Work to boost #SteamboatSprings #water supply redundancy continues — Steamboat Pilot & Today

Yampa River. Photo credit: Allen Best/The Mountain Town News

From The Steamboat Pilot & Today (Suzie Romig):

City of Steamboat Springs officials know the municipality’s primary fresh water supply is increasingly at risk from potential wildfire danger in the Fish Creek watershed, so work will continue this summer to boost water supply redundancy.

The city along with Mount Werner Water District are proceeding with construction of enhanced and expanded “infiltration galleries,” or shallow wells that are filled by ground water near the Yampa River, to increase the volume of secondary water supply intake. Water collected through the Yampa well field, which is located near where Walton Creek meets the Yampa River, is piped to the nearby Yampa Water Treatment Plant

Frank Alfone, water district general manager, said the district’s work should be complete by Dec. 1 for a third shallow well and new raw water transmission line located about a quarter mile south of the district’s two existing wells. The additional well will push intake capacity for 2022 from 1.8 million gallons per day to 2.8 million.

The Yampa Water Treatment Plant, built in 1972, has about half the capacity of the primary Fish Creek Filtration Plant. The Yampa plant was updated in 2018 to be able to process more gallons per day and is used primarily to process water for the outdoor watering season from June through September, Alfone said.

Kelly Romero-Heaney, city water resources manager, said the city will open up bids in 2022 for construction of four additional Yampa River shallow wells to increase the overall intake capacity in the location to 3.5 million gallons per day, which would be available by 2023.

The secondary water intake improvements are part of the city’s updated Water Supply Master Plan, completed in 2019, and a key component of the overall supply plan is the updated Water Conservation Plan approved in May, Romero-Heaney said. The goal of the 10-year Water Conservation Plan is to reduce the amount of water used per household by 10%…

[Romero-Heaney] said the city accomplished six key water conservation measures in 2020. Steamboat Springs City Council and the district adopted regulations that permanently limit outdoor watering to between 6 p.m. and 10 a.m. three days per week based on the last digit of a street address. The city replaced 619 feet of aging and possibly leaking water lines, fixed five water main breaks and replaced irrigated sod in front of City Hall with a low water use demonstration garden.

The city updated the water distribution infrastructure master plan to prioritize water line replacements to mitigate leaks and water loss…

Screenshot from the linked Steamboat Pilot & Today article April 7, 2021.

The updated conservation plan, posted on the city’s Water Conservation webpage, notes the city is actively engaged in meeting a variety of challenges to ensure a reliable water supply. Those challenges include drought, wildfire, need for more water treatment capacity, uncertainty of Colorado River Compact call, aging infrastructure, low flows in Fish Creek, growth in the west Steamboat Springs area and the uncertainty of climate change that has increased the statewide annual average temperatures by 2.5 degrees through the past 50 years…

The plan looks to preserve the health of Fish Creek and the Yampa River and protect drinking water supplies while reducing the use of chemicals and the energy intensive carbon footprint of treating fresh water and waste water. The plan also factors in the water requirements of the estimated 400,000 to 500,000 visitors to the city each year.

Steamboat’s primary source of treated water comes from snowmelt from the 22-square-mile Fish Creek watershed. Those supplies are stored in Fish Creek and Long Lake reservoirs and treated at the Fish Creek Filtration Plant.

Questions about the water conservation plan can be emailed to kromeroheaney@steamboatsprings.net.

Southwest braces for water cutbacks as #drought deepens along the #ColoradoRiver — #Arizona Republic #COriver #aridification #DCP

One of Lake Mead’s spillways the last time water lapped at the top of the spillway was 1999.

From The Arizona Republic (Ian James):

Unrelenting drought and years of rising temperatures due to climate change are pushing the long-overallocated Colorado River into new territory, setting the stage for the largest mandatory water cutbacks to date.

Lake Mead, the biggest reservoir on the river, has declined dramatically over the past two decades and now stands at just 40% of its full capacity. This summer, it’s projected to fall to the lowest levels since it was filled in the 1930s following the construction of Hoover Dam.

The reservoir near Las Vegas is approaching a threshold that is expected to trigger a first-ever shortage declaration by the federal government for next year, leading to substantial cuts in water deliveries to Arizona, Nevada and Mexico.

Arizona is in line for the biggest reductions under a 2019 agreement that aims to reduce the risks of Lake Mead falling to critical lows.

The river has been slipping closer to a shortage for years, and the drought has deepened over the past year, shrinking the flow of streams that feed the river in its headwaters in the Rocky Mountains. The soils across the watershed remain parched and will soak up some of the melting snow this spring and summer. The amount of water that flows into Lake Powell at the Utah-Arizona state line over the next four months is projected to be only about 45% of the long-term average and among the lowest totals in years.

With the reservoirs continuing to drop, the expected cuts next year will reduce the Central Arizona Project’s water supply by nearly a third…

Managers of Arizona’s water agencies say they have detailed plans in place to deal with the reductions in water supplies over the next five years, even if the drought continues to worsen. These initial steps to cope with shortages are playing out while the seven states that depend on the river prepare for difficult talks on post-2026 rules, negotiating a plan for adapting to a river that’s yielding less as the watershed grows progressively warmer with climate change…

Officials who manage Arizona’s 336-mile Central Arizona Project Canal, which runs from Lake Havasu to Tucson, have known since plans were first drawn up for the system that they hold the lowest priority and could face cuts in a shortage…

Representatives of the seven states in the Colorado River Basin signed the set of agreements known as the Drought Contingency Plan nearly three years ago in a ceremony at Hoover Dam. Under one of the agreements, Arizona and Nevada agreed to take the first cuts to help prop up the level of Lake Mead, while California would participate at lower shortage levels if the reservoir continues to fall.

Under a separate deal, Mexico agreed to help by leaving some of its water in Lake Mead.

The deals lay out shortage tiers based on Mead’s levels. The federal government’s latest projections show the lake level will sit below the threshold elevation of 1,075 feet at the beginning ofnext year, triggering what’s called a Tier One shortage.

For Arizona, that means a cut of 512,000 acre-feet or about a third of the CAP’s supply…

The Colorado River’s flow has shrunk during one of the driest 22-year periods in centuries. Scientists say the West is experiencing a megadrought and one that’s worsened by humanity’s heating of the planet.

The drought over the past year has hit especially hard in the Colorado River watershed. Last spring and summer, months of extreme heat combined with the lack of monsoon rains baked the soils dry and shrank the amount of runoff, sapping the river and its tributaries.

Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map April 6, 2021 via the NRCS.

This winter, the storms that rolled across the Rockies brought some snow, but not nearly enough to brighten the picture. The snowpack in the Upper Colorado River Basin now stands at 75% of the median for this time of year…

The upshot, as climate researcher Jeff Lukas puts it, is that “the exceptionally low soil moisture will turn a blah snowpack into a terrible runoff year.”

The effects will ripple downstream to Lake Powell and Lake Mead, which hold supplies for cities, farming districts and tribes across the Southwest.

The country’s two largest reservoirs are both headed for record lows. The last time Lake Mead reached a record low level was in 2016. The latest projections from the federal Bureau of Reclamation show Mead could fall below that mark as soon as July. Lake Powell is now just 36% full, and estimates show it could decline to a record low around March 2022.

Construction to start on Goose Pasture Tarn Dam repair this month — Summit Daily

Goose Pasture Tarn Dam. Photo credit: NextDoor.com

From The Summit Daily (Taylor Sienkiewicz):

Construction work to repair the Goose Pasture Tarn Dam is set to begin this month.

While the dam is located in Blue River, the rehabilitation project is being led by Breckenridge, which owns and operates the dam. Water from the Goose Pasture Tarn goes to the Gary Roberts Water Treatment Plant, which serves the residents of Breckenridge.

According to a press release from the town, rehabilitation of the dam includes the replacement of two existing spillways with a single, larger spillway that is intended to improve the safety of the dam. Officials expect the project to be completed in the fall of 2023. The dam repair project is expected to cost a total of $20 million, which is being paid for by Breckenridge, Colorado and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Moving forward with the project is a sigh of relief for Breckenridge residents because the dam, which was constructed in 1965, was classified as a “high hazard” in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ 2018 National Inventory of Dams. The press release noted that the dam wasn’t classified as a high hazard because of its condition. Instead, the designation was based on the estimated consequences if the dam were to fail. However, safety issues during high flows were identified in 2016, and as a result, reservoir-storage restrictions were put in place that reduced flows…

Phelps said the Goose Pasture Tarn’s water level will be lowered for about a month near the end of July. The water will be lowered for a longer period of time next summer. During the project, recreational use of the tarn is prohibited and the lowering of water levels may impact nearby residential wells. The release said that the town has installed monitoring wells to track fluctuations in groundwater levels near the reservoir and will “enact additional measures” to reduce impacts.

Phelps explained that construction work is planned to happen within three time frames: April 2021 through September 2021, April 2022 through September 2022, and May 2023 through the fall of 2023. Work could be done as early as the end of August 2023. Phelps noted that the heavy construction work will be completed in 2022, and a lot of the work that will be done in the final phase of the project will be to revegetate the area around the dam.

For more information on the project, visit http://TownOfBreckenridgeGPTD.com. Specific questions can be emailed to BreckenridgeGPTD@TownOfBreckenridge.com.

Judge tosses challenge from environmental groups to halt #DenverWater reservoir expansion — Colorado Politics

Gross Reservoir — The Gross Reservoir Expansion Project will raise the height of the existing dam by 131 feet, which will allow the capacity of the reservoir, pictured, to increase by 77,000 acre-feet. The additional water storage will help prevent future shortfalls during droughts and helps offset an imbalance in Denver Water’s collection system. With this project, Denver Water will provide water to current and future customers while providing environmental benefits to Colorado’s rivers and streams. Photo credit: Denver Water

From Colorado Politics (Michael Karlik):

A federal judge has thrown out a legal action from multiple environmental organizations seeking to halt the expansion of a key Denver Water storage facility, citing no legal authority to address the challenge.

“This decision is an important step,” said Todd Hartman, a spokesperson for Denver Water. “We will continue working earnestly through Boulder’s land-use process and look forward to beginning work on a project critical to water security for 1½ million people and to our many partners on the West Slope and Front Range.”

The expansion of Gross Reservoir in Boulder County is intended to provide additional water storage and safeguard against future shortfalls during droughts. The utility currently serves customers in Denver, Jefferson, Arapahoe, Douglas and Adams counties. In July 2020, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission gave its approval for the design and construction of the reservoir’s expansion. The project would add 77,000 acre-feet of water storage and 131 feet to the dam’s height for the utility’s “North System” of water delivery.

FERC’s approval was necessary because Denver Water has a hydropower license through the agency, and it provided the utility with a two-year window to start construction.

A coalition of environmental groups filed a petition in U.S. District Court for Colorado against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, seeking to rescind those agencies’ previous authorizations for the project. They argued the agencies inadequately considered the environmental impact of expansion…

…Denver Water pointed out that under federal law, appellate courts, not district-level trial courts, are responsible for hearing challenges to FERC approvals. By challenging the environmental review process that led to the project’s go-ahead, the government argued, the environmental organizations raised issues “inescapably intertwined with FERC’s licensing process.”

On Wednesday, U.S. District Court Judge Christine M. Arguello agreed that the groups’ challenge was indeed wrapped up in the FERC approval.

“[W]here a party does not challenge a FERC order itself, but challenges another agency order that is inextricably linked to the FERC order, the FPA’s exclusive-jurisdiction provision applies and precludes this Court from exercising jurisdiction,” she wrote in dismissing the case.

The Daily Camera reports that Boulder County’s approval is the final step for the expansion project.

1.2M acre-foot #Greeley #water project to move forward after referendum effort falls short — The Greeley Tribune

Water treatment process in Greeley. Graphic via Greeley Water

From The Greeley Tribune (Trevor Reid):

The city of Greeley is clear to move ahead with the acquisition of an aquifer containing 1.2 million acre-feet of water as a new source of raw water after opponents of the project fell short of the required number of signatures to force a special election.

Save Greeley’s Water, which formed in opposition to the Terry Ranch Aquifer Storage and Recovery project, needed to collect 2,192 signatures by Thursday to require city council to reconsider an ordinance change that was required to make the Terry Ranch deal viable, or turn it over to a citywide referendum. On Thursday afternoon, they turned in just 2,028 signatures, falling at least 164 signatures short, according to City Clerk Anissa Hollingshead.

With the referendum effort’s failure, the city will move ahead on the purchase, which will supplement Greeley’s existing water resources…

City leaders and water experts have promoted the deal as a way to secure Greeley’s water future, meeting the needs of more than 260,000 people by the year 2065, according to projections from the state demographer. In drought years, city leaders plan to draw from the aquifer, allowing them to build wells as necessary and preventing steep water rate hikes. In wet years, the city plans to inject water into the aquifer for future use, not only saving the water for when it’s needed, but preventing evaporation…

The city’s next steps are to complete the purchase and refine the infrastructure design and phased implementation plan of Terry Ranch.

@Northern_Water: Spring Water Users Meeting April 6, 2021 #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Screenshot of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project boundaries via Northern Water’s interactive mapping tool , June 5, 2019.

Click here for all the inside skinny from Northern Water:

Spring Water Users Meeting
Tuesday, April 6, 2021, 8 a.m. to noon, virtual meeting via Zoom

Each spring Northern Water meets with Colorado-Big Thompson Project allottees and water users to preview the upcoming water delivery and irrigation season, learn about current water and snowpack conditions, runoff and streamflow predictions, progress on future water projects and more. After a discussion of the region’s water outlook, attendees will be able to offer input about the 2021 C-BT quota. This year, attendees also will be able to learn about project updates, as well as Northern Water’s response to the East Troublesome fire in Grand County.

A link to the Zoom meeting will be distributed in the days before the session to those who register.

Click here to register.

Opinion: If we fight each other over #water, we’ll all come out losers — Kirk Klancke #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Kirk Klancke Erica Stock Fraser River. Photo credit: Bob Berwyn

Here’s a guest column from Kirk Klancke that’s running in the Colorado Sun:

There are no easy answers to water issues in the West. We have to consider all possible solutions and avoid the trap of single-minded thinking.

of a very complex water project so succinctly. In his March 15 Colorado Sun article, “Colorado’s latest proposal to divert water from the Western Slope is a complex, disputed set of pipes,” he was able to explain a project in understandable terms that most people in Colorado have little understanding of.

Restoring a river channel in the Upper Colorado Basin

I do want to clarify a couple of the statements made by people quoted in his article. I think that it is important to point out that the Windy Gap Connectivity Channel is not a drainage ditch, as John Fielder was quoted saying. Instead it is a multi-million-dollar stream channel designed by hydrologists and stream biologists to optimize habitat for macroinvertebrate and trout life and the riparian zone on both sides of the river.

The existing stream channel is at the bottom of a muddy reservoir with no ability to sustain any of these environmental values. A new stream channel around the reservoir will reconnect the disappearing aquatic species below the dam with the healthy species above the reservoir. When Fielder states that this new stream reach will not restore wildlife, he could not be more wrong.

The article ended with quotes from Gary Wockner that I feel need a reality check. His suggested solutions to Colorado’s water shortage should be taken with a grain of salt.

His first suggestion was to dry up agricultural land. Doing so has played a major role in damaging the Fraser and Upper Colorado rivers. Ranches that used to divert water from those rivers returned most of that water to those rivers. When Front Range cities bought that agricultural water and took it from the basin of origin to those cities, all of those return flows were lost to the river.

