Wet, then dry extremes contributed to devastating #MarshallFire in #Colorado — NOAA

From NOAA (Michon Scott):

On December 30, 2021, the Marshall Fire ripped through suburban neighborhoods on the west side of the Denver-Boulder metropolitan area. Spread by high winds and fueled by dry conditions, the wildfire left two people presumed dead, burned more than 6,000 acres, and destroyed more than 1,000 homes, according to news reports.

The Marshall Fire left smoldering ruins in a Louisville, Colorado, neighborhood, at the end of December 2021. Photo courtesy WXChasing. Used with permission.

High winds, even with occasional hurricane-force gusts, are not unusual in this “foothills” region, where the eastern prairies meet the Rockies. The day of the windstorm, atmospheric pressure dropped sharply east of the Rockies, and strong downslope winds followed. At the base of the foothills west of Denver, wind gusts reached 100 miles per hour.

But winds alone didn’t account for the destruction. In the months leading up to this wildfire, climate conditions set the stage for a disaster. The spring of 2021 brought unusually wet conditions, encouraging vigorous plant growth. Starting in June, though, precipitation levels fell below average, and remained well below average for the rest of the year.

Monthly precipitation in 2021 at the Boulder, Colorado, weather station (blue bars) compared to average (white line). Spring is generally wetter than summer and fall in the foothills of the Rockies, but last spring was exceptionally wet, and summer and fall were exceptionally dry. Background photo shows the foothills area in September 2014. NOAA Climate.gov image, based on data from NWS Denver-Boulder Forecast Office and photo by Flickr user MikeB, used under a Creative Commons license.

Although snow fell in the Rocky Mountains to the west, the Denver-Boulder area remained dry. Denver recorded its first measurable snow of the season—just 0.3 inches—on December 10, 2021. It was the latest first-snowfall date on record, and after that light snowstorm, dry conditions resumed.

As moisture remained elusive, temperatures remained unusually warm, soaring more than 20 degrees F above average early in December 2021 and hitting 10 or more degrees above average many days throughout the month.

Daily average temperatures at the Boulder, Colorado, weather station in 2021 compared to average. December 2021 wasn’t just a little warmer than average. Temperatures were 10 or more degrees Fahrenheit warmer than average on half the days of the month. NOAA Climate.gov image, based on data from the NWS Boulder Weather Forecast Office.

Where the wildfire struck—in the southeastern corner of Boulder County, Colorado—unusually dry conditions took hold in September. By early October, dry conditions had worsened into drought. By late December, drought conditions were extreme.

This map shows the change in NOAA’s Evaporative Demand Drought Index (EDDI for short) for two overlapping 6-month periods: July 5-December 30 versus April 6-October 3. Evaporative demand—how “thirsty” the atmosphere is for moisture—in the area of the Marshall Fire was at record-high levels at the end of December 2021 as a result of extreme warmth and dryness over the fall. Image by Mike Hobbins, NOAA/ESRL Physical Sciences Laboratory. For background on EDDI, see the reference: Hobbins MT, Wood AW, McEvoy DJ, Huntington JL, Morton CG, Anderson MC, and Hain CR (2016), The Evaporative Demand Drought Index: Part I – Linking drought evolution to variations in evaporative demand. Journal of Hydrometeorology, 17:1745-1761, doi:10.1175/JHM-D-15-0121.1.

As of January 4, 2022, the cause of the fire was still under investigation, but its origin had been pinpointed to an area west of Marshall Lake. Once ignited, the fire spread with ferocious speed, charging toward the north and east. The warm, dry conditions in the months before the Marshall Fire broke out supplied the fire with plentiful fuel. Winds carried embers across paved areas, dropping those embers on parched vegetation that was ready to burn, along with buildings and vehicles.

Unable to fight the flames amid hurricane-force gusts, first responders focused on evacuation. Residents, diners, and shoppers were caught off guard, some forced to flee at a moment’s notice. Besides seeing and smelling smoke and flames, area residents heard multiple booms—potentially resulting from the fire reaching propane tanks. Only when the winds slowed late in the evening of December 30 could firefighters begin extinguishing the flames.

Days after the fire, two people remained missing and were presumed deceased. The tally of homes damaged stood at 149. The tally of homes burned to the ground stood at 1,084. Dozens of businesses had also been damaged or destroyed.

In terms of acreage burned, the Marshall Fire was dwarfed by many other blazes, including the state’s three largest wildfires, which all struck within weeks of each other in 2020: Cameron Peak, East Troublesome, and Pine Gulch. But in terms of residences lost, the Marshall Fire was the most destructive in Colorado history. The Marshall Fire did not strike in a sparsely populated, mountainous region. The fire burned a densely populated suburban area where most residents had not previously considered wildfire a threat.

Starting on the afternoon of December 31—one day after the fire—significant snow finally fell in the Denver-Boulder metro area.

References

9NEWS. (2021, December 30). Costco evacuation due to Marshall Fire. Accessed January 4, 2021.

Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control. Historical wildfire information. Accessed January 4, 2022.

Denver7 News. (2021, December 30). Better weather conditions are expected Friday. [December 31, 2021]. Accessed January 4, 2022.

Denver7 News. (2021, December 10). Denver celebrates 0.3 inches of snow — its first measurable snowfall of the season. Accessed January 4, 2022.

Fish, S., Paul, J. (2022, January 1). MAP: These are the 991 structures destroyed and 127 damaged in the Marshall fire. The Colorado Sun. Accessed January 4, 2022.

Flynn, C. (2022, January 6). Nearly 1,100 homes destroyed in Marshall Fire, valued at over $500 million. KDVR. Accessed January 6, 2022.

Heberton, B. (2022, January 1). Colorado’s most destructive fire a result of extreme winds, expanding wildland-urban interface, and a stressed climate. Weather5280. Accessed January 4, 2022.

National Interagency Fire Center. Map of the Marshall Fire burn area. Accessed January 4, 2022.

National Weather Service. High Winds and Marshall Fire on December 30, 2021. Accessed January 4, 2022.

U.S. Drought Monitor. Accessed January 4, 2022.

WXChasing. (2021, December 31). Louisville, Colo: First light shows destruction from Marshall Fire- Drone 4k. Accessed January 4, 2022.

La Niña, climate change, and bad luck: the climate context of Colorado’s Marshall Fire

From NOAA (Rebecca Lindsey):

As we wrote last week, the Marshall Fire in northern Colorado on December 30, 2021, was a devastating finale to a record-warm, record-dry fall in the state’s eastern plains and foothills. Several experts interviewed for this story, including Deputy Colorado State Climatologist Becky Bolinger, said that, because the risk of drought and warm extremes are increasing as a result of human-caused global warming, it’s reasonable to think that global warming contributed in some way to the devastation caused by the Marshall Fire.

But they also said that as a winter grass fire, the Marshall Fire is different from the warm-season forest fires in the West, which scientists have strongly linked to global warming. Namely, winter fires are much more wind-driven than summer fires, and there’s no evidence that the fierce winds that drove the fire that day were anything other than natural, if extreme, variability. Likewise, there’s no strong evidence to link the excessively wet spring (which built up the vegetation) to climate change.

The lack of snow is a final complicated piece. “December is one of the months that has warmed the most in this area,” said Bolinger, “but there has been no long-term decline in total December snowfall.” That makes it hard to know what to make of the record-low snowfall in the area through December, which intensified the drought.

For Colorado and much of the West, December 2021 snow cover was below-average (red). Map from Snow Today, National Snow and Ice Data Center.

“This was a complex event,” said Bolinger. “Some factors probably are connected to climate change and others probably aren’t.”

This is not a final answer

All extreme events have more than one cause. So Did global warming cause that event? isn’t a yes or no question. The best scientists can do is figure out whether human-caused global warming played a role, and if so, how big a role. Scientists have a name for the process of figuring that out: extreme event attribution.

Attribution research generally has two parts: analysis of historical data and climate model experiments. Experts check to see if there have been changes over time in the extreme events themselves or in the weather patterns that produce them. They also identify climate models that are capable of simulating that type of event, and use them to create two virtual worlds: one with and one without increased greenhouse gases. They compare the frequency and intensity of extreme events between the two simulated worlds to estimate the influence of global warming.

The recipe for any extreme event has multiple ingredients. Extreme event attribution uses historical observations and high-resolution climate models to figure out how much—if any—global warming went into the recipe. NOAA Climate.gov comic by Emily Greenhalgh.

That kind of thing takes time, of course. The more unusual or complex the event, the more difficult an attribution analysis is to conduct. That’s likely to be the case with the Marshall Fire, which arose from a rare mash-up of extreme weather and climate factors that each were capable of raising the fire risk individually. Until a formal attribution study is completed, any explanations of the event should be thought of as these experts’ educated guesses, not a final answer.

What we know about fires in the West

According to the fourth National Climate Assessment, “Increased heat, drought, and insect outbreaks, all linked to climate change, have increased wildfires” in the U.S. Southwest, defined in the report as the states of California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, Colorado, and New Mexico. A recent analysis funded by NOAA’s Climate Program Office concluded that human-caused global warming was the leading cause of the rapid increase in Western wildfires between the end of the 20th century (1984-2000) and the beginning of the 21st (2000-2018). A NOAA Drought Task Force report also concluded that global warming played a role in the severity of the ongoing 2020-21 Southwest drought.

Modeling experiments have found that warming due to increasing greenhouse gases is going to dramatically increase the risk of very large fires in parts of the West over the next 50 years. Fire seasons are getting longer, a trend that is likely to continue, turning fire-fighting into more of a year-round activity in places.

A 2015 study led by ecologist Matt Jolly found that the frequency of long fire seasons was increasing in the United States (orange and red) and other parts of the globe, and fire seasons were growing longer. NASA Earth Observatory image.

Colorado’s record-setting Cameron Peak Fire, which ignited in mid-August 2020, may be a preview of that. In early September 2020, 8-14 inches of snow fell on the ~100,000-acre fire without extinguishing it. The blaze went on to double in size—setting a new record for the state’s largest fire—by the end of October. Despite a second significant snow event in late October, the fire was not fully contained until early December.

What’s different about the Marshall Fire

The main reason experts gave for being somewhat cautious about using all that research to unequivocally link the Marshall Fire to global warming was that most of it has focused on warm-season forest fires. And while all fires have some ingredients in common, winter grass fires like the Marshall are different in ways that complicate the connection.

“A difference between warm and cold season for fire in places like California and Colorado is that the cold season generally is more windy, so fire behavior could be more complex,” wrote Yizhou Zhuang via email. Zhuang is a climate researcher at University of California – Los Angeles whose work connected global warming to the rapid increase in Western fires in recent decades. He and his colleagues found that the increase was due to increases in how “thirsty” the summer atmosphere is for soil and plant moisture —what experts call the vapor pressure deficit, or “VPD” for short. Rising temperatures are increasing those deficits.

But for the Marshall fire, Zhuang wrote, “preliminary data actually showed that the VPD condition on the day when the fire started (12/30/2021) was high, although not extreme (~75th percentile); the strong wind condition (~99th percentile) could be more important for the fire spread.”

Climate researcher Rong Fu, one of Zhuang’s collaborators, agreed that natural weather variability may play a bigger role in winter fires than it does in summer fires. Having said that, she wrote in an email, “I believe the vapor pressure deficits that would have occurred during the warm season and the 2020/21 drought contributed to the flammability and amount of dead and dry plants, which provided a perfect bio-fuel for the Marshall fire.”

The cumulative vapor pressure deficit—an indicator of how strongly the atmosphere would have been pulling moisture from the soil and plants—in the immediate vicinity of the Marshall Fire was the highest on record (dark brown) during October–December. Most of the surrounding area in both the mountains to the west and the prairie and agricultural land to the east was very dry (light brown), falling in the 90th percentile (meaning the driest 10 percent of the historical record). Image from the Climate Toolbox website.

In other words, the influence of human-caused global warming on the Marshall Fire could be less than it would be on a typical summer forest fire, but still play a role. That’s the perspective of Deputy State Climatologist for Colorado, Becky Bolinger.

“It’s true,” she said, “that the Marshall Fire is a bit different than the warm-season forest fires that are the basis for much of the research connecting Western fire activity and global warming. Still, big winter grassfires in the state have historically been connected to warmth and drought, just like mountain fires. We were having a record drought; global warming is increasing the frequency of droughts. We were having record warmth; global warming is increasing the frequency of heat extremes. It seems pretty safe to conclude that global warming trends played at least some role in setting this up.”

While agreeing that less is known about the connection between winter grassfires and global warming, western climate and hydrology expert John Abatzoglou, of University of California Merced, commented via email, “A warming climate may increase the likelihood of these events by keeping fuels dry later into the year.” Combined with a delayed onset of snowfall, as happened this year, the dry fuels “would prime the system to have fires that spread rapidly and resist control” during the winter downslope wind season.

Abatzoglou shared the results of modeling experiments his team has done that compare past, current, and future risk of very high fire danger days across the U.S. The map below is based on the impact of a high greenhouse gas emissions pathway on the moisture of 100-hour fuels—dead vegetation between 1 and 3 inches in diameter, which takes about 100 hours to respond to changes in weather conditions.

High-resolution climate models show that the frequency of winter days with very high fire risk (days on which the moisture of 100-hour fuels is in the driest 10 percent of the historical record) has increased by a small amount, around 1 extra day, in the foothills near Boulder, CO. Fall increases are larger. Screenshot from the ClimateMapper tool, a project funded in part by the RISA program in the NOAA Climate Program Office.

Between the 1971-2000 reference period and the present (2010-2039), the models projected a small increase—basically going from 2 days to 3 days—in the number of winter days with 100-hour fuel moisture in the bottom ten percent of the record. Aside from the human structures, most, though not all, of the places that burned in the Marshall fire were likely 1 and 10-hr fuels (grasses and other plants), which respond to weather changes more quickly, so the impacts could be a bit different. But a similar analysis of the impact of warming on 10-hour fuels around in the area around Boulder found a similar pattern. Models suggest human-caused climate change has increased the number of December days with high fire risk.

Historical (left) and future (right) December days near Boulder, Colorado, on which the moisture level in 10-hour fuels is in the driest 10 percent of the historical record. Analysis based on results from 18 high-resolution climate models. Red dots show individual model projections. The dashed line shows the average of all models, and the gray box shows the central 50 percent of results. Models project that days with extremely dry 10-hour fuels have increased due to human-caused global warming. Graph by John Abatzoglou.

Abatzoglou concluded, “Drier fuels in the downslope wind season would up the odds of significant fire weather conditions.”

Bolinger made a similar point. “Historically, our warm, dry season and our windy season don’t overlap,” she said. “The fall warming trend may cause the two to seasons to overlap more often, which would make cold-season fires a more frequent threat.”

What about La Niña?

In terms of natural influences, Bolinger added that La Niña—the cool phase of the El Niño-Southern Oscillation climate pattern in the tropical Pacific—may also have played a role. “The typical U.S. fall and winter climate signal for La Niña is wet in the Pacific Northwest and dry in the Southwest. Northern Colorado is right on the boundary between those two strong signals, which means a little shift either way can bring us opposite results. Overall, though, dry falls are slightly more common than wet,” Bolinger said, “which means the ongoing La Niña might also have played a role in the current drought.”

Lighting the head fire of our prescribed burn in March 2020. This was the easy part. The planning, training, weather monitoring, equipment preparation, and black-lining were all done. (Not pictured – the knot in my stomach). TNC Platte River prescribed burn crew 2012. Platte River Prairies, Nebraska.

Fire resilience

Strategies such as controlled or “prescribed” fire to reduce fire fuels, stringent building codes requiring fire-resistant materials, and vegetation-limited buffer-zones around homes and businesses can make communities more resilient to wildfire. Yet in many places, such fire-resilient adaptations are not adopted, even following a devastating fire. Meanwhile, the country is spending more than $2 billion a year to fight wildfires, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.

To some experts, these trends are evidence that the West’s default fire strategy—a combination of fire suppression at the wildland-urban interface and fuels reduction in national forests and other public lands—is no match for the current and future fire risk. Instead, they say, we need “a new paradigm that hinges on the critical need to adapt to inevitably more fire in the West in the coming decades.”

Among their suggestions is greater use of prescribed (low-intensity) fire, targeting fuel reductions like tree thinning to areas near homes and communities, encouraging community-focused fire planning, and shifting more of the costs of fire-fighting from federal land agencies like the U.S. Forest Service to state, local, and private jurisdictions where the decisions about whether and how to build in fire-risk areas are being made.

#Runoff from land scarred by wildfires can contaminate drinking #water #FortCollins, #Colorado, was forced to adjust its water treatment system to cope with polluted water — Yale #Climate Connections

(Photo credit: A. Torres, USDA / CC BY 2.0)

From Yale Climate Connections:

Increasingly extreme wildfires are raging across the West – leaving behind barren, charred areas and threatening drinking water.

Jill Oropeza is director of sciences for water quality services for Fort Collins Utilities in Colorado.

She says in a healthy forest, trees and shrubs buffer the impact of rain on the ground. Pine needles and detritus on the forest floor help retain water.

“That is the sponge that soaks up and holds a lot of that moisture and allows the precipitation to percolate downwards,” she says.

If this vegetation burns up, melting snow and rain run across the land instead of seeping into the soil. And as the water flows, it picks up ash, sediment, and other debris.

“And those substances in the soil itself and the ash are dissolved and carried in the river and into reservoirs,” Oropeza says.

She says Fort Collins was forced to adjust its water treatment system to cope with influxes of contaminated water. And it’s using helicopters to spread mulch in burned areas to help plants start growing again.

Doing so is expensive but critical to providing people with clean water as the climate warms.

The San Luis Valley gears up for another #water fight — The #Alamosa Citizen #RioGrande

Photo credit: The Alamosa Citizen

From The Alamosa Citizen (Chris Lopez):

ON Instagram Karen Lundquist asks, “Other than locally voting, what else can be done to oppose this horrible proposal?”

“What a crock,” writes Don Richmond on Facebook.

You can say the Valley is gearing up for another fight over its water.

“This fight has now come to the forefront in what would seem to be a David vs. Goliath scenario,” said Alamosa City Councilman Mike Carson, who used last week’s meeting to rally his fellow city council members to the urgent matter of the day – beating back the latest effort to move water out of the Upper Rio Grande Basin and the San Luis Valley. (Read his full statement HERE.)

“The current proposal ‘threat’ to the water security challenges in the San Luis Valley presented by Renewable Water Resources is once again a demonstration of self-serving financial speculation at the expense of others,” said Cleave Simpson, general manager of the Rio Grande Water Conservation District and state senator representing the San Luis Valley and counties east of the Valley.

The conservation district has launched ProtectSanLuisValleyWater.com as its public-facing strategy to address the RWR plan. You can go back through the decades to find other water exportation efforts, including American Water Development Inc.’s (AWDI) application to the Colorado Division 3 Water Court in the 1990s to pump groundwater from the Valley.

This past week Renewable Water Resources engineer Bruce Lytle presented the RWR plan to Douglas County commissioners. They’re weighing whether to use $20 million of Douglas County’s federal COVID relief funding to invest in the RWR plan as a way to bring additional water to the growing Denver-metro county.

Douglas County Commissioner Abe Laydon, who holds what appears to be the deciding vote on the three-member county commission, emphasized Douglas County’s growth and the importance of positioning Douglas County for the future as a basis for any decision he makes on whether to support the RWR plan.

“I have not made any decision whatsoever, nor will I without the input of the community and water experts,” Laydon told AlamosaCitizen.com. “We still have a lot to learn but I hope everyone that is interested will join us in these public meetings and provide their input along the way.

“What I can assure you of is that I will not do anything that is not a clear win/win for both our citizens and the people of the San Luis Valley. That is my commitment, on the record, and I will not deviate from that.”

Laydon is in a position to decide whether the RWR plan moves forward to a formal state review after one his colleagues, Douglas County Commissioner Lora Thomas, voiced opposition to taking water from the San Luis Valley and another, Commissioner George Teal, leaned to supporting it.

On Monday [January 24, 2022], the Douglas County commissioners are scheduled to meet with three attorneys who will talk to them about Colorado water law as it relates to the RWR plan. The attorneys are James Eklund of Eklund Hanlon LLC; John Lubitz, partner with Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith LLP; and Glen Porzak, managing partner with Porzak, Browning & Bushong LLP.

The backdrop for the RWR push to transfer 20,000 acre-feet of water per year from the confined aquifer of the Upper Rio Grande Basin is an over-appropriated, drought-stricken San Luis Valley that has fewer wetlands, lower stream flows, diminishing natural spring flows, and fewer irrigated acres as the result.

The San Luis Valley Ecosystem Council is raising concerns about damage to the Blanca Wildlife Habitat, among other environmental concerns. RWR’s proposal neighbors the Great Sand Dunes National Park on the northeastern end of the Valley, and RWR’s engineer Bruce Lytle emphasized in his presentation to Douglas County that the plan is “designed to take advantage of the rim recharge coming off the Sangre de Cristos.”

“It’s difficult to get your mind wrapped around the potential environmental impacts of the Renewable Water Resources proposal because effects are so numerous and far-reaching that to quantify on any practical level, we’d have to also keep in mind the exponential affects, because this RWR proposal is asking for perpetuity of ground water withdrawal, so the aquifers potentially won’t ever be able to recharge once the pumps are turned on,” said Chris Canaly, director of the SLV Ecosystem Council.

The San Luis Creek and Rio Alto Creek move through the preliminary wellfield of 22 to 25 groundwater wells that RWR showed to Douglas County.

“The environment in this area has already been changing over time,” said Canaly. “This area is now struggling, in terms of desertification, so RWR’s proposal is just adding fuel to an already burning fire.”

