#ColoradoRiver Stakeholders To Face Tribal Rights, Environmental Protection and #ClimateChange — Inside #Climate News #COriver #aridification

Humpback chub are one of four federally endangered fish species that rely on habitat in the 15-Mile Reach of the Colorado River. Humpback chub photo credit US Fish and Wildlife Service.

From Inside Climate News (Judy Fahys):

Charismatic is hardly the best word to describe the humpback chub, a fish with a frowny eel face jammed onto a sportfish body in a way that suggests evolution has a sense of humor. Nor did tastiness build a fan base for this “trash fish” across its natural habitat throughout the Colorado River Basin. But, in 1973, the humpback chub became famous by winning federal protection under the Endangered Species Act.

Researchers in the Grand Canyon now spend weeks at a time, several times a year, monitoring humpback chub, which has become central to an ecosystem science program with implications for millions of westerners who rely on Colorado River water…

…the humpback chub’s experience is surprisingly meaningful now, as its river habitat deep in the iconic, redrock canyon becomes the subject of new scrutiny. New negotiations about the Colorado’s future begin later this year in a world that has fundamentally changed since foundational water agreements were drawn up, back when the river was flush and the entire basin was treated like a giant network of irrigation ditches.

Now, nearly a century after the original Colorado River Compact was forged, river stakeholders also find themselves in alien terrain as they try to reconcile an old management scheme with new realities, such as tribal rights, environmental protection and, especially, climate change.

‘The Pie is Getting Smaller.’

About 40 million people in seven states and Mexico rely on the Colorado for irrigation, drinking and even hydropower. Most of the water is used in agriculture to irrigate more than 5.5 million acres.

Meanwhile, the Colorado is shrinking. Average river flows have dropped 19 percent over the last century. About half of the decline is blamed on global warming, and scientists project that unchecked climate change could nearly triple flow reductions by the century’s end. Meanwhile, basin tribes want to tap into allocations they haven’t been able to use because they lack means to store and pipe the water.

NPS and USFWS use a seine net to trap humpback chubs in the Little Colorado River. Photo credit Mike Pillow via the Arizona Daily Sun.

And thanks to research mandated by the 1992 Grand Canyon Protection Act, the fate of the chub and the canyon ecology are factors that will also need to be considered in the yet-to-be-scheduled negotiations. Ultimately, everyone’s worried about losing their share of the Colorado River, of going home with partly empty buckets because there’s just not enough water to go around…

Water Rights: A Dramatic Struggle

The U.S. Interior Department must begin updating plans for managing the river, and convene all the states that rely on it, by the end of the year under the Colorado River Interim Guidelines, one of the agreements that determine how much water is allocated for each stakeholder to use or develop.

Like everything about Colorado River management, it’s legally complex and controlled by a deeply entrenched power structure involving the seven basin states, the federal Bureau of Reclamation and established users in agriculture and municipalities that have assigned positions in the line to the spigot—spots known as “water rights.”

[…]

But even the guidelines, which were implemented in 2007, have fallen short in the new, drier West. Last year, Congress approved a pair of Drought Contingency Plans, requiring varying levels of conservation to be implemented, state-by-state, whenever water levels sank too low at Lake Powell or Lake Mead, the ginormous storage reservoirs for Colorado River water. Both lakes dropped to emergency levels within months.

The original compact guarantees certain water volumes to the lower basin states—Arizona, Nevada and California. The upper basin states—Wyoming, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico—historically haven’t used all of their allocations but plan to develop theirs, too. For example, Utah is pressing forward with a multibillion-dollar project to pipe 86,000 acre feet halfway across the state to the fast-growing southwestern part of the state. A diversion of water from the Utah-Wyoming border to Colorado’s populous Front Range—killed and resurrected so many times it’s called the “zombie pipeline”—would use 55,000 acre feet.

Still, Schmidt said: “I am actually very hopeful. I believe that climate change and the real need to renegotiate agreements have brought us together.”

The role of global warming as a motivator for revisiting the water allocations probably can’t be overstated. The average temperature in the Southwest has already risen twice as fast as the global average and future temperatures are projected to increase as much as 9.5 degrees Fahrenheit by 2100.

Climate change is just one reason Daryl Vigil, water director for the Jicarilla Apache Nation and interim director of the Ten Tribes Partnership, is determined to see tribes at the table in the next round of negotiations. He says the 29 basin tribes have priority rights to about 20 percent of the Colorado River’s water but were snubbed by current users from past Colorado River talks.

Native American lands where tribes have water rights or potential water rights to Colorado River water. Graphic via Ten Tribes Partnership via Colorado Water Users Association website.

“The system is going to protect itself, to perpetuate what it already does because it benefits those who already are doing okay,” he said. “Familiar story, right?”

The exclusion, which amounts to environmental racism, means tens of thousands of indigenous people have not been able to access their water and tap into the associated economic opportunities, such as selling their water rights and using the water for energy projects, he said. Instead, other stakeholders are using tribal water without paying for it.

Another reason the tribes should be part of the decision making, he said, is because of their experience—thousands of years of dealing with water scarcity in the region—and their cultural views about the environment belong in any critical conversations about the Colorado. Otherwise the future looks “pretty catastrophic to us,” Vigil told High Country News this spring.

“When we start talking about climate change,” he said, “absolutely pushing to make sure that we’re thinking about a mindset of how we fit into Nature, rather than Nature fitting into us.”

[…]

[John] Fleck said the people deciding the basin’s fate need information about the tradeoffs. And data from Grand Canyon research will help them understand not only how to preserve a “sacred space” in American culture but also how to continue relying on a resource essential to the West.

First public input session for the #LakePowellPipeline recap #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Explorer John Wesley Powell and Paiute Chief Tau-Gu looking over the Virgin River in 1873. Photo credit: NPS

From the St. George Spectrum (Sam Gross):

The public on Tuesday had its first opportunity to pepper officials with questions about the Lake Powell Pipeline’s recently-released draft environmental impact statement, a 313-page document from the Bureau of Reclamation examining how the controversial project could impact a myriad of resources in several scenarios.

That draft statement, which will be made final later this year after a period of public comment, looks at two proposed alignments of the approximately 140-mile pipeline that roughly straddles the Utah and Arizona borders.

It also weighs one option where no pipeline is built, and another where water in the Virgin River Basin — Washington County’s only source of water — is managed and stretched to support substantial population growth over the next several decades, possibly to the detriment of the river itself…

Among the questions posed by the approximately 130 participants who logged onto the meeting, held entirely online due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many centered on issues of climate change, the project’s impact on the already heavily-taxed Colorado River and how the pipeline would impact sensitive cultural and ecological sites along its 140-mile corridor…

One person asked Rick Baxter, Program Manager with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, if the agency considered “discouraging” the projected population growth driving the need for the pipeline.

Baxter, whose agency is impartial to whether the project gets approved or not, deferred that question to local and state policymakers.

Out of the two alignments of the pipeline being weighed, one, deemed the “Southern Alignment,” is favored by the bureau.

That alignment would begin near the Glen Canyon Dam on the west side of Lake Powell, cross in and out of Utah and Arizona, skirt around the southern edge of the Kaibab Paiute Indian Reservation and terminate at Sand Hollow Reservoir.

This $2+ billion project would pump 28 billion gallons of water 2,000 feet uphill across 140 miles of desert to provide just 160,000 residents in Southwest Utah with more water. Graphic credit: Utah Rivers Council

Its detour around the reservation means the Southern Alignment also has to pass through the Kanab Creek Area of Critical Environmental Concern, a unique and fragile habitat for the Southwestern Willow Flycatcher.

The Bureau of Land Management’s resource management plan for Kanab Creek currently does not allow for the pipeline to pass through there, so officials would need to amend that plan.

The other alignment roughly follows the Southern Alignment, but passes through the Kaibab Paiute Reservation and avoids the Kanab Creek protected area.

Baxter said the pros and cons of the two alignments are comparable; one doesn’t clearly stand above the other. But the reason the Southern Alignment is favored is because the project’s proponents haven’t been able to reach an agreement with the tribe.

Baxter was also pressed on why a “conservation alternative,” which would implement an aggressive conservation plan and develop local water resources, wasn’t considered.

The biggest reason a plan like that was passed over is it didn’t tap into a second water source outside the Virgin River Basin, which is one of the primary goals of the pipeline project — an effort to protect the water supply in the event something were to happen to one of the sources, Baxter explained.

“You can conserve your way to a certain point,” he said. “And even if you were to try to conserve your way to a certain point, at some point, if anything ever happened to that one source water managers would look for multiple different ways to protect the folks they’re providing water for.”

Map of the Virgin-Muddy River watershed in UT, NV and AZ in the United States, part of the Colorado River Basin. By Shannon – Background and river course data from http://www2.demis.nl/mapserver/mapper.asp, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9917538

Arkansas Valley Conduit funding gets final approval — The Pueblo Chieftain

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Ryan Severance):

Construction of the Arkansas Valley Conduit is expected to begin in the near future following the state’s approval of a $100 million financing package for it.

The Colorado General Assembly has approved the annual Colorado Water Conservation project bill that contains the funding, and Gov. Jared Polis signed that bill into law earlier this week…

The Arkansas Valley Conduit is estimated to cost between $564 and $610 million to complete over a 15-year period, according to Chris Woodka of the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District.

The $100 million in state funding would include $90 million in loans and $10 million in grants over the life of the project. When complete, the conduit will provide clean drinking water to 50,000 people in 40 communities.

The conduit had received funding since 2010 to prepare for construction of the 130-mile pipeline which will deliver a safe drinking water supply to the Lower Arkansas Valley.

In February, the Bureau of Reclamation announced that $28 million of fiscal year 2020 funding was being directed to the conduit in an effort to move from planning and design into construction. An additional $8 million has been requested for fiscal year 2021 and is under consideration by Congress, Woodka said.

Arkansas Valley Conduit “A Path Forward” November 22, 2019 via Southeastern.

Governor Signs Bill to Fund Arkansas Valley Conduit — Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District

Here’s the release from the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District (Chris Woodka):

The Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District applauded state approval of a $100 million financing package for the Arkansas Valley Conduit that will allow construction to begin in the near future.

The Colorado General Assembly passed the annual Colorado Water Conservation project bill which contains the funding earlier this month, and Governor Jared Polis signed the bill into law on Monday.

“The Arkansas Valley Conduit will be a lifeline for the Lower Arkansas Valley for generations to come,” said Bill Long, President of the Southeastern District. “Governor Polis, the General Assembly and the CWCB have all shown vision and foresight with this support of the AVC. This goes beyond just financing a pipeline, because really it’s an investment to assure clean drinking water for the future.”

Long also noted the strong bipartisan support the AVC enjoys from the entire Colorado congressional delegation, and noted in particular the leadership of Senators Cory Gardner and Michael Bennet, and Congressmen Scott Tipton and Ken Buck.

“I want to thank the CWCB board and staff for including this funding in their annual bill, and express our sincere gratitude to the legislators from the Arkansas Basin for their leadership and support,” said Kevin Karney, chairman of the District’s AVC committee. “The recognition by the State of Colorado of the benefit of partnering with the Bureau of Reclamation on this project is an enormous boost.”

The AVC is estimated to cost between $564 million and $610 million to complete over a 15-year period. The $100 million in state funding would include $90 million in loans and $10 million in grants over the life of the project. When complete, the AVC will provide clean drinking water to 50,000 people in 40 communities.

The AVC had received funding since 2010 to prepare for construction of the 130-mile pipeline which will deliver a safe drinking water supply to the Lower Arkansas Valley. In February of this year, the Bureau of Reclamation announced that $28 million of FY ’20 funding was being directed to the conduit, in an effort to move from planning and design into construction. An additional $8 million has been requested for FY ’21 and is under consideration by Congress.

“The unanimous approval of this funding package by the CWCB board last November was the absolute catalyst for an improved federal funding picture,” said Southeastern District Executive Director Jim Broderick. “Colorado, like other Western states, recognizes developing a strong partnership with Reclamation allows us to overcome water quality and water supply challenges in rural areas.”

Arkansas Valley Conduit “A Path Forward” November 22, 2019 via Southeastern.

Who was George I. Haight and why is he now relevant to the #ColoradoRiver basin? — @AmericanRivers #COriver #aridification

At capacity, Lake Powell holds more than 26 million acre-feet of water that originates as snowpack from the Upper Basin. (Source: U.S. Bureau of Reclamation via the Water Education Foundation)

From the American Rivers blog (Eric Kuhn):

As the Colorado basin grapples with climate change, shortages and declining reservoir levels, we revisit one of the critical legal milestones in the evolution of “the Law of the River.”

As Utah pushes forward with its proposed Lake Powell Pipeline – an attempt move over 80,000 acre feet per year of its Upper Colorado River Basin allocation to communities in the Lower Basin – it is worth revisiting one of the critical legal milestones in the evolution of what we have come to call “the Law of the River.”

The Colorado River Compact divided the basin into an upper and lower half, with each having the right to develop and use 7.5 million acre-feet of river water annually. (Source: U.S. Bureau of Reclamation via The Water Education Foundation)

The division of the great river’s watershed into an “Upper Basin” and “Lower Basin”, with separate water allocations to each, was the masterstroke that allowed the successful completion of the Colorado River Compact in 1922. But the details of how that separation plays out in water management today were not solidified until a little-discussed U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 1955, in the early years of the decade-long legal struggle known as “Arizona v. California.”

Most, if not all, of the small army of lawyers, engineers, water managers, board members, academics, tribal officials, NGO representatives, and journalists now actively engaged in Colorado River issues are familiar with the 1963 Arizona v. California Supreme Court decision. It was Arizona’s great legal victory over California that cleared the road for the Congressional authorization and construction of the Central Arizona Project (CAP). Many in the ranks are also quite familiar with Simon H. Rifkind, the court-appointed Special Master who conducted lengthy hearings and worked his way through a mountain of case briefs and exhibits before writing his 1960 master’s report that set the stage for the court’s decision. Few of us, however, are familiar with George I. Haight. Haight was the first special master in the case, appointed on June 1st, 1954. He died unexpectedly in late July 1955. Two weeks before his death he made a critical decision that was upheld by the Supreme Court and set the basic direction of the case. Today, as the basin grapples with climate change, shortages, declining reservoir levels, and most recently, Utah’s quest to build the Lake Powell Pipeline exporting a portion of its Upper Basin water to the Lower Basin to meet future needs in the St. George area, Haight’s forgotten opinion looms large.

Confluence of the Little Colorado River and the Colorado River. Climate change is affecting western streams by diminishing snowpack and accelerating evaporation, a new study finds. Photo credit: DMY at Hebrew Wikipedia [Public domain]

In late 1952 when Arizona filed the case, it was about disputed issues over the interpretation of both the Colorado River Compact and the Boulder Canyon Project Act. Among its claims for relief, Arizona asked the court to find that it was entitled to 3.8 million acre-feet under Articles III(a) & (b) of the compact (less a small amount for Lower Basin uses by New Mexico in the Gila River and Utah in the Virgin River drainages), that under the Boulder Canyon Project Act California was strictly limited to 4.4 million acre-feet per year, that its “stream depletion” theory of measuring compact apportionments be approved, and that evaporation off Lake Mead be assigned to each Lower Division state in proportion to their benefits from Lake Mead. California, of course, vigorously opposed Arizona’s claims. One of California’s first moves was to file a motion with Haight to bring into the case as “indispensable” parties the Upper Division states; Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming. California’s logic was that the compact issues raised by Arizona impacted both basins and every basin state (history has shown California was right on).

The Upper Division states were desperately opposed to participating in the case. Backing the clock up to the early 1950s, these states, including Arizona, had successfully negotiated, ratified, and obtained Congressional approval for the Upper Colorado River Basin Compact. They were now actively seeking Congressional legislation for the Colorado River Storage Project Act (CRSPA), the federal law that would authorize Glen Canyon Dam (Lake Powell) and numerous other Upper Basin projects. Upper Basin officials feared that if they became actively involved in Arizona v. California, California’s powerful Congressional delegation would use it as an excuse to delay approval of CRSPA (as it had successfully done with the CAP). Thus, these states and their close ally, Arizona, opposed California’s motion.

Colorado River “Beginnings”. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

The basis of their opposition was relatively simple; Under the compact, except for the Upper Basin’s obligations at Lee Ferry, the basins were separate hydrologic entities, the issues raised by Arizona were solely Lower Basin matters, and that Arizona was asking for nothing from the Upper Division states. Their strategy worked. In a July 11, 1955 opinion, Haight recommended California’s motion be denied. By a 5-3 decision, the Supreme Court upheld his recommendation and, except for Utah and New Mexico as to their Lower Basin interests only, the Upper Division states were out of the case. The Upper Division states cheered the decision. Arizona’s crafty Mark Wilmer devised a new litigation strategy built on Haight’s logic and ultimately his successor, Simon Rifkind, ruled that there was no need to decide any issue related to the compact. For more details, see Science Be Dammed, Chapter 15.

In convincing Special Master Haight to deny California’s motion, Arizona and the Upper Division states turned him into an ardent fan of the Colorado River Compact. Haight opined “The compact followed years of controversy between the states involved. It was an act seemingly based on thorough knowledge by the negotiators. It must have been difficult of accomplishment. It was the product of real statesmanship.” In justifying his decision, he found “The Colorado River Compact evidences far seeing practical statesmanship. The division of the Colorado River System waters into Upper and Lower Basins was, and is, one of its most important features. It left to each Basin the solution to that Basin’s problems and did not tie to either Basin the intra-basin problems of the other.” A few pages later, he says “The Compact, by its terms, provides two separate groups in the Colorado River Basin. Each of these is independent in its sphere. The members of each group make the determinations respecting that group’s problems,” and finally “because by Article III of the Colorado River Compact there was apportioned to each basin a given amount of water, and it is impossible for the Upper Basin States to have any interest in water allocated to the Lower Basin States.”

A field of produce destined for grocery stores is irrigated near Yuma, Ariz., a few days before Christmas 2015. Photo/Allen Best – See more at: http://mountaintownnews.net/2016/02/09/drying-out-of-the-american-southwest/#sthash.7xXVYcLv.dpuf

Fifty five years later, how would Special Master Haight view the problems the Colorado River Basin is facing where climate change is impacting the water available to both basins, through the coordinated operation of Lakes Mead and Powell the basin’s drought contingency plans are interconnected, critical environmental resources in the Grand Canyon, located in the Lower Basin, are impacted by the Upper Basin’s Glen Canyon Dam, and most recently two states, New Mexico and Utah, have found it desirable to use a portion of each’s Upper Basin water in the Lower Basin? With one major exception, I think he would be pleased. Haight understood that through Article VI, the compact parties had a path to resolve their disputes and implement creative solutions. The first part of Article VI sets forth a formal approach where each state governor appoints a commissioner, the commissioners meet and negotiate a solution to the issue at hand and then take the solution back to their states for legislative ratification. This formal process has never been used, but luckily, Article VI also provides an alternative. The last sentence states “nothing herein contained shall prevent the adjustment of any such claim or controversy by any present method or by direct future legislative action of the interested states.” After Arizona refused to ratify the compact in the 1920s Colorado’s Delph Carpenter successfully used federal legislation to implement a six-state ratification strategy (the Boulder Canyon Project Act).

The exception that would concern Haight is Utah’s unilateral decision to transfer about 80,000 acre-feet of its Upper Basin water to the Lower Basin via the Lake Powell Pipeline. The LPP violates the basic rationale that Haight used to keep the Upper Basin out of Arizona v. California and for which Utah and its sister Upper Division states fought so hard. The project uses water apportioned for exclusive use in the Upper Basin, terms carefully defined by the compact negotiators, to solve a water supply problem in the Lower Basin.

Caption: Imperial Valley, Salton Sea, CA / ModelRelease: N/A / PropertyRelease: N/A (Newscom TagID: ndxphotos113984) [Photo via Newscom]

Defenders of Utah’s may believe a precedent has already been set– the Navajo-Gallup Pipeline, which delivers 7,500 acre-feet of New Mexico’s Upper Basin water to the community of Gallup and areas of the eastern Navajo Nation. But if that is to be cited as a precedent, it comes with an important caveat. New Mexico addressed the compact issues through federal legislation with the participation and consent of the other basin states and stakeholders. Utah, by comparison, apparently believes federal legislation, and by implication the consent of others in the basin, is not needed.

In the face of climate change induced declining river flows and increased competition for the river’s water, there is no question that the basic compact ground rules devised by the negotiators a century ago will face increasing pressure. There will likely be more future projects and decisions that, like the LPP, will challenge the strict language of the compact. The question now facing the basin is how will this revisiting be accomplished? Will it be done in an open and transparent manner that engages not just the states, but a broad range of stakeholders and implemented through legislation (not easy in today’s world, as a practical matter it requires no opposition from any major party to get through the Senate) or by a series of unilateral decisions designed to benefit or advantage individual states or specific entities, but with no input or buy-in from the basin as a whole?

