “I appreciate that this was a hard and emotional decision for the Boulder County Commissioners.

    “We have tried for the last year to go through the County’s 1041 land use process, and only after delays were we forced to file litigation to prevent violation of the order by FERC for us to commence construction of the project. Denver Water continues to be committed to do everything in our power to mitigate local impacts of construction,” Lochhead said.

    Construction would impact surrounding forests, trails, roads and neighbors, and also temporarily cut off access to popular open spaces in parts of the area. Commissioner Marta Loachamin said she toured areas around Gross Reservoir for the first time in June, and was struck by markings in the forest showing how many trees will have to be removed and how high the new water pool will rise in the canyon.

    Conservation groups who have sued to stop the dam expansion can continue to negotiate with Denver Water for additional mitigation, deputy county attorney David Hughes told the commissioners. Denver Water has indicated they would continue to talk with the groups, he said…

    The conservation groups are adamant Boulder County could have negotiated for more mitigation. Save the Colorado and PLAN-Boulder County said they had proposed $70 million in mitigation as a settlement, and that Boulder County stopped including them in talks last week.

    Gross Dam enlargement concept graphic via Denver Water

    The agreement with Denver Water now includes:

  • $5 million for the construction impacts on immediate neighbors of the reservoir.
  • $5.1 million to Boulder County open space funding to acquire new land or repair and maintain trails and facilities under extra strain from visitors who can’t use Gross Reservoir spaces.
  • $1.5 million to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions from construction.
  • $1 million for South St. Vrain Creek restoration.
  • A transfer of 70 acres of Denver Water land near Gross Reservoir to Boulder County to expand Walker Ranch Open Space.
  • Shutting off a super-sized spigot: A slate of critical construction means closing off a key supply system until spring @DenverWater

    From Denver Water (Todd Hartman):

    Moving water from mountain reservoirs to household taps is never easy. For the next several months, Denver Water will be doing it with the equivalent of one hand tied behind its back.

    A series of major maintenance and construction projects will require Denver Water to, essentially, shut down the entire north side of its collection, delivery and treatment system, and rely wholly on the southern end to supply 1.5 million people with water as the utility heads into the colder seasons.

    The work has required a Colorado Ballet level of choreography to move water around the system months in advance in preparation for a rare set of circumstances.

    This summer, divers spent several weeks installing a new, massive grate at the bottom of Gross Dam. The grate protects the outlet works from potential damage from large debris. Photo credit: Black & Veatch

    “Shifting all that water here and there, it’s a lot to keep straight, a lot to think about, a lot to juggle,” said Nathan Elder, manager of water supply for Denver Water. “And it all comes on top of watching the weather to see what it might — or might not — bring us as far as precipitation.”

    Rivers and creeks in Grand County are part of Denver Water’s North Collection System. Water flows through the Moffat Tunnel, under the Continental Divide, to Gross and Ralston reservoirs. Image credit: Denver Water.
    Denver Water’s entire collection system. Image credit: Denver Water.

    Denver Water is conducting several projects that required the utility to turn off the spigot on its north side supply system late this summer. Those include:

  • Replacing a massive grate at the bottom of Gross Dam that prevents heavy debris from finding its way into the pipes and valves that calibrate water releases at the base of the dam. The project is so complex it requires specially trained diving crews working hundreds of feet under the reservoir surface.
  • Replacing concrete at the Moffat Canal near the east portal of the Moffat Tunnel. The freeze-thaw cycle at 9,200 feet has taken a toll and allowed for water to seep underneath concrete and create the potential for damaging erosion.
  • Repairing deteriorated concrete within the Moffat Tunnel caused by years of scour within the tunnel.
  • Replacing key structures at Ralston Reservoir along Highway 93 near Golden. The work to replace equipment that regulates the way water is carried through the dam will allow for safer operation of reservoir releases. Replacing that equipment requires draining the reservoir.
  • A project to connect the emerging Northwater Treatment Plant to Denver Water’s distribution system. This work, the overarching reason for shutting down north side flows, also requires taking the existing Moffat Treatment Plant offline for modifications related to the Northwater connections.
  • Ralston Reservoir, a key water supply bucket near Golden, has been drained to allow Denver Water to construct a new outlet works to release water from the base of the dam. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    All that north side work means Denver Water will have to rely almost fully on supplies from its southern end that gather water from the South Platte River as well as from Dillon Reservoir in Summit County.

    This north side shutdown is even more complicated than the maneuverings required in the summer of 2020, when Denver Water had to undertake big shifts in how it moved water through its system due to repair work that closed the Roberts Tunnel for two months, closing off access to water from Dillon Reservoir.

    That orchestration was hard enough. Planning for the current shutdown began months ago when engineers decided to coordinate several projects to contain the treatment and delivery disruptions to a single fall and winter cycle.

