A court ruling from the end of 2019 determined Denver Water officials must obtain an additional permit for the Gross Reservoir Expansion Project — a project that Arvada is depending on so it can continue developing land…
Arvada has a contract to purchase raw water from the reservoir and, in return, is sharing the cost of the project with Denver Water…
Denver Water is one of two sources through which Arvada obtains its water, with the other being Clear Creek, said Jim Sullivan, the city’s former director of utilities.
In total, the city has the rights to roughly 25,000 acre-feet of water, with about 19,000 of that provided through its existing contract with Denver Water, he said.
“We have a comprehensive plan that shows what the city limits will eventually grow to” by 2065, when an estimated 155,000 people will live in Arvada, Sullivan said. This plan would require approximately 3,000 additional acre-feet of water, which will be provided by the expansion project.
If the project was canceled, the city would need to halt development until it could secure alternate resources, Sullivan said.
Those other resources “have been harder and harder to come by,” said Arvada water treatment manager Brad Wyant. Other entities have already laid claim to the other major water supplies in the area, he and Sullivan said.
“The next big water project will be some kind of diversion of water from the Western Slope to the Denver area,” Sullivan said. This would be a major endeavor and “there’s nothing even on the horizon at this point,” he said, making the success of the Gross project a necessity for Arvada development.
So far, the city has contributed about $3 million to the project, with plans to contribute about $100 million by 2030.
The contributions are funded through Arvada Water’s capital improvement budget, which consists of one-time tap fees that customers pay when they first connect to the Arvada Water system. Resident’s bimonthly water billing funds ongoing operations and will not be used for the Gross project, Sullivan said.
Denver Water has estimated the project will cost a total of $464 million.
Pitkin County will begin construction next week on the latest fix to a whitewater park on the Roaring Fork River in Basalt that some said was too dangerous during high water last summer, sources said Wednesday.
“The primary goal of the adjustment is to improve high-flow navigation from runoff,” said Quinn Donnelly, an engineer with River Restoration of Carbondale, which designed the park. “(High water) was creating big holes and people were flipping.”
Contractors next week will begin altering two man-made concrete wave structures in the riverbed to make them less difficult to navigate during high-water conditions, Donnelly said. Crews will move around boulders and create ramps to better flush water through the area and create a wave-train, he said.
“The goal of this winter’s work is to strike a better balance between the fun surfability of the waves and their high-water navigability,” Pitkin County Healthy Rivers and Streams Board Chairman Andre Wille said in a news release Wednesday. “The end result will be wave features that are easier for river runners to bypass at high flows.”
Despite repeated requests Wednesday for how much the project will cost and where the money will come from, a spokesperson for the Pitkin County Healthy Rivers and Streams Board declined to release it. The park was initially built for $770,000 with Healthy Rivers funds, though it’s not clear how much has been spent since then to tweak it.
This winter’s project will mark the second time the whitewater park has had to be re-engineered because of safety concerns.
After years of their questions and concerns not being met, Colorado’s top water engineers are looking to formally oppose the water rights associated with a proposed reservoir project in northwest Colorado.
In November, the Colorado Division of Water Resources filed a motion to intervene in the Rio Blanco Water Conservancy District’s application for a 90,000-acre-foot conditional water-storage right on the White River. The state DWR is now waiting for a judge to determine whether it will be allowed to file a statement of opposition in the case.
For more than 4½ years, state engineers have expressed concerns that the conservancy district has not proven there is a need for the water, which would be stored in the proposed White River reservoir and dam project between Rangely and Meeker. The issue is whether Rio Blanco has shown that it can and will put to beneficial use the water rights it applied for in 2014. It remains unclear whether the town of Rangely needs the water.
“And throughout this case, the Engineers have consistently maintained that RBWCD must demonstrate that its claimed water right is not speculative,” the motion reads. “Although RBWCD has addressed some of the Engineers’ concerns in the past six months, the Engineers maintain that RBWCD has not met its burden.”
State Engineer Kevin Rein said his office had been trying to resolve its concerns with Rio Blanco’s claims to water informally and doesn’t take filing a motion to intervene lightly.
“We are very aware of the influence we can have on the process and costs and delays, so we don’t just frivolously file a statement of opposition every time we have some issue with a case,” Rein said. “We believe there are issues that need to be fixed in this water-court application in order for it to go forward.”
