Winter is still hanging on in the cold, high mountains around Cameron Pass.
But that hasn’t stopped Fort Collins Utilities from working on a critical project for the city and its residents.
Crews have been clearing snow from the Michigan Ditch Road and the ditch running next to it since around April 1. This is normal procedure given the need to move water along the ditch to city-owned Joe Wright Reservoir, which sits east of the pass along Colorado Highway 14.
But this year the work is a little different. It is being done in anticipation of closing a section of the road to allow construction of a tunnel that would carry the ditch to its destination.
A contractor hired by the city will use a custom-made tunnel boring machine, or TBM, to carve an 800-foot-long, slightly curved path through solid rock. The tunnel will have an 8-foot diameter.
Crews will work seven days a week, 12 hours a day on the project. The boring machine is expected to churn through up to 20 feet of rock a day, said Owen Randall, chief engineer for Fort Collins Utilities.
Once the tunnel is dug, a 60-inch pipe made from a fiberglass-type material will be installed and connected to the ditch, which originates in the upper Michigan River basin.
The TBM, which looks like it could be part of the International Space Station, will be 27 feet long and weigh 58,000 pounds. It will have an operator inside to “drive” it and a conveyance belt and ore cars running out the back to carry away rock chewed up by its massive rotating cutting head.
The machine costs $1.8 million. The city will rent it for $900,000, Randall said, since there’s really no reason for the city to own that kind of machine. When its work is done, it will be sent back to the manufacturer for refurbishing and other jobs.
All this effort is needed because a slow-moving but unstoppable landslide has been roughing up the ditch and its pipeline for some years. Rather than constantly repairing slide damage, which was especially severe in 2015, city officials decided to pay the price to protect the pipe by sending it through rock the slide can’t budge.
The project, including design and construction, is expected to cost Fort Collins Utilities about $8.5 million.
But given that the value of the water the ditch moves (and the rights to that water) is more than $100 million, city officials believe the investment is worthwhile.
The TBM is expected to be delivered and ready to launch in June. Weather and scheduling permitting, the ditch is expected to be operational in time for the 2017 spring runoff.
Colorado House and Senate leaders found common ground on two CCGA-supported state bills — House Bill 16-1228 and House Bill 16-1256 — that had each passed through the 2016 Colorado Legislative Session in recent weeks, but came out of the two chambers in varying versions.
With concurrence, though, from both Senate and House leaders in more recent days, both bills are on their way to the governor for his signature.
The 2016 Colorado Legislative Session ended at midnight on May 11.
House Bill 16-1228, “Ag Protection Water Right Transfer Mechanism,” would authorize owners of ag water rights to seek change-in-use decrees, allowing the transfer of up to 50 percent of the water subject to that water right, to any beneficial use for renewable one-year periods, without designating the specific beneficial use, if the owner obtains a substitute water supply plan, and other conditions are met.
House Bill 16-1256, “South Platte Water Storage Study,” would require the state to conduct or commission a study of the South Platte River Basin to determine, for each of the previous 20 years, the amount of water that has been delivered to Nebraska in excess of what’s required under compact. The study must also include locations that have been identified as possible sites for new reservoirs within the South Platte River Basin, between Greeley and Julesburg.
Granby’s long awaited water treatment plant broke ground this week. Officials from the Town, the Colorado Department of Local Affairs (DOLA), the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) and representatives of the various organizations that helped bring the project to fruition were on hand early Tuesday afternoon for the formal ground breaking ceremony…
Plans to develop the new Granby Water Treatment Plant were sparked in 2013 when tests on water wells in the SSA, south of the Fraser River, indicated that one of the three wells the Town uses to supply water for the SSA was being contaminated by ground water. The well in question was shut off at that time and Granby began reviewing options for upgrading the Town’s SSA water supply. Options included drilling new wells and building a treatment plant.
“In the end they (the Board of Trustees) determined the best choice for the immediate and long term for the water needs of the entire South Service Area would be to build a treatment facility,” said Granby Town Manager Wally Baird.
The rough price tag for the new plant is $6 million. Granby has received a $2 million grant from DOLA to apply to the project and an additional $1 million from the SilverCreek Water and Sanitation District, which is served by the SSA. The Town is also putting in $1.5 million. The $1.5 million the Town is applying to the project is derived from funds Granby received from the Granby/SilverCreek Water and Wastewater Authority after the authority was dissolved last year.
The Town is borrowing the remainder of the $6 million price tag, roughly $1.5 million, in the form of a direct loan. Baird explained the loan is analogous to a letter of credit and allows the Town to pay back only those funds which are spent on the project.