    “Doing it this way made the most sense,” explained Jennifer Gelmini, a senior engineer at Denver Water who is coordinating the projects. “We realized we were going to have a long outage for the work needed for the Northwater plant connections and Moffat modifications and looked at how we could take advantage of this big shutdown and what other projects could fit into that timeframe.”

    Work started in August to replace concrete at the East Portal of the Moffat Tunnel near Rollinsville. Repairs were required on both the inside and outside of the portal area. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    That plan made it critical to maintain as much water as possible in Dillon Reservoir to help with supplies in the late summer and fall, while also keeping levels high at Cheesman and Marston reservoirs so they can be relied on over the upcoming winter months.

    Anglers and Sunday drivers may have noticed big flows in the North Fork of the South Platte River, too, in late summer, as the utility moved more water than usual from Dillon, through the Roberts Tunnel under the Continental Divide and into the North Fork. At times, late summer flows reached 450 cubic feet per second, compared to a more typical September flow of one-third that volume.

    “We’ve been setting the stage on this for months,” Elder said. “Taking the north end out of the equation means we have to set up our southern end for all the heavy lifting for nearly an eight-month span. It’s a highly unusual and tricky undertaking.”

    Ralston Reservoir near Golden must be drained completely to replace the outlet works at the base of the earthen dam. That reservoir holds nearly 11,000 acre-feet and will be out of commission until the beginning of runoff season in April 2022, creating a dramatic gap in Denver Water’s typical water delivery and treatment pattern.

    Because the 84-year-old Moffat Treatment Plant also will be offline for that period, all the water treatment needs are pushed to the utility’s Marston and Foothills plants in the southwest side of the region.

    Construction continues at the emerging Northwater Treatment Plant below Ralston Reservoir. Work this fall and winter will connect the facility to Denver Water’s distribution system. The plant is expected to be complete in 2024. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    Further complicating such an extended dance: Denver Water this summer had to release large volumes of water from two West Slope reservoirs (Williams Fork and Wolford Mountain) to make up for a water debt it owed on the other side of the Continental Divide.

    While those releases weren’t tied to the projects on the north end, it was another factor water managers had to keep in mind as they ensured Denver Water met all its many obligations, both to its customers and to agreements related to Colorado River flows.

    “This year has been unusual,” Elder said. “No year is ever the same in water supply, but between a pretty dry winter, then a wet spring and early summer, followed by another dry stretch as we try to set the system up for these construction projects, there were a lot of details to sweat.”

    The good news: Come spring, a lot of key projects will be wrapped up, and water managers will once again have more flexibility to manage water between its north and south systems.

    Just in time for spring runoff season.

    @DenverWater, @BoulderCounty to consider settlement proposal to end Gross Reservoir lawsuit — The #Denver Post

    Denver Water is planning to expand Gross Reservoir in Boulder County. The additional storage capacity will create more balance in the utility’s storage and give water planners more flexibility in their operational strategy. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    From The Denver Post (Sam Tabachnik):

    Boulder County and Denver Water could be nearing a settlement to resolve a simmering dispute over plans to expand the Gross Reservoir.

    Denver Water in July sued Boulder County in federal court, claiming commissioners were taking too long to consider the utility’s request to expand the reservoir.

    “The proposed settlement would require Denver Water to pay more than $10 million to mitigate the impacts of the project in Boulder County,” Boulder officials said in a Friday news release. “In exchange, Boulder County would not dispute Denver Water’s claim that the project is exempt from review.”

    Boulder County’s Board of Commissioners will meet Tuesday to discuss the proposed settlement, while Denver Water’s board will meet the following day. A federal judge had set oral arguments in the lawsuit for Nov. 4, but those would be canceled if the agency and county government approve the settlement…

    The proposed expansion would raise the existing Gross Dam by 131 feet and widen it by 800 feet, increasing the reservoir’s capacity from nearly 42,000 acre-feet to nearly 120,000 acre-feet.

    But Denver Water can’t just do it on its own — it needs a permit from Boulder County, which will receive none of the water security and all of the construction, traffic and ecosystem effects. Those who live near the reservoir complain that the five years of construction would bring pollution, lights and noise, while environmental advocates say tens of thousands of trees would have to be cut down to complete the project…

    Some of the money ($2.5 million) would be allocated to assist Boulder County residents directly impacted by the project, while $5.1 million would go to open space funding to replace land consumed by the larger reservoir, Boulder officials said. Other funds would address greenhouse gas emissions from the project and restoration efforts of the South Saint Vrain Creek.

    Denver Water would also agree under the proposed settlement to transfer 70 acres of land near Walker Ranch Open Space to Boulder County, which would be added to the recreational land…

    In its lawsuit this summer, Denver Water alleged that Boulder County was overstepping its authority and jeopardizing the water project.