Baca National Wildlife Refuge

Just southwest of the RWR proposed wellfield is the Baca National Wildlife Refuge, where biologists for Colorado Parks and Wildlife and the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) have been working to conserve two native Rio Grande fish, according to Canaly. The Baca refuge is also home to one of only two aboriginal populations of Rio Grande sucker and Rio Grande chub in the state. Important fish habitat also resides in Crestone Creek, which runs through the refuge, and work in 2017 replaced old culverts to restore fish passage and enhance connectivity in the stream.

“This is the type of restoration work that the RWR project would likely undermine and dismantle,” Canaly said. She said, “if you look at the ‘impact maps’ that RWR Engineer Bruce Lytle displayed, that entire area of the Sangre de Cristo foothills watershed/alluvial fan will be impacted.”

Denver Basin Aquifer System graphic credit USGS.

Whether or not RWR makes it to the phase of well drilling and exportation, what remains is the growth of Colorado’s Front Range from Colorado Springs north and concerns with the Denver Basin.

“Many conversations have and are taking place as to why Front Range cities and towns are going to need to depend less on the Denver Aquifer,” said Monica McCafferty with Renewable Water Resources. “And, why water providers in the Front Range are scrambling to find non-Denver aquifer sources.”

In a world where water is becoming an even more scarce and sought-after natural resource, water exportation proposals like RWR’s only need to win one time in court to sink wells in the ground and pump water north. The San Luis Valley, on the other hand, has to win each and every time to protect one of the most unique ecosystems in North America.

The sandhill cranes are back in the San Luis Valley (2020) on their spring migration. Photo credit: Colorado Parks & Wildlife

A canal, a century-old compact between #Nebraska and #Colorado, and a sea of unknowns — The Omaha World-Herald

eople work on the Perkins County Canal in the 1890s. The project eventually was abandoned due to financial troubles. But remnants are still visible near Julesburg.
Perkins County Historical Society

From The Omaha World-Herald (Sara Gentzler):

It seems to be a striking proposal: That Nebraska could use eminent domain in Colorado and build a canal that diverts water from the South Platte River for irrigation in Nebraska.

But the idea — floated earlier this month by Gov. Pete Ricketts and other Nebraska officials — is laid out in a compact agreed to by the two states and approved by Congress almost 100 years ago.

Nebraska officials want to invoke the 1923 South Platte River Compact to build that canal and a reservoir system, and ensure Nebraska continues receiving water that they say is at risk as the population on Colorado’s Front Range booms.

But with a $500 million estimated price tag, a history of failed attempts, confusion from Colorado, the potential for lawsuits and a stream of unknown details, one fundamental question hangs over the proposal: Would it be worth it?

Canal idea predates compact

Even in communications between Delph Carpenter, who negotiated the compact for Colorado, and then-Nebraska Gov. Samuel McKelvie, the canal project was referred to as “old.”

“The old Perkins County canal was projected in the early (1890s) with the object of diverting water from the South Platte some miles above Julesburg, within the State of Colorado, for the irrigation of lands in Nebraska lying south of the river and particularly of that beautiful area of land in Perkins County between Ogallala (sic) and Grant,” a 1921 letter from Carpenter reads.

Construction efforts had started in 1891, according to the Nebraska Department of Natural Resources. But it was abandoned due to financial troubles.

Remnants of the abandoned ditch are still visible near Julesburg.

Another effort to pursue the canal, this time by the North Platte-based Twin Platte Natural Resources District, was derailed in the 1980s because it didn’t comply with requirements of the Nongame and Endangered Species Conservation Act.

The compact, borne out of a desire to resolve litigation, is more than the canal…

Current director Tom Riley told The World-Herald that flows drop below 120 cfs nearly every year at times during that time period. When it happens, Nebraska calls Colorado and it addresses the issue by limiting its users who are subject to the compact.

Another part of the compact would allow Nebraska to also claim water outside that growing season — provided there’s a canal.

Ovid, entering from the east on U.S. Route 138. By Jeffrey Beall – Own work, CC BY 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=56445787

The canal could run from near Ovid, Colorado, east near the route of the abandoned “Perkins County Canal,” it says. And Nebraska could buy land or even use eminent domain to make it happen.

With such a canal, the state would be entitled to divert 500 cfs for irrigation between Oct. 15 and April 1.

However, data from the Julesburg gage suggests Nebraska has been getting about that much from Colorado for the last 10 years of record during the non-irrigation season, Riley said. The goal of the project would be to keep it that way.

Asked how the state would avoid what happened in the ‘80s, Riley pointed out that was 40 years ago. And, as he understands it, those proponents chose not to try to comply with endangered species requirements…

Colorado disputes Nebraska’s rationale

In revealing his desire to resurrect the plan, Ricketts earlier this month sounded alarm bells that without the project, agriculture, drinking water across the state, power generation and the environment could be affected…

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis and the state’s Department of Natural Resources said they learned of the situation the same day Ricketts announced it publicly…

Since then, officials haven’t shared a vision of an exact route for the newly proposed Perkins County Canal, nor details of the reservoir system it would feed into.

Despite its colloquial name, the canal wouldn’t be located in Perkins County, according to the Governor’s Office. It could be on or close to the county’s northern border, though.

The general manager of the Twin Platte Natural Resources District, Kent Miller, has been promoting the project for over 25 years…

Ninety-eight of the [Colorado Water Plan] projects are in process or complete, according to Sara Leonard, spokesperson for the Colorado Water Conservation Board. But not all are construction projects. Some are water conservation projects, she said, and environment and recreation enhancements.

Joe Frank, a roundtable member and general manager of the Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District in Colorado, said he hadn’t sorted through how many of the projects would even impact the flow of the river, but said that many of them would not…

As for Nebraska’s assessment that flows could be restricted by 90%, he can’t understand how that figures.

A Nebraska Department of Resources fact sheet features that projection. That sheet shows the 90% was inferred from a 2017 Colorado report on water storage options along the South Platte to capture flows that would usually leave Colorado “in excess of the minimum legally required amounts.”

But Frank said that level of restriction could never actually happen…

More important than the straight cost estimate, though, may be another question: Would the water Nebraska actually gets out of this be worth the cost?

Anthony Schutz, a law professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and Dave Aiken, longtime water and agricultural law specialist at UNL, both pointed out it’s uncertain how much water Nebraska could get out of such a canal…

Colorado would have dibs on some water before Nebraska, even if it were to build the canal. Colorado has the right to divert the first 35,000 acre-feet of water for its own off-season storage, Aiken said, even if it cuts into what Nebraska wants to divert…

Schutz pointed out that there are other water users in line ahead of Nebraska’s canal in the compact, too — anything on the “upper” part of the river, and uses in place before Dec 17, 1921…

Could canal lead to a court battle?

There’s some ambiguity in the compact, Aiken said, and people have built projects and invested in them in the years since it was signed. The states could resolve any differences by negotiation, or by litigation…

Riley, with DNR, said that Nebraska’s approach will be to work collaboratively with Colorado, and that he expects Colorado to comply without a need for court action. If disagreements aren’t resolved, though, he said interstate compacts and conflicts like that are addressed by the U.S. Supreme Court…

The question still remains, though: How much water would Nebraska actually get out of this? Riley didn’t give an estimate, but said actual yield would vary year to year.

The South Platte River Basin is shaded in yellow. Source: Tom Cech, One World One Water Center, Metropolitan State University of Denver.

History of Horsetooth Reservoir: From stone quarry to quenching thirst of fields, cities — The #FortCollins Coloradoan

A view of Stout from Larimer County Highway 38E taken in June 1946, one month before construction began at Horsetooth. Highland School is on the hill in the center.
Bureau of Reclamation

From The Fort Collins Coloradoan (Miles Blumhardt). Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:

Horsetooth Reservoir stands as one of Fort Collins’ treasured trinity that includes the Poudre River and Horsetooth Rock.

A million visitors flock annually to its water cradled in the arms of four dams and its 25 miles of shoreline while hikers, mountain bikers and climbers recreate in the scenic foothills surrounding the 6.5-mile-long jewel.

But Horsetooth Reservoir was never meant to be a recreational paradise…

Though it’s become the state’s third-most visited reservoir, Horsetooth Reservoir’s main mission from the beginning was to provide water for agricultural fields on the Eastern Plains and increasingly thirsty Front Range cities such as Fort Collins.

That mission started 71 years ago on Jan. 10, 1951, when water diverted from the Western Slope began flowing into Horsetooth Reservoir as part of the massive Colorado-Big Thompson water diversion project.

Much has changed at the reservoir as well as in surrounding area since then.

In 1951, Fort Collins’ population was about 15,000 and an acre-foot of Horsetooth water sold for $4.50…

Today, Fort Collins’s population is about 174,000 and an acre-foot of Horsetooth water goes for $100,000.

In the beginning, 99% of the water went to agricultural fields and 1% to cities.

Today, that split is closer to 50-50, which is about the split Fort Collins takes from its two water sources — Horsetooth Reservoir and the Poudre River.

Here is a short history lesson of Horsetooth Reservoir’s humble beginnings, gathered from historical books, newspapers and water manager Northern Water.

Horsetooth history starts out dry

The area under what now is Horsetooth Reservoir was once where part of a town by the name of Stout was located.

Back in the day, Stout was the center of a large sandstone quarry from which deliveries still grace buildings from Fort Collins to Denver to Omaha, Nebraska, to St. Louis. They were even used in Chicago’s World’s Fair buildings.

Remnants of the once flourishing town (now the Horsetooth Heights subdivision) are visible at the south end of Horsetooth Reservoir.

Decades after the sandstone market dried up, the thirst for a consistent source of water for agricultural fields and growing cities emerged and the Colorado-Big Thompson water diversion project was born.

It entails a series of pump plants, tunnels, pipelines and canals that move more than 200,000 acre-feet of water per year from the Upper Colorado River basin to Lake Granby and Shadow Mountain Reservoir in Grand County before pumping it to the Front Range.

The project consists of 12 reservoirs, 35 miles of tunnels and 95 miles of canals, with the 13.1-mile long Alva B. Adams Tunnel beneath the Continental Divide serving as the key to the entire project.

As part of that project, four dams and a dike were used to wall off canyons just west of Fort Collins for Horsetooth Reservoir, which is the project’s largest Front Range reservoir.

Horsetooth Reservoir timeline

Here is a timeline on the history of how Horsetooth Reservoir came to be, gathered from historical books, newspapers and Northern Water:

1870: Irrigation history begins in Northern Colorado with the Greeley colony serving as the epicenter.

1881-82: Greeley, Salt Lake and Pacific Railroad Co. (Union Pacific) builds a rail line connecting the quarries at Stout to Fort Collins, Greeley and Denver. A trestle that bridged Spring Canyon and where a dam is now located was the largest of the 32 bridges at 262 feet long and 45 feet high.

1883: Stout boasts a population of more than 900.

1884: State engineer E.S. Nettleton conducts the first preliminary survey of a possible diversion project to import Western Slope water to the Front Range.

1893: The heyday of the stone quarry has passed, but some quarrying lingers.

1900: Stout is a ghost town.

1908: Stout post office closes.

1933: Discussion of what will become the Colorado-Big Thompson water diversion project begins amid the Dust Bowl.

1936: Congress officially renames the Grand Lake Project the Colorado-Big Thompson Project.

1937: Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District forms to build and manage the C-BT project. It is now called Northern Water.

1937: Congress approves $900,000 to build the C-BT project.

1938: C-BT construction starts. Cost of the project is about $160 million.

1940: Construction begins on the Continental Divide Tunnel (later named the Alva B. Adams Tunnel) with one crew beginning from Grand Lake on the Western Slope and a second team tunneling from a location near Estes Park. When complete, the tunnel is the longest ever built from two separate headings.

1942: CB-T construction halts due to World War II.

1943: CB-T construction resumes.

1944: The two tunnel crews meet after tunneling through the Continental Divide. NBC radio broadcasts the event live to the nation. A check of the center line and grade reveals the two sides are off by the width of a penny.

1946: Gravel road (Larimer County Road 38E) is built around the south end of Horsetooth Reservoir to Masonville to aid in construction of the reservoir.

1946-49: Construction of Horsetooth Reservoir takes place at a cost of $20 million for the reservoir and canals.

1947: First CB-T water is delivered to the Front Range.

1951 (Jan. 10): First water starts spilling into Horsetooth Reservoir.

1951 (July 21): First water releases from Horsetooth Reservoir were made to the Poudre River. An estimated 500 people line the railings for the release ceremony at the Horsetooth outlet canal at the north end of the reservoir.

1954: Larimer County assumes management of recreation at Horsetooth, Carter Lake and Pinewood Reservoir. Recreational fees that year generate $1,200.

1954: Proposal made for a road along the east side of Horsetooth Reservoir from Horsetooth Dam on the north to Soldier Canyon Dam on the south. It would later become Centennial Drive.

1956: Horsetooth Reservoir reaches full capacity.

1967: Colorado Game Fish and Parks (today’s Colorado Parks and Wildlife) purchases the 2,300-acre Howard Ranch, which became Lory State Park in 1975, on the west side of the reservoir.

1972: Annual fees at Horsetooth Reservoir include $12 for boating, $5 for vehicles and $2 for a three-day pass. Fees expected to generate $70,000.

1973: First major improvements at reservoir include 75 parking spaces, 125 campsites and four boat-in campsites and new toilets completed mostly in what now is the South Bay area.

1976: A July flash flood on the Big Thompson River kills 145 people and causes more than $35 million in property damage. Flood water and debris destroy the 240-foot-long Big Thompson Siphon (visible at the mouth of the Big Thompson Canyon), halting C-BT Project water deliveries to Horsetooth Reservoir.

1977: Drought hits northeastern Colorado, resulting in Horsetooth Reservoir reaching its lowest level since it was first filled at 15,240 acre-feet. The current capacity is 156,735 acre-feet.

1980: An estimated 200,000 visitors come to Horsetooth Reservoir.

1981: Larimer County purchases the 2,100-acre Soderberg Ranch for $3 million. The site would become Horsetooth Mountain Park just west of the reservoir.

1983: BLM predicts that if one of Horsetooth Reservoir’s dams failed, a 30-foot wall of water would rush toward Fort Collins, reaching CSU, the Poudre River and Interstate 25 in less than hour, Timnath in two hours, Windsor in three hours and Greeley in five hours.

1986: Horsetooth Rock Trail to the top of Horsetooth Rock is completed.

1987: About half of the two roads along the south and east sides of the reservoir are paved.

1988: Proposal to turn Horsetooth, Carter and Pinewood reservoirs and Horsetooth Mountain over to the state to become state parks dies.

1988-89: Horsetooth Reservoir’s Horsetooth, Soldier Canyon, Dixon and Spring Canyon dams raised 3 to 8 feet, increasing the reservoir’s ability to store water from major flood events and address safety concerns. It had been discovered in 1984 that the original dam faces had settled 3 feet. Cost of the project is $1.8 million.

1992: In February, a 9News helicopter crashes into the reservoir in heavy fog, killing two people and leaving pilot Peter Peelgrane, 46, fighting for his life.

1992: Horsetooth Falls Trail is built.

1996: First flush toilets installed at reservoir.

2001-03: Northern Water Conservancy District (now Northern Water) and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation work to modernize Horsetooth Reservoir’s four 50-year-old dams to make the structures more earthquake resistant and reduce seepage. Cost of the project is $77 million. The work required the water level to be reduced by 70 feet to to “dead pool” storage — about 7,000 acre feet, or roughly 5% capacity.

2021: Construction of the 90,000-acre-foot Chimney Hollow Reservoir begins west of Loveland with completion of the project expected in 2025. It’s Northern Colorado’s first new reservoir in about 70 years and is expected to relieve some of the recreational pressure from Horsetooth Reservoir.

Screenshot of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project boundaries via Northern Water’s interactive mapping tool , June 5, 2019.

#Colorado fines #Boulder County gold mine $17,000 for #water quality violations — The Colorado Sun

Caribou Colorado late 1800s. Photo credit: Western Mining History

From The Colorado Sun (Michael Booth):

All but $5,000 suspended, as mine reclamation staff says owners of Cross and Caribou mines are making “good faith” efforts to get cleanup online.

The state Mined Land Reclamation Board imposed a $17,000 fine on owners of the Cross and Caribou mines for water quality violations, but suspended all but $5,000 of the penalty as long as Grand Island Resources continues “good faith” efforts to install containment and cleanup equipment.

The state agency’s staff largely endorsed the mining company’s presentation detailing completion of a filtration system for any water emitted from the historic mine above Nederland, and said they would continue on-site review of the improvements and water sampling…

The state board was reviewing a cease and desist order issued late in 2021 that said mine owners failed to make some required pollutant reports in March and April. When the state looked deeper, it found pollutant violations in those months, but also more alleged violations before and after, from December 2020 to last August. Violations included excessive traces of heavy metals, including copper and lead, that can be dangerous to aquatic and human health.

The state’s order charged the mine with violating the Colorado Water Quality Control Act. Water quality officials ordered the owners to build a new containment and cleanup system, and said it would determine the levels of fines in January.

Ed Byrne, an attorney for Grand Island Resources, said the company is satisfied with the outcome of the hearing…

The company will keep working with state and local officials to fully comply with permits, Byrne added.

An attorney for Save the Colorado, a nonprofit environmental group that is monitoring the mine, said the testimony before the board shows the mine appears to have remedied some pollution problems…

Cross and Caribou is not currently producing gold ore, but the company has a permit to build an ore processing facility and says it has been spending millions of dollars rebuilding tunnels and cleaning up past mine operations.

Grand Island said it will also continue to work with Boulder County, City of Boulder and Nederland.

State Engineer: Renewable #Water Resources made “inaccurate portrayal” in its proposal — The #Alamosa Citizen #RioGrande

Third hay cutting 2021 in Subdistrict 1 area of San Luis Valley. Photo credit: Chris Lopez

From The Alamosa Citizen (Chris Lopez):

RENEWABLE Water Resources has made an “inaccurate portrayal of the State Engineer’s actions and the facts” in its pitch to Douglas County to partner in exporting water from the San Luis Valley, State Engineer Kevin Rein said.

Rein, in an email response to a series of questions from AlamosaCitizen.com, said RWR misrepresents Douglas County’s reliance on the “Denver Aquifer” and how a “proposed rule change” from the state engineer would drastically affect Douglas County’s relationship with the aquifer.

“The cumulative effect of RWR’s statements is an inaccurate portrayal of the State Engineer’s actions and the facts,” Rein said.

Kevin Rein, Colorado state water engineer, explains why Colorado needs stepped-up measuring of water diversions in the North Park and other rivers in Northwest Colorado while Erin Light, Division 6 engineer, looks on during a meeting in Walden on Oct. 22. Credit: Allen Best

Rein said his office has not taken a position on the RWR proposal because the project, led by former Colorado Gov. Bill Owens, has not been formally submitted for regulatory review to the State Engineer’s Office. RWR is courting Douglas County as an investor in its efforts to export water from the San Luis Valley to Colorado’s Front Range. To move the project to formal review both by Rein’s office and state Division 3 Water Court, RWR needs to identify an end user for its effort to export water from the Valley.

The project has created an uproar, with city officials from Monte Vista the latest to blast it as a “scheme to transport our valuable water resources out of the San Luis Valley.”

“The idea that there is an abundance of water for Douglas County suburbia to continue to sprawl at the San Luis Valley’s expense is shameless,” Monte Vista officials said in a letter to AlamosaCitizen.com. The full letter is here.

Denver Basin Aquifer System graphic credit USGS.

In its pitch, Renewable Water Resources said Douglas County is overly dependent on the Denver Aquifer as its main water supply, and remaining dependent on it threatens the Denver suburb’s property values, economic growth and quality of life.

“Additionally, a proposed rule change could drastically impact Douglas County’s relationship with the Denver Aquifer,” RWR states in its pitch to Douglas County for money. “Colorado’s State Water Engineer recently urged Denver Metro water providers, including those located in Douglas County, to seek renewable sources of water other than the Denver Aquifer. This new guidance will limit the use of the Denver Aquifer and essentially maintain the Aquifer as a ‘preserve.’”

Rein, when asked about the accuracy of RWR’s statements, said, “First, as a matter of hydrogeology, there is one hydrogeologic feature known by scientists and water users as the ‘Denver Basin.’ It stretches from approximately Greeley to Colorado Springs and from the foothills to Limon. Within the Denver Basin is a layering of discrete aquifers that for administration purposes are treated as separate sources. Those aquifers, from the top layer to the bottom layer are: the Dawson Aquifer, the Upper Dawson Aquifer, the Lower Dawson Aquifer, the Denver Aquifer, the Arapahoe Aquifer, the Upper Arapahoe Aquifer, the Lower Arapahoe Aquifer, and the Laramie-Fox Hills Aquifer.

“This information is relevant because the (RWR) report states that ‘Douglas County is currently overly dependent on the Denver Aquifer as its principal water supply…’ However, I know that Douglas County municipal water suppliers and private well owners rely on nearly all of the aquifers I’ve listed, from the Dawson to the Laramie-Fox Hills. Their reliance is not on only the Denver Aquifer.

“Second, the (RWR) Report states, ‘Additionally, a proposed rule change could drastically impact Douglas County’s relationship with the Denver Aquifer.’

“The Report does not cite the claimed ‘rule change.’ For your information, the Division of Water Resources recently proposed amended Statewide Nontributary Ground Water Rules, which rules we regard as consistent with the General Assembly’s statutorily-described allocation of nontributary ground water (see SB73-213; section 37-90-137(4), C.R.S.). To my knowledge, neither RWR nor those Douglas County entities have shown evidence that the State Engineer has ever shown a different application of the General Assembly’s intended allocation. Therefore, I find no support for RWR’s claim that ‘a proposed rule change could drastically impact Douglas County’s relationship with the Denver Aquifer.’ As the State Engineer I believe that RWR should account for this claim since it appears to have no basis.

“In summary, there has been no rule change. If RWR believes the State Engineer’s long-standing application of state statute ‘drastically impacts’ Douglas County, they should also be aware that the State Engineer has not changed its application of the statute in the last 48 years. I am not aware of any evidence to the contrary.”

