Virtual #OgallalaAquifer Summit Draws 200 + Participants — The High Plains Water District

From The High Plains Water District:

“What is groundwater’s value?” “If we conserve it, what is gained?” “How can cross-state cooperation help sustain rural communities in the eight-state Ogallala Aquifer region?”

These were among the many topics discussed during the Feb. 24-25 virtual Ogallala Aquifer Summit.

More than 200 people from the eight-state Ogallala Aquifer region participated in the conference via Zoom.

They included agricultural producers, commodity group representatives, federal and state agency staff, groundwater district managers and staff, and students.

With the theme, “Tackling Tough Questions,” the meeting built upon information and programs shared at the 2018 Summit in Garden City, KS.

The 2020 Summit in Amarillo was moved to 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Some takeaway points from the keynote speakers, panels, and breakout sessions included:

  • Many people have the mindset that the “Ogallala Aquifer will run out of water—what will we do?” Instead, they should be thinking that the “Ogallala Aquifer will change–how do we embrace this? It is not a problem to be solved but rather a situation to be managed.”
  • Everyone must do their part to reduce the load on the Ogallala Aquifer. “It will take producers talking to producers. They need to share how they have reduced their groundwater use. Cutting back on water use can be done. It’s not easy—but it can be accomplished. Producers and others need to share these success stories.”
  • Multi-state networking among water leaders remains important. It is important to share information about conservation programs with others. As an example, the Master Irrigator Program, originated by North Plains Groundwater Conservation District in Texas, is now being implemented in other states in the Ogallala region.
  •  Mentoring programs are essential to foster the next generation of water leaders.Technology can be overwhelming to some. It is important to showcase simple water conservation methods that can be implemented without spending a great amount of money.
  • Many producers said the subject of water conservation is now readily accepted at a local level. “There was a time five years ago when you would not be warmly greeted at the coffee shop if you mentioned or promoted water conservation. Things have changed since then.”
  • One presenter encouraged people to “have the uncomfortable conversations about water conservation. Talk candidly and freely. Dare to push the envelope without being disrespectful to others and without achieving consensus too rapidly.”
  • Future water conservation measures need to be proactive—rather than reactive. “Get ahead of this.”
  • “Many small decisions can lead to greater water savings.”
  • One panelist spoke to a producer about water conservation. During the conversation, the producer said his grandfather and father did not use certain water conservation practices. The younger producer made a change which saved both money and water. He admitted that conservation practices can be scary—but wished he had adopted them much sooner.
  •  It is important to identify a common vision, practices and opportunities, for short and long-term benefits. “Do we have a consensus or a vision for the future? If we don’t know where we are going—how do we know when we get there? What is the big picture and how will your farm fit into it?”
  • Data is important. Don’t be afraid to collaborate. However, many are concerned that data will be used against them. “Many have said we don’t want bad data to be used against us for regulations or restrictions. Yet, they don’t want to learn that they could have irrigated an additional five years if there had been better data to support that decision. You must have a benchmark for comparison. Remember, if you are the only one in the race, then you will be the winner when you cross the finish line. You must have something for comparison purposes.”
  • One presenter said future Federal regulations may force banks and other lenders to take a closer look at water management on farms. “Producer A does a good job conserving water on his farm. Producer B may have little or no conservation practices in place. Because of this, lending institutions may consider Producer B to be a greater risk. It’s not just a handshake deal anymore. Use of technology and supporting data will play a larger role in lending decisions.”
  • There is interest in revisiting the 1982 “Six State High Plains Aquifer Study.” A comprehensive reassessment may provide new insight into the four proposed water transfer routes, feasibility of using the water for municipal and industrial purposes, aquifer storage and recovery, flood mitigation, irrigation, and an updated evaluation of water supply infrastructure.
  • HPWD Education and Outreach Coordinator Katherine Drury was a panelist discussing “Effective Communications and Training the Next Generation of Water Leaders.”

    Funding and support for the 2021 virtual summit was provided by the Ogallala Aquifer Program; Kansas Water Office; Texas A&M AgriLife; OgallalaWater.org; USDA-NRCS; USDA-ARS National Institute of Food and Agriculture; Kansas Geological Survey; Colorado Water Center; Nebraska Water Center; Oklahoma Water Resources Center; Komet Innovative Irrigation; High Plains Water District; Kansas Center for Agricultural Resources and the Environment (KCARE); Panhandle Groundwater District; Texas Tech College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources; North Platte Natural Resources District; North Plains Groundwater Conservation District; New Mexico Water Resources Institute; Texas Water Resources Institute; Water Grows; Irrigation Innovation Consortium; Zimmatic by Lindsay; and SitePro.

    Additional articles with information from the 2021 Ogallala Aquifer Summit will be featured in future issues of The Cross Section.

    From The Ag Journal (Candace Krebs):

    Education and collaboration were repeatedly emphasized during the second-ever Ogallala Aquifer Summit, a virtual gathering space where hundreds of concerned farmers, researchers and resource managers shared ideas about how to preserve the vitality of a rural region that overlies one of the most heavily pumped underground reservoirs in the world.

    Roughly 95 percent of all freshwater currently withdrawn from the eight-state aquifer goes to irrigate commodity crops.

    Since the first aquifer summit in 2018, previous participants have expanded on several innovative programs or spread them to new areas.

    The Kansas Water Office now has 15 water technology farms that demonstrate the latest irrigation technology in a real world setting.

    Colorado’s Republican River Water Conservation District is putting its own spin on a Master Irrigator training program, which originated in the Texas panhandle, adding stipends and service discounts in the Burlington area to help incentivize participation, according to program coordinator Brandi Baquera.

    In the Oklahoma panhandle, OSU soil and water specialist Jason Warren introduced an experiential learning program that was originally developed by the University of Nebraska. TAPS, which stands for Testing Ag Performance Solutions, uses a competitive format to engage farmers in finding new ways to optimize resources and improve input-use efficiency. The field trials help provide OSU with valuable research data, while farmers get to test out their ideas in a research simulation before making big upfront investments.

    These programs, along with countless one-on-one conversations, are drawing more converts to precision water management, as the finite nature of the region’s centuries-old groundwater gradually sinks in…

    Farmers are also learning to recognize the power of collecting and analyzing data, according to Billy Tiller, a Lubbock farmer and founder of Grower Information Services Cooperative, the country’s first ag-data cooperative.

    For one thing, there’s immense value in simply having good data.

    “As a producer, my big fear is bad data regulating me,” he said.

    Then it’s often necessary to collaborate to use that data effectively, he said.

    “Don’t be afraid to collaborate,” he said. “We’re always thinking about how will that data be used against me? But we have to get proactive about this.”

    Tiller is currently working with the Twin Platte Natural Resources District in Nebraska on using electric smart meters to update and improve older stream-flow data previously collected by the Natural Resource Conservation Service.

    He’s also building out a benchmarking tool for farmers in the district that keeps their data private, but allows them to compare themselves with other water users.

    “We are looking to be moving toward a future that is really decoupled from the past” — Kenneth Williams via The #ColoradoSprings Gazette #drought

    From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Mary Shinn):

    The hot dry conditions that melted strong snowpack early in 2020 and led to severe drought, low river flows and record setting wildfires across the state could be a harbinger of what is to come in Colorado.

    Climate change is likely to drive “chaotic weather” and greater extremes with hotter droughts and bigger snowstorms that will be harder to predict, said Kenneth Williams, environmental remediation and water resources program lead at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, headquartered in California.

    “We are looking to be moving toward a future that is really decoupled from the past,” said Williams, who is leading a long-term watershed research project in Crested Butte.

    In 2020, the Colorado River system had 100% of average snowpack on April 1 but then thwarted expectations when it didn’t deliver the 90% to 110% of average runoff that water managers could typically predict. The river system only saw 52% of average runoff because water was soaked up by dry soils and evaporated during a dry, warm spring, said Brad Udall, senior water and climate research scientist at Colorado State University.

    “It’s not typical, but it could very well be our future,” he said.

    The 2020 drought will end at some point, but that appears unlikely this spring with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration forecasting above-normal temperatures and below-normal precipitation through March, April and May.

    Conditions could improve more rapidly on the eastern plains with big spring and summer rain, said Russ Schumacher, Colorado’s state climatologist.

    In the larger picture, breaking the drought across the vast Colorado River Basin will likely take a string of winters with much above average snowfall, Schumacher said.

    Brad Udall: Here’s the latest version of my 4-Panel plot thru Water Year (Oct-Sep) of 2019 of the #coriver big reservoirs, natural flows, precipitation, and temperature. Data goes back or 1906 (or 1935 for reservoirs.) This updates previous work with @GreatLakesPeck

    In the long term, conditions across the Southwest are going to become more arid as average temperatures rise, driven by greenhouse gas emissions, Udall said, with lower soil moisture and stream flows among the negative impacts.

    The 19-year stretch of only intermittingly interrupted drought from 2000 to 2018 in the Southwest U.S. was exceeded only by a late 1500s megadrought, the journal Science reported in a paper this year…

    New reservoirs could play a role in the future, but construction alone cannot resolve the coming water woes.

    “Anyone who thinks they can build themselves out of climate change is nuts,” Udall said. “There is a limit to the amount of storage that’s helpful.”

    Too much storage can sit empty and if the water is allowed to sit for too long a valuable portion is lost to evaporation, he said.

    In the highly variable years of climate-related weather to come, keeping water flowing to homes and farms will take better planning and a much better understanding of the “water towers of the West,” the remote peaks where significant amounts of snow accumulate above 8,000 feet.

    Water managers are keen to know not just how much water may flow into rivers and streams, but when, and also what it might contain because as water flows drop water quality is also likely to be more of a concern…

    Fort Collins weather station on the CSU campus via the Colorado Climate Center.

    The rapid change has left water managers and researchers in need of better data to understand short-term trends, such as how much runoff to expect this year and longer-term shifts.

    Traditionally Colorado and the West have relied on a network of more than 800 snow telemetry sites — SNOTELS, as they are called by the Natural Resources Conservation Service — that automatically collect snowpack, temperature and precipitation. But now more snow is falling at elevations above the SNOTELS and aerial observations are needed to provide an alternative source of data on snowpack utilities and others wouldn’t otherwise know about, Williams said…

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

    So Denver Water is forming a new collaborative to bring utilities, including Colorado Springs Utilities and other water users, such as water conservancy districts that serve farmers and ranchers, together to fund statewide flights, which can be quite expensive, she said.

    The formal planning work around what data to collect and funding flights is set to begin in April and already the collaborative has attracted members from across the state, Kaatz said.

    The group hopes to start funding the flights in about a year to provide the high quality data to water managers, Kaatz said. Having that data will be a valuable asset in Colorado’s semi-arid climate as it warms, she said.

    “Warming is here and now. It’s not the next generation’s challenge.”

    […]

    The rapid spring runoff is often the star in the water world. But high elevation groundwater is key to feeding streams in the late summer and winter, helping to sustain fish and late season irrigation. It is also an important source for reservoirs, said Rosemary Carroll, a hydrologist with the Desert Research Institute and collaborator on the Department of Energy projects in Crested Butte.

    When Carroll started studying groundwater in the upper Gunnison watershed, she expected to find water that had percolated through the soil for two or three years before reaching streams. Instead, she’s found groundwater about a decade old, which has benefits and drawbacks during dry times, she said.

    If the watershed is in a shorter drought, the groundwater can act as a buffer supplying old water that fell as snow and rain years ago, she said. But if it is a sustained drought then the absence of water from the system persists through a lack of groundwater, she said.

    If the area continues to see hotter drier conditions, it’s likely that groundwater coming to the surface would be older and there will be less groundwater available to support streams, she said.

    Colorado Springs Collection System via Colorado College.

    From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Mary Shinn):

    As Colorado Springs Utilities braces to absorb hundreds of thousands of new residents in the coming decades amid hotter weather, it is looking to conservation, agriculture, and new water supplies from the Colorado and Arkansas rivers to help fill the gap.

    Utilities examined 50 future climate scenarios to prepare its latest 50-year plan and settled on a future that will be on average 3 degrees Fahrenheit warmer with no change in average precipitation, instead of relying on historical weather trends to make projections, said Kevin Lusk, a water engineer with Utilities…

    As new neighborhoods take shape, particularly in Banning Lewis Ranch, Utilities is planning for the city’s population to increase 53% from about 470,000 people to 723,000, the 50-year plan states. As those residents move in, the city’s annual water demands are expected to rise from 95,000 acre feet a year to 136,000 acre feet a year…

    For Colorado Springs, reservoirs are already a key piece of a complex water system that brings 80% of the 95,000 acre feet of water the city uses annually into the area.

    The largest amount of new water supply, 90,000 to 120,000 acre feet of water, is expected to come from the new or enlarged reservoirs or water storage within the Arkansas River basin, according to the 50-year plan. One of those projects could be a new reservoir or gravel pit complex between Twin Lakes and Pueblo Reservoirs, the plan states.

    These wetlands in the Homestake Creek valley are near the site of the proposed Whitney Reservoir. The Forest Service is considering whether to issue a permit for drilling and a geotechnical study to test whether the site would support a dam. Photo credit: Heather Sackett/Aspen Journalism

    Utilities may also build additional reservoir space in the Colorado River watershed, and it is working with Aurora on a highly controversial new reservoir in the Holy Cross Wilderness in Eagle County. The U.S. Forest Service is expected to make a decision soon on whether to permit the exploration of the new reservoir’s feasibility…

    Through conservation, Utilities expects to save 10,000 to 13,000 acre feet of water annually, said Patrick Wells, general manager with Colorado Springs Utilities Water Resources and Demand Management. The city’s watering restrictions adopted last year that limit outdoor watering to three days a week from May 1 to Oct. 15 are meant to help achieve long-term water savings and more than 550 acre feet of water was saved in the first year, he said.

    In the future, water owned by agricultural interests, particularly farmers and ranches in the Lower Arkansas River basin, will also play a key role. But rather than purchase it outright, Utilities is looking to lease 15,000 to 25,000 new acre feet of water annually.

    The leases are a move away from purchasing farms and their associated water rights outright and transferring that water to the city, a practice called buy and dry. In the 1970s, farmers sold the water rights that previously served 45,000 acres in Crowley County leaving only 5,000 acres in production, The Gazette reported previously.

    Cities bought water outright from agriculture through the early 2000s as the primary means of transfer, said Scott Lorenz, water sharing senior project manager with Colorado Springs Utilities.

    Now, the state and city are focused on lease agreements that can serve farmers in dry times, he said. For example, in a dry year a farm may not have enough water to put all the fields in production, the producer can lease some water to the city and earn money through the water instead, Lorenz said.

    Compensating farmers for their water and taking land out of production can have consequences, however, because it can disrupt the overall agriculture market when farmers aren’t buying seed or materials or employing laborers, said Brad Udall, senior water and climate research scientist at Colorado State University. The buyers the farms supply may also go elsewhere for products if farms aren’t producing annually, he said.

    Utilities’ already has several lease agreements in place, including one in perpetuity with the Lower Arkansas Water Management Association, a group that replaces the water taken from the Arkansas River through wells. As farmers pump from ground wells supplied by the river, the association ensures water flows back into the river so that downstream residents in Kansas receive their full water rights.

    The city has agreed to lease water from the association five out of every ten years and pay for its water every year, said Bill Grasmick, association president. The city also paid for a new reservoir that the association is already using.

    2021 #COleg: On tap at capitol: wildfire restoration, underground water storage, new #water funding authority — @WaterEdCO

    Colorado state capitol building. Photo credit: Allen Best/The Mountain Town News

    From Water Education Colorado (Larry Morandi):

    Colorado lawmakers are considering three major water bills that would help finance wildfire mitigation and forest health projects, study underground water storage for future beneficial use, and create a state enterprise to fund drinking and wastewater projects through fees paid by water utility customers.

    A burnt sign on Larimer County Road 103 near Chambers Lake. The fire started in the area near Cameron Peak, which it is named after. The fire burned over 200,000 acres during its three-month run. Photo courtesy of Kate Stahla via the University of Northern Colorado

    Wildfire mitigation and forest health

    Last year was Colorado’s worst wildfire season ever. The three largest fires on record burned over 600,000 acres. Water providers fear that spring runoff will clog streams and reservoirs with ash and sediment, damaging clean water supplies.

    House Bill 1008 is sponsored by Rep. Jeni Arndt, D-Fort Collins, and Rep. Marc Catlin, R-Montrose. (Editor’s note: Rep. Arndt is a board member of Water Education Colorado, which sponsors Fresh Water News). HB21-1008 (Forest Health Project Financing) aims to help fund local wildfire mitigation and forest health efforts to protect watersheds. It would allow counties, municipalities and special districts to band together and form special improvement districts empowered to levy property taxes to fund wildfire mitigation and forest health projects. It would also make those improvement districts eligible for $50 million from a Colorado Water Resources and Power Development Authority (CWRPDA) bond program, and expand the program’s life by 10 years to last through 2033.

    Arndt said districts would be formed voluntarily and noted that any property tax assessments would require voter approval. “The Colorado way,” she said, “opt in.” Catlin, the bill’s co-sponsor, agreed. “This is an opportunity for communities to take some preemptive steps and, if needed, be able to bond through the state to get help and make the payments to take care of the problem.” Keith McLaughlin, CWRPDA executive director, emphasized that “every $1 in fire mitigation efforts saves between $3 and $6 in fire suppression costs.”

    The House Agriculture, Livestock, & Water Committee passed the bill unanimously to the House Finance Committee Feb. 22. It will be heard there on March 4.

    Water treatment process in Greeley. Graphic via Greeley Water

    Underground water storage

    Concern with declining water tables and the volume of water leaving the state in excess of compact requirements led Rep. Richard Holtorf, R-Akron, a rancher and dryland farmer, to introduce HB21-1043 Study Underground Water Storage Maximum Beneficial Use. The bill would require the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) to contract with a state university to study ways to maximize beneficial use of water by storing excess surface flows in aquifers for future use. The study would identify aquifers with storage capacity, funds to pay for storage, specific storage projects, and proposed legislation to implement its recommendations. It would be due to the interim Water Resources Review Committee by Aug. 1, 2022.

    While acknowledging the value of underground water storage, some House Agriculture, Livestock, & Water Committee members questioned the need for the study since several similar studies had already been done and at least two large water providers—Denver and Greeley—are already storing water underground. There were also concerns about who would have rights to excess surface flows. Rep. Arndt, committee chair, asked, “Who would get those rights…you can’t just capture excess water?” Rep. Holtorf replied that whoever’s next in line when it reenters the river would gain use to the water; nothing changes the prior appropriation doctrine.

    Rep. Holtorf concluded, “I’m not going to say it’s not complicated, but at the end of the day we’ve got to do something to get maximum beneficial use of water that we give away and try to keep it in our state for the beneficial use of everyone.” He had the backing of the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association, Colorado Farm Bureau, Colorado Water Congress and Colorado Groundwater Association. The committee passed the bill 9-1 to the House Finance Committee.

    A screenshot from the website for Colorado’s Water Plan.

    Financing water projects

    The Colorado Water Plan, adopted in 2015, projects a need to spend an additional $100 million a year for 30 years in state money to fully fund water projects and activities to meet its objectives. Funding to date has come nowhere near that figure, but a bill introduced this session will try to put a dent in it.

    SB21-034 (Water Resource Financing Enterprise), sponsored by Sen. Don Coram, R-Montrose, would create the Water Resources Financing Enterprise made up of both the CWRPDA and CWCB board of directors. The new enterprise would provide grants and loans for drinking water, wastewater treatment, and raw water delivery projects. The enterprise could issue revenue bonds to be repaid from fees assessed on drinking water customers of 25 cents per 1,000 gallons of water delivered each month in excess of the first 4,000 gallons. SB21-034 would generate roughly $37 million annually. If passed, it would go on the November 2022 ballot as a legislatively referred measure for approval by voters statewide.

    The bill is similar to legislation Sen. Coram introduced last year. That bill was defeated in committee with assurances that it would be studied in greater detail by the interim Water Resources Review Committee. The pandemic, however, wiped out all interim studies. SB21-034 has been assigned to the Senate Agriculture & Natural Resources Committee and is scheduled to be heard on March 4.

    Larry Morandi was formerly director of State Policy Research with the National Conference of State Legislatures in Denver, and is a frequent contributor to Fresh Water News. He can be reached at larrymorandi@comcast.net.

    Baca Water & San. District prepares to sue US Fish & Wildlife over #water — The #Crestone Eagle #RioGrande

    From the Baca Grande Water & Sanitation District (John Loll) via The Crestone Eagle:

    The Baca Grande Water and Sanitation District Board of Directors on February 17, 2021 authorized the District’s Attorney Marcus J. Lock to prepare, but not yet file, litigation against the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) for failure to abide by a Water Service Agreement that supplies water to the Baca Grande Subdivision.

    Contract negotiations deadlock

    Contract negotiations over extending the current Agreement have been on-going for at least 18 months and are now stalemated. USFWS is refusing to abide by procedures stipulated in the Agreement regarding the cost of water purchased from it and would charge a rate almost ten times more than that charged for augmented water purchases in the San Luis Valley, as determined by Dick Wolfe, former State Engineer.

    Relief from payment of excessive water prices is critical for the District going forward, as many components in the aging water delivery system are approaching their replacement dates. The current deadlock in negotiations is also inhibiting the District’s efforts to move forward on the purchase of water rights from USFWS. Purchase of water rights is central to the long-term health of the District and would end, as one Director said, “Throwing money down a bottomless well.”

    Savings from excessive rates may help stabilize the District’s fiscal posture that has required two recent rate increases. A Lease To Own arrangement may also prove feasible, but is dependent upon being able to reach agreement on a fair rate to be charged.

    The District’s Board of Directors also authorized contact with our political representatives to educate them and seek their assistance in resolving these critical issues. Educating our northern valley communities is called for as well, as they have shown in prior water battles that their determination is one of the greatest sources of advocacy available.

    Background

    The Baca Grande Water and Sanitation District originally leased water rights from a company called Arizona-Colorado Land & Cattle Company back in 1972. This company owned the Luis Baca Grant No. 4 and the water rights that went with it. The purpose of the lease was “to assure the availability of the water supply necessary” for the District’s operations. In 1997, the District entered into a new Water Service Agreement with Cabeza de Vaca Land & Cattle Company, LLC, which was a successor to the previous company and became the new owner of the Baca Ranch and the leased water rights. The purpose of the new Agreement remained the same, to ensure the District had access to a sufficient supply of water to serve the District’s customers.

    This 1997 agreement is still in effect, but now the lessor is USFWS as a result of the federal government’s acquisition of what is now the Baca Grande National Wildlife Refuge in 2004. The Water Service Agreement is perpetual in nature unless terminated by the District. However, the District would prefer to purchase the water rights and own them outright rather than continue to make lease payments to USFWS forever.

    In the Great Sand Dunes Park and Preserve Act of 2000 Congress authorized the Secretary of the Department of the Interior (which includes USFWS) to sell water rights to the District. This has yet to happen.

    Maintaining positive relations with Baca National Wildlife Refuge

    It’s important to make a distinction between the local USFWS representatives with whom the District has enjoyed excellent relationships throughout the years. The District very much hopes to continue with the same regard in future endeavors. Rather, the issues seem to occur in regional and national levels.