Freeport-McMoRan, the company that operates the Henderson Mill and Mine Complex in Grand and Clear Creek Counties, also provided the Town of Granby with a $20,000 grant that was used to mobilize contractors early on during the project and get construction moving forward.
Velocity Constructors is overseeing the project. The new water treatment plant will be contained within a single building, roughly 13,000 square feet, that will hold the treatment facility, offices for the SSA water operators and a garage area for equipment storage.
Baird said workmen began unloading foundation forms this week at the job site and he expects concrete pouring to begin relatively soon, after fears of late spring freezes subside. Along with the physical construction of the treatment plant’s building workers will also be required to install pipelines from the SSA’s three wells to the plant and connect the entire system to outflow pipes that distribute water to the surrounding area.
After construction is complete the well that was previously shut off due to contamination from ground water will be brought back online and its water will be filtered through the treatment plant. Officials expect the new water treatment plant to have a lifespan of 50 years or more.
The Town’s water users in the SSA can expect to see a slight uptick in their water bills. Baird estimated residents of the SSA would see an increase of about $52 in fees over the course of the entire year, which goes to helping pay back the loan used to complete the project. The rate changes will only apply to the SSA and not the North Service Area (NSA), north of the Fraser River.
The new plant will utilize a semi-permeable membrane to treat the well water that goes through the plant. The filter, which functions vaguely similar to a reverse osmosis system, utilizes the semi-permeable membrane to remove almost everything from the water besides water molecules.
Commercial rafting remained a strong economic driver in Colorado’s high country last year with the state’s outfitters logging more than a half million user days for the sixth time in a decade.
The 508,728 commercial raft trips on 29 stretches of Colorado rivers generated $162.6 million in economic impact in 2015, setting a new record just above the economic benefit estimated for the 2014 season.
Rafting outfitters are thinking the coming season will be about the same, thanks largely to the snowy April that bolstered alpine snowpacks and the recent cool weather keeping that snow from melting too early.
The Arkansas River from above Buena Vista through Salida to Cañon City remains the state’s powerhouse. Traffic was up 3 percent on the most-rafted stretch of river in the country, with 197,000 user days in 2015. This created an overall economic impact of $62.5 million in Chaffee and Fremont counties.
Southwestern Colorado’s Animas River saw an 8 percent decline in both rafters and spending last year — blamed largely on the catastrophic Gold King mine blowout that fouled the river in August and abruptly deflated that river’s rafting season. Traffic on the Animas River dropped to 34,000 user days from 37,000 in 2014, triggering a nearly million-dollar decline in economic activity, which decreased to $10.8 million in 2015.
For the last decade or so, Colorado’s commercial rafting days have hovered around 500,000, with the exception of the wildfire-plagued 2012 and 2013 seasons when annual visits fell to the lowest points since 2005.
In the business world, that kind of stagnant growth translates into declining stock prices, fired CEOs and new strategies. Not in the realm of rubber riders. Flat is fine in Colorado, where river quotas and caps keep the number of users on several stretches of river at sustainable levels. It’s not likely rafting visits will ever climb much beyond 500,000, Costlow said.
“There’s not enough room on the river to have tremendous growth. It’s protecting the resource,” Costlow said. “We are fine with it. It’s the reality of the resource.”
Rafters directly spent a record $63.5 million in 2015, or about $125 per person, up from $116 per person in 2010.
“A lot more people do multiple activities when they come to visit,” said Alex Mickel, whose Mild 2 Wild Rafting in Durango offers whitewater and Jeep adventures around southwest Colorado. “Reservations are trending strongly this season and we are hopeful. We looking at a good runoff and I think economically, people are looking to travel this summer.”
Activities like watering the lawn and thirsty flower beds don’t require treated water from the tap. Until this week, the state technically could have fined Broderick $500 for his system.
The new law, which takes effect in August, allows homeowners to collect as much as 110 gallons of rain in up to two barrels.
The state hasn’t issued fines in recent years. So why even bother changing the law?
Democratic Rep. Jessie Danielson of Wheatridge says in the face of climate change, drought and a taxed water supply system, rain barrels are an important conservation tool.
“It will tie the consumer to their water usage a lot more closely,” said Danielson.
The bill was first introduced in 2015 but lacked support from the agricultural community and some lawmakers. However, it struck a chord with many homeowners this year. Danielson said as she posted Facebook updates about the bill during the session, those dispatches got more responses than any other posts.
One person was so devoted to the cause they started selling t-shirts.
“They put the words ‘legalize it’ at the top, and instead of it being some marijuana-themed t-shirt it was a picture of a rain barrel,” Danielson said. “This is a fun, important environmental issue that just makes sense to people.”
Drought and water supply concerns have been a catalyst for other state legislatures in Texas, Utah and California to take up rainwater collection.
