Trout (and anglers) love #Colorado’s Dream Stream — and transported trees could keep it thriving — The Colorado Sun

Kokanee Salmon are another species we sometimes encounter in the fall on the Dream Stream (South Platte River in South Park). Photo credit: Colorado Trout Hunters

From The Colorado Sun (Kevin Simpson):

This stretch of the South Platte and its world-class fishing have been damaged by floods, but borrowed root wads and other material could repair and protect it for years to come

Situated at 8,700-feet elevation in one of the largest plateau basins in North America, cradled by hills with snow-dusted peaks in the distance, this stretch of the South Platte owes its reputation to a combination of circumstances that create ideal habitat for fish — largely brown and rainbow trout but also species like kokanee salmon. They not only breed in sustainable numbers but also live long and grow to eye-popping sizes.

The stretch of river meanders through easily accessible flatlands between two reservoirs, Spinney Mountain to the northwest and Eleven Mile to the southeast, for three miles as the crow flies, though anglers walk its winding path for closer to five miles. But multiple floods over the past several years have chipped away at the banks and vegetation that provided safe harbor and attractive spawning grounds for the fish, threatening the optimal conditions.

Last month, Colorado Parks and Wildlife workers launched a project to restore the banks of this picturesque and prolific fishery in South Park, about 45 minutes west of Colorado Springs. And in a unique twist, the project was linked with another several miles away, focused on improving habitat for elk and mule deer.

Matt Kondratieff, aquatic researcher and stream restoration manager, already had done significant restoration on the Dream Stream back in 2013, but the project took a major hit months after its 2015 completion when a major flood ripped through the river and undid much of the work…

This wasn’t just any stretch of river. The Dream Stream ranks in the highest tier of Colorado fisheries, called Gold Medal waters. Those areas can produce 60 pounds of trout per acre, including a dozen that measure 14 inches or larger. Of the state’s roughly 9,000 miles of trout streams, only 322 miles meet those criteria — and this section of the South Platte exceeds the standards significantly.

“When we look at the Dream Stream numbers, the number of pounds per acre, we are 4.25 times the Gold Medal standards for biomass,” says Tyler Swarr, a CPW aquatic biologist whose territory includes the waterway. “And we’re almost five times the Gold Medal standard for the number of quality trout. So it’s a very robust fishery — really phenomenal, especially the brown trout population.”

The portion of the river that connects Spinney and Eleven Mile reservoirs now lies within what since 2010 has been known as the Charlie Meyers State Wildlife Area, named for the longtime Denver Post outdoors writer whose combination of eloquence and policy-minded conservation advocacy defined Colorado’s landscape. A memorial near the parking area celebrates Meyers, who died at 72 of complications from lung cancer…

Reality behind the dream

It may fly-fish like a dream, but there are plenty of reasons — both biological and hydrological — for this waterway’s abundance.

Start with Eleven Mile Reservoir, built in 1970. Lake species like brown and rainbow trout do well in the deep (more than 100 feet) and cool habitat, where they remain largely safe from predators and reside for most of the year — until it’s time to spawn. Then, they head upriver into the South Platte, where undercut banks provide further refuge while they pursue their journey to deposit their eggs in the river’s riffle habitat.

Riffles are generally shallower, faster parts of a stream where protruding rocks churn and oxygenate the water — which in turn aids water-dwelling insects, which become a current-driven buffet for fish. The gravel beneath provides the ideal repository for trout eggs.

Spinney Mountain Reservoir formally opened in 1982, providing a bookend to a remarkable ecosystem. The standing water of Spinney, plus gravity, creates groundwater movement that eventually rises into the Dream Stream from below — and the gentle upwelling provides prime conditions for trout eggs.

Too much sediment in a stream can smother them, but the rising water essentially cleans the gravel where the eggs lie and tumbles them in oxygen to enhance their development. Hatcheries replicate that natural water movement.

But as flooding washed away the river banks, once-prime spawning areas began accumulating fine sediment that hindered egg development. Left unrepaired, the stream would continually widen and become shallower. Water temperature would rise — a detriment to cold-water species like trout — and crucial hiding spots would disappear, exposing fish to predators from above…

Since water is released into the South Platte from the depths of Spinney, not the surface, the temperature remains hospitably cool, even in the heat of summer…

While Spinney also provides water to Aurora, the city has been accommodating in scheduling releases so that they don’t impact fish health or spawning — especially for the large population of browns in the area, notes John Davenport, chapter president for Denver Trout Unlimited.

“The way it has been managed and improved,” he says, “and with Aurora such a good partner to keep water flowing and take into consideration fish health, those fish grow large. If you’re not from Colorado, the Dream Stream will look nothing like your preconceptions. This is a meandering stream through flat, dry, sagebrush desert. It’s more like you’re on the plains than into the mountains. But as soon as visiting fishermen hook into big fish, they forget all about that.”

[…]

An unusual repair project

When Matt Kondratieff started formulating a plan for restoring the Dream Stream, he huddled with the project’s primary architects: CPW engineers, aquatic researchers and biologists Swarr and Spohn — people with decades of experience in the watershed.

He also consulted with several outfitters and anglers — including Landon Mayer — to fine tune the plans…

The project’s primary goal was to repair damage resulting from record high runoff in 2015, and two years later from a storm cell over the drainage that produced flash flooding. The use of toewood — a technique that employs submerged wood to reinforce the stream bank — would be augmented by other materials like cobble (basically rocks ranging from baseball- to basketball-size), large gravel and sod transferred from upland areas.

The area has a history of periodic flooding, often from localized storms that drench the region. One particularly freak storm just a few years ago dumped 3 inches of rain in less than an hour. Then rain turned to heavy hail and triggered a wall of water estimated at 10 feet high on the river.

What made the Dream Stream project unusual is that it fed off another CPW land management effort several miles away to enhance habitat for elk and mule deer. As the proliferation of mature conifer trees began to crowd out stands of aspen, a favored food source, crews worked in the James Mark Jones State Wildlife Area to thin the conifer.

“Bottom line,” Kondratieff says, “we needed large trees with root wads. So they figured out where there was overcrowding, took those trees and trucked them down. We used the root wad with the stem to weave into the banks, leaving root wads toward the channel, which creates complex habitat trout love.”

In all, workers moved nearly 60 15-foot tall trees, root wads still in place, four that measured 35 feet, plus 102 logs and more than 200 cubic yards of slash. Those elements were woven into the banks, while 15 tons of rock and boulders were strategically placed to enhance riffles…

By repairing the Dream Stream’s banks, CPW also aims to maintain a narrower channel that will effectively transport the fine sediment that can threaten egg-laying areas farther down the river to the next reservoir…

CPW research has determined that adding in-stream wood more than doubles trout abundance, as the root wads in particular provide cover for the fish to avoid predators, Swarr explains. Aside from anglers, the fish also must be wary of predatory birds that patrol the area, including eagles, herons, pelicans and osprey.

The project was funded largely by insurance money from the 2015 flood — about $60,000 — along with about $40,000 from CPW’s capital construction fund. Swarr estimates that to pay a private contractor for the work would have cost about $1.2 million compared to a little over $100,000 that it cost CPW to keep the work in-house, source materials on its own and combine it with the work on the department’s high-country project…

The heavy equipment required for the bank repair work is gone, but tracks remain as lingering evidence of the short-term disruption of the Dream Stream. Although plant life requires time to take hold and flourish — it could be a decade before it matures — the fish adapt quickly to the changes. Often it takes only days or weeks for them to adjust to the river’s new design, to discover new safe havens and food-rich riffles.

#Colorado has issues in #RioGrande Compact Case — The #Alamosa Citizen

Platoro Reservoir. Photo credit: Rio de la Vista

From The Alamosa Citizen (Matt Hildner):

WHILE Colorado remains largely an observer in the ongoing federal court case over the Rio Grande Compact, the issues that could increase its involvement have become clearer since Texas filed its initial complaint eight years ago.

Texas originally made no claims against Colorado as its arguments focused on New Mexico’s delivery obligations and the use of groundwater below Elephant Butte Reservoir. Colorado was named a party to the initial complaint simply because it is a signatory to the 1938 compact. But the state’s role in the proceedings could change, depending on whether the case impacts Colorado’s ability to manage Platoro Reservoir, the Upper Rio Grande Basin’s largest post-compact reservoir, and the debits the state is allowed to accrue under the compact. Likewise, court decisions might change how federal water compacts are interpreted, which could also spur greater involvement by Colorado.

In August, Special Master Michael J. Melloy ordered Texas to file a supplemental complaint with the U.S. Supreme Court because it raised issues distinct from the original complaint and had the potential to greatly expand the scope of the lawsuit. That supplemental complaint claimed, among other issues, that New Mexico violated the compact by not keeping a pool of water equal to the delivery debits it is allowed to accrue in reservoir storage.

While Colorado was not named directly in the complaint, Colorado sees that claim as an attack on how the state manages its reservoirs and the 100,000 acre-feet of debits it is allowed to accrue against its downstream delivery obligation. “It is a bigger concern because it directly affects us,” Division Engineer Craig Cotten said earlier this month.

Water users in Colorado’s section of the Rio Grande have also informed Attorney General Phil Weiser that they would seek amicus status to join the case should Texas prevail with its claim. “If Texas were to prevail on its claimed interpretation of Arts. VI-VIII, Platoro Reservoir would be rendered effectively useless to the Conejos District because it would be the only reservoir where Colorado could store debit water,” stated the memorandum signed by the Rio Grande Water Conservation District, the Conejos Water Conservancy District and the Rio Grande Water Users Association.

Platoro Reservoir has a storage capacity of only 53,571 acre-feet, which would put Colorado in the position of losing roughly half of its allowable debits under the compact. Those debits, as the memorandum noted, were intended to recognize that variations in stream flow would impact Colorado’s ability to strictly adhere to the delivery obligations laid out by the compact.

Colorado is also leery of the proceedings giving the Rio Grande Project, which is made up mainly of Elephant Butte and Caballo reservoirs in New Mexico, an authority not called for by the compact. Both the United States, which operates the reservoirs under the Bureau of Reclamation, and New Mexico have argued that the project and its contracts with downstream irrigation districts are silently incorporated into the compact. “They’re really trying to add a lot to the compact,” Cotten said. A brief by Colorado has asked the special master to rule as a matter of law that the Rio Grande Project is not incorporated into the compact and does not impose obligations to the states under the compact. The issue of obligations under those contracts should be addressed outside the compact, Colorado argued.

Virtual testimony in the case began last week, with in-person testimony coming later in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Both Cotten and Deputy State Engineer Mike Sullivan are expected to testify as fact witnesses, although they may not take the stand until a second phase of the trial in spring.

“It’s a fluid situation,” Cotten said.

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

Western settlers caused erosion in wet meadows. Now, volunteers are restoring these vital habitats — KUNC

From KVNF (Laura Palmisano) via KUNC:

Wet meadows and riparian areas in sagebrush country only account for about 2% of the landscape. Trouble for these systems started when white settlers moved West. Instead of taking their wagons through the sagebrush where it was rocky and rough, they followed the edges of the meadows.

Seward said the wagon wheels created trenches that were reinforced by livestock trailing between water sources, and eventually off-road vehicles using the same paths. These trenches caused water to pool.

“When water gets captured in those trails it speeds up and becomes more erosive and it starts to downcut,” he said. “It starts actually washing away the topsoil and working its way until it finally hits the bedrock.”

Wet meadow in Rocky Mountain National Park. Photo credit: The Environmental Protection Agency

Sawyer said these impacts are being sped up by climate change.

“We are trying to prevent these systems from disappearing entirely from our landscape,” he said.

Wet meadows provide critical habitat for deer, elk, migratory birds, pollinators, livestock and the federally threatened Gunnison sage grouse.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife estimates there about 3,500 Gunnison sage grouse left, with a majority of the population living in the Gunnison Basin. In 2015, there were around 5,000.

The species suffers habitat loss due to human-driven growth and development. The birds need large swaths of healthy sagebrush habitat to thrive. Climate change also threatens what’s left of the species habitat. Wet meadows provide sage grouse with important brood-rearing habitat to raise chicks.

Left: Bill Zeedyk plans restoration work while standing in a head cut prior to treatment at West Flat Top Mountain, USFS; Right: Completed log and fabric structure used to control the head cut post treatment. © Renée Rondeau/CNHP

The Wet Meadows Restoration Resilience Building Project is a local effort to restore habitat for the threatened Gunnison sage grouse. It’s a collaboration by government agencies, nonprofits, private landowners and the public.

Wet meadows also act as natural sponges, holding water in the soil and slowly releasing it over time. Seward said the restoration work helps build resiliency into the ecosystem. That will only get more important as climate projections indicate the area will get warmer and drier.

“Everyone knows that water in the West is life,” he said. “All life needs water, so by holding more water here in the Gunnison Basin longer and putting it to good beneficial use for wildlife, for our agricultural industries, like ranching as well — really everyone benefits from this kind of work.”

Project organizers said the restoration is working in the Gunnison Basin. Overall, they’ve seen wetland vegetation double in treated areas since the program started in 2012.

This is just one of dozens of watershed restoration projects in Colorado and states across the West. Wet meadow restoration projects to benefit the Gunnison sage grouse are also happening in San Miguel, Montrose, Mesa and Delta counties.

Ancient groundwater: Why the water you’re drinking may be thousands of years old — The Conversation


Some of North America’s groundwater is so old, it fell as rain before humans arrived here thousands of years ago.
Maria Fuchs via Getty Images

Marissa Grunes, Harvard University; Alan Seltzer, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, and Kevin M. Befus, University of Arkansas

Communities that rely on the Colorado River are facing a water crisis. Lake Mead, the river’s largest reservoir, has fallen to levels not seen since it was created by the construction of the Hoover Dam roughly a century ago. Arizona and Nevada are facing their first-ever mandated water cuts, while water is being released from other reservoirs to keep the Colorado River’s hydropower plants running.

If even the mighty Colorado and its reservoirs are not immune to the heat and drought worsened by climate change, where will the West get its water?

There’s one hidden answer: underground.

As rising temperatures and drought dry up rivers and melt mountain glaciers, people are increasingly dependent on the water under their feet. Groundwater resources currently supply drinking water to nearly half the world’s population and roughly 40% of water used for irrigation globally.

What many people don’t realize is how old – and how vulnerable – much of that water is.

Most water stored underground has been there for decades, and much of it has sat for hundreds, thousands or even millions of years. Older groundwater tends to reside deep underground, where it is less easily affected by surface conditions such as drought and pollution.

As shallower wells dry out under the pressure of urban development, population growth and climate change, old groundwater is becoming increasingly important.

Drinking ancient groundwater

If you bit into a piece of bread that was 1,000 years old, you’d probably notice.

Water that has been underground for a thousand years can taste different, too. It leaches natural chemicals from the surrounding rock, changing its mineral content. Some natural contaminants linked to groundwater agelike mood-boosting lithium – can have positive effects. Other contaminants, like iron and manganese, can be troublesome.

Older groundwater is also sometimes too salty to drink without expensive treatment. This problem can be worse near the coasts: Overpumping creates space that can draw seawater into aquifers and contaminate drinking supplies.

Illustration of layers of groundwater below the surface
Flow timescales of groundwater through different layers.
USGS

Ancient groundwater can take thousands of years to replenish naturally. And, as California saw during its 2011-2017 drought, natural underground storage spaces compress as they empty, so they can’t refill to their previous capacity. This compaction in turn causes the land above to crack, buckle and sink.

Yet people today are drilling deeper wells in the West as droughts deplete surface water and farms rely more heavily on groundwater.

What does it mean for water to be ‘old’?

Let’s imagine a rainstorm over central California 15,000 years ago. As the storm rolls over what’s now San Francisco, most of the rain falls into the Pacific Ocean, where it will eventually evaporate back into the atmosphere. However, some rain also falls into rivers and lakes and over dry land. As that rain seeps through layers of soil, it enters slowly trickling “flowpaths” of underground water.

Some of these paths lead deeper and deeper, where water collects in crevices within the bedrock hundreds of meters underground. The water gathered in these underground reserves is in a sense cut off from the active water cycle – at least on timescales relevant to human life.

In California’s arid Central Valley, much of the accessible ancient water has been pumped out of the earth, mostly for agriculture. Where the natural replenishment timescale would be on the order of millennia, agricultural seepage has partially refilled some aquifers with newer – too often polluted – water. In fact, places like Fresno now actively refill aquifers with clean water (such as treated wastewater or stormwater) in a process known as “managed aquifer recharge.”

Map showing longest turnover times are in the West and Great Plains
Average turnover times for groundwater in the U.S.
Alan Seltzer, based on data from Befus et al 2017, CC BY-ND

In 2014, midway through their worst drought in modern memory, California became the last western state to pass a law requiring local groundwater sustainability plans. Groundwater may be resilient to heat waves and climate change, but if you use it all, you’re in trouble.

One response to water demand? Drill deeper. Yet that answer isn’t sustainable.

First, it’s expensive: Large agricultural companies and lithium mining firms tend to be the sort of investors who can afford to drill deep enough, while small rural communities can’t.

Second, once you pump ancient groundwater, aquifers need time to refill. Flowpaths may be disrupted, choking off a natural water supply to springs, wetlands and rivers. Meanwhile, the change in pressure underground can destabilize the earth, causing land to sink and even leading to earthquakes.

Chart showing how nitrates enter water as more groundwater is pumped out
Pumping accelerates groundwater flow to a well, delivering dissolved chemicals.
USGS

Third is contamination: While deep, mineral-rich ancient groundwater is often cleaner and safer to drink than younger, shallower groundwater, overpumping can change that. As water-strapped regions rely more heavily on deep groundwater, overpumping lowers the water table and draws down polluted modern water that can mix with the older water. This mixing causes the water quality to deteriorate, leading to demand for ever-deeper wells.

Reading climate history in ancient groundwater

There are other reasons to care about ancient groundwater. Like actual fossils, extremely old “fossil groundwater” can teach us about the past.

Envision our prehistoric rainstorm again: 15,000 years ago, the climate was quite different from today. Chemicals that dissolved in ancient groundwater are detectable today, opening windows into a past world. Certain dissolved chemicals act as clocks, telling scientists the groundwater’s age. For example, we know how fast dissolved carbon-14 and krypton-18 decay, so we can measure them to calculate when the water last interacted with air.

Younger groundwater that disappeared underground after the 1950s has a unique, man-made chemical signature: high levels of tritium from atomic bomb testing.

Illustration of water flowing among rocks, close up and at a distance.
The various components and properties of an unconfined aquifer.
USGS

Other dissolved chemicals behave like tiny thermometers. Noble gases like argon and xenon, for instance, dissolve more in cold water than in warm water, along a precisely known temperature curve. Once groundwater is isolated from air, dissolved noble gases don’t do much. As a result, they preserve information about environmental conditions at the time the water first seeped into the subsurface.