Renewable Water Resources said it relied on information from a January 2021 environmental law and policy alert on a call for public comment around the proposed amended statewide nontributary groundwater rules.

“Many conversations have and are taking place as to why Front Range cities and towns are going to need to depend less on the Denver Aquifer. And, why water providers in the Front Range are scrambling to find non-Denver aquifer sources,” said spokesperson Monica McCafferty. “This is a known fact in the Front Range and likely to be discussed more in the Douglas County public hearings.”

Rein had a third rebuttal to RWR when the group said in the proposal to Douglas County that Rein had recently urged Denver Metro water providers “to seek renewable sources of water other than the Denver Aquifer,” and called it “new guidance” from the State Engineer.

“I see no basis for this claim,” Rein told Alamosa Citizen. “Since 1996, the State Engineer’s Office has included notes on our correspondence to Douglas County regarding subdivision water supplies that remind the county of the non-renewable nature of the Denver Basin as a water supply. We include the same information on Denver Basin well permits that we issue. We provide this information as a courtesy since we are an agency that knows the science and administrative aspects of the Denver Basin.

“The next statement in the report states that ‘(f)or Douglas County, this ruling is an imminent and practical challenge and catalyst for necessary change.’ The basis of this statement is confusing since there has been no ‘ruling.’ The non-renewable nature of the Denver Basin is the result of hydrogeologic events that occurred millions of years ago. Allocation directives that were put in statute in 1973 reflect that nature of the Denver Basin. Nothing that the State Engineer has done has made the challenge any more ‘imminent.’

“Each of these items may seem small,” Rein said, “but the cumulative effect of RWR’s statements is an inaccurate portrayal of the State Engineer’s actions and the facts.

“I have only commented on the aspects of the letter that portray the State Engineer and our actions in a way that I believe is inaccurate. I will not comment on RWR’s opinions or judgments of Douglas County’s ongoing efforts.”

RWR also misrepresents a Dec. 2018 letter from Rein to the Rio Grande Water Conservation District, Rein said. At that time, Rein had sent correspondence to General Manager Cleave Simpson on the amended Plan of Water Management for Subdistrict 1, and the legal authority he has to curtail groundwater diversions from Subdistrict 1 wells if the conservation district isn’t making progress toward restoring the unconfined aquifer to a sustainable level as ordered by the state water court.

RWR said in its proposal to Douglas County that Rein would shut down wells in the subdistrict for a minimum of three years, boosting its project since its efforts do not rely on the unconfined aquifer.

“Regarding RWR’s reference to my December 2018 letter, if the State Engineer is put in a position of curtailing wells, it would not be ‘…so the objective of the Subdistrict 1 groundwater management plan can be achieved…’ as I read in the proposal. Rather, it would be the result of a regulatory decision that would be necessary due to the fact that the Subdistrict’s Annual Replacement Plan does not meet the objectives of the Rules and the Groundwater Management Plan. This is stated in the December 2018 letter. My letter did not address the amount of time the wells would be curtailed and I don’t know the basis of RWR’s claim that the wells would be curtailed for a minimum of three years.

“As I noted earlier, for RWR’s concept to operate, among other things, they would need to demonstrate through a detailed court approved plan that they would have no impact on the basin as a whole. That is yet to be seen.”

#Loveland to start storm drainage project — The Loveland Reporter-Herald

A map shows detour routes motorists can use when the Garfield Harrison Storm Drainage Improvements Project closes First Streets at times during 2022. (Courtesy City of Loveland)

From the City of Loveland via The Loveland Reporter-Herald:

The city of Loveland will begin the first phase of the Garfield Harrison Storm Drainage Improvements Project the week of Jan. 17.

The city has selected Connell Resources as the project contractor and ICON Engineering for project design.

According to a news release, the four-year project is designed to:

  • Replace and upgrade existing stormwater infrastructure to address existing drainage issues and meet current stormwater standards.
  • Install 18- to 60-inch diameter storm sewer pipes.
    Replace existing waterlines and valves to address aging infrastructure.
  • Replace pavement where project components are installed.
    Rehabilitate and replace concrete as well as add necessary ADA improvements.
  • Provide stormwater quality treatment measures within the stormwater system.
  • “Local street flooding will decrease and we can also better clean the stormwater going into our waterways like the Big Thompson Canyon. The quality of the water distribution system will be improved greatly and lead to fewer leaks,” Eric Lessard, city of Loveland civil engineer, said in the release.

    The project will have four separate phases; it’s anticipated one phase will be completed per year.

    Phase 1 will include sidewalk and road closures for a portion of West First Street from North Taft Avenue to Cleveland Avenue. River’s Edge Natural Area and Centennial Park will remain open to local traffic.

    Detours will be in place through the duration of Phase 1, but travelers should be prepared for delays, the release said.

    Eastbound detours will direct traffic south on South Taft Avenue to Colo. 402 (14th Street Southwest) and north on Lincoln Avenue to First Street. Westbound detours from West First Street will direct traffic to North Lincoln Avenue to Eisenhower Boulevard and back down North Taft Avenue to First Street.

    Typical working hours will be Monday through Friday from approximately 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.

    Night and weekend work will be occasional and announced in advance.

    The total project budget is approximately $18 million, to be funded by the city’s stormwater, water and power enterprise funds.

    For project details including detour maps, visit http://letstalkloveland.org/garfieldharrisonproject.

    Residents can sign up for weekly project updates or contact the project team by email garfieldharrisonstormdrain@gmail.com or by calling the project hotline at 970-716-5155.

    Opinion: Sonnenberg: Time for #Colorado to unite to save our #water — The #Sterling Journal Advocate #SouthPlatteRiver

    South Platte River Storage Study Area. Illustration shows water availability, in blue circles, compared with demand at various places along the South Platte River. The yellow area is the study area. (Illustration by Stantec).

    From The Sterling Journal-Advocate (Jerry Sonnenberg):

    Governor Ricketts is an elected official who I have always thought does a good job – especially for agriculture – and someone that I tend to support. With that said, he blew it earlier this month when he made some bold and inaccurate statements regarding Colorado’s water.

    The fact is, Colorado is in compliance with our South Platte Interstate Compact.

    Our compact says that we must deliver 120 cubic feet per second to Nebraska between April 1 and October 15. We do that and we do our best to not send them more than is required because of our needs as a state with both populous urban areas and a vital agriculture industry based in rural Colorado.

    The compact also says that Colorado has full and uninterrupted use and benefit of the water in the river the rest of the time… except…

    The exception is that 99 years ago there was a potential ditch near Ovid that Nebraska wanted to try to use for additional irrigation but abandoned and they referenced that ditch and future construction in the compact. They can complete that ditch anytime but in order to do so, Nebraska would have to buy land in Colorado, or try to use eminent domain and just take it. Rest assured, that won’t go any better for the Big Red Bureaucrats riding in to Colorado than it would in western Nebraska with any of their own land owners.

    Governor Ricketts claims that our plans in Colorado could reduce water flows into his state by as much as 90%. Give me a break. I don’t know where his advisors learned their math but perhaps their schools teach that your answer is never wrong if you feel good about it.

    On average over the last couple of decades, Colorado has allowed around 350,000 acre feet annually to leave our state over and above the requirements of the compact. Water that could be used in Colorado by Coloradans.

    The consequences of this is that after all the court battles and millions spent on attorneys, if – and it is a big if – Nebraska would win, augmentation would be called out of priority. In other words, much of the farm ground along our South Platte River in Logan and Sedgwick counties would dry up. It would also destroy what Colorado accomplishes to meet our requirements for Endangered Species Protections.

    So what is the answer?

    We finally have an issue in which all of Colorado can unite behind. Governor Polis in his State of the State address this year vowed to fight Nebraska over their claims. The way we do this is water storage.

    The compact says that before Nebraska can take a drop of additional water, all of the water rights have to be satisfied upstream of basically the Prewitt Reservoir which means that if we build a reservoir in Morgan County, we could fill it before downstream uses and then utilize agreements and exchanges to allow our current augmentation to continue.

    That same compact also gives Colorado the first 35,000 acre feet of water that passes the gauging station near the Prewitt Reservoir so let’s build a 35,000 acre feet reservoir near the state line.

    It is interesting that if Nebraska builds this ditch and diverts water in the winter months, where will they go with it and what will they use it for. They attached a $100 million price tag for the entire project which doesn’t get them much in a consistent source of water.

    Screen shot of the site of the Narrows Dam which was proposed to be built on this Weldon Valley land located one-half mile below the Narrows Bridge. (Fort Morgan Times photo)

    I have a better idea. We in Colorado will work with Nebraska and partner in the cost of storage along the South Platte so both of us can benefit from a consistent source of water. The average 350,000 acre feet that we lose to Nebraska each year could be stored in Colorado and we can use a large portion of that to relieve the pressures from our urban cousins to dry up farm ground so they can water their lawns.

    No matter what the outcome of their bizarre claim, we would be well advised to unite as Colorado residents and build that water storage with or without Nebraska’s help so that Denver, our wildlife that depends on the river and the farmers and ranchers that feed the world, have access to all the water we are entitled to use.

    Jerry Sonnenberg represents Senate District 1 in the Colorado Senate.

    #Nebraska governor’s $500M #water plan in #Colorado puzzles politicians, experts in both states: Even if Nebraska builds a new canal in northeast Colorado, its payoff remains unclear — The #Denver Post

    The upper South Platte River, above the confluence with the North Fork of the South Platte. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    From The Denver Post (Conrad Swanson):

    The 99-year-old South Platte River compact between the two states does outline plans for such a project, according to Anthony Schutz, an associate law professor at the University of Nebraska Lincoln. But the project was started and abandoned decades ago and the question of starting it up again might have to be decided in a costly and lengthy court battle.

    Even if the canal is built, it’s unclear how much extra water it would yield to Nebraska or for what it could be used, Schutz said…

    [State] Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, said the Nebraska governor must be mistaken. That list of projects comes from a report generated by legislation Sonnenberg helped pass in 2016, the senator said. And it outlines possible water projects around the state, not work that is actively being proposed…

    Colorado Gov. Jared Polis said in a statement, Ricketts’ plans “seem to reflect a misunderstanding of Colorado’s locally driven water planning process.”

    Officials in Colorado will look to more fully understand Nebraska’s “concerns and goals, as so far those concerns and goals are quite simply hard to make sense of,” Polis continued…

    Sonnenberg said that likely means the two states will end up in court to determine whether Nebraska can use eminent domain to build the canal or whether it can take more water out of the South Platte if it’s built…

    Currently, Colorado is meeting all its water obligations to Nebraska, said state Engineer Kevin Rein. During the irrigation season, April 1 to Oct. 15, the South Platte must flow at 120 cubic feet per second into Nebraska. That flow is measured at a water gate in Julesburg, just south of the Colorado border, Rein said.

    Should flows dry below that threshold, Colorado officials must curtail water use in certain areas for water rights holders whose rights were established after 1897, Rein said. But Colorado has no additional obligation to increase flows.

    During the non-irrigation season, there is no such requirement for Colorado and its officials believe the state has uninterrupted water rights for the South Platte, Rein said.

    There is no set volume Colorado must allow to flow into Nebraska every year, Rein said.

    #Colorado Governor Polis is warning he will “protect and aggressively assert” his state’s #water rights after #Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts announced a plan to spend $500 million on a canal and reservoir project — CBS #Denver #SouthPlatteRiver

    The Platte River is formed in western Nebraska east of the city of North Platte, Nebraska by the confluence of the North Platte and the South Platte Rivers, which both arise from snowmelt in the eastern Rockies east of the Continental Divide. Map via Wikimedia.

    From the CBS Denver Youtube channel:

    Colorado’s governor is warning he will “protect and aggressively assert” his state’s water rights after Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts announced a plan to spend $500 million on a canal and reservoir project.

    From Omaha World-Herald (Nancy Gaarder) via The Lincoln Journal-Star:

    Colorado Gov. Jared Polis said Wednesday that his state would work to protect its water rights in light of Nebraska’s proposal to build a canal in his state to pull water from the South Platte River.

    In a statement, Polis said Colorado would “protect and aggressively assert Colorado’s rights under all existing water compacts.”

    […]

    Ricketts said the canal is needed because Colorado is planning “nearly 300 projects and over $10 billion of expenditures to ensure no ‘excess’ water leaves its state.”

    If those proposals are carried out, Ricketts estimates, there would be a 90% reduction in flows coming into Nebraska.

    Polis said Ricketts’ comments reflect a “misunderstanding of Colorado’s locally driven water planning projects.”

    […]

    Polis said Colorado has used roundtable discussions to generate grassroots ideas for solutions to Colorado’s water needs. These brainstorming ideas “should not be taken as formally approved projects.”

    […]

    Colorado, he said, has complied with the South Platte Compact for its 99 years and continues to respect the agreement. “We hope that our partners in Nebraska will show they share that respect.”

    In response, Ricketts issued a statement saying he “welcomes future conversations with Gov. Polis as we move forward to secure Nebraska’s access to water.”

    Any project involving U.S. waterways typically faces rigorous scrutiny. Polis said any project by Nebraska in Colorado would have to comply with the compact, private property rights, state and federal laws and regulations, including environmental ones.

    #Louisville main #water system cut off to avoid contamination — #Colorado Hometown Weekly #MarshallFire

    This is the oldest known photo of Louisville. In this beautiful image you are looking west on Spruce Steet from Main Street and can see the Flatirons in the hazy distance. This photo provides an amazing feel of how wide open the spaces were between the new cities on the front range. Photo via DowntownLouisville.com.

    From Colorado Hometown Weekly (Ella Cobb):

    While neighboring Superior deals with water odor and smell issues, a number of residents in Louisville are reporting no running water at all.

    According to a City of Louisville website update on Thursday, a high number of homes within or close to the Marshall Fire burn area were cut off from Louisville’s main water system in order to avoid contamination following the fire.

    The city is working alongside the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to monitor the water quality level and ensure that when water returns to homes that it’s safe to use.

    In order to keep residents up to date on testing measures, the city’s Public Works Department created an interactive map that reflects current water sample testing activity.

    Places on the map that read “sample compliant” indicates that the water in the area has tested negative for chlorine, bacteria or volatile organic compounds, and that chlorine residuals in the water are between 0.2 and 4.0 mg/L, which is the national drinking water standard.

    While tests are ongoing, the city has provided bulk water tanks for residents to use while water reinstatement is pending. One is located at North Washington Avenue and Arapahoe Circle, with another one at Owl Drive and Pinyon Way. The Recreation Center, located at 900 Via Appia Way, is offering free showers and bottled water to affected residents.

    Hundreds ignore, refuse #Denver’s efforts to remove dangerous lead #water pipes — @WaterEdCO

    Denver Water crews replacing a lead service line at 1657 Vine Street. Jan. 12, 2021. Credit: Jerd Smith

    From Water Education Colorado (Jerd Smith):

    Hundreds of Denver property owners have failed to respond to requests or have directly refused to allow Denver Water to replace lead service lines leading to homes and businesses, a situation that jeopardizes the city’s efforts to keep lead out of drinking water.

    The pipe replacement program, one of the largest in the country, is being done to help the agency comply with the federal Safe Drinking Water Act, which sharply limits lead in drinking water.

    Since the program’s approval by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment in 2020, Denver Water has replaced some 10,000 service lines out of 68,000 targeted in the program.

    But the agency has yet to decide how to bring reluctant property owners into the fold, according to Alexis Woodrow, Denver Water’s lead reduction program manager.

    “Of course we would like to get 100% consent or compliance and we’re continuing to come up with communications to make sure homeowners understand the why behind this work,” Woodrow said.

    According to data obtained by Fresh Water News through an Open Records Act request, 534 property owners, roughly 5% of those targeted by the program to date, have either failed to respond to the agency’s request to replace the service lines or have specifically refused to allow the work to be done.

    Top reasons for refusing, according to Woodrow, are that homeowners don’t want their landscapes disturbed or they believe their lead service lines have already been replaced.

    Denver, which is Colorado’s largest municipal water utility, has known lead was present at the tap in some of its customers’ homes since it appeared in routine sampling in 2013. The levels exceeded the benchmarks set under the Safe Drinking Water Act.

    For several years, the utility ran pilot tests and negotiated with CDPHE and EPA over how best to eradicate the harmful metal. Though the amounts of lead found in Denver’s tap water samples varied, no amount of lead is considered safe to ingest, especially for young children.

    Though lead isn’t present in the city’s treated water, it shows up at customers’ taps if it is delivered through aging lead service lines, where corrosion allows it to seep into the supply.

    Cities across the country, including Pittsburgh, Penn., Newark, N.J., and Washington, D.C., have been dogged by an increase in lead contamination as service lines age and corrode, allowing the lead to comingle with water supplies, eventually reaching taps.

    The CDPHE issued an order in 2018 requiring Denver to begin adding phosphorous to its water, one of the most effective ways to reduce corrosion in pipes. But phosphorous is also a pollutant and causes problematic algae blooms in lakes and rivers. Adding it to the municipal drinking water supply would also make it harder for wastewater treatment operators to meet their own obligations to keep phosphorous out of rivers and streams.

    Due to those concerns, Aurora, Metro Water Recovery, The Greenway Foundation, and eventually Denver, sued the CDPHE in 2018 to stop the order from taking effect.

    The dispute was settled after Denver was able to obtain a rare variance under the Safe Drinking Water Act in exchange for agreeing to invest some $68 million over 15 years to replace lead service lines, offer free water filters to residents as they wait for the new lines to be installed, conduct community education programs, and increase the pH of the water supply to also help reduce corrosion in pipes.

    In earlier negotiations the utility had proposed replacing the lines at a much slower rate that would have taken decades to complete.

    MaryAnn Nason, CDPHE spokesperson, said the agency is happy that Denver Water has been able to replace so many lines so quickly.

    “While we are pleased, our goal is to have everyone participate or use a filter to keep themselves safe,” Nason said via email.

    “When Denver Water’s program was approved, a strong outreach component was included. We wanted Denver Water to reach out to the community and provide educational materials about why this is important to do and how it protects public health. We understand the disruption to their lives is significant, but the outreach program is intended to help customers understand the safety and health benefits of replacing their service line,” she said.

    Citing state privacy laws, Denver Water declined to identify addresses of properties that had not complied with the replacement requests. But an analysis of the zip codes where the agency has been shut out shows that the largest number, 124, are in 80205, which encompasses an area north and west of City Park and which includes Five Points and the Whittier neighborhoods.

    The zip code with the second largest number of non-compliant property owners, 72, is 80220, an area that includes South Park Hill, Montclair and Hilltop.

    Though no large apartment complexes have refused to replace lead lines, according to Denver Water, dozens of small multi-family units have yet to agree to have the work done, according to Fresh Water News’ analysis.

    Tom Romero, an associate professor of law at the University of Denver and an expert on water equity issues, said the replacement program is critical to providing safe drinking water to everyone in the city.

    “I definitely am concerned for all of those residents where you have recalcitrant property owners that are refusing to have these lead pipes replaced,” Romero said.

    “This is definitely a public health issue,” he said. “It’s pretty remarkable that they have been able to get a 95% response, but any lead level is putting people at risk. It goes to the duty of Denver Water to provide safe drinking water to us all.”

    This year is the third year of program, and is a critical benchmark with the EPA, which will decide later this year whether to allow Denver to continue the work, or use a different strategy.

    Denver Water’s Woodrow said the agency is still trying to decide how aggressive to be with reluctant property owners because legally it could access the properties without the owner’s consent.

    “We have discussed internally if we could compel the customer,” she said. “But we haven’t gotten there yet in terms of making a decision.”

    But that may change.

    “When you’re looking at the long-term strategy, we’re going to have to come up with additional tactics to get these lines replaced,” she said.

    Jerd Smith is editor of Fresh Water News. She can be reached at 720-398-6474, via email at jerd@wateredco.org or @jerd_smith.

    As #drought strikes region, decades of aggressive #water development keep #Aurora in the swim — The Aurora Sentinel

    From The Aurora Sentinel (Philip Poston):

    To say that Aurora has a prolific portfolio of water rights and reservoirs is apt. Spanning across three water basins, Aurora water is transported 180 miles through a vast and complicated system.

    But it hasn’t always been that way…

    Aurora was wholly served by the City and County of Denver until 1954, when Denver put into place a “blue line” no longer granting permits for new taps in the ever-growing metropolitan area, leaving parts of Aurora out of Denver’s service region.

    In 1957, Aurora purchased the water rights to the Last Chance Ditch and diverted the water that ran through it to be stored near the Cherry Creek Dam.

    The completion of phase one of the Homestake Reservoir, which the city shares with Colorado Springs, was in 1967 and with that, Aurora was able to become completely self-reliant when it came to supplying the wet stuff to its residents.

    The next 20 years saw rapid growth of Aurora’s water rights acquisitions, including rights in the three major basins being Colorado, Arkansas and South Platte. The city has continued to purchase water rights in areas spanning from Park to Eagle counties.

    While the water rights are large in number for Aurora, 95% of the municipality’s water comes from reusable water…

    Prairie Waters schematic via Aurora Water.

    This is where the Prairie Waters filtration system plays its vital role in supply for the city. Meeting approximately 10% of the demands of the city’s water, the system begins at the South Platte River in southern Weld County, and through a system of 23 wells, water is ushered through hundreds of feet of sand and gravel which serves as a filter to clean out impurities in the water. It is then pumped into basins where it goes through another level of filtration removing even more contaminants. The water is then sent to one of three different pump stations and finally to a purification facility.

    UV pretreatment Peter D. Binney Purification Facility.

    The Peter D. Binney Purification Facility uses what are some of the most advanced processes of purification in the country, through ultraviolet oxidation, water officials say. With the ability to treat 50 million gallons a day, it’s the largest facility in the nation to use this technology…

    With Aurora’s acquired water rights and the Prairie Waters System, Aurora looks to be prepared for the city’s growth.

