Aaron Million’s latest project met with skepticism in #Wyoming

The confluence of the Green and Yampa rivers in 2016. How much water reaches this point, bound for Lake Powell, has implications across the west and Colorado, and an ongoing water study might suggest how to manage water in a severe drought. Photo credit Brent Gardner-Smith.

From The Wyoming Business Report (MJ Clark):

Although Colorado has the right to develop its unused compact water, as does Wyoming, those involved in Wyoming water issues note that this project could result in major changes in how water is managed in the basin, since it changes how much water will be headed downstream from Flaming Gorge.

The first time was expected to divert 250,000 acre-feet of water, and to cost $3 billion. After working with the Army Corps of Engineers on the project for two years, the Corps cancelled Million’s application in July of 2011.

The second try

Million immediately tried again and proposed tapping into the Green River at two sites – one just three miles below the city of Green River, Wyoming and the other from the western edge of the Flaming Gorge reservoir. Although the amount of water he wanted was the same, this time, Million quoted the cost as between $7 billion and $9 billion because he was adding a hydropower component to the plan. Thanks to the hydropower aspect, this new project would be under the authority of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).

A Western Resource Advocates study on the second proposal predicted that not only would the water supplied by the pipeline cost up to ten times the price of water from other developments, it would also lower the level of the popular Flaming Gorge Reservoir by 10 feet – hurting fishing and tourist traffic in the Gorge, and river rafters along the Green and Colorado rivers by $58.5 million a year.

A coalition of more than 250 businesses from seven states; ten conservation groups and Sweetwater County and the City of Laramie fought the development, along with Wyoming Governor Matt Mead, who wrote a letter to FERC that said in part, “”This project would cut a vast swath across southern Wyoming, with the potential for huge impacts in many significant sectors of our economy and aspects of critical resources to Wyoming and Colorado.” Mead also objected to the 25,000 acre-feet of water per year belonging to Wyoming that Million was including in his proposed ‘take.’

When the FERC dismissed Million’s application as “premature” in February of 2012, Million was unfazed and told the Denver Post that, “The FERC dismissal has zero to do with us moving forward.”

The third time

In April of 2012, Million argued his case in a guest column for the Northern Colorado Business Report (at the time a sister paper to the Wyoming Business Report), claiming that less than 5 percent of the “massive Flaming Gorge Reservoir” would be pumped to Colorado’s Front Range annually. Meanwhile, it would help northern Colorado face its own water supply shortfalls.

“If it is environmentally sound, it should be permitted and built,” Million wrote in the column, seemingly addressing the myriad environmental groups voicing fervent opposition to the pipeline. “If not, then stick a fork in it. The truth of a full scientific and environmental evaluation may be hard for some in the environmental community to swallow, but the consequences of not allowing that evaluation to occur remain.”

As the Wyoming Business Report’s Mark Wilcox wrote at the time; “Aaron Million’s confidential business plan to annually pump about 81 billion gallons out of Flaming Gorge and the Green River that feeds it has been revealed to the Associated Press, and it is no small wonder he has not taken ‘no’ for an answer. The plan would bring in an estimated net profit of between $1.4 and $2.4 billion. And that’s after construction costs of somewhere between $2.8 billion and $3.2 billion. And end users of the water would pay up to $117 million in annual operating costs based on a ‘cost plus 20 percent’ business model with estimated operating costs of between $70 million and $90 million.”

Million was granted a FERC hearing on his third proposal on April 23, 2012. Then his proposal was was rejected. “FERC’s ruling doesn’t affect us from the standpoint of continuing to move forward,” Million told the Wyoming Business Report at the time in a phone interview. However, the FERC denied him a re-hearing.

“We are not persuaded by any of Wyco’s unsupported arguments that it should be issued a preliminary permit,” the commission said in its filing…

Is the fourth time a charm?

This January, Million was back with a new approach. This time, he started by petitioning Utah for the water rights. This approach – petitioning for water to export from Utah – was so unusual that the state didn’t even have a form to fill out for it.

Rob Harris, senior staff attorney at Western Resource Advocates (whose Wyoming ties include a grandfather from Basin) notes that the problem with petitioning for water rights as an individual is that “All three states have an anti-speculation doctrine in our water rights laws. [Million] doesn’t actually stand in the shoes of any actual Colorado water users. It’s really basic stuff he’s running up against – it’s why this has floundered in the past, and will continue to flounder until he’s made contractural arrangement with people who he’s going to supply water to.”