The concentrations of noble gases in fossil groundwater have provided some of our most reliable estimates of temperature on land during the last ice age. Such findings provide insight into modern climates, including how sensitive Earth’s average temperature is to carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. These methods support a recent study that found 3.4 degrees Celsius of warming with each doubling of carbon dioxide.

Groundwater’s past and future

People in some regions, like New England, have been drinking ancient groundwater for years with little danger of exhausting usable supplies. Regular rainfall and varied water sources – including surface water in lakes, rivers and snowpack – provide alternatives to groundwater and also refill aquifers with new water. If aquifers can keep up with the demand, the water can be used sustainably.

Out West, though, over a century of unmanaged and exorbitant water use means that some of the places most dependent on groundwater – arid regions vulnerable to drought – have squandered the ancient water resources that once existed underground.

Cross section of California showing rivers, groundwater and wells, including recharge wells
How water use and recharge fit into the hydrological cycle.
State of California

A famous precedent for this problem is in the Great Plains. There, the ancient water of the Ogallala Aquifer supplies drinking water and irrigation for millions of people and farms from South Dakota to Texas. If people were to pump this aquifer dry, it would take thousands of years to refill naturally. It is a vital buffer against drought, yet irrigation and water-intensive farming are lowering its water levels at unsustainable rates.

As the planet warms, ancient groundwater is becoming increasingly important – whether flowing from your kitchen tap, irrigating food crops, or offering warnings about Earth’s past that can help us prepare for an uncertain future.

[Understand new developments in science, health and technology, each week. Subscribe to The Conversation’s science newsletter.]The Conversation

Marissa Grunes, Environmental Fellow, Harvard University; Alan Seltzer, Assistant Scientist in Marine Chemistry and Geochemistry, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, and Kevin M. Befus, Assistant Professor of Hydrogeology, University of Arkansas

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

Last month was the hottest September on record for San Juan Mountains, San Luis Valley — #Colorado Public Radio

September 2021 Gridded Temperature Percentiles Map

From Colorado Public Radio (Miguel Otárola):

The San Juan Mountains and parts of Larimer County also had their hottest September on record, the data shows. Statewide, it was the third-warmest September in Colorado’s history, tying with September 1998…

It was also a drier month than usual for the Front Range and much of southern Colorado, according to state climatologists. After a wet spring and summer — the result of timely monsoon rains — moderate to severe drought conditions have started to return to eastern parts of the state. A swath of northwest Colorado remains under exceptional drought.

State officials anticipate fall will be warmer and drier than normal, stressing vegetation and soil that is already parched across the state, according to a report from the Colorado Department of Natural Resources.

San Luis Valley residents are currently fighting about how much water is available to them, McCracken said. Farmers growing potatoes, barley and alfalfa are pumping much of that water from wells, he said, all while the area’s snowpack is melting earlier than normal and evaporating before it can recharge local water sources.

It’s ‘hold your breath’ time: #RioGrande Subdistrict 1 submits water use readings Oct. 1 — The #Alamosa Citizen

From The Alamosa Citizen (CVLopez):

OCTOBER 1 is a date virtually every farmer in the San Luis Valley’s ag-rich Subdistrict 1 has circled on their calendar. It’s when farm managers across Special Improvement District No. 1 of the Rio Grande Water Conservation District will go to their center pivot sprinkler and read their flow meter, and then record that number with the subdistrict’s program manager, Marisa Fricke.

The reading will tell the farm operator how many acre-feet of water they’ve used this irrigation season, and the total of all the meter readings that Fricke records will determine the next steps in the urgent efforts to replenish the shallowest aquifer in the Valley, the unconfined aquifer of Subdistrict 1.

“It’s the ‘hold your breath’ couple of months,” said Fricke, as she navigates her SUV through the subdistrict on a recent fall morning and gives lessons on the state of the Rio Grande. “Everything is riding on it.”

The number she’s looking for is 240,000-acre-feet of water or less. Remember that figure.

The last days of the potato harvest. Photo credit: The Alamaosa Citizen

The Valley’s Most Lucrative Corridor

Subdistrict 1 came into being in 2006 to “take action to help restore a balance between available water supplies and current levels of water use.” Remember, the unconfined aquifer had lost an estimated 1 million acre-feet of water to the changing climate from 2002 to 2004, and now efforts to replenish it have become vital to the Valley’s way of life, its $340 million annual ag economy, its growing tourist economy, and the quality of life, particularly in Alamosa, Saguache and Rio Grande counties where the boundaries of Subdistrict 1 largely lie.

Rio Grande River Basin via the Colorado Geologic Survey

It’s the biggest land subdivision in the San Luis Valley, with 3,000 water wells. When you think about Subdistrict 1, think of Coors and barley. Think about the Valley as the fifth-largest producer of potatoes in America. Think about lucrative ag contracts with Walmart and Safeway. Collectively the cash crops in the subdistrict are valued at approximately $400 million, said Fricke. Think about the farming communities of Center and Sargent and Mosca. Think about the Gator Farm, and the hot springs at the Sand Dunes Swimming Pool in Hooper. All of these attributes of the Valley reside in the Rio Grande Water Conservation District’s Subdistrict 1, and collectively they show what a devastating blow it would be to the Valley if the state of Colorado were to ever shut down wells in the subdistrict.

The state hinted at such a drastic step as recently as 2018 and 2019, when State Engineer Kevin Rein sounded the alarms about the importance of reducing groundwater withdrawals during a drought season and concerns about bringing the aquifer to sustainable levels by 2031. That’s what’s been agreed upon and what a state court-approved water plan calls for.

Subdistrict 1 program manager Marisa Fricke looks at a water meter. Photo credit: The Alamosa Citizen

ENTER Marisa Fricke. After she receives the October flow meter readings from approximately 310 farms in Subdistrict 1, she will analyze the figures and draft a report to the State Engineer and Colorado Water Resources Division on the status of the unconfined aquifer. Her report will tell the state the total amount of groundwater pumped out and the amount of surface water diverted and re-charged through ponds and irrigation ditches.

She’ll get around 1,800 meter readings in October, and she’ll then calculate how much groundwater was pumped, minus the amount of surface water that was diverted in. The net balance will reveal the amount of water that was truly over pumped from the aquifer.

She will also convey that it’s been yet another dry year in 2021 for the San Luis Valley, compounding an even drier 2020. Without consistent snowpack and summer monsoon seasons, the surest way the unconfined aquifer gets restored is through voluntary conservation efforts put in place by the Rio Grande Water Conservation District. Those efforts include:

  • A Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) that pays producers to not use their well for 15 years.
    Paying farmers not to plant a field.
  • Purchasing acres of farmland and retiring the water wells on that land.
  • Creating water credits so farmers who return more water to the aquifer than they took out can sell credits to other farmers who need more water for their fields.
  • All of these items will show up in Fricke’s report. “We are trying everything,” she said.

    The odd thing is the unconfined aquifer, because of its unique hydrology and recharge decree, adds little injury to the Rio Grande Basin itself. The change in climate, though, means the aquifer struggles to restore itself naturally and farmers then must shoulder more of the burden.

    “In my lifetime, I’ve seen the climate changes,” said Fricke, an Alamosa High and Adams State graduate. She was raised in Alamosa county, knows farming, understands the agricultural life of the San Luis Valley, and worries about what’s to come.

    “Everyone is very concerned,” she said.

    Nine years left to 2031

    The subdistrict basically has nine years left to recover 864,000 acre-feet of water, maybe. If Rein determines that it has become evident that the goal to return the unconfined aquifer to a sustainable level by 2031 can’t be met, then the state could take action sooner.

    Now you understand the importance of October 1. In 2020, 247,000 acre-feet of water was pulled out of the aquifer. While this year hasn’t been as dry, 2021 certainly has not been a good year for precipitation in the San Luis Valley, and the forecast for October, November and December shows a probability of more of the same – dry and little moisture, which likely translates into an earlier spring runoff in 2022 if snow arrives late in the winter.

    This is how the changing climate affects the situation, and why the conservation efforts in Subdistrict 1 are critical to the Valley’s ag and farming industry. The Rio Grande Water Conservation District has purchased another 11 wells this year in an effort to retire groundwater and will offer the same program again in 2022.

    Fricke will litter her report to the state with these types of facts to show all the work being done to preserve the aquifer. She describes the next few months as “the worst stress ever.” But then she smiles and flexes her determination to prove to the state that the water plan is working.

    Asked what would be a good figure for 2021, she paused, gave it some thought, and said 240,000 acre-feet or less would signal some relief.

    Asked when she’ll know, she turned and said, “December we’ll know the numbers.”

    San Luis Valley water projects receive funding — The #Alamosa Citizen #RioGrande

    A powerful sprinkler capable of pumping more than 2,500 gallons of water per minute irrigates a farm field in the San Luis Valley June 6, 2019. Credit: Jerd Smith via Water Education Colorado

    From The Alamosa Citizen (Matt Hildner):

    THE Colorado Water Conservation Board handed out roughly $2.8 million last week to five projects in the San Luis Valley, including a first-of-its kind conservation easement program aimed at protecting the region’s groundwater.

    San Luis Valley Groundwater

    Colorado Open Lands garnered $1.4 million for a voluntary conservation easement program, which would reduce groundwater pumping while allowing for continued agricultural use. The management plans accompanying the easements would draw on the experience of the Natural Resources Conservation Service. The total cost of the project is $8.2 million, the majority of which will come from the NRCS.

    The Rio Grande Headwaters Restoration Project will use part of a recently awarded state grant to replace the Billings Ditch’s diversion structure and head gate, which are currently prone to debris and sediment buildup. Top photo: Daniel Boyes, program manager for restoration project, and Rick Davie and Steve Vandiver, both of whom sit on restoration project’s board, at the Ehrowitz Ditch, which will have the gravel push-up dam shown here replaced with a more efficient structure. It’s one of five irrigation ditches that will get improved diversions. Photos courtesy Rio Grande Headwaters Restoration Project. Photo credit: The Alamosa Citizen

    CWCB granted $818,030 to the Rio Grande Headwaters Restoration Project for work on the Anaconda, Independent No. 2, Knoblauch, Ehrowitz, and Billings ditches. The project would improve diversions for the respective ditches, all of which are in Rio Grande County, while also including fish and boat passage. Work crews would also restore 3,960 linear feet of stream bank and enhance aquatic habitat through willow planting, channel and stream bank shaping, and the installation of rock clusters.

    Farmer Erin Nissen with some of her cattle. Under Subdistrict 1’s fallowed field program, she is still able to utilize the land for grazing. Photo credit: Luna Anna Archey/High Country News

    The board awarded $163,406 to the Rio Grande Water Conservation District to develop an in-basin water marketing strategy to secure the roughly 16,000 acre-feet needed by the Subdistricts to offset stream depletions. The program’s managers are eyeing tools such as temporary water leases or rotational fallowing toward that end. The Rio Grande Basin Cooperative Project, as the effort is known, also received $212,105 from the U.S Bureau of Reclamation, and roughly $163,000 from three other funders toward the $425,511 project cost.

    Fig. 2. Mexican Land Grants in Colorado and New Mexico. The Baumann map depicted here mislabels these Mexican land grants as “Spanish”. Source: Paul R. Baumann 2001. SUNY-Oneonta.

    The Sangre de Cristo Acequia Association received $24,500 to hold seminars around irrigation, soil health and cropping in 2022. Funds would also go toward developing a stakeholder group to implement projects and the association’s hosting of the Congreso de Acequias.

    San Luis People’s Ditch spanning the long lot system

    Colorado Master Irrigator, a nonprofit educational group, received $414,875 to expand trainings on water and energy conservation and other efficiency practices across the state. Part of those funds will focus on expanding offerings into the San Luis Valley through a partnership with the Colorado Ag Water Alliance and Subdistrict No. 1.

    All of the funding for the Valley projects came from the Colorado Water Plan Grant Program. State lawmakers and Governor Jared Polis gave the grant program a boost in spring with $15 million from the state’s General Fund.

    Rio Grande River Basin via the Colorado Geologic Survey

    Trial starts in Rio Grande Supreme Court #water lawsuit between #NewMexico and #Texas — #ElPaso Matters

    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 El Paso Matters (Danielle Prokop):

    Attorneys laid out their arguments Monday during the first day of a virtual trial in a lawsuit over Rio Grande water with Texas and the federal government alleging that New Mexico’s use of groundwater cut into Texas’ share of river water.

    The appointed special master, Michael Melloy, a senior judge for the U.S. 8th District Court of Appeals, is hearing arguments in the 8-year-old case and will compile a report for the U.S. Supreme Court.

    Melloy determined in late August that the long-awaited three-month trial would be split into two portions, one virtual and one in-person later in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. He cited a health emergency for one of the Texas attorneys and concerns about the increase of COVID-19 cases for splitting the trial.

    Virtual testimony from a mix of members of federal agencies, farmers, irrigation managers, hydrologists and city officials from El Paso and Las Cruces will continue over several weeks.

    In the 2014 complaint in the case, officially called No. 141 Original: Texas v. New Mexico and Colorado, Texas attorneys allege New Mexico’s groundwater pumping reduced Texas’ Rio Grande portion by tens of thousands of acre feet each year, and owes Texas damages. An acre-foot of water is equal to about 325,851 gallons.

    Colorado is named as a defendant only because it is a signatory to the 82-year-old Rio Grande Compact…

    The longstanding tug-of-war over the river’s water between the states and the federal government started a decade ago. In a 2011 federal lawsuit, New Mexico alleged the federal government shorted New Mexico its Rio Grande water, and gave too much to Texas. It escalated when Texas filed a new lawsuit against New Mexico in the U.S. Supreme Court three years later.

    On Monday, attorney Stuart Somach, who represents Texas, opened with an apology for repeating arguments, saying he’s presented Texas’ case since 2012…

    The basis for Texas’ case, Somach said, was that New Mexico’s groundwater pumping south of the Elephant Butte Reservoir depleted the Rio Grande and violated the Rio Grande Compact.

    Historically, the Rio Grande was split 57% to New Mexico and 43% to Texas. Somach said that the increased groundwater use from the city of Las Cruces, New Mexico State University and agriculture in New Mexico reduces the total amount of river water available to Texas.

    “We don’t quibble with the fact that we get 43% of something,” Somach said. “But what we’re entitled to is 43% of the conditions that existed in 1938, not the conditions that have been created by New Mexico groundwater pumping.”

    Somach said over the next few weeks, Texas farmers, the irrigation district and officials from the city of El Paso will testify to the “injury caused directly by New Mexico’s actions.”

    James DuBois, an attorney in the Department of Justice, told the court that New Mexico has known that groundwater pumping would impact the amount of water in the Rio Grande…

    DuBois said New Mexico’s actions threatened the compact, and the 1906 treaty that guarantees Mexico’s portion of the Rio Grande, up to 60,000 acre-feet…

    DuBois said the court would hear from federal officials at the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which oversees irrigation projects in the West, about a 2008 operating agreement between the federal government and irrigation districts that updated allocations.

    He said to expect testimony from the International Boundary and Water Commission, a binational agency which enforces the water treaty with Mexico, in coming weeks.

    The opening arguments for New Mexico were split between the outside counsel and New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas.

    Balderas said the uncertain climate future and a shrinking river make this case pressing…

    Balderas said the state maintains that New Mexico is not receiving its fair share of water. He referenced the federal civil case from 2011, when the then-Attorney General Gary King sued the federal government over the 2008 operating agreement with the irrigation districts. King alleged the agreement gave too much water to Texas and shorted New Mexico. That 2011 case remains unresolved, because when Texas filed the lawsuit in the Supreme Court in 2014, action halted in the lower courts.

    “It’s not Texas that is being harmed in this case, it is New Mexico,” Balderas said…

    Attorney Jeff Wechsler, representing New Mexico, said the 2008 operating agreement meant that New Mexico is shorted on surface water, making area farmers more reliant on groundwater pumping…

    Wechsler said that additional water in Texas is sold by the El Paso irrigation district to Hudspeth County, which is allowed to use Rio Grande project waste water…

    Wechsler went on to say that groundwater pumping in the Hueco Bolson by El Paso, a major source of water for the city, has impacted Rio Grande project waters.

    Wechsler said that New Mexico farmers, relying on groundwater because of the federal government’s allocation changes since 2008, are paying more in maintenance and in soil changes, which he said amount to millions in damages.

    Weschler asked the court to rule that “New Mexico receives 57% of project water” and allow the state to collect damages.

    Benefits from Upper #ArkansasRiver Water Conservancy District programs — The Mountain Mail

    Graphic via the Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District

    From The Mountain Mail (Terry Scanga):

    In 1979 the Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District was formed. Since that time innumerable benefits have been provided to the citizens of the district.

    The primary goal of the district is protection of water rights within the Upper Arkansas. Continuous monitoring and involvement in legislative measures that impact water rights, involvement in water court cases that have the potential to negatively impact Upper Basin water rights and operating umbrella augmentation plans that prevent injury to water rights by making weekly water replacements to affected rivers and streams by out-of-priority uses are the major areas of work.

    Other areas include conducting water studies such as ground water monitoring, water balance studies with the U.S. Geologic Survey, identification of and development of alluvial water storage, watershed health activities such as spearheading the Monarch Pass Steep Slope Timber Harvesting Project and water education programs. The benefits of these programs are not always recognized by citizens of the district.

    Water resource development is essential to an effective water right protection program. The most obvious and direct benefit of this is the district’s umbrella augmentation plan program. Augmentation is a little understood water resource concept that was developed in 1969 when Colorado fully recognized in legislation the connection between tributary ground water and surface water. With this recognition all ground water production was brought under and regulated by the prior appropriation system.

    Basically, this meant that the right to extract ground water for use would be governed by the date of first use. In an arid country such as Colorado, and in particular eastern Colorado, there is never enough water to satisfy all legal claims. Thus, priority of use is controlled by the established date of first use or “First in Time Is First in Right.” This legislation prevented most well use except when a “fully consumable” water source was used to replace the amount of water used up by the well. In other words, the well use would have to be augmented with a court-decreed “Plan of Augmentation.”

    The full impact of this was not completely felt until the decision of the Kansas-Colorado Compact lawsuit and the adoption by Colorado in 1995 of the “Amended Rules and Regulation on Tributary Ground Water Use in the Arkansas Basin.”

    Fortuitously, the district had filed in 1992 and obtained an umbrella augmentation plan in 1994. The benefits have been enormous for citizens within district boundaries of its decreed augmentation areas needing augmentation to use their wells, surface diversion or ponds.

    The value of being able to enroll into the district’s augmentation plan and continue to use one’s well is best quantified by cost savings. Typical residential well augmentation requires a source of fully consumable water, storage, an engineering plan and a water court decree. The typical current cost for such a plan ranges from a low of $80,000 to $150,000 per residence. The cost per residence with the district’s plan is less than $4,500, a savings per residence of $75,000 to more than $145,000.

    Presently the district provides augmentation to over 2,000 wells. The vast majority of these are for residential use. This savings expressed in dollars would represent a cost savings to district citizens of as much as $290 million.