Rio Blanco declines comment
The White River storage project, also known as the Wolf Creek project, would store anywhere from 44,000 to 2.92 million acre-feet of water. The water would be stored either in a reservoir formed by a dam across the main stem of the White River — this scale of project proposal is now rare in Colorado — or in an off-channel reservoir at the bottom of Wolf Creek gulch, just north of the river. Water would have to be pumped from the river uphill and into the off-channel reservoir.
Rio Blanco District Manager Alden Vanden Brink declined to comment on the state’s opposition, citing concerns about litigation. Vanden Brink also is chair of the Yampa/White/Green River Basin Roundtable and sits on the board of the Colorado River Water Conservation District.
Rio Blanco is a taxpayer-supported special district that was formed in 1992 to operate and maintain Taylor Draw Dam, which creates Kenney Reservoir, just east of Rangely. The district extends roughly from the Yellow Creek confluence with the White River to the Utah state line.
Rio Blanco says Kenney Reservoir is silting in at a rate of 300 acre-feet per year, threatening the future of Rangely’s water supply and flatwater recreation, and a new off-channel reservoir on the White River could help solve this problem.
If a water-court judge grants the motion to intervene, the state will become the second opposer in the case. Currently, the only other remaining opposer is 4M Ranch, owned by Deirdre Macnab.
Tucked between rolling hills of arid, sagebrush-covered rangeland, the proposed reservoir and dam site abut her 13,000-acre property along the White River.
Macnab, who bought the beef and hay operation nearly five years ago, is on the board of the conservation group White River Alliance, as well as the Yampa/White/Green River Basin Roundtable. Macnab said the main reason she opposes the reservoir project is because of the state’s concerns.
“If we felt that there was a clear purpose and need that would benefit the public, then we would, in fact, be supportive of this,” Macnab said. “But the fact that the experts are saying there does not appear to be a clear purpose and need means that this would be a real travesty and waste of taxpayer money. It’s something we will continue to oppose until that changes.”
State engineers are also concerned about the vagueness of the revised amounts of water for various uses that Rio Blanco says it needs.
In a 2018 report, Division 6 engineer Erin Light questioned Rio Blanco’s claims that it needed water for industrial/oil and natural gas/oil shale and irrigation uses. In response, Rio Blanco dropped those claims but almost doubled the need for municipal and industrial use for the town of Rangely and added a new demand for recreation.
The conservancy district also set the amount of water for environmental needs for threatened and endangered species at between 3,000 and 42,000 acre-feet despite its acknowledgement that the actual amount needed for this use was unknown. Rio Blanco then added a new demand for a sediment pool of 3,000 to 24,000 acre-feet and an insurance pool of up to 3,000 acre-feet but did not describe either of these uses.
“Thus, despite removing its claims for industrial/oil and natural gas/oil shale, which originally accounted for over half the demand for the claimed water right, the total demands for water identified by RBWCD actually increased to 24,000-100,000 acre-feet,” the motion to intervene reads.
Since 2013, the Colorado Water Conservation Board has given roughly $850,000 in grant money to Rio Blanco to study the White River storage project, including a $350,000 Colorado Water Plan grant in 2018. According to CWCB communications director Sara Leonard, Rio Blanco has so far spent about 60% of these most recent grant funds.
Leonard said that DWR’s motion to intervene was not a surprise to the CWCB, that the two state agencies with seemingly differing views on the project have met and that the CWCB is aware of the state engineers’ concerns.
“The grants that have been awarded to the applicant to date have all been with the intention of helping the District with the evaluation process,” Leonard wrote in an email. “In other words, the motion has not changed the scope of the ongoing work in the grant.”
The Colorado River Water Conservation District has also given Rio Blanco $50,000 toward investigating the feasibility of the storage project.
“We are not advocates and we are not opposers,” said Jim Pokrandt, director of River District community affairs and chair of the Colorado River Basin Roundtable. “It’s a regional question that our constituents need to figure out.”
Aspen Journalism collaborates with The Craig Daily Press and other Swift Communications newspapers on coverage of water and rivers. This story appeared in the Jan. 17, 2020 edition of The Craig Daily Press.
A new injection well built by the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority will pump treated river water back into the aquifer for future use in the metro area. The $2 million well, built at the San Juan-Chama Drinking Water Treatment Plant in north Albuquerque, is key to the city’s aquifer storage and recovery plan.
Project manager Diane Agnew said the well, which is the first of its kind in the city, is a “success for Albuquerque’s water sustainability.”
