The Widefield Water and Sanitation District became the last major water system to stop using well water from the tainted aquifer, according to the district’s water manager, Brandon Bernard.
As of Nov. 10, all of the district’s customers receive cleaner surface water from the Pueblo Reservoir.
“We’re looking forward to moving forward without having to worry about PFCs,” said Bernard, using an acronym for the toxic chemicals.
The announcement ends one chapter of a water crisis that sent thousands of residents scrambling for bottled water…
The contamination has spawned two class-action lawsuits against companies that manufactured the foam. The Air Force, which found the chemical harmful to laboratory animals as early as the 1970s, also is studying its role in the contamination by drilling several test wells around Peterson Air Force Base…
For months, local water officials raced to limit residents’ exposure to the chemicals, which remain unregulated by the EPA.
Fountain officials shut off their wells in fall 2015 – relying instead on cleaner water from the Pueblo Reservoir. But other water districts couldn’t meet customers’ demands this past summer without using contaminated well water.
Security Water and Sanitation Districts weaned itself from the aquifer in September.
Officials for all three water districts are optimistic that customers will no longer receive contaminated water from the aquifer, unless its cleansed of the toxic chemicals.
Officials in Security and Fountain have previously voiced plans to build treatment plants to filter the fouled water. Water rates there could rise to help finance those projects.
Widefield officials, however, are conducting two test projects to determine whether ion exchange or granular activated carbon filters best remove the chemicals, Bernard said.
Widefield’s test projects, which began in October, are expected to last six months, he said.
The district also is planning a $1 million project to install a pipe under Interstate 25 capable of bringing in more water from the Pueblo Reservoir. Widefield has several thousand acre feet of water stored at the Pueblo Reservoir, and officials there are no longer concerned about running out of water rights this year.
District leaders also plan to meet with Air Force officials on Thursday to coordinate how the military can help filter water. In July, the Air Force vowed to spend $4.3 million to supply bottled water and well water filters for the affected communities.
Unlike other water districts, Widefield is not planning to raise rates in 2017 to pay for the water projects, Bernard said. Rather, they will be paid for using reserve funding.
Customers are only likely to pay for operations costs once a treatment plant is built, he said.
“It’s nice just to not have to worry about our customers being concerned,” Bernard said. “And now we can just move forward with fixing the problem.”
In a way, the whole reason a state water plan is needed lies north of the Pueblo County line.
In the Arkansas River basin, three-fourths of the future need identified in a 2008 study was in El Paso County, the fastest growing area in the region. Like Denver, the metropolitan growth has the potential to dry up rural farming areas.
Not all of the growth is in Colorado Springs; it’s in outlying areas, as well.
For more than a decade, The Pueblo Chieftain has documented the progress of the Southern Delivery System, purchases of water rights by El Paso County cities or water providers, and water quality issues, such as changing limits on groundwater contaminants.
Cherokee Metro District President Jan Cederberg and Fountain Water Engineer Mike Fink give their viewpoints on Colorado’s Water Plan, based on questions supplied by The Chieftain on behalf of the Arkansas Basin Roundtable.
Cherokee, a district that sits like an island within Colorado Springs, over the last decade has looked at various pipelines from other areas to meet its water needs.
Fountain, a city south of Colorado Springs, gets its water from several sources but is relying heavily on SDS, which also allows it to draw more water through the Fountain Valley Conduit.
How do we fill the gap in the Arkansas River Basin within the Colorado Water Plan and Basin Implementation Plan?
Cederberg: Given that the river is already over-appropriated, we will all need to keep on a continuous path of improving water efficiency, but recognize that alone will not close the gap. We will also need to collaborate with our friends and neighbors in the basin to make best use of the water resources available through innovative arrangements such as alternative transfer methods. Ultimately, water uses are likely to be prioritized to “highest and best uses” in response to market economics.
Fink: Each water supplier and all of the major water users in the Arkansas Basin will need to participate in the effort to fill the gap. All elements of the water supply pantheon should be reviewed for improvements in yield, improvement of efficiencies in the sources, in the transportation, storage and treatment, delivery and return flow management and conservation (both the supply side and the demand side).