    A federal judge dismissed a separate lawsuit in March from a coalition of environmental organizations, which sued the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 2018 to block the project.

    Your water rates may go up next year… but not by very much: In order to fund extra projects, @DenverWater will increase usage rates — Denverwrite

    Denver Water relies on a network of reservoirs to collect and store water. The large collection area provides flexibility for collecting water as some areas receive different amounts of precipitation throughout the year. Image credit: Denver Water.

    From Denverwrite (Rebecca Spiess):

    The Denver Board of Water Commissioners agreed on Wednesday to raise water rates and fixed monthly charges, which will all go into effect Jan. 1, 2022.

    For typical single-family residences using the same amount of water each year, this would shake out to an increase of 47 cents to $1.34 per month, or about $5.64 to $16.08 per year. However, these rates are also dependent on where in the Denver metro a customer lives, since rates are higher in the suburbs due to the rules of the Denver City Charter.

    There are also multiple charging tiers at Denver Water, beginning with the lowest rates for water used for essential things like bathing and cooking, calculated by assessing water consumption during the winter. Other water usage, mainly for outdoor watering in the summer, is charged at higher tiers.

    Denver Water is funding upgrades through these extra charges. These projects include expanding the Gross Reservoir near Boulder to increase storage capacity during wet years and boosting the entire system’s resilience as climate change leads to more unpredictable weather patterns. Other projects include the city’s efforts to replace old lead-containing pipes… as well as the city’s creation of new water quality laboratories and treatment centers.

    @DenverWater a two-time winner of national #sustainability award: Peer utilities across the United States highlight utility’s work to protect ecosystems, communities and #climate

    From Denver Water (Cathy Proctor):

    The importance of protecting water, the communities that rely on it and the ecosystems that supply it, is embedded in Denver Water’s mission.

    And the utility’s efforts toward sustainability were recognized in early October by the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies, a group representing the largest publicly owned drinking water suppliers in the United States.

    At the association’s annual meeting, held in Denver this year, Denver Water received the group’s 2021 AMWA Sustainable Water Utility Management Award. It was the second time Denver Water’s efforts were recognized. The utility also won the award in 2018.

    Denver Water was among four utilities recognized by their peer utilities for innovative and successful efforts in economic, social and environmental endeavors.

    Denver Water was honored with the 2021 AMWA Sustainable Water Utility Management Award by the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies for its multiple efforts around an ethic of sustainability. It’s the second time Denver Water has won this national award. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    “AMWA’s 2021 award winners are innovative water systems helmed by visionary executives and committed workforces who create sustainable utilities. In addition to delivering affordable and high-quality water and top-notch customer service, the systems provide exceptional environmental protection and resource management,” said AMWA President Angela Licata, who also is the deputy commissioner for sustainability in the New York City Department of Environmental Protection.

    Solar power panels being installed during the construction of Denver Water’s new Administration Building, part of the utility’s sustainability efforts. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    “We are always making improvements to how we operate because working in a sustainable manner ensures we will continue to deliver clean, safe water to the 1.5 million people who rely on us every day,” said Kate Taft, Denver Water’s manager of sustainability.

    “We are honored that our efforts were recognized by AMWA, as so many of our peers across the nation share our focus on sustainability.”

    AMWA recognized Denver Water for its efforts to improve operations and protect its surrounding ecosystem and communities. Among that work, AMWA noted that Denver Water has set formal goals to reduce carbon emissions, maintain a net-energy neutral operations, expand the use of renewable energy in its day-to-day work, and improve green infrastructure.

    The group also highlighted Denver Water’s work through the Lead Reduction Program to protect customers from the risk of lead from customer-owned pipes and plumbing getting into their drinking water. The program, launched in 2020, will replace the estimated 64,000 to 84,000 customer-owned lead service lines over the course of 15 years.

    Denver Water CEO/Manager Jim Lochhead accepts the 2021 AMWA Sustainable Water Utility Management Award from AMWA President Angela Licata and AMWA Vice President John Entsminger, at the group’s annual meeting in early October in Denver. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    The group also focused on another aspect of Denver Water’s award-winning efforts, its From Forests to Faucets partnership with other government agencies to support work that reduces the risk of damage in the watershed from wildfires, including the planting of more than 1 million new trees.

