The latest @WaterEdCO “Fresh Water News” is hot off the presses #ColoradoRiver #COriver

A view of the location of the proposed Chimney Hollow dam and reservoir site in the foothills between Loveland and Longmont. The 90,000 acre-foot reservoir would store water for nine Front Range cities, two water districts and a utility, and is being held up a lawsuit challenging federal environmental reviews. Graphic credit: Brent Gardner-Smith

Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt (Jerd Smith):

Upper Colorado River restoration project entangled in bitter lawsuit

A rare river restoration project in the Upper Colorado River Basin near Grand Lake is in danger of being stopped because of a lawsuit by environmentalists.

The restoration project has been proposed to compensate the West Slope for environmental damages to the Upper Colorado River caused by a large Front Range water storage project known as Windy Gap Firming.

Sponsored by the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, the new storage project would bring more Colorado River water from Grand County to rapidly growing, water-short towns on the Front Range, including Lafayette, Longmont, Louisville and Broomfield, among others.

The restoration project would reconnect a section of the Upper Colorado River severed by the original Windy Gap dam Northern Water built years ago. But Northern Water said it may halt the restoration work because Save The Colorado, an environmental group, is seeking to stop the large reservoir project in U.S. District Court in Denver.

With the future of the reservoir now in doubt, Northern Water officials said it may not make sense to proceed with restoring the river channel.

“It’s painful,” said Jeff Drager, Northern Water’s director of engineering.

Restoring a river channel in the Upper Colorado Basin

The reservoir has been under review by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Bureau of Reclamation, Grand County and others for 15 years. The project was within months of starting when the lawsuit was filed last October.

Save The Colorado has been challenging the project for years, saying that no more water should be diverted from the drought-stressed, over-used Colorado River. According to a number of different estimates, more than 65 percent of flows in the river’s headwaters region are already being diverted across the Continental Divide to the Front Range, endangering the river’s health.

For his part, Save The Colorado Executive Director Gary Wockner disagrees with Northern Water’s assessment of the restoration project’s future, saying that a number of agencies and stakeholder groups, including his, will have to weigh in on the project’s fate.

The original Windy Gap Project began supplying Colorado River water to the Front Range in 1985. But it has never been able to deliver the full amount of water it has rights to because storage space in its collection system on the West Slope isn’t always available. The new $570 million reservoir, called Chimney Hollow, would be near Carter Lake in Larimer County.

Environmental groups such as Trout Unlimited, along with several mountain communities and other stakeholder groups, spent years working with Northern Water to develop a set of environmental projects that would help restore the Upper Colorado River watershed. Reconnecting the river channel near Grand Lake was among those environmental projects.

In an open letter to Save The Colorado last December, Trout Unlimited’s Kirk Klancke, president of the group’s Colorado Headwaters Chapter, urged the litigants not to interfere in the decade-long negotiations that have given Western Slope communities more water for streams and helped restore habitat for fish and the bugs they feed on.

“It took 10 years of fighting to get a package of measures that will restore our rivers and prevent additional impacts. The viability of those solutions depends on Windy Gap Firming Project moving forward,” Klancke wrote. Klancke could not be reached for comment this week.

Connecting the channel would make it easier for trout to migrate and would help restore miles of streambed where critical sand and gravel had long been trapped by the dam at Windy Gap Reservoir, supporters say.

But it is the larger question – how to prevent more water from being taken out of the headwaters of the drought-stressed Colorado River – that prompted the lawsuit by Save The Colorado.

The lawsuit is being litigated by the University of Denver’s Environmental Law Clinic, where students overseen by faculty members take on cases that have national environmental implications for free.

The suit is one of three major efforts by environmental groups to halt new water projects that would serve the Front Range. Just last week Save The Colorado filed a “notice of intent” to sue Denver Water over the proposed expansion of Gross Reservoir in Boulder County. This project too would bring additional water from the Upper Colorado River headwaters over to the metro area.

And four years ago, the Environmental Law Clinic filed an unsuccessful suit to stop a project that would free up space in Denver’s Chatfield Reservoir to store more water for metro area cities and South Platte farmers. The students represented the Audubon Society, which argued that the project would remove too many wetlands that provide critical bird habitat. The Audubon Society lost the case last year, but it is currently on appeal in the U.S. District Court in Denver.

Kevin Lynch, the supervising professor for the DU law students, said the law clinic’s work is critical to ensuring that groups that are not politically powerful have their day in court. “We see that as a vital role, giving these groups clout and giving them the opportunity to engage in these processes. And it gives students a chance to work on meaningful real-world litigation,” he said.

