The Northern Integrated Supply Project and the Windy Gap Firming Project, both projects managed by the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, have been decades in the making, and once they’re complete, they’ll result in three new reservoirs intended to address a growing Front Range population.
During the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District’s fall water users meeting Wednesday in Fort Collins, officials took an audience through the progress of both projects.
The Northern Integrated Supply Project, which would affect Windsor and Evans, hit a major milestone in July after an Environmental Impact Statement was released.
“In 2019, we’re hoping for a really big, exciting year, in addition to the really big year we had this year,” said Stephanie Cecil, water resources project engineer for Northern Water.
The Windy Gap Firming Project, which would affect Greeley, is moving forward even as the project has been hit with a federal lawsuit.
In July, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers released its final Environmental Impact Statement on the project — a process that took 14 years.
“It’s a really significant step in the project to be able to have all of those things done,” Cecil said.
Right now, the group is focused on design, particularly for the Glade Reservoir and the Galeton Reservoir. One pressing step in the project will be to relocate a section of U.S. 287 to allow for construction of the reservoir.
Additionally, the organization is working on mitigation projects, including one to help pass fish though a diversion structure and measure the amount of water the group is handling.
The group is also working on permitting with counties and the state, and developing a financing plan.
“How is this over $1 billion project going to be financed, and how is the construction schedule going to line up with the financing plan?” Cecil asked.
Construction could start by 2021, Cecil said, and the projects that will likely get started first are the Glade Reservoir and the U.S. 287 relocation. Cecil said the group hopes that the reservoir will be filled in 2026 and able to serve water in 2030.
“We’re looking at about a five-year timeline, but it’s dependent on weather,” she said. “Hopefully by 2026, we’ll have some really wet years and we can fill it really fast.”
The Windy Gap Firming Project, a collaboration between 12 northern Colorado water providers, including Greeley, will result in a new reservoir — the 90,000 acre-foot Chimney Hollow Reservoir — and the largest dam on the Front Range.
When it’s complete, the project intends to make water supplies more reliable by installing the reservoir west of Carter Lake in Larimer County.
For the past year, the project has been in the middle of a lawsuit filed by environmental groups against federal agencies. The lawsuit questions the need for the project, saying it would make significant water diversions from the Colorado River, and that the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and U.S. Army Crops of Engineers did not have enough information before they issued initial permits to the district.
Still, Jeff Drager, director of engineering for Northern Water, said the project hasn’t been stalled by the lawsuit, especially because funding from the Natural Resource Conservation Service requires the group to use the money within the next five years…
Right now, the project is in the permitting process. So far, the organization has $11 million and is seeking ways to fund the final $4 million…
The project has been in the process of permitting the project for 15 years, Drager said…
Drager said the group hopes to start construction in 2021 or 2022.
FromThe Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):
The Division of Water Rights last week heard from project proponent Aaron Million and from numerous entities that oppose it, before deciding to request more information from Million before a decision can be made.
Million, a Fort Collins resident, filed the Utah application through the company Water Horse Resources LLC, seeking to divert 55,000 acre-feet a year and pipe it east to Wyoming and then south to Colorado…
The idea is being opposed by federal agencies including the Bureau of Reclamation, National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, and Fish and Wildlife Service. Other opponents include western Colorado’s Colorado River District, the Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District in Colorado, multiple water conservancy districts in Utah, conservationists, and notably the Utah Board of Water Resources and Division of Water Resources. That board works to conserve and develop the state’s water, and is worried that the proposal would let Colorado benefit at Utah’s expense…
Peter Fleming, general counsel for the Colorado River District, questions the project’s economic feasibility.
“Water Horse’s application has not shown that it has any significant committed recipients who are willing to pay for the water that’s supposed to be diverted,” he said…
The decision on Million’s water right application will be made by Utah’s state engineer, who heads the state’s Division of Water Rights.
Million said he thought the hearing went well and he’s awaiting a letter from the state engineer detailing what additional information is needed…
He said probably one-third or one-half of the 28 or so objectors didn’t show up at the hearing.