An examination of Million’s application with the state of Utah has the all eventual users of the water identified as “TBD.”

Harris points to a previous case in which water from the Arkansas Valley was eyed for the Front Range. “The court said ‘No way! You don’t have any contracts.’ It would be one thing if it were a city doing this, but this is just a guy trying to make money.”

In addition to the change at the start of the process, Million’s fourth try has a few key differences to the last ones. First, he’s moved the point of diversion 50 miles southeast into Utah, away from the Flaming Gorge Reservoir, which should be some relief to the Wyoming outdoor recreation industry – but less comfort to Colorado River rafters.

Second, he’s reduced the amount of water he wants to take each year from 250,000 acre-feet to 55,000 acre-feet. “It’s less water than last time,” Harris admits, “but it’s still a heck of a lot. You could run a pretty good-sized city on 55,000 acre-feet a year.”

Third, he’s changed the name of the company he’s operating from Wyoco Power and Water Inc. to Water Horse Resources LLC.

“I think he’ll point to the tons of growth in the Front Range, and that there is a gap between known [water] supplies and what’s needed to meet the expected population growth,” Harris said. “But if you look at the really big players in water on the Front Range (Denver Water, Colorado Springs, Aurora, Northern Water Conservency District), they’re all pursuing alternative sources [not tapping into the Green River]. They are emphasising creative ways to conserve and share the local water supply.”

Aaron Million has a new plan for water from the Green River to the #Colorado Front Range

Split Mountain Gorge Green River June 2015 via Ana Ruiz

Updated with The Salt Lake Tribune story below.

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

Aaron Million has filed for a water right with the state of Utah for the project, which would involve diverting about 55,000 acre-feet of water a year from the Green River near the Browns Park area close to the Colorado line. The water would be piped east in Wyoming and then south into Colorado.

The project differs from a previous version Million proposed years ago in that it involves about a fifth as much water, and the previous incarnation would have diverted water upstream, from Flaming Gorge Reservoir.

Both the past and present versions have a hydropower element to them. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in 2012 denied a preliminary permit application for the pipeline proposal…

He’s doing so through the company Water Horse Resources LLC, which Million said has a new board and project team compared to the company that pursued the prior project…

Harris said there’s no evidence that Million has identified end users for the water, and speculation on water is illegal in Colorado, which raises the question of whether he’s trying to get a water right in Utah to sidestep Colorado water courts.

Million said he had subscribed interest in more than 400,000 acre-feet of water for the previous project…

Chris Treese, external affairs manager for the Colorado River District, said a Green River diversion to the Front Range would count against Colorado’s percentage of Upper Colorado River Basin water use under a 1948 compact with other Upper Basin states. Colorado already uses a higher percentage than it’s allocated under that compact, and if a water shortage kicks in under the basinwide 1922 compact and the Upper Basin has to deliver more water downstream, Colorado would have to contribute first to make up any deficit, Treese said.

He said there also are a lot of questions about what the route for the pipeline would be and whether anyone could use the water along the way.

“I think … right now the first step is trying to ascertain how serious (the proposal) is,” Treese said. “… It’s early in a process of looking at a long and complicated application.”

Million said the project’s estimated cost is $890 million to $1 billion, down from the $2.8 billion cost for the previous proposal.

He said a tripling in the cost of water on the Front Range has allowed for a much smaller project to be affordably built and still help some water-short areas.

He described the project as “a very simple plumbing project” that would be first and foremost about supplying renewable energy. He said it would include huge amounts of hydropower and pumped-storage hydropower. The latter involves pumping water at night when electricity is cheap into upper reservoirs and then sending the water through generators back to lower reservoirs to create higher-priced power during the day.

He said his company is looking at using a lot of solar and wind energy to power pump stations.

Million said that in bringing new water to the Front Range, the project would take pressure off some Front Range rivers, along with some Colorado River headwater streams now heavily taxed by diversions across the Continental Divide. That would boost water levels in the Colorado River mainstem, he said.

He also sees a benefit in tapping the Green River watershed in a year such as this one, when snowpack levels in that watershed are much higher than in the upper reaches of the Colorado River Basin.

He added, “All of the global warming models show the Green River system to be wetter than average in the future compared to the Colorado River mainstem.”

