With concerns looming large over two expensive proposals to divert one of the Front Range’s most beloved rivers, the Cache la Poudre, to store supply for 15 Northern Colorado water providers and another to transport water out of the basin to Thornton via pipeline, more planning to keep water rights in the region for agricultural use is economically essential.
That is, unless Front Range residents approve of the disappearance of local farms and the volume of business, environmental benefit and cultural impact provided by the ag sector, panelists at a BizWest-sponsored discussion on water and energy policy said Thursday at the Larimer County Fairgrounds.
Northern Water is still working through the permitting process for the two reservoirs with hopes of filling them by 2028, while Thornton is suing Larimer County over a land use denial for the pipeline…
The construction boom across the Front Range has greatly expanded the markets for water shares, especially Colorado-Big Thompson units representing flow brought from the wet Western Slope to the dry Front Range through the Northern Water-managed Colorado-Big Thompson system. Those units can be transferred from farmers to municipalities without the hassle of water court…
As a result, market pressure has fallen on native basin water owners, whose values also are ticking upward.
“The level of scarcity has really come to bear since the last economic upturn,” Greeley Water and Sewer Director Sean Chambers said. “Water leaving northern Colorado is an export of our ability to grow now and in the future in a sustainable way. Denver metro economies can still find value even in this hyper-inflated (water) marketplace.”
Regulations or legislation to restrict water resources from being transported outside the boundaries of their local basins, though, are likely not a fair solution to farmers, former Northern Water manager Eric Wilkinson contends.
Because water rights in the state are considered property, agriculturalists should have the option to take advantage of selling them for fair market value, Wilkinson said. New public entities might need to be conceived or old ones redesigned to compete for water rights with the mission of preserving them for local use, he said.
But building political will for such efforts has been a challenge.While Boulder County taxpayers have funded aggressive open space programs that have resulted in the purchase and protection of vast swaths of farmland, voters in neighboring areas with conservative roots have been more cautious.
Yet there is urgency to gain the political capital needed to invest in the preservation of farmland through open space programs or otherwise before the land and water become too valuable, and thus tempting for owners to sell. Maps of the growth management areas of the municipalities north and east of Longmont show they have collectively targeted practically all undeveloped land along the Interstate 25 corridor to the Wyoming border.
“The Greeley City Council is thinking about trying to establish an open space tax of some kind,” Greeley City Manager Roy Otto said in an interview. “But I think to make this work, Weld County as a whole will have to do something like that, as well.”
Otto added praise for open space programs in Boulder and Larimer counties as a means of protecting land and ag, but said an “honest” education effort about peripheral consequences of limiting the development of municipal boundaries through dedicated open space has to occur with Longmont’s eastern neighbors.
This is a precautionary alert to advise all users of the Timnath Reservoir that Blue-Green Algae (Cyanobacteria) may be present in areas of Timnath Reservoir. Blue-Green algae can cause illnesses such as; diarrhea, abdominal pain, eye and skin irritation, and rashes. Experts advise against wading or swimming in areas where Blue-Green Algae is present, and keeping pets and livestock away.
The photos below were taken At Timnath Reservoir.
How to spot blue-green algae
A cyanobacteria bloom can turn water turquoise, bright green, pea green, brown or other unusual shades. Rafts of froth or foam sometimes appear.
At times blooms appear along shorelines and in bays and other areas shielded from wind and waves, and often follow periods of hot, calm weather and can persist into the fall.
Experts advise against wading or swimming in water with this appearance, and keeping dogs and livestock away.
To protect yourself and your pets:
avoid contact with blue-green algae blooms
Do not swim or wade in water where blue-green algae is visible
Do not drink or cook with water from this reservoir
Clean fish well and discard guts – avoid eating fish that look unhealthy
If contact occurs, wash with clean water as soon as possible
If, after being in the reservoir, you or your animals have sudden or unexplained sickness call your doctor or veterinarian.