Lake Powell Pipeline hits ‘an important milestone’ with roll out of environmental study — The St. George News

Click here for all the inside skinny and to read the EIS:

The public comment period for the Lake Powell Pipeline Project will close at 11:59 p.m. MDT on September 8, 2020

The Bureau of Reclamation, on behalf of the U.S. Department of the Interior, has issued a Notice of Availability of the draft Environmental Impact Statement/draft Resource Management Plan Amendment for the Lake Powell Pipeline Project, in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969. The Department is seeking public comment on the draft EIS/draft RMPA during a 90-day public comment period that will close at 11:59 pm MDT on September 8, 2020.

From The St. George News (Mori Kessler):

State and local water officials are pleased with the results of the draft environmental impact statement, more commonly referred to as an EIS, while opponents of the project carry a different view.

“(This) is an important milestone because we can get a permit,” said Brock Belnap, an associate general manager at the Washington County Water Conservancy District overseeing the Lake Powell Pipeline project. “The law requires the federal government to study all the various impacts on the environment the project might affect.”

Based on those environmental impacts, the federal government must establish whether a proposed project is warranted…

“We’re very pleased that the environmental impact statement recognizes that Washington County has a need for the project,” Belnap said.

The EIS also finds Washington County is able to pay for the pipeline project as long as the projected growth continues, Belnap said…

There are two courses recommended for the Lake Powell Pipeline to take. One is the Southern Alternative and the other is the Highway Alternative. While both routes start at Lake Powell and end at Sand Hollow Reservoir, they also either pass through or close to lands held sacred by Native Americans in Arizona.

The Southern Alternative, which is the preferred alternative, travels south of the Kaibab Paiute Reservation along a preexisting utility corridor. The Highway Alternative would take the pipeline along Arizona 389, which cuts across the reservation…

The Kaibab Band stated in the supplement that the Lake Powell Pipeline will create an imbalance by “moving the Colorado River from where the creator placed it across a hundred miles of landscape and depositing it where it does not belong. … This action will make the river angry and confused, the results of which are unknown but clearly a source of imbalance in the world.”

[…]

There is currently a water rights change application before Utah’s state engineers that would allow just over 86,000 acre-feet of water from the Green River above the Flaming Gorge Reservoir to flow down to Lake Powell.

Utah already has rights to that water, Belnap said. If the application is approved, the point of diversion – the location where the state would be allowed to draw water from – would shift from the Green River to Lake Powell…

The Utah Rivers Council, along with over environmental advocacy groups, have sent petitions to Teresa Wilhelmsen, the state engineer, asking her to deny the application.

“Climate change is reducing the flows of the Colorado River because it’s reducing the snowpack of the entire Colorado River Basin,” Frankel said. “As the flows of the river drop, it means that there is less water available to divert. This draft EIS totally shirks the responsibility to determine whether there’s water available in the Colorado River to put in a pipeline.”

There are many peer-reviewed studies available that state there won’t be enough water in the Colorado River to support the pipeline due to climate change, Frankel said. Climate change data used in the draft EIS concerning the subject either ignores these studies or takes from a study that is at least a decade out of date, he said.

As for the pipeline’s pending diversion, it would take less than 6% of the state’s 1.4 million acre-foot Colorado River allocation.

This $2+ billion project would pump 28 billion gallons of water 2,000 feet uphill across 140 miles of desert to provide just 160,000 residents in Southwest Utah with more water. Graphic credit: Utah Rivers Council

Arkansas Valley Conduit will provide fresh water to towns of Southeastern #Colorado — The Mountain Mail

Arkansas Valley Conduit “A Path Forward” November 22, 2019 via Southeastern.

From The Mountain Mail (Cody Olivas):

The Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District and U.S. Bureau of Reclamation recently adopted a project management plan that will guide construction of the Arkansas Valley Conduit…

Terry Scanga, general manager of the Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District, said he didn’t see the AVC having much impact on Salidans and others in the area. “It’s not going to change river flows,” he said. “It’s not going to impact the allocation (of water) communities in the upper basin get.”

After thinking about it for a second he said some transit loss might have a “minimal impact” on irrigators, but added that the advantages of the project far outweigh those potential effects.

[Sam] Braverman said they’re not creating any new water diversions from Colorado’s Western Slope. The big change, he said, is that water will now be piped from Pueblo to surrounding municipalities instead of letting it flow to them in the river, which will improve drinking water quality…

Salinity, selenium and uranium found in the natural environment all pose water-quality challenges for the Arkansas River in southeastern Colorado.

Several communities the conduit will serve currently can’t drink their tap water.

“There’s at least 5,000 people who literally have radioactive water coming out of their pipes,” Braverman said. “They can’t drink their water, and (the municipalities) can’t afford to filter it out.”

Braverman said another 11,000-12,000 people in the communities get their water from reverse osmosis, but the state doesn’t see those systems as permanent solutions because they put their effluent back into the river. He said drying the effluent, packing it and taking it to landfills would be too costly to be a realistic solution.

“There’s no way those communities could afford to do that,” he said. “The AVC is really the only answer for all of these communities; this a game changer for disadvantaged areas.”

The AVC will provide water for municipal and industrial use.

The project management plan describes how the project will be executed, monitored and controlled.

Under the plan, the Pueblo Board of Water Works will deliver AVC water to a point east of Pueblo. A contract among the Reclamation Bureau, Pueblo Water and Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District is in the discussion stage. From that point, the bureau will construct the trunk line, a treatment plant and water tanks, while Southeastern will coordinate with communities to fund and build connections.

Southeastern will serve as lead on the “spur and delivery lines” portion of the project and seek funding to design and construct this portion of the project, $100 million of which has already been secured from the Colorado Water Conservation Board, subject to legislative approval.

Braverman said they just started final design on the first 12 miles of the pipeline…

Braverman said communities the AVC will serve have been hearing about it for decades, but getting the $28 million recently was the first chunk of money they’ve secured to begin construction.

“That was a complete shift from where we were,” Braverman said. “Now it’s just a matter of the funding stream continuing.”

Arkansas River Basin via The Encyclopedia of Earth

Thirsty Future for American West, as ”#Megadrought” Grips Some of the Fastest-Growing U.S. Cities — Fair Warning #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Farm Security Administration members post on a cooperative pipe line used for irrigation in Saint George in 1940. Contributor Names Lee, Russell, 1903-1986, photographer Created / Published-1940 Oct.-Subject Headings – United States–Utah–Washington County–Saint George

From Fair Warning (Alexandra Tempus):

In 2002, Utah was reeling from four years of dry conditions that turned the state ‘’into a parched tinderbox,’’ as the Associated Press reported at the time. “Drought Could Last Another 1-2 years,” the headline proclaimed. Right on time, in 2004, the Salt Lake Tribune ran a similar article, on “Coming To Terms with Utah’s Six-Year Drought,” that was “believed to be the worst to strike the Southwest in half a millennium.”

Almost two decades later, the drought has raged on. In October 2019, the water supplier for St. George, a rapidly growing resort and retirement community in southwest Utah, released a statement declaring the city’s longest-ever dry spell: 122 days without rain.

A study published last month in the journal Science identified an emerging “megadrought” across all or parts of 11 western states and part of northern Mexico—a drought likely, with the influence of climate change, to be more severe and long-lasting than any since the 1500s. The area includes Utah, Nevada, Arizona, California and portions of Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico and Texas.

This region is also experiencing explosive population growth—with Idaho, Nevada, Arizona and Utah topping the list of states with the highest percentage increase in residents from 2018 to 2019, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. For decades, these states and their mushrooming municipalities have been grappling with the twin concerns of rapid growth and dwindling water supply projections. Now, in the midst of an historic megadrought predicted to last many more years, the issue has grown increasingly urgent.

For the megadrought study, scientists analyzed tree rings from nearly 1,600 trees that had grown across the region over hundreds of years, says the study’s lead author, A. Park Williams, an associate research professor at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. Examining the rings under a microscope, the researchers could see when growth was slow, indicating time periods when the region was especially dry.

The authors identified megadroughts—droughts more severe and much longer than anything observed in the written record, says Williams—over the last 1200 years. The most recent was in the late 1500s, until now. Today’s megadrought has been marked by more frequent and severe wildfires, a decline in groundwater, lake and river levels and a reduced snowpack.

And climate change, added Williams, is “making it easier to go into a megadrought without the ocean and atmosphere needing to team up in as extreme of a way” as they did to create such conditions in the past.

In Utah, the situation might be considered dire.

“Our population is one of the fastest-growing in the country and we’re also one of the driest states in the country and our water supply in large part is mountain snow,” said Michelle Baker, an aquatic hydrologist at Utah State University who was project director for iUtah, a years-long research effort to transition the state to sustainable water usage.

With the mountain snowpack dwindling due to climate change, Utah researchers identified several ways to help close the supply gap, said Baker. One included storing more water underground than in reservoirs to limit the amount of water lost to evaporation. Another involved replacing Utah’s old-fashioned dirt-lined irrigation canals with pipes to curb evaporation and seepage.

In March, Utah adopted a law creating a new water banking program, similar to those in other states, that will allow water rights holders to “bank” their unused water rights and lease them temporarily to others without selling them outright…

St. George currently uses 33,000 acre-feet of water per year, Karry Rathje, a spokesperson for the Washington County Water Conservancy District, told FairWarning in an email. (An acre-foot is enough water to cover an acre of land with one foot of water, and is roughly enough to supply three homes for a year.

Washington County, which includes St. George, “is projected to need an additional 86,000 acre feet of water to meet the demands of a population that’s projected to nearly triple by 2060,” Rathje said.

This is to say nothing of exponential growth in greater Salt Lake City, which by 2060 could swell to the size of the Seattle metropolitan area of 3.7 million residents, according to one estimate.

Utah Rivers map via Geology.com

Project Management Plan Developed for Arkansas Valley Conduit — Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District

Arkansas Valley Conduit “A Path Forward” November 22, 2019 via Southeastern.

Here’s the release from the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District (Chris Woodka):

Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District and the Bureau of Reclamation have adopted a project management plan that will guide construction of the Arkansas Valley Conduit (AVC).

The AVC is a pipeline project that will deliver clean drinking water to 40 communities serving 50,000 people from Pueblo Dam to Lamar and Eads on the eastern plains. This water supply is needed to supplement or replace existing poor quality water and to help meet AVC participants’ projected water demands. The estimated cost of the AVC is between $564 million and $610 million.

“The Project Management Plan is the blueprint for how we will build the Arkansas Valley Conduit, and an important step in the future of the AVC,” said Bill Long, President of the Southeastern District Board of Directors. “The AVC is absolutely necessary for the future water quality and health of the Arkansas Valley.”

“The Department of the Interior and Reclamation are committed to improving the water supplies of rural southeastern Colorado,” said Commissioner Brenda Burman. “I look forward to our continued collaboration with Southeastern to move this long-delayed project forward.”

“The communities of the Lower Arkansas Valley deserve clean drinking water, which the Arkansas Valley Conduit will supply for 50,000 Coloradans for generations to come,” said Senator Cory Gardner, R-Colo. “I was proud to secure robust federal funding of $28 million to begin construction for the first time since Congress authorized the project and President Kennedy promised completion nearly six decades ago. The project management plan adopted by the Bureau of Reclamation and the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy is another great step forward for this project and I’ll continue to work with local and federal leaders to ensure we deliver abundant and affordable clean drinking water to the Colorado communities in need.”

“This is a significant milestone in our efforts towards construction of the AVC,” said Jeff Rieker, Eastern Colorado Area Manager for Reclamation. “This plan will guide design and construction by Reclamation and Southeastern, and streamline our joint efforts to provide clean water to these communities.”

Reclamation and Southeastern have worked together for the past year to envision a layout for the AVC that reaches communities with the poorest water quality most quickly, reduces overall costs, and reduces the need for federal appropriations. Many communities have issues with radioactive elements in groundwater supplies. Others face increasing costs to treat water and to dispose of waste by-products from that treatment.

Under the plan, AVC water will be delivered to a point east of Pueblo by the Pueblo Board of Water Works. A contract among Reclamation, Pueblo Water and Southeastern is in the discussion stage.

From that point, Reclamation will construct the trunk line, a treatment plant and water tanks, while Southeastern will coordinate with communities to fund and build connections. Reclamation and Southeastern continue to meet regularly, using remote technology, to work on activities such as design, land acquisition and environmental review that will lead to construction.

“We’re on a path to begin construction in the near future, but we still have a lot of work to do,” said Kevin Karney, who chairs Southeastern’s AVC Committee. “Part of that will be reaching out to AVC participants to help shape how the AVC is developed. Overall, I’m excited to see the AVC moving forward.”

Congress provided additional funds to Reclamation in FY 2020. Reclamation allocated $28 million for construction of the AVC in February, and an additional $8 million for 2021 was requested in the President’s budget. The Colorado Water Conservation Board approved a $100 million finance package that still must be approved by the Colorado Legislature. Other potential sources of funding are being considered.

The AVC was part of the 1962 Fryingpan-Arkansas Project Act, but was never built because communities could not afford 100 percent of the costs. In 2009, the Act was amended to provide a 65 percent federal cost share. Reclamation identified a preferred alternative in 2014, which has been modified in the latest project management plan.

xxx

For additional information, contact Chris Woodka at Southeastern, (719) 289-0785; Darryl Asher at Reclamation, (406) 247-7608.

Fryingpan-Arkansas Project via the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District

#LakePowellPipeline update #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

This $2+ billion project would pump 28 billion gallons of water 2,000 feet uphill across 140 miles of desert to provide just 160,000 residents in Southwest Utah with more water. Graphic credit: Utah Rivers Council

From KUER (David Fuchs):

The proposed pipeline is still undergoing a one-year review process overseen by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which has said that Kane County’s exit has not affected the timeline for the draft environmental impact statement it expects to release this summer…

The revised design has removed a 10-mile spur that would have carried water from the pipeline northward to Johnson Canyon in Kane County. However, a “T-joint” will likely be included where the junction would have been built, giving the county the option to tap into the resource at a later date…

Kane County’s departure marks the second time a Southwest Utah county has walked away from the project.

Iron County officials backed out in 2012, citing concerns over raised impact fees, taxes and rates.

But Washington County’s need for the water has never been clearer, said Zach Renstrom, the executive director of the Washington County Water Conservancy District.

“The same process that came back and said that Kane County won’t need this project in the foreseeable future is actually confirming that Washington County does need the water,” he said.

Washington County’s population is projected to triple to over 500,000 people by 2065, according to demographic research from the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute.

The county was already slated to receive 95% of the water carried by the pipeline prior to Kane County’s withdrawal, Renstrom added.

Kane County does an about-face, pulls out of #LakePowellPipeline project — The Salt Lake City Tribune #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

This $2+ billion project would pump 28 billion gallons of water 2,000 feet uphill across 140 miles of desert to provide just 160,000 residents in Southwest Utah with more water. Graphic credit: Utah Rivers Council

From The Salt Lake City Tribune (Brian Maffly):

For the past decade, Kane County leaders have argued that their southern Utah community will need water piped from the Colorado River to meet future needs, but the local water district abruptly announced Thursday it was pulling out of the costly Lake Powell pipeline project, leaving Washington County as the only remaining recipient of the water.

The controversial project would divert 86,000 acre-feet of water a year from the chronically depleted Lake Powell into a 143-mile pipeline terminating in a reservoir near St. George. Along the way, the billion-dollar pipeline was to offload 4,000 acre-feet in Johnson Canyon east of Kanab.

But now the Kane County Water Conservancy District has decided it didn’t have a “foreseeable need” for the water after reviewing the county’s projected population growth and available water resources, according to a release posted Thursday…

Zach Frankel, executive director of the Utah Rivers Council, and other critics have long pointed to Kane County’s ample groundwater supplies as evidence that there was not much need for the project, which would be financed by Utah taxpayers and tap an already over-allocated Colorado River. More than $25 million has been spent on environmental reviews, with a new one underway by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which assumed federal oversight of the project after the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission withdrew…

The project has shrunk substantially from its original version, first unveiled in 2006 legislation. Last year, the Utah Division of Water Resources removed the hydroelectric generation components, which would have enlarged the project’s costs and environmental footprint. Iron County, another original participant, exited years ago, citing the high cost of delivering the water all the way to Cedar City.

But state officials, pointing to the mushrooming growth in and around St. George, maintained there is still a need for the pipeline.

Proposed Lake Powell pipeline. Map via the City of St. George.

From The St. George News (Mori Kessler):

At the request of the Kane County Water Conservancy District, the Bureau of Reclamation will no longer consider the county’s future water supply needs in its National Environmental Policy Act review for the Lake Powell Pipeline.

According to a press release from the Washington County Water Conservancy District, the decision came after a review of both Kane County’s projected population growth and available water supply showed there was no “foreseeable need” for additional water to be brought to the county by the Lake Powell Pipeline…

Kane County’s dropping from the project removes a planned 10-mile pipeline that would have come off the Lake Powell Pipeline and delivered 4,000 acre feet of water to the county. The water rights for the 4,000 acre feet of water remain with the Utah Board of Water Resources, according to the release.

Kane County now joins Iron County in having pulled out of the pipeline project. Iron County ended its participation in the project in 2012. The potential cost of Iron County’s part of the project, as well as a move to develop existing water resources for a fraction of that cost, were cited as reasons the project was dropped on their end…

Zach Frankel, executive director of the Utah Rivers Council, said he was happy to see Kane County leave the project…

The group has also argued that Washington County has enough water and should focus on conservation and that the already overtaxed Colorado River isn’t a reliable long-term water resource. However, while Kane County may have removed itself as a partner in the Lake Powell Pipeline, the project is still considered crucial for Washington County by state and local officials due to increasing population projections…

Kane County’s decision to leave the pipeline project does not impact the project’s timeline and NEPA review process. The Bureau of Reclamation’s work on an environmental impact statement for the pipeline is ongoing, with a draft anticipated for public review and comment this summer.

Utah House reaffirms intent to develop #ColoradoRiver water — The Deseret News #COriver #aridification #LakePowellPipeline

This $2+ billion project would pump 28 billion gallons of water 2,000 feet uphill across 140 miles of desert to provide just 160,000 residents in Southwest Utah with more water. Graphic credit: Utah Rivers Council

From The Deseret News (Amy Joi O’Donoghue):

…the Utah House of Representatives on Tuesday passed HCR22, which makes clear to neighboring states and policymakers that Utah will someday develop its unused portion of the Colorado River…

Utah has not fully developed its full 23% allocation of the river, with much of that unused water flowing downstream to lower basin states.

Rep. Brad Last, R-Hurricane — who lives in southern Utah where the proposed Lake Powell Pipeline would take the unused allocation — said it is important Utah send a message to its neighbors that the resource will be developed…

The resolution passed on a 57-13 vote because the Lake Powell Pipeline — and development of the Colorado River in light of drought and a changing climate — has stoked opposition by some groups that assert it’s a failed proposal that will drain an already struggling river.

Last’s measure urges development of the water in the most expeditious fashion, and Rep. Joel Briscoe, D-Salt Lake City, questioned what those parameters might be.

“As soon as we can effectively use it,” Last told him.

Briscoe added that conservation practices should have been emphasized more in the resolution and addressed higher in the language of the measure.

But Rep. Lowry Snow, R-Santa Clara — another lawmaker who lives in the Utah region where the pipeline would deliver water — said the resolution is a critical message that merits support.

“It is important as a state that we indicate our intent to preserve our allocation,” Snow said. “I can’t begin to evaluate the monetary value of our water right in the Colorado. It is invaluable and will become more so in the future.”

The resolution is now awaiting action in the Senate.

Brad Udall: “…latest version of my 4-Panel plot thru Water Year (Oct-Sep) of 2019 of the #coriver big reservoirs, natural flows, precipitation, and temperature. Data goes back or 1906 (or 1935 for reservoirs.) This updates previous work with
@GreatLakesPeck

#NewMexico: Concern over depletions from the #OgallalaAquifer @nmreport

From The New Mexico Political Report (Kendra Chamberlain):

The Ogallala aquifer is rapidly declining.

The large underground reservoir stretches from Wyoming and the Dakotas to New Mexico, with segments crossing key farmland in Texas, Nebraska, Kansas and Oklahoma. It serves as the main water source for what’s known as the breadbasket of America — an area that contributes at least a fifth of the total annual agricultural harvest in the United States.

The U.S. Geological Survey began warning about the aquifer’s depletion in the 1960s, though the severity of the issue seems to have only recently hit the mainstream. Farmers in places like Kansas are now grappling with the reality of dried up wells.

The Ogallala aquifer, also referred to as the High Plains aquifer. Source: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Adminstration

In New Mexico, the situation is more dire. The portions of the aquifer in eastern New Mexico are shallower than in other agricultural zones, and the water supply is running low.

In 2016, the New Mexico Bureau of Geology and Mineral Resources sent a team to Curry and Roosevelt counties to evaluate the lifespan of the aquifer. The news was not good. Researchers determined some areas of aquifer had just three to five years left before it would run dry given the current usage levels, potentially leaving thousands of residents and farmers without any local water source.

The news left local decision-makers in the region weighing options to balance farmland demand for irrigation and community needs for drinking water while a more permanent solution is put into place.

“There’s no policy in place to provide for that scenario,” David Landsford, who is currently mayor of Clovis and chairman of the Eastern New Mexico Water Utility Authority told NM Political Report.