In the case of those who testified, “every point they made we’ve already looked at inside and out and so we’ll answer the issues related to the permit and move on,” he said.
A 30-day comment period will be provided after Million responds to the request for more information.
Ariel Calmes, a staff attorney for Western Resource Advocates, said in a news release after the hearing, “This application is the latest episode in Aaron Million’s decade-long effort to profit off of the private sale of Green River water. Million is proposing to divert water from Utah to the detriment of multistate water agreements, the recovery of endangered species, and millions of dollars in recreation spending.”
Here’s the release from Denver Water (Travis Thompson):
At its meeting today, the Denver Board of Water Commissioners adopted rate changes to fund essential upgrades and new projects to keep Denver Water’s system running smoothly. The new rates take effect Feb. 1, 2019, and monthly bills for most Denver residents will increase by 55 cents if they use water the same as they did in 2018.
“While the cost to maintain and upgrade the water system continues to increase, rapid development inside the city of Denver has brought in more fees from new taps sold, helping to minimize the 2019 rate increase for Denver customers,” said Jim Lochhead, Denver Water CEO/Manager. “The surrounding suburbs, however, had less development than in the past, reducing the amount collected from new tap fees, which means we’ll need to collect more revenue from suburban water rates in 2019.”
Suburban customers who receive water from one of Denver Water’s 65 distributors will see an additional monthly increase added to their volumetric charges. The Denver City Charter requires that suburban customers pay the full cost of service, plus an additional amount. Learn more about how this works: “Why Denver water costs more in the ‘burbs.”
If you live outside Denver and receive water from a distributor under contract with Denver Water, you can expect to see an annual increase between $23 and $41, which is between $1.90 and 3.40 a month (based on an annual use of 102,000 gallons of water).
Pat Fitzgerald, general manager of four Denver Water distributors including the Platte Canyon Water and Sanitation District and chairman of the suburban districts’ Technical Advisory Committee, which reviews Denver Water’s rates annually, provided this statement:
“The advisory committee supports the rate increase. The cost-of-service study used to determine the difference between inside city and outside city customers is fair and reasonable, and the committee had no objections to the results. The expenses are going up, but they’re all projects that are necessary to provide a reliable and safe source of water.”
The major multiyear projects that water rates fund include building a new, state-of-the-art water treatment plant, installing a new 8.5-mile water pipeline to replace a pipeline that was built in the 1930s, expanding Gross Reservoir to provide a more reliable future water supply, constructing a new water quality lab to ensure the highest water quality standards, investing more than $100 million to repair and replace water pipes, and more. There are 158 major projects identified in Denver Water’s five-year, $1.3 billion capital plan.
A customer’s bill is comprised of a fixed charge, which helps ensure Denver Water has more stable revenue to continue the necessary water system upgrades to ensure reliable water service, and a volume rate. The fixed monthly charge — which is tied to meter size — in 2019 is increasing by 55 cents for most residential customers both inside the city and out.
Denver Water’s rate structure includes a three-tiered charge for water use (called the volume rate). To keep water affordable, indoor water use — like for bathing, cooking and flushing toilets — is charged at the lowest rate. Essential indoor water use is determined by averaging the customer’s monthly water use on bills dated from January through March each year. This is called average winter consumption. Water use above the average winter consumption — typically for outdoor watering — is charged at a higher price.
Volume rates for Denver residents will remain the same, but will increase on suburban bills.
Denver Water operates and maintains more than 3,000 miles of pipe — enough to stretch from Los Angeles to New York — as well as 20 dams, 22 pump stations, 30 underground storage tanks, four treatment plants and more. The water provider’s collection system covers more than 4,000 square miles, and it operates facilities in 12 counties in Colorado.
Denver Water does not make a profit or receive tax dollars, and reinvests ratepayers’ money to maintain and upgrade the water system. The utility is funded by water rates, bond sales, cash reserves, hydropower sales and fees for new service (called System Development Charges).
Customers will see more information about 2019 rates in their bills and on Denver Water’s website over the next few months.