Million said moving the diversion point downstream of Flaming Gorge Reservoir addresses concerns that have been raised about impacts the project could have had on reservoir levels.

From The Salt Lake Tribune (Brian Maffly):

The proposal is a scaled-down version of Colorado resident Aaron Million’s controversial plan that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission rejected in 2012. Under a new company name of Water Horse Resources LLC, the would-be water developer and Fort Collins-based entrepreneur filed the application Jan. 12, seeking permission to export 55,000 acre-feet of water, but with no specific use or destination offered.

His latest proposal, called Green River Pipeline or Flaming Gorge Project, would move 18 billion gallons a year — at a rate of 76 cubic feet per second — 375 miles across Wyoming, then south to Denver. Million estimates the project would cost $800 million to $1 billion, covered by private investors.

“We spent the last several years re-engineering the project and brought in a North American team and a new board of directors. Collectively they have $100 billion in net revenues,” said Million, who has also been working on his doctorate in natural-resource policy at Colorado State University.

His new vision of the project calls for powering the pipeline with wind and solar power, then recouping that energy with a series of inline hydro turbines on the downhill part of the line in Wyoming, taking advantage of the pipeline’s net elevation drop.

“At the end of the day, this is a renewable energy project,” Million said, noting the line would descend 3,800 vertical feet after cresting the Continental Divide. “That’s why we brought in the Canadians [SNC-Lavalin, headquartered in Montreal]. They are the world’s best in hydropower.”

He said the pipeline is being rebranded as Green River Sun Storage Hydropower Project, which will have a memorable acronym that resembles “grasshopper.”

The project began as Million’s master’s thesis. But from the beginning in 2006, his quest to tap the Green was ridiculed for its potentially astronomical costs, the lack of interest of water on the receiving end and subsequent denials from various permitting agencies…

“There is no indication that he is standing in the shoes of real users in Colorado, or Wyoming or anywhere,” said Rob Harris of Western Resource Advocates, a public-interest law firm that contested Million’s earlier proposals. “Water is a public resource in Utah and Colorado. As such, in both our states you need a real use to have standing to claim a water right like this.”


Now Million proposes drawing the water from two points in Utah’s Daggett County, several miles downstream from the dam and just upstream from Browns Park National Wildlife Refuge. The pipeline alignment still tracks along Interstate 80 across Wyoming but it drops south only as far as Denver…

Under Million’s application, the appropriated water would be used in a variety of ways, including municipal, industrial, commercial, irrigation, livestock and mining. It would move in a buried pipeline through inline hydroelectric turbines in Wyoming, which would allow the project to capture some of the power it would use to lift the water over the Continental Divide.

Nor does the application identify any specific destination. It is accompanied by a hand-drawn map showing the pipeline alignment and a Y-shaped “place of use” in northern Colorado outlined in red, covering 47 townships. Maps of these townships are also attached to the application…

Among the partners Water Horse lists on its web site is Central Colorado Water Conservancy District, based in Greeley, which provides augmentation water to around 600 farms in the South Platte River Valley. The district is under contract to provide 85,000 acre-feet, but its ability to meet these obligations has been “curtailed” by half, according to executive director Randy Ray…

Daggett County opposed Million’s pipeline project the last time around. County Commission chairman Jack Lytle said he was not familiar enough with the new proposal to provide comment on Monday.
Conservation groups oppose the diversion because of its potential impact on habitat for both sport fish and endangered native species, such as the Colorado pikeminnow, bonytail, humpback chub and razorback sucker.

The natives depend on occasional chaotic high flows that rearrange the stream channel, but have been widely depleted by dam operations…

“The river system is so overtaxed and these fish so overstressed, any more removal of water would jeopardize the existence of these four fish,” said Michael Saul of the Center for Biological Diversity. “Taking another 55,000 acre-feet out of the Green is a ridiculous idea in light of the fact that these fish are not recovering under the recovery plans now. This depletion is so huge, it is not covered by current biological opinions.”

For its part, Trout Unlimited has invested in programs that compensate water-rights holders for allowing more water to remain in the Colorado River system to support healthy fish habitat. A proposed diversion as big as the one Million is pursuing would defeat those efforts, according to Jordan Nielson, coordinator for Trout Unlimited’s Western Water and Habitat Program.

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.

@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.