Climate researchers and hydrogeologists agree these types of water scarcity issues will likely become more commonplace in the southwest and beyond as the climate further warms.

“Climate change, especially in the west and southwest, is already impacting us,” said Stacy Timmons, associate director of hydrogeology programs at the Bureau of Geology and Mineral Resources, at a National Ground Water Association conference in Albuquerque.

“There’s some places where we’re seeing some pretty remarkable declines in water availability that are, in some ways, reflecting climate change,” Timmons said. “You can see, just over the last twenty years, there’s been some pretty significant drought impacts to New Mexico, specifically.”

Timmons has assembled a team to head up a new initiative to help the state better track water use, quality and scarcity. The program revolves around data: aggregating all the water data that’s collected across different sectors, government agencies and research organizations in the state. The idea is that by collecting that data in one central location and making it available to everyone, policy makers will have a better understanding not only of current water resources, but also how to shape water management policies moving forward to reflect that reality.

“There’s a huge shift globally and nationally in how we’re looking at water,” Timmons said. “Here in New Mexico, we are really on the cutting edge of actually accessing some of this technology, and we’re starting to modernize how we manage our water and our water data.”

Water Data Act

New Mexico became only the second state in the country to prioritize water data management in statute when the Legislature passed the Water Data Act in 2019. The legislation garnered support from ranchers, farmers, environmentalists and, ultimately, state lawmakers. It passed both the House and Senate unanimously.

The Water Data Act aims to develop a modern, integrated approach to collecting, sharing and using water data. The act also established a fund to accept both state funds and grants and donations to support improvements to water data collection state-wide.

“It’s a tool in the tool box that’s going to help New Mexico as a whole manage our water,” said Rep. Gail Armstrong, R-Magdalena, one of the bill’s sponsors. “If it’s all kept in one place and is readily available, that becomes a tool for management.”

The program is just now getting off the ground, Timmons said. Part of the work has been to secure additional funding to run the program effectively, after much of the budget appropriation for the initiative was stripped from the legislation in committee.

“We have $110,000 to launch this effort — which is not enough, I will say,” Timmons said, but added that her team was able to leverage that money to receive additional grants and philanthropic funds.

The program will only be as effective as its data is descriptive — and getting all the data into the same place, in the same format, is a challenge. While government agencies and departments, including the USGS, the Interstate Stream Commission, the Office of the State Engineer and the New Mexico Environment Department, all collect and manage water data, they do so in different ways.

“There’s four or five or ten different agencies that have data about one location, but right now we don’t have one unifying way to coordinate all of those data sets,” Timmons said. “Everyone has their own way of managing it.”

And the team is also identifying where there are gaps in water data collection that can be addressed in the future.

“A lot of our rural parts of the state, there’s not a whole lot of data on them,” Timmons said. “There’s huge swaths of land where there are some water resources, there are some people on private domestic wells, and we just don’t have a great deal of information to evaluate what the water resources might be in those areas, or where there’s water quality concerns.”

“There’s very little useful information in the realm of metering of how much groundwater use is happening around the state,” she added.

Her team is working to locate, extract and codify the water data sets from those groups and aggregate that data into one central online database. The team has already set up an initial web portal where anyone can browse the data that’s already been uploaded.

Informing water policy

So how will that data help decision makers?

Timmons said that by better understanding how much water is left in our aquifers, and how that water is being used, communities will be better positioned to make decisions about how to craft water policy as the resource becomes more and more scarce.

“By sharing our data, it’s going to be more easily put towards operational decisions and broader state-wide decision making,” Timmons said. “We’re working over the next several years to bring in additional data providers and start pilot studies to utilize that data.”

Back in eastern New Mexico, communities in and around Clovis, Portales, Cannon Air Force Base and Texico are now tackling how to manage what’s left of Ogallala aquifer while securing a new water source.

The Eastern New Mexico Water Utility Authority broke ground on a project that officials believe will sustain the region and its agricultural demand for water. The plan is to build a pipeline to transport water from the Ute Reservoir north of the area to the water-scarce communities in Curry and Roosevelt counties. The project includes new wells being drilled in segments of the aquifer where there’s more groundwater to help support those communities while the rest of the pipeline is built.

Ute Reservoir Pipeline map via the Eastern New Mexico Water Utility Authority

The $527 million project will take years to complete, but Landsford said he expects portions of the pipeline to be operational and delivering water to customers in the next five to six years.

“It’s a step plan,” Landsford said. “Connect the communities, reserve some water, and then once you have additional groundwater secured in the interim, you can supply groundwater to the customers and spend the rest of the time getting to the reservoir, where the renewable supply is located. That’s the general blueprint for where we’re going.”

That type of thinking is emblematic of what Timmons’ described as a shift towards resiliency among communities and policymakers in the face of climate change and water scarcity.

“I’m beginning to see that there’s a paradigm shift happening, and there’s reason to be optimistic about the future, despite some of the doom and gloom data that we have,” Timmons said at the conference. “There’s really a new shift happening in how we think about water, especially here in the southwest. We acknowledge that, in many places where we’re using groundwater, we’re mining the aquifer. We need to be thinking about how we can increase the flexibility of that, and increase the redundancy in where we have water resources.”

“The term ‘sustainability’ has been used — especially when thinking about groundwater — it’s really out the window now,” she said. “We’re starting to think about it more in terms of resilience.”

New study predicts less water in #ColoradoRiver as #Utah considers its #LakePowell Pipeline — The St. George Spectrum #COriver #aridification

This $2+ billion project would pump 28 billion gallons of water 2,000 feet uphill across 140 miles of desert to provide just 160,000 residents in Southwest Utah with more water. Graphic credit: Utah Rivers Council

From The St. George Spectrum (Lexi Peery):

Climate change is increasing the variability of the Colorado River so much so that the river could lose one-fourth of its flow by 2050, according to a new government study.

As plans for the 140-mile Lake Powell Pipeline — which would divert over 86,000 acre-feet annually from the reservoir to southwestern Utah — are under review by the Bureau of Reclamation, what does the Colorado River’s diminishing flows mean for the project?

The new report, produced by the U.S. Geological Survey and published in Science, attributes a 16% decline in the river’s flow from 2000-2017 to rising temperatures. The Colorado River hydrates seven downstream states, storing water in shrinking Lake Powell and Lake Mead reservoirs.

Washington County Water Conservancy District Manager Zach Renstrom said he thinks the variability of climate change provides even more reason for the county to pursue the pipeline.

“Climate change is a big deal to us, we are very concerned about it, and specifically how it’s going to affect our watershed,” Renstrom said. “When we look at these dynamics, they’re one of the strong arguments for the Lake Powell Pipeline because we need to make sure to have a robust infrastructure in place so we can adjust for (climate change).”

Rising temperatures, less snow

Seen from the air, Glen Canyon Dam holds back the Colorado River to form Lake Powell. The state of Colorado is looking into how to fund a program that would pay irrigators to reduce their consumptive use in order to send water downstream to a savings account in Lake Powell. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

USGS scientists considered two scenarios of climate change in the Colorado River study. In one, warmer temperatures by 2050 would reduce the amount of water flowing in the river by 14-26%. In the other scenario, warming would take away 19-31% of the river’s flow…

Milly and fellow USGS scientist Krista Dunne focused on the reflectivity of snow, known as albedo, as a key element in the river’s sensitivity to warming. They zeroed in on the role of snow cover as a “protective shield” for water in the river basin.

Milly likened the flowing river to the leftovers of the “meal” of snow and rain that falls across the basin after evaporation has “eaten” its share…

And the amount consumed by evaporation is driven by how much energy the basin absorbs in the form of sunlight. The snow cover in the Rocky Mountains reflects back to the sky and space a significant fraction of the sunlight.

As the world gets hotter with the burning of fossil fuels, more of the precipitation falls as rain instead of snow. And the snow melts away earlier in the year. As the snow cover in the mountains is progressively lost, the river basin absorbs more energy…

“When we talk about structural deficits and overuse of the Colorado River system, it’s exclusive to the lower basin,” WCWCD spokesperson Karry Rathje said.

Washington County’s population is projected to grow 229% by 2050, but Renstrom says he’s worried that growth may come sooner than expected. He’s pushing to get the pipeline going in the next 10 years in order to diversify the county’s water supply.

“Even when we look at reduced flows … the water in the Lake Powell Pipeline should be available for us to withdraw,” Renstrom said. “As the guy who has to worry about where water is coming from in 30 years if some of the higher-end climate models come to pass, and the Virgin River is dried up, it makes me feel very secure that we’ll have another tool in that toolbox.”

Utah Rivers map via Geology.com

Arkansas Valley Conduit gains federal funding — Southeastern #Colorado Water Conservancy District

Arkansas Valley Conduit Comanche North route via Reclamation

Here’s the release from Southeastern (Chris Woodka):

The Arkansas Valley Conduit received $28 million in federal funding to finish design and begin construction of the long-awaited pipeline.

“We are very grateful and thankful for the work of Senator Gardner and our delegation in securing this funding,” said Bill Long, president of the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, sponsor of the AVC. “This amount of money is a real milestone in the history of the project.”

[…]

“I think this is a wonderful example of bi-partisan support and partnership of federal, state and local officials that is needed to secure a safe drinking water supply, not only for the people of Southeastern Colorado, but for every rural American,” Long said…

The AVC is seen by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment as the best remedy for high levels of naturally occurring radioactive materials in drinking water for about 15 of the water providers. Other communities are also facing issues of expensive treatment for other sorts of contamination.

The $28 million is the first step in a $600 million project to provide clean drinking water from Pueblo Dam through a 130-pipeline to Lamar and Eads. The Colorado Water Conservation Board approved a $100 million finance package for AVC in November. State legislative approval is needed to finalize the availability of those funds.

The Bureau of Reclamation and Department of Interior worked with other cabinet-level agencies in the past two months as part of an initiative to find efficiencies in construction of water projects.

The AVC will provide clean drinking water to about 50,000 people in 40 communities east of Pueblo.

The AVC was first authorized as part of the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project in 1962 as a way to provide supplemental water to communities east of Pueblo. It was never built because of the cost to local water systems.

In 2009, federal legislation made revenues from the Fry-Ark Project available for construction and repayment of the AVC. A 2014 Record of Decision by the Bureau of Reclamation determined the AVC was the best solution for water quality and supply problems in the Lower Arkansas Valley.

Reclamation has worked with the Southeastern District for the past three years in planning efforts to reduce costs and the time needed to reach water systems east of Pueblo.

Pueblo Dam. Photo credit: Dsdugan [CC0] via Wikimedia Commons

From Senator Bennet’s office:

Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet today released the following statement applauding news that the Arkansas Valley Conduit will receive $28 million of Bureau of Reclamation funding to begin construction on the water diversion and storage project in the lower Arkansas Valley, which would bring clean drinking water to an estimated 50,000 Coloradans:

“For more than five decades, Coloradans in the southeastern corner of our state have been waiting for the federal government to fulfill its promise to deliver clean drinking water to their communities. Since I came to the Senate, we’ve worked together to pursue any and every avenue possible to ensure we fulfill that promise and build the Arkansas Valley Conduit,” said Bennet. “I’m thrilled this project is one step closer to breaking ground and ensuring that families in southeastern Colorado have access to a safe water supply.”

The Arkansas Valley Conduit is the final component of the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project, a water diversion and storage project in the lower Arkansas Valley. Once constructed, the Conduit will deliver clean drinking water to families and municipalities throughout Southeastern Colorado.

In 2009:

  • Congress passed legislation by Bennet and former U.S. Senator Mark Udall (D-Colo.) to authorize the construction of the Arkansas Valley Conduit.
  • Bennet worked to secure $5 million in funding to begin construction on the Conduit as part of the Energy and Water Appropriations Conference Report.

    In 2013:

  • Bennet and his colleagues sent a letter to the Bureau of Reclamation to quickly approve the Conduit’s Environmental Impact Study (EIS) in order to expedite the project’s completion.
  • In 2014:

  • Following Bennet and Udall’s efforts to urge the Bureau of Reclamation to quickly approve the Conduit’s EIS, the Record of Decision was signed in February.
  • After the President’s budget included an insufficient level of funding for the project, Bennet led a bipartisan letter urging the administration and the House and Senate Appropriations Committees to allow the Conduit’s construction to move ahead as planned.
  • Bennet successfully urged the Department of Interior to designate $2 million in reprogrammed funding from Fiscal Year (FY) 2014 for the Conduit.
  • Bennet secured language in the FY 2015 Senate Energy and Water Development Appropriations Act that sent a clear signal to the Bureau of Reclamation that the Conduit should be a priority project.
  • In 2016:

  • Bennet secured $2 million from the Bureau of Reclamation’s reprogrammed funding for FY 2016.
  • Bennet secured $3 million for the Conduit as part of the FY 2017 Energy & Water Appropriations bill.
  • In 2017:

    Bennet secured $3 million for the Conduit for FY 2017.
    In 2019:

  • In April, Bennet and Senator Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) wrote to Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander and Ranking Member Dianne Feinstein, urging them to prioritize funding for the Conduit.
  • Bennet, Gardner, Congressman Scott Tipton (R-CO-3), and Congressman Ken Buck (R-CO-4) wrote to the Department of the Interior urging the Department to support the project.
  • Bennet secured approximately $10 million for the Conduit in the December 2019 spending bills for Fiscal Year 2020.
  • From The Pueblo Chieftain (Anthony A. Mestas):

    The Arkansas Valley Conduit, a 130-mile water pipeline that would serve as many as 40 communities and 50,000 people east of Pueblo, is receiving a major financial boost to begin construction, decades after the project was authorized by the U.S. Congress…

    The funding will come from the Department of the Interior Bureau of Reclamation’s Fiscal Year 2020 work plan.

    John F. Kennedy at Commemoration of Fryingpan Arkansas Project in Pueblo, circa 1962.

    #ColoradoRiver Water Users Association Annual Conference recap #CRWUA2019 #COriver

    Hoover Dam from the Arizona Powerhouse deck December 13, 2019. As John Fleck said in a Tweet, “Friends who have the keys showed us around this afternoon.” Thanks USBR.

    Here’s a report from Andrew Davey writing for Nevada Today. Click through and read the whole article, here’s an excerpt:

    Around this time last year, Commissioner Brenda Burman delivered this ultimatum to CRWUA attendees: “Close isn’t done, and we are not done. Only done will protect this basin.” This year, as in just yesterday, Burman said, “It was truly remarkable to have the divergent interests of the basin forge a compromise and make the difficult agreements to complete the DCP.”

    And unlike last year, when Burman urged officials from across the Colorado River Basin to finish the DCP already, this year she urged patience on matters like renegotiating the 2007 agreement that turned Lake Mead into a sort of regional water bank. On that, Burman declared, “It’s not yet time to take up that task.”

    Yet despite Burman’s more relaxed approach, some at CRWUA want to see more “fierce urgency of now”. While the DCP successfully fended off the threat of federal water rations, and while Upper Colorado River Basin snowpack is currently running 15% above average, ongoing legal concerns and the ever escalating threat of climate change may yet upend the delicate peace that the DCP has ushered in for now…

    While Burman voiced confidence in the states’, municipal water agencies’, and Native American tribal authorities’ ability to cooperate, some of these very local officials were voicing notes of warning and caution. Shortly after Burman’s presentation on the main stage, Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA) Director of Water Resources Colby Pellegrino noted their use of data from the U.S. Geological Survey and UNLV’s Center for Business and Economic Research (CBER) showing less Colorado River water for everyone to work with in the next 50 years.

    As Pellegrino described this challenge, “It’s a pretty severe stress test for our water resource portfolio.” Pellegrino then noted how SNWA and the larger community have already been rising to this challenge with conservation programs like outdoor watering schedules and turf removal. As Pellegrino put it, “There’s significant water savings to be achieved by changing the mindset of how we use it.”

    Later in the day, I caught up with Pellegrino to talk some more about her presentation and the challenges that lie ahead for her agency and the entire region. When asked how SNWA plans to handle those future challenges, she replied, “Conservation is still right here, under our noses, the quickest and most cost effective way.”

    [Friday], it was Interior Secretary David Bernhardt’s turn to make news here in Nevada. And make news he did, as Bernhardt announced the federal government will launch an early start of its review of the 2007 Interim Guidelines (as in, the 2007 agreement that launched the ICS program to manage the Lower Basin’s water supply).

    Soon after his main floor presentation, Bernhardt spoke with reporters about this and other pressing water issues. On his announcement to jump-start review of the Interim Guidelines, Bernhardt said, “We have an opportunity right now. We have the people in place. We might as well build on the success we have here.”

    So what can we expect in this review? And for that matter, what kinds of future changes might we expect in federal oversight of the Colorado River? When I asked Bernhardt whether he’d take into account climate science and the changing needs and consumption patterns of the increasingly urban American Southwest, he replied, “I’ve never taken a position of what we need to tell a city or county what they need to do.”

    Yet as Bernhardt’s discussion with reporters continued, the conversation occasionally veered into other environmental matters. And when a couple reporters asked about the proposed oil and gas leases on public lands that have run into local opposition, including right here in Nevada, in the Ruby Mountains outside Elko and in parts of Lincoln County that supply drinking water for Mesquite, Bernhardt declared, “The president was clear when he ran for office what his policy is on energy. He supports an ‘all of the above’ approach.” Bernhardt also suggested these leases are required by federal statute, even though the Obama administration took a more cautious and targeted approach toward such fossil fuel extraction on public lands…

    Funny enough, one of my takeaways from my conversation with SNWA’s Colby Pellegrino on Thursday was that regardless of what becomes of the long-fought pipeline plan, SNWA has enough water available to keep the Las Vegas region going for the next 50 years. Also, I noticed that regardless of the Trump administration’s curious comments on climate change and “all of the above” approaches to water infrastructure and fossil fuels, SNWA officials recognize the clear and present danger of climate change, and they’re already acting on it.

    And it may not just be SNWA doing this. Even as Trump appointees are skirting around acknowledgement of climate science, fossil fuel pollution, ongoing regional tensions, or the reality of urban and suburban growth in the Colorado River Basin, federal civil servants continue to collect data, analyze trends, and manage the water we all share. We’ll talk more about that next week.

    Still, there’s a rather large gap between the rhetoric and overarching policies of the Trump administration and the promises of strong climate action that U.S. Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont), former Vice President Joe Biden, and the other 2020 Democratic presidential candidates are providing. And yet, we don’t hear as much about the Colorado River and our fragile water supply as you’d expect considering their environmental and geopolitical importance. Yet no matter how much we ignore it, all we have to do is glimpse at Lake Mead to remember how important it truly is to our very livelihood.

    Click here to view the Tweets from the conference hash tag #CRWUA2019. Click here to view the @CRWUAwater Twitter feed.

    Hoover Dam schematic via the Bureau of Reclamation.

    From The Associated Press (Ken Ritter):

    U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman told federal, state and local water managers that abiding by the promises they made will be crucial to ensuring that more painful cuts aren’t required…

    “We need to be proud of what we’ve done,” Burman told hundreds at the annual Colorado River Water Users Association conference at a Las Vegas Strip resort, while also warning of “tougher challenges in the future.”

    Arizona, Nevada and Mexico will start taking less water from the river Jan. 1 under a drought contingency agreement signed in May. It followed lengthy negotiations and multiple warnings from Burman that if the seven states didn’t reach a deal, the federal government, which controls the levers on the river, could impose severe water restrictions.

    California would voluntarily cut water deliveries if reservoir levels keep falling at the river’s largest reservoir, Lake Mead…

    Cuts will most affect farmers in Arizona. The Central Arizona Project will stop storage and replenishment operations and cut water for agricultural use by about 15%. The agency gets more than half of Arizona’s entitlement of water from the Colorado River…

    The drought contingency plan is a voluntary agreement to use less water than users are allowed, and its success is measured at the surface level of Lake Mead, behind Hoover Dam east of Las Vegas.

    The agreements are designed to prevent a more drastic drought-shortage declaration under a 2007 pact that would cut 11.4 percent of Arizona’s usual river water allocation and reduce Nevada’s share by 4.3 percent. That amount of water, combined, would serve more than 625,000 homes.

    California would reduce its Colorado River use by about 6 percent.

    Due to a relatively wet winter, Lake Mead is now 40% full and Lake Powell, an upstream reservoir, is at 53% capacity, Bureau of Reclamation spokeswoman Patricia Aaron said. A year ago, Lake Powell was 43% full, and Lake Mead was at 38%…

    Water managers have called the last 20 dry years a drought, but climate researchers warn the river will continue to carry less water in coming years.

    “Respected climate scientists have conservatively estimated declines in river flows of 20% by the middle of the 21st century and 35% by the end of the century,” researchers Anne Castle of the University of Colorado Law School and John Fleck of the University of New Mexico wrote in a study released in November.

    The report refers to a “structural deficit” under which states and Mexico are promised more water than the river usually carries and encourages the seven states to clarify rules for handling future shortages.