“Buy and Dry” has been bad for our headwaters rivers and for our cultural heritage of ranching. My friends in the ranching business don’t need the target put on their back, and our rivers can’t afford to lose any more return flows.

Gary also proposed ramping up conservation as an important solution to our water shortage. While I applaud this idea, I also know that it is only a piece of the puzzle in the water shortage problem. Every city in the West knows how important of a role conservation plays, and every city in the West has concluded that conservation will not solve their water shortage problems alone.

Conservation, however, is under-utilized here in Colorado and we do need to pick up the pace to help preserve our rivers and the environment that depends on them. We just can’t rely on conservation alone.

Gary’s final point was to stop all growth, stating that he will applaud the sanity of anyone that can accomplish this. I don’t find much reality in this possibility, but if he feels that there is, then I would like to see him use his talents to work toward that goal. This would allow him to work on solving most of Colorado’s problems with the exception maybe of the economy.

There are no easy answers to water issues in the West. We have to consider all possible solutions and avoid the trap of single-minded thinking. Protecting our rivers will require cooperation from every entity that has an impact on our rivers.

The broad priorities of the Colorado Water Plan as put forward by Becky Mitchell in a June 20, 2017 presentation to three Front Range roundtables. The slide reflects the competing priorities in Colorado when it comes to water and rivers.

This is the reason that Colorado wrote a state Water Plan. If we allow that plan to guide us, conservation organizations, municipalities and the agricultural community will work together to assure that water is distributed equitably. If we decide instead to fight each other over water, all of us will come out losing.

Kirk Klancke is the president of the Colorado River Headwaters Chapter of Trout Unlimited, “an environmental organization with lots of members who like to fish.”

Soil-moisture monitoring station high in Castle Creek Valley completes local water-research network — @AspenJournalism #RoaringForkRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

> AGCI staffers and a Pitkin County Public Works employee assemble the Castle Creek station on Oct. 7, 2019. The station stands near Cooper Basin Road in the Castle Creek watershed.
CREDIT: AGCI

From Aspen Journalism (Natalie Keltner-McNeil):

Last summer, the Aspen Global Change Institute’s first subalpine soil-moisture and snowpack-monitoring station began transmitting live data to researchers, stakeholders and the Aspen water department.

The station, which sits at 11,500 feet on Cooper Basin Road near the edge of the Castle Creek watershed, tracks soil moisture at multiple depths; soil temperature; snow depth; wind speed and direction; air temperature; humidity; and radiative balance. That data is made available online in real time.

“The new station fills a gap in that there wasn’t information being measured at that elevation,” AGCI research director Julie Vano said recently.

AGCI now has 10 stations covering the major elevation zones and ecosystems present in the Roaring Fork Valley.

The stations, known as the Interactive Roaring Fork Observation Network (iRON), gather data on soil-moisture levels, which are key but understudied variables in streamflow forecasting. In the 2020 Western Water Assessment report for the Colorado River upper and lower basins, scientists emphasized that surface soil-moisture data — critical for streamflow forecasting and for monitoring the impacts of climate change on the hydrologic cycle — was sparse.

Gathering data at all elevations throughout the Roaring Fork Valley provides scientists with a localized, clearer picture of how climate change is impacting the hydrologic cycle at the Colorado basin’s headwaters. The study of headwater areas is important because 15% of the upper and lower basins’ surface area — primarily the high mountains of the Western Slope, but also spanning mountainous areas in Utah and Wyoming — provides 85% of total annual runoff into the Colorado River.

The Castle Creek iRON station collects data such as snow depth, wind speed and direction, and radiative balance.
CREDIT: ELISE OSENGA/AGCI

A storehouse of data

The AGCI network gives scientists the opportunity to study how elevation and varying ecosystems shape soil-moisture retention.

“People who live in the mountains know that everything varies a lot in a pretty small geographic distance,” said AGCI community science manager Elise Osenga. “You’ll have changes in soil type, changes in plants, even changes in rainfall from one mile to the next mile over.”

As the network continues to accumulate data, it will create a local picture of climate change’s impacts on the water cycle. Throughout the upper basin, scientists have shown that snowmelt and runoff are occurring earlier than they did between 1950 and 2000. Every degree Fahrenheit of warming is expected to reduce upper-basin runoff by between 2-6%. Having a data record for a specific basin will give these impacts a local focus, Vano said.

Since 2015, AGCI staffers have been submitting their data to international hydrologic and soil-moisture databases.

“Since we started sharing, over 1,800 requests for our data have been made,” Osenga said.

The AGCI is working to create partnerships with other soil-moisture monitoring basins and research institutions across the West to share data, allowing for future hydrologic studies involving intrabasin comparisons.

“Nothing is fully underway just yet,” Osenga said.

Determining climate-change trends via iRON data will take time to develop. The first iRON station was created in 2012. Of the 10, six have been installed since 2015. As the length of the record grows, it will become increasingly easier to detect climate change trends, Vano said.

Adding to the uncertainty, the Colorado River basin has been in an extended dry period marked by frequent droughts since 2000, marking “the driest 21-year period in the Colorado River basin in more than 100 years of record keeping and one of the driest in the past 1,200,” according to a 2021 U.S. Bureau of Reclamation report on water-supply security.

“We have really short data records, and those data records exist within an already really dry period,” Osenga said of iRON.

So, in order to gain an understanding of soil moisture in the Roaring Fork Valley, data from future potentially droughtless years is needed, Osenga said.

While drought is predicted to become more frequent and intense in the future, it is less clear how precipitation trends — which are the greatest drivers of soil moisture — will take shape. Some models indicate that precipitation could increase in the upper basin in the coming decade, which would reshape iRON’s soil-moisture data, Osenga said.

An Interactive Roaring Fork Observation Network (iRON) station sits at Independence Pass. Like the Castle Creek site, the Independence Pass station measures snow depth, wind speed and wind direction. But only the Castle Creek station measures radiative balance, or the amount of light absorbed — not reflected — by snow.
CREDIT: KARIN TEAGUE/COURTESY IMAGE

Don’t be so predictable

While long-term trends from the Roaring Fork data remain ambiguous, yearly data provides useful insights for the Aspen water department in predicting spring- and summer-streamflow conditions.

“When I’m not in meetings and other obligations, I’m constantly looking at data,” said Steve Hunter, utilities resource manager for the city of Aspen.

To better predict spring streamflow, Hunter checks weather and snowpack data from national organizations such as the U.S. Geological Service and the National Resource Conservation Service. Hunter frequently checks data from the NRCS Snow Telemetry (SNOTEL) sites in the Roaring Fork watershed. The SNOTEL site at Independence Pass is closest to Castle Creek, which provides the majority of Aspen’s water, Hunter said. On Wednesday, the snow-water equivalent measured at Independence Pass was at 13.8 inches, which is 91% of average, calculated from data from 1981 to 2010. Snow depth, which is different from SWE, at Independence Pass was at 52 inches. At the Castle Creek iRON station, snow depth was at 53 inches.

Hunter also tracks the information coming from iRON. Soil-moisture data ends in the fall, when frozen water begins accumulating on the soil as snow. In the fall of 2020, seven of nine stations had the lowest levels of soil moisture on iRON station record, said Osenga. (The Castle Creek iRON station was not included in analysis.) Of the two with higher water levels than prior years, one station is in an irrigated area, providing an artificial boost to moisture levels, Osenga said.

Dry fall soil conditions mean that as snow begins to melt this spring, more water will soak in — and be absorbed by plants and the atmosphere — before running into local creeks and rivers, Osenga said.

Hunter is holding out hope that more stormy weather could give the snowpack the boost it needs for adequate streamflow this spring and summer.

“We’re just hoping we get a lot of snow and then liquid precipitation in the spring,” said Hunter.

AGCI and Pitkin County staffers lift the newly constructed Castle Creek station upright on Oct. 7, 2019.
CREDIT: LIZ MAURO/COURTESY IMAGE

Deciding what’s important

While the AGCI plans on expanding its reach through collaborations, the organization does not plan to add more iRON sites in the near future. Each site has been funded by a combination of partners, including private organizations, government entities and educational interests.

“It’s supported by the community, which is really amazing,” Vano said of iRON. “You don’t see that often in the world of science. So, the community is really deciding that understanding these changes is really important.”

This story ran in the March 26 edition of The Aspen Times.

Map of the Roaring Fork River drainage basin in western Colorado, USA. Made using USGS data. By Shannon1 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=69290878

After the fire: A wintery check on #waterquality — @DenverWater News on Tap #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Water Quality Operations crew member Nick Riney delivers water into a sample bottle secured by colleague Tyler Torelli. The pair will fill several bottles, including some that they’ll drive back to Denver Water’s laboratory in southwest Denver for testing. Photo credit: Denver Water.

From Denver Water (Todd Hartman):

They snowshoed through a campground hidden under soft drifts, stepped carefully to the banks of the Middle Fork of the Williams Fork River, then broke the ice to find free-flowing water.

Nick Riney and Tyler Torelli worked efficiently, dipping a long-poled scoop into the waterway and filling several pint-sized plastic bottles with samples of the cold, clear stream.

Sturdy even in finger-pinching cold, the two set up a make-shift lab on the back end of the Sno-Cat, pulled equipment out of chubby metal suitcases and ran field tests right on the spot. Twenty degrees and snowfall aren’t the ideal working conditions for most, but these guys consider it a “pretty good office” all the same.

And their work on a mid-February day in Grand County gave Denver Water’s Water Quality Operations team an early look at how last summer’s Williams Fork Fire, which burned nearly 15,000 acres northeast of Silverthorne, might have affected the water flowing through the area.

See and hear what’s required to do this work:

By sampling water as it pours through the mountains, long before it reaches any reservoirs or treatment plants, Denver Water can understand what’s happening on the landscape. Samples that veer from typical readings could indicate unexpected pollution, echoes of old mining activity or, increasingly, the impacts of forest fires.

Understanding those impacts helps prepare water quality experts for potential impacts to reservoirs or treatment processes.

The field test results came back in a healthy range, with no indication yet that a significant amount of sediment left by the summer of record fires in Colorado had ended up in the water.

Riney and Torelli prepare to run field tests on water samples using portable equipment set up on the back edge of their Sno-Cat. The field tests can analyze the turbidity of the samples, offering clues as to the impacts of wildfire. Photo credit: Denver Water.

“That’ll change,” Riney said, as the winter turns to spring and melting snow and monsoons more readily pull soil and ash from the scorched hillsides to the east of the tributary.

“But right now, this water is clean. Turbidity is low. We like to see that,” he said. “We’ll keep tracking these spots every month and try to understand just how much damage this fire did to the landscape.”

To be sure, the burned lands around the Williams Fork River don’t present a risk to Denver’s drinking water, primarily because this water travels to an “exchange” reservoir, where it will be sent down the Colorado River to make up for other West Slope water that is diverted to the Front Range.

Even so, understanding the impacts of the fire on water quality is important, allowing Denver Water and its partners, including the U.S. Forest Service, to take steps to prepare for, and reduce, those effects.

Denver Water recently began making monthly treks to this high-country stream to monitor a wetland protection project nearby. The utility has long made quarterly trips to the area as part of its broader field-testing program to track water quality across its mountain watershed.

A topographic map showing the area targeted by water sampling crews in mid-March. This area in the Arapaho National Forest is north of Silverthorne and east of Highway 9. Photo credit: Denver Water.

As part of that work, Water Quality Operations crews visit eight counties and collect samples from 77 locations. It’s work that’s distinct from the testing that goes on at reservoirs, water treatment plants and within the distribution system that bring water to household taps.

To collect samples from the Middle Fork stream, Riney and Torelli towed a Sno-Cat up and over Ute Pass Road off Highway 9, turned south in County Road 30 and went to work near Sugarloaf Campground.

“This sampling work keeps us well attuned to what’s happening in our watershed and can at times serve as an early warning for issues we may need to be watching out for further downstream,” said James Berrier, water quality monitoring supervisor at Denver Water. “We want to understand, is this just a temporary issue or something that could have a longer-term impact?”

Sampling teams measure for an array on indicators. In the field, they look at temperature, pH (which measures acidity), conductivity (which helps determine salt levels), turbidity and dissolved oxygen, which is an important factor for aquatic life.

Other water samples are transported back to Denver Water’s laboratory at the Marston Treatment Plant in southwest Denver (which will be moving in the future to its new home at Denver’s emerging National Western Center). Tests there include measuring for fluoride, chloride, nitrates, E. coli, nutrients and dissolved metal.

A Sno-Cat helps Water Quality Operations crews access stream sections that are far from roadways, moving quickly over deep snow to eliminate longer walks on snowshoes. On this day, Denver Water crews were northeast of Silverthorne and just west of the Byers Peak Wilderness Area. They were about to head toward Sugarloaf Campground, a destination indicated on the nearby signage. Photo credit: Denver Water.

Samples collected a few months from now may shed light on how much damage the Williams Fork fire did to the land.

Burned Area Emergency Response teams with the U.S. Forest Service have initially concluded that the fire did varying levels of damage. Their assessments found 23% of the area suffered high-intensity burn, while 40% was unburned or experienced low-intensity fire.

Burn levels also can show up in water quality, through indicators such as ash, sediment, metals and other signatures.

“Soil erosion modelling predicts that post-fire erosion rates are generally very low (close to pre-fire conditions) in areas with minimal fire impacts on ground cover and soils. However, rates of erosion increase dramatically … in moderate and high soil burn severity areas, especially on steeper slopes,” according to the response team’s December 2020 assessment.

Denver Water has already accumulated significant expertise and partnerships related to wildfire impacts. Collaborative efforts include From Forests to Faucets, a team approach from Denver Water, the Forest Service, the Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Colorado State Forest Service.

he Williams Fork River, lined by snow-covered banks. Photo credit: Denver Water.

These agencies, together with local groups, address overgrown forests on the front end with tree-thinning projects and repairing landscapes damaged by the kind of intense fires that dramatically slow the recovery of soils and vegetation.

“We have experience, unfortunately, with the havoc that wildfires and their aftermath can wreak on our water quality,” Berrier said, referencing major fires in the late 1990s and early 2000s that put enormous strain on reservoirs and treatment on the south end of Denver Water’s collection system, challenges that the utility is still working to overcome today.

“Tracking impacts to the water once the fires are out is a key step in getting our arms around what might be in store in the years to come.”

> Denver Water’s collection system via the USACE EIS

Dry soil last fall, low snow this winter adds stress to the #YampaRiver Valley #water supply — #SteamboatSprings Pilot & Today #GreenRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Colorado Drought Monitor March 23, 2021.

From Steamboat Pilot & Today (Dylan Anderson):

One of the wetter spots in Colorado, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, is east over the mountains from Steamboat Springs in Larimer County.

Much of that county is in the lowest level of drought, called “abnormally dry,” thanks in part to historic snowfalls on the Front Range earlier this month. If Larimer County is dry, the trek west to Routt County — through part of the state that saw several record wildfires in 2020 — might test which drought-related adjectives apply.

The drought monitor goes with “extreme” and “exceptional” to describe drought conditions in Routt County. Most of the Western Slope is looking at a similar situation, with the western third of Colorado being shades of ruby red and maroon on the latest map released by drought officials last Thursday.

After having a call put on it for the second time in three years in 2020, state water officials are now considering whether the Yampa River has enough water to fulfill rights held by people downstream of Steamboat Springs. What is most concerning to officials isn’t just the low amount of snow seen this winter, but also how dry the ground was before it started falling.

Yampa, White, and Little Snake River basins snowpack March 29, 2021 via the NRCS.