Denver Water is asking the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for a rare exemption to the Safe Drinking Water Act, the latest move in the utility’s long-running legal dispute with state health officials over how best to keep lead out of its customers’ tap water.
In exchange for the exemption, the water utility, which serves 1.4 million people in metro Denver, is offering to spend more than $300 million replacing up to 90,000 lead service lines.
Though lead isn’t present in Denver’s treated water, it can leach into water as it is delivered to homes via these older, customer-owned water pipes. The contaminant, even in small amounts, is considered unsafe, especially for children.
In addition to replacing the lines, Denver Water has also offered to alter its water treatment protocols, conduct an extensive public education campaign, and provide free lead filters to customers whose water supplies are at risk of contamination.
The EPA will begin public hearings next month to consider the utility’s request and determine whether its proposed approach is as good or better than using an additive called orthophosphate to control corrosion from lead pipes. The state health department, backed by the EPA, ordered the utility to use orthophosphate as a corrosion-control measure last year and gave the utility until March of 2020 to implement the new treatment process.
Within weeks of the state’s order, which came in March of 2018, the City of Aurora, the Metropolitan Wastewater Reclamation District, and the Denver Greenway Foundation sued to stop the order, saying that the addition of orthophosphate to drinking water could cause millions of dollars in damage to the South Platte River watershed and would cause wastewater treatment costs to rise. Denver Water eventually joined the suit. Settlement talks since then have failed to yield an agreement.
Denver Water said it believes the alternate approach it is proposing has merit.
“We would attack the source of the problem and ultimately, at the end of the day, we believe that this could be a more effective approach than adding orthophosphate,” said Denver Water CEO Jim Lochhead.
Thousands of Denver-area homes built prior to 1951 are at risk of having lead-contaminated water due to aging service lines. A map compiled by Denver Water shows more than a dozen neighborhoods, including parts of Berkeley, Washington Park and Montclair, as being most at risk. Dozens of other neighborhoods on the map are less likely to face contamination, based on an analysis Denver Water has done which looks at such variables as the years in which neighborhoods were constructed and results of past water sampling.
Denver Water has been monitoring and testing customers’ tap water since 2012, when a routine sampling project showed lead in some taps that exceeded allowable levels.
Since then, the utility has conducted a series of studies to determine the best method for ensuring its water is not corrosive, and had previously offered to adjust the PH balance of its water to mitigate the problem. Up until now, it had also offered to replace a few hundred lead lines a year as maintenance on its system required, leaving any other replacement activity to homeowners and developers.
At that rate, it would have taken up to 50 years before all of Denver’s lead service lines were replaced.
The issue is complex for water providers. Adding orthophosphate is a highly effective way to eliminate lead because it dramatically reduces the corrosion in pipes, making it more difficult for lead to leach into drinking water. But as drinking water is used and then flushed into the wastewater treatment system, the phosphorous must be removed because it causes algal blooms and other environmental issues in waterways. Wastewater treatment operators are required to remove it before they return treated wastewater to streams.
In the seven years since Denver Water became aware of the problem, thousands of Denver residents have continued to be exposed to lead, but the extent of the problem isn’t clear. As part of its monitoring program, the utility has processed 5,600 customer requests for lead testing, with 2,000 of these showing lead levels of at least 1 part per billion, indicating the likely presence of lead service lines, according to Denver Water spokesman Travis Thompson. The Safe Drinking Water Act requires education and treatment when levels exceed 15 parts per billion.
What Denver is experiencing is much less severe than in some cities, such as Flint, Mich., where lead levels in tap water were hundreds of times higher before being discovered in 2015. Still, like other older urban areas, such as New York City and Washington, D.C., Denver must find a way to eliminate the lead or face legal action from the state and federal government.
Tyson Ingels, lead drinking water engineer for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, said his agency would consider the evidence Denver Water presents to the EPA in August before it makes a decision about whether to support Denver’s exemption request. The EPA has so far supported the state’s orthophosphate order.
“Denver is seeking to demonstrate that this alternative is as good or maybe better at reducing lead at customers’ taps. The CDPHE is going to evaluate the evidence when it is submitted,” Ingels said.