    Brad Udall: “…latest version of my 4-Panel plot thru Water Year (Oct-Sep) of 2019 of the #coriver big reservoirs, natural flows, precipitation, and temperature. Data goes back or 1906 (or 1935 for reservoirs.) This updates previous work with
    @GreatLakesPeck

    @CWCB_DNR approves $100 million package for Arkansas Valley Conduit — Southeastern #Colorado Water Conservancy District

    Arkansas Valley Conduit Comanche North route via Reclamation

    Here’s the release from Southeastern (Chris Woodka):

    The Colorado Water Conservation Board unanimously approved a $90 million loan and $10 million non-reimbursable investment for the Arkansas Valley Conduit at its November meeting.

    The loan, which still requires approval by the Colorado Legislature, will assist in a $500 million project that is being planned by the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District and the Bureau of Reclamation. The AVC will bring clean drinking water to 50,000 people in 40 communities east of Pueblo in Bent, Crowley, Otero, Prowers and Pueblo counties.

    The Southeastern District and Reclamation are working to reduce project costs and the need for up-front federal funding in order to begin construction of the AVC project. About $30 million has been invested in planning since 2011.

    “Poor water quality has been an issue in this area of the state since before Colorado even existed.  All the way back to explorers traveling along the Arkansas River in the early 1800s noted the poor drinking water in their journals,” said CWCB board member Jack Goble, who lives in Hasty. “And the lack of clean drinking water still exists today.  Taking a drive down Highway 50, you’ll pass by dozens of water filling stations, with at least one in almost every town in the Valley.”

    In its presentation, the Southeastern District noted strong support from the State Legislature, the congressional delegation and Gov. Jerad Polis for AVC. The Legislature approved a resolution in January asking the Administration to restore AVC funding. The congressional delegation drafted its own letter to the Administration as well.

    “I will continue to support efforts to work with our departments on opportunities to seek state financing and grant opportunities to advance this project,” Polis wrote in a letter earlier this year.

    Bill Long, President of the Southeastern Board, introduced three of the system operators who will benefit from AVC: Rick Jones of the May Valley Water Association, Norman Noe of the South Swink Water Company, and Tom Seaba of La Junta.

    “The only way we can move forward in the Arkansas Valley is to have safe drinking water for all of our residents,” Long said.

    May Valley faces state enforcement actions for violations of state standards for radioactive contaminants it has dealt with for 20 years, and other solutions would cost as much as $200 per month per customer, Jones said.

    “It’s disheartening to be told you can’t drink the water,” Jones said.

    Noe told the CWCB that it is also becoming increasingly expensive to deal with radioactive waste that is produced by the wells that the communities rely on for a water supply.

    Seaba said 15 of the 24 public water systems in Otero County have state water violations for naturally occurring radioactive contamination. Four of the systems have already connected with La Junta. La Junta treats water with reverse-osmosis, but the waste stream contains selenium. The city spent $19 million on a wastewater plant and still cannot meet selenium standards.

    “If the conduit is funded and built, you will solve the problems for these communities,” Seaba said.

    The AVC was authorized in 1962, but was not built because local communities could not afford to pay 100 percent of the cost. New federal legislation in 2009 requires a 35 percent local cost share, but also allows revenues from the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project to be used for construction and repayment of the AVC.

    The presentation was at times emotional, teeing off with a recap of the history of the AVC by Alan Hamel, a Southeastern board member and former CWCB member. He showed a video of President John F. Kennedy, who came to Pueblo in 1962 and delivered a stirring speech about the importance of water projects to all of the people in the United States.

    Several CWCB members shared their own emotional comments during discussion.

    “It’s the responsibility of all of us on the board to make sure that all Coloradans have the basic right for clean drinking water,” said Heather Dutton, who chairs the CWCB.

    @USBR takes up review of Lake Powell Pipeline — The Deseret News

    This $2+ billion project would pump 28 billion gallons of water 2,000 feet uphill across 140 miles of desert to provide just 160,000 residents in Southwest Utah with more water. Graphic credit: Utah Rivers Council

    From The Deseret News (Amy Joi O’Donoghue):

    The elimination of the major hydropower components of the proposed Lake Powell Pipeline means a new federal agency will review the project and determine if it is environmentally sound to move forward.

    “The division looks forward to working with reclamation on updating the timeline and cost estimate for the project and completing the environmental impact statement,” Eric Millis, director of the Utah Division of Water Resources, announced Tuesday

    The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission had been the reviewing agency. After a September decision by the Utah Board of Water Resources to eliminate two reservoirs for the generation of electricity during peak demand, that entity was no longer the appropriate reviewing agency…

    Project proponents say the pipeline is necessary to meet the needs of a growing population and to diversify water supply resources. Most of southern Utah residents rely on a single and volatile source of water — the Virgin River — which has been challenged by drought conditions.

    Construction of the pipeline won’t begin until 70% of the water is under contract.

    Karry Rathje, with the Washington County Water Conservancy District, said the shift to another federal agency to review the project should not result in any delays.

    A water ‘win-win’ in Colorado? Not so fast — @HighCountryNews

    San Luis Valley farmer Dale Bartee, left, with his parents and his oldest son, Tyler, the fourth generation on the farm. Luna Anna Archey/High Country News

    From the High Country News (Nick Bowlin):

    If water flows to money, in Colorado, it flows to the Front Range. There, a booming population has strained municipal governments, which are actively looking elsewhere for new water sources. This is nothing new: In recent decades, locals have fended off several schemes to export the San Luis Valley’s water east over the mountains. The latest of these is Renewable Water Resources, a venture backed by Denver metro money and former Republican Gov. Bill Owens. Worsening drought, poor commodity prices, economic trends towards consolidation and the ever-present threat of state intervention in local water management have some people worried — and others sensing an opportunity.

    Sean Tonner, a businessman and longtime state Republican operative who worked for Owens, is behind the current water export scheme. Tonner exudes salesmanship, the sort of person who calls you by your first name the second he meets you. His plan reworks one that was pushed by the late Gary Boyce, a notorious water export advocate. Tonner, who now owns Boyce’s 11,500-acre property at the foot of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, proposes a 22,000-acre-foot pipeline to carry water from the northern end of the valley over Poncha Pass to Douglas County in the southern Denver metro area. His company would buy and remove from irrigation about 30,000 acre-feet of San Luis Valley water, paying local farmers for the water rights that would offset the export.

    Tonner uses the phrase “win-win” to describe the project. The front page of the project’s website reads: “Best for the San Luis Valley. Best for the environment. Best for Colorado.” Few in the valley see it that way. The Rio Grande Water Conservation District rejected the proposal in January 2019, and the board has told Tonner it would fight any attempt to export water from the valley. Several town governments oppose the plan, as well. If it goes to court, the exporters would have to prove that the plan would not injure Rio Grande water rights, the aquifer or the protected areas that rely on the aquifer, including Great Sand Dunes National Park.

    At a February water conference at Adams State University, former U.S. Sen. and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar — the most public member of the well-known Salazar family, which has farmed in the southern part of the valley since the 1850s — declared that “water will flow out of this valley to the North only over my dead body,” drawing a raucous cheer from the audience of farmers and ranchers.

    Even so, it is easy to imagine the valley’s economic plight making it possible for Tonner’s proposal to catch on. His plan offers incentives that previous plans lacked, including a $50 million fund for local governments to use in the community. If the valley’s financial woes worsen — or if the state were to shut off thousands of wells in Subdistrict 1 — that cash could sway some desperate local officials.

    Tonner claims he has local support. At a community meeting in Saguache on May 23, he told the large crowd that he had enough water users interested in selling to obtain 22,000 acre-feet of water. Few farmers and ranchers want to admit this, but the valley’s grim circumstances are pushing some to sell.

    I put the question to rancher Dale Bartee in August: What would happen if the drought returns next year, the valley’s pumping fee is higher, and the export company shows up with ready money?

    “If the price is right, it would be very hard to say no,” he said with a sigh, sitting at his kitchen table. It’s an admission he does not like making out loud. Like many here, Bartee sees the export advocates as turncoats, exploiting the imbalance of economic and political power concentrated on the other side of the mountains to extract rural resources. Repeated attempts to export the valley’s water make the people feel dispensable.

    “For me, I will probably be one of the last ones to say yes to it, because of my boys,” Bartee said, whose two sons work the farm with him.

    “They both say they want to come back, they want to farm,” their father said. “And if I sell out, what do they have left?”

    If the valley’s water use were corrected, Rio Grande Water Conservation District Manager Cleave Simpson believes, the export schemes would evaporate. “Buy and dry” proposals, as they are known, seem less appealing when water supply and demand are in better balance, he said. The subdistrict model is an attempt to allow current farms to carry on at slightly diminished capacity, rather than face the “draconian” decision of either selling to exporters to get what money they can or risk having pumping rights suspended by the state engineer.

    “I don’t think producers should have to make that choice,” Simpson said.

    Nick Bowlin is an editorial fellow at High Country News. Email him at nickbowlin@hcn.org.

    @USBR advances water delivery project for Navajo and Jicarilla Apache Nations #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    Survey work begins for the Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project on the Navajo Nation. Photo credit: U.S. Bureau of Reclamation via The High Country News

    Here’s the release from the Bureau of Reclamation (Justyn Liff, Marc Milller):

    The Bureau of Reclamation invites members of the press and public to a meeting to continue negotiations with the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority. The purpose of these negotiations is to agree to terms for an operations, maintenance and replacement contract for the federally-owned Cutter Lateral features of the Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project, located near Bloomfield, New Mexico.

    This operations, maintenance and replacement contract for Cutter Lateral will facilitate water delivery to the Navajo and Jicarilla Apache Nations. The negotiations and subsequent contract provide the legal mechanism for delivery of the Navajo Nation’s Settlement Water in the state of New Mexico. WHAT: Public meeting to negotiate the Cutter Lateral operations, maintenance and replacement contract.

    WHEN: Friday, September 13, 2019, at 9:00 a.m. at 1:00 p.m.

    WHERE: Navajo Tribal Utility Authority, Walter F. Wolf Conference Room 2nd Floor GM Suite, Indian Navajo Route 12, Fort Defiance, AZ 86504

    WHY: The contract to be negotiated will provide terms and conditions for the operation, maintenance and replacement of specific project features. All negotiations are open to the public as observers and the public will have the opportunity to ask questions and offer comments pertaining to the contract during a thirty-minute comment period following the negotiation session.

    The proposed contract and other pertinent documents will be available at the negotiation meeting. They can also be obtained on our website at: http://www.usbr.gov/uc/wcao/index.html, under Current Focus or by contacting Marc Miller at 185 Suttle Street, Suite 2, Durango, Colorado, 81303, 970-385-6541, mbmiller@usbr.gov.

    Arkansas Valley Conduit update

    From High Plains Public Radio (Abigail Beckman):

    Chris Woodka is with the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District. He said part of the reason we’re seeing more water systems violate water standards is that federal and state standards have changed. They are now accounting for even more minute quantities of contaminants.

    He said water from wells can be especially affected because, “shallow wells in the alluvial aquifer are high in organic contaminants, nitrate and selenium.”

    “Deeper wells often have elevated levels of radioactive materials,” he said. “And nearly all of the communities east of Pueblo take water from wells.”

    Some communities have responded by using water filters. Las Animas and La Junta have both installed large reverse osmosis membrane systems to remove contaminants from the water supply. Woodka said that has improved the taste and appearance.

    But, he said, even after filtration, radium and uranium can still remain in the water at low levels.

    And then there’s the cost.

    “Those communities still face tremendous expense in disposing of the waste from the treatment processes,” Woodka said, “which can only be reduced by adding more clean water.” And extra water, let alone clean water, is hard to come by in a drought-prone state like Colorado. But there is one possible solution that’s been in the works for decades.

    It’s called the Arkansas Valley Conduit.

    Arkansas Valley Conduit Comanche North route via Reclamation

    The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation describes the conduit as a “bulk water supply pipeline designed to meet existing and future municipal and industrial water demands in the Lower Arkansas River Basin.”

    It would include about 230 miles of buried pipeline, a water treatment facility, and water storage tanks. Water would be routed to six counties – Pueblo, Otero, Crowley, Bent, Kiowa and Prowers – and would serve an estimated 50,000 people.

    The project was first approved in 1962. Some work was completed in the early 1980’s, but the actual conduit has yet to come to completion. Woodka said that’s mainly because of cost.

    “[These] communities could never afford to build [the conduit] themselves.” Woodka explained.

    Congress passed a law in 2009 that reduced the amount of money local governments would have to pitch in for the project. Woodka said that finally made the construction of the conduit feasible.

    But it’s still a $500 million project.

    “The main problem that we’ve run into,” said Woodka, ”has been getting adequate federal appropriations to start building it. He said they are working on ways to lower the overall costs of the project.”

    Woodka said lawmakers at the state and national level have been “extremely active” in promoting this project on both sides of the political spectrum…

    [Republican State Senator Larry Crowder] said the key now is for residents to get involved.

    “We’re getting the cities involved, we’re getting the people in the cities involved to send letters to Senator Gardner, Senator Bennet and Congressmen Buck and Tipton,” he said, “to make sure that they are aware of how the people feel about it.”

    #Utah Presses Forward With #LakePowellPipeline Plans Despite #ColoradoRiver Basin Constraints — #Wyoming Public Radio #COriver #aridification

    Proposed Lake Powell pipeline. Map via the City of St. George.

    From Wyoming Public Radio (Judy Fahys):

    Despite the risk that the river resource is overcommitted and it is shrinking, four Upper Basin states – Utah, Wyoming, Colorado and New Mexico – are pushing forward with dams, reservoir expansions and pipelines like the one at Lake Powell that will allow them to capture what they were promised under the 1922 Colorado River Compact. The Lower Basin states of Arizona, Nevada and California have been using that water downstream for nearly a century.

    President Donald Trump signed the basin-wide drought contingency plan in April, just weeks after the state of Utah declared in a news release that the river, which serves 40 million people, is “a reliable source of water.”

    “What they need to do – the lower states – is use their right that’s allocated to them, and we will use our right that’s allocated to us,” said Mike Styler, who retired recently after 14 years as director of the Utah Department of Natural Resources.

    A former state lawmaker, Styler originally voted on pushing forward with the 140-mile Lake Powell Pipeline. Once completed, the diversion project, which would draw from the lake, which straddles the Utah-Arizona border, about 86,000 acre-feet a year. That’s enough water to support nearly 100,000 households…

    The St. George metropolitan area was the third-fastest growing in the nation last year, according to U.S. Census Bureau data released in April. Past data showed the area as the fastest growing in 2017 and the fifth-fastest growing between 2010 and 2018.

    Pipeline proponents anticipate the trend will continue, with the current population of around 171,000 residents expected to swell to around 509,000 by 2065. And that growth is why they insist the pipeline is necessary…

    The state has already spent more than $30 million on its application to build the pipeline. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is currently reviewing the project’s environmental impacts. The Washington County Water Conservancy District, a project partner, estimates that the license could be finalized in two years, construction would begin a few years later and the pipeline would be operating by around 2030.

    But pipeline critics call the project too risky, too pricey and unnecessary. They contend that too much Colorado River water has already been promised to too many people.

    “We are way beyond the budget of what the Colorado River can deliver, and when you just look at how much water is in the river and how much everyone else wants to take out, it’s just not there,” said Nick Schou, conservation director for the nonprofit Utah Rivers Council.

    Schou said the Lower Basin states are facing cuts of as much as 500,000 acre-feet at the same time the Upper Basin states are planning nine projects that will draw about 400,000 acre-feet.

    “Not only are we overusing the water, but there’s going to be a lot less to go around in the future,” Schou said…

    The project’s overall cost is another big concern for critics. Proponents estimate the pipeline’s cost between $1.1 billion and $1.8 billion. Critics say the price tag will probably be $3.2 billion or higher. And water users would be saddled with the cost, since the what used to be common federal subsidies for big water projects have evaporated.

    The #ColoradoRiver is a Reliable Source of Water for #Utah — @UTAHSavesH2O #LakePowellPipeline #COriver #aridification

    Upper Colorado River Basin map via the Upper Colorado River Commission.

    From the Utah Department of Natural Resources:

    Falling storage levels at both lakes Powell and Mead have highlighted the potential effects of climate change on the Colorado River, causing some to question its future viability as a reliable water supply source for the state of Utah.

    “All water providers, including the State of Utah, understand the level of concern some have regarding the perceived uncertainty associated with the use of Colorado River water,” said Eric Millis, director of the Utah Division of Water Resources. “The Colorado River is reliable. We work closely with our federal partners and other basin states to plan for future needs and mitigate potential impacts. The drought contingency plans recently outlined by the Upper and Lower Basin states serve as an example of such planning.”

    When looking at whether the river can meet future needs, scientists, water providers, and those who manage the river look at its past performance during varying weather conditions. Colorado River flows are cyclical, as are weather patterns.

    The system’s reliability is documented in the benchmark Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) 2012 Colorado River Basin Study. The study reports that, in the 10 years preceding its issuance, which had been some of the driest of the last century, the Upper Basin states (Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico and Utah) have delivered more than 92 million acre feet of water to the Lower Basin states (Nevada, Arizona and California)—that’s 17 million acre feet more than the minimum required by the Colorado River Compact.[1]

    “In both wet and dry cycles over the past century, the river has always provided enough water to meet established uses and compact requirements,” said Don Ostler, former Executive Director and Secretary of the Upper Colorado River Commission. “Recent hydrologic modeling, based on projected drought scenarios, has shown the river to be capable of remaining a reliable supply for the Upper Basin into the future, especially if the basin states continue to work cooperatively on sensible drought contingency plans.”

    The 2012 Basin Study and associated climate model projections indicate a potential decrease in mean natural flow of the Colorado River of approximately 9 percent over the next 50 years. In

    addition, some scientists predict that as a consequence of continued warming in the basin, the decrease in river flows could be even greater.

    Modeling conducted by BOR in August 2018, taking into account future water uses in the Upper Basin including the Lake Powell Pipeline, indicates a near 0 percent probability of a declared 1922 Compact shortage for the Upper Basin through the year 2050 presuming hydrology remains similar to what the basin has experienced over the last 100 years. On the other hand, if the future hydrology of the basin is similar to drier, hotter climate change predictions, more closely resembling the last 30 years including historic drought, the risk of a declared 1922 Compact shortage rises to less than 13 percent through the year 2050.

    “The BOR and the basin states are planning for the possibility of a long-term imbalance in supply and demand on the Colorado River. To mitigate the risks and uncertainties associated with these water supplies, Utah has worked with the other states in the Upper Basin to develop an agreement on drought contingency development. Since the river provides water to some 40 million people, it is imperative that the western states, including Utah, all do their part to protect this river,” said Millis.

    Utah receives 23 percent of the Colorado River water supply available to the Upper Basin. Utah is using approximately 72 percent of the current annual reliable supply of 1.4 million acre feet, including evaporation and system loss. The reliability of the Colorado River gives Utah the opportunity to develop its water for the benefit of Utah.

    Even though Utah may be developing its water rights later than some of the other basin states, it does not mean there will not be enough water for projects like the Lake Powell Pipeline. There is water available for the Lake Powell Pipeline, which is currently being permitted to meet the needs of the fastest growing region of the state. The Lake Powell Pipeline would transport 86,249 acre feet of Colorado River water from Lake Powell through a buried pipeline to Washington and Kane counties.

    Utah’s share of the water is not subject to a prior appropriation or “first in time, first in right,” administrative scheme among the states. The compacts that guide each states’ use of Colorado River water were expressly developed to ensure that faster growing states would not be able to claim all of the available basin water.

    “The Utah Board of Water Resources can develop a portion of Utah’s Colorado River in a manner consistent with the Law of the River,” Millis said. “Utah’s right to develop water for the Lake Powell Pipeline is equal to, not inferior to, the rights of all the other 1922 Compact signatory states.”

    With the projected need for more water in southwest Utah as early as the late 2020s, the Utah Division of Water Resources continues to advance the permitting for the Lake Powell Pipeline. The Environmental Impact Statement is the next step with a Record of Decision estimated to be issued in the fall of 2020.

    Click here to read the annual report from the Upper Colorado River Commission.

    This $2+ billion project would pump 28 billion gallons of water 2,000 feet uphill across 140 miles of desert to provide just 160,000 residents in Southwest Utah with more water. Graphic credit: Utah Rivers Council

    San Luis Valley water export [and augmentation] plan presented — The Valley Courier

    The northern end of Colorado’s San Luis Valley has a raw, lonely beauty that rivals almost any place in the North American West. Photo/Allen Best

    From The Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

    As predecessors before them, Renewable Water Resources spokesmen on Thursday outlined plans for a 22,000-acre-foot water export project stemming from the northern San Luis Valley to customers in the south metro Denver area.

    “This will be a win-win,” Sean Tonner told the Rio Grande Water Conservation District (RGWCD) board during a special meeting Thursday morning.

    Tonner is a managing partner with Renewable Water Resources (RWR), a Colorado company with support from former Governor Bill Owens (for whom Tonner worked as deputy chief of staff when he was governor), former State Senator Greg Brophy, Greg Kolomitz and others. Tonner said he purchased the former Gary Boyce holdings encompassing 11,500 acres in the northern part of the Valley. Boyce, who died of cancer in 2016, had proposed a similar water export project.

