Fountain Creek: CSU-Pueblo scores additional $32,000 for water quality study

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 KRDO.com (Katie Spencer):

But now, with an additional $32,000 in research funding from the county, researchers are hoping to find out exactly what lurks below the water’s surface.

CSU-Pueblo staff and students have been collecting water samples, and they say there are large amounts of mercury and selenium in the water.

“Mercury can be a problem. It has a whole syndrome, a whole set of symptoms if you see mercury levels getting too high,” [Scott] Herrmann said.

County Commissioner Terry Hart said he just wants the Pueblo community to be able to enjoy the creek, as the people of Colorado Springs do.

“Citizens are invited down to play in and around the creek and it’s a beautiful thing. We can’t do that in Pueblo County and we have not been able to do it because of our pollution concerns,” Hart said.

He also wants to make sure the Pueblo commissioners and the city of Colorado Springs are keeping up their promises to clean up the creek.

The researchers are also looking at the fish in Fountain Creek to determine what issues they are facing and if contaminants are being passed on to people who catch and eat them.

Cañon City could see lawsuit from two ditch companies for routing stormwater to ditch easements

This graphic shows the estimated cost for upgrades, repairs and maintenance of each stormwater basin. (City of Cañon City)

From The Cañon City Daily Record ( Carie Canterbury):

A second local ditch company is making preparations to potentially sue the City of Cañon City for allegedly utilizing irrigation ditches as a stormwater utility.

During Monday’s city council meeting, former mayor George Turner, who also serves as the secretary/treasurer for the Cañon City & Oil Creek Ditch Company, said the city has been putting off stormwater improvements for the last 150 years and utilizing the irrigation ditches in the community as its stormwater utility…

He said the Hydraulic Ditch Company has increased its assessment by $2 a share and the Cañon City & Oil Creek Ditch Company has increased its assessment by $5 per share for the sole purpose to generate a fund to hire water attorneys to potentially sue the city.

Mannie Colon, the president of the Cañon City Hydraulic & Irrigating Ditch Company, initiated litigation last year against the city when he felt his solutions to the decades-long stormwater problems had been dismissed and not adequately implemented.

In response, a stormwater task force consisting of representatives from the City of Cañon City, Fremont County and local ditch companies was formed in March 2017 to look at solutions.

The city, county and the Hydraulic & Irrigating Ditch Company recently mutually have agreed to fund a $180,000 study to investigate and mitigate stormwater flooding of the ditch. The city council earlier this month approved a tolling agreement that preserves any legal right the ditch company believes it may have against the city and county for stormwater flooding while also maintaining the rights, claims or defenses of the city and county.

The city contends that the cost of stormwater mitigation has gone up, but fees haven’t.

The fee hasn’t increased in 10 years, and the city has an operating fund deficit in the stormwater fund that is compounded by a $75 million capital project backlog.

In order to get the utility back in the black, fees would need to double, which also would provide for about $4 million in capital improvements during the next 10 years. Second reading of an ordinance that would double stormwater fees was tabled during Monday’s meeting.

Some members of the public said they don’t mind increasing the fees, but they felt doubling them was much too excessive. However, City Administrator Tony O’Rourke said to meet the entire capital needs for the stormwater problem, the rate would have to increase in a rate in excess of 1,000 percent.

During Monday’s meeting, there was much discussion about an effort to get county officials to take more of an active role in the stormwater problem.

Stormwater is collected in eight drainage basins within the city and Fremont County. The city physically only represents 18 percent of the area within these eight drainage basins, the other 82 percent is in the unincorporated area of Fremont County, which does not impose a stormwater fee for those residents.

“The drainage basins are in the county, and that’s who should be helping us pay for this,” Mayor Preston Troutman said.

Councilman Mark Gill pointed out that on a $220,000 home, Cañon City receives about $46 in property taxes while the county receives about $197…

The city is looking to create a regional stormwater basin authority, where all the residents within the eight basins would share the cost of stormwater management. This requires the support and concurrence of the Fremont County Commissioners who would have to approve a service plan before it could go before voters for approval.

