Prepping for mountain snowmelt today and tomorrow: Learn how #ClimateChange complicates the spring #runoff season and what @DenverWater is doing about it — New on Tap

From Denver Water (Jay Adams):

Managing water collected from the mountain snow’s spring runoff has plenty of challenges — and will become more complex in the future due to climate change.

“As water planners, we prefer to see predictable weather patterns,” said Nathan Elder, water supply manager at Denver Water. “Unfortunately, every year is different and with climate change we’re seeing more variability and that makes it tougher to manage our water supply.”

That challenge may be most acute during runoff season, that critical — and brief — window of time when snow melts, flows into streams and fills reservoirs. Climate change may lead to changes in runoff timing that, in turn, require more nimble reservoir operations.

What’s happening?

Since the 1960s, average temperatures in Colorado have increased 2.5 degrees, according to the Colorado Water Conservation Board. That change is manifesting in significant ways.

“We’re seeing more swings between wet and dry years, more variation in year-to-year stream runoff and earlier runoff,” said Laurna Kaatz, climate program manager at Denver Water. “We’re also expecting to see more extreme weather events like extreme heat and enhanced drought, but we could also see more intense rainstorms and flooding especially if heavy rain falls on top of a lot of snow.”

Timing is everything

The timing of the snow runoff in Summit County, which is home to Dillon Reservoir, provides an example of how climate change impacts not only water collection but also recreation and flooding.

Rapid snowmelts caused by rain falling on snow could lead to a greater risk of flooding below Dillon Dam.

During a gradual runoff, Denver Water can take steps to minimize the risk of flooding below the dam, however, if there are more instances of warm weather combined with rain falling on snow, large amounts of water can fill Dillon quickly and send water through the dam’s overflow spillway. This scenario can lead to high water levels on the Blue River through Silverthorne.

“We do our best to minimize high flows out of our reservoirs, but if there is a fast runoff, we can only do so much and there’s a greater chance for flooding downstream if there’s a major rain-on-snow event,” Elder said.

Changes in runoff and precipitation also impact when Dillon Reservoir fills — or doesn’t fill — which plays a role in boating season and water levels for the Dillon and Frisco marinas.

The timing of the runoff also impacts Denver Water’s ability to make the most of its water rights.

“Later runoff allows us to use our water rights to match higher customer demand during the summer watering season,” Elder said. “Early runoff means we have to let some water go downstream before we can put it to use on the Front Range. This also impacts how much water we can store for times of drought.”

When Dillon Reservoir is full, water flows down its overflow spillway into the Blue River. Photo credit: Denver Water.

Extreme weather events

Colorado has seen several big swings in weather over the last 20 years, suggesting the kind of uncertainty that may be more pronounced as climate change intensifies and the resulting complexity in managing the snow runoff.

Most recently, the winter of 2017-2018 was exceptionally dry across the state but was followed by above average snow in 2018-2019.

The years 2012 through mid-2013 were another period of drought, followed by record flooding in September 2013. Two wet years followed in 2014 and 2015.

The dramatic weather turnaround in 2002 and 2003 is another example of how extreme weather impacts Denver Water’s water supply and planning.

Those years marked a major period of drought. In 2003, Denver Water was preparing to have water restrictions and Dillon Reservoir was more than half empty and critically low. But in March 2003, the Front Range and central mountains got hit with a major snowstorm that filled Denver Water’s reservoirs.

“A drought could last one year or several and then be followed by big snow years,” Elder said.

“We could get most of our water for the year from one or two big storms, so we have to be prepared for these situations.”

Swings in weather patterns and extreme events could have Denver Water planning for drought conditions with watering restrictions for customers and end up with a surplus of water after a big storm.

Cheesman Reservoir during the 2002 drought. Photo credit: Denver Water.

Planning for climate uncertainty

Denver Water has relied primarily on historical weather patterns and data to plan for how much water it will collect from mountain streams. Now the utility is incorporating climate change into its long-range preparation through scenario planning.

“One component of scenario planning involves creating a variety of potential climate scenarios instead of simply assuming patterns will stay the same over the next 50 to 100 years,” said Jeff Bandy, a water resource manager at Denver Water. “This approach helps us plan for potential changes in climate and evaluate our system’s reliability.”

Denver Water takes data from global climate models and uses the information to create various outcomes on streamflow and precipitation in its water collection system.

The planning team develops scenarios that include variables such as warmer temperatures, more precipitation and shifts in timing of precipitation, all of which result in changes to volume and timing of runoff in Denver Water’s watersheds.

“We evaluate the scenarios and determine if future infrastructure projects or operational changes are needed,” Bandy said.

Denver Water’s entire collection system. Image credit: Denver Water.

Enhancing data collection

Denver Water collects water from 4,000 square miles in Colorado’s central mountains and foothills. With such a large area, getting accurate and timely information about weather and streamflow conditions is critical to water supply management.

“We use a lot of different data sources to manage and forecast water supply and a lot of these data sources are based off historical climate data,” Elder said. “With a changing climate, the current data sources are no longer as reliable as they used to be. This makes it more difficult to manage our reservoirs.”

In preparation for more weather extremes and variability, Denver Water has begun investing in new technology to get a more accurate picture of the snowpack above Dillon.

Looking to the south from a plane above Dillon Reservoir in June 2019, during an Airborne Snow Observatory flight to gather data on the snowpack above the reservoir for Denver Water. Photo credit: Quantum Spatial.

“In April 2019 we used NASA’s Airborne Snow Observatory, which uses a plane, to measure snowpack over the mountains in our watershed,” Elder said. “The more we know about the snow, water content and runoff, the better decisions we can make when it comes to managing our water supply for our customers and the communities where our reservoirs are located.”

Nathan Elder, Denver Water’s manager of water supply, tracks a variety of factors to keep tabs on the snowpack and water supply. Photo credit: Denver Water.

What can customers do?

The best way communities can be prepared for the impacts of climate change is to use water wisely.

“Our water supply is vulnerable to climate and our customers play a major role in how we manage our system,” Elder said. “That’s why we always ask our customers to be efficient with their water all year long and even in wet years.”

Water is a limited resource in Colorado so climate change will impact communities on both sides of the Continental Divide.

“Climate change means water change and that’s important to us all,” Kaatz said. “So, it’s our goal at Denver Water to make sure we’re thinking about it and actively preparing for the changes we’re going to experience.”

Land developer seeks to de-annex 2,400 acres in #Fountain as it eyes #ColoradoSprings #water — The Colorado Springs Gazette

The Fountain Creek Watershed is located along the central front range of Colorado. It is a 927-square mile watershed that drains south into the Arkansas River at Pueblo. The watershed is bordered by the Palmer Divide to the north, Pikes Peak to the west, and a minor divide 20 miles east of Colorado Springs. Map via the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District.

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Mary Shinn):

One of the Pikes Peak region’s largest real estate development companies is planning thousands of homes on roughly 5,600 acres on Fountain’s east edge, but it might take Colorado Springs’ water to transform the prairie.

La Plata Communities had banked on Fountain to provide at least some of the water necessary for a new company development, known as Amara; a southern portion of the property, the Kane Ranch, was annexed by Fountain in 2008.

Now the company is asking to remove, or de-annex, the 2,400-acre Kane Ranch from Fountain’s boundaries, likely in favor of requesting Colorado Springs to annex the land.

The company framed its need to leave Fountain as a failure of the city to plan ahead for future water needs, according to documents La Plata submitted to the city. Fountain officials say they are facing unprecedented demands on the city’s water system and could not have anticipated so much growth at once.

The unusual de-annexation proposal by La Plata Communities — the Springs-based developer of Briargate, a master-planned residential and commercial development that covers 10,000 acres on the city’s north side — underscores water’s importance as the lifeblood of development in the Pikes Peak region.

In an arid climate where water is precious, developers who don’t have it can’t do business. And that’s why Colorado Springs and its vast water resources have always been appealing.

Colorado Springs Utilities is planning to serve nearly 54% more people — an increase from 470,000 to 723,000 — in the next 50 years. The agency has developed an extensive plan that includes new reservoirs, water reuse and conservation to meet future needs.

Some of the hundreds of thousands of new residents could move into new subdivisions to the city’s north, east and south.

A city of Colorado Springs map shows 158 square miles that the city would consider annexing for new development. The map is not a commitment to annex those properties, but it does help guide decisions, Planning and Community Development Director Peter Wysocki said.

A large portion of La Plata Communities’ new Amara development is considered an area Colorado Springs would annex and it would make sense for the whole project to be annexed, if the city determines it can provide services to it, Wysocki said.

The proposed Amara development is composed of two areas.

The 3,200-acre Tee Cross Ranch Properties lies in unincorporated El Paso County, east and north of Fountain; the late rancher, developer and philanthropist Robert Norris, known as the Marlboro Man because of his appearance in advertisements for the cigarette brand, owned the property as part of the more than 95,000 acres he controlled in the county.

The 2,400-acre Kane Ranch, south of Squirrel Creek Road, is within Fountain’s boundaries and at the heart of La Plata’s frustration outlined in a fiery petition the company submitted seeking to remove it from the city’s boundaries…

Fountain’s decision to ask the developers to bear the costs of infrastructure development and water storage also was “unworkable,” it said…

Fountain has faced a flood of developer requests to build — together representing 30,000 new homes across 24 projects in 14 months — more than it could immediately serve, said Todd Evans, Fountain’s deputy city manager…

It would be like the city of Colorado Springs trying to expand from 600,000 taps, or buildings needing water service, to 1.8 million, he said.

Demand just from the Kane Ranch property would have represented 25% of the demand of the city’s entire system, Fountain Utilities Director Dan Blankenship said…

The Fountain City Council will decide in the coming months whether to grant La Plata’s de-annexation request and return the Kane Ranch to El Paso County’s jurisdiction. If the property is removed from Fountain’s city limits, La Plata could ask for annexation by Colorado Springs.

Colorado Springs already is weighing the annexation of a northern portion of Amara and a decision on that parcel is possible in 2022, Wysocki said.

#GlenwoodCanyon monitoring project gets funding for second phase: Data could be useful for downstream water users in #Silt — @AspenJournalism #ColoradoRiver #COriver

Nathan Bell, a consultant with the Silt Water Conservancy District points to the sediment built up where the canal that takes water from the Colorado River feeds into the pump house. An upstream water quality monitoring project, which received funding approval from the Colorado Basin Roundtable, could help alert the district when mudslides occur in Glenwood Canyon.
CREDIT: HEATHER SACKETT/ASPEN JOURNALISM

From Aspen Journalism (Heather Sackett):

Water managers are dealing with the after effects of the Grizzly Creek Fire and subsequent mudslides in Glenwood Canyon by continuing a water quality monitoring program.

The Middle Colorado Watershed Council received funding approval this week for the second phase of a program that will continue to collect and distribute data about weather and river conditions downstream of the Grizzly Creek burn scar. The Colorado Basin Roundtable approved $72,200 in state grant money for continued data collection at seven rain gauges in Glenwood Canyon, which will provide information to the National Weather Service, an automatic water quality sampler, soil moisture sensors, a new stream gauge and water quality monitoring station in the Rifle/Silt area and a data dashboard for easy access of the information.

The first phase of the project, which was implemented early last summer before the monsoons, addressed immediate water quality issues, collecting data at the rain gauges every 15 minutes.

The second phase of the project amounts to an early warning system that will let water users downstream of Glenwood Canyon know when dirty water from mudslides is headed their way. The MCWC hopes to have all the pieces in place before spring runoff.

“With the way post-fire events happen, we are going to be looking at impacts for the next two to five years,” said Paula Stepp, executive director of the Middle Colorado Watershed Council. “The part I’m really excited about is the cooperation between stakeholders and downstream users.”

On July 29, a heavy rainstorm triggered mudslides in Glenwood Canyon, which left some motorists stranded overnight, and closed Interstate 70 for weeks. Because soils scorched by the 2020 Grizzly Creek Fire don’t absorb moisture, the rain sent rocks, sediment and debris flowing down drainages, across the highway and into the Colorado River.

But the mudslides didn’t just affect the river at the site of the rainstorm. The cascade of dirty water also had impacts to agricultural and municipal water users downstream in Silt, whose only source of water is the Colorado.

The sediment-laden water caused problems for the town of Silt’s water treatment plant, which had to use more chemicals to get the sand to settle out. The increased manganese and iron suspended in the water gave it a brownish tint at taps. It also fouled a set of filters, which the town spent $48,000 to replace. The filters normally last four to five years, but had to be replaced after just one, said Trey Fonner, public works director for the town.

“If we knew what was coming down the river, we could shut off the intake and we could let the river clean up a little bit before we turned it back on,” Fonner said. “If our tanks are full, we can shut off and let the worst part of it go by.”

Town of Silt Public Works Director Trey Fonner points out how the water treatment plant’s filters were affected by turbid water from the mudslides in Glenwood Canyon last summer. The town had to replace them at a cost of $48,000. CREDIT: HEATHER SACKETT/ASPEN JOURNALISM

Conservancy district impacts

The mudslides also created challenges for the Silt Water Conservancy District, which delivers water from the river to about 45 headgates via a canal and pumphouse. Although the town can temporarily shut down its intake because it has about a three-day supply of water in storage, the conservancy district pumps water continuously and shutting off for a brief period of time is difficult.

“It’s not really a system that can be shut down easily,” said Nathan Bell, a consultant for the district and roundtable member. “It’s extremely cumbersome. It’s a nightmare.”

The main problem for the district is that the earthen canal which takes water from the river to the pump station silts up. The turbid water also acts like sandpaper, causing more wear and tear on the machinery and reducing its lifespan. The district is planning on more frequent canal cleanings and installing drop structures to catch the mud before it makes it to the pump house.

The data generated from the monitoring project will allow the district to better plan and budget for the inevitable increased maintenance and repairs, Bell said.

“It reduces the variables you’re having to manage,” he said. “It lets us get ahead of the game.”

The data dashboard will let downstream users and the general public set up text alerts for when a parameter of interest is too high or outside a specific window. Silt water users, for example, could set an alert for when rain gauges in Glenwood Canyon record a certain amount of rain, which increases the likelihood a plume of dirty water is headed their way.

The total cost of phase two of the project is nearly $1.3 million. The watershed council is asking the Colorado Water Conservation Board for about $650,000 in grant money and they also expect funds from the U.S. Geological Survey. Garfield County has committed to $15,000 over the next three years and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment will contribute $50,000.

Aspen Journalism covers rivers and water in collaboration with The Aspen Times. This story ran in the Dec. 4 edition of The Aspen Times and the Glenwood Springs Post-Independent.

#Silt water treatment plant feeling effects of #GlenwoodCanyon mudslides months later — The #GlenwoodSprings Post-Independent #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

An irrigation ditch south of Silt, and the Colorado River. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith

From The Glenwood Springs Post-Independent (Ray K. Erku):

Debris flows that wreaked havoc through Glenwood Canyon over the summer are causing Silt’s water treatment center to work harder to remove pollutants from the Colorado River, a town official said.

Silt Town Manager Jeff Layman said the facility isn’t in any kind of crisis, but it’s simply having to treat water with higher levels of turbidity. The cloudy water also has higher levels of manganese and iron.

“The facility’s able to treat the water that’s coming in,” he said. “But there’s an increased amount of foreign debris that came off the burn scar.”

Silt is working with state and federal resources in the hopes of obtaining funding for either updates for the current plant or purchasing a new one.

Preliminary figures for these potential updates is around $13 million, Layman said. A new plant could potentially cost between $25 million and $30 million…

Roughly 21 miles west of Glenwood Canyon, Silt pulls its water supply from the Colorado River, and it relies on a micro-filtration water treatment system built about 15 years ago. New Castle pulls its water supply from Elk Creek.

With the treatment center having to filter out more debris, the city is already having to allocate extra funds to replace equipment. The past month saw the town approve a $48,000 payment to replace filters. Each filter costs about $1,000, and the treatment center is equipped with 96 filters.

“Usually the filters would last a number of years,” Layman said. “These lasted less than a year because of this problem.”

Silt Public Works Director Trey Fonner said he’s concerned the town’s water treatment system could go through filters more quickly than in the past.

USBR awards $3.1 million in grants to develop #water data, modeling and forecasting tools and information for water managers

Grand Mesa Colorado sunset.

Here’s the release from the Bureau of Reclamation (Peter Soeth):

The Bureau of Reclamation selected 20 projects to share $3.1 million in applied science grants to develop tools and information to support water management decisions. These projects in 11 western states include improved water data, modeling and forecasting capabilities.

“Water managers today need more accurate and reliable information to make the best water management decisions in a changing climate,” said Chief Engineer David Raff. “Applied Science Grants are an important tool to assist water managers getting the information they need so they can make those informed decisions.”

Projects selected range from $48,000 for the Big Bend Conservation Alliance in Texas to develop a common data management platform for shared aquifers to several receiving the maximum of $200,000. Texas A&M University-Kingsville is receiving $107,497 to develop a web-based tool to simulate post-wildfire hydrologic changes in Northwest Montana.

To view a complete description of all the selected projects, please visit https://www.usbr.gov/watersmart/appliedscience.

Applied Science Grants are for non-federal entities to develop tools and information to support water management for multiple uses. Selected projects must provide at least a 50% non-federal cost-share. Project types include:

Enhancing modeling capabilities to improve water supply reliability and increase flexibility in water operations.
Improving or adapting forecasting tools and technologies to enhance management of water supplies and reservoir operations.

Improving access to and use of water resources data or developing new data types to inform water management decisions.

For more than 100 years, Reclamation and its partners have developed sustainable water and power future for the West. This program is part of the Department of the Interior’s WaterSMART Program, which focuses on improving water conservation and reliability while helping water resource managers make sound decisions about water use. To find out more information about Reclamation’s WaterSMART program, visit https://www.usbr.gov/watersmart.

One Colorado award was listed:

Colorado

Reclamation Funding: $200,000 Total Project Cost: $440,000

The Grand Mesa Water Users Association, located on the Grand Mesa in Delta County, Colorado, will produce digitized capacity surveys for 50 reservoirs. The reservoirs on the Grand Mesa were built to capture and conserve available water from snowpack for irrigation and municipal use. This project includes conducting reservoir capacity surveys using drone technology, installing water measuring sensors at each reservoir to monitor water level heights, and developing a water distribution control system with multiple functions such as an interactive map of the reservoirs, a database with data on the reservoirs, a dashboard showing water administration activity, and a forecasting tool. These tools will enhance the management of water supplies and reservoir operations.

#Colorado issues cease-and-desist order for #Nederland-area mine that’s leaking heavy metals into water — The Colorado Sun

Barker Meadows Dam Construction

From The Colorado Sun (Michael Booth):

Tests at the Cross and Caribou mine that drains into drinking water supplies show elevated levels of lead, cadmium and other toxic minerals, as the state threatens high fines.