“This is like a ‘water savings account’ that builds up over time,” she said. “The injection well gives us an alternate source to meet our long-term water demand. It lets us take (treated) San Juan-Chama water and store it in the aquifer, where it won’t evaporate.”
To access the stored aquifer water, the new well pumps can be “flipped” from injection to extraction.
The project expands on the city’s efforts to recharge the aquifer and address long-term water demand.
Each winter, San Juan-Chama water is released into the Bear Canyon Arroyo. That water infiltrates the ground and eventually ends up in the aquifer.
Agnew said the Bear Canyon setup takes advantage of the arroyo’s natural recharge mechanism, but the water may evaporate before it seeps into the ground, and it can take as long as six weeks to reach the aquifer.
The new injection well can send 3,000 gallons of water a minute directly into the aquifer 1,200 feet below the well site, where it can be stored without risk of evaporation. Injected well water reaches groundwater in just a few days…
As with the arroyo project, water will be injected at the well site from October to March, when water demand is lower.
The water authority has worked with the state Bureau of Geology and Mineral Resources to identify other areas in the city which would be optimal for future aquifer injection wells.
Albuquerque’s shift away from pumping groundwater has spurred recovery of the aquifer underneath the city.
A report released last year by the U.S. Geological Survey showed city groundwater withdrawals had dropped by 67% from 2008 to 2016. Aquifer levels in some parts of Albuquerque rose as much as 40 feet during that time.
An innovative water-sharing partnership between Denver Water, Aurora Water and water utilities that serve the south metro area has won national recognition.
The WISE Partnership, WISE being short for Water Infrastructure and Supply Efficiency, recently brought home a “Community Water Champion Award” from WateReuse, a national organization that advances the use of recycled water.
The award marks another sign of success for a project that showcases sustainability on multiple fronts.
WISE not only provides a way for Denver and Aurora to reuse water supplies, it also creates a dependable supply for 10 water providers that serve the south metro region.
That more dependable supply, in turn, reduces pressure to pull more water from the Colorado River, conserves dwindling groundwater supplies south of Denver and diminishes the need for metro area utilities to buy agricultural water in the South Platte River Basin, which can lead to drying up farmland if the water is diverted…
The unusual nature of the WISE project may have helped it capture the national award.
Awards typically recognize a specific facility, such as a water recycling plant, or a technology. WISE includes such features, but also leverages the power of a regionwide partnership to make it all work.
WateReuse described the award this way: “This innovative regional partnership for a sustainable water future will reduce groundwater reliance and bolster renewable water supplies to the South Metro area, while maximizing existing water assets belonging to Aurora and Denver Water.”
WISE works by pulling water that Denver and Aurora have a legal right to reuse from the South Platte River near Brighton. That water is then pumped via pipeline back upstream to Aurora for a series of treatment steps before distribution to project partners…
Simply put, the project’s benefits accrue this way:
Denver Water develops a new water supply by being able to use Aurora’s Prairie Waters system and a new revenue stream by selling unused water to the south metro area water providers.
Aurora Water benefits by selling unused water and putting unused treatment and pipeline capacity to use while receiving revenue that helps keep its water rates down.
The South Metro Water Supply Authority receives a permanent renewable water supply, helping to reduce its reliance on nonrenewable groundwater.
FromThe Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):
The YT Ranch reservoir is small, with a storage capacity of just 125 acre-feet (an acre-foot is about 326,000 gallons of water). Bill McCormick, the state’s dam safety chief for the Division of Water Resources, said there’s some question whether the dam even should be categorized as high-hazard and whether instead it should be listed as significant-hazard, meaning it only poses a threat of significant structural damage but not loss of life if it failed when fully filled…
Either way, the dam has been undergoing annual inspections and state dam safety officials hope to see its owner, now [Laramie Energy], eventually repair it. Meanwhile, the reservoir remains under a storage restriction, allowed to store only about half of its capacity, McCormick said…
Elsewhere in the Grand Mesa area, a restriction was lifted in November on storage in Big Battlement Lake after its owner, the city of Delta, did repair work to address seepage issues at the dam there. Big Battlement is upstream of Cedaredge.
Big Battlement is a high-hazard dam that previously had an unsatisfactory rating.