    The additional and as important benefit is to rivers and streams in the district. Annually more than 700-acre feet of water is released to our streams and available to support water rights and protect them from injury.

    Further benefits are the water infrastructure that is maintained and constructed that supports recreation and the environment. Many of the area lakes and reservoirs are filled with district owned and controlled water rights, such as O’Haver Lake.

    The studies and watershed health projects the district has undertaken in its 35 years of existence provide a wealth of knowledge and data for present and future understanding of our water resource and a roadmap to future water development.

    Ralph “Terry” Scanga is general manager of the Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District.

    Metro districts for massive Peyton subdivision approved, but some have concerns — The #ColoradoSprings Gazette

    Developer 4 Site Investments plans to build more than 3,200 homes north of Judge Orr Road adjacent to Eastonville Road and U.S. 24. County commissioners on Tuesday, Sept. 28, 2021, voted to approve a service plan for four new metropolitan districts that will fund the subdivision. Courtesy of Grandview Reserve Sketch Plan

    From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Breeanna Jent):

    El Paso County commissioners on Tuesday approved four new metropolitan districts that will fund a proposed subdivision of more than 3,200 homes in Peyton, a move some locals say could alter the area’s “small-town feel” as thousands of expected residents move in.

    Commissioners voted unanimously to form the metropolitan districts that propose issuing $290 million in debt over 30 years to build the planned Grandview Reserve subdivision on about 768 acres between U.S. 24 and Eastonville Road, near Falcon Regional Park.

    Grandview Reserve developers expect to build up to 3,260 single-family homes in the new subdivision over 14 years, said Russell Dykstra of law firm Spencer Fane LLC, representing developer 4 Site Investments LLC. About 244 homes would be built each year from 2022 through 2032 before construction gradually tapers down between 2033 and 2036, according to meeting documents. Previously, anticipated build-out was planned to occur over eight years.

    County planner Kari Parsons said homes were expected to sell on average for about $340,000. Developers will charge each future property owner special district taxes to finance the $295 million debt. Owners of a newly built $400,000 home in the subdivision could owe about $1,859 in taxes annually, Dykstra said.

    The proposal presented Tuesday was revised from a previous request to form five new metropolitan districts that proposed issuing $250 million in debt to build the new development. Parsons said developers now proposed issuing $290 million in debt because of increased construction costs…

    Developers contended several other nearby districts — including the 4-Way Ranch, Meridian Ranch and Woodmen Hills metro districts — cannot support nor pay for traffic, water and storm drainage improvements planned for the area, meeting documents show.

    In a March 31 letter addressed to commissioners and included in meeting documents Tuesday, the 4-Way Ranch Metropolitan District said it cannot provide services to the proposed Grandview Reserve subdivision because it does not have enough water. The district also said forming four new Grandview Reserve Metropolitan Districts “would provide an economic alternative for services and would eliminate undo [sic] financial burden” on the 4-Way Ranch Metro District No. 2.

    The Grandview Reserve Metro District would provide water to the Grandview Reserve subdivision, which needs about 1,200 acre-feet a year, developers said. An acre-foot of water is enough to cover an acre of land to a depth of about one foot and is considered the amount needed by a family of four for about a year.

    Denver Basin Aquifer System graphic credit USGS.

    The metro district would source mostly from the Arapahoe and Laramie-Fox Hills aquifers, but offsite wells from neighboring lands owned by 4 Way Ranch will “likely be needed” for full development, meeting documents show.

    Upper Black Squirrel Creek Designated Groundwater Basin
    Upper Black Squirrel
    Creek Designated Groundwater Basin

    Mirko Cruz of Trout Raley law firm, representing the Upper Black Squirrel Creek Ground Water Management District, said the developer hasn’t “provided sufficient evidence” that the new metro district owns or controls adequate water rights to service the development. Developers have a purchase and sale agreement “for a portion of the water needed” to meet the subdivision’s demands but it doesn’t prove their guaranteed right to use the water, he said…

    Cherokee Metropolitan District will provide wastewater services to the subdivision, developers said.

    #Durango: Acid Mine Nation Day — A #GoldKingMine Spill Retrospective, September 26, 2021

    Western #Kansas farmers battle #water supply issues — The Center Square

    The dry bed of the Arkansas River near the Santa Fe Trail crossing at Cimarron, Kansas. The Ogallala aquifer groundwater levels in much of western Kansas started dropping in the 1950s as pumping increased, according to the Kansas Geological Survey. File Photo / Max McCoy

    From The Center Square (Kimberly James):

    Due to a number of reasons including this year drought conditions, water supply is becoming a major concern in western Kansas.

    Agriculture-heavy western Kansas is substantially supported by the Ogallala Aquifer, one of the world’s largest aquifers. But water-intensive crops and farming are putting incredible pressure on it. Groundwater levels in the Ogallala have been on the decline ever since irrigation began. The state water plan warns that if irrigation and pumping continue at this rate, some regions may see themselves out of water in as little as 20 years.

    “For agriculture, the impact on farming is increasing costs to pump water from a continuously lowering groundwater level,” Elmer Ronnenbaum, general manager at Kansas Rural Water Association, told The Center Square. “At some point, the aquifer will either not yield sufficient water for irrigation or the costs associated with pumping water from so deep will make irrigation no longer feasible.”

    While funding for groundwater management remains an issue, there are a few solutions being implemented.

    “Practical solutions include Intensive Groundwater Use Control Areas (IGUCA) and Local Enhanced Management Areas (LEMA),” Ronnenbaum said. “Another solution that has been floated in recent years is an aqueduct to transport water to southwest Kansas from the Missouri River in northeast Kansas, but generally has been deemed too costly and is opposed by neighboring states and local (northeast Kansas) residents.”

    Two LEMAs have already been established in Northwest Kansas Groundwater Management District (GMD) No. 4, which appears to have slowed water level declines over just a few years. A third LEMA was just implemented in Western Kansas GMD No. 1.

    Kansas farmers will continue to farm, but with limited water supply, some may have to shift their focus to continue to be profitable.

    “Advances in technology have allowed some irrigators to keep irrigating with less yield of water but comes at a cost to change,” Ronnenbaum said. “Some farmers will have to switch to dryland crops or crops with lower irrigation water use requirements as the aquifer declines in their areas. For example, cotton requires half the amount of irrigation water but currently is nearly as profitable as corn.”

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

    Opinion: It’s time to stop shipping water across the Rockies — Writers on the Range #EagleRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    These wetlands, located on a 150-acre parcel in the Homestake Creek valley that Homestake Partners bought in 2018, would be inundated if Whitney Reservoir is constructed. The Forest Service received more than 500 comments, the majority in opposition to, test drilling associated with the project and the reservoir project itself. Photo credit: Heather Sackett/Aspen Journalism

    From Writers on the Range (David O. Williams):

    David O. Williams is a contributor to Writers on the Range. Photo credit: Writers on the Range

    It was 1952 when the cities of Aurora and Colorado Springs first started gobbling up water rights in a remote, high mountain valley on the state’s Western Slope. The valley is called Homestake, and now, those same cities want even more of its pure water.

    In western Colorado, where only about 20% of Colorado’s population lives, all water tries to flow toward the Pacific Ocean. On the east side, where most people live, water flows to the Atlantic. To bring the water from the west side to the east side of the Rockies requires lots of money and lots of pipelines.

    But money isn’t much of a barrier when your population is exploding: Colorado Springs, with 478,961 residents, and Aurora, with 386,261, need more water. And they aim to get it even if it must cross under the Continental Divide and damage a fragile and ancient wetland called a “fen” in the process.

    The new reservoir the two cities plan to build would be five miles downstream from their existing Homestake Reservoir, and called Whitney Reservoir after a creek that flows into Homestake Creek. There’s also a Whitney Park within the nearby Holy Cross Wilderness Area, which could lose some 500 acres if the new reservoir goes through.

    The Holy Cross Wilderness Area near Vail, which could lose 500 acres under the new reservoir plan.
    (Photo Credit: John Fielder via Writers on the Range)

    But protesters are already active, and conservation groups are threatening lawsuits. Meanwhile, the cities have already quietly begun test drilling at four possible dam sites on U.S. Forest Service land along Homestake Creek.

    Obstacles, however, are popping up. The Forest Service says it won’t even consider a reservoir proposal that shrinks a wilderness area, and the cities would have to get that approval from both Congress and the White House.

    The U.S. congressman for the district, rising Democratic star Joe Neguse, has also made it clear he doesn’t support shrinking a designated wilderness or damaging wetlands. Local leaders are also chiming in: “A Whitney Reservoir would irreparably change and harm our community,” said Minturn Mayor John Widerman and Red Cliff Mayor Duke Gerber, who co-wrote a letter to the Forest Service. Both represent small towns dependent on tourism and outdoor recreation.

    State Sen. Kerry Donovan, a Democrat who grew up in the nearby ski town of Vail, also wrote the Forest Service to oppose the dam: “I cannot express how sternly the citizens of my district … oppose water diversion projects to Front Range communities.”

    Another issue, and for some it’s the most critical, is the fate of valuable “fen” wetlands that would be destroyed by a dam and reservoir. “This is one of the finest wetlands we can find on our forest — it’s unbelievable,” White River National Forest Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams told Aspen Journalism in 2019. “You can mitigate, but you can’t replace 10,000 years of work.”

    etlands, which are havens of biodiversity, offer priceless ecological benefits. As wetlands are lost to development nationwide, critics of the dam project worry about its local impact.
    (Photo Credit: John Fielder via Writers on the Range)

    Nor can you turn the clock back to 1952, when Colorado’s population was 1.36 million, compared to 5.7 million today, and the global land and ocean temperature was 1.52 degrees Fahrenheit cooler. Climate change, scientists say, will cause the Colorado River to lose up to 31% of its historical flow by 2052. That prediction was a factor in a recent, first-ever federal water shortage declaration.

    “When Colorado Springs and Aurora got their water right, the [Holy Cross] wilderness wasn’t there and wetlands at that time were something we were just filling in,” said Jerry Mallett, president of the local conservation group Colorado Headwaters. “Since then (wetlands) have become an extremely valuable resource because of what they can do for groundwater recharge, addressing climate change — all kinds of things.”

    Then there’s the issue of Kentucky bluegrass, Colorado’s landscaping groundcover of choice. Kentucky gets more than 50 inches of rain a year compared to the Front Range average of 17, so why pump western Colorado’s high-elevation water through the Rockies for lawns?

    Colorado photographer and conservationist John Fielder, who says he’s been just about everywhere within the nearly 123,000-acre Holy Cross Wilderness Area, wants people to just look at his images of the fen wetlands along Homestake Creek, and then ask themselves these questions:

    “Is anything more sublime and fertile and life-giving than a 10,000-or-more-year-old fen wetland? You can’t “mitigate” the loss of ancient wetlands by creating a manmade wet place somewhere else. No more water to the Front Range.”

    David O. Williams is a contributor to Writers on the Range, writersontherange.org, a nonprofit dedicated to spurring lively conversation about the West. He is a freelance writer who lives near Vail, Colorado.

    Report: Cover Crops for Resilience of a Limited-Irrigation Winter Wheat–Sorghum–Fallow Rotation: Soil Carbon, Nitrogen, and Sorghum Yield Responses — MDPI

    A growing oats and radish mix. Photo by Paul Gross, MSU Extension.

    Click here to read the report. Here’s the abstract (Vesh R. Thapa, Rajan Ghimire, and Mark A. Marsalis):

    Cover crops can improve soil health by maintaining soil organic carbon (SOC) and nitrogen (N) contents, yet their dynamics in relation to crop yield in a semi-arid cropping system are poorly understood. The main objective of this study was to evaluate the response of diverse winter cover crop species and their mixture on SOC and N fractions and their relationship with sorghum (Sorghum bicolor L. Moench) yield in a winter wheat (Triticum aestivum L.)–sorghum–fallow rotation with limited irrigation management. Cover cropping treatments included pea (Pisum sativum L.), oat (Avena sativa L.), canola (Brassica napus L.), and mixtures of pea+oat (POM), pea+canola (PCM), peat+oat+canola (POCM), and a six-species mixture (SSM) of pea+oat+canola+hairy vetch (Vicia villosa Roth)+forage radish (Raphanus sativus L.)+barley (Hordeum vulgare L.) as cover crops and a fallow. Soil samples were analyzed for residual inorganic N, potentially mineralizable carbon (PMC) and nitrogen (PMN), SOC, and total N. Response of labile inorganic N, PMC, and PMN varied with cover crop treatments. The SOC and total N contents did not differ among treatments but were 20% and 35% higher in 2020 than in 2019, respectively. Sorghum grain yield was 25% and 40% greater with oats than with PCM and canola cover crops in 2019, while it was 33–97% greater with fallow and oats than other treatments in 2020. Oat as a cover crop could improve the resilience of limited-irrigation cropping systems by increasing SOC, soil N, and crop yield in semi-arid regions.

    Something in the water: Trying to get a handle on E. coli issues in the #SanJuanRiver, #AnimasRiver — The #Durango Telegraph

    The Animas River in Durango, in Apri, 2018. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    From The Durango Telegraph (Jonathan Romeo):

    “We know who pooped in the river, now we’re trying to figure out where it’s coming from,” Alyssa Richmond said as she took a sample of water recently from the muddy San Juan River, in the blazing high desert outside Farmington.

    Richmond is coordinator for the San Juan Watershed Group, a collection of local agencies and volunteers working to improve water quality on the San Juan River as it runs through northern New Mexico. The group’s ultimate goal, Richmond said, is to have the stretch of river meet national water quality standards. But as it stands, it’s not going well.

    Among a plethora of water-quality issues that include mine pollution, urban runoff and rising water temperatures amid an increasing drought, is the issue of E. coli contamination. A naturally occurring bacteria that lives in all humans and animal stools, E. coli can contaminate ground and surface water, and lead to health implications.

    For at least the past 10 years, researchers have launched a full-scale investigation to better understand E. coli issues up and down the San Juan River watershed, from high up in the San Juan Mountains to its major tributary, the Animas River, to stretches that run into the Navajo Nation.

    Early results are not encouraging: the EPA’s standard for acceptable E. coli levels is 126 colony-forming units (CFU) per 100 milliliters. In stretches of the San Juan River through Farmington, water samples taken this summer exceeded nearly 1,500 CFUs. “We didn’t expect it to be as high as it was,” Richmond said on a sampling day in late August. “It was shocking.”

    But it’s not all doom and poop. The San Juan Watershed Group’s efforts will ultimately help inform where cleanup projects should be focused to achieve the highest improvement in water health. And, all up and down the watershed, even to the highest reaches of the Animas River around Silverton, there is a concerted push to face E. coli issues head on.

    “The good news is everyone agrees there should be no human poop in the water,” said San Juan Citizens Alliance’s Animas Riverkeeper Marcel Gaztambide, who probably never thought he’d have to make so obvious a statement to the local paper. “And it’s an issue of concern, so it’s good we’re talking about it now.”

    Defecation detectives

    E. coli is a difficult contaminant to fully contextualize because not only is it naturally occurring, it is also one of the most common bacteria. It can come from livestock as well as wildlife like elk, deer, birds, beaver – pretty much any animal that poops. And to complicate matters further, only some strains of the bacteria are harmful to human health.

    In the early 2010s, however, researchers knew high E. coli levels were an issue in the San Juan River in northern New Mexico, but the question was, who was the main culprit? After conducting two years of microbial source testing, which not only shows the level of E. coli but also pinpoints the exact source, the results were not what researches were expecting. It came back that the largest contributors were … drumroll, please … humans.

    In fact, test results showed human feces in 70 to 100 percent of samples taken from the Animas River at the Colorado-New Mexico state line down to the border of the Navajo Nation.

    With the guilty party exposed, funding was again secured to take the investigation a step further this summer by understanding where exactly the human waste was coming from, Richmond said. It’s a process that’s rather simple, by testing upstream and downstream of suspected source points, and then seeing where the spikes in E. coli levels occur. And already, there are some potential smoking guns: failing septic tanks from homes and development, outdated wastewater treatment plants and illegal RV dumping.

    What the sampling has also shown, Richmond said, is the high E. coli levels aren’t necessarily coming from upstream communities in Durango and elsewhere. Instead, early results indicate the highest spikes happen in and around Farmington…

    It’s a watershed moment

    But that doesn’t necessarily mean upstream communities are swimming in sparkling clean waters.

    The Animas River, for instance, has issues all its own. Remember that EPA standard of 126 cfu/100 mL? Well, one study conducted by Fort Lewis College in October 2018 found E. coli levels in the Animas at Santa Rita Park, near the Whitewater Park (close your eyes kayakers and surfers) at 226 CFUs. Bare in mind, this was before the completion of the City’s new water reclamation facility in December 2019…

    Over in the Florida River, which runs into the Animas about 18 miles south of Durango, progress is also being made, said Warren Rider, coordinator for the Animas Watershed Partnership, which focuses on water quality issues on the Colorado side of the border.

    The Florida River for years has exceeded safety standards for E. coli and accounts for nearly a quarter of the bacteria and nutrients dumped into the Animas River before the state line. In a bit of a shock, the Florida was delisted last year, but that was mostly due to a lack of data, researchers say.

    While natural sources do account for a portion of contamination in the Florida, agriculture and livestock operations also contribute a good amount of harmful bacteria. As a result, Rider said the Animas Watershed Partnership has tried to work with landowners to fence off waterways to livestock and reestablish vegetation along stream banks…

    Up in the high country

    And no one has forgotten about the highest reaches of the watershed atop the San Juan Mountains, where an unprecedented increase in recreation, and therefore human waste, has been well noted and nosed in the past year or so.

    This summer, the U.S. Forest Service and Mountain Studies Institute partnered to test heavily trafficked recreation areas for E. coli. Colleen Magee-Uhlik, a forest ambassador with MSI, said areas with high use of recreation showed much higher concentrations than locations with little human impact.

    In the obvious case study, South Mineral Creek – that of Ice Lakes fame – water samples taken above the highest areas of recreation tested at about 22 CFUs. Farther downstream, in a location that would catch all the cumulative impacts of recreation and camping, samples were more than four times as high, at nearly 90 CFUs. (And, it should be noted, South Mineral was closed this year because of fire damage, which likely means levels would be even higher if people were in the area)…

    Christie Chatterley, Fort Lewis College assistant professor of physics and engineering, said in the popular backpacking spot Chicago Basin in the Weminuche Wilderness, a student-led research program also found high levels of E. coli in streams. FLC has plans to conduct microbial source testing to see exactly where the bacteria is coming from, but Chatterley said it’s probably safe to assume hikers and campers…

    So what can be done?

    For starters, using best practices in the high country, such as burying waste 6 to 8 inches deep and 200 feet away from water, and packing out toilet paper can go a long way. This message is even more important as record numbers of people visit the backcountry, many without a working knowledge of how to protect the very landscape they come to enjoy.