Whether the utility will win the exemption isn’t clear. According to the CDPHE, just two exemptions in this area have been granted by the EPA.
“It’s going to be difficult,” said Alan Roberson, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based Association of State Drinking Water Administrators. “It would have been tough before Flint, and it’s tougher now.”
Denver public health officials said they are supportive of the utility’s exemption request because it offers a more holistic solution to the problem, one that encompasses public health and the environment.
Elizabeth Scherer, air and water manager at the Denver Department of Public Health, said education and follow-up on the problem are a critical part of what Denver Water is proposing. “Denver Water and the city understand that education is a big component of the process and that outreach to non-English speakers and low-income communities will need to occur to make sure folks are comfortable with this approach.”
The EPA will hold hearings next month to gather the public’s input on the issue and is slated to make a decision by October. If the EPA does not grant the variance, then Denver will proceed with adding orthophosphate to its drinking water.
For two decades, hydrogeologist Lee Pivonka has monitored toxic waste at and around the Superfund site for Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
He’s one of the most prominent voices in the state calling for more scrutiny of the site.
Pivonka told Sentinel Colorado that pollution testing wells — not private wells for drinking — north of the Superfund site boundary were found to have unacceptably high levels of contamination as far back as 1995, when city councillors gave Murphy Creek the green light. Chemicals in many wells have never returned to acceptable levels, he said.
In 2002, EPA became concerned with a chemical called 1,4 dioxane. The stuff is widely found in trace amounts in household products such as detergents and shampoos. It is probably a carcinogen if ingested in high-enough concentrations through drinking contaminated water, the EPA says, but most people will not be exposed to it that way in their lifetimes. The New York state legislature recently passed a ban on products with more than trace amounts of 1,4 dioxane. The bill is pending Governor Andrew Cuomo’s signature.
For Murphy Creek golfers teeing off and residents, the danger is low, the WSDs said.
Further to their point, it’s unheard of for golfers to drink the creek water. The course itself, like the Murphy Creek neighborhood, is irrigated with clean City of Aurora water.
But scientists have also monitored 1,4 dioxane because it moves quickly in water. They believe that tracking the chemical could indicate other toxic waste following it.
As the state government’s lead researcher for the site, Pivonka has watched for the last 20 years and conducted more evidence about the leaking waste. In 2015, he co-authored a lengthy analysis to try and spur new fixes.
That paper mapped underground chemicals spreading down the Murphy Creek wash past East Jewell Avenue, below the edge of the Murphy Creek Golf Course and the community itself.
The paper estimated that 425.6 million gallons of contaminated water has leaked from the site in the plume, according to data from about a decade earlier. It’s a worrisome prospect for homes near the plume and on well water, such as the Raders’.
In the paper, Pivonka recommended that the EPA and the polluters try something new. The EPA recently heeded his suggestion that EPA stop injecting huge amounts of treated water north of the site.
Water was treated for various chemicals except for 1,4 dioxane, and pumped north of the site until the early 2000s. The WSDs then began treating water for 1,4 dioxane and injecting that north of the site until October 2018.
But while Pivonka and others conduct their own studies, the EPA and polluters have relied on separate studies and often come to separate conclusions. The debate over how and when the pollution has spread is rooted in a parallel universe of research at the EPA.
That agency’s conclusions, however, are often based on research commissioned by the WSDs.
The WSDs told Sentinel Colorado that, based on their information and EPA conclusions, the plan for containing the waste is currently protecting the public.
Karen Crummy of public relations firm BluePrint Strategies responded to Sentinel Colorado as the WSD spokeswoman. Crummy is routinely a spokesperson for oil and gas industry political causes.
The group believes the plume exists but is shrinking, pointing to data from a commissioned 2018 study indicating decreases in 1,4 dioxane levels at various locations north of the site.