In the Yampa and White River Basins in Northwest Colorado, the snowpack is about 87% of average in terms of snow water equivalent, according to data from the Natural Resources Conservation Service, but there isn’t much snow forecasted for the next few weeks, and the average peak in the snowpack generally comes around April 10…

Rain is key at maintaining soil moisture, Romero-Heaney said. Because the soil was so dry last fall, she anticipates a lot of the melting snow will be soaked up and water runoff will be lower than normal.

This means stream flows will be lower, likely requiring release of water from Stagecoach Reservoir to support the health of the Yampa River later in the season. Romero-Heaney said more often then not, since 2013, they have needed to release water into the Yampa.

If enough of that spring and summer rain does not come, Romero-Heaney said the valley could see a summer much like the last, and “we start to run out of water for all the uses in the basin.”

Municipal customers running out of water is not a concern at this point. Whether there will be enough water for all the agricultural uses in the basin while also keeping the river healthy is in question though, Romero-Heaney said…

Despite lower snow totals, Andy Rossi, general manager at the Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District, said he anticipates they will be able to fill Stagecoach Reservoir this year. That said, Rossi is not expecting to be able to fill Yamcolo Reservoir, which is primarily used for agriculture…

In repeated dry years, it can be increasingly hard to fully recover a reservoir until that streak ends, and there is a wetter year. In these dry years, potentially this summer, it can become difficult to meet the need of all the agricultural water diversions, Rossi said.

Two-year review of Watson Lake fish ladder indicates it has been a success — @COParksWildlife

Watson Lake fish ladder. Photo credit: Colorado Parks & Wildlife

Here’s the release from Colorado Parks & Wildlife (Jason Clay):

Colorado Parks and Wildlife monitoring efforts of the fish ladder installed on the Cache la Poudre River at the Watson Lake State Wildlife Area two years ago shows it has been a success across several fronts.

The fishway was designed to allow passage around a diversion structure in the river for multiple species of fish. This project is a realization of a partnership formed between private and public entities.

“Overall, we are happy with the project and have documented fish moving upstream and downstream in the structure,” said CPW Aquatic Biologist Kyle Battige. “The fish ladder has improved conditions on the river and reconnected over two miles of river habitat by providing upstream movement opportunities for fish that had not existed at the Watson Lake Diversion Structure location since it was built in the 1960s.”

Watch trout swim in the fish ladder and hear more from aquatic biologist Kyle Battige

Two separate Passive Integrated Transponder (PIT) tagging efforts helped CPW in monitoring fish movement up and down the river after the ladder was installed. CPW tagged 71 fish on April 26, 2019 that were released in the downstream half of the fishway for initial evaluation. Researchers with Colorado State University also tagged fish downstream of the fishway as a part of a larger movement study on April 4, 2019.

Data from the PIT tags documented successful upstream and downstream movement with 41 of the 71 CPW tagged fish utilizing the ladder and 36 of those fish successfully ascending the entire structure. The other five fish were recorded on one of the other two operational antennas within the structure, but not at the top antenna. Our detection data indicates that 51 percent of fish tagged by CPW successfully ascended the entire structure.

Additionally, eight brown trout tagged by CSU and released 50 meters or further downstream have been documented using the fishway.

“Documenting 51 percent of the CPW-tagged fish along with CSU- tagged fish utilizing the structure over the course of several months is exciting,” Battige said. “The fish ladder is performing as designed and is allowing fish to move freely up and downstream through the reach as they want. Further evaluation is warranted to investigate movement success across a broader size range within each fish species, but to date we have documented adult fish successfully navigating the fishway”

Of the three species of fish tagged – longnose sucker, brown trout and rainbow trout – at least one individual across all tagged species has successfully navigated the fishway.

Other areas monitored that indicate a successful project are measured water velocities in the fishway, discharge measurements in the fishway and water delivery to the hatchery. In addition, the cone screen constructed above the fish ladder where water gets delivered to the hatchery prevented fish entrainment by screening water delivered to the hatchery and that has not clogged during the fall leaf seasons, decreasing CPW staff time spent cleaning old inlet infrastructure. The cone screen is powered by a solar panel and has been an overall benefit to hatchery operations while not impacting water delivery.

In order to satisfy measurement of Northern Water’s potential future augmentation flows from Glade Reservoir, the fishway was designed to carry up to 30 cubic feet per second (cfs) before spilling over the dam. Based on CPW measurements since construction was completed in the spring of 2019, the fishway more than meets that criteria, with its overall capacity being closer to 50 cfs.

Morning Fresh Dairy, one of the project partners, is also utilizing the structure to measure future water flows.

There was a seamless collaboration between public and private entities who came together on the project to improve the river and its habitat. Along with CPW and Morning Fresh Dairy, noosa yoghurt, Northern Water and Poudre Heritage Alliance all were key partners in the project.

Learning lessons gleaned from this project that can be applied to help future ladder designs include careful consideration of tradeoffs between flow measurement and fish passage along with minor design tweaks to optimize water velocities in fish ladders.

Grant advances stalled plans for 280-foot-high dam on the #LittleSnakeRiver — WyoFile.com #ColoradoRiver #COriver #GreenRiver #YampaRiver #aridification

Little Snake River watershed S. of Rawlins, Wyoming via the Wyoming Water Development Office.

From WyoFile.com (Angus M. Thuermer Jr.):

Wyoming’s efforts to build a 280-foot-high dam above the Little Snake River near the border of Colorado are “picking … back up,” after backers received a $1.2 million federal grant, the director of the Wyoming Water Development Commission said last week.

The funds, to be matched by Wyoming, will help consultants prepare federal environmental reviews. Planned for the West Fork of Battle Creek in Carbon County, the estimated $82 million dam and 10,000-acre-foot reservoir would be constructed in the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest.

The Little Snake River as it passes under Wyoming Highway 70 near Dixon. Photo credit: Wikimedia

The dam on the tributary of the Little Snake River would serve 67 to 100 irrigators by providing late-season water. Irrigators are unable to finance the project, so 91% of the costs would be borne by Wyoming, a formula backers say is justified because the structure would produce $73.7 million in public benefits.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resource Conservation Service in 2019 approved a $1.25 million grant to the Savery-Little Snake River Water Conservancy District and the neighboring Colorado Pothook Water Conservancy District to boost the project, according to federal records. The grant requires a matching contribution.

“It became a little bit dormant for a while,” Water Development Office Director Brandon Gebhart told members of the state water commission Thursday as he described the project. The grant will help consultants decide whether to pursue a land exchange with the U.S. Forest Service or try to construct and operate the facility through permits.

Previously rebuffed

The project faced scrutiny and criticism in the Legislature in 2018 when backers sought $40 million in construction funds. Lawmakers appropriated only $4.7 million, requiring none of the money be spent until two conditions were met.

One was securing “additional funding commitments from project beneficiaries in both Wyoming and Colorado on a pro-rata basis.” The second string the legislature attached required legislative approval before any of the 2018 appropriation be spent…

In addition to the $4.7 million 2018 appropriation, the West Fork account had some $6 million already appropriated in 2013, for a total of $10.9 million. The earlier appropriation did not include requirements for cost sharing with Colorado or for further legislative approval…

Lawmakers became wary of the dam project because of its cost, its location and the small number of Wyoming irrigators it would serve. Critics said it would only irrigate an additional 2,000 acres or so…

A Feb. 24 memo to commission members described Wyoming’s historic engagement with Colorado officials but with a contemporary revision. “All entities expressed support for additional storage in the Little Snake/Yampa River drainages and support for the West Fork project,” the memo reads.

But that statement mischaracterizes Colorado’s position, said Cody Perry, vice president of Friends of the Yampa. The Little Snake River flows along the Wyoming/Colorado border and into the Yampa, a tributary of the Green River.

Wyoming tried to get the Yampa-White-Green Basin Roundtable to endorse the project in 2018. But that group would not sign a proposed letter backing the dam and reservoir.

Instead, the Roundtable said it would need to see the dam proposal “in a final format, after [National Environmental Policy Act analysis] has been completed.”

“The [Roundtable] membership would like to be clear that this is not support of the reservoir itself, only the process of the exploration…” the Colorado group’s letter stated.

Three members of the Colorado roundtable said the group’s position has not changed since 2018…

The Water Development Commission last week extended a planning contract for the project through the end of 2022. It had been set to expire June 30, 2021.

Yampa River Basin via Wikimedia.

#OgallalaAquifer Depletion: Situation to Manage, Not a Problem to Solve — No-Till Farmer

Center pivot sprinklers in the Arikaree River basin to irrigate corn. Each sprinkler is supplied by deep wells drilled into the High Plains (Ogallala) aquifer.

Here’s a guest column from Kay Ledbetter, Texas A&M that’s running in No-Till Farmer:

The Ogallala Aquifer’s future requires not just adapting to declining water levels, but the involvement of a wide range of participants comfortable with innovation who will help manage the situation and drive future changes.

That was the message heard by more than 200 participants from across eight states who listened in and identified key steps in working together during the recent two-day Virtual Ogallala Aquifer Summit. The event was led by the U.S. Department of Agriculture-funded Ogallala Water Coordinated Agriculture Project, CAP, which includes Texas A&M AgriLife.

The group partners with the Kansas Water Office and USDA’s Agriculture Research Service-supported Ogallala Aquifer Program to coordinate this event with additional support from other individuals from all eight states overlying the Ogallala Aquifer.

“Technological innovation, financial and economic conditions, infrastructure changes, social values – all these factors drive change,” said John Tracy, Ph.D., director of the Texas Water Resources Institute, which is a partnering agency in the Ogallala Aquifer Program.

Often people feel the need to solve the issue of declining groundwater across many parts of the aquifer, when in fact, what is needed is to look at how we manage change, Tracy said. Adaptive management is about driving the change — realizing it is coming and trying to affect what is happening rather than just responding.

“So, large regions of the Ogallala are going to run out of water, particularly in the Southern High Plains – how are we going to embrace that and not just respond to the change?” he said. “Two important factors: first, this summit; have productive and transparent dialogue to move forward.

“The second thing we need to embrace is rethinking how we approach the changes happening in the Ogallala — this is not a problem to be solved; this is a situation to be managed. We must move into the mindset of changing programs in order to get out in front of the situation. One of the most important activities is looking forward to how we drive this conversation and turn talk into action through consensus building that is the product of shared dialogue amongst all of us.”

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

Meeting of the Minds

An inaugural eight-state summit, led by the Ogallala Water CAP and Kansas Water Office in 2018 focused on what actions were happening or could happen in terms of field management, science and, to some extent, policy.

After the 2018 summit, participants across the eight states helped lead the integration and merging of technology, the expansion of the Master Irrigator program into more states, as well as the development of new policies and incentives to support more conservation and other collaborative efforts. These efforts are helping develop a broader understanding of actions needed to address the region’s critical water issues.

The 2021 summit was intentionally framed to engage a broader community of actors.

Joining the conversation were representatives of energy co-ops, lenders, producers, federal agencies in each state, youth, non-profits, policymakers, commodity groups, tech and irrigation equipment dealers and multinational companies. Participants identified other groups, including absentee landowners and tribal representatives, that should be invited and engaged as a focus area of the conversation at a future summit event.

Key messages that surfaced from the two days of conversations were:

– Change is imperative to be sustainable. You must be adaptive, not reactive. Transition takes time.

– Learn from each other using inter-regional, interstate and peer-to-peer planning.

– Be willing to experiment with new ideas.

– The power of data drives good policy and real-time decision making for producers and helps break down silos.

– Water is a basic critical infrastructure; we need enough water to support our rural economy, but all industries are dependent on water and it affects the overall economy.

– Producers carry the brunt of what we talk about financially, and keeping them profitable as long as possible must be a priority.

– Engage and invest in youth. Invite them to join and foster conversations that instill a conservation mindset not just among their peers but with a wide range of stakeholders.

Changing the Mindset

The path forward begins with creating interest and providing education to the next generation of both producers and water conservation leaders. Fostering the transfer of knowledge between generations and developing leadership skills to position youth to step into groundwater district and other community leadership roles will be key.

David Smith, 4-H2O program coordinator with the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service, Bryan-College Station, described how the Texas 4-H Water Ambassadors program is creating water stewardship leaders.

The program provides an opportunity for youth to gain insight into water law, policy, planning and management, and potential career paths as they interact with representatives from state water agencies, educators, researchers, policymakers and water resource managers.

But education must also take place in the fields. It must provide an organized pathway where producers can find actions and dedicate the time needed to make a difference. Producer-to-producer learning approaches in partnership with university and industry, such as the Nebraska and Oklahoma Testing Ag Performance Solutions program, have been particularly effective.

Brent Auvermann, Ph.D., summit program chair and Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center director, Amarillo, said the adoption of technology can’t be taken for granted. Looking ahead, tech development and research must grapple with the human dimension of technology adoption.

“Technology will race ahead, but it will stay on the shelf until and unless we devise new ways to foster its adoption,” Auvermann said. “Using even a little bit more water than needed is a form of crop insurance and asking producers to rely on new technology to cut back on that water use increases the risk that they, their insurers and their lenders perceive.”

C.E. Williams, Panhandle Groundwater Conservation District general manager, White Deer, said when producers think about growing a crop, their concern shouldn’t be about bushels per acre — water is the limiting factor. They need to understand and invest in the technology that will ensure they are putting every drop in the right place.

“All the inputs you put in are important, but the bottom line is water,” Williams said. “Why did we use it? It is like money. You spend it; it is gone. What was your bottom line per water use? Rather than thinking of production in terms of bushels per acre, we should be thinking in terms of how many bushels per acre-inch or acre-foot of water used.”

Every drop saved adds up

We need to find a way to provide access to broad audience about the actions of many successful innovators who are having success with different precision management technologies and strategies, said Chuck West, Thornton Distinguished Chair in the Texas Tech University Department of Plant and Soil Science, Lubbock.

“There are a lot of little decisions that people can make all along the way that add up to considerable water savings,” West said.

Katie Ingels, director of communications with the Kansas Water Office, said several some of their Water Tech Farm producers are seeing the advantages of tech adoption, where a combination of slight adjustments in practice or integrating a new tool or strategy and related decisions each contribute some savings of money, time or water.

“There’s a mindset out there among some growers that they can’t make a tremendous difference because they are a smaller operation with only a few wells,” said panelist Cory Gilbert, founder of On Target Ag Solutions. “Every single system that adds to the acre-foot savings turns into a very big number very quickly in terms of conservation.”

Panelist Matt Long, producer and seed supplier, Leoti, Kansas, said water conservation is a quality of life issue.

“If you look at the communities you can see which ones are vibrant and they are the ones with a stable water supply that can support industry beyond cropping,” Long said. “Conserving water isn’t just about there being water for the future; it’s about having a community for the future. We have to have enough water to keep the people to keep the community.”

But at the same time, Auvermann said, communities need to be mindful of their water use.

“We city folks need to look no further than our front lawns to see why we’re in the pickle we’re in,” Auvermann said. “We run water down the curb to make sure our home’s appearance doesn’t suffer. Water is insurance for all of us.”

Building a Path Forward

Amy Kremen, Ogallala Water CAP project manager, Department of Soil and Crop Sciences at Colorado State University, said a continuing theme throughout the meeting was, “With limited water in the High Plains, the question is less about production that needs to feed the world’s population of 8 billion, it’s about keeping rural communities vital. We need to give people more flexible options that allow them to make decisions related to water use that are to their economic best advantage.”

Quality of life in these smaller communities, whether they are in Kansas or Texas or any of the states the Ogallala Aquifer supports, is what is important.

“We don’t want to dry up that life,” Kremen said. “We are all in this together. And together, we will come up with solutions better than any of us individually.”