    Accompanying Tonner were RWR attorney Kevin Kinnear and Jerry Berry, who manages the RWR property and has been farming in the northern part of the Valley since 1996. Berry said he has been part of the Moffat community most of his life, serving on the school board there and on the RGWCD Sub-district #4 board.

    Tonner said RWR wants to partner with the water district in identifying the best sources of water to provide the one-for-one replacement for the 22,000-acre-foot export while meeting the water district’s goals of reducing irrigated acreage and bringing balance to the hydrology of the Valley. The project would budget $60 million for that water acquisition.

    Tonner said RWR estimates water could be purchased at about $2,000 an acre foot, depending on the water rights. RWR will be purchasing both surface water and groundwater, he said.

    Berry said there are local residents interested in selling their water.

    RGWCD Board Member Peggy Godfrey added she would not be surprised that there were people in the northern part of the Valley willing to sell their water, because they have not been able to use it to the full extent they should have been able to, and what RWR could offer them might help them afford to continue doing what they love to do.

    Tonner said RWR would rather work with the water district than have an adversarial relationship. He said this project would return “one for one plus”, making up for the 22,000 acre feet that would be exported, “plus” for a total of 30,000-35,000 acre feet. In addition, RWR would set up a $50 million community fund…

    Water would be piped from the Valley, with the buyers footing the bill for that pipeline, Tonner said. He added that RWR was requiring the buyers to limit the size of the pipe to no more capacity than the 22,000 acre feet.

    He said currently the estimated cost of building the pipeline is $550-600 million.

    RGWCD Board President Greg Higel said he doubted that Aurora and Castle Rock would want to build a pipeline just for 22,000 acre feet of water, and if it were constructed for more water, “that’s the beginning of the end.”

    Tonner said the partners have been clear about the pipeline restrictions and the sellers are fine with it.

    “Honestly, that’s hard for me to believe,” Higel said.

    RGWCD Board Member Cory Off, who extensively questioned the RWR representatives, asked how long it would take to capitalize a project of this magnitude, and Tonner said “roughly five years.”

    Regarding the project timeline, Tonner estimated close to 10 years “start to finish.”

    Tonner said partners have been working on this proposal for about four years and hope to file something in water court in 2019 but would be fine with it taking longer if necessary. He said those involved have been working with individuals on both sides of the hill — potential waters sellers in the San Luis Valley and potential water buyers in the Denver metro area.

    A ‘zombie pipeline’ rises to bring water from the Green River to the Front Range — @AspenJournalism

    The entrance to the popular Gates of Lodore stretch on the Green River, not far downstream from where Aaron Million of Ft. Collins has proposed to divert 55,000 acre-feet of water from the river each year and pipe it to the Front Range. There’s plenty of opposition to the idea, but there is also interest in the water in eastern Colorado.

    From Aspen Journalism (Lindsey Fendt):

    It has been called speculative, foolhardy and overly expensive, but Aaron Million’s plan to pump water from the Utah-Wyoming border to Colorado’s Front Range just won’t dry up.

    Million, a Fort Collins-based entrepreneur, has pushed different versions of the pipeline for more than a decade, and the number of killed ideas and revisions has earned the project the nickname, the “Zombie Pipeline.”

    Now seeking water rights from the Green River in Utah for a new version of his plan, Million thinks he has fashioned a winning proposal to feed Colorado’s thirsty, growing population.

    While Million’s proposal has drawn criticism from environmental groups and government agencies, some Front Range water suppliers have expressed interest in water from the pipeline.

    The Central Colorado Water Conservancy District, based in Greeley and serving Weld, Adams and Morgan counties, has re-affirmed its interest in the project, which it first expressed in 2009.

    And the state of Colorado has taken a neutral stance.

    Million, under the banner of a new business, Water Horse Resources LLC, is now proposing a project that would divert 55,000 acre-feet of water each year from the Green River in eastern Utah, below Flaming Gorge Reservoir near Brown’s Park and above Dinosaur National Monument. (See application and map, and click to zoom in on map).

    An acre foot of water is roughly equivalent to a foot of water covering an entire football field, and enough to satisfy two small families’ yearly demands.

    With 55,000 acre feet, the project, if it ever comes to fruition, could serve 110,000 families each year. It could also satisfy more than 10,000 acres of flood-irrigated farmland.

    The water, up to 76 cubic feet per second, would travel in a pipeline that heads northeast out of Utah, cuts across a corner of Colorado, traverses 500 miles through Wyoming and over a low point in the Continental Divide, and then drops back into Colorado.

    Because the pipeline would ultimately descend about 3,800 vertical feet, the water could power turbines that would generate about 70 megawatt hours of power per year.

    For the project’s second phase, Million hopes to build pumped-storage facilities, which could fill with water during the day when energy is in low demand and release water through a turbine when demand is high, generating an additional 500 to 1,000 Mwh of power annually.

    Aaron Million testifying on the application from Water Horse Resources LLC at a State of Utah hearing on Nov. 11, 2018 in Salt Lake City.

    Front Range interest

    The project’s opponents have pointed out problems for endangered fish, recreation and water availability. To bolster their claims many have pointed out that Million has yet to reveal a buyer for his water, and say that’s evidence that there is no interest in Green River water in Colorado.

    But Million claims to have a buyer on the Front Range interested in purchasing the entire water supply, and other Front Range water providers have expressed their willingness to consider water from the pipeline.

    For his water rights application, Million presented 17 letters of interest to Utah’s state engineer. Most of these letters were from a different pipeline application in 2010, but there was one from January from the Central Colorado Water Conservancy District, or CCWCD.

    The CCWCD serves about 550 farmers, but because the district is short of water, it is able to make only about half of its deliveries.

    In November, voters passed a $48.7 million bond issue for the district to buy new supplies, and the CCWCD said it would consider water from a Flaming Gorge pipeline.

    “I think it’s false that there is no interest for additional water supplies,” said Randy Ray, the district’s executive director, in a recent interview. “Our board is supportive of any methods to bring water to our area. We will evaluate just about everything.”

    According to Million’s testimony before the State of Utah’s Division of Water Rights on Nov. 11 the CCWCD has joined his project’s advisory board.

    “They have a huge demand-supply imbalance on the South Platte in Colorado they are looking at,” Million said.

    Randy Ray, executive director of the Central Colorado Water Conservancy District, stands on top of the grate protecting a ditch that runs from an artificial recharge facility near Gilcrest. The CCWCD has expressed interest in water being piped into the Front Range.
    A detail of a map produced by Water Horse Resources, and published by the state of Utah, showing a pipeline in relation to the service of several Front Range water providers. The numbers below the names of the water providers correspond to amounts of water, in acre feet, that may of interest to various water providers, according to Aaron Million.

    Birth of a concept

    One night in 2003, Million stumbled across an old map in the library at Colorado State University, where he was a graduate student in resource economics.

    He focused on the northwest corner of the state where the Green River comes down from Wyoming into Utah and then comes in and out of Colorado in a sweeping oxbow before traveling down to meet the Colorado River in Canyonlands National Park.

    Free from the clutter of roads, this 1920s map made the thick, blue squiggle so obvious that it suddenly gave Million an idea to bring that water to the Front Range.

    “I thought that surely someone had thought about that,” Million said.

    The project became his master’s thesis and, later, a proposal for a real project. The original concept looked at importing nearly 250,000 acre-feet of water from a point of diversion in Wyoming.

    He filed applications for different versions of his concept under the companies Million Conservation Resource Group Inc. and Wyco Power and Water Inc. Both applications were dismissed by government agencies for a lack of information earlier this decade.

    The new plan scales back the amount of water to be drawn from the river and includes an emphasis on hydropower along with water delivery.

    The company has not released a detailed cost estimate to the public, but Million says estimates range from $860 million to $1.1 billion. He also says private consultants have put the project’s ultimate value at more than $30 billion.

    With these new pieces in place, Million believes this project has a better chance, but he’s facing opposition on many fronts, permit challenges and a daunting environmental-impact study.

    A section of the Green River near Browns Park close to where Aaron Million of Ft. Collins has proposed diverting 55,000 acre-feet of water and piping it to Colorado. The Central Colorado Water Conservancy District has expressed interest in the water.
    A detail of a map produced by Water Horse Resources, and published by the state of Utah, showing the proposed diversion point on the Green River, between Flaming Gorge Reservoir and the Gates of Lodore in Dinosaur National Monument. The red and white line represents a pipeline that heads northeast out of Utah, across a corner of Colorado, and into Wyoming, where it joins an alignment of another potential pipeline that is connected to the Green above Flaming Gorge.

    Interest in the water?

    Million’s latest filing for water rights in Utah, in January, drew 28 protest letters, from environmental groups, concerned citizens and water districts, as well as from U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the Department of the Interior.

    A Nov. 7 hearing on the proposal in Utah led to a headline in the Salt Lake City Tribune that said, “Environmentalists, feds, and Utahns agree: Don’t send Green River water to Colorado.”

    Many of the presentations against the water project cast doubt on whether there was even any water in the Colorado River system left to take.

    “If you’re going to develop more water, you are going to threaten current uses,” said Jim Pokrandt, director of community affairs for the Colorado River District in Glenwood Springs, which opposes the project. “This might be the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back.”

    Still, the most common concern was that Million had not released a signed contract that showed someone would buy the project’s water.

    At the project’s water-rights hearing at the Utah state engineer’s office in November, several groups pointed to fields on Million’s application where the purpose and place of use were left as “TBD,” or to be determined.

    “That just smacks of speculation,” said Ariel Calmes, a staff attorney for Western Resource Advocates, which is also opposing the project.

    “This is a water grab,” Calmes said. “It’s not a reasonably thought-out plan to get water resources to benefit a specific community.”

    But while Million and his team have struggled against public backlash and weathered claims that there was no interest in Green River water, other water entities in Colorado have quietly picked up his idea.

    In 2006, just as Million was getting his initial idea off the ground, the South Metro Water Supply Authority — a group of water suppliers south of Denver — launched studies for an almost identical project, and another group near Colorado Springs released a study into a Flaming Gorge pipeline in 2013.

    The governor’s water advisers also took note of Million’s plan, and Colorado’s 2010 Statewide Water Supply Initiative included a Flaming Gorge pipeline as one of four possibilities for new water supplies for the state.

    That same report found that the South Platte Basin, which includes all of northeastern Colorado, would need as much as 330,000 acre-feet more water to meet demand projections by 2050.

    While the state has not come out firmly in support of Million’s project, the Colorado Water Conservation Board said in a July 7 letter that it did not oppose the Utah application. The letter indicated that the Colorado state engineer would need to weigh in on the proposal if the Utah water rights were secured.

    Million is quick to swat away arguments that his project is speculative, noting that water demand in Colorado has only grown since he first conceived of the pipeline. He also claims an entity with “large ranching and municipal interests” has already agreed to take all the water at a specific price.

    He also said he is in preliminary conversations about a power-purchase agreement for the renewable energy that the pipeline would generate.

    Due to continuing negotiations and a nondisclosure agreement, Million said he would not reveal either of the two interested parties at this time.

    But scrutiny of Million’s latest plan is increasing.

    A map filed by Water Horse Resources LLC with the state of Utah, showing a diversion point on the Green River, between Flaming Gorge Reservoir and the Gates of Lodore. Million said the spot was chosen because a number of existing oil and gas pipelines already cross the river at this location.
    A detail of a map produced by Water Horse Resources, and published by the state of Utah, showing two pipelines from the Green River, one above Flaming Gorge Reservoir and one below, plus a connecting pipeline between the two. The map is on a Utah state website with a note saying it was “left at hearing” on Nov. 11, 2018.

    On the water horse

    On Dec. 10, the Utah state engineer’s office requested additional information from Million to evaluate his application.

    The request asked Million to prove that water was available in the Colorado River system and that water taken from his pipeline would come from Colorado, not Utah’s, share of the river.

    The requests also sought further proof of feasibility, but did not request additional proof of demand or a contract for the purchase of the pipeline’s water.

    Water Horse Resources has until Feb. 8 to supply the new information.

    Million is confident that his project, this time around, will move forward. He says the protests and the noise from the public don’t get to him anymore.

    “You saddle the horse,” he said, “You do what you think is right and you move on with it.”

    Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism is collaborating with the Greeley Tribune on coverage of regional water issues. The Tribune published a version of this story on Sunday, Dec. 30, 2018.

    Aaron Million is looking at re-purposing oil and gas pipelines for his #GreenRiver project #ColoradoRiver #COriver

    Green River Basin

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

    The possibility of using existing pipelines rather than having to build new ones entirely is one tack Million is taking in arguing in favor of the economic feasibility of his idea.

    Financial viability is one of the issues that Utah State Engineer Kent Jones is pressing Million on as Million pursues a Utah water right for the project.

    Jones heads the Utah Division of Water Rights, which last month heard from Million and numerous project opponents before deciding that it needed more information from Million.

    On Dec. 10, Jones wrote to Million, asking for a detailed engineering cost-estimate for conveying the water to the Front Range that demonstrates the cost would be physically and economically feasible.

    Million said Monday that he can’t speak in details about possible use of existing infrastructure due to a nondisclosure agreement, but said several pipelines cross the Green River at his proposed diversion point, and an existing pipeline goes to north of Greeley…

    In his letter, Jones also asks Million for information on why Jones should believe there is water available, physically and under interstate Colorado River compacts, for diversion. Jones pointed to existing downstream water rights and approved applications to appropriate water, endangered-fish needs, and potential federal reserved water rights for Indian tribes and for national parks, monuments and recreation areas…

    “This information is being requested since the state engineer has already established by policies adopted for this area a belief that the amount of water proposed under the application is not available for beneficial use as your application proposes,” Jones wrote to Million.

    Million said a recent federal environmental review found a surplus of water beyond environmental, recreation and other needs in the stretch of the Green River where he proposes his diversion, upstream of where it is replenished by the Yampa River.

    Million said his understanding is that Utah is concerned that a proposed pipeline project from Lake Powell would use some of its remaining compact allocation.

    But he said that doesn’t mean there isn’t a surplus available for other states, and his project would count against Colorado’s allocation.

    “This application is the latest episode in Aaron Million’s decade-long effort to profit off of the private sale of #GreenRiver water” — Ariel Calmes #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    Recreation, in progress, on the Green River. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    From The 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.”

    Green River Basin

    #ColoradoRiver: The precarious plan for the #LakePowellPipeline — @HighCountryNews #COriver #aridification

    Proposed Lake Powell pipeline. Map via the City of St. George.

    From The High Country News (Emma Penrod):

    Nearly a decade ago, Gabriel Lozada, a man with a wiry frame and waves of steel-gray hair who looks exactly like the mathematician he is, set out to answer what he thought was a relatively simple question: Could Utah’s proposed Lake Powell Pipeline — a plan to ferry Colorado River water to southern Utah — live up to the state’s rosy forecasts of growth and prosperity? Or was it more likely to tank the economy of a small but lively retirement community in the southwestern Utah desert?

    Lozada, a theoretical mathematician at the University of Utah and a pro bono consultant for the Utah Rivers Council, suspected that government officials were overstating the pipeline’s benefits and ignoring its potential costs. So he began building a mathematical model of its possible impacts on southern Utah residents. While proponents argued that the project was necessary to stave off water shortages, Lozada warned that it might trigger an economic crisis.

    But how could he be sure? Even today, more than a decade after it was first proposed, no one seems to know what the pipeline — with 140 miles of buried pipe and five pumping stations between Lake Powell and the town of St. George — is going to cost, much less how it will impact local water rates. Communications from within Utah’s state water agencies, obtained during this investigation, suggest officials purposefully withheld those details from the very taxpayers who might ultimately be saddled with the bill. Federal officials also seem wary of the state’s scanty financial information. In September, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission declined to take action that would have exempted the state from more rigorous financial scrutiny. Despite this, the state Division of Water Resources “remains fully committed to this project,” according to Division Director Eric Millis.

    As pressure mounts over the project’s fate, Lozada has been consumed with trying to discern how the pipeline will impact the residents of Washington County, the intended recipients of its water. And in the process, he’s made enemies. His research has become mired in a back-and-forth with Jeremy Aguero, a rival economist in Las Vegas whom the Washington County Water Conservancy District hired to conduct its own cost analysis. His conclusions are very different from Lozada’s. Where Lozada predicted a 500 percent increase in water rates — amounting to about $370 more per person, per year — Aguero originally promised Washington County could fund the pipeline for just $25 per person per year, an increase of less than 27 percent.

    Aguero pointed out errors in his rival’s math, which Lozada corrected; he now believes the water districts’ plan to triple its water rates — potentially increasing residents’ costs by more than $300 per year — may, just barely, pay for the pipeline. But he doesn’t believe residents will pay such prices without buying dramatically less water, negating the need for the pipeline.

    And he has grown increasingly frustrated by the county’s unwillingness to reconcile the two models and publish a single accurate number. And though Lozada has released his work, Washington County has not released the details behind Aguero’s analysis. “Who knows what else is wrong with the model?” says Lozada. “They’re not transparent about it, so I can’t see what’s wrong.”

    Aguero has also been reluctant to stand by his conclusions. In June 2016, when a state records committee forced him to release a PowerPoint presentation created for the water district regarding his $25-a-year model, he disowned it. The $25 figure, he said, was merely a placeholder in an interactive exercise intended to spur discussion about how the public would prefer to pay for the pipeline. The real model, he claimed, did not exist in a format that could be released. He later told local journalists the average residents’ water bill would increase by just $52. Aguero did not respond to multiple requests for comment for this article.

    It’s not just the cost that is obscure; it’s also unclear who will pay the bills. Historically, water projects of this scale were constructed with federal funds. But those dollars have largely dried up, and residents of northern Utah — who continue to outnumber their southern counterparts by a wide margin — oppose a state subsidy for the project. That would leave still-small Washington County to pay for a billion-dollar-plus pipeline essentially by itself.

    County officials believe the expense will be worth the risks once they realize their vision for a more vibrant community with jobs and a quality of life that will keep their children nearby. But it’s those very descendants who could end up saddled with billions of dollars in debt should the increased cost of water cause local growth to stall.

    Washington County is currently one of the fastest-growing communities in the nation. In recent decades, it’s been discovered by Californians looking for a warm climate with a lower cost of living, and northern Utahns seeking affordable land with milder winters. The quiet desert town of St. George is now a bustling retirement community with a thriving tourism industry. That rapid growth has become Utah’s justification for building a pipeline to provide water, despite a nationwide drop in water use in the last decade, suggesting that a growing population won’t necessarily need more, and Lozada’s anticipation that local residents won’t pay.

    Before the population explosion, state leaders envisioned the Lake Powell Pipeline as a way to use Utah’s share of the Colorado River to spur economic development in Washington County. Abundant water, they hoped, would attract exciting new economic opportunities that would inspire local youth to build lifelong careers at home in the rural West. But by now, it’s clear that the pipeline is no longer needed to achieve that vision; Washington County began transforming in the 1980s and ’90s.

    Amid the growth of the budding county, the Utah Legislature agreed in 2006 to build the Lake Powell Pipeline — with certain conditions. According to the terms of the Lake Powell Pipeline Development Act, the state will pay for the construction of the pipeline, but only if the recipients of the water, Kane and Washington counties’ water conservancy districts, enter into a contract to purchase it. According to the state statute, the water will be sold at a price that enables the state to reclaim the costs associated with designing and building the pipeline, with interest, over 50 years.

    According to David Clark, the now-retired state legislator who originally introduced the Lake Powell Pipeline Development Act, the law was designed to emulate the way the Bureau of Reclamation financed large water projects in the past. But since federal dollars are harder to come by today, the act assumed that the state would play the role of the federal government. The act does not, however, Clark said, authorize a state subsidy for the project.
    Outside analyses, though, have since raised doubts about Washington County’s ability — or plans — to pay for the pipeline in full.

    Tied to promises that new residents will foot the bill, local leaders have hatched a complicated scheme to raise funds for it. But their plan relies heavily on the county’s continued growth, presenting a nebulous moving target as the pipeline’s costs become increasingly unclear.

    Water districts have the authority to levy property taxes, and so tax increases to help pay for the pipeline are already planned in Washington County, according to Ron Thompson, a proud descendant of pioneer settlers and the general manager for the Washington County Water Conservancy District. The cost of fees associated with new development in the county will roughly double, and the price of purchasing water from the district — a water wholesaler that sells to the surrounding cities — is expected to triple.

    Many of these changes have already begun to take effect. Water rates alone will increase enough to generate about $2 billion in revenues, Thompson said, and that by itself could cover the projected $1.1 billion-to-$1.8 billion cost of construction.

    Critics like Lozada say that Thompson’s figures don’t take into account numerous complicating factors, such as the fact that the water district is also on the hook for the state’s development and permitting expenses, which have already cost Utah tens of millions of dollars and will likely cost even more, given a recent federal ruling that will subject the pipeline to additional government scrutiny. Nor does it take into account interest rates, or the possibility that local growth and demand for water could slow if costs soar.

    If growth slows, the water district’s projected revenues will fall, potentially trapping the county in a negative feedback loop that could make it impossible for it to repay the debt. Then Utah’s taxpayers will be left holding the bag.