    Along with Denver Water, the group honored three other utilities for their management efforts:

  • Knoxville Utilities Board also was named for its sustainable management efforts.
  • Oklahoma City Water Utilities Trust received the 2021 AMWA Platinum Award for Utility Excellent.
  • Cobb County-Marietta Water Authority received the 2021 Gold Award for Exceptional Utility Performance.
  • Denver Water’s sustainability efforts include:

  • LEED certification for the buildings involved in the overhaul of Denver Water’s Operations Campus, a 34.6-acre complex on West 12th Avenue near downtown that has been the site of different Denver Water operations since 1881.
  • Creating a sustainability guide that outlined goals for Denver Water from 2018 through 2020, and updating that guide to set down new goals to guide the organization from 2021 through 2025.
  • Starting a waste diversion program that, since its beginning in 2018, has diverted nearly 94,000 pounds of waste from the landfill by composting. That’s nearly 47 tons.
  • Supporting efforts, such as Resource Central’s Garden In A Box program, that have helped Denver-area customers plant more than 100,000 square feet of low-water gardens — instead of turf — to save water and create beauty around their homes.
  • Should river towns be forced to build costly parks to get recreational #water rights? — The #Colorado Sun

    Pueblo whitewater park via http://www.uncovercolorado.com

    From The Colorado Sun (Jason Blevins):

    American Whitewater floated a plan last year to expand protections for recreational river flows in Colorado. Maybe, the nonprofit protector of rivers thought, communities should not need to build whitewater parks to secure rights for recreational flows.

    “It definitely, you know, got some ears perked,” said Hattie Johnson, American Whitewater’s southern Rockies stewardship director.

    Colorado officially recognized recreation in a river as a beneficial use of water in 2001, enabling riverside communities to file for water rights to support whitewater parks. Those recreational in-channel diversion water rights, or RICDs, set a minimal stream flow between structures to support “a reasonable recreation experience.”

    This map shows a stretch of the upper Colorado River, between Kremmling and Glenwood Springs, that is subject to a new framework designed to protect ecological and recreational values, in balance with the needs of water users on the Western Slope and Front Range. Graphic credit: Upper Colorado River Wild and Scenic Stakeholder Group

    In the 20 years since the creation of RICDs and further legislation in 2006, Colorado communities have built dozens of whitewater parks, with 13 of them using RICD water rights. Some parks have delivered lasting economic benefits to riverside communities. But there hasn’t been a new RICD filing since 2013, when Glenwood Springs proposed three whitewater parks and found itself locked in Colorado water court for more than a year…

    The nonprofit river conservation group American Whitewater is advancing a plan that structures in the river are not necessary for river recreation and communities should be able to file for RICD water rights without expensively engineered features that create waves and holes for kayaking, rafting and stand-up paddling. While there are 13 official RICD water rights in the state, there are more than 130 stretches of whitewater that can be rafted, kayaked and stand-up paddled in the state…

    Early talks with Colorado’s sharp-elbowed water community have not gone well. No lawmaker took up American Whitewater’s proposed legislation, which has been scrapped. And opposition to a plan that expands recreational protection of water is stiff.

    Montrose Water Sports Park. Photo credit: Google

    The gist of opposition, which was voiced earlier this month at the meeting of the statehouse Water Resources Review Committee, is this: If any community can file for RICD water rights without actually building anything in the river, the expansion of those recreational rights could muddy Colorado’s already complicated water dealing.

    Denver Water met with American Whitewater, where the powerful water utility expressed concerns over how changes to the RICD statute might “impact previous, hard-won agreements” that allowed recreational water rights, Hartman said. There is a lot of water trading that goes on in Colorado as the state’s water users navigate senior and junior water rights while meeting regional requirements to deliver Colorado River water to downstream users in Arizona, Nevada, California and Mexico.

    “Reopening the statute to loosen it would probably make for a significant undertaking,” Hartman said.

    The red dots show communities who have applied for Recreational In-Channel Diversion water rights in Colorado. The green, blue, black and red lines indicate stretches of whitewater paddled by rafters, kayakers and stand-up paddlers. The nonprofit American Whitewater group is exploring a possible amendment to the state’s water laws that would allow communities to more easily protect recreational water rights. (Provided by American Whitewater)

    American Whitewater is adjusting its plan to accommodate flexible exchanges of water and what Johnson called “creative water management we are going to need in a hotter, drier future.”

    “Having larger decrees for in-stream flows for recreation would make that really difficult and prevent it when it would be needed to deliver water to people’s homes and fields,” she said. “That is understandable.”

    While old-guard water users may be chafing at a plan to expand recreational water rights, they are not dismissing recreation as an invalid use of Colorado’s water.

    “Recreational water use and recreational enjoyment of the state’s waters are integral to Western Colorado’s lifestyle and economy,” said Zane Kessler, the head of government relations for the Colorado River Water Conservation District, adding that the current RICD water laws in Colorado “provide a good amount of flexibility.”

    Kessler said the 15-county Western Slope river district “is sympathetic to the goals of American Whitewater,” but he wonders about the necessity of amending Colorado water law to allow communities like Craig and Sterling and Del Norte to increase the recreational appeal of their riverfront land.