    Aurora Water serves more than 91,000 accounts in a city of more than 386,000 people and that number is rapidly increasing. The population is expected to double in the next 30 to 40 years.

    With a bevy of new housing developments popping up on the eastern plains, it’s imperative that Aurora has the water to serve the increasing population with the most recently announced development promising 5,000 new homes.

    Aurora water managers have long said that the city is set to provide water to tens of thousands of additional residents for at least another half century. Projections have shown that the city could need more than 40 billion gallons of water a year by 2070, more than double the usage in 2015.

    In order to accommodate that amount, there needs to be ample storage, and Aurora has plans for that, too. Aurora currently has 156,000 acre feet of water storage, and enough to provide water to the city for three years, were there not to be another drop.

    With 12 current reservoirs along the front range and throughout the mountains, Aurora has plans for three more reservoirs throughout the next 50 years.

    One such reservoir has a litany of hurdles to jump, and might even require an act of Congress.

    This map shows the location of test holes Homestake Partners plans to drill as part of its geotechnical investigation into the feasibility of a dam site in the Homestake Creek valley. The Forest Service has received more than 500 comments, most of them in opposition to, the drilling and the overall reservoir project. Credit: USFS via Aspen Journalism

    The proposed Whitney Reservoir on U.S Forest land in Eagle County would be shared with Colorado Springs. U.S. Forest Service District Ranger Leanne Veldhuis approved the plan this spring allowing the cities to test for possible sites…

    With 95% of Aurora’s water being surface, or reusable water, there is always the risk of a low snow-pack, quick evaporation or plain-old drought. The new reservoirs will prevent Aurora having to sell or lease water resulting from not having enough storage.

    Wild Horse Reservoir, which looks to be the next reservoir completed, hopefully by decades end, was planned with the purpose of not only providing adequate and better storage, but work in providing better management of exchanged water.

    #Nebraska Governor Ricketts will seek $500 million #SouthPlatteRiver canal system appropriation now — The Lincoln Journal-Star

    The South Platte River Basin is shaded in yellow. Source: Tom Cech, One World One Water Center, Metropolitan State University of Denver.

    Click here to access the South Platte River Compact. Article VI is the pertinent article.

    From The Lincoln Journal-Star (Don Walton):

    Gov. Pete Ricketts said Tuesday his mid-biennium budget recommendations to the Legislature will include a $500 million appropriation to construct a canal system to ensure Nebraska’s continued access to South Platte River water flowing into the state from Colorado.

    “Upon approval, we’ll engage stakeholders on project location and design,” Ricketts wrote in his weekly newsletter.

    The governor will address the Legislature on Thursday for his annual State of the State address.

    “Given the state’s strong financial position, budget resources are available to undertake this historic project without incurring a penny of debt,” the governor said.

    Ricketts first spoke of the proposal during a news conference Monday, but detailed his plans in the newsletter, including his decision to proceed immediately with an appropriation this year of the resources required to complete the project.

    “Colorado’s plans to siphon off water from the South Platte River (before it flows into Nebraska) would decrease agricultural water supplies and raise pumping costs for our residents,” the governor said.

    “It would jeopardize municipal water supplies for Lincoln, Omaha and other Platte River communities.

    “The loss of water would threaten the cooling water supplies for Gerald Gentleman Station, Nebraska’s largest electric-generation facility” and undercut the state’s capacity to generate hydroelectric power while increasing costs and regulatory burdens, Ricketts said.

    “Constructing the canal is the primary means for Nebraska to exercise our legal rights to water flows from the South Platte River,” he said.

    Ovid, entering from the east on U.S. Route 138. By Jeffrey Beall – Own work, CC BY 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=56445787

    Ricketts had earlier said Nebraska will exercise its rights under the South Platte River Compact signed in 1923 to waters flowing from the Rocky Mountains through Colorado into the state, acting in the face of plans in Colorado to build projects “to ensure no ‘excess’ water leaves its state.”

    That action, undertaken in the form of nearly 300 projects, “threatens to choke off the flow of water into Nebraska,” Ricketts said, with estimates of almost a 90% loss…

    Kevin Rein, Colorado’s state engineer and director of the state’s water resources division, told The Associated Press that officials will work with Nebraska to fully understand the proposal and ensure that Colorado’s interests are protected while respecting Nebraska’s rights under the agreement.

    Governor Clarence J. Morley signing Colorado River compact and South Platte River compact bills, Delph Carpenter standing center. Unidentified photographer. Date 1925. Print from Denver Post. From the CSU Water Archives

    Here’s the release from Governor Ricketts office:

    Major Stephen Long described the Plains as the “Great American Desert” when his expedition studied our region in 1820. “It is almost wholly unfit for cultivation, and of course, uninhabitable by a people depending upon agriculture for their subsistence,” wrote his group’s geographer. Fast forward 200 years, and Nebraska has developed into a global powerhouse of agricultural production. We rank #1 in the nation in agricultural cash receipts per capita.

    How have Nebraskans transformed the “Great American Desert” into some of the most productive ag land in the world? Through our inventive and responsible use of water resources. While we’ve used these resources wisely, the actions of our neighbors in Colorado threaten to deplete them.

    The water we depend on for agriculture, drinking water, and other uses isn’t confined within our state’s borders. The Ogallala Aquifer underlies eight states, and rivers like the Republican River and Platte River flow across state lines in and out of Nebraska. Over the years, we’ve negotiated agreements with surrounding states regarding our shared water resources.

    One such agreement is the South Platte River Compact that Nebraska signed with Colorado nearly 100 years ago, in 1923. It regulates the use of the waters of the South Platte River, which originates in the Rockies and flows through Colorado into Nebraska.

    Colorado is currently planning nearly 300 projects and over $10 billion of expenditures to ensure no “excess” water leaves its state. This threatens to choke off the flow of water into Nebraska.

    The Nebraska Department of Natural Resources (NeDNR)—working with the Attorney General’s Office, natural resources districts (NRDs), and public power districts in our state—has been vigilantly watching developments in Colorado. NeDNR estimates that Colorado’s plans, when fully implemented, will cause a nearly 90% reduction in flows coming into Nebraska from Colorado.

    This would dramatically impact Nebraskans. Colorado’s plans to siphon off water from the South Platte River would decrease agricultural water supplies and raise pumping costs for our residents. It would jeopardize municipal water supplies for Lincoln, Omaha, and other Platte River communities. The loss of water would threaten the cooling water supplies for Gerald Gentlemen Station, Nebraska’s largest electric generation facility. The decreased flow would also undercut our capacity to generate hydroelectric power in Nebraska. The reduction in water would almost surely increase costs and regulatory burdens for the State, our NRDs, and water users.

    The good news is that the South Platte River Compact entitles Nebraska to construct a canal to ensure access to our fair share of the South Platte River’s water. The agreement specifically provides Nebraska authority over water and land in Colorado for the project.

    On January 10th, I announced Nebraska’s intention to construct this canal—pending the Unicameral’s approval—to protect our water users from reduced South Platte River flows. My mid-biennium budget recommendation for the Legislature will include $500 million for the canal project. Upon approval, we’ll engage stakeholders on project location and design.

    Constructing the canal is the primary means for Nebraska to exercise our legal rights to water flows from the South Platte River. If we fail to act now, Nebraska could see sharply reduced inflows from the South Platte River. As I already mentioned, this would have a devastating impact on our state. By taking initiative to build the canal, we’re protecting Nebraska’s water rights for our kids, grandkids, and generations beyond. Given the State’s strong financial position, budget resources are available to undertake this historic project without incurring a penny of debt.

    Nebraska’s way of life depends on access to our state’s abundant water resources. We’ve been great stewards of our water through the years. For example, we’ve maintained the Ogallala Aquifer, on average, within one foot of where it was in the 1950s. We’ve done all of this while developing into a global leader in agricultural irrigation.

    The High Plains Aquifer provides 30 percent of the water used in the nation’s irrigated agriculture. The aquifer runs under South Dakota, Wyoming, Nebraska, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Texas.

    Inventions like the center pivot, the development of drought-resistant hybrid crops, and the use of precision irrigation techniques have optimized our use of water resources. The Daugherty Water for Food Global Institute estimates that crop water productivity for corn and soybeans in Nebraska increased 75% from 1990 to 2014. In other words, our farmers are continuously growing more crops with less water.

    All of Nebraska stands to gain when we preserve, protect, manage, and engage in good stewardship of our water supply—and all stand to lose if we fail to do so. Our ag producers are reliant on water supplies as they work to feed the world. Communities from Ogallala to Omaha depend on the Platte River for drinking water. We use water from the Platte River to generate power, and the river is crucial to the quality of our natural environment as well.

    I urge the Legislature to act now and protect our water supplies from being irreversibly diminished. You can help by reaching out to your State Senator to make your voice heard. Their contact information is available at http://www.NebraskaLegislature.gov.

    If you have questions about the proposed canal, write me at pete.ricketts@nebraska.gov or call 402-471-2244. Let’s seize the moment to make sure future generations of Nebraskans can enjoy the water resources they’re entitled to.

    Renewable Water Resources proposes selling San Luis Valley #water to Douglas County—SLV opposition organizes — The #Crestone Eagle #RioGrande

    The country’s second largest potato producing region, is in its 18th year of drought in 2020. The San Luis Valley in Colorado is known for its agriculture yet only has 6-7 inches of rainfall per year. San Luis Valley via National Geographic

    From The Crestone Eagle (Lisa Cyriacks):

    RWR’s proposal to Douglas County is, for an initial payment of $20 million, to build a pipeline that would bring 22,000 acre-feet of water from the San Luis Valley aquifer to the Front Range. If Douglas County agrees, the $20 million would come from ARPS stimulus money.

    Struggling with water scarcity, changing climate, and aquifer depletion, San Luis Valley residents object to the proposal. A formidable group has organized around the belief that there is no water available to move outside the San Luis Valley.

    Protect Our Water–San Luis Valley lists as members: 15 local water districts and entities; 22 cities and towns; 22 conservation and environmental groups; and two farm groups. On its website local governments in opposition to RWR’s proposal include the Rio Grande Water Conservation District and the Towns of Crestone and Saguache.

    Despite their marketing assertions, RWR’s plan to export water from the San Luis Valley was not devised by locals nor will it benefit the entire valley.

    RWR needs to find a customer like Douglas County to move its proposal forward. The plan relies on drawing water from the Upper Rio Grande Basin and exporting it to the Front Range. Without an identified end user for the exportation and sale of the water, RWR can’t file its plan in Colorado Water Court.

    While the project has been in the works for some time, many questions remain unanswered.

    RWR does not own municipal water rights, and RWR would need to buy wells and well rights before filing in court to convert irrigation water rights to municipal water rights.

    Until recently, RWR executives asserted specifics about project locations, timetables, or costs were uncertain because they are focused on winning valley support and filing a legal case in Colorado’s water court, which could take three to five years to process. That case would help determine whether the San Luis Valley has enough water for RWR to legally export without hurting existing users.

    In general, the proposal before Douglas County Commissioners reveals that RWR would build a wellfield northeast of Moffat. A pipeline would carry water north along state Highway 17, more than 1,000 feet up and over Poncha Pass to two access points along the South Platte River Basin, one at Antero Reservoir and another Elevenmile Reservoir, both in Park County.

    In addition, a $50 million “community fund” would be developed under the RWR proposal to assist local communities with schools, broadband or food banks, senior services or job training. A separate pool of money, about $68 million, would pay farmers and ranchers who agree to sell their water rights, known in agriculture circles as “buy and dry.”

    Those dollars will come from long-time private investors, according to Sean Duffy, a spokesman for RWR.

    An agreement using stimulus money would give Douglas County access to needed water at less than half the typical rate of $40,000 to $50,000 per acre-foot, said RWR spokesman Sean Duffy…

    Duffy also pointed out that both the water and economic status quo in the valley are not currently sustainable. Critics say the RWR project will only make the situation worse, while supporters argue it offers a more sustainable solution to the state’s water woes.

    The San Luis Valley is described as one of the most arid regions in Colorado, receiving less than 9 inches of precipitation annually. In recent years snowfall on the Sangre de Cristos has been perceptibly less, resulting in reduced stream flows and reduced recharge of the two aquifers below the valley floor.

    The shallow unconfined aquifer has been tapped with wells for crop irrigation for several generations and is over-appropriated. Below lies the confined aquifer which Renewable Water Resources believes holds a billion-acre foot of water.

    That one-billion-acre foot estimate is highly disputed by local water managers, farmers and ranchers.

    San Luis Valley Groundwater

    Since 2012 many farms and ranches in the valley have already made self-imposed cuts in irrigation to try and prevent further depletion of the shallow aquifer. A number of subdistricts have been formed as local farmers’ only way of buying more time to solve depletions to the aquifer in their own way. Each subdistrict has until 2031 to replenish water to a predetermined level. Failure to meet those targets could result in the State Engineer’s office shutting down wells until the aquifer reaches that target through unimpeded recharge with no groundwater pumping.

    RWR’s proposal is offering very similar benefits to those proposed by Stockman’s Water in 1998, a project that ultimately failed.

    Stockman’s Water proposed to export at least 100,000 acrefeet annually, mitigating any water losses by offering, in exchange, 25,000 to 50,000 acre-feet of senior water rights.

    Gary Boyce, the manager/ owner of Stockman’s Water, also promised a $3 million trust fund to be administered by Saguache County, and environmental benefits—more riparian and wetland habitat. Renewable Water Resources offers the potential opportunity to add over 3,000 acres to the Baca Wildlife Refuge located off of County Road T.

    Cleave Simpson has met with the Douglas County Commissioners. Using federal American Rescue Plan Act funds for the RWR proposal is a twist he didn’t see coming.

    “I think it’s unconscionable to use those federal dollars to diminish one community in support of another community,” he said. In addition to representing the San Luis Valley in the Colorado Senate, Simpson is the general manager of the Rio Grande Water Conservation District, which is leading the opposition to the RWR plan.

    Simpson reminds us that there is a long history of legal fights over water export claims in the San Luis Valley. The Rio Grande Water Conservancy District already had money set aside to challenge the RWR proposal after the court awarded valley residents legal fees from a previous failed export case involving a developer in the 1970s, called American Water Development Incorporated.

    How the #Boulder County fires contaminated #water supplies in #Superior and #Louisville — #Colorado Public Radio #MarshallFire

    Marshall Fire December 30, 2021. Photo credit: Boulder County

    From Colorado Public Radio (Michael Elizabeth Sakas):

    Several factors are fueling the water problems in both communities. Firefighters used so much water trying to extinguish the Marshall and Middle Fork fires that pressure was lost in both water systems. Bacteria and other organisms can enter water lines that aren’t properly pressurized and contaminate water supplies.

    The fires also carved a destructive path through Superior and Louisville that broke water mains and destroyed as many as 1,000 homes, damaging and exposing other pipes, leaving them open to other contaminants entering the water systems.

    #Greeley #Water and Sewer announces nearly 10% rate increases — The Greeley Tribune

    Greeley in 1870 via Denver Public Library

    From The Greeley Tribune (Trevor Reid):

    Greeley Water and Sewer customers can expect about 10% rate increases starting this month, as the department funds more than $200 million in investments over the next several years.

    The Greeley Water and Sewer Board recently approved the new rates in a unanimous vote, according to a city news release. On average, residents can expect a utility rate increase of about $10 a month, or about 9.8%.

    The increases take effect this month, but residents may not see the changes until their February utility bills.

    The increases break down as follows, according to the release:

  • Water: An average increase of $4.16 per month will help cover the city’s participation in a new water storage reservoir to provide enough water for more than 4,500 new residents.
  • Sewer: An increase of $4.22 per month will cover the cost of state- and federally mandated sanitary sewer upgrades. The mandates reduce the amounts of nitrogen and phosphorous allowed in the city’s treated wastewater discharge to reduce algae growth.
  • Stormwater: An increase of $1.54 per month will help the city resolve downtown flooding issues. The city will upgrade its storm drainage to handle large rain events, such as the one in July that damaged businesses and homes.
  • In the release, Harold Evans, chairman of the water and sewer board, cited the regulatory changes and providing for the city’s rapidly growing population as drivers behind the rate increases.

    South Platte Update will provide information on the state of the river: Program will cover the river’s condition, new projects within the basin — The #Sterling Journal-Advocate #SouthPlatteRiver

    The South Platte River Basin is shaded in yellow. Source: Tom Cech, One World One Water Center, Metropolitan State University of Denver.

    From The Sterling Journal-Advocate (Jeff Rice):

    A South Platte River Water Update will be held in Brush on Wednesday [January 12, 2022]. The half-day program includes updates on the Master Irrigator Program, the Northern Integrated Supply Project, salinity in the South Platte and the Platte Valley Water Partnership project.

    The update will be held at the Riverview Event Center, 19201 County Road 24, near Brush. It will begin at 8:50 a.m. and run until noon. Lunch will be served.

    The Colorado Master Irrigator program offers farmers and farm managers advanced training on conservation- and efficiency-oriented irrigation management practices and tools. The program is the product of efforts led by several producers, district management representatives, and others interested in conserving groundwater in eastern Colorado. The program is modeled on the award-winning Master Irrigator program created and run since 2016 by the North Plains Groundwater Conservation District in the Texas panhandle.

    Greg Peterson of the Colorado Ag Water Alliance and Roxy McCormick, Master Irrigator in the Republican River Basin, will present the information.

    [Brad] Wind, general manager of the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, will provide an update on NISP. Construction has been under way for several month on the project, which will provide about 40,000 acre-feet of new, reliable water supply. The project consists of two reservoirs, Glade and Galeton, a forebay reservoir, three pump plants, pipelines to deliver water for exchange with two irrigation companies and for delivery to participants, and improvements to an existing canal to divert water off the Poudre River near the canyon mouth.

    Grady O’Brien, CEO of Neirbo Hydrology, will present information on salinity in the lower reaches of the South Platte River. Salinity has been a growing problem as urban development and agricultural irrigation have added to the river’s saltiness. The water doesn’t taste salty – it contains only 0.12 percent salts compared with ocean water’s 3.5 percent – but the increasing salinity does have a negative impact on the soil. Salt in the soil suppresses the level of potassium, which is necessary for plants to take up nitrogen and create new plant material.

    Old-fashioned flood irrigation used to leach the salts out of the soil, but more efficient irrigation methods don’t put enough water on the ground to do that. And, while the amount of salt in the river at Sterling seems miniscule, it is nearly twice the amount in the Denver area, just above Broomfield, and more than six time the salinity of the river above Denver.

    Joe Frank, general manager of the Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District, will talk about the Platte Valley Water Partnership. It is a joint water supply project by the LSPWCD and the Parker Water and Sanitation District to use a new water right that the two entities are developing along the South Platte River near Sterling.

    The project will use new and existing infrastructure to store and transport water for agricultural use in northeastern Colorado and municipal use along the Front Range. The partnership involves the phased development of the water right. The early phases would involve a pipeline from Prewitt Reservoir in Logan and Washington counties to Parker Reservoir, which supplies the City of Parker. Later developments would see a 4,000-acre-foot reservoir near Iliff on land owned by Parker, and a 72,000-acre-foot reservoir near Fremont Butte north of Akron. A pipeline, pump stations, and treatment facility will also be built as part of the project.

    Anyone wanting to attend the update presentations can register by contacting Madeline Hagan, morganconservationdistrict@gmail.com (970) 427-3362 or Amber Beeson, centennialcd1@gmail.com (970) 571-5296.

    Manipulating from the margins: #ClimateChange and the #MarshallFire — @BigPivots

    Marshall Fire December 30, 2021. Photo credit: Boulder County

    From Big Pivots (Allen Best):

    So this is what climate change looks like: operating on the margins, yet able to dramatically alter the story on center stage.

    Warming temperatures played a monster role in creating the conditions that enabled the fire that burned nearly 1,000 houses as well as other buildings in Boulder County on Dec. 30.

    “We are just numb. It happened so quickly,” Lafayette resident Peggy Williams reported in a Facebook post after being forced to flee. “We never thought our little towns would experience something like this.”

    To understand what happened and why, it’s useful to examine the discrete elements. Some are entirely natural and nothing new. Taken together, though, they represent a new dynamic, unprecedented in Colorado.

    “Certainly, climate change is never the only part of the story when it comes to wildfires. It’s part of the story but there’s always more to the story,” said Russ Schumacher, the Colorado state climatologist. “That being said, what we see in these fires and have seen in the last couple of years in Colorado, the changing climate is kind of making us expand our imaginations of what types of destructive wildfires are possible.”

    A scattergram assembled by Schumacher showing weather and precipitation records from three Front Range locations tells the story of hot and dry over past decades. The Fort Collins record goes back longer, but records kept at Denver’s Central Park – the site of Denver’s airport prior to DIA — are more proximate to Boulder.

    The year 2021, for the period between June 1 and Dec. 29, stands alone in its intense combination of warm and dry, even compared to other seven-month periods. Look at the warm and dry quadrant closely and you will see a pattern: disproportionate representation of 21st century years.

    Again, it’s not just precipitation, not just warmth. It’s the combination.

    Because of the warm temperatures and drought, vegetation became bone dry by year’s end. And that resulted in what one meteorologist suspects was near-record combustibility of the grasses in the open spaces.

    High winds were another crucial ingredient. They rapidly pushed the flames eastward from origins of the fire near Marshall, on the outskirts of Boulder, through Superior and into Louisville while threatening Lafayette, Westminster, and Broomfield.

    What’s new in all this?

    Wind? Absolutely not. Boulder, Golden, and Denver were still new mining supply camps in the 1860s, when the newspapers of Colorado reported the “savage violence” of winds that tore off roofs and stopped trains. Papers issued by researchers from the National Center for Atmospheric Research and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in the 1970s and 1980s reported winds in excess of 100 mph, including one gust of 137 mph at the NCAR building in January 1982.