Open house for #Colorado Springs’ new SDS pipeline draws 1,200 — The Colorado Springs Gazette

Southern Delivery System map via Colorado Springs Utilities
Southern Delivery System map via Colorado Springs Utilities

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Matt Steiner):

More than 1,200 people endured 90-degree temperatures Saturday in eastern Colorado Springs to learn more about Colorado Springs Utilities’ new Southern Delivery System.

During the SDS Waterfest at the Edward W. Bailey Water Treatment Plant on Marksheffel Road, kids and adults interacted with community volunteers at hands-on educational booths. And most of those on hand were treated to a guided tour of the state-of-the art facility…

David Schara, 42, said he is a Colorado Springs native and has watched as CSU and city officials spent more than 20 years planning the Southern Delivery System which began piping water north out of Pueblo Reservoir in late April.

“It’s much needed,” David Schara said. “As the city grows, they had to do something.”

David Schara said he and others have been skeptical over the years since CSU introduced the SDS in the Colorado Springs Water Plan of 1996. According to Schara, the biggest concern was about the capacity of Pueblo Reservoir, which he said has been “pretty low at times.”

The Southern Delivery System cost $825 million. Forte said that presently the SDS takes care of about 5 percent of the Colorado Springs Utilities customers and produces about 5 million gallons of water each day.

During Saturday’s event, CSU handed out free water bottles and had refill stations throughout the event where visitors could rehydrate with water from the Pueblo Reservoir. The hands-on exhibits allowed kids to make snow, touch a cloud, shoot water from a fire hose, and learn more about how CSU uses water supplied by the SDS…

Forte said the Waterfest was designed to thank customers “for their patience” over the last couple of decades while the SDS became reality.

“Our citizen-owners have come out to see what we’ve been talking about for the last 20 years,” Forte said. “It’s just a fun day.”

#Colorado Springs: “Sustainable stormwater funding and management is not optional” — John Suthers


Click here to read the plan.

Here’s the release from the City of Colorado Springs:

The City of Colorado Springs today released the draft Stormwater Program Improvement Plan designed to dramatically improve the city’s infrastructure and meet federal requirements.

City Public Works Director Travis Easton provided this statement.

“Today the City of Colorado Springs has released a draft Stormwater Improvement Plan. This is significant for our stormwater program, our citizens, and our City. The draft Stormwater Program Improvement Plan reflects strong leadership by the Mayor and City Council. We began this effort last fall and we reached a preliminary draft in January. Today’s release includes updates through July 2016.

“The City’s Public Works Department would appreciate the public’s comments and suggestions for improvement of the plan over the next 60 days. We will take public input into account and release the Plan in final form shortly thereafter.

“Thank you in advance for helping to shape this plan, and being a part of the process.”

Individuals wishing to provide feedback on the plan can contact Richard Mulledy, the City’s Stormwater Division Manager at stormwater@springsgov.com or by mail to: Richard Mulledy, Stormwater Division Manager, City of Colorado Springs, 30 S. Nevada Avenue, Suite 401, Colorado Springs, CO 80901.

The City of Colorado Springs and Colorado Springs Utilities have committed to investing a total of $460 million over 20 years, beginning this year. The commitments essentially replace the city Stormwater Enterprise that was defunded in 2009.

“Fixing the stormwater issues that we inherited stemming from the dissolution of the stormwater enterprise has been a top priority for me and the City Council,” said Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers. “Sustainable stormwater funding and management is not optional – it is something that we must do to protect our waterways, serve our downstream neighbors, and meet the legal requirements of a federal permit.”

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Colorado Springs this week released its draft stormwater plan, which was spurred earlier this year by negotiations with Pueblo County commissioners over permits for the Southern Delivery System.

The 305-page implementation plan mirrors the terms of an intergovernmental agreement, outlining at least $460 million in expenditures over the next 20 years and restructuring the city’s stormwater department. It was released Wednesday on the city’s website (http://coloradosprings.gov).

It’s important to Pueblo because work within Colorado Springs is expected to reduce damage along Fountain Creek.
Work already has started on some of the projects that are expected to benefit Pueblo County as well as Colorado Springs. A total of 61 of the 71 critical projects have downstream benefits to Pueblo and other communities, in a March assessment that included input from Wright Water Engineers, which has been hired by Pueblo County as consultant for Fountain Creek issues.

That list can change, depending on annual reviews of which work is needed, according to the IGA.