    The river district’s policy, he said, says that a RICD should not be granted if it would “materially impair” Colorado’s ability to meet its water delivery obligations under the Colorado River Compact agreements of 1922 and 1948. Colorado is part of a coalition of upper basin states — with New Mexico, Wyoming and Utah — who must deliver 7.5 million acre feet of Colorado River water to lower basin states as part of a nearly century-old agreement allocating river water that now supports some 40 million users…

    Johnson said American Whitewater will continue talks with Colorado water users about how communities can protect recreational flows without having to build whitewater features. The group hopes to craft an amendment to the state’s recreational water rights rules that will both protect recreational use of river water while preventing a flood of applications for RICD water rights.

    Dillon Reservoir water level dropping due to less rain, higher temperatures — The Summit Daily

    Dillon Reservoir stores water from the Blue River Basin in Summit County for Denver Water customers on the Front Range. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    From The Summit Daily (Lindsey Toomer):

    Moving into the month of September, rainfall in Summit County is starting to slow down and temperatures have remained high, meaning the Dillon Reservoir is starting to look a little dryer.

    The reservoir is currently 91% full after reaching full capacity earlier this summer.

    Nathan Elder, manager of water supply for Denver Water, said this is typical of the reservoir’s fill and drawdown cycle but added that the water level took a slightly sharper decline at the start of the month due to increased water needs, as well…

    Compared to recent years, Elder said the reservoir has stayed full longer because of above-average precipitation in the Blue River watershed and less demand in the area the reservoir serves. He said the levels did not set any records, though…

    Elder said the drawdown of the reservoir typically starts in early to mid-July, but this year’s July was very wet in the Blue River watershed. Dillon Reservoir started to slightly lose storage in mid-July, but in late July and early August, precipitation brought the reservoir back up, keeping it full longer than normal…

    Elder also said the Roberts Tunnel, which moves water from the Western Slope to the Front Range, was turned off for a part of August when it would typically be running at 215 cubic feet per second. He said Denver water has not started releasing more water down the Blue River but has been consistently releasing 105 cubic feet per second for the past month…

    [Treste] Huse said streamflows were generally above normal throughout the summer, but they have started to come back down again. She said at least half of the streams in Summit County are running normally, but six of them have now dipped below normal.

    Looking at the whole summer, Huse said Dillon had more rainfall than it typically does. From May through August, Dillon received 9.08 inches of rainfall, which is 145% of the average amount of 6.25 inches.

    @DenverWater ‘refund’ means a big boost to #ColoradoRiver flows: How the intricacies of Colorado water agreements make for a big late-season liquid pulse in #Kremmling #COriver #aridification

    From News on Tap (Nathan Elder):

    The Colorado River at Kremmling in Grand County will enjoy a big bump in flows from August into October as Denver Water pays off a hefty water debt.

    The Colorado River meanders through ranch land near Kremmling on Aug. 17, 2021. The river will see additional flows in late summer and fall as Denver Water sends additional water downstream. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    The rising flows — an addition of more than 300 cubic feet per second (more on that later) sent from Wolford Mountain and Williams Fork reservoirs — serve as a good example of how Colorado’s intricate system of water rights can drive river flows higher when they might typically be lower as autumn settles in.

    In this case, it works like this: A dry year created conditions that now require Denver Water to “pay back” water to the West Slope.

    Why? Let’s stick with the easy version.

    An agreement that emerged over 50 years of Byzantine legal fights allows Denver to move water from Dillon Reservoir in Summit County to the Front Range when it needs the water for its customers.

    Dillon Reservoir stores water from the Blue River Basin in Summit County for Denver Water customers on the Front Range. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    But — and this is a big “But” — if another big reservoir called Green Mountain (that’s the very long reservoir you drive past as you cruise Highway 9 between Silverthorne and Kremmling) — doesn’t fill up in the spring and summer, Denver Water has to make up the difference later in the year.

    Green Mountain Reservoir is owned by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and located in Summit County north of Silverthorne along the Blue River. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    Stay with us here. Take a look at the map that accompanies this story to help.

    Dillon and Green Mountain Reservoirs are located along the Blue River, which is a tributary of the Colorado River. Water from Wolford Mountain and Williams Fork reservoirs eventually flows into the Colorado River via Muddy Creek and the Williams Fork River respectively. Image credit: Denver Water.

    Years like this, when Denver Water has to refund water, are called “substitution” years. There have been big substitution years, when a lot of water is involved in the refund, in dry years such as 2002, 2004, 2012 and 2013.

    This year is shaping up as a big one, too; one of the largest. In all, the utility expects to release about 37,600 acre-feet from Williams Fork and Wolford to make up what Green Mountain, a reservoir operated by federal Bureau of Reclamation, lacked this year.

    That’s a lot of water — close to the capacity of Gross Reservoir, the big Denver Water reservoir in the foothills northwest of Denver. An acre-foot is roughly enough water to serve three or four households for a year.