Decisions must center on making conservation economical for agriculture producers, both short-term and with long-term sustainability, providing not only for the next generations on the farm, but for the sustainability of the local communities they support.

“We need to be willing to have uncomfortable conversations,” Auvermann said. “We need to talk candidly and be willing to entertain new, unfamiliar ideas. Sometimes we’ll make mistakes, but it’s not as though we’ve not been making them up to this point. Fear of making mistakes keeps us from innovating. Our dialogue has to be generous, congenial and optimistic to overcome that. We have to be trustworthy ourselves, and we have to be willing to trust.”

People are hungry to have these conversations, said Meagan Schipanski, Ph.D., associate professor, Department of Soil and Crop Sciences at Colorado State University and Ogallala Water CAP codirector.

“We need to have them happen in public, mini-summits or regional conversations,” Schipanski said. “We need to take on a stewardship that meets producer and community needs.”

Forest Service approves test drilling for Whitney Reservoir site — @AspenJournalism #EagleRiver

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 Aspen Journalism (Heather Sackett):

OK is first step toward dam and reservoir on Homestake Creek

The U.S. Forest Service on Monday approved an application from the cities of Aurora and Colorado Springs for geotechnical drilling in the Homestake Valley, one of the first steps toward building a new dam and reservoir on Homestake Creek.

The approval allows the cities, operating together as Homestake Partners, to drill 10 bore samples up to 150 feet deep and for crews on the ground to collect geophysical data. The goal of the work, which is expected to begin in late summer and last 50 to 60 days, is a “fatal flaw” feasibility study to determine whether the soil and bedrock could support a dam and reservoir.

The project, known as Whitney Reservoir, would be located near the Holy Cross Wilderness Area, which is six miles south of Red Cliff. Various configurations of the project show it holding between 6,850 and 20,000 acre-feet of water. The area is home to a rare kind of groundwater-fed wetland with peat soils known as a fen.

Eagle-Holy Cross District Ranger Leanne Veldhuis approved the project despite receiving a total of 775 comments on the drilling proposal during the scoping period. According to the public scoping comment summary, the most common topics commenters had concerns about included the potential loss of wilderness, the destruction of fens and wetlands, impacts to water quality and disturbance to wildlife.

But just 80 letters — about 10% — were individual comments that the Forest Service considered substantive and specific to the geotechnical investigation. Most comments were form-letter templates from organizations such as Carbondale-based conservation group Wilderness Workshop or pertained to concerns about the Whitney Reservoir project as a whole, not the geotechnical drilling.

“A lot of the public comments were pertaining to a reservoir, and the proposal is not for a reservoir; it’s for just those 10 geotechnical bore holes,” Veldhuis said.

Many commenters also said the level of analysis under the National Environmental Policy Act wasn’t appropriate and questioned why the proposal was granted a categorical exclusion, rather than undergoing the more rigorous Environmental Analysis typical of big projects on Forest Service land. Veldhuis said the geotechnical investigation, a common occurrence on public lands, didn’t rise to the level of an EA; that could come later with any reservoir proposal.

“If the future holds any additional sort of proposal, then that would trigger a brand-new analysis with additional rounds of public comments,” she said. “Any future proposals for anything more would undergo an even bigger environmental analysis than this underwent.”

Homestake Creek flows from Homestake Reservoir near Red Cliff. Starting Wednesday, Homestake Partners will be releasing water out of the reservoir to make sure that water can get to the state line as another option to fulfill the state’s upstream duties of delivering water to the lower basin states (Arizona, California and Nevada). Photo credit: Bethany Blitz/Aspen Journalism

Whitney Reservoir

The proposed Whitney Reservoir would pump water from lower Homestake Creek back to Homestake Reservoir, about five miles upstream. Then it would go through a tunnel under the Continental Divide to Turquoise Reservoir, near Leadville, and then to the cities of Aurora and Colorado Springs. The idea of expanding the intrastate plumbing system to take more water from the headwaters of the Colorado River over to thirsty and growing Front Range cities doesn’t sit well with many people and organizations.

Wilderness Workshop issued a news release saying it would oppose the reservoir project every step of the way. The organization also launched an online petition Monday to rally opposers, which had already garnered more than 200 signatures as of Monday evening.

“We would like to see the Forest Service change course,” said Juli Slivka, Wilderness Workshop’s conservation director. The decision was discouraging, she said, but Wilderness Workshop will continue pressuring the federal agency. “The idea of moving water from the Western Slope to the Front Range is not very appreciated out here.”

A map from Colorado Springs Utilities that shows how tunnels could bring water to Whitney Reservoir from Fall and Peterson creeks, and from the Eagle River. The map also shows the route of a pipeline to pump water from Whitney Reservoir to Homestake Reservoir.

Eagle River MOU

But Front Range municipalities are not the only ones set to benefit from a new water-storage project. The Eagle River Memorandum of Understanding lays out a plan for both Front Range and Western Slope entities to develop water in the upper Eagle River basin. The agreement, signed in 1998, provides 20,000 acre-feet of water a year to Homestake Partners and 10,000 acre-feet a year to the Colorado River Water Conservation District, the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District, Upper Eagle Regional Water Authority and Vail Resorts, known collectively in the MOU as the “Reservoir Company.”

The Reservoir Company is not an applicant in the drilling proposal and none of the Western Slope entities that are parties to the MOU submitted comments on the drilling proposal.

Diane Johnson, communications and public affairs manager for the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District, said the water provider supports Homestake Partners’ right to pursue an application for their water.

“We trust the permitting process to bring all impacts and benefits to light for the community to consider and weigh in total,” Johnson said in an email.

The Forest Service also determined that impacts to wetlands from the drilling are negligible. Homestake Partners plans to place temporary mats across wetland areas to protect vegetation and soils from the people and machinery crossing Homestake Creek. In a June letter, a representative from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said the work did not require a permit from that agency.

The Forest Service also conducted a biological assessment and found that the drilling would not impact endangered Canada lynx.

This story ran in the March 23 edition of The Vail Daily and The Aspen Times.

Aurora, #ColoradoSprings clear hurdle on Whitney Reservoir in Eagle County — The #Aurora Sentinel #EagleRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

From The Aurora Sentinel (Grand Stringer):

U.S. Forest Service District Ranger Leanne Veldhuis approved the cities’ plan Monday to drill into the high-alpine Homestake Valley and test whether the underlying geology could support a reservoir diverting water from the Colorado River to the growing municipalities.

It’s an early, key step in the effort to build the new reservoir, which would be called the Whitney Reservoir, in the National Forest about six miles southwest of the town of Red Cliff.

The cities have long held the water rights to build the new reservoir and divert the water, usually destined for the beleaguered Colorado River, to thirsty residents in Aurora and Colorado Springs.

With approval in tow, Aurora and Colorado Springs have the green light to test for several possible reservoir sites in the Homestake Valley.

Greg Baker, Aurora Water’s manager of public relations, told the Sentinel last year the reservoir could be built in about 25 years if the complicated approval process pans out. The new reservoir in the Homestake Valley could hold between 6,850 acre-feet and 20,000 acre-feet of water, according to the Forest Service…

Notably, the project requires environmental impact studies and possibly an act of Congress, according to Baker, to shave up to 500 acres from the popular Holy Cross Wilderness. However, he added that the plan is far from set in stone.

The plan has drawn scrutiny from conservation groups concerned about devastating the ancient wetland habitant that retains water — an increasingly scare commodity in the West. Various endangered fish species would be downriver from the dam.

The Colorado River itself has seen reduced flows in recent decades, in part because of human-induced climate change. Many environmentalists argue that as much water as possible should be left in the river, which multiple states and Mexico rely on…

Baker said in an email that the drilling study is “routine.”

“We value the collaborative process involved in exploring alternatives that minimize environmental impacts, are cost effective, can be permitted by local, state, and federal agencies, and which will meet the water requirements of the project partners,” he said.

As reported by Colorado Public Radio, the project has also run into early opposition from central Colorado and Western Slope communities.

Democratic state Sen. Kerry Donovan represents seven counties that include communities like Aspen and Crested Butte. In a letter opposing the project, Donovan wrote that, “she can’t express how sternly the people in her district dislike water diversion projects to the front range,” according to CPR.

From The Colorado Sun (Michael Booth and Jason Blevins):

The decision to let the Front Range water utilities move forward in taking more Western Slope water is only one of countless regulatory hurdles for a future Whitney Reservoir, but conservation groups say they are adamantly against any new water transfers to suburban water users across the Continental Divide and will oppose every approval step.

Colorado Headwaters, which opposes any new dams and water transfers, said it expected the approval but remains steadfast against any progress on the project. “We don’t think it will ever be built,” president Jerry Mallett said. “They haven’t done a transmountain diversion in 45 years. Water on the Colorado River is dropping from climate change. We don’t want to lose those natural resources.”

The decision from White River said the approval applies only to drilling 10 test bore holes the utilities applied for, and does not have bearing on any future decisions should the cities pursue the dam north of Camp Hale. The proposed reservoir would hold about 20,000 acre feet…

The cities partnered with Eagle County, the Colorado Water Conservation District, Vail Resorts and other Western Slope water users in 1998 in a deal that gave water rights to Eagle River communities and developed the 3,300 acre-foot Eagle Park Reservoir on the Climax Mine property.

The 1998 Eagle River Memorandum of Understanding included plans for possible reservoirs along Homestake Creek. The agreement — which brought together a diverse group of downstream users as “Homestake Partners” in the Eagle River Joint Use Water Project — also affirmed that no partner could object to a new reservoir plan if it met the memorandum’s agreement to “minimize environmental impacts” and could be permitted by local, state and federal agencies.

The proposed Whitney Reservoir project is not new and “represents our continued pursuit to develop water rights in existence for many years,” Colorado Springs Utilities spokeswoman Jennifer Kemp said.

Kemp said the cities have developed alternatives to building a new reservoir in the Homestake Creek drainage but those other options have not been proposed or discussed publicly. The results of the test boring and geotechnical work will help the two cities vet possible alternatives…

Environmental groups oppose new dams on Homestake in part because they would take water out of tributaries that feed the already-depleted Colorado River. But they are also focused on preserving complex wetlands called “fens” that develop over the long term and support diverse wildlife. They say fens cannot easily be recreated in any mitigation work that utilities traditionally include in dam proposals.

The headwaters group also questions why the Forest Service would encourage any steps when completion of a dam appears impossible. The utility proposals include shrinking the size of the Holy Cross Wilderness Area to create dam access, “which Congress will never approve,” Mallett said.

Storage and new #water sources to be proposed in #Aspen water plan — @AspenJournalism

The city of Aspen gets most of its potable water through this diversion on Castle Creek. Consultants for the city say both storage and new supplies should be part of Aspen’s water future. Photo credit: Heather Sackett/Aspen Journalism

From Aspen Journalism (Heather Sackett):

A consultant working for the city of Aspen is presenting both new sources and storage as part of its water future.

Denver-based Carollo Engineers is working on Aspen’s Water Integrated Resource Plan, which aims to predict and plan for water needs through 2070.

A main goal of the plan is figuring out how to address what they say are potential future water shortages, especially in late summer under hotter and drier conditions fueled by climate change. Carollo expects to submit a final IRP with recommendations and a plan to implement them in late spring or early summer.

Engineers define a shortage as the inability to meet all water uses — potable, irrigation, goals for instream flow (ISF), and hydropower generation — at the same time. ISF water rights are held by the state of Colorado and set a requirement for minimum flows between specific points on a stream. They are aimed at improving the natural environment to a reasonable degree. The ISF for the creeks that provide Aspen’s municipal water is 14 cubic feet per second on Maroon Creek and 13.3 cfs on Castle Creek.

The city’s consultants calculated future water demands using the variables of population, occupancy rates, climate change, water-use efficiency and unmetered water use. They claim that Aspen’s future water demand for the next 50 years, depending on these variables, could be between 4,900 and 9,300 acre-feet per year, according to a slide show presented at a public engagement meeting March 3.

Consultants say they are planning for the worst and, instead of hoping for the best, making the IRP flexible and adaptable. The factors that, according to the consultants, would contribute to Aspen having 9,300 acre-feet of water demand would include a 3.6 degree (Celsius) increase in temperature due to climate change and an annual population increase of 1.8% by 2070, according to John Rehring, senior project manager and vice president of Carollo Engineers.

This demand forecast already includes conservation measures and drought restrictions, which would decrease indoor use by 2% and outdoor use by 5% to 15% by 2070.

Rehring said that even under stage-three drought restrictions limiting water use, his firm’s projections show future supply gaps.

For the past several years, Aspen’s water demands have hovered between about 4,000 and 5,000 acre-feet per year. A 2016 study by Wilson Water concluded that Aspen did not need any storage, although drought years could cause the creeks to dip below the ISF standard without more water conservation.

Aspen Utilities Director Tyler Christoff stands with an ice-breaking machine at the city’s Castle Creek diversion. With the help of a consultant, the city is exploring other sources of water in addition to Castle and Maroon creeks. CREDIT: HEATHER SACKETT/ASPEN JOURNALISM

Looking for storage locations

In this month’s earlier public meeting, consultants presented six different portfolios for meeting a potential projected shortage. Five of the six — all except the current status quo — included storage as a component.

The city has identified five potential reservoir sites: the city golf course; the Maroon Creek Club golf course; Cozy Point open space; the Woody Creek gravel pit; and a 63-acre parcel of land next to the gravel pit. Officials believe water could be stored underground at some of these sites.

A map included in the presentation with city officials and Carollo representatives on March 3 included three new possible sites: the Aspen airport, Zoline Open Space and North Star Nature Preserve.

But Aspen Utilities Resource Manager Steve Hunter said it’s highly unlikely the city would pursue water storage at these locations. Hunter said they were included on the map because the consultant used a geographic information system (GIS) mapping tool to pick out large tracts of city-owned land that would be big enough to store water.

“The three are low if not off the list,” he said. “I don’t see the city pursuing any of these three.”

According to Hunter, Zoline is probably too small and the airport too fraught with logistical challenges. North Star is valued for its natural beauty and important riparian habitat, and building city water infrastructure there is something Hunter said won’t happen.

“I don’t ever see it happening in my lifetime due to the pushback they would get,” Hunter said. “I’m almost 100% confident that is not going to fly.”

The pushback to which Hunter is referring would be of the same sort Aspen faced when it attempted to hang onto conditional water rights to build dams and reservoirs in the Castle and Maroon valleys. The Maroon Creek Reservoir would have held 4,567 acre-feet of water and the Castle Creek Reservoir would have held 9,062 acre-feet of water.

After a lengthy water court battle in which 10 entities opposed the city’s plans, the city gave up its water rights, which date to 1965, in those particular locations. The final water court decree in the case granted Aspen the right to store up to 8,500 acre-feet from Castle and Maroon creeks combined.

Now that the Castle and Maroon valleys are out of the question, part of the IRP process is figuring out where the city should store the water granted by those conditional water rights.

Consultants are proposing two different storage pools: seasonal/operational and emergency.

The seasonal/operational pool would be used as a traditional reservoir to retime flows by capturing spring runoff and saving it for use later in the summer, when creek flows have dwindled but demands — especially outdoor watering — are still high.

Emergency storage would be left untouched most years and only tapped if there was a disaster such as a wildfire or a flood that made the city’s water sources temporarily unusable. The two pools could be combined in the same reservoir or stored in two different locations.

Aspen Utilities Resource Manager Steve Hunter, left, and Aspen Utilities Director Tyler Christoff stand in the building that houses the infrastructure for the city’s Castle Creek water diversion. A consultant working on the city’s “integrated resource plan” will be recommending that storage and new sources be part of Aspen’s water future. CREDIT: HEATHER SACKETT/ASPEN JOURNALISM

Diversified supply of water encouraged

Consultants are also working toward a recommendation that the city develop additional sources of water in order to protect supply.

