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.”
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.”
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.
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.
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.
To take a trip back in time through the Coyote Gulch history of the Southern Delivery Click here and click here.
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.
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.