State water quality officials have issued a cease and desist order and threatened substantial fines against owners of the Caribou gold mine above Nederland because of heavy metals leaking into drinking water sources, hammering Grand Island Resources over repeated violations.

The dripping heavy metals are not a current threat to Middle Boulder Creek, Barker Reservoir or the parts of Boulder County downstream, state officials said. But they ordered the owners to build a new containment and cleanup system, and threatened to impose fines of up to $54,833 per day for each of multiple violations for the toxic metals and for failing to report test results.

“A notice of violation is one of the most serious actions we take, and I think this shows that we really are committed to protecting the resource up there,” said Kelly Morgan, an environmental protection specialist for water quality in the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. “This is a big deal to us.”

In a statement from a Nederland address, Grand Island Resources acknowledged the violations, and said that it had been moving since before the state’s notice to solve the problems and “replace the last 50 years of antiquated and obsolete water purification methods and treatments.”

“We are working hand in hand with federal, state and local agencies. . . to make all the necessary investments and capital improvements that were not made by previous operators of the Cross and Caribou Mines,” the statement said. The company said it has hired a top engineering team to design new water capture and treatment facilities as ordered by the state.

Nederland wants the Boulder County Commissioners to help monitor the situation, and is keeping careful track of water supplies fed by Coon Track Creek, where the mine discharges water, and downstream waters, town trustee Alan Apt said. Nederland over the summer passed a “natural rights of rivers” resolution for exactly this reason: protecting western Boulder County’s natural resources for the public, he noted…

The once-thriving mine is near popular backcountry attractions a few miles northwest and northeast of Nederland, including Eldora ski area, to the Rainbow Lakes and Fourth of July trailheads, to the Caribou Ranch Open Space playgrounds…

Apt said Grand Island wants to increase the amount of ore it mines at Cross and Caribou and hopes to build an ore crushing and processing plant at the site…

The company’s attorney Ed Byrne said Boulder County approved an ore processing facility in 2008 and Grand Island still plans to build it, which would save dozens of truck trips a day…

In terms of how high the eventual fines might be, Byrne said, “there was no chemical spill or release of ore processing water. The higher fine levels are typically reserved for damaging or reckless releases, not rare exceedances of stringent numerical aquatic life standards.”

[…]

The state’s cease and desist order says mine owners failed to make some required pollutant reports in March and April of this year. When the state looked deeper, it found pollutant violations in those months but also many more alleged violations before and after, spanning a period of December 2020 through August 2021.

In April, for example, Cross/Caribou self-reported copper traces of 50 micrograms per liter of water, when the state standard is a daily maximum of 20. In January, the mine reported lead of 10 micrograms per liter, when the state 30-day average limit was 3.8. The state’s order charges the mine with violating the Colorado Water Quality Control Act. The notice of violations and cease and desist order in early November say the state is continuing to investigate and may have “additional enforcement actions.”

[…]

Grand Island Resources must also answer to the state’s Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety, and will be subject to a hearing in front of the division’s board in mid-December. The company was trying to make improvements in recent months, Morgan said, but the state hasn’t found them effective…

The violations related to failing to report tainted water were not intentional, Byrne, the company’s attorney, said. Some were “a misinterpretation on our part of the state reporting protocols,” he said, and others were related to weather delaying timely deliveries to a lab in Montana.

Hope seen for Western water storage in infrastructure bill — The #Montrose Daily Press #GunnisonRiver

From The Montrose Daily Press (Katharhynn Heidelberg):

No amount of planning or legislation can make more water — but it can help the parched Western Slope make more use of the water it has.

The trillion-dollar Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act authorizes, as part of an overall $55 billion for water infrastructure, $8.3 billion under its Western Water Infrastructure title for the Bureau of Reclamation between Fiscal Years 2020 — 2026.

On the laundry list of designated funds for Western Water Infrastructure are $3.2 billion for aging infrastructure, $1.5 billion for storage, $1 billion for the Drought Contingency Plan on the Colorado River and $400 million for WaterSMART and energy efficiency grants.

“All in all, it’s certainly the most meaningful investment in Western water resources that we’ve seen in my generation,” said Zane Kessler, director of Government Relations for the Colorado River District. The district sees an opportunity to fight for some of those dollars to flow into western Colorado, he said — and there are several meaningful investments that Colorado and the Western Slope are well-equipped to pursue…

The act provides additional funding to the Aging Infrastructure Account created in 2020’s Consolidated Appropriations bill. This funding helps the Bureau of Reclamation provide direct loans to finance the non-federal share of major, nonrecurring maintenance of water infrastructure owned by the bureau, in water projects across the West that require major upgrades or replacement.

“As those facilities, most of which are more than 50 years old, continue to age, the issue of storing and delivering water effectively, efficiently and in a timely matter only increases,” a summary from The Ferguson Group states. The Ferguson Group represents the Family Farm Alliance, of which the Colorado River District is a member.

Of the $3.2 billion, $100 million is to be available for dam rehabilitation, reconstruction or replacement. Another $100 million is to be available for reserved or transferred works that have suffered a critical failure, per the summary.

Water storage, groundwater storage and conveyance projects receive a $1.05 billion boost and of that, $100 million is to fund grants to plan and build small-surface water and groundwater storage projects.

There is $1 billion available for water projects authorized by Congress before July 1 of this year in accordance with the Reclamation Rural Water Supply Act of 2006.

The river district is pleased overall with the package of options the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act opens up, Kessler said, and it will be working to bring some of those dollars here.

The infrastructure act’s passage comes at a time of dire drought in the Gunnison Basin and Colorado.

The boat ramp at the Lake Fork Marina closed for the season on Sept. 2 due to declining reservoir levels. The Bureau of Reclamation is making emergency releases out of Blue Mesa Reservoir to prop up levels in Lake Powell and preserve the ability to make hydropower.
CREDIT: HEATHER SACKETT/ASPEN JOURNALISM

Earlier this year, Blue Mesa Reservoir was drawn down a total of 36,000 acre-feet between August and October and Flaming Gorge in Utah released 125,000 acre-feet. Navajo Reservoir in New Mexico is set to have released 20,000 by December — a trio of infusions mandated by the Upper Basin Drought Response Operations Agreement to keep hydropower operational at Lake Powell…

The earlier drawdown at Blue Mesa took 17,000 acre feet from the reservoir in August; 16,000 acre feet in September and 3,000 acre feet in October, according to BuRec numbers.

That provided the requisite 36,000 acre feet to Powell from Blue Mesa, but at the end of October, Powell was 156 feet from full pool, with an elevation of 3,544.25 acre feet. It had 7.18 million acre feet in storage — 30% of live capacity, as Catlin noted.

He and others eye the weather and potential snowpack. They wait. They hope.

Catlin said that as it is, the entire Gunnison Basin is drying so much, it’s hard to say what the overall impact might be — but more than agriculture would suffer…

Taylor Park Reservoir

Blue Mesa has about 218,000 acre feet in storage, he said. Taylor Park, another pot of water in the BuRec-managed Aspinall Unit, sits “OK” at 59,000 acre feet in storage, Knight said. Ridgway Reservoir has 63,000 acre feet in storage, a bit low, but in light of how dry the year was, not as bad it could be, he also said…

Blue Mesa’s elevation sat at 7,431 this week — ideally, it would reach 7,490 by the end of December.

“We’ll be nowhere close to that,” [Erik] Knight said.

Indy Q&A: Southern #Nevada Water Authority General Manager on the #ColoradoRiver and preparing for a drier future — The Nevada Independent #COriver #aridification

Lake Mead low elevation. Photo credit: Department of Interior via ensia

From The Nevada Independent (Daniel Rothberg):

Colorado River officials face a math problem.

Already, there is not enough water flowing through the Colorado River to meet all of the demands on the watershed, which spans seven U.S. states and crosses into Mexico. And as the climate changes, scientists warn that those who depend on the watershed should plan to receive even less water each year…

Already, the Lower Colorado River Basin states that rely on Lake Mead — Arizona, California and Nevada — have been meeting to discuss and find funding for a program that would keep more water in the reservoir in an attempt to stave off further shortages and cuts. That plan would keep about 500,000 acre-feet in the reservoir next year and in 2023…

The states came together to develop the plan as part of a consultation clause in an existing 2019 agreement, known as the Drought Contingency Plan. That plan builds off of a set of operating guidelines for the river, approved in 2007 and set to expire in 2026. At the same time that water officials from the seven Colorado River states tackle near-term issues, they are all positioning to negotiate a new set of guidelines.

The Colorado River is governed by a series of overlapping laws, contracts, compacts and agreements, including the guidelines. Working within these structures, the states face a major challenge — to reduce use on the river and prepare for the worst-case scenario of a future with far less water to go around. Next month, water officials from across the basin are set to meet in Las Vegas to discuss that challenge and other issues facing the river.

John Entsminger, the general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority, said he is “cautiously optimistic” that the states will be able to find a way to lower use “because of the structures we’ve already put in place.” He noted that if Lake Mead were to hit 1025 feet above sea level, current agreements would already trigger cuts of about 1.3 million acre-feet of water.

The Nevada Independent spoke to Entsminger about the negotiations and how dry of a future Colorado River water officials should plan for. Our conversation has been edited for clarity and length.

What do you see as the greatest challenge facing the Colorado River moving forward?

I hate to be obvious, but the biggest challenge for the river is we have a lot less water than people have legal entitlements.

How does that play into discussions around management as they’re evolving right now?

It makes the interstate and international discussions much more difficult, because really what you’re ultimately doing is negotiating to divide up a far smaller pie than what was believed to be the case in the 20th century.

Brad Udall: Here’s the latest version of my 4-Panel plot thru Water Year (Oct-Sep) of 2021 of the Colorado River big reservoirs, natural flows, precipitation, and temperature. Data (PRISM) goes back or 1906 (or 1935 for reservoirs.) This updates previous work with
@GreatLakesPeck.

You mentioned not that long ago, testifying in Congress, that “the river community is far from a consensus about how dry of a future to plan for.” What are some of the differing opinions right now? And where are people on establishing that baseline of what the future looks like for the river?

I was on a panel at the University of Colorado Law School within the last six weeks or so. And a couple people on the panel were asked that question of how dry a future should we be planning for, and I said I thought an 11 million acre-feet annual flow of the river is probably a good place to start based upon what I’ve heard from folks like Jonathan Overpeck and Brad Udall and other smart climate scientists.

But there were some folks on that panel that threw out a number of 13 to 14 million acre-feet, which, frankly, is quite a bit more water than the average of the last 20 years. So I think just from that exchange, you can see that there isn’t currently a consensus on what sort of worst-case scenario should we be planning for, as we negotiate operating guidelines for post-2026.

Let’s take that number, 11 million acre-feet. What would it mean in terms of water use to get to that number?

As a basin (seven states plus the country of Mexico), we’re currently using about 14 [million acre-feet]. So it would mean finding a way to cut current uses by three million acre-feet and not add any new uses, at least without retiring a commensurate amount of existing uses.

Knowing how hard it is to reduce use, that sounds like a very big challenge. Do you think that’s an achievable goal?

That’s the amount of water that Mother Nature gives us. We don’t really have a choice whether or not to achieve it. You have to find a way to live within the amount of water that nature actually gives you.

Signing ceremony for the Colorado River upper and lower basin Drought Contingency Plans. Back Row Left to Right: James Eklund (CO), John D’Antonio (NM), Pat Tyrell (WY), Eric Melis (UT), Tom Buschatzke (AZ), Peter Nelson (CA), John Entsminger (NV), Front Row: Brenda Burman (US), and from DOI – Assistant Secretary of Water and Science Tim Petty. Photo credit: Colorado River Water Users Association

Middle Colorado Watershed Council project completed to expand habitat for native fish on East Divide Creek

Bluehead sucker. Photo credit: USFWS

From the Middle Colorado Watershed Council:

Imagine life as a small fish. Your world is confined to swimming in creeks, rivers and streams searching out food, seeking shelter from predators, finding resting spots and, of course, fulfilling the biological urge to reproduce. For the female, finding just the right spot to lay one’s eggs is instinctual, and mosttravel great distances in search of suitable habitat.

Now image swimming along and encountering a structure the size of the Glen Canyon Dam – relatively speaking. There’s no going further – it’s pretty much the end of the road. This is the dilemma of a small fish as it confronts a water diversion structure.

Today one small fish, a native Bluehead Sucker, has cause for celebration. A completed project on East Divide Creek, a tributary to Divide Creek that flows into the Colorado River south of Silt, has opened up more than five miles of its historic habitat unreachable to the fish before now. Five miles is a considerable distance in which the fish population can expand, increasing resiliency for the species and reducing the risk of local extinction.

The project involved the reconfiguration of a diversion structure to make it easier for fish to swim upand over it. The King Heatherly diversion structure, located on public lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) Colorado River Valley Office, but owned and operated by the Spring Creek Ranch, is critical for providing water to raise local crops and livestock. The structure needs to operate effectively and efficiently, but if designed properly, can continue to do so while accommodating fish passage. Scott Schreiber, an engineer with Wright Water Engineers (WWE), knows just how to do that.

Scott and his team of engineers and biologists developed a design with a rock ramp gradual enough for fish to swim up. The ramp has a rough bottom, mimicking a natural stream, complete with small boulders for fish to rest behind on their way upstream. The ramp also acts to stabilize the diversion structure and includes improvements to make annual maintenance easier for Spring Creek Ranch.

“The opportunity to connect these habitats provides great pride for WWE and myself as we look for ways to reconnect our sensitive watersheds for future generations. Using creative solutions and advanced hydraulic modeling, my team was able to understand velocity distributions across theproposed rock ramp to verify they were within the Bluehead Sucker’s burst and prolonged speedranges,” Scott said.

Brian Barackman, owner/operator of Diggin’ It River Works, was the local contractor selected to construct the project. His crew utilized heavy equipment outfitted with state-of-the-art electronics and GPS systems that allowed for precision placement of rock, pipe, fabrics, and vegetation. The resulting structures appear natural looking and should blend into the surrounding environment as they revegetate with native willows and grasses.

Bluehead Sucker, along with Flannelmouth Sucker, and Roundtail Chub are imperiled Colorado River basin native fish species. Collectively called “the three species,” their conservation is a cooperative effort across their range which includes New Mexico, Nevada, Wyoming, Utah, and Arizona. The three species currently only occupy a fraction of their historic range in large part due to habitat fragmentation by dams and water diversion structures. Other threats to the species include climate change, altered water quality, introduction of predatory and competitive species, and for the two sucker species, hybridization with non-native sucker species. All three fish species are found throughout the Middle Colorado Watershed and are part of an Integrated Water Management Plan that seeks to restore habitat for these species through projects like the King Heatherly Fish Passage project.

Fisheries biologist from the BLM and Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) will be closely monitoring the success of the project by surveying for fish both below and above the structure, to determine if upstream movement is occurring. Documented successes from the project will be used to inform the design of subsequent projects like this in the watershed and across these species range, of which dozens have been identified.

“King Heatherly is the first project in Colorado focused on fish passage specifically for bluehead suckers. We hope this project lays a foundation to provide a blueprint for future fish passage structures for native fish in western Colorado and illustrates the feasibility of modifying structures to include fish passage,” says Jenn Logan, CPW Native Aquatic Species Biologist.

Also key to the success of projects like King Heatherly is the cooperation of a number of partners from private landowners to federal land management agencies, state resource agencies, and watershed organizations. As Tom Fresques, BLM Fish Biologist, noted “The Bluehead Sucker is a such a cool fish and the BLM is excited to have such a diverse collaborative partnership working to improve and expand habitat for this native species on public lands managed by the BLM.”

Paula Stepp, Executive Director for the Middle Colorado Watershed Council added, “Working collaboratively with local farmers and ranchers allows MCWC, BLM and CPW to enhance the water management capabilities of irrigation systems while providing native species the infrastructure to increase their long-term survival.”

Project funding came from a series of grants from the Desert Fish Habitat Partnership, BLM, CPW, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Project management was handled by the Middle Colorado Watershed Council. Please contact MCWC for more information or interest in a tour.

Improving the King Heatherly diversion dam for the health of native species

King Heatherly diversion structure. Photo credit: Middle Colorado Watershed Council

THE TARGET

Located south of Silt, CO on lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management, the King Heatherly Diversion Dam is a structure that has operational issues and needs to be improved. The project objectives are to:

  • Improve habitat connectivity for resident fish by improving upstream passage of the structure during the spring flow regime
  • Reduce maintenance needs and costs associated with the structure
  • Demonstrate the viability of projects of this type in the Middle Colorado watershed (Glenwood Springs to DeBeque)
  • Secondary objectives include:

  • Enhance hydraulics of the diversion structure, thereby improving width to depth ratios, as well as minimizing plunge pools and undermining of the structure;
  • Reduce or eliminate entrainment of fish into the ditch during the spring diversion period.
  • The bluehead sucker is primary native species that will benefit from this structural improvement project. The bluehead sucker has an impressive jump for a sucker, which still isn’t that impressive. They are listed as a ‘sensitive’ species by the Bureau of Land Management for Colorado. This dam is located on East Divide Creek, and would connect three miles of habitat along that creek.

    THE PLAN

    In 2018, the Middle Colorado Watershed Council contracted Wright Water Engineers to make modifications and to improve the structure. The BLM is sponsoring the improvement, as the structure is on public land. Picture updates will be coming soon to document this project.

    The location of the King Heatherly Diversion Improvement project. Graphic credit: Middle Colorado Watershed Council

    Click through to view the construction photos.

    Long-Term Environmental, Instream, and Recreational Water Storage Contract Approved for Stagecoach Reservoir — @COWaterTrust #YampaRiver

    Yampa River. Photo credit: Yampa River
    Integrated Water Management Plan website

    Here’s the release from the Colorado Water Trust (Dana Dallavalle) and the Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District (Holly Kirkpatrick):

    Steamboat Springs, Co., (November 18, 2021) – On Wednesday November 17th, the Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District (UYWCD) board of directors approved a 10-year contract with the Colorado Water Trust (Water Trust) for the purchase of stored water in Stagecoach Reservoir. The water supply contract, deemed for environmental, instream and recreational use, is the first long-term contract that extends beyond temporary one-year contracts between UYWCD and the Water Trust in years past.

    Since 2012, the Water Trust has purchased and released 14,500 acre-feet of water into the Yampa River from Stagecoach Reservoir. Water Trust releases help maintain healthy streamflow and water temperature from Stagecoach Reservoir downstream through the City of Steamboat Springs during hot and dry summer months.

    Historically, UYWCD and the Water Trust have worked together to negotiate contract terms as needed on an annual basis using state legislation that allowed for environmental water releases to be loaned for instream flow use in 3 out every 10 years.