    Denver Water owns Williams Fork Reservoir (left) and stores water in Wolford Mountain Reservoir (right.) Denver Water uses the reservoirs to fulfill downstream water rights obligation. The water stored in these two reservoirs is not used for drinking water supplies in the Front Range. Photo credit: Denver Water and Colorado River Water Conservation District.

    But wait, you say. Water from Williams Fork and Wolford won’t find its way to Green Mountain, since the Green Mountain Reservoir is on the Blue River and those two reservoirs send their water into the Colorado River, not the Blue.

    (Also, water can’t flow upstream from the Colorado River into Green Mountain Reservoir. Take another look at the map in this story.)

    That’s OK, as the point is to make up for flows in the Colorado River that would otherwise be augmented by releases from Green Mountain. In short, the releases keep the flows moving on the West Slope.

    Now, back to those flows. Releases are expected to add an additional 400 cubic feet per second to the Colorado River in August, 320 cfs in September, and then decrease somewhat to an extra 200 cfs in the first two weeks of October.

    The confluence of the Blue River (left) with the Colorado River (right), southwest of Kremmling. Muddy Creek, which carries water from Wolford Mountain Reservoir, flows into the Colorado River at this location as well. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    How much water is that?

    Quite a bit. If you think in terms of gallons (think of the gallon of milk at the grocery story), a cubic foot contains about 7.5 gallons. So 300 cubic feet per second means about 2,250 gallons of water per second added to the river flows. (Think about that many milk jugs floating by each second).

    While it’s a lot of water to pay back — and it means Denver Water will need to draw down its supplies in Wolford and Williams Fork quite a bit — it could have been even more.

    But a wet spring on the Front Range kept sprinklers off and demand low. Monsoons returned this year as well, boosting flows on both sides of the Continental Divide. All of that allowed Denver Water to reduce what it moved from Dillon Reservoir, through the Roberts Tunnel, to the Front Range.

    Which, in turn, allowed a bit more water down the Blue River and into Green Mountain and reduced the “substitution” amount to be repaid.

    The Blue River below Dillon Dam in Summit County on Aug. 16, 2021. Denver Water uses the dam to store and release water from the Blue River. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    If you’ve stuck with us until now, we raise a toast to you, salute your interest in a puzzling topic, and hope that this boost in late season flows in the Colorado River brings a smile to all of us inspired by the beauty of a moving stream.

    #BlueRiver flow is above average following rain on the Western Slope and Front Range — The Summit Daily #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    From The Summit Daily (Taylor Sienkiewicz):

    On July 1, the Blue River below Dillon was flowing at 221 cubic feet per second. On Aug. 5, it jumped up to 455 cfs. Nathan Elder, manager of water supply for Denver Water, explained that in the first week of August, the Blue River’s flow reached the 450 mark and has slowly declined since. On Tuesday, Aug. 10, it was 340 cfs, which he said is slightly above normal for this time of year.

    Map of the Blue River drainage basin in Colorado, USA. Made using USGS data. By Shannon1 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=69327693

    Denver Water manages Dillon Reservoir, which the Blue River flows into and out of.

    “We’re trying to match outflow with inflow and send that water downstream to Green Mountain Reservoir,” Elder said…

    The increase in water to Green Mountain Reservoir is welcome, as the reservoir was over 50,000 acre-feet below normal in late July, and a downstream call for irrigation rights was placed on the reservoir. As of Aug. 11, the reservoir, which is full at about 154,000 acre-feet of water, was holding 100,243 acre-feet of water.

    Summit County saw its wettest July in 10 years, which is what has contributed to the increase in outflow, Elder said. He noted that not only has the rain on the Western Slope helped, but rain on the Front Range has lowered water demands on that side of the Continental Divide. That has reduced the need to send water through Roberts Tunnel, which has kept more water in Dillon Reservoir and made way for the release of more water down the Blue River and into Green Mountain Reservoir…

    Dillon Reservoir started out the year lower than normal, and less water flowed in from the melting snowpack. In late June, Elder reported that the reservoir was full but only because much less water was released from the reservoir to the Blue River than in an average year. The lack of water flowing into the Blue River meant two things: Less water went to Green Mountain Reservoir, and commercial rafting couldn’t happen on the river this year…

    Goose Pasture Tarn. Photo credit: City of Breckenridge

    As for the Goose Pasture Tarn, which is currently lowered due to the rehabilitation of the dam, Elder said the tarn’s water that is being stored in Dillon Reservoir has a “very small impact.” For context, the tarn is 771 acre-feet, whereas Dillon Reservoir is over 257,000. Once it’s time for the tarn to be refilled, it will be given priority for water rights.

    Denver Water relies on a network of reservoirs to collect and store water. The large collection area provides flexibility for collecting water as some areas receive different amounts of precipitation throughout the year. Image credit: Denver Water.