    Farther downstream, upgrading septic tanks is seen as another obvious target. Brian Devine, with San Juan Basin Public Health, said new septic regulations require people selling their homes to have septic systems inspected. In 2020 alone, more than 500 systems were inspected, which led to many leeching septic tanks being fixed. “It’s resulting in systems getting repaired,” he said. Richmond, with the San Juan Watershed Group, said agencies are working with New Mexico health officials to tackle failing and outdated septic systems as well.

    And, the city of Durango’s Biggs said the Clean Water Act continues to push water quality standards. “The Clean Water Act has really improved water quality, and the Animas would be a testament to that,” he said. “And everyone benefits, including our downstream users.”

    So yes, there’s no quick and easy fix to E. coli issues in the Animas and San Juan rivers, but all these efforts are folded into the long history of communities along the watershed, and the responsibilities they have to one another, Biggs said. It’s an issue that dates back to the 1800s when Silverton would send down water contaminated by mining operations to Durango, and a few decades later, when Durango’s uranium pile sat along the banks of the Animas River, only to be swept downstream.

    San Juan River Basin. Graphic credit Wikipedia.

    Farmers restore native grasslands as groundwater disappears — The Associated Press

    The dry bed of the Arkansas River near the Santa Fe Trail crossing at Cimarron, Kansas. The Ogallala aquifer groundwater levels in much of western Kansas started dropping in the 1950s as pumping increased, according to the Kansas Geological Survey. File Photo / Max McCoy

    From The Associated Press (Tammy Webber):

    For decades, the Texas Panhandle was green with cotton, corn and wheat. Wells drew a thousand gallons (3,785 liters) a minute from the seemingly bottomless Ogallala aquifer, allowing farmers to thrive despite frequent dry spells and summer heat.

    But groundwater that sustained generations is drying up, creating another problem across the Southern plains: Without enough rain or groundwater for crops, soil can blow away — as it did during the Dust Bowl of the 1930s.

    “We wasted the hell out of the water,” says Muleshoe, Texas, farmer Tim Black, recalling how farmers irrigated when he was a kid. Water flooded furrows or sprayed in high arcs before farmers adopted more efficient center-pivot systems.

    His grandfather could reach water with a post-hole digger. Black is lucky to draw 50 gallons (189 liters) a minute from wells up to 400 feet (122 meters) deep.

    Now farmers are facing tough choices, especially in parts of Texas, New Mexico and Oklahoma.

    Some are growing less-thirsty crops or improving irrigation. Others, like Black, are replacing some cash crops with cattle and pastureland.

    And more are planting native grasses that go dormant during drought, while deep roots hold soil and green with the slightest rain…

    Black, a former corn farmer, plants native grasses on corners of his fields, as pasture for cattle and between rows of wheat and annual grass.

    The transition to cattle, he hopes, will allow his oldest son to stay on the land Black’s grandparents began plowing 100 years ago. His younger son is a data analyst near Dallas…

    More than half the currently irrigated land in portions of western Texas, eastern New Mexico and the Oklahoma Panhandle could be lost by the end of the century, according to a study last year. And the central part of the aquifer could lose up to 40% of irrigated area by 2100.

    Those losses might be slowed as farmers adapt to lower water levels, researchers say. But the projections underscore the need for planning and incentives in vulnerable areas.

    The U.S. Department of Agriculture is prioritizing grasslands conservation in a “Dust Bowl Zone” in parts of Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas.

    But reestablishing native vegetation in the sandy soil over the Ogallala has proven difficult where irrigation ceased on former Kansas farmland. The same is true on land outside the Ogallala previously irrigated with river water, including in Colorado’s Arkansas River Valley.

    Extended periods of drought that plagued the Southwest over the past 20 years likely will continue, says meteorologist Brad Rippey with the USDA.

    So farmers may need to use some remaining groundwater to reestablish native grasses, says study co-author Meagan Schipanski, an associate professor of soil and crop sciences at Colorado State University.

    Historic photo of the High Plains in Haskell County, Kansas, showing a treeless semi-arid grassland and a buffalo wallow or circular depression in the level surface. (Photo by W.D. Johnson, 1897)

    Report: Agricultural impacts of #sustainable #water use in the United States — Nature.com

    A center-pivot sprinkler near Wray, Colo. Photo/Allen Best

    Click here to read the report (Neal T. Graham, Gokul Iyer, Mohamad I. Hejazi, Son H. Kim, Pralit Patel & Matthew Binsted). Here’s the abstract:

    Governance measures such as restrictions on groundwater pumping and adjustments to sectoral water pricing have been suggested as response strategies to curtail recent increases in groundwater pumping and enhance sustainable water use. However, little is known about the impacts of such sustainability strategies. We investigate the implications of such measures, with the United States (U.S.) as an example. Using the Global Change Analysis Model (GCAM) with state-level details in the U.S., we find that the combination of these two governance measures can drastically alter agricultural production in the U.S. The Southwest stands to lose upwards of 25% of their total agricultural production, much of which is compensated for by production increases in river basins on the east coast of the U.S. The implementation of future sustainable water governance measures will require additional investments that allow farmers to maximize production while minimizing water withdrawals to avoid potentially detrimental revenue losses.

    #Colorado health officials hopeful after #Arizona court rejects Trump-era Clean Water Act rules — @WaterEdCO #DirtyWaterRule #WOTUS

    The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. Credit: Jerd Smith

    From Water Education Colorado (Jerd Smith):

    Colorado state health officials said they’re hopeful a recent federal court ruling that effectively overturned Trump-era rules reducing oversight of Western rivers and streams will allow states to revert back to a more protective standard.

    “We are aware of Arizona’s court decision and are following what it means for other states, especially arid states such as Colorado. We are hopeful the Arizona ruling will apply nationwide because it has the potential to allow states to revert back to standards that protected our state waters more,” said Trisha Oeth via email.

    Oeth, who is the environmental health and protection policy director at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE), also said the state understood the need to ensure that more certainty regarding the regulations was critical to protect all the interest groups affected by them.

    The Trump rule sought to overturn Obama Administration rules that expanded the scope of the Clean Water Act. But Aug. 30, the Arizona court rejected it, saying it harmed streams in Western states and ignored important science. It has directed regulators across the country to use a set of rules developed prior to the Obama Administration’s actions until the Biden Administration can develop new regulations.

    Since 2019, when the Trump-era rule was finalized, the CDPHE has been working, without success, on a proposed permitting program that lawmakers would have to approve. The permitting program would have covered streams and rivers left unprotected by the Trump rule. The so-called dredge-and-fill permits proposed by the state would be required when activities such as road and home building affect streams no longer covered by the Trump rule.

    But farm interests, developers and contractors remain concerned that the Clean Water Act (CWA) rule, known as the Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) rule, will remain mired in legal battles and regulatory uncertainty, delaying projects and raising their costs.

    “It’s a big fear of ours,” said Zach Riley, the Colorado Farm Bureau’s director of public policy. The organization, which has 23,000 members, had supported the narrower WOTUS rule.

    The political seesaw has been going on for decades with the CWA legally hamstrung over murky definitions about which waterways fall under its jurisdiction, which wetlands must be regulated, what kinds of dredge-and-fill work in waterways should be permitted, what authority the CWA has over activities on farms and Western irrigation ditches.

    Administered by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Environmental Protection Agency, the CWA is credited with making U.S. waters some of the cleanest in the world. But it has also been difficult to administer, in part because the country is home to widely different geographies and because of numerous court cases that have altered how it is interpreted by different presidential administrations.

    Western states have been particularly concerned because in the Midwest and East, for instance, major rivers that carry barge and shipping traffic are clearly “navigable,” the term early courts used to determine how water would be regulated. If a stream was navigable, it was subject to federal law.

    But Colorado and other Western states rely on shallow streams that often don’t flow year round and don’t carry traditional commercial traffic. Over the years many of those streams too became protected by the Clean Water Act.

    The Trump administration’s WOTUS rule, however, excluded them, saying that only navigable streams would be regulated, meaning that thousands of miles of streams in Colorado and other Western states that don’t flow year round or carry commercial shipping traffic would no longer have been protected.

    Whether Colorado can or should craft a new permitting regulation that will remove it from the political back-and-forth that has dogged WOTUS and provide industry and environmental groups with more certainty isn’t clear yet.

    The CDPHE has not yet said what it plans to do, saying it is still analyzing the Arizona decision.

    “At the state level, it will be interesting,” said Alex Funk, senior counsel and director of water with the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, which has advocated for a new state permitting program. “We’re still supportive of a state program to get out of this habit of having new WOTUS rules every four years…we need something that will survive at the federal level.”

    Still others want the CDPHE to take a breather, to wait and see how the EPA and other agencies interpret this latest ruling before trying to create a new state regulation.

    “Given the pace of change and the multiple rounds of litigation, the state could take more time to discuss what’s needed,” said Gabe Racz, an attorney who represents water utilities and industry at the Colorado Water Congress.

    And Racz said he believes there is a chance that the Biden Administration will be able to craft new rules that can endure at the federal level, regardless of who is in the White House.

    “The Biden Administration announced they planned to develop a durable rule. I’m hopeful. That’s a step in the right direction,” Racz said.

    Jerd Smith is editor of Fresh Water News. She can be reached at 720-398-6474, via email at jerd@wateredco.org or @jerd_smith.

    Colorado Rivers. Credit: Geology.com

    #ClimateChange is destabilizing the #ColoradoRiver Basin. Where do we go from here? — Environmental Defense Fund #COriver #aridification

    From the Environmental Defense Fund (Christopher Kuzdas):

    In June, a portion of my neighborhood in Flagstaff, Arizona, was put on pre-evacuation notice due to a nearby wildfire. A few weeks later, storms dumped heavy rains over a burn scar from a 2019 fire that caused destructive floods through parts of town. So far, this summer has been our third-wettest monsoon season on record, a complete contrast from our two driest monsoon seasons on record in 2019 and 2020.

    These extremes are just a few local examples of the havoc that climate change is causing around the world. Here in the West, we are now in uncharted territory with the first-ever shortage declaration on the Colorado River.

    What the shortage declaration means

    The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation recently confirmed the Colorado River will be operated under never-before-used shortage rules, called a “tier 1” shortage, starting in 2022.

    Under the rules defined by the 2019 Drought Contingency Plan (DCP), other agreements and the river’s operating guidelines, Arizona will absorb the brunt of this shortage. About one-third less water will flow through the Central Arizona Project canal to the Phoenix and Tucson areas, primarily impacting farmers. Nevada and Mexico will also see mandatory but smaller water cuts.

    Though overused and overallocated, the Colorado River still provides water for 40 million people in the United States, Mexico and 30 Native American tribes. Water use across the Colorado River Basin has been unsustainable for years, and it was set up to be that way, going back to the 1922 Colorado River Compact that divided up the river. But climate change is now magnifying and accelerating problems in the basin. Photo credit: The Environmental Defense Fund

    Even more concerning are water supply projections for 2023 and beyond.

    Bureau of Reclamation projections forecast Lake Mead could fall close to a threshold where there are no rules outlining additional water cuts to avoid a crash to dead pool — when no water can flow out of Hoover Dam. This risk of an acceleration in plummeting water levels — which also jeopardizes water levels in Lake Powell — has prompted basin state representatives to initiate meetings to discuss additional actions that might be needed if water levels in Lake Mead fall below 1,020 feet.

    It will get hotter and drier

    This unprecedented situation offers a glimpse into our future. Warming scenarios from the latest IPCC report suggest that we could exceed 2 degrees Celsius of warming around midcentury, with more than 5 degrees by the end of the century, in the absence of action to curb carbon emissions.

    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

    Why does this matter for the Colorado River? Colorado River flows are highly sensitive to warming, and aridification caused by climate change is already reducing the water flowing in the river. With each additional 1 degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) of warming, the Colorado River’s average flow drops by 9.3%, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Colorado River flows could be up to one-third less than the current average within a generation, unless meaningful and immediate reductions in carbon emissions are achieved.

    The outlook for the Colorado River is overwhelming. But what our future looks like is still our choice. We can, and should, choose to pursue a just transition to a basin with significantly less water. While in no way comprehensive, below are four ways to get started on that path.

    1. Reconcile water demand with our climate reality.

    Reconciling demands with our climate reality, at the very least, will involve updating river operating rules, scaling up conservation programs and shifting away from outdated expansionism.

    The rules that determine how we balance supply and demand, and the underlying rights and agreements that collectively determine who gets how much water and when, will play a major role in how we transition to a basin with less water.

    River operating rules have become more flexible to some extent as they evolved through new agreements like the DCP. However, current river operating rules still don’t account for the full suite of climate change impacts, especially those impacts under more dire climate scenarios. While river operating rules are already a focus of discussion, updating them will require thoughtful leadership, as well as attention to climate and other social and environmental considerations.

    Scaling up conservation programs such as system conservation in the Lower Basin and demand management in the Upper Basin will also play an important role. If not for water conserved in Lake Mead, a “tier 1” shortage would have occurred years ago. Our challenge moving forward will be expanding the scale and impact of these programs, and in the Upper Basin, moving much faster to do so.

    To fully reconcile demands with our climate reality, we must also finally shift away from legacy expansionism and boosterism that still show up through unnecessary project proposals like the Lake Powell Pipeline. We can do more with less.

    Lake Mead water levels have dropped to a record low. Overall water use must also go down, and it must go down significantly to meet our climate reality. Photo: Chris Richards/Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) via Audubon

    2. Address long-standing inequities.

    Long-standing inequities should be addressed to ensure water security for all. Two of the many considerations are inclusive decision-making and fully recognizing tribal water rights.

    Inclusive and transparent processes to make decisions are essential to developing solutions that account for multiple values and goals. In the past, decision-making was often exclusive and responded primarily to a narrow set of private interests. That is changing.

    From the 2018 Tribal Water Study, this graphic shows the location of the 29 federally-recognized tribes in the Colorado River Basin. Map credit: USBR

    For example, Arizona’s DCP process included some tribes and conservation groups, and the process would not have been successful without the leadership of the Gila River Indian Community and the Colorado River Indian Tribes. More diversity at the table enables more creativity and better solutions.

    Although the Colorado River Basin’s 30 sovereign Native American tribes have unique rights and claims to a significant portion of the Colorado River’s flow, not all are using their water for several reasons. Those reasons include aging or inadequate infrastructure; limited funding; and significant legal, policy and administrative barriers.

    Overcoming such barriers to accessing Colorado River water and confirming and fulfilling tribal water rights will be critical for many tribes to achieve goals such as meeting basic water needs and securing livelihoods. Addressing those barriers is a step toward dealing with long-standing inequity and should be a priority for policymakers.

    3. Take a whole-portfolio approach.

    A whole-portfolio approach includes new watershed-focused actions to support communities in adapting to and mitigating the steadily compounding risks and extremes of climate change. The recently published Ten Strategies for Climate Resilience report describes a suite of local and watershed-scale projects to do just that, including forest health and restoration, naturally distributed storage, regenerative agriculture and new crop markets.

    A whole-portfolio approach also necessitates adequate management and planning for our other water supplies. However, that’s not fully possible across a large part of the basin without changes in state-level water law and policy. For example, Arizona, which makes up almost half the landmass of the Colorado River Basin, already depends on groundwater for 40% of its annual water supply and will only become increasingly dependent on groundwater as Colorado River flows shrink. Arizona does not manage groundwater across most of the state, and local rural communities have little to no power to do so.

    Changing this free-for-all approach to groundwater in rural Arizona is critical if we hope to have a water-secure future for all people in the basin.

    4. Lead on climate.

    More warming means less water in the Colorado River Basin. How much water dries up depends on how fast we can get off fossil fuels. Across the basin, and globally, freshwater agendas must start including actions to stop heating the planet. Climate leadership is water leadership.

    The road ahead is difficult. But what our shared future looks like in the Colorado River Basin is our own choice. Let’s choose to collectively pursue a just transition to a basin with less water.

    As aquifers drain, El Paso County is hoping a nearly endless loop of water can fight future shortages — The #Colorado Sun

    Fountain Creek through Colorado Springs.

    From The Colorado Sun (Michael Booth):

    Could a $134 million pipeline recycling suburban water help wean communities off depleted aquifer sources? The latest complex solution for the arid, fast-growing West…

    For the H20 molecules lying thousands of feet underground in the Denver Basin aquifer, trapped by millions of years of geologic shifts, there would be a long journey ahead.

    Should they get sucked up a well owned by a northern El Paso County water agency, the water drops may first be sprinkled on a lawn in, say, the Woodmoor district east of Monument. From there, the water would sink back underground and flow downhill toward Monument Creek. On into Fountain Creek, and south toward the Arkansas River.

    Then the drops would ripple past Colorado Springs, which is desperate to entrap more water of its own for future growth, and is pushing for unloved dams 100 miles away to bring more Western Slope water over the Continental Divide.

    On the water would glide past Security, Widefield and other communities, which are struggling to secure clean water supplies of their own in the wake of contamination from polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) running off firefighting foam used for decades at a local military base.

    Still going, the hardworking aquifer water then would pass farmland that will eventually be dried up by Woodmoor and other northern suburbs buying agriculture water for their own growth. At the town of Fountain, the water would pass a town that has slowed new homebuilding because it doesn’t have enough future supply for new water taps.

    Chilcott Ditch looking towards headgate. Photo credit: Chilcott Ditch Company

    And then those precious H20 molecules would hit a curve of Fountain Creek where the Chilcott Ditch headgate looms like an ominous fork in the road of life: If Woodmoor and its allies get their way, the molecules they pulled from the timeless aquifer will get diverted here and sent into a $130 million-plus pipeline, to be shipped back north to the top of El Paso County. The journey for those molecules would begin all over again, in a project appropriately dubbed The Loop, until — in the official water rights phrase — the original aquifer water has been “used to extinction.”

    But that only happens if El Paso County and local water agencies convince the keepers of the federal American Rescue Plan that the stimulus funds can be used for water projects like the Loop, and not just highways.

    Can this tortured trip for the ancient, sandstone-filtered water really be the best solution to Colorado’s relentlessly expanding water demands?

    “There’s something in it for everybody,” said Jessie Shaffer, Woodmoor Water and Sanitation District manager and a key proponent of the Loop…

    Backers of the Loop idea say it would solve many problems at once.

    It would reduce unsustainable withdrawals from the Denver Basin aquifers, with local water providers already on notice they need to find alternative sources. The pipeline would allow the homes in subdivisions north and east of Colorado Springs to use southern water rights they’ve already purchased but can’t access. And it would promote water recycling, considered a key to Colorado’s water use future, by allowing those northern areas to reuse aquifer water after it’s run off into Fountain Creek and shipped north again by the Loop.

    From a purely practical standpoint, drilling new wells into the aquifer is getting so expensive that the suburban districts think twice even when they own the rights. As the aquifer sinks from overuse, drilling prices soar.