    In 2020, Colorado House Bill 20-1157 was passed, allowing for the establishment of amended rules governing the Colorado Water Conservation Board’s (CWCB) Instream Flow and Natural Lake Level Program, previously governed by the 3 in 10 rule. Effective March 17, 2021, the amended rules provide potential for increased flow rates and expand the temporary loan of water rights for instream flow use from 3 years to 5 years out of every 10 in addition to potential loan renewals for up to three 10-year periods.

    Renewable loans through the program could allow environmental releases to bolster flows in the Yampa River for up to 15 out of 30 years if needed.

    For the past year, UYWCD and the Water Trust have been working towards a longer-term contract that could help support the Yampa River during low flows and utilize the new state legislation. The new 10-year contract ensures 100 acre-feet of water in the general supply pool of Stagecoach Reservoir will be allocated to the Water Trust each year if supply is available. The contract also allows for the Water Trust to purchase additional water from two other contract pools in Stagecoach Reservoir at various volumes as needed. Payment for water contracted outside of the general supply pool will only be collected if the water is released.

    “As drought conditions and water scarcity continue to challenge our basin, having this 10-year contract in place will help minimize some of the recurring challenges we typically face each year when we revisit temporary contracts without constraining UYWCD water supplies or Water Trust funds. Developing longer- term solutions frees up time and money for all our partners to be even more innovative in their collaboration to keep the river flowing,” said Andy Rossi, General Manager of the Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District.

    UYWCD and the Water Trust will be one of the first in the state to utilize the newly amended statute and rules when they present the 10-year contract as part of their joint application to the CWCB program, which is anticipated to take place in January of 2022. Following completion of the CWCB application review, UYWCD and the Water Trust hope to secure a loan of water rights for instream flow use by spring of 2022, making the first 10-year contract effective through 2032.

    “UYWCD and the Water Trust have forged something new here. It’s a big step forward for the Yampa River Project and collaborative water management in general. We can now focus our efforts on the new instream flow loan application, and if we are successful, to expanding the Project’s benefits downstream of the instream flow reach where it can benefit even more of the river and all those who rely upon it,” commented Alyson Meyer Gould, Staff Attorney for the Water Trust.

    The success of the Yampa River Project involves many partners and dedicated donors including: The Yampa River Fund, Yampa Valley Community Foundation, Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, and individual donors as well as key project partners: The City of Steamboat Springs; Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District; Catamount Development, Inc.; Catamount Metropolitan District; Colorado Parks and Wildlife; Colorado Water Conservation Board; and the Colorado Division of Water Resources. Without these generous donations and the collaborative work of numerous local and statewide entities, water releases to support the health of the Yampa River would not be possible.

    #Aurora and other #Colorado communities push past ‘toilet-to-tap’ reluctancy — The Aurora Sentinel

    Prairie Waters schematic via Aurora Water.

    From The Associated Press (Brittany Peterson and Sam Metz):

    hen Aurora buys one bucket of water, it’s really buying multiple buckets of water. Each drop of water will likely be used over and over again.

    The growing city approaching 400,000 residents isn’t interested so much in acquiring single-use water anymore, said Greg Baker, spokesperson for Aurora Water. With its Prairie Waters potable reuse system, Aurora can recapture and reuse about 95% of the city’s water, so having multiple uses written into water rights agreements has become a top priority as water rights are likened to gold in the West — expensive and often hard to come by.

    Aurora’s method — sterilizing wastewater from toilets, sinks and factories and then piping it back into homes and businesses as tap water — is catching on across the U.S.

    In the Los Angeles area, plans to recycle wastewater for drinking are moving along with little fanfare just two decades after similar efforts in the city sparked such a backlash they had to be abandoned. The practice, which must meet federal drinking water standards, has been adopted in several places around the country, including nearby Orange County…

    The shifting attitudes around a concept once dismissively dubbed “toilet to tap” come as dry regions scramble for ways to increase water supplies as their populations boom and climate change intensifies droughts. Other strategies gaining traction include collecting runoff from streams and roads after storms, and stripping seawater of salt and other minerals, a process that’s still relatively rare and expensive.

    Though there are still only about two dozen communities in the U.S. using some form of recycled water for drinking, that number is projected to more than double in the next 15 years, according to WateReuse, a group that helps cities adopt such conservation practices.

    In most places that do it, the sterilized water is usually mixed back into a lake, river or other natural source before being reused — a step that helps make the idea of drinking treated sewage go down easier for some.

    In Aurora, the process is thanks to the Prairie Waters system, which was opened in 2010. It starts south of Weld County along the Platte River, where Aurora holds water rights that can be used “to extinction,” meaning nearly endlessly.

    “Essentially, this means that the water residents use for washing, laundry, showering, as well as some of the water from lawn watering, stays in the South Platte River Basin,” Aurora Water explains…

    A few dozen wells on the basin pull water through hundreds of feet of sand and gravel to purify the water. Next, the water is pumped into basins of more sand and gravel where filtration continues. Finally, pipes take the water to three different pump stations, which lift the water 1,000 feet over a ridge and back to the Peter D. Binney Purification Facility, near Aurora Reservoir.

    From there the water is treated and pumped back out to the city’s thousands of homes and businesses, where the cycle begins all over again…

    Currently, the facility treats about 50 million gallons of water each day…

    Funding for more wastewater recycling projects is on the way. The bipartisan infrastructure bill passed by Congress has $1 billion for water reuse projects in the West, including the $3.4 billion project in Southern California.

    And tucked into the federal budget reconciliation package being debated is $125 million in grants for alternative water sources nationwide that could include reuse technologies.

    Plans for expansion of the Aurora Prairie Waters project are ever-evolving and so there isn’t a build out budget attached, Baker said.

    #Aspen officials release plan laying out 50 years of #water projects 5,820 acre-feet of storage — mostly for emergency use — could cost over $400 million in today’s dollars — @AspenJournalism #RoaringForkRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    An aerial view showing the 63-acre parcel of land, located to the left of the racetrack and gravel pit, purchased by the city of Aspen due to its being a potential site for a new reservoir contemplated as part of an 50-year Integrated Water Resources Plan. A new reservoir in Woody Creek would require an 8-mile pipeline to convey water to the city’s treatment plant.
    CREDIT: BRENT GARDNER-SMITH/ASPEN JOURNALISM

    From Aspen Journalism (Heather Sackett):

    The city of Aspen’s recently released integrated water resource plan outlines the strategy for an adaptable, phased approach to meet increasing demands and a large pool of “emergency” storage to protect against threats to supplies from Castle and Maroon creeks.

    Aspen Utilities Director Tyler Christoff, Utilities Resource Manager Steve Hunter and John Rehring of Carollo Engineers, the Denver-based firm that the city hired to complete the study, presented the IWRP to City Council members at a work session Monday night. The report, which looks 50 years to the future, uses projections about population growth and climate change impacts to determine that the worst shortfalls could occur in two consecutively dry years and be about 2,300 acre-feet total over the course of both years.

    To make up for that gap, the report offers six different portfolios of potential new water sources, including storage, nonpotable reuse, groundwater wells, Hunter Creek, enhanced water conservation and drought restrictions. The IWRP says storage is included in five of the six portfolios because no single supply option or combination of supply options can completely mitigate shortages without the use of at least some operational storage.

    Two storage pools

    The plan proposes two separate storage pools to meet demands under projected conditions in 2070: a 520-acre-foot operational pool and a 5,300-acre-foot emergency-storage pool to provide up to 12 months of water.

    Since the report recommends a phased approach with each additional implementation coming after a predetermined trigger is reached, the first phase of operational storage would be for just 130 acre-feet to buffer the seasonal shortage. Streams are highest with runoff in the spring, but demands on Aspen’s water system are highest in late summer, when streamflows are low — and this is the gap operational storage aims to fill.

    The construction of the combined 5,820 acre-feet of storage and its associated pipelines and pumps comes with a hefty price tag — it is estimated to cost more than $400 million in 2021 dollars as it is implemented over the coming decades.

    Aspen Utilities Resource Manager Steve Hunter stands at the city’s Castle Creek water diversion in this February 2021 file photo. Castle Creek is the source of most of Aspen’s potable water, but the city recently released a report laying out options for increasing its access to water supply from other sources in case something prevented the city from using its diversion infrastructure tapping Castle and Maroon creeks, or flows on those creeks were greatly reduced due to climate change.
    CREDIT: HEATHER SACKETT/ASPEN JOURNALISM

    “We want to make it flexible and adaptable so that we are ready for that worst-case condition,” Rehring told council members. “We implement as needed as we see those conditions unfold over time.”

    The report says the emergency-storage pool must be full and ready for use when the need arises — if, for example, an avalanche makes the city’s supplies in Castle and Maroon creeks unusable. “Regardless of siting and co-location, emergency-storage volumes would be filled and maintained at their defined capacity until needed for an emergency,” the IWRP reads.

    Storing water specifically until an emergency occurs is not a decreed beneficial use under Colorado water law. But municipal water providers often have a lot of leeway to plan for future needs, which could include storage projects.

    Part of the goal of the IWRP is to narrow the city’s options for moving its conditional water rights for reservoirs in Castle and Maroon valleys. After a lengthy court battle, in which 10 entities opposed Aspen’s plans, the city gave up its water rights in those particular locations. One of the places to which the city could move them is a 63-acre plot of land that it bought in Woody Creek in 2018. If the city stores water there, it would have to pump it back uphill to the water-treatment plant via an 8-mile pipeline.

    City Council member Ward Hauenstein asked about the timeline for storage and renewing the city’s conditional water rights.

    To keep these rights, the city will have to show, through a 2025 filing in water court, that it still intends to use them and that it is making progress on a project.

    “Recent history across Colorado shows that it could take decades to implement a storage project, even after sizing and siting analyses are completed,” the report reads. “Therefore, reservoir planning must start immediately.”

    Aspen City Council will vote on whether to adopt the IWRP at a later meeting. Mayor Torre thanked the staff, consultants and community members who weighed in on the plan.

    “The work you guys are doing on this is some of the most important work Aspen is going to have the benefit of over the coming 10, 20, 30 years,” he said. “Thank you.”

    #Drought along a #ColoradoRiver calls for extreme efforts to enforce #water laws: A badge and a gun — The #ColoradoSprings Gazette

    Dolores River watershed

    From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Carol McKinley):

    water scarcity driven by drastic climate-change along the Dolores River in southwest Colorado has been a real jaw-grinder for folks who bear a century’s worth of grudges over who gets water, how much and when.

    After 22 years of drought, the river is down to a trickle this late fall and the water storage it feeds, McPhee Reservoir, has shrunk to its lowest level in decades. Even when the runoff was flowing last spring, the Dolores project was already in water shortage mode and farmers only got 10% of what they’re normally allocated, which means they were only able to grow 10% of the crops they’re used to producing.

    Much of the farmland lays fallow…

    The water that was released from McPhee Dam tells the story, said Colorado State University senior water and climate scientist Brad Udall: “The agreement is for 25 cubic feet per second minimum flow release and they were releasing 1/5 of that.”

    Colorado Drought Monitor map November 23, 2021.

    The U.S. Drought Monitor map shows Colorado’s Four Corners region in bright red, in the extreme drought category.

    “I have said for years that the southwest portion of the state is very much at risk for these kinds of drought,” Udall said. “We should expect for them to occur repeatedly throughout the 21st century.”

    […]

    Desperate times

    At the mouth of the Dolores, one of the only things standing between a shovel to the head and civility is a Montezuma County sheriff deputy whose job it is to keep watch on water robbers.

    Dave Huhn is a tall, silver-haired deputy with a bad back from 12 years of ditch riding. He sips from a Big Gulp-sized iced tea as he travels miles of county roads; a badge, a gun and a tablet of citations are his shield.

    “Communication is everything and just because you’ve lived out here 100 years doesn’t mean you’re doing it right,” explains Huhn, who was given the responsibility of enforcing complicated Colorado water laws by the county commissioners in 2009. “You can’t steamroll these people. You’re not out there talking with a physicist. You’re out there talking with someone who needs to produce your food. You’ve got to listen to the problem.”

    […]

    [Marty] Robbins is the keeper of the ditch deeds, which are the official record of water rights. He opened a drawer and pulled out a thick leather-bound dossier of evidence. It is the smoking gun in the world of water crime.

    “My whole world changed when Dave took over ditch issues,” Robins said. “Around here, you have a whole lot of attitude and very little forgiveness.”

    Regional #water planning partnership in the works — The #Telluride Daily Planet #SanMiguelRiver #DoloresRiver #ColoradoRive #COriver

    Lone Cone from Norwood

    From The Telluride Daily Planet (Regan Tuttle):

    District 3 San Miguel County Commissioner Kris Holstrom and Norwood Mayor Pro-Tem Candy Meehan are working together to make sure Norwood has water in the future.

    Currently, Holstrom with the West End Economic Development Corporation (WEEDC) and April Montgomery are collaborating to bring groups together, including the Lone Cone Ditch Company, Farmers Water Development, Norwood Water Commission, Norwood Fire Protection District, the Town of Norwood and San Miguel Watershed Coalition.

    In a grant application that is due Dec. 1 to the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB), the collaboration, with WEEDC as the fiscal agent, is going after a 75-25 percent match of what could be millions of dollars.

    Holstrom and Meehan said the grant is for bringing a third-party engineer to Wright’s Mesa to examine major water projects, layer them and “plan and prioritize” for sustainable water for the region. Holstrom said it can help with water supply and storage.

    Holstrom said the engineer won’t be hired to come and take over water on Wright’s Mesa. She said each organization can still go after its own grants. She said “buckets of money” are soon going to be available in the near future, though, and the grantors want to see collaboration.

    For a region in extreme drought, Meehan said it only makes sense to do this work…

    Should the collaborators on Wright’s Mesa be awarded — and they just might considering officials at CWCB were described as being “very enthusiastic” regarding the incoming grant application — the organizations who’ve contributed then become stakeholders. Only then would a regional partnership be established. Next, a regional comprehensive water plan could also be done…

    Holstrom said Monday that she’s pleased various organizations on Wright’s Mesa are agreeing to go for the collaborative grant. She said the “yesses and nods” are an indication that it’s time to look into getting the funding to sustain water in the Norwood area.

    Uncompahgre Valley slated for a second #water supply source by 2025 — The #Montrose Daily Press

    Ridgway Reservoir during winter

    From The Montrose Daily Press (Cassie Knust):

    When Project 7 began drawing up plans for a water resiliency program in 2019, its leaders didn’t plan to invest in connecting a raw water line from the Ridgway Reservoir to a new treatment plant in Ridgway.

    The new treatment plant and water line would be designed so additional capacity can be added in the future, allowing a maximum capacity of approximately 10 million gallons per day, more than a 30% increase in drinking water supply for the region.

    The plan to construct the Regional Water Supply Program in conjunction with the Ridgway Water Treatment Plant is a decision driven by water supply security. The project will add a second water source to the region while serving all Project 7 members.

    The valley hasn’t yet experienced water supply interruption, but Project 7 intends to stay ahead of a slew of risks that could potentially affect over 50,000 people and thousands of local businesses.

    The new treatment plant would allow direct access to existing water rights in the Ridgway Reservoir while building a system resilient to wildfire, drought and transmission interruptions in the Gunnison Tunnel.

    Project 7 Water Authority is a wholesale water treatment provider that supplies to the City of Montrose, City of Delta, Town of Olathe, Tri-County Water Conservancy District and the Menoken and Chipeta water districts, although each entity owns its own water rights.

    Although geographically the second smallest entity in the cooperative by size, the City of Montrose uses roughly 50% of the water supply due to population density, with about 8,000 residents using water services from Project 7…

    As it stands, the Gunnison River remains the only water supply source for the region, with one treatment facility to provide to the six entities within the cooperative.

    The cooperative projected the overhead cost of the project to be between $50 – $70 million. The estimate includes the raw water line, but will become more specific as the design process progresses, said Miles Graham, spokesman for the resiliency program.

    City of Montrose customers will see an increase in water rates on Jan. 1, 2022, due in part to Project 7’s elevated fees. Huggins noted that the impact of increasing wholesale rates for customers depends largely on the size and budget of the district…

    Montrose residential water bills will increase by $4.86 per 3,000 gallons of water used per month and increase $1.35 per 1,000 gallons used per month, due in part to the water supplier raising its own fees by 15%.

    At this stage in the planning process, it’s impossible to predict the cost for each entity without knowing the ultimate program cost or the amount of outside state and federal support, said Graham.

    By using a uniform rate structure for all entities to provide local funding, the cost will be shared equally throughout the valley and supplemented by aggressively seeking grants and low-interest loans.

    As the process moves forward, the team will be able to test and determine which treatment technology is best for the new plant and raw water line, as well as finding opportunities to make use of existing water distribution infrastructure near the new facility site.

    The cost may be higher to build the raw water line, but overall, the cost to run and operate will be lower since the water quality leaving the reservoir will provide a stable water supply, Huggins noted. The water will also be easier to treat, with less influence from rain events washing mud and silt in the river that have to be removed, allowing for mitigated operation costs…

    Water treatment plants often use electrical backup generators that run on diesel or natural gas, which is typically banned in the event of a wildfire, the engineer said. Because a gas-run generator on a tank of fuel presents a dangerous risk, utility companies usually shut off any natural gas in the area if a wildfire is present.

    “So if you think about an emergency situation, having the ability to bring water down to this site and continue operations at the plant without having to pump it up from the river made a lot of sense. [It’s] a more sustainable solution than the other options for getting water to the site.”

    Construction for the project is expected to begin in 2023. The new water line and treatment plan is slated to go online by 2025.

    For more information on Project 7 and the resiliency program project, visit https://www.project7water.org/

    The threat to #Colorado’s acequias and the communities that depend on them: In the San Luis Valley, the communal and egalitarian resource offers a way of life — @HighCountryNews

    From The High Country News [November 23, 2021] (Sarah Tory):

    Every summer in Colorado’s San Luis Valley, a long, high desert valley ringed by mountains, Jose Martinez watches in admiration as water flows from an irrigation pipe across the contours of his land, feeding the eight acres of alfalfa he grows near his home in San Francisco, a town of less than 90 people. The water comes from a network of communal irrigation ditches, or acequias, which comes from an Arabic word meaning “water bearer.” The acequias were built in part by his ancestors who arrived in southern Colorado more than 150 years ago with other Hispanic families from what is now New Mexico, establishing seven villages around Culebra Creek.

    “I get to thinking, back in the day, these men dug it all by what we call pico y pala — pickaxe and shovel,” Martinez, 76, told me when I visited recently. We were sitting in his kitchen on a cold October day with his wife, Junita, 70, while the two of them explained how acequias work.

    Unlike normal irrigation ditches, acequias are a communal resource, collectively owned and governed by their parciantes, or members — the group of small-scale farmers with water rights to the ditch. Acequias are egalitarian, too: whether you irrigate one acre or 100 acres, you get one vote in decisions about the ditch in exchange for helping to clean and maintain the acequia. The parciantes elect a three-member commission to make decisions around ditch maintenance and operations, as well as a mayordomo to manage the irrigation infrastructure and tell people when they can irrigate and when they have to shut their gates.