From the American Planning Organization (Allen Best):
Higher temperatures and lower water levels are causing states to rethink 20th century infrastructure.
The hundred feet of bleached sandstone walls of Glen Canyon exposed by the receding waters of Lake Powell starkly illustrates the conundrum of water infrastructure in western states and the effects of a changing climate. Completed in 1963, the construction of Glen Canyon Dam across the Colorado River in the Utah desert was a landmark in the resolute 20th century effort to harness rivers of the West to provide water for irrigation — and, indirectly, for expanding cities — and hydroelectric power for both.
Today, the dam delivers 1,320 megawatts of low-cost, low-carbon hydroelectric generation to farms and homes as far away as Nebraska. The reservoir, the nation’s second largest, is among 260 on the Colorado River and its tributaries that store and regulate flows in a vast plumbing system supporting a population of 40 million people from Denver to San Diego — cities outside of the river basin itself — and some of our nation’s most productive agricultural areas.
Population growth alone puts pressure on this 20th century infrastructure. Southwestern states grew 37 percent from 1990 to 2010, with no end in sight. Now comes clear evidence of climbing temperatures and hints at shifting precipitation patterns.
Lake Powell, nearly full at the start of this century, is projected to end 2018 at 43 percent of capacity after another year of decreased runoff on the Colorado River. Subpar runoff has been more common than not this century, but unlike droughts of the past that were caused by reduced precipitation, some climate scientists say that warming temperatures have caused more than half the declined flows, due to evaporation and transpiration (when plants absorb water through their roots and then emit water vapor through pores in their leaves).
But Powell is just a chapter in a larger story. It is operated in tandem with Lake Mead, the nation’s largest reservoir, which is 300 miles downstream, below the Grand Canyon. Together, the two reservoirs can store 50 million acre-feet of water. (Smaller reservoirs in the seven basin states can store an additional 10 million acre-feet.)
But this overall bank account has been ebbing toward worrisomely low balances; this autumn, it receded to 28.4 percent of full capacity, among the smallest since the modern water infrastructure was completed last century.
Studying the numbers, some have raised the question of whether Lake Powell is needed at all and suggested that just Lake Mead will suffice in a hotter, likely drier Southwest of the future.
But adequacy of water infrastructure as the climate changes is not just a question for the Colorado River. It applies to the Columbia River of the Pacific Northwest, the Rio Grande of New Mexico and Texas, and California — all homes to giant water infrastructure. A nagging, and still unanswered question, remains: Will infrastructure created during the 20th century continue to serve the needs of the 21st century? And if the answer is no, what can we do about it?
Snowpack in the Watershed
Changing times, temperatures
From beginning to end, cities, irrigation districts, and states ambitiously built dams, canals, and tunnels throughout the 20th century. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation was the primary federal dam builder; its mission was to develop water storage and irrigation infrastructure to allow settlement of the arid western states.
Hoover Dam, completed in 1936, was a partial exception, driven by Los Angeles’s thirst for hydroelectric power, in addition to regulating flows for irrigation and controlling floods. In mid-century came the construction of Glen Canyon and other dams on the upper Colorado River Basin.
The last giant push, the Central Arizona Project, was authorized by Congress in 1968 but not completed until 1994. It delivers Colorado River water 337 miles through a concrete-lined canal to Phoenix and Tucson.
Today, rising temperatures threaten to upset the hydrological applecart. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, in a 2016 report to Congress, found that the western U.S. has warmed roughly two degrees Fahrenheit since 1895, compared to 1.3 degrees to 1.9 degrees F in other parts of the country. It will get worse, the report noted, with another five to seven degrees F of warming through the 21st century if greenhouse gas emissions go untamed.
This warming has profound consequences. Longer summers will demand more moisture for both lawns and crops; more rain will fall during winter atop snow, increasing the flooding potential for higher-elevation regions of the high Rockies by 200 percent, according to a study released in August; droughts will be deeper; and precipitation events when they happen, will be more intense.