The city takes nearly all its water from Castle Creek and some from Maroon Creek, which consultants say makes Aspen vulnerable to drought, wildfire or avalanches. In addition to storage, the portfolio options included combinations of new sources from groundwater wells, tapping the flows of Hunter Creek, reuse of wastewater and enhanced conservation measures.

“We see strength in diversity, when we diversify the supply sources,” Rehring said.

Each of the six portfolios were ranked based on six criteria: supply availability; supply resilience; community and environmental benefits; affordability; ease of implementation; and ease of operations. (Supply availability is the most important of these.) Portfolio 6 — which includes storage, groundwater wells, enhanced conservation and reuse, in addition to current supplies from Castle and Maroon creeks — scored the highest.

The portfolios did not include an “everything but storage” option; storage was a part of all the portfolios except for the “do nothing” option. Rehring said storage is an effective way of helping the city use its current sources of Castle and Maroon creeks and avoid or defer bringing another water source online as quickly.

Hunter said he sees conservation, wells and reuse leading the charge on the front end, but he adds that the city will also use storage.

“Yes, storage will be a component,” he said. “It’s a phased approach — we don’t need to go out and put in … a 2,500 acre-foot reservoir and fill it up tomorrow.”

Aspen’s Leonard Thomas Reservoir, which feeds the city’s treatment plant, holds about 10 acre-feet of water. The city is exploring other locations where it could store water as part of the development of a water integrated resource plan. CREDIT: HEATHER SACKETT/ASPEN JOURNALISM

Stakeholder input

In addition to holding three public-engagement sessions on the IRP, the city also formed a technical working group — with representatives from Pitkin County, the Bureau of Reclamation, Western Resource Advocates, Aspen Global Change Institute, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, and other entities — to provide input.

Laura Belanger, a senior water-resources engineer and policy adviser with Western Resource Advocates and a member of the technical working group, said the city is doing a good job getting input from stakeholders, including those who have been opposed to some of Aspen’s water plans in the past. WRA was one of the 10 opposing parties in the city’s conditional water-rights case.

Belanger said it’s encouraging that the city is considering enhanced conservation and reuse as part of the IRP.

“I think we actually like the way the city is approaching this,” Belanger said.

Aspen Journalism covers rivers and water in collaboration with The Aspen Times. This story ran in the March 20 edition of The Aspen Times.

A #ColoradoRiver Showdown Is Looming. Let The Posturing Begin — KUNC #COriver #aridification #DCP #LakePowellPipeline

Horseshoe Bend.

From KUNC (Luke Runyon and Lexi Perry):

A showdown is looming on the Colorado River. The river’s existing management guidelines are set to expire in 2026. The states that draw water from it are about to undertake a new round of negotiations over the river’s future, while it’s facing worsening dry conditions due in part to rising temperatures.

That means everyone with an interest in the river’s future — tribes, environmentalists, developers, business groups, recreation advocates — is hoping a new round of talks will bring certainty to existing water supplies and demands.

The table at which those deals will be hammered out is beginning to take shape. The federal government, mostly in the form of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, and the seven basin states hold the greatest power in determining what will be up for debate, what will be left out, and whose voices are listened to.

To prepare for the talks, and to coalesce around a set of priorities, leaders in the individual states are attempting to settle their internal issues before coming to that broader negotiating table. We reached out to leaders in three of those states to learn how they’re preparing:

Sand Hollow Reservoir proposed terminal storage for the Lake Powell Pipeline. Photo credit: Utah Department of Natural Resources

Utah

In Utah, all eyes are pointing toward the state’s southwest corner. That’s where the proposed Lake Powell pipeline would transport water from the Colorado River’s second largest reservoir and deposit it near the fast-growing communities of Washington County.

The proposed pipeline is shaping up to be an important bargaining chip in the state’s overall Colorado River negotiation strategy.

Utah’s pursuit of the project has also led the six other states in the watershed — Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico, Nevada, California and Arizona — to raise serious concerns…

Central Arizona Project Mark Wilmer Pumping Plant. By No machine-readable author provided. Kjkolb assumed (based on copyright claims). – No machine-readable source provided. Own work assumed (based on copyright claims)., CC BY 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=830400

Arizona

In Arizona, water from the Colorado River enters the Central Arizona Project (CAP) canal, and becomes a ribbon of blue that winds through miles of arid desert to reach the cities of Phoenix and Tucson, where it supplies homes, gardens, businesses, agriculture and golf courses.

Under the 2019 Drought Contingency Plan, Arizona is already taking cuts to its CAP supply. If current projections hold, those cuts will increase nearly three-fold next year, said Ted Cooke, the project’s general manager.

“So 512,000 acre-feet coming out of the CAP supply is about a third — 30% to a third. That’s a lot,” Cooke said.

Arizona could lose a lot more water if the levels in Lake Mead keep dropping. The state’s junior rights mean its Colorado River supply is more vulnerable than others. With drought plans in place now, Arizona is getting good practice at reining in its uses and finding flexibility as supplies shrink, he said…

Colorado River “Beginnings”. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

Colorado

The Colorado River starts as a modest-sized stream high up in Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park. As the river flows through the Southwest, it picks up enough water from its tributaries to supply 40 million people across the seven basin states and Mexico.

About 70% of the river’s flow comes from Colorado’s Western Slope. That fact alone leads water officials in the state to feel protective of the river, said Colorado Water Conservation Board director Becky Mitchell. She also sits on the Upper Colorado River Commission.

“First and foremost, I think it’s important, as Colorado’s commissioner, that we’re looking at protecting our legal entitlement on the Colorado River and protecting our state’s waters for those who depend on it,” Mitchell said.

Leading up to this new round of negotiations, Upper Basin leaders, like Mitchell, have been under pressure to consider implementing what’s referred to as a “demand cap.” In theory, it could be one half of a “Grand Bargain,” a concept that’s been in the Colorado River management ether for years.

Water demands on the river in Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico have been flat since the late 1980s. Putting a hard limit on future uses would give water planners throughout the entire basin more certainty, and could appease downstream users from ever issuing a dreaded Compact Call on the river. But Mitchell said that much buzzed-about concept is a non-starter.

#Aurora and #ColoradoSprings Want More #Water. The Proposed Solution — A New Reservoir — Would Have Far-Reaching Impacts — #Colorado Public Radio

This map shows the location of test holes Homestake Partners plans to drill as part of its geotechnical investigation into the feasibility of a dam site in the Homestake Creek valley. The Forest Service has received more than 500 comments, most of them in opposition to, the drilling and the overall reservoir project. Credit: USFS via Aspen Journalism

From Colorado Public Radio (Michael Elizabeth Sakas):

Aurora and Colorado Springs want to bring more of that water to their growing cities, which are the state’s largest after Denver. To do that, they want to dam up Whitney Creek in Eagle County south of Minturn and create a reservoir that could supply water for thousands of new homes…

There are a few different spots along the creek that could be the home to the proposed Whitney Reservoir. The largest of the potential sites would hold about 20,000 acre-feet of water…

Tension between protecting wetlands and securing more water for growing cities

[Jerry] Mallett’s group works to restore and protect areas like this one — a wetland with fox and moose tracks in the snow.

Mallett has fought Aurora and Colorado Springs before. After these cities teamed up and built Homestake Reservoir in the 1960s, they tried to build the reservoir Homestake II. That project was shut down in the 1990s.

“We’re not saying you shouldn’t grow or that you’ve got to control the population, that’s your issue,” Mallett said. “Ours is protecting the natural resources for other values.”

Aurora and Colorado Springs are working together because they have the same problem: Planners don’t think they have enough water where they are to support the cities’ expected growth. If the cities get their way and dam up Homestake Creek, it would reduce the amount of water that ends up in the Colorado River — which the Front Range and some 40 million people have come to rely on over the decades…

That’s changed, Mallett said. West Slope communities now see water as a crucial part of keeping their economies alive and now fight for it to stay. Democratic state Sen. Kerry Donovan represents seven counties that include communities like Aspen and Crested Butte. In a letter opposing the project, Donovan wrote that, “she can’t express how sternly the people in her district dislike water diversion projects to the front range.

“West Slope is not in a position I think today where they’re going to roll over and say, ‘Fine, we’ll lose that water,’” Mallett said. “I think they’ve got the political clout now, it’s a new game.”

If Colorado Springs and Aurora secure permits to build the Whitney Reservoir, it would be the first major trans-mountain water diversion project in decades…

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

Environmentalists are concerned about losing these wetlands, which are threatened by climate change. Delia Malone, an ecologist and wildlife chair of the Colorado Chapter of the Sierra Club, said most animals rely on wetlands…

Malone said the proposed reservoir locations could include areas that are home to fens, a type of wetland that is rare in the arid West and supports plant biodiversity. Fens have layers of peat, require thousands of years to develop and are replenished by groundwater. Fens also trap environmental carbon, improve water quality and store water…

Colorado and other states are obligated to send a certain amount of water downstream to states like California because of a century-old agreement. As the Colorado River dries with climate change, and more demand is put on the river, Udall said there’s higher risk for what’s called a “compact call,” a provision that gives downstream states like California authority to demand water from upstream states like Colorado for not sending enough water down the Colorado River.

If that happens, Udall said newer Colorado water projects — including the proposed Whitney Reservoir — could have to cut their usage to make sure enough water is sent downstream.

[Brad] Udall said the best available science is needed to answer the question: Is this water better left in the river or sent to Aurora and Colorado Springs?

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

“The science really does need to be heard here,” Udall said. “It’s somewhat disturbing and is very different from the science that we used in the 20th century to assess the value and benefits of these kinds of projects.”

Officials in Colorado Springs and Aurora declined CPR News’ interview requests.

Before the cities can move towards building the reservoir, the U.S. Forest Service has to sign off on structural testing and surveying which requires drilling test holes in the wetlands. A decision is expected later this month on that permit, which has received more than 500 public comments, with most arguing against the drilling and the project as a whole.

Underrecognized and underserved communities in #Colorado #water planning — @WaterEdCO

Selection of the 2015 native heirloom maize harvest of the seed library of The Acequia Institute in Viejo San Acacio, CO
Photo by Devon G. Peña

From the Water Education Colorado Blog (Willow Cozzens, Samantha Grant, Amelia Nill, and Andrew Primo):

This is the second blog post in a series on diversity, equity and inclusion in Colorado agricultural water planning. Find the first post here.

As discussed in our previous post, Colorado has an exciting opportunity to create a truly sustainable future for residents by making its water plan update process more inclusive. There are at least three groups that have been historically excluded from Colorado statewide agricultural water planning: the Colorado Ute tribes, those who operate under acequia management systems, and urban agriculture producers. While these groups have been included at an interstate level and at the local level through the Basin Roundtables, intrastate coordination and statewide inclusion of these folks is in need of improvement.

The 2015 Colorado Water Plan (CWP) acknowledges federally recognized tribes within Colorado and their federally reserved water rights, these important topics are only covered at a high level without in-depth examination of more local nuances. Additionally, the term acequia is mentioned only once in the entire 2015 CWP, in a footnote of a farmer profile.

Colorado should thoughtfully integrate more explicit inclusion for these groups not only in the Colorado Water Plan 2022 update, but also within the Interbasin Compact Committee, the Colorado Water Congress, and the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB). The CWCB has made efforts to initiate more inclusion in the CWP update process through the newly announced Equity Committee. This Committee will constitute two representatives from each of the nine river basins, plus one representative from each of the two Colorado Ute tribes. The true purposes and outcomes from this committee, however, remain to be seen. To create a more thoughtful and equitable Colorado water planning process, the equity committee must focus on creating robust measures for water justice in each element of the Colorado Water Plan Update.

This post will focus particularly on agricultural stakeholders who have been excluded from Colorado water planning. The following sections will provide background and discussion for the three groups identified. While these groups are related in that they were not adequately included in the 2015 CWP, each community is quite distinct. Both acequia water management systems and tribal water users have a rich history in Colorado that must not be ignored in planning discussions. Separately, urban agriculture, while not entirely novel, is a rapidly emerging practice in Colorado’s cities and may serve as an important tool not only to preserve agricultural viability but also to facilitate water stewardship and education. These three communities each have uniquely valuable and important perspectives on regional water issues in the state and should be given specific consideration in the planning process.

San Luis People’s Ditch March 17, 2018. Photo credit: Greg Hobbs

Acequias in Colorado

For communities in Colorado and northern New Mexico, an acequia is a physical system, an irrigation ditch, but it is also a deeply embedded philosophy of community and governance. The philosophy revolves around loyalty to the community and a common understanding that water is both a shared resource and a shared responsibility. This ideology has shaped relationships between humans and the environment for centuries in Colorado, creating a resilient natural and cultural system that supports families, communities, and the food system.

Acequia water management systems have been largely excluded in Colorado’s state water planning process, despite the fact that there are thousands of acres of acequias between Colorado’s Rio Grande and Arkansas River Basins. Among the Statewide Water Supply Initiatives, the 2015 Colorado Water Plan, the 2017 Technical Update, and the 2019 Ripple Effects Report, the word acequia is mentioned only once一in a footnote in the 2015 Plan. Acequias are briefly discussed in the 2015 Rio Grande Basin Implementation Plan, and they are not mentioned in the 2015 Arkansas Basin Implementation Plan.

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.

Acequia stakeholders are often absent from statewide planning process meetings and forums. The newly established Colorado Water Equity Task Force does not include any representation for acequia stakeholders. Excluding acequias from the Colorado water planning process shuns an entire population of Coloradans一primarily farmers of color一from statewide water planning and funding. Farmers and others who operate under acequia management must be recognized and included in the statewide planning process for the 2022 CWP update.

Colorado water planners may look to acequia management in New Mexico to model pathways for inclusion. Despite the similarities in culture and natural resource demands in the San Luis Valley, Colorado’s and New Mexico’s governance approaches to acequias are starkly different. Acequia recognition has been written into New Mexico law since the mid-19th century. Furthermore, throughout New Mexico’s statewide water plan, almost every time that agriculture or irrigation is discussed, so are acequias. For example, as mentioned above, the culture of shared scarcity that underlies acequias is crucial to farmers in times of drought. New Mexico’s Water Plan explicitly acknowledges this strength, illustrating that this type of water sharing should be encouraged to support holistic agricultural viability. Colorado water planning could benefit from a similar outlook on the resilience of acequias.

Though the 2009 Colorado Acequia Recognition Statute codified that acequias hold unique powers and rights under Colorado water law, the statute only allows acequias with written bylaws to have the special powers and unique rights recognized under Colorado law. This can be a barrier for acequia communities, as some producers may not have the means to hire a lawyer to draft legally acceptable bylaws. New Mexico’s Water Plan also discusses how the state supports acequia bylaw creation. Such programs are absent in Colorado, where acequia users rely on non-governmental organizations and academic institutions, such as the Getches-Wilkinson Center Acequia Assistance Project and the Sangre de Cristo Acequia Association, rather than on funds directly from the state.

Colorado water planners should consult with stakeholders within Colorado’s acequia communities on how to best include planning and funding for acequias in statewide water management. Historically, the relationship between acequia managers in the San Luis Valley and in the Arkansas Basin with the Colorado Water Conservation Board has not been the strongest. CWCB should be inclined to add another seat to the equity committee specifically for acequia representation to try to remedy this historic exclusion.