    Junita and Jose Martinez on their vara land, which is pipe irrigated with acequia water. Jose remembers when his family would plant vegetables on their plot, but now he plants hay, which requires less labor, and yields a larger profit.
    Luna Anna Archey

    In Colorado, acequias are found in four of the southernmost counties and irrigate only a tiny fraction of the state’s agricultural output. But in a region where some water rights have been sold to the highest bidder and private gain is sometimes prioritized over collective well-being, acequias remain a powerful antidote to the forces threatening rural communities — a way of valuing local resources beyond their dollar amount and a catalyst for sharing them in times of scarcity. During dry years, acequias work to ensure that everyone weathers the shortages equitably; occasionally, Jose has opted to forego his water entirely when he sees no prospect of a decent crop, so that other parciantes can have more.

    “Our concept is community,” Junita explains. “If I can’t get something, why should I hurt my neighbor, if I could just let him have my water — maybe he can grow something?”

    The Culebra-Sanchez Canal, a feeder ditch in the acequia system in the San Luis Valley.
    Luna Anna Archey

    THAT COMMUNAL MINDSET originates in part from the families who arrived in the southern San Luis Valley in the mid 19th century to settle the one-million-acre Sangre de Cristo Land Grant. Drawn by promises of land and resources, they established small farming communities on land where the Cuputa band of Ute people had roamed for thousands of years, until they were gradually killed or forced out by European colonizers beginning in the 1600s. The families settling the valley beginning in the 1850s were primarily from Mexico, which had sold the territory now known as New Mexico — including the southern end of the San Luis Valley — to the U.S. government a few years earlier at the conclusion of the Mexican-American War.

    Families built acequias and shared access to a mountainous tract of land in the nearby Sangre de Cristo mountains, known locally as La Sierra, which they relied on for water, firewood and foraging. The land grant was eventually sold, but its subsequent owners honored the historical rights of local families to access La Sierra.

    Growing up, Jose Martinez remembers how families built cellars to store the vegetables grown on the land nourished by the acequias, as well as meat from deer and elk hunted in La Sierra — food that would last them the winter. Although they live in what is now one of Colorado’s most impoverished counties, “we ate like kings,” he said.

    That all changed in 1960, when John Taylor, a North Carolina timber baron, bought 77,500 acres of La Sierra, renaming it the Cielo Vista Ranch and closing it off to the local community to create a logging operation. Taylor’s logging wrought lasting damage on the land. Poorly constructed roads created erosion, reducing the amount of water that flowed from the mountains into the acequias, according to area residents.

    One of many gates blocking public access to privately-owned Cielo Vista Ranch. Residents with ancestral rights to the land won access in a Supreme Court ruling. They now have keys to the gates, but are only able to use the land for specific purposes, like gathering firewood, and they often face harassment by Ranch employees.
    Luna Anna Archey

    The water wasn’t the only resource reduced or eliminated as a result of Taylor’s actions. Without access to La Sierra for grazing, local families lost their herds and the culture of self-sufficiency that had sustained them for decades. Many, like Jose Martinez’s family, moved out of the valley. Those that stayed saw their health and well-being deteriorate. People went on food stamps and rates of diabetes soared. There were psychological impacts, too.

    “You lose the relevance of what your land means,” said Shirley Romero Otero, the head of the Land Rights Council, which formed in the town of San Luis in the late 1970s to stop Taylor from denying access to the property. (A group of San Luis community members are participating in The Colorado Trust’s Community Partnerships strategy; Romero Otero previously was part of this effort.)

    In 1981, the Land Rights Council mobilized local residents to sue Taylor for blocking their historical right to access the property. The ensuing legal battle lasted 40 years, fought by generations of the same families and leading to an April 2003 Colorado Supreme Court ruling, Lobato v. Taylor. The ruling granted people the right to graze their animals, cut timber and gather firewood on the land, if they could prove they were heirs to property that was part of the original Sangre de Cristo land grant.

    The privately-owned Culebra Range in the background of San Francisco, Colorado. Residents call the mountains La Sierra.
    Luna Anna Archey

    “WE’RE SUCH DIEHARDS,” Junita told me, pointing to an old black-and-white photo from the early days of the land rights struggle taped to their refrigerator. Her husband was among the roughly 5,000 people given keys to access the ranch gates after a nearly 15-year process of identifying the land grant descendants.

    “We won’t let go,” Jose added.

    The Martinezes owe their persistence in part to the acequias, which are the lifeblood of each village, binding people to the land and to each other. Every spring, acequia communities gather for an annual ritual called La Limpieza to clean the ditch in preparation for the irrigation season. For families, it serves as a de facto reunion — regardless if someone has moved to Denver or to California, people come back for La Limpieza.

    For Junita, that communal aspect is why acequias are important: working together to cultivate a shared resource. It’s also why she feels so strongly about protecting those resources from wealthy outsiders who threaten that culture. “We’re a land- and water-based people,” Junita explained.

    The current owner of the Cielo Vista Ranch is William Harrison, heir to a Texas oil fortune, who bought the Cielo Vista property in 2018. According to its real estate listing, the ranch was listed at $105 million and encompasses 23 miles of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, including 18 peaks over 13,000 feet and one over 14,000 feet, Culebra Peak — the highest privately owned mountain in the U.S., and quite possibly the world.

    Harrison’s ranch hands have intimidated and harassed local people who tried to access the property, according to court filings and residents — despite the legal rulings affirming the rights of the land grant heirs. With the threat of a violent confrontation growing, Jose and Junita’s children told their father they don’t want him going up onto the ranch alone to collect firewood, which he, like many locals, uses to heat their home.

    A week before I visited, the Land Rights Council filed a motion in Alamosa Municipal Court to safeguard local residents’ rights to access the ranch. During a two-day hearing, a judge heard testimony about how the ranch’s aggressive surveillance tactics infringed on the community’s hard-won traditional land rights, including tracking people with drones and armed ranch hands approaching people with dogs. The ranch denied use of such tactics.

    In an email, Harrison, through his lawyer, wrote that he believes that a few “bad apples” have abused those rights on occasion, illegally hunting, joy-riding ATVs and sneaking onto the property to fish. “That being said, we are fully committed to bringing the animosity of the past to a close, and are making a good-faith effort to bring healing and peace,” he added.

    A sign in the town of San Luis provides notification of a community meeting about accessing La Sierra.
    Luna Anna Archey

    IF ACEQUIAS are the seams holding communities together, they are also what makes them vulnerable: the stitching that can come undone. In recent years, developers have approached communities elsewhere in the San Luis Valley to buy their water rights and then move the water from the aquifer below the valley over Poncha Pass and into the Arkansas River for growing Front Range cities.

    “Some of those places look like ghost towns because of that,” said Peter Nichols, a lawyer with the Acequia Project, a pro-bono legal assistance program supported by the University of Colorado Boulder Law School.

    Thus far, acequia communities have resisted those efforts, ensuring their water stays with the land. With the help of the Acequia Project and Colorado Open Lands, an environmental nonprofit, acequias have adopted bylaws that protect acequias from outside buyers.

    Still, like any collaboration, acequias are not perfect, said Sarah Parmar, the director of conservation at Colorado Open Lands. “It’s messy because there are human relationships involved, and anytime you have a community that goes back multiple generations, there are going to be grudges and things that have happened that they’re going to bring into those situations,” Parmar said.

    But more than anything, acequia communities recognize that water is not just an asset; “it’s a piece of everything,” Parmar told me. “If you pull on that thread, the whole sweater unravels.”

    Junita and Jose Martinez at their home in San Francisco, Colorado. Nana Ditch, the “mother ditch,” runs through their property.
    Luna Anna Archey

    JOSE GRABBED JUNITA’S ARM to steady her as the two walked outside to show me the Nana Ditch, the “mother ditch” that gurgles beneath the willow trees in their backyard.

    “It would kill me to see water flow by that doesn’t belong to us,” Junita said. “We’d have to go away.”

    Today, abandoned houses are scattered amongst the roads and villages of the Culebra watershed — a reminder of how this community, like so many rural communities, has changed. North of the villages, giant agricultural operations have replaced the smaller family-run vegetable farms that once filled the San Luis Valley, while their high-tech center pivot irrigation systems are depleting the aquifers beneath the valley floor at an alarming rate.

    Meanwhile, so many people have left, with the population of Costilla County nearly half what it was in 1950. When their children were growing up, Jose and Junita moved to Colorado Springs so the girls could get a better education. But people are returning to the valley, too, like Martinezes did in 2002. Jose began growing alfalfa on his family’s eight acres again, and a few years ago, two of the girls bought the lots on either side of their parents, where they hope to one day build their own homes.

    In the Spanish dialect spoken in northern New Mexico and southern Colorado, there is a term called querencia, which translates roughly to “heart home or place.” Even after they left the valley, Jose and Junita would bring the girls back to San Francisco every summer to remind them: “This is where you come home.”

    Junita and Jose Martinez’s land on the periphery of San Francisco, Colorado.
    Luna Anna Archey

    This story was republished with permission from Collective Colorado, a publication of The Colorado Trust.

    Sarah Tory writes from Carbondale, Colorado. Follow @tory_sarah

    New projects take shape along High Line Canal: @DenverWater pledges $10M to long-term care of the historic canal — News on Tap

    From News on Tap (Jay Adams):

    When Denver’s early settlers built the High Line Canal back in the 1880s, little did they know what the future would hold for the 71-mile man-made waterway that stretches from Waterton Canyon southwest of Littleton all the way to Aurora.

    The High Line Canal was originally designed to deliver irrigation water to farmers on the dry plains of Denver. While Denver Water still owns and uses the canal to deliver irrigation water to customers, the canal corridor also has grown into a recreational asset and an ecological resource for the metro area.

    On the recreational side, each year around 500,000 people walk, run and ride the canal’s 71-mile maintenance road that also serves as a popular trail. As an ecological resource, some sections of the canal structure itself are now being used for stormwater management.

    The High Line Canal is an irrigation ditch built in the 1880s. Denver Water still uses the canal to deliver irrigation water to customers when conditions allow. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    The evolution of the public’s use of the canal for recreation and stormwater management, along with its original role as a water delivery method, is one of the reasons why Denver Water and regional partners, including cities, counties, park and flood districts and stormwater management entities, have partnered with the High Line Canal Conservancy. The nonprofit organization’s mission is to preserve, protect and enhance the 71-mile canal in partnership with the public.

    Denver Water plays an active role in the ongoing discussions about the canal’s future as it continues to serve its High Line customers. Because the canal has a junior water right and experiences high seepage and evaporation losses over large distances, Denver Water is looking for more reliable and efficient ways to deliver water to some of the High Line customers.

    The High Line Canal in operation in May 2021. The canal is an inefficient means of delivering water long distances. It can get clogged with debris and loses 60% to 80% of its water to the ground due to seepage. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    “As the canal’s role in the metro area evolves, Denver Water is committed to making sure it remains a beneficial asset to the community,” said Jeannine Shaw, government relations manager at Denver Water. “That’s why in 2020, the Denver Water Board of Commissioners approved a historic $10 million pledge to the High Line Canal Conservancy to invest in the long-term care and maintenance of the canal corridor.”

    Included in the pledge is a piece of property and an office building located adjacent to the canal in Centennial for the Conservancy to use as its new headquarters.

    The High Line Canal Conservancy’s new headquarters is located along the canal in Centennial. Denver Water provided the building to the nonprofit as part of a financial pledge in 2021. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    As part of this evolution, the Conservancy, Denver Water and canal stakeholders are creating a new management structure called the Canal Collaborative to formally connect the regional partners as they guide the future of the canal.

    Representatives from the Canal Collaborative pose with supporters for a picture to celebrate their work. Photo credit: High Line Canal Conservancy.

    “The collaborative helps us do more together than any one entity can do alone,” said Suzanna Fry Jones, senior director of programs and partnerships for the High Line Canal Conservancy. “The collaborative management structure will ensure this treasured resource is preserved, protected and enhanced as a regional legacy for future generations.”

    The formalized structure will benefit citizens and the environment along all 71 miles of the canal as it winds its way through Denver as well as Adams, Arapahoe and Douglas counties.

    The Canal Collaborative includes the High Line Canal Conservancy, Denver Water, Arapahoe and Douglas counties, the cities of Aurora, Denver, Cherry Hills Village, Greenwood Village and Littleton, the Highlands Ranch Metro District, the Mile High Flood District, the Southeast Metro Stormwater Authority and South Suburban Parks and Recreation.

    Read about the different canals that carry water through Denver Water’s complex system.

    “The collaborative is important because we need to have a group that brings together all of the jurisdictions so we can hear from each one of those entities and their communities about what’s most important to them,” said Nancy Sharpe, Arapahoe County Commissioner for District 2, which includes Centennial, Greenwood Village, a portion of Aurora and unincorporated central Arapahoe County.

    The Conservancy was formed in 2014 and has developed “The Plan for the High Line Canal,” which lays out guidance for repurposing the corridor along with over 100 recommendations for new projects.

    Here’s a look at some of the developments along the canal in recent years.

    Ecological resource

    Under the new Stormwater Transformation and Enhancement Program, High Line Canal partners are looking at ways to allow and move stormwater through areas of the canal to improve water quality and manage local flooding in the South Platte River Basin. This is in addition to the canal’s existing irrigation delivery purposes.

    Stormwater is any rain and snow that eventually flows off any impervious surface and into the canal.

    Several structures have been built in or on the side of the canal to help manage the flow of stormwater through the channel.

    The new structures that are located on the side of the canal help improve drainage on city streets and collect debris and trash before water enters the canal.

    The structures being built inside the canal also help catch and stop debris and trash from flowing down the channel. They also temporarily slow down and detain water to filter out sediment.

    These structures are designed to improve water quality before the water reaches receiving streams. Moving stormwater through the canal could provide an additional 100 days that the canal could be wet in some parts of the channel, which would benefit vegetation along the corridor while also enhancing the recreational user experience.

    “Often times across the country, old utility and railroad corridors become degraded once their primary uses have been reduced, so we’re happy to see areas of the High Line Canal being maximized and transformed into green infrastructure,” Shaw said.

    The City of Littleton built a stormwater management system on Windemere Street. Snow and rain drain through a grate on the street and into a pipe that flows into the High Line Canal. Photo credit: Denver Water.
    The City and County of Denver built four “drive-through forebays” at the end of several streets next to the High Line Canal across from Eisenhower Park. Before the structures were built, stormwater would flow uncontrolled and unfiltered into the canal. The forebays act as pre-treatment structures that will slow water down and allow sediment and trash to settle onto the street before entering the canal. Photo credit: Denver Water.
    The City and County of Denver built three concrete structures called water quality berms in the canal. This structure in the canal at Wellshire Golf Course will control the flow of water and catch trash and debris, making it easier to remove while providing cleaner water. Photo credit: Denver Water.
    A new water quality berm with a headgate in the High Line Canal at Eisenhower Park in Denver. The berm temporarily detains stormwater to promote filtration of sediment before water passes through to improve water quality in the canal’s receiving streams. Photo credit: High Line Canal Conservancy.
    When the High Line Canal is not in operation, gates are fully opened at stream crossings. This allows stormwater that’s been filtered in the canal to go into receiving streams such as Big Dry Creek at deKoevend Park in Centennial. Big Dry Creek eventually flows into the South Platte River. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    Along with Littleton and Denver, stormwater projects are also being implemented in Centennial, Douglas County and Greenwood Village with additional projects in progress. Learn more about the Stormwater Transformation and Enhancement Program in this video.

    Denver Water and its regional partners also are exploring other opportunities to allow the canal structure to be used. In areas where it has adequate stormwater capacity the canal could provide additional benefits to the neighboring communities and their surrounding environment to improve water quality in the South Platte River basin.

    “As we navigate the evolving future for the lands the High Line Canal irrigates, Denver Water is excited to further the work with our regional partners to find additional utility for this cherished resource,” Shaw said.

    The High Line Canal in September 2021, near the South Quebec Way trailhead in southeast Denver. The canal is dry most of the year when not in operation for irrigation deliveries. Moving stormwater through the channel improves water quality and could add an additional 100 days when the canal could be wet in some parts of the canal. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    Tree canopy health

    There are more than 23,000 mature trees along the High Line Canal, but many are at the end of their life span. The Conservancy is working with Denver Water and regional partners to remove dead trees and trim others to improve overall tree health and safety along the canal’s recreational trail.

    To maintain the canal’s urban forest, the Conservancy’s Plan recommends planting 3,500 new trees by 2030. The species of trees being planted will be more drought tolerant than many of the old cottonwood trees currently along the canal.

    In the fall of 2021, the Conservancy, along with the support of local volunteers and The Park People, planted 175 new, drought-tolerant trees. Photo credit: High Line Canal Conservancy.

    Trail improvements

    A major goal of the Conservancy and the Canal Collaborative is to make it easier, safer and more fun to walk or ride on the canal’s recreational trail. The Conservancy is working with local jurisdictions to add new pedestrian bridges, trailheads, underpasses, mile markers and wayfinding signs.

    A biker rides through the new underpass that goes under South Colorado Boulevard and East Hampden Avenue next to Wellshire Golf Course in south Denver. The project provides a critical connection to allow safe passage under two busy streets, resulting in easier trail access and encouraging more users. The collaborative project was funded by the City and County of Denver, Cherry Hills Village and Arapahoe County along with funds from the federal government. Photo credit: Denver Water.
    A new sign along the High Line Canal trail in Aurora installed in 2021 provides a map to help trail users navigate the corridor. Photo credit: Denver Water.
    Arapahoe County Open Spaces opened a new trailhead on South Quebec Way in southeast Denver. The site includes parking, a bathroom, a trash can and a trail map. Adding new trailheads is major goal of the High Line Canal Conservancy to improve access and facilities for the public. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    Canal Improvement Zones

    Under The Plan, the Conservancy has worked with the community and jurisdictional partners to identify nine Canal Improvement Zones. These are locations where residents asked for trail enhancements to increase physical activity, foster community connections and create access points to nature.

    Many of the sites are in diverse neighborhoods where the canal corridor has been historically under-utilized and lacked investment.

    Enhancements may include pedestrian bridges, improved trail access, benches, signs, gathering spots and play areas.

    The first location to see new projects is the Laredo Highline neighborhood in Aurora, thanks to a $180,000 grant from the Colorado Health Foundation and an additional $180,000 from Arapahoe County.

    A rendering of enhancements to the High Line Canal trail in Aurora’s Laredo Highline neighborhood. The enhancements include a new pedestrian bridge to improve trail access and new play and seating areas. Image credit: High Line Canal Conservancy.