Runoff patterns have already shifted. Spring comes earlier nearly everywhere — posing problems for water infrastructure in the West, which was mostly created with the assumption of a large snowpack that melts in the summer months. But a study by Oregon State University’s Philip Mote and others found that more than 90 percent of snow monitoring sites with long records across the western U.S. had dramatic declines in the water content of April 1 snowpacks. Altogether this loss, said the paper published in the journal Nature, was comparable in volume to the water in Lake Mead.
“The magnitude of these changes relative to the built storage reservoirs, and the certainty with which continued warming will lead to continued declines at a similar or increasing rate, illustrates the immense challenge facing Western water managers,” Mote wrote.
Mote’s report warns that those solutions will likely require some heavy lifting by water managers and public officials. “Patterns of water use that became established (even entrenched) during the climate of the past cannot be changed without intense political effort owing to large cultural, economic, and infrastructure investments in the status quo ante. … Solutions will have to lie primarily in the linked arenas of water policy (including reservoir operating policies) and demand management.” (For more an overview of demand management policies, see “Water Pressure,” August/September 2018.)
“We need to do a much better job of integrating [this] new reality into our water management decisions,” says Heather Cooley, director of the water program at the Pacific Institute in Oakland, California.
Shrinking Water Levels in Lake Powell
Higher rates of evaporation caused by warmer temperatures have played into current conversations about water infrastructure, including the debate about Lake Powell. Environmentalists never did like that the reservoir inundated 186 miles of lovely rust-colored canyons. In 1975, even before the reservoir had filled, Edward Abbey had mischievously imagined the dam fracturing in his novel The Monkey Wrench Gang. Critics say that the reservoir has made the Colorado River through Grand Canyon National Park a beautiful and sometimes dangerous irrigation ditch.
Arguments in recent years have pivoted more on climate change. Given the declined flows in the Colorado River Basin, could one reservoir — downstream at Lake Mead — suffice? A canyon could be restored and there would be evaporation from just one reservoir, not two. An average six feet of water per year evaporates from the surface of Lake Powell, a little less than downstream at Lake Mead in the Mojave Desert.
Dan Beard, a former commissioner of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, has emerged as the most prominent advocate for removing Glen Canyon Dam. The dam, he says, was conceived during a different time. “Seventy-five years ago, there were no American environmental laws to protect the Colorado River, the science of climate change did not yet exist, and the flow of water in the Colorado River was much higher,” he wrote in an op-ed published a few months ago in the Denver Post.
“There is no new water to fill these facilities, and there won’t be because of the inevitable impacts of climate change,” he wrote.
Evaporation is also an issue in New Mexico. The state’s largest reservoir, Elephant Butte, located in the desert south of Albuquerque, serves as primary storage for the Rio Grande. Climate projections point toward a much hotter and drier future for the river basin. Might that future better be served by more reservoirs in higher-elevation and cooler locations, such as at the river’s headwaters in Colorado? That idea was proffered by U.S. Sen. Tom Udall — whose father and uncle were influential in creating this 20th century infrastructure — at a conference in Santa Fe this past spring.
With river flows declining, there have been calls for more storage. But nobody realistically expects another Grand Coulee in the 21st century. The good sites for dams have been taken, and the environmental impacts are better understood, or at least more strongly argued.
Anne Castle, who was the Interior Department assistant secretary for water and science in the Obama administration for five years, sees value in “small strategic storage that will allow more efficient utilization of the water we have.” In some cases, this merely requires retrofits. She cites the example of Fontenelle Reservoir, located in southwestern Wyoming.
Loose stones, called rip-rap, were originally used to fortify the upper portion of the Fontenelle Dam, making it more resistant to erosion from waves, but not the lower portion (largely because the dam’s designers never expected water levels to get that low). That means water levels cannot currently be drawn down below the reinforced section, limiting the amount of usable water storage. To remedy this in the likelihood of worsening drought conditions, the state wants to reinforce the lower part of the dam wall.
“You can get a lot more usable storage without having to build anything new,” says Castle.