Dave Wilmoth, a City and County of Denver official and environmental engineer, recently toured the site. He is a site expert representing Denver in the WSD group…
Wilmoth said the plan in place is working effectively. The contamination north of the site is little more than trace amounts of 1,4 dioxane, he said, blaming the outdated practice of dumping water contaminated with the stuff beyond the site’s northern barrier wall.
“No regulations,” he said of 1,4 dioxane. “No one knew.”
But that was almost two decades ago.
EPA spokesperson Rich Mylott said the containment plan is “working effectively to prevent off-site exposure to contaminants.”
However, the EPA is not sure that shallow and deep groundwater is safe from contamination, and directed the WSDs to commission their own studies of possible contamination. Two years ago, the agency declined to say in a multi-year study and report whether the site was adequately protecting the public.
The possible contamination of aquifers is a huge concern for Pivonka and Rader.
Two aquifers, the Denver and Dawson, overlap just north of the site where the plume is contaminating surface waters. The Dawson formation lies above the Denver, a 3,000-square mile table of water, separated by a leaky barrier of earth.
Both are important sources of drinking water for the dry Front Range. Serious contamination would threaten a key resource that scientists believe will become more scarce in the decades to come.
The EPA also acknowledges the existence of the surface water plume in the review but said the WSDs need to conduct more studies before it creates a plan.
In the years since, the polluters’ group has been doing just that. They say they are working to get the additional data EPA needs to again find the site remedy “effective and protective.”
The WSDs said it could also consider new solutions, such as drilling new monitoring wells — in addition to the 500 that already exist — changing how they monitor the groundwater, and studying the impact of injecting water north of the site.
The prospect of polluters running their own studies for the EPA worries Bonnie Rader, who is now chairing the site Community Advisory Group.
The group has long received funds from the EPA to hire out its own, independent contractors to study the pollution.
She doesn’t trust the polluters nor the EPA to reach their own conclusions.
The CAG consultant, McGinnis and Associates, reviewed a polluter-funded study of the site in 2013. Rader sent the review to a lead scientist at the EPA, who analyzed the study line-by-line, finding inaccuracies and omissions. The errors include misrepresenting levels of 1,4 dioxane in test wells.
McGinnis also believes the plume is growing, not shrinking.
It’s emblematic of an information gap that strains relationships between the various consultants and agencies.
Different studies come to different conclusions, frustrating all parties involved. Technical disagreements can turn sharky in tone.
Generally, the EPA and polluters believe they should stay the course, while CDPHE and the citizen-hired McGinnis and Associates think more should be done to contain and clean up the waste.
The EPA and polluters can press ahead with their own plans, but area residents and their consultants are extremely concerned about the leaking waste and continue to pressure them.
In the 2017 review, EPA staffers conducted interviews with locals. “All private citizens interviewed are concerned about groundwater contamination and the use of private residential wells,” the report says.
The gulf between the parties has also widened because of little trust and bad communication.
Four years after his paper’s findings, Pivonka said the EPA and polluters “have not been receptive to the recommendations, and continue the same approach to the site.”
Rader is disillusioned with the WSDs and their studies. She said she’s been hearing the same old reassurances for the last 30 years while the waste spreads north, closer to her home.
The polluters’ trust disagrees with the notion that they have not listened to residents, Crummy said. She said WSD representatives regularly attend meetings with locals.
The mass of evidence, varying conclusions and convictions on all sides leaves residents with vague concerns at best but nightmares at worse about the situation actually harming people…
…the mere possibility of pollution has encouraged new, suburban residents to forge an alliance with Rader and other environmental crusaders. While a subdivision lies close to the spreading plume, they are vehemently opposed to a new plan to house thousands of new residents on its doorstep, for reasons of their own…
The Superfund site and its leaking waste was not news to [Nicole] Johnston, who represents the eastern frontier region of the city. She actually became involved in the CAG herself before running for city council, and was interviewed in the EPA’s 2017 review study that downgraded the protectiveness of the site.
She said that 1,4 dioxane may not even be her biggest concern, compared to other chemicals dumped in the Superfund site.