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

Colorado Ute Tribes

The Ute peoples are the oldest continuous inhabitants of the land now called Colorado. They have been intimately tied to the waters of the region for many centuries, long before incursion by European colonizers and settlers. However, beginning in the mid-19th century, the United States federal and Colorado state governments began systematically dispossessing the Ute people of their land and separating them from their sources of water.

By the end of the 19th century, the only three bands of Ute peoples remaining in the state had been relegated to its southwest corner, in what are now the Southern Ute Indian and Ute Mountain Ute reservations. Although the Ute people had been gradually pressured to adopt a settled agricultural lifestyle, they were removed to some of the least suitable lands for agriculture in the state.

Despite these setbacks, both tribes have fostered successful agricultural communities on their reservations; the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe’s Farm and Ranch Enterprise, for instance, has been repeatedly recognized at both state and national levels for its products.

Much has been done in the last 30 years to address some of the historical inequities created by the separation of the Colorado Ute Tribes from their ancestral lands and traditional water sources. The 1988 Colorado Ute Indian Water Rights Settlement Act and subsequent 2000 Amendments clarified and quantified the Tribes’ reserved rights and authorized a reduced Animas-La Plata Project as well as deliveries from McPhee Reservoir to provide a reliable source of water to the tribes. Both tribes are active members of the Southwest Basin Roundtable and are represented on the Colorado Water Equity Task Force, and the importance of Tribal reserved rights is addressed in the 2015 Water Plan.

Both tribes, however, still face significant supply and infrastructure challenges, as detailed in the 2018 Colorado River Basin Ten Tribes Partnership Tribal Water Study. Some of these infrastructure projects, such as the Pine River Indian Irrigation Project, are nominally maintained by the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs, although that agency’s budget and staffing challenges make adequate upkeep difficult.

As holders of federal reserved water rights, the Southern Ute Indian and the Ute Mountain Ute tribes are invaluable partners to the State of Colorado and the Southwest Basin in addressing water management challenges, particularly issues of interstate compact compliance. Much of the groundwork for this partnership has been laid in the Ten Tribes Partnership Study, which provides detailed data on the challenges faced by the Colorado Ute Tribes, as well as opportunities that working closely with the tribes can provide state and regional water planners. The study provides an excellent starting point for addressing the challenges faced by the tribes and highlights their importance in addressing the water challenges faced by the State and the region.

Given the challenges and opportunities posed by the tribes’ unique water rights and the long history of oppression and exclusion of Indigenous peoples by both the federal and state governments, particular considerations of equity and justice must be extended to the Colorado Ute Tribes in regards to water issues. This is particularly important because tribes’ vital cultural, spiritual, and ceremonial uses are often not adequately addressed in Western legal and economic structures.

Careful, intentional, and respectful consultation with the tribes一as well as inclusion in statewide deliberative water planning processes一is essential to developing a robust understanding of their needs, as well as the cultural significance and intended uses of water.

The dome greenhouse gleams in the Sun at the center of the park. To the right is a new restroom and on the far left is the Community Garden. Along the walk way is a small paved amphitheater like space for presentations and entertainment. Photo credit The Pagosa Springs Journal.

Urban Agriculture

Urban agriculture (UA) is most simply defined as “all forms of agricultural production occurring within or around cities.” In any given urban area, this may include quite a variety of operations and projects, including ground-based outdoor gardens and farms, indoor hydroponic or aquaponic growing, rooftop gardens and farms, landscaping and nurseries, urban livestock, and more. The sector is growing as cities become home to more UA-focused organizations, citizens get more creative with urban landscapes, and policies incentivize green infrastructure. Such programs or policies are often intended to promote public health, economic development, and enhance socio-ecological relationships.

Over time, UA has taken on a new form and meaning. With connections now to social justice and environmental sustainability, urban farming has taken root in countless large and small city centers across the nation, oftentimes appearing in the form of community gardens, rooftop gardens, and greenhouses. UA is not recognized in the Colorado Water Plan, or many other western state water plans, despite its growing popularity across the nation. UA offers a multitude of exciting opportunities to foster resilience within western water planning and our food systems.

Regardless of the form it takes, all UA operations require water. Water resources may be utilized on a wide spectrum of UA irrigation tactics一from traditional flood irrigation in peri-urban fields to precision application in a vertical farm. The increasing prevalence of UA operations in Colorado cities requires more attention from water planners, especially as food production technology advances and local food becomes more popular among citizens. The CWP update should not only provide support for both existing operations, but also recognize the potential water-efficient food production in the future of UA. This will be especially important as Colorado could see a shifting food system in the face of climate change and urbanization. The current trajectory of UA could provide a significant contribution to water resilience planning and food production for Colorado.

Though this growth may represent an exciting shift in the food system, it is crucial to recognize UA’s capacity for exacerbating environmental injustices. Often, initiatives led by non-residents may be detrimental to local communities. This is especially prevalent when mostly young, white non-residents have led initiatives in predominantly Black and/or Latinx neighborhoods, “unintentionally excluding people of color from participating in or reaping the benefits of such efforts.” Furthermore, residents of lower-income communities and/or people of color are more likely to experience difficulty accessing land, funding, and political support for UA projects than white and middle class individuals or organizations. Therefore, in order to avoid perpetuating injustice, UA implementation must be nuanced and place-based. A successful and anti-racist CWP update will recognize possible inequities and provide support for urban residents to facilitate UA projects within their own neighborhoods.

This overview intends to provide the background and ethics necessary to integrate the Colorado Ute Tribes, acequias, and urban agriculture considerations into the Colorado Water Plan update. In an effort to begin the process of elevating voices of underrepresented communities, this research team hosted a virtual listening session and working meeting for water planning professionals and UA stakeholders. This event was meant to serve as a platform for stakeholder and administrator collaboration with the goal of creating a more equitable and inclusive CWP update. Our next post will detail the process and results of this meeting.

Tumbling rock destroys bridge to Ouray Ice Park, pipeline to the country’s oldest running #hydroelectric power plant — The #Colorado Sun

Ari Schneider ice climbing in Ouray, Colorado. Julia McGonigle [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)]

From The Colorado Sun (Jason Blevins):

Rockfall destruction challenges green-power provider and the nonprofit, member-supported ice park as repair costs climb.

Workers arriving early at the Ouray Ice Park on Tuesday found a disaster.

A boulder the size of a pool table had sheared off the canyon wall and destroyed the metal walkway accessing the park’s popular ice climbs. And it ripped out the penstock that ferries water to the oldest operating hydropower plant in the U.S.

“Just water squirting everywhere and the access bridge, laying at the bottom of the canyon,” said Eric Jacobson, who owns the hydroelectric plant and pipeline that runs along the rim of the Uncompahgre River Gorge.

The rock tore through the penstock, its trestle and the decades-old steel walkway in the park’s popular Schoolroom area late Monday. There was no one in the gorge and no injuries.

When the overnight temperatures are cold enough in December, January and February, a team of ice farmers use as much as 200,000 gallons of water a night trickling from the penstock to create internationally renowned ice-climbing routes. More than 15,000 climbers flock to Ouray every winter to scale the 150-foot fangs of ice, supporting the city’s winter economy. And Jacobson generates about 4 million kilowatt hours a year from water flowing into his antiquated but updated Ouray Hydroelectric Power Plant. He sells the power to the San Miguel Power Association.

The plant generates about 5% of the association’s power needs, which has a robust collection of green power sources, including several small hydropower plants and a solar array in Paradox.

Water released from Lake Nighthorse will help San Juan Water Commission gather data — The #Farmington Daily Times #AnimasRiver #SanJuanRiver

Lake Nighthorse and Durango March 2016 photo via Greg Hobbs.

From The Farmington Daily Times (Hannah Grover):

A small crowd gathered to watch as Jim Dunlap pressed a control button. Moments later, the people inside the small building could hear the sound of water from Lake Nighthorse rushing through a pipe and out of the dam.

It was a simple move, but one that had been decades in the making for Dunlap. It was the first time water from the reservoir had been released into the Animas River at the request of the San Juan Water Commission.

While the Animas-La Plata Operations, Maintenance and Replacement Association has released water from the dam as part of maintenance operations and to ensure everything is properly functioning, this was the first time it had been released based on an official request.

Lake Nighthorse stores water for municipal use for the San Juan Water Commission as well as other water users, including Navajo Nation and the Southern Ute Indian Tribe and the Ute Mountain Tribe. Filling of the reservoir began in 2009, and there was a ribbon-cutting ceremony in 2018…

Drought management plans for the San Juan County Commission include using water stored in Lake Nighthorse, but little is known about what would happen to the water once it is released.

The commission hopes one day there will be a pipeline to transport the water from Colorado to New Mexico, but, until then, the water must be released into the Animas River. The March 15 release will help gather data that can be used in the future to predict how much water could be lost from the time it is released from Lake Nighthorse to the time it reaches pump stations for water users downstream.

Glenwood Springs planners propose #water and #sewer rate increases averaging 36.8% per user — The #GlenwoodSprings Post-Independent

New plating at the Glenwood Springs water intake on Grizzly Creek was installed by the city to protect the system’s valve controls and screen before next spring’s snowmelt scours the Grizzly Creek burn zone and potentially clogs the creek with debris. (Provided by the City of Glenwood Springs)

From The Glenwood Springs Post-Independent (Shannon Marvel):

Glenwood Springs city officials are proposing to raise water rates an average of 36.8% per user on July 1, then a 5% increase per year for the next nine years.

Public Works Director Matthew Langhorst said the plan to increase water rates over the next 10 years is necessary to generate $36 million for water and wastewater infrastructure upgrades.

Langhorst said proposed rate increases this year are 51% for water rates and 26% for sewer rates.

“We just need to catch back up in one lump sum here,” he added.

Langhorst said the city discovered the water and wastewater pipes to be in poor condition in 2019.

The city also needs to update the pipes to accommodate higher water usage needs resulting from changing environmental conditions and wildfire…

The city has not increased water or sewer rates since 2015.

Annual #RioGrande State of the Basin Symposium March 20, 2021

CLick here for all the inside skinny and to register:

Join this annual community conversation about our water, threats & opportunities! Engage & learn how you can help sustain the agriculture, environment & economy of the San Luis Valley. This virtual event is free & open to the public.

Phase I River Improvements Complete — City of #Montrose #UncompahgreRiver

Here’s the release from The City of Montrose:

The City of Montrose is pleased to announce that Phase I of the Uncompahgre River Improvements Project near North 9th Street is complete and open to the public. The project was completed under budget, ahead of schedule, and injury-free.

Construction of the Uncompahgre River Improvements Project started last fall and included the stabilization of riverbanks, restoration of a more natural stream system, improvement of aquatic and riparian habitats, and improvement of river access and fishing opportunities for the public. The project was made possible through a partnership with the Montrose Urban Renewal Authority and with the assistance of $784,000 in grants received from the Colorado Water Conservation Board and Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

“We are excited to bring this new recreational and fishing asset online for our residents,” City Engineer Scott Murphy said. “We feel that it will be a great complement to the recently-completed GOCO Connect Trail and it further expands our collection of great outdoor amenities right here in town.”

Uncompahgre River improvements via the City of Montrose.

The city would like to express a special thank you to the design and construction team Ecological Resource Consultants and Naranjo Civil Constructors for a job well done, Mayfly Outdoors for their 41-acre land donation within the project area, and to the volunteer river advisory committee who helped to guide the project through its planning phases.

The public is welcome to attend a virtual ribbon-cutting ceremony celebrating the project scheduled for Thursday, April 22, at 1 p.m. The live ceremony can be viewed online at the City of Montrose’s Facebook page.

Watch a video of the project:

Any questions regarding the project may be directed to City Engineer Scott Murphy at 970.901.1792.

#Colorado proposes a new paradigm for #YampaRiver — @AspenJournalism #GreenRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

An angler in the Yampa River in Steamboat Springs in early March 2020. Designating part of the Yampa River as over-appropriated would require some water users with wells to have an augmentation plan.
CREDIT: ALLEN BEST/ASPEN JOURNALISM

From Aspen Journalism (Allen Best):

Colorado water officials are considering whether to designate the increasingly stressed Yampa River from Steamboat Springs downstream to near its entrance into Dinosaur National Monument as over-appropriated.

If approved by the state water engineer, the designation would require augmentation plans for larger-volume wells along the river from Steamboat to Lilly Park, where the Little Snake River flows into the Yampa.

Augmentation plans document how the water used will be replaced to satisfy senior water rights. Such water is typically delivered from upstream reservoirs, both large and small.

The proposal comes amid growing evidence that the Yampa River can no longer deliver water to all users all the time as they wish. There have been two “calls” on the river in the past three years, limiting diversions of users with later — or junior — diversion decrees until those of older or more senior decrees are satisfied.

The changed hydrology of the river can best be understood at the gauging station along U.S. Highway 40 near Maybell. There, according to Division 6 Engineer Erin Light, annual flows a century ago of 1.5 million acre-feet annually have declined to 1.1 million acre-feet annually. The gauge during one year in the past decade recorded only 500,000 acre-feet.

Light is proposing the over-appropriation designation. When the comment period will begin and how long it will extend has not been determined.

“An existing water right is not going to be injured by this over-appropriation designation,” Light said on a video conference meeting Monday evening with more than 100 viewers. “They would be protected.”

Colorado law considers all groundwater to be tributary to the stream system unless proven otherwise. As Light recently explained to the Yampa/White/Green Basin Roundtable, when a stream system is over-appropriated, drawing water from a well can deplete the stream during times when the water in the stream is insufficient to satisfy all decreed water rights.

The Yampa River famously long had sufficient flows such that it lacked the close supervision of many of the state’s rivers, including all of those on the east slope.

“If you look at the South Platte, the Rio Grande and the Arkansas, these are basins where the surface water was over-appropriated 100-plus years ago,” said Kevin Rein, the state engineer. He will be making the decision whether to approve Light’s recommendation.

Only a few of Colorado’s rivers, mostly on the flanks of the San Juan Mountains, remain free of restrictions that require augmentation plans for wells along rivers as are now proposed for the Yampa.

Regulation of large-capacity wells began in Colorado during the 1960s. The laws were adopted in response to conflicts in the South Platte River Valley between farmers diverting water directly from the river and those drilling wells. State legislators clarified the legal rights of each. The key breakthrough was acceptance that groundwater was, in many cases, part of the same water system as the surface flows.

In the Yampa River valley, this designation would primarily impact new residential wells located on lots less than 35 acres and wells used for purposes other than domestic uses.

Permits for new wells located on lots of less than 35 acres in existing subdivisions may be issued for in-house use. If the well serves additional purposes, such as for livestock watering or a pond that intercepts groundwater on a lot less than 35 acres, then an augmentation plan must be in place before a well permit will be issued.

Well permits may be issued for as many as three single-family dwellings, irrigation of as much as 1 acre of lawn and garden, and for watering of domestic animals, on lots greater than 35 acres.

Based on her experience after designations of the Elk River and the Yampa River upstream of Steamboat Springs in the past decade, Light expects to see no major impacts.

“I have just not seen a tremendous impact on people because of this designation,” she said.

Stagecoach Reservoir, near Oak Creek, has several thousand acre-feet of its 36,000 acre-feet of storage capacity available for augmentation. YamColo, a smaller reservoir located on the Bear River, upstream from Yampa, has lesser quantities available. Both are administered by the Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District, whose boundary goes to but does not include Craig.

How much augmentation water will be needed from upstream reservoirs will depend upon the use, explained Holly Kirkpatrick, external affairs manager for the district. Does the well provide for livestock water, for example, and if so how many animals?

The conservancy district has enough water in the two reservoirs, especially Stagecoach, to provide for all needs, at least in the near term.