Former Councilman Dennis Wied said doubling the stormwater fee is particularly unfair to businesses. He said there are 1,000 business properties in town, and 5,000 residential properties, but the businesses pay 52 percent of the total stormwater fee. Additionally, he said a proposed stormwater impact fee would go from about $750 per acre to about $11,000 an acre…

Other citizens asked for an explanation on how money in the stormwater fund is spent, specifically a $620,600 transfer to other funds.

City Engineer Adam Lancaster said the majority of the money is spent on maintenance and a great deal is spent on compliance with the city’s MS-4 stormwater permit. Some funds are spent for a local contractor for maintenance and an inter-fund transfer also is used for the city’s street crews to do some maintenance…

Wied said when the stormwater fee was first instituted, it was for the purpose to build up funds to address stormwater problems, not day-to-day operations. He said 100 percent of the city’s street sweeper is being charged to the stormwater fund, which he alleges just started recently…

Wied also said that 20 percent of the time spent by 14 people in the street department is charged to the stormwater fund…

A study analysis being conducted by an independent consultant is looking into how inter-fund transfers have been calculated. O’Rourke said preliminary results indicate that the city has not been charging the stormwater fund sufficiently, and the general fund is continuing to subsidize that fund by about $180,000 in addition to what it currently transfers. It is in violation of TABOR for the city to supplement the stormwater fund with the general fund, he said.

Wied said the city, staff and the council the last 11 years have been fully aware of expenses that can and must be charged to a utility and those that don’t. He took exception to the comments made that certain fees have to be charged to the stormwater fund…

Finance Director Harry Patel said since 2006, cost allocations have been moved from the general fund into the stormwater fund, and he will provide documentation during an upcoming meeting. The fund transfers were in council-approved budgets and on audited statements, he said.

The council agreed to table the discussion to the next general government meeting that will be at 4 p.m. March 7 at City Hall.

Councilwoman Ashley Smith asked that city staff bring back an in-depth analysis of spending and allocation requirements, as well as a state of future plans and proposed projects.

Cañon City photo credit DowntownCañonCity.com

Thornton Water Project update

Map via ThorntonWaterProject.com.

From The Fort Collins Coloradoan (Jacy Marmaduke):

Water quality is a sticking point for Thornton, which faces challenges getting all its water to drinking quality standards. Much of the city’s water comes from the South Platte River and requires extensive treatment because it’s diverted downstream of many areas of runoff and pollution, [Emily] Hunt said.

If Thornton drew the water from the Poudre near Windsor as suggested, the city would end up with water run downstream of three wastewater treatment plants and numerous runoff areas, [Mark] Koleber said.

“Urban runoff, agricultural runoff, wastewater plants, industrial discharge — it’s just not what you do for a municipal drinking water supply,” he said.

Especially considering Thornton bought the [rights to divert] because of its high quality, Hunt added.

South Platte Roundtable meeting recap

Illustration shows water availability, in blue circles, compared with demand at various places along the South Platte River. The yellow area is the study area. (Illustration by Stantec).

From The Greeley Tribune (Tyler Silvy):

A yearlong study centered on a decades-long trend of Colorado sending too much water to Nebraska via the South Platte River yielded dozens of potential storage projects.

But high costs, potential environmental impacts, and bureaucratic and regulatory hurdles could doom the road ahead for any of those possibilities, according to a study presented Tuesday night at the South Platte Basin Roundtable meeting in Longmont.

Further, even if several of the identified projects happen, they would barely put a dent in what’s expected to be a Front Range water needs gap of 500,000 acre feet per year.

The $200,000 study, ordered by the Colorado State Legislature and paid for by the Colorado Water Conservation Board, looked at the South Platte from Greeley to the state line and identifyed potential storage solutions along the way.

Putting any of those solutions — with costs estimates ranging from $190 million to $1 billion — to work most likely will take more time, money and study…

Consultants from Stantec Consulting Services and Leonard Rice Engineers completed the study in December and have toured the state making presentations. The Legislature has yet to get a presentation, but here are the key points legislators will hear:

A large amount of water is physically and legally available but only during wet years and during short periods.

Mainstream options have the most benefit but likely are not permittable and have significant social impacts.

Many off-channel options appear to be feasible and could be combined in different concepts.

Even multiple projects won’t make a big dent in the supply gap.

One reason for the lack of impact is how the South Platte works. When farmers divert water from the South Platte to irrigate crops, some of that water soaks underground and slowly moves back to the river. That’s called a return flow, and return flows feed the South Platte to allow it to flow long after snowmelt water is gone for the season.

