The U.S. Forest Service has been inundated with more than 500 online comments — the vast majority in opposition — to a geophysical study and drilling by the cities of Aurora and Colorado Springs to determine the feasibility of a second reservoir in the Homestake Creek drainage, including objections from nearby towns and a local state senator.
The geophysical study and the drilling are the next step in the lengthy process of developing a reservoir on lower Homestake Creek.
The mayors of Red Cliff and Minturn signed and submitted separate but identical letters questioning the legality of drilling 10 boreholes on Forest Service land near the Holy Cross Wilderness Area, which is six miles southwest of Red Cliff, to see whether soil and bedrock can support a dam for what would be known as Whitney Reservoir. Avon’s attorney has asked for a public comment extension to Aug. 4 so that it can hold a hearing.
“A Whitney Reservoir would irreparably change and harm our community,” Minturn Mayor John Widerman and Red Cliff Mayor Duke Gerber wrote in their letters, submitted June 30. “We are paying close attention to these proposals, other moves by Homestake Partners and the public controversy. This categorical exclusion is rushed, harmful and unlawful.”
Operating together as Homestake Partners, the cities of Aurora and Colorado Springs own water rights dating to the 1950s that, under the 1998 Eagle River Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), give them the basis to pursue developing 20,000 acre-feet of water a year from the Western Slope. They’ve been studying four potential dam sites in the Homestake Valley several miles below the cities’ existing Homestake Reservoir, which holds 43,600 acre-feet of water.
The smallest configuration of Whitney Reservoir, if deemed feasible and ultimately approved, would be 6,850 acre-feet, and the largest would be up to 20,000 acre-feet. The reservoir, on lower Homestake Creek, would pump water up to Homestake Reservoir, about five miles upstream, then through a tunnel under the Continental Divide to Turquoise Reservoir near Leadville.
In 2018, Homestake Partners paid $4.1 million for 150 acres of private land, which it leases back to the former owner for a nominal fee. That land, which would be inundated to accommodate a large portion of Whitney Reservoir’s surface area, is braided with streams and waterfalls and is lush with fens and other wetlands. It’s also home to a cabin once used as an officers quarters for the famed 10th Mountain Division of the U.S. Army. The site is not far from Camp Hale, between Red Cliff and Leadville, where soldiers trained for mountain warfare during World War II.
Eagle River MOU
The Eagle River MOU is an agreement between Aurora and Colorado Springs and a bevy of Western Slope water interests. The Colorado River Water Conservation District, Eagle River Water & Sanitation District, Upper Eagle Regional Water Authority, and Vail Resorts are collectively defined in the MOU as the Reservoir Company. None of those entities submitted comments to the Forest Service on the drilling proposal. And according to Diane Johnson, communications and public affairs manager for the ERWSD and UERWA, none are helping to pay for the feasibility study and none are involved in the reservoir project, except to the degree that it is tied to the MOU.
The MOU provides for 20,000 acre-feet of average annual yield for the cities. “Yield” refers to a reliable supply of water. In some cases, yield equates to storage in a reservoir, but yield can also be created by other methods, such as pumping water uphill from a smaller, refilled reservoir, which is an option being studied by the cities on lower Homestake Creek. The MOU also provides for 10,000 acre-feet of “firm dry year yield” for the Western Slope entities in the Reservoir Company, and firm dry year yield means a reliable supply even in a very dry year. Those entities have developed about 2,000 acre-feet of that allocated firm yield in Eagle Park Reservoir, and it’s not yet clear whether the Whitney Reservoir project would help them realize any additional yield.
“The short answer is we support (Homestake Partners’) right to pursue an application for their yield,” Johnson said. “We trust the permitting process to bring all impacts and benefits to light for the community to consider and weigh in total.” .
Jim Pokrandt, director of community affairs for the River District, declined to comment on the investigatory test work, saying only, “Yes, we have signed the MOU. That said, … we are not participating in the Whitney Creek effort.”
Besides Homestake Partners and the Reservoir Company, the MOU was signed by the Climax Molybdenum Company. The two private companies signed onto the MOU — Vail Resorts and Freeport-McMoRan (Climax) — also declined to comment on either the drilling study or Whitney Reservoir.
Under the MOU, various parties can pursue projects on their own, and the other parties are bound to support those efforts, but only to the degree that a proposed project meets the objectives of the MOU, including whether a project “minimizes environmental impacts.”
Many of the 520 online comments as of the June 30 deadline objected to testing for the possibility of a dam, expressing concern for the complex wetlands in the area, but most of the comments also strongly condemn the overall project: a potential future Whitney Reservoir.
The cities are trying to keep the focus on the test drilling.
“This is simply a fatal-flaw reservoir siting study that includes subsurface exploration, and it’s basically just to evaluate feasibility of a dam construction on lower Homestake Creek,” said Maria Pastore, Colorado Springs Utilities’ senior project manager for water resource planning. “It’s simple exploratory work to determine if we can even go ahead with permitting and design.”
Marcia Gilles, acting ranger for the Eagle-Holy Cross District, said her office will continue accepting comments at any time during the ongoing analysis of the geophysical study despite the June 30 deadline. She added that if the Forest Service concludes there are no “extraordinary circumstances,” she can render a decision using what is known as a categorical exclusion and then issue a special-use permit as soon as August. A categorical exclusion requires less environmental scrutiny than other forms of analysis.
“At this time, the proposed action appears to be categorically excluded from requiring further analysis and documentation in an environmental assessment (EA) or environmental impact statement (EIS),” Gilles said. “Should the environmental analysis find extraordinary circumstances, the Forest Service would proceed to analyzing the project in an EA or EIS.”
State Sen. Kerry Donovan, a Vail Democrat, disagrees. She wrote to the Forest Service on June 30: “I … strongly urge you not to categorically exclude this project from (National Environmental Policy Act) analysis. I cannot express how sternly the citizens of my district oppose water diversion projects to Front Range communities.” Her district encompasses seven Western Slope counties, including Eagle, where the dam would be located.
Donovan called the proposed investigation — which would require temporary roads, heavy drilling equipment, continuous high-decibel noise, driving through Homestake Creek and use of its water in the drilling process — an affront to the “Keep It Public” movement, which advocates for effective federal management on public lands.
If approved by the Forest Service for a special-use permit, Homestake Partners would send in crews on foot to collect seismic and other geophysical data later this summer or fall. Crews with heavy equipment would then drill 10 boreholes up to 150 feet deep in three possible dam locations on Forest Service land. The drilling would take place on Forest Service land but not in a wilderness area.
Crews would use a standard pickup truck, a heavy-duty pickup pulling a flatbed trailer, and a semi-truck and trailer that would remain on designated roads and parking areas, with some lane closures of Homestake Road and dispersed campsites possible.
For off-road boring operations, crews would use a rubber-tracked drill rig, a utility vehicle pulling a small trailer, and a track-mounted skid steer. The drill rigs are up to 8 feet wide, 22 feet long and 8 feet high, and can extend up to 30 feet high during drilling, possibly requiring tree removal in some areas. The rigs would also have to cross Homestake Creek and some wetland areas, although crews would use temporary ramps or wood mats to mitigate impacts.
According to a technical report filed by Homestake Partners, the subsurface work is expected to take up to five days per drilling location, or at least 50 days of daytime work only. However, continuous daytime noise from the drilling could approach 100 decibels, which is equivalent to either an outboard motor, garbage truck, jackhammer or jet flyover at 1,000 feet. If work is not done by winter, crews have up to a year to complete the project and could return in 2021.
The drilling process would use several thousand gallons of Homestake Creek water per day that engineers say “would have negligible impacts on streamflow or aquatic habitat. Water pumped from Homestake Creek during drilling would amount to less than 0.01 (cubic feet per second), a small fraction of average flows,” according to a technical report included with application materials.
Homestake Partners would avoid wetlands as much as possible during drilling, but “where temporary wetland or waters disturbance is unavoidable, applicable 404 permitting would be secured from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.” Crossing of Homestake Creek would occur in late summer or fall when streamflows are low, and no drilling would occur in wetlands.
While no permanent roads would be built for the drilling, temporary access routes would be necessary and reclaimed as much as possible.
“Access routes would be selected to reduce surface disturbance and vegetation removal, and to avoid identified or potential unexploded ordnances (UXOs) discovered during field surveys,” according to the technical report. The 10th Mountain Division used the area for winter warfare training during WWII.
Another concern cited in the report is the potential impact to Canada lynx. Listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, “only Canada lynx has potential habitat in the vicinity of the project area,” according to the report. “No impacts on lynx are anticipated from the proposed work because much of the activity would occur near Homestake Road, a well-traveled recreation access road. Work would be conducted over a short period (approximately five to six weeks) and impacts on potential habitat would be negligible.”
The vast majority of comments from a variety of environmental groups and concerned citizens focused on potential impacts to the area’s renowned wetlands and peat-forming fens, which the project proponents say they will avoid as much as possible. So far, Gilles said she is not aware of any legal challenges to the project.
“Geophysical exploration has an obvious significant nexus and direct relation to additional future actions, i.e., dam construction, which may in time massively impact the Eagle River watershed — regardless of whether the future actions are yet ripe for decisions,” ERWC officials wrote.
Even if the test drilling returns favorable results for a reservoir project, there is another obstacle that Homestake Partners will have to clear if they want to move forward with two iterations of the project: a wilderness-boundary change, which would require an act of Congress and the president’s signature.
The Whitney Reservoir alternatives range from 6,850 to 20,000 acre-feet and in some configurations would require federal legislation, which the cities are working to draft, requesting a boundary adjustment for the nearby Holy Cross Wilderness Area. The largest Whitney proposal would require an 80-acre adjustment, while an alternative location, lower down Homestake Creek, would require a 497-acre adjustment.
White River National Forest Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams discounts the notion that his agency should reject outright the test-drilling application, as some environmental groups have suggested, until the wilderness-boundary issue is determined. Although some local and state lawmakers have said they are against shifting a wilderness boundary, Fitzwilliams said it’s still too soon for him to take up the wilderness issue.
“These are test holes,” Fitzwilliams said of the drilling, which is intended to see whether the substrata are solid enough for a dam and reservoir. “Going to get a (wilderness) boundary change is not a small deal for them, so why would you do it if you find fatal flaws? That’s a red herring.
“I understand it; nobody wants to see a dam in the Homestake drainage. I get that. But it just seems prudent to do (the drilling) to see if there’s any reason to go further.”
Aspen Journalism is collaborating with the Vail Daily and other Swift Communications newspapers on coverage of water and rivers. This story was published online by Vail Daily on July 9, 2020 and in its print edition on July 10. The early online version of the story was edited to clarify aspects of the Eagle River MOU.
Dozens of in-person and remote speakers aired their concerns about the proposed $1.1 billion water storage and delivery project, which would include building Glade Reservoir northwest of Fort Collins.
Issues raised about the massive project proposed by Northern Water included the ecological impacts of drawing water from an already heavily used Poudre River to store in the reservoir, the routing of pipelines that would carry water to participating communities, and the effects construction of the reservoir and pipelines would have on nearby communities…
A decision of record on the Environmental Impact Statement for NISP is expected to be released this year by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The project has received water quality certification from state regulators…
The Planning Commission is considering an application from Northern Water for a 1041 permit — named for the state law that grants local governments permitting authority over certain infrastructure projects — for the siting of the reservoir and associated recreational facilities, including a visitor center, boat ramps and campgrounds. The permit also covers the routes of four pipelines needed to convey water from Glade.
Commission members heard presentations on the reservoir and pipelines from county staff members and Northern Water on June 24. Wednesday’s four-hour hearing was dedicated to taking public comment.
Of the approximately 40 people who spoke individually or as the representative of a group, only one spoke in favor of NISP. The county has received several hundred emails from residents opposing the project…
Northern Water has said the dam site is safe and structures will be designed to withstand seismic activity and soil shifts.
Residents of the Eagle Lakes subdivision blasted the proposed routing of a pipeline from Glade through their neighborhood that would connect with another pipeline near the county line and carry water south.
Northern Water would likely have to use its eminent domain power to get the 100-foot easement it wants for constructing the pipeline, said Eagle Lake resident Mark Heiden…
He said alternative routes through open land are available if Northern Water were willing to pay the additional cost, which he estimated at $3 million.
Area homeowners complained they would have to endure many weeks of disruption from construction activity and loss of use of their property because of the easements.
Northern Water has said it would pay property owners fair market value for easements and restore disturbed land to pre-construction condition or better.
Several speakers compared the proposed pipeline to the city of Thornton’s plan to run a massive pipeline along Douglas Road. The proposal was fought by No Pipe Dream and others.
The county commissioners rejected Thornton’s proposed route last year. Thornton has sued the county in District Court over the decision…
The Planning Commission continued its hearing to July 15, when members will hear additional information from staff and Northern Water before deliberating on its recommendation on a permit to the county commissioners, who will decide whether to grant the permit.
The commissioners have scheduled multiple hearings on the permit application for NISP in August.
After the public comment was completed, planning commissioners listed several questions they want addressed by county staff or Northern Water at the next meeting. The questions reflected issues brought up during public comment, including whether Northern Water has sufficient water rights to fill the reservoir and provide recreational opportunities.
Northern Water has said boating would be possible on the reservoir 90% of the time.
Commission member Nancy Wallace said she wants to hear more about how plans for the project address climate change and other “big picture” issues…
The Larimer County Planning Commission is scheduled to have its final meeting on NISP beginning at 6 p.m. July 15 at the County Courthouse Offices Building, 200 W. Oak St. in Fort Collins.
Attendance will be limited to 50 people because of COVID-19 restrictions on gatherings.
The planning commission will make a recommendation on a permit for NISP to the Board of County Commissioners, which will decide on the application.
Hearings by the commissioners are scheduled:
6 p.m., Aug. 17 – Presentations only; no public testimony.
2 p.m. Aug. 24 (break from 5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.)
3 p.m. Aug. 31 (break from 5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.)
6:30 p.m. Sept. 2 – Questions, final deliberation and decision
Speakers will be limited to 2 minutes each. Borrowing, lending or grouping time will not be allowed.
Forty years after the Holy Cross Wilderness Area was created, an early effort to explore tapping its water supplies has generated more than 500 comments to the U.S. Forest Service.
Aurora and Colorado Springs, which own and operate the only reservoir in the area, Homestake I, hope to demonstrate that they can divert more water and build another reservoir to serve Front Range and West Slope interests without damaging the delicate wetlands and streams in the mountain forests there.
But first, they are asking the Forest Service for a special use permit to survey the area and to bore several test holes to determine soil conditions and areas best suited to build the proposed Whitney Reservoir. The public comment period closed June 30, although the Forest Service said it will continue to accept comments.
If a reservoir were to be built, it would also require that the 122,000-acre-plus wilderness area shrink by 500 acres, an action that will require congressional approval.
Significant opposition to the permit request is already building, with the Holy Cross Wilderness Defense Fund threatening legal action to stop the surveying and drilling of test holes into soils, according to comments submitted to the Forest Service.
Also opposing the process, among others, is Colorado state Sen. Kerry Donovan, who represents several West Slope counties. “Our wilderness areas are afforded the highest levels of protection and to begin action that disturbs them today begins a process of destroying them forever,” she said. [Editor’s note: Donovan is on the Board of Trustees of Water Education Colorado, which sponsors Fresh Water News].
In addition, she wrote, “With drought conditions becoming the new normal…it is imperative we protect high altitude water resources and keep each drop in the basin it was born in.”
The Eagle River is a tributary to the drought-stressed Colorado River, whose flows have already begun a serious decline.
Jerry Mallet is president of Colorado Headwaters, an environmental advocacy group. The fight to stop the proposal, he said, “will be as big as the Two Forks fight was several years ago,” referring to the successful effort to stop Two Forks Reservoir from being built on the South Platte River in 1990.
Aurora and Colorado Springs point to their legal obligations to develop a project that serves multiple interests, and which also protects the environment, while ensuring their citizens have access to water in the future.
“The studies…will provide the factual data necessary to identify and evaluate feasible reservoir alternatives to provide critical water supplies for human and environmental purposes,” said Colorado Springs spokesperson Natalie Eckhart. “We recognize the necessity to partner with other agencies throughout this process and are committed to working collaboratively with other communities and agencies to best manage our shared water resources.”
The proposal comes under a 1998 agreement known as the Eagle River Memorandum of Understanding, which allows the reservoir proponents to develop enough water to serve environmental, municipal and industrial interests. Aurora and Colorado Springs hope to develop 33,000 acre-feet of water, an amount roughly equal to that used annually by 66,000 homes.
Under the proposal, Aurora and Colorado Springs would receive 20,000 acre-feet, West Slope interests would receive 10,000 acre-feet, and 3,000 acre-feet would be set aside for the Climax Molybdenum Company.
Parties to the 1998 agreement include Aurora, Colorado Springs, the Colorado River District, the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District, the Upper Eagle River Water and Sanitation District, as well as Vail Associates.
Diane Johnson, spokesperson for the two Eagle River districts, said the agencies haven’t yet taken a position on the proposal, citing the need for the analysis required for the special use permit as well as any actual construction of a reservoir to be completed.
Located west of Vail between Minturn and Leadville, the Holy Cross Wilderness Area was the subject of a significant battle in the 1980s when Aurora and Colorado Springs sought to build a second major reservoir there known as Homestake II.
After opponents successfully took their case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, Homestake II was defeated in 1994.
In exchange, however, the cities were granted permission to develop a smaller amount of water in the future in partnership with Western Slope interests, resulting in the project that is now being proposed to the Forest Service.
To submit your comments or to get more information about the survey and drilling proposal, visit this U.S. Forest Service’s web page.
Jerd Smith is editor of Fresh Water News. She can be reached at 720-398-6474, via email at email@example.com or @jerd_smith.
This certification evaluates how effectively cities are managed by measuring the extent to which city leaders incorporate data and evidence in their decision-making against a national standard of excellence.
“I am proud to be part of such an incredible organization,” said City Manager Jane Brautigam. “The What Works Cities certification is yet another testament to the dedication of city staff in ensuring our community receives the best service possible. We will continue to work together to develop evidence-based solutions as we respond to and recover from the public health crisis caused by the coronavirus.”
To gain this certification out of hundreds of other city applicants, Boulder has proven it has the right people, processes, and policies in place to put data and evidence at the center of decision-making. Over the past year, the city has demonstrated measurable progress on foundational data practices, representing its commitment to advancing how data is used to better serve community members.
“We set the goal of achieving WWC certification in 2020, and in less than two years we’ve done it,” said Bill Skerpan, the city’s innovation and analytics manager. “It’s an important milestone for the city, achieved through dedication from departments across the city. But we still have more work to do on this innovation path and are excited to create more effective, efficient, and equitable services for the Boulder community.”
Some examples of Boulder’s use of data that helped the city achieve certification include:
The city has a goal to reduce its organizational emissions 80% below 2008 levels by 2030, and as of 2019 has achieved a 38% reduction through energy efficiency, renewables and other efforts.
The city’s wastewater treatment team optimized a machine learning model for processing city water that will save costs and minimize environmental impacts. The team’s efforts have already reduced energy consumption by an estimated 500,000 kWh, valued around $15,000.
Boulder Fire-Rescue developed a live dashboard using 911 call data to give firefighters real-time insights into emergency trends around the city, among other data-driven efforts to support improved service delivery.
During COVID-19 response and recovery, the city has incorporated new data practices to evaluate whether efforts were reducing racial inequities, reviewing demographic data alongside COVID-19 infection and hospitalization rates, employment, basic needs assistance programs, evictions and foreclosures, and more.
The city’s Open Data Catalog has expanded to include 110 datasets, many updated daily and coming from city departments. This also led to innovative community partnerships such as the 2018-2019 Art of Data exhibit in the Boulder Main Library.
Nearly 200 U.S. cities have completed a What Works Cities Assessment to date, while only 24 cities have now met the national standard in achieving certification.
About What Works Cities
What Work Cities, launched by Bloomberg Philanthropies in April 2015, is a national initiative that helps cities use data and evidence more effectively to tackle their most pressing challenges and improve residents’ lives. Through the initiative’s expert partners, cities around the country are receiving technical assistance, guidance and resources to succeed in making more informed decisions, tackling local challenges, and delivering more effective services and programs for their residents. Cities in the What Works Cities network also gain access to a collaborative network of peers in cities across the country. For more information, visit http://whatworkscities.org.
Here’s the release from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment:
The state announced the results of a project that tested water statewide for PFAS, pervasive chemicals that originate from toxic firefighting foam and other sources. The state found that none of the treated drinking water tested was above the EPA’s health advisory level, but the state did find higher levels of the chemicals in some groundwater sources.
The results are posted online in a data dashboard. With $500,000 awarded from the state legislature, the department facilitated the sampling of 400 water systems and 15 firefighting districts– as well as 152 groundwater sources and 71 surface water sources like rivers and streams. The sampling included about half of the drinking water systems in the state serving around three-quarters of the population.
“The current results show that no drinking water tested above the EPA health advisory for two chemicals,” said Kristy Richardson, state toxicologist at the Department of Public Health and Environment. “At the same time, we know science is evolving, and we are committed to using the most current and best available information to provide health-based guidance on exposure to the chemicals. As new studies become available, our understanding of health effects in humans — and our recommendations — will continue to be refined.”
Four entities that tested source water had sample results that exceeded the EPA health advisory. Three of the four entities already tested for the chemicals in previous years and have notified the public of those results– Stratmoor Hills Water and Sanitation District and Security Water and Sanitation District located in El Paso County and Sugarloaf fire district located in Boulder County. The entities are either not using that source water or treating the water to remove the chemicals before using it as drinking water. The additional entity is Fourmile Fire District.
Fourmile Fire District, located in Teller County, had not previously tested for the chemicals and found high levels in a well at one of their stations, but the state was informed the firefighters do not drink this well water. The fire district, local public health agency, and state are examining the geographical area to see if any residents living nearby may be impacted. Residents that live near the Four Mile station will be notified of the results and what steps they can take if they are concerned.
The state also sampled rivers and streams. All of the samples collected had some detectable level of the chemicals. The sample collected at the mouth of Sand Creek in Commerce City was above the EPA drinking water health advisory, but the state isn’t aware of anyone directly drinking this affected water. Nonetheless, high levels of the chemicals in streams can impact downstream drinking water supplies since they don’t break down.