    Williams mentioned a northern exurban community that spent more than a million dollars on a well to water its new golf course…

    A map being shown around El Paso County by suburban water agencies traces the path of the Loop, a complex $134 million pipeline and pumping project that would allow northern and eastern communities in the county to reuse aquifer water returning to Fountain Creek, and pipe along water rights they have bought up on the southern side of the county. (Provided by Woodmoor Water and Sanitation District)

    El Paso County grew by more than 17%, and more than 100,000 people, between 2010 and 2020. As developers work to build out planned communities in areas like Flying Horse or Banning Lewis Ranch, the county’s population is projected to expand by hundreds of thousands more in the coming decades.

    State water engineers who control withdrawals from aquifers have allowed cities and other water buyers to take out water at a rate protecting a 100-year life for the underground pools. Alarmed at the drops in the Denver Basin pools, El Paso County changed the local standard to preserve 300 years of life for the aquifers. That was another push to local water providers to find other sources.

    The Loop pipeline, Shaffer said, is a key to shifting “off of a finite and exhaustible water supply onto a long term, renewable and sustainable water supply.”

    […]

    That’s where the American Rescue Plan, signed by President Biden in March, comes into the picture. State and local agencies will battle over the $1.9 trillion stimulus funding for years to come, but Colorado water officials are hopeful some grants can be used for drinking water supply projects. There also may be far more stimulus and infrastructure funding to come, in a building package awaiting final U.S. House approval and a greatly expanded recovery budget that may pass under reconciliation.

    Denver Basin Aquifer System graphic credit USGS.

    #Denver streams are glorified fountains, supplied mostly by your sprinkler heads — The #Colorado Sun

    Lakewood Gulch. Photo credit: Muller Engineering

    From The Colorado Sun (Michael Booth):

    Toss a Frisbee too far at the disc golf course in west Denver and you’ll hit water burbling at the bottom of Lakewood Gulch.

    Your errant Frisbee shouldn’t be underwater. Not this time of year. The other stream that runs into the confluence that makes up the disc golf park has a more historically accurate name: Dry Gulch.

    A new study from Colorado State University researchers shows that about 80% of the water running through Denver’s inviting stream parks late in the summer flows there from lawns drenched in Denver tap water and leaks from the agency’s intricate system, not from snow runoff or foothills rain.

    By history, geology and hydrology, these greenbelts should be bone dry. It’s only the return flow from all your lawn watering that makes a Denver stream anything other than a dry gulch for much of the year, according to the study. Watering to excess — meaning the grass doesn’t need all of it or the sprinklers are hitting concrete instead of green space — makes up most of that 80%. Leaking pipes and system flushes flowing down into stream beds make up the rest.

    “It was surprisingly high,” said lead researcher Aditi Bhaskar, assistant professor at CSU’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. Water engineers know tap water flows have an influence on urban streams, but Bhaskar had not expected them to make up effectively the entire creek.

    Federal judge throws out [President 45’s] administration [#WOTUS] rule allowing the draining and filling of streams, marshes and wetlands — The Washington Post #DirtyWaterRule

    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 The Washington Post (Dino Grandoni and Brady Dennis):

    A federal judge Monday threw out a major Trump administration rule that scaled back federal protections for streams, marshes and wetlands across the United States, reversing one of the previous administration’s most significant environmental rollbacks.

    U.S. District Judge Rosemary Márquez wrote that Trump officials committed serious errors while writing the regulation, finalized last year, and that leaving it in place could lead to “serious environmental harm.”

    A number of business and farm groups had supported the push to replace Obama-era standards with the Navigable Waters Protection Rule, on the grounds that states were better positioned to regulate many waterways and that the previous protections were too restrictive.

    The ruling in the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona, which applies nationwide, will afford new protections for drinking-water supplies for millions of Americans, as well as for thousands of wildlife species that depend on America’s wetland acreage.

    Márquez, a Barack Obama appointee, noted that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which oversees permits to dredge and fill waterways under federal jurisdiction, determined that three-quarters of the water bodies it reviewed over a nearly 10-month period did not qualify for federal protection under the new rule. Federal agencies identified 333 projects that would have required a review under the Obama rule, she added, but did not merit one under the Trump standards…

    Home builders, oil drillers and farmers — who have long argued that earlier restrictions on developing land made it too difficult to do their work — are likely to appeal…

    North American Indian regional losses 1850 thru 1890.

    In June, the Biden administration announced that it would write regulations to strengthen wetland protections but would keep the Trump-era rule on the books while it did so. But tribal and environmental groups pressed the court in Arizona to vacate the previous administration’s rule sooner, since some wetlands may be irreparably harmed during the time it would take to replace it…

    “We came in and said, ‘No, no, no, no, you can’t leave this in place,’” said Janette Brimmer, a senior attorney for Earthjustice, which represented the Native American and green groups in court. She added, “This is hugely good.”

    The ruling marks the latest salvo in a decades-long legal and regulatory battle over the full extent of the Clean Water Act’s reach.

    That landmark 1972 law prohibits polluting “waters of the United States” without a permit. But the question of which waterways fall under that category has been debated in courtrooms and agencies ever since.

    In 2015, Obama’s administration moved to protect a broad swath of water bodies, including “ephemeral” streams that appear only after rainfall and help purify water. Hydrologists have found that even these intermittent rivulets can affect the water quality of large rivers and lakes downstream.

    But the Trump administration replaced that regulation with a far narrower one, on the grounds that the Obama rule exceeded the government’s legal authority.

    “They basically ignored it all,” Mark Ryan, a former EPA lawyer who helped craft the Obama-era regulation, said of the Trump team. “It was a voluminous bit of science.”

    With Monday’s court ruling, agencies will go back to applying water protection standards from the 1980s, which are more expansive than the Trump-era rule but not as sweeping as Obama’s.

    Aerial view of wetlands in Okefenokee swamp. By Ryan Hagerty – http://www.public-domain-image.com/public-domain-images-pictures-free-stock-photos/nature-landscapes-public-domain-images-pictures/national-parks-reserves-public-domain-images-pictures/aerial-view-of-wetlands-in-okefenokee.jpg, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=24912021

    The push to overhaul federal clean-water regulations has caused ongoing fights in places such as in Georgia, near the sprawling Okefenokee Swamp. A proposal to strip-mine for titanium would have received strict scrutiny under the Obama-era standards, and some federal officials and environmental groups raised concerns about its potential impacts.

    But last year the Army Corps of Engineers determined that under the revised Trump rule, the area was no longer federally protected…

    “This is a welcome day for the Okefenokee, the wetlands surrounding the refuge, and will force Twin Pines to reevaluate this disastrous project,” Christian Hunt, Southeast program representative for Defenders of Wildlife, said in an email.

    Created by Imgur user Fejetlenfej , a geographer and GIS analyst with a ‘lifelong passion for beautiful maps,’ it highlights the massive expanse of river basins across the country – in particular, those which feed the Mississippi River, in pink.

    Here’s the release from Earth Justice:

    Today, the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona said Trump’s Navigable Waters Protection Rule must be vacated because the rule contains serious errors and has the potential to cause significant harm to the Nation’s Waters if left in place while the Biden administration works on revisions to the rule. It represents the culmination of a lawsuit brought by six federally recognized Indian tribes, who are represented by Earthjustice and sued the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Army Corps of Engineers for passing a rule that eliminated Clean Water Act protections for thousands of waterbodies by redefining them as not “waters of the U.S.”

    Thanks to this lawsuit and the Court’s ruling, the country will now return to water protections that were in place for years starting in 1986, wiping the Trump Dirty Water Rule off the books. This outcome ensures Clean Water Act protections are in effect while the Biden administration works to develop a new rule. The Dirty Water Rule was particularly damaging for waters throughout the West, Southwest and Great Lakes. The six tribes and their members have been disproportionately harmed by the rule as their livelihoods and culture were put at risk when the Dirty Water Rule eliminated protection for thousands of wetlands, headwater streams, and desert washes.

    “The court recognized that the serious legal and scientific errors of the Dirty Water Rule were causing irreparable damage to our nation’s waters and would continue to do so unless that Rule was vacated,” said Janette Brimmer, Earthjustice attorney. “This sensible ruling allows the Clean Water Act to continue to protect all of our waters while the Biden administration develops a replacement rule.”

    For Tribes, just like for every living being on the planet, water is life and has been so since time immemorial. The Trump administration, however, wholly disregarded that when it put industry profit over people by rolling back Clean Water Act protections. Even though the Biden administration has initiated the process to repeal the Trump Dirty Water Rule, it continues to apply the rule in the meantime, exacerbating the harms to Tribes.

    In court filings, the federal government acknowledged that the Dirty Water Rule completely disregarded decades of the best science and neglected to assess the impacts the rule had on downstream communities. EPA’s own science advisors said Trump’s rule threatened to weaken protection of the nation’s waters by disregarding the established connectivity of ephemeral wetlands and small streams to downstream rivers and lakes.

    Earthjustice is representing the Pascua Yaqui Tribe, Tohono O’odham Nation, Quinault Indian Nation, Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin, Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, and the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa.

    Learn more about how the Dirty Water Rule gutted protections and some of the watersheds it put at risk.

    Quinalt Indian Nation dancers on beach. Photo credit: Quinalt Indian Nation

    “Small headwater streams are fundamental to the protection and restoration of salmon and our way of life,” said Guy Capoeman, president of the Quinault Indian Nation. “Today’s ruling will protect all waters on which the Quinault people rely.”

    The EPA is banning chlorpyrifos, a pesticide widely used on food crops, after 14 years of pressure from environmental and labor groups — The Conversation


    Chlorpyrifos is widely used on crops, including fruits, vegetables, nuts, corn and soybeans.
    AP Photo/John Raoux

    Gina Solomon, University of California, San Francisco

    On Aug. 18, 2021, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced that it will end use of chlorpyrifos – a pesticide associated with neurodevelopmental problems and impaired brain function in children – on all food products nationwide. Gina Solomon, a principal investigator at the Public Health Institute, clinical professor at the University of California, San Francisco and former deputy secretary at the California Environmental Protection Agency, explains the scientific evidence that led California to ban chlorpyrifos in 2020 and why the EPA is now following suit.

    1. What is chlorpyrifos, and how is it used?

    Chlorpyrifos is an inexpensive and effective pesticide that has been on the market since 1965. According to the EPA, approximately 5.1 million pounds of chlorpyrifos have been used annually in recent years (2014-2018) on a wide range of crops, including many different vegetables, corn, soybeans, cotton and fruit and nut trees.

    Like other organophosphate insecticides, chlorpyrifos is designed to kill insects by blocking an enzyme called acetylcholinesterase. This enzyme normally breaks down acetylcholine, a chemical that the body uses to transmit nerve impulses. Blocking the enzyme causes insects to have convulsions and die. All organophosphate insecticides are also toxic and potentially lethal to humans.

    Until 2000, chlorpyrifos was also used in homes for pest control. It was banned for indoor use after passage of the 1996 Food Quality Protection Act, which required additional protection of children’s health. Residues left after indoor use were quite high, and toddlers who crawled on the floor and put their hands in their mouth were found to be at risk of poisoning.

    Despite the ban on household use and the fact that chlorpyrifos doesn’t linger in the body, over 75% of people in the U.S. still have traces of chlorpyrifos in their bodies, mostly due to residues on food. Higher exposures have been documented in farm workers and people who live or work near agricultural fields.

    The Environmental Protection Agency has concluded that less-toxic alternatives to chlorpyrifos are available.

    2. What’s the evidence that chlorpyrifos is harmful?

    Researchers published the first study linking chlorpyrifos to potential developmental harm in children in 2003. They found that higher levels of a chlorpyrifos metabolite – a substance produced when the body breaks down the pesticide – in umbilical cord blood were significantly associated with smaller infant birth weight and length.

    Subsequent studies published from 2006 to 2014 showed that those same infants had developmental delays that persisted into childhood, with lower scores on standard tests of development and changes that researchers could see on MRI scans of the children’s brains. Scientists also discovered that a genetic subtype of a common metabolic enzyme in pregnant women increased the likelihood that their children would experience neurodevelopmental delays.

    These findings touched off a battle to protect children from chlorpyrifos. Some scientists were skeptical of results from epidemiological studies that followed the children of pregnant women with greater or lesser levels of chlorpyrifos in their urine or cord blood and looked for adverse effects.

    Epidemiological studies can provide powerful evidence that something is harmful to humans, but results can also be muddled by gaps in information about the timing and level of exposures. They also can be complicated by exposures to other harmful substances through diet, personal habits, homes, communities and workplaces.

    Workers cut greens in a field.
    Farm laborers, like these workers harvesting curly mustard in Ventura County, Calif., are especially vulnerable to pesticide exposure.
    Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images

    3. Why did it take so long to reach a conclusion?

    As evidence accumulated that low levels of chlorpyrifos were probably toxic to
    humans, regulatory scientists at the EPA and in California reviewed it – but they took very different paths.

    At first, both groups focused on the established toxicity mechanism: acetylcholinesterase inhibition. They reasoned that preventing significant disruption of this key enzyme would protect people from any other neurological effects.

    Scientists working under contract for Dow Chemical, which manufactured chlorpyrifos, published a complex model in 2014 to estimate how much of the pesticide a person would have to consume or inhale to trigger acetylcholinesterase inhibition. But some of their equations were based on data from as few as six healthy adults who had swallowed capsules of chlorpyrifos during experiments in the 1970s and early 1980s – a research method that now would be considered unethical.

    California scientists questioned whether risk assessments based on the Dow-funded model adequately accounted for uncertainty and human variability. They also wondered whether acetylcholinesterase inhibition was really the most sensitive biological effect.

    In 2016 the EPA released a reassessment of chlorpyrifos’s potential health effects that took a very different approach. It focused on epidemiological studies published from 2003 through 2014 at Columbia University that found developmental impacts in children exposed to chlorpyrifos. The Columbia researchers analyzed chlorpyrifos levels in the umbilical cord blood at birth, and the EPA attempted to back-calculate how much chlorpyrifos the babies might have been exposed to throughout pregnancy.

    Map showing estimated use by state.
    Scientists estimate that U.S. farmers used more than 5 million pounds of chlorpyrifos in 2017.
    USGS

    On the basis of this analysis, the Obama administration concluded that chlorpyrifos could not be safely used and should be banned. However, the Trump administration halted this decision one year later, arguing that the science was not resolved and more study was needed. The Trump administration subsequently abandoned the human epidemiological studies and reverted to using the Dow-sponsored model and acetylcholinesterase inhibition endpoint that was used back in 2014.

    History indicates that both political and scientific considerations likely accounted for the long delays. Although the conclusions clearly shifted with different federal administrations, the epidemiological studies and the acetylcholinesterase model also pointed in different directions – one suggested high health risks in humans, and the other suggested relatively lower risks. Policy conclusions thus depended partly on which data scientists chose as the basis for evaluating health risks.

    4. What convinced California to impose a ban?

    Three new papers on prenatal exposures to chlorpyrifos, published in 2017 and 2018, broke the logjam. These were independent studies, conducted on rats, that evaluated subtle effects on learning and development.

    The results were consistent and clear: Chlorpyrifos caused decreased learning, hyperactivity and anxiety in rat pups at doses lower than those that affected acetylcholinesterase. And these studies clearly quantified doses to the rats, so there was no uncertainty about their exposure levels during pregnancy. The results were eerily similar to effects seen in human epidemiological studies, vindicating serious health concerns about chlorpyrifos.

    California reassessed chlorpyrifos, using these new studies. Regulators concluded that the pesticide posed significant risks that could not be mitigated, especially among people who lived near agricultural fields where it was used. In October 2019, the state announced that under an enforceable agreement with manufacturers, all sales of chlorpyrifos to California growers would end by Feb. 6, 2020, and growers would not be allowed to possess or use it after Dec. 31, 2020.

    Two months after the California decision, the European Union voted to ban chlorpyrifos due to concerns about neurodevelopmental harm. New York, Hawaii, Oregon and Maryland also moved to end use of the pesticide within their borders. On the same day that California sales of the pesticide ceased, the main manufacturer of chlorpyrifos, Corteva Agrosciences, announced that it would stop producing the chemical.

    5. Why is the EPA acting now?

    This saga began in 2007, when the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Pesticide Action Network formally petitioned the EPA to ban chlorpyrifos, citing epidemiological evidence that the chemical caused harm to brain development. (I worked at NRDC at the time and reviewed scientific studies on chlorpyrifos, but was not directly involved with the petition.)

    Over a decade passed while the agency reevaluated the science, studying multiple ways of analyzing the data. In 2016 the EPA proposed to grant the petition and ban chlorpyrifos, but did not complete this action by the end of the Obama administration.

    In July 2019, under the Trump administration, the EPA denied the petition, saying that claims about neurodevelopmental toxicity were “not supported by valid, complete and reliable evidence.” Nonetheless, a new EPA risk assessment released in 2020 identified significant risks associated with combined exposures to chlorpyrifos from multiple sources, including food and drinking water.

    In late April 2021, a federal court in California ordered the agency to either ban use of chlorpyrifos on food within 60 days or show that it was safe. “The EPA has had nearly 14 years to publish a legally sufficient response to the 2007 Petition,” the ruling stated. “During that time, the EPA’s egregious delay exposed a generation of American children to unsafe levels of chlorpyrifos.”

    With the agency’s Aug. 18 announcement, that delay is finally over.

    This is an updated version of an article originally published on Jan. 23, 2020.The Conversation

    Gina Solomon, Clinical Professor of Medicine, University of California, San Francisco

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

    #EstesPark: Town Board talks water resources — The Estes Park Trail-Gazette

    Aerial view of Lake Estes and Olympus Dam looking west. Photo credit Northern Water.

    From The Estes Park Trail-Gazette (Tim Mosier):

    The one item on the agenda was Ordinance 11-21 (passed unanimously) which amends chapter 13.24 of the Estes Park Municipal Code (MC) regarding agreements to provide raw water.

    According to a memo to the board from Utilities Director Rueben Bergsten and Water Superintendent Chris Eshelman, the amendment is to assure the responsible management of water resources by requiring Town Board approval for raw water agreements lasting more than a year.

    “The responsible management of our raw water resources, I think we would all agree, is becoming more and more important,” [Rueben] Bergsten said at the meeting….

    The question for the state as a whole, and Estes Park itself, is how many entities to allow access to our water resources and for how much?

    “We do anticipate, as time goes by, more and more and more property owners are going to be coming to the Town of Estes Park asking for what’s called replacement water,” Bergsten told the board. “We do this for a lot of people. It’s a matter of keeping the local economy healthy.”

    A typical client seeking replacement water is someone using well water, or river water for irrigation and have water needs that still outweigh their supply.

    “The Town owns 300 acre-feet of Windy Gap water rights. Windy Gap water can fulfill augmentation plan requirements for replacement water,” the memo said. “The Town has occasionally entered into long-term agreements with entities to supply replacement water.”

    The most recent agreements made were: Preuss in July 2020, Idlewild in April 2019, and Cheley Camp in May 2012.”

    Bergsten and Eshelman believe these raw water lease agreements are beneficial to the local economy and the surrounding communities; however, they tie up the town’s water rights.