“They put some really, really bad things in there,” she said. “Those other, really bad chemicals could be right behind it.”
Johnston met with Rep. Jason Crow that April afternoon when he visited the plume.
She said that, although the plume concerns her very much, the possibility of two injection wells about five miles from the site could dramatically change the area’s geology.
The wells, proposed by Wyoming- and Denver-based Expedition Water Solutions, would flush mostly saltwater and other by-products from oil and gas extraction more than 10,000 feet below the surface.
Injection wells are known to cause earthquakes in some circumstances, according to the United States Geological Survey.
But the science that the Superfund site geology could be disrupted is far from certain.
Zach Neal, a spokesperson for EWS, said the proposed location was the only possible place for the injection wells because of county zoning restrictions.
He added that the wells would be safely built and regulated. EWS would inject the waste far deeper below the surface than the Denver and Dawson aquifers.
Arapahoe County officials told Sentinel Colorado that staff are still reviewing the applications, and the state government agency charged with reviewing proposals has not taken action since EWS filed its paperwork in February.
Arapahoe County Commissioner Jeff Baker represents the Superfund site area and the residents that live in the unincorporated county. He said he’s also worried about the injection well permits and will be scrutinizing them, he said.
But Baker said he is also open to considering whether the solution to keeping residents safe from the Lowry Landfill should still be trying to contain the waste. He’s open to discussing a plan to clean up the waste, once and for all.
It’s an idea that Bonnie Rader has clamored for during the last 50 years.
The project will require significant construction over seven years to increase the reservoir’s holding capacity to 119,000 acre-feet of water.
When built, the dam will be the tallest in Colorado.
Denver Water says the additional space is needed to spread out capacity outside of Denver for the water utility used by 1.4 million people in the city and its surrounding suburbs.
The proposed construction project is not without opposition from neighbors and environmentalists who say they will endure years of construction on a water project that will never provide water to their taps.
“Boulder County is going to host this reservoir but gets no water from it. We derive no benefit from it. We only pay the price of having this thing in our county,” said Tim Guenthner, who lives just above the dam in a subdivision of about 1,000 people.
Denver7 decided to take a 360 look at this issue and gathered perspectives from five people connected to the proposed construction project…
Boulder County Commissioners have also taken a stance that Denver Water must get local permits before it can start the project.
Denver Water spokesman Travis Thompson said Denver Water doesn’t believe the law requires that and points out it has undergone numerous environmental studies and worked through the state permit process. This issue will likely be decided by another judge…
Denver Water’s Gross Dam project manager, Jeff Martin, acknowledges the project will cause noise for neighbors.
“Well we don’t hide from the fact there’s going to be some disruption from the noise, but we are looking at ways of minimizing that noise,” Martin said.
As an example, Denver Water decided to move the quarry needed to make cement to a portion of the lake that will be covered by water once more capacity is added. The original plan had the quarry on a portion of land jetting out into the lake.
Have an on-site quarry will also mean less truck traffic.
Martin said even with conservation efforts, Denver Water needs more capacity. He said experts have provided the water utility with data showing there will be 5 million more people in Colorado by 2050.
Denver water has 90% of its storage lakes west and south of the metro area, but only has 10% up north. This new dam project will add significantly more water storage north of the city.
“That’s important because if we have a catastrophic event or a drought in one of the systems, it leaves us depending on the other system,” he said. “What we want to do is create a little bit more balance and put more water in Gross Reservoir. This project is going to triple the size of the reservoir.”
Kirk Klanke is a member of Trout Unlimited, an environmental group seeking to protect and restore rivers across the country.
His perspective is one many wouldn’t expect from a member of the environmental group. He’s a supporter of the new dam.
“I think it’s extremely selfish to think we shouldn’t grow,” he said.
He says Denver Water has the legal right to build more capacity someplace. Gross Reservoir is the best option.
“Raising an existing dam has far less environmental damage than building a new one somewhere else,” Klanke said.