The data indicate that industrial entities that have permits to discharge wastewater into rivers and streams may play a large role in the buildup of the chemicals. Sand Creek was sampled twice– one upstream of Commerce City on the east end of Aurora and one downstream before it flows into the South Platte. A number of industries treat and discharge wastewater in that area. The upstream sample result was 13 ppt, and the chemical amount increased downstream to a combined level of 77 ppt for the chemicals, a level above EPA’s drinking water health advisory.
The state recently released a survey that state dischargers are required to fill out providing information about the use and storage of certain products containing the chemicals. This will help the state better understand the risk of the chemicals entering state waters.
The state is also using its hazardous waste authority to require various sites along the Front Range to evaluate potential impacts to groundwater. State inspectors have evaluated three oil and gas facilities in the area of Sand Creek, and found that one facility has significantly impacted groundwater next to Sand Creek. The state will use the groundwater data and the surface water data from Sand Creek to determine if additional measures are needed to protect the creek.
“This is an essential step in filling in the gaps in our understanding of where the chemicals are in the state,” said John Putnam, director of environmental programs at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. “But, our work is not complete — we will continue to work to assess conditions for the other systems not sampled, private wells near areas of contamination, and Colorado’s waters. And, we’ll work to find solutions where the chemicals are found at high levels and to safely dispose of materials before they get to our waters.”
As part of its action plan to address the chemicals, the state will propose a water quality policy to the Water Quality Control Commission in mid-July to enhance its ability to get more data on discharges of the chemicals to state waters and provide guidance on the need for filtration or other treatment. The policy will also help the state set limits on the chemicals from entering our waters.
Additionally, in spite of the shortened session, the legislature passed two important laws regarding the chemicals. There are now restrictions on the use of firefighting foam that contains the chemicals and a fee structure so the state can have the necessary resources to provide guidance on the health impacts and investigate and support communities that may be impacted. The fees will provide critical resources to (1) support additional sampling and health assessment for systems; (2) implement a takeback program to take back and dispose of materials with the chemicals; and (3) assist systems that have found the material in their source water.
From the City of Westminster via The Northglenn-Thornton Sentinel:
Westminster councilors made a plan official that keeps the city’s water and sewer rates in 2021 the same as this year.
Councilors voted 7-0 June 22 to hold off on a planned increase due to impacts from COVID-19.
The city had been considering a 6% increase in water and sewer rates for 2021 and 2022. That would have increased water rates by about $3.31 month and sewer rates by $3.36 per month. Much of the increase was earmarked for capital work on the city’s pipes and water and sewer infrastructure.
Instead, the city was able to use savings from refinancing some city debt and claiming lower interest rates to cover the costs of the utilities. The city refunded $17.9 million in bonds it sold in 2010, reducing the overall amount owed by $3.6 million over the same term. That savings should allow the city to fund necessary operations and projects in 2021 without a rate increase.
The city will also tap into a $2 million rate stabilization fund and cut $500,000 from the money the utility pays into the general fund to pay water and sewer expenses for the next year.
Westminster offers several programs to help interested customers use less water and manage their bill.
A water bill assistance program offers income-qualified customers — including customers financially impacted by COVID-19 — a $15 per month credit toward their utility bill.
The city also offers several water conservation programs to help residents use less water outdoors including an irrigation consultation program that saves participating customers an average of $150 on their water bill.
The city has also formed an internal task force to identify innovative solutions to maintaining the city’s infrastructure while reducing costs.
Here’s a guest column from Jim Ling that’s running in the Fort Collins Coloradoan:
From where I stand, the South Fort Collins Sanitation District (SFCSD) is proud to announce it is nearing the completion of its approximately $35 million wastewater reclamation expansion, which includes improvements to its facility.
These much-needed improvements, slated for completion by the end of the year, allows us to meet new, more strict requirements from the U.S.Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE), in addition to providing additional capacity for future growth.
With this expansion, SFCSD can delay the implementation of future regulations by up to a decade, providing more time to budget for future requirements. Building now proves more economical than waiting, allowing SFCSD to do more with less.
We work hard to protect our customers and the environment by trying to stay ahead of the game and prepare as economically as possible.
The SFCSD serves an area encompassing approximately 60 square miles, including residents in Fort Collins, Loveland, Timnath, Windsor and Larimer County. These valued customers may rest assured that we will continue to provide excellent service and treatment 24/7, 365 days a year.
Performing these types of improvement projects proactively helps control costs, further protecting our customers from unnecessary fee increases. Best of all, we continue to offer very high levels of service at reasonable costs for our customers.
Thanks to careful planning, we expect the project to finish on time according to plans, and under budget.
Capacity increases are paid by growth through the sale of taps and impact fees collected during development. Costs associated with enhanced treatment needs are funded through monthly wastewater charges to our customers.
Our staff and board work hard to be good stewards of our constituents’ money. As of now, the district has not had to borrow to finance these important and necessary projects, thus saving money by avoiding interest payments.
More than 400 miles of collection lines bring wastewater to the water reclamation facility 24-hours per day, 7 days per week, 365 days a year. The current treatment process at the facility is capable of treating 4.5 million gallons of water per day.
As EPA and CDPHE requirements for water reclamation become more stringent, we must adapt and add processes to continuously improve the quality of water discharged from our plant.
By sending cleaner water to the Poudre River, we improve the river’s health. Not only will these facility enhancements continue to provide excellent service and treatment, but they will also allow us to handle the population growth that many communities in Northern Colorado are experiencing.
Water is a finite resource and it needs our protection. We continue to do everything we can to ensure that clean and healthy water is available to future generations.
While neighbors of Peterson Air Force Base and the Air Force Academy are still dealing with the effects of chemicals in firefighting foam that got into the environment, Gov. Jared Polis was in Colorado Springs on Monday to sign bills into law that establishes when and how PFAS can be used.
PFAS, or perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, has been linked to detrimental health effects when found in groundwater. The PFAS family of compounds been deemed “forever chemicals” because they do not break down in the environment.
They were created to make products like Scotchgard and Teflon and are used on military installments and airports in firefighting foam.
Until today there were little to no regulations of the dangerous chemicals in Colorado.
The new laws establish testing and use procedures for PFAS; and it also orders the solid and hazardous waste commission to create rules for facilities, fire departments, or others who want to use or store PFAS. The law also prohibits the use of class B firefighting foam that contains PFAS in certain aircraft hangars starting in 2023.
A $25 fee for every petroleum load that enters the state will also go into effect. The money collected will fund PFAS in Colorado…
In the meantime, it’s possible Colorado could create its own limits for the chemicals in drinking water, as other states have.
The public’s chance to comment ends Tuesday in the U.S. Forest Service’s consideration of a permit that would allow the first action in a process which could create a new reservoir in the Homestake Valley near Red Cliff.
The special use permit would allow the cities of Aurora and Colorado Springs to build roads and drill holes in an area of the White River National Forest which is near the Holy Cross Wilderness, 6 miles southwest of Red Cliff.
Ultimately, if constructed, a 20,000-acre-foot reservoir would flood a corner of the wilderness area and would also relocate Homestake Road, requiring the removal of 500 acres from the Holy Cross Wilderness area.
But at this time, the Forest Service is only seeking comments on the impacts of the drilling, not the dam. The drilling would give crews information about the feasibility of dam sites, but the drilling in itself would have impacts to the forest as 8-foot-by-22-foot drill rigs could cross wetlands and cut down trees in the path to their drilling destination, where holes of 150 feet would be dug…
In soliciting comments in June, “we are focusing solely on the potential impacts from this preliminary geophysical work,” said Marcia Gilles, acting Eagle-Holy Cross district ranger. “Any further proposals that might be submitted after this information is collected would be evaluated separately.”
“They’re calling this the Whitney Project; I’m calling it Homestake III,” said Mike Browning, a former water attorney in Colorado who is now the chair of the Eagle Summit Wilderness Alliance.
The “Homestake III” handle is in reference to the project known as Homestake II, in the early 1980s, which bears a strong resemblance to the Whitney Creek effort. The Homestake II project also sought to build another reservoir beneath the existing Homestake Reservoir, which was constructed in 1964. The Homestake II idea was eliminated in large part to Hern’s efforts.
“(Hern) was really the spokesperson and really the leader of that movement in the 1980s,” Browning said. “The Holy Cross Wilderness Defense Fund was marshaling the local comments and local opposition.”
In his Sunday letter to the Forest Service, Hern said the Holy Cross Wilderness Defense Fund, which he co-founded In 1982, has not changed its stance on the project.
“The people of Colorado love this wilderness and have supported our efforts for over forty years to establish it and preserve it,” Hern wrote. “You should not underestimate the intensity of these feelings and the attitudes of the public in this matter.”
ERO Resources Corporation and RJH Consultants, Inc., which prepared the technical report for the special use permit application, referenced the memorandum of understanding in its report.
“The objective of this study is to evaluate opportunities to construct reservoir storage to develop a portion of the yield contemplated in the (memorandum of understanding),” according to the report, which was published in November. “Specifically, the subsurface explorations described below would provide valuable information regarding the suitability of the area for reservoir development. The cities are currently considering and evaluating multiple reservoir sizes with potential storage capacities between 6,850 and 20,000 acre-feet.”
The Larimer County Planning Commission on Wednesday heard details of plans for constructing and operating the project, which would include building Glade northwest of Fort Collins and laying 35.6 miles of pipeline to carry NISP water out of the county.
The information packet given to commissioners, including staff reports, environmental impact statements and comments from numerous government agencies, is 3,242 pages.
The packet includes more than 500 comments from members of the public, including groups and individuals who have been fighting NISP since it was proposed in 2004.
Concerns about the project and its impact to the Poudre River during federal and state permitting processes were raised again along with new issues on the county level by environmental group Save the Poudre and others.
No public comment was taken. That will happen during hearings scheduled July 8 and 15. An additional meeting would be scheduled if needed to allow Northern Water time for rebuttal following the public comment, county officials said.
Northern Water is seeking a 1041 permit — named for the state law giving authority to local governments to make decisions on certain types of infrastructure projects — for NISP. The planning commission will make a recommendation on the application to the Board of County Commissioners, which will decide whether to grant a permit.
Three of the nine planning commission members recused themselves from the proceedings citing the potential appearance of impartiality or conflicts of interest: Anne Best Johnson, community development director for the city of Evans, which is a participant in NISP; Bob Choate, an attorney who might be called upon to give legal advice on the project to the Weld County commissioners; and Sean Dougherty, a Realtor who represents a landowner who might be affected by the project…
Under the county’s 1041 regulations, the county’s purview of NISP is limited to the siting of Glade and associated recreational facilities and the locations of four large pipelines that would carry NISP water through Larimer County.
The project must meet 12 criteria for approval, including that the project would not negatively impact public health and safety and the “proposal demonstrates a reasonable balance between the costs to the applicant to mitigate significant adverse (effects) and the benefits achieved by such mitigation,” according to the land-use code.
County development review staff members said the proposal meets the criteria and recommended approval of the permit with 82 conditions, including requirements for several reports and plans for addressing issues such as noise and dust during construction.
As part of the project, Northern would build recreational facilities that would be managed by the Larimer County Department of Natural Resources. The department manages recreation at Carter Lake and Horsetooth, Pinewood and Flatiron reservoirs.
Facilities at Glade would include a visitor center, campgrounds, hiking, fishing and boating. A four-lane boat ramp would be built on the southeast side of the reservoir.
The facilities would increase recreational opportunities as envisioned in county master plans, said Daylan Figgs, Natural Resources director.
Demand for access to recreation will likely increase as the county grows in the years to come, Figgs said. The facilities proposed by Northern would cost about $21.8 million. NISP would cover 75% of the cost, with the rest coming from the county directly or through partnerships.
[Nancy] Wallace said she was “struck” that the county might have to contribute to the cost of recreational facilities. NISP doesn’t appear to “give much to the county” other than its recreation components and water for Windsor and the Fort Collins-Loveland Water District, she said…
Christine Coleman, a water resources engineer with Northern, told the commissioners $49 million in NISP environmental mitigation work would be done in the county.
The final environmental impact statement for NISP estimated development of the reservoir could bring in $13 million to $30 million a year in economic benefits, Coleman said. The project would contribute $16.35 million to recreation facilities at Glade…
To keep water flowing in the Poudre, which can dry up in spots under certain circumstances, NISP would release water from Glade back to the river through a 1.3-mile pipeline.
The added water would flow 13 miles through Fort Collins before it is picked up by another pipeline upstream from the city’s wastewater treatment plant on Mulberry Street. The guaranteed flow through the city would be between 18 and 25 cubic feet per second.
“This will increase flows at the Lincoln (Street) gauge in Fort Collins and the Poudre River in eight out of 12 months in average years and 10 out of 12 months in dry years,” said Stephanie Cecil, a water resources engineer with Northern.
Water would be pumped into a pipeline running east to a pipeline along County Road 1 running south. The pipeline would affect some city-owned natural areas.
A fourth pipeline would carry water from Glade along a route known as the “northern tier” and connect with the county line pipeline.
The pipe would run through the Eagle Lake subdivision, sparking resistance to the proposal from local residents…
Cecil said the pipelines would require 100-foot easements, of which 60 feet would be permanent and 40 feet would be temporary for constructions. Property owners would be paid fair market value for easements, and surface disruptions would be reclaimed to pre-existing conditions or better.
NISP’s pipelines would range from 32 to 54 inches in diameter. The northern tier pipeline would carry about two-thirds of the water going to NISP participants, Cecil said…
What’s next for NISP in Larimer County
The Larimer County Planning Commission is scheduled to take public comment on NISP during hearings schedule July 8 and July 15 at the County Courthouse Offices Building, 200 W. Oak St. in Fort Collins.
Both meetings will begin at 6 p.m. Attendance will be limited to 50 people because of COVID-19 restrictions on gatherings.
Comments will be limited to 2 minutes per person. Borrowing, lending or grouping time will not be allowed. Groups and individuals who wish to speak in person or remotely must register at larimer.org/planning/NISP-1041.
The planning commission will make a recommendation on a permit for NISP to the Board of County Commissioners, which will decide on the application.
Hearings by the commissioners are scheduled:
6 p.m., Aug. 17 – Presentations only; no public testimony.
2 p.m. Aug. 24 (break from 5:30-6:30 p.m.)
3 p.m. Aug. 31 (break from 5:30-6:30 p.m.)
6:30 p.m. Sept. 2 – questions, final deliberation and decision
Larimer County staff has recommended approval of a 1041 permit for the Northern Integrated Supply Project with requirements that include noise, water and air quality monitoring and mitigation during construction of its reservoirs and associated pipelines.
Engineering, health department and planning staff members outlined that recommendation to the Larimer County Planning Commission on Wednesday during the first of a three-part public hearing for the reservoir project, which over the past decade has drawn vocal opposition and support.
Northern Water hopes to build the water project on behalf of 15 water providers as a way to pull water in wet years, from both the Poudre and South Platte rivers, to store for when needed. All of the participants have water conservation plans and have reduced their water use by 10%, but still need future water supplies, according to Northern Water…
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is responsible for the main permit to build the project — a decision expected sometime this year after more than a decade of evaluation. However, Larimer County does have some authority through its 1041 permit on certain aspects of construction of the reservoir and its associated pipelines as well as recreation on and surrounding the reservoir.
The planning commission will make a recommendation to the Larimer County commissioners, who will hold a public hearing that is scheduled across three Mondays starting Aug. 17 and will end with a decision on whether to grant the 1041 permit.
The first of the planning commission dates, Wednesday, was a presentation by Northern Water and by Larimer County staff. Public comment is slated for the next two hearings, scheduled July 8 and July 15…
Some highlights of the presentation, from both county staff and Northern Water representatives, include:
The realignment of U.S. 287 north of Fort Collins is not part of the 1041 permit, but Larimer County is asking that the design take into effect the impacts on nearby county roads including the already dangerous intersection with U.S. 287 and Colo. 14.
Glade Reservoir would be able to store 170,000 acre feet of water with 1,600 surface acres and water that could hit 250 feet at its deepest. The reservoir would be 5 miles long, and the project would include four separate pipeline segments spanning a total of 35.6 miles.
Recreation at the reservoir would be detailed closer to construction to reflect trends and interests at the time but would include a mixture of boating, camping, fishing and trails that would help meet demands for a growing Larimer County population. Overall, Northern Water has proposed $21.8 million in recreation amenities and improvements, including a visitors center. Northern Water has committed to covering 75% of those costs through the project; the remainder would be covered through partnerships.
Northern Water would need to mitigate impacts on traffic that would range between 400 and 1,600 average daily trips during construction of the reservoir, up to 300 daily trips associated with construction of the pipelines and an average of 1,150 daily trips associated with recreation.
Larimer County would require traffic management, dust and noise mitigation plans, as well as groundwater monitoring. Construction would be limited to daytime, and the county would require private well monitoring to ensure that those water sources are not polluted.
County staff members believe any impacts on wildlife, wetlands, streamflow, fisheries and other natural resources would be mitigated by existing measures in a Fish and Wildlife Mitigation and Enhancement Plan that was approved by state officials in 2017, as well as through a water quality permit based on multiple studies and evaluations. The mitigation plan calls call for $53 million in improvements, including fish-friendly bypasses at diversion structures, a low flow plan to keep more water in the Poudre River through Fort Collins and enhancements to wetlands and wildlife habitat.
The project proposes swapping irrigation water from the Poudre River with water from the South Platte River, which will prevent “buy and dry” of farmland. This could keep more than 60,000 acres of irrigated farmland in production, according to Northern Water.
As people head out on the waters of Chatfield Reservoir, many probably don’t realize the lake is there now because of what happened 55 years ago on June 16.
“It was a 20-foot wall of water when it hit Littleton,” Jenny Hankinson said.
She is Curator of Collections at the Littleton Museum and helped put together an exhibit about the 1965 South Platte River Flood…
On June 14, 1965, Hankinson said about 14 inches of rain fell upstream near Castle Rock and Deckers adding too much precipitation to Plum Creek and the South Platte River forcing water over the banks collecting debris along the way…
Hankinson said 13 bridges were washed out along with 2,500 homes causing more than $500 million in damage at the time across Colorado. In 2020 dollars, that is the equivalent of more than $4.1 billion…
Due to the flood, Hankinson said development along the river is now smarter with fewer buildings, more parks and open land that can absorb the water. But, the biggest protection is the dam at Chatfield Reservoir built eight years after the flood.
Chatfield Reservoir, one of the largest liquid playgrounds in the Denver metro area, will take on a new role this year, storing water under an innovative $171 million deal completed last month between the state, water providers, environmental groups and the federal government.
For millions of boaters, campers, cyclists, runners and bird watchers, the 350,000 acre-foot reservoir that sits southwest of the city is a year-round recreational hot spot, with 1.6 million annual visitors.
But for thirsty Front Range communities and farmers nearby and downstream, including Highlands Ranch, Castle Rock, the Greeley-based Central Colorado Water Conservancy District and six other water providers, Chatfield represents a rare opportunity to transform a reservoir once designed strictly for flood protection into a much-needed water storage vessel, a key goal of the Colorado Water Plan.
Thanks to the redesign, the reservoir will be able to hold an additional 20,600 acre-feet of water, an amount sufficient to serve more than 40,000 new homes or irrigate roughly 10,000 acres of farm land, while maintaining its ability to protect the metro area from flooding, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
“It is cool to see it done,” said Randy Ray, manager of the Central Colorado Water Conservancy District and president of the Chatfield Reservoir Mitigation Company, Inc., which oversees the project. “It will be better when it fills up with water.”
Originally built by the Army Corps in 1975 to help control the South Platte River during floods, by the 1990s water agencies and others began looking at ways to actually store water there.
It wasn’t easy. To raise the shore level, hundreds of acres of land along the reservoir’s banks were revegetated to replace low-lying areas that will be inundated as water is stored. The cove that houses the marina was dredged, new boat ramps were built, and new habitat for birds was created downstream in Douglas County.
A 2,100 acre-foot pool of water for environmental purposes was also set aside. It will be used to provide water for recreation and improve flows for the South Platte River through Denver, Ray said.
Though the project has been praised for its multi-purpose nature, it also triggered a long-running battle with the Denver chapter of the Audubon Society, which feared the construction damage to bird habitat would not be adequately repaired in the reservoir’s new design.
The society’s lawsuit to stop the project ultimately failed. But Polly Reetz, the chapter’s conservation chair, said they plan to closely monitor how habitat and birds respond.
“We’re still not convinced it’s going to work,” Reetz said. “They’ve done some good work out there. Plum Creek is much better. But we plan to watch it very carefully and see what happens.”
The project’s $171 million price tag was paid by the cities and farmers who will store water there, with additional funds provided by the Colorado Water Conservation Board and the federal government.
“This project is a great example of federal, state and local authorities working together to address vital water supply issues along the Front Range,” said Army Corps Omaha District Commander Col. John Hudson in a statement.
That the reservoir is a highly valued part of the outdoor recreation scene in metro Denver was clear Monday morning. More than two dozen cars waited patiently to enter the park, campgrounds were brimming with visitors, and paddle boaters and sailors were already gliding across the lake.
Elizabeth Jorde and her son Jeremiah were waiting at the marina, hoping to reserve a slip for their family pontoon boat on Father’s Day.
Jorde said she’s looking forward to seeing what a fuller reservoir will look like on the many days she and her family come out to relax. But she also said the $171 million price tag seemed steep for the amount of water the project will store.
“I was flabbergasted,” she said. “It will be interesting to see if it is worth it.”
For Randy Ray the project will provided 4,274 acre-feet of critical new storage space for the farmers in his district, who anteed up $20 million to help get the deal done.
And he said it is proof that collaborative solutions to Colorado’s looming water shortages can be found.
“We rolled up our sleeves, put our differences aside and got this thing built,” Ray said.
Jerd Smith is editor of Fresh Water News. She can be reached at 720-398-6474, via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or @jerd_smith.
Fresh Water News is an independent, nonpartisan news initiative of Water Education Colorado. WEco is funded by multiple donors. Our editorial policy and donor list can be viewed at wateredco.org.