That some groups from the environmental community are backing the river channel restoration project doesn’t mean Save The Colorado shouldn’t proceed with its broader mission to stop any additional water from being diverted from the headwaters, Lynch said.

Regardless of the lawsuit, “There is no reason that [Windy Gap proponents] couldn’t do the project anyway…Doing a bypass would be great. They don’t need to further drain the Colorado River to do that,” Lynch said.

But Northern Water’s Drager said the $15 million channel project’s primary reason for being was to mitigate the impact of Windy Gap’s Chimney Hollow Reservoir.

“We don’t have a plan to do the channel project if Windy Gap doesn’t move forward,” Drager said.

Drager said Windy Gap proponents will decide by February whether to proceed with the channel or to halt the design work that is underway now.

Bart Miller, an attorney with the Boulder-based conservation group Western Resource Advocates, declined to comment specifically on the lawsuit. But he said the channel project is important not just because of its restorative effects, but because it demonstrates the power of collaboration between water interests, cities and towns, and environmentalists.

“When we have an extremely dry year like this one, and going forward we’re going to have more of them, this cooperative effort between conservation groups and water providers and interests like Grand County is a very good example of efforts to address these pressing challenges. I hope the effort can continue,” Miller said.

Jerd Smith is editor of Fresh Water News. She can be reached at 720-398-6474, via email at jerd@wateredco.org or @jerd_smith. Fresh Water News is an independent, non-partisan news initiative of Water Education Colorado.

@WaterEdCO: Recovery to Resilience Flood Tour-September 18, 2018, Loveland, CO

Big Thompson Canyon before and after September 2013 flooding. Photo credit: Flywater.com

Click here for all the inside skinny:

Join Water Education Colorado on September 18 for a 5th anniversary, full-day tour of the 2013 flood-affected zone along the Front Range (to begin and end in Loveland). Jump on the bus with lawmakers, water managers, attorneys, engineers and members of the public to get an up-close look at various recovery projects. Participants will learn about the initial actions that were taken to protect lives and property as well as the subsequent projects that were undertaken to recover and build resilience. View the draft agenda here, then hurry and reserve your spot today. Seats are limited!

Register Now

@Denver Water, Aurora in dispute with state over lead treatment — @WaterEdCO

Roman lead pipe — Photo via the Science Museum

From Water Education Colorado (Jerd Smith):

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.”

@WaterEdCO: Recovery to Resilience Flood Tour-September 18th Loveland, CO

Storm pattern over Colorado September 2013 — Graphic/NWS via USA Today

Click here for the inside skinny and to register:

Join Water Education Colorado on September 18 for a 5th anniversary, full-day tour of the 2013 flood-affected zone along the Front Range (to begin and end in Loveland). Jump on the bus with lawmakers, water managers, attorneys, engineers and members of the public to get an up-close look at various recovery projects. Participants will learn about the initial actions that were taken to protect lives and property as well as the subsequent projects that were undertaken to recover and build resilience. Read the draft agenda here, then hurry and reserve your spot today. Seats are limited!

@WaterEdCO “Fresh Water News’: Aurora’s recycled water plant running at full-tilt

From Water Education Colorado (Jerd Smith):

Aurora’s futuristic recycled water project — Prairie Waters— is running at full-tilt for the first time in its eight-year history, a move designed to make the city’s water supplies last longer in the face of severe drought conditions.

“We’re pushing it as hard as we can,” said Greg Baker, a spokesman for Aurora Water.

In February, as mountain snows failed to accumulate, Baker said the city began mobilizing to ramp up plant operations, knowing its reservoirs would likely not fill this summer. “We were very worried.”

By April, Prairie Waters was running at full speed, generating 9.7 million gallons a day (MGD), up from 5.1 MGD last summer, a 90 percent increase in production.

“We could possibly push it to 10 MGD,” said Ann Malinaro, a chemist and treatment specialist with Prairie Waters, “but we consider 9.7 MGD full capacity.”

[…]

“Prairie Waters was huge, not just in terms of volume, but also because it’s really helped us advance as a state in accepting potable [drinkable] reused water,” Belanger said. “Historically, there has been a yuck factor. But Prairie Waters has helped folks understand how systems can be designed so they are safe and effective.” [Laura Belanger]

Twenty-five Colorado cities, including Denver, Colorado Springs, Fort Collins and Louisville, operate recycled water facilities, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, but that water is used primarily to water parks, golf courses and to help cool power plants, among other nonpotable, or non-drinkable, uses.

But Aurora, faced with fast-growth and a shortage of water, realized more than a decade ago that reusing its existing supplies and treating them to drinking water standards was the only way to ensure it could provide enough water for its citizens.