    But local officials dismiss fears that growth will stall. The price of the average house in Washington County has increased 12 percent in the last year, Thompson said, and people are still moving in. If the average home price has gone up $25,000 in one year, he doesn’t see how adding $8,000 in development fees over the next decade is likely to slow growth.

    Jon Pike, the mayor of St. George, is similarly unconcerned that the pipeline would cause growth to stagnate. He believes that, even if water rates increase, current residents will be willing to pay. “The measure I look to is, who are the people electing? And they are electing people who are pro-Lake Powell Pipeline,” Pike said. “Anti-pipeline people are not getting elected.”

    Critics of the project fear the public is making decisions based on false promises. As steep as the current price increases may seem, even Lozada’s figures assume the state’s estimated construction cost of just under $1.4 billion is accurate. But email communications from within the Utah Division of Water Resources, obtained by High Country News through state records requests, indicate that it is not.

    MWH Global, an international water and natural resources consulting firm that has since merged with Stantec, originally put the cost of the pipeline at around $1.3 billion in 2009. But in late 2015, the consulting firm drew up a new estimate that concluded construction costs had escalated by several hundred million dollars during the intervening years.

    Though the original 2015 estimates have not been released, a revised version of the December 2015 report predicted that the project would cost about $1.5 billion, and possibly as much as $1.9 billion. That potential escalation has not been communicated to the public. Instead, public officials often insist that there are currently no cost estimates available for the project.

    Email exchanges between the project leadership team at the Division of Water Resources and the Washington County Water Conservancy District show that local water managers repeatedly pressured the state and its contractors at Stantec to revise their projections of how much each element of the pipeline would cost. One extended argument, for example, involved the cost of bringing in soil to bury the 140 miles of pipe — Thompson, the leader of the Water Conservancy District, was certain he could find cheaper dirt than what Stantec anticipated paying.

    After several months of discussion, the contractors begrudgingly agreed to reduce the estimate to a range of $1.1 billion to $1.8 billion — despite the fact that all parties also quietly added some $140 million in extra features to the project during the same timeframe, according to a memo circulated in early 2016.

    Officials with the Washington County Water Conservancy District were particularly persistent in their requests that the state and its contractors reduce the amount they planned to hold in reserve in case of unforeseen costs, which initially accounted for nearly 4 percent of the overall estimate. Despite the lead contractors’ repeated warnings that the large contingency fund would be necessary “based on our experience performing other large water resource programs throughout the U.S.,” state officials ultimately sided with the water district and reduced the contingency fund by 75 percent.

    Slashing that fund decreased the reported price of the pipeline by tens of millions of dollars and reduced the overall amount Washington County has to prove it can raise. But it also increases the chance that the actual cost will exceed what the county is able to pay — potentially leaving taxpayers statewide on the hook should some aspect of the pipeline prove more expensive than planned.

    Emails exchanged between state engineers and Stantec staff also show the parties used “significant input and feedback” from the water district to create a carefully crafted picture of Washington County’s costs should the pipeline not be built. Initial drafts suggested constructing the pipeline could cost more than the conservation and “mitigation” efforts that would be required in its absence. Subsequent analyses greatly increased the cost of “mitigation” in the event the pipeline was not built.

    But as internal emails show, even state employees questioned the accuracy of some components of the new revisions, such as the anticipated cost of using special soil-coating compounds as ground cover if the county didn’t have enough water to support growing thirsty lawns.
    The capriciousness of the pipeline project has begun to alienate some of its most important allies. Thompson, who sent numerous emails to the state and its contractors demanding revisions to the cost estimates, said he felt the state was biased toward overstating the cost of the project. But he still believes that, with careful management, the Washington County Water Conservancy District can complete the pipeline under budget. Mayor Pike, on the other hand, said he has long suspected that it will cost more than state and county officials have let on. Even if the state’s figures are in the ballpark, Pike said, inflation and other delay-related costs continue to pile up.

    Washington County officials originally hoped to break ground in 2020, but that timeline was removed from the water district’s website after an abrupt series of decisions by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission introduced months of unanticipated delays — and increased the rigor of the analysis the project will undergo at the federal level. Construction costs have also dramatically increased in the state of Utah in recent years — the cost of hiring laborers alone jumped 6 percent between 2015 and 2017, according to state data.

    Washington County may be able to raise $2 billion dollars by tripling its water rates. But officials’ ongoing game of cost-estimate hot-potato suggests that even $2 billion may not be enough.

    Because of so many lingering questions about Washington County’s ability — or intent — to repay the state for the pipeline’s ultimate cost, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert created an Executive Water Finance Board in 2017 to vet the project. The board’s work has only just begun, and its members are reluctant to weigh in on the pipeline’s feasibility. But their current projections suggest that the state’s entire tax base may be insufficient to fund it — risking an $80 million annual shortfall that could spur significant tax increases throughout Utah.

    Despite the funding quagmire, proponents of the Lake Powell Pipeline continue to believe that it’s worth the risk. For all their expressed desire to secure economic prosperity for their children, there is reason to believe it’s not just the fate of Washington County that is at stake. Unlike the states in the Lower Colorado River Basin, Upper Basin states like Utah aren’t entitled to a finite amount of water under the Colorado River Compact. Rather, Utah is entitled to a proportion of the water that is left over after the Lower Basin states — California, Arizona and Nevada — take their share. But given the ongoing aridification of the Colorado River region, it’s not actually clear how much entitlement Utah has left.

    “The amount of water available in the state of Utah is not known,” said Jack Schmidt, who holds the Janet Quinney Lawson endowed chair in Colorado River Studies at Utah State University. “And when reference is made to unused allocated water, one cannot assume that water is actually available to be developed.”

    The possibility that water deliveries from the Lake Powell Pipeline could be cut off or curtailed by shortages on the Colorado presents yet another issue inside the financing conundrum: Washington County is expected to repay the state of Utah by purchasing pipeline water. If there is no water available for sale, Utah does not get paid.

    But that reality hasn’t tempered the desire of Washington County officials to see their little community grow. Development benefits everyone, said Pike, the mayor of St. George. Pike hopes his community will attract a tech boom of its own with the promise of plentiful water. “Some people say they want the good old days,” Thompson agreed, “but that’s not what I want.”

    But as state and local officials wrangle over the specifics of who might eventually foot the bill, there’s still a chance that Washington County residents could avoid paying it. Under Utah’s Lake Powell Pipeline Development Act, it’s the state — not the county — that will end up doing so, should Washington County’s efforts to pay fall short.

    Is that unfair? Washington County Water District Manager Thompson doesn’t think so. Growth in Salt Lake City was once made possible by large, expensive water projects funded by a nationwide tax base. If Utah writ large has to raise taxes to pay off multimillion-dollar budget deficits, then so be it, he says. In his mind, it’s Washington County’s turn.

    Emma Penrod (@EmaPen) is a journalist based in rural Utah who covers science, technology, business and environmental health, with an emphasis on water. Email HCN at editor@hcn.org or submit a letter to the editor.

    Is There Water Left To Be Developed In The Colorado River Basin? — KUNC

    Green River Basin

    From KUNC (Luke Runyon):

    Aaron Million styles himself as a western maverick. At a Fort Collins, Colorado coffee shop he’s dressed in a cowboy hat, denim, plaid, pulled together by a shiny belt buckle. During our conversation he quotes both Chuck Norris and the 1995 movie Braveheart. More than twice he referenced a six-shooter.

    Million’s name is synonymous with a water pipeline he’s been pushing for almost a decade. On a wire cafe table, he unfurls a map and points out the features of his latest proposal.

    With his finger Million traces the route of his new iteration, billed as a renewable energy project. It would start in Utah on the Green River, then snake across Wyoming before dropping down into Colorado’s populated Front Range, generating electricity as the water moves from one side of the Continental Divide to the other. Million says it would cost about a billion dollars to build.

    “It’s a bigger project, but they get done every day,” he says. “I mean we built the Transcontinental Railroad last I remember.”

    In 2012 the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission quashed a different water pipeline proposal from Million. He wanted to construct a 500-mile pipeline from Wyoming’s Flaming Gorge reservoir to Colorado’s Front Range. FERC regulators at the time said the proposal was incomplete.

    “Keep in mind we’ve been in the saddle for a while,” Million says. “And you know we got knocked off pretty hard. I know people thought I was dragged to death, but I’m pretty tough, raised in the Utah desert.”

    Both pipelines, old and new, take advantage of an historical fluke. The 1922 Colorado River Compact — which divvies up its water — was written when the river was flowing at a record high. But for the past 18 years, high temperatures, drought and overuse have sapped the river’s flow.

    Aaron Million says that’s more of an Arizona, California and Nevada problem.

    “People say there’s no water left in the system,” Million says. “Well, when California has drained, and Nevada and Arizona have drained the river and then cry foul because Lake Powell and Mead are low, again I’ll reiterate: Had they not their drained and over taken their share they’d be full by four or five times. Those are the facts. You can run the numbers.

    Million says the river’s Upper Basin, which includes the states of Wyoming, Colorado, Utah and New Mexico, haven’t fully developed their share, while those in the Lower Basin have gone above and beyond what they’re entitled to. His pipeline is just one more plan among many to fully develop the river’s water, he says.

    @Northern_Water turns dirt on Southern Water Supply Project

    Southern Water Supply Project

    From The Longmont Times-Call (Sam Lounsberry):

    Work on the pipeline, known as phase two of the Southern Water Supply Project, is being overseen by Northern Water, which manages Carter Lake as part of the Colorado Big-Thompson Project.

    Once complete, the pipeline will improve water quality and delivery reliability compared to the open, above-ground Boulder Feeder Canal that currently brings water from Carter Lake to Boulder Reservoir.

    The new pipeline will pump 50 cubic feet per second of Colorado-Big Thompson and Windy Gap Project water, with Boulder receiving the bulk of the water among participants at the Boulder Reservoir Water Treatment plant, the pipeline’s terminus.

    Boulder will receive 32 cubic feet per second and bear $32 million of the cost, according to city spokeswoman Gretchen King, while Left Hand Water District — which serves a 130-square-mile area between Longmont and Boulder — will receive 12 cubic feet per second and pay about $8 million for its share of the project…

    Left Hand will have another $2 million of cost from the district’s addition of a hydroelectric generator at the intersection of the new Southern Water Supply pipeline and the entrance to the district’s Dodd Water Treatment Plant. The generator will produce enough power to satisfy about a third of the plant’s electricity need, according to district Manager Christopher Smith…

    Berthoud and Longs Peak Water District — which serves Boulder and Weld County residents in an area north of Longmont — will each receive 3 cubic feet per second, but on Thursday officials from the town and district could not to provide their share of the costs of the remaining $4 million for the project.

    Smith noted the pipeline, which has an estimated completion date of March 2020, will not only further protect water quality, but also will allow year-round water delivery to Left Hand Water District’s Dodd Water Treatment Plant…

    “During some portions of the year the pipeline will act as the primary source of raw water for the participants in the project,” the Northern Water release states.

    Currently, the Boulder Feeder Canal is offline from Oct. 31 to April 1 annually, Smith said. When the canal is down, so, too, is the Dodd Water Treatment Plant…

    When the pipeline is complete, the Dodd Plant will be open year-round.

    The first 12 miles of new pipeline, from Carter Lake to St. Vrain Road in Longmont, will parallel the existing Southern Water Supply Project pipeline, which was runs to Broomfield and was completed in 1999.

    From St. Vrain Road, the new pipeline will continue south to the Boulder Reservoir Treatment Plant.

    Some folks in SW #Kansas are pushing the “Great Canal of Kansas”

    Kansas Aqueduct route via Circle of Blue

    From the Kansas News Service. (Ben Kuebrich) via the Hillsboro Free Press:

    Great Canal of Kansas

    Clayton Scott also uses the latest water technology on his farm in Big Bow. Yet he said that just using water carefully won’t be enough.

    He thinks any pumping limits severe enough to preserve the aquifer would dramatically cut back the region’s harvest. That would push up local grain prices, and without cheap grain, livestock feed yards would close, and meatpacking plants would follow.

    At its core, the western Kansas economy is built on irrigation.

    A 2015 study calculated that losses in irrigation could cost some 240,000 Kansans their jobs and wipe out $18.3 billion of yearly economic activity, or about 10 percent of the state economy.

    Scott and others in the region have their eyes on a more drastic solution to the water problem. Kansas could invest in a 360-mile series of canals and pumping stations to bring in water from the Missouri River.

    He knows it sounds extreme, but Arizona has already built a similarly sized aqueduct. The Central Arizona Project diverts water from the Colorado River and there’s been extensive research into building a similar canal across Kansas.

    “Arizona looked at their situation and decided, ‘We have no other choice,’ ” Scott said. “They estimate almost a trillion dollars of benefit to the economy of Arizona.”

    Arizona’s aqueduct has always been controversial. The federally funded canal remains at the center of multi-state disputes of water usage.

    Experts say that a generation later, the legal and regulatory hurdles of building a long-distance canal through Kansas only look more daunting.

    Water from the Colorado River is channeled through Arizona, much the way some people think it should be diverted from the Missouri River across Kansas.

    Pricey pipeline

    Still, Kansas and surrounding states have been considering aqueducts for a long time. A 1982 study came up with a plan to bring water from the Missouri River to a reservoir near Utica, Kansas, but nothing ever came of it. At the time, though, losing the Ogallala seemed like a distant prospect.

    In 2011, while western Kansas was in a drought and farmers struggled to pump enough water to keep their crops alive, the Missouri River was flooding. Scott says that sparked renewed interest in a canal.

    “It’s a long-term solution,” Scott said. “We can harvest the high flows of water off of the eastern rivers and bring them out here into the western High Plains, offset the droughts … and bring things into more of a balance.”

    In 2015, the Kansas Water Office and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers re-assessed that 1982 study. The agencies estimated that, depending on the capacity of the canal, it would now cost between $5 billion and $20 billion to build.

    Because the water would have to be pumped uphill as it goes west, it could take more than $500 million a year in energy costs alone, for the largest-capacity canal. With interest costs from construction, the yearly tab could exceed $1.5 billion.

    At the time, the head of the water office said, “this thing we studied is unlikely to happen.” The costs would simply run too steep.

    A canal project would have other barriers. Although the Missouri river sometimes floods, it also experiences lows, and levels would have to be maintained to permit barge traffic. There would also be challenges displacing people in the path of the aqueduct. While a highway can be redirected to avoid a town, a canal’s path is more constrained by topography.

    At the same time, environmental issues could come both from taking water from the Missouri and in the path of any aqueduct. Upstream and downstream states on the waterway already tangle over how to manage the water. An effort to siphon away water would further complicate the situation.

    Scott knows the project would be massive, and massively controversial, but that’s why he’s talking about it now—before the Ogallala runs dry.

    An uncertain future

    At a conference in April, Kansas Secretary of Agricul­ture Jackie McClaskey said public support for an aqueduct is unlikely unless farmers show first that there’s no other way to water their crops.

    “Until we can show people that we are utilizing every drop of water in the best way possible, no one outside of this region is going to invest in a water transfer project,” McClaskey said.

    Clayton Scott says he isn’t looking for the rest of Kansas to bail out the farmers out west.

    Scott imagines the canal would be a federal project, similar to Arizona’s aqueduct. Water users would repay the costs of construction and maintenance through a water use fee.

    He also contends that an aqueduct could help a broader region.

    Scott says an aqueduct could extend out to Colo­rado’s Front Range to supply booming cities such as Denver and Colorado Springs that draw water off of the dwindling Colorado River. If they drank from Kansas’ aqueduct instead, that would leave more water to trickle down the Colorado, which extends out into water-starved southern California.

    A canal, advocates contend, could supply water at a fraction of the price that southern California farmers pay now and help alleviate shortages in that region.

    Scott’s interest in water transfer is common in southwest Kansas but far from universal. For example, Roth isn’t convinced.

    “It’s impractical and it’s one heck of a distraction,” Roth said. “Right now we need to concentrate on local conservation with what we do have, what we can do right now.”

    Ray Luhman, Northwest Water district manager, thinks the state should consider all options, including channeling water across the state.

    “The conversation needs to be had,” Luhman said. “But to, let’s say, mortgage your future on a project maybe 20 to 30 years from completion? We also need to look to something in the interim.”

    Ben Kuebrich reports for High Plains Public Radio in Garden City and the Kansas News Service, a collaboration of KMUW, Kansas Public Radio, KCUR and HPPR covering health, education and politics.

    Aaron Million’s proposed project and the #ColoradoRiver #COriver

    The blues. On the Green River. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    From Aspen Public Radio (Elizabeth Stewart-Severy):

    “It’s a plumbing project,” Million said. “We’re just looking at a small piece of the surpluses to bring new water supplies over.”

    But others say it isn’t so simple; it’s not clear that there actually is extra water. More than 30 protests have been filed with the Utah Division of Water Rights. Many of these come from organizations that think Million’s team is skirting some major issues.

    “What you’re doing is putting everyone at great risk,” said Andy Mueller, executive director of the Colorado River District, which is tasked with safeguarding Colorado’s water supply. Much of that comes from the Colorado River Basin.

    That’s a big, complex system that feeds 40 million people across seven states and part of Mexico. The Green River is part of that; it connects to the Colorado River in Utah. So when you pull water from the Green, it affects a delicate balance that has been in the works for nearly a century.

    The Colorado River Compact

    In 1922, seven states signed the Colorado River Compact, a legally binding agreement. The four upper basin states — Wyoming, Colorado, Utah and New Mexico — agreed to let a set amount of water flow downriver into the lower basin, comprised of Arizona, Nevada and California.

    But it’s really dry in these states and climate change means there’s even less water in the river. So when new players like Million try to jump in the game, it adds some real tension.

    In the worst-case scenario — a serious, long-term drought — the lower basin states can cash in on that agreement, the so-called compact call.

    As Zane Kessler with the Colorado River District explained, we’ve never been through that before, but he thinks a proposal this big would push us closer to the edge.

    “We don’t know what’s on the other side of that cliff, because we’ve never been through it,” Kessler said. “We do know that it could cause chaos on a number of different levels, and that’s the biggest concern for a lot of us.”

    But Million isn’t too concerned about a compact call. He’s said basically it’s an empty threat, and he points blame for any shortages at the lower basin states, saying they use more than their share. Plus, he said, this water is needed right here in Colorado.

    “We shouldn’t let the water go to the lower basin when we are faced with the impacts we are on the upper basin,” Million said.

    The River District thinks he’s over-simplifying, because it’s actually not totally clear how much water Colorado has left to claim. Mueller explained that recent studies have shown the state is probably already using its full share.

    “We think that we are at a point where we no longer have water to develop in the state of Colorado in the Colorado river system,” Mueller said.

    He said the key to managing water in this complex system is working together; it’s what has worked so far.

    “The entire river system is short of water, and we’re all watching this very careful balance,” he said. “That’s the biggest concern, I think, is that [Million is] going around this developed consensus in our state.”

    The consensus surrounds all kinds of water users, concerning everything from how to conserve water in cities to how to protect fish. Bart Miller is with Western Resource Advocates, which opposes Million’s project on environmental grounds.

    “The Green River is really a stronghold, has been a stronghold, for some of these endangered fish, and so it’s a place that I think a lot of folks are concerned about the impacts of a large quantity of water being taken out,” he said.

    Plus, Miller said, it’s not clear how exactly the diverted water will be used and that breaks the anti-speculation rules in water law.

    Million has said the water would be used for hydropower, irrigating agricultural lands and for municipal uses, like drinking water. But he hasn’t said specifically who would use it in those ways…

    “There aren’t any identified users of the water,” he said. “And in both Utah and Colorado, speculation — developing water just so you can have it — is highly discouraged.”

    That could set the foundation of a legal fight. For now, it’s up to the Utah Division of Water Rights to decide if the project moves forward.

    #ColoradoRiver District voices opposition to Aaron Million’s latest transmountain diversion plan

    Green River

    From the Rio Blanco Water Conservation District via the Rio Blanco Herald Times:

    Earlier this month the Colorado River District released a statement protesting the application for water rights filed by Water Horse Resources LLC, owned by Aaron Million.

    The application for Utah water rights requests 55,000 acre feet of water from the Green River with two pump stations located five miles from the Colorado state line in Dagget County, Utah, on Bureau of Land Management land. The water would then run through a hydroelectric facility before being piped nearly 500 miles northeast into Wyoming and then south down the Colorado Front Range.

    The river district’s letter of opposition cites a variety of reasons why the application should be denied, including the speculative nature of the application saying, “A fundamental precept of water use in Colorado (and, we believe, in Utah as well) is a strict prohibition on speculative claims of water. No specific beneficial use or need has been identified for the project other than a general reference to future water demands in Colorado.”

    The district also raises concerns about the legal and practical nature of enforcing and accounting for a water right issued by the State of Utah but with great impact on Colorado water users. The letter states, “The proposed water right would exacerbate the supply problems currently faced in the Colorado River Basin, and would increase the need and cost of any Upper Basin demand management program.”

    Another concern raised by both the river district and numerous environmental groups including the Center for Biological Diversity who have spoken against the application is the lack of environmental analysis.