    “I grew up in the Laredo Highline neighborhood and the canal has always helped bring the community together,” said Aurora resident Janak Garg. “We’re really looking forward to the new bridge and other improvements coming to the neighborhood.”

    Janak Garg and his family stand at the spot where a new pedestrian bridge will be built across the canal in Aurora’s Laredo Highline neighborhood. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    New mile markers

    A very noticeable and welcome improvement to the trail is the addition of new mile markers. In the past, there were a variety of mile markers with different mileage from each jurisdiction, which made it confusing for hikers and bikers.

    Now there are new Colorado red sandstone mile markers that line the trail from start to finish, paid for through donations by the Conservancy’s founding partners.

    Most of the markers have a quote or message from the founding partners, like Al Galperin who lives near the South Quebec Way Trailhead, whose message reads: “Be the reason someone smiles today.”

    “I hope it brings a little bit of extra joy to people on the trail,” Galperin said. “It’s nice to be able to help out and see all the new features coming to the canal.”

    Al Galperin and his dog Brody stand next to one of the new mile markers along the High Line Canal trail. Galperin is one of the High Line Canal Conservancy’s Founding Partners who made a donation to help fund the mile marker project. Photo caption: Denver Water.

    “It’s inspiring to see all these improvements and we’re excited for the future of the canal,” Shaw said. “The Conservancy and all of the partners are doing a great job leading the way and working with Denver Water and the community.”

    Denver Water crews participate with volunteers to help clean up the canal in Aurora in April 2021. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    Visit highlinecanal.org to sign up for monthly emails for information on events throughout the year. The website also provides information about history of the canal, new projects and volunteer opportunities.

    Ouray County asks state water board to delay filing aimed at instream flow protection: County wants first to work out state opposition to Cow Creek project — @AspenJournalism

    Ouray County Water Users Association wants to build Ram’s Horn Reservoir on the upper reach of Cow Creek, shown here. Ouray County has requested that the CWCB delay a filing for an instream flow water right below this reach.
    CREDIT: HEATHER SACKETT/ASPEN JOURNALISM

    From Aspen Journalism (Heather Sackett):

    Ouray County is asking the state water board to delay a water court filing designed to protect streamflows so it can try to resolve issues in a separate but related water court case.

    In July, the Colorado Water Conservation Board approved an instream flow water right on Cow Creek, a tributary of the Uncompahgre River, and asked staff to file for the right in water court by the end of this year. Instream flow rights are held exclusively by the state with the goal of preserving the natural environment to a reasonable degree. The state board, which is charged with protecting and developing Colorado’s water supply, holds instream flow rights on about 1,700 stream segments and 9,700 miles of stream throughout the state.

    Now, Ouray County is asking the CWCB to delay the filing by six months so that the two governmental entities can try to work out the board’s opposition to a reservoir and pipeline project on Cow Creek on which the county is a co-applicant. CWCB directors will consider the request at their regular meeting Thursday.

    In a November letter to Ouray County, Robert Viehl, the CWCB’s chief of the Stream and Lake Protection Section, noted that state statutes set clear rules and timelines for commenting and making hearing requests, and that the county’s request to delay the filing falls outside of those parameters.

    “Any entity had the opportunity to state concerns with the Cow Creek appropriation and filing of the water right at the CWCB’s March, May and July 2021 meetings, when the appropriation was noticed before the board,” the letter reads. “This request by Ouray County is outside of the set administrative process for the appropriation and filing on instream flow water rights.”

    The CWCB, at the recommendation of Colorado Parks & Wildlife, is seeking instream flow protections for a 7.4-mile reach of Cow Creek — from its confluence with Lou Creek to its confluence with the Uncompahgre River, downstream of Ridgway Reservoir. CPW says this reach contains important fisheries, including the last-known remnant population of bluehead sucker in the upper Uncompahgre River basin.

    #Wyoming Water Development Commission seeks $281M for dams, domestic supply, other projects: Lawmakers advance three appropriation measures including one to claim $95 million from American Rescue Plan Act money — WyoFile

    From WyoFile (Angus M. Thuermer Jr.):

    In what could be one of the biggest requests to the Legislature in years, state water development officials are eyeing $281 million or more to fund agricultural irrigation works, dams, reservoirs, domestic water projects and other programs.

    During three days of meetings last week, lawmakers first advanced about $33 million in appropriations recommended by the Wyoming Water Development Office. Funded projects include a few municipal supply projects, numerous irrigation improvements, cloud seeding and a review of aging infrastructure, among other things.

    The Legislature’s Select Water Committee then backed a draft bill seeking an additional $95 million from American-Rescue-Plan-Act or general-fund money to establish a statewide water infrastructure grant program.

    Then, in an 11th-hour proposal, the legislative committee asked its staff to draft an amendment — or another stand-alone bill — to add another $152.8 million to 2022 appropriations, mostly for five major agricultural dam, reservoir and irrigation projects.

    There could be even more added to the almost $153 million amendment or new bill.

    “If people have things that they would like to include in that draft, I think that would be appropriate,” Sen. Larry Hicks (R-Baggs) told Select Water Committee co-chairman Rep. Evan Simpson (R-Afton).

    Wyoming has turned a corner since facing a diminished state budget due to declines in coal and oil-and-gas tax revenue, Hicks suggested. There’s “a certain amount of money, funds, available,” he said, pointing to the American Rescue Plan Act that seeks to pull the country out of its COVID-19 slump. Additional funds, possibly from rising oil and gas activity, also could be available, he said.

    All of which could be used to shore up a water development program that Hicks has said repeatedly has been unfairly plundered by the Legislature.

    “By the time we get through this biennium, we will have raided water development account[s] to the tune of about $55 million,” he told lawmakers last week. In recent years, the Legislature directed funds that should have been used for water development, Hicks said, to instead finance other projects and the State Engineer’s Board of Control, which settles disputes over water rights.

    Three avenues for appropriations

    The Select Water Committee’s three-pronged agenda would fund the $33 million in 2022 water development commission programs, add the $95 million statewide infrastructure grant program using ARPA and general-fund money and spend another $152 million under Hicks’ water development amendment.

    Hicks’ call for $152 million — the largest funding avenue — could be added to the ARPA bill or emerge as a separate stand-alone measure, according to discussion by the committee. It would see $35 million go toward the Alkali Reservoir near Hyattville in Big Horn County, the cost of which has increased from $35 to $59 million.

    Jason Mead in 2015 describes to irrigators and others the plans for expanding the Upper Leavitt Reservoir in Big Horn County. (Angus M. Thuermer, Jr./WyoFile)

    Another $30 million would go toward the Leavitt Reservoir expansion, an additional $25 million would armor the Fontenelle Dam to increase its usable capacity and $21.8 million more would help resolve the collapse of the Goshen irrigation tunnel.

    Hicks’ proposed amendment or stand-alone bill also would earmark $30 million to help rebuild the dangerous LaPrele Dam above Douglas. The proposed appropriation also would infuse several other water development accounts with $11 million.

    The next largest block of funds advanced by the Select Water Committee last week — $95 million from ARPA money for a statewide infrastructure grant program — would be disbursed by the Wyoming Water Development Office in coordination with two other state agencies. The Office of State lands and Investments, which oversees drinking water funds, and the state Department of Environmental Quality, which is responsible for aspects of wastewater projects and discharges, would be involved with the grants.

    Grants would be limited to $7.5 million per project and they would cover 85% of the cost of a proposal.

    Funds appropriated through the ARPA bill could be constrained by the caveats in that federal rescue program, however. The federal emergency COVID-19 relief program funds water infrastructure programs that appear to be directed mainly toward domestic and municipal drinking water and wastewater programs, not agricultural and irrigation dams, reservoirs and canals.

    ARPA funds are being distributed according to an interim rule that in one clause specifies investments will be made for “projects that improve access to clean drinking water [and] improve wastewater and stormwater infrastructure systems.”

    The Select Water Committee’s third avenue for funding grew from the Water Development Office and Commission’s annually scheduled advancement of water programs that this year totals about $33 million. Those projects involve everything from new and ongoing cloud seeding and a review of its effectiveness to municipal and domestic water supply projects, irrigation and agricultural programs and a statewide assessment of crumbling infrastructure.

    What about the infrastructure bill?

    During last week’s meetings there was little if any discussion regarding the $1 trillion infrastructure bill President Joe Biden signed into law Monday. But earlier this year the Select Water Committee wanted that measure to include provisions for water development in the state.

    “As we start to see an infrastructure bill develop … it’s certainly something that we’ve conveyed to our congressional delegation that water is a big issue in Wyoming,” Hicks said in April, “and that we’d like to see a significant component in any infrastructure bill.”

    Although he stopped short of endorsing the federal infrastructure bill, Hicks asked Wyoming legislative staff to stay in touch with the congressional delegation in Washington, D.C., and to get updates.

    On Aug. 10, U.S. Sens. John Barrasso and Cynthia Lummis provided one public update when they voted against the infrastructure bill, which passed the Senate 69-30. On Nov. 5, U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney also voted against the infrastructure bill as the measure passed the House 228-206.

    To further buttress water development and prevent what developers see as a raid on funds, Hicks and Wyoming Water Development Office Director Brandon Gebhart in April proposed an explanatory program to be presented to “anybody willing to listen.”

    Such a presentation may “enlighten some people in the Legislature,” Gebhart said. Hicks called the planned presentation “education” for lawmakers and said it should come during the first day or two of the 2022 legislative session.Last week’s funding proposals did not include several other ongoing projects — including a proposal to build a 280–foot-high dam on the West Fork of Battle Creek above the Little Snake River in Carbon County, and a plan to lower New Fork Lake by some 21 feet to provide late-season irrigation. While those were not immediately included in Hick’s amendment, they are on a $414-million wish list of water infrastructure projects reviewed by WyoFile that the state assembled earlier this year.

    WyoFile is an independent nonprofit news organization focused on Wyoming people, places and policy.

    Wyoming rivers map via Geology.com

    Denver Water reaches Gross Reservoir settlement, but #water supply concerns remain — The #Denver Post #SouthPlatteRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    Gross Reservoir. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    From The Denver Post (Conrad Swanson):

    The utility will pay millions to mitigate environmental concerns for Boulder County residents

    The county received assurances Denver Water would pay to mitigate environmental damages expected from the work, but the deal still left Commissioner Matt Jones “heartsick.” He said commissioners fought for the best deal possible but he’s still concerned about the damage the project could do locally and for the millions of people who depend on the Colorado River…

    Climate scientists and legal experts said they’re skeptical the parched Colorado River will provide enough water for Denver Water to fill an expanded Gross Reservoir. And even if the water’s there, the expansion and other projects like it will inevitably worsen water shortages on Colorado’s Western Slope and downstream, they said.

    Utility officials, however, hailed the settlement and said that while they won’t be able to fill the reservoir every year — which they’ve known all along — years with above-average precipitation will provide more than enough water.

    “We’re gonna fill the reservoir,” Denver Water Project Manager Jeff Martin said.

    Climate change is trending in the wrong direction for such strong confidence, cautioned Mark Squillace, the Raphael J. Moses Professor of Natural Resource Law at the University of Colorado Law School.

    “This just seems a bit insane to me that Denver Water is unwilling to acknowledge” that climate change is only likely to worsen water shortages on the Western Slope, Squillace said.

    Martin said he still expects to break ground on the five-year, $464 million project by April…

  • Denver Water will pay $5 million to residents most impacted by the work and agreed to reduce noise and dust from the project using electric rather than diesel generators.
  • Denver Water’s drivers must complete bicycle awareness training, provide “truck free” days for cyclists and “leave Gross Dam Road in a better condition than before the project.”
  • Denver Water will pay $5.1 million to replace open space lands that would be flooded by the reservoir expansion and transfer 70 acres near Walker Ranch Open Space to Boulder County.
  • Denver Water will pay $1.5 million to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the project and another $1 million to restore a stretch along South St. Vrain Creek.
  • Squillace said while those terms might benefit county residents, it’s still not enough and he was disappointed to hear commissioners agreed to settle.

    “We were between a rock and a hard place,” Jones said. “We were pushed into this corner of knowing that and trying to figure out what we could get for Boulder County residents…

    Martin said he and others at Denver Water expect to be able to fill the expanded reservoir in average and above-average years. South Boulder Creek, which is not part of the Colorado River system, also feeds into the reservoir and could supplement water in dry years on the Western Slope, he noted…

    [David] Bahr suggested Denver Water could instead pipe in water from the Missouri River or other places in the Midwest that are expected to see more water in the coming years. While Martin said those types of ideas could be explored for the more distant future, Denver Water officials maintain that an expanded Gross Reservoir is the best course of action for now.

    The project could still come to a halt, Squillace said. The more delays the work faces, the more climate data will be available, increasing political pressure for Denver Water to seek another way to secure its water supply.

    “I’m still not so convinced that the project’s ever going to actually be built,” he said.

    Brad Udall: Here’s the latest version of my 4-Panel plot thru Water Year (Oct-Sep) of 2021 of the Colorado River big reservoirs, natural flows, precipitation, and temperature. Data (PRISM) goes back or 1906 (or 1935 for reservoirs.) This updates previous work with
    @GreatLakesPeck.

    Congressional infrastructure deal brings $8B in #climate, #water projects to the #West: Conservation groups say the bill is a climate and water budget bonanza for Colorado — The #Colorado Sun

    Glenwood Canyon/Colorado River. Photo credit: Allen Best/The Mountain Town News

    From The Colorado Sun (Michael Booth):

    Colorado will benefit from billions of dollars in climate change and water projects in the $1.2 trillion infrastructure investment bill passed by the U.S. House late Friday, conservation groups said over the weekend, with some of the money shoring up drought-stretched obligations to the Colorado River Compact.

    More than $8.3 billion in water projects alone earmarked for Western states will help pay for programs such as renting water from farmers to send down the Colorado River in extremely dry years, replanting and managing high country forests devastated by wildfires and recycling more water in cities, said Alexander Funk, director of water resources for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership…

    Water for Colorado, a broader coalition that Funk speaks for, called the bill’s final approval “a rare opportunity for Colorado to have funding flowing while our rivers are not. Colorado needs to be ready to use as much of these once-in-a-generation federal funds as quickly as possible to address the state’s water resource funding gaps through implementation of the Colorado Water Plan.”

    The coalition’s members include Trout Unlimited, Environmental Defense Fund, American Rivers and others.

    Pew Charitable Trusts highlighted $1.4 billion of approved spending that will go to states, local governments and tribal governments for repairing and removing culverts, improving fish habitat, and removing barriers to fish spawning and survival, such as dams. The bill also includes $275 million in dedicated funding for the first time to fix roads and make other improvements at national parks and other public and tribal lands…

    Brad Udall: Here’s the latest version of my 4-Panel plot thru Water Year (Oct-Sep) of 2021 of the Colorado River big reservoirs, natural flows, precipitation, and temperature. Data (PRISM) goes back or 1906 (or 1935 for reservoirs.) This updates previous work with
    @GreatLakesPeck.

    State and nonprofit leaders in Colorado say the boost of federal money is needed to help them find water for the beleaguered Colorado River through diversions from agriculture and conservation in Front Range cities. The Colorado River’s runoff into Lake Powell has dropped about 20% in the past 20 years amid a long-term drought and longer-term climate change.

    The drop in available Colorado River water, which supplies 40 million people in seven states, has already forced cutbacks to the amount of water being sent to Arizona in 2022…

    Colorado leaders do not want to be forced into sudden, uncontrolled cuts in a compact “call.” They are experimenting with “demand management,” paying farmers for water in some years without drying up their water rights permanently, and putting that water in a “bank” in Lake Powell to satisfy the compact. Large-scale water renting or purchasing will take at least hundreds of millions of dollars.

    Other projects that would need federal aid include transforming agricultural watering to be far more conserving, alternate crops, payments for carbon sequestration in ground cover, and restoring high country wetlands that slow wildfires and harbor lush wildlife.

    Great Blue Heron at the Pagosa Springs wetlands. Photo: Barry Knott

    “I would say the upland forest wetland ecosystems are huge winners in terms of this infrastructure package,” Funk said.

    Front Range cities and water districts who feel they have a case to make for water conservation will also seek shares of the new pot of money to complete their projects. Agencies looking for federal assistance include a group of providers in northern El Paso County, who want to build a $134 million pipeline to complete a loop recycling diminishing aquifer water.

    Other funded infrastructure projects highlighted by the water conservation coalitions include:

  • $280 million for sewer overflow and stormwater reuse municipal grants
  • $500 million in community wildfire defense grants from the U.S. Forest Service, and $200 million in post-fire restoration activities from the forest service and the Bureau of Land Management
  • $300 million for river drought contingency planning, with $50 million specifically for Upper Basin states like Colorado
  • The conservation groups are hoping Congress will double-down on climate and drought spending by following up in coming weeks to pass the other part of Biden’s recovery package, the multi-trillion, oft-changed budget reconciliation bill dubbed Build Back Better.

    A nursery manager plants a whitebark pine at Glacier National Park in Montana in September 2019, part of an effort to restore vegetation following a wildfire. Photo credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images via Pew Research

    From The Pacific Institute (Peter Gleick, Amanda Bielawski, and Heather Cooley):

    On November 5, 2021, the U.S. Congress passed President Biden’s major infrastructure bill, HR 3684, the $1.2 trillion ‘‘Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.” The President is expected to sign the bill into law. The bill is the largest single federal investment in infrastructure in a generation, with the funds to be expended over five years. It aims to rebuild and replace failing, aging, and outdated water, energy, transportation, and communications systems. As the first significant federal investment in climate resilience, it also begins to address the growing consequences of climate change, including intensifying extreme weather events, increasing temperatures, and rising sea levels, on communities throughout the United States.

    One key component of the Act is the set of proposals to address the wide range of water-related challenges facing the United States. This Pacific Institute analysis provides an overview of how the Infrastructure Act addresses these challenges. The Pacific Institute will also issue a more detailed Issue Brief.

    Highlights

  • The Act dedicates approximately $82.5 billion for a wide range of critical water investments. The largest water-related investments are for improvements in safe drinking water and sanitation.
  • The new Infrastructure Act provides a shift away from the 20th century primary focus on building major dams and water diversions toward a more sustainable and resilient approach.
  • The new legislation helps correct some of the historical inequities previous infrastructure bills have perpetuated on frontline communities, who are disproportionately impacted by water insecurity.
  • The water system investments provided by this new Act are important steps in the right direction. They are not, however, enough—alone—–to prepare water systems to become fully resilient, as they need to be to withstand the stresses and shocks of climate change.
  • Context

    The United States faces several severe and worsening water problems, including:

  • old and deteriorating water infrastructure for safe drinking water and wastewater treatment;
  • new contaminants that are neither regulated nor controlled;
  • failure to provide modern water services to millions of people;
  • growing impacts from severe droughts and floods, intensifying as a result of climate change;
  • water shortages for farms and rural communities;
  • destruction of aquatic ecosystems, fisheries, and wetlands; and
  • increasing risks of both climate change and conflicts over water resources around the world.
  • Continuing to neglect these water problems will further impoverish and sicken this and future generations, while increasing threats to our economy and food supply. Conversely, smart water policies are projected to create hundreds of thousands of jobs, improve public health, address long-standing disproportionate impacts on frontline communities, and speed economic recovery.