Completed in 2010, the Prairie Waters Project recaptures treated wastewater from the South Platte River and transports it back to Aurora through a series of underground wells and pipelines. As the water makes its 34-mile journey from a point near Brighton back to the metro area through subsurface sand and gravel formations, it undergoes several rounds of natural cleansing.

Once it reaches the Prairie Waters treatment facility near Aurora Reservoir, it runs through a series of high-tech purification processes using carbon filters, UV light and chlorine, among other chemicals. Then, before it is delivered to homes, the reused water is mixed with the city’s other supplies, which derive from relatively clean mountain snowmelt that is carried down from the mountains.

Say hello to the new @WaterEdCO website

Water Education Colorado website July 13, 2018.

From email from Water Education Colorado:

It’s official! We are excited to announce the launch of our new website! We are confident that this innovative and user-friendly site will make interacting with Water Education Colorado easier and more useful!

Click here to check it out

Meanwhile, here’s the link to their latest “Fresh Water News” newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:

Drought worsens in Colorado

Fourteen people gathered around a table in a Denver conference room deep within the confines of the Colorado Parks and Wildlife complex and showed one another chart, after chart, after chart.

Lines depicting vanishing snowpack fell farther and farther toward zero on their graphs and deep red stains on maps outlining the boundaries of this year’s dry season grew brighter and larger.

It was mid-June and those members of Colorado’s Water Availability Task Force (WATF) gathered in Denver could see what was becoming clearer each week. That 2018 was shaping up to mirror three other alarming drought years this century that nearly brought Colorado to its knees: 2002, 2012 and 2013. The task force, a group of water managers, scientists and hydrologists, is charged with monitoring water supplies for farms, cities and industry statewide.

Peter Goble, a staffer with Colorado State University’s Colorado Climate Center and a member of the WATF, had been anxiously watching precipitation levels for weeks. May, he reported, was the second driest May on record, based on measurements dating back to 1895. The absolute driest May occurred in 1934, the fourth year of the Dust Bowl.

“It’s pretty startling,” said Taryn Finnessey, senior climate change specialist with the Colorado Water Conservation Board and chair of the WATF.

Summer temps soar

Though reservoirs are fairly full this year, demand is rising quickly in dry spots such as the Arkansas and Southwest Basins. And even on the Front Range, where snowpack was close to normal, weeks of searing 90-plus degree days have sprinklers running at full force and reservoir levels dropping quickly.

In May, after a recommendation by Finnessey and the task force, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper activated the state’s drought response plan for 34 southern counties, making them eligible for millions of dollars in federal drought relief, among other forms of assistance.

Within weeks, wildfires began chasing one another across the state, spreading at rates never seen in the dry southwestern counties. The Spring Creek fire is on track to becoming one of the largest ever in the state, while the 416 fire outside Durango temporarily shut down some of the state’s most treasured tourist spots, including the scenic Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad.

But unlike the earlier drought years of this century, 2018 is no longer viewed as a standalone event. It’s been given a much chewier title. Scientists and water managers call it an entry into a multi-decadal drought period, and some worry it may signal a transformation of Colorado’s climate. Where this was once considered a semi-arid region, this 18-year dry spell may signal a dramatic change in the landscape—one in which Colorado becomes known largely as an arid, rather than semi-arid region.

Aridification is the term Brad Udall likes to use to describe what’s been going on since 2000, if not earlier. Udall is a scientist with Colorado State University’s Colorado Water Institute and a member of the multi-state Colorado River Research Group, based at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

Finding the right word

“Using old terminology, we could call it a drought,” Udall said. But he believes the term aridification is more accurate because of the ongoing reductions in snowpacks and subsequent river flows that have been seen this century.

Here’s what Udall and others find worrisome:

The Colorado River, whose headwaters lie in the Never Summer Mountains in Rocky Mountain National Park, has seen a 20 percent reduction in flows since 2000, the date many use to describe the beginning of this multi-decadal drought period, according to the Colorado River Research Group.

In the same period, only five years have delivered above average flows into Lake Powell, which along with Lake Mead, serves as one of the two largest reservoirs on the river.

Three of the four driest years on record in the Colorado River Basin have occurred during this 18-year period, with 2012 and 2013 being the driest consecutive years since 1906, according to the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and New Mexico are responsible for delivering roughly 8.23 million acre-feet (MAF) of water to the lower basin states each year by releasing it from Lake Powell. But since 2000, inflows into Lake Powell, where those deliveries are stored, have averaged just 5.74 MAF annually, meaning trying to keep up with the required deliveries is now a losing game.