He says Denver Water has agreed to put significant effort into protecting the Colorado River. When it is hot out, river temperatures rise if there’s only a little water flowing.
Denver Water has agreed to keep water in the river during those periods and fill the lake during spring runoff. It will also draw water at different places in the river to minimize the impact to one area.
On July 1, Denver Water announced the launch of a summer education and outreach program to inform the public about a proposed Lead Reduction Program Plan.
The executive summary of the draft plan is available for review and public comment until Aug. 7, 2019. Interested customers and stakeholders can access the executive summary and comment form here.
The water delivered to homes and businesses in Denver is lead-free, but lead can get into water as it moves through lead-containing internal plumbing and service lines that are owned by the customer and are not part of Denver Water’s system. By March 2020, Denver Water is required by the state health department to add orthophosphate to the drinking water it delivers to customers to help reduce the corrosivity of the water and reduce the risk of lead getting into the household water from these sources.
The draft Lead Reduction Program Plan is a proposed alternative to adding orthophosphate to the water system. The comment period is intended to gather input from the community about the components of the proposed program, which include:
Increasing the pH level, which further reduces the corrosivity of the water.
Providing at-home water filters for all customers in Denver Water’s service area with a suspected lead service line, free of charge.
Replacing the estimated 50,000 to 90,000 lead service lines with copper lines in Denver Water’s service area at no charge to the customer over the next 15 years.
To implement the multipart program instead of the orthophosphate additive, Denver Water is required to submit a variance request to the EPA in mid-August, which will incorporate public input. Following that submittal, the EPA will initiate its own public comment period before it decides which approach will be implemented.
Community members are encouraged to learn more and speak directly to Denver Water team members at a variety of events this summer. The project website has an updated calendar of activities.
Denver Water also has a map of estimated customer-owned lead service lines as a starting point to help customers identify the likelihood of their home having a lead service line. Customers are encouraged to verify the accuracy of the information represented by this map for their residence by requesting a free water quality test from Denver Water.
Centennial Water has been serving Highlands Ranch for more than three decades, with 90% of water coming from renewable river supplies, according to its website.
The local water district advocates for water efficiency throughout the year, but specifically collaborates with the Irrigation Association during July, Colorado’s warmest month.
Leading by example
Centennial Water follows a number of practices to ensure the community’s water supply is used wisely.
Those practices include utilizing high-efficiency rotary nozzles, which use 20% to 30% less water than traditional nozzles by slowly delivering multiple rotating streams instead of a fixed stream.
The water district also promotes a process called cycle and soak, which applies water in three, shorter cycles, allowing the water to seep into the soil, “promoting healthier plants and landscape and eliminating water runoff.”
Soil in Highlands Ranch has high clay content, meaning its water capacity is reached very quickly, sometimes as fast as five minutes, according to Thomas Riggle, Centennial Water’s water conservation and efficiency coordinator.
“Once soil reaches its water capacity, it can no longer hold water, which results in runoff,” Riggle said in the release. “Therefore watering for multiple, shorter periods of time is more effective and promotes healthier plants and soil.”
Centennial Water strives to educate community members on the history of water in Highlands Ranch and how to implement best water conservation practices. Schools, businesses and organizations can request a visit from a water ambassador or Centennial Water staff member at http://centennialwater.org/water-conservation/education-opportunities. The water expert will go over local water challenges and solutions.
Centennial Water offers a number of incentive programs that reward residents for their water conservation efforts.
Piloted in 2018, the turf replacement program offers a rebate of $1 per square foot —with a $1,000 maximum — to residents who replace water-intensive plants, such as Kentucky Bluegrass, with xeric or drought-tolerant vegetation, such as bee balm, aster, coneflower, sunflower and marigold. Replacement with artificial turf or hardscape may be accepted but require further approval, according to Centennial Water.
Another program piloted in 2018 is the high-efficiency nozzle retrofit program. Residents may receive $1 for each traditional, fixed spray nozzle they replace with a rotary nozzle, which fits on most popup sprinkler heads.