“Individual augmentation plans are of very small magnitude,” said Andy Rossi, general manager. “We might be talking about less than one acre-foot up to three acre-feet” (annually), he said of augmentation plans for new wells.

Traditional agriculture water users would normally seek storage rights in the reservoirs for larger volumes.

The gaging station in the Yampa River near Maybell has documented declined flows in the last century that have led to a state proposal to designate the river as over-appropriated. The designation, if approved, will affect permits for some new wells in the basin.
CREDIT: ALLEN BEST/ASPEN JOURNALISM

New paradigm

It will still be possible to file for new water rights in the Yampa subject to Colorado’s first-in-time, first-in-right pecking order. But the proposal signals a new paradigm for the full Yampa River Basin.

“It should be a clear indicator to those individuals establishing a new appropriation that water may not be available all of the time every year to meet their water needs,” Light said.

One of the key water rights in determining water use upstream are those at Lilly Park.

Twice in the past three years those rights have triggered “calls” on the Yampa River upstream, causing Light, as the water engineer, to require more junior users upstream to end their diversions. That same call could have been made in 2002, but the owner of the water rights at Lilly Park recently confided to Light that he didn’t want to cause the problems upstream in that notoriously dry year.

Enlargement of Elkhead Reservoir, near Hayden, has also allowed more water to be delivered downstream, forestalling the need for the designation of over-appropriation.

The Yampa River upstream of Steamboat Springs and many of its tributaries were previously designated as over-appropriated after a water decree for a recreational in-channel diversion for the kayak park in Steamboat Springs was granted in 2006.

For Steamboat Springs, one consequence was the need to create an augmentation plan for the wells along the Yampa River supplying its water treatment plant. The water from Stagecoach will be needed only if the river downstream is on call, meaning that Steamboat’s water diversions must be curtailed to meet needs of senior users.

Will the over-appropriation designation downstream of Steamboat impact the city’s water supplies?

“No, not that I’m aware of,” said Kelley Romero-Heaney, the city’s water resources manager.

The designation of over-appropriation “just means there’s more accountability” to ensure that new diversions don’t injure existing water users and water-right holders, Romero-Heaney said.

The state also designated the Elk River, north of Steamboat, as over-appropriated Jan. 1, 2011, just a few months after the first call. Water is available from Steamboat Lake for augmentation.

Small reservoirs have also been constructed to deliver augmentation water in the Elk River basin. Small augmentation reservoirs may be needed for new development downstream from Craig, such as for new rural subdivisions.

Light, in recommending the over-appropriation designation, identified no single trigger.

There were the two calls, critical low-flows in other years, and the increasing importance of juggling reservoir releases. She said the most important signal of a new era came in 2018, when the first call was placed on the river.

“I think you could make a good case of climate change and different ecological conditions,” said Rossi. Snowfall remains highly variable, but runoff has consistently arrived earlier followed by more intense heat and, perhaps, a later arrival of winter.

Soil moisture may also be a factor. If soils are dry going into winter, they’ll soak up more of the runoff.

“Start the season with dry soils, and that is the first bucket that needs to be filled when the snow starts melting,” Becky Bolinger, the assistant state climatologist for Colorado, explained last week in The Washington Post.

These changes were evident in 2020. Winter snows were healthy and the snow water equivalent, or the amount of water in the snow once it has melted, was 116% of median. Then came spring, early and warm. By June, the snow-water equivalent of the remaining snowpack had dropped to 69%.

Then came summer, hot and mostly absent rain. August broke records for both the hottest and driest summer month on the 130-year record. This combination of heat and lack of precipitation actually made 2020 worse than the other notorious drought years of recent memory: 2002, 2012 and 2018, according to Romero-Heaney

Designation of over-appropriation, however, would not forecast the climate in the Yampa Valley, cautioned Rein.

“It just recognizes what has been happening recently,” he said.

Climate change has started playing a significant role in declining river flows and falling reservoir levels in the Colorado River basin. These declines have led to concerns in Colorado during the last 20 years that requirements of the compact governing the Colorado River and its tributaries in the seven basin states could force curtailment of water use within Colorado.

From his perspective in Denver, Rein sees the proposed designation on the Yampa being neutral. All groundwater is already considered tributary to the river and hence should have no additional impact on compact compliance matters.

Aspen Journalism covers water and rivers in collaboration with the Steamboat Pilot & Today and other Swift Communications newspapers. This story ran in the March 10 edition of the Steamboat Pilot & Today.

Lamar City Council Okays #Water Distribution Projects — The #Prowers Journal

The May Ranch near Lamar, Colo., has never been plowed. Photo/Ducks Unlimited via The Mountain Town News

From The Prowers Journal (Russ Baldwin):

The council re-submitted a Tier 1 Grant application to fund half, or $71,818 of funding need to complete an update to the sewer and water master plan for the city. The total cost is estimated at $143,636. This will cover costs for a comprehensive evaluation of Lamar’s current water and wastewater treatment facilities, assessment of distribution and collection systems, capital improvements needed for future wastewater treatment and a rate study for both water and sewer systems.

A loan for $1,089,200 has been secured with the Drinking Water Revolving Fund, allowing the city to move forward on a new water main stretching from Cedar Street to Savage Avenue. The city will coordinate with the current CDOT 287 reconstruction project to minimize any interference with their project running from Savage Avenue south as well as the train track crossing on Main Street. Community Development Director, Morgan Becker, secured a grant for $4,500 which will help defer the cost of flowers for the Main Street planters for the summer. Preliminary construction is expected to start in mid-March.

San Juan Water Conservancy District approves strategic plan — The #PagosaSprings Sun #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

San Juan River Basin. Graphic credit Wikipedia.

From The Pagosa Springs Sun (Chris Mannara):

The San Juan Water Conser- vancy District (SJWCD) approved its strategic plan for 2021 at a meeting on Feb. 15.

The strategic plan, which had been in development since 2018, is to be used to help the district identify water resource issues in the Upper San Juan River Basin within the district’s geographical scope, according to the plan.

Additionally, the plan outlines that its purpose is to help the district evaluate its options for addressing water resource issues and outlining which options could be acted upon.

Other objectives include the SJWCD Board of Directors developing long-term goals and direction for the district and relaying that information to the public, the plan notes.

Mission and value statements

Included within the plan is the SJWCD’s mission statement, which reads “To be an active leader in all issues affecting the water resources of the Upper San Juan River Basin.”

[…]

These statements note that the SJWCD board is “committed to ensuring that various current and future water supply needs are met through whatever conservation and water management strategies and methodologies are available.”

Another value statement reads, “The Board opposes any new transfers of water from the Upper San Juan River and its tributaries upstream of Navajo Reservoir to basins outside of the Upper San Juan River Basin.”

The opposition toward this comes from the SJWCD believing that transfers would interfere with existing beneficial uses of water, damage to economic stability and reduced environmental quality, the plan indicates.

Other value statements include that the SJWCD board is commit- ted to managing water rights it holds, supporting wise land-use policies and processes, and man- aging and funding effective monitoring, protection and restoration programs.

One value statement notes that the SJWCD board believes that the district must participate in statewide processes, like the Colorado Water Plan, to address various issues such as climate change, drought and water shortages.

Fecal matter elevated in #SouthPlatteRiver as #Denver fights state health agency over water pollution — The Denver Post #stormwater

Harvard Gulch. Photo credit: DenverGov.org

From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

Denver drainage carries contaminants into waterways at levels up to 137 times higher than federal safety limit

Colorado health officials this week declared water quality in the South Platte River as it flows through Denver highly deficient, pointing to E.coli contamination at levels up to 137 times higher than a federal safety limit.

This intestinal bacteria indicates fecal matter and other pollution from runoff after melting snow and rain sweeps Denver pollution through drainage pipes into the river. To deal with the problem, the Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment has imposed, in a permit taking effect next month, stricter requirements for managing runoff water pollution.

But Denver officials are fighting those requirements and twice petitioned the state health department to relax the new permit.

“What the new requirements do is drastically increase the amount of expensive system maintenance beyond what could make a meaningful impact on E.coli concentrations,” city spokeswoman Nancy Kuhn said.

Colorado public health officials last month rejected Denver’s latest appeal. They issued a statement standing by their demands for the city to reduce its water pollution, saying the agency hopes to avoid litigation.

A more aggressive approach is required, state health officials said in the statement, “because the South Platte remains in bad shape for pathogens.”

Denver officials told The Denver Post on Wednesday “no lawsuit has been filed” challenging the permit in state court and that they are “having conversations with the state on five or so new requirements with the hope of reaching compromise.”

[…]

“Denver’s storm sewer system is a clear part of the problem,” CDPHE permitting officials said in an email. When inspectors in 2019 sampled water flowing out of city drainage “outfall” pipes into the South Platte, they detected E.coli at levels as high as 1,970 cfu from one pipe and 8,400 cfu from another, state data shows…

“Denver has never opposed the numeric limit of 126 cfu per 100 milliliters,” [Nancy Kuhn] said, but opposes “the specific measures that CDPHE is mandating to achieve that limit.”

A consultant analyzing Denver stormwater runoff in 2018 proposed, in a document included in a 419-page state fact sheet accompanying the new permit, a comprehensive effort to slow down drainage flows, treating runoff water as a useful resource for re-greening in a semi-arid area. He recommended wide use of low-cost measures such as flattening crowned streets, installing small dams in alleys to re-direct culvert-bound gushing runoff, and converting sidewalks to “semi-pervious” surfaces that let water sink between stones into the soil.

Denver’s population growth and development boom have worked against greening to improve water quality. Developers have paved over more surfaces, leaving Denver as one of the nation’s most paved-over cities — especially in newly developed areas — sluicing away runoff water at high velocity without removing contaminants.

Denver officials directed contractors at the city’s new Globeville Landing outfall drainage pipe, in a park built over a former toxic dump site, to install an ultraviolet light. This light, city officials say, zaps away more than 90% of E.coli before runoff water reaches the river.

Wild animals such as raccoons in storm sewers add to the fecal pollution contaminating runoff, Kuhn said, and “dog waste that people don’t pick up is a huge problem and a significant source of E.coli.”

Construction of #Thornton Pipeline underway in #Windsor and #Johnstown — The #Loveland Reporter-Herald

Thornton Water Project route map via ThorntonWaterProject.com

From The Loveland Reporter-Herald (Pamela Johnson):

Contractors are building 7 miles of the Thornton Pipeline in Windsor and Johnstown, including boring a 250-foot-long section under the Poudre River.

“We’re doing sections in jurisdictions where we have agreements,” said Todd Barnes, spokesman for the city of Thornton.

“We wanted to get this in the ground before their developments, so we wouldn’t have to tear up new developments. We wanted to make it as efficient and effective as possible,” he said…

That elected board, in February 2019, denied the required permit for construction of the pipeline piece north of Fort Collins.

Thornton appealed that decision in 8th Judicial District Court. Last month, a judge upheld that denial based on three land use criteria. He did rule in Thornton’s favor on an additional four land use points, but the net ruling was to uphold the decision to deny the permit.

Officials with Thornton have not said if they plan to appeal that ruling, a request that would need to be filed by April 5, or change its permit request and reapply in Larimer County…

But they have said they are committed to transporting their water to Thornton.

For the sections of the pipeline running through unincorporated Weld County, Thornton has applied for a special review permit. That is scheduled before the Weld County commissioners May 5.

And in Windsor, Johnstown and Timnath, the city worked out construction and permanent easements that allow work to be underway, Barnes said.

In early 2020, construction began in both Johnstown and Windsor, 3.5-mile-long stretches of the pipeline in each of the towns, with Scott Contracting of Centennial as the general contractor.

The Johnstown piece is nearly complete, with one major section left that involves boring a tunnel for the 42-inch-diameter pipeline below the Little Thompson River, according to information from project manager Michael Welker and Justin Schaller, construction manager with Ditesco, a company hired by Thornton for onsite construction management.

Construction is active in Windsor, running parallel to County Road 13 on the east side of the road from just north of Colo. 392 to Crossroads Boulevard.

Crews on Wednesday were actively boring and building a horizontal shaft under the Poudre River for the pipeline.

Working from a site along the Poudre River Trail, workers had bored about 85 feet of the 250-foot section that will extend under the river. They are building a support structure and placing the pipeline inside. The pipe itself is metal with a concrete lining, with 50-foot-long sections welded together.

A week ago, crews finished boring the pipeline under Colo. 392…

The overall $428 million project is expected to be completed in 2025, Barnes said, with other sections completed as Thornton receives permits.

Once the pipe is laid, crews will reclaim the land, whether it is returning vegetation, working on wildlife mitigation or preparing fields for planting or grazing.

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

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Mary Shinn):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

Colorado Springs Collection System via Colorado College.

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Mary Shinn):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From Water Education Colorado (Larry Morandi):

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

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

Wildfire mitigation and forest health

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

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

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

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

Water treatment process in Greeley. Graphic via Greeley Water

Underground water storage

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

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

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

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

Financing water projects

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

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

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

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

In Rapidly #Warming #ColoradoRiver Basin, The Negotiating Table Is Being Set — KUNC #COriver #aridification #DCP

The All American Canal diverts water from the Lower Colorado River to irrigate crops in California’s Imperial Valley and supply 9 cities. Graphic credit: USGS

From KUNC (Luke Runyon):

The decision of who gets to sit at that table, whose interests are represented, and what’s on the menu is still very much in flux. But the uncertainty isn’t stopping would-be participants from voicing concerns they feel leaders in the southwestern watershed can no longer ignore.

And when it comes to the water supply for 40 million people in seven U.S. states and Mexico, the stakes are much higher than a one-night feast.

“Who’s at the existing table?”

Late last year, the seven states that make up the Colorado River basin — Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico, Utah, California, Nevada and Arizona — made clear that after a federal government-induced year-long pause to negotiations, they were ready to start negotiating future policies.

In a letter dated Dec. 17 to then-Department of the Interior Secretary David Bernhardt and Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman, water officials gave notice they were “initiating preliminary conversations with one another,” to figure out how to operate the river’s biggest reservoirs.

The talks are focused on creating policy past 2026, when a current set of guidelines established in 2007 expires. The 2007 Colorado River Interim Guidelines for the first time addressed the issue of looming water shortages in the basin, and linked the operations of Lakes Powell and Mead. While those who negotiated the agreement slapped each other on the back in Las Vegas, plenty of others in the basin said it failed to truly address the wide range of problems that have plagued the watershed for decades.

When water managers negotiated that major policy overhaul in 2007, the 29 federally-recognized tribes in the watershed were left out.

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

Daryl Vigil of the Jicarilla-Apache Nation says that’s also true for a landmark 2012 study that calculated water supplies and demands in the basin. According to a letter sent by 17 tribal leaders to the federal government about the 2007 guidelines, it’s only been in the last five years that tribes have seen the federal government meaningfully engage with them on Colorado River issues. Even now, as basin leaders commit to more tribal inclusivity this time around, the mechanism to do so doesn’t currently exist.

“There’s no process at all in the current structure to have inclusivity of tribes,” Vigil said.

Vigil is a co-leader of the Water & Tribes Initiative. The initiative receives funding from the Walton Family Foundation, which also supports KUNC’s Colorado River coverage. The project’s main goal is to build capacity of tribes to participate in the renegotiation of the 2007 guidelines, Vigil said.

For all the talk of consensus-building in the watershed, up until now it’s only been among a narrow group of players, Vigil said. Many other perspectives, like the river’s cultural and spiritual value or its ecological role in some of the driest reaches of the country, are ignored or rejected.