The plan also attempts to satisfy state and federal assessments that the existing stormwater services failed to meet minimum conditions of the city’s stormwater permits. An Environmental Protection Agency audit last year found Colorado Springs had made no progress on improving stormwater control in more than two years.

This year, Colorado Springs formed a new stormwater division and plans on doubling the size of its stormwater staff.

The plan includes a funding commitment of $20 million annually by the city and $3 million per year by Colorado Springs Utilities to upgrade creek crossings of utility lines.

The plan acknowledges that Colorado Springs significantly cut staff and failed to maintain adequate staffing levels after City Council eliminated the city’s stormwater enterprise in 2009. Pueblo County suffered significant damage, including the washout of part of Overton Road and excess debris in the Fountain Creek channel through Pueblo, during prolonged flows last May.

Other parts of the Pueblo County IGA expedited funding for flood control studies and projects by the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District, as well as providing an additional $3 million for dredging in Pueblo.

SDS opens the tap for Security — The Pueblo Chieftain

All that was left at the end of 75 minutes of speeches was to have a sip of SDS water. Photo via the Colorado Springs Independent.
All that was left at the end of 75 minutes of speeches was to have a sip of SDS water. Photo via the Colorado Springs Independent.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Security will be able to use increased capacity in the Southern Delivery System pipeline to deal with contaminated well water in the Fountain Creek aquifer.

Security Water District reached an agreement with Colorado Springs Utilities to increase the amount of water transported through SDS in order to eliminate perfluoralkyl substances, or PFASs, in drinking water.

“The start of SDS could not have come at a better time,” said Roy Heald, Security Water general manager. “We always said SDS was being built to improve reliability to the existing water systems and the situation with PFASs in drinking water underscores that.”

SDS went online in April.

The cause of the PFAS contamination is unknown, but it typically finds its way into water systems through manufacturing processes or deicing at airports.

When contaminants were first detected, Security stopped using some wells and initiated voluntary watering restrictions.

Security, located south of Colorado Springs, historically blended equal parts well water and surface water. The majority of customers are not affected by PFASs, but in some parts of the district increased use of groundwater normally would be needed to meet summer watering demands.
Security also gets some of its water from the Fountain Valley Conduit, which, like SDS, pumps water from Lake Pueblo to El Paso County.

“We are pleased to work with our longtime SDS partner Security Water to help resolve the water contamination issues,” said Dan Higgins, Colorado Springs Utilities chief water services officer. “SDS is already showing how critically important it was for all the communities who partnered to build it.”

Meanwhile, here’s a report about the public meeting held yesterday about the problem from Bruce Finley writing for The Denver Post. Here’s an excerpt:

More than 1,000 people south of Colorado Springs packed a high school Thursday night and buffeted government officials with questions and concerns about an invisible toxic chemical contaminating public water supplies…

Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment officials repeated recommendations — especially for women and children, because they may be more vulnerable to the perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs) — to switch to other water as a precaution.

“You may or may not be getting your tap water from an area of concern,” CDPHE water-quality official Tyson Ingals told residents. “We have about 60,000 people in the areas of concern. We estimate 10,000 to 15,000 may be receiving water with PFCs above the level of the heath advisory.”

What about schools? residents asked. How long have people here been drinking water tainted with PFCs? What about property values? Should pets be drinking different water? Could organically home-grown vegetables be tainted?

Local utility officials in Widefield, Security and Fountain — all partially dependent on municipal wells drawing from tainted groundwater — assured residents they are intensifying efforts to dilute supplies by mixing in cleaner water piped from Pueblo, 40 miles to the south. A CDPHE preliminary health assessment has found elevated cancer in the area, but officials emphasized no link to PFCs has been established…

Officials from El Paso County, the CDPHE and the military now are looking more closely at contamination in the Widefield-Security-Fountain area. Of 43 private wells tested recently, county officials have received results from 37 tests, with PFC levels in 26 exceeding the EPA limit, spokeswoman Danielle Oller said.

In Security, all 32 municipal wells are contaminated, and water officials ranked the wells based on levels of contamination. One well where the level was nearly 20 times higher than an EPA health advisory limit has been shut down. Security officials urged voluntary cutbacks in lawn watering to reduce the need to use contaminated groundwater.