Groundwater recharge takes the burden off surface storage, says the Pacific Institute’s Cooley, allowing reservoirs to be used more for flood control. “Groundwater recharge also diminishes water lost to evaporation. It will help us deal with more extremes in the future,” she says.
Cooley also says dispersed and smaller water storage would be more resilient in case of natural catastrophes, such as earthquakes. And in California and elsewhere, demand-side management and conservation programs can be leveraged even more to make communities less reliant on big water projects. For example, while some state and local water laws limit water reuse, San Francisco now requires all buildings of 250,000 square feet or more to institute water reuse within the building.
Not every strategy is appropriate in every location, Cooley says, and none of them are particularly easy. “But I think they will be necessary to meet our 21st century challenges.”
Who will foot the bill?
Beyond the question of what infrastructure makes sense in the 21st century, there’s also the question of who will maintain aging dams, canals, and other delivery systems. The federal government and its generous piggy bank largely disappeared after the dams were built. Castle, the Washington veteran, doesn’t assume that “federal investment in water will never go up again.” But neither is federal aid certain.
That question of funding faces Colorado’s Mark Harris, the general manager of the Grand Valley Water Users Association. The association administers a small diversion dam on the Colorado River built in 1916, along with 55 miles of canal and 150 miles of pipe and smaller ditches, called laterals. This infrastructure delivers irrigation water to 23,340 acres of vineyards, peaches, and other agricultural products around Grand Junction. Increasingly, this water gets transferred to new suburban and exurban homes.
Harris says Grand Valley’s water customers mostly accept the challenge of climate change, recognizing that existing infrastructure, in addition to being a century old, may not entirely be adequate for changing pressures. But new concrete and reconfigured headgates are not the only issue.
“We have 19th century (water) laws, 20th century facilities, and 21st century expectations,” Harris says. Physical infrastructure is not the only thing that must be updated, he says. “There is also the rehabilitation and evolution of our thinking.”
California provides a case study because of its wild extremes: drought from 2011 to 2014 that was deeper than any in the state’s recorded history followed by a winter in 2016–2017 that, in the state’s northerly sections, was the wettest ever.
“These changing conditions threaten an already deteriorating infrastructure system, which traditionally has been planned, designed, and engineered based on historical climate and weather data and trends on the assumption that the past is a good predictor of the future,” reads “Built to Last,” a December 2017 report about California water infrastructure by the Union of Concerned Scientists.
The scientists call for “climate-smart” infrastructure as California spends the $7.5 billion for various water projects approved by voters in 2014. (Voters this month will be asked to approve another $9 billion bonding capacity). There have been proposals for more big dams, but they have lost out to small storage, including aquifer recharge projects.
Beard, the now-retired boss of federal dams who supports tearing down Glen Canyon Dam, says water solutions for western communities need to be more local. It starts, he says, with realistic prices being assigned to water. In many cases, water now is essentially free. We pay for its transportation, but not for the water itself. He further points out that many water proposals even during the 20th century, such as making dams higher, faltered when those who would benefit were asked to pay.
The answers for both population growth and climate change, he says, lie closer to home, not in trying to tap new resources far away.
Allen Best writes about water in the Great Plains and western states frequently from a base in Denver. He can be found at http://mountaintownnews.net.
Tuesday, the Colorado Springs City Council unanimously approved the 2019 budget and rates for Colorado Springs Utilities customers.
The city said local water and wastewater systems are old and in need of ongoing repair and refurbishment.
According to the city, the typical residential wastewater customer will see an increase of about $0.88 per month. The city said this increase, the first since 2010, is largely due to inflationary costs…
Typical residential water customers will experience a monthly increase of $3.80, according to the city. This funding supports a “significant” upgrade to the Phillip H. Tollefson Water Treatment plan, as well as work to repair water mains, according to the city.
The city also said that most commercial and industrial customers will also experience increases to base rates for wastewater and water services.