FromThe Douglas County News Press (Elliott Wenzler):
A 2-million-gallon underground water tank, which will be the final piece of major infrastructure for the regional Water Infrastructure and Supply Efficiency (WISE) project, is under construction in northwest Douglas County…
“This will be big enough to provide most of the (water) demands that would be necessary for Douglas County for a long time,” said Mary Kay Provaznik, general manager of Dominion Water and Sanitation.
The $5 million project will provide storage for drinking water to the customers of Dominion Water and fire-flow capacity for the Highway 85 corridor. About half of the capacity will go to emergency services, which can be shared in the region, according to a release from the water district.
The tank, which will hold as much water as three Olympic-size swimming pools, will be 30 feet tall and buried in an area between Roxborough Park and Louviers…
“The interest in developing in this area is now possible,” Provaznik said. “Nobody knew how they could develop because there was no way to get renewable water. Now there’s a choice.”
Dominion Water, a special district serving a 33,000 acre area in northwest Douglas County, was formed in 2004 and includes Sterling Ranch, Roxborough and Sedalia.
Construction on the High Zone Water Storage project began in April and is expected to be completed by the end of the year, she said.
El Paso County’s Planning and Community Development Department has been recognized with an Achievement Award from the National Association of Counties. The awards honor innovative, effective county government programs that strengthen services for residents. The department won its 2020 NACo Achievement Award in the Planning Category for its Water Master Plan. This is the second award for the El Paso County Water Master Plan, which also won an award from the American Planning Association (Colorado Chapter) in 2019.
“It is a great honor for El Paso County to be recognized by the National Association of Counties for our Water Master Plan. El Paso County has developed into a national leader in the area of planning for growth and development, particularly with respect to potential impacts to our most important natural resource, water,” said El Paso County Planning and Community Development Executive Director Craig Dossey. “The Water Master Plan provides guidance that is intended to inform future land use decisions, to help ensure that we as a community are able to balance the efficient use of our limited water supplies with the water needs of the current and future residents of our great county.”
The Water Master Plan examines the current state of water resources in El Paso County and provides an overview of county water supply needs to sustain the current population and accommodate growth through the year 2060. The Water Master Plan is a tool used to evaluate development proposals and guide county officials, staff, citizens and water providers as the region experiences significant growth in the coming years. It is an element of the overall County Master Plan, which is currently being developed.
The public can participate in the Master Plan development process and virtually provide feedback on the County Master Plan via interactive online activities at http://ElPaso.HLPlanning.com.
Denver is movin’ on up in the rankings for two-wheels! People for Bikes recently released its third annual ratings of the best cities for bicycling in the U.S.
Out of 567 cities, (drum roll please) Denver ranked 8th! The Mile High City has shown steady improvement since People for Bikes began its City Ratings program in 2018. Take a look…
2018 Rank 27th out of 480 cities
2019 Rank 18th out of 511 cities
2020 Rank 8th out of 567 cities
Denver’s Department of Transportation and Infrastructure (DOTI) is delivering a rapid buildout of 125 miles of bike lanes by 2023, making biking a safer and more comfortable commuting option. Denver’s three-pronged approach includes:
Coordinating the striping of bike lanes with street paving operations.
Installing high comfort bike facilities around the city that will serve as the backbones for future, large area bike network buildouts.
A significant buildout of the bike network in the city’s core where population densities are higher to significantly increase the number of Denver households within ¼ mile of a high comfort bikeway (a primary goal of the Denver Moves: Bikes Plan).
Of the 125 miles of bike lanes to be installed by 2023, the majority will be considered high comfort facilities that provide greater separation between people in cars and on bikes, traffic calming measures to slow vehicle speeds along residential roads, and greater connectivity to the places people want to bike.
What are high comfort bikeways? They provide:
Dedicated space on the street for people who drive cars and ride bikes
Street designs that lower the stress of riding and reduce potential conflicts between bikes and cars
A convenient and more viable way for people to get around safely
Better connections to the places people want to go, such as schools, parks, trails and transit.
People for Bikes’ city ratings are scored across five key indicators: Ridership (how many people are riding bikes), Safety (how safe is it to ride bikes), Network (how easy is it for people to bike where they want to go), Reach (how well the network serves all parts of the community), and Acceleration (how fast the community is working to improve biking).
Currently, there are total of 206 miles of on-street bike lanes in Denver. When complete, the city’s bike network, as identified in the Denver Moves: Bikes Plan, will consist of nearly 450 miles of bike facilities and every household will be within a quarter mile of a high ease of use facility.
Olympus Dam near Estes Park, Colorado impounds Lake Estes. The lake is the afterbay for Estes Powerplant, a hydroelectric powerplant that can produce up to 45 MW each hour. Colorado-Big Thompson Project water from the west slope fuels the Estes Powerplant. Project water discharged from Estes Powerplant is diverted from Lake Estes, routed to additional hydroelectric powerplants on the Front Range and is then stored in Carter Lake or Horsetooth Reservoir. Project water is rarely released from Olympus Dam into the Big Thompson River.
This is the season for snow-melt runoff into Lake Estes. In the past 10 days, natural inflow into Lake Estes has increased from a low of about 250 cubic feet per second (cfs) to a peak flow of about 1,020 cfs. Currently, natural inflow is decreasing (around 700 cfs); however, warmer or wetter days could result in natural inflow increasing again and the recent peak inflow could be surpassed.
Olympus Dam is not an authorized flood control structure. As such, the natural snow-melt or precipitation runoff that flows into Lake Estes is released from Olymus Dam into the Big Thompson River. Under normal operations, Olympus Dam does provide the benefit of shaving off the peak inflow. One way it does so can be explained using recent operations. During two days this week when peak inflow into Lake Estes was about 1,000 cfs, maximum release from the dam was 880 cfs. This is because outflows are generally the day’s average. Outflow does not follow the within-day variation, which ranged from 714 cfs to 1,020 cfs within a 24-hour period. Releases from Olympus Dam in the near term will be driven by whatever Nature provides from the headwaters of the Big Thompson watershed.
As the snow-melt runoff season progresses, Reclamation will provide information to the public regarding expected flows released from Olympus Dam.
FromBloomberg Law (John Dunbar and Christina Brady):
After decades of inaction, the federal government has gotten serious about cleaning up PFAS, a class of compounds known as “forever chemicals” that have been linked to health problems and inhabit the bloodstream of nearly every American.
Congress has introduced dozens of bills mentioning “PFAS” so far in the 2019-2020 Congress, many more than in previous years. The boom in legislation has sparked a major increase in lobbying. In 2017, only four entities mentioned the issue in government lobbying reports. In 2018, the number grew to 35, and by 2019, it rocketed to 164.
More water utilities—which have pushed back against certain provisions to clean up PFAS—have lobbied on regulation of the chemicals than any other group. They rank above the air travel industry, cities, and chemical companies, a Bloomberg Law analysis shows.
“I continue to be shocked that people charged with keeping our water clean have been among the most vocal opponents of getting PFAS out of our water, and are in many respects just as bad as many of the polluters whose mess they are charged with cleaning up,” said Scott Faber, senior vice president for government affairs with the Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit advocacy organization…
One basic question underlies the debate over what to do about what is arguably one of the most pervasive public health threats facing Americans in years: Who is going to pay to clean up this mess?
Under proposed EPA regulation and congressional action, utilities are faced with removing the stubborn compounds from their systems and disposing of them in landfills which could be designated as Superfund sites. Water utilities are already dealing with an aging infrastructure, worries about lead, and costs associated with the coronavirus pandemic and its economic impact.
Among the tools in the EPA’s toolbox for cleaning up toxic chemicals like PFAS is the Superfund law, enacted in 1980, which gave the agency the authority to force polluters to pay for cleanup of toxic sites…
In July 2019, the Democrat-controlled House approved the National Defense Authorization Act (H.R. 2500), which contained an amendment by Michigan Democratic Rep. Debbie Dingell that would force the EPA to designate PFOA and PFOS as “hazardous” within a year, thus triggering the Superfund designation that would allow the EPA to compel cleanup.
An alliance of water associations wrote to the House and Senate armed services committees in August, saying the Superfund designation could “create liability for communities that encounter PFAS in their water treatment activities.”
The letter was signed by the American Water Works Association, the American Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies, the National Association of Water Companies, and the National Rural Water Association.
A coalition of industry groups also argued against the Superfund designation, saying such decisions are “not political questions that Congress is best positioned to address,” in a letter to the House. “EPA should retain its traditional authority to study potentially hazardous substances and to ascertain whether they should be designated under CERCLA.”
The letter was signed by more than a dozen industry associations, including the American Chemistry Council, whose members include 3M, which still manufactures PFAS compounds, and DuPont spinoff, Chemours Co., which now holds most of DuPont’s PFAS liabilities.
Faber, of the Environmental Working Group, said utilities aren’t usually big contributors of PFAS to sites that could be designated under Superfund and subjected to liability. And they don’t have deep pockets. The government usually goes after companies with resources, not “cash-strapped entities,” he continued.
Mehan, from the utilities group, said that EPA doesn’t sue municipalities under Superfund, but other entities—like polluters that have been declared responsible for cleaning up contaminated sites—”have and will. Hundreds of them.”
Mark W. LeChevallier is the former chief environmental officer for publicly traded American Water and is now a consultant. “Any utility has to be worried,” he said. “The ultimate disposal is an issue here. And that might be a concern that some utilities have. Will they have ultimate responsibility?”
In Colorado, where groundwater contamination is a problem thanks in part to the military’s use of firefighting foam at its facilities, state lawmakers proposed testing requirements for drinking water and setting limits for PFAS. But the proposal didn’t survive the bill’s first hearing.
“We had pushback from the utility companies,” said state Rep. Tony Exum Sr., a Democrat who represents a part of the state that has been contaminated with the chemicals. “To mitigate and prevent is very, very expensive, as well as enforcement.”
Similar to the federal level, the groups had liability concerns, which lawmakers sought to address, “but we just didn’t have enough time to move forward,” Exum said.
“We’re going to keep working on it so we can come to an agreement,” he continued. “We can’t take clean water for granted.”
FromThe Denver Post (Bruce Finley) via The Broomfield Enterprise:
Company officials say tests show contaminants did not exceed state standards for surface water
Contaminated water has been seeping into Sand Creek just up from where it meets the South Platte River near the Suncor Energy oil refinery north of Denver, and company officials on Wednesday said they were monitoring conditions and “will make any necessary repairs” to a spill containment pool behind sandbags where crews were pumping out water.
A sheen of benzene and other chemicals was detected on the surface of Sand Creek on May 7 and again on May 15, company officials said.
Sunday’s heavy rains raised water levels along the creek, leading to a breach of the containment area.
Suncor contractors have drawn water samples from Sand Creek and the South Platte, and tested these for benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, xylene and methyl tertiary butyl ether, company officials said. The results showed concentrations did not exceed state standards for surface water in those waterways, officials said.
Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment officials did not respond to queries about conditions at the refinery. It is located just north of Denver in Commerce City, along the creek and the Sand Creek Greenway public bicycle path, near where the creek flows into the South Platte.
“Who is watching this?” Adams County Commissioner Steve O’Dorisio said. “I’m concerned about the problems that continue to occur.”
Mother Nature gave Colorado’s Front Range a much needed drink of water on Sunday with a widespread rain event that lasted several hours. Some of the precipitation fell as snow in the higher elevations just to the west and south of Denver.
The rainfall created so much runoff that a flood advisory was issued for a brief time along Cherry Creek because it got out of its banks. There were no issues reported due to the flooding but it was a good reminder of how fast things can change when a lot of rain falls during a short period of time.
Denver’s official total of 0.94 inches was the most rain on a calendar day at Denver International Airport since last July. It also broke a record for the date.
The Narrows is one of a handful of small parks owned and operated by Larimer County in the Big Thompson Canyon, now known as the Big Thompson Parks. They opened for the season on May 15, most of them for the first time since the 2013 floods devastated the canyon.
“This is a big milestone for us,” said Chris Fleming, Big Thompson district manager for the Larimer County Department of Natural Resources.
The Big Thompson Parks start just west of Loveland with Glade Park and continue 17 miles west along U.S. 34 including Narrows, Forks and Sleepy Hollow. Over the past seven years, Larimer County worked with other land agencies to restore these parks properties to allow for river access…
The Big Thompson River is home to native trout, and forests and wildlife surround the water.
The parks are different than they used to be before the flood, but they are open.
Glade, for example, previously had a parking lot and picnic area. Now, there is a pullout and a path to the river for fishing.
Narrows is accessed by a small pull-out and features a short trail to the water’s edge.
Most of the land in the park is fenced off with signs that it has been planted by the Big Thompson Watershed Coalition as part of a restoration project. But there is access to the river, and a peaceful place to fish, to picnic without tables, to read a book or to sit and watch the birds fly and the water flow…
The Forks, which is just east of Drake, is probably the most dramatic change. A moonscape after the flood, the park now has a paved parking lot and bathroom, stairs down to the river and a rocky bank to walk along and fish. During the reconstruction of U.S. 34, the park was essentially home base for construction crews and filled with mounds of construction materials.
It no longer has picnic tables, but people can access the river and enjoy nature there.
The Bureau of Reclamation will increase diversion of Colorado River water to Horsetooth Reservoir at midnight tonight. The change will require a decrease in the Big Thompson River diverted for power generation at Olympus Dam.
Reclamation is currently releasing 125 cfs to the Big Thompson River from Olympus Dam. The flow will increase to 265 cfs beginning tonight. Our current forecast indicates that runoff into Lake Estes will substantially increase over the next week. It is possible the Olympus Dam required release to the Big Thompson River will exceed 600 cfs.
Addressing flood risk after an area has already developed is complicated, expensive, and messy in every way you can imagine. This video will recap a challenging flood mitigation project that was 20 years in the making and contrast it with the Mile High Flood District’s modern approach to urban stream design – an approach we call High Functioning and Low Maintenance Streams (HFLMS)
Denver Water officials increased the release of water from Dillon Reservoir into the Blue River to about 400 cubic feet per second in the first week of May as inflow held steady at about 500 cfs through Monday, May 11. The latter number is expected to steadily rise as spring runoff picks up.
The current forecast from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Colorado River Basin Forecast Center estimates as of May 11 that there is 146,000 acre-feet of water — in the form of snowmelt — that will flow into Dillon Reservoir through July 31. There’s currently 17,500 acre-feet of space in the reservoir, according to Denver Water, so about 128,500 acre-feet will flow out of the reservoir either to the Blue River or Roberts Tunnel by July 31, with an estimated 13,000 acre-feet through the tunnel.
All of these complex calculations are the first steps in a delicate dance Denver Water performs each spring to balance public safety with Denver’s water needs, recreation, hydroelectric demands and obligations to downstream senior water-rights holders.
“Dillon is our biggest reservoir and one of our more complicated to operate,” said Nathan Elder, water resources manager for Denver Water. “Most of our other reservoirs only have one outlet, but Dillon’s got both the outlet to the Blue and the outlet to the Roberts Tunnel, which provides water to the East Slope and down the North Fork (of the South Platte River) to Strontia Springs Reservoir and then to our customers.”
The Roberts Tunnel, finished in 1962 about the same time the old town of Dillon was relocated to its current spot and the Dillon Dam was built, is a 23-mile concrete conduit that diverts water from the Blue River basin on the Western Slope to the South Platte Basin on the Front Range to supply more than 1.4 million Denver Water customers.
This system is what’s known as a transmountain diversion — one of many that bring water from the Colorado River basin on the west side of the Continental Divide to the state’s population center on the Front Range. What it’s not, Elder said, is a way to avoid dangerous spring-runoff flooding.
“We can’t use Roberts Tunnel as a flood-control option,” he said. “So we’re very careful about the amount of water we take from the West Slope over to the East Slope. And when we use the Roberts Tunnel, we can only take it over to the East Slope if it’s put towards the demand. We can’t just dump it over there to prevent flooding or high flows below Dillon.”
The 2014 Colorado River Cooperative Agreement places a 400,000 acre-foot limit on Blue River water stored in existing or future Denver Water storage facilities on the Front Range.
There are more than 1,000 properties in regulatory floodplains in Summit County, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and quite a few of them are along the Blue as it makes its way northwest through Silverthorne and toward its confluence with the Colorado River near Kremmling.
This time of year, as snowpack begins to melt into local tributaries — the Blue, Snake River and Tenmile Creek all feed Dillon Reservoir from the south — Elder and his team closely monitor snowmelt forecasts and weather reports to coordinate with local officials to prevent flooding.
“Denver Water has worked with the town over the years to release water from Dillon Reservoir at rates between 50 cfs and 1,800 cfs,” said Tom Daugherty, Silverthorne’s director of public works. “They have done a very good job of doing that. Denver Water attends our local meetings concerning snowmelt runoff and inform us of what they expect.”
FEMA designates 2,500 cfs as a 10-year flood level just below Dillon Dam, while 3,350 cfs there would be a 100-year flood level. The amount of runoff pouring into the reservoir varies widely, depending on weather conditions and snowpack, from a low inflow of 410 cfs in the drought year of 2012 to a high of 3,408 cfs in 1995.
The amount of snowpack on the Front Range and rate of melting due to high temperatures or rain events also impacts when Denver Water turns on the Roberts Tunnel and how much water it takes out of Dillon Reservoir. The Blue River Decree dictates that Denver Water needs to keep as much water on the Western Slope as possible and can take water only to meet demand.
“Last year was a good example of that,” Denver Water spokesman Todd Hartman said. “We had so much snowpack on the Front Range that we just didn’t need the Roberts Tunnel water and couldn’t take it because of that demand issue.”
That resulted in higher flows on the Blue below the dam last runoff season.
“It got up to around 1,900 cfs, and we didn’t actually turn on the Roberts Tunnel until the second week in August last year,” Elder said. “That’s after everything on the East Slope filled, and we started dipping into that storage and streamflow dropped off on the East Slope.”
This year, there’s a similarly healthy snowpack above the reservoir and also decent snowpack on the Front Range, but temperatures have been higher and the spring runoff season hasn’t been nearly as wet and cool as last year.
“We have a Snotel (snow telemetry) site on top of Hoosier Pass, which is extremely important for monitoring that basin and for forecasting, and it’s still at 121% of normal right now,” Natural Resources Conservation Service hydrologist Karl Wetlaufer said in early May. “It looks like it did actually have a net accumulation through April and is just really just starting to turn around and melt out now over the last few days with this warm weather.”
The Natural Resources Conservation Service produces snowmelt forecasts used by Denver Water, which also taps into the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration forecast center.
Based on information from Snotel sites, snowpack above Dillon Reservoir peaked at 127% of normal. The forecast center’s inflow outlook for Dillon Reservoir is 104% of average, and the forecast from the Natural Resources Conservation Service was 107% of average.
The first priority for Denver Water is to fill the reservoir to meet customer needs, but it also tries to minimize high flows out of the reservoir via the Blue River and maintain water levels so that the Frisco and Dillon marinas can operate from June through Labor Day. Elder said the minimum operating level for both Dillon and Frisco marinas is 9,012 feet in elevation.
The goal, Elder said, is to get the reservoir to that level or higher by June 12. On May 11, the surface level of the water in the reservoir was at 9,010 feet. The reservoir is full when the elevation of the water, as measured on the dam, is 9,017 feet, which is 257,304 acre-feet of water. At 9,010 feet, the reservoir is holding about 236,232 acre-feet of water.
Release too much and too early — to avoid high flows and flooding downstream — and Denver Water runs the risk of missing the chance to fill Dillon for use by its customers later in the summer season as well as keep the reservoir full for a long boating season. And then there are the downstream hydroelectric factors and calls by senior water-rights holders.
Senior water rights
While the Blue River Decree does not have a volumetric limit on how much water Denver Water can take out of Dillon Reservoir through the Roberts Tunnel to meet its customer needs, the Roberts Tunnel right is from 1946 and is junior to Green Mountain Reservoir and Shoshone Power Plant rights, which limit the ability of Denver Water to divert. The Roberts Tunnel right is for 788 cfs, which is not a storage right but instead a direct-flow right.
So if Green Mountain gets toward the end of its fill season and hasn’t filled and Dillon has diverted, then Denver Water owes water to Green Mountain. Green Mountain Reservoir, located on the Blue River in northern Summit County, was created specifically to compensate the Western Slope for diversions to the Front Range as part of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project.
Then on the Colorado River in Glenwood Canyon, well downstream from where the Blue feeds the Colorado at Kremmling, there’s Xcel Energy’s Shoshone Generating Station hydroelectric plant — which has one of the most senior water rights on the main stem of the Colorado River. A 1902 right draws 1,250 cfs of water downstream to meet the plant’s needs. During dry times of the year, such as late summer, the power plant often places a “call” on the river, meaning junior diverters upstream — including Denver Water — must stop diverting so that Shoshone can get its full allocation of water.
Elder said Denver Water wants to fill Dillon Reservoir quickly enough each spring before any potential Shoshone call. If a call came before Dillon was full, Denver Water would have to release water from Williams Fork Reservoir in order to keep water in Dillon Reservoir. However, Williams Fork can hold only 96,000 acre-feet of water.
“We want (both reservoirs) to fill quick enough that we fill both before that Shoshone power plant call comes on and before the senior call comes on the river, but not too quick that we fill before peak runoff where we get in those high-flow situations,” Elder said. “So it’s a real balancing act there. You’re balancing elevations for marinas, downstream water rights, filling the reservoir safely and then also any potential releases you may need to make from Roberts Tunnel.”
Aspen Journalism, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization supported by its donors and funders, covers water and rivers in collaboration with the Summit Daily News and other Swift Communications newspapers. This story ran in the May 17 edition of the Summit Daily.
The Northern Water Board of Directors allocated 15,000 acre-feet of Regional Pool Program (RPP) water during its May 14, 2020, Board meeting. RPP water is available for lease by eligible Northern Colorado water users, with sealed bids due May 28, 2020. Bid prices per-acre-foot must be greater than or equal to $27.40, a floor price the Board selected based on the 2020 agricultural assessment rate.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, interim procedures have been instituted for the May 2020 RPP allocation. The interim procedure and additional Regional Pool information are available at http://northernwater.org/regionalpool.
The following forms are required to submit a bid:
Pre-Approval Form – To confirm eligibility, interested bidders must email or mail the Pre-Approval Form to Northern Water. In person delivery will not be accepted in 2020. A new Pre-Approval Form is required each year.