    “Town Staff foresee an increase in the number of replacement water requests as the State Water Commissioner increases their effort to audit augmentation plans,” the memo said. “Their audits included private wells.”

    While requiring Town Board approval for raw water agreements lasting more than a year does have advantages such as reducing the administrative workload required to account for water use and augmentation, and supporting the responsible management of the town’s water, Bergsten and Eshelman are mildly concerned they may appear to be over reaching.

    “Requiring properties to connect to our system might appear heavy-handed; however, their alternative requires them to pay an engineering firm to develop an augmentation plan, hire a lawyer to process the augmentation through water court, and secure replacement water from the Town,” the memo explains.

    #SouthPlatteRiver gets no new protections after heated Water Quality Control Commission hearing — The #Colorado Sun

    Ducks patrol the South Platte River as construction workers shore up bank. Oct. 8, 2019. Credit: Jerd Smith

    From The Colorado Sun (Michael Booth):

    Colorado water commissioners declined to upgrade water quality rules for the urban stretch of river, though conservation groups say they are finally being heard.

    Public officials, conservation groups and citizen speakers pleaded with the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission [August 9, 2021] to reverse a 2020 decision and strengthen protections for the South Platte River in north Denver and Adams County, but the commissioners declined.

    Opponents of the commission’s decision last year thought they had one last chance in a “town hall” feedback format to urge the commissioners to revisit the controversial vote, which rejected a staff recommendation to upgrade the South Platte to higher water quality protections. They pointed to the recent weeks of high heat and air pollution in metro Denver, as well as a new climate change report showing irrefutable and irreversible damage to the environment, as more reasons to protect the river with tougher regulations…

    “We cannot wait five more years to upgrade or revisit what’s happening to the communities in north Denver,” said Ean Tafoya, Colorado director of the nonprofit GreenLatinos.

    The commissioners, who are appointed by Gov. Jared Polis to oversee the Water Quality Control Division of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, said they would not reverse their 2020 decision now. The coalition favoring more protections said after the town hall they would consider trying to force the commission to reconsider through a petition process, by taking legal action…

    The Platte River plods through downtown Denver, a small workhorse with a big load. Photo/Allen Best

    But some commissioners appeared to leave the door open to further discussions and to seek more community input on future river decisions…

    Those who want to elevate the South Platte’s urban stretches used the commission’s town hall comment period to attack the 2020 decision. The staff of the water quality division last year had recommended that the South Platte River through north Denver and Adams County, long plagued by industrial releases and wastewater effluent, be upgraded to the next higher level of stream protections.

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

    The higher level would have forced existing polluters in that section, like Metro Wastewater, Suncor or Molson Coors, to avoid further degrading water quality with any new activity unless they could prove it was essential to their continuing business. As it stands now, those existing polluters have “protected use” status that permits them to degrade the water, even though water quality in those central urban streams has improved in recent decades.

    The Colorado division of Parks and Wildlife, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Adams County Commissioners and others had supported the staff request for a river protection upgrade. The water commissioners rejected the idea last year, and then again in June.

    Adams County Commissioner Steve O’Dorisio said he wanted to be frank with the water commissioners that not enough opponents were prepared for the discussion ahead of the 2020 decision.

    “Back in 2020 we did not know how this specific decision would affect our river and our communities,” O’Dorisio said.

    Jeff Neuman-Lee, describing himself as a citizen speaker for the town hall forum, pointed to Colorado’s air fouled by wildfire smoke and heat-generated ozone in recent weeks.

    “We’ve been just degrading our Earth over and over and over again, and we can’t tolerate any more,” he said. “It’s depressing to see that we’re allowing water quality to go unheeded; to create stretches of our rivers and say we don’t care about them, we’re just going to let them go.”

    […]

    Sunrise along the Clear Creek Trail August 12, 2021.

    Some of Monday’s speakers said they were concerned that leaving the South Platte’s water quality protection where it is now will weaken the current permit renewal process underway for the Suncor refinery, which borders Sand Creek as it empties into the South Platte. The state health department is reviewing and answering public comments on Suncor’s permit application, and conservationists and neighborhood groups want Suncor’s water and air pollution caps cut way back.

    “This idea of grandfathered legacy pollution,” Tafoya said, “just because they always have, doesn’t mean they should continue to.”

    Toxic Threat The military polluted #NewMexico waters and soils with #PFAS and is fighting against cleanup of the “forever problem” — The #SantaFe Reporter

    Release of firefighting foam. PFAS are substances found in firefighting foams and protective gear, as well as many household products, like pizza boxes and rain jackets. Graphic credit: ITRC

    Here’s an in-depth report from Laura Paskus that’s running in The Santa Fe Reporter. Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:

    Today, we know the [firefighting] foam contained toxic chemicals responsible for polluting the water around hundreds of military bases nationwide, including Cannon and Holloman Air Force bases in New Mexico. And the toxic chemicals are present in the drinking water of millions of Americans…

    Over the years, [Kevin] Ferrara has learned that the military knew Aqueous Film Forming Foam (AFFF) was dangerous—and so did the companies that manufactured it. But without federal regulations that set drinking water standards or hazardous waste limits, states like New Mexico still can’t hold the Pentagon accountable for the pollution that has crept from the bases into the wells of local residents and businesses. Meanwhile, military firefighters like Ferrara wonder what’s happening within their own bodies—and the bodies of those whose water they polluted.

    In the waning days of Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration, the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) was grappling with a problem. A “forever” problem, as it turns out.

    Contractors hired by the military were investigating whether AFFF used at the state’s three Air Force bases had contaminated groundwater with PFAS.

    In an August 2018 conference call, Air Force officials told state officials that PFAS had been found in wells at Cannon Air Force Base at concentrations above the US Environmental Protection Agency’s lifetime health advisory of 70 parts per trillion. Further studies showed the levels exceed 26,000 parts per trillion—more than 370 times that EPA health advisory—and that PFAS was also in off-base wells that supply homes and dairies in Clovis.

    In October, NMED, the New Mexico Department of Health and the New Mexico Department of Agriculture publicly announced the presence of the contamination on and off the base. They advised private well-owners within a 4-mile radius of the base to use bottled water. NMED issued a notice of violation against the Air Force for breaking state regulations. The agency issued “corrective action permits” with cleanup mandates for the military’s state permits.

    But in January 2019, just after Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham took office, the US Department of Defense sued New Mexico, challenging the state’s authority to mandate cleanup.

    And although the state made no announcements nor issued any corrective actions, a report the Air Force submitted to NMED during the Martinez administration showed that groundwater samples of PFAS at Holloman Air Force Base were as high as 1.294 million parts per trillion. In February 2019, NMED issued a notice of violation against the Air Force over Holloman, too.

    The following month, in March 2019, New Mexico filed its own lawsuit, asking a federal judge to compel the Air Force to act on, and pay for, cleanup at Cannon and Holloman.

    But that hasn’t worked out as planned.

    “We wanted action quickly. When that wasn’t available, or that wasn’t on the table, that’s when we litigated,” NMED Secretary James Kenney says in an interview.

    The lawsuit has been lumped in with hundreds of other PFAS-related lawsuits. One court in South Carolina now oversees all cases regarding PFAS and the military’s use of the AFFF—more than 750 separate actions.

    Even though New Mexico has tried to extricate itself from the multidistrict litigation, hoping to pursue its case against the Air Force without being tied to those hundreds of other cases, a judge has denied that request. And in June, the Biden administration’s Defense Department called New Mexico’s attempts to compel cleanup under state permits “arbitrary and capricious.”

    In summary, three years after the Air Force notified New Mexico of the PFAS pollution, there are no clean-up plans in place at Cannon or Holloman, though earlier this year, Cannon announced an on-base pilot project to test the best ways to remove PFAS from water. And even though the military knows when, why and how the contamination happened, it has sued New Mexico to say the state can’t make it clean up the problem.

    Meanwhile, state Environment Sec. Kenney says the EPA needs to set federal pollution standards for the toxic substances.

    In 2016, the EPA established a lifetime health advisory for two types of PFAS found in firefighting foams, perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS). But that advisory of 70 parts per trillion isn’t a regulatory limit. That means states like New Mexico don’t have any legal tools to require that polluters like the military clean up PFAS.

    Red Cliff takes center stage in Homestake Valley Reservoir debate — The #Vail Daily #EagleRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    These wetlands, located on a 150-acre parcel in the Homestake Creek valley that Homestake Partners bought in 2018, would be inundated if Whitney Reservoir is constructed. The Forest Service received more than 500 comments, the majority in opposition to, test drilling associated with the project and the reservoir project itself. Photo credit: Heather Sackett/Aspen Journalism

    From Vail Daily (John LaConte):

    A group of Colorado residents demonstrated Saturday against the construction of a reservoir in the Homestake Valley, marching through the streets of Red Cliff and treating passing vehicles to a variety of colorful signs.

    If you were headed south on Highway 24 on Saturday afternoon, you might have been able to read a clever statement like “Stop the whole dam thing,” and “They can’t ‘fen’ for themselves.”

    Or you might have noticed a message or two that was more direct. Using an elongated trash picking tool to hoist her sign, Silverthorne resident Jan Goodwin wrote “CO Springs doesn’t need Red Cliff’s water.”

    The group is opposed to building a new reservoir in the Homestake Valley 6 miles southeast of Red Cliff, which would be used by the people of Colorado Springs and Aurora, who hold water rights in the area, including the rights to the water in the existing Homestake Reservoir.

    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

    But the nuances of the issue, including the sensitive wetlands known as “fens” and the study required for “the whole dam thing,” as referenced in the signs, was also discussed among the demonstrators. In order to construct a new dam and reservoir, the area will require some study, and the Forest Service has already approved that study, which will allow the cities to drill “10 bore samples up to 150-feet deep using a small, rubber-tracked drill rig as well as collect geophysical data using crews on foot,” according to the Forest Service, along with the construction of more than a half-mile of temporary roads to facilitate the work.

    The effort could also impact up to 180 acres of wetlands on lower Homestake Creek, wetlands that include fens — groundwater-fed wetlands which began forming during the last ice age. A scientifically unproven idea to relocate the fens is being spearheaded and paid for by Aurora Water and the Board of Water Works of Pueblo…

    A map prepared by Aurora Water that shows a potential 500-acre adjustment to the Holy Cross Wilderness boundary near the potential Whitney Reservoir on lower Homestake Creek. The map as current as of July 16, 2019.

    [Charles] Fleming said he would like to see the people of Colorado Springs and Aurora make more of a good faith effort toward water conservation before seeking another reservoir in the Homestake Valley.

    “I’d like to see them get rid of the green grass and focus more on xeriscaping first,” he said.

    Parks said as a hotelier in Red Cliff, she sees the recreational appeal of the Homestake Valley as a wild space, not a space that would benefit from the creation of a National Recreation Area or reservoir.

    One version of the reservoir envisions an encroachment into 500 acres of the Holy Cross Wilderness area of the White River National Forest, which would require an act of Congress.

    #GoldKingMine owner sues federal government over 2015 spill — The #ColoradoSun #AnimasRiver #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver

    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 via The Colorado Sun:

    Todd Hennis claims the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has occupied part of his property near the Gold King Mine but hasn’t compensated him for doing so

    The owner of an inactive southwestern Colorado mine that was the source of a disastrous 2015 spill…has filed a lawsuit seeking nearly $3.8 million in compensation for the federal government’s use of his land in its ongoing cleanup response…

    Gold King mine spill Animas River August 2015 photo — Nancy Fisher via The Colorado Independent

    Todd Hennis claims the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has occupied part of his property near the Gold King Mine but hasn’t compensated him for doing so since the August 2015 spill, The Durango Herald reports. He also claims the EPA contaminated his land by causing the spill, which fouled rivers in Colorado, New Mexico and Utah with a bright-yellow plume of arsenic, lead and other heavy metals.

    Hennis is seeking nearly $3.8 million in compensation in the suit filed [August 3, 2021] in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims. He contends EPA actions have violated his Fifth Amendment rights to just compensation for public use of private property.

    Chaffee County commissioners approve permit for water bottle company to draw from wells connected to #ArkansasRiver — 9News.com

    Ruby Mountain Springs site. Photo credit: Nestle Waters North America

    From 9News.com (Zack Newman):

    The Chaffee County Board of Commissioners voted Tuesday to approve the conditions under which a water bottling company could continue to pull water from a spring connected to the Arkansas River.

    They are allowed to do so through the water right they bought back in 2010, but the county gives the green light if it finds the company follows all of the rules.

    The 1041 permit process outlines specific conditions that BlueTriton has to meet in order to pull water out of Chaffee County. BlueTriton, previously known as Nestle, owns two wells. State water records obtained by 9Wants to Know show the company can pull up to 196 acre-feet of water each year…

    [Della] Malone said regardless of the amount of water BlueTriton will take, Colorado is at the point where as much water as possible needs to stay in the river to keep fish, and the birds that feed on them, alive…

    For the most part, BlueTriton has been a good steward of the water. The county hired W.W. Wheeler and Associates to conduct an updated analysis in 2020 and said the company is not using as much water as it could be.

    Gary B. Thompson, an engineer for the water engineering firm W.W. Wheeler and Associates, found the utilization of the wells was not causing problems…

    Jennifer Davis, Chaffee County attorney, said in an email that Monroe’s report led to increased wetlands monitoring in the 2009 contract. Any 2021 contract would have similar measures that would allow the county to cancel the contract if there was evidence that the wetlands were being stressed.

    “It is important to note that during the recent hearings, evidence was presented that the applicant has substantially complied with those plans over the past 10 years,” Davis wrote. “…If [BlueTriton Brands] fails to comply with the plans, the permit can be suspended or terminated.”

    In 2020, Wheeler found the nearby wetlands are healthy and the permit has “adequate” monitoring protocols.

    The well permits allow for a maximum of 196 acre-feet per year. On average, the Wheeler report found the wells pulled in 111.7 acre-feet on average. The well had not been tapped for more than 100 acre-feet per year since 2014, according to the report. Any water taken for the water bottling operation is replaced with water from the nearby Turquoise Reservoir and Clear Creek Reservoir…

    How much water goes to water bottles?

    Kevin Rein, a state engineer and the director of the Colorado Division of Water Resources, said water bottling facilities use a small portion of the state’s water. He wrote in an email that one fairly standard-sized Colorado bottled water company found it was responsible for 0.0006% of the state’s annual water use.

    For context – 85.2% of the state’s water goes to agriculture each year and 6.6% are used by cities and commercially according to data from the Colorado Division of Water Resources…

    Other requirements of the permit

    Other requirements of the contract have mostly been met. Davis said in an email BlueTriton did not finalize a conservation easement, but that commissioners did not penalize the company because deadlines were not clearly explained in the permit.

    According to a letter from the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, Nestle did not begin discussions about donating land for an easement until 2019, 10 years after the original 1041 permit was issued by the Chaffee County Commissioners…

    BlueTriton will pay $1.2 million across 10 years to various causes like water sustainability, forest health and affordable housing. It will pay $430k in just the first year, then $92,500 each year afterward.

    Nestle sold its North American water brands to BlueTriton for $4.3 billion dollars.

    Arkansas River Basin — Graphic via the Colorado Geological Survey

    Invitation to propose ideas for natural resource restoration projects related to 2015 #GoldKingMine release — #NewMexico Office of the Natural Resources Trustee #AnimasRiver #SanJuanRiver

    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]

    Here’s the release from the New Mexico Office of the Natural Resources Trustee (Elysia Bunten):

    The New Mexico Office of the Natural Resources Trustee (ONRT) is in the preliminary stages of soliciting ideas for projects that will restore natural resources in New Mexico injured by the 2015 Gold King Mine release.

    We welcome stakeholder engagement in our process and invite you, as a stakeholder who was affected by the contamination, to participate in this process. Please see the attached letter containing details about ONRT’s funding, process, upcoming information session, and timetable.

    Project Solictation Letter to GKM Release Stakeholders 7.15.21

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

    #CastleRock, #Parker #water sources in good shape — The Castle Rock News Press

    Castle Rock and Pikes Peak. Photo credit VisitCastleRock.org

    From The Castle Rock News Press (Thelma Grimes):

    While Douglas County remains under a drought watch, water officials in Parker and Castle Rock are optimistic about water supplies as the state heads into the hottest part of summer.

    Castle Rock Water Director Mark Marlowe said this is the first summer the town is using the reusable water supply. In 2006, the town invested $208 million to build the reusable water facility. Water started pumping into residents’ homes early this year.

    Because of the renewable water source, Marlowe said as the high-use water months continue, Plum Creek resources are “holding up well.”

    “We have been able to utilize renewable water because the creek is running well,” he said. “Reusable water tends to be more drought resistant, and it does not depend on rainfall. It is water we have already used that will be put back into the system. It is a reliable source, especially during a drought.”

    […]

    Ron Redd, district manager for Parker Water & Sanitation District, said water supplies are holding up well, and residents have not even met peak demand as expected this year.

    Thanks to a wet spring, Redd said, customers in Parker and Castle Pines have used a lot less water in June and early July this year compared to the same time last year.

    With 2020 being so dry, Redd said residents were using about 28 million gallons of water per day. This year, the average use is half that at 14 million gallons.

    Denver Basin Aquifer System graphic credit USGS.

    Chaffee County receives legal complaint from Unbottle & Protect Chaffee #Water — The Ark Valley Voice

    Ruby Mountain Springs site. Photo credit: Nestle Waters North America

    From The Ark Valley Voice (Jan Wondra):

    Late on Friday afternoon, July 16, the consumer protest organization calling itself Unbottle & Protect Chaffee County Water (“UPCCW”), a Colorado non-profit corporation, delivered a notice from the law offices of John Barth, of Hygiene, Colorado to the Chaffe Board of County Commissioners, and Chaffee Planning Director Dan Swallow. Interestingly enough, the notice did not include the county attorney’s office.

    In it, the group issued a set of complaints; in their view, Chaffee County has failed to follow the required permitting procedure for issuance of a 1041 permit. The group’s basis for that claim; that the county plans to review a draft of the proposed 1041 permit and conditions at the upcoming July 20 BoCC meeting, but that it hasn’t yet made the document available. It also issued its own set of permit conditions.

    The UPCCW group takes the position that since the BoCC hasn’t yet made that draft available, the failure to do this constitutes a violation of the law. Further, it claims that the county violated the law by voting to approve the issuance of a 1041 permit for the project, before considering a draft proposal of the 1041 permit and conditions.

    The UPCCW was formed specifically to protest the Nestlé Waters North America/BlueTriton 1041 permit. Its nonprofit membership includes residents of Chaffee County opposed to the renewal of a 1041 permit for Nestlé Waters North America — now BlueTriton Brands.

    That permit allows the company to pump spring water from Ruby Mountain Spring, on property Nestlé owns in Chaffee County, transfer it to its pumping station in Johnson Village, then trucking it to its Denver bottling plant.