    A “gut punch” as water rushes from #FlamingGorge to save #LakePowell’s hydropower system — @WaterEdCO #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    Boaters at Cedar Springs Marina on Flaming Gorge Reservoir. The reservoir’s levels are expected to drop 2 feet a month under an emergency release of water designed to keep Lake Powell’s hydropower system operating. July 22, 2021 Credit: Jerd Smith

    From Water Education Colorado (Jerd Smith):

    John Rauch and his family have operated the Cedar Springs Marina here since 1986. But three weeks ago, when the federal government suddenly ordered millions of gallons of water to be released from Flaming Gorge Reservoir down the Green River to Lake Powell, Rauch wasn’t prepared.

    “It was a total gut punch,” he said on a recent hot, sunny morning. As visitors trekked down to rent his pontoon boats, and others slid their fishing craft into the reservoir, Rauch and his employees were already planning which boat docks and ramps would have to be relocated to keep them afloat. The reservoir is projected to drop as much as 2 feet a month through the fall as water is released.

    Drought has plagued the Colorado River Basin for 20 years, but it hit crisis proportions this summer, pushing lakes Powell and Mead to historic lows and triggering, for the first time, emergency releases of water from Utah’s Flaming Gorge, Colorado’s Blue Mesa, and New Mexico’s Navajo reservoirs.

    All told, 181,000 acre-feet of water are to be sent to Lake Powell by the end of December. Powell has dropped so low that its hydropower plants, which supply millions of homes with electricity and generate revenue for such things as a critical Colorado River endangered species program, may stop operating as early as next year if water levels continue to drop as they have been. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation estimates there is a 3 percent chance of this occurring next year and a 29 percent chance of this occurring in 2022. But given the speed of the Powell’s decline, no one wants to risk a hydropower shutdown.

    Savings accounts

    Since their construction in the 1960s these reservoirs, known as Reclamation’s Colorado River Storage Project reservoirs, have acted as a giant savings account, helping ensure that if a crisis erupted on the river, the Upper Colorado River Basin states of Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico would have enough water on hand to fulfill their legal obligation to deliver water to Nevada, Arizona and California, known as the Lower Basin states.

    Credit: Chas Chamberlin

    Colorado’s Blue Mesa Reservoir, part of the Aspinall Unit, is already low, at just 43 percent of capacity as of last month. Fed by the Gunnison River, a major tributary of the Colorado, the reservoir is tourism hot spot on Colorado’s West Slope.

    Kathleen Curry, a former Colorado lawmaker, sits on the Colorado River District Board. She said she understands the need for the releases, but she said the changes in the shoreline at Blue Mesa aren’t going unnoticed.

    “It’s taking residents and visitors by surprise, just because I don’t think anyone was expecting it,” she said.

    The releases come under a special Upper Basin Drought Contingency Plan approved by Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico in late 2018. A similar drought plan is in place for the Lower Basin, and they have been cutting back withdrawals from Lake Mead for the past two years.

    Still the river system is drying out. And water leaders in Colorado are deeply worried that their carefully protected savings account is going to dry up too quickly to solve the Colorado River’s long-term problems.

    Will it work?

    “I understand and support the necessity of the Secretary [of the Interior] taking this action,” said Jim Lochhead, CEO of Denver Water. “The major concern I have is that Reclamation says the 181,000 acre-foot release will raise Lake Powell three feet. But I don’t know that they can even show that. I don’t know that they have accounted for transit losses and other losses.

    “It’s important when these releases are made that they are accounted for, that we know where this water is going. If it doesn’t actually get down to [Lake Powell] to accomplish what it was designed to do, we should have kept it in that savings account,” Lochhead said.

    Becki Bryant, a spokesperson for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s Upper Colorado River region, said the agency is working to create a hydropower buffer in Lake Powell and believes the releases are adequate to accomplish that. But Reclamation is not yet doing the kind of precise tracking and accounting known as water “shepherding,” to ensure flows make it downstream, that Lochhead is requesting.

    On Aug. 1, Lake Powell’s elevation stood at 3,553.8 feet above sea level. The action point, or so-called target elevation is 3,525. When that point came close in July, Reclamation moved quickly to order the emergency releases.

    Powell’s hydropower plant stops generating power when it drops to 3,490 feet in elevation, according to Reclamation.

    “Reclamation expects the additional release of water will be sufficient to protect Lake Powell’s target elevation through 2021. That target elevation provides a 35-vertical-foot buffer designed to minimize the risk of dropping below the minimum power pool elevation of 3,490 feet, and balances the need to protect the infrastructure at Powell’s Glen Canyon Dam.

    “Shepherding water would be beneficial but is challenging on many levels for Colorado River Basin states,” said Bryant via email.