Carrier Consent Form – If the RPP water will be delivered by a carrier, such as a ditch or reservoir company, bidders and their carriers must complete the Carrier Consent Form or provide a signed agreement stating that the carrier will deliver the RPP water to the bidder. This form must also be emailed or mailed to Northern Water; in person delivery will not be accepted.
Bid Form – Sealed bids will be accepted at Northern Water’s headquarters through a “self-serve” process. Bidders will sign in at a kiosk in the lobby and print a bid label for their sealed bid envelope. The label will identify the bidder name, date and time stamp, and bid number. Secure the label to the bid envelope and place in the drop box. Sealed bids may also be mailed to Northern Water, but must be received before the deadline.
Sealed bids are due by 2 p.m. May 28 at Northern Water’s headquarters, 220 Water Ave., Berthoud, CO 80513. As described above, sealed bids can be mailed or hand delivered; email and fax bid forms will not be accepted. RPP leases will be awarded based on highest bids per acre-foot. Sealed bids will be opened during a 9 a.m., June 1 Zoom video conference. The link to the Zoom video conference will be available at http://northernwater.org/RegionalPool.
Many staff are working remotely due to the COVID-19 pandemic and are not available to answer questions in person. Questions regarding the Regional Pool Program and bid submittal can be emailed to email@example.com or by calling Sarah Smith at 970-622-2295 or Water Scheduling at 970-292-2500.
A fast-growing Douglas County city has filed a new claim for water on the South Platte River, a move that could allow it to boost its future water supplies by some 60 percent.
But the action could also undermine SPROWG, an innovative, collaborative effort by more than a dozen Front Range communities to capture and reuse water on the South Platte River near the Nebraska state line and return it to Eastern Plains farm communities, northern Front Range cities, and the metro area.
Parker’s legal move to claim water rights in the same region, in partnership with the Sterling-based Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District, is unfolding just as SPROWG completed a major feasibility study indicating its project could be built for roughly $3.2 billion to $4.2 billion.
Parker’s project, slated to be done in about 10 years, would add 20,000 acre-feet to the city’s current supply of 34,400 acre-feet…
Though SPROWG’s feasibility study has been completed, years of planning lie ahead before the cooperative effort is ready to deliver water, with a completion date yet to be set.
“We are light years ahead of them,” said Ron Redd, manager of the Parker Water and Sanitation District. “We’ve offered to partner on anything they want to do. I hope, especially when it comes to storage, they will want to partner. But we are just way ahead of them.”
The Berthoud-based Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, whose boundary encompasses much of the northern Front Range and extends out to the Nebraska border, is alarmed by Parker’s $500 million proposal, saying it violates the spirit of collaborative water planning embodied in SPROWG and that it could dramatically shrink the amount of water available for others at the table.
“It’s disappointing to me,” said Brad Wind, general manager of Northern Water. “SPROWG was initiated as a community effort. We were going to share the good, the bad and the ugly. When one entity files, it’s a much different process to look at community involvement and decide how to share the yield.”
Parker and the Lower South Platte district plan to develop at least 20,000 acre-feet of water for urban use, a number that rises to 30,000 acre-feet when the agriculture component is added in, according to Joe Frank, manager of the Lower South Platte district.
Frank also said Parker’s project is important to northeastern Colorado because it won’t result in a permanent dry-up of farmland and will give farmers in his district a more reliable source of water, helping stabilize farm communities that are already struggling.
Parker’s Redd said he’s hopeful, given the similarities between the two proposals, that a partnership can be developed with the existing SPROWG collaboration.
“I like the idea of controlling our own destiny,” he said. “And right now we’re assuming we’re going it alone. But my hope is they will join us.”
Jerd Smith is editor of Fresh Water News. She can be reached at 720-398-6474, via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or @jerd_smith.
Here’s the release from the Colorado Water Conservation Board:
After more than three decades of collaboration between federal and state entities and local water providers, Chatfield Reservoir will begin storing up to an additional 20,600 acre-feet of water this spring.
The Chatfield Reservoir Reallocation Project (Project), which recently received final approval from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, is an effort to help meet Colorado’s water supply and demand gap. The Project brings environmental, agricultural, and outdoor recreational benefits along with new, critical multi-purpose water storage capacity for growing front range communities including Highlands Ranch, Castle Rock, and Castle Pines.
“This Project addresses the critical need for reallocating storage space to meet our water supply and demand gap in Colorado while providing important wildlife habitat and increasing South Platte River flows through the Denver metro area,” said Colorado Department of Natural Resources Executive Director Dan Gibbs. “The Chatfield Reservoir Reallocation Project is a prime example of federal, state, and local collaboration and would not have been possible without the support of Colorado’s Congressional delegation, Douglas County, water providers, and members of the nonprofit community bringing this important storage project to the finish line.”
The Project involved rebuilding portions of Chatfield State Park to accommodate the increased water levels and completing a number of projects aimed at improving wildlife and aquatic habitat. Two properties in Douglas County outside of Chatfield State Park will also be preserved to compensate for bird habitat impacted by the Project.
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Omaha District Commander, Col. John Hudson said, “This project is a great example of federal, state and local authorities working together to address vital water supply issues along the Front Range. The higher authorized lake level will provide greater water storage and increased recreational opportunity for the residents of Douglas County and the State of Colorado. It’s very rewarding having the opportunity to be part of such a great project.”
Modifications to state park amenities include the floating marina, boat ramps, the swim beach, bike trails, parking lots, tree thinning, and forest floor clean up on walking trails. Onsite environmental mitigation included restoring Plum Creek and the South Platte, two of the reservoir’s primary tributaries, to control erosion and improve habitat. The Project also includes a dedicated “environmental pool” which will provide stream flow through the metro reach of the South Platte, during historically drier times of the year.
“Not only will the environmental pool improve recreational and water quality downstream of Chatfield, but the releases will also be utilized for irrigation of family farms and livestock operations in the South Platte valley, which are vital to Colorado’s economy,” said Randy Ray, Chatfield Reservoir Mitigation Company Board President and Executive Director of Central Colorado Water Conservancy District.
Totaling $171 million, this Project was funded by the water providers and the State of Colorado with a significant portion financed through the Colorado Water Conservation Board’s (CWCB) loan program. Colorado’s bipartisan Congressional delegation has long supported the project and worked to secure Federal funding and project approvals.
Click here to read the report. Here’s the abstract:
Across the Upper Missouri River Basin, the recent drought of 2000 to 2010, known as the “turn-of-the-century drought,” was likely more severe than any in the instrumental record including the Dust Bowl drought. However, until now, adequate proxy records needed to better understand this event with regard to long-term variability have been lacking. Here we examine 1,200 y of streamflow from a network of 17 new tree-ring–based reconstructions for gages across the upper Missouri basin and an independent reconstruction of warm-season regional temperature in order to place the recent drought in a long-term climate context. We find that temperature has increasingly influenced the severity of drought events by decreasing runoff efficiency in the basin since the late 20th century (1980s) onward. The occurrence of extreme heat, higher evapotranspiration, and associated low-flow conditions across the basin has increased substantially over the 20th and 21st centuries, and recent warming aligns with increasing drought severities that rival or exceed any estimated over the last 12 centuries. Future warming is anticipated to cause increasingly severe droughts by enhancing water deficits that could prove challenging for water management.
In much of the western United States (hereafter “the West”), water demand (i.e., the combination of atmospheric demands, ecological requirements, and consumptive use) is approaching or has exceeded supply, making the threat of future drought an increasing concern for water managers. Prolonged drought can disrupt agricultural systems and economies, challenge river system control and navigation, and complicate management of sensitive ecological resources. Recently, ample evidence has emerged to suggest that the severity of several regional 21st-century droughts has exceeded the severity of historical drought events; these recent extreme droughts include the 2011 to 2016 California drought and the 2000 to 2015 drought in the Colorado River basin.
Conspicuously absent thus far from investigations of recent droughts has been the Missouri River, the longest river in North America draining the largest independent river basin in the United States. Similar to California and the Upper Colorado River Basin, parts of the early 21st century have been remarkably dry across the Upper Missouri River Basin (UMRB). In fact, our assessment of streamflow for the UMRB suggests that the widespread drought period of 2000 to 2010, termed the “turn-of-the-century drought” by Cook et al., was a period of observationally unprecedented and sustained hydrologic drought likely surpassing even the drought of the Dust Bowl period.
Northern Hemisphere summer temperatures are now likely higher than they have been in the last 1,200 y, and the unique combination of recent anomalously high temperatures and severe droughts across much of the West has led numerous researchers to revisit the role of temperature in changing the timing and efficiency of runoff in the new millennium. Evidence suggests that across much of the West atmospheric moisture demands due to warming are reducing the effectiveness of precipitation in generating streamflow and ultimately surface-water supplies.
The waters of the Upper Missouri River originate predominantly in the Rocky Mountains of Montana, Wyoming, and Colorado, where high-elevation catchments capture and store large volumes of water as winter snowpack that are later released as spring and early summer snowmelt. This mountain water is an important component of the total annual flow of the Missouri, accounting for roughly 30% of the annual discharge delivered to the Mississippi River on average, but ranging between 14% to more than 50% from year to year, most of which is delivered during the critical warm-season months (May through September). Across much of the UMRB, cool-season (October through May) precipitation stored as winter snowpack has historically been the primary driver of streamflow, with observed April 1 snow-water equivalent (SWE) usually accounting for at least half of the variability in observed streamflow from the primary headwaters regions. However, since the 1950s, warming spring temperatures have increasingly driven regional snowpack declines that have intensified since the 1980s. By 2006, these declines amounted to a low snowpack anomaly of unusual severity relative to the last 800 y and spanned the snow-dominated watersheds of the interior West. A recent reassessment of snowpack declines across the West by Mote et al. suggests continued temperature-driven snowpack declines through 2016 totaling a volumetric storage loss of between 25 and 50 km3, which is comparable to the storage capacity of Lake Mead, the United States’ largest reservoir.
Here we examine the extended record (ca. 800 to 2010 CE) of streamflow and the influence of temperature on drought through the Medieval Climate Anomaly, with a focus on the recent turn-of-the-century drought in the UMRB. The role of increasing temperature on streamflow and basin-wide drought is examined in the UMRB over the last 1,200 y by analyzing a basin-wide composite streamflow record developed from a network of 17 tree-ring–based reconstructions of streamflow for major gages in the UMRB (Fig. 1) and an independent runoff-season (March through August) regional temperature reconstruction. We also explore the hydrologic implications (e.g., drought severity and spatial extent) and climatic drivers (temperature and precipitation) of the observed changes in streamflow across the UMRB and characterize shifts in the likelihood of extreme flow levels and reductions in runoff efficiency across the basin.
For the first decade of the century, the Upper Missouri River Basin was the driest it’s been in 1,200 years, even more parched than during the disastrous Dust Bowl of the 1930s, a new study says.
The drop in water level at the mouth of the Missouri — the country’s longest river — was due to rising temperatures linked to climate change that reduced the amount of snowfall in the Rocky Mountains in Montana and North Dakota, scientists found.
The basin has continued to experience droughts this decade — in 2012, 2013 and 2017 — but their severity in comparison with historic drought is unknown. The “Turn-Of-The-Century Drought” study, published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, focused only on the 10 years after 2000.
“In terms of the most severe flow deficits, the driest years of the Turn-Of-The-Century-Drought in the [Upper Missouri River Basin] appear unmatched over the last 1,200 years,” the study said. “Only a single event in the late 13th century rivaled the greatest deficits of this most recent event.”
Researchers familiar with drought of this magnitude in the dry Southwest were surprised to find it in the Midwest…
“These findings show that the upper Missouri Basin is reflecting some of the same changes that we see elsewhere across North America, including the increased occurrence of hot drought” that’s more severe than usual, [Erika] Wise said.
The study is the latest to show how human-influenced climate change threatens to reshape the landscape by making naturally occurring drought far more severe.
Stormwater and flood management utility capital projects are funded primarily by monthly user charges, with costs spread out using 20-year revenue bonds. The annual debt service payments associated with such bonds are factored into utility rates through the annual budget process. So, those of us living in Boulder pay for all of these projects on our water utility bills.
Examine your own bill to see your fixed monthly charge on the line “Stormwater/Flood.” The fee is used to support flood infrastructure, regulatory compliance, water quality monitoring and hazard programs. These fees have increased by 135% since 2013, and Boulder leads the area for the highest stormwater and flood rates, not surprisingly, since Boulder is the Colorado city most at risk for flash floods.
City staff presented details to the Water Resources Advisory Board on the preferred option, Variant 1, 100-year flood protection, which was found to have the least environmental impacts, the lowest cost, and the greatest probability of permitting feasibility through the various regulatory agencies. The cost of this version is projected to be $66 million. Other alternatives, a 200-year and a 500-year, are estimated at $93 million and $96 million, minimally a $27 million difference…
…three of the WRAB board members…and voted, with two other members dissenting, to accept the city’s preferred plan, suggesting that Council move forward into more detailed planning and engineering analysis. WRAB member Ted Rose said that “this is about acting, actually moving forward to protect our fellow citizens.” Board Chair Kirk Vincent and member Trisha Oeth, brought up equity concerns of differing flood protection levels across the community, the huge backlog in aging infrastructure, and the inability of many customers — renters, churches or schools — to afford rates that could double…
Planning Board is scheduled to review the plan next week, followed by the Open Space Board of Trustees and, finally, City Council, in June.
A multibillion-dollar reservoir and pipeline project may one day pull more than 50,000 acre-feet of water per year from the South Platte River before it reaches Nebraska. That’s more than 16 billion gallons of water, enough to fill 25,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools.
The possible project is laid out in a new report from the South Platte Regional Opportunities Water Group, or SPROWG, a group of water managers from the Front Range. If built, the project would enable Front Range water managers to repeatedly reuse water diverted from the Colorado River, something Western Slope water managers have long encouraged and see as a welcome shift.
“There is a lot of fully reusable water that makes its way down the South Platte,” said Eric Kuhn, a retired manager of the Colorado River Water Conservation District who now writes about Colorado River issues. “This is something that people on the Western Slope have been trying to encourage for probably 70 years.”
The group used a $350,000 grant from the Colorado Water Conservation Board and the South Platte Basin and Metro Basin roundtables to complete the year-long study, which was released in March. The group members hope the project could help close a water-supply gap of as much as 540,000 acre-feet that the state is projecting for the South Platte River basin by 2050.
Since the 1930s, Front Range water planners have looked west to bolster their water supplies. An elaborate series of reservoirs, underground tunnels and pipelines now conveys about 400,000 acre-feet of water annually from the Colorado River headwaters to the South Platte basin.
Water is diverted from the Colorado, Fraser, Blue, Eagle, Fryingpan and Roaring Fork rivers in Grand, Summit, Eagle and Pitkin counties and sent under the Continental Divide to the South Platte basin.
Large projects on the South Platte were previously written off due to the high costs of water treatment, but as the cost and controversy surrounding transmountain diversions have grown, a project such as SPROWG — which would have seemed expensive decades ago — is now on par with most other supplies of water. Depending on which concept configuration is used and whether the water will need to be treated, building the project would cost between $1.2 billion and $3.4 billion to build.
Use to extinction
Each of SPROWG’s storage concepts would capture stormwater and native South Platte water during wet years. While the project would not be used to store water from existing or future transmountain diversions, it would capture water from the Colorado River that made its way back to the river as a return flow after being used elsewhere within the basin.
“SPROWG is not intended to store supplies from an existing or new transmountain diversion project (though it will provide a means to utilize unused reusable return flows from transmountain diversions),” the report said.
Once water is transferred over the mountains to the Front Range, it can legally be used to extinction, meaning that it can return to the river as runoff, be recaptured and be used again perpetually. By decree, certain volumes of Colorado River water can only be reused within a certain area, something the SPROWG project would need to ensure.
“If they are going to take the water in the first place, they should make sure they are reusing that water to the full extent possible,” said Andy Mueller, general manager of the Colorado River Water Conservation District, which was formed in 1937 to protect Western Slope water.
Although the SPROWG project does not require more water from the Western Slope, it is not considered a replacement supply for any of the existing water that the region takes from the Colorado River system. Despite the continued need of existing transmountain diversions, Mueller sees the project as an acknowledgement by at least some on the Front Range that the Colorado River is no longer a feasible option for future water supplies.
“I think there are a number of operators of Front Range systems that recognize that the Colorado River system has hit its limit,” he said.
While Western Slope water managers interviewed for this story were all generally supportive of the project, the Colorado Basin Roundtable, which represents different water districts and users within the basin, has not yet taken a formal opinion on it.
The concepts outlined in the report are still far from a fully formed project, as no steps have been taken toward permitting, acquiring land or even identifying a user for the water. But SPROWG members hope that the analysis could be the first step toward a basinwide water project, a cooperative effort not typical of other large water projects.
“It just seems like something that we need to do, organizing the basin and helping the basin function as efficiently as possible,” said Matt Lindburg, SPROWG’s senior engineering consultant. “It will definitely be a project and concept that folks want to pursue.”
The report analyzed four possible storage and pipeline configurations that would collect agricultural water returned to the lower South Platte as runoff from the region’s farms, and then pump it back to the Denver metro area.
Three of the four project alternatives include an approximately 80-mile pump-and-pipeline system that would move water from a reservoir in Balzac, northeast of Denver, uphill to the metro area. The pipeline would allow the metro area to reuse some water that it already returned to the river as runoff or through water-treatment plants. The conceptual reservoirs could store between 220,000 and 409,000 acre-feet of water.
The idea to design a basinwide water project came from conclusions in the South Platte Storage Study, a 2018 analysis of basin-water supplies that was funded by the Colorado legislature.
That study found that the state was sending an average of 293,000 acre-feet more water down the South Platte and into Nebraska than what is required by the South Platte River Compact, an agreement between the two states that governs how much water Colorado is able to take from the river.
The SPROWG project would be designed to capture some of this water while remaining within the confines of the compact. The report suggested that water could be reused rather than the basin continuing to rely on either Western Slope or agricultural water.
In recent decades, agriculture along the South Platte has been the other main source of water for growing municipalities. Municipal governments buy out farms with senior water rights and dry up the fields, sending the water to the cities.
“This is probably the only other option on the table,” said Joe Frank, general manager of the Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District. “We want to do as much as we can to minimize the pressure on those other sources of water.”
The report also shows that the cost of the water from the projects would be consistent with other projects in the region — between $18,400 and $22,600 per acre-foot for untreated water and between $33,600 and $43,200 for treated water.
Whether cities will need additional South Platte water in the future, some of it is already spoken for. In March, 600,000 cranes — 80% of the world population — will visit an 80-mile stretch of the mainstem of the Platte River in Nebraska, where the birds fatten up on grain before a long migration north. Water flowing in the river makes this spectacle possible.
Even if the SPROWG concept were built, it would need to work within the confines of the Platte River Recovery Program, which was created to help protect these cranes and other endangered species on the river.
The recovery program, which secured additional water and land for habitat, has led to a dramatic increase in the population of endangered birds during migration season in Nebraska. SPROWG’s designers say they would work within the program, timing reservoir releases and saving water for specific ecological needs, but the report does not include a full environmental analysis.
Aspen Journalism is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization covering water and rivers in collaboration with The Aspen Times and Swift Communications newspapers. This story ran in the April 25 edition of The Aspen Times.
Save the Poudre has asked the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission to reverse the water quality certification permit for the Northern Integrated Supply Project.
The nonprofit that organized in 2004 in opposition of the reservoir project said it had 13 objections to the water quality permit, including criticisms of the mitigation plans as well as effects on streamflow…
Northern Water has proposed the reservoir project on behalf of 15 water providers, who are relying on Glade and Galeton reservoirs to store water for their future supplies.
The water in the reservoirs primarily would come from the Poudre River…
The project requires three major permits — a record of decision from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which after more than a decade is expected later this year; a 1041 permit from Larimer County, which has public hearings scheduled this summer; and the water quality certification.
Staff with the Colorado Water Quality Division granted the certification in January…
The appeal alleges 13 violations of state regulations in the project, including that Northern Water has not yet secured all of the needed water rights, that the project does not take the effect of climate change into its streamflow levels and that mitigation will not occur until full buildout of the project and does not allow peak flows to flush the river and restore the riparian areas…
Northern Water disputes the allegations made by Save the Poudre. The water district has repeatedly said that it has worked hard to mitigate any damage that may be caused by the project and that is has addressed streamflow.
Conditions agreed upon in the water quality certification include extensive river monitoring and an adaptive management program “that will bring stakeholders together to work formally on the future of the Poudre River,” according to a statement released by Jeff Stahla, spokesman for Northern Water.
“Northern Water and the NISP participants submitted extensive documentation in our application to demonstrate our commitment to high water quality in the Poudre River,” Stahla said in the statement. “That commitment will extend for decades through the conditions agreed to by NISP participants.”
In June, a small team of PBT interns set out for the highest point in the Platte Basin watershed.
We had big intentions of catching 5-star media to fill in cracks for the Grays Peak scene in the upcoming PBT documentary featuring Mike and Pete’s 55-day, 1,300-mile journey across the watershed.
Grays Peak is the highest point in the Platte Basin watershed. The mountain, located west of Denver in the Front Range of Colorado, is ranked as the tenth-highest summit of the Rocky Mountains of North America. With the top reaching an elevation of 14,278 feet, it may be considered to some as quite a commitment to reach the top.
The beginning of the trip went as intended. We had the car loaded with all of our equipment and prepared a schedule that would allow us enough time to focus on what we needed to do, or so we thought.
After incidents of altitude sickness, a split hiking boot, bird invasions, and a major bear spray accident, we all accepted our humorous situation of what the trip turned into. We came back with quite the story for the rest of the PBT team. Nevertheless, we agreed the trip had been a successful one and after arriving back in Lincoln, made the best out of what we managed to capture.
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From Water Education Colorado (Laura Paskus and Caitlin Coleman):
When Water Justice is Absent, Communities Speak Up
Two years ago, a company that analyzes property data crunched the numbers on more than 8,600 zip codes in the United States and found that America’s most polluted neighborhood was in northeast Denver. The study, from ATTOM Data Solutions, shows that Denver’s 80216 zip code, which includes Globeville, Elyria-Swansea and River North, topped its “environmental hazard index.” As of 2017, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Toxic Release Inventory reported that 22 facilities were still releasing toxic chemicals in 80216, chemicals such as nickel, lead, methanol, creosote and more.
