Sterling councillors hear about water supply and water law

Photograph of Main Street in Sterling Colorado facing north taken in the 1920s.

From The Sterling Journal Advocate (Sara Waite):

The Sterling City Council — and those attending their regular Tuesday night meeting — got a lesson on Colorado water law and Sterling’s water supply this week.

Alan Curtis, a water attorney with White & Jankowski LLP, which has represented the city for 39 years, explained the basic tenets of Colorado’s water laws before getting into Sterling’s water rights and the pro-active approach the city has directed them to take in water cases. Curtis noted that over the past four decades, Sterling has taken part in over 180 water court cases and has gone to trial in only three, all of which ended with favorable outcomes for the city. Right now the city is involved in six pending cases…

Water engineers Jon George and Kristina Wynne of Bishop-Brogden Associates Inc. also spoke, giving an overview of the city’s existing water supply and augmentation plan. Wynne explained that in 2014, they developed a long-range plan to project the city’s future water needs. However, the last several years the city has not used as much water as projected, and she suggested that it would be appropriate to revise the long-range plan to make it more accurate going forward.

The three experts had some suggestions for projects the council should consider in the near future, including construction of a storage reservoir for augmentation.

They also noted that the city’s wastewater recharge pond represents an unknown. It has been an integral part of the city’s augmentation to offset its water use in the past, but for the past year the city has not been able to discharge wastewater to the pond because of violations of public health standards. If the city is unable to resume pumping to the recharge pond, it may need to develop other augmentation resources.

Aurora Water purchases innovative new water source — @AuroraWater

Here’s the release from Aurora Water (Greg Baker):

Water rights purchase provides environmental benefit

Aurora Water has finalized the purchase of water rights associated with the London Mine, located near Alma, in Park County. 1,411 acre feet (af) of water has been acquired at price of $22,000 per af, with additional costs of $2 million for an option to acquire additional water rights as they are developed and $1M for an easement. An acre foot of water is 325,851 gallons, enough water to serve 2.5 households on average. The seller of the rights is MineWater Finance, LLC and No Name Investors, both Colorado companies. The total value of this initial purchase is $34,042,000. The sellers are confident that the source of the rights could ultimately result in additional water that Aurora has the exclusive option to purchase for $21,500 per acre foot.

The source of this water is from a basin that is recharged from snowmelt on London Mountain. A geologic fault contains the water underground and prevents it from discharging into South Mosquito Creek, a tributary of the South Platte River. This water is pumped from the basin to a water tunnel in the London Mine and from there, discharged into South Mosquito Creek, which is upstream of Aurora’s Spinney Mountain Reservoir. Since this water is not naturally connected to the streams, it is decreed under Colorado Water Law as non-tributary. This has special meaning as this water is fully reusable and can be recaptured utilizing Aurora’s Prairie Waters system, a potable reuse system.

Aurora Water has been a national leader in water efficiency, including an acclaimed Prairie Waters water reuse system, and a nationally recognized water conservation program. Water acquisition is still necessary to meet future demands.

“Looking for new water supplies in the arid west requires innovative thinking,” said Marshall Brown, Director for Aurora Water. “This is a supply that historically has not been tapped by water providers, but the easier supplies are gone.”

The environmentally positive aspects of purchase have resulted in praise from organizations such as the Boulder-based Water Resource Advocates (WRA).

“New water supplies in Colorado are extremely limited and, at the same time, nearly 2,000 miles of streams in Colorado are polluted by mines,” Laura Belanger, Water Resources and Environmental Engineer with WRA stated. “We commend Aurora Water for taking a leadership role in finding this inventive and environmentally beneficial solution to meeting its customers’ water needs.”

Aurora Water completed substantial due diligence prior to this initial closing. Additional water rights under the option provision will be purchased as they are adjudicated and decreed through Colorado’s Water Courts.

Aurora Water is only purchasing the water rights. MineWater will continue to be responsible for the mine property, wells and associated permits. Questions regarding the mining operations, including the permits, should be directed to the MineWater contact listed above.

Click here to read the London Mine Purchase and Sale Agreement Fact Sheet.

Click here to read the mine water attachments to the release.