Some western cities like Los Angeles even offer rebates on equipment.
But in Colorado, where drought is still fresh on many farmers’ minds, getting the bill passed wasn’t easy.
Getting From ‘No’ To ‘Yes’
After the bill was introduced, one of the largest opponents was the Colorado Farm Bureau…
“Rain barrels were kind of looked at as the red-headed step child in a sense,” said Marc Arnusch, a farmer and member of the Colorado Farm Bureau board.
Arnusch said amendments to the 2016 version of the bill guaranteed that rain barrels wouldn’t interfere with farmers’ water rights. The final bill literally says “a rain barrel does not constitute a water right.”
The law will also require the state engineer to track adoption and usage among homeowners. That was a big selling point for Arnusch.
“We need to start preaching heavily about conservation and using water intelligently,” said Arnusch. “And that starts quite frankly in the urban areas of our state.”
Debate and research on rainwater collection stretches back almost a decade in the state. Colorado launched a small-scale study back in 2007. It found that 97 percent of the rainwater in Douglas County is lost to evaporation and vegetation. The study was a catalyst for a 2009 law that gave well owners the right to collect rain water.
In Colorado, the debate may be complicated, but rain barrel owner Aaron Broderick said owning a rain barrel is pretty simple. It takes an afternoon to set up and it can cost under $100. The end result will be a cheaper water bill.
“The thing that’s interesting is that it really isn’t much of an inconvenience,” he said.
The true test will be whether the law causes an inconvenience for water rights holders in the near future. The state engineer’s office is expected to deliver its first report on rain barrels sometime in 2019.
After two years and a downpour of controversy, Coloradans soon will be allowed to use barrels to collect rain that falls from their roofs…
Starting Aug. 10, Coloradans will be allowed to use up to two 55-gallon barrels, which cost about $100 on average.
“They promote education – pay attention to water and how it’s used – and they also promote stewardship,” Hickenlooper said of the barrels, signing the legislation in the backyard of the Governor’s Residence at Boettcher Mansion in Denver.
While the legislation seemed obvious to many observers, it struggled through the Legislature, failing last year, before picking up steam this year.
What held it back was fears that rain barrels would erode the state’s prior appropriations system, which grants water rights to the first person to take water from an aquifer or river, despite residential proximity.
Several amendments this year helped garner support from factions that ardently fight for water rights, including the Colorado Farm Bureau.
The law allows water officials to curtail use of barrels if injury to water rights is found. The law also states that using a rain barrel is not a water right, and requires the state engineer to evaluate if the use of rain barrels impacts water rights across the state.
Sen. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango, helped push the measure along over the past two years by garnering support in the Republican-controlled Senate.
“We don’t want to impact anyone’s water rights. We just want to make sure that we aren’t the only state in the union where this was illegal,” said Rep. Daneya Esgar, D-Pueblo, a co-sponsor of the bill.
Sen. Mike Merrifield, D-Colorado Springs, added: “It gives urbanites a more personal and intimate connection with the complicated water system in Colorado.”
Rep. Jessie Danielson, D-Wheat Ridge, pointed out that it was remarkable to pass a controversial piece of legislation during a contentious legislative session.
“We keep hearing that there’s this gridlock and that we’re not able to get anything done in a hyper-partisan time,” Danielson said. “This bill is an example of working across the aisle.”
Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper this afternoon signed H.B. 1005, a bill legalizing the use of residential rain barrels in Colorado.
Conservation Colorado Executive Director Pete Maysmith and Western Resource Advocates President Jon Goldin-Dubois made the following comments:
This is a victory for Coloradans who care about their state’s incredible rivers, lakes, streams, and waters. Rain barrels are an important educational tool and a great first step toward conservation and increasing awareness about the water challenges facing Colorado. Water conservation is the cheapest, fastest, and most flexible water strategy we have to addressing these challenges. Moving forward, we are ready to work with the Hickenlooper administration, our legislature, and private citizens to implement more water conservation policies, starting with the statewide water conservation goal outlined in last year’s landmark Colorado Water Plan.
Pete Maysmith, Conservation Colorado
On this bright sunny day, we are dancing in the rain!! We applaud Governor Hickenlooper and Representatives Esgar and Danielson and Senator Merrifield for their leadership in passing HB 16-1005, legalizing rain barrels. Now Colorado joins other states across the nation in ensuring everyone can use this common-sense tool to help water their gardens. The entire West is facing water challenges with a growing population, limited water supplies, and a changing climate. We need increased water conservation to help meet these challenges. Someone with a rain barrel develops a better awareness of the water cycle, leading to a needed increased water conservation ethic. We look forward to working with state leaders to build on this step and implement our new Colorado Water Plan. This legislation shows what we can do when we all work together.