“The neighborhood is parked between gas refineries, the former airport, and then, also, what was at one time an Army base making mustard gas,” says University of Denver law professor Tom Romero, II, who has spent his career dissecting the factors behind environmental injustices in Colorado. There are two Superfund sites and six brownfield sites in 80216, plus the knot of Interstate 70 and Interstate 25 severs the neighborhood from the rest of Denver and increases pollution from highway traffic. The area is also home to a predominantly low-income, Hispanic and Latinx community, says Candi CdeBaca, Denver City Councilwoman for northeast Denver’s District 9.
Last year, CdeBaca became the first person from the neighborhoods to represent on the Denver City Council, ever. She points to an opposition campaign to the Central 70 Project as the beginning of the neighborhood rallying to achieve representation against environmental inequities.
The Central 70 Project broke ground in 2018 to widen the highway through Denver. It will demolish the viaduct that carries I-70 over Elyria-Swansea, replacing it with a below-grade highway. Residents had a list of worries: losing their homes to eminent domain, living even closer to the highway, and unearthing a Superfund site, which they feared would re-expose harmful heavy metals and increase health risks, CdeBaca says.
Their opposition campaign didn’t stop the highway work, but the community came together and won in one sense—the Colorado Department of Transportation will pay for a long-term health study, collecting data to determine whether toxins in the air, soil and water are making residents sick. They also gained a louder voice. “Those losses were the first start of me galvanizing some community power around environmental racism,” says CdeBaca. “Now we have this amplification of groups who never had representation in our government from the neighborhoods that were polluted.” She points to the importance of local voice and representation in all issues, particularly for communities that want to bring about environmental justice. “There is nothing that I support more than activating people power,” CdeBaca says.
With water affordability, access and quality challenges—all of which can translate into health impacts—the role of water in Colorado isn’t always one of fostering healthy communities, yet it could and should be. What contributes to these less-than-whole communities? And what does it take to recognize the issues and how they evolved, address power imbalances, engage the community, and restore equity where it’s been missing?
What is Environmental Justice?
Environmental injustices in Colorado, or anywhere, can span cities and suburbs, sovereign tribal lands, and rural communities. They have their roots in narratives of immigration, development and industry, and political power dynamics, further influenced by evolving legal and regulatory frameworks.
In 1990, EPA Administrator William Reilly created an Environmental Equity Workgroup to assess evidence that “racial minority and low-income communities bear a higher environmental risk burden than the general population.” The agency, which went on to establish an Environmental Equity office in 1992, later changing its name to the Office of Environmental Justice in 1994, defines environmental justice as the “fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income, with respect to the development, implementation and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations and policies.” It has since expanded to offer a range of programs that provide services from grant funding to technical assistance and training. It also runs a National Environmental Justice Hotline.
Another early definition of environmental justice came from University of Michigan professor Bunyan Bryant, who said it refers to places “where people can interact with confidence that the environment is safe, nurturing and productive. Environmental justice is served when people can realize their highest potential.”
Scholars add additional layers to the term—it’s not just about identifying who is or isn’t harmed but includes some form of restitution, says Kelsea MacIlroy, an adjunct professor and PhD candidate in the sociology department at Colorado State University.
“There are a lot of different ways to talk about justice that aren’t just about who and how but also about a long-term social justice component,” MacIlroy says. “Does the community actually have an authentic seat at the table in addressing the ills?”
80216 may feel it all. “Denver was segregated, and that segregation manifested itself in a variety of ways in terms of water,” Romero says. “It meant that Denver’s communities of color, particularly African Americans and Mexican Americans, were living in close proximity to the areas with heavy industry, where the affordable housing is.” That’s a pattern and practice, he says, that was established in the 20th century and continues today. Many environmental justice cases have similar roots, as repeated practices that ultimately create winners and losers.
When Government Fails
Americans watched one of the most high-profile environmental justice cases unfold in Flint, Michigan, in 2015 and 2016 when corroded lead pipes poisoned the population.
To save money, in April 2014, the city switched its drinking water source and began supplying residents with Flint River water that wasn’t treated under federal anti-corrosion rules. The population was predominantly black, and more than 40 percent of residents were below the poverty threshold. According to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, no level of lead exposure is safe but higher lead exposure leads to more health challenges including anemia, kidney and brain damage, heart disease, decreased IQ and more. In children, the impacts are especially toxic.
Residents began noticing a rusty tint to their tap water in the summer of 2015, but it wasn’t until October 2015 that the governor ordered Flint’s water source switched. By then, though the new water was safe, the plumbing wasn’t—corroded pipes continued to leach lead into drinking water. Bottled water and free faucet filters to remove lead at the point of use were distributed.
More than five years after the crisis in Flint began, the city and its residents are still recovering. The city’s FAST Start program is removing and replacing lead and galvanized steel service lines across the city, but it’s a big, expensive job. FAST Start has been funded with $25 million from the State of Michigan and $100 million allocated by Congress through the Federal Water Infrastructure Improvement for the Nation Act of 2016. As of December 2019, less than 40 percent of the city’s pipes had been replaced, with many residents still relying on faucet filters or bottled water.
Fifteen state and local officials were charged with various crimes, including involuntary manslaughter—some took plea deals and most cases were dropped. Residents now mistrust their water and water providers. That mistrust has flooded the nation, with many more communities now coping with elevated lead levels and lead pipe replacement.
According to the independent Flint Water Advisory Task Force’s final report, released in 2016, breakdowns in protocol, dismissal of problems, and failure to protect people occurred at nearly every level of government. Not only were customers supplied with unsafe drinking water, government officials were slow to acknowledge the problems and rectify the issue by providing safe water. According to the 2016 report, the Flint water crisis is a “story of government failure, intransigence, unpreparedness, delay, inaction, and environmental justice.” Had there been local control of resources and decisions, they write, the problems wouldn’t have occurred in the first place.
Coping with Forever Chemicals
Flint’s toxic water is not unlike the water quality issues discovered in 2016 in the Colorado towns of Fountain and Security-Widefield. That’s when water providers and residents learned that PFAS chemicals, short for per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances, were detected at levels above EPA’s new 2016 health advisory levels. The source of the chemicals: firefighting foam used for decades to extinguish training fuel fires at the U.S. Air Force’s Peterson Air Force Base. The Air Force now uses a replacement foam at the base, and in 2019, the Colorado Legislature enacted restrictions and bans on PFAS foam, but the damage has been done. PFAS are known as “forever chemicals” because they bioaccumulate and remain in the environment for a long time, with half lives (the amount of time it takes the chemical to decrease to half its original value) in humans of two to eight years, depending on the chemical. They have been linked to cancers, liver and kidney damage, high cholesterol, low infant birth weight, and other ailments.
“We ended up having 16 family members that lived within that area that had cancer, and five of them died of kidney cancer,” said Mark Favors, during a public event on PFAS at Colorado School of Mines in January 2020. Favors is a former resident of Security, a U.S. Army veteran, a PFAS activist, and member of the Fountain Valley Clean Water Coalition. “A lot of [my family] are military veterans. One of my cousins, while he was doing two combat tours in Iraq, the Air Force was contaminating their drinking water. That’s the crazy part. How they’ve admitted it and it’s just hard to get any type of justice on the issue,” Favors says.
These southern El Paso County towns aren’t home to what are often considered disadvantaged populations—the poverty rate is between 8 and 9 percent, slightly less than the statewide average; about 60 percent of residents are white, and about 20 percent are Hispanic or Latinx, according to the 2017 U.S. Census. However, census numbers don’t represent military personnel who temporarily reside in the area. According to El Paso County’s Health Indicators report, published in 2012, four military bases in the county employ 40,500 military personnel and about 21,000 contract personnel.
When EPA tightened its health advisory levels in 2016, they were 10 times more restrictive than what the agency had previously advised, and water providers realized they had a problem. They acted quickly to provide residents with free bottled water and water filling stations while they suspended use of the aquifer, then worked to broker deals to purchase clean water from other municipalities. Some of those deals were only temporary. Since June 2018, the City of Fountain has worked to get back on its groundwater supply, treating the groundwater with granular activated carbon units provided by the Air Force. Now it is working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to construct a full, permanent groundwater treatment plant. The story in Security is similar—the Security Water and Sanitation District has been importing water, primarily from Pueblo Reservoir, to meet the needs of its residents since 2016, which involved building new pipelines and purchasing extra water from Colorado Springs Utilities—an added cost. Security avoided raising water rates for a time, paying those costs out of its cash reserves. By 2018, residents had to absorb a 15 percent rate increase, with another 9.5 percent increase in 2019.
The Army Corps of Engineers is constructing a treatment facility in Security, too, which should be complete by the end of 2020. Once the plant is finished, Security will switch back to a combination of groundwater and surface water, and rates should stabilize once the costs of those pipelines are recovered, says Roy Heald, general manager at Security Water and Sanitation Districts.
Who pays to protect the health of those who rely on this water? “What responsibility did [the Air Force] have in rectifying this? What about the local sanitation districts? They have to deal with this. It’s not their fault but they’re tasked with giving clean water,” says MacIlroy at Colorado State University.
“The Air Force really has stepped up,” Heald says. But they may have to step up further—in 2019, the Security Water and Sanitation Districts and the Pikes Peak Community Foundation, another affected entity, sued the Air Force to recoup the costs of purchasing and piping in clean water. Their lawsuit cites negligence for disposal of chemicals, remediation of contamination, and breaching a responsibility to prevent dangerous conditions on the defendant’s property. Heald wouldn’t comment on the pending lawsuit, but says, “As long as [cash] reserves are at an adequate level, if we received a windfall there would be no place else for it to go besides back to our customers.” Those recouped costs would likely take the form of lower or stabilized rates.
Residents are also pushing for justice through a class-action lawsuit brought by the Colorado Springs-based McDivitt Lawfirm, which has teamed up with a personal injury law firm in New York to file against 3M, Tyco Fire Products, and other manufacturers of the firefighting foam.
“There’s going to have to be some sort of accountability and justice for these people who unknowingly, for years, drank colorless, odorless high amounts of PFAS,” says Favors. He calls for better oversight and demands that polluters are held accountable.
As for coping with PFAS-related health challenges, there are still a lot of unknowns, but El Paso County was selected to participate in two national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention studies to better assess the dangers of human exposure to PFAS, and to evaluate exposure pathways.
Locally, the study and lawsuits might help recoup some financial damages—but PFAS-related water contamination isn’t isolated to these Colorado communities. In July 2019, the Environmental Working Group mapped at least 712 documented cases of PFAS contamination across 49 states. Lawmakers in the U.S. House of Representatives, hoping to implement a national PFAS drinking water standard, estimate the number is even higher: 1,400 communities suffer from PFAS contamination. A U.S. Senate version of a PFAS-regulating bill has yet to be introduced. But in February, EPA released a draft proposal to consider regulating PFOS and PFOA, just two of the thousands of PFAS.
Justice through Water Rights
Environmental justice isn’t exclusively an urban issue. Injustices involving pollution, public health, access, affordability and water can be wrought anyplace—including rural and suburban areas. For rural communities, the issue comes to a head when people, organizations or entities in power seek more water for their needs at the cost of others.
In southern Colorado’s San Luis Valley, acequia communities fought for years to protect their water rights and way of life. Acequias are an equity-based irrigation system introduced by the original Spanish and Mexican settlers of southern Colorado. “What it means is that the entire community is only benefitted when all resources are shared,” says Judy Lopez, conservation project manager with Colorado Open Lands. There, Lopez works with landowners to preserve wildlife habitat, forests, culturally significant lands, and ag lands—including those served by acequias.
The Town of San Luis, the heart of Colorado’s acequia community, is one of the most economically disadvantaged in the state. It’s in Costilla County, where more than 60 percent of the population is Hispanic or Latinx—more than any other county in Colorado—and 25 percent of the population live in poverty, according to the 2017 U.S. Census. But the people there are long-time landowners, never separated from the land their ancestors settled, four to seven generations back, Lopez says. They have the state’s original water rights to match, including Colorado’s oldest continuously operated water right, the San Luis People’s Ditch, an acequia established in 1852.
Prior to statehood, the territorial government recognized acequia water rights. But when the Colorado Constitution established the right of prior appropriation, the priority scheme of “first in time, first in right” became the law, challenging communal rights.
“It was very difficult for [acequias] to go to water court and say, ‘This guy is taking my water,’” Lopez says. “It was very difficult to quantify the use and who was using it.”
It wasn’t until 2009 that the Colorado Legislature passed the Acequia Recognition Law. The law was developed by Rep. Ed Vigil with the help of the Sangre de Cristo Acequia Association, an entity that represents more than 73 acequias and 300 families who depend on them. Amended in 2013, the law solidifies the rights of acequia users. According to the Colorado Acequia Handbook, it allows “acequias to continue to exercise their traditional roles in governing community access to water, and also strengthens their ability to protect their water.”
In order to be recognized under the Acequia Recognition Act, acequias needed bylaws. Over the past six years, Colorado Open Lands, the Sangre de Cristo Acequia Association, and the University of Colorado Boulder have partnered to help 42 acequias write bylaws, thereby protecting their water. “The bylaws were still based, in large part, on those oral traditions,” Lopez says, “and included protective language that said, ‘If a water right is sold, or a piece of land is sold, that acequia gets the first right to purchase those rights.’”
Even having water rights doesn’t guarantee water access: Over the past few decades, the federal government has settled longstanding water rights cases with sovereign tribes, in many cases backdating tribal water rights to the dates of their reservations’ establishment. Although the tribes now have the nation’s oldest established water rights, they haven’t always, and they still come up against structural and financial barriers that prevent them from developing water and getting the real benefit of those rights.
Of the more than 570 federally recognized tribes in the United States, as of 2019 only 36 tribal water rights settlements had been federally approved. The Ute Mountain Ute and Southern Ute tribes in Colorado are among that small number, but despite their long journey, the tribes still don’t have access to all the water they own.
Tribal water rights have their roots in the Winters Doctrine, a 1908 case which established tribal water rights based on the date the federal government created their reservations—thereby moving tribal water rights to “first in line” among users.
In the 1970s and ‘80s, the U.S. government filed and worked through claims on behalf of the Ute Mountain Ute and Southern Ute tribes to surface waters in southwestern Colorado. In the 1980s, Congress approved a settlement between the tribes, the federal government and other parties; in 2000, the Colorado Ute Indian Water Rights Settlement Act was amended, entitling tribes to water from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s proposed Animas-La Plata Project (A-LP), as well as from the Dolores Project’s McPhee Reservoir. Construction on A-LP began in 2001, and the project’s key feature, Lake Nighthorse—named for Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell—began filling in 2009.
Prior to the Dolores Project, many people living in Towaoc, on the Ute Mountain Ute Reservation, did not have running water and instead trucked it in to fill water tanks at their homes, says Ernest House, Jr., senior policy director with the Keystone Policy Center and former director of the Colorado Commission of Indian Affairs. His late father, Ernest House, Sr., was pivotal in that fight for water. “I was fortunate, my father was able to see A-LP completed. I think he probably, in his own right, couldn’t believe that it would have been done and could be done,” he says. But even today, some Southern Ute and Ute Mountain Ute communities still lack access to water, and aging infrastructure from the 1980s needs updating and repairs.
“Our tribes as sovereign nations cannot maintain or move forward without access to water,” House says. “We have to remind people that we have tribal nations in Colorado, and that we have other tribes that continue to call Colorado home, that were removed from the state, either by treaty or forced removal,” he says, adding that acknowledging the difficult past must be a part of conversations about the future.
Those conversations include state, regional, and federal-level water planning. The Colorado tribes are engaged in Colorado’s basin roundtable process, with both tribes occupying seats on the Southwest Basin Roundtable, says Greg Johnson, who heads the Colorado Water Conservation Board’s Water Supply Planning Section (and serves on the Water Education Colorado Board of Trustees). Through the roundtables, local stakeholders conduct basin-wide water planning that is eventually integrated into the statewide Colorado Water Plan. However, until recently, tribal involvement in regional Colorado River negotiations between the seven U.S. basin states and federal government has been nonexistent. Change is brewing—a 2018 federal Tribal Water Study highlighted how tribal water resources could impact Colorado River operations, while a new Water and Tribes Initiative is working to build tribal capacity and participation in water negotiations throughout the basin.
“The Utes have been in what we call Colorado for the last 10,000 to 12,000 years,” House says. “It would be a shame if we were left out of the conversations [about water].”
The External Costs of Industry
Government is vital to addressing the legacy of environmental injustice, and preventing future problems, but finding solutions also demands reconsidering how business is done.
Consider Colorado’s relationship with the extraction industry, visible in the 19th-century mines that pock mountain towns, uranium-rich communities like Nulca, and the escalation of oil and gas drilling today. Colorado is an “epicenter” of extraction and environmental justice issues, says Stephanie Malin, associate professor at Colorado State University and a sociologist who studies energy development and extraction.
Lack of local control in the past has been especially frustrating, Malin says, since private corporations earn profits off the resources but then outsource the impacts. In the end, extractive industries have a track record of leaving communities and governments to bear the costs of cleanup.
Take Gold King Mine as one high-profile example. In August 2015, wastewater from an abandoned mine in San Juan County contaminated the Animas River between Silverton and Durango. Contractors hired by EPA accidentally caused 3 million gallons of mine waste, laden with heavy metals, to wash into the Animas. New Mexico, Utah, and the Navajo Nation all filed to sue EPA, with farmers reporting that they couldn’t water their crops and others saying they had to truck in alternative water supplies. But those responsible for the contamination were long-gone. Like tens of thousands of other mines in the region, the Gold King Mine was abandoned in the early 20th century.
The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA)—more commonly called Superfund—which Congress passed in 1980, was originally set up as a “polluter tax” on oil, gas and chemical companies at risk of contaminating communities or the environment. But Congress never reauthorized the tax, which expired in 1995. By the early 21st century, the fund was bankrupt. Today, these cleanups are funded entirely by taxpayers.
“It’s part of a bigger pattern of privatizing profit and nationalizing, or socializing, risk,” Malin says. “Then, communities and the environment are left holding the ‘external’ costs.” Those external costs, she says, are nearly unquantifiable: “The intergenerational impacts in particular are so hard to gauge, in terms of what the communities are absorbing.”
While these problems can seem intractable, there are solutions, Malin says. For example, the bond amounts companies are required to pay up-front should better reflect the actual cost of cleanup, she says. Last year, Colorado lawmakers made strides to unburden taxpayers in just that way, with an update to Colorado’s old mining law.
The new Colorado law, HB19-1113, makes sure water quality impacts from mining are accounted for and long-term impacts are avoided. The law says that the industry can no longer self bond—a practice that allowed mine operators to demonstrate they had the financial resources to cover clean-up costs rather than providing the resources up front. Without self bonding, taxpayers won’t be left paying for remediation if the company goes bankrupt. It also requires mine operators to factor water quality protection costs into their bond—and requires most to develop a water quality treatment plan. This means that reclamation plans must include a reasonable end date for any needed water quality treatment, hopefully ensuring Colorado will avoid new perpetually polluting mines.
State lawmakers are currently looking at a more encompassing environmental justice bill, HB20-1143, introduced in January 2020. At press time the bill was still under consideration. If it moves forward as introduced, the bill would increase the maximum civil fine for air and water quality violations—from $10,000 per day to $47,357 per day, which would be adjusted annually according to the consumer price index—reallocating some of the financial burden back on polluters. It would also authorize the use of the money in the state’s water quality improvement fund, which is where those water quality violation fines go, to pay for projects addressing impacts to communities. The bill would also bolster the state’s environmental justice efforts, with a new environmental justice advisory board and environmental justice ombudsperson who would run the advisory board and advocate for environmental justice communities.
Speaking up for Tomorrow’s Climate
Environmental justice can’t be about a single issue, says Lizeth Chacón, executive director of the Colorado People’s Alliance, a racial-justice, member-led organization based in Denver and Pueblo. That means looking at water-focused environmental justice alongside related issues such as climate change, racial justice, inequities, poverty, housing, power dynamics, and more.
“When we are talking to our members, we are talking to them about the fact that they are working two jobs and still cannot put dinner on the table in the week, talking that they live in fear of being deported and being separated from their families, talking about the fact that they are sick, or have headaches, or have to spend money on water because they can’t drink the water coming out of their tap like other people can,” she says. “It can’t be seen as one issue … This work has to be holistic.”
Currently, the Colorado People’s Alliance is working on a climate campaign directed by its members in Commerce City. “They said, ‘This is something that’s impacting all of us, regardless of where we’re from, whether we’re undocumented or documented, what our economic status is,’” she says. The Alliance is focused on greenhouse gas emissions, which have immediate health impacts and long-term water effects.
Another approach in northeast Denver is proceeding thanks to an EPA environmental justice grant, in which organizers will convene youth, local leaders, and scientists to create a community science project that leads to a more fishable and swimmable Denver South Platte River. The river flows through Elyria-Swansea and Globeville, but it used to be a dumping ground, with a landfill beside its banks. Clean ups and improved recreational access, much of which has been spearheaded by the nonprofit Greenway Foundation since its founding in 1974, have created opportunities for kayakers downtown, but river access in northeast Denver, beyond the popular Confluence Park, is limited. In addition, E. Coli levels are often high, making swimming inadvisable. Access to a healthy waterway makes communities more vibrant and whole, supporting health, wellbeing, recreation, and cultural and spiritual practices, but also connection. This may be the only recreational water access available to some urbanites.
“Rivers are one of the major pathways to healing the environment and healing ourselves,” said Jorge Figueroa at an initial workshop for this project in December 2019, where they began to establish a youth advisory board. Figueroa runs El Laboratorio, an organization that brings people together from different disciplines and cultures to creatively solve environmental challenges. (He is also on the Water Education Colorado Board of Trustees.) He’s working on this project with Lincoln Hills Cares, a nonprofit that provides outdoor education, recreation and experiences to youth who may not otherwise have these opportunities; and Colorado State University, which is developing a new campus at the National Western Center, called Spur, in the neighborhood. The partners expect to have a plan ready by the end of 2020, and the project should begin in 2021.