That’s why the Sterling No. 1 ditch can completely dry out the river with a diversion and then a mile downriver it’s flowing again.

That’s why the best possible place for a reservoir would be near the Colorado-Nebraska border, and the best solution for keeping as much water as possible — a mainstream reservoir — is the solution that likely never will happen.

A mainstream reservoir along the South Platte essentially would be a lake on the South Platte, with the western portion feeding into the lake and the eastern portion running when the lake releases water.

Water experts agree that would be nearly impossible to get approved.

But the consultants did identify storage options away from the river, including old gravel pits.

Still, building ditches or pipes to fill those gravel pits would prove costly.

The consultants also talked about the 2013 flood and high flows in 2015, which ended up sending 1.9 million acre feet of water to Nebraska — exponentially more water than Nebraska is entitled to via the 1923 compact with Colorado.

But managing or diverting water during a flood event like that would take technology water experts said just doesn’t exist. Instead, ditch companies did everything they could to keep the flood water out of their ditches, lest they get damaged by the torrent.

Groundwater storage also was touched on, but concerns were raised about water losses and the co-mingling of other water rights. Once the water flows under another landowner’s property, for example, they would have the right to pump that water to irrigate crops.

The conversation circled back to the reason for the study. Essentially, lawmakers on the Western Slope long have pointed to the excess water the Front Range sends to Nebraska. Rather than divert more water from the Western Slope, the argument goes, Front Range farmers and municipalities need to figure out how to keep what they have.

Mike Schimmin, a water rights attorney on the roundtable, said his fear is the study will reinforce those feelings and that people will ignore the high cost to capture the extra water.

@CSUtilities may offer water to outlying communities in El Paso County

The new north outlet works at Pueblo Dam — Photo/MWH Global

From The Colorado Springs Independent (Pam Zubeck):

Should the city be a good neighbor and share its water with those who don’t live within its boundaries?

Yes, says the Colorado Springs Utilities Policy Advisory Committee, which after a year of study has formed draft recommendations that call for removing barriers for bedroom communities to hook up to city water and wastewater systems. The recommendations — due for delivery to the Utilities Board, composed of City Council members, on March 21 — would lower the cost of hookups by up to 26 percent while opening the door to long-term agreements.

So what’s in it for city ratepayers? Plenty, according to Dave Grossman, Utilities strategic planning and government supervisor. New sales could help pay off debt for the $825 million Southern Delivery System (SDS) pipeline from Pueblo Reservoir, erase headlines that give the city a bad name and help outside water providers’ groundwater supplies last longer…

Still, the move raises a lot of questions. Why should city ratepayers share their resources with those who chose to live outside city limits, didn’t pay the costs of major Utilities projects and don’t pay city property taxes? Why allow outsiders to become dependent on city water, when the city will likely need that water for its own population in the future? And, at a time when the city is trying to attract more development within city limits, why give away one of the city’s best bargaining chips?

[…]

Until 2010, the city didn’t sell water outside its limits. The policy changed to accommodate sales for three years or less to districts that experienced water shortages or other problems. But they paid 150 percent of city customer charges. There are 11 water districts, six water and wastewater districts and four wastewater districts in El Paso County. Not all would necessarily want to buy city services, but some would.

Many rely largely on groundwater from the Denver Basin, which is rapidly depleting. Despite state and county measures to assure supplies last, the water table continues to drop.

Utilities has had outside deals with Cherokee Metropolitan District east of Powers Boulevard and Donala Water & Sanitation District east of the Air Force Academy. Cherokee needed water temporarily after court decisions prevented its use of some wells, while Donala uses the city’s pipes to convey water it obtained from Pueblo Board of Water Works.

Water districts form such a patchwork that Sean Chambers, who’s worked for several districts and now runs Chambers Econ & Analytics, has teamed with Peak Spatial Enterprises to create an online tool to compile district information in seven counties from Denver to Pueblo. Funded in part by the Colorado Water Conservation Board, it will feature maps, water rates, sources, conservation practices, water quality reports, consumption and the like, listed by address, for use by the public and the real estate industry.