    The notice goes on to state that the county didn’t reopen public comments during the last session (this, after multiple public sessions with the most extensive public comment ever held in the county on a proposal, and formal notification of the process laid out to be followed). The group’s complaint; that by not specifically seeking their input on the language of the 1041 permit conditions as it has been drafted, that this also constitutes a violation of the law.

    The document also cites numerous state statutes for what it claims; then makes an assertion that it is their perception that Chair Greg Felt has a conflict of interest that should have prevented him from ruling on this. In fact, in what many will consider an audacious request, it asks that the BoCC’s July 6 decision to approve the permit be rescinded and that Mr. Felt recuse himself from the proceedings.

    Felt has addressed the issue of conflict of interest not once, but twice during the proceedings. While the protest groups make reference to his role as the Vice–Chairman of the Upper Arkansas Water Conservation District (UAWCD) it’s stated as a perceived conflict; the mission of the UAWCD is to secure and manage water resources to meet the needs of the Upper Arkansas River Valley.

    During their July 6 session, following the 2 to 1 vote on the permit, which ended months of lengthy questions and debate, the BoCC openly discussed the necessary timing to proceed with a new 1041 permit, and the development of what will be complex conditions. They pushed county legal, which was concerned about the tight timeframe, to get a first draft ready for them to review in the public meeting on July 20, which they explained would be the beginning of the permit development public process.

    Once, or if, the BoCC finalizes a written resolution containing the conditions of the permit renewal, the issuance of that resolution and written 1041 permit will trigger the statute of limitations for any challenges to the BoCC’s actions under Colorado Rule of Civil Procedure 106.

    #Drought watch for #HighlandsRanch continues despite greenery — The Douglas County News-Press

    Highlands Ranch

    From The Douglas County News-Press (Thelma Grimes):

    As afternoon rainstorms have continued through spring and early summer, officials of the Centennial Water and Sanitation District, the water provider in Highlands Ranch, warn residents that the community is still under a drought watch designation.

    “A drought is not just about precipitation,” said Swithin Dick, water rights administrator for Centennial Water. “Precipitation is one part of the equation, but you also have to look at snowpack, water runoff, demand and water supply.”

    Centennial Water monitors the water supply for the community daily. On July 7, Centennial Water’s reservoir storage was 8,048-acre feet, or 47% of 17,200 acre-feet total capacity. Centennial Water’s median storage level for July over the past 10 years has been 8,904 acre-feet, or 52% of the capacity…

    “Despite the precipitation we have received over the past month, the storage level in our reservoirs has declined,” Dick said. “This is because community water demand has increased, which is offsetting the water we have been able to capture.”

    Dick said water supplies are based on water rights priority in the region. Water rights determine who is able to capture the water for use…

    Centennial Water has three stages for measuring drought condition. In April, the Centennial Water Board of Directors approved the lowest stage level, drought watch. The drought watch designation is for residents in Highlands Ranch, Solstice, and portions of northern Douglas County.

    If drought conditions get worse, the board can approve two new stages, Drought Stage 1 and Drought Stage 2, which would mean higher fees to further encourage residents to practice water conservation.

    For instance, a resident who uses between 101% and 120% of the allotted amount, rates would go from $5.52 per 1,000 gallons to $6.95 under a Stage 1 designation. Under a Stage 2 designation, rates would increase to $8.38.

    For more information about water conservation and drought conditions in Highlands Ranch, visit http://centennialwater.org.

    Denver Basin Aquifer System graphic credit USGS.

    Recruitment for large-scale ‘forever chemical’ study starts in #Fountain soon — The #ColoradoSprings Gazette #PFAS

    Widefield aquifer via the Colorado Water Institute.

    From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Mary Shinn):

    Recruitment for a large-scale study on the health effects of “forever chemicals” will start in the Fountain Valley this month and its results could help set federal limits on the chemicals in drinking water.

    The work is part of the second large-scale study in the country to examine exposure to perfluorinated compounds — a family of manmade chemicals that linger in the body and have earned the nickname “forever chemicals” — and the health risks they pose.

    The first large-scale study was done 15 years ago in Ohio and West Virginia and found probable links between the chemicals and conditions including high cholesterol, thyroid disease, kidney and testicular cancers, said epidemiology professor Anne Starling, with the University of Colorado.

    This study through the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry is set to investigate health effects of the chemicals including impacts to the immune system, kidneys, liver and thyroid. It will also help determine if the chemicals change neurobehavioral outcomes in children trough tests of their attention, memory and learning abilities. The study was expected to begin last fall but it was delayed by the pandemic, Starling said.

    Researchers plan to study 7,000 adults and 2,100 children exposed to perfluorinated compounds across seven states, including 1,000 adults and 300 children 4 and older in the Fountain Valley…

    The study will also be the first to include people with high levels of a chemical found in firefighting foam in their blood, Starling said.

    Firefighting foam from used by the military at Peterson Air Force Base contaminated the aquifer that residents in Widefield, Security and Fountain used for drinking water, studies have determined. After the contamination was found in 2016, drinking water providers for all three communities worked to ensure the water was safe. Since then, the Air Force has paid $41 million for three new water treatment plants to bring the level of chemicals down to nondetectable levels.

    Researchers will take one-time blood and urine samples to help determine how the chemicals may have affected residents’ kidneys, liver and sex hormones, among other bodily functions. It will not examine whether the chemicals cause cancer.

    The urine samples will likely be more indicative of forever-chemicals residents have recently been exposed to, Starling said…

    The tests and residential histories should allow researchers to estimate the cumulative lifetime exposure residents have had to the chemicals, according to a news release.

    The work will also examine the neurobehavioral effect of the chemicals in children because some smaller studies have suggested that exposure to the forever chemicals early in life may affect children’s development and response to vaccines, but the connection is not yet well established, she said.

    The researchers plan to have children complete puzzles and problem-solving tasks, similar to activities they might do in school, as part of the study, she said…

    The neurobehavioral tests will not diagnose problems in individual children, she said.

    The upcoming study expects to build on a recent study of 220 residents in the Fountain Valley that found the median level of a chemical specific to firefighting foam in residents was 10 times higher than the national median. Some residents had levels of the chemical that were much higher, said Colorado School of Mines Professor Christopher Higgins, a lead researcher on the study…

    Scientists don’t know whether the chemical specific to the foam is more or less dangerous than other forever chemicals, Starling said.

    The levels of chemicals in residents seem to be dropping and that may be good if some of the health effects are reversible. But some people may still be experiencing long-term health effects…

    Study participants will receive individual test results that could be shared with their doctor. The test results may not indicate a problem, but more and more doctors are becoming aware of the potential health effects of forever-chemical exposure, Starling said.

    In the long-term, the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Academies of Science could use results from this study to help set enforceable limits on water contamination. No federal maximum limits on forever chemical contamination of drinking water exist, she said.

    Recruitment for the study is expected to start later this month and researchers have set up an office in Fountain to meet with residents. Data collection could take 12 to 18 months. The entire study could be completed in 2024, although researchers should have results to share before that, Starling said.

    Those interested in participating in the study can find more information at http://co-scope.org. Those interested in participating can email coscope@cuanschutz.edu or call (719) 425-8828.

    #Colorado’s #RioGrande has sustained historic way of life in #Alamosa. Can it last? — The #ColoradoSprings Gazette

    From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Seth Boster):

    Once again this summer, rain has been hard to come by in this historic farming valley of southern Colorado. The average annual precipitation in the middle of the San Luis Valley hovers around seven inches — about as low as it gets in all of Colorado, according to the state’s climate center.

    And yet farming prevails. It is the lifeblood of Alamosa, the town that rose from a once-bustling railroad and today is often passed by travelers en route to more flashy destinations on the Western Slope. Unlike other rural communities that have swapped mining or energy for tourism, the ruling industry here is and always has been agriculture.

    “The hospital, the county and city offices and school district, all of those are important,” said Alamosa Mayor Ty Coleman. “But farming and ranching, that’s it. That’s huge.”

    Once again this summer, rain has been hard to come by in this historic farming valley of southern Colorado. The average annual precipitation in the middle of the San Luis Valley hovers around seven inches — about as low as it gets in all of Colorado, according to the state’s climate center.

    And yet farming prevails. It is the lifeblood of Alamosa, the town that rose from a once-bustling railroad and today is often passed by travelers en route to more flashy destinations on the Western Slope. Unlike other rural communities that have swapped mining or energy for tourism, the ruling industry here is and always has been agriculture.

    “The hospital, the county and city offices and school district, all of those are important,” said Alamosa Mayor Ty Coleman. “But farming and ranching, that’s it. That’s huge.”

    […]

    But by the turn of the 20th century, the Rio Grande was considered over-appropriated. Demand outpaced supply.

    “So we’ve always lived in this area where there was this level of stress,” said Heather Dutton, manager of San Luis Valley Water Conservancy District and fifth-generation native.

    The difference, she said, is this century’s more dire circumstances.

    Fundamental changes

    A multi-agency report last year found average annual streamflows to be steadily declining since the 1930s, with drops worsening in the 2000s. Citing climate change, the report warned of that long trusted snowpack in the mountains becoming less dependable.

    A farmer uses a center pivot to battle drought on a field in Center, Colo., in the San Luis Valley on Aug. 24, 2020. Credit: Allen Best

    Where Simpson’s and Dutton’s grandfathers and fathers didn’t have the Rio Grande to count on, they had groundwater. They joined drilling and pumping that ramped up in the ’30s. The shallow and “unconfined” aquifer and deeper “confined” aquifer, both remnants of an ancient lake, represented turning points for farming.

    “But it was also a turning point for what my generation is now grappling with,” Dutton said, “where now we have too many wells, we have too much pumping, and we’re taking more out of the aquifer than we’re putting back in.”

    The decades saw agreements for taking and giving back — for digging a hole, filling it with water and thus recharging the unconfined aquifer in hopes of making up for Mother Nature.

    “By far, that’s where most of the groundwater withdrawals occur in the valley,” Simpson said. “The potatoes are grown and raised above that unconfined aquifer. Most of the intense irrigation is above that unconfined aquifer.”

    Simpson manages the Rio Grande Water Conservation District, which has tracked the aquifer’s storage since 1976. From the mid-’80s to today, charts show a staggering drop: A change amounting to about 1.3 million acre-feet of water.

    The severe drought of 2002 started the steep trend of decline. Since then, there have been year-to-year gains of storage — eight years totaling 746,791 acre-feet. But there have been more years of drops, 10 totaling more than 1.7 million acre-feet. Lows this year are on par with record lows following the 2012 drought, data show.

    The hope of Simpson and Dutton is to locally regulate before higher powers enforce harsher demands. The state has called on the valley to bring water back up to pre-2000 levels, or else face possible consequences of widespread shutdowns in 2030…

    Farmers are taxing themselves to pump, with that money going to other farmers to pump less. Simpson and Dutton have been encouraging creativity, such as less water-needy crops like hemp and quinoa.

    But they fear more drastic measures.

    “There is a need to physically take land out of production,” Dutton said. “And it’s not like it’s just one person owns everything and we can just say, ‘Hey, can you cut back your farm by 30%?’ There are hundreds of families that farm and ranch here.

    “And this is how they make their living, it’s in their blood, they want to do it, they’re proud of it. So trying to get people to cut back or stop farming altogether, it’s a study in psychology and human behavior. It’s really hard.”

    And there are broader ramifications to consider when farms close, Simpson said. The well-being of his hometown is at stake when that happens, he said — Alamosa’s school, hospital and small businesses.

    Rio Grande River. Photo credit: The River Network

    We must change our relationship to #water, or lose it forever: “Instead of viewing water as a property right to be exploited for personal profit, we must become guardians of that which remains” — The #Kansas Reflector #ActOnClimate #KeepItTheGround

    The dry bed of the Arkansas River beneath the Second Street Bridge at Dodge City, Kansas. The barricades and barbed wire are to prevent access from city property, but the river bed is public land. File Photo / Max McCoy via The Kansas Reflector

    From The Kansas Reflector (Max McCoy):

    Out past the 100th meridian things get dry damned quick.

    The meridian traditionally marks the line where the west begins and agriculture is difficult without irrigation. You can find it easily on a map of Kansas. Just look for Dodge City, in the lower western third of the state. The meridian runs right through town. There’s a marker at the old railway depot, but the line is really a few blocks to the east. An Eagle Scout named Michael Snapp determined the location, with the help of GPS, and in 2007 planted a 600-pound limestone post to mark the spot. It’s on the south side of Highway 50, between avenues L and M.

    The Arkansas River also runs through Dodge City. Or at least it used to. It’s been a dry bed now for decades. If you (carefully!) make your way past the wire and barricades at Wright Park you can see what has become of it. The river is nothing but hard-pack sand and tire tracks, from the four-wheelers that tear up and down the old channel. The Arkansas is one of three legally navigable rivers in the state (the other are the Kaw and the Missouri), but you’d have a hard time getting a boat down it now. It’s a legal absurdity that sums up our state’s complicated relationship to water.

    I wrote about this in my book, “Elevations: A Personal Exploration of the Arkansas River,” published by the University Press of Kansas. By following the Arkansas River from its headwaters at the Continental Divide above Leadville, Colorado, all the way to the Oklahoma line below Arkansas City, I learned a few things.

    The most important lessons came from experts like Rex Buchanan, the former director of the Kansas Geological Survey, who for years has braved January weather to drop steel tapes down sometimes remote wells to physically measure water levels. Because of volunteers like Rex, Kansas has some of the best statistics available, and they go back decades.

    I won’t pretend to speak for Rex — he’s articulate and passionate about water, and is among the state’s foremost advocates for water conservation — but I can say that water levels in the High Plains Aquifer have been going steadily down since the 1950s. The explosion of pumping technology after World War II allowed more, and deeper, water to be pumped than ever before, which was a boon to agriculture. The feeling at mid-century was that the Ogallala Aquifer — a shallow aquifer that runs for hundreds of miles below the 100th meridian, from South Dakota down to the Texas panhandle — would provide an inexhaustible supply of water. Not only does the Ogallala irrigate crops, it also provides water for industry and tap water for municipalities like Colby, along Interstate 70 in northwestern Kansas.

    The Visitor Center at Colby, Kansas. Water is supplied to this western Kansas town from deep wells drawing from the Ogallala Aquifer. Kansas Reflector / Max McCoy via The Kansas Reflector

    The problem is, the aquifer isn’t a uniform depth. Imagine an egg carton, with some deep pockets and other shallow ones, and you have some idea of the Ogallala. Because the aquifer has to be recharged by rainwater — and because things west of Dodge City are, well, arid — some places are in danger of exhausting the water supply quicker than others. Dodge City and Colby are in two of the most critically depleted parts of the aquifer of all, marked by swaths of angry red on most groundwater maps. Colby is in Thomas County, where the Kansas Geological Survey predicts the water will be depleted in less than 25 years.

    I had a friend who flew into Denver recently from back east who asked me if all the circles he saw from the window seat of his airliner were some kind of crop circles or navigation aids. No, I said, that’s pivot irrigation — and it’s killing western Kansas.

    Drought has hit areas like Dodge City particularly hard in recent years, because the less rain fills, the more water has to be pumped out of the ground to keep the crops growing. Some local water management districts in the state are taking conservation seriously. There are five such districts across the state, governed by local boards. And some of them — particularly toward the Nebraska line — have a chance of achieving sustainability by reducing usage by 20 or 30%. But for places like Dodge City, where demand is high and rain is slow in coming, it would take hundreds of years for the aquifer to recharge, even if all irrigation stopped today. If we drain it, some scientists say, it might take 6,000 years for it to refill naturally.

    Right now, the west is experiencing a severe water crisis, with the Colorado River basin experiencing a historic, extended drought. There’s talk of the New Water Wars, with municipalities vying with farms and industries for tap water. At the same time, the heat wave of late June and early July — driven by climate change — broke records in the Pacific Northwest, with Portland hitting a jaw-dropping 116 degrees Fahrenheit.

    In Kansas, we’ve so far escaped the worst of the heat wave, and an unusually wet summer has prevented drought. But we are headed into what is traditionally our hottest period, from late July to early August. The record high temperature for the state was recorded July 24, 1936, at Alton, in north central Kansas, at 121 degrees, according to the National Weather Service.

    The dry bed of the Arkansas River near the Santa Fe Trail crossing at Cimarron, Kansas. The Ogallala aquifer groundwater levels in much of western Kansas started dropping in the 1950s as pumping increased, according to the Kansas Geological Survey. File Photo / Max McCoy

    While researching my book about the Arkansas River, I was interested in not only the natural landscape, but also the history of how human beings have interacted with the river. What I found was disturbing. Because of irrigation and climate change, much of the river has simply dried up between Garden City and Great Bend. This has resulted in the disappearance of cottonwood trees along the riverbed, the desertification of some areas, the loss of ecosystem, and the destruction of one of the state’s most important natural features. The Arkansas is really two unconnected rivers now, the upper and the lower.

    I grew up in southeast Kansas, on the edge of the Ozark Plateau. Like much of the eastern third of the state, it is a wet region, with plenty of rainfall and plenty of creeks and rivers. But out past the 100th meridian — the rainfall curtain — it’s a different and in many ways more fragile world.

    Rivers of Kansas map via Geology.com

    One of the things I remember most about my meeting with Buchanan, that committed soul who actually goes out and measures water levels, was a map he showed me of the historic rivers and creeks in western Kansas. The waterways looked like veins in a leaf, spreading across the high plains. Then he showed me a recent map, and many of those waterways were simply gone, erased from the landscape.

    That was a few years ago. The situation has just gotten worse since.

    Sign marking the 100th Meridian West at the train depot at Dodge City, Kansas. The actual meridian is a few blocks to the east. File Photo / Max McCoy

    To save what is left of the water in western Kansas, we must change our relationship with water. The history of water rights in Kansas has been a troubled one. Since 1945, Kansas has been a “prior appropriation” state, like most western states, which means the right to use is based on “first in time, first in right.” It’s a property right, clear down to the aquifer. This doctrine places an emphasis on legacy water rights and prioritizes recognized “beneficial” uses, which are economic in nature.

    Recognizing the hazard posed by water scarcity, Kansas since 1978 has enacted three novel legal strategies to cope with drought and dwindling resources. The first was the ability of the chief engineer — the state’s chief water administrator, at the Kansas Department of Agriculture — to designate some areas as Intensive Groundwater Use Control Areas. The second, in 1991, was to require conservation plans from some water rights applicants. The third, in 2012, gave communities within IGUCAs the authority to voluntarily create, through a public hearing process, a Local Enhanced Management Area with more restrictions. There are currently five LEMAs in the state, with Wichita County (in far western Kansas) being the newest.

    But as Caleb Hall pointed out in a 2017 journal article, such efforts are insufficient to combat increased water depletion caused by climate change. Hall is an environmental attorney, a Kansas City native and a University of Kansas School of Law alum.

    “IGUCAs allow established, yet still unsustainable, agricultural practices to continue,” Hall writes, “never questioning if water usage is truly beneficial if it is being applied to thirsty corn.”