    Opportunities to become involved

    Soon the District will be crafting opportunities for community members to become involved in our efforts. Items under consideration include: Campaign Committee? Zoom Public Information Meetings? Postcard Campaign to elected representatives? Forming Alliances with other Local and Valley Groups?

    Offer input now

    You can offer your suggestions and ideas now by email to: info@bacawater.com.

    Press Release: Unbottle and Protect Chaffee County Water

    Graphic via Unbottle and Protect Chaffee County Water

    Here’s the release from Unbottle and Protect Chaffee County Water (Jennifer Swacina):

    Nestlé, the world’s largest corporate water bottler, agreed to sell its North American bulk bottled water business (including the Arrowhead brand) to private equity firms One Rock Capital and Metropoulous. This $4.3 billion dollar sale is an especially ominous development in light of Wall Street’s accelerating interest in water trading.

    The sale announcement raises many questions about what this means for communities currently entangled in legal hearings and permit negotiations with Nestle Waters. Will Nestle remain a part-owner of the company? In Chaffee County, specifically, will new owners follow through on permit commitments that Nestle has previously made – yet failed to complete – such as a conservation land easement? Are the buyers aware that Nestle failed to meet the required quota for hiring Chaffee County truck drivers, and that Nestle’s latest proposal includes investing in a truck driver training program through Colorado Mountain College?

    “Nestle has not proven to be a good neighbor, and the only thing worse than Nestle, is Nestle operating undercover,” said Unbottle and Protect Chaffee County Water co-founder, Jennifer Swacina. “Our commissioners can, at their discretion, simply vote to deny this permit extension. They have all the ammunition they need.”

    Unbottle and Protect Chaffee County Water stands in solidarity with other grassroots organizations in Ontario Canada, Maine, Florida, California and Michigan, who have been ringing the alarm about Nestle and water privatization for years. Joint statements have been released through The Story of Stuff Project:

    “Nestlé’s motivation is clear: to shed itself of its responsibility for the plastic pollution and environmental degradation its water extraction and bottling has caused and the damage these scandals have done to their brand and bottom line. It is also clear that a private equity firm, freed of Nestlé’s reputational responsibilities, will seek to cut expenses at the cost of the limited promises its predecessor made regarding environmental sustainability and community benefit. We call on elected leaders, regulators, advocacy groups and the media in Canada and the US to ‘follow the money’ and expose this deal to the highest levels of public scrutiny.”

    Part 2: Addressing concerns from Save Greeley’s Water about Terry Ranch — The #Greeley Tribune

    Water treatment process in Greeley. Graphic via Greeley Water

    From The Greeley Tribune (Cuyler Meade):

    Editor’s Note: This is Part 2 of a three-part series on the city’s decision on whether to approve the Terry Ranch project. It was originally intended as a two-part series but new information presented after the publication of Part 1 necessitated a third part. Part 1 is available here and Part 3 will publish in Sunday’s Greeley Tribune…

    Wood, following the publishing of the first part of this series, connected with the Tribune to share his group’s concerns. Much of what he shared is also found on savegreeleyswater.com, and many of the elements of the group’s fears and allegations had already been discussed with the city’s project manager for the project, and its deputy director of the Water and Sewer Department, Adam Jokerst.

    What follows is the second part of Jokerst’s responses from a phone conversation, in question-and-answer format, to the issues raised by Wood, Gauthiere and their cohorts, including some further clarification from Jokerst via email about a question raised by Wood in his conversation with the Tribune.

    Save Greeley’s Water: Injection of treated Bellvue water may dissolve precipitated uranium ore bodies, causing uranium levels to spike, causing problems with treatment.

    Adam Jokerst: We hauled water from the Bellvue water treatment plant and collected that water at the location where the water would tee off the transmission line between Bellvue and Greeley, so the actual point it’d be directed up to Terry Ranch. We hauled that up, injected it underground, stored it for about 24 hours, then for three to four days, withdrew it, tested the quality and tested to see if there were any reactions between injected water and rock. We saw no evidence there would be adverse reactions somehow leeching or mobilizing contaminants.

    Before we did this, we ran a variety of models looking at chemistry and geochemistry, predicting these reactions. This was a confirmation of what we thought would occur. Doing this pilot test again conclusively confirmed there won’t be reactions.

    We’ll continue to do additional tests when we do the injection to doubly make sure, but we have no indication there will be adverse reactions.

    SGW: Terry Ranch is not an exclusive water right in the underground aquifer. The State Land Board land, which checkerboards the ranch, is vulnerable to others filing water rights. Other entities drawing water could result in significantly less annual capacity in order to comply with groundwater extraction rules.

    AJ: We have an exclusive right to the groundwater underlying the surface land owned by the Terry Grazing Association. The Terry Grazing Association lands are checkerboarded with State Land Board land, but part of the purchase agreement is an exclusive lease to the water under the State Land Board land. The water under the State Land Board land has not been decreed. It’s not a decreed water right, but if it were decreed, Greeley would have the exclusive lease on the water.

    It’s a big aquifer. There are others that could file for non-tributary decrees of the aquifer in different locations, but our modeling shows that there will not be well interference. That means withdrawals from miles away are not going to affect the yield of our rights. This is common. In the Denver Basin, many different entities pump from the same aquifer; typically, there’s no interference between multiple wells. We localize draw-down, so the well depletes the groundwater around itself, but there isn’t interference between wells owned by different people.

    Terry Ranch is also in the area of the thickest area of the aquifer, and it typically becomes less thick and shallower as you move from north to south, so Terry Ranch is where the most productive wells are expected to be.

    SGW: The proposed Terry Ranch Pipeline Route is very inefficient from a cost and energy standpoint.

    AJ: Terry Ranch will cost more to operate than our existing water treatment plants because of the pumping requirements. We will need to pump the water out of the ground, that’s energy, then the water will flow by gravity down to Greeley, but when we inject water, we’ll have to treat it and pump it. So yes, there are energy inputs required that make this more expensive. The point we’ve made about this being a drought supply is these are costs not that are not incurred every year.

    An analogy on the spot: I have a commuter car with great gas mileage, and I have an SUV that costs a little more to drive. I don’t drive the SUV every day, though, and so my bottom-line budget is not significantly impacted by having a less-efficient vehicle. In this way, while Terry Ranch will be expensive, we won’t operate it all the time as we do our surface water. So rate impacts will not be as comparably increased, water rights won’t be increased comparably because we’re bringing on a more expensive treatment system. We fully acknowledge it’s more energy-intensive and more expensive, though.

    SGW: The Terry Ranch/Wingfoot/City of Greeley talking points (have) referred to the $125 million from Wingfoot as something that Wingfoot is contributing to the deal. It is not a gift; it is a loan with interest. The city would be better served by financing through the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

    AJ: It is not a loan.

    It’s a complicated agreement. We negotiated in exchange for these credits that we’d get the assets and $125 million. There are options that give Wingfoot the right to sell us credits, Greeley the right to buy back credits, but it’s not like we’re on the hook for a mortgage. We aren’t making monthly or annual payments to Wingfoot.

    SGW: The City of Fort Collins applies their sewage sludge to the land upstream of the Terry Ranch aquifer. Currently, Fort Collins applies 2,344 metric dry tons of sewage sludge per year to the property.

    AJ: It is happening. Fort Collins owns the Meadow Springs Ranch located primarily on the west side of I-25, just west of Terry Ranch. And Fort Collins disposes the solids left over from waste water treatment through land application. We looked at the risk of these biosolids infiltrating into the ground and making their way to Terry Ranch.

    Groundwater moves extremely slow, that’s why this is classified non-tributary, so our experts create da model flow and simulated it’d take about 1,400 years for any solids on the Meadow Springs Ranch to make it to the Terry Ranch aquifer. That’s the most conservative estimate — conservative as in the shortest amount of time.

    Over time, contaminates break down, most do, and we feel the risk is low. As we’ve said, repeatedly, we’re not saying there’s no risk of contamination, but it’s very very low risk. And not any more risk than we currently see with our existing surface water supplies.

    Surface water can flush out, but in Boyd Lake or Lake Loveland, there’s continuous input of contaminates. There’s no flushing that out. That’s why we treat it. It’d be nice to have pristine water sources untouched by man, but that doesn’t exist. The water department treats that water so it’s safe and great tasting.

    Part three of this conversation will be published tomorrow. The city of Greeley announced Friday evening that City Council would allot extra time to public comment — a full hour — during the March 2 council meeting wherein the endorsement for the purchase finalization will be voted upon.

    The meeting, which takes place at 6 p.m. March 2, can be commented on via the city’s Zoom platform at greeleygov.zoom.us./j/98241485414. A link is also being provided to sign up to speak, at signupgenius.com/go/4090D4BACAD2AAB9-march. Sign-ups must be made before 5 p.m. March 2.

    Residents who wish to comment will be allowed three minutes each, unless more comments than can fit in an hour are presented, in which case the time will be limited to two minutes each to accommodate as many comments as possible.

    Residents may also submit comments prior to the meeting in writing at cityclerks@greeleygov.com or by mail to the City Clerk’s Office, 1000 10th St., Greeley, CO, 80631.

    From KUNC (Luke Runyon) via High Plains Public Radio:

    The city of Greeley wants to keep growing, and it needs water to do so.

    Over the last couple years, city leaders have focused their energy on testing and developing an underground water supply to make that growth possible. The Terry Ranch project, estimated to cost upwards of $318 million to fully build out, would give the city access to an untapped water source — a rarity on the fast-growing, water-tight Front Range.

    Unlike the city’s existing water storage, held in reservoirs along the Poudre River northwest of Fort Collins, the Terry Ranch project represents a pivot in how Greeley has developed new water supplies since its inception as the agricultural temperance settlement, the Union Colony, in 1870.

    Instead of enlarging one of its existing reservoirs, city leaders are envisioning the massive groundwater basin on the Colorado-Wyoming border, sitting below grazing bison herds, as its way toward future growth, drought resilience and climate change adaptation…

    Jokerst stood next to a test well drilled deep into an aquifer that’s held in place by layers of rock below the property. Think of it like an enormous contact lens under the surface, filled to the brim with water. State officials have deemed the aquifer “non-tributary,” meaning it doesn’t drain, or isn’t connected, to a flowing waterway.

    The well is delivering treated drinking water from the city’s existing water treatment plant into the aquifer to see what happens to it after spending a few days below the surface. The treated water, the same thing you’d get if you turned on a faucet in Greeley, is trucked into the high elevation grassland by the thousands of gallons. It’s then pumped back out and tested.

    As the pump whirred in the background, Jokerst ticked off the factors that he says make this project the smartest way to ensure Greeley can keep growing, without breaking the bank.

    “This very well could be the future of Greeley’s water supply,” he said.

    City officials have been pitching the Terry Ranch project to residents since making the project public knowledge in June 2020, while at the same time studying its efficacy. Here’s how it would work: Greeley would get the water in the aquifer, and $125 million to cover a portion of infrastructure costs, from a private company, Wingfoot Water Resources. The city would have years to build the pipelines, treatment facility and pump stations needed to draw water out of the aquifer, and put additional water in it.

    Water needs aren’t so severe in the city that they’d need to bring it online rapidly, Jokerst said.

    The first six miles of pipeline could begin construction in 2022, Jokerst said, while a full project build out could take 15 to 20 years. If dry conditions eat into their existing storage, that timeline could be sped up…

    The idea for this new storage project was born out of an old one. The Terry Ranch project came up as an alternative to the city’s proposal to enlarge its Seaman Reservoir on the North Fork of the Poudre River. Expanding dams and flooding riparian habitat — home to at least one threatened species — comes with its own financial and legal problems. And when the aquifer project presented itself as a cheaper alternative capable of storing more water with fewer environmental concerns, Jokerst said the city took it seriously…

    Climate change is already raising temperatures across Colorado, and diminishing the snowpack the city relies on. This project is an investment in diversifying how Greeley stores water, as droughts are projected to grow in length and intensity over the next several decades, Jokerst said.

    If the Terry Ranch project moves forward and is approved by the city council, Jokerst said Greeley will exit the 15-year federal permitting process to make Seaman Reservoir larger, having spent roughly $19 million on that dam project so far.

    Private backer bets on future water needs

    The logistical diagram of how water would move from the Poudre River to the aquifer and then from the aquifer to future homes and businesses is complicated. The financial arrangement to make this deal possible is moreso.

    By handing over ownership of the water, Wingfoot, which owns the aquifer now, would receive credits, redeemable by developers interested in building within city limits and in need of new water taps.

    As part of the deal, Greeley gets a big underground bucket of water and some cash to develop it, while Wingfoot makes their investment back when new water users — like subdivisions, commercial districts and factories — come knocking.

    The aquifer under Terry Ranch is estimated to hold 1.2 million acre-feet of water…

    In the deal, Wingfoot will receive 12,121 credits, each one equal to one acre-foot.

    Right now, developers without ready access to water supplies can pay what’s called “cash in lieu” to Greeley to supply water to new construction. The city’s current cash in lieu rate for one acre-foot is $36,500. When selling the credits, Wingfoot will likely come under that cost to stay competitive with Greeley’s rate, Jokerst said.

    While it’s not easy to pin down with certainty the exact value of the water at stake, it’s possible to game out some scenarios. In a highly unlikely hypothetical scenario where Wingfoot sells all 12,121 credits immediately after closing for the slightly discounted price of $36,499, the water credits would be worth $442.4 million…

    But the big unknown is how fast Greeley will grow, and how much water it will need…

    The Greeley city council is expected to take a final vote on the deal during its March 2 meeting.

    Greeley’s Water Future: Terry Ranch Project — @GreeleyWater #ASR

    Click here to read about Greeley Water’s proposed aquifer storage and recovery project:

    Greeley has a long history of investing in its water future. The foresight and diligence of past city leaders and water pioneers ensured Greeley continuously seeks opportunities to plan for, and secure, Greeley’s water needs. Terry Ranch is the next frontier.

    Top 6 Things You Should Know

    1. The Terry Ranch project would add 1.2 million acre-feet of water to the city’s vast, existing water portfolio. Terry Ranch is an aquifer storage and recovery project, in which an underground pocket of water has been isolated in the rock for thousands of years. While new to Greeley, aquifer storage and recovery is common in the West. Click here to read the facts about Terry Ranch aquifer storage.
    2. The City has conducted extensive studies on this new water source. View an online story map to see those results. Go to our Test Results and Transparency page to find a list of all downloadable reports.
    3. Greeley will continue to rely upon its robust surface water supplies and recent upgrades to its Bellvue and Boyd water treatment plants. The Terry Ranch project would be developed over time as a back-up drought supply and long-term water storage asset in wet years. Click here to read an Overview of Terry Ranch and how it would work.
    4. Terry Ranch water contains uranium – like all of the city’s water sources – and the city already has proven it can clean the water to the high standards citizens have come to expect. Click here to read water quality data and testing results.
    5. The federal government required the city to look for alternatives to enlarging Milton Seaman Reservoir. Terry Ranch emerged as the most environmentally friendly alternative among hundreds of water storage options. Click here to read the history and background.
    6. Because of its long-term status, Terry Ranch can be developed in stages over long periods of time, helping keep Greeley water rates low. Read about the Terry Ranch finances and purchase agreement here.
    Water treatment process in Greeley. Graphic via Greeley Water

    From The Greeley Tribune (Cuyler Mead):

    A group called Save Greeley’s Water, spearheaded by John Gauthiere and Paul Wood, both former longtime employees of the city water department according to their various internet profiles, has raised what it sees as concerns about the Terry Ranch project.

    Their website, http://savegreeleyswater.com, includes dozens of allegations about the city’s plans for the underground aquifer, and a group of a little more than a dozen people participated in a protest Tuesday around City Hall waving signs that read “Don’t Tread on Greeley’s Water,” “Recall City Council” and “Hell No We Won’t Glow! Roy Otto You Have to Go!” among other, similar things.

    The Tribune spoke at length with project manager and deputy director for the Water and Sewer Department Adam Jokerst about these concerns, line-by-line, issue-by-issue. Following are the majority of the group’s claims against the city, along with Jokerst’s answers explaining the city’s position in response, as well as some Greeley Tribune-led followup questions. Jokerst’s comments have been lightly edited for space.

    Seaman Reservoir upstream of confluence of the North Fork of the Cache la Poudre River. Photo credit Greg Hobbs.

    Save Greeley’s Water: (Pursuing Terry Ranch) Will make acquisition of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers permit for enlargement of Milton Seaman Reservoir impossible.

    Adam Jokerst: It’s unlikely that we would be able to receive a permit to enlarge Milton Seaman Reservoir, and the unlikelihood became more and more apparent as we progressed through the permitting process. We found a less environmentally damaging, practical alternative through the Terry Ranch project. If Terry Ranch goes through, we would pause or suspend permitting for Milton Seaman — not to say we wouldn’t do it sometime well in the future, but Terry Ranch really meets our needs for the foreseeable future.

    Greeley Tribune followup: Is permitting the main reason you consider Terry Ranch a better alternative to enlarging the Milton Seaman reservoir? Or are there other advantages of the Terry Ranch project?

    AJ: Permitting, that’s the driving issue. It’s just that we live in reality, and it’s easy to say we should go build Milton Seaman, but we have to get those permits. If we can’t get those permits, it’s nota realistic project. That’s number one.

    Some other benefits of Terry Ranch compared to Milton Seaman are affordability. Not only is it cheaper, but we can build it over time, and I can’t stress how important that is, because it means we can keep rates low.

    We presented in the past rate increases with Terry Ranch versus Milton Seaman, and our rate impacts would be pretty drastic. Rate increases would be pretty drastic with Milton Seaman. We’d have to build it all at once over a few years compared to a fe decades with Terry Ranch.

    There are fewer environmental impacts with Terry Ranch, which means we can build right away. That’s important. The fact that there’s no evaporation, that’s big, too.

    But, yes, Milton Seaman is a smart project; that’s why the city pursued it for so many years. We’d love to do that, but we live in reality, and we have to — our charge is to develop water supply and water storage. We must do that in a way that’s realistic and cost-effective.

    SGW: (The project) will result in the loss of two valuable conditional water rights totaling 14,892 acre-feet. At the current cash-in-lieu price for water, that would be a los of $506,328,000 for Greeley Citizens.

    AJ: Greeley filed for what are called conditional water storage decrees. This is a process through Water Court by which an applicant can file for a water right before they have the storage reservoir in place or built where they plan to store the rights. The reason for that is we recognized building reservoirs takes a long time, so these conditional rights hold our place in line for when the reservoirs are eventually built.

    There are two water rights, conditional storage rights associated with Milton Seaman. One is the Milton Seaman enlargement decree, for 10,000 acre-feet. It has a 1980s priority. To give context, 1980s priority is extremely junior — junior meaning it only comes into priority during very wet years, and by coming into priority, it means one is able to actually use the water, divert the water, under that right. The second right is called the Rockwell Ranch right. This was filed on a proposed reservoir on the south fork of the Poudre River in the 1970s, at the time a joint project between Greeley and Fort Collins. That’s a little under 5,000.

    That (second) right’s already moved from Rockwell to Milton Seaman, recently. Water Court allows us to move those rights. By moving those rights, it gives water providers some flexibility to refine plans for reservoir projects the state understands takes a long time and analysis to develop. Similar to the Rockwell right, we plan on moving these rights to Terry Ranch or to other water storage reservoirs.

    We won’t lose these rights. We’ll move them. That’s a fact.

    I think there has been some speculation these rights are far more valuable than they are, and I say that because we want to make clear Greeley is not giving up hundreds of millions of dollars in water rights. They’re so junior — most rights we rely on year-in and year-out are 1860s, 1870s-type priorities. These are 1980s priorities. The value of the right is much less than what has been stated. That valuation is very inflated.

    Here’s an example of a comparable situation: The city of Fort Collins in 2013 failed to file diligence on the Halligan Reservoir, and that right was abandoned, for somewhere around 33,000 acre-feet. This was a priority senior to Milton Seaman. The city (of Fort Collins) settled with a law firm, and the final settlement was around $2.5 million. I bring that up to illustrate the absurdity of a $500 million valuation.

    These rights being so junior, they may only divert water every four or five years in a very wet year. We found with Milton Seaman, those years they come into priority, Milton Seaman may already be full. So they have some use, but they’re not a value that a senior water right on the Poudre River provides.

    SGW: Terry Ranch ground water will forever change the perception that Greeley has excellent drinking water. Water samples have shown various degrees of contaminants such as uranium, arsenic and manganese. These contaminants require special treatment to remove.

    AJ: Our studies, our diligence activities, are all listed on our website (greeleygov.com/terryranch). I encourage anybody to review those engineering and scientific documents, which prove conclusively the high-quality, treatable nature of the Terry Ranch water.

    39th Annual Southern Rocky Mountain Agricultural Conference and Trade Show recap — The Valley Courier #RioGrande

    Artesian well Dutton Ranch, Alamosa 1909 via the Crestone Eagle

    From The Valley Courier (Patrick Shea):

    For two hours, a cascade of Zoom presenters on the final day of the 39th Annual Southern Rocky Mountain Agricultural Conference and Trade Show explained different aspects of the San Luis Valley water situation.

    Thursday’s, Feb. 4, updates included historical data and projected forecasts, but water users on the call also heard about pressing deadlines. The 2015 Ground Water Use Rules fully take effect on March 15. Some well owners, for example, may not realize how new regulations will affect them this spring…

    The program manager for Subdistricts 2, 3 and 6, Pacheco has already been absorbing some of Simpson’s duties since he won the Colorado State Senate District 35 seat. She presented his legislative update while he attended committee meetings in Denver. According to Pacheco, draft legislation called the “30 by 30 Resolution to Save Nature” sets a goal of measuring meaningful improvements in conservation across the country before 2030.

    Pacheco said she was “not familiar with the legislation, so I can’t answer many questions. But looking over a short summary, it looks like there may be some potential economic opportunities for producers in the Valley who are looking to participate in conservation efforts.”

    Pacheco mentioned retiring wells, planting cover crops and conducting soil projects as examples of these efforts, “just to name a few.”

    Before moving on to updates for Subdistricts 2, 3 and 6, Pacheco encouraged participants to contact the San Luis Valley Ecosystem Council Director Christine Canaly for legislative details — 719-589-1518 or info@slvec.org.

    In April, Subdistricts 2 and 3 will complete the second year of Annual Replacement Plans (ARPs). “So far,” Pacheco said, “we’ve successfully replaced all stream depletions to all river systems as required under our plans.” Pacheco added that Subdistrict 6 is currently in its first year, and “they have successfully replaced all their depletions to date.”

    Subdistricts 3 and 6 operate with sustainability requirements defined in the 2015 Ground Water Use Rules. They are currently within 78% of requirements and look sustainable for a while, although continued drought conditions may threaten the 22% cushion.

    Pacheco closed by addressing water users in Subdistricts 2, 3 and 6 who received letters from DWR regarding commercial non-exempt well uses. If they want to become a subdistrict member, they need to contact Pacheco immediately. The customary deadline for receiving subdistrict applications is the first of December for the following year. But the DWR letters mailed in January.

    The contract deadline for Subdistricts 4 and 5 is Feb. 15. Although they are no longer soliciting new members, they’re looking for wet water sources on San Luis Creek and Saguache Creeks. They are also seeking Well Injury Payments (WIPs or “forbearance”) on Kerber Creek and Crestone Creek. Partial and full-year Annual Replacement Plans are due. Plans covering March 15 to April 30 are due on March 1, and the annual plan starting in May is due April 15.

    The same deadlines apply to Subdistrict 1 water users, according to Program Manager Marisa Fricke. Fricke celebrated 2020, the year with the highest enrollment in subdistrict history. Of the 399 well owners who received letters from DWR, 300 are in the Subdistrict 1 response area. Fricke encouraged owners to reply before making conclusions. One letter recipient called DWR for clarification and resolved the issue right away.

    DWR District Engineer Cotten recapped water history from 1938 to present while showing forecasts for hotter, dryer conditions this year. Throughout his update, he referred to the dry years of 2002, 2018 and 2020.

    As of Feb. 3, the Snow Water Equivalent for the Upper Rio Grande looks promising at 107%. But runoff forecasts are low. None reach 100% of average as of Feb. 1, and the San Antonio River meandering into New Mexico and back into Colorado ranks lowest among forecasts at 58%.

    Referring to letters some well owners received, Cotten reiterated new groundwater rules about to take effect. Wells permitted for domestic drinking and sanitation only will be subject to the Rio Grande rules, which means they will have to cover depletions by joining a subdistrict or presenting an augmentation plan. They can contact DWR for more information.

    Closing out the water presentations, SLV Water Conservation District Manager Heather Dutton described opposition to the fifth water export proposal from the San Luis Valley. Previous proposals — San Marcos Pipeline, American Water Development Inc. (AWDI), Stockman’s Water and Sustainable Water Resources – failed. The current pitch from Renewable Water Resources (RWR) does not include water court or permit filings to date, although marketing activities continue.

    The RWR website (http://renewablewaterresources.com) provides background and objectives about the proposal. Dutton encouraged people to compare the RWR website with protectsanluisvalleywater.com and the Protect San Luis Valley Water Facebook page to compare data points.

    The depth (and salinity) of the water has been disputed since geologist Phil Emery hinted at two billion acre-feet stored in the deposits in 1971. He later explained his miscalculation, but the billion-acre-feet notion persists. Meanwhile, all the Valley water has already been allocated. Two ditches carry water from the Sangre de Cristo mountains to the Wet Mountain Valley between May and July, approximately 1,063 acre-feet a year. The rest heads downstream.

    2021 #COleg: The Lower #SouthPlatte Water Conservancy District board keeping an eye on proposed legislation — The #Sterling Journal-Advocate

    Jim Yahn: Photo by Havey Productions via TheDenverChannel.com

    From The Sterling Journal-Advocate (Jeff Rice):

    Two proposed water management bills filed for the 2021 Colorado General Assembly session could prove to be problematic to water interests. Both bills were discussed Tuesday during the Lower South Platte Water Conservancy Districts board of directors meeting in Sterling.

    One bill, originated by State Rep. Richard Holtorf, R-Akron and co-sponsored by Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, calls for an evaluation of ways to implement underground water storage, as called for in the five-year-old Colorado’s Water Plan. Another seeks to clarify the rights of various members of a mutual ditch company, especially when some shares of the company are owned by non-irrigators.

    LSPWCD manager Joe Frank told his board he has “some concerns that we’re mixing apples and oranges” with the underground storage bill. Frank said that, although it’s a statewide bill, it still comes down to taking unappropriated water out of the South Platte River Basin and storing it outside the basin.

    “You’d have to move the (water) out of the South Platte basin into a designated basin,” Frank said. “Almost any underground storage inside the (South Platte) basin is going to be alluvial to the river.”

    Colorado designated groundwater basins. Map credit: Robert Longenbaugh September 14, 2014

    That means attempts to store the water underground inside the basin would only result in water being pulled out of the river in times of excess flow and pumped right back into the river’s aquifer, resulting in no actual benefit. Instead, the water would have to be pumped and piped to a designated basin outside the South Platte basin, such as the Ogallala Aquifer, to be pumped out again at a later time.

    The other problem, Frank said, is getting the water into the storage basin in the first place. He said designated basins are best recharged by pumping water into a surface reservoir and letting it seep into the aquifer below. Otherwise, high-powered pumps are required for deep injection well storage.

    According to Holtorf’s bill, the Colorado Water Conservation Board would contract with “a Colorado institution of higher education” to do the study, but no specific college or university was mentioned in the draft bill.

    The second draft that Frank discussed concerns water rights for members of mutual ditch companies. Sometimes called irrigation companies or just ditch companies, these companies are owned by member shareholders who receive water during the irrigation season according to the size of their shareholdings. As the name implies, the shareholders mutually agree on who gets their water when. Irrigators don’t receive their water continuously during the irrigation season, but in large quantities over short periods of time. Over the course of an irrigation season, all shareholders get their share of the water, just not all at the same time.

    Problems arise when non-irrigators, such as municipalities or industries, own shares of mutual ditch companies. That ownership occurs through a change-of-use case adjudicated in Colorado Water Court. Those “change cases” can cause confusion in the running of a ditch company because the new users generally want their water continuously during the irrigating season.

    There also is contention over what happens to water that a shareholder doesn’t use; at issue is whether the unused water can be used by other shareholders or must be turned back to the river or reservoir from which it came.

    At the heart of the matter is a 1975 water case, Jacobucci v. District Court, which should have settled the matter. A key passage in that decision states, “the benefit derived from the ownership of such stock is the right to the exclusive use of the water it represents …” Exclusivity, as understood by most in the legal profession, means “if it’s mine and I don’t use it, you can’t use it either.”

    Most ditch companies, however, don’t actually operate that way, but allow the use of unused water as long as it’s put to beneficial use. It is, according to LSPWCD Vice President Gene Manuello, a matter of common sense.

    “It’s just common sense that we all work together,” Manuello said during the meeting Tuesday. “That’s why it’s called a mutual ditch company, we work to our mutual benefit. Let’s not change how we run a mutual ditch company.”

    The draft legislation seeks to clarify the rights of mutual ditch company shareholders but, according to the discussion at Tuesday’s meeting, it does anything but that.

    Frank told the board the bill has “a lot of moving parts,” and seems to have been inspired by recent change cases. He said attempts to figure out exactly what the bill means haven’t been very helpful. Manuello, who sits on a number of water boards and committees, said he was on a conference call about the bill recently and gained no new insight from the meeting…

    The draft legislation was submitted by Rep. Jeni Arndt, D-Fort Collins, who chairs the House Agriculture, Livestock and Water Committee, and Rep. Marc Catlin, R-Montrose, who is the ranking Republican on that committee.

    How much water is under #Moab? Scientists say it’s less than once thought — KSL.com #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    Colorado River near Moab, Utah.

    From KSL.com (Graham Dudley):

    Moab City and Grand County are reckoning with recent studies that suggest their underground water supply might not be as abundant as originally thought.

    Now the city is working to solidify an estimate and determine what restrictions or changes might be necessary to keep the growing area and thriving tourist destination hydrated.

    In the early 1970s, a study from U.S. Geological Survey estimated there was 22,000 acre-feet of water entering and leaving the Spanish Valley aquifer system each year…

    But a 2019 study from the Geological Survey and a 2020 article in the Journal of Hydrology suggest that there’s actually more like 13,000 to 15,000 acre-feet of water recharging the aquifers.

    There are two main aquifers supplying water to the area: the valley-fill aquifer and the Glen Canyon Group aquifers. The city’s culinary water comes entirely from the Glen Canyon Group aquifer, particularly its deeper sections. Douglas Kip Solomon, a University of Utah geologist who helped author both recent reports, told KSL.com that “essentially all” the water recharging the aquifer each year is already being withdrawn for use, about 3,600 acre-feet per year between all entities.

    In other words, withdrawing more water would require “mining” the aquifer, or taking out more than is going back in. “There just isn’t any unaccounted-for water,” Solomon said, “that was somewhat, I think, previously assumed.”

    Why not just use another source, like the valley-fill? Solomon said the water rights from the valley-fill aquifer and the shallow Glen Canyon waters are already claimed and are used primarily for irrigation and agriculture. They are treatable, he said, but not as high-quality as the Glen Canyon Group waters.

    “Water from the Glen Canyon Group aquifer, especially the deep aquifer that the city of Moab uses, is outstanding quality water,” Solomon said. “Just the right amount of salt to be really tasty. It’s thousands of years old, it’s free of contamination — it’s just an excellent source of water supply.”

    Solomon said the City of Moab will “have to really think about other sources of water” other than drilling wells into the Glen Canyon Group aquifer. “They may have to think about using water from the Colorado River,” he said, but that’s an “expensive proposition.”

    […]

    [Mike] Duncan wants the city to start carefully measuring how much water it’s using, tracking its future commitments and, if necessary, considering a quota system for future allocations. “The city has plenty of water rights,” he said, “but that’s not the issue anymore. How much real water do we have to use?”

    Other potential sources include Mill Creek, surface water supplied from the Glen Canyon Group aquifers, which is currently used agriculturally by the Moab Irrigation Company. There’s also the valley-fill aquifer, but its waters would be expensive to treat, and drawing it down could have environmental impacts. Using Colorado River waters would also be expensive.

    Every option has its tradeoffs, Duncan and Solomon agree, but it’s important to start this conversation now.

    Graphic credit: The Journal of Hydrology

    2021 #OgallalaAquifer Summit February 24-25, 2021

    Click here for all the inside skinny and to register.

    The Ogallala aquifer, also referred to as the High Plains aquifer. Source: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Adminstration

    #NewMexico #water managers warn communities to prepare for low #RioGrande — The #Albuquerque Journal

    From The Albuquerque Journal (Theresa Davis):

    New Mexico water agencies are urging farmers to think twice about planting crops in what could be a tight water year. The state faces a big water debt to downstream users, and a multi-year drought is taking its toll.

    The Office of the State Engineer recommends “that farmers along the Rio Chama and in the Middle Valley that don’t absolutely need to farm this year, do not farm,” according to a staff report that Interstate Stream Commission Director Rolf Schmidt-Petersen presented to the Commission earlier this month.

    Irrigation supply along the river from Cochiti Dam to Elephant Butte Reservoir is governed by the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District. The district cut its 2020 irrigation season a month short, because there wasn’t enough water to go around. A shorter season also helped deliver some river water to Elephant Butte as part of New Mexico’s Rio Grande Compact obligations.

    In January, the district board voted to delay the start of the 2021 season until April 1, a month later than usual.

    This year is on track to be a situation of water shortages and storage restrictions unlike any since the 1950s, said Mike Hamman, the district’s chief engineer and CEO and an Interstate Stream Commissioner. The district also anticipates receiving as little as half the usual allotment of San Juan-Chama water.

    “The hydrology really started to shift in the early ’90s,” Hamman said. “We’ve got into this cycle of below-average, average, above-average years, and I’ve noticed that our climatic conditions (limit) the available snowpack. That exacerbates things a little bit more now, where we need to have well-above-average snowpacks to address the poor watershed conditions that may have resulted from a poor summer rain period or fall moisture.”

    […]

    Regional farmers are advised to prepare for severe water shortages by exercising “extreme caution” in planting crops this spring and by using any available water only for the most essential uses…

    The current Rio Grande Compact water debt of about 100,000 acre-feet, or 32 billion gallons, restricts how much the state can store in reservoirs.

    By the end of January, the state will have released about 3,200 acre-feet, or about 1 billion gallons, of “debit water” from El Vado and Nichols Reservoir near Santa Fe to Elephant Butte.

    Last year’s monsoon season from May to September was the driest on record for New Mexico.

    The Rio Grande could go completely dry this summer all the way from Angostura Dam north of Bernalillo through Albuquerque, especially if this year brings another lackluster monsoon season…

    ‘Last page in our playbook’

    The fail-safe options New Mexico relied on last year to stretch the Rio Grande water supply won’t be available this year. This summer on the river may look like what water managers and environmental groups worked to stave off during last year’s hot, dry summer months.

    The Middle Rio Grande didn’t look good in July 2020. The MRCGD had just a few days of water supply left.

    No water could have meant no irrigation for farmers, but also limited river habitat for endangered species, scarce drinking water supply for local communities, and meager flows for river recreation.

    Then came word from the other Rio Grande Compact states of Colorado and Texas: New Mexico had permission to boost river flows by releasing a total of 12 billion gallons from El Vado Reservoir.

    “That was the last page in our playbook, or pretty darn close to it,” Schmidt-Petersen told the Journal.

    The release kept the Rio Grande from drying completely in the Albuquerque stretch and helped extend the irrigation season for central New Mexico farmers.

    Colorado River water diverted via the San Juan-Chama Project also added to the trickling native Rio Grande flows.

    Last summer’s massive release from El Vado was water that had been stored as assurance that the state’s Rio Grande Compact debt would be paid.

    That water is gone. New Mexico still has to “pay back” the 12 billion gallons, plus any obligations accrued this year.

    State Engineer John D’Antonio said the drought is shaping up to be as severe as the conditions the state experienced in the 1950s.

    New Mexico Drought Monitor January 26, 2021.

    Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s December 2020 emergency drought declaration could provide some financial relief for communities affected by the record-setting dry conditions.

    “There could be appropriated up to $750,000 for each eligible and qualified applicant that the governor may designate from the surplus unappropriated money in the general fund, if there is any,” D’Antonio said.

    The state Drought Task Force would determine which organizations or local governments receive the money, which under the emergency declaration could be used for water conservation projects, to offset economic losses caused by the drought, or as a match for federal funding.

    Dylan Wilson on the banks of the Rio Grande near Las Cruces, N.M. Photo credit: Allen Best

    Gloomy forecast

    New Mexico will endure another double whammy of limited water supply and growing Rio Grande Compact water debt if snowpack levels don’t improve dramatically by early spring.

    Statewide snowmelt runoff forecasts published Jan. 1 showed most of New Mexico at less than 80% of normal levels.

    Since then, some snowstorms have brought much-needed moisture to the northern half of the state.

    But New Mexico needs several months of above-average snow and rain to dig out of a drought before the hot summer months.

    Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map February 1, 2021 via the NRCS.

    Groundwater wells in the lower Rio Grande region of southern New Mexico supply water for municipal and agricultural uses when the river is low.

    “That’s not the same in the middle valley for all the farmers there,” Schmidt-Petersen said. “There are limitations on wells that have been in place for long periods of time, so some places can pump and some cannot, and similarly all the way up the Chama.”

    #ColoradoRiver Getting Saltier Sparks Calls for Federal Help — Bloomberg Law #COriver #aridification

    From Bloomberg Law (Emily C. Dooley):

    Various efforts along the river or tributaries annually remove about 1.2 million tons of salt. But the largest brine-removal system in the basin has been shuttered for two years over earthquake concerns. In December, President Donald Trump’s outgoing administration released a final environmental review on what to do about it.

    The chosen course: No action, leaving the fate of the project and of salt removal murky. Now local suppliers say they will be pressing the Biden administration to do the opposite.

    “For the last two years the salt has been flowing back into the river,” said Bill Hasencamp, chair of the Colorado River Basin Salinity Control Forum, which represents all of the states that draw from the river. “We were very disappointed. There’s no plan to capture [it] going forward.”

    Water suppliers have filed comment letters about the “no action” decision and sent letters to former Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman. The average annual economic loss from salinity levels in the Colorado River is estimated to be $495 million, Reclamation said in its environmental review.

    Seismic Threat

    At issue is the Paradox Valley Unit near the Colorado-Utah border. The project, in operation since 1996, took saline groundwater before it could hit the Colorado and the Dolores River, a tributary, and injected it more than three miles beneath the surface into a well disconnected from the river system. About 95,000 tons of salt were removed each year.

    But injecting, like hydraulic fracturing, can cause seismic shifts.

    Reclamation shut down Paradox Valley in March 2019 after a magnitude 4.1 earthquake, which the U.S. Geological Survey considers moderate in size. Operations resumed for a six-week test at reduced use in spring 2020, but the well currently isn’t operating.

    Technical experts are evaluating next steps and it’s too soon for the agency to propose a new salinity control plan, Reclamation spokeswoman Linda Friar said in an email.

    Map of the Colorado River drainage basin, created using USGS data. By Shannon1 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=65868008

    The agency currently doesn’t plan to issue a record of decision, which would finalize the “no action” plan Reclamation selected, she said.

    Hasencamp, also manager of Colorado River resources for the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, and others had pushed for that delay in comments filed with Reclamation earlier this month…

    Rejected Options

    In its environmental review, Reclamation considered and rejected building a new injection well, using evaporation ponds for brine to be treated at the surface, and building a discharge facility to evaporate and condense water before sending salt to a landfill.

    The “no action” alternative was “in the best interest of public health and safety,” Ed Warner, Reclamation’s Western Colorado Area office manager, said in a news release.

    James Eklund, former director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, said when he served as the state’s representative on salinity control programs, he was “pretty adamant” that the bureau should switch from earthquake-causing deep injection wells to evaporating ponds in order to deal with the saltwater. Eklund is now at Denver-based Eklund Hanlon LLC…

    Economic Losses

    But more than 600 miles south, the loss of Paradox Valley could increase salinity levels at Imperial Dam by 9 to 10 parts per million, which could lead to $23 million in estimated economic losses each year, Harris, from the Colorado River Board of California, said in a December letter to Burman, a Trump appointee no longer in office.

    The EPA doesn’t have a drinking water standard for sodium chloride, but it has a voluntary standard of 250 parts per million for chloride, a component of salt. Voluntary standards are generally related more to aesthetic concerns like taste and appearance.

    “It’s not huge, but we get essentially a ton of salt in every acre-foot of water,” said Tina Shields, water manager for Imperial Irrigation District, which borders Mexico. “If you don’t continue to implement these upstream salinity control measures by default, it can only go up.”

    Nearly all farmers in the Imperial Irrigation District have drains installed beneath the surface to leach salt away from crops, which requires even more water. But that’s not a permanent solution.

    Imperial is the last stop for water before it gets into Mexico, where the Colorado River delivers water to 2.3 million people and 500,000 acres of agriculture…

    Expensive Treatment

    Urban areas will be able to weather the salt problem better than agricultural ones because they have mass treatment to comply with drinking water standards, said Patricia Mulroy, former general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority and owner of the consulting firm Sustainable Strategies.

    Forever Chemicals Are Widespread in U.S. Drinking Water — Scientific America #PFAS

    From Scientific American (Annie Sneed):

    Experts hope that with the incoming Biden administration, the federal government will finally regulate a class of chemicals known as PFASs

    Many Americans fill up a glass of water from their faucet without worrying whether it might be dangerous. But the crisis of lead-tainted water in Flint, Mich., showed that safe, potable tap water is not a given in this country. Now a study from the Environmental Working Group (EWG), a nonprofit advocacy organization, reveals a widespread problem: the drinking water of a majority of Americans likely contains “forever chemicals.” These compounds may take hundreds, or even thousands, of years to break down in the environment. They can also persist in the human body, potentially causing health problems

    A handful of states have set about trying to address these contaminants, which are scientifically known as perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs). But no federal limits have been set on the concentration of the chemicals in water, as they have for other pollutants such as benzene, uranium and arsenic. With a new presidential administration coming into office this week, experts say the federal government finally needs to remedy that oversight. “The PFAS pollution crisis is a public health emergency,” wrote Scott Faber, EWG’s senior vice president for government affairs, in a recent public statement.

    Of the more than 9,000 known PFAS compounds, 600 are currently used in the U.S. in countless products, including firefighting foam, cookware, cosmetics, carpet treatments and even dental floss. Scientists call PFASs “forever chemicals” because their chemistry keeps them from breaking down under typical environmental conditions. “One of the unique features of PFAS compounds is the carbon-fluorine bond,” explains David Andrews, a senior scientist at EWG. “That bond is incredibly strong.” Ultimately this means that if PFASs enter the environment, they build up. These chemicals can linger on geologic time scales, explains Chris Higgins, a civil and environmental engineer at the Colorado School of Mines…

    Because of their widespread use, release and disposal over the decades, PFASs show up virtually everywhere: in soil, surface water, the atmosphere, the deep ocean—and even the human body. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Web site says that the agency has found PFASs in the blood of nearly everyone it has tested for them, “indicating widespread exposure to these PFAS in the U.S. population.” Scientists have found links between a number of the chemicals and many health concerns—including kidney and testicular cancer, thyroid disease, liver damage, developmental toxicity, ulcerative colitis, high cholesterol, pregnancy-induced preeclampsia and hypertension, and immune dysfunction.

    Concerned about PFASs’ persistence and potential harm, Andrews and his EWG colleague Olga Naidenko set out to assess Americans’ exposure to the chemicals via their drinking water. PFASs can get into this water in a variety of ways. For example, industrial sites might release the compounds into the water or air. Or they can leach from disposal sites. They can also percolate into groundwater from the firefighting foams used at airports and military bases. Andrews and Naidenko say there is a need for research into drinking-water levels because the federal government does not require testing water for PFASs. This leaves a gap in scientists’ understanding of overall exposure. Andrews and Naidenko focused their analysis on two types of these chemicals—perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS)—because those compounds had the most available data. The two researchers pulled that information together from various sources, including state agencies, the federal government and the EWG’s own measurements.

    The scientists estimated that more than 200 million people—the majority of Americans—have tap water contaminated with a mixture of PFOA and PFOS at concentrations of one part per trillion (ppt) or higher. Andrews and Naidenko say previous research shows that levels higher than one ppt can increase the risk of conditions such as testicular cancer, delayed mammary gland development, liver tumors, high cholesterol and effects on children’s immune response to vaccinations. “It’s a calculation of what would be a safe exposure level,” Andrews says. Even when the researchers shifted their analysis to a higher level of 10 ppt, they still found some 18 million to 80 million Americans to be exposed. Representatives of the chemical industry have disagreed with such concerns. “We believe there is no scientific basis for maximum contaminant levels lower than 70 ppt,” the American Chemistry Council said in statement to Scientific American…

    Technologies to remove PFASs from drinking water exist on both household and municipal levels. Granular activated carbon filters and reverse osmosis are two options, but they are costly and high-maintenance—and the burden falls on taxpayers. “PFASs are produced by companies, for which they receive a profit,” DeWitt says. “And then residents end up paying to clean up the pollution.” On top of that, PFAS that is removed from drinking water may simply end up elsewhere, such as in a landfill or river.

    Some states have instituted or proposed limits on PFASs in drinking water, but experts say federal action is needed to tackle such a widespread problem. President Joe Biden’s administration may finally address that need. His campaign’s environmental justice plan specifically called out forever chemicals. And the plan said that the president will “tackle PFAS pollution by designating PFAS as a hazardous substance, setting enforceable limits for PFAS in the Safe Drinking Water Act, prioritizing substitutes through procurement, and accelerating toxicity studies and research on PFAS.” The new administration could carry out all of these goals unilaterally through executive action, without Congress’s cooperation. Some experts appear optimistic about this prospect. “I’m hopeful that the incoming administration will reempower the EPA so that it can actually create regulations to protect public health,” DeWitt says. “That is the agency’s charge—that is its mission.”

    More Coyote Gulch posts about PFASs here.

    #EastTroublesomeFire could cause water-quality impacts for years — @AspenJournalism #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    Drivers between Granby and Walden will encounter many scenes of hillsides where only snags remain from the 193,000-acre East Troublesome Fire in October. Water managers say the worst impacts of the fire may be felt with summer rains. Photo credit: Aspen Journalism

    From Aspen Journalism (Allen Best):

    For some ranchers in Troublesome Valley, the worst impacts of the wildfire that began near there in October might not arrive until summer — or even summers beyond.

    Experts say the greatest danger of sedimentation from the East Troublesome Fire will occur during and after a hard rain, especially of an inch or more. That is when the severe soil damage from the fire will cause sediment to wash into the east fork of Troublesome Creek and into a diversion ditch used to irrigate 10,000 acres of hay.

    “It’s a real concern for us,” said Kent Whitmer, one of seven ranch owners who get water from the ditch owned by the East Troublesome Mutual Irrigation Co.

    Whitmer said he most fears sediment filling the ditch so badly that it overflows.

    “That would be disastrous,” he said.

    Agricultural and municipal water users will see broad, lingering effects of the 193,812-acre fire.

    The East Troublesome Fire, which had been burning east of Colorado Highway 125, exploded on the afternoon of Oct. 21, driven by 70 mph winds. In all, the fire grew 100,000 acres in 24 hours, eventually becoming the second-largest wildfire in the state’s recorded history. The fire was formally designated as contained Nov. 30, although small plumes of smoke could be seen in the golf course area as recently as Christmas Day. All but about 5,000 acres of the fire burned in Grand County.

    Denver Water may offer lessons useful to water managers, who will be dealing with impacts from the East Troublesome Fire for years, perhaps decades. Denver Water has struggled with sediment and debris clogging its two major reservoirs in the foothills southwest of Denver. The fires that caused problems for those reservoirs — Buffalo Creek in 1996 and Hayman in 2002 — fried soils, removing their ability to absorb moisture. Sediment has been washed up to 11 miles into Strontia Springs and Cheesman reservoirs, pushed by water during summer cloudbursts.

    Denver Water has spent $28 million in reservoir dredging, facilities repair and landscape-restoration projects. It discovered that debris and sediment can travel downstream to cause problems in critical water infrastructure. At Strontia Springs, Denver Water dredged for sediment as recently as five years ago but may need to do so again this year.

    “Dredging is very costly,” Denver Water watershed scientist Christina Burri said during the recent post-fire water impacts webinar. Retrieving sediment and debris can be challenging, and then there’s the issue of what to do with the debris. “Do you pile it? Do you burn it? Where can you take it?” Burri said.

    The East Troublesome Fire might produce fewer problems. A fire assessment called burned-area emergency response was conducted by U.S. Forest Service land managers and shows mostly low to moderate soil burn severity, suggesting lesser impacts to water quality.

    But water managers still expect significant challenges come spring, when melting snow produces debris and sediment that can clog bridges, culverts and reservoirs.

    This house north of Windy Gap Reservoir was among the 589 private structures burned in the East Troublesome Creek Fire. Water managers worry soil damage by the fire will cause sediment to clog irrigation ditches and municipal water infrastructure alike. Photo credit: Aspen Journalism

    Assessing the damage

    The fire came through in October “so quickly that it didn’t have a chance to do long-term scarring of the soil,” said Jeff Stahla, public information officer for the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District. “However, this is still a sobering assessment because it really lays out the challenge we have going forward.”

    Northern Water operates the Colorado-Big Thompson diversion project, which employs Willow Creek, Granby and Shadow Mountain reservoirs as well as Grand Lake to deliver water to more than a million people and 615,000 irrigated acres along the northern Front Range and in northeastern Colorado.

    The district estimates the fire burned as much as 94% of the Willow Creek watershed, 90% of the area drained by Stillwater Creek, 29% of the Colorado River drainage above Shadow Mountain Reservoir and 42% of the North Inlet watershed. A more detailed assessment will be needed in the spring after snow has melted, Strahla said.

    “It’s not as bad as Hayman, but that doesn’t mean it’s not bad,” Stahla said, referring to the 138,000-acre fire in 2002 that was the largest forest fire in Colorado’s recorded history until last year. In size, Hayman was eclipsed by the three Colorado fires in 2020: East Troublesome, Cameron Peak and Pine Gulch.

    In assessing the damages caused by the East Troublesome Fire, resource specialists estimated 5% of the soil suffered high severity, 48% of it moderate severity and 37% of it low severity burns. Within the fire perimeter, 10% of the land was unburned.

    The mapping for the 22,668 acres of the East Troublesome Fire within Rocky Mountain National Park has not yet been released.

    Soil in severely burned areas has lost its structure, as the fire burned the forest litter and duff, weakening the roots of trees and other material that hold soil together.

    Areas of severe damage include the basin drained by the east fork of Troublesome Creek, where the fire was first reported Oct. 14. There, the fire hunkered down, moving slowly but burning most everything. Other notable severe burn areas are near Willow Creek Pass, between Granby and Walden, and a gulch immediately north of Windy Gap Reservoir. Some areas near Grand Lake burned with surprising severity.

    Erosion in high or moderate soil burn areas depends on the specific characteristics, such as the slope and soil texture, of each area, according to the burn report.

    Little that was live remained standing in this area along Colorado Highway 25, north of Windy Gap Reservoir, after the East Troublesome Fire. Agricultural and municipal water users will see broad, lingering effects of the fire. Photo credit: Aspen Journalism

    Watching the water

    Impacts to drinking water in Grand County will vary. Well owners generally should have no problems with the debris.

    “These folks will want to make sure that wellheads and components are not damaged, to test for coliform bacteria before drinking the water post-fire and to treat it if necessary,” said Katherine Morris, water-quality specialist for Grand County. “If a well is located in an area known to be down-gradient from an area where homes burned, it may be prudent to ensure that your water treatment is adequate.”

    At Grand Lake, the town draws water from 80-foot wells.

    “We have not seen anything yet,” said Dave Johnson, the water superintendent for Grand Lake. He said he doesn’t expect problems but that the water will continue to be monitored, as it has been.

    But Grand Lake’s microhydro plant could have problems. Located on Tonohutu Creek, the small plant constantly generates 5 kilowatts of electricity used in treating the town’s domestic water.

    “We can only filter out so much debris before we have to close the intake,” Johnson said.

    In that case, the water treatment plant will be operated solely by electricity from Mountain Parks Electric.

    Hot Sulphur Springs, which draws water from wells that tap the river aquifer, will be the only town in Grand County with municipal water supplies directly impacted by the fire. Kremmling also can tap the Colorado River, but it does so only in emergencies.

    Hot Sulphur Springs Mayor Bob McVay said his town expects challenges when the snow melts this spring, producing ash-laden water and debris. The town already has set out to take precautions, but it’s not yet clear what will be required.

    Upgrading of the filters in the town’s water treatment plant, a project that began a year ago, probably will be completed in January, providing duplicate filtering systems. But that might not be enough. Secondary wells in the groundwater along the river remain an option.

    In Troublesome Valley, Whitmer hopes to consult the expertise of the Natural Resources Conservation Service about how to mitigate effects of the fire on the irrigation ditch. He also wonders whether beaver dams in the East Fork will trap at least some sediment.

    For Northern Water, this was just one of several fires affecting its operations in 2020. It was impacted by fires on both sides of the Continental Divide, including the Cameron Peak Fire, the state’s largest wildfire, which affected the Poudre River and other creeks and drainages.

    Stahla said managers attempt to prepare for wildfire and other contingencies, but they did not prepare for such a severe wildfire season.

    “If you had come to us with a scenario that there is wildfire burning above Grand Lake, above Estes Park and throughout the Poudre River Basin, we probably would have pushed back, thinking that’s a little too over the top,” he said.

    Aspen Journalism covers water and rivers in collaboration with Swift Communications newspapers. Our water desk is funded in part by the Catena Foundation. This story ran in the Jan. 16 edition of the Summit Daily News and the Jan. 15 edition of Sky-Hi News.

    The Ongoing Collapse of the World’s Aquifers: “Geology is geology…We can’t do anything about that” (Michelle Sneed) — Wired

    Types of ground subsidence. Graphic credit: By Mpetty1 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=14698311

    From Wired (Matt Simon):

    When humans over-exploit underground water supplies, the ground collapses like a huge empty water bottle. It’s called subsidence, and it could affect 1.6 billion people by 2040.

    AS CALIFORNIA’S ECONOMY skyrocketed during the 20th century, its land headed in the opposite direction. A booming agricultural industry in the state’s San Joaquin Valley, combined with punishing droughts, led to the over-extraction of water from aquifers. Like huge, empty water bottles, the aquifers crumpled, a phenomenon geologists call subsidence. By 1970, the land had sunk as much as 28 feet in the valley, with less-than-ideal consequences for the humans and infrastructure above the aquifers.

    San Joaquin Valley Subsidence. Photo credit: USGS

    The San Joaquin Valley was geologically primed for collapse, but its plight is not unique. All over the world—from the Netherlands to Indonesia to Mexico City—geology is conspiring with climate change to sink the ground under humanity’s feet. More punishing droughts mean the increased draining of aquifers, and rising seas make sinking land all the more vulnerable to flooding. According to a recent study published in the journal Science, in the next two decades, 1.6 billion people could be affected by subsidence, with potential loses in the trillions of dollars.

    “Subsidence has been neglected in a lot of ways because it is slow moving. You don’t recognize it until you start seeing damage,” says Michelle Sneed, a land subsidence specialist at the U.S. Geological Survey and coauthor on the paper. “The land sinking itself is not a problem. But if you’re on the coast, it’s a big problem. If you have infrastructure that crosses long areas, it’s a big problem. If you have deep wells, they’re collapsing because of subsidence. That’s a problem.”

    For subsidence to become a problem, you need two things: The right kind of land, and an over-exploited aquifer. Aquifers hold water in between bits of sand, gravel, or clay. When the amount of clay in an aquifer is particularly high, the grains arrange themselves like plates thrown haphazardly in a sink—they’ve basically got random orientations, and the water fills in the spaces between the grains. But if you start extracting water from an aquifer, those spaces collapse and the grains draw closer together. “Those plates rearrange themselves into more like a stack of dinner plates that you put in your cupboard,” says Sneed. “It takes a lot less space, obviously, to stack the plates that way. And so that’s the compaction of the aquifer system that then results in land subsidence at the surface.”

    But wouldn’t pumping more water back into the aquifer force the clay plates back to their random, spacey orientations? Unfortunately, no. “It’ll press those grains apart a little bit—you’ll get a little bit of expansion in the aquifer system represented as uplift on the land surface. But it’s a tiny amount,” says Sneed. We’re talking maybe three quarters of an inch of movement. “They’re still stacked like the plates in your cupboard,” she continues.

    So at this point you’ve got a double-barreled problem: The land has sunk and it won’t reinflate, and the aquifers won’t hold as much water as they once did, because they’ve compressed. “And that’s an important point,” says Sneed. “As places around the world, including California, are starting to use aquifer systems as managed reservoirs, the compaction of them prior to now has reduced their ability to store water.”

    […]

    But scientists haven’t modeled global risks of subsidence—until now. To build their model, Sneed and her colleagues scoured the existing literature on land subsidence in 200 locations worldwide. They considered those geological factors (high clay content), as well as topology, as subsidence is more likely to happen on flat land. They factored in population and economic growth, data on water use, and climate variables.

    The researchers found that, planet-wide, subsidence could threaten 4.6 million square miles of land in the next two decades. While that’s just 8 percent of Earth’s land, humanity tends to build big cities in coastal areas, which are prone to subsidence. So they estimate that, in the end, 1.6 billion people could be affected. The modeling further found that worldwide, subsidence exposes assets totaling a gross domestic product of $8.19 trillion, or 12 percent of global GDP.

    True, gradual subsidence isn’t as destructive as a sudden earthquake or volcanic eruption. “But it will cause these indirect effects or impacts that, in the long term, can produce either damages to structures or infrastructure, or increase floodable areas in these river basins or coastal areas,” says geoscientist Gerardo Herrera-García of the Geological and Mining Institute of Spain, lead author on the paper.

    Subsidence is uniquely sensitive to climate change—at least indirectly. On a warmer planet, droughts are longer and more intense. “This is very important,” says Herrera-García. “Because no matter the amount of annual rainfall you have, the most important issue is that you have a prolonged drought period.” Dry reservoirs will lead cities to pump even more water out of their aquifers, and once you collapse the structure of an aquifer by neatly stacking those plates of clay grains, there’s no going back. For the 1.6 billion people potentially affected by subsidence—and that’s just by the year 2040—the consequences could be dire, leading to both water shortages and the flooding of low-lying land…

    At the end of the day, subsiding cities are up against unstoppable physical forces. “Geology is geology,” says Sneed. “We can’t do anything about that.”

    #Drought causing issues for #Durango’s fish hatchery — The #Cortez Journal

    Durango Fish Hatchery. Photo credit: Trip Advisor

    From The Durango Herald (Jonathan Romeo) via The Cortez Journal:

    Joe Lewandowski, spokesman for CPW, said the Durango Fish Hatchery, along the banks of the Animas River near Main Avenue and 16th Street, receives its water from three natural springs near the Durango High School.

    Typically, at this time of year, about 1,000 gallons of water per minute flows into the hatchery. Currently, however, because of a long-term drought that has gripped the region, only 700 gallons of water per minute is flowing…

    Winter is the time when the hatchery holds the most fish in anticipation of stocking in spring and summer. Currently, there are about one million fish on site, mostly fingerlings two to three inches in size…

    But because there is less water coming into the hatchery, CPW was forced last week to stock an estimated 28,000 mature rainbow trout throughout Southwest Colorado to make room at the hatchery.

    For example, CPW went through the ice to stock nearly 5,000 9-inch rainbow trout into Summit Reservoir and another 1,400 or so into Joe Moore Reservoir, both north of Mancos.

    In 2021, CPW expects to stock an estimated 100,000 catchable rainbow trout throughout Southwest Colorado…

    As a result of the risks posed to the hatchery because of drought conditions, CPW intends to drill a test well to determine if another water source in the area is available.

    “The test-drilling will be done this year,” Lewandowski said.

    #NavajoNation, #NewMexico reach settlements over #GoldKingMine spill — The #Colorado Sun

    This image was taken during the peak outflow from the Gold King Mine spill at 10:57 a.m. Aug. 5, 2015. The waste-rock dump can be seen eroding on the right. Federal investigators placed blame for the blowout squarely on engineering errors made by the Environmental Protection Agency’s-contracted company in a 132-page report released Thursday [October 22, 2015]

    From The Associated Press (Susan Montoya Bryan) via The Colorado Sun:

    Under the settlement with the Navajo Nation, Sunnyside Gold Corp. — a subsidiary of Canada’s Kinross Gold — will pay the tribe $10 million

    The Navajo Nation’s Department of Justice announced Wednesday it has settled with mining companies to resolve claims stemming from a 2015 spill that resulted in rivers in three western states being fouled with a bright-yellow plume of arsenic, lead and other heavy metals.

    Under the settlement with the Navajo Nation, Sunnyside Gold Corp. — a subsidiary of Canada’s Kinross Gold — will pay the tribe $10 million…

    The orange plume flows through the Animas across the Colorado/New Mexico state line the afternoon of Aug. 7, 2015. (Photo by Melissa May, San Juan Soil and Conservation District)

    The tribe said the toxic water coursed through 200 miles (322 kilometers) of river on Navajo lands…

    The tribe’s claims against the EPA and its contractors remain pending. About 300 individual tribal members also have claims pending as part of a separate lawsuit…

    The state of New Mexico also confirmed Wednesday that it has reached a settlement with the mining companies. Under that agreement, $10 million will be paid to New Mexico for environmental response costs and lost tax revenue and $1 million will go to Office of the Natural Resources Trustee for injuries to New Mexico’s natural resources…

    The settlement was not an admission of liability or wrongdoing, but Sunnyside agreed to it “as a matter of practicality to eliminate the costs and resources needed to continue to defend against ongoing litigation,” Myers said in an email…

    In August, the U.S. government settled a lawsuit brought by the state of Utah for a fraction of what that state was initially seeking in damages.

    In that case, the EPA agreed to fund $3 million in Utah clean water projects and spend $220 million of its own money to clean up abandoned mine sites in Colorado and Utah.

    The “Bonita Peak Mining District” superfund site. Map via the Environmental Protection Agency

    After the spill, the EPA designated the Gold King and 47 other mining sites in the area a Superfund cleanup district. The agency still reviewing options for a broader cleanup.

    From the Land Desk newsletter (Jonathan Thompson):

    Whether the company [Kinross] is at all culpable for the spill is a question the courts have yet to answer. But there is definitely a connection, both hydrological and historical.

    Here’s the short(ish) bulleted explanation:

  • The Gold King Mine workings are on one side of Bonita Peak (in the Cement Creek drainage) and the Sunnyside Mine workings are on the other side of Bonita Peak (in the Eureka Creek drainage). If you look at the two mines in a cross-section of the peak, they sit side-by-side, separated by a lot of rock.
  • In the early 1900s the owners of the Gold King started drilling the American Tunnel straight into Bonita Peak below the Gold King. The plan was then to link up with the Gold King in order to provide easier access. More than one mile of tunnel was dug, but the link was never completed, prior to the Gold King’s shutdown in the 1920s.
  • Photographic and other evidence suggests that prior to the construction of the American Tunnel, water drained from the Gold King Mine. However, after the tunnel’s construction the mine was said to be dry, suggesting that the tunnel hijacked the hydrology of the Gold King.
  • In 1959 Standard Metals continued drilling the American Tunnel through the mountain in order to provide a better access (from the Cement Creek side) to the then-defunct Sunnyside Mine.
  • After the Sunnyside shut down, the parent company at the time (Echo Bay), reached an agreement with the state to plug the American Tunnel with huge bulkheads to stop or slow acid mine drainage. They placed three bulkheads, one at the edge of the workings of the Sunnyside Mine (1996), one just inside the opening of the American Tunnel (2003), and another in between (2001).
  • Shortly after the bulkheads were placed, the Gold King ceased being a “dry” mine, and drainage resumed, eventually flowing at more than 250 gallons per minute. After the ceiling of the adit collapsed, water began backing up behind it until it was finally released in one catastrophic swoop in August 2015.
  • It seems pretty clear that one or more of the bulkheads caused water to back up inside the mountain and enter the Gold King Mine workings, eventually leading to the blowout. At this point, however, no one knows which bulkhead is the culprit, so no one knows whether the water is coming from the Sunnyside mine pool, or whether it is actually coming from the part of the American Tunnel that is still on Gold King property. Until that is determined, the root cause of the Gold King blowout will remain a mystery.

    For the longer explanation of the Gold King saga, read my book, River of Lost Souls: The Science, Politics, and Greed Behind the Gold King Mine Disaster. And for more maps showing the relationship between the Sunnyside and the Gold King, check out my River of Lost Souls reading guide.

    Prior to mining, snowmelt and rain seep into natural cracks and fractures, eventually emerging as a freshwater spring (usually). Graphic credit: Jonathan Thompson

    U.S. Army Corps won’t hold public hearing on marble quarry that relocated Yule Creek — @AspenJournalism

    The Crystal River flows through the town of Marble just after its confluence with Yule Creek. Gunnison County, Pitkin County and local environmental groups want to see a marble mining company mitigate its illegal relocation of a creek by improving downstream riparian habitat. Photo credit: Heather Sackett/Aspen Journalism

    From Aspen Journalism (Heather Sackett):

    The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has denied local groups’ request for a public hearing in the case of a marble quarry that violated the Clean Water Act.

    In a Dec. 28 letter to Pitkin County and others, Benjamin Wilson, project manager for the Army Corps’ Colorado West Section, said the agency does not intend to conduct a hearing or public meeting.

    “We do not believe there would be a valid interest served or that we would receive any substantial new information we would not otherwise obtain through the public notice comment and review process we are currently engaged in,” the letter reads.

    In separate comments submitted to the Army Corps, Pitkin and Gunnison counties, the Crystal River Caucus, the Roaring Fork Conservancy and the Crystal Valley Environmental Protection Association (CVEPA) had asked for monitoring, restoration, mitigation and a chance for the public to weigh in about the situation at the Pride of America Mine, which sits above the town of Marble.

    “We are definitely not going to accept this,” said John Armstrong, director of CVEPA. “To not even offer to hear what the public has to say in a public hearing is kind of shocking to me.”

    In the fall of 2018, mine operator Colorado Stone Quarries (CSQ) diverted a roughly 1,500-foot section of Yule Creek from its natural channel on the west side of Franklin Ridge, a rock outcropping, to the east side of the ridge so that it could build a road. Operators piled the streambed with 97,000 cubic yards of fill material, including marble blocks.

    In March, the Army Corps determined that these actions, which were done without the proper permit, violated the Clean Water Act. CSQ is now retroactively applying for that permit, known as a 404 individual permit. Under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act, a project requires a permit from the Army Corps if it includes the discharge of dredged or fill materials into waters such as rivers, streams and wetlands.

    In its permit application, CSQ proposed making the creek relocation permanent by leaving it where it is on the east side of the ridge. The company says this is the most efficient and environmentally sound option, and it results in the closest return to pre-diversion stream conditions.

    Wilson said the Army Corps received more than a dozen comments, which have been forwarded to the mining company, along with additional questions from the Army Corps. Wilson said mining company officials must address these comments and propose a plan to mitigate the damage caused by the creek relocation. The deadline for the quarry to respond is Jan. 23, but Wilson said it will probably take the company longer than that to come up with a mitigation plan.

    “We are working towards figuring out which alternative is indeed the least environmentally damaging,” Wilson said in an interview with Aspen Journalism. “I think it’s understood that no matter what alternative we choose to go forward with, additional mitigation will be required.”

    The Filoha Meadows area of the Crystal River is one of the places that could benefit from riparian revegetation to improve water quality. Pitkin County would like a mining company to undertake mitigation projects in the Crystal River valley to compensate for damage caused when the company relocated a high-country creek. Photo credit: Heather Sackett/Aspen Journalism

    Pitkin County wants the mining company to restore the riparian habitat, conduct water-quality monitoring at multiple sites in the basin and compensate for any damage by doing restoration projects in other areas. County representatives identified eight projects that could provide compensatory mitigation in the Crystal River basin, including restoration of Filoha Meadows streambanks, Thompson Creek riparian restoration and Crystal River streambank stabilization.

    Carbondale-based Wilderness Workshop agrees. The conservation organization is also getting involved in the issue, signing on to the comments provided by CVEPA.

    “It is a shocking issue,” said Peter Hart, conservation analyst and staff attorney for Wilderness Workshop. “Obviously, the damage is done, but I think that we’d like to see fines for violations imposed and see those funds actually utilized for restoration projects in the Crystal River valley.”

    CSQ senior consultant Katie Todt, who is with Lewicki & Associates, said the company is evaluating potential mitigation options, including improvements to the current stream channel within the quarry’s permit area, which should stabilize the creek bank and promote vegetation growth. The company will more fully set out mitigation options in its expected Jan. 22 response to the Army Corps.

    Wilson said that even though there won’t be another opportunity for the public to formally provide comments, the Army Corps is still obligated to consider any new information that comes to light.

    Assistant Pitkin County Attorney Laura Makar said it was disappointing that the Army Corps decided not to hold a public hearing, especially since this is an atypical, retroactive permit application, submitted after the work needing a permit was already complete. There was significant information that could have been shared in a public hearing, she said.

    “It would have been a good opportunity to ensure the record was complete,” Makar said.

    This story ran in the Jan. 8 edition of The Aspen Times.

    Decision looms on Holy Cross reservoir exploration permit — @WaterEdCO #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification #EagleRiver

    Mystic Island Lake, Holy Cross Wilderness Area, south of Eagle, Colorado. By CoMtMan – Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=12260170

    From Water Education Colorado (Jerd Smith):

    The U.S. Forest Service said it is just weeks away from deciding whether a high-profile request to explore the geological feasibility of a new reservoir site in Colorado’s Eagle County that would capture water flowing from the iconic Holy Cross Wilderness should be granted.

    The request comes from Aurora and Colorado Springs, among others, who want to be able to capture more of the water flowing from the wilderness area to meet their own growing needs.

    David Boyd, a spokesman for the U.S. Forest Service, said a decision is expected “early this year.”

    Proponents had hoped for a decision late last summer, but Boyd said the delay wasn’t unusual and was triggered in part by last summer’s Grizzly Creek Fire.

    Aurora and Colorado Springs, which own and operate the only reservoir in the area, Homestake I, hope to demonstrate that they can divert more water and build another reservoir to serve Front Range and West Slope interests without damaging the delicate wetlands and streams in the mountain forests there.

    But in advance of any request to build an actual reservoir, they have asked the Forest Service for a special use permit to survey the area and to bore several test holes to determine soil conditions and areas best suited to build the proposed Whitney Reservoir.

    If a reservoir were to be built, it would also require that the 122,000-acre-plus wilderness area shrink by 500 acres, an action that will require congressional approval.

    Significant opposition to the exploratory permit erupted almost as soon as the proposal became public last year. The U.S. Forest Service received more than 500 comments on the proposal last summer. The majority of those were opposed to it, citing the need to protect the wilderness and the need to preserve as much of the region’s water as possible. The Eagle River, a part of the Colorado River system, is fed in large part by the Holy Cross watershed.

    Warren Hern, a co-founder of the Defenders of the Holy Cross Wilderness, said the plan would do irrevocable damage to the rare bogs and wildflowers that populate the area.

    He also noted that the proposed reservoir site lies along a major fault line.

    “We will do everything in our power to stop this,” Hern said.

    Greg Baker, a spokesman for Aurora Water, said his agency is well aware of the special relationship thousands of Coloradans have with the Holy Cross and its spectacular wetlands and hiking trails.

    Baker declined to comment for this article, saying the agency would wait until the Forest Service issues a decision.

    But in a recent interview, Baker said the cities had little choice but to pursue additional water supplies to meet growing demand.

    “Water is a rare commodity and it needs to be used very carefully,” Baker said.

    He also said any environmental damage that might occur could be successfully mitigated.

    “What you do is wetlands rehabilitation, where you develop wetlands in other areas on a two- or three-to-one basis so you’re restoring additional wetlands for those you may lose,” Baker said.

    The new proposal comes under a 1998 agreement known as the Eagle River Memorandum of Understanding, which allows the reservoir proponents to develop enough water to serve environmental, municipal and industrial interests.

    Parties to the 1998 agreement include Aurora, Colorado Springs, the Colorado River District, the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District, and the Upper Eagle Regional Water Authority.

    Located west of Vail between Minturn and Leadville, the Holy Cross Wilderness Area was the subject of a significant battle in the 1980s when Aurora and Colorado Springs sought to build a second major reservoir there known as Homestake II.

    After the case made it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, Homestake II was defeated in 1994.

    In exchange, however, the cities were granted permission to develop a smaller amount of water in the future in partnership with Western Slope interests, resulting in the permit request now being considered by the Forest Service.

    Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly listed Vail Associates as a participant in the Whitney Reservoir proposal.

    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.

    @EPA orders access to water treatment plant north of Silverton — The #Durango Herald

    The “Bonita Peak Mining District” superfund site. Map via the Environmental Protection Agency

    From The Durango Herald (Jonathan Romeo):

    The water treatment plant, however, is located on a site known as Gladstone, about 8 miles north of Silverton up County Road 110, owned by the same person who owns the Gold King Mine, Todd Hennis.

    Hennis, an entrepreneur based in Golden, has long had an interest in the mines that dot the San Juan Mountains around Silverton, and over the years, has been buying up old mine sites with the hopes of revamping the industry…

    After the spill, Hennis agreed to let the EPA use the Gladstone property for a temporary water treatment plant, albeit somewhat begrudgingly.

    “When the Gold King event happened, I gave the keys to (the EPA) for Gladstone, and said ‘Go ahead, use anything, just return it after you’re done,’” Hennis said in October 2015. “That rapidly changed into having the hell torn out of my land.”

    The water treatment plant continues to operate to this day, and is seen by some invested in the cleanup of mines around Silverton as a possible long-term solution to improving water quality in the Animas River.

    Since 2015, the EPA has operated on the Gladstone property through a “general access order,” though the agency has not paid Hennis for use of the land, said EPA spokeswoman Katherine Jenkins.

    The EPA has, however, worked for years to come to a long-term lease agreement with Hennis that would include payments for use of the land based on fair market value, but those efforts have not been successful.

    “Mr. Hennis has declined EPA’s multiple requests for long-term access and has rejected a long-term lease agreement for EPA’s use of the Gladstone property,” Jenkins said.

    Because, in part, of the resources and staff time required to send Hennis monthly general access orders, the EPA on Jan. 6 sent him an “administrative order” that requires him to give the EPA full access to the Gladstone property.

    An administrative order, according to the EPA website, is an enforcement tool under the Superfund program.

    “We want to have consistent access to the water treatment plant so we can maintain and provide water treatment, that’s the reasoning,” Jenkins said.

    When contacted, Hennis said, “I cannot comment on this development, other than to say the EPA currently has access to the site.”

    Indeed, Jenkins said that while Hennis has refused to come to a long-term lease agreement, he has not blocked access to the site.

    The long-term future of the water treatment plant is an issue high atop the list of priorities in the Superfund around Silverton, known as the Bonita Peak Mining District Superfund site.

    Some local officials and members of the public have called to expand the operating capacity of the plant to take in discharges from other mines around Cement Creek, a tributary of the Animas River.

    But questions have loomed about this prospect, namely who would be financially on the hook to operate the plant in perpetuity.

    But for Hennis, all this is a moot point. He’s still adamant that there are plenty of metals, like gold and tellurium, to be mined in the mountains around Silverton.

    “Some of you have government pensions to rely on when you retire,” Hennis said at a public meeting in October 2015. “My retirement is Gladstone. Sitting here, listening to people say Gladstone would make a perfect site for a remediation laboratory, having my land cavalierly dealt with, is not a happy feeling.

    “I know you wouldn’t want your backyard or your retirement stolen from you,” he continued. “This is not going to happen. I’ve tried to be very reasonable.”

    The EPA’s Jenkins said the administrative order would terminate if a lease agreement is signed or if access to the property is no longer needed by the EPA to conduct response activities at the Bonita Peak Mining District Superfund site.

    #Colorado Looking to Issue Comprehensive Guidance for Waters of the United States (#WOTUS) — Lexology

    Photo credit from report “A Preliminary Evaluation of Seasonal Water Levels Necessary to Sustain Mount Emmons Fen: Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forests,” David J. Cooper, Ph.D, December 2003.

    From Lexology.com (Spencer Fane):

    How is Colorado Dealing with “Gap” Waters?

    The scope of federal jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act remains perplexing, particularly now that Colorado is the only state in the nation where the Navigable Water Protection Rule did not take effect June 22, 2020. In the context of a lengthy “stakeholder” process, on November 20, 2020, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) issued a White Paper addressing its regulatory options in light of the new federal WOTUS rule. Construction companies, developers, and other businesses seeking to permit activities around wetlands, ephemeral waters, and intermittent streams in Colorado would benefit from reviewing this comprehensive discussion of the multitude of dilemmas Colorado and others states face in light of the new rule.

    See White Paper here.

    The state’s White Paper includes background on these topics –

  • Federal permitting including Section 402 and 404 permits.
  • State waters and the state’s regulation of discharges to state waters.
  • The Supreme Court’s Rapanos decision and subsequent guidance.
  • The 2020 Navigable Waters Protection Rule.
  • Litigation of the 2020 Navigable Waters Protection Rule.
  • And perhaps most importantly –

  • Potential impacts of the 2020 Navigable Waters Protection Rule if it were to go into effect in Colorado.
  • Of most significance in terms of the impacts to state regulatory programs, the White Paper states:

    The rule includes several definitions that further limit how the EPA and the Corps will define WOTUS in contrast to the existing regulatory framework. First, it restricts the definition of protected “adjacent wetlands” to those that “abut” or have a direct hydrological surface connection to another jurisdictional water “in a typical year.” 33 C.F.R. § 328.3(c)(1); 40 C.F.R. § 120.3(3)(i). Wetlands are not considered adjacent if they are physically separated from jurisdictional waters by an artificial structure and do not have a direct hydrologic surface connection. The 2020 Rule also limits protections for tributaries to those that contribute perennial or uncertain levels of “intermittent” flow to traditional navigable waters in a “typical year,” a term whose definition leads to additional uncertainty. 33 C.F.R. § 328.3(c)(12); 40 C.F.R. § 120.2(3)(xii); 33 C.F.R. § 328.3(c)(13); 40 C.F.R. § 120.2(3)(xiii).

    Collectively, these new definitions in the 2020 Rule will reduce the scope of waters subject to federal jurisdiction in Colorado far below that of the 2008 Guidance. The state waters that would no longer be considered “waters of the United States” under the 2020 Rule have been referred to as “gap waters” and are further described in Section II below. Historically, not all of Colorado’s state waters have been considered WOTUS. However, the [CDPHE] has maintained that the number of state waters considered WOTUS under the 2008 Guidance is far more than would be considered WOTUS under the 2020 Rule. [Emphasis added.]

    Colorado Rivers. Credit: Geology.com

    First-of-its-kind study estimates daily #PFAS dietary exposure from vegetables in adults and children — #Colorado School of Mines @mines

    PFAS contamination in the U.S. via ewg.org. [Click the map to go to the website.]

    Here’s the release The Colorado School of Mines (Emilie Rusch):

    Published today in Environmental Science and Technology, the research was led by Mines’ Chris Higgins and Juliane Brown

    Chris Higgins. Photo credit: Colorado School of Mines

    If state and federal regulators focus only on the safety of drinking water, the public could still be exposed to concerning levels of poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs) via the vegetables on their dinner plate if those vegetables are grown with PFAS-impacted water, according to a new study from researchers at Colorado School of Mines and engineering firm Geosyntec.

    Published today in the journal Environmental Science and Technology, the study is the first of its kind to examine PFAS in water that is used to grow crops. Researchers compiled available data on how much individual PFASs are taken into vegetable crops irrigated with contaminated water – in this case lettuce – to estimate the daily dietary exposure intake through vegetables of these so-called “forever chemicals” for both adults and children.

    Graphic credit: Colorado School of Mines

    “While there has been an emphasis on identifying and cleaning up drinking water impacted by PFASs, much less attention has been given to assessing risks from consuming produce irrigated with PFAS-contaminated water,” said Juliane Brown, an environmental engineering PhD candidate at Mines who led the research. “This study brings much needed attention to this issue and highlights the potential risks associated with this critical exposure pathway.”

    PFASs are a large and diverse group of synthetic chemicals used in many commercial and household products, including Class B fire-fighting foams, nonstick-coated cooking pan production, food contact materials, waterproof textiles and many others. An emerging body of evidence shows PFAS exposure can cause cancer and developmental, endocrine, renal and metabolic problems.

    Globally, PFAS contamination of irrigation water and soils in agricultural areas has arisen from a variety of sources, including the use of aqueous film forming foam (AFFF) on military bases and airfields, the application of treated sewage sludge as agricultural fertilizer and releases from nearby industrial facilities.

    But currently, many state and federal agencies are primarily focused on drinking water exposure, missing a potentially importance exposure pathway via irrigation water, said Christopher Higgins, professor of civil and environmental engineering at Mines and senior author of the study.

    “Even when drinking water has been treated and is considered safe, there is a potential for exposure from vegetables irrigated with contaminated water or grown in contaminated soil,” Higgins said. “This study shows that regulations that solely target perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) in drinking water are inadequate to protect human health risks from PFASs.”

    By using statistical modeling techniques akin to the election model prediction forecasts, the Mines-led team was able to consider a range of variability and uncertainty to identify the “most likely” intake and hazard associated with consuming PFAS-contaminated vegetables, using lettuce as a proxy for produce. The team also predicted risk-based threshold concentrations in produce and irrigation water to provide screening levels for assessment. These represent the range of concentrations for individual PFASs in irrigation water predicted to be below a level of concern for human health.

    Using the lowest available human health toxicity reference values and a conservative 5th percentile approach, estimated risk-based threshold concentrations in irrigation water were 38 nanograms per liter (ng/L) for PFOA and 140 ng/L for PFOS, two PFASs commonly targeted by regulators.

    In the case of PFOA, this suggests that even if irrigation water meets the current 70 ng/L PFOA and PFOS U.S. Environmental Protection Agency lifetime health advisory for drinking water, this may not be fully protective of PFOA exposure due to vegetables grown in that water, at least compared to toxicity reference values used by the State of California, which has the lowest toxicity reference value for PFOA in the U.S., Higgins said. Importantly, PFAS contamination also typically includes more than just PFOA or PFOS.

    “Another major implication of this study is we really need to come up with a plan to address PFAS mixtures, as these chemicals are nearly always present as a mixture,” Higgins said

    The team used real-world data from PFAS-contaminated groundwater to conduct a hazard analysis of a theoretical farm comparing different risk estimates based on established state, federal, and international toxicity reference doses. This analysis showed estimated exposures to most PFASs exceeding available or derived human health toxicity reference values – indicating water-to-crop transfer is an important exposure pathway for agricultural communities with PFAS-impacted irrigation water.

    The full study, “Assessing human health risks from per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS)-impacted vegetable consumption: a tiered modeling approach,” is available online at https://dx.doi.org/10.1021/acs.est.0c03411. In addition to Brown and Higgins, co-authors were Geosyntec principal scientist Jason Conder and project scientist Jennifer Arblaster.

    This research was supported, in part, by the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (under Assistance Agreement No G18A112656081.)

    Metropolitan Wastewater Reclamation District Hite plant outfall via South Platte Coalition for Urban River Evaluation

    Here’s the abstract:

    Irrigation water or soil contaminated with per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs) raises concerns among regulators tasked with protecting human health from potential PFAS-contaminated food crops, with several studies identifying crop uptake as an important exposure pathway. We estimated daily dietary exposure intake of individual PFASs in vegetables for children and adults using Monte Carlo simulation in a tiered stochastic modeling approach: exposures were the highest for young children (1−2 years > adults > 3−5 years > 6−11 years > 12−19years). Using the lowest available human health toxicity reference values (RfDs) and no additional exposure, estimated fifth percentile risk-based threshold concentrations in irrigation water were 38 ng/L (median 180 ng/L) for perfluorooctanoate (PFOA) and 140 ng/L (median 850 ng/L) for perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS). Thus, consumption of vegetables irrigated with PFAS impacted water that meets the current 70 ng/L of PFOA and PFOS U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s lifetime health advisory for drinking water may or may not be protective of vegetable exposures to these contaminants. Hazard analyses using real-world PFAS- contaminated groundwater data for a hypothetical farm showed estimated exposures to most PFASs exceeding available or derived RfDs, indicating water-to-crop transfer is an important exposure pathway for communities with PFAS-impacted irrigation water.

    LM Collaborates with Gunnison County, #Colorado, to Ensure a Safe Water Supply — US Department of Energy

    Here’s the release from the Department of Energy:

    The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Legacy Management (LM) is collaborating with Gunnison County, Colorado, to connect more domestic residences with private water wells within the groundwater contamination boundary at the former Gunnison uranium mill site to a municipal water supply.

    “This is a major milestone that reflects LM’s mission of protecting human health and the environment,” said Jalena Dayvault, site manager for LM’s Gunnison, Colorado, Site. “Gunnison County Public Works Director, Marlene Crosby, worked diligently to get remaining domestic well users on-board so this project could move forward.”

    The Gunnison site is a former uranium ore processing site located about a half-mile southwest of the city of Gunnison. The mill processed approximately 540,000 tons of uranium ore between 1958 and 1962, providing uranium for national defense programs. These ore processing activities resulted in contaminated groundwater beneath and near the site.

    In 1994, a water treatment plant, storage tank, and distribution system were partially funded by DOE and installed to supply municipal drinking water to all residences within the contaminated groundwater boundary. This project was part of the remedial action plan at the former uranium mill site and is considered a protective measure in case the contaminated groundwater plume was ever to affect domestic well users within this boundary.

    A small handful of homeowners with domestic wells in use before the cleanup continue to use those wells for drinking water. As part of LM’s long-term stewardship activities at the site, the office has monitored these wells annually to verify that mill-related contaminants have remained below U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) maximum concentration limits for the groundwater.

    Working closely with Gunnison County Public Works, LM made funds available in September 2020 to support Gunnison County Public Works in connecting more residences with domestic wells to the municipal water supply. Excavation work began in November to connect the first residence to the alternate water supply.

    “We started putting a game plan together back in early January of this year, reaching out to homeowners to get their buy-in and preparing a scope of work and budget for the project,” said Joe Lobato, site lead for the Legacy Management Support Partner (LMSP). “The LM and LMSP team has a great working relationship with Gunnison County.”

    This map shows the municipal water system that provides clean water to residents near the former uranium processing site. Credit: Department of Energy

    Farmers are depleting the #OgallalaAquifer because the government pays them to do it — The Conversation


    A center-pivot sprinkler with precision application drop nozzles irrigates cotton in Texas.
    USDA NRCS/Wikipedia

    Matthew R Sanderson, Kansas State University; Burke Griggs, Washburn University, and Jacob A. Miller, Kansas State University

    A slow-moving crisis threatens the U.S. Central Plains, which grow a quarter of the nation’s crops. Underground, the region’s lifeblood – water – is disappearing, placing one of the world’s major food-producing regions at risk.

    The Ogallala-High Plains Aquifer is one of the world’s largest groundwater sources, extending from South Dakota down through the Texas Panhandle across portions of eight states. Its water supports US$35 billion in crop production each year.

    But farmers are pulling water out of the Ogallala faster than rain and snow can recharge it. Between 1900 and 2008 they drained some 89 trillion gallons from the aquifer – equivalent to two-thirds of Lake Erie. Depletion is threatening drinking water supplies and undermining local communities already struggling with the COVID-19 pandemic, the opioid crisis, hospital closures, soaring farm losses and rising suicide rates.

    Map showing changing Ogallala Aquifer water levels over the past century
    Changes in Ogallala water levels from before the aquifer was tapped in the early 20th century to 2015. Gray indicates no significant change. Water levels have risen in some areas, especially Nebraska, but are mostly in decline.
    NCA 2018

    In Kansas, “Day Zero” – the day wells run dry – has arrived for about 30% of the aquifer. Within 50 years, the entire aquifer is expected be 70% depleted.

    Some observers blame this situation on periodic drought. Others point to farmers, since irrigation accounts for 90% of Ogallala groundwater withdrawals. But our research, which focuses on social and legal aspects of water use in agricultural communities, shows that farmers are draining the Ogallala because state and federal policies encourage them to do it.

    A production treadmill

    At first glance, farmers on the Plains appear to be doing well in 2020. Crop production increased this year. Corn, the largest crop in the U.S., had a near-record year, and farm incomes increased by 5.7% over 2019.

    But those figures hide massive government payments to farmers. Federal subsidies increased by a remarkable 65% this year, totaling $37.2 billion. This sum includes money for lost exports from escalating trade wars, as well as COVID-19-related relief payments. Corn prices were too low to cover the cost of growing it this year, with federal subsidies making up the difference.

    Our research finds that subsidies put farmers on a treadmill, working harder to produce more while draining the resource that supports their livelihood. Government payments create a vicious cycle of overproduction that intensifies water use. Subsidies encourage farmers to expand and buy expensive equipment to irrigate larger areas.

    Irrigation pump in field
    Irrigation pump in Haskell County, Kansas.
    Matthew Sanderson/Kansas State University, CC BY-ND

    With low market prices for many crops, production does not cover expenses on most farms. To stay afloat, many farmers buy or lease more acres. Growing larger amounts floods the market, further reducing crop prices and farm incomes. Subsidies support this cycle.

    Few benefit, especially small and midsized operations. In a 2019 study of the region’s 234 counties from 1980 to 2010, we found that larger irrigated acreage failed to increase incomes or improve education or health outcomes for residents.

    Focus on policy, not farmers

    Four decades of federal, state and local conservation efforts have mainly targeted individual farmers, providing ways for them to voluntarily reduce water use or adopt more water-efficient technologies.

    While these initiatives are important, they haven’t stemmed the aquifer’s decline. In our view, what the Ogallala Aquifer region really needs is policy change.

    A lot can be done at the federal level, but the first principle should be “do no harm.” Whenever federal agencies have tried to regulate groundwater, the backlash has been swift and intense, with farm states’ congressional representatives repudiating federal jurisdiction over groundwater.

    Nor should Congress propose to eliminate agricultural subsidies, as some environmental organizations and free-market advocates have proposed. Given the thin margins of farming and longstanding political realities, federal support is simply part of modern production agriculture.

    With these cautions in mind, three initiatives could help ease pressure on farmers to keep expanding production. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Conservation Reserve Program pays farmers to allow environmentally sensitive farmland to lie fallow for at least 10 years. With new provisions, the program could reduce water use by prohibiting expansion of irrigated acreage, permanently retiring marginal lands and linking subsidies to production of less water-intensive crops.

    These initiatives could be implemented through the federal farm bill, which also sets funding levels for nonfarm subsidies such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. SNAP payments, which increase needy families’ food budgets, are an important tool for addressing poverty. Increasing these payments and adding financial assistance to local communities could offset lower tax revenues that result from from farming less acreage.

    A 40-year sequence of false-color satellite images shows the spread of center-pivot irrigation around Dalhart, Texas from 1972 to 2011. The equipment creates circular patterns as a sprinkler rotates around a well pivot.

    Amending federal farm credit rates could also slow the treadmill. Generous terms promote borrowing for irrigation equipment; to pay that debt, borrowers farm more land. Offering lower rates for equipment that reduces water use and withholding loans for standard, wasteful equipment could nudge farmers toward conservation.

    The most powerful tool is the tax code. Currently, farmers receive deductions for declining groundwater levels and can write off depreciation on irrigation equipment. Replacing these perks with a tax credit for stabilizing groundwater and substituting a depreciation schedule favoring more efficient irrigation equipment could provide strong incentives to conserve water.

    Rewriting state water laws

    Water rights are mostly determined by state law, so reforming state water policies is crucial. Case law demonstrates that simply owning water rights does not grant the legal right to waste water. For more than a century courts have upheld state restrictions on waste, with rulings that allow for adaptation by modifying the definitions of “beneficial use” and “waste” over time.

    Using these precedents, state water agencies could designate thirsty crops, such as rice, cotton or corn, as wasteful in certain regions. Regulations preventing unreasonable water use are not unconstitutional.

    [Deep knowledge, daily. Sign up for The Conversation’s newsletter.]

    Allowing farmers some flexibility will maximize profits, as long as they stabilize overall water use. If they irrigate less – or not at all – in years with low market prices, rules could allow more irrigation in better years. Ultimately, many farmers – and their bankers – are willing to exchange lower annual yields for a longer water supply.

    As our research has shown, the vast majority of farmers in the region want to save groundwater. They will need help from policymakers to do it. Forty years is long enough to learn that the Ogallala Aquifer’s decline is not driven by weather or by individual farmers’ preferences. Depletion is a structural problem embedded in agricultural policies. Groundwater depletion is a policy choice made by federal, state and local officials.

    Stephen Lauer and Vivian Aranda-Hughes, former doctoral students at Kansas State University, contributed to several of the studies cited in this article.The Conversation

    Matthew R Sanderson, Professor of Sociology and Professor of Geography and Geospatial Sciences, Kansas State University; Burke Griggs, Associate Professor of Law, Washburn University, and Jacob A. Miller, PhD Student in Sociology, Kansas State University

    This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

    Nestlé Waters North America 1041 permit renewal hearings on tap October 20, 22, 2020 — The Ark Valley Voice

    Location map for Nestlé operations near Nathrop via The Denver Post.

    From The Ark Valley Voice (Daniel Smith):

    Editors note: This is the first of a three-part series examining the proposal to renew the county 1041 permit for Nestlé Waters North America.

    For two days later this month, Oct. 20 and 22, Chaffee County Commissioners will hear from citizens and organizations in public hearings on the proposal to renew a 1041 permit granted to international conglomerate Nestlé Waters North America. If approved, the permit would allow Nestlé to continue to pump and truck local spring water it later sells as bottled water.

    The original permit, granted by then-commissioners in 2009 was a controversial decision and the renewal has also generated opposition from activists who want the county to end the agreement.

    Basically, the company pumps millions of gallons of water from the Ruby Mountain Spring in the north county annually, pipes it to a collection tank and pump station at Johnson Village, where it is loaded onto tankers, driven to a Denver bottling plant, and sold as Arrowhead Spring Water in plastic bottles.

    The original (and current) agreement allows Nestlé to withdraw as much as 65 million gallons of water from the aquifer. However, company officials say Nestlé draws less than half that amount currently.

    The original permit granted to Nestlé in 2009 was opposed by many residents, and an organized resistance to renewing the agreement has recently been mounted.

    Larry Lawrence, Resource Manager for Nestlé Waters North America spoke with Ark Valley Voice recently about the agreement, what it provided both the company and community, and how the company has met the 1041 permit requirements, which some opponents of renewal dispute.

    An engineer by profession, Lawrence has been with Nestlé Waters since 2003, and came to Colorado in 2019. He says he was already aware of the project through technical reviews with earlier resource managers prior to joining this assignment.

    Lawrence said an earlier resource manager (Bruce Lauerman) was assigned to this area, and Lawrence took over in 2019. Looking for a water source closer to Denver, he said was a priority.

    “The Arrowhead brand was marketed in New Mexico, Colorado, Idaho and a portion of Montana, all from California,” said Lawrence. “In reviews of not only our physical footprint but our carbon footprint and other aspects, where would we want to locate another factory? So Denver was chosen because of the reach we would have from this factory and to cover this market, which was a pretty good size bottled water market,” he added.

    The factory was built in 2006, producing Nestlé Pure Life, a purified water from the municipal water system in Denver. Nestlé soon realized they wanted to produce the Arrowhead spring water brand. The prior Nestlé representative reviewed area springs and contacted various water agencies to see if they knew of any potential spring sources.

    The Hagen Fish Hatchery on the Arkansas River, no longer in operation, was identified by the Colorado Division of Water Resources. Nestlé reached out to the Hagen family and reached a letter of intent for purchase at that time.

    Lawrence said that at that time, they did several different studies. These included hydrological, environmental, and biological, to determine the impact of water collection there, water level withdrawal potential, and to determine the sustainability and volume of the site.

    “A-number one for us is we never want to be in a position to where we recommend to the company to purchase a spring source that is non-sustainable,” said Lawrence. “…that would be a huge mistake for us, and it’s not a good business decision at all.”

    The sites were studied to confirm a reasonable withdrawal rate to allow for replenishment at a sustainable rate. Another site, Bighorn Spring was reviewed, and because it did not meet replenishment rates, was not developed with Nestlé opting in favor of Ruby Mountain Springs.

    Prior to that, Lawrence said other resource managers had looked at many other sites but they were ruled out for various reasons. In some cases it was because the water rights had been sold, even though there was a viable spring. According to Lawrence, springs in the eastern and southern U.S. are quite different than those generally found in the west.

    It is an understatement to say that water issues are complex, especially in the west. Once the local site was selected, Nestlé reviewed what local and state government rules were for the permitting process.

    The 1041 process in Colorado and in Chaffee County at the time was fairly new, and Nestlé, said Lawrence, was one of the first companies to enter that process.

    “The spring here at Ruby Mountain Springs is similar to other mountain springs we see in the west. One of the differences here is we do have the Arkansas River running adjacent to the spring source,” he said.

    The Nestlé operation includes the pumping stations at the spring site and long lengths of piping underground connecting to the Johnson Village property. That facility includes a large 30,000-gallon storage tank and pumps. Here, the water is loaded to tanker trucks that weigh about 87,000 pounds when full, which make the trips to the Denver bottling facility.

    According to the permit, about 25 truckloads are allowed to run on U.S. 285 daily.

    Next, we’ll review some of the issues and local opposition to the Nestlé 1041 renewal.

    Killing the #LasVegas Pipeline — @HighCountryNews

    “Swamp Cedars” (Juniperus scopulorum) and associated pond, wetland and meadow in Spring Valley, White Pine County, Nevada. Photograph by Dennis Ghiglieri from http://images.water.nv.gov/images/Hearing%20Exhibit%20Archives/spring%20valley/WELC/Exhibit%203030.pdf

    From The High Country News (Eric Siegel) [Originally published at High Country News (http://hcn.org) on 09/18/2020]:

    For decades, the Great Basin Water Network has made a point of strange bedfellowing. Its ranks include ranchers, environmentalists, sportsmen, rural county commissioners, Indigenous leaders, water users from Utah, and rural and urban Nevadans. Over the years, these groups united against a single cause: the Southern Nevada Water Authority’s “Groundwater Development Project,” a proposal to pump 58 billion gallons of water a year 300 miles to Las Vegas from the remote rural valleys of Nevada and Utah. Nevadans called it the Las Vegas Pipeline; its ardent foes called it a water grab. In May, their three decades of resistance to the pipeline ended in victory: The project was terminated.

    “Never give up the ship,” Delaine Spilsbury, an Ely Shoshone tribal elder who played a significant role in the Water Network, said in a recent interview. “Never. That’s the kind of feeling that I think most of us had. Just do the best we can and let’s make something happen, even if it does take forever.”

    The Vegas Pipeline, had it succeeded, threatened to make a dust bowl of 305 springs, 112 miles of streams, 8,000 acres of wetlands and 191,000 acres of shrubland habitat, almost all of it on public lands. Major utilities in the West rarely fail in getting what they want (witness California’s Owens Valley, circa 1913), but the Water Network’s multipronged, intergenerational legal battle creates a different precedent, showing that diverse water interests can transcend any single approach or ideology — and win.

    Delaine Spilsbury, an Ely Shoshone tribal elder who worked with the Water Network, stands at Swamp Cedars in Spring Valley, a site significant to her and the Western Shoshone that would have been threatened by groundwater pumping. Photo credit: Russel Albert Daniels/High Country News

    UNEXPECTED ALLIANCES like this have their origins in the Cold War. In the late 1970s and 1980s, the Air Force sought to conduct hazardous testing of intercontinental ballistic missiles and supersonic military operations in eastern Nevada. This required deep drilling into newfound aquifers, and tribal nations, rural counties, ranchers and environmentalists became increasingly distrustful of the massive groundwater pumping. They put their differences aside to mobilize public opinion and beat back two federal projects — the Missile Experimental (“MX”) and the Electronic Combat Test Capability (“ECTC”).

    Their single-minded focus on water and ability to tease out a strategy from a broad coalition of people proved an asset in resisting powerful entities. “We beat the federal government,” said Abby Johnson, who worked for a statewide environmental group fighting the MX project and later helped form the Great Basin Water Network. “It never would have happened had there not been such activism against it. The public opposition and outcry across rural Nevada was essential.”

    This united front endured into 1989, when the Las Vegas Valley Water District filed 146 water right applications with the Nevada state engineer — the state’s top water regulator — to pump 800,000 acre-feet of groundwater from eastern Nevada. The former anti-nuclear coalition organized area residents again — this time against their own state, filing protests with the state engineer’s office. Great Basin National Park and the Bureau of Land Management, concerned that groundwater withdrawals could affect surface-water resources under their jurisdiction, also filed protests.

    The water applications sat dormant for over a decade. But in 2002, in the face of worsening drought and looming supply shortages on the Colorado River, the newly formed Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA) reactivated the water filings. By 2005, the SNWA requested legal hearings. That was “when the project caught steam and really began,” said Steve Erickson, an organizer with the Water Network in Utah, who worked closely with residents in Baker, Nevada. “This was a feisty group of people, and they had worked on this stuff before. They knew they could win if they were persistent.”

    In 2007, the Great Basin Water Network received nonprofit status, formalizing the coalition. It partnered with rural county governments to help pay for expert witnesses and legal representation in court, and established “water tours,” in order to teach Nevadans how the region’s landscape of springs, seeps and streams sustained a uniquely Nevadan way of life. These efforts helped establish the pipeline in the public imagination as another water grab.

    But despite these advances, there was a breakdown in trust, as state and federal agencies greenlit the project, circumventing bedrock environmental laws. A 2004 federal wilderness bill included a rider granting the SNWA a public utilities right-of-way for the project, facilitating its approval. In 2006, the Department of Interior — including the Bureau of Indian Affairs, which failed to consult the tribes it represents — entered a closed-door agreement with the SNWA, dropping all federal protests in exchange for a contentious monitoring and mitigation plan.

    A series of legal battles ensued at the state level. The Water Network’s initial legal strategy, which focused on due process rather than water law, ultimately prevailed in 2010 at the Nevada Supreme Court, which found that “the state engineer was ‘derelict in his duties,’ ” as Kyle Roerink, the Executive Director of the Water Network, said in a recent interview. The court’s decision voided SNWA’s water applications, forcing the Water Authority to re-file them with the state engineer, who in turn reopened the protest period.

    The Water Network applied pressure from multiple angles, though, and the legal wins continued on other fronts. Activists successfully argued, for example, that the state engineer miscalculated the water levels in the basins where the Southern Nevada Water Authority wanted to pump, allowing for over-allocations. Their efforts convinced a district court to order the state engineer to recalculate.

    Beyond its legal strategy, the Water Network built alliances geographically — notably with ranchers, farmers, and county commissioners in western Utah, who followed in lockstep with the Confederated Tribes of the Goshute there and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and public health, citizen science and conservation groups across the state. By 2015, their efforts convinced the Republican governor of Utah, Gary Herbert, to reject a bi-state water agreement that would have allowed the SNWA to pull water from the Snake Valley, in the Nevada-Utah borderlands. “The governor was getting pressure from all sides,” Erickson said. “At one time, he had three water lawyers and the director of the Utah Department of Natural Resources telling him to sign the agreement. But he listened to us.”

    The Southern Nevada Water Authority, meanwhile, undertook its own political strategy — lobbying the state Legislature to change Nevada water law, then lobbying the Nevada congressional delegation to exempt the project from further federal environmental review, even as it aggressively promoted conservation measures and engineered a low-level intake pump at Lake Mead to secure its pumping capacities.

    The Water Network’s continued pressure, applied from multiple angles, ultimately paid off. In March, the Nevada District Court denied the SNWA’s appeal for a final time — blocking it from pumping any water in eastern Nevada. After a string of seven straight legal losses, the SNWA announced that it would not appeal to the Nevada Supreme Court. In May, at its Board of Directors meeting, the Water Authority withdrew all its remaining water applications associated with the project, ending a 31-year battle.

    Delaine Spilsbury, the Ely Shoshone leader, watched the board meeting via a video call. “I yelled at my son, Rick, ‘Get the champagne! — Get the champagne!’ It was hard to believe that it was happening. When it’s been that way for so long, you never think it will change.”

    NEVADA HAS A LONG HISTORY of resource extraction, everything from gold, to rare earth minerals, to water. And the state is by no means a regulatory haven for environmental causes. But the defeat of the SNWA, along with other recent data, suggests that public opinion around natural resources, especially water, is changing. Since 2002, southern Nevada’s population has increased by 46%, but its per capita water usage has decreased 38%, and its consumption of Colorado River water is down 25%. The SNWA’s own partnerships up and down the Colorado River, and the Great Basin Water Network’s unexpected partnerships within the state, point to a larger shift.

    Regardless of these changing attitudes, and the Water Network win, the decades-long battle produced collateral damage: deep mistrust between Nevada’s rural residents and the state, especially the Southern Nevada Water Authority.

    Tom Baker, a fourth-generation rancher in the Snake Valley, understands as much. “We knew we could never let SNWA start at all,” he said recently, “because once they started, they would keep going. We knew that the amount of water they wanted wasn’t actually there. As soon as they figured that out too, they would have to keep expanding. Rural Nevada is very lucky that this project is finished.”

    Such criticism is understandable, Simeon Herskovits, the Water Network’s longtime lawyer, said. “There is a long history of deceit and punitive actions taken by SNWA towards rural folks,” he said. As recently as 2019, for example, the agency tried to change state laws that protect senior water-rights holders in Nevada, such as farmers and ranchers in rural counties. The legislation would have allowed the state engineer to re-award the rights to junior users. “That meant there was no opportunity for trust. Rural interests knew there was no way they could take SNWA at its word.”

    Pat Mulroy herself, former general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority and the architect of the now-failed project, agreed. Asked what she would have done differently on the Vegas Pipeline, she quickly responded: “Nothing we said or did was going to persuade them. We are city folk. People in the rural areas don’t trust us.” But then she paused, and turned the thought. “Look,” she said, “these battles are not going away. It is one of the divides, and there has to be bridges. Every move we made — whether with farmers in Utah or ranchers in White Pine County — they said no. That, to me, is the tragedy. This will never change unless people are willing to talk to one another.”

    Eric Siegel is an editorial intern for High Country News. Email him at eric.siegel@hcn.org or submit a letter to the editor.

    Map showing the Great Basin drainage basin as defined hydrologically. By Kmusser – Own work, Elevation data from SRTM, all other features from the National Atlas. Rand McNally, The New International Atlas, 1993 used as reference., CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=12079426

    The latest developments in the Fountain Valley #PFAS contamination saga — The #ColoradoSprings Indy

    Firefighting foam containing PFAS chemicals is responsible for contamination in Fountain Valley. Photo via USAF Air Combat Command

    From The Colorado Springs Indy (Heidi Beedle):

    Since the 2016 revelation that groundwater in Fountain Valley, which provided drinking water for Security-Widefield and Fountain, was contaminated with toxic per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), which include a number of individual chemicals such as PFOS, PFOA, PFHxS and PFHpA, government agencies, residents and community activists have been struggling to come to terms with what is arguably one of the largest ecological contaminations in Colorado’s history.

    On Aug. 4, Chris Reh, associate director of the U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), led a virtual information session for residents of Security-Widefield and Fountain regarding its ongoing PFAS exposure assessment. The assessment will randomly select participants and test blood, urine and tap water for levels of PFAS chemicals. According to Reh, the assessment will identify how people might be exposed to chemicals, calculate the extent of exposure and determine if there is a threat to health.

    ATSDR’s exposure assessment is the first part of a process that will continue in 2021 with the Pease Study, a national multi-site study conducted locally by the Colorado School of Public Health that will look at the human health effects of PFAS exposure through drinking contaminated water. While the sites chosen for this study are near Air Force operations, PFAS exposure extends far beyond Air Force bases. Much of the focus in El Paso County is on Fountain Valley, but the Air Force Academy on the city’s Northside also released PFAS chemicals, and residents of Woodmen Valley report health concerns as well, though they are not included in the ATSDR exposure assessment.

    El Paso County is one of eight sites nationwide identified by ATSDR for exposure assessments related to PFAS chemicals. The sites, located in Alaska, Colorado, Delaware, Massachusetts, New York, Texas, Washington and West Virginia, are co-located with Air Force bases that used aqueous film forming foam (AFFF), a type of chemical used to extinguish fuel fires and that contains PFAS chemicals…

    Since 2016, community activists have been working to raise awareness of this environmental threat, and Colorado legislators have recently passed laws to address PFAS contamination. While much of the blame, and legal consequences, for this massive and widespread contamination have been aimed at companies that produce PFAS chemicals, such as DuPont and 3M, the military has known of the potential dangers of these chemicals since at least 1989.

    The Air Force Occupational and Environmental Health Laboratory published a study titled “Biological Analysis of Three Ponds at Peterson AFB [Air Force Base], Colorado Springs CO” in November 1989 that raised concerns about contamination coming from the installation. “A series of three man-made ponds on the golf course at Peterson AFB, Colorado Springs CO were analyzed to determine their current ecological status and future potential for recreational fishing,” notes the report, which goes on to identify that “Pond 3 cannot be recommended for stocking with fish in its current condition. Low species diversity suggests that this pond is being stressed by an unknown pollutant.” The report identifies a nearby storm drain as a “chronic source of pollutants for this pond.” While the Air Force analyzed a number of factors, such as pH and the levels of phytoplankton and zooplankton, it was quick to identify AFFF as a possible problem, noting that it “was accidentally spilled into pond 3 shortly before the first fish kill. A subsequent restocking resulted in a second fish kill.”

    […]

    Stephen Brady of the Peterson-Schriever Garrison Public Affairs office commented, “When there is a potential our missions are having, or may have had, an adverse impact on communities, we take appropriate measures to protect it. When PFOS was discovered in the aquifer south of base in 2016, we immediately stopped using the legacy foam during fire response and training. We replaced the legacy foam in our fire response vehicles in November 2016 and in the hangar fire suppression systems in 2018 with a more environmentally responsible foam. Our first responders will only use the new environmentally responsible firefighting foam for emergency life-saving response, and do not discharge it during training. The Air Force takes environmental stewardship seriously, and continuously strives to meet or exceed environmental standards.”

    By the early 2000s DuPont and 3M were facing lawsuits from residents near their plants and increased scrutiny from the Environmental Protection Agency, but it wasn’t until 2016 that the EPA formally issued a health advisory regarding PFAS chemicals and set advisory levels of contamination at 70 parts per trillion (ppt)…

    While Rosenbaum was organizing FVCWC, the Colorado School of Public Health began to study exposure and health effects from PFAS chemicals. The study was named “PFAS Aware.” In 2018 the PFAS Aware team began sampling water in Fountain Valley. Initial results published in December 2018 showed that “total PFASs in untreated well water ranged from 18 – 2300 ppt” and that “PFASs detected are typical of fire-fighting foam-impacted groundwater.”

    On Sept. 18, 2019, the Air Force Academy sent a notice to Woodmen Valley residents, signed by Col. Brian Hartless, the installation commander, warning them that “firefighting foam containing PFOS and PFOA was used for firefighter training at the Academy from the 1970s until 1990, when we began to consolidate all of our training at Peterson Air Force Base. After that time, the equipment used to dispense the foam was periodically tested until approximately 2005.” Hartless did note that “this firefighting foam has never been used to extinguish a petroleum-based aircraft fire at the Academy” and that “the foam now in use at the Academy is a more environmentally friendly formula that we began using in approximately 2017.” Hartless went on to inform residents that the Air Force would begin sampling wells within the Woodmen Valley Fire Protection District.

    According to Hartless, Air Force Civil Engineer Center representatives “identified 37 private wells used for drinking water at homes closest in proximity to the southern base boundary for sampling. To date, 35 of the 37 wells have been sampled.”

    ATSDR contamination assessment area.
    Courtesy ATSDR via The Colorado Springs Indy

    Bill Beaudin, a Woodmen Valley resident since 1978, questions the Air Force’s testing process. “The north border of our property is the south border of the Academy,” he says. “We live on six acres. For many years until 1995 we all used well water. We were offered to go on city water at that time and most of us took that option. About 38 families chose not to go on city water for whatever reason.”

    Longtime residents like Beaudin were concerned about the fact that the Air Force only tested the wells still in use. “The rest of us all drank that water and so did our children for all of those years in the ’70s, ’80s and early ’90s until we went on city water,” says Beaudin, “and yet the Air Force Academy chose to just do this select group.”

    On March 24, the Air Force announced in a news release, “recent well water monitoring tests on the southeast perimeter of the U.S. Air Force Academy show Perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) below the Environmental Protection Agency’s Lifetime Health Advisory level of 70 ppt.”

    While the Air Force reported PFOS and PFOA levels below the EPA advisory limits, Rosenbaum says that doesn’t tell the whole story. ”There’s 4,700 different types [of PFAS],” she says, “PFHxS is toxic firefighting foam, which may or may not have PFOA, which is Teflon, or PFAS, which is Scotchgard water-repellent. So when the Air Force Academy said ‘we’re below levels of PFOA and PFAS,’ all of us activists who have been doing this for four years were like, ‘duh.’ You don’t have a Teflon pan company. You don’t have a Scotchgard water-proofing company. You have toxic firefighting foam, so here, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility [PEER] did a FOIA [Freedom of Information Act request] to try to get the PFHxS levels, and they are really high.”

    On March 12, 12 days before the Air Force’s statement, PEER reported that “The Air Force Academy test data of neighboring drinking water wells found levels of two individual PFAS chemicals, PFHxS and PFHpA, at more than 200 ppt in two locations” and “combined PFAS levels at a single well of 503.9 ppt and 537.8 ppt across two separate tests.”

    The consternation over the levels of PFAS chemicals in the water stems from concerns over the health effects of exposure to these chemicals. Heightened levels of PFAS chemicals have been linked to health problems such as increased cholesterol levels, changes in liver enzymes, decreased vaccine response in children and increased risk of kidney or testicular cancer, according to Rachel Rogers, an environmental health scientist with ATSDR.

    “A neighbor that was four houses away, her husband died of testicular cancer,” says Beaudin. “A neighbor who has since passed away died from both kidney and bladder cancer. They were longtime neighbors of ours.”

    Rosenbaum notes, “The main health issues here are kidney cancers, prostate cancer and a lot of autoimmune diseases.” Autoimmune disease are often difficult to diagnose because symptoms can come from other common conditions…

    Lawmakers in Colorado addressed problems with PFAS contamination during the 2019 legislative session. Tony Exum, D-House District 18; Lois Landgraf, R-House District 21; Pete Lee, D-Senate District 11; and Dennis Hisey, R-Senate District 2, sponsored House Bill 1279, which bans the use of AFFFs that use PFAS chemicals for testing or training purposes. In 2020 the same group of legislators sponsored House Bill 1119, which further regulates the use of PFAS chemicals.

    On July 10, The city of Colorado Springs and Colorado Springs Utilities, along with the cities of Aurora, Greeley, Fountain and a number of water districts filed a motion to vacate an administrative action hearing by the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission (WQCC) in regards to a proposed new policy to address PFAS contamination, referred to as policy 20-1. The motion states, “The Joint Parties recognize the importance of assuring that drinking water supplies are not contaminated by PFAS, and that water supplies contaminated by PFAS are cleaned up. Vacating the administrative action hearing will not preclude the cleanup of PFAS; it will require that regulatory measures imposed by the Water Quality Control Division are properly authorized through a rulemaking hearing.”

    Rosenbaum was confused by the motion. “At first the injunction was pretty difficult to understand,” she says. “Here we are Saturday morning and it came across that they wanted all the PFAS discussions taken out of the meeting. This is our fifth contamination to our water district here. We have to do something completely different and drastic and start writing new policy. The state health department wasn’t making a new law, they were adding language to the policy they already had in place.

    According to Jennifer Kemp, a public affairs specialist with Colorado Springs Utilities, “The reason for our joining several other Front Range entities on the motion to vacate is because we did not agree with the WQCC’s approach to regulating PFAS. Under Colorado’s State Administrative Procedure Act, a policy is a general statement of interpretation that is not meant to be a binding rule. Therefore, we joined other stakeholders in asserting that the regulation of PFAS is so important that it should have been accomplished with a thorough rulemaking process to establish a statewide PFAS standard.”

    On July 14 the WQCC adopted policy 20-1. “What this policy does,” explains Rosenbaum, “is it forces wastewater to test for PFAS. Your drinking water is fine, it’s not contaminated yet, but do you have an industry that’s dumping everything into the wastewater? We have the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, so they’re not dumping in rivers anymore but they’re dumping into wastewater.

    Now we’re making that accountable in our state. Now we’re explicitly stating in writing CDPHE [Colorado Department of Health and Environment] will receive extra funding to help that water district do an investigation of the industries that are connected to the wastewater system to see if they have PFAS. If they do, now they have to filter it at their site. If you own a restaurant, you have a grease trap. You can’t just dump in the wastewater. If you have a dental office, it’s explicitly written that they have to filter mercury. We’re not doing anything different, we’re just directly applying it where they’ve gotten away with no rules because they’ve been allowed to self-regulate.”

    While ATSDR completes their current study, Rosenbaum is planning her next steps. “We need to set maximum contaminant levels in this state,” she says. “What we can do is stop the industry from adding more [PFAS contamination] in. New Hampshire set it at 18 ppt, where the state health department wanted to set it at 700 ppt for PFHxS, which is stupid. The EPA isn’t monitoring PFHxS, they’re just doing PFOA and PFAS, so we brought in evidence from other states saying PFHxs is actually the more harmful one because it’s more prevalent.”

    Importance of wetlands to be topic of Audubon Society meeting — The Pagosa Springs Sun #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    Geothermal sources in Pagosa Springs have created unique, warm-water wetlands and contribute to the rich diversity of birds along the Riverwalk in town. Photo via The Pagosa Springs Sun

    From the Weminuche Audubon Society (Jean Zimhelt) via The Pagosa Springs Sun:

    Please join the Weminuche Audubon Society on Wednesday, Sept. 16, at 6:30 p.m. for our monthly chapter meeting.

    This remote meeting will take place on Zoom. Please check the events list on our website, http://www.weminucheaudubon.org, for a link to the online meeting. All interested parties are welcome.

    The topic of this month’s meeting will be the importance of wetlands, particularly those in our Pagosa Springs area. Eighty percent of all wildlife species use wetlands or riparian habitats at some point in their life cycle.
    According to the EPA, “More than half of our original wetlands have been drained and converted to other uses.”

    Geothermal sources in Pagosa Springs have created unique, warm-water wetlands and con- tribute to the rich diversity of birds we see along the Riverwalk in town.

    Our presenter for the evening will be Randy McCormick. Prior to moving to Pagosa Springs, McCormick served as environmental manager at the National Estuarine Research Reserve in Naples, Fla., mandated to protect 110,000 acres of coastal wetlands in the western Everglades. He is a board member of the Weminuche Audubon Society and an active member in Pagosa Wetland Partners, a group of citizens committed to preserving important area wetlands habitats. Find out how you can be involved in this mission.

    Nestlé seeks more time in Chaffee County as locals ask to be “unbottled” — @WaterEdCO

    Arkansas River in Chaffee County. Nestlé is asking to continue exporting water from Chaffee County as locals ask to be “unbottled.” Credit: Wikipedia via Water Education Colorado

    From Water Education Colorado (Jerd Smith):

    Bottled water company Nestlé is seeking permission to extend its operations in Colorado’s Chaffee County, a move that is generating significant community opposition.

    Nestlé Waters North America first won permission to export spring water from Chaffee County in 2009, building a pipeline and trucking the water to Denver where it is packaged.

    Location map for Nestlé operations near Nathrop via The Denver Post.

    The company hopes to renew its original 10-year permit to tap Ruby Mountain Springs near Buena Vista, which expired last fall. The water is sold under the Arrowhead brand.

    Chaffee County Commissioners are expected to take up the matter at an Oct. 20 hearing.

    Nestlé Natural Resources Manager Larry Lawrence declined an interview request, but in an email said the company strives to maintain environmentally sensitive operations and that extending the permit would create no new stress on the springs.

    Separately company officials have said repeatedly that preserving water resources is key to their ability to continue selling water. The beverage maker has 25 plants in the United States, including the one in Colorado.

    In the meantime, local activists have collected more than 1,200 signatures on Change.org opposing the permit extension.

    Unbottle and Protect Chaffee County Water, with 300-plus members, said the permit renewal poses an ongoing threat to local water supplies due to chronic drought and climate change. Activists also say that Nestlé donations of bottled water to local nonprofits increases the county’s recycling costs, and that Nestlé has not followed through on some of the commitments it made to the county, including taking steps to preserve important property along the Arkansas River near the springs.

    “We believe we are an environmentally sensitive county,” said Francie Bomer, one of the activists leading the effort to cancel the permit.

    “We don’t like plastic and we don’t believe the benefit to the county is equal to the value of the water Nestlé is taking out,” Bomer said.

    The conflict comes as bottled water manufacturers across the U.S and Canada face mounting criticism over their use of groundwater. Five states, Maine, Michigan, Montana, Oregon, and Washington, are moving to ban or sharply limit the industry.

    Earlier this year Nestlé opted to sell its Canadian operations, exiting a country in which local opposition had grown strong, according to published reports.

    Under its Chaffee County permit, Nestlé is required to monitor water levels in the Ruby Mountain Springs and to replace any water it takes under a replacement plan overseen by the Salida-based Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District.

    Such plans are often required under state law, and are designed to ensure water users downstream of diversion sites with more senior water rights aren’t harmed by upstream diversions.

    Manager of the Upper Arkansas Water District, Terry Scanga, said the replacement plan relies on water from Turquoise Lake in Leadville, which fully covers any water removed from Chaffee County by Nestlé. Scanga said the district has no plans to contest the permit renewal.

    Nestlé is required to monitor water levels and habitat conditions as part of its agreement with the county. In its 2019 annual report, the company said it extracted 89 acre-feet of spring water, 5.6 percent of the 1,573 acre-feet of overall flow measured. An acre-foot is equal to nearly 326,000 gallons.

    If its permit is renewed, the company estimates annual production would grow at 2 percent annually, but would still be well below the amount to which it is legally entitled.

    In addition, ongoing monitoring by the company shows that the spring recovers quickly as water is extracted and that no harm to habitat has been noted since 2010.

    “To date, spring water production has been well below the permit limitations and at no time over the last decade of monitoring has stress to the spring system resulted in conditions where pumping was required to be reduced, either to meet criteria under the permit or due to observations that indicated operations were negatively impacting upstream or downstream users or the ecological and biological systems,” the report states.

    Bomer is skeptical of those reports because they have not been independently verified by outside experts.

    Earlier this year, in advance of the permit renewal effort, the county hired experts to evaluate Nestlé monitoring data, according to Chaffee County Attorney Jennifer Davis.

    Whether Chaffee County will become another bottled water hot spot in the international battle isn’t clear yet.

    “We are a tiny county. Are we part of that bigger effort? No. We’re just trying to protect our resources so they will be here when we need them,” Bomer said. “But if we contribute to to that effort, that would be okay.”

    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.

    Booming Front Range cities take first steps to build $500 million dam, reservoir near Holy Cross Wilderness — The Denver Post

    Here’s an in-depth report from (Bruce Finley) writing in The Denver Post. Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:

    A hundred miles from Colorado’s Front Range house-building boom, field scientist Delia Malone dug her fingers into spongy high-mountain wetlands at the edge of the Holy Cross Wilderness.

    She found, about 15 inches underground, partially decayed roots, twigs and the cold moisture of a fen. These structures form over thousands of years and store water that seeps down from melting snow.

    Malone has been digging about 20 holes a day, surveying fens for the U.S. Forest Service, to better understand nature’s water-storage systems — which sustain vegetation and stream flows that 40 million people across the Colorado River Basin rely on in the face of increasing aridity.

    Aurora and Colorado Springs are planning to flood these wetland fens and replace natural storage with a man-made system: a $500 million dam and a reservoir that may require changing wilderness boundaries.

    The cities each own rights to 10,000 acre-feet a year of the water that flows out of the wilderness and would pump what the reservoir traps, minus evaporation, through tunnels under mountains to other reservoirs and, finally, to pipes that deliver steady flows from urban faucets, toilets, showers and sprinkler systems…

    Fens play a key role ensuring that streams and rivers still flow after winter snow melts. And as climate warming leads to earlier melting and depletes surface water in the Colorado River, natural wetlands increasingly are seen as essential to help life hang on. The benefits stood out this summer as the West endured record heat, wildfires and drought…

    Yet Front Range developers’ desire for more water is intensifying. Across the mountains at construction sites on high dusty plains, roads and power lines have been installed, heavy dirt-movers beep and carpenters thwack atop roofs.

    Local governments already have approved permits allowing house-building at a pace that in some areas is projected to nearly double water consumption.

    Colorado Springs officials issued 3,982 permits for new single family homes last year, 18% higher than the average over the previous five years, according to data provided to The Denver Post. They estimated the current population around 476,000 will reach 723,000 “at build-out” around 2070. This requires 136,000 to 159,000 acre-feet of water a year, city projections show, up from 70,766 acre-feet in 2019.

    Aurora officials estimated their population of 380,000 will reach 573,986 by 2050. They’ve approved entire new communities, such as the 620-acre Painted Prairie with more than 3,100 housing units in the “aerotropolis” that Denver leaders have promoted near Denver International Airport, and projected current water consumption of 49,811 acre-feet a year will increase to 85,000 acre-feet and even as much as 130,158 acre-feet in a high-growth, rapid-warming scenario…

    To make a new dam and reservoir more palatable, the cities are exploring unprecedented “mitigation” of digging up and physically removing the underground fens, then hauling them and transplanting them elsewhere to restore damaged wetlands. An experiment on a ranch south of Leadville, officials said, is proving that this could help offset losses of Homestake Creek wetlands.

    This would challenge a federal policy laid out in 1999 at Interior Department regional headquarters in Denver that classifies fens as “irreplaceable.” The policy says “onsite or in-kind replacement of peat wetlands is not thought possible” and that “concentrated efforts will be made to encourage relocation of proposed reservoirs… that might impact fens, when practicable.”

    Covered by grasses and shrubs, water-laden fens blanket the Homestake Valley — wetlands filled with porous peat soils that receive minerals and nutrients in groundwater. Moving such wetlands, if attempted, would require massive hauling of soil blocks combined with the delicate precision of an organ transplant to retain ecological functioning…

    Some environmental groups are preparing for legal combat should the cities seek required state, county and federal permits. Others haven’t weighed in. Conservation Colorado leaders declined to comment on this water push.

    Transplanting fens as mitigation to try to restore wetlands elsewhere “for our convenience” is impossible, WildEarth Guardians attorney Jen Pelz said. “Fens and other sensitive high-elevation wetlands are quite beautiful and mysterious, more art than science, not something we can re-engineer.”

    Dams and diversions proposed in recent years around the West “are just as destructive as those built a century ago, and building dams today is actually more irresponsible because we know that dams disconnect aquatic and riparian habitat, cause species extinction, disrupt ecosystem function, dry rivers and harm native cultures and communities,” she said.

    “We need to start removing dams, not building more. This project is one of many where water managers are looking to cash in on their undeveloped rights or entitlements at the expense of people and the environment. … It’s time to draw a line in the sand.”

    When the river dries, a struggle to stay afloat — The #Taos News #RioGrande #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    Rio Grande and Pecos River basins. Map credit: By Kmusser – Own work, Elevation data from SRTM, drainage basin from GTOPO [1], U.S. stream from the National Atlas [2], all other features from Vector Map., CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11218868

    From The Santa Fe New Mexican (Scott Wyland) via The Taos News:

    A severe, prolonged drought is reducing the river’s flows to the lowest levels in decades, affecting cities’ drinking water supplies and compelling farmers to adjust how they water their fields.

    [Glen] Duggins grows chile peppers, alfalfa and corn on his 400-acre farm in Lemitar, a tiny community north of Socorro. He already faces the prospect of restaurants buying fewer goods from him during the ongoing novel coronavirus pandemic, when their operations have been limited by the state’s public heath orders. Now he’s also seeing higher costs to produce his crops due to pumping.

    But he is fortunate, he said, because many farmers in the Middle Río Grande Valley don’t have water pumps and must shut down when the river gets low…

    A thin mountain snowpack, recent heat wave and light monsoon have depleted water levels from the Colorado River Basin to the Chama River to the Río Grande. It’s perhaps the most arid year in a two-decade dry period in New Mexico, making climate scientists and water managers wonder whether this is the start of an even drier time that will demand a new, long-term approach to urban planning and water use.

    Locally, the prolonged drought can be seen in cottonwoods’ foliage turning yellow six weeks early along a parched stretch of the Santa Fe River and the likelihood of the Buckman Direct Diversion — which pulls Río Grande flows for city of Santa Fe and Santa Fe County water users — suspending operations for the first time in its 10-year history.

    Everyone must prepare for how a warmer climate will diminish water supplies and put more stress on humans and the ecosystem, said Dave DuBois, a state climatologist at New Mexico State University.

    “We need to address climate change and adapt to it,” DuBois said. “Not just in the here and now, but the next 20, 30 years.”

    Pitkin County launches project to restore ancient wetland at North Star Preserve near Aspen — @AspenJournalism

    Liza Mitchell, a natural resource planner and ecologist with Pitkin County, shows off the recent work on a restoration project at a fen on North Star Nature Preserve, on Aug. 26. This fiber mat is plugging an old ditch that drained water from the wetland to the Roaring Fork River. Photo credit: Heather Sackett/Aspen Journalism

    From Aspen Journalism (Natalie Keltner-McNeil):

    On a recent morning, Liza Mitchell of Pitkin County Open Space and Trails rolled out fiber mats over a soil-filled portion of a ditch in the North Star Nature Preserve, adding a final layer to a wetland plug that the natural resource planner and ecologist and her team had been working on for the three weeks prior.

    The plug is the central component of the program’s fen-restoration project, which aims to enhance the wetland’s ability to provide habitat, store and filter groundwater, and sequester carbon.

    While North Star is known as an idyllic paddleboarding and beach destination, 77% of the preserve is closed to public access. This includes the property west of the Roaring Fork River, where the fen sits.

    The preserve’s 245 acres function primarily to protect native species and ecosystems. The first 175 acres of the preserve were bought by the Nature Conservancy in 1977. In 2001, Pitkin County Open Space and Trails and the city of Aspen jointly purchased the 70 acres below the initial property, creating the current North Star Nature Preserve, according to the 2020 North Star management plan.

    “It’s for wildlife,” Mitchell said of North Star.

    Liza Mitchell, a natural resource planner and ecologist with Pitkin County, stands near the wetlands on the North Star Nature Preserve on Aug. 26. A restoration project aims to keep water in the fen, which is habitat for many kinds of wildlife, including ducks, plovers and moose. Photo credit: Heather Sackett/Aspen Journalism

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    Critical to the nature preserve

    Aligning with the goal of conservation, Open Space and Trails staff identified the North Star fen as a site for ecological restoration. Situated in the northwest corner of the property, the 14-acre fen, which is a peat-filled wetland, is populated with sedges, reeds and grasses.

    The wetland is critical to the entire preserve, providing wildlife habitat, water filtration and flood mitigation. In dry months, groundwater stored in the fen percolates into the Roaring Fork River, benefiting the watershed and its thirsty users, Mitchell said.

    Yet, due to human alterations to the watershed and North Star, the fen is drying out. In 1936, two tunnels, multiple canals, and the Grizzly and Lost Man reservoirs were completed as part of the Independence Pass Trans-Mountain Diversion System. The system moves water from the upper Roaring Fork River basin to the east side of the Continental Divide, satisfying the water needs of Colorado’s largest cities, according to the 2020 management plan.

    This system diverts as much as 40% of the Roaring Fork’s headwaters upstream of the preserve, reducing the volume of river water that flows into the property and saturates the fen, Mitchell said.

    The fen underwent further drying in the 1950s, when the preserve was a private ranch owned by James Smith. Smith dug ditches through the fen for pasture and hay cultivation, and those ditches continue to drain standing water into the Roaring Fork, according to Mitchell.

    The wetland plug combats the drying by slowing the outflow of water from the fen into the Roaring Fork River. Mitchell, two staffers from Basalt-based Diggin It Riverworks and two ecological consultants began the plug construction Aug. 10. The first week, the team filled 130 feet of the main ditch with a mixture of locally sourced and imported soil. In the second and third weeks, the team added a layer of local soil, scattered native plant seeds and sealed it all with hay, mulch and matting, Mitchell said.

    “It’s been a pretty quick project,” she said. “We’ve really tried to get in, get out and minimize disturbance as much as possible.”

    The wetland plug is 130 feet long, and composed of a mixture of local and imported soil, hydromulch, straw, native seeds and erosion mats. The restoration team later added wattles across the plug, and they hope to engage the community in planting native sedges and rushes across the top of the plug this spring. Photo credit: Heather Sackett/Aspen Journalism

    6,700 years of carbon sequestration

    The wetland plug increases saturated conditions in the fen, or the presence of standing water, enhancing the fen’s ability to provide ecological services to the preserve. For instance, saturated conditions allow fens to function as carbon sequesters by storing peat, or carbon-rich plant material.

    Peat accumulates at a rate of 8 inches per 1,000 years, according to David Cooper, wetland ecologist and professor at Colorado State University. With 53 inches of peat soil, the North Star fen is estimated to be 6,700 years old, according to a Pitkin County news release.

    “Peatlands make up about 5% of the land surface of the world,” Cooper said, “but almost 45% to 50% of all the soil carbon on Earth is in peatlands.” When fens dry up, the carbon stored as peat is released as carbon dioxide, contributing to global warming, he said.

    Saturated conditions also support wildlife. Standing water creates the ideal habitat for native plants, such as beaked and blister sedge, as well as native amphibians and waterfowl. Saturated conditions suffocate canary grass, an invasive species that spread increasingly through the fen as it dries up, Mitchell said.

    Wet by standing water, fens filter groundwater. The peat body removes excess nitrogen as well as heavy metals that would otherwise accumulate in watershed fish populations, Cooper said.

    The project’s final phase, completed this past week, involves adding wattles and straw bales to two smaller ditches in the fen to retain groundwater storage and promote standing water conditions. Photo credit: Liza Mitchell/Pitkin County OST via Aspen Journalism

    A positive for North Star neighbors

    Mitchell anticipated finishing the construction phase of the restoration project this past week. She plans to place wattles, or cylinders of hay, across the wetland plug to prevent soil and seed erosion. She also will add hay bales and cylinders to the fen’s two smaller ditches to retain water and provide a surface for native plants.

    After this construction phase, a hydrologist and botanist hired by Open Space and Trails will monitor the fen for three years. The consultants will conduct studies and submit reports to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which issued the initial permit for the project in 2018, according to Mitchell.

    In the spring of 2021, Open Space and Trails staffers hope to get the local community involved with the project by having volunteers plant native sedges and rushes over the plug.

    Already, community response to the restoration project has been very positive. Even without physical access to the fen, neighbors are excited about the prospect of improving habitat for wildlife, such as blue heron and elk, which they enjoy watching from their windows, Mitchell said.

    “North Star can get a lot of negative attention surrounding the paddleboarding and recreation use, so it’s really nice to have another project that there seems to be widespread agreement on,” Mitchell said. “Everyone can get behind that it’s a pretty light touch for a pretty big benefit.”

    This story ran in the Sept. 5 edition of The Aspen Times.

    #RioGrande State of the Basin: The current water situation? Dry! — The Crestone Eagle

    The northern end of Colorado’s San Luis Valley has a raw, lonely beauty that rivals almost any place in the North American West. Photo/Allen Best

    From The Rio Grande Water Conservation District (Lisa Cyriacks) via The Crestone Eagle:

    In the San Luis Valley: water is and will always be a critical issue. While demands on our scarce water supply grow, there are many community-based efforts working to restore a better water balance and plan for our future.

    In the case of groundwater, the amount of water withdrawn by legally permitted wells exceeds the amount of water refilling the aquifers.

    At a recent symposium hosted by Adams State University’s Salazar Center, local water leaders presented information on key aspects of current water conditions and challenges.

    Salazar Center Director, Rio de la Vista, “With this year’s water shortage, the time is now to raise our level of knowledge on the critical water issues here. We aim to engage more people in community-based efforts for a sustainable water future and we need everyone’s help to make that possible!”

    Local water users and State officials recognized something needed to be done in response to a severe drought that started about 20 years ago and reached its peak in 2002. They banded together to form local groundwater sub-districts to balance water use and supply. Their goal is to make groundwater use sustainable and protect senior surface water right holders from water shortages due to groundwater pumping.

    Despite efforts to meet a court-mandated goal to replenish the shallow aquifer to pre-2000 levels by 2030, significant progress was curtailed by another serious drought beginning in 2018.

    Agriculture is the economic engine in the San Luis Valley. None of the region’s current crops could be grown if growers depended only on the 7.5 inches of annual precipitation that hits the valley floor. The valley is one of the world’s largest high-altitude deserts. Water users draw from the valley rivers and streams to irrigate their crops but the peak flows that are common in May and June dry up by July and August. Given the lack of water storage in the region, growers rely on groundwater to finish watering their crops.

    The latest attempt to export water from the valley to the Front Range is led by Renewable Water Resources (RWR), based in the city of Centennial near Denver. This scheme is undermining local farmers’ efforts to address water shortages and could set a dangerous precedent of water export.

    There is zero unappropriated water in the Rio Grande Basin. This means all surface water and groundwater is currently used by existing water users, leaving no water available for transport outside the valley.

    RWR aims to pump 22,000 acre-feet of water and pipe it over Poncha Pass to the Front Range. Local water leaders believe that if the pipeline is built, the RWR project will be just the start and lead to further attempts to export water.

    The proposal is opposed by the Rio Grande Water Conservation District, San Luis Valley Water Conservancy District, Conejos Water Conservancy District, the Rio Grande Basin Roundtable as well as the City of Alamosa, Town of Del Norte, City of Monte Vista, Town of Saguache; joined by environmental groups, local businesses, and many farmers and ranchers.

    There is widespread opposition in the valley to the RWR export scheme. Locals are concerned that RWR’s plan could turn Saguache County into another Crowley County, an area east of Pueblo that has been devastated economically by the sale of its water. See https://bit.ly/2CORMbB.

    The San Luis Valley is a beloved place for many Colorado residents and travelers from across the country and around the world. With the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, three extraordinary National Wildlife Refuges, the Rio Grande Natural Area, the Rio Grande National Forest and many other public lands, the valley’s water sustains wildlife for viewing, hunting and fishing, and many forms of recreation. Sandhill crane migration attracts many visitors to the valley. Water export threatens the valley’s economy, which is dependent on agriculture.

    Valley water leaders urge residents to take action by seeking out the facts about valley water resources and advocating for the truth about RWR’s export plans and the valley’s water supplies and hydrology.

    Please see http://www.rgwcd.org for information about current aquifer levels and the subdistricts’ efforts to manage our groundwater.

    As San Luis Valley’s water squeeze intensifies, Gov. Jared Polis mulls climate warming adaptation — The Brush News-Tribune #drought

    Aerial view of the San Luis Valley’s irrigated agriculture. Photo by Rio de la Vista.

    From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley) via The Brush News-Tribune:

    How to survive in hotter, drier world a focus as 93% of state bakes in “severe,” “extreme” or “exceptional” drought

    The sun beat down, baking Colorado’s bone-dry, cracking San Luis Valley, where farmers for eight years have been trying to save their depleted underground water but are falling behind.

    They’re fighting to survive at an epicenter of the West’s worsening water squeeze amid a 20-year shift to aridity. Federal data this past week placed 93% of Colorado in “severe,” “extreme” or “exceptional” drought .

    And Gov. Jared Polis was listening now, as a group of farmers sat around a patio shaking their heads, frowning, frustration etched on their faces — down by 150,000 acre-feet of water below their aquifer-pumping target as the driest months begin.

    A center pivot irrigates a field in the San Luis Valley, where the state is warming farmers that a well shut-down could come much sooner than expected. Credit: Jerd Smith via Water Education Colorado

    “We’re about as lean as we possibly can be. We’ve re-nozzled our sprinklers. Our pumping is as efficient as it possibly can be. We’re trying different crops,” said Tyler Mitchell, who had cut his water use by 30% after installing soil moisture sensors and shifting from barley to quinoa. “But, at the end of the day, we have too many businesses that are trying to stay in business. I don’t know how we can reduce pumping more than we already have.”

    How to adapt to a hotter, drier world is emerging as a do-or-die mission for people living around the arid West. Polis was in the San Luis Valley on Tuesday, embarking on a potentially groundbreaking statewide effort to explore solutions amid increasingly harsh impacts of climate warming, including wildfires burning more than 300 square miles of western Colorado.

    Average temperatures will keep rising for decades, federal climate scientists say, based on the thickening global atmospheric concentration of heat-trapping carbon dioxide, now around 412 parts per million, the highest in human history. Heat is depleting water across the Colorado and Rio Grande river basins, where more than 50 million people live.

    Nowhere have climate warming impacts exacerbated local difficulties more than here in the Massachusetts-sized, predominantly Hispanic, low-income San Luis Valley between the Sangre de Cristo and San Juan mountains of southern Colorado…

    This year, the winter mountain snowpack that determines surface water flow in the Rio Grande River measured 33% of normal in spring. Rainfall so far, 2.7 inches, lags at around 38% of average.

    And the Rio Grande barely trickles, at 7 cubic feet per second, leaving Colorado toward New Mexico and Texas. Those similarly drought-stricken states count on shares of surface water in the river under a 1938 interstate legal agreement.

    Colorado farmers’ fallback habit of pumping more from the aquifers connected to the river — water use that is restricted under a locally-run, state-ordered conservation plan — has obliterated water savings painstakingly gained since 2012.

    The 150,000 acre-feet draw-down this year hurled farmers practically back to their starting point. And a state-enforced deadline of 2030 for restoring the aquifer to a healthy level looms. If not met, state authorities could take control over wells.

    Cleave Simpson, bottom right, converses with other water users following a Subdistrict 1 budget meeting. Photo credit: Luna Anna Archey/High Country News

    Rio Grande Water Conservation District manager Cleave Simpson said recovery now requires a snow-dependent gain of 680,000 acre-feet — 4.5 times this year’s draw-down…

    “A drier and hotter world”

    Polis looked out the windows of a black utility vehicle and saw devastation spreading as climate warming impacts hit home. Hot wind churned dust around farms now abandoned and rented to newcomers struggling to get by. San Luis Valley leaders have estimated that low flows and falling water tables may lead to the dry-up of 100,000 irrigated acres, a fifth of the farmland in a valley where residents depend economically and culturally on growing food.

    He saw farm crews toiling, coaxing the most from their heavy machinery, after flows from some wells had diminished and even reportedly pulled up just air.

    He said he sees different dimensions of problems around climate warming.

    On one hand, human emissions of planet-warming greenhouse gases “are going up,” Polis said. “But, then, here in this world, it is about adapting to what is happening. I mean, the global effort needs to succeed. Climate change needs to slow down. Colorado is just a teeny piece of that — a fundamental issue affecting the entire world. America never should have pulled out of the Paris accords. I hope we return, and have a concerted international effort.

    “But it is also a reality for how these farmers put food on their plate, for how their communities thrive in a drier and hotter world. … The same crops we have been growing, with one water and warm temperature profile, don’t work with the way things are now.”

    Colorado agriculture commissioner Kate Greenberg said state leaders also will hear from producers enduring dry times on the Eastern Plains, where wheat harvests are expected to suffer. Agriculture statewide “is hurting” and the San Luis Valley stands out as “ground zero” in a water squeeze due to low snow, shrinking aquifers, drought and competing demands from inside and outside the valley. Legal obligations to leave water for New Mexico and Texas compel cuts that complicate solutions, Greenberg said…

    Few of the farmers on the patio meeting with the governor saw much that state governments can do in the face of a possible environmental collapse.

    Many have concluded that, as Jim Erlich said, “we’re going to be farming less here.” Some anticipated an agricultural landscape looking more like western Kansas…

    Polis called climate warming “the new normal.” He asked the farmers: “Where does it lead? Do you see a way forward?” State projections show conditions for at lest 15 years will be “likely hotter and drier… What does that mean in terms of crop mix? What does it mean in terms of sustainability? What does it mean in communities?”

    The farmers, about a dozen, said they’ll push ahead in the “sub-districts” they’ve formed to encourage saving groundwater — as an alternative to state engineer authorities controlling wells. They now pay fees for pumping and pooled funds can be used to pay farmers for leaving fields fallow…

    An entrepreneurial businessman, Polis pushed toward what might be done to create better markets for crops, such as “Colorado quinoa” that use less water, giving a global perspective. “I mean, agriculture does occur in dry parts of the world. It has to work from a water perspective…

    The side of a farm building north of Center, Colorado. The farms in the San Luis Valley are known for their fresh potatoes. Photo credit: Luna Anna Archey/High Country News

    At another farm, Brendon and Sheldon Rockey showed Polis around. They’ve reduced their use of water from wells by 50% and prospered, growing 25 types of potatoes, shifting off water-intensive crops such as barley and planting more “Colorado Quinoa” along with a half dozen other growers.

    Fallow fields fertilized with cows and planted with restorative “cover crops” help boost productivity by improving soil, Brendon Rockey told the governor. “I don’t have a mono-culture anywhere on this farm.”

    As president of the potato producers’ council and leader of a water-saving sub-district, Sheldon Rockey is encouraging other farmers — optimistically despite increased stress around the depletion of aquifers. “We can still make it back,” he said, “if we have snow.”

    Polis also suggested a relaxed state approach to the 2030 deadline for replenishing the shrinking aquifer. “It is about the long-term trends. … whether goals are being met. There’s nothing that would ever be done based on one bad year.”

    The farmers were hanging on that.

    “He is genuinely interested in providing what support the state can to help with our water balance challenges,” Simpson concluded following this first meeting.

    But “farmers are frustrated,” he said, emphasizing that aquifer recovery can happen only “if mother nature brings snow.”

    And Polis left with a more detailed sense of the stakes.

    “What we want here is sustainability. That’s why I oppose trans-basin water diversions,” he said. “But we have to make sure that farmers here today don’t live at the expense of farmers here tomorrow and the next decade. This valley is about agriculture. If the water is sold off, or the water is used up, it will become a dust bowl.”

    A wildlife refuge under siege at the border — @HighCountryNews

    San Bernardino National Wildlife Refuge, Arizona. Photo credit: Hillebrand Steve, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

    From The High Country News (Jessica Kutz):

    New emails detail drained ponds, salvaged fish and a tense relationship with the Department of Homeland Security.

    During the fall of 2019, the Department of Homeland Security began pumping large amounts of water from a southern Arizona aquifer to mix concrete for the Trump administration’s border wall. The aquifer is an essential water source for the San Bernardino National Wildlife Refuge, so when the pumping escalated, U.S. Fish and Wildlife officials watched helplessly as the water levels at several ponds — the main habitat for the endangered fish at this Sonoran Desert refuge — dropped “precipitously.”

    In what Bill Radke, who has managed the refuge for two decades, called “life support” actions, staff was forced to shut off water to three of the ponds to minimize broader damage. As a result, biologists had to salvage endangered fish from the emptying ponds. It was “like cutting off individual fingers in an attempt to save the hand,” Radke wrote in an email to staff.

    Since its creation in 1982 the 2,300-acre refuge’s sole mission has been to protect the rare species of the Río Yaqui, including endangered fishes like the Yaqui chub and Yaqui topminnow, and other species, such as the tiny San Bernardino springsnail and the endangered Huachuca water umbel, a plant that resembles clumps of tubular grass. Through a series of artesian wells connected to an aquifer, the refuge has kept ponds filled in this fragile valley for nearly 40 years.

    Under normal circumstances, a significant construction project like a border wall would be required to go through an extensive environmental review process as dictated by the National Environmental Policy Act. The Department of Homeland Security says it operates under the spirit of NEPA and solicits public comment. But with environmental laws — including NEPA, the Endangered Species Act and the Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act — waived for the border wall, the refuge lacks any legal protection, either for itself or the endangered species in its care. So wildlife officials have tried to work with the department, sending hydrological studies and providing recommendations about how to reduce water use near the refuge — information that the Department Homeland Security has repeatedly claimed it takes into consideration.

    Border wall construction infrastructure is seen cutting through the landscape of southern Arizona. Bill Radke called the water withdrawals for the border wall Òthe current greatest threat to endangered species in the southwest region. Photo credit: Russ McSpadden/Center for Biological Diversity via The High Country News

    But as emails recently obtained by High Country News through a Freedom of Information Act Request show, Homeland Security consistently ignored the expertise of Radke and his team. The emails, which were sent from August 2019 to January 2020, chronicle months of upheaval at the refuge and dysfunctional communication between Fish and Wildlife and Homeland Security. During crucial moments, Homeland Security kept wildlife agency staff in the dark as land managers and hydrologists worked to anticipate damages.

    “What we are seeing in these FOIA documents confirms a pattern with CBP and DHS that goes back 15 years,” said Randy Serraglio, Southwest conservation advocate with the Center for Biological Diversity.

    Matthew Dyman, a U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokesman, stated that “DHS and CBP have and continue to coordinate weekly, and more frequently on an as needed basis, to answer questions concerning new border wall construction projects and to address environmental concerns from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.” Nevertheless, documents confirm that border wall construction caused groundwater levels to plummet and harmed endangered fish at the refuge.

    The Yaqui Chub is one of the four endangered R’o Yaqui species protected at San Bernardino Wildlife Refuge. W.R. Radke/US Fish and Wildlife Service

    IN OCTOBER 2019, RADKE wrote to Fish and Wildlife staff that “the threat of groundwater depletion” at the San Bernardino Refuge had gone from “concerning” to a “dire emergency.” Subsequent emails detail the refuge’s difficulty in obtaining water usage estimates from DHS contractors for an accurate risk assessment. Fish and Wildlife officials sent the department a hydrology analysis to raise an alarm and requested a five-mile buffer around the refuge for well drilling.

    According to the emails, though, the Department of Homeland Security did little in response. “I was disappointed today to see first hand that DHS and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers did not abide by the (most recent) October 16, 2019, Fish and Wildlife Service request to minimize water withdrawal from the aquifer that supports all wetlands on San Bernardino NWR,” Radke wrote. “Instead contractors made plans to drill even closer to the refuge, drilling their second new well 480 feet east of (the refuge).”

    CBP spokesman Dyman maintains that construction contractors honored the buffer request. But emails show otherwise: At least one well was drilled less than 500 feet from the refuge boundary; it was abandoned only after it didn’t produce water. And Fish and Wildlife soon learned that even more well locations were being considered near the refuge, according to emails. Homeland Security also continued to pump large volumes of water from a private landowner whose well is just 1.5 miles from the refuge.

    Despite a request by FWS that all wells be outside a 5 mile buffer around San Bernardino Wildlife Refuge, wells have been built as close as 1.5 miles and 480 feet from the refuge border. Photo credit: Russ McSpadden/Center for Biological Diversity

    Around the same time, pond levels in the refuge dropped. In a series of emails in late November, Radke grew increasingly frustrated. On Nov. 22, he wrote to agency employees, “Our refuge water monitoring is already showing harm to our aquifer during months when the refuge has always demonstrated an increase in groundwater levels. We have ponds dropping precipitously (as much as a foot already) that have never gone low during the winter months — not ever.” Fish and Wildlife had warned Homeland Security that this would happen, but no apparent action was ever taken. “I do not know what reaction to expect from DHS or (the Army Corps of Engineers) to our continuing requests for them to minimize or mitigate impacts to the refuge,” Radke wrote, “but so far our requests have been consistently met with indifference.”

    ON DEC. 12, RADKE CALLED the water withdrawals for the border wall “the current greatest threat to endangered species in the southwest region.” By that point, refuge staff had begun to track the impact themselves; there was little else they could do. The monitoring became “an overwhelming priority that diminishes our ability to adequately meet other important objectives, obligations and due dates,” Radke wrote.

    By January, the impact on the ponds was obvious. According to a Fish and Wildlife memo, swings in water pressure and depth were clearly documented. The report noted that these changes “began to occur as water was used off refuge for border wall construction.” Earlier emails speculated that the situation would only grow more dire at the refuge during the sweltering summer months, when evaporation both from the ponds and the water being pumped would use even more of the precious desert resource.

    In an email, Dyman told High Country News that Customs and Border Protection and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers “are working closely with the construction contractor on estimated water usage requirements for barrier construction in Arizona as well as working with San Bernardino National Wildlife Refuge to mitigate the impacts of groundwater use for the project.” Beth Ullenberg, a spokeswoman for the Fish and Wildlife Service, confirmed that the refuge is working with Homeland Security. The agency “has identified that larger capacity pumps are now needed in order to maintain pond levels and appropriate pond outflows,” Ullenberg wrote. She said the contractor is purchasing and will install the new pumps at the refuge.

    Those pumps came too late for at least three ponds and according to a document obtained by Defenders of Wildlife, as recently as May water pumping near the refuge was still having a direct and detrimental impact to the refuge. Environmental groups say a pattern of secrecy, lack of communication and failure to coordinate with land managers at the border continue to endanger other biodiverse regions, such as Quitobaquito Springs in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, where they intersect with border wall construction.

    “(The Department of Homeland Security and Customs and Border Patrol) have consistently ignored the input of land managers and landowners and other stakeholders along the border with regard to these construction projects,” Serraglio said, “and it has resulted in serious damage time and time again.”

    Mud plantain is an aquatic annual-perennial plant of the pickerelweed family. It grows partly or wholly in water, whether rooted in the mud, as a lotus, or floating as the water hyacinth. Photo credit: W.R. Radke/US Fish and Wildlife Service

    Jessica Kutz is an assistant editor for High Country News. Email her at jessicak@hcn.org.

    Community Agriculture Alliance: What is Reg 85? — Steamboat Pilot & Today

    From Steamboat Pilot & Today (Greg Peterson):

    In 2012, the state of Colorado passed Regulation 85, or Reg 85, which dealt with point source and nonpoint source water contaminants. Point sources, like wastewater treatment plants, were hit with strict measures for managing pollutants. Nonpoint sources, like parks, golf courses and agriculture, were not.

    However, Reg 85 began a 10-year period where the agricultural community is encouraged to do voluntary measures for managing nutrients, such as nitrogen and phosphorus. Agricultural organizations like the Colorado Livestock Association and Colorado Corn Growers Association were involved in those early discussions and pushed back against the assumption that agriculture is the main contributor of nutrients to streams and rivers in Colorado.

    In 2022, the Water Quality Control Commission will determine if the agricultural community needs regulations or if we will continue voluntary measures. The first hearing on Reg 85 is in October, and it is an opportunity for the agricultural community to tell their story and keep Colorado as a voluntary state.

    The main issue is not the voluntary measures. Farms and ranches throughout the state have been changing and adapting their practices constantly. Many practices, which have been implemented to simply keep a farm or ranch efficient or profitable, have also improved the management of nitrogen and phosphorus. Colorado producers will continue to invest and adopt practices that manage nutrients and are compatible with their operations.

    The issue is telling this story to those outside of the agricultural community, and there are multiple opportunities to do just that.

    A team with Colorado State University is conducting multiple edge-of-field studies to show the benefit of specific operations and practices on nutrient management. These studies provide us with valuable data to show the positive benefit of practices on the majority of farms and ranches today.

    Additionally, these studies can help the landowner have a better understanding of their own application rates of nitrogen and phosphorus and how well those are being used by the crop.

    There is also work being done to demonstrate past improvements through programs like EQIP — Environmental Quality Incentives Program —administered by Natural Resources Conservation Services. Every year, millions of dollars in federal and private funding are spent on Colorado farms and ranches that have had positive impacts on managing nitrogen and phosphorus. These studies can show us how much work has been done throughout the state in reducing loads of nitrogen and phosphorus because of new agricultural practices.

    If there is a project that will benefit your farm or ranch and have a positive water quality impact, there is a lot of funding out there. We want to focus that money on projects that are compatible with farms and ranches, making them even better.

    If you are interested in participating in any of these opportunities, want to know more about Reg 85 or are interested in project funding, please contact Greg Peterson at the Colorado Ag Water Alliance at coagwater@gmail.com or 720-244-4629.

    Greg Peterson is the executive director of the Colorado Ag Water Alliance.

    The essential nutrients needed for lucrative agricultural production, nitrogen and phosphorus, have been linked to adverse water quality in streams and rivers. Edge of field water quality monitoring of best management practices (BMP’s), like vegetated filter strips, helps the agricultural industry quantify potential water quality benefits and impacts of BMP’s. Photo credit: Colorado State University

    Monument Trustees approve continued development of water projects, site plans — The Pikes Peak Tribune

    Denver Basin Aquifer System graphic credit USGS.

    From The Pikes Peak Tribune (Ben Farrell):

    At the Monument Board of Trustees meeting Aug. 3, 2020…approved two resolutions to continue water projects which have been on hiatus.

    Trustees reviewed a resolution to award a project agreement to Forsgren Associates Inc. for the continued design and development of a new two-gallon [two million gallon] water storage tank and associated pipeline into the town’s water system. Public works director Tom Tharnish said a lot of preliminary work had already been done by Forsgren Associates and continuing the project with the firm would quicken the project’s timeline.

    The agreement would allow the majority of the engineering for the project, which involved a change in the size of the tank from 1.2 million gallons. The town is already $60,000 into the project, Tharnish said. When originally developing a 1.2 million gallon tank, the additional capacity required for the upcoming reuse pipeline wasn’t considered…

    Another resolution was presented to the board to award a contract to Lytle Water Solutions LLC for the design and development of a new water well at the Water Treatment Plant.

    Given recent emergency repairs to Wells No. 3 and No. 8, Tharnish said the department’s senior water technicians approached him with concerns for the same incident occurring later this year…

    The idea is to drill a new well on the Well No. 4-5 site and build a short pipe to the existing treatment plant. Since this would create additional flow to an existing plant, the plans for the well have to be approved by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

    Tharnish said the new well, which would draw from the Arapahoe basin, would produce 190-200 gallons per minute. Presently, Wells No. 4 and 5 produces 100 and 60 gallons per minute, respectively, which is the way the state has permitted them, he said. Trustees approved the resolution 6-0.

    Town Manager Mike Foreman said the town is getting ready to sell revenue bonds prior to November to help fund the water projects planned for the next five years and a workshop with the board to review all future water projects would be forthcoming. Foreman said the town has the opportunity to sell $15-20 million in bonds over the next five years.

    Tharnish noted Well No. 3 is repaired and operational, producing 25 gallons per minute more than it did previous to experiencing a failure July 5.

    The #GoldKingMine spill 5 years on

    Bonita Mine acid mine drainage. Photo via the Animas River Stakeholders Group.

    From The Durango Herald (Jonathan Romeo):

    For a few days in August 2015, invisible mining pollutants could be seen by the world

    Five years ago today, a breach at the Gold King Mine north of Silverton sent a deluge of water loaded with heavy metals into the Animas River, turning the waterway an electric-orange hue that caught the nation’s attention.

    But five years later, and four years into the Environmental Protection Agency’s Superfund cleanup program, there has yet to be meaningful improvements to water quality and aquatic life.

    Dan Wall, with the EPA’s Superfund program, said most of the focus since the Bonita Peaking Mining District Superfund site was declared in fall 2016 has been on studying the watershed and the multitude of mines impacting water quality.

    The EPA is still in that effort, Wall said, and there’s no time frame for when the agency will present its final work plan for a comprehensive cleanup in the Animas River basin.

    The EPA has spent more than $75 million on the site to date.

    “It may be slower than what people want,” Wall said. “But we want to make sure our remedy selection is based on science … so the money won’t be wasted and we can be confident to see improvements based on the work we take.”

    […]

    The stretch of the Animas River between Silverton and Bakers Bridge, about 15 miles north of Durango, is virtually devoid of aquatic life. Fish populations in the river through Durango are unable to reproduce, in part because of heavy metal contamination. And, years ago, the city of Durango switched its main source of water to the Florida River because of quality issues in the Animas.

    The Animas River Stakeholders Group formed in 1994 and brought together a coalition of local, state and federal agencies, as well as mining companies and interested people, who sought to improve the health of the river amid heavy metal loading from legacy mines.

    Prior to mining, snowmelt and rain seep into natural cracks and fractures, eventually emerging as a freshwater spring (usually). Graphic credit: Jonathan Thompson

    Despite the many Stakeholders Group successes, water quality in the Animas River in recent years has diminished, mainly from the mines leaching into one of the river’s tributaries, Cement Creek.

    In 2014, the EPA decided pollution had gotten so bad that it stepped in with a $1.5 million cleanup project of its own…

    Despite millions of dollars in claims, no one was reimbursed for their losses after the EPA claimed governmental immunity. A lawsuit still lingers in the federal courts from those seeking to recoup costs.

    But ultimately, the Animas River did not appear to be too adversely impacted – the spill did not cause a die-off of fish, and long-term studies have shown little to no effect on aquatic life or the waterway…