Figueroa, who grew up and has family in Puerto Rico, also witnessed, up close, the wave of climate refugees who left his home state after Hurricane Maria devastated it in 2017.
“It’s critical for us to invest in climate-resilient infrastructure and in the reliability of our municipal potable water systems,” Figueroa says. “But from an equity perspective, we need to ensure that the more than a trillion dollars that will be invested in the nation’s public water systems provide the most benefit to the most people.” His suggestion to build climate resiliency in an equitable way: water conservation. “Water conservation can be a supreme water equity tool: It provides cheaper water for the community and more resiliency and reliability for the system. It’s not only an ideal climate change adaptation strategy but also is one of the top, by far, equity water strategies.” When you don’t consider equity in water decisions, you can make vulnerable communities more vulnerable, he says.
Whether working to improve environmental justice structurally and physically through conservation and resiliencies, or politically and financially through new regulations, bonding or taxation, there are many opportunities to do better. But there are also social justice elements to work on. Chacón recommends involving community members at the beginning of a process—not at the end. She says it’s important to listen—and to not dismiss people when they disagree.
Looking forward, it’s up to everyone in positions of power to actively create space for disadvantaged communities to lead, says Chacón. “To us, the people who are closest to the pain are the ones closest to the solution because they know what’s happening in their community best of anyone.”
Some of the principles of engaging communities in these situations are “almost universal,” says Colorado’s Michael Wenstrom, an environmental protection specialist in EPA’s Environmental Justice Program. Wenstrom worked in Flint over the course of a year following the water emergency, “assisting them to connect with processes, in understanding what their rights are, and helping them learn how to raise their voices effectively,” he says.
He says that where communities and families are already overburdened—with poverty, crime, racism—they often don’t have time, expertise or resources to recognize the problems, nevermind address them. “In addition, people in low-income communities may be less inclined to raise their voices for various reasons,” Wenstrom says. Reasons could include racism, job discrimination, or, for some, the fear of being identified as an illegal resident.
He says officials like him who come into communities as outsiders must be careful, persistent, and work to build trust. “As trust builds, we can then start pointing people toward tackling issues related to pollution or public health,” he says. But, Wenstrom cautions, if people don’t believe they can make a difference, they won’t raise their voices in the first place.
Laura Paskus is a reporter in Albuquerque N.M., where her show, “Our Land: New Mexico’s Environmental Past, Present and Future,” airs on New Mexico PBS. Caitlin Coleman is editor of Headwaters magazine.
A new analysis confirms drinking water or groundwater contamination at 328 installations across the country that have levels of “forever chemicals” that never break down and pose health risks.
Three of those incidences of contamination were confirmed in Utah including at Hill Air Force Base, Camp Williams and the Salt Lake City International Airport…
While these water samples may be confined to groundwater, the organization emphasized concerns over the adequacy of treatment for private wells and noncommunity providers that deliver water to a variety of facilities that include campgrounds.
Another four sites in Utah — all military — are suspected of having levels of forever chemicals because of the Pentagon’s use of a particular type of firefighting foam…
Testing of drinking water systems in Utah showed no levels of the chemicals above the EPA standard and there is no history of the chemicals being manufactured in Utah, according to the agency.
The environmental nonprofit’s analysis found more than 100 sites in California that were potentially discharging PFAS into air or water in the process of manufacturing sheet metal for planes, paint, semiconductors, petroleum products and numerous other goods.
Many of these sit clustered in the Los Angeles metropolitan area. Several sites that are believed to be releasing PFAS were found farther east near Riverside and San Bernardino.
EWG and some politicians accused the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency of falling asleep at the wheel and failing to police industries that have been producing these chemicals since the 1940s.
“We’ve seen a systematic approach by the Trump administration to decimate the EPA’s obligations under the legislation that has previously been passed,” Rouda said.
In February 2019, the EPA unveiled its PFAS Action Plan to begin addressing contamination. This February, the EPA published an update, which said it was partnering on cleanup efforts in 30 states and Washington, D.C., and that it was making $15 million available for more research.
Here’s the release from the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District:
Above average regional water storage coupled with above average snowpack prompted the Northern Water Board of Directors to increase its 2020 quota allocation for the Colorado-Big Thompson Project to 70 percent.
The Board unanimously approved the allocation at its meeting Thursday, April 9, 2020, which was held via video to comply with state stay-at-home orders as part of the global coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.
Luke Shawcross, manager of the Water Resources Department at Northern Water, outlined snowpack and forecasted streamflows and discussed the available water supplies in regional reservoirs.
When setting the quota the Board considers current regional reservoir storage levels, forecasted snowpack runoff, availability of water within the C-BT system and public input.
The Board has been setting C-BT quota since 1957 and 70 percent is the most common quota declared. It was also the quota set for the 2019 water delivery season.
The quota increases available C-BT Project water supplies by 62,000 acre-feet from the initial 50 percent quota made available in November. Water from the C-BT Project supplements other sources for 33 cities and towns, 120 agricultural irrigation companies, various industries and other water users within Northern Water’s 1.6 million-acre service area. According to recent census figures, approximately 1 million residents now live inside Northern Water’s boundaries. To learn more about Northern Water and the C-BT quota, visit http://www.northernwater.org.
A year after flooding battered the Missouri River’s levee system, inundating towns and farmland and causing multiple closures to the nation’s interstate highway system, early forecasts warn that more of the same could be on the way: above-normal rainfall, greater than normal spring runoff. A USA TODAY Network analysis delves into records of an aging system of nearly a thousand levees where nobody knows how many were damaged last year or how many were repaired…
The forecast is a veritable index of meteorological plagues: above-normal rainfall; greater than normal spring runoff; thoroughly saturated soils; and an aging system of nearly a thousand levees where nobody knows how many were damaged last year and in previous floods or how many were repaired.
The 855 levee systems throughout the Missouri River basin protect at least half a million people and more than $92 billion in property. Yet a USA TODAY Network analysis of Army Corps of Engineers’ records found at least 144 levee systems haven’t been fully repaired and that only 231 show an inspection date.
Of those, nearly half were rated “unacceptable,” which means something could prevent the levee from performing as intended or a serious deficiency was not corrected. Only 3.5% were deemed acceptable; the rest were found to be “minimally acceptable.”
Only 231 of the levee systems show any inspection date. For 38, the most recent inspection date was more than five years ago.
In the Army Corps’ Kansas City district, for example, about 70 projects, spanning 119 levees that requested repair assistance, are eligible for funding, but that doesn’t mean they’ll be ready if the waters rise like they did last year.
“Some of them have been repaired, but from a total system perspective, I don’t think any of them are whole,” said Jud Kneuvean, the district’s chief of emergency management, who expects full levee rehabilitation and repair to take at least another year.
In the meantime, the extent and impacts of flooding will depend on when and where the rain falls…
The 2,300-mile Missouri River begins in southwestern Montana, where the Gallatin, Madison and Jefferson rivers converge near the community of Three Forks, before gathering water from 10 states and parts of two Canadian provinces to become the “Big Muddy,” North America’s longest river.
In recent years, more rainfall has been pouring into the Missouri River basin, raising questions about whether climate change is bringing worsening floods more often. Data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration dating back to 1895 shows record-setting rainfalls in the area occurring more often. Last year, for example, was the wettest on record in North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota.
All that water adds to the challenge faced by Corps policymakers, who juggle sometimes conflicting priorities that include maintaining navigation; managing the reservoir system to prevent flooding; providing farmers with irrigation and hydropower; protecting endangered species; and preserving recreational opportunities.
While the priority is protecting human life and safety, the Corps’ decision-making sometimes puts special interest groups at odds, and the agency remains embroiled in controversy over whether the engineering of the river exacerbates flooding.
Things came to a head last year when a bomb cyclone in March melted all the snow in Nebraska and Iowa at once and dumped tremendous rain, swelling not just the Missouri, but the Elkhorn, Platte, James and Big Sioux rivers.
The Niobrara River in Nebraska breached the Spencer Dam on March 14, sending a wall of water downstream and into the Gavins Point reservoir near Yankton, South Dakota. At the peak, water flowed into the reservoir at 180,000 cubic feet per second — nine times more than the normal average for March. Meanwhile water was coursing into the rivers downstream of the dam and the effects of all that water were felt in nearly every community downstream.
Two other big rain events occurred in May and September. When the Corps’ Kansas City district deactivated its emergency operations center in December, it had been open for 279 days, the longest period on record…
Construction of the higher levee is in the administrative and planning stages, with actual construction activity set for fall.
Most of the Missouri’s levees fall into one of two categories: either federally built and locally operated or locally built and operated. The Corps inspects — and helps pay to repair — only the levees maintained to federal standards that participate in the federal flood program.
That exception means no one has a full list of damaged levees still in need of repair.
The number of levees that aren’t regularly inspected doesn’t surprise Neal Grigg, an engineering professor at Colorado State University who chaired a Corps-appointed review panel after 2011 flooding.
In an ideal management system, every levee “would be under the responsibility of some authority that was responsible and had enough money and good management capability to do that,” Grigg said.
But that’s not realistic, he added, noting that the Corps has tried through a task force to get some organization to the levee systems along the river, but it’s problematic, in part, because there are so many conflicting interests.
A host of agencies are cooperating to repair levees, but the progress is slow, said Missouri farmer Morris Heitman, who serves on the Missouri River Flood Task Force Levee Repair Working Group.
In addition to the Corps, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the state of Missouri, the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service and a large number of local levee districts all work to repair levees.
“We’re trying to dance with different agencies,” Heitman told the University of Missouri Extension. “All these agencies have their own requirements and parameters, and we’re trying to coordinate those to build a secure system against the river.”
Fixes to the 144 levee systems listed in disrepair in the Corps’ Omaha and Kansas City districts are in various stages of completion, and some aren’t expected to be done for more than a year.
In the Omaha district that includes Nebraska and Iowa, “pretty much all of the levees were damaged in one way or another,” said the corps’ Matt Krajewski.
While almost all of the district’s levees that qualify for federal aid have been restored to pre-2019 flood heights, Krajewski said they don’t offer the same level of “risk reduction” because they need final touches such as sod cover and drainage structures to protect against erosion. The Corps hopes to complete those repairs this summer.
In the meantime, the Corps is working to prepare its flood storage capacity by releasing more water than normal from its dams.
“We’re being really aggressive with our releases and trying to maintain our full flood storage,” said Eileen Williamson, a Corps spokeswoman for the Northwestern region.
But the projections for spring runoff don’t look good and may limit how much the Corps can do.
In February, the runoff was twice the normal average, said Kevin Grode, with the Corps’ Missouri River Basin Water Management district.
The James River, a tributary that flows out of South Dakota, has experienced flooding since March 13 last year and that flooding is forecast to continue. Moderate flooding is expected along the Big and Little Sioux Rivers in South Dakota and Iowa, and possibly in Montana’s Milk River basin. A risk of minor to moderate flooding is forecast from Nebraska City to the river’s confluence with the Mississippi in St. Louis.
But it’s not just the spring runoff that’s a problem, Grode said. The forecast also calls for “above average runoff for every month in 2020.”
John Remus, chief of the Corps’ Missouri River Water Management Division, said during a March briefing that if those projections are realized, “the 2020 runoff will be the ninth highest runoff in 122 years of record keeping.”
In March, a three-man team with Montana’s Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest set off on horseback for a 35-mile, five-day journey into the wild North Fork of the Sun River, a tributary of the Missouri River.
They rode horses for the first 12 miles. When they reached a foot of snow, they switched to skis and took turns breaking trail.
Greeted by a half inch of new snow each morning, higher and higher they skied, encountering snow depths of 19 inches, then 2 feet, 9 inches and finally, 3 feet, 3 inches.
At each elevation, aluminum tubes with non-stick coating were stuck into the snow to collect core samples used to measure the depth and water content of the snowpack.
“The numbers are used for everything from dam control along the Missouri River to regulating the locks on the barges of the Mississippi,” said Ian Bardwell, the forest’s wilderness and trails manager, who led the snow survey expedition. “It just depends on what level you are looking at it from.”
As of Wednesday, mountain snowpack in the Missouri River basin in Montana was 112% of normal, said Lucas Zukiewicz, a water supply specialist with the Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service in Montana.
In 2018, Montana’s April snowpack was 150% of normal, then 7 to 9 inches of rain over six days drenched the Rocky Mountain Front, inundating communities in its shadow. The Corps was forced to release water from the Fort Peck Dam spillway, a rarity, as a result of surging flows. Had that same thing happened last year, flooding in states downstream would have been even worse.
“With the way things are changing with our climate,” said Arin Peters, a senior hydrologist for the National Weather Service in Great Falls, Montana, “it’s probably a matter of time before something combines to create a big catastrophe downstream.”
Yet for this year, there may be some good news downstream from the Montana snowpack, at the Gavins Point Dam in Yankton.
Gavins Point is what’s known as a reregulation dam, its purpose to even the Missouri’s flow from the reservoirs upstream. Because Gavins Point wasn’t designed to hold floodwater, its gates had to be opened last year, sending a surge downstream after Nebraska and parts of South Dakota were hit with rain and the bomb cyclone.
In November and December, Gavins Point was still releasing water at a rate of 80,000 cubic feet per second — more than five times the average flow, and something that had never happened before, said Tom Curran, the dam’s project manager.
The good news? Releasing all that water through the winter left the mainstem dam system drained to its multipurpose zone, where it has capacity to absorb runoff while also fulfilling its other functions, including recreation and downstream barge traffic.
Click on a thumbnail graphic to view a gallery of snowpack data from the NRCS.
Statewide basin-filled snowpack map April 2, 2020 via the NRCS,
Statewide Basin High/Low graph April 2. 2020 via the NRCS.
Arkansas River Basin High/Low graph April 2. 2020 via the NRCS.
Upper Colorado River Basin High/Low graph April 2. 2020 via the NRCS.
Gunnison River Basin High/Low graph April 2. 2020 via the NRCS.
Laramie and North Platte Basin High/Low graph April 2. 2020 via the NRCS.
Upper Rio Grande River Basin High/Low graph April 2. 2020 via the NRCS.
San Miguel, Dolores, Animas, and San Juan Basin High/Low graph April 2. 2020 via the NRCS.
South Platte River Basin High/Low graph April 2. 2020 via the NRCS.
Yampa and White Basin High/Low graph April 2. 2020 via the NRCS.
FromThe Fort Collins Coloradoan (Miles Blumhardt):
Colorado’s above-average snowpack for the second consecutive year has created similar reservoir storage excess, which is good news for farmers, city municipalities and residents.
On Thursday, Northern Water board of directors gave a preliminary recommendation of a 70% water quota, the same as last year when Colorado had robust snowpack.
The board sets a quota of 50% in November then increases or decreases the water quota as the water season plays out.
…Tuesday. Snowpack, reservoir storage, stream flows and a projected April precipitation forecast are all indicating ample water, which prompted the board to make its initial recommendation. A final decision will be made at next week’s board meeting.
“We anticipate this summer that farmers will have the water supply they need for the summer growing season,” said Jeff Stahla, Northern Water spokesperson. “And the same will be true for businesses and residents throughout the year.”
That’s not only good news for farmers but recreationists as well. Horsetooth Reservoir is already more than 90% full, and Stahla said he expects an ample water supply at the popular reservoir throughout the boating season…
How snowpack is faring in each of Colorado’s basins
As of Tuesday, average snowpack over the eight basins statewide was at 108%, marking the second consecutive year of above-average snowpack. It’s the third time in four years the state’s basins have hit that mark.
The South Platte River Basin, which includes Fort Collins and Denver, led the state at 118% of average, which is just shy of where the basin was during last year’s big snow year.
Russ Schumacher, director of the Colorado Climate Center, said the key snowpack station for the Poudre River is at Joe Wright Reservoir. It was at 111% of the median.
The North Platte River Basin and Yampa/White River Basin each were at 113%; Upper Colorado River Basin was at 111%; Arkansas River Basin and Upper Rio Grande River Basin were at 101%; San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan River Basin was at 100% and the Gunnison River Basin was at 98%…
What to expect in April
April is the city’s third wettest month with normal precipitation of 2.06 inches, trailing May and June. Average snowfall is 6.2 inches, but Schumacher said April, like March, has shown it can bring snowstorms producing 12 inches or more of snow.
Four of the city’s top 10 snowstorms have occurred in April, with all dumping more than 20 inches on the city.
Last week, Governor Polis signed into law two bipartisan bills that will help us in our mission to restore water to Colorado’s rivers in need. We couldn’t be more excited about HB 20-1037—a bill that provides direction for instream flow augmentation plans—and HB 20-1157—a bill that expands a program for temporary loans of water to the environment. Each of these bills was two years in the making, and ended up better for it. Water users from across the state weighed in on how these changes could work in tandem to both complement historical water uses, particularly agricultural, and to improve environmental conditions.
So, how will these bills work to restore water to rivers in need? We refer to HB 20-1037, as the the instream flow augmentation bill. This bill will facilitate court-approved plans under which water users can add water back into hard working, heavily used rivers under the auspices of the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB). Water added back to the river will be protected as “instream flow,” or water that is designated for environmental purposes, but other water users can continue to divert water from the river for consumptive uses like agriculture and municipal delivery just as they always have. It’s a brand new concept using augmentation plans for instream flow—and required this clarification of old law. With this change, we can now move forward on our long-time goal of connecting the Cache la Poudre river from Fort Collins to Greeley.
HB 20-1157 is what we call the instream flow loan bill. It will add tools to a loan program that the CWCB has managed for some time. Until this bill, a water user could only loan their water right to the CWCB to be used for instream flow use in 3 out of 10 years. This legislation increases that to 5 out of 10 years. Additionally, in the past, only one ten-year loan period was allowed, but now that loan period can be extended for two additional ten-year periods. In sum, a water user can now loan their water to the CWCB for up to fifteen out of thirty years. There are many more details under this program, but what the legislation boils down to is a big benefit to aquatic environments and flexibility for water users who want to engage in this program, often for compensation.
We are proud to have worked with project partners including Cache la Poudre Water Users, the cities of Thornton, Fort Collins and Greeley, Northern Colorado Water Conservation District, the CWCB and Colorado Parks and Wildlife as proponents of the instream flow augmentation bill. It was our first foray into original legislative work, and a big success. And, we are thankful to The Nature Conservancy and Conservation Colorado for spearheading the legislative effort for the instream flow loan bill. Now, we can’t wait to do what the Water Trust does best—use these tools for projects that will restore water to our rivers. First stop, the Cache la Poudre River with the instream flow augmentation bill. Onward!
As COVID-19 continues to roil Colorado and the world, experts are suggesting that the pandemic may teach all of us to work together better. If that’s the case, then a collaborative water system for the Front Range may be a harbinger of things to come, according to a new study.
Released March 10, just days after Colorado reported its first cases of COVID-19, the study indicates that if Front Range cities band together to build a large-scale water reuse and delivery system, water sufficient to serve 100,000 homes could be developed.
It would rely on moving water between cities and farms, building new pipelines, as well as storing water underground and in off-channel reservoirs, and could be done without tapping new sources on the West Slope.
Such a project, if built, would cost $3.2 billion to $4.4 billion, according to the study, a price that is in line with other water delivery systems now being developed.
That cost includes 50 years of operations and maintenance and assumes the water would likely need to be heavily treated.
The study comes as the Front Range faces the most acute water shortages in the state, with a gap between water supply and demand for municipal and industrial users of as much as 540,000 acre-feet projected by 2050, according to a recent analysis by the state. Farmers could face a gap nearly twice that large, particularly in dry years.
Lisa Darling, executive director of the South Metro Water Supply Authority, helped oversee the study. She said once Colorado recovers from COVID-19, she hopes communities will be able to use it as a roadmap toward future water supplies. (Editor’s note: Darling is president of Water Education Colorado, the non-partisan nonprofit that sponsors Fresh Water News.)
“It shows that it’s feasible, and it will allow people to see exactly what it might look like,” she said.
The South Platte Regional Opportunities Water Group (SPROWG), a group that includes dozens of Front Range water districts, sponsored the work. The study analyzed different alternatives for capturing water in the South Platte River as it approaches the Nebraska border, an area where flows are typically more abundant than they are closer to metro Denver, where the river is heavily used and its waters largely claimed by existing users.
Because the river’s supplies in average years are already spoken for, any new water would be developed by capturing some during flood years and, in other years, reusing water already diverted from other basins via new water treatment plants and pipelines, making that water supply go farther.
Funded by the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) and several cities, including Denver and Aurora, the study was geared to help taxpayers from metro Denver to Brighton to Greeley and beyond determine whether they want such a project, how it would be configured, and who would benefit and shoulder the cost.
“The price tag sounds like a lot, but it is comparable to other projects in the South Platte Basin,” said Mary Presecan, a consultant with Leonard Rice Engineers and one of the study’s authors.
Water sold through the Loveland-based Colorado-Big Thompson Project is selling for $78,000 to $92,000 an acre-foot, Presecan said, while the SPROWG study analysis shows water developed through this new partnership would cost from $44,000 to $58,000 an acre-foot. An acre-foot equals nearly 326,000 gallons, enough water to serve on average two urban homes for one year.
In addition to water for fast-growing small communities, the study examined providing water to farmers on the Eastern Plains. These farmers control some of the oldest, most senior water rights in the region, but the water is increasingly being sold to thirsty cities, threatening local economies and the livelihoods of farmers left behind, and ultimately reducing the state’s ability to grow food.
A collaborative reuse project could provide additional water to water-short farms, as much as 35,000 acre-feet a year, allowing them to maintain their agricultural production.
“If there is an opportunity to be part of a regional partnership and address the ag gaps, we are all for it,” said Joe Frank, general manager of the Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District, a sponsor of the study.
“SPROWG is a concept where we are starting at a high level and drilling down. Can we bring the whole [South Platte River] Basin together to figure out if this can work,” Frank said.
Early on, the study drew fire from West Slope interests and environmental groups, who feared it would inevitably lead to bigger efforts to tap the drought-stressed Colorado River and could harm the South Platte River.