    Bleak forecasts

    Bryant said Reclamation will continue to consult with the Upper Basin states as it monitors reservoir levels and weather forecasts. Should conditions deteriorate further, the agency could examine whether to declare the releases futile and stop them, as it is allowed to do under the 2018 Drought Contingency Plan.

    The water being released is so-called “system water,” meaning that it isn’t owned by a particular user.

    Held by the federal government for the benefit of the Upper Basin states, the amounts of water specified in the release plan are jaw-dropping: 125,000 acre-feet from Flaming Gorge; 36,000 acre-feet from Blue Mesa; and 20,000 acre-feet from Navajo. An acre-foot of water is enough to cover one acre of land to a depth of 12 inches.

    If that same amount of water were going to cities, it would be enough to serve more than 362,000 homes for one to two years. If going to farms, it could irrigate more than 113,000 acres, depending on the crop.

    If the historic, 20-plus-year drought cycle doesn’t end soon, refilling those reservoirs is going to be difficult. And that has water managers worried.

    “My level of concern is quite high,” said Becky Mitchell, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, the state’s lead water planning and policy agency. She also sits on the four-state Upper Colorado River Basin Commission, which advises Reclamation on river issues.

    “And I can’t tell yet if [the releases] are going to do the trick,” she said. “But we have to respond to the levels in Powell.”

    Cedar Springs Marina near Dutch John, Utah, on Flaming Gorge Reservoir in the early 1960s. In a first, emergency releases are being made under the 2018 Upper Colorado River Basin Drought Contingency Plan. Photo courtesy of the Rauch family.

    Legal reckoning?

    Under the 1922 Colorado River Compact, Colorado and the other Upper Basin states must deliver 7.5 million acre-feet (maf) [per year, 75 maf per 10 years] of water to the Lower Basin on a 10-year running average. Right now, the Upper Basin is delivering roughly 9.2 maf, Mitchell said, meaning that there is still time to help the system come back into balance before the Lower Basin states could legally call for more water than they currently receive.

    Lake Powell is the Upper Basin’s largest storage pool on the system and is designed to be the four Upper Basin states’ major source of protection. Because of their legal obligations, Colorado water users are closely monitoring this year’s plunge in Powell, with the threat to hydropower production being seen as a dangerous antecedent to a compact call.

    “That the system continues to deteriorate is concerning,” Lochhead said.

    Roughly half of Denver Water’s supplies are derived from water rights it owns on the Colorado River system. While one portion of its portfolio dates back to 1921, and would therefore trump a 1922 compact call, several other rights were established later, meaning the utility might have to stop pulling from those water sources if Colorado were forced to cut back in order to meet compact obligations.

    Other Front Range water providers, who also have Colorado River rights, are even more vulnerable, including the Pueblo-based Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District.

    Southeastern’s rights date only to 1957.

    Contingency v. reality

    Lee Miller, Southeastern’s attorney, said the Colorado River crisis remains a long-term problem for his agency.

    The rapid deterioration this year, however, is prompting everyone to rethink how much time they have to balance the massive river system as drought and a warming climate, as well as population growth, continue to sap its flows.

    “Both the Upper and Lower Basin have now had to initiate elements of their drought contingency plans. When we passed it a couple of years ago everyone thought, “It’s good to have a contingency plan.’ But I don’t think anyone thought we would have to use the plans this quickly. It’s gone from being a contingency to being a reality, and that’s concerning.”

    Back up at Flaming Gorge, John Rauch is watching the levels drop and making his own contingency plans.

    “We are planning for the worst,” Rauch said. “For the foreseeable future, the outlook is dry. If it ends up that by the end of all of this that the reservoir becomes a river channel, we will be down there at water’s edge selling worms.”

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

    Could #Colorado cities save enough water to stop building dams? — The Colorado Sun

    Lawn sizes in Castle Rock are sharply limited to save water, with some homeowners opting to use artificial turf for convenience and to help keep water bills low. Oct. 21, 2020. Credit: Jerd Smith, Fresh Water News

    From The Colorado Sun (Michael Booth):

    Conservation groups want more “cash for grass” and other plans to acquire new water by saving it. But Denver and Aurora, among others, say there’s only so much to cut before a new dam is needed.

    Conservation groups applaud water savings efforts like Aurora’s. What they want is far, far more of the same.

    They point to reports required by the state water conservation board showing many large agencies on the Front Range cutting back spending and personnel dedicated to water conservation since 2013, at the same time those water departments press to build massive dam complexes for new water they say they desperately need.

    Large water agencies like Denver Water and Aurora Water say they do have ongoing conservation efforts they take seriously, but that fast population growth on the Front Range overwhelms potential savings and they need new water storage…

    It would be much better for Colorado’s environment, the conservation groups respond — not to mention cheaper — to acquire water by using less of it, rather than spending billions of dollars on dams and diversions of Western Slope water.

    And yet, several projects are on the drawing board: