FromThe Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):
Recent abundant flows of Colorado River water between Palisade and the Gunnison River confluence during another spring runoff season weren’t entirely the work of Mother Nature.
They also were the product of a coordinated, voluntary effort by operators of upstream reservoirs to coordinate releases of water into the river to bolster peak flows in that stretch of river and aid in the recovery of endangered fish.
This was the 12th coordinated release since the first one occurred in 1997, and the fifth one in the last six years. The coordinated releases occur as conditions warrant and allow each year, to flush out fine sediment in gravel beds that serve as spawning habitat for rare fish. They also improve habitat for insects and other macroinvertebrates that fish feed on…
The upper Colorado River and its tributaries in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming are home to four endangered fish. Don Anderson, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service employee who serves as the instream flow coordinator for the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program, a public-private partnership, said that what’s known as the 15-Mile Reach of the Colorado River between the Palisade area and the Gunnison River confluence is primarily used by two of the endangered fish, the razorback sucker and Colorado pikeminnow. But a third endangered species, the bonytail, sometimes makes use of the stretch. And a fourth, the humpback chub, which favors deep, rocky, fast-flowing stretches in places such as Westwater Canyon downstream, also indirectly benefits from water releases primarily aimed at bolstering flows in the 15-Mile Reach.
The 15-Mile Reach experiences less of a spring runoff peak than some other parts of the Colorado River because of Grand Valley irrigation diversions just upstream. The goal of this year’s coordinated releases was to achieve daily flows averaging at least 12,900 cubic feet per second upstream at Cameo, an amount that was nearly achieved on some days last week. At times during a couple of days flows exceeded 13,000 cfs, Michelle Garrison, senior water resource specialist for the Colorado Water Conservation Board, told entities involved in the coordinated release program in a conference call Wednesday. She said the effort was a success, and Anderson agreed. He told participants that without getting hung up on exact numbers, flows at that level, which meant peak flows of about 12,000 cfs in the 15-Mile Reach, do good work for the endangered fish and their habitat.
The effort involved in part coordinated releases by the Bureau of Reclamation from Green Mountain Reservoir, Denver Water from Williams Fork Reservoir, and the Colorado River District from Wolford Mountain Reservoir. The Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District also was a participant.
“Man, you guys did a nice job of coordinating as well as you possibly could with the water you had available,” Anderson told reservoir operators…
The coordinated releases can have benefits far beyond the 15-Mile Reach. Anderson said this year’s coordinated releases helped downstream in the Moab area by topping off flows into a wetland that is a potentially valuable razorback sucker nursery. Also, Utah state wildlife officials have reported concerns about seeing smallmouth bass, which prey on endangered fish, possibly spawning for the first time below Westwater Canyon. The coordinated releases may have helped combat that due to the higher and faster flows, cooler water temperatures and increased water turbidity.
Coordinated runoff flows are just one water-delivery effort targeting the 15-Mile Reach. Each year releases of dedicated endangered fish water are made to boost low flows in the reach later in the summer. Also, releases sometimes are made around early April to supplement flows in the reach after irrigation diversions have begun but before the river levels gain from spring runoff. This year was the first year such releases occurred after stored water was specifically held over from last year with the primary goal of possibly serving that purpose.
The Fish and Wildlife Service says various recovery efforts appear to be working, with scientific analysis showing the razorback sucker and humpback chub could be reclassified as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.
Denver Water officials increased the release of water from Dillon Reservoir into the Blue River to about 400 cubic feet per second in the first week of May as inflow held steady at about 500 cfs through Monday, May 11. The latter number is expected to steadily rise as spring runoff picks up.
The current forecast from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Colorado River Basin Forecast Center estimates as of May 11 that there is 146,000 acre-feet of water — in the form of snowmelt — that will flow into Dillon Reservoir through July 31. There’s currently 17,500 acre-feet of space in the reservoir, according to Denver Water, so about 128,500 acre-feet will flow out of the reservoir either to the Blue River or Roberts Tunnel by July 31, with an estimated 13,000 acre-feet through the tunnel.
All of these complex calculations are the first steps in a delicate dance Denver Water performs each spring to balance public safety with Denver’s water needs, recreation, hydroelectric demands and obligations to downstream senior water-rights holders.
“Dillon is our biggest reservoir and one of our more complicated to operate,” said Nathan Elder, water resources manager for Denver Water. “Most of our other reservoirs only have one outlet, but Dillon’s got both the outlet to the Blue and the outlet to the Roberts Tunnel, which provides water to the East Slope and down the North Fork (of the South Platte River) to Strontia Springs Reservoir and then to our customers.”
The Roberts Tunnel, finished in 1962 about the same time the old town of Dillon was relocated to its current spot and the Dillon Dam was built, is a 23-mile concrete conduit that diverts water from the Blue River basin on the Western Slope to the South Platte Basin on the Front Range to supply more than 1.4 million Denver Water customers.
This system is what’s known as a transmountain diversion — one of many that bring water from the Colorado River basin on the west side of the Continental Divide to the state’s population center on the Front Range. What it’s not, Elder said, is a way to avoid dangerous spring-runoff flooding.
“We can’t use Roberts Tunnel as a flood-control option,” he said. “So we’re very careful about the amount of water we take from the West Slope over to the East Slope. And when we use the Roberts Tunnel, we can only take it over to the East Slope if it’s put towards the demand. We can’t just dump it over there to prevent flooding or high flows below Dillon.”
The 2014 Colorado River Cooperative Agreement places a 400,000 acre-foot limit on Blue River water stored in existing or future Denver Water storage facilities on the Front Range.
There are more than 1,000 properties in regulatory floodplains in Summit County, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and quite a few of them are along the Blue as it makes its way northwest through Silverthorne and toward its confluence with the Colorado River near Kremmling.
This time of year, as snowpack begins to melt into local tributaries — the Blue, Snake River and Tenmile Creek all feed Dillon Reservoir from the south — Elder and his team closely monitor snowmelt forecasts and weather reports to coordinate with local officials to prevent flooding.
“Denver Water has worked with the town over the years to release water from Dillon Reservoir at rates between 50 cfs and 1,800 cfs,” said Tom Daugherty, Silverthorne’s director of public works. “They have done a very good job of doing that. Denver Water attends our local meetings concerning snowmelt runoff and inform us of what they expect.”
FEMA designates 2,500 cfs as a 10-year flood level just below Dillon Dam, while 3,350 cfs there would be a 100-year flood level. The amount of runoff pouring into the reservoir varies widely, depending on weather conditions and snowpack, from a low inflow of 410 cfs in the drought year of 2012 to a high of 3,408 cfs in 1995.
The amount of snowpack on the Front Range and rate of melting due to high temperatures or rain events also impacts when Denver Water turns on the Roberts Tunnel and how much water it takes out of Dillon Reservoir. The Blue River Decree dictates that Denver Water needs to keep as much water on the Western Slope as possible and can take water only to meet demand.
“Last year was a good example of that,” Denver Water spokesman Todd Hartman said. “We had so much snowpack on the Front Range that we just didn’t need the Roberts Tunnel water and couldn’t take it because of that demand issue.”
That resulted in higher flows on the Blue below the dam last runoff season.
“It got up to around 1,900 cfs, and we didn’t actually turn on the Roberts Tunnel until the second week in August last year,” Elder said. “That’s after everything on the East Slope filled, and we started dipping into that storage and streamflow dropped off on the East Slope.”
This year, there’s a similarly healthy snowpack above the reservoir and also decent snowpack on the Front Range, but temperatures have been higher and the spring runoff season hasn’t been nearly as wet and cool as last year.
“We have a Snotel (snow telemetry) site on top of Hoosier Pass, which is extremely important for monitoring that basin and for forecasting, and it’s still at 121% of normal right now,” Natural Resources Conservation Service hydrologist Karl Wetlaufer said in early May. “It looks like it did actually have a net accumulation through April and is just really just starting to turn around and melt out now over the last few days with this warm weather.”
The Natural Resources Conservation Service produces snowmelt forecasts used by Denver Water, which also taps into the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration forecast center.
Based on information from Snotel sites, snowpack above Dillon Reservoir peaked at 127% of normal. The forecast center’s inflow outlook for Dillon Reservoir is 104% of average, and the forecast from the Natural Resources Conservation Service was 107% of average.
The first priority for Denver Water is to fill the reservoir to meet customer needs, but it also tries to minimize high flows out of the reservoir via the Blue River and maintain water levels so that the Frisco and Dillon marinas can operate from June through Labor Day. Elder said the minimum operating level for both Dillon and Frisco marinas is 9,012 feet in elevation.
The goal, Elder said, is to get the reservoir to that level or higher by June 12. On May 11, the surface level of the water in the reservoir was at 9,010 feet. The reservoir is full when the elevation of the water, as measured on the dam, is 9,017 feet, which is 257,304 acre-feet of water. At 9,010 feet, the reservoir is holding about 236,232 acre-feet of water.
Release too much and too early — to avoid high flows and flooding downstream — and Denver Water runs the risk of missing the chance to fill Dillon for use by its customers later in the summer season as well as keep the reservoir full for a long boating season. And then there are the downstream hydroelectric factors and calls by senior water-rights holders.
Senior water rights
While the Blue River Decree does not have a volumetric limit on how much water Denver Water can take out of Dillon Reservoir through the Roberts Tunnel to meet its customer needs, the Roberts Tunnel right is from 1946 and is junior to Green Mountain Reservoir and Shoshone Power Plant rights, which limit the ability of Denver Water to divert. The Roberts Tunnel right is for 788 cfs, which is not a storage right but instead a direct-flow right.
So if Green Mountain gets toward the end of its fill season and hasn’t filled and Dillon has diverted, then Denver Water owes water to Green Mountain. Green Mountain Reservoir, located on the Blue River in northern Summit County, was created specifically to compensate the Western Slope for diversions to the Front Range as part of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project.
Then on the Colorado River in Glenwood Canyon, well downstream from where the Blue feeds the Colorado at Kremmling, there’s Xcel Energy’s Shoshone Generating Station hydroelectric plant — which has one of the most senior water rights on the main stem of the Colorado River. A 1902 right draws 1,250 cfs of water downstream to meet the plant’s needs. During dry times of the year, such as late summer, the power plant often places a “call” on the river, meaning junior diverters upstream — including Denver Water — must stop diverting so that Shoshone can get its full allocation of water.
Elder said Denver Water wants to fill Dillon Reservoir quickly enough each spring before any potential Shoshone call. If a call came before Dillon was full, Denver Water would have to release water from Williams Fork Reservoir in order to keep water in Dillon Reservoir. However, Williams Fork can hold only 96,000 acre-feet of water.
“We want (both reservoirs) to fill quick enough that we fill both before that Shoshone power plant call comes on and before the senior call comes on the river, but not too quick that we fill before peak runoff where we get in those high-flow situations,” Elder said. “So it’s a real balancing act there. You’re balancing elevations for marinas, downstream water rights, filling the reservoir safely and then also any potential releases you may need to make from Roberts Tunnel.”
Aspen Journalism, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization supported by its donors and funders, covers water and rivers in collaboration with the Summit Daily News and other Swift Communications newspapers. This story ran in the May 17 edition of the Summit Daily.
FromThe Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):
A 2016 agreement is helping protect Colorado River flows downstream of Glenwood Canyon despite ice jams from the Colorado River shutting down the Shoshone Hydropower Plant in the canyon.
Jim Pokrandt, spokesman for the Colorado River District, a tax-funded agency serving counties within the river basin in western Colorado, said the problem at the plant occurred around March 1. Xcel Energy, the plant’s owner, says it won’t be using Colorado River water at the plant until it is repaired.
The plant’s operations are watched closely by the water community because it has one of the oldest water rights on the river in western Colorado — a 1902 right to 1,250 cubic feet of water per second.
That right has limited the ability of Front Range water users with more junior rights to divert Colorado River water. It helps keep water flowing down-river not just to the plant, but further downstream because the plant’s water use is nonconsumptive, benefiting municipal and agricultural water users, recreational river users and the environment.
However, the river district and regional water users have worried about the potential impacts on the river and water users whenever the aging plant is out of service and not calling for water under its senior right, such as when it requires maintenance.
To address that concern, reservoir operators including the river district, Denver Water and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation agreed in 2016 to cooperate to maintain river flows at levels mimicking Shoshone’s normal operation, with certain exceptions.
Modified reservoir operations to mimic those flows are now in effect, and will remain so until snowmelt runoff causes the river flow to exceed the current outage protocol target of 1,250 cubic feet per second.
Pokrandt said that among the benefits of protecting flows, more water in the river means lower concentrations of total dissolved solids in the river due to dilution, reducing the need for water treatment by municipal water providers that rely on the river.
Kirsten Kurath, an attorney who represents the Grand Valley Water Users Association, a party to the 2016 agreement, said a big benefit of the Shoshone flows is maintaining flows in what’s known as the 15-mile reach of the Colorado River in Mesa County. Efforts to protect endangered fish in the river focus in part on maintaining adequate flows in that stretch of the river, upstream of the Gunnison River confluence…
While Grand Valley irrigators also have senior water rights on the river, Kurath said the Shoshone water smoothes out the river’s flows, making it easier for irrigators to plan and making water diversions more efficient than when flows are lower. “Everybody downstream always benefits as you keep water in the river,” she said.
The Orchard Mesa Irrigation District and Grand Valley Irrigation Co. are among other parties to the 2016 deal. As of late Monday afternoon, Xcel hasn’t yet said how long the power plant may be out of commission. According to the river district, Xcel has said that the COVID-19 outbreak is complicating repair plans…
The current outage agreement is in effect for 40 years. The river district says it and its West Slope partners are exploring ways to permanently protect the river flows.
Shoshone Hydroelectric Plant back in the days before I-70 via Aspen Journalism
Shoshone Falls hydroelectric generation station via USGenWeb
The penstocks feeding the Shoshone hydropower plant on the Colorado River in Glenwood Canyon.
The Shoshone plant and boat ramp on the Colorado River. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism
The blown-out penstock in 2007 at the Shoshone plant. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism
Shoshone hydroelectric generation plant Glenwood Canyon via the Colorado River District
Number of days the Shoshone outage protocol, or ShOP, was in effect, and stages of the agreement.
Municipal water providers in Aspen, Vail, Steamboat and other communities say there is no threat from COVID-19 in their water supplies and that people do not need to hoard bottled water — provided that the employees who operate the various water plants can still come to work.
And yet, two weeks into Colorado’s crisis, you still see people exiting the state’s grocery stores with shopping carts brimming with multipacks of 4-ply Charmin or Angel Soft toilet paper. And buried under the TP, you’ll spot the 48-bottle cartons of Arrowhead or Fiji water.
Toilet paper aside, water systems operators around the state — including ski towns, which are among the hardest-hit areas for the novel coronavirus pandemic — do not understand why people think they need to stock up on bottled water.
“Aspen Water provides safe, high-quality water that exceeds all stringent state and federal drinking-water regulations,” said City of Aspen spokeswoman Mitzi Rapkin. “Aspen’s water-treatment methods use filtration and disinfection process which remove and inactivate viruses.”
The same is true for Front Range water utilities.
“We have wastewater-treatment facilities that work above and beyond the standards devised for us, so there is no worry that water would be impacted by COVID-19,” said Ryan Maecker, spokesman for Colorado Springs Utilities, where surrounding El Paso County is second only to Denver in the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the state.
Those drinking-water standards, established by the Safe Drinking Water Act in 1974, are enforced by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
“The water is treated and it’s disinfected, which takes care of all viruses,” said Linn Brooks, general manager of Eagle River Water and Sanitation District in eastern Eagle County, which has the third-highest number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the state.
Officials say water should be the least of anyone’s concerns during the growing outbreak, which has prompted an unprecedented statewide stay-at-home order and has seen most nonessential businesses and schools shut down.
“No, there are no water shortages. No, municipal water is not a vector for COVID-19,” said Zach Margolis, utility manager for Silverthorne Water & Sewer in Summit County.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the coronavirus is thought to spread in the following manner: “Mainly from person-to-person between people who are in close contact with one another (within about 6 feet) … through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs.”
Michelle Carr, distribution and collection manager for the City of Steamboat Springs Water and Sewer, attended a CDC webinar on the topic of COVID-19 and drinking-water systems.
“It said that the coronavirus is essentially very susceptible to our disinfection processes, and that while our disinfection process targets bacteria, bacteria is less susceptible than this virus,” Carr said. “So, the fact that we’re treating for killing bacteria means that we should adequately be taking care of the COVID virus.”
Buying bottled water during the ongoing pandemic makes no sense, she said.
“Our water is completely safe to drink,” Carr said. “I don’t anticipate that there will ever be an issue where we’re spreading COVID-19 through the treated potable water system. The bottled water is completely unnecessary.”
Brooks won’t speculate on why people are hoarding toilet paper, but she does have a theory regarding the stockpiling of bottled water.
“I think (people) see communications on how to isolate at home, how to prepare to a shelter in place, how to deal with emergencies, and those instructions almost always tell you to get bottled water,” said Brooks, adding that some people inexplicably prefer to drink bottled water all the time. “I don’t particularly understand that because our water here is so great, and (bottled water) certainly has an environmental impact.”
Various municipal, county and state emergency declarations have been enacted, covering water systems, but officials say those mostly just allow them to apply for state and federal funds or obtain additional equipment if necessary. Most water providers and wastewater-treatment operators are planning for staff shortages and doing everything they can to keep their staff healthy.
“We are not aware of any specific threats to our water system,” said Aspen’s Rapkin. “We have taken proactive measures to isolate our operations staff in order to continue to provide this critical community resource.”
Brooks agrees that staffing is the biggest concern as the virus spreads.
“Our biggest risk is absenteeism of our operators,” she said. “But, that being said, we can run with a pretty lean crew even if we got into some pretty significant absenteeism, as long as it doesn’t hit everyone at once, which we don’t think is likely at all.”
Eagle River Water and Sanitation District, which treats and provides water for users from East Vail to Wolcott along Interstate 70, took steps to mitigate against absenteeism early on.
“We knew that that was going to be our biggest risk and that protecting our employees was the most important thing that we could do. That’s our highest priority — to keep our staff healthy,” said Brooks, who added that any staffer with a symptom of any kind must stay home from work and not return until they have been free of symptoms for 72 hours.
Even if smaller mountain utilities were to be hit suddenly by a COVID-19 outbreak and get into staffing problems, other water-systems operators would step in to help. A cooperative venture among all utilities across the state and codified with intergovernmental agreements dictates that if a utility needs assistance, others will provide aid.
“So, if there’s somebody that has a plant failure, and we have staffing, we will send our staffing to them,” City of Aurora Water Department spokesman Greg Baker said during a call with other Aurora and Colorado Springs water officials. “I know Colorado Springs has been heavily involved in (mutual assistance) as well, so that should really not be a major concern.”
The desire to hoard bottled water, on the other hand, escapes officials.
“The bottled-water hoarding is a phenomenon we do not understand, because we bring safe, high-quality drinking water to your house,” Baker said. “We deliver it for a half a penny a gallon, so why are people going out and buying water? We do not understand that at all.”
Also, all the plastic is an environmental issue, Baker said, and transporting it around the state or out of state in bottles removes local water from Aurora’s extensive reuse system for irrigation and agriculture.
“So, whenever people take bottled water and start shipping it out, you’re kind of losing that reusable component, and that impacts our culture because we’re so used to reusability. So that hurts us there,” Baker said. “It also hurts us through the fact that, frankly, we have some of the highest-quality water in the state, and why do you need it in a bottle? It’s as irrational as the toilet-paper hoarding.”
Aspen Journalism collaborates with The Aspen Times and other Swift Communications newspapers on coverage of water and rivers. This story ran in the March 28 editions of The Aspen Times and the Vail Daily.
The Colorado Water Conservation Board, the primary water-policy agency for the state, met last week in Westminster, and afterward I had dinner with a friend. The friend, who has long worked in the environmental advocacy space, spoke of some matter before the board, and added this: “Twenty years ago this conversation never would have happened.”
Water politics in Colorado have undergone a Big Pivot. As the century turned, environmental issues had made inroads into the conversation, but water development remained a dominant theme. Then came the drought of 2002, which more or less changed everything. So has the growing realization of how the changing climate will impact the already over-extended resources of the Colorado River.
Instead of a deep, deep bucket, to be returned to again and again, the Colorado River has become more or less an empty bucket.
Those realizations were evident in a panel discussion at the Colorado Water Congress about water conservation and efficiency. Jeff Tejral, representing Denver Water, spoke to the “changes over the last 20 years” that have caused Denver Water and other water utilities to embrace new water-saving technology and altered choices about outdoor water use.
Denver Water literally invented the word xeriscaping. That was before the big, big drought or the understandings of climate change as a big, big deal. Twenty years ago, the Colorado Water Congress would never have hosted panels on climate change. This year it had several.
Tejral pointed to the growth in Denver, the skyscrapers now omnipresent in yet another boom cycle, one that has lifted the city’s population over 700,000 and which will likely soon move the metropolitan area’s population above 3 million. That growth argues for continued attention to water efficiency and conservation, as Denver—a key provider for many of its suburbs—has limited opportunities for development of new supplies. “The other part of it is climate change,” he said. “That means water change.”
Denver Water has partnered with a company called Greyter Water Systems on a pilot project involving 40 homes at Stapleton likely to begin in June or July. It involves new plumbing but also water reuse, not for potable purposes but for non-potable purposes. John Bell, a co-founder of the company, who was also on the panel, explained that his company’s technology allows water to be treated within the house and put to appropriate uses there at minimal cost.
“It makes no sense to flush a toilet with perfectly good drinking water, and now with Greyter, you don’t have to,” he said.
For decades Denver has had a reuse program. Sewage water treated to high standards is applied to golf courses and other landscaping purposes. Because of the requirements for separate pipes—always purple, to indicate the water is not good for drinking—its use is somewhat limited.
A proposal has been moving though the Colorado Department of Public Health rule-making process for several years now that would expand use of greywater and set requirements for direct potable reuse. The pilot project at Stapleton would appear to be part of that slow-moving process.
Greyter Water Systems, meanwhile, has been forging partnerships with homebuilders, the U.S. Department of Defense, and others in several small projects.
“It seems like 40 homes in Colorado is a small step,” said Tejral, “but a lot of learning will come out of that, which will open the door for the next 400, and then the next 4,000.”
There are limits to this, however, as water cannot be recycled unless it’s imported into a basin. Water users downstream depend upon releases of water from upstream. Water in the South Platte River Basin is estimated to have 6 or 7 uses before it gets to Nebraska.
In the Eagle River Valley, the streams gush with runoff from the Gore and Sawatch ranges, but there can be pinches during years of drought. That area, said Linn Brooks, who directs the Eagle River Water and Sanitation Districts, has a population of between 35,000 and 60,000 between Vail and Wolcott, “depending where we are during our tourist year.”
Water efficiency programs can make a big difference in what flows in the local creeks and rivers. Brooks pointed to 2018, a year of exceptionally low snowfall. New technologies and policies that put tools into the hands of customers reduced water use 30% during a one-month pinch, resulting in 8 cubic feet per second more water flowing in local creeks and rivers. During that time, Gore Creek was running 16 cfs through Vail. It flows into the Eagle River, which was running 25 cfs. “So saving 8 cfs was really significant,” she said.
Many of Eagle Valley’s efficiency programs focus on outdoor water use. That is because the water delivery for summer outdoor use drives the most capacity investment and delivery expenses. “Really, that is the most expensive water that we provide,” Brooks said.
Tap fees and monthly billings have been adjusted to reflect those costs. One concept embraced by Eagle River Water and Sanitation is called water budgeting. “Our hope is that water budgeting will continue to increase the downward trend of water use per customer that we’ve had for the last 20 years for at least another 10 years,” she said.
Eagle River also has tried to incentivize good design. The district negotiates with real estate developers based on the water treatment capacity their projects will require. “That is a way to get them to build more water-efficient projects, especially on the outdoors side,” explained Brooks. “When we execute these agreements, we put water limits on them. If they go over that, we charge them more for their tap fee. That can be a pretty big cost. We don’t like to do that, but we have found that in those few cases where new developments go over their water limits, we have gone back to them and said, we might have to reassess the water tap fees, but what we really want you to do is stay within your water budget.” That tactic, she added, has usually worked.
In this concept of water budgeting, she said, “I don’t think we have even begun to scrape the surface of the potential.”
Outdoor water use has also been a focal point of efforts by Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, the agency created to deliver water to customers from the trans-mountain diversion at Grand Lake. Municipalities from Broomfield and Boulder north to Fort Collins and Greeley, even Fort Morgan, get water from the diversion.
Frank Kinder was recently hired away from Colorado Springs Utilities to become the full-time water efficiency point person for Northern. Part of the agency’s effort is to introduce the idea that wall to wall turf need not be installed for a pleasing landscape. Instead, Northern pushes the idea of hybrid landscapes and also introduces alternatives for tricky areas that are hard to irrigate. The ultimate goal falls under the heading of “smiles per gallon.” Some of the district’s thinking can be seen in the xeriscaping displays at Northern’s office complex in Berthoud.
Kevin Reidy, who directs water conservation efforts for the Colorado Water Conservation Board, said the Colorado Water Plan posited a goal of reducing water use by 400,000 acre-feet. Don’t get caught up in that precise number, he advised. “It’s really about trying to figure out a more stable water future for our cities,” he said.
Readers might well be confused by an agency named “water conservation” having an employee with the title of “water conservation specialist.” The story here seems to be that the word conservation has changed over time. In 1937, when the agency was created, water conservation to most people meant creating dams and other infrastructure to prevent the water from flowing downhill. Now, conservation means doing as much or more with less.
On why Eagle River Water takes aim at outdoor use
The amount of water used outdoors is generally twice that used for indoor purposes, and only about 15% to 40% of water used outdoors makes its way back to local waterways.
None of this water is returned to local streams through a wastewater plant. Most of the water is consumed by plant needs or evaporation; what is leftover percolates through the ground and may eventually make its way to a local stream.
— From the Eagle River Water website
This was originally published in the Feb. 18, 2020, issue of Big Pivots.
The action filed to the Colorado Court of Appeals raised several issues to be addressed by the higher court, including whether Boulder District Court Judge Andrew Macdonald erred in his Dec. 27 decision by concluding Boulder County had not exceed it jurisdiction, abused its discretion or misapplied the law in determining it had regulatory control over the project.
“While we appreciate the district court’s consideration, we respectfully disagree with the conclusion and have decided to exercise our right to further review by the court of appeals,” Denver Water spokesman Travis Thompson said in a statement.
“The Gross Reservoir Expansion Project is a vital component of developing a more secure, reliable drinking water supply for a quarter of the state’s population,” he added. “In the face of the uncertainties of climate change that bring more frequent and extreme droughts and precipitation events, we’ve come together with partners on both sides of the divide to ensure the project benefits the environmental health of our entire state.”
Denver Water, which serves 1.4 million customers in the Denver metro area, but none in Boulder County, had planned to start construction in 2019 on what would be the largest construction project in Boulder County history, raising Gross Dam by 131 feet to a height of 471 feet, and increasing the capacity of the reservoir by 77,000 acre-feet.
FromThe Associated Press (Tammy Webber) via The Colorado Sun:
In Australia’s national capital of Canberra, authorities are keeping a wary eye on burning forests and bushland, hoping a new water treatment plant and other measures will prevent a repeat of water quality problems and disruption that followed deadly wildfires 17 years ago.
There have not yet been major impacts on drinking water systems in southeast Australia from the intense fires that have burned more than 40,000 square miles (104,000 square kilometers) since September. But authorities know from experience that the biggest risks will come with repeated rains over many months or years while the damaged watersheds, or catchment areas, recover.
And because of the size and intensity of the fires, the potential impacts are not clear yet.
“The forest area burned in Australia within a single fire season is just staggering,” said Stefan Doerr, a professor at Swansea University in England who studies the effects of forest files on sediment and ash runoff. “We haven’t seen anything like it in recorded history.”
The situation in Australia illustrates a growing global concern: Forests, grasslands and other areas that supply drinking water to hundreds of millions of people are increasingly vulnerable to fire due in large part to hotter, drier weather that has extended fire seasons, and more people moving into those areas, where they can accidentally set fires.
More than 60% of the water supply for the world’s 100 largest cities originates in fire-prone watersheds — and countless smaller communities also rely on surface water in vulnerable areas, researchers say.
When rain does fall, it can be intense, dumping a lot of water in a short period of time, which can quickly erode denuded slopes and wash huge volumes of ash, sediment and debris into crucial waterways and reservoirs. Besides reducing the amount of water available, the runoff also can introduce pollutants, as well as nutrients that create algae blooms.
What’s more, the area that burns each year in many forest ecosystems has increased in recent decades, and that expansion likely will continue through the century because of a warmer climate, experts say.
Most of the 25,000 square miles (64,000 square kilometers) that have burned in Victoria and New South Wales have been forest, including rainforests, according to scientists in New South Wales and the Victorian government. Some believe that high temperatures, drought and more frequent fires may make it impossible for some areas to be fully restored…
Very hot fires burn organic matter and topsoil needed for trees and other vegetation to regenerate, leaving nothing to absorb water. The heat also can seal and harden the ground, causing water to run off quickly, carrying everything in its path.
That in turn can clog streams, killing fish, plants and other aquatic life necessary for high-quality water before it reaches reservoirs. Already, thunderstorms in southeast Australia in recent weeks have caused debris flows and fish kills in some rivers, though fires continue to burn…
…climate change has affected areas such as northern Canada and Alaska, where average annual temperatures have risen by almost 4 degrees (2.2 degrees Celsius) since the 1960s, compared to about 1 degree (0.55 degrees Celsius) farther south. As a result, the forested area burned annually has more than doubled over the past 20 to 30 years, said Doerr, from Swansea University.
Although there might be fewer cities and towns in the path of runoff in those areas, problems do occur. In Canada’s Fort McMurray, Alberta, the cost of treating ash-tainted water in its drinking-water system increased dramatically after a 2016 wildfire.
In the Western U.S., 65% of all surface water supplies originate in forested watersheds where the risk of wildfires is growing — including in the historically wet Pacific Northwest. By mid-century almost 90% of them will experience an increase — doubling in some — in post-fire sedimentation that could affect drinking water supplies, according to a federally funded 2017 study…
Denver Water, which serves 1.4 million customers, discovered “the high cost of being reactive” after ash and sediment runoff from two large, high-intensity fires, in 1996 and 2002, clogged a reservoir that handles 80% of the water for its 1.4 million customers, said Christina Burri, a watershed scientist for the utility.
It spent about $28 million to recover, mostly to dredge 1 million cubic yards (765,555 cubic meters) of sediment from the reservoir.
Since then, the utility has spent tens of millions more to protect the forests, partnering with the U.S. Forest Service and others. to protect the watershed and proactively battle future fires, including by clearing some trees and controlling vegetation in populated areas.
Utilities also can treat slopes with wood chips and other cover and install barriers to slow ash runoff. They purposely burn vegetation when fire danger is low to get rid of undergrowth…
Eventually, some communities might need to switch their water sources because of fires and drought. Perth, on the western coast, has turned to groundwater and systems that treat saltwater because rainfall has decreased significantly since the early 1970s, said Sheridan of University of Melbourne.
A court ruling from the end of 2019 determined Denver Water officials must obtain an additional permit for the Gross Reservoir Expansion Project — a project that Arvada is depending on so it can continue developing land…
Arvada has a contract to purchase raw water from the reservoir and, in return, is sharing the cost of the project with Denver Water…
Denver Water is one of two sources through which Arvada obtains its water, with the other being Clear Creek, said Jim Sullivan, the city’s former director of utilities.
In total, the city has the rights to roughly 25,000 acre-feet of water, with about 19,000 of that provided through its existing contract with Denver Water, he said.
“We have a comprehensive plan that shows what the city limits will eventually grow to” by 2065, when an estimated 155,000 people will live in Arvada, Sullivan said. This plan would require approximately 3,000 additional acre-feet of water, which will be provided by the expansion project.
If the project was canceled, the city would need to halt development until it could secure alternate resources, Sullivan said.
Those other resources “have been harder and harder to come by,” said Arvada water treatment manager Brad Wyant. Other entities have already laid claim to the other major water supplies in the area, he and Sullivan said.
“The next big water project will be some kind of diversion of water from the Western Slope to the Denver area,” Sullivan said. This would be a major endeavor and “there’s nothing even on the horizon at this point,” he said, making the success of the Gross project a necessity for Arvada development.
So far, the city has contributed about $3 million to the project, with plans to contribute about $100 million by 2030.
The contributions are funded through Arvada Water’s capital improvement budget, which consists of one-time tap fees that customers pay when they first connect to the Arvada Water system. Resident’s bimonthly water billing funds ongoing operations and will not be used for the Gross project, Sullivan said.
Denver Water has estimated the project will cost a total of $464 million.
An innovative water-sharing partnership between Denver Water, Aurora Water and water utilities that serve the south metro area has won national recognition.
The WISE Partnership, WISE being short for Water Infrastructure and Supply Efficiency, recently brought home a “Community Water Champion Award” from WateReuse, a national organization that advances the use of recycled water.
The award marks another sign of success for a project that showcases sustainability on multiple fronts.
WISE not only provides a way for Denver and Aurora to reuse water supplies, it also creates a dependable supply for 10 water providers that serve the south metro region.
That more dependable supply, in turn, reduces pressure to pull more water from the Colorado River, conserves dwindling groundwater supplies south of Denver and diminishes the need for metro area utilities to buy agricultural water in the South Platte River Basin, which can lead to drying up farmland if the water is diverted…
The unusual nature of the WISE project may have helped it capture the national award.
Awards typically recognize a specific facility, such as a water recycling plant, or a technology. WISE includes such features, but also leverages the power of a regionwide partnership to make it all work.
WateReuse described the award this way: “This innovative regional partnership for a sustainable water future will reduce groundwater reliance and bolster renewable water supplies to the South Metro area, while maximizing existing water assets belonging to Aurora and Denver Water.”
WISE works by pulling water that Denver and Aurora have a legal right to reuse from the South Platte River near Brighton. That water is then pumped via pipeline back upstream to Aurora for a series of treatment steps before distribution to project partners…
Simply put, the project’s benefits accrue this way:
Denver Water develops a new water supply by being able to use Aurora’s Prairie Waters system and a new revenue stream by selling unused water to the south metro area water providers.
Aurora Water benefits by selling unused water and putting unused treatment and pipeline capacity to use while receiving revenue that helps keep its water rates down.
The South Metro Water Supply Authority receives a permanent renewable water supply, helping to reduce its reliance on nonrenewable groundwater.
Denver’s water supply today
The city of Denver has gotten its water from the utility Denver Water since 1918. Today, the utility’s coverage area is larger than the city limits of Denver, covering surrounding suburbs like Lakewood and Littleton. This includes about 1.4 million people who use an average of 65 billion gallons of treated water per year…
Most of this water goes to Denver homes and apartment buildings, and a whopping 40 percent of it winds up being used outdoors on lawns and other landscaping.
Denver water map
The map shows the system Denver Water uses today to collect water and transfer it to homes in the metro area. In any given year, about 52 percent of the water that finds its way into Denver’s taps comes from the South Platte River. The Fraser River and Williams Fork River together make up 20 percent of the water supply and the final 28 percent comes from the Blue River.
These last three rivers are all part of the Colorado River system, and that water needs to be transferred to Denver under the Continental Divide. Water geeks call this type of water conveyance trans-mountain diversions. There are 24 main tunnels that bring about 400,000 acre-feet of water from the West Slope to the Front Range and provide water for both the growing cities and the robust agricultural industry on the Front Range.
While these diversions have been common over the last century, they’ve become controversial in the last few decades of drought on the Colorado River. There is debate as to whether the Colorado River system can sustain many more large diversions.
On the map, you can see Denver has two major trans-mountain conveyance systems.
Moffat Tunnel: This old railroad tunnel was the first trans-mountain diversion to feed the city of Denver. The tunnel transfers water directly from the Fraser River under the divide and into South Boulder Creek where it eventually ends up in Gross Reservoir in Boulder County. From there, the water is diverted through a canal to Ralston Reservoir, which provides water to the Moffat Water Treatment Plant.
The Williams Fork River also puts water into the Moffat Tunnel, but its journey is even more complicated. Before any Williams Fork water even reaches the Moffat Tunnel, it is first diverted into the Gumlick Tunnel, under Jones Pass then back over the divide again through the Vasquez Tunnel. The Vasquez Tunnel empties near Winter Park where the Moffat Tunnel is. By the time this water reaches Denver, it has passed under the Continental Divide three times.
Harold D. Roberts Tunnel: The Roberts Tunnel was built in 1952 to bring water to Denver from Dillon Reservoir, which sits at the confluence of the Blue River, Snake River and Ten Mile Creek. This large reservoir is Denver Water’s largest, representing 37.1 of the utility’s total storage capacity.
The tunnel diverts water directly from the reservoir and pipes it under the divide. The 23-mile-long tunnel sits 4,000 feet underground at some points. The pipe itself is ten feet in diameter. This water empties into the North Fork of the South Platte River and runs down the main stem of the river.
South Platte River Water: Most of Denver’s water supply is drawn straight out of the South Platte River. There are three stems to the river (South, Middle and North), which all converge just south of Denver. Along the river are a number of reservoirs. When the river is running high, the reservoir’s dams hold back some of the water so it can be used later on by the city. These storage reservoirs, which can be found all over the state, let water managers capture the high levels of spring runoff and distribute it well into the summer.
Water from the South Platte is eventually diverted through a series of pipelines to the Marston Reservoir, which is treated at the Marston Water Treatment Plant and sent to city customers.
In a seven-page ruling, Boulder District Judge Andrew Macdonald stated that based on evidence placed on the record by both sides in the controversy, he found Boulder County “did not exceed its jurisdiction or abuse its discretion, or misinterpret or misapply the law,” when it asserted its permitting authority.
That authority, Boulder County has maintained, is established by State House Bill 1041, passed by the Legislature in 1974, which allows local governments to review and regulate matters of statewide interest through a local permitting process.
Denver Water challenged that authority by filing suit in Boulder District Court in April of this year, claiming what it termed a “zoned law exemption” which it asserted excused it from having to pass through the county process. Denver Water’s complaint claimed the zoning at the reservoir that existed at the time of the passage of the 1041 legislation — officially known as the Activities and Areas of State Interest Act — permitted its planned activities.
Additionally, the suit stated Boulder County commissioners had exceeded their jurisdiction and/or abused their discretion at a March 14 hearing at which they unanimously upheld Land Use Director Dale Case’s finding that the county review process must apply to Denver Water.
Macdonald’s ruling struck down Denver Water’s claim to an exemption based on prior zoning.
“There is nothing on the record that Denver Water had any well-established development rights to expand Gross Dam and Gross Reservoir prior to May 17, 1974,” he ruled. “Any prior contemplated expansion projects cannot be determined to be well-established development rights because the proposed Expansion Project is essentially an entirely new construction project.”
In an email Friday night, Denver Water spokesman Travis Thompson said, “As we continue to follow the process of determining the appropriate permitting methods, we will review the order and evaluate our next steps. No matter the path forward, we remain committed to considering input from Boulder County and from community members to minimize and mitigate the impacts of the Project.”
An additional hurdle remains for the project. Denver Water is still waiting for a final decision by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on a hydropower licensing amendment that Denver Water needs in order to go forward with its planned expansion of the reservoir.
U.S. EPA Region 8 approved a variance under the Safe Drinking Water Act for Denver Water. This variance will allow Denver Water to implement a Lead Reduction Program Plan (LRPP) as an alternative to treating for the corrosion of lead and copper with orthophosphate. EPA believes that Denver’s LRPP will provide health benefits and will be as protective in lowering the lead levels as the requirements under the Lead and Copper Rule. Under the LRPP, Denver will implement a holistic lead management strategy that requires an accelerated lead service line replacement schedule, provides filters to customers, and controls corrosion through pH/alkalinity adjustments. Additionally, Denver Water will develop a comprehensive lead service line inventory and conduct an extensive community outreach campaign. This variance is effective for an initial period of three years and may be extended if Denver Water demonstrates that that LRPP can be effectively implemented and results in reductions to lead in drinking water.
Concurrent with this action, EPA is asking for comments on the potential criteria for how the Agency will determine whether to extend this variance for up to an additional twelve years. EPA is accepting public comments on these criteria and on EPA’s interpretation of the statutory standard for future variance requests. See the Federal Register notice in the docket for specific questions on which EPA is seeking feedback.
Denver Water will expedite the removal of lead pipes from homes across the metro area after the Environmental Protection Agency granted approval Monday.
The public agency will launch the program in 2020 and expects it to take 15 years and cost $500 million to complete. Officials estimate there are between 64,000 and 84,000 lead service lines in the system.
High lead exposure can lead to kidney and brain damage as well as developmental issues for children. Homes built prior to 1951 are more likely to have lead service lines, according to Denver Water…
Denver Water proposed the program to the EPA in July. Without the approved plan, it would take 50 years to remove the lead pipes, Lochhead said.
Denver Water has committed to remove at least 4,500 lines annually under an agreement with the EPA and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
The idea for the program came soon after the state ordered Denver Water to do orthophosphate treatment in its water supply in March of 2018. The treatments are used to reduce lead and copper in water that’s delivered to peoples’ taps.
“That did not cure the overall cause of the problem, which is the lead service lines,” Lochhead said. “Orthophosphate treatment, being a nutrient, creates water quality and environmental issues in the water supply as well as costing more than simply going in and removing them.”
Denver Water worked with federal and state agencies to develop this alternative approach. It will be funded through water rates, bonds, new service fees and hydropower generation. The company said it will also look for funding through loans, grants and partnerships.
For decades, the Fraser River has struggled with low flows, rising stream temperatures, sediment build-up, plummeting fish populations and degrading aquatic habitats due in large part to Front Range water diversions that drain 65% of the river.
But after years of heated negotiations — and the formation of a partnership between environmentalists, Grand County officials and Front Range water diverters — some stretches of the Grand County tributary of the Colorado River have started to show improvement.
Some are heralding the success as the beginning of a new era of collaboration between historically fraught Front Range and Western Slope water stakeholders…
Proponents of the collaboration have rejoiced at the results of the work, saying that it’s the first time that major Front Range water diverters have participated in meaningful river restoration projects, and have taken responsibility for damage done to Colorado’s rivers. The partnership, dubbed the Grand County Learning By Doing Cooperative Effort, or LBD, includes the two biggest water utilities in the state, Denver Water and Northern Water, as well as Trout Unlimited, Grand County officials and Colorado Parks and Wildlife.
The partners celebrated their first success in 2018: the completion of a $200,000 restoration project called the Fraser Flats Habitat, which rehabilitated a mile of the river near Tabernash by narrowing the streambed to increase the river’s depth and velocity, to improve the aquatic ecosystem.
For decades, the Fraser River has struggled with low flows, rising stream temperatures, sediment build-up, plummeting fish populations and degrading aquatic habitats due in large part to Front Range water diversions that drain 65% of the river.
But after years of heated negotiations — and the formation of a partnership between environmentalists, Grand County officials and Front Range water diverters — some stretches of the Grand County tributary of the Colorado River have started to show improvement.
Some are heralding the success as the beginning of a new era of collaboration between historically fraught Front Range and Western Slope water stakeholders. But with future restoration projects being contingent on two new water diversion projects that will siphon even more water from the Fraser to the Front Range, some worry that the efforts might only be a mirage.
“They’re basically putting a Band-Aid on the issue, they’re not helping the underlying cause of the problem, which is that too much water is being taken out of a river to meet human needs,” said Jen Pelz, wild rivers program director for the organization WildEarth Guardians.
Proponents of the collaboration have rejoiced at the results of the work, saying that it’s the first time that major Front Range water diverters have participated in meaningful river restoration projects, and have taken responsibility for damage done to Colorado’s rivers. The partnership, dubbed the Grand County Learning By Doing Cooperative Effort, or LBD, includes the two biggest water utilities in the state, Denver Water and Northern Water, as well as Trout Unlimited, Grand County officials and Colorado Parks and Wildlife.
The partners celebrated their first success in 2018: the completion of a $200,000 restoration project called the Fraser Flats Habitat, which rehabilitated a mile of the river near Tabernash by narrowing the streambed to increase the river’s depth and velocity, to improve the aquatic ecosystem.
Kirk Klancke, pictured Aug. 21, 2019, in front of the Fraser Flats area, was the visionary for the restoration efforts that improved fish habitat along the 1-mile stretch of the Fraser River. The efforts, which were partially funded by Denver Water, involved narrowing parts of the river to create deeper channels and faster flows. (Matt Stensland, Special to The Colorado Sun)
Seeing the river flowing again brought tears to the eyes of Kirk Klancke, president of the Colorado headwaters chapter of Trout Unlimited and longtime resident of Grand County.
“It was like I was looking at a completely different river,” said Klancke, who has been an integral part of the collaborative. “In the 48 years I’ve lived in Grand County, it was the first time that I saw the river actually looking healthier.”
“We’ve got the most heavily diverted county in Colorado, about 300,000 acre-feet a year comes out of Grand County. The next highest competitor is Pitkin County, with 98,000… We consider ourselves ground zero. If we can’t save the rivers in Grand County, every river in Colorado is doomed.”
Colorado’s water utilities, seeking environmental street cred and pushed by citizens, are slashing energy use and carbon emissions.
Denver Water, the state’s largest water utility, uses lots, and lots, and lots of energy every year, some 56 million kilowatt hours. That’s roughly the same amount of power that 6,900 homes would use during that same period, according to the U.S. EPA.
Brian Good, the utility’s chief administrative officer, can cite, almost without limit, one energy use statistic after another. That’s because it is his job to take the utility into a new uber sustainable world, one in which it produces as much clean energy as it uses, a quest in the energy world known as “net zero.”
The utility is on track to hit that mark, system-wide, by the end of next year, according to Good.
The heart of the initiative is the utility’s new headquarters on the west side of central Denver. When it is finished it will generate the electricity it needs and will be able to capture rainwater and wastewater on site, treating it so that it can be reused.
Good and others believe the facility will be the most sustainable facility in Colorado. By operating in a way that reduces climate-damaging greenhouse gas emissions, Good said the utility is helping protect the watersheds that are threatened by a warming climate.
“Our water comes from the environment,” Good said, “so we have to demonstrate that we are doing our part to take care of it.”
Large industrial users, such as water utilities and wastewater treatment plants, are among the biggest users of electricity and, as a result, among the biggest emitters of greenhouse gases.
But that may be changing. Utilities from Grand Junction to Englewood, from Colorado Springs to Boulder and Longmont, are investing heavily in climate-friendly technology.
According to a report by the Colorado Energy Office, industrial operations account for one-third of total energy consumption in the United States.
The state is working hard to change that with new laws and emissions goals. By 2050, Colorado plans to have greenhouse gas emissions slashed to the same levels as 2005, according to Michael Turner, director of commercial and industrial energy services for the Governor’s Energy Office.
Water and wastewater utilities are key players in that initiative, according to Turner. He is leading an effort to help major industrial sectors across the state become more sustainable, and he said water and wastewater utilities, as well as large breweries, are poised to make major contributions to the greenhouse gas reduction effort.
“Denver Water has demonstrated that they want to be at the forefront of the conversation,” Turner said. “But a lot of [utilities] have expansive industrial complexes and they have invested in significant reduction goals and projects.”
Net zero is a sort of holy grail in the sustainability world and Denver Water has been chasing it since 2014.
In 18 months, by the end of 2020, the agency will have replaced its 40-year-old, administration building with a new structure that is net zero and whose inner workings include the ability to use carefully constructed interior wetlands to process rainwater from the roof and wastewater generated on-site so that it all can be reused on the campus. The entire seven-building complex will use nearly 60 percent less energy than the old complex, according to Denver Water spokesman Todd Hartman, dropping from 6.25 million kilowatt hours annually to 2.5 million.
“We need to demonstrate the future of sustainable urban water use but also demonstrate that it is not just water. It’s energy as well,” Good said.
Once the complex opens, it will have one of the smallest eco footprints possible with existing technologies, Good said. Several of the buildings will be at least partially buried to help reduce heating and cooling loads. Electricity use will be offset by an extensive solar grid and by the utility’s seven hydroelectric plants. All told, the $204 million project is expected to save about $4 million a year in energy costs.
In some parts of the project, Denver Water has pushed out ahead of technologies and the regulators who oversee them.
One Denver building inspector visited the site several months ago to examine its hyper-sophisticated plumbing system for wastewater reuse, only to leave early because he had never seen the technology being deployed and could not render a decision on whether it had been properly installed, according to Good.
The effort to reuse wastewater has been particularly challenging with state regulations still being written for on-site wastewater reuse systems.
“We thought it would be great to capture the rainwater off our roof before it hits the ground. We also thought it would be great to capture our wastewater and use it to flush our toilets. Neither of these was legal at the time [planning began],” Good said.
Since then the utility secured a water right to capture the rainwater, but regulations governing how wastewater can be treated on-site and reused have yet to be finalized, though Denver Water is working with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to develop them.
“We eventually got a permit to build the [wastewater] system,” Good said. “But we still don’t have a permit to run it.”
Denver Water’s net-zero initiative comes as concerns over climate change and rising greenhouse gas emissions grow.
But it isn’t the only large utility spending big bucks to slash emissions.
South Platte Water Renewal Partners, which processes wastewater for Englewood, Littleton and several small water districts, next month will become the first wastewater utility in the state to capture the biogas emitted from its waste treatment facility, converting it to natural gas, and injecting it into a pipeline for Xcel Energy. The program benefits the environment by reducing the amount of methane, a highly damaging greenhouse gas, released into the atmosphere. It also allows SPWRP to earn a climate credit, which it then sells in a climate exchange marketplace.
Grand Junction was the leader in biogas capture and conversion, using the natural gas to fuel its fleet operations.
The City of Boulder’s utility division too is preparing to capture and convert its biogas, rather than flaring it off, and will likely sell it to Western Disposal, a regional trash hauler, according to Cole Sigmon, the project engineer overseeing the program. Western will use the gas to power 15 of its trucks as part of a fleet conversion from diesel to natural gas.
Longmont is close to finalizing its own biogas recapture facility and Colorado Springs is in the midst of a feasibility study.
In addition, when the new National Western Center is completed in 2025, it will be heated with waste heat captured from the Metropolitan Wastewater Reclamation District’s wastewater collection system.
At SPWRP, much of the work has been driven by the cities, their citizenry, and their joint quest for sustainability, said Dan DeLaughter, data and regulatory program manager.
“Water and wastewater [operations] account for 35 percent of municipal energy bills,” DeLaughter said. “So we are continuously looking for ways to reduce energy use.”
As the solar panels go up at Denver Water’s new complex and the high-tech interior wetlands are built, Good continues to watch the electric meter reports.
Two years ago, he said, even before the complex was complete, the utility almost hit net zero, thanks to the large amounts of power its hydroelectric plants were able to produce that year.
By the end of 2020, Good believes the utility should be able to fully hit the net zero mark.
“It’s going to be close, but we set a stretch goal. If we miss, we’ll keep plugging away. If we hit it, we will set a new goal,” he said.
Jerd Smith is editor of Fresh Water News. She can be reached at 720-398-6474, via email at email@example.com.
Here’s the release from Colorado Parks & Wildlife (Mike Porras):
Beginning Oct. 1, Colorado Parks and Wildlife and Denver Water will begin collaborating on a month-long project to improve fish habitat within a popular stretch of the Williams Fork River near the town of Parshall. Located in CPW’s Kemp-Breeze State Wildlife Area, the section of river to be improved will not close during construction; however, the agencies advise anglers to consider fishing in alternative waters while the work is ongoing.
CPW and Denver Water officials say although they understand October is a prime fishing period along this stretch of the Williams Fork, work would not be possible until streamflow below the Williams Fork Dam slowed to approximately 75 cubic feet per second or less, expected to occur the first week of October.
“Unfortunately, this will affect some fishing trips to this area but anglers should know that the long-term improvements will be worth the temporary inconvenience,” said Jon Ewert, area aquatic biologist with CPW. “This project will turn a very good trout fishery into a great one, so we ask anglers for a little patience.”
“Habitat improvement is one of the most beneficial things we can do to help conserve our natural resources,” said Ben Gallowich, the Kemp-Breeze SWA technician for CPW. “The fish will benefit, the anglers will benefit and this state wildlife area will become an even more attractive place to spend the day outdoors catching trout.”
Ewert says the most significant, short-term impact caused by construction will be visible sediment in the water.
“Due to the type of habitat work that will occur, there will be periods of significant turbidity in this stretch and downstream beyond the confluence with Colorado River,” he said. “And of course there will be heavy equipment throughout the area so it won’t be aesthetically ideal. If anglers choose to fish here they are welcome to do so, but they should avoid machines and construction areas.”
The improvements will include reshaping the channel to enhance habitat diversity for all life-stages of trout. Currently, the river has an overabundance of long riffles. In addition, pools that provided excellent trout holding areas have filled-in with sediment. The habitat project will address these shortcomings.
Completed in 1959, Williams Fork Dam and its power plant sends water and electricity to the West Slope when Denver diverts water. The dam backs up a reservoir of nearly 97,000 acre-feet of water, creating the second-largest water body in Grand County.
For more information and details about the project, contact Denver Water at 303-628-6700.
Here’s the release from Colorado State University (Anne Manning):
Gross Dam spillway design being put to the test by CSU civil engineers
On any given day, the roar of water cascading over a 20-foot-high dam spillway greets visitors to Colorado State University’s Hydraulics Laboratory. Muck boots are required footwear, as water from the spray spreads across the floor, drains into an under-floor reservoir, and flows back toward an outtake pipe for recycling.
The experimental spillway, constructed by CSU civil engineers, is a test bed for an ambitious dam-raising project in southwest Boulder County by Denver Water. CSU engineers are applying their hydraulics expertise to help verify key design and functionality aspects of the spillway, part of the public utility’s planned upgrade to Gross Dam. The reservoir impounded by Gross Dam provides water to more than 1.4 million residents along Colorado’s Front Range.
The engineering team designing the project for Denver Water, Stantec and primary subcontractor AECOM, commissioned civil engineering professors Chris Thornton and Rob Ettema to create a 1:24 working scale model of the heightened dam’s new spillway. The spillway is the only portion of the dam over which water passes.
A project of this magnitude requires a physical hydraulic model, Thornton said.
“Computers have come a long way, but they’re not even close to being able to resolve what’s happening in terms of interaction of forces,” Thornton said. “Turbulence and air entrainment are very hard to model accurately.”
Taylor Hogan, a civil engineering master’s student and Hydraulics Laboratory manger, led the design and building of the model, which required close to 500 custom-built pieces. It is called a stepped spillway, which dissipates energy from the water as it flows over the dam. The steps slow the water, trap air bubbles, and allow water to safely descend. Adding to the model construction’s complexity is a slight arch to the spillway profile – mimicking the current profile.
The CSU engineers are now testing and documenting performance, including capacity, flow rate, and ability to handle a major influx of water from a storm or natural disaster. When complete, Gross Dam’s will be the tallest stepped spillway in the United States.
The planned height of the dam necessitated the stepped design. The dam is slated to be raised 131 feet over its current height of 340 feet, increasing the capacity of Gross Reservoir by about 25 billion gallons.
“The expansion will allow Denver Water to add balance and resiliency to its water collection system, which today is at risk of damage from natural disasters such as wildfires and floods,” said Jeff Martin, Denver Water’s Gross Reservoir Expansion Project program manager. “It will also help to manage the greater uncertainty that comes with a changing climate.”
The Stantec/AECOM team specified that the spillway be able to manage extreme high flows they estimate to be possible during the rare occurrence of a massive storm.
“The spillway is designed very conservatively and must perform safely when exposed to extreme conditions,” Ettema said.
The CSU researchers are wrapping up the modeling work for Stantec/AECOM to complete the spillway design. The remaining work includes optimizing the layout of the energy-dissipation basin at the bottom of the spillway, to ensure Gross Dam’s design meets safety requirements. Design engineering on the overall dam project is expected to extend through the end of 2020.
A public comment period on the plan to improve public health and protect the environment is open until Oct. 10. The post Denver Water’s Lead Reduction Program Plan submitted to EPA appeared first on News on TAP.
Denver Water is asking the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for a rare exemption to the Safe Drinking Water Act, the latest move in the utility’s long-running legal dispute with state health officials over how best to keep lead out of its customers’ tap water.
In exchange for the exemption, the water utility, which serves 1.4 million people in metro Denver, is offering to spend more than $300 million replacing up to 90,000 lead service lines.
Though lead isn’t present in Denver’s treated water, it can leach into water as it is delivered to homes via these older, customer-owned water pipes. The contaminant, even in small amounts, is considered unsafe, especially for children.
In addition to replacing the lines, Denver Water has also offered to alter its water treatment protocols, conduct an extensive public education campaign, and provide free lead filters to customers whose water supplies are at risk of contamination.
The EPA will begin public hearings next month to consider the utility’s request and determine whether its proposed approach is as good or better than using an additive called orthophosphate to control corrosion from lead pipes. The state health department, backed by the EPA, ordered the utility to use orthophosphate as a corrosion-control measure last year and gave the utility until March of 2020 to implement the new treatment process.
Within weeks of the state’s order, which came in March of 2018, the City of Aurora, the Metropolitan Wastewater Reclamation District, and the Denver Greenway Foundation sued to stop the order, saying that the addition of orthophosphate to drinking water could cause millions of dollars in damage to the South Platte River watershed and would cause wastewater treatment costs to rise. Denver Water eventually joined the suit. Settlement talks since then have failed to yield an agreement.
Denver Water said it believes the alternate approach it is proposing has merit.
“We would attack the source of the problem and ultimately, at the end of the day, we believe that this could be a more effective approach than adding orthophosphate,” said Denver Water CEO Jim Lochhead.
Thousands of Denver-area homes built prior to 1951 are at risk of having lead-contaminated water due to aging service lines. A map compiled by Denver Water shows more than a dozen neighborhoods, including parts of Berkeley, Washington Park and Montclair, as being most at risk. Dozens of other neighborhoods on the map are less likely to face contamination, based on an analysis Denver Water has done which looks at such variables as the years in which neighborhoods were constructed and results of past water sampling.
Denver Water has been monitoring and testing customers’ tap water since 2012, when a routine sampling project showed lead in some taps that exceeded allowable levels.
Since then, the utility has conducted a series of studies to determine the best method for ensuring its water is not corrosive, and had previously offered to adjust the PH balance of its water to mitigate the problem. Up until now, it had also offered to replace a few hundred lead lines a year as maintenance on its system required, leaving any other replacement activity to homeowners and developers.
At that rate, it would have taken up to 50 years before all of Denver’s lead service lines were replaced.
The issue is complex for water providers. Adding orthophosphate is a highly effective way to eliminate lead because it dramatically reduces the corrosion in pipes, making it more difficult for lead to leach into drinking water. But as drinking water is used and then flushed into the wastewater treatment system, the phosphorous must be removed because it causes algal blooms and other environmental issues in waterways. Wastewater treatment operators are required to remove it before they return treated wastewater to streams.
In the seven years since Denver Water became aware of the problem, thousands of Denver residents have continued to be exposed to lead, but the extent of the problem isn’t clear. As part of its monitoring program, the utility has processed 5,600 customer requests for lead testing, with 2,000 of these showing lead levels of at least 1 part per billion, indicating the likely presence of lead service lines, according to Denver Water spokesman Travis Thompson. The Safe Drinking Water Act requires education and treatment when levels exceed 15 parts per billion.
What Denver is experiencing is much less severe than in some cities, such as Flint, Mich., where lead levels in tap water were hundreds of times higher before being discovered in 2015. Still, like other older urban areas, such as New York City and Washington, D.C., Denver must find a way to eliminate the lead or face legal action from the state and federal government.
Tyson Ingels, lead drinking water engineer for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, said his agency would consider the evidence Denver Water presents to the EPA in August before it makes a decision about whether to support Denver’s exemption request. The EPA has so far supported the state’s orthophosphate order.
“Denver is seeking to demonstrate that this alternative is as good or maybe better at reducing lead at customers’ taps. The CDPHE is going to evaluate the evidence when it is submitted,” Ingels said.
Whether the utility will win the exemption isn’t clear. According to the CDPHE, just two exemptions in this area have been granted by the EPA.
“It’s going to be difficult,” said Alan Roberson, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based Association of State Drinking Water Administrators. “It would have been tough before Flint, and it’s tougher now.”
Denver public health officials said they are supportive of the utility’s exemption request because it offers a more holistic solution to the problem, one that encompasses public health and the environment.
Elizabeth Scherer, air and water manager at the Denver Department of Public Health, said education and follow-up on the problem are a critical part of what Denver Water is proposing. “Denver Water and the city understand that education is a big component of the process and that outreach to non-English speakers and low-income communities will need to occur to make sure folks are comfortable with this approach.”
The EPA will hold hearings next month to gather the public’s input on the issue and is slated to make a decision by October. If the EPA does not grant the variance, then Denver will proceed with adding orthophosphate to its drinking water.
The project will require significant construction over seven years to increase the reservoir’s holding capacity to 119,000 acre-feet of water.
When built, the dam will be the tallest in Colorado.
Denver Water says the additional space is needed to spread out capacity outside of Denver for the water utility used by 1.4 million people in the city and its surrounding suburbs.
The proposed construction project is not without opposition from neighbors and environmentalists who say they will endure years of construction on a water project that will never provide water to their taps.
“Boulder County is going to host this reservoir but gets no water from it. We derive no benefit from it. We only pay the price of having this thing in our county,” said Tim Guenthner, who lives just above the dam in a subdivision of about 1,000 people.
Denver7 decided to take a 360 look at this issue and gathered perspectives from five people connected to the proposed construction project…
Boulder County Commissioners have also taken a stance that Denver Water must get local permits before it can start the project.
Denver Water spokesman Travis Thompson said Denver Water doesn’t believe the law requires that and points out it has undergone numerous environmental studies and worked through the state permit process. This issue will likely be decided by another judge…
Denver Water’s Gross Dam project manager, Jeff Martin, acknowledges the project will cause noise for neighbors.
“Well we don’t hide from the fact there’s going to be some disruption from the noise, but we are looking at ways of minimizing that noise,” Martin said.
As an example, Denver Water decided to move the quarry needed to make cement to a portion of the lake that will be covered by water once more capacity is added. The original plan had the quarry on a portion of land jetting out into the lake.
Have an on-site quarry will also mean less truck traffic.
Martin said even with conservation efforts, Denver Water needs more capacity. He said experts have provided the water utility with data showing there will be 5 million more people in Colorado by 2050.
Denver water has 90% of its storage lakes west and south of the metro area, but only has 10% up north. This new dam project will add significantly more water storage north of the city.
“That’s important because if we have a catastrophic event or a drought in one of the systems, it leaves us depending on the other system,” he said. “What we want to do is create a little bit more balance and put more water in Gross Reservoir. This project is going to triple the size of the reservoir.”
Kirk Klanke is a member of Trout Unlimited, an environmental group seeking to protect and restore rivers across the country.
His perspective is one many wouldn’t expect from a member of the environmental group. He’s a supporter of the new dam.
“I think it’s extremely selfish to think we shouldn’t grow,” he said.
He says Denver Water has the legal right to build more capacity someplace. Gross Reservoir is the best option.
“Raising an existing dam has far less environmental damage than building a new one somewhere else,” Klanke said.
He says Denver Water has agreed to put significant effort into protecting the Colorado River. When it is hot out, river temperatures rise if there’s only a little water flowing.
Denver Water has agreed to keep water in the river during those periods and fill the lake during spring runoff. It will also draw water at different places in the river to minimize the impact to one area.
On July 1, Denver Water announced the launch of a summer education and outreach program to inform the public about a proposed Lead Reduction Program Plan.
The executive summary of the draft plan is available for review and public comment until Aug. 7, 2019. Interested customers and stakeholders can access the executive summary and comment form here.
The water delivered to homes and businesses in Denver is lead-free, but lead can get into water as it moves through lead-containing internal plumbing and service lines that are owned by the customer and are not part of Denver Water’s system. By March 2020, Denver Water is required by the state health department to add orthophosphate to the drinking water it delivers to customers to help reduce the corrosivity of the water and reduce the risk of lead getting into the household water from these sources.
The draft Lead Reduction Program Plan is a proposed alternative to adding orthophosphate to the water system. The comment period is intended to gather input from the community about the components of the proposed program, which include:
Increasing the pH level, which further reduces the corrosivity of the water.
Providing at-home water filters for all customers in Denver Water’s service area with a suspected lead service line, free of charge.
Replacing the estimated 50,000 to 90,000 lead service lines with copper lines in Denver Water’s service area at no charge to the customer over the next 15 years.
To implement the multipart program instead of the orthophosphate additive, Denver Water is required to submit a variance request to the EPA in mid-August, which will incorporate public input. Following that submittal, the EPA will initiate its own public comment period before it decides which approach will be implemented.
Community members are encouraged to learn more and speak directly to Denver Water team members at a variety of events this summer. The project website has an updated calendar of activities.
Denver Water also has a map of estimated customer-owned lead service lines as a starting point to help customers identify the likelihood of their home having a lead service line. Customers are encouraged to verify the accuracy of the information represented by this map for their residence by requesting a free water quality test from Denver Water.
Denver Water’s five-member Board of Water Commissioners on Wednesday approved a two-year, $4.5 million contract with Kiewit Barnard, a Joint Venture, for planning and pre-construction work during the final design phase of the $464 million Gross Reservoir Expansion Project.
If the team’s performance during the planning and pre-construction phase meets Denver Water’s expectations, a separate contract to build the dam may be signed between Denver Water and Kiewit Barnard.
“This is a major milestone in our 16-year effort to expand Gross Reservoir, as its original designers intended decades ago, to ensure a more reliable water supply in a future marked by greater uncertainty in weather patterns,” said Denver Water CEO/Manager Jim Lochhead.
Denver Water, the state’s largest water utility, serves 1.4 million people in Denver and surrounding suburbs.
The Gross Reservoir Expansion Project will raise the height of the existing dam, completed in 1954, by 131 feet, allowing the reservoir to nearly triple in size. When complete, the reservoir will be capable of holding about 119,000 acre-feet of water to provide greater system balance and resiliency.
The selection process for a construction manager/general contractor for the project began in August 2018 with information meetings, followed by a formal Request for Qualifications in October 2018. Three teams responded to the request and underwent extensive evaluations and interviews by a selection team that included experts from Denver Water, the project’s design engineer and subject matter experts.
The selection team focused on a value-based competitive process that examined each team’s qualifications, project approach, technical approach and cost.
“Kiewit Barnard met Denver Water’s high bar for doing a project that’s important not only to the 1.4 million people who rely on us for their drinking water, but also to the people who live around the reservoir,” said Jeff Martin, Denver Water’s program manager for the expansion project.
“We were impressed by the team’s experience with roller-compacted concrete dam construction, innovative approach and commitment to safe and responsible building practices,” Martin said.
The project calls for adding 900,000 cubic feet of concrete to the existing structure and building the first roller-compacted, concrete, arch dam in the United States. When complete, the Gross Dam will be the tallest in Colorado and the tallest roller-compacted concrete dam in the U.S.
“Kiewit Barnard, a Joint Venture, is very pleased to have been selected to work on this important project to support water demand for the greater Denver area,” said Jamie Wisenbaker, senior vice president of Kiewit Infrastructure Co., and an executive sponsor of the project. “We believe the team’s collective infrastructure experience in dam and reservoir construction and engineering will be a huge asset and look forward to safely delivering a high-quality project on time for Denver Water and the region.”
Kiewit is one of North America’s largest construction and engineering organizations with extensive heavy-civil experience in water/wastewater construction, including serving as lead contractor on the Oroville Spillways Emergency Recovery project in California. Kiewit is the No. 1 contractor for dams and reservoirs in the United States according to Engineering News-Record. The company also has strong roots and experience in Denver and across Colorado, including having constructed the Interstate 25 T-REX Expansion project, the U.S. 34 Big Thompson Canyon emergency repair project and the I-225 Light Rail Line project. The company also is building Denver Water’s new Northwater Treatment Plant.
Barnard Construction Co. Inc. brings a long track record of safety and quality on infrastructure projects in the U.S., including construction on more than 80 dams, reservoirs and dikes over the last four decades. The company’s work in this area includes new construction, raising dams and conducting emergency repairs. In 2019, Barnard was honored as a “Global Best Project” award winner by Engineering News-Record in the dam/environment category for the Muskrat Falls North and South Dams project located in Muskrat Falls, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada.
The Gross Reservoir Expansion Project is awaiting a final federal government approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Provided the remaining federal approvals come by the end of this year, the project is slated to be complete in 2025.
When finished, the expanded reservoir and associated mitigation projects will create what the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment has described as a net environmental benefit to state water quality by generating a wide range of environmental improvements to streams, river flows and aquatic habitats.
The expansion, in the works for more than a decade, is part of the company’s long-term plan to help meet increasing water demands along the Front Range and buffer customers from future water-supply variability due to climate change…
Denver Water has been met with sustained opposition from Boulder County residents and a handful of environmental groups who say the utility can address its water needs through expanded water conservation efforts on the Front Range.
But with Colorado’s population growth showing no signs of slowing, water conservation may be inadequate to address projected shortages in the coming decades.
Other concerns raised by opponents include sustained disruption to surrounding residents, increased traffic, health concerns and environmental impacts to fish and wildlife.
Gross Reservoir is filled primarily from snowmelt that flows from the Fraser River, a tributary of the Colorado River. The water is transported underground from west of the Continental Divide to the east by a pipeline called the Moffat Water Tunnel.
The controversy over the Gross Reservoir expansion, estimated to cost $464 million, echoes an all-too-familiar story: a highly contentious discussion of tradeoffs that has rippled across the Western United States for decades.
As cities and states across the West grapple with swelling population alongside diminishing water supplies as a result of climate change, water-resource agencies such as Denver Water are faced with the delicate task of balancing the health of ecosystems with municipal, agricultural and recreational needs…
Jeff Martin, Denver Water’s project manager for the expansion project, doesn’t skirt around the controversy. He recognizes that the project is going to cause disruption and says that Denver Water has worked with the residents to find ways to minimize the project’s impact.
“This has been a process,” Martin said. “We started in 2004, it took 13 years to move through the environmental assessment and permitting process. And we’ve made a lot of changes and adjustments to our plans since the beginning.”
“No single solution is out there,” he said. “Our problem is rooted in demand and resiliency, and what I mean by resilience is that we have to make sure we have the water when we need it, and where.”
For Patty Limerick, director of the CU Boulder’s Center for the American West and former Colorado Historian, you can’t talk about water issues on the Front Range without first looking back in time.
When early white explorers arrived here, they deemed the Front Range unfit for settlement due to lack of water. Today, 1.4 million Denver residents have access to clean drinking water due in large part to Denver Water’s enormous infrastructure web that diverts water from the South Platte, Blue, Williams Fork and Fraser river watersheds to be stored in a network of reservoirs spread over eight counties, including Dillon, Strontia Springs and Cheesman.
“One thing that I find fascinating, and is important to talk about, is the incredible amount of engineering that had to occur to make any of this possible in the first place,” Limerick said.
“We, as a society, have to recognize the improbable comfort that was made possible by a taken-for-granted, but truly astonishing, water infrastructure that was put in place a hundred years ago.”
“The year 2018 was very similar to what we would expect to see under a climate change regime. And that was a very intense but short-term drought,” said Taryn Finnessey, senior climate change specialist with the Colorado Water Conservation Board.
“We saw some reservoirs in the state declined by 50 percent in a three- to four-month period. So that obviously could not be sustained multiple years in a row,” she said. “Water providers are increasingly integrating climate change models into their water supply projections. They know that what we’ve seen in the past might not fully represent what we might see in the future. Denver Water is one of the more advanced utilities when it comes to this.”
Finnessey says it’s not just about how much precipitation falls from year to year. It also has a lot to do with increasing temperatures, contributing to the long-term drying out of the West, a phenomenon scientists are referring to as aridification. As temperatures rise, more moisture is sucked up by the atmosphere through evapotranspiration, leaving less viable water for humans-use in the system.
“We are planning for infrastructure that will be built in the next 20 years, that is supposed to last for the following 100 years,” said Reagan Waskom, director of Colorado State University’s Colorado Water Institute. “Our world is changing significantly faster than that. And not in a linear way. How do we adapt to that?
“Water managers have to plan for extremes,” he added. “A year like this year is an argument for reservoirs. Even with climate change, you’re still gonna have some good years. And we need to be able to capture it and save it for the bad years, whether that’s in underground aquifers or in reservoirs.”
Nathan Elder, water supply manager for reservoir owner Denver Water, reported Friday that the reservoir was just under a foot from being full, with 2,600 acre-feet of storage space remaining. Elder predicted the reservoir would fill in about two days.
The latest inflow data showed 2,219 cubic feet per second flowing into the reservoir, while 1,840 cfs is flowing out. Elder said that, while the dam wasn’t meant for flood control, the flows in the Lower Blue would be much stronger if the dam wasn’t there at all.
“We constantly try to balance inflows with outflows,” Elder said. “If the dam wasn’t there, flows below the reservoir would be close or at 3,000 cfs.”
Elder said the Roberts Tunnel, which channels water from the reservoir to the Front Range, was currently off and not bringing water to the Eastern Slope. Denver Water will continue adjusting flows for the reservoir to keep it at full capacity until Nov. 1, when the reservoir is lowered 3 feet to leave room for snow precipitation.
Elder said Denver Water has been conducting twice-daily briefings with county emergency officials, updating the forecast on flows into the Lower Blue. Summit County emergency director Brian Bovaird said that all tributaries in the county were at or just below “action stage,” or when county flooding preparations take effect.
Bovaird said there is a possibility Denver Water will increase flows below the dam to up to 1,900 CFS by this weekend, close to the highest flow recorded below the dam. However, he said there was good news from the National Weather Service, which predicted no heavy rain this weekend to push the rivers over the edge.
Bovaird said that emergency officials will start to get concerned if the outflows rise to 2,100 CFS. But for now, Bovaird said he didn’t expect any major flooding to occur when the peak flows finally peter out next week. Bovaird reported some “nuisance” flooding in Silverthorne’s South Forty neighborhood, but it did not cause any structural damage or threaten homes.
Bovaird added things were looking good at the Goose Pasture Tarn dam, which was built in Breckenridge in the ’60’s and has been a source of concern due to the potential for flooding or even collapse. Tenmile Creek, which approached flood stage a few weeks ago, peaked last week without any significant flooding or damage.
…in the long-term puzzle of ensuring that the Colorado River — the main artery of the American West — provides water to the millions of people in the basin who depend on it, the challenges are mounting. And in the face of a complicated tangle of population growth, long-term drought and climate change, does 2019’s water stand a chance of making a meaningful impact?
Water experts say the answer is: Sadly, not likely.
Colorado River District general manager Andy Mueller likened it to a year-end salary bonus. It’s a great development in the short term, but if it’s an anomaly in the broader picture, its effects will be minor.
“This is a short-term boon, and we should be happy,” Mueller said before adding the caveat stressed by many in the water community: “But we’re not out of the woods yet.”
A pattern of aridification
Going from the record-breaking drought of 2018 to the record-breaking water year of 2019 is a stroke of luck that has enabled a much faster recovery of fisheries, soils and watersheds, said Taryn Finnessey, Colorado’s senior climate change specialist.
Here, reservoirs such as Blue Mesa, Navajo and Ridgway are expected to rebound as snowmelt flushes through rivers.
“However, on the broader Colorado River, even with a banner water year, we won’t see a significant recovery,” she said.
Large inflows are expected into both Lake Powell on the Utah/Arizona border and Lake Mead downstream — the big reservoirs considered to be the savings accounts for the Colorado River basin. The reservoirs, which have been steadily dropping for years, are projected to end the year at slightly higher levels.
But both are so far from capacity — as of June 24, Mead was only at 40 percent, while Powell was at 51 percent, according to the Bureau of Reclamation — that these increases will, at best, put them a little more than half full by year’s end.
“So we’re not seeing a huge rebound in those really large storage buckets that provide long-term storage in the Southwest,” Finnessey said.
Why not? The short answer, she said, is climate change.
Over the past 20 years, the broader Colorado River system has experienced not only decreased precipitation — in the form of 19 years of drought — but also increased temperatures. The hotter weather creates more rapid evaporation and thirstier soils, and causes the snow to melt more quickly, transforming it from the steady flows that were once typical, into an annual big-water flush that’s harder to capture and store.
The result, Finnessey said, is a slow shift in the basin “from drought to long-term aridification” that’s drawing down the water. A growing population only exacerbates the problem. And one good year of water won’t reverse that.
In fact, Mueller said the river district’s engineer guesses it would require eight to 13 years “exactly like this one” to emerge from the deficit. So, relying on Mother Nature to turn things around isn’t a reliable option.
James Eklund, the state’s representative on the Upper Colorado Basin Commission, said the problem is that the entire system of storing, capturing and using the water of the Colorado River is predicated on the way things functioned before climate change…
Make no mistake, Eklund said, managers will store every drop they can in a year like this. Unfortunately though, “climate change is boxing Colorado water managers in from all sides.”
The result of those talks is the Colorado River Basin Drought Contingency Plan, which was signed in May. In that agreement, the Lower Basin states agreed to specific decreases in water use.
The plan is designed to bank water and leave it in Lake Mead, which in turn keeps more water in Lake Powell (by preventing large releases from Powell required to bail out the Lower Basin’s supply.) And unlike in the past, the water that is banked in Powell by the Upper Basin states will belong solely to Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico as a sort of emergency water account.
Previously, all the water saved by Upper Basin states in Lake Powell could be released to Lake Mead for the Lower Basin states to use.
“That was a perverse incentive,” Eklund said of the former arrangement that didn’t really reward water conservation by Upper Basin states. “What we decided to do is make it a positive incentive.”
The Upper Basin states, meanwhile, agreed in the Contingency Plan to explore methods for managing and reducing consumption.
(As part of that promise, the Colorado Water Conservation Board has assembled eight workgroups to study a demand-management program for the state, which is envisioned as a voluntary program that would pay users to not use their water rights. The water saved through that program, the river district’s Mueller said, could be stored in Lake Powell to be used explicitly for Upper Basin needs.)
Finally, the contingency plan makes reservoir operation more flexible for Colorado’s Blue Mesa and Navajo reservoirs and Flaming Gorge in Wyoming — while still respecting the environmental considerations of their water releases…
But it’s also a problem that can’t be ignored away. “Everybody in the basin has to get better, faster, smarter at our jobs,” Eklund said. “Our policies have to become more flexible, smarter and better.”
Mueller echoed that, noting that if Lake Powell is a measure of how secure the Upper Basin should feel about its future, “we should not feel that secure.”
He said it’s time to take a hard look at measures such as removing sod, improving agricultural efficiency, crop switching and even cloud seeding.
There are models of success out there. Denver Water, which serves 1.4 million people in Denver and the surrounding suburbs, has seen its per-capita water use drop 34 percent since 2001 thanks to major conservation efforts.
“We’re actually using the same amount of water that we used in the ’70s even though our population has grown by half a million,” said Dave Bennett, the utility’s director of water-resource strategy. “And that’s really a testament to conservation.”
When it comes to the Colorado River, conservation may not be enough. For now, though, it’s one of the best tools available. So, while nobody has come up with the end-all answer for solving the long-term crisis, water managers are unanimous on one thing: Users can’t afford to waste a single drop of water, even in a year of abundance.
“We were lucky this year,” said Finnessey, the climate change specialist. “But I don’t think that’s something that we can ever assume will happen again. So we need to be really wise stewards of our resources.”
From the editorial board (Quentin Young) of the Boulder Daily Camera:
Denver Water serves 1.4 million people in Denver and surrounding communities, and that figure will rise substantially in the coming decades. As more residents demand service, climate change increasingly will exert its own strain on the water supply. One of the primary ways the utility plans to meet this imminent challenge is by expanding one of its northern storage facilities, Gross Reservoir, in the foothills southwest of the city of Boulder.
The project has met with intractable opposition. It’s the subject of lawsuits and uncertain government reviews. Neighbors are scandalized by the prospect of years of disruptive construction, and some environmentalists contend the project won’t even be able to perform its intended purpose.
But a dispassionate consideration of the project leads to the conclusion that Denver Water’s plan to expand Gross Reservoir is a reasonable and responsible measure, provided the utility proceeds with the utmost sensitivity to the residents who would be impacted by construction and with the expectation that increased storage is no substitute for continued conservation efforts.
The roots of the project go back to the proposed Two Forks Dam. Denver Water had proposed storing water from the Colorado and Platte rivers by building a 615-foot dam southwest of Denver near Deckers. But a coalition of environmental groups successfully opposed the project, which the Environmental Protection Agency spiked in 1990. Environmentalists argued at the time that a better option would be for Denver Water to expand a storage facility it already operated: Gross Reservoir.
Now that the utility is following opponents’ former advice, environmentalists have changed their mind about Gross. The project would raise Gross Dam by 131 feet to 471 feet, roughly tripling the reservoir’s current capacity of 41,811 acre-feet (for comparison, Denver Water’s largest reservoir, Dillon, has a capacity of more than 257,000 acre-feet). Critics say the expansion would result in the state’s tallest dam, and much of the opposition focuses on the project’s substantial environmental impact. It would require years’ worth of noisy construction, traffic and the removal of about 650,000 trees. The reservoir pulls water from the headwaters of the Colorado River, and critics argue that the utility should refrain from further depleting that waterway, which runs all the way to the Gulf of California and is subject to the Colorado River Compact, an agreement that governs water allocation in seven states that rely on the river as an invaluable resource. Population growth in the Southwest has stressed the river, and climate change is expected to further compromise the river’s capacity to deliver water to users. Some Gross expansion opponents even assert that there won’t be enough water available from the Colorado River Basin to fill a bigger reservoir. And anyway, the opponents say, water needs can be met through conservation rather than dam-building.
Construction to expand Gross Reservoir would indeed bring acute hardship to nearby residents, and concern for local environmental damage should not be dismissed. But construction is temporary, and the environmental impact seems less intolerable than merely regrettable when weighed against the project’s purpose of ensuring for decades the delivery of a vital resource to thousands of people.
Utilities should be judicious in exercising their rights to Colorado River Basin water, but the volume associated with the proposed Gross expansion is relatively small. The entire Denver Water utility accounts for less than 2% of the state’s total water use, while it serves about 25% of the population. As part of planning for the expansion, Denver Water worked with West Slope communities in the Colorado River Basin to earn support for the project, efforts that in 2012 resulted in the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement. The CRCA, which depends on final approval of the Gross Reservoir expansion, calls for Denver Water to help restore habitats and maintain flows in the Fraser River, a Colorado River tributary in Grand County. Some West Slope officials so favor implementation of the CRCA that a Grand County commissioner in March warned of “a ton of litigation” were Boulder to block the Gross expansion.
Colorado River flows will almost certainly decrease due to climate change in future decades. A widely cited 2017 study suggests the river increasingly will be subject to droughts, and flows could drop more than 35% by the end of the century because of higher temperatures. But this doesn’t necessarily constitute an argument against expanding Gross. No one can claim with certainty that flows would drop such to render useless an expanded reservoir, but Denver Water would certainly be justified in viewing the threat of persistent droughts and lower flows as a reason to increase storage capacity, since there’s more incentive to collect water during the fewer occasions it’s available. The utility would be seen to have failed customers were it to find itself with nowhere to store precious water to which it had rights.
That Denver Water should do more to promote conservation gets no argument here. The utility’s customers have already demonstrated that they can get by splendidly with reduced volume — they’re using about 20 percent less water today than 15 years ago, according to Denver Water CEO Jim Lochhead — and there’s much room for further conservation. But conservation has limits, and Denver Water says it won’t be able to meet future demand solely by this method. In Denver alone, the current population of 729,000 is expected to swell by more than 20% in just 20 years. Besides, the project is meant not just to add yield to the utility’s system but also stability. The vast majority of Denver Water’s storage is in the south part of its system, and forest fires near those facilities, such as the Buffalo Creek Wildfire in 1996, have exposed a vulnerability that an expanded Gross would address.
The proposed expansion of Gross Reservoir has provoked waves of protest from Boulder County residents, and the county has asserted what it claims is its right to review the project. Known as a 1041 process, the move is contested by Denver Water. But though Denver Water doesn’t serve Boulder-area residents, water users throughout Boulder County every day enjoy the use of water pulled from the Colorado River, and water customers in such Boulder County communities as Longmont, Louisville, Lafayette, Erie and Superior are participants in the proposed Windy Gap Firming Project, which involves the construction of a whole new reservoir, not just an expansion, west of Carter Lake to store water from the Colorado River Basin. (That project similarly is tied up in litigation.)
Denver Water has already secured the bulk of required regulatory approvals for the expansion of Gross Reservoir. A final decision from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, whose staff has already recommended approval, is pending. Denver Water needs the FERC approval, because Gross also serves as a hydroelectric facility. Roadblocks include a lawsuit brought by a coalition of environmental groups that is led by Save the Colorado and Boulder County’s 1041 review.
Boulder County officials have a legitimate interest in reviewing what would be the largest construction project in county history, and they are encouraged to take an exhaustive look at Denver Water’s plans. Any objections to the expansion of Gross Reservoir, however, should be based on factors intrinsic to the proposal, not on a mere preference for Gross to be left alone.
Quentin Young, for the editorial board, firstname.lastname@example.org, @qpyoungnews
FromThe Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):
Entities including Front Range water utilities and the Bureau of Reclamation on Friday began coordinating water releases from upstream reservoirs in a voluntary effort to prolong peak runoff flows in what’s called the 15-Mile Reach upstream of the confluence with the Gunnison River. It’s a critical stretch of river for four endangered fish — the humpback chub, razorback sucker, bonytail chub and the Colorado pikeminnow.
River flows at Cameo exceeded 20,000 cubic feet per second Saturday. The coordinated reservoir operations are intended to slow the decline of high flows, sustaining those flows for three to five days this week. The first releases from the coordinated program were expected to arrive Monday night; the flows at Cameo earlier Monday were at 18,900 cfs, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
Strong flows help remove fine sediment from cobble bars that serve as spawning habitat for the fish, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. They also help reconnect the river to backwaters where the fish, especially at the larval stage, can find refuge from the stronger river flows, said Don Anderson, a hydrologist with the agency.
The releases are being made possible by this year’s ample winter snowpack, which means reservoir operators can release reservoir water without risking the ability to fill the reservoirs.
Anderson said that in some years the releases are coordinated with the goal of raising peak flows to beneficial levels, but this year the peak flows were high enough it was decided that the reservoir water instead could be used to prolong those flows.
According to a Fish and Wildlife Service news release, under the coordinated operations:
The Bureau of Reclamation is increasing releases at Ruedi Reservoir and Green Mountain Reservoir, with the Green Mountain releases including inflows bypassed by Dillon Reservoir, operated by Denver Water.
Denver Water is likely to increase releases from Williams Fork Reservoir.
Homestake Reservoir, operated by Colorado Springs Utilities, may participate in the releases after peak flows on the Eagle River recede.
The Windy Gap Reservoir and Pump Station, operated by Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, will delay pumping water to Granby Reservoir.
The current effort follows reservoir releases by the Bureau of Reclamation earlier this spring on the Gunnison River to boost flows for endangered fish there. In both cases, the efforts are planned in a way intended to keep from resulting in flooding impacts downstream.
Anderson said the coordinated spring operations on the upper Colorado River started in 1997, and by his count have occurred in 11 years since beginning…
He said that while the coordinated releases target the 15-Mile Reach, their benefits extend as far as Moab, Utah, improving management of a river floodplain wetlands there that is being used to help in the recovery of razorback suckers.
Entities including the Colorado River Water Conservation District, Grand Valley Water User Association, Orchard Mesa Irrigation District, Palisade Irrigation District, National Weather Service, Colorado Basin River Forecast Center, Colorado Water Conservation Board, and Xcel Energy also participate in the coordinated reservoir operations effort.
FromThe Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):
The river is flowing so fast right now that people can float the entire 25-mile Ruby-Horsethief stretch in a day — even as few as four or five hours, Baier said. He said his company is running guided one-day trips there right now and he thinks some people are realizing they can float the stretch in a day rather than needing to make reservations for Bureau of Land Management campgrounds.
In Glenwood Canyon, raft companies currently aren’t running the Shoshone stretch of the Colorado River due to strong flows, as is typical this time of year. Ken Murphy, owner of Glenwood Adventure Co., said that closure might last perhaps a week longer this year than in a normal year. He said the Shoshone rapids have a brand appeal and people want to raft there, but high water provides lots of other good rafting options. Last year, the Roaring Fork River didn’t provide much of a rafting season, but this year is different. While it usually offers good rafting until maybe the first or second week of July, “now we’re going to be on it we hope maybe until August,” Murphy said.
He said the Roaring Fork offers beautiful scenery away from Interstate 70 and sightings of bald eagles and other wildlife. And rapids that are usually rated Class 2 are currently Class 3.
“It gives people enough whitewater to get wet but not scare them,” he said.
Colorado River trips that put in at the Grizzly Creek area of Glenwood Canyon below Shoshone also are heading farther downstream than normal right now, to New Castle, due to the fast-flowing water, Murphy said…
Murphy said his company also owns Lakota Guides in Vail. He said the Eagle River in Eagle County will be good for rafting for longer this summer due to the big water year, meaning the company can continue offering trips to guests there rather than having to bus them to Glenwood Springs or the upper Arkansas River. He said the Blue River in Summit County also will benefit from a longer boating season.
FromThe Loveland Reporter-Herald (Sam Lounsberry) via The Denver Post:
An environmental group’s motion to intervene in a dispute between Denver Water and Boulder County over the proposed expansion of Gross Reservoir was granted by a judge on Tuesday.
Court documents show Boulder District Judge Andrew Ross Macdonald will allow the group, Save the Colorado, to enter the case as a party on behalf of Boulder County, the defendant in the suit.
Denver Water filed the complaint against the county after it decided the utility would have to subject its controversial proposed dam expansion — which would be the largest construction project in the county’s history — through the county development approval process.
The case is still moving through court, with Denver Water trying to avoid subjecting its project to county [1041 regulations].
The Colorado River is short on water. But you wouldn’t know it by looking at a slate of proposed water projects in the river’s Upper Basin states of Colorado, Utah and Wyoming.
The river and its tributaries provide water for 40 million people in the Southwest. For about the last 20 years, demand for water has outstripped the supply, causing its largest reservoirs to decline.
In the Bureau of Reclamation’s 2012 Colorado River Basin Water Supply and Demand Study, you can pinpoint when the lines crossed somewhere around the year 2002. It’s a well-documented and widely accepted imbalance.
That harsh reality — of the river’s water promised to too many people — has prompted all sorts of activity and agreements within the seven Western states that rely on it. That activity includes controversial efforts in some states in the Colorado River’s Upper Basin to tap every available drop before things get worse.
The utility that owns [Gross Reservoir], Denver Water, wants to increase the size of the dam by 131 feet, and fill the human-made lake with more water from the headwaters of the Colorado River via a tunnel that traverses the Continental Divide.
Imagine a tractor trailer hauling dam-building materials making this turn, Long says.
“If they truck all of this material up our canyon, people in our community are gonna get killed by those trucks. Period,” Long said. “There’s a lot of other issues here but the safety thing should really be a serious priority.”
Long and his wife, April Lewandowski, live near the reservoir in a community called Coal Creek Canyon. Like many of her neighbors, Lewandowski commutes from the sparsely populated canyon to her job on the state’s dense Front Range. Her daily commute on the canyon’s two-lane highway is the same as a haul route for trucks needed to build the dam addition.
Long pulls up to a small parking area that overlooks the dam. It’s a deep wall of concrete, stretched between the tree-lined canyon walls of South Boulder Creek.
“I mean you look at how the land splays out, you can see why they want to (build it),” Long said. “It’s so much wider all the way around.”
If the expansion goes through, the place where we’re standing will be submerged in water. The addition to Gross Dam will raise it to 471 feet in height, making it the tallest dam in Colorado…
Denver Water first started taking an expansion of Gross Reservoir seriously after the dry winter of 2002. Exceptional drought conditions took hold across the Mountain West. The utility’s CEO, Jim Lochhead, said in the midst of those historic dry conditions, a portion of its service area nearly ran out of water.
“This is a project that’s needed today to deal with that imbalance and that vulnerability and to give us more drought resiliency,” Lochhead said.
Since then, Denver Water has filed federal permits to start construction, and negotiated an agreement with local governments and environmental groups on the state’s Western Slope to mitigate some effects of the additional water being taken from the headwaters.
Before leaving office, former Colorado Democratic governor and current presidential hopeful John Hickenlooper threw his weight behind the project, giving it an endorsement and suggesting other water agencies in the West take notice how Denver Water approached the process.
But despite the political heft behind the project, it faces considerable headwinds.
Environmentalists are suing, arguing the expansion will harm endangered fish. A group of local activists say the additional water will spur unsustainable population growth along the state’s Front Range. In recent months, the utility began sparring with Boulder County officials over whether they were exempt from a certain land use permit.
Building a 131-foot dam addition does come with baggage, Lochhead said. But he argued his agency has done its part to address some of the concerns, like reducing the number of daily tractor trailer trips up Coal Creek Canyon and planning upgrades to the intersection where trucks will turn onto Gross Dam Road.
“It is a major construction project. I don’t want to gloss over that. It will have impacts to the local community,” Lochhead said.
Denver Water staff are doing more outreach in the canyon as well, Lochhead said.
“We are committed to the project and seeing it through. We’re also committed despite the opposition to working with the local community in doing this the right way,” he said…
The latest scuffle with Boulder County has brought the Gross Dam expansion squarely back into public view. At a county commissioner’s meeting in March, residents criticized Denver Water on all fronts, from specific concerns about the construction itself, to broader concerns about water scarcity in the Colorado River basin…
“This project represents an effort by Denver Water … to actually grab water while they can, before federal legislation and management of the Colorado River Basin is imposed,” McDermott said.
What McDermott is referring to is a stark disconnect in the Colorado River watershed. States downstream on the river — Arizona, Nevada and California — signed a new agreement in May called the Drought Contingency Plan that keeps them from becoming more reliant on the Colorado River. It requires cutbacks to water deliveries should levels in Lake Mead, the river’s largest reservoir, continue to drop.
Meanwhile, upstream in Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico, no such agreement was made. Those states wound up agreeing to study the feasibility of a program that would compensate farmers to stop irrigating their cropland if reservoirs dropped, with no solid way to pay for it. They agreed too to better coordinate releases from their biggest reservoirs to aid an ailing Lake Powell. While they figure out how to develop those two concepts, the Upper Basin states keep inching along on their development projects to divert more from the river.
The 1922 Colorado River Compact, the river’s foundational governing document, gives Upper Basin states the legal cover to continue developing projects like the Gross Reservoir expansion. In the compact, each basin is allocated 7.5 million acre-feet of the river’s water. Over the decades the rapidly growing and intensely farmed Lower Basin has used much more than that. The less populated Upper Basin has never reached its full allotment. Those state have been using roughly 4.5 million acre-feet for the last 13 years, with the rest flowing downstream for the Lower Basin to use as it sees fit…
Conservation programs tend to be less expensive than massive new projects, [Doug] Kenney said. But additional water supplies stored in reservoirs give more security and reliability. It’s why water leaders push for them, even when the economics don’t make sense.
This year, instead of supplying helicopters with water to dump on fires, Denver Water is draining water from Dillon Reservoir in anticipation of runoff, which is expected to really begin coming down in the next few weeks.
“This year being a high snowpack year, we know there’s going to be a lot of water getting into the reservoir,” Denver Water supply manager Nathan Elder said. “We’re trying to have enough space to catch that runoff while providing for safe outflows to the Blue River below the reservoir.”
At the moment, the reservoir — which is the main drinking water supply for 1.4 million people in the Denver metro area — is 75% full with 192,554 acre-feet of water. When full, the reservoir holds 257,304 acre-feet. An acre-foot of water would cover an area the size of an acre 1-foot deep. Given the current estimate for runoff volume, there will be more than enough water to fill it.
“The forecasting for the rest of June and July project a volume of anywhere from 169,000 acre-feet to 211,000 acre-feet coming into the reservoir,” Elder said. “That’ll fill it, but we’re probably not going to fill it until the Fourth of July to make sure we’re past that peak-inflow time.”
Elder said peak inflow to the reservoir is expected to start about a week later this year than usual, which also means Summit’s two marinas in Dillon and Frisco will have to wait before the reservoir is full enough for boating. However, boaters should have a lot more time for play this year compared with last, when boat ramps were retracted weeks before they normally would be due to low water.
“Typically, every year we target June 18 to be at 9,012-foot elevation needed for both marinas to be completely operational, but it’s going to be a little delayed this year,” Elder said. “But while the boating season might be shortened by a week on the front end, on the tail end, it should last quite a bit longer.”
The delay also means local emergency officials will be watching streamflows longer into the month, looking to spring into action if Tenmile Creek, Straight Creek or the Blue River approach the verge of flooding.
Current two-week projections show all three waterways approaching “action stage,” the threshold at which the towns and county are called to start flood mitigation preparations, by June 15.
Summit County’s director of emergency management Brian Bovaird said he closely has been watching the forecasts for flooding. That is opposed to last June when Bovaird, who recently had gotten the job as emergency director, was given a literal trial by fire.
“It’s like picking your poison,” Bovaird said. “Last year, it was wildfire. This year, it’s flooding. We’re expecting heavy runoff moisture, which is good for wildfire but makes us uneasy about the flooding risk.”
Barker Dam’s scheduled spill is expected to begin over the next few days, officials said. Each spring as temperatures warm, runoff from melting mountain snow increases stream flows. Before peak stream flows occur at lower elevations, like in the City of Boulder, mountain reservoirs must first fill and start spilling, officials said.
“This is a normal and expected event that will increase flows in Boulder Creek throughout the city,” The City of Boulder said in a statement.
The Barker Dam spill normally occurs between mid May to late June, but is dependent on weather, snowpack and early spring reservoir levels. This spring, cool temperatures and continued snow accumulation have delayed snowmelt runoff, the city said.
The waters of the Gunnison River are currently at 10.7 feet. It has passed the bankfull stage. This means some water is beginning to spill out into the floodplain. The floodplain is the low-lying area next to the river. The Gunnison’s Flood stage is at 13 feet. It’s expected to rise near 10.8 feet by Saturday.
Orchard Mesa and Whitewater are under the current advisory.
Parts of the Colorado River are rising, but it’s not under an advisory. The Colorado River near Loma is nearing bankfull. According to data from a National Weather Service gauge near the state line, water levels are at about 10.5 feet and are expected to rise to 12.5 by Saturday afternoon.
The south arm of the Great Salt Lake is up by 2.5 feet since December and its north arm is 2 feet deeper thanks to the wet water year, and the Western Hemisphere’s largest saltwater lake will take on even more water in the weeks to come.
“It’s a pretty good jump so far, but we’re not done yet,” said Todd Adams, deputy director of the Utah Division of Water Resources.
The highest elevation snowpack has yet to melt, and with most reservoirs brimming, that water will bypass those storage infrastructures and help quench the thirsty saltwater body…
Water managers along the Wasatch Front will be keeping their eye on stream flows and reservoir levels to keep enough storage going into the summer and time releases into rivers to hopefully avoid flooding.
While most reservoirs are already full, Echo above East Canyon sits at just 49 percent of capacity and Rockport sits at 78 percent, ready to take on snowmelt.
“We could have filled it (Echo) twice this year,” said Tage Flint, general manager of the Weber Basin Water Conservancy District. “The peak flows have not occurred yet coming out of the Uinta Mountains coming down the Weber River, so we are purposefully leaving Rockport down some and Echo down more to use them as shock absorbers to take those big flows.”
Much of that extra water will be sent on downstream to the Great Salt Lake…
The lake is critical to wildlife, multiple industries, recreation interests and more, contributing $1.3 billion into Utah’s economy and drawing tourists from all over the globe.
It serves as the Pacific “flyway” for thousands of migratory birds and supports a $57 million brine shrimp industry…
Mike Styler, who recently retired as executive director of the Utah Department of Natural Resources, said maintaining the viability of the Great Salt Lake will be one of the critical challenges the state faces going into the future.
He stressed that as agricultural water gets converted for urban use in Weber and Davis counties and reuse of waste water becomes more popular, that threatens to dry up marshes and wetlands that support the lake.
The Great Salt Lake has an average depth of 16 feet, covers 1,700 square miles during an average year and is two to seven times saltier than the ocean.
Fish kills in the North Fork of the South Platte River are occurring during low water flow periods that fail to dilute the toxicity of heavy metals such as iron, copper and aluminum. Contaminants in the form of heavy metals move downstream, originating primarily from Hall Valley and Geneva Creek mining operations.
When water flow is adequate, there is enough oxygen to negate the impact of the toxins. When water levels are inadequate, fish develop coatings on their gills as a natural self-defense mechanism to the toxins. That protective coating ultimately renders their gills inoperable.
When and why do water levels get too low?
Water flow in the river is dependent upon how much water is released from Dillon Reservoir through Roberts Tunnel, and those decisions are made almost exclusively by Denver Water.
When more water is needed within Denver Water service areas, the rate of the water passing through Roberts Tunnel is set to flow more freely. When water is not needed to serve the Denver Water service area, the flow from Roberts Tunnel is restricted, much to the detriment of the people, and the fish, in Park County.
Water flows can be naturally low in the river during certain seasons. This year, in mid-March, for example, snowmelt had not yet occurred and the river was in its customary state of low flow prior to the fast-approaching late-spring thaw.
An abundance of area-wide spring moisture, however, created a situation where Denver Water service areas enjoyed a surplus of water. Therefore, the flow from Roberts Tunnel and Dillon Reservoir was ceased on March 11 and remained so at least until this writing.
The predictable result was the most recent fish kill, which occurred March 11-15, because flows were simply not sufficient to combat ever-present toxic heavy metals related to mining. No information has been provided by Denver Water as to when the tunnel will be reopened.
Denver Water states its position
When The Flume recently requested a statement from Denver Water regarding flows in the river and operations of Roberts Tunnel, a response was received in timely fashion.
In direct response to whether or not Denver Water felt a moral obligation to residents in Park County related to ecological systems they have long controlled, and whether Denver Water should accept responsibility for maintaining minimal flow in the South Platte River for the environmental and economical benefit of the entire North Fork region, the following statement was submitted:
“We (Denver Water) understand the potential for impacts to the fishery when flows from the Roberts Tunnel are shut down, and certainly recognize and appreciate the effect on the angling community and local businesses and outfitters. Unfortunately, operation of the Roberts Tunnel is directed by legal obligations and decrees tied to Colorado water law and binding agreements with West Slope communities where the water from the tunnel originates.
“As you know, the flows from the Roberts Tunnel originate in water diverted from West Slope rivers and streams into Dillon Reservoir. Denver Water depends on this supply when snow pack within the Upper South Platte watershed is insufficient. However, since early March, portions of the Upper South Platte watershed have received more than four feet of snow and spring precipitation continues to be strong.
“Legally, water supplied through the Roberts Tunnel can only be accessed when water is needed in Denver Water’s service area. Further, any other uses for the water, including augmenting stream flows for aquatic life or recreation uses, are not allowed as a primary purpose for operating the tunnel.
“While we provide projections about how long Denver Water will deliver water through the tunnel, those are only estimates based on snow pack, reservoir storage and other system elements. Those projections can change as conditions change; as they did in late winter and early spring this year.”
FromThe Boulder Daily Camera (Charlie Brennan) via The Denver Post:
Boulder County has notified Denver Water it will not process the utility’s land use review application for a Gross Reservoir expansion at the same time it is defending itself in a lawsuit by Denver Water challenging the need to even submit to that procedure.
Denver Water on April 18 filed a lawsuit in Boulder District Court claiming a zoned-land exemption should excuse Denver Water from having to submit to the land use review process for the expansion, which — should it go through — would be the largest construction project in county history.
However, at the same time, Denver Water CEO/manager Jim Lochhead had said the utility was taking the steps to satisfy that county requirement, even while the lawsuit was pending.
“We remain committed to finding a path forward with the county that respects the community’s needs and concerns while allowing the project to proceed, which is why we have initiated the 1041 application process,” Lochhead said at the time…
Denver Water’s bid to participate in that process and simultaneously challenge it legally, however, is not going to work, according to Boulder County.
In a letter to Denver Water dated April 18, Boulder County Land Use Director Dale Case said, “While the County believes it will prevail in litigation, it would not be appropriate for the Land Use Department to proceed with an application under these circumstances.”
It is Case who initially made the determination that Denver Water, although holding a permit for the expansion project from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, still needed to submit to the county’s permitting process — a judgment Denver Water already unsuccessfully appealed before the county commissioners on March 14.
“It would be an imprudent expenditure of taxpayer dollars for the County to process an application when the process itself is the subject of a lawsuit,” Case added in his letter. “Accordingly, the Land Use Department will not accept an application for processing until the lawsuit is resolved.”
Denver Water public documents once showed a 2019 start date on construction, but that is no longer the case, and the lawsuit against Boulder County is not the only legal hurdle to launching the project. In separate courtroom action, a coalition of six environmental groups has sued at U.S. District Court in Denver, challenging the Corps of Engineers’ July 2017 decision to issue its permit for the $464 million (in 2025 dollars) project…
The current Denver Water project timeline now shows 2020 to 2026 for the project’s start to completion.
Denver Water Program Manager Jeff Martin answered Case’s recent letter with an April 29 letter, stating that Denver Water nevertheless intends to submit an application to initiate a land review process, citing the “significant resources” it has already expended in preparing its application in “a good faith effort” to comply with county requirements.
Denver Water also argues that processing the utility’s application should not put a financial strain on the county, because “Denver Water will reimburse Boulder County for its time in considering the application.”
From the Engineering News Record (Thomas F. Armistead):
“In the water-scarce West, there is little to no new water,” says Laura Belanger, water resources and environmental engineer with Western Resource Advocates. “What we’re seeing is a shift to a suite of solutions that make the most of our region’s water resources. So the first line is and always should be conservation, because that’s the most cost-effective thing utilities can do, and it’s also fast.”
In Colorado’s Front Range, the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District is accepting qualification statements for construction of Colorado’s tallest new dam in a half-century, with selection of a contractor and notice to proceed by December, says Joe Donnelly, spokesman. The main dam will be a rockfill structure with a hydraulic asphalt core, 360 ft tall and 3,500 ft long at the crest. The dam will impound the 90,000 acre-ft Chimney Hollow Reservoir for the Windy Gap Firming Project. A contract for design was awarded to Stantec in 2016.
The reservoir would store water for 12 municipalities and other water suppliers. The project has support from both public authorities and some environmental advocates. But six environmental groups are contesting the project in federal court because it will divert 30,000 acre-ft annually from the Colorado River, taxing the already challenged flow of that body.
Denver Water is proceeding with the expansion of Gross Reservoir, built in the 1950s with a 1,050-ft-long, 340-ft-tall concrete gravity arch dam impounding 42,000 acre-ft of water. Following 14 years of planning, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issued a 404 permit in July 2017, allowing Denver Water to raise the reservoir’s dam 131 ft and expand the reservoir’s capacity to 77,000 acre-ft.
The utility is expanding the reservoir to address a known imbalance in the city’s water system, said Jeff Martin, program manager for the project, in a video on the project’s website. The North System, where Gross Reservoir is located, stores about 30% of the water, and the South System the rest. The imbalance results from differential snowpack runoff on the system’s north and south sides. “This will provide extra insurance and extra reservoir capacity to make sure that we can weather those times when we do have issues in our system,” Martin said…
Some existing storage facilities are being expanded or are having their water reallocated, and regional water sharing also is beginning to grow, Belanger says. She cites the Chatfield Reservoir, built in 1965 on the South Platte River south of Denver for flood control, as an example. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers determined that up to 20,600 acre-ft of the water can be reallocated to drinking water and industrial supply, agriculture, environmental restoration and other purposes without compromising its flood-control function. Environmental mitigation and modifications are expected to cost about $134 million.
Gross Reservoir, west of Boulder. Photo by Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism
Map from Northern Water via the Fort Collins Coloradan.
Full disclosure, I have written articles for the magazine in the past.
Here’s a look at Denver Water’s Moffat Collection System Project and the Boulder County Commissioner’s hearing on 1041 jurisdiction from George Sibley that’s running in Colorado Central Magazine. Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:
An interesting thing happened mid-March in Boulder which the media seem to have mostly missed. Commissioners from Grand County showed up at a noisy Boulder County commissioners’ hearing on a West Slope-to-East Slope transmountain water diversion project – to testify on behalf of the project. It is probably the first time ever, in the generally contentious history of Colorado water development, that the people in a basin of origin have supported a transmountain diversion project that people in the basin of destination oppose.
Although this is a story from just beyond our Central Colorado boundaries, it is a story of interest to anyone in the West who is wondering how, or even if, we are going to finally leave the 20th century and venture into the 21st and the Anthropocene Epoch we keep trying to pretend we haven’t brought on ourselves.
The report on the Boulder County hearing sounded like your usual 20th century public hearing on the kind of issue that seems almost structured to pit environmentalists against the developers of something or other – a hearing in which no one has to listen because everyone already knows what everyone else is going to say.
The issue in this case pits the usual Front Range environmental organizations against a public utility that everyone loved to hate through the 20th century, Denver Water (DW). DW wants to enlarge the Gross Dam and Reservoir it built in the 1950s in the foothills near Boulder, to hold some additional water it wants to import from the West Slope – its “Moffat Firming Project” which would bring a third more water on average through its Moffat Tunnel Project from the Fraser and Williams Fork Rivers in the Upper Colorado River watersheds…
For the West Slope and Grand County, DW is both funding and actively participating in planning and executing a Learning by Doing process – essentially, an adaptive management process of active experimentation in learning how to live with less water. Some of it is more conventional work providing funding and expertise to water treatment districts and irrigation districts needing to use less water more efficiently.
But some of it will actually be what strikes me as “creative environmentalism”: Actually reconstructing some streams to function ecologically with a permanent reduction of water – call it “downsizing” the stream to fit the unignorable realities of the future. Channels are narrowed and deepened to cool the waters, helping both the aquatic ecosystem and the human economy of floaters and fishermen; riparian vegetation is planted to shade the stream and stabilize banks; meanders are induced to give a healthy stability and resilience for the foreseeable diminished future. Half a mile of the Fraser near U.S. 40 has been so ‘remodeled’ and is open to public inspection (and fishing). DW has committed millions to this work. (The CRCA can be found online by browsing for the name in full.)
After more than four hours of impassioned pleas from members of the public Thursday night, Boulder County commissioners voted unanimously that Denver Water’s planned expansion of Gross Reservoir must go through the county’s review process.
That vote, affirming an earlier finding by Boulder County Land Use Director Dale Case, now poses a significant challenge for the utility, which serves 1.4 million water users in the Denver metro area — none of them in Boulder County — and claims the project is needed to meet the needs of metro population that’s just going to keep growing.
“I think it’s just critical that local people have their say on this project that affects them the most,” said Boulder County Commissioner Matt Jones, just before the vote was taken…
Denver Water’s plan had been to start construction this year on a project to raise the Gross Reservoir Dam in southwestern Boulder County by 131 feet to a height of 471 feet and to expand the reservoir’s capacity by 77,000 acre-feet.
The cost of the endeavor, said to be the biggest construction project ever contemplated in Boulder County, is now estimated at $464 million (in 2025 dollars) and could take at least six years to complete.
Boulder County Land Use Director Dale Case issued a finding on Oct. 22 that Denver Water’s plans, formally known as the Moffat Collection System Project,were subject to the county’s so-called “1041” review process — that number references the state House bill passed in 1974 allowing local governments to regulate matters of statewide interest through a local permitting process.
Denver Water however, has argued to the contrary.
“We contend that state law exempts the expansion from the 1041 process because it was permitted under local land use codes at the time that the state enacted the law authorizing the 1041 review process,” said Denver Water spokesman Travis Thompson.
Thursday looms as an important day for both proponents and opponents of an expansion at Gross Reservoir, as Boulder County commissioners meet to hear Denver Water officials make the case that the massive project should not be subject to the county review process.
Denver Water, which serves about 1.4 million customers in the Denver metro area, but none in Boulder County, had hoped to start construction this year on a project to raise the Gross Reservoir Dam in southwestern Boulder County by 131 feet to a height of 471 feet and expend the reservoir’s capacity by 77,000 acre-feet.
The project is subject of a federal lawsuit filed by a half-dozen environmental groups, and still must also obtain a licensing amendment at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in order to go forward.
Boulder County Land Use Director Dale Case on Oct. 22 issued a finding that Denver Water’s plans were subject to the county’s so-called “1041” review process, a decision Denver Water asked without success for Case to reconsider, before finally appealing the question to the commissioners.
Commissioners will hear Denver Water’s appeal starting 4:30 p.m. Thursday in a public hearing expected to last at least four hours. It will take place in the commissioners’ third-floor hearing room at 1325 Pearl St. in Boulder.
In-person sign-ups to speak will be taken beginning an hour in advance of the hearing, and commissioners are expected to issue a decision that night.
Two lawsuits making their way through the federal court system are challenging two significant water projects in Colorado designed to divert more water from the Colorado, Fraser and Williams Fork river basins in Grand County.
The projects — Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District’s Windy Gap Firming project and Denver Water’s Moffat Collection System Project — would provide a combined firm yield of 48,000 acre-feet of water for the sprawling Front Range.
But environmental groups say government agencies violated the law in the environmental permitting processes of both projects.
“Our biggest claim is that [the agencies] claim they looked at reasonable alternatives [to the projects],” said Gary Wockner, the director of Save the Colorado, the lead plaintiff on both cases. “But they didn’t look at conservation or efficiency. Water providers are trying to go to big water projects first and not the cheaper option of conservation.”
Both Northern and Denver Water say they factored in conservation efforts when they calculated water demand and that even aggressive conservation efforts won´t be enough to meet water demand in the future.
“There are only a few answers for water supply in the future and Windy Gap Firming is one of those options,” said Brad Wind, the general manager of Northern Water. “Without that project, I can’t fathom where we will end up.”
But some water experts say that the state’s use of population growth as one of the major drivers of water demand was flawed.
“As population goes up, water demand continues to go down and it’s been that way for decades,” said Mark Squillace, a water law expert at the University of Colorado Law School.
The phenomenon of increasing populations with declining water use is known as “decoupling,” and it has been happening in nearly every part of Colorado since the 1990s.
Higher efficiency appliances, utility-driven conservation programs and greater citizen awareness of water shortages have all driven the change.
But water managers say the state’s growing urban areas are reaching the point of “demand hardening,” where the additional water that can be conserved will not outweigh the amount needed in the future.
“We have been hearing those kind of stories for a long time and it never happens,” Squillace said. “There are a lot of things that we could still do on the conservation end that would be a lot cheaper [than new infrastructure] and a lot more consistent with the environment that we live in.”
While they differ, the pair of lawsuits being spearheaded by Save the Colorado could both hinge on demand and conservation estimates, and the assumption that additional conservation won’t be sufficient in the future.
Both lawsuits were filed in federal district court and are now awaiting action by a judge to move forward.
The Windy Gap Firming case was filed in October of 2017 against the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
The Moffat Collection System case was filed in December against the Army Corps, the U.S. Interior Department and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Both the Windy Gap and Moffat projects were conceived decades ago to address projected water shortages on Colorado’s Front Range and to add resilience to both Northern and Denver Water’s supplies.
Now estimated to cost about $600 million, the Windy Gap project will include a new 90,000 acre-foot reservoir in western Larimer county called Chimney Hollow Reservoir.
The reservoir is designed to store water from the Colorado and Fraser rivers transported from the Western Slope through the existing infrastructure of the Colorado-Big Thompson project.
Windy Gap Reservoir, built in 1985, is created by a low river-wide dam across the main stem of the Colorado River, just downstream from where the Fraser River flows in.
The reservoir is relatively small, holding 445-acre feet, but it’s well situated to gather water from the Fraser, pump it up to Lake Granby and Grand Lake, and then send it through the Adams Tunnel under the Continental Divide.
With the Moffat project, Denver Water plans to spend an estimated $464 million in order to expand Gross Reservoir in Boulder County, by raising the height of the dam by 131 feet, in order to store an additional 77,000 acre-feet of water.
Gross Reservoir is a part of the utility’s existing northern collection system and is filled with water from the headwaters of the Fraser and Williams Fork river basins. The water is moved through a pipeline in the Moffat Tunnel, which runs east through the mountains from the base of the Winter Park ski area.
The fork not taken
The plans to expand Gross Reservoir started in 1990 after the EPA rejected Denver Water’s plan to build Two Forks Reservoir on the South Platte River.
The EPA’s rejection of Two Forks signaled the end of an era of large dams and forced groups planning large water infrastructure projects to give more consideration to the environmental impacts of their plans.
Following this rebuke, Denver Water turned to the environmental groups that had opposed their project and solicited advice.
Throughout the 1990s, the utility implemented water conservation and recycling programs and started making plans to expand an existing reservoir instead of building a new dam.
“We embarked on the path that the environmental groups suggested. We implemented a conservation program and reduced our demands,” said Jim Lochhead, the CEO and manager of Denver Water. “But you can’t get to zero. We continue to be committed to conservation, but at the end of the day we still need more water.”
In partnership with environmental groups like Western Resource Advocates and Trout Unlimited, Denver Water has agreed to spend $20 million on environmental improvements in watersheds on the Western Slope as part of the Gross Reservoir expansion.
Denver Water has also agreed to a monitoring program that will require them to mitigate any unforeseen environmental problems caused by the project, a compromise between environmental groups and the largest water utility in the state.
“In some sense this project was the development of an alternative from a number of groups,” said Bart Miller, the director of the Healthy Rivers Program at Western Resource Advocates. “In some respect you are putting this in context next to what could happen or could have happened.”
Concerned with having their own projects fail, as Two Forks did, other water managers emulated Denver Water’s strategy.
When Northern Water started planning for the Windy Gap Firming project it also reached out to environmental groups, and ended up committing $23 million to mitigate problems caused by past projects and to make other improvements in the upper Colorado River watershed.
Even though there will be impacts from taking more water from the river, Northern Water says that these “environmental enhancements” will leave the river better off than it would be without the project.
And environmental groups working on the project agree.
“There is a lot of damage on the river that will continue to go on without an intervention,” said Mely Whiting, legal counsel for Trout Unlimited. “This is probably the best shot.”
While some environmental groups have seen compromise as the best step forward, Save the Colorado and the other plaintiffs in the two lawsuits take a harder stance.
Save the Colorado, in particular, is against any new dams or diversions.
“The river has already been drained enough,” Wockner said. “The mitigation, in our mind, is not consequential.”
Colorado and the six other states that use Colorado River water are now negotiating a plan to better manage Lake Powell and Lake Mead in response to drought and acidification.
Last week, an engineer from Northern Water told the city council of Loveland that it may have to take a ten percent cut in the water it draws from the headwaters of the Colorado River, sending the water instead to Lake Powell, where water is held before being moved through the Grand Canyon and into Lake Mead for use in California, Arizona and Nevada.
And Northern’s statement did not go unnoticed by the plaintiffs in the Windy Gap and Moffat lawsuits.
“The old guard in water have the default setting that we need to build more reservoirs and we need to find more ways to bring water from the western slope,” said Kevin Lynch, the lawyer representing the environmental groups in the Windy Gap Firming case. “The argument my clients are hoping to make with this case is that that may have made sense in the past but it doesn’t now. We are definitely trying to buck the status quo and change the historical way of doing things.”
Lynch and his team are arguing that the Bureau of Reclamation and the Army Corp of Engineers — the two government agencies being sued in the Windy Gap Firming case — failed to update and independently verify the water demand data used to justify the project.
To back up this allegation, the plaintiffs petitioned the court to include a statistics report in the administrative record.
The report, which looks at water use statistics in communities with stakes in Windy Gap Firming water, showed that their demand projections made back when the agencies conducted their environmental assessments were between 9 and 97 percent higher than the actual water use rates in those areas.
The lawyers in the Moffat Project lawsuit also found that Denver Water used old data from 2002 to project their demands future demands.
The complaint filed by the plaintiffs says that the Army Corps and the Department of the Interior — which are the two agencies being sued in the Moffat case along with the Fish and Wildlife Service — ignored more recent data that was available when they conducted their assessments.
“If they were to use today’s data they would no way be able to justify that they need the water,” said Bill Eubanks, the lawyer for the plaintiffs in the Moffat Project case. “Here we are talking about almost two decades. Two decades where we have seen the most transformative uses of water in a century.”
Both legal teams say that even if the data did reveal a demand for more water, the agencies failed to analyze the alternatives to two large infrastructure projects, including conservation.
Specifically, Wockner and Eubanks both spoke about how a “cash for grass” program — where the government pays people to dry up their lawns — was never analyzed as an alternative. Looking at similar programs in California, they say the same amount of water could be saved, but for less money than either of the two infrastructure projects.
To this claim both Northern Water and Denver Water say that additional conservation measures are already planned for the future, but that they are not enough.
“The state has done a lot of studies for need for water on the Front Range,” said Jeff Drager, Northern Water’s director of engineering and the project manager for the WIndy Gap firming project. “We agree that there can be more conservation, but it won’t be enough to meet our participants needs.”
Due to a long backlog in the court, both lawsuits are unlikely to see their day in court any time soon. According to both lawyers, it could be months or years until the cases are decided. The court’s slow pace could impact the construction of both projects.
Citing the lawsuit, Northern Water delayed bonds to build the project back in August.
Executives at Northern say they are using the time to hammer out the last of the details of the project’s design, but that if the project is delayed it may cause costs to rise or endanger the water supplies of the project’s participants.
Denver Water is still waiting on several permits before they can begin planning construction and is less concerned about a delay. Both Lochhead and Wind say they believe that the projects will go forward once the lawsuits are resolved.
“We feel confident that our permitting processes are on solid ground,” Wind said. “I don’t think there is anyone in this organization at all that has thought this lawsuit would be effective.”
While both Northern Water and Denver Water are confident that their projects will move forward, the plaintiffs in the cases are hoping for an upset that could topple the entire water system in Colorado.
“If we win this case, using this particularly egregious example of inaccurate water demand projections, we think we can set a precedent that would force the state to look at more recent data for different types of projects,” Eubanks said.
State health officials and Colorado’s largest water utilities have agreed for a second time to hit pause on a major lawsuit over how to keep lead out of Denver’s drinking water, citing progress in talks that began last fall.
“The main point is that everyone has rolled up their sleeves and is working hard to come up with the best solution that we can that minimizes the lead that folks will be ingesting in their tap water,” said Ron Falco, safe drinking water program manager at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
Last April, the City of Aurora, the Metro Wastewater Reclamation District, and the Denver Greenway Foundation sued the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to block an order it issued directing Denver Water to install a phosphate-based treatment system to reduce corrosion in old lead pipes. That corrosion can put lead into drinking water in homes and businesses served by lead supply lines and in-house fixtures. Denver Water joined the suit weeks later.
Avoiding lead contamination in drinking water is of paramount importance for water providers and state health officials, as no level is considered safe to ingest. But heightened levels of phosphates in wastewater and irrigation runoff create issues for reservoirs, lakes and streams. This prompted Metro Wastewater and other entities who must treat the phosphate-heavy water to sue, citing damage to the environment and dramatically higher treatment costs.
Denver Water had proposed an alternative, after several years of pilot studies, to use chemicals that would adjust the PH levels of its drinking water, something which the CDPHE determined did not reduce lead corrosion enough to meet the federal standards it is required to uphold.
Among the plaintiffs’ concerns is that phosphate levels in water that is discharged to the South Platte River have to be tightly controlled under provisions of the Clean Water Act. If phosphate levels in treated drinking water rise, wastewater treatment protocols would have to be changed to correct the problem, potentially costing millions of dollars, if not more, according to a report by the Denver-based, nonpartisan Water Research Foundation.
From an environmental perspective, any increased phosphate in the South Platte River makes fighting such things as algae blooms, which are fueled by nutrients including phosphorous, much more difficult and could make the river less habitable for fish.
Denver Water, and other plaintiffs, declined to comment, citing the ongoing litigation. But in a statement, Denver Water Chief Executive Officer Jim Lochhead said, “We are committed to taking the right steps to reduce the risk of lead leaching into water through customers’ plumbing…As we are fully committed to protecting public health, we are also looking for opportunities to minimize downstream impacts from the use of orthophosphate.”
After filing the suit, last summer the parties agreed to engage in talks, placing the lawsuit on hold, giving themselves until last November to agree on a set of treatment protocols.
When that deadline passed, the utilities and the CDPHE requested more time to work, citing progress in the talks. In January, a Denver District Court judge agreed to give everyone until September 20, 2019 to find an acceptable solution.
Under the CDPHE’s original order, Denver must begin using the new treatment protocol by March 20, 2020. To ensure it can meet that deadline, Denver Water is spending $1.2 million to upgrade its water treatment plants so they can implement the new treatment protocols.
Denver is not in violation of the federal law that governs lead in drinking water, but it has been required to monitor and test its system regularly since 2012 after lead was discovered in a small sample of water at some of its customers’ taps.
Lead has continued to appear at taps in some customers’ homes, according to court filings.
Treating lead and copper in water systems is a complex undertaking governed by the federal Lead and Copper Rule. There is no lead in the water supply when it leaves Denver Water’s treatment plants. But it can leach into the supply via corrosion as water passes through lead delivery lines and pipes in older homes. Denver has 58,000 lead service lines in its system and is gradually replacing them. It also advises customers whose homes are serviced by lead lines to use filters to remove any potential contamination.
It is the ongoing concerns about lead that have prompted the state to push for the phosphate treatment, because it reduces lead that reaches customers by 74 percent, compared to less than 50 percent using a PH-based process, according to court filings.
Despite the environmental concerns, the CDPHE maintains that its first job is to protect the health of the thousands of children served by Denver Water in the metro area. Children are most vulnerable to lead contamination.
Falco said he is optimistic that a solution can be found. New pilot studies underway indicate that Denver Water may be able to use roughly one-third the amount of phosphates originally thought were needed and still achieve the same level of lead reduction, CDPHE officials said.
“We have a very engaged group of stakeholders working hard to develop the best solution. This this is going to come to a resolution, certainly by March of 2020. We are going to get there,” Falco said.
Jerd Smith is editor of Fresh Water News. She can be reached at 720-398-6474, via email at email@example.com or @jerd_smith.
Colorado officials and regional water managers are poised to start working together on a plan to reduce water use in Colorado, mainly by paying willing irrigators to fallow hayfields, in order to bolster falling water levels in Lake Powell and guard against a compact call on the Colorado River system.
After a series of meetings held last week by the Colorado Water Conservation Board and by Western Slope and Front Range water interests, state officials are now set to begin investigating the feasibility of a “demand management” program that’s “voluntary, temporary and compensated,” and water users and managers throughout Colorado will be asked to help shape the new program.
“Demand management, reduction in consumptive use, is an incredibly threatening concept to Western water users, and certainly to West Slope water users,” Andy Mueller, the general manager of the Colorado River District, told a ballroom full of water professionals Friday during the last day of a three-day Colorado Water Congress meeting here. “Our agricultural community is concerned that what this is really about is taking water from ag and bringing it into urban areas.”
Nonetheless, Mueller said, “this is a time where we have to work collaboratively, with both our urban friends and our rural friends, to figure how we do this together, and how we recognize the values that are important to each of us.”
Mueller also told the Water Congress audience that “the River District is committed to proactively engaging and working with the CWCB and the Front Range to figure out how we can stand up a program that truly protects all of us in this situation. To not do so, to not engage proactively in that conversation, would be irresponsible of every one of us in this room.”
He also laid out the Western Slope’s vision for the program, which centered on sustaining rural communities.
“We want, from a West Slope perspective, our agriculture and our industries and our cities that are going to participate in these programs to have the opportunity to use the water when they need it, and to monetize their assets into a program when they can figure out ways not to use it,” Mueller said.
Demand management is based on the idea that if water that otherwise would be used to grow hay, or turf in suburban settings, can instead be left in the river system to flow into Lake Powell, and into a new regulatory pool of water within the big reservoir, it will help boost water levels in the reservoir, allow for continued hydropower production at Glen Canyon Dam and help the upper-basin states meet their obligations to deliver a minimum amount of water to the lower-basin states under the terms of the Colorado River compact.
A recently concluded four-year test program called the System Conservation Pilot Program paid irrigators in the Upper Colorado River Basin an average of about $200 per acre-foot of conserved consumptive use of water.
Jim Lochhead, CEO and manager of Denver Water, was sharing the stage with Mueller on Friday during a panel discussion, after they together had met Thursday with other Front Range water providers in a behind-the-scenes meeting.
Lochhead said the Front Range and the Western Slope are united in their desire to avoid violating the terms of the compact.
“No one wants the result of a situation where we haven’t come together collectively to arrive at a solution,” Lochhead said.
And, he stressed, “Colorado needs to do our part to make sure that the demand-management piece is done in a way that protects all water users in Colorado, East Slope and West Slope.”
“From Denver Water’s perspective, we’re prepared to engage productively, as I’ve indicated many times in the past,” Lochhead said. “We’re prepared to contribute our share of water into a solution that would be collectively agreed to within Colorado and the other upper-basin states, if it is necessary, for our own mutual benefit and survival.”
The state’s emerging demand-management program is tied to the ongoing effort to approve “drought-contingency planning,” or DCP, agreements in the seven states in the Colorado River Basin: Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, New Mexico, California, Arizona and Nevada.
Arizona’s governor on Thursday signed a required piece of state legislation in order to meet a federally imposed deadline, but there are still other DCP agreements that need to be finalized by a new working deadline, March 4. Federal legislation also is required to implement the regional agreements designed to keep both Lake Powell and Lake Mead operating as designed.
On Tuesday during a regular public meeting held in Westminster, the directors of the Colorado Water Conservation Board indicated they were in support of a staff proposal to form seven different work groups in 2019 to study demand management.
Brent Newman, the CWCB’s interstate, federal and water information section chief, and point person on Colorado River issues, told the agency’s board of directors that the state is not yet starting up a demand-management program; it is only studying the feasibility of doing so.
He also said the state is not studying how a curtailment, or mandatory cutback in water use, would be administered by the state if the Colorado River Compact were to be violated.
Karen Kwon, a first assistant attorney general of Colorado, echoed that stance in her remarks to the CWCB directors Tuesday.
“We are not talking about how we would administer a curtailment,” Kwon said.
Newman and Kwon are proposing that the CWCB set up work groups, staffed by hand-picked experts, to explore a “plethora of issues” raised by demand management, including policy; monitoring and verification; water administration; the environment; economics; funding; and education and outreach.
The staff also proposed to set up a quarterly series of workshops for water users, managers and stakeholders, as well as engaging the state’s basin roundtables, which meet regularly in each of the state’s major river basins, on the issues raised by demand management.
A detailed work plan for the proposed process is to be presented by CWCB staff to the agency’s directors in March.
Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism covers rivers and water in collaboration with The Aspen Times and other newspapers owned by Swift Communications. The Times published this story Feb. 4.
Community members wanting to comment next month at a Boulder County commissioners hearing on whether Denver Water can move forward with an expansion of Gross Reservoir can start signing up next week…
Online sign-ups for the March 14 hearing start Feb. 14, while in-person sign-ups will start an hour before the hearing.
Commissioners plan to continue to take public testimony until all speakers have had an opportunity to comment, according to a news release.
After the public hearing, commissioners will hear Denver Water’s appeal of a decision by the county’s Land Use Department that Denver Water must run the project through what is known as a “1041” review process before construction can begin.
Named for the bill number by which it was enacted in 1974, the 1041 legislation gives local governments the right to control development by agencies beyond their boundaries through a local permitting process.
Denver Water argues the Gross Reservoir expansion is exempt from 1041 requirements. Boulder County claims it is not.
The public hearing will focus on the limited scope of the determination and is not a hearing or decision on the perceived impacts or merits of the reservoir expansion project, according to a news release…
Written comments can be submitted through an online comment form available at bit.ly/GrossDamExpansion. Comments also can be mailed to the Boulder County Commissioners’ Office, P.O. Box 471, Boulder, 80306. Comments need to be received by noon March 12.
CU Boulder researchers harness 35 years of data to uncover responses of a high-elevation reservoir to a warming world
The surface waters of Lake Dillon, a mountain reservoir that supplies water to the the Denver area, have warmed by nearly 5 degrees Fahrenheit (2.5 degrees Celsius) in the last 35 years, which is twice the average warming rate for global lakes. Yet surprisingly, Dillon does not show adverse environmental changes, such as nuisance algal blooms, often associated with warming of lakes. Researchers at the CIRES Center for Limnology, who have just published a multi-decadal study of Lake Dillon, conclude that the lake’s rapid warming and its lack of ecological response to warming are explained by the high elevation of the lake.
“The warming of Lake Dillon is a result of climate change but, in contrast with warm lakes, which respond in undesirable ways to warming, Lake Dillon shows no environmental response to warming, said William Lewis, Director of the CIRES Center for Limnology and lead author of the new paper published today in AGU’s Water Resources Research. “The explanation for the lake’s ecological stability lies in its low temperature, which serves as a buffer against ecological effects of warming.”
Since 1981, Lewis and colleagues in the CIRES Center for Limnology have collected detailed information not only on Lake Dillon’s temperature, but also on its water quality and aquatic life. Full vertical profiles of water temperature document changes in vertical distribution of heat over time. The record shows that warming of tributary water contributes to warming of the lake’s deepest waters.
“The 35-year data set allows us to see the complete warming pattern of the lake,” said James McCutchan, associate director of the Center. Natural events, including droughts and floods, create interannual variation that obscures the effects of climate change over short intervals, whereas multidecadal data sets can show more clearly the effects of climatic warming.
Dillon is the highest lake yet studied for full water column warming, as Lewis and his colleagues note in their paper. The study also is the first to analyze warming in a reservoir, rather than a natural lake.
“Reservoirs can differ fundamentally from other lakes in their response to warming because they often release water from the bottom as well as the top of the water column,” said Lewis. “They can warm not only from the top, in response to solar radiation reaching the surface, but also from the bottom, as tributaries subject to climatic warming replace cold bottom water with progressively warmer tributary water.”
The Lake Dillon study program is sponsored by Denver Water, which uses the water for treatment and delivery to Denver residents, and by the Summit Water Quality Committee, which represents the interests of local residents in preservation of Lake Dillon’s water quality.
As more people build homes in fire-prone areas, and as climate change and other factors increase the frequency of fires, there is a growing risk to life and property throughout the West — and a lesser known risk to the region’s already endangered water supply. At least 65 percent of the public water supply in the Western U.S. comes from fire-prone areas.
Blazes like the Tubb Fire and 2018’s massive Camp and Carr wildfires can expose the drinking water for millions of people to the risk of contamination by toxic chemicals and parasites. Experts are concerned the new scale of wildfires torching urban areas could cause damage to public water supply that isn’t immediately apparent.
“Lots of structures, vehicles, and man-made materials were involved in the Camp and Carr fires and there isn’t a lot of information on how the environment is affected when these materials burn,” said Clint Snyder, assistant executive officer of California’s Central Valley Water Board.
The concern is prompting more intensive water testing programs following wildfires and spurring utility companies to invest in wildfire mitigation projects across the West.
HOUSES IN THE WOODS
One-third of U.S. homes are now built in what’s called wildland-urban interface (WUI) areas, areas near or on land prone to wildfire. It’s the fastest-growing land use type in the continental U.S.
According to U.S. Forest Service data, in just 20 years, new WUI areas grew by more than 46 million acres, covering an area larger than Washington State.
When these homes become wildfire tinder, insulation, roofing and home furnishings release toxins as they go up in flames, creating new sources of water contamination.
In addition to releasing toxins into the water supply, fires kill healthy tree roots. Without the roots, contaminating sediment and ash are flushed by rain into the reservoirs, rivers and lakes that supply cities with drinkable water.
In 2017 the U.S. Geological Survey published a study that predicted wildfires could double the amount of sediment in a third of the largest western watersheds by 2050. In some areas, sediment could increase 1,000 percent, potentially carrying parasites and harmful metals and chemicals with it.
According to representatives at the California State Water Resources Control Board, bacteria and parasite contamination, rather than chemical contamination, are the main worries in the wake of the Camp Fire, which burned 153,000 acres and 19,000 structures north of Sacramento, killing at least 86 people.
In Paradise, the town most affected by the Camp Fire, 22 out of 24 water systems were tested for contamination and cleared at the time of writing this article, but until the remaining two can be confirmed as uncontaminated, a Boil Water Notice, first released on Nov. 9, will remain in effect.
Solomon’s biggest concern is a parasite called cryptosporidium. When bare soil is exposed because vegetation has burned, the sediment that is flushed into water sources often contains spores of the intestinal infection-causing parasite. While a discomfort to healthy people, cryptosporidium can become life-threatening to people who are undergoing chemotherapy, have AIDS, or are elderly.
“Cryptosporidium form spores and that’s a problem because spores are like armored tanks, encasing the pathogen in a way that allows it to invade even significant amounts of chlorine,” said Solomon.
The increased sediment also creates a costly problem for water treatment plants.
Sediment clogs the microfiltration systems that filter parasites in large water treatment systems, requiring expensive clean-ups.
In 2002, the Hayman Fire cost Colorado utility company Denver Water $27 million, when heavy rains following the fires washed sediment, fallen trees, and man-made debris into the Stronita Springs and Cheeseman Reservoirs. The contaminants had to be filtered out before the water was safe for consumers.
To date, the Tubb Fire is one of California’s starkest examples of post-wildfire water contamination.
Before last year’s larger, deadlier Camp Fire, it was the most destructive California wildfire ever recorded. It burned nearly 37,000 acres, 5,636 homes and businesses, and killed 22 people.
But despite the scope of the blaze, it took a phone call from Gerald Buhrz to alert local authorities to the possibility of water contamination.
“If [he] hadn’t called in to report a chemical smell in the water, we may never have known about it,” said Bennett Horenstein, who was director of Santa Rosa Water during the fire. “It makes me wonder how many times this has happened and gone unreported.”
In total, the City of Santa Rosa had to spend $8 million replacing hydrants, valves, and other water system components in 352 properties, including 1,265 feet of water main.
“What happened in Fountaingrove should be a learning opportunity for water systems nationally,” Horenstein said…
Denver Water, which manages 12 water storage facilities throughout Colorado, announced in January that it’s pledging $16.5 million to the From Forest to Faucets Project, a partnership with the U.S. Forest Service that will protect crucial watersheds from wildfire. Colorado has more than 14 million acres of U.S. National Forest land and almost 90 percent of it is located in watersheds that feed public water supplies.
Officials in Arizona enacted a plan in July that prescribes tree thinning and controlled burns for the three watersheds that feed the C.C. Cragin Reservoir. The project is funded in part by a local utility company called Salt River Project…
“Fire mitigation projects are not just urgent because of the fact that people live near these forests, but the fact that people live downstream from these watersheds,” [Linda Wadleigh] said.
On Wednesday a collection of six environmental advocacy groups – Save the Colorado, the Environmental Group, Wildearth Guardians, Living Rivers, Waterkeeper Alliance Inc. and the Sierra Club – filed a lawsuit in Colorado’s federal district court against the proposed Gross Reservoir Expansion Project, alternately called the Moffat Firming Project…
The legal process surrounding Gross Reservoir has deep significance to Grand County. The county serves as the source for much of the water Denver Water relies upon, which is transported out of the county through the Moffat Tunnel near Winter Park Resort. The county is also party to a collaborative water management group called Learning By Doing. The group looks to improve river habitat in Grand County by conducting environmental water projects and through other means.
The lawsuit filed by the environmental groups does not name Denver Water and instead is directed at the US Army Corps of Engineers, the Department of the Interior and the US Fish and Wildlife Service. The 57-page complaint lays out 32 separate specific claims related to alleged violations of the National Environmental Policy Act, the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act.
The alleged violations claimed by the environmental groups cover a wide range of technical issues related to the formal processes by which large construction projects, such as the Gross Reservoir Expansions, are approved by federal agencies. Many of the claims made by the environmental groups revolve around allegations that the Corps of Engineers, Interior Dept. and US Fish and Wildlife failed to exercise independent judgment related to claims made by Denver Water about the project.
“Denver Water’s proposal to build the largest dam in Colorado history will hurt the 40 million people in six states and two countries who depend on the Colorado River – a critical but disappearing, resource – for their water supply,” said Daniel E. Estrin, general counsel and advocacy director at Waterkeeper Alliance. “Waterkeeper Alliance stands united with our many Colorado River Basin Waterkeepers who are fighting to protect their waterways and their communities from this senseless and destructive water grab.”
For their part officials from Denver Water said the court filing did not surprise them.
“We expected it,” Jim Lochhead, CEO of Denver Water, said. “This is a really critical project for Denver Water. In the last 15 years we have come close to running out of water a couple of time at the north end of the system.”
Lochhead noted that those two incidents came in 2002 and 2013.
While Denver Water is not directly named in the lawsuit Lochhead said the organization will be entering the lawsuit to “provide our own perspective on the adequacy of the approvals.”
“We are confident the federal agencies follow regulations and federal law,” Lochhead said. “I think a court will uphold the findings by those agencies.”
When asked whether he believed Denver Water and the environmental groups who oppose the Gross Reservoir Expansion Project could reach some form of compromise agreement Lochhead answered, saying, “I think their position is pretty clear.”
A suit filed against three U.S. government agencies seeks to stop the expansion of Denver Water’s Gross Reservoir in Boulder County…
Gross Reservoir provides water to 1.4 million Front Range customers. The expansion would divert more water from Colorado River headwater tributaries during wet years. In a nutshell, the project seeks to raise the height of the existing dam by 131 feet; storage capacity would increase by 77,000 acre feet.
The environmental groups who sued say the U.S. government permitting process inadequately evaluated the impact of the large project on streamflows. There are also concerns about how construction would affect wildlife.
“We went above and beyond mitigation of environmental impacts under the permits,” Denver Water CEO Jim Lochhead said. “We sat down with Grand County, Eagle County… and a host of agencies across Western Colorado, and developed a series of environmental enhancements to the streams of Western Colorado.”
Trout Unlimited is one such group that has supported the Gross Reservoir expansion, citing successful stream augmentation programs along the Fraser River…
Revving up the legal gears could pose a setback for Denver Water, which has spent years securing the necessary permits. Now that it has those in place, environmental groups are seeking to stop construction.
Here’s the release from Denver Water (Travis Thompson):
At its meeting today, the Denver Board of Water Commissioners adopted rate changes to fund essential upgrades and new projects to keep Denver Water’s system running smoothly. The new rates take effect Feb. 1, 2019, and monthly bills for most Denver residents will increase by 55 cents if they use water the same as they did in 2018.
“While the cost to maintain and upgrade the water system continues to increase, rapid development inside the city of Denver has brought in more fees from new taps sold, helping to minimize the 2019 rate increase for Denver customers,” said Jim Lochhead, Denver Water CEO/Manager. “The surrounding suburbs, however, had less development than in the past, reducing the amount collected from new tap fees, which means we’ll need to collect more revenue from suburban water rates in 2019.”
Suburban customers who receive water from one of Denver Water’s 65 distributors will see an additional monthly increase added to their volumetric charges. The Denver City Charter requires that suburban customers pay the full cost of service, plus an additional amount. Learn more about how this works: “Why Denver water costs more in the ‘burbs.”
If you live outside Denver and receive water from a distributor under contract with Denver Water, you can expect to see an annual increase between $23 and $41, which is between $1.90 and 3.40 a month (based on an annual use of 102,000 gallons of water).
Pat Fitzgerald, general manager of four Denver Water distributors including the Platte Canyon Water and Sanitation District and chairman of the suburban districts’ Technical Advisory Committee, which reviews Denver Water’s rates annually, provided this statement:
“The advisory committee supports the rate increase. The cost-of-service study used to determine the difference between inside city and outside city customers is fair and reasonable, and the committee had no objections to the results. The expenses are going up, but they’re all projects that are necessary to provide a reliable and safe source of water.”
The major multiyear projects that water rates fund include building a new, state-of-the-art water treatment plant, installing a new 8.5-mile water pipeline to replace a pipeline that was built in the 1930s, expanding Gross Reservoir to provide a more reliable future water supply, constructing a new water quality lab to ensure the highest water quality standards, investing more than $100 million to repair and replace water pipes, and more. There are 158 major projects identified in Denver Water’s five-year, $1.3 billion capital plan.
A customer’s bill is comprised of a fixed charge, which helps ensure Denver Water has more stable revenue to continue the necessary water system upgrades to ensure reliable water service, and a volume rate. The fixed monthly charge — which is tied to meter size — in 2019 is increasing by 55 cents for most residential customers both inside the city and out.
Denver Water’s rate structure includes a three-tiered charge for water use (called the volume rate). To keep water affordable, indoor water use — like for bathing, cooking and flushing toilets — is charged at the lowest rate. Essential indoor water use is determined by averaging the customer’s monthly water use on bills dated from January through March each year. This is called average winter consumption. Water use above the average winter consumption — typically for outdoor watering — is charged at a higher price.
Volume rates for Denver residents will remain the same, but will increase on suburban bills.
Denver Water operates and maintains more than 3,000 miles of pipe — enough to stretch from Los Angeles to New York — as well as 20 dams, 22 pump stations, 30 underground storage tanks, four treatment plants and more. The water provider’s collection system covers more than 4,000 square miles, and it operates facilities in 12 counties in Colorado.
Denver Water does not make a profit or receive tax dollars, and reinvests ratepayers’ money to maintain and upgrade the water system. The utility is funded by water rates, bond sales, cash reserves, hydropower sales and fees for new service (called System Development Charges).
Customers will see more information about 2019 rates in their bills and on Denver Water’s website over the next few months.
Water districts in Denver and Santa Fe, New Mexico, plus the town of Ashland, Oregon, meanwhile, are helping fund tree-thinning and other fire-prevention measures in crucial watersheds that supply their water systems.
“There’s always that feeling, even at our municipal government, that we pay our taxes, why aren’t you already doing this?” says Alan Hook, manager of the Santa Fe Municipal Watershed Program. “The community realized how much these fires cost and how much the Forest Service is pouring into [fire] suppression costs. … If we lose this source of supply, we could be in dire straits in the near future.”
Denver Water, for example, owns only 3 percent of the watershed it’s protecting, while the Forest Service holds 54 percent, says Christina Burri, watershed scientist at the utility. But the utility nonetheless agreed to put up $33 million in a 50-50 partnership with the agency, a decision in part prompted by memories of fires in 1996 and 2002 that dumped scorched sediment into water district reservoirs and forced $28 million in repairs and remediation.
“That motivated Denver Water to invest in forest health, to create a healthy forest so we can be proactive against these costs,” Burri says. “It’s important for us to be able to partner to be able to get access to work on these lands and create a healthier condition in these forests, because that’s the source of our water.”
The towns and water districts maintain that the new expenses can easily be absorbed by their budgets. The funds being put forward by Denver Water, for example, account for 1 percent of the utility’s budget overall.
Determination states that Denver Water must obtain a permit under Article 8 – Location & Extent Areas & Activities of State Interest (1041)
Denver Water requested that Boulder County Land Use Director Dale Case determine the applicability of the Boulder County Land Use Code to Denver Water’s proposed expansion of Gross Reservoir.
Denver Water has argued that it is exempt from having to submit its project for Location & Extent Areas & Activities of State Interest (1041) review under Article 8 of the Land Use Code.
Director Case responded to Denver Water on Oct. 22. His determination is that Denver Water’s proposed reservoir expansion project is subject to review under Land Use Code. Before undertaking the project, Denver Water must obtain a permit under Article 8 of the Code.
Denver Water may appeal the decision to the Boulder County Board of Commissioners as provided for under 8-406(B).
Land Use Code Section 8-406 Determination of Whether a Proposed Activity or Development Must go Through the Permit Process states that “The Director shall determine the applicability of Section 8-400 to the conduct of any proposed activity or development. The Director shall make this determination within 10 calendar days after the Director receives a written request from the applicant stating the reasons why the proposed activity or development is not subject to Section 8-400.”
The Board of Water Commissioners for the City and County of Denver, aka “Denver Water,” is in the process of applying for a planned expansion of the Gross Reservoir Dam in southwest Boulder County. While this is not a Boulder County project, the reservoir resides entirely in unincorporated Boulder County.
The Army Corp of Engineers issued its Record of Decision granting Denver Water a federal permit for the project in July 2017. However, before it can commence the project, Denver Water must still receive approval of its hydropower license amendment application from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).
Boulder County has intervened in the FERC application noting many reasons why the county finds the application to be deficient. In its motion to intervene, the county outlined nearly 20 points of contention with the project.
Boulder County has intervened in the FERC application noting many reasons why the county finds the application to be deficient. In its motion to intervene, the county outlined nearly 20 points of contention with the project.
The county plans to further address impacts and concerns during a county (local) land use review process and has explained to FERC that Denver Water must obtain required county permits before it undertakes the project. Denver Water has not yet applied for a permit under Article 8 of the Boulder County Land Use Code (also known as a 1041 permit).
A 1041 review would allow the Boulder County Planning Commission and the County Commissioners to conduct public hearings and review the application according to the criteria in the Code.
More information can be viewed on the county’s Gross Reservoir Dam Expansion Proposal information webpage. Also, individuals can sign-up to receive Boulder County-related hearing and meeting announcements concerning the proposed Denver Water Gross Reservoir Expansion Project. You can unsubscribe at any time.
To receive notices about the Gross Reservoir project from Denver Water, look for the “Sign Up for Email Updates” option at the bottom of the page on the Gross Reservoir project website. All notices of meetings, minutes, and updates on the proposed project (also known as the “Moffat Collection System Project”) can be found on Denver Water’s website at https://grossreservoir.org/.
Staff at Frisco Bay Marina are trying to keep up with water levels that are dropping about one inch per day.
“And so an inch a day going down means the water line is moving 10 feet out every day, so we have to keep chasing it and moving the docks, which is definitely a lot of work,” said Tom Hogeman, the marina’s general manager…
Hogeman said he hasn’t seen the water this low since 2012 and it will only continue to go down as we head into the fall. The marina is typically open for rentals through mid-October but this year the season could end early.
Denver Water and three other organizations are seeking to overturn a state order that directs Denver to adopt a strict new treatment protocol preventing lead contamination in drinking water.
Denver is not in violation of the federal law that governs lead, but it has been required to monitor and test its system regularly since 2012 after lead was discovered in a small sample of water at some of its customers’ taps.
In March of this year, after Denver completed a series of required tests and studies, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) ordered the utility to implement a treatment protocol that involves adding phosphates to its system. It has until March of 2020 to implement the new process.
Denver, which serves 1.4 million people in the metro area, has proposed instead using an approach that balances the PH levels in its treated water and expands a program replacing lead service lines in the city. Old lead service lines are a common source of lead in drinking water.
Treating lead and copper in water systems is a complex undertaking governed by the federal Lead and Copper Rule. In Denver, for instance, there is no lead in the water supply when it leaves the treatment plant. But it can leach into the supply via corrosion as water passes through lead delivery lines and pipes in older homes. Denver has 58,000 lead service lines in its system. Lead has continued to appear in samples it has taken at some customers’ taps, according to court filings, though not at levels that would constitute a violation of the federal law.
Eighty-six samples taken since 2013 have exceeded 15 micrograms per liter, including one tap sample which measured more than 400 micrograms per liter, according to court filings. The 15-microgram-per-liter benchmark is the level at which utilities must take action, including public education, corrosion studies, additional sampling and possible removal of lead service lines.
In response to the state’s order, the City of Aurora, the Metro Wastewater Reclamation District and the nonprofit Greenway Foundation, which works to protect the South Platte River, sued to overturn it, concerned that additional phosphates will hamper their ability to meet their own water treatment requirements while also hurting water quality in the South Platte. Denver joined the suit in May.
Because Denver Water services numerous other water providers in the metro area and participates in a major South Metro reuse project known as WISE, short for Water Infrastructure and Supply Efficiency, anything that changes the chemical profile of its water affects dozens of communities and the river itself.
Among the plaintiffs’ concerns is that phosphate levels in water that is discharged to the river have to be tightly controlled under provisions of the Clean Water Act. If phosphate levels in domestic water rise, wastewater treatment protocols would have to be changed, potentially costing hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not more, according to a report by the Denver-based, nonpartisan Water Research Foundation.
From an environmental perspective, any increased phosphate in the South Platte River would make fighting such things as algae blooms, which are fueled by nutrients including phosphorous, much more difficult and could make the river less habitable for fish.
But in its statement to the court, the CDPHE said the state’s first job is to protect the health of the thousands of children served by Denver Water in the metro area.
“The addition of orthophosphate will reduce lead at consumers’ taps by approximately 74 percent, as opposed to the cheaper treatment favored by plaintiffs [PH/Alkalinity], which will only reduce levels by less than 50 percent,” CDPHE said in court documents. “This is a significant and important public health difference, particularly because there is no safe level of lead in blood…Even at low levels, a child’s exposure to lead can be harmful.”
How much either treatment may eventually cost Denver Water and others isn’t clear yet, according to state health officials, because it will depend in part on how each process is implemented.
Denver, Aurora and Metro Wastewater declined to comment for this story, citing the pending lawsuit.
The Greenway Foundation did not respond to a request for comment.
In late July, all parties agreed to pause the legal proceedings while they examine water treatment issues as well as the environmental concerns raised by higher levels of phosphorous in Denver Water’s treated water supplies. If a settlement can’t be reached by Nov. 1, the lawsuit will proceed.
Jonathan Cuppett, a research manager at the Water Research Foundation, said other utilities across the country may be asked to re-evaluate their own corrosion control systems under a rewrite of the Lead and Copper Rule underway now at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
The newly proposed federal rule is due out for review later this year or by mid-2019.
Cuppett said the changes may lean toward more phosphate-based treatment for lead contamination. In fact, the EPA issued a statement in March in support of the CDPHE’s order to Denver Water.
“Within the [Lead and Copper Rule] there are a variety of changes that may be made. Depending on what those changes are other utilities may have to evaluate their strategy again or more frequently. And if that is the case, we may see more of this issue where someone is pushing for phosphorous for control for public health, creating a conflict of interest with environmental concerns,” Cuppett said.
Colorado public health officials said they’re hopeful an agreement can be reached, but that they have few options under the federal Safe Water Drinking Act’s Lead and Copper Rule.
“The [Lead and Copper Rule] is a very prescriptive, strict rule,” said Megan Parish, an attorney and policy adviser to CDPHE. “It doesn’t give us a lot of discretion to consider things that Metro Wastewater would have liked us to consider.”