Jon Goldin-Dubois, Western Resource Advocates
For more photos and a video of the event, please contact Jessica Goad at email@example.com
“We just want to make sure we’re not the only state in the union where this is illegal. I think that’s why it gained so much national attention, even international attention,” said Rep. Daneya Esgar, a Democrat representing Pueblo.
The new law allows residents to collect and store up to 110 gallons of rainwater as long as you put it back in the ground on your property.
“We thought this was just a good Colorado common sense measure,” said Rep. Jessie Danielson, a Democrat representing Wheat Ridge. “You could take water from the roof, collect it in a barrel and water your tomato plants. Seems straight forward, right? But it wasn’t.”
Danielson’s father is a farmer in Weld County. She said lawmakers initially met resistance from ranchers who worried that allowing people to store water for use when it’s dry would mean less water and runoff downstream.
“We did come to an agreement, one that assures that agriculture and other water users across the state will not have any injury,” said Danielson.
The Colorado Farm Bureau supported the measure. Other supporters say the bill is about conservation and education about the state’s mostprecious natural resource.
“As we move into the implementation of Colorado’s water plan we know that conservation is the cheapest, most effective approach we can do,” said Hickenlooper.
Esgar was one of the first to put the new law into practice, “My wife actually purchased me a rain barrel, although I won’t say it’s been filled yet.”
Sponsors of the bill struck a compromise with farmers and ranchers, adding a provision to the bill that says if there’s any proof rain barrels are hurting downstream users, the state engineer can curtail the usage of them.
State health officials will host a public meeting for input on ablation technology that Black Range Minerals proposes to use to extract uranium in the Tallahassee area west of Canon City.
The meeting is scheduled from 6 to 8 p.m. May 31 at Quality Inns and Suites, 3075 E. U.S. 50. The Colorado Department of Public Health is working to make a determination on how to regulate use of the new technology to manage risks to the public and the environment.
Australia-based Black Range Minerals initially started exploring for uranium in the Taylor Ranch area west of Canon City in 2008 and got approval from the Fremont County commission in 2010 to expand exploration on an additional 2,220 acre site.
Black Range proposes to use ablation — dubbed “uranium fracking” — which involves drilling a hole up to 24 inches in diameter into a uranium deposit, lowering a rotating nozzle into the ground, blasting a high-pressure water jet stream into the rock in order to fracture it and develop an underground cavern before pumping a uranium-bearing slurry back to the surface for processing.
Health officials also will take public comment through July 8 via email to Jennifer.firstname.lastname@example.org.
A bill that includes $3 million for the Arkansas Valley Conduit passed the U.S. Senate today on a 90-8 vote, with both Colorado senators working to include funding for the conduit.
The Energy and Water Development Appropriations bill (HR2028) has passed the House and now will go to President Barack Obama to sign into law.
The $3 million for the conduit will continue work on planning and land acquisition for the conduit, which will provide clean drinking water from Pueblo Dam along a 120-mile route to Lamar and Eads. A total of 40 communities serving 50,000 people will benefit.
“Some of the pieces have finally started falling into place,” said Bill Long, president of the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, the sponsor of the conduit.
Long will travel to Washington, D.C., next week to testify on behalf of legislation (S2616) that would allow the district to use miscellaneous revenues from the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project to repay nonfederal loans. The legislation is key to making the cost of the conduit, which could be as high as $400 million, affordable to Arkansas Valley communities, he said.
The $3 million was included in the administration’s budget, and Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., said he fought to keep it in the bill.
“The Arkansas Valley Conduit is a critical project to deliver clean drinking water to dozens of communities in Southeast Colorado,” Bennet said. “The president’s budget included this crucial funding, and we fought to ensure it was included as the bill moved through the Senate.”
The conduit is part of the original Fryingpan- Arkansas Project, but was not built because of the expense. Now, the communities in the Lower Arkansas Valley are seeking its construction because of the escalated cost of other methods of treating water in order to reach state and federal water quality standards.
“The federal government made a commitment more than five decades ago, and this funding ensures Congress is doing its part to fulfill that promise,” Bennet said. “We will continue to pursue any avenue necessary to ensure this project is completed as promised.”
Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., applauded the vote because it assisted the conduit, as well as the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden.
“I’m proud to have secured the funding for two important provisions in this appropriations package that directly affect Colorado,” Gardner said. “The Arkansas Valley Conduit project will result in cleaner, safer water in Southeast Colorado, and this important funding was approved to assist in the cost of construction.”
Bennet and Gardner are co-sponsors of S2606, the bill Long is scheduled to testify about next week.