    In years prior Million has unsuccessfully attempted to obtain water rights that would allow him to pipe water from Flaming Gorge Reservoir to the Front Range. The Colorado River District opposed that application as well.

    “This new application suffers from many of the same problems as his previous proposals but presents a number of new problems and interstate legal issues as well,” said Peter Fleming, General Counsel for the Colorado River District.

    In a statement released last week Colorado River District General Manager Andy Mueller said, “Development of this resource in this manner would not only harm existing Western Slope water users but would impact the ability of the River District and the State of Colorado to plan for and develop future water resources as well.”

    Thirty-two letters of protest have been filed against the project including letters from the Utah Board of Water Resources and Division of Water Resources who raise similar concerns to those mentioned by the Colorado River District.

    In a press release issued last week Million stated, “Utah is initiating an identical project…The Lake Powell pipeline. Point of diversion in Arizona, water and hydroelectric power into Utah. We are watching that closely as they are still sorting out federal permitting responsibilities. The Upper Colorado River Compact is clear and allows the use of water from Utah or Wyoming into Colorado. Or vice versa. For the last 96 years the Upper Basin, which includes Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and New Mexico has over-delivered its’ Compact share. The issues on the Colorado are almost strictly a Lower Basin over-use issue, which includes California, Arizona and Nevada. Had the Lower Basin not drained the Lower Colorado River and over-utilized their water allocation, Lake Powell and Mead would be full by five times plus.”

    The project, nicknamed Grasshopper by Water Horse, is estimated to cost $890 million. Tom Wood, Project Management team member stated, “The Green has numerous advantages. A huge river system, excellent water quality, and Flaming Gorge Reservoir that will double the State of Colorado’s storage availability. Additionally, all the global warming models are indicating the Green River will be wetter than average in the future, coupled with a later snowmelt than the Colorado River main stem. The Green River headwaters is located several hundred miles north of the Colorado River headwaters. This year is a classic reason that two hydrologically diverse basins, meaning the Colorado River and Green River, and their respective water supplies, should be managed collectively. The Upper Green is currently running 140 percent of average snowpack, the Colorado River main-stem is half that or less, at maybe 60 to 65 percent. It diversifies water supply management risk, which ties directly to alleviating ecosystem and environmental impacts.”

    Rio Blanco Water Conservation District Manager Alden Vanden Brink is concerned about the project. “Focusing on the water resource needs in Northwest Colorado I intimately understand how water projects that are speculative in nature, as Mr. Million’s project is, include, intrastate concerns and potentially put water resour ces in Western Colorado at risk to Compact curtailment are certainly something that we need to pay close attention to,” he said.

    Folks are lining up against the latest #GreenRiver to the Front Range water project from Aaron Million

    Green River Basin

    From The Craig Daily Press (Eleanor C. Hasenbeck):

    Several organizations have filed formal protest against a water rights application filed in January, which proposes diverting water from the Green River in Utah over the Continental Divide to Colorado’s Front Range.

    The application, filed by Aaron Million’s Water Horses LLC, calls for 55,000-acre-feet of water to be used in a hydroelectric power facility, likely in Wyoming, before becoming available for consumptive use and in-stream flows on the Front Range. It proposes two pump stations on Bureau of Land Management land about 5 miles west of the state line in Dagget County, Utah, just before the river takes its 41-mile turn into Moffat County.

    It would take about 500 miles of pipeline to divert the water from Utah north and east into Wyoming and the Front Range.

    The location of the hydroelectric facility “will be determined at a later date, following additional project design and engineering,” according to the application.

    Thirty two formal letters of protest from 27 individuals and organizations were submitted to the Utah State Engineer. Protests came from a wide swath of organizations, including a labor union on Water Horse Resources’ project team, an energy company, several environmental nonprofits, private individuals and state and federal agencies. The public protest period on the project closed April 7.

    Now, the Utah Division of Water Resources will make a decision on whether to grant the water right. Once the decision comes out, it could be appealed in court.

    “It’s just a disagreeable idea to have water from this side of the mountain going over to the other side of the mountain for development purposes, maybe even speculative development purposes, at that,” said Terry Carwile, a Craig resident who sent a letter of protest on the project.

    Million has filed applications for Green River water before. In 2012, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission rejected Water Horse Resource’s application to divert 240,000 acre-feet of water from Wyoming’s Flaming Gorge reservoir to the Front Range…

    The project would cost about $890 million, according to a news release from Water Horse Resources LLC. The company has nicknamed it the “Grasshopper Project,” a play on the pronunciation of an acronym of the project’s full name, Green Sun Storage Hydro Power.

    “The Green has numerous advantages,” Water Horse Resource’s Tom Wood said in the news release. “A huge river system, excellent water quality, and Flaming Gorge Reservoir that will double the state of Colorado’s storage availability.”

    In the news release, Million said that “surpluses out of the Green River can alleviate some issues on the Front Range and take pressure off the high mountain Colorado River headwaters, like the Blue and Fraser River.” Million thinks the project would help net flows on the Colorado River.

    “The Green River is one of the remaining watersheds in the Colorado River Basin — specifically in Colorado – that isn’t completely allocated. The state and management/planning entities in the water community want to be able to plan appropriately for the future use of that water,” said Zane Kessler, a spokesperson for the Colorado River District, the organization that operates Elkhead Reservoir and is largely responsible for management of water in the Colorado River Basin.

    “The application that we’re looking at now, filed by Mr. Million, would essentially usurp our ability to collectively plan for the appropriate development of the remaining and dwindling water resources that we have at our disposal,” he added.

    Kessler said the Colorado River District is concerned the proposal could have far-reaching impacts. The district is worried the proposal could “push us over the cliff,” in meeting obligations to send water downstream under the Colorado River Compact. Should this project over-allocate water in the Upper Colorado River Basin, Colorado water users could be forced to reduce use.

    “The risk is not only borne by users on the Green River,” Kessler said. “It’s users throughout the Colorado River basin and the state.”

    In Utah, state officials are concerned about impacts to Green River users, as well as the state’s ability to manage for endangered fish. In a letter of protest filed by the Utah Board of Water Resources, officials also question whether the state of Colorado would count the diversion against Colorado’s allocation under the Colorado River Compact.

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

    The Colorado River Water Conservation District is opposing a water developer’s plan to divert water from the Green River in Utah and pipe it to growing Front Range communities.

    The River District formally opposed the proposal by Aaron Million and Water Horse Resources LLC for a Utah water right to divert 55,000 acre-feet of water annually from the Green River and pipe it to the fast-growing metro area.

    Million’s proposal is similar to, but smaller, than a previous proposal to pump water out of Flaming Gorge Reservoir in Wyoming and pipe it across the Continental Divide.

    The River District complained in a filing with the Utah Division of Water Rights that Million’s proposal was speculative in that he had failed to specify a use or need for the water and noted that he should first obtain a Colorado water right.

    Million’s project also would adversely impact the ability of the state of Colorado, the River District and other public entities to plan for the development of Colorado’s share of Colorado River water, and so his application “would be detrimental to the public welfare.”

    Million called it “unfortunate that they don’t take a broader view” of how to manage water in the arid West…

    Under Interior Department estimates, about 500,000 acre-feet of water remain to be appropriated in the Colorado River system and his project could reduce stress on the headwaters of the Colorado River, Million said.

    The River District’s objection to a Utah water right for the project also noted that Million had not demonstrated he could operate the plan in compliance with the Colorado water plan’s conceptual framework on transmountain diversions.

    The current proposal, like Million’s last one, is predicated on the idea that Colorado has a right to water from the Green River because it takes a “41-mile dogleg” into Colorado after leaving Wyoming and heading into Utah.

    The River District urged the Utah agency to reject Million’s request unless he can prove the project won’t “adversely impact existing water uses in the Upper Basin” of the river and that it would not be detrimental to the public welfare.

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

    The Utah Board of Water Resources and Division of Water Resources say in their protest letter that the proposal is “very unusual,” and that it “requests a huge amount of water” — 76 cubic-feet per second or 55,000 acre-feet a year — “from Utah’s precious water resources, for some unknown use in Colorado.”

    They say the water right application, “if granted, would allow Colorado to benefit from the development, economic opportunities, and public well-being benefits that accrue from water resources at Utah’s expense.”

    Aaron Million, the Fort Collins man who filed the application through the company Water Horse Resources LLC, said the protest from the water board is standard, to provide standing in the water right case if any major concerns arise for the protesters in the future…

    The Utah water resources board is appointed by Utah’s governor to develop and conserve the state’s water. The decision on Million’s water right proposal will be made by Utah’s state engineer, who heads the state’s Division of Water Rights.

    Million is proposing piping the water east in Wyoming and then south into Colorado…

    The river district filed a protest against Million’s new proposal. So did the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, several conservation groups, and several local water conservancy districts and water users associations in Utah.

    The Utah water resources board and division say in their letter that the current application “will have huge impacts in Utah,” affecting water supply and quality in the state even as its population is growing and its water needs are increasing, and impacting public recreation and the stream environment along the Green River.

    They question the physical and economic feasibility of piping the water “over or around the Rocky Mountains” for use on the Front Range, and say the application was filed for speculative purposes.

    “Nothing in the vague application outlines actual beneficial uses in Colorado. No contracts or other types of agreements are provided demonstrating that Colorado can beneficially use the water, or for what beneficial uses it would be employed,” the letter says.

    Million says he had subscribed interest for 400,000 acre-feet of water for the previous project, and demand for water has gone up since then.

    He estimates that the project could cost up to $1 billion, down from an estimated $2.8 billion for the previous one, and says a tripling in the cost of water on the Front Range helps make the project economic.

    The Utah water resource officials, in their letter, also question what authorizations the project has from the state of Colorado to ensure the diversion would count against Colorado’s allocation under an interstate compact divvying up water among states in the Upper Colorado River Basin…

    Million said other similar projects already exist in the Upper Colorado River Basin, and he noted that Utah is pursuing a project that would involve diverting water out of the Arizona portion of Lake Powell and piping it into Utah.

    From the Center for Biological Diversity (Taylor McKinnon):

    The Center for Biological Diversity filed a protest today with Utah’s state engineer challenging a water-rights application from Water Horse Resources to pump nearly 18 billion gallons of water each year from Utah’s Green River over the Rocky Mountains to Colorado’s Front Range.

    The plan is the second attempt by would-be water developer Aaron Million to pump water from the Green River to the Front Range. Million’s first plan was rejected twice by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in 2012 following challenges by conservation groups and others.

    “This is another private water-mining boondoggle that hurts everyone but water barons,” said the Center’s Taylor McKinnon. “It’s bad for people who depend on the Green River, it’s bad for endangered fish, and it’s bad for the state of Utah. We’ve given the state engineer a long list of reasons to reject this application and that’s exactly what he should do.”

    Today’s protest states that the application violates state law by failing to identify beneficial uses of the water and by exacerbating water shortages. The withdrawal would overallocate water in the Green River, a tributary of the Colorado River, and add to climate-driven flow declines. The application is predicated on using Colorado’s apportionment under the Upper Colorado River Compact, but provides no evidence that Colorado has agreed, or will agree, to this.

    The water withdrawals would occur below Flaming Gorge Dam in a part of the Green River that is critical to the recovery of Colorado pikeminnow and other endangered fish. The withdrawal would reduce river flows designed to help increase the fish population at a time when failure to meet recovery flows already imperils the fish. Drought is expected to cause low river flows throughout the Upper Colorado River Basin this year.

    Download a copy of today’s protest.

    Link to Utah Division of Water Rights website for the project via Aspen Journalism.

    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

    coloradospringsstormwaterimplementationplan072016cover

    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.

    #Colorado Springs helps districts with water contamination — KOAA.com

    From KOAA.com (Jessi Mitchell):

    The water districts are all connected through the Fountain Valley Authority and the Southern Delivery System project, which just went online last week. Right now, the SDS is coming in handy for Fountain, Security and Widefield.

    Colorado Springs ratepayers turned Thursday’s public meeting about updates to the long-term Integrated Water Resource Plan into a Q&A session, asking what happens when neighboring districts are impacted by fracking, drought and contamination. Springs Utilities revealed to News 5 that the company is already helping in the efforts to deliver clean water to the three impacted communities after learning they had man-made compounds above the EPA’s new advisory level in their groundwater. “Right now, Springs Utilities staff is working with the staff of those entities to determine how they can use their allocations through the Fountain Valley Authority and SDS to augment their groundwater sources,” says CSU water resources manager Brett Gracely.

    Colorado Springs shares the Widefield aquifer where the PFCs were found, but it has not used any water from it since the early 2000s. Now the other, smaller districts are scrambling to find other options. Springs citizens agree they should be good neighbors, but are still concerned about their own water. Ratepayer Dennis Moore says, “We’ve got to do something to help them, but how do we help them within our own resources without depleting our resources? It’s going to be interesting, so they’ve got to find a manageable way to do that.”

    Instead of using its planned share of Pueblo Reservoir water through SDS and the FVA pipelines, Colorado Springs is letting the others siphon off a greater allotment, using other already established sources to provide water to its customers. Gracely says, “Because it’s a joint public health concern, it’s not well-defined, so we’ll do what we can in terms of in-kind services and our existing collaborations.”

    As Colorado Springs continues to explore new options for retaining and delivering water for future generations, citizens agree that it is better to have extra as an insurance plan, since you never know when you will need it. “I remember back when, when people were fighting SDS and everything,” says Moore, “and now I’m beginning to see it’s a very good reason to have it.”

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

    “The history of #Colorado Springs is a history of bold and ambitious water projects” — Mayor John Suthers

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    Usually a water treatment plant just sits off to the side of a city, pumping along with little notice unless something goes wrong.

    But more than 300 people gathered Friday at the Edward W. Bailey treatment plant on Colorado Springs’ east side to dedicate the Southern Delivery System.

    A choir belted out “God Bless America” with its inspiration, Pikes Peak, as a backdrop. People who had worked on the project over its more than 20-year history reconnected. At the end, there was a grand toast with — what else? — a jigger of water from keepsake mini-jugs.

    “The history of Colorado Springs is a history of bold and ambitious water projects,” Mayor John Suthers told the crowd. “Without those bold and ambitious water projects, Colorado Springs would be a city of only 20,000 or 30,000.”

    Instead it has grown to 450,000, and with SDS makes it possible for the city to get bigger.

    That made most of the people at the ceremony happy. Suthers and others praised the regional benefits of SDS, urging cooperation in areas such as economic development and transportation.

    “Water has been our community’s greatest challenge and its greatest resource,” said Jerry Forte, CEO of Colorado Springs Utilities. “Nothing happens without water.”

    Forte detailed the history of the $825 million water pipeline from Pueblo Dam to Colorado Springs, explaining that planning dates back to 1996, when the idea crystallized in the Colorado Springs Water Plan. It was one of four alternatives in the document, but the only one that made it to the finish line.

    It was a tortured run, however, filled with disputes in Lake, Chaffee, Fremont, Pueblo and Crowley counties. Forte nodded at the entanglements only briefly.

    “There were lots of opportunity to build character and relationships,” he deadpanned as the crowd started chuckling.

    Instead, he concentrated on the accomplishments that led to SDS, recognizing former officials such as Lionel Rivera, who was mayor of Colorado Springs when a deal was made in 2004 on Arkansas River flows through Pueblo. Seated next to Rivera was Randy Thurston, who pushed his fellow members on Pueblo City Council to approve the agreement. He enumerated the benefits of SDS to Colorado Springs’ partners Fountain, Security and Pueblo West.

    Forte also lamented that SDS required 470 permits, which was a good set-up line for Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., who joked: “How many of you thought SDS stood for Still Doing Studies.”

    On a serious note, Gardner praised the collaboration it took to build SDS, saying more projects like it are needed, citing their importance in Colorado’s Water Plan.

    “If we do not invest in water projects, Colorado will see a shortfall of 500,000 acre-feet per year,” Gardner said. “That’s five times the supply of Colorado Springs.”

    While the event maintained a festive spirit, some from Pueblo County who attended were more low-key in their assessment of SDS.

    “Technologically, it’s an amazing accomplishment,” said Bill Alt, whose property on Fountain Creek is being destroyed because of increased flows from the north. “I’m not sure all the cooperation they were talking about is there. I’d have to say the stormwater agreement probably benefit everyone.”

    Jane Rhodes, who also owns land on Fountain Creek, said there are still challenges ahead in dealing with Fountain Creek flooding.

    “The first of the $50 million payments will come, and one of those projects is on my land,” Rhodes said. “I’m glad SDS is done so the projects can get started.”

    From 9News.com (Maya Rodriquez):

    Fifty million gallons: it’s the amount of water that will be flowing through a new water system every day.

    It’s called the Southern Delivery System, or SDS. It is the largest water system built in the western U.S. so far in the 21st century.

    The planning for it began 20 years ago. After nearly a billion dollars and more than 470 permits later, it’s now a reality in Colorado Springs.

    “In the whole western United States, water is probably the most precious commodity that we have and all of us need to do what we can to steward water,” Colorado Springs Utilities CEO Jerry Forte said.

    That is where the system comes in – it is designed to treat water efficiently, as more and more people move to southern Colorado.

    “This is all the piping that goes put to the finished water tank to be delivered to the customer,” said Operations Superintendent Chad Sell. “One of the most state of the art facilities in Colorado.”

    The system serves more than a half million people in Colorado Springs, parts of Pueblo and the communities of Fountain and Security. Within 50 years, though, 900,000 people are expected to get their water from SDS.

    “I think the long-term vision that put this in place means we’re good for the next 50 years,” said Colorado Springs Utilities Board Chair Andy Pico. “We have water. Water in the West is critical.”

    Even as they celebrate the opening of the SDS as it stands now, they’re already planning for a second phase that will eventually expand it to handle more water for more people.

    Colorado Springs officials say the SDS project did not receive any state or federal dollars. The 830-million dollar project, which also came in more than $100 million under budget, is being funded through bonds and will be paid for by its water customers of today and the next 30 years.

    From KRDO.com (Angelica Lombardi):

    After more than 20 years of planning and construction, Colorado Springs Utilities dedicated the historic Southern Delivery System water project at the Edward W. Bailey water treatment plant Friday morning.

    On April 28, history flowed out of this historic Southern Delivery System for the first time.

    It took decades of planning and six years of construction and Friday morning the hard work was recognized.

    “I’ve been involved in this project for 14-plus years. To see it complete with excellence and all the people who contributed. I was overwhelmed,” said Jerry Forte, CEO of Colorado Springs Utilities…

    “It’s amazing for Colorado Springs and our partners. It means water for the future. We call Southern Delivery ‘water for generations’ and what that means is our children and grandchildren will be able to have water in Colorado Springs for 50, 60-plus years from now,” said Forte.

    The water is pumped out of the Pueblo Reservoir and makes its way through 50 miles of pipeline going through three pump stations and ending at Colorado Springs…

    It took more than 470 permits to finalize the project.

    SDS Facts

  • The Water Treatment Plant has approximately 200 miles of electrical wires and cables, enough to stretch from the Water Treatment Plant site nearly to the International Space Station or the Pueblo Reservoir four times.
  • The Water Treatment Plant used enough rebar to fill 54, 50-foot rail cars or a train half-a-mile
  • If the concrete masonry blocks used in construction of the Water Treatment Plant were stacked, they would be four-and-a-half times taller than Pikes Peak.
  • The raw water tank at the Water Treatment Plant has a capacity of 10 million gallons, enough to fill 200,000 bathtubs.
  • 5,401 truckloads of pipe to SDS projects
  • Net tons of steel used for pipe furnished was 37,810.
  • From the Colorado Springs Independent (Pam Zubeck):

    Some 400 to 500 people gathered at the Edward W. Bailey Water Treatment Plant, 977 N. Marksheffel Road, Friday morning to dedicate the Southern Delivery System pipeline project.

    The project, 20 years in the making,d represents the service, safety, commitment and excellence brought to bear by hundreds, even thousands, of people, said Colorado Springs Utilities CEO Jerry Forte.

    He noted that the project adds another noteworthy item to Colorado Springs’ water history, which began in the late 1800s when city founder Gen. William Jackson Palmer built the El Paso County Canal from Fountain Creek on what is now 33rd Street, Forte said.

    SDS, he noted, will provide water for generations to come.

    SDS first appeared in the city’s water master plan in 1996 and was geared to supply water to the 20,000-acre Banning Lewis Ranch, which had been annexed into the city in 1988. Only a fraction of that property is built out, but SDS now is viewed as a crucial component of the city’s existing system to ensure redundancy. Most of the city’s water comes from transmountain systems built in the 1950s and 1980s. SDS brings water from Pueblo Reservoir.

    Although Rep. Doug Lamborn heralded the project for not requiring federal money, the Pueblo Dam and reservoir project was part of the Frying Pan-Arkansas project built in the 1960s and 1970s by the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation, along with a special district that collected property tax money in the region. SDS, obviously, wouldn’t have been possible without that reservoir on the Arkansas River.