    In September 2020, the Pacific Institute released a set of water-related recommendations for the new administration. Some of the most important of these recommendations are:

  • delivering clean, affordable drinking water to everyone in the United States, with a focus on removing remaining lead water pipes and service lines;
  • modernizing and updating existing federal laws that protect drinking water and regulate water pollutants;
  • preparing for the increasingly detrimental consequences of extreme weather and climate disasters;
  • protecting and restoring natural aquatic ecosystems; and
  • improving access to safe water and sanitation in frontline communities, including on Tribal lands.
  • The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act

    The new Infrastructure Act addresses many of the priorities laid out in the Pacific Institute’s recommendations. It provides the most comprehensive opportunity to help tackle America’s water problems this century. Of the $1.2 trillion authorized to be spent over five years, the Act dedicates approximately $82.5 billion for a wide range of critical water investments. Table 1 provides only a broad overview of the major water-related priorities in the bill. More details will be available in a new Pacific Institute Issue Brief.

    The largest water-related investments in the Act are for improvements in safe drinking water and sanitation throughout the country, including around $24 billion in grants over five years directly to the states under the existing Federal Water Pollution Control Act and Safe Drinking Water Acts. An additional $15 billion is provided for projects to replace lead water pipes and service lines, like those responsible for the severe contamination incident in Flint, Michigan, and remaining lead pipes in other cities around the country. Another $9 billion is allocated for addressing a set of new, dangerous, and unregulated pollutants, including perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl and other “emerging contaminants,” long neglected by current federal law.

    Federal infrastructure investments have historically supported the construction of major water-related infrastructure projects, such as dams, aqueducts, irrigation systems, and river and port transportation systems. The current bill is no exception. A major difference, however, is that the new investments refocus funds to modern, 21st century priorities that increasingly involve a longer-term water resilience view. For instance, the bill includes investments in some nature-based solutions, including ecosystem restoration, as well as water efficiency, water reuse, flood and drought programs, dam safety, and rural communities. In this way, we see a shift away from the 20th century primary focus on building major dams and water diversions toward a more comprehensive and integrated approach. Read more about the Pacific Institute’s view on water resilience in this blog and Issue Brief.

    In the current bill, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the agencies traditionally charged with managing the nation’s federal waters, are authorized to spend approximately $25 billion over five years for a wide range of these new investments. Another $2 billion is set aside for specific regional water protection programs in the Great Lakes, Chesapeake Bay, San Francisco Bay, Puget Sound, Long Island Sound, Gulf of Mexico, South Florida, Lake Champlain, Lake Pontchartrain, Southern New England Estuaries, and the Columbia River Basin.

    Water science also receives support in the bill. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Natural Resources Conservation Service of the Departments of Commerce and Agriculture are authorized to spend around $3.9 billion for new hydrologic science and modeling programs to help predict, detect, and prevent extreme events and wildfires that destroy watershed health and water quality, and for a range of ocean programs.

    Importantly, the new legislation corrects some of the historical inequities previous infrastructure bills and federal water policies have perpetuated on frontline communities, who are disproportionately affected by water insecurity. For example, Section 50108 of the bill requires the EPA Administrator to submit to Congress a comprehensive report on municipalities, communities, and Tribes that must spend a disproportionate amount of household income on access to public drinking water or wastewater services or that have unsustainable levels of water-related debt. Importantly, the report must also include the Administrator’s recommendations for how best to reduce these inequities and improve affordable access to water services. The EPA must also provide grants to states and Tribes to help schools test for and remediate lead in drinking water (Section 50110), and grants to improve water quality, water pressure, or water services on Native American reservations by prioritizing projects addressing emergency situations occurring due to or resulting in a lack of access to clean drinking water that threatens the health of Tribal populations (Section 50111).

    Other Water Infrastructure Investment Highlights

    Support is also provided to expand the careful management of stormwater and the sophisticated treatment and reuse of wastewater, two priorities identified by the Pacific Institute for addressing water challenges across the United States:

  • Section 50202 (“Wastewater Efficiency Grant Pilot Program”) provides funds for the EPA to establish a wastewater efficiency grant pilot program to carry out projects that create or improve waste-to-energy systems.
  • Section 50203 (“Pilot Program for Alternative Water Source Projects”) amends the Federal Water Pollution Control Act to support projects that use water, wastewater, or stormwater or treat wastewater or stormwater for groundwater recharge, potable reuse, or other purposes.
  • Section 50204 (“Sewer Overflow and Stormwater Reuse Municipal Grants”) amends the Federal Water Pollution Control Act to support project funding for projects in rural communities or financially distressed communities for the purpose of planning, design, and construction of treatment works for stormwater and other polluted waters.
  • A new federal Interagency Working Group will be established to coordinate actions to advance water reuse across the United States (Section 50218).
    Many other sections of the Infrastructure Act tackle water issues and will be summarized more fully in the forthcoming Pacific Institute Issue Brief, including projects to:

  • reduce the vulnerability of US water systems to cyberattacks, improve water-efficiency programs, and expand job training, diversity, and opportunities in the water and wastewater sectors (Section 50211);
  • improve water data sharing (Section 50213);
  • expand groundwater recharge and protection (Section 50222); and
  • satisfy long-neglected water rights obligations to Native American tribes (Section 70101).
  • Finally, there are additional investments provided in the Bill for non-water projects that provide water co-benefits. A few examples include:

  • Section 40804 (“Ecosystem Restoration”) provides $2.1 billion over five years for a wide range of projects to improve the ecological health of land and waters, including detecting and removing invasive species, restoring streambeds, improving water quality and fish passages.
  • Funds allocated to the states for transportation projects also provide some support for flood protection and aquatic ecosystem restoration, and the assessment of transportation and coastal risks from extreme floods, droughts, and sea-level rise (Section 11405).
  • A “Healthy Streets Program” includes support for “cool” and “porous” pavement that will mitigate some of the impacts of rising urban temperatures and reduce stormwater risks (Section 11406).
  • A National Academy of Sciences study will be prepared on best management practices for stormwater, especially to reduce runoff pollution associated with severe storms (Section 11520).
  • Support is provided for improved coordination between the United States and Canada along the Columbia River to ensure continued non-carbon electricity generation from hydroelectric plants, to “increase bilateral transfers of renewable electric generation between the western United States and Canada,” and to rehabilitate and enhance hydropower and irrigation functions at Columbia River dams (Section 40113).
  • The Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy will prepare technical assessments of the opportunities for, among other things, “improving efficient use of water in manufacturing processes” (Section 40333).
  • The “Natural Resources-Related Infrastructure, Wildfire Management, and Ecosystem Restoration” section (Section 40801 et al.), provides $250 million over five years to decommission and clean up old Forest Service roads to restore passages for fish and other aquatic species, taking account foreseeable changes in weather and hydrology and to support other projects in the National Forests that improve the resilience of roads, trails, and bridges to “extreme weather events, flooding, or other natural disasters.”
  • Conclusion

    As with all federal legislation, the final bill was a compromise, shifting priorities based on political and financial considerations. Many important investments in initial versions of the bill were watered down. For example, earlier drafts included far more money to help remove legacy lead drinking water pipes. While the $15 billion provided in the final bill is a start, far more funds will have to be found to complete that vitally important job.

    It’s important to point out that the ultimate success of these investments to address U.S. water problems will depend on how the authorized funds are actually allocated and spent. Success will also depend on the ability of federal agencies, states, local communities, and Tribes to create and mobilize jobs, find additional investments, and implement needed projects.

    The water investments provided by this new Act are important steps in the right direction. They are not, however, enough—alone——to prepare U.S. water systems to become fully resilient, as they need to be to withstand the stresses and shocks of climate change. This will require an all-hands-on-deck approach to ensure people and nature have the water they need to thrive and all communities are protected from intensifying water-related disasters.

    Gross Reservoir Expansion Project is a go after federal, state and local reviews finalized: Project to raise dam will improve water reliability for more than 1.5 million people while benefiting the environment — News on Tap

    From Denver Water (Jay Adams and Todd Hartman):

    After nearly 20 years of preparations, the expansion of Gross Reservoir in Boulder County is moving ahead.

    Last week, Denver Water took the final step necessary to proceed with the project after striking an agreement with Boulder County to take additional actions to offset impacts of the project.

    The accord with Boulder County means Denver Water can proceed with the long-awaited project that will raise the dam, triple the reservoir capacity and mean far more water security for 1.5 million people in an era of more intense droughts, heavier rain events and earlier snowmelt – all driven by climate change.

    “Today is an historic occasion for Denver Water,” CEO/Manager Jim Lochhead told Denver’s Board of Water Commissioners on Nov. 3, upon acceptance of the Boulder County agreement.

    “We bring to a conclusion the federal, state and local review processes that will allow us to begin construction of the expansion of Gross Reservoir.”

    Expanding the reservoir requires raising the dam 131 feet by placing new concrete on the existing structure. Image credit: Denver Water.

    Denver Water personnel will begin close coordination with Boulder County and others to prepare the area and local roadways for construction. Denver Water will continue to engage and communicate with project neighbors to ease impacts of the work.

    “In the two decades Denver Water has spent preparing for the project, we have been driven by a singular value: the need to do this expansion the right way, by involving the community, by upholding the highest environmental standards and by protecting and managing the water and landscapes that define Colorado,” Lochhead said.

    “Boulder County and its residents share these perspectives, and we look forward to continuing to work with them as the project moves ahead.”

    Building the Gross Reservoir Dam in the 1950s. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    Gross Dam was built in the 1950s and named after Dwight D. Gross, a former chief engineer at Denver Water. It was built to store water from the West Slope that travels through the Moffat Tunnel, as well as water from South Boulder Creek.

    “The original engineers designed the dam so that it could be raised twice, if needed,” said Jeff Martin, Gross Reservoir project manager. “Based on our water supply projections and current system shortfalls, that need is here.”

    Denver Water began the permitting process to raise the dam in 2003 and received approvals from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment in 2016 and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 2017.

    The plan cleared its final federal hurdle on July 16, 2020, when the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission gave its approval for the project and ordered Denver Water to proceed with design and construction.

    The project has earned support from major environmental groups, business interests, water users on both sides of the Continental Divide and elected officials on both sides of the aisle, including the state’s last five governors.

    Raising the dam will increase the reservoir’s storage capacity by 77,000 acre-feet of water and make Gross Reservoir the second-largest in Denver Water’s system. When complete, Gross Reservoir will be able to hold 119,000 acre-feet, second only to Dillon Reservoir in Summit County, which is capable of holding just north of 257,000 acre-feet.

    The graphic shows the existing dam and water level and how high the new dam will rise above the current water level. Image credit: Denver Water.

    Expanding Gross Reservoir is a major part of Denver Water’s long-term, multipronged approach to deliver safe, reliable water to more than 1.5 million people today and those who will call the Front Range home in the future. That approach includes increased water efficiency, recycling water and responsibly sourcing new storage.

    The additional reservoir capacity will enable increased water capture in wet years to help avoid shortages during droughts. It will also help offset a current imbalance in Denver Water’s collection system that is a significant risk.

    Denver Water has a water storage imbalance between its two collection systems with 90% of its reservoir storage located in the utility’s South System compared to 10% in its North System. This storage imbalance creates vulnerability if there is a drought, mechanical issue or emergency that affects the South System. The storage imbalance is one of the reasons Denver Water is expanding Gross Reservoir. Image credit: Denver Water.

    “Right now, 90% of our water storage is on the south end of our water collection system, but just 10% of our storage is on the north end,” Martin said.

    “By enlarging Gross Dam, we’ll be able to store more water in the north, which will improve our flexibility in the event there’s a problem on the south side that could come from any number of operational issues or threats, like wildfires.”

    Once filled, the expansion at Gross will provide an additional 72,000 acre-feet of water storage, which is roughly the amount 288,000 residential households would use for one year.

    In addition, 5,000 acre-feet of storage space in the expanded reservoir — known as the environmental pool — is reserved to support environmental needs as part of an agreement with the cities of Boulder and Lafayette. Water from the environmental pool will be used to provide beneficial stream flows along a 17-mile stretch of South Boulder Creek below the dam during dry periods to protect fish and aquatic insects.

    Denver Water also has committed over $20 million to more than 60 environmental mitigation and enhancement projects on both sides of the Continental Divide as a result of the project. According to Colorado officials, those commitments will provide a net environmental benefit for the state’s water quality.

    Denver Water will use its existing water rights to fill the reservoir when it is complete. Engineers expect it will take around five years to fill the newly expanded portion of the reservoir, depending on precipitation and water use from customers.

    “In the end, this project won’t be judged by whether we raised the dam, but rather how we went about expanding the reservoir,” Lochhead said. “We will continue to seek community input and look forward to working with Boulder County as the project moves ahead.”

    #FortCollins puts new barriers in front of billion-dollar Northern Water dam and pipeline project — The #Colorado Sun #NISP

    Cache la Poudre River. Photo credit: Allen Best

    From The Colorado Sun (Michael Booth):

    City Council calls for local control rules in big land projects could delay approval of Northern Water’s Northern Integrated Supply Project by a year.

    Fort Collins has placed new barriers in front of Northern Water’s $1.1 billion plan to build a dam and pipeline network along the Cache la Poudre River, further slowing a decades-long project backed by 15 growing Front Range communities and water districts.

    City government put a hold on the kind of pipeline and infrastructure work Northern Water needs for its Northern Integrated Supply Project, saying Fort Collins will pause for a year to write new regulations under state “1041” permitting laws that encourage local control of big land use projects. Fort Collins’ planning commission had rejected a NISP pipeline proposal through city open space last summer, but Northern Water’s board overrode the decision, as is allowed by state law.

    Northern Water says it has already complied with local approval protocols, including receiving 1041 approval from surrounding Larimer County, and will study its options if Fort Collins tries to force NISP through a newly created layer of planning.

    “We think that we’ve completed” the city’s Site Plan Advisory Review process, which was the standard before Fort Collins started talking about creating 1041 rules, Northern Water spokesman Jeff Stahla said. “We’re really going to take a close look at exactly what was passed by the city council.”

    Placing a hold on new projects and asking staff to create a 1041 process for the first time was not meant to target Northern Water specifically, though it will likely delay their Fort Collins projects, city council member Kelly Ohlson acknowledged. A new group of city council members taking office after spring elections learned Fort Collins could use the state’s 1041 law to influence projects rather than just react to them, Ohlson said…

    Mayor Jeni Arndt said the new tier of local regulations should not make a big difference in Northern Water’s decadeslong pursuit of final project approvals. Northern Water wants to build two big reservoirs northwest and east of Fort Collins, and connect them to the Poudre and the South Platte River through a series of pipelines and ditches.

    Arndt said city leaders have narrowed down their interests in creating a 1041 review process to two areas for now: water projects and development that impacts natural areas.

    “I don’t feel like that’s an evil volley against them,” Arndt said. “It’s not tit for tat. We have some legitimate concerns about our natural areas and parks.”

    Conservation groups that have battled NISP and its complex water engineering for years are happy to see a new bump in the road for Northern Water, which says it expects to receive a final federal-level permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers any month now. Opponents have filed suits and protested local government approvals since portions of NISP were first conceived in the 1980s. In July, they focused on the Fort Collins planning body’s decision whether to approve project pipelines buried in city park land and right of way…

    A delay from Fort Collins to pursue more local control rules follows Northern Water’s success in September getting Larimer County approval for another key element of the project: moving U.S. 287 east over a ridge, north of Ted’s Place, to create the dam basin where Glade Reservoir will store Cache la Poudre water.

    Northern Integrated Supply Project (NISP) map July 27, 2016 via Northern Water.

    Overall, the northern supply project will build Glade and another new reservoir northeast of Greeley, Galeton, that will store South Platte River water. Some of the new supply will be delivered in the Cache la Poudre channel, while other transfers will be made by a series of pipelines and ditches.

    Northern Water says the project will bring much-needed supply to 80,000 more residents in more than a dozen growing communities that have signed up for the water. The water agency says storing Cache la Poudre water in Glade during higher runoff allows them to supply a steady stream for wildlife and recreation through Fort Collins at times when the river otherwise runs nearly dry.

    Opponents say NISP takes water from wildlife and scenic rivers, and encourages sprawling growth in communities that could do more to conserve water.

    #Fountain looking to #ColoradoSprings Utilities to help fill water gap — The Colorado Springs Gazette

    From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Mary Shinn):

    The city of Fountain is on the hunt for more water to support growth and the most likely short-term option is an agreement with Colorado Springs Utilities.

    “Fountain is coming to the ceiling of the treated water supply,” said Mike Fink, city water resources manager, during a recent board meeting.

    While the city owns enough water rights to double its treated water capacity, enough to serve 8,800 taps, developing the infrastructure to treat that water will take time and purchasing water could provide a more immediate solution, Utilities Director Dan Blankenship said.

    In the long-term, the town expects residents could consume about four times as much water as they do now, a recent water master planning process showed, Fink said. The study showed the town uses about 3,167 acre feet of water annually, or about 1 billion gallons and it will need 11,527 acre feet or about 3.75 billion gallons, he said. The town’s maximum daily demand for water could also increase four fold, he said…

    The need for more water is not tied to a calendar date, rather it will be driven by the speed of growth within the city’s service area. Those developments will also be expected to pay for additional water infrastructure, Blankenship said.

    The town’s service area is distinct from the town’s boundaries because five water providers serve homes and businesses within the city’s boundaries, Fink said.

    To meet the need, Blankenship said he recently put in a formal request to Colorado Springs Utilities to purchase treated water and would like to have an agreement in two years, he said…

    the water could be delivered to Fountain by way of a new water main line that could run from the Edward Bailey Water Treatment Plant south to the eastern side of Fountain, he said.

    Blankenship would like to see an agreement to purchase water over 15 to 25 years until the water is needed to serve Colorado Springs, he said…

    Fountain is also working on a new reservoir so it can use water rights it already owns. It has purchased gravel pits on the very southwest side of Fountain west of Interstate 25, just north of the Nixon power plant and has hired a consultant that is designing the new facility. However, the excavation company must complete reclamation on the property before the town can start work, Blankenship said.

    Widefield aquifer via the Colorado Water Institute.

    Town officials are also exploring other options, such as injecting the Widefield aquifer with surface water from Fountain Creek to store it, he said. When water is stored in existing aquifers none of it is lost to evaporation.