    The winds of Dec. 30 were notably strong but not without precedent. They shattered the glass in cars and other vehicles, but wind storms in the past have flattened buildings in Boulder, Golden, and other towns even in recent years.

    No particular study of the winds seems to have been conducted since the 1980s, but the perception is that they have actually become less frequent in recent decades, according to Schumacher.
    One final ingredient, what meteorologist and science writer Bob Henson calls the “other elephant in the room,” is housing and other buildings adjoining open spaces in Superior and Louisville. Without it, this would have been a prairie fire.

    Conditions for the fire began setting up in spring. Abundant May rains created a landscape lush and green. Then in June, it stopped raining across most of the Front Range and temperatures spiked.

    In a tweet, Henson pointed to records for Sept. 1 through Dec. 30 for Denver.

  • Temperatures an average 52.2 degrees Fahrenheit, the second warmest in 150 years.
  • Precipitation of 0.47 inch, the least in 150 years.
  • Snowfall of just 0.3 inch, the least in 140 years.
  • “The warmer it gets, the harsher these droughts will be on the landscape,” Henson, whose books include “The Thinking Person’s Guide to Climate Change,” wrote in the tweet.

    The climate writing was on the wall

    Climate scientists in recent years have stressed how rising temperatures can create drought where none would otherwise exist. These are called hot droughts, and California has made them infamous.

    That expression has also been used in the Colorado River Basin. There, increased evaporation and transpiration caused by rising temperatures has robbed average or near-average snowpacks, producing runoff into Lake Powell of 25% to 30% of average.

    In Boulder County, precipitation was nowhere near normal. In its New Year’s Eve story, “How extreme climate conditions fueled unprecedented Colorado fire,” The Washington Post reported that Boulder averages over 30 inches of snow between September and December; this year it got 1.46 inches.

    Graphic credit: Westwide Drought Tracker

    This converted the green vegetation of May into the sort of tinder useful to getting the logs burning in the fireplace. The Washington Post story by staff writer and meteorologist Jason Samenow, assistant Colorado state climatologist Becky Bolinger, and meteorology student Jacob Feuerstein pointed to two indexes that document this flammability.

    One, the Evaporative Demand Drought Index, or EDDI was at a record high in eastern Colorado during December. The index provides a snapshot of how “thirsty” the atmosphere is compared to normal that time of year.

    “It can be a good wildfire risk predictor as it takes into account temperatures, sunlight and wind, in addition to humidity,” the authors wrote.

    Another indicator, the Energy Release Component, was also dangerously high, reflecting the contribution of all live and dead fuels to potential fire intensity.

    Boulder County had instituted fire restrictions on Nov. 30, prohibiting open fires, including charcoal barbecues and grills. The release said the restrictions were a response to the “increasing fire danger, lack of moisture, and the forecast for above seasonal temperatures without precipitation.” As of Dec. 30, eastern Boulder County was in a swath described by the Colorado Drought Monitor as “extreme,” the second driest category.

    Then came the spark or fire – from a source or sources still undetermined as of Sunday evening — and the 6,200-acre conflagration.
    Henson observes that the vast majority of the homes were built in the 1980s or later. Had this firestorm occurred 50 years ago, it might well have been largely a prairie fire. With the development, though, it became a different, more destructive fire.

    Firefighters from across Kansas and Oklahoma battle a wildfire near Protection, Kan., Monday, March 6, 2017. (Bo Rader/The Wichita Eagle via AP)

    ‘Several things going wrong at the same time’

    Massive fires have not been uncommon on the Great Plains. In March 2012, a fire near Yuma burned 24,000 acres. Other fires in recent years have swept across hundreds of thousands of acres in other Great Plains states.

    “As white cells are to man, so fire is to prairie,” wrote William Least Heat-Moon in “PrairyErth,” his paean to Chase County, Kansas. In his assessment of the tallgrass prairie, however, he did not speak to the seasonality of prairie fires.

    The latest major fire on the Great Plains occurred in mid-December. A fire driven by gusts of up to 100 mph resulted in deaths of two men and damages across 163,000 acres near the town of Paradise in north-central Kansas. As with the Boulder County fires, abnormally dry conditions were blamed along with the winds.

    “It was definitely a perfect storm,” Shawna Hartman, a spokeswoman for the Kansas Forest Service, told The Associated Press. “These fires ran for 20-plus miles in an afternoon. It’s very, very reminiscent of what you would see in California.”

    In the shortgrass prairie of Boulder County, Henson described a similar confluence of “several things going wrong at the same time, including the wind storm, the dryness, the warmth drying out the landscape further.”

    The suburban nature of this fire also deserves attention. This wasn’t the foothills in what is commonly called the wildland-urban interface. It was the place of winding streets, many million-dollar homes and an economy strongly engaged in northern Colorado’s booming high-tech economy.

    Residents forced to flee were still in shock two and three days later, trying to sort out the circumstances that had at least one (and likely many others) shopping for clean underwear and other necessities at Target in nearby towns, still unable to return home.

    That shopper, after a night deprived of sleep and still unsure of whether her rented home was standing — it was, but a house four doors away had become rubble — shared a friend’s report from afar of having a new understanding of what it’s like to be a refugee.

    The Wildland-Urban Interface is the Boulder County suburbs

    Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at the University of California Los Angeles and a well-known blogger, pointed out in a tweet that the Boulder County fires demonstrate “just how far into the suburbs the … interface actually extends given sufficiently extreme drought and wind conditions.”

    In a tweet, the University of Montana’s Phil Higuera, a professor of fire ecology, also suggested the fires will “help dispel the misconception that the wildland-urban interface (#WUI) is ‘just’ a bunch of vacation homes in dense forest.”

    In 2012, the Waldo Canyon Fire on the edge of Colorado Springs destroyed 346 homes and killed 2 people. Photo/Allen Best

    During the last decade, fires have made it into the suburbs and exurbs. In 2012, the Waldo Canyon Fire destroyed 346 homes and killed 2 people on the northwestern outskirts of Colorado Springs. The next year, the Black Forest Fire destroyed 511 homes north in a forested area north of Colorado Springs in what was – until the Boulder County fires – the most destructive of human property in Colorado history.

    Different from those June fires in and near Colorado Springs, the Boulder County fires occurred in late December. This is a new game, at least in Front Range fires. It’s also part of a trend: an expansion of wildfire season. Like tornados in Southern states and the Midwest, the calendar for wildfires is less useful.

    Consider the East Troublesome Fire. In the 20th century, mid-October brought hunting season and snow. In 2020, it produced a new fire even as other fires, including the Cameron Peak Fire west of Fort Collins, continued to grow. Then came a wind storm and, on Oct. 22-23, East Troublesome raced past Grand Lake and vaulted across the treeless Continental Divide, forcing the evacuation of Estes Park.

    Now comes the state’s biggest fire in history — on the cusp of New Year’s Eve.

    The fire will force us to “expand our imaginations,” said Schumacher. “Thinking about the most destructive fire ever happening in late December is not the sort of thing that we were probably planning on. Given what we have seen in the last couple of years, we as a collective Colorado community need to do some rethinking of what is possible, what we need to prepare for.”

    […]

    This story benefitted from editing by the crew at Boulder Reporting Lab. Scattergrams and posts courtesy of Russ Schumacher.

    Suggested reading:

    There Will Be Fire: Colorado arrives at the dawn of the era of megafires tells about the debate in Vail about the risk of wildfire in light of the East Troublesome and other massive wildfires.

    Is Fire Really Essential in Prairies? probes the difference between prairie, as in the ecosystem, or prairie, as in an individual patch of grassland.

    #Water rates to rise slightly in 2022: Supporting the large, complex system that provides water to 1.5 million people across the #Denver metro area — News on Tap

    From Denver Water (Cathy Proctor and Kim Unger Jay):

    Lea este artículo en español.

    Since its formation more than 100 years ago, Denver Water has always planned ahead when investing in the system that today supplies clean, safe drinking water every day to a quarter of Colorado’s population.

    And with a variety of changes — from regulations to weather patterns — expected in the future, the utility and its 1,000 employees are continuing the work needed to maintain, repair, protect and upgrade its 4,000 square miles of watershed and 3,000 miles of pipe, plus its dams, pump stations and underground storage tanks and more.

    Denver Water delivers safe, clean water to 1.5 million people every day, 25% of Colorado’s population. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    While the global COVID-19 pandemic has added another layer of complexity, Denver Water has worked to keep rate increases for customers as small as possible.

    On Oct. 27, the Denver Board of Water Commissioners adopted new water rates that will effective Jan. 1, 2022, to help pay for critical upgrades and projects to keep this system operating efficiently. How that rate increase will affect individual customer bills will vary depending on where the customer lives in Denver Water’s service area and how much water they use.

    For typical single-family residential customers who receive a bill from Denver Water, if they use 104,000 gallons of water in 2022 as they did in 2021, the new rates will increase their monthly bill by a range of about 47 cents to $1.34 depending on where they live.

    “Denver Water’s mission is to ensure that we deliver safe, clean water to the people who rely on us every day,” said CEO/Manager Jim Lochhead. “Over the next 10 years, we are forecasting an estimated investment of $2.6 billion into our system to increase its resiliency, reliability and sustainability in the face of changes we are anticipating. From more frequent droughts and wildfires to additional regulations we expect we will be asked to meet — we will be prepared.”

    A helicopter collects water from Dillon Reservoir during efforts to contain the Ptarmigan Fire near Silverthorne, Colorado, in late September. Photo credit: John Baker, safety specialist at Denver Water.

    A customer’s monthly bill is comprised of a fixed charge, which helps ensure Denver Water has a more stable revenue stream to continue the necessary water system upgrades to ensure reliable water service, and a volume rate for the amount of water used.

    The fixed monthly charge — which is tied to the size of the meter — is increasing by 74 cents in 2022 for most single-family residential customers to ensure Denver Water is recovering 20% of its needed revenue from fixed charges.

    After the fixed monthly charge, Denver Water’s rate structure has three tiers based on the amount of water used.

    “Even with such large efforts in our future, it’s our goal to have slow and steady rate increases with even, annual adjustments that allow our customers to plan ahead and avoid rate shocks,” said Fletcher Davis, rates manager for Denver Water.

    To keep water affordable, the first tier, which covers essential indoor water use for bathing, cooking and flushing toilets, is charged at the lowest rate.

    The amount of water in this first tier is determined for each customer by averaging their monthly water use as listed on bills dated January through March each year. This is called their average winter consumption.

    Water use above the average winter consumption — typically used for outdoor watering — is charged at a higher price. Efficient outdoor water use is charged in the second tier (middle rate), followed by additional outdoor water use in the third tier (highest rate).

    Meet customers who used Garden In A Box, a Resource Central program supported by Denver Water, to beautify their landscapes with water-wise plants.

    The difference in volume rates for customers who live inside Denver compared to those who live in the suburbs is due to the Denver City Charter, which was changed in 1959 to allow permanent leases of water to suburban water districts based on two conditions: 1) there always would be an adequate supply for the citizens of Denver, and 2) suburban customers pay the full cost of service, plus an additional amount.

    Denver Water encourages customers to be efficient with their water use.

    Using less water means more water can be kept in the mountain reservoirs, rivers and streams that fish live in, and Coloradans enjoy. And using less water also can lower your monthly water bills, saving money.

    “We are continuing our work maintaining and replacing water mains in the street, building a new state-of-the-art treatment plant and water quality laboratory, preparing for the needed expansion of Gross Reservoir and replacing old, customer-owned lead service lines to protect our customers from the risk of lead in drinking water,” Lochhead said.

    “At the same time, we use the tools available to us to help pay for the necessary investment in our system and keep our rates as low as possible.”

    In addition to rates paid by customers, Denver Water relies on bond sales, cash reserves, hydropower sales and the fees paid when new homes and buildings are connected to the system.

    The utility does not make a profit or receive tax dollars. It reinvests money from customer water bills to maintain and upgrade the water system.

    Infographic credit: Kim Unger, Denver Water.

    Two dwindling river basins, one solution: Pay farmers and ranchers to use less #water — #Colorado Public Radio

    Colorado Rivers. Credit: Geology.com

    From Colorado Public Radio (Michael Elizabeth Sakas):

    Farmers and ranchers in two different river basins in Colorado are facing rapidly approaching deadlines to reduce their water use. The reductions are necessary to maintain interstate river agreements preserve underground water supplies.

    The state wants to pay farmers and ranchers to stop irrigating some of their acreages to help keep more water in the ground. Gov. Jared Polis’ budget proposal for next year includes $15 million of COVID relief funds to fund such a program.

    These river basins have their own legal arrangements and are managed by different rules. State agriculture commissioner Kate Greenberg said the solution for both areas is fewer irrigated acres.

    Greenberg said the northeastern region needs to stop irrigating 10,000 acres by the end of 2024 and a total of 25,000 acres by the end of 2029 to stay in compliance with the agreement. So far, only 3,000 acres have been retired, she said.

    Farmers and ranchers in the San Luis Valley in southern Colorado also need to stop irrigating to preserve that region’s aquifer, said Kevin Rein is the director of the Colorado Division of Water Resources…

    For both river basins, taking no action to reduce agricultural water use would mean “dire” consequences, said Kelly Romero-Heany, the assistant director for water at the Colorado Department of Natural Resources. In the San Luis Valley, thousands of well users could face water cuts if the river basins don’t meet their goals. Those cuts could include local water utilities.

    Greenberg, the state agriculture commissioner, supports the funding outlined in Polis’s budget. But she doesn’t want the water cuts to hurt agricultural production.

    Greenberg says some of that funding could also be used to teach, train and equip farmers and ranchers to use drought-resistant crops and other techniques to farm and raise livestock with less water.

    Livestock controversies, water issues top ag stories of 2021: Logan County Fair back on track, but conservation easement issues derailed again — The #Sterling Journal-Advocate

    South Platte River at Goodrich, Colorado, Sunday, November 15, 2020. Photo credit: Allen Best

    From The Sterling Journal-Advocate (Jeff Rice):

    Colorado’s agriculture industry saw COVID-19 in the rear-view mirror in 2021 and focused on securing a future for farmers and ranchers. As if low commodity prices and rising input costs weren’t enough, ag folks – especially in the livestock sector – saw themselves beset by even more challenges.

    Colorado’s livestock industry staged a statewide celebration in March as thousands of Coloradans feasted on beef at an estimated 100 events across the state.

    The events were held as a protest against Gov. Jared Polis’ proclamation recognizing the national MeatOut observance on March 21. MeatOut is a national movement to reduce or eliminate animal protein from Americans’ diet.

    Sterling’s Meat-In event was conceived by Jason Santomaso, hosted by Sterling Livestock Commission Co. and the Santomaso family, and drew approximately 2,400 people to dine on all-beef hamburgers and bratwursts. They also bid on a wide range of items to raise funds for the Santas of Sterling Miracle Letter program. The event raised in the neighborhood of $130,000, some of which the Santas turned back to help a family in need.

    At the time, Gov. Polis was already trying to mend fences after backlash from his MeatOut proclamation. On March 12 the Colorado Livestock Association was notified that Polis had signed a proclamation naming March 22 Colorado Livestock Proud Day.

    The governor had another opportunity to support the livestock industry in Colorado, and didn’t hesitate to grab it. At the end of March, as if to nail down his credibility among stockmen, Polis issued a strongly-worded statement opposing the proposed Protect Animals from Unnecessary Suffering and Exploitation initiative, nicknamed PAUSE, saying it would destroy the state’s livestock industry and devastate Colorado’s economy.

    Livestock producers claimed that, if passed, PAUSE would criminalize many widely accepted animal husbandry practices necessary for successful livestock production. The question, officially known as Initiative 16, passed muster with the state’s Title Board, but that decision was appealed by a coalition of agricultural organizations. In June, the Colorado Supreme Court unanimously struck down the initiative, saying it didn’t meet statutory requirements.

    Landowners suffered another setback at the hands of the Colorado General Assembly when Colorado’s conservation easement fix bill failed get needed support.

    Senate Bill 21-033, Sponsored by Sterling’s Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, would have created a new state income tax credit for certain taxpayers who were denied state income tax credits for conservation easements donated between 2000 and 2013 if the IRS allowed a federal income tax deduction for the same donation.

    The bill would have helped landowners who donated development rights on their properties by setting aside $149 million from the state treasury to pay for the conservation easement tax credits rejected by the Colorado Department of Revenue more than a decade ago.

    Sonnenberg and his allies had shepherded the bill, seen by many as the last chance to correct a gross injustice, through six committee hearings and a Senate floor vote before it arrived in the House Appropriations Committee to be referred to the House floor for final vote. On the last day of the legislative session, however, Democrats on the committee killed the bill with a 7-4 party line vote…

    Water continued to be an issue of contention in 2021 with two steps forward and one step backward. The forward steps were in the formation of a partnership between the Parker Water and Sanitation District and the Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District to develop a new water right in the lower South Platte. But a lawsuit filed against the LSPWCD, if successful, would probably end that partnership.

    In September, LSPWCD and PW&SD issued a joint press release announcing the formation of the Platte Valley Water Partnership, a joint water supply project to use a new water right that the two entities own along the South Platte River near Sterling.

    The project will make use of new and existing infrastructure to store and transport water for agricultural use in northeastern Colorado and municipal use along the Front Range. The partnership involves the phased development of the water right. The early phases would involve a pipeline from Prewitt Reservoir in Logan and Washington counties to Parker Reservoir, which supplies the City of Parker. Later developments would see a 4,000 acre-foot reservoir near Iliff on land owned by Parker, and a 72,000 acre-foot reservoir near Fremont Butte north of Akron. A pipeline, pump stations, and treatment facility will also be built as part of the project.

    Two months later, however, a Colorado taxpayer group filed a class action lawsuit in the 13th Judicial District Court in Logan County to try to overturn a mill levy increase by the Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District. The increase was primarily to help pay the District’s share of the cost of developing a new water right and building infrastructure for the Platte Valley Water Partnership project.

    The Public Trust Institute, a Colorado-based public interest law firm, and the National Taxpayers Union Foundation of Washington, D.C., filed the lawsuit on behalf of an ad hoc group of taxpayers in Logan, Morgan, Sedgwick and Washington counties. Jim Aranci of Crook, Charles Miller, Jack Darnell and William Lauck of Morgan County and Curtis Werner of Merino are listed as plaintiffs in the lawsuit. Besides the water district, the defendants include the county treasurers of the four counties, who collected the taxes and handed the funds over to the district.

    The suit was filed, the plaintiffs said, because although LSPWCD voters relieved the district of the requirements of the so-called Taxpayer Bill of Rights, or TABOR, the district still promised to go to the public for a vote to raise taxes. They maintain that raising the district mill levy from 0.5 mill to 1 mill violates that promise.

    The district argues that it was authorized to levy up to 1 mill when it was created in the 1960s, but had never done so because it wasn’t needed. Now that it’s needed, the district says, the 1964 statute forming the district supersedes TABOR and levying the full mill without a vote is legal.

    The South Platte River Basin is shaded in yellow. Source: Tom Cech, One World One Water Center, Metropolitan State University of Denver.

    #Greeley, Weld County #water managers look to collaborate as scarcity concerns grow — The Greeley Tribune

    New Cache La Poudre Irrigating Company service area map.

    From The Greeley Tribune (Trevor Reid):

    As growing communities across the state require more water, supplies are becoming increasingly scarce.

    This gap can slow the growth of younger communities and has others buying up water rights from areas including Weld County, resulting in the drying of local farms.

    All this pressure has the state’s water law system coming under increasing scrutiny. Though some seek to change the system, water officials in the Greeley and Weld County area are hopeful collaboration will lead to innovative ways of managing this increasingly scarce resource inside the existing doctrine…

    …farms — which typically own relatively senior water rights — are often targets of “buy and dry” transactions in which a water provider buys a farm to use its water for industrial or municipal purposes.

    Preventing buy and dry transactions is one of the major challenges faced by the New Cache La Poudre Irrigating Company, a stockholder company that operates the Greeley No. 2 Ditch, which provides water for about 350 farmers on 32,000 acres of farms. General Manager Dale Trowbridge expects homes and municipal growth to eventually replace some farms in the system, but the biggest unknown is what will happen with the water.

    “You can work (agriculture) around some houses and stuff like that, but if a third of the ditch is dry … now what do you deal with?” Trowbridge asked.

    If the ditch’s water supply is severely limited by buy and drys in a couple decades, Trowbridge’s concern is the feasibility of operating the ditch when it was built to hold more water.

    As things stand, the system is already short on water. Trowbridge said more dense ag operations mean there’s a greater need than there was when they started the system, which was issued its first water right decree in 1870.

    To make up for the shortage, New Cache has relied on renting out water rights from cities like Greeley and Fort Collins, which have historically built a strong portfolio of water rights with drought protection to prevent supply issues for city residents. In the last year, though, they were only able to rent about half of what the farmers requested. The impacts of wildfire on water supplies meant cities weren’t able to rent out as much water, in an effort to reduce costs of treating water contaminated by runoff after the fire…

    New Cache tries to help farmers acquire water in dry years, but when it comes to a situation like the last year, it’s up to farmers to alter their cropping patterns or not plant.

    Agricultural operations aren’t the only ones hurting due to a lack of water supplies. Evans City Manager Jim Becklenberg called water “the biggest challenge to the city’s growth.”

    While northern Colorado cities like Loveland, Greeley and Fort Collins — the latter two having set the stage for the state’s formalization of the prior appropriation system in an early water dispute — have been able to strategically buy water over the years, medium- and small-sized cities like Evans haven’t had the same resources for such a strong water planning history, Becklenberg said…

    With a less robust water portfolio, Evans requires developers to bring water to the city. The city maintains a list of individuals with vouchers for previously dedicated water rights who could sell to prospective buyers, but there aren’t many left in the city, Becklenberg said.