But feedback from dozens of meetings with citizens, environmentalists, taxpayers and water officials during the past year led the study’s authors to conclude that the project can be structured in such a way to provide environmental benefits, as well as water for cities and farms.
“This is a collaborative way, and an innovative way to conjunctively manage and use a variety of water sources for multiple beneficiaries,” said Matt Lindburg, a consultant with Brown and Caldwell and one of the study’s authors.
State water officials, such as Gail Schwartz, who represents the Colorado River Basin on the Colorado Water Conservation Board, said she believed the regional, collaborative premise underlying the early work could be utilized elsewhere.
“It’s a great model for collaborative thinking,” she said, at the CWCB’s March board meeting in Lakewood. “I think it could work for other parts of the state too.”
Whether the pandemic will bench the work on this new South Platte water delivery planning isn’t clear yet.
But Frank is optimistic work will continue. “The pandemic could slow us down, but it definitely won’t stop us. Now the next step will be determining [which communities] are really serious about coming together and taking this to the next level,” he said.
Jerd Smith is editor of Fresh Water News. She can be reached at 720-398-6474, via email at email@example.com or @jerd_smith.
Municipal water providers in Aspen, Vail, Steamboat and other communities say there is no threat from COVID-19 in their water supplies and that people do not need to hoard bottled water — provided that the employees who operate the various water plants can still come to work.
And yet, two weeks into Colorado’s crisis, you still see people exiting the state’s grocery stores with shopping carts brimming with multipacks of 4-ply Charmin or Angel Soft toilet paper. And buried under the TP, you’ll spot the 48-bottle cartons of Arrowhead or Fiji water.
Toilet paper aside, water systems operators around the state — including ski towns, which are among the hardest-hit areas for the novel coronavirus pandemic — do not understand why people think they need to stock up on bottled water.
“Aspen Water provides safe, high-quality water that exceeds all stringent state and federal drinking-water regulations,” said City of Aspen spokeswoman Mitzi Rapkin. “Aspen’s water-treatment methods use filtration and disinfection process which remove and inactivate viruses.”
The same is true for Front Range water utilities.
“We have wastewater-treatment facilities that work above and beyond the standards devised for us, so there is no worry that water would be impacted by COVID-19,” said Ryan Maecker, spokesman for Colorado Springs Utilities, where surrounding El Paso County is second only to Denver in the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the state.
Those drinking-water standards, established by the Safe Drinking Water Act in 1974, are enforced by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
“The water is treated and it’s disinfected, which takes care of all viruses,” said Linn Brooks, general manager of Eagle River Water and Sanitation District in eastern Eagle County, which has the third-highest number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the state.
Officials say water should be the least of anyone’s concerns during the growing outbreak, which has prompted an unprecedented statewide stay-at-home order and has seen most nonessential businesses and schools shut down.
“No, there are no water shortages. No, municipal water is not a vector for COVID-19,” said Zach Margolis, utility manager for Silverthorne Water & Sewer in Summit County.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the coronavirus is thought to spread in the following manner: “Mainly from person-to-person between people who are in close contact with one another (within about 6 feet) … through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs.”
Michelle Carr, distribution and collection manager for the City of Steamboat Springs Water and Sewer, attended a CDC webinar on the topic of COVID-19 and drinking-water systems.
“It said that the coronavirus is essentially very susceptible to our disinfection processes, and that while our disinfection process targets bacteria, bacteria is less susceptible than this virus,” Carr said. “So, the fact that we’re treating for killing bacteria means that we should adequately be taking care of the COVID virus.”
Buying bottled water during the ongoing pandemic makes no sense, she said.
“Our water is completely safe to drink,” Carr said. “I don’t anticipate that there will ever be an issue where we’re spreading COVID-19 through the treated potable water system. The bottled water is completely unnecessary.”
Brooks won’t speculate on why people are hoarding toilet paper, but she does have a theory regarding the stockpiling of bottled water.
“I think (people) see communications on how to isolate at home, how to prepare to a shelter in place, how to deal with emergencies, and those instructions almost always tell you to get bottled water,” said Brooks, adding that some people inexplicably prefer to drink bottled water all the time. “I don’t particularly understand that because our water here is so great, and (bottled water) certainly has an environmental impact.”
Various municipal, county and state emergency declarations have been enacted, covering water systems, but officials say those mostly just allow them to apply for state and federal funds or obtain additional equipment if necessary. Most water providers and wastewater-treatment operators are planning for staff shortages and doing everything they can to keep their staff healthy.
“We are not aware of any specific threats to our water system,” said Aspen’s Rapkin. “We have taken proactive measures to isolate our operations staff in order to continue to provide this critical community resource.”
Brooks agrees that staffing is the biggest concern as the virus spreads.
“Our biggest risk is absenteeism of our operators,” she said. “But, that being said, we can run with a pretty lean crew even if we got into some pretty significant absenteeism, as long as it doesn’t hit everyone at once, which we don’t think is likely at all.”
Eagle River Water and Sanitation District, which treats and provides water for users from East Vail to Wolcott along Interstate 70, took steps to mitigate against absenteeism early on.
“We knew that that was going to be our biggest risk and that protecting our employees was the most important thing that we could do. That’s our highest priority — to keep our staff healthy,” said Brooks, who added that any staffer with a symptom of any kind must stay home from work and not return until they have been free of symptoms for 72 hours.
Even if smaller mountain utilities were to be hit suddenly by a COVID-19 outbreak and get into staffing problems, other water-systems operators would step in to help. A cooperative venture among all utilities across the state and codified with intergovernmental agreements dictates that if a utility needs assistance, others will provide aid.
“So, if there’s somebody that has a plant failure, and we have staffing, we will send our staffing to them,” City of Aurora Water Department spokesman Greg Baker said during a call with other Aurora and Colorado Springs water officials. “I know Colorado Springs has been heavily involved in (mutual assistance) as well, so that should really not be a major concern.”
The desire to hoard bottled water, on the other hand, escapes officials.
“The bottled-water hoarding is a phenomenon we do not understand, because we bring safe, high-quality drinking water to your house,” Baker said. “We deliver it for a half a penny a gallon, so why are people going out and buying water? We do not understand that at all.”
Also, all the plastic is an environmental issue, Baker said, and transporting it around the state or out of state in bottles removes local water from Aurora’s extensive reuse system for irrigation and agriculture.
“So, whenever people take bottled water and start shipping it out, you’re kind of losing that reusable component, and that impacts our culture because we’re so used to reusability. So that hurts us there,” Baker said. “It also hurts us through the fact that, frankly, we have some of the highest-quality water in the state, and why do you need it in a bottle? It’s as irrational as the toilet-paper hoarding.”
Aspen Journalism collaborates with The Aspen Times and other Swift Communications newspapers on coverage of water and rivers. This story ran in the March 28 editions of The Aspen Times and the Vail Daily.
Larimer County has tentatively scheduled hearing dates for a county permit for the Northern Integrated Supply Project — hearings that are expected to draw crowds in a time of social distancing.
Northern Water applied in February for what is known as a 1041 permit for the project, which calls for county approval of pieces of the project including a pipeline, highway relocation and recreation plan associated with the water project.
Northern Water proposes pulling 42,000 acre-feet of water, primarily from the Poudre River, and storing it in two reservoirs on behalf of 15 water providers. The largest of the two reservoirs, Glade, is proposed to be built northwest of Fort Collins, with recreation to be managed by the county.
The overall permit to build the project will come from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers with some requirements from state agencies as well, the result of an environmental permitting process that has stretched over a decade. A federal decision is expected this year…
Right now, the county is navigating ways to move to virtual public hearings, allowing public comments over the phone and through email for all of its meetings. There have been some hiccups as the county works to streamline the process to promote social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic…
For the Northern Integrated Supply Project, as of now, the plan is to have a public hearing before the Larimer County Planning Commission on May 6 and the Board of County Commissioners on June 8…
However, Jeff Stahla, spokesman for Northern Water, said the water district has been working on this project for a long time, has collected and is continuing to collect public input on the process. He said Northern Water will continue to work with the county to achieve that result through this hearing process.
“We want to make sure the public has a chance to offer their input on this application,” Stahla said. “I applaud the county for trying to accommodate the public while acknowledging the health risks that are out there. We want to make sure there’s a public an deliberative process, so we’ll work with the county to make sure that happens.”
On Friday, March 13, just as federal and state agencies ramped up emergency efforts to address the spread of COVID-19, the U.S. Department of Defense released a report summarizing its progress on PFAS issues through the end of last September.
According to its updated list, the military will assess whether activities at the Army National Guard armories in Rio Rancho and Roswell, the Army Aviation Support Facility in Santa Fe, and White Sands Missile Range have polluted groundwater with PFAS. The toxic compounds do not biodegrade, and have been linked to cancer and many other health problems.
Nationwide, the updated list of military sites under investigation swelled from 450 military locations to 651. The military does not appear to have notified states, including New Mexico, prior to making the list public.
According to the report from the Defense Department’s PFAS Task Force, the military’s earlier investigations focused on contamination from aqueous film forming foams, which the military used for firefighting and training from the 1970s until just a few years ago.
The updated progress report notes that the task force’s expanded investigations now also focus on “installations where PFAS may have been used or released.”
The report does not include details about specific activities that might have exposed people or the environment to PFAS. Defense Department spokesman Chuck Pritchard could not be reached for additional information before publication…
The recent Defense Department report also notes that the funding for PFAS cleanup included as part of the newly-passed National Defense Authorization Act is inadequate.
According to the report, aircraft rescue and firefighting vehicles will need to be retrofitted entirely—meaning that each vehicle component that came into contact with the firefighting foams will need to be replaced—at a cost of almost $200,000 per vehicle. That alone, according to the report, adds $600 million to earlier cleanup estimates.
Alternately, replacing the Defense Department’s current fleet of about 3,000 contaminated vehicles will cost $4 to $6 billion—and take 18 years.
The report also notes that as part of the Defense Authorization Act, the Defense Department has committed $30 million to study PFAS exposure in eight communities near former and current military installations. Those studies are happening in West Virginia, Colorado, Alaska, Massachusetts, Texas, New York, Washington, and Delaware. The military is also “developing a framework” to annually test the blood of military firefighters for PFAS levels.
This pandemic has started feeling like something more than an extended snow day or having the mumps when you’re a child. Perhaps it’s now more like 1941, after Pearl Harbor.
The potential for a pandemic has been amply reported over the years. People in the early 1940s knew we would inevitably go to war. When abstraction became reality on that December day, so much changed in the context of Colorado.
In the late 1930s, ski areas were about to blossom. The Union Pacific’s Averell Harriman in 1936 opened Sun Valley in Idaho, and resorts were taking off in New England. Colorado had a few smaller ski areas, including Berthoud and Winter Park, plus town ski areas at Steamboat Springs and Gunnison.
Others were thinking bigger. In Aspen, a boat-tow had been installed, primitive but effective in transporting people uphill. One of them was Elizabeth Paepcke, the wife of a wealthy Chicago industrialist. She wanted her husband to see Aspen, to see the potential she saw. Others saw a different resort, one on Mount Hayden, in the Castle Creek Valley southwest of Aspen. Colorado legislators gave the venture $650,000, which was backed by a federal fund.
Closer to Denver, tunnel crews had begun boring an exploratory tunnel under Loveland Pass, with the idea of creating a highway under the Continental Divide. To the west, the state government had used federal New Deal funding to upgrade the horse trail across the Gore Range to a two-lane gravel road. They called it Vail, to honor Charlie Vail, then the boss of the Colorado Highway Department.
In Washington, D.C., President Franklin Roosevelt had had engineers develop plans for a national system of highways with separated lanes.
In Colorado, work had begun on Green Mountain Reservoir. The intent was to provide a service to the Western Slope as a result of the giant trans-mountain diversion planned at Grand Lake to benefit farmers in northeastern Colorado.
And in northeastern Colorado, my father was working on a dryland farm near Fort Morgan and lopping off the tops of sugar beets in that quiet before the distant clouds of war arrived.
Pearl Harbor changed everything.
The war brought the 10th Mountain Division to Colorado, to a high valley along the Continental Divide between Leadville and Red Cliff called Eagle Park. The Army named it Camp Hale, and at the height of the training it was among the largest cities in Colorado, with 14,000 people, mostly men.
After the war, in 1946, Elizabeth Paepcke’s husband, Walter, finally visited Aspen and saw what had so impressed her. But he put a new touch on it, the idea of invigorating the body and challenging the mind, a DNA that lingers to this day. 10th Mountain Division veterans returned in droves to Colorado to convert Aspen from a derelict mining town into an international resort. A resident, for a time, was Pete Seibert, who had grown up in New England dreaming of creating a ski resort. But he wanted his own resort. That dream in 1962 became Vail.
In time, my father was inducted into the Army, leaving behind the dryland farm where he was reared and its house, which had neither indoor plumbing nor electricity, and took the train to California for basic training, then a posting at the Presidio, near the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. Eventually he was shipped to India at the foot of the Himalaya Mountains.
The bore under Loveland Pass was completed in 1943, but it revealed too much difficult geology for a highway tunnel. Later, a different alignment was chosen, and that tunneling work resulted in the first of two tunnels in 1973.
The idea of superhighways that many people want to attribute with singularity to Dwight Eisenhower finally was given a federal sponsorship in 1956. Among the Senate sponsors was Albert Gore, father of the future vice president. But if not for the war, it might have happened sooner.
As for that big New Deal-era water project, the Colorado-Big Thompson, it was finally completed in 1957.
And my father returned to northeastern Colorado, married the girl he had met at a gathering of young Baptists in the 1930s and took up work as a carpenter. He never flew again, never traveled abroad, but he did have a taste for curry that was never satisfied. He died before the spread of Indian restaurants in Colorado.
Vail probably would have happened eventually. The mountain itself and the proximity to Denver made it a natural. But World War II put Pete Seibert into Colorado. Aspen would have flourished, but perhaps in a different way. As for Mount Hayden, it came to nothing, in its own way perhaps a casualty of World War II.
This pandemic is different than World War II, and we have to go back further to see precedent. In 1918, Gunnison quarantined itself and survived with little loss of life, while Silverton, as remote a town as there may be in Colorado, isolated in the icy fastness of the San Juan Mountains, lost 10% of its population.
In this COVID-19 pandemic, the first case in Colorado was a visitor to Summit County who had recently been in Italy, then Australian visitors to Aspen-Snowmass. But then Eagle County flared, and as of early this week had 22 cases from the Vail area compared to 24 in Denver County, which has a population about 12 times as large. County officials on Thursday said they suspected hundreds, if not thousands, had contracted COVID-19.
A century ago the influenza spread globally, but by rail instead of by air. The world has shrunk, with consequences both good and bad.
We will survive this pandemic, but there will be changes. I sincerely doubt we’ll see the significant expansion at DIA that had been announced just a few months ago. That may actually be good.
Can other good also result? Many of us hope that it will result in greater acceptance of facts, more acceptance of science. Ideology played a powerful role in the sluggish, or worse, acceptance of the virus by powerful people, most notably the president. That same ideology, the same denial, has shrugged off or rejected the power of accumulating greenhouse gases to produce costly changes in our climate.
I hope we develop a greater sense of a global community. It could easily take us the other way, one exemplified by the run on guns and ammunition. What we see early on, the sniping between President Trump and his counterparts in China, is not encouraging.
The Colorado Water Conservation Board, the primary water-policy agency for the state, met last week in Westminster, and afterward I had dinner with a friend. The friend, who has long worked in the environmental advocacy space, spoke of some matter before the board, and added this: “Twenty years ago this conversation never would have happened.”
Water politics in Colorado have undergone a Big Pivot. As the century turned, environmental issues had made inroads into the conversation, but water development remained a dominant theme. Then came the drought of 2002, which more or less changed everything. So has the growing realization of how the changing climate will impact the already over-extended resources of the Colorado River.
Instead of a deep, deep bucket, to be returned to again and again, the Colorado River has become more or less an empty bucket.
Those realizations were evident in a panel discussion at the Colorado Water Congress about water conservation and efficiency. Jeff Tejral, representing Denver Water, spoke to the “changes over the last 20 years” that have caused Denver Water and other water utilities to embrace new water-saving technology and altered choices about outdoor water use.
Denver Water literally invented the word xeriscaping. That was before the big, big drought or the understandings of climate change as a big, big deal. Twenty years ago, the Colorado Water Congress would never have hosted panels on climate change. This year it had several.
Tejral pointed to the growth in Denver, the skyscrapers now omnipresent in yet another boom cycle, one that has lifted the city’s population over 700,000 and which will likely soon move the metropolitan area’s population above 3 million. That growth argues for continued attention to water efficiency and conservation, as Denver—a key provider for many of its suburbs—has limited opportunities for development of new supplies. “The other part of it is climate change,” he said. “That means water change.”
Denver Water has partnered with a company called Greyter Water Systems on a pilot project involving 40 homes at Stapleton likely to begin in June or July. It involves new plumbing but also water reuse, not for potable purposes but for non-potable purposes. John Bell, a co-founder of the company, who was also on the panel, explained that his company’s technology allows water to be treated within the house and put to appropriate uses there at minimal cost.
“It makes no sense to flush a toilet with perfectly good drinking water, and now with Greyter, you don’t have to,” he said.
For decades Denver has had a reuse program. Sewage water treated to high standards is applied to golf courses and other landscaping purposes. Because of the requirements for separate pipes—always purple, to indicate the water is not good for drinking—its use is somewhat limited.
A proposal has been moving though the Colorado Department of Public Health rule-making process for several years now that would expand use of greywater and set requirements for direct potable reuse. The pilot project at Stapleton would appear to be part of that slow-moving process.
Greyter Water Systems, meanwhile, has been forging partnerships with homebuilders, the U.S. Department of Defense, and others in several small projects.
“It seems like 40 homes in Colorado is a small step,” said Tejral, “but a lot of learning will come out of that, which will open the door for the next 400, and then the next 4,000.”
There are limits to this, however, as water cannot be recycled unless it’s imported into a basin. Water users downstream depend upon releases of water from upstream. Water in the South Platte River Basin is estimated to have 6 or 7 uses before it gets to Nebraska.
In the Eagle River Valley, the streams gush with runoff from the Gore and Sawatch ranges, but there can be pinches during years of drought. That area, said Linn Brooks, who directs the Eagle River Water and Sanitation Districts, has a population of between 35,000 and 60,000 between Vail and Wolcott, “depending where we are during our tourist year.”
Water efficiency programs can make a big difference in what flows in the local creeks and rivers. Brooks pointed to 2018, a year of exceptionally low snowfall. New technologies and policies that put tools into the hands of customers reduced water use 30% during a one-month pinch, resulting in 8 cubic feet per second more water flowing in local creeks and rivers. During that time, Gore Creek was running 16 cfs through Vail. It flows into the Eagle River, which was running 25 cfs. “So saving 8 cfs was really significant,” she said.
Many of Eagle Valley’s efficiency programs focus on outdoor water use. That is because the water delivery for summer outdoor use drives the most capacity investment and delivery expenses. “Really, that is the most expensive water that we provide,” Brooks said.
Tap fees and monthly billings have been adjusted to reflect those costs. One concept embraced by Eagle River Water and Sanitation is called water budgeting. “Our hope is that water budgeting will continue to increase the downward trend of water use per customer that we’ve had for the last 20 years for at least another 10 years,” she said.
Eagle River also has tried to incentivize good design. The district negotiates with real estate developers based on the water treatment capacity their projects will require. “That is a way to get them to build more water-efficient projects, especially on the outdoors side,” explained Brooks. “When we execute these agreements, we put water limits on them. If they go over that, we charge them more for their tap fee. That can be a pretty big cost. We don’t like to do that, but we have found that in those few cases where new developments go over their water limits, we have gone back to them and said, we might have to reassess the water tap fees, but what we really want you to do is stay within your water budget.” That tactic, she added, has usually worked.
In this concept of water budgeting, she said, “I don’t think we have even begun to scrape the surface of the potential.”
Outdoor water use has also been a focal point of efforts by Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, the agency created to deliver water to customers from the trans-mountain diversion at Grand Lake. Municipalities from Broomfield and Boulder north to Fort Collins and Greeley, even Fort Morgan, get water from the diversion.
Frank Kinder was recently hired away from Colorado Springs Utilities to become the full-time water efficiency point person for Northern. Part of the agency’s effort is to introduce the idea that wall to wall turf need not be installed for a pleasing landscape. Instead, Northern pushes the idea of hybrid landscapes and also introduces alternatives for tricky areas that are hard to irrigate. The ultimate goal falls under the heading of “smiles per gallon.” Some of the district’s thinking can be seen in the xeriscaping displays at Northern’s office complex in Berthoud.
Kevin Reidy, who directs water conservation efforts for the Colorado Water Conservation Board, said the Colorado Water Plan posited a goal of reducing water use by 400,000 acre-feet. Don’t get caught up in that precise number, he advised. “It’s really about trying to figure out a more stable water future for our cities,” he said.
Readers might well be confused by an agency named “water conservation” having an employee with the title of “water conservation specialist.” The story here seems to be that the word conservation has changed over time. In 1937, when the agency was created, water conservation to most people meant creating dams and other infrastructure to prevent the water from flowing downhill. Now, conservation means doing as much or more with less.
On why Eagle River Water takes aim at outdoor use
The amount of water used outdoors is generally twice that used for indoor purposes, and only about 15% to 40% of water used outdoors makes its way back to local waterways.
None of this water is returned to local streams through a wastewater plant. Most of the water is consumed by plant needs or evaporation; what is leftover percolates through the ground and may eventually make its way to a local stream.
— From the Eagle River Water website
This was originally published in the Feb. 18, 2020, issue of Big Pivots.
Click here to read the report from the South Platte Regional Opportunites Work Group.
The South Platte Regional Opportunities Water Group (SPROWG) Concept will provide water supplies to meet future municipal and agricultural water needs in the South Platte Basin. Several aspects of the SPROWG Concept were collaboratively researched in this feasibility study (Study) including identification of future water demands, strategies for incorporating environmental and recreational enhancements, needed infrastructure, water treatment strategies, potential costs, governance considerations, and communication needs.