But what if those districts had access to Springs Utilities’ supply? The city’s roughly 140,000 water customers use about 40 million gallons a day during the winter and more than 100 million gallons a day in the summer, Grossman says. If pressed, the city could provide well over that amount short term, he says.

Besides completing SDS in 2016, which increased the city’s water supply by a third, the city’s abundant supply is linked to conservation measures taken since 2001 that reduced per-person consumption from 130 gallons a day to 82. The city’s system also has capacity; the Bailey Water Treatment Plant, part of SDS, runs at about 10 percent capacity.

As for wastewater, the city has plenty of capacity, Grossman reports, for the next 30-plus years.

More than a year ago, Utilities began looking into whether extending service could benefit everyone. For one thing, the Advisory Committee found, water issues anywhere in the Pikes Peak region impact the city’s reputation and the region’s economy.

For example, in 2016, it was found that groundwater wells had been contaminated with perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs) from firefighting foam at Peterson Air Force Base. The chemicals fouled wells serving Fountain, Widefield/Security and other areas…

Under the committee’s recommendation, outside users would still pay more than city customers — 120 percent of the normal charge for water and 110 percent for wastewater. Currently, the city charges 150 percent for both…

Districts aren’t apt to buy their entire supplies from the city, however, Chambers says. That’s because their goal is conjunctive use — a combination of wells and surface water; if districts can buy water during wet years and pump from their wells in dry years, the aquifer gets a rest and a chance to recharge, he says.

That’s the concept behind WISE (Water, Infrastructure and Supply Efficiency), a coalition of 12 entities, including Denver Water, Aurora Water and the South Metro Water Supply Authority created after the 2002 drought.

Chambers notes that outside sales could help the city retire debt and fund maintenance and operations. Having attended most of the committee’s meetings, Chambers attests the city’s top goal is to serve existing customers. “Utilities has been very protective,” he says, “saying regionalization will not happen unless it’s a benefit to the citizen owners and ratepayers.”

For example, Grossman notes the committee wants to include options for conveying and treating water, but that no outside contracts would be executed if they’d erode the city’s targeted storage benchmarks.

Elbert County growth fueled by sweet spot in the Denver Basin Aquifer system

Denver Basin aquifer map

From ColoradoPolitics.com (Marianne Goodland) via The Colorado Springs Gazette:

Water watchers concerned

There’s also worry about how much water the development would need, and whether that water will truly stay in Elbert County.

The county is in what some residents call a “sweet spot.” There are four major aquifers under the county: Dawson, Denver, Fox Hills and Arapahoe. No other county on the Front Range sits on all four. The Denver Basin, which includes the four aquifers, is the major water supply for the south metro Denver area, and reaches all the way to Colorado Springs to the south and Greeley to the north.

Virtually all of the water providers in the south metro area are looking for ways to save the rapidly diminishing water in the Denver Basin aquifers, which do not respect county lines. That’s meant millions of dollars spent to find other water sources.

And Colorado history is replete with examples of water rights in rural eastern plains counties or those surrounding towns being sold to urban interests, which adds to the wariness of Elbert residents.

Elbert County plans to tap the aquifer to satisfy its projected growth. Last year, a company hired by the county conducted a rural water supply study that would project water demands for the Independence project and another near Kiowa, the county seat, up to 2035 and 2050. Will Koger of Forsgren Associates told those gathered at a community forum that the two developments would require about 9,000 acre-feet per year by 2050, or about 3.2 billion gallons per year.

There are alternatives available, too, Koger said, noting that agricultural land that is developed for residential use will also provide water and the water rights that go with it to satisfy those developments.

That didn’t sit well with some of those at the forum, who pointed out that tapping the aquifer means pumping nonrenewable groundwater, and that could affect wells, the primary source of water for just about everyone in Elbert County.

The county has little in the way of options, with little surface water available from streams or rivers, according to an April 2017 presentation from the state Division of Water Resources.

But the demand for aquifer water is low compared to the available supply, Koger told the audience, and the developments would tap less than 1 percent of what’s available.

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit against the Independence project question whether the issue of water is about the development or if it’s about selling water to next door Douglas County. They point to a map included in the Forsgren presentation that they said shows a proposed one-way pipeline that goes from the Independence site to Rueter-Hess Reservoir in Douglas County.