    In Greeley, the city can take cash in place of dedicated water rights, thanks to the city’s extensive water planning. The city’s water portfolio hasn’t stopped growing, either. The city recently purchased about 1,000 acre-feet of water, equivalent to about 1,000 football fields covered in a foot of water — more than it had acquired in the decade prior. The city’s also filed for storage rights for gravel pits, giving the city its youngest water rights, which date to the early 2000s.

    To bolster the city’s drought protection, Greeley officials recently closed on an aquifer containing 1.2 million acre-feet of water, also defeating proposed City Charter changes that could have prevented use of the groundwater. For comparison, the city’s current demands average about 25,000 acre-feet per year.

    With its robust portfolio of water rights, Greeley officials can facilitate development that would be more difficult for smaller communities. Water is a major cost for developers, and prices have only gone up. Greeley-Weld Habitat for Humanity Executive Direct Cheri Witt-Brown, also a member of the Greeley Water and Sewer Board, described water as “a very expensive line item” on her budget as a home developer.

    Witt-Brown gave an example of a home they built in Milliken where they paid $45,000 for the lot and were set to pay $60,000 for a share of water they had to bring to the lot.

    “We were very fortunate,” she said. “We went to a water auction, and it was a big farm being sold off in Frederick. Somehow, toward the end of that, I think there was $22 million traded that day. We walked away with one share of water — ultimately donated by the farming family to Habitat.”

    The increasing price of water is impacting housing affordability. Witt-Brown said water resources like those in Greeley help bring security to the local economy…

    Working collaboratively to get all needs met

    Northern Colorado leaders believe regional collaboration is key to a secure water future for local communities. More than a dozen cities, towns and water districts are collaborating on a project to help secure water for different interests well into the future.

    The Northern Integrated Supply Project, spearheaded by Northern Water, is an effort to build two storage reservoirs and lay pipelines for cooperative water exchanges that would help both municipal and agricultural interests. The project is still in the permitting phase, with hopes to get construction started by 2023.

    One of the approved permits on the project is under litigation by Save the Poudre and other neighborhood groups. Save the Poudre argues the project would “drain so much water out of the Poudre that the river would resemble a muddy stinking ditch in Fort Collins.”

    Northern Water notes on its website projects like NISP are subject to strict environmental laws and regulations and that Colorado’s Water Quality Division found “no significant degradation” expected from the project…

    Other environmental groups, like Ducks Unlimited, have taken the view that the state’s water laws haven’t presented an obstacle they can’t overcome, according to Greg Kernohan, director of Ducks Unlimited’s conservation programs. Ducks Unlimited works to restore wetlands to support waterfowl populations, often using water decreed for irrigation use. Kernohan said acquiring water is “brutal.” Water can cost about half a million dollars for a single project, he said, not including water court costs.

    With water only becoming more expensive, the nonprofit has been working with the New Cache La Poudre Irrigating Company to determine an equitable way to lease water short term. Greeley officials have also been in discussion with the irrigating company for its water marketing program.

    To prevent buy and dry while helping everyone get their water needs met, New Cache has been working to develop an alternative transfer method to tie the water rights to farmland. In return for giving up the ability to sell their water rights to other interests, the farmer would be paid.

    But those other interests would still need water too. To get them the water they need, they would be able to lease water a few years every decade. Though the farm would go dry in drought years when another user, like a city, needs to lease the water, the water remains with the farm in the long term.

    There are a few roadblocks remaining for the project. The growing value of water can make it a difficult sell for a farmer to tie up the water rights with the land. And for some, taking a year off farming every now and then doesn’t sound like the best lifestyle. They would be paid, Trowbridge said, but it leaves some wondering, “What am I going to do when the water is being leased?”

    For NISP’s water exchange system to work, agricultural water needs to remain in northern Colorado — despite continuing efforts by growing Denver metro communities to buy water and deliver it south. As part of the project, Northern Water is working to tie water rights to the agricultural land in the area…

    Though prior appropriation makes for a competitive system, those who have found success through collaborative projects like this worry a different system would introduce uncertainty.

    “I don’t know how we can operate without the certainty of the water,” Trowbridge said. “It’d be unsustainable around here if the prior appropriation system was changed.

    Greeley Water and Sewer Board Chairman Harold Evans shares Trowbridge’s concern, noting everybody there are set rules of the game under prior appropriation. Though water shortages may increase political pressure to change the system, it gives water providers better certainty about what to expect.

    2021 Brings Flurry of Activity to Northern #Water

    The Chimney Hollow Reservoir Project hosted a groundbreaking event on Aug. 6, 2021. Photo credit: Northern Water

    Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:

    Several noteworthy undertakings in 2021 led to a number of achievements for Northern Water, the Municipal Subdistrict, project participants and water users. Milestones include the start of construction on a new reservoir, fire recovery efforts, campus development projects and more. 

    January kicked off with the connection of the Southern Water Supply Project pipeline into the new Eastern Pump Plant. The plant, located near Platteville, increases capacity of the SWSP pipeline to meet the growing demands of users benefitting from the supply.  

    In March, two projects earned awards from the Colorado Contractors Association. The Poudre River Drop Structure earned an award in the best Open Flow Concrete Structure category, and the Cottonwood Siphon earned an annual award as the Best Slipline Project under $6 million.

    The Chimney Hollow Reservoir Project hosted a groundbreaking event on Aug. 6, 2021.

    April 21 marked an exciting milestone for the Chimney Hollow Reservoir Project, as the Municipal Subdistrict reached an agreement with environmental groups to settle ongoing litigation over the project. The $15 million settlement will ultimately fund aquatic habitat enhancements in Grand County. It also allowed construction of Chimney Hollow Reservoir in Larimer County to begin. 

    Northern Water also began construction on multiple aspects of its campus development efforts in May on both the Berthoud campus and new West Slope facility. With growth to our operations and throughout the region, we are in need of additional facilities to meet our collection and delivery efforts, as well as the advancement of new water projects. Phase I construction commenced on May 13 at the Berthoud headquarters and includes new buildings to house the Operations Division, fleet storage, a parking lot expansion and other campus improvements. The West Slope’s Willow Creek Campus near Willow Creek Reservoir will include 41,000 square feet of offices, fleet maintenance space and a control room. The new facility will replace much of the existing office and shop facilities at Farr and Windy Gap pump plants. The project is making significant progress and we expect it to open its doors in August 2022. 

    In June, the first public electric vehicle charging station in Berthoud was installed at our headquarters. The station can provide a full charge to a standard EV in just three to four hours. Northern Water also opened a temporary office at the Grand Lake Center to better serve Grand County residents affected by the 2020 East Troublesome Fire. This location allowed us to work with landowners and assist with watershed recovery efforts. 

    The implementation of our fire recovery efforts took full effect in July. Debris booms were placed in Grand Lake and Willow Creek Reservoir to intercept floating debris from the East Troublesome Fire burn area. Aerial seed and mulch treatments also began at Willow Creek Reservoir. This 15-minute recap video offers a look at the projects completed this year while describing future recovery needs.   

    August found its way into our historical records when Northern Water’s Municipal Subdistrict celebrated the groundbreaking for Chimney Hollow Reservoir on Aug. 6. The ceremony culminated an extensive permitting process that began in 2003. The project includes the construction of a 90,000 acre-foot reservoir situated behind a 350-foot dam – the tallest to be built in the United States in 25 years – all to add resilience to the water supply for more than 500,000 Northeastern Colorado residents.  

    Northern Water was honored with two more awards during October and November, including the 2021 WaterSense Partner of the Year Award and the Colorado Waterwise Gardener Award. Promoting water-efficient products, homes and gardens and continually educating individuals and organizations on the importance of water conservation continues to be a growing part of our mission.  

    As population growth in Northern Colorado persists, we will continue to manage and pursue water projects to ensure an adequate supply of reliable water well into the future.

    Two big — and controversial — #Colorado #water projects want to tap into #DouglasCounty stimulus slosh-funds: With the county asking for ideas on how to spend $68 million from the American Rescue Plan, every dam, pipeline and diversion rushes in — The Colorado Sun

    The South Platte River Basin is shaded in yellow. Source: Tom Cech, One World One Water Center, Metropolitan State University of Denver.

    From The Colorado Sun (Michael Booth):

    Big Colorado water diversion projects itching to get going on long-sought dam and pipeline dreams are rushing to get first in line for thirsty Douglas County’s $68.2 million in federal stimulus money.

    Drinking water dams and pipelines have joined smaller-scale local water treatment and sewage projects, for totaling $247 million of the $280 million in overall stimulus requests in Douglas County so far, a county spokeswoman said. The other categories making up the remainder of the $280 million in proposals include broadband, economic recovery and mental health delivery.

    Some of the biggest requests for Douglas County’s share of American Rescue Plan Act spending come from drinking water developers looking to jumpstart projects that can take decades to complete.

    An $828 million, two-reservoir, 125-miles-of-pipeline project led by Parker’s water department wants $20 to 30 million of Douglas County’s stimulus to jumpstart the engineering and environmental work. The project would pull junior water rights off the South Platte River near Sterling in high runoff years, fill the new reservoirs, and pipe drinking water down to high-growth cities such as Parker, Castle Rock and others…

    A second big request on Douglas County’s plate is a $20 million bid from Renewable Water Resources, which has raised near-unanimous opposition to its proposal to buy up San Luis Valley groundwater, pipe it over the Front Range, and sell it to drinking water providers in Douglas County and other growing communities…

    Douglas County held the first of a planned series of live and streamed town halls discussing the American Rescue Plan requests [December 9, 2021], with staff providing information on each of the $280 million in proposals so far. More town halls are planned for early 2022, county spokeswoman Wendy Manitta Holmes said. County commissioners have months of deliberations to go before they allocate the $68.2 million.

    The ambitious, multi-county water projects could be in for disappointment. County officials are not sure yet what restrictions the U.S. Treasury could put on stimulus spending, Holmes said. County staff has asked the Treasury department to provide more guidance on, for example, whether DougCo’s share of the stimulus could be spent in other counties for sprawling projects like the water diversions.

    Other, simpler water projects making up the bulk of the $247 million in category requests include water treatment, reservoir and pipeline capacity, and sewage disposal, from Highlands Ranch to Sedalia. Seeking citizen input on the biggest priorities is exactly the reason for the extended town halls, Holmes said…

    Parker’s proposal, a joint project with the Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District and Castle Rock’s water department, notes that population growth in Parker alone will balloon the city from 60,000 residents to 160,000 in coming years. The South Platte diversions would fill two new reservoirs to be built in farm and ranch country straddling Interstate 76, one called Iliff and the other, in a Phase 2, called Fremont Butte…

    As for competition from the San Luis Valley pipeline, Redd said, “We’re not real fans of the project.” There are too many political hurdles to the proposal, and the valley is already suffering from water depletion, Redd said.

    Prepping for mountain snowmelt today and tomorrow: Learn how #ClimateChange complicates the spring #runoff season and what @DenverWater is doing about it — News on Tap

    From Denver Water (Jay Adams):

    Managing water collected from the mountain snow’s spring runoff has plenty of challenges — and will become more complex in the future due to climate change.

    “As water planners, we prefer to see predictable weather patterns,” said Nathan Elder, water supply manager at Denver Water. “Unfortunately, every year is different and with climate change we’re seeing more variability and that makes it tougher to manage our water supply.”

    That challenge may be most acute during runoff season, that critical — and brief — window of time when snow melts, flows into streams and fills reservoirs. Climate change may lead to changes in runoff timing that, in turn, require more nimble reservoir operations.

    What’s happening?

    Since the 1960s, average temperatures in Colorado have increased 2.5 degrees, according to the Colorado Water Conservation Board. That change is manifesting in significant ways.

    “We’re seeing more swings between wet and dry years, more variation in year-to-year stream runoff and earlier runoff,” said Laurna Kaatz, climate program manager at Denver Water. “We’re also expecting to see more extreme weather events like extreme heat and enhanced drought, but we could also see more intense rainstorms and flooding especially if heavy rain falls on top of a lot of snow.”

    Timing is everything

    The timing of the snow runoff in Summit County, which is home to Dillon Reservoir, provides an example of how climate change impacts not only water collection but also recreation and flooding.

    Rapid snowmelts caused by rain falling on snow could lead to a greater risk of flooding below Dillon Dam.

    During a gradual runoff, Denver Water can take steps to minimize the risk of flooding below the dam, however, if there are more instances of warm weather combined with rain falling on snow, large amounts of water can fill Dillon quickly and send water through the dam’s overflow spillway. This scenario can lead to high water levels on the Blue River through Silverthorne.

    “We do our best to minimize high flows out of our reservoirs, but if there is a fast runoff, we can only do so much and there’s a greater chance for flooding downstream if there’s a major rain-on-snow event,” Elder said.

    Changes in runoff and precipitation also impact when Dillon Reservoir fills — or doesn’t fill — which plays a role in boating season and water levels for the Dillon and Frisco marinas.

    The timing of the runoff also impacts Denver Water’s ability to make the most of its water rights.

    “Later runoff allows us to use our water rights to match higher customer demand during the summer watering season,” Elder said. “Early runoff means we have to let some water go downstream before we can put it to use on the Front Range. This also impacts how much water we can store for times of drought.”

    When Dillon Reservoir is full, water flows down its overflow spillway into the Blue River. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    Extreme weather events

    Colorado has seen several big swings in weather over the last 20 years, suggesting the kind of uncertainty that may be more pronounced as climate change intensifies and the resulting complexity in managing the snow runoff.

    Most recently, the winter of 2017-2018 was exceptionally dry across the state but was followed by above average snow in 2018-2019.

    The years 2012 through mid-2013 were another period of drought, followed by record flooding in September 2013. Two wet years followed in 2014 and 2015.

    The dramatic weather turnaround in 2002 and 2003 is another example of how extreme weather impacts Denver Water’s water supply and planning.

    Those years marked a major period of drought. In 2003, Denver Water was preparing to have water restrictions and Dillon Reservoir was more than half empty and critically low. But in March 2003, the Front Range and central mountains got hit with a major snowstorm that filled Denver Water’s reservoirs.

    “A drought could last one year or several and then be followed by big snow years,” Elder said.

    “We could get most of our water for the year from one or two big storms, so we have to be prepared for these situations.”

    Swings in weather patterns and extreme events could have Denver Water planning for drought conditions with watering restrictions for customers and end up with a surplus of water after a big storm.

    Cheesman Reservoir during the 2002 drought. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    Planning for climate uncertainty

    Denver Water has relied primarily on historical weather patterns and data to plan for how much water it will collect from mountain streams. Now the utility is incorporating climate change into its long-range preparation through scenario planning.

    “One component of scenario planning involves creating a variety of potential climate scenarios instead of simply assuming patterns will stay the same over the next 50 to 100 years,” said Jeff Bandy, a water resource manager at Denver Water. “This approach helps us plan for potential changes in climate and evaluate our system’s reliability.”

    Denver Water takes data from global climate models and uses the information to create various outcomes on streamflow and precipitation in its water collection system.

    The planning team develops scenarios that include variables such as warmer temperatures, more precipitation and shifts in timing of precipitation, all of which result in changes to volume and timing of runoff in Denver Water’s watersheds.

    “We evaluate the scenarios and determine if future infrastructure projects or operational changes are needed,” Bandy said.

    Denver Water’s entire collection system. Image credit: Denver Water.

    Enhancing data collection

    Denver Water collects water from 4,000 square miles in Colorado’s central mountains and foothills. With such a large area, getting accurate and timely information about weather and streamflow conditions is critical to water supply management.

    “We use a lot of different data sources to manage and forecast water supply and a lot of these data sources are based off historical climate data,” Elder said. “With a changing climate, the current data sources are no longer as reliable as they used to be. This makes it more difficult to manage our reservoirs.”

    In preparation for more weather extremes and variability, Denver Water has begun investing in new technology to get a more accurate picture of the snowpack above Dillon.

    Looking to the south from a plane above Dillon Reservoir in June 2019, during an Airborne Snow Observatory flight to gather data on the snowpack above the reservoir for Denver Water. Photo credit: Quantum Spatial.

    “In April 2019 we used NASA’s Airborne Snow Observatory, which uses a plane, to measure snowpack over the mountains in our watershed,” Elder said. “The more we know about the snow, water content and runoff, the better decisions we can make when it comes to managing our water supply for our customers and the communities where our reservoirs are located.”

    Nathan Elder, Denver Water’s manager of water supply, tracks a variety of factors to keep tabs on the snowpack and water supply. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    What can customers do?

    The best way communities can be prepared for the impacts of climate change is to use water wisely.

    “Our water supply is vulnerable to climate and our customers play a major role in how we manage our system,” Elder said. “That’s why we always ask our customers to be efficient with their water all year long and even in wet years.”

    Water is a limited resource in Colorado so climate change will impact communities on both sides of the Continental Divide.

    “Climate change means water change and that’s important to us all,” Kaatz said. “So, it’s our goal at Denver Water to make sure we’re thinking about it and actively preparing for the changes we’re going to experience.”

    #California, #Arizona and #Nevada in talks on new plan to save #ColoradoRiver water — The Los Angeles Times #COriver #aridification

    Brad Udall: Here’s the latest version of my 4-Panel plot thru Water Year (Oct-Sep) of 2021 of the Colorado River big reservoirs, natural flows, precipitation, and temperature. Data (PRISM) goes back or 1906 (or 1935 for reservoirs.) This updates previous work with
    @GreatLakesPeck.

    From The Los Angeles Times (Ian James):

    Two and a half years after signing a deal aimed at averting a damaging crisis along the Colorado River, water officials from California, Arizona and Nevada are discussing plans to take even less water from the shrinking river and leave it in Lake Mead in an effort to prevent the reservoir from falling to dangerously low levels.

    Representatives of water agencies from the three states said they are firming up the details of a deal that would leave an additional 500,000 acre-feet of water in the reservoir next year, and the same amount again in 2023 — about double the quantity of water used annually by Las Vegas and the rest of southern Nevada.

    For California, the deal would mean participating in water reductions prior to Lake Mead reaching levels that would otherwise trigger mandatory cuts.

    The talks took on urgency this summer after federal projections showed growing risks of Lake Mead falling to critically low levels, despite plans for mandatory cutbacks throughout the Southwest that the states agreed to in 2019.

    With the reservoir in a first-ever shortage and those cuts still insufficient, water management officials settled on a goal of together leaving half a million acre-feet of additional water in the reservoir instead of sending it flowing to farms, cities and tribal lands. The stored water would be roughly as much as 1.5 million average single-family households use in a year.

    “We’ve got to stabilize the lake with this plan,” said Tom Buschatzke, director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources. He said representatives of California, Arizona and Nevada developed the framework of the deal within about two months after they saw projections showing growing risks of Lake Mead dropping to lows that would trigger much larger water reductions in all three states.

    “I think coming together in that short a period of time is indicative of urgency we’re feeling to do more,” Buschatzke said. “If the lake keeps falling, cuts are going to be deeper and deeper and deeper. So I think it’s indicative of the risks.”

    The deal would nearly double the reductions in planned water deliveries next year among the three states beyond those already planned under the 2019 agreement, called the Drought Contingency Plan. This new proposal, dubbed the 500+ Plan, would partially involve securing money to pay some water users to voluntarily relinquish water.

    The water would come from various sources, including farmers who would be paid for leaving portions of their land dry, tribes that would contribute water supplies, and water agencies that would leave some water in Lake Mead instead of taking it out as planned.

    Negotiations on the details are continuing, and officials from California and Arizona said they hope to have the overarching agreement ready to be signed next month at [the Colorado River Water Users Association] conference in Las Vegas.

    Arizona has pledged $40 million toward the deal. Board members of the Southern Nevada Water Authority are scheduled to consider approving up to $20 million in contributions this week.

    The board of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California is scheduled to consider the proposed agreement next month…

    If the details of the proposal come together as planned, 500,000 acre-feet of water over two years would translate into water levels about 16 feet higher in Lake Mead…

    For now, the talks have focused on lining up funds and water for two years. But Buschatzke said it’s intended to be a five-year plan, lasting until the current agreement expires at the end of 2026, by which time the states will need to have negotiated new rules for dealing with shortages.

    If the winter were to bring heavy snow to the Rocky Mountains, it could still help ease the shortages. But the region’s water managers said they’ve decided to plan for more of the dismal runoff they’ve seen in the watershed during the past two years of extreme heat and parched conditions.

    Bill Hasencamp, MWD’s manager of Colorado River resources, said if such extreme dryness persists for another year or two, then Mead could end up at such low levels that cuts would become “unmanageable.”

    […]

    When Buschatzke testified in a congressional hearing on the Colorado River last month, he noted that snowpack in the Colorado River Basin peaked at 89% of average this year, but runoff in the watershed was only 33% of average.

    “This phenomenon is likely the result of the hotter and drier conditions caused by climate change,” Buschatzke said in his written testimony. “This trend is one that water managers must take into account as we plan for the future of the Colorado River.”

    […]

    Since 2000, the Colorado River has been ravaged by a series of mostly dry years, which have been compounded by the heating of the planet with the burning of fossil fuels. In that time, the flow of the Colorado River has declined nearly 20% below the 20th century average.

    Scientists have estimated that about half the decrease in runoff in the watershed since 2000 has been caused by unprecedented warming. And this heat-driven aridification is projected to significantly worsen as temperatures continue to climb.

    Brad Udall, a water and climate scientist at Colorado State University, recently likened the planned water reductions under the existing deal to a parachute — one that is too small and being opened too close to the ground…

    Given the alarming declines in the river’s reservoirs, the flaw with the parachute analogy is that the end of the story would put the parachutist safely on the ground, Udall said.

    “We’re landing on the edge of a cliff, if you will. And there’s still further to fall. We need another parachute here,” Udall said.

    Hopefully that next parachute will be ready well before 2027, he said, when the existing rules expire, and the Southwest needs to have long-term plans in place for adapting to a hotter, drier watershed and a river that yields less water.