From The Aurora Sentinel (Kara Mason):

From 1874 until the 1940s, the London Mine was one of the top-producing gold mines in the state. It also produced lead, silver and zinc. In 1991 the mine eventually closed, but a fault within the mountain created a natural reservoir, one that fills with snowmelt.

In the nearly three decades since the mine has been closed, the state health department and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have had their eye on the mine and its previous owners. In 2009, 2011 and 2013 CDPHE cited the mine for violating the discharge permit. A treatment plan for the mine was created, but it failed. And in 2016 CDPHE slapped the owner previous to MineWater with a $1.1 million fine.

Water officials and MineWater have studied the water, and will continue to do so, to make sure it’s a safe source.

MineWater, which has completely reworked the plumbing of the mine, will still continue its operations and hold all mine permits. Aurora water is only purchasing the water rights.

#GlenwoodSprings: Hot Springs Connection inaugural meeting recap

Glenwood Springs via Wikipedia

From The Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Thomas Phippen):

The Hot Springs Connection held its inaugural meeting in Glenwood Springs Wednesday through Friday. Organized by [Vicky] Nash, who founded tourism data marketing firm Resort Trends Inc., the aim of the conference was to gather owners and operators to share knowledge and build a network to help each other.

“The group really wants to form an industry association so they have a network of people they can communicate with. We’re going to start that process,” Nash said. She plans to work with association managers to begin the process of setting up the board and bylaws.

Nash will also move forward with a website to list every hot springs resort in North America. The site will likely have a buy-in for resorts to add additional information beyond a basic listing on the site.

“Why reinvent the wheel? Someone said that yesterday, and it’s true. We’re all dealing with similar issues,” Mike Sommer, who is assisting South Dakota hot springs owner Kara Hagen renovate a resort that has been defunct since the 1940s.

Each place where heated water bubbles up to the surface is an opportunity for something unique.

In Glenwood Springs, that variety exists in a few square miles — from the sulfuric vapor of the Yampah caves, which the Los Angeles Times once described as something out of Dante’s “Inferno,” to the largest hot springs pool in North America filled with water from the Yampah that functions as a community gathering place, to the aesthetic soaking pools in view of the Colorado River at Iron Mountain.

HOT TOWN TOUR

The owners of the three principal hot springs resorts in Glenwood — the Hot Springs Pool, Iron Mountain Hot Springs and the Yampah Spa and Vapor Caves — led the attendees through the back-end of their businesses to show how the mineral-rich water gets from the ground to the guests.

The diversity is good for the industry because it limits how much each resort competes with another, but it also means there are numerous ways to design and create the thermal springs resort, and that can be daunting for the newcomer…

LOBBYING SUPPORT

One thing Seibel hopes to see from an association of thermal springs owners is help in educating the public, and even lawmakers, about hot springs.

Legislators are “putting out laws that are very restrictive, but they don’t understand what is happening,” Seibel said.

Each state has different laws, and a trade association could help owners navigate the regulations, he said.

The big pool at Glenwood Hot Springs and the family pool at Iron Mountain must be chlorinated. Colorado statutes require water to be treated unless it completely cycles through a pool in two hours or less — as the 16 hotter soaking pools at Iron Mountain are set up to do.

At the Glenwood Hot Springs pool, manager Brian Ammerman told the group about the challenges of keeping the big million-gallon pool of water at a consistent 92 degrees.

Each hour, the operators take the temperature of the gravity-fed filter tanks and calculate how hot the water needs to be to keep the pool at the desired temperature. “You open up a little cold, a little hot, it’s all feel,” Ammerman said.

Central Colorado Water Conservancy District passes $48.7M bond for storage, acquisition projects — The Greeley Tribune

Recharge pond graphic via the Central Colorado Water Conservancy District.

From The Greeley Tribune (Tyler Silvy):

Voters in the Central Colorado Water Conservancy District passed a bond issue worth $48.7 million 57.99 percent to 42.01 percent, according to preliminary election results.

Central’s boundaries stretch through parts of Weld, Adams and Morgan counties and serve about 550 farmers who operate about 1,000 irrigation wells. But thousands of people live and vote in the district.

The Yes for Water campaign helped sway those voters, and in a statement sent Tuesday night to The Tribune, officials said they were pleased with the passage of Ballot Question 7E.

“Issue 7E’s passage demonstrates our region’s commitment to supporting family farms and our agricultural economy, providing water storage and resources now and in the future, and protecting and maintaining our rural way of life,” according to the statement.

The bond issue represents a property tax increase of about $22.80 per year for a home valued at $500,000.

Those taxes will go toward paying off debt for a variety of projects, including more lined reservoir storage near Fort Lupton, Greeley and Kersey to increase the district’s holdings by 25 percent, allow the district to buy more water rights and help construct a massive artificial recharge project in Wiggins near the Weld and Morgan county line.

@EPA asks courts to toss #NavajoNation’s lawsuit over #GoldKingMine spill — The Durango Herald #AnimasRiver

San Juan River Basin. Graphic credit Wikipedia.

From The Durango Herald (Jonathan Romeo):

The U.S. Department of Justice, on behalf of the Environmental Protection Agency, has asked that a federal court dismiss a lawsuit filed by members of the Navajo Nation seeking repayment of damages associated with the 2015 Gold King Mine spill…

While the EPA initially encouraged people and businesses to file claims for financial losses, the agency backtracked in January 2017, saying it was legally protected from any damages associated from the spill.

The states of New Mexico and Utah, as well as the Navajo Nation, filed lawsuits seeking compensation. New Mexico is seeking $130 million, Utah is seeking $1.9 billion, and the Navajo Nation is seeking $130 million.

Over the summer, the EPA, through the Department of Justice, filed similar requests to dismiss the claims, arguing the agency is protected from litigation under federal law.

The motion filed Thursday argues the same point in seeking to dismiss a lawsuit that represents about 300 individual members of the Navajo Nation who claim a cumulative of $75 million in damages…

The Department of Justice’s motion argues the EPA is protected under the Federal Tort Claims Act, which gives federal agencies a “discretionary function exemption.”

The EPA was acting according to the Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation and Liability Act by evaluating the mine for remediation and preventing environmental pollution of the Animas River watershed when the inadvertent release occurred, the motion states.

The motion states that so far, the EPA has spent $29 million on past and continuing efforts to address mine pollution in the Animas River watershed, including building a temporary water treatment plant and designating the area as a Superfund site.

The stage was set for a blowout at the Gold King Mine years before the EPA became involved in the situation.

With the plugging of the American Tunnel, many researchers and experts of the mine district around Silverton believe the waters of the Sunnyside Mine pool backed up, causing the Gold King Mine to discharge mine wastewater…

The lawsuit on behalf of Navajo members says the spill, which carried arsenic and lead, prevented them from using water for their crops and care for their animals, as well as personal use…

Ferlic said a hearing Monday will brings together her clients, the states of Utah and New Mexico, as well as the Navajo Nation, to set a date to discuss the motions to dismiss.

Rural America’s Own Private Flint: Polluted Water Too Dangerous to Drink — The New York Times #vote

Fertilizer applied to corn field. Photo credit: USDA

From The New York Times (Jack Healey):

Now, fears and frustration over water quality and contamination have become a potent election-year issue, burbling up in races from the fissured bedrock here in Wisconsin to chemical-tainted wells in New Hampshire to dwindling water reserves in Arizona. President Trump’s actions to loosen clean water rules have intensified a battle over regulations and environmental protections unfolding on the most intensely local level: in people’s own kitchen faucets.

In Wisconsin and other Midwestern states where Republicans run the government, environmental groups say that politicians have cut budgets for environmental enforcement and inspections and weakened pollution rules. In Iowa, for example, the Republican-led Legislature dismissed a package of bills that would have blocked any new large-scale hog operations until the state cleaned up its nitrogen-laden rivers and streams.

There are no precise water-quality surveys of the galaxy of private wells that serve 43 million people in the United States, but sampling by the United States Geological Survey has found contamination in about one of every five wells.

Few water-quality rules regulate those wells, meaning there is no water company to call, no backup system to turn to, and often no simple way to cure the contamination. In Flint, lead-tainted water prompted a public health emergency that led to a criminal investigation.

Homeowners say they are forced to choose between installing expensive filtration systems, spending thousands to dig deeper wells, ignoring the problem or moving.

An Ambitious Reuse Plan for the South Platte Basin — Headwaters Magazine @WaterEdCO

A group called the South Platte Regional Opportunities Working Group, or SPROWG, is proposing to store 175,000 acre-feet of water in a series of reservoirs on the South Platte River, from north of Denver to the Morgan County line. The project also includes a long pipeline to pump water from the river back to the metro area to be cleaned and re-used. Graphic credit: CWCB via Aspen Journalism

From Headwaters Magazine (Nelson Harvey):

Conceptual project would capture and store flows before they cross into Nebraska.

Colorado is expected to add 3 million new residents by 2050, and many of them will likely settle along the northern Front Range. That growth will spur a massive mismatch between water supply and demand—a gap of roughly 500,000 acre-feet per year by midcentury, according to Colorado’s Water Plan. Since 2015, a group of Front Range water providers called the South Platte Regional Opportunity Working Group (SPROWG) has been looking for ways to bridge that future gap through collaborative multi-purpose water projects, without diverting more water from Colorado’s Western Slope or drying up eastern Colorado farmland in the process.

“[This is] about making our water systems as efficient as we possibly can, and then seeing how large the remaining supply gap is and what the next steps will be,” says Lisa Darling, executive director of the South Metro Water Supply Authority, a member of SPROWG, and president of Water Education Colorado’s board.

Along with South Metro, SPROWG includes representatives from Denver Water, Aurora Water, the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, the St. Vrain and Left Hand Water Conservancy District, the North Sterling Irrigation District and the Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District. The group is seeking to capitalize on a surplus of untapped reusable water in the lower South Platte River near the Nebraska border, which accumulates there through return flows from the Denver Metro area and farms upstream. According to the South Platte Storage Study, an effort funded by the Colorado legislature and completed in early 2018, Colorado sent an annual median volume of 293,000 acre-feet more water to Nebraska than the South Platte River Compact requires between 1996 and 2015. SPROWG aims to enable the reuse and exchange of more of that water before it leaves the state.

“The central problem is that [future] demand will largely materialize in growing communities located roughly along the north-south axis of Interstate 25, while data and modeling tell us that available water supplies in the basin generally occur much further downstream where the river traverses the plains,” says Doug Robotham, a consultant who helped initiate SPROWG and facilitates the group’s discussions.

The conceptual project that SPROWG is now pursuing would remedy that mismatch through the creation of about 175,000 acre-feet of new water storage in three locations: 50,000 acre-feet near Henderson, 100,000 acre-feet downstream near Kersey, and 25,000 acre-feet further east near Snyder. The concept could also involve the construction of a pipeline from the Snyder-area reservoir back to the South Platte River north of Denver. This would enable the storage, reuse and exchange of several types of water, including native South Platte River flows in wet years, and legally reusable water supplies. Reusable supplies include transbasin diversion water, unconnected well water, and other sources imported into the South Platte system.

SPROWG’s analysis suggests the concept would generate 54,600 acre-feet of dependable “firm yield” every year. That’s only about one-tenth of the South Platte Basin’s looming water supply gap, but Joe Frank of the Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District says the concept would have added benefits for farmers and ranchers in eastern Colorado.

“It provides a viable alternative to buy and dry that has and continues to threaten lands within our boundaries,” says Frank. The economies of many eastern Colorado towns are dependent on irrigated agriculture and will suffer if acres are removed from production by cities acquiring agricultural water to support growth, Frank says.

Much research remains before SPROWG’s concept solidifies into an actual water project. SPROWG partners recently received $155,000 in funding from the Metro and South Platte Basin roundtables, and at press time they were waiting on approval for an additional $195,000 from the Colorado Water Conservation Board’s Water Supply Reserve Account. Over the next year, they’ll use those funds, together with $120,000 of their own money, to hone in on which municipal, agricultural and recreational water users could benefit from the SPROWG concept. They’ll also study how the concept would be funded and governed, and the exact size and location of the proposed storage facilities and water reuse pipeline.

Click here to read the whole issue of Headwaters and while you are there become a member and support water education in Colorado.