Shrinking river flows

Adding to those concerns is this river-busting year of 2018, when just 2.64 MAF is expected to flow into Powell, 37 percent of average, according to data from the Colorado River Basin Forecast Center in Salt Lake City.

“2018 will not be remembered as a good water supply year for the Colorado River Basin,” Finnessey said.

Why should Coloradans care so much about the Colorado River? Because it keeps huge tourist, fishing and farm economies on the West Slope alive, it delivers roughly half the water used on Colorado’s Front Range, and it serves millions of people in Arizona, Nevada and California.

If the hydrology is changing permanently, it means most of the state’s water users will be forced to use less, and in some years, if Colorado can’t deliver enough to Arizona, Nevada and California, as the law requires, they might have to do with a lot less.

The grim scenario isn’t lost on Jesse Kruthaupt. He and his family operate a small 500-acre ranch outside Gunnison. For decades its luscious hay meadows have flourished along the banks of Tomichi Creek. Typically the creek will go dry late in the summer. “But right now,” he said, in late June “our diversion is totally dry.”

Kruthaupt will see his hay production drop this year but at least he will have a crop and enough to feed his cows and calves. “I know we will be short,” he said. “I just don’t know by how much.”

On the urban Front Range, 2018 has been a year to count blessings. In Highlands Ranch, Water Resources Administrator Swithin Dick watched his district’s reservoirs fill nicely, because in the South Platte Basin, which serves metro Denver and much of the urban north, snowpack came in at nearly normal levels.

“The South Platte Basin is the place to be this year,” Dick said. Still, the district has permanent conservation measures in place that prohibit its 96,000 residents from watering between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m., among other things.

“Our snowpack was diminished, but it’s not dire like it is for southern Colorado and southwestern Colorado,” he said.

Looking ahead, if 2019 delivers the same brand of dry as this year did, it will be much harder to tolerate because reservoirs from Durango to Denver will be depleted and will struggle to refill.

Front Range communities that lucked out this year, may not next year.

Thirsty urban customers

Denver Water, the largest municipal water utility in the state, has seen conditions deteriorate since April. It thought then that its reservoirs would fill completely, thanks to late spring snows.

But that didn’t occur, and Greg Fisher, Denver Waters manager of demand planning, said the super hot temps this summer have everyone at the agency keeping a close watch on the weather and how much water customers are using.

“We find ourselves in extremely hot, dry conditions and our use is up for sure,” Fisher said.

To date there hasn’t been a huge spike in demand and as a result the agency does not intend to impose water restrictions.

“We got very, very lucky this year,” Fisher said. “But the fact that our system didn’t fill is concerning. That often marks the start of a drought cycle for us.”

Despite the growing frequency of dry years, Udall sees some cause for optimism. “We’ve learned a lot in the last 15 years in terms of how to work with each other and how to come up with solutions that benefit everybody. Colorado has more going on in water in a good way than anywhere else in the West,” he said.

The state has, for instance, created nine regional roundtables representing its river basins and the metro area. These groups operate to address their own water issues, while working with other basins with whom they share supplies.

Those collaborative efforts are evident every month at the Water Availability Task Force meetings, where Eastern Plains ranchers weigh in with West Slope water managers and others representing Denver Water, Colorado Springs Utilities and Aurora Water, among others.

Still this year the work has been grueling. When one scientist asked if the group wanted to look at one more water supply index last month, John Stulp, Gov. Hickenlooper’s water policy adviser, smiled and said no, not really.

“I think we’re depressed enough,” he said. And he was only half joking.

Jerd Smith is editor of Fresh Water News. She can be reached at 720-398-6474, at jerd@watereducationcolorado, and @jerd_smith on Twitter.

Webinar: Fires, Forests, and Watershed Health Webinar — @WaterEdCO

Click here for the inside skinny and to register:

Forest fires have been growing in intensity, frequency and cost across Colorado and the West. What do those fires mean for our watersheds, water supplies, and the millions of water users across the state? And how do we fund the fire treatment work that will maintain healthy forests and reduce the risk to our watersheds?

Join us to answer these questions and more. We’ll discuss the funding challenges posed by increased fire incidence, as well as the partnerships and creative funding strategies that could help Colorado build healthier forests, watersheds, and more water-secure communities.

Hear from speakers:

Steve Lohr, U.S. Forest Service
Rob Addington, The Nature Conservancy
Ellen Roberts, Colorado State Forest Service consultant, former state senator, and past chair of the Colorado legislature’s Wildlife Matters and Water Resources committees

When
June 26th, 2018 12:00 PM through 1:00 PM

Webinar Fee
WEco member $ 10.00
non-WEco member $ 15.00