    Lake Mead behind Hoover Dam. Lake Mead last month [May 2021] fell to its lowest level since the Hoover Dam was built in 1936. The shoreline has dropped 45 meters since the reservoir was last full in 2000. Photo by Ken Neubecker via American Rivers

    #Colorado issues cease-and-desist order for #Nederland-area mine that’s leaking heavy metals into water — The Colorado Sun

    Barker Meadows Dam Construction

    From The Colorado Sun (Michael Booth):

    Tests at the Cross and Caribou mine that drains into drinking water supplies show elevated levels of lead, cadmium and other toxic minerals, as the state threatens high fines.

    State water quality officials have issued a cease and desist order and threatened substantial fines against owners of the Caribou gold mine above Nederland because of heavy metals leaking into drinking water sources, hammering Grand Island Resources over repeated violations.

    The dripping heavy metals are not a current threat to Middle Boulder Creek, Barker Reservoir or the parts of Boulder County downstream, state officials said. But they ordered the owners to build a new containment and cleanup system, and threatened to impose fines of up to $54,833 per day for each of multiple violations for the toxic metals and for failing to report test results.

    “A notice of violation is one of the most serious actions we take, and I think this shows that we really are committed to protecting the resource up there,” said Kelly Morgan, an environmental protection specialist for water quality in the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. “This is a big deal to us.”

    In a statement from a Nederland address, Grand Island Resources acknowledged the violations, and said that it had been moving since before the state’s notice to solve the problems and “replace the last 50 years of antiquated and obsolete water purification methods and treatments.”

    “We are working hand in hand with federal, state and local agencies. . . to make all the necessary investments and capital improvements that were not made by previous operators of the Cross and Caribou Mines,” the statement said. The company said it has hired a top engineering team to design new water capture and treatment facilities as ordered by the state.

    Nederland wants the Boulder County Commissioners to help monitor the situation, and is keeping careful track of water supplies fed by Coon Track Creek, where the mine discharges water, and downstream waters, town trustee Alan Apt said. Nederland over the summer passed a “natural rights of rivers” resolution for exactly this reason: protecting western Boulder County’s natural resources for the public, he noted…

    The once-thriving mine is near popular backcountry attractions a few miles northwest and northeast of Nederland, including Eldora ski area, to the Rainbow Lakes and Fourth of July trailheads, to the Caribou Ranch Open Space playgrounds…

    Apt said Grand Island wants to increase the amount of ore it mines at Cross and Caribou and hopes to build an ore crushing and processing plant at the site…

    The company’s attorney Ed Byrne said Boulder County approved an ore processing facility in 2008 and Grand Island still plans to build it, which would save dozens of truck trips a day…

    In terms of how high the eventual fines might be, Byrne said, “there was no chemical spill or release of ore processing water. The higher fine levels are typically reserved for damaging or reckless releases, not rare exceedances of stringent numerical aquatic life standards.”

    […]

    The state’s cease and desist order says mine owners failed to make some required pollutant reports in March and April of this year. When the state looked deeper, it found pollutant violations in those months but also many more alleged violations before and after, spanning a period of December 2020 through August 2021.

    In April, for example, Cross/Caribou self-reported copper traces of 50 micrograms per liter of water, when the state standard is a daily maximum of 20. In January, the mine reported lead of 10 micrograms per liter, when the state 30-day average limit was 3.8. The state’s order charges the mine with violating the Colorado Water Quality Control Act. The notice of violations and cease and desist order in early November say the state is continuing to investigate and may have “additional enforcement actions.”

    […]

    Grand Island Resources must also answer to the state’s Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety, and will be subject to a hearing in front of the division’s board in mid-December. The company was trying to make improvements in recent months, Morgan said, but the state hasn’t found them effective…

    The violations related to failing to report tainted water were not intentional, Byrne, the company’s attorney, said. Some were “a misinterpretation on our part of the state reporting protocols,” he said, and others were related to weather delaying timely deliveries to a lab in Montana.

    Greeley wastewater plant uses the (nitrification) force for sustainability — City of #Greeley

    Wastewater treatment basin construction. Photo credit: City of Greeley

    From the City of Greeley:

    There’s a feeding frenzy going on in east Greeley and it has nothing to do with cows. Rather, Greeley’s “bugs” are chomping away while keeping the city’s wastewater environmentally sustainable.

    These bugs — what our wastewater treatment operators lovingly refer to as the “Nitrifiers” and PAOs — have been happy little workers for decades. But soon, their microscopic lives will change for the better.

    Wastewater treatment basin construction. Photo credit: City of Greeley

    Keeping the bugs happy

    Let’s face it, cleaning wastewater has never been glamorous, but these bugs might as well have a red carpet to an all-star premiere where they will munch away in the all-you-can-eat line at the buffet. Put simply, the city is working to expand their buffet table. In wastewater terms, the city is building new treatment basins where microorganisms that make up the city’s nitrifying force can eat more alongside a lot more friends.

    Removing nutrients to meet new state regulation

    A new regulation, also known as “Reg. 85” by the Water Quality Control Division, mandates that municipalities work even harder to reduce the amount of “nutrients” that are put back into bodies of water such as the Poudre River after treatment at the Greeley Wastewater Treatment and Reclamation Facility. There, the waste is cleaned and filtered out, with remaining treated water pumped back downstream of the Poudre River.

    The regulation mandates municipalities reduce nitrogen and phosphorous levels in their effluent (treated wastewater). Nutrients — nitrogen and phosphorous — are byproducts of human and animal waste and common fertilizers. Excess nutrients in water creates blooms of algae, which use up the oxygen in the water that marine life need to survive. Too much algae can kill off an entire food chain in bodies of water such as the growing ‘dead zone’ in the Gulf of Mexico.

    Creating the right conditions for biology to work

    The city’s job is to keep the feeding frenzy going, using biology to keep the algae fuel to a minimum. In the right conditions, monitored 24/7, nitrifiers and PAOs (phosphorous accumulating organisms) feed on the nutrients present in the municipal waste. That leads them through a complex biological process in which the nitrifiers convert ammonia into nitrogen gas, which is released into the atmosphere. PAOs collect phosphorus in the waste and congeals where operators can remove it. That is later applied to agricultural land as fertilizer.

    Construction of new basins to meet regulation

    To meet the new requirements, the city is undertaking a $35.5 million construction project at the WTRF. Greeley is constructing specialized treatment basins that will upgrade the site’s organic treatment capacity. The city also is rerouting the water flow in the basins, allowing the ability to take a basin off line while keeping the bugs happy and complying with the new state regulations. This is the first phase of scheduled plant improvements through 2036.

    What the construction and enhancements do now to remove more nutrients will potentially earn the city extra time before having to implement even stricter nutrient removal guidelines that will come into play in the future.

    Treating wastewater is getting more complicated, but Greeley operators are on top of making the entire process more environmentally sustainable so not only the state but Mother Nature can be happy – just like the bugs.

    #Aurora and other #Colorado communities push past ‘toilet-to-tap’ reluctancy — The Aurora Sentinel

    Prairie Waters schematic via Aurora Water.

    From The Associated Press (Brittany Peterson and Sam Metz):

    hen Aurora buys one bucket of water, it’s really buying multiple buckets of water. Each drop of water will likely be used over and over again.

    The growing city approaching 400,000 residents isn’t interested so much in acquiring single-use water anymore, said Greg Baker, spokesperson for Aurora Water. With its Prairie Waters potable reuse system, Aurora can recapture and reuse about 95% of the city’s water, so having multiple uses written into water rights agreements has become a top priority as water rights are likened to gold in the West — expensive and often hard to come by.

    Aurora’s method — sterilizing wastewater from toilets, sinks and factories and then piping it back into homes and businesses as tap water — is catching on across the U.S.

    In the Los Angeles area, plans to recycle wastewater for drinking are moving along with little fanfare just two decades after similar efforts in the city sparked such a backlash they had to be abandoned. The practice, which must meet federal drinking water standards, has been adopted in several places around the country, including nearby Orange County…

    The shifting attitudes around a concept once dismissively dubbed “toilet to tap” come as dry regions scramble for ways to increase water supplies as their populations boom and climate change intensifies droughts. Other strategies gaining traction include collecting runoff from streams and roads after storms, and stripping seawater of salt and other minerals, a process that’s still relatively rare and expensive.

    Though there are still only about two dozen communities in the U.S. using some form of recycled water for drinking, that number is projected to more than double in the next 15 years, according to WateReuse, a group that helps cities adopt such conservation practices.

    In most places that do it, the sterilized water is usually mixed back into a lake, river or other natural source before being reused — a step that helps make the idea of drinking treated sewage go down easier for some.

    In Aurora, the process is thanks to the Prairie Waters system, which was opened in 2010. It starts south of Weld County along the Platte River, where Aurora holds water rights that can be used “to extinction,” meaning nearly endlessly.

    “Essentially, this means that the water residents use for washing, laundry, showering, as well as some of the water from lawn watering, stays in the South Platte River Basin,” Aurora Water explains…

    A few dozen wells on the basin pull water through hundreds of feet of sand and gravel to purify the water. Next, the water is pumped into basins of more sand and gravel where filtration continues. Finally, pipes take the water to three different pump stations, which lift the water 1,000 feet over a ridge and back to the Peter D. Binney Purification Facility, near Aurora Reservoir.

    From there the water is treated and pumped back out to the city’s thousands of homes and businesses, where the cycle begins all over again…

    Currently, the facility treats about 50 million gallons of water each day…

    Funding for more wastewater recycling projects is on the way. The bipartisan infrastructure bill passed by Congress has $1 billion for water reuse projects in the West, including the $3.4 billion project in Southern California.

    And tucked into the federal budget reconciliation package being debated is $125 million in grants for alternative water sources nationwide that could include reuse technologies.

    Plans for expansion of the Aurora Prairie Waters project are ever-evolving and so there isn’t a build out budget attached, Baker said.

    Colorado launches #PFAS takeback, emergency grant programs — @WaterEdCO

    PFAS contamination in the U.S. via ewg.org. [Click the map to go to the website.]

    From Water Education Colorado (Jerd Smith):

    This fall Colorado has launched two new programs, one aimed at removing firefighting foam containing so-called “forever chemicals” from fire departments, military bases and other properties and an emergency grant program aimed at helping communities where the chemicals have appeared in drinking water.

    The chemicals, known broadly as PFAS or poly- and per-fluoroalkyl substances, have long lifespans and have been linked to certain cancers. Contained in such common substances as Teflon and Scotchguard, they are also widely used to fight fires, particularly those involving jet fuel.

    “We’re learning more every day about PFAS and its exposure in our environment,” said Erin Garcia, a spokeswoman with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE).

    Widefield aquifer via the Colorado Water Institute.

    The unregulated substances were once thought to be rare, but since at least 2015 have shown up at alarming levels in communities such as Fountain and Security, where groundwater was contaminated by runoff from the nearby Peterson Air Force Base. Those two communities were forced to shut down their water systems, find temporary substitute supplies, and build new treatment systems.

    The chemicals have also been found in groundwater wells that serve Commerce City and in areas near the Suncor Refinery in Adams County and Buckley Air Force Base in Aurora, among other sites.

    Two years ago, as more testing revealed more contaminated sites, the CDPHE vowed to boost its oversight. Since then the Colorado Legislature has provided the health department with more authority and money to combat the problem, including conducting surveys to identify contaminated sites and drinking water systems, and providing as much as $8 million to buy contaminated firefighting foam and store it, and to help communities whose water has been tainted by the compounds.

    Sugarloaf Mountain fire station.

    Dozens of fire departments, military facilities, water utilities, and commercial properties as diverse as hotels and apartment complexes, are now monitoring and testing for the substances.

    As Colorado has ramped up its oversight, last month the EPA announced it would begin work on a regulation that will, for the first time, set a limit on PFAS compounds in drinking water. It is set to be available for public review next fall and would be finalized by the fall of 2023.

    Ron Falco, CDPHE’s safe drinking water program manager, said he’s pleased the EPA is moving to regulate PFAS, but he said fast action is critical.

    “We want the EPA to hit that timeline,” he said.

    The South Adams County Water and Sanitation District, which serves Commerce City, is watching the state’s progress carefully. It discovered PFAS contamination in 2018 when it began testing voluntarily for the substances after the crises in Fountain and Security.

    It already had in place a carbon filtering system and was able to strengthen it to reduce PFAS contamination in its system to 35 parts per trillion (ppt), half of the EPA’s voluntary 70 ppt guideline. It also had to shut down wells whose contamination levels were so high, 2400 ppt, that no amount of carbon filtering could remove the chemicals fast enough to keep the drinking water safe.

    “The key here is that we can treat the current levels,” said Kipp Scott, manager of drinking systems at the South Adams County district, but better treatment will be needed once the federal regulation takes effect.

    And that means the district will need to install a new system that uses an ion exchange technology to remove the chemicals. Its estimated cost is $70 million. Scott said the district hopes the state’s emergency grant fund and new federal infrastructure dollars will help cover the cost.

    “I hope this moves in the right direction, and we can continue to provide safe water to our customers,” Scott said.

    Jerd Smith is editor of Fresh Water News. She can be reached at 720-398-6474, via email at jerd@wateredco.org or @jerd_smith.

    Uncompahgre Valley slated for a second #water supply source by 2025 — The #Montrose Daily Press

    Ridgway Reservoir during winter

    From The Montrose Daily Press (Cassie Knust):

    When Project 7 began drawing up plans for a water resiliency program in 2019, its leaders didn’t plan to invest in connecting a raw water line from the Ridgway Reservoir to a new treatment plant in Ridgway.

    The new treatment plant and water line would be designed so additional capacity can be added in the future, allowing a maximum capacity of approximately 10 million gallons per day, more than a 30% increase in drinking water supply for the region.

    The plan to construct the Regional Water Supply Program in conjunction with the Ridgway Water Treatment Plant is a decision driven by water supply security. The project will add a second water source to the region while serving all Project 7 members.

    The valley hasn’t yet experienced water supply interruption, but Project 7 intends to stay ahead of a slew of risks that could potentially affect over 50,000 people and thousands of local businesses.

    The new treatment plant would allow direct access to existing water rights in the Ridgway Reservoir while building a system resilient to wildfire, drought and transmission interruptions in the Gunnison Tunnel.

    Project 7 Water Authority is a wholesale water treatment provider that supplies to the City of Montrose, City of Delta, Town of Olathe, Tri-County Water Conservancy District and the Menoken and Chipeta water districts, although each entity owns its own water rights.

    Although geographically the second smallest entity in the cooperative by size, the City of Montrose uses roughly 50% of the water supply due to population density, with about 8,000 residents using water services from Project 7…

    As it stands, the Gunnison River remains the only water supply source for the region, with one treatment facility to provide to the six entities within the cooperative.

    The cooperative projected the overhead cost of the project to be between $50 – $70 million. The estimate includes the raw water line, but will become more specific as the design process progresses, said Miles Graham, spokesman for the resiliency program.

    City of Montrose customers will see an increase in water rates on Jan. 1, 2022, due in part to Project 7’s elevated fees. Huggins noted that the impact of increasing wholesale rates for customers depends largely on the size and budget of the district…

    Montrose residential water bills will increase by $4.86 per 3,000 gallons of water used per month and increase $1.35 per 1,000 gallons used per month, due in part to the water supplier raising its own fees by 15%.

    At this stage in the planning process, it’s impossible to predict the cost for each entity without knowing the ultimate program cost or the amount of outside state and federal support, said Graham.

    By using a uniform rate structure for all entities to provide local funding, the cost will be shared equally throughout the valley and supplemented by aggressively seeking grants and low-interest loans.

    As the process moves forward, the team will be able to test and determine which treatment technology is best for the new plant and raw water line, as well as finding opportunities to make use of existing water distribution infrastructure near the new facility site.

    The cost may be higher to build the raw water line, but overall, the cost to run and operate will be lower since the water quality leaving the reservoir will provide a stable water supply, Huggins noted. The water will also be easier to treat, with less influence from rain events washing mud and silt in the river that have to be removed, allowing for mitigated operation costs…

    Water treatment plants often use electrical backup generators that run on diesel or natural gas, which is typically banned in the event of a wildfire, the engineer said. Because a gas-run generator on a tank of fuel presents a dangerous risk, utility companies usually shut off any natural gas in the area if a wildfire is present.

    “So if you think about an emergency situation, having the ability to bring water down to this site and continue operations at the plant without having to pump it up from the river made a lot of sense. [It’s] a more sustainable solution than the other options for getting water to the site.”

    Construction for the project is expected to begin in 2023. The new water line and treatment plan is slated to go online by 2025.

    For more information on Project 7 and the resiliency program project, visit https://www.project7water.org/

    Fort Collins-area #water districts investigate ‘ongoing acts of sabotage’ — The #FortCollins Coloradoan

    South Fort Collins Sanitation District treatment facility.

    From The Fort Collins Coloradoan (Jacy Marmaduke):

    Fort Collins-Loveland Water District and South Fort Collins Sanitation District said they are working with law enforcement to investigate “ongoing acts of sabotage from unknown parties” that have reportedly caused serious harm to district and employee property.

    The alleged acts of sabotage are tampering with critical pump stations, emptying of primary storage tanks and fire hydrants, and malicious vandalism of employee property, the districts said in a news release. The first instance was discovered in September 2019 and may have occurred prior to that time, and the issues have continued since then, according to district officials.

    District leaders are asking anyone with information about the incidents to contact local law enforcement or email communications@fclwd.com. The districts want to hear about any suspicious activity at district hydrants, tanks and pump stations.

    The quality of water and reclamation services delivered by the districts haven’t been compromised, leaders said, and district infrastructure is safe. The districts are working with legal counsel, outside advisers and law enforcement to investigate the activities, which district officials said are felony criminal offenses…

    It’s not clear which law enforcement agencies are involved in the referenced investigation. The districts wouldn’t answer that question. Representatives of Larimer County Sheriff’s Office and Loveland Police Department said their agencies aren’t involved, and Fort Collins Police Service representatives said they assisted with an investigation in 2019 but haven’t been involved recently. The Coloradoan also reached out to the FBI but hadn’t received a response as of Friday afternoon…

    District officials said they haven’t been able to share information publicly until now because of the sensitive nature of the investigation. They added they’ve invested in more advanced equipment to prevent situations like this one from happening again. A dedicated FAQ about the investigation is posted at http://fclwd.com/saysomething.

    New projects take shape along High Line Canal: @DenverWater pledges $10M to long-term care of the historic canal — News on Tap

    From News on Tap (Jay Adams):

    When Denver’s early settlers built the High Line Canal back in the 1880s, little did they know what the future would hold for the 71-mile man-made waterway that stretches from Waterton Canyon southwest of Littleton all the way to Aurora.

    The High Line Canal was originally designed to deliver irrigation water to farmers on the dry plains of Denver. While Denver Water still owns and uses the canal to deliver irrigation water to customers, the canal corridor also has grown into a recreational asset and an ecological resource for the metro area.

    On the recreational side, each year around 500,000 people walk, run and ride the canal’s 71-mile maintenance road that also serves as a popular trail. As an ecological resource, some sections of the canal structure itself are now being used for stormwater management.

    The High Line Canal is an irrigation ditch built in the 1880s. Denver Water still uses the canal to deliver irrigation water to customers when conditions allow. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    The evolution of the public’s use of the canal for recreation and stormwater management, along with its original role as a water delivery method, is one of the reasons why Denver Water and regional partners, including cities, counties, park and flood districts and stormwater management entities, have partnered with the High Line Canal Conservancy. The nonprofit organization’s mission is to preserve, protect and enhance the 71-mile canal in partnership with the public.

    Denver Water plays an active role in the ongoing discussions about the canal’s future as it continues to serve its High Line customers. Because the canal has a junior water right and experiences high seepage and evaporation losses over large distances, Denver Water is looking for more reliable and efficient ways to deliver water to some of the High Line customers.

    The High Line Canal in operation in May 2021. The canal is an inefficient means of delivering water long distances. It can get clogged with debris and loses 60% to 80% of its water to the ground due to seepage. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    “As the canal’s role in the metro area evolves, Denver Water is committed to making sure it remains a beneficial asset to the community,” said Jeannine Shaw, government relations manager at Denver Water. “That’s why in 2020, the Denver Water Board of Commissioners approved a historic $10 million pledge to the High Line Canal Conservancy to invest in the long-term care and maintenance of the canal corridor.”

    Included in the pledge is a piece of property and an office building located adjacent to the canal in Centennial for the Conservancy to use as its new headquarters.

    The High Line Canal Conservancy’s new headquarters is located along the canal in Centennial. Denver Water provided the building to the nonprofit as part of a financial pledge in 2021. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    As part of this evolution, the Conservancy, Denver Water and canal stakeholders are creating a new management structure called the Canal Collaborative to formally connect the regional partners as they guide the future of the canal.

    Representatives from the Canal Collaborative pose with supporters for a picture to celebrate their work. Photo credit: High Line Canal Conservancy.

    “The collaborative helps us do more together than any one entity can do alone,” said Suzanna Fry Jones, senior director of programs and partnerships for the High Line Canal Conservancy. “The collaborative management structure will ensure this treasured resource is preserved, protected and enhanced as a regional legacy for future generations.”

    The formalized structure will benefit citizens and the environment along all 71 miles of the canal as it winds its way through Denver as well as Adams, Arapahoe and Douglas counties.

    The Canal Collaborative includes the High Line Canal Conservancy, Denver Water, Arapahoe and Douglas counties, the cities of Aurora, Denver, Cherry Hills Village, Greenwood Village and Littleton, the Highlands Ranch Metro District, the Mile High Flood District, the Southeast Metro Stormwater Authority and South Suburban Parks and Recreation.

    Read about the different canals that carry water through Denver Water’s complex system.