Extensive outreach was conducted and included meetings with potential future SPROWG participants and stakeholders and a survey that was sent to over 100 municipal, agricultural, environment, and recreation water users and stakeholders. The results of the outreach informed the types of governance structures that could be viable for a future SPROWG organization, the configuration and delivery goals for SPROWG infrastructure, water treatment strategies needed to provide supplies of suitable water quality, and communication and outreach needs.
Communications and outreach are an important aspect to developing the SPROWG Concept and tailoring it to fit the broadest spectrum of water users and needs. A Communications and Outreach Plan was developed that includes goals, suggested stakeholders, recommended near-term activities, recommended activities to facilitate recruitment of participants, recommended key messages, and metrics to track the success of various types of communication. The Communications and Outreach Plan serves to:
Educate stakeholders and create awareness needed to refine the recommended governance, operational, and infrastructure concepts.
Educate potential SPROWG Concept participants to facilitate recruitment.
Educate ratepayers/taxpayers on the need for the SPROWG Concept and funding.
Continue stakeholder engagement and transparency to build stakeholder support.
The South Platte Regional Opportunities Water Group has released the findings of its year-long study to help bridge the water shortage gap in the South Platte River Basin.
SPROWG’s study evaluated four concept alternatives that would use a combination of off-channel water storage at multiple locations, infrastructure and water exchanges to develop additional water supplies from the South Platte River.
The study results were presented to the Colorado Water Conservation Board Thursday in Denver.
Joe Frank, General Manager of the Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District, who oversaw administration of the grant funds that paid for the study, said the purpose of the study was to find as many options as possible that would still be feasible…
The four water supply alternatives evaluated include multiple linked storage facilities capable of holding between 215,000 and 409,000 acre-feet of water at various locations between Denver and the Colorado Nebraska state line. The water would be transported via a pipeline or through “exchanges” or trading water from one location to another. The study’s alternatives are combinations of four water storage projects: Henderson Storage, Kersey Storage, Balzac Storage and Julesburg Storage. Each is named for the approximate location of the storage facility.
Alternative One includes Henderson, Kersey and Balzac; Alternative Two is the same three sites but with different capacities at each site. Alternatives Three and Four include all four sites but, again, each with different capacities. Alternatives Two, Three and Four also include a pipeline from the Balzac site to pump 30 cubic feet per second of water upstream to Denver.
The alternatives seek to efficiently use these sources of in-basin supply without relying on past practices of diverting additional water from the Western Slope or permanently drying up agricultural lands in the South Platte basin…
The SPROWG study, funded in large part by a grant from the Colorado Water Conservation Board, built upon the work of others who had analyzed various strategies that would develop several types of South Platte water supplies to meet multiple benefits.
The conceptual cost estimates for the concepts ranged from $18,400 to $22,800 per acre-foot for raw water and $33,600 to $43,200 per acre-foot for treated water, which are in line with other large regional water projects. These costs included the anticipated water treatment strategies that were evaluated to make the water suitable for potable uses. While the most expensive to build, Alternative 4 had the lowest per acre foot cost of the alternatives because it has the highest yield.
Here’s the release from Colorado State University (Jennifer Dimas):
The 2020 Ogallala Aquifer Summit will take place in Amarillo, Texas, from March 31 to April 1, bringing together water management leaders from all eight Ogallala region states: Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Texas, South Dakota and Wyoming. The dynamic, interactive event will focus on encouraging exchange among participants about innovative programs and effective approaches to addressing the region’s significant water-related challenges.
“Tackling Tough Question” is the theme of the event. Workshops and speakers will share and compare responses to questions such as: “What is the value of groundwater to current and future generations?” and “How do locally led actions aimed at addressing water challenges have larger-scale impact?”
“The summit provides a unique opportunity to strengthen collaborations among a diverse range of water-focused stakeholders,” said summit co-chair Meagan Schipanski, an associate professor in the Department of Soil and Crop Sciences at CSU. “Exploring where we have common vision and identifying innovative concepts or practices already being implemented can catalyze additional actions with potential to benefit the aquifer and Ogallala region communities over the short and long term.”
Schipanski co-directs the Ogallala Water Coordinated Agriculture Project (CAP) with Colorado Water Center director and summit co-chair Reagan Waskom, who is also a faculty member in Soil and Crop Sciences. The Ogallala Water CAP, supported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture, has a multi-disciplinary team of 70 people based at 10 institutions in six Ogallala-region states. They are all engaged in collaborative research and outreach for sustaining agriculture and ecosystems in the region.
Some Ogallala Water CAP research and outreach results will be shared at the 2020 Ogallala Summit. The Ogallala Water CAP has led the coordination of the event, in partnership with colleagues at Texas A&M AgriLife, the Kansas Water Office, and the USDA-Agricultural Research Service-funded Ogallala Aquifer Program, with additional support provided by many individuals and organizations from the eight Ogallala states.
The 2020 Summit will highlight several activities and outcomes inspired by or expanded as a result of the 2018 Ogallala Summit. Participants will include producers; irrigation company and commodity group representatives; students and academics; local and state policy makers; groundwater management district leaders; crop consultants; agricultural lenders; state and federal agency staff; and others, including new and returning summit participants.
“Water conservation technologies are helpful, and we need more of them, but human decision-making is the real key to conserving the Ogallala,” said Brent Auvermann, center director at Texas A&M AgriLife Research – Amarillo. “The emergence of voluntary associations among agricultural water users to reduce groundwater use is an encouraging step, and we need to learn from those associations’ experiences with regard to what works, and what doesn’t, and what possibilities exist that don’t require expanding the regulatory state.”
The summit will take place over two half-days, starting at 11 a.m. Central Time (10 a.m. MDT) on Tuesday, March 31 and concluding the next day on Wednesday, April 1 at 2:30 p.m. The event includes a casual evening social on the evening of March 31 that will feature screening of a portion of the film “Rising Water,” by Nebraska filmmaker Becky McMillen, followed by a panel discussion on effective agricultural water-related communications.
Visit the 2020 Ogallala summit webpage to see a detailed agenda, lodging info, and to access online registration. Pre-registration is required, and space is limited. The registration deadline is Saturday, March 21 at midnight Central Time (11 p.m. MDT).
This event is open to credentialed members of the media. Please RSVP to Katie.firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com
Here’s the release from United Water (Lynn Bartels):
An Adams County company that built an earthen reservoir in Weld County as part of Colorado’s vital water conservation efforts on Friday collected its third major award for the project.
To build the reservoir, Fiore & Sons Inc., a Colorado civil construction company, moved more than 3 million cubic yards of dirt.
The Colorado Contractors Association presented the award to Fiore & Sons its annual H20 Awards banquet, which honors outstanding water projects in the state. Fiore won in the “dam/reservoir” category.
“It was an honor to be part of such a unique project,” said President Butch Fiore, whose grandfather founded the firm in 1959.
The 5,500 acre-foot 70 Ranch Reservoir stores water to support the ranch’s cattle and farming operations, and provides storage for local agricultural and municipal water providers. It’s located near Kersey above the South Platte River, and below the confluence of the St. Vrain and Cache La Poudre rivers.
The reservoir is owned by Weld Adams Water Development Authority and operated by United Water and Sanitation District.
President Bob Lembke said Colorado doesn’t have a water shortage problem but a water storage problem.
“There is plenty of water in Colorado,” he said. “We just have to capture and store it for those times and seasons when we need it.”
The porous soil in that region is susceptible to wind and rain erosion so the reservoir was lined with 7 million square feet of a reinforced synthetic liner. The wave-action protection near the top of the design was unique, and involved a variety of products and employed several techniques on the slope.
Fiore & Sons’ diligence and innovation in building the 70 Ranch Reservoir included the efforts of 30 workers hand pulling weeds around the top of the dam wall because the use of herbicides on a water project would be unacceptable.
In its contest application, Fiore & Sons noted that protecting and preserving water quality was a top priority.
“A state construction dewatering permit required water volume be tracked and samples routinely obtained and tested at Colorado Analytical Labs for water quality,” the firm stated.
Over 115 water tests and 55 site inspections were completed. In addition, Fiore & Sons implemented a detailed erosion and sediment control plan.
“With a project of that size and magnitude, there are some really big lessons that are learned in the process and will really help us when we get the opportunity to build another dam,” Fiore said.
At the groundbreaking ceremony for the 70 Ranch Reservoir in 2019, state Treasurer Dave Young of Greeley and other elected officials praised the “visionary project.”
The project manager for United Water was Drew Damiano, for Fiore & Sons, Jim LaTerra. Fiore & Sons subcontracted with Civil Resources to provide engineering for the project.
Fiore & Sons received two other awards for the construction of the 70 Ranch Reservoir:
The National Utility Contractors Association, which recognizes “challenging, innovative, or unique projects completed with excellent results.” Fiore & Sons won the award in the water category at NUCA’s conference in Arizona last month.
The Associated General Contractors, which recognized Fiore for “Meeting the Challenge of a Difficult Job.” Fiore received the award in Denver last November.
[Ted] Simmons is one of more than a hundred landowners — some who have been there for generations — who received a letter in recent weeks from an agent of the city of Thornton.
The letter offers Simmons and his neighbors a sum of money — Simmons reckoned the city is figuring about $7,500 per acre — for a permanent easement that would allow the city to build a jagged-lined water pipeline, north to south, across Weld County into Thornton.
“The current proposal makes that piece of land almost unusable,” Simmons said. “I can still put up hay, but for the future, if you want to do any plans in the future, it pretty much destroys the whole piece. You can’t build over it.”
The permitting process has been a bit rocky. It involves both Larimer and Weld counties, and the commissioners of each county have thrown various hurdles in the way of the city which resides in neither of their jurisdictions.
Initially, the project proposed to take Weld County Road 13 much of the way south. But there was concern on the part of the Weld commissioners that that was unfair to the landowners along that stretch of highway.
“We said we were not willing to put the pipeline in our right of way,” Weld County commission chairman Mike Freeman said by phone this week. “The reason is, with farming, they farm up to the county road. So it still impacts the landowners as much. The landowners need to be paid for these easements. It’s going to impact them, so they need to be paid.”
About 160 parcels are crossed, Koleber said, as the hypothetical pipeline traverses Weld County. And the commissioners weren’t making things any easier on Thornton, either.
“Weld commissioners said, ‘We want you to acquire all of the easements that you need for the pipeline ahead of time,’ before they even look at the permit,” Koleber said. “That’s reverse of how a project normally goes. Permit-design-right of way-construction. They flipped that and continued our process for a year, from July 2019 to July 2020.”
That said, roadblocks or not, Weld has been substantially more accommodating than Larimer. There, the commissioners rejected the permit application and are on their way to court with the city of Thornton. Freeman said that that’s not the plan in Weld.
“We want to make sure they’re treating people fairly,” Freeman said. “We can’t get in the middle of negotiation, whether they’re paying enough, but we want to make sure they’re getting those easements secured, not coming in and saying, ‘We’ve got 30%.’ We’re not going to approve a pipeline if we don’t know where it’s at … but if they come in with an application demonstrating it’s complete, and it’s a good one, more than likely we’d approve it.”
But the landowners — at least some of them — aren’t thrilled with the idea of giving up a strip of their property to the underground pipeline, even if it can be farmed right over the top of it as Thornton claims.
That’s because, like Simmons, the value is less in agriculture now than it is in development potential. Houses or other municipal space are where the future is.
Simmons and his neighbors, including Ken and Sue Kerchenfaut, would much rather the pipeline go down Weld County Road 13, actually. But if that’s not an option, Simmons has another idea, too. Rather than jutting through the various properties in a zig-zagging line, why not take a straight shot parallel path with an existing Sinclair Energy pipeline that already stripes his and many of his neighbors’ land?
Like it or not, it seems they’ll probably have to give up the easement one way or another. Thornton feels comfortable its eminent domain powers will be backed up in court, should it get that far.
And they’re probably right.
Thornton is a home rule charter, and such entities are granted quite broad eminent domain power for the sake of a public good by the Colorado constitution. That’s what an expert on the subject, University of Colorado professor Richard Collins, said by phone this week.
“The home rule powers of the constitution explicitly authorize home rule charters to have eminent domain,” Collins said. “So there’s really not much doubt that a home rule city would have broad powers of eminent domain.”
…there’s a risk that [Robin Andrews] and other people with illnesses linked to the chemicals could end up with no compensation for their health problems. That’s because a major manufacturer, DuPont, recently unloaded its PFAS obligations to smaller companies that do not have the money to pay for them.
For decades, DuPont manufactured PFAS-type chemicals in a plant close to Andrews’ home in this tiny South Jersey town on marshy land near the Delaware River. Her grandfather and father both worked at the sprawling plant, known as the Chambers Works, which covers 1,400 acres of riverbank in the shadow of the bridge to Delaware.
In 2017, after she developed unexplained high liver enzymes, her well water tested positive for PFAS; she now runs it through a large filtration system in her basement and has it monitored every three months.
DuPont “could have been a great company and a very good thing for this area had they chosen to take care of people and to be responsible with the way they disposed of these toxins,” Andrews told NBC News. “But they weren’t. I believe it was an economic decision to put people at risk.”
Jeff Tittel, senior chapter director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, has watched DuPont’s moves with concern. “They are setting up other companies to take the fall on liabilities that won’t have enough money, so even if people win lawsuits, they will get nothing or very little,” he said.
On Wednesday, the EPA disclosed it “has multiple criminal investigations underway concerning PFAS-related pollution.” The agency did not identify the entities being investigated and it could not be determined if DuPont is one of them.
Daniel Turner, reputation and media relations manager for DuPont, said the company had not received an information request from the EPA related to a criminal investigation…
In 2015, as problems associated with PFAS were becoming clearer, DuPont began a series of complex transactions that transformed the company’s structure. As a result of the transactions, responsibility for environmental obligations associated with the chemicals shifted onto other entities.
The first shift by DuPont occurred in 2015, when it assigned the great majority of liabilities associated with PFAS to The Chemours Company, a new entity containing DuPont’s chemicals business that was spun off to its shareholders…
In a statement provided to NBC News, DuPont spokesman Turner denied that the Chemours spin-off was an attempt to evade environmental and legal liabilities associated with PFAS. “The reason for the spin-off,” Turner said, was that DuPont “was seeking to transform itself into a higher growth, higher value company” and “saw more growth opportunities in its other businesses.”
A second spin-off was Corteva Inc., in 2019, an agriculture science company that holds other legacy DuPont operations and some PFAS liabilities.
The third transaction occurred last June when so-called new DuPont was created. Formerly known as DowDupont, its businesses include electronics, transportation and construction. Because of the two other spin-offs, new DuPont is two steps removed from PFAS obligations…
Chemours, with primary responsibility for the estimated tens of billions of dollars in PFAS obligations, does not have anywhere near the money or assets to cover them. Chemours’ net worth — its assets minus liabilities — stood at just $695 million as of Dec. 31, 2019.
If Chemours becomes insolvent, Corteva Inc. will be responsible, corporate filings show. Corteva does not have the funds to cover tens of billions in estimated PFAS costs either. Turner declined to say whether PFAS responsibilities would ultimately revert to DuPont if Chemours and Corteva are unable to pay them. A lawyer for Chemours declined to comment.
Corporate spin-offs like DuPont’s that transfer liabilities associated with problematic businesses are becoming more common, analysts say, especially in the energy and chemical fields.
“You’re seeing it again and again,” said Clark Williams-Derry, an analyst with the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis. “Spinning off your legacy liabilities into a separate corporation and to some other responsible party appears to be part of the standard playbook in these industries.”
DuPont is not the only PFAS manufacturer under scrutiny. Another is 3M, headquartered in Minneapolis. Both companies stopped making PFAS over a decade ago. 3M is fighting the suits and says it is cooperating with government investigators.
DuPont and 3M both face lawsuits over problems allegedly linked to PFAS. But DuPont’s shift of its PFAS liabilities to Chemours has drawn its own raft of litigation. In a complaint filed last year against DuPont by Chemours, it contended that the 2015 deal was fraudulent. DuPont knew and intentionally hid the scope of the liabilities when it dumped them into Chemours, the company alleged.
In response, DuPont says Chemours executives were well aware of the PFAS problems at the time of the spin-off and could not have been duped. Next up is the judge’s ruling on oral arguments in the case…
Legal filings allege DuPont knew for decades that PFAS posed a threat to humans…
In early PFAS cases, lawyers for plaintiffs found internal, undisclosed DuPont documents showing toxicity in PFAS. While the company has acknowledged the findings in court filings, it argued that they were either inconclusive or applicable only to employees working with the chemicals, not to people drinking tap water near DuPont facilities.
The New Jersey lawsuit alleges that DuPont began to recognize toxicity in the most common PFAS chemical in the 1960s but did not tell the state or local communities about the problem.
DuPont has not answered the New Jersey complaint but in previous lawsuits, DuPont has denied that it hid PFAS risks. DuPont spokesman Turner declined to say how long DuPont knew about the toxicity of PFAS, but said the company has provided extensive information over the years to the EPA about potential harm related to the chemicals.
The New Jersey suit also says DuPont hid the results of a 1981 blood sampling study of pregnant employees who worked with the chemicals that found one-quarter had children with birth defects…
The potential that shareholders will take on undervalued liabilities is greater in spin-offs, merger experts say. That’s because the kind of in-depth due diligence that a third-party buyer would do to to determine possible liabilities is not typically done by new owners in a spin-off. Those owners are essentially trusting the parent company to be forthcoming about the obligations.
Had DuPont instead sold its legacy chemicals businesses to another company, the buyer would have dug into the obligations associated with its PFAS production prior to the purchase. Any resulting deal would take those potential liabilities into account, resulting in either a lower sale price, an insurance policy or a right by the buyer to recover costs from DuPont later.
Because DuPont’s existing shareholders took on the liabilities in the Chemours and Corteva spin-offs, that detailed assessment was not done. The Chemours lawsuit alleges that DuPont pursued the spin-off so it “could control the transaction structure and economics” after concluding that “no rational buyer” would accept the liabilities associated with PFAS.
DuPont spokesman Turner disputed this, saying that multiple firms submitted proposals to acquire Chemours before the spin-off. He declined to provide specifics about those companies, however, or their bids.
Back in 2015, when DuPont was preparing to spin off Chemours, the parent company made insufficient disclosures about the environmental liabilities to be shouldered by the new shareholders, the Securities and Exchange Commission found. The company had to provide more details, regulatory filings show.
Westminster’s city leaders want to replace aging water tanks and a water main and keep up with environmental regulations, and they are asking residents to fork out an extra $7 a month in their water and sewer bills to pay for it.
City Council is hosting public meetings to explain the needs and why it wants to increase rates in 2021 and 2022 for the projects. Under the proposal, the average customer will be billed an extra $4 for drinking water and $3 for sewer each month in 2021, and then again in 2022. That equates to about $168 per customer over the next two years.
The exact rate increase depends on each customer’s usage and varying usage year-round, said Westminster Public Works Director Max Kirschbaum…
The projects on the table include $16 million to replace deteriorating storage tanks for drinking water, $11.5 million to replace a water main on Lowell Boulevard and $4.6 million to meet new environmental regulations for the Big Dry Creek Wastewater Treatment Facility, according to the city’s website.
The city’s water is filtered in a plant that was built in 1970, Tom Scribner, water treatment plant superintendent, said. Age and everyday wear and tear has chipped away at the concrete and pipes. The plant still works and is expected to last another 20 years before it needs to be shut down…
The city is working on repairing infrastructure at several sites throughout Westminster, including a $16 million underground pipe project on 112th Avenue and Huron Street and a waste-water pump on Zuni Street between 84th and 88th Avenues…
For the past decade, the department has been spending about $30 million a year on maintaining infrastructure, Kirschbaum said…
The Public Works department is hosting a series of open houses to inform Westminster residents about the bill increases and changing infrastructure. The first was on Feb. 26 at City Park Recreation Center, and a second is scheduled for March 18 at the same location at 6 p.m. Refreshments will be provided.
[Thornton] plans to start building uncontested portions of the water pipeline in Windsor and Johnstown to keep the project on schedule, spokesman Todd Barnes said.
Meanwhile, Thornton plans to file an opening brief [February 27, 2020] in its lawsuit contesting Larimer County commissioners’ rejection of the pipeline. Commissioners’ jurisdiction applies only to unincorporated areas of the county.
Once Thornton files the opening brief, Larimer County commissioners will have about five weeks to file reply briefs, unless they get an extension.
It’s been more than a year since commissioners unanimously denied a 1041 permit for the pipeline’s proposed path through unincorporated Larimer County. The pipeline is intended to transport Poudre River water from reservoirs northeast of Fort Collins to Thornton’s water treatment plant.
The water, eventually amounting to an average of 14,000 acre-feet annually, would support Thornton’s growing population. About 140,000 people call the Denver suburb home today, but city officials expect the population to grow to 250,000 during the coming decades…
Many Larimer County residents objected to the pipeline’s proposed path, arguing Thornton should run the water through a stretch of the Poudre River instead. Thornton’s water is already taken out of the river upstream of Fort Collins for agricultural use, but river advocates say Thornton should use its project as an opportunity to bolster stream flows and provide a benefit to Larimer County.
Larimer County commissioners rejected Thornton’s 1041 permit because they said it didn’t meet seven of the 12 criteria for the permit, including mitigation of environmental impacts, mitigation of adverse effects on land, and project benefits that outweigh the loss of any natural resources or agricultural productivity…
Thornton’s lawsuit argues commissioners were legally bound to base their decision solely on the pipeline’s siting and direct impacts. Commissioners’ decision illegally undermined Thornton’s rights by taking irrelevant factors into consideration, Thornton argues…
“… this Court should declare, or rule as a matter of law, that (the board) cannot consider, condition or deny the application based on any river or canal concepts that undermine Thornton’s property rights, constitutional rights and water rights in the diversion point, the delivery point, the quantity and quality of the water right or the right to remove water from Thornton-owned farms adjudicated in the Water Decree because doing so is prohibited by (state statute),” stated documents Thornton filed in Larimer County District Court this week.
Larimer County’s rejection of Thornton’s permit application applies only to its proposed path through unincorporated parts of the county. Thornton has intergovernmental agreements with Windsor and Timnath allowing pipeline construction and is crafting an agreement with Johnstown, Barnes said.
The Johnstown portions of the pipeline that could begin construction in March are on easements with private landowners.
Barnes said the project remains on schedule to begin water deliveries in 2025.