The development schematics includes a proposal for six special districts that would manage the water, which strikes Richard Brown and other concerned residents as odd. The six districts, according to a water and sanitation proposal developed for the county, would be contained within a small section of the development that would not include any homes. One district is an “overlay” that would control the rest.

The developer, Craft Companies, and its owner and board would be the only voters in those districts, according to the water and sanitation proposal.

Commentary: Cape Town Is Running out of Water. Could More Cities Be Next? — @PeterGleick

Water reuse via GlobalWarming.com.

From Fortune (Peter Gleick):

After more than three years of severe drought, Cape Town, a city of nearly 4 million people, is running out of water. “Day Zero”—the day city officials estimate the water system will be unable to provide drinking water for the taps—is less than three months away, and substantial rains are not expected before then.

In response, city managers have imposed a series of increasingly severe water-use restrictions to cut demand and are working to find emergency sources of supply, but it is difficult to see how a cutoff can be avoided. People will not die of thirst: Emergency water will be brought in for basic needs. But the social, economic, and political disruptions caused by a water cutoff will be unprecedented.

Cape Town is not alone. California, São Paulo, Australia, the eastern Mediterranean, and other regions have all recently suffered through severe droughts and water crises.

Short-term droughts and water shortages aren’t new. Under normal circumstances, cities can respond by temporarily cutting water waste. But circumstances aren’t normal anymore. More and more major cities will face their own Day Zero unless we fundamentally change the way water is managed and used.

The growing water crisis is the result of three factors. First, more and more regions of the world are reaching “peak water” limits, where all accessible, renewable water has been spoken for and no traditional new supplies are available. Second, urban populations and economies are expanding rapidly, putting additional pressures on limited water supplies and increasing competition with agricultural water users. And third, the very climate of the planet is changing because of human activities such as burning fossil fuels, affecting all aspects of our water systems, including the demand for water and the frequency and intensity of extreme events like floods and droughts.

Where these three factors combine, urban water crises explode.

The good news is that there are two key solutions to making our cities more resilient to water crises and disruptions: Reduce water demand and find new non-traditional sources of water supply.

Reducing demand means improving the efficiency of water use and changing water-using behaviors to reduce immediate needs. The first option includes installing efficient irrigation technology, replacing inefficient toilets, showerheads, washing machines, and dishwashers, and eliminating leaks. The second option includes cutting outdoor landscape water use and replacing water-intensive gardens, taking shorter showers, flushing toilets less often, and eliminating luxury water uses like private swimming pools.

The potential for these two approaches to reduce demand is enormous. During the severe drought in Australia from 2000 to 2009, urban water efficiency measures saved more water at lower cost and greater speed than traditional supply options, like tapping rivers and groundwater. During the drought, water demand dropped 60% in South East Queensland through a combination of investments in water efficiency programs and restrictions on outdoor water use. California urban water use was cut by over 25% during the 2012-2016 drought through similar indoor and outdoor efficiency programs, and there is much potential for even greater savings.

There are new supply options available too, even in regions where traditional sources are tapped out. South Africa has long pioneered the restoration of watersheds by removing invasive species like blue gum, wattles, and the vine kudzu, and increasing water flows in rivers. Artificially enhancing groundwater replenishment can increase the storage of water far more effectively than building new surface reservoirs. Wastewater treatment and reuse turns what used to be considered a liability into a valuable resource.

Cape Town currently only treats and reuses 5% of its wastewater—up until now they haven’t thought they had the need—and could greatly expand treatment and reuse. Just next door to South Africa in Namibia, the city of Windhoek has been reusing treated wastewater for decades. About 40% of Singapore’s total water demand is now being met with high-quality treated wastewater. California currently reuses about 15% of its wastewater and has the potential to greatly expand reuse in coming years. And when less costly options have been exhausted, seawater desalination offers a way to provide drought-proof supply.

It will rain again in Cape Town, and the emergency responses implemented over the next few months will be relaxed. But water problems are not going to disappear until we consistently and comprehensively change the way we think about and manage water. Peak water limits will be felt in more and more regions as traditional sources of water are tapped out. Urban areas will continue to expand. Global climate changes will accelerate and worsen, especially if we delay the transition to clean energy. The sooner we accept these facts, the sooner every city can move to manage water in a more sustainable fashion, postponing or even eliminating the risk of their own Day Zero.