These small-scale projects are a result of planning efforts by the recipients to improve their water delivery efficiency
Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman announced today that Reclamation has selected 58 projects to receive $3.7 million for small-scale water efficiency projects in 16 western states. The funding from Reclamation is being leveraged to support more than $8.2 million in improvements throughout the West. The projects funded with these grants include installation of flow measurement devices and automation technology, canal lining or piping to address seepage, municipal meter upgrades, and other projects to conserve water.
The City of Avondale in Arizona is receiving $75,000 to update two water treatment/booster station wells within their system. They will connect them to their current supervisory control and data acquisition system which will help them better manage their water supplies.
The North Kern Water Storage District in Bakersfield, California, is receiving $75,000 to install SCADA software to interface with previously installed SCADA equipment and two evapotranspiration measurement stations in the service area.
The City of Gallup in northwest New Mexico is receiving $60,000 to upgrade old mechanical meters with modern solid-state meters for industrial, commercial and institutional users. This project will allow for allow for more accurate measurement of water consumption and is supported by its 2013 water conservation plan.
Small-Scale Water Efficiency Projects are part of Reclamation’s WaterSMART Program. The program aims to improve water conservation and reliability, helping water resource managers make sound decisions about water use. Learn more at https://www.usbr.gov/watersmart/swep/.
Two local water projects have received a cut of $3.7 million in federal grant funding, which will help improve water efficiency in thirsty Montrose County.
The money awarded to Bostwick Park Water Conservancy District and the Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Association will provide technology for the real-time data necessary to accurately manage flows.
At the main river head gate on the Cimarron Canal, the Bostwick Park District and Cimarron Canal and Reservoir Company have a chute that provides a flow of water. “That water needs to be measured accurately and this grant is to put a new knife gate in there and monitor it so the flow off the Cimarron River can maintain steady,” said Allen Distel, who is president of the conservancy district and canal reservoir company.
The organizations received $15,000 from the Bureau of Reclamation’s WaterSMART program for a $31,449 knife gate project that will install an automated water- control device.
The new controls will reduce over-diversions from the river to the canal and keep desired flows in line with real-time data, according to BuRec’s information. Because the process is automatic, it will also save on staff time.
The conservancy district and canal company provide irrigation water to the west side of the Big Cimarron Valley and the upper and lower Bostwick Park area. The canal company entails about 600 shares of water from the Cimarron.
“It’s really important to the flow of the Cimarron River,” Distel said, of the knife gate project and grant.
“The Bureau of Reclamation and Colorado Parks and Wildlife have a reserve amount in Silver Jack Reservoir. They can all that water out of Silver Jack to maintain the river level. It’s real important we have an accurate measurement so when they call the water out, we can get that water down the river.”
The knife gate project is identified as one of three critical water management locations under the Bostwick district’s water management plan, according to BuRec.
U.S. District Judge Richard Matsch heard the case in early September in a trial that lasted for more than a week. He issued his findings Friday afternoon.
Matsch ruled that the city violated its federal stormwater permit at Indigo Ranch North, a development at Stetson Ridge; Star Ranch, a luxury homes community on the city’s southwest side; and MorningStar at Bear Creek, a senior living center.
Matsch, who has yet to rule on other allegations against the city, did not say whether the city will face penalties for the violations…
In his ruling, Matsch wrote that city officials waived best stormwater management practices at Indigo Ranch North without sufficient justification. City officials also did not adequately oversee construction at the Star Ranch development to ensure compliance with stormwater requirements.
The city was obligated under those stormwater rules to reduce the amount of pollutants discharged from sites, which can erode stream banks, degrade water quality and harm downstream communities.
Stormwater from all three sites discharged into either Sand Creek or Fountain Creek farther downstream.
Pueblo County and the Lower Arkansas District cited increased E. coli levels, erosion and flooding as a result of Colorado Springs’ failure to properly corral stormwater.
City officials approved the design and installation of a detention basin at MorningStar that did not meet drainage requirements set in 2002, Matsch wrote. They also failed to ensure “adequate long-term operation and maintenance” of that basin…
Matsch wrote that he found “a pattern of the city tolerating delays in correcting the problems reported.”