    City Council President Merv Bennett demonstrated the span of time needed to plan and build SDS by noting 11 Councils have played key roles in the project. He recognized El Paso County Commissioner Sallie Clark, a former Council member, who he said laid the groundwork for relationships with Pueblo officials; former Mayor Lionel Rivera, who oversaw the project as both mayor and a Council member; Randy Thurston, former Pueblo City Council member; former Vice Mayor Larry Small, who now runs the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District, which grew from SDS negotiations; and Margaret Radford, former Council member who now works for an SDS contractor, MWH Global.

    CSU Chair Andy Pico boasted that the project was originally envisioned to cause water rates to increase by 121 percent, but it has required increases to rates of only 52 percent. The $825 million project came in $160 million under budget.

    Mayor John Suthers also spoke. His role might have been one of the most pivotal, because he sorted out a mess created by his predecessor, Steve Bach, in terms of the city’s stormwater situation, which had become a nearly insurmountable barrier to the project.

    First, Suthers had to deal with federal and state clean-water regulators who have accused the city of failing to comply with the Clean Water Act for years before Suthers took office in June 2015. Those negotiations are ongoing. Second, Suthers had to find a quick solution to stormwater improvements to satisfy Pueblo County commissioners, who threatened to reopen the city’s SDS construction permit. (Bach opposed a ballot measure in 2014 that would have funded stormwater work.)

    Suthers finessed a deal in which the city agreed to spend $460 million in the next 20 years to upgrade and maintain the city’s drainage facilities. Pueblo officials accepted the deal, clearing the way for water to begin flowing through the SDS pipeline in late April, as scheduled. (Bach was invited to, but did not attend, Friday’s SDS dedication.)

    Suthers said the city would have remained a tourist town of 20,000 but for its water resources. “Our future is bright, and we are poised for continued success,” he said.

    In a surprise development, U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., showed up and lauded the city for the project. “It can’t be said enough how important water infrastructure is to the state of Colorado,” he said. “It’s our past. It’s our present, and it’s our future. It’s my hope this [project] can be replicated throughout Colorado, because water will continue to drive our success.”

    Others who spoke included CSU’s Chief Water Officer Dan Higgins, and the project director since 2007, attorney John Fredell, who became the face of SDS in the past decade through contracting, negotiations with neighbors, legal wrangling and interviews with the media. About 470 permits were required for the project.

    As Forte said, “We never would have reached this point today without one person,” that being Fredell.

    When Fredell stepped to the dais, he received a standing ovation from a crowd that included elected officials, contractors, project partners, officials from surrounding towns and Pueblo, Utilities employees and citizens.

    Fredell, in turn, thanked Forte for his “trust and vision and leading every step of the way.”

    After the speeches, the crowd was invited to open gift boxes at each chair which contained a commemorative coin and a little glass of SDS water, used to toast the project.

    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.

    To take a trip back in time through the Coyote Gulch history of the Southern Delivery Click here and click here.

    In #Colorado, Farmers and Cities Battle Over Water Rights — NPR

    Flood irrigation -- photo via the CSU Water Center
    Flood irrigation — photo via the CSU Water Center

    From NPR (Liz Baker):

    The City of Thornton is one of many growing suburbs of Denver, Colo. On a day without much traffic, it’s only a 20-minute commute into the state capitol, and its new homes with big yards make it an attractive bedroom community. Nearly 130,000 people live there, and the population is expected to keep booming.

    All that big growth comes with a big need for water. In the 1980s, Thornton placed its hopes in the Two Forks Dam project, which would have provided the city with enough water well into the future. But when that project started to seem uncertain, Thornton started looking for another source.

    “We essentially embarked on a plan to purchase a large quantity of water rights associated with irrigated agriculture in Larimer and Weld Counties,” Water Resources Manager for the City of Thornton, Emily Hunt says…

    That town’s mayor, Butch White, says the town was outraged when they found out that Thornton, an urban city, was behind the purchases. Some of that anger was because of property taxes — since Thornton is a municipality, it is exempt from paying taxes on all that land surrounding the community — taxes that used to support the local school and fire districts.

    There was also a deeper reason for Ault’s hard feelings: According to Colorado water law, once a water right is converted from agricultural to municipal use, that land is permanently dried out. Irrigation, and therefore agriculture, can never return to that property. And agriculture had supported the town of Ault for a century.

    This process called “Buy and Dry” is the result of the West’s Gold-Rush era water laws that follow a simple rule: first in right, first in use. That means people with longer links to a property, for example, a farmer whose family has been on a piece of land since pioneer days gets water priority over someone who hasn’t been there as long…

    Thornton got approval [ed. a water court decree] to divert its water shares from Ault, but that came with a lot of stipulations which make the conversion a slow process. And for its part, Thornton believes it has done a fair job of managing the situation. It pays Ault a voluntary payment in lieu of property taxes, and plants native grasses on the dried up farms…

    Eventually, Thornton will build a pipeline to divert water from Ault to their city 60 miles away.

    Weld County considers new rules regulating water pipelines — The Greeley Tribune

    Weld County courthouse via Wikipedia
    Weld County courthouse via Wikipedia

    From The Greeley Tribune (Catharine Sweeney):

    The new water line regulations would require mostly anyone trying to move water through or out of Weld County to go through the use by special review — or USR — process.

    This process gives the county commissioners and surrounding residents a say in the development. The commissioners can give conditional permission — forcing the builder to alter their plans. Usually, officials require more landscaping or other mitigation. The USR process also requires two public hearings — one in front of the planning commission and one in front of the county commissioners. Here, residents get three minutes each to air their grievances.

    Because Weld doesn’t require a USR permit now, no one gets to weigh in on the projects. Residents, and perhaps even county officials, can get left in the dark.

    “We just need to stay up to speed with the things coming in,” County Commissioner Mike Freeman said. “It comes back to protecting our surface owners.”

    It will be the first discussion of at least three before the board can pass the rules. Officials can update or change the rules at any point before they’re passed.

    Under the current proposed regulations, some organizations would be exempt from the permitting process.

    Only companies or agencies building pipelines 16 inches or thicker will have to apply, said Weld County Attorney Bruce Barker.

    “The intent is primarily to deal with the aspects of placing and siting a big water pipeline,” he said.

    Weld agencies — such as cities and water districts — get some slack as long as the water is staying in the county.

    The rules are gentler now than they were in the early stages, Barker said. County officials had stakeholder meetings with those agencies, and representatives let them know that although Colorado water regulations seem like they can handle a one-size-fits-all approach, they can’t.

    “Major concerns in places like the Arkansas Valley don’t really apply here,” Barker said.

    There aren’t the same level of power struggles over the water, so commissioners are pumping the breaks on the harsh language against moving water out of the county.

    Before, the language had Greeley water officials worried.

    “We’re always concerned with things that could affect us,” said Greeley Water and Sewer Director Burt Knight. “We’ve got a connection into Windsor, and Windsor extends outside of Weld County.”

    They also have pipelines into other counties in case of natural disasters. The infrastructure is already in place so one can back the other up if water supplies get damaged.

    “We’re OK with where they’re heading,” Knight said. “They were receptive to some of our comments.”

    Indeed they were.

    “There are some municipalities in Weld that get big water pipelines into the county,” Barker said. “Those are exempted.”

    Greeley is exempt, but other towns trying to use Greeley’s water aren’t.

    The city of Thornton started buying farms in the Eaton and Ault areas decades ago.

    “Their goal was and still is to go ahead and dry those properties up,” Barker said.

    It’s called buy and dry. Organizations buy farmland with water rights, go to water court and get the use changed. Then they use it for something else — such as municipal water.

    Thornton’s water would come out of Weld and get pumped south to the city.

    They’re gearing up to apply for the USR later this year, Barker said.

    Oil and gas pipelines will see similar regulations, Barker said. But because county officials are already working on USR requirements for that industry, pipeline rules will get wrapped up in those laws.

    Funding for the Arkansas Valley Conduit makes it out of US Senate

    Arkansas Valley Conduit Comanche North route via Reclamation
    Arkansas Valley Conduit Comanche North route via Reclamation

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    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.

    History in the Making: SDS Starts Water Delivery [April 28]

    Here’s the release from Colorado Springs Utilities:

    One of the largest water infrastructure projects completed in the U.S. this century started delivering water today to homes and businesses in Colorado Springs, Colo. The commencement of the Southern Delivery System (SDS) culminates decades of planning and nearly six years of construction.

    See video.

    “The Southern Delivery System is a critical water project that will enable the continued quality of life southern Coloradans enjoy. The water provided through SDS means future economic growth for our community,” said Jerry Forte, Chief Executive Officer of Colorado Springs Utilities.

    Not only does SDS meet the immediate and future water needs of Colorado Springs and its project partners Fountain, Security and Pueblo West through 2040, it also increases system reliability should other parts of the water system need maintenance or repairs. The project will also help provide drought protection, a significant benefit in the arid west.

    Construction started in 2010 and concluded in 2016. Originally forecast to cost just under $1 billion, SDS is started on time and more than $160 million under budget costing $825 million.

    “On time and under budget are words rarely used to describe large infrastructure projects,” said John Fredell, SDS Program Director. “We adopted a philosophy that ‘these are ratepayer dollars’ and managed the project with exceptional rigor. It was the responsible approach to spending hundreds of millions of dollars of public money.”

    Components of SDS
    SDS is a regional project that includes 50 miles of pipeline, three raw water pump stations, a water treatment plant (pictured above), and a finished water pump station. It will be capable, in its first phase, of delivering 50 million gallons of water per day and serving residents and businesses through 2040.

    Key permits and approvals for SDS required $50 million in mitigation payments to the Fountain Creek Watershed District, funding for sediment control, habitat improvements and other environmental mitigation measures. Additionally, Colorado Springs and Pueblo County, just this week, both approved an intergovernmental agreement requiring Colorado Springs to invest $460 million over 20 years to improve the management of stormwater that makes its way into Fountain Creek.

    Early on in the project, SDS program leaders agreed to spend at least 30 percent of construction dollars on local contractors. More than $585 million, or about 70 percent of the SDS budget, went to Colorado businesses.

    “SDS is one of the most important projects many of us will ever work on,” said Forte. “This is a legacy project – one that benefits so many people today, tomorrow and for generations to come. This is an amazing day for our organization and for southern Colorado.”

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

    From the Associated Press via The Aurora Sentinel:

    Water has begun flowing into Colorado Springs through a new 50-mile pipeline from the Arkansas River.

    The city says the $825 million Southern Delivery System started operating Thursday.

    The system is designed to handle growth in the state’s second-largest city until 2040 and provide a backup for its current aging system.

    Pueblo West, Fountain and Security also get water from the pipeline.

    The project includes modifications to Pueblo Dam on the Arkansas River, three pumping stations and a treatment plant.

    Separately, Colorado Springs had to commit $460 million to reduce sediment in Fountain Creek. The sediment harms downstream communities in Pueblo County, and the county threatened to revoke a required permit for the pipeline if the issue wasn’t addressed.

    SDS: “It has been a lot to get this Pueblo County agreement out of the way and taken care of successfully” — John Fredell

    Southern Delivery System construction celebration August 19, 2011 via The Pueblo Chieftain
    Southern Delivery System construction celebration August 19, 2011 via The Pueblo Chieftain

    From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Billie Stanton Anleu):

    The $825 million Southern Delivery System’s treatment plant was ready to serve drinking water Wednesday, as a project 20 years in the making finally made its debut.

    The distribution system will be turned on Thursday to deliver water to Colorado Springs, Security and Fountain, and water will begin reaching those customers Friday. The SDS already supplies water to Pueblo West, which needed early assistance after a major water pipe in its system broke.

    “Things are going great, just like we’ve always planned,” SDS Project Manager John Fredell said Wednesday. “We’ve worked on a lot of these issues a long time to get ready.”

    The project hit a snag last year when Pueblo County, which had issued the essential SDS 1041 permit, began seriously pressuring Colorado Springs leaders.

    The county insisted on more city stormwater projects to protect downstream residents from excessive flows, sediment buildup and water quality degradation in Fountain Creek.

    The City Council signed an intergovernmental agreement April 20. It promises, among other things, to spend $460 million on 71 mutually beneficial stormwater projects over the next 20 years, with Colorado Springs Utilities guaranteeing any funds the city can’t provide.

    Pueblo County commissioners approved that pact Monday, enabling SDS to kick off its operations on Wednesday, the target date set years ago.

    “It has been a lot to get this Pueblo County agreement out of the way and taken care of successfully,” Fredell acknowledged. “But I really did not fear that it wasn’t going to happen. It was just a matter of timing.”

    Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers has spent much of his first year in office negotiating with Pueblo County and with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on the city’s long-time stormwater program deficiencies.

    Dan Higgins, chief water services officer for Utilities, called it “a great day.”

    “I look back at all the things we’ve seen our team experience,” Higgins said. “We’ve been through so much together. It’s just a fantastic experience for everybody that’s been involved.”

    As usual, Fredell credits his project team for a job well done.

    “I’m telling you, without all these great people putting out every ounce of energy they have, we couldn’t have done it,” Fredell said. “And to me that’s just so cool, to bring all these people together and they’re all pulling in the same direction.

    “To me, that’s the coolest thing. I feel like the whole team, we have stronger friendships now than when we started. How many teams can say that? To me, that’s absolutely incredible.”

    The project team determined in July 2009 that the SDS would start operating in April 2016.

    “I’ll feel better Friday,” admitted Kim Mutchler, who has worked on SDS for Utilities’ government and corporate affairs team. “There’s a lot going on between now and then.

    “I’m happy for these guys who have been on this project for so long. It’s just exciting to see (Utilities) board members and previous council members. We had a couple out there yesterday seeing (the plant) for the first time. It’s nice to see them excited.”

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    The need for Colorado Springs to control stormwater on Fountain Creek was always tied to the Southern Delivery System, and the new agreement with Pueblo County is designed to cement the relationship.

    During the permitting process for SDS, stormwater control was mentioned in both the Bureau of Reclamation environmental impact statement and Pueblo County’s 1041 permit.

    Ever since Colorado Springs City Council abolished its stormwater enterprise in 2009, the city engaged in political gymnastics to assure Pueblo County it was doing enough.

    Monday’s completion of an intergovernmental agreement should represent an end to political bickering over stormwater, because it spells out very clearly what has to be done over the next 20 years.

    Commissioners were quick to point out Monday that the items contained in the agreement are not the only things Colorado Springs must do in relation to SDS under the 1041 permit. But they have to do these things:

    Fund stormwater control with at least $460 million over the next 20 years.

    The funding will go toward 71 projects on a set schedule that can be adjusted only if both parties agree.

    The amount of funding steps up from at least $20 million per year in the first five years to at least $26 million per year in the last five.

    While the money can be matched with other funds, Colorado Springs must come up with the minimum amount, but the sources are not specified. Annual reports are required.

    Colorado Springs also is required to resolve any conflicts with the IGA that might result from action by the Department of Justice, EPA and Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment over the city’s failure to meet the terms of its municipal stormwater permit from 2013-15.

    A provision of the IGA requires Colorado Springs to notify Pueblo County of any variance to its drainage criteria manual. The failure to apply the document to new development was among deficiencies identified by the EPA in its audit of Colorado Springs’ stormwater permit.

    Regional cooperation on Fountain Creek.

    The IGA triggers the first two payments of $10 million each that were negotiated under the 1041 permit. Five annual payments of $10 million are required. The money must be used for a dam, detention ponds or other flood control structures that protect Pueblo from flows on Fountain Creek that have increased because of growth in Colorado Springs and El Paso County.

    The first payment is actually $9,578,817, because of credits for payments already made and an “index” fee, which amounts to interest payments. It will come within 30 days.

    The second $10 million payment will be made Jan. 15.

    The payments go to the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District, which was created by the state Legislature to improve Fountain Creek.

    Formed in 2009, the district grew out of discussions between the two counties. Pueblo County Commissioner Sal Pace sponsored the legislation when he served as a state representative.

    The IGA also provides $125,000 to the district, which will be used in part to help fund a state study of a dam or detention ponds on Fountain Creek. The money is in addition to the $50 million required under the 1041 permit. The Fountain Creek board will determine exactly how the money is spent.

    Both Pueblo County and Colorado Springs agree to work with other governments to find a permanent source of funding for the Fountain Creek district.

    Colorado Springs also will pay $3 million over three years to the city of Pueblo for repairs to levees, dredging and removal of debris or vegetation in Fountain Creek.

    Pueblo is required to match the money, but can use about $1.8 million that Pueblo County is still holding from $2.2 million Colorado Springs was made to pay for dredging in Pueblo. Some of the money was spent on demonstration projects.

    The agreement also specifies that any disputes will be handled in the same way as disagreements in the 1041 permit. If not successful, legal action over the IGA would be handled in Pueblo District Court.

    Southern Delivery System to be turned on today after decades — The Pueblo Chieftain

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

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    Colorado Springs Utilities plans to begin using the Southern Delivery System today, more than seven years after getting the green light from Pueblo County and the Bureau of Reclamation to build it. “We plan on 5 million gallons a day initially, but we may go less. It depends on how we use it,” said John Fredell, SDS project director. “On Thursday, the water we pump will be turned into our system.”

    SDS will be able to operate after an agreement was reached on Fountain Creek stormwater control on issues not explicitly covered in Pueblo County’s 1041 permit. The new agreement contains funding benchmarks that were not originally in place.

    Over the next 40 years, the amount of water pumped through SDS could increase to as much as 75 million gallons a day. Another 18 million gallons a day could be pumped to Pueblo West, which through a special agreement already is using SDS for its water supply.

    The treatment plant as built can treat up to 50 million gallons per day, but eventually could be expanded to treat up to 100 million gallons per day.

    As part of SDS, the city of Fountain can receive more of its water through the Fountain Valley Conduit, a line built from Pueblo Dam in the early 1980s as part of the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project.

    The other partner in SDS is Security Water and Sanitation, which serves an unincorporated area south of Colorado Springs and has an immediate need for a new water source because of well contamination.

    Construction on the $825 million project began in 2011, one year after the Bureau of Reclamation approved the final contract for the use of Lake Pueblo as part of the project. In 2009, Reclamation issued a record of decision that allowed the project to be built.

    Also in 2009, Pueblo County commissioners approved a land-use permit under the 1974 HB1041, which lets cities or counties regulate projects that cross their boundaries.

    SDS includes a new connection built at Pueblo Dam, three pump stations, a water treatment plant and a treated water pump station. The North Outlet Works, Juniper Pump Station just northeast of Pueblo Dam and about 17 miles of buried 66inch diameter pipeline are the features of SDS in Pueblo County.

    The project grew out of water resources plans that began in the late 1980s, when Colorado Springs purchased controlling interest in the Colorado Canal system in Crowley County.

    In order to use the water, as well as provide redundancy for its other sources of water, Colorado Springs developed a Water Resource Plan in 1996. That plan identified other alternatives to bring water to Colorado Springs, including a route from a new reservoir at Buena Vista, a Fremont County pipeline and a line from Crowley County.

    By the early 2000s, the Buena Vista reservoir was eliminated by environmental protests, and Utilities ruled out Crowley County because of the expense of overcoming water quality issues. By 2008, Fremont County and Pueblo Dam were being seriously considered.

    The Pueblo Dam option was chosen in Reclamation’s record of decision as the route.

    In the second phase of SDS, which is anticipated to begin between 2020-25, two reservoirs would be built on Williams Creek east of Fountain. The upper reservoir would be terminal storage for the pipeline from Pueblo Dam, while the lower one would regulate return flows from Colorado Springs’ wastewater treatment plant into Fountain Creek.

    SDS is designed to serve a population of 900,000, about twice the current number living in Colorado Springs.

    The 1996 water resources plan came at a time when Colorado Springs’ population had increased from 70,000 in 1960 to 330,000 in 1996. Utilities already is working on a 50-year plan to meet its future water resource needs.

    More Coyote Gulch Southern Delivery System coverage here and here.

    Pueblo County OKs stormwater deal with Colorado Springs — The Pueblo Chieftain

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Anthony A. Mestas):

    It was called a historic day for Pueblo County and Colorado Springs.

    Pueblo County commissioners approved an agreement over the Southern Delivery System with its Front Range neighbors to the north during a meeting at the courthouse.

    The agreement is a clarification of the rules and responsibilities with regards of one of the issues with a 1041 permit dealing with the SDS project, mainly how to control stormwater, flooding and sediment transports along Fountain Creek.

    “We think it is historic,” Commissioner Terry Hart said. “This has been a growing process. It’s been a learning process as the growth of Colorado Springs has impacted more and more our downstream community.”

    In the agreement, Colorado Springs would pay more than $605 million to cover environmental damage for SDS should the intergovernmental agreement with Pueblo County be approved.

    The proposed deal includes a guarantee to spend at least $460 million over the next 20 years to repair and build storm water structures in Colorado Springs in a way that benefits downstream communities, particularly the city of Pueblo.

    Colorado Springs approved the agreement last week.

    “We are thrilled that we reached this point,” Hart said.

    “A lot of folks see this as an ending to a process and it’s just the opposite. It’s just the beginning. It’s a more cooperative approach between the two communities.”

    Cartoon via The Pueblo Chieftain
    Cartoon via The Pueblo Chieftain