    The Widefield aquifer is contaminated with chemicals from firefighting foam that used to be used on Peterson Space Force Base and all the water from the aquifer goes through extensive treatment to ensure its safe for consumption.

    Still, Fountain, Security and Widefield are interested in the injection as a potential to increase water storage, Blankenship said…

    “There’s science that indicates the aquifer could be cleaned over time,” he said.

    Denver Basin Aquifer System graphic credit USGS.

    Fountain could also become a partner in the project to recapture Denver basin groundwater water released into Fountain Creek by northern water users.

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

    Colorado Springs Utilities, Monument and six groundwater districts are working together on the feasibility of capturing the water.

    It’s possible the water could be diverted below Colorado Springs and may require new water storage, such as a reservoir or tank, Colorado Springs Utilities said in the past.

    Inside the Gunnison Tunnel, the first major water diversion system in the U.S. — The #Colorado Sun

    East Portal Gunnison Tunnel gate and equipment houses provide for the workings of the tunnel.
    Lisa Lynch/NPS

    From The Colorado Sun (Jason Blevins). Click through for the cool photos, here’s an excerpt:

    After more than a half-hour splashing through the dank dark of one of the world’s longest irrigation tunnels, Dennis Veo grins in the sunshine showering the cliffs of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison River…

    The 120-year-old, 5.8-mile tunnel was the largest irrigation tunnel in the country when it opened in 1909. It was also the first major transmountain diversion in the U.S., becoming a model for moving Western water beneath mountains, connecting wet basins with dry deserts.

    Today, the Gunnison Tunnel can move more than 500,000 acre-feet of water a year, more than the entire Eastern Slope draws from the Upper Colorado River Basin.

    That water, roughly 1,150 cubic-feet-per-second when filled to the ceiling of the granite-blasted tunnel, irrigates about 83,000 acres for 3,000 members of the Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Association and also delivers water to more than 50,000 people in the three-county Project 7 Water Authority. The water that pours from the Gunnison Tunnel is the lifeblood of the Uncompahgre Valley, flowing through 128 miles of major canals and 438 miles of lateral ditches in Montrose and Delta counties.

    “We are the largest diverter of water in Colorado,” says Steve Anderson, the second-generation general manager of the Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Association. “We can take about the same as the entire Front Range takes from the Colorado River. And about the same as the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California takes out of the Colorado River. That is a lot of water.”

    Gunnison Tunnel via the National Park Service

    An engineering marvel

    In the late 1800s, it became clear that the fickle flows of the Uncompahgre River alone could not irrigate enough acres in the river valley between Delta and Montrose. There were close to 100,000 acres homesteaded by farmers but only enough water to irrigate a fraction of that.

    An ambitious plan to connect the Gunnison River with the Uncompahgre River valley started in the early 1900s, when a pair of intrepid engineers with the local power company and the U.S. Geological Survey descended the Black Canyon of the Gunnison River on rubber air mattresses. With cameras and rudimentary surveying equipment, they searched for a place to build a diversion dam and tunnel.

    The first bore of the Gunnison Tunnel opened in 1909. It was the first major project approved by the Department of the Interior under the 1902 Reclamation Act. More than 26 men died during construction of what was then the longest irrigation tunnel ever built. Countless more workers were maimed. The manual diggers — crews of 30 men working around the clock from both ends of the tunnel — were off by only 6 inches when they met in the middle, Veo said. By 1912, water was flowing through the tunnel and irrigating crops from Delta to Montrose.

    In 1973, the American Society of Civil Engineers honored the Gunnison Tunnel as a Historic Civil Engineering Landmark. A few years later it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places…

    The Gunnison Tunnel is the critical link of the Wayne N. Aspinall Unit, one of the four projects that make up the 1956 Colorado River Storage Project…

    The other units created under the 1956 Colorado River Storage Project Act include the Flaming Gorge Dam on the Green River in Utah, the Navajo Reservoir in New Mexico and Lake Powell in Utah. The network of reservoirs and dams are used by Upper Colorado River Basin states to store water and generate electricity as part of the Colorado River Compact that divides up the river between seven states and Mexico…

    The engineering masterpiece has sustained a lush vibrancy along the Uncompahgre River. It’s pretty simple to imagine what the valley would look like without that tunnel, says John Harold, who farms corn, onion and beans in the valley.

    Map of the Gunnison River drainage basin in Colorado, USA. Made using public domain USGS data. By Shannon1 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=69257550

    Major $2.6 billion, 10-year investment on tap: How @DenverWater is protecting the #water system now — and preparing for the future News on Tap

    From News on Tap (Cathy Proctor and Jay Adams):

    From protecting customers from the risk posed by old lead service lines to preparing to meet the challenges of the future, Denver Water takes a long-term view when planning for the future.

    And the utility has been recognized nationally for its work, by peer utilities as well as by federal officials.

    Denver Water in early October was recognized — for the second time — by the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies, a group representing the largest publicly owned drinking water suppliers in the United States.

    At the association’s annual meeting, held in Denver this year, Denver Water received the group’s 2021 AMWA Sustainable Water Utility Management Award for its work to curb carbon emissions, increase its use of renewable energy and protect the environment and its communities.

    Denver Water crews install a new culvert over Cabin Creek in Grand County in partnership with the U.S. Forest Service and Grand County Learning By Doing. The new culvert will improve habitat for native cutthroat trout in the stream. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    Denver Water’s groundbreaking Lead Reduction Program was recognized by the national utility association and also was highlighted by leaders at the Environmental Protection Agency earlier this year for the jobs it created and its unique approach to diverse communities.

    Replacing all the old, customer-owned lead service lines in Denver Water’s service area at no direct cost to the customer will take 15 years to complete, and it’s just one of the major undertakings that make up the utility’s 10-year forecast for an estimated $2.6 billion investment into the system that supports about 25% of the state’s population, including Colorado’s capital city.

    About 90% of the forecast investment over the next decade is dedicated to large projects and regular annual inspection and maintenance programs that protect customers, position Denver Water for the future and continue regular monitoring programs for infrastructure already in place. The remaining investment focuses on maintenance and improving the resiliency of the system.

    “Powerless” against #Denver Water, #Boulder County OKs deal to triple size of Gross Reservoir — The #Colorado Sun

    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 The Colorado Sun (Michael Booth):

    Commissioners say they hate the project, but the odds of winning a lawsuit were poor. Denver Water upped the offer to help mitigate impacts of construction to $12.5 million.

    The Boulder County Commissioners on Tuesday unanimously approved a settlement allowing Denver Water to expand the dam and pool at Gross Reservoir, despite vocal opposition from some residents, after a $10 million mitigation deal was sweetened by $2.5 million to soften construction impacts for neighbors.

    Denver Water is likely to vote Wednesday to approve a total of $12.5 million in mitigation and open space donations for Boulder County, after last-minute talks raised the sum.

    The commissioners said they were heartsick at the destruction the dam expansion will cause for neighbors and for revered county open lands. But, they added, county attorneys advised them that federal laws preempt their planning process because the existing dam includes a hydroelectric generator and is therefore controlled by federal laws.

    The attorneys said Boulder County would lose a federal suit filed by Denver Water and that the agency would withdraw its mitigation offer if they delayed a vote.

    Denver Water already has the federal approval it needs to raise the dam on South Boulder Creek by 131 feet, and inundate the surrounding forest for 77,000 more acre-feet of storage, nearly tripling capacity…

    The commissioners wanted Denver Water to go through the county’s existing “1041” land use process, allowed under state law, before construction on the Gross Reservoir expansion begins. But in July, Denver Water sued, saying federal laws superseded Boulder County’s process and that its federal permit required the utility to begin construction by 2022. Boulder County was intentionally slowing down the project, Denver Water argued…

    Denver Water Manager Jim Lochhead said in a statement after the vote, “I appreciate that this was a hard and emotional decision for the Boulder County Commissioners.

    “We have tried for the last year to go through the County’s 1041 land use process, and only after delays were we forced to file litigation to prevent violation of the order by FERC for us to commence construction of the project. Denver Water continues to be committed to do everything in our power to mitigate local impacts of construction,” Lochhead said.

    Construction would impact surrounding forests, trails, roads and neighbors, and also temporarily cut off access to popular open spaces in parts of the area. Commissioner Marta Loachamin said she toured areas around Gross Reservoir for the first time in June, and was struck by markings in the forest showing how many trees will have to be removed and how high the new water pool will rise in the canyon.

    Conservation groups who have sued to stop the dam expansion can continue to negotiate with Denver Water for additional mitigation, deputy county attorney David Hughes told the commissioners. Denver Water has indicated they would continue to talk with the groups, he said…

    The conservation groups are adamant Boulder County could have negotiated for more mitigation. Save the Colorado and PLAN-Boulder County said they had proposed $70 million in mitigation as a settlement, and that Boulder County stopped including them in talks last week.

    Gross Dam enlargement concept graphic via Denver Water

    The agreement with Denver Water now includes:

  • $5 million for the construction impacts on immediate neighbors of the reservoir.
  • $5.1 million to Boulder County open space funding to acquire new land or repair and maintain trails and facilities under extra strain from visitors who can’t use Gross Reservoir spaces.
  • $1.5 million to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions from construction.
  • $1 million for South St. Vrain Creek restoration.
  • A transfer of 70 acres of Denver Water land near Gross Reservoir to Boulder County to expand Walker Ranch Open Space.
  • A hotter, drier west poses hard questions for the #water flowing out of the #ColoradoRiver — The Ark Valley Voice #ArkansasRiver #COriver #aridification

    Headwaters of the Arkansas River basin. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journlaism

    From The Ark Valley Voice (Tara Flanagan):

    Colorado’s map from the Oct. 26, 2020, U.S. Drought Monitor looked like some kind of fresh hell, its swaths of red and orange highlighting what happens when there is too much heat and not enough water for a long time. Colorado’s resulting fire crisis had good company; much of the Western United States had similar stories of people running from their homes as the fires closed in.

    It was so 2020, as further evidenced by the strain on the Colorado River and the ongoing wake-up calls in communities that receive its water – directly or diverted.

    Locally, Chaffee County’s economies lean on supplemental summer releases into the Arkansas River. Despite two decades of drought and aridification, the Arkansas has been able to remain visually stunning in the high season – not entirely due to the workings of nature. It’s uncertain how that may change.

    Colorado Drought Monitor October 27, 2020.

    One year later, the colors on Colorado’s map have softened to shades of beige and an innocuous-looking lemon-yellow, with darker spots remaining in the northwest corner and the far southwest edge. With some rain to its credit over this past summer and perhaps just plain luck, Colorado managed to escape the land-killing infernos such as the Cameron Peak Fire and the aptly named East Troublesome Fire of 2020.

    Nobody knows exactly how those 2020 fires would have raged had not a major snowstorm rolled in on Oct. 25 last year and snuffed their trajectories. As it stood, East Troublesome charred 193,212 acres and 580 structures.

    Snow is good. And traditionally it has been the utility player, if not hero, in the seven-state region served by the Colorado River, where, in a perfect world, it stores naturally on Colorado’s mountain peaks. Upon melting with a timed grace and running off in mid-spring, it flows south and west to the Gulf of California, serving some 40 million people en route.

    Thanks to warmer temperatures and aridification, that sweet rhythm is off. Spring runoff gushes from the peaks too fast and sinks into the parched landscape before enough of it gets to its intended waterways.

    Colorado Drought Monitor map October 26, 2021.

    That said, later-season snows helped address an alarming dry trend in the spring of 2021, helping Chaffee County look better on the Drought Monitor and delighting those with fixations on the SNOTEL system and its high-country snowpack reports. The infusion of summer rain gave the appearance of a kinda-maybe monsoon pattern locally.

    Water flowing through the Fry-Ark system, the trans-basin diversion from the Colorado River that flows out of the Frying Pan River in Pitkin County and which is released from Turquoise Lake and Twin Lakes, once again plumped the moneymaking waves in the Arkansas River from July 1 until mid-August this year.

    Under the Voluntary Flow Management Program with the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District (SECWCD), 10,000 acre-feet of water is allocated during that time; moved to benefit recreation. All told, Fry-Ark sends out an average of 58,000 acre-feet each year, much of it going to agriculture below the Pueblo Reservoir.

    It didn’t hurt that the Pueblo Board of Water Works was able to release 6,000 acre-feet from Clear Creek Reservoir early in the summer season. It echoed the cooperative dance of moving large amounts of water that has, by necessity, developed between water entities. This highlights the increased communication that is one of the upsides in the long-reaching, exhaustive conversations about water among an exhaustive list of stakeholders in Colorado and the West.

    Chris Woodka, Senior Policy and Issues Management Manager with the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, said the increasing pressures on water have caused groups to come to the table and seek solutions. “What’s different is we’re talking all the time with each other,” he said. “There was a time when people were wary of how other people were moving water. Everyone now realizes it’s to their advantage to talk.”

    With water from Fry-Ark and Clear Creek Reservoir – not to mention rain, the fattened Arkansas River gurgled through the county once again and gave more than a passing nod to the local economies over the summer. Pandemic aside, things seemed nice and easy.

    “It almost gives you a false sense of security,” [Greg] Felt said, noting that with continuing drought and aridification, there are increasing signs of hydrological systems not being able to correct themselves.

    “That whole program is built on Fry-Ark water,” he said. “There’s a lot at stake here. Diversions from the Fry-Ark project could be seriously impacted, and that’s a major concern.”

    “It’s a no-brainer, probably, that a voluntary flow management program will be a lower priority than delivery for consumptive use,” he added.

    Indeed, nothing is truly nice and easy anymore as the West faces challenges to just about everything that is known about water and how it continues to serve us…

    …with average temperatures in the Colorado River Basin running 2 degrees Fahrenheit hotter than in the 20th century, those original nice ideas [Colorado River Compact] are being retooled or sidelined in the name of badly needed, better ideas; addressing drought, aridification and salination, and how to feed people when the river can’t help so much anymore. A new plan for operating the Colorado River is due in 2026.

    Shutting off a super-sized spigot: A slate of critical construction means closing off a key supply system until spring @DenverWater

    From Denver Water (Todd Hartman):

    Moving water from mountain reservoirs to household taps is never easy. For the next several months, Denver Water will be doing it with the equivalent of one hand tied behind its back.

    A series of major maintenance and construction projects will require Denver Water to, essentially, shut down the entire north side of its collection, delivery and treatment system, and rely wholly on the southern end to supply 1.5 million people with water as the utility heads into the colder seasons.

    The work has required a Colorado Ballet level of choreography to move water around the system months in advance in preparation for a rare set of circumstances.

    This summer, divers spent several weeks installing a new, massive grate at the bottom of Gross Dam. The grate protects the outlet works from potential damage from large debris. Photo credit: Black & Veatch

    “Shifting all that water here and there, it’s a lot to keep straight, a lot to think about, a lot to juggle,” said Nathan Elder, manager of water supply for Denver Water. “And it all comes on top of watching the weather to see what it might — or might not — bring us as far as precipitation.”

    Rivers and creeks in Grand County are part of Denver Water’s North Collection System. Water flows through the Moffat Tunnel, under the Continental Divide, to Gross and Ralston reservoirs. Image credit: Denver Water.
    Denver Water’s entire collection system. Image credit: Denver Water.

    Denver Water is conducting several projects that required the utility to turn off the spigot on its north side supply system late this summer. Those include:

  • Replacing a massive grate at the bottom of Gross Dam that prevents heavy debris from finding its way into the pipes and valves that calibrate water releases at the base of the dam. The project is so complex it requires specially trained diving crews working hundreds of feet under the reservoir surface.
  • Replacing concrete at the Moffat Canal near the east portal of the Moffat Tunnel. The freeze-thaw cycle at 9,200 feet has taken a toll and allowed for water to seep underneath concrete and create the potential for damaging erosion.
  • Repairing deteriorated concrete within the Moffat Tunnel caused by years of scour within the tunnel.
  • Replacing key structures at Ralston Reservoir along Highway 93 near Golden. The work to replace equipment that regulates the way water is carried through the dam will allow for safer operation of reservoir releases. Replacing that equipment requires draining the reservoir.
  • A project to connect the emerging Northwater Treatment Plant to Denver Water’s distribution system. This work, the overarching reason for shutting down north side flows, also requires taking the existing Moffat Treatment Plant offline for modifications related to the Northwater connections.
  • Ralston Reservoir, a key water supply bucket near Golden, has been drained to allow Denver Water to construct a new outlet works to release water from the base of the dam. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    All that north side work means Denver Water will have to rely almost fully on supplies from its southern end that gather water from the South Platte River as well as from Dillon Reservoir in Summit County.

    This north side shutdown is even more complicated than the maneuverings required in the summer of 2020, when Denver Water had to undertake big shifts in how it moved water through its system due to repair work that closed the Roberts Tunnel for two months, closing off access to water from Dillon Reservoir.

    That orchestration was hard enough. Planning for the current shutdown began months ago when engineers decided to coordinate several projects to contain the treatment and delivery disruptions to a single fall and winter cycle.

    “Doing it this way made the most sense,” explained Jennifer Gelmini, a senior engineer at Denver Water who is coordinating the projects. “We realized we were going to have a long outage for the work needed for the Northwater plant connections and Moffat modifications and looked at how we could take advantage of this big shutdown and what other projects could fit into that timeframe.”

    Work started in August to replace concrete at the East Portal of the Moffat Tunnel near Rollinsville. Repairs were required on both the inside and outside of the portal area. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    That plan made it critical to maintain as much water as possible in Dillon Reservoir to help with supplies in the late summer and fall, while also keeping levels high at Cheesman and Marston reservoirs so they can be relied on over the upcoming winter months.

    Anglers and Sunday drivers may have noticed big flows in the North Fork of the South Platte River, too, in late summer, as the utility moved more water than usual from Dillon, through the Roberts Tunnel under the Continental Divide and into the North Fork. At times, late summer flows reached 450 cubic feet per second, compared to a more typical September flow of one-third that volume.

    “We’ve been setting the stage on this for months,” Elder said. “Taking the north end out of the equation means we have to set up our southern end for all the heavy lifting for nearly an eight-month span. It’s a highly unusual and tricky undertaking.”

    Ralston Reservoir near Golden must be drained completely to replace the outlet works at the base of the earthen dam. That reservoir holds nearly 11,000 acre-feet and will be out of commission until the beginning of runoff season in April 2022, creating a dramatic gap in Denver Water’s typical water delivery and treatment pattern.

    Because the 84-year-old Moffat Treatment Plant also will be offline for that period, all the water treatment needs are pushed to the utility’s Marston and Foothills plants in the southwest side of the region.

    Construction continues at the emerging Northwater Treatment Plant below Ralston Reservoir. Work this fall and winter will connect the facility to Denver Water’s distribution system. The plant is expected to be complete in 2024. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    Further complicating such an extended dance: Denver Water this summer had to release large volumes of water from two West Slope reservoirs (Williams Fork and Wolford Mountain) to make up for a water debt it owed on the other side of the Continental Divide.