    “The collaborative is important because we need to have a group that brings together all of the jurisdictions so we can hear from each one of those entities and their communities about what’s most important to them,” said Nancy Sharpe, Arapahoe County Commissioner for District 2, which includes Centennial, Greenwood Village, a portion of Aurora and unincorporated central Arapahoe County.

    The Conservancy was formed in 2014 and has developed “The Plan for the High Line Canal,” which lays out guidance for repurposing the corridor along with over 100 recommendations for new projects.

    Here’s a look at some of the developments along the canal in recent years.

    Ecological resource

    Under the new Stormwater Transformation and Enhancement Program, High Line Canal partners are looking at ways to allow and move stormwater through areas of the canal to improve water quality and manage local flooding in the South Platte River Basin. This is in addition to the canal’s existing irrigation delivery purposes.

    Stormwater is any rain and snow that eventually flows off any impervious surface and into the canal.

    Several structures have been built in or on the side of the canal to help manage the flow of stormwater through the channel.

    The new structures that are located on the side of the canal help improve drainage on city streets and collect debris and trash before water enters the canal.

    The structures being built inside the canal also help catch and stop debris and trash from flowing down the channel. They also temporarily slow down and detain water to filter out sediment.

    These structures are designed to improve water quality before the water reaches receiving streams. Moving stormwater through the canal could provide an additional 100 days that the canal could be wet in some parts of the channel, which would benefit vegetation along the corridor while also enhancing the recreational user experience.

    “Often times across the country, old utility and railroad corridors become degraded once their primary uses have been reduced, so we’re happy to see areas of the High Line Canal being maximized and transformed into green infrastructure,” Shaw said.

    The City of Littleton built a stormwater management system on Windemere Street. Snow and rain drain through a grate on the street and into a pipe that flows into the High Line Canal. Photo credit: Denver Water.
    The City and County of Denver built four “drive-through forebays” at the end of several streets next to the High Line Canal across from Eisenhower Park. Before the structures were built, stormwater would flow uncontrolled and unfiltered into the canal. The forebays act as pre-treatment structures that will slow water down and allow sediment and trash to settle onto the street before entering the canal. Photo credit: Denver Water.
    The City and County of Denver built three concrete structures called water quality berms in the canal. This structure in the canal at Wellshire Golf Course will control the flow of water and catch trash and debris, making it easier to remove while providing cleaner water. Photo credit: Denver Water.
    A new water quality berm with a headgate in the High Line Canal at Eisenhower Park in Denver. The berm temporarily detains stormwater to promote filtration of sediment before water passes through to improve water quality in the canal’s receiving streams. Photo credit: High Line Canal Conservancy.
    When the High Line Canal is not in operation, gates are fully opened at stream crossings. This allows stormwater that’s been filtered in the canal to go into receiving streams such as Big Dry Creek at deKoevend Park in Centennial. Big Dry Creek eventually flows into the South Platte River. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    Along with Littleton and Denver, stormwater projects are also being implemented in Centennial, Douglas County and Greenwood Village with additional projects in progress. Learn more about the Stormwater Transformation and Enhancement Program in this video.

    Denver Water and its regional partners also are exploring other opportunities to allow the canal structure to be used. In areas where it has adequate stormwater capacity the canal could provide additional benefits to the neighboring communities and their surrounding environment to improve water quality in the South Platte River basin.

    “As we navigate the evolving future for the lands the High Line Canal irrigates, Denver Water is excited to further the work with our regional partners to find additional utility for this cherished resource,” Shaw said.

    The High Line Canal in September 2021, near the South Quebec Way trailhead in southeast Denver. The canal is dry most of the year when not in operation for irrigation deliveries. Moving stormwater through the channel improves water quality and could add an additional 100 days when the canal could be wet in some parts of the canal. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    Tree canopy health

    There are more than 23,000 mature trees along the High Line Canal, but many are at the end of their life span. The Conservancy is working with Denver Water and regional partners to remove dead trees and trim others to improve overall tree health and safety along the canal’s recreational trail.

    To maintain the canal’s urban forest, the Conservancy’s Plan recommends planting 3,500 new trees by 2030. The species of trees being planted will be more drought tolerant than many of the old cottonwood trees currently along the canal.

    In the fall of 2021, the Conservancy, along with the support of local volunteers and The Park People, planted 175 new, drought-tolerant trees. Photo credit: High Line Canal Conservancy.

    Trail improvements

    A major goal of the Conservancy and the Canal Collaborative is to make it easier, safer and more fun to walk or ride on the canal’s recreational trail. The Conservancy is working with local jurisdictions to add new pedestrian bridges, trailheads, underpasses, mile markers and wayfinding signs.

    A biker rides through the new underpass that goes under South Colorado Boulevard and East Hampden Avenue next to Wellshire Golf Course in south Denver. The project provides a critical connection to allow safe passage under two busy streets, resulting in easier trail access and encouraging more users. The collaborative project was funded by the City and County of Denver, Cherry Hills Village and Arapahoe County along with funds from the federal government. Photo credit: Denver Water.
    A new sign along the High Line Canal trail in Aurora installed in 2021 provides a map to help trail users navigate the corridor. Photo credit: Denver Water.
    Arapahoe County Open Spaces opened a new trailhead on South Quebec Way in southeast Denver. The site includes parking, a bathroom, a trash can and a trail map. Adding new trailheads is major goal of the High Line Canal Conservancy to improve access and facilities for the public. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    Canal Improvement Zones

    Under The Plan, the Conservancy has worked with the community and jurisdictional partners to identify nine Canal Improvement Zones. These are locations where residents asked for trail enhancements to increase physical activity, foster community connections and create access points to nature.

    Many of the sites are in diverse neighborhoods where the canal corridor has been historically under-utilized and lacked investment.

    Enhancements may include pedestrian bridges, improved trail access, benches, signs, gathering spots and play areas.

    The first location to see new projects is the Laredo Highline neighborhood in Aurora, thanks to a $180,000 grant from the Colorado Health Foundation and an additional $180,000 from Arapahoe County.

    A rendering of enhancements to the High Line Canal trail in Aurora’s Laredo Highline neighborhood. The enhancements include a new pedestrian bridge to improve trail access and new play and seating areas. Image credit: High Line Canal Conservancy.

    “I grew up in the Laredo Highline neighborhood and the canal has always helped bring the community together,” said Aurora resident Janak Garg. “We’re really looking forward to the new bridge and other improvements coming to the neighborhood.”

    Janak Garg and his family stand at the spot where a new pedestrian bridge will be built across the canal in Aurora’s Laredo Highline neighborhood. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    New mile markers

    A very noticeable and welcome improvement to the trail is the addition of new mile markers. In the past, there were a variety of mile markers with different mileage from each jurisdiction, which made it confusing for hikers and bikers.

    Now there are new Colorado red sandstone mile markers that line the trail from start to finish, paid for through donations by the Conservancy’s founding partners.

    Most of the markers have a quote or message from the founding partners, like Al Galperin who lives near the South Quebec Way Trailhead, whose message reads: “Be the reason someone smiles today.”

    “I hope it brings a little bit of extra joy to people on the trail,” Galperin said. “It’s nice to be able to help out and see all the new features coming to the canal.”

    Al Galperin and his dog Brody stand next to one of the new mile markers along the High Line Canal trail. Galperin is one of the High Line Canal Conservancy’s Founding Partners who made a donation to help fund the mile marker project. Photo caption: Denver Water.

    “It’s inspiring to see all these improvements and we’re excited for the future of the canal,” Shaw said. “The Conservancy and all of the partners are doing a great job leading the way and working with Denver Water and the community.”

    Denver Water crews participate with volunteers to help clean up the canal in Aurora in April 2021. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    Visit highlinecanal.org to sign up for monthly emails for information on events throughout the year. The website also provides information about history of the canal, new projects and volunteer opportunities.

    Tighter regulations for Suncor refinery on the way, #Colorado public health officials say: The new permit would be more restrictive than the old one, says Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment — The #Denver Post

    The Suncor refinery in Commerce City is pictured on Sand Creek near where it meets the South Platte River. Both streams have highly challenged water quality, though many conservationists argue they can get still better. Photo credit: Suncor

    From The Denver Post (Conrad Swanson):

    Following repeated pollution violations this year and calls to shut down the Suncor Energy oil refinery in Commerce City, Colorado health officials are seeking to renew the facility’s water quality permit, albeit with tighter restrictions.

    The refinery has been allowed to operate on expired permits because the company applied to renew them before they lapsed. And now officials with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment are considering a new water quality permit for the facility, spokeswoman Erin Garcia said in a release.

    The new permit would be more restrictive than the old one, Garcia said, and aims to better protect Sand Creek and downstream waters. The permit would also require more transparency surrounding the refinery’s operations and impose more pollution monitoring requirements and limits for toxic metals and chemicals.

    Suncor would be required to conduct “frequent” site inspections ensure that drinking water moving through its property remains safe, bolster its maintenance operations and alert people by text message if or when a spill occurs…

    But the draft permit isn’t finished yet, so state officials are soliciting public input. The department will host a virtual meeting Thursday between 6:30 p.m. and 8 a.m. to review current details of the draft permit. In addition the department will accept public feedback on the draft through Feb. 10, 2022. Additional details and public comment sections can be found online at http://cdphe.colorado.gov.

    The facility has repeatedly violated pollution standards, even after state health officials boasted last year of fining the company up to $9 million for violations in 2017. Between March 27 and April 22 of this year, the refinery exceeded pollution limits 15 times, emitting too-high levels of hydrogen sulfide, carbon monoxide and sulfur dioxide…

    State officials are also currently considering an air quality permit for the refinery, which would allow more of some types of pollution and crack down on others, The Denver Post reported in May. That proposed permit would raise permissible limits of volatile organic compounds that form ground-level ozone by 138 tons per year and allow 11 tons more particulate soot a year. It would, however, reduce sulfur dioxide and carbon monoxide…

    In the bigger picture, however, Suncor has pledged to invest $300 million in the refinery before 2023 to make the facility “better, not bigger.” To that end, Adesanya told The Post in September that the company installed an automated shutdown system in part of the plant last year and will upgrade the rest of the facility with similar technology by the end of next year.

    The #Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment alleges #waterquality violations by #Boulder County mining company — Colorado Newsline

    South Boulder Creek near the East Portal of the Moffat Tunnel via Jason Lee Davis

    Colorado water quality regulators have issued a cease and desist order to the owner of two hard-rock mines located just outside the town of Nederland, alleging the mines have discharged potentially hazardous pollutants well in excess of permitted levels into nearby watersheds.

    The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s Water Quality Control Division issued a notice of violation on Nov. 5 to Grand Island Resources, LLC, which acquired the Cross and Caribou Mines in western Boulder County after the death of former owner and miner Tom Hendricks in 2020.

    The violation notice came after a series of compliance advisories were sent to the company over the summer. The November notice alleges a failure to comply with current water quality standards, citing multiple excess effluent discharges of heavy metals during the months of December 2020 to August 2021, as well as a failure to comply with required reporting of additional water pollutants.

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    Pollutants listed in the violation for exceeding the daily or monthly limits included lead, copper, zinc, silver and cadmium, with the self-monitored data showing several occasions where effluent discharges exceeded levels by up to three or four times the permitted amounts. 

    Grand Island Resources is currently permitted through the state to release treated wastewater via one outfall into Coon Track Creek within the specified effluent limits. The need to stay within these limits is underscored by the fact that the small creek serves as a tributary in the Boulder Creek watershed, ultimately joining another creek through the town of Nederland and flowing into the Barker Reservoir, one of several potable water sources for the city of Boulder.

    In high concentrations, heavy metals are well documented to cause impacts to the environment and human health, including the ability to accumulate in the body over time and cause disease. Critically, the 2021 report of Boulder’s drinking water quality — which employs data from 2020 — reported no violations for lead or copper levels, and no public health advisories have been issued to date.

    Direct water quality testing for the natural spring located off Caribou Road — a spring often utilized by locals and recreational visitors — was not immediately available, nor was the immediate source of the spring known. 

    Representatives of Grand Island Resources did not respond to requests for comment.

    This is not the first time compliance advisories or notices of violations have been issued by CDPHE for the Cross and Caribou Mines. Publicly available documents show repeated enforcement actions regarding either excess effluent discharge or a failure to comply with reporting standards of treated wastewater dating back to the 1980s under previous ownership. 

    The current notice of violation for heavy metal water contaminants comes as Grand Island Resources is seeking revision of its current state permit, having filed for review with the Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety, a branch of the state Department of Natural Resources, on Feb. 8. No determination has been made to date, with a pending response required from the mining company to proceed. At the same time, the notice of violation has been scheduled for a hearing before the Colorado Mined Land Reclamation Board on Dec. 15 to 16. 

    Grand Island Resources is also currently operating under a special use development agreement with the county of Boulder, according to Jesse Rounds, a senior planner with Boulder County Community Planning and Permitting. Rounds explained that this agreement is separate from the state mining permit and was acquired in the transfer of mine ownership. 

    According to Rounds, so long as the existing agreement is upheld, the agreement remains in place indefinitely. However, the county is now currently reviewing if the requested modifications to the state would continue to uphold the existing special use agreement, or if a full special use review may be necessary.

    The Cross and Caribou Mines were once estimated to potentially be worth billions of dollars in gold, raising questions as to the long-term scale of mining to be conducted by the new company, and the subsequent implications for Boulder County.

    Mining has had an enormous impact on Nederland’s history,” Nederland Mayor Kris Larsen said in an interview. “It’s why our town exists in the first place, and I have no doubt that it will continue to be part of our future as the demand for domestically sourced minerals is only going to grow. But it can’t be done like it’s been done. It has to be done in a responsible way that protects our air, water, and common environment.”

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    Colorado Newsline is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Colorado Newsline maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Quentin Young for questions: info@coloradonewsline.com. Follow Colorado Newsline on Facebook and Twitter.

    Denver Water reaches Gross Reservoir settlement, but #water supply concerns remain — The #Denver Post #SouthPlatteRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    Gross Reservoir. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    From The Denver Post (Conrad Swanson):

    The utility will pay millions to mitigate environmental concerns for Boulder County residents

    The county received assurances Denver Water would pay to mitigate environmental damages expected from the work, but the deal still left Commissioner Matt Jones “heartsick.” He said commissioners fought for the best deal possible but he’s still concerned about the damage the project could do locally and for the millions of people who depend on the Colorado River…

    Climate scientists and legal experts said they’re skeptical the parched Colorado River will provide enough water for Denver Water to fill an expanded Gross Reservoir. And even if the water’s there, the expansion and other projects like it will inevitably worsen water shortages on Colorado’s Western Slope and downstream, they said.

    Utility officials, however, hailed the settlement and said that while they won’t be able to fill the reservoir every year — which they’ve known all along — years with above-average precipitation will provide more than enough water.

    “We’re gonna fill the reservoir,” Denver Water Project Manager Jeff Martin said.

    Climate change is trending in the wrong direction for such strong confidence, cautioned Mark Squillace, the Raphael J. Moses Professor of Natural Resource Law at the University of Colorado Law School.

    “This just seems a bit insane to me that Denver Water is unwilling to acknowledge” that climate change is only likely to worsen water shortages on the Western Slope, Squillace said.

    Martin said he still expects to break ground on the five-year, $464 million project by April…

  • Denver Water will pay $5 million to residents most impacted by the work and agreed to reduce noise and dust from the project using electric rather than diesel generators.
  • Denver Water’s drivers must complete bicycle awareness training, provide “truck free” days for cyclists and “leave Gross Dam Road in a better condition than before the project.”
  • Denver Water will pay $5.1 million to replace open space lands that would be flooded by the reservoir expansion and transfer 70 acres near Walker Ranch Open Space to Boulder County.
  • Denver Water will pay $1.5 million to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the project and another $1 million to restore a stretch along South St. Vrain Creek.
  • Squillace said while those terms might benefit county residents, it’s still not enough and he was disappointed to hear commissioners agreed to settle.

    “We were between a rock and a hard place,” Jones said. “We were pushed into this corner of knowing that and trying to figure out what we could get for Boulder County residents…

    Martin said he and others at Denver Water expect to be able to fill the expanded reservoir in average and above-average years. South Boulder Creek, which is not part of the Colorado River system, also feeds into the reservoir and could supplement water in dry years on the Western Slope, he noted…

    [David] Bahr suggested Denver Water could instead pipe in water from the Missouri River or other places in the Midwest that are expected to see more water in the coming years. While Martin said those types of ideas could be explored for the more distant future, Denver Water officials maintain that an expanded Gross Reservoir is the best course of action for now.

    The project could still come to a halt, Squillace said. The more delays the work faces, the more climate data will be available, increasing political pressure for Denver Water to seek another way to secure its water supply.

    “I’m still not so convinced that the project’s ever going to actually be built,” he said.

    Brad Udall: Here’s the latest version of my 4-Panel plot thru Water Year (Oct-Sep) of 2021 of the Colorado River big reservoirs, natural flows, precipitation, and temperature. Data (PRISM) goes back or 1906 (or 1935 for reservoirs.) This updates previous work with
    @GreatLakesPeck.

    Taxpayer group sues #water district over mill levy increase: Plaintiffs claim Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District is in violation of state’s #TABOR amendment — The #FortMorgan Times

    Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District boundary map.

    From The Fort Morgan Times (Jeff Rice):

    A Colorado taxpayer group has filed a class action lawsuit in the 13th Judicial District Court in Logan County to try to overturn a mill levy increase by the Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District.

    The Public Trust Institute, a Colorado-based public interest law firm, and the National Taxpayers Union Foundation of Washington, D.C., filed the lawsuit Wednesday on behalf of an ad hoc group of taxpayers in Logan, Morgan, Sedgwick and Washington counties. Jim Aranci of Crook, Charles Miller, Jack Darnell and William Lauck of Morgan County and Curtis Werner of Merino are listed as plaintiffs in the lawsuit. Besides the water district, the defendants include the county clerks of the four counties, who collected the taxes and handed the funds over to the district.

    At issue is the interpretation of a 1996 ballot question in which the LSPWCD “de-Bruced,” or excused itself, as the result of a public vote, from provisions of the TABOR amendment. In that ballot question, the district stated it would seek a public vote in order to raise taxes.

    But other wording in that ballot question, and the district’s original mill levy allowance when it was formed in 1964, are at the crux of the conflict. When it was formed, the water conservancy district was allowed by state statute to levy up to 1 mill on property within the district, which includes parts or all of the four counties. The district’s board of directors had previously only asked for 0.5 mill because that was all that was needed.

    At the end of 2019, however, the district’s board decided to raise the levy to the statutorily allowed 1 mill for 2020 to, among other things, help fund preparatory work on a project that eventually will help supply both the district and the City of Parker extra water from the lower reaches of the South Platte River. That mill levy was certified by county commissioners in the four counties at that time, and the district began collecting the tax revenues in 2020.

    As the district board was planning its 2021 budget in December of 2020, however, a group of taxpayers objected, pointing to the 1996 ballot measure’s final sentence. It reads, “No local tax rate or property mill levy shall be increased at any time, nor shall any new tax be imposed without the prior approval of the voters of the LSPWCD.”

    Jim Aranci, a former chairman of the district’s board, said Wednesday that the wording of that 1996 de-Brucing question was quite clear…

    Joe Frank, general manager of the conservancy district, said Friday he’d heard rumors of a lawsuit being filed, but was not at liberty to discuss the issue further. He did, however, reaffirm the board’s position that the increase was thoroughly researched in 2019 before it was instituted for the 2020 budget year. He said the district’s legal counsel pointed to other wording in the de-Brucing ballot question: That the district could “utilize the full proceeds and revenues received from every source whatever, without limit.” And those “full proceeds and revenues” included the remaining half-mill originally allowed by statute but never used. In other words, the public vote would only be needed if the district wanted to exceed its original allowance of 1 mill.

    Frank reiterated Friday that the board did not take the step lightly, and spent a lot of resources getting the right answers to its questions…

    The water district has still been allowed to collect its 1 mill levy, since it was certified for the 2020 budget year. According to Colorado Revised Statute 39-1-111 (3) “If the board of county commissioners … fails to certify such levies to the assessor, it is the duty of the assessor, upon direction of the division of local government, to extend the levies of the previous year …”

    Season Reflections on Regenerative Agriculture — #Denver Botanic Gardens #kincentric

    From Denver Botanic Gardens (Maddy Toraca-Jones):

    At Chatfield Farms, our CSA team is committed to investing in regenerative systems. Amidst mounting threats such as climate and environmental change that cause erratic farming conditions, we seek to learn about and practice regenerative principals so that we can continue to provide food to our communities.

    In 2021 we were able to make great strides toward our regenerative goals. We developed an onsite composting program and practiced diligent cover cropping to protect and build our soils. We took steps to build high tunnels and windrows to protect crops from weather events and build resiliency into our operation. We are transitioning to reusable fabrics and irrigation options, rather than disposable. We continued to practice minimal tillage in many parts of the farm and have invested in equipment to expand those practices.

    Through these efforts, our farm was able to provide tens of thousands of pounds of produce to many individuals and families in the greater Denver area.

    Chatfield Farms. Photo credit: Denver Botanic Gardens

    This time of year, like many vegetable farmers in the region, we transition from the fast-paced hustle of the spring and summer to the reviewing, researching and planning nature of the colder months. As we re-visit the idea of regenerative agriculture this season, I find myself proud of all we have accomplished, and re-centering on a goal of mine.

    This goal is to cultivate a more “kincentric” view of the world, to un- and re-learn the ways in which I understand my connection to the rest of the natural world. A kincentric view is one where we humans see ourselves as kin with the Earth and everything in it rather than as separate entities. This idea has indigenous roots and suggests a relationship of mutual respect among living things, stressing the importance of balancing give and take, input and extraction. For me, this seems as central to a regenerative practice as minimal tillage or cover cropping.

    I believe it is our responsibility as farmers to observe changes in and interactions between the various facets of our ecosystem, and work to create a balance between our goal of food production and the needs of the organisms within the system.