Conflict of interest — @DenverWater watershed funding for forest health in Boulder County?

St. Vrain River Rocky Mountain National Park
St. Vrain River Rocky Mountain National Park

From the Boulder Daily Camera (Charlie Brennan):

Denver Water, which serves 1.4 million people in the city and county of Denver and surrounding communities, is currently waiting for a permitting decision to be issued by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on its proposed expansion of Gross Reservoir, located in southwestern Boulder County.

The USFS has filed extensive past comments critical of the Gross Reservoir project, but now says all of its concerns about that project have been resolved.

Critics, however, point to a five-year, $4.5 million contract providing Denver Water funding for the original Forsythe project as well as numerous other Colorado forest management efforts — talks are now underway for a new five-year pact for Denver Water to help subsidize projects, including Forsythe II — and they challenge the level of transparency surrounding that wildlands management initiative.

Denver Water touts its relationship with the Forest Service on its website, billed since 2010 as the “From Forests to Faucets” program. That partnership called for Denver Water from 2010 to 2015 to match a $16.5 million investment from the Forest Service, for a total of $33 million, for forest treatment projects seen as critical to protecting water supplies and water quality.

A memorandum of understanding was signed by Denver Water in December for a similar new agreement between the two, setting up a new one-to-one matching effort totaling another $33 million, to cover 2017 to 2021.

The Colorado State Forest Service was also a partner to the previous pact, and will be to its successor, along with the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Colorado saw a dramatic example of the healthy forests-healthy water link following the June 2002 Hayman fire, which filled Cheesman Reservoir — the oldest reservoir in the Denver Water system — with mud, ash and other debris.

Denver Water was forced to spend more than $27 million on water quality treatment, sediment and debris removal, reclamation techniques and infrastructure projects in the wake of the Hayman Fire and the 1996 Buffalo Creek Fire, according to Denver Water spokesman Travis Thompson.

But Magnolia-area resident David Bahr sees the Denver Water-USFS relationship as “absolutely” representing a conflict of interest, specifically as it applies to the controversial Forsythe projects in western Boulder County.

“How can it not be?” Bahr asked. “The fact that (USFA) employees and goods are being paid for by Denver Water means that if they weren’t doing this, those employees wouldn’t be getting paid. The Forest Service has to be aware of this, so it has to influence any decisions that they make.”

Vivian Long, president of the Magnolia Forest Group, has long been vocal in opposition to the original Forsythe project and its planned successor, Forsythe II, which calls for thinning and controlled burns on 2,855 acres of national forest land within the nearly 19,000-acre project area, to be carried out over 10 to 15 years.

“While they’re saying, ‘We’re taking money from Denver Water, but they have no input on what we do,’ I don’t know if that’s true or not,” Long said. “When we have asked about them taking money from Denver Water, they have tried to either downplay it, or deny, or just say they don’t know anything about it. So we’re left wondering, whose opinion is more important here: the public’s or Denver Water?”

Paperwork documenting the Denver Water-USFS relationship was obtained by Magnolia Forest Group member Teagen Blakey through Colorado Open Records Act requests…

Forsythe II critics point out that in March 2010, the Forest Service filed 142 pages of comments on the Gross Reservoir project with the Corps of Engineers highlighting many concerns, including the adequacy of Denver Water’s consideration for habitat and wildlife issues in the Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests.

That same year, the Forest Service signed off on the five-year operating plan for Denver Water to pitch in $4,479,251 toward improving forest and watershed health on national forest lands in numerous Colorado watersheds designated as Denver Water “Zones of Concern,” including the St. Vrain Watershed, home to Gross Reservoir.

To date, $660,000 of that Denver Water money has gone toward Forsythe work, according to Arapaho & Roosevelt National Forests spokeswoman Tammy Williams.