    While those releases weren’t tied to the projects on the north end, it was another factor water managers had to keep in mind as they ensured Denver Water met all its many obligations, both to its customers and to agreements related to Colorado River flows.

    “This year has been unusual,” Elder said. “No year is ever the same in water supply, but between a pretty dry winter, then a wet spring and early summer, followed by another dry stretch as we try to set the system up for these construction projects, there were a lot of details to sweat.”

    The good news: Come spring, a lot of key projects will be wrapped up, and water managers will once again have more flexibility to manage water between its north and south systems.

    Just in time for spring runoff season.

    @DenverWater, @BoulderCounty to consider settlement proposal to end Gross Reservoir lawsuit — The #Denver Post

    Denver Water is planning to expand Gross Reservoir in Boulder County. The additional storage capacity will create more balance in the utility’s storage and give water planners more flexibility in their operational strategy. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    From The Denver Post (Sam Tabachnik):

    Boulder County and Denver Water could be nearing a settlement to resolve a simmering dispute over plans to expand the Gross Reservoir.

    Denver Water in July sued Boulder County in federal court, claiming commissioners were taking too long to consider the utility’s request to expand the reservoir.

    “The proposed settlement would require Denver Water to pay more than $10 million to mitigate the impacts of the project in Boulder County,” Boulder officials said in a Friday news release. “In exchange, Boulder County would not dispute Denver Water’s claim that the project is exempt from review.”

    Boulder County’s Board of Commissioners will meet Tuesday to discuss the proposed settlement, while Denver Water’s board will meet the following day. A federal judge had set oral arguments in the lawsuit for Nov. 4, but those would be canceled if the agency and county government approve the settlement…

    The proposed expansion would raise the existing Gross Dam by 131 feet and widen it by 800 feet, increasing the reservoir’s capacity from nearly 42,000 acre-feet to nearly 120,000 acre-feet.

    But Denver Water can’t just do it on its own — it needs a permit from Boulder County, which will receive none of the water security and all of the construction, traffic and ecosystem effects. Those who live near the reservoir complain that the five years of construction would bring pollution, lights and noise, while environmental advocates say tens of thousands of trees would have to be cut down to complete the project…

    Some of the money ($2.5 million) would be allocated to assist Boulder County residents directly impacted by the project, while $5.1 million would go to open space funding to replace land consumed by the larger reservoir, Boulder officials said. Other funds would address greenhouse gas emissions from the project and restoration efforts of the South Saint Vrain Creek.

    Denver Water would also agree under the proposed settlement to transfer 70 acres of land near Walker Ranch Open Space to Boulder County, which would be added to the recreational land…

    In its lawsuit this summer, Denver Water alleged that Boulder County was overstepping its authority and jeopardizing the water project.

    A federal judge dismissed a separate lawsuit in March from a coalition of environmental organizations, which sued the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 2018 to block the project.

    Your water rates may go up next year… but not by very much: In order to fund extra projects, @DenverWater will increase usage rates — Denverwrite

    Denver Water relies on a network of reservoirs to collect and store water. The large collection area provides flexibility for collecting water as some areas receive different amounts of precipitation throughout the year. Image credit: Denver Water.

    From Denverwrite (Rebecca Spiess):

    The Denver Board of Water Commissioners agreed on Wednesday to raise water rates and fixed monthly charges, which will all go into effect Jan. 1, 2022.

    For typical single-family residences using the same amount of water each year, this would shake out to an increase of 47 cents to $1.34 per month, or about $5.64 to $16.08 per year. However, these rates are also dependent on where in the Denver metro a customer lives, since rates are higher in the suburbs due to the rules of the Denver City Charter.

    There are also multiple charging tiers at Denver Water, beginning with the lowest rates for water used for essential things like bathing and cooking, calculated by assessing water consumption during the winter. Other water usage, mainly for outdoor watering in the summer, is charged at higher tiers.

    Denver Water is funding upgrades through these extra charges. These projects include expanding the Gross Reservoir near Boulder to increase storage capacity during wet years and boosting the entire system’s resilience as climate change leads to more unpredictable weather patterns. Other projects include the city’s efforts to replace old lead-containing pipes… as well as the city’s creation of new water quality laboratories and treatment centers.

    Questions in North Park as #Colorado makes case for new rules to measure water diversions — @WaterEdCO

    Ranchers and other water users gather at a stakeholder meeting in North Park on Oct. 22 to ask questions and provide input as state officials make case for measuring devices and recording. Credit: Allen Best

    From Water Education Colorado (Allen Best):

    As the gap between water supplies and demands narrows in northwestern Colorado, state officials want to ensure that, as best as reasonably can be done, every last drop gets measured and recorded.

    They made their case to about 60 ranchers in North Park’s Walden, Colo., on Friday in the fifth of six stakeholder meetings during October that will conclude tonight with a meeting in Craig.

    The proposed rules governing the Yampa, White and North Platte River basins would require that headgates, which allow water diversions into ditches, be supplemented with measuring infrastructure, either flumes or weirs, to track the amount of water being diverted. The rules would also institute protocols for reporting the measurements, for collection in state databases. Authority to require the measuring and reporting is clearly defined by state law, but the law leaves room for discretion about the particulars, hence the stakeholder process.

    In an already drought-stricken region likely to become hotter and drier yet in the 21st century, those measurements will become ever-more important in administering water rights. The Yampa River this century has carried on average 6% less water than it did during the 20th century. On the White River, flows have fallen 19%.

    Already, there is concern that Colorado will be forced to curtail diversions of water rights dated later than the 1922 Colorado River Compact if the aridification of the Colorado River Basin continues, said Kevin Rein, the state water engineer, at the outset of the meeting in Walden.

    The compact specifies that Colorado along with Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico “will not cause the flow of the river” at Lee Ferry, at the top of the Grand Canyon, “to be depleted below an aggregate” of 75 million-acre feet for an period of 10 consecutive years. Colorado and the three other upper basin states are in relatively good shape—for at least the next couple of years. In the last decade, 92 million acre-feet have flowed past Lee Ferry toward Arizona, Nevada, California and, eventually, Mexico.

    Kevin Rein, Colorado state water engineer, explains why Colorado needs stepped-up measuring of water diversions in the North Park and other rivers in Northwest Colorado while Erin Light, Division 6 engineer, looks on during a meeting in Walden on Oct. 22. Credit: Allen Best

    But if below-average becomes the new normal, as climate scientists warn almost certainly will be the case, Colorado may be forced to defend its diversions in light of the compact. “When they come in and ask for water, we can’t refuse if we have no data,” said Mike Sullivan, the deputy state water engineer.

    The state water officials pointed to the Aug. 2021 report Lessons Learned from Colorado Experiences with Interstate Compact Administration issued by the Hutchins Water Center at Colorado Mesa University and MacIlroy Research and Consulting. “Confronting the limits of a water supply is a painful experience,” the report said after studying the Republican, Arkansas and Rio Grande basins. “Across each of the basins, earlier action to address potential compact and supply issues has enhanced the control communities have to develop and choose their own, less painful, options.”

    The North Platte River does not flow into the Colorado River. It’s east of the Continental Divide but separated from the Front Range by the Medicine Bow and other mountain ranges. So why the need to measure water in North Park the same as in the Yampa and White river valleys?

    Because it’s good to have the data should it be necessary as required by other interstate agreements, in this case involving Wyoming and Nebraska, said Sullivan.

    But there’s another reason for more rigorous accounting of diversions, said the state water officials. Owners of water rights can best look out after their own interests by documenting their water use. This guards against those rights being placed on lists of abandoned water rights that state law requires be issued every 10 years. The most recent list for all river basins, including North Park, was issued last year.

    Measuring devices also give those with more senior water appropriations the right to divert their legal entitlements in water-scarce years. And in the case of land sales with connected water rights, it gives owners the proof of water use to demonstrate value to potential purchasers.

    In several river basins in Colorado, notably those east of the Continental Divide, measurements became crucial as early as the 19th century. In those river basins where water users experienced an earlier squeeze between supplies and demands, those with senior water rights began placing calls that required those with newer—and hence more junior— rights upstream to cease or cut back diversions.

    In Water Division 6, which includes the North Platte, Yampa and White river basins, 54% of headgates had appropriate measuring devices as of April. This compares with upwards of 90% in several other water divisions of Colorado.

    Overlapping the new rules is a proposal being considered by the Colorado Division of Water Resources to designate the Yampa River as over-appropriated. Most rivers in the state are already considered over-appropriated, in some cases over a century ago. Segments of the Yampa—including the river upstream from Steamboat Springs and several tributaries—already have been so designated. This designation will require irrigators drilling wells to have water that they can use to augment streamflows if there is a call on the river by a senior user. Improved measuring will assist in administration. Meetings to gather input were scheduled for Monday night in Craig and Thursday night in Hayden.

    State officials hope to get the measurement rulemaking as well as the Yampa designation completed by early next year. Rules will be unique to the needs of Northwest Colorado, just as rules governing the Republican and Arkansas River basins are unique to the interstate water agreements and other circumstances governing water use in those basins.

    North Park was particularly warm and dry last winter. One rancher after the Walden meeting recalled that it was possible to drive across his hay meadows all of last winter whereas many years he has to plow the driveway almost daily.

    “It was pathetic, really,” said Keith Holsinger, standing on a bridge over the Michigan River east of Walden where he grows hay on 800 acres. One of his neighbors, who usually gets 500 to 600 tons of hay, got only 90 tons this year, he reported.

    Holsinger has lived on the ranch all of his 77 years. His water rights range from among the oldest in North Park, an 1885 decree with a priority number of 32, to more junior rights of 240th in priority.

    He remembers putting in the first measuring device sometime after the drought of 1977. His last device, a weir, he had installed last year.

    Keith Holsinger has been installing measuring devices on ditches for his ranch along the Michigan River in North Park for several decades. Credit: Allen Best

    During the meeting, some skepticism was voiced about the coming measurement rules. State representatives characterized the relationship between water users and state authorities as one of cooperation and trust. But one audience member pushed back. Implementation seemed to be discretionary, he said. “It’s a trust issue, and I’m sorry to say I don’t have a lot of faith.”

    But as for the need for the rules, Holsinger is already persuaded. “If it’s free water in priority, if you want that water, you had better have a headgate and weir,” he said. “It’s as simple as that.”

    The most significant discontent voiced in the background of the meeting agenda was about the high turnover in water commissioners. It’s a common problem across Colorado, say state water officials, as the job is by nature semi-seasonal. But in conversations after the meeting, North Park residents suggested that if the state wants water users to be partners in administration, the state needs to allow proper resources. A water commissioner has between 350 and 500 headgates to check, and there’s a learning curve.

    Some people wanted to know why the state wanted the ability to lock headgates. State representatives said they rely primarily on voluntary compliance with water allocations but need the ability to force compliance if diverters take more than they are entitled to.

    “In 20-some years, I have probably ordered a half-dozen headgates locked,” said Sullivan. “If we can’t get someone to keep their hands out of the cookie jar, we lock the cookie jar.”

    As for the specific type of weir or flume, there are several formal varieties as well as less formal ones. They can be expensive, but none of the irrigators in Walden indicated that cost alone is an issue. Erin Light, the Steamboat Springs-based water engineer for Division 6, said she had seen a flume made of a road sign. It worked, she reported. Sullivan reported seeing one made of rock that worked effectively.

    Said Sullivan, speaking to people mostly old enough to remember a bestselling small-model car in 1979 and 1980, “We don’t want to require a gold-plated Cadillac headgate when a Chevette will do.”

    Long-time Colorado journalist Allen Best publishes Big Pivots, an e-magazine that covers energy and other transitions in Colorado. He can be reached at allen@bigpivots.com and allen.best@comcast.net.

    Map of the North Platte River drainage basin, a tributary of the Platte River, in the central US. Made using USGS National Map and NASA SRTM data. By Shannon1 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=79266632

    Navajo Unit operations update October 26, 2021 #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    The San Juan River’s Navajo Dam and reservoir. Photo credit: U.S. Bureau of Reclamation

    From email from Reclamation (Susan Novak Behery):

    Opinion: #Nebraska’s proposed #RepublicanRiver Basin transfer could reshape #Kansas resources — The Kansas Reflector

    A Blue Heron hunts the banks of the Republican River. (Shawna Bethell)

    The Kansas Reflector welcomes opinion pieces from writers who share our goal of widening the conversation about how public policies affect the day-to-day lives of people throughout our state. Shawna Bethell is a freelance essayist/journalist covering the people and places of Kansas, Nebraska and Missouri.

    I’m not a fish person. They aren’t even on my radar until my nephew catches them, cleans them, and fries them up into a fabulous meal with hushpuppies and slaw. However, that doesn’t mean I don’t understand the role they play in both our natural ecosystems and in the Kansas economy via the sport fishing industry. I understand, too, that both hang in the balance depending on decisions being made north of our state border.

    Kansas River Basin including the Republican River watershed. Map credit: By Kmusser – Self-made, based on USGS data., CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4390886

    Under the Republican River Compact, Kansas is considered both an upstream and downstream state. Born on the eastern [plains] of Colorado…the Republican River flows east across the plains, tipping our northwest corner before entering Nebraska. There the river continues eastward until it drops south again, re-crossing our border and eventually emptying into Milford Reservoir before finally meeting up with the Smoky Hill River in Junction City to create the Kansas River.

    The 1934 compact was supposed to ensure allocations of water for each state through which the river flows. However, historically, both Colorado and Nebraska have — at times — overused their shares.

    In an effort to prevent such occurrences in the future, entities affiliated with water and irrigation districts in Nebraska made a 2018 application to the Nebraska Department of Natural Resources to transfer water from the Platte River Basin to the Republican River Basin to meet the requirements of allocation. The application was denied due to objections by interested parties, including those of Kansas’ then-Gov. Jeff Colyer, who cited the negative effects of invasive species to our waterways should an inter-basin transfer move forward.

    The plan did not die, however, and a revised application was filed. Met again with objections, Nebraska conducted a hearing in July 2021, where it again gathered testimony from concerned parties. According to the agency’s legal counsel, Emily Rose, there is no set date for a final decision.

    Like her predecessor, Gov. Laura Kelly also objects to the inter-basin transfer. According to Reeves Oyster, a spokeswoman for the governor: “There are too many potential impacts to the health of our state’s vital natural resources.”

    Oyster also said that “as it stands right now, this is a matter that first needs to be addressed in Nebraska. We hope our neighboring state will make the right decision, but should the transfer gain any traction, we will respond and engage accordingly.”

    I should hope so.

    “Our most pressing concerns are Silver and Bighead Carp and White Perch,” wrote Chris Steffen, aquatic nuisance species coordinator with the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks. “All three species have proven in Kansas to be incredibly detrimental to the waters they invade and are located within the Platte River near the proposed point of diversion.”

    According to Steffen, other states that have seen an influx of these species have experienced declines in their sport fish populations of more than 80%. If the species were allowed to take hold in Lovewell and Milford Reservoirs, it could risk the state’s $210,000 fishing industry. Aside from economics, changes to the river’s ecosystem could affect critical habitat for species such as the Shoal Chub and the Plains Minnow, which are already deemed threatened in the state.

    “Kansas Wildlife and Parks has been working diligently to prevent the spread and limit the impact of aquatic invasive species,” Steffen wrote. “This project would undermine those efforts and place our natural resources at risk.” 

    Last spring I traveled to Nebraska, where I spent a morning at Audubon’s Rowe Sanctuary that sits along the Platte. Eagles and herons hunted the shallows, while the songs of meadowlarks and red-winged blackbirds pierced the air.

    According to Audubon’s website, the Platte River is also critical habitat for endangered and iconic species, including the piping plover and the sandhill crane, and like the Kansas department, they and their partners have invested heavily to preserve their state’s natural resources. Reducing water flow via a transfer would alter the ecology of nesting grounds and food sources relied upon by both native and migratory birds. Although the sanctuary is not in Kansas, as residents of the Plains, we need to recognize that the entire eco-region and its wildlife are treasures to protect.

    In that light, I encourage our current administration to stay informed and ready to engage as they have said they would. Not only for the state’s economic benefit, but for the assurance that the progress we’ve made so far in preserving and protecting our natural assets is sustained and encouraged hereafter.

    Through its opinion section, the Kansas Reflector works to amplify the voices of people who are affected by public policies or excluded from public debate. Find information, including how to submit your own commentary, here.

    Kansas Reflector is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Kansas Reflector maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sherman Smith for questions: info@kansasreflector.com. Follow Kansas Reflector on Facebook and Twitter.

    Wolf Creek reservoir project secures #ColoradoRiver District grant: $330,000 will go toward NEPA permitting for new water storage in northwest Colorado’s White River basin — @AspenJournalism #WhiteRiver #GreenRiver #COriver #aridification

    A view of the White River foreground, and the Wolf Creek gulch, across the river. The Rio Blanco Water Conservancy District and the State of Colorado have reached a settlement for a reservoir and dam project at this site. Photo credit: Aspen Journalism/Brent Gardner-Smith

    From Aspen Journalism (Heather Sackett):

    In January, Rio Blanco secured a water right for a 66,720-acre-foot reservoir between Rangely and Meeker. The conservancy district is proposing an off-channel reservoir with a dam 110 feet tall and 3,800 feet long, with water that will be pumped into the Wolf Creek drainage from the White River.

    Rio Blanco said it will use the funds for the National Environmental Policy Act permitting process, which will be administered by the Bureau of Land Management, using a third-party contractor. Rio Blanco estimates the permitting will take three to five years at a cost of $6 to $10 million.

    In its application, Rangely-based Rio Blanco said that the River District’s support of the permit phase is essential for the eventual development of the project.

    “The project provides a desperately needed new storage reservoir for the White River basin,” the application reads. “The White River basin currently does not have adequate storage to meet the current water needs during drought conditions or any additional future water needs within the basin.”

    No River District directors voted against the funding. Rio Blanco County representative Alden Vanden Brink abstained from voting because he is the general manager of the Rio Blanco Water Conservancy District.

    “I support this concept,” said Gunnison County representative Kathleen Curry. “Investing in a permitting process is wise right now.”

    Moffat County representative Tom Gray wondered if funding this request would mean the River District has a moral obligation to approve future funding requests for the Wolf Creek project. But River District General Manager Andy Mueller encouraged board members to look at it as a one-time request because the future of the overall project is still uncertain.

    “It is possible that this applicant could have the whole permitting process blow up on them,” Mueller said. “Something beyond our control may occur. … Think of it on an application-at-a-time basis.”

    The Wolf Creek project will also need permits from the State Historical Preservation Office, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the Army Corps of Engineers, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and a consultation under the Endangered Species Act.

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