    If the western water rights model does not voluntarily change now, Hall argues, climate change will force it to do so in the future.

    The question at the heart of the problem is what is truly beneficial.

    Instead of viewing water as a property right to be exploited for personal profit, we must become guardians of that which remains. Twentieth century technology allowed us to use water at a rate far beyond what was sustainable. Climate change has brought the crisis to a head. Nothing is going to bring back the Arkansas River in western Kansas in our lifetimes, but if we start changing our laws now, we just might be able to save what’s left of the Ogallala Aquifer.

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

    #Monument’s #water #conservation efforts increase with high temps and limited resources — The #ColoradoSprings Gazette

    Monument Creek, taken looking south from the northern section of Monument Valley Park via Loraxis

    From The Tri-Lakes Tribune (Benn Farrel) via The Colorado Springs Gazette:

    With limited water resources, the Town of Monument looks to encourage water conservation among residents while the area is experiencing high temperatures in its semi-arid climate and increased water demand.

    As the town invests $22 million in improvements to the infrastructure of its water system, an increase in water production and additional storage is in the near future. However, to maintain healthy landscapes around the community, the town is encouraging responsible water practices, implementing water restrictions and has offered tips to efficient water use…

    Properties within the service of Triview Metropolitan District are also under restrictions from May 1 through Sept. 30 every year…

    Properties which use the Woodmoor Water and Sanitation District are restricted from June 1 to Sept. 30…

    Photo from the Colorado Independent.

    On May 31, the Town of Monument released an informational video, “Conserving water using rain barrels,” on its YouTube channel, informing residents of their rights to conserve rainwater with rain barrels and how to do it. A few years ago, the State of Colorado legislature passed House Bill 16-1005 which allows single-family residences to collect rainwater in two barrels maximum, each up to 110 gallons, to be used solely for outdoor use and not consumption or indoor use. It also mandates the top of the barrels must be sealed to prevent pests from getting in.

    The bill was geared toward helping homeowners offset the use of their irrigation systems for their landscaping.

    Residents of the Town of Monument, who use of the town’s water system, are offered a $50 rebate if receipts for the rain barrel purchases are provided and their account with the Monument Water Department is current. The rebate is given in the form of a credit toward the account.

    Tips for installing the rain barrels are available on the Town of Monument’s YouTube channel, or by visiting the town’s website, tomgov.org, clicking on the “Community” tab and visiting the Garden & Landscaping page.

    Denver Basin Aquifer System graphic credit USGS.

    The Triview Metropolitan District is presently making a transition from making use of the non-renewable groundwater from the Denver Basin to renewable surface water. Last year, the district acquired 568-acre feet of water rights and purchased another 1,000-acre feet of water storage in April. Triview acquired nearly 850 acres of land to be used for the development of two large reservoirs which are near completion.

    #Monument purchasing treatment system to remove radium #water #pollution — The #ColoradoSprings Gazette #groundwater

    Denver Basin Aquifer System graphic credit USGS.

    From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Mary Shinn):

    Monument is planning to install a new water treatment system in the coming months that will remove radium from one of its wells allowing it to start serving the town again.

    The town expects to spend about $1.5 million on the new water treatment system, an associated building and lab space. The work will expand an existing facility at Second Street and Beacon Lite Road, said Tom Tharnish, Monument’s public works director.

    Extended exposure to radium, a naturally occurring element and common along the Front Range, can cause cancer and other health problems over time, according to the Environmental Protection Agency…

    The problem was discovered in the city’s 9th well about four years ago and no unsafe levels of radium ever reached residents’ taps. Monument’s engineers designed a system that diluted the radium to safe levels, but that proved to be only a temporary fix. The well was shut down late last year while the town worked on a more permanent solution, Tharnish said.

    The new filtration system will employ a resin that will filter out the radium at the end of the water treatment process, he said…

    The new technology will also come with ongoing maintenance costs. The resin will need to be replaced every year to 18 months and will require between $18,000 to $20,000, Tharnish said…

    Monument’s board of trustees approved drilling a 10th well in November to help offset the loss of water from the well that had to be shut off because of radium pollution. The work was expected to cost $624,975. The new well is expected to be in production next week, Tharnish said.

    The community is also seeking additional water rights, so that it doesn’t need to rely as heavily on its groundwater, Wilson said.

    Laramie County, #Wyoming #water proposal pits neighbor against neighbor — WyoFile

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

    From WyoFile (Joel Funk):

    A Laramie County family said last week statutes and regulations obligate the state engineer to approve its plan to drill eight high-capacity water wells into the troubled High Plains Aquifer, a plan some neighbors strongly oppose.

    Members of the Lerwick family made their case for the new wells in a three-day public hearing in Cheyenne that pit neighbor against neighbor. Farmers and ranchers living near the proposed development said it would draw water from the aquifer under their lands, imperiling springs, creeks and wells on which their operations depend.

    If the project moves forward, opponents said, they will be left with unsatisfactory legal recourse. But expert witnesses called by the Lerwicks contested those claims, saying that there’s enough water for the development and that they’re not looking to harm their neighbors

    The hearing stemmed from a 2019 application by Ty Lerwick, Keith Lerwick and Rod and Jill Lerwick to the State Engineer’s Office for eight permits to drill irrigation wells in the High Plains Aquifer system.

    The proceeding’s purpose was to provide information to the Laramie County Control Area Advisory Board and the State Engineer’s Office. The advisory board will make a recommendation to the state engineer, who will then issue a decision on the Lerwick applications…

    The various parties presented their cases, and participation was limited to the parties, their representatives and their identified witnesses. Those opposed to the Lerwick wells were identified as contestants, and the Lerwicks as contestees.

    The applications would allow the Lerwicks to drill high-capacity wells that protesters say would draw more than 1.5 billion gallons from the ground each year. Several farmers and ranchers testified that they would have to drill new wells at significant cost to replace water sources that could be lost if the proposed wells are approved…

    Epler even argued that approval could set a dangerous precedent for Wyoming.

    The Lerwicks used their words sparsely throughout the proceeding. Rod Lerwick said his intention is to develop the water for irrigation, not harm his neighbors.

    Laramie County Control Area map via the Groundwater Management Plan: https://www.uwyo.edu/haub/_files/_docs/ruckelshaus/collaboration/2015-aquifer/2016-march-lccasc-report-to-county-commissioners.pdf

    Whose water is it anyhow?

    The area in question, which covers two-thirds of eastern Laramie County, is designated as the Laramie County Control Area. Since it was established in 1981, groundwater levels have continued to decline, according to the state engineer’s records. Despite that, in 2015, then-state engineer Pat Tyrell issued an order that created potential for new high-capacity wells to be drilled in the area.

    Both the Lerwicks and their opponents contend that the law is on their side.

    Evidence shows there is water available for appropriation in the aquifer and that law requires the state engineer to approve development that is of benefit to the public interest, according to the Lerwicks’ lawyer, Laramie attorney Bill Hiser. The state engineer could impose regulations on the Lerwicks’ development designed to protect the public interest, and that his clients would comply, Hiser said.

    He also noted that guideposts are in place to ensure development proceeds properly. Not only would people who believe they’ve been injured by the development have an interference claim as a recourse, Hiser said, but the state engineer has the ability to monitor the development as it proceeds. (Hiser said there is “no chance” the Lerwicks would start eight new high capacity wells at one time.)…

    Epler, attorney for the contestants, painted a different picture.

    The Lerwicks’ permit applications are not legally sufficient, Epler said, pointing to what she saw as errors and omissions. The burden is on the applicants to demonstrate there is water available for appropriation in the source, and the Lerwicks failed to do so, she said.

    The contestants’ position, Epler said, is that there is not, in fact, water available for the Lerwicks’ development. Granting the permits would only lead to more high capacity wells, she said, exacerbating the problem…

    The rights of established water users needed to be considered, Mark Stewart, a Cheyenne attorney representing Lerwick-opponents at the Gross-Wilkinson Ranch, said. The ability to bring an interference claim, Stewart said, is an insufficient legal remedy.

    “That’s too little too late,” Stewart said. “You’ve heard uncontroverted evidence that an injury to groundwater cannot be remedied immediately. It takes time to investigate, to determine the amount of injury, and it takes time to remedy and redress that.”

    The development’s relative harm to the community would “far outweigh” the benefit to the Lerwicks, Conner Nicklas, a Cheyenne attorney representing Harding Ranch, Inc., said. Nicklas said his client had already seen water drying up in wells and on the surface, and estimated it would cost $500,000 to resupply water lost because of the Lerwick development…

    Probing the ultimate purpose, contestants’ attorneys asked Lerwick about any plans to transfer water rights temporarily — potentially for significant profit — for oilfield use. Lerwick testified that he had not entered into third-party agreements to transfer water rights for fracking and that there was no third-party financing of the application…

    Epler asked if there could be a profit incentive to eventually transfer water for fracking, to which Lerwick replied it was “possible, but not likely.”

    Rod Lerwick said he has “nothing to hide” when it comes to the family’s plans for groundwater development. The plan for now, he said, is to use the development for irrigation.

    When asked how he would feel if he were in the contestants’ situation, Rod Lerwick said he has thought about that, but doesn’t know if he would be among protesters to a permit application…

    Expert testimony

    Two expert witnesses testified for the Lerwicks that there is groundwater available for high-capacity irrigation wells in the Laramie County Conservation Area.

    In 2012, the state engineer’s office contracted with AMEC Environment & Infrastructure to conduct a hydrogeologic study largely focused on the conservation area. The modeling depicted current aquifer drawdown compared to pre-development conditions, and also evaluated future groundwater level changes with several modeling scenarios…

    Ben Jordan, senior hydrologist at Weston Groundwater Engineering in Laramie, said that the modeling in what’s known as the AMEC Report, as well as hydrographs and monitoring wells, tell him there is water available for appropriation in the district where the proposed wells would be located…

    Jordan also said there “are tools in place to make sure harm is minimized,” whether that’s the state engineer putting certain requirements on the permit or the recourse of filing an interference claim…

    The contestants responded with their own expert witnesses, who questioned the picture Jordan and Rhodes painted…

    Russ Dahlgren, a hydrologist and engineer with Dahlgren Consulting, Inc., testified that he does not believe there is water available for a development like the one proposed by the Lerwicks. The AMEC model, he said, needs to be vetted, reviewed and modified. In an April 2020 letter to the State Engineer’s Office, Dahlgren wrote that the 2015 order that opened up the conservation area to high-capacity drilling should be discontinued and urged a moratorium on new high-capacity wells.

    Dahlgren also testified that filing an interference claim takes a significant amount of time and effort. “I think we can do better than that particular standard,” he said.

    The application now moves to the Laramie County Control Area Advisory Board, which has yet to set a date to consider the information gathered at the hearing.

    Diminishing #Denver basin #groundwater in El Paso County could be reused instead of flowing downstream — The #ColoradoSprings Gazette #reuse

    The confluence of Monument Creek (right) with Fountain Creek (center) in Colorado Springs, Colorado. By Jeffrey Beall – Own work, CC BY 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=78939786

    From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Mary Shinn):

    Much of the groundwater pumped up from the Denver basin in northern and central El Paso County flows down Monument or Fountain creeks, never to be seen again after it’s been used and treated once.

    Colorado Springs Utilities, Monument and six groundwater districts want to see that water returned back to homes and businesses to be reused and to help ease the pressure on groundwater.

    The groundwater that’s already flowed through showers, sinks and toilets once could potentially be treated and reused twice, and that could help the diminishing aquifer last longer, said Jenny Bishop, a senior project engineer with the water resources group within Colorado Springs Utilities.

    Reusing the water could reduce the amount of fresh groundwater that must be pumped annually, limit the need for new wells, give districts more time to pursue additional water rights and make the most of a finite resource, she said. The deeper groundwater in El Paso County is not replenished by rain or other natural sources.

    Denver Basin Aquifer System graphic credit USGS.

    While Colorado Springs Utilities does not rely on Denver basin groundwater, future water reuse projects identified by an ongoing study involving Monument and the groundwater districts could rely on Utilities infrastructure. In recent years, Utilities has also started to focus more on effective water use across the county.

    Utilities “recognizes that long-term water security for the Pikes Peak region depends on the efficient use and reuse of reusable water supplies,” Bishop said.

    The Pikes Peak Regional Water Authority Regional Water Reuse Study is going to determine how and where groundwater could be diverted from Monument or Fountain creeks and returned to the water providers. It’s possible the water could be diverted below Colorado Springs and may require new water storage, such as a reservoir or a tank, she said.

    Larger projects that could serve multiple water providers, such as Tri-View and Forest Lakes metro districts, are expected to be efficient, Bishop said. The study could also recommend more than one project to recapture water, she said.

    Not all of the groundwater that is pumped up from the ground will be available for reuse, because some of it goes into outdoor irrigation, some is used up by thirsty residents, some is lost in the treatment process and some is lost to evaporation in the creeks, among other points of loss. But the water returned to districts could be substantial…

    Study participants

    The following water providers are participating the water reuse study although not all of them would benefit from groundwater flowing back to be used again. Some are interested in portions of the project like additional water storage

  • Woodmoor Water and Sanitation District
  • Town of Monument
  • Triview Metropolitan District
  • Forest Lakes Metropolitan District
  • Cherokee Metropolitan District
  • Donala Water and Sanitation District
  • Security Water District
  • Colorado Springs Utilities…
  • The $100,000 study to identify the projects that would allow the most water reuse may be finished by the end of the year. The document is expected to project cost estimates for construction and operation of the projects. The work could include new water storage, such as reservoirs.

    Funding, permitting and designing the projects is expected to take a few years as well, Bishop said.

    River District looks for natural solutions to #CrystalRiver water shortage — @AspenJournalism #RoaringForkRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    The Ella Ditch, in the Crystal River Valley, placed a call for the first time ever during the drought-stricken summer of 2018. That meant the Town of Carbondale had to borrow water from the East Mesa Ditch under an emergency water supply plan. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    From Aspen Journalism (Heather Sackett):

    Officials say back-up water supply plan will not affect Wild & Scenic designation

    Representatives from the Colorado River Water Conservation District say their efforts to develop a solution to a water shortage on the Crystal River will probably include natural fixes before a dam and reservoir and that the plan should not impact a future Wild & Scenic designation.

    Staff from the Glenwood Springs-based Colorado River Water Conservation District presented some preliminary findings of a study of a back-up water supply plan, known as an augmentation plan, to Pitkin County commissioners [June 22, 2021]. They said their preference is to find and develop natural infrastructure like aquifer recharge or wetlands restoration before proposing a dam and reservoir.

    Water could be diverted and stored in an underground aquifer during peak flows and then be allowed to slowly seep back into the river when it’s needed. Restoring wetlands can raise the water table throughout the valley floor, creating a sponge that holds water.

    River District staff said they would absolutely not consider storage on the main stem of the Crystal — any potential small reservoir would be on a tributary — and that whatever solutions they come up with shouldn’t affect the long-held goal of some residents to get a federal Wild & Scenic designation to protect the free-flowing nature of the river.

    River District Director of Government Relations Zane Kessler said the River District is working with environmental groups like American Rivers to find a solution to the shortage.

    “We see a real opportunity to do something cool here and think outside the box,” he said. “I don’t know that natural infrastructure could take care of all of it, but we want to prioritize that first and look at opportunities.”

    The Crystal River in August 2018 was running at 8 cfs near the state fish hatchery. Colorado River Water Conservation District staff said a study of a back-up water supply will look at natural infrastructure before dams and reservoirs to address a water shortage.
    CREDIT: HEATHER SACKETT/ASPEN JOURNALISM

    Water shortage

    The River District, along with Rifle-based West Divide Water Conservancy District, undertook the study, paid for by a state grant, to examine a problem that became evident during the summer of 2018: that in dry years there may not be enough water for both irrigators and residential subdivisions.

    “2018 was a wake-up call for water users on the Crystal,” Kessler said.

    That August, the Ella Ditch, which irrigates land south of Carbondale, placed a call on the river for the first time ever. That meant that junior water rights holders upstream were supposed to stop taking water so that the Ella Ditch, which has water rights dating to 1902, could receive its full amount. Under Colorado’s prior appropriation system, those with the oldest water rights have first use of the river.

    The Colorado Division of Water Resources did not enforce the call by turning off water to homes, but instead told water users they must work together to create a basin-wide augmentation plan.

    Most junior water rights holders have augmentation plans, which allows them to continue using water during a call by replacing it with water from another source, like releasing it from a reservoir. The problem on the Crystal is that several residential subdivisions don’t have augmentation plans.

    Until water users come up with a permanent solution, DWR has said it may not allow outdoor water use when a senior call is on as a temporary fix. Water managers expect once-rare calls by irrigators to become more frequent as rising temperatures result in less water in streams.

    Sprinklers irrigate land on the east side of the Crystal River (in foreground) in August 2018, one of its driest years in recent history. A call by a downstream senior water rights holder during the drought of 2018 illustrated a long-simmering problem: several subdivisions in the Crystal River Valley don’t have back-up water plans.
    CREDIT: HEATHER SACKETT/ASPEN JOURNALISM

    Demand quantification

    River District staff presented the first step in the study: a demand quantification or putting numbers on the amount of water needed for different uses throughout the year.

    Engineers found 90 structures — many of them wells for in-house water use — that take water from the river system and which would need to be included in the augmentation plan. These 90 structures deliver water to 197 homes, 80 service connections in Marble, nearly 23 irrigated acres, Beaver Lake and Orlosky Reservoir in Marble, 16,925 square-feet of commercial space, plus some water for livestock.

    In order for these water users to keep taking water during a downstream call by an irrigator, they would have to replace about 113 acre-feet of water in the Crystal River per year. The amount of extra flow that would need to be added to the river is small — just .58 cubic feet per second during July, the peak replacement month.

    Some commissioners asked if simply using less water — instead of creating a new supply of water — especially by irrigators on the lower Crystal, could solve the problem.

    “I’d love to see an analysis of the conservation opportunities,” said Commissioner Kelly McNicholas Kury. “What can we do that’s not taking the water out, but preserving it in the stream?”

    River District General Manager Andy Mueller acknowledged there may be more “aggressive” irrigators on the Crystal, but that in addition, climate change is decreasing the amount of water available. He said he wants the River District to work more closely with Pitkin County to find conservation opportunities.

    “I think those types of opportunities require identifying the potential for them but then developing relationships with the water users,” Mueller said.

    Tuesday’s meeting was a chance for board members from both organizations, which have not historically seen eye to eye on water issues, to work together and ask questions. Next steps include public outreach and education, coordinating with water managers and eventually developing a basin-wide augmentation strategy.

    “We are going to continue to evaluate alternatives and try to get some additional expertise in the realm of natural infrastructure or aquifer recharge,” Kessler said. “We are going to do our best to make sure that this effort aligns with the Wild & Scenic values that the community supports.”

    Aspen Journalism covers water and rivers in collaboration with The Aspen Times. For more go to http://www.aspenjournalism.org.

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