Security Water and Sanitation District manager Roy Heald has divided the city into three zones and said about 25 percent of residents live in a zone receiving water from contaminated wells. The residents in two other zones “are supplied water mainly from surface water sources,” Heald said…

Next week, utility officials plan to begin re-plumbing, installing new pipelines, trying to blend in more water from Pueblo into that zone and other areas…

Air Force representatives at the forum, where residents filled an auditorium, adjacent cafeteria and stood in hallways at Mesa Ridge High School, said the Air Force will pay $4.3 million to set up temporary treatment systems — while local utilities address the long-term implications of contaminated groundwater and a possible fix. Military airfields are suspected as a source of PFC contamination, and a broad investigation is planned, with drilling in October at Peterson Air Force Base east of Colorado Springs.

“Our short-term to mid-term solution is to use more surface water, which is not affected by these contaminants. Our mid-term to long-term solution will be to treat the groundwater,” said Heald, who met with Air Force officials and will continue those discussions. Security also has requested financial help from the EPA, CDPHE and elected officials.

“Security Water is a relatively small water district, and the costs of managing this issue is expensive for our customers,” Heald said.

Security residents typically pay about $25 a month for their water.

Widefield officials said they’ll set up a free bottled water distribution station — limiting residents to 10 gallons a week. They’re relying as much as possible on water from Pueblo, although they may draw from contaminated wells to meet peak demands during summer as temperatures rise.

Fountain utility officials planned to notify residents about PFCs in notices mailed along with July water bills. Fountain normally draws from eight municipal wells, all now contaminated with PFCs above the EPA limit, and has shifted to water from Pueblo while contract engineers search for a solution.

Yet Ingals from CDPHE pointed out that these cities “cannot function on surface water alone. … There are groundwater wells that are being pumped. … The wells kick on and off at different intervals. … Because it is not predicable, we cannot tell you that it always is safe…

CDPHE experts in February began a preliminary assessment of cancer rates in the area south of Colorado Springs and on June 30 completed a report showing elevated cancer rates. The CDPHE team found lung cancer rates 66 percent higher than expected, bladder cancer up 17 percent and kidney cancer up 34 percent. CDPHE officials emphasized there’s no clear link to PFCs…

The assessment looked at births from 2010-14 and all cases of 11 types of cancer from 2000-2014 in 21 census tracts covering Security, Widefield and Fountain. CDPHE researchers compared these with birth and cancer data from the rest of El Paso County.

They found no spike in low birth weights in the areas where water is contaminated with PFCs. But there were a higher-than-expected rates of lung, kidney and bladder cancers.

“Of these types of cancer, only kidney cancer has been plausibly linked to PFC exposure in human and laboratory animal studies,” Van Dyke said.

The increases may be explained by higher rates of smoking and obesity in the area. Smoking and obesity, CDPHE officials said, may be factors explaining the increased kidney cancer.

More coverage from The Colorado Springs Gazette (Jakob Rodgers):

Residents from across Security, Widefield and Fountain flocked to hear more than a dozen federal, state, local and military officials hold a town hall about the work being done to clean the water in the Widefield aquifer.

As the evening wore on, one question rose above the rest: Why must residents have to incur more costs for bottled water and home filters because of a problem that wasn’t their fault?

“Why does the consumer have to pay more?” one man asked, to applause. He received no answer…

Roughly 60,000 people are served by water districts pulling from the contaminated Widefield aquifer, most of whom are in Security, Widefield and Fountain, officials said Thursday.

However, the majority of those people receive clean surface water pumped in by the Pueblo Reservoir. About 10,000 to 15,000 people receive contaminated water from wells tapped into the aquifer – and even they sometimes receive clean surface water, depending on daily water usage, a state health official said.

In general, those affected homes are along the western portions of Security and Widefield. Fountain has switched to clean surface water…

Throughout the meeting, officials stressed they are doing all they can to fix the problem.

Within a month, the Widefield Water and Sanitation District plans to set up a water dispensing site, allowing residents along the western portions of Widefield to receive up to 10 gallons of water a week. It is also working on a construction project to pump in more surface water.

Security officials announced a deal Thursday with Colorado Springs Utilities to increase the amount of Southern Delivery System water it will receive.

The project, which could take three months to complete, will likely end the community’s reliance on well water until a more permanent solution can be implemented. It might, however, come at the cost of higher water rates next year, the district’s water manager said.

Fountain officials also are working on a treatment plant.

Widefield aquifer via the Colorado Water Institute.
Widefield aquifer via the Colorado Water Institute.