On Oct. 17, the Forest Service and Denver Water agreed on a lengthy agreement settling any concerns over Gross Reservoir, which it states “resolves all issues raised by the Forest Service during the consultation process” relating to the Gross Reservoir expansion

Clark Chapman, vice president of the Magnolia Forest Group, is among those wondering why the Forest Service is seeming now to soft-pedal habitat concerns around both Forsythe II and Gross Reservoir…

Tammy Williams, the USFS spokeswoman, said there is no conflict of interest inherent in Denver Water’s pushing for Gross Reservoir and funding Forsythe forest work at the same time.

“Gross Reservoir was independently analyzed and considered separate and apart from the Forsythe II project,” she wrote in an email. “These projects are being proposed by different agencies, these are independent processes, with independent timelines and different decision makers.”

[…]

The western half of Gross Reservoir, as it is currently configured, is encompassed by the southeastern corner of the Forsythe II project area. But despite their proximity, the Forest Service maintains that its evaluation of Forsythe II is not influenced by its relationship with Denver Water.

‘As the Poudre Flows — Forest to Plains’ theme of Poudre River Forum

Scott Hummer, general manager of North Poudre Irrigation Company, talks about how his agency worked with Fort Collins Natural Areas and Colorado Parks and Wildlife to include a fish passage when the irrigation company replaced a diversion structure on the Poudre River that was destroyed by the 2013 floods. Work was completed [in February 2016]. (Pamela Johnson / Loveland Reporter-Herald)
Scott Hummer, general manager of North Poudre Irrigation Company, talks about how his agency worked with Fort Collins Natural Areas and Colorado Parks and Wildlife to include a fish passage when the irrigation company replaced a diversion structure on the Poudre River that was destroyed by the 2013 floods. Work was completed [in February 2016]. (Pamela Johnson / Loveland Reporter-Herald)

Here’s the release from Colorado State University (Jim Beers):

The Cache la Poudre River, which flows from the mountains through Fort Collins, Timnath and Windsor to the plains east of Greeley, is at the heart of countless activities: from irrigating crops and lawns to providing drinking water for more than 365,000 people and hosting numerous recreational activities.

Those with connections to and concerns for the Poudre River will gather on Friday, Feb. 3 for the fourth annual Poudre River Forum. After its first three years at Larimer County Fairgrounds, the forum is moving down the river to Greeley as a reminder that the Poudre River is important to all who benefit from it — from its headwaters to its confluence with the South Platte. This year’s forum — the theme is “As the Poudre Flows — Forest to Plains” — will be held from 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. at the Island Grove Events Center, 501 N. 14th Ave., Greeley. Pre-registration is required for all participants.

Understanding the river, each other

Sponsored by the Poudre Runs Through It Study/Action Work Group, the forum serves as a community-wide gathering of people from agricultural, municipal, business, recreational and environmental backgrounds to learn about and discuss issues related to the Poudre River.

“The Poudre River Forum brings together those who use the river for agricultural and urban diversions and those who work to improve its ecological health. In the past those groups have not necessarily seen eye to eye,” said MaryLou Smith, PRTI facilitator. “Increasingly our participants are open to the idea that it takes collective vision and action to make the Poudre the world’s best example of a healthy, working river.”

Once again, this year’s event will be facilitated by the Colorado Water Institute at Colorado State University. “The Forum is a great opportunity for the communities connected by the Poudre River to come together to better understand the entire watershed, and each other,” said Reagan Waskom, director of CWI.

Forests and water quality/quantity

Laurie Huckaby with the U.S. Forest Service, will present “The last 1,000 years in the Poudre according to the trees,” to kick off the topic of how important the upper watershed is to water quantity and quality.

“Water quality and forests are inextricably linked,” said Joe Duda of the Colorado State Forest Service, who will join Huckaby as one of the presenters. “Forest conditions and insects, disease and fire all can have profound impacts on water flow and quality. Only healthy, resilient forests can continuously supply clean water.”