Following is a rundown on some other high-hazard dams in the region that currently are rated unsatisfactory:
Ward Lake on the Grand Mesa, upstream of Cedaredge. It’s an earth dam built in 1958, and is owned by the Surface Creek Ditch & Reservoir Co. Its normal storage capacity — what it can hold before water goes through the spillway, rather than how much more it can hold in flood conditions before the dam is overtopped — is 1,710 acre-feet. But it was purposely breached in preparation for replacement of the outlet works and can’t currently hold water, McCormick said. He said those construction plans are currently under review by the state and the work may take place this summer.
Grass Valley (Harvey Gap), north and upstream of Silt in Garfield County. This earth dam was built in 1892 and is owned by the Silt Water Conservancy District. Its normal storage capacity is 5,060 acre-feet. McCormick said that a few years ago the district fixed a problem with its outlet works, and dam officials eased a storage limit, but storage still is limited to no higher than a foot below the spillway until that deteriorated spillway can be addressed. He said his agency is working with the district on getting funding for that work.
Gurley, above Norwood, owned by the Farmers Water Development Co. It’s an earth dam built in 1961, and its reservoir’s normal storage capacity is 9,000 acre-feet. McCormick said the dam has a stability problem on its downstream slope involving a small slide last spring, and engineering work is being done regarding a repair.
Stillwater #1 in Garfield County, upstream of the community of Yampa. Owned by Bear River Reservoir Co., it is an earth dam and was built in 1939 with a normal storage capacity of 6,088 acre-feet. McCormick said it has seepage issues above a certain reservoir elevation and so it has a storage restriction. “I think they’ll be moving forward with some engineering on that here in the near future as well,” McCormick said.
FromThe Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):
It’s been nearly four decades since a dam last had a major failure in Colorado, but the incident remains high on the minds of state dam safety officials.
The Lawn Lake dam’s rupture in Rocky Mountain National Park in 1982 also caused the failure of a downstream dam, killed three people and caused extensive damage in the Estes Park area.
“We use that as a training tool for our staff, our dam owners,” with a goal of keeping such an incident from ever happening again, said Bill McCormick, chief of dam safety for the state Division of Water Resources…
At the start of the new year in Colorado, new dam-safety rules went into effect that are intended to account for the possibility of wetter storms in the years and decades to come due to warming temperatures.
“We’re not sure when the storms will come but we know they will and we’re planning against those likely increases in the extreme events, just in the magnitude of the extreme events,” McCormick said.
A focus of the new rules is better designs for spillways to help dams accommodate a higher volume of water during a storm.
McCormick said the new rules resulted from a 2018 study on future extreme regional rainfall in Colorado and New Mexico. State and federal agencies were involved in the research…
“One of the things that came out of that was a recommendation to accommodate increases in temperatures due to climate change into our rules and regulations,” he said.
He said although the study was inconclusive as to whether there would be more or fewer storms in the future, it indicated a good likelihood of wetter storms because warmer air holds more water…
McCormick said 432 high-hazard dams are in the state, but he said that descriptor is a common source of confusion. People tend to think a dam classified as high-hazard dam is in poor condition, and that’s often not the case.
Dams get that classification based on the potential for downstream structures to be impacted with a water depth and velocity that could cause loss of life if the dam fails. McCormick said all it takes is for one structure to be deemed vulnerable under the evaluation criteria for the dam to get that classification. Colorado dams with a high-hazard rating are inspected once a year. Those in the significant hazard classification, meaning their failure wouldn’t likely cause loss of life but could cause major property damage, are inspected every other year. Low-hazard dams are inspected every six years.
McCormick said different design standards also apply to the various classifications of dams.
FromThe Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Charles Ashby):
On drainage, the county will be busy getting its feet under it to deal with a change in how that will be managed.
Last year, Grand Junction officials decided it no longer wanted to oversee the 5-2-1 Drainage Authority, primarily for financial and logistical reasons. As a result, the county is to take over those management duties by March. In the meantime, the authority will be dissolved, and the county is to work with the Grand Valley Drainage District, the city, Fruita and Palisade to address immediate storm water needs.
What likely won’t be addressed by year’s end, McInnis says, is an idea to create a single entity to address drainage issues and an expected $100 million need in infrastructure improvements, primarily because of disagreements over how to fund it. Doing so likely could require a countywide ballot measure if a special fee is required or the effort calls for creating a new, expanded drainage district with taxing powers to encompass all five government entities.
“The big challenge for all of us is going to come when the feds come down and start putting these (water quality) standards in place,” McInnis said. “Right now, we’ve got a little period of time where the county can do it with the contributions from the city and the others. But the day will come when we’re all going to have to shimmy up to the bar.”