“Who’s at the existing table? The existing table in terms of policy in the Colorado River truly is controlled by the basin states and the federal government,” Vigil said…

Collectively the tribes hold rights to about 20% of the river’s flow. Combine that with a dwindling supply due to rapidly warming temperatures at the river’s headwaters, and the alarm bells start ringing more loudly…

Tribal leaders aren’t the only people who’ve been summarily excluded in the past. Environmentalists, recreation advocates, scientists and water officials from Mexico have also been left out of various agreements in the past, depending on the issue at hand.

The Grand River Diversion Dam, also known as the “Roller Dam”, was built in 1913 to divert water from the Colorado River to the Government Highline Canal, which farmers use to irrigate their lands in the Grand Valley. Photo credit: Bethany Blitz/Aspen Journalism

WEBINAR: Land Conservation and Water, March 9, 2021 — @WaterEdCO

Click here for all the inside skinny and register:

As land trusts conserve private land, they also protect water rights. Some of Colorado’s land trusts are going beyond the parcel-by-parcel approach to conservation and are tackling big water challenges in a regional way.

During this March 9 webinar, we’ll learn how land trusts work with water rights in Colorado. Then we’ll focus on two visionary projects: Colorado Open Lands and partners in the San Luis Valley are reimagining conservation easements and putting them to work to slow groundwater decline and encourage aquifer sustainability. And the Palmer Land Conservancy is protecting irrigated farmland east of Pueblo along the Bessemer Ditch with conservation easements and, thanks to a high-level landscape-scale analysis, Palmer is combatting the effects of buy and dry by keeping water on the area’s most productive ag land.

How are land trusts making these projects work? Why are they well-positioned to play such an important role in water management? Is there an opportunity for more land trusts to tackle water management challenges in these big, innovative ways? Join us to explore these questions and come prepared with your own.

With speakers:
Melissa Daruna, Keep It Colorado
Sarah Parmar, Colorado Open Lands
Ed Roberson, Palmer Land Conservancy

Presented in partnership by Water Education Colorado and Keep It Colorado

When
March 9th, 2021 12:00 PM through 1:00 PM

The Biggest #Coal Power Plant in the American West Closed. What Happens with the #ColoradoRiver Water It Used? — Circle of Blue #COriver #aridification

> Navajo Generating Station. Photo credit: Wolfgang Moroder.

From Circle of Blue (Brett Walton):

Navajo Generating Station was the largest coal-fired power plant in the American West, a testament to the political bargaining generations ago that divvied up the region’s land, minerals, and water. But the facility’s time is now up. In November 2019, the power plant stopped producing electricity. In December 2020, the trio of 775-foot smokestacks came tumbling down. Six weeks ago, the precipitators that prevented fine coal particles from being emitted into the air were dynamited, crumbling to the desert floor like felled beasts.

In the end, Navajo Generating Station will be little more than a memory. But it also leaves behind an unsettled legacy. Besides a few scattered buildings, a transmission line, and a rail line, what will remain after the facility is decommissioned is a water rights dispute.

The coal-fired power plant that sat on Navajo Nation land in the northeastern corner of Arizona did not just generate electricity. It also drew water from the Colorado River, an essential input for cooling the plant’s machinery.

What happens to that water now that the plant is being decommissioned? Who gets to decide how it is used? In a drying region in which every drop of water is accounted for and parceled out, the stakes are high and the legal claims are unresolved.

The three players are the Navajo Nation, state of Arizona, and the federal government. The ground rules are established in decades-old interstate compacts and more recent federal laws. On the horizon are unsettled water rights claims and new infrastructure. A pipeline to deliver water to the Navajo Nation in Arizona is under construction today — but due to legal complexities there is no certainty that water will immediately flow through the pipes once the system is completed.

As crews proceed with the demolition of Navajo Generating Station, water in northeastern Arizona amounts to a lingering question mark for a basin dealing with climate stress and inequality in water access for the Navajo people…

The Colorado River was part of the bargain, too. Its water, drawn from nearby Lake Powell, was needed to remove heat created during power generation. In a 1968 resolution, the Navajo Tribal Council approved the consumptive use of 34,100 acre-feet of water from the river for the facility, an agreement that was in place until the end.

Across the West, a generation of coal-fired power plants is reckoning with the same fate as Navajo Generating Station. State mandates combined with cheaper sources of electricity from sun, wind, and natural gas and expensive pollution controls are nudging the owners to retire coal-fired units.

There are benefits to this trend and not just for reducing heat-trapping gases, said Stacy Tellinghuisen of the Boulder, Colorado-based nonprofit group Western Resource Advocates. Closing these facilities brings the possibility of making water available for other industrial, municipal, agricultural, or environmental uses.

Few transfers of water rights from closed power plants have taken place because it is a complex and time-intensive process, Tellinghuisen told Circle of Blue. “Most plants have closed in the last five years,” she said. “The water rights process is slower than that.”

One place where a transfer has taken place is in Colorado. In 2013, Black Hills Energy closed the coal-fired W.N. Clark plant, located in Cañon City. In 2020, the company sold its water rights back to Cañon City Hydraulic and Irrigating Ditch Company for eventual use in irrigated agriculture…

In the case of Navajo Generating Station, water rights are where the accounting becomes tricky. The Colorado River is divided by legal compacts into upper and lower basins. The compacts allocate water between the seven states, while a treaty outlines obligations to Mexico. Most of Arizona is in the lower basin, along with California and Nevada. But not all of Arizona. A sliver of its northeastern corner is located in the upper basin. Nearly all of Arizona’s upper basin land is on the Navajo Nation.

The Upper Colorado River Compact of 1948, negotiated among the states and endorsed by Congress, provides Arizona’s upper basin with 50,000 acre-feet of Colorado River water.

The 1968 tribal council resolution states that the Navajo would not claim the water as long as Navajo Generating Station was operating. If the plant shut down, the resolution directs the Secretary of the Interior to return the water “to the Navajo Tribe for their exclusive use and benefit.”

Pollack, the water lawyer, said that the Navajo Nation’s position is that the 50,000 acre-feet in Arizona’s upper basin allocation “was intended for the benefit of the Navajo Nation.” The Nation also does not believe its water rights are circumscribed by the Upper Colorado River Compact.

How could the Navajo Nation access this water? Pollack presented two hypothetical scenarios. If the Nation, within reservation lands, wanted to dam and draw water from waterways or pump groundwater that is linked to streams, it could do so on its own, Pollack argued. Such a scenario is highly unlikely, he said, given the infrastructure that would be required to store and move water.

A more plausible scenario would be drawing water from Lake Powell, as did the power plant. That option would require a contract with the Bureau of Reclamation, which operates the reservoir. Pollack said he believes Reclamation would then consult with the state of Arizona before approving any contract.

How does the state view its role? In response to written questions, the Arizona Department of Water Resources described what it believes is the process for allocating upper basin water.

“An entity wishing to use any of Arizona’s Upper Basin allocation would need to apply to ADWR for a permit to appropriate the water,” according to the statement. “The director of ADWR would make a decision on the application based on criteria in statute, including whether the entity would put the water to a beneficial use. Water from Arizona’s Upper Basin allocation could also be allocated to an Arizona Indian tribe pursuant to a Congressionally approved Indian water rights settlement.”

There are other opinions. Mike Pearce, a partner with the Phoenix law firm Gammage & Burnham, told Circle of Blue that from his perspective the water that was used by Navajo Generating Station “would revert back to the state of Arizona to be allocated under state law.”

[…]

The water in question is not a large amount in the big picture — Arizona’s lower basin, after all, is allocated 2.8 million acre-feet from the Colorado River. But in a region that is drying as the planet warms, every drop of water is important. In the face of these hydrological changes, veteran scholars of the basin have questioned the wisdom of allowing additional withdrawals from the river. Plus, there are equity concerns. An estimated 30 percent of Navajo Nation households do not have running water, which requires them to haul water to their homes, often by driving dozens of miles roundtrip…

Some upper basin water is already being put to use in Arizona. Subtracting Navajo Generating Station, the state’s upper basin use amounted to about 11,500 acre-feet in 2018, mostly for municipal purposes in Page and debits for reservoir evaporation.

What about the rest? For now, the unused portion of Arizona’s 50,000 acre-feet is what is known colloquially as “system water.” It stays in Lake Powell and helps the upper basin meet its water delivery obligation to the lower basin.

Though currently there is not much demand in Arizona’s upper basin, there is one potential use in the near term. An act of Congress in 2009 authorized the Navajo-Gallup water supply project, a system intended to deliver water to the eastern half of the Navajo Nation, as well as the Jicarilla Apache Nation and the town of Gallup, New Mexico.

The law sets aside 22,650 acre-feet for the Navajo Nation in New Mexico, and 6,411 acre-feet for the Navajo Nation in Arizona. The water for the Arizona section is supposed to be subtracted from Arizona’s upper basin allocation.

There is a catch, though. The law states that the water can only be delivered to the Navajo Nation in Arizona if the Nation settles its water rights claims to two other Arizona basins: the Little Colorado River and the lower basin of the Colorado. The Little Colorado River adjudication is ongoing in state court.

For Pollack, the addition of that clause is an insult. It ties water access for Navajo communities in the upper basin to negotiations about other water sources…

Installing pipe along the Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project. Photo credit: USBR

While the legal conflict simmers, the Bureau of Reclamation is continuing to build out the Navajo-Gallup supply system, a project that includes about 280 miles of pipeline in addition to two treatment plants and several pumping stations.

Patrick Page, area manager of Reclamation’s Four Corners Construction Office, wrote to Circle of Blue in an email that major components are now under construction: two pumping stations and a 30-mile section of mainline pipe.

Congress set a deadline of December 31, 2024 to complete the project. But Reclamation can extend that deadline with the agreement of the Navajo Nation and the state of New Mexico. Page said that an extension might be necessary depending on the design assessment of a key intake structure. The wait for water might grow longer.

#Aspen seeks community engagement on #water plan — @AspenJournalism

City of Aspen Utilities Resource Manager Steve Hunter stands at the city’s Castle Creek water diversion on Wednesday. Castle Creek is the source of most of Aspen’s potable water.
CREDIT: HEATHER SACKETT/ASPEN JOURNALISM

From Aspen Journalism (Heather Sackett):

Wildfire, infrastructure failure and persistent drought are the three biggest risks to the city of Aspen’s main water sources of Castle and Maroon creeks, according to consultants Carollo Engineers.

“The (risks) you worry about most are the ones that are fairly likely to happen and would have a pretty high consequence if they did,” said John Rehring, senior project manager and vice president of Carollo Engineers.

The risks to Aspen’s water supplies are just one of many topics consultants are taking into account as they develop a roadmap for the next 50 years of the city’s water management. As part of consultants’ data-gathering process, the city is holding the third and final community engagement session from 5 to 6:30 p.m. Wednesday.

The first two sessions were lightly attended, but city officials are hoping more citizens will show up Wednesday.

“I always like to see more people be involved,” said Steve Hunter, utilities resource manager for the city of Aspen. “We want to be completely transparent with the public.”

Carollo is working toward a final water integrated resource plan, or IRP, which they are expected to release by mid 2021. A main component of the plan will be how to address Aspen’s potential water shortages.

Although numbers are still preliminary, according to a presentation engineers gave to the city in January, the city’s estimated shortage is about 2,500 acre-feet on an annual basis. A shortage is defined as an inability to meet all demands at the same time, for example if prolonged drought cut streamflows such that the city could not provide enough water for outdoor irrigation or meet instream flow requirements.

One potential solution would be to bring online three groundwater wells in downtown Aspen, which are currently not being used because of water quality issues like too much fluoride. Having different water sources that might not be subject to natural disasters like wildfires and avalanches the same way Castle and Maroon creeks are would make Aspen’s water supply less vulnerable.

“Having the groundwater in there would help with diversity and risks and vulnerabilities,” Rehring said.

The city has a portfolio of water rights on various local waterways, ditches and wells. But it’s main source of potable water is Castle Creek.

Aspen’s Leonard Thomas Reservoir, which feeds the city’s treatment plant, holds about 10 acre-feet of water. The city is exploring other locations where it could store water as part ofthe development of a water integrated resource plan.
CREDIT: HEATHER SACKETT/ASPEN JOURNALISM

Storage location

Consultants also are working on finding a location to which to move Aspen’s conditional water-storage rights and determining whether the city needs storage at all. After a lengthy water court battle, in June 2019 the city gave up its rights that could have someday allowed it to build dams and reservoirs on upper Castle or Maroon creeks.

The city has identified five other locations where it could possibly store water. Those sites are the city golf course, the Maroon Creek Club golf course, the city’s Cozy Point open space, the Woody Creek gravel pit and a 63-acre parcel of land next to the gravel pit, which the city bought in 2018.

Previous consultants have come to different conclusions about how much water storage the city actually needs. A 2017 report by Deere and Ault Consultants, which was based on conclusions in a risk analysis by Headwaters Corporation, said Aspen needs 8,500 acre-feet of water storage. But a 2016 study by Wilson Water concluded Aspen does not need any storage.

“We are trying to identify just what the storage needs are and better define just how much storage is needed or maybe how to phase in that storage capacity over time,” Rehring said. “We have not zeroed in on any particular site at this point.”

Wednesday’s meeting will take place on Zoom. To register and for more information, go to aspencommunityvoice.com.

Aspen Journalism covers water and rivers in collaboration with Swift Communications newspapers. This story ran in the March 1 edition of The Aspen Times.

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

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

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

Contract negotiations deadlock

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

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

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

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

Background

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

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

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

Maintaining positive relations with Baca National Wildlife Refuge

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

Opportunities to become involved

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

Offer input now

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

#Colorado Water Plan Scoping Workshop: Agriculture Irrigation Infrastructure — @CWCB_DNR, @DARCAonline, Ag Water Alliance

The Ella Ditch, which irrigates agricultural land south of Carbondale, placed a call on the Crystal River for the first time ever in 2018. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

Click here for all the inside skinny and to register.

Join a roundtable discussion focusing on agricultural irrigation infrastructure issues and solutions to inform the 2022 Colorado Water Plan.

The Colorado Water Conservation Board, in partnership with the Colorado Agricultural Water Alliance and Ditch and Reservoir Company Alliance, invites you to participate in a virtual, Colorado Water Plan Update Scoping Workshop focusing on agricultural irrigation infrastructure issues and solutions. The format of the workshop will be an expert roundtable discussion that will inform the scoping process of the Colorado Water Plan Update (more information here: https://engagecwcb.org/colorado-water-plan-update).

The Colorado Water Plan provides a roadmap for addressing water resource challenges; informing strategies, policy development, and programming. The event will be open to the public.

More than 25 million drink from the worst US #water systems, with Latinos most exposed — The Guardian

The water treatment process

Here’s an in-depth report from Emily Holden, Caty Enders, Niko Kommenda, and Vivian Ho that’s running in The Guardian. Click through and read the whole article and to check out the story map detailing the problem. Here’s an excerpt:

Millions of people in the US are drinking water that fails to meet federal health standards, including by violating limits for dangerous contaminants.

Latinos are disproportionately exposed, according to the Guardian’s review of more than 140,000 public water systems across the US and county-level demographic data.

Water systems in counties that are 25% or more Latino are violating drinking water contamination rules at twice the rate of those in the rest of the country.

America’s worst public water systems – those that have accrued more than 15 “violation points” for breaking standards over five years – serve more than 25m Americans, the research shows. An estimated 5.8m of these are Latino.

Texas, where millions of residents lost access to water and power during the recent storm, has the most high-violation systems, followed by California and Oklahoma. The average number of violations is highest in Oklahoma, West Virginia and New Mexico.