Global lessons for local success

“Finding the Balance: Managing Water for People and Nature” is the message of keynote speaker Brian Richter. Richter has been a global leader in water science and conservation for more than 25 years, and currently serves as chief scientist for the Global Water Program of The Nature Conservancy in Washington D.C. Richter’s ideas about the importance of recognizing the balance of working river/healthy river are the basis for which PRTI was initially formed. He has consulted on more than 120 water projects worldwide, and has served as a water advisor to some of the world’s largest corporations, investment banks, the United Nations, and has testified before Congress on multiple occasions. Richter co-authored,with Sandra Postel, the 2003 book Rivers for Life: Managing Water for People and Nature and in 2014 wrote Chasing Water: A Guide for Moving from Scarcity to Sustainability.

Change affects all sectors

An afternoon panel session will probe the impacts of change — positive and negative — along the Poudre River and how they have been similarly and differently addressed by agriculture, urban, and environmental sectors. They will discuss what anticipated future changes might these three sectors see as opportunities or incentives for mutually beneficial collaboration that could result in a healthier, working river?

“It has been said that the only thing that is constant is change,” said John Bartholow, retired ecologist from U.S. Geological Survey, and panel coordinator/moderator. “The question is, can we learn to adapt to those changes sure to come on the Poudre in ways that benefit agriculture, municipalities, and the environment?”

The panel will include Eric Reckentine, deputy director, City of Greeley Water and Sewer; John Sanderson, director of science, Nature Conservancy of Colorado; and Dale Trowbridge, general manager, New Cache la Poudre Irrigating Company.

Videos, displays and music too

The day-long forum also includes “River Snapshots” highlighting more than 15 projects undertaken by a variety of groups on the Poudre last year; “My How the Poudre Has Changed,” featuring historical 1970’s footage of the Poudre; updates from both the cities of Greeley and Fort Collins on current water programs; and over two dozen river-focused displays from community organizations and agencies. The day concludes with a social hour including food, beer and other beverages, and river-themed door prizes.

Registration is $50 and includes lunch. Scholarships for students and reduced rates are available. The deadline to register is Friday, Jan. 27 at http://prti.colostate.edu/forum_2017.shtml.

For more information, contact event coordinator Gailmarie Kimmel at PoudreRiverForum@gmail.com or 970-692-1443.

http://www.reporterherald.com/news/ci_30684388/big-t-river-rehab-begin

Flood damage Big Thompson Canyon September 2013 -- photo via Northern Water
Flood damage Big Thompson Canyon September 2013 — photo via Northern Water

From The Loveland Reporter-Herald (Pamela Johnson):

This year, actual work will begin to repair habitat along and inside several stretches of the Big Thompson River through a grassroots group, The Big Thompson Watershed Coalition, that formed after the 2013 flood.

“2017 is going to be a big year for projects happening on the ground,” said Shayna Jones, watershed coordinator with the coalition. “We’re talking millions of dollars in river restoration.”

A couple of projects through the coalition have already begun, but several others are going to kick off in 2017. Early in the year, the coalition will put out bids for a contractor to work on a stretch about a mile long from Jasper Lake through Narrows Park, which is in the lower section of the canyon.

Estimated to cost $900,000, the project will include stabilizing sections of the banks, planting vegetation and creating what are called flood plain benches to allow the water space to spread out in the event of a future flood, explained Jones and Tracy Wendt, assistant watershed coordinator.

The work also includes improving fish habitat in several ways, such as building pools within the river and planting vegetation in strategic places to provide shade and cover.

“There will be habitat improvements for all different life stages of trout,” Wendt said. “It’s all the phases of their life to help them.”

Because of the fish habitat component, the coalition, in partnership with Rocky Mountain Flycasters, recently received a $4,500 grant from the Trout and Salmon Foundation. And the Flycasters, a local chapter of Trout Unlimited, also contributed $2,000 to the project.

The bulk of the funding, about $500,000, will come from the Natural Resources Conservation Service with the rest of the money from the Colorado Water Conservation Board, Jones explained.

This piece of the river winds through both private and public properties and ends just before the Narrows near the Colorado Cherry Company.

Other projects also are planned further west along the river with more money coming from the NRCS and the Colorado Water Conservation Board. The exact amounts of money and grants are still being finalized, though Jones did confirm the total work would be in the millions.

Other projects to rehabilitate the river and river corridor are occurring simultaneously including one that will begin in 2017 as a partnership with the coalition and Sylvan Dale Guest Ranch.

Work began in October and will continue this spring on West Creek, and other improvements began two weeks ago on Fox Creek. Both, located along the North Fork near Glen Haven, are being built in partnership with Larimer County, NRCS and the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

Also, Larimer County, private property owners, Colorado Parks and Wildlife and Colorado Department of Transportation officials are working on separate stretches of the river, with everyone working together for overall river benefit.

“We’re making sure our projects are complementing each other to make for an overall healthy watershed,” Jones said.

She expects the work to continue over the next three years as the Colorado Department of Transportation completes the permanent repairs of U.S. 34, which also include massive river restoration work.

Lyons residents on flood recovery process: ‘We’re just starting to get it together’ — The Boulder Daily Camera

Bohn Park was flooded by the St. Vrain River in Lyons, CO September 18, 2013 via Getty Images
Bohn Park was flooded by the St. Vrain River in Lyons, CO September 18, 2013 via Getty Images

From The Boulder Daily Camera (Amelia Arvesen):

As Lyons entered its fourth year of reconstruction following the devastating September 2013 flood, the FBI and U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development stopped by to seize documents and computers to probe the handling of federal flood-recovery funding.

Communities savaged by the rushing waters have been receiving fund allocations, totaling millions of dollars from several federal sources, such as HUD and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Late Friday, Mayor Connie Sullivan released a statement on behalf of the town’s Board of Trustees, stating that the FBI had concluded its portion of the investigation and would not be proceeding with a case.

Also posted to the town’s website was a copy of a subpoena from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, stating that a focus of its investigation was documents relating to negotiations and grant services contracts between Lyons and Longmont-based Front Range Land Solutions.

Arvada: Rate increase in the cards?

arvadareservoir
Arvada Reservoir via the City of Arvada.

From The Wheat Ridge Transcript (Shanna Fortier):

Owners of a typical single family home in Arvada will likely have to pay $1.41 more a month — or $16.90 additional a year — for water and sewer services fees in 2017.

The average single-family home is considered to be 3.2 people and a yard. And the average single family drinking water bill in Arvada runs about $481 annually and $291 annually for sewage.

Jim Sullivan, director of utilities for Arvada, said the average single-family account in Arvada uses 120,000 gallons of water each year for domestic and irrigation purposes and generates 60,000 gallons of sewage. Single-family accounts form the largest customer group in Arvada, using about 60 percent of the water.

Arvada City Council heard the proposed rate increases at the Sept. 26 workshop and will discuss the proposals during council meetings on Oct. 3 and Oct. 17, also the date of a public hearing. The rates have been raised every year over the past decade.

When taken separately, the proposed increases amount to 2 percent for water and 3 percent for wastewater. A 1.45 percent increase for water tap fees is also proposed. Stormwater and sewer tap fees are not projected to increase, city officials said.

The increases are needed because of rising vendor prices, new equipment and materials, and employee salary raises, Sullivan said.

Sullivan added that over the next 10 years, water operation costs will likely slowly increase as the city prepares to contribute payment for the Denver Water Gross Reservoir expansion project.

Sources of water

Arvada has two sources of water. The first is a 1965 contract with Denver Water. The second source is the city’s Clear Creek water right holdings.

But “these two sources will not be sufficient to meet the residents’ needs at buildout of the city,” Sullivan said. “The city has entered into an agreement with Denver Water to financially participate in the Gross Reservoir expansion in exchange for additional water supplies. This project should increase Arvada’s water supplies sufficiently to meet the city’s needs at buildout.”

Gross Reservoir, named for Denver Water former Chief Engineer Dwight D. Gross, was completed in 1954. It serves as a combination storage and regulating facility for water that flows under the Continental Divide through the Moffat Tunnel and supplies water to Denver Water’s North System.

The reservoir was originally designed with the intention of future expansion to provide necessary storage.

With demand expected to increase in coming years, expanding Gross Reservoir will increase sustainability to the water supply as part of Denver Water’s multi-pronged approach that includes conservation, reuse water and developing additional supply to meet customers’ future needs.

“We think we have enough money in the fund to avoid issuing debt for this project,” Sullivan told city council.

The proposed 2017 water fund budget is $29 million, with 75 percent going toward water system operations, 8 percent for debt services and 17 percent for capital improvements. The Gross Reservoir project is the majority of the capital improvements area.

The city’s current debt service is $2.2 million, paid mostly from tap fees, Sullivan said. He added that in 2020 the water bonds issued in January 2001 will be paid off.

The projected increase in the operations budget for water is $656,000 or 3 percent. However, the bond repayment in 2020 will reduce operating costs by $445,000 annually. Because of this, city staff is proposing to increase water rates by 2 percent rather than 3 percent in 2017, smoothing out future rate changes.

The proposed 2 percent rate increases the water fee part of the bill by $8.52 annually or 71 cents per month. The 3 percent increase for wastewater amounts to $8.40 annually or 70 cents per month.

It is expected that by 2023, the 20-year program to rehabilitate the sanitary sewer system in the city will end and the $2 million needed annually will drop to $500,000 for major repairs and maintenance.

The water tap fee increase of 1.45 percent applies to new construction and would increase by $275, bringing the total cost of a single family water tap to $19,275.

Denver Water is seeking approvals from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the state of Colorado to expand Gross Reservoir, which is southwest of Boulder. The 77,000 acre-foot expansion would help forestall shortages in Denver Water’s water system and offer flood and drought protection, according to Denver Water.
Denver Water is seeking approvals from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the state of Colorado to expand Gross Reservoir, which is southwest of Boulder. The 77,000 acre-foot expansion would help forestall shortages in Denver Water’s water system and offer flood and drought protection, according to Denver Water.

#ColoradoRiver: The Plan to Strengthen Denver’s Water Supply — 5280.com #COriver

Gross Dam enlargement concept graphic via Denver Water
Gross Dam enlargement concept graphic via Denver Water

From 5280.cm (Amy Thomson):

Considering the Denver region is growing by an average of 4,500 new residents per month, a large sector of the population likely doesn’t remember the catastrophic 2002 drought. The most severe water shortage since the Dust Bowl, snowpack and soil moisture were at all-time lows, and we remained in a dry period until 2006. Luckily, with water restrictions in place, we never actually ran out of water—we just got really close.

“We realized that we had an immediate need to correct a vulnerability in our system,” Denver Water CEO Jim Lochhead says. That’s when Denver Water started planning the Gross Reservoir Expansion Project, and after more than a decade of negotiations, the project (which was recently endorsed by Gov. John Hickenlooper) is underway.

But will it be enough? The short answer is yes—as long as Denverites work on strengthening their water conservation practices. Lochhead was pleased to note that when a storm comes through the Mile High City, there is a noticeable drop in outdoor water use, because well-informed residents are turning off their sprinkler systems. Denver residents have managed to reduce water consumption by more than 20 percent in the last 15 years, even with a 15 percent increase in population, according to Lochhead.

The decrease is not enough to mitigate the risk of drought, however. As Colorado’s largest water utility, the Denver Water system is made up of two collection systems—the Northern and the South Platte—and they are incredibly imbalanced. About 80 percent of the water comes from the south system, leaving the north very vulnerable to low rainfall or wildfires. During the notable dry years of 2002 and 2013, clients in the north end were lucky their taps continued to flow.

“We were literally only one drought away from a major problem in our system,” Lochhead says, noting that as recently as 2013, the system was virtually out of water in the north-end.

#ColoradoRiver: “..in the Colorado Constitution, the Continental Divide doesn’t exist” — Jim Pokrandt

Denver Water's collection system via the USACE EIS
Denver Water’s collection system via the USACE EIS

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

A proposal to divert Colorado River water to Denver recently has won the endorsement of Gov. John Hickenlooper and the approval of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

But Denver Water’s Gross Reservoir expansion project may be just as notable for its general lack of opposition west of the Continental Divide. That’s thanks to a wide-ranging agreement, effective in 2013, in which Denver Water obtained concessions including a promise that numerous Western Slope parties to the agreement wouldn’t oppose the expansion project. In return, Denver Water made a number of commitments to the Western Slope.

Now Western Slope interests are working on a similar agreement with Northern Water and others on what’s called the Windy Gap Firming Project, which would store Colorado River water in a proposed Boulder County reservoir.

These approaches represent a far cry from how the Western Slope used to respond to transmountain diversion proposals.

“This is the new paradigm. It’s not the old school. In the old school it was like … we’ll see you in court,” said Jim Pokrandt of the Colorado River District, a party to the 2013 Denver Water deal.

For Denver Water, what’s called the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement provided greater certainty for its customers through means such as resolving longtime disputes regarding West Slope water. For the Western Slope, the deal meant dozens of obligations by Denver Water, such as millions of dollars in monetary payments to various entities, protections of Colorado River flows and water quality, a commitment to further water conservation and reuse efforts by Denver Water customers, and a provision aimed at helping assure maintenance of historic flows in the Colorado River even when the Shoshone Power Plant in Glenwood Canyon is not operating. That hydroelectric plant has a senior right helping control flows in the river.

Another key point in that deal is a promise that Denver Water and its customers won’t try to further develop Colorado River water without agreement from the river district and affected counties.

The cooperative agreement has 18 signatories but more than 40 partners, primarily West Slope governments, water conservation and irrigation districts, and utilities. Among them are the Ute Water Conservancy District and multiple irrigation districts in Mesa County.

Pokrandt said the 2013 deal is a win-win for both sides of the Continental Divide.

“That said, yes, more water would be moving east” if the Gross Reservoir project proceeds, he said.

The project, also sometimes called the Moffat Collection System Project, would nearly triple the capacity of the Boulder County reservoir. Denver Water is targeting water in the Fraser River, a tributary of the Colorado.

“Right now there are some periods of time when Gross Reservoir is full at its current size and their water rights are in priority but they can’t take any more water,” Pokrandt said.

The project has an estimated cost of $380 million, and Denver Water hopes to obtain the remaining major permits by the end of next year. CDPHE in June certified that the project complied with state water quality standards, and Hickenlooper endorsed it last week.

“The state’s responsibility is to ensure we do the right thing for Colorado’s future, and this project is vital infrastructure for our economy and the environment,” Hickenlooper said in a news release. “The partnerships and collaboration between Denver Water, the West Slope and conservation organizations associated with this project are just what the Colorado Water Plan is all about.”

That recently adopted plan in some respects took its lead from the Denver Water/Western Slope deal in seeking to address the state’s future water needs in a cooperative rather than confrontational manner statewide.

Pokrandt conceded that not everyone loves the Gross Reservoir proposal…

Trout Unlimited takes a more positive view of the Gross Reservoir project, pointing to its inclusion of a “Learning by Doing” program requiring monitoring of the health of the Fraser River and adjusting operations as needed. The Gross Reservoir proposal envisions drawing water from the Western Slope in wetter years and seasons, but providing the Colorado River watershed with extra water during low flow periods and investing in restoration projects.

“Moreover, Denver Water has entered into partnerships on the Front Range to ensure that the project alleviates chronic low-flow problems in South Boulder Creek. Both sides of the Divide benefit,” David Nickum, executive director of Colorado Trout Unlimited, said in a news release…

Denver Water Chief Executive Officer Jim Lochhead said in a news release, “The Denver metropolitan area is tied to the economic and environmental health of the rest of the state, and Denver Water is committed to undertake this project in a way that enhances Colorado’s values.”

Pokrandt said Western Slope water interests face the reality that under the state Constitution the right to appropriate water shall not be denied if the water can be put to beneficial use and a party can obtain the necessary financing and permitting.

“There’s not a legal stance to say no, so that’s why the river district was even formed in 1937, was to negotiate these things, because no is not an answer in the legal arena because of the Colorado Constitution,” he said.

When it comes to water rights, Pokrandt said, “in the Colorado Constitution, the Continental Divide doesn’t exist.”