What projects do you plan to fill the gap?
Cederberg: Cherokee Metropolitan District’s primary supply is alluvial groundwater in the Upper Black Squirrel Creek designated basin. We will continue considering the purchase of water rights from that basin as they are made available.
We also recently developed a new Denver Basin well field near Black Forest, approximately 15 miles north of our main service area. Although this supply is regarded as unsustainable for the long term, it is drought-proof and can be used in conjunction with junior water rights to help meet dry-year demands. We will grow this well field and consider strategies to extend the life of this Denver Basin supply.
In addition, the Cherokee Metropolitan District is collaborating with several other members of the Pikes Peak Regional Water Authority to consider a regional water system that would allow efficient delivery of water from the Fountain Creek/Arkansas River system.
Fink: Fountain Utilities adopted a comprehensive Water Master Plan in 2007. It was a decisional study that confirmed our participation in the Southern Delivery System Project, but it also provided a longer planning horizon for development of supply diversity and redundancy, treatment options, transmission system planning and delivery system planning.
One foundational element of the 2007 Water Master Plan was a dedication to enhancing the City’s Water Conservation efforts.
The projects that Fountain Utilities will either continue or commence implementation to improve our ability to meet the demands that increased population require include the following:
1. Southern Delivery System — SDS is an important addition to our utility’s supply system, but it is only a tool to move water from the Pueblo Reservoir and treat that water; SDS does not provide water, it only moves and treats water. Each of the participants is required to bring their own water to the pipe.
2. Return flow management — Fountain, as a beneficiary of the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project, receives an allocation of transbasin water delivered through the Fountain Valley Authority transmission and treatment system. This allocation is usable to extinction and the City will continue to maximize the use of this water through effective return-flow management.
3. Continued use of local groundwater resources — Fountain has groundwater wells that are both in the Fountain Aquifer and in the Widefield Aquifer. These are renewable resources that must have depletions augmented by surface water. Fountain’s continuing challenge is to treat the water from these sources to the quality that not only meets the Clean Drinking Water Standards, but that also maintains compliance with Health Advisories for trace contaminants.
Fountain, with Widefield and Security, is also pursuing the Widefield Aquifer Recharge Project. This long-term, renewable resource will divert flows from Fountain Creek into a treatment facility, inject the treated water into the Widefield Aquifer for storage that does not have evaporative losses, retrieve that water and treat it to drinking water standards.
How do we keep the gaps for agriculture and municipalities from becoming bigger?
Cederberg: We must continue to improve water efficiency on all fronts. As Cherokee has faced water supply challenges in recent years, we have asked our customers to conserve through watering restrictions and a tiered rate structure.
Their response, as proven through water demand data over time, has allowed us to reduce our demand forecast per home by more than 25 percent. In addition, Cherokee has developed an indirect reuse system by which reclaimed water recharges our main water supply aquifer.
Fink: All of the tools that the Colorado Water Plan examined (conservation, agriculture, storage, watershed health, education and outreach) will be needed to address demand, but I think that the coordination between water resource planning and land-use planning has possibly the most positive potential for closing the gap.
The one wild card in the identified tools in the Water Plan is innovation, and I am a firm believer that Colorado has the innovators to bring different and effective tools to the jobs than anyone has yet.
BASALT – Flows in the lower Fryingpan River below Ruedi Reservoir were increased on Friday afternoon to about 300 cubic feet per second, much to the dismay of professional and private anglers who prefer a flow of no more than 250 cfs.
“We get cancellations at 250 and up,” said Warwick Mowbray, owner of Frying Pan Anglers in Basalt, during a meeting Thursday night in Basalt’s town hall on flows in the Fryingpan. “People say ‘We can’t wade.’”
Releases from Ruedi were increased Friday in order to send more water to the “15-mile reach” of the Colorado River between Palisade and Grand Junction for the benefit of endangered fish species struggling to survive in the river below several big irrigation diversions.
But the water released from Ruedi and sent down the Fryingpan, Roaring Fork and Colorado rivers to the 15-mile reach at the direction of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service erodes the quality of the trout-fishing experience on the lower Fryingpan, according to Will Sands, manager of Taylor Creek Fly Shops in Basalt and Aspen.
“Over 250 cfs changes the dynamic of the environment of the river for hatches and the abilities of the visiting angler,” Sands said. “It hits 300 and we start getting cancellations.”
“When you have additional water coming down, it challenges wading and changes the character of the river,” he said, likening higher flows in the Fryingpan to paying for a backcountry powder tour only to find no fresh snow. “I think there is a big difference between 250 and 300 from an accessibility and wade-ability level.”
The conservancy commissioned a study in 2014 that showed fly-fishing contributes $3.8 million to Basalt’s economy.
Thursday’s meeting in Basalt was called by officials from the Bureau of Reclamation and the Fish and Wildlife Service, and about a dozen citizens showed up to discuss likely releases from Ruedi for the balance of the summer.
Tim Miller, a hydrologist with the Bureau of Reclamation who manages Ruedi Reservoir, said releases below the reservoir would likely be around 300 cfs into September, but could be as high as 350 cfs if there is a call for more water from irrigators in the Grand Junction area.
Since July 18, flows in the lower Fryingpan have been running steadily at around 245 cfs, a sweet spot for anglers.
Jana Mohrman, a hydrologist with the Fish and Wildlife Service, manages a pool of water in Ruedi that can be released to keep enough water in the 15-mile reach.
She works toward meeting seasonal flow levels — now 1,240 cfs — in the Colorado River near Palisade by directing “fish water” to that point on the river from a variety of upstream reservoirs, including Ruedi, Wolford and Green Mountain.
This week, flows in the Colorado River near Palisade had dropped to the point where several fish passages designed to allow native endangered fish to swim upstream toward Rifle were not functioning due to low water levels.
“I’m using Ruedi to get my fish passages open,” Mohrman said.
As such, she directed the Bureau of Reclamation to release another 50 cfs from Ruedi starting Friday. That was on top of the 140 cfs of “fish water” that was already being released, which was in addition to about 110 cfs of routine releases from the reservoir.
Mohrman’s pool of “fish water” in Ruedi equals about 15,000 acre-feet of water. But she can also use, for the second year in a row, about 9,000 acre-feet of water owned by the Ute Water Conservancy District in Grand Junction and leased to the Colorado Water Conservation Board for use in the fish-recovery program.
On Wednesday, during a weekly conference call of regional reservoir managers and irrigators, Mohrman was pressured by irrigators in the Grand Valley to release more water from Ruedi along with water they were releasing for the fish from Green Mountain Reservoir, which serves as a back-up supply water for the Grand Valley.
Last year, 24,412 acre-feet of water was released from Ruedi to the benefit of the fish recovery program and a similar amount is likely to be released this year. In all, Ruedi can store 102,373 acre-feet of water.
Of that, about 41,000 acre-feet is owned by various entities, and can also be released upon demand in a dry year. Should that occur, flows in the Fryingpan could rise still higher, and not just because of the fish-recovery program.
“These demands on the reservoir are only going to grow,” said Miller of the Bureau of Reclamation. “This isn’t going away.”
Dan Turley, a homeowner in the Fryingpan River Valley and an avid angler, asked Mohrman if the endangered fish program was a higher priority than the recreational economy of Basalt.
“This is not a trivial inconvenience,” Turley said of flows in the Fryingpan going up to 300 cfs. “It makes the river not viable to fish for a great majority of people.”
And Turley said it’s not just about Basalt’s economy.
“A lot of people from Aspen come down here and fish,” he said. “They are staying at The Little Nell. This is a big deal.”
“It’s always been considered,” Mohrman said, referring to the local fly-fishing economy and a targeted flow of 250 cfs in the Fryingpan. “And we have always said we would try to maintain 250. But we also have to recover these fish, and we’ve built all these structures to try and get them up to Rifle to get back into their natural habitat. And that is a higher priority than the 250 target.”
The goal of what’s called the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Program is to maintain populations of four species of large fish native to the Colorado River, the Colorado pikeminnow, razorback sucker, bonytail, and humpback chub.
If the program fails to maintain viable populations of native fish, diverters in the Colorado River basin could be faced with extensive environmental reviews of their diversion’s effects on the endangered fish — something regional water managers want to avoid.
As long as the fish populations are stable or growing, the recovery program provides blanket environmental protection. Trouble is, Mohrman said the fish are not doing all that great as they are being preyed upon by non-native fish in addition to struggling with low river levels.
Rachel Richards, a Pitkin County commissioner who has focused during her tenure on water issues, attended Thursday’s night meeting.
She raised the idea of a pipeline or flume that would allow water to be released from Ruedi without flowing down the river itself.
“We’ve always talked a little bit about should there be a separate flume or waterway for the Ruedi releases so they are not destroying the Fryingpan,” Richards said.
She also said that Pitkin County and Basalt had voiced concerns in the past about releasing “fish water” from Ruedi and making Basalt a “sacrificial lamb for water needs elsewhere in the state.”
At the conclusion of Thursday’s meeting, Mohrman said she would work with irrigators and reservoir managers to see if more water can’t be released from reservoirs other than Ruedi.
“I’ll try and cut it back as the Green Mountain Reservoir ups its releases and our fish passages stay open,” she said. “I understand your very serious concerns.”
Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism, the Aspen Daily News, and Coyote Gulch are collaborating on coverage of rivers and water.The Daily News published this story on Saturday, August 13, 2016.
After a wet spring, summer has been relatively dry, and drought conditions are creeping back into Colorado, particularly over the Rocky Mountains in the center of the state and the Rio Grande basin.
River flows have dropped, so Reclamation and Pueblo Water are running water from accounts in upper reservoirs to Lake Pueblo. This serves two purposes: Creating space for imports next spring and providing water for the voluntary flow program that extends the commercial rafting season.
Finding the additional space in Clear Creek, Twin Lakes and Turquoise reservoirs was problematic this year, because reservoirs still were full from a very wet 2015. Twin Lakes filled early with native water and delayed imports from the Western Slope.
The Fryingpan-Arkansas Project has delivered more than 58,760 acre-feet so far, about 90 percent of what had been expected when allocations were made in May.
The Southeastern District, which determines allocations, will adjust agricultural deliveries, because cities already had requested less water than they were entitled to receive.
Pueblo Water imported about 13,500 acre-feet of water, about 92 percent of normal. Part of the reason was the lack of free space at Twin Lakes, and part was due to maintaining long-term limits since storage space was scarce anyway, said Alan Ward, water resources manager.
Pueblo Water will lease more than 21,700 acre-feet of water this year because of the potential storage crunch earlier this year.
Even so, Pueblo Water had 49,133 acre-feet of water in storage at the end of June, which was down from last year, but 17,600 acre-feet more than was in storage at the end of May. Most of the gain came in the upper reservoirs, and is now being sent to Lake Pueblo, where it is needed for leases and to make space, Ward said.
“Those releases help keep the rafting industry afloat,” Ward said.
More than 1,200 people endured 90-degree temperatures Saturday in eastern Colorado Springs to learn more about Colorado Springs Utilities’ new Southern Delivery System.
During the SDS Waterfest at the Edward W. Bailey Water Treatment Plant on Marksheffel Road, kids and adults interacted with community volunteers at hands-on educational booths. And most of those on hand were treated to a guided tour of the state-of-the art facility…
David Schara, 42, said he is a Colorado Springs native and has watched as CSU and city officials spent more than 20 years planning the Southern Delivery System which began piping water north out of Pueblo Reservoir in late April.
“It’s much needed,” David Schara said. “As the city grows, they had to do something.”
David Schara said he and others have been skeptical over the years since CSU introduced the SDS in the Colorado Springs Water Plan of 1996. According to Schara, the biggest concern was about the capacity of Pueblo Reservoir, which he said has been “pretty low at times.”
The Southern Delivery System cost $825 million. Forte said that presently the SDS takes care of about 5 percent of the Colorado Springs Utilities customers and produces about 5 million gallons of water each day.
During Saturday’s event, CSU handed out free water bottles and had refill stations throughout the event where visitors could rehydrate with water from the Pueblo Reservoir. The hands-on exhibits allowed kids to make snow, touch a cloud, shoot water from a fire hose, and learn more about how CSU uses water supplied by the SDS…
Forte said the Waterfest was designed to thank customers “for their patience” over the last couple of decades while the SDS became reality.
“Our citizen-owners have come out to see what we’ve been talking about for the last 20 years,” Forte said. “It’s just a fun day.”
Here’s the release from the City of Colorado Springs:
The City of Colorado Springs today released the draft Stormwater Program Improvement Plan designed to dramatically improve the city’s infrastructure and meet federal requirements.
City Public Works Director Travis Easton provided this statement.
“Today the City of Colorado Springs has released a draft Stormwater Improvement Plan. This is significant for our stormwater program, our citizens, and our City. The draft Stormwater Program Improvement Plan reflects strong leadership by the Mayor and City Council. We began this effort last fall and we reached a preliminary draft in January. Today’s release includes updates through July 2016.
“The City’s Public Works Department would appreciate the public’s comments and suggestions for improvement of the plan over the next 60 days. We will take public input into account and release the Plan in final form shortly thereafter.
“Thank you in advance for helping to shape this plan, and being a part of the process.”
Individuals wishing to provide feedback on the plan can contact Richard Mulledy, the City’s Stormwater Division Manager at email@example.com or by mail to: Richard Mulledy, Stormwater Division Manager, City of Colorado Springs, 30 S. Nevada Avenue, Suite 401, Colorado Springs, CO 80901.
The City of Colorado Springs and Colorado Springs Utilities have committed to investing a total of $460 million over 20 years, beginning this year. The commitments essentially replace the city Stormwater Enterprise that was defunded in 2009.
“Fixing the stormwater issues that we inherited stemming from the dissolution of the stormwater enterprise has been a top priority for me and the City Council,” said Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers. “Sustainable stormwater funding and management is not optional – it is something that we must do to protect our waterways, serve our downstream neighbors, and meet the legal requirements of a federal permit.”
Colorado Springs this week released its draft stormwater plan, which was spurred earlier this year by negotiations with Pueblo County commissioners over permits for the Southern Delivery System.
The 305-page implementation plan mirrors the terms of an intergovernmental agreement, outlining at least $460 million in expenditures over the next 20 years and restructuring the city’s stormwater department. It was released Wednesday on the city’s website (http://coloradosprings.gov).
It’s important to Pueblo because work within Colorado Springs is expected to reduce damage along Fountain Creek.
Work already has started on some of the projects that are expected to benefit Pueblo County as well as Colorado Springs. A total of 61 of the 71 critical projects have downstream benefits to Pueblo and other communities, in a March assessment that included input from Wright Water Engineers, which has been hired by Pueblo County as consultant for Fountain Creek issues.
That list can change, depending on annual reviews of which work is needed, according to the IGA.
The plan also attempts to satisfy state and federal assessments that the existing stormwater services failed to meet minimum conditions of the city’s stormwater permits. An Environmental Protection Agency audit last year found Colorado Springs had made no progress on improving stormwater control in more than two years.
This year, Colorado Springs formed a new stormwater division and plans on doubling the size of its stormwater staff.
The plan includes a funding commitment of $20 million annually by the city and $3 million per year by Colorado Springs Utilities to upgrade creek crossings of utility lines.
The plan acknowledges that Colorado Springs significantly cut staff and failed to maintain adequate staffing levels after City Council eliminated the city’s stormwater enterprise in 2009. Pueblo County suffered significant damage, including the washout of part of Overton Road and excess debris in the Fountain Creek channel through Pueblo, during prolonged flows last May.
Other parts of the Pueblo County IGA expedited funding for flood control studies and projects by the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District, as well as providing an additional $3 million for dredging in Pueblo.
In a brief meeting Monday, the Pueblo County commissioners approved a resolution granting permission to the federal Bureau of Reclamation to access county property for field work associated with the proposed Arkansas Valley Conduit.
Reclamation officials will conduct surveys and soil testing related to the conduit alignment, the commissioners learned. The county will be notified by Reclamation before entry onto county property is taken.
In voting to OK the resolution, Commissioner Liane “Buffie” McFadyen noted, “It makes me a bit more optimistic it (the conduit) could happen in my lifetime.”