Denver Water utility officials will ask city water commissioners on [November 16, 2016] to increase rates enough to raise an additional $7 million for a proposed 2017 annual budget of $431.6 million — up 12 percent from the current budget.
The $7 million from higher bills for Denver Water’s 1.4 million customers would fund projects such as modernizing water-cleaning plants, replacing aging pipes and making sure underground water storage tanks don’t leak.
“Denver Water needs to be able to continue to collect, treat and deliver safe, reliable water to our customers,” utility spokeswoman Stacy Chesney said. Higher rates “will allow us to continue improving our water system while ensuring essential water use remains affordable for our customers.”
The water commissioners are scheduled to vote on the rate hikes Dec. 14. The higher rates would kick in around April 2017.
Total water use by Denver Water customers, including factories and businesses, has decreased by 20 percent since 2001 despite a 15 percent increase in the number of customers, according to utility data.
This week, Denver Water officials said they have re-calculated residential water use and determined that their customers use about 90 gallons a day per person. Denver residents used about 120 gallons per person in 2001. Denver has emerged as a leader among western cities pushing conservation to avoid running dry amid a regional boom in population growth and development.
“Water conservation has been a cost-effective way to extend our supplies,” Chesney said. “Customers are using less water, but our population is growing. Our rate structure is aimed at balancing conservation, affordability and revenue stability.”
How much Denver residents pay still will depend on the amount of water they use and whether they receive water directly from Denver Water pipelines or from contracted suburban water distributors.
For more than two years, BLM officials who manage much of South Park have been developing a plan to balance conservation with economic activities including oil and gas drilling that can degrade the environment. The work begun in 2014 was aimed at setting out where companies could drill, where wildlife would prevail, and where houses could be built to maximize protection of delicate ecosystems across South Park, an inter-mountain valley southwest of Denver…
At a public meeting this month, no draft was available.
“Planning and public involvement does take a considerable amount of time,” Hall said. “It’s not going to be completed in the next two months, certainly.”
Current target date: 2021.
BLM officials at first refused but eventually agreed to hash out a master plan after controversial leases were issued to oil and gas companies to drill for oil and gas adjacent to reservoirs that hold drinking water for residents of metro Denver. The South Platte River — northeastern Colorado’s main waterway, essential for cities and agriculture — forms in South Park.
A broader BLM plan guiding land use across eastern Colorado, which will incorporate South Park oil and gas leasing, also is in the works. A current regional plan is more than 20 years old.
BLM Colorado director Ruth Welch said grassroots sentiments of South Park residents drove the planning in progress. “I know they are anxious,” Welch said…
Among those keen to implement protection are the three Park County commissioners, all Republicans, who have pressed for federal foresight to ensure appropriate development.
Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, who oversees the BLM, has pushed better landscape-scale planning to guide smarter land use and balance competing interests.
“There are benefits to this type of planning and, as we saw from the major opposition to the thoughtless attempts to lease lands in this area, which set off a lot of the community concerns, those benefits include directing leasing and development to the right places,” Wilderness Society spokeswoman Anastasia Greene said.
Setting out rules in advance for where oil and gas wells could be drilled “just makes more sense,” Greene said.
Anheuser-Busch’s Fort Collins facility reached a water-to-beer ratio of about 2.9 gallons this year, the lowest of the city’s 21 breweries.
Brewery leaders say there’s still plenty of wiggle room for water conservation, especially for a facility that churns out about 10 million barrels of beer each year using only Fort Collins Utilities water from Horsetooth Reservoir and the Cache la Poudre River. That’s a lot of water to make the brewery’s popular beverages, and with the city entering its first weeks of severe drought, the spotlight on conservation is as bright as ever.
“Every year, we’re watching that snowpack,” A-B senior brewmaster Katie Rippel said. “It can turn on a dime. We’ve had a couple good winters in a row — I call it fat, dumb and happy — but it was only a few years ago when that wasn’t the case.”
A-B’s water use decreased 11 percent between 2011 and 2015, thanks in part to a tweak that allows re-use of the water used to rinse the brewery’s towering fermentation tanks.
The brewery didn’t provide its total water usage, but Coloradoan calculations indicate it now uses upwards of 900 million gallons of water each year, equal to the annual water use of about one-sixth of Fort Collins households. The estimate comes from the brewery’s water-to-beer ratio and its 2014 production volume.
Brewer Bill Workman, who designed and implemented the rinsing water change with maintenance technician Tim Burge, came up with the idea after noticing how much water and yeast drained out of the brewery’s massive, multi-story fermentation tanks during rinsing.
Workman, a Berthoud native who’s worked at A-B since the year after it opened in 1988, wondered if all that water could be re-used in earlier steps of the brewing process.
“We were told it couldn’t be done,” he recalled during an interview in the brewery’s upper-level tasting room. “We were like, ‘Wanna bet?’ Katie said, ‘Go find a way.’
Workman and Burge spent close to a year engineering a programming pathway for their idea that wouldn’t sacrifice the quality of the brewery’s two-dozen-odd beers or interfere with other parts of the brewing process.
The change was fully implemented in summer of 2015 and saves about 800,000 gallons of water each year. Other North American A-B breweries are now starting to implement the change and finding comparable water savings.
Other conservation methods have helped the brewery reduce its water use, including installation of low-flow nozzles on every tank, re-use of water throughout the cleaning and bottling process and technology that helps brewers determine when equipment is truly clean, reducing rinse water.
The floor for water use is about 1 gallon of water for every gallon of beer, plus a smaller amount used for cleaning, Rippel estimated.
“Everything else is on the table,” she said, adding the brewery will next look for even more ways to re-use water and cut down on water used during cleaning.
Water conservation means cost savings for the brewery, which pays for its Fort Collins Utilities water like any other customer. It also means something more personal to employees, many of whom have worked in the brewery and lived in the Fort Collins area for decades.
“That’s why we’re trying to minimize our impact: All of us love the area we live in,” Rippel said. “I mean, we want to be good corporate citizens, but it’s more about, ‘I live here, and I’m using the same water to brew that I’m using at home.’ So I’m protecting mine.”
Water usage at other Fort Collins breweries
The Nos. 2 and 3 breweries for production, New Belgium Brewing Co. and Odell Brewing Co., respectively use about 4 gallons and 3.6 gallons of water per gallons of beer produced. Economy of scale makes it difficult for smaller breweries to achieve the same water savings as larger producers.
The industry average water-to-beer ratio is about 7:1, according to the Brewers Association
“All the (protected) species and all the habitat are in Nebraska,” he said.
The Central Platte Valley is the target area for least terns, piping plovers and whooping cranes, while pallid sturgeon are in the Lower Platte River.
All the water options for a proposed program extension, which will focus on reducing river depletions by another 40,000 [acre-feet] or more, are in Nebraska to be as close as possible to the target habitat.
Fassett said that with a major reservoir project now off the table, new projects will include groundwater recharge, facilities to hold water for retimed releases and water leasing.
He noted Tuesday at the annual convention of the Nebraska State Irrigation and Nebraska Water Resources associations that initial water projects were completed by all three states toward meeting the program’s first-increment goal to reduce river depletions by 130,000-150,000 [acre-feet].
However, more recent projects and those being considered for the future are only in Nebraska. “There is hydrologic logic about that,” Fassett said, because projects hundreds of miles from the target habitat are not as effective.
Nebraska’s benefits include regulatory stability the program provides for the Platte Basin. Projects in Nebraska, Colorado and Wyoming that must comply with the federal Endangered Species Act can do so through the program instead of individually, he said.
Another issue for Nebraska is its own demands to enhance water in the river. Fassett said state laws for the overappropriated area of the Platte Basin west of Elm Creek require “moving the train backward” to mitigate new water uses since 2007.
Earlier this year, a longtime northeast Denver resident and former state attorney general, John D. MacFarlane, sued the city of Denver over its plans to use City Park Golf Course as part of the Platte to Park Hill flood control project.
On Wednesday, that lawsuit survived its first hurdle — a request from the city that it be summarily dismissed. Denver District Court Judge Michael Vallejos ruled that the court had jurisdiction and the plaintiff had standing. The lawsuit will proceed.
In his lawsuit, MacFarlane makes a number of claims: that the flood control project violates the city charter by using park land for something other than a park purpose, that the city has “obfuscated” the true purpose of the project and that it is primarily to benefit the proposed I-70 expansion and the redevelopment of the National Western Center rather than the residents of northeast Denver.
The city argued that the court didn’t have subject matter jurisdiction because the claims were not “ripe.” The city said MacFarlane had not suffered any specific injury, and the city’s plans are too tentative for the court to determine the impact of the project on the golf course and its users.
Vallejos didn’t buy that.
“A site selection has been made for the Project and Defendants’ own materials include a tentative redesign timeline indicating closure from late 2018 into 2019,” he wrote in a ruling issued Monday. “Here, it does not appear to the Court that this is a mere possibility of a future controversy, but rather Defendants have selected (City Park Golf Course) for the site location, developed and distributed fact sheets concerning the Project, and advanced several plans for the Project which allegedly all require closure of the (golf course).”
The city also argued that there was no basis for MacFarlane to claim that the city was “disposing” of park property for non-park purposes, as the city isn’t leasing or selling the golf course. The golf course will remain in city hands and reopen as a golf course when the project is done.
However, Vallejos found that the links between the flood control project and I-70 might be relevant.
“Plaintiff alleges that the Colorado Department of Transportation (“CDOT”) needs a location to put storm water in order to protect its I-70 project,” the ruling says. “Plaintiff asserts that I-70 is in need of a drainage system to accommodate the 100 year flood protection plan. Plaintiff in turn argues that “[r]ather than CDOT constructing its own drainage system . . . CDOT proposes to construction [sic] through impoverished north Denver neighborhoods,” in violation of the Denver Charter because such actions are akin to a sale or lease of a portion of CPGC.
The long awaited Windy Gap Bypass Project may begin moving forward in the not-so-distant future.
Officials from Grand County as well as multiple local partnering agencies and groups are patiently awaiting news on a $10 million Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) grant. The announcement regarding which applicants will receive the grant is expected sometime in Dec. this year. If the grant award is approved full funding for the Windy Gap Bypass Project will be secured.
WORKIN ON THE RIVER
The RCPP grant is administered by the National Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and is given to producers and landowners to provide conservation assistance. The grant application was submitted under a partnership of multiple local organizations and entities including: Grand County government, the Irrigators in the Lands in the Vicinity of Kremmling (ILVK), the Upper Colorado River Alliance (UCRA), Middle Park, the Colorado River District, Trout Unlimited, Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) and Northern Water.
If awarded the $10 million grant monies will go directly to two specific projects: the Windy Gap Bypass Project and a streambed habitat improvement project in the Colorado River for the ILVK. Additionally CPW is working to secure funding from the States Wildlife Mitigation and Enhancement Plan to conduct a stream enhancement project on the Colorado River between the Windy Gap and the ILVK lands. If local organizers are able to secure funding for all three projects roughly 33-miles of the Colorado River will see stream improvements.
Lurline Underbrink-Curran is a contract employee for Grand County overseeing much of the County’s efforts on water issues. She worked closely with others to develop the RCPP grant application. “This will be a big deal if we are successful,” Underbrink-Curran said. “We think we have a strong application and we have a very strong partnership collaboration.”
She cautioned against expecting results too quickly though, even if full funding is approved. “The things that happened to the River didn’t happen over night and we won’t fix them overnight. But if we have methods and plans in place we will get them fixed.”
WINDY GAP BYPASS
The total cost of the Windy Gap Bypass Project is estimated at roughly $9.6 million. A total of $4.5 million has already been secured for the project and the $10 million RCPP grant would cover the remainder, with excess funds going to the ILVK Project.
The Windy Gap Bypass Project is intended to create a free flowing channel for water from the Colorado River to [bypass] the Windy Gap Reservoir. The Windy Gap Reservoir is located just a short distance west of Granby on US Highway 40 and is one of several water storage reservoir[s] that make up the Colorado Big-Thompson Project’s water diversion system.
Water from the Windy Gap is pumped through the Northern Water diversion and pump network eventually reaching Grand Lake before moving across the Continental Divide through the Alva B. Adams Tunnel. When the Windy Gap Reservoir was initially constructed no free flowing channel was created. As such the Windy Gap Reservoir divides the river habitat above and below the reservoir, preventing fish and other creatures from migrating freely.
Additionally the Windy Gap causes the Colorado River to lose nearly all of its velocity, allowing for a substantial amount of sediment to develop in both the reservoir and in the river downstream. The sediment buildup negatively impacts bug habitat, which has a domino effect on all other species living in the river.
The work that will be done for the Windy Gap Bypass is fairly simple in concept. Excavators will dig out a channel within the existing Windy Gap Reservoir. The dirt from the excavations will be used to construct a berm inside the Reservoir. The berm will establish a smaller reservoir while also creating a separate channel for the free flow of water down the Colorado.
The ILVK streambed habitat improvement project seeks to address two concerns: issues with irrigation infrastructure and improvements of streambed habitat for bug and aquatic life.
As Paul Bruchez, one of the ILVK landowners helping to spearhead the project explained, the project hopes to accomplish both goals through the same work; by rebuilding the pools and riffles that create healthy river habitat and focusing most of those efforts on areas where the irrigation pumping infrastructure already exists.
The ILVK is a landowners organization made up primarily of irrigating ranchers near the town of Kremmling. The ILVK holds some of the most senior water rights on the upper Colorado River; their senior water rights are recognized in Senate Document 80 and their rights precede the famous Colorado-Big Thompson Project (CBTP).
Prior to the establishment of the CBTP there were virtually no water storage reservoirs in the high country and no ditches bringing water to the landowners of the ILVK. At that time they were considered as having, “meadows act water rights” meaning they did not irrigate their fields using irrigation ditches, rather their fields naturally flooded each spring/summer as snow runoff from higher elevations made its way to the Colorado River.
When the CBTP was established irrigation pumps were constructed to provide water from the Colorado River to the landowners of the ILVK. As time has passed and additional water diversions and storage projects were undertaken above the ILVK region the flows that provided the ILVK members with irrigation water have diminished, along with the overall water table.
“We have a fixed station (irrigation) pump system with a river that is dynamic and changing,” Bruchez explained. “My neighbors and family struggle with irrigation issues. But I am also watching the regress of the Colorado River from a fishery standpoint. The concept of the ILVK project is to fix and repair our irrigation systems to be sustainable while using construction techniques that will improve the health of the river overall.”
In that way the ILVK project proverbially kills two birds with one stone. But for Bruchez and other landowners along the Colorado the effort isn’t just about improving their ability to access the water that is theirs by right, it is about the broader health of the River as well.
“If we can cut down water temps by even a fraction we are making headway,” Bruchez said. “It almost becomes a water quality issue. We are not just improving segments but improving the whole river system. We can’t look at one part or another as the priority. It is a system that needs a system wide repair.”
FromAspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith) via The Aspen Daily News:
The board of directors of the Colorado Water Conservation Board gave conceptual approval Wednesday to a $90 million loan to help finance the $400 million Windy Gap Firming Project, which will divert more water from the Colorado River.
The CWCB, charged with facilitating water supply projects in Colorado, has both a loan program and a grant program. And while its grant program is being challenged by a sharp drop in severance tax revenue from the oil and gas sector, the agency’s loan program remains robust, especially as Aurora just repaid a $70 million loan ahead of schedule.
The $90 million loan to Northern Water, which is developing Windy Gap, is the largest in the agency’s history. It will help facilitate a project that is more popular on the Eastern Slope than the Western Slope, given it will increase the level of water sent under the Continental Divide.
The loan, which still needs final approval from the CWCB board, will be part of a financing package for a new reservoir near Loveland called Chimney Hollow Reservoir, which will cost $400 million to construct.
Eric Wilkinson, the general manager of Northern Water, said he expects the project to be approved in 2017, that test drilling has begun at the dam site — next to Carter Lake Reservoir in Larimer County — and design work is well underway. Gov. Hickenlooper has also endorsed the Windy Gap project, even though final federal approval is still outstanding.
Wilkinson also said that the prospect of a CWCB loan has galvanized financing discussions among the 12 different entities – including 10 cities from Broomfield north to Greeley — who are involved in the project as members of the Northern Water Municipal Subdistrict.
“The difference that this has made cannot be overstated,” Wilkinson told the CWCB board about the loan.
Savings needed to backfill drop in severance tax funding
The $90 million loan makes up a big chunk of this year’s “projects bill,” which is submitted annually by the CWCB to the state Legislature for approval. This year’s projects bill is $165 million in all, which makes it the largest annual spending request in the history of the CWCB, which dates back to 1937.
Another big part of the projects bill is $55 million for an array of grants and loans spurred by the Colorado Water Plan, which was approved a year ago by the CWCB board and presented to the governor.
Of the $55 million, $10 million is for projects to be funded at the discretion of the CWCB directors, and $5 million is specifically for watershed restoration efforts and stream management plans, which is a nod to environmental interests in the state.
Another $10 million is used to fund the agency’s Water Supply Reserve Fund, which helps fund local water supply projects identified and approved by the nine basin roundtables around the state, including the Colorado River Basin Roundtable, which meets in Glenwood Springs.
Funding for roundtable projects is supposed to come from severance taxes paid by oil and gas producers in the state to the tune of $10 million a year. But the combination of the slowdown in the gas patch and property tax rebates given to the industry means that the CWCB is only going to see about a quarter of the severance tax revenue this year that it normally receives.
As such, the CWCB is asking the Legislature to let it spend severance tax revenue it has tucked away from the good years. That approach, however, is fraught with danger, as the Legislature is busy trying to figure out how to fill a $500 million to $800 million hole in the state’s budget, which must be balanced each year by law.
James Eklund, director of the CWCB, said the Legislature will be looking in all nooks and crannies for funds, but he’s hopeful that the approval of the state water plan last year will help convince lawmakers that the CWCB has a legitimate need for the money it has set aside for future projects.
Also in the $55 million bucket in the projects bill is a $30 million “loan guarantee fund” to help water suppliers with varying credit ratings to gain better interest rates when funding new projects together.
Eklund is sensitive to criticism that not enough has been achieved after the publication of the Colorado Water Plan a year ago, which itself was the product of an intense two-year collaborative effort among water interests in the state.
On Wednesday, he told the CWCB directors that while the Water Plan was now a year old, it was “only five days old in water years.”
“We are moving forward aggressively,” Eklund said. “And I don’t think slowly at all, especially if you look at it in water time.”
Board renews Ruedi fish-water lease
Also at last week’s CWCB meeting, Eklund said that the Ute Water Conservancy District in Grand Junction has offered to once again lease 12,000 acre-feet of water it owns in Ruedi Reservoir to the CWCB, so the agency can help maintain flows in the Colorado River, as it has done the last two years.
While the water from Ruedi benefits endangered fish in a critical 15-mile reach of the Colorado, it has also kicked up river levels in the lower Fryingpan River below Ruedi Reservoir in the late summer and fall to the consternation of some anglers.
The CWCB board also approved a $1.7 million loan for improvements to the Grand Valley Power Plant, which controls one of the senior water rights that make up the “Cameo Call” on the Colorado River above Grand Junction.
The loan to the Grand Valley Water Users Association and the Orchard Mesa Irrigation District will help cover the costs of a $5.2 million project to modernize the hydropower plant, which was built in the 1930s.
Contracts were also finalized this week with a bevy of water consultants to prepare the next edition of the Statewide Water Supply Initiative, or SWSI, which is a more technical version of the state water plan.
The SWSI plan is slated to be finished by December 2017 and is designed to inform regional water plans created by the basin roundtables, known as “basin implementation plans,” as well as provide a base of data for the next version of the more policy-driven Colorado Water Plan.
Also, State Engineer Dick Wolfe informed the CWCB board he’ll be retiring in June 2017 at age 55, after nine years in his role as the state’s top water cop.
Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism and the Aspen Daily News are collaborating on coverage of rivers and water in Colorado